Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hearing properly

Some recent conversations have awakened me to the fact that I'm not the only one with workplace stress. Not that I thought I was, but I must admit I've been pretty absorbed with my own troubles. Along with that was the accompanying insight that I may have missed someone else's pain because mine was so all encompassing,  I don't say that as a guilt thing, because it's probably got to do with survival and how all of us are wired so that we don't take on unnecessary burdens when we're under the gun ourselves, but one conversation in particular really hit home.

I had been recently introduced to someone I'd heard about and she'd known of me. Once we got trivialities out of the way and started talking a bit more about our lives, the subject of work came up. This new acquaintance is about 15 years older than me and a counsellor who's still practicing. She knew something about the chaos ensuing in the office (not through me) and I made a comment that I was stretched rather thin this summer. Her response was "well, it's good to be stretched now and then". I could have laughed out loud but rather, I shut down. There were 2 thoughts that came to mind: 

1) I hope she's more sensitive to her clients than that comment suggested, and  

2) how many times have I not heard what's been said to me because I'm not really paying attention? 

Actually, another thought occurred to me a couple of weeks later - maybe that was her way of shutting down what she thought might be a bid for free advice! It wasn't. Rather, it was an attempt to be somewhat truthful of my situation without using the innocuous word "fine" but also not get into it too much either. Be that as it may, I'm somewhat saddened to realize I may have missed out an opportunity to come alongside someone and just say, "yeah, that sucks". That's really all we need sometimes isn't it? Acknowledgement that our struggles are not unnoticed and that we're still valuable human beings loved by God.

May God quicken my ears to hear properly.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


Have you ever taken a look at your life and wondered how you got there? If there's ever been any time in my life that I wished I could be more laissez-faire and less "responsible", this summer would be that time.

Through a series of events at work, I initially offered to do some training for a new person in my old job. Maybe a bit inconvenient to be switching back and forth between that and my regular job, but the summer workload is a little lighter so it seemed do-able. Then, other things occurred and I've more or less been seconded to assist in two departments where I worked previously, plus still handle my regular job. Switching hats and fielding questions/trouble-shooting/problem-solving in a department where everyone is pretty new is exhausting. This isn't just multi-tasking, it's many-tasking and I don't know anyone who does it well. Switching gears takes time and each time you switch, it takes longer to make the transition, more errors occur and you're more prone to forget things. 

Earlier this spring, I had stepped back from some of my involvements at church and in my studies. I did not expect I might have to put limits up in my workworld too, but here I am. More importantly, I'm learning how to communicate "this long and no longer" in a gracious way to those I'm answerable to before I explode. All sounds a little melodramatic doesn't it?!! But it's challenging for someone like me who has a heart to help others, who likes organization and efficiency, who has knowledge of the job and tasks required (when no one else does) and who has what some might call a "false sense of responsibility". Who, me?? Say it ain't so...yep, sorry.

I've tried, with varying degrees of success, to be aware of where God is in all of this. I tend to avoid the "what is God trying to teach me?" question because I don't think that's actually part of the equation. That puts even more pressure on me to figure it out and I don't think God is trying to guilt me with that.  I am however, trying to be aware of His presence in those moments when I'm overwhelmed with the task and to be grateful for the fact He's with me. It's a work in progress. It doesn't mean I'm not learning things about myself, about God and about people. I just don't believe that's the reason I'm in this situation. The "why" doesn't actually matter.

An author I heard about in one of my classes, Dr. John Medina, has written some books on the brain. His website, Brain has lots of little video clips and info on how the brain works and I find it really fascinating. This crazy summer has given me occasion to reference things in his research because stress impacts the brain, and not in good ways. 

And if you know anyone who's expecting or has little ones under foot, this is an excellent book about a baby's developing brain. It covers everything from what your baby is aware of in utero, to how to manage sleep, why toddlers lie and how to navigate emotional meltdowns (helpful with grandchildren too!!)

For my SoulStream course a few years, ago, required reading was Surrender to Love by David Benner. I've been reading the 2nd and 3rd books in this trilogy which have also helped me survive this season. I won't use the word thrive - that would be over-reaching. Surviving doesn't sound much like living, and definitely not like flourishing,  but that word fits the reality so I'll stick with it.

David Benner is one of my favorite authors - a psychologist and spiritual director who understands the human psyche well and who talks about relationship with God in ways that resonate with me. Here's a blurb from his website:

David has authored or edited 28 books that have been translated into 20 foreign languages. Each presents his signature approach to issues at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, theology and the perennial wisdom tradition.
These are the 3 books that I could easily re-read over and over (not something I do with many books):

Benner doesn't like the title of the last one and says the publisher won that particular battle. He describes it as more about aligning our hearts and desires with the heart of God - quite a different take than one might normally have in mind with God's will. And well worth the investment. Short little books, but they pack a powerful punch. 

And so, I'm heading into the fall less refreshed than ideal. But our vacation is coming in a couple of months (something that's also vital to one's health) and it can't come soon enough.

Wherever you find yourself on the surviving to flourishing scale, may God present Himself in your midst and may you know, deep within your soul, that God is for you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Summer soul care

When I realized this spring that I had too many things on my plate and needed to start paring things back, I had an idea that I'd go for walks and slowly, but surely start to de-stress and get my energy back. Well, best laid plans and all that. I may have divested some responsibilities but curve balls continue to be tossed my way which means I'm not as relaxed as I'd like to be so enter the new distraction.

It's called gardening! Yes, I'm quite late to the therapeutic benefits of gardening and even at that, I've started small but I didn't want to go too overboard to begin with.

My sister got me a book on container gardening for my birthday and that's where I started. I've had quite a lot of fun picking plants, putting a sun container together (I'm really happy with how this one is doing);

and a shade one (the hosta and heuchera are doing great, the hydrangea not quite so much); 

and bought a couple of hanging baskets for color (which aren't hanging but sitting on the railing so they're in full view as I stand at the kitchen sink and I love looking at them. This view doesn't get old.

The little white flowers (bacopa) are really pretty and very copious, but they dry up quickly so I've spent more time deadheading than I probably anticipated. But right now, it's been relaxing to stand there and pick out the dry ones. I can think, or pray, or just enjoy the task.

And just in case I really get the bug and want to continue with this hobby, I've been taking notes about what works and what doesn't. Just like an avid gardener does (or so I'm told!)

And then one of Larry's clients gave us 30 toupees which we transplanted along our fence. I have no idea what the proper name is but they really look like toupees. And in the fall, you just gather up the "hair" and chop off a few inches.

Some are healthier than others and I wasn't too keen on taking them to begin with (aren't they dead?? No, they're supposed to be that color. Oh). 

But they don't look that bad in amongst the green bushes (also from Larry's client who's cleaning up his garden).

So, I'm enjoying this season  of caring for and learning about plants. It's been good for my soul. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Some good reads

I've been reading an eclectic mix of books recently. I had commented that a dose of Jan Karon's Mitford series might offset Flannery O'Connor, and it sort of did. But O'Connor won't be an author I pick up as a good read to get lost in. Good for dissecting in a literature class but on my own, not so much.

I read Paul Kalanithi's memoir When Breath Becomes Air

Kalanithi was an English major who switched over to medicine. He's almost at the end of his neurosurgery residency when he gets a terminal cancer diagnosis. He then sets out to write about life and does it most beautifully.

Then I moved on to a couple of novels which aren't memorable enough to mention. Sometimes I luck into something really good, and other times, they're okay but not awesome. If you're looking for awesome though, this is my pick - best book I've read in a very long time.

And I just finished Gretchen Rubin's book on mastering habits. It's been about 6 years since I read her first book The Happiness Project and I'd forgotten how much I like her writing and observations. I learned more about habits than I'd expected and already some of her pithy sayings have stuck with me. Like, it's easier to continue than to start again. Boy, isn't that the truth. Ever stopped doing something and then tried to pick it up again? Just not the same. Never as easy the second time round.

And apparently, your habit mastery depends on whether you're an Upholder, a Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. These are 4 tendencies she identified in her research as to why some people find it easier to start/strengthen a habit than others and then how to use those tendencies to work for you. I'm an Obliger by the way. I'm more likely to stick with something if there's external accountability and I downplay the importance of doing something for me. (Oh, that explains it!!!)

The good news is there's no one size fits all. What strategy works for you may not work for someone else. For instance, some people are better at abstaining from those things that tempt them while others are moderators and can handle having only one bite of something, for example. I think I'm more of an abstainer. It's easier if I just say no. (She says all nutritionists she's met are moderates!)

So, there's a few recommendations if you're looking for something to read over the summer. Great way to spend a warm summer evening!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Learning points

Did you know that next year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation? Neither did I but it was part of the opening comments of Gordon T. Smith’s lecture at Regent on Monday night and became a subtle backdrop to much of what he said.

My foray into contemplative living and spiritual practices has expanded my horizon of authors and others from other denominational camps, Catholics being foremost amongst that group. Smith also has an appreciation and affinity towards Catholics and he had 7 points on what evangelicals can learn from them. I don’t pretend to have taken superb notes, or even that I totally understood the context of all of these points, but here they are, as best my notes and memory preserved them:

  1. The centrality of the sacraments (baptism and communion) - without the focus on how the physical body is involved, our worship can become too cerebral and/or sentimental. Worship involving the body needs to be celebrated.
  2. A fuller appreciation of the gospel – evangelicals tend to focus on the cross as a means of salvation. For Catholics, the cross is a means to an end, i.e. being united with Christ. The quibbling of whether Jesus is one’s Lord and Saviour, or if He’s just your Saviour, would not be a discussion amongst Catholics. The gospel is about the Lordship of Christ over all things.
  3. The work of God is slow, steady and incremental. Evangelicals tend to expect dramatic, miraculous and immediate results. This is probably the aspect that appeals the most to me. How often do I beat myself up for not changing faster, for struggling with the same issue over and over? Unrealistic, in other words. Yet I know from experience that the deep, transformative work God does is when I’m least aware of it. There is no cheap grace, no quick fix.
  4. The heritage of our spiritual forebears. Perhaps you’re aware of Augustine, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas a Kempis, or Julian of Norwich, but there are others more obscure that are still available to readers today because of Catholic presses keeping them alive.
  5. Intellectual life and scholarship – This one stings, Smith commented. Catholics appreciate the life of the mind. Universities and academic disciplines are seen as vital to the work of the church. Education is kingdom work, not just a pre-requisite to mission.
  6. Nature and character of the church – it’s not faith vs works, or tradition vs scripture but what does it mean to be the church? Smith asserts that Catholics are way ahead of us on this one because evangelicals haven’t even figured this out for ourselves. Since the Reformation, individualism has run rampant. If someone doesn’t agree with our interpretation of Scripture, a new denomination gets started. I wasn’t expecting this one but Smith’s assertion has some weight to it.
  7. Liturgical practices that take place each and every Sunday in a Catholic church – Scripture reading, Psalms, confession, creed and the Eucharist. They are non-negotiable because they are transformative yet Smith, who preaches frequently in a variety of denominations, rues the lack of any of these in the churches he speaks in. Gulp.
Actually, the creed is an interesting one. My denomination is not creedal, we may sing a creedal type of song but it's not something I was taught and I think I'm poorer for it. Smith stated that knowing the creed (Apostolic) is an anchor that keeps you grounded in a post-Christian society.

It’s quite a list. You may agree or disagree or even not get any of it. Does it matter? Yeah, I think it does. Smith ended the evening by pointing out that in the providence of God, deep spiritual wisdom has been housed in spiritual traditions other than our own for the greater good of the church. We need to learn from and with each other. May it be so.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A welcome change

After quite a long absence, I recently returned to a book in the Mitford series - Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.

Jan Karon Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

I enjoyed previous books in this series but had sort of forgotten about it. I'm not quite sure what twigged my interest again, probably just browsing on the library website and looking for something to read. I think there have been a few books written in-between that I wasn't aware of, but I have to say how much I enjoyed this book. I'd forgotten how thoroughly delightful Karon's writing style is and how down-to-earth her characters are (even if I don't always understand small-town America). 

What I didn't remember from the others books were Father Tim's quotes and sayings and I loved them in this book. I was almost finished the book when I had the thought that I should have highlighted them as I was reading (on my e-reader) so I could go back and make a note of the ones that were my favorites. But alas, I didn't think of that soon enough and looking for favorite quotes in an e-book is not the same as flipping through the pages of an actual book. Then, while browsing around various sites to see which other books I might have missed, I came across this little gem:

Jan Karon Patches Of Godlight

A collection of Father Tim's favorite quotes, along with his own personal reflections. Sweet - it's on order from the library now too!

One reason why I picked this type of book at this point, is that I'm about to embark on some Flannery O'Connor novels. I've never read any of her stuff, but I've heard things that have forewarned me that it's not all sweet and light. Not that Mitford is either but these two authors are probably as polar opposite as you can get.

O'Connor has been at the periphery of my awareness for a number of years. About all I know about her is that she was a devout Catholic, a Southerner and wrote violent, grotesque novels. The subject matter isn't that appealing, to be honest, but I'm curious. At our son-in-law's graduation last year from Regent College, the valedictorian included a quote from O'Connor that recently came up in a family conversation. O'Connor said that  we live in an age "when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run", she says, "a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells" (from Mystery and Manners). 

Perhaps this appeals to me because my current work world of numbers and statistics (which is less than soul-satisfying), reminds me that there is more to life than reconciling financial transactions (as important as that is).  When I came across a book on a sale table entitled "The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor", I thought this might be good prep for understanding what I might find when I actually get to her writing. 

The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor

I'll let you know whether this move was successful in helping me understand her writing or not, although I already have a hunch her work is probably best dissected in a classroom setting and not by one's lonesome. Good thing I've got some family members who have been there, done that.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Naming things

Even though I'm a journaller, and many hidden things come out when I write, I've also noted that when something is spoken out loud, it can have more oomph to it. There's something powerful that happens when you name something. Isn't that what's fun about naming our children, even before they're born? You might like a name, but not the meaning, or your spouse knew someone with that name as a child and couldn't stand him/her so then that's out and the search goes on. (And that's as close to acknowledging Mother's Day in this post as you're going to get!)

There's two sides to this naming though. For example, your child may struggle with a health or a learning disability and while you don't necessarily want them labelled for fear it will limit them, once you know what's wrong, it helps focus your efforts and you can help your child more specifically. 

Another example has to do with emotions. Counsellors recommend that we should welcome our emotion because it's what we're experiencing and denying it's there isn't helpful. This thought mirrors a prayer I learned in my SoulStream course called welcoming prayer. When you've got a strong, even overwhelming emotion about a situation, name it and welcome it. Then welcome Jesus into that same emotion and sit with both the emotion and with Jesus and see what happens to the emotion. When I've done this, I get a word picture of where Jesus is in the midst of the emotion and slowly the intensity of it dissipates and I'm able to breathe again. Every time I've done this, I'm humbled by what Jesus reveals to me. And then I wonder why I hung on to the emotion so long in the first place without acknowledging that Jesus knows about it anyways and cares immensely for how I'm feeling. 

I had another experience recently that was different from welcoming prayer. I found myself being quite stressed and wasn't sure what was all feeding into it. One night as Larry and I were praying, it was difficult for me to find words but finally, they came blurting out and surprised the dickens out of me. I had no idea that's what had been going on in my subconscious but there was truth to it. Wow, so now what? What does one do with that kind of revelation? Well, true to His character, God had things in place. I wasn't going to be left high and dry. The courses I was taking would play a major part in helping me understand what had just been named. And isn't that just like God? It's often things already in place in our lives that bring about the next steps. It's not like something has to come whooshing out of the sky or out of left field, although it's sweet when it happens that way too!

I think I was probably in the first class already when this happened, so perhaps I was already primed to be aware that something was out of sync. (Journalling is an awesome way to become more aware of what's happening in your life, jus' saying). And the next class on conflict resolution solidified much of what was rising to my consciousness. Insight can be a bit scary - it's not always a wonderful thing. It means decisions have to be made. You're no longer muddling around in the dark. Something has been named and it needs to be dealt with. Even if you do nothing.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I'm exhausted. This has been an intense year and while I thought I'd been coping with everything, the reality was otherwise (clue: coping doesn't suggest flourishing, it suggests survival). So, I've resigned from being co-moderator and I'm stopping my courses for the time being. I'm going to take some time to unwind, whatever that looks like. And that's a little scary too I have to say. Unwinding is a bit unknown and "loose". There's security in structure - I'm not that comfortable with uncertainty generally but this is the next part of my journey and there's more to be discovered, even named!