Category Archives: Depression

Gifts Unexpected

Those first difficult years after Mikail passed away, we lived in southern Ontario, and often on those days where the pain and sadness would feel like it was too much, I’d look out the kitchen window and a red cardinal would have landed on the birdhouse just off the deck.

This kept happening and eventually I looked up the symbolism of a red cardinal and found that sometimes people have said that they generally appear when a grieving person needs or misses the person they lost—a messenger of comfort and hope. Does this hold actual truth? I don’t think it matters. What matters is that for me it was a gift during a time when I needed it so much.

When we moved back to Northern Alberta I knew that my visitor wouldn’t be coming to see me anymore because cardinals don’t fly this far north. However, my friend Sunny, who had a cardinal visit her deck for years after her Mama passed away, would send me a picture of the cardinals visit each time it came, sharing her gift with me. What a beautiful gesture.

When designing the cover of the A Thrill of Hope devotional I tried to find a way to incorporate a cardinal into the cover design–a small way to share my unexpected gift of comfort with you, the reader.

A Thrill of Hope

Seven years ago we were deep in the throngs of grief. We were coming up to the first Christmas after Mikail passed away and I was dreading the Christmas season. It was supposed to be joyful–filled with family, laughter and fun. I didn’t feel joy, our family was incomplete and I had no energy for laughter or fun. I knew that the only way to get through it would be to cling to God. I was weary and hope felt distant.

That year I looked for a simple devotional that would encourage me, but still acknowledge the various types of grief that were heavy on my heart. I didn’t have the attention span or capacity to read anything long or theologically deep, but I knew I needed encouragement and daily time with God.

I never found that devotional book and although I kept looking for it, year after year, it just wasn’t out there–at least not one that went through the whole season of advent. In the meantime I had started journaling thoughts and scriptures throughout each Christmas season. A couple of years ago I realized that this devotional book that I had been looking for, was right there on my computer. Perhaps not in book form, but with a bit of editing, a manuscript was born.

Late this summer Jason and I both felt God saying that this was the year to get it published. Other years I would get discouraged at the process and complexity of the process. This year it was clear that it didn’t have to be complex and it didn’t have to be done in the conventional route I always thought I would need to follow. So, with a whole lot of prayer, nudging from loving friends and the support of my Prayer Warriors Group, this has become the year that the devotional will become available to others who are grieving.

A Thrill of Hope: Finding Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in the Minor Notes of Christmas includes 28 devotionals I have written keeping in mind various types of grief may of us have experience throughout life. Whether you have experienced the loss of a loved one, the loss of relationships, career, expectations or dreams, the season of Christmas may be difficult. This devotional is designed to help encourage, inspire and draw you nearer to God during the season of advent as you reflect on





amidst the grief you may be experiencing at this time.

The devotional journal is beautifully designed and includes:

· An introduction to the topic of advent and grief.

· Recommendations on how the devotional can be used.

· 28 short devotional readings.

· A reflective question following each reading.

· An author’s note inviting you into a closer look at how grief has impacted my life.

· An appendix of recommended resources that have helped me in my grief journey.

I invite you to check out the book. Perhaps it is something that would encourage you or someone you know, this coming Christmas season:

If you are from Canada, click/tap this image:

If you are from the U.S.A., click/tap this image:

The Hope of Spring

Where we live Spring doesn’t truly arrive until April and May. I find the month of March the most challenging. It’s nice enough to be outside and go for walks, but the snow, ice and water make this more difficult. In the past we often went on a warm holiday in March to help fend off the winter blues. This year that is not possible.

What IS possible is that we can create little pockets of joy in our home to remind us that the hope of spring is just around the corner. We aren’t in a season of life where I can just go out and buy new spring decor, but what we can do is go shopping in our own home. Dig through your storage boxes, repurpose something you find in the shed or garage. Move decor you already have out, around to a different spot in the house. Change up the throw blankets in the living room. There are so many ‘free’ options out there to help us find little pockets of joy in our homes.

I like to decorate the top of our piano and we still had a string of beads for Christmas cards, and a garland of valentines hearts hanging above the piano. Time for those to be put away. I found an old white frame in the garage, to lean up against the wall. I then hung a canvas photo in the framed area, got $4 tulips at the grocery store and placed each one in a milk glass bud vase (all thrift store finds). The clock stays because we need it there, and the basket of books just had a plant put on top of it. Simple. Cheery. Inexpensive.

Another thing I find difficult in the month of March is meal planning. I don’t want to cook, shop or bake, so to not have to think about ‘what’s for supper?’ is so wonderful and helps to have the joy of being in the kitchen return. I took my Mom’s idea of making a 6 week menu to loosely follow and I think I am going to love it:

What do you do to help cheer the heart while you are waiting for spring? I’d love to know.

Grief, Depression & Sharing the Tools I Need Daily: #5 ~ 21 Day Brain Detox

In my previous post I shared about how we need people in our lives. For the longest time I sought wisdom and answers from people–friends, family, pastors, counselors etc–about this struggle I was having with my thought life. With all the great wisdom I was receiving and applying, I couldn’t understand why I just couldn’t win this battle. Nothing was helping.

About seven months ago I hit a wall. I was spiraling into constant negative thinking. Besides dealing with our loss, there were a number of other things very heavy on my heart. I was deeply familiar with Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” as well as Philippians 4:8 “… whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.”…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5.

These were truths I was clinging to. Truths I knew in my mind, but I was desperate to have them mean something to my soul again and change this negative downward spiral I was on. I sought wisdom from others and begged God to help me change my heart, but nothing seemed to help. I ‘knew’ it but it wasn’t working. With each passing week the negativity continued to grow and fester. I felt trapped in my own brain. In early spring I was able to get in with a Christian counselor who ‘got me’. I knew I needed to change my way of thinking but the solution of,  ‘Iris, you know what to do’ was not cutting it. Yes, I knew that I needed to think about whatever was true, honorable, just, pure, lovely etc. I knew that I needed to renew my mind and transform it, but how? No one seemed to have the ‘how’ answer for me. I needed a tool. This counselor had one ready for me.

Every day we have choices before us. How we think is also a choice. Do we think positively or negatively?

According to Christian neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, both science and scripture show us that the brain is a very powerful part of God’s creation. In her book Switch on Your Brain, she says, “It is with our minds that we reject or believe the lies of the enemy. It is with our minds that we change the physical reality of the brain to reflect our choices. It is with our minds that we decide to follow God’s rules and live in peace despite what’s going on around us.  It is with our minds that we choose to follow the lies of Satan and spiral into mental, physical, and spiritual disarray.’

When Mikail was born, he had a stroke and his neurologist told us that our brains have a plasticity and adaptability that will allow new neurons to develop around the damage if we exercise his brain and make it believe that it can do all the things the brain damage tells us he shouldn’t be able to do. So, at a few weeks of age we started physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy. I know first hand that neuroplasticity is a very, very real thing. If it wasn’t, Mikail would have never sat up, crawled, walked, run, eaten, fed himself, or have been just like the rest of the kids on the playground. Neuroplasticity is real. A gift from God to us.

Dr. Caroline Leaf continues to say, “You can be presented with all the reason, logic, scientific evidence, and just plain common sense in the world, but you won’t believe something unless your brain’s limbic system–the central location of your emotions–allows you to feel that it is true.  So you can’t imagine and feel–change your brain structurally–one way and speak something different, because if you do, there will be a lack of integrity operating in the brain, which will leave an overwhelming feeling of being out of control.”

Grief affects the brain, changing the chemical and physical make-up of it. For two years the enemy worked hard at getting negative thoughts into my mind and according to the studies done by Dr. Leaf, a combination of grief and negative thoughts taking over our brain, changes what’s going on in the brain. Learning this was a true “aha moment” .


So, if changes were made and neuroplasticity can go both ways–positive and negative–then I should be able to reverse the negative to positive. The lies the enemy fed me for two years can be reversed. Dr. Leaf has created a tool to help with this. It is called the 21 Day Brain Detox. This is an online guide that takes about 10 minutes of time every day. She walks you through and guides and coaches you on how to get toxic thinking out of your mind–from a biblical perspective. I have it on my phone and can quickly open up the app and work through the 7-10 minutes wherever I am at the moment.

Every moment of every day you are changing your brain with your thoughts in a positive or negative direction. Every time you think and choose, you cause structural change in your brain. Your thoughts impact your spirit, soul and body. ~ Dr. Caroline Leaf

This tool has been a literal life-changer for me. Yes, around day 4 or 5 I wanted to quit because “it wasn’t working” (she even warns that this may happen), but I kept on and I sure am glad I did. First you identify a toxic thought that you have and replace the lie with God’s truth. Some toxic thoughts may be: ‘I am not loveable’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘nothing every goes right for me’, ‘everything I do fails’, ‘I always mess up’, ‘ replaying conversations and situations that have hurt you or conversations of situations that could happen but haven’t yet’, ‘distorted thinking that forms a personal identity around a disease or life situation’. The first time I did this, I quickly came to realize that the one toxic thought I was working through brought up many others. I had to consciously put the others aside and only work through the one I had chosen to work on the first day.The nice thing is that you have access to the program for a whole year and can go through it up to 17 times in a year. That’s 17 toxic thoughts you can work through. If you are curious as to what the program looks like, this link will explain it in detail.

The things I have learned while going through the 21 Day Brain Detox are many:

• Exactly how to break down toxic thoughts and build healthy replacement thoughts
• How to control negative stress
• How to bring all thoughts into captivity
• How to get a handle on worry
• How to beat anxiety
• How to overcome depression
• That I control my brain; my brain does not control me (I find it very difficult when someone says ‘this is just how I am’, blaming their character or their age. No, we are created to become more like Christ, not stay in the same stagnant place just because ‘this is just how I am’. God has created us for more and I refuse to allow my brain to control me like that. The thing is, I was starting to feel like it was and I am so thankful that is no longer the case).

I was at a point where I ‘knew’ the truths, but there was so much toxicity, so many lies of the enemy in my mind that I needed a step by step tool to work through the toxic thoughts and the lies. Thankfully this counselor could see that rehashing all that was happening to us wasn’t the answer, it was just opening the door for more negativity. We are more than our life’s situations. I may not be able to control all that happens to us, but I do have a say in how I deal with it. She pointed me to a tool that follows Biblical truths where I was able to work out a disciplined lifestyle of “bringing those thoughts into captivity” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and “renewing my mind” (Romans 12:2).

This was a tool I needed two years ago and I know I can’t be the only one here who battles toxic thoughts or knows someone who battles them, so I just had to share it.  I cannot tell you that the difficult things we have been dealing with the past two years have changed any. They really haven’t. They are still there.  They are just as difficult as ever, BUT my way of thinking and dealing with them has changed, and oh what freedom there is in that.

Courageously yours,

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Grief, Depression and Sharing the Tools I Need Daily: #4 ~ People

Grief and depression can be a lonely place, yet it is so important to surround yourself with people. I am, by nature, an introvert. Not painfully so, but I like my alone time. Solitude rejuvenates me.  I get exhausted being with a large number of people. People often describe me as quiet and hard to get to know, when really, I am very self-aware and learn by watching. This is not to say I am shy. Shyness is a fear of people or social situations where as being introverted people appreciate being around people but find ‘small talk’ tedious. I like to get into the nitty gritty, deep, meaningful conversations. To be in a crowd of people making small talk is difficult, but finding a corner in that busy room and talking about heart matters rejuvenates me.

So, how do you deal with grief and depression when you’re an introvert and you need people around you? And even thinking about extroverts, like Jason. In the past two years he’s become more of an introvert too. We sometimes come home after a fantastic day out with people and we both have to work on not falling asleep on the way home. When we get home we were beyond exhausted. We are learning that balance is so important.

Because we had only lived here for 7 months before Mikail passed away, we didn’t have a tight group of friends who truly knew us, to support us from nearby. This was no one’s fault. It just was the situation. Making heart friends doesn’t follow a timeline and usually takes longer than just a few months. In a way this was really, really difficult, but in our age of technology there are so many ways to support long distance. Our ‘life group’ from out west supported us via daily texts, phone calls, visits,  meals (yes, meals from afar, can you believe it? There are so many possibilities), and unconditional support.

There have also been a couple of very committed friends who have been a life-line via text. Checking in on us. Asking the hard questions. Putting up with my sadness and never giving up. Always there, one text away. This has truly been a huge, huge blessing.

As important as this long distance support is to us, for nearly two years we prayed for local friends who could be real with us about their joys and struggles in life and weren’t afraid to share those joys and struggles, and who weren’t afraid of our grief and muck either. Who would laugh hard with us and cry with us if needed. We needed to be with others who weren’t afraid to share their life with us. (It’s funny how people shy away from those who grieve when in reality, the ones who are grieving need others so desperately). Large groups are exhausting to us, so a small intimate group that intentionally does life together was what we desperately needed. And guess what? God showed up and provided. When the months turned into a year and then nearly two years, we wondered if it would ever happen, but God provides. He truly does. Our Friday nights with friends have now become the highlight of our week. Oh how we’ve missed ‘doing life’ with others.

Having a doctor, counselor, and pastor who are on your side is so important. I think that often people tend to give up when they feel their needs aren’t met, but we are learning that you can’t. You keep on searching until you find someone with whom you have shared beliefs and values. We struggled to find a doctor who wasn’t afraid of grief and the long lasting impact it has on people–especially children. But we didn’t give up and we are blessed to have found one close by. In the span of the past 2 1/2 years I have seen four different counselors and each one helped bring healing on this journey in their own way. One helped us learn about the grief journey. One helped us understand grief and the work-place. Another has helped me understand the affect of grief on the brain, bringing biblical truths and science together. While a fourth has helped bring understanding into the trauma aspect of our situation. I remember being frustrated that I felt we’d come to a dead end in the road of grief after seeing the first counselor. We received so much knowledge and wisdom, but there were aspects that were left untouched and I felt like we were left hanging. Now I see that each one brought with them wisdom to one particular aspect of grief for us. Each was important in their own way.

When I hear people frustrated about the lack of support they get from their doctor or counselor or pastor, I am now reminded that we cannot give up. You keep on searching until you find someone that brings wisdom and knowledge and speaks life into the places that need help and healing. God provides.

Yes, I am an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need people. I need people desperately, just like everyone else. We need to surround ourselves with a support system that walks with us on this journey. I think that is true for all of us in all aspects of life, grief or depression aside.

Courageously yours,

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