Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

How I Learned to Have Boundaries Written by: David Sutcliffe

“I used to have a hard time saying no. And being direct about what I wanted.

I often found myself accommodating others, doing things I didn’t want to do. This would lead to lingering resentment, and if it persisted, an explosion of blame and victimization.

If I finally confronted someone the response was usually, “Well, why didn’t you say something?!”

It’s a good point. People are not mind readers, nor should we expect them to be.

Read More

Advertisements
Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

#CanadaStrong and Mighty

Media is releasing the names of the victims of a senseless attack that occurred on the streets of Toronto, ON Canada on April 23, 2018. 24 hours later and the world is learning the names of the 10 people, and 15 injured after a mid-day attack on a busy street in the heart of one of Canada’s most diverse cities.  The impact of such a tragedy is being felt around my country. These things are not the norm for us Canadians. We don’t have experience with this level of sadness and loss. Not when it was intentional, callous and with discriminatory intent.

Our instinct is to try to make sense of what can’t be rationalized. Our instinct is to point a finger and provide an explanation that fits what we are comfortable with. Because the alternative is a world that is chaotic and frightening. It’s a world where the unimaginable can happen, at any time and in any place to anyone.

Public response was immediate. Conclusions had been drawn before law enforcement could conduct a thorough investigation. And the preliminary assumptions were formulated around two theories that are predominant in our rationalizations of violence: terrorism or mental instability.

The nuanced assessments—even by seasoned professionals—about the perpetrator of any mass casualty event, cause damage to the mental health community.  When they immediately assume that the crime was motivated by a person who was mentally ill, they spark a discussion. They tout past record of instability, inability to connect with others, past history of mental break downs, history of medications, and history of violence—all in an effort to lend credibility to the theory that mental health was the mitigating factor behind a senseless tragedy. And in that context, the attempt to thwart the stigma of mental health issues in our Western culture takes a giant leap backward.

In the aftermath of such tragic events, anyone taking medications like Cymbalta or Celexa, Risperdal or Ativan, are viewed with suspicion and fear. Anyone who is brave enough to own their anxiety or depression is judged as if to suggest they are seeking attention or being lazy. The ones who suffer with the debilitating mental health diseases such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder are deemed unsafe for society. Anyone hospitalized or formed are stigmatized as crazy or nuts. The correlation between uncontrollable mental health disorders and violence are no longer up for debate, they are now a concrete reality in the editorializing of steadfast pundits. And every time another occurrence of violence disrupts our civilized society, the same arguments are touted over and over again until that mantra is cemented into the minds of our culture.

I spent the better part of my weekend on Twitter in a heated debate on an unrelated topic. And even when discussion broke down into insults and abusive assaults on my character, the reason mental health is still so stigmatized was staring me right in the face. We use harsh and sometimes prejudicial remarks about someone’s mental state when attempting to disparage them. Even though i attempted to remain above the fray and refrain from using insults and cursing to establish my narrative, I did at one point say “Are you off your meds?” It didn’t strike me as wrong until a day later when I watched as users on Twitter did the same thing when debating the motivation behind a young man driving a white rental van down a sidewalk filled with pedestrians. It was horrifying for multiple reasons, not the least of which was a reopening of further prejudice against anyone and everyone who has ever suffered from mild, emotional distress to a full blown psychotic breakdown. And I propagated the stigma. I contributed to the  ignorance.

Stigma and fear don’t need a propellant in order to enact their wounds. We need to begin reassessing how our culture examines tragedy without immediately casting dispersions toward an entire group of people. And mental health does not discriminate. It affects all ages, races, genders and professions. And it begins by making a conscious effort to understand all of the motivations behind premeditated violence, whether it be mass shootings, attacks using motor vehicles, or even bombings. When mental health is instantly attributed to the accused, all discussion shuts down and the truth matters little.

When these events take place in our communities and our nations, we can begin by having discussions among the people around us; families, friends, co-workers and neighbours. We need to ask ourselves if these kinds of generalizations make us sad, for more then the reasons apparent. Do the accusations thrown around so mindlessly make us stop to think? Do the discussions around mental health make us feel like we need to hide the daily struggles each of us face? Is mental health the underlying mitigating factor to senseless violence, or is there something we’re missing?

Mental health issues do not correlate to violent acts. Millions suffer with mental disorders on a daily basis and they don’t resort to committing mass murder. So we as a society need to do something. We need to change the conversation. We need to change the beliefs. And if we are successful, the stigma can end.

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

Love People, Whether They are Sinners or Not.

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Jesus never said this.

It’s from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography). 1

I read online just today about a high profile evangelical worship leader from the UK who recently admitted publicly that had been struggling her entire life with a conflicting idea about who she was. In short: she is attracted to women. She’s gay.

The response from Christians has been to boycott her music, preach to her, rebuke her, judge her, tell her how she is an abomination, how she is wrong, how she has twisted theology, or “comparing my gay orientation to someone “committing adultery, murder, rape, pedophilia or zoophilia“.”

This broke my heart. Let’s for one minute take the discussion of whether homosexuality is a sin or not off the table. She openly and courageously spoke about something that she has struggled with since grade school, and the public response from the body of Christ has been to silence her or shame her?

I hate the phrase mentioned above, because it is used as a means to cast dispersions against a people group that don’t think or act in a manner befitting an evangelical theology. The phrase has been so over-used that it is inherently unloving in it’s application. To begin with, by labelling a person a sinner, as if they were somehow in a class unto themselves because they are gay for example, is unloving.

So it begs the question, what does it really mean to love? The church is missing a huge opportunity to grow in love and they are missing it. Where the church has wrongly believed that the struggle of the LGBTQ person is because of their sin, it is more likely they have struggled against cultural norms that have kept them locked away in a prison of their own mind and body. Furthermore, focusing on the right and wrong aspect of what constitutes morality takes away from the crux of what Jesus was doing on earth.

I listened to this woman’s music. I had never heard of her prior to her public announcement so I sought out some of her previous recordings. Her worship is absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of the simplicity and the purity behind her voice and her heart. And I was reminded of the woman who came to anoint Jesus and wash his feet with her tears. The Pharisees all stood around and said, “This Man, if He were a prophet would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” Luke 7:39  The passage doesn’t describe what her sin was, it has always just been assumed. I remember growing up and hearing pastors inform the masses that she was an adulterer, or a harlot, because those were likely the most egregious sins of the day.

But this was Jesus’ response, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head…Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. ” Luke 7:44-47  Jesus sends her on her way by saying to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” v. 50.

The magnitude of that passage speaks volumes to me, but perhaps that is because I have lived a life where I have been forgiven of much. The verse in Romans that reminds us that we are all sinners is used often but in equal measure forgotten.  So why, as evangelicals, does the church single-out the LGBTQ community? Why is it so important that they be wrong and the church be right? Does their sexual orientation diminish the truth of the cross? Does their sexuality diminish the truth of God and his great love for us? And if the church truly loved them, why does the church spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to silence them or shame them? (or condemn them?)

So the question I leave the church with is this: What does it truly mean to love? If our theology is more concerned with upholding a law or a rule, rather than the concern and compassion for people then our theology is wrong. When the emphasis is so much on proving that a people group is wrong, then how is that showing the love of Christ to the world?

Cancer Battle

It’s Not Over, I Just Pretend All the Time

The rest of the world is more comfortable when they hear stories of rosy optimism and conquering disease. I figured that out early. I could post glowing optimistic stories of each new victory I over came and I would receive endless praise. It was great, it fed my ego, but it wasn’t always honest.

When I was first diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), the cancer machine whirred into action and I was surrounded by well-meaning and compassionate people who offered to do almost anything. For someone like me, who is very self sufficient and independent, it was difficult for me to accept the help. But I did accept the help, I needed the help, and I am forever grateful for it.

Now that I am through the hard parts, most of the people have disappeared. (I say most because I do still have an incredible support system and I do not want to minimize their contribution to my recovery) They are more comfortable knowing that I am healing and recovering. They don’t want to hear about the days that I can barely get out of bed because I am so tired from over-exerting myself. They don’t want to hear about the difficulty I have reaching things on high shelves because my arm no longer has the range of motion it once had because of the missing lymph nodes. They don’t want to hear about the struggle for breath when I am walking a block or two. They don’t want to hear about the depression, or the anger, or the loneliness that inevitably creates a barrier between me and the rest of the world. They don’t want to hear about the insomnia or the drug addiction that develops because of the long drug use. And they really don’t want to hear about the chance of reoccurrence or worse.

When the bell has been rung, it signals the end of chemotherapy or radiation. It doesn’t signal the end. That distinction needs to be made because in the minds of loved ones, it can sometimes signal relief for them. When a cancer diagnosis is given it feels like a death sentence, and so the sound of the bell can sometimes feel like reprieve. It’s not. For the cancer patient, the sound of the bell is merely a beginning of a new battle. It signals the beginning of reclaiming everything that was lost when cancer ripped the ground out from beneath them. It signals the beginning of fear—the fear when the other shoe will drop, when or where the next lesion or tumour would appear, the fear of having to go through all of this again, the fear of everyone disappearing just when the next phase of the battle is beginning. These fears are realistic and highly probable.

Through my own experience there are 9 things I have discovered that are the most effective way of continually showing love and support for those recovering from cancer or any other major illness:

1) Endure the loneliness and depression.

Cancer survivor stories are not always depicted honestly. The positive ones that depict overcoming great odds skip over the hard parts of struggle, frustration, isolation and depression, and focus on the triumphant end result.  The most loving thing a person can do is endure the rough stuff with the ones going through it. It is a long road back.

2) Talk about what could happen in the event of death

To the cancer patient, this is a possible reality. Even after a successful treatment, there is a possibility of reoccurrence or metastasis. If the cancer patient wants or needs to talk about their final days—their wants and desires in the event of a poor prognosis, their expectations and blessings for those left behind after they do die, or their funeral—let them.

3) Don’t just say, “I’m praying for you.”

This is no way is meant to minimize the power of faith, or to imply that prayer is not warranted. But often times, this statement can be used as a means of offering comfort. But to even the most devout, this statement can mean very little in terms of comfort or substance. If you feel compelled to pray, then just pray. But as a means of offering comfort, more practical ways would be reaching out and asking how you can help.

4) Offer physical support or time. They still need to know you care.

Cancer, as with many other major illness, is incredibly isolating. The most effective means of offering support can be to spend time with the person. Even just sitting in the same room saying nothing is more powerful than all the flowery words in the world. Watching a movie together, or rubbing their feet, or bringing tea and mindless conversation is more powerful and meaningful to someone suffering the after affects.

And keep inviting them to things. There will be times when they say “no”, and it might feel like they say “no” more times than they say “yes”. But keep inviting them. Just knowing that they are wanted or needed can be unbelievably comforting.

5) Don’t focus on the disease, but don’t gloss over it either.

This one might seem like a paradox but it’s not. Cancer robs so much from the lives of those it infects, it shouldn’t rob a person of their identity either. Where someone used to be a prolific writer, or musician, or cook, or [insert interest here]—they are still that person. But to try to forget that a person’s life was irrevocably changed by such a powerful disease is to minimize their struggle.

6) Don’t expect there to be a time limit to their grief.

Telling a cancer patient to just stay positive, or to have faith, or to focus on being grateful is only meant to make the rest of the world comfortable. If the patient is angry, let them feel that anger. The stages of grief don’t have a formulaic time frame and it is unfair to expect that from anyone. Cancer robs so much, not just time. Though the obvious struggle might be over, the loss can sometimes have a rippling effect. A limb or a body part might have been removed, chemotherapy might have caused infertility or put a woman into early menopause, there could be a loss of cognitive functioning as a result of “chemo brain”, there could be significant weight loss or gain, there could be a loss of muscle function, there could be a loss of sexual intimacy or function, and there could be a loss of identity. These things continue to cause no end of anger, depression or sadness. It could cause the breakdown of a marriage due to stress and conflict. It could mean the loss of dreams and expectations for the future. Cancer patients find that sometimes they lose friends because of cancer. The most loving thing someone can do is allow the cancer patient to feel those things.

7) Continue to offer help

Cancer patients can often take up to a year or longer to recover after their final treatment. Fatigue is a huge symptom that is hard to overcome. Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It is an absolute feeling of moving through quick sand. It is mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Cutting the lawn, doing a load of laundry, shovelling a driveway, going grocery shopping, or cooking dinner can sometimes take every ounce of energy from a recovering cancer patient. There are good days, and that feels like a huge victory to them, but they are often short-lived. More times than not, a recovering cancer patient will skip over these basic chores that normal people would take for granted in favour of sleeping on the sofa watching re-runs of Friends.

8) Don’t minimize or ignore their fears.

No one wants to admit that a loved one could face this disease again, but those fears are realistic. It would be more productive to re-direct those fears. Help them face those fears.  Let them know that you will be with them every step of the way, and help them develop a contingency plan in the event that the cancer does return. Knowing that they have someone to face this disease with should it return is instrumental in moving beyond it and living for today.

9) Don’t disappear.

This is often the most hurtful aspect of dealing with cancer. Life does continue to move on even though the cancer patient feels like they are living in limbo. Making a conscious effort to remain present can be the single most important thing a loved one does. The cancer patient does eventually feel like they have been a drain on the ones around them. They are not oblivious to the extra effort that has been put forth by those around them to help support them during the chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. There will come a point where they will stop asking out of guilt or a feeling of becoming a burden. But they absolutely do still need their friends and family around them.

Someone fighting a life threatening illness will almost never make their loved ones feel guilty for not being there, not intentionally anyway. They already feel like they have taken too much, or that they have become a burden. This is the harsh truth of their recovery after the bell has been rung.