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Posts Tagged ‘breathe’

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

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

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

Tough crowd.

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

and then…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will take deep breaths when I’m uncertain.

I will take deep breaths when I’m afraid.

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

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

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

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

Deep breaths, clear your mind.

Deep breaths.

Thank you God for breath.

Thank you Ruah, breath of God.

Deep breaths.

Ruah…

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begins a sonnet by William Wordsworth.

There has been so much hatred in the world…so much violence…so much intolerance and I’m struggling under the weight of it all.

Speaking of weight…today I was out and about running errands in the community where I live.  I was at the check-out in a store and two ladies were complaining about the weather.  I said I was glad for the cooler temperatures and one looked at me and said “I can see why”.  Curious, I asked what she meant.  She replied “you have your own built in coverage for warmth, you likely don’t like the heat”.

I opened and closed my mouth trying to find something humorous to say in return, but instead found myself on the verge of tears.  What she said was hurtful and dare I say, cruel.  Yes, I am overweight.  Yes, I don’t like extreme heat.  But I don’t think what I said warranted that kind of response.  I took my purchases and left.  I continued on my errands and came home feeling deflated and defeated.

The Church I love so much, that I have loved all my life, is voting on something incredibly close to my heart.  As a member of the rainbow community, the issue of same-gender marriage is important to me.  As a priest with many friends in the rainbow community, as it stands right now, I am not allowed to marry them in the Church.  The same Church that I love is pushing me, and people like me, aside.

My parish is holding a prayer vigil for the duration of General Synod.  Each day an email goes out and is posted on our Facebook page with prayers for the daily activities.  We are offering prayers for the marriage canon, but also for Indigenous rights, for visiting dignitaries and for audited financial statements.  We are praying for ears to hear, hearts to be open, for mouths to speak the truth in love and in faith.

Tomorrow’s gospel is one of my favourites, the Good Samaritan.  The epistle speaks of praying without ceasing, and that is what I have been doing.

For me, the gospel is about love.  The promises of our Creator, Saviour and Redeemer are all about love.  God never told us who to love.  God gave us the gift of love.  We are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves and to love God above all else.  There’s no division of who gets more love, we all get the same because, in the eyes of God, we are all the same.

Tomorrow’s homily will be about praying without ceasing and loving your neighbour.  Tomorrow afternoon I am meeting with a couple who are to be married in August.  The day after they are married I have the honour of baptising their infant son, the mother and the Godfather.  It will be my first baptism in BC and, as always, a very emotional moment in the life of the Church.

My fondest hope and prayer for the family is that their child is raised knowing only what love is about.  That he never experience hatred and if he is exposed to it, he will know how to rise above it to show what love is all about.

If only we could focus on that which unites us; as children of God.  If we could focus on that which aligns us, rather than that which divides us, what a wonderful world this would be.  We would know the kingdom of God as we would be living it.

So now I will rest my weary body.  I will tend to my fractured heart.  I will rest in the knowledge that there are those who love me, as I am.  And for the rest, all I can do is love them as Christ loves me.

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For many years I have closed off parts of myself…parts that held secrets or had been damaged.  Parts that I felt were no longer a part of me…that impeded me being who I have chosen to be.

Until recently…

Moving West has been, in many ways, a re-birth for me.  When I was packing up the myriad of books that have traveled with me for decades, I came across my old sketch pad from the early days at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.  The pastels were dried up and useless, and yet the drawings held as much emotion as they had when I first drew them.  I must admit, at first I wasn’t sure what some of the images represented…and then I read the titles of the pieces…and a switch flicked.

I adore the mountains…and I’m feeling a creative part of myself awaken to capture them.  I’m not artistically talented in any way, and I have no idea what the images will look like when they are finished…but I do look forward to the creative process once again.

My wardrobe consists of predominantly black and neutral pieces…the occasional burst of yellow or orange.  I liken my wardrobe to that of a female robin…subdued.  However, I do have one dress that is my favourite…it’s a subdued rainbow tie-dye dress that I absolutely adore.  I bought it because it was on sale, and because it made me smile.  And yet I didn’t wear it much because I was uncomfortable attracting attention to myself.

When I was paring down my wardrobe I had to keep the dress, which actually surprised me.  That dress and a very feminine summer dress that I’ve had for decades made the cut.  So far it’s not been warm enough to wear the summer dress although I have worn the rainbow dress a couple of times.  In fact, I’m going to wear it for my induction with a light coloured clergy shirt.

I feel as though I am shedding the extra winter layers for the bright and beautiful promise of summer.  I’m wearing dresses with shorts instead of tights, and I’m walking a little bit straighter, head a little bit higher.  I’m stopping to smell and admire flowers and ask to pet dogs.

After a long, long, dark moment of grief I have emerged and reawakened — as a flower pushing against the newly warmed ground, seeking the sun and the promise of warmth on my skin…the feeling of rain refreshing and washing away the doubt and debris.

I am coming alive in ways I thought were finished for me…in ways I never imagined were possible, never mind wanted…and yet – here I am.

The colours that surround me seem brighter.  The sun and sky clearer.  The air sweeter.  The water cooler.  The grass smoother.  After a long, hard hibernation, I am daring to push my head against that which has held me down and embrace the new life which flows from within me.

I am alive.  And it is grand.

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Today is my last day of vacation.  I headed out two weeks ago today to have lunch with my friend B in Woodstock.  We hadn’t seen each other in nearly four years.  We lingered too long in the restaurant, laughed too loudly and generally enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Before we parted, we made a date for our next time together.

From there I journeyed to visit my best friend L in St. George.  From there I went to Dyers Bay to visit S & D, then to Port Elgin to visit J, home for a night and then off by train to visit R in Toronto.  I got home last night and almost immediately unpacked.  I washed my face, looked around my house, greeted the dogs and felt like I was home.

On the train there was a tremendous sense of peace and serenity.  I just finished reading the book “Sabbath” and have begun to follow many of the teachings in the book.  Sabbath is a way of being, it is a state of mind.  And it is something I have been lacking for a long time.  Truth is, I spend too much time in front of a screen.  I need to unplug and get outside.  This morning I decided not to get dressed, but I likely will this afternoon so I can take a Sabbath walk and may decide when I get back to put my pjs on again, I don’t yet know.

Today is not about chores.  It is about meeting my basic needs.  Reconnecting with my family.  Giving thanks for safe travel.  It is about breathing, slowing down.  Meandering, not rushing.  It is about priority.  And today that priority is rest and refresh.

I am glad to be home and to bring what I learned while away back into daily practice.  I didn’t realise just how thirsty I was for living water until I tasted it.  And now I want more.  Not too much.  Just enough.

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The birds are singing…the crows are clouding the sky.  There is a smell of fresh earth and last years dog poo in the air.

My winter coat feels too heavy and burdensome…I long for the days of cardigans and skirts…of lighter colours and facing the sun.  All winter it’s felt as though a heavy weight was on my shoulders, I could barely look up.  And now, I can see the grass, the snow is finally melting, our Mother Nature is preparing to awaken the new life that slumbers beneath the earth.

It’s so very exciting.  And it’s no coincidence that as we are approaching the halfway measure in Lent we can begin preparations for new life, new birth, new opportunity.

But before we can spring to the incredible day of resurrection, we must first endure the agony of the garden of Gethsemane.

We can’t quite put the winter boots away, there is still ice underfoot.  The furnace still comes on, but not as often and we are foolish to leave home without our hats and gloves.

It’s coming…Spring is coming.  We can’t rush it, but know that it will be here.  Before we know it, the sunlight will seemingly lengthen the days, warm our faces and the first colours of flowers and bushes will begin.  The sprouts of leaves and buds on the trees will remind us that after death comes new life.

Now is the time to walk with our heads held high, like daisies as they push through from their winter slumber.  The birds sing, the buds push through and the world continues as it has always done.

One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.  Day by day a little more light to illumine the darkness, to warm the earth and bring her back to life.

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It is true that I am my own worst critic.  I don’t hold anyone to the same standards I hold myself.  The last few days have been unbelievably difficult, and I’m not really sure why.  I am scheduled to undergo laparoscopic cholecystectomy surgery (gallbladder) on the 23rd of January.  We have our annual Vestry meeting on the 25th.  I have no idea what kind of reaction I will have to the surgery, so I am attempting to get as many things done, ahead of time, as I can.

This includes putting together the Vestry book.  Organizing baptism meetings, pre-marriage counselling, pre-surgical appointments, pastoral visits and bulletins.  Oh, and there’s writing homilies.  Right now the pile of things I need to do feels overwhelming.  Between that list and the housework, child-care, spousal support, I am having difficulty seeing daylight.  And my  motivation has dissipated…in other words, my get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone.

I am beginning to think that my work/life balance is off-balance again.  I haven’t even sat on my yoga mat in weeks.  I am not drinking water like I was doing.  I’m not eating properly.  In short, I’m not caring for myself.  And that’s wrong.

Tomorrow I am meeting a friend for coffee.  I haven’t seen him in years.  This week was his birthday so we are meeting for a birthday-week hot drink.  I’m excited to see him as he always fills my day with light.  I have a list of errands I’ve been putting off all week, mostly due to weather.  So after I see him, I will get my list of things done.  And in the afternoon I will set a list of priorities, and put them in proper order.

Lists and organization soothes me.  I cannot work in chaos.  So I plan, prepare, clean, file, dust, organise, and while I do this I breathe.  I’ve not been breathing properly for awhile.  All shallow breathing.  It’s affecting my sleep patterns and my mental health.

And I have decided that instead of wishing my life away, starting tomorrow, a fresh new day, I am going to put myself higher on my priority list.  Do what is right for me, instead of giving myself what is left.

And while that will mean a trip to the grocery store, which is always an emotional land-mine, I have a list and a plan.  So I’m ahead of the curve already.

Starting tomorrow, I will get it right.

And, exhale.

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Once a year the Congregation gathers to pass a new budget for the year.  We gather to share our stories because I find looking at numbers on a page does not inspire me.  I want to know the story of the people I serve and after 7+ years in the congregation, I know many of those stories.

We compile our reports into a Vestry book that each parishioner receives.  A copy also goes to Church House so the Bishops can read them.  And they do.  When I arrived at this church the reports all seemed to revolve around money and the lack thereof.  While I understand that I am the largest expense, it’s also difficult to truly “record” what it is I do.

I find myself uncomfortable when I look at the numbers for attendance.  We are growing; we are attracting new people and families every year.  We have children coming to Church…not every week, but they are coming.  Many of our new members are active in the congregation and to me, that’s an exciting thing.  On the down side of that, our congregation is aging and many of the workers from years past are dying.  They are dying faster than we are attracting new members.

It would be reasonable to lament our shrinking numbers, our decreasing donor base, but instead there is a feeling of great hope in the congregation.  We are active, we are alive!  We care for each other and we share our stories.  But that isn’t measurable, which can be very frustrating to people like me.  I see numbers on a page, but those numbers themselves, don’t tell a story.  We need to add a narrative piece in order to balance the measurable and the immeasurable.

Last year’s Vestry was a challenge.  We had two sections of roof that needed replacing.  We had fewer members than the year before with four well-known and well-loved members dying through the year.  Parish Council brought the budget to vestry and it was projecting a deficit.  A decision was made to lower our Diocesan Apportionment and raise our budgeted givings.  At the time I wasn’t sure we could do it.  I prayed that we would, but honestly, I wasn’t convinced.

When we sat down, as a council with our treasurer and looked at the amount that was given by our congregation I was astounded.  We surpassed the originally budgeted amount by $10,000.  Not only did we meet the newly forecasted amount, we surpassed it.  AND we paid more Apportionment than the modified budget.  Not 100% of the full amount, but closer to 80%.  And that was a huge feat.

As I reflect on where the congregation is now, as compared to where we were when I arrived, the change is phenomenal.  The tone of the congregation is that we can do it.  We want to be vibrant and a necessary part of the community.  We have learned to trust each other again and not fear the stranger.  In short, we have learned again to be a family.  None of that is measurable in black and white, but it is emotionally and spiritually measurable.

This year’s Vestry will have a different tone than that of year’s past.  We will be concentrating on our abundance and celebrating our accomplishments.  We will encourage the congregation to give with all they have; through prayer, attendance, financial support and ministries.

We have learned that we are better together; and together we can change the world!  What a journey this has been and will be as we go forward.

Thanks be to God!

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We are on the countdown to the big moment, the BIG SHEW, the Birth to end all BIRTHS!  Yes!  We are 2 days away from the birth.  We gather on the 24th to celebrate the coming, and yet, not nearly as many gather to celebrate the actual birth…something which has puzzled me for a long time.

I have not done any baking for festive cooking this year.  I haven’t mailed any Christmas cards this year.  There are some decorations at the rectory, but not many.  I haven’t composed a Christmas letter…and I’m not likely going to.  Why?

Because there is more “stuff” to do then there is time.  And this year, for the first time ever, I am not skimping on my sleep.  Traditionally, every year, I get sick after Christmas.  Partly because I don’t eat properly, I don’t exercise properly or look after myself properly, and I certainly don’t sleep properly.  This year I have been mindful in the invitations I accept so I can factor in proper sleep.

Maybe that makes me sound like an old woman, and if so, I’m okay with that.  Age is a relative term.  I’d like to stay upright through this season and into 2015.  So far, so good.

One of the things I have missed doing is yoga stretches.  I’m not the slightest bit graceful, nor do I pretend to be, but when I stretch out on the yoga mat and focus on breathing, I feel invincible.  I feel like I can take on the world and do anything. And usually I roll up my mat, put it back in the carry bag and go back to work, feeling focussed and alive.

As a society I don’t believe we put enough energy into our breathing.  I know for myself, when I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed I find my breathing to be shallow and rapid.  When I become mindful of my breathing, I can focus better, think more clearly and make healthier choices for my life and those around me.

These next few days will be pressure filled.  The crazy illusion that if I preach my best homily ever I will single-handedly bring folks back to Church.  That one good homily will fill our little Church to the rafters.  It’s not true.  But the pressure remains.  I have promised myself that I will put one foot in front of the other.  I will take at least one short walk a day.  I will eat healthy and save room for fun stuff.  I will nap if time allows, and I will focus on my breath as often as possible.

Because without breath, we have nothing.  When the earthling was formed, God breathed life into its nostrils and humanity began.  Breath is essential, without it we have nothing.  Without it we die.  So from now on I will focus on life-giving breath, on slowing my breathing and focussing on life.

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Tomorrow is the Reign of Christ.  It is the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar, so for all intents and purposes, it is New Year’s Eve.  Each year I change the sign at the Church to read “Happy New Year” and each year there are folks who don’t get it.  And that’s okay.

Once we enter Advent, it is a time of liturgical whiplash…so many emotions, all hurtling together, colliding and often making things messy.  At the Church where I serve, the tradition is to celebrate a Lessons & Carols service for both Advent and Epiphany, to mark the beginning and the end of the seasons.  They are joyous services, filled with story and music and are a lot of fun to put together.

Advent itself is a time of Anticipation, for the birth of a very special baby.  We light our Advent wreath and the litany we use usually points to social justice concerns around the globe.  The services contain readings imploring us to wait, with great anticipation, as something remarkable is to happen.  They are amazing services.  The third week of Advent we light a pink, rather than a blue candle and can wear rose coloured vestments, if we have them.  I am blessed to have a set of rose vestments that I wear twice a year, for Gaudete and Laetare Sunday.

And in the midst of all of this there is the hyper-caffeinated onslaught of Commercialism relating to Christmas.  Buy me!  Eat me!  Want me!  Drink me! surrounds us at every turn.  For many who have experienced loss, all of this can be simply too much to bear.  The thought of the cooking, cleaning, baking, shopping, wrapping, is simply too much.

So each year the Church hosts a service of Light and Remembrance, inviting the same families who have been invited to the All Soul’s services to come and be in a simple service filled with light.  It is an opportunity for us to come together and refocus ourselves, to remember the original reason for the season.  Nothing is expected of the person, simply to come and be.

We list the names of those we are there to remember.  And at an appropriate time in the service we name them aloud.  We can light a candle for them.  We can gather to be together in a place of pain to support one another.  There are five readings which relate to the season and correspond to a candle in the advent wreath.  The service is simple and meaningful and always leaves me feeling completely exhausted, in a mostly good way.  For a couple of hours we create an environment of complete peace and tranquility.  A safe place where we can gather to feel how we truly feel, not having to paste on a happy face and pretend that it’s all going to be just fine.  Because sometimes it’s not.

I need to remind myself to slow down this season and be careful.  The sidewalks are slippery, today rain is falling and the temperature is supposed to drop.  It will be downright scary tomorrow.

So I fill my body with healthy food.  I fill my soul with hope, peace, joy and love.  And I surround myself with those who understand, who don’t have to be happy in order to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.

I encourage you, whether Christmas is difficult or not, to do the same.  Don’t forget to breathe.

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As a rule I generally don’t feel compelled to respond to articles I read, but this one made me cringe with every paragraph.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathleen-brooks/being-fat_b_6097544.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

What upset me most was the undertone of self-loathing and helplessness.  It devastates me that people walk by this delightful human being and don’t recognize her humanity.  It’s a basic feeling that everyone needs and deserves…to be recognized for our inherent human dignity.  I am not skinny.  I haven’t been since high school.  I look in the mirror and most days I am comfortable with what I see.  Yes, I’d like to lose weight, but I don’t think weight defines my personhood.

I have called myself fat.  At times I still call myself fat.  And I am fat, by society’s standards.  My mother is underweight, significantly so, and is the first person to notice any weight gain.  It bothers me, but I don’t see her every day so I can usually shake off what she says.

There are times when I get looks from people, but I don’t care.  I know skinny people who have body dysmorphia, the same as me.  I am a food addict and I work at making healthy choices every single day.  Some days are better than others.

But I am more than what the scale tells me.  I am a gifted preacher and pastoral presence.  I connect with people on a spiritual and individual level.  I am an attentive and mindful listener.  I work hard at what I do.  God has blessed me in many ways.

I have curves, I have cellulite, I don’t like having my picture taken because I have not learned (yet) how to smile without looking artificial.  I am not as active as I should be.  I know I should get off my ass and move more than I do.

Yet I refuse to be judged because I cannot shop the petite section of a store and my dress size is in the double-digits.  I like my curves (for the most part).  I like how a dress hugs my hips and shows off my breasts.  I like feeling sexy.  And sometimes I actually do feel sexy.  I don’t think I would if I was as skinny as I was in high school.  Back then, I was built like an ironing board…and ironing boards are not sexy.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud women of all sizes.  I know women who have struggled with  and are currently struggling with eating disorders.

Being fat is not a sin.  While it may be seen as socially unacceptable, so is smoking in public places.  So is child abuse.  So is ignoring the homeless and refusing to see them as anything other than a nuisance and burden on society.

To Kathleen Brooks, know that you are a beautiful and remarkable woman.  Stop projecting what society is saying and making it baggage to carry around.  it is not your burden or cross to bear.  You are a talented, remarkable warrior woman. You have curves and hopes and dreams.  You have lived a remarkable life.  You have an incredible story to share.

Live your life out loud.  Don’t wait for someone else to make it okay.  Please stop putting yourself down.  You have a great life NOW.  You are successful and have survived kidney disease and transplantation!  That is no small feat.  You are woman, learn to roar…and share that roar.  Live your life larger than life.  And live it out loud.

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