Comforting Words: 05/2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Thankful in All Things

We are often so busy complaining about the things that are either absent from or are in short supply in our lives to notice the blessings that arrived in forms so simple that we miss them.

Take for example my situation this past week. My daughter’s graduation ceremony was on Wednesday and I was about to loose an eye crying because I did not have the money to pay to have her make-up professionally done.

Twenty-four hours later, I am driving her and her friend to the banquet and I am given a reminder why the make-up did not matter, that I was losing focus of what was really important.

I cannot go into the details except to say that a truck rear-ended us in a line of traffic, leaving us with injuries that required medical attention and the back of my vehicle damaged.

However, knowing how stubborn I can be, the Divine was not taking any chances. As if to make sure I understood that I was not focussing on what was important, early the next day, Friday, the pager went off. It was a Unit Clerk from the hospital paging me, the Intern Chaplain on call, to ask me to be with a family requiring prayers for their loved one who was making his transition.

Honestly, I balked a bit, thinking, “How could I do this when I was still shaken myself from yesterday's collision?” Completely focussed on me and my perceived suffering, I continued to question whether whoever is in charge of the order of life did not realise that I could not handle death right now. Further, “My daughter and her friend were in pain and discomfort, we needed a Chaplain ourselves,” I thought.

Within seconds of the questions coming to my mind, I received my answer, which caused me to dig up an old file with articles that I had written some years ago. I invite you to share this Word of Comfort with me, “Thankful in all Things,” and the Words from Scripture and the Words from the Heart.


From the New Testament:
1 Thessalonians 5:18
“Give thanks in all circumstance.”

From Judaism:
Meklita Exodus 20.20
"Be not like those who honor their gods in prosperity and curse them in adversity. In pleasure or pain, give thanks!"

(Excerpts from Judaism taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 557


(This article was originally written in September 2001 and published elsewhere)

As a child, my mother always tried to instill in me a sense of gratitude. She always reminded me to say ‘thank you’ for every gift, deed or kind word someone gave or said to me, especially adults. “Manners,” she would say, “will take you through the world.”

Somewhere along the line though, things got all mixed up and saying ‘thank you’ became something to impress someone with my politeness or it was said without either any true passion or true feeling of gratitude.

Oprah Winfrey was one of the first ‘new thought’ thinkers, who I heard espousing the virtues of gratitude and having a gratitude journal. Later, as the idea became something of a fad, I dismissed it, as something idle rich women would indulge in to feel good about themselves.

“Not for me,” I thought. “Not for people who are struggling to make it up the @#%& corporate ladder.” I tried it anyway and after writing in my makeshift gratitude journal, an old diary I had, for about two weeks without any miracles happening in my seeming sad life, I quickly dispensed with this gratitude journalling thing.

A few years later, standing at this threshold of my life’s unfoldment, I am again meeting my old friend ‘gratitude’ – and what a relationship we have entered. Being grateful, I have learnt, does not require a doctorate, any special formula, or even a journal. It does not require being an orthodox believer or even being a radical out-of-the box thinker.

Being grateful is simply saying 'thank you' for all that comes into one’s life – challenges, joy, moments of happiness, food, a pet, the stranger who smiled at you, the astronomically high telephone bill – everything.

The secret of being grateful that has opened to me is that the more I give thanks, really meaning it and in a spirit of true appreciation, is the more I receive; and I have been receiving in ton loads. My relationships are improving and are more authentic and, by being thankful for her and letting her know that I am my teenage daughter is opening up to me more.

By being grateful for the work that I do, more meaningful job opportunities are being presented to me. More importantly, however, by being intentionally grateful I feel more love in my life and I feel more capable of loving.

What do you hope to receive today? Conversely, what have you been grateful for today? Are you busy searching the party and club scenes for the perfect partner and not giving thanks that you have good friends and companions who love you?

Maybe you are like me a few years ago, caught up in the comparison game, wondering about where you are, too busy worried about your career and your image. Or is it the stuff around your house, your ‘attainments’ that have your attention? Are they preventing you from giving thanks for your life experiences, your education and your ability to learn more?

What about the money you ‘received’ that enabled you to purchase what you already have – did you give thanks for that or were you too busy worried about not having the latest model television?

You may not be particularly fond of journalling, but get beyond the act and consciously start giving thanks. Be proactive with your gratitude! Find what works for you – if not a journal or a scrapbook then record your gratitude on cassette or compact disc.

It could even be as simple as writing your thanks on a scrap of paper at the end of each day or just say them before you close your eyes, “Thank you for everything, this day, the comfortable and the not so comfortable, through which I have learnt and grew.”

After following a ritual, for the want of a better word, we begin to feel that we have grown enough with the passing of some time and therefore no longer need it.

Though I still write my ‘thanks you’ each morning as I rise, deep inside I knew that my attention has been on the material things that are ‘missing’ from my life.

As I prayed with that family the morning after the collision and witnessed their pain as they mourned their loved one, I realized that it would not have mattered whether my daughter’s make-up was professionally done were she the one lying on that bed.

Gratefully, I wiped the tears from my eyes and hugged the members of the family, acknowledging what they had gifted me with - the insight that what mattered is that my daughter is alive, she graduated from high school, she loves me and still wants to dance with me. Everything else is ‘brawta’.

(Those of you who are either curious enough to find out what this word means or want to test your knowledge of the Jamaican dialect can email me.)


(Adapted from Prayer: The Master Key by James Dillet Freeman, 138 - 139)

To give thanks is to hail the wholeness of things!
To give thanks is to affirm life where we see no life and strength where we see no strength.
To give thanks is to expect supply where we feel need and joy where we feel sorrow.
To give thanks is to be at peace in the midst of conflict and to find love at the center of disorder.
To give thanks is to enter into the place of stillness in the eye of the whirlwind, and into the calm that is deeper than the waves of the sea.
To give thanks is to praise God.
To love is to praise God.
I am not everything; I am not even all I should be. But I am something.
I shall not weep because I am not more.
God is within me and I shed such light as I am able. I fall short, but I grow.
And I give thanks that I am as much as I am and that I have been used by life to the extent that life has used me.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Parenting 101b

Last week I wrote about Parenting 101a and your response has been tremendous. Thanks to all of you who sent me emails and shared your own story. Thanks also to those who were silent, this spoke volumes.

The most touching response I received was from my friend Sonya in Australia. In her email to me, she told me that she was in the process of writing an article for posting here at Comforting Words and suggested that it be titled Parenting 101b.

As you read this week’s post, you will note that I did not do as Sonya suggested. Instead, I named her article Ode to Mother, as after reading what my dear friend had written and as I reflected on our many conversations on the beaches in Jamaica, I knew this is what she was doing - naming her experience and paying tribute to her Mother.

Back in 2002, Sonya sent me a book with teachings from Zen Buddhism, and it is from it that both the Words from Scripture and Words from the Heart are drawn. These words may seem strange to some of you at first reading, however, I invite you to re-read them and meditate on them after you have read Sonya’s article.

I am also taking the liberty of dedicating both my words and Sonya’s to all daughters who are still naming their experiences with and paying tribute to their mothers - each in their own way.


From Gateway to Son (Ch’an) 163:

To be free from the karmic wheel, nothing could be better than seeking Buddha (enlightening); but before you seek Buddha, you should know that is just the mind. Do not search for the mind afar; it is not separated from this body.

Physical body is not true and is subject to birth-and-death’ but True Mind is like empty space which is neither finite nor destructive. Therefore, a sutra says,
While the hundred bones will be
Smashed and scattered,
Returning to the elements of fire and wind,
This-One-Thing is eternally self-gnostic,
Engulfs Heaven and Earth.


Ode to Mother

Ode to Mother

By Sonya

If this ends up coming across half as painful written as it is for me to write, just grab your tissue now.

Periodically throughout life, we are faced with situations and obstacles which, I believe, are given to us to help us understand this journey we call life. If the lesson is not learned, new obstacles will continue to present themselves until you "get it". In short -- kharma is persistent.

My relationship with my mother was not terrific. My formative years appear heavily sated with screaming matches, arguments and punishments. I never seemed to do what was expected of me. It would require a very creative argument for anyone to persuade me that my mother considered me a "good daughter."

In April of 1995, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In my shock and my 22-year old way of coping, I just minimized and sublimated the whole event. I convinced myself that it was not a big deal. Plenty of women beat this every year, and after fighting with ME so well over the past ten years, there was no doubt in my mind that she would fight and beat this one too.

She did. My mother underwent surgery; chemotherapy and the cancer "went away" for seven years. She kept taking shark cartilage, which the herbalists were starting to view as beneficial to keep cancer at bay.

On April Fools' Day 2002, while still teaching in South Korea, my telephone rang at 8 a.m. It was the call that every expatriate dreads. My brother-in-law was on the line and I could hear him saying that my mother was taken to the hospital. Due to the time difference, it was 5 p.m. Sunday in Canada and he suggested I take the next available flight home. I cried for what felt like ten minutes, packed my bags and headed for the airport.

It was her liver this time. I will spare you the details -- she was gone in a week.

Again, I sublimated and ignored the feelings that threatened to overcome me. I had a job to do -- make sure Dad was okay, get the necessary paperwork and clothing organized and quickly get back on the plane to 'my life'. Two weeks later, I was back in Korea.

Periodically, things would creep up. About six months later, I came home from work one evening in uncontrollable tears, unable to comprehend how I was supposed to manage to hand in my university paper on time, work full-time and keep up with the housework. I was paralyzed by the simple thought: "SHE was able to do this juggling act, what is wrong with me?"

Luckily, a friend came over to calm me down and she also did my dishes. However, I still had not learned what the experience was trying to teach me. I guess my mother’s passing still was not "real" enough.

This past March, in a routine examination my doctor found an anomaly in my left breast. After several visits to specialists, ultrasounds AND mammograms, the final diagnosis (luckily) was that it was nothing. We had just over-reacted to something that just "comes standard on this model."

With this health scare still fresh in my mind, I observed what would have been my mother’s 60th birthday on May 1, 2005. Actually, that weekend was one I experienced as movement and changes, in that my flat-mate was moving out and my partner was moving in to the apartment.

It was also a weekend when everyone noticed and remarked that I was snappy and short-tempered all the time. Trying to explain what was going on, we all chalked it up to the stress of the move.

A week later, however, my mood had not improved. I continued my short fuse all week and my students felt the brunt of it. It is entirely possible that I dealt out more detentions in that one-week than I had in the entire previous term.

By the following weekend, we were still unpacking boxes, re-arranging furniture, finding places and spaces for things, shuffling and fitting my partner "physically" into what is now "our" home. Again, my snippiness and short fuse were "excused" by the disaster zone that my apartment had become.

As we could not find the kitchen, on Sunday evening we joined friends for dinner at a local restaurant. The service was slow, the waiter was short with us but the food was good. Just before we left, he apologized, saying he was short-staffed and heavily over-worked, it being Mother's Day and all.

In that moment, it hit me! Right there, in the crowded restaurant, the past two weeks finally made sense. What an epiphany! The frustration, inexplicable sadness, anger and complete impatience suddenly all made sense. One great big "a-ha" moment SWATTED me over the head.

On the way home, I apologized to my partner and explained what I now understood to be the cause of my moods. She cried for me. Her patience and love really are a blessing. I was grieving my mother.

For what it is worth, the processing and grieving is still not done. More time has passed and I am still feeling ill at ease and walking on eggshells. The only improvement is my mindfulness. However, simply being aware of my current temporary fragility and being proactive to cope with it has made a difference.

I do not know how long it will take but I do have to grieve, allow myself to feel and address the issues brought up by my grief. This is difficult to do, largely because I have had a lifetime to perfect the habit of avoiding emotions.

This experience is teaching me that I cannot do that anymore -- the emotions have their ways of finding you. To tell you the truth, I am not sure I have the strength but my hope is that with the help, patience and love of my partner I will have at last be able to be at peace with my mother and the woman that I am.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Parenting 101a

May 8, 2005 was officially Mother’s Day but more significantly for me, it was the Sunday after a woman had come up to me inviting me to coffee to talk about our daughters.

I have yet to take up this invitation and given my schedule, I may not be able to for some time to come. Nevertheless, her invitation, whether genuine or not, struck a chord in me, particularly after receiving a card from my own daughter on Mother’s Day which had these words:
As we travel life’s paths,
We often come across
Our mother’s footprints
And we know we have someone
Showing us the way.

It was not the first Mother’s Day card that I have received from my daughter, A. I have a bag full of cards from her, from handmade to expensive store-bought ones. This card was special, however, as coupled with the invitation to coffee, it caused me once again to reflect on my relationship with her, the distance we have and continue to travel.

The sentiment expressed in this card also evoked in me the pain and the tears surrounding my own relationship with my mother and the road of forgiveness and acceptance that I have been called to travel.

The topic of this week’s article therefore came to me amidst my tears of pain and joy – significant emotions in the journey of motherhood.

Though I may never meet with this woman for coffee, I am hoping that these Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart about what I call “Parenting 101a” will be passed on to her and to anyone else who it may comfort.


From the Hebrew Scripture:
Proverbs 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

From African Traditional Religions:
Nupe Proverb (Nigeria)
“You can only coil a fish when it is fresh.”

Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
“Children are the clothes of a man.”

Akan Proverb (Ghana)
“If your parents take care of you up to the time you cut your teeth, you take care of them when they lose theirs.”

From the Unification Church:
Sun Myung Moon, 9-30-69
“In the Kingdom of Heaven, true love is fulfilled centered on parental love …. The family is the original base [of true love] and the foundation of eternity.”

(Excerpts from African Traditional Religions and the Unification Church taken from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995) 169 - 173


In October, my daughter A., will celebrate her eighteenth birthday. For years, my partner has been telling her that at this milestone she will be required to move out, live in college dormitories and spread her wings. When she was younger, A., would punch the air and say, “Come on eighteen!”

I, on the other hand, had mixed reactions to this. While understanding Juds reasoning, paramount in which is the idea of independence and responsibility, I could not help feeling as if we might seem to be pushing her out.

We were already insisting that she kept her room tidy, with some amount of success, and she had set chores around the house. To offset my discomfort about her moving out at eighteen, we aggressively yet subtlety started giving her intentional lessons in “living on your own.”

Very early, Juds took her to the bank and opened an account in her name and up until recently, Juds was co-signatory. She also taught her how to budget her allowance. I can remember A. as a ten year old coming home each afternoon from school and having to account to Juds how she spent her money. She did this for two reasons: one to reinforce the need to budget and prioritize and two, to ensure that A. was not spending on drugs, which was becoming a problem in schools.

For my part, I started teaching her to cook simple meals – though Juds is the chef (really) in this family. Each Sunday, she would be responsible for a portion of our dinner, the staple, the meat or the dessert. Today, she makes one of the ‘meanest’ cheesecakes you could taste!

Fast forward seven years later, when the discussion of her plans for studies and her eighteenth birthday came up. To my shock, A., declared that she will not be moving out until she has completed at least the first two years of college. It was my turn to punch the air with a “Thank you God!”

Was I suffering from separation anxiety? Maybe to some extent but I think it was more that I was thankful that after almost fifteen years of living with and being parented in what society deems an “abnormal” family, my daughter wanted to stay home. That was sweet victory to me.

It was that same sense I had when she woke me up from a deep sleep on Mother’s Day. Although Juds had told her to wait for me to wake as I had had a rough week at the local hospital and needed the extra rest.

I thought I was being thrown out of bed when my dog, Angello, jumped in. Startled, I opened my eyes to see A. (isn’t that a coincidence, my two children’s name begin with A!) looming over me with a coffee cup in hand.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mummy,” she said as she handed me the coffee and the card. She waited for me to read the card, watching me with those big brown eyes of hers. I cried as I read the printed words and what she had written, “To the #1 Mother in the world.”

She left me shortly after that to finish preparing the breakfast that Juds would later tell me she started at 5:00 a.m. Alone again, I could not go back to sleep as I kept thinking “Why am I so lucky?”

It is not as if we, I, did not make mistakes with A. over the years – we had our fair share of fights. A. is a quiet, yet moody teenager. She is strong willed (I really don’t know where she got that from) and can be quite argumentative.

Lately, I have taken up calling her a Pharisee as she can be quite legalistic – demanding that I stick to the rules that, yes, I had set. For example, I have always demanded to know where she is going, what time she will return and, if it involves other teens and driving, I ask to speak to the parents of her friends to confirm the arrangements.

Now at my ripe old age of forty, A., has turned the tables on me, insisting to know my whereabouts and what time I will be home. If you invite me out, say to dinner, and we experienced poor service so the meal was late, you can bet any amount of money that my cell phone will ring and it will be her wanting to know what is happening.

It might seem as if I am not responding to the concerns that I know, let us call her Jane, wanted to talk with me about but I am. Though I know very little about the intimate details of Jane’s life and her relationship with her daughter and, further, I am not a psychologist or even a certified counsellor, I recognized the pain in her eyes.

Like Jane, I am a divorcee, was a single mother for a few years until Juds came into my life. Therefore, like Jane, I am a mother in a different family milieu. There are differences between Jane and I, not least of which are the facts that she has lived all her life in North America and that she is a Caucasian woman.

Another significant difference is that Jane’s daughter (and other children) was at a much older age than mine was when her sexuality came into question. These differences are however miniscule when the issues of acceptance, understanding, compassion, love and letting go are on the table.

Years ago, at one of the most tumultuous periods when my ex-husband was determined to sue me for custody of A. as he, in his words, “did not want her to live in a lesbian environment,” a dear woman-friend gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had. She was not a parent at the time but having borne the pain of ‘bad parenting’ her words to me was, “Show the child love, the purest love of your heart and everything will be okay.”

It seems she was right.

Like Jane, Juds and I had to deal with the stereotypical ideas of society about children growing up in a different family structure. Living in an extremely homophobic society as we did, there were very few resources available to us, to help with or teach us about parenting. The Internet was not a resource we knew of in the early days and there were no support groups for families like ours. All we had was what God gave to us – the love in our hearts and looking back, it seems as if that was all that mattered.

Since then, resources and information are more readily available and more frequently findings of research are released about gay and lesbian families. An interesting summary of research findings I came across when preparing to write this article was one by Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia.

In Ms Patterson’s review of findings of research done among children of lesbian and gay parents, I found several points significant to my own experience, namely:
 The concern that my child’s sexual identity will be impaired and that she will herself may become a lesbian.

 Children of lesbian and gay parents may have trouble in social relationships, be stigmatized, teased or otherwise traumatized by peers. Another common fear is that children living with gay or lesbian parents may be more likely to be sexually abused by the parent or by the parent's friends or acquaintances.

The findings of the research are important, especially for persons who hold the biases against families like my own. According to Ms Patterson and the American Psychological Association:

 Studies of children living with gay or lesbian parents have revealed normal development of gender identity. Additional and more direct assessment techniques confirm this with all children reporting that they were happy with their gender, and there was no evidence in any of the studies of gender identity difficulties among them.

 Studies of other aspects of personal development have revealed no major differences between children of lesbian versus heterosexual mothers, although one study revealed that children of lesbian mothers reported greater symptoms of stress but also a greater overall sense of well-being than did children in a comparison group of heterosexual families.

 Studies of these children's regarding the concerns that they are more likely than children of heterosexual parents to be sexually abused reveal that the great majority of adults who perpetrate sexual abuse are male. Sexual abuse of children by adult women is extremely rare. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse cases involve an adult male abusing a young female and fears that children in custody of gay or lesbian parents might be at heightened risk for sexual abuse are thus without basis in the research literature.

My point in sharing this information in such detail is primarily to help my friends and readers of Comforting Words who hold some of these concerns and biases to better understand our lives. Secondly, I think having this information will help women like Jane, strengthening them to have the obviously much needed conversation with their children and wider family.

My own experience, both in terms of the biases and concerns held by my ex-husband and even my daughter after she was spoon-fed some of these fears by him and my own mother, supports the findings of these research. I would invite anyone interested to know more, to visit both the American Psychological Association’s web site and that of The Council on Contemporary Families. At the latter, you will note a slightly different view on some aspects of gay parenting.

Whereby they agree with the general finding that “children raised by homosexual and heterosexual parents is essentially the same, they [researchers at the Council] diverge in some notable ways.” I however think it is good for the discussion to understand the differences in opinions and the variety in experiences.

Wherever one falls in this discussion, and whether you are heterosexual or homosexual, the mother/daughter relationship, I contend, is the same – one of the most important relationships in a woman’s life and the most difficult. Continuously reflecting on my relationship with my own mother, who as far as I am aware is heterosexual, I see that most clearly.

Quite unintentionally, most of the Words from Scriptures in this posting come from African Traditional Religions. I chose these as they spoke to important aspects in our role as parents and as children. They also speak to the issues of acceptance, taking responsibility and love.

There is another axiom that I feel pertinent to this discussion that is, “You cannot reap what you did not sow.” The advice of my woman-friend years ago was to sow love if we wanted a harvest of love. This same idea is embodied in the quotations from the African Traditional Religions.

It matters not whether you are a heterosexual or homosexual parent; “You can only coil a fish when it is fresh.” You have to teach and show your children love from the get go. However, love is a powerful thing, able to heal the deepest wounds. Therefore, it is never too late. I know this for sure through my own experience with a mother I thought I could never truly love. Love has taught me to accept people where they are.

Jane, only when we are willing to do this, i.e., accept others right where they are, can we live freely, without expectation and be true to who we really are. Only then can we experience the reverse effect of freedom to speak and walk our own truth and live from our own essence.

A card-reader on a beach once told me that my child is an old soul. I am learning daily what he meant by that. Her recent Mother’s day card gave me another insight as those words held the same idea of the Yoruba Proverb, “Children are the clothes of a [woman].” Our children watch us, they follow our footprints and by doing so they show the world who we are. Again, it is never too late to update our clothes but you have to be willing to be naked at least for a while.

Some of us “cut our teeth,” earlier than others do. Due to life circumstances, mine came early and maybe yours too. However, it can take years for your daughter Jane to cut hers although she is well past babyhood.

As parents, we need to accept the fact, and it is a fact, that we cannot cut our children’s teeth for them. We can soothe the pain by being honest, communicative and then let go, letting nature (Mother God) take her course. Time alone will determine if they will be there when we, as parents, lose our teeth.

Until then, I offer you Jane, and any other mother going through the teething pains of their daughter, these tips for “Strengthening the Mother/Daughter Bond.” Actually, you might want to share them with your daughter – go to coffee with her instead of me.

 For minor conflicts, daughters should try to understand the life circumstances, challenges, and choices that were made available to their mothers.

 Start mother-daughter traditions -- it’s never too late to begin new ones -- and make a promise to keep the traditions alive every year (why not every Mother’s Day). Traditions can include simple activities such as long walks, dinner at a favorite restaurant, or updating family photo albums.

 Join a women’s group or look into family therapy together to help resolve serious long-standing problems.

 Realize that all relationships have downsides. Mother and daughter should focus on the positive aspects of their relationship and invest time and energy in it.

 Mothers and daughters should recognize that all choices can come with negative and positive results. Regardless of social or ethnic backgrounds, pay attention to the intentions behind the choices.


If I Could

I often dance with my daughter, telling her that I am teaching her to slow-step for her graduation ball, which is in a couple weeks! Secretly though, this is my way of sharing our heartbeats.

One of my favourite songs to do this, the lyrics of which I now offer to you Jane was, to my knowledge, first recorded by Regina Belle. This version is by Barbra Streisand, but you can listen to Regina’s version here.

If I could
I’d protect you from the sadness in your eyes
Give you courage in a world of compromise
Yes, I would

If I could
I would teach you all the things I’ve never learned
And I'd help you cross the bridges that I’ve burned
Yes, I would

If I could
I would try to shield your innocence from time
But the part of life I gave you isn’t mine
I’ve watched you grow, so I could let you go

If I could
I would help you make it through the hungry years
But I know that I can never cry your tears
But I would If I could

If I live
In a time and place where you don’t want to be
You don't have to walk along this road with me
My yesterday won’t have to be your way

If I knew
I'd have tried to change the world I brought you to
And there isn’t very much that I can do
But I would If I could

If I could
I would try to shield your innocence from time
But the part of life I gave you isn’t mine
I’ve watched you grow, so I could let you go

If I could
I would help you make it through the hungry years
But I know that I can never cry your tears
But I would If I could

Yes I would
Yes I would
If I could

Blessings and take care of your Soul until next time.

Other Resources:
Triangle Families

Lesbians Who are Mothers

Women’s Experience as Mothers

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Taking Care of Me

Many people have asked why did we migrate to Canada and to Edmonton in particular. To be cute, my response is that when I opened my eyes the pin was stuck on this western city.

Truthfully, the decision to migrate was a long time coming and was made for very personal reasons. The choice of Edmonton, however, had nothing to with any deep desire to be here, rather it was made for rather practical reasons – “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Much deeper, migrating to Canada, at least for me, was a decision made at a soul level – if one can say that. This is definitely not true for my teenage daughter – who still cannot understand why we traded sun and sand for –20 degrees Celsius.

Now in Edmonton for almost three years, we have experienced the highs and lows of being immigrants in North America. Despite those low moments, when the insensitivity of human nature comes to the fore, each day brings to us opportunities to more profoundly participate in the culture of this beautiful country. We have embraced many of these new experiences and some we have yet to test.

Among those untested ‘adventures’ are ones that I have personally been slow to embrace, terrified and unwilling to give in to their appeal. Recently, I had the pleasure of being in the presence of an Aboriginal elder and he shared some thoughts which gave me courage to finally embrace some of these adventures. He reminded me that the journey between the mind and the heart is very long but it is one we must take if we are to become who we truly are meant to be.

This is a journey to self, the real self and it is the one that presents all of us with the opportunity to take care of "me." Personally, I am terrified at the mystery and lack of control that this journey between my mind and heart holds and need help. Join me for this trip through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart as I start “Taking Care of Me.”


These words come from a little book entitled “The Best of Women’s Quotations:”

“You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”
Barbra Streisand, b. 1942

“Taking joy in life is a woman’s best cosmetic.”
Rosalind Russell (1911 – 1976)

“I want to be all that I am capable of becoming . . .”
Katherine Mansfield (1888 – 1923)

“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch – what make you go beyond the norm.”
Cicely Tyson


Sometime last year a friend of mine, Ren, asked me to write an article for an online magazine he started. The theme of the issue was “Beginnings” and he wanted an article from me, which would give my reason for migrating to Canada.

He gave the article the title “Trading Sun and Surf for Snow and Inner Peace” and it was published in the April 2004 issue of EmbraceZine. Limited by the word count Ren gave me, I tried to give the basic reasons for migrating to Canada. I wrote:

“I am one of more than 2.2 million people who, according to government statistics of the past decade, chose Canada as their new home. Most immigrants will likely say that their reason for settling in this true North strong and free country is to reunite with family, pursue economic opportunities, achieve educational goals or flee persecution.

My personal answer is none of the above. I came to Canada to re-create myself. It’s a short and sweet answer, which often baffles the inquisitor. It also causes me to dig deep within myself in an effort to unveil personal details of a bittersweet journey that continues to this day.”

As I reflect on this journey to re-create myself since writing that article, I am filled with both a sense of sadness and utter joy. The sadness has much to do with missing all that is familiar to me – the friendships that did not require setting an appointment to see each other or the neighbours who I would see in my backyard picking peppers or some other fruit or who would have left something from their own garden on our doorsteps.

I also miss my partner’s parents who would show up with purchases that they made for us at the supermarket because it was "on special" and they were in the neighbourhood – which was over ten miles from their home. This was particularly true of her father who was a bargain hunter. He made his transition in 1999 and has left me with a special hymn to remember him by:

"Through the Love of God our Saviour
All will be well;
Free and changeless is his favour,
All, all is well."

Speaking of hymns, I really miss those Sunday worship services filled with music, dancing, soulful singing and preaching that were as hot as the midday sun. I also ache for those mornings when I would rise with the sun and go walking along the beach with my dogs and those of the neighbours in tow. We would wait for the vendors on Hellshire Beach to light the fire and prepare me a meal of fresh snapper and festival.

Admittedly, there have been times when I have wondered what ever made me leave Jamaica for these cold climes and sometimes cold people? I have lived in Europe for many years and have had the experience of being a ‘stranger’ or a ‘foreigner’ and it was not always wonderful.

Racism and superiority complexes have marred many of my memories of otherwise beautiful places across Europe. To decide to reside permanently in North America and in western Canada, a place where ‘visible minorities’ are exactly that – the minority, was not made lightly.

As mentioned in that Embrace article, when asked the “Why Canada” question my response usually points to the less vaunted claims about Canada as the attraction to us for migrating here. We came here as it is, “a land of new beginnings . . . a place with opportunities to start anew, where one can re-create themselves free of fear. It provided a structure to facilitate and support my transformation.”

Cicely Tyson is quoted earlier as saying that it is the challenges of life that make one discover themselves and that is very true of me. Throughout the years, my greatest learning moments have been those in which I wondered whether I would make it – whether I would live to see another day due to abuse, violence or ill-health; whether another ignorant comment about the colour of my skin or some sexist remark would cause me to lose it or how would the next month’s mortgage be paid.

There is a wonderful little book by Spencer Johnson, “Who Moved My Cheese?” that, as the blurbs states, provides amazing insights how to deal with life’s changes. I gave this book to my partner in 2001, at a time when her career had reached, at least in her mind, its plateau but she was terrified at the possibility of starting over and looking for her ‘cheese’.

It is impossible to credit this book with our migrating to Canada but I think it would be fair to say that it made the move less frightening. A year after giving her that book, it was my turn to ‘freak out’ about what to do with my life. I knew that the communications field was no longer appealing to me and had a sense of the call to ministry.

However, I too was terrified, not about starting over – as those who know me well will testify that that is the least of my fears. My fear had more to do with judgement, my own and that of others.

What will people think of the new me, what did I think about the changes going on in me, as I became intentional about my faith journey? How would people respond to my coming out of the proverbial closet? Could I handle the rejection that I know would come from some? Was I ready to be all that I am and fearlessly represent those who could not do the same?

On a practical level, I was extremely concerned with how would this transformation happen, how would we afford my going back to school and doing the necessary preparation for ministry?

Being the smart aleck that she is, my partner gave me a book that I have referred to before here at Comforting Words, “If Not Now When?” by Stephanie Marston. One particular chapter stood out then and even now. It was the chapter entitled “Giving Birth to Ourselves,” which truly spoke to the spiritual transformation that was occurring in my being.

Marston wrote that at midlife our consciousness shifts and “our spirituality is now about our relationship with the sacred – with a greater reality that gives our life meaning – and how we bring that connection into our everyday activities.”

To me that meant living authentically. My relationship was almost ten years old at this time of ‘big change’ and though we had (and still have) wonderful friends, ‘in-laws’ that accepted our relationship and a nice home close to the Caribbean Sea, I knew I was not living authentically. My partner felt the same.

Strange as it may seem, leaving the island that is so precious to me was the way to be true to all that I am. As Barbara Streisand said, I had to leave my island home to further “discover [me], what [I] do, and trust it.”

A large part of that process of discovery, as I have come to learn this week, has to do with self-care.

As one of several Student-Chaplains, doing Supervised Pastoral Education at a local hospital, our supervisor took us through an exercise to assess how much self-care we practice. The point of this exercise was to ascertain whether we are adequately taking care of ourselves in order to be more for others.

This is a concept alien to me. You see, I am the driven one, the “doer”, the organiser, the one making sure everything gets done even if it means doing everything myself.

Looking back, it might very well have to do with my upbringing and deep-rooted desire to emerge from the “less than” box. I have spent a lot of time “doing” – either for others or to keep improving my chances of liberation. I have spent quite a bit of time on educational pursuits (and continue to do so) because my mother told me it was the way out of poverty.

I have spent many long and late nights at the office, being productive to get the promotion. I have given more money and things than I could really afford to just to keep "in the flow," trying to ensure that I will be valued.

It is therefore so ironic to me, having been "driven and given" for so long, to learn now through a programme that is concerned with teaching how to be a spiritual caregiver of people at their most vulnerable, that what I need is self-care .

The biggest irony to me is this: having migrated from one of the 'playgrounds' of the world, to the priaries of Canada, I now need to play more! Where? In the snow? In minus 20 degrees? At the "beach" in West Edmonton Mall? Someone please tell me exactly how that looks!

What I learnt this week, other than the fact that I need to dust off my gym membership card, is that if I am to discover all of me and what the Divine desires of me, I must learn to:
 balance work and play
 loaf more
 slow down
 plan regular recreation

Honestly, I am struggling with this, as it seems the antithesis of being a responsible and productive contributor to society. For years, my partner would say her desire is to be a wealthy bum and I thought she lacked ambition but a more hardworking, love-life person you could never find. I am often amazed at the things she notices – like the fact that two new leaves are now on the trees, the variety of birds on the lawn picking at the seeds or the shade of the water at the lake at her favourite park!

How does one loaf more to be more? My idea of taking it easy has always been an air-conditioned room at a four star hotel, with cable television and a view of the ocean. Since coming to Canada, I have settled with the idea of a RV as the most rustic way to go.

Well, the jury is in and they have handed in the verdict which is - I need to learn to loaf – not simply enjoying an early morning walk on the beach but ‘let my hair down’ (if you can imagine that) for more than thirty minutes a month. Not only is it therapeutic, I am told, it is necessary self-care if one is to be more for others and if you wish to discover and express all that you are.

Being the planner, I came up with one for the few spring and summer months that we have here in Alberta. Some friends gave me some ideas and some will even be joining me.

I will be on a weekend camping trip in early June with a couple of strong men who are experienced with living in the wild and making a fire to cook dinner. It will not be freshly caught snapper - but I am readying myself for whatever.

Some days you will find me doing lunchtime yoga stretches (?) with a fellow Student-Chaplain on the lawn of the hospital. You will also see me loafing, ‘slurpee’ in hand, on Whyte Avenue.

My friend B. is getting excited at the possibility of us taking a road trip, instead of flying, to a Conference in Vancouver in late July. I am not overly excited about the fourteen-hour drive with B., because she is not a great singer. Long drives must involve singing, even I get that. The trouble with this plan is that neither of us are good singers, so I am not sure how that is going to work out.

For those of you who live in this neck of the woods and need to lighten up yourself, look out for me: The somewhat tall, very, very low haired, woman of African descent running through the hills of Jasper with a little Pomeranian Shi Tzu under her arms and a moose chasing us – that will be me and my dog Angello (that's him in my new profile picture).

P.S. By the way, this month’s issue (May 2005) of ‘O’ Magazine is a keepsake. I recommend it to all who have wanted to change just one thing in their lives and have been afraid to do so.


The Invitation
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

(I have shared this poem before, but will offer this excerpt, as it is appropriate for the journey from mind to heart.)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living, I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are – I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon, I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayal or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live and how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments

Blessings and take care of your Soul until next time.