Grief for the Losses

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I’ve been reflecting most recently on the things that have been lost to this pandemic, and about so many people experiencing losses. This article is my attempt at a small gesture of honour to all of you who have lost.

I think of my friends and sister who have graduated from university programmes they’ve been working at for years, who don’t get to celebrate in walking across that stage. Graduation is a rite of passage; it’s an important ceremony that marks a huge accomplishment. I think of those beginning their careers in the health fields, law enforcement, and other essential services, with this as their training ground.

I think of couples that have had to either cancel or postpone their weddings, or chose to marry with no venue of witnesses, no gathering of family and friends, no reception to follow. I think of those with other milestones to celebrate, that have all been cancelled.

I think of people who live alone, or those who had limited social connections prior to this that are now non-existent, or those who aren’t familiar with technology, who are struggling to connect with those in their lives. I think of those who are lonely.

I think of new mothers and fathers; one of my nieces was born just before this pandemic hit, and she is the first child in her family. Our siblings are working through being new parents without the support they expected and would have received under normal circumstances. We have a new niece or nephew who will be born in the midst of this, and more than one set of friends in New Zealand who are due with Baby Number 1 in the coming months. They’re facing all the same uncertainties that the rest of us are right now, with the added uncertainty of what the hospitals will be like for their births, and the reality of the world they’ll be bringing new life into.

I think of the grandparents, who want nothing more than to hold those perfect, beautiful new grand-babies, but can’t travel to where they are, or that can’t be within 2 metres of them and have to settle for a look across the room. I think of families of all kinds who are separated right now.

I think of people that are dealing with bigger health problems than Covid-19; it’s all we can think about, but there are just as many people who have recently been diagnosed with serious illnesses than there were before, who are grappling with their diagnosis and their new treatment plans, in and amongst the risks of the virus. There are those who have been battling illnesses for some time, and have the added worries of how this virus will complicate their already significant challenges of navigating the world with reduced immune function.

I think of those who are in hospital, and can’t have visitors anymore; I think of those who have died alone.

I think of those who were struggling to make ends meet, and are now out of work, like the hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers across the globe, just to name one example. I think of those who didn’t realize it was their last day at work, or those that have had to abruptly leave jobs. I think of small business owners who will never again open their doors.

I think of those who were on vacations they’d saved tirelessly for and dreamt of for years, who had to go back to a home country. I think of those who had “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences cut short or missed entirely. I think of those that never got the chance to take it all in, or to say goodbye.

These people have lost. They’ve lost ceremony and celebration. They’ve lost any sense of normalcy and tradition for some of the most important days of their lives. They’ve lost first experiences, and last experiences. They’ve lost the physical and practical touch and support of family. They’ve lost what little sense of predictability and assurance they could have been given in already challenging times. They’ve lost any feelings of stability, closure, safety or peace.

These things that have been lost can’t be given back. They’re just gone. These things can’t be changed. These are their stories now. These are their memories.

I’ve been contemplating the stages of grief.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

In past counselling sessions, I’ve learned that although these stages are commonly felt, they don’t necessarily come in the order we think they should, and once we’ve passed through one stage, it doesn’t mean we won’t go back there. The stages are more fluid. We may experience one stage multiple times, or several within a short period. The key is to allow ourselves to experience them as they come.

I read an article recently that addressed that many of us are grieving during this time. Maybe because grief is usually associated with a significant loss, like a death, maybe we think “grief” is too intense of a word for what we’re going through. Maybe we’ve not lost a life, or maybe we have. One thing is certain; we have lost. We’re grieving a lot of different things, big or small, because of Covid-19, and that’s okay. Grieving is not only normal, it’s healthy. If we want to come out of this with mental and emotional health on the other side, we need to face it and go through it. We need to feel what we’re feeling and not let guilt or shame push our emotions under the surface.

It’s not pretty. None of this is. Let’s admit it.

This sucks. Straight up.

This really f*cking sucks.

Most days I’m doing well. Other days I feel like swearing and complaining about how unfair this all is for so many people. I wonder why this is happening, and how long this will last. I wonder about the future. I’m so aware that I’m not in control of what happens, and that can be a really scary place to be, until I remember that I was never in control of what happens in the world any more than I am today; any sense of control I felt was an illusion brought on by my daily routines and plans gone right. Now, again, I must cling to the hope that there is someone who is in control of what’s going to come out of this, and that He can bring good out of it.

Can we please stop comparing our situations and be kind? It’s not helpful to respond to a person’s loss by saying that someone else’s loss is greater, or that everyone’s going through it. The fact that several others in the world are experiencing similar losses can bring comfort in knowing we’re not alone, but it doesn’t in any way negate the losses we have each suffered.

Loss can’t be quantified in the same measurements for everyone; it’s not equal. The same loss may seem manageable to me, yet insurmountable to deal with to someone else, and vice versa. Can we support each other instead of comparing or minimizing each other’s experiences? Can we lend a listening ear and communicate that we’ve heard and understood? Can we validate those who are brave enough to be vulnerable with us and thank them for sharing what they’re going through?

I’ll leave you with some quotes that have inspired me this week. The author speaks about how one thing we can control in uncertain times is our mind-set, how we choose to look at the world around us, and how we see the future.

Your internal mind-set designs your external world. If you believe the world is full of possibilities, it is… if you believe in love, you will find love. If you believe in hope, you will find hope. And the reason you will find them is because you will bring them with you.

When your mind is shaped by hope, you do not see simply two paths; you see an endless number of paths filled with opportunity, possibility and beauty. However, if your mind is shaped by cynicism, or fear or doubt, then the only paths you see in front of you are the ones that are filled with pain and disappointment, with failure and hardship.

Faith changes our perceptions of the future. Faith always sees a way… when we have confidence in things hoped for we are instantly connected to the future… when we have assurance in things seen, we are limited by what we have, by what we know, and by what we can prove. When we have assurance in things not seen, we now add to our resources everything that exists in the realm of mystery, uncertainty and endless possibilities.

– Erwin McManus; The Way of the Warrior

I don’t know anything about your faith, nor do I wish to push mine on you; however, I chose today to have faith on behalf of all of you reading this, that things are going to get better for all of us, and that good will come out of this for you.

I have hope that opportunity and strength are going to come to all those beginning their careers as nurses, doctors, and law enforcement officers in the middle of a pandemic, and to those looking to restart somewhere new.

I have hope that beauty is going to come to all those who missed moments of ceremony, firsts, lasts, the chance to say goodbye, and to those facing health difficulties aside from Covid-19.

I have hope that endless possibilities are going to come again, once this is behind us.

Tomorrow I may need another mind-set adjustment or a reminder to stay positive and hopeful, but today, I choose to put my hope in a future with opportunity, beauty and endless possibilities. I like that a lot better than the other option.

I wish you a future of beautiful, endless possibilities, reader!

Time is a Gift

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I watched a movie called Collateral Beauty this week, in which the main character, Howard, faces a tough situation. He grapples with love, death and time throughout the storyline; Time, the character, comes to visit him and calls him out by saying that time is a gift and he shouldn’t waste it.

Seeing that film helped remind me that I can change my perspective on this 4 week isolation period.

Time is a gift.

There are tens of thousands of people in the world already, who have suddenly run out of time. This virus has taken all the time they thought they had left; their time is up. Time is a gift. We never know how much we have left.

We, in New Zealand, have just been given 4 weeks of time (maybe longer); for those who are healthy and able, we can use this time in ways we usually never do. Wherever you are in the world, your time frame may be different, but you’ve likely been given some time too.

How often do we go through our busy lives, putting off so many things we say we want to do, or know we need to do, using the excuse that we don’t have time.

We don’t have time to catch up with this person or that person, or to listen or connect with our partners or families.

We don’t have time to read that book, or write that article, or paint that picture.

We don’t have time to do something spiritual, read our Bibles, meditate, pray, do yoga, or whatever we’d like to do for our spiritual health.

We don’t have time to exercise, or stretch or get some fresh air.

We don’t have time to catch up on the rest we so desperately need but never prioritize.

Well now we have the time.

We can’t connect in person, no, but we can connect via phone and social apps. We can connect face to face with those in our households, like our partners and our families, and spend more quality time with them.

We can also choose to waste these 4 weeks, or get sucked into our phones until each day rolls into the next, or we can choose to set some goals we aspire to achieve. We can make this time useful. Valuable. Memorable. Meaningful. If we want to. It’s up to us.

We’ve been given this time to use in new ways.

What are you going to do with yours?

Level 3 and 4 Have Brought Me Here

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It’s too much to take in. It’s a lot to process. How are you all doing? My brain is running in a million directions right now. I’ve got so many thoughts I’m fighting to make sense of. Bear with me here. Reach out, please, and tell me how you are coping.

New Zealand has gone to Alert Level 3 today, with the advancement to Level 4 happening on Wednesday. The country will effectively shut down, with the exception of essential services, for 4 weeks. Or longer? No one knows. That’s the part that’s hard. The whole world is being challenged with this huge unknown. We are so human and so limited. Usually I sit on my blogs for a while before posting, but today, I’m processing with you as I write this.

My job. Do I even have one to go back to? How many people are going to be unemployed? Statistics are saying 10,000 people in retail jobs are going to be without work (rnz.co.nz). Already, over 30,000 businesses have applied for subsidies for their staff (nzherald.co.nz). Our country relies on tourism and it’s gone. It’s gone. Just like that. 8 days ago we had a Church Road Live concert with 400 people in our park. A cruise ship came in and a team member took a group on tour. 8 days ago. It feels like months ago.

Vintage 2020. Thankfully, the wine industry has been considered an essential service! There were a few hours today once we heard the announcement that we were going to Level 4 that we weren’t sure they would be permitted to continue working. Trying to imagine New Zealand without wine for 2020 is something I don’t even want to think about. Praise the Lord that they can continue bringing that fruit in and tending to those ferments. It’s a crucial industry for our country. We’re still awaiting specifics. Vintage 2020 will forever be a special, rare and valuable vintage to this world.

The future of our economy. How is this going to affect all of us? Will any of us be able to pay for our mortgages? Our rent? I went to the supermarket today and cued to get in. The shelves were bare. I did my best to adhere to the regulations they have put on food items, but still had items confiscated from me at the till. We are on rations. Rations. We are on rations. This is what you read about in WWII novels.

The 4 week isolation. I realize this is essential to stop the spread of the virus. And I realize that the physical benefits to stopping human contact outweigh the mental and emotional benefits to continuing it; however, there will still be mental effects that we will deal with in order to prioritize our physical needs of eliminating the spread of this virus, like those that come from lack of human contact.

Human contact is a basic human need. Seeing someone face to face. Hugging someone. Seeing their smile in person. Working side by side as a team. Celebrating together. These are all things that all of us crave and need in varying proportions. This virus is cutting off one of our most basic needs from us. Introverts all over the world might be soaking this in, meanwhile all of us extroverts are going into a state of panic. My biggest fear for this next month is being lonely. Bored and lonely. Missing human contact. I will have to do some soul searching and face something I’ve never faced before: this much time to myself. Isolation was the punishment my parents gave me as a child. It’s a punishment to me. How will I deal with this? I am now faced with the challenge of turning this huge bag of lemons into some amazing lemon wine.

We’re all being challenged to do something none of us have ever had to do before. But, what I’ve learned so far in my life is that we can always do more than we think we can. And we can do this, extroverts! We can face this challenge. We can overcome this, and we’re about to prove to ourselves what’s possible… while eating wholemeal pasta, no name beans, and the only 2 salad dressings I was allowed to buy today. Like. A. Boss.

If there’s other things I’ve learned, first of all, we as humans don’t like being told what to do. Many of us are struggling with this isolation and this virus, because we don’t like being told we can’t go out and can’t see our friends. We’re not good at listening. We think we know best. We’re not good at submitting to authority. We’re not accustomed to this. That’s why it has to get to this extreme. Secondly, we take so many creature comforts for granted. Going out for a meal. Stopping at a drive through. Going for a coffee. Going to our friend’s house for a visit. Having people over. Going to work. Going to the gym. Entering a building without thinking of how many people are in it. Going anywhere in public without hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. We take all these things for granted. We’ve just lost all of them.

I said to my boss today, “remember when just a few weeks ago I was complaining that I never get any time off work? Now all I want to do is go to work.” This puts everything we do and everything we know into perspective, doesn’t it? It’s amazing how quickly the world around us can just fall apart. 8 days ago it felt normal. Now, I have questioned everything. Was the last day we were open my last day ever serving customers at Church Road? It may have been. I don’t know. It is completely mind blowing to me that this is happening. And how fast it’s happened.

Faith moment: God knew this was coming. 2020, the year for which my word is “vision” couldn’t have left me more blindsided; this is a time in my life where I’ve had the least vision I’ve ever had, and when I have the least is when I can lean into God the most. This is a year where all of us as a global community have had no way to envision what is to come. It’s a day by day life right now. Rather than live by my vision, or what I think I want, I have to trust God’s vision entirely. He saw this coming. This was no surprise to Him. And I have no other choice but to believe He has a vision that includes me being taken care of in it. We’re living in another country, and although our visas aren’t up for a while, we’ve been thinking of what’s next. Now we’re just taking it one day at a time and one hour at a time.

Where are my extroverts out there? I am such an extrovert! Extroverts gain energy from social interaction, and we thrive on it. We need external stimulation through relationship. When we can’t get it, our energy is sucked from us. We become drained. Verbal processing is a common extroverted quality. We like to talk things through. I find I personally can’t completely deal with a stressful situation without talking it through with someone, which has now become writing it out. Psychology Today says, “People who identify as extroverts tend to search for novel experiences and social connections that allow them to interact with other individuals as much as possible. Someone who is highly extroverted will likely feel bored, or even anxious, when they’re made to spend too much time alone.” Bored, check. Anxious, check. Anxious about being bored, check!

Human touch is a basic need. There are all of those studies I’m sure you’ve heard of where the babies that get held grow into mature, healthy people, and the babies that don’t get held die. Okay, so don’t quote me on that, but look them up. Human touch has been linked to many positive benefits in society, like building greater trust in relationships, decreased violence, increased immune systems and lower disease and stress levels, strong team building, improved learning, and an overall well-being (kcha.org). “Physical touch is the foundational element of human development and culture…we should intentionally hold on to physical touch” (kcha.org).

Face to face communication is critical to our relationships; there’s nothing that can compare to being in the same space as someone else, and sharing in community. Yes, FaceTime and social media are keeping us more connected than ever before, but it’s second best to the real thing. There’s actually a condition known as “skin hunger,” or “touch deprivation“ with symptoms such as being less happy, more stressed, and generally more unwell, along with a reduced ability to experience and read emotions or form meaningful attachments in life (psychologytoday.com). All of this, just from a lack of contact. There are people who, pre-Covid-19, were experiencing this, and who are now going into isolations for various lengths of time, perhaps with nobody to give them any face to face contact. Perhaps they are elderly and can’t see their children or grandchildren anymore, or maybe they’re single and living alone, and going to work, or the gym, or their church, was their only form of social contact, and that’s all been stripped from them for an indefinite time.

Isn’t it ironic that through that same touch, that normally brings us so many positive benefits, we can spread something that will kill us all if we let it? It’s gotten to us in a personal way. It’s affecting many people physically, and everyone else mentally, emotionally, relationally, and financially, to name a few. We’re all being affected by this virus in one way or another.

So what are we going to do about it?

We can’t give up. We have to keep going. We have to stay positive. We have to find hope. We have to find things to laugh about. We have to do our best to simulate human contact. Let’s stay in touch. Let’s unite as the communities we are and let’s band together to overcome this. We can overcome this. We will. Slow and steady. One day at a time. We, as the globe, will get through this. We, as humans, will fight. We will cry if we need to. We will rest. We are being forced into a period of rest. Let’s take advantage of it. We don’t normally rest this much because we live in a constant state of busyness. We will meditate. We will spend time getting to know ourselves more. We will cut this thing off eventually. We will look back on that year that Covid-19 happened and it will be part of the struggle that shaped us. We are living part of history. This will be in the books.

So here’s to the fight. Cheers to you, doing what you need to do. Cheers to governments that are giving their best to make the best decisions they know how to in unprecedented situations. Here’s to uniting as a community.

I wish you the best, wherever you are in the world, and with whatever part of this you’re dealing with.

In a Time of Turbulence

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I added Covid-19 to my Microsoft Word dictionary today.

When 2020 began, I could not have foreseen this year becoming what it has so quickly become. And we’re just at the beginning of these next unpredictable and shaky weeks. Or months?

I’ve asked people in their 70’s if they’ve ever seen anything like this in their lifetime and they say they haven’t. No one has. Someone commented to me that the last time things were this dire was in World War II, and although that comment may be a bit extreme at this point, it’s truth may not be for long.

Isn’t it crazy how a microscopic virus can become the hugest villain this world has seen in decades?

I’m reflecting on so many things, and processing uncountable thoughts as this thing affects my life more and more daily, and the lives of those who I love; I know I’m not alone in that.

Life at work has been a lot to take in, and we’ve been dealing with the punches as they come. We had no idea on Sunday morning when we woke up that it would be our last day with cruise ships in town, and that our last tour of the season would go out. We had no idea on Monday when we woke up that we would be isolated from the winery, and many of our colleagues. I spent the majority of my day going through our calendar and regretfully cancelling booking after booking with tour groups and customers. We had no idea on Tuesday when we woke up that all of our Administration office staff would now be working from home indefinitely. Our diary has gone from very full, to completely empty in 2 days. Church Road has never seen this. Local tour operators have lost thousands of dollars of business each day at the drop of a hat. It is amazing how much our culture in NZ survives on tourism. What will happen to those businesses? Those employees? How will people pay their bills?

Living across the world has often felt like we are far from our friends and family in Canada, but this pandemic has reminded me of how small this world can be, and how connected we are to each other. We are in this together, and fighting this together, as a world community. It takes something like this sometimes, that’s attacking all of us, to unite us in our fight against it. We are one large community in many ways right now, as we realize how human and vulnerable we are, and how this life can never be taken for granted.

We like to walk through life feeling like we’re in control. We think we have a job, and we make this much, so we plan ahead for money to come in, and we buy now. We think we can book vacations and just go on them. We plan so many events, celebrations and gatherings, and we assume they’ll happen, because why wouldn’t they? But we’re never really in control, are we? We’ve never been, even when we thought we were, but going through life with that mentality is scary as all hell. We can’t have peace with that knowledge unless we believe in something that gives us a sense of grounding or faith or we have something to put our trust and hope into that it’s all going to be okay or work out as it’s meant to be.

We feel so out of control and turbulent when things like this happen, because we are faced with the reality that we can’t control the outcome. This leads to panic. The panic, I’ve found, can spread just as quick as the virus itself, or maybe quicker. Panic and fear breed more panic and more fear. Panic buying, panic conspiracies being spread verbally and over social media. Panic reactions of all kinds.

The virus may steal the health of some, but the fear is already stealing the peace of many.

It has been interesting to watch how government authorities across various countries are handling the same situation so differently. I am thankful for the precautions New Zealand is taking to “flatten the curve.” Many of us are informing ourselves as best we can, and are trying to weed through the overwhelming amount of information we’re being presented with as the situation changes hourly. We try to cope with it all as we are able, through sharing conversations (hopefully via safe social distancing), or sharing the many humorous memes and videos already going around on social media, or exercise (if our gym is still open), or maybe even with some straight up liquor and pure denial. Or by writing (how I process).

Regardless of how we’re all dealing with it, I’m impressed at so many positive elements of the human race I’m seeing come out already. We, as people, have a fight in us that is awakened when we’re challenged. We push to try and fix and solve and we don’t give up. We work together. When we unite, we support each other. It has been humbling to already witness so many groups forming to support others in the community. It is heart warming to see people who are strangers come together to help other strangers because we are all human beings. This is the basis of humanity. It’s touching to see the goodness in people’s souls, and to be reminded that it is there. We are seeing people love other people in very tangible ways. Why do we not operate like this under “normal” circumstances? This is what the communities in this world should be like!

We are at the beginning of what could be a long road ahead, that will inevitably have multiple tiers of effects that last years. Someone told me today this is the Depression of the 2020’s. The thing is, nobody knows. And we have to take this one day, and one hour and one battle at a time. We have to find ways to cope that work for us. We need to support each other; we need to have friends and family we can lean on, and that can lean on us. We need to be open to how this is affecting us and seek help if we need. When the panic and the fear and the “what if’s” set in, we have to find something that can ground us. For me, it’s my faith. For you it may be something else, but I’ll leave you with this. Maybe it can help you too.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7.

How We Planned to Move to Italy and Ended Up Choosing New Zealand; Our Story Part 2

We spent the 2017 – 2018 school year doing our best to be grateful for our jobs and home, and all of our blessings here, even though we had hoped to be in Rome. It was a lesson in patience and gratitude. We would get there in September, we thought. In December, my brother in law got engaged, and picked October 5th as his wedding day! He wanted my husband in the wedding, and us to sing. We wanted to be there too, but we thought we were moving in early September. We planned to miss the wedding, and stick to our September plan.

During that winter, I was out of town for a friend’s birthday. We were in a big mall, and my husband and I ended up having a miscommunication that left me pretty upset. I was crying in public; as classy as that is, I wanted to be somewhere alone for a few minutes. I ran into the first store I found (Indigo) and went to the farthest back corner I could find where I could pretend to look at the shelves and finish crying. Low and behold, something caught my eye. I was in the calendar section, and there was one that was upside down and misplaced. I could only see a corner of it, but I thought it looked like Italy, so I pulled it out. Sure enough, it was an Italy calendar. It was 30% off, (and I was going to be 30 when we moved, and found that significant at the time) and I bought it. I saw it as a sign. I couldn’t wait to find out which month Rome was. I was sure it would be September, because that’s when we were planning to go, and it would be so serendipitous! Nope – Rome was November. November? No way we weren’t moving until November. I hoped this wasn’t foreshadowing.

A few months later, we decided we really should be a part of my brother in law’s wedding. We decided to postpone our move to November, and then travel around a bit before finding work for me in January. The only thing that I was disappointed about was that November is probably the worst month ever to travel Italy. They get tones of rain and lots of places are closed down for the winter. There’s a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and as much as I made fun of it the first time I heard about it, I am a full on SAD sufferer! If it’s not sunny often enough, I am upset and tired. If it’s raining when I’m trying to travel or be on a holiday, I am Up-Set! We couldn’t decide where we’d want to travel in November to get out of the rain, and not kick our move off with me being very SAD, leading to Greg being very annoyed.

By this time, Greg also knew he would love to work in the wine, spirits or beer industry. Ice-cream-in-the-square business out; alcohol industry in! A few years ago, some friends gave him some old home brewing supplies to sell for them, and he decided to keep the supplies and try his hand at it. We had no idea how much he was going to love it, and how that passion would lead to him wanting to work in the alcohol industry one day. He found a passion for brewing beer, and over the years and many trips to wine regions, we both found a passion for wine. The answer to his cousins’ question from years ago was finally clear.

As our 10th anniversary was approaching, I decided to get him a nice watch as a gift. I found what I thought was the perfect one and waited for it to go on sale. It had my birthstone on the front, and was clear in the back, and called the “open heart” watch, which felt great for an anniversary gift. I ordered it and paid. Within a week, my money was refunded to me and I was sent an email saying they couldn’t fulfill my order, with no reason! I was so disappointed. Greg, of course, knew none of this, and happened to notice one of our city’s private liquor stores was offering the WSET Level 2 course in the spring. We had wanted to take this before, but it’s not cheap. He asked if we could take the course together as his anniversary gift. Seeing as how I had just been refunded the watch money, and had no idea what to get him, I agreed!

We loved every minute of it, and both passed with distinction. We started volunteering at wine tastings and participating in everything we could to learn more. We made new friends in the industry and had great connections with them over a bottle of wine. When people asked what we were going to do in Italy, our answer was now, “well Chelsea can teach English, but what we really want to do is work in the wine industry.”

We knew it was not easy to get jobs in that industry in Italy unless we spoke Italian or had connections. Our liquor store hosted an Italian wine tasting with a wine maker from Italy on site. We spoke to her of our plans and she made it seem very unlikely that we could get jobs, other than maybe as harvest hands in smaller centres. That was a bit discouraging, but we kept holding onto the idea that we wanted to work in the wine industry and we were going to at least try; I had my English teaching certification to fall back on. We relayed this dream over and over to people who asked what we wanted to do for work, but we didn’t hear ourselves saying what our passion really was.

My husband surprised me with a trip to France for our 10th anniversary in June. We went back to Paris, and spent 5 days exploring several iconic wine regions. (We clearly love this industry.) I was so excited for the trip for all the obvious reasons, but also because I expected God to give me this incredible sense of peace while we were over there. I was sure He would confirm for me that we were making the right decision to live in Europe.

We arrived and on the first night, I had an ear ache. Greg was fast asleep. My doctor advised hydrogen peroxide for my ear aches in the past, and I didn’t have any with me. I started thinking about how I needed to buy some, but I didn’t know how to communicate it, or where to buy it. Then I got thinking about how I would communicate with doctors once we moved if something else happened. I realized a lot of things that I wasn’t feeling good about that night, and I basically had a panic attack. I was up most of the night, pacing the Airbnb and out on the balcony, feeling very unprepared and unsettled about the move. I was sick to my stomach for almost half of the days on that trip, and just felt off about the move.

All the excitement and peace I was expecting to feel were nowhere to be found. I was terrified. We ate at an Italian restaurant on the last night and couldn’t communicate at all with the server. I had a reality check of what it would be like committing to living in Italy for a year. At this point, I still thought we were going through with it, so I tried to console myself; I was probably just getting cold feet. “Everyone probably feels this way when they move,” I thought.

Italian Friday’s were not going well either. Every time we tried to do one, we ended up discussing the things we were worried about; we had concerns and were trying to push through them and get excited again, but the reality of living in Rome began to feel more like a burden than a dream. We stuck to the plan though, as we felt God pulling us towards this move, and He had been pushing us to leave Saskatoon for so long. We figured we must persevere.

As we were planning to go later in the fall due to the wedding, we planned to sell the house in the spring in order to get rid of all ties and all debt. I was using it as a test; if we sold the house, we’d move to Italy. If it didn’t sell, we wouldn’t. Our realtor came over, we picked a price range, he took photos, and said he’d be back in a couple weeks once the snow had melted to list it. A couple weeks later however, the comparables in our neighbourhood had dropped by $50,000! Our realtor said he’d never seen anything like that happen before, and he refused to even list it. We would take a loss on the house if we sold it, and it was my grandmother’s; he didn’t want us to go ahead, and told us to fix up the basement and rent it out instead (we have an amazing realtor that actually cares about us).

Selling the house was my test to see if we were really supposed to move to Italy! What now? Without listing it, there went that test. Even despite the sale of the house being my self-proclaimed confirmation on Italy, I felt extremely relieved. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to sell the house yet. I felt bad that my husband had to continue to maintain it, and I was concerned about finances, but I felt at peace knowing we were keeping it for now. (Looking back on it, we didn’t sell it, and we’re not actually going to Italy. Maybe God was hinting and/or clearly shouting at me about the destination, even then.)

New plan, again! This new plan was to rent out our house in June or July (at the latest), and live in our camper again to save money for our move. I was laid off from my teaching position in June. This was actually a huge answer to prayer for me! I was really dreading facing having to make a decision myself on taking another contract, or turning one down. In my city, if a teacher turns down a contract, it’s essentially career suicide. Jobs are nearly impossible to come by with thousands of grads piling up in town, and only a handful of positions open each year. By being laid off, I was able to move forward with no regrets, and it having been out of my control, and this was a major load off of my shoulders.

We also got rid of our truck. We couldn’t sell it, so we traded it for a BMW that we thought would be a quick and easy sell. (It wasn’t! I am still driving that car.)

We posted our house for rent on social media at the end of May, around the same time as we had the year before. We found our first tenants within 3 weeks last year, and I expected the house to go fast again. Despite the delay in selling the BMW, we were taking steps towards the move, finally! Except our house didn’t rent, and didn’t rent, and I really struggled with that.

…to be continued.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Four

After four weeks of Yoga, I agree that there is a physical, mental, and spiritual component to the practice.  In my first Yoga blog, I focused a lot on the physical, and somewhat on the mental; I’ve concluded that Yoga has great physical benefits for me, and some mental benefits.  As I have continued practicing Yoga, writing about it and participating in discussions that have come from my blog posts, I can’t deny that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is a large part of it, or at least, its roots.  The spiritual aspect is largely what I’ll be addressing in this final post.  I was able to get some spiritual benefits from my practice; however, I don’t believe the spiritual benefits were something that I could only get in Yoga.  I believe they resulted from personal intentions of what I chose to focus on for a dedicated amount of time in a quiet space, something I could do (and have done) in other environments as well.

“Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism…True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion.  You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Yahweh…The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment” (Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat Pray Love – p.122).

You may not believe the Bible, but I do, and there are some verses that I love in there that support contentment and discipline. Here’s one:

Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Some might use this verse to suggest a Christian shouldn’t go to Yoga.  I’m proposing the opposite; if Yoga helps someone break away from discontentedness and other “built-in glitches of the human condition” because we are so distracted with our lives, then it could be helping us focus on things that actually matter, and it could be used to renew our minds.

I completed my final week in my Yoga experiment with another evening class of Hot Yoga, with my husband in attendance, and a fourth new teacher.  Guess what?  She was different than all the others.  She had her own style, and there were things I liked about her style (lots of movement through a variety of poses, gentle instruction), and things I didn’t (lack of specific tips on postures, and I don’t think Yoga is the place for repeated silly jokes).  I was pretty comfortable during this class, and finally felt that I knew what lots of the poses were, and how to get my body into them.  I had learned my range for several stretches, and knew when I needed a block for assistance.  I noticed I was way better at paying attention to my breath, and actually taking deep belly breaths without having to consciously remind myself as often.  I was prepared with a verse mantra again, and was able to relax my mind and body, and focus on it with intention during the last 10 minutes of the class.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, you may believe that Jesus existed; regardless of who you think Jesus is or was, historically, he was a rule-breaker for the sake of loving people.  He spent time with everyone that religion said he shouldn’t, did things that religion told him were wrong, and didn’t care what the religious leaders thought of him.  He was representing the Father – love.  I’m not saying that this means everything is okay all of the time.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because there’s a religious rule saying something is evil, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

I’m not Catholic, but my aunt is, and after reading my previous posts, she dropped off some information for me titled, “A Catholic Perspective on Yoga,” by Terry Donahue (2011).  Although I’m not Catholic, I enjoyed the article, and picked up on some key points Donahue makes.

“The problem with Yoga, and what must be rejected by a Catholic, are the spiritual beliefs… of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith…Practicing Yoga in order to reach self-fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment is to be rejected since it is contrary to the Catholic teaching that such fulfillment and enlightenment are found in Jesus Christ.”  He also explains that Catholics should not mistake all feelings of physical relaxation as mystical experiences, but that relaxation techniques can be appropriate in order to be at peace, less distracted, and able to communicate with God.  “Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about any particular body pose or stretch used for the purposes of flexibility, exercise, or physical therapy.”  He finishes the article with the stance that “Catholics should not participate in the spiritual practices of Yoga,” but that Catholics “could learn Yoga poses and stretches from a teacher who does not teach or promote Yoga’s erroneous spiritual and philosophical beliefs.”  For him, it’s the teachers that matter, and what they’re promoting spiritually, not the physical and mental practices of Yoga itself.

I believe in God, the Father, and I believe He created the world, and everything in it; yes, I’m saying that I believe God created meditation, stretching, focus, and many other parts of Yoga. (I wonder what backlash will come of that statement?)

People may have given it a name, but God gave us the ability to sit in stillness, focus our minds, calm ourselves through deep breathing, relax through stretching our muscles, and to set disciplines of gratitude.  I also believe He can meet us in the quiet darkness of a Yoga room, just as much as He can meet us in a church, or in nature, or…anywhere?  As my Yoga experiment culminates after four short weeks, I feel confident that the practice of Yoga can be used, like most practices and habits in this world, for good or evil, depending on the intentions and goals of the teacher and participant.   

My position on this is humble, and stands to be corrected if further information presents itself on this topic.  Right now, this is my opinion on Yoga, but I’m open to learning something new, and I don’t like to be closed minded or set in my ways.  I realize that I possess an extremely limited knowledge of Yoga, and that I’m addressing a controversial school of thought within my circle of church-goers, and to be completely honest, even within my own family.

I’m not trying to persuade you into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; I believe that each person needs to follow his or her own conscience.  I’m presenting what I’ve learned, and what my mind has been opened to during my short experiment, and I’m fighting for more love, and less judgment, in Christian circles on whatever religious rules each person decides are the “right ones” to follow. Just because Yoga/alcohol/(insert taboo Christian topic here) makes one person spiritually uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it should be a write-off for everyone.

I’m also presenting this opinion with my own religious affiliation, and I respect that it may not be yours; however, I’ve learned that unity of people, despite their backgrounds and beliefs, is one of the great things about Yoga. There is so much hate, judgement and division in this world, and I know a lot of people that don’t feel unity in churches.  You and I could be side by side in the same Yoga class, and we could each experience our own physical, mental and spiritual benefits.  You could set your own intentions, and I could set mine, yet we could be unified with each other for 75 minutes, present in the moment we’re experiencing together, regardless of what individual unions that moment held for each of us.  It’s one more way to be a part of a community.

Will I attend Yoga every week now?  No, I probably won’t.  Has my perspective on it changed?  I’d say so.  I believe I’ve found one more tool that I can use in my life for various benefits.  I will go back, when I need a bit of help relaxing, stretching or focusing on a particular something.  I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned there’s even more that I still have to learn – and that’s a great thing.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Two

Two out of four; I’m half way to the completion of my summer yoga experiment. I’m embarking on this journey with an open mind, to discover how weekly yoga may impact my mental, physical and spiritual health.

Following Last Week’s Practice

I noticed a bit of stiffness in my neck throughout the same day, but none following that.  I also felt less back pain and joint stiffness at the end of the week.  Last week was what we call “Launch Week” at my gym, when brand new choreography is released in a branch of fitness classes we offer.  I am a fitness instructor, and on Launch Week, I typically teach upwards of twice as many classes as my usual amount, which leaves me very sore by the end of the week.  I can’t say I wasn’t stiff at all, but I can say that I noticed a marked improvement in how I felt, just by slotting that one Yoga class into the middle of the week.  I should not be surprised; I’ve been well educated on the benefits of proper stretching!

This Week’s Practice

If you recall, there were a few things I wasn’t fond of in the class I attended last week, namely the late instructor, and the overly full room of loud, bad-breathed breathers.  I purposefully chose a different class this week, so that I could experience another teacher’s practice, and a fresh environment.  I’m pleased to report that the teacher was early, stayed late to chat with me, and there were no loud, bad-breathed breathers.  The only breathing I heard today was when the instructor asked us all to exhale forcefully, and we did it as a group, which had a nice sense of comradery to it.

I came into the class slightly more comfortably after having just done Yoga last week.  I began my morning in a similar fashion, getting up early and heading to the gym with ample time to warm up and get acquainted with the room.  I also don’t have my own yoga mat (yet?), and there are only a couple of spares, so I wanted to make sure I got there early to get one.

I was tired today.  I had lots of sun this weekend, and a restless sleep last night.  I seriously considered turning the alarm off and just rolling back over, but then I remembered I made a commitment to myself, and the blogging community, to do four classes this summer, and I needed to get my lazy butt out of bed.

My experience today was entirely different than last week.  I’m discovering that this is something that intrigues me about Yoga.  I never know what to expect; no class is ever exactly the same.  There are so many poses a teacher can choose from, based on the experience level of the participants, requests, or simply what he or she is feeling inspired to practice that day.  In some classes, like the ones I teach, predictability and patterns are keys to success and the development of better cardio-vascular fitness, strength and stamina.  In Yoga, predictability doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s lots of time to sink into each pose, adjust, and re-adjust.  I can see how familiarity with the poses would add value, but Yoga truly is a practice, and there’s always room to keep practicing and growing in the many facets of what it offers.

Some of the poses were familiar today, but some were new, and the order surprised me.  Not knowing what was coming forced me to be mentally engaged in the class, and to pay attention.  In Yoga, I have to listen and heed the instructions; I must be aware of what I’m experiencing in my body.

The Instructor Matters

I specifically appreciated three things about the way the instructor taught this morning (on top of her timely arrival and personable manner).

First, she made an effort to remind us to be aware of our mental state.  She started the class with a relaxation time, in which she brought our attention to all parts of our bodies and our breath; she challenged us to let go of worrisome thoughts or our to-do lists of the day, and be present in the class.  I needed this.  Throughout, she reminded us to focus in on our breathing.  At the end, she encouraged us to be grateful for something, and to set a goal for our state of mind for the rest of the day, whatever we each wanted it to be.  She wasn’t specifically spiritual, but I was able to make it spiritual for me, in the way I wanted to.

Second, she gave detailed instructions, in a calm voice.  She explained all poses with care, and reminded us to tighten up tiny details in our postures that would have altered their effectiveness if we’d forgotten them.  She taught us how to breathe deeply, to the top of our lungs, into our belly breath, and within our body’s natural rhythm; she cued which types of breathing to do in each pose.

Third, she came to me when she noticed I was struggling, and whispered the question, “Would you mind if I offered you some assistance?”  I gladly accepted, and she helped re-align my legs and hips into the proper placement, which in turn enabled me get the most out of that stretch.  I clearly needed this too, and she acted on it.

I felt more satisfied after this class than last week’s.  That could be partially caused by simple familiarity, but I imagine it mainly had to do with the room being less full, and the instructor’s style.  I will certainly try to make it to one of her classes again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts last week on how Yoga has impacted you.  Any tips on choosing a Yoga mat?

Namaste!