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The Reverend David Arthur Traies Fuller

28 February 1960 – 21 November 2020

David Arthur Traies Fuller was a flawed man. He was the first to tell you that, and yet he cared deeply, often too deeply, about how he was seen. His reputation was important to him. He believed in the Book of Judgment, and would often lament that he was certain, at the end of his life, God would examine him, and he’d be found wanting. The past two years have not been good for him – health-wise; both physically and mentally.

I met David Fuller at my first Clergy Conference in 2007. I made the mistake of wandering into the hospitality room, and didn’t know a single person there. I looked around the room for a friendly face and was feeling more and more anxious. I went to the bar and bought a beer, then found a place to stand along a wall. I heard a baritone voice “Excuse me, would you like to sit here?” And there he was, larger than life, gesturing to the opposite end of the couch on which he sat. I gratefully accepted, he stood as I approached and he waited for me to sit before he did so as well. He offered to buy me a drink, which I politely declined, as I’d just bought one, and we then talked for what turned out to be hours. And so a friendship was born.

I intentionally chose the reading from Isaiah. The heavenly banquet, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear”. (Isaiah 25.6, NRSV) David loved to eat. Watching him prepare to eat a steak was an adventure. He’d ask for a steak cooked medium, baked potato and cremated onions. He didn’t want them just grilled, he wanted them black. Not once, in all the meals we had together, did he ever get cremated onions, they were always returned to the table before they were fully blackened.

They way he ate reflected how he lived. With gusto. He would cut a small piece of steak, then carefully add the onions, some potato, a bit of steak sauce, and pop it in his mouth. His eyes would roll back in his head, he’d place his utensils at attention and he’d groan with ecstasy, unless the steak wasn’t cooked properly, then the wait staff would receive a gesture and things would be put right.

He loved being a priest and he was an excellent priest. He also loved being a teacher, and when he left the classroom and returned to Parish Ministry, the time he spent on the Postulancy Board, with the exception of the last couple of years, was time he truly enjoyed. He relished in the task of walking with candidates for Ordination. He enjoyed challenging them. He would tell every student, at the beginning of their summer, that he was trusting them with his flock. If they messed with his flock, he would mess with them. But with stronger language. To him Parish Ministry was all about establishing and maintaining relationships.

Every Christmas, after his last service, he would come home, open a bag of Lay’s ridged chips, some French Onion dip, a bottle of Pepsi, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”. His favourite scene was when Zuzu saw a bell ringing on the Christmas tree. “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets it’s wings”. I quoted that once to him, complete with Zuzu’s voice and he said “don’t ever do that again.”

David Fuller could swear, especially when he was worked up. He and I once got into an argument about something theological and both ended up red-faced, cursing and about an inch away from each other’s nose. Then he started laughing. “You’re cute when you’re angry” he said. I said bad words.

He would often tell me of his children Sarah and Matthew and how, when they were born, it was important to him that they both receive the name Traies as well as Fuller.

He was proud of his heritage, he was proud of his family. He was awed by his father Doug’s gifts of ministry, and yet would often question his motivation, particularly when it came to being ornery with Bishops. How ironic that in the last two to three, okay, dozen years, he’s become ornery with his Bishops.

He talked of visits to London to visit with his brother’s Keith and Terry or “The Guys” and how they’d eat dinner together, then doze off in front of the TV with the game still playing. He loved reminiscing about “the good old days”, of times gone by, when the world seemed a simpler and kinder place.

He would talk about his childhood, growing up on military bases and how he intended to go into the military, not the priesthood. God had other ideas. It was on the top of a hill in Chilliwack, BC, during his basic training, when he watched a sunrise so spectacular, it caused him physical pain. He knew it was a call from God, but he wasn’t yet ready to answer that call. When he finally did answer that call, he talked to his C.O., then called his parents from a payphone and told them he was coming home…and going into the other family business – the priesthood.

In the last couple of years David would talk about his children with such love. Sarah Christine Traies Fuller, he was so impressed with your gumption. Your dad loved watching you eat. I see you as embodying your Dad’s best traits. You won’t be silent in the face of injustice. You speak up, even if you’re the only one speaking. You give with all you have, and you can swear like a trucker.

Matthew Christopher Traies Fuller is the creative one in the family. Your dad loved watching you on stage. He admired your fearlessness. Your desire to travel, to see the world, and when you met and married Marco, he was so very pleased that you found your true love. While I haven’t heard it because I haven’t spent a lot of time with Matthew, I expect he can swear when the occasion calls for it.

David played his cards close to his chest. He didn’t let many people in, and when he let you in, you knew you were in the presence of the sacred. Whenever we would attend a Clergy Education Day, he and I would arrange to gather afterwards, for dinner and a chat to discuss whatever it was we learned that day, and then how we would never get that time back…sorry Bishop.

He didn’t trust many people. He had many acquaintances, yet not many friends. And to be his friend was to feel special. When I would visit, especially before I moved West, we would walk by the waterfront, always with him on the outside, and with my arm tucked firmly under his. Always a gentleman, he would open the door, hold my seat and insist on sitting where he could see the door.

He is one of the few people with whom I always felt completely safe.

David took his mother Phyllis’s death in 2015, very hard. It was unexpected as his father Doug had been in and out of hospital. He and I talked about his Mum’s funeral, and whether he should preside. My Dad had died three years earlier and I had presided his funeral. David understood that I was the only one that would do it correctly – that would be able to do what my Dad wanted. So it was no question, he would preside Phyllis’s funeral. It nearly broke him, but he did it.

When I lived in Dorchester, I used to pick my mother up from the care home where she lived and still lives in Innisfil. David offered to drive with me so he could visit with Sarah. My mother adored David. And funnily enough, could never remember his name, even though her only son has he same name – David. When we would stop for smoke breaks, David would stand outside with my Mam, as she lit a cigarette, while I would go and fetch coffee. On one such smoke break I could see his face turning crimson. I came over in time to hear my Mam say “I like you, she should have married you.” It was the first and only time I saw him speechless.

When I made the decision to move West he was angry with me, but didn’t tell me until about a week before I left. We met for dinner and he told me not to go…plans had already been made, I’d accepted a post with Christ Church in Fernie and I’d left St. Peter’s, Dorchester. “You’re my best friend”, he said. I told him I’d still be his best friend, even on the other side of the country. I promised whenever I came back to Ontario, I would visit him. And I did. Every August I would venture back to Ontario, except this year.

In August of 2019 I was waiting on cancer test results, and he knew I was worried. I asked if I could come to Church and he picked me up at the hotel where I was staying in Chatham and took me to all three services. At the second service in Blenheim, he asked me to stand up and asked the congregation to surround me. He and they, laid their hands on me and he prayed for me. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember feeling as though I was being enveloped in love. That was the first and only time he saw me speechless.

David was loved by many parishioners over his 32 years of parish ministry. He loved his flock in the Parish of Rondeau Bay. The folks from Trinity Blenheim, St. Paul’s Erieau, and Grace Church at Rondeau Park. He was fond of boasting that it was the only Anglican Church inside a provincial park. He and the congregation at Grace Church, helped in the formation of many good priests in the Diocese of Huron. He was quite proud of the cherry pie baking ladies, and enjoyed the Christmas bazaars and Parish suppers.

The last time I saw David was in November of 2019 when we spent a week together on retreat. He had come through a hospital stay about three weeks before and wasn’t well while we were together. We talked about the end of life. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered, and his reply surprised me. He didn’t want to be remembered as a fabulous preacher or incredible liturgist. He wanted to be remembered as someone who was generous. And whether it was giving advice, going out for a meal, or spending time with you, he was always incredibly generous.

We discussed our wishes for our funerals. He told me what he wanted, who he wanted, and where he wanted it. And he asked me, as he had done in 2010, if I would preach at his funeral. I agreed. I simply never imagined it would be this soon. When he dropped me off at the airport to fly back home, I hugged him and said “I’m not ready to stop loving you.” And he said “Oh come on now, knock it off.”

The gospel today is one David and I discussed often, as we both carry burdens that we don’t need to. It’s an occupational hazard as a Priest and as an Empath. The last two years and especially, the last nine months David struggled. He struggled with his priest-craft. He continually doubted that he was doing enough during the pandemic. He loved and worried so much for his people, that he gave himself away, often to his own physical and mental detriment.

From Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11.29-30, NRSV)

David carried massive burdens, which were compounded with some parishioners questioning if he should be receiving a full stipend, because the Church was closed and how much was he really working? When he shared that with me, I was angry and disappointed. He believed that he was doing an adequate job, but it wasn’t enough. He called through the parish list, one at a time, over and over again. He was checking on his people, ensuring they had his support and prayers.

He prayed for his flock, and after lock-down began, every Sunday, with the exception of two, he went to Church and did the three services, alone, save for the presence of the Divine. He would use the Great Litany. He would sometimes chant “O Gracious Light”. He would pray. And often, he would cry. He missed weekly worship, he missed his flock, and he missed the Eucharist.

David started a weekly email reflection in July, and every Saturday night he would call and we would compare notes. He’d read me his reflection and I’d read him my sermon. Sometimes we were in lock-step and other times we wondered if one of us had the wrong readings for that Sunday.

Friday the 20th of November we talked through the day. He wasn’t feeling well. He said he was going to go to bed early, and he’d call me the following day. It was the next day, Saturday the 21st of November that he died.

At 9:10 am on Sunday 22nd November, his Archdeacon and my friend Kristen Aikman called me. I must have asked her to repeat herself a half dozen times. And then I said bad words.

It still doesn’t feel real. Writing this has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and yet it is a labour of love. It is keeping a promise I made my best friend. Someone I loved, and from whom, was honoured to receive love. I miss his laughter. I miss his hugs. When David Fuller hugged you, you knew you had been hugged.

David Fuller was a flawed man. He didn’t properly care for himself, and was too proud and private to let anyone else care for him. His diabetes and depression had been escalating. He told me in March that he didn’t expect to survive the pandemic; not that he was afraid of contracting COVID-19. Whether it was foreshadowing or a self-fulfilling prophecy, we’ll never know. He was right. He didn’t survive the pandemic.

He may have died feeling he had not done his best, yet I am certain, when he arrived before his God, and the Book of Judgment was opened; the gates of heaven opened wide and he heard “Well done, good and faithful servant.” From Isaiah “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.” “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken”. (Isaiah 25.7-8, NRSV)

We now have a job. To remember our David. At his best, of course. Each of us has a thread, a thread of different colours. And as we share our stories of him, and in doing so remember him, we weave together a tapestry that will resemble him; not in a portrait, but as a rendering of him and the things that were important to him.

His children, his family, his flock, his friends. Winning a cap badge at auction on e-bay. Finding a special something that reminded him of someone and gifting it to them. Meeting a friend for a meal, or a cup of coffee, and setting the world to rights. Debating theology, U.S. Politics or Church History.

Walking with a grieving family and ensuring that they felt supported in their grief. Now it is time for us to grieve him. And this grief will last for the rest of our lives. It won’t always feel this strong, with time it will fade, but it will always be there. You see, when someone you love dies, the pain you feel is matched only by the love you shared.

And as we don’t ever want to stop loving him, we will never stop feeling this pain. It will lessen, then all of a sudden we will remember him; watching a murmuration of birds, hearing the waves lapping the shore, watching a funny YouTube clip, going for a drive on a perfect Spring afternoon, or hearing a song by the Alan Parsons Project. It will feel like a shot to the solar plexus and we will be transported back to the day we found out he had died.

David asked that “Old and Wise” by the Alan Parsons Project, be played at this funeral. To quote some of the lyrics, “And to those I leave behind/I want you all to know/You’ve always shared my darkest hours/I’ll miss you when I go” and “When they ask you if you knew me/Remember that you were a friend of mine” (Old and Wise, Written by Parsons/Woolfson)

The Reverend David Arthur Traies Fuller, or “Dave” as he preferred to be called. To a select few he was David. Beloved son, father, nephew, uncle, priest, prophet, lover, friend. You will be remembered. Rest well beloved David. You have earned it.

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Today is my 53rd birthday. I don’t usually make a big deal of my birthday. When I turned 50, the Parish decided a big deal needed to be made and so, with the duplicitous support of many people, a surprise party was planned. And I was truly surprised! Coupled with the pounding heart at the bellowing of “Surprise” I remember why I don’t like surprises. I know that sounds ungrateful. I don’t mean for it to. I was very touched that the Parish and community decided a milestone birthday would not pass without celebration.

This year’s acknowledgment has been very different. I’m on retreat, staying with a friend, as my customary “pre-Advent” retreat. I had hoped to be visiting another friend who lives a 2-day drive away, but with COVID-19, it’s unsafe to travel far from home. We are encouraged to keep our bubbles small. And so, I rearranged plans and I’m an hour from home, rather than 2-days from home.

On Sunday I got the phone call you dread getting. My Beloved had died the night before. I am thankful it was a friend who called because I must have asked her to repeat herself a half dozen times. We hung up from each other, I drove to Church in a daze and we had Worship together. As the day wore on I felt like I was separated from my body. My feet felt like they were made of lead. I couldn’t concentrate and I felt as though my heart would shatter.

My Beloved had given me instructions many years ago, when I still lived in Ontario, as to what his funeral wishes were. When I moved West he asked me just before I moved and again, last summer, when I was unable to go to Ontario for vacation, he asked me again.

He told me a few times that he didn’t think he would ever see me again. He didn’t think he would ever see his children again. He did not expect to outlive the pandemic. And, unfortunately, he was right.

He and I both struggled with mental health issues. We were sounding boards and confidantes for each other. I am very grateful I have a counselling appointment tomorrow morning.

I have emailed his daughter and the Dean of the Cathedral. Plans are in place for the date and time of the service. I met with the Dean this morning by Zoom. I intentionally chose today as a reminder of a special day. Today is the day when I was able to keep a promise that I’d been asked a dozen years ago.

My Beloved’s service will be simple, small and profound. Both of his children want to speak, yet I will do the Sermon and Eulogy.

At the end of his service will be a song he has loved for a very long time. “Old and Wise” by the Alan Parsons Project. The lyrics spoke to him about his love of family and friends. Check it out.

My natal anniversary will be simple. I like simple. In comfy clothes, easy food, a decadent cake, and possibly a movie on TV. May even celebrate with an early night.

We continue to walk though this strange time. It is not how I had imagined my birthday would be. But here it is. Another trip around the sun. I’m curious what this next 12 months will hold. And I’m certain it will be different than this year.

For friendship, for family, for love, for fresh air, for random dogs to pet and geriatric snoring cats, for the love of God and the beauty of the earth, and the overall feeling that people are, for the most part, inherently good, I give thanks.

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We are living in difficult times. No doubt about that.

We can often slip into traps of thinking and focusing on what we cannot do. Sometimes we feel stuck in the NOT instead of in the CAN.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we need to wallow a little. Times when we need to sit in the muck and mire. But we can’t and shouldn’t unpack there.

Yesterday I was working in my office and I needed to answer the call of nature. I sanitized my hands, took a sanitizing wipe with me and went downstairs. I opened the door to the daycare and said “Good Morning!” Every child stopped, smiled and said hello or waved.

I used the bathroom, and when I came out a little bossy girl (reminds me of myself) asked if I wanted to help her put the lunch bags away. She didn’t give me an opportunity refuse. She put two at my feet and said “this way”. I followed her with the lunch bags, then she told me which ones belonged to which child. There was a specific place for each lunch bag in the fridge, and only she knew the order. I’d been having a frustrating day before I went downstairs. After she had put me to work, and declared “good job” when I handed her the second lunch bag and closed the refrigerator door, I came back upstairs with a smile on my face.

In the last two weeks I’ve celebrated two of the major sacraments of the Church, baptism and marriage.

At first glance it would appear that neither of these should be possible in these difficult times. And yet, all parties involved with both events were determined they would happen, within the protocols we have been observing.

The baptism happened. It was a small and joyous occasion, with a ten month old baby baptised at the font where her father, auntie and Grandmother were baptised. A small gathering of 11 people, each keeping in bubbles of 2 or 3. Everyone wore masks. And I am certain all who attended will always remember that beautiful moment in extraordinary circumstances.

The wedding happened. It, too was a small and joyous affair, with a beautiful young couple who have already been through more than their fair share of heartache. The bride was married in the Church where her parents were married and where her Grandmother is one of the matriarchs. Everyone, save for the bride and groom, wore masks. And I am certain all who attended will always remember that beautiful moment in extraordinary circumstances.

I read an article where a group of national leaders in the global Anglican Church were gathered over two days by Zoom. They heard from a number of medical personnel, as well as social workers, psychiatrists and epidemiologists. Dr. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization said “epidemics are about communities. Communities stop epidemics.”

We have been in this liminal state for eight months. And we will remain in this state for a long time yet. Too long to try and measure now, or it will seem defeating.

Instead let us prepare for the coming of Jesus. Imagine his parents preparing to take a journey, on foot, of approximately seven days, only to discover there was no bed for them as the awaited the birth of this extraordinary baby.

Let us make our measurements small. An hour, a day, a week at a time.

Let us be extravagant in our patience and extraordinary in our kindness.

We may not all be in the same boat, but we are all in similar storms.

Amen.

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Today is the 11th of November. It’s Remembrance Day. I woke up this morning with bright sun shining off the snow that fell yesterday, and I felt numb. That’s been a common sensation lately. There’s part of me that wants to rage and weep, to cry and scream, to shout and curse, and yet I’m unable to do any of those things.

I got dressed very warm to go to the Cemetery Cenotaph today. Usually I’m in full Legion Uniform with a black wool funeral cope, a black beret and black gloves. Today I dressed in long underwear, a pair of black tights, a long sleeved white top, cassock and surplice, two pairs of socks, funeral cope, beret and gloves. Poppy and mask.

My friend and neighbour drove me to the Cemetery and we arrived to see a swath of snow removed to make a walk-way for those who would be laying wreaths. The Communications person for the local Legion branch was there with her iPad and iPhone ready to record and broadcast the service. A reporter from our weekly paper was also there.

I chatted with the lady who was giving a speech this year. She does every year and she is truly gifted in her ability to write. We saw flashing lights from the corner of our eyes and the motorcade had begun. Firefighters in the first two vehicles, then about a dozen vehicles, with the RCMP bringing up the rear, also with lights flashing. It was a mesmerizing sight.

People exited their vehicles, everyone was masked, most in uniforms of various descriptions. A veteran from each branch of the service stood at the head or foot of a soldier’s grave. Once we were all in place, our soloist began with O Canada, his baritone voice clear and rich. He sang our national anthem the way I have become accustomed, half in English and half in French. There was a moment of silence then the bugle recording sounded the last post. We observed two minutes of silence, a recording of a piper played a lament, then reveille was sounded.

In the distance the Church bell rung, indicating it was 11:00 a.m. We began a little early, but I don’t think anyone noticed. I heard my name called and I went to the podium and read from Micah 4.1-5 and a prayer I wrote yesterday. Then I put my mask back on and walked back to where I had been standing.

Jennifer read her speech and it was awesome. She had researched some of the soldiers buried in the veteran’s section of the cemetery. She reflected on what their funerals would have resembled, with a horse-drawn hearse. She spoke of the brave, the survivors, those who returned injured and broken. She named PTSD and the respect all of our soldiers deserve, from yesterday, today and into tomorrow.

Then it was time for the wreaths to be laid. As the names were being read out a flock of birds began to sing and fly. I don’t know what kind of birds they were, but they were beautiful framed against the grey sky. It was overcast so we couldn’t see the Three Sisters (mountains) but they had been described in Jennifer’s speech and those of us who have lived in this valley for awhile have all seen them.

From where I stood I saw young veterans whose memories of Afghanistan are still fresh. I saw old veterans whose memories of peace keeping and of active service were just beneath the surface of their eyes. There were firefighters, both professional and volunteer. Conservation officers and regional and local personnel. The Silver Cross Mother laid her wreath first and when she removed the poppy from her lapel, kissed it through her mask and pinned it to the wreath, I counted 8 other poppies.

In all about 18 wreaths were laid, and then it was time to sing God Save the Queen and depart. Our soloist, Karl, sang two verses of the song. We sang along with verse one, but he lost us in the second verse. I hummed beneath my mask. He turned suddenly when he’d finished the second verse and Jennifer smiled, thanked everyone for coming then Oscar told everyone to return to their cars, and follow one another out of the cemetery. Apparently Karl had forgotten the third verse of God Save the Queen and was upset about that. I told him I didn’t realize there WAS a third verse to God Save the Queen. He head learned it for today.

A couple of veterans came over to say hello as we headed back to our vehicles. We lamented that we couldn’t go to Rocky Mountain Village for the brief service we do each year, but we all understand why. Hopefully next year.

As the wreaths were being laid, I thought back on the days when I was in my 20’s and I’d take the day off work to be in the Colour Party for the Legion, then go back to the branch and bartend for a few hours. None of the men and women I marched with are still alive, as they were in their 60’s and 70’s back then. I’m in my 50’s now.

Jennifer and her husband drove me home and I came in, got out of my formal clothes, pulled on my favourite house socks and did some work. About 3:00 pm I decided my work day was over and I found the movie Passchendaele. I had not watched it before. I’m glad I watched it today.

This was a Remembrance Day unlike any other I’ve experienced. And one I will remember forever.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the year’s condemn.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,

We will remember them. We WILL remember them.

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I’ve taken up walking. I know, I know…walking. I like to walk, I’m fairly skilled unless there’s a hill, it’s windy or the road is uneven. I firmly believe my centre of gravity is between my eyes. I tip over quite easily, in fact, more easily than a cow…or so I’ve been told.

One of my favourite walk/hikes takes place behind a rest area about an hour’s drive from here. I drove there yesterday, a beautiful day, parked my car, got my water bottle and off I headed. I hadn’t hiked this area in more than a year and decided, instead of going the way I usually go, to take the other entrance, where I usually come out at the end. It’s a loop, so it really shouldn’t matter, right?

WRONG!

I started off well, stopping to read the signs about the geography of the area, to read about the Indigenous land and Ktunaxa Creation story. And off I perambulated. It’s a relatively easy hike, fairly flat. The path is wide enough to step off easily if someone is approaching, which I did a few times.

At one point there’s a switchback on the trail, which I completely missed. I would up walking on the Trans Canada Trail for about 1.5 kms. I was going in the WRONG DIRECTION but didn’t figure this out for quite some time. You see, I have a poor sense of direction, but it was a lovely day and I had my water bottle with me. I would stop and take photos, sometimes just stand a breathe, marveling in my surroundings. It was a beautiful day.

I prayed for the survivors of the Nova Scotia massacre and prayed for those who died. I prayed for my dear friends who were burying both their mother and father yesterday. And I walked. And I walked. And I veered off the path I was on, thinking it would get me to where I was supposed to be.

Nope.

Another kilometer out of the way.

But it was a lovely day and I had my water bottle with me. And my ankles were starting to hurt.

You see, I’ve not been walking in long stretches since my surgery. I walk for a kilometer or two, usually around a small lake or paved path. And I was getting very sore.

When I finally pulled out my mobile and took a look at where I was on the map and where I was SUPPOSED to be I started laughing…a bit maniacally. I said a prayer for strength and sanity, did a 180 and started walking back to where I had come off the path. I got back to the path and turned back onto the path, in the direction from which I had come.

While all this was going on I came up a foursome riding their trail bikes. I stepped off the path, we said hello and away I walked. When I was walking back down the trail I saw them again. We nodded hellos again.

I continued walking and eventually got back to the spot where I had gone wrong in the first place. Now keep in mind, I had planned to walk for an hour, perhaps two. At this point I’m 3 hours in and still need to get back to where I started. And my hips are starting to hurt.

Ugh.

I now have a decision to make…am I going to re-trace my steps or am I going to try and finish the original loop. In a moment of abject stupidity I decide to try and finish the loop…only to realise after half an hour of walking that I’m not going in the right direction (again).

As I walk towards the switch-back I see the four cyclists again and we nod and smile again. I’m asked “Are you following us?” and I respond “Yes! I’ll see you at the finish line”.

Ugh.

I get back to where I came off the trail initially and follow it back. Just as I’m getting to the mouth of the trail I see the foursome one last time. We smile and wave as I hobble towards my car.

When I got home I headed straight for the Tylenol. Then I had a shower, put on pajamas and relaxed for the rest of the night.

What had started as an easy 2 hour walk became a 5 hour endurance test. I did it. I survived it and other than being sore, I felt pretty good.

I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. Then I tried to get out of bed.

Kyrie Eleison.

More Tylenol. A quick trip to the grocery store. Cleaned up my kitchen and now I’m going for a nap. After more Tylenol.

Moral of the Story…don’t be a dumbass. Perhaps I should carry a compass. And maybe pack a flare gun for emergencies.

Oh, and I did stop on the way home to get some more water.

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Three long days ago I had a total hysterectomy and oophorectomy. I have no ovaries or womb left. I have many friends and parishioners who have been through these procedures and they have given me wonderful advice. Combined with the advice from the surgeon there is one thing in common – breath.

I remember sitting in the post-operative area. I’d walked there from the surgical screening area (Day Care) and was visited by the Anaesthesiologist who was wearing a Nascar cap. Also, my surgeon came to visit me, wearing a plain blue cap. Finally the surgical nurse came to see me, wearing a floral surgical cap. All three of them talked about what they were going to do, and at some point I’d have an oxygen mask on my face and I’d need to take deep breaths. Okay, I thought. I can do that. I breathe every day!

I walked into the operating room and it was chilly. I sat down on the table, then lay down and there was a lot of activity as IV’s were inserted, surgical stockings were installed, instructions were given, checklists were shared. One of my favourite moments was when the surgeon asked what was happening to me and I replied “hysterctomy and oophorectomy” and the Anaesthesiologist said “oophorectomy or Oopsorectomy”. I laughed. Nobody else did.

Tough crowd.

I remember a mask placed over my mouth and nose and being told to take deep breaths. Then a medicine was added to my IV which I was told would take me to the Land of Nod. Took one more deep breath…

and then…

I was aware of an alarm sounding and a nurse telling me “Andrea, take deep breaths”. The alarm was an apnea alarm. I wasn’t drawing enough air into my lungs and I would stop breathing. I wear a device at night so this doesn’t happen at home. As I said I’ve been breathing my entire life, yet for some reason I had difficulty drawing a lung full of air.

I’d doze off for what felt like half an hour and the alarm would sound again “Andrea, deep breaths” I’d hear and respond and then look at the clock…usually only 2 or 3 minutes had gone by. That was worrying and frustrating. Had I forgotten how to breathe?

Eventually I made it to a room for the night. Surgical day care was deserted of all other patients when I was ready to go upstairs, and I didn’t mind staying where I was. It was quiet. The nurses were lovely and I was quite prepared to spend the night there. But no.

Up to the second floor I went to spend the night in a ward with three other women. I’ll share more of those stories later on.

The night nurse found and filled my CPAP machine so I could breathe while sleeping and I slept on and off all night. Waking about every two hours for pain medication or water.

At 4:00 pm I was finally discharged by my surgeon who gave me a list of things to do, milestones to watch for, and a reminder to take deep breaths.

It’s funny, our life begins with a deep breath and then often a cry. I’ve found lately I’ve found myself crying and then searching for deep breaths. One of the promises I made myself, is that as I move through six long weeks of recovery, I will take things slowly (I’m down to measuring one day at a time), I will be aware of my body and my surroundings. I will listen to my body and it’s needs. And I will breathe.

I will take deep breaths when I’m uncertain.

I will take deep breaths when I’m afraid.

I will take deep breaths when I’m not doing anything in particular.

I will take deep breaths before I attempt to exert myself.

All in all, I’m extremely grateful to the surgeons, nurses, doctors and staff who cared for me so beautifully. I was treated as a person, as a member of the family. My night nurse spent time talking to me as I shared my fears with her at my first overnight stay in hospital. She listened carefully. She responded thoughtfully and she reminded me “Andrea, you’re not bothering me when you ask for something, you are allowing me to care for you and help you get strong enough to go home. When you tell me what you need, I can help you get well. It’s not a bother, it’s my job.” This coming from a nurse who graduated in April. She’s a Rockstar!

So as I move through the next days I will remind myself to take deep breaths. As I snuggle in for the night, pulling on my CPAP mask. Deep breaths, clear your mind.

Deep breaths, clear your mind.

Deep breaths.

Thank you God for breath.

Thank you Ruah, breath of God.

Deep breaths.

Ruah…

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My “tradition” since I moved West has been to take two weeks and explore closer to home, then to fly to Ontario and visit family/friends. This year, the first two weeks of vacation I spent visiting doctors and specialists. I visited some friends who live close by and spent time cleaning my flat and resting. It was not ideal, yet it was what I needed.

In August I flew back to Ontario. This year was different. I decided not to schedule every moment of every day. I decided to visit only those people I truly wanted to, especially folks I haven’t visited in many years…even before I left Ontario. I didn’t rent a car, instead I used the train to move from one place to another and it was wonderful.

When I lived in Ontario I used the train quite regularly. Where I live now there isn’t a passenger train service and I find myself longing for it.

I spent time with my brother and sister-in-law and two nephews. They are old enough now I can tell them embarrassing stories about their dad (being 8 years older has it’s advantages).

I went to Church the first Sunday I was away with a very good friend of mine. Back in 2014 when I was dealing with a mental and physical health issue that meant I was off work for a month, I drove to his community every Sunday for worship. It was life-giving to be with a group of people providing support, and having absolutely no idea that they were doing it.

My friend picked me up at the hotel where I was staying at an ungodly hour and we went to three services together. I heard him preach the same homily three times, twice at one church, once at another. And it was a marvellous homily. He invited me to con-celebrate with him, which was very powerful. And at my request he blessed and anointed me in the midst of his congregation as I await test results. It was a very powerful moment in which I physically felt the power and love of the Holy Spirit moving through him and the congregation.

The second Sunday I was staying with dear friends, one of whom first recognized a call to service. It was because of his gentle nudges that I tested the call to be a priest. He had not shared communion in four years because of many reasons and it was a tremendous honour to celebrate with he and his lovely wife. Needless to say, we were all in tears by the end off the service. We met outside, used a piece of bread and some red wine left over from the previous night’s dinner. we lit a candle, settled into lawn chairs and worshipped God in God’s creation. It too was a very powerful moment where the Holy Spirit blew through our gathering, gently and lovingly.

I spent time listening, walking, laughing and loving.

I taught my grandson and grand-daughter how to build and successfully light a campfire.

I enjoyed shenanigating with friends.

I spent time in the arms of one I have loved for a long time.

I said goodbye to the old and hello to the new. I disposed of things which no longer bring me joy in order that I can be prepared to receive the good that is yet to come.

I left home feeling anxious and exhausted. I returned home feeling grateful, refreshed and mostly well-rested.

I’m toying with the idea of driving to Ontario next summer, taking a full month of vacation and taking my time…stopping at the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg etc., on the way. I may even see if I can convince a certain someone to drive back with me and explore my corner of creation with me.

I ate well, slept well, laughed until it hurt, cried until it stopped hurting, spent time outside, watched a movie, did some laundry, got a tattoo (tree of life between my shoulder blades) and generally, had the best time.

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This is the presentation I made a week ago at the First Women Talk Fernie Conference.

Some of the jokes may not translate to the written word, I’ll apologise in advance for that.

All You Need Is Love

Good Afternoon;

My name is Andrea. I’d like you to turn to the person to your left and say “It’s wonderful to see you here today.” Now I’d like you to turn to the person to your right and say “It’s wonderful to see you here today.” For folks who are standing alone, just speak to yourself. We know you already do. 🙂

I’m here today to talk to you about love.
Before I get to that, I want to talk about “norms”.
For the record, “Normal” is not a societal standard, it’s a setting on the dryer…just sayin’.

What society says is “normal” and “acceptable” as a woman is to be between 18 and 25 years of age, naturally blonde, 125 lbs with a thigh gap. Now, as you can see I am naturally blonde :-), I’m twice 25 plus one. My left thigh is 100 lbs, my right is 100 lbs and when I stand straight, my legs touch to the knee. No thigh gap, but I reckon that makes me half way to a Mermaid…and who doesn’t want to be a Mermaid? 🙂

For society today, “normal” is measured through three lenses: straight, white and male.
I’m one of those…can you guess which one? 🙂

In my life I’ve come out five times about five different things…

I came out as a Vegetarian in my mid-20’s. My mother had the strongest reaction when I went home for Thanksgiving.

What are you going to eat?

What are you cooking?

Turkey.

And that’s all?

Well no, there’s two kinds of potatoes, three vegetables, bread, salad, etc.

Then I’ll eat everything but the turkey. And as you can see, I’ve never gone hungry.

I came out as a Follower of Jesus in my early 30’s when I’d gone back to Church after a decade or so lapse. Friends and co-workers would inquire to my weekend plans which always included Church. And for the most part they were supportive.

I came out as a Seminarian in my late 30’s after spending nearly two years in discernment. When I told my friends and co-workers they were not surprised. I can totally see you doing that! Great! Where were you two years ago when I started discerning?!? 🙂

I’ve known from a very young age that I was not straight. I wasn’t truly a lesbian, so I
wondered if it was possible to be attracted to both genders. What was it called? Was I the only one? Then I discovered MCC or Metropolitan Community Church. Also known as “The Gay Church” where everyone is truly welcome.

Throughout Seminary I attended service most Sunday evenings where I felt I was with good friends who became family. I brought my Mother to Church one Sunday night and afterwards I asked what she thought.

It was different.

In what way?

Well, everyone was dressed for Church.

My Mother made friends with several of my friends in the LGBTQ community, many of whom she is still in touch with today. One homosexual couple she refers to as “My Boys”. She can’t remember their names, so that’s how they’re known to her. And when they sign a birthday or Christmas Card for her they write “With Love from Joe and Tim, Mam’s Boys”.

When I told my Mam I was Queer she was her usual, clueless self.

There’s something I need to tell you.

Oh?

Yes, I wanted you to know that I’m Queer.

Oh Andrea, you’ve always been queer.

Um, not like that Mam. It means I like Women as well as Men.

Oh. Um. Oh. Okay. You’re not getting married are you?

Who me? Definitely not.

Good, because you’re not very good at it.

Thanks Mam.

Have you told your brother?

No, I sent him an email and haven’t yet heard back.

Well, I won’t say anything until I hear from him.

Thanks Mam.

Five minutes later she calls back.

Does this mean you like rainbows and unicorns now?

I’m sorry, what?

Well, as A Gay, doesn’t that mean you have to like rainbows and unicorns?

Um, well, I love rainbow, it’s my favourite colour, but I don’t like unicorns.

And you can still be a A Gay?

Mam, it’s not “A Gay”, it’s simply Gay. But I identify as Queer.

Oh, okay.

Five minutes later she calls back.

You’re not going to lose your job are you?

What?

You know, for being A Gay…no, I mean A Queer.

It’s Queer, and no Mam, that’s against the law. I told my Bishop and he’s supportive.

Oh, well that’s good. Because you don’t want to lose your job. It’s the only thing you’re any good at.

Thanks Mam.

To be honest, I’ve never really done a “coming out” as Queer. My closest friends knew and I really didn’t think it was a big deal. When I meet new people I tease out where or if to mention it in conversation. And that’s been great. Until September.

I got a phone call from the local newspaper asking if they could write an article about me and my ministry. I thought it strange that anyone would want to know about me, and was intrigued, so I said yes. We met at the Blessing of the Animals in early October then went over to the Church and chatted. Phil did a wonderful job, wrote a very thorough article.

A couple of weeks later I was coming back for Sorrento where I’d been attending Clergy Conference and my cell phone was pinging like crazy…Congratulations on the article. You’re so brave. I’m so proud to know you. I had no idea, but I think it’s awesome.
When I got to a place with WiFi I looked online and found the article (unfold newspaper) GAY CLERGY CHALLENGES NORMS Oh, um Hi Everybody!

So on that Sunday morning I started worship with Welcomes and then asked “Did anyone read the paper this week?” There was some laughter and I continued “The headline is a bit sensational, but it is true. I’m actually not Gay, but Queer. And if you want to talk about that or the article itself, we can chat at coffee hour.

Our service begins on page 185 of the Green Book of Alternative Services –

Feedback was, and continues to be overwhelmingly positive.
I am who God created. For better or for worse, this is who I am.

1. Vegetarian 2. Follower of Jesus 3. Clergy 4. Queer

And now the last “coming out”. I struggle with Mental Illness. I have Depression and Anxiety, I have obtrusive thoughts and compulsive actions.
I am as far outside the lenses of “normal” as one can be.

Honestly? I like that.

Because I have learned through my life that God creates only from Love. And if we choose to begin with love we will always find a way through.

I have been told I am NOT a Christian because…

I am female – Women should NOT speak in Church, St. Paul says so

I am Queer – It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, let’s pray the Gay away

I am pierced – But technically, so was Jesus I am tattooed – If you want to throw down over the Book of Leviticus, let’s go!

I am Mentally Ill – If you think positive thoughts and pray to Jesus you will be healed.

True Story – A woman told me she was worried for my salvation because I am not a “true believer” and I do not know “the truth”. She said she prayed for me because I needed to give my repugnant lifestyle and give my life to Jesus. Or I would be condemned to hell. I asked her what, in her opinion, Hell looks like. It’s filled with people like you…those who don’t know the truth. And what’s Heaven look like? It’s filled with people like me…we know the truth and we are true Christian. [Pause] I really think you need to work on your threats. Because if what you say is true, Hell sounds like a helluva fun place. 🙂
So, what does this have to do with Love?

Love is the only way to survive in this mad world. In the Bible we were given 10 commandments, but they were complicated and too numerous to keep. So Jesus rolled them into two main commandments.

Love God Love your Neighbour as Yourself.
Simple, eh? No, not even a little bit.

When we are called to love someone, it means we have to accept them just as they are, not try to change them. It means we love them without fixing them. It means we enter into relationship with them. And relationships are difficult.

Anybody here married? You know EXACTLY what I mean…it’s hard.

When we stand as those on the outside, it’s easy to be isolated and feel “less than”. And that’s why love is so important.

I’m not talking about ooey, gooey romantic love. I’m talking about the down and dirty, imperfect, difficult love of relationships.

We are commanded to love, not to like. Which is a good thing because there are times when I will love you, but not stand the sight of you. And that’s okay.

For those who struggle with mental illness, love is absolutely necessary because for many of us, myself included, we feel unworthy of love.

They tell us at Seminary that we often preach the homilies we need to hear. I preach generally about one thing. Wanna guess what that is?
LOVE.

It’s not easy. It’s not light. It’s not breezy. It’s difficult, messy, ugly, uncoordinated, dangerous and exhausting.

So why do I do it? Because it’s worth it.

You may wonder why I’ve chosen now and why I’ve chosen this place to come out as Mentally Ill.

If one person here today can hear this story and it sound familiar, then this is worth it.
Am I taking a risk in sharing this with you? Most definitely.

And it’s most definitely worth it.

In mid-November I started feeling “not myself”. I was bursting into tears for no apparent reason, and those who know me, know, as a rule, I rarely cry. Usually only when I’m really angry.

I would burst into uncontrolled tears for hours at a time. And have no idea why. I went to see my family doctor and she listened to me…really listened to me. We decided to change out my antidepressant which I had been on for 9 years. The change over was a nightmare, and it began in mid-December. It took a good 6 weeks before I started feeling better and in that time I was also referred to Elk Valley Mental Health Services.

I saw an intake worker who did an assessment, and I was then referred to a counsellor at the Health Unit. She, too, is a rock star. On Thursday I finished a program in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that has been a life-changer for me. It’s equipped me with tools to counter negative thoughts and behaviour.

Does this mean I’m cured?

Oh HELL no. It means I have tools to help me not get into that dark place again. There will be good days and bad days. There will be highs and lows, and if I start to lurch towards great darkness, I know I can get help.

If you know someone who is Mentally ill, let me give you some advice. You might want a notebook and pen.
I’ll wait.
Ready?

Don’t try to fix them. Write that down. Don’t try to fix them. There’s no pithy aphorism that can snap a person out of depression or anxiety. They have to do the work themselves. And sometimes, before we can get to that work, we have to sit in the dark.
And that’s okay. Showing love to a person who is struggling mentally often means not saying one damn word. Sitting with, in the dark, holding space with them.

Think of it as a mental blanket fort. In some circumstances, it may be an actual blanket fort, and that’s good. Bring blankets, pillows, comfy pjs and snacks.
Loving your neighbour means loving all of them, as you are loved. In your perfect imperfection as the one God created.

The most loving thing you can do for someone who is struggling is to love them through the tough time. And loving them through it means taking the horrible with the not so horrible. It means risking being vulnerable to let them know you care.

People tell me they don’t believe I’m depressed. When I’m out and about I look bubbly, give hugs and seem to be in perfect health.

The thing is, us Depressives are great actors and when we are not well, we will stay home unless we absolutely have to go out and then we will lie to your face to hide how dark we are feeling. It’s true.

We all wear masks and when you struggle with Depression and/or Anxiety, the masks get thicker and may be more than one. While we’re out saying hello and looking completely “normal” it took us two hours to get out of bed and another two hours to work up having a shower. When we get home we get back into pjs and back into bed.

I’m delighted to tell you that today is a good day. And this week has been pretty good as well.

So, if you call or text me and I don’t answer you straight away, it probably means I’m away from my phone, or I’m in the middle of something else and I will get back to you. If it’s a few days and I’ve not responded it may mean I’m in the darkness and I’m trying to fight my way back.

Be patient with me. I’ll get there.

I’d like you to stand up and take the hands of people on either side of you. In just a moment, we’re going to sing….

In the immortal words of the Prophet Paul McCartney
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known

Nothing you can see that isn’t shown

There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be It’s easy
[everybody]
All you need is love [Da da da da daaaaa]

All you need is love [Da da da da daaaaa]

All you need is love, love Love is all you need.
[AGAIN]
All you need is love [Da da da da daaaa]

All you need is love [Da da da da daaaa]

All you need is love, love Love is all you need.

Thank you.

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Buddy

A week ago my cat died.  He was 11, diabetic, cranky and generally a cantankerous old guy.  But he was MY cantankerous old guy.  He was the first cat I’d ever been staff to, and as much as I didn’t think I’d fall in love with him, I did.

Two weeks ago I took him for his annual check-up and he was diagnosed with diabetes.  The vet asked if I wanted to treat Buddy’s diabetes.  I was still processing my shock with the diagnosis.  And that damn cat, who usually did not cuddle or even like sitting near me put his paw on my leg and looked up at me.  How could I say no?

So, I asked the questions I thought needed asking…how long do we try this?  What do I need to watch for?  How much will this cost?  Is he in pain?  Armed with insulin and needles I brought Buddy home and explained what was happening.  He looked at me with his usual disdain and proceeded to hide behind his chair and groom himself.

He started his insulin that night and received it every day.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, no change in him.  He was still thirsty, still hungry, still cranky.  Monday and Tuesday he started slowing down.  Not as thirsty, not as hungry, still cranky, and moving less.  Wednesday he didn’t get up from his favourite place under the kitchen table.  When I got home Wednesday afternoon he had lost control of his back end and his breathing was shallow and laboured.

I called the Vet to see if I could take him in and be put down but they were unable to take him in as they’d had two emergencies just arrive at the clinic.  So, I wrapped him in a towel, cuddled him and talked to him.  He didn’t want to eat, he didn’t want to drink.  He didn’t want to live.

All through the night I cradled him and stroked his head.  He was doze and wake.  He seemed confused and had seizures.  And about 11:30 pm he died in my arms.

I thought it ironic that he died on All Hallows Eve.  The night the curtain between this life and the next is the thinnest.  As much as I couldn’t imagine having a cat, I had one.  And the experience, while painful and sometimes frustrating, was worth it.

Thursday morning I brought him, bundled in a towel, to the Vet.  I answered a few questions, filled out a form and after spending a few last minutes with him he was taken to be cremated.  All Saint’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong.  Buddy was no saint, but I thought it, again, ironic, that he was being cremated on a Holy Day.

I came home and got to work cleaning.  Scrubbing the bathroom floor, kitchen floor, bedding.  Vacuuming, cleaning all this “stuff” and giving it away.

I have a photograph of him taken just after I brought him home.  I put a feather beside it with which I used to tease him, and lit a candle.  I opened the windows and welcomed in the fresh air.  And I cried.  And I cried.  And I cried.

In my heart I know that there will never be another Buddy.  I intentionally adopted a 10 year old cat because I couldn’t stand the idea of an elderly cat living his last days in a cage.  We lived together mostly in harmony, and I appreciated the company.  But not the mess.

I don’t want another cat.  I don’t want another pet.  Right now I need to let my heart heal and to live with the loss.  Eventually it will heal.  I cannot imagine having another pet.  Not now, and possibly not ever.

I look for him when I come home.  I remember most vividly every morning when I am once again allowed to perform my morning ablutions without supervision.  And I keep stepping in cat litter.  Thanks for the memories Buddy.  Follow the rainbow bridge to everlasting laser pointers and more snacks that you can imagine.  But no belly rubs.  Definitely no belly rubs.

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On Monday night I attended a Veteran’s and First Responders Dinner as Chaplain to the local Legion.  The dinner was a catered event and well attended.  I was surprised to see so many men and women in uniform and also saddened that each year there are fewer and fewer veterans that attend.

It’s quite sad to see our Veteran’s dying.  They are ageing; some of them are ageing well and others, well, life has not been as kind.  I remember my Dad, who was not a Veteran of WWII, he was too young.  But he was a Veteran of the Royal Air Force.  He served in Cyprus and Egypt, and was part of the last group to leave the Suez Canal when it was returned to their government in the late 1950’s.  He didn’t speak much of his time in the forces, other than to comment on how lousy the food rations were.

For me, I like to hear stories of where different servicemen and servicewomen served, whether at home or overseas.  Whether they served through combat or not.  And I’m always curious about medals, faraway places travelled and what memories they are willing to share with me.

It’s important to us to encourage these stories, as they are the foundation of who we are.  One day we will leave this physical place and what will be left is our legacy.

I’d like to investigate through the local museum, a way to record stories of our Veterans and First Responders, not to glorify war, but to remember the soldiers are service people who put their country and their first.

At every Legion gathering there is the act of remembrance, “Lord God of Host, be with us yet, Lest we Forget, Lest we Forget.

Amen.

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