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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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Featured

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.

Season of blues often hides seasons of beauty

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on December 3rd, 2019

https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/season-of-blues-often-hides-seasons-of-beauty

Keep watch for a sign of hope, like shoots in the soil. There are better things ahead.

As snowflakes fell on the morning of my birthday, I was reminded of the story around my birth that my parents had shared with me.

On that late November day, when they were ready to take me home from Grace Hospital, there was a snowstorm. As they drove through a blizzard to be welcomed home by my two brothers and grandma, they prayed. And my Dad affectionately nicknamed me “Snowflake.”

Winters are known for coldness, darkness, stark landscapes, bare trees, frost and snow. We go through seasons as men and women, like the passing year. With or without a mental illness, we face change. But even in the winter season of life, we are beautiful. Beauty comes from within, a quiet strength that shines through our hearts. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps 139:14).

I have noticed seasons of beauty in the nature at Queen Elizabeth Park. The park is a short walk from my home and the office where I work. On occasion I wander over there on lunch break or visit on weekends. In the warmer weather, I enjoy picnicking under the trees or playing ukulele on a blanket with my friend. Cherry blossom season is very popular, as well as the tulips and the summer roses. But there is an austere beauty found in winter too. Varied hues of green, red, orange, and brown array the earth like hot chocolate spices, warming the eyes. Little unnoticeable buds push through the soil. And buds hang from trees in anticipation for spring. The dormant trees stand inactive, but they survive the bitter cold. Birds that haven’t migrated sing in the chill. Squawking ducks swim slowly in the pond.

I have to be patient with myself and others during the season of blues. When sadness comes, it takes effort to look for the good. It can feel lonely and cold. I remind myself that on those overwhelming days, there can be a clear view of a sky thick with stars. There is always a little glimmer of hope and beauty in humanity.

God created us unique, even more spectacular than each delicate and unrepeatable snowflake.

“Beauty will save the world,” says Dostoevsky, and I have to agree. How beautiful it is that our God came as an infant to save us. The song of angels brought a message of hope to the shepherds. They were the first adorers of the child Jesus.

We too can visit the Lord and reverently adore him in the tabernacle. He is there hidden from our eyes, a beauty divine. The gift of love that Jesus is strengthens me in every season.

So in the difficult, sad, and worrisome times, be patient. Look for the stars, shining in the midnight blue. Keep watch for a sign of hope, like shoots in the soil. There are better things ahead. The miracle of life unfolds moment by moment. I sure don’t want to miss it!

God can melt the grief, sorrow, and illness that grip us and replace them with hope, love, and joy. When we thank him for our life, we invite him to pour his love into our hearts. The beautiful Lord will console us. He silently endures depression with us. He only has to say the word and we will be healed.