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

Oakley, the therapy dog I never knew I needed

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!” 

“Nice colour!”

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.   


Resilience and resurrection in a pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Home is where God is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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