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Posts Tagged ‘Beloved’

This is the time of year when social media feeds are filled with resolutions and promises for new life and new living. A time to say “out with the old” and “in with the new”. If there’s anything that 2020 has taught me is that we cannot possibly imagine what the future holds.

In January I prepared myself to have surgery. I was spayed in the middle of the month, and had to take six weeks off. I’m not good at sitting still to start with. And doctor’s orders made it only marginally more do-able. So, I had surgery, all went well, waited on biopsy results. Ovarian cancer. The good news was that those were biopsies of already removed ovaries. So, yay! I stayed with a friend for the first four weeks and struggled with pain management, sleep management and trying not to do too much. So I came home and the Parish gifted me with a meal-train meaning every evening between 5:00 and 6:00 pm a freshly cooked meal was delivered to my door. That lasted for two weeks and was fabulous!

February I was back to work and dove in with back to back AGM’s. It was Lenten Planning, Book Study, Bible Study and Worship Services. Worshipping at 9:00 am at the Anglican Church and 11:00 am at the United Church. Learning a new hymn book and new ways of worshipping. Celebrating Communion in a different yet familiar way. And just when we were getting into the swing of things there was a virus that was developing and spreading in China.

March saw us ramping up for Holy Week and Easter, listening to the news with fear as it seemed that this virus was now in Europe and would eventually make it’s way to North America. Discussions were held with respect to suspending Worship and investigating online Worship. Zoom. And then all hell let loose. On the 18th of March we were ordered to shutter the buildings. Pivoted to online worship, then added slides, all the time thinking we were going to be back in the building in time for Holy Week, then for Easter, then for Pentecost. Then someone finally said it…it will be months, if not years.

April, May, June all went in a blur and it was obvious that I would not be able to go to Ontario in August to visit my family, friends and my Beloved. I was gutted. I visited a friend on the other side of B.C. and was more hyper-aware of everywhere I was going then ever before. I brought home a friend’s senior cat, Vinnie, who has been a constant companion since June.

The summer meant taking some vacation but not going far. I took two weeks, then another week, and banked a fourth week, hoping I could travel in the fall or at the end of the year. Nope.

My Beloved and I talked by phone every week, sometimes more often. We were both struggling with what would happen if either of us contracted COVID-19. He had respiratory issues and I am immuno-compromised. My M.E. was out of control due to the constant stress on the body and mind.

I felt as though I was running as fast as I could and remaining, firmly in the same place. My mental health was suffering. Sleep began to be affected and I heard the word “Self Care” used a lot by my family doctor as well as my new therapist. September loomed and the Joint Church Committee made a decision to celebrate our First Anniversary of Shared Ministry the last Sunday in August in what would be a communion service. The first communion for us since the 14th of March. It was a simple, yet powerful online service with a half dozen people in the Church providing worship leadership.

Those same words had been used to describe the Holy Week and Easter Services, simple, yet powerful. We would send out a Zoom link for Worship every Saturday and on Sunday we would have 20 – 25 people, with those numbers steadily climbing to close to 50. We have folks from Fernie, from the Elk Valley, from other parts of B.C., and other parts of Ontario. We have folks from Alberta, Montana and even England. And over those ten months we have become a Parish Community. We have become family.

Every Saturday night I would hear from my Beloved. We would talk about his email reflection and I would read him my Sermon. We would talk about the state of the world, the rioting, Black Lives Matter, white priviledge, systemic racism, the upcoming U.S. election and what the world was looking like. On the 20th of November we chatted in the afternoon. Neither of us were feeling great, so we said goodbye and agreed to talk that next day. Except we didn’t talk that next day. He died.

His death broke me open as I couldn’t make the trip to his funeral. I was devastated that I couldn’t be there in person. I had made him a promise a decade ago that I would arrange his funeral and would preach/deliver the eulogy. It was the most difficult thing I have ever written, and delivered. I told the truth, which is what he wanted me to do.

The night of his funeral, a parishioner died by suicide. He was someone who struggled with depression and was bipolar. We would talk about depression with gallows humour, as one does. When his wife called me I was in shock. She wanted the funeral to be on their wedding anniversary, the 24th of December. So, that’s what we did. His funeral at 10:30 am, following a procession of fire trucks from his home to the Church, passing their studio one final time. It was a poignant service with people tuning in by Zoom from Canada and England.

Christmas was very different. Three completely different services on Christmas Eve, one on Christmas Day. By the time I got home from Christmas Eve Service at 10:00 pm I was shattered. I tried to watch a movie, but couldn’t settle into it. So I gave up, went to bed, woke up the next morning and after washing my face and brushing my teeth, I celebrated Christmas Day Communion with 30 people online, broadcasting from my flat.

My mental health is fragile. I’m resting as much as I can. I’m working at a slower pace. This was solidified when I fell down a flight of stairs (only about 6, indoor, carpeted stairs) on Tuesday. December has always been a difficult month, gravity-wise. I scuffed up both knees and landed on my nose. It’s not broken, but I will have lovely bruises under my eyes. I will find out just how skilled I am at concealer makeup.

What I have learned is this…no matter how much you do, there will be someone who is in awe of what you’re doing. No matter how much you do, you will feel insignificant in comparison with someone else. The entire world is in a state of stress and prolonged stress isn’t good for anyone.

Over the past week I have set up an office at the United Church and at the Anglican Church. I have reference books and files there that I don’t have at home, which means if I wake up in the middle of the night and want to work, I can’t as easily as before. I’m hoping this will mean I can try new things, read fiction, listen to a podcast, take up drawing. Learn some skills and hobbies rather than working all the time. Learn to balance life and work.

Learn that taking a nap is important and sometimes necessary. Learn that eating proper food is important. Learn that having friends in important. Learn that grieving takes a long time and, like God, works on it’s own time (much to my obvious chagrin).

My body hurts. My nose is swollen. I ache everywhere. And I feel numb. I miss my Beloved. I write in a journal every night to him. It helps. I haven’t yet cried for him. I know it will come, when the time is right. Last Christmas, among other things, he gave me a cloth cozy for hot drinks. It’s green quilted fabric and I take it everywhere with me. It’s amazing. Except I’ve lost it. Now, usually I don’t freak out about physical things. However, this thing I am freaking out about.

I’ve checked the pocket of every coat. The inside of every handbag. In my work bag. I’ve checked the nooks and crannies of my car, my flat, both Church offices. I asked a friend if I left it at her place when I was last there. I pray to St. Anthony that it is there because if not I will be devastated. Not because of what it is…but because it came from him, and he’ll never be able to give me another.

It feels like, if I have lost it, I’ll have lost another piece of him.

Anyway, I will keep looking, if I am meant to find it again I will. Hopefully my friend has it and all shall be well. And if not, I’ll learn the lesson in that too, eventually.

SO, here’s to balance. Here’s to finding joy in the small things. Here’s to plodding along one step at a time, one day at a time. Here’s to remaining kind. Here’s to therapeutic naps, weighted blankets, new bedding and purring cats. Here’s to 2021.

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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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Today is Good Friday, the middle part of the Triduum (Three Sacred Days).  Last night was Maundy Thursday and we gathered to hear readings, sing a hymn or two and many of those assembled allowed me to wash their feet.  It has become my practice that when I do so I tell them how much they mean to the congregation, to the community, to God and to me.  And then I kiss their feet.

For the first time a member of the congregation asked if she would wash my feet.  I stammered “Uh, yes, thanks” and she did for me what I had done for her.  Needless to say we were both in tears by the time she was finished.

After the footwashing was finished it was time to exchange the peace and move to the Holy Table for the sharing in communion, the last time we will do so before Easter.  It was moving and powerful as always and yet as I looked into the congregation I saw something I had not seen before.  I saw unity…love…family.

After Communion we sang another hymn, then as I chanted the Lamentations for Maundy Thursday the congregation, without saying a word, stripped the altar and altar space.  And by the time I finished chanting…it was over.  The area was clear.  The brass was taken downstairs where it will be cleaned this afternoon.  The frontal was removed and put away.  The cross was draped.  All without a word spoken.  A vigil was held in the Church overnight to keep watch over the empty wooden cross that is at the chancel steps.

Today is a difficult service…we gather in the plain space to adorn the cross…we will hear the gospel…the agony of the garden…we will hear just what is so good about Good Friday.  And we will meditate and pray on our own infirmities, failings and hopefulness.

We will take a black stone each at the beginning of service and hold it through the time of service.  And when the time is right we will leave that black stone at the foot of the cross and pick up a white stone.  The black stone is to leave all our shame, sorrow, pain, fear and sin at the foot of the cross.  We will then pick up a white stone to carry with us, reminding us that we are God’s own Beloved.  We are brothers and sisters of Christ.  He died that we may know eternal life.  And we will carry this stone with us throughout the year to remind us that we don’t need to carry our burdens, we can lay them at the cross.

After service I’ll be learning how to polish brass.  Then I’m going to do some housework that I’ve been neglecting.  Then I’m taking a long hike in the wilderness.  Then I’ll be home to relax for the rest of the day.

I will not eat today until after the sun sets.  Good Friday is one day when I fast.  I will take water with me on my hike.  But food will not cross my lips until the sun sets.

Know this…wherever you are on your life’s journey, you are a Beloved child of God.  You are created in God’s image which is perfection.  You nothing to deserve this honour, but it is yours and you cannot pay a monetary amount for it, but you can give your life to service.  None of us are perfect.  And yet we receive God’s love and grace.

Tomorrow night we will gather outside to light the new fire and bring light into the darkness.  We will gather in the Parish Hall and hear the stories of our ancestors, pray and sing and then we will come upstairs to renew our baptismal vows.  But the tomb will remain sealed….it’s not yet time…for that we must return on Sunday.

Know that you are loved.  Always have been.  And always will be.  Amen.

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is my favourite time of year.  It’s more work than Christmas…a LOT more work, and yet I feel a great sense of awe during this time.

My tradition has been to preside 10 services over 8 days.  Many think I’m nuts.  Some colleagues think I’m showing off or flaunting my piety, but it isn’t any of those things.  My Holy Week journey is intensely personal.  I suspect I would follow these services whether or not I was in a congregation.  It is something that I feel I ‘must’ do during Holy Week.

Last year was bittersweet as I knew I was in my last year with the congregation.  I had no idea where I was going, but I knew it would not be there.  It made the readings about death that much more poignant and made the Alleluia’s of Easter Day that much more bittersweet.

Now I have moved across the country.  I’m in a new province, in a new town, in a new house, in a new congregation.  They have not experienced anything like this before, and it’s been eye opening in many ways, for both of us.

Palm Sunday traditionally involves the Good Friday gospel.  In fact it’s referred to as the Sunday of the Passion with the Liturgy of the Palms.  I don’t like that.  So I separate them.  In my opinion, when you’re covering that much theological ground in an hour long service, you’re going to get whiplash.

Palm Sunday is about the “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem.  It’s about waving weeds in the air and shouting “Hosanna” to the one the poor knew was King…an act of defiance to the one (Herod) who was self-proclaimed King.  It’s about Jesus saying “here I am!  You want me, come and get me!” to the authorities.    It’s a nose-thumbing at the establishment of the day.

Holy Monday is the Stations of the Cross – 14 stations that are hung around the Church and we gather to retrace Jesus last footsteps from his trial before Pilate, to the three falls, seeing the women of Jerusalem, facing his devastated mother, being nailed to the cross and buried in the tomb…it’s emotional, it’s turbulent and it prepares us by helping put things in perspective.

Holy Tuesday is Tenebrae – service of shadows in which we light seven candles and place them on the altar.  No other altar lights are used.  The lighting in the Church is subdued and we have time for prayer, reflection and dialogue.  The question is asked “What if Jesus had said no” and we allow time to sit in the realisation that Jesus sacrifice was a gift.  When in the garden at Gethsemane Jesus pleads to be released and the answer he receives is deafening silence.  Like the rest of us, he had free will…he could have said no, in fact he tried to!  But in the end he stood up and did what he had to do; freely, willingly and lovingly.

Holy Wednesday is the night of Healing, Eucharist and Anointing – we gather to pray for those we know, those we don’t know, and for ourselves.  We ask forgiveness for the things we should have done but didn’t, and for the things we have done but shouldn’t.  We bring this darkness before the Lord and we are forgiven.  We can ask for prayers, laying on of hands and anointing, to remind us, as at our baptism, that we are God’s children…the beloved.

Maundy Thursday begins the Three Sacred Days, or Paschal Triduum.  The service opens as any other service does with a Processional Hymn.  Quickly though, it changes as we move through a reminder of Jesus command to service – we are called to serve, not to be served.  We them move into Eucharist, and I like to use one from Iona that is only used once a year.  After we have shared communion for the last time, the tone of the service changes as the Altar is stripped, the Lamentations are chanted and we are left with our thoughts.

The last thing that happens is for a bare cross to be carried up and left, without ceremony, against the chancel steps.  There is an overnight vigil at the Church so ensure the tomb is protected.

Good Friday we gather in silence and subdued lighting with a sense of loss and longing.  Although we live 2,000 years beyond the story, it is important to be reminded of why we do what we do, and for whom we do it.  The Gospel is read – it is long and onerous – and it tells a story of injustice and hatred.  We hear a homily about just what is so “good” about Good Friday and then we adorn the cross  with a sign, crown of thorns, three nails, royal purple, a towel and a stalk.  Black stones are distributed before service begins and there is a time for us to hold the stones and put all of that which we no longer wish to carry with us.  When the time is right, we come forward and place our black stone at the foot of the cross.  Then we pick up a white stone to remind us that through Christ we receive new life.

When the time is right we leave the tomb in silence and confusion.

Holy Saturday evening we gather where the new fire is kindled outside and light the paschal candle which will burn for the next 50 days.  We hear the Exultet chanted – an ancient story of this sacred night when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled to God.  We go into the parish hall and share stories, songs and prayers from our ancestors, then we head upstairs and renew our baptism vows.  A traditional Holy Saturday bursts open the doors of the tomb and shows the resurrected space – life reborn in Christ.  My tradition is to stop at the door for two reasons – one is to prolong the suspense of the resurrected Christ and the other is to make sure there is the proper emphasis on the Day of Resurrection.  When I have celebrated the entire Holy Saturday service it is a long service, and somehow takes away from the celebration of the Day of Resurrection – Easter Day.

Before we depart we shout Alleluia and depart in hopeful expectation for the risen Lord whom we will see the following day.

Wherever you are on your Lenten and Holy Week journey, if you have never partaken in the Paschal Triduum, I invite you to do so.  It is an amazing time of reconciliation, of acknowledging our brokenness and truly understanding who we are and whose we are.  It is a lot of work to preside these services, and yet it is moreso very life giving.

We live in a time when there are more people than every who have never heard the gospel – the good news.  And it is our responsibility as people of faith, to share that story with them.  To show them that even in this broken world, we are loved; truly, unconditionally and that without fail, love always wins.

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When I was recently away for two weeks I read a book that changed my focus and, in fact, my life.  Since that time I’ve been back at work, working as hard as before, but with a better sense of peace.  I am able to recognize things within my control and much more often, things outside my control.

I no longer feel the need to micromanage everyone around me.  My house is a mess, there is dog hair everywhere, but instead of fretting about it, I go for a walk, meditate or pray.  I watch a movie or read a book.  And then I vacuum or sweep the floor.  My “must do” list is much shorter than my “may do” list.

I’m eating healthier, drinking lots of water and moving my body every day.  I no longer race around, I walk, sometimes at a good clip, other times barely above a saunter, and take in my surroundings.  I stop to smell a flower or say hello to a dog (always with permission of the dog’s owner).  I say yes to meeting a friend for coffee and then walk to our meet (if at all possible).  I’ve stopped taking responsibility for other people’s actions and reactions.

In short, I’m regaining control of my life and letting go of the things that have cause me distress and devastating unhappiness.  I have finally realised that the only person responsible for my happiness is me.  Those two weeks away meant I could unwind and simply be.  I reordered my priorities and now I’m quite near the top of the list.

The realisation that I’m a priority, and by spending time doing things that make me happy is not selfish, but necessary.  Doing that helps me remember my balance and priorities.  I’m worth it.

I will never be an extreme athlete.  It’s not something for which I strive.  I will never be a cover model.  I will never be the size I was in high school again.  And that’s okay.  I’m overweight.  Or maybe I’m undertall?  Either way my goal is to be happy, not because of a dress size or numbers on a scale.  More than happiness I crave peace and calm.

I still have a riotous sense of humour that can come out in unexpected and often inappropriate places.  I’m unique.  I’m quirky.  I’m weird.  I’m different.  In short, I’m me.

My choice is to seek the good in every situation.  And in every person.  Every day I give thanks for something…it may be something small or something huge.  But it’s something.

I try not to take anything for granted.  I try to celebrate something in every day.  Yes, there are times when I will be hurt.  Yes, there are times when I will hurt other people.  But I truly believe if you speak the truth in love, you will always find the strength to speak the truth.

This next year will be about changes.  Some internal, some external.  All good.  All healthy.  All God-given.

Look at me go!

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As a depressive I was shocked and saddened at the death of Robin Williams.  I was disgusted with a lot of the media coverage and especially of the term “commit suicide”.  To use the phrase “commit suicide” is to incur that a crime was committed.  He didn’t break the law.  Robin Williams died from side effects of deep depression.  I read a great deal of articles that talked about how “selfish” he was, because he took his own life.

There is no doubt in my mind that Robin Williams was loved.  He was loved by his wife and family, his co-workers and his fans. The fact that he struggled with depression and addiction all of his adult life meant that he found it difficult to love himself.

What most people don’t understand is that depressives are often great actors.  We force ourselves to clean ourselves up, pull ourselves together and face the world with a smile.  The saddest part of Robin Williams suicide is that he is, in some cases, being vilified after his death.  And that is repugnant.

He suicided, because he could no longer find the strength to pretend.  Chances are, when he made the decision to suicide his behaviour changed.  He appeared to be “better”.  He appeared happier, more like his “old self”.  This happens when someone who has been in such pain for so long has decided how they will escape that pain.  A great burden is released, a weight lifted and there is finally relief.

Some articles suggested that he had it all.  While that may be true, he, most likely, did not feel deserving.  He had an incredible gift; the gift to help people escape the misery of everyday life and laugh.  He knew he was loved by so many people but he could not love himself.

When depression appears it is usually unexpected, and it can feel like staring into a deep, dark precipice.  It can feel like a dark cloud descending, smothering the light and all air.  It can start slowly, like a long, slow dive.  It can be a sudden shock, like a trip, stumble and fall.  Regardless, depression is not something that you can “snap out of” or “think happy thoughts” and be instantly better.

You don’t have to go far to hear platitudes that all we need to do is to love one another.  I am a big believer that love can change the world.  In my heart, I believe that if we each did our part and started from a place of love we would solve many of the world’s conflicts.  Robin Williams was loved.  He loved many people.  Just not himself.

In his case, and in the case of many depressives, when things are bad, at their darkest, it is then that hopelessness takes over.  How can I love my neighbour as myself, when I don’t love myself?  How can I be a Christian when I cannot follow the basic tenet of Jesus?  Sometimes we cannot love ourselves.  And the worst part is, no-one can do it for us.

We do the best we can with the gifts that God has given us.  And occasionally we stumble and fall.  Sometimes we need to stay down for awhile, but we cannot unpack and take up residence there.  At times like this it is imperative to seek help, and yet, it is counterintuitive to reach out because every ounce of energy is being used up staying upright and breathing.

There are days when it feels like the sun will never shine again.  There are times when it feels like you will never smile again.  These are the times when we should reach out and trust, but the disease can be so crippling that it renders us completely immobile.

I believe, in my heart, that Robin Williams is now in paradise.  He is in a place where there is no such thing as depression. He is free of the demons that haunted him and ultimately led him to die.

My prayer is that we who are depressives find the strength, somehow, to reach out when we are hurting.  My prayer is that those who know a depressive will recognise the signs when they are on a downward slope, and reach out.  You don’t have to say anything.  Advice will likely not be heard.  All you can do is be present, listen and remain in the silence.  Words won’t fix depression.  There are treatments, but there is no cure.

If you are reading this and feeling the darkness descend, take a moment and reach out.  Text, email or call a friend.  Tell them you need them.  And they will come.  

If someone reads this and reaches out to you because they are frightened and vulnerable, go to them.  Be calm, be non-anxious, and non-judgmental.  It took an inordinate amount of energy to reach out.  Respect the incredible gift of trust that has been bestowed upon you.  Be prepared for silence…for anger…for frustration.

When someone is hurting, sometimes love does not seem to be enough.  Robin Williams could not love himself enough to stay.  He suicided because he felt there was no point in continuing.  He was not selfish or self-centred.  He was not seeking attention.  He could no longer handle the pain of the disease.  And so he ended it.  The world mourns the loss of a comedic legend.  Please do not let his death be in vain.

If you are someone who struggles with depression, find a person who you trust, that can support you.  When things start to get bad, reach out.  Be open and honest.  And receive the love they will give you with grace.

If you know or love someone who is depressive, learn their cycles and emotional swings.  If you see them struggling, reach out to them.  Be reassuring.  Remind them you love them.  Ask nothing in return.  Sit in silence, become comfortable in that silence.  And know you are not alone in supporting them.  Know that you are loved.  And so are they.  By the one who created us, died for us and loves us unconditionally. God. 

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My dreaded insomnia has returned. Yesterday my Beloved and I saw our marriage counsellor and, as usual, I ended up in tears. It was horrible. But at least now I have a plan for recovery. I am completely exhausted and am taking time to be well. Finally.

The shelves in my living room have all been dusted and cleaned. The books that felt overwhelming have been pared down and put on the shelves in the living room. I have many books that now need new homes. They are all askew on shelves in the home office, and for now, that’s how they’ll stay. Eventually I will invite a select few to come and peruse and what they don’t take will be donated to a Christian bookstore.

I am a keeper of paper. I’m not sure why, but I am. I have an attachment to it like nothing else in my life. Last night I went to bed at my usual time, following my usual routine, but woke up fretting, about 2:30 am. I got up and tried to read, but I couldn’t concentrate. So I went into the home office which now has empty floor space and started going through boxes. It was meant to be one box, but I sorted through four banker boxes of paper. Notes from my undergraduate days. Notes from my MDiv. Essays, stories, sheet music, all kinds of things were found.

Evaluations from CPE and SPE. Report cards, certificates of merit. I pulled out of each box what I “had” to keep…what was still meaningful to me. When I was finished, I had filled three of the four banker boxes with paper to be shredded/recycled. I also pared down my home files…most of which will be going to the Church as that’s where they should be. Some for which I have electronic copies, I have set aside for shredding. I don’t need the hard copy.

This morning my Beloved loaded the three boxes into the back of my car. Later this morning I am going to take them to a stationary store that does shredding. And I won’t look back.

This simplification process is going really well. Now mind you, there are two boxes upstairs and two downstairs that need attention. They have memorabilia that have been meaningful to me for a long time. One day I will go through them and sort out what I must have and give away what no longer holds the same meaning.

There will always be something else to sort out, something else to clean up and something else to simplify. I must say this process has been very enlightening and lightening, in every way possible.

This is the summer of my simplification. And so far, it is going very well. Full steam ahead.

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