Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Pit of Comparison

Falling into the pit of comparison began at a very young age for me. Having grown up in a low-income family, I’d envy those who were popular at school, who wore the latest name-brand clothes, and who appeared to have a fairytale home life.

The lingering insecurities from my youth—that dreaded feeling of not being good enough or smart enough or talented enough, left me feeling like I always had to prove myself to the world. And no matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I measured up. I now know it was why I spent so many wasted years falling into the pit of comparison.

Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, we all from time to time fall into this pit. And if we aren't careful, it can generate a notion that if we had more money or a better home or better marriage or a better body, we'd, somehow, be happier or more content.

But comparing oneself to others doesn't bring happiness or contentment. What it does is breed a philosophy that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence—one that can promote an envious, resentful attitude toward others successes. Or, on the flip side, a fixation of pride on our own.

The thing is, the greener grass view only allows us to see what's directly in front of us, which is merely a perception of someone's life. Because how can we possibly know their story from the other side of the fence? And, more often than not, when we do get to know another person's story, either face-to-face or through social media, we realize their challenges are, or somewhat, similar to ours.

Even though I am free from the pit of comparison today, it still beckons me to fall prey to it. For instance, it will often creep into my writing, causing me to doubt my abilities as a writer. But unlike before, I refuse to allow myself to linger in self-doubt; I refuse to fall prey to the lies that I am not good enough or smart enough or talented enough to achieve my goals. Instead, I strive to approach life with a positive attitude. I accept my flaws and embrace the uniqueness of Me. Because if there's anything that age, wisdom, and faith have taught me, it's that life has enough humbling experiences for us all.

How about you? Do you spend too much time comparing your life with others?

As the wise Dr. Seuss once said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Embrace your uniqueness.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Approaching Thirty Years-Forever Connected

August 25th will be thirty years since Mom’s death. She died one week after her 56th birthday. I was only 28 years old at the time.

During my younger adult years, Mom and I didn’t have a great mother/daughter relationship. But when I became a mother to our first child, Heather, in 1983, my desire to build a closer bond with her was rekindled. However, given the fact I now lived in Ontario, and she was still in Newfoundland, the face-to-face conversations weren't always possible. Skype and FaceTime were unheard of back then, but through frequent phone calls, we had managed to build a great rapport.

I was pregnant with my second child when Mom and I had a conversation about my deceased brother, Patrick. In a matter-of-fact tone, which had caught me off guard, she'd mentioned how she would love to, someday, have a grandson named after my brother. Needless to say, this revelation must have tugged at mine and Derick’s heartstrings because Mom would get her wish. And four months after Patrick was born, she'd get to hold her grandson for the first time.

Patrick turned thirty this year, on March 11th. Each year his birthday is a reminder of the significant role his namesake had played in his grandmother's life before she died. And it all stems back to our last vacation we had spent with her.

I grew up in a little coastal town along the southern shores of Newfoundland. Our two-story home was situated forty feet from the ocean’s edge. The prevailing summer winds always left a smell of salty sea water in the air, and I distinctly remember its scent when our family arrived in my hometown on July of 1987.

I vividly remember Mom standing in the doorway that day. Her beautiful smile and outstretched arms would send our four-year-old daughter running toward her. And her smile would only double as I placed Patrick into her arms. But how could we have possibly known it’d be the last week we would see her alive?

One month after our wonderful trip home, one week after Mom's 56th birthday, I'd receive the dreaded phone call that she had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

I would now board a plane to, once again, head back to my hometown. This time, it'd be without my immediate family. This time, shock and numbness would accompany me. And this time, I'd have to say goodbye to Mom in a way that would rip my heart open.

Entering our home with some of my siblings that day was the worst day of my life. Mom’s birthday cards were still upright on the living room table. Her blueberries that she had picked a few days prior were still on the kitchen counter. I remember how I walked down the hallway to her bedroom, where I climbed into bed and sobbed into her pillow. I could still smell her scent. Oh, how I wanted her back, but I couldn't turn back the clock. I now had to find a way to live in a world without her, which hasn’t been easy. Grief forever changes us, and it changes the way we view the world around us as well.

I've been learning and writing about grief in the last decade. And it has brought much healing; it has taught me to let go of the things that aren't in my control; it has given me the wisdom to know what is normal grief and what isn't. But more important, it has taught me to embrace those I love, more deeply.

The trivialities of life can hinder our relationships. Don't leave things unsaid, because tomorrow may never come. I know all too well that it isn’t easy to ensure the cycle of life is one of love and forgiveness and not one of regret. But it’s a cycle that, in time, will lessen the burden of grief’s grip, and forever keep us connected.

Heather and Patrick with grandma in 1987
Heather and Patrick today. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Blooming Where I Didn’t Want To Be Planted

The Christian mountaintop experience. That's where I lived out the first few years of my faith journey.

As a new Christian, I was on fire for the Lord. I volunteered on two mission trips. I was involved in Church ministry. I worked hard to flourish and strive in the church that I regularly attended.

But I became an “attention junky" and wanted my works to be noticed by others. After all, I was a people pleaser by nature, and people pleasers don't know how to say no. They just know how to please, right?

Then, bang!  Life as I knew it came crashing down. My Christian daughter had come out gay. I now no longer wanted to be noticed by others; I wanted to, instead, run and hide from them.

So, I fell off the mountaintop and spiraled down into a dark, lonely valley, where I wandered aimlessly for a couple of years, engulfed in shame and guilt. I became envious of what other families had. I threw pity parties to God, about the soil He had now planted me on. I’d show up to church, and when others asked how I was doing, I’d put on my fake smile and say, "Oh, I am doing great!" All the while I felt spiritually barren inside.

But then, one day, something happened to change the course of my life. Maybe God had gotten tired of my whining. Because as I laid there on my bedroom floor, crying out to Him to change my daughter, a calm, still voice whispered into my spirit: "Maybe it's you who needs to change." I was startled by this revelation. I hadn't taken the time to look deep within, to reconnect with God, because I was too busy complaining about my circumstances. But this rekindling of spirit gave me the insight to not only reassess my path but to look at life from a new perspective, in which, I found myself at a spiritual crossroad.

"Don't take the road to the left. It's the wide path of destruction," some warned. "Take the road to the right. It's the narrow path to righteousness." What they were saying was that if I embraced the true identity of my daughter, I would lose the sanctity of God.

But God, surprisingly, led me straight through the crossroad, on a lesser-known path. A route that taught me about the humbleness of treating others as I would want to be treated. And in doing so, I began to bloom where I didn't want to be planted.

In this season of blooming, I experienced, what I call, a “spiritual growth spurt." You see, God couldn't teach me what I needed to know on the mountaintop. For two reasons: (1) I had become too proud of what I knew. (2) I cared more about what others thought of me than what God thought of me.

God's grace brought me through the valley, intact. He taught me that, in life, even if the road is lonely, we are never truly alone with Him.

Today I am less judgmental and more inclusive. I no longer moan and groan about my daughter's sexual orientation. In fact, I see my gay child as a gift, a gift that has taught me so much about life, about myself, and about others.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Beware the Stone Throwers Web

Since becoming a Christian in 2004, I have heard the message preached (several times) about how we should stay out of the world lest we become infected. I do agree with this on some level of conscience. But only in the sense where we need to be mindful of the allure the darker side of humanity can have on the flesh.

For example, if Mother Teresa hadn’t diligently pursued the Vatican to allow her mission in Calcutta, India, she might not have gone out into the world to help the impoverished people in the slums, embracing the people of different faiths that she found there. 

I have had many conversations with non-Christian friends and family members about their concept of God. Most of them confirmed their belief in God but perceived many in the church to be stone throwers rather than servants like Mother Teresa. 

And, as sad as it is, I do understand why the secular world could have this impression of the church. I have witnessed incidents of segregation in my earlier church life as well. But I still believe most Christians are fundamentally good at heart. However, as passive Christians, we cannot sit in silence and allow the aggressive personalities of a few stone throwers to be the loudest voice for the Christian faith. 

In Matthew 23, Jesus addressed the Pharisees about how on the outside they embodied the look of holiness while on the inside, their hearts, minds, and souls were filthy. They were the religious leaders of the day, who knew the ways of God, who selfishly stirred up the people, and who, at times, turned them into stone throwers. All in the name of religion.

Jesus analogy strikes a distinct contrast between religion and Christianity for us today. He reminds us to be more concerned with what is going on within, making sure our cup is clean on the inside because he knows that for us to live a life pleasing to Him, our outward life must match our inward life. Discernment should always be a virtue of the heart; a heart that’s in sync with God.

I'll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy to become less selfish and more selfless. It’s something I have to work on daily when dealing with the motives of my heart. However, to err is human. We can all be drawn into the "stone throwers web.” 

But it's up to us to resist this enticement. It's up to us to show the world the real heart of the Church, a heart where the majority of its members long to be more Christ-like. And if we can succeed at this, I believe the great works of the Church will stay in the forefront, opening doors for more people to join the fold.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Unresolved Grief

Grief isn't something we anticipate or want. But whether it's through death, a divorce, loss of a job, childhood pain, or by some other means, grief comes into our lives as an uninvited guest.

And if grief is left unresolved, it will eventually hunt you down. It will take you to a place where you will have no choice but to look back, relive events, and seek a resolution to your pain.

So many of us carry around unresolved grief without even being aware of it, though. I know I sure did. But through much self-reflection and prayer, I now have a deeper understanding of the far-reaching implications my unresolved childhood grief had taken upon my life.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, an era where openly discussing personal grief was hush-hush, where children were thought to be too young to understand grief, and this notion held me back from mourning the death of my nine-year-old brother.

As a five-year-old, I may not have been able to grasp the full concept of grief, but I certainly was aware of what was happening around me, and it was both confusing and frightening.

I have never forgotten the vision of my mother crying at my brother's gravesite. And I don't want to minimize how painful it must have been for her to bury her son because no parent should have to bury their child. But seeing my mother so sad in the days to follow was the beginning process of putting my emotions into the deep freezer (so to speak), and by doing so, I had frozen a part of my heart.

I still went on to function well in life. I held down a great career, raised two beautiful children. But I wasn't oblivious to what was happening in my body. There was always a feeling of disconnect in my soul, like a piece of me was missing. At times, out of the blue, despair would show up and grip my life, for no apparent reason, leaving me questioning what was wrong with me. Then when I lost my mother suddenly in 1987, grief had become complicated due to my frozen emotions.

Frozen emotions don’t go away; they only lay dormant in our innermost being, numbing us, and limiting the depth of our feelings, making any new experience with loss more complicated and prolonged. To heal, we must feel the pain. We must unthaw our emotions. And we must allow the unspoken parts of ourselves to emerge. Only then will be able to connect with our losses.

It was in this discovery I came to understand that grief still gripped the inner child in me, that the little girl frozen in time would be the key to my wholeness, the missing piece that my soul lacked. And by the grace of God, we are both thriving today.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Under The Umbrella of Dementia’s Grip

Whether death is sudden or lingering and expected, grief steals from us; it robs us of our joy and sends us down a turbulent river of emotions.

A dear friend was diagnosis with dementia a decade ago. At the onset of his prognosis, there was little change in character. But in the last five years, and especially in the last six months, his disease rapidly progressed, and sadly, he lost his battle last week.

Often when we hear the word dementia, we presume memory loss. But dementia is so much more than that. Memory loss does indeed create a profound anguish because memories are the foundation of who we are. But on the whole, dementia encompasses a vast range of loss and sorrow, filled with many outpouring of emotions, bringing grief and loss to the forefront of our daily lives.

Because I had witnessed my friend's dementia unfold, it made me more aware of how much grief and loss are combined and present for caregivers and family members dealing with this disease. Before seeing the disabling characteristics of dementia first-hand, I mostly considered the words grief and loss (when used in tandem) to be associated with death. But long before there is any closure with death, the people involved must move through the agony of the anticipated losses that gradually steal the personal bond they once shared with their loved one. And once death does finally come, it's usually accompanied by a mixture of sorrow and relief: sorrow because their loved one is no longer with them, and relief because suffering has ended.

Dementia, however, is not a one size fits all. It’s a unique set of experiences for the individual and their family.

In my friend's case, there were times when this disease caused his brain to misfire, leaving him lost and frustrated. But there were other times when moments of normalcy had crept back to the surface, bringing joy and laughter into our lives.  

It can be a long emotional journey watching the person we love slip away from us, the person that may now not even know us. So we must savor those moments of normalcy. Because even when they become a rarity, they are still a precious gift of hope for all who are fearful and struggling under the umbrella of dementia's grip.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Thirty-Five Years Married—Finding Love After Abuse

Derick and I met at a community college, located at a midway point between our hometowns. I was 19. And he was 18.

I had entered this college because it offered an upgrading program for me to complete my General Education Diploma (GED). Derick was there taking a Welding trade, which he has never used to gain employment. (But I am so thankful he decided to take it! I'll chalk it up to fate!)

I remember how our classrooms were around the corner from each other and how every morning Derick's whistles would echo behind me as I walked by him. I should have been flattered that this hot, blue-eyed guy was admiring me. In fact, one time I would have loved all the attention, and I probably would have even shaken my booty at him. But Derick's boldness left me uncomfortable.

At 19 years of age, I had already been in two abusive relationships. I escaped one only to fall into another, the last one ending six months before I entered college. So my emotional scars were still very much present. My self-esteem was damaged, and I had a negative mindset with regards to trust and dating and even love. In my young life, it had only shown itself to be abusive, untrustworthy, controlling, and manipulative. And besides, I had entered college for the sole purpose of obtaining my GED. I didn't need any distractions; I only wanted to achieve a better life.

It's not easy re-engaging in the dating scene after abuse. (In my case, abusers.) The question always at the forefront of my mind was, "Will he abuse me? " and it held me back from Derick's persistence of wanting to date me. It would be months before I said yes. And I am so glad I did. He mirrored love in my life in ways I had never experienced before. It was a love that would take us down the aisle two years later.


We by no means went on to have a fairytale marriage. It has been far from perfect. Through busy careers, parenthood, sickness, grief, lack of intimacy, it all, at times, left us wondering if our love would stand the test of time.

However, here we are today celebrating a marriage milestone of 35 years. Our love has not only evolved, but it has indeed stood the test of time, for better, for worse, in sickness and health, until death do us part...

Do you believe in fate? I sure do!