Monday, May 15, 2017

A Sobering Thought…. My Eulogy

In the years spent dealing with death, family visitations, grief counselling along with funerals and memorial services, I have had much opportunity to both read and listen to the eulogies expounding memories of people gone, but not forgotten, once loved, but now lost. There have been many occurrences, especially during the funerals of my own family members, that occasions mentioned and relationships rehearsed, brought tears to my eyes. Some of the speakers, on behalf of the families did so with steady voice, while others struggled to maintain courage and strength throughout their presentation. By times, it was suggested that the eulogy be opened to public offerings of memories. I have discouraged this being done at funerals, as there may be quite inappropriate statements made. Sometimes we forget that decorum should be the better part of judgement, and it may be sadly found lacking in some instances.

Through the years, during a few solemn services, there have been outbursts of laughter, and chiding, and while it may have been meant with the best of good intentions, it always left a sour taste in my mouth. I have often wondered why the world seems to find a reason to mock outwardly, during these most obvious times of religious solemnity and meaningful moments in people’s lives. On more than one occasion a bride was heard to comment; “Now you know why I didn’t want that person at our wedding!” But life goes on and I have always tried to calm the hearts of those who were confronted with such outbursts and have always tried to pave the way for God’s presence and blessing, to be both found and felt, in whatever service I was able to render.

I have, down through the years, often thought about my own death. Most of us do I suspect. In my life thus far I have had 3 cancer scares. Nothing drastic ever came of it. I will mention one of those events. I had lost my aunt to thyroid cancer within the past year on one such occasion. She had suffered through surgery and treatments, but the cancer came back and I had one day found her crying alone in her apartment when I went to visit. She had asked for my help to get into a nursing home, clear up her apartment and look after her family affairs. I did the best I could with love and meaning. A few months later, on a trip to our doctor after the usual annual blood tests, I was told that my thyroid count had changed. I had been complaining of hoarseness and having trouble swallowing, so I was sent for tests and the report showed both ends of my thyroid had hot spots, indicating a cancerous condition and I would need surgery, to have them removed. Not good! So I prepared myself, trying to steel my heart for what may eventually happen, as I remembered my aunt and her struggles with Thyroid Cancer the year before.

Of course before these types of surgeries, you are sent to have mapping done. So, off I went to the hospital to have the radiated iodine scan. Lots of prayer surrounded me, and I felt prepared for whatever I was to face. After the procedure, I asked how things went, and of course very little was shared, as usually happens. I was told a report would be sent to my family doctor and he would be in touch with me. Well, the day came for my appointment and I went with a bit of elevated fear, along with as much courage as I could muster, to hear the results and get a sense of what would be taking place. The answer I got was what I least expected. The latest scans were clear and whatever had been noted before on the previous scan had disappeared. So, I was observed for several months and had blood tests to verify the last findings. It has been many years since then, but I will not forget the prayers sent heavenward for me during those weeks.

Did I evaluate life through that trial with the unknown? Absolutely, I did. Have there been times since, when trials have arisen and life seemed unsure, and I looked fearfully at the future? Yes, but perhaps no more than many of my friends and family. Nevertheless it is during these struggles when we find ourselves taking a look at the past, while gazing toward the uncertain future, that we most often take stock of life. On many such occasions I have thought about what could be said about my life. Would I want merely flowery words and sorrowful tears to rehearse my life? Would there be any good or important thing to say, that would add the true meaning of what either my mere living or any striving after a fullness of life had meant, in the context of my years? It was during one such occasion that I had a change in direction, a new vision of what I desired, (if I was to have any say) to be found in my eulogy after my demise.

There is little in life that has true meaning, but that which affects others for good, for righteousness, faith and love for others. We too often measure education, achievements and even single moments, as having value in themselves. It is true, that should one dig up a history of my life, or read a former CV (a resume for employment in general) that there might be milestones, accomplishments and things to warrant some level of praise, but that has become of so little value to me. It is not where I have been, or what it is thought that I have accomplished, that is important… it is how I was capable, prepared, and engaged to undertake, and to some extent, to succeed at what God had seen fit for me to do. Someone asked me one time what drove me to do the things I have done, and the only answer I knew that held any meaning was this; "I have tried my best to follow God’s calling… I know I have fallen by times, but it was God that got me back on my feet and revived my soul toward His ends."

When asked about my education, as I have enough to get me by, my answer has always been since my early adulthood; “I finally know now that I don’t really know anything… education itself has proven that to me!” I have met people with no formal education to speak of, yet they have wisdom beyond our imagination, where experience has taught them far more about life, and existence in this world, than perhaps it is naturally understood in today’s culture. I went kicking and screaming to university as a young adult. I had a wife and 3 children in tow. I wanted a quiet life, yet God took me to situations, position and before people that caused my heart to tremble and He saw me through it all, not by my education, courage, strength or personality, but by His will.

What could my eulogy say that could meet the need of my heart and not the need of family or friends to aggrandize a life that was normal, simple and for the most part shy and afraid? Life plays games in the hearts of the beholders, the onlookers, those who watch from afar, even those who, under the wing of family care and relationship, cannot see or evaluate fully the inner being of the person they have striven to know. We love our loved ones! We care for our peers and community. We hold them in as much respect as their value to us seems worth, and then in death we oftimes heap accolades of praise upon their memories, which may be merely tinkling symbol or sounding brass to our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer God.

You may begin to see that at this juncture in life; I see my life as rather insignificant, other than perhaps the mixed levels of joy at my presence to my family and a close circle of friends. To most we become either a convenience, should we be needed for a specific reason, or merely as a matter of comfort, as people relate to the stability of community and circles of friendship that become more remote as years pass us by. It may surprise you to know that in conversation with many seniors, down through my many years of ministry, even outside the professional context (and I disliked that label, but had to live with it) before I entered pastoral ministry, that many seniors relate to the sentiments of the teacher in Ecclesiastes 1:2-3. "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless…." We find ourselves unable to justify all that has taken place in life, outside perhaps that most meaningful of activities,being childbearing. Yet, even there the context of our influence is so miniscule, as life and its living steers our children, perhaps even more than the training we give during their early years.

I would never want to be thought of as a pessimist. These thoughts today are merely mine in the context of what I value most in life and want said at my death. It is neither meant to change the mind of others, nor to diminish the desire of others to speak of their loved ones departed. It is merely here for some to read and perhaps for others to take into consideration. Should I have family who read this and surrender, bowing to my wishes, beyond any need to speak otherwise... I would be thankful.

My Eulogy
(Ps 103:13-19 NIV) "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children; with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts. The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all."

Man is like the grass of the field, and this man we have known, now taken up into heaven, has a desire for 2 things from those who remember. First he wanted no credit for anything said, accomplished, or given in his lifetime that brought joy to your lives. Secondly, for those who may, please forgive, as the Father forgives, for any sin spoken or done in the weakness of the human flesh against you, for we all have fallen short of the glory of God; we all are sinners saved by grace.

Each breath he took, he gave credit to his Heavenly Father, each gift he received, from family to friend, he knew it was a blessing come from God. There may be some here today who will desire to give credit in some way, for a human context of thanksgiving for a life lived, but to God be all the glory! As Edwin most often said following sermons or after long hours of facilitating meetings; “God provides; I am merely the agent of delivery.” Without God, Edwin would not have had the many blessings that he felt he received during his lifetime. Even in respect to God's gifts.. he felt that they were most undeserved; yet he coveted the love of his wife, children, grandchildren, and those who would chance to call him friend.

It is not important to remember the “man”, the flesh that has carried the name Edwin D. Allen up to this day, or into the days following. If you are to remember anything, this is his wish; ”Life brings to our feet the good and the bad, it surrounds us with potentials for uplifting joys and overwhelming sadness, but through it all "there" is God. He is our Rock and our Stronghold.. and in Him I placed my trust! Do not shed tears that my life has passed, only in joy that God’s grace has granted me an eternal home in his presence. Do not be fearful of being alone without me, for I have only been the human touch of God’s hand, if comfort has been known by my presence. God remains, and it is His peace that will carry you through. I have lived by His strength and in the joy of your presence with me, but let me go… this tent of human flesh I’ve shed and a heavenly robe I now wear. Be glad for me. Love as the Heavenly Father loves you … love each other, regardless the chasms of separation you feel… I wish I could have done it better… I tried and sometimes I failed; But I loved the best I could, in God’s strength!”

If there be ears let them hear…

End Note: Be aware… I am not going anywhere yet…  scary as the thought of my remaining might be. :)

Shoes Worn Through, No Socks and Blistered Feet

Noon on Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC that summer was both hot and crowded. It was not my first rodeo down there, but we were back as a family this time, to visit the tourist haunts, so that our children could soak up a bit of the history of our neighbor to the south. It was our tradition during that decade to take some major North American trips every couple of years. It meant saving up all our extra cash and any tax refunds that we might be fortunate enough to receive, but we saw it as an important part of our children’s education.

People seemed to be shoulder to shoulder that day. There were long lines for the Whitehouse, the Capital building and in some cases the National monuments and museums. It seemed like a never ending battle to decide what was worth either the waits or the maintaining of presence in the line-ups. Everything moved at a snail’s pace and concern for meals and heat exhaustion were preeminently at the forefront of our concern. But, we had stopped on our way west to give our children this advantage in their lives, that not everyone was blessed enough to experience, so we stayed the course.

Amidst the throng, as the noon hour progressed, people were partaking of the fares and wares of the local vendors. These summertime entrepreneurs likely did a great business, while charging excessive prices for everything. Still in all honesty they were fulfilling a need created by the numbers of unprepared people who swarmed like ants throughout the venues. Not everyone was there to visit museums. There were others who were there by necessity. It was a blatant shock to our senses and an eye-opener to our children, as they gawked open mouthed, at those “others” who made their way among the throng of tourists.

It can be a shock to both our sense of reality and our moral fiber to watch what unfolds before us by times. I will tell you of the harshest of these realities that made a difference in both my life and the lives of my children that day. What looked like a middle aged man was making his way up the avenue. He was a bit stooped; he wore a dirty felt brimmed hat, old shoes that didn’t fit properly and believe it or not a long dirty trench coat that covered his filthy apparel down to his shins. His pants were short, he had no socks and from all appearances he had holes in the miss-fitting shoes. His eyebrows were long and bushy; he wore a heavy long beard and the most distinguishing feature was his very long blackened curly fingernails. Those types of nails I saw again, in later years, in India on my various trips there.

The gentleman paid no attention to anyone at all. His task was simple and filled an immediate need; to find food, to scrounge every garbage can, picking up half-eaten burgers, uneaten fries and even finishing off any leftover drinks that had been discarded that day. If something was worth saving he shoved it into the pocket of his coat, to be eaten later. We had seen people on the freeways coming into New York, on our trip down to Pittsburgh some years before. They were common elements, quite often seen on our trips, to be found entering major cities in the east. They sold practical objects to people in cars, trucks, campers and big-rigs, as traffic came to a crawl and then halted in rush-hour tie-ups. It was how they earned their living, but his man in Washington ate out of garbage cans to stay alive; this was vastly different.

We could ask ourselves how this could be happening in this day and age. How could someone be so radically isolated from assistance, when this was taking place in the very capital of the most powerful country in the world? It may come as a shock to some to find out that power, affluence and economic prowess does not mean an automatic equality for all people, in or under a country’s, state’s, business’s or family’s care. While society, due to the nature of the egregious offence to its have-not elements, does its best to secure a path toward some practical fix, many still remain outside the parameters of any assistance at all. The political/economic machinery needed to run programs, along with the financial support, for both their inception and continued presence in needed areas, most often become sadly forgotten and oft times falls prey to diminished budgets. The argument for refocused efforts toward the forgotten in society, often goes unheeded, and a blind eye excuses both the deficiency and the mediocracy of the political conscience. Meanwhile billions of national budgetary dollars are spent with blatant excess on superficial pursuits, having little to do with primary health care, social support, education or even pivotal superstructure renewal.

In our local neighborhoods, here in middle-class affluent North America, it is hard to see and experience first-hand, a great deal of blatant oversight in social services and care for the forgotten and indigent of our country. Other avenues of assistance spring up to take up the slack through programs in our cities, towns, villages and religious institutions. Yet, there seems to remain a programmed overall desire to isolate ourselves from the hands-on practical participation in recovery for those in financial tribulation at varying degrees. It is easy to drop a few coins in the box, to write a cheque as the canvassers ring our door bell, but is there an actual conscious/proactive awareness of the plight of so many, defined as the forgotten, the have-nots, and the beggars who live on our streets?

The Bible reminds of Christ’s stories, (parables) of those who were the forgotten and rejected, and our need to be found “hands on” in our application of both concern and love for our fellow man. On Pennsylvania Avenue that day we sadly only watched, much to my sorrow and shame today. But the effect it had on me that day, soon moved me to volunteer in our local food banks, work as a volunteer with sheltered workshops and finally across the world to both teach, and give financial assistance, as much as I could, for several years.

The parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes the various facets of how society interfaces with such problems. Can we imagine not helping someone in need? Yet, as hard as it may be to accept, many would rather pass to the other side of the highway and be on their way. To become involved means both responsibility and commitment. In the above mentioned parable, not only did the Good Samaritan take care of this broken man who was not of his religion, but he also left resources with the innkeeper to continue his care, along with the promise to cover any deficiencies in the cost not covered, on his return. (Reference: Luke 10:25-37)

Imagine if everyone cared that much. What a different world we would live in. Loving our neighbor as we would be loved should be our motto; value being placed on meaningful interaction on a regular basis. God has given us the resources as a gift from Him. We claim to earn our own living, but who has created all that is; even the resource from which the manufacture of goods and products come, by which we receive wage and compensation? I tend to view life as a gift in itself, and the joy of sharing has become foremost in my mind and my principle of practice.

The gentleman on Pennsylvania Avenue showed no shame in what he was doing that day. He was living on the edge. Had his life taken such a sharp turn that he was no longer able to maintain a standard lifestyle as we know it, or was he dislodged by indifference and just slowly became one of the forgotten? I am able to gain peace by walking along our beaches and shorelines while gazing out at the ocean. I lie down in a comfortable bed at night and eat regular meals; I have great health care and the blessing of a caring and loving family for support.  If everything suddenly changed for me, in the twinkling of an eye, someone would be there to pick me up, but I have seen thousands now, in my lifetime, who have no options; or very few to say the least. For the most part we here in North America are blessed beyond our true comprehension. We have much to give thanks for, even though there are days where heaviness of heart may bring the weight of distraction to our shoulders. Yet, still among us are the silent sufferers who surround us; the forgotten or the lost, striving to eke out a life daily, while hidden in our blindness and oversight!

If you are walking near the edge today, and that edge drives you to distraction, take opportunity to pause and look outward for a few moments. My grandmother told of a young woman who was driven by the desire to be beautiful. Every living moment she reflected on that possibility and it created not only personal dissatisfaction, but also animosity in both her peer group and especially within her family. One day her grandmother took her aside from the mirror where she was standing gazing at herself, and told her that if she began to concentrate on helping others in their need, she would be blessed with beauty. Years passed and she was able after a while, entering her teenage years, to finally defeat that constant bane to her existence. While working in a native village as a missionary a decade later, she was invited to visit a special reflection pool, which an older young lady she had been helping, often frequented as a matter of blessing. After walking for what seemed miles and sharing her experiences with the young girl, they finally arrived at their destination. The young missionary sat at the edge of the pool taking in the beauty of the surrounding vista. Without thinking, she glanced down and was surprised at the face staring back at her from the calm surface. Comely and attractive features had replaced what had been in her childhood a “plain-Jane” face that brought sadness to her young heart. She began to cry and murmured quietly; “What precious time I lost in longing for what came so naturally; as I was giving to others … God was quietly giving to me”.

It is not easy to forget about ourselves and focus more on others. It is hard to imagine both the context and quantity of hardship there is in the world, but it still remains. But as you stand amidst your own trials, there at the edge, what is happening may not be so terribly bad as it may then seem. It may just be personal, and what happens to us personally is most often felt in its extreme. Take time to pray about it. See if there is another outlook, another avenue, not to deflect or put off a resolution, but to give time to put life into perspective, beyond the immediate collapse of life as you know it. Perhaps that is what God was doing for me on that extremely hot summer day in Washington DC. I was soon given another chance to respond… after all there were lots of shoes worn through, no socks and blistered feet that confronted me in my years of travel that followed that first face to face experience with abject poverty. Maybe God has something for you to do… perhaps to sooth just one tired blistered foot (or heart) at a time. It can take you to the edge of a different class altogether... but it brings a deep satisfaction and a beautiful joy to your heart! 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Bridges over Old Chasms

I grew up in a whole different environment than this generation of high tech and instantaneous everything. I had the curious experience, while very young, of following around a grandfather, who was by nature somewhat quiet, but did take time to spend with his grandchildren. It was a time with a much slower pace in life. Our household fluxed with the needs of family, as they came and went for various reasons, sometimes staying for a month or more with us, but they were good times for us all. Some of the stories of my youth I have shared already, others are still to be recounted and put into print. Here are some more of those memories.

Our backyard had relics of the past, reminders of how things used to be when Grandad kept a horse, either one of his own, or for someone else. I was always enthralled by items such as the old sledge used to bring tree length logs out of the woods, both at home and elsewhere. In back of our home was an old corduroy road that was a remnant left from one such access to our back lot, where firewood was harvested for the winter, and was likely placed across the swamp so the horse and sledge could safely get to the woodlot and back.

These old roads could be found everywhere in my time. Along with the common corduroy roads were the log bridges, built across brooks and streams, which needed constant repair and upkeep, to ensure another season’s use. They were a necessary part of the work load and their maintenance was part of the landowner’s schedule, if the roads to woodlots were to be used for another year. If the stringers got bad, then the whole bridge was replaced, if the wood on the other side of the stream was worth the work needed to rebuild the structure from the ground up. This work was all done by hand, taking long hours in some cases, and much back-breaking effort.

Winter and spring storms that brought floods, meant that rot or complete destruction was a norm for the woodlot owner back then. Today, machines move into woodlots building roads, bridges and ditching the access routes to ensure years of practical usage, and when they do need repairs the machines return. What could take days or weeks then, in some cases, may only take hours in today’s standards. They are putting in a new set of bridges across the local river in our town. One of the bridges replaces a train trestle and the other a single span bridge used for vehicular traffic. Both were in need of replacement, both will be a welcome addition, especially as the vehicle bridge will now be a double lane structure. The look is certainly different, but the structure will be much safer and grant an easier route along a busy highway. Seems like the work is being completed in the twinkling of an eye!

This past weekend, which has been Easter, I got to spend the day with my whole family; meaning all of our children and grandchildren along with some of the extended family, including our sons–in-law’s parents and other of their children and grandchildren. It is times like these that I give thanks for family and am reminded of my own childhood, as I watch both old and young alike gather in a very different format, than I would have experienced in my own youth. I sat in their local Church Service on Easter morning and my heart swelled as all of my children and grandchildren filled several of the pews around me.

Easter in my childhood was very much about the change of season. People wore their “Easter” outfits, small children sported new clothes and little girls had on new Easter bonnets. Religious services often spanned a three day celebration, starting with a 3-hour service on Good Friday, sometimes a musical event somewhere on Saturday night, and then Easter morning events and services. The hardest part of the celebration for me, is and has been, the knowledge that while the Easter’s message, being one of reconciliation and forgiveness as God’s grace to His creation shone forth in the Christ event of death and then resurrection, seems of little consequence in the overall perspective of many. After all, it was the once and for all breaking down of the wall that sin had built, between Himself and humanity. Yet, little seems changed in the hearts of those who fill the churches to celebrate… life goes on as usual, as they exit the building. Mine is neither to judge or condemn... I have no right, yet my heart aches nevertheless.

I had in my youth, a fascination with the flexibility of the moral fiber of those who call themselves believers. Varying levels of acceptability of practice and denominational tolerences made the challenges of personal direction of faith sometimes grey and forbidding. Though there is much debate over the breadth of practicalility in the sweep of that brush; there creates a much confused set of definitions, that have been debated at all levels of religious strata, since the time of Christ. Our moral compass is greatly affected by our environment, decision processes, and to a great extent our peer groups, and the effects upon us can be as many as they are varied. Knowing personally how easy it is to be drawn into a situation,  without even realizing the folly that has beset you, I fear for those who have no hope in faith that is founded in Christ. To hear the Easter Message, to celebrate why and how God made it possible for people to gain forgiveness, should make a difference in our lives; shouldn’t it?

What does it take, in the case of the human soul, to repair the damages of time and mishap? Unlike the labour of strong hands and clever skill sets, enabling men to repair and rebuild damaged bridges just by their sheer will and ingenuity, the malefactions of humanity encompass such a broad spectrum of both subtlety and blatantness, that man’s sheer will is not enough to either overcome, or repair the rift between themselves and God.  There could be only one solution and that became totally dependent upon God himself. We find in all religions, the presence of a deity who is both master and co-ordinator of the universe, yet none who themselves became the sacrifice by which the believer was granted both reconciliation and forgiveness, but in the God of the Christian Faith. As the believer has cause to sing the great hymn of the Faith, “Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It!”, the quiet peace of knowledge of God’s love and assurance, to those who seek Him, still rings true today.

I am sure there are many who read this blog, and feel embittered by religion and the fickle nature of the "Church”, as we have all watched humanity drift in and out of the church-house seemingly unaware of the nature of their witness to the world. We are called to worship, and much of the time are confused at both its meaning and its call to the state of both mind and heart. It perhaps becomes easy to settle upon a neutral state of limbo, both revering God in some circumspect awareness and a haphazard compliance to tradition, when circumstance demands. Churches are oft times full at Easter, Mother’s Day and again, while not so much, on Father’s Day and then filled again at Christmas. A quiet need to revert to family tradition, or to pass on to the next generation the religious context at some level, is a need that is not totally passed over at least by “this” generation. My concern remains for the next, as the rift between belief and faith find an unholy indifference towards one another as time goes on.

If you are the searcher, the wanderer, the procrastinator or even the cynic, you have chosen a path that has been steered by situation and experience. We each face life, never ready for the winds of change and disappointment, but nevertheless find a course that we feel suited to our personal satisfaction, based on both need and comfort. While there are quite often variances in such a generalization, most often we settle in life just for the comfort of settling itself. There is little room to wriggle in some situations I understand. We find a way to sustain presence without too much damage to either our moral fiber, or our presence as part of family and peer groups alike. While many choose to run from life, more than we might believe do stand and fight against the fear and anxiety of life being lived.

Sorrow, despair and depression are not crimes against normalcy, though they are quite often treated like they were. Upon hearing chiding voices speaking those hurtful words, “Only the weak need God!”, many once deigning to chance the walk of faith have had their resolve broken, never to return to that path once again. Those turning to God with significant needs are walking near the edge, many times so weary of the activity of living that there is nothing left to hide from God and so look up, not wanting just an end, but merely to finally realize peace. Here near the edge there can be peace. Here near the edge we can find love and acceptance. Here near the edge does not mean we shall no longer feel the storms of life, but we are assured that the fear of being in the midst of the fray can pass while never feeling totally alone. Today humanity still occupies the pews of the local church, and as humans pass through the portals, coming and going to worship, they still carry the burden of all those human shortcomings that have been the bane of our existence since the fall of mankind. They go... many seeking.... many finding!

Each person who enters God’s house does so as an individual; entering not to gain, but to give back, not for mere profit in redemption, but as a gift of love toward God, never to merely fill the coffers of the religious establishment, but in due homage to Him who has granted life, not merely in eternity, but also life in fullness, to those who would believe. The bridges once broken across chasms, once deep and wide are spanned, and the swamps, bogs and un-crossable terrain, now have a passable road to carry us to safety within God’s love; that proffered in the death and resurrection of the Christ Event, celebrated at Easter! You only need to trust the bridge, and take that first step! I trust the builder and so can you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When the Bough Breaks

One dare is much like the other when you are a kid. It’s just a friendly jest, a punch in the arm or a tousling of your hair that says you are too little to be taking on such a feat. It’s always accompanied with some level of doubt bringing a challenge that arises from one’s inner self and is hard to beat back, wanting calm amidst the stirrings of shame and self-doubt. But, life carries with it that growing desire to be more, to be capable, being able to rise to the occasion; to both meet and surpass the limitations hoisted upon our psyche by peers, who have suddenly become our competition in the rank and file of daily life.

I can remember vividly that first dare. My father smoked when I was small. His ashtray was beside his favourite chair and was generally not cleaned out until later in the day. I have often wondered if the words were ever truly verbal or just implied, but the pressure to conform was great upon my young heart. I had no desire to smoke, no desire to be caught, bringing on myself any indication that my intention was to smoke, but the need to rise to a level of competence is heavy on a child’s heart. I took a butt and shoved it into my pocket. If I ever showed it to anyone or not I cannot remember; it was the knowledge that I could walk the edge of that challenge and not shrink back that mattered at the time.

Sadly in life we soon learn that most dares are spoken, and often with derision and carry little or no concern for the impact that the pressure of both the reception of the cutting words and the inception of the process to fulfill the challenge, would stir within a person’s soul. It is part of the cruelty of youth that is most often carried forward through life by those who, within their nature, strive to exercise their power over others, to belittle and demean, in their feeble attempt to satiate their own thirst to be top dog, in a dog eat dog world.

The tree was no more than 30 feet tall. It was near our home, in a regrowth pasture that had been cut- over, perhaps a decade or two past. Being a young fir tree the limbs came all the way to the ground and it was easy to climb. There was never any doubt in my mind that I could do it; I loved to climb. The dare was to go all the way to the top. My neighbourhood nemesis was my age, but he loved to challenge, to chide and in some cases take his maliciousness to a higher level in either personal assaults or pressuring others to do it for him. It was all about control and nothing more. The worst part, as I look back through the years past, was that there had never been any consideration for the feelings of others, and there was never any way to know what affect all this had on those he chose to overwhelm, by his words or actions.

So, I climbed the tree… all the way to the top. When you are young, you just want to more than merely survive. The need to be accepted sometimes drives you forward, beyond good sense or even fear. On the way up I felt a sense of the accomplishment about to take place. Like so many things in life, the prize is quite often only one miss-step away. I did reach for the top, but by focusing only on the courage driving me upward, I placed my foot on one of the weaker upper branches and it snapped under my weight. Of course the slim uppermost branch of the tree, to which I attached my next hand grip, was not strong enough to bear my weight, and down I crashed to the ground through the forgiving limbs and landed in a heap at the bottom of the tree. I lay battered and cut amidst the rocks and moss near the tree's roots for a few minutes. The neighbourhood kids scattered after seeing me struggle to get to my feet and I staggered alone to the house, disoriented and bruised.

I wish the scars from that fall were the only ones I carry, but they aren’t. Not all scars are physical and I have learned that being bullied and demeaned in your childhood often leaves you with psychological scaring that is worse than any fleshly marks from mere mishaps in life. How we deal with those scars can make a great difference in the person we become. Not all scars, of the psychological type, are from bullies in either our childhood or early formational years. Scars may form when adversity beyond our expectations confronts us and takes its toll in daily living. It is the act of living, it is the journey that we all face. Some people are more capable of rolling with the punches, seemingly able to shrug off the moments, while others reel under the stresses, and like those who suffer with PTSD, may relapse into anxiety and depression, as triggers take place.

Many of us have grown up hearing in our childhood, nursery rhymes and lullabies. A popular North American rhyme turned lullaby is as follows.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.

There have been many offhand explanations, about both the origin and the meaning of the rhyme, but perhaps in this case it is better to exegete, or draw a few conclusions directly from the words themselves. In our youth, a babe perhaps, we are sheltered, secure in the comfort of a bird-like nest, protected as it were from the world’s devices and danger. But, oft times throughout life, things happen that are either out of our control, as mere infants in a complicated world, or are part of our personal folly, as we step upon unreliable ground and sink into the mire of life.  Here we are reminded that from part of the happenstances of life, will come both storms and mishaps that can inevitably cause upheaval in our lives, often to the detriment of our health, both mental and physical. Every fibre of our security in life can crash around us.

Part of the hardship here is that we don’t always land fully back on our feet, even if the results of the fall seem minor. Years back, my wife and I lost our first child. We were young and felt that though the trauma of the loss was great at the moment, we could begin to start again and be blessed with family. We were blessed, but not with full deliverance from further tragic loss in our lives; we still had to face the momentary storms.There were formidable moments of confusion and despair, as the hardships of that generation’s struggling to make ends meet became an almost daily battle.

Hardships and disappointments do add up; they accumulate like flakes of snow, seemingly independent, but soon forming a blanket of white that can cover the green of the grass and trees. While it holds a beauty in some respects, untouched by the movement of traffic, it also brings stress, hard work and fear to the lives of many. My life was momentarily shattered one day, 20 plus years after our first son’s death, as I was confronted by the horror of a prenatal child’s struggle, while I sat in a University lecture… the pain of loss and sorrow, overwhelming my very soul, I asked myself then, “Why am I feeling these emotions now, after so many years?” Scars of former battles can lay dormant until something triggers the response, often hidden for years, yet constantly directing our thoughts and decisions, as we forge on in life.

The question has been asked, "does everyone react the same way to tribulation in life?" Perhaps some are conditioned by environment and react differently, maybe there is a mix in the gene pool that makes the difference, or perhaps one’s faith walk can lead them on a different path, seeming to shelter them from all harm. I was told as a child, "don’t go near the stove or you will get burned." I had no realization of the idea or sensation of being burned. I could watch the flame, seeing it eating up the wood or paper, as the fire licked up the fuel. I could even feel the warmth when I stood near it, but the sensation of being burned was beyond my comprehension. I was being prepared for life! We walk near the edge of so many dangers; we ply the waters of various dangers in life and quite often don’t wear the lifejackets provided, wanting to feel the rush of excitement, or even danger, as we throw off the securities of experiential warnings against doing just that. How do we find some level of justification for folly in doing so? Perhaps it can be the desire to break down the barriers of limitation and cast off into the deeper waters of the far end of life’s pool. Others are there, why not me? It seems that some tread the path of exploration and resistance to conformity, while others seek calm and security allowing a stronger sense of the tried and true.... the path most often taken... the safer path!

Each day we make choices, and not all of life’s choices are simple to make. The complexity of life brings things to the table that can create storms, both personal and corporate, affecting ourselves, our families, and our community.  You see, walking near the edge is not ALWAYS the safe path. It seems hard to think that after years of writing about being near the edge, and its positive effect on our lives, that I could now inject such a statement into the equation, but today I am. You see walking or living near the edge has its dangers; without paying close attention to our footing we can easily step over and be lost, or badly damaged.

I personally choose to not walk alone. I have tried never to find myself in that situation, but as cautious as I have tried to be in life, I have on occasion climbed some more “proverbial” trees, reaching for the top, only to find myself crashing to the ground, badly bruised and disoriented. There is a difference between being alone and acting alone. For example, unsecured and out of a parent’s grasp along a sidewalk, a child can rush headlong into oncoming traffic and be struck by a vehicle.  Another being that one can be united in marriage, for perhaps even 70 years, but never bothering to communicate the true basics of the caring and sharing that were meant to be, just because words seemed redundant, once the vows were spoken. Being alone can be subject to both definition and practice. So, who we share with, and how we share, becomes the foundation upon which our quest near the edge, finds its best and most reliable security.

A walk of faith in God, the Great Redeemer and Friend, means for me a sure footing, a light unto my path and a hand of security and healing, should I fall and damage both my pride and my physical being. I pray for you today, that you will not lose touch with your faith. By putting your life in the hand of God, He will keep you safe, or should you fall, you will have both strength and courage to rise again. Keep your footing strong near the edge, for the bough can break!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Skating On Thin Ice

It never occurred to me that you had to really check the pond before strapping on your skates!

There was a huge amount of rain that fall and the low spots in the fields, the swamps surrounding some nearby streams, and of course all of the ponds, were filled to overflowing. The level of water never seemed to diminish and we all looked forward to the cold chill of winter turning all the water surfaces into ice so that we could strap on our skates and begin a new hockey season… or at least pretend that we were playing in the big leagues. It is hard to imagine the lengths that we took to find ice back in those days.

My youth was filled with an urgent desire to play sports and whatever the elements, there seemed to be a sport that could accommodate my desires. Back then I loved winter. We pulled out our toboggans and sleds, along with the most feared snow transport of its time, the homemade bobsled. We tackled every hill that had any amount of snow, until the steeper paths or lanes were packed down and began to have an undercoating of ice; then the challenges began. The regular sleds and toboggans brought satisfaction, but the homemade bobsled provided that extra level of skill laced with danger. Many of the riders found out just how challenging and dangerous the bobsled could become, as they lay entangled in the mass of wood, rope/chain and bodies, often only halfway down a winding run through the trees.
No matter the joy we found in those first snows, the true passion for winter, for many of us, was that moment when you first strapped on your skates, in order to strengthen your ankles for the challenge of ice hockey on a nearby pond. My first memories of skating, while still in my early years, were on the dirt road in front of our home. Too young to go very far, we were given permission to skate on the road. Yes, you read correctly, we skated on the road. Quite often, after the first snows which were accompanied most times with some rain, the road gained a slick surface of ice…. with ruts. It might be hard to imagine the possibility of skating amidst the ruts on a dirt road, but we soon became adept at managing the unevenness of the surface and we found that doing so added an extra level of agility to our skills as well.

The greatest challenge after that was waiting for the ponds to freeze over. We skated on anything that had ice, even the local brooks, once the temperatures dropped far enough to create a hard enough surface to hold us up. One such potential was found in a large pond that formed in our field next to the family home. All that fall the low spot, that once was the location of a huge barn, continued to fill up and held a level of water that created a perfect child sized rink, in our minds. Soon the temperatures dropped, and after about a week we ventured out on the ice, with visions of hours of enjoyment right in our yard, skating through our imaginations. All seemed well, but we were told that we should wait a few more days before giving it a try again, as it seemed too thin around the edges and we hadn’t really given it enough time to freeze properly. But temptation got the best of me and as I scrambled to get my skates on and get on the ice, the only thing on my mind, was the joy of trying out my new hockey stick, and the hours of pleasure to follow.

Looking back for most of us I pray, is always a joy, as it brings fond memories of the challenges that confronted us, while reminding us that we somehow both survived and overcame the worst of scenarios. Well, I was about to experience one of the worst, not in terms of danger per se, but one of disaster and embarrassment to say the least.  Along with the dropping of the temperatures, as winter approached, that caused the small pond to freeze over, was the receding of the level of water beneath the surface of the ice in that pond. What I thought was a perfect rink, was actually just a layer of shell-ice that remained, as the water was absorbed into the soft earth, where once the barn had stood. What I had thought was a solid surface, was soon found to be nothing more than just a “lick of a promise”. You can imagine my surprise when after my first glide I ended up crashing through the shell ice and into what was left of the water, that had not yet soaked into the ground. My joy, short lived, ended with two wet feet and a badly damaged pride, which also included some badly scraped shins. Oh the joy of childhood!

Yet, as often happens, those experiences are not the only thin ice that most of us skate on through life. There is a daily hazard that many face, as we forget to check the potentials, before walking out on that proverbial ice. It is hard to imagine that lessons learned in our childhood can soon be forgotten, or ignored, in the face of what should be a more mature sense of self and self-awareness. It seems many of the lessons learned are either not retained, or they are outgrown in our minds perception of how life is now lived in adulthood, with all its keen sense of worldly prowess. There remains though, that passion for forging ahead, likened to jumping the gun without properly testing the ice before strapping on the skates; only to find that thin ice has a modicum of folly attached to its surface tension.

It is bothersome in some respects to always be checking our steps. There can be moments when spontaneous decisions must be made, and that is life. On the other hand the school of hard knocks should tune us to the point where we acknowledge that it would be better to take our time, and test situations before we jump headlong into what may turn into a shin buster of an event. I wish I could list all of the times that I have leapt spontaneously into the unknown and asked myself afterward, “Just what was I thinking!” I have been fortunate that I have survived all those forays with danger, but I cannot brag that I have come out completely unscathed. Life has taught me that there are prices to pay, as well as those bonuses received, to most actions in life. Not all decisions are good decisions, just like my poor judgement in getting on that shell ice in our field, those many years ago.

That is where the joy and comfort of not being alone is beneficial. Many of the times in life that I had decisions to make, I had someone there to talk through the possibilities with. Not all of my confidants were mentors. It is great to have a person who you can share moments with, sometimes pour out your heart to, in confidence that what you share is likened to a sacred trust. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Things can still go wrong, without good solid advice, when simply choosing perhaps some then present unqualified listening ear. I have found that in some respects my heart still longs for total security in human form, when it comes to having that someone who will listen and not judge, rebut, or reprimand without first hearing the whole story. I am blessed by having a wonderful wife, who after more than 43 years knows me better than I know myself most days, but as the old saying states, “familiarity breeds contempt” and I can’t always trust just her judgement alone.

Ok, before you run to the internet to look me up on Facebook, with the intent of giving me an earful, there is more to the story. Because we know so much about each other, we can oft times too quickly presuppose or prejudge a conversation or proposal. We can, due to the complexity of our human design, chase the proverbial rabbit, as we get caught up in parts of conversations and our minds drift to “other” factors or stored arguments. It is part of the basic fact of relational cohabitation and sharing. Does it make it easy…. of course not! But we learn to adapt and find a path through it all, with love guiding the way. What is the problem here then you ask.

I live in faith! I live by faith! I survive by my faith that God has a greater plan, even when I fall far short in the plan that seems to be where He wanted me to be sometimes. I don’t live a charmed life. The truth is, none of us do. We skate along and sometimes while not paying any attention to the forward surfaces, can skate off onto thin ice. That is like living on or near the edge… It can get scary at times.  It is there that I reach out to the God of Love and Grace, and am reminded that He not only picks me back up, as I crash through the ice, but He, when I stop to listen, is telling me when the ice is thin. I have learned that I can go to Him, pour out my heart, and when I have emptied myself, it is then that in the stillness of my exhaustion I hear Him say, “Are you listening yet?”, and He reminds me that it is far better to ask first and then wait for His answer.

I pray that as you skate along through life that you will remember that not all ice is safe, not all water is calm, and also not all relationships are perfectly reliable, for all facets of life’s journey. I pray that you can see the progression here. The only perfect relationship I have is with God, though I wouldn’t want to lose those blessings of His favour, in granting me a wonderful wife and loving family, along with some of those good friends who count me as a friend in return. Why not take time to check the plan that God has for you; you may just find it comforting to not always be on thin ice.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Collateral Damage: It’s When Tough Gets Even Tougher

“People at war with themselves will always cause collateral damage in the lives of those around them.”  - John Mark Green

I never saw a dog that I didn’t like, but I have met a few that didn’t like me. I have always loved animals and I think dogs have always been my favourite. I didn’t have a dog growing up though both of my parents grew up with dogs in their homes. Dad told the stories of his dog Bunny that used to be very protective of the family. If anyone teased her, she became upset, and almost like an elephant didn’t seem to forget while additionally keeping a bit of a grudge against such an individual. My Mom’s dog, Jack, seemed to be more of a typical rural dog, who loved people and I loved looking at pics of him and his replacement Jack 2. I am not sure of the breed of dog that Bunny was, but the Jacks seemed to be similar to Border Collies. I do remember one dog from my childhood quite vividly though.

It was a daily trip for me to go to the garage where my Dad had worked since returning from his overseas stint that ended in 1945. The owner of the business had a collie and we became quick friends. I struggle at this point to remember the name of the dog, but we spent many an hour together, while I waited for Dad to get off work for the day. On one particular occasion, when I entered the garage, Dad told me not to go visit the dog, as he had not been feeling well all morning and was holed up in the inner office. I asked for the reason not to go visit, and Dad just repeated, “Well, he is not feeling well, so you should stay away today!” My ability to reason the facts, and the capability for my mind to understand the repercussions of not listening to Dads suggestion didn’t kick in, in this case, and I went in to see my friend anyway after a while. When I reached out to pet the dog, he turned his head toward me and snapped out; his teeth cut my hand. Dad took me next door to the doctor’s office to get me fixed up and reminded me that he had said not to go near the dog… and it was for good reason. The dog had an abscess and just snapped at me out of instinct. I call it the sick dog syndrome. People like dogs can sometimes lash out in ways that don't reflect their true nature, all because of something that is going on in their lives.

We often fret over things that happen to us, or to those we love, and may often try to intervene by lending a comforting shoulder or a busy hand to help lighten the burden. There seems to be little accomplished when we are pushed away, having our interventions rejected, only to compound the pain that we may be feeling for those who seem to be struggling. In my youth there were so many occasions when a friend seemed down-trodden, at odds with the world, and I would try to say something that to me, made sense, yet to that person very little consolation seemed present. My inexperience in life, quite often did not allow me any better results at those early interventions than my reaching out to that poor dog at the garage. I most often got bitten for my efforts.

Yet, I was taught as a child that we have to be prepared for life; all the eventualities that may come upon us call for stamina and consideration. My mother was very ill when I was a child and I was taught how to do many of the things that have enabled me to take care of myself while travelling and at home. My grandmother used to read a story from a book  that I think was called, “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories”. The story revolved around two characters. The first was a farmer, an older man, looking for a young man to help him during the busy summer season. The second was a young lad, looking for work on a farm for the summer. The perfect match right? Well, one would think so at first glance. The old farmer approached the young man at the local exhibition and asked if he was a good worker, as he had been watching him and his steady, strong work ethic all day.  The young man uncharacteristically answered, “I can sleep when the wind blows!” The old farmer, not liking the young lad’s answer asked again and for the second time received the same answer. Not able to get the boy out of his mind, and knowing that he could work steadily, with a good attitude, as evidenced during the day, he asked him to come to work for him. Yet his heart still held some indecision about the boys attitude, when being questioned about his work.

A few weeks into the boys employment on the old farmers land, a storm arose and the old farmer awoke in the middle of the night calling for the young lad to quickly get up. There was much work to be done to save the harvest and animals, as a storm seemed to worsen. The boy did not answer and slept on! The farmer rushed out to his barns, his paddock, and the fields, and all was secured, closed tight and the livestock bedded down. He finally understood the boys answer…. “I can sleep when the wind blows!” Had the old man just flown into a rage and challenged the boy right then and there, a catastrophe might have ensued.

We are not always as prepared in life as that young lad was. Sometime the storms of life blow in and wreak havoc with our best intentions, and mess up life being lived. We like the dog in the garage can become edgy, temperamental, and at times more than unpleasant to be around. Do those around us always understand? Of course they don’t. We often allow things to pile up, without realizing that the very nature of the accumulation is beginning to cause alarm bells to go off, even projecting into our personality. We tend to write off those things as annoyances that will go away, or be handled at a later date. But just like the potential mountain, awaiting the right conditions one day, it may find itself part of a landslide that can cause lots of collateral damage. Surrounding the beauty of a mountain can be found homes, highways, railways, not to mention the people and animals that never seem to be prepared for what might eventually take place. Things that affect us, affect those around us.

I try to understand why people build homes, towns and cities on and around flood plains. I wonder for instance, why daredevils walk out onto rock outcroppings, too close to raging waves that can tear them free from safety and drag them to their deaths. There are so many things in life that can separate us from family, friends, our comfort levels, and yes in fact, even our lives. It is in those moments that collateral damage is at its worst. Those who leave us suddenly in death, that could be avoided, leave behind so many who will never fully understand. They will mourn the moment when the realization that, what should have been, was passed over for something which needlessly took place, and has now left them not one iota of hope, that their strength, courage or love can change anything now.

I can remember stories in my childhood of one of the local hunters going out and shooting two deer with one bullet. He had taken aim at the quarry and when investigating the shot found that a second deer, a fawn, lay beside the one which he had sighted in on. I am not sure of the regulations then, but I often wondered about the feeling that went through the hunter’s mind on finding that one shot killed two deer. Is it is like that in human life? I think so to some extent. One bullet can destroy two or more lives. One death to homicide for instance, can tear the life from a parent, spouse or child even when answers are forthcoming to explain the circumstances.  It can destroy the life and relationship of parents as well as siblings. A child’s or friend’s senseless death brings a sense of death to part of the life of those left behind. Little in life makes sense when the needless happens.

Is it not just death, as I have already mentioned, that can bring with it collateral damage. It is brokenness of spirit, lethargy, raw depression, separation, or loss of job that can cause rifts in relationship. On and on it can go and the list seems endless when you consider the numbers of scenarios that could take place in a person’s life. Is it fair to be asked to consider others too, as we try to deal with life’s situations on a daily basis? Is there a measure by which we can examine the causal effect or the repercussions that our actions have on others? Can we fairly, and with focused emotions, evaluate properly those moments, and is it fair to say that everyone is uniformly capable of doing so, if it were even possible? The hazard is found in the judgment that all things are foundationally equal in life. Society’s strata, though we claim to have mostly conquered that in North America, is still woefully present. Socio-economic differences make the measurement of “norms” almost impossible. To define measurable norms within society’s individual pockets of social and economic strata, the base lines for measurement, can be strewn with bias and cultural bigotry, bound to register a faulty analysis.

Today, I believe more than ever before in my lifetime, that there is a greater need for humanity to take more time for one another. I know that we are socially more active, spend more time trying to make ends meet, and sadly spend more time communicating superficially, rather than on a deeper emotional level in person.  Collateral damage may seem minimal, but it is still there. In all ages people have moved apart, been left behind, and those who suffer, often suffer for the rest of their lives. Let’s remember that what we do, say and how we act, takes its toll on others. By being present, aware and motivated to care about others, we share our love and compassion for what is taking place in other’s lives.  Let’s not make the place that we visualize as being between a rock and a hard spot personally, into something far worse for those around us… those we love and who love us.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When It Just Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Ah… just to be a teenager again! I smile when I think of how many people I have heard say that down through the years. It seems that we are sometimes stuck in the dreams of what it was like and visualize things that we want to remember and it brings nostalgia to a peak. I am not sure that there is any one specific time in life when this takes place. Many might claim that this could be an indicator of the period named as middle age crisis. There may be other times though. One doesn’t have to be in crisis to become reflective. In times of celebration, there can be such moments with old friends, while rehearsing fonder moments, when a person might make such a statement. While it is possible that during those times, such a statement is a mere consideration of the joys of memory and not a true reflection of desire to return to that age.

Someone made that statement a few years back to me. I smiled and submitted that I preferred the age I was then; then well over the tribulations of youth. It might be easy to make such a statement, as some would, and have it mean a return to that age, with the wisdom and understanding of adulthood. But, when that ideal has met full scrutiny, it lacks a depth of consideration of the pitfalls that would surface if that were the case. In my case I struggled with acceptance by my peers. I was a Christian; I had standards and many times took a stand on what I believed to be right, moral and just.  Being a teenager can be tough and finding your center, a place where you maintain a level of peace with self, and a peace with the world around you, is not always easy.

As we become adults, things change. To think that life becomes easier as we mature, is as dangerous as hiding your head in the sand, and pretending that if we just look at the goodness of life and steer clear of the heartache and pain, all will be well. Most of us have heard that old descriptive “fickle friends”. It happens to most of us at different levels. Not everyone understands the need for one of the crowd to wander off into a new relationship. Finding a boy or girlfriend who meets the needs of maturity can change the landscape of what was a norm perhaps for years. During that transition between being a teenager and a young adult, lives can be affected and friendships be uprooted, as people grow apart, while individuals search for their place and space in life.

My best friend in high school once told me that life changed. He was searching, lost perhaps, alone for sure, and looking in many places to find himself. He saw me, now with a wife and family, as someone who no longer understood his plight in life’s changing environment. My focus was now on family and not his and my relationship as old buddies. This becomes the dilemma of many who grow apart from an individual within a peer group, and suddenly feel left behind in life. It happens in personal relationship as well; marriages and families can drift apart. Things happen in life that can change our feelings, our perception of what life’s realities are, especially during times of trauma or long stretches of disturbance in family. There can be so many causes in that scenario, so many triggers and directed blames that surface, and too often silence pervades the true reason for change, creating a festering sore, widening the gap between what was and that which could be.

Why do people drift from the original plan? Why do circumstances in life seem to defy both our sensibility and sensitivity to those around us? How are people to respond to silence and remoteness and not feel deserted and alone in relationship? Why do we hear a statement like, “It just doesn’t matter anymore!” There are not too many answers that make sense. It may seem a simple assumption to just conclude that everyone works on the same level. One can fall into a deep cavern of misunderstanding when reductionism directs our thoughts. There are circumstances in life, reflecting both environmental and physical trauma that have “causal effect” on people, which are not always understood by the “other” in relationship. We must be cautious in judging others, as there is ever possible a moment when suddenly life may take a turn, which could uproot all that is thought to be the stabilizing forces in our own lives.

It is hard to understand the mind of a person, whose mind is made up! I’ve heard that in the voice of people that have mattered to me, along with people that I have tried to work with down through the years. It is the voice of surrender. It is the voice of gloom and reticence; it’s a silence that pervades the heart of the heart once broken, and reflects broken lives that often have been vibrant and thriving. There is no sense that makes sense any more. Some will never know that feeling. Maybe their strong personality types have prepared them for handling what seems to be the worst, regardless of what the reality of the situation is. Some can handle disappointment after disappointment; even that which has been self-inflicted, seemingly unaffected by external forces or stimuli. These people are not the norm.

I’ve been there. I know the drill. Some say that those who have suffered themselves try to work with those who are in similar circumstances, in hopes that others will not suffer as they have. It is not an easy process and carries with it many pitfalls. You carry both the heartache and pain of others, along with the need to fine-tune your own psyche to allow personal adjustment within allowable tolerances, so that nothing will trigger a relapse in your own life. Most educators train students, preparing for counselling, to remain aloof, isolating themselves from interfacing too closely with the problem. They are taught to deal first with the emotions being projected, and then ascertain the means by which those emotions can be handled in recovery. It is a long road filled with hazards, and not all clients/patients present exactly the same. The worst cases are those who become quiet, seemly adjusting, making personal contacts again, while any presentation of anxiety, that had been previously severe, is suddenly silent. In these cases life seems to have returned to normal, a crisis averted. While this may seem a good thing, students are cautioned that this may be only an indicator of a deeper problem. 

I have been asked, “How then do we understand, identify and truly know when to deal with depression or in the worst case scenario, suicidal tendencies?” I wish that I could just snap my fingers and be capable of giving a universal blanket statement that would cover all the needs out there. It would be so simple, but for the complexities of life, relationship, and the human factors of embarrassment, defense of family image, along with the popularity of camouflage.  I am not speaking of the style of clothing worn by so many, but perhaps it does reflect societies corporate bent toward wanting to hide behind something that will disguise the reality of life being lived. The camouflage, of which I speak, is when families protect the image with a false front, a fa├žade of good, stable family conditions. Families struggle, people react to stimuli differently and sometimes they grow apart, not meaning to, or at other times being forced to by internal strife or indifference. We can’t hide from that, nor can we hide it form community… it is most often acted out in our personal lives.

Where do we look for answers, is another big question that arises. How we deal with problems in life, as mentioned already, is as varied as it is many. There are no easy answers, but here perhaps those methods in counsellor training, have some degree of meaning for all of us. We all need to discover what is causing the pain, how it is manifesting itself and this takes a true search of feelings we call introspection. It is too easy to deflect during this process, so it is necessary to take time to look inside from a distance, like another may see what is taking place. The second part of the plan is finding a way to manage, or halt the pain, of those emotions. How that is done can be stylized to the individual for sure. There can be mental exercises, medications and even a change of atmosphere, where we are removed from the stimuli causing the stress. How about this as an alternative; I prefer this as a first line of defense of course! Move toward one of the greatest reasons for living, that being love. We sometimes have to love ourselves first, before we can love others. That can be a fair statement in most minds. God says that unless we can love others we cannot truly love Him. Does it not stand true then that if we cannot truly love ourselves, at some basic level, we cannot love others or God fully. It is a hard place to be… standing alone in a puddle of life’s stench and feel self-hatred and lost. There can be nothing worse than that!

It is then that we stand on the edge. It may take great courage to begin to forgive yourself for being you, but that is what life is. It is a series of steps we take, or have taken, that lead to various places that are not always comfortable or tenable. It is then that mistakes are made, reality becomes distorted and discomfort creates within us a misery that isolates and judges our sensibilities wrongly. Here we must rely not on self, but on God. There is nothing that we can do, but surrender; not to stupidity, but to love.  It is God’s love, and His wisdom, that is necessary for healing of our hearts, lives and souls. I pray that if you, or someone you know is approaching a difficult time in life, is there, or has been there, do not allow them to feel alone. Talk to one another and most of all, talk to God… together. He is watching over you!