Monday, April 9, 2018

Finding the Rainbow in Grief

Just as the many faces of grief represent some of life's darkest hours, for me, a rainbow is a symbolic reminder of how God's light pierces through the darkness and offers hope beyond the storm.

Do you know there are ultraviolet and infrared light/colors present in a rainbow? But the naked eye can only pick up the seven colors of the spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

Let's assume the vibrant colors of the rainbow symbolically express the layers of beauty life has to offer, and the colors not seen represent the segments of adversity we face. After all, life isn't always beautiful. There are periods of time when it can be cruel and littered with hardships, and losing a loved one is one such hardship.

Those of us who have walked (or who are walking) through the valley of grief, know it's impossible to see anything colorful in the rawness of grief. We find it hard to believe there will be better days, brighter days ahead.

And while there's no timeline for grief—life, however, cannot go forward until the storm within us begins to subside. Only then will the rainbows vibrant colors slowly filter back into our lives. No doubt we will see them in a different light, but through perseverance and God's guidance, the hurtful memories will fade, and we will find a pot of gold within the treasured memories of our loved one.

I know this to be true in my own life. I will never forget the dreaded phone call that forever changed me. Losing my mom of 56 years to a massive heart attack (in August of 1987) plunged me into a dark place, where grief virtually took me down an unhealthy road toward a mental breakdown.

I couldn't see the beauty of the rainbow anymore. I was being sucked into, what felt like, a whirling vortex, void of color. I tried each day to kick into survival mode, to put one foot in front of the other for my four-year-old daughter and five-month-old son, leaving me little time to give attention to what was, indeed, happening inside my body. There was no checklist to help me navigate through grief, no access to grief resources like we have today. Besides, it was as if grief and depression carried a greater stigma back then—an awkwardness—you might say, which made it even harder to admit that I needed help.

But with hindsight comes perspective: My near breakdown was a breakthrough into the window of my grief, the beginning of my healing process.

In our unique way, we will forever mourn our loved ones. There will always be a part of us that feels sadness over their loss. Having said that, though, as they continue to live on in our heart, we will be able to enjoy the beauty of the rainbow once again—through the many memories we'd shared together.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Climb

Born and raised in Newfoundland, Derick and I frequently took our two children back to visit family still residing there. And although we visited during various times of the year, I would say that July and August are the most popular to witness the island's vast beauty, and one of its gems is Gros Morne National Park, with the mystical Gros Morne Mountain rising out of its midst.

It's been more than two decades since our families' summer vacation led us on an adventurous, seven-hour journey to conquer this often fog-shrouded mountain, testing our endurance and perseverance along the marked path en route to the summit and back down again.

I still vividly remember the strenuous climb up through the gorge, and how painful and daunting it was for me. I moaned and groaned and gasped for air as I climbed over boulders, literally, on my hands and knees. My sore stretched calves had me resting every five minutes, and each time I contemplated quitting.

You see, I wanted the splendor of the mountaintop that awaited me, but I didn't want to do the hard work it entailed to get there: I wanted comfort. I wanted the easy way out. But thanks to Derick and our two children for urging me to keep going, the most spectacular view stood before us on the summit that day. From the broader viewpoint of the mountain, we were also able to capture a better perspective on how far we'd traveled, and it certainly gave us a different outlook than the forested area below.

However, after every mountaintop event in life, there's a valley in which we must descend. And it wasn't long into ours before we were temporarily forced to huddle together when a fast-moving rainstorm came upon us and produced a dense fog cover over the mountain. It not only dampened our summit experience, but it also turned the rocky terrain into a slippery, treacherous mess, heightening our sense of urgency to reach the base area safely.

But whether we are literally or figuratively climbing a mountain, both have pain and hard work involved. Because not unlike my mountain climb expedition, there have been times in my Christian journey where it felt like I was crawling along, times when I wanted to quit, times when I wanted it to be more comfortable, and times when I felt shrouded in a fog, not knowing my way out.

I am sure we can all relate to the many challenges life brings and to the fact that these challenges can—for a short time—veil our inner beauty, and even test our faith. However, there's no better way to weather the storm than to huddle together with those closest to us, to help us come to terms with our circumstances and regain our footing.

So often, though, our initial response is to pull back and try to face things on our own, and while this may be okay for a period, we aren't created to climb alone. Instead, Christ's calls us to encourage one another, to build one another up, and to give one another that extra support along the, sometimes, rocky path of life.

As we celebrate our faith and give thanks for the miracle of the Cross this Easter, let us also call to mind our humanness, to recognize that (just like us) Christ's closest followers had times when they were shrouded in a fog of doubt and fear. But the illustration of Him stumbling and crawling up the incline with the burden of the cross/world on His shoulders is one of redemption. He rose again to offer His grace, love, and forgiveness to a world that was and still is in desperate need of hope and guidance for all phases of life's climb, en route to the final summit (Heaven).

How will you climb?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Years is a Time to Be Resolute

It's that time of year again! Christmas is behind us, and (for various reasons) many will want to start 2018 with an incentive to turn over a new leaf. Why? Because resolutions are a New Year’s tradition, an opportunity to turn a symbolic new beginning into reality. And while some will be successful at it, others will become bored and deflated before January is even over, tossing their goals aside in defeat.

 Why are so many New Year’s resolutions short-lived?

Why do so many begin the new year motivated to make changes, only to end up feeling like a failure when they have a relapse?

There are a couple of reasons that stand out as to why my resolutions didn’t work in past years: 1) I’d made them on a whim, or a dare. 2) I’d set unrealistic goals for myself.

Change (as I now understand it) doesn’t come from putting unwarranted pressure on ourselves; it comes from a mindset of re-wiring the brain to achieve a different outcome, and it's meant to be a gradual process. But most of us humans want a "quick-fix." And so, when change doesn't come fast enough, we end up relapsing and see ourselves as failures. On the other hand, if we begin to look at our failures as part of the "change process," it not only helps us to stay motivated but to stay on course and let change do its thing in us. And besides, it's not how many times we fall that creates our legacy. It’s in how we get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep on evolving as individuals.

I read somewhere that we can’t unlive what we have lived, and it’s true, isn't it? However, we can look to the New Year as a reminder to "wipe the slate clean," reset our goals and be inspired by a brand-new year ahead of us.  

Whatever you're planning to achieve for the coming year, be realistic. Take baby steps. And remember: if you relapse, don’t give up. Instead, celebrate your progress. Reflect on how far you have come, not how far you have to go. Each step you take is a victory! So just keep believing in yourself and stay open to hope.

Happy New Year!  Have a blessed 2018.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Life-Changing Mission Experience

In the summer of 2005, I embarked on my very first mission trip, with the local church I'd attended at the time.

Weeks leading up to it, I’d heard testimonies about how the mission field was a life-changing experience, but I still couldn’t grasp what my own experience would look like, nor did I have any expectations to be used by God in any particular way. All I knew was that I was stepping well outside of my comfort zone and into the poverty-stricken region of Galena, Mexico.

The first leg of the journey landed us in Austin, Texas, where we’d spend a few days getting acquainted with our American mission partners. From there both teams would board a bus and trek across the Mexican border en route to our missionary facility in Galena, our base camp.

In the days to follow, what impacted me the most, however, was when we branched out and spent time with the people living in the secluded mountain villages.

I remember our first drive up through the mountains, and how breathtaking it was. But the plight of its inhabitants would soon overshadow the scenic view. Dirt roads. Run-Down shacks with no hydro or running water, to a gentleman greeting us on his donkey, had left the scene before me so surreal; it felt as though we’d time-warped back to an earlier century.

And although it was heartbreaking to see the children and their families living in some of the most desperate situations imaginable, amidst their rugged conditions, I couldn't help but observe how materialism was of no essence to them. What mattered most was the fundamentals of life, such as food, clean water, shelter, and some form of health care. It was all of the things I had taken for granted back home in Canada.

Mother Teresa once said: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” This gift was, undoubtedly, present in Galena. Because despite the language barrier, the mutual gift of a gentle spirit and a loving simile was witnessed amongst the local people and us, daily.

I still visualize the children running to greet me with their big smiles, as well as the communicative expressions we all shared with the Mexican people at our evening worship services. It was some of the most memorable interactions that captured my heart and remains with me to this day.

I often think about the impoverished people in the Galena region, and about their spiritual progress and well-being. Because it was evident that the battle against the powers of darkness lurked in the shadows of their city and villages, including the common practice of witchcraft.

In hindsight, my mission experience was indeed life-changing. It not only gave me a new perspective on what it truly means to be content, but it made me realize that whether we're involved in missions abroad or here at home, it's the work that Christ calls us to.

The Christmas season is fast approaching, and as we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Greatest Missionary of all time, let's continue to look for opportunities to brighten the lives of the less fortunate amongst us.

Monday, November 6, 2017

"Everything Happens for A Reason"

I have heard this cliché said amongst Christians and non-Christians, alike. In fact, I have been guilty of saying it myself, without giving much thought to how my words might have affected the other person.

And while this cliché does hold some validity in my life today, I am increasingly aware of how damaging its use can be when referring to grief and human suffering.

Whether we believe that everything happens for a reason or not, the most crucial consideration should be how the one on the receiving end of our words will interpret it.

Because, as humans, we want to be "fixers." We want to sweep in and provide a reason for one's loss, to ease their pain, in an attempt to help them make sense of what happened, and so at times we end up saying clichés such as "everything happens for a reason."

I agree that everything has a cause and an effect, but personally, I don't believe God causes "unreasoned" bad things to happen, or it's His will to inflict pain and suffering on His children. To say otherwise (in my opinion) is to imply that evil doesn't exist, that God is behind every bad thing that happens, and that He has a divine purpose behind every ordeal we face. Not only can this elicit a negative response for the griever, but it can also leave the griever with unanswered questions because, in the midst of their grief, no reason makes sense. There's often no justification or closure as to why certain things happen, here, in this Earthly realm.

Think about it: For what reason does a loving God provoke so much injustice and abuse in the world? For what reason does a loving God incite someone to open fire on innocent people? For what reason does an innocent child die?

While some things are merely beyond our comprehension, we can rest assured that God sees the bigger picture. We can take solace in the fact that He is there in our grief, healing the broken places in our heart so that we can become a pillar of light and support for others.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Compassion Fatigue

“Compassion fatigue is the price you pay for empathy.”

Compassion fatigue wasn’t something I'd paid much attention to throughout my 25-year career in long-term care. But looking back now, I can certainly attest to experiencing it, to some degree, especially the last few years while suffering from back pain and trying to cope with an ever-changing work environment.  

Empathy, first of all, is about feelings; it's about being able to slip into the shoes of the sufferer and see the world from their perspective. 

Compassion fatigue, on the other hand, affects the quality of care we give, because something has interfered with our ability to radiate the compassion and empathy we once felt. 

When I began my career in long-term care, empathy and compassion were something that came naturally to me. I didn't have a problem slipping into the client's shoes, to help them transition through whatever emotions they were feeling. It was empowering and energizing to uplift the face of a dear elderly, to say the least, and it still is!

During the last few years of my career, however, I began to feel exhausted, both physically and emotionally, which, in turn, had affected my zeal on the job. It wasn't that I’d stopped trying to provide the best possible care for the elderly, by no means, but there was a decrease in my empathy and compassion, nevertheless.

In retrospect, I was witnessing firsthand how the health care system—in an attempt for more oversight—had refocused its efforts at the administrative level. The organizational shift was meant to streamline the workforce. But it had indirectly dealt cuts to what I’d term as CARE (Companionship Always Restores Empathy) hours out on the floor, leaving less time for client/caregiver interaction, which left me frustrated and dissatisfied because it had hindered my ability to provide the same level of care to the clients.

For our compassionate heart to continue beating an empathetic rhythm, in sync, with those in our care, we must first maintain a sense of well-being for ourselves. And to preserve this wellness state, it may require stepping back to rejuvenate and replenish both body and spirit, or setting emotional boundaries, or whatever personal means works best.

It's been three years since I've retired from my career in long-term care. And while I believe that compassion fatigue can be the price we pay for empathy, the rewards of being a caregiver (for me) far outweighed the cost of caring.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Postive Change and Relationships

“When you stop trying to change others and work on changing yourself, your world changes for the better." Author Unknown 

Sometimes life calls us to do a self-analysis, to "right the ship" (so to speak), and cut ties with the things that are dragging us down. 

For years I felt trapped in a “woe is me" attitude. I blamed my past and others for my erratic emotional state. And even in my marriage, I thought it was somehow Derick's responsibility to make me happy. 

But my happiness came as a result of marching to the beat of my own drum. Mind you it took a lot of years swimming upstream—through a multitude of changes— to do the deep, inner work of building a better relationship with myself.

It takes courage and strength to continue swimming against the current, to let go of the familiar, and create the life we so desire. For one, fear shows up, as a barrier, to try and keep us in stagnate waters. And two, the upstream journey always accompanies some form of loss, whether it's a sense of self, a relationship, a career, or by some other means. Why? Because we have to let go of something to move forward, to swim out of the old and dive into a life of new perspective. 

For example, when I became a Christian in 2004, I lost friendships. Many now saw me as a boring churchgoer, and so we drifted apart. Then when I retired from my career in 2014 (on account of back issues), I lost a big part of my identity. I lost my salary. And I lost co-worker acquaintances. These changes were both frightening and uncomfortable, at first. But both have benefited my overall well-being today. Both have redefined me as a person. In short: My faith has given me inner peace. And my retirement has afforded me the means and time to write. 

Once we change our lives for the better, we need to be mindful of any unhealthy changes that try to creep back in, especially with regards to relationships. Because it's so easy to take on the negative characteristics of those whom we hang with, and by allowing their negativity to seep into our lives, it could damage our core being.

But having said that, we cannot make this journey alone, either. Just as negative influences can be harmful, an inner circle of trusted family and friends can be the gifts that keep us grounded, giving us the feedback we need to stay on the straight and narrow. 

I guess the key to anything in life is to have a balance, right?