Blog, God + Spirituality, Personal Growth + Wholeness, Relationships

Thoughts on death, and life. And love.

I’ve thought a lot about death this past year.

I’ve also thought a lot about life, too.

Just over a year ago, I watched my childhood best friend go to the doctor, with what was thought to be a normal urinary tract infection, turn into the discovery of a brain tumour, and soon after, a terminal stage 4 cancer diagnosis. I watched her live her final year, and I watched her in her dying days. And I watched her peeking down from heaven’s balcony, as she snuck her vivacious personality into her own funeral. Who else would start out with a rockin’ foot-stomping, hand-clapping, drums-a-blazing praise song? I giggled while bawling at her tear-and-laughter-inducing funeral arrangement. What a woman. What a life.

Sometimes you need to have Death come and walk with you for an extended time, in order for you to learn how to truly live. And love. Yes, death’s impending shadow certainly teaches you to love right now, and love without hesitation. Our days here are numbered, which isn’t to make us feel rushed or stressed, but truly there is a certain urgency to plant one’s heart in the present moment and squeeze out as much life and love in every single one of those moments.  Recognizing that death comes to us all (in what is often the most inconvenient and unfortunate of times) is a loud reminder and call to the “now-ness of love” and the “now-ness of life”. C’mon now, we’ve got some loving to do! No time to waste!

I learned this with Lisa. Especially in her final weeks. You could see she was already one foot inside the door of Heaven. And one foot tediously balanced on earth’s footstool, with her loved ones. She was so ready and eager to be united with Perfect Love, yet still wanting every single last moment with us, her human loves. The tension between earth and heaven was so tangible in her final weeks.

Sometimes the unfiltered love of her final moments on earth was overwhelming. When we’ve become so used to sipping from little cups here and there of  filtered love, what’s one to do when a torrential fire hydrant of unfiltered “living water of love” is blasted on you? Sometimes, you don’t know how to handle it. But handle it you do, and well, you let it knock you over. And then you bask in it. And then you participate in it. And the next thing you know, you’ve said “I LOVE YOU SOOOO MUCH” about a billion times in 5 minutes, and you’ve rubbed feet and hands a million times over, and laughed about how clothes and skin are such tragic barriers to intimacy, because you just want to be SO CLOSE, WITH NO BARRIERS TO LOVE.

Yeah, impending-death sure makes you get WEIRD-CLOSE. And I didn’t mind at all. These are the life-changing moments that make a life a LIFE. It’s the love that matters. It’s the love in the ordinary moments of life that makes life extraordinary.

At one point, nuzzled together on her hospice bed, Lisa and I shared a hilariously heavily-medicated moment where we were feeling so close to one another. She felt she was in love with me. But she wanted me to know that she was in love with me, but “not like sex”. She “loved Matt (her husband) like sex”, but she was “in love with me but not like sex”. All I could do was giggle and laugh. Of course, I knew what she meant. And of course I felt the same way.

Man, I miss her radiant, quirky laughing self. And her deep, counsellor-therapist self. She was my hyper giddy laughing deep philosophical partner in life. I didn’t know I would only have that specific unique laugh in my life until September 30th 2017. Well, actually, I have her laugh recorded on an old cassette tape from when we were about 12 years old. I also have our infamous duet of the Rankins’ “Rise Again” on cassette tape too. Surprised, we were never signed. Sheesh.

So. Many. Memories.

Ah, fickle dickle, death is a thief that takes the good ones far too soon. I wasn’t ready to let her go. But love lets her go. She’s upgraded to a far better fellowship. I’m a tad jelly. (Translation: “Jealous”. That’s for my mum, who’ll be reading this and saying to herself “What does Ali mean by jelly?” There you go, Ma.)

Speaking of my mum, today, I was reading a newspaper article cut-out of Ron Rolheiser sent to me by my mother. It was actually a certain paragraph from one of the articles that hit my heart so deeply that I had the sudden thought, ‘I’ve gotta write right now — get some thoughts out.’ I haven’t written much in the past year. I think just once since all of this transpired. So here I am. Thanks, mum. Thanks, Ron Rolheiser. Anyway, he wrote,

“When we die, while we may well be eulogized for our achievements, we will be loved and remembered more for the goodness of our hearts than for our distinguished achievements. Our real fruitfulness will flow from something beyond the legacy of our accomplishments. It will be the quality of our hearts, more so than our achievements, that will determine how nurturing or asphyxiating is the spirit we leave behind us when we’re gone.” – Ron Rolheiser.

Yeah. Boom.

When we die, we will be remembered most for the goodness of our hearts and the quality of our hearts. How we loved. That’s the legacy. Our love. Our love determines how nurturing our spirit is to those we leave behind. Lisa for sure is leaving behind a hugely nurturing legacy of love. Her heart was huge. She loved big. She always loved big, but her final weeks and months, wow. Historic big love.

After this past year, I’m left thinking a lot about the quality of my heart. The quality of my love. The fearlessness of my love. The giving-ness of my love.

The priority of love.

Sometimes I think you need to think a lot about death up close and personal, and see it right in front of you, in order to gain a far richer and truer appreciation for life, and love. Sometimes you must go through hell, in order to open up to heaven, to have your tastebuds awakened to love, a foretaste of what is to come.

Thanks, Lisa, for teaching me a hell of a lot about love. I miss you, but I hope you’re having a blast in heaven. I’m especially curious if the Doritos and Jalapeno Poppers up there are especially yummy? xoxo.

Lisa and her flip flops. Even at her wedding back in 2004. I picture her in heaven chilling in flip flops with Jesus. It makes me smile :)
Blog, Personal Growth + Wholeness, Relationships

Love and Loss.

I never thought I’d have to say goodbye to him. Not now. Not ever. Not a few weeks after my 38th birthday.  Not a few weeks before I was moving my entire life to be close to him.

There really isn’t any tidy way to process the loss of a relationship. Loss is a shit show. But boy does it fertilize the heart for massive growth and change, even if we never wanted to have to grow in this way. At all. Who wants to lose? Not me, that’s for sure.

No one chooses loss as the avenue for growth. But what other choice do we have when real love is lost? As I’ve come to see it, we must honour that (lost) love by honouring our grieving hearts. And how do we honour our precious broken heart? We grieve and we grow and we walk forward into a devastatingly beautiful transformation, a new unplanned future, but still, a future. We embrace a new path forward, and we forge a new pathway inside our mind and heart, that leads to somewhere new, somewhere we must believe is good-er and better-er than the path we so abruptly had to depart.

This summer was a devastatingly messy one. My heart seemed to be bleeding out of every pore in my body. It wasn’t just the break up. It was all sorts of other things, one of which was walking through the final dying months of my best friend. July is still a difficult blur in my heart, but here I am, somehow in September, and I’m alive. I’m really alive.

I’ve seen a whole new side of myself I didn’t know I had. A whole new level of power I had no idea I contained within me. In my most devastating, vulnerable, fragile moments this summer, I shone powerfully. I so purely and wholly released this man I didn’t want to let go of. My love had no cage, and I let the bird fly free, the moment his wings chose to.

I’m still so proud of myself. I have an even deeper root system of dignity for how I handled myself.  I’m sitting here, in a puddle of tears, feeling both fragile yet strong, and so damn proud of myself.

There’s a quote I saw on Pinterest a few weeks ago that simply said,

“Once in a while, blow your own damn mind.”

Well, I can honestly say I’ve blown my own damn mind this summer. The shit has produced some glory in my garden. Even in the mess of vast extreme emotions, I am so proud of myself. I have a newfound dignity and strength that borders on an intimate invincibility that I’ve never felt before. I don’t feel any fear. I’m not afraid. I have no arrows of depression trying to lodge inside me. I feel alive. Invincible, even. And I’m not talking about that rock hard kind of invincibility that pounds the chest, roars and rejects any vulnerability. I’m talking of the invincibility that comes from keeping a soft and tender heart in the midst of having a precious dream shattered.

Love is always a risk. Love takes a fragile invincibility. Love is not for the faint of heart. It’s so much easier to shut off and isolate the heart from connection.

A couple months on, my September self can tell my July self that the risk I took for love this past year was worth it all. Even the pain. The immense loss has produced some surprising blossoms in my garden. I see some beauty peeking out of the dirt.

I took the risk. And I lost. But I’ve won, too.

The past year I would read this amazing poem by Leo Buscaglia on taking risks, and it would summon me forward in my relationship, as I was often tempted to close off into safety, but somehow I would continue on in risking relationship with another. And that has made all the difference…. even though that relationship is no longer.

Here’s the poem, entitled “Risks”:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk being called sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair, and to try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, and becomes nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.
Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave, he’s forfeited his freedom.
Only the person who risks is truly free.

– Leo F. Buscaglia

That last line sums it all up. Only the person who risks is truly free. And I guess that’s what I’m experiencing right now. A true freedom in myself. I risked love. And I lost.

But I won.

This is me, summiting the highest spot in my new city, praying and pondering life after loss.
Blog, God + Spirituality, Personal Growth + Wholeness, Worship + Prayer

When God Interrupts Your Life

I’m not sure there’s any human out there who handles major interruptions in life without a little resistance. Life is full of interruptions, some more painful than others. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to hear someone’s real, raw story of walking through major difficulties in life, in order to find fresh courage and perspective in my own.

This video below gives me the fresh perspective and courage I needed today. I had this video and mini blog post sitting in draft-form on my website for the past 2 years. I just re-discovered it sitting there today… and I re-watched the video and I have tears streaming down my face. I had to press publish and share it with all of you too. May it be an encouragement to you right where you are, in whatever storm you are walking through this very present day.

This is a short (5-min) but DEEPLY potent video from Bob Sorge sharing his raw story about when he was a senior pastor and worship leader and he suddenly suffered a life-changing vocal injury that left his voice very weak and painful to use. He can speak around an hour daily before the pain silences him.

The author of over twenty books, he travels the world strengthening others with the message God has given him — intimacy with Jesus and confidence in His promises. If you want to go deeper in the themes of this short film, Bob has written a book on the life of Job entitled, “Pain, Perplexity and Promotion.”

 

 

Blog, Personal Growth + Wholeness, Relationships

Joy and Sorrow Walk Hand in Hand

It’s one of those realities of life I find hard to accept — pain and sorrow walk hand in hand with joy and beauty. A heart can celebrate in one moment and then, in the very next, ache. Sometimes I wish I could just wave my magic wand and make all pain disappear, but such is the way of fairy tales, not of real life.

In my ideal world, I would much rather be celebrating a continuous victorious mountain top milestone, with glittering gold dust sprinkled everywhere — evidence of a nice, shimmering (easier?) life. But truth be told, my ‘gold’ in recent years has come through loss, and often, at the risk of a loss of heart.

This paradox of real life is visibly woven through my life story, as evidenced by how many precious moments I have shared with some of the most beautiful hearts through these losses and disappointments re-appointments in life.

It’s inescapable, this intertwining of joy and sorrow. Beauty and pain. Victory and loss. They are inextricably married in this life. And maybe, after all, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My heart is truly alive.

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[Photo Credit: Aaron.Rosales via Photopin cc Text Edits by Alison Lam]
Blog, God + Spirituality, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Getting Free From Holy S*****!

What I share in this post has not been a sudden revelation. I’ve been pondering this blog post for a few years now. As you fellow humans know (I’m assuming you’re human if you’re reading this), the lessons we learn in life don’t come to us over night. They are like “a slow dawning”, as one friend said to me a few years back. It’s like an “a-ha” moment drawn out over many months upon months (or years upon years, in many cases). So, let’s just say that what I share in this post is one of those slow dawning ‘a-ha’ moments that has been cultivating in the soil of my heart over the past few years… (maybe my lifetime, really) and it’s still ongoing… because, as we all know, we are unfinished beings, ever growing and learning and changing. No human is ever static. And if you are, you’re dead. So, with that said, let’s get back to this post on holy s*****!

I’ve come to the dawning realization that I’ve been should-ing on myself for years.

For the most part, this ‘should-ing’ has masked itself as holiness, all in the name of ‘godly obligation’.

For years I’ve been tripping over a gazillion “shoulds” and “ought to’s” and “you have to’s”.

I don’t know where it all began, this addiction to being controlled by “The Holy Should”. To be honest, (in some ways) I became more bound when I rededicated my life as a Christian in my young adult years. Somehow, I got lost under the weight of (what I believed was) a Divine Being shaking his finger at me, essentially, burdening me with an unending list of things I had to do, should do and ought to do.

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[Photo Credit: Cupcake Murder Aftermath (CMA) via photopin cc Edits: Alison Lam]

To live with this “holy s*****” is pretty dirty. It’s pretty ugly, really.

I think somewhere along the way I lost the holy vision of freedom and bearing an easy yoke and carrying a light burden. A life of joy and peace and desire — characteristics we see displayed in the life of Jesus.

Somewhere over the years, I lost heart. I lost desire. And the scary thing is that I thought I was “in God’s will”.

It’s been a process, but I’m now (becoming) convinced that you cannot kill your heart, your dreams and your desires and think that you can remain “in God’s will”. God’s will is not a crucified heart but a human heart fully alive! God’s will finds its fulfillment in the spirit of life, not the killing of all desire!

God came, not to kill us, but to give us life.

That’s probably where I got stuck. I mistook the cross of Christ as the death of me, rather than seeing the cross in light of His resurrection and the restoration of the real Alison.

God’s desire has always been about the full realization of a human heart that’s really alive; it’s a dance, partnering human desire with the desire of God himself.

I’m discovering that it is within that partnership of desire that I will discover the joy of God’s will. And that joy is the very will of God.

It’s ironic that the most holy seasons in my life have come when I have abandoned “God’s will”…

…and thrown my hands up in the air, defeated by my so-called inability to discern God’s seemingly confusing-and-foggy-and-impossible-to-discover “will”. And in that apparent defeat, I’ve just decided to “do what I want” and that’s usually right when I’ve walked smack dab into a divine season that has “God” written all over it.

To be totally honest, I’ve hated (what I thought was) God’s will. I have imprisoned myself in a mis-aligned view of God’s will. And you can be sure it has not been a playground. It’s been more like a prison. I wouldn’t take a lot of risks in my life because I was too afraid that I didn’t have 100% certainty of  His will… because, somehow, I was always missing it. Therefore, always failing (in my eyes).

What’s the fruit of that kind of belief? Unceasing condemnation, that’s what. And you know what? That sounds a little bit like hell on earth…

Hell doesn’t glorify our Creator. And yet I’ve been living in hell for the glory of God, for years!

Because of this warped view of God’s will, I’ve endured some seasons over my lifetime getting stuck in the limbo-land of indecision. And believe me, that is not a pleasant place to get stuck in. The more I would try to figure out God’s will (as though it were a specific dot on a huge, overwhelming grid), the more miserable I became!

I became paralyzed in my indecision. Totally stuck. Unable to move forward. And very confused.

Even though I was trying to walk on “the path of life” (chuckle… choke…), I was stuck trying to make decisions based on what I thought might be right or wrong, or what I deemed was good or bad. So, even though my intention was to eat of the tree of life, I kept tripping up, thinking I *SHOULD* know what the “right” thing to do was. I started making bad decisions (essentially, not making any decisions at all) because I was stuck in this torturous limbo of not knowing what the “right” thing to do was. So, I became paralyzed by the fear of “missing it”, the fear of failing at “God’s will”. And believe me, this is a sure-fire way to end up in limbo-land. And lemme tell you, that place is HELL.

No one thrives when they are in limbo.

I looked up the meaning of the phrase “in limbo” and I choked on my laughter, when I read the definition:

“a region of the afterlife on the border of hell”

WOW. Isn’t that interesting!

Who wants to live on the border of hell?! No one! I certainly don’t! But that’s exactly where I had been living!

The dictionary also described “in limbo” as:

“an indefinite state of being on hold”

Yes, that would describe the state I’ve been in  through various seasons of my life. Being on hold and not really living or moving forward–yeah, that really is quite a miserable state.

We as human beings were made to fully engage in all aspects of life. So, being “on hold” and floating around “in limbo” certainly feels like living on the edge of hell. And if there’s anything I’m learning, as children of our Heavenly Father, we are called to bring heaven to earth, and you cannot do that if you’re stuck “in limbo”. If you stay stuck in limbo, you’ll most likely bring hell to earth. Owwww….

Leaping Out Of Limbo

So, how do we get out of this hellish prison? Well…. I have no flippin’ idea. Did you think I had the answers? My friend, there really is not one clear-cut path out of this limbo-land ruled by The Holy Should. I can certainly say I won’t be telling you what you should do to get free (wink wink). I know we all want a list of rules and an action plan to get the hell out of this hell… but life doesn’t work that way, gosh darn it!

I’m definitely not the one to ask. My journey out of these should-y beliefs has been a very messy one. I’ve thrown out a lot of the tidy rules, the “you-should-do-this’s” and and “you-ought-to-do-such-and-such’s”.

It’s all a load of should.

So, I guess there’s only one thing I’ll ask you:

What do you want to do now?

What first step do you want to take to leap out of limbo and get your butt out of the should-y prison you got yourself locked into?

What well-intentioned-but-toxic beliefs do you want to let go of?

What would you do if  there were: No oughts. No shoulds. Only desire!

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[Photo Credit: Cupcake Murder Aftermath (CMA) via photopin cc Edits: Alison Lam]