Posted in Faith, Mental health

“Let Your Heart Smile”

It’s been a hard year. I think many of us are in a place where we could agree with that statement. For me personally, it hasn’t been a bad year, but yes, it’s been hard. The shock of when I first read those two words – “global pandemic.” The uncertainty of what this virus actually was. Would it hurt me, or my loved ones?

The adjustment to schooling my children at home. Which I welcomed, in fact…because I was afraid. And I wanted nothing more than to hide them under my wing, here at home. But eventually, that initial comfort turned into the daily frustrations of coping with my children’s boredom, and their resistance to doing the schoolwork that was important, but at times frustrating. I felt my mental health declining under the strain of their constant demands, the lack of alone time, and the sense of disorder and chaos within my home. As the school year and then the summer finally drew to a close, I welcomed the chance to send them to school and preschool again…though warily, because…how would they cope with all the new restrictions? The masks? The constant sanitizing? Being chained to a desk? Or, being prevented from something as natural and normal as interacting in close proximity to their peers?

Whatever the case, it didn’t last long. A few months later, and they were back at home again, and everything was shut down. There was nowhere we could go. Some days, I felt as if my mind was literally slipping away. I watched frontline and essential workers become celebrated heroes (and rightly so), but felt nameless and faceless at home with my kids, doing and doing and doing, without recognition, while politicians scolded us from our screens for questioning their methods. Money was thrown around to people who already had plenty. I began to worry about economics. How would our country pay off so many irresponsible expenditures? Why were wealthy people profiting even more from pandemic handouts?

Then my church split, and my heart broke. It wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but was complicated by it. I felt anger, at times, rise up within me like some unfamiliar, wild beast. I didn’t know I was capable of such. But the divisive issues that I saw everywhere brought out the worst in me, as they also did in others.

As the new year began, we kept putting our feet in front of each other, but our pace had decidedly slowed. Promises of normal gatherings and celebrations that had been dangled in front of us like carrots were pulled further and further away. I began to wonder what was more deadly – the virus itself, or the toll of trying to avoid it?

Finding myself, now, halfway (!) into the year, my province is in the midst of a ‘third wave.’ (I wonder how long they will keep numbering the waves.) The weather is gorgeous, my children are happy and healthy and laughing, the seeds are sprouting, the trees are green, and the flowers are blooming.

And yet, I seem to be stuck, in this rut of sullenness. I don’t blame COVID, necessarily. I blame habit. And I blame my own focus. My own gaze.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

I ask myself the question: Where am I looking? Am I looking only at the things that infuriate and depress me? Am I fixated on areas of lack, want, and trouble?

In the midst of this, I have heard a simple phrase, whispered gently to me beneath the mental clamour of my own complaints: Let your heart smile. Perhaps, because the Lord knows I am tired of cliché sayings such as “look at the bright side,” “be thankful,” and “practice gratitude,” He has provided an alternative wording which speaks directly to the condition of my heart – which seems to be operating from a misguided, twisted sense of duty. As if I must remain upset about the world’s problems, or as though I will change them by continuing to sulk about them. But in doing so, I am turning away from the joyful things that surround me. And in doing so, I am refusing to let my heart smile.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Luke 12:25-26 NIV

So when I look out my window and see a beautiful June day; as I watch my children run, giggling, through the sprinkler; as I see the faces of women on a video call who want to interact and pray; I have begun to allow myself to be filled with joy. There is no use fighting it. God has given reasons for my heart to smile. No, it’s not something I can muster up. It’s a gift that God is offering, that I need to stop throwing back at him. As a tree does not grimace or strain to overflow with fruit, so the fruits of God’s Spirit are not produced by my efforts.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

I thank you, Lord, for the fruit you produce in our lives, that we cannot bring forth on our own. I thank you, Lord, that we may leave all the solutions to the world’s problems up to you. I accept the peace, and joy, that you want to give to me. I will allow my heart to smile. And maybe, even my face as well.

How are you doing, and what are you smiling about today? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Work, Trade, and Purpose

In the evenings, my husband and I usually watch TV shows together. We’ve gone through “The Office” a few times; we’ve watched lots of “Star Trek”; we I watched “Anne With an E” (my husband distracted himself with his phone during this one); we’ve watched all of “This is Us”; and recently, we attempted “Grey’s Anatomy” but gave up on it when we got tired of fast-forwarding nearly entire episodes to avoid the sexual content. Anyway, the show we are watching now is “The Chosen.” You may have heard of it – it tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of surrounding characters. It preserves the biblical account, but with lots of artistic imagination about how the events may have interacted and worked themselves out. One thing I love about the show is how it reminds me that the people of the Bible were real people. They joked around; they got into trouble. Jesus camped. (For some reason, that’s something I hadn’t thought of before.) You know all that time He spent travelling, or in the wilderness? Don’t you think He would have set up a tent and made a fire?

In an episode we watched recently, Jesus is on one such “camping” excursion, when He is discovered by a group of children, who (quite expectedly) cannot keep themselves away from this fascinating, funny, kind, and wise man. As they gather around Him, chatting and listening to His words, He gets them to help with His work. He is making things out of wood – spoons, locks, toys, and who knows what – and they help with whatever menial tasks they can do. He explains to them that He has a “trade,” but He also has a job much bigger than His trade. He doesn’t really say what it is, but we now know that He became the sacrifice to pay for all sin. So that God can be reconciled to humans, so that we can be part of His family. That was His over-arching purpose.

Nonetheless, I was perplexed at how happily and busily Jesus and the children worked with their hands, while discussing all sorts of other things. It got me thinking about this idea of a “trade,” one’s “work,” and how it relates to one’s overall “purpose.” It is something that has always been of dear importance to me, since I was a child, and was one of the most troubling things about making the decision to stay home with my kids. What is my trade? What is my purpose? There was a time when I thought the answer to both of those questions was “music therapy.” Now, I usually don’t know what to think.

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Maybe, because it discusses in depth these very same issues. So I went back to re-read it this morning, and the following two verses stopped me:

“My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV

In these verses, Solomon says that all of his work – though it felt rewarding for him to do – was meaningless, and nothing was gained by it. I’m sure we have all, at some point, reached the end of a long work day and thought something similar. Perhaps this realization is even more distressing when we’re under the belief that work is the main part of life. Which is what I thought for a long time, until having children taught me the opposite. Because if my kids are not distracting me from the work I think I should be doing, they are creating all kinds of additional work that I didn’t originally want. And yet, they, and all of my time that they use up, are of immense importance. I know it in my bones.

Because although my trade may be homemaking, writing, music therapy, or teaching piano; I also have a job – a mission, if you will – that is much larger. It’s simple, because it’s the same one Jesus had; the same one we’re all supposed to have. Like Jesus, my over-arching purpose is family. My own nuclear family, and the wider family of God. To love them; to serve them; to figure out how to be (and stay) in healthy relationships with them. This must be why Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

But what of the “trade”? Is it unimportant or bad? If it were, why would Jesus have worked as a carpenter? Why would Paul have made tents?

Is this a good mantra for life?

We need our trade. Work is a basic human need, right up there alongside food, which is why I think Paul cautioned that “[t]he one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV).

In light of all of this, here are the observations that I glean about the nature of our “trade” during our lives here on earth:

  1. My trade is not the main part of my life. Without an over-arching purpose to go along with it, the work of my trade is meaningless.
  2. My trade is still important. It is a gift of God, and a privilege by His grace, to fill my basic human needs. It is also rewarding, in and of itself.
  3. My trade is enough. I doubt that, as Jesus worked as a carpenter, He beat Himself up about why He wasn’t building something larger or more important. I doubt that either He or Paul lamented having to work with their hands when they were actually gifted teachers. “All in good time,” as they say, or, more accurately – “All in God’s time.” We absolutely will fulfill our over-arching purpose in our lifetime, if only our hearts are willing. The results, however, are up to God.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for getting this whole idea of work wrong. I love that you have given me both a trade, and an over-arching purpose, and I thank you for them both. I ask that you would enable me to be both content with, and dedicated to, the things that you have given me to do. May I not become lazy or negative, in neglect of my trade. And, may I not neglect my true purpose, which is family – both mine and yours – in favor of my trade. Amen.

How do you understand the nature of work, trade, and/or purpose? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health, Parenting

Decluttering, Prayer & Fasting, and Emotional Wounds: A January Update

It’s been a long time since I just wrote about what’s been happening in my life. And honestly, I am not feeling very inspired when it comes to writing blog posts! I don’t have any big ideas to share, and the things that I would want to write about, I wonder if anyone would be interested in except myself. (Maybe I’ll end up writing about them anyway.)

A big focus for me lately has been decluttering my home. This is one of the things I may write about in a future blog post. It’s been a slow process, because I get sentimental about objects and agonize over each thing that I try to get rid of. But between selling things online, donating them, and using the trash bin once in a while I am gradually getting the house to where I want it to be. The exciting part, for me, is seeing a space that was previously cluttered with junk now open and available, and making it pretty with objects that I actually want to look at each day. My husband got me an Ikea gift card for Christmas, so I am planning to use that to buy some fake plants or a new piece of furniture as a sort of reward for getting rid of so much stuff.

My church is having its annual prayer and fasting month, a topic that I wrote about more in-depth last year. It’s been quite meaningful for me thus far, and I’ve been keeping track of insights and how the Lord is guiding me in my journal. One of my main personal prayer requests is a direction for my career in the future. But in response to all my petitions God has really pressed upon my heart the huge value of making my boys my priority right now, loving on them as much as I can while I have the chance. I get a very heavy impression that this time in their lives is pivotal in the spiritual sense and will impact their futures in countless ways. This realization has renewed my strength, focus, and dedication to be what they need in a mom. It is still difficult some days, as I often wrestle with inner struggles, fatigue, boredom, and frustration.

To expand on that last word – frustration – we have reached nearly two months here in Manitoba of being under extreme restrictions due to the pandemic. I haven’t been able to see family or friends, even during Christmas, aside from a few brief curbside visits; large portions of stores are completely blocked off so that we only buy essential items; and pretty much everything else is closed. I could go on but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I am holding out for the day that I am able to go out and buy a “non-essential” 2021 calendar! I love paper calendars, I hate using the one on my phone, and I need to keep track of meals and other events somehow. I’m running out of space on the bottom of the December 2020 page…

My messy meal plan

Moving back to prayer and fasting – another topic that has come up (somewhat unexpectedly) is relationship struggles. I feel that God has shown me I have a severe wound of rejection that hinders me from being able to connect with people the way that I desire to. This wound has come from a variety of situations throughout my life. If not for God, it would have been a fatal wound. The picture that comes to mind is of several swords in my mid-section, which is cut completely open. I’m sorry if this is a disturbing image but quite honestly, I have had great peace in this realization. God is like that. He sees not only my mistakes and sins, but the pain that lies behind them, and He desires to heal me.

And if there ever were a time to practice not taking things personally, not bearing grudges, and behaving decently despite differences of opinion – it would be now!

I know there is a very real possibility of things continuing to shift and change in 2021, both worldwide and in my personal life. This sometimes causes me to fear. However, I am encouraged by another picture that came to mind during my prayer and fasting time: an earthquake, causing fractures along fault lines that were actually all there in the first place, though we may have been unaware of them. I think this has been a time of adjusting, exposing, breaking, shaking away excess, and re-considering. I know that some not-so-nice areas of myself have been revealed lately, and shown for what they are. Now, I can fight them off through prayer with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I pray that you will stay strong in the Lord this year, and I look forward to reading the posts of all my favorite bloggers as I am able to do so in the coming months.

With warmest wishes and love,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Crying at the Rink

They came, finally. The tears. Yesterday, in a flood… releasing the overwhelm, frustration, and confusion that had consumed me for weeks. It felt good. My boys looked at me questioningly, as I puttered about with laundry and dishes, sobbing in between loads.

“I’m fine,” I told them, “just a little bit upset.” They nodded knowingly, with endearing concern in their eyes, before continuing on with their games and chatter.

This second lockdown has got me feeling like I am losing my mind. In addition, my church is experiencing conflicts that are dividing the congregation and resulting in hurt feelings on both sides. I have felt exhausted, emotional, invisible, and value-less.

And I finally told somebody.

“Some days are good,” I had typed in the email to her, “but I’ve had more bad days lately than I’d like to admit. Maybe you can pray for me.”

“Yes, I get it,” came the reply. “I would LOVE to pray for you.”

Was it her simple acknowledgment that my feelings were valid? The immediate effect of her prayers? Or the fact that I am learning to be more vocal about my concerns, whatever the outcome, as opposed to veiling them in some kind of ridiculous, prideful, even fearful – stoicism?

Whatever the case, I felt as though I had put down about seven suitcases full of bricks.

But I was still sad. Once the tears began, they didn’t want to stop.

“Are you coming skating?” My nine year old asked, his hope unhindered by my sorry state.

“I don’t think so,” I said deeply, through my stuffed up nose. My body and mind were weary. And the neighbors might see my tears.

“Ok,” he replied, and was off.

“Mo-om,” my youngest pleaded, “I want to go-oh.”

His persistence brought a smile to my lips. “Oh, alright,” I conceded, “let’s go.”

Ski pants. Boots. Gloves, coats, hats. Boy and skates in the wagon. Skate trainer in hand. Stepping onto the street, we squinted against the sun, and made our way to the rink.

A short time later, gliding over the ice, the cold air dried my tears, and freshened my lungs. A neighbor came to stand beside the rink and chat. Discretely, he held a cigarette between his fingers, not wanting my children to see. He was the one who had set up the rink for the community.

“I’ve seen you out here,” he said to my oldest. “I’ve seen your red jacket out here a lot.” Then, to me – “The last thing you want is to set something like this up, and have no one use it.”

A few minutes after he had returned to his house, a woman came by, walking her dog. “Having a nice skate?” she called. My boys engaged her conversation, in their typically nonchalant way.

“Can I pet your dog?”

“If you like dogs, you can pet her,” and she released the animal from its leash. We learned she was a therapy dog, and that her name was “Claire Bear”. The woman said she didn’t have children (other than Claire). She was on a walk to deliver a gift to a friend. She held a small gift bag in one hand. Later, I wondered if she lived alone (aside from Claire). What kind of loneliness must that be, at a time like this?

The skate was over too soon, even though I hadn’t wanted to come. “Let’s go home. I have to make supper.”

“What are you making?” (The daily, suspense-laden question.)

“Spaghetti.” Cheers, all around.

On the short walk home, I thought about our community. The rink. The Christmas lights. The people. My boys, and their unfettered positivity.

I felt better. All divisive issues aside, we need each other. The woman who prayed for me, the man who set up the rink, the woman with the sweet dog. Where do they stand on everything? Who knows. Who cares. One thing is for certain: we’re all in this together.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Mother Teresa

A simple question for today: How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Mindsets for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Self-doubt. It can be crippling. For some of us, it lurks around every corner. It causes frustration, bitterness, resentment, and even despair. It makes it difficult for us to accept criticism. It can change us into competitive, envious people who are unable to rejoice at the success of others.

But we don’t need to let it win.

Self-doubt is a demon that I know too well. As a stay-at-home mom who hopes to return to work again someday, I often feel as though I am on the bottom rung. The task before me seems overwhelming…even, impossible. Yet, this aching need for a purpose beyond my walls does not go away.

In the midst of this, my thought life can be a game-changer. What I believe about other people, myself, my past, and my future will change how I behave, and the decisions that I make. From one self doubter to, perhaps, another – here are some things to remember when you find yourself in that pit.

Remember the compliments, not the criticism

Yes, criticism can be constructive. However, if you are like me, it can tear you right to the ground – especially when you’re already in a position of weakness. These are the times that we need to also remember the compliments that people have given us over the years. Perhaps it is more natural for you to meditate on the criticisms. This may happen unintentionally. So, let’s be intentional about what may not come as easily – running the positive things that people have said about us through our minds, over and over again. You may want to write a few of them down. Are there any commonalities? What are the good things that people have called out of you? These can direct you towards future paths.

Pass the blessing on to others

After you have practiced gratitude for how others have encouraged you, you will have a greater understanding of the impact that your words may have on others. Is there someone you can encourage today? Someone else, who, perhaps, has been feeling a little beaten down? Do you see strengths in them that you can help them to notice? The Bible says “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Give it a try, and experience this truth. Everyone has influence – either for the good, or for the bad. This includes you. You have the ability to change the lives of others, for the better.

Turn envy into blessing

Nothing defeats the power that envy has on you, like turning it around on its head. That woman who has what you wish you had? Tell her how amazing she is. Tell her you admire her for it. When I have practiced this, it has softened my heart towards people I would have otherwise harbored resentment for. It has also released me from the captivity that envy is. Yes, you can – appreciate others for the strengths and good qualities that they have, without it taking anything away from you, and who God made you to be.

Embrace humility

One verse that has continually challenged me is Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

There is a perplexing relationship between self-doubt and pride. Pride insists that a person be the best at everything, and have the best of everything, which leads inevitably to failure and self-doubt. A humble person, however, understands that this is an impossible stance, and that they are no better than the next person. It is ok, natural, and good to be less-than what you see in others. A humble person knows there is more to life than how they rank.

We are each given struggles as well as gifts. And our gifts, by definition, are acts of grace – completely undeserved. Acknowledge them for what they are, and realize that every other person is given both struggles and gifts as well.

Find purpose in the here-and-now

Everybody needs a sense of purpose in order to be healthy. Self-doubt can stem from a fear that you will be unable to fulfill purpose in your life. If you question what your purpose is, look around. Look right in front of you. Where have you found yourself? What must you do in that situation?

Are you at home, with your kids? If so, you have found a purpose: love your kids, keep them safe and fed, and try to stay sane! Are you sick in bed? Rest, and get better. In the middle of a huge argument? Work towards resolution and do what you can to reconcile. In a job you don’t like? Do it to the best of your ability, while praying about and researching other opportunities.

If you are like me, you may think too far ahead into the future sometimes. Your purpose in 5 or 10 years may not be very clear right now, or it may seem impossible. However, I am willing to bet that your purpose for today, for this very moment, is something that you can identify and achieve.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:34 ESV

I understand that your self-doubt may be more complicated than the points I have outlined here. Nonetheless, I hope that by focusing on the compliments, passing on blessing, overcoming envy, embracing humility, and finding purpose in the here-and-now, you will find yourself in a place of greater peace than you were before.

Do you struggle with self-doubt? What is your advice on how to overcome it? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health, Parenting

A Letter to my Local MLA

Hello Mr. Goertzen,

I have two small requests as a stay at home mom affected by the recent school, preschool, park, church, and recreational facility closures in my home community of Steinbach.

Although I find it unfair that we are the only school division to be closed, and suspect that government motives behind this closure may have something to do with the voices of protest in our community that have recently made themselves known, I have been supportive and followed all of the rules presented to me.  I am working with my son to keep him on top of his remote learning.  I do not take an extreme stance on one side or the other on issues such as mask wearing, closures, and lock downs.  I choose to believe that for the most part, the authorities in place are doing their best with the information that is given to them, so I have complied with all of the protective measures that have been taken.

Only recently have I begun to feel like my rights are being violated.  As one of many parents who are relegated to small city yards with young children, I am wondering why the safe, outdoor, recreational opportunities in our community are shut down tight.  Although a generous neighbour on our street has set up a skating rink in the park, it is closed and cannot be used.  We also have a wonderful play structure in the same park which cannot be used.  The toboggan hills have opened up, and we are thankful for that.  We have gone sledding 4-5 times already.

I am no expert but I am aware that virus transmission outside, in open, cold air, under UV light, is extremely unlikely.  Could we not simply limit the numbers of people using a facility (such as a play structure or skating rink) at one time?  Contrary to what the media may portray, it has been my experience from living in the community of Steinbach that the vast majority of people are extremely cooperative with every restriction.  I feel that I am being slapped on the wrist for something I have not done, under the assumption that I will be uncooperative.

Another rule that I feel is extreme is not allowing drive-in church services.  I have been content (for the most part) to make do with the online services offered by my church.  But I believe it should be acknowledged that churches play an enormous role in the mental health and well being of community members, and disallowing people from visiting their places of worship and supportive communities for such a length of time is bound to have severe consequences.  I wonder how many cases of addiction, abuse, mental illness, divorce, and even suicide have been averted thanks to the wonderful work of churches in our community.  It is time to acknowledge the vital role that they play and stop viewing churches as an adversary.  Restrictions on churches need to be reasonably loosened, as soon as possible.  If I can see a doctor, purchase medications, or even buy alcohol or cannabis to help medicate my psychological and emotional struggles, I should be permitted to attend my church for the same reasons. The disallowance of even orderly, drive-in church services feels to me like blatant disregard and disrespect for their precious role in many people’s lives, not to mention acts of service towards the community such as providing free food and clothing, cleaning up garbage, sharing facilities for school graduations, sharing parking lots for school pickups and drop offs (when bussing has not been provided), etc., etc., etc.

In summation, I am asking that outdoor recreational facilities be opened for limited use in a community affected by school closures, and for some evidence that the government values churches to the point of making them more accessible to the people who need them.

Thank you for your consideration.

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Motherhood, Music Therapy, and Mid-Life

Sometimes I think I must sound like a broken record. Whether it’s talking about how tired I am, or fretting about whether I am raising my children right, or – especially lately: What is my calling? What is my passion?

Mothering is one thing. I always knew I would do that. In my mind, it was just what would happen. It did, and has been immensely fulfilling.

But something’s still missing, because career has also, always, been dearly important to me. As a sixteen year old, I purchased a book called “Find Your Fit.” I was determined to make the right choice early on, so that money and time would not be needlessly wasted on an education I didn’t use, and so that I could go to work every day with anticipation (rather than dread).

I followed my 16 year-old passion, but perhaps not common sense. I chose and relentlessly pursued (for a time) a career in music therapy. In many ways, it did fit my personality and abilities. But timing, geography, closed doors, my own limitations, and eventually pregnancies got in the way of finding my “fit” within the tiny, highly competitive world that is music therapy (in my region, anyway).

In all honesty, I must admit that my first pregnancy and the break from my job that it necessitated, came as a relief to me. I hadn’t anticipated, in my naivety, what my day-to-day would look like. Let me sum it up for you in three words: human juke box. That is what I felt like I was. I had trained and studied for over 5 years, expecting to work on multi-disciplinary teams of professionals and accepted as one of them. In reality, my value in the workplace went so far as my singing and guitar-playing prowess (which wasn’t very far at all). I didn’t like the spotlight, or the role of amateur pop-star/entertainer. This wasn’t what I had signed up for.

Recently, I read a quote somewhere that grabbed me:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

E. E. Cummings

It grabbed me because maybe – just, maybe – have I grown up enough to finally come to terms with who I really am? Not who I admire, or who I want to be, or even who I wish I was. But who I am.

Yet, as a tired mother, am I even able to see past my present predicament, enough to know who I am? All I want these days are slivers of time to rest, be alone, think, and pray. The remainder of my time and energy is absorbed by menial, time-specific tasks too numerous to mention, or poured into my family members as I do my best to make sure they’re ok.

An elder asked me a few months ago: “What’s your passion?” (Could there be a worse question to ask a mother?)

Napping. Maybe that’s my passion. It’s all I can think about, anyhow!

Decluttering my home. Crawling out from under this pile of rubble. Seeing the light of day again. Could that be a passion?

In response to the question I had held back tears and mumbled something about how I used to think my passion was music therapy. But now I didn’t know.

And the ridiculous things we google sometimes. Am I right? Today it was “when being a music therapist doesn’t work out.” Yes, I actually googled it. And came up with nothing, of course. Aside from some annoying article written by someone who still loves what they do. (Yes…I’m bitter. I know.)

But the people like me are out there. I’m sure of it. Maybe they’re not talking, but I’ve noticed the colleagues who have dropped off of the association email lists. The classmates I never heard from again. The university students I used to work with, who vanished into thin air. Not everyone who entered this field is still employed in it. I wonder where they are. What are they doing? Did they find their true calling? Or are they still holding out for what they started with?

Maybe my pain is intensified, because I started out loving my profession so much. Maybe I just didn’t have the right amount of time, or luck, or the skill set, or whatever it was, to get properly established in it before having a family. Now I am pushing middle age, with obligations to my time and energy that I didn’t have before. Who would hire me?

I wonder if I should become a librarian. Just think of it: a quiet building, filled with books. (Books have always been a safe place for me.) Putting them away all day. Bringing order. Smiling at people across the desk, checking out their books. Until they leave me again to my quiet building, my books, and my thoughts.

Am I a librarian at heart? Or am I simply looking for an escape from my inner (and outer) chaos?

And is my career supposed to be about me, anyway? Isn’t it about the people I wanted to help? Honestly, what brings me satisfaction, as I look back at my life thus far, are the smiles in those photos. The smiles of my clients, and a few years later – the smiles of my children. They look happy. In those moments with me, they are happy.

And I guess that is worth something.

Are there other mothers out there, who question everything they used to think they knew about themselves? Or who have come out on the other side?

Are there music therapists who are still happy in their jobs? Or ones who aren’t?

Whoever you are, I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Those Prevailing Gates (Thoughts on the Pandemic and the Church)

Trigger warning: this post contains mention of suicide.

Recently, an old friend from high school contacted me.  We hadn’t been in touch for a number of years.  I’m still shuddering in disbelief and shock at the news she delivered: 3 suicides in the past 7 months – all people we went to school with.

I wasn’t particularly close to these people, but I have specific memories of two of them.  The first, I will refer to as T.

He was popular, and athletic; I was quiet, and book-smart.  We never spoke unless it was out of necessity.  Except that one time, at his graduation.  He was drunk.  (Which probably explains why he approached me.)  We were talking about his girlfriend.

“You’ve been together a long time,” I said.  “Do you think you’ll get married?”

“I hope so,” he replied.

I remembered this conversation, a day or two before I heard about his suicide.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Except that, otherwise, I would have no reason to think of them.  A woman walked by me at a campground who reminded me of his girlfriend.

Wonder if they ever got married?  I thought to myself, smiling inwardly.  They were together for such a long time.  Popular in school; and confident and smart enough to probably land good jobs and have a few kids, by now.

As I know now, he never married her, but married another woman and had 3 boys.  Apparently, his father had committed suicide when he was young, also leaving 3 young boys – he and his brothers.  Man, the things you don’t know about a person.

The second guy – C – had left school for a while, and then came back to attend Grade 12 the same year I was.  He wore cowboy boots, and a stern expression, and you could always hear the steady beat of his feet as he walked staunchly up and down the halls.  I was afraid of him.  Until, he joined our class and I realized his temperament wasn’t as harsh as his appearance.  He chose our graduation motto – “Well Worth the Wait,” from the song “Long Time Running” by The Tragically Hip.  He was quoted in the local paper, talking about how great it felt to finish high school and how glad he was that he had come back.

 

However, a couple of months before grad, just as the winter was lifting, there had been a tragedy in our town.  Three local guys were involved in a car crash that took their lives.  Two of them were supposed to have graduated with us.

To my surprise, the principal of our school asked me to read a few verses of scripture at the funeral.  I accepted, feeling as though I had been handed something sacred.  As I stood behind the podium of that small Catholic church, overlooking two coffins, I read the weighty words of apostle Paul, and struggled to comprehend them:

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:53‭-‬57 NIV

bible-2110439_640

I wasn’t sure what those verses would mean to anyone until one day, after the funeral, C approached me outside the gymnasium at school.  He cried.  He thanked me for reading at the funeral, and hugged me, and talked about how the words had encouraged him.  He said something about death and how the reading had made him realize how little power it had.

Honestly, I didn’t quite get it yet, myself.  But I was glad that he did.

And all in all, I thought that, probably, he’d be ok.

I struggle to reconcile, in my mind, my recollection of C those years ago – hope-filled, and somewhat at peace – with the knowledge that he has now taken his life.  Or how T – who from outward appearances, checked the boxes we use to predict a successful life – would find himself in such a pit that he would leave his sons in the same way his father left him.  Though I barely knew these men, it brings tears to my eyes.  Was there something I could have done?  Something I could have said?  I feel an urge to go back to my hometown, and do something about this epidemic of despair.  But what could I do?

And I think about the church.  I think about how a pandemic has closed its doors.  I think about the congregation, the individual people.  Those of us whose faith has, perhaps, cooled off…being lulled away down a nonchalant path of apathy, self-service, and disconnect.

I see the normalization of substance use and abuse.  The churches must shut down.  But liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries remain open, because people rely on them to cope.  May I remind you: 3 suicides in 7 months, in a tiny, alcohol and drug-saturated town.  How well are we coping?

180620114212-canada-weed-rally-2-super-169
Picture taken from https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/10/17/health/canada-legalizes-recreational-marijuana/index.html

A culture that also normalizes, or even glorifies, killing and dying, while diminishing the sacrilege of human life.  Where defenseless, unborn children, unhesitatingly and unblinkingly, have their lives taken away.  (And no, the pandemic hasn’t slowed that down, either.)  Where resources that could have gone to improving palliative care are diverted to legalize assisted dying, and the aged or ill can choose to end their lives rather than live out the remainder of their allotted days with friends and families.

pregnancy-week-8-brain-nerve-cells_square
Picture taken from https://www.babycentre.co.uk/8-weeks-pregnant

Where children are regularly fed images of death and darkness: skulls, zombies, vampires, ghosts, demons, and themes of being possessed by evil.  (Just watch the cartoons.)

1d43fae3dafc90eff842d1cb41d187f7

I don’t want to point fingers, or shame anyone.  I write this to myself as much as anyone.  But please, let’s awake to the fact that evil has not slowed down.  Let’s not become so enclosed in our self-isolating bubbles that we forget the role of the church in offering hope to the people who may be grappling for it.  Could we, perhaps, seek them out?  Could we find them?

No, I don’t quite know how to, either.  But what is the church, besides a body of people who love the Lord and love other people?  Is the church a building, whose doors are nailed shut?  A system, vulnerable to breakdown and financial collapse?

Or is it individuals, banded together in hope and love?  If you love the Lord, He has undoubtedly saved, healed, or dragged you through something.  Was it despair, that He delivered you from?  Depression?  Illness?  Abuse?  Death?  Addiction?  Suicide?  Divorce?  Tell someone.  They may be scrambling to find the hope that you now have.

Who reached out to you?  Which member or members of the church body held out their hands, their Bibles, their homes, their hearts?  Remember them.  Do not despise or diminish the power of the church.

The church is an essential service.  Undoubtedly so, more than ever.  You can close the building.  But you can’t shut down the church.

Let us not forget, to be the church.

 

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:18‭-‬19 NIV

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Revelation 1:18 NIV

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Proverbs 18:21 NIV

How do you think the church’s role has changed because of the world wide pandemic?  What are our responsibilities, as Christians, in light of the present situation?  How may we reach out to others?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

5 Small Ways to Stand (On Your Own Two Feet)

Feeling bullied?  Beaten up?  Beaten down?  All of the above?

Sometimes it’s the world that does it to us.  Sometimes it’s specific people.  Sometimes, we have ourselves to blame.

Whatever the case, it’s never too late to get back up again.  Because when it comes to your personhood – your God-given value as a human being – the very nature of you – nobody is able to take that away.

Every human being is created with purpose, and intent, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalms 57:2; Psalms 139:13-16).  This does not give us free reign to do whatever we want (Romans 7:15-25; Romans 6).  However, there is a clear biblical basis for the protection of one’s personhood.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 NIV

I find it interesting that even though Jesus willingly and sacrificially laid down His life, He never compromised on who He truly was: the Son of God (Luke 22:66-71), the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), and a friend to sinners (Luke 23:39-43).  Although people surrounded Him, spat on Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and even killed Him, they could not remove this core truth of His innermost being.  He had come to save the world.  And, save the world is what He did.

With a similar boldness, there are some simple ways that we may stand on our own two feet, assert our confidence, and say: I am who I am, and who I am is good.  Not because I say so, but because my Creator does.

To certain individuals, the following list will seem odd or unimpressive.  And to others, it will make sense, because they too have become inhibited or shamed in some of these areas.  Keep in mind that what is commonplace to some, may feel nearly impossible to others.

flowerpot-2756428_640

5 Small Ways to Assert Your Confidence in Who You Are

  1. Try a new hairstyle.  You know that short cut you’ve been wanting to try?  Maybe now is the time.  Whether it looks good or not, you will still be you, and you will have some fun experimenting with your appearance.  I did this – read about it by clicking here.
  2. Learn a new skill.  This can even be something small.  Sometimes, we have never done a task simply because others have always done it for us.  After a while, we can begin to feel dependent on that help, even though we aren’t.  It can be very empowering to take the step of doing it for ourselves.  For example, I recently set up our tent trailer on my own.  Usually, this is something I would have relied upon my husband to do.  But I found it gratifying to know I could do it myself if I had to or wanted to.
  3. Refuse to be mocked.  Being open to feedback or constructive criticism that is delivered in a kind and thoughtful way, is one thing.  Intentional mocking, however, with the explicit intent of hurting your feelings, tears down your personhood and is not something that you should be subjected to on a regular basis.  Is there someone in your life who repeatedly mocks you?  Perhaps it is time to calmly set a boundary with them.  For example, you could say, “If you speak that way to me again, I will end the conversation until you are willing to treat me with respect.” Remember to also be kind and respectful towards your offender.  Don’t join them in the destructive game.
  4. Don’t berate yourself.  Perhaps, you are your own mocker.  If so, it’s time to have a little talk with yourself!  No person is perfect.  Ask for forgiveness if you have let someone down.  Then move on, treat mistakes as opportunities to learn, and be the best you that you can be.
  5. Set and work towards a goal.  Giving up says, “I’m not important and will never achieve my goals.” Standing up says, “Even if my dreams don’t fully come true, they may, and I’m allowed to have them. What is one small way I can work towards them today?” It feels hopeless to never permit yourself to dream.  Hold your dreams with an open hand, and be willing to be flexible, because…life happens.  However, so does growth, and achievement – and it will happen to you as well, if you allow it.

steps-388914_640

It seems to me that there is very little separating those who stand up from those who lie down, beyond their inner attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs.  The mind, will, and emotions are powerful tools that can be harnessed for the good of ourselves and others.

Do you feel like parts of you have been beaten down?  What are your best ways to get back up and reclaim your personhood?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

And if this post resonated with you, check out some of my other posts related to self-awareness, self concept, boundaries, and generally living in your own skin:

Hey Young Mom, Your Feelings Matter Too!

Mom Fail Number 99

Moms are People Too!

This Shame Problem

Forced to Look

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

Warm wishes,

Lisa

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Psalms 139:13‭-‬16 NIV

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Coming to Terms with Social Anxiety

A few years ago, in a small group at my church, I was sharing prayer requests with two other ladies. I told them about my feelings of loneliness, and that I was often too afraid to approach people, which was a necessary step if I was going to make any friends.  One woman’s eyes got wide, and she said emphatically, “I know exactly what you mean!  I feel the same way.”  The other woman looked puzzled and asked us quite genuinely, “Why?  What are you afraid of?”

I learned two things from this exchange.  First, I wasn’t the only one – there were others who had the same problem.  And second, there were people who did not fear social situations at all, and in fact, found it difficult to understand why we would.

The second woman’s question was difficult for us to answer.  What were we afraid of?  Everything.  Nothing.  I don’t know.  Maybe it was, what others would think of us.  Or whether we would offend them.  Or that we didn’t know how to make conversation, or what to do if the situation got awkward.  All we knew for sure was: it was terrifying.  And debilitating.

Early Experiences

My first memory of being intensely socially anxious occurred in Grade 5.  On a beautiful spring day, it had been postulated that our class “may” go outside at some point and join an older grade for a game of football.  In my mind, there were several problems with this idea.  I was smaller than the other kids, and feared getting pummeled.  I had never played football before, didn’t know the rules, and would surely end up looking like a fool.  Being around older kids, especially in a competitive, sometimes aggressive situation like team sports, struck fear into every part of me.  And finally, I would surely be the last one picked for teams. Even if the picking were randomized, I was fairly certain no one would want me on theirs.  I would feel like the biggest loser in the world.

Thankfully, the proposed game of football never occurred, but its very possibility had ruined my entire day.  I remember sitting on my plastic school chair, heart pounding.  Slightly faint.  Slightly nauseous.  Willing the day to be over, and praying with all my might that we would just stay inside.

I could share other examples similar to these of the fears that I experienced during my school days.  Unstructured recess times when I didn’t know what to do or whom to hang out with. Confrontations with other children when I felt intimidated and afraid.  Now, as an adult, I believe there could have been some proactive measures taken to create a more positive social environment at my school.  My stress may not have been eliminated, but it could have been helped.

kids-1093758_640

Naming the Struggle

Although I do not claim my anxiety to be at the level of a disorder, I believe that there is value in naming the struggle for what it is.

Social anxiety.  I have social anxiety.

It has become cliche, but is true about so many things, that admitting you have a problem is the first step in becoming able to deal with it.  For many years, I didn’t recognize what I was experiencing.  Usually, I have had at least one or two friends.  I am a functioning member of society.  I have completed schooling, gotten jobs, and worked with some success as an entrepreneur.  Growing up, I often played piano in front of rooms full of people.  I can public speak – I’ve delivered several verbal presentations and even taught a class of university students.

However, there are many commonplace things that cause me undue fear:

  • Talking to salespeople about products that I am unfamiliar with (for me, these would be things like machinery, vehicles, soil and gravel, etc.).
  • Placing restaurant orders over the phone.
  • Eating meals with co-workers.
  • Asking clients for payment.
  • Approaching superiors at work.
  • Attending large parties or social events, especially where I have to dress up.
  • Visiting my husband’s places of work.
  • Trying to understand people with very strong accents.
  • Singing in front of others (a particularly challenging one, for someone who has chosen music therapy as a career!).
  • Having groups of people come into my home.

Again, there are other examples I could share.  But the simple act of admitting to myself that these situations make me anxious, has increased my ability to deal with them.  In doing so, I am acknowledging and validating my own feelings.  It is the difference between telling myself, “I feel fear, and that is ok,” versus “What is wrong with me??  I suck.”  (A pretty big difference, right?)

phone-5190645_640

Strategies to Cope

Yes, I’m socially anxious.  And if I own up to it, I can make a plan of how to survive the situation.  I can take a deep breath and say, “It’s ok.  I’m ok.”  I can develop thought patterns that prepare me to interact in a more relaxed way.  For example, I have come to think of other people as my “brothers and sisters.”  Not only is this biblically accurate, but it postures me to converse in a comfortable, familiar, and kind way, because I’m thinking of them as my siblings!

Other strategies that I have used include thinking ahead about things to say, or questions to ask a person, in case a conversation grows stagnant.  Allowing myself to become curious about another person is a great way to think of discussion topics.

When a get-together is planned at my house, I prepare as much food as I can in advance, and my husband helps with cooking on the day of, so I have less to think about while entertaining guests.

And perhaps, the most powerful step that I have taken to deal with my social anxiety, is striving to accept myself for who I am.  There are entire books that could be written on this topic (and probably have been), but for myself I will simply affirm: I am who I am, and who I am is perfectly fine.  One of the first times that I felt the Holy Spirit speak clearly to me, do you know what He said?

He said, “It’s ok to be you.”

Obviously, this was (and is) something that I needed to get into my bones.  Because my fears do not stem from disdain for others, or for being with them.  To the contrary!  I, like any other human being, long for genuine connections with others.  My fears are based in a (faulty, nagging, festering) belief that I will fall short.  That I will be found, sorely, lacking.

And whatever coping strategies I may learn, or use – it is only a restorative work of God, in the deepest part of my soul, that will ultimately bring me healing.

What kind of social situations, if any, cause you anxiety?  What’s your earliest memory of this?  Do you have pointers to share on how to cope?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa