Splashing my toes and stretching my arms past my head, I smiled and breathed in the warm summer air. With each throw of the frisbee and swimming to catch it, stress washed away in the spray. Not even the pesky Canadian geese trying to eat our cherries bothered me.
Surrounded by dark green trees, boats bobbing on the water, and sea gulls soaring over the docks, I felt a deep peace. But our external environment alone cannot bring us interior freedom. It is our thoughts that make us feel at ease.
Sheer delight can make me forget I have a diagnosis of a chronic mental illness. Floating on my back in Cultus Lake on a weekend getaway, I felt free to be.
An attitude of hope can help us appreciate living each day as a gift.
Viktor Frankl’s classic memoir of surviving a concentration camp, Man’s Search for Meaning, observes that some of those who held on to hope to be free one day in the future lived to see it come to pass. Others said they would be free at Christmas, but when it never came to be, they gave up and died.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I used to think and speak to myself with hurtful words. My self-worth was my diagnosis and how people treated me.
Bipolar disorder was a glaring label. I thought it would limit everything about my life and future. What could I ever be good at if I suffered with suicidal thoughts and felt numb from medicine?
The depression, weight gain, loss of friends, and dropping out of college pained me. I am a dreamer, and this experience was like a nightmare.
It must have been the day I got the diagnosis when I decided to find a way to become whole again. In the hospital, I complied with the nurses and calmed patients who were trying to escape the locked ward. I even entertained them with origami soccer ball games I made up. On walks every day to get exercise, I learned to hope again. I began to look at the diagnosis as something to solve.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” Frankl writes.
I wanted to step out of the shadows and into the light. “Here I am. It’s Lisa!”
My delight is in the warmth of friendship. I had not seen my dear friend for a year. It was extra special to finally catch up in person. Staying at her home for the weekend and spending quality time at the lake is a blessing I will cherish.
My friends never look at me as “less than” or “troubled.” They love me for who I am – completely, illness and all. I have received healing and learned to love who I am and who I am created to be.
I am blessed to offer up any mental suffering. It can be for my loved ones, souls in purgatory, and the whole wide world. It is a passive mortification that I can offer to the Lord in prayer.
I see now, having lived with bipolar disorder for more than a decade, that what is painful can also lead to refining.
“So that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pt 1:7).
It took many years to have the courage to share my story even to new friends. In prayer, I kept hearing Jesus tell me not to be afraid.
I hold on to my only hope, my dearest friend, Jesus. And I do not have to produce, perform, prove, or please to be worthy.
His love called me out of the shadows. And he encourages me to take time to jump in the lake and swim. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
Sunshine floods the coffee shop through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I lick the crumbs of my chocolate chip cookie from my fingers.
Too often I overbook myself, not leaving time to just be and to create. This weekend I have walked in the sunshine through Vancouver neighbourhoods and found a quiet time to pen a few poems. Creative time alone is essential for me as a writer. I need solitude to think and let the words pour on to the computer screen or journal at hand.
I look down at the messages on Matchstick Coffee Roasters’ cookie wrapper:
“We don’t have all the answers, but we do have pastry.”
“Life can be complicated. Take a moment to yourself and enjoy what is, or maybe what was, in this bag. We hope it brings you the nourishment (and pause) you need.”
In times of sadness and fatigue I often have no words. These times have been challenging, with more distressing news as the weeks go on.
In order not to lose heart, I look to the sacraments, where Jesus can pour his love into me. Confession has been a source of renewal for me that I return to again and again. Attending daily Mass, I recommit myself to God. And in adoration I let the Lord shine his light in me.
Sometimes healing also looks like taking a nap. I lie down and tuck the covers under my chin. I adjust my eye mask and close my eyes. It feels so good to begin to feel sleep come over me, rosary beads in hand. I don’t have to be afraid. Mama Mary, as I like to call her, offers protection and prayers answered. And wherever Mary is, Jesus promises that he is here with me too. I can trust him. He is a faithful God. Warm waves of comfort expand across my whole body. I whisper, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
The house is quiet as I wake.
I say to myself, “Just be. Do not worry about the things you need to do tomorrow. My work is never finished. And if I don’t take time to restore, I will always feel exhausted.”
Better than the perfect words spoken at the right time has been the presence of my friends and family during times of trial. My cousin Sarah rides her bike to meet me, bringing her French bulldog in her backpack. His ears flap and his tongue wags.
Oakley has been my favourite furry companion since the day he rested his head on my knee when I told Sarah I wanted cuddles. I have seen him run with a limp in a race and cheered him on even though he ran in the wrong direction.
A wagging tail greets everyone Oakley meets. He is not afraid to show up in his brokenness, with scoliosis and one eye. I think that is what makes him so dear to me.
When I am experiencing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, I remember that it is not my fault. The illness comes and goes in seasons of stress.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” said Julian of Norwich, who lived in isolation and survived a pandemic.
She experienced suffering and through it all wrote words of wisdom and hope. Her writing inspires me to continue my own work, to take the time for my craft amid all the suffering and uncertainty around me.
In the presence of my cousin, sitting on a picnic blanket with Oakley and me or in my living room, I know that I am loved.
Our greatest contribution to the world is the attention, encouragement, and love that we give to each other. We can give these things every day. And these gifts don’t cost us any money.
Ecclesiastes famously said, “For everything there is a season, and a time to every matter under the heaven.” There is a time for solitude and a time to be together.
I recently bought my cousin the children’s book Can I Sit with You? by Sarah Jacoby. It is a story about a little dog who wants to be with his owner, a growing girl, in all the happy and sad moments of her life.
Companionship is a gift, to be received and given too.
I don’t walk alone in this life. No one does. It is in difficult times like these that community matters. The presence of another makes a difference. It can save a life.
I am not a robot. I have emotions, a heart, an intellect, and a will. I have learned that “feelings are not facts,” from the cognitive behavioural techniques of Dr. Abraham Low. However, feelings can indicate truth to us: how we feel in a situation, where we need support, or our need to find peace.
My colleague Sandy Marshall, associate superintendent of the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese, shared her prayer time reflections with me recently. Staff of the superintendent’s office gather every morning at 9 a.m. to pray together. We take turns leading the prayer. We pray a decade of the Rosary for each staff member during their birthday month, and for deceased members of our community and those who need healing.
We stand at our cubicles or at our office doors – spaced out due to COVID safety restrictions, and yet we are still united. I have noticed Sandy facing towards her office window as she sits in her chair. It overlooks a beautiful view of the Vancouver neighbourhood we are situated in.
Sandy told me that she looks out of the window and focuses on the trees and then on the houses and buildings. She calls it her “I am not a robot” game, inspired by the online test to purchase tickets or to log into a website. You may have come across this when a site asks you to click on the boxes with cars or bridges or fire hydrants, and once you answer correctly, you have proven you are not a robot.
When she told me this, I exclaimed, “That’s a great grounding exercise.” As someone who deals with anxiety and panic attacks, using techniques to bring myself back to the present moment is helpful. Her window reflections are a mindfulness practice that she created on her own. I was inspired. Her exercise made me think of all the things that I have learned to help my mental health.
I have found that there is practical wisdom in mindfulness exercises. Dr. Gregory Bottaro has written a book on Catholic mindfulness, The Mindful Catholic, Finding God One Moment at a Time. In it he talks about trusting in God more and finding peace. We could all use a little more of that.
I often need reminders to bring my thoughts back to the present moment. It is so easy to get caught in thinking traps and to forget that God is taking care of me.
I work in an office that celebrates growing spiritually, intellectually, and relationally. It is such a blessing to work with people who follow Steve Farber’s motto, expressed in The Radical Edge: “Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.”
Sandy is one of my mentors in work and in life. As Nick Schneider, director of finance, said about Sandy, “Everything you say is quotable.” Her attention to the little things is inviting, like how she decorates a prayer centre for each liturgical season in our office. She is someone I turn to for recipes, party décor ideas, and how to gather a room.
What I love about the mission of the CISVA is the task to “develop as balanced persons spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually.” The Lord has granted us natural means to heal and grow. I have recently taken to eating more healthily with a delicious array of vegetables, protein, and grains. Everything we need to live well the Lord has provided.
It is a common mistake to dismiss practical help like medicines, therapy, and other secular resources in favour of praying harder for healing. We have the bounty of choosing good means to find peace, health, and wellness. We are human. Our energy fluctuates, and we need time to rest too.
Prayer is a gift of time to rest in God’s presence. And finding the balance of our priorities is an ongoing journey. St. Faustina wrote in her diary, “My one occupation is to live in the presence of my Heavenly Father.”
First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on April 20, 2021
When I was walking home from work one day, my coat buckle on my sleeve caught in a fence around a tree. I had been trying to move out of the way of someone passing. With my fast pace, I got pulled back sharply, my leg flew up and I let out a big, “Oh!” I smiled at myself and was able to get over the embarrassment quickly. As I walked the rest of the way home, I chuckled quietly at how funny that must have looked.
I don’t take my dear self too seriously. And that helps me to laugh easily. I enjoy giggling with my sisters, brothers, and friends. To have a hearty chuckle – the one that comes deep from within my belly is the best feeling. And I am always looking for more.
I take laughing seriously. It is a wellness strategy I love to tap into.
Last year, I took an improv class with Tiffani Sierra from Improv It Up in an online class during the first wave of the pandemic. We were a small group of individuals engaging with the power of our voice and actions. We participated in games to increase our confidence in acting with strangers.
One game was to come up with a very ordinary skill that we were good at and make it a superhero name. My name for the game was the Ultimate Compost Emptier. We also added an action as we shared our name with an epic voice. I felt silly and strong at the same time.
Tiffani shared how improvisation can help our mental health flourish. The arts can be healing. In her acting classes with businesses, youth, and communities they experience more freedom in expressing themselves.
The whole improv attitude is to accept things the way they are and do something to improve the situation. It’s the “Yes, and” approach.
In my neighbourhood, one homeowner posted a sign that read, “Silly walks,” on their fence – a nod to the Monty Python sketch The Ministry of Silly Walks.
Immediately after seeing the sign I lifted my leg high and started hopping along. I couldn’t do it without laughing. My sister laughed along with me. That street became part of my route when I needed to do errands. Each time I walked by that house I invented a new silly walk. It became so much fun!
Living with seasons of depression often accompanied with suicidal thoughts, I have come to treasure the simple joys of life. My mood disorder leads me through many hills and valleys. Sometimes, I experience intense sadness and have a hard time holding onto hope. When I am on a downward spiral, I reach out to those around me.
My family is always there for me. Encouraging me and listening to my worries. It makes me want to share the joy I have. I can relate to Robin Williams’ words, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anybody else to feel like that.”
I make use of all the help that God has provided for me: Therapy, medicine, sleep, and a good dose of laughter.
In his Apostolic Exhortation on Christian Joy, Pope Paul VI wrote, “to savour in a simple way the many human joys that the Creator places in our path: the elating joy of existence and of life; the joy of chaste and sanctified love; the peaceful joy of nature and silence; the sometimes austere joy of work well done; the joy and satisfaction of duty performed; the transparent joy of purity, service and sharing; the demanding joy of sacrifice.
Savouring the simple human joys is a way to stay in the present moment. With God there is unending joy.
I have a friend I call on the phone often and when we chat, I laugh until I cry and my sides start to ache. It’s an exhilarating feeling of being alive.
Nothing can take away the joy in my heart, which is Jesus. He is the source of all joy. When I start to feel sad, I recall all the blessings I have. “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)
Will you laugh a little more knowing that in Jesus your joy will be complete?
First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 23, 2021
Tall bamboo stalks swayed and filtered the light through the trees as I walked through a path in VanDusen Botanical Garden on the weekend. A sanctuary of trees: red cedars, paperbark maples, all of them reaching to the heavens.
Lately, I have been visiting the gardens’ winding paths to look for new growth. Lenten roses, with the scientific name Helleborus orientalis, are covering a part of the garden in many varieties. I captured photos of floating blooms in a bowl of water on one of my frequent visits. It brings me joy to find such natural beauty, a real vision of God’s creativity.
Walking has become one of my favourite self-care tools in my mental health recovery kit. On lunch breaks I go for short walks in the area around my office. I am lucky to be close to many parks and gardens. I’ve learned that when I move it improves my mood.
On one of my lunch hours in the garden, a Canada goose came up from behind me and honked. Luckily, I had just about finished eating my fettuccine. I packed up and moved out of his way. He may have been hungry, and I had nothing to give him. Listening to the birds calling from the trees around me, I smiled. God cares for us more than a goose, or a sparrow. And he takes care of us all.
I marvel that I can walk, run, and dance. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to move in my body. God designed my body to be an image of him. It’s amazing to see how beautiful God is in the diversity of my own family.
While walking I find a renewed sense of clarity, creative ideas start to flow, and my muscles begin to stretch after sitting for long hours. When I walk with my sister or a friend, the conversation flows with our breath. It is calming and refreshing to be outside as the season is changing.
I love watching the light lengthen in the evenings. Sunsets brightly filling the sky with colours I want to imitate on canvas.
Being outdoors surrounded by nature, I imagine what it would have been like for Adam and Eve to walk with God in the Garden. Our story is also about walking in the garden with God.
Do we leave space for him to be with us?
Do we invite him into our hearts?
Do we ask him to light our path?
Often, I picture myself walking in a garden with Jesus. His sandals are tossed aside, and his bare feet lead the way through a vineyard. Jesus reaches out to pick a grape, checking its ripeness. I follow beside him watching his every move.
We pass a cluster of trees, and I point out to Jesus that it’s a great spot for a picnic. He smiles at me. And I promise to spend more time with him.
During Lent, I reflect on how Jesus desired his disciples to keep watch and pray with him in the Garden of Olives. He was exhausted and needed support emotionally and spiritually from the closest friends he had. Contemplating his passion, I am so grateful for his suffering, dying, and rising.
I want to be close to the Lord to know his plans for me. Praying helps me to feel closer to him even if I can’t hear his audible voice. I know he can hear me.
When stress seeps into my thoughts, I look for words of truth and hope in Scripture. As a writer, I find words hold great significance. And reading holy Scripture is a like a soothing balm on my heart, as comforting as walking with a friend.
As one of the Proverbs says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (3:5-6).
I’ve often heard that action leads to finding your purpose. I’m lacing up my shoes and hoping that with each next step I take, I walk in God’s way for me.
It’s funny, I will automatically speak in a higher pitched voice as I pass a cute puppy on the street to say ‘hello’. As the weather has been getting nicer, I have been out walking a lot more. I have seen numerous puppies and dogs en route. And I can’t help but say hello to them as I walk by. It reminded me of the trip to Salt Spring Island a few years ago with my favourite little furry companion, my cousin’s dog.
A gun metal grey French bulldog with a little white dot on his head is a warm comfort to my moody soul. I am so thankful that this little frenchie traveled with my cousin and my family to Salt Spring Island in the Summer of 2018. While we were in the ferry line up, I could hear his heavy breathing. I wanted to take him out of his dog carrier and into my arms to hold him close. Oakley stole my heart with his brown bulging eyes and his crooked legs. Sarah had taken him in to help him heal and learn to walk again.
On the Island, I sat on the patio with my latte, cheese and jalapeno croissant, I turned to Sarah and said, “I want snuggles.” Oakley must have heard me because he dragged his bottom across the wood closer to me and rested his head on my thigh. Having scoliosis made it difficult for him to walk any distance. This touched my heart. I stroked his short silky fur and grinned like a five year old with ice cream. I never knew I wanted a therapy dog, until now.
I smiled at the little fellow and held him close to my chest as we walked over puddles and craggy pavement. His ears flapped in the breeze. Everyone walking around the coffee shops and the boutiques squealed.
“He’s so cute!!”
“Look at him!”
For a moment I felt like a proud dog mom.
We walked towards the Salt Spring Island market, my arms holding such a sweet and heavy bundle. A young boy approached. “Can I pet him?” “Yes,” I said, “He’s friendly.”
“This is my second favorite type of dog. What is your frenchie’s name?”
“Oakley.” I said with growing pride.
How could this four-legged pet get wrapped around my heart so quickly? He is the dog I never knew I wanted.
Sometimes, therapy comes in soft furry packages.
Every time I get to visit my cousin Sarah and her dog is a special day. As for enjoying the small things, I will continue to greet pups on my walks in the neighbourhood.
Margaretha called me every day for the next few days after I told her I wasn’t feeling well.
Her concern felt like a grandma’s would. My grandparents have passed away years ago. I only knew a couple of them. My grandpa on my Dad’s side was sick in a hospital when I was a little girl. I have memories of holding his soft, wrinkled hands as the nurses fed him. I don’t remember his funeral; I was so young. “Mimi” is what we called my grandma on my mom’s side. She lived with us for my whole childhood and teen years.
There is something so special about the love of grandparents. I miss them. And I wish I knew them all.
My 90-year-old neighbour Margaretha was happy to hear from me when I called her on my lunch break.
“Good thing it was nothing serious. Yeah, I worry.”
We chatted about her trip to Canadian Tire with her son. She bought bulbs to plant in her garden, a new variety that grows tall like hollyhocks.
“My wood-burning stove isn’t working anymore. Something is wrong with the pipe.”
“Are you going to fix it?”
“No, John says we could get a gas fireplace.”
One time pre-COVID I visited her house with my sister. We brought over our ukuleles. She welcomed us in with tea and cookies. The whole room smelled of wood smoke and roasting onions. We had to have a shower to rinse out the strong smell afterwards. It was such a nice visit, so it was worth it.
Having an elderly neighbour care about you is like having a grandparent giving you a hug. We always talk about the weather because if it’s raining it means she can’t go out in her garden, arthritic knees and all. She grew up working on a farm in Germany, so she is tireless. Margaretha always tends to the garden that surrounds her home even when she is in pain.
I am grateful for her reliable phone calls checking in to see how I am doing in the pandemic. Talking to her makes me want to trust the Lord more. He always sends me love in the way I need. Loving God and loving my neighbour are what I strive to do.
He can provide for me when I am feeling depressed or overwhelmed. Sometimes I need to wail and cry in his presence. To know that he is present in this pain, worry, and fear. If I take time for silent prayer, reading Scripture, and a good spiritual book, I am found by God. His peace warms my heart. I am his family. I bask in the joy of knowing I am his beloved daughter.
When I am full of God, I can reach out to my loved ones and be present to their needs. “Riches are in relationships, not possessions,” says Jane Trufant Harvey in Ask Him, Simple Words to Jumpstart Your Conversation with God.
My phone rang on the weekend and I couldn’t pick it up in time.
“Hello, Lisa, it’s Margaretha. How are you? I miss you. Come over.” I am sad during this difficult time when we can’t visit in people’s houses. It’s hard to accept that I can’t visit Margaretha in person at the moment. I do what I can and call her instead.
Our divine call to holiness is through the life of a family. Ordinary phone calls, visits, and conversations bring supernatural love to our relationships. As Margaretha nurtures the plants in her garden, I am going to set down strong roots to rise and grow in love. Will we seek Jesus? Will we be creative in how we can connect with our friends and family during the COVID restrictions?
I entrust the Lord with my life. I can’t do anything on my own strength. I am a child in his arms. He is taking care of me as he is taking care of you. We are to share our struggles and help each other.
As Thomas Merton says, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find in with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love.”
“Let’s move our little blue couch over there!” My sister pointed to the wall close to the kitchen.
I nodded. “That could work.”
After watching a few episodes of the Design Doctors on Amazon Prime we drew a new floor plan for our sitting room. We tired of the layout of our room that we spend more of our time in since the start of the pandemic. We looked at each of the five points of focus in interior design: light, space, colour, flow, and storage.
The piano now had pride of place with plants and lighting around it. We moved our dark furniture to be next to each other creating warmth. Our light armchairs had their own decorative pillows and a blanket draped over it for each of us to curl up in. We rearranged what was on our bookshelves, donating items that we no longer use.
Using creative design in the home helped me to have new perspective on my personal projects. I felt like the rearranging, culling, and cleaning uncluttered my head space as well. I no longer felt stuck. I have options. I can restart, reformat, and redo what doesn’t work in writing. And I can refresh, renew, and restore relationships.
When my prayer life seemed to dry up, I remembered that Jesus takes pride of place in my heart. I needed to toss and tether all the useless junk and sin that clutters up my soul.
“We need to be reminded that every second of our survival does really mean that we are new from God’s fingers, so that it requires no more than the miracle which we never notice to restore to us our virgin-heart at any moment we like to choose,” wrote Caryll Houselander in The Reed of God.
I opened up the window to let the cold winter air in. We admired our work and I danced in the wide-open space in the centre of the room. This room was now hygge – the Danish word for coziness, comfort, and contentment. Candlelight really makes the home hyggelig (hygge-like).
We can open our hearts for Jesus to find an inviting sitting room. Oh, how I want him to be with me during the sometimes-dreary season of winter.
January can be a very blue month for me. The dark days a struggle. With a fresh look in my home, I have a gift of change and eagerness for what the new year will bring. When I have hopes, dreams, and goals that I am anticipating, my life has purpose.
I like to pray the CCO missionary prayer. It goes like this: “… Lord, I will go anywhere you want me to go, I will do anything you want me to do, and I will say anything you want me to say …”
And then I step out in faith. Loving the people in my life, moving forward in writing my books, and showing up at work to serve. It is not that I can do it on my own. I know that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. Someone willing to be his instrument. He has a plan for me. It thrills me and worries me at the same time.
“What if I don’t measure up? What if I mess things up?”
Moses did not reach the promised land because he didn’t entrust himself to the Lord. It’s not an easy thing to do. Daily I need to choose to trust in my King and my God. I need to believe in his majesty and mercy. I can do nothing without him. I want him to be comfortable in the depths of my heart.
Receiving the sacrament of confession is like interior design for your soul. I have been seeking reconciliation to clean out my heart. Holding onto the promise of freedom from my sin, I begin again.
Writes Houselander, “The question which most people will ask is: “Can someone whose life is already cluttered up with trivial things get back to this virginal emptiness?” Of course he can; if a bird’s nest has been filled with broken glass and rubbish, it can be emptied.”
Jesus will see me through the winter blues. I may not always feel his presence. I trust that he is with me on the little blue couch in my heart.
Early in the morning one workday, I knelt in the chapel in our building. The sanctuary lamp flickered and glowed in the dark. It was a tangible reminder that in the empty chapel Jesus was there with me listening to my prayers.
I watched the candle’s flame dance, its light shining. I felt a peace wash over me. The feeling settled like a wool shawl around my shoulders. I am never alone. Even when I can’t see the candle burning.
My prayer goes something like this, “Please go with me. I am a silly woman in front of the tabernacle trying to find healing and strength. Lord, I know you can help me and all my dear ones. You are silent and strong. I know with you when everything goes wrong, You are right beside me. Hold me close to you. Never let me fear. I want to be one with you. I love you, my dear Saviour. I am worried but I put all my worries in your hands.”
Sometimes when I pray I can hear a quiet voice, “Darling, look upon me. Do not be afraid. I am always with you. I will not abandon you. I delight in your efforts, tenacity, and smiles. Do not weary. I will carry you if you are tired. I love you. You are mine. My daughter, be brave.”
And then after those precious quiet minutes, I picked up my lunch kit and went upstairs to my desk. I was ready to offer my day for my loved ones. I set out to work in a manner pleasing to God and my colleagues. Each phone call, email, and written report is an opportunity for prayer.
Even if you are a student and you have a lot of studying to do, it can be your time of prayer. I often think that way about my writing. When it seems I can’t take time away from house chores or other pressing work, I remind myself that this is also a way to pray.
I am my biggest critic. When I see some of my finished work – either my writing, podcast, or videos – I start to point out all that I did wrong. Or when I fall into the same sins again and again.
I turn to the Lord saying, “Lord, I am your cracked clay pot. I am your unpolished art. Mould me and fashion me.”
The beauty of that moment is, I can begin again. I can learn from my mistakes or even my beginner’s method. I can grow and adapt and change. I am leaning on the strength of the Lord in prayer and the sacraments and practising flexibility. I have a strong desire to be ready for the Lord like those wise bridesmaids who had extra oil for their lamps.
For a whole week I had trouble sleeping. I had sensory hallucinations from my mental illness showing up along with stress. It passed and I learned that taking the rest I need is non-negotiable. I treasure the hours of solid sleep I can get, knowing that this is one key way to stay healthy.
When there is a flurry of concern in politics and culture, I hold on to the word of God, which is true. And I look to the things that I can control which are my “thoughts, muscles and impulses” (Dr. Abraham Low, American neuropsychiatrist). I am amazed at the peace I can receive when I read Scripture and give my burdens to the Lord. It does help!
I continue to rise and give my best. Some days I am more tired than others. I focus on what I can do and “be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practise resurrection” (Wendell Berry).
I awoke to the sound of whirring helicopters circling in my neighbourhood. My first thought was, “Oh no, not another SWAT team stakeout.”
My sister was already eating breakfast in the dim morning light. “Can you check the news and see what’s happening?” I asked her while rushing to the coffee maker to put on a fresh pot.
As I dressed and got ready for work, my sister read out the news to me as it was coming in. “There has been a fire at King Edward and Cambie. Five businesses on the east side of Cambie are on fire. The fire started at 3 a.m. in the morning behind the café. The main intersection is closed going all ways. They safely removed the cats boarding above the sushi restaurant.”
Each time she read something about the fire, I kept saying, “Oh no. Oh no.” It is so sad.
The QE Park walk-in clinic and pharmacy that burned to the ground are two businesses I will miss the most. The owner of the pharmacy and her assistant knew me by name and took care of me. When I had trouble describing what I needed to buy, they guessed right. Two weeks before the fire, they asked if I needed a flu shot and fit me in between appointments so I could get it right away. They were so caring and kind. I will miss them.
The next day, I looked at the ruins with my sister. The smell of smoke from the charred remains of the buildings reminded me of how temporary things are. And that life can change in an instant. Even my hope in God could be extinguished if I do not live a life of ordered love.
Says Father Francis Fernandez in the fifth volume of In Conversations with God, “If we live with Christ close by our side we will need few possessions in order to be happy as children of God.”
Reflecting on the loss from the recent fire sparked a resolve to live without regret. It shook me awake again to realize that life moves by, whether you are ready or not.
I was born with a sense of humour, kindness, and grit. These qualities help me in the unexpected anxieties that come my way. In the battle to find balance with a mood disorder. In the grieving of deceased friends, family members, and dear ones. In the interior struggle towards holiness.
I have a King who dotes upon me. He has healed me again and again. I trust he has a heaven of wellness planned for me. I often imagine walking with Jesus in a garden. There he shows me new delights, tall sunflowers, or a vineyard in bloom. What is your place of refuge to get away from it all?
This fall, I am adding more coziness and fun in my life as self-care. I relish small things that make me happy. Bird calls, perfume, new books, hugs, praying the Rosary with friends, and reading are a few of these things.
There will be things that upset us and make us worry. The Lord didn’t promise us an easy life but one full of joy. With our eyes resting on him, we can trust he will take care of us. I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly, says the Lord (Jn 10).
Will you see only the ashes from a fire? Or a sweet offering to begin again and offer everything to the Lord? My sadness at the loss of the relationships I had has brought me to a place of wonder.
What can God do with what seems impossible? What can I do to live more alive? What am I meant to do in this life? If I don’t have long to live, I don’t want to wait to do what I can do now. As Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Lk 12:35).
Only God can fill my heart with the fullness of love. In this disorienting time of the pandemic, I need to orient back to true north. I return my gaze to my Lord who is my comfort. May he continue to pour his love into your hearts.
“Pick up the pen and be brave.” Five years ago, these words came in my heart during prayer. The Lord asked me to let go of the stigma and shame of having a mental illness.
I had been carrying it around for so long, it was time to surrender and to write about it.
I clung to the safety of anonymity and the label – bipolar disorder – that I lived with. I was hiding in my pain. I thought everyone who knew me would think mental illness is a weakness, not a sickness. My fears of people finding out reared in my head like ugly cartoon monsters. It was hard to shut them out. I trusted only a few people with my story for a long time.
When I opened up to friends about my story, and they didn’t run away, I knew I was not alone. For years, my identity was in having a disability. I began to see that I am not my illness. I have an illness. Language is important to live the truth of who you are.
I am a beloved daughter of God.
This realization frees me from the monsters of shame, fear, and anger to live in abundance.
On a recent workday, I went for a walk outside to recharge. I brought a picnic lunch with me and settled in at a wooden table in a garden outside of the Healthy Minds Centre. As I sat down, I noticed faint green writing in front of me. Written on the table were the words, “It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay, healing takes time.”
I smiled. It was what I needed at that moment. I was tense and stressed and worried. The message jumped out at me even though the words were faded from the sun and rain.
I read once that “the bravest thing you can do is ask for help.” It takes humility to reach out. I turn to family and friends when I am lonely, afraid, or unable to cope. “Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are the things they can’t help?” wrote C.S. Lewis in Till We Have Faces.
When I spend time in prayer with Jesus, I’m made aware of my wholeness. The Lord is the ultimate physician. “It is the Lord … who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps 103, 3-4).
He gives medicine and psychiatrists, counsellors and therapists, to bring us healing. We can’t do life alone. God, who is a communion of persons, made us to need each other.
So I began to write, and write, and write. I started to journal and write poems and short prose. I worked on writing a couple of books (these are still unpublished works). I started to write for The B.C. Catholic from the encouragement of my friends and the movement of the Holy Spirit. I delight in writing. Discovering the joy of writing and being vulnerable brings me such comfort and connection. As my favourite high school English teacher would say, “It’s cathartic.”
My journals keep filling up. I keep Post-it notes and loose papers with ideas, musings, and quotes. My room is full of books – a small library. My reading list is always long. I spend many an evening curled up with a cup of tea and a good book. I am always looking to improve the craft of writing. I am learning from great writers like Austen, Lewis, and Tolkien.
Finding my identity in Christ, my life has become a beautiful unfolding tale. Reflecting on it provides me with hope because the Lord has gifted me with good things and people. I am grateful for the unveiling of who I am; I look forward to who I will become. I no longer wear masks to hide the fact that I have bipolar disorder (although I wear a mask now due to COVID-19).
I’m unashamed and do not carry stigma from having a mental illness. I like the lyrics from the country song I Got a Truck by Devin Dawson, who sings “’Cause I got a song, I got a story to tell, I got a reason for living.”
And then, “I got a dream and a hope and a prayer … I got the drive and the grit and the spirit.”
We all have a story to share. There is room for all our stories. And we can be brave in sharing them because our hope is in the Lord.
I woke up in a foul mood. My weekend sleep was interrupted by noise. My afternoon plans were cancelled. I had a heated and tearful conversation with my brother. A low mood settled on me at lunch. My day was crashing down like my internet connection.
After crying a bit in my room, I joined my sister and her boyfriend on their route to the beach. My spirits kept sinking like a shipwreck. I needed to do something fast. As we were walking, a Wendy’s sign popped out to me. In an instant, I craved a Frosty. I quickly parted and lined up for a chocolate dessert. Tucking the icy treat in my book bag, I walked the rest of the way to a park near the ocean.
Not wanting full sun, I looked around for shade. Many people had the same goal. I walked around thinking I was going to have to bake in the hot sun. To my delight, I spotted a tiny pine tree in the middle of the dried grass. I spread out my blanket and wiped sweat from the back of my neck. The tree sheltered my face as I dug into my Frosty with a spoon.
Only a part of it had melted in the unusual heat. The light chocolate flavour glided down my throat, and I relished the moment. As soon as I had eaten the treat, I felt sleepy and lay down resting in the shade. Pine needles brushed my hair, and the heat felt like a soft blanket on my skin. I dozed to the sound of seagulls calling and bike wheels whizzing by me. Peace washed over me as I rested. I felt like a battery recharging in the afternoon sun.
Bipolar disorder has offered me the opportunity to gain new skills in navigating the ups and downs. Being a woman, I already experience natural changes in energy, mood, and behaviour throughout the month; bipolar disorder brings an additional challenge. At times I can have boundless energy feeding it into multiple projects and loads of social time. But then a few days later, I want to crawl into a ball of blankets and just sip coffee, away from it all. It is humbling and draining.
Part of the reason it is hard is because of the expectations I place on myself. I always expect my performance to be amazing, and when it isn’t, I want to escape. I want to leave sadness behind me. But even nature has seasons.
Now, I see the sadness was signalling to me.
You matter. Take the time to do your creative work. You are worth it. Let the pen hit the paper and twirl.
Just being alive is enough. There is nothing you need to prove. Don’t give up.
I resonate with Talia Kruse, https://taliakruse.com/ a Catholic mental health coach who says, “The Lord gave me gifts, and the Lord has given me crosses – but both are to be offered up for his glory. He gave me the gift of being driven, and motivated, but he also gave me this cross of bipolar disorder which in many ways disrupts these gifts. Why would he give me such contradicting attributes? Only he knows – perhaps for my humility, perhaps for me to realize that not all things are easy. Whatever the case is, he knows and is faithful.”
Every up and down with bipolar disorder I learn something new about the faithfulness of God. He doesn’t give up on me. “With him, I do not feel alone, or useless or abandoned, but involved in a plan of salvation that one day will lead to paradise” – John Paul I Address, Sept. 20, 1978
I had a macchiato puddle on my arm. In my excitement leaving the coffee shop, and on finding a bench in the sun, I dropped my cell phone and my caffe macchiato. It spilled all over my arm, dress, purse and the sidewalk.
“Oh!” the two ladies visiting each other on the bench nearby me exclaimed.
I felt the heat of embarrassment.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, thank you.” I managed to say. I felt close to tears. My tiny espresso was all over me. The cup was almost empty. I was raw from feeling so lonely.
I sat down on the sunny bench and pulled out the only napkin in my now coffee soaked pink cross body purse. The napkin itself was pathetic. It was mascara stained, lipstick stained and tear soaked from my crying/praying session in the adoration chapel minutes ago.
I unfurled the crinkly balled mess and wiped the dark creamy puddle off my arm. For some reason, it hadn’t dripped off but had collected on my skin, as if I had spent two weeks on a beach in Costa Rica.
After deciding I had felt sorry for myself long enough, I tried to see the humour in it. I wanted to laugh out loud but I didn’t want to look more like a weirdo.
So, I walked home to get out of my coffee stained blue dress. After changing and eating my delicious deli sandwich, I felt better. I even came up with a nickname for my coffee accident, “Princess coffee spill.”
This made me giggle and since I was home alone, I laughed freely. I wasn’t worried about looking normal. It’s good not to take my dear self so seriously. And I liked the nickname. I can be royalty and imperfect and that’s okay.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 31, 2020
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.
First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 4, 2020
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”