Memoir Book review: The Invisible Girls

August 24, 2013

I enjoyed reading the book Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge.  Her memoir read like a diary, where I felt like I entered into her world and hardships.  The memoir was an interesting contrast and comparison between her personal struggles with breast cancer, spirituality, relationships and infertility with the struggles of a family (mother and five daughters) she met on the train from Somali.  Her honesty and ability to dig deep into her thoughts and feelings pulled me into her book, gaining new understandings along the way.

I have had many encounters with people from other countries including refuges.  Sarah, however, allowed me to really picture the culture and language clash with her details of everyday situations.  I was inspired by Sarah’s humility of what she didn’t know and her willingness to keep trying to help in a situation that wasn’t simple.

I could relate to many of the spiritual challenges Sarah talked about in her story.  Though I can see blessings all around me, it can be hard to feel God with health issues, unemployment and Cancer that is abundant with family and friends.  My mind and heart don’t always connect with the questions that only seem to provide a glimpse of answers when I look at the Sun and the Stars.  Many of the spiritual clichés that I have grown up with seem to bring further disconnect from the God in which I hope is watching over me.  I could feel my heart’s brokenness yet a glimpse of encouragement as her memoir seemed to illustrate a Spirit that resided within her.

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Unwelcomed Memories

May 3, 2013

I lay here awake, feeling trapped in my memories.  Being triggered into flashbacks, and reminders of days gone by.  I try to escape the pain through activities or modes of tuning out yet they remain to block me from fully engaging in the moment or connecting with people intimately.  Sometimes life feels too complicated and too difficult to let people in.

I am taken back to my youth, when I was in high school.  A time of great confusion and a time of tremendous growth.  I was taken in by an incredible spiritual mentor who nourished me in my faith, and took the time to learn about who I was.  I trusted him, I needed him.  He taught me much about relationships, spirituality and life.  But some how through it all, it started to feel more complicated.  In many ways it felt similar to dating.  Too much time alone in places not meant to be – his house, with his family, many car trips and the adventure to the camping area where he baptised me.

One event changed everything, yet it changed nothing.  The beauty of denial and the inability to grasp the reality of that which you hope to not understand.  I am not sure how the trip to the camp site came to be, but I remember him driving us to Clark Creek, which was at least a 30 minute drive from where we lived.  When we arrived we walked around the campground where we had youth camp where I recommitted my life to Christ, then to the creek where I was baptised.  He persuaded me to take a swim with our clothes on in the creek.  It was really cold, and I remember feeling uncomfortable yet enjoyed the time together.  When we went to the car, my clothes were clinging to my body from the dampness.  He wrapped something around me (a sweatshirt I believe) and ended up touching me on my breast.  I felt fear and vulnerability of what was to come, especially since we were alone by the creek miles from home.  He was my youth pastor, this wasn’t making sense. He proceeded to act like nothing happened and we drove home.  I thought it must have been an accident, yet the situation created a sense of wonder.  What will happen next?  Can I trust him anymore?  What really happened?  Everything changed, yet it seemed the same.  I continued to see him for many more years, both alone and with his family or other youth.

It has been over 20 years ago that this situation took place, yet I can see that it created spiritual blocks that are difficult to break.  Though I can’t blame him for all of my spiritual conflicts, I realize it contributed to my personal trauma when it comes to the church and spiritual leaders.  It didn’t help that my family life also had inconsistencies of spirituality and dysfunction which probably drew him to me in the first place.   I have spent years in therapy, spiritual work and doing personal recovery, yet I feel at a loss of how to completely heal the wombs.  A few years back I attempted to reach out to some of the church leaders in this church, and to my former youth pastor, but resistance and denial indicated that more loss was likely than personal gain from any connection to these people about our relationship.  I am not sure why I expected more, I just assumed that someone (besides my therapist) would be interested in what I had to say.  Regardless, his complete denial and defensiveness of any outings taking place, made it pretty clear that he wasn’t willing or able to look honestly at what happened.

So where do I go from here?  There is no answer really, as not everything has a clear pathway.  I can continue to seek healing, and remember that brokenness in all of us, including myself.  I have done many things in which I regret, and am grateful for the forgiveness, love and grace I have received.  My heart somehow has to find the balance between openness and being aware, allowing the Spirit in, while being discerning of what isn’t God but the humanness of people.  I pray that God will bring healing to each of us on this path of finding freedom and peace through the brokenness of our past, and our current reality.  There is always hope – hope for a brighter day!


The Dark Hour poem

May 3, 2013

My soul aches, My heart cries;

When will, this pain die?

I watch and wait, for the morning sun;

When everything glows, and the children run.

Conflicts and confusion, trials and scares;

Broken dreams and promises, mistakes and failures.

Each day a struggle, for some air;

More cancer and death, that doesn’t seem fair/

Where is the wisdom? Where is my God?

It doesn’t make sense, in the gloomy fog.

I feel alone, though many are near;

Get me out, ignore the tears.

Just a little hope, or a little light;

help me see, a new sight.

Show me the praise, of a new day;

How to mend, what was frayed.

Show me the love, that I hear about;

Help me receive, the kindness of heart.

Help me hear, the wisdom up high;

To bring discernment, from the lies.

Bring me comfort, to ease the pain;

An inner peace, that forever reins.

I will open my eyes, and clear my ears;

Ready to see, ready to hear.

I will prepare my heart, and my mind;

to be ready, for a new time.

May the grace come, and fill me up;

forever hope, forever love.

Elissa 5/1/13


Stuck in Time – Roles we play

February 25, 2013
Solid Rock

Solid Rock

As I have run into many old friends and acquaintances this past week, I am reminded of how I feel stuck in a time zone. I have played a variety of roles over the years, and built many relationships. Different situations and time periods have brought out different parts of who I am or who people perceive me to be or how I perceive them to perceive me (generally not the same thing). When I run into a variety of people from different time zones, or different role periods, I find myself confused, as if I am struggling to feel solid in my identity.

Over the past 14 years I have belonged to a community of people from a place I call my “church home”. I love what the church brings – hope, love, faith, service, community, strength, and relationships. It also brings for me confusion, judgement, conflict, vulnerability, and questions about my beliefs and experiences. In my church home, I have gone through periods of sporadic involvement, little involvement, outsider, regular attendee and active leader. In many ways, the best and worst parts of me have been known in this community I call my “church home”.

As I walk the halls of the church building I feel like the wind is blowing in a variety of directions. I see teenagers and girls who are in my coaching world. The place of today, and where I spend much of my extra hours and devotion. I also run into people who were active in a mom’s group which I led, or a committee I was on, where we connected together for a purpose and passion. Then I turn around to the people who were around in the middle of my darker/addicted mind-set, watching me spin out of control. Next to them might be the person who recalls my early fibromyalgia days, and has compassion for my illness. And then, almost worse than the rest, is the new leaders and attenders, who are completely unaware of my existence and history, seeing me as “the newbie” or “nonexistent”. I can’t make sense of the history and the various feelings that emerge from within. How do I change and intersect these places, and block out the negativity that can haunt and paralyze me?

I often believe that the healing and transformation is in the process. Perhaps all my feelings are a way for me to be more graceful to myself and just step into the fears that permeate my whole being. I tend to believe that I have to do something to make up for the things I did that were destructive to my soul and hurtful to others. It is easy to simplify people’s responses, when I move into a shame based center. When I find my own place of peace, is allows me to be more centered and have a better balance of inward and outward focus. I may still feel the fear and shame, but my decision won’t come from that place. Maybe things will change for me if I look to receive the grace and love, than to question or seek to understand the complicated thoughts and feelings of another towards me.

I feel ready to get out of this zone. I honestly don’t know how this will happen – but I aim to at least see the next layer. Instead of focusing on what I perceive from others and the role I am playing, I can focus on the vision for myself and where the Spirit leads me in that moment. It isn’t a battle to win, I have nothing to prove to myself – this is about being open – about seeking to grow and build relationships with this community I am in. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, and I may not ever be “the leader” I once was, yet I can be someone with greater love and grace that continues to transform me from within.


How serious is my chronic illness?

February 25, 2013

This past week, I have learned that several people I know have cancer. Cancer is a horrible disease that most of us have witnessed in some capacity. It can be painful, deliberating, expensive, draining (emotionally and physically) and potentially deadly. We wish and pray that this disease finds a cure.

While learning of the cancer diagnosis for people I care about, it has brought about a lot of personal emotions for me to process. Having any chronic illness and going through the process of discovery of what it is, the prognosis, and treatments is difficult. At times we have hope for what the future can bring through this new illness, and at other times the future looks bleak. Having people around for support and love can make all the difference. It gives us a degree of connection, though we might still feel alone in the journey.

When I first began having fibromyalgia symptoms, I blew it off as an extension of an illness. I thought eventually I would regain my strength, and the tingling sensations were just a weird manifestation of an infection of some sort. Emotionally I was dealing with some personal issues, that seemed to be leading me into a dark place. I wondered if the stress was taking its toll upon my body.

After several months, and having pain that was moving into the 6-7 pain scale, it was time to see a doctor. I could no longer ignore what was going on, and the constant lying around was becoming problematic. Summer ended, and laying on the couch wasn’t as fun as laying in a baby pool with my kids.

Those early days of diagnostic testing and medication experiments were tiresome. I can remember the fear I felt as I went through the process of searching out potential diseases I could have. Each test brought different possibilities. At the beginning, I can remember hearing and dreading the word fibromyalgia. I hated this word, because it seemed to imply more mental issues and unclarity than other diseases, especially since it appeared to be more of a “we don’t know” diagnosis. As I had more tests, and realized the possibility of something deadly, I began to care less. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office having an echogram (I think that’s the name) where they were searching for a heart infection, and the technician was explaining that if they found an infection, it would need to be treated right away, or I could die. I felt relieved later, to discover that I had no infection in my heart, and became more open to any possibility, even if it was more in my head.

I can understand more clearly how fibromyalgia is an invisible disease. Though I have received great support over the years, especially in the early stages, in general this has subsided. I know people care, yet few people understand. I feel a battle inside of finding the balance of keeping it alive (this is what Fibro looks like), and living my life in my own personal fibro bubble. Because I look and act “normal”, even the people closest to me forget my pain and fatigue. Occasionally someone will add a reflection that shows an understanding of my illness to the situation at hand. I feel blessed and loved when those connections are made.

I cannot imagine fully the impact of having cancer. I live with a chronic illness, and have watched my mother die from tongue cancer and my sister-in-law survive cancer but have not experienced it myself. No matter how difficult my days are, I realize that this disease will not take me away from my loved ones. I may have to watch for other symptoms (such as depression) that could shorten my life, yet the core symptoms of fibromyalgia won’t do this. Cancer doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence. Most people with cancer, actually live a long life. However, the fear of death is greater because the potential is there.

I hope and pray that I can be a support to others in their experience with a chronic illness and/or disease. I admit, at times it is hard for me, because I can long for the support and love that can come from people with a more serious illness. As with any difficult challenge, it is important that I recognize how people care, even when it may not be so evident in the way I desire. I still have people ask me how I am, years later – the love is there. May I be able to offer the best of what was given to me.

None of us know what it is that lies ahead for us. Our life is filled with both amazing blessings, and horrific challenges. The medical world can try to simplify and provide better treatment through diagnosis and statistics. However, regardless of what it might appear to be, the mystery remains. May I find a way to love and be loved in the mystery.


Memoir Review: Torn by Justin Lee

February 18, 2013

I love hearing Justin share about his process of searching for truth in the Gay vs. Christian debate with humor and grace. Though this feels like my most political post yet, it really doesn’t need to be. Searching for truth is always the right path, and this generally involves looking at our own beliefs and biases.

Justin is a conservative Christian who is gay. He initially seeks to find a way to change his orientation through ex gay turned straight organizations. He asks a lot of questions, trying to understand from an intellectual and personal viewpoint. He is surprised to discover much of the testimonies of the ex gays, are giving half-truths, trying to bring hope to others, yet denying the reality of their experience. He seeks answers through the Christian community, and through the LGBT community, not always fitting in well with either. He also studies scripture to learn more about the context the Bible verses against gays were written from.

Justin has a great way of sharing his journey without criticizing other people. He asks questions, and seeks to understand the perspective and wisdom of other people, and to find the right path for himself while following his personal Christian beliefs. I see a man always striving for integrity and relationships built on truth. I admire him for stepping out on this issue, putting himself in the line of fire, so others can understand we aren’t the judge of who can and cannot be a Christian.

Before I read this book, I have had many of the same questions Justin Lee has about this battle of Christians against gays. Though I am a heterosexual, I disagree with the cruelty that has often come about from a rather young age for people with different sexual orientations. Many years ago, I encountered some pretty severe criticism from people, because as a Christian I have been open on this issue, and couldn’t honestly say I thought it was wrong to be gay. Having had close gay friends in the past, I saw the same spirituality and challenges in them, as others who were straight. I questioned many of the scriptures he reviewed, also recognizing how often woman can be treated with the same disrespect throughout the Bible, and many people take this as a cultural issue, not a moral one. Because I am human not God, I believe that it is better for me to focus on what is loving than on what is right, and trust that my Higher Power can be the one to teach each of us what is right.

I highly recommend everyone read this book and share it with others they know. Regardless of whether you agree with his truth, you will learn much about compassion, grace, the personal struggles, and seeking truth.


Surrender my chronic pain to something greater

January 8, 2013

Summer 09 352It can be hard to surrender my chronic pain to a higher power.  It is easier for me to seek answers in others to bring wholeness to fill the void in my life.  I often feel shame because it makes me feel weak and needy, feelings I seek to avoid at much cost. I can see that alone I am lacking, and I long for something greater to fill the voids and bring healing. 

I see that my way of controlling life and finding meaning does not work. It leaves me emptier than I was before, and separates me from the One that can bring my life back. In the moment it has brought me to see the longings that I have tried to deny, and to also see that I really don’t always believe the Spirit can meet these needs in me. I can see myself as bad and being punished by God.  I wonder if the Spirit has abandoned me when I hear nothing, and my symptoms don’t change.  When I take the time to connect, generally I can feel the peace. Often this is done through prayer and music.

When I come to the Spirit in my greatest place of need, and in my weaknesses, struggles and failures, and find love, than I become more trusting. I can become more honest and vulnerable allowing room to reveal the brokenness, and bring healing to my life. I don’t have to fear this part of myself anymore, and am willing to look at it without shame. I find that as I accept my life as it is, that I am much more humble and graceful to others. I can see the heart of the Spirit in a way I never have before. Compassionate, yet willing to guide me out of the traps I set myself in. I have many obstacles to really trusting and believing in a Spirit. Many of which for now, I just have to acknowledge and be open about. I see the distortions in my head, and it will take longer for it to sink in my heart. This is where real transformation takes place.

I believe that I live a spiritual life and in many ways feel deeply connected to the Spirit. I want to follow and surrender to something greater. Yet I still struggle to give up my desire for what I want-complete healing and to rearrange the dreams I had for myself. I still have much to understand about the bad things in life, including my illness/pain, and I know this hinders my ability to trust. I have to remember that religious people, are not the same as the Spirit. And that spiritual leaders may be godly in some areas, while being destructive in others.  I will be open with what I don’t get, and listen to what I am to do with that.

I love connecting with the Spirit in nature, and am finding this extremely valuable. Walks with the Spirit have been a source of clarity for me, as I hear a voice in the wind and trees. The majesty of spiritual things reminds me of who is in control, and that a power is greater than any problem I ever have or will face. He also is a Spirit of beauty, and wants to bless me. So much has been given, that I have not received.

I have been given so many people for the journey, lots of support and spiritual guides. I have learned so much from the people who are in my path. People who have shown me grace and love. Not all understand chronic pain or me for that matter, but I do know many love and care for me. I am grateful to have my heart open up more to all kinds of people and situations and to realize that things aren’t always as they seem. Can’t be too quick to make assessments about people and situations I do not understand. I gain much wisdom as I am able to ask with a heart for the person, and a desire to learn about their unique experiences. My life is truly about relationships, and if I didn’t have much time on this earth, this would still be where I would devote my time.

2.       Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could bring us peace and sanity.

3.       Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

 


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