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? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Public Speaking

I've had my share of embarrassing moments with regards to public speaking over the years. One that vividly stands out occurred in my early thirties.

I had enrolled in an evening course (at a nearby college) to obtain my certificate as a Personal Support Worker (PSW); a newly enacted requirement that was essential to maintain my job in long-term-care.

On day one, while discussing the course overview, our instructor casually announced that one of the demands would be a 20-minute in-class presentation. I was panic-stricken: I can’t do this. I will embarrass myself. Maybe I'll find a way to opt out of it.

I know most people—if not all—feel some degree of anxiousness when it comes to public speaking. It’s a typical reaction to stress, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it was much more than the universal feelings of anxiousness for me. Although my social anxiety disorder didn't have face years ago, it was what intensified my fear of public speaking.

Social anxiety is performance based and differs for everyone. For example, some may suffer from social awkwardness. I am a very sociable person. However, up until a few years ago, if I were in a situation where I had to read aloud or speak in front of a group, it'd send my body into a reactional state, resulting in sweaty palms, a racing heart, and shakiness. The thing was, I knew there was no imminent danger, and that my fear was unreasonable, but what I believed and what my body felt were two different things.

I had gone to class on the evening of my presentation prepared, and when my name was called to speak, I gripped my sweaty palms around my project and reluctantly walked up to the podium. I began with a personal background introduction and a brief statement on my chosen topic of discussion. But what kicked my anxiety into overdrive was when I took a few seconds to gaze out at my classmates: I saw eyes fixed on me. I saw smiles on faces that I mistook to be judgemental smirks, and, then, the worst-case scenario happened. I bolted from the classroom.

It was an experience that not only left me embarrassed, but it also plunged me back into the shadows, deepening my fear of public speaking, and I'd spend years avoiding it, or anything else that'd triggered intense anxiety, for that matter.

But this “avoiding” mindset was crippling. It held me back from reaching my full potential, which is why I have been doing a lot of soul-searching in the last decade. And—amongst other things—I've learned that the onset of my social anxiety disorder manifested itself in elementary school.

As a child, I was shy. I lacked confidence. It was painfully hard when I was called upon to read in front of the class. I'd stumble over my words, and it provoked some of my classmates to ridicule me. But I had no idea how much it'd impact my life as an adult.

And my college experience, many, many years later, would prove this to be true. That night wasn't so much about the fear of speaking in public; it was more about a sense of déjà vu; an overwhelming feeling, a flashback, to the ridiculed little school girl, which, ironically, became the core resolution to understanding my intense fear of public speaking, in the first place.

For years my social anxiety felt like a fight that I could never win. For years it fed the voices (the lies) inside my head, which lurked in the shadows, waiting to defeat me. I am happy to say that it no longer has a stronghold over my life today. Mind you; I don’t, by any means, jump at the chance to speak in public. But through more self-awareness and diligence, as well as a belief that with God all things are possible, I'm learning about my fears, and how to triumph over them. And it has helped me move out of the shadows and offer encouragement to those who are struggling with anxiety.

P.S. I did eventually go back to class and complete my presentation that evening. And the instructor awarded me a B for my efforts. Phew!

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!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Navigating The Waters of Friendships

God has taught me so much about the value of healthy relationships, and the wisdom necessary to obtain them.

Many of us in today's world communicate through social media: It gives us avenues to connect with family and friends. It also provides a means for one's voice to be heard.

If given a choice, however, I would still prefer the physical realm of friendship. I find there's a more profound connection through the sharing of our stories face-to-face.   

Don't get me wrong. I write snippets about my life here on my blog, and I do hope it helps my readers navigate through similar situations. Furthermore, if I aspire to be a great writer/storyteller, I also know there's a certain amount of vulnerability that goes along with it. But not at the expense of having my life totally exposed. Seeing the political scene continue to play out on social media in the USA is a blunt reminder of the scrutiny created through its use. So for me, there are certain aspects of my life I would rather not share with the cyber world.

But whether it's in the cyber world or the physical world, some acquaintances and friends will come and go. It's a fact of life. Because life is a sequence of events, and sometimes these events not only alter us but they change the circle of people we associate with as well.

When Derick and I became a Christian, for example, our circle of friends changed. Some remained acquaintances but most drifted away. And our circle of friends changed (yet again) when our daughter came out gay.

During our daughter's coming out, we attended a church that was very conservative, and at times they exhibited a harmful stance toward homosexuality. Many felt our daughter needed fixing, and that our love for her should be conditional. Derick and I tried to conform to what they deemed acceptable, all the while our daughter's life hung in the balance. But thankfully, unconditional love did find a way to prevail. I shudder to think of the implications had we chosen a different path.

When facing life's storms, ask God to navigate you back to the friendlier waters of life. He created us not only to desire the bond of a family but of friendship as well. And sometimes He even blesses us with friends that become like family. These friends are, indeed, a rarity, and a true gift from above.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mid-Life Funk

 I am turning 58. Oh my gosh! My best years are now over!

It sounds extreme, doesn't it? But it's how I have been feeling lately.

I have always been a firm believer that age is only a number; however, turning 58 has stirred something up inside me, leaving me in a bit of a funk.

Could it be that I am going through a late stage mid-life crisis?

Or is it just an awakening to the true meaning of midlife?

I believe it's the latter.

In our younger years, my husband and I shared the belief that working hard and earning a good living would enhance the pursuit of happiness, for our children as well as ourselves. And now that we are empty-nesters, nothing makes us happier than to see both of our kids self-reliant, with great careers. So, in a sense, our belief did our family well.

But our mindset has since changed, and even though middle age can still present its financial challenges for some, our priority inevitably shifted from money to health concerns.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with excellent health so far. And I have never been more grateful for how life has afforded me the means to retire early and pursue my dreams. But with age comes the wisdom of knowing that money doesn't mean much if our health becomes compromised.

Having seen many develop health problems in my age group does scare me, making me realize that so many didn't get to reach 58, and so many won't get to reach 58. My mother died at 56. My brother died at the age of nine. So, intellectually, I know that I am grateful for life as it is, but when your body is in a funk, your body is in a funk. And many times, it defies explanation.

So what helps me lift this dark cloud?

My faith in God and humanity play significant roles.

Writing helps to free its hold over me.

Having people come alongside in a supportive, nonjudgmental way, who listen with an understanding ear, is very significant to me as well.

Exercise, lots of rest, and a well-balanced diet are also key factors that help me to get through my funk.

What about you? Do you find yourself in a funk these days?

If so, don't hide it. Talk about it. Write about it. Being vulnerable will help others know that they are not alone. But above all else, find the means that works best for you.

On the upside, the clouds have already lifted for me, and my fears of turning 58 have already subsided. Besides, 60 is the new 50 today, right?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Reflections of Imperfections

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It sees or observes a thing or a person and is subjective based on or influenced by personal feelings, taste, or opinions.

Wouldn't it be great if we could view our lives through the lens of nature? Because even with all its deformities, we still see nature's beauty; we are still captivated by the transformation the different seasons bring, looking beyond its imperfections and accepting the natural order of its creation.

But when we look through the lens of humanity, many of us tend to have a harder time accepting the fact that we are imperfect beings, yet still beautifully created.

Why is this?

Is it because the world's perception of beauty is ingrained by social media to be one of perfection; therefore, seen through the lens of a standardise physical beauty?

Does this idea of perfection eventually creep inward and mask our inner beauty as well?

I am not saying that fitting the mould of physical beauty is, in itself, a bad thing, or that we shouldn't care about our physical appearance. But if we look beyond our imperfections; if we learn to embrace and accept and unmasked them, we will find the true essence of beauty in its rarest form, a beauty that captures the glow of the soul.

I know this to be true in my life. Because while there are some physical features that I can't change about myself, the insecurities ingrained in me from my childhood was something that I could change. Ultimately, I was the one allowing them to gain power over the deception of my imperfections. I was the one choosing to live in the shadow of my past.

Accepting that I am an imperfect being residing in an imperfect world has not only been life-changing for me, but it has deepened my connection with others as well.

Turn your scars into beauty.

You are more than your imperfections.

You are a unique individual.

You are one of a kind, fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator.

His power is made perfect in your imperfections.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Platitudes in Grief

Grief holds no boundaries. I am neither the exception from it nor am I an expert on it. My greatest teacher on this sensitive subject, however, has been my losses. 

To better understand grief's aftermath, I enrolled in a course that mainly focuses on Grief and Loss Counselling, with an emphasis on a counselor's role while assisting the bereaved. And it has opened my eyes to the wrongful use of platitudes in grief: 

" I know how you feel." 

" Your loved one is in a better place." 

" At least your loved one didn't suffer."

" Time heals all wounds."

" Everything happens for a reason."

" You should be over your grief by now."

" Your loved one would have wanted you to move on."

" Be strong." 

" Keep the faith."

Most of us (myself included) have used these platitudes with good intentions, though.

No doubt, for some, there is a certain level of discomfort and awkwardness when they are face-to-face with a bereaved person. They are fearful of saying the wrong thing but feel the need to, at least, say something, so they use platitudes in hopes of offering some support. But rarely do they have the outcome that one intended. If anything, it can minimize the bereaved person's pain. Saying I am sorry or simply being there with a reassuring hug or a listening ear is often enough. 

Grief, though universal to us all, is unique to the individual.