Thursday, May 24, 2012

Asking For Help -- A Newspaper Column

15 years ago I was working at Kids Kottage, the crisis nursery program in Edmonton. Every day we interacted with families in crisis. Every day we talked with parents asking for help. Prominently posted on the wall of our intake office was a poster which read “Asking for help is a sign of strength”.

Another memory. It is my first year of University and I am taking a Canadian History course. My professor grew up during the depression. While we were studying that dark period he told us how hard it was for his father and many other men to give in and go to the government for support. There was a shame involved in admitting that they could not support their families on their own. Rightly or wrongly, many people thought it was better to struggle and scrape and remain independent than admit that they needed help.

Similar stories are told whenever and wherever people are struggling. There is something in our culture that leads people to think that they need to always be able to provide for themselves and their families. And for many men and boys this is even more pronounced. Cultural definitions of “manliness” generally don't allow much room for seeking help.

But the reality is that none of us goes through life without help, sometimes a little help and sometimes a lot of help. And here is the best thing. That is how God wants it. God didn't create us to be independent, self-sufficient islands. God's hope for Creation is that we remember that we are all inter-dependent, responsible to and for each other. God wants us both to offer and to accept help at various times in our life.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

Countless sermons have been preached and books written and songs sung about what it means to love each other as Jesus loved his friends, on how to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. But surely one of those ways is to be ready to help. One way we love our neighbours (friends or enemies) is by being there to support them when they struggle. But look at the last two words in that Luke quote. We are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

There are many people out there willing and able to offer help, willing and able to work to ease the pains of the world. But we (and we all need a hand at some point in our lives) need to be able to ask for and accept the help if it is to be of any use. If we truly love ourselves we will be able to recognize that sometimes the most loving thing we can do for ourselves is seek the help we need. I am the first to admit that this is hard. Sometimes it is easier to offer help than to accept it. But I'll say it again. God wants us to move past our pride and independence. God wants us to be able to seek assistance when we need it.

In Grande Prairie and area there are people who are hurting. There are people who are struggling with various things in life. Some are children, some are teens, some are adults, some are seniors. In Grande Prairie and area are people and agencies willing to offer help, living out God's command to love neighbour. Turning to one of these people or agencies is not a sign of weakness. Asking for help is not a failing. It is a sign of strength, it is a sign of loving ourselves as God loves us.

In the end, we all need the strength both to offer help to our neighbour when we can but also to ask for help when we are in need. May God's blessing rest on all of us, those who struggle and those who are out there to provide assistance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

When the Pain is too Much?

This week I have a funeral. Nothing unusual about that of course, but this one is a bit different.  A teen suicide.  ANd while such a service is a challenge for any clergyperson, I found myself with an additional piece of work.  Processing/revisiting memories.

You see 28 years ago it could easily have been me.  In fact it was closer than I truly want to admit a couple of times in my life.  And I know that there are things that could possibly take me back there, they would have to be fairly horrific/major/tragic things to be sure but I could see mtself on the verge again.

From grade 4 til 9 school was a most uncomfortable place for me, with grades 7-9 being worse and grade 9 being pretty much unlivable.  I did not feel like I fit in (and really in retrospect I didn't really fit in, for a variety of reasons) but I kept feeling like I should be fitting in.  I was unmercifully bullied by many (most days it felt like ALL) my classmates.  And my poor work habits just added to my stress and my feeling of being a disappointment.  On top of it all I had a feeling that no one understood me or how much I was hurting, or really wanted to make it better,  For years I have told myself that I was borderline suicidal for the last half of that school year.  But this week I realized that was need to be honest and name that I was over the border.

I have a memory.  One day I found myself in a closed locked bathroom tying a housecoat belt around my neck.  Had I thought of taking the next step and tying it to the shower rod....

The fact that I didn't tells me something (other than suggesting a lack of creative thinking).  I never fully got to that point where life was something I had given up on.  In hindsight (and to a degree I knew this even then, although I may not have been able to name it) there were 2 or 3 things that kept me from that place.  One was the church.  For several months in Grade 9 our confirmation class met every Thursday.  The church was always a place where I was at home, a place where I had friends, a place where I was safe.  Another was the local theatre.  I was part of groups called the Arts Renaissance Troupe and St Albert Children's Theatre (the membership of both was pretty much the same).  The theatre was like my second home some weeks.  Again it was a place of safety, of friendships, of comfort.  The third was the knowledge that I truly wasn't alone, even if it felt like it at times.  I had supportive parents (who were at a loss about how to improve my scholastic habits), and that year I was blessed with a life-changing teacher.  She actively cared about her students and used the subject (English/Language Arts) as a way to teach us life lessons.  But without those three things....

A little over a decade later I danced with the precipice again.  For a year after my first internship crashed around my ears -- and while it was crashing -- I moved back and forth.  There were days when I was moderately at ease.  There were also times when I remember standing looking over the railing at the floor several levels down.  But still I never got there.  Still there were enough other forces around me that pulled me back.  And it wasn't me pulling back, at least not consciously.  I was pulled back from the edge.

In retrospect I would guess that I was plausibly suffering from depression (situational more than bio-chemical in nature) at both those times in my life.  But they have left their mark.  I have no problem understanding how people can get to that point of thinking there is only one way out.  Some people find that an impossible thing to understand.  I remember years ago when taking suicide intervention training that I seemed to be coming at the discussion from a totally different place than some of the people in the group.  I am no longer any where close to the precipice.  YEars of life, and eighteen months of work with a counsellor, have seen to that.  But I still remember, even if only sub-consciously tying that belt.  I still remember looking over that railing, or the temptation to turn the steering whel sharply as I crossed the bridge.  And because of that I simply can't look at suicide the same way as others do.

This week reminded me of that.  This week made me work through it again in a new way.  And I really think that is a good thing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Book 6 of 2012 -- Any Day a Beautiful Change

Over the years the blog by this author is one that I have read from time to time.  And so, when I saw one of my FB friends noting that this book had been published I went looking for it.

In fact just reading this book was a change for me.  When I went looking at it was (and still is apparently) only available as an e-book.  Since I had just the day or two before set up a Kobo account [although I do not actually have an e-reader, just the virtual one for the computer] to get a resource I may need for an upcoming meeting [nothing exciting, I agreed (God help me) to be Parliamentarian and so wanted a copy of Bourinot's Rules of  Order] I thought it would be a chance to try reading something in that format.

This is a great book.  Sort of memoir-ish in feel.  Sort of reflection on life.  I often wanted to engage the writer in dialogue about various parts of it.  I was touched by the stories shared.  I heartily encourage others to read this one.  In fact I will likely go back and re-read some of the stories and reflections.