The Stranger Among Us

I have been an active part of a church, have stepped away in confusion and in the last years have begun to find my way back. In these past years I have had experiences as I sought to find my place in a church community that may have some benefit to those whose hearts ached for the strangers beyond the walls. It has been on my heart to share these for a long time. Today, my experience was positive. It gives a starting point to looking at church from the outside in. Please know these articles are shared with love and with the humbleness of knowing that many of the areas showing a need for growth are things I have been a party to in my life. May these articles be met with open hearts for those whose longings so often are left unspoken because of our indifference. LJA

I have not experienced this kind of welcome in a long time. Chance took me to a church in my area that I had not tried. After many experiences in churches where I could enter and leave without being able to find my way into any conversation it would have been overwhelming if people hadn’t been careful to ask instead of assume that I wanted the interactions.

Before I sat down in that church, I had more people say good morning to me than I had in weeks of attending some other churches. The women in front of me commented on my singing but also asked me if I was there with anyone. Finding I wasn’t, they visited with me, took me with them to their Sunday school class and even invited me to join them for coffee after the service. Before that coffee was over, they had asked for my phone number and passed out a paper to everyone so the four of us had each other’s phone numbers. All this was done without putting any pressure on me to become a part of their church.

What made me willing to consider this small possible community came in the Sunday school class. A small thing that happened there might be worth hearing even by language based groups when people of the same language come to the church. It was quickly clear that I was the only one in the group with English as a first language. However, it also became clear that the class was held mostly in English though the quiet sound of interpreting could be heard in some corners.

At one point someone started to speak in the first language of everyone else who was in the room. A quite whisper of “Visitor” was said and the person switched back to English. As the newcomer in the group, my understanding was valued. It was only after I let them know that I was okay with it and understood there are some things that can be best expressed in a first language that someone shared a thought in that language I could not understand.

Their actions spoke to me about experiences I have seen in many places – only the language that alienates the newcomer is often churchese. We have developed a culture of terms that are often used as a jargon for ideas without even checking that the terms mean the same things to everyone in the room or are even understood. We expect the newcomer to ask questions or just be quiet until they have some kind of understanding of our terminology. If the proper words aren’t used, the newcomer’s knowledge of scripture or even their experiences of faith can be suspect.

What if we were willing to consider the understanding of the newcomer and their inclusion in the room? I wonder if our own understanding of faith would grow if we pushed ourselves to let go of churchese and translated the terms into meaning that can be understood by a stranger in the room. Perhaps we would make room for the voices at the edges who have much to teach us from a faith that has grown in the dailyness of living in the world and knowing the need of someone greater than ourselves to stand with us in our lives.

To my readers

This was shared with my writing group today. I will be taking a break from doing much posting. I have some things I need to work on in my life out here.

“I have been struggling with whether to write this but here goes. I have decided not to return to making writing a main goal at this time in life. I do plan on dropping in to encourage when I can and perhaps now and then sharing something (kind of like what I have done for much of the summer.) if people are fine with that.

The change is that I am going to stop guilting myself every time someone talks about how they are making their goals.

Right now, I realize that relationships I choose to keep in my life stop the story I could write for now and emphasizing living is a necessary ingredient for any other story that would come my way.

I appreciate the online people I have met through this group and look forward to following your growth as writers. But I made a promise inside myself long ago that I would develop a life out here that would free my kids to live their own lives without worrying about how I was filling mine.

I have achieved a form of that balance with my kids. Now I need to fill that balance with the social part of myself that would love to actually go out for coffee or folk dancing or other activities face to face.

Since preparing for my classes and working on new assessment practices to go with ongoing growth in teaching practices is also a big priority to me, I guess you could say I am needing to make my present goals in relation to the world out here.

I read so many articles and interact with people who long for conversation and understanding. It’s time to let my own longings push me out of the internet nest into finding those interactions out here.

One day last summer I stopped to talk to a woman just a few moments and have never forgotten the words she said as I walked away. “The world needs more people like you.” Since all I had done is stop to talk to her, I can only assume that it was that action she valued since the conversation was about the birds she had been feeding.

I live alone and know what it is to feel lonely. When I am not working on encouraging my students I need to honour that reality in my life by honouring that reality in the life of others.

For today, I am sure this post is most if not all of my 500 words. Peace to you all as you write. I won’t be a total stranger. I am just going to be researching life.”

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words


“Someone asked me how it felt living with bipolar, and this was my answer…”  Jordon

The photo appeared in a photography group – a personal self portrait of what it was to experience “living with bipolar”. It was the description he had not been able to put into words. Right away others responded favorably. Those who also struggled with a bipolar disorder saw their own experience in the image. Others saw people they knew with a better understanding of what those others felt inside. Jordan’s picture spoke what pages of words could not say to the people who saw it.

When asked if I could share some of his story, Jordon’s agreement was instantaneous:

“Mental illness is such a misunderstood thing, and stigma is everywhere. I’m 24 years old and a year and a half ago bipolar disorder literally ruined my life and long-term relationship. So you can imagine that making sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else Is a priority for me…

I asked two questions:

• What led to your finding out your diagnosis?

• What are some ways you have found this impacts your life?

Here is his response:

What led to me being diagnosed as Bipolar Type I is a long road.

Being born with several defects, I grew up in and out of hospitals, and developed an angry disposition at all of the attention I was getting. At 4 years old I was put into child therapy where they could find nothing wrong with me. They dismissed it by telling my mother “You just don’t know how to handle him”. It would be 15 years before I finally understood just how true that was.

Throughout my childhood I was prone to outbursts, running away for days at a time, instigating fights if I felt offended though I didn’t win them. I was fearless.

By the time I was 12 I was considered a problem child. I would shut myself away for hours and not question it. I could go days without eating. Then I discovered self harm so I didn’t feel numb. I didn’t try to hide this from anyone, but I was also very clear I didn’t do it for attention.

This led to living in a group home for a year under 24 hour watch, where I was medicated with a minor anti-depressant and the diagnosis “Manic depressive”. Over the course of that year there was more outbursts, and many more fights… But I was bigger, stronger, and I had developed a tolerance for pain. I was winning these fights and believed this was how I could make people leave me alone. At the end of that year, I was again greeted with “This is just how he is.” and was released back to my parents.

This started an absolute downward spiral for me into my teenage years. I stopped fighting back the day in public school when I was charged with an aggressive offense against another student. At 15 years old I was “The weird quiet kid”. I was beaten, bullied by teachers and peers. My family had all but given up on me and had even stopped trying to find me if I disappeared for days. I had completely lost touch, let my emotions rampage because “That’s just how I am.”

By 18 years old I had become “The party guy”, binge drinking for days at a time and sleeping around. I had the rock star lifestyle that most young men dream of, and it was because of my no-care attitude.

Then I met Sarah (*name changed for privacy), She could deal with my sudden outbursts. We’d break up, get back together and repeat the cycle until one night when we were partying, and I snapped. To this day I don’t know exactly what made me go off… But in my rage I hurt 5 of my closest friends leading to further aggression charges and ultimately a short stay in a penitentiary where they said “You might be bipolar”…

At 19 years old I had never heard the term bipolar before. But I assumed it was another person saying “That’s just how you are” so I continued my crazy lifestyle.

Later that year after a family incident I made an attempt on my own life. Though my mom had found me barely breathing, I’m told that when the paramedics arrived I promptly punched one of them in the face. I was in a pill induced coma for 4 days. I’m told my mother was there for 3 days, but she was gone by the time I woke up. After staying in a mental health facility for a week I again heard the term “Manic depression”. I was given more medication and shipped on my way.

At this point I got back together with Sarah. One day while reading Cosmo she said “You need to read this”… My entire life changed in minutes.

She pointed me to an article a girl my own age had written about her troubled brother who eventually took his own life. Reading this article was so… Twilight Zone for me. I could have gone through and highlighted habits that were just like me. At the very end of the article there was a small bubble that stated “Up until recently, bipolar disorder was known as Manic Depression”.

They were right. They had all been right, I was wired wrong. It was my brain that had caused my life to turn into what it was… Never successful, always broke, always bored to the point of raging anger. The spiral got worse if possible. More drinking, I left Sarah, going from woman to woman, replacing my emotions with sweat and skin.

And then I met Jessica (*name change). Her mother was bipolar so she wasn’t afraid of me. She wasn’t afraid to get in my face and make me talk about things. Or hold me if I burst into tears for no reason. She understood it. But I was still binge drinking. And broke because of it.

I had stopped my medication because they had made me gain weight and I was tired all of the time. But alcohol had become my antidepressant, my drug, my crutch. I would spend hundreds of dollars in a couple of days’ worth of drinking, which became a perpetual cycle because I developed a gluten intolerance. I would wake up, be sick, start drinking and repeat.

Eventually Jessica had enough of this. She looked at me and said “I’m leaving, nobody should have to put up with this.” and was gone that night.

The next morning I found myself sitting in my favorite chair with a beer in one hand and a rope laid out on the floor. The choice was either tie the rope or get help… I poured my beer down the sink and walked to the hospital.

There I was admitted to a mental health unit again, where I sat with a nice foreign man for hours and told him almost exactly what I’m writing here. He looked at me and said “How has nobody noticed? You’re almost the textbook version of bipolar disorder… This isn’t very common.”

I was released from the unit after having self-detoxed and started a proper diet, as well as being put on a new medication. I started reading as much as I can about my illness, exercising, eating properly. To this day I don’t take my medication, and I probably never will because the side effects do worse things to me mentally than dealing with bipolar disorder. But I’m over 1 year sober, have learned to deal with my angry outbursts, managed to tone down my crying episodes…

I’m okay. I’m not allowed to work (multiple unmentioned health concerns) so money is a problem. But I find myself devoting most of my time and energy to helping people not go through what I went through, I have run anti-bullying programs for teens, and use multiple forms of anonymous social media to reach out to people who need help in these situations.

I have also turned my illness into a muse for photography… If I’m being honest, I don’t think I could be a photographer if it wasn’t for my mental illness. I still don’t talk to my family because we can’t relate to each other, and relationships are almost impossible for me because of how easily I can change my mind about things. But I’m alive, and I’m living with Bipolar Type I, and I’m extremely proud to be able to say that.

If anybody takes anything away from what I’ve just written, please let it be this;

Mental illness can be crippling, it can take things away from you, it can be devastating to your life. But if you take the time to understand it, it can lead to some absolutely amazing opportunities, and if you share those opportunities with other people like I have, you’ll find that having mental illness can give you a reason to keep going.

Thank you for your time – Jordon, 24 years old.


My thanks to you, Jordon, for allowing me to share your story to raise awareness and hopefully build more understanding.

You Decide

The author of the article had tried an experiment. For two days he “liked” everything that came on his social network feed. In the first day he already saw radical changes to what was shown there. By the second he had no personal content on his feed, only advertisements and was being inundated with information on topics he didn’t like at all. In the course of reading and working on an iPod that day, the article got lost in the shuffle of catching up on several subjects but the message stayed. We have the power to determine much of what comes our way. There are options to sensor our content.

But our power doesn’t stop with technology. It doesn’t even stop with the manual decision to press that “like” button that sets our preferences or let’s others know we have read what they have written. The words we say in our engagement with others sensors their involvement with us. It says who interacts with us. I know. I have seen it through some who have pulled away because, well, I think they have decided I am one of the negative people because there are things I care about and speak about that they have chosen to censor out of their world. It saddens me but I have to honour that decision because I have made the same choices whether I always feel comfortable with admitting it or not.

What we say matters. If we want to be heard authentically then we need to speak with authenticity. Who hears us, who feels safe speaking to us on social network and in the world around us is set by what we choose to say, how we express ourselves with body and face during our engagements, who we choose to socialize with, even those conversations overheard through association. What we say and do matters. There is a give and take, there is a setting of our social network and expectations based on who we choose to be.

There are no truly positive or negative people. Positive and negative are based on our decisions on what to sanction or not similar to the formulas used to determine our feed via the “like” button. The categories can be based on authentic multidimensional views of people or on the flatter two dimensional wall we choose to erect around what we allow in our world.

In my journey into mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn has been one of the guides through the books I have chosen to read. Presently I am in the midst of his book, Coming to Our Senses. In the introduction he tells of this pivotal interaction at a meditation retreat:

Years ago, a meditation teacher opened an interview with me on a ten-day, almost silent retreat by asking, “How is the world treating you?” I mumbled some response or other to the effect that things were going OK. Then he asked me, “And how are you treating the world?”

I was taken aback. It was the last question I was expecting. It was clear he did not mean it in a general way. He wasn’t making pleasant conversation. He meant right there, that day, in what may have seemed to me at the time like little, even trivial ways. I thought I was more or less leaving “the world” in going on this retreat, but his comments drove home to me that there is no leaving the world, and that how I was relating to it in any and every moment, was important, in fact critical to my ultimate purpose in being there. I realized in that moment that I had a lot to learn about why I was even there in the first place, what meditation was really all about, and underlying it all, what I was really doing with me life.

My blog is not read by many. I don’t choose the topics that create chatter and frequent reposts. I don’t have the network to be go-to posts on any topic. There are times I feel like I should go with the flow of the in topics and attitudes to gain acceptance within some writing groups I have participated in. I have wondered if my voice should just be pulled out of one of the groups if it might be making someone else uncomfortable. But then I stop and think again.

How am I treating the world? If I choose to silence myself on certain issues, I am choosing to be a part of the censorship of some of the very people who need to feel validated within our society. If I do that, I choose to accept the two-dimensional definitions that have become related to the terms positive and negative people in so much social comment today.

If I believe in the wholeness of others, I have to accept the wholeness of myself as one representative of the world. If I believe in the validity of the feelings of others, then I have to accept the validity of my own. If I believe that life matters for others, I have to accept that my life matters, and so does what I write.

If I want to encourage others to use their voices, then like Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans, I need to be willing to address the hard uncomfortable issues that are often silenced or marginalized by much of society. I need to be willing to risk being ostracized by the status quo if I want to be an open door to those who the status quo has ostracized.

We all decide who is on our social feed both on-line and out here in life. It is time that I stop letting others decide what that feed will be. It is time to start living and writing as if this moment matters. Only with authenticity about what that means to me will I find the community in which I belong. The decision will be made by being the kind of person I am meant to be.

I will start with this moment.

* (Thank you to my writing friend who found this link for me.)
I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for 2 Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. by Mat Honan,



2014 summer art projects completed in August

“There is a feeling of wonder when you put that last touch on a painting and something deep inside you says it is finished. At that moment it doesn’t matter what anyone else will think of it. You look at what the inner artist has created with your hands and you are filled with awe.” Comment posted when the last brush stroke was added to Smoke in the Air.

Golden fields

This was painted with acrylics on an old terracotta wine cooler. The picture is based on some photos from a recent trip from Alberta to Manitoba.

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Smoke in the Air

Based on sunsets at Rocky Lake. I watched the red globe of the sun roll down over the horizon one night and was told the colours came from smoke in the air caused by northern forest fires. To me that is such an image of finding the beautiful in the midst of the fears in our lives that I had to try to bring that sun into the image.


It helped me remember


 “Everything that’s happened in the strip
has happened to me,” he once said.
“That’s why I have all this white hair.”
             Bil Keane, Family Circus

Let’s see what today’s writing prompt is . Write about a memory….

O, I have the perfect one!  I’ve told people about it several times. Now’s my chance. Surely someone has it on the net……No? Then there is my chest of memories downstairs. After all the years I had it taped to my kitchen cabinet, surely, I would have kept it?…..No? A photo album then …. Where could I have kept it?

It was one of those Bil Keane Family Circle cartoons. That strip really seemed to capture moments as a parent. Billy and his sister and brothers got into so much mischief and said the cutest things. But that strip, that one captured it all.

Hmm… where else can I look. I hope it wasn’t in one of those boxes that got tossed. Could it be in the basement of the old house. Surely I didn’t lose it?

There were two panels. The first was a coloured picture of the mom and dad — pulling at their hair, I think. Around the image were small images of the kids and some of their many antics. “When will they ever grow up!” I think the parents were saying.

I remember turning to the picture for empathy remembering the fire in the bathroom garbage can lit by Not Me’s cousin I Didn’t Do It. Or the times they were settled on each end of the couch until they could talk instead of fighting….. Yes, I understood that image.

family_circus_notme wpid-family-circus-not-meFamily_Circus

But the strip didn’t end there. There was the other panel. The mom and dad are sitting in a quiet house. He is reading a newspaper and she is knitting. On the neat as a pin end table between them is a new history. The kids are grown, graduated, married. Around the mom and dad are line drawings of the images so full of colour in the first of the panels. They did grow up.

I remember touching that image and sending up a prayer to remember that no matter what happened these moments when they were young were fleeting. Yes, there would be trouble but there would also be joy — the last first day of school coffee with the girls, and then with the youngest as one by one they entered school, a child’s delight in the new flowers of spring, songs and stories, hearing myself in the embarrassing mimic of their play acting at being grown up.

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in_hug Family_Circuslaughinglifetag

Now they are grown and their images fill frames on my walls. It is my grandchildren on their visits that fill my space with songs and stories.


In my mind I reach out and touch that worn frayed comic strip one more time where it hangs so I can see it in the business of being home with three small children.

Wait!  I do still have it after all these years.  I didn’t lose it after all. The worn comic strip is right here in my memory.



Have fun searching out other old comic strips. And if you find the one I am looking for, let me know.

Here are a few more I like. Keeping them here, so I won’t lose them.

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Lord, Help me Remember

sacred place for pain3

“No one was there for me. She should just get her act together.”

I had called to ask for a loaf of bread for a woman with an infant son in trauma. The mother of the mother had called me because her daughter had feared the reprisal if she asked for help. As we talked I remembered. Two years ago, that had been me. It had been my child who was crying incessantly because of her own inner trauma. It was me struggling to go on that one more day when sleep was a thing of mystery and I couldn’t even lay my baby on the floor because something was wrong that caused me to fear leaving her alone.

I talked to the grandmother for a while brainstorming ways we could help and then began calling the women in the church. I started with the woman who baked and often shared her bread. Her response shocked me. I hadn’t known her when her children were small and her response of defensive blaming showed me the struggle she must have dealt with then. So I let her have her decision and simply told her mine.

I think because my mother is so good at forgetting, I made a choice somewhere in my life to remember. I also made a choice about what I wanted to do with that remembering.

“When my child was sick no one was there for me even when we were running back and forth for doctor’s appointments and staying in the hospital. No one helped me through the days when she cried and screamed. But I made a choice then. I chose to remember so that maybe someday that memory would help me be there for someone else who felt alone and overwhelmed. No one can go back and change what happened for me then. But I can choose to let it be something I hold in resentment or something to give me the empathy I need to help others. I am choosing empathy. I don’t want anyone else to have to feel as alone as I felt then.”

She made the woman a loaf of bread. Others in the church contributed meals to take one more stress off the young mother and babysat the eldest as she went to the appointments where she found out her infant had a constriction in the bowels that required medical intervention.

We need to remember. When a celebrity dies, there is a reason it gets attention. Our western society is not very welcoming to signs of grief. Unless we are lucky enough to be born in a culture that understands the healthiness of emotions, we are taught to limit our expressions and time frames for grief through subtle and sometimes not so subtle judgments. We are given lists of what is acceptable and not acceptable to express grief about in an open forum. We are “shamed” for grief by comparisons to other areas seen by many as more worthy of our attention.

So we turn to films and books to allow a release of what we hold so deeply inside. Robin gave us many of those memorable roles that helped us feel the balance of pathos and mirth. Now he is gone. The laughter he was able to bring to so many was not enough for him at the end. He knew the power of laughter. He brought it to Christopher Reeves in his hospital bed when life support systems and paralysis replaced his image as Superman. The humour and hope he brought us didn’t disappear because he died. It is a legacy he left behind.

But for those who like me have known depression to the point of entertaining and even acting on thoughts of suicide, and for those who are one the other side of suicide like I am with several key individuals in my life, there is another level of grief that is expressed at this time. We stand with his family as they struggle to hold the balance of his light as they grieve his loss. We grieve the constriction of hope that characterizes the darkest regions of the illness. But there is also another level to the public outpouring of thoughts.

For these moments, we are able to defy the social mores against talking about suicide. We are reawakened to our own aloneness at the times when darkness surrounded us. We are reminded of others we may have pushed away when they needed us. We remember those in our lives who we didn’t know how to help. We remember and our remembrance calls us to respond.

I am a person who began an attempt at suicide but survived. I have now lived almost as many years on this side of the attempt as the years that led to that place of dark hopelessness. I survived. More, I have grown so that I can now make the active choice for life that I could not make then.

In those moments of despair I was not actively thinking of ending my pain. For me, depression skewed the brain into the rationalization that I would be benefitting others by ending my own life. I even went so far as thinking that I would force God’s hand into rejecting me since I had come to believe my existence hurt his kingdom plans.

I can’t even credit myself with making an active choice to not take that action. Even when I heard the words of the song that ultimately reminded me that I wasn’t alone and that God’s love held me, I defiantly took that one more pill even though I was already at a level far beyond what was prescribed. I cleaned up any clues so no one would know to help me if things had turned out differently. And I went to bed saying to God, “Okay, God, it’s up to you. Either I wake up or I don’t”.

I woke up.

Since that time a part of my healing has been finding the forgiveness and compassion to accept the part of me that could make such a choice. That the me of that time thought in terms of finding a way to die that “would not hurt others”, that she believed it was the only way her kids could have the chance of getting a “good mom” didn’t lessen my judgment of myself.  In retrospect, a lessening of the irrationality of the thoughts in that time caused me to want to push that part of me away just as many judgments spouted at present seek to distance from compassion at this time of mourning.

As with the response to the young mother at the beginning of this post, remembering gives me a choice. I do remember the loneliness and judgments. I do remember the experiences in life that brought me to that point.

But in remembering, I have learned compassion. I have learned that not telling my story just perpetuates the loneliness that increases the risk of despair winning the day. I have learned that we all respond to grief in our own way but often don’t even realize how we bend to the cultural mores instead of listening to our own hearts. I have learned that we can’t decide for another how they will respond to our own choices. We can only act with the greatest empathy if we are willing to acknowledge our own pain.

In her post for Sojourners, Carmille Akande says,

 “Relationships are hard. Discipleship is messy. Love takes sacrifice. But I believe it is what Jesus has called for us to do! Jesus had compassion for others. He cared for those who were hurting. He spent time with people. One of my favorite healing stories in the Bible is in Mark 1:40-45. A leper, an outcast of society, came to Jesus for healing. I know because of his condition, no one had time for him. No one offered him a place of belonging. A place where he could feel loved and accepted. No one offered him a sacred place. But, when Jesus saw him, the Bible tells us that he was moved with compassion. Jesus reached out and touched him! He was willing to heal him.

The people we see every day may not have leprosy, but they may have some type of pain. They may be going through a difficult time and need someone to have compassion on them. A place to receive love. A place where someone will listen. A place where they don’t receive scriptural formulas, but a heart poured out for them. Can you be that person? Can you provide a place? Will you be that place?

We are all broken in some way. We all need encouragement from others. Let us all strive to be a sacred, healing presence for others. We will never have all the answers about suicide, but we can certainly start by making time for others — not to lecture them, but to provide a sacred place for pain.”

When events like this cause stirrings of memory or asks me to step out of the comforts of my carefully scripted beliefs, may I have the heart to respond.

Lord, help me remember, not only the pain, but the grace that got me through so that I can live grace into the lives of others.

Lord, help me remember.


Some of the blog posts and videos that played a part in informing my thinking:

“Suicide and Pain: What are We Missing?” by Carmille Arkande; blog: Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis and friends;

“Genie You’re Free” by Carol Vinton; blog: Upside Down Grace;

“Our Weird Uncle Robin” by John C. O’Keefe; blog: john c. o’keefe;

“Thoughts on Depression, Suicide and Being a Christian” by Nish Weiseth, blog: Nish Weiseth;
In which depression is NOT your fault” by Sarah Bessey; blog: Sarah Bessey; (Please note: Sarah is adding to this as she finds other blogs that speak with compassionate voices)


What Robin Williams Did for Christopher Reeve That You’ll Never Forget; video from Oprah Winfrey show;

Ironically, I can’t locate the article that spurred this post by mentioning how emotions are shamed. Someone I knew shared it on Facebook. I just want to make sure credit for bringing that thought to my attention comes from elsewhere.