Friday, August 29, 2014

Feeling Sad and I Just Don’t Get It

 by Glynis M. Belec

        Last week I attended two funerals. One was for a respected gentleman from our church; a lovely 89 year old fellow who loved to laugh and who had been a blessing to many over the years. His funeral was a celebration of a life well lived and a great comfort to the family. He will certainly be missed and many tears were shed, but it was obvious that he lived a full life.  God had called this tired old saint home. Over the next few weeks family and friends will come to accept that it was time for their loved one to depart from this world and to be with Jesus.
       The second funeral I attended was for a young man of eighteen years. Suicide.  Heart-rendering, to say the least.  Although it was a moving God-focussed funeral, it was one of shock and turmoil; confusion and question; great sadness and despondency.  The celebration of life seemed to be replaced with a spiritual cacophony. Why didn’t Jesus. . .? Where was the Lord when. . .? How can the son of a beloved and sincere pastor. . .?  The church overflowed with sadness. Young and old gathered to remember his short life and to try to make sense of what causes a body to despair so. Over the next few weeks family and friends will battle with various emotions and troubling questions and perhaps they will never really find the answers they seek.
         I can speak first-hand to those troubling questions, too, for my brother-in-law died to suicide and I saw how the ensuing roller coaster of emotions ravaged family and friends for years.
         So, no, I really do not get mental illness.  But I do get cancer. And you know what? A lot of people knew a lot of things to do when I was diagnosed with cancer. No one knows where my cancer came from just like no one knows where mental illness comes from but everyone and his uncle did what they could to get rid of my cancer. Shouldn't it be the same for diseases of the mind, too?
     It's getting better these days, but it still seems like sometimes many do not know what to do when mental illness rears its ugly head. Mental illness is a serious diagnosis and deserves the same 'respect' as any other disease. There still prevails the preconceived notion of people with a definitive diagnosis of mental illness being psychotic or dangerous, perhaps unpredictable and untrustworthy, thus some feel justified 'steering clear.'  
     There was the odd person who 'steered clear' of me when I was going through chemotherapy and let me tell you, I felt a little outcast and sad when that happened. But for the most part a diagnosis of cancer brought empathy, sympathy, a listening ear, prayer and help in many forms. Do we do the same for those suffering with depression or other mental disease? Do we regularly ask how they are doing - and sincerely mean it? No one expected me to smarten up, smile and shake off my cancer. Why do we expect those with disorders of brain function to do so? 
     I do know God is in control. I also do know that we are not created as puppets and freewill permeates our earthly presence. That's just how it was planned. But was it planned for an eighteen year old to take his own life? There are wicked and evil forces in this world. Never stronger than almighty God, but stronger than humankind. I believe we need to take mental illness seriously and understand the sphere of influence of such forces. Cancer of the ovaries in my case, was treated effectively. Cancer of the spirit can be treated effectively, too. If my cancer was left to battle itself. I would be dead. Depression when left to battle itself, will kill every time - always the spirit, sometimes the body.

SUICIDE.  The word suicide caught your attention, didn't it? The truth is suicide catches everyone's attention. It's the actions that lead up to suicide that go unnoticed.

     When a person dies from suicide, the battle of evil is not lost. The battle is merely over. I want to believe that God wins because really, He has won the battle - I read the end of the Book. 

              And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT) Romans 8:38-39

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This is the Life - Tracy Krauss

A warm breeze lifts a tendril of hair and sweeps it across my face. The sun feels hot on my skin, but it is welcome after a refreshing swim in the lake. I am sitting on the beach at Penticton, BC, overlooking beautiful Okanagan Lake. The shrill cry of a seagull reaches out to me. Dry hills cradle the water on both sides, sandy ochre with dots of green gradually fading into blue in the distance. Foot traffic along the sculpted walkway which runs the length of the beach is still scant at this time of day. It is peaceful and I feel a sense of well being. This is the life.

It is the fourth day of an end of summer mini-vacation my husband and I are taking. We live 12 hours to the north, but he was officiating at a wedding in Osoyoos, so we decided to make it into a little holiday. Now that the weekend rush of holidayers has passed, we notice a trend. Many of the folks out enjoying the day are white headed, although most do not totter by in typical 'senior' fashion. One elderly gentleman whizzes by on his roller blades while another couple walk briskly in the other direction. The only other person on the beach is a woman who has just come in from a swim, probably part of her morning ritual.

I can't help but fantasize. What would it be like to retire here? To have all day to write and just do whatever I choose each and every day?

That scenario is quite a few years away and I'm not sure if such a location will ever be part of the equation. Until then I am blessed to live in a country of such beautiful diversity where I have the freedom to express myself and share my faith. I am content with that. This really is the life.

Tracy Krauss lives and writes from Tumbler Ridge, BC. Visit her website for more.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Offering/MANN

It was a new church; everything shone with a cared-for appearance. Spotless rugs led to every door. The alter-covers showed intricate needlework on carefully chosen colours and fabric. I felt at home.
When visiting a church, I’m used to putting my offering in an envelope provided in the church pew. I picked the only one available and noticed my six-year-old granddaughter had playfully drawn pictures and printed her name.
Shades of playing the board game Life the previous day, explained her boldly written request “I want $100.00.” Rather than having the elders think I was expecting a reverse offering, I rubbed the request off the envelope. Thinking the sunflowers she’d created from a yellow crayon she’d found in a basket at the end of the pew, as well as the daisies she’d carefully drawn in a row was a playful touch, I removed only her name and address off the face of the envelope. After all, I didn’t want the church treasurer to send me a receipt for my pair of toonies.
To complete my preparation, I placed the envelope on the plate as it was passed by me. Unbeknown to me, my granddaughter spotted her envelope with the carefully drawn row of daisies and sunflowers smiling back at her as it rode along in the offering plate. Much to the panic of her father, she lifted her hand and attempted to rescue her envelope, before he gently touched it. 
Showing confusion as to why the envelope had suddenly gone into the hands of adults unknown to her, she put on a pout and began to sulk while sliding down in her seat. During the children' story, she refused to go forward and continued to play with her fingers and look down at her feet. I realized my mistake and hoped that an apology, hug and a visit to the Dairy Queen after church would ease her pain. 
I reached into the back of my seat, retrieved two new blank envelopes, and offered them to her. But to no avail, this act of admission of guilt on my part was not received well. She continued to withdraw, in fact twisted out of the seat to stand in the aisle as if to make a quick exit if an appropriate time should materialize. 
Acknowledging that she hadn't understood the use of the envelopes, I went over, knelt beside her in the aisle of the church, and said, "Thank you for preparing the envelope. Grandma put some money in it and gave it for God to bless. It was such a nice present with your pretty flowers. I'm sorry if I gave away something you liked. For you to give that which you wanted for yourself makes it very special. That's a true offering. Was it alright to give it?"
She nodded and tried to smile. She returned to the pew, prepared another envelope identical to the first and went on her way to Sunday school. An active act of forgiveness within a service of redemption proved holy ground.



Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Messes and Our Blessings...Gibson

10:21 p.m.

I sit in the very yellow space that serves as my office. My book collection lines one wall. The books I hope to read, the books someone recommended I read, the ones I bought for their artwork or bindings, those that hulk there for a rare reference, the ones I keep because I know they’re good and a few I’ve actually read.

This room’s a mess tonight. It attracts extra clutter like fly paper attracts flies. Cat baggage. Cots for the Beans. Toys. Odd assortments. I can’t seem to keep it tidy.

Through the garden doors I see only the light from two solar lanterns. I hear things, though. Songbirds singing the dark down. Swamp frogs croaking a steady percussive buzz. An annoying catbird whining. A great flapping of nearby wings – the mallard pair nesting in the neighbour’s yard, returning from their evening dip in the slough.

The roar of a souped-up motor and the happy whoop of the neighbour’s boy speeding home on his quad startle me. On our unpaved street, gravel crunches under a passing vehicle. Highway noises, long swishes mostly, float to me from four blocks over.

Sometimes at night I hear coyotes. Cattle. Fireworks. Sweet sounds that remind me why I love my countryside village, in spite of our spring-soupy streets and erratic internet.

I had a happy day today. Worked a bit in the garden. Spent time with the grandbeans. Washed windows. Laughed. Fed a few people.

But between all that happy, sad crept in. The world’s a mess tonight. Overseas, famine haunts nations. The Enemy has released the hags of war, greed and infectious disease. Radical Islamists commit unspeakable atrocities against people Jesus called my neighbours. People who once had homes as comfortable and familiar to them as my own home is to me. Those loved by family and friends. Precious lives. Too many children. Devastated.

Adding insult to grievous injury, a beloved clown* dropped his mask and left the stage. Without saying good-bye. When clowns grow sad, when laughter dies, can hope be far behind? Some wonder.

Such chaos doesn’t surprise God. Since Adam and Eve, sin, sorrow and destruction have plagued earth. This we know. But I’m feeling guilty. Maybe you are too. How dare I love my life? Count my blessings here in my yellow room? And that’s exactly what Satan wants. To start war in hearts too, by growing bitter stuff. Guilt. Anger. Envy. Revenge. Worry. Mostly, fear.

Let’s refuse. From my untidy room, I send this affirmation to my fellow believers. You and I can’t keep the world neat, but we can remember that God still loves it and gave his own Son to redeem it. We can pray less for serenity to accept the things we can’t change, and more for a surplus of courage to change the things we can – while we still can.

Want to make a difference? Start with prayer. Contribute to humanitarian agencies that send aid. Write federal politicians, requesting that our government hold more overseas governments accountable for human rights abuses.

Above all, refuse cowardice. Light up the space you influence with Jesus’ love. Stand boldly for Truth. Celebrate life. Cultivate gratitude. And listen for sweet sounds in the dark. God always sends them.
*published four days after the suicide of actor Robin Williams
 Sunny Side Up, published in various Western newspapers, and online.
©Kathleen Gibson, 2014


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sandwiched--Carolyn R. Wilker

“If God sends us on stony paths, he provides strong shoes.” --Corrie Ten Boom

We’re at that stage in our family with aging parents on one side—we’re all aging every day—and younger family with grandchildren on the other side. We’ve known, in retrospect, that this could happen one day and now we’re there, but we don’t always know what to do with it.
With two parents needing our support, our attention and energies are spread to their maximum, and that comes apart from a career as a freelance editor and writer, and a husband at home with some special needs of his own.
Carol Abaya, an expert in elder care, writes that there is no rehearsal for parent care, rather parenting one’s parents. “Becoming a parent to an aging parent presents extraordinary challenges.” Apparently it was Abaya who coined the term “sandwich generation” but also “club sandwich generation.”

Layers of the Sandwich for Care Givers
In due respect to Abaya, I prefer to call it the “Dagwood sandwich” because of the many layers, even more than a club sandwich, also in respect to the cartoonist of Dagwood and Blondie who invented that sandwich name.
The thing about the layers is that there are so many of them. There are the usual tasks to keep one’s home livable, the tasks involved with a business,  including keeping it going in spite of all else. Adult children ask advice and sometimes for physical help, and there are grandchildren to spend time with—which I want to do as I am able. Apart from care for my parents, whom I also love, there are other positions in my life that may be somewhat displaced during such a time of transition.

Spirituality in Elder Care
It can be a challenging time in which we—the grown-up kids in the middle of things— learn about the support needed. Depending on the circumstances, it’s physical support that’s required, but other times it’s just listening. Consider also the spiritual matters. We care about the whole, not just the physical, and yet the spiritual may be hard for some elders to put into words. And hard to hear.
In a recent lecture on senior care and spirituality from the Waterloo Region Gerontology Interest Group Annual Workshop on May 8, 2014, speaker Cathy Joy said, “The conversation might even start by asking …what do I need to know about you as a person to ensure that I give you the best possible care/support?” After you ask, then just wait!”[1]
The support given by family will be different than that provided by professional caregivers outside the family, which is not to say that the family does not have professional resources. Ours does, but we’re pretty close to the situation. We still need to listen for cues of what our parents need as well as hearing their concerns. And I remember that I need to update their pastor as well. Being unable to get out on their own, it’s hard to stay connected to their church family.

Supportive Organizations
It’s a fact of life and also an emotional one for the elders to see small things slipping away, one after another, until the changes become bigger and parents require more support—perhaps even more than adult children can provide. This is where I’m grateful for those organizations called Community Access Care and the trained professionals within them who have given their best. As well, I am thankful for sisters to share the care.
We pray for strength and energy to handle the demands and hope for the understanding of others when we need to step back from time to time, and we accept the prayers of others to help us to keep all the parts in balance.

[1] Warm Embrace Elder Care newsletter, June 2014, Spirituality & Aging, p. 2, 3.

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