On Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. Lewis

I notice lately more pain within the body. Aching pain in fingers as they type and play piano. Stabbing pain in a shoulder when I reach back. Dull pain in the stomach area when I have to do something for which I feel inadequately equipped. Searing pain in injured feet where I have numerous cracks due to sensitive skin. Crushing pain at times in the head due to years of clenching my jaw. Pain in places I previously felt nothing. Pain where I once felt fine. Pain. It accompanies me now wherever I go. Accompanies me now whatever I do.

It feels rampant, cropping up everywhere. Just like its infamous side-kick: stress.

I had an aunt who died when I was a young adult. In her late forties, she was going to a Nursing Convention in New Minas, Nova Scotia on a winter’s day, when she came upon black ice. Indeed it was a patch of treacherous ice which immediately sent her tumbling over the bridge on the highway she was traveling, to a ravine far below. She broke her neck in the plummeting spiral that sent her car to its demise, but interestingly- she was aware enough in her injury to take her own pulse. She knew her neck had been broken, but she was able to relay directions to the emergency crew that worked on her, telling them exactly what to do so as to salvage what little of her systems that remained. She eventually became paralyzed as a result of that car accident (occurring in her late adulthood), an accident which left her without feeling from her chest down.

I remember one time she had relayed a story to my mother about wheeling her wheel chair into a room. Wishing to reverse, she began to back out of the room, at which time she jammed her hand in between the spokes of her wheelchair. She kept pushing and pushing on it, wondering why she could not go backwards any further. Coming to find out that it was her own hand that prevented her from moving any further, she realized her own inability to feel pain had been the cause of even more trouble for her.

Because of her inability to feel pain in most of her body, she was unable to prevent injury to herself on numerous occasions. To give another instance, she also relayed the story about burning her hand on the stove trying to remove a pot from the burner. Not realizing that her hand was on the burner, she had left her hand there on the coils so as to support herself in removing a pot. Her melting flesh what alerted her that there was a problem.

Pain is a double-edged sword. With it, we feel like we die slowly. Without it, we know we die faster. But the very response which can be so unpleasant, that which we wish we could eliminate all together, is what we need to survive. Why is it that the thing which can at times save us is the very thing we wish to free ourselves of? Certainly, pain is a necessary response to injury. Because, in truth: while pain hurts (and we don’t like hurt), it is the alarm bell that also rescues. We need the hurt further so as to experience the reality that life presents to us.

John Keats (on pain): “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”

And C. Joybell C. (on pain as well): “Pain is a pesky part of being human, I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.”
Pain is necessary. While difficult and trying, it is the body and soul’s means of sensing trouble so as to make sense of the hurt and find ways to cope. Pain makes us alive to our senses. It helps us feel, to know, to understand. And it enriches our lives by providing depth and context to an otherwise bland existence.”

I sometimes wish I could live without the pain. There are some pains that are certainly more worthwhile than others. The pain of childbirth brought me more rewards than that recurring pain I feel from stress in my abdomen, each and every day. But all my pain-body reminds me of what I have. And when equilibrium is restored, even if but for a short time, I am grateful. Grateful for the body and for the sense of pain I feel within that body.

We must learn to embrace pain, accepting that it is often through pain that we see the beauty that unfolds in its wake.  Pain reminds us all of what we have and what we so often take for granted.

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For Those Moments {When We Think We are Not Enough}

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When I walked up the narrow staircase one week ago today, darkness had already enveloped our country home. It was night-time, around 10:00 p.m. when I knocked on your closed bedroom door, asking if I might come in. You were reading, a bed-side light shining its sheen across the page. The room was awash in a warm glow. You looked up expectantly. I felt such relief at seeing you there. Such a safe place to be— under our roof, where a body knows they are loved unconditionally. Where a body knows that they will be cherished forever.

I sat on the end of your bed and looked at you. Stared unabashedly at amazing you.

And inside my mother’s heart I felt the need to tell you how much you are loved. Felt the need to tell you how much I believe in you: believing that you have much to offer this world, much to give this circle of influence in which you have been placed.

I felt the need to tell you how incredible are the offerings and talents with which you’ve been gifted. Telling you how valued you are to both your father and I— to our whole family. I felt the need to tell you that who you are is enough for anyone, including yourself. You have much to give. Much to put forward to anyone.

I felt the need to tell you. And so I did.

But more than that.

I wanted you to also know that you, Precious You: You are worth so much more than even what we, your parents, think and feel. You are Loved, with an Eternal Love; loved by the One who knows no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions. Who knows no Shadow of Turning, knows no minute fraction of faltering. You are loved eternally. Wholly, purely, completely.

I wanted you to know.

But Child of Mine, there will be some, who will someday, somewhere cause you to consider whether you are enough. There will be voices that will taunt, will jeer. Will question, will doubt. And there will be niggling worries that will grow into all-out, full-blown fears in your mind. There will come a day when you will give ear to the thought that ‘who you are is not enough’.

Not enough for the crowd.
Not enough for the moment.
Not enough for the situation.
Not enough for the requirements.
Not enough for the job.
Not enough for the part.
Quite simply, not enough.

There will be moments, and these moments will come. For they have come for us all, at one time or another.

God says it differently to us:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love… with loving-kindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

There is never a question of whether or not we are enough.
We always were. We always are. And we always will be.

There is nothing that will separate us from that Love.

No crowd’s opinion.
No moment’s worry.
No situational disaster.
No lacking requirements.
No failed attempt nor any missing parts that need be present.
Nothing.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

I left your room that night, tears falling freely. For I am so honored to have been given this opportunity to love you. It is my mission, my heart’s desire to impart to you the knowledge of this love.

A love that will endure for always. And forever ever after that.

Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;

streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

O to grace how great a debtor

daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

The wind rustles golden grain, swaying so it sounds like tinkling bells.  Tiny cymbals.  I roll down the window as I drive up the lane just to stop for a spell and listen in on nature’s symphony. The air laden with the smell of dust and a dry grassy scent. The clouds are piled high and fluffy.  Beauty surrounds every angle from which I gaze.

My heart is part wonder, part sorrow.  There is always beauty in sorrow.  And it takes every effort to tune into the grace we have been afforded when our minds so easily slip,  so quickly bend toward the stress.  Our hearts must be trained to see more than meets the eye.  We must look with discernment for what lies beyond.  What we see is not all there truly is.

There is so very much more.

I walk into the barn and take in the musty smell of manure and hay and dust and years worth of sweat and hard labour.  I follow him as he paces the length of the barn and back again.  We lean into one another.  I wrap my arms around his chest and feel his beating heart.  What is our life work worth at the end of the day?  What legacy do we leave to those following in our footsteps?

How will we be remembered?

I step back, standing just upon the threshold of this doorway leading to another life and take in one last view before I turn away toward the sunlight and warmth of the day.

How is it that we are able to tune our hearts to sing grace even when the cords of those same hearts wring with pain?  Daily, we must train our minds to think on these eternal graces: love, joy peace.

Grace sustains in the midst of trouble.  Holding us, enabling us, propelling us forward.

There are streams of mercy, never ceasing at every vantage point. Our lives a song- only we can decide how that tune will be sung.

May our songs of praise be ever heard, our lives a melodious hymn of gratitude. For our blessings outnumber even our wildest dreams, our greatest aspirations.

On beauty and acceptance

photo retrieved from http://www.kssos.org

Boxing Day- and the roadways to the city are crowded with would-be holiday shoppers.

I am driving in rush hour traffic. But then again, it will be rush hour all day today, cars pressing in on one another as they inch closer to the stores and malls. I drive through a set of lights and just about come up to another when I see out of the corner of my eye a lone person to my far left standing in a sloped field. They stand on the curvature of the land poised with a camera in hand pointing the lens upward as if to catch something where the land meets the sky. I glance again, taking my eyes off the road for the briefest of seconds, wondering what it could be that they might see in this largely barren field. There are no trees, just scrub. No animals or vegetation to speak of. Just rugged terrain and sky from which to compose the landscape. This is not a place, in my view, where one would choose to take a picture. I drive on perplexed and take one last lingering look as the photographer snaps a set of frames.

I am left to consider for the remainder of the day as to what beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

As beauty is often left to the subjectivity of the viewer, so too are opinions, thoughts, outlooks, judgements, viewpoints and estimations. How many times do we observe someone and make a snap judgment based on what we think is right or acceptable. How often do we project on others what we ourselves might feel in a given situation, judging that person according to our own particular standard or set of convictions. How often do we fail to see the beauty in the barrenness of life- the good amidst the sadness? Fail to look for the beauty in one another, only choosing to see the error?

I too later point the camera lens to capture pictures of those I love, things and places I hold dear. I consider how I often try to frame things just so- eliminating the blemishes so that everything looks just perfect for the shot. How often I am caught up in creating something beautiful that I forget to see the beauty in a work in progress- an unaffected, unaltered image of life in its normal state. How often I look for my own children to pose in stances that belie their true personalities in an effort to project an image of beauty. A work of creativity and craftsmanship.

My eyes do not always see the best in what is right in front of me- do not always choose to see the best in those I love and hold closest to my heart. Too many times, I want to fix something, change it. So that it suits my understanding better. So that it jives with what I feel, what I would do. Forgetting often in my weakness and humanity that each one is uniquely created and fashioned to be the individual they are. The individual they were meant to be. We were not meant to be clones- we were meant to be different. So that who I am- my perspectives and viewpoints and ideas and understandings- while they might be different than yours- are still valid and worthy. Needful of consideration.

As also are yours. So much so should I consider yours.

Who we were made to be, while different from one another- these are prototypes both necessary and essential for this world to be complete. We must see the best in one another, because on our own, we are incomplete. We were not created to be carbon copies but rather made so as to complement one another, complete with our various personalities, characters, experiences and understandings. And while iron sharpens iron so too do our differences make us whole. The things that others do and say, while not what we would choose, might make us even better as individuals than we might have thought possible, creating in us empathy, compassion and love.

Love helps us to see the best in people- helps us to accept what we cannot change and hope for the best. It’s what really matters when it comes to our closest relationships. It’s the glue that helps us stick.

A lone photographer stood in a vacant field on a Saturday afternoon looking for beauty amongst the dying grasses in winter. Looking for something no one else could see. How much more then must we look for the beauty, look for the best in one another?

And this one’s for the girls…

I feel strongly compelled to write about an issue that is hitting me square between the jaw, as I am a mother of three young girls as well as a teacher who interacts with girls of many different ages each and every day.

Body image.

It is something that young girls begin thinking about as young as kindergarten. And it often dictates their eating habits, fashion choices, leisure activities, friendships, relationships and self-confidence levels from that point on.

I am really concerned that we as adults are not doing enough to assure young girls that their bodies (and indeed, their soul and sense of spirit connected to which) are amazingly suited for them as individuals no matter the shape or size it might come in. I am really concerned that the message to change the package and make it better, sleeker, more stream-lined, better functioning, more attractive, and just plain improved from its original model is coming from us- the adults. A message which states that they should look less like the original and more like whatever is best for the moment.

I am really concerned that our young boys are discovering at ever younger ages that this is a sore-point with their female counterparts and as such, they know from listening to the adults that girls should look a certain way, eat a certain amount, exercise and dress a certain way. And if the girls don’t, somehow the memo came down to the boys at ever younger and younger ages that it was okay to let the girls know how they could improve. And then some.

And I am even more concerned that the girls themselves have it in their heads that they can lord it over each other- that if they happen to ‘have the goods’, it is their God-given right then to make the ‘other’ girls feel ‘less than’. Turning friend against friend. Sister against sister.

Friends, this ought not to be so. We need to stop this, one person at a time. We can make a difference. We can.

We need to stop RIGHT NOW sending these messages to our children that special is a size. That better is a number. That best is a weight or a proportion. That beautiful is one size fits all.

Because we know within our heart-of-hearts. It’s not. We know that the people we truly love are more than just a shell. They are what’s inside. The package fades, the soul does not.

I want my daughters to know that I will FIGHT TO THE GRAVE so that they come to know and appreciate their worth as individuals. I will fight to the grave so that they come to see that their personal value must be in things of substance, not shallow fading fancies. And I will crusade TO THE END for this: for all those kindergarten girls I teach, for all those in-between girls I coach and mentor, for all those older girls I talk and listen to. They are not a number. A shape. A shell.

Yes, they are body. But they are also soul. And radiant spirit. Personality. Character. And so much more. And at the end of the day, it matters not what they look like. It matters what they are.
It matters who they are completely.

Those kinds of days…

There are days when frost covers barren ground. Like a heavy cloak. When tiny buds on frozen tree limbs shimmer with an icy glaze. When tiny shoots of new life, thwarted in process of emerging forth. Are interrupted. Dark, heavy clouds hang low and ready.

There are these kinds of days.

When table talk is centered around what might be, on doom and gloom. When faces are grim. When voices are raw with emotion. When secret disclosures are proffered and understanding is sought after. When you just feel like you can’t take anymore of this murky mess. That they call living.

Authentic. Raw. Transparent.

It’s tough, this business of living real. Of really living. Of making a living of this messy here and now.

There are days like this.

And there are days when darkness pervades. Thick and stifling. Like a deadly gas.
When the outlook from this vantage point seems bleak. Hopeless. And the possibilities are shunted aside in favor of the grim reminders.

There too are days like this: sometimes.

And there are days. When you drive from home to work to home to ‘who knows where’. And you feel like it’s all a rat race. And it feels endless and ‘who knows where you’ll get the strength to carry on tomorrow’. And you can’t stop because you know you’ll never get started again.

Those kind of days.

And then. When you are nearly ready to throw up the white flag, throw in the towel, give up the fight. Something little catches your eye. It’s so little, you almost miss it. A smile. A picture drawn with crayons. A funny cartoon.

Or maybe. Someone throws out a rope- a lifeline that snags your heart. An ‘I love you’ spoken at just the right time. A tender squeeze. A kind word of encouragement. An eye-to-eye conversation that lasts longer than five-seconds.

And on those days when life goes from futile to promising. Just because of something little, because of something small but mighty.

(because of a little game changer)

Count it as a sweet reminder. A blessing. The silver lining. A token to the surety that while life might be brutal, it is also beautiful. Brutiful. Exquisite in a fleeting, fragile way.

And because it is such and so much more, those smallest of gestures- those beautiful reminders of humanity that we also call kairos moments- they mean so much more. Than they ever would have otherwise.

On those kinds of days.

Smiles are beautiful. Period.

There are times when I scrutinize the reflection I see in the mirror. And I don’t like what I see the majority of the time. Is that surprising, really? We are our own worst critics, and when we look in the mirror, what are we usually looking for?

Flaws.
Imperfections.
Areas needing improvement.

The other day, a friend forwarded to me a video of her fifteen year old son’s impromptu violin recital. It was beautifully executed. I was in awe, as I believe he might have learned largely by ear. At any rate, when the song finished, he turned and faced the camera and grinned a huge happy, goofy grin. From ear to ear. Now I could tell you that this boy is special for a number of reasons. First of all, he’s brilliant. Second of all, he is talented in ways I can only imagine. Add to all the above, he is a very special teen who also happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. And he is a pretty funny guy, from anything I’ve seen. One liner’s seem to be his specialty.

But. The one thing that struck me about him was: his smile. It was not only infectious, it was completely lacking in self-conscious awareness. He smiled with complete abandon and total delight. I find these kinds of amazing smiles (as his was) like little rays on sunshine. I see them inside my classroom often. I see them on the playground, in the hallways at school and on the weekends. Mostly, I see young children sporting these smiles. But when I see teens smiling like this, my heart feels like it could explode. Because it tells me something. That it is okay to LOVE ourselves. It’s okay!!!! better than okay. We don’t have to stop being our own greatest cheerleader when we graduate from Grade 6. And we don’t have to stop LOVING OURSELVES when we leave the halls of elementary school. We can love ourselves at any age. As teens. As university students. As Moms. As Dads. As grandparents. As humans of any age.

So many times, I am given a compliment, and I turn it down. And so many, many times, I will give another woman a compliment, and she will completely brush it off as if it is a complete falsehood. When did we stop seeing the best in ourselves? And why must we persist in turning every good thing we hear about ourselves into an insult, a joke, a downplay, a nervous laugh or a denial?

You know, I have always been self-conscious of many things. One of which is my smile. So when other kids were suffering through the torture of braces, I was idyllically smiling my crooked grin like there wasn’t a care in the world. But somewhere along the line, I got really self-conscious about my smile. And when it came time for grad pictures, I didn’t smile. And when it came time for wedding pictures, same thing. And through the years, I tried to hide from the camera. Stating that I am just not photogenic. Using the excuse that I am one of those people who couldn’t take a decent picture.

But when I saw my friend C. the other day, smiling his heart out, I realized something. Smiles are truly beautiful. No qualifiers here. If you can find it in yourself to smile, there is no more beautiful expression of precious humanity than that. Smiles are priceless. And we should never, ever berate a smile.

I have never seen the best in myself. I have always believed I have an ugly smile. Which is a true travesty. Because truly every smile is beautiful. Unique. One-of-a-kind.
They are all: Perfection.

And it took a fifteen year old boy’s smile to show me that believing the best in other people is not enough. Seeing the best in my family is not enough. If I don’t see the best in myself, then it is a loss from every angle. A great loss for the people whom I try to influence (my students and my children) and an even greater loss for the person I am stuck with the most: myself.

We need to see the best in ourselves. We are beautiful. We are wise. We are amazing. And no words another human can ever say will mean as much as those that affirm the best about yourself. We need to tell this to ourselves. I AM BEAUTIFUL, just as I am. I am amazing just the way things are. I am the best I can be at this given moment. And that is all I am accountable for each day: this moment I am in right now.

And then. When we finish the pep talk, we need to believe it in our heart.