Thursday, December 31, 2015


I sit down to write another year in review, and it seems nearly impossible that a whole year has gone by. How drastically my life has changed in this turning of the calendar year. For the past few years on this day, as the world waits with held breath for the new year and a fresh start, I sat dreading the year that was to come. Now, for the first time in a long time, I wait with anticipation for 2016.
2015 was a good year. It marked the end of my first year at college, and the beginning of my second. It was in January of 2015 that I got my first tattoo, and in December of this year that I got my second and third.
On a magical day in January a handsome, charming and sometimes insanely awkward young man asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes. It wasn't until he left for the summer to go back to Calgary that I realized I loved him. Loving him is one of the craziest, most beautiful things I have ever done, and I don't regret a single minute.
In July of this year, I walked into a room filled with 80 odd strangers, and walked out with those strangers being my family. It was in these days spent at Choices that I got my ass kicked, literally and figuratively. I saw all the ways in my life that I choose others and neglect myself. I stared down my past, and the things I wish I could run away from. I danced, wild and free, for the first time in my life and it was beautiful. I began to believe that what I say matters, that I am beautiful and loved and strong. I learned about how to relate to the world around me, and how to create a little bit more of what I want in life. I could talk forever about the changes in my life since that moment, but what I do know is that I will never stop being grateful for my Choices family. I am a free woman, creating a space of sacred love.
It was also during the heat of the summer months that I participated in my first yoga challenge: #thisisagoodbody. It was a deep, brave venture into loving myself. It was scary, and at times I would have rather done anything than write out my soul and express the deep rooted issues I had with my body. But the work I did then was the beginning of something wonderful. I realized the work of saying this is a good body didn't end when the yoga challenge did. Now, as I face uncertain health issues, it is more of a struggle than ever to look in the mirror at my own self and say that this is a good body. And yet it is such important work, the kind that starts movements. I look at the little girls in my life - the ones I spent the summer playing princesses with and eating watermelon and laughing - and I don't ever want them to know the feeling of criticizing or hating your body. And so I do the hard work for them, and for me. Because freedom is worth it, friends. I am learning that.
The big moments are also peppered with smaller moments, smaller victories but none the less important and beautiful. It was the year I wrote a beautiful collection of essays over the summer, work that I am so proud of. I witnessed the birth of my cousin's baby (on my birthday none the less). I also said goodbye to some very loved people. I learned how to be on my own, which taught me many lessons about myself and where I fit in the world and womanhood and the kind of life I would like to have someday. I began telling my story, the one I have kept locked away for so long for various reasons and even now the telling of makes my voice shake but it is a story that has lived without a voice for far too long.
And in the midst of all the beautiful, there was pain too. There were (are) moments when my health is unstable, and it takes strength I don't know if I have to keep fighting. Coming face to face with my past, while beautiful, illuminated some things it would have been easier to keep in the dark. There was the moment when I realized love was a powerful enough force to gut me. As I walked into my second year of college, I met situations that had the power to shred me if I let them, and resulted in many tears, much frustration, anxiety attacks, and showed me more of what I don't want in life. This year while I laughed loudly, I cried in equal volume. I danced, but I also grieved. I spoke boldly, but there were also moments when it felt like my voice had been taken from me and all I could do was howl in mourning. I lived, and yet there were moments I thought that I would die. I loved, but I lost.
And all of it has brought me here, heaving and panting, to the finish line, to December 31, 2015.
When the clock strikes midnight, a new year will have arrived, with new memories waiting to be made. More tears, more laughter, more joys, more sorrows, more victories, more failures. And yet when the clock strikes midnight, I will still be the same person I was in this year. The memories I have and the things I've done will carry over.
It's nice to think about new beginnings, but to be honest I don't want one this year. I don't want a clean slate, a fresh start. I just want to move forward, another chapter, filled with more.
Welcome here, 2016. I've been waiting for you.
Thank you, 2015. You've served me well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Joy with teeth

It's taken me this long to sit down to write a piece about joy, and I still don't have the words to say.
I don't have it in me to write about the soft platitudes of joy, the sun rising behind the clouds, the nights that turn into morning.
There are days, like now, when the pain of life feels so thick I can barely move through it.
Death crowds in close. Pain is my constant companion, and instability keeps me up all night. I am functioning in a sort of daze, never quite having a good grip on reality.
I have become unwelcome friends with anxiety, with the fear that grips the heart, the slow moving hour hand of the clock, with tears that seem to permanently stain my cheeks.
I am hunched over like the old and sick, grasping for oxygen, still trying to curl my fingers around hope and peace, the parts of advent I can relate to.
My heart is cloaked in too much heavy sorrow to understand joy. And I realize that in a time like this, I don't need the gentle, bubbly character of joy like the one who lights up the TV screen. I need joy with teeth.
I need joy with grit, with fire, with fierce determination.
I am grasping for the strings of joy that are found in the little things: in hugs and the frost glistening in the sunlight on the trees and inside jokes and the reminders that I'm not alone.
Joy is stubborn, hanging in there despite every reason to fade into nothing, being found in the most unlikely of places if only I look for it.
It is in the ugly beautiful, the breaking open, the rawness of this season.
Joy doesn't feel like it used to. Joy is rough around the edges, gasping as it is birthed into this world. It is this bloody mess, this screaming thing, and yet it is there, and it begs to be noticed in the tiny details.
Joy is here, here too. Joy with ferocity and grit and teeth and fire. I'd rather the simple Hallmark greeting card joy over this kind that is laced with so much pain and darkness.
And yet, when I close my eyes and imagine a world living in such a thick fog, where Jesus penetrated the veil and entered into brokenness, I imagine a joy similar to that.
Of breath finally releasing and gasping for air as this messy, uncontrollable thing slides out onto the ground. A broken hallelujah, a heaving sigh of "We made it."
We made it here, to this.
And in the middle of the broken, there is beautiful.

Monday, December 7, 2015

An open letter to my doctors

I want to tell you something.
See, I'm not very good at math. I barely passed high school math class (and by barely I mean scraping by with a 52%) and the very idea of chemistry put knots in my stomach. I never understood numbers and letters combined with numbers and graphs and formulas. I do know that you plug numbers or letters into this formula and do all the right steps and on the other side you're supposed to come out with the right answer.
I've never been good at math, but I do know something about creativity. I'm a writer. I spend hours analyzing conversations, observing people, studying every tiny detail. I pick up on things normal people don't pick up on because I know how to look for them. In fact, I've written poems about the sound of your shoe. I make stories where sometimes there are no stories, but I guess then I would also have to argue that there are stories everywhere if you know where to look for them.
That's the difference between you and me, I think. You spend hours pouring over charts and lab results, plugging numbers into a formula and then graphing a picture of how you think things should be. And I spend hours categorizing each separate emotion and reaction into a different shade of purple, pouring over old stories and new poetry until finally stumbling upon the realization that sometimes you have to make your own stories about how things happen.
Sometimes there is no formula, and I know that's maybe hard for your scientist brains to believe. But I believe there isn't an exact science for anything, only many different shades of grey.
Akira Kurosawa once said "to be an artist means never to avert one's eyes."
I don't get the pleasure of averting my eyes. This pain stretches out before me and you try and plug it in to a formula and analyze it. I, who have been trained to absorb it and internalize it and regurgitate it out in the form of a story, instead turn it into a myth.
The sleepless nights, the cracking of joints upon rolling out of bed in the morning, the anxiety knot that sits in the pit of my stomach without ever fully going away, they all tell a story. They don't tell a story that's in any of the books I've read, so I'm doing what all good creative types do and going off the grid, writing a story of my own.
You are taking my story and plugging it into something I don't fully understand. You speak to me in all your fancy formula words, and they mean little to me because you are speaking a language I don't understand. I am the writer of myths, the house of stories, the mother of pain, and right now I am afraid so I need you to speak to me in words I understand. I know that its easy to avert your eyes from this part, the messy part, the part where all of these plot twists don't fit into that nice, fancy formula of yours, and believe me I wish I could avert my eyes too. I understand you're trying your best to give me answers, but believe it or not sometimes that's not what I need.
I need to not feel like Frankenstein's monster. I need you to put down your analyzing tools and your critical judgement calls for a few minutes to look at the story. I need you to understand that sometimes there are stories that don't follow an outline, patterns that cannot fit into your formulas, and I need you to reassure me that it is not I who failed the treatment, that it is not I who have become Frankenstein's monster. I need you to stand by your man, because that is what you do, even if your man doesn't end up the way you thought he would.
I need you to look at the bigger story, not just the graph of symptoms and problem areas. That's one thing I'm learning here at college, that you can't pick some parts and throw away the rest.
I guess what I'm saying is that I understand your medical brains don't work in terms of stories, but mine does. I am making a story to make all of this make a little more sense to me, seem a little less scary and threatening. It is in the stories you write yourself that you can talk the monster down into becoming a mouse. And I need you to put down your fancy words and charts and realize that you are dealing with a person, not a patient number. I need you to stand by your man. I need you to, at least for a moment, entertain me and my crazy idea of myths because its all I have.
I need you to, for a moment, not avert your eyes. I need you to, for a moment, become an artist. Look up from your charts and see the person on the other end of it all. Maybe for a moment wear the hat of a myth maker, a story teller, a crazy poet who finds details in the sounds of shoes (I can teach you if you want). Let me become your muse.
Because I promise you, there's a lot more story here than what can fit into your formulas.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The peace candle

In a world where everyone desires peace on earth - a world full of conflict, of ISIS, of discrimination  and racism and murder - peace didn't come like everyone had expected. It didn't come on a silent night, gently gracing the world with its presence.
I woke up this morning to another morning of confusion, of instability and rattling going on inside me. And it didn't feel peaceful, the night not at all calm and restful but instead tossing around with fears, unrest and dis-ease.
The papers are piling up as it nears exam time once again, and the frantic busyness of trying to get things done is anything but a peaceful, relaxing experience.
Conflicts arise with friends and family, I bite my tongue when I should have spoken up and say words when silence would have been a more appropriate response, and I am harsh in my comebacks, and my perfectionism rears its ugly head, and the old self defeating critic chatters away in my ear, reminding me of how many times my actions do not match my words.
Peace - the kind of calm and rest I crave - seems so far out of the picture. Where is this peace on earth? Where is this peace in my body and mind and spirit? I look for peace but all I see is chaos. Peace fades in the light of another war, in the light of death and disease and loss, in the busyness of the season.
And I, I get so caught up in my search for peace that I forget to look for the peace maker.
If God is present, there should also be peace, and when I look around me I don't see peace the way I think it should look. And I forget that the first night, when peace entered the world, it wasn't all calm and bright and merry. It was in a stable, a scared young couple, death threats, murders, setting loose a string of chaos. And yet we have the nerve to call that peace. And yet we have the nerve to question where peace is now.
I believe that peace isn't always calm and meek. Sometimes it is fought for in the messy corners of our own hearts before it is demonstrated in the world.
The suffering in the world, the pain in my own life, what if they are all the beginnings of a great peace beginning to burst forth?
The dis-ease, the death, the wars, the violence, they are slowly killing us and the only cure for our illness, the only medicine isn't that which we all proclaim, "Peace on earth" but it is found in the being of the peace maker.
Peace, which entered the world on a less than peaceful night. Peace, which still rises up in a dark world. Peace, which was promised and Peace, which will prevail.
Peace doesn't look like I think it should, and right now I fight against the idea of how I think peace should prevail, and the string of a promise offered to me that peace will indeed win.
Eyes lifted up, through the middle of a storm, in the middle of my lack of understanding, in the chaos, not to the symbol of peace we have all looked at and longed for over the last months and years, but to the peace maker himself.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Weary World Rejoices (Friday night thoughts)

Friday nights seem slower in this past season. The week pulls and tugs at me, coming apart the tiny seams I spent so long stitching, and by the time Friday night rolls around all I want is a bed, a few free hours to clear my head.
I fill my time with countless episodes of Scandal, loads of laundry. I feel everything deeply and intensely and in these moments, I tend to bury within myself and hide away from a world that is constantly demanding of my time and attention.
There are only a few weeks left in the semester, and while I'm almost in shock at how quickly this year has gone by, I am readily anticipating the break.
Something about the Christmas season always fills me with a sort of childlike joy. But something about the advent season pulls at me with a sense of longing, of waiting through the darkest days for the light that I know is coming. And I'm in the middle of that phase, where I am feeling my heart turn itself open. And I know, I know, the joy that is coming, but in this moment all I feel is the clenched tightness of these dark, waiting days. That's advent, isn't it?
I celebrated my 19th birthday a week ago, and to be honest it doesn't feel like much has changed. When I was younger I would be in knots over my birthday, filled with excitement over being another year older and more mature and closer to the adulthood I so desired. But in the last few years, with each turn of the calendar, I haven't felt the momentous becoming of another age. I celebrated in a way that my heart has been yearning to celebrate: with my favourite movie and dinner with the family and game night with friends. I looked around at my life, in all its missteps and mistakes and floundering,  with some sense of bewildered amazement that I still ended up here. Despite the big shift from freshman to sophomore year of college, entering into this new world with added responsibilities where I am daily butting heads with my perfectionism, despite feeling sick in the deepest part of me where I wonder if I will ever fully recover and experience health again, and being painfully honest about my life up until this point and learning to accept my decisions, I have found beautiful people that support me, love me and encourage me. I am still (by nothing short of a miracle) able to experience every day the wild beauty of love. And even though I'm a grown up now, I'm still very much a daughter, and a sister, a granddaughter and a niece and (as of recently) auntie to my cousins' beautiful children. I have found volunteer work that fills my heart, even on its worst days, and even in the messy, frustrating trials I am learning more about who I am, and who I want to be.
I guess all this is to say that my life is changing, in ways I never expected. I am continuing a process I started early this year, and am furthering my metamorphoses and becoming a butterfly.
Friday nights roll around and my heart is full from the heaviness of the week of which it carried. I ache for the still quiet, for the celebration in the midst of a heavy season.
This semester, this year, this season, has brought me to my knees time and time again. It is full of the bittersweet. Sometimes it is both in the same second and I am unsure of how to handle it, how to hold these two emotions at the same time. There is the weary exhaustion of a Friday night, limping to the finish line of another week with barely enough time to catch my breath before we go again, and yet I look out my window on this unusually warm December night and see the glow of the street lights, and hear the laughter echoing from down the hall.
There is brokenness but there is wholeness. There is darkness but everything in me is waiting for the light. There is the turning another year older, the finishing of a semester, silence in a dorm room where it seems like everything might be falling apart but maybe its really just falling together.
We hold our breath in anticipation.
And once again, the weary world rejoices.