What are we hiding?

Today I did something I have never done before. I’ve done something like this twice a month for about 25 years… but today was a first. Even if no one knew it was a first but me.

I have been involved in music in church since I was about 13 years old when I started drumming in church services. A few years later I was singing specials, then I lead a girls trio, sang in choirs, lead choirs, taught drum lessons, lead worship, drummed while leading worship, up to today where my kids also play instruments in church with me.

But today I did something I’ve never done before.

I lead the singing at the community Good Friday service with no one else singing with me. It was just me and three other instrumentalists. I had to check with a few people beforehand to find out if they thought I was capable of doing this. Kind of silly, really, when you look at my multi-decade track record of singing and playing and leading.

Today was different because there was no one I could hide behind.

That’s me at about 17 getting ready to sing at a camp meeting in 1996-ish. You see that smile of pure joy? I love music, and I love singing! But I never thought I had a very good voice. Those two girls standing next to me were my friends who I sang in a trio with in grades 11 and 12. They had amazing voices and could do all the ditties. (Whitney and Mariah were pretty much “the thing” back in those days). I was there to lead the trio, figure out all the harmony parts, and blend in. In practice, I would cover my mouth or look the other way if I ever had a line I had to sing by myself, because I just knew my voice didn’t compare to theirs!

Somewhere along the way, I think that stuck with me: I’m not a solo-ist. I’m a harmonizer, a blender, someone that fits nicely and adds the most from the background. 

But today for the sake of simplicity, since we had to plan the Good Friday service in just a few days, I decided to make the brave step of leading and singing by myself.

And do you know what I heard from almost every person who talked to me after the service?

“You have a beautiful voice.”

Hmm! Of all the things for people to say… of all the things I needed affirmation in after getting up and singing by myself in front of a room full of people… that was it. Some people thought my voice was nice, beautiful even!

All these years of hiding. All these years of insecurities and living with the thought patterns I have had since I was 16 years old.

How much is there in us that could be a gift to the world if we just came out of hiding? If we shed the fears and insecurities that weigh us down and, in the end, likely aren’t even true. 

Is there something that you need to be brave about today? To others it may not look like a brave thing, but it’s a brave thing to you. Can I encourage you to not be afraid to try? I’m pretty certain there’s some beautiful voice in you that is waiting to be heard by the world, too.

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning

… a very good place to start.

Does it sound strange to you (like it does to most of the people I tell) when I say that I feel like my whole life has lead me up to this moment in time where I begin a vocation that focuses on helping people deal with death and loss? Most of the people who hear this say, “that must be such a difficult job.” “I couldn’t do that.” But it’s never felt like that to me. It’s just felt like me.

Why me? What about me?

The first thing I know makes it “me” is how I grew up. My father was (and is) a wills and estates lawyer. I grew up typing at typewriter (carbon paper and all) at a desk in his office, my blonde head bouncing down the hallway and telling people which office they could wait in. My familiarity with death and dying started then, around age 3. It was just something that always was. People always died. And they always needed someone to sort out their estates — their monies and materials. I’ve always known that people die and when they die they have needs. The “observant me” was born in that law office.

The next part of “me” started in high school. I began to be fascinated by history and the stories of how people used to live, especially in difficult times or war time. I remember interviewing my grandparents about WWII and what it was like to have my Grandfather away as a medic in the war. I knew there must be so much that they felt at that time. How did they make it through? I also remember having such strong feelings of wanting to understand what it was like to grow old and to lose people that you love. While this is a natural part of being an adolescent, I really paid attention to these feelings. This was the start of the “feeling me”.

I went to university and double majored in History and Philosophy. History allowed me to explore the past (I even studied mostly social history: daily life and relationships, rather than politics and war). Philosophy allowed me to examine different ideas and perspectives, to see how they change over time, and that there is always more we can know about life and being human. Another part of the “me” was growing here — the “thinking me”.

After university, my husband and I had our three children. I was home during their early years, and there were a lot of years of diapers and lullabies and waking in the middle of the night. What was the “me” growing during this time? I would have to say it was the “compassionate me” and the “vulnerable me”. I learned that it’s hard to be a mom, to raise humans, and to have the energy and strength to care and love well. I had to be compassionate with my kids and their mistakes, and I had to be compassionate with me and my mistakes. You also really begin to recognize just how vulnerable life is when your children are born. The world can become scary, and fears and anxieties can become very real. The stakes seem higher; the losses feel so much greater.

The last piece of “me” — the “listening me” — came along when I decided to study counselling. My husband began attending seminary, working on a Masters of Divinity on the road to becoming a pastor, and since our children were into the preschool and school years by this time, I thought I could slowly start thinking of a career. I decided to study counselling and by the end of my first year I knew I wanted to focus on death, dying, and bereavement.

At that time, I looked back at all of the “me”s of my past and they all began to form a very clear picture of what I valued: helping people walk through their final days understanding who they are, where they find hope, and what will be meaningful for them to do and say in their final days. In fact, the book that started this whole realization was called “Final Gifts“.

Gifts.

That word has become the foundation of my counselling practice. “Storybrook Therapy: Where Your Story Is A Gift.”

And that’s what I believe and what I’ve always valued in my life. I believe that our lives and our stories are gifts. Some days these gifts may appear less like a Martha Stewart special and more like a clay ash tray formed by immature hands and hurriedly wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. But there is still something beautiful in our stories — the good and the not-so-good.

We are all human and one of the most important things we can do, at any stage in life, is to share who we are. Just that. Simply who we are. Because it’s only in being who we are that we find true hope and real meaning.

And that is why I’ve shared these parts of me today. This work is so important to me. It has always been important to me, even years before I knew what an “end of life counsellor” was.

Our stories matter. And, when it’s time to live out our final chapters, our stories have new value. It takes courage to live them. It takes courage to tell them. And my hope is that Storybrook Therapy will help these stories be told… to help these stories go on.

There’s the STORY, you see: like the tree that has grown and changed over time.

And there’s the BROOK: the water that goes on and on and on, even after it’s left the source.

Storybrook Therapy. Here we go.