Loving Through the Fear: A Mortal Mission

It is strange how this virus has woken us up to a very obvious but often ignored fact: we are mortal. This reminder of our fragility has caused us to panic and scramble, as if it were possible to avoid this inevitable outcome of our lives–their ending. The ending has been there all along, but not in such a prevalent, “hiding around the corner” kind of way.

So how should we respond to this intense affirmation that our lives are a brief and precious gift?

With love. With love that is stronger than death. With love that connects us all. With love that can reach across the globe into every trembling heart. With many, many, concrete acts of love. It there were ever a time for “random acts of kindness,” it is now. Except they are not random; they are very much the point of our existence: to affirm the irreplaceable nature of every human life, and to honour each person with our little acts of affection and and kindness, to find in the face of the poor, the lonely and the stranger, the face of God.

Imagine for just a moment what might happen at this uniquely uncharted point in time if we all choose to set aside politics, agendas, finger pointing, conspiracies, and our own (very real & very different) fears.

What if we choose Right Now to take care of one another and put compassion, love, and service above all else? What if we turn our necessary distance into something even bigger than saving lives?

An Open Letter to Humanity

Everyone will do this in their own way, living with a sense of personal mission to serve their families, their friends and their communities with all the talents and passion they can muster. It is by loving that we mortal beings unite ourselves to the Immortal One, the fount of life and source of love, and come to share in a life beyond the fragile one we have here.

Let us burn our life’s candle brightly and share its light with those around us. Then, whenever its light is snuffed out, we will continue to glow in the hearts of people whom we have loved.

Work Clothes

With coffee-crazed hands

I iron the shirts

I make them smooth

I tremble

I iron the shirts

the ones he wears on the skytrain

to the job he still has

to the office that’s still open

I make them smooth

I tremble

The steam rises up

like incense from my hands

I flatten the hills

make smooth the valleys

make straight his path

I work

I pray

I tremble

Anointing of Ashes

The hangry fire has devoured the proud palms,

their waving glory burned to a crisp,

memories of triumph silenced

by the crackling, crimson flames.

All that remains is ashes.

They are cool, smooth and dusky on my forehead,

these humble signs of humanity

two short lines anointing me

a daughter of God,

having taken the riotous death by fire

and transformed it into a quiet cream,

a healing lotion which proclaims,

“I am dust and unto dust I shall return,”

yet I rejoice in the hope of life

beyond the blaze!

Come spring!

Come spring, come spring,

Let flowers sing!

Let no more melancholy winter reign,

With its thousand reasons to complain.

No more introspection in the dark

Be rather joyous as the lark!

Burst outside the walls your soul restricting

Let yourself fly on winds uplifting.

A hillside of flowers catches my eye

I hurry toward them on feet light and lithe.

Tiny crocuses shake in the breeze

Delighted to see them I drop to my knees

Translucent petals tremble and sigh

But lift their glowing faces to the sky.

Despite the February frost,

Let not one day of sunshine be lost!

Come spring!

Lucy Maud Montgomery: A Wounded Healer

Yesterday my sister sent me a rather devastating article about one of my childhood, and adulthood really, heroines, Lucy Maud Montgomery , the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, and many other books. I learned that she and her husband suffered from an ongoing addiction to medical drugs they were initially given for anxiety. These bromides and barbiturates turned out to be highly addictive and draining, and greatly altered their lives for the worse.

I felt cut to the heart by this news…not in the sense of now despising a former hero, because I believe like Dr. Gabor Maté that drug addiction is the attempt to heal persistent wounds, and not a sign of being lazy or evil. He writes:

[…A]ddiction is neither a choice nor a disease, but originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self. In short, it is a forlorn attempt to solve the problem of human pain. Hence my mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”

Learning of Montgomery’s destructive addiction, I was upset, rather, the way I would be if I discovered that my own grandma had secretly suffered deeply and didn’t have the support she needed to heal in a healthy way. Montgomery suffered so much…losing her mother at a very young age, being abandoned by her father to live with old relatives, being taken lightly as a writer simply because she was a woman and having to take one of her publishers to court for years to receive her proper royalties, losing her best friend Freda to death, having a difficult marriage with a very depressed and at times physically abusive husband, and losing a child to stillbirth, like me.

Unlike me, she did not have the vast amounts of affection, support, spiritual and psychological help it takes to heal from such blows. I wish she could have had professional counselling (which is worth every penny!), a loving group of baby-loss moms to help her through it all, so she would know it was ok to talk about her beloved baby, instead of keeping silent, and a spiritual advisor who could have helped her escape when her husband became violent, instead of thinking it was her duty to stay.

Reading about her pain, I wanted to transport through time and wrap Montgomery in my arms, and tell her that despite all her suffering, she had made the world, my world, incredibly more beautiful. That I, and many others, couldn’t imagine life without her.

I had to think of Henri Nouen’s book The Wounded Healer, in which he describes the transformative power of suffering, and the surprising degree to which the wounded person can be a source of healing for others. Maybe it is that through patient suffering, while continuing to find the beautiful in life, that we give others hope. It is such a high price! Certainly the writings of Montgomery have always brought me hope, and a renewed sense of awe at the fragile preciousness of life and love, the importance of beauty, friendship and imagination.

So, sorrowful as I am, I take some solace in praying for Montgomery, and hoping with all my heart that she is now at peace, and finding Heaven just as thrillingly rich and beautiful as her great heart and mind imagined it would be.

In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of “faëry lands forlorn,” where lost Atlantis and Elysium lie, with the evening star for pilot, to the land of Heart’s Desire. And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but things that are unseen are eternal.” L.M. Montgomery

This Christmas Give Hope

Blanket_RF2154987.jpg

What does it mean to give a meaningful present? One that is a true expression of our love… can we truly take our hearts and wrap them in shiny paper, and give them in a way that affirms the worth of the recipient, the very value in their existence? This is a great challenge.

When I was shopping recently for my kids, seeing so many rows upon rows of plastic nonsense toys in the huge box stores left me feeling empty. All this abundance seemed a bit pointless, when so much of it was soon to be destined for the dump. It’s not that I hate toys. I still have stuffed animals and doll house furniture from when I was a kid, not to mention my stamp collection and books.

I think what bothered me was all these unnecessary things being consumed so voraciously, when so many other children in the world don’t even have a bed, or clean water, or a home to call their own. No one has given them gifts to affirm the very worth of their existence. Perhaps they don’t even have parents to kiss them goodnight and tell them how much they are loved. But instead of simply being grinchy and depressed by this, I wanted to do something, even if it was something tiny.

So I found a way to take some of these little broken pieces of my heart, wrap them with love, and send them overseas. The kids and I did it together, because it is so important that they learn to give, and not just to expect gifts from life. They will be happier this way; moreover, they will be more truly human. What did we do then? I usually hate spending money but this was my absolute favourite shopping of this year! We visited charity websites like Doctors Without Borders and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

We read about the impoverished and displaced people they help, and chose the gifts that spoke most to our hearts, like a sturdy tent to shelter a homeless family, blankets and mats to sleep on, and a water filter to provide clean water and help prevent disease. Another that tugged my heart strings was a Kangaroo Care Wrap that can double the chances of survival for a premie baby, by keeping her skin to skin and close to her mother’s heart. Having lost a full term baby girl five years ago, the idea of being able to help another baby survive was irresistible. For a mere $15, I could reach across the ocean and give a baby a chance at life, and a mother freedom from the tragedy of loss. My kids were really excited, too. They felt true joy at doing something so good for others.

KangarooCare3_22e486fe-2495-48b2-abeb-8bd52d6f1e14.jpg

Another wonderful charity is Chalice, which sponsors poor children, helps their parents learn to plan their finances carefully, and gives them support and tools with which to earn a more stable livelihood. So if you want to empower families in need to become more independent by giving gifts like livestock, seeds, farming tools, a sewing machine or bicycle, etc, this might be a great charity for you.

I hope you’ve found inspiration in the great work that many people are doing around the world. If there’s anyone left on your list this Christmas Eve, consider giving them a gift that truly affirms their humanity and your own. The charities will send a nice e-card describing the important gift that was given in your loved one’s name.

Remember, we are not mere consumers! We are not robots who can run on money and possessions alone. We are all, each and everyone of every race and background, children of God who are strengthened by loving each other more deeply. This is what the Incarnation is about. The God who loves us all so tenderly that he wanted to affirm our intrinsic worth and erase all fear or doubt of our worthiness of being loved from our minds. He wrapped his divine heart in the frail paper of humanity and came to live among us, as a shepherd smelling of his sheep. He brought all the light and glory and splendour and magic of Heaven down to earth, to share it with us through his creation, if we would only reach out our hands to touch his and embrace this precious gift of life.

I hope you can find him this Christmas. In all the organizational Olympics of preparing your home for Christmas, may you see God at each turn…in the smiling face of your children and guests, in the beautiful colours of your Christmas meal, in the sparkling colours of lights on your tree…but also in moments of loneliness, sadness or rejection, and in the poor faces of humanity across the world, who need affirmation that they, too, are truly beautiful and loved.

Jug_RF240907.jpg

God bless you all this Christmas, and as my favourite radio man Archishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “God love you!”

To Life!

Christmas is coming and there’s a lot of emphasis on being happy in this season of joy. But life with all it’s challenges continues in December like in any month, with extra business on top of it, so here’s a poem for anyone out there who’s had a bad day recently. You’re not alone!

Sometimes the best way to feel better is to allow yourself to feel crummy for a little while instead of fighting it. For me, writing poetry helps me indulge in my melancholy mood and then let it go, rather than having sadness trapped inside.

To Life!

Oh, life!

Oh, imperfect messiness!

Oh, easily screwed up days,

repeated mistakes

and ever unchanging weaknesses…

Wounds that hide and reappear

like dolphins under water

surfacing for breath,

seeking light and healing

and disappearing again.

Am I am I am I

ever going to grow?

Going to stop failing,

stop falling,

stop saying bitter things–

crouching under a shield of sarcasm

feeling so small

I have to pretend

I’m invulnerable.

Not likely.

But, oh! God bless me

and help me never give up trying.

Each day let me not be crushed

by insecurity.

I am scuffed up and tiny

but thus you have made me

and love me through it all.

Amen.

Amen to life!

Because I may be a fool

but even a fool can live life

and love.

Little Snail

Little snail,

when poked in the eye,

curls up into his shell

and pretends to die.

Sealed up, breathless,

in his perfect shell,

in suffocating safety

he chooses to dwell.

“Alone in the dark,

do not remain,

for home is a prison

when full of pain.

Do come out,

timid little snail,

to slowly leave your

little silver trail.

People may laugh

but how dare despise

that God made you

with your googley eyes?

Don’t be alone,

but join us here,

there is no life,

where there’s no fear.”

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/snail

Thanks to unsplash for the gorgeous shot above.