The Gift of Darkness

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” -Mary Oliver

Darkness. A word often associated with the negative. A word that conveys something we want to avoid. A word that makes us yearn for light.

We try to avoid darkness as much as possible. We turn on our lights at home at night, we turn on our vehicle lights when we drive, we bask in its warmth and comfort from the summer sun.

The past couple years have held a lot of darkness for me. There have been moments steeped in darkness, moments where it felt like I would be stuck in the darkness forever. It was silent. I didn’t know where I was going. I couldn’t see everything around me.

12466132_681274554976_7040347393533449897_o

I have labelled this season of life, ‘winter’. And I’m struck with the irony that, in nature, it is my favourite season. I remember when I lived in Quebec, the winters felt very long. The longing for spring was great. And yet when you stopped to look at the wonders of winter, there was great beauty and richness that is often not seen in the midst of the destitute nature of the season.

Over the last few months I have been transitioning into spring. It has been a long winter and yet as I reflect back on the darkness and seeming barrenness of this season, I am thankful that I did not rush through it or try to avoid it. As much as I didn’t want it to be true, the darkness of that season was necessary. It was painful and messy. It was heart-wrenching and full of tears. It was isolating and lonely.

But, being present to the darkness allowed healing to come. Staying in the darkness allowed me to cling to God and to hope that can only be found in him. Walking through the darkness gave me deeper trust. Sitting in the darkness allowed me to feel the comfort and presence of God. There has been crucial transformation happening within, much of which I was not aware of, that was taking place in the darkness of this season.

Of course, in the midst of it, I didn’t, and often couldn’t, see or understand this. I clung to a hope for it but it was hard and painful. I am thankful that in looking back, I am beginning to see the gift it has been as I see the depth within it.

13718579_702859683206_4884585862591588832_nIn the past I have often tried to run away to find the light. I didn’t know how to handle or navigate the darkness. Yet it has been artificial light I have sought because I did not take the time to work out what needed working out. I didn’t take time to listen to the sadness and notice what the darkness had to teach me. I short-cut the process and robbed myself. I made the road harder and longer for myself.

In this darkness, there have been others who have faithfully sat with me. Prayed with me. Prayed for me. Hoped with me. Longed for light with me. I am so thankful for the safe spaces I found and created in order to sit in the reality of the darkness rather than avoiding it or running away.

You see, the amazing thing is, things grow in the dark. Seeds germinate in the darkness. Babies grow in the darkness of wombs. Pictures are developed in dark rooms. Sleep and rest takes place behind the darkness of our shut eyes. Life emerges in these unexpected places. Darkness leads us to seek and long for light.

15356661_722007675476_6123214285856130949_nSo I am thankful for the things I have seen within me that have started to grow. I’m thankful for healing that has taken place. I’m thankful for transformation that has been and is continuing to occur. I don’t say this to romanticize the darkness or difficult times, but rather that we must cling to hope in those moments. But also that there is life emerging in places where it might feel lifeless at times. I also don’t want to categorize all darkness under the same category as the one I have experienced, because they are different and it’s important to recognize that. I’m sharing from my own experience and my understanding of it. (and when I say darkness, I don’t mean evil, but more an isolating feeling of despair and general lost-ness- if you want to know more about it, please ask!)

My word for 2016 was ‘hope.’ I accompanied it with a 366 day photo project of pictures of light along with quotes about hope. I am thankful for the continual reminders it brought that although the darkness does have a purpose, it does not have the final say and I am thankful for how it has led me into a new season that is filled with life. I’m thankful for the perspective I have gained and will continue to gain of what has been. I’m thankful for healing (but I could only heal the things I allowed myself to express and recognize needed healing). I’m thankful, looking back to see the many traces of light and hope that were present with me throughout the darkness even though I did not recognize them as such.

I have hesitated to share some of this because I recognize it can be misconstrued or misunderstood, but I wanted to share it because it has been transformative and necessary in my life. And I share it because I welcome continued conversation around these subjects. I share it because sometimes in our culture, and also within the church, we don’t always allow space to sit in these hard places. We want to rejoice and be happy. We want to bask in the reality of Easter Sunday. We forget the darkness of the Saturday and the fact that life is messy and painful along the way. We need to hold the tension of these realities together.

I leave you with these two quotes, both which better express some of what I am trying to convey:

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was often filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?” -Kahlil Gibran

“When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows even more terrifying as we try to hold it off. Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradoxes of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing.” -Parker Palmer

May your moments of darkness be places of growth and wellsprings of life that lead to deeper healing, profound joy and great intimacy with God.

6603_682029956146_5795186780361327743_n

Haircuts & Transitions

Today I went for a haircut.

While this might be a regular occurrence for many, it was a big deal for me.

First of all, my hair was LONG overdue to be cut. It hadn’t been cut for a year and a half. Since August 2015. Since my mom last cut it.

My mom was the one who always cut my hair. Although she bugged me relentlessly to go to a hairdresser, I refused. She always said they would do a better job and she wanted to see what they would do with it. But I liked the way she cut it. Correction: after she would cut my hair, I would balk about how she ruined it, how I now looked like a boy, how my life was ruined (insert more dramatic comments here) and then two days later I would realize it was the best haircut ever. I loved the time we spent together in her laundry room with her doing my hair. Why would I go elsewhere?

img_0225I would usually sit down for my haircut and she would start cutting and then laugh to herself and say “Oops, I hope you wanted a shorter cut.” I treasure each of those memories, each of those haircuts.

So today when I went for my haircut, I was really sad, because I wished so badly that my mom was here to cut my hair. I was nervous, because what if my mom was the only person capable of giving me a haircut I loved? And I was excited because going to a salon for a haircut marked a really important transition in my life.

A change in my hair length or colour has often marked transitions in my life. Over the last few months I have been noticing a movement towards a new season, a desire to reengage life again and a deep joy that is blossoming out of the places of darkness I have walked through these past few years.

img_6360Today was significant in recognizing that my life is not over because my mom has passed away. I am figuring out what it means to live life without her. A painful yet necessary process. Part of this was finding a salon and booking an appointment. My hair growing in some ways represented an intense mourning period and cutting it has become symbolic of moving toward more acceptance. It represents the hope I have been clinging to that there is newness and goodness in life. And know what? I’m pretty sure my mom would have loved my haircut.

So while it might simply look like I got a routine haircut, I’m thankful for transitions and growth and a new season.

A Year Later

November 8.

Most have been anticipating today as election day.

I have been anticipating November 8 for other reasons.

A year ago I sat beside my mom in the hospital and watched her breathe her last breath.
A year ago my mom’s battle with cancer ended.
A year ago began the reality of living life without my mom.
A year ago my friend, travel companion, go-to person died, leaving a giant void.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This past year has sucked. Of course, there have been some wonderful moments full of life, beauty and hope in the midst of it. But a lot of it has felt like desperate treading water, trying not to drown. It has included a lot of wrestling and processing the different layers of grief that have accompanied my mom’s death. There have been attempts at figuring out what purpose and meaning looks like and what my days should hold. Most of the year I have felt pretty lost and yet have fought to cling to the truth that I have not been alone and the intensity of grief will eventually lessen as healing continues.

img_5815

In anticipating November 8, I have had a lot of mixed feelings. There are memories of the final special moments spent with my mom. Memories of the last week of her life and the feelings that accompanied that week. In the midst of feelings of regret, guilt and sadness, there has also been deep gratitude, peace and assurance.

If I’m honest, I think I have had an expectation that after a year I would be able to flip a switch and be ready to fully engage life again. And yet it isn’t so. The sadness still feels incredibly intense some days. The void of not having my mom and not having a solid family foundation still feels gaping. The question continues to loom as to what life will now hold. Sometimes I still feel a bit of shock regarding the reality that my mom is really gone. There are days when I struggle to choose life and would rather stay in bed the entire day, hiding from the world. Most days I feel a bit crazy and dysfunctional because I can’t seem to get my life together.

In the midst of this, I am quick to forget that I am in a season of grief. Grief is complicated and messy. Just when I think I’m ready to go, another wave of grief hits, knocking me over again. I put crazy expectations on myself and forget to have grace with myself. My mom and I shared something really special and loved each other deeply- it makes sense that adjusting to her absence in my life is huge. It makes sense that my world has felt turned upside down. It makes sense that there are days when I can’t stop crying. This is grief. Grief requires space and grace in order to process and walk through it and to heal.

In the midst of the tumultuous feelings, I am deeply thankful for those who have journeyed with me this year. For those who have showed up, called, listened to memories of my mom, cried with me over the loss of my mom, laughed with me at the funny memories and have been persistent in asking me how I am truly doing and wanting to care for me. I have felt inadequate as a friend and in different areas of ministry in my life this year and yet I remind myself of the need to have grace with myself in these things as well. It will not always be like this.

14440828_710462512076_6756534801797073240_n

And so a year is past. A year of mostly hard days and and a smattering of days where life felt a bit easier. There have been moments of deep darkness. There have been moments of light piercing through the darkness. There have been moments where I felt like my life would be entrenched in a dark, winter season forever. But I’m now believing that spring does exist and will come. I’m beginning to see signs of spring’s arrival. Grief will continue but it won’t look the same as it has this past year and it will lessen in its intensity. Life is all around me and in the midst of my sadness, I can continue to fight to embrace life and enter fully in, experiencing deep joy in the midst of each day’s panoply of emotions.

I will continue to cling to life and hope as I also work to be honest about my feelings and where I’m at. Thankful for the grace that has carried me through this past year and that will continue to lead me toward healing and fullness of life.

 

30 Blankets

Letting go really sucks sometimes.

It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s accompanied by tears. It’s exhausting. And yet it’s also necessary.

Going through a loved one’s things after they die is a helpful and important but also really difficult part of grief.

This past year as I have been going through my mom’s things, there is a base recognition that it is all just stuff (a lot of stuff mind you). And yet, even though it is merely “stuff,” my mom took the time to buy these things and made decisions to keep them. They represent things she enjoyed, and aspects of her personality.

The stuff is the physical representation of things my mom had. They are physical things that she touched. It’s just stuff and yet it represents so much more.

So now getting rid of stuff becomes part of grieving. Getting rid of stuff is an act of letting go and grieving the loss of someone I loved dearly. It is saying goodbye to the physical things that were connected to her. It’s a strange and yet painful process.

There’s moments where I want to get rid of everything. There’s also moments where I want to keep everything. There’s moments where I bring a lot of things to my house and realize I don’t actually need or want to keep it all. And then the more clarifying moments where I recognize it’s a balance between the two and good to keep some special things in memory of her. It’s a long and arduous process.

img_4874So, I now am in possession of 30 blankets (among other things). What do I need with thirty blankets? Easy answer: nothing. And yet cuddling up under one of these blankets on my couch feels somehow like hugging my mom. Of course it’s not the same but there are emotional attachments that have been built and it is hard to let go.

Yet, letting go is necessary. Painful but necessary. Otherwise my house would be filled top to bottom with piles of blankets and boxes. Through the process I have become thankful for the physical representation of grieving and how this helps me along the way as I continue to grieve my mom’s death.

So in a way, it is all just stuff, but on the other hand it’s a lot more and important to not take the process lightly but also be willing to let go even though it might be a painful and sad process.

In letting go of stuff, it feels like I’m letting go of pieces of my mom. My mom’s life impacted mine in many ways and I’m thankful that her legacy was not at all in her stuff but rather in the impact she had on my life and the lives around her. We are transformed in the time we spend with others and as we share life together. I cling with gratitude to the ways in which my mom’s life changed mine. These are things I will not be getting rid of. These are things that are with me whenever I travel, whenever I read and write, when I interact with others and host people in my home, when I decorate for Christmas, when I love and play with her grandchildren in the same way she would have, and in a myriad of other ways. In light of these things, suddenly letting go of physical things doesn’t seem as hard anymore.

So perhaps I will only keep a couple blankets and will treasure them because of what they represent and the reminder of who my mom was and the ways in which she impacted my life. The other blankets, I can share with others, passing on not just an item but a memory and a legacy of love and life.

shifts in perspective

This weekend I had the opportunity to preach a sermon about the stoning of Stephen from Acts 7:54-8:4. It is humbling to study and speak about a man who risked everything to proclaim Christ when my own life faces virtually no opposition. There were many parts of Stephen’s story that stuck out and challenged me and I wanted to share one of them here.

Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy and brought in front of the religious leaders to give a defense. He starts recounting Israel’s history and it sounds like a fairly tame defense. However, in the end he flips it on its head and points out how they have rejected God through rejection of his prophets and by killing Jesus. This makes them really angry. Obviously some sort of conviction is going on inside of them. At this point, they have the choice to admit what they’ve done and repent or ignore it and kill Stephen just as they killed Jesus.

The crowd is angry. They are grinding their teeth and shouting at Stephen. A mob is forming that will later stone him to death. Meanwhile, Stephen, who is facing an irate mob, is filled with the Holy Spirit and gazing into heaven where he sees the glory of God. Wow! What an amazing experience. In a moment when he could have been overcome with fear regarding the outcome of the trial, he is calm and basking in God’s glory as he beholds the Father and Jesus in heaven. Rather than allowing himself to be overtaken by his immediate circumstances, he looks up and sees God in a way that reaches far beyond what is directly in front of him.

888_686889023536_8087258542767878111_n.jpgI enjoy going for walks in my neighbourhood. From different vantage points you can see the mountains in the distance, there are a myriad of trees and flowers to enjoy and, depending on the time of day, there is great beauty to be found in the sunrise, sunset or different cloud formations. There is also beauty to be found in watching kids play, dogs chase each other or people interacting with one another. There is much to behold and enjoy.

Everyone in my neighbourhood seems to own a dog or have a child and therefore I see lots of people walking all the time. I am always shocked to see how many people stare down at their phones the entire time they are outside. They are so focused on their own little worlds and what they’re looking at on their phone that they miss the people and the beauty all around them. They miss being present to God being revealed to them in those moments. This has become such a clear image to me how we get so wrapped up in our own worlds that we miss the world around us and the greater perspective of God’s presence and activity within it. We can get so caught up in ourselves and overwhelmed with our own circumstances that we lose perspective.

There are a few stories in the gospels when the disciples are caught in a storm in the middle of a lake. They have just witnessed Jesus performing miracles and then they are in a boat, exhausted and afraid in the midst of a storm, completely immersed in the storm. And then suddenly Jesus is walking on the water and is by the boat. In the story where Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water, he starts sinking the moment he looks down. When he was looking up and looking at Jesus, he was able to walk on water in the midst of a storm. Looking up and outside of his own circumstances allowed him to stay on top of the water.

10259833_687523267506_379458116430325427_n.jpgMy mom passed away in November after a long battle with cancer and as I have been wading through this journey of grief, there have been moments where I have let myself be overcome by my own emotions and feelings of despair and depression. In the midst of those raw and painful moments, I have neglected to look up and take notice of the fact that Christ is right there with me. This doesn’t mean that the pain and difficult circumstances are necessarily removed (I still feel a deep sense of loss and sadness daily) but there is a shift in perspective when I look up and abide in God’s presence, love and grace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

When the disciples found themselves in the middle of a storm, Jesus definitely could have calmed the storm. Instead he let them struggle in the storm and met them in that place. When Stephen was facing an angry mob that wanted to kill him, he beheld the glory of the Lord. His gaze rested upon Jesus. He saw the bigger picture of who God was. He invited those around him to stop and see and experience God the way he had.

FullSizeRender.jpg

What is the storm or angry mob you are facing today? What fears or emotions are threatening to overwhelm you? May we be a people that looks up in the midst of the brokenness and fallenness of this world to see, experience and proclaim Jesus.

Grieving during Lent

This year as the season of Lent begins, I am recognizing anew its significance. I grew up in a tradition where Lent was not highlighted and over the past few years it has become more meaningful.

As the rhythms of the calendar pass by this year, I am viewing them through the lens of being in a season of grieving. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, which focuses on prayer, fasting and a simpler life. It is a somber time leading up to Easter.

As I reflect on grief, I see the parallels through Lent.

God takes the ashes of my grief: the moments where things appear grim and hopeless, the feelings of aloneness, the river of tears, the pain that seems bottomless, the ache of longing that is unfulfilled.

God takes these ashes and invites me on a journey of hope. The path that is full of ashes becomes a journey of hope that leads to healing and wholeness. It is a journey of restoration and redemption.

946108_681345178446_6544971990835800472_n

On days when death feels overwhelming, God is summoning me toward life.
On days when the darkness seems to suffocate, God is piercing it with radiant light.
On days that seem entrenched in valleys of sorrow, God is offering me joy.
On days where the loss seems bottomless, God is reminding me of the gift given.
On days when life seems dismal, God is giving me glimpses of hope.
On days when I am filled with fear, God is inviting me to a deeper trust.
On days when I feel lost and adrift, God is welcoming me to find my home in him.

12647009_682825182506_1335122605286045914_n

This journey is long and hard. It is excruciatingly painful. Although there are glimpses of the destination, at times it seems far off and unattainable. But the journey is worth the trip. It is easy to want to rush the journey. And yet as we take the time to be still and notice, God is present. There is evidence of life, joy and hope intermingled with the pain. Each step is a journey toward deeper trust and a richer experience of God and life.

12573083_682180888676_4901930037697789924_n

Lent may be a regular practice in your life. Or perhaps you have never taken the time to observe Lent. Or maybe you are engaging in it for the first time this year. Whatever the case may be, as the days lead up to Easter, may you be mindful of the journey you are on and be intentional about taking moments to stop and notice and to engage God more deeply as you recognize that the journey we are on leads to resurrection life.

Grieving at Christmas

Although I have been thinking about writing this post for some time, it has been hard to form the words that would adequately express my thoughts and feelings.

IMG_9706
My mom passed away on November 8th.

It is difficult to describe what the journey of the last two and half years has been since she began her journey with cancer. Here are a few words that come to mind:

Full of life.
Heart-wrenching.
Memory making.
Sad.
Laughter.
Family trips.
Lunches.
Shopping sprees.
Loss.
Bittersweet.

Of course my list could go on for quite some time, but that is a small window into a season of life that was filled with a richness joy and a depth of beauty intermingled with sorrow and grief.

All along this journey, I have known my mom would likely die at some point and yet while reality loomed in front of us, it seemed unfathomable that we could actually ever lose her and impossible to imagine what life without her would look like. In many ways this is why I struggle to properly articulate my thoughts. I am facing a reality that still doesn’t seem possible and yet the days continue to pass and life goes on.

I lack understanding concerning the depth of loss and sorrow in this world. And yet from birth to death, in many ways life is loss. But losses cannot be viewed in isolation… they represent the countless gifts that have been given. They represent life and transition. And  even though my mind cannot always grasp it, hope and life prevail through it all.

As Christmas approaches, countless people keep telling me how hard Christmas is for me this year. Sometimes it’s hard for me to be told how I feel or should feel rather than being asked. Christmas has been hard for many years. Christmas following the deaths of my brother and dad were excruciating. Every Christmas following it has felt like part of our family has been missing. This year, with over half of my immediate family in heaven, I feel a depth of sadness at what my family has lost and the absence of each one is strongly felt.

When I think about this, it is easy to become overwhelmed with my feelings of grief and my lack of understanding concerning how all of this fits into a bigger picture. And yet I grieve with hope. I grieve with gratitude. And I grieve with the abiding presence of God.

A week and a half ago, I had the opportunity to preach my first sermon. I spoke on Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the magi who come to worship Jesus. This advent I have been reflecting a lot on the magi and why their visit was significant enough to be recorded.

The magi had been waiting and searching for a star. When it appeared, they followed it and it led them to Jerusalem. From there they were led to Bethlehem where Jesus was. Their response was to rejoice exceedingly with great joy and to worship Christ. Their journey was long and costly and they didn’t know where it would lead them. They weren’t guaranteed that they would find anything. And yet, with the knowledge and understanding they had, they responded to God’s leading and as a result encountered Christ.

I have no idea where God is leading me right now. I have no idea why the circumstances of my life are such that they are. I don’t see how my life fits into the greater picture of God’s plan. However, despite all of this, with the knowledge and understanding I have, I can respond to God’s invitations in my life and so can you. We can turn to God in complete trust and worship. We can trust that despite not knowing how life will continue to unfold, God will be faithful, God will provide, God will direct our paths and God will be with us.

So I approach this Christmas with a mixture of sadness and joy. I am holding them together. My mom loved Christmas and although the memories of past years remind me of the loss we are now facing, they also bring me to a place of gratitude and recognition that I am living in the legacy and memory of my mom and this is something beautiful to celebrate, acknowledging the incredible gift she has been to me. In the moments that lack clarity, I can trust and rest in God and his promises.

In the whirlwind of emotions, in the moments of exhaustion, in the laughter and the tears, I am celebrating and abiding in the truth of Emmanuel this Christmas: God with us.