Live at the Space

SMRTdigipak_template_0.5mmlower_11by17_TEMPLATEA couple of months back, in late summer, I got an email inviting me to drive to Red Deer in September and sit in the studio while my friend Karla Adolphe recorded a new live EP.  I managed to snag some time off from the hospital, grabbed a friend to road trip with, and was privileged to have the chance to be part of the recording process for Karla’s newest album.

For a musically clueless soul such as myself, it was enlightening to see part of the recording process, to watch the multiple takes, to see the back and forth conversations between the producers and the musicians.  For me, it was also fun to see Karla in her element – performing the songs she’s crafted and turning them into something even more beautiful with the help of her band.

Although I was familiar with several of the songs on the EP, the live setting and new instrumentation gave them life in ways I haven’t experienced before.  I listened to the EP several times through on repeat yesterday while I was cleaning my house, doing food prep, and sitting with my journal.

In “Magnolia” I hear the richness of one who has wrestled with life, with faith, with journeying.  I hear in it the struggle of the two years Karla and her family have spent recovering from the damage of the devastating floods in Southern Alberta in 2013, and I see a friend who is emerging from that space with a new depth in both her soul and her music.  Magnolia was one of the tracks Karla worked on while I was part of the small audience in the studio, and it was also cool to hear how the amazing studio experience translated to the recording.

I could talk about each of the five tracks individually, but “Child of the King” is probably one of my favorites.  I’ve loved the lyrics for ages, and I love this new recording of a song I’ve turned to often over the years.

So friends, I guess what I’m saying is that you should definitely pick up a copy of “Karla Adolphe Live at The Space” when it releases on November 17th.  You can get digital or physical copies of the album here: http://www.karlaadolphe.bandcamp.com  Check it out – you won’t be disappointed!

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Hope, Depression, Healing, Community (Anniversaries and All Saints)

I woke up this morning thinking about hope, about depression, about healing, and about community.  Big topics for early in the morning, but understandable given that today is not only All Saints Day, but also the tenth anniversary of a life-changing encounter that I had with Jesus.

Ten years ago today I started having the sorts of experiences that are somewhat more common in my life now.  I was seeing pictures in my head, and hearing whispers in my thoughts.  I thought they might be whispers from God, whispers that I’d been praying and longing to hear, but I wasn’t sure. I went to a small group gathering that evening and cornered a friend who was my go to source for all things “crazy and strange” religiously.  (What I mean is that he was further down the road of charismatic experiences than I, and that while I tended to panic about such things, he embraced them.)  I began to share what I’d been feeling and seeing that day, and it took only minutes before he became antsy, asking me to head out into the night and walk with him.  I remember protesting, due to the blizzard that had begun, but grudgingly following him outside.  We walked the neighborhood for a long time that night, until we were cold and wet, and then we settled in his car. We talked and talked and talked, and prayed a little, and talked and prayed some more.  My friend invited me to come before Jesus in a new and honest way that night, and it changed me.  For the last ten years I’ve celebrated that night as an anniversary of healing from depression.

If you know me well, that last statement might puzzle you.  I don’t exactly work to hide the fact that I take an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication on a daily basis.  I don’t hide the fact that I spent several years of the last decade in therapy, working through a lot of hard stuff in my life. In fact, I tend to proclaim those things, preferring to do everything in my power to ease the stigma that kept me from seeking help for so many years.  What I mean when I say that I was healed from depression that night is this: in that car, that cold November 1st ten years ago, Jesus met with me, and the hopelessness that had pervaded my life off and on since childhood, and continually for nearly seven years, was broken.  Since that night I haven’t ever gone to bed and prayed to die in my sleep, something that was a routine practice in my life at that time.  I didn’t see a reason to be alive, but I wasn’t willing to end my life, so I sat day after day in hopelessness and exhaustion.

I want to clarify that statement about healing.  I take medication to help manage my moods.  It’s an important part of my day-to-day survival.  I believe that mental illness can and does have a physical component – that it involves diet and chemical imbalances and stress and lifestyle choices.  I also believe that the spiritual world impacts our world, and in my life that played out as an overwhelming fear and hopelessness. That night, what I experienced was a spiritual healing, a lifting of the darkness and hopelessness, a renewed strength to fight the physical battle.  I was gifted that night with spiritual healing, but also with a practical physical healing.  That night I slept six straight hours, something I hadn’t done in nearly seven years.  It was the beginning of a journey.  It started with the spiritual, and eventually moved into the realm of the emotional and physical as I began to fight back, to stubbornly cling to hope.

I remember very few details of the conversation that I shared with my friend that night, but one phrase still runs through my thoughts, all these years later.  I’d been re-reading Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia at that time and this thought occurred to me, “C. S. Lewis looked at God and created Aslan.  I look at Aslan and wish I knew a God like that.”

Ten years ago tonight Jesus began introducing himself to me as one who is “not safe, but good” to again borrow from Lewis.  It’s a big and ongoing lesson, and some of the lessons over the last decade have been ruthless.  It’s lessons like those that led me to tattoo the phrase “stubborn hope and joy” on my right forearm over the summer.  He is not safe, but He is good, and so I stubbornly hold on to the hope that He gifted me with on that night.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the role that community has played in my healing.  My friend was there for me that night.  He’d invited me into that place probably more than a dozen times in the few years that I’d known him, and I’d refused every time, but he persevered and continued to listen to me and offer his friendship, and because of that, when I was at my most broken, I was willing to let him lead me before Christ.  I fell into a group of people shortly thereafter who taught me about the new things I was experiencing, and then taught me valuable lessons about the value of choosing emotionally and spiritually healthy companions to journey with.  There are the group of women who I met online, two especially, who journey with me long distance.  There is my bestie who lives on the other side of the planet now, but lived with me as a roommate through some of the hardest years in the middles of this decade.  She wrote cards, offered hugs, and sometimes even had flowers waiting when I came home from the hard work of pursuing healing and hope.  My family walked with me, and cheered me on through all the stumbles, even when they didn’t know most of the details of this journey.

I’ve learned a lot about community, and how central they are to healing and wholeness.  Without each of those people I mentioned, I would be less whole.  And I’m learning about community in new ways this fall, as I connect with a local church body again, as I make new friends who share my Catholic faith, and as I push deeper into other relationships.

Healing is a communal sport.  Without the people in my life, and without “the great cloud of witnesses” that the writer of the Hebrews references, I would be less healed, less able to cling stubbornly to hope and joy.

Ten years on, it seems somehow appropriate that a journey lived in community began on All Saints Day.  It makes me laugh, since I certainly had no inkling a decade ago that my journey would lead me into the Catholic Church, but that heavenly sense of humor is one of my favorite characteristics of the God who is like Aslan that I’ve begun to know over the course of these ten years.

So today I’m thinking about healing, about hope, about depression and about community.  I’m thinking about how grateful I am for a God who is not safe but good, how grateful I am for that moment when I was given the gift of hope again, how grateful I am for the lessons I’ve learned about managing my physical and mental and emotional health, and how this journey wouldn’t be possible without the many people who have served as companions along the way.

I’m celebrating today – a moment of healing, and a feast of All Saints – a feast of the great ones who have walked ahead of me on this path to knowing Christ.  I’m celebrating, and I’m grateful.

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On Longing to be Made New

This is kind of a wonky day for me.  October 31st always is.  I’m a protestant turned catholic, with a degree in European religious history that focused primarily on the reformation period and it’s aftermath.  I’m also a person who is highly sensitive to the spiritual realm and aware that this is a day when many choose to honor and pay homage to things evil.  Plus, I generally hate costumes and masks – they creep me out – something about hiding inside an identity separate from your own, I think, even if it’s cute.

I’m spending today lying low, fighting a bit of a sinus cold, and pondering.  Later tonight I’ll put on fairy wings (yes, even though I hate costumes) and go hang out with family, and more specifically with my nieces who I’m sure will be dressed adorably.  (I love them enough to put on a costume for them!)

Every year on this date I find myself thinking about the idea of reformation.  Regardless of my ever more complicated thoughts and feelings on the issue of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s 95 theses nailed to a church door in Germany in 1517, and the unity of the body of Christ, I happen to think that the idea of being reformed is worth considering.

It’s that idea of being made over, made new again.  The idea that Christ is ever doing a work of resurrection in us, and in our world, making all things new.  It’s an idea I felt strongly as I read through the lectionary this week, specifically the passages from Romans 8.  If all creation is groaning and longing for redemption, how can I not do the same?

In the last months I’ve encountered so many broken things – in my life, in the lives of patients, in the lives of family and friends.  If I’m so very aware of the brokenness, how then can I not be aware of the need to be made new?

And so tonight, on a night when some will celebrate the darkness, I plan to spend time reminding me of the light.  I’m going to look for it in the joy of my niece’s face when she discovers that there is candy to be had when she dresses up adorably and rings a few doorbells.  I’m going to look for it in the inevitable moments of laughter that happen when I gather with my siblings.  I’m going to look for it in the way I know my niece will love that I am wearing fairy wings.  I’m going to look for it as I savor some treats.  And I’m going to remember that Christ is working to make all things new.  That being re-formed, being made again is a constant and continuous and holy process, and one worth engaging in wholeheartedly.

And I’m going to leave you with this lovely prayer for this day, taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and shared on Facebook by Pete Greig, one of the founders of 24-7 prayer, the group that introduced me to a meaningful life of prayer.

all hallows eve

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We Treasure What You End

Fall is my least favorite season of the year, and like so many years past, each for their own reasons, I’ve found this fall to be difficult and heavy at times.  I hesitate to say that I’m emerging from that space, knowing that the few days a year I am traditionally most aware of and sensitive to the spiritual realm remain still weeks away, but in some slow ways, I’m emerging, and as I begin to sort out the new rhythms and paths for my life that always come from this season where things begin to die and fall away, I’m drawn again to the following prayer that shares its title with this post, penned by Walter Bruggemann, an Old Testament scholar and poet, whose book of prayers “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth” has accompanied my spiritual journey for a number of years now.

We confess that we are set this day in the midst

of your awesome, awful work.

We will, because we have no alternative,

be present this day

to your dreadful work of termination.

We watch while you pull down

and dismantle

that with which you have finished.

We will, because we have no alternative,

be present this day

to your dream-filled work

of evoking,

imagining,

forming,

and inviting.

We are double-minded in your presence,

because we treasure what you end

and we fear what you conjure –

but we are your people

and trust you all this day

in your awesome,

awful work.

Override our reluctance

and take us with you

in justice

and mercy

and peace.

Take us with you in your overriding,

that our day may be a day of joy

and well-being

and newness

from your very hand.

In the name of your decisive newness,

even Jesus. Amen.

(Loyola University, Bastille Day/ July 14, 1989)

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My tattoos are mocking me

It should surprise exactly no one who knows me that my theology and faith are influenced by the time I spent in charismatic churches.  It should be equally unsurprising to you to hear that I have a rather strong sensitivity to the spiritual realm.

Here’s what I always forget about that sensitivity – it’s strong.  And more than that, I have this tendency to forget that when I push into something good, when I’m leaning into new places that Jesus is leading me, when I make a strong statement about things I believe to be true about life with Christ, when I’m pushing into places of growth in my faith, life has this tendency to suddenly become very hard.

I’ve been thinking about how I always forget that this week, while considering the context of the tattoos I talked about in my last post.  Those tattoos are mocking me in the weeks since I came home from Colorado and re-entered everyday life.  I sort of forgot that if you make a statement of faith, if you, for instance say to God and everyone, “I believe that the Father is in control and that all things truly will be well, and that hope and joy are so deeply important that they’re worth stubbornly fighting for, and I believe these things so much and they’re so central to my life that I’m going to have them permanently inked into my skin,” that you’re kind of asking for trouble.

And that’s what I’ve found.  There have been other things going on that have added to the sense of spiritual battle I’ve been facing lately, but I do have to say that my tattoos are mocking me.  It seems that in inking those beliefs into my skin, I was opening myself up to a myriad of situations that seemed the direct opposite of those truths marked on my arms.

Stubborn hope and joy.  All shall be well.  Can we just talk for a minute about how broken the world is right now?  Can we talk about the heaviness I’ve experienced in my life?  Can we talk about how at work some days I’m pretty convinced that nothing on the planet will ever be well?  Can we talk about how I work in the “happiest area of nursing” and yet I also see some truly heartbreaking things on a daily basis?  And can we talk about how my sensitivity to all the brokenness has seemed to grow in direct proportion to my statement that I believe that even in those most broken of moments, it is important to stubbornly choose to have hope, to stubbornly choose to be joyful, to believe that all really shall be well some day?

It’s a weird tension to live in, and most days I feel like the tattoos are as much a mocking reminder of my failure to believe, my failure to live these things I claim to believe, as they are a truth to aspire to.  And yet, they’re a truth to aspire to.

As I write this I’m reminded of the father of the demon-possessed boy who encounters Jesus.  The father who cries out, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”  It seems the most human and holy of prayers, that.  I believe, and yet, help my unbelief.  It’s a prayer I’m echoing tonight, one I’m clinging to as I wade through this season of heaviness.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

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We didn’t know the significance

Sarah

This is my friend Sarah. I’m currently away from home, enjoying some much-needed down time, and staying with her.  Three years ago today, August 19, 2012, Sarah and I had only just met for the first time a few days before, but it was some intense bonding – a group of five of who knew each other in various ways, but who I knew only from online connections –  had gathered in Florida and were doing some serious friendship building and girl-friend bonding.  We kind of already knew we were soul friends from time spent reading each other’s writing, but that week together cemented it.

Playing the role of photographer

On this particular day three years ago, we joined our friend Kirsten and her family to attend mass in the morning (more on that in a minute), and then several of us piled into a vehicle and headed for a tattoo parlor, where two girls got tattoos, one got a nose piercing, and I alternated between roles as official photographer for the afternoon’s adventure, and babysitter for Sarah’s little boy (then about 9 months old), Simon, who we had with us that afternoon.

Sarah was one of the ones who inked words into her skin that day, and she chose a line from Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well.”  As Sarah had those words embedded in her skin, they began to embed themselves into my heart, becoming quickly synonymous with my journey of exploration of Catholicism.

Sarah’s tattoo

I came home from Florida and scrawled those words across a blackboard in my bedroom, a spot where I saw them every day, as they continued to worm into the depths of my soul.

The same day that Sarah had those words inked on her arm, we attended the mass that changed the direction of my faith journey in ways I never anticipated.  That morning the priest spoke about the Eucharist, awakening in news ways my hunger for the body and blood of Christ, and igniting the journey that led to me sitting here as a Catholic convert.

A truly bizarre combination of shops

We weren’t thinking about the date or the significance it held, when we headed out this morning.  We dropped Sarah’s two oldest at their first day of school, her youngest to spend some time with Sarah’s parents, and headed off for our planned adventure.  We arrived and parked in the parking lot at a strip mall with the oddest assortment of shops I’ve ever seen in one place.  The shop we wanted wasn’t open yet, so we wandered the area, stopping in a coffee shop, where a check of the time hop app on our phones revealed the significance of the date – that it had been three years since that day in Florida when Sarah got her tattoo.  It made us laugh when it dawned on us.  You see, the only thing I was firm about wanting to do while I spent this week with Sarah and her family was to get two phrases inked into my skin. I even accosted my priest after mass a few weeks back, to make sure that there weren’t any Catholic “rules” about tattoos that I wasn’t aware of!  And this morning, as we sat in that coffee shop and the significance of the date dawned on us, we were laughing because the shop whose opening we awaited was a tattoo parlor. Eventually the shop opened, and we walked back, laughing as we commended ourselves for not having a baby in tow on this trip to a tattoo shop!

I’d chosen two phrases and positioning to have as my inaugural tattoos.

The first was that same phrase Sarah had inked into her skin years earlier.  “All shall be well.”  It’s part of a lengthier statement from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  In the years since I was introduced to the phrase, it’s come to be a succinct statement of my faith – of my belief that in Christ all is made well – it’s made whole, that there is a shalom, a healing, a wholeness that comes from walking with Jesus that I can aggressively lean into, that I can believe in the hardest, most awful of moments.  It’s a concept that underpinned the many years I struggled with depression and anxiety, and it’s a concept that I continue to lean on in both the hard and easier moments of life today.

The second phrase I chose was “stubborn hope & joy”.   These are more personal words – the ideas of hope and joy have been central to my walk with Christ for more than a decade, especially in the hardest and darkest of moments.  I’ve written often in my journals in those hard moments – in the moments born out of a decade long battle with severe depression and anxiety, in the moments where my world was falling apart around me, and I found myself without any ducks to even put in a row – of the fact that in that moment, I was stubbornly choosing to have hope, and stubbornly choosing joy in the midst of the darkest of hours.  These stubborn choices, along with the reminder that “all shall be well” have become the statements that in many ways are most central to the heart of who I am, and today I permanently inked them on my skin, in places where I’ll see them easily and often, and be reminded of their truths.

 

 

on my right forearm

on my left wrist (with leftover bits of transfer ink)



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St. Clare, on her feast day

I’ve written here before about how I initially fell in love with St. Clare of Assisi, and I don’t particularly want to cover that ground again tonight.  That said, it doesn’t seem quite right to let her feast day pass without mentioning the Saint whose image I wear nearly every day, hanging on a fine silver chain around my neck.

A lot of relational history has passed since those first moments that I encountered St. Clare over half a decade ago, and every once in a while I ponder my relationship with this Saint.  I was thinking about it this week as I got ready for work – I rarely work a hospital shift these days without Clare around my neck.  She’s the patron saint of eye diseases and television, neither of which are at all applicable to my job as a perinatal nurse, but wearing that image around my neck grounds me.  I spot it every time I glance in a mirror as I help a patient up to the washroom.  I feel it every time I rub my sore neck muscles from the hours spent leaning over a bed, teaching women how to successfully breastfeed their babies.  And each time I encounter Clare, there, around my neck, I’m reminded of my faith.  I’m reminded that this job that I love is a gift, and that in return I am granted the opportunity to intercede for each of these mothers and their children – to lift their lives and their new family units in front of the creator whose image they were made in.

One of the things that caused me to initially fall in love with Clare was the fact that she is one of few female saints pictured bearing the monstrance – the host.  This image of bearing Christ spoke to me in the years before I joined the Catholic church, and it continues to speak to me now as I navigate the waters of figuring out how this still relatively new Catholicism informs my life.  It’s that image of bearing Christ that speaks to me when I reflexively reach for the medal bearing Clare’s image during a long work shift.

Recently I encountered a beautiful patient, a woman from another culture, and another faith, who I was privileged to spend a portion of a shift caring for.  She was sweet and loving, and it was a gift to be able to pour some love back out on her as she worked to feed and care for the newest addition to her small family.  As I said goodbye to her at the end of my shift she asked me to remember her in my prayers.  It was reflexive as I touched Clare’s image around my neck and assured her that I would lift her up.  In her story I was reminded of the story of Hagar and Ismael in Genesis, and since that time, when this lovely woman and her baby cross my mind, I find myself praying that “the God who sees” who found Hagar and her son in the desert would also make Himself known to this woman.

Bearing Christ – it’s an image that haunts me in a good way as I go through my days.  I am continually asking myself what it means to bear Christ, and what it means to recognize His image in each person I encounter.  And these days, Clare is a reminder of that calling for me.

And so in honor of her feast day, and because the ecumenical soul in me can’t help it, I present the following sonnet written to honor Clare by an Anglican poet and priest, and a rather humorous image I gleaned from a Catholic Facebook page I follow.  Both speak volumes of all that is encompassed within her personhood, and I look forward to getting to know her, through her intercession, for years to come.

Clare (by Malcolm Guite)

(click through the link above to hear Guite read the sonnet)

Clare

Santa Chiara, lovely claritas

Whose soul in stillness holds love’s pure reflection,

Shining through you as Holy Caritas,

Lucid and lucent, bringing to perfection

The girl whom Love has called to call us all

Back into truth, simplicity and grace.

Your love for Francis, radiant through the veil,

Reveals in both of you your saviour’s face.

Christ holds the mirror of your given life

Up to the world he gives himself to save,

A sacrament to keep your city safe,

A window into his eternal love.

Unveiled in heaven, dancing in the light,

Pray for this pilgrim soul in his dark night.

 

And finally, this:

clare

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