Friday, October 28, 2016

New Website, New Season (I love you all)

Dear long- and short-term readers of Rocking Chair Epiphanies,

This is the last post I will be uploading to this site.  The good news is that it is not the last post I will be writing as a blogger!  From now on, you can find my writing here, at kadeesmedley.com.  I will leave Rocking Chair Epiphanies up both for my own emotional benefit and for the benefit of anyone wishing to access a post from my archives.

Thank you for the years, months, weeks or days you have been joining me on the journey. Thank you for your compassion in my times of loss.  Thank you for celebrating with me in my times of joy.  Thank you for your encouragement in my seasons of sorrow.  And thank you especially for accompanying me with grace through this last strange year of my life.  Every comment, every like, every private message or email has made me more determined to get my inner life on paper and onto the screens of people like you.  So thank you.

If you're on Facebook, you can also find me on my new public page.  That's where I'll be letting you know when a new post is up, as well as sharing daily inspirational quotes, snippets of conversation from my kids, and doing my best to encourage all of us in this wild adventure called life.

Lots of love to all of you,

Kadee

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Q is for Quacks (in Praise of Therapists, Doctors, and Other Healers in the World)

Photo of "The Healer" by Brisan.  Accessed through Flickr and available through the Creative Commons license.
 -----
"Doctors?" said Ron looking startled.  "You mean those Muggle nutters that cut people up?  Nah, they're healers!"
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

-----

I both love and hate these words of Ron Weasley evaluating the limitations of Muggles like me and our ability to get each other well.  On the one hand, I like his recognition that not all healing comes at the edge of the scalpel or the sharp end of a needle.

On the other hand, I love my doctor.  I do.  She saved my life twelve years ago when she diagnosed me with postpartum depression after the birth of my son.  She immediately started me on anti-depressants and referred me to a postpartum psychologist for a follow-up evaluation.  And she always included my mood as part of the postpartum checkups after I gave birth to my three subsequent children, keeping close tabs on me to make sure things weren't going sideways.  Thankfully, they didn't.  

This year, my doctor was my healer in so many ways: putting me on medical leave; making sure I was on the right dose and type of medication; getting me into a free, provincial cognitive therapy program.  And, at every follow-up appointment, she asked not only about my mood but my ability to manage things at home, ensuring that I had what I needed to cope with my life as a mom of four.

So yeah, I'm going to disagree with Ron and assert that my doctor is a healer.  But as much as I think my doctor is a healer, I know that healing doesn't end with her, nor can the praiseworthy title of healer be given only to her.  There are other people, professional and otherwise, who have brought healing in my life not only in this past year but throughout my life.  So in their honour, and in honour of the many other healers at work around the world, I'd like to offer up this poem of thanksgiving.  See if you can find your own healers in it or even, yourself--not for me, necessarily, but for someone else.

-----

For all the Healers We Give Thanks

For all the quacks, Lord, we give thanks:
The counsellors and coaches, therapists and clinicians.
For those who staunch our wounds with quiet attention,
Witnessing our departure from one path and embarkation on another;
For those who cheerlead our progress and give us eyes to see it
O Lord, we give You thanks.

For all the concerned, Lord, we give thanks:
The friends, the family, the neighbours, the clergy.
For those who bring hot meals and sugary treats;
Who call to check in or take our kids to the park.
For those who declare, "I understand," and those who admit they never will
O Lord, we give You thanks.

For all the communities, Lord, we give thanks:
The schools, the workplaces, the neighbourhoods, the congregations.
For those of the fixed presence, the webmakers of life together;
For those who greet us with joy and ask after us with compassion;
For those who give us space to heal and grace in our absence
O Lord, we give You thanks.

For all the companions, Lord, we give thanks:
The spouses, the girlfriends, the boyfriends, the best friends.
For those startled from sleep by the sound of our tears,
Those who reach out to hold our hands in the dark;
For those who bear with our weakness and accompany us into strength
O Lord, we give You thanks.

For, all the Healers, Lord, we give thanks:
For those who prize our health above their own desires or expectations;
For those who hold fast when we are broken, who speak hope into our despair.
For those who patiently bear with our sickness,
Trusting we will, one day, be well
O Lord, we give You thanks.

-----

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, friends.  Richest blessings to each and every one of you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

P is for Peace (Pills, Panic, Prince of)


Sunset through a Dandelion - Nieuw Weerdinge by Martjin van Seeben.  Public Domain.

It's the beginning of September and my body knows it.  For the past three years, September has been an oddly complicated month and my mind, heart, blood and lungs are practicing for any complications that might arise now.

To explain: Three years ago I was preparing for a final month as lead pastor during my boss' sabbatical, as well as anticipating my daughter's birth and going on maternity leave.  Really weird stuff had happened during that time, but I had managed it without too much personal cost (so I thought).  The cooling air and the changing leaves invigorated me, heralding both the temporary break from my job and my daughter's arrival.

Two years ago I was preparing to return from maternity leave to lead my parish through transition and (though I didn't know it) some taxing inner turmoil.  I was excited and nervous, feeling competent for the task after having lead short-term a year before.  What beautiful, blessed naiveté!  How quickly my sense of competence was replaced by bewilderment and anxiety!

September of one year ago was when I handed over the reins to my new senior pastor and faced the reality of my own failing mental and physical health.  It was September that the building burned down, so to speak; September that I stopped sleeping and eating and finally was put on medication and medical leave.

This September, God willing, will be more peaceful.  My panic is now mostly suppressed by pills (let's take a moment to thank Him for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine, shall we?)  I keep my anxiety in check by limiting caffeine, running, going to counselling and doing the things my therapists and doctors have told me to do.  I have more weapons at my disposal to fight the beast that turned my world upside down a year ago and still haunts my steps.

---

Peace, as an ideal, tempts and troubles me. When someone has (as I do) a faith that commands "Don't be anxious about anything" and an actual, clinical anxiety disorder, it's hard not to fixate on the promise of peace: what it can be, what it can't possibly be.  I have preached two or three times on peace (and its nemesis, anxiety), and was always honest with my congregation that peace is a hard sell for me.  The Seer of Lublin, one of the earliest Hasidic masters, was said to have preached joy in between bouts of depression. I have done that myself, as well as preached peace during seasons of panic. 

I had a conversation with Jesus about this the other morning, very early in the day.  I woke up agitated and unable to go back to sleep, so He and I talked or, more accurately, I practiced a spiritual exercise where I imagined Jesus writing a letter to me.  We didn't get very far, really, but far enough that I received some...well, peace, on the subject.  That letter is below, with love and the hope that it will help comfort similarly afflicted, similarly frustrated peace-seekers.

---

Dear Kadee,

What up, girl? (Just kidding.  It's not yet five in the morning and you're awake again.  So YOU'RE what's up, right?  Ha ha!)

So you keep thinking you'll write about peace but you're not getting very far, yes?  And you've come to The Master to see what I can say on the subject?  I get you, I get you. Let's talk it out, shall we? Just you and Me.

What's that?  You're getting hung up on the "Peace I leave you, My peace I give you, Don't let your hearts be troubled," bits that I threw to you and My other disciples? Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have said that.  Just kidding. Kind of.

But seriously, what else could I say?  What kind of Jew would I be, let alone Messiah, if peace, if shalom, played no part in the Way I had for you all?  What kind of Saviour overcomes the world but can't give His children peace?

I know, I know: peace doesn't seem near.  I know, I know: your heart IS troubled.

Don't worry, dearest: My heart was, too.  It still is sometimes.  Any fool could see that in Gethsemane, and if they couldn't they did when I ended up screaming on a cross.  That whole "became flesh" thing was legit, and I know too well the straining for peace, and the suffering that follows when it just can't seem to be found.

Are you with me so far?  Good.  I know where you have been these past months.  Don't think I didn't see it.  I did, and I'm sorry for it.  If there was a way to bypass it you know I would have found it.

[Interrupting Jesus here to say that the elusive "peace" just flooded my heart and sent small tears rolling from the corners of my eyes.]

So thank you for not giving up on Me. We have a ways to go still, yes?  But we will go together.  I will seem to be lost and wandering, but you will find Me again.  You will seem to be lost and wandering, but I will always find you.

That is the peace I give.  That's it.  I will find you, and you will find Me.  The road will narrow and the darkness will fall; but I will be with you, always, to the end.

Your,

Jesus

------

A blessing for you, and for me:

May peace drip down,
Slowly and often;
Restoring anxious hearts and
Calming ravaged minds.
May His peace be our peace,
Now and forevermore.
Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2016

N is for Nightmares (True Bad Dreams Retold for the General Amusement of All)

"The Wave," from "History of Art" published in 1921 by Elie Faure and Walter Pach.
Creative Commons image.

My doctor recently requested that my husband keep an eye on me while I sleep, whenever possible.  I have been struggling with exhaustion for months despite eating well, exercising, taking my medicine and sleeping well, so she wanted him to observe me from time to time.  If I snored a lot, or seemed to stop breathing (!) she would refer me for a sleep apnea test at our local hospital.

This past week Matt reported on his findings with the following observation:

"You sleep like a dog."

I raised my eyebrows at him, my unspoken way of letting him know to tone it down before all hell broke loose.

"I mean, you know how a dog whimpers and looks like it's running in its sleep?  That's what you did.  For like an hour."

I thought back to the night's sleep he was referring to, and realized I had a series of terrible nightmares that night.  This has always been part of my sleep--having vivid dreams is normal, having vivid nightmares equally normal.  Since going on medication last fall, my nightmares have gotten more intense, more frequent, and even weirder than usual.  And you, lucky reader, get to hear about them now!  But have no fear, I will focus more on the weird than the intense so that these serve for enjoyment and amusement.

---

Church Shenanigans (CS)
I've been having church dreams for several years, and they only metamorphosed into nightmares the last few months.  In the beginning they were normal clergy dreams gone awry:  I was scheduled to preach, but when I got to the pulpit my sermon notes were missing, or my Bible wouldn't open to the right passage, or I would be scheduled to preach and someone else would be called in last minute to replace me as I stood on the platform, overlooked and aghast.

More recently the dreams have been nightmares:  I am stuck in the church at night, and the doors are being broken down by local drug dealers (this has roots in reality, not because the church has been broken into but because our church's location on a major thoroughfare makes it a workspace for drug dealers, prostitutes, and pimps at night).  Last night I had one that blessedly downshifted to something between a nightmare and a dream:  I was waiting to be served communion and noticed that the servers were using water on one side (instead of wine or grape juice) and milk on the other.  I was preparing to break up the service with a lecture on sacramental theology when, horror of horrors, the servers on the milk side SPILLED THE MILK on the church carpet and weren't cleaning it up!  So then I was mentally torn between the theological lecture on using wine/grape juice and a mommified scolding as to the importance of not having milk on the carpet!  (I did both.)  Nightmare of nightmares!

Spousal Indifference (CS)
This is what it sounds like: my nightmare is that I am trying to communicating something to Matt and he responds with complete and utter indifference.  These are the dreams that I wake from ready to smack him--so far I haven't, but since it's a "serial" this requires ongoing discipline.  These are, it must be said, not rooted in any reality beyond my cool and composed husband remaining cool and composed when I, invariably, have arguments with him and do not remain cool and composed.  

Sample SI nightmare:
Two of my kids have just been killed in a war (it's complicated).  I am mourning their death (obvs).  I get home and find Matt packing and getting ready to leave for a Steve Carrell comedy festival.  He tells me he's had a stressful week at work and just needs to get away. To this, I respond, "Okay, honey, I believe that you've had a stressful week at work, but our KIDS JUST DIED.  I am kind of having a stressful week myself and would appreciate it if you would stick around."  

At this point, Matt becomes worn out by my nagging (!) and goes to another room to continue packing for his weekend away.  I try to call him on his cell phone and he answers but pretends he can't hear me.  I realize that I need to pick up one of our surviving children from school, so go to the room and yell at the top of my lungs "Please don't leave until after I get our son!" He kind of nods, and gets back to packing.  I get in the car and start to drive away, when I see in the rearview mirror my scandalous husband climbing on a motorcycle, and riding away, bright red feathers streaming behind him (apparently this is standard Steve Carrell apparel).  The terrible man couldn't wait for me to get back! I woke up immediately after this and just glared at Matt for the first ten minutes of the morning.

War/Holocaust/Tsunamis (WHT):  I've had Holocaust nightmares since I was a child (long story).  They were always bad, but have become so much worse since having children.  Invariably I am trying to get them out of selection lines, out of lines to gas chambers.  When they go missing I know they have been killed.  The war and tsunami dreams are new, but the intensity always centres on the same subject: trying to find and save my children, and not being able to.  There is, as you can imagine, nothing funny about these dreams.

Family Abandonment/Antipathy (FAA)
These are very closely related to SI dreams, except that they involve various members of my extended family.  Usually Matt has done something terrible (i.e. had an affair, insulted me publicly, shirked his general spousal duties) or someone else has done something terrible and I get ANGRY.  But then, instead of whatever wrong I have suffered being the nexus of pain, it is that my family turns and criticizes me for my response!

Sample FA dream:
Matt has decided that he is not going to put any more effort into our family; he is moving out without any financial support, communication, etc.  I am angry (obvs).  I then go to a dinner with my in-laws, and while standing announce loudly and in a high-pitched voice, "MATT IS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE MAN!"  They all keep their faces straight and look at each other like, "Oh my goodness, she is a total psychopath."  I begin to explicate my argument, recounting his terrible, terrible deeds, and my sister-in-law (who I adore in real life) stands up, puts her hands on my shoulders, and without saying anything walks me to another  room and SHUTS THE DOOR SO I CAN'T GET BACK IN!  Meanwhile Matt is lounging on a chair at the dinner table, rolling his eyes and ignoring me, not even remotely fazed by my shouting or his own sins.

Serials
Here is an interesting fact:  my sister and I have multiple serial dreams/nightmares different from each other, but one is about the same thing from our two different perspectives.  In it, we are both enamoured with one of our childhood crushes (same person, because this whole thing isn't weird enough already).   But said crush is enamoured with OUR TWIN SISTER, not us!  And when said crush falls in love with and runs away with said twin sister, we (the one dreaming) are angry and judgmental and like, "Um, excuse me twin sister, you are ALREADY MARRIED." And said twin sister is like, "Um, I'm sorry, what's the problem?" and goes anyway, leaving us (the dreamer) not only angry at her rapscallionism and left with the task of informing our heartbroken brother-in-law what has happened, but also heartbroken OURSELVES because our amour (childhood crush) prefers our sister to us!!!! And then we wake up and fight the desire to call and berate our sister for her imaginary infidelity.  THIS SERIAL NIGHTMARE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR ABOUT TEN YEARS. TEN YEARS!!!

---

And now for a slight shift in tone...

My family love hearing another of "Mommy's weirdo dreams", or sharing some of their own with me.  I can't make the nightmares stop, so I like to think there is some good in telling other people about them; laughter is always a welcome gift, yes?

But I am equally aware that, whether amusing or heart-wrenching, my dreams have a root in reality--not always mine, but often someone else's.  So, if nothing else, they serve to remind me to pray for those who are living the realities I only meet in the dark, or donate to organizations that help alleviate those realities for those really suffering them.  Scientists have various ideas on the purpose of nightmares and dreams--they are a way we face our deepest, unrealized fears, or a way of helping us deal with our realized traumas; with the cover of night we face them in ways we can't in the light of day.  But I think that they are also, as most of the ordinary stuff of our lives, avenues for redemption; paths to empathy and compassion.  Dreams have helped prepare me to walk with friends and family through the valley of the shadow of death.  Nightmares have pressed in my body a trace of the terror our neighbours around the world face, whether in Aleppo or Japan or Fallujah or Baton Rouge.  Surely there is some good in being connected to their sorrow, don't you think?  Surely there is some redemption in having our hearts broken, even while we sleep, if it means we can care better for our brothers and sisters thousands of miles away.

A blessing for you, and for me:

May dreams be sweet,
And rest complete.
And if not,
May dreams widen wounds
To form and transform
Wounded healers,
Wounded givers, and
Wounded lovers of a wounded world.
Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

O is for Olympics (A Brief Guide on Who to Cheer For When Feeling Conflicted)

Standing on the Canadian-American border before the last summer Olympic season.
Go Canada!  Go USA!
-------


KADEE'S HANDY-DANDY GUIDE TO FIGURE OUT 
WHO TO CHEER FOR AT EACH EVENT IN 
THE OLYMPIC GAMES 
(WITH SPECIAL LOVE TO MY FELLOW EXPATS/IMMIGRANTS)


1) Is your country of citizenship in this event?  If yes, go to number 2.  If no, go to number 3.  If you have more than one country of citizenship, go to number 9.

2) Is your primary sense of loyalty/attachment to your country of citizenship? If yes, go to number 4.  If no, go to number 3.

3)  Is your country of residence in the race?  If yes, go to number 5.  If no, go to number 6.

4)  Yay, you get to cheer for this country!

5)  Is your primary sense of loyalty/attachment to your country of residence?  If yes, go to number 7.  If no, go to number 6.

6) Do you have ethnic or family heritage represented in one of the competitors, or a strong attachment to one of the competitors based on having lived/traveled there that supersedes your sense of shared heritage?  If yes, go to number 8.  If no, or if there are several countries competing that are part of your heritage, go to number 9.

7) Yay, you get to cheer for this country!

8)  Yay, you get to cheer for this country!

9)  Is there one particularly inspirational and/or good-looking individual/team that stands out of these choices?  If yes, go to number 10.  If not, go to number 11.

10)  Yay, you get to cheer for this country!

11)  Cheer for the underdog.  Especially if said underdog is from North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or any other country that seems hell-bent on making life difficult for a large number of its citizens.  That is what we call the Olympic spirit.

-----

Did I miss anything?  Happy Olympic-ing everyone!

P.S.  Yes, I know, I SKIPPED the next-in-line "N" post in order to write about the Olympics while they are happening.  Bad me!  But I promise to get back to N soon, and it will be AMAZING.  Or something.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

M is for Meh (An Explanation on and Encouragement to Those Falling Apart)




The three words that got me out of pastoral ministry were the three words screaming naked through my brain while I listened to a parishioner share her prayer requests one morning on the phone:

I. DON'T. CARE.

I loved this parishioner, as I loved all my parishioners, and always before had been happy to take her calls, happy to hear her concerns, happy to promise to pray, happy to pray itself.

But that day, I gave neither flying flip nor two cents’ worth of consideration to what she was telling me.  It seemed devoid of relevance, an irritating ping-ping-ping on the windows of my brain.  I wrote down everything she said, but may as well have been writing the ingredients from a box of detergent for all I cared about them.

----

I say sometimes that anxiety got me out of pastoral ministry—and in a way, I’m sure it did, because the anxiety rushed through my veins for months and anxiety, for me, has a heat that burned my insides and mocked my need for sleep or food. 

I say sometimes that PTSD got me out of pastoral ministry—and in a way, I’m sure it did, because the traumatic circumstances were external, meeting the anxiety from the outside and confirming it was legit.  The trauma transformed the sanctuary of my church into a burning building; a danger zone; a place from which to be rescued.

But the anxiety had been ongoing and the PTSD had been long-building and I had managed to stay in pastoral ministry in spite of them.

No, it wasn’t the anxiety, and it wasn’t the PTSD.

What kicked me out the door was a simple recognition that I needed to care to do my job, and I didn’t care anymore.  The anxiety (internal) and the PTSD (external) had finally killed that ability in me.

---

A week or two before going on leave I wrote in my journal that I didn’t think I could be God’s under-shepherd anymore.  I thought—and know this now to be true—that if I pressed on toward whatever the hell goal I thought I was pressing on towards, I would commit some form of spiritual malpractice on one or all of my parishioners.

So I stopped pressing on, and instead went to the doctor.  I took her note to my senior pastor and, with his acceptance of my leave, left the building for the last time as a working employee. Then, as I have related here a few times, I went back to my therapist and back to my doctor and back again to my therapist.  And I took my medicine and put on my running shoes and I stayed home with my kids and I read books and books and more books and watched The Office.  And, in all that, I let everything I had been fighting to uphold in my call and vocation shatter around me.

----

My burnout, if that’s what we can call it, was so complete that even after six months away from my parish and my Christian faith I couldn’t go back.  I did try; but in the end I couldn’t do it.  I don't know if I ever will.

I tell you this to bear witness to a reality common to me and other clergy and to say something to those who at the end of their rope:

Sometimes you just need space to fall apart.  And it’s okay.

Sometimes you just need time to let everything crash to the floor.  And it’s okay.

Sometimes you just need to let your life unravel.  And it's okay.

Not because falling apart is fun—it’s not.

Not because crashing doesn’t hurt you and those around you—it does.

Not because watching your life unravel is painless--it can't be.

But because—as I have discovered here at the bottom of everything I thought to be true--

Falling apart is sometimes the most reasonable response we have 
to burdens beyond our ability to bear.

Crashing to the floor is sometimes the most reasonable response we have 
to being pummelled and broken by life.

Unravelling is sometimes the most reasonable response we have 
to others yanking and ripping out the threads that make up who we are.

--

That is a good enough truth to rest in, but thankfully, there is another.  And it is this:

There is mercy on the cold, hard floor.
There is hope that companions the unraveling.
There is love that seeps through the night.
There is joy that comes in the morning,
even if the morning looks like none other you have ever known.

---

A blessing for you, and for me:

God’s love to us,
His peace to us,
His joy to us,
His healing to us,
His hands holding us,
Now and forever.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

L is for Light (A Few Words to Chase Away the Gloom)



The air is heavy these days, both literally and metaphorically.  We are wading through a grey, humid season in Vancouver, and through great grief and political muck in the country of which I am a citizen.

Words fall flat on these subjects, even as I type.  I read and think of and pray often for the grief and the muck, but doubt I can say anything that hasn't already been said.  So I won't.

----

This past month I have been collecting like jewels some off-the-subject words: words that hold life and reflect light, words that give birth to laughter and chase the night away.

In lieu of a post, here are a few of those words for you dear readers:

"Mom, did you have your autopsy today?"
-My oldest son (he meant biopsy) 

"It's so nice when you can love people because so often you can't.  Father said in his sermon last Sunday that we should love everybody.  But how can we?  How could we love Mrs. Alec Davis?"  
"Oh, father only said that in the pulpit," said Faith airily.  "He has more sense than to really think it outside."
-L.M. Montgomery, Rainbow Valley

"Don't worry about whether you believe in God.  God believes in you."
-Rivka Malka Perlman, Jewish blogger and speaker

"Why despair?  Why give up the fight?  One tear, one prayer can change the course of events; one fragment of melody can contain all the joy in the world, and by letting it go free, influence fate."

-Elie Wiesel on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov in Souls on Fire


"What's the good of running if you don't even have time to look at the sky?"
-Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, quoted by Elie Wiesel in Souls on Fire 

"We must always travel in hope."
-Carson in Downton Abbey