I’m a Jerk

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So I’m a bit of a jerk.  A surprise to some.  Not so much to others.  In May, New Leaf hosted In the Company of Women, a conference for men and women who long to see the mission of God advanced in Canada through shared leadership.  Last year, when my almost friend Jared Siebert mentioned this idea of reclaiming and envisioning shared leadership between men and women, I knew I was all in.  I jumped on the conference planning team willing to do whatever was required of me.  Or so I thought.

My contribution to the planning team included monthly video chats, brainstorming emails, some creative thinking and a blog post.  I felt pretty good about it all until a couple of weeks before the big day I realized that almost all my conference planning buddies were also speaking at the conference.  Suddenly, I felt woefully inadequate, doubted my contribution to the whole thing and was ready to jump ship.  Told you.  I’m a jerk.  

Most of the time I think I’m all that and a bag of chips so I wasn’t too sure what to do with this seed of self-doubt that had been planted.  First, I threw myself a pity party.  When that fizzled out I decided my only course of action was to just suck it up and fumble along like everything was fine.   Once again, God had a much better plan.  Thank you Jesus!

It did occur to me to actually say something out loud to my planning buddies but I knew this was my thing not theirs.  And I didn’t want to rain on their parade so I as usual my husband got an earful and he carefully reinforced the fact that this was all my stuff at play which I did my best to process.

I woke up on the day of the conference eager and excited.  No self pity or doubt in sight.  Just good vibes and the sense I needed to be open to whatever came my way.  This felt way better than my pity party so I went with it.  When I arrived at the conference I set up the book sale table, carried boxes, delivered messages, pointed people in the right direction and answered a bunch of questions.  Then I sat down and listened to a diverse group of women talk about shared leadership in the kingdom of God.  I was challenged, encouraged and inspired.  

One of the speakers, Dr. Linda Ambrose, professor of Canadian History at Laurentian University, who has extensively studied the history of women in Canadian churches, said two things that are still whirling around in my head.

  1. Dr. Ambrose spoke about Agnes, a woman who co-pastored and planted churches with her husband in the early 1900s.  Agnes was also a mother and she wrote about how the women in the church would bake birthday cakes for her children because they knew Agnes’ schedule was jammed packed with church stuff.
  2. Then Dr. Ambrose asked, “How do we as women support or fail to support each other?”  

And then I realized.  I almost failed to bake the cake.  I came uncomfortably close to failing my sisters.  God had me exactly where He wanted me the day of the conference.  The room was filled with strong, determined, courageous, grace-filled women – those speaking on stage, those nursing newborns or chasing two-years in the audience, those finding the courage to introduce themselves to their hero, those speaking words of encouragement – and I had a front row seat to witness it all.  That conference room was a glorious cake baking factory and it was beautiful!

So for me the most challenging part of shared leadership has nothing to do with men and everything to do with women.  I need to step fearlessly into my circle of women confident in my gifts and abilities.  I need to know that my contribution has value and worth no matter what it is.  

And I need say yes to what God has planned for me.  So YES!  I will carry your books, countdown your presentation time, handout the chocolate, pray for you, encourage you and walk alongside you.  And whether you are onstage, backstage or completely unaware there even is a stage – I will be your biggest fan.  

I will also try really hard not to be a jerk.  

Oh, and I do bake a pretty mean chocolate buttermilk cake.  The irony.  

 

The Lasagna Conspiracy

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The world of church continues to be a blissfully confusing place for me.  There is a thing that church folk do (calling each other folk is a whole other thing they do) that is thoughtful, kind and often times delicious.  They make for food for people.  And not just when someone dies.  Church people make food for death, birth, illness, unemployment, separation and so on.  If there is sadness or hurt, a lasagna can’t be far behind.

This is one of the things my church community does really well.  A message goes out on social media and folks sign-up for a meal and deliver it to the person or family on the appointed day.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Food may actually be our community’s love language.    We spend a lot of time together gathering around tables of food prepared by many hands.  Wonder where we got that idea?

Over the last few months, going out in the world was difficult for me – something this people loving extrovert has never experienced before.  Three weeks ago, my counselor suggested I dip my toe in the water and get together with a friend for tea – NOT at my  house.

I chose a friend from church who is more than a church friend.  As I drove her house on a sunny Tuesday morning, my nerves and queasy stomach were close to getting the best of me.  My friend’s smiling face and easy manner greeted me at the door and I was able to breathe again.  After apologizing for not having any baked goods to serve, my friend placed a pot of tea, two cups and a giant chocolate bar on a tray and led the way to her cozy basement.

For the next hour, she listened as I explained why I had disappeared from the world, how I was feeling now and where life was headed.  She was gracious, thoughtful and wise.  She was exactly what I needed.  After another hour of chatting and getting caught up, I was feeling so loved and encouraged.  My gratitude cup was overflowing.  So I was totally shocked when my friend apologized for not bringing my family a meal over the last few weeks.

There had been no call for food from our church community nor would I have wanted there to be, and yet my friend felt bad that she had not dropped a warm meal on my doorstep.  My jaw dropped.  The last two hours we had spent together meant more than a lifetime supply of lasagna.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not poo-pooing lasagna or those who make lasagna.  I’m a huge fan of anything made with noodles and cheese.  I’m just saying if cooking for others as a way of expressing love is not your thing then that’s cool.  There are so many ways to love people.  If it’s lasagna, great!  If it’s homemade pie, God bless you.  If it’s a cupcake from a local bakery, well done.  If it’s a cup of tea, a chocolate bar and long easy chat, you are speaking my language.  

It’s a beautiful thing working together as a community to support and encourage others. But there is no one right way to do it.  We need to embrace all expressions of love – be it food, a text, a hug, a cup of tea or a chat.  

Slippery Devil

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Patience you are a slippery devil.  At times I have a firm grasp on you.  But sometimes when you starts to wiggle and squirm, I lose my grip and you slip right through my fingers.

This holiday season has been strange.  I worked myself into a lather about a routine mammogram which triggered my anxiety.  My eldest daughter is wrestling with her anxiety as she transitions from school to vacation mode.  A good friend finds holiday gatherings very difficult and negotiates them as best she can.  My Facebook feed confirms that this time of year is damn hard for a lot of people for a whole bunch of different reasons.

I know this.  You know this.  Even Facebook knows this.  And yet we lose patience with ourselves and each other.  Patience slips right through our fingers and transforms into unsolicited advice, hurtful comments, neglect and isolation.

I don’t need your judgement.  I’m already doing a brilliant job of beating myself up.  For example, some of the questions that ran through my head last week included:

“Why can’t I get a grip?”
“What is wrong with me?”
“None of these thoughts are logical.”
“I just need to stop thinking these negative thoughts.”

And yet the thoughts just kept on coming at a relentless pace until I lost patience with myself and booked an appointment with my doctor to review my test results and talk about some coping strategies.

Three days after Christmas as my daughter’s gifts lay unwrapped but not played with or read under the tree, I don’t need you to ask:

“Doesn’t she appreciate her gifts?”
“Why is she so stubborn and rude?”
“What’s wrong exactly?”

Nothing is wrong.  But yes, something is different.  I don’t know why transitions are so hard for my eldest.  What I do know is that she will get there.  She will open her microscope and examine all the slides.  She will read each graphic novel cover to cover several times.  She just needs to process everything at her own pace.  And I need to walk patiently beside her as she does this.  How amazing it would be if others could come alongside her as well.

Same for me.  I’d love some company on this journey.  I can’t explain why I got so worried about a routine medical test.  If there was an off switch to my anxiety I would have pulled it but that’s not how it works.  It’s a big ugly monster that grows bigger with each new thought.  And FYI, attempting to explain my anxiety makes me more anxious because I already know how nuts I sound.  

So instead of trying to solve my problems, my daughter’s or that random person on Facebook, why not ask, “How can I support you right now?”  NOT “What can I do for you?” There is nothing you can do.  But you can be.  Be with us.

After asking, “How can I support you right now?” pour yourself a tall, cool glass of patience.  And hang on tight – don’t let that slippery devil slide from your grasp.  It’s so difficult to watch someone struggle with mental illness but just imagine walking in their shoes. 

 

 

About My Breasts

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I’ve written about struggling with depression and embracing menopause so it only makes sense that I now rant about my breasts.  I was going to say boobs instead of breasts but I didn’t want to offend so I’m sticking with breasts.  

I am angry with my breasts.  Or maybe my age.  Or maybe my anxiety.  Quite possibly all three but probably just the latter.  

I have spent the last week getting all worked up about a routine mammogram.  Given that I’m adopted and have no family history, I have been getting my breasts flattened and compressed by a giant machine for the past ten years.  And every single time I get irrationally, inconsolably panicked that they will find a lump, it will be cancer and I will die.  

And I’m angry.  Not because I might die.  We all might die a thousand different deaths everyday.  No, I’m angry because there are people dealing with diagnosed illnesses who are coping better than me.  I’m angry because I get consumed with fear and anxiety every time I have some kind of medical test.  It happens every year with my PAP test (sorry male readers just Google what you need to), mammograms and it will likely happen with my impending colonoscopy.

Really, I just want to get a grip.  I want to look at all these invasive, icky tests as proactive, preventative check ups and not imagine the very worst EVERY SINGLE TIME.  And I know I’m not alone.  Most of the women I freak-out texted today could totally sympathize with my paranoid, over the top thoughts.  Maybe some kind of PAP-mammogram-colonoscopy-freak-out-while- you-await-results support group is necessary.  You know “PMCFOWYAR” for short.  

This feels like one of those things we as women all experience but rarely say out loud.  And we always feel less alone when we say things out loud.  Granted this is coming from an over-sharer but there is strength in numbers and strength from being known – fears and all.  “PMCFOWYAR” here we come!

The other kicker for me is that I dig Jesus so I should trust that God has got this –  boobs and all!  Breasts!  Sorry, I meant breasts.  The fact that I cannot hand over this fear and anxiety to God makes me more angry and frustrated with myself.  Combine this with lack of sleep + illogical thoughts = total mess.

So I have decided to externally process all this here.  And I’m chatting with God about all sorts of things including my breasts.  I confess my brokenness.  And my inability to go it alone.  I need God.  I need girlfriends to vent to and pray with.  I need to acknowledge the worst but dwell in the best.  I need to breathe.  I need a glass of wine.

Today a good friend suggested that as I wait for my mammogram results that I focus on the the awaited and anticipated birth of Jesus.   I’m still wrapping my head around this idea.  It seems weird associating my anxiety with the birth of our Saviour but I’ll give it a shot after all she’s a pastor’s wife so I figure she knows a thing or two.  

So I wait.  And I will try to wait well.  

 

Dear Diary

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I was going to read this diary entry at a local event but sadly that event was cancelled so I’m going to share it here because THE DRAMA!  Names and dates have been changed cause it’s my blog and I can do what I want.  Oh, except the name of my car.

March 19/99

Fred and I broke up in November.  I’m happy to say that I don’t remember the exact date he told me, “It just isn’t working anymore.”  At least that’s something.  I won’t know the exact date to throw myself a pity party next year to celebrate getting dumped.  I’m not sure why I’m writing in this journal again.  

March 20/99

Two thoughts today.

  1. I love my car.  I can trust and rely on my car.  Freezing cold, sleet, snow – no matter what the conditions, my car is faithful and reliable.  Therefore, my car is female.  I’ve named my car Myrtle.  I cry in Myrtle a lot.  She doesn’t mind.  She keeps all my secrets.
  2. I drive a lot now that I am single.  To work, the movies, the gym, the store, to friends – like everywhere.  I miss a having a boy to drive me sometimes.  I’m not sure if I miss my stupid, lying, cheating boy or just a boy.

March 21/99

I should write a novel.  I never thought I had enough life experience before now.  But surely with my first failed long term relationship under my belt I could write a bestseller.  Or an angry one woman play.  Or maybe I’ll just write down every ridiculous thought I have in this stupid journal in an effort to hang on to my last threads of sanity.

March 22/99

Are we there yet?

March 23/99

I’m thinking too much.  Replaying our entire relationship over and over in my head.  I look much thinner and prettier in the replay.  But Fred is bald and has a nasty eye twitch.  I hope he goes bald – like really bald.  Maybe in some freak chemical accident or something.  He deserves bald.

I should get my hair cut.  That might be nice.  Imagine if everyone in the world was bald.

March 24/99

It’s Friday night and I’m in bed at 10:45pm.  I hate this stupid journal.

March 28/99

I had a terrible day at work.  Charlotte gave me a hug but it was one of those bend at the waist hugs where there is barely any body contact.  Fred was good hugger.  Right height.  Right squishiness.  I miss him.  Ugh.  For how long will I miss him?

April 2/99

Here it is: I don’t trust people anymore.  Fred slept with someone else.  He broke the trust that existed between us.  He could have broken a lot of things and I would have been fine.  But not trust.  Why can’t people just break up with each other before someone cheats.  Why?  I hope he gets some kind of sexually transmitted disease that causes his penis to fall off.   

April 6/99

I’m feeling strong today.

April 8/99

Worse day ever.

April 14/99

A friend told me that the grocery store is a great place to meet men.  Ridiculous.  The grocery store is a great place to meet Haagen Daaz ice cream and sour cream and onion chips.  

April 15/99

It’s Saturday night and I’m in bed at 11:30pm.  If I were the other half of a couple and had spent the night drinking wine, eating pizza and watching a chick flick this would have been an adorable date night.  But as a single person this seems really lame.  

April 16/95

It is odd to become strangers with someone you love deeply.

April 20/99

I miss Fred.  I hate this.  I hate that I still feel sad and cry over this man.  This man who has not yet lost all his hair in a chemical accident.  Dammit.

April 28/99

Maybe Fred and I will get back together.  Because let’s face it, I’m all that and a bag of chips.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want me?  Or is this just something pathetic, broken hearted girls tell themselves after a bottle of wine and a box of Joe Louis.

November 9/16

Fred and I are happily married…to other people and are the best of Facebook friends.

Lessons in Compassion

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Near the end of last night’s Yatzee free-for-all, my ten-year-old started to cry when she realized she was going down in blaze of glory.  As she dried her tears, my eight-year-old gave her big sister a sideways glance and quietly picked up her dice.  She then proceed to throw the game (allowing the eldest to win) by super slowly rolling her dice and paying no attention to the result.  

I watched in awe as this unfolded.  And it got me thinking about compassion.  My youngest wears her heart on her sleeve.  She sees someone suffering and acts immediately.  This is often noticed and applauded.  My eldest quietly observes and thinks.  She sees suffering and absorbs it.  This is often dismissed as uncaring and callous.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  

One daughter learns that a friend was bullied at school and seeks them out on the playground to comfort them.  She then gives this friend daily hugs for the next week.  The other daughter learns about this same friend being bullied and wants to understand why anti-bully days and classroom discussions have not prevented bullying at their school.  She then discreetly watches the bullied friend throughout the week to make sure that she is OK.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

We visit the SPCA. One child wants to adopt all the animals. The other child questions why there are so many animals at the shelter.  We sponsor a child in Zimbabwe.  One child want to send cards and gifts.  The other child asks why children in other countries need sponsors and why some people are poor and others have so much.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?

I’m much like my youngest daughter.  I see someone hurting and I want to help.  Sometimes this help comes in the form of a hug.  Sometimes it’s a long chat over a cup of tea.  Sometimes it’s the delivery of a homemade baked treat.  My compassion is swift and immediately tangible.  

My eldest daughter also feels deeply but her response is more subtle and abstract.  Her compassion leads to questioning, investigating and challenging the way in which things are done to see if there is a better way.  Her ten-year-old self hasn’t yet made the leap to acting on all this yet but I sense it is not far off.

My sweet, I’m sorry for not recognizing and celebrating your compassion just because it looks different than mine.  I will do better.  I will champion you as you champion others. Take on the world my quiet, thoughtful child and make it a better place.

Is one kind of compassion better than another?  I think not.  Everyday I watch two very different young girls demonstrate compassion in their own unique ways.  We need those who are willing to wrap their arms around those who are hurt by injustice.  And we need those who are willing to take on the systems that create injustice.  You go girls.

 

Mental Illness is Not a Choice

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Five years ago, I found myself calling in sick for every shift of a very part time job.  I struggled to play and engage with my young children.  Every task and conversation required tremendous effort.  I felt sad and hopeless.  I knew I was drowning but I could not save myself.

My doctor diagnosed me with depression brought on by perimenopause and diminishing estrogen levels.  She prescribed an antidepressant and several lifestyle changes.  After six months, three medication changes, four dose adjustments and immeasurable grace, patience and kindness, I surfaced.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I was diagnosed early and responded quickly to treatment.  I had a handful of people in my life who understood depression and helped me keep my head above water during my darkest days.  So many people live with mental illness their entire lives with varying success of treatment and little or no support.

And I am angry.   I am angry that despite our best efforts to educate people, there is still a terrible stigma attached to mental illness which only deepens the feelings of isolation and loneliness for those battling it.  I am angry that there is a time limit on our compassion for those struggling with mental illness.  I am angry that people suffer alone.  I am angry that people continue to say hurtful things.

Know this:

  • I don’t just need a good night’s sleep
  • Yoga and vitamins are not the answer
  • This is not a case of mind over matter
  • A fun night on the town will not do wonders
  • I do not have any happy thoughts to think

Trust me if it was as simple as any of these I would have done all of them over and over again until the emptiness and despair were distant memory.

Don’t judge me or try to fix me or offer advice unless you know what the hell you are talking about.  I don’t want your ignorance to result in more guilt, shame or self-loathing.

I need you to listen to me.  I need you to educate yourself.  I need you to ask how you can help.  I need your compassion.  I need your love.

You know someone with depression, anxiety or PTSD.  You know someone with a mental illness.  They are within your reach.  You need to hear, support and love that someone.  We need you.  Even on the days when it is impossible to accept your love.  We need it.  No one should fight this battle alone.

Mental illness is not a choice.  I did not choose it.  It chose me.  The question is how will you choose to respond  when someone confides in you about their mental illness?

My Front Porch – Seating for Two

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Things I will not do this summer:

  1. I will not attempt to live off my land.
  2. I will not purchase plants that I will then neglect.
  3. I will not entertain people in my backyard.

I despise gardening.  I do not like weeding, watering or pruning.  I do not like watching a tomato slowly ripen to perfection only to have it become my dog’s afternoon snack.  I do enjoy pretty flowers and fresh vegetables.  But I can get fresh veggies, fruit, herbs, eggs, honey and more at the local Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  It’s all there for the buying.  And some of the produce still has actual dirt on it thereby proving its freshness.  This also allows me to avoid pesky weeds, bugs and gross things under my fingernails.

I am more than happy to live off my local farmer’s land and allow my garden to become the wild jungle it was always meant to be.  And while I do love the vision of riding my bike home with the wind gently blowing carrot tops and wildflowers draped casually over the edge of my wicker basket, the reality is I’ll be in my Mazda 5 with the windows down, Justin Bieber blaring and children bickering over the last donut hole.  I’m totally good with this whole scenario.

With the amount of money I save not planting plants I can afford to buy the yummy spring rolls and real-deal-super-squeaky cheese curds at the market – every single week!  And I won’t have to watch my hard earned cash get choked out by weeds, pooped on by dogs or nibbled by adorable bunnies before shamefully turn a blind eye on the whole sorted mess.

Nor will I spend two days completely guilt ridden about the state of my back yard before having friends over for a barbeque.  Or spend hours trying to nonchalantly hang towels and sheets on the clothes line in an attempt to hide my disgraceful garden.  Yup, those days are gone.

This summer I am entertaining exclusively on my front porch – seating for two.  I purchased flowers for three small pots and a lovely hanging fern.  I have created a cozy, lush get away right outside my front door.

The front porch is an extrovert’s paradise.  Walkers, joggers, runners, rollerbladers, cyclists, bikers and golfers (yes, I live across from a golf course) all need a wave, chat or word of encouragement.  The front porch provides for some of the best people watching and neighbour getting knowing ever.

This shall be the summer of tea and wine, scones and jam, cheese and grapes, ice cream and hot fudge.  No big potlucks, barbeques or strawberry socials.  I’m going to sit on my porch, share simple food and elaborate conversation with one human at a time.  Accepting reservations now.

 

Invest in Your Menopause

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Invest in some thirty-something friends.

Hanging out with hip, beautiful young people twenty years your junior seems like a counter intuitive, demoralizing, destructive idea.  But trust me.  These are your new people.

First off, while those your age find your unpredictable, cantankerous ways unpleasant and irritating, the thirty-somethings find you fascinating and quirky.  They don’t know that this hormonally imbalanced, erratic whacko looks nothing like your pre-menopause self.  Embrace the thirty-somethings because they will embrace you back.

These are also the people who are conscious in the wee hours of the morning.   Yes, while you are awake for NO REASON, the thirty-somethings are intentionally awake.  So at 1am after you have tossed and turned for forever, unsuccessfully relaxed using your deep breathing exercises and checked out Instagram you can text your thirty-something friends and solve all the problems of the world.  Not only is this highly productive but also much less lonely.

Invest in layers.

The ability to remove the majority of your clothing in less than twenty seconds is critical to surviving hot flashes.  Two words: loose layers.  Loose is less hot and easier to remove with the added benefit of hiding your disappearing waistline.  Win, win.  Layers mean you don’t end up sitting awkwardly in your bra and big girl panties while out in the big bad world.

Obviously natural breathable fabrics like cotton, linen and muslin are best.  Polyester can kill you.  I’m working on a flowy Annie Hall look – sans the tie.

Invest in disclaimers. 

I am not responsible for my actions, words and inappropriate hand gestures at this time.  Menopause is responsible.  I’m a moody, unpredictable jerk.  If I could crawl out of my skin and punch myself in the face I would.  In an effort to prevent others from punching me in the face I have come to use disclaimers throughout the day.

Morning husband disclaimer, “The sound of you chewing your cereal is filling me with rage.  I hate you and your cereal.  I’m sorry.  I don’t hate you.  I hate that you make chewing a soft, mushy cereal sound like a microphone jammed in a garburator.  Sorry.  I’m clearly over-sensitive this morning, proceed with caution.  I hate your stupid cereal.”

Afternoon kid disclaimer, “I am tired and grouchy.  I’m putting myself in a time out.”

All-encompassing evening disclaimer, “I’m barely keeping it together people.  Run.  Save yourselves.”

Invest in you.

Cut yourself some slack.  Menopause sucks.  Be good to yourself whatever, however that looks.   The world is not actually ending – just your ability to menstruate.  So layer up, throw out a disclaimer or two and go hang with your thirty-something friends.  You’ve got this.