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Today is the 31st of January, Bell Let’s Talk Day.  As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I am absolutely aware of the dangers of isolation.  I am aware of the shame that accompanies the struggles in getting out of bed, forcing yourself to get dressed, plaster on a smile and pretend that everything is okay.  Then, at the first available opportunity dashing home, closing the curtains, turning off the lights and rocking in the silence.

I’m grateful that I’ve not had many of these days lately, but there have been some.  And they frighten me because I’m never sure when they will pass.  If I’m completely honest, when I’m going through them I’m not sure THAT they will pass.  But as the sun rises tomorrow, the new day dawns, with time these feelings pass.

It’s been a very hectic few weeks with multiple deaths in the congregation and the community.  Since the beginning of January there have been 5 deaths.  Last week I presided funerals on Monday and Friday.  This Saturday I will preside two funerals in one day, which is highly unusual, but in this case, absolutely necessary.

Next weekend I’m on stage as part of the Vagina Monologues.  I’m excited and terrified at standing on stage in a local venue and baring my soul for strangers.  I play the role of a transgender woman who discovers she’s different at a young age.  The monologue contains humour, rage, and at times poignant moments.  It will be a challenge, but at the same time I’m excited to have this opportunity.  It will take me places I have never been before and while I do have deep-seated anxiety about forgetting my lines or somehow letting down the other cast members, I know I can do this.  I know I will make this happen.  There will be friends in the audience who will be there to support me.  And it will be amazing.

Behind my left ear I have a tattoo.  It is of an infinity symbol with a semi-colon over the cross in the infinity symbol.  I see it every time I look in a mirror and it has generated some wonderful conversations.  Recently, at a funeral reception someone noticed it and asked what it was about.  I told them: the infinity symbol reminds me that I will struggle with mental health issues for the rest of my life; and the semi-colon tells me that my story is not yet over.  She looked up at said “I’d never have guessed you have anxiety and depression.  You look so pulled together and confident.”  I smiled and thanked her for the compliment.

Yes, I could have corrected her about the fear I feel.  But I decided to accept her compliment with grace.

On this day I wanted to jot down a few meanderings on what Mental Health Awareness means to me.  It means standing up and telling your story; without shame or fear.  It means asking people to share their stories.  It means being a person with whom others can share without judgment or criticism.  You will never hear me say “Snap out of it”.  Because I’ve had that said to me, and it’s not helpful.

I am an advocate for many things…and the biggest thing I advocate with Mental Health Awareness is that we are not alone.  We are not ashamed.  We are warriors.

So, let’s talk…

Balance is a strange word…it has multiple meanings.  My sense of balance isn’t great, ask anyone whose walked beside me and I careen into them.   The balance I’m talking about is life balance.  I am my own worst critic and my own worst enemy.  I am harder on myself then anyone else has eve been, and I’ve had some critics and enemies.

The still small voice gets loud at times and tells me I’m worthless, useless, lazy, stupid, etc.  The well part of my brain tells me to ignore the voice, or fight back against that voice.  The sick part of my brain says “See?  Told ya!”

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  I find winter difficult for many reasons.  So knowing I’m already emotionally “down” in the darker months, why set myself up for failure with promises I mean when I make them, but don’t really think them through…so for this year, as I was sitting at home with a glass of wine and a purring cat a word came to me — BALANCE.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  It can be both/and.  I can be conscious of my health and still enjoy a lazy day at home or an ice cream when I’m out.  I can walk 10,000 steps some days and 3,000 another.  I can sleep a full night and have a nap, or work through the night and sleep part of the day.  Balance.

I am many things to many people and I believe I treat everyone the same.  Or that is my intention.  I am drawn to the underdog…to the one who feels invisible.  That is the story I seek.  And in most cases as trust is earned and stories are shared, there is a great deal of similarity.

There was a funeral for a gentleman from the congregation in early January.  He was a much-loved member of the congregation and the community.  The Church was filled to capacity (and then some) and we laughed, cried and remembered him.  I have another funeral on Monday for a gentleman I knew through visiting and services at a local retirement home.  He has a similar story to R.  But a very different story as well.  Isn’t that the same for all of us?

Our stories overlap with others, our experiences are similar until they are not.  We make choices that don’t seem to matter hundreds of times a day.  And on occasion we make choices are that more difficult.  There is always choice.

I eat as well as I can but on occasion I like to treat myself.  I like to eat something that I don’t usually have at home…or enjoy dessert.  I’m beginning to learn that food is not punishment or reward…it’s simply something with which to fuel our bodies.  I just re-read the first sentence in this paragraph…and I’ve got some work to do with my relationship to food.  BALANCE.

I love the way my body feels when I move it.  I joined a gym and go when I can…which is not often enough.  I walk as much as I can and sometimes that’s just around the block or across town and back.  I do yoga and I meditate, focusing on breathing.  I will not be an extreme athlete or run triathlons because I don’t want to.

My big purchase this Spring will be a bicycle.  One with a few gears that I can use to get around town.  Not off-road or in the bush, but on the trails and streets of town.

For the first time, likely ever in my life, I’m feeling good about who I am and how I look.  I’m working on lowering the numbers on the scale, and I’ve realised that those numbers do not define who I am as a woman of God, as priest, as a friend.  I may be fat, but I’m also kind, generous, loving.  I am respected in my vocation and in my community.  In my own small way I make a difference in the lives of others, in this community and in the world.

I am me, because that’s the only person I can be.  Everyone else is taken.

This year, 2017, has only a few hours to go where I live in British Columbia.  Elsewhere it’s already 2018.  I was looking back at the note I wrote this time last year and while much has changed, a lot has also stayed the same.

I had two worship services this year and plans for a fabulous night at a gala event out of town.  Worship went really well, even though it’s been bitterly cold.  When I woke this morning the tap wasn’t working.  I came downstairs and flipped on the kettle to boil water for tea.  I turned on the kitchen tap and there was nothing.  No water.

Frozen pipes?  Yes, but I had more important things to worry about…like my morning tea and getting ready for worship.  Both services were wonderful and we celebrated Epiphany.  I enjoyed a bit of fellowship and collected hints and tips for how to deal with frozen pipes.  I came home, made another cup of tea and pulled out my hair dryer and extension cord.  Plugged them in, aimed them at the pipes under the sink in the kitchen and after about two minutes the hairdryer stopped.  So did the kettle.  I flipped a fuse switch.

My Warden is a Godsend.  When she heard I had frozen pipes she offered me water, a place to shower, even a bed for the night.  On New Year’s Eve!  As things unfolded we kept in touch with each other…and thankfully this means I’ll have water for the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018.  Yay!

After consulting a friend for advice I called the plumber.  He told me what to look for if it was a frozen pipe.  Then he suggested I call the City which I did and was able to talk to someone on call.  I then cleared off my car and drove to Canadian Tire.  Bought a space heater and came home.  Plugged the space heater in downstairs and after about 10 minutes heard water running…in a good way.  I called the plumber back and he told me I had been successful in thawing the pipes and what I needed to do to keep them that way.  He’s coming back on Tuesday to check everything out.  I celebrated with a hot bath.

My plans to go out of town were scuppered by Mother Nature.  And instead of being angry and upset about that I realised that I likely needed a quiet night at home more than anything else.

A few months ago I adopted an 11 year old black Domestic short-haired cat.  His name is Buddy.  He’s beginning to like me…I think.  He doesn’t hiss as much at me and purrs when he’s around me…especially when I’m in the bath.  I don’t know why.  I never imagined myself to be a cat person…but here I am.  He’s messier than I’d like him to be but chances are I’m dumber than he’d like me to be.  He “talks” to me quite often and I have no idea what he wants.  Although I am pretty sure he’s told me off a time or two.

About a month ago I turned 50.  It’s been awesome!  I’m enjoying this age more than any other so far.  I’m hoping that continues.  I’ve auditioned for and been accepted into the Vagina Monologues which will be happening in February.  It’s been more than 20 years since I was on a stage.  So this will really be something.  I’m scared to death, but also quite excited.  It’s a tremendous group of women who are coming together to make something amazing happen in this small corner of the world we call home.

This year has been about learning…about myself, my heart, my mind and my soul.  I meditate most every day.  I walk outside most every day.  I set goals for myself and while my weight is not as low as I’d like it to be, over the past year I’ve lost 15 pounds.  So that’s something.  I’m eating better, drinking more water, and moving more.

I’d have to say I’m more content then I’ve ever been.  I love who I am, and who I am going to be.  I’ve said goodbye to a couple of toxic relationships and feel a tremendous sense of freedom from that.  I’m sleeping better and don’t fret if I choose an afternoon nap.

My goals for 2018 are to laugh more, love more, read more and learn a new skill.  I’m thinking of learning the ukulele.  I want to lose more weight but more importantly I want to be comfortable in the skin I’m in.  I want to be as healthy as I can be and I have a women’s fitness membership that I intend to use more regularly in 2018.

This is my 50th year on Earth.  I’ve been through a lot.  Seen a lot.  Hugged a lot.  Cried a lot.  Learned a lot.  I drove through parts of Northern Ontario that I’d not seen in 20+ years last summer and it was amazing what had changed; and what had stayed the same.  I visited my father’s grave for the first time since he was interred in 2012.

My goal is not to be famous, wealthy or revered.  I long for a simple life filled with amazing people.  I want to live within my means, make a difference in my community and in some small way contribute to the love in the world.  I truly believe that through love we can change the world.  One heart at a time, one relationship at a time, one encounter at a time.

I am fifty, fat and fabulous.  I will learn, love and listen.  In my own small, quirky way I intend to change the world.  Care to join me?

I’ve been trying to write a blog post for awhile…apparently a few months.  From the last time I blogged time has flown.  There’s been a wonderful community event called Chautauqua, the adoption of an 11 year old Domestic Shorthair cat called Buddy, the Ordination of our Deacon, a terrible tragedy that claimed the lives of three men, a Memorial Service for those men, and a surprise birthday party for my 50th.

Chautauqua took on a life of it’s own this year in a new format that had all events taking place in the historic downtown core.  The Fall Fair took place the same weekend and the grounds at City Hall were filled with animals of all shapes and sizes, vendors showing their wares, artists and crafters showing their trades and a community out to enjoy a beautiful Autumn celebration.  My little parish hosted the Community Ecumenical Service and it was an absolute success.  Folks started coming in just before the official event time and kept coming in for the first 20 minutes.  It was glorious.  We finished the service in time to get to the Senior’s Centre that was hosting a High English Tea.  A Harvest Supper at the Catholic Church rounded out a weekend filled with activity, history, wonder and joy.

Buddy is a cranky black cat, missing one canine tooth who was looking for a forever home.  The other cats on the SPCA website were all cuddly and adorable.  Buddy looked at the photographer like he could care less…or if he had pose-able digits would have raised his middle finger.  He’s cranky, he hisses a lot, has a mean meow and reminds me of my late father.  So of course, I was hooked.  He doesn’t like being picked up…or touched…I am allowed to pet him within very strict parameters that I have not yet learned.  He’s not particularly patient with me, hence the hissing.  He likes to hide under the dining room table.  He likes to be in the same room as me, but not too close.  He’s afraid of the mop and the vacuum and doesn’t climb.  So far so good…but I’m unsure of his assessment of me as his staff.  After all, they say dogs have owners and cats have staff.

Ordination is one of the great celebrations of the Church.  A faithful woman of God was Ordained in Christ’s Holy catholic Church and we gathered to celebrate.  We sang her favourite hymns, surprised her with an Anthem.  She was feted and celebrated and the parish commissioned a red Deacon’s stole for her which she helped to design.  An absolutely gorgeous design featuring flames and doves in shades of red, blue and white.  Absolutely spectacular for an absolutely spectacular child of God.

On the 17th of October my brother was returning to Calgary after visiting me overnight.  I took him to see the Church and he signed the Guest Book.  I went to a meeting at a Retirement home across the street from the local Arena.  Little did I know that our community would be rocked to it’s very core that day.  The winds were high and sky was a strange colour.  The atmosphere around town was eerie.  Hurricane force winds blew the power out twice and we were in the dark for a couple of hours the second time.  I was checking my Facebook feed and saw that there had been an accident at the Arena and the surrounding neighbourhood had been evacuated…including the residents I had visited earlier that day.  I went to the evacuation centre and tried to provide some comfort, some humour and a few hugs.  Three men died that day.  They went to work and didn’t come home.  And even now, months later, there is still a void in the community.  The residents returned home within a week, but there is still a sense of unease.  However, this community did what it does best and came together in a show of support.  We will always remember those who died, but too will we remember the community that showed support and love to one another.  The road is long before us but we will get there…together.

A Community Memorial Service was held on the 12th of November on the grounds of the high school.  It was damp, overcast, chilly day but there was an air of hope.  The community choir sang, my United Church colleague and I offered prayer at the beginning and ending of the service.  Three eulogies were shared, many tears were shed and a group of strangers gathered as family.

I don’t like surprise parties…especially when I’m the one being surprised…but that’s exactly what happened on the 25th of November, the day before my 50th birthday.  My congregation decided that I needed to celebrate this milestone and so I was duped into leaving town for the day with a friend who needed to run errands and I was there to be company in the car, navigate and carry stuff.  We got back at 5:30 and the street was lined with cars.  I thought my Roman colleague was having a larger than average attendance at Mass.  And then I saw a parishioners car parked where it usually isn’t.  Then I looked at the lawn of the Rectory and saw 50 pink flamingos…and a sign notifying all and sundry that is was my 50th.  I walked into the Church, down to the parish hall and opening the door heard “SURPRISE!”  I was shaking and smiling and unable to remember my name at that point as I saw friends, neighbours, parishioners and colleagues gathered to celebrate a half-century.  I was presented with a “birthday girl” pink sash, pink star sunglasses and a birthday tiara.  Many of the guests wore pink.  And everyone knew I was surprised…  We feasted on potluck fare, a birthday cake that read “Happy Birthday Princess Flamingo”  I took many photographs and opened many cards and gifts, one of the most special being a painting a parishioner and friend painted with birch trees and a winter sun…it is spectacular.  There was a trivia game with 50 questions related to my life…and those assembling the game had help from my brother, my spiritual advisor and friend.  It was great fun…and while I still don’t like surprises, it was a blessing to celebrate with so many wonderful people.

When the tragedy took place in October I realised just how much this community has become home for me…and how the folks that live here are my family.  Seeing such a large collection of people at the birthday party reinforced this to me.  I am loved very much here and I love this place very much.

If the rest of my 50th year is anywhere near as awesome as the first few weeks, I’m in for an absolutely AWESOME year!

I am blessed to receive four weeks of vacation every year.  Some of my colleagues take all four weeks at once.  I can’t do that.  I’m too much a creature of habit; of routine.

I usually take my vacation in blocks of two weeks…this year was no exception.

The first week I stayed with a friend and we did some day trips and worked around his house, getting some outdoor stuff done.  The weather was grand and we enjoyed exploring somewhat close to home.  The focus of that week was relaxing, unwinding and practicing Sabbath.

The second week I came home and challenged myself with a couple of hikes that were more difficult then I thought they’d be but learned a great deal about myself…I don’t have to walk all the way to the end to finish the hike.  I can turn around when I’m ready and I’ve still accomplished something.  I also did something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but was never able…I got two tattoos.  I’ll write more about them in another post.

I was back to work for a week, which wasn’t quite enough time to get things back organized, cleaned out my home office and it’s now quite efficient, clean and bright.  I love the space in there and working in it makes me very happy.  It also means I can relax in the living space of the rectory to try and separate work and home.

The third and fourth weeks of vacation I flew to Ontario and drove a lot.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see.  Some of the trip felt like I was attending Old Home Week as I drove across parts of Ontario I’d not seen in two decades.  I visited graves, places in which I’ve lived.  Hiked trails that I’d hiked before and explored new areas that I’d always wanted to but never made time.  The weather didn’t cooperate as much as I’d have liked it to, but it was still a good time away.

In reflecting on my vacation it was incredible.  I spent a great deal of time in prayer and have re-established meditative prayer.  I do this while walking and had forgotten how it makes my soul sing to pray while I walk or hike.

I’m practicing mindfulness in what I eat and in how I eat.  I’m walking every single day without exception and walking to places in the community when I can.

I very much missed my standard transmission car when I was away as I was driving an automatic transmission for the first time in years.  I kept forgetting to put it in park before I shut off the engine.  Ugh.

I learned that home is where I am.  It is not a far off destination.  It is not a house, a parent, a partner.  It is me.  And that makes me very happy.

The mountains are home to me.  I felt, at times, terribly homesick when I was back East.  I wasn’t sure if it was homesickness for a place I once knew, but eventually I realised that I was homesick for Fernie.  For the beautiful part of creation in which I now live.

As I drove home from Calgary I was giddy with the anticipation of seeing the mountains. Once I reached the Crowsnest Pass the smile on my face was broad and bright.  Climbing into my own bed made me deliriously happy and having a shower in my own bathroom meant all was right with the small world in which I live.

It was wonderful to visit places and see people I’d not seen in a long time.  And it was equally wonderful to put the key in lock and come home to my house.  A place I’ve not lived for that long and yet I can’t imagine leaving.  The Elk Valley is my home.  The mountains are my home.  They are a part of me as much as the air I breathe.  May it always be so.

filled with simple things is how I bring communion to people.

It’s a willow basket that I bought on sale for 50% off.  It’s lined with a dollar store tea towel and under one side of the towel is a small pottery paten.  On top of the towel and the paten is a pottery chalice.  The towel gets folder over and inside the cup of the chalice is a small glass jar (it once held jam) that now contains hosts.  There’s a small bottle filled with wine and water that gets tucked in the other end of the basket.  Two white linen purificators tucked around all exposed glass and pottery ensure that nothing gets broken in transport.

I carry my basket the same way I’d carry any picnic basket.  It contains a special, sacred meal that has been prepared in front of our parish family, then taken into the community to a Bible Study group, or a shut in, or a person in hospital.  It’s also been brought out at the bedside of a person who is approaching the end of their life.

To anyone looking at it, it would appear a plain willow basket.  To me, it contains many stories…some are happy, some are sad, some are heartbreaking, and every one of them is real and true.

If the fabric of the basket could talk, if the towel could talk, if the vessels could talk they would tell many stories.  These stories that connect each recipient to each other; to bring each recipient into closer relationship with one another and with the one for whom we share this wonderful meal.

Today when I was walking to the hospital to visit a parishioner, a gentleman asked if I had a picnic planned.  I looked strangely at him and he gestured at the plain willow basket.  I told him I was visiting a parishioner and was bringing him communion, so in a way it was to be a picnic.

As I was walking home a construction worker asked if I was willing to share my lunch, gesturing at the plain willow basket.  I told him I had communion wine and bread and would be happy to share.  He smiled and said he was looking for something else.  I smiled and continued on my way.

A plain willow basket filled with ordinary, simple things.  Things made sacred and extraordinary by the people who share in it’s contents.  Brought closer together to share in something so beautiful and yet so ordinary, it almost defies description.

A plain willow basket.

I was born in the year of Canada’s Centennial…1967. I’m a first generation Canadian born of English parents. I love the country in which I live and I am unabashedly proud to be Canadian as we celebrate the Sesquicentennial of this majestic country.

However…there is a darker side to this place I have called home all my life and the place that my parents chose as their home and to where they chose citizenship.

Canada is 150 years old…Turtle Island is thousands of years old…likely as old as all Creation. And while I think it’s wonderful to see red and white festooning communities and flags going up all over the place…special red and white tulips bred for our Sesquicentennial, we must remember the damamge that our citizens, settlers, all of them, have inflicted on our First Nations peoples.

I am honoured to live on the land of the Ktunaha in Southeastern British Columbia. There is a rich heritage of Indigenous history that surrounds our community…including an ancient curse that was finally lifted about 40 years ago…

Canadians built this country on the backs of those who were here before us…generations and generations before us…and we didn’t do it fairly, or appropriately. And yes, for much of that history we should be ashamed. The Church rounded up Indigenous children in conjunction with the federal government to “civilize” them by taking away their Indigenous names, culture, language, songs and dances. We committed cultural genocide. This was done in the name of God…

It’s a dark part of our history and there are other dark parts of our history…Interment camps in this region that began prior to and ended long after the First World War. The list goes on…

I’m not saying that we should celebrate 150 years of Confederation…I’m not saying that Canada isn’t the best country in the world, because I truly believe that. I believe that now, more than ever, because we are working to make amends with our brothers and sisters in the Indigenous community. We are learning from and working alongside to preserve First Nations languages that are in danger of extinction. Same with dances and songs, of traditional dress and food. We’re making amends, we’re beginning to understand that we weren’t here first…that we are guests on this land.

Last Sunday we recognized National Aboriginal Day of Prayer and it was a very powerful service where we prayed in the four directions, giving thanks to the sacred medicines of tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass. We prayed with the four colours of yellow, red, black and white in the directions of East, South, West and North. We heard of the Creation of Turtle Island from the Great Creator and how those stories resonate so strongly with us even today.

This Sunday we will recognize 150 years of Confederation. We will sing God Save the Queen as well as O Canada and we will hear of how God is working through us as Canadians. We have every right to recognize our heritage as Canadians…but not on the strength of another culture and community. We have the right to wave our flag proudly, remembering on whose land we stand.

I have wrestled with how to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of Canada…similarly I have wrestled with how to celebrate my half-century birthday later in the year. This year I am presiding a memorial service and rose planting for the mother of a friend who died a month or so ago. I won’t be taking in fireworks because I don’t really like fireworks. But I will wander around the community, in an I Love Canada t-shirt and wave my national flag.

But I will also give thanks to the First Nations who were here first and who continue to bless the land on which I live. And so, I say O Canada…Migweech.