Falling

At a young age she had learned the power that music held. It could touch those parts of her that hadn’t yet found their own words; and it could move her emotions in a way that made expressing them unstoppable. Somehow the right song could connect all the fragments inside. It could still the busyness of her mind. Pierce through the toughest armour surrounding her heart. Reach the feelings buried deep within.

As far back as she could remember, every season and moment of her life had a ‘theme’ song. Every significant event could be connected to a piece of music. Even hearing a melody could transport her right back to a memory, a relationship, even a specific feeling. Many times when she could feel the tides of change within her she would search for the song that could express what she couldn’t. Often wishing she had been given the gift of composing herself.

The tune could have words or it could not. There was no genre of music that she wouldn’t consider and was often surprised by what she stumbled across. It would sometimes connect instantaneously. Causing a release of emotions, clarity of thought, and permission to process. It was not really a solution or an answer, though it had the ability to calm the tempest inside.

And so when she heard, “I’ve been beaten and broken and tread upon.”, the opening line of the song “Fall” by James Arthur, she stopped what she was doing and closed her eyes. The lazy guitar strumming was soothing and the melancholy tone in his voice resonated with her heart. When the chorus came around a second time, her voice joined in slipping easily into the harmony. As if to confirm in that moment her soul had found its song.

Sometimes I feel nothing at all

Sometimes I want someone to hold

Sometimes I carry on

Just to stumble down once more

Sometimes I wanna fall

Just Heal

In terms of recovery after trauma, child loss, or PTSD I think the word “healing”can be misleading. It brings images of scabs and stitches; fading bruises and non-tannable blemishes. The mysterious inner workings of our circulatory system and the magic of time. The body is designed to protect and restore itself. So it can be confusing when we see someone who has experienced extreme circumstances or loss and wonder what is holding them back from fixing themselves and moving forward.

Healing is natural.

Give it time.

Learn to move on.

It would be unfair to assess if progress is happening from a limited list of qualifications. Almost assuredly it is, even if the ‘what’ and ‘how’ are unmeasurable. Injuries of this nature and magnitude include physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual ramifications. And just as the body clots to prevent bleeding out, it also tries to protect the mind and soul from being overwhelmed. Though,unlike lab results that indicate deficiencies and show abnormalities, trauma does not have a report card.

Causes and triggers are unknown.

Wounds are layered deep within.

Many stay dormant until it is safer.

Rebuilding after loss is not natural. Unless waking up inside an abandoned warehouse in the middle of a war zone and being told by a complete stranger that there is no one qualified to help, but to look around and there should be some stuff to help get by and to make sure to remove the shrapnel as soon as possible is considered normal. All this on top of paying the bills, feeding the kids, attending concerts, volunteering on weekends, and staying hydrated. The task seems impossible, but this is not a job that anybody else can do.

So it’s survival.

As long as it takes.

And then one day the patient IS the surgeon.

Without 8 years of med school or residency.

The operation is messy. It starts and it stops over and over again. The doctor is untrained and doesn’t even know what to look for. New wounds are uncovered. Small victories are won. Progress, setbacks, intensity, and rest. There are no stand-ins. It will be the most intimate procedure ever preformed and only one is qualified. Digging into the depths of brokenness to make sense of the pain. Nothing can be left untouched.

Recognizing what is felt.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Until there is no more distress.

This is no bandaid repair. This task requires strength and bravery. Fear cannot rule the heart, but rather determination and persistence. And the ‘leaning in’ to those you are loved by.

Just to heal.

What Would You Say

I wonder if you would forgive me.

For every misstep I’ve made along the way. When I chose to pull the covers over my head instead of getting out of bed. In the times I allowed the boys to see some of the worst of me leaving grace in the dust. For being selfish and feeling like I didn’t have the capacity to consider others in my choices. In each moment that I just wanted to stop trying and settle for mediocre. And for every time I was jealous that you are free from all this pain.

I wonder if I’ve made you proud.

For how I’ve considered my role as a mother and a father in raising our children. When I have chosen love and forgiveness instead of anger and hate. In allowing my heart’s capacity for compassion and empathy to change and grow. By using the gift of so many serving me as an opportunity to serve others. Desperately living each day to prove I could have been a worthy role model for our daughter.

I wonder if you would recognize me.

I am not the girl you married. I am not even the same woman that you left on the hi-way four years ago. I’m scarred and broken. Though I am not an empty shell. I am not stuck or swallowed by chaos. I am not without purpose and hope.

I wish you were here.

To say I forgive you.

To say I am proud of you.

To say I see you.

To say I love you.

Give Madeline a hug from me.

Give her ten thousand.

Oh My Heart

Oh little heart that’s trying to mend

That wants to feel whole again

Don’t grow cold

Don’t turn dark

Or let pain suffocate the spark

When you feel there is nothing left

And you cannot see beyond regret

Don’t succumb

Don’t lie down

Try to see how much you’ve grown

If your smile won’t reach your eyes

And you have no strength for more good byes

Don’t have doubt

Don’t give in

Allow yourself to stay soft within

Though weariness slows your heart

And you feel like you’ve been torn apart

Don’t despair

Don’t ever quit

Oh little heart this is not it

The Chrysalis

From her earliest memories she had only known her one physical form. Starting at her emergence from the egg and maturing through every phase, that steady constant had been a comfort. She had learned to trust in its design and marvel at its adaptability.

At the start she was small and translucent, pale green in the light. Insignificant and unremarkable though immediately purposeful in her actions. Driven by an internal power she could not resist, she feasted upon the platform which she was born. And continued to consume milkweed with a voracious appetite. Eating, in a circular pattern, everything she came upon as if she could never be satisfied. Soon her skin felt tight and ill equipped. And, as though her being knew what was ahead and was preparing her for a journey her mind could never fathom, her fragile exterior was left behind and was replaced by a coat of white, yellow, and black. Transverse bands of colour no longer translucent splayed across her frame; and small bristle like hairs covered the exterior.

The drive to consume milkweed was still present. And her days were filled with traveling from plant to plant; learning how to navigate each challenge with the structure she had been given. She continued to grow comfortable with herself, adjusting to each stage with expanded patience.

Again she became stretched and recognized the signs of new changes approaching.

This time her colours developed more distinctly and and her two sets of tentacles became longer. She noticed more differentiation in her legs and how her tastes had changed. She was now drawn to consume the edges of the plant leaves. This new direction excited her and emboldened her sense of adventure. Though every shift had been increasingly difficult, this journey of maturation had aided her in recognizing inner strength and confidence.

Soon her banding pattern evolved again as though it was an external sign of her progression. An outward expression to others of the work happening inward. White spots started to develop on her legs and her internal momentum had become a constant comfort.

She was consumed with finding leaves to eat and had established a rhythm for each day. When her white, yellow, and black covering molted into its most complex pattern yet, and the white spots became pronounced dots on her legs she handled the change with experience and grace. Feeling as though she had reached the pinnacle she was unprepared for any new challenge to be foisted upon her.

Then a different desire emerged, one she was not prepared for. Her appetite had evaporated and in its position grew this yearning for a safe place. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for, yet seemed intuitively to know what she didn’t want. And in an instant she felt as though she was home. The need to keep moving and searching left and her predilection took over. Choosing a strong branch, she used silk to attached her hind legs and then began to weave. It was a methodical process and it took time before it was recognizable as anything; but soon a blue-green chrysalis encased her. It was opaque and covered in gold dots. It was an exquisite sight to behold and hung regal and defiant on the branch.

From the outside things appeared frozen and unchanging; within she was undergoing her most rapid metamorphosis yet. The form she had always known, the one she had grown up in, was melting away and a new foreign shape was taking its place. She was terrified and helpless as she felt all that she had been mutate before her while she was powerless to stop it. The chrysalis was dark and encompassing. No reference for her on which to begin understanding this transformation. It seemed an eternity as she became formless and then was reconstructed anew. Finally it was complete and the cuticle of the chrysalis began to lighten. The opaque shell became translucent and and her new body was revealed.

Now this is where she hangs, quivering with fear and excitement. Part of her wanting to go back to what she knows, but comprehending beyond any logical understanding that these changes are irreversible. As she ponders every step that brought her to this place she wonders how this new body will work and if she can trust it to carry her through. Yet instinctively knowing that staying paralyzed in her cocoon would be a death sentence. She is still and quiet, peering out of the used up shell. Trying to envision the next moments and anticipate the strength and bravery she will need to take this leap. Wondering if her wings will open and delight the world with their beauty; If she will soar to great heights with her powerful yet delicate frame. Or if they will be too frail to support her or withstand the elements. Leaving her vulnerable to predators and extremes.

So there she waits perched on a precipice. The choice is hers alone. Closing her eyes she feels the warmth of the sun and the wind in her face.

And that is when she hears it. A gentle whisper in the breeze saying, “Come out little one, you were made for this.”

Goliath

She stared fixedly at the return for her life’s labour, scattered in pieces on the ground, blinking back invisible tears as she had nothing left to cry. She tried to count how many times she had faced setbacks and restarted her assignment, but she had lost count long ago. She was filled with overwhelm as she tried to figure out where to begin this time; and she prayed to be exempt from the task. Yet even as she begged for release she knew the answer. Being able to walk away from this calling would be the equivalent of trying to live without her heart.

She took a moment to breathe deep and calm her racing heartbeat.

She acknowledged the pain and faced her fear.

And every time the gravity of the job ahead threatens to paralyze her she reminds herself of His love for her. And as she places the fragile pieces back together she thanks Him for access to His strength. When the realities of her inadequacy and failures surface she embraces His forgiveness. And when the enemy whispers stories of rejection and worthlessness in her ears she fights back with His promises for the future and her value in Him.

Many times it has seemed like the tide would win, washing everything away and sweeping her out to sea. Like a house of cards precariously balanced in anticipation of a hurricane. In those moments the darkness of the storm is not lost on her. As it threatens to engulf her and all the parts she has nurtured she frantically reaches to find a hand hold. Searching blindly in the storm for hope.

And no matter how black or violent the environment around her gets, it is always there. His hope is constantly within her grasp.

A faithful companion.

A resilient gift.

To her from Him.

Twenty Year Night

I want to start by giving my sincerest commendation to this year’s grads and the people who love them. Being here today is proof of a remarkable individual accomplishment that was achieved though the fingerprints of many.

Also please understand that I cannot properly articulate tonight how honoured I am to be standing here, but trust that my heart is humbled and full.

Time waits for no one and 2018 marks my twentieth year since high school graduation. Recently, as my old classmates started chatting about plans for a reunion this summer, I pulled my old yearbooks off the shelf and started flipping through the pages. Drawn in part by the nostalgia and mostly because I couldn’t remember who half of these people were.

There were lots of messages and comments that made me smile. Many memories that reminded me how fortunate my generation was to be without social media and cameras in everyone’s hands. And lots of pictures confirmed that not much in style or fashion is timeless. But there was one message in particular that stood out to me. It was barely legible, assumably from an acquaintance, and it’s sentiments read something to the effect of, “School is almost over. Have a great life. Never change who you are.” A neither imaginative or heartfelt message though it caused me to think about that girl, not quite woman, from twenty years ago and how much was different now.

There are things about ourselves that we have no power to change. The parts that are genetically ingrained into our makeup and uniquely form us into who we are. But one of the greatest privileges that we share as humans is the ability to learn and change.

When I think back to the past few years I am eternally grateful that I was not the woman I was before. Every relationship and circumstance had played a role in growing my compassion, softening my standards, and bolstering my resolve. I learned that not all my ideas and opinions were unshakable and changing my mind was not a sign of weakness. I was taught the gift of flexibility and how in times of crisis it is a strong ally. I began to understand that it is our authenticity and honesty that pulls us to each other not our perfection.

We are not chained to the past or limited by our previous decisions. As we go through life we can choose a new response to an old situation. We can learn to draw from the strengths of others and be complete in our vulnerability. So that when life breaks our hearts we won’t know defeat. We will instead have confidence that even though wrongs may never be made right, tragedy can be redeemed.

I recently stumbled onto a brilliant quote from a man named Randall Stephenson that reads:

Tolerance is for cowards.

Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves,

Holding tightly to your views without being challenged.

Do not tolerate each other.

Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.

I am confident that if you choose to move into this ‘uncomfortable territory’ you will be transformed. If you allow more fingerprints to be impressed into you the ones you can leave on others will be countless.

Good Grief

Grief is not a segment of time or some sort of passage that is endured. It isn’t like eating or jumping where the action is obvious to others and the activity’s starting and stopping is definable. Grieving the loss of a loved one is more comparable to breathing. It is more laborious in some moments and in others you do it in your sleep. Sometimes the only way to even know if someone is breathing is if they are alive.

It isn’t a “crutch” that aids in your recovery only to be tossed when you get over it. It will always be there in everything, silently taking in and pushing out. Done without thought, just a reflex of survival. Making some things inconvenient and even impossible at times; yet even our denial won’t change the fact that there is no choice for grief. Our only privilege is the how.

And this is where you can start to appreciate the gift of grief. It is the continued expression of love for those who are not physically with us. It is their inclusion in the influential occasions they are missing and a memento in the insignificant moments of each day. It is that constant reminder of what you had and the acknowledgment that it was real.

So grief is not the punishment. It is the medal for those they left.

Third

You are third.

God, my boys, then you.

And I wrestle with this order. In those darkest of moments when I panic at the thought of this future alone I justify a minor tweak and attempt to believe that it could work. Trying to rearrange the platform to cooperate; but the fit isn’t quite right. Then as the light returns the error glares at me. My heart spills out and I know that I cannot ignore the conviction of these placements.

And so I surrender. I fall to my knees and weep. Tears of peace, because I know that it is correct and wise, mingled with tears of shame because my weaknesses have surfaced once again. I have allowed the lesser parts to rule my heart and silence that still small voice.

There may never again be someone who recognizes that this is no bronze medal or consolation prize. It appears so contradictory; yet this position is my commitment.

You see the first love is what gives me the capacity to love beyond my human ability. It is the foundation for all my relationships. It is what allows me to connect on a level so much deeper than the surface and enables me to have compassion in the most impossible of situations.

My second love is part of my DNA. It is unalterable and I know that not even death can separate that bond. It is what keeps my selfishness in check, and is the motivation to make an honourable choice not just the uncomplicated one. Always pushing me to pour out every ounce into life and people.

And then comes you. Third place might not seem like the level to aspire for, but in this situation it is no less than gold or silver. Not only are first and second place part of your biggest cheering section, their desire for mutual completeness is matched only by mine. And though they are unable to forfeit their placement, for them the podium is not tiered. They are eager for you to join them in the champagne toast.

Even behind them you are still ahead of me.

The Face

Photo courtesy: Jordan Treder Photography

Photo courtesy: Casey Dandenault Photography

The face is a purveyor of the heart’s secrets. Whether fleeting or enduring, each expression tells a story of its own. Ironically, unless one lives in front of a mirror, they cannot fully know the story that they are telling others. We teach ourselves to suppress the parts of the narrative that we don’t want to share, but eventually a look will betray us. Our visage, like a child, doesn’t always respect our unwritten social framework and guidelines.

The face is authentic and it hates to be dishonest. And when we try to mask the truths of the heart, our profile becomes strained. Never believing the lie and not convinced to cooperate fully.

And what a gift that is; even though it is one that we are so reluctant to accept. When our hearts are breaking, or our expressions are pained, rarely do we seek to capture those moments to look back on. Instead we do our best to hide those unpleasant realities from our countenance as if it could change our circumstances.

Yet it is rewarding to hold the image of agony when you celebrate a new picture; to see genuine joy captured by the lens after witnessing the face of devastation.