Embracing God when it feels like he’s not there

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on January 11, 2022 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/embracing-god-when-it-feels-like-he-s-not-there

Looking back I know he was with me.

You are loved. You matter. Don’t give up. Do not be afraid. These words heal and have brought me comfort many times. I need to hear these words now as much as I did a few months ago.

I believed a lie that I could do it all on my own effort.

I was doing everything in my power to juggle projects and relationships. God said, “Let me help.”

“No, I got this.”

I burned out and got sick. I was overcome with psychosis and mania. Though it’s not all my fault. Things just break down. Especially when I have a chronic mental illness. My mind is a marvellous and complex organ. The medicine wasn’t working enough for me to have balance.

In the emergency waiting room my body trembled, and I fell to the floor shouting, “I can’t do this alone anymore!”

Later my prayer to Jesus was “I can’t do this anymore. I am giving you all my projects, plans and problems. I’m stepping back. Jesus, you have the relief I need. I don’t have the answers. I can’t do life on my own. I need you, Jesus!”

Two nurses and my mom helped me off the floor into a wheelchair to take me to a more calming room. They looked me into the eyes and said, “Lisa, you’re going to be okay.”

They held onto my hands and shoulders as my whole body was shaking hard. I changed into a hospital gown and lay on a mattress on the floor of a small dark room. I was scared, shaking, and hoping for peace.

One of the nurses who took my pulse was very kind. I asked her if she had seen the Chosen series, because I felt a bit like Mary Magdalene from the first episode. Though my experience was very different. When the emergency doctor came in, he checked my vital signs. I asked him if this feeling was what jumping out of an airplane feels like.

“I’ve never jumped out of an airplane.”

Even though I didn’t feel Jesus’ presence at that moment, looking back I know he was with me in the hospital. He was with my mom and me as we checked in. He was at my side when they brought me upstairs to give me a room. And he has never left. As Father Fernando Ocariz, prelate of Opus Dei, said in his Christmas message, “God is looking at us lovingly at every moment. We are constantly accompanied by God’s love.”

Yet I still can feel abandoned. This is when I need to hear those healing words. You are loved. You matter. Don’t give up. Do not be afraid. This is where confidence in his love for me is tested.

When things are going well, I believe – without a doubt – in his love and kindness. It’s in times of darkness and trial that I am tested and find it hard to hold on to hope.

This new year will unfold in unknown ways, and I want to trust God through it. He cares for me and you with his very own life. He came to us as a baby at Christmas and promises to give us lives of joy. That is why I hold onto belief that good things are coming. That the best is not behind but ahead.

Hope doesn’t have to look like you have a smile on your face all day. It is the quiet certitude that the God who created the heavens and earth sent his son and will take care of our needs.

My experience in the hospital is proof of healing. I have come out of that place with more self-compassion, tenderness, and love.

I am working on changing negative thoughts into positive thinking. I am taking the medicine prescribed. I am doing therapy. I am attending Mass and confession. Everything that can help my body, mind, and soul heal, I am doing.

I am letting God help me with my plans and goals this year. I can. I can. With you. With you. I won’t give up. I believe.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Ps 62:5-6).

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services.


Is connection on your ‘have a good day’ checklist?

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on December 14th, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/is-connection-on-your-have-a-good-day-checklist

Connecting with friends is one way to turn a bad day into a great one.

The connections I make and how family and friends relate to me are what is lifting my spirits as I recover. 

Antonio Neves, speaker and author of Stop Living on Autopilot, has a checklist of five things he needs to do every day to have a good day. One of those things is connection.

Connection is my most important way to turn a bad day into a great one. Making plans with friends is for love and mental health.

On a beautiful early December day, my friend from the hospital and I walked along the seawall. Seagulls called, sun shone through the clouds, and the wind whipped our hair. Before our walk we had a brunch. We related to each other’s frustrations, wins, and hopes and dreams over eggs Benny.

I’m blessed to have a pen pal Treasa in Dublin who sends me letters and frequent email messages. Two years ago, she read an article about my journey with bipolar disorder and faith online.

Recently she sent me a birthday gift in the mail: a package of makeup, a Miraculous Medal, and a beautiful emerald rosary. It boosted my mood, as I was feeling desolated that day because I can’t do many things right now. I’m trying to be patient and take it easy.

I’m not supposed to put too much pressure on producing anything.

Treasa happens to be the same age as me and very kind and thoughtful. We exchange cards in the mail and almost daily messages. We share our daily goings-on and our prayer intentions.

When I was sick in the hospital, she told me she was visiting her church. She prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament for me to get better. It helped me feel like I would be okay.

The connections I have made from being vulnerable and sharing my story have improved my life. I have made many new friends who can relate and are inspiring, resilient individuals.

Human connection can heal a broken heart or a struggling mind. I am blessed with many deep and meaningful friendships. Some are more like family than friends.

Living in a small town, I have been feeling isolated yet connected at the same time. Thanks to coffee dates, email, and social media I am close to the relationships that mean the most to me. Our stories continue to weave in and out of each other’s lives.

My life’s tapestry is multi-faceted and it’s a creative pursuit of love. When I am snug by the fireplace reading a food memoir, I am content knowing I am loved. My Saviour, family, and friends show me that I am the beloved.

Without love, I would wither away and not be able to recover as I am doing now. When I get anxious as I am about to fall asleep, I give all my worries to Jesus. The anxiety fills my head, and I have difficulty breathing. Asking Jesus to take care of everything helps as I breathe deeply. I remember that all shall be well. I imagine the Lord holding me in his arms, and this seems to help.

I wait it out for all the uncomfortable symptoms to pass. I’m most connected to Jesus at Mass in the Eucharist or talking to him in my heart. I am nourished by his body and feel his presence more.

Treasa and I may be long-distance friends, but she sees me and checks in with me. It warms my heart.

I left the residential short-term emergency stay in the middle of October. And I have stayed in contact with two women who were companions for me there. Our 6 a.m.  breakfast club and lunch and dinnertime chats were my favourite. We would talk about what we were going to do when we were released.

We also had rooms side by side. This came in handy when we were self-isolating due to a COVID outbreak. We all tested negative but had to stay in our small bedrooms for five days. We would message each other songs and encouraging messages, and I would sing for them. They could hear the worship and love songs through their walls and said, “Keep it up!”

Connection to my friends helps fill the ache inside for love and belonging. Only God can truly fill this big ache. His gifts of relationship with his Son and the relationships we have lift us up and strengthen us. When we see his gifts of connection, we can hold on to hope.

May you find loving connection and hope this Advent and Christmas.

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services.

I’m working on a children’s book called Moody Mel. I would appreciate your support for the cost of the illustrations. Thank you for being a part of my self-publishing journey! https://gofund.me/5d8f7994

Leave “if only” behind and live in the moment

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on December 1st, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/leave-if-only-behind-and-live-in-the-moment

A bowl of hot homemade soup feeds the body well. Family and friends bring necessary companionship. And with Jesus’ love and protection, I can handle anything.

Cold weather is the perfect time to make soup, I thought to myself. I pulled out a medium-sized pot and placed it on the stove as I went searching for a few other ingredients.

Red lentil soup is one of my favourite homemade soups to make. I always top it with a swirl of pepper oil or a dollop of yogurt. This time I added a teaspoon of garam masala for more flavour.

My dad and mom came into the kitchen as the aroma of onions and carrots filled the room. I was caramelizing them in the pot. When I almost bumped into my dad, he gave me a hug. And then my mom gave me a squeeze as she took a plate from the cupboard.

The warm kitchen became smaller with so many of us in it. I didn’t mind the company though. I am at home recovering. I was in the hospital for a time after a recent episode of psychosis and mania.

My brain needs hugs as much as I do. It is sensitive to ongoing stress. New medications are taking time to work and helping me find equilibrium again. I keep reminding myself that everything is going to be okay. All things work together for good for those who love God.

When I first got sick and hospitalized at 17 years old, my family was there for me too. They are like strong trees rooted around me, offering me the care I need. When strong winds come, and they do come, I have learned to bend and sway and lean on the prayers and support of my family.

In my parents’ living room, pictures hang on an accent wall. In one there is a cluster of tall trees together, and a few other paintings show trees on their own. One scene is in a storm, and another is by a quiet lakeshore. I have come to love this set of paintings. They are loving reminders of who I have surrounding me. Through all kinds of weather, I have a resilient, caring, and compassionate family.

When I met Margaret Trudeau, the former wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, at a Vancouver hotel, she asked me a question. “Isn’t accepting your illness the hardest part?”

I immediately agreed with her.

That evening she shared her story of coming to terms with bipolar disorder in her own life. It was a tremendous struggle for her to accept, which ended with hope. I wanted to hear her speak after reading her memoir Changing my Mind.

When I am having a blah kind of day, I remember that this will pass and that there’s always a new day. It’s at times like this that I notice grief is wanting my attention. I never expected my life to be this way. So many twists and turns and uncomfortable side effects to medicine. I grieve, wondering what my life would have been like without mental illness.

This is when I take a deep breath and accept that I have an illness and that’s okay. Grieving is also a necessary thing to do. I don’t want to bury my feelings anymore, and so I find natural ways to let my emotions out in a healthy way.

I read the lives of the saints, especially St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Josemaria Escriva.

St. Josemaria Escriva writes about the love for the present moment in his homily “Passionately Loving the World.” 

There he advises, “Leave behind false idealisms, fantasies, and what I usually call ‘mystical wishful thinking’: If only I hadn’t married; if only I had a different job or degree; if only I were in better health; if only I were younger; if only I were older. Instead, turn to the most material and immediate reality, which is where you’ll find the Lord.”

Finding Jesus in the little moments of the day is the journey I am on. My life turned upside down at the end of summer, and I had to find peace in the turmoil. If I think about the past I get depressed and if I think about the future I become anxious. So appreciating the moment has become my best step forward.

As I heal and care for my mind, body, and soul I am mindful of how I feel throughout the day. Grief sometimes shows up too. A bowl of hot homemade soup feeds the body well. Family and friends bring necessary companionship. And with Jesus’ love and protection, I can handle anything.

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services.

“Leave behind false idealisms, fantasies, and what I usually call ‘mystical wishful thinking’: If only I hadn’t married; if only I had a different job or degree; if only I were in better health; if only I were younger; if only I were older. Instead, turn to the most material and immediate reality, which is where you’ll find the Lord.”

From St. Josemaria Escriva’s homily Passionately loving the World

Is seeking forgiveness your cross?

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on November 17, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/is-seeking-forgiveness-your-cross

Our cross is lighter when we let go like the falling leaves and forgive the people we need to. – Photo Erik Mclean

On a walk in my hometown away from the bustle of the city, I stepped out of my way to crunch a fallen leaf on the sidewalk. It was very satisfying. Earlier, I had eaten homemade roasted plum jam on peanut butter toast with decaf coffee. The colourful trees in the kitchen window became the backdrop for the birds flying. I savoured it as I did my morning fuel.

Prayer and the sacraments have become fuel for my interior life. If I try to do something on my own steam, I end up exhausted and frustrated. After participating in Mass, I am at peace for whatever comes the rest of the day. A day can need more patience, perseverance, and courage than the one before.

When I am in a season of illness from my chronic bipolar disorder, it is easy to cling to the idols of comfort and fear. I am training my will to choose the good, since my nature is so weak in turning to Jesus for anything I need. It is not always my first option. I can become bitter. My family can’t understand what it is like to hear voices or to live on a swing of emotion that can be hard to balance.

The Lord calls us to be like him by carrying our crosses. In the book Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Marcellino D’Ambrosio says Jesus takes upon himself, ‘the shame, humiliation and rejection.’ People living with a mental illness often feel this. I know I do.

I can have nightmares, poor sleep, frightening hallucinations, and obsessive intrusive thoughts. I give it all over to Jesus to transform. Often, I picture myself holding on to his neck and burying my head in his shoulders as he carries me to safety. 

As Pope Francis says, ‘Unless we pick up our cross, we have no hope of salvation.’ Thank goodness we don’t carry it on our own strength only. Jesus takes the weight of our suffering – for he too went through it. 

Our cross is lighter when we let go like the falling leaves and forgive the people we need to. When we let go, we make more space in our heart for love and compassion for ourselves and our loved ones. And it is like making room for new spring flowers. I need to forgive myself as much as others. When I make mistakes or sin, I remind myself that I am loved by God and have compassion on my actions. I make an act of contrition and set a time to go to confession when I can. Jesus wants us to be happy not glum about our sinful nature. 

Someone said to me the most difficult aspect of living out the Our Father prayer is forgiving others. I agree. It takes a lot of effort to give forgiveness on those who have injured us. 

I like the formula for forgiveness at the end of confession. It goes, ‘through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ That feeling of peace I experience helps me to get over the discomfort of baring my soul to Jesus through a priest. 

After a recent confession I wanted to sing and dance in thanksgiving. Before I left, the priest said with the mercy and love God has shown you, show mercy and love to others too.

The freedom received in this sacrament is healing in mind, body and soul and I will keep going back to it. 

It takes all kinds of skills along with the sacraments to help me flourish again. Art journaling, walking, and visiting friends are means to my mental health. 

The quiet neighbourhood of my family home is bringing me contentment as I spend time here after a move. Enjoying walks to the pier and through the village I am rediscovering the beauty of my small town. With a pandemic and other stressors going on in my life, more moments of silence and a slower pace is what I need. 

Sometimes carrying our cross looks like finding forgiveness in our hearts. It is a lifelong journey worthy of the peace we desire and need. ‘He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me.’

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience , is available on popular streaming services.

Any storm can be weathered

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on September 21, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/any-storm-can-be-weathered

When we calm one part of the body, the rest follows suit.

Standing in first position, feet grounded on my soft mat and sunshine on my face, I felt the quiet release of stress. Experiencing mania again, I dug into my toolkit to find a self-care technique to help me find balance.

There are many ways for me to improve my mood. The motion of dancing changes my emotions for the better. This is something I have to attend to with the chronic mental illness I live with.

Dancing is one of my passions. I have taken lessons on many styles of dance: hip-hop, flamenco, ballroom, and ballet. I have been learning to move my muscles in new ways to get rid of extra energy or monthly blues.

When I dance or do any exercise, endorphins are released, causing positive feelings. It can feel like I flipped a switch in my brain to recalibrate. Thankfully, it is very effective.

This summer I joined an outdoor ballet class seeking the happy chemicals to find inner calm.

Suzy Q, ballerina and founder of The Ballet Lounge, brought a spirit of joy and acceptance to our class. Her little dog Gizmo accompanied her and cheered us. His fluffy little body leaned against my knees as I got to pet his silky fur. His presence soothed me and made me smile.

Reaching my arms above my head, I embraced the moment of dancing by the sea. I felt connected body and soul. In my mind I gave over my worries to Jesus to take care of.

Finding the outdoor beach side ballet class was such a sign of hope for me. A way to tenderly care for my body and soul.

We are integrated beings. When we calm one part of our bodies and mind, the rest follows suit.

My mood has been up and down like a sailboat tossed at sea. To survive the choppy waves, I need to take down the sails, put a life jacket on, and let the storm pass.

Jesus’ love is my constant. His comfort for me shows up in the hidden everyday. Smiles from friends, cuddles from little Gizmo the ballet dog, and reading the perfect Scripture verse.

We all carry scars and have our own mountains to climb. Jesus whispers to me, “I’ve got you.” And he can endure any storm. Any storm can be weathered with Jesus’ strength.

I whisper back to Jesus, “I trust in you.”

His call for us is to take up our cross and follow him. These are beautiful words, but to actively take up the uncomfortable and frustrating circumstances in my life is a challenge I face daily.

Carrying my cross on my own was never the plan. I need Jesus to shoulder it with me. It humbled me to ask for his help.

As St. Gianna Beretta Molla says, “The secret to happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all he, in his goodness, sends to us day after day.” He surely sends me all the love and help I need for in every moment. I rejoice in all the little details he takes care of for me.

Jesus carries my illness and leads me to new life. So all I need to do is be receptive and trust. In dancing, I feel whole again. The Lord delights in my ballet moves and offering of trials.

May you too find the peace of Christ in events of your daily life.

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience is available on popular streaming services.

“Cover me with sunshine. Shower me with good times.”


Choosing an attitude of hope can carry us to the next day

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on July 13, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/choosing-an-attitude-of-hope-can-carry-us-to-the-next-day

“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.” (Briana Tozour/Unsplash)

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.

“Be brave!”

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).

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services.

Take it from a saint who survived a pandemic: ‘all shall be well’

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on June 15, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/take-it-from-a-saint-who-survived-a-pandemic-all-shall-be-well

There is a time for everything, from taking creative time alone as a writer to enjoying the companionship of others.” (Hannah Olinger/Unsplash)

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.

Sitting on a picnic blanket with Oakley and my cousin Sarah, “I know that I am loved.”

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.

Who will you sit with today?

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast with a new name, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience , is available on popular streaming services. It is updated once a month on Wednesday.

You’re not a robot, and God can prove it

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on May 20, 2021 – https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/you-re-not-a-robot-and-god-can-prove-it

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.

“The Lord has granted us natural means to heal and grow,” writes Lisa Rumpel. “Everything we need to live well the Lord has provided.” (Adobe)

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.” 

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast with a new name, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services. It is updated once a month on Wednesday.

Making use of therapy, sleep and a good dose of laughter

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on April 20, 2021

I don’t take my dear self too seriously. And that helps me to laugh easily.

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?

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast with a new name, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services. It is updated once a month on Wednesday.

Finding health by walking in the garden with God

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 23, 2021

Our story is also about walking in the garden with God.

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?

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.

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.

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast with a new name, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services. It is updated once a month on Wednesday.