Cultivating Wonder

A sea lion awaiting his meal at the Vancouver Aquarium

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Vancouver Aquarium with my husband, my parents, and my sister. Although we’ve lived in the Greater Vancouver area for seven and a half years, I’d only been to the Aquarium twice before this. That’s too bad, because, in my opinion, it is a local treasure. Many people are opponents of the facility, claiming that it is unfair to many of these animals to have them “imprisoned,” but so many of the larger sea creatures at the Aquarium  A Pacific White Sided dolphin jumps out of the water at the Vancouver Aquariumare rescues who would have perished on their own in the wild. Furthermore, the important research done at the Aquarium (it is a non-profit organization) helps us learn more about how to protect the wild cousins of the Aquarium’s residents.

But that’s enough apologetics for the Vancouver Aquarium. What I found there wasn’t just a large collection of interesting sea creatures. I also encountered my sense of wonder.

We live in a culture that is really good at destroying wonder, especially in adults. The mundane practicalities of life push aside our wonder. Stress strangles it. Pain and grief smother it. Worse, I think that some of us are taught—directly or indirectly—that wonder is something reserved for children, and that adults have matured beyond it.

For me, depression dealt a heavy blow to my sense of wonder. Things that would normally have brought me joy simply by existing were no longer able to raise that emotion in me. As I have been recovering from depression, I have also been recovering my sense of wonder.

So I enjoyed the Aquarium more than I had on my two previous visits (granted, for one of those visits I was battling the pain of a dry socket after a wisdom tooth extraction). This was helped along by the fact that we were selected by one of the A photo of one of the jellyfish tanks at the Vancouver AquariumAquarium volunteers to be taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the jellyfish lab!  I was so thankful that I am now in a place emotionally where I could really enjoy seeing the unusual beauty of the jellyfish and not feeling awkward about being singled out (depression sucks, literally).

As I’ve been reflecting on the visit, it has occurred to me that there is something special about the way that animals provoke our sense of wonder. This is especially true for me. I love stopping to watch birds or animals in our neighbourhood. It helps that I live somewhere in the world where it isn’t unusual to see a bald eagle flying around in the city. But as I was watching the dolphins and sea lions and porpoises and beluga whales, I was able to tap into that sense of wonder at their beauty, grace, and intelligence. The jellyfish are strange and otherworldly, delicate and deadly. The electric eel held my attention for a surprising amount of time.

I think it is important to cultivate wonder in our lives. Spending time with children no doubt helps facilitate the process. Ideally, a child still has their sense of wonder intact, and very young children spend time wondering at things we have long learned to take for granted. But even if there are no children in your lives, it’s possible to pull your sense of wonder out of the closet in your mind and give it some air. Spend some time looking—and I mean really looking—at flowers or newly formed leaves or a squirrel as it runs or anything else that tweaks your sense of wonder.

A sea lion awaiting his meal at the Vancouver AquariumListen to birds singing. Find a mountain and really think about how big it is. Stare up at the stars and remember how far away they are.

Isn’t this universe wonderful?

What provokes your sense of wonder?

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The Joy of Good Food

Like most people in North America, I don’t always make great choices about the food I eat.  Convenience foods make it too easy to eat things that are filling and strongly-flavoured but not necessarily nourishing.  When my husband and I are stressed or feeling lazy, we quickly fall back on frozen pizzas, oven fries and chicken strips, and other “easy foods,” as we call them.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I like those foods!  I also do consider them food.  I base this on the definition provided by one of my all-time favourite bloggers, The Fat Nutritionist.  She writes:

ALL FOOD CONTAINS NUTRIENTS. NUTRIENTS ARE GOOD FOR YOU. NO, REALLY. I’M SERIOUS.

I mean, how can  you not love her for that?  Now, stop giving me that face.  She also promotes intuitive eating, which at its core encourages people to listen to the cues their bodies are giving them about hunger, fullness, and what foods make them feel good and what foods make them feel bad.  Eat more of the foods that make you feel good.  Eat less of the foods that make you feel bad.

So, eating “easy foods” for a week usually burns us out.  We start feeling less-than-good as our bodies get too much salt, fat, and preservatives.  Usually that prompts a swing the other way, to eating foods that make us feel good.

This past week was a “good food” week.  We prepared and ate foods that made us feel good.  We made a kick-butt (and butt-kicking) crockpot full of spicy chili for supper last night, for example.  If it hadn’t been too hot for baking, we would have whipped up some homemade cheese biscuits to go with it.  Because…yum!

Honestly, eating good food prompts worship in me.  It reminds me of something said by one of my favourite preachers, Jonathan Martin.  He said that if you follow beauty, it leads you to Jesus.  Well, that’s my paraphrase of it, anyway.  One day about a week ago we were eating a great steak that we had marinated all day and it occurred to me that beautiful tastes are no different than beautiful sounds, beautiful pieces of art, or beautiful words.  The delicious steak, the juicy strawberry, the fresh-baked bread, the Thanksgiving turkey, the butter chicken, the mouth-watering kalbi ribs, the mashed potatoes, the mess of greens, the primavera sauce (are you hungry, yet?), the steaming soup, the bowl of pho, the toothsome spanakopita, the poutine with fresh cheese curds, or the delicately arranged sushi: good foods with great tastes are found all over the world.  They are beautiful.

That beauty leads me to Jesus.  It leads me to the one who created a world full of diversity—not only of edible animals and plants, but of cultures who find different delicious ways to prepare them.  It makes me praise the one who gave me a tongue to taste and a nose to smell these delicious foods, and who wired me to enjoy them.  No matter what “they” might say, food is so much more than just fuel.  If it was, cultures all over the world would not have spent so much creativity on making foods that are beautiful to see, smell, and taste.

I encourage you to plan to make a food you love sometime soon.  Think about the foods that make you want to stop and savour every bite.  Pick one out and go shopping.  Spend time with the people you love preparing that food and sit down at the table with them to eat it together with no interruptions from TV, cell phones, or computers.  If you are a believer, think about the way this food reflects the goodness of its Creator.  Think about all the people who worked hard to bring that food to your table.  Be thankful.  Be joyful.  You were made for this.

Now, you will have to excuse me, because I have to go make lunch. 🙂

If you feel like it, share YOUR favourite food in the comments section!

No More Silence

Part II: I Will Write About This

So I will share.  On May 3, 2013, I had had enough.  I was sick of feeling tired all the time.  I was scared because I was starting to forget things that would usually have come to mind easily and without effort.  I was having trouble concentrating or making decisions.  And because of my family medical history and my own blood test records, I had come to the conclusion that I had…hypothyroidism.

I told the doctor as much when I went in to see her that day.  I said, “my blood tests have been low in the past.  You said that we should monitor it, especially if I showed any symptoms.”  She asked me to list the symptoms.  As I did, she looked at my chart, at my previous test results.  Then she started asking questions about my life.  Did I have a job? (No.)  How much did I get out during the week? (Not much.)  Did I want a job and how was the job search going? (Yes, I did, but there are no jobs for me.)

“I’ll certainly send you in to take a blood test for your thyroid,” she said, “but I don’t think that it’s the problem.  I think you might have depression.”

I put the “I Can Handle This” mask on.  Nodded sagely.  Secretly suspected hoped that she was wrong.  Agreed to come back the next week.

I went for the blood test right away.  I would show her.  The test results would be positive for hypothyroidism and I would be vindicated.  It wasn’t depression.  Couldn’t be depression.  Why not?  Because hypothyroidism could be “cured” with a little pill every morning.  Depression…well, depression is a Mental Illness and can’t be cured. (Or so I feared.)

A week later I returned to her office chagrined.  I’d seen my test results online: not hypothyroidism.  Okay, then.  She was very nice about it (I have found the best walk-in clinic doctor in the world, to be honest).  There was no “I told you so.”  She prescribed me 10 mg of Celexa and plenty of fresh air and exercise and told me to come back in 30 days.

Less than a week later I was crippled by nausea and diarrhea.  (Interesting fact: the human digestive system has the same number of neurons as a whole cat.  Your stomach is a cat brain.)  Blessedly, it only lasted a few days, which really was a blessing since that weekend I headed to my church’s annual weekend retreat, and really didn’t want to spend it in the loo.

I spent the next month or so doing a lot of thinking.  A lot of remembering.  Depression.  It became clearer and clearer that what I had been experiencing with increasing severity was exactly that.  Because there was more to it than fatigue, forgetfulness, and a lack of concentration.  I had stopped enjoying the activities I normally enjoyed.  I felt terrible about myself.  I was sad almost all the time.  And although I didn’t want to kill myself, I didn’t especially want to live, either.  The terrifying truth was, I’ve been experiencing waves of these symptoms for years, probably since I graduated from undergrad in 2002.  But this time it was worse.  So much worse.

By the end of the 30 days, I really hadn’t experienced any noticeable changes.  She prescribed a higher dose: 20 mg, the standard therapeutic dose.  We delayed it a week since I was going on vacation to see my parents and feared a revisiting of the side effects from the month before, so I stayed on 10 mg one more week and then raised the dose.

Gradually, gradually, the lights have been coming on.

I know some people have a bias against medications for mood disorders (or anything, really).  I was afraid of the drugs, at first.  Afraid that they would flatten my mood.  Afraid that I would feel—or rather, not feel, if you know what I mean—like a zombie.

I’m not afraid anymore.  Those little pills are a Godsend.  I mean that sincerely.  They give me the perspective I need to recognize the thoughts that come from depression and to fight back against them.  They haven’t yet made me feel especially energetic, but I feel fatigued less often.  I am motivated to do things in a way that I wasn’t before (especially exercising, although a recent heat wave effectively put the kibosh on that).  I am enjoying activities again.

So I know that this depression thing isn’t going to own me anymore.  This morning shows me that I still have a ways to go, but all this writing is calming my heart.  I hope to do more of it over the next few weeks, but right now I don’t need to return to the pressure of trying to get a blog post out regularly.  I want to gain momentum, but the last thing I need is to introduce a source of guilt to my life right now.  For now, the writing should come from the I Want to Create well.

Part I: No One Else Has to Know

There are good days and there are bad days.  Sundays are often good now (a change from before the drugs).  Yesterday was a Sunday.  I actually felt happy yesterday: genuinely, unmixedly happy.  I had all these plans to begin writing again today, to share about my depression, to work on my resume, even.

Then Monday morning happened and as I consider writing a blog post that would share about my depression, I am paralyzed with fear.  I want to run from my computer, from my thoughts.  My throat feels choked and I begin feeling tired again.  Sad again.  Am I ever going to beat this thing?

Maybe it’s because I want to write something triumphant: “I beat depression.  I learned from my pain and now I’m writing again and all will be well.”

Maybe it’s because I know that once I write it down, once it’s published online, it’s out there more-or-less forever.  I have depression.  Now the world knows.

The clarity I had yesterday has been obscured.  Yesterday I could tell you that my depression is a condition that arises from some process or chemical in the body going awry, like arthritis or hypothyroidism or diabetes.  I was comfortable with the fact that my brain was trying to lie to me about who I am and that I had the power now (brought to me by citalopram) to combat those lies.

Today I am feeling tossed about by the lies.  I will never write anything worthwhile again.  I am ultimately uncreative.  The doctor said I didn’t need therapy, but she was wrong.  I need a therapist, if only to tell me how messed up I really am.  Even as I write these things down and identify them as lies, I am fighting the physical expression of the anxiety, fear, and sadness to which the lies are related.

But I guess there’s something else.  It’s a little triumph.  A whispered, “Ha!” instead of a conquering roar.  The lies told me I couldn’t possibly write today.  But look at this…339 words and counting.  It wasn’t what I planned to write, it may never be published as a blog post.  But maybe it will.  Maybe this is the way I need to share about my depression: raw and vulnerable, a bleeding out onto the virtual page.  Red, swollen eyes that expose to the world the truth about the chaos inside.

 

 

I wrote Part I before Part II but offer them here in reverse order for artistic reasons.

TL;DR: I have recently been diagnosed with depression, which is why I haven’t blogged in a long time.  I am now taking antidepressants.  They are starting to work.  This is good.

The World Online: Real or Not?

My hand typing on my keyboard alongside the other things on my desk

Why is what I put online less real than this?

Is your online life “real”?

It’s an important question.  For many people, the “life” they experience online is detached somehow from the life they have in the “real” world.  Some people eschew the use of social media because they believe that it prevents them from connecting with people in the “real” world.

I hate that phrase: “the real world.”

When we interact with others online–whether in the context of social media, online gaming, email, voice-chat, or IRC–we are interacting with real people.  We are using our real bodies to interact.  What we do online is as real as anything else we do in our lives.

Yes, it is possible to construct an online persona that is different in some quantifiable or qualitative way from the persona that you project to people you meet away from your computer screen.  I think we are all guilty of using personae to protect ourselves both in our online interactions and offline.  We do that to protect ourselves.  Being completely honest about who you are is a very vulnerable place to be.  And, really, how many of us ever know who we truly are?  I think most of us spend our lifetimes constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing our identities.  Our online interactions are just one part of that.  Although aspects of the personality you present online might be different than the personality you use offline, I believe that, except in the case of deliberate dishonesty, we are experimenting with identity in both cases.

Some people will suggest that too much screen time leads to disengaging from social interaction in the “real world.”  For some people, like myself, interacting with people online provides more social interaction than we are likely to get offline.  If I was to cut myself off from the internet, would it drive me to socialize more with people offline?  Maybe, but it might also drive me deeper into social isolation and make me a lonelier and more depressed person.

Are friendships made with people we may never meet offline less real than those we make offline?  I don’t think so.  I am often more honest, open, and vulnerable with people online than offline.  Offline, I am constrained by social rules and shyness, which inhibits me from sharing openly or seeking out interaction with others.  Online, I share more freely, uninhibited by my attempts to read other people’s facial expressions or to provoke certain positive responses from them in conversation.  Offline, my fear of conflict and rejection can prevent me from being all of who I am.

Interaction online still requires the use of my physical body.  No one has yet invented a port that connects our minds directly with the internet, and even if they had, we would still need our physical brains to form the thoughts that are in our minds. (At least until they figure out if it is possible to “upload” our minds, and even then, we would simply be trading a body of flesh for a body of electrical…*ahem* I read a lot of sci-fi.)

So, I believe that our online life is just as real as our offline life.  In fact, I think if we integrate them both, it will help us to find a fuller understanding of “who we are” and, instead of being a barrier to relationship and communication, it can be a path to greater and deeper connection.

On wings like eagles?

Last week I found myself on one of Vancouver’s Sky Trains, waiting for a delay in service to pass, watching some birds through the window.  Not for the first time, I wondered what it would be like to be a bird.  What does it feel like to ascend the sky like a mountain, powerfully pushing through the air as the great birds, the raptors, do?  When a little bird tumbles over thermals and through puffs of wind, when she drops suddenly towards the ground, does her tiny heart leap into her throat?  Are the birds having fun, I have to wonder?

All my life—or at least for as long as I can remember—I have wanted to be a bird.  I have wanted to break the chains of gravity and climb out of the everyday world of houses and trees and streets.  That thought, therefore, occurred to me again as I sat watching two tiny sparrows play in the wind, bouncing through the air, seemingly out of control.  I thought then, also not for the first time, that maybe in the world-to-come—the renewed world that God will complete, fulfill, and in which God will dwell amongst us—maybe in that world we will have the opportunity to share the joys of the birds.

But then, I thought, perhaps it is wrong of me to think so.  Perhaps it is only a sign of the brokenness of my nature (and the nature of others who have shared this dream) to long to have wings, to take flight, as the birds do.  Birds are made for flight and human beings are not, so surely we shouldn’t dream of doing what is not in our nature, but rather we should accept our lot and reach only as high as our hands can stretch.

Wright Brothers’ First Flight

A warmth of feeling crept over me then: no, I thought, that’s wrong.  We were made to dream of flight.  We were meant to look at the birds and wonder, “What if?”  For thousands of years, human beings imagined what it would be like to take to the skies, and on one frosty morning in December of 1903, we did, and now not even the sky is the limit.

Our ability to imagine things otherwise—to look at what is and imagine what is not—is a part of our God-given creativity.  God gave us minds to puzzle out the mysteries of the universe, imaginations to look beyond what is immediately obvious to our senses, emotions such as joy, and almost limitless curiosity.  It could be argued that our God-given curiosity is what got us into trouble in the first place!  But the One who makes all things new, who renews all things, who redeems all things, works also in our imaginations, our creativity, our science.

So I will not be ashamed to imagine what it is like to be a bird, and I will thank God that our world is so full of wonder and diversity, the signs of the very Creativity of which my own is only a pale shadow.