Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Thankful For My Journey Of Pain

I only left the worship because of my allergies.

I never leave church mid-service, but something in the fall air had me sneezing. Thankfully, it was a rare Sunday where I was in the pew and not leading worship. As a matter of fact, I wasn't even in my home church. I was attending with a friend in a different province. The worship was beautiful but I was sniffling and needed a tissue, so off I snuck to the ladies room.

When I opened the door, I found that I wasn't alone. A young woman turned into one of the stalls. I could hear her sniffling, but not from allergies. She was crying. 

Not just crying...


I was a guest in this church. I knew from the morning's prayers that they had just lost a senior member of the congregation, but I didn't know the depth or extent of the loss. 

I wanted to step lightly...

"Worship songs make me cry sometimes, too..." I shared softly.

She turned to face me.

"Are you okay?"

With that, her floodgates opened. The senior church member was her grandfather. He'd been sick for a while, and was quite old, but the loss was still so powerful. She shared the difficulties of sitting in church this morning - the same space where, just a few days ago, she and her family had gathered for the funeral. Her eyes overflowed as she talked about seeing her strong tough uncles break down in tears, and the heartbreak of watching her grandmother bury the only man she'd loved.

I wanted to step lightly, 
but so often when we're with someone in grief, 
stepping is barely needed.

Just standing...

Standing, listening, being present.

I listened to this young woman pour out her pain.

But I also listened for God.

"Okay Lord, I'm here in the ladies room, with a worship service happening just on the other side of the door. I know you brought me in here for a reason. What do you want me to do? Is there anything I can say that will help? If not, please keep me quiet. Just don't let me say anything that will make it worse!"

As she spoke, my heart was taken back to my own experiences with grief. I thought about the recent loss of my beautiful aunt, and the pain that moved through my family. I remembered my own grandmother's funeral. I was just a teenager when it happened, and I also remember being shaken by the tears and grief of the "strong tough" men in my family.

So, when I felt she needed a breath, I gently shared a bit of my story.

We talked about things that can make grief harder, like holidays or familiar spaces.

We acknowledged the very real hurt of loss, and the heartrending struggle of watching those you love in pain.

And we also talked about Heaven. How it doesn't erase the pain of losing someone, but that the promise of seeing one another again brings hope into the most unbearable of seasons.

And after a while of chatting, her tears lightened, and I was able to see her beautiful smile.

As I returned to my pew, I lifted a quiet prayer.

First, I prayed for this young woman and all those grieving in the church that Sunday.

And second, I lifted a prayer of gratitude for my own pain.

I've had some very dark seasons of grief in my life. And this particular year, I've experienced two terrible losses, both tragic in their own ways.

I will never be thankful for the loss of someone I love. 
But today, I was thankful for the lessons that I've learned in my grief.

I'm thankful to know what it is to be in pain, so that I can empathize with someone whose heart has been broken by loss.

I'm thankful that I've had terrible things said to me in my grief, because it's taught me to be gentle in my own choice of words.

I'm thankful that I've had people ignore me in my grief because they "didn't know what to say," because it's taught me that it's okay to be be present but silent with someone who's hurting.

And I'm thankful that I don't need to rely on my own limited strength or wisdom in these moments. I can be still, and listen for the One who always responds in love, and encourages us to do the same.

Being grateful for our own pain doesn't come easy. It's been a long journey for me. 
But today, I felt the fulfilment of that journey, and I am thankful for every step.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Book Review: Being Lena Levi by Bobbie Ann Cole

One of the perks of being an artist is enjoying the art of your talented friends. 
Today's review falls into that category!

I first met Bobbie Anne Cole when she attended our Infinitely More concert in Pennfield, NB. At that time, she gave me her inspiring first book, She Does Not Fear The Snow. Since then, Bobbie has moved to England and continues to write and teach.

When I saw she had written a new novel, I jumped at the chance to review it. If you saw my reading list from 2018, you'll know that WWII became an unexpected theme in my choices of fiction. Well, it seems to be a theme I can't escape! (Or maybe, a theme I keep pursuing? I'll let the psychology students hash that one out...)

Being Lena Levi starts five years after WWII. Young Marlene returns home from school one day to find her mother acting uncomfortably and a strange woman in their living room. When Marlene asks about the stranger, her mother tells her, "She's your mother."

Marlene, born Lena, discovers she's not a born-and-bred English schoolgirl. Instead, she's German Jew, who had been sent to England on a Kindertransport to escape the horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust. Her birth mother, her "Mutti," has finally returned to bring her home.

What ensues is a romp through England and Israel as Lena takes on the challenge of discovering her true identity. Who is her "real" mother? How can she reconcile her Christian faith with her Jewish heritage? And what is the real country that shapes us?

Lena, Mum and Mutti are all strong and wonderful characters. 
Through each, we see different versions of passion, family, and independence, 
all reflecting their unique upbringing and life circumstances. 

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is the opportunity to learn about little known chapters of human history. With all my WWII reading, I'd never heard of the Kindertransport and its legacy on the lives of German and English families. To save their children, Jewish German parents put their children on trains and sent them off to England, with the hopes that they'd be safe through the war. The initial separations caused tremendous pain to German families. Over the years, many children, especially young ones, made deep bonds with their English foster parents. Reunions were often complicated, especially as German parents struggled with the physical, emotional, and financial toll of the war and the Holocaust. Many parents never returned, leaving a lifetime of unanswered questions for their children. Bobbie uses detailed research to share a fascinating piece of history with heart and passion.

Being Lena Levi is categorized as "young adult" or "adult fiction" and I think it works for both age groups. The fast pace makes it a quick and engaging read for adults. I think teenagers, in particular, will identify with Lena and her fierce independence in the face of a such a life-changing discovery.

I encourage you to pick up your copy of Being Lena Levi 
and discover this charming heroine and her fascinating journey!

You can learn more about Bobbie and her beautiful writing at