Saturday, December 29, 2007

A steady flame

I've become lazier than I should be about blogging. There's something about sitting at the computer that doesn't appeal to me these days. Yet there's much I want to share too, and these things keep rolling around in my head.

One thing I've thought a lot of in the last few days is how Living Room has become like a steady flame for me, never wavering, never going out. No matter how my mood is, it gives me light. No matter how down I feel, I want to go to the meetings and lead. And no matter how down I feel, I'm able to lead. I want to give hope to the people I speak to there, and I always find a source for that hope. What a blessing that is!

In the spring, while I was going through a more severe depression, I thought I'd like to do a favor for a friend. I noticed how that thought was like a spark within me, providing some light, making me feel better. And it felt like that spark lit a candle, one that kept burning for a while. And I thought of how I'd like to share that image with my Living Room members. I wanted to tell them how lighting a candle in the dark can help us feel better. Just thinking of sharing this as a devotional kept my candle burning for the rest of the week. I was able to keep my candle lit. I was able to lead a good session.

There were 15 present at yesterday's meeting - not bad for this time of year when most activities are put on hold. We had a wonderful time. I quoted from Philippians 4:6-8 which I've had my Bible lying open to a lot lately:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

After a bit of discussion, we all took turns giving thanks to God. There is truly a peace that comes from thinking of the good things in our lives and being thankful for them. Not only does it help remove anxiety, it also helps with depression.

At Living Room we all support each other. Though I'm the facilitator, I receive support myself as well. I always come away feeling better and - most of the time - feel a wonderful, peaceful kind of joy after. I can be myself there, not having to pretend I'm well when I'm not. Though I'm the leader, I don't have to come across like I've got it all together. In fact, it's better that the members realize that I struggle like they do. When I'm real, everyone is encouraged to be real. There's great beauty in that.

That steady flame that is Living Room is an amazing, mysterious thing. It's God at the center. It's made of love. It heals.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Christmas is over...except that my mom is still here and we're expecting some family to visit today. But now that the gifts have been unwrapped I can share some of the pictures I made to give to friends. I had been holding off doing that, just in case these friends were to check my blog.

This picture is drawn from a painting my dad did. He didn't draw it with India ink the way I did. His was painted with oil or acrylic (not sure which) not with watercolor they way I did. The neat thing about working on this one though was that I studied his brush strokes very carefully and, in doing so, felt a closeness with him. With this picture I also made a special effort to learn to mix the colours better - something I've found very hard.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dark - but winning

I'm still battling depression. Yesterday I had a great big list of things to do - last chance to do laundry, clean, shop, and wrap. I didn't know how I would get it all done. But my husband supported me wonderfully and helped throughout the day. There's something about trying to do too much that deepens depression, though. By the time evening arrived I felt truly down.

What has upheld me over the past while is playing. Several weeks ago it was drawing and painting pictures for friends. Sudoku puzzles have also helped me feel content. And the game my husband and I play often, Ticket to Ride, has provided a good distraction. These activities have the added advantage of developing brain power.

I've also had my Bible open to Philippians 4:6-8 a lot of the time: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. It's when I thank God for my friends and all that is good in my life that my mood goes up. This has helped me tremendously over past weeks. Knowing that I'm loved by my friends - and by God - has brought brightness and peace.

The preparations are complete. I'm into the thick of Christmas now. Today we'll celebrate with my husband's family - eleven adults and five children. Tomorrow I'll pick up my mom to stay with us for a couple of days. Christmas day my son and his wife are coming over. Boxing day we may also have a few people dropping in. Then I'll prepare for Living Room, which will have its regular meeting this Friday.

It will be good to get back to normal, won't it?

In the meantime, I do hope you will all have a happy time this Christmas. May God bless all of you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why did He come?

My mom-in-law is doing okay. She had her transfusion in the ER on the weekend - the ER, simply because - for a variety of reasons - it was the most efficient way to get her looked after. She is weak but in good spirits. On Thursday we'll take her to the specialist to see what he can do.

I'm still into a low grade depression. I can tell because I don't have much energy to do the things I would normally be doing at Christmas time. The thought of preparing Christmas dinner scares me. It seems like it will be a bigger job than I'm up to. My husband mentioned that he notices that I'm still down. He can often tell better than I do myself.

But the wonderful thing is that this is not a bad depression. Things could be much much worse. So I'm thankful. I putter at the jobs that have to be done and I find contentment now-a-days doing sudoku puzzles and playing Ticket to Ride with my husband when we have a free evening. My days are not at all black, just a pale wash of gray.

I've been eager for our Sunday church services this Advent season - eager to gather as much from them as I can. In his sermon on Sunday, Pastor Don mentioned John 3:16, the well-known verse we all learned to memorize in Sunday School: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." That verse is so common that those of us who are familiar with it hardly pay attention to exactly what those words mean. That's the danger when words become too common.

But Don then pointed out verse 17, one that doesn't get as much play: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Jesus did not come to merely point an accusing finger at the world for how bad it was. He came to help. He came to set the world right again. The story of his life shows that so well.

Oh, if Christians, as the followers of Christ we are supposed to be, would only pay attention to those words. Too often we're guilty of criticizing or judging. We need to help each other. We need to love the way Jesus taught us to. It's this kind of love we celebrate at Christmas time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In the midst of the chaos

Mother's doctor called on Friday to take her in for another try at a transfusion. Unfortunately I was at Living Room and we missed the call. So yesterday we ended up having her picked up by ambulance and taken to the ER for the transfusion. It was the only way we seemed to be able to get it done. The regular department of the hospital who handles them did not return my repeated calls to them when I tried to set up an appointment. Poor woman ended up spending the night in that hectic environment.

With Mom's unwellness to deal with, Christmas is more chaotic than usual. But I think I'm handling it okay. It's just difficult to get around to - or to get in the frame of mind to - do the baking I'd like to do. But tonight I will try to make my shortbread cookies.

At times like this I am happy for Living Room. Living Room offers a retreat from the world, a place to be with other people, a place where I can be myself and I don't have to pretend everything is fine when it isn't. Even as a facilitator, I feel this. There is a lot of love in our group - many hugs shared around. Everyone truly cares about each other.

On Friday there were 18 of us present. I talked about how, during my 36 years of photography, I learned how the focal point of a picture - no matter how messy, busy, or chaotic it is - is always on that which has life. If there is a person in a busy picture with many elements - even if the person is quite small - that is where the eye settles. You'll focus on the person.

If we were to look on Christmas as a picture, a busy, chaotic picture with many different elements - the card writing, the shopping, the decorating, the parties - there is one focal point where we can rest our eyes. This focal point is Jesus, the whole reason we are celebrating this holiday. If we can stay focused on him, we will be able to find peace. The busyness won't bother us so much. In the midst of the chaos is the One who gives life. He is the light of the world. He is love.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


We took Mom-in-law for her transfusion today. Such a struggle getting her to the hospital. It took a while for her to be well enough to put her into the wheelchair, she was feeling so faint and almost passed out.

My husband and I did some shopping, since the transfusion was going to take about six hours to do. But we received a call from the hospital long before that time was up, telling us that she had a reaction to the blood and the doctor ordered the transfusion stopped. Another one will now be scheduled.

I'm so glad there is still something that can be done. Before I heard from the doctor that another try at a transfusion was possible, I had thought we had run out of options. But there is hope still, though this is touch and go stuff. I just pray that Mom will be strong enough to withstand all this. But she is a determined woman. Though her body might be weak, her mind is strong and she has tremendous faith.

Tonight I'm relaxing with a cup of tea, a new Christmas cd and the tree. (Yes! We finally have the tree up.)

...and tomorrow we will have a Living Room Christmas party - but not without a little sermon from me first :) I will talk about staying focused on Christ in the midst of Christmas chaos.

(If you don't know about Living Room yet, check

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

...and life goes on

Christmas time. You'd think the world would stop all its problems for a while so that we could concentrate on celebrating Christ. But life goes on. ...Babies are born and people die.

My mother-in-law is sick. She's extremely weak. My focus is not so much on Christmas any more. I can see that it won't really matter if I don't get all my baking done. We need to focus on her - this lovely, precious woman of 96 who - up to a couple of weeks ago - was quilting and keeping up with her reading. The woman who - only three days ago - was so elegantly dressed in the beautiful two-piece dress (so difficult to find a dress now-a-days) I bought her for her birthday this year. The woman who I took care of like she was my own mother. The woman we kept alive a few years ago when the doctor had given up on her and had given orders not to hook up the IV again, which had accidentally fallen out of her arm. She was a mom for me who inspired me in so many ways. She taught me things that I missed learning from my own mom.

On Thursday we will be spending the day taking Mom to the hospital for a blood transfusion. Then she'll have a colonoscopy and, perhaps, surgery. Her doctor jokingly told us how the anaesthesiologist will have a heart attack, knowing he has to work on a 96-year-old. But she is so well in every way except physically, she has such a strong, good, wise mind, that we need to do all we can to help her survive this. We can't give up on her; and she doesn't want to give up.

I don't know what will happen this Christmas. I don't know whether she'll be well enough to come and celebrate with us. I would hate for her to be at the care home on Christmas day, though, remembering my time in hospital at Christmas when I was nineteen. It's the worst place to be at a time like that - a time meant for family and home.

I did get our cards done. They went in the mail today (one for you too, Desiree). I did get one kind of cookie made - a traditional favourite. Still a couple of gifts to buy. Still the tree to put up. I do so long for that tree in our living room. I long to sit in the dark with its lights shining, Christmas music softly playing. We need that kind of peace right now.

Strange, though. Focusing on Mom's needs right now helps me not to feel so overwhelmed. We'll just do what needs to be done and make the best of the rest.

A woman who used to be in my ladies' Bible study group has just given birth to a baby boy. And that's a source of joy....And so life goes on.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Need for a sabbath

First of all I want to thank all who commented on my last post: Terri, Desiree, Susan, Merelyme, and Isabella. So good to hear from all of you. And a big welcome to you, Isabella.

Today I feel a great need for a sabbath day. Although I'm doing much better mood-wise than I did last year, the pressures of the season have a way of grating on the nerves. Yesterday we went to a big family gathering and I came home feeling emotionally exhausted. I so look forward to Pastor Don's sermon today. I so long to once more reflect on what this season is all about. I so long for a day of peace.

We still don't have any decorations up at our house. I still haven't sat down to figure out whether I know what I'm going to give to all the people I want to buy for. I still have to get the Christmas cards done.

But today I'm going to have a day all for me - doing only what I feel like doing - not doing anything that truly needs to be done. Tomorrow I will carry on with the must-do's.

I don't feel truly depressed, yet there are indicators that suggest things are not the way they should be with me. There are too many messes around the house that bother me - small messes, yet messes I'm having trouble clearing away. I want to, but somehow I can't bring myself to actually do it. Ever felt that way?

I long for Living Room this Friday. We'll talk about how Christmas is affecting all of us this year. I know I won't be the only person having troubles.

This morning, before I start my official sabbath day (though please don't think I'm legalistic about this sabbath thing), I think I will make a list of all the things I'll need to do in these two weeks before Christmas. I know what will happen is that things won't look nearly as over-whelming as they seem to be. ...And I will try to keep lots of time for me in the plans - time to withdraw from the busyness - time to read and draw and play.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The awe and wonder of it all

Last year's Christmas was a stressful time for me. I truly suffered from all the negative aspects of the season: the huge number of fliers coming to the door irked me; the full parking lots at the mall overwhelmed me; the stores with the Christmas music and the pushing of goods bothered me. The materialism of it all - the having to live up to all the traditions, when I wasn't in the mood - the pressures of going to parties and having to entertain family at home were more than I could bear. I saw it as a chaotic time, one I wished I could escape.

But - blessing of all blessings - this year is different. I feel at peace. I don't feel pressured. I'm enjoying the season. And this started happening even as I was struggling with depression over the past few weeks. That's truly amazing! Thank God!

So I went to church this Sunday - the first Sunday of the Advent season - eager for Pastor Don's sermon. He didn't let me down. He talked about how Advent should be a time of quiet waiting - a time to look forward to Jesus' coming.

Unfortunately Christmas has become a time of chaos for many of us, when it should be a time of awe and wonder. Just think of it: the child Jesus who was born was God, come to earth to walk amongst us. He came to show us who God is and what he's like. He showed us God's great love and illustrated his amazing grace.

Christmas is very much a time of fantasy and nostalgia, a time when we try to recreate feelings we had in the past. But recreating those feelings can be difficult in the lives we're living today. We often end up with pain when we can't do it. But if we could remember to focus on Jesus, the whole reason we are celebrating, perhaps we could escape the pain and lighten the expectations we put on ourselves. Perhaps we could escape all the noisy stuff and the chaos.

The time leading up to Christmas should be a time for stillness, a time for peaceful reflection. Think about what a mystery God's coming into the world was! Think of the awe and wonder of it all!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A letter to "down and out in South Carolina"

Someone who is hurting very much right now left a response to my post, Somewhat califragelistic but grateful. This is a letter to her, and I hope it will help her deal with her pain somewhat. She asks for advice. I'm not sure I can give that, but if any of you can help her with the situation she's dealing with, I invite your comments.

Dear "Down and out",

When we bipolars go into a stressed mode and when our mood is affected, we often do and say things that we would otherwise not do. Bipolar disorder is a disease of the brain and will affect how we think and what we do and say. Our judgment is affected. Christmas is a time when this can happen more than normally.

I remember one Christmas a few years ago when I was worried about my mother-in-law driving. She was in her early nineties and I was really concerned about her safety and the safety of others. Because of the time of year, I was under a lot of stress. So many things to do and think about! My mood was heavily affected.

One day I talked to my mother-in-law, telling her that she needed to stop driving - that she needed to change her way of living and start relying on others more. I even suggested she go into a care facility. This was very hurtful to her. I wanted to control her so she would be safe, yet she was an independent woman who still had a lot to give. My worries put my judgement way off and I was pretty blunt. And she - in a way that was uncharacteristic for her - was very blunt with me. I could tell she was angry and in tears. (This happened over the phone.)

In the following days I realized what I had done. I apologized to her - me in tears this time. It hurt me so much to think that our good relationship might be ruined. It wasn't. But it did take a while for things to mend between us. Now we are very good friends.

All this is to say that the stress of Christmas can do things to us - especially those of us who deal with mood issues. It can make us do and say unfortunate things.

If you can try to understand that your mother-in-law is struggling with a lot right now, perhaps it will be easier for you to deal with her. It must be very hurtful to have her children not visiting her. Please try to love her and realize that she needs you to be strong. She needs your support and it sounds like she is receiving it. And you should feel good about that.

I don't know if this helped at all. I hope it did. And I hope you will soon heal so that you can enjoy the season.

Advent is upon us

This morning, over my wonderful first cups of coffee of the day, always a time to mull things over, I thought of how I would like to invite all my friends who believe in Jesus but aren't presently going to church - to think about attending church this advent season.

There's so much stuff connected to Christmas now-a-days that really doesn't have anything to do with the coming of our Lord. So much tends to drag us down instead of lifting us up: the pressures of buying gifts, the pressures to live up to traditions that might actually bring painful memories. If we could only reduce some of these pressures and remember what this season is truly about!

At church over the next few weeks I hope to be reminded why Jesus came to live amongst us. I want to be reminded of how he came to give us abundant life - how he showed us what God's love is really like. When Jesus walked the earth he performed miracles and he still does. Believing in Jesus and following his example has the power to transform lives. We can find meaning; we can find healing. I know this is what happened for me. I have been transformed and that is a miracle.

True Christmas is far removed from the glitter, the noise and the materialism attacking us right now. True Christmas should bring a sense of peace and well-being. So please go worship this season and celebrate what Christmas truly is - a story of love and grace.