July 1, 2020

Fresh Mercies

The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,

Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.

(Lamentations 3: 22, 23, GNT)

Have you ever had a season of life that was just a grind? Nothing bad, particularly, happened, but the drudgery of life took its toll. Or, perhaps, a string of bad things happened: you experienced one grief after another – cumulative grief, say the bereavement specialists.  Before you had time to grieve one loss, another loss piled on, like a late tackle in a football game. (Remember as kids when we played some kind of get-a-hold-of-the-ball game? The purpose was to get the ball, but no one wanted to be at the bottom of the pile when the others jumped on top!)

What can we do when life feels so much bigger than us?    Of course, there are always the disciplines we practice remain healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually.  But sometimes, when life piles on, this does not seem like enough.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah knew what it was like to struggle.  So he reminds himself of God’s love and mercy, and says to himself that they are fresh and sure every morning. Why?  Because God is faithful! The Creator who makes sure that day always follows night also makes sure that His mercies keep us going.

This may take the form of the everyday blessings – the sun rising, the regular seasons, the love of others in our lives. It is helpful to recognize these things.  Yesterday, I was standing at the kitchen window, waiting for a kettle to boil.  In a matter of 30 seconds, I saw in a green area beside our house, a German Shepherd strutting as he walked with his owner, a bird swooping down onto the ground to peck at something she saw, and a hare happily hopping away!  It seemed like a visit to the country!  I enjoyed that scene, spoke of it to a loved one, and thought a number of times about it (savouring the memory).  A (seemingly) little thing, but meaningful.  If I had thought further, I could have thanked God that I have the vision to see such a sight and a warm house to watch outside events (but I did not).

And when we are really piled on with life, it’s a good idea to ask God for fresh mercies.  It demonstrates faith in the One who is over all circumstances.  Remember the bird I saw yesterday?  God does.  Jesus said, ““What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do” (Matthew 10: 29, MSG). Jesus goes on to say, “He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! … You’re worth more than a million canaries” (Matthew 10:30, 31, MSG).

So, look for the everyday mercies.  But also ask for fresh love and mercy, to encourage your heart and give you strength to keep on, keeping on! 

© Marlette Reed 2020

June 18, 2020

Humble Confidence: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

Humility and confidence are often viewed as polar opposites, with the assumption that they are mutually exclusive. Humility may be regarded as personality weakness: if a person does not see themselves as strong and confident, why would others?  Conversely, confidence is often considered the mark of a strong person who knows themselves and hence can project this strength, sometimes even running roughshod over others.

It is interesting to juxtapose the words humble and confidence. Is it possible that being humble and confident can legitimately be expressed together? We believe so! In fact, humble confidence is very effective and powerful.

Let’s unpack this idea. As demonstrated by Jesus, humility is not a sign of weakness, but rather strength. Even though on earth, Jesus was (and always was and will eternally continue to be) the Son of God; He knew who He was and did not demand that others acknowledge this. He chose to associate with outcasts in society, recognizing their personhood, treating them with grace and compassion. He did not force individuals to recognize who He was, but nor did He deny His deity (to do so would have been to lie). This kind of humility takes enormous strength!

Jesus also showed great confidence. This was demonstrated in His ability to present a gospel that was counterculture to the non-religious as well as the religious leaders. As noted earlier, he associated with society’s outcasts, and touched and healed the lepers that others considered “unclean”.

How do we harmonize Jesus’ great humility with His notable confidence? Perhaps the merging of these two concepts – being humble and confident – can be appreciated in the understanding of and intentions behind this pair. Jesus demonstrated humility by not insisting that everyone acknowledge Him for who He was; He did not need His ego stroked!  How unlike this is to many in our society! Similarly, He was confident in who He was and would be for all eternity, so He did not have to force others to submit to Himself. In terms of intentions, Jesus knew His mission in coming to earth was to reveal in Person who God is and to die for the sins of all humanity. This intention took primacy over demanding the attention of others.

A takeaway from the example of Jesus is that when we know our strengths, we can be humble and confident because we know who we are. And because we know who we are, we do not need to insist that others acknowledge this. Further, when our intentions are focused upon a life purpose that benefits humanity, this transcendent purpose takes precedence over the attention and approval of others.  As American pastor Rick Warren said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” [1]

[1] Rick Warren Quotes. Goodreads.  Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/201236-true-humility-is-not-thinking-less-of-yourself-it-is June 7, 2020.

© Marlette Reed 2020

June 1, 2020

The Loneliness of Pain:  Part 2

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.”

Malcolm Muggeridge[1]

In our previous meditation, we looked at the loneliness experienced by people with significant pain.  We discussed how many people feel uncomfortable with those who are suffering. Now, we will look at how can we respond meaningfully to our situation of not only managing our pain, but also managing the responses of others?

In terms of living with persistent pain, there are no easy answers. Besides the importance being under the care of health care professionals, as well as taking the time we need to rest (coping with pain is incredibly exhausting), we have a few thoughts. First, it is very helpful to have trusted others with whom to share our emotional pain; the emotional pain is in part our grief about how physical or mental pain has invaded our lives. Sharing this pain is cathartic and we may find that the trusted other we share with can understand or at least bear witness to our affliction. For some, support groups can be helpful, as others share stories similar to ours and this lessens our sense of being alone. Others prefer working with a counsellor. “A burden shared is a burden halved,” said T.A. Webb.[2]

Second, although it isn’t helpful to “sit” in the mire of despair, sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack and acknowledge that we feel lousy and afraid and that this is okay. We should, however, be careful of how long we “sit” in this place and attend to looking forward. This can be done by looking for grace within the pain. Are there actions of others, such as unexpected kindnesses, that reassure us of some joy in living and God’s grace in our lives? Can we turn our gaze towards good things as a way of not focusing only upon pain? Third, and related to looking for graces in our lives, can we look for ways in which our lives still have meaning, and invest in meaning making activities? And as the Muggeridge quote stresses, it is the difficulties of life – and coming through them – that brings satisfaction.  An easy, sanitary life brings little meaning![3]

Living with chronic pain also involves managing the responses of others. As noted in this posting and the last, while some responses can be so helpful that they move us to tears, others are not and unfortunately, these unhelpful reactions can move us to a different kind of tears – those of exasperation, even anger. Managing these responses is important so that we don’t feel that our pain is minimized, and in the process of pain being minimized, that our lives are diminished. Also, managing the responses of others will allow us to feel more control. When someone proceeds to give unwanted advice, we should have a reply that is gracious, but clearly lets the individual know that their “help” is not warranted, nor welcome. For instance, if someone suggests that they want to pray for us, we can thank them for their prayers that are offered in private, rather than in a public place. 

Living with chronic pain is lonely, even if we have wonderful support. Learning to recalibrate our lives to accommodate pain, but also find meaning, is not easy. This journey to balance pain with purpose may need tweaking at various times to allow for changes in health. However, it provides the hope of even greater meaning for the future – a hope that can be diminished if our focus is stuck only on our pain.

[1] Malcolm Muggeridge Quotes.  AZQuotes. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.azquotes.com/quote/798530

[2] Goodreads. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/852570-a-burden-shared-is-a-burden-halved

[3] This was the theme of our book The Meaning is in the Dirt:  Meditations on Life’s Richness.

© Marlette Reed 2020

May 22, 2020

The Loneliness of Pain:  Part 1

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox [1]

This famous quote resonates with us because we’ve all experienced it!  When we are happy and laughing, friends seem to be easy to come by.  But if we are suffering, people are often uncomfortable around us. There is almost a social obligation to be positive. Or, as psychologist Dr. Susan David says, “Being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. . .” [2]

For those who live with substantial physical or mental pain, the pain alone is a heavy load to bear. But to add to this, we are often alone in that pain. Even when others express heartfelt concern, ultimately, sufferers live in solitude with the pain as well as their inner dealings with that heartache. An existential loneliness settles in because pain is often misunderstood, whether it is physical or mental. Nobody understands what I am going through can be the thought or expression from the sufferer.

Others, in their sincere desire to help, may offer ideas or solutions to our plight without really understanding what we are experiencing. Their ideas are meant to help, but often do not; the need to prescribe may be driven by their own discomfort that someone they care about is suffering. And, they may feel afraid; what if this happened to me?! If we challenge or question their advice, we may be viewed as ungrateful or close-minded. Or, worse, we may be seen to be too attached to or obsessed by our pain, even that we are unwilling to give up our relationship to it. We may feel stung and dumbfounded by the responses of others.

Loneliness and pain may steal our present and our future. We may not be able to do the activities we once could, causing our current lives to feel bland and bleak. Future plans for work, education or marriage may be placed on hold. Thoughts such as how can I plan for the future when I am in such a mess now? may suck hope out of us. Feeling hopeless, we may isolate ourselves from others, thus deepening our despair.

What can we do?  Our next To Ponder will focus on how we can meaningfully respond to our pain as well as to those who respond to us.  But for now, a few more thoughts from Dr. Susan David.  Regarding the false positivity she decries in our modern world, she says:

But when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity,

we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is,

not as we wish it to be. [3]

Know that you are not simply entitled to feel the emotions of what you are experiencing, but that these emotions are necessary in order to learn how to deal with life.  (Notice:  Dr. David speaks of skills to be developed – in our next meditation!)  And, a favourite quote of mine: “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility…Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” [4] Whether you are experiencing physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual fragility, the discomfort (or, let’s be honest, the agony) is what it takes to have a meaningful life! 

But whether our pain makes us or breaks us depends upon our response – stay tuned for our next To Ponder.

[1] Ella Wheeler Wilcox quotes.  Goodreads. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/4210-laugh-and-the-world-laughs-with-you-weep-and-you

[2] David, S. (2017). The gift and power of emotional courage. TED TALKS. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 from: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_david_the_gift_and_power_of_emotional_courage

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

© Marlette Reed 2020

April 22, 2020

Grit:  More Than Just the Sand in Your Picnic Lunch

When we think of gritty, we often think of what ends up in our lunch at the beach. A blanket, napkins and plates just can’t keep the sand out of our food! However, grit can be a good thing! Angela Duckworth gave an inspiring and compelling TED talk (2013) about the need for grit in children and adults in order to succeed.[1]  The ability to stick with  one’s goals for the future – grit –  is more likely  lead to positive results than simply giftedness It might be presumed that grit is related to talent or intelligence, but it isn’t; it’s effort! Interesting!

But what about when the need for grit is not related to educational or career pursuits? Rather, it is needed to just get by; to keep on doing what you are doing. Perhaps it is due to an unexpected illness, or a job loss. Or a death in the family. These are heartbreaking. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the health of many individuals worldwide, taking many lives. The amount of sorrow in the world is unfathomable and tragic.

Grit at this time is needed; here, the “success” is the ability to keep on keeping on. How do we exercise grit? Perhaps a few ideas might be helpful. First, it can be useful to review your life for difficult times. In these times, what did you do to cope with the challenging circumstances? What coping methods were healthy and which ones were less healthy? It can be useful to consider the healthy coping methods and whether or not you still use these. If not, why is that? If you cannot do the same activity – such as running long distances – can you walk instead? If you used to be a voracious reader, but let that great habit drop – why is that so? Can you once again develop the practice of immersing yourself in a book, thereby relieving stress for a short period of time. That mental break from the heaviness of worry and world news can give one added emotional strength…grit.

Second, deciding upon a goal during a difficult time (if it is possible; it may not be) and gently, but steadily working toward that goal, may give you a sense of productivity. During 2019 when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, Marlette and I worked on the book The Meaning is in the Dirt. This provided both of us, but especially me, as sense of focus and purpose. In writing, it also caused me to reflect on what I really believe, as a future was not guaranteed. A goal, combined with effort, can be a diversion from grief, fear or boredom.

Third, monitor your thinking patterns. If you find yourself becoming mired in destructive thinking patterns, challenge those thoughts. While you may have suffered greatly and understandably, cannot currently see your way forward, remind yourself that at some point in the future, you will be able to see life more clearly. If your thoughts focus upon self-harm or death, however, seek out professional help from a counsellor or doctor or pastor who know how to address suicidal ideation. While many offices are closed in these days, there are still many resources accessible by technology.

Fourth, and this may seem redundant from other postings we have submitted, tap into your support systems. For some of us, there can be a tendency to hide, particularly if we are feeling sad, depressed, out of control or angry. Choose your confidantes wisely: those who understand and listen, but also provide sound advice. And, as stated in the previous paragraph, seek professional help if necessary. Sometimes we think that we should be able to deal with whatever life throws us, but we don’t realize that larger than life circumstances can overwhelm any of us no matter how strong we are.  Seeking help is actually a sign of strength!

Most likely you already have some grit, but during difficult times, you may be developing more of it. While the circumstances and resultant stressors are uncomfortable and sometimes unfathomable, your perseverance and grittiness may grow!

“No matter how much falls on us, we keep plowing ahead.

That’s the only way to keep the roads clear.”
                                                                                                                                –Greg Kincaid[2]

Copyright:  A.M. Lane, 2020

[1] Duckworth, A. (2013). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Retrieved on April 20, 2020 from   https://www.google.com/search?q=angela+duckworth+youtube&ie=&oe=

[2] “Endurance Quotes.” Goodreads. Retrieved on April 20, 2020 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/endurance?page=1

© Marlette Reed 2020

March 26, 2020

We have nothing to fear but. . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with the saying “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”[1]  FDR did not say this in a time of ease.  Rather, he said this in his first inaugural speech in 1933.  World War 1 had concluded 15 years prior; on the heels of World War 1 came the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (known informally as the Spanish flu), which killed more people world-wide than the Great War.  And now America – and the world – was entrenched in the Great Depression. Can you imagine having the weight of the United States upon you at that time?  If anyone had reason to lie awake at night in abject panic, it was FDR!

It is true that fear can paralyse.  People prone to anxiety – a sometimes debilitating challenge – can become fearful of being fearful.  And so, FDR’s words have wisdom. But it would be facile and insensitive to counsel people “just don’t be afraid” when circumstances are dire.  And in these days with the Corona Virus Pandemic, there is reason for dis-ease (lack of ease).

But are there things that we can do to help us in these difficult days of social isolation, economic concerns and widespread anxiety.  Indeed, there are.  Let me list a few of these:

  1.  Limit your news consumption:  There are so many sad stories, and with the internet and social media, we have them all at our fingertips, 24 hours a day.  This deluge of information (and sometimes misinformation) can raise our fear levels significantly.  Wherever you live, tune into a trusted news source, once a day.  In this way, you stay on top of news items that impact you and your loved ones, but you are less likely to drown in the tsunami of information.
  2. If possible, get outside:  Listen to the birds, walk (exercise releases the feel-good chemicals called endorphins in your body), wave to your neighbours.  You can still honour the guidelines of social distancing and still have some connection with nature and others.
  3. Find other ways to connect with the important others in your life:  Email, text, use audio-visual tools such as Skype.  Snail-mail works too!  So does your phone.  For those who live alone, these intentional connections are vital to good mental health.
  4. Remember that God is with you: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5). Despite the sense of social isolation, you are not alone! He can be reached through prayer; you can be reminded of His care and His promises through the scriptures.
  5. Practice good physical and mental hygiene:  Physically, we know that we are to wash our hands frequently, avoid exposure to those who are ill, etc.  But what is mental hygiene?  It is monitoring our exposure to “toxic” thoughts, self-talk.  It is putting good things into our minds and dwelling on those things.  As the Apostle Paul said, “ Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4: 7-8).

Because we are nearing 100 years since Roosevelt’s words, we know that the United States and the world came through the perilous 20th century.  And practicing these items, we can come through too.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/franklin-d-roosevelt-quotes

© Marlette Reed 2020

March 11, 2020

To Help or Be Helped – That is the Question!

During our lives, we all have opportunities to help others (to be helpers), as well as be helped by others (to be helped). Some individuals gravitate towards helping others; their desire to extend themselves seems to be part of the warp and woof of their lives. For some, helping others does not seem to be embedded in who they are; they may not seek help from others, and may feel that they don’t need others’ input. And for those who are helped, they may either feel greater comfort in seeking help from others or find themselves in larger-than-life circumstances where they simply cannot do otherwise. Both helpers and those helped may swing heavily towards their leanings, particularly in times of stress.  Balance is important! The balance between helping others, but also accepting help when we need it, is very healthy!

In times of transition or stress, persons may need to rely heavily upon the help of others. While accepting appropriate help is important, for some, it may be a little too easy to count on others to rescue them, rather than drawing upon healthy coping skills cultivated throughout their lives. Even when challenged to take steps to address their stress, these people may be more comfortable trusting in the opinions and decisions of others. In the long run, this is not healthy for them, and can result in a stunting of personhood, hopelessness, as well as a loss of cherished friendships.

On the other hand, there are those who are more comfortable with the helper role. Often, these individuals adopted this role earlier on in their lives, perhaps in their families of origin.  For them, helping others brings meaning to their lives and is rewarding. There is nothing wrong with this, but the challenge faced by helpers is to not be always in the helping role. Sometimes, these individuals need help, but they are not comfortable receiving support. Or, they may feel that their worth is inextricably tied to the helper role. They may wonder, “Who am I?”, or “What good am I?” if they are not helping others; in their own huge transitions, such as a death of a family member, they may not reach out for the care they need.

The lesson here is not to judge the helpers or those helped. Rather, it is to be aware of our leanings towards one role or the other, particularly in times of stress. We may need to explore why we drift toward one role or the other. If there are unmet or insatiable psychological needs, why is this so? And, if we have trouble receiving help, or conversely have trouble standing on our own two feet in difficult times, it is valuable to ask trusted others for assistance to understand what underlies our difficulties.

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” – Brene Brown[1]

[1] “Receiving Quotes.” Goodreads.  Accessed: March 7, 2020. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/receiving.

Copyright Annette M. Lane, 2020

January 14, 2020

Living in the Tension . . . with Resilience

The fibers of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of an instrument.

Henry David Thoreau[1]

Despite our valiant attempts to steer clear of it, life is full of tension. Though we deeply long for peace and calm, stress often resides in our relationships, work situations, finances, and in health and illness. And the human approach to this pressure is to avoid it. We may do this through isolating ourselves from relationships that are contentious, quitting a job, avoiding opening bills, or trying to gain control over a health problem. While the need to seek control in tense situations is normal, it may not always be possible; and sometimes our attempts are not necessarily healthy.

However your instrument is tuned, successfully navigating transitions and life involves learning to live with pressure. I had a professor in my Masters’ degree who stated, “Entering graduate school means becoming comfortable with uncertainty.” She meant that being a student involved an uncomfortable period of “in-betweenness.”[2] Students can be successful and in charge at work, but upon becoming a graduate student, they need to learn to take feedback, enhance critical thinking skills, as well as develop or hone writing skills. To me, this lesson in grad school was a good lesson for life.

When we cannot effectively address tension, for example being unable to repair a damaged relationship, we should recognize the limits of our control. Through reasonable attempts to restore a broken relationship and graciously responding to the rebuffs of the other person, we can exercise control for what is our responsibility. Further, we can address the tension through managing our thoughts; when thinking about the situation we can actively choose to trust God with the anxiety, refusing to become bitter towards that individual.  Similarly, if we have been diagnosed with a life-altering illness, we live with the dis-ease of not knowing what our future holds (although we never really do know), diminished physical strength, and perhaps having to scale down our work. The tension is enormous, as our identity may be strongly impacted, and we may experience existential distress – who are we now that we cannot do…? In these situations, we can seek to address the tension through learning all we can about our illness; for some, this will increase a healthy sense of control. We can work closely with our doctors to address treatments and symptom management that is most effective. Also, we can seek God’s face for help to redefine ourselves in a way that is meaningful. This may include seeking the constructive feedback of trusted others regarding our anxiousness, our coping (including behaviors that are healthy and those that are not), and what skills we can utilize to enhance our lives and work.

Living within the tension is never easy.  However, to weather life in an effective way, it is necessary. Seeking the help of the Almighty and trusted others can help us as we develop some resilience in managing tensions in life.

Place your faith not in the frailness of (humanity) but in the power and glory of the Creator and observe what happens next…
                                                                        – Donavan Nelson Butler[3]

[1] Henry David Thoreau.  Brainy Quotes.  Retrieved on January 13, 2020 from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/henry_david_thoreau_153917?src=t_tension.

[2] See William Bridges, Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA:  Perseus Publishing, 1980.

[3] Donavan Nelson Butler. Goodreads.  Retrieved on January 13, 2020 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/resilience-quotes.

Copyright Annette M. Lane, 2020

January 3, 2020

Transitioning to a New Year

As we stand on the precipice of a new year, we recognize this transition through a number of rituals: parties, kisses at midnight and New Year’s resolutions. It seems to be part of our collective personhood that we want – and even need – to acknowledge and celebrate transitions from the old to the new.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel acknowledged the Lord’s help through a placed rock – a monument – which he named “Ebenezer” (not to be confused with Ebenezer Scrooge!). This name meant “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12, KJV). This landmark was a physical reminder of the Lord’s help; it would remind the Jews that God who, in the past, helped them, could be trusted for future help too.

As we look towards a new year and a new decade, we can, in our own minds, look back towards the Lord’s help in the past; we may have a physical reminder, such as a notebook containing answers to prayer, or we may simply call to mind the way God has helped us in the past. By doing this, we can look into the new year with confidence; the One who never changes (Hebrews 13:8) will be our helper!

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come. And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.”

– Robert Robinson [1]

“What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet.”

– Anne Frank [2]

[1] Robert Robinson, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Sermon Writer.com. Retrieved on December 31, 2019 from https://sermonwriter.com/hymn-stories/come-thou-fount-every-blessing/.

[2] Norbert Juma, “50 New Year’s Quotes that Celebrate 2020, Everyday Power. Retrieved on December 31, 2019 from https://everydaypower.com/happy-new-year-quotes/.

© Marlette Reed 2020

December 15, 2019

The Illusion of Control

For many of us, we gravitate towards a sense of control. Control gives us confidence and a belief that the world – or at least our world – is as it should be. As has been said often, however, the sense of being in control is actually an illusion. This is true, but oh, what a beautiful illusion! How it comforts us and gives us security!

Transitions in life, particularly those that are unplanned, such as job loss, illness, accidents, or relationship breakdown, rock our beliefs about our ability to exercise control in the world. Suddenly, all the hard work, good decisions, and healthy life habits seem to be for naught. We ask ourselves, “Why did this happen?” when we did everything “right.” As noted by author Philip Yancey, at times, the question of “why” never goes away (2013).

Sometimes there is no immediate answer, or at least, not one that sufficiently addresses our angst. And people around us may be of precious little help. They may offer little bits of “wisdom” that have never been put to the test of difficult times. Or, sadly, they may slink away, not knowing what to say, and being afraid of saying the wrong thing. It can leave us feeling abandoned, confused and terrified, because we have lost friends, and may have even lost our life paradigm.

How can we respond in a way that is constructive? First, it is helpful to understand that we may have disappointed others when they have experienced difficult times, just as we now feel disappointed. This may help ease some of the anger and bitterness that is normal to feel when our worlds are rocked. Second, talking to trusted others, whether family members or professionals, may help us to put our difficulties in perspective; by talking about the impact of these unwelcomed transitions in our lives, we can also recognize good things that have and continue to happen. Third, we can ask God to help us in our difficult times. This can involve asking for wisdom to make good decisions in relation to job choices or education, for endurance to undergo necessary but unpleasant health care treatments, and for the grace to address our relationship issues in a constructive manner.

While the illusion of control provides security in this oft-insecure world, it is not accurate. We are not in control of many things, whether they pertain to our individual lives, or to the world in general (e.g., large scale disasters or war). Recognizing what we can control, our response to challenges, and our faith in the goodness of God, can give us strength in uncertain and difficult times.

Yancey, P. (2013). The question that never goes away: What is God up to in a world of such tragedy and pain? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Copyright Annette M. Lane, 2019

November 14, 2019

Travelling through Transitions

“To travel is to live.” (Hans Christian Andersen)

“Life is a transition.” (Lailah Gifty Akita)

It could be argued that transitions are the roads upon which we travel to reach a new destination.  Before one is equipped for a new career, one perhaps leaves the old one and embarks upon the path of new education.  From there, the arrival is the completion of the training and a different vocation.

But traveling on this road is more than a once in a while activity.  Life is full of transitions – and if we live to “get through” a transition, we will constantly be striving for that which is just beyond our reach. We are always faced with transitions.  How will we handle them?

The Psalmist had some words about his pilgrimage of life, his direction toward God.  “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5, NIV).  If you read the entire Psalm, the writer is expressing the journey of the one who desires “Zion” – what Bible commentators understand to be the eternal city in which God will reign. But that road goes through some difficult territory, and those who journey on it need the strength of the Lord.

I love how Eugene Peterson renders Psalm 84:5-7 in the Message:

And how blessed all those in whom you live,
    whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
    discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
    at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!

Peterson has flipped the focus.  In the New International Version, the pilgrim is walking this road towards God.  In the Message, God is within those who are travelling – and their very lives are the roads upon which God travels!

How comforting!  For those of us who find transitions difficult, the understanding that God lives within our hearts and travels upon the roads of our lives – living in our deepest places and walking with us on our journeys – brings a sense of security to what otherwise may seem like – or is –   uncharted territory.

A woman once said to me, of her dying husband and her desire that he’d be restored to health, “Who knows where this journey of ours will end?”  It did end with her husband’s transition from this life into the next; and for this wife, the transition to a new life that she did not desire – one without her partner, raising her two kids on her own.  The common denominator:  God’s presence upon the roads of their lives, the roads that have diverged for a time, but that “curve up the mountain, and at the last turn – Zion!  God in full view!”

© Marlette Reed 2019

October 20, 2019

Can We Have a Little Gratefulness? Please and Thank You!

In Canada we have just come through Thanksgiving.  A statutory holiday, Canadians look forward to a long weekend and a big, festive meal!  But the holiday was never meant to be a once-a-year expression of gratefulness.  Rather, thanksgiving is meant to be a state of mind, a regular practice and a way of life. Why is being thankful so important?  And how does this connect to meaning?

Being grateful is a sign of well-formed character.  The one who says “thank you” recognizes that we need others and that others help us.  More than being a social lubricant (though it is), expressed gratefulness blesses others and encourages them to continue to be helpful.  It also recognizes that we need others (we are not self-sufficient) and is a way of acknowledging our vulnerability.  Some vulnerability is necessary for healthy relationship – whether that is within a family, friendship or in business.

Recognizing how others – including God – help us builds relationship.  And good relationship fosters meaning. “No man is an island,” said John Donne [1].   We are made for relationship, and our need for connection moves us toward others.  Long before psychology said that gratefulness is good for mental health, the scriptures instructed us to be thankful.  “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1, NIV). Thankfulness takes our eyes off ourselves and recognizes the bigger picture. We are healthier and society is healthier when thanksgiving is a way of life.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”  [2]
                                                   ― Meister Eckhart

[1] “No man is an island – a selection from the prose Quotes.” Goodreads. Accessed October 19, 2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/6791114-no-man-is-an-island.

[2] “Meister Eckhart Quotes.” Goodreads. Accessed October 19, 2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/73092.Meister_Eckhart.

© Marlette Reed 2019

October 9, 2019


It has been an entire season since we have put up a “To Ponder” on our website.  We have been silent.  Well, silent on the internet, but life has not been without drama.  Annette has battled metastatic cancer in 2019. Besides the chemo and radiation, she has endured two surgeries. The spring involved a hip replacement, (tied to the cancer); hence the summer was about rehabbing.  I had the privilege of being Annette’s coach in that. On top of this, as you’ll see from “Our Books”, we have a new one coming out mid-December!

In this time of dealing with the stuff of life, we have spent time together and with our families and friends.  The support that they have been cannot be overstated.  And we spent time in creation, in reading, resting and reflecting.
There are times in our lives when we may have times of professional and even personal silence.  We can view these times as totally negative, or we can dig deep into the things that matter most in our lives and make meaning.  The meanings might be new, or they may be meanings that are deepened with the new experiences. So, in a strange way, while this year has been intense, it has been filled with purpose, filled with meaning.  And for that we are grateful.  We are also profoundly grateful that Annette is doing well!

“The Lord is in His holy temple,” said the prophet Habakkuk, “let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20). We are silent because He is God and we are not.  But more than this, we have the privilege of resting in His presence because He is good, and nothing escapes His notice – including the events of our lives that we didn’t plan on!

May 25, 2019

In our last “To Ponder” we discussed the concept of holding space. Today, we will look at how one actually provides this precious ministry to one who is hurting. Holding space has some learnable actions to it; these will be enumerated below. However, we would also like to suggest that it includes the essence of person who is holding space. Hence, techniques are helpful, but not the whole of this ministry of presence.

According to Heather Plett (2016) (https://upliftconnect.com/hold-space/), a person who holds space does not take the hurting person’s power away; his/her own intuition and wisdom is validated. If I am holding space, I must keep my own ego out of the interaction. (It’s not what I think the person needs; it’s what that person feels that he/she needs!) This means allowing the hurting person to make decisions that I would not make myself, even if I know that this course of action will fail. (So hard to do when I want to spare pain.) And, if asked, I give guidance with humility and empathy. Finally, Plett gives the wonderful metaphor of creating a container for complex emotions of fear, guilt, etc. (Plett, 2016). In essence, I am the container that can hold their emotions without judgment, without quick solutions, without being overcome by the emotion oneself.

This is a tall order! One who is able to do this learns the techniques of holding space. But, as important, this person has developed in his/her own life a depth of feeling – a well, a reservoir – of human experience and the knowledge and humility that goes with it. If I have “fallen apart” on occasion, through difficult times, I am much more likely to be humble and gracious with someone else who is experiencing this. And, I know that this won’t last; this is a part of the fatigue and grief that comes with larger-than-life circumstances.

As a new palliative care chaplain (MR), it was difficult to sit with people who were experiencing overwhelming grief. One of the most helpful things for me was finding out that the grief process works. I discovered this when these grief-stricken people would come back to the hospice months later and tell me that they were doing much better. This gave me the confidence within myself to hold space for those who were losing loved ones, because I knew that they would come through. Holding space – the precious ministry of presence to hurting others.

© Marlette Reed 2019

April 30, 2019

Meaning in Aging 

Many people greatly fear aging in our society. Societal discourse emphasizing youth and remaining young, through plastic surgery or other means, is rampant. Aging is dreaded, not only because of physical changes and closer proximity to death, but also societal devaluation. How should aging individuals respond?

A realistic response should acknowledge the challenges (e.g., changes in health, deaths of family members and/or friends), but also, optimistically look forward to the opportunities for creativity and meaning! Research has shown that adults who are creative, state that the years between 55 to 75 are/have been the best years of their lives (Cohen, 2006). Further, aging adults who engage in meaningful activities such as helping others through paid or volunteer work, praying for others, serving in organizations within their community, find fulfillment. Not only are they are able to unite their passions with their time and activities, their days also have some structure. Structure to our days, in addition to meaningful activity, decreases boredom. In one seminar we conducted a number of years ago on transitions and making meaning, a lovely older woman approached us. She exclaimed, “Now I know what my problem is! I am bored!” This realization led her to make changes in her life, and subsequently, she experienced greater meaning.

How should younger adults respond to the aging process of others, as well as impending aging of themselves? As wisely noted by renowned priest Henri Nouwen and Walter Gaffney (1974), younger individuals need to allow “them (aging adults) a chance to bring (them) into a creative contact with (their) own aging” (p. 154). Creative contact involves aging adults teaching younger individuals about how to age with humour, purpose, and meaning. They also teach younger individuals that aging is not to be feared; although challenges arise in aging, lives may be imbued with meaning and purpose, and as such, this meaning may transcend their circumstances.

Cohen, G. (2006). The creativity and aging study: The impact of professionally conducted          cultural programs on older adults. Retrieved April 19, 2019 from:         https://www.scribd.com/document/133045514/Gene-Cohen-Creativity-andAging

Nouwen, H., & Gaffney, W. (1974). Aging: The fulfillment of life. New York, NY: DoubleDay.

© Annette Lane 2019

April 1, 2019

“To bless is to put a bit of yourself into something.  It is to make holy, to change something or someone because of your presence.”  (Macrina Wiederkehr)*

Though it sounds like a contradiction in terms, I truly am too small for me, and you are too small for you!  We cannot be the centre of our own universes and find lasting meaning.  Many people seek to find purpose, be happy and leave a legacy by pursuing their own interests, hobbies and passions.  Unless those pursuits positively impact others, it is unlikely that these activities will bring meaning over the long haul.  Many people, in their last days, have felt like they “missed it,” because they came to understand too late that connection – to others and to God – is at the heart of life’s purpose.  Truly, we have been created to live in relation to others, and to bless others.

The quote above speaks of the changes we can bring into things, situations and others by our presence, our input, our own selves.  It is through this giving – in situations and in places of need in others – that we ourselves are strengthened, changed, blessed.  Our selflessness makes others holy by honouring the image of God within them; and into situations that are dark, light and life is brought. And, conversely, we are blessed also – we are changed in being change agents, we are made holier (not holier-than-thou!), we are blessed.

If your life feels small – if you are bored with yourself and your life – intentionally look outwards. Make a phone call to encourage someone in a difficult place, pray for someone, volunteer – you will be enlarged by the experience, having brought some blessing to another, and they will be blessed too!

© Marlette Reed 2019

March 5, 2019

One aspect of making meaning involves our connection with others. In this day of fierce independence, face to face connection may suffer. Meaningful connection may sometimes occur in a chance meeting, where we discuss more than points of interest, but also concerns about others, our communities, and the world in general.

However, sustained connections over time are what may help carry us through difficult life transitions, such as health challenges or the death of a loved one. When we are able to share in a meaningful way our fears, hopes, and vulnerabilities, meaning is derived, as well as a sense that we will get through the difficult transition.  As noted in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11 (NIV), “Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to pick them up…” Unfortunately, having those types of individuals who are willing to walk with us through a lengthy illness, or through our emotional responses to an acute but serious illness, are few.

As connections with others are so important in our journeys through life, it is useful to ask ourselves, who are our significant connections?  What do I do to maintain and nurture those connections?  And, how do I meaningfully help those I love and connect with navigate their challenging transitions?  Sometimes our inability to walk with others through their difficult transitions is related to our fears: What if this were me?

We should not wait to make and maintain meaningful connections during crises, but rather, should make the time to develop these relationships in our everyday lives.  Then, when a person who is important to us (a significant connection) is in crisis, we may be better able to respond.

Dr. Annette Lane

© Annette Lane 2019

January 5, 2019

Happy New Year!

In the November 19, 2018 “To Ponder”, I mentioned some topics we will look at in the coming months – and the first one mentioned was “Tap into former sources of meaning to you; if your health precludes you from doing what you once did, are there ways to get engaged in this source of meaning in a different way?”

Older age places many demands upon individuals, and one of these demands is adaptation. So many people, who have lived in large ways, find their lives become smaller as the years add up. What do you do when it is no longer possible to run marathons, paint murals, or host large dinner parties? The temptation is just to drop these sources of meaning altogether and say, “That was in the past.”

Craig D. Lounsbrough has said, “Much like life, you don’t complete a puzzle by throwing away the pieces” (goodreads.com). In order to make meaning, sometimes you need to examine the puzzle pieces of your life and decide how to rearrange them. Practically speaking, if you can no longer run marathons, can you join a hiking group? If failing eyesight or arthritis make the murals impossible, can you paint on china plates (as our mother did)? Could you prepare a lovely tea for a few in your residence, rather than hosting a large dinner party? The things that brought you joy can be re-purposed, so to speak, in order to bring you purpose – and joy and meaning.

The beginning of a new year is often laden with superstitious expectation – as if the turning of the calendar page will mean one’s life will change. But, again, I like the wisdom of Craig Lounsbrough when he said, “Although I too often see myself as powerless, the fact is the New Year is what I make it. And whatever I make it is what it makes me” (goodreads.com).

As you tap into previous sources of meaning to recreate purpose and joy, may you find 2019 happy!

© Marlette Reed 2019

Dec. 19, 2018

With the Christmas season in full swing, there can be celebration, but also exhaustion and loneliness. While many look forward to adult children coming into town, seeing grandkids, “together time,” others feel lonely in a way that is pronounced:  while others are celebrating, they are not.

In making meaning, it helps to go back to original meanings – and in regard to Christmas, that means focussing on the first Christmas.

Isaiah 9:6 (New International Version)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The One the prophet Isaiah foretold as wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – is also called Immanuel (Matthew 1:23) – God with us. Whether the Christmas season is a joyful time for you or not, please remember that God is with you. As Christ came to earth 2000 years ago, He remains with us through His Spirit.  Jesus came in the anonymity of a birth in a barn (a stable); in whatever position you are in – He “gets it.”  He is close to you this Christmas; Immanuel – God is with you!

© Marlette Reed 2018

November 5, 2018

What brings you meaning?

A significant issue in aging is meaning. There are a number of losses inherent in growing older – the loss of family members and/or friends to death, the completion of valued professions, significant health issues. However, older adulthood can be a time of richness despite (and sometimes, because of) its challenges. In the coming weeks, I’d like to discuss some of the factors that make this so. (If you want a head start, these things are covered in our Making Meaning book, which you can obtain through the link on this website.)

To start your thinking, here are a few of the topics that will be covered in the near future:

  1. Tap into former sources of meaning to you; if your health precludes you from doing what you once did, are there ways to get engaged in this source of meaning in a different way?
  2. Volunteer
  3. Intentionally seek out ways to connect; if possible, intergenerationally.
  4. Keep active . . . as much as you can, within the parameters of what your health will allow.

And many more. Stay tuned!

© Marlette Reed 2018

October 5, 2018

A question arose from last week’s “To Ponder;” here it is:  What if you cannot move independently now?  How does one continue to make meaning when it is impossible to get out and be involved?

While movement is a great way to ensure continued meaning, it is not the only way.  I knew of a woman who was almost blind and deaf and confined to a wheelchair in her long-term care facility.  A significant part of her meaning was in her relationship with God, and with others also.  A former minister’s wife, she would pray much – for people around the world and for those right beside her within the facility.  If someone was dying alone on her floor, the nurses would bring her into that person’s room, and she would hold their hand and pray silently for them.

If you are finding that your world is getting smaller and smaller – look inward and upward.  Those who are shut-in can broaden their horizons through relationship with the One who is Transcendent, and they can love others through prayer.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

(St. Paul, in Philippians 4:6, 7,  MSG)

© Marlette Reed 2018

September 27, 2018

Research is showing that living well in older age hinges strongly upon being able to keep moving (Knickman & Snell, 2002, for example)!  Those who are mobile are able to:

  • Stay in their own homes much longer;
  • Get out and about for socializing;
  • Release some of those wonderful feel-good endorphins with exercise;
  • Maintain their mental sharpness longer and;
  • Experience the physical benefits, such as better regularity and blood flow.

I was speaking with an elderly gentleman this week, and I asked him if he was still going to the gym each weekday morning.  “I have to Marlette,” he replied. “It’s the only way to keep going!”  This gentleman volunteers in a number of different capacities, adding deeply to his well of meaning; he golfs in the summer in Canada and goes to sunny climes for winter recreation.  And he exercises daily.  A wonderful example!

© Marlette Reed 2018

September 17, 2018

Oh! Teach us to live well!

    Teach us to live wisely and well!

And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,

confirming the work that we do.

    Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!

(Psalm 90: 12, 17, MSG)

This ancient prayer – credited to Moses – reminds us to live intentionally.  This applies to all; it’s for caregivers of elderly folks and elderly folks alike, and, of course, for everyone else!  It acknowledges our need for God’s wisdom – to teach us to live well.  And it is a prayer that God’s loveliness will rest upon us; have you ever seen someone that seemed to be of such strong and lovely disposition because of the Spirit within?  Perhaps the fruits of the Spirit were evident in their lives (see Galatians 5: 22, 23).

May you sense the affirmation of God’s presence in your life, affirming you, and your work, today!

© Marlette Reed 2018