Monthly Archives: February 2014

Choices

We all make choices multiple times a day. Sometimes our choices are bad, sometimes they’re good. Our choices can be as simple as what to eat for lunch, or what to wear each day. Or they can be as complicated as which house to buy, or whether to stay with a boyfriend/partner/spouse.

We make a choice the moment we get up each day. The choice to be in a good mood or a bad one. The choice to look at the day positively or negatively. And we are faced with choices until we go to bed.

When my depression surfaces, I have the choice to give up or fight.

I choose to fight.

We are lucky because for the most part, we have the freedom to make choices for ourselves. Unless under the age of 18, no one is telling us what we have to choose in any given situation.

But how much are we allowing the world around us to influence our choices?

How often do we make a choice based on how we think people will react? Or based on what our culture tells us we’re supposed to do?

How often do we base our choices on what’s in the media or what trend is popular?

Too often.

And for me, there have been many times I’ve regretted a choice I made because it was the thing to do. I’ve regretted choices I’ve made based on fear of what people will think of me.

I have chosen to keep secrets. I have chosen to lie. All out of fear of being judged.

It’s unacceptable that we should have to hide parts of ourselves because we fear people may not approve.

So what?

Why do I have to explain every choice I make? If it is the right choice for me, then it doesn’t matter what someone else thinks.

It’s my life. As long as I’m not hurting anyone or doing something illegal, then why do I need approval?

If my choice is a mistake, it’s my mistake to make.

And who are you to judge me? Who are any of us to judge anyone? No one’s perfect. We all make mistakes, just like we all do incredibly amazing things. We are all different, unique and beautiful, and we have the right to make choices that work for us, even if not everyone agrees with that choice.

I have made incredible choices in my life. I’ve made wonderful choices with the friends I have (and some bad choices too, but they’re not in my life anymore). I’ve chosen to see the good in life instead of focusing on the bad. I’ve chosen to be positive despite being a naturally negative person. I have chosen to help and serve others. I have chosen to forgive those who hurt me. I have chosen to live fully. I have chosen to love.

I’m not going to live my life constantly worried about what others think of me. I’m not going to live my life based on what culture or the media tells me. I am going to live my life by following my heart. I am going to live my life by doing what feels right for me. I am going to live my life by what God tells me.

And I’m not going to apologize for it.

Neither should you.

 

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Unexpected

Yesterday someone asked me how many kids I want to have. I said I don’t know. My response surprised them because most women my age have a plan about what their future is going to look like. They know what they want to do, where they are focusing their career and how many kids they want to have.  Some have even named their not-yet-conceived children. I guess I’m not like most women.

The main thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that life constantly throws the unexpected at you. My favourite saying is “Man plans and God laughs”. Because you can plan all you want, but things will not turn out as you expect. The good news is that God’s plans are way better than ours.

I was a planner once. I had my whole life planned out. But God had other plans and the unexpected kept happening. I realized that when I was focusing on my plan and my wants, I was missing out on experiences and opportunities that were coming unexpectedly. I kept myself in a box and as a result, became very unhappy. Frustration and disappointment settled in when I wasn’t achieving my “plan”. This led to depression over what I had not accomplished. I didn’t see what I had accomplished.

Finally, in the midst of misery, I decided to let go. I released control, threw out my plans and began to actually LIVE my life. I embraced the freedom of not having a definitive plan for the next 10 years. I let the unexpected in.

And life got exciting.

Ten years ago I was attending Ryerson University, taking Radio and Television Arts. I was certain I would be in that field for the rest of my life. I planned my future.

Six years later I felt a disconnect in my career. I realized that I didn’t want to be in television anymore. Yes, I was good at it. Yes, I had a great job that I enjoyed most of the time. But at the end of my work day, I felt empty. I felt I wasn’t contributing to the world in a positive way.

I set my sights on ministry, and got a job at my church less than a year later. Right away I felt like this was it. This is what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I used to joke that I would work for my church until they told me I couldn’t.

Unexpectedly, they told me I couldn’t work for them anymore in the spring of 2013. My position was being eliminated and I was getting laid off. I was crushed; I thought I was going to work there for the rest of my life.

I moved to Kingsville, Ontario in April 2013, to live with my parents. The plan was to stay there for only four months and I was going to go back to school in September. I told anyone who would listen that I was NOT staying in the Windsor area. I had sworn that I would never live there again.

It’s been nearly a year since I first found out I was losing my job at the church. I still live in Kingsville. I work part time at a clothing store, and I’m taking an online writing program with the hopes of launching a writing career.

And I am happier than I can ever remember being.

None of this was in my plan.

This really is not where I planned to be at 30 years old.

But now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Now I live for the unexpected. The unexpected has blessed me in countless ways.

If I had been focused on following my previous life plan, I would have missed out on so much. I would have missed opportunities, experiences and growth. I would have missed today. I would have missed right now. And right now is good. It’s really good.

Embrace the unexpected. You’ll be surprised where it can lead you.

Finding joy in the little things

I’m an anticipatory person. I thrive when I have something big to look forward to. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s good to get excited about upcoming events in your life whether it be a vacation, a conference, a concert, the birth of a niece or nephew, or a first date.

My problem is that once the event I’ve been looking forward to passes, I often face my depression. Once the experience is over, I am left feeling down, especially if there isn’t something else for me to look forward to.

This is not healthy for someone who has depression because there isn’t always going to be a big event on the horizon. And when there is a big event, the letdown after it’s over can cause a depression that may last days.

Exciting events happen occasionally. They are not an every day occurrence, and therefore there isn’t always something to look forward to.

So to avoid constantly dealing with the “after-event” depression, I am learning to find joy and excitement in the little things. And there are so many little things happening every day that can be celebrated.

My newborn nephew sleeping on my chest for over an hour.

Ordering pizza for a mother/daughter dinner on a Thursday night.

Seeing the sun after many days of grey.

Trying a new restaurant.

My 19 month old niece learning to say “auntie”.

A coffee with a close friend.

A night snuggled up with a good book.

Ice cream anytime.

Taking a walk on a summer evening.

Finding $10 hidden in your wallet.

Making snow angels.

A second date.

Seeing the first flower bud in spring.

Giving a small gift to someone to show you care.

A hug.

Finding your favourite cereal on sale at the grocery store.

I could continue on and on. There are so many beautiful things in life that are seen as ordinary, but should be celebrated simply because we can. We have much to be grateful for.

Life is short.

Stop waiting for the big events and enjoy every small one each day. Find joy in the little things.

 

Open

I am not a naturally open person.  I guard my heart, my feelings, my thoughts.  I am not a talker, but a thinker.  I process things inwardly.  And it often drives me insane when people pepper me with questions about what is going on in my life.  I have always viewed this part of me as a positive thing.  I told myself I was just a private person.

But then I began to look deeper.

I am guarded because of my depression.  I am guarded because of how I have been treated because of my illness. I am guarded because I fear rejection and judgement.

But keeping everything to myself and hiding my feelings is lonely.

Very lonely.

The last few months have been challenging and life changing.  For the first time since I was a kid I have had time to rest, reflect and re-energize.  I’ve reached deep inside to pull out some ugliness I had buried.  I also reached deep within to pull out my fears.

And I began to question why I am guarded.

Yes, I am guarded because of past betrayals.  There are deep wounds from how people have treated me.

And those wounds have controlled my actions for a long time.  I worried about what people thought of me.  Too much.  I worried about being rejected or judged.  I had been looking for my value in how others see me.

One day when my self-esteem was quite low and I was feeling worthless, a friend prayed for me.  In this prayer, she asked God that I would see myself as He sees me.

Something in me changed soon after that.  began praying that I would see myself as He saw me.  And He began to show me.  He showed me my value, my inward beauty and my worth.  He pointed out the love that surrounded me.  Most importantly He pointed out how precious I am to Him.

It is exhausting trying to keep everything bottled up so no one will see my flaws, my imperfections.  It’s exhausting wearing a mask and never revealing my true self.

I got tired of hiding.  I got tired of being scared.

I began to let my guard down.  I began to open up.

And beautiful things happened.  I found acceptance.  My friends and family still loved me with all of my messiness and brokenness.  And I accepted myself in all of my imperfections.

And I began to take more chances.  I allowed myself to be vulnerable.  The real me was set loose.  And I discovered that the real me is a great person, flaws and all.  I found myself relating to people on a deeper level.  When I opened up, others opened up to me.

And you know what?

I am happier than I’ve ever been.  I’m at peace and I feel free.  My mind and my heart are open, and I am excited for whatever adventure is around the corner.

My fears do not rule over me anymore.

We live in a society that tells us we always need to be perfect, that we must never show weakness, and that means never letting our emotions take over.  It means never being vulnerable.

And it’s a horrible way to live.

I challenge you to join me in being real.  I challenge you to open up.  We all have good and bad in us.  We are all flawed and broken.  But we are also all beautiful and valuable.  We are all unique and amazing.

And if we all were to open our hearts and our minds, imagine how that could change the world.

Forgiving vs Forgetting

We’ve all heard the saying ‘forgive and forget’, and while it’s a wonderful concept, is it something we can actually do?  Forgiving can be done by choice, but can we ever really forget when someone has hurt or betrayed us?  And do we want to?

There is another popular saying that goes ‘Hurt me once, shame on you, hurt me twice, shame on me’.  This saying would suggest that we shouldn’t forget pain caused by another.  We should guard our heart to protect it from this person.

So, again I ask can we ever really forget when someone has hurt us?

The truth is that I don’t think we can forget.  We can try to, but if someone has caused us deep pain and suffering, we are never going to be able to erase that from our mind.

But we can forgive.

Or can we?

Some would argue if you haven’t forgotten then you haven’t completely forgiven.  Is this true?

I think of how people have hurt me in my life.  I think of the kids who called me ugly every day when I was 11.  I think of the friends who turned their backs on me and called me crazy when they found out about my depression.  I think of the boy I was “in love with” in high school who played with my heart and led me on.

I haven’t forgotten about all these hurts.  But I have forgiven.  However none of the people who caused those hurts are in my life right now, so that makes forgiveness  easy.  If I saw one of them tomorrow, would the hurt and anger come rushing back?

I don’t believe it would.

I don’t think of how they hurt me very often.  I got over it and I moved on.  I forgave.  But I didn’t forget.

I think about a hurt I experienced more recently, within the last year.  It was a betrayal that shattered me in many ways.  It broke my heart, caused my confidence to plummet, and left me with a lot of anger.

I want to forgive and I am working hard to forgive, but I never want to forget.  And my relationship with this person will never be the same.  To be honest, I would be happy to never see her again.

Clearly, I have not managed to forgive yet.  When I think of her, my stomach knots in both pain and anger.  I haven’t seen her in over 7 months and I honestly don’t know how I would react if I saw her again.  The wounds are still raw.

But I do want to forgive.  I am not perfect.  I have hurt people and I have said and done horrible things.  And I pray for forgiveness for those things.  If I expect forgiveness, I need to be able to give it.

I don’t want to be someone who holds on to pain and anger.  I did that for many years and it only hurt me even more.  Can I forgive without forgetting?

Because no matter how hard I try, I will never forget what happened with this woman less than a year ago.

I will always have my guard up when it comes to her.  It is unlikely that we will ever have anything more than a surface friendship again.

So I ask – can we forgive fully even when we don’t forget?

 

Dark Side

Driving home tonight a song by Kelly Clarkson came on the radio called ‘Dark Side’.  I had never heard it before but found the lyrics very powerful.  The beginning of the chorus goes:

‘Everybody’s got a dark side;  Can you love me?;  Can you love mine?;  Nobody’s a picture perfect;  But we’re worth it’

The truth of these lyrics rang in my ears.  Everybody does have a dark side.  Most of us are trying to hide our dark sides, fearful that if we show it, no one will love us.

My dark side is my depression.  And that darkness can sneak out suddenly.  My dark side shows itself when I back out of commitments. When I don’t want to be around a lot of people.  When I don’t want to get out of bed or eat or talk to anyone.

I have spent years trying to smother my dark side, hoping that one day I will succeed in killing it.  

But maybe that approach is causing more harm than help.  What if I choose to embrace my dark side, accept it and work to move it into light?  What if I stop trying to hide it and instead lay it out in all it’s brokenness?

The line from the song that is really sticking with me is ‘Nobody’s a picture perfect’.  

It’s true.  Nobody is a picture perfect.  So why are we all trying to be?  Why are we pretending that we are?

Is it pride that keeps us from being real?  Is it fear?

Or is it both?

Our society tells us we need to be perfect, especially women.  We need to look perfect, be great girlfriends, wives & mothers, have successful careers, not show emotion, do everything gracefully.  We need to ‘have it all’, and if we show vulnerability or stress we are deemed weak.

We hide our dark sides.

We pretend the picture is perfect.

We walk out of the house with smiles, hair done, make-up on, never revealing the stress, pain, anxiety and struggle we are experiencing.

Why?

We fear judgement.  We fear ridicule.  We fear we won’t be loved.

But we are loved.

We are loved in our perfect flaws.  We are loved in our brokenness.  We are loved in our vulnerability.

One of the main reasons our dark sides get darker instead of lighter is because we keep them secret.  We hide behind our ‘confident & happy’ masks, which makes us feel completely and totally alone.

Human beings were not designed to be alone.  We were designed to be in relationship.  But how real can a relationship be if we are not sharing all of ourselves?  

We may be surrounded by people we call friends and peers, but we isolate our hearts and therefore we are ultimately alone.  The loneliness rips us apart inside, and our wounds grow deeper, the pain grows stronger.

I am not naturally an open person.  One of my goals with this blog is to be open and vulnerable.  I am throwing away my mask and inviting you into my imperfections.

Because I am flawed.  I do have a dark side.  But as I open up and kick down the walls I’ve spent my life building, my dark side is becoming lighter.  I am finding joy in honesty.

I ask you to join me in this.  Be counter-cultural and take a risk.  Be real.  Be vulnerable.

Allow your soul to breathe again.

And know that you are loved.  In your darkness, in your vulnerability, in your imperfect picture, you are loved.

 

You Don’t Know

I’ve been thinking a lot about my teenage years.  The desperate times I was in and the pain that stirred inside me.

I began cutting myself when I was 15 years old.  I did everything I could to hide what I was doing, but I was secretly hoping someone would notice the cuts and scars on my body.

Why?

It was my cry for help.  I didn’t know how to ask for the help I needed.

I know there were people around me who knew what I was doing.  Peers at school who saw my wrists and arms.  They never said anything.  Some ignored it.  Some whispered behind my back that I was crazy.

My friends who knew tried to help, but they weren’t equipped to deal with my depression.  They begged me to stop.  I promised I would.  But I kept doing it and got better at hiding the cuts.

I remember being at a birthday party once, and I wore a shirt that I thought covered my cuts.  I didn’t realize until later that 3 wounds on my arm were visible, peaking out from my shirt sleeve.  I realized this because someone was staring at my arm during the party.  But nothing was said.

I don’t blame anyone for not saying anything.  They didn’t know what to do and they were all teenagers like me.  And I was crying for help in the wrong places.

Eventually I did tell my mother that I was cutting myself.  She took me to the doctor and I began my treatment for depression.  Of course nothing got better right away.  I still cut myself on and off for years after that.  But I was on the road to recovery.

This has made me think.  How many times have we ignored a cry for help from someone?  Whether it is someone we know or not?

What are the consequences of not following up?

The reality is that we never really know what someone is going through.

That woman in your office who seems to be such a drama queen may have stresses in her personal life that you cannot imagine.  Maybe a loved one is seriously ill.  Maybe her husband just left her.  You don’t know.

That guy in your apartment building who you think is such a snob because he won’t talk to anyone.  Maybe he has social anxiety.  Maybe his mother just died.  You don’t know.

What about that homeless man who sits at the corner begging for spare change?  You judge him because you think he is lazy and should go and get a job.  Maybe he had a job and lost it, and then he lost his home, and then his wife left him, and he couldn’t find work or a helping hand so he ended up on the street.  Maybe he has a mental illness that prevented him from holding a job, and there was no one to help or take him in.  Maybe society called him crazy and threw him out like trash.  You don’t know.

You don’t know what someone is going through.  You don’t know why they act the way they do.  You don’t know their suffering.

What if your kindness (or lack of) could make a difference between someone living or dying?

Next time that woman at the office causes a scene or the homeless man on the street asks for change, don’t judge.  They could be, or were, in a horrible situation that led to where they are, and how they act now.

You just don’t know.