Category Archives: Hope

Have you been impacted by suicide? Please watch this music video: “Arizona (I miss you most)” by Brian Byrne

So many lives have been impacted by loss due to suicide. In this video Brian Byrne captures a number of real individuals who have lost loved ones to suicide. It’s hard to get through this video without crying. In fact, I haven’t been able to yet. But regardless, it is beautiful, heart felt, and reminds me I am in a community of individuals who have suffered tremendous loss and we are somehow connected through it.

One of those individuals is Tana Nash, the Director of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council. You can see her in the video at mark 2:18. I have had the privilege of speaking with Tana at the University of Laurier on two occasions. She is an incredible individual, and I’m so proud to be partnered with her for suicide prevention.

For anyone thinking of suicide, I know it can seem like no one will miss you if you’re gone. They will. Don’t underestimate the impact every life has on another. There is someone out there, someone you might not even realize, who will miss you most. So, stay. Stay with us. Because we want to enjoy your company. We want to hear you laugh one more time. We want to hold you as you cry. We want you to know that sometimes we feel broken too. We feel like a burden. Sometimes we lose sight of the light. But there is a way to find it again: together. So, stay.

Please click here to visit the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council website for resources.

With gratitude to Brian Byrne for making this song public. You’ve touched our hearts. Thank you.

 

Shawna Percy

Please visit ShawnaPercy.com for more info

ShawnaPercy.com is LIVE!

It’s official! ShawnaPercy.com is now live!

What’s the difference between ShawnaPercy.com and Good Grief Guru? Good Grief Guru is an important blog resource focused on grief and resiliency. It includes raw article snapshots of my journey through grief and recovery, important resources for widow(er)s and those at risk for suicide, my Happy Thought collection, and more.

ShawnaPercy.com is focused on my journey as an author. It includes information on my book, Breathe, a list of book signing events, speaking engagements, and a store. It’s also a reflection that, although our grief journeys are an important part of who we are, they are not all that we become. Our lives can be more than the events we’ve lived through and the losses we’ve endured. Our lives can continue to be full of gain, new insights, rich experiences, and the passing on of the legacies we’ve created through the hardships we have survived.

Good Grief Guru will always have its place. It may no longer take up my focus every day, but that is how it should be. At the same time, there is gold within its borders and I wouldn’t trade that treasure for anything. The experiences I’ve encountered I will call upon when needed. Nothing need become ashes unless we let the fire die.

Shawna Percy

 

Thank you for continuing to journey with me. I hope you enjoy your tour of ShawnaPercy.com

 

 

Life 2+ years later

I haven’t done a lot of writing over the summer. The truth is writing became my medication for a year. I took a healthy dose every single day. I opened my wounds, I poured the salve in and allowed the healing to begin. Then, one day, I realized I had little left to say.

Looking back I feel really good about how I approached my grief journey. I own every aspect of it. I’m satisfied with the steps I took to disinfect these wounds and heal my open sores. Like all deep cuts there are of course scars, but these scars are part of my character and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’ve made me who I’ve become; a richer, deeper, advocating version of myself. I’ve become more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve had the courage to rely on community to help me through, and community has used my experience to understand how to help others like me. Everything, it seems, has somehow been stitched together to make a beautiful tapestry of woven tales, of golden threads and rusted contrasting colours, and I’m glad this tapestry is mine. I’m glad for every strand another has contributed to making this living art-form what it’s become today; a blanket that envelops me and hugs the richness of who I’ve become.

Will I still be involved in suicide prevention advocacy and sharing my story? Of course I will. It is one of my many passions and I truly believe it is life saving work. I also want people to know there is life after suicidal tragedies, and my passions are diverse.

What can life after trauma look like? It can look hopeful, happy, complex and character-building. It can be filled with opportunities to connect with others in a way that was never possible before. It’s reforming. It can cup the dreams of once-upon-a-time, of love, and childhood fantasies. It looks like my daughter’s first day of school and the beginnings of other new chapters. It looks like themed parties and Kimono BBQs. Moments of contemplative solitude, learning the violin and ukelele, attending rallies and adding my voice to causes that are close to my heart. Swinging from dangling tree hammock chairs in the hot summer breeze. Discovering Lindsey Stirling. Meeting David Usher from Moist. Having a house concert at The Healing Place with Me & The Mrs. Commander Hadfield dropping back down to earth from space, but not before my new niece trumped his entry with her birth. New life was born and new friendships formed.

 

Paul & Heather Zacharias from Me & The Mrs

 

David Usher (Moist) and Shawna MacDonald

 

IMG_1697Shawna and her new niece

 

IMG_1286Shawna’s ukelele (nothing quite beats playing happy songs on a ukelele on the cottage dock overlooking the lake.)

 

 

 

In addition to suicide prevention here are some other causes, and special moments, that have been filling my days and contributing to a fascinating summer:

ALEXIS’ FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

As I was preparing for Alexis’ first day of school I was taken aback by how much I didn’t know about her life during the day. What did she eat for lunch? How much did she eat? What should I pack? Will she know she’s loved in those little moments when she hesitates to walk into the unknown?

To all you stay-at-home-moms out there, thank you for all you give your children. For the stay-at-home-moms and child care providers who open their homes up to our children to become secondary homes to them, thank you for all you have given my child. For every parent who doesn’t have the choice but to work instead of staying home with their child, thank you for pressing on, for having the courage to place your children in the capable hands of others whose hearts are large enough to love them as though they were their own.

We enter a new day. It’s a good day. It’s a big day. It’s a day to take stock.

 

DON’T DRIVE DROWSY:

Last night, while driving to Toronto from Stoney Creek, a 20 year old girl fell asleep at the wheel just before her exit for home. I heard a strange noise that alerted me just seconds before she crossed in front of us. She must have hit the guardrail on the right hand side of the highway because something caused her SUV to turn and cut across all lanes of traffic (including right in front of our car) before crashing into the guardrail on the opposite side of the highway. I’ve heard before that most accidents happen close to home. People become lax. They think they’re not that far away from their destination so there’s no point in stopping. There is a point. When you are the speeding bullet shooting sideways across multiple lanes of high speed traffic, there is a point. When your life and others are put in serious danger because of a stamina miscalculation on your part, there is a point. And this is not the first time I’ve seen a car drive off a highway because the driver fell asleep. The first time was in broad daylight not too long after lunch, which is apparently another high risk time for dopey driving. It is an absolute miracle that 20 year old girl walked away from her totaled car. It is an absolute miracle she did not hit, nor was hit, by the busy traffic barreling down the 401. And, I believe it is a miracle I was driving at just the right speed that I, and my daughter who was sleeping soundly in the back seat, weren’t caught in her cross fire. Please, for the sake of your life and others, DON’T DRIVE DROWSY!

 

HOW TO CREATE SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

With knowledge comes responsibility…choices. Once I have information I need to choose what to do with it. Ignore it, share it, live it. Here’s something that encourages me to share and live what I’ve learned despite the Goliath-sized obstacles that sometimes intimidate my reasoning.

For over 10 years I’ve worked in the coffee industry. It’s a volatile industry. It can make people rich. It can make people poor. At one point thirsty consumerism fed poverty, war, and intellectual famine. But at some point someone cared. Someone started asking “Where does my coffee come from? Who grows it? What’s their name? How big is their family? Do their kids go to school? Why not? What does it mean to the health of the farmer when they use pesticides to protect crops instead of the more expensive methods of organic farming?”

Someone started asking questions and perhaps thought, “I’m just one person. Maybe I can’t make a big difference, but a little difference for the better is a start.” And they adjusted their spending. They shared information with others. They traveled to other parts of the world to connect. They discovered the coffee farmers’ names, circumstances, cultural quirks and endearing personalities. They discovered they were real people and they mattered.

Someone started asking questions, tweaked a few habits, and today there is a whole socially responsible certified or fairly traded coffee industry and movement. I LOVE being a part of it. Today, we can look back and see we were never meant to solve the whole problem on our own. We were meant to make ourselves aware, make minor adjustments, and our change in behaviour inspired others to think perhaps they could think that way too. At one point demand grew so high for certified coffees the farmers couldn’t keep up. Today, companies are in a race to see who can be fully fair trade certified first!

My point is this. Our present reality is volatile. Pick a subject. There are a lot of shadows creeping over the coloured canvasses of our lives. Don’t be discouraged. Ask some questions. Share information. Make minor changes to your lifestyle. Love. It’s tried, tested, and true: Significant social and environmental change can be born out of simple acts of caring.

 

NOTES ON BEING AWESOME!

I’m going to live my life and make decisions that I will own, and I am going to choose to be AWESOME! (and on the days I’m not I’m going to choose to remember self-forgiveness.) Today though, AWESOME!

 

MOVING FORWARD, NOT MOVING ON

It’s our last night at Basswood (our old house.) Thank God moving forward is not the same thing as moving on. Thank God I can carry these people, this community of neighbours, these memories with me. All the good that has happened in this house, bringing sweet Alexis home from the hospital, watching neighbourhood kids play in the crooked play house in the backyard, backyard BBQs, hang outs, street hockey, trails. Thank you to everyone who make us rich so we could spend this wealth on others and give back to you. With love, Shawna & Alexis

 

 

 

Shawna’s Elevation talk now available! (Mental illness, suicide, and finding God in the darkness)

It’s Mental Health Week!

What better way to kick it off than by sharing my Elevation talk with you. Special thanks to the Elevation crew who made this talk available so quickly!

Here’s a snapshot of what you’ll hear in this podcast:

-A piece of Shawna’s story
-What the Bible says about suicide
-The political & religious history of how/when suicide became a crime
-Helpful and harmful responses
-The medical history of perception and breakthroughs
-Does what we do here, on earth, matter as we’re waiting for the promised land?
-Is God present in the darkness?

I would LOVE to hear your comments, so please click the title of this talk to get to the screen with the comments box, and leave me a note below.

 

Shawna

PS – this audio was recorded at the Elevation service in Waterloo.  For more information about Elevation, please click here to access their website.

How do you feel when you see injustice in the world?

What one word describes how you feel when you see injustice in the world?  Perhaps hopeful? Sad? Defeated? Determined?

Whatever the adjective, share it here.  I want to hear your thoughts.

The inspiration below is taken from Isaiah in the Bible.  This photo was originally posted on my Instagram account as it has become a staple for me throughout the Idle No More movement.  I hope it inspires you too.

If you would like to follow my posts on Instagram please search for “smacs2011

http://distilleryimage4.instagram.com/e45637185dc511e2aeca22000a9f18e5_7.jpg

I had the most incredible night…

It all started yesterday.  The sun was setting, and the phone rang.  “Would you be free tomorrow night to share your story with a group of teenaged girls?”

Would I?  Could I?  I had to find a way to make it happen.  For me, the height of life was capturing moments like these.

My amazing friends, Mel & Gary, agreed to enjoy my daughter a little longer tonight so I could take part in a deep conversation with an incredible group of girls.

I took 15 minutes to share my story…that was the Cole’s notes version, believe me…they took a moment to digest, and then the questions came.  It was the height of my day to hear their thoughts and curiosities.  I went with little expectation as to how my story would be received, or whether or not it would be engaging, but I hoped, and I left elated, feeling something profound had just happened; the exploration of stigmas, the sharing of the grittiness of life, and the examination of hope.  Real hope.

I wasn’t expecting the reaction I received, but I welcomed it.  To listen into a forum like that would have given me joy.  To be at the center of a forum like that, engaging it, addressing it, where deep questions were asked, ideas explored, thoughts were challenged and others embraced, and at the most deeply beautiful level, life was shared, was a priceless, irreplaceable gift to me.  For me, that was gold.

I left those girls wondering how soon I could visit again, and when I could bring my daughter to meet them.  I hoped it would be soon.

With gratitude for this experience, and the opportunity to spend time with those rare gems, I say, “Thank you girls!  Thank you for sharing a real piece of life with me.”

HAPPY THOUGHT #36: Hearing my 2-year-old encourage her friend

My soon-to-be 3-year-old daughter had her first at-home sleep-over tonight.  The afternoon was a lot of fun.  Full of painting toes, dancing in the hallway, eating air popped popcorn, and playing dress up.  All was well, until bedtime.

The girls, my daughter and her friend, went to bed and I went downstairs.  Then, I heard the voice of my daughter encouraging her friend.  “It’s okay to miss your family.  It’s okay.”

I listened for a while as my daughter continued to comfort her friend.  It was the most beautiful conversation I have ever eaves-dropped on.  After a little while, I went to the room to ask if everyone was alright.

“She misses her Mommy,” Alexis said, then she leaned over her friend and kissed her head.

“How about I sleep in here with you two for a little while?”  I gave them each a stuffed toy and they hugged them into their dreams.

After the week we’ve had I knew Alexis’ friend was not the only one who missed a parent tonight.  My daughter has been feeling the void of her dad all week.  She has brought him up to others, she hasn’t wanted me to leave her side, she has been moody for no apparent reason until the moment a man enters her world.  Then, she giggles and opens wide her flirtatious eyes that beckon, “Please pick me up.  Please play with me.  Let me hear your deep man voice.”

She understands what it’s like to miss a parent, not just for one night, but for half of her life now.  It never dawned on me she would, at such a young age, be able to take those feelings and use her understanding to help another.  It was heart-warming.

I held my daughter’s hand, and watched the two girls sleep, warmed by the thought of what gold a good friendship can be, and that in this night these two little girls had fortified a new type of bond, one where they went through a real moment, and helped one another through.

I lied there, in the dark, quietly mesmerized, quietly humbled.  Tonight, I got to see my daughter become a real friend.

LEARNING HOW TO DIE – Jon Foreman

After my husband’s memorial service, a friend left me a note to listen to Jon Foreman‘s, The House of God, forever.  I was later given his Winter album, a listening experience rich in meaningful tracks about death and dying.  There were two songs from this album, plus a single, I would play over and over again, trying to absorb every acoustic and lyrical nutrient.

The single, called The Cure for Pain, begins this way, …I’m not sure why it always flows downhill.  Why broken cisterns never could stay filled.  I’ve spent ten years singing gravity away, but the water keeps on falling from the sky.  And here tonight while the stars are blacking out, with every hope and dream I’ve ever had in doubt, I’ve spent ten years trying to sing these doubts away, but the water keeps on falling from my eyes.”

The verse flows into the chorus, beckoning, …heaven knows, I tried to find a cure for the pain.  Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away.”

The tone is one of acknowledging the brokenness, the fallibleness, of life.  Foreman faces the gravitational reality of pain that exists, that will always be lingering, waiting to interrupt what is lovely and seemingly whole.  Like any one with a fixer mentality, he admits he’s tried to change that reality, to “find a cure for this pain.”  Who, after all, would choose to be subjected to it?

I can not cure the problem of pain any more than Foreman can.  “Oh my Lord!  To suffer like you do, it would be a lie to run away” is a pivotal line.  For me, to turn away from the only One who can cure this pain, is to live believing the facade that I can keep the broken cistern full.  But the Messiah suffered all so that I could rise above the gravitation law of sin.

I listen to this song on repeat because I connect with Foreman’s sentiments.  I relate to the notion of wanting to maintain a level of perfection, or completion, but it’s futile.  The rhythm of life is not set to a metronome.  It is not predictable like that.  It is a rhapsody, maintained by a free-style drum.  The beat changes, new patterns emerge and old ones fade away.  New life songs begin in the middle of the symphony of life already in play while other masterpieces are silenced and forgotten.

When a new song enters my life, literally, and metaphorically like meeting someone new, or rekindling an old friendship, I like to see where the new songs will go.  When I fall in love with the tune, how my chemistry works with another’s, how it connects, sometimes causes me to get locked in, making me want to leave the song on repeat.   After singing the same song for a while I learn what to expect, how to move, how to mime the lyrics, or belt them out loud.  Then suddenly the track shifts, and I’m annoyed because I don’t want it to change when I’m finally finding my groove.

My daughter has become the same way.  Like any child, she thrives off of repetition, and routine.  If she is used to seeing Grandma once every two weeks, and then it’s been three, she notices.  She knows when someone has skipped a beat.  She gets ansy and restless.  She doesn’t want the song to change, but at two she already knows it can.  Her and I are the same in this way.  We don’t just think water might fall from the sky, as Foreman puts it.  We know it will, because we’ve already been drenched by one downpour.

Now, any variation from the norm leaves us holding our breath.  Is this it?  Are we transitioning to the chorus, or switching to a completely new song?  Perhaps my focus should be less on one melody, and more on the album’s overall compilation.  The coming and going of people in my life is like the introduction of a new instrument.  Sometimes a new instrument comes in while others continue to play.  Sometimes the instrument leads a solo, while all others fade away.

Often, if I play The Cure for Pain, I will follow it up with another Jon Foreman song called, Learning how to die.   On my playlist the two make up one extended musical piece.

Foreman’s Learning how to Die, begins,

“I’m gonna miss you.  I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone.  She says, ‘I love you.  I’m gonna miss hearing your songs’

 

And I said, ‘Please, don’t talk about the end.  Don’t talk about how every living thing goes away’

She said, ‘Friend, all along I thought I was learning how to take, how to bend not how to break, how to live not how to cry.  But really I’ve been learning how to die.'”

When my husband died it became clear to me there are few things that last.  Our bodies return to dust, all material possessions are left behind.  Even my life’s work might change course when I am no longer there to direct it.  As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes 5:15 says, “As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return, to go as he came; and he shall take nothing from his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.”  In short, naked we come, and naked we go, so what are we living, and dying for?

Since I will take nothing with me, learning how to die has become a journey of learning how to let go.

My three-piece Foreman playlist ends with my friend’s initial recommendation, House of God, Forever.  This song is based on the 23rd Psalm from the Bible.

God is my shepherd.  I won’t be wanting, I won’t be wanting.  He makes me rest, in fields of green, with quite streams.  Even though I walk through the valley of death and dying, I will not fear, ’cause you are with me.  You are with me.

I used to be terrified of dying.  I still struggle with any change in tempo, or the ending of my favourite song, but that is how life is.  It is full of endings, and new beginnings.  My fear came from the unknown, and feeling that I would never be ready for that final act.  Please don’t take me now! I would plead with God as I drove down an icy road, or felt turbulence while flying in the air.

I didn’t understand the mentality of individuals who desired to be on the other side of this life more than their desire to be here.  Now I look at that journey with a famished curiosity.

I want to let the song move where it might, to enjoy melodies from each exposition, before releasing them.

For one can only truly hold on to that which lasts beyond death.  It is not about latching on to the cello, or the horn.  It is about enjoying the instruments, finding harmony in the part I get to play, and ultimately focusing on the Conductor who will lead me in a solo through the final act, through the valley of death and dying, and into the house of God, forever.

 

A COMPLETE LIFE – Martin Luther King Jr.

 

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, the third Monday in January, is Martin Luther King Jr. day in the US.  It is “…the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off.””, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

A leader of the civil rights movement in the US, he was assassinated in 1968.  Dr. King was most famously known for his speech titled, I have a dream, a speech that moved the nation.  There is a less known work by Dr. King however that I have gone back to, studied, and read over and over again, that moves my personal humanity to action.  It is called, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”  I first found a copy of this speech in a text book from college called, Foundations: Society, Challenge and Change, a compilation of varying essays put together by Editor James V. Rudnick.

I focus on this piece today because, if I am to acknowledge death, I must also acknowledge that my time of living is limited.  That drives me to ask myself what I want my life to be about.  Even more so since my husband died.  Settling for nothing less than seeking what I was created to do, and be, is one of the characteristics that was magnified in me, after the death of my husband.  Dr. King’s life showed the impact one individual can have when they choose nothing less than fully engaging in their life’s purpose.

The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life examines the length, breadth, and height of life.  Dr. King based this sermon on the 21st chapter of the book of Revelations, when the apostle John, who was in captivity, had a vision of the future city of God.

Dr. King observes, “…the new city of God, this city of ideal humanity, is not an unbalanced entity but it is complete on all sides.”

Keith Green, the musician, was only 28 when he died.  Christ, the Messiah was 33.  Martin Luther King Jr. was just shy of 40.  Perhaps I will live to see 100.  Perhaps I won’t.  Whatever the case, I want to make my life count, and losses like these help me focus on the value of the limited time I have in this world.

Dr. King summarizes his interpretation of the three dimensions this way, “The length of life as we shall think of it here is not its duration or its longevity, but it is the push of a life forward to achieve its personal ends and ambitions.  It is the inward concern for one’s own welfare.  The breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others.  The height of life is the upward reach for God.  These are the three dimensions of life, and without the three being correlated, working harmoniously together, life is incomplete.”

He describes life as a triangle, with the individual on one end, others on another, and God at the top.

Today I am going to focus most on the length of life.  If I look at my past I see that I had put a strong emphasis on the height of life, reaching for God, and then the breadth of life, reaching out to others.  The time I have been granted over the past year has enabled me to focus on the length of life, reaching inward, to discover what I was created for, so I can bring all three dimensions together to best serve humanity, and God, while fulfilling my own life’s purpose.

The following is a section of Dr. King’s sermon that I have highlighted in my book, and revisited many times over the years.

“…every individual has a responsibility to be concerned about himself enough to discover what he is made for.  After he discovers his calling he should set out to do it with all of the strength and power in his being.  He should do it as if God Almighty called him at this particular moment in history to do it.  He should seek to do his job so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn could not do it better.  No matter how small one thinks his life’s work is in terms of the norms of the world and the so-called big jobs, he must realize that it has cosmic significance if he is serving humanity and doing the will of God.

To carry this to one extreme, if it falls your lot to be a street-sweeper, sweep streets as Raphael painted pictures, sweep streets as Michelangelo carved marble, sweep streets as Beethoven composed music, sweep streets as Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street-sweeper who swept his job well.”  In the words of Douglas Mallock:

If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail:

If you can’t be the sun, be a star.

For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail-

Be the best of whatever you are.”

A few years ago, my late-husband Neil and I, went to a conference called True Cities in Hamilton, Ontario.  Neil had significant gifts.  One of them was how incredibly self-aware he was.  One of his greatest adversities was living with mental illness, and the day we visited True Cities I had the honour of witnessing him combine his adversity with his gift, to serve others.

A number of seminars were going on and we had to pick three.  One seminar focused on how to reach out to individuals in the city who were struggling with mental illness.  Neil was often silent about his struggles because he was fearful he would be judged.  That day he sat quietly amoung the participants and listened to them talk.  What he heard was a group of individuals who had a genuine motive to understand the needs of people struggling with mental illness, and a deep desire to connect, and help.  The heart of that group created a safe place.

Then the most beautiful thing happened.  Neil stood up.  “I have a mental illness,” he said, and he began to talk about his experience with it.  He told stories about his fears, and what he found helpful from others while he was experiencing an episode, and also how individuals could help someone like him during everyday life.

To me, what he did that day was a completion of the triangle Dr. King refers to.  His gift was being self-aware, and Neil used that gift in that moment to serve himself, serve others, and honour God.

But safe places are not always present.  Opposition may abound.  The history books confirm this.  Consider how Martin Luther King Jr’s life ended.  His immense love, passion for peace, and dream of harmony, resulted in his assassination. Such was also the case for John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, and of course, the Son of God.

Each of these were visionaries.  Each of these were dreamers.  Is living a complete life that may end so abruptly, worth it?

Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff shepherded the first Martin Luther King Jr day in Jerusalem in 1984.  During the ceremony he quoted a verse from the story of Joseph, in the Bible.  As his brothers watched him coming toward them they said,  “Behold the dreamer comes; let us slay him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams.”

Resnicoff then said, “From time immemorial, there have been those who thought they could kill the dream by slaying the dreamer, but – as the example of Dr. King’s life shows – such people are always wrong.”

Today I remember Martin Luther King Jr and the complete life he led, his dreams that in death live on, and the complete life he has challenged each one of us to capture.  May we dream big, may we serve God, humanity, and ourselves well.  May we seek the life we were created to live so “…all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street-sweeper.”

 

BREATHE

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

God, where are you?  I miss feeling you.  Knowing you are there.  But I fear those feelings were just my own imagination creating a false illusion of being connected to you.  If I can not find you in a song, or a speech, or a story of your miracles, how can I find you?

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

I am walking in the valley.  Was I ever on the mountain top?  I am surrounded by people but feel alone.  It is because I am missing you.

Are you here?  Are you listening to me?  Do you hear my voice?  Why don’t you answer?

I think about my favourite Christ-child movie, The Nativity Story starring Keisha Castle-Hughes.  In it, Mary, the future mother of Jesus, goes to a lady’s home who has hired her.  As Mary cooks the lady tells a story of Elijah to the children.

“The Word of the Lord came to Elijah.  God said, “Stand on the sacred mountain.”  And behold, the Lord passed by.  A great wind rammed the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord.  But the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind, an earthquake!  But the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake, a fire.  But the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire?  A still small voice.”  1st Kings 19: 11, 12

Then the Christ-child was born.  Not as a King or to a mighty Empire.  Not with loud ruling authority.  But as a baby.  Vulnerable and fragile.  The still small voice of God came to earth.

I turn off the computer.  I lie in my bed with a opened book, but I’m not reading it.  Instead, I lie there breathing.  I breathe in.  I breathe out.  And quietly, unexpectedly, I am hearing God.

In Rob Bell’s Nooma series, there is a movie he produced called “Breathe.”  He recalls the story of Moses and the burning bush.  God says to Moses “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is Holy ground.”  Exodus 3: 5  Then Rob Bell makes the point that the ground had not changed.  It was always Holy.  It was Moses’ perception of the ground that shifted.

Rob Bell uses that story of becoming aware to then talk about the breath of God.

We breathe multiple times a minute, and most of us don’t even think about it.  We breathe in.  We breathe out.  We rarely stop to listen to the sound of our breath, or pay attention to the rythum of it, or acknowledge that without it we would not be living.  Then Bell makes a connection between God and our breathing.

“…the ancient rabbis believed that these letters (the letters that made up the Name of God) actually functioned…as vowels in the Hebrew language.  They believed that they were kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing.  Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.  Is the name of God the sound of breathing?”, he asks.

He then talks about the creation of man.  We were dust, and then God breathed His spirit into us.  “Each person’s life is but a breath.”, he says.  In the Bible the word breath and spirit are the same.  So perhaps we can also say, each person’s life is but God’s Spirit that breathes through us.  Death happens when we take our last breath, and that Spirit leaves our bodies.

The last five years has made it clear that I am vulnerable, fragile, and limited.  I came from the dust.  Yet if the breath of God, the Spirit of God, is in me, am I not also sacred?  If so, is not every living being sacred too?

I had the privilege of hearing Rick Tobias, the President and CEO of an outreach called Yonge Street Mission in Toronto.  He spoke at a Church I was visiting in the summer.  The topic was compassion versus charity.  He explained the difference between the two in this way.  When one has charity for another they reach their hand down to help them.  When one has compassion, they reach their hand across.  The first action says, ‘You are beneath me.’  The second says, ‘We are the same.’

Having worked with the marginalized citizens of the city for decades he advocated for them to be recognized as equal in value to any other human being.  He said the next time we were to see a homeless person, or an addict, or anyone down and out, to remember that they had been made by the same Creator who created each of us in that room.  The same Creator who created the entire universe.  The breath of God is in them as much as in me.  We are but a breath away from dying, or being kept alive.  This breath is as much in the person who does not believe in God, as the one who feels they are often connected.  It is as much in me when I can not find God, then when I am still, hear the sound of my breathing and remember, there He is.  I forgot I was standing on Holy ground.

Rob Bell comments, “Maybe what we need is as close as breathing.”  When I get overwhelmed my body calls for sleep.  I can’t help but wonder if that is my spirit’s way of helping me be quiet so I can hear the still, small voice of God in my breathing.  Whether I walk in the valley, or arrive on the mountain top, He is but a breath away.  I need only be still enough, quiet enough, to find Him.