Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Being Grateful for the Now

Today is a gift and that’s why it’s called “the present.”

We spend so much of our lives seeking and longing for things that we forget to appreciate all it holds for us today. The past is the past. Our future hasn’t happen yet. The only thing we have control over is how we live our lives, right here, in the Now. 

When I read about the tragic death of Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s twelve year old son, Jack, four years ago, it saddened me to the core. His death not only sent me to my knees in desperate prayer for Anna and her family, but for my own, as well.

Our daughter, Heather, had come out gay a few years prior to hearing about Jack’s death. And life was really, really hard. Derick and I were distraught and gripped by feelings of confusion, (mostly, over religious views) and it had put a strain on our family, not to mention how it was damaging mine and Heather’s mother/daughter relationship. 

Anna's story of her dear, sweet Jack made Derick and I more appreciative for the Now. It forced us to look at our heart, bring together all that was close to us, and hold it closer. It helped to lift us from our own losses and difficulties, changing our perspective on things. After all, our daughter was still alive.  For the Donaldson’s, however, their world would only become darker. 

In the rawness of her grief, Anna poured her soul on paper, bringing forth her book Rare Bird, which was published last year, and became a New York Times best seller. 

I have read Rare Bird. It’s not a scary book about death. Anna openly wrote about the loss of her son, how her family found their way out of the darkness of grief, and back into the light of living; she openly wrote about how in the rawness of her devastating loss, her faith and love for God was tested, but found the strength to hang on. Anna’s words will bring you to tears, but they will also make you smile, as you come to know Jack and his family. 

Rare Bird taught me a lot about life, grief, faith, and trusting God in the storms. It taught me that the past holds both fond memories and sorrow, and that God purposely designed us to not know our future, but it’s living in the present that truly forges our path to this future. It taught me that when we show up and be present with our presence, whether it’s with a smile, a hug, or a listening ear, we are a channel of light, love, and compassion for others. But more important, it taught me to cherish what I have in the Now. 

Jack would of been sixteen today. He is deeply missed by his family and friends. And that will never, ever change. 

As for Anna, she continues to show up each day with her presence. Even through her grief, she is a beautiful channel of light, love, and compassion for others. 

You can read more about Anna’s story on her blog at Inch of Gray. She is also on Facebook.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Fullness of the Empty Lot

My inset into our church's Roots and Wings Newsletter for Oct. 

I grew up in the sixties and seventies, in a small, secluded town, along the coast of St. Albans, Newfoundland. The bright, blue, two-story home that I once lived in with my eight sisters and five brothers have since been demolished. Today, the lot sits empty and overgrown. All that’s left is a collection of memories.

When Mom died back in 1987, I emotionally disconnected from my hometown. Dad had gone to live with my sister, Margaret, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and except for the few times that my sisters and I had taken him home for a visit, I opted to stay away. During those years, I held onto the memory of my own families’ last visit with Mom, which took place one month prior to her death, remembering how she glowed when she danced with our daughter, Heather, and held our son, Patrick, for the first time. I may not understand all of God’s ways, but I believe, without a doubt, He gave me that time with Mom for a reason. It's a memory that I will always cherish; a moment in time where we not only bonded as mother/daughter but also as two loving mothers.

Over the last few years, I often find myself reminiscing and writing about my childhood, thinking about the hardships our large family of fourteen had to endured, even though, in some ways, life was much simpler back then. We had the freedom to explore, take on new adventures, and allow our imaginations to run wild. During the summer months, time was of no essence. It wasn't uncommon for my younger siblings and me to leave home in the morning, lunch in hand, with the stipulation that we return before dark. 

“Take care of the little ones, Joyce,” Mom would yell as we headed up the driveway.

 “I will, Mom,” I’d yell back.

Today, my siblings and I are orphans. Dad lost his fight to congestive heart failure three years ago, leaving the life that we had together with our parents no more than a memory. There are days when I feel the sadness and loneliness, associated with an orphan's grief, rising up on the inside of me. Then I sit down to write, because writing is a big part of my resurgence of thought. It sparks a magical inspiration in me; it’s the magic of a little girl who comes to life in a new light. And as I write and dig deeper into my memory bank, whatever I am met with along the way, whatever rises up in my body, soul, and mind, there in the midst, even amongst the tears, I find joy, I find laughter, I find happiness, as well as pain and regret. But most importantly, I find an incredible sense of peace; the true essence of my awareness; it’s an epiphany of sorts that love is not earned in this life, but freely given, with no strings attached.

And perhaps this peace comes from knowing that both of my parents are finally together again. Or perhaps it’s because I am fully aware that my childhood, empty lot don't represent an empty life, heart, or mind. What it represents is a part of my personal history; a glance back into the makings of my inner soul; a realization that good memories are to be cherished and the bad ones forgiven, if not forgotten; a realization that if we try to do our best for one another in this life, that gesture of love will move us forward. 

This fall season, the deciduous trees will once again shed their leaves, causing them to look bare and lifeless, only to burst forward in the springtime with new life again. My childhood, empty lot does the same for me. On the surface, it looks overgrown and empty, but in my imagination, I bring it back to life; a life filled with the hustle and bustle of belonging to a large family. And it's a memory that fills my heart with thankfulness.

During this fall season of Thanksgiving, are there things that you need to shed or look at in a new light? What are you most thankful for?