Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Grieving during Lent

If you haven't found my new blog, feel free subscribe to it and to check out my latest post there on grieving during Lent:

https://vanessamsiemens.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/grieving-during-lent/

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

New Blog!

To make it easier for people to follow my blog, I decided to create a new blog on wordpress, which when you go to the bottom right of the page, allows you to click 'follow' and enter your email address to receive updates whenever I post a new blog entry.

Still working out some kinks, but go check out the new blog!

vanessamsiemens.wordpress.com

Thursday, October 1, 2015

When God is Silent

I am ending my blogging silence with a post about silence.

These thoughts, along with many others have been mulling around my mind and in my conversations for months now, allowing me time to process and experience the realities of what I have been learning.

In the last year, I have often heard myself proclaim that God is silent.
I have said that I don't hear anything from God because of the silence.

So I took it upon myself to sit with the silence. Rather than trying to fill it with noise and my own words I realized that I too needed to become silent. I needed to listen deeply.

When I took the time to put down my phone, to turn off my music, to breathe deep and be still, to sit and wait, I found that the silence was not so silent.

I have often falsely attributed God's silence to God's absence. Recently, again and again, I am confronted with God's overwhelming and all-encompassing presence. Silence is how it feels but not necessarily the reality of what is true. 

In the silence I have discovered a few things.
Silence speaks beyond what words can.
Silence is loud.
Silence is full.
Silence is saying everything.

I love to be outside. Recently I have been spending a lot of time at the ocean. One evening I went to go watch the sunset by the ocean. I was frustrated with what I had perceived as God's silence. I looked out at the ocean and paused. It wasn't saying anything specific and yet as I quieted myself, suddenly the silence around me was saying everything. I could hear the wind blowing through the long grasses. I could see the pink sky reflected in the ripples on the water. I could hear the rocks clinking together as the waves washed over them. I could feel the chill of the cool evening air on my skin. I had to stop and silence myself before I could notice these things and "hear" in a different way. 


In Romans 1:20 it says, "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." God is continually declared and proclaimed in the world around me. God is present with me everywhere I go. Sometimes words don't cut it. I am continually reminded of this every time I look around at God's creation.

Lately I have realized that perhaps God is so close and God's presence so overwhelming that I cannot articulate it because it is so strong and overwhelms my senses. In the silence God sits with me, waits with me, weeps with me, laughs with me, walks with me. God is with me. God's silent presence speaks to his faithfulness, his grace, his loving-kindness.

Throughout Scripture, God promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him. At times I have had a very narrow perspective and understanding of what it has meant to find God or to hear from God and at times I felt this promise wasn't actually true. In moments when I step outside and step back from my own limited understandings, I realize, as the prophet Isaiah discovered and proclaimed, that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God's ways are higher than my ways and God's thoughts higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). God speaks and acts in ways I cannot always decipher or understand. Sometimes God speaks so deeply to my heart that I cannot fully understand or comprehend it but as I sit in the silence with God, I trust that God is fully present and is meeting me.

So, God may in fact be silent, but God is not absent. God is fully present and God's presence "speaks" if I take the time to listen. 

I leave you with this quote from Mother Teresa:
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” (from In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gratitude

It's funny how quickly we can lose perspective.

As Christmas approached last year, we were clinging to the hope that my mom would still be alive to celebrate Christmas. Throughout the holidays, there was an awareness that it was quite likely her last Christmas.

Since then a year has passed, along with another Christmas and every other celebration in between. And my mom is doing better than a year ago.

Last Fall, the reality of terminal cancer was imminent. I remember countless hours spent in prayer, wrestling and tears, bringing my questions before God and asking for God to heal my mom. I was scared to ask for healing, because what if she wasn't healed? Within this, I recognized my own belief that God was fully capable of healing her, but because of my experience with God, He wouldn't. Logically I saw how erroneous this way of thinking was and knew I needed to pray regardless and trust in God, clinging to His goodness no matter the outcome.

My prayers are not so desperate anymore. Things are relatively stable and I have simply become accustomed to life being this way. My prayers are rather often filled with grumblings and complaining (reminds me of some people who once wandered in the desert for a while...). I have shifted to focusing on the negative of the situation and complain of my own weariness.

In the midst of all the complaining and grumbling I have to do, I had completely missed the fact that God has healed my mom! Her cancer is still terminal, yes, but the fact that she is still alive today is a complete miracle and a testament to God's healing in sustaining her life thus far. God so far has given us an extra, completely unexpected year with my mom.

It has been a year of family holidays, celebrating birthdays, delighting in the little ones, playing yahtzee, shenanigans while waiting for countless appointments at the hospital, decorating for Christmas, cooking, shopping, laughing, crying, and waiting. It has been a year that has caused us all to slow down and recognize and treasure the beauty of each moment. It has been a year of miscommunication, better communication, story telling and listening.

As Christmas came this year, amidst being aware of these things, my thinking was focused on the negative rather than turning to God in worship and gratitude for all that He has done. And as I reflect on it, I am incredibly grateful... for every yesterday, for today and the tomorrows to come.

That being said, the gratitude does not invalidate the pain, sorrow and loss that is woven into those moments. Nor does the pain give reason to not be grateful.

And so, as this new year begins, I am focusing on gratitude and praising God for all that He has done and to be enveloped again in the wonder of God and the grace that is so evident in all our lives. I'm learning to integrate the pain and the joy rather than experiencing both as isolated entities. And I want my attitude and my prayers to reflect a heart that recognizes its complete and utter need for God. I want to have a heart that clings to Him every moment, no matter how good or bad things seem to be.

I am grateful for our extra year with my mom and I want to be grateful for each day we still have together. So, no matter what this next year holds, with the messiness and beauty of each day, my prayer is that my gratitude would be surrounded and infused with wonder, praise and trust.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Waiting for Death

One of my underlying sayings for life is to choose and celebrate life. 

In doing so, I find it is a positioning of myself toward God to embrace and walk fully into what is before me and to be able to stop in awe and wonder at who God is as reflected in the world around me.

Recently I came to the realization however, that I have been waiting for death and positioning myself toward it.

It's been a difficult season sorting through the myriad of emotions that accompany caring for someone with a terminal illness, especially when it is your mom.

When I first moved back to BC last July, my mom was going rapidly downhill and there were a couple weekends where she told us this was it, she was ready to go and wanted to say her goodbyes. Every day was filled with the tension of whether or not this would be my last moment with my mom, my last memory. There were moments in the middle of the night where I would peek up from where I was sleeping on the floor and breathe a sigh of relief that she was still breathing. Every hug, good-bye or 'I love you' was potentially the last and so I treasured each one. Every action I took was preparation toward her upcoming death. My entire life was on hold as I waited for her to die.

Although she still has terminal cancer, a year and a half has passed and she is doing leaps and bounds better than she was before. For now she's stable and despite having bad days, can still do some of the things she loves, like cooking, canning or decorating.

A year and a half later and I am still positioned in a place of waiting for death. Now I say that with hesitation, because there is still a reality that she is dying and I do not want to be ignorant of this fact. But in the process I recognize where I have stopped living in many ways and tried to stop her from living. Hope has continually showed itself and I have ignored it.

My mom loves Christmas (as do I) and every year she goes all out with decorating her house. Over a number of years, she has collected ornaments and trees and has a variety of themed trees throughout our house every Christmas. Last year (along with the help of some amazing friends) I tried to decorate a bunch of them as she wasn't well enough to and although there were decorated Christmas trees it wasn't quite the same as the love and detail she poured into each tree. This year, I came home from Portland and the front entrance was ready for Christmas. It was an area that I wasn't able to decorate last year because positioning 200 white owls on a tree and hanging shiny balls from the railing is not a gifting of mine. But she spent time decorating it this year and it is beautiful. And it speaks of life, love and hope.


There have been times where I have tried to stop her from buying new Christmas decorations, because my thinking is 'what's the point?'... but daily she teaches me what it means to choose life and to embody hope in the face of death. Rather than surrendering to her prognosis, waiting for it to happen, she has been living fully in the waiting time and the unknown. Rather than succumbing to fear, she has loved deeper. She is making the most of every day she has with whatever energy and strength she can muster.


Yes, death is a reality. There are things that must be prepared for and it needs to be embraced as part of life. But a greater reality is the hope we have and this gives great reason for celebration. This is great reason to live more fully. This is great reason not to get stuck in the muck and mire of death - there is a tension to be embraced. I tend to get stuck in either/or rather than recognizing that there is life that encompasses it all. I tend to get overwhelmed with the questions and my own cynicism. There have been times where I have been too consumed with sadness over losing my mom that I fail to make the most of the fact that she is still here and we can enjoy the time we have together. There are times when I want to shut down and put up walls to prepare myself, but I realize I don't want to miss out on what the present is offering.


So every time I see a Christmas tree, I am reminded of choosing life. Of a love that is greater than I can comprehend. Of the hope we have in this life and beyond death. I have said it many times before, and probably will many times in the future, but I will say it again, L'Chaim - To Life!