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

Silence

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