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.

Friendship

Have you ever thought about how much the people in your life leave lasting effects on you?

So many people come into our lives; some stay for a short time, and some stay for a long time. In this season, I’m reflecting on the important ones to me, who have, or will leave my life, who I know I may never see again (but hope that I will!)

It’s surreal to me to think about the process of how we meet someone.

Just the day before, we had no idea who they were. We didn’t know their name, or what they looked like, or anything about them. Then we were put in the same place, at the same time as them.

One day, our paths aligned, and we formed a relationship; with some, we formed an immediate friendship.

Then, what feels like all of a sudden, it’s time for us, or them, to move on. As quickly as they entered our lives, they’ve left.

But we’re not the same as we were before we met them, because they’ve influenced us in one way or another. Through shared experiences and conversations, laughter or frustrations, sharing old stories and making new ones, they’ve impacted us.

Some people that enter our lives, we’ll remember for a while, but then probably forget after enough time has passed. There are those that we’ll remember for longer, or that we might see a picture of years down the road and it will spark the memories.

Then, there are those that we know we will never forget. For one reason or another, they’ve had a significant impact on us, or helped us learn something about ourselves, or life, or shared genuine conversation or experiences with us. Those are the ones that remain friends, even if we never see them again in this life. I believe that the more people we meet, the more enriched our lives become; more stories are shared, more memories are made.

Everyone moves on though, eventually. Some move on more quickly than others, but eventually, lots of people will leave our lives.

I naively assumed that since we were coming to New Zealand, we would be the ones to leave. I was prepared to say goodbyes to everyone in Canada; I wasn’t prepared to say goodbyes to people here, and they are tough! I’m grateful though, that these goodbyes are tough, because that’s what I prayed for long before we ever came here; I wanted friendships that were good enough to make me cry when it came time to move on. To me, those are the ones that are real blessings in life.

Relationships and change are both part of life. The more we age, the more our friendships shift, especially in a situation like this. There are always going to be seasons of relationships. They’ll come and go. Some will stick for a lifetime, yes, but many are only meant for a season, and that’s okay. It’s sad to think about the ones I may not see again, but I’m so grateful for the time I got to have with those people.

No matter who comes and goes in our lives, if we’re open to new relationships and friendships, we’ll find them. Special people will bring us so much joy, and leave their fingerprints on our lives in one way or another, and hopefully, we’ll do the same for them.

*inspired by Amy… written with her and many others from years past in mind. ❤️

Learning to Accept Generosity

Moving to New Zealand has brought with it a whole set of life changes, and one of them that’s come to mind repeatedly lately is how often we’ve had to rely on other people’s help since we got here.

Back in Canada, when we had careers that paid us larger salaries, and we had our house, vehicles, and all of our stuff, we didn’t really have to rely on other people very much. We had everything we needed and so much more. If we felt we needed something we didn’t have, we would just go buy it. Greg and I enjoyed having people over to our house and sharing our food and wine with them. We were quite willing to lend our stuff to others, whether it was small things like clothes, shoes, hunting/fishing/camping gear, or bigger things like a vehicle or our camper. We had no problem giving things to people if we no longer needed them.

I also struggled with borrowing from most people, or accepting things from others. I always felt like I owed them. I didn’t mind borrowing things from family, as I felt that was slightly different somehow, but even then, I would prefer to buy my own things rather than use someone else’s, even if they offered.

I’m not sure why I struggled to accept someone’s help, other than potentially having some bad experiences with a few specific people. I can recall a couple of times in the past where someone has helped us with something, and then lorded it over us for some length of time, or used it as a bargaining chip to try and get as much out of us as they could for as long as possible. It’s a shame that a few people like that can make me think that others might be planning in their heads to do those same things when they help me. I have some difficulty accepting kindness, because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wonder if some people will come to us and say, “remember when you first got here and we did this for you? Well now you owe us.”

The interesting thing about this assumption or fear I have put on others, is that I would never do that to someone else. I lent a colleague $10 a while back, and completely forgot about it. She paid me back a couple weeks later and I hadn’t even remembered I gave her money. I don’t mind sharing what I have, so why does it even cross my mind that everyone else might be secretly holding what they’ve shared with me over my head?

I think I’ve tried to live my life up until now being on the positive side of owing friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, our families have definitely been generous and helpful to us in many ways over the years, and could choose to lord some things over our heads if they wanted to, but I try to be as self sufficient as I can, and as generous as I can towards them, and leave asking for help as a last resort.

If someone paid for my Starbucks in Canada, I wanted to make sure I’d get them one next time, or the next two times; I couldn’t just accept the coffee without feeling like I needed to try and repay them with something of equal or higher value. I’ve even allowed my own guilt to motivate me into doing things for others that they probably didn’t expect of me, because I have such a good memory, and I remembered when they helped me last. I placed that burden of “owing them” on myself, even when others hadn’t. I still expect more from myself than I expect from others.

When we arrived in New Zealand, we had no physical stuff but the 3 suitcases we brought between us.

We had to accept so much help… I really mean, so much help. We were forced into learning to accept generosity.

Even once we got our jobs, we quickly realized that our lifestyle here was going to have to be very different than it was in Canada. Not only are things more expensive here, but we’ve taken a huge pay cut. We can’t afford to go buy most of the things we want. We can’t even afford to buy things that we used to think we needed. Our definition of what we “need” has really changed as well. We’ve realized that a lot of the things we used to think we need, are really just wants, and we can get by just fine without them.

For example, we have 3 bowls. (4 now, because I took one from work that had been sitting on the table for months unclaimed. It doesn’t match, but it holds food.) We don’t have many utensils! I do dishes at least once every day so we have enough. When we had our biggest party yet, we used every single utensil we had (forks, spoons, serving spoons, tea spoons) to serve dessert to people, and Greg and I ended up using whatever we could find in the drawer to eat ours. But we all ate dessert and I don’t think my friends minded (if they did, they were super polite about having to either eat their cake with a serving spoon or one the size of their pinky finger).

We used a broken clock for 2 months, until we finally decided we could break the bank and buy a new one. The old one ran slow, so every night it would be behind by 20 minutes. I would make sure to reset it 20 minutes ahead of time each day so that we were never running late.

Greg was shopping for groceries one week and I had told him how much money was in our bank account. He got to the till and put all the stuff we really needed at the front, and the stuff we wanted at the back, and when the total reached what we had in the bank, he said to the teller that he had to leave the rest. We’ve never had to do that before. He described it as a humbling experience.

I just wanted some lotion SO bad, and all of the decent smelling and somewhat quality lotions (ie. not Vaseline Intensive Care) retail for roughly $40 or more for a small container! I looked and looked, and eventually came to the realization that I can’t afford nice lotion here. I just can’t justify that price right now. It’s a small thing, but it was the final straw that broke the camel’s back for me in realizing that I have to significantly change my lifestyle in a lot of ways.

(On a side note, we do realize that these are the small sacrifices we are making to gain bigger, more important things, like being fulfilled in working in the wine industry, living in a warm place by the ocean, and living out our dreams, and we wouldn’t trade them!)

The examples above are things we just wouldn’t have chosen to deal with in Canada, or been willing to tolerate before, but we’ve been re-learning the value of a dollar. (And that’s a New Zealand dollar too, not a Canadian one!) I’ve started thinking about how long it takes me to earn something when deciding if it’s really worth buying.

This drastic change in our financial situation has forced us into accepting the generosity of others, and wow, are the people in our life ever generous.

Within a week of getting here, when my first car broke down (twice) we had new friends lend us their car. Their car. They biked to work for the days we had it. That was not easy for me to accept, and we actually had spent more money on a rental car the first time mine broke down, and our friends were upset I was being so stubborn as to not use theirs. So we conceded the second time my car broke, and borrowed their car. I was so grateful, but felt so guilty at the same time for my needing help to inconvenience them.

We’ve had several people lend us camping gear, hiking gear, biking gear, etc. on more than one occasion.

Greg’s bike and fishing rod are both on indefinite loan from friends.

Colleagues bring us vegetables or herbs from their gardens.

People have invited us into their homes for beautiful meals, or wine and charcuterie, many, many times, and invited us to spend holidays with their families.

They’ve welcomed us into their circles of friendship, and been so kind.

Friends invited us to their lake house for a weekend, or others have offered to put us up when we’re travelling through their areas, and they feed us and offer us clean, beautiful places to sleep.

Our family recently sent us a care package, full of things we want and need. They cared to ask us what we’ve been missing, and spent their money to bless us with things we would have normally bought in Canada without thinking twice about. Now, we appreciate them beyond measure. I’m sure it cost dearly to ship that over from Canada, too.

And, a colleague who heard me saying how badly I wanted some nice lotion, brought me one of hers, hardly used, and just gave it to me. Vanilla Chai. It’s fricken amazing. I’ve never appreciated lotion more in my entire life than when I put that stuff on.

We’ve experienced so much generosity from so many people, that it’s gotten to the point where I know I can never pay them back.

That’s a hard spot for me to be in, because I’m not used to it! I’m not used to needing other people this much. I’m not used to having to ask to borrow things. I’m not used to accepting a free gift from someone, just because she knew I wanted it. I’m being stretched out of my comfort zone which, although uncomfortable, I know is so good for me! It’s been really humbling, yet really difficult. It’s been really touching, and it’s made me feel so loved.

The generosity we’ve received makes me want to be even more generous to others.

I still struggle to accept things from certain people. Maybe my pride has something to do with it, such that I don’t like feeling like I can’t provide for myself. Maybe I will always struggle with accepting generosity or help, or maybe it will get easier. Maybe I’ll be in a position one day where I can take care of someone else as much as we’re being taken care of here. Maybe some of these people will lord it over us one day, or ask for something in return. Or maybe, they’re all just kind souls, who know what it’s like to need help, and want to use their positions to bless others, with nothing expected in return.

Hopefully we will continue learning to accept generosity day by day. We will definitely continue to choose to pay it forward whenever we have the means or opportunity. One thing I’m absolutely certain of, is that if everyone in the world was as kind as the friends we’ve been blessed to make here, this world would be a much better place.

In Times of Waiting

The more people I speak to these days, the more I realize that many of my friends, in Canada, and in New Zealand, are in the process of waiting. Whether they’re waiting for a spouse, children, a job, direction, healing, wisdom, friends, or something else, people are waiting, and it’s wearing them down. I get it! Wow, do I ever understand that feeling.

Seeing as how it’s advent, a season of waiting for Jesus to be born, it felt fitting to post this now.

Below, in Italics, is a post I wrote in the middle of September, when I woke up in the middle of the night. At the time, I was so frustrated that things didn’t seem to be working out towards our move. It seems crazy to think that I only wrote this just over 3 months ago, and that’s the position we were in at that time. We were just on the edge of God answering our prayers, but didn’t know it yet. Here it is:

Doubt; The Struggle is Real

It’s 4:16 am on September 12, as I write this. We already thought we’d be moved away by now. I’m laying in bed thinking about our life and our future and right now, doubt is winning over faith. It’s a daily struggle, because our house has been up for rent for almost four months now, and we’re still in it. We wanted to live in the camper this summer and summer is over. We don’t have plane tickets, or visa applications underway. We can’t even answer people’s questions about what we’re doing yet and we sound like idiots every time we’re asked.

I was just at worship practice last night helping play piano so the new singers, who took our spots on the team we’ve been singing with for over 10 years, could practice the songs for the first Sunday that it becomes their team. It brought up a lot of feelings in me, like sadness, grief, maybe even some ugly ones like jealously, and certainly questions for God.

The kids and teachers all went back to school last week, and I didn’t. God allowed me to be laid off in the spring, and I was so happy at the time, because I was convinced we were supposed to move this fall. Faith was winning at that time, but it’s not in this moment anymore, as I watch everyone else, all my colleagues and teacher friends, plan bulletin boards and lesson plans, set up classrooms, and as I hear them share about their students. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out.

We still have that damn Beamer too. Yeah, I’m mad about it. It’s so fun to drive, but what would be more fun is selling it for a half decent price and being able to pay off the remainder of our debt. I did the right thing; when we considered trading the truck for it in the spring, I went with my husband’s gut instead of my own, and I was proud of that. He believed that it would sell quicker and for more than the truck would. We prayed that we wouldn’t make the wrong decision. Honestly though, I’ve questioned that decision since the day it was made. I feel guilty for doubting God, and Greg, but I don’t talk about that, or let myself dwell on it. What good would that do? We can’t go back in time and see what would have happened if we’d stuck with the truck.

We’ve given things up. And the holes of those things are starting to feel big and noticeable in my life. And I feel like we haven’t gotten a return on what we’ve given up yet. If we weren’t supposed to go, then why did God let us get rid of the truck for this car we don’t need and can’t sell? And why did He allow my job at a great school to come to an end? And why did He let us remove ourselves from a ministry that we’ve been part of for so long, that we’re good at?

In the spring, at school staff devotions one morning, we discussed faith. A colleague shared how having faith is kind of like a bicycle. There are two wheels: faith and doubt. She said to imagine a balance of both wheels always turning on our bicycle of life, because faith can’t actually exist without doubt. If there were nothing to doubt in this life, we essentially wouldn’t need faith. Our doubts drive our need to dig down and find our faith.

This principle has stuck with me all summer, as I’ve been riding the faith/doubt bicycle for months now. The whole time we were planning this move, I had so much faith. I didn’t doubt. I know that sounds crazy, but it was easy to know that we were supposed to move for years. God made it so clear, so often, over and over and over. A calendar that turned up out of the blue with Italy on it (cause we thought that was the plan), or a road sign, or something someone would say to us without knowing, all pointed us in the right direction. When we wanted to live in the camper last year as a test run, He brought us amazing renters within three weeks of us posting the house, regardless of the saturated rental market and our short term of availability. Even though the world seemed to be against us, and our family members were angry, and our friends told us horror story after horror story of renters destroying homes, I lost not one wink of sleep over the house, because I knew we were in God’s will. I knew it to my core, and I knew He was preparing us for this move. To live in a small space. To live without things. To be flexible. To trust Him.

He has proven Himself in the past, so why do I continue to doubt Him now? I don’t know. The struggle is real! The doubt wheel is definitely leading my bike at some point in each day during this season, sometimes each hour, and I have to fight and dig deep to turn it around.

I read a devotional last week about wine that was so beautiful it made me cry. I felt like it was just for me, seeing as it was wine, and God knows that topic gets my attention! The premise of it was that in seasons of waiting and not knowing, God is pressing us, like grapes need to be pressed and crushed in order to make wine. Then they sit and they mature and it’s a process that has to happen in order for the wine to be any good, to be ready. God also has to do this with us sometimes. We have to be crushed a bit, or a lot, and we have to wait for the time to pass until we are mature and ready for what’s about to come. And one day, it will come.

Maybe it’s not what we think it is. Maybe God’s leading us through all of this for some other purpose than to move. That’s hard, because that’s been our dream for so long now. Another devotional I read said that we have to live in a tension between knowing that God may not allow our dreams to happen, but trusting that He put them in our hearts. We have to hold our dreams with loose hands and trust that God is faithful to do what is ultimately the best for us. I’ve had dreams in my past that if He’d given me, I’d have never left Saskatoon; now I’m thankful He didn’t give me those things because I have this new dream of moving! So why do I let doubt win in convincing me that this time is any different? Why do I even question that God has my best interests at heart this time? He can see the whole picture of my life and I can’t. The struggle is real!

During this wine pressing season, this season of waiting and fighting to keep the faith wheel leading my faith/doubt bicycle, I heard a sermon by Andy Stanley, called “In the Meantime.” He spoke of how some of the greatest things we do and the most influential times we can have, are in the meantime. When we’re stuck. When we’re waiting. When we’re doubting and struggling and searching and digging. Paul wrote some of the books of the Bible while he was in prison, waiting in the meantime. That inspired me to at least start writing during this time. I’ve been writing a lot and I started my blog up seriously, but I haven’t written about this. It’s too real, I’m too vulnerable, and I don’t know how any of it is going to turn out in the end. I’m no Paul, and this article is certainly nothing close to the Bible, but I have to write. Maybe one day, something good can come of this meantime I’m in. The struggle is so real.

So there you have it; that was raw and real, in the middle of the night, genuine Chelsea struggle. If you’ve read my other posts on our life in New Zealand, you’ll know we moved here and how it’s turned out so far. Amazing, isn’t it?

I’ve learned through my waiting, that there will always be something we’re waiting for. Waiting can be positive, in that it makes us appreciate what we’re waiting for so much more when we finally receive it. It can lead to anticipation and excitement; however, it can also lead to uncertainty and doubt. Without waiting though, we’d have everything we want right now, and wouldn’t be stretched to grow into better, stronger people of faith. Without waiting, we wouldn’t need trust.

There are still things I’m waiting for. The Beamer still hasn’t sold, and we still have money tied up in that. We have no idea how long we’ll be in New Zealand, or where we’re supposed to go in life from here. We’ll be waiting daily for something for the rest of our lives here on earth. Sometimes it’s hard, and it’s going to be hard again in the future; of that I’m sure. I’ll need to re-read this post, and pray for reminders of what God can do; because He will do it, at the right time… after we’ve practiced waiting. I pray that you, reader, find strength and hope while you wait, and that the wait leads to greatness in your life.

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.