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In many parts of Canada worship services have been suspended. Where I live, in British Columbia, we are still permitted to gather as long as there are less than 250 in attendance. Yet another reason why small is beautiful.

At the United Church today we sang a beautiful song as our Sending Song. The lyrics are:

Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear. Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger and I have promised, promised to be always near. (c) 1995, John L. Bell, and Graham Maule.

Profound and beautiful words indeed.

We are living in uncertain times as a pandemic is threatening our health and our safety. We can choose fear or we can choose hope. I choose hope.

Last night we had an Irish Stew supper at the United Church. There had been some conversation if we should postpone or cancel it. After prayerful consideration, it was decided that the event would go ahead as planned. There was a hand sanitizing station for folks to clean their hands before they got their food. There was food, laughter, conversation and friendship. Safely.

We gathered this morning for worship and while our numbers were down our spirit was undaunted. We will be checking in with our shut-ins and those who are most vulnerable. We will be washing our hands, often and not touching our faces.

And for the love of God, we will NOT be buying toilet paper unless we do, actually need it.

As an empath, by the time I got home from the second worship services I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I lay down but couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get comfortable, I couldn’t get warm. So I got up, found my copy of Voices United and sang the song we sung today at worship.

It’s a beautiful song. A simple song. And yet quite profound.

As we navigate these next days, weeks and months of COVID-19, let us remember to choose love first.

The time may come when we are unable to gather for worship and should that time come, we will figure out how best to faithfully serve our congregations while staying safe.

Don’t be afraid. God’s love is stronger.

I reached a major milestone this week…I drove home on Wednesday. Loading the car was an adventure as I overthought about putting the back seat down or what order to load things in. I made sure everything was at a weight I could safely lift so I put twice as many bags into the car to come home as I did when I left home.

Stopping half-way at a café for a Chai Latte (first time I’ve had one of those) was quite good. I drove the last half hour home feeling determined and relatively pain-free. When I got home a friend was waiting to unload the car which was wonderful. We had a quick visit and she left.

A friend and colleague stopped by with his adorable new puppy and we had a cup of coffee and a lovely visit for about an hour.

I unpacked my clean clothes, toiletries, electronics and groceries. I took my time as I did all these things, stopping for a sit down and a cup of tea or glass of water. Then I had a lovely hot shower in my own shower, put on clean pajamas and snuggled into a freshly made bed. Bliss.

I was wide awake at 2:00 am. I wasn’t fretting about it, I realised it was because I’d had a cup of coffee at 4:00 pm and that was my first cup of coffee since I’d left home. Jeez.

Since I got home I’ve continued unpacking and making lists of chores to do, all fun little things like setting up a new recycle station in my storage cupboard. I bought some indoor plants and plant pots and plan to transplant them into pots with better drainage. I have two small sewing projects to take on.

I’ve been out to appointments, and while I’ve seen parishioners, given and received hugs, “shop talk” has been an absolute minimum. And I don’t feel guilty about that.

I’m still working on the “deep dive” and there’s still some yucky stuff to deal with, yet I’m striking a balance.

Yesterday I saw my family doctor in the morning and my counsellor in the afternoon. At the end of our session she remarked that this was the first session we’ve had where I didn’t talk about work for the entirety of the session. She said I look calmer, happier and healthier then she’s ever seen me. She said she was proud of me! I said I was proud of me too! Then she asked the difficult question…”So, how are you going to maintain this level of self-care when you go back to work?”

Fair Question.

The answer is difficult but necessary. Boundaries, communication and the realisation that I am just as entitled to look after myself as I am to look after everyone else. I don’t have to and shouldn’t have to put my needs last.

It’s taken me 52 friggin’ years, and I am finally understanding that I am a good person, a kind person, and I matter. I am going to continue treating myself as well as I treat everyone else. And sometimes even better. 🙂

My relationship with food is still a big trigger and it’s part of the icky stuff I need to work through. I weighed myself before I had surgery and again when I got home and was shocked that I had lost 7 lbs. I’m not yet back to full-strength. I can’t walk as quickly as I was able to before because of an issue with my left foot.

I have not yet learned to be bored. I’ll need to apologise to my Bishop for that. Instead I’ve begun to daydream again. To take notice of my surroundings, be fully present when I eat and drink. To sit comfortably in silence or listen to music.

I’ve started writing poetry again…which I haven’t done since 1991.

This is work I’ve needed to do for years, no, decades. It’s brutally difficult work and I’m nowhere near finished. And yet I cannot imagine making time to do this work. I’m so very grateful that I’ve taken the time.

All it took was a hysterectomy and oopherectomy to make me take the time to do it.

I’ve missed my Parish and parishioners. I’m looking forward to being back to work, and doing God’s work in our small corner of Creation.

For the first time in a very long time I feel content.

Thanks be to God.

It’s been a rough week. I’m struggling physically to balance how I think I feel and how I actually, physically feel. When I wake up in the morning I assess how I’m feeling and what I think I can do. Most days I wake up feeling relatively okay. My sleep is not great yet, I have very vivid and strange dreams that I’m putting down to the anaesthetic leaving my system.

I start my day with prayer and then make a cup of tea, decide what to eat for breakfast and what I think I can/should do.

The other day I woke up feeling pretty good. Said my prayers, had some tea and toast and then decided to clean the bathroom. Not the floors, just the sinks, counters and toilets. Shouldn’t have cleaned the toilets. Probably shouldn’t have cleaned any of it, but I like restoring order and making things clean.

I decided to go for a walk, just to get out of the house. Got to the end of block in front of the house and fell. I stepped on some ice covered snow, which I thought was just snow. I fell onto my backside, much to the amusement of a family of deer who were reclining on the front lawn. It took awhile to get myself upright and once I did I came back into the house, had a shower and put clean pajamas on. Enough adventure for one day.

My car is buried. Not completely, but there is a burm in front of it that I have no idea how to move. I know right now I can’t physically move it. Honestly, I don’t know if I am strong enough yet to drive.

It’s frustrating.

I see all kinds of things that I’d like to do, little things I’d like to take care of, and I absolutely physically cannot do them. It makes me feel helpless. For someone who prides herself on being fiercely independent, this is an awful struggle.

I’d like to change my bed, but I can’t. I’d like to do the laundry, but I can’t. And before I allow myself to surrender, I feel completely helpless.

I’ve started a journal – a deep dive – into discovering who I am. I take great pride in being a pastor, priest, prophet, and minister. I am proud of the education I have, especially how hard I worked to obtain it. It makes me feel very good when I am recognized in the community where I live and introduced as the pastor, priest or minister to another person.

Yet when you peel all of that away…when it’s just me and God, who am I? Can I be me without the titles? Without the education? Without the knowledge?

Anyway, that’s what I am exploring in bits and pieces and it’s really difficult work. The answer to “Who am I”? is “I am a Child of God”. Yet the examination of the pieces of me, the motivation for doing what I do and being who I am is difficult. It’s dark and it’s lonely and it’s work only I can do.

So as I continue to heal internally, and recognize that the doctor’s told me 6 weeks recovery FOR A REASON, I am shifting my focus from the physical to the spiritual, mental, internal me. She has not had a lot of care given to her for a long, long time. And as much as my body needs to be nurtured, so does she.

I will continue to physically heal. I will continue to emotionally dive. And I pray by the time I am back to work, both will be in good order. A lot of work between now and then, but I’m worth it.

All my life I’ve been a person who needed to be in control. I like lists and plans. I like maps and organization. At times I hold so tightly to control that I begin to lose control – and not in a good way.

A friend told me before I went into hospital that I needed to surrender. I would be on their time, not mine. Things would happen as the nurses, doctors, surgeons, etc., decided they would. As they had time for these things. It bothered me at first, yet once I began to wake from anaesthetic and realised I was not in control of anything, the word surrender loomed large.

It was my first experience staying overnight in hospital. I was not prepared for the noise – one room-mate complained about everything, loudly, all night. Another room-mate decided she was going home and there was nothing anyone could do or say to dissuade her. The compression stockings I wore made noise all night, setting off the complaining room-mate.

I tried to stay as quiet as I could, as small as I could and as comfortable as I could. It seemed it was every two hours my night nurse would come and check on me. Did I need pain meds, water, apple juice or reassurance. She was incredible in putting my overwrought mind at ease.

I had been texting with a friend, sharing my concerns and they replied “remember, you are just as important as anyone else in there. You deserve help as much as anyone in there. You’re not bothering the nurses, you are helping them look after you.” This was shared by my night nurse when I confided I was frightened and had never been overnight in hospital.

I was connected to a catheter and an IV. I wasn’t going anywhere without assistance. And so, about 2:00 am, I imagined the word SURRENDER and did just that.

I’d love to say there was a magic transformation that overcame me. Wouldn’t that be grand? And yet…no.

Surrender looked a lot like acceptance. There’s nothing I can do about being immobilised. I can’t fight it. There’s no point in whinging about it. When I found myself getting anxious about timelines, I realised that I needed to see the surgeon and he would decide when I would be discharged.

He came to see me at 8:00 am and we discussed how I was feeling and if I felt I was ready to go home. I told him I was very tired and wanted to sleep in a familiar bed. We decided I would be discharged at some point Friday afternoon and he left.

Catheter and packing were removed and I was able to get up and walk a bit. Trying to navigate with the IV pole was less than graceful, and thankfully I didn’t roll over anyone’s toes. Once the IV was stopped, walking was easier to do yet still painful.

I am now 6 days post-surgery. I still have pain yet it is completely manageable. I have stopped taking the narcotic medication and am using over the counter meds. I’m not moving much, yet try to move every couple of hours. I have a water bottle or tea cup at all times to stay hydrated and while that’s good, it is waking me in the night. In some ways that’s good because it means I am moving.

This afternoon I am going to the grocery store with my “responsible adult” and “service human” (one in the same), who will make sure I don’t lift, and I can have access to my favourite things to eat.

I’m cleaning up my diet. Removing processed foods. Reintroducing meat. I’m craving vegetables. I’m reading a lot about “clean eating” and eating closer to nature. I’m listening to my body more and surrendering to this slow and frightening process.

This afternoon I’m meeting by phone with my counselor. I’ve been looking forward to speaking to her for a couple of days.

I’ve surrendered to the fact that I need to take things slowly. I need to listen to my body. I need to nurture myself. And I need to go only one day at a time. I am nowhere near establishing a routine. I get up and have tea, take my meds, drink orange juice, water and then make a travel mug of tea to sip on for the morning. I eat a bit of breakfast. I relax and decide if I want to “do” something, or if I need to rest. And then I do that.

Surrendering that I am where I need to be and I need to love myself more. I keep telling myself that I’m worth the time and attention that I’m taking. And I hope, eventually, that I’ll believe that.

And until then, surrender. And breath.

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…

It’s been awhile since I logged on to my blog. When I tried tonight it asked for my password and it wouldn’t work. So I had to reset my password and taaa daaa it now works!

I’ve been waiting for awhile to have surgery. A hysterectomy. It’s happening the day after tomorrow. I don’t know what time yet as I have to call in the morning to find that out. I’m going to be off work for 6 weeks, which is the longest I’ve ever been away from work in my 52 years of living. I’m quite anxious about that.

I’ll be staying with a good friend in the community where the surgery is happening. It’s an hour+ drive from home. He is listed as my Emergency Contact, also known as The Responsible Adult. It’s a title he QUITE enjoys. Me? Not so much.

It will be a challenge to listen to my body for 6 weeks and not overdo it. I am fiercely independent and also quite private. Asking for help is not something I do well. Both congregations have been incredible in offers of help. From driving me to the hospital and picking me up to arranging meals once I am back in my own flat. It’s difficult for me to accept the help and yet I know accepting it is the right thing to do.

I have a bag packed with books, crafting projects, a cake of yarn to make a baby blanket and three journals. One will be for keeping track of my post-op recuperation, i.e. pain levels, emotional space, eating, drinking, etc. A good reference for when I see the docs for follow up.

Another journal will be for my “regular’ journaling about what is happening in that crazy brain of mine. And the third is the ideas journal for when I have an “a-ha” in the middle of the day or the middle of the night. I will jot things down there and then leave them alone until I’m back to work. Hopefully.

My main intention as I heal physically is to do a deep dive into my psyche and try to unravel the root of my anxiety, depression, OCD, etc. It won’t be pretty, but it will be necessary. And my “regular” journal will be where I unravel all this stuff. I was talking with a colleague this afternoon who offered prayers and when I told him about the deep dive he asked what I’m going to do with all the “stuff” I dredge up. I told him I haven’t the foggiest idea.

We sat in companionable silence for awhile and then he told me he hoped in five years time I would look back at this hospitalisation as a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. I pray he is right.

Lately my life doesn’t seem to be working properly. I love my vocation. I’m happily busy. But my insides are a mess. I’m not eating properly. I’m not sleeping properly. My skin is itchy, my guts are a mess and I don’t feel right “in myself”.

My deepest desire is when I get back from convalescing I will be stronger mentally, physically and spiritually. I will learn to balance my time better. To build in moments of silence, of stillness and of peace.

A friend of mine is retiring in June and he’s been inundated with people asking him what he’s going TO DO with his time. He’s frustrated with the question, because it lends itself to the unhealthy ideal that we are what we do. It insinuates that once he retires he will have no personal identity.

What he plans on doing is whatever he pleases. He will focus on BEING, rather than on DOING. That is such a great message; such a great lesson for everyone. And it’s something I will be building into my convalescence.

Looking for an honest answer to “Who am I”? and then living into how I can be that person. Not by doing, by being.

Wish me luck.

A common thing to do this time of year…where have I have been…and where I think/hope I’m going to…

This time last year I knew there was going to be a significant change in my ministry, yet wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be.

I was experiencing a significant emotional and spiritual crisis and thankfully there are terrific mental health services for me to tap into which got me through the “holiday” season and referred to receive help in a timely fashion. I started working with a counsellor, changed my antidepressant and eventually worked with a group on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

It was good to be a in a room with people who understood what I was feeling. It was good to be in a place where I didn’t feel it necessary to pretend how I was feeling. I could be honest and every one understood how I was feeling, and not try to fix it.

I finished the class, and brought the reference materials home, which I referred to from time to time. I continued working on my mental health, my physical health and my emotional health.

We moved through the Season of Lent, then Holy Week, then Easter. All this time there were discussions about entering into shared ministry with our local United Church. It was exciting and terrifying. There were meetings, conversations, committees, sub-committees and lots and lots of prayer.

Eventually a vote was held in both congregations and it was decided that we would step out in shared ministry and that I would be appointed for a two year term. Joy and terror filled my life. Mostly joy.

And as we entered summer there were teleconferences, meetings, conversations, sermons, laughter and tears as we ventured into the unknown with great hope, expectation and fear.

As I reflect back on the past three months, it’s been a time of great professional and personal growth. The Congregations are beginning to see that there are new ways of entering into ministry. One of the congregations is experiencing growth and great hope. The other is experiencing grief.

To be honest it did not occur to me that there would be grief because I’m still with the congregation…but I’m not there as much. I may not be as available. Yet I’m still here.

So as we move into 2020 I’m going to spend more time listening and asking questions, to see if there is a way we can work through the grieving into something tangible and meaningful. To see if we can move through grief and loss into resurrection.

It will take time. And we have time. This is a season of joy and celebration; Epiphany, which will then be replaced by the season of preparation and anticipation; Lent.

We will walk through this together, with my deepest desire being a greater understanding of who we are; individually, as two Congregations and as a Parish. With a greater understanding of Who’s we are. And who we are to each other.

Thanks be to God.

This post was written a year and a half ago…and for some reason ended up in the drafts folder. Oops. It tells an important story…enjoy.

A couple of weeks ago a reporter from our local newspaper contact me about writing a profile piece on me.  I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be interested in me.  I was intrigued and agreed.  He came to an event that was taking place outside of the Church and afterwards we went into the worship space and chatted.  He asked wonderful questions, and we spent about 45 minutes together.

The following week the article was printed on the front page of the local paper.  Larger than life was a photo of me and a three page article.  Yikes!  The article itself was well written; it contained a few minor errors.  The headline was a sensational one, not in a good way.  It was definitely a “hook” and drew people in.

Here’s a link to the article… https://www.thefreepress.ca/life/gay-minister-challenges-preconceptions/

The reaction to the article has been overwhelmingly positive.  The headline – not so much.  I’ve had strangers stop me on the street to tell me that the loved the article and they think it, and they think that I am wonderful.  This is all very good.

Except the reporter got something wrong.  I was described as “openly gay” and while I am Queer, I don’t define myself as openly gay.  However, once the article was out there, I guess I am “out”.

Which is absolutely okay, and also extremely unnerving.

I sent a letter to the editor to correct a few things that the reporter got wrong, nothing really big, but still things that needed correcting.  The biggest one being my label.

And as much as I don’t like labels, sometimes they are necessary.  And when a label is assigned incorrectly, it should be corrected.

One of the words that has been used to describe me lately is “brave”, which I don’t really understand.  It was a risk talking with the reporter, and he went for the “hook” headline.  I don’t hide who I am, but I also don’t think it necessary to yell it from the rooftops.  I wonder if my sexuality wasn’t discussed if the article would have been as well received?

Why is it when one is outside the gender/sexuality “norm” that it’s used as an identifier?  If I was straight the headline would not have read “openly straight Minister defies norms”.  That would be an oxymoron, wouldn’t it?

Once the shock of the headline wore off, I began to embrace my “15 minutes of fame” to spread God’s message of love for all.  Since the article was written there was a municipal election, traffic accidents, political carnage south of the border, and the ballot for a provincial electoral referendum was released.  Thank God we are in a new news cycle so I can get back into the rhythm of the calendar; that of the community and of the Church.

I have worked a long time to figure out who I am.  I have had labels assigned to me that were incorrect and hurtful.  I have self-assigned labels that are correct and yet, also sometimes painful.  I no longer apologise for being who I am.  I wonder if there are some folks who look at me differently?

I am who God made.  Flawed, quirky, accident-prone, loving, and yes, Queer.  The one label or definition I stand by, regardless of what anyone calls me is “child of God”.  The most important label I have been assigned.  And the one I try my hardest to live into.

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.

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.