Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.

Suicide: On Crushing Weight and Never-Ending Love

Suicide: On Crushing Weight and Never-Ending Love

I was trying to decide if I wanted ice cream when I got a text from my sister: “Call mom or I when you can.” It was one of those moments where time stops. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach knows that my world will never be the same. Someone I love lost their life to suicide. I had the honour of presiding at the Celebration of Life. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And we need to talk more about this crushing weight – and a never-ending love.

In 2012, I found myself lying on the floor of my office, underneath my desk. I called my husband first to tell him that I was not okay and that my next call would be to the mental health crisis line. I spent two hours on the phone, telling the beautiful soul on the other end of the line how I had this amazing life that I could not live because the weight of the depression was crushing me.

It was as though a massive storm cloud had moved into my head and heart. The sun would be shining on a beautiful day, and the world looked black and white. My beautiful kids would be laughing and it sounded like I was hearing it muffled from three rooms away. People loved me and it felt like there was a brick wall between my heart and theirs. I could make myself get up and go to work and do the ordinary things my life required, but it took a hundred times the effort that it should. And I was lucky – because somehow, I managed to recognize that something was very wrong. Mental illness often robs us of the ability to even see how dark the world has become.

A tumor gradually impacts the organs around it, causing pain or other symptoms. Diabetes disrupts our energy levels and washroom trips. Colds and flus give us fevers and coughs. We learn to recognize all these symptoms and to seek medical help when it is needed. Some of us resist going to the doctor more than others. But as a society, we do not blame people for these kinds of illnesses.

Mental illness is harder to recognize, diagnose, and treat. But it is no less challenging that physical illness to live with and fight. And just like life-threatening physical diseases, suicidal ideation is a life -threatening illness that no one wants. Many fight silently for years. Treatments are available, and they are not always effective. The crushing weight, day after day and year after year, sometimes does too much damage; in too many heart-shattering endings, this external threat overpowers the human longing to live.

There is so much to say about this, and these are the two aching out of my chest today.

First, the God of my understanding was holding me up when I called mental health from underneath my office desk and again when I called my sister to get the terrible news. That God is a Love bigger than human pain or suffering.

More deeply than I have ever known anything in my life, that God has poured never-ending unconditional love over me and the whole world for every moment of my existence. That God cried with me for the one I love. I am certain that the Creator and Author of Never-Ending Love is bigger than suicide. All who are weary and burdened have been promised rest, and I will pour out love and rest and compassion on the suffering because it has been poured out on me.

Second, in the daily living with mental illness and in the shocking and bleary days following these tragic deaths by suicide, we need all the same compassion and care that we so generously offer in other kinds of suffering and loss. Love and connection can and will save many lives – but sadly not all of them. Asking for and receiving help is one of the hardest things we have to learn to do in this life. Trust in eternal Never-Ending Love is the only hope we have to heal when suicide takes someone we love far too early.

Emerging as the way of Easter

Emerging as the way of Easter

Photo Credit: Darcie Lich

Weeks have past since Easter and there is still chocolate sitting in the Easter baskets. We are gradually learning that joy can be spread over many days in small doses, rather than trying to consume it all at once. Though the Easter baskets appear on Sunday morning, the resurrection in my life rarely arrives overnight. New life is emerging more than arriving suddenly.

When I ache into growth in my life, I try to pick one small thing and change a habit over 3-6 weeks. For Lent, I limited my social media time to an hour a day. After that, the apps were unavailable. It was harder than I expected. I noticed patterns in how I use the apps, what triggers the desire to log in and scroll, how my social media use is related to the different parts of my day. I was uncomfortable with the way I was using them, and more uncomfortable when given the opportunity to use my time differently. A new way of relating to and using social media is emerging, but the new life is not fully here yet.

I continue to learn my way through parenting, having passed the sixteen-year mark. Just when I think I have made significant progress, my anger flares and my yelling wields shame like a sword. It takes me minutes (where it used to take days) to find a way to repair, and still, the new life is so tentative and touch and go.  I want to be patient and kind, instead of having to practice them constantly with great effort and many errors. Emerging is painful.

Indigenous land activist Eriel Deranger insists[1] that any time we are changing the way things are or building something new there will be labour and struggle – like childbirth. There is sacrifice and loss and fear in the work of making space for new life. There is labour pain and contraction. Birth – and rebirth – are a collective process, rather than a singular moment of individual accomplishment.

My (Catholic) spiritual tradition spends these weeks after Easter reading through Acts, the stories of the early followers of Jesus trying to make sense of the resurrection. The Messiah was crucified and buried in a tomb. And then the tomb is empty.

As my six-year-old said this weekend, “Mom, this makes no sense!”

The women who go to the tomb are shocked to find it empty. The couple walking to Emmaus spend a whole day with Jesus and do not recognize their friend and teacher. He appears to the ones in hiding and they need to see and touch the wounds. He makes a second appearance because Thomas is not having any of it. The disciples who have returned to fishing know it is Jesus, but they cannot quite believe it still.

At all times in history, miracles and new life take time to recognize and integrate. Somehow, we falsely believe that resurrection is a complete departure from the suffering that precedes it. The hope and possibility of something new are emerging from what is with all the power and discomfort of change.

Spring proceeds from winter, a warming moment at a time. Snow drifts melt into puddles and streams. Snow shifts into showers. Brown earth and dead grass give way to the tiniest green shoots. Buds form on the ends of the trees and expand until they finally burst. The smallest patches of sky push sunshine through dark clouds. Spring is emerging.

When we recognize and receive what is happening, it feels like a sudden miracle. But it was in the works long before we saw it. As we go about the work of Easter in our lives, we would do well to remember that emerging is made up of all the many moments and movements that will bring forth new life. Some of these resurrections have been centuries in the making.

Here is to the emerging hope of Easter. To the personal change that is working itself out in my soul. To the questions that need to be asked over and over again. To the reformers and disrupters who spend lifetimes challenging injustice. To a world being constantly reborn.

[1]  Warrior Life Podcast, Protecting the Land:

To let go of the want and find contentment in what is…

To let go of the want and find contentment in what is…

Years ago, musician Audrey Assad[1] released “I Shall Not Want” on an album called Fortunate Fall. She had discovered a Litany of Humility and set it to music. At a concert she did in my home church, she told us that she wrote it so that she would be inspired to pray it more often. That has worked for me, and the chorus has become a measure of my spiritual health: “When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.”

We live in a world that fuels my want with gasoline. The economy depends on more spending. Advertisements prey on (our) insufficiency. Social media encourages comparison. Want has become a material state of being. And my soul follows along.

I know deep in myself that living in want drives perpetual dissatisfaction. Still, I try to satiate the wanting as a first response.

The verses deliver a litany of spiritual wants that undo me:
the love of comfort,
the fear of having nothing,
a life of worldly passions,
the need to be understood and accepted,
the fear of being lonely,
the fear of serving others,
the fear of death or trial,
the fear of humility.

The unlikely anecdote to want is to accept not having the thing we long for. To allow ourselves to be held and loved precisely where the want is not gratified. I can practice this denial materially by not buying another thing I do not need, and the lesson is only internalized when practiced spiritually too.

Every time I pull out my phone on a walk outside to satiate my boredom, I miss the gifts in the silence and the sky. My worship of my own comfort ultimately makes me restless. My fear of being misunderstood ironically prevents me from living with the authenticity of who I am. My fear of becoming subservient limits my ability to be a gift through selfless service and fuels resentment instead of joy.

No product can save me from the vulnerability of humility. There is no self-help strategy that will ultimately save me from hardship and death in this life. No strategy will ever make everyone happy with me all the time. My longing for these things is not only unrealistic, but destined to result in discontent.

There is this deep well of abundance that runs through creation. Every morning the sun rises and every evening it sets often with spectacular beauty, if I show up to notice it.

I can show up to notice the beauty of my own longings, in the same way I notice the rhythms of nature. I am not in control of the snow or the rain. My preferences have no impact at all on the weather. And it teaches me about the perfection of my powerlessness. It is possible to rest with content in all seasons.

When the snow flies, I can practice gratitude for the ache of my muscles lifting the shovel. I can enjoy the smell of the rain and sit on the porch in the sunshine.

Likewise, I can pour tea into my favourite mug and make peace with the reality that other people’s opinions of my are not my business. It is possible to apologize for an error and forgive myself without days of harsh and critical self-talk. I can be lonely and also okay. I can notice my want for things to be different than they are without trying to force them to be so.

I have this long list of questions for God in eternity, a reckoning that I hope will settle my restlessness. I hear God’s laughter and join in with my own. There will be some answers, I know, and so many more questions.

Human want is a function of our creation for the divine, the eternal spark that lives inside our mortality. I want more because I was made for all the expansiveness of the universe. Contentment comes with receiving right now as gift.

Oh let me taste goodness, so I shall not want for anything more than the miracle of what is.

[1] Assad has since left Christianity, and her music continues to be a source of inspiration for my spiritual life.

Living from true(r) stories

Living from true(r) stories

Photo Credit: Sheena Grund

People are curious and beautiful and mysterious. One of the things I love most about humans is our capacity to make meaning. It is endlessly fascinating to me that many people can be in the same room, experiencing the same objective reality and come away with such beautifully different perspectives and subjective understandings of what has happened. We are all living in the stories of our lives, whether we acknowledge them or not. 

These stories add so much depth and colour and beauty to the world. At the same time, they add nuance, complexity, perspective, and conflict. I love listening to people and hearing their stories, which help me to understand more about them, and the world, and myself. 

Lately, I have been wrestling with a few of my own long-standing stories. And in talking them through with others, I have become aware that they are not fully true. And that leads to suffering. 

One of my classic narratives is that I work hard. There are elements of deep truth in this story. I love a good challenge. Putting in hours to practice and perfect a thing is satisfying. I love the way it feels to accomplish something difficult. But I have also picked up some lies in this story. I have been deceived into thinking that hard work is a competition that I need to win. Seduced by the lie that love can be earned. Blinded by making myself a martyr and looking for external validation. The true parts of the story are hindered by the untruths. 

Living in a false story is painful. I feel isolated and confused. I try to force my reality onto others. And I get angry in my efforts to convince other people that my version is reality. It doesn’t go well. I become the martyr I am imagining. Further, I do damage to others when I live in and by false narratives. In order to hold on to being right, I stop listening to other people. My curiousity disappears. I write other people as the villains and try to recruit sympathizers to my cause. I get locked into defensiveness. 

At some point the false parts of the story rub up against reality. Other perspectives shed light on things I missed. Errors in my understanding glare too brightly for my dim eyes. God challenges me to see a bigger picture than I wanted to see. It’s uncomfortable at best, and threatening at worst. And this is a potential turning point. Will I distort myself further to maintain my comfort in my own story? Or will I risk changing the narrative to something bigger, larger, more true?

I believe in the existence of an objective Truth, a truth that is located in a divine source, and that we are all seeking it. None of us possess it completely, and all of us taste and touch and see it in pieces. I believe that we sense it most clearly when we collect up the fragments of it as a community, bringing my pieces together with yours, and ours together with others.

In a world plagued by polarization, overwhelmed by information, and addicted to distraction, humanity needs true(r) stories. We need to start with the stories we tell ourselves, the stories of our own lives, and then extend into the stories of our communities, and our world. 

My moments get clearer and less painful when I recognize and let go of the false narratives that I have collected. I picked them up because they were more comfortable than the truth, or because I could not handle the full reality, or often because my mind and heart just were not big enough yet to understand anything else. And when I realize that the story is not serving me well, I can write a new one, holding greater depth and wisdom and truth.

And the world needs us to do this together, too. We need to write stories that give meaning and purpose and belonging to all people. We need to listen long and hard to each other. We are called to recognize the partial truths and distortions that turn us into enemies. 

May we strive to live from true(r) stories today than we did yesterday.

To bring our brokenness and learn to love mercy…

To bring our brokenness and learn to love mercy…

The words of the prophet Joel in the first reading for this Valentine’s Ash Wednesday are piercing: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your clothing.” How is it that we worship a God who longs to hold our broken hearts, and thirsty souls, our most brittle and fragile selves? And why is it so deep in me to hide exactly these dry places far away from Love?

I have been walking with my four children for awhile now, trying my best to guide them through life. When I started out on this parenting journey, I (naively) hoped to spare them from suffering, shield them from sin, send them out with no scars. Gratefully, that was not what God asked of me. In a world that is both broken and beautiful, the invitation of parenting has been to walk beside them and allow them to glimpse the way of mercy.

When their eyes fill with tears, or they stomp out of the room and slam the door. When their favourite coat is stolen, and they run out of nice words. These are the moments when I long to wrap them in love. I do not want my children to say the words of apology without meaning them or tell me what I want to hear without truth. I want them to find the love inside themselves that is so much deeper than their pain or failure. I want them to know they are always so much more than what happens to them, than what they have done and what they have failed to do. Why is it so hard to imagine that God feels the same way about me?

When I comb my fingers through the dry earth in drought, I get a sense of why we hide. There is something so vulnerable about being cracked open. Deprived of moisture, molecules pack tightly together, breaking up what was once seamless and soft. The edges of the cracks become a sort of (ineffective) armour I can cling to. At least there is the façade of togetherness.

I become accustomed to holding myself together. Until I cannot. And I break a little bit more.

“Return to the Lord,” the prophet Joel continues, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

For so long, I had to get right to the very end of myself before I would return for mercy. A last resort. Only when I had no other options. Fine, then. And I found I could hear God’s gentle laughter. See gentle eyes. Feel outstretched arms. Know softness and understanding. Be welcomed. To feel God grieving with me, sharing my sorrow, healing my broken heart.

Over four decades, I have learned to love mercy instead of resent it. To seek it out sooner, to confess with more eagerness, to be grateful for my mistakes and suffering to lead me back to God’s tender heart.

My middle daughter loves collecting rocks, so we got her a small rock tumbler for her birthday, so she can polish her pebbles into treasures. And I can see so clearly how our family life is a tumbler, bumping all our hard edges against each other. There is grit and water, and the dust creatures with beating hearts and the breath of the Spirit. We are being refined by the process of learning to love.

The sins of the world crash into the shortcomings of our own selves. We get out the polysporin and the bandaids for the scratches and scrapes. We tell the stories behind the scars. We are failed by vengeance. So, we practice crying out for mercy.

Very slowly, I am trying to teach my kids that mercy is sweet relief. I wait for them and with them. And when they are ready, I am trying to be here for them with mercy, as Jesus waits for me. Hiding from our weeping and mourning only leaves us more dried out. When we come forward asking for mercy, relief comes like the rain.

Mercy often continues to be uncomfortable, in the way of wet clothes in a rainstorm. It is unsettling to have the dried-out particles saturated and soaked, pressed into the cracks that I had mapped, to be filled to overflowing where I became familiar with being parched. But it is a discomfort that heals and restores with its abundant tenderness.

May I remember that I am dust so that I will long for the breath and life of God, so freely given. May I cling to the mercy that heals me and reach for it often as I walk through this fleeting life. And may I remember that life ends in eternal stardust, a rebirth into the heart of Mercy.

Holding an intention – instead of forcing a resolution

Holding an intention – instead of forcing a resolution

Snow has finally starting falling in Saskatchewan, as January brings in a new year and its usual push for resolutions. At the same time, my social media feed is also full of gentle reminders that it is okay to just have made it through. I have been thinking about how these two extremes can be healthily connected at the heart of things. Like snow falls gently over the ground, and fog wraps its way over the earth, it is a gently held intention that allows us to move peacefully through the season we are in.

First, I want to consider the autumns and winters of our lives, the seasons of rest after the harvest and hibernation, of decline and death. There can be so many reasons we find ourselves in a time in which we cannot set lofty goals. Some of them might be under- or unemployment, caregiving, serious mental or physical illness, grief, or exhaustion.

In these seasons, resolutions can feel like a tempting way to jumpstart something new. (If that works for you, please go ahead.) For me, intense resolutions have resulted in a variety of failures. Sometimes, I made significant purchases I could not really afford to try to force myself to comply with a goal that felt valuable, despite its impossibility. Other times, I pushed myself harder into exhaustion and overwhelm, only to fail and then cause further destruction by nasty self-criticism. And I have rejected resolutions and just bathed in self-pity a few times too.

In the darkest and most draining seasons of my life, I found compassion at the end of my capacity. Crawling out of depression, loss, and grief taught me that there is a different kind of resolve held in a soft and open heart that holds intention. Where darkness pulled me under in depression, I held gently allowed the tiniest bits of light to reach me. In loss, I gave myself permission to fall apart. Grief pushed me to choose beauty alongside heartache.

The intention that lies under mounds of snow and layers of fog keeps something tiny and warm close to my heart while ice forms on my eyelashes and wind whips at my face. The intention does not change the difficulties of intense seasons, but it does allow me to surrender to surviving what must be endured before things get better.

Seasons do eventually arrive in my life that are more like spring and summer. Times that are about planting and building, dreaming and hard work, pushing toward and realizing things hoped for. The soft intention tends to work better that rigid and extrinsic resolutions for me in these brighter seasons too. Every seed that is planted has a unique shoot that grows. Depending on the amount of water and sunlight, the time and space for weeding, the direction of the wind, the plant that grows changes in real-time response to the environment as it grows. The plan for the plant ideally evolves in light of what actually happens in my life.

For example, I hold an intention to honour the ache to write. Rather than resolving to write for an hour a day, I come up with three to five different ways that writing can happen in the midst of my full life, including 5 minutes of journaling, a list of writing ideas on the counter, making a writing appointment with myself, or putting a single word or phrase down to paper. It is possible to honour my intention even when a full hour of writing isn’t going to be possible. I consider three things I could stop doing and write instead.

I make my choices, moment by moment, and observe them without judgement to see if the ache to write emerges into the desire and capacity to actually do so. When the seeds of the intention start to push up shoots, I can see and respond to the growth.

There will be seasons for surviving and falling apart. For building little fences around the tiniest bits of hope. There are times ripe for good enough and making do. For showing up for someone else and coming second. And there are times where everything comes together. For deep satisfaction. May a soft intention for something beautiful and good lie under it all.

Having the hope to come close to our longing

Having the hope to come close to our longing

I have been sitting in my living room in the dark evenings lit up by the Christmas Tree. I am fumbling with a fiddle, coaxing my fingers to play the notes of folk tunes and Christmas carols. This fall, the world seems particularly weary, beauty weighted with a complicated mix of war and worries. And I sing quietly along in my head one of my favourite lines: A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

And then, the line has me looking up the history (etymology) of the word Advent, which it seems I have never done before.  The word comes from the Latin ad-venire, meaning to come, and then evolves into adventus, meaning arrival. As words change it becomes aduent in Old English, and then finally advent in contemporary English.

And this fiddling interest and love of language come together in my heart with a story told by the Bishop in Victoria when I was traveling in November. (The original story’s author is unknown but it was popularized by Paul Harvey as ”The Man and the Birds”.) A farmer is watching sparrows freezing in the snow, just outside the barn. He tries to coax them into the barn, but they fly away afraid. Watching longer, he has the insight that if he could just become one of them, he might have a chance to invite them to safety without scaring them away. He will have to come close to have a hope.

Weariness visits us all eventually. The weight of what I am carrying threatens to snuff out my hope. And there are so many temptations when the weariness arrives. It is easy to seek a source to blame, to run away from my complicity in my own weariness. I can fall into indifference and avoidance. And revenge or cynicism are so trendy these days.

When I stop trying to avoid the weary and the weak in myself, I become willing to draw close to my own fear. And the same is true for my longing in the world.

What could it mean for hope to have a thrill?

My kids rush down the stairs after supper to play. The enthusiasm and energy eventually fall into an argument and I just want the narrative to change. It is easy to force silence and more necessary to build the blocks for lasting peace. At my best, I draw close with love and help them to see and hear each other. We practice being good listeners, caring about how we all feel, find a way to receive the connection and space we long for. We will do it again tomorrow.

Tension sits in a meeting. I resist the urge to push my own way. We take the time to hear from everyone. We adjust timelines and weigh options. A different way emerges than any of us had imagined coming in. It is imperfect and the best we can do for now. We risk the possible by abandoning perfect.

People in my neighbourhood are hungry and lonely and addicted. We ache that what we give will not be enough. We give anyway, and keep our eyes and hearts seeing our neighbours.

A relationship I cherish is changing. We have each become deeper versions of ourselves and there is a tentativeness about the space between us. A series of texts, a phone call, a visit over coffee over many months. I resist the urge to make meaning from assumptions. Something new and beautiful emerges. I long for what has been and what will be in equal parts.

I sit back on the couch and reach for the guitar. I sing for a few minutes with Sheryl Crow: Peace on earth and in our hearts/That love ring out near and far/ and lift the weary and the weak/Keep you near this Christmas Eve.

Oh, that we would keep choosing to come close to our longing, to arrive near to each other with peace in our hearts. That hope would be a thrill that startles a weary world for always. And oh, that I will recognize the Hope that comes my way.

How are you engaged with your world?

How are you engaged with your world?

Photo Credit: Katherine Siebert

As the darkest days of the year arrive in the northern hemisphere, my heart is aching with the knowledge of just how conflicted the world is. So many people not only fail to find comfort in faith, but actually struggle with the concept of belief itself. There is a crisis of engagement – in service clubs and churches and political issues, just to name a few. And it begs the question: what does it mean to believe in something?

Nearly a decade ago, I listened to a CBC Radio Tapestry interview with spiritual writer Kathleen Norris. In the interview, she was talking about the evolution of language and faith. She explained that, “up until the Enlightenment, the word “belief” in the English language referred to relationship, rather than knowledge. To say one believed in God was to say that one was engaged with Him.” This explanation has rooted itself in my soul.

Our world has so intellectualized the idea of belief that it is almost as if we think things into existence. No wonder we are struggling with the notion of faith!

When we say “I believe in you” to someone that we care about, we do not mean to say that we intellectually affirm their existence, or that we know all there is to know about them. To say “I believe in you” is to say something of our connection to another person. We mean to say that we are with them. That they are not alone. That we hear them speaking, even if others do not. We mean that we glimpse some part of the miracle of them. That we see them and love them. We are engaged in a relationship that matters.

I believe in belief. That it isn’t possible to walk on the earth without trusting in things I cannot prove definitively myself. I wake up and trust the sun will rise. I turn the key in my car and believe it will start, despite having only basic knowledge about how an engine works. I make an appointment with a doctor and believe that their training and advice will help me to make decisions about my health.

Thousands of times a day, I believe the world will show up for me, and it does. Still, there is so much cynicism in the world right now. And we are suffering because we are too often seduced into thinking that our belief is inconsequential. It is not.

To believe is to be engaged with what we believe in. To be drawn into love and compassion and care for the people and causes and things that engage our minds and hearts, our resources and our time. If belief is merely knowledge, then we stand to gain certainty. But if belief is relationship, we are offered connection, belonging, and participation as the payoff of engagement.

I have been working to be more intentionally engaged with my beliefs as an act of resistance against the indifference and cynicism that discourages me. When I say that I believe in stewardship, it translates into changing my purchasing habits. I am buying fewer things, repairing what I already have, and working to substantially reduce waste. Believing in healing means having difficult conversations, admitting my own errors, and doing the work to change the harmful behaviour I have used to protect myself once I realize what it is.

I believe in a God who has shown up for me over and over again with grace and mercy. To be engaged with this Spirit is to be constantly surprised by joy and wonder, growth and laughter, compassion and possibility. There is so much stretching in being connected to a Being so big and deep and beyond me. This relationship is the heart of how I love the world – in all its beauty and brokenness.

I believe in this utterly incomprehensible world. That it is worth working to build communities and connection. I believe that compassion is more important than being right. That honesty and integrity and humility will carry us. And I believe that love is more powerful that destruction and death. And so, I will be engaged in the world to be a part of how that comes to be.

All souls: a world of extraordinary dust…

All souls: a world of extraordinary dust…

In my faith tradition, November is both the last month of the faith year, and the month where we remember and celebrate all souls. We write the names of loved ones lost in a book of remembrance and light candles for them. We pray for and with those who have gone to eternity before us. The practices remind me of Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It is so tremendously difficult to reconcile mortality with the miracle of humanity.

How is it that living and breathing people come from dust? How is that this one planet we live on gets enough sunlight and water to sustain life? How unimaginable that any one of us exists at all, given how many ancestors had to live and connect just for us to be born?

Everything that has been born into being is passing away. The Beginning of everything is also the End.

And the fact of it does not make it more palatable. The inevitability of death does not make it less painful for those of us created in the image of the Creator. We were made, according to Ecclesiastes, for eternity and set in time. The part of us linked to divinity feels the pain of death in ways the leaves do not.

But I am sifting the dirt from my succulents through my hands this November. The pots sat on my deck well into October in an extended fall season in Saskatchewan. I rescued them before the snow fell and then transplanted and repotted on the table instead of outside. The soil is weathered from the season, marked by a hailstorm, full of roots and spiders and fallen leaves. It held the plants and water, resisted the wind.

This dirt is dark and dusty. It strains rather than holds water. It is a specific soil for succulents to thrive in. Not all succulents have the chance to grow in it, but I seek it out and sift out what I can to save it for the next round of planting and growing. I sift the dust and remember my sister and daughter and ancestors turned to ashes.

The limited and precarious nature of life makes it all the more miraculous. Knowing that nothing is permanent, it is especially significant that we create beautiful things, seek out love, build societies and block towers. We have this pervasive hope that living matters.

This week, the world lost an extraordinary man – a scholar I first encountered through his writing and then had the chance to meet. Richard Gaillardetz’s writing on the church gave me permission to believe that a community of believers is bigger and more nuanced than any single perspective. His teaching modeled faithfulness and creativity. He presented a spirituality of marriage that was grounded in lived experience. His scholarship expanded my thinking; his mentorship gave me space to grow. He gave me the gift of his time and conversation at several key moments over more than fifteen years.

Here’s the thing about dust. Each spec is such an incredible part of creation. Tiny bits of sand and silt and clay hold our feet upon the earth. Different places offer different soil. The red earth of Prince Edward Island. The white sand beaches along the South Saskatchewan River. The rocky and treed shores of northern lakes. The dust we grow in and walk on shapes the people we become. And we in turn become dust that gives life to others.

When clouds of dust and gas collapse in space, stars emerge.

All these souls merged with dust that have heartbeats and breath, wandering around in the world. And I get to bear witness to a tiny sliver of these dust-people. To be formed and shaped and breathed into by these extraordinary forms of clay.

Hearts made from the elements of the earth break with grief and loss and go on beating for another day. Breath is drawn and released, and when it is over, we return to the dust from which we came. May there be light that shines out of the collapse of the dust, giving yet more life to the world. May we walk delicately in the footprints left on the earth by the dust creatures who have shaped and loved us.

(In case no one ever told you) God trusts you

(In case no one ever told you) God trusts you

Photo credit: Marc Perrault

One of my favourite things about public speaking is the conversations that happen at the end of the event. After ideas, emotions, and (hopefully) the Spirit whirl around a large room with many hearts, something is distilled between two previous strangers. There is such immense trust in these brief encounters. A story to share. Words of gratitude. Another perspective.

My speaking has evolved into a teaching that leans deep on story telling. God seems to have made me this way. I have no memory of being a girl who could keep a beautiful story to myself. Stories are for sharing. Also, people remember stories in a way they do not remember statements, theses, or arguments. Teaching through story allows the lessons they hold to be held in a different part of the heart and mind. Mostly, story allows for a multiplicity of meaning, a diversity of interpretation, an evolution of learning not easily accessible in other methods of teaching.

I share my stories of suffering and hope with measured vulnerability. Doing so gives others permission to do the same. So often, after I speak, I hear confessions of a sort:

“I probably should not say this, but…”
“I am likely wrong, but I am wondering if…”
“I used to believe this thing, and now…”
“I am not sure if I can keep believing if…”

There is this this precipice that lies along the hidden things of faith: the doubts and the longings, the wanderings and the fault lines. While the faith of childhood and adolescence often seek comfort in answers, adult faith propels us deep into questions. And too many of our churches find this troubling, if not outright dangerous. The responses to our questions make us clear that the questioning is not welcome.

If our faith is like water, it will always flow back to the Source. Some spiritual seasons are like vast calm lakes and others like winding streams. And the seasons of hidden things are the edges of waterfalls, where the rocks will jut out and the rapids are intense, and the sound is like thunder. It might feel scary, but the water need only flow over the edge to the bottom, crashing around, stirring up the mud and shedding the driftwood, until it finds its way through to the next part of the river bed.

One of my favourite religious texts is the wedding at Cana. Mary goes to Jesus to tell him that the wedding host family is facing severe embarrassment because they have run out of wine. Jesus tells his mother that his time has not come, but she is not taking his no for an answer. She turns to those he has been teaching and tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Like Jesus at Cana, many of us struggle to feel confident to step out or speak up. This has been made worse by a church that is often more comfortable telling us what to do than receiving what God has already revealed to us. We have been (de)formed to doubt God speaking in and to us in these hidden places. Right in the heart of your wondering and wandering, your doubt and your longing, God is speaking. And the Creator of All that Is created you and trusts you.

When the rushing water settles and the bubbles settle at the bottom of the falls, there is a deeper clarity in the water and our faith. God is not afraid of our experiences, our questions, our growth. The edges of our faith propel us to the places where Mary can also challenge us to do whatever God tells us to.

So dare to whisper out loud the things that are bubbling up out of the dark. Write across the pages of a journal the things you have been afraid to say out loud. Find a friend without judgement who will let you express the things you are coming to believe. Let the Spirit in you speak without fear.

If no one ever told you. If you need to be reminded. If someone told you otherwise. I just want to say that it has been my overwhelming experience that God trusts you to live your wild and beautiful life.

Gratitude and maintaining perspective

Gratitude and maintaining perspective

Gratitude is our invitation at Thanksgiving, a feast to celebrate the work and gifts of harvest. In my corner of the world, it was the second consecutive year of drought for many farming families. My garden was well watered by the sprinklers, but I crowded the space. The pumpkins and tomatoes took over so the potatoes, carrots and beets were pretty sparse. Season to season, the abundance of harvest is not always the same. Thanksgiving comes anyway.

I have written before about gratitude as a path that opens us to receive grace. This year, when our world is fractured by politics and polarization, I am reflecting on the ways that gratitude shifts perspective. When things are going the way I want them to, gratitude can easily fall away into entitlement. I forget that everything is a gift and feel as though I have earned or am owed the goodness in front of me. When things seems to be falling apart or destroyed, I become resentful and closed off to the possibility that anything is a gift.

Practicing gratitude shifts my perspective. The world does not shift to a perfect place because I am grateful, but the practice allows me to see what is real. That everywhere and always there is both dying and rising happening simultaneously. That joy and suffering co-exist. That people are miraculous and imperfect at the same time.

I finish a two-year project. The initial plan was for a year, and interruptions and revisions lead to an end fairly different than envisioned in the beginning. Gratitude invites me to see the gifts hoped for and the ones actually realized. I can give thanks for the people who came along in the second year who would not have contributed in the first. While we are delayed, I can be grateful the project is still moving ahead, that supplies will eventually arrive, that there is meaningful work to do while we wait, and that there are spaces for rest. Gratitude allows me to see what is good as well as what is possible in what is, even while I acknowledge the patience, frustrations, and flexibility required.

After years of isolation and unknowing, the world has re-opened and our family is pulled in all directions. The kids are four years older (as are we!) and those years did not give them the chance to gradually practice the skills of getting ready for and going to activities. There is a steep learning curve as we continue to adjust our expectations and grow in this season. I am grateful for sniffles that do not cause alarm and the opportunity to pack up music books and skates for lessons. Arguments over who will close the door are occasions for gratitude that we can leave the house and learn to speak kindly.

Protests and counter protests are happening in my city and province. There are very strong opinions on all sides. It is hard to get a clear picture of what is actually going on amidst the posturing and sound bites and emotions. My perspective and influence is limited. I am grateful to live in a democracy, thankful that people are using their voices, aware of the places I can soothe pain and bring comfort. I can practice gratitude for the opportunity to have honest and uncomfortable dialogue that will contribute to shaping the imperfect and ongoing conversation.

Gratitude is not a gaslighting optimism that silences or removes difficulty, pain, or loss. It is a spiritual practice that refuses to allow blindness to goodness, possibility, and hope in the middle of struggle. When I am tempted to see things from only one side, lured into the simplicity of self-righteousness or self-pity, gratitude gives me a more nuanced and accurate picture of the world I am actually living in.

The harvest is sometimes lousy. Our relationships may need work. The leaves, having turned beautiful shades of gold and red, are filling up the eavestroughs. Thanksgiving comes anyway to inform the way we live well beyond the turkey leftovers. May we find ourselves grateful that the sun has risen. May our practice of gratitude allow us to see and receive the gifts and challenges as a part of the miracle of our time in this place.

Steps…and the growth of adult seasons

Steps…and the growth of adult seasons

Steps have featured prominently on my social media feeds in the last week, as back to school pictures get posted. I love the glimpse into the lives of all the kids and teens, eager and annoyed, performing and resisting the annual tradition. I love the schools and the streets, busses and front steps in the background. There are so many stories behind the photos; I can feel the courage and hope that lives under the images.

I miss the routines of my nineteen years of returning to school in the fall. There was comfort for me in knowing that grade ten would come after nine, and third year would follow second. Adulthood offers so many choices, and once I choose a path, it takes some effort to take a different turn. The navigation moves inward. What lies behind us shapes so much of how we will face what lies ahead.

I asked my husband to take my porch picture in the spring when I finished knitting a sweater. The photo represents five years of re-learning a skill my grandma and mom taught me in childhood. The front step is the place I call home, a symbol of the many places and people who have shaped me.

As I walk beside these incredible growing kids, I am increasingly aware of all the steps I have taken and the ones I have stumbled on. It takes courage to recognize patterns and (mis)steps that serve me well and ones that do not. To be and become who I actually am. A lot of uncovering what the comfort of routines and the standard path hid from me.

Richard Wagamese writes in Embers: “I no longer want to be resilient. I don’t want to simply bounce back from things that hurt me or cause me pain….The first step toward genuine healing…was when I came to trust and believe that there was a beyond. Now I reach for beyond every day, in every encounter, in every circumstance. I seek to go where I have never travelled. I wake with the vision of a purposeful day, filled with adventures and teachings. Then I take the first step and try to make it Beyond”(108).   

Adulthood invites us into charting a unique path beyond ourselves through many repetitive and familiar seasons. There are fewer road marks and rites of passage. We might be wearing the same clothes or sitting on the same chair on the porch. Our steps wear a familiar path to and from all our usual spots. Making a change usually just shifts us from one well-worn route to another. The adventure happens in the ordinary miracle of seeing the same thing with new eyes.

I do not want to become a “best version” of myself. True growth is not found in the constant flow of external feedback. I want to see myself clearly, to love and be loved as I am, with the hard edges worn off by stepping faithfully toward love.

The carefully chosen first day outfits, faces full of character. Give me more of the snapshots in time that chronicle who we are.

Too many adults resist being captured on the camera, shy away from seeing ourselves reflected back as the world sees us. But here we are, growing and changing, becoming. Each passing year, we have the opportunity to step toward who we are so that we can connect more authentically with each other and the world beyond ourselves.

Who is standing in the front step picture of you today? What adventures lay before you? What wisdom has been won in the last year? Which lessons seem to be pressing on you from beyond where you are right now? What courage will be needed for the next steps? What hope dares to whisper?

As I child, I remember aching to grow up so the world would be clearer and I could do what I wanted. The world is not so much clearer barely this side of forty, but I do have the opportunity to reflect on what I want, who I want to be, and how I want to respond to the beauty and brokenness of the world. It is nothing like I imagined growing up would be, and it is – every step – breathtaking.

Riding waves with grace

Riding waves with grace

Every summer, I wait and hope for our plans to cooperate with the weather and give us a day or two on the lake with (my parents’ beautiful) boat. We need the sunshine to keep us warm enough and the wind to stay mild enough that we can pull the tube behind the boat. The driver and the wind work together to make waves, and the riders delight at the efforts to stay on or fall in. On these rare and perfect days, I might be the biggest kid of all.

Riding waves is one of my favourite ways to play. I love the heat on my face, the wind in my hair, the cool spray of water, the anticipation of the bumps, and the thrill of holding on. I even love falling off. All the world’s worries fall away. Introducing my kids and then enjoying the rides with them is one of the best parts of parenting.

All this joy takes effort for me. I have to remind myself to loosen the muscles in my face and jaw and shoulders. To hold on with a loose and easy grip. To move with the waves instead of resisting them. I speak aloud the reminder that if I am tired, it is okay to let go and let the life jacket hold me up and the boat circle back. The kids delight in retelling the stories of my falling in.

This summer, I am trying to apply the same joy to riding the waves of life. The waves in my life have a lot of variety. Small ripples flow out from missing shoes when we are trying to leave the house. Intense choppy wakes follow teen attitudes and parental missteps, with a fairly quick settling period. Health challenges send a steady but unpredictable pattern of waves that can rock the boat significantly.

My (unrealistic and illogical) expectation for smooth waters often gets in the way of riding these waves with joy and grace. It takes the more effort to face these waves in life, but the skills are transferable. I remember, first, that waves are part of the experience of living, and can even be fun. I have a lot of experience, skills and support that can help me face these waves with grace. Relaxing into the experience works better than worrying and feeding anxieties.

As moments unfold in real-life rough waters, I can loosen my grip and consciously relax my body. I can speak aloud the things that are true. I can anticipate and appreciate the moments of rest between bumps. It is a miracle to marvel at the way the sun hits the water, even as the wind tosses me around and unsettles me.

Perhaps most importantly, I can hold on to letting go as a beautiful thing.

It is okay to be knocked over and in by a wave. I have survived each and every one that life has thrown at me so far. When I face one that threatens to do me in, I love a Creator who has conquered death. I can be assured that there is more life on the other side of any wave. And the falling is always just the opening or middle lines of a story about my rising.

Just like at the beach, there is no authorized panel of judges in my life waiting to give me a score or find me unworthy. There is only the memories and joy, middle aged aches and learning on the other side of the waves. It is not only okay, but in fact the point, to enjoy the ride.

When I lay down and let go into God, I have never met criticism – only tenderness and compassion. My experience of the divine has been constant presence in the crests and the valleys of the waves. From the tube behind the boat to my snowboard, and from parenting to the boardroom, I am learning that it is possible to ride waves with grace and joy.

May the waves be accompanied by sunshine as often as possible. May I look out for the boats and riders that may need me and trust they will watch for me. And may I find reverence, instead of resistance, for the power and gifts of the waves that come my way. Amen.

Claiming rest and re-creation this summer

Claiming rest and re-creation this summer

There are always lots of questions in a house with children, and the most common one in my world right now is “What’s the plan for today, Mom?” During the school year, we fall into a rhythm of learning and activities, but the summer has all this space for questions and finding different things to do. And it sometimes feels like rest and recreation means more pressure for a mom in the summer – rather than less.

I want to start with a caveat that vacation and time off work (in the summer and the rest of the year) is a profound privilege. There are many people in the world who cannot afford to take time off. Too many do not have access to paid vacation leave. Some families have no way to get time off together. And others experience the warping of time by unemployment or chronic illness. So, I come to the conversation mindful of my own context, as well as others’.

Rest is not just essential for well-being, but it is a prophetic act in a capitalist culture. In Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann insists “that divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.” In moments, days, or seasons set aside for intentional rest, we reject the ideas that work can or should save us, that efficiency is the highest good, and that there is no time for rest.

Cole Arther Riley, in her book This Here Flesh, writes, “Rest is not the reward of our liberation, nor something we lay hold of once we are free. It is the path that delivers us there.” For years, I have been slowly making small changes in living so that I do not need to escape from my life to rest. It is a work in progress, I promise you.

In addition to reading, I am finding some rest in thinking about re-creation. What we will do next? I am trying to be mindful of what re-creates me. In the same way that sleep restores my body, there are ordinary adventures we can choose that feed my soul. Lying in the hammock with two kids and a stack of library books. A pile of pails and an hour at the u-pick farm. A cooler of sandwiches and a day trip to the beach.

This summer, things did not work out for a week or two away, so our rest and recreation is happening between work and daycare. And my spirit jumps at Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I have picked up too many burdens in the last several months. I am ready to set them down.

Over and over again, I have learned that rest and re-creation cannot be received when my hands are full of burdens, and I am wearing my weariness as a uniform, with perverse pride. I practice leaving work on time, closing the office door and imagining all my work thoughts leaving my head to spend the night on my desk to wait for the morning. Books and knitting needles, shovels and pails, berries and even weeds fill my hands and heart so much more than my stupid phone. I am carving out space to play at the park, sit with a puzzle or game, or experiment in the kitchen without a need to be somewhere next.

So few people make sure that I receive rest, that my weary heart is re-created. I give away my time and space for rest so cheaply – in a world that will happily take whatever I have to give. Receiving these gifts that God wants to give me means being really honest about what re-creates me rather than drains me. There are so many wonderful ways to spend our time, but only some will give me rest and re-creation.

When we rest ourselves and support others to do likewise, we follow a God of rest. Our re-creation can happen when we show up with presence for sunshine and rain, for tea on the deck, for bonfires and music. May we receive the rest God promises.

The essential and human labour of love and belonging

The essential and human labour of love and belonging

Art by Alanah Morningstar

June has been swirling its way through the world with an unbridled intensity in my world. Band concerts and ball games, kindergarten orientation and musicals, appointments that must be completed before school gives way to summer holidays. National Indigenous Peoples’ Day is offering more opportunities for building relationships, Pride flags are flying, and Juneteeth celebrations African-American emancipation from slavery. My people have been full of emotion, and the headlines and memes seem to suggest that we are not alone. My diagnosis is that there is a collective ache for love and belonging, and that, for many, love and belonging feel tenuous, elusive, scarce.

The world seems strung out and exhausted from the effort of living the last few years. We have been stretched to the edges of ourselves, prone to tantrums and impatience and isolation as coping mechanisms. Collective burnout is both understandable and full of risk and actual harm.

A beautiful friend of mine shared a recording of herself singing “Crowded Table” by The Highwomen. It has been my soundtrack for the month. The chorus names what the God of my understanding whispers to me: “I want a house with a crowded table and a place by the fire for everyone.” And as I try to live this out, it becomes clearer and clearer that love and belonging are not hippy ideals but deeply challenging work.

Full days interrupt the rhythms of sleep and food, and the kids need more of me while there is less time. Inflation is pressing on everyone, and the food banks are calling for more. People have embraced a mentality in the world and on social media that everyone is entitled to my opinion, as distinct from each being entitled to one’s own opinion. All sides of the political spectrum participate in their own versions of cancel culture, entrenching self-righteousness that carelessly writes off the humanity of others. It is dangerous and terrifying and exhausting. I want the world to be softer and kinder, please.

The second verse of the song goes on to say, “If we want a garden, we’re gonna have to sow the seeds.” Every time I sing it, I want to follow this line with a well-placed curse word. Can’t someone else do the work?

The labour of love and belonging takes all the focus and intensity of child-birth. I have to set aside my other priorities and lists. Focus on the human being inside me and in front of me. I have to breathe through waves of irritation and pain. I must make space for others who are different from me, not only in the world, but also inside my body and spirit. Care as much about their suffering and needs as my own. I have to listen at a level that can bring about new life – because it is the only thing that ever will.

A softer and kinder world is only possible if I will take my broken heart and refuse to let it harden. It is a lie that gentleness is weak; vying for power over others with control, violence, and abuse are the weapons of the spiritually weak. If I want a crowded table and a place for everyone, then I have to be radically committed to power that is shared, to honouring boundaries and needs, to the time it takes to listen deeply, and to speaking with thoughtfulness, truth, and compassion.

In a month that aims to bring awareness and possibility in the realms of reconciliation, sexuality, and emancipation, this is not primarily about principles but about people. When love and belonging are scarce, people get desperate. If my love and belonging are built on the exclusion, restriction, silencing or damnation of other people, then there is a miscarriage of community.

I am less interested in your opinions and mine than I am in how much we care about mutual suffering, hope, and commitment to a world of love and belonging. Our words and social media shares and bumper stickers are only worth as much as our lives are consumed with the labour of living them out.

There is not a single being on the earth that my God does not love beyond measure. What makes me think I am called to anything less?

Joy as a way of being in the world

Joy as a way of being in the world

I love the first walk out with the kids when the snow melts. Pressing on thin ice till it breaks. Wading into puddles. Dropping snow into running water to see how long it takes to break through. I love the way that spring breaks through the winter, and we feel renewed by fresh air. Mostly, I love how easy it is to taste joy on that first spring walk.

My smallest kids constantly remind me that the experience of joy is usually closer than I think it is. Atti beats me again at Crazy 8s and does a victory dance. We bake cookies and Charlize licks the spoon with a satisfying sigh. A ridiculous joke breaks through tension and we all find ourselves laughing.

When I last wrote about joy at Easter, I was reflecting on the risk that it brings because good things end. Pre-emptive avoidance of disappointment is part of why I think people grow out of childhood joy. As our memories get longer, I think we also just stop being amazed by things we have seen before. But this year, I am thinking about how we equate joy and wonder and awe with immaturity. Our longing to grow up and be taken seriously slowly erodes our spontaneous experience of joy.

As we started out on the path, I called out to the kids and then stopped myself. I was going to tell them to stop, to be careful not to get their clothes dirty. And then I reminded myself we have a washing machine. We waded into puddles, tempting the water to flow over the tops of our boots. Snowballs exploded on backs. Socks got wet.

I overestimated the energy we would have when I set our destination, and not everyone was happy about the length of the walk. There was whining. Blisters made their first appearance. We sat down on a bench for a rest and I wrapped my own socks around little feet.

Several years ago, a therapist I was seeing challenged me to change my focus because “what we focus on is magnified.” It takes effort for me to focus on the smiles, the curiosity, and the creativity that give way to really feeling joy. And discipline to trust that the joy can remain even when the whining starts.

After years of grief, I still give myself explicit permission to feel joy because it is not a betrayal of the loss. In the same way, joy is still possible when things are less than perfect. A day with a few puddles in it can still be a beautiful day. Difficult seasons and years still have so many gifts in them. The vast majority of the minutes in my life are actually extraordinarily nice. And the climate in my own head seems to be the biggest factor in whether or not I can appreciate how good things actually are.

There are fifty days in the Easter season in my (Roman Catholic) tradition. It is the longest season of the year outside of ordinary time, given the least spiritual attention. I cannot speak for others, but I need a lot more practice with joy than repentance. I am keenly aware of how often I fall short, and sadly inattentive to how often I miss out on a miracle because I am busy worrying, warning, or fixating on something I can’t change.

My joy increases when I stay in the moment, let wonder co-exist with discomfort or anxiety, and practice gratitude. Joy grows when there is space for rest and play. When I see it and delight in it, joy is magnified. It is infectious when I allow the silly to break through the serious. It will not be controlled, does not come in a package, and cannot be saved.

Joy is a way of being in the world where I focus on what is good in the moment right now and recognize I have done nothing to earn it. Joy just is, and I can dwell in it, if I let myself. I have gotten in the habit of limiting my joy because it might be messy or inconvenient. I would like to break that habit. Today can be a best day ever, and tomorrow too.

Fall into Grace

Fall into Grace

Photo: Leah Perrault

Several weeks ago, Eliot brought home a note for his school ski trip and asked if I would like to come as a chaperone. I know these requests could stop coming and I love being out on the hill, so I planned to go. I have been a snowboarder since my teens, which was surprising even two and a half decades before I could be called middle-aged. I went to be with he and his friends, and I went (without smaller children in tow) to test out if it is time for me to trade my snowboard in for skis. It is getting dangerous to risk a fall.

The day was wonderful. The kids were full of happy energy on the bus. The weather was perfect with sun and warmer temperatures but no ice forming. Eliot’s friends had lessons opposite his, so I got to hang out one on one with him for more than half the day. And between helping kids find lost gear and get up from their own wipe-outs, I went up and down the ski hill thinking about how not to fall.

Snowboarding is strange because it relies on sideways momentum rather than forward and back. Where we are used to distributing weight and movement between two feet, snowboarding holds the two feet together. The whole body has to move – or fall – together. The last few winters, I could feel my fear of falling increasing alongside my age.

I can also feel my awareness of risk increasing as I get older. The boundless energy and bold confidence of my twenties has given way to practical conservation of resources and more measured risk assessment. This is both healthy and a loss. I sat quietly, alone on the chair lift, feeling the strength in my legs, anticipating the deep powder on the next run. I love the sidelong back and forth of the snowboard beneath my feet and my whole body following in each turn.

I felt the wind blow across my face as the lift neared the top, whispering something I forgot: I know how to fall. If it happens, I know how to get low to minimize injury. I ride with open hands that close instinctively to fists to protect my wrists. My basic workouts are strengthening my body, and I am attentive to fatigue. Before I take off, I choose runs with intention and can go very slowly in sections that are too icy or steep. I allow myself to slow to a controlled fall to avoid one that is more dangerous.

With delight, I discovered that I am not too old to snowboard – yet.

When I got home, I arrived home to a sick child who couldn’t sleep. She and I have been struggling to connect and more often than not, I do not know immediately how to help her. I made a choice to fall into bed beside her, and to fall into the rhythm of the prayers of my ancestors, fingers for beads, prayers for lullabies.

My prayer life is a constant haphazard collection of habits picked up here and there: prayers triggered bells and sirens and dish soap, silent contemplation in between mom and work duties, fragments of poetry and written prayers wedged in the pages of all my books, and others written into my mind and heart. I used to beat myself up for not being more consistent, more formatted, more anything than what I am, but I learned that there is no wrong way to pray.

These days, my most frequent prayers with words fall into grace:

I’m sorry.
I do not understand.
I do not know.
Show me.
Thank you.

For years, I have known that the prayers of my parents, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and elders have carried me in a particularly powerful way. I think I am starting to understand why. They know how to fall into grace, and thrust me into God’s hands.

Someday, I will retire my snowboard when the risks or reality of a fall remove the joy it brings. I will give her a worthy retirement then. For now, though, I am grateful for the way she floats me over the snow, reminding me that I can let myself fall –into snow and into grace.

A God who sets us free…

A God who sets us free…

When I first encountered twelve step spirituality in a room of anonymous strangers[1], I was introduced to “the God of our own understanding”. The concept felt foreign to me, and a little bit dangerous. What would all these people do to God with their own understanding, I worried. Week after week, I showed up and found myself a little less broken than I was when I arrived, a little more connected to God, in different ways than I had been taught in church. My faith world collided with my recovery, and I fell deeply into the arms of the God of my understanding, a God who sets us free.

For me, post-partum depression settled into a deeper situational depression when I tried to take responsibility for everything that I perceived was wrong with my church, who was also my employer. I found the twelve-step support group at the (strong) suggestion of a therapist I was having trouble hearing.

As I freely chose to work through the steps with a sponsor, the first one was hard, but also obvious: We admitted that we were powerless – that our lives had become unmanageable. Nothing other than feeling completely unable to help myself in any other way would have compelled me to walk up the stairs to my first meeting.

The second and third steps were the hardest for me of all twelve. The second reads: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. I believed in God, so surely I already believed this? My church teaches that Jesus saves us, but I had been busy trying to be Jesus. No wonder I felt broken.

The third step changed everything: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God – as we understood Him. I have followed God my whole life, tried to follow. But somewhere along the way I gave over my own understanding. I became afraid that the God I met in my childhood was too merciful, too easy going, too free. I got tripped up thinking that knowing lots of stuff about God would mean that my will and my life would go the way I wanted it to. And that landed me under my desk on the phone with mental health services to see if they would check me in.

In all the most significant moments of encounter with a Divine Power I have called God, that God astonishes me with overwhelming love and sets me free. When I have wrestled with temptation, the God of my understanding has allowed me to make a choice, never restricting me from any possible option. When I have failed, the God of my understanding allows me to experience the consequences of my actions with compassion and without punishment. When I have asked for guidance, the God of my understanding speaks to me in ways that I can hear and offers me direction that finds a place of integrity in the deepest part of my soul – even when it is deeply challenging.

Both in communities of faith and in twelve step groups, I have found glimpses of this God who sets us free. I love to get to a place with people where it is possible to ask the question: “Tell me about the God of your understanding.” The God of my understanding is not afraid of our freedom but delights in it.

When my religious or spiritual practices, beliefs, or communities begin to feel like a prison, I take a walk in creation and ask the God of my understanding to set me (and us) free. It has been my consistent experience as well as the deepest part of the faith I have inherited and love that there is more love, more grace, and more space in God than any of us can imagine. And I am struck with wonder that I do not need to be afraid of God, or myself. May it be so.

[1] Honoring the spirit of twelve step and anonymity, I will not disclose here either the group I belong to or the stories of the people within those rooms.

Finding Tenderness in the Fog

Finding Tenderness in the Fog

Photo Credit: Julie Graham

There’s a strange tenderness in harsh prairie winters. In the midst of deep fog, the temperature swings slowly, visibility declines, ice and frost coat the roads and the windows, and the hoar frost wraps the power lines and the trees. We can easily get lost in fog, and our movement through it is reduced to wandering one miniscule and tentative step at a time, our senses attuned to the tiniest and most immediate signals of our place in space and time.

This winter, too many people I love are wandering through fog. Drowning in grief. Wading through employment uncertainty. Breaking under the weight of illness or caregiving. I am in an ordinary season after years of loss and grief and I am finding myself reflecting on what carried me through: tenderness at the breaking.

It hasn’t come naturally to me to seek out and trust in the world’s capacity for tenderness. In the fall into depression, I put extraordinary effort into hiding my despair, pushing to perform externally while my insides crumbled under the weight of hormones and (my) impossible expectations. Grief introduced me to the depth of the pit inside my own body, and my greatest longing was to collapse into death while denying myself all relief and comfort.

This is the thing about profound human pain, simultaneously physical and emotional and spiritual: I begin to identify with and feel attached to the fog, frozen by the fear that what comes next will be even worse than what is now. Twelve step spirituality and mentors have whispered to me in the fog, as many times as I needed to hear it: you will not move until the pain of staying here exceeds the pain of changing. It is a whisper of tenderness and compassion through my tears.

The winter world is frozen, lulling nature into hibernation, existence that is cold and stripped naked. The temperature swings and water droplets get suspended in the air instead of forming snow or ice. And as the water molecules dance around bare extended branches, they turn immediately into ice crystals. The tree is wrapped in a breathtaking and fragile cloak of hoarfrosted tenderness.

When I reach the edges of myself, no longer able to keep wandering in the fog or pretending I am okay, my frozen edges become reluctant conductors for tentative tenderness. My body starts to preserve energy for the vital organs. I stop having the energy to be afraid of judgement or failure, and, more importantly, to push tenderness and compassion away. The walls I put up to keep myself safe have kept out both the danger and the help. I need to fall apart before I can be tenderly put back together for a world that looks and is different after the fog.

Being wrapped in tenderness, like hoar frost, is cold and unfamiliar, mystical and fragile. People say wrong things alongside the ones I have most needed to hear. I receive things I do not want, like counselling, rest, or assistance with bathing or eating or thinking. My hands release the death grip on the coping mechanisms which have allowed me to survive, like denial and staying busy and the trappings of my curated mask of “perfection”. It is as desirable as a very long ice hug.

And, the falling into freezing has taught me that I can go there willingly long before I am out in the ice storm, lighting my emergency candle and praying I do not fall asleep before someone finds me dead. When I sense cold winter temperatures coming, and the forecast is calling for fog, I can embrace the coming fog and learn to reach for tenderness with grace.

The world can be cold, and not everyone will like me, agree with me, or respond with tenderness, it is true. But it is my experience that an extraordinary number of human beings (when their molecules have chance to trace the frozen and desperate limbs of their neighbours) have the capacity to crystalize into tenderness. When I admit my need, expose my pain, ask for grace and mercy, tenderness has a strange way of emerging in unexpected ways. Nature and strangers, songs on the radio or lines in a book, a phone call or a memory or a dream. Imperfection, pain, and failure crack me open enough to receive.

And then, I am surprised that God weaves this tenderness into my world so that it eventually wells up droplets within my frozen self. That the tenderness can line the inside of me as well as the outside, a grace that others cannot see or take away. May it flow through me and then out of me to the frozen edges of those lost in the fog today. Amen.

Receiving the Gift may be the hardest work of all…

Receiving the Gift may be the hardest work of all…

Jesus arrives and we receive the One we have awaited. The seasons and feast days of church calendars exist not only to change the colours and routines of faith life, but also change the way we live our whole lives. We learn to practice waiting – in joyful hope – for Jesus to arrive. And this practice waiting and receiving is meant to help us get better at waiting and receiving in the rest of our lives too.

For more than 15 years now, I have been baking with children’s “help.” I am pretty terrible at playing imagination games, but I have embraced the inevitable egg crashing to the floor. The dusting of flour across shirts and floors is a reminder to me that they are learning. Their enthusiasm for licking the spoon, watching the rising through the oven door, and eating our results is a great reminder of what joyful waiting should be.

At the same time, embracing baking with kids has also taught me to expect chaos. Fights over whose turn it is, Measurements less than precise. Double or triple batches to compensate for mistakes. We talk lots about how things do not always turn out the way we expect, and how to be gentle with ourselves and our results.

Decorating goes much the same way. Weighing at least six different opinions, we choose the spots that will hold our special things. We share in the work of vaccuming and dusting to make the space ready. Boxes come up from the basement and in from the garage. Stools to place the ornaments at just the right height on the tree.

The dog yelps because someone didn’t see her when they stepped off the tree. We didn’t get the right candy for the Advent calendar. Two kids constantly move the nativity characters back to their preferred arrangement. No one likes my favourite Christmas album, but they humour me. We talk about the gifts that will be under the tree, and how you may not be receiving everything – or anything – from your list.

When the kids were all still very small, I directed and executed most of this work. As a result, things were mostly the way I liked them. I knew that I was trying to teach them, but I did could not anticipate how they would learn.

This year, with the youngest four, they could do easily more than half of the work without me. I have been waiting for them to grow, to help, to lead, and now they can. It’s a new kind of hard to allow them to put things where they want them, to hear and receive their opinions, to let them develop their own ways.

Charlize did 90 per cent of the homemade Oreo cookies we make every year. She can read the recipe, measure the ingredients, use the mixer. When she doesn’t know, she asks for help. I am to give very minimal instruction because she knows. I did not recognize when I began to teach my children that they would learn their own ways, both a challenge and a gift for me.

Especially when the gift we long for is a person, receiving the gift changes everything. We practice preparing because we are waiting for a new life, with a Divine Other, whose presence will disrupt and unsettle us in the process of offering peace and joy.

So much of my ability to receive (others as) gifts depends on my willingness to be displaced – from my comfort, my self-righteousness, my resistance to interdependence. Many people are walking through very challenging seasons of life right now – job changes, ill health, financial stress, overwhelming grief. Everything happens. God does not cause our pain but will not waste it. This is the work of Advent and Christmas: to receive Jesus in what is, and in what is coming.

May we open our hearts to the cracks in our lives that will let God’s light in. May we receive the gifts that are offered this Christmas, even if they aren’t the ones we wanted. And may we remember that grace can come in every package.

Allowing time to be ready to move

Allowing time to be ready to move

Photo credit: Pearl Unger

The birds took their time this fall, lingering on the prairies longer than usual. We got more sunshine and warm days than we usually do in Saskatchewan, with autumn stretching nearly two months before the blizzards knocked us squarely into winter. Most of us aren’t ready anyway (How is anyone truly ready for six or more months of winter?). And the birds did their practice flights and then took off, if late.

The four seasons come and go, early and late, without regard to my preference or my readiness. Spiritual seasons are both harder to recognize and easier to ignore – at least for a time.

After my knitting injury this summer, my physio recommended that I take up more regular strength exercise as a preventative strategy for avoiding injury while aging. I still have one more year before my forties, so I am taking the suggestion under consideration. I know she is right. I have managed to lace up my shoes, spend some time on my mat, chase the kids a handful of times. It stops very short of a consistent habit. I have finally stopped believing I will be more valuable if my pants are a smaller size. And I do not know how to exercise without punishing myself. I am not ready.

My parenting feels more lost than found. I want to be more consistent. I see my kids pushing me to the next level. They need me to grow into the next version of myself, mastering adolescent and teen strategies. I am grieving their smallness and my own introduction to baby and toddler parenting. I am not ready to be in the car dropping them everywhere, knowing less about the moments that make up their days, being further from the centre of their collective worlds. They are spreading their wings for necessary migrations and my parenting does not keep up. I know that parenting is something you learn as you go. Still, I am not ready.

My speaking and writing is shifting. I can feel it moving in my veins. It spills out of me and I do not expect what it says. The Spirit whispers to write it anyway. I am afraid of what it means, how it will change me. It is uncomfortable and awkward. I want to do what God tells me to do, go where I am needed, write the words entrusted to me. Tomorrow, maybe? I am not ready today.

Over the last decade, I have made slow and real progress at breaking down my addiction to perfection. I have embraced gentleness, allowed things to shift in me in their own time, invited the grace of being carried. It is still so hard for me to allow myself the time it takes to become ready.

Autumn is a season of transition, a letting go of the things I needed before to make space for what will come next. Very often, I am like my lilac bush still green and bowed in half by the weight of the first wet snow. It needs to be ridiculously and unsustainably heavy before I will consent to drop the summer leaves. I want all the practice flights possible, even if it means flying an extra few days in the cold before I catch up to the comfort of the new that waits for me.

I choose to trust that there is necessary work being done in me while I am getting ready. So much of my resistance is subconscious, chipping away at walls that have been protecting me. I will give myself the grace of growing over a lifetime, receive the love of a God who waits for me to be ready, even while sending me physiotherapists and children and mentors who speak the truth I need to hear.

May I love the me that is not ready. May I hold her with the same tenderness I offer to others who feel exposed and afraid. And may I wait patiently for the readiness to emerge. When the urge strikes to respond differently to the kids, or stretch out beside the weights, may I do just this next right thing without beating myself up for not doing it every time, perfectly, for the rest of my life. May I choose as many practice flights as I need. Amen.

Presence: the art of being where I am

Presence: the art of being where I am

Presence has been swirling around me, chasing me in the fall wind, working its way through my hair. I taste it in time with friends, in singing in a choir, and in the longing to run away from what is hard. We have all been surviving for so long. And there are new hills to climb as we rise out of the critical and isolating phases of a pandemic to enter into reimagining and rebuilding. 

On the other side of grief, of leaving the broken, of destruction is recovering, healing, and growing something new. And one of the practices that carries through both seasons is presence. Just plain showing up for what is and who I am today is both difficult and courageous. 

In the hardest seasons of my life, I had to learn to show up for my difficult emotions. I had learned to repress anger, rationalize fear, repel sadness. But there was no way out but through. I learned to name what I was feeling, talk it through with therapists, family, and friend. I practiced showing up to let others carry me, especially when that was uncomfortable, undesirable, and hard. 

Things are so much better now than they were on those worst days. Still, life brings unexpected cold fronts and exciting, if overwhelming opportunities to grow. Presence means showing up for this too. It is almost harder to be fully present to joy and laughter. To seize the moment for play and relaxation. To set down whatever preoccupies me and really be here in my life. 

We live in a world that offers us distraction, escape, and avoidance in every imaginable form: smart phones, food, exercise, books, tv, work, hobbies, stuff. The challenge is to use these things to find and live life rather than avoid it.  

I move so quickly between seeing the world for what it is and being totally lost in my own head. This week, I found myself in awe of the fall colours so many times, drawn into the miracle of the people I love, captivated by how good potatoes can be. And in the next moments, I have been completely at a loss for how to move forward through a complex situation, completely annoyed by someone else’s actions, and feeling desperate and afraid. I know what I need to do and how important it is to be gentle and kind to myself and still I struggle with both. 

When I find myself pulled in many directions, lost everywhere but here, I find it helpful to sink deeply into three movements:

  1. Breathe and notice. Feel the air go into my lungs, and push it back out. See the details of my surroundings. Look at the people. Drink in colour, smells, sounds. I am here, right now. 
  2. Feel. Look for and name any emotions that are present. Pay attention to where they sit in your body, whether they are heavy or light, pleasant or irritating, inviting or demanding. Express them however it is possible and safe to do so. And then, let them go. 
  3. Ask. What is the next loving thing you can do to be fully here right now? Don’t overthink it – see a way forward in this moment and live into it with courage. Cry, create, connect – there isn’t a road map. Trust yourself. You won’t always know if it is the right thing. That’s okay. When you see another way, you can choose again if you need to. 

Called back to myself, I often remember my grandpa, whistling in the far yard while he worked or sitting in his wheelchair in old age waiting for a cribbage game when we came to visit. He taught me to watch birds outside the window and cheer at a ball game. The things that mean the world are often surprisingly simple. Call or text the person. Listen with empathy. Say how you feel. Set the boundary with love. Act with kindness. 

Our world needs us here. Present and showing up with courage, for ourselves and each other. Whether you are wading through loss and heartache or rising into a new thing, your presence draws in the Breath that is life. May it being you back to yourself so that you can be yourself for the world. 

Living in the joy of the beautiful mess

Living in the joy of the beautiful mess

Photo Credit: Charlize Perrault

Mess is a theme in my life, and therefore also in my barefoot preaching. I think I return to the theme because mess challenges me so deeply. While I grew, I found relief in order, comfort in control, rest in simplicity. And I wandered into a world with a tendency toward disorder, a resistance to control, and more complexity than I could have imagined. I tried and failed to eliminate the mess, and I crawled out of rock bottom (more than once) to make peace with the reality of mess.

This summer, I am reflecting on the different types of messes, finding myself lost in the beautiful mess. It differs from the destructive mess that threatens to pull me under, that demands a radical and weary surrender to change. It is not the same as the cluttered mess that inspires a garage sale or a shift toward minimalism. The beautiful mess is the collision of human intention and natural wonder and longing for things to be different and exactly as they are, all at once.

A beautiful mess is easier to describe than define. So, I offer a summer of litany of the beautiful mess, in the hope that it inspires your own.

A poppy growing defiantly in the rocks and weeds where landscaping fabric was carefully laid beneath to prevent all the plants from sprouting. A child pouring water on it from a plastic watering can that has long since lost the sprinkle spout – in my sock drawer.

One hundred and nineteen people in an anniversary photo. I arrived late, scurrying my last two kids in just in time, after a time change and many reminders to be on time. The frame holding so much joy, and all the perfect imperfections of each smiling (and growling) mystery. The image unable to capture the sounds of the voices, the stories carried by so many lifetimes colliding for the occasion.


Tears and fear where I want to be stoic and confident. Receiving a hug, a kind word, laughter. Resisting the falling apart only to discover that my weakness makes my humanity accessible. Finding connection at the bottom, instead of the top.


Fifty seven photos of the same white flower, growing in clover and grass. Four in focus. No space left on my cell phone. Grinning toothless selfie.


A text from a friend describing the hour of quiet she was gifted for the mere cost of fort building. Found items from the garage. All the blankets freed from the fresh laundry basket. Nails and hammers everywhere. Fresh mud. Laughter. And a bathtub with warm, running water and an abundance of soap. Kids old enough to clean up, as well as build.


The same old argument, resurfacing with new words. Eyes to recognize the pattern. Hearts to see the hope that this time it might end differently. Grace for stepping out of the dance that leads to destruction. Gentleness in the words. Softening into what we all need instead of who is right.


A problem. Stated factually and aggressively. A myriad of ways to respond and people to share in the carrying. Disagreements voiced, tensions held, differences surfacing. Questions holding more power than answers. Perspectives shifting. Problem giving way to possibility.


Trees growing up through a deck. Prairie grass reclaiming a garden. Gophers moving into wooden cabinets a century old. Life taken over by life. Remnants abandoned to an archaeological dig for some century that isn’t this one.


A beautiful mess is a privilege. The resources you need to love in it are right in the mess itself. Its imperfection is an invitation rather than a threat. It whispers to stay awhile a marvel at the mystery of what you would have missed if you had caused or created it, tried to control it, or found a cure for it. You couldn’t if you tried.

A beautiful mess is the gift of receiving what life does when I live in it. I arrive with my intentions and creativity, welcome the others and their stuff, say yes to the improvisations. A beautiful mess is built on the trust that what could be is better than what I would have done on my own.

Here’s to the beautiful messes. May there be more of them. And may I have the grace to love them.

Writing the story of a life

Writing the story of a life

Writing, for me, is both a part of how I make my living and how I make sense of my living. My summer reading has coincidentally connected around a theme that, in the end, a life is just a collection of stories. What does it mean to write the story of my own life, a scene and a day at a time?

I often tease my kids that you don’t see many characters in books or tv shows soaking up screen time. It makes for pretty boring plots. At the same time, I would not want to read about or watch a chronicle of an eight-hour work day, let alone a minute by minute account of a career. Every good storyteller has to sift through the words that get included, as well as the ones that don’t.

In writing the story of my life, however, I live through a lot of moments that won’t make the cut in the highlights or the bloopers. Our world is currently obsessed with capturing the moments and sharing them, but there is so much (and maybe more) value in the things that happen between photographs and bonfires. When we tell the story looking back, we will identify the parts that mattered most, interpret the meaning, and make sense of what happened. I long for that kind of clarity in the living of it.

The summer has offered three messy movements that I don’t have meaning for yet.

First, I started off the long weekend by finishing making a long-awaited Gryffindor quidditch sweater for one of my kids. And when I got home, I discovered that I had injured myself knitting with many hours of repetitive movement in the combined ten hours of drive time. (My fourteen-year-old thinks this is the funniest extreme sporting wound ever acquired.)

I am shocked, as always with relatively minor injuries, just how much I take for granted when my body is working the way it should. And, the most important part of the story is the several times a day of physio stretches I need to do to ensure I can continue to enjoy knitting and playing the guitar and doing yard work.

The rest required by my hand surfaced a second movement of healing for me. I recognized how frequently I fill my life up to avoid feeling what surfaces when I am quiet and still. I long to be understood and affirmed, to have people happy with me, to know what to do in all situations. When I am misunderstood, confused, and have disappointed people, I struggle. I don’t even let myself feel it most of the time, let alone take a photo of it to tell the story. After five years of intense grief and healing work, there is a movement towards more ordinary growth. Seeing a coach and practicing new habits will help in ways I cannot yet know.

Finally, my oldest child has been away at school for the year. It is so good to have her home, playing with her siblings, making us watch ridiculous TV, and updating our vocabulary. We have arrived at the years I longed for: sleeping in and going on adventures without diaper bags, hilarious conversations and eye rolling. And for the first time as a parent, I feel nostalgic and a little sad. The kids are growing up, fast, just like everyone says.

Making the most of it includes epic road trips and one million reminders to pick up your socks and unload the dishwasher, again. I wish I could know which conversations will scar them for life and which ones they will remember when I am gone. I long to be able to be the mom they need and I know I can only do my best. It’s a miracle that the story of my life gets to include so many mundane movements, messy mistakes and do-overs, evenings at the park and walks around the block that are completely unremarkable. I write the story of my life by showing up for today, making a few more steps towards being and becoming the person I was created to be. The plot moves forward when I love the best I can and try again tomorrow, to find a way from this moment into the next one with grace.

Seeing grace and sifting through clutter

Seeing grace and sifting through clutter

Saturday morning in early June. Sunshine streaming through lilac bushes. Birds singing from underneath leaves that seem to have grown overnight. And tables full of things we hope other people will like well enough to take home when we open up the garage door. There are stories attached to the stuff. The kids keep changing their minds and sneaking things back in the house. The seeing and the sifting happen simultaneously.

Despite moving just a year ago, there are enough things gathered to have a decent little garage sale. I’ve been sifting through boxes and closets, removing things that we no longer use and just don’t fit in our new world. It amazes me how our memories are held not just in our bodies but also in our things.

I hold the smallest lifejackets, checking that they are actually too small for the smallest kids even though I have known the answer for three seasons already. I can hear the laughter on the boat, see the scrunched up baby-face that hated the lifejacket, feel the spray of water on my face when I held a sleeping niece wearing it. There isn’t room to hold on to it if we need to store the bigger sizes we need now.

Books that tucked us in. Tupperware too big and too small. The first costumes our kids wore to the grocery store. Picture frames and a house phone. A casserole dish and a lid without a pot. Ponies with the hair brushed out. Wall art and the last swing set. Sifting and not seeing.

I wore the same dress for a hundred days this winter, a challenge to interrupt fast fashion and experiment with wool. It taught me that I need so much less than I think I do (and also that very few people notice or care what I am wearing). I am learning to do more mending and buy second hand. I am seeing the contents of my life with a longer view.

The kids have been begging for a garage sale for years. I have been resisting. We still needed so many of the things we had. And, maybe more honestly, garage sales are a lot of work. It is easier to close the closet door than sort through the contents. Easier to hold on to the things than let them go with the memories they hold.

It doesn’t seem fair that there is just too much life to remember all the moments.

Sitting in the sun on a cooler full of cookies and puffed wheat squares. Knees knocking against the kid-sized table. A hand-written sign for the lemonade stand. Seeing and not seeing.

The four-year-old surprised us with the most stamina for sales. I do not feel nostalgic for the sleepless years, but I love four-year-olds. The honesty without a filter. The sponge brains that repeat everything they are learning. The confidence of knowing everything and finally having the words to say it all. He sat on the driveway welcoming people and offering them lemonade for most of the day.

He spilled it. He tried to pay people instead of taking their loonies. He danced when someone said yes. “Mom,” he said, about two hours in, “This is the best day ever. Can we have another garage sale yesterday?”

It was a perfect day. Extended family and laughter. Cousins buying jewels from the next sale down with their pocket change. Neighbours wandering through to look and to buy. Trading like-new Tupperware for ten bucks and a home-made tea roll. Kids learning to talk to strangers. Letting go of our past life to make room for the present and the future.

In all the sifting, I am seeing the moments that make up my life. Seeing and cherishing the people that we were and the people we are becoming. Seeing past the colours and shapes transmitted by my eyes, and seeing the grace of living. Let me live here.

I love the miracle that God created a world where atoms and molecules combine into matter that matters. Nature and fiber and textures that cradle us into life and carry us through.

There are times for acquiring and roaming far away, and times for coming home and sifting through. Days pass, one after another, in this space between a pandemic and whatever follows after. I want my stuff to help me see what matters.

Trusting what is to take us where we need to go

Trusting what is to take us where we need to go

Photo Credit: Marc Perrault

Trust wasn’t the lesson I was expecting when my partner planned a surprise anniversary weekend away. Seventeen years later, we returned to the Cypress Hills where we stayed as newlyweds. The lodgepole pines appear not to have changed as much as we have.

I have confessed my allergy to nature before. The condo style room in the park in early May is a better fit than we knew all those years ago. It is still cold enough that my skin doesn’t itch from the heat and there aren’t enough fires or leaves to make my nose and lungs revolt. Marc had plenty of beauty to capture with the camera, though the clouds sadly covered the stars. There was great scenery for knitting and playing board games.

And there were trails for hiking. This isn’t a first choice of activity for either of us, but the park was quiet, still melting away the final patches of snow and silently awaiting the summer crowds. I was trusting that something different would be good.

At the entrance to our most challenging trail choice, I laughed out loud at the warning to watch for cougars. “It would be a great irony,” I said, smiling at Marc, “if I died in a wildlife attack on a hiking trail.” He agreed. I can definitely count on my fingers the number of trails I’ve attempted in my life, and most have only had the danger of my tripping over my own feet.

I became breathless on the climbs and focused on my footing on the declines. Seventeen years has given way to comfortable silences and conversation that stops and starts through two decades of memories. The lodgepole pines towered above us, shrinking the significance of our years together.

I stared up at the trees, a green canopy meters above us, with only old dead remnants of the branches near the ground. The younger trees, green and spindly, stretching up to compete for the sunlight. Hard pinecones forming on the undersides of the older trees, dropping to the ground to wait for a fire to break them open.

The forest floor is a mess. Dropped pine needles, interrupted with deer droppings. Broken branches and fallen trees from the windstorm days before, layered on the trunks from seasons past. Grass and leaves and tiny flowers breaking though wherever enough light and water allows.

“What are you thinking about?” Marc asked in one of the long flat sections. “About how the trees grow up and discard the parts of themselves they don’t need anymore,” I breathed. “About how messy growth is. And how I simultaneously am embarrassed by my younger self and grieve when she goes. I like how the trees grow and make me more patient with my own growth.”

I am in the awkward stages of early middle age, still having so much yet to do and knowing in ways my younger self couldn’t how much effort and perseverance and suffering it takes to build with love. Now, I am ready to let go of the mirror’s distortions as I care more about who I become and who I love well than how I look while I do it.

And it is the forest, rather than a single tree that leads to the trusting. Together, the trees make shade. The wind blows through them to make the gentle creak of their swaying, a constant whisper that assures us we are not alone. Together, they rise and fall. They drop the seeds of their growth so more trees will follow them. The next generation of forest will rise out of this one, exactly as it is, in all its glorious imperfection.

Near the end, I was surprised by a tree suspended vertically, its broken trunk hanging just above my knees. It fell nearly forty feet, suspended in the branches of a younger tree beneath it. “There you are,” I whispered to my sister, the maid of honour who left us just before year twelve. Creation carries the living and the dead, the dreams already realized and the ones to big to see just yet.

This place we are in right now is exactly the place from which we will become what we will be. If the dream is to be realized, it will rise out of what is now. The only thing to do is to be brave enough to take the next step, and the next one. Sometimes the path is clear, and sometimes we will forge our own.

The years pass so quickly and the moments matter so much. May we let go of the branches that no longer serve us. May we be nourishment to the creatures that rely on us for food, for love, for play. May our brokenness and our strength offer hope and healing where it is needed. May we never stop trusting that what is now will be the path to where we need to go. Amen.   

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Resurrection practice in the wake of surviving suffering

Photo Credit: Becky Stevenson

When I think about the long list of things I need to practice, resurrection has never made the list. But I have been returning to the theme year after year in my writing. In 2017, I wrote about not being ready to rise. The next year, I was baking buns and reflecting on relaxing into the rising work of God. And then, the danger of daring to embrace joy. Apparently, I need more practice than I thought.

My (Catholic) faith tradition is really well-known for nailing Lent (pun wittily composed). And with our reputation for ashes and penance and giving up stuff, we have also received a collective inheritance of Catholic guilt and a tendency toward solemnity. Ashes and repentance are only one part of the Paschal story that is the heart of our faith: they are meant to lead us into resurrection.

 We’ve all been walking through an exceptionally extended pandemic lent in the liturgy of our lives. This long season has asked us to enter into a sacrificial suffering, a humility of spirit for the sake of those most at risk. And in the process, we have practiced being especially discerning, sacrificial, and solemn about life. Because we become through our behaviour, the season of surviving the suffering has changed us.

For many, as the world opens up, the things we used to take for granted feel like miracles. Gatherings of more than small groups. Seeing smiles. Reaching out to touch or hug a friend. And at the same time, these things feel risky, and still are. For those receiving cancer treatments or living with autoimmune conditions, isolation has become even more necessary now.

We have been practicing caution for so long, joy can feel out of reach. It is time to practice resurrection.

Christians on the Roman calendar celebrate Easter for fifty days. Note that this is 10 days longer than Lent and the Christmas season barely hits the double digits. Most of us can hardly handle a celebration that lasts longer than seventy-two hours before we crave the rest of ordinary time. We rush home from whatever plans we have scribbled on the calendar and retreat into sweat pants and laundry and a good tv binge to recover from indulging in our over-the-top celebrations.

But what would it look like to practice rising, to live into resurrection in our every-day lives in a way that we can sustain? Is this not what the joy of the resurrection invites?

The restrict-and-binge cycle is not a healthy or holy way. There is a time for sacrifice and a time for abundance, a time for repentance and a time for celebration. And we can practice both as they are needed, moving in and out of one and the other, hour by hour and day by day.

Even while we hold our own and the world’s pain, we can practice resurrection. We can take a walk and delight in the signs of spring. Count the buds forming on trees, the flowers breaking through cold earth. We can set our prayers for the suffering in the arms of God for an hour and let ourselves laugh till our sides ache.

Salvation is something that God gives to us by working it out in us. In order to receive the gift, we have to cooperate with it. It isn’t enough that Jesus died for me if I insist on earning salvation by being a grouchy martyr; I have to receive the gift, opening it up and letting it change me.

God invites me to delight in joy, to receive it and wonder at it, to choose it over and over again. Will I practice setting down my misery, no matter how valid, to giggle with my toddler before bed? Can I practice seeing the miracle of the person in front of me even while they fold the towels differently that I do? Am I willing to delight in the absolute perfection of my favourite song on the lips of my teenager coming from her messy room?

What if the world knew the followers of Jesus as the joyful ones? Jesus’ resurrection is not just a day, but is actually our present and our future. May we spread the Easter candy and good news over all the days instead of just a select few. May we practice rising with the same tenacity as our repentance. And may the resurrection we practice bring new life out of the ashes of the last two years.

A prayer for hope in the wreckage

A prayer for hope in the wreckage

Photo Credit: Sarah Tosh Manafo

As the world feels like it might give way into dust, I’m clinging to a promise of hope. I can still feel the faint dry spot on my forehead where it was marked with ashes. We haven’t been promised permanence, and that pisses me off. The profanity feels necessary. And still. The eternal Word promised to be with us always. Hope is falling, even here.

Too many times I have heard that everything happens for a reason; I am increasingly convinced it is a lie from the pit of hell designed to let the violent and abusive off the hook. But a quieter truth whispers hope when I am afraid: God wastes nothing.

Droplets of water, grains of sand, collections of air blown by the wind. This is the stuff that God has used to form the most majestic parts of creation. Why would humanity be any different?

From my earliest memories, I can recall staring up at the sky in wonder at how small a speck of creation I occupy. In a vast universe, I am nearly nothing and yet my heart proclaims my existence with each muscled beat. God is so deeply invested in all of it, without being controlling of any of it.

All this life is so full of meaning and so fleeting at the same time.

We wade through the wreckage of the pandemic we have been living in. We watch as a beautiful people are threatened with weapons and rubble. We do the next right thing, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Since God grieves with the ones who mourn, shares in their sorrow, echoes in the rallying cries of peace and justice, I know deeper than I have known anything in my life that God does not cause destruction. I’m counting grains of sand, strollers and canned good, notes of the Ukrainian anthem sung by my neighbours. I am counting the tears of refugees, the bodies of the dying, the impossible number of dreams left behind. I am gathering up the wreckage to offer it back to the One who will make it all new.

Here we are, Maker of Heaven and Antelope Canyon. Here are the pieces, Prince of Peace and Pripyat (a city abandoned after the Chernoble explosion). Right here is our desire and our destruction, God of the lowly and the least. Take all that we have and all that we are. Everything that we have made and all that we have broken.

Waste none of it. Make the very wreckage a sign of our hope.

May no flower petals fall without becoming something more beautiful. May no life be lived without witness or memory. May every breath give way to a wind of change. Take the sacrifices, the courage, the losses, and work your resurrection.

This is the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery and exile. This Presence was with Daniel in a lion’s den, Esther in a castle, Jonah in the belly of a whale.

Be with us now.

We are exhausted and unsure, and we are not alone. All of the majesty and misery of earth is passing away and a miracle. Give us the strength to love for this moment and the next one. Keep us counting the cost, measuring the weight, bearing one another’s burdens.

Soften the hearts of all of humanity that we might believe that hope is enough when we cannot be certain. And when we see someone losing hope, let us hope for them, carrying them along until they can take another step. When it is my turn, remind me that I will need you to hope for me.

Hold our fears, cradle our confusion, stay the uncertainty. Show us the cracks that will let in light. Lead us to the people who will offer what we need and receive what you have given us to give away. Sustain us past the point that all seems lost.

Detach us from the painful expectation of permanence. Receive everything we offer. Make the wreckage into something worthy of the pain.

May our collective sorrow and radical acts of love be gathered up in You, source of our Hope.


Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Photo Credit: Darryl Millette

It is a January deep freeze in Saskatchewan and my three-year-old buries himself in his blanket in the morning and says, “It’s cold and I’m tired. I’m not getting out of bed.” He just says what the rest of us are feeling. Navigating out of holiday mode and back into real life in a winter new year is a stretch. I have literally nothing left for resolution. It is a good thing that grace is God’s way.

Resolution talk still lingers in the frigid air. Diet ads find their way into my feed despite considerable efforts to exclude them. Omicron is snowing over our collective longing to be rid of the pandemic. I need discipline and hope more than ever. If past performance is any reliable indicator, I am most likely to rely on grand plans that exhaust and deplete me as well as my people. When I am defeated or give up, I resort to the opposite: don’t bother trying and then you can’t fail. There has been a lot of resigned lack of effort in surviving the pandemic.

After a major trauma, it has been my experience that human capacity for intentional progress on goals is diminished. My therapists reminded me constantly that healing is rarely linear, and though we participate in it, we respond to life in healing ways rather than direct our own healing. I dislike this. And still, I have found it to be true. Healing is a flow of grace that comes from beyond me.

The pandemic has felt so similar to the intense grieving that followed my sister’s death: unanticipated, unpredictable, and unending. There has been so much to let go of, to endure, to struggle through. And two years in, our family is still learning how to live here. (Even with three years to practice before).

I’m feeling the new year urges to new life. The hope that comes from celebrating the birth, once again, of a divinity that comes to where I am, no matter how resigned. There have been persistent invitations pressing at my heart now for awhile: to move, to risk, to become. It feels dangerous after all this surviving to respond to an invitation to living more deeply.

After all of the losses, I know that I cannot handle firm resolutions and reliance on my (stubborn) will. Neither has had lasting success before the trauma anyway. The unexpected upside of being so plowed under is that I can see with hindsight the way that grace carries me through.

Grace might be the one thread that holds me fast to faith. A constant sparkle in frosty air that disappears to my peripheral vision as soon as I try to focus on it. Love that shows up even, and maybe especially, when I least deserve it. Pain that gives way to something good.

It is cold. I am tired. And I am getting out of bed, turning on the Christmas tree lights and moving because God keeps whispering that I need to. I will not make it there every day, but it is enough that I do so gently when I can. I am tracking less time on screens and more time outside. There is a path of grace between planning to fix everything that is “wrong” with me and declaring myself a lost cause.

Here, in the break between snow storms, there is a lot of clarity under the rainbow sundogs that frame the sun whenever it appears. Grace doesn’t measure me – it moves me. Slowly, I am finding a deeper sense of myself that is not falling short but falling into a rhythm of life.

When all the things I “should” do start to overwhelm me, I listen to the sound of the hoar frost. Grace shows up when the whispered invitation meets my capacity to respond, however small and slow. Resolve is giving way to gentleness. Maybe this is what I love so much about my elders?

May this year bring me closer to the movement of the one who sends the snow. May I see the beauty in the fresh snow and the invitations God whispers. And may I remember that a gentle response is a profound participation in grace.



Online Pilot Program – August 2024 to June 2025

Free info session online on June 21 at 3:00 pm MST – Email to get a link.

Program Description

Catholic Clergy are trained in theology and then sent out to parishes to be administrative leaders in addition to pastors. Leadership and administration skills are essential to successful parish ministry. Join a cohort of pastors for ten months of learning new skills and best practice in a community of support, with access to practical resources. Participants must attend 8 out of 10 sessions complete the program and receive a certificate.

Program Format

The program will run online one Sunday evening a month for 90 minutes, with the option to stay for another 30 minutes of conversation for those who choose. Each session will include no more than 20 pages of pre-reading to be completed beforehand, a presentation by the facilitator (and/or guest presenters), a facilitated discussion on the content, and a handout of resources for parish ministry. Each participant will have the opportunity to book three 30-minute coaching sessions over the course of the year to identify and work towards their unique leadership and administration goals in parish ministry.

Program Sessions: 5:00 – 6:30 pm MST in summer, CST in winter

Dates: August 18, 2024, September 29, October 27, November 24, January 26, 2025, February 23, March 30, April 27, May 25, June 22.

Program Content

A full program outline will be sent out to participants two weeks before the program starts. Program material will include: Administration as Ministry, Leadership for the Church and the World, Leading through Change, Time and Project Management, Collaborative Ministry, Trust and Relationships, Effective Communication, Conflict Management and Resolution, Human Resources and Management of Employees, Financial Literacy and Planning, Recruiting, Retaining and Supporting Volunteers.


Leah Perrault has been in senior leadership and ministry for nearly twenty years. She began her career as the Director of Pastoral Services in the Diocese of Saskatoon, then moved to Catholic Healthcare, where she worked with Emmanuel Care and then as the Director of Mission at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon. She is currently the Executive Director of Southwest Homes in Swift Current, SK, which serves individuals with disabilities. She is an author, speaker, and consultant on the side of her day job.

Registration Information

Register online at: Registrants will be accepted on a first come, first paid basis.

Program Costs and Payment

Pilot Pricing: $1250/priest

Price will increase to $2500/priest in 2025/26

A minimum of 8 and maximum of 20 priests will be accepted into the pilot. Priests in the first three years of ministry working under a supervising pastor may attend with their supervising pastor at no extra charge.

A deposit of $250 is due at registration to hold your spot. Full payment is due on September 29, 2024. Payment plans can be set up by request. Fees can be paid by cheque, direct deposit or email money transfer to

Suicide: On Crushing Weight and Never-Ending Love

Suicide: On Crushing Weight and Never-Ending Love

More deeply than I have ever known anything in my life, that God has poured never-ending unconditional love over me and the whole world for every moment of my existence. That God cried with me for the one I love. I am certain that the Creator and Author of Never-Ending Love is bigger than suicide.

Emerging as the way of Easter

Emerging as the way of Easter

At all times in history, miracles and new life take time to recognize and integrate. Somehow, we falsely believe that resurrection is a complete departure from the suffering that precedes it. The hope and possibility of something new are emerging from what is with all the power and discomfort of change.

How are you engaged with your world?

How are you engaged with your world?

When we say “I believe in you” to someone that we care about, we do not mean to say that we intellectually affirm their existence, or that we know all there is to know about them. To say “I believe in you” is to say something of our connection to another person. We are engaged in a relationship that matters.

All souls: a world of extraordinary dust…

All souls: a world of extraordinary dust…

In my faith tradition, November is both the last month of the faith year, and the month where we remember and celebrate all souls. We write the names of loved ones lost in a book of remembrance and light candles for them. We pray for and with those who have gone to eternity before us. The practices remind me of Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Gratitude and maintaining perspective

Gratitude and maintaining perspective

Practicing gratitude shifts my perspective. The world does not shift to a perfect place because I am grateful, but the practice allows me to see what is real. That everywhere and always there is both dying and rising happening simultaneously. That joy and suffering co-exist. That people are miraculous and imperfect at the same time.

Riding waves with grace

Riding waves with grace

Every summer, I wait and hope for our plans to cooperate with the weather and give us a day or two on the lake with (my parents’ beautiful)boat. We need the sunshine to keep us warm enough and the wind to stay mild enough that we can pull the tube behind the boat. The driver and the wind work together to make waves, and the riders delight at the efforts to stay on or fall in. On these rare and perfect days, I might be the biggest kid of all.

Claiming rest and re-creation this summer

Claiming rest and re-creation this summer

There are always lots of questions in a house with children, and the most common one in my world right now is “What’s the plan for today, Mom?” During the school year, we fall into a rhythm of learning and activities, but the summer has all this space for questions and finding different things to do. And it sometimes feels like rest and recreation means more pressure for a mom in the summer – rather than less.

A God who sets us free…

A God who sets us free…

Both in communities of faith and in twelve step groups, I have found glimpses of this God who sets us free. I love to get to a place with people where it is possible to ask the question: “Tell me about the God of your understanding.” The God of my understanding is not afraid of our freedom but delights in it.

Finding Tenderness in the Fog

Finding Tenderness in the Fog

This is the thing about profound human pain, simultaneously physical and emotional and spiritual: I begin to identify with and feel attached to the fog, frozen by the fear that what comes next will be even worse than what is now. Twelve step spirituality and mentors have whispered to me in the fog, as many times as I needed to hear it: you will not move until the pain of staying here exceeds the pain of changing. It is a whisper of tenderness and compassion through my tears.

Presence: the art of being where I am

Presence: the art of being where I am

On the other side of grief, of leaving the broken, of destruction is recovering, healing, and growing something new. And one of the practices that carries through both seasons is presence. Just plain showing up for what is and who I am today is both difficult and courageous.

Writing the story of a life

Writing the story of a life

In writing the story of my life, however, I live through a lot of moments that won’t make the cut in the highlights or the bloopers. Our world is currently obsessed with capturing the moments and sharing them, but there is so much (and maybe more) value in the things that happen between photographs and bonfires.

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

Flowing grace: Responding to the call with gentleness

After a major trauma, it has been my experience that human capacity for intentional progress on goals is diminished. My therapists reminded me constantly that healing is rarely linear, and though we participate in it, we respond to life in healing ways rather than direct our own healing. I dislike this. And still, I have found it to be true. Healing is a flow of grace that comes from beyond me.

I (Still) Do!  A Catholic Marriage Event

I (Still) Do! A Catholic Marriage Event

For years, I've been dreaming about hosting a marriage preparation and retreat event, and I've finally had the chance to make it happen. I would love to see you there. Please register by clicking here and filling out the form: For...

On Being Barefoot…

Before the burning bush, God asks Moses to take off his sandals, to notice and reverence that he walks on holy land. This holy land continues to burn before me, before us, signaling God’s presence before we arrived rather than because we did. This life we are living was holy before we existed in it. This land and creation we call home is the first book of revelation, God’s love letter to us, bearing witness to the Creator of it all.Our lives and the moments that make them up are the stuff of sainthood, our invitations to participate in Divine life to be swallowed up and fulfilled by God. At the grocery store, in the false solitude of our cars and commutes, in our laundry rooms, and over text messages. My shoes run the risk of “protecting” me from the sacredness of this naked moment. And how I love shoes, and how my sensitive toes resist the prickles of grass and the mess of sand. But barefoot is how my spirituality works, daring to live an embodied and earthy love of Jesus who took on flesh. I’m wandering through this life, yearning to let go of my shoes, to walk reverently and with deep attention to what passes under my feet and to what isn’t yet my path. Barefoot is how I write, how I speak, how I work. Experience shored up against an insatiable thirst for knowledge; direct honesty honed by sensitivity; and vulnerability chained to a commitment to competency. And an unapologetically barefoot tendency to speak it as I feel it, which leads me to…

…and Preaching

I’m a preacher without a pulpit, with words that burn until they are spoken ~ aloud or on a page.

My ministry is one of colliding words and ideas, reaching out to find a connection with God’s amazing people.

The world seems to me to be spilling over with grace and we seem to be people who, all too quickly forget that all of this is pure gift.

When I’m driving, eating, visiting, resting, cleaning, working, playing, and almost everything else, I’m frequently stunned by the pure miracle of what simply is.

It’s not all promised joy and ease, but it is all presenced and remembered by the One who gives it. And I can’t stop talking about it, proclaiming it, preaching this good news that we have not been forgotten or forsaken in any moment of this life.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, my words seem to be given to encourage and inspire. In a world where women and girls are still too-often silenced or secondary, I’m barefoot and preaching because my soul won’t rest any other way. If my words can be a gift to you, then that is a gift for me.

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