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God doesn’t promise us a Rose Garden (but flowers will bloom through the cracks)

 

Being woke is exhausting.

As a feminist, labour rights activist, and sexual assault survivor, who also suffers from chronic insomnia, this past week felt particularly depleting.

It’s exhausting to endure misogyny, sexism, and disrespect on a daily basis. It’s exhausting to take on the emotional labour of educating those in power about their privilege.

It’s exhausting to be re-traumatized every time you find out that another seemingly woke person you looked up to is really just another man who does not respect women or understand consent.

It’s exhausting to have to explain to people who just don’t get it, why them defending this man hurts you.

It’s exhausting to know and love so many marginalized people who are struggling, or who have died. Or been deported. Or completed suicide.

For those of us with layers power and privilege, it’s exhausting to realize how complicit we are IN ALL THE SYSTEMS.

But my experience, as a white cis woman with loads of layers of privilege, is nothing compared to what many of you in this room, have experienced.

I can only imagine that it would be exhausting to feel marginalized and impoverished on the land that your ancestors have taken care of for thousands of years.

I can only imagine that it would be exhausting to experience explicit racism in a community that is supposed to stand for truth and justice in the name of Jesus, and then be silenced for it.

I can only imagine it would be exhausting to speak truth to power, and then be told to be quiet because that particular powerful person donates to your organization or funds your job.

I can only imagine that it would be exhausting to be excluded from your community and branded a heretic because you have decided to be brave and come out as your truest, most beautiful self.

I can only imagine that it would be exhausting to be sick all the time, or struggle with mental health issues. Every single day.

I can only imagine that it would be exhausting to have to fight for places and spaces to be accessible to those with different levels of abilities.

Being woke is exhausting.

And you know what else is? Getting your heart broken. It is deeply painful and disorienting. It feels like a death.

But isn’t it just the same thing? Whether you fall in love with a person and a dream of a future together, or fall in love with a group of people, and the dream of the coming Reign of God, together– and things don’t turn out the way you had hoped, it is life-draining. And you just want to be un-woke, and un-heartbroken, and crawl into bed, and go on a permanent nap binge.

I have serious bear-envy this time of year.

The words of Shad, the Canadian rapper, ring true in this instance:

Sometimes I just wanna play some shows, make some dough
Take it home, lay in my bed, and stay in my safety zone
But Cee-Lo said it best
I know too much and I owe too much to let it rest
Heard a voice say hey
You never question when you get the blessings
So don’t get vexed when your life is stressed
And I promised I’ll be with you no matter what the issue
But there will be some issues to address
Listen to the lady in the dress

 [Deb sings the hook:]

I didn’t promise you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There’s gonna be some rain sometimes

 

Indeed, there’s gonna be rain sometimes. And when it rains, it so often pours, doesn’t it?

The good news is, friends, that we are not mere utopia-chasers, we are disciples of Jesus Christ. And as we follow him on the road towards Jerusalem, as we read about in the passage this morning (Mark 10:32-52), towards the center of power that is going to condemn him – and us, mock him – -and us, spit upon him – and us, flog him –and us, and kill him – and us –Jesus is walking ahead of us, the disciples who are amazed, and afraid. Jesus is walking ahead of us.

Jesus is walking ahead of us. We are not alone in this. You are not alone in this.

To those of us who resist this- and are saying “really? Is our fate really the same as Jesus fate? Can’t we just be loved and respected and admired for using our gifts, and have great responsibilities and power to affect the future of the church- and the future of the world?”

You might recognize yourself- as I do- in the question of James and John. “Can we sit next to you in your glory?” They were basically asking if they could be his closest advisors in his new regime that they expected to come soon, after he overthrew the Romans.

Talk about not listening! Jesus *literally* JUST said that he was going to suffer and die.

In response to James and John, Jesus asks them if they can drink the cup he is to drink and be baptized in the water he is baptized in – he is asking if they will be willing to suffer as Jesus soon would.

They answered, still not really getting it, that of course they would be able to. And Jesus confirms that indeed they will suffer like he will, and they will. As will we all if we are truly following Jesus’ alternative way of being in the world.

He sums this way up when he says:

Mark 10: 42“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

This is an invitation to imagine a new style of leadership “from the bottom up”.

Ched Myers says that, “Jesus role reversal between the “great” one and the “slave” is a direct attack on the status hierarchy of the ancient world. This completes Jesus’ challenge to conventional understandings of power: personal, social, economic, and now political. The alternative Way is embodied in the Human One, who proposes to overturn the debt system once and for all by giving his life: a servant who will “buy back” the lives of all who are truly enslaved.”

“The fact that the male followers of Jesus are clueless here makes it all the more significant that Mark begins and ends his story with WOMEN who demonstrate the quality of servanthood Jesus is advocating for. Perhaps Mark is implying that in a patriarchal system only women are fit to exercise leadership??’

Things that make you go hmmmm…

Now, this doesn’t mean that women should REMAIN lowly servants of the rich and powerful men, and it is important to distinguish that the kind of servanthood Jesus is advocating for is not being a lifeless doormat – but that we ALL ARE CALLED to an equalizing, generous, pouring out of oneself, in love and compassion for the flourishing of all around us – especially those who are most marginalized– it is this posture that is the most fully human.

But if you are already doing this, and denying yourself and following Jesus and pouring yourself out for others – and this has depleted you, you might resonate more with Bartameous, the blind beggar who cries out to Jesus for healing and indeed receives it.

To those who have lost their way, who cannot see, who are sick, or weak, or broken, exhausted, drained, wounded, or burned out,

Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all you who are weary with heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Follow me, and your faith will heal you.

Whether that is incremental renewal, or rest, or whether you will be healed on the day of your death and resurrection, healing and renewal is in your future. It is in mine.

Betrayal and mockery and being spat upon and death was not the end of Jesus story.

And it is not the end of ours.

We sit in the tension between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Between oppression and freedom, between suffering and healing, between exhaustion and renewal. We live in Holy Saturday. And every good and just and beautiful action is a foretaste and foreshadow of the coming Reign of God – resurrection –  that is in all our futures.

As Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, “we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering.” She continues,  “we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross [like Mary], and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us….To be honest, that sucks. It’s the worst, even if you are the mother of God.”

But then what? Lamott continues:

“Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild towns after hurricanes and tornados. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbour, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry…we live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky.”

As exhausting as my week was, it ended on Saturday – the Holiest of Saturdays – with me at the Toronto Women’s March. I was dancing in the sunlight with girlfriends and 4000 magnificent women and allies. It felt very much like a rebirth, like practicing Resurrection.

I slept like a baby that night.

May God give us all rest, renewal, and resurrection hope.

Amen.

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Life, Death, Resurrection, Hope: An Epiphany Sermon

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.       For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;                                    but the Lord will arise upon you,                                                                                              and his glory will appear over you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2)

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Change is hard.

Not to mention disorienting, sad and fearful. So often in life we think we some things are unquestionably constant, and certain, and it never even occurs to us that it can be different than they are, and then a piece of news can hit you, seemingly out of nowhere, like a bus, and suddenly, the world seems different and you don’t recognize your life anymore, and so you might as well go dye your hair purple! If you can’t fight it, might as well embrace it with something that makes you inexplicably happy, right?

This is literally what happened to me over the Christmas break. So, I am no stranger to these feelings. About a week before Christmas, a relationship that was very significant to me, and that I was very grateful for, and certain it was heading in a particular direction, suddenly ended. I did not see it coming, and was in shock, and was instantly propelled into a very deep and devastatingly painful place of darkness.

And in that darkness I had a choice to make. I could do what I have done in the past in moments of relational grief, which was stay in bed for a week with a tub of ice cream and a bottle of wine, re-watching Love Actually a million times, or, I could do what I’ve done at other times and become bitter and angry and write very nasty emails to this person and rant to my friends about what a horrible person this is.

Believe me, these are the things that I wanted to do, but I know from experience that those choices for me, only makes things worse. I’ve heard it said that in moments of pain, you can turn bitter or better. And if you turn bitter, you are wasting the pain. So, I decided this time, not to waste the pain. But to face it, and sit in it, and allow Jesus to carry me through it, and give my friends and family the opportunity to love and care for me, in a way that they did and has brought us closer together.

So this time, I followed the path that the Magi took, towards the Light, which always leads to God’s Very Real Presence, to God With Us, otherwise known as the baby Jesus.

So, at the advice of our dear Curate Philip Josseyln-Hamilton, I went to Saint John the Divine’s convent, for prayer, reflection, and to meet with a Sister, a nun, for spiritual direction and guidance. (OK actually, I spent ONE day in bed with Netflix and icecream, but THEN I got outta bed!)

The convent was a very nourishing and healing experience. The Sister looked into my eyes and said to me gently, “I know this is hard, and you are confused and scared and angry, but you won’t always feel this way. Everything will be ok. God loves you so dearly. And God is closer to you than the tears on your check. Let him carry you now, imagine him holding you in his warm and loving embrace.”

This was very helpful, but in my grief I said, “But I want to know why. I am so confused. Why would he do this? And maybe it’s my fault?”

And she said, “There will come a time when it will be helpful to ask those questions, and see what it is you can learn. But now is not that time. Now is the time to allow Jesus to embrace you, and take comfort in his whisper, “Everything will be ok. I love you.”

And this I did. Every time since then I felt the urge to question, or to analyze, or to rage, I simply returned to the image of Jesus holding me, telling me, “I love you. Everything will be ok.

And then she said to remember the second greatest commandment, which is to continue to get out of yourself, and love thy neighbor as yourself. And so, she said, at this time of year, which so much need and pain, who can you serve and love?

So I called my friend at Romero House, the refugee welcoming community in the West End of Toronto, and asked if they had any practical needs I could meet. They did. And so my parents and I decided to forego the stocking stuffers this year and pool our money into buying 17 pairs of winter boots, snow pants, and mittens for newly arrived refugee children. So we went on a Value Village splurge, which was very fun and awesome especially because I racked up lots of VV points so I got 30% off!

It was absolute elation to shop for these, and to tell the staff at VV who they were for, and then to deliver it to the kids. And scientific studies have confirmed this truth, one secret of those who are happy is they volunteer. They help people who have been hurt in similar ways to them, and by giving, you receive so much more in return.

I decided the next day to make my mother’s birthday the best one that she’s had, so I planned a surprise for her. And the next day I offered to fold bulletins for the church. And on Christmas day we volunteered again with Romero House, for their Service of Peace, hanging out with the refugee kids, and it was awesome.

And I got to tell you, by no means did the pain and grief disappear. It was and it is a times, still difficult. But my focus on the Light, on being purposefully aware of God’s loving embrace of me, and then allowing my community the opportunity to embrace me, and then turning around and embracing those around me, God’s Presence became very real, and it was like wearing a new pair of glasses. Everything seemed just a little bit clearer, my problem was put into a wider perspective.

It didn’t mean that I was suddenly cured of grief, and I continue to grieve and I know in the midst of my confusion, more shall be revealed.

But that’s the thing about Light. So often we are not given a blazing Sun that Illuminates Everything We Want to See. More often, when we are on dark, winding paths, and we do not know where it is taking us, the Light God’s presence provides is more like headlights, illuminating just enough for us to drive around just the next corner.

As Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, “we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering.” She continues,  “we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross [like Mary], and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us….To be honest, that sucks. It’s the worst, even if you are the mother of God.”

Presence and solidarity with those who are suffering, without any cute platitudes like “God’s plan is perfect” — which only makes things worse — is hard, but it’s so essential and a good place to start.

But then what? Lamott continues:

Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild towns after hurricanes and tornados. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbour, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry…we live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky.”

And I’m reminded of the words of the iconic Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

And so, I encourage today friends, if you, or someone you know are in a place of shock, grief, confusion, sadness, or darkness, remember that “The Lord has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Let us take our cue from the Magi, who followed the Light, and found that it led them to the Light of the World, God With Us, the One who can–and will–bring a sustaining and life-giving embrace of warmth, love, and hope.

Amen.

I am Thou

We are often angry at others for embodying specific qualities or behaviours that we do not like about ourselves.

This, at least, has been true for me.

I have burned with anger at students for not listening to me, for not doing their work, or for being chronically late.

I have been annoyed at others for being socially clueless or awkward.

I have been frustrated at my mother for asking “stupid questions” or not being more sensitive to how I need to be cared for.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and my all-time favourite spiritual teacher, has helped me immensely to figure out that one of the reasons I have gotten so frustrated at these people is because I often do these exact same things, and I hate this. 

But self-awareness is the key to changing everything.

The following exercise promoted by Rohr has helped bring this self-awareness in specific situations when I am angry and don’t know why. It has also helped me to have more self-compassion, which is the key to having compassion and patience with others.

He calls it “Shadow Work”:

“There are many ways to do shadow work–the work of seeing and integrating your hidden and denied self. For example, your subconscious appears in images and stories as you sleep; paying attention to your dreams can give you insight into shadow. One of the easiest ways to discover your shadow is to observe your negative reactions to others and what pushes your buttons. Most often, what annoys you in someone else is a trait in yourself that you haven’t acknowledged.

 

“Byron Katie has a simple process to help you own your judgments and turn your focus to the plank in your own eye. The following is adapted from Katie’s Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet and Four Questions.

 

“Recall a stressful situation that is still fresh in your mind. Return to that time and place in your imagination.

 

“Name your frustration, fear, or disappointment, and the object of this feeling in a simple statement. For example: I am angry with John because he never listens to me.

 

“Now ask yourself four questions with an open heart, waiting for your truest answer to arise:

1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)

2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

3. How do you react, and what happens when you believe this thought?

4. Who would you be without the thought?

“Turn the thought around in three ways: putting yourself in the other’s place, putting the other person in your place, and stating the exact opposite.

-I am angry with myself because I never listen to me.

-John is angry with me because I never listen to him.

-John does listen to me.

“Find ways in which each “turnaround” is true in this situation.

“This practice brings your nebulous shadow into focus, giving you something tangible to embrace. Do this necessary work all your life and you’ll discover more and more freedom and greater capacity to love self and others.”

I have done this exercise for the past few weeks and found that it has helped immeasurably. Not that all of a sudden I have ceased to get angry. But I hold on to it less, for shorter periods of time, and begin to care for myself which is turn gives me the ability to understand and care for others. 

Grateful today for this.

Reference:

This exercise, promoted by Rohr, is adapted from “The Work” by Byron Katie, thework.com/en/do-work

For Further Study:

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Say Her Name: A Feminist’s Reflection on St. Mary Magdalene


I have hated my name for as long as I can remember. During the week I was born in January 1980, the name “Jennifer” was so popular (2nd only to “Jessica”) that there were like 6 other Jennifers born on the same floor.

My surprised mother had thought that it was an “old fashioned” name, despite it being ranked #1 for girls in North America the previous decade (to her credit there were no baby name books or online databases or even books back then). After she realized how common it was, she changed it to “Joy” – for a week. Which would have been so cool! I often daydream about how my life would have been gloriously different and serene if my name was unique and prophetic like Joy! 

But alas, she said it just didn’t feel right, and after a week, changed it back to Jennifer.

The result was having a lot of other Jens, Jenns, Jennifers, Jennas and Jennys in every single class and friend group I had growing up. It was easy to get us confused, so teachers assigned each of us different versions of the name. Or, the worst, being called Jen G, because there was already a Jen T, Jen V, and Jen W. Even now, I have too many friends named Jen, and stories about who did or said what get confused often. My *brother* even married a Jen, which makes family gatherings quite delightful as you can imagine. 

And then there was that time that I was mistaken for Jennifer *Lopez* in a remote Nepalese mountain village in 2004, just because news spread quickly that there was a Jennifer in town. Despite the fact that I look nothing like Jennifer Lopez, it somehow didn’t matter, and within minute kids of all ages were chasing after me yelling “Jennifer Lopez! Jennifer Lopez!” Not being able to communicate to them that I wasn’t, and not wanting to disappoint them, I ended up signing “J-Lo” on the hands and arms of about 36 screaming children, with a half dried up Sharpie. Looking back, I think I made the right decision. You would have too if you had seen their faces!

This has been the life-long frustration of having an all-too-common name. 

There is another woman who probably can relate to a similar frustration, albeit on a different, less *first-world problem* scale, and that is St. Mary Magdalene, whose Feast we celebrate today. 

Her first name, Mary, was the “Jennifer” of the early first century. And she has often been confused several other women: with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha, who sat listening to Jesus while Martha worked and whom then later anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, with the unnamed woman caught in adultery, and the “sinful” women at the well.

Despite it never being mentioned in the Bible that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, this myth has persisted throughout the centuries, ever since a homily given by Pope Gregory I in 591 AD, where he blended all 3 women together as if they were one person. 

Scholars have worked ever since to untangle these separate women.

So who was she really?

She was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. 

Her initial encounter with Jesus was forever life-altering. The scriptures say he had casted out 7 demons from her. Whether this was literally a demon possession, or a figurative enslavement to the oppressive ways of R Empire of death is up for debate, but one thing is certain: she had a remarkable, life-changing encounter with Jesus, and she left everything to follow him, in the exact same manner that Peter, James, John, and the others had done. 

She travelled with him, provided for him financially, and took care of his daily needs. She was the only disciple there for every critical moment that defined his purpose and changed the course of history – his ministry, his death and his resurrection. 

She was with him in Galilee when he was preaching about the Kingdom of God, of the radical inclusion of those with the least amount of social, political, and economic power – which, as a woman, meant her. This was a way so threatening to those who benefitted from this system that they threw themselves into his destruction.  

She was with him when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and when others cried “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” She was among the palm waving crowd, and mostly likely was estastic that her Lord was going to free her people from the Roman occupation the way he had freed her from her own chains.

She was at the foot of the cross while he was being crucified. When all the men had abandoned him, she didn’t deny or leave him in his hour of great despair. She was faithful.

She then followed as they took his body to the tomb and watched as the stone was rolled into place.

And it this passage we read today (Mark 20:1-18). She arrives at the tomb, sees that the stone has been rolled away, and runs to tell the other disciples. When they arrive again at the tomb, they enter it and see the grave clothes folded and the body missing.

And Mary weeps. I can only imagine what must have been going through her mind. He was supposed to be the Messiah, the one free her people from the Romans, like he had freed her from enslavement to the forces of evil. No, no, no, was not supposed to end like this. 

Very similar, I imagine, to the words of Diamond Reynolds, when her boyfriend Philandro Castille was brutality shot and killed by police. Her haunting words remain in my mind: “Please, sir, don’t tell me that you have just done this to him…” “Please Jesus, no…”

Similar to the world- shattering grief of the son of Alton Sterling, who tragically was killed by police as well.

Similar to the grief of the families of the hundreds killed in attacks in Baghdad, Istanbul, and Nice.

Similar to the grief of the loved ones of those killed in the Orlando nightclub.

Similar to the despair of the families of the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women and men.

I can imagine them all thinking, wrapped up in their grief, like Mary Magdalene, Noooo, It wasn’t supposed to end this way. 

Back in the tomb, Jesus appears to her and says, “Mary” -only her name. We remember what Jesus said before: “[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name … they know his voice.” (John 10:3, 4) Jesus knew her deeply, and despite centuries of people misrepresenting her and confusing her, Jesus knew her, and called her out of the tomb of her grief. 

Hearing his voice she cried out, “’Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” With this particular name Mary claims her place as Jesus’ rabbinical student whereas women in that day were not supposed to study under a rabbi at all.
Jesus response “Do not cling to me” is puzzling and scholars have been perplexed about its meaning for centuries. The interpretation that makes the most sense to me is this:

Mary was so happy to see him, she reached out, but Jesus knowing her heart knew that she was happy to have her old Jesus back, and her own idea about what kind of Messiah he was supposed to be. Jesus had other plans. 

“For I have not yet ascended to the Father” he said. He was not staying, but was passing the torch of kingdom work to his followers, and his presence would remain with her, not in the flesh but in the form of the Holy Spirit and in the community of the Body of Christ.

We, too, may cling to what WE THINK was or is *supposed* to happen. To a utopian past, to a romantic relationship that later failed, to a job or situation or community that we think should have ended differently. 

To us, Jesus calls each of us by name. Deb, Andrea, Kitsune, Beth, Caleb, Danice, Sean, Tom. Insert your own name. Jesus calls us out of our grief and says “Do not cling. Let go. And instead, focus on the kingdom work in front of you in the here and now.”

For Mary this work was telling others about the resurrection.

Raquel S. Lettsome, a biblical scholar, says: 

For a first century Jew, resurrection was “part of a larger picture of what God was going to do for the nation and indeed the world.” Moreover, resurrection was connected to hope and hope is one of the most dangerous things oppressed people can have. N. T. Wright, when writing about resurrection from a Christian perspective notes that its roots are Jewish and “turned those who believed it into a counter-empire, an alternative society that knew the worst that tyrants could do and knew that the true God had the answer.”3 To speak of resurrection then, is to speak of God intervening into the course of human events and existence in a way that upsets the status quo. Therefore the keepers of the system are in danger of losing their system and therefore the status that the system provides.”

This is good news for those without power, but bad news for those with it. For those in positions of privilege and power, equality feels like oppression. 

Which is probably why, even though the scriptures portray Mary as a faithful disciple, the myth of Mary Magdalene the prostitute has remain alive and well. She was portrayed as such in Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ, and in the DaVinci Code, and countless paintings and books. 

This is why it is so important to reclaim the memory of her as she really was: faithful disciple, the Apostle to the Apostles, the first resurrection preacher. One who knew the the voice of Jesus who knew her so deeply and called her out of her tomb of despair, into kingdom, by her name.

This is so important friends, especially for my sisters here and the next generation. 

I know this because of how I felt when watching the new Ghostbusters movie last week. Seeing women who are hilarious, smart, and hardworking talk about something other than men, and kicking butt without being overtly objectified or sexualized while doing? It was absolute elation. It’s  like, I didn’t even know that was an option! 

I didn’t know it was an option either, to be called by name into equally meaningful and important kingdom work. 

And so I am grateful to God, for his radically inclusive love, that sees me in my grief, despair, and in my clinging to what I think should have been, and gently says to me, “Jen.” 

Perhaps I could get used to my name after all.

Detox

image

One year ago today, on my 35th birthday, I was in the midst of the deepest depression of my life. I felt bad for the two friends who took me out for lunch, I was too dazed and sad to care.

In the 4 months prior, I had lost my adoring boyfriend, my other most supportive friend, my community house, and access to meaningful work. And with it all, my sense of who I was.

With no safe place to live, no one in my entire Vancouver community had the capacity to house or support me the way I needed to be. I felt so alone. I felt abandoned.

The week between Christmas and New Years was spent in the Psychiatric Assessment Unit at Vancouver General Hospital. The anesthetized, white,empty walls and people numbed with drugs all around me made me feel much, much worse.

It was like all the goodness in my life had been killed off, and I was in mourning. Just a few short months before, I had been enjoying the time and love of my life in Brazil. I had been writing more, making new friends, growing in confidence and joy. And now this.

At the advice of a friend, every night I lit a candle beside my crucifix on my bedside table, turned off the lights, and listened to Taize music. img_0094-3

One song I listened to on repeat was this: Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away.

For me, the fire that God kindled was two-fold. First, God gifted me with the ability to sit in and feel my pain. Not try to fix it, explain it, or pray it away. Second, God gifted me with the desire to learn the shit out of my pain, and grow as much as I could during it.

Sidenote: I am not one to buy the bullshit that everything happens for a reason. It is not helpful for anyone grieving or suffering to hear this. It trivializes the pain and is condescending and not helpful. But I do know this. Suffering provides an opportunity to either turn bitter or better. It’s up to us what we make of it.

I moved back to Barrie, ON, to rest at my folks place. Being in a safe and warm and supportive house helped.

Reading good fiction like The Hunger Games helped. It reminded me of what I love: well-written Story, courage, justice, feminism, peace. The Gospel.

Playing with my nieces and nephews helped. They reminded me of who I was: Aunt Jenny; silly and fun and creative.

Being near my dog Bailey helped. His deep love, fierce loyalty, and gentle presence made me grateful to exist alongside such a miraculous creature.

In Toronto, amazing new and old friends housed and supported me for weeks on end. I was recommended a life coach, found work, a loving house community, and the best therapist one could hope for. I have processed a lot that had been bubbling beneath the surface for decades. I have healed and grown so much. I have learned so much about myself, the mystery of pain and darkness, about God, and about relationships. This last year I have been a student in Life the Freedom School.

Today, on my 36th birthday, I have great friends, a phenomenal house community, incredible neighbours, family and my pup near by, an amazing church, and meaningful work on the horizon.

But above all, I have a fully restored sense of who I am. I have truly learned what the poet Mary Oliver teaches, “Love yourself. Then forget it. And love the world.”

What a difference a year can make! With the support network of a deeply listening and loving community, anything is possible. And looking back, with my own willingness to enter the darkness, feel the pain, mourn it, and then learn all I can, the year was transformed from a shitty waste of time to a deeply significant one.

As Richard Rohr says, “If you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit it to those around you and to the next generation.” I would add you also destroy yourself and waste your pain.

I am grateful I had a supportive community to allow me to enter into this unchartered, painful, yet deeply transformative year not alone.

And to God, my everything: For all that has been, thanks. And for all that shall be, Yes!

Yes And

Yes I am aggressive
Yes I get angry
Yes I often speak before thinking
Yes I have a big mouth
Yes I take things personally
Yes I can be self-absorbed
Yes I can be prideful
Yes I can be arrogant

And I stand up for those who have been wronged,
including myself, even if it will cost me
And I go out of my way to support others,
especially new teachers,
and those who are sick, alone, and marginalized
And I am compassionate
And I am empathetic
And I deplore injustice
And I am fully engaged
And I am self-aware
And I am hilarious

And I am creative
And I am vulnerable
And I am complex
And I am an excellent teacher
And I am quick to forgive
And I am quick to apologize
And I am wanting to learn, grow, change
And I would have stuck up for any of you if unjustly fired
Like I stuck my neck out for Linda
And Rema

And I am full of courage
And I am a warrior
And I dare greatly
And I refuse to listen only to my critics, for

“It is not the critic who counts; not the [wo]man who points out
How the strong [wo]man stumbles,
Or where the doer of deeds could have done them better

“The credit belongs to the [wo]man in the arena
Whose face is marred by dust and blood;
Who strives valiantly; who errs,

“Who comes short again and again,
Because there is no effort
Without error and shortcoming;

“But who does actually strive to do the deeds,
Who knows great enthusiasms,
Who spends [herself] in a worthy cause;

“Who at the best knows in the end
The triumph of high achievement,
And who at the worst, if [she] fails,
At least fails while daring greatly.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)

10 things to do after getting fired from your Intentional Christian Community house

1. Sob real ugly. Once you climb up the stairs after your mediated house meeting with your pastor, and are in your room, shut the door, crouch low to the floor, and let it all go. Sob those gaspy, choke-y type sobs, with your head in your hands, the way you do when you get dumped or someone on LOST finds redemption. Blame yourself, tell yourself you are the worst person in the whole world and nobody will ever love you or want to live with you ever again, especially because, in addition to this mess, you are underemployed, currently homeless and gasp still unmarried at 34 when your brother just had his 8th child. But be quiet about it –cry into your scarf, dammit– so they don’t gather further evidence of your over-emotiveness to purge you even quicker from their midst.

2. Allow your self to feel really bad, for like, 15 minutes. Mourn, grieve, lament– choose any spiritually sorrowful word that fits. Go outside, smoke a cigarette, and ponder the meaning of the beautiful, mocking sunset.

3. Pull yourself together. Suck it up and start packing. This is a good thing. This will be better for you. You had grown so much in the last year and a half and this atmosphere was weighing you DOWN. It kept reminding you of your old, cranky, ego-driven 32-year old self who you SO no longer are (well… you’re on your way).

4. Remember that blog you read like 2 weeks ago called “I AM A F***ING UNICORN: 10 things to do when you get fired for the first time” — and look into the mirror and tell yourself, “I AM A F***ING UNICORN. I am a beautiful, mystical creature. I have lots and lots of good things to offer this world, and for too long I have been forcing myself to act like a horse. And every time I did, my golden horn was losing it’s magical powers. No more, baby. I’m free!! I’m free to prancerize my way back to being my happy, generous, fun-loving, creative self!” After you get dropped off at your friends’ place where you are crashing for a few days, pop open a bottle of – juice, that’s all she has – and allow yourself to feel happy and relieved that the worst is finally over.

5. As the high starts to wear off, after like 10 minutes, get into your jammies and binge-watch The Mindy Project to avoid dealing with it.

6. Wake up the next morning and feel home-sick for your old room in your old house with your old housemates. (What, you thought this was a progressively happier list?) Allow yourself to feel sad again. Cry when you receive texts from your ex-housemates that are also feeling horrible about this mess, but secretly feel relieved that they are not celebrating your absence with champagne and circus clowns.

7. Open up your journal and turn the sermon notes you made during the retreat 3 weeks ago, when that wise, female pastor/scholar who has endured so much was speaking about suffering. Remember her talking about all the faithful in Hebrews 11. Some lived great lives of faith, and were victorious and blessed. And “some were sawn asunder.” Some people lived great lives of faith and goodness, but they were met with lives of chaos, torture, and huge amounts of suffering. Living well, and being faithful, does not guarantee a life protected from pain. And enduring a painful past does not guarantee a painless present or future. But always, the God whose name is “I Shall Be There” will be present. You are never alone. And remember that the great cloud of witnesses, all the saints of the past are cheering you on, even now: “Courage!”

8. Breathe. Get out your handmade Anglican prayer beads, and pray the prayer of Saint Francis. Spend 20 minutes in centering silence. Let go. Let go. Let go. Bless the one with whom you are angry, and pray for peace, healing, and reconciliation.

9. Prescribe yourself some art and nature therapy. Go on a bike ride to the art supply store, take detours down the streets with the most red and yellow leaved trees. See that God has created the world beautiful for you, and nature is still majestically following ordered rhythms. Your pain is not all there is. Help your friend with the decorations for her mountaineering-themed wedding this weekend. Draw, and plan for some linocut prints and cards for the All-Handmade Sale coming up. Memorize a huge chunk of Ephesians for a dramatized scripture presentation at church on Sunday. Plan for it to be complete with masked djembe-players and a soul-less-turned-soulful mob, and dancing to a new rhythm after letting go of the old. Write this blog post, and laugh at yourself.

10. Be grateful. For your dear friend’s wedding. For seeing old friends. For laughter. For Over the Rhine. For upcoming, meaningful work. For lentil barely stew on a rainy day. And for new, affordable housing, with a lovely, generous woman, that seemed to drop out of the sky.


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