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Sanctifying menial tasks

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on July 21, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/the-prayer-in-doing-chores

The ordinary task of doing dishes helps me to silence the noise I am usually surrounded by and to talk to God. Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Washing dishes with pink gloves in hot suds, I had pause to think of all the good gifts in my life. The people, the growing of a dream, the crafting of a memoir. It all means so much to me. Soap suds squeaked and popped. Plates clattered together. I got lost in a hope-filled reverie.

The sun was behind rain clouds, and outside the window a bright green canopy of trees lined the street. A newness even in the overshadowing of a worldwide pandemic. There was a change. The smell of lilacs and honeysuckle in the alley wafted behind my little grey house.

Leaving the sink, I carried the trash outside. I tossed the compost in with a whump. Stretching my arms to the sky, I watched for aviator-like bumblebees passing by. The evening songbird sang high on the telephone wire. The ivy covering the gate shook in the slight wind. A smile pulled at the corners of my mouth. “I am going to be okay.”

My days are full, and my nights are calm. I have peace and joy. The Lord is my all in all. I try to give myself to him completely. Even the lost and broken pieces of my heart I give to him to find and repair. His love heals me through each relationship and time of prayer.

Often, I say, “Jesus, I trust in you. You take care of everything.” There have been many times when I have felt invisible, rejected, and lonely. And he has been with me through it all. I may not be perfect, but I am enough. I am learning to “trust in the slow work of God” and to “give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading.” 

Sometimes it is hard to follow the advice from Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, in his short piece “Trust in the Slow Work of God” to “accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

The ordinary task of doing dishes helps me to silence the noise I am usually surrounded by and to talk to God. I long to speed ahead through the chores and in my personal projects. I can be quite impatient. “And yet,” says Father de Chardin, “it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.”

The slow growth in relationships and work is almost unnoticeable. But it is new. Gradually, with grace and action they take shape and mature. When I take a deep breath in nature, I am serene with life flourishing all around me. It takes a long time for a tree to stand tall in a forest. Reminding myself of the steady movement of God in my life, I can be present to all the blessings I have.

Who am I to be loved by a God so great? And yet, I have become more aware of his goodness when I reflect on my day with gratitude. I am grateful for rain-picked raspberries from my elderly neighbour. Time spent with loved ones at coffee shops I hadn’t seen in months brings such joy. The beauty of yellow roses and fragrance of jasmine flowers in nearby gardens are lovely.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Ps 136:1). Instead of dreading chores, I will relish the time to clean. Finding restoration in the Lord who is with me through it all.

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The joy of dancing like nobody’s watching

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on June 23, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/the-joy-of-dancing-like-nobody-s-watching

Photo by Edgar Martu00ednez on Pexels.com

On many walks in my neighbourhood, I noticed all the flowers blooming bright in the gardens. They looked like they were dancing in the wind.

I pondered, do flowers hide their colour, sultriness, softness, vivaciousness, or beauty? No, they do not hide. They let their brilliant colours shine. They let their foliage beam with what they are meant to be. I felt like the Lord was saying, “You too, let all your colours shine, beam. Do not hide your virtues, talents, and beauty. Do not hide them.”

I felt it the night I danced in the moonlight, my sense of hope renewed. Opening the creaky gate covered in ivy and slipping to my dance floor, the alley way behind the house, I felt a surge of excitement. It was the perfect spot to move free with form, expression, and passion.

In the moves of a flamenco dancer, a ballet dancer, and a contemporary dancer, I experienced joy again. After months of searing leg and back pain, my strength had returned. The muscles were not pulsing uncomfortably anymore. I could move and breathe like a dancer. For the next couple of weeks after work finished, I would dance freely in the alley with my music playing.

I tried to recall some of the choreography I had learned in my various dance classes, adding my own flair. The wide-open space was my theatre. I let my right leg do more of the heavy lifting and leaps. It was fun to jump and twirl with my long hair whipping in the wind. It felt so amazing. I was getting stronger.

When I was in the middle of the pain, I thought it would always be that way. I could not see past the discomfort. My prayers were filled with questions like “What are you trying to teach me, Lord?” And “Can you please take this pain away?” I didn’t like the suffering, and it felt like there was no end to it. It was something I offered up but had enough of.

And amazingly, time can heal wounds. Slowly, the numbness in my toes disappeared. And I could stretch and walk without trouble. Being able to dance again taught me to trust in the Lord’s faithfulness. He knows what is on my heart and gently cares for it. A few of my neighbours putting out their trash and mowing their lawns might not have expected to see me jumping for joy in the alley. But that’s exactly what they saw. I danced as if I had just discovered I had legs. It was an indescribable feeling of freedom.

I am grateful for who God made me to be and who I am becoming. I haven’t always been this free. Healing from any illness takes time. Back pain and bipolar disorder have been tools for me to lean on God more and learn that I am not in control. When I experience pain or my moods move from high to low, I can always rely on God’s unchanging love for me.

I resonated with this quote from Marianne Willliamson’s book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So if you find yourself swaying to music, don’t be shy. Know that I probably am dancing like a flower in the wind too.

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Lunch on the Patio

A poem inspired by the Japanese form of Haibun Poetry, combining prose and Haiku.

Moss covers the old shed

beside the laden cherry tree

In the neighbour’s yard

Grey squirrel climbs tree

Branches sway under the sky

Shiny cherries hang

Pink peonies fill 

A tall vase

Below the stairs 

By the light switch 

Near the door

Landlords cabin bound

Flowers a gift of kindness

From their own garden

Rooftops of Mount Pleasant homes

Clouds and trees are views from the patio 

Tortillas and guacamole 

Nourish stomachs at lunch

Wind makes the trees dance

Orange slices refreshing

Senses come alive

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‘Just to be alive is a grand thing’

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on May 26, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/just-to-be-alive-is-a-grand-thing

I know that my small plans are nothing to what God has planned for me. His plans are bigger and better than mine.

Wildflowers dotted the grass around my picnic blanket. Shade from tall evergreens created a perfect spot for me to rest in. I kicked off my running shoes and let my bare feet enjoy the cool breeze. Laying down on the blanket tucked away in Queen Elizabeth Park felt like my own piece of paradise. Birds flitted from treetop to tree branch. Fuzzy bees flew by and visited pink rhododendrons nearby. The smell of ferns and evergreens reminded me of hiking trips of the past. Hunger pains told me it was near dinner.

Calling my mom, we chatted for a good half hour. Then after the conversation about our hopes and dreams, we said a short prayer together. Two young girls were sharing snacks on a picnic blanket near me. They laughed and picked up pinecones. I dug into my handbag for my red beaded rosary that my mom gifted me. Sitting with my chin titled toward the sky, I prayed the Glorious Mysteries with many intentions in my heart. 

The Lord is generous in his love. Even with all of the social isolation, I have felt community in the many phone calls, text messages, and video chats with my friends and family. We have become more creative in ways to connect. Virtual dance parties, brunches, movie dates, and Mass have become a way to bond when we cannot be in person.

God’s love cannot be undone with an outbreak of a virus causing anxiety to rise. It has been a “corona coaster” of worries and emotions for me lately. Going out in nature and hearing my loved ones’ voices over the phone has been a calm grounding. Surprising to me is my increased desire to create art, bake, dance, and laugh with loved ones.

My dream of completing my book has really been forefront on my mind. I know that my small plans are nothing to what God has planned for me. His plans are bigger and better than mine. I feel like God will bless my little “yes” in taking action. Without having my social calendar full, I am using the extra time to foster my creative pursuits. As I felt the Lord say to me in prayer, “Pick up the pen and be brave.” I have been journalling, writing poems, taking notes, and jotting ideas down. As a writer, living life vibrantly fills the well of creativity. I go for many walks, read lots of books, and fill my hours with varied activities which brings countless material to my writing desk. 

Being in an environment that helps me do the work and having the right tools is key. For the longest time, I was without a laptop because my old one crashed. Thankfully, I had backed up my files and didn’t lose seven years of work on my book. When we open ourselves up to what we believe God is calling us to, he provides the means. It’s amazing how many people he has connected me with to assist me in writing my memoir. “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” (Is 41:13) 

The excitement of possibility and leaning into the mystery of God’s plan helps me live through these days with hope. I will cultivate the garden of my heart, watering with prayer, acts of love, and faithful trust.

As Agatha Christie said in her autobiography, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

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Hope is a muscle we need to exercise

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on April 27, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/hope-is-a-muscle-we-need-to-exercise

Experiencing acute back and nerve pain, I realize that my identity is not in all the things I can do. It’s me and my toothy smile.

When I was hit with intense pain from a pinched nerve and muscle spasm in my leg, I had to relinquish my to-do list.

Hot, sharp pain travelled up my leg, and I found that the most comfortable position was lying flat on the floor. I couldn’t stand to floss my teeth at night. Walking became limping. And breathing became a catch-and-release routine. 

My sister helped me by making dinners, making me laugh, and supporting me on short walks. She offered her shoulder to lean on. She served up patience with my constant groans and complaints about how much pain I was in.

My hope was faltering and it started to feel like this pain would be my new reality. One night my mom played ukulele over Zoom video as I lay on my back and cried. She let me choose my favourite songs. The next night, we prayed a Rosary together on a video chat. I shifted to find the best sitting position. Her smile lit up my heart. She asked the Lord to show me how much he loves me and to show me that he is suffering with me. 

There is a comfort in imagining that my Saviour is suffering alongside me. I can picture him holding my hand and giving it a squeeze when a muscle spasm shoots fiery shocks up my leg. I let my breath out that I catch and release. 

I cancelled story time with my 4-year-old godson because the pain was so strong one night. The next day, we set up a new time to video chat and to my surprise he read me a story. He read The Cat in the Hat as I moved now and then to relieve the nerve pain. His bright face beamed with excitement to share his new talent with me.

The Lord is doing a new thing. Stripped of my usual comfort and the busyness of my task list, my priority becomes peace of heart, I am aware of how intertwined my mind, body, and spirit are. Amidst hot tears I sing a song I made up, “You can take all this pain away,” hoping Jesus would take the hint. 

Experiencing acute back pain and nerve pain, I realize that my identity is not in all the things I can do. It’s not in what I can offer. It’s me and my toothy smile. It’s the fact that I was born and am alive. And what a miracle that is, that my parents met, and their parents met. I am a beloved daughter of God. 

Accepting my sister’s help is hard sometimes. I don’t want to feel like a burden. I am reminded that I am enough. I’ve read that we are human beings after all, not human doings. We are overcoming. We will always need healing from past wounds or illnesses. 

St. Paul says, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10 NIV) 

I have the Lord and he is everything to me. I trust that he can take care of everything. Even in my suffering, he is there. 

For now I must endure pain, and with each discomfort I withstand, I am molded into something new. A strength has sprung forth in me. A fierce hope in seeing what is to come. Suffering in this day is not going to keep my spirits down. Hope is like a muscle. I choose to exercise it more than self-pity. I will not give up!

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Resilience and resurrection in a pandemic

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 31, 2020

Carving out more time for online Mass, rosary podcasts and spiritual reading, I embrace the peace it brings.

I have never felt such a strong hunger for the sacraments in the days leading up to Easter. It is a strange time that we are living in right now. A global pandemic is striking fear and panic in me and maybe you too. Worries can be overwhelming. What will happen to my family, job, finances, and way of life? It is uncertain what our lives will look like in the coming months. With all this change unfolding rapidly, we can count on the resurrection of the Lord. He gives us everything we need.

In this “darkness of uncertainty, loneliness and isolation,” we need a “change of mindset and renewal of heart,” as Archbishop Miller said in his homily livestreamed from Holy Rosary Cathedral on March 22.

Even more now, I am turning to the Lord in prayer throughout the day. I share with him all of my fears and questions about what is going on. I wonder when he will come in and calm this storm. He gives me the strength to face the difficult days.

I am discovering that the meaning of life is more than having enough toilet paper in my cabinet. Yes, I stocked up on food and planned healthy meals in the event I were to get sick. And yes, I am grateful to my landlords for leaving a few rolls of bathroom tissue at my door. Each day of self-isolation, my emotions are rising and falling, and I let myself feel the feelings. I don’t shut off all the anxiety because a little anxiety is good to protect myself from danger.

As I live through this unexpected spread of coronavirus, I am exercising the virtues of faith and resilience. Carving out more time for prayer with online Mass, Rosary podcasts, and spiritual reading, I embrace the peace it brings. I also listen to the needs of my mind and body. When I am hungry and need a snack, I find a few baby carrots or a bowl of mango yogurt to eat. When I need to move, I go for a walk or dance to my favourite upbeat songs. I am trying to accept that there is an outbreak and find peace in the moment by taking action.

On my first day working from home, I woke up to my sister making oatmeal. Adding fresh bananas, I ate it with my coffee as the morning light filtered into the living room. After breakfast, we lit candles scented with frankincense and myrrh for daily Mass. We participated in the Mass in Bishop Barron’s chapel on YouTube. We blessed each other with holy water and prayed in silence. What a wonderful rest for my soul.

Sitting at my desk to work remotely on the projects from my office, I felt grateful. It’s so good to have meaningful work, to have purpose. “Without purpose,” says Eric Greitens in his book Resilience, “we can survive – but we cannot flourish.” 

What is taking the edge off my anxiety is talking to family and friends on the phone and connecting virtually with friends and communities. Gifts are hidden in this darkness. I have joined a live stream Rosary, sung along with Josh Groban in his live performance on Facebook, watched operas streaming free on MetOpera.org, and laughed as I watched a video of penguins roam the aquarium after hours on YouTube. We live in an amazing age for technology. As my friend said, “It’s the world wide web of God’s beauty.”

The joy of Jesus’ resurrection is contagious. Because of his generous love, I am looking for ways to show up and give to others. Eric Greitens explains, “We become what we do if we do it often enough. We act with courage, and we become courageous. We act with compassion, and we become compassionate. If we make resilient choices, we become resilient.” When we believe in God, we receive a new hope-filled perspective.

While reading Scripture by my soft bedroom light before bed, I find Jesus’ words comforting, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:25, 33).

This day is a gift. Looking back at it, I breathe deeply and ask, “Who will make these days brighter?” Closing my eyes, I feel deep gratefulness for Jesus’ love for me. The light of the world brightens my heart in this uncertainty.

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Home is where God is

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 4, 2020

A home restores. It is something we are all made for. Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

How can a place you’ve never been to before feel like home? On a cold day in February, my friend and I travelled to Phoenix, Ariz., for a retreat. Neither of us expected to feel like we had come home.

Lifting our heavy backpacks out of the cab from the airport, we laughed and smiled, admiring the variety of cacti growing in the neighbourhood. 

We would be staying at the home of a relative of a colleague of ours from the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The sun was shining, and we no longer needed our coats and scarves. When we left Vancouver at 4 a.m., the temperature was below zero. Here in Arizona, doves cooed from surrounding trees. Palm trees dotted the yards and swayed in the distance.

We stood at the front door, where a large statue of Mother Mary was the first to greet us. I knocked and the door immediately opened. A beautiful blonde woman smiled and opened her arms. “You must be Maggie!” I said. As soon as I passed the threshold, her arms wrapped me in a big hug.

Her home beautifully combined order and cheerfulness. “Can I get you something to drink? We have beer, pop, and seltzer water. Feel free to help yourself to anything. Make this place yours.”

We settled our things into her teenage daughter’s bedroom and lounged on their large grey couch. Excitedly, we told her about the retreat that would start the next day. Then she left to take her son to his older brothers’ baseball games. She promised to take us out for margaritas and Mexican food when she and her husband returned home.

I’d come to Phoenix with a worn-out heart, mind, and body. My heart was heavy, my mind was exhausted, and my lower back ached. It was no coincidence that the theme of the retreat was Restore. It was organized by Blessed Is She, a ministry for women with a mission for community and prayer.

When Maggie came back with her son from the baseball games, her younger sister Stella popped by with her 2-week-old baby. Seeing the precious baby cradled in my travelling companion’s arms made my heart swell. It was easy to notice how close-knit this family is. They live on the same block and visit each other frequently.

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

It rained hard on Saturday morning. It didn’t rob us of our joy for the day. Stella’s husband’s brother waited outside to drive us to St. Andrew the Apostle Parish for the retreat. He is an Uber driver, and our colleague’s mother paid for our trip. We were overcome with gratitude at the generosity of this family.

My heart was under renovation. Negative thoughts had been spinning me into low moods. “I am not good enough. I am unlovable. I am alone.”  During times of worship and adoration, I heard words like a whisper fill me. “I will never leave you alone. I wanted you in your mother’s womb. No pain, no loss is wasted. Do not be afraid. You are my delight. Find peace in me. I love you, my beloved daughter. There will always be days of rain, but I am always shining brighter than the sun. I will provide for you.”

The home we stayed in for three nights was a refuge. The love Maggie showed for her family, her community, and her vocation of motherhood confirmed for me the boundless love of God.

A home restores. It is something we are all made for. We desire to belong and to be missed when we go away.

Author Annie F. Downs says in her book 100 Days to Brave, “Do whatever it takes to expand your map. Because if you go where you’ve never gone before, you will see God like you’ve never seen him before.”

God makes a home in our hearts. Our ultimate destination and eternal home is heaven.  We long to return to the heart of the Father. And now I also long to return to Arizona.

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Experience joy; go fly a kite

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on November 4, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/experience-joy-go-fly-a-kite

Flying a kite is happiness. And God means for us to be happy in this life.

“Tension is needed to go to greater heights,” said my friend over dinner.

I had to agree with her. Flying a stunt kite one Sunday taught me this lesson.

Fall is a good time to get cozy and curl up with a hot drink and a good book. But instead of doing that on the weekend, my three brothers and future brother-in-law took a stunt kite to the park.

This kite was hand-sewn by my older brother. He salvaged a tent to create a functional stunt kite fitted with two types of poles. We were all excited to try this out. It was a blustery day, perfect for flying.

Standing in the middle of a soccer field, we unwound the strings and assembled the poles. I watched with wonder as the guys took turns launching the kite in the air. They controlled it by slight movements with their hands. Elbows tucked in with only wrist action. Small, focused moves.

In the first trial launches, little adjustments were necessary. Zap straps kept breaking, as the wind was strong and the poles were heavy. They switched the poles to bamboo, which made a huge difference.

I asked the brother who had built the kite, “Is this like rocket science?”

“Yes, it kind of is.”

We were all so engaged in flying the kite and helping each other to have the best flight. My worries and niggling stress from the week disappeared.

When they had each finished having a turn, they shouted, “Give it a try, Lisa!” 

I hesitated. “I won’t be good at it.”

But my youngest brother laughed. He came over to mentor me in flying the very large kite. He went over the movements needed for launching and direction. I listened to him. Nothing like a little dose of sibling competition to boost me up.

With a great gust of wind, I tilted my hands back, pointed my thumbs toward me and it took off. It climbed in the sky. All the guys were clapping and encouraging me. It was exhilarating. 

The kite pulled and strained. My mentor yelled, “Hold it tight! Pull back!” I did what he said. The kite went higher, soaring like the seagull that flew by. I dipped it side to side. I laughed as it soared. All my brothers cheered. Especially on my first try. They couldn’t believe how long it was staying up in the air. When I felt the strings go taut, it reminded me of the tension you need to hold with a partner in swing dancing.

Trees surrounded us on the borders of the field. White clouds dotted the sky and my hair was blowing in the wind. I was falling in love with God in nature. I felt connected to the earth and its marvels. The power of the wind. The softness of the grass beneath my feet and the tall waving trees tinged with yellow, red, and orange.

I felt free in the space next to my brothers where sunlight blanketed us as we looked to the sky. Flying a kite is happiness. Making it do stunts is an extra dose of joy. And God means for us to be happy in this life.

St. John XXIII said, “Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.”

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Friendship: ‘Stronger relief than any medicine’

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on October 9th, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/friendship-stronger-relief-than-any-medicine

Hope pervades my heart when I am in the presence of another. “I said, ‘I am falling’; but your constant love, O Lord, held me up. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad” (Ps 94:18-19).

Welcomed. Seen. Heard. Being at a support group meeting helped me to break out of stigma around having a mental illness.

Four years ago I walked into a neighbourhood church room with mismatched couches and chairs and was welcomed by a friendly face. The facilitator offered me a hot cup of tea. I held the ceramic mug and instantly felt more at ease. A few more people trickled in. The meeting opened with prayer and introductions.

I was surprised by how everyone there had a mental illness and yet they were working, living, and doing it all with perseverance. It’s an invisible illness. If they hadn’t been courageous and vulnerable in sharing in the group, I would never have guessed they battled mental illness too. Truly, people who experience anxiety, depression, eating disorders are fighters. It was so comforting to meet other mental health warriors who have faith in God, who is with us through it all.

Once I received a brief text message from one of the members, conveying how he had fallen ill in the last 48 hours. “Can you talk?” I sent a message back to him with a couple of questions similar to those of Kevin Briggs, who is known as the Guardian of the Golden Gate. Kevin was with the California Highway Patrol and prevented many suicides from happening by talking and just listening to the troubled souls. I asked, “Are you okay tonight? What are your plans for tomorrow?” And “I am free to chat tonight.” He responded, “I’ll call in 15.”

During that phone call I felt connected to someone who may not have had anyone else to call. After 45 minutes of listening, I asked, “Can we pray to God for protection?”

“Yes, please,” was his reply. The next day, I received an email from him saying, “It’s a miracle. I feel much better this morning! Thank you for listening to me.”

Weeks later, it was my turn to call him for a listening ear. I needed someone to talk to. Someone who understands what it’s like to have uncomfortable symptoms of illness return in times of stress.

I am inspired by Henry Fraser, author of The Little Big Things: A young man’s belief that every day can be a good day. When he was a teenager he dove into the ocean and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. When Henry was recovering in the hospital he saw a man with a similar spinal cord injury wheel himself out of the hospital in a wheelchair. He was then determined to do the same. “Disabled people need to see themselves in others. We need to see others like us achieving, living and inspiring.” Being present with members of the support group has been instrumental in pushing myself to carry on. Resilient people can’t thrive all on their own. We need the support of others.

So, starting this month, I will brave the rain and walk to the group with hopes to lift someone else up, as so many do for me. I try to view my illness as a grace. I don’t like the crippling sadness at times or the fears that invade my thoughts. But the sadness passes, and when it does, everything is sweeter.

Hope pervades my heart when I am in the presence of another. “I said, ‘I am falling’; but your constant love, O Lord, held me up. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad” (Ps 94:18-19).

Community brings peace and the feeling that I am not alone. Our inner lives are so important. It’s a blessing to be able to pray with a friend on a difficult night, sharing in their struggle. Stronger relief than any medicine is the company of a kind and caring friend. My life matters. Your life matters.

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Whether your song is happy or sad, God is listening

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on August 27, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/whether-your-song-is-happy-or-sad-god-is-listening

In these ordinary moments I realize life is all right. That we are unique and irreplaceable. We all have a song to sing.

“It’s a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There is no escaping that,” said Stephen Colbert in an interview with Anderson Cooper on grief. He went on to say, “There is no other timeline. This is it. The bravest thing you can do is accept the world as it is.”

As a depressed teenager I had lost sight of hope. I couldn’t come up with any reasons to live. To stay here. I didn’t understand how treasured I was. By God. By my family and friends. It’s beautiful to discover that you and I were born into this world for a purpose. That life is good even when it comes with suffering. You can’t separate joy from experiences of sadness. To experience happiness, you must also experience loss. A colourful mix of emotions makes us human.

I have been blessed with many graces to thrive as I live in Vancouver. Being surrounded by lush nature. Family close by. Fulfilling work. Diversity in dining. A welcoming church community. Friendly neighbours. And I am grateful that I can enjoy it all with my healthy body.

I’ve missed running for a month. I’ve been avoiding the summer heat! So one cool evening, I lace up my runners and off I go. Breathing in and out quickly. My muscles stretching like a cat’s after a nap. The view as beautiful as ever. Passing cyclists smile and nod, affirming my effort. Stopping at a crosswalk, I think about quitting to get dinner. But I know that further along there is a better view of the water. I push on. In slow mode.

Once at the oceanside, I breathe in deeply. Music twirls in the air as the community piano is played. After the young woman finishes a classical piece, I rush to it. Beads of sweat fall along my hairline as I play. In these ordinary moments I realize life is all right. That we are unique and irreplaceable. We all have a song to sing. God doesn’t leave us in the darkness. The light rushes in. Growth happens. And we can emerge stronger than before.

Having lived in the pit of despair gives me the capacity to connect with people on a raw and profoundly human level. Empathy, a gift of understanding someone else’s suffering; you have felt it too. Everyone experiences grief, loss, or pain. When we can share a moment with another, we promise they are not alone.

A French-speaking man smiling and moving towards the piano says, “Bravo.” I ask, “Do you want to play?” He sits and sings, stroking the keys of the brightly painted outdoor piano. Each of us giving a free concert to an intimate crowd. Making a gift of ourselves, we are “not simply a ‘being’ but always a ‘being for,’” as I heard this year at a workshop by the Pacific Institute of Family Education.

“You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit” (Job 10:11-12).

The longer I live, the more grateful I am for each breath. I will bless the Lord with my comings and goings, knowing how deeply he loves me. Knowing that he suffered too. And what joy awaits us in the kingdom that he has opened to us.

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For women who feel unlovable

Love, it’s what it’s really all about. And you matter.

You matter.

One voice in the choir.

Unique.

Worthy of life.

A wildflower

dappling a field.

The rock a child picks up from the sandy beach

and tosses in the waves.

Your life

intricately woven

into the fabric

of God.

The smile that heals,

the hand that comforts,

the eyes holding an

ocean of love.

Love.

It’s what it’s really

all

about.

And you matter.

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Confession: a Race to Mercy

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on July 30, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/confession-a-race-to-mercy

Dim lights. Knees to velvet kneeler. Quiet contrite conversation in a room as big as a broom closet. This is what it looks like to be relentless in the spiritual life.

Returning again and again to the redeeming sacrament of confession, no matter how many times I confess the same sins. It’s a race to mercy.

I don’t want to drag my feet. Instead, I give up the feeling of hopelessness. And walk right back into the open arms of my dearest friend Jesus Christ.

My goal is to confess often. To go back to the well. The Lord has living water. Refreshment for the mind and soul. And my thirst is mighty. Saints get up over and over again. They open themselves up to grace.

I never want to tire of receiving joy from confessing my sins. I fall down, but Jesus hasn’t left my side.

Once the priest has given me absolution, I drink the peace and joy of salvation. It is a precious moment when I open the door of the confessional to pray my penance. A lightness expands in my heart.

Restoration. Inner healing. Peace in body, mind, and soul. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:23)

Recently, I met up with my childhood friend at one of my favourite Poke restaurants. We were ordering take-out to eat at a rooftop garden in the heart of the city. After we hugged and stood in line to order, she looked at me and said, “Something is different about you, Lisa. You look good … confident.” Smiling, I mulled over possible reasons for this compliment. No new haircut. Or clothes. Must be something else. “Well, I did come straight from confession.” A soul cleanse.

“I thought that is why you might have picked this location, since it’s near the cathedral.” She dug deeper. “How does it make you feel?”

“Fresh. Like I can begin again.” Her puzzled look diminished, and she seemed satisfied with my answer.

“Okay.”

The conversation switched to her upcoming travel plans. We ordered our preferred dishes. My heart was singing and doing back flips. I was so happy. Hope-filled that this time, healing happened. Even if it didn’t, I know I had encountered Jesus. The peace after confession is warm sunshine on my face.

My parents modelled the blessing of frequent confession. As a young girl, I would visit the chapel on a Saturday morning with my parents and siblings. The promise of ice cream or time to play on the playground afterwards sweetened the deal. Sweeter than chocolate mint ice cream was the feeling of interior freedom.

The sacrament of confession has the capacity to shine light from inside our soul and onto our face. It’s not surprising that we become like little lamps. For the Lord is the light of the world. When we open our hearts to receive his grace, our cup overflows.

Don’t let repetitive sins weigh you down. There is always confession. Never give up! “The testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas 1:4)

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Language lets us describe joy, but also sadness

First published in the BC Catholic on July 3rd, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/language-lets-us-describe-joy-but-also-sadness

A visit to Jesus in the tabernacle is an opportunity to talk to him as a friend

Sun rays dappling the sidewalk. Evening bird calls. Summer months promise us fun and relaxation. And they definitely can be filled with both. But when you have a mood disorder, happy feelings don’t always fill your brain. I remember feeling a darkness seeping into my thoughts one summer night. My mood dropped like a speeding roller coaster.

Instead of reacting with self-compassion, I berated myself for feeling depressed. “Don’t be silly! It’s sunny! Don’t feel this way! You are so weak. Why are you feeling depressed again? You’re supposed to be having fun.”

But then I picked myself up and headed out for a walk. Hope-filled music in my earbuds. I didn’t know why I was crying. I hoped no one saw the tears falling beneath my sunglasses. I kept walking. Fading light. Chalk drawings and lush flower beds. Dancing shadows on pavement. Using all my senses I focused on the present moment.

Feeling low can be isolating, so it’s the most important time to reach out. With years of experiencing changing moods, I’m more aware of the signs and symptoms of the mental illness I manage. Calling a friend or family member is on the top of my list, as is prayer.

Adjusting the dose of my medication with the help of my doctor is good too. Getting eight hours of sleep, eating healthy food, and exercising are essential. Sleep restores the serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin acts like a messenger to our brain cells. It helps to regulate our moods including anxiety and happiness. Even athletes recognize the importance of sleep. At 10 hours they have peak performance. Eight to nine hours of sleep and they are doing very well.

For me, self-care is not optional. It is something I always do. I pray to the Lord, praising and lamenting. Opening my heart with all its emotion to him who is our powerful healer. At a recent talk in Vancouver, John Swinton, a Scottish theologian, spoke about how the third book of Psalms (Psalms 73–89) is lament. “God has given us a language to describe sadness, joy.” He shares that Scripture “encompasses all of our emotions.”

On summer nights when I struggle with depression, “Darkness is my only companion.” Psalm 88, among many others, speaks of sadness. Holding fast to God’s unchanging love for me, I pray as I can. Sometimes it is through listening to worship songs that I praise him. Often it is by walking in nature. The shape of the red-tinged clouds at sunset. Scents from jasmine blossoms. And making rhubarb sauce with orange zest.

For a meaningful connection with God, I imagine visiting a lonely closed church to find Jesus present in a tabernacle and talk to him as a friend. He is with me in my darkness. He reminds me that I matter. And he delights in me. So too, you matter. You are a delight! Jesus is so close to you. The Lord’s redemptive love wraps us in safety and heals our brokenness.

Summer nights may not always be brimming with fun. But we can slow down and relax, knowing that Jesus loves us. And that, as John Swinton says, “Jesus promised a life of fullness for everyone.”

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Sometimes healing comes in nature, friends

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on June 4, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/sometimes-healing-comes-in-nature-friends

Not only did our interest in magnolias hold this unlikely friendship together, but so did our ache for family, health, and happiness.

Scents from white flowering bushes were my first encounter of her incredible gardening skills.

I have walked by her garden countless times since I moved to a quiet neighbourhood in Vancouver. A tall chestnut tree stands guard in the middle of it. Bark mulch covers the ground where plants look wild and less manicured.

Her smile welcomed conversation as she raked leaves. Curly grey hair and a German accent complement her 89 years. Many weeks after meeting, I listened to stories of her trip alone on a ship to Canada from Germany, and her long working days on the family farm.

We found a shared interest in classical music; in the beauty of flowers and the simple pleasure of fresh garden vegetables. Not only did our interest in magnolias hold this unlikely friendship together, but so did our ache for family, health, and happiness.

After a run along the seawall one day I passed by her house. There sweeping the sidewalk was my dear neighbour. Arthritis and sore knees don’t stop her from spending time in her garden. Strength still flows through her aging body.

Inviting me to sit on her front steps, we enjoyed each other’s company; the sunset and purple rhododendrons that were starting to bloom; squirrels scampering; trees coated in gold.

Our laughter filled the air. My delight in her tender care of the plants connected us to the goodness of nature, new every season. From the steps at her red door, I looked up. A canopy of spring green leaves, and a soft spray of chestnut flowers filled the sky. 

Healing can come in surprising ways. The peaceful presence of a neighbour. Time to chat. Watching her pick beets from the dirt in her garden for my dinner. It comes with listening to her own story of overcoming challenges; of rough life yet resilient soul.

Her endearing character shines through her garden and her smiling eyes. Carefree timelessness restores the soul. Being too busy all the time takes a toll on my mental health. I relish moments with Margaret, which slows me down and fills my heart with love.

After only a few years of knowing her, there is a feeling of home when I walk by her garden and see her smile. Knowing I belong to God my heavenly Father, I also feel secure. His love is like a patient gardener. He tends to the thorns and weeds found in times of depression, pruning and clipping.

When life spins out of control, he finds a way to root me in hope so I flourish again. Never a day goes by without some work. My mental health withers without care. More and more I am learning to lean on God. To surrender. To trust him in everything.

I still falter. It is an unfinished work. I like to think that I am his beloved wildflower. Storms will come; winds and rain; and bugs. But he will not leave me in darkness. He loves me and will bring me to the light.

In the book of Sirach, it says, “the Lord created medicines from the earth.” (And beautiful flowers in Margaret’s garden.)

“And a sensible man will not despise them … By them he heals and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes them a compound.”

How marvelous that God gives us the means to be well. Skills of physicians, medicines, and loving relationships bring about healing. We can rely on the Lord, “for the sake of preserving life.” Do not give up hope. Hope in the Lord. He is with you always.

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“I could do a great many things!”

At 8 years old or younger my dream was to be a writer and so I write.

After a workout in the gym at work, I stood at the entrance of the hospital in boots and a toque waiting in the cold for the shuttle to take me 10 minutes from my home. In a blur of backpacks and bags, one with “The New Yorker,” written across it, a middle aged pregnant woman and her man dropped all of them beside me. The bearded man walked off with purpose to return with a car, leaving the woman standing among all the baggage. She held onto her purse and looked at me. I was moving to the music that I was listening to in my headphones.

Taking a step closer, she caught my attention and asked, “Are you a Doula?”

“No, but I want to be,” was my reply.

It was an honest answer.  Ever since my friend Alison had her son Elliot, I had played with the idea of studying to become a postpartum Doula.  So that I could be there to help the mom with her newborn. I could keep her company, provide her with information on newborn care, and help her with the house chores.   There was a long pause, so I turned away thinking the conversation was over.

“Are you interning?” She asked hopefully.  

“No.”  I gave her a look of apology.  She seemed tired and worried.

I want to be a Doula but it’s more of a future wish than reality.  It would take considerable time and once a doula, scheduling would be a gong show.  I have a full time job that I love. I would have to wait until another time to pursue this possibility.  She sighed and looked disappointed.

I mused.  This is not the first time I have been mistaken for something else.

“Are you a lawyer?” an off-duty policeman asked me as I sat with a serious posture in a silver suit from Holt Renfrew.  I was waiting for an interview at the Justice Institute for a job as an Administrative Assistant.

“No.” I replied. I must look like one, I thought.  

“I could be a great many things,” said Louisa May Alcott in Little Women, but I am not.

The amazing thing that flourishing with a mental illness gives me, is the ability to dream and make goals.  When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I thought a life of professional prestige and personal bests were over.  Walls built of shame, doubt and low self-esteem seemed too difficult to scale. Yet, slowly with the love of God pouring into my heart, layers of stigma and hopelessness fell away.  Maybe it was testing the waters by going back to school, or applying and being hired for different jobs that increased my confidence. Doors opened, I rose to the occasion and dreams became a reality.  

At 8 years old or younger my dream was to be a writer and so I write.  When we had a house fire, I thankfully saved the handwritten short stories I penned as a child.  Most of my stories back then were about surprise birthday parties, (I always wanted one), and the birth of new siblings (I have three brothers and two sisters). No one has ever asked me if I was a writer.  Funny. It’s almost as if I was a ghost writer. Writers must not look like writers. They have such varying interests. I run, dance, sing and work full time in an office.

What does a writer look like?  For writers use pencil, pen, tablet, laptop and voice recorders.  Wiry eyes, curious nose? Tall, thin, fat or short? Young and old.  Outgoing or shy. What would be the defining feature? Used to be ink on fingers.  Not so much anymore. Maybe they can be spotted in cafés, writing in a notebook or typing on a laptop.   Hard to tell.

And how dull a life must be if never written down or reflected upon.  “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” said Maya Angelou.  It seems so wild and free in ink or pixels. Our lives are full of creative content. From when we walk to work till when we rest our bodies at night.  Even my dreams can be made into the stuff of fairy tales.

Ah, to write!  


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Easter is alive in sunshine, flowers, and shared meals

First published in the BC Catholic Newpaper May 6, 2019
https://bccatholic.ca/content/easter-is-alive-in-sunshine-flowers-and-shared-meals

He is alive! My heart beats with newness. Sunshine warms my face as I walk home anticipating a shared meal with my sister. Flowers fill my neighbours’ garden beds. Bright tulips. Bird songs. Later sunsets. Foil wrapped chocolates. This joyful feeling Easter brings is indescribable.

It’s not dependent on these fleeting delights. “He comes to make all things new.”  Jesus’ resurrection is a greater joy than all the gifts I receive. Heavenly happiness. The joy of knowing a Saviour who has opened the gates of heaven and is preparing a room for me, for you. This fuels a deep abiding joy that no illness, obstacle, fear, or disaster can take away.

There are many high and low times with a mental illness. During the lows, I find ways to bring back joy when it feels like I have lost it. Taking extra care of my body and spirit is essential. Delicious home-cooked meals, steaming cups of tea, and a good night’s sleep all ease sorrow.

Chicken dinners with roast vegetables may not seem like a remedy for anything but hunger. I beg to differ. The aroma of garlic butter and crisping potatoes pushes out sadness. I smile as I breathe in the scent of the warm dinner.  Eating it in company is always better. The intimacy of the dinner table creates conversations of interest and confidence. Moist meat falls off the bone and vegetables are sprinkled with spice. It’s a beautiful blessing to share a meal and nourish the body. There are many things needed to lighten the heart.

My spirit revives with the sacraments. Daily Mass. Recitation of the Rosary. Adoration. Frequent confession. Reception of the Holy Eucharist nourishes my soul. Thin white wafer. Jesus’ body and blood. Immeasurable spiritual results.

Many times I kneel in the chapel marveling at the cost of salvation. Jesus died and rose again. For me. For you. It takes more than a second look at the crucifix to understand the depth of his love. The suffering that he endured astounds me.

When kneeling in adoration of the Lord’s presence I silence the worries and doubts and place my trust in him. In Pope Francis’ homily for the Easter Vigil, he said, “let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.” Freedom from sorrow comes when I trust in the Lord. My joy comes from my faith in God.

Lyrics from a song by Raffi remind me that we don’t need a lot to be happy. “All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family.”

Heavenly happiness is in reach at all times. When we are hungry, or lonely, or depressed, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” We can give God our grief and trust in his undeniable love for us. And we can also cook a mouthwatering chicken dinner.

I was recently interviewed by CBC Radio’s On the Coast on the topic of mental health resources, which I also spoke about last month. You can hear the interview with host Gloria Macarenko here as part of Mental Health Week May 6-12, 2019. 

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The Way Up

Light, reminding me. There is always a new day.

I loved myself

Enough

To get up

Out of bed

And out of the house

I worked hard

To be kind

To my slow

Rise from sadness

I cried when I needed

To cry

I laughed

And grasped

Joy

In sweet

Moments

Of friendships

And dappled

Light through

Basement blinds

Reminding me

There is always

Another day.

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It takes a forest to lift a spirit

This article was first published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on April 10th, 2019
https://bccatholic.ca/content/it-takes-a-forest-to-lift-a-spirit

Intertwining branches of tall mossy trees reach out. My heart feels free. I breathe in. The forest is nature’s cathedral. Oxygen rushes in refreshing my lungs and giving me a giddy feeling of lightness.

On a hike with a few friends, our pace is quick, strides matching as we climb around rocks and over roots. Moments of silence. Bird calls. Wind swishing evergreen branches. The clomp of hiking boots on packed earth. This is our music. A calm rushes over my body. Hiking grounds me and connects me to our Creator.

Respite and recovery liberate my mind and spirit. Walking through a canopy of trees was what I needed. Stopping for almond snacks, chocolate bark, and cool sips of water; I am energized to continue on. Almost at the falls. Our conversation and laughter fill the air around us.

“Careful!” my friend points to a poisonous plant at the path’s edge. I study its light green leaves and step away from it. Falling pine needles hit my hat. Mossy stones, old man’s beard, crackly bark.

In Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, he explains that a forest is a community. The trees “exchanges nutrients” to help “neighbours in times of need.”

And “a tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather.”

Many trees together create a “protected environment,” and “trees can live to be very old.”

Just as in nature I thrive in community. I can count on support and encouragement in the never-ending roller coaster of a mood disorder. Like the mother trees shading the young saplings to not grow too fast, my mother nurtured my growth as a child. And was there when I needed help the most. In a moment of despair when I had lost all hope, she intervened in my disturbed state. With her tireless care, I received the best aid. Medicine, therapy, prayer, and love. In times of recovery, walking in nature gives me the opportunity to wonder.

Fungi are dotting the ground. Fiddleheads on ferns. The sound of water rushing over rocks. We are close. Steep incline. Quick short breaths. Reaching for the last step to view Norvan Falls.

The two-hour hike was worth the view. Where would I be without the help of my family and friends? Isolated. Sad. Hopeless. More like a desert than a forest.

A deep breath in and I smile at my fellow hikers: friends, sisters. We made it. Time for lunch. No matter what, we all need someone to help us in difficult times. Everyone needs a team to encourage, motivate, and speak truth into our hearts.

Jesus, the good shepherd knows how much we need peace. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Hiking gives me the ability to rest in interior and exterior peace. To be open to growing in friendship and love. To find joy in being in another’s presence and to stay healthy physically and mentally.

Connecting to the Creator among the trees strengthens my drive for life. “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Collecting your blessings can be just what you need

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on February 5th, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/collect-your-blessings-it-may-be-just-what-you-need

I have been collecting what I am grateful for, like beachcombing for pretty rocks.

Wind whipped my face as I pulled my tuque tightly over my ears. My sister and I were out for a walk along Kits Beach, and it was a blustery day by the water.

Like the stormy waves crashing against the sand, my mood ebbed and flowed like the tide. Sometimes I feel fine and then, in an instant, I feel extremely low. There is nothing wrong or shameful about having a mental illness. It is known that January and February are often the bluest times of the year. 

Last year, I took an online course from Yale University called Psychology and the Good Life. Not surprisingly, sleeping for eight hours, meditating, doing something kind, and listing five gratitudes were scientifically proven to improve our wellbeing. Making these a part of my daily routine takes effort. Happiness takes work. I pay attention to activities and strategies to live happier. 

I have been collecting things I am grateful for, like beachcombing for pretty rocks. As soon as I started noticing all the wonderful things in my life, a warmth enveloped me. God’s love is ever-present. He looks after the details.

The most precious blessings are the people he has woven into my days. I am rich in friendships and I hope to share the wealth. I enjoy each moment as it comes. I am grateful for many things.

When I went running with my sister in the rain, I felt alive. 

Playing games with my godson as we visited on a video call, I felt silly.

Dining with my brother at my favourite restaurant, I delighted in his conversation and in fine wine.

Playing ukulele with my Mom on a Sunday afternoon was joyful.

Listening to live music with friends and dancing on a Friday night was exciting.

And going to Mass with my friend and her young daughter brought a feeling of home.

These are some things I am grateful for. For you it could be a clean house, a good cup of coffee, or the Super Bowl.

Rushing into the pew at the back of the crowded church, I smiled at my companions. My friend and her little girl were waiting for me. I slipped in as the entrance song ended.

During the Prayers of the Faithful, my friend’s daughter reached out her little arms and asked me, “which one do you want?” Stickers of many colours and shapes were on display between her fingers. I pointed at a bright yellow sun. She peeled it off for me and I stuck it on my hand. The sunshine sticker was a token of love.

It reminded me to look up as the host was being consecrated. Jesus, the true light offering himself to me again. His love, solace during a cold and dark month. I smiled at my friend and her beautiful daughter. I felt connected, a part of the family. 

Growing in resilience builds confidence to carry on in adversity. It is possible to fight the blues with companionship, simple prayers, acting with unusual kindness, and praising the Lord for the good things in your life.

The courage it takes for people to actively choose life is commendable. Struggles can weigh heavy on the mind, body, and soul. It is healthy to seek help and to brave change.

I have hope because I trust in the Lord’s provision for me. I know he wants me to be free of pain and suffering. He can show me a way through depression, anxiety, and fear.

Bipolar disorder has been a tool to lean more on Christ’s strength than on my own. He can calm the storm. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

I need not be afraid. The Lord brings peace and I will get up again and again. Gratitude and kindness are strategies that can make you happier. Counting your blessings actually works.

Who are your Jedi?

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on January 5th, 2020.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com
Like voices of the Jedi guiding characters in Star Wars, “I am comforted by my loved ones who are around to companion me on my journey.”

(This column may contain spoilers about The Rise of Skywalker.)

There are very few things my big family can agree on. The Star Wars Saga is one of those things we can.

It has been a family favourite since I was a little girl. I remember gathering in the living room with chairs tightly surrounding a small square TV. We competed for the best seats and shared bowls of homemade buttered popcorn. My parents delighted in their faith in God and their interest in stories of adventure, like the movies that George Lucas created.

It became a Christmas tradition to watch together in the theatre the current Star Wars film being released each year. We would take up eight seats, almost a whole row, trying not to disturb anyone as we passed bags of licorice nibs, chocolates, and bags of salty popcorn. 

In October, when I would be thinking of what to dress up for Halloween, my eldest brother said, “Just throw your hair over your face and you can be Chewbacca.” We both laughed and I rolled my eyes. “I would rather be Princess Leia!”

My family has its struggles and has come through many difficult times. We have endured illnesses, deaths of loved ones, and many more trials. The support I receive to help me flourish with good mental health comes from their triumphant spirits. I could never fully thrive without the love and care of each of my brothers, sisters, and my parents. 

In The Rise of Skywalker, Poe tells his friends that the First Order (the enemies) wants you to think that you are alone. “We are not alone,” he says.

Finn tells Rey before she embarks on a dangerous journey, “We go together. We’re all in this … till the end.”

During Rey’s Jedi training, Princess Leia reminds her to “be patient” and to listen to the voices of the Jedi.

When I am depressed or experiencing hypomania, which comes with the chronic illness of bipolar disorder, I am comforted by my loved ones who are around to companion me on my journey.

The saints are also friends I turn to for help in prayer. God is more present to me than I am to myself. He knows how many strands of hair are on my head. I don’t. We are worthy of his love for us. We are worthy of life. Knowing that I am a daughter of God strengthens me to carry on. I can struggle longer and hold on to the hope of healing. In times of distress, I turn to my family and friends, the saints and to my Lord. His love is in me.

One of my favourite scenes from the latest Star Wars movie is when the evil Emperor Palpatine says to Rey, “You are nothing. A scavenger girl is no match for the power in me. I am all the Sith.”

Rey shouts back, “And I am all the Jedi.” Then she defeats Emperor Palpatine with Luke and Leia’s light sabers.

I do not need to fear or give up when it seems hopeless. I can always turn to Jesus. I have all the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son. And Mother Mary and the communion of saints. The Lord has our back. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

The Star Wars Saga offers lessons in choosing love over power. It shows the glory of standing up for what is good and that we don’t have to be afraid in the face of adversity.

Our Lord is great and glorious and has won the battle. We can choose his side in fighting for our friends, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and homes. When we know who we are, we can courageously live because we lack nothing in the love of God.