“Dana”

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A friend of ours, while we were visiting him, invited a stranger into his home to stay while she figured out her next move.  This lady, who called herself Dana, had been on a cross-country tour by foot for at least a year. Essentially, she was homeless and, perhaps, on the run from the evil in her past. We had the opportunity to meet Dana and found her to be charming, intelligent, and well-spoken. A vegan, she enjoyed cooking and cooked the four of us a wonderful Thai-inspired meal.

Dana, wearing a hoodie inside our friends home with the hood up (which, to me, is a classic form of  self-protection), was understandably guarded around us. However, she became relaxed enough around our friend to remove her hoodie and open up to him a bit about her abusive past.  Dana, unfortunately, also demonstrated some mental health issues, in the form of extreme paranoia.  Did you know a large percentage of the homeless population are homeless due to mental illness?

We commended our friend on housing Dana; she stayed with him a week.  He wasn’t afraid to “get his hands dirty” helping someone.  We also appreciated getting to know her a little bit; someone who, due to her homelessness, I may have been nervous enough about encountering to cross to the other side of the street to avoid rather than engage.

My friend’s parents, on the other hand, weren’t so happy with my friend taking her in.  My friend’s parents are more comfortable addressing problems such as mental illness and homelessness by making monetary donations rather than one-to-one assistance such as my friend provided.

What is the appropriate response to someone in Dana’s situation? As Christians? As fellow human beings?   Sure, there’s personal risk involved (which is what my friend’s parent were worried about) in doing something like taking in a “Dana” versus throwing money at the problem.

My friend inspired and motivated me! On our recent road trip, a vanful of young people had ran out of gas and were at the gas station fundraising.  I convinced my husband that we could buy them a $25 gas station gift card.

Matthew 25:40 New International Version (NIV)

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

My Own “Coming Out”

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On #dayofpink I’m coming out. As a believing Christian who’s welcoming. and non-homophobic. I’m coming out as a Christian who’s proud to #wearpink to celebrate diversity. I’m also coming out as one who has both been bullied as a teen, and, regrettably, been part of a group in elementary school who bullied another person.

I’m tired of Fundie Christians bashing the LGBTQ community. Jesus loved them, why can’t we?

I’m nervous about pushing publish on this post.  What will the ramifications be? Negative or positive? Haters gonna hate I guess.

Not Quite Welcoming

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We participated in a book club discussion recently at church that discussed the book “Welcoming but not Affirming, an Evangelical Response to Homosexuality”.  That discussion sure revealed there were two camps in our church body:

Book Club Discussion, Camp Number One:

The fundies, who believe “sure homosexuals can come in the door, but oh no, they can’t  become members” (so, only so “welcoming” I guess). However, cynical me says these same fundies are probably happy to take their financial offerings!   Anyways , to continue,the fundies in our midst that morning further thought that once a homosexual set foot inside our church, we should descend on them like a pack of wolves to try and turn them from their “gayness”, including, but not limited to, forcing a Christian, committed, gay couple – even a gay couple who was abstinent – to live apart. To which I responded that was a non-starter if that’s the first thing we do the minute a homosexual enters our midst, they will walk out the door and never return.

 

(I suspect these same fundies would force a heterosexual couple who started attending our church and who were living together – whether they had children from that union or not – to move into separate dwellings until they married. And membership? Well, forget that.   That’s right, rip a family apart.)

 

“He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.”

 

But I Digress..On To …

Book Club Discussion, Camp Number Two:

The second camp – the one we were in (which was a pretty lonely place, just my husband and I and maybe one other person) – believed, as the author of the book seemed to state, that we are to come alongside homosexuals and love them and accept them and let God /Jesus/Holy Spirit sort out the rest.
Thanks to said discussion, we contemplated revoking our church membership.
Sigh.
We have been a part of that church community for approximately ten years. Leaving anything one has been a part of for that long — be it church, job, a relationship, or a community — is not any easy decision to make, yet is one we are contemplating.
Nonetheless, at the moment our decision is to stay, to continue to help out in small ways, attend occasionally, and discontinue going to church meetings. I believe in our food distribution program our church has for example, and have taken a larger role in that recently.
We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, church wise.  It’s clear we don’t fit in with the fundies (which is most of our current church) because we are quite progressive, and yet we are not quite liberal enough in our beliefs to attend other churches.
Rock, meet hard place.
Jesus loves all, accepts all, died for all, and rose for all.  Both those who identify as insiders (i.e. believers) and those who identify as  outsiders (non-believers). Isn’t it time to end the “us vs. them” mentality so prevalent in Christian circles?
All means all, people. Wouldn’t it be nice if this Easter if the fundies could finally get that?

My Pitch Is Caught!

Animals can be a life saver for PTSD sufferers.
Animals can be a life saver for PTSD sufferers.

This is cool, my pitch to Geez Magazine http://www.geezmagazine.org/ for their animals issue has been accepted. I’ll be writing about animals as healers for those suffering from PTSD, both the combat & non-combat forms. It’s a long-form piece and first “real journalism style” piece I’ve done for them. The editor called my pitch “well thought out” and she “thinks it will make a strong piece for the issue.”

This was my pitch to them:

The Transformative Power of Animals on PTSD Sufferers and Others

Hi, I am pitching for the above noted issue. I would explore the idea of animals as healers. Included in my article would be the following:

1. Briefly describe (one or two paragraphs, at most) my own healing journey in which animals played a role — from the bunny I played with as a 12 year old in an abusive foster home (which thus provided brief respite from that abuse) — to the volunteer work I did at the Calgary Humane Society as a volunteer dog walker shortly after moving to Calgary in 1993, which helped assuage the loneliness of living in a strange city where I only knew one other person.

2. I would then expand the scope of the article outwards to focus on dogs used as healers and helpers for PTSD. I would (hopefully -to be confirmed) interview Andrew Sprague, who has a service dog for PTSD. His dog’s name is Flicka and, according to Andrew’s website, http://myptsdservicedog.com/about-me/ is the first service trained dog for those who suffer from non-combat PTSD (Andrew is a childhood sexual abuse survivor).

3. I would also weave information about PTSD (both combat and non combat types) and how animals are able to help with healing to the point that, according to http://www.nsd.on.ca/programs/skilled-companion-dogs-for-veterans/ “speed recovery from PTSD and help reduce reliance on medication.”

4. My article would also contain a statement from a therapist on animal benefits to abuse survivors, and a testimonial from a combat vet on how his PTSD service dog has helped him or her.

I believe my story is important to raise awareness that:

1) Service dogs for PTSD are not just for combat PTSD, as Andrew’s story will demonstrate.

2) By highlighting the benefits of having a PTSD service dog to a PTSD sufferer, this will help the lack of understanding and/or education that may exist about PTSD service dogs. This lack of understanding and/or education seems to be demonstrated by establishments such as restaurants and retailers who deny entry to persons with PTSD service dog.

I feel I’m qualified to write this piece as I have a writing certificate from the University of Calgary, I have been published in Geez magazine before, and elsewhere (please see this link for my list of publications: http://ksdueck.com/publications-and-portfolio/

Further, I have some personal experience with PTSD due to my abusive childhood. I have experienced the healing power of animals, having had pets most of my life.

Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

I am excited about writing this article.

What I Wish I Knew (When I Graduated From High School)

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I’ve accepted that gauntlet thrown down by our pastor to speak at our church’s graduation night this Friday, a night where we honor our high school grads. This year, there’s one high school grad. However, at my behest, we are also honoring our three class of 2014 university grads (of which I’m one).   The university grads have been asked to speak on “what I wish I knew when I graduated from high school”.

This is my speech:

Back when I graduated from high school…

  •  Dinosaurs roamed the earth
  • Apple was just a piece of fruit
  • An “I-Pad” was something you put on your eye if it hurt
  • Personal cassette tape players were all the rage
  • And a cell phone was what you used only if you were arrested!

Graduation from high school, for me, was a hard place to land. I was 17. My foster parents were moving to the US. I was not. Panicked, I married the guy I was dating. I was frightened of the future, and self-preservation kicked in; I needed someone to look after me. (Our marriage ended in divorce four years later). I only share this to provide a bit of context.

Five things I wish I’d known when I graduated from High School:

  • God is a god of grace, love and forgiveness – not just rules.
  • A high school diploma does not a great job make.
  • Career testing – at least the kind I had – is not terribly accurate or useful.
  • A teacher or guidance counsellor taking me under their wing and giving, well, guidance would have been extremely helpful.
  • Apple and Microsoft would achieve world domination. (Apple’s first stock offering was in Dec., 1980, just 1.5 years after I graduated. Microsoft’s followed in 1986.) Honey, we could have been rich!

[name of graduate], in the words of that learned scholar, Dr. Seuss:

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind.

And, one final thought from Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

I think what Roosevelt’s saying with that quote [name of graduate], is simply: GO FOR IT. Whatever you choose to do, you’ve a soft place to land with your family always, in success and in failure. If I’d had a soft place to land when I graduated from high school, who knows what I might have accomplished?

Dream Fulfillment

At the Chicago "Bean" 2012
At the Chicago “Bean” 2012

With the uploading of the final assignment for the final course in my University Certificate Program (Professional Writing in Public Relations and Marketing) I have realized the life-long dream – a dream at times I didn’t even know I had – of attending University.  This is a moment worth savoring.  This is an accomplishment worth celebrating. My heart is full.  This dream fulfillment has been two years of hard work towards this moment, utilizing, enhancing, improving upon and fully embracing a passion (writing) I have had for years.  Not for nothing, I accomplished this while doing/dealing with:  chronic pain; migraines; sleep apnea; arthritis; anxiety; the death of my father and the death of our beloved pets in 2013 (and the byproduct of loss – grief); keeping our home running; writing articles for magazines; developing inventory for two photography shows, etc.

I will actually receive my formal Certificate in the fall due to missing the deadline this spring because of course timings.  The University also has certificate graduation ceremonies however I will not be eligible to participate in this year’s ceremony due to the application deadline. I’ve submitted my name for next year’s graduation ceremony. I was eligible, based on academic standing and the program I was taking, an endowment award of $500 and applied for the same. I will know at the end of May whether I was selected.

Obtaining this Certificate would not have been possible, on so many levels, without the love and support of my husband. Honey, you rock! Thank you so much. “I’m not a parasite, I’m a tax deduction!”

I was asked for my thoughts on what comes next.  I’m curious about our culture that creates this. This seemingly pushing along of life.   It occurs in various forms: once one is engaged, one is asked “when’s the wedding”, as if the engagement itself was not  a moment to cherish, celebrate, savor.  When one is married, the question changes to “when are you having kids?”  Same thing: Is the stage one is at not a stage to enjoy for it’s own sake? And, when one graduates, it is “what will you do now?”  Well, now I am savoring my accomplishment.  I am patting myself on the back, tooting my own horn, and making merry over what I have achieved. This is a big deal to me; huge!  I’m also going to catch up on my sleep. As to the future? In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll “worry about that tomorrow.”

A Grace Disguised

The accident set off a silent scream of pain inside my soul.  That scream was so loud that I could hardly hear another sound, not for a long time, and I could not imagine that I would hear any sound but that scream of pain for the rest of my life.  ~ Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Sittser wrote this book three years after his wife, young daughter and mother were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.  The book was recommended to me by our pastor after our friends lost their son suddenly last July to help me understand a fraction of what they were going through.  I was sorrowfully adrift at that time, not knowing how to help them.  Little did I know how much this book would also help me with my own losses.

Sittser’s passages are at times raw, honest, dark and bleak, and, at others, hopeful, quiet, and even joyful.  He tries several things to escape dealing with the pain of his loss – anger, bargaining, indulging, and denial. As he would soon learn, however

 … the pain of loss is unrelenting. It stalks and chases until it catches us. It is as persistent as wind on the prairies, as constant as cold in the Antarctic, as erosive as a spring flood. It will not be denied and there is no escape from it. … Pain will have its day because loss is undeniably, devastatingly real.

He speaks of living in the tension of ambivalence

in those of us who believe in the resurrection. We doubt, yet we try to believe; we suffer, yet long for real healing; we inch hesitantly toward death, yet see death as the door to the resurrection.

This illustrates, he says, the duality of life.

Or, as one Puritan put it:

Now life will be a little less sweet, death a little less bitter.

Sittser says that love and loss are inexorably linked; that one cannot exist without the other.  This reminds me of a passage by CS Lewis:

 To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers . . . of love is Hell. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sittser chronicles his journey from raw suffering, dark depression, grief and pain to a life that was transformed by grace.

If you let it, your sorrow will increase your capacity to live life, and to experience joy, not after the darkness, but even in the midst of it.

More than a memoir, this is a beautiful handbook for both those who have both suffered loss and those who walk alongside them.

Lessons From the Bereaved

As our friends grieve, it strikes me that there are parallels between looking after yourself while grief-stricken and self-care for someone newly diagnosed with an illness, or other live-changing events.

 

  1. Initially, after you are diagnosed, take a break from “life.”   Get out of as many commitments as possible.
  2. Gather your family close. You won’t be up to dealing with too many other people but having family support is critical.
  3. If able to financially, and your employer offers short term disability, take a leave from work.
  4. Do only what’s essential.
  5. Decide how much of your story you want to tell, and whom to tell it to.  You may choose to tell some people all of the narrative, and others a scaled down version.
  6. Don’t stuff your emotions; allow the tears to flow and the anger to rage.
  7. Seek professional help with number #6 if necessary.
  8. Pace yourself.
  9. Look after your sleep – medicate if necessary.
  10. Don’t over commit, even once the initial stages of the gong show of actually getting a diagnosis, and the reactions within post-diagnosis, have settled a bit, watch your obligation levels.
  11. Later, as you are feeling more up to rejoining “life” again, play it by ear when considering what you want to do.  See how you feel in the moments before considering an activity so as not to put too much pressure on yourself.
  12. Don’t isolate; hang out with “safe” people who know and love all those parts of yourself.
  13. Cut yourself some slack.  I remind our friends “grief has no timetable.”