Present to What Is

I have been reading a book that has challenged me to consider how to be very present to what is, or “consent” to be where I am. I will admit that the last few months have not been the easiest of times to venture into such a practice. It is a season of big transition: Dion living in Long Term Care, Cate leaving the nest, me discovering how to live alone. Then there is the general fatigue of Covid and the specific burden it is at The Dale: on both the staff team and the community. Add to all of this multiple deaths and limited ways to corporately grieve, systemic injustice, the list goes on. I even started to notice stress coming out in arguably small, but noticeable ways, including a sty in my eye and a kneecap that was moving around in ways it should not.

I am discovering that these less than ideal conditions (and let’s be honest, are they ever ideal?) are a very good reason to slow down and really notice what is going on both internally and externally. For example, what am I feeling? What do I need? What things might be necessary to root out of my heart? What are my hands busy doing- is it good or not? Together with my counsellor, I have been addressing these and many other questions.

We are now in the time of Advent, a word that means “a coming into place, view, or being; arrival”. For Christians, this is a period of preparation before Christmas and the arrival of Jesus. This year I am especially aware of how God is right in the place where I find myself: in the middle of the pain, the loneliness, the grief, and the stress. There is not an absence of God in the hardest of things. While I don’t always understand this, I do know it to be my experience.

By noticing and not ignoring the big things going on in and around me, I am re-discovering the joy found in being fully invested in a conversation with a person, cooking something, doing dishes, choosing a Christmas tree with Dion and Cate, creating home, making music, advocating, and remembering. It’s as though being present to where I am helps me experience the sacredness of living, in all of its complexity. It helps me to do what I can and know what I cannot. It propels me to rest. It rejuvenates my work.

None of this is easy. I have cried buckets of tears. Some days I am exhausted and would be content to hide under the covers. The transition that we face as a family is settling, but still strange and hard. The effects of the pandemic, injustice and grief are real. And yet. And yet, there is a coming into view, a sense that light is penetrating the darkness. I am (we are) being asked to walk this road and fortunately, when I pay attention to the terrain, I am confident that I am (we are) not alone.

A New Chapter

Now that it is truly official, we are able to let everyone know that this week Dion moved into a spacious and bright private room in a Long-Term Care facility, just a short drive from our home. Quite honestly this feels like the impossible has been made possible. Since Dion’s hospital admission in August, we have repeatedly heard that what we need is not available: there are not enough Personal Support Workers, no more hours of care, the system is not set-up for a person in a situation like ours. We have gone into meetings feeling hopeful, only to leave deflated. Nearly every step has felt like an up-hill battle. Which is why, until entering the doors of this new place, we felt cautious about believing it was going to happen.

As you can likely imagine, this is the beginning of a massive transition for our family. There is a shadow side to this solution: we each live in a different place, something brought on by the disease that is MS. As relieved as we are for Long-Term Care, this is not where we imagined ourselves at this stage of life. I do believe though that the concept of home need not be limited to a single place, something we now have the opportunity to explore.

For those of you following our story will know, Dion and I are people of faith. We look toward and believe in Jesus. It has not been our experience that this makes life easy. Many of our prayers have not been answered in the way that we would have hoped. We are well acquainted with grief. Over the last few months we have chosen, often by the skin of our teeth, to lean into trusting that we would be provided for. We could not see the way forward. And yet we never were left alone. I am certain that we have been carried to this moment. God has used so many of you to participate in this work, and for all of it we are thankful.

I was looking at the first email I sent to people when Dion went into hospital. At the end I wrote this: MS has been a difficult journey, one that just got harder. Thank you for walking this road with us. As believers in the importance of community, we are grateful to our village for being such a source of light and love. As Henri Nouwen once said, we are trying to “be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand”. May it be so.”

It has become so.