Brain Injury Awareness Month! by Robyn Rapske

Did you know that March is Brain Injury Awareness month?

In acknowledgement of this, I thought I’d share some tidbits of my experience, having acquired myself a brain injury over a year ago.


The symptoms and realities of a brain injury can be very isolating, and very scary, and if I can offer some solidarity with another brain injured person who stumbles across my blog, then it’ll be worth writing this down.

First things first. I used to call my condition “Post Concussion Syndrome” because that’s technically what I have been diagnosed with. I thought at first that I was just being accurate, telling people I had PCS when they asked. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that A) nobody knows what PCS is, so it takes a while to explain, and B) I was avoiding calling it the more simple-to-understand “Brain Injury” because I was afraid of that term. Brain Injury, or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), sounds SO much more terrifying than a concussion to me. Concussions happen all the time to people, and they bounce back quickly. TBI’s are associated with horror stories of personality changes, debilitating migraines, etc.

I have now acknowledged that I have a Brain Injury. Technically my PCS is as a result of a TBI. Saying I have a Brain injury is part of facing my fears. I have found enough meaning, purpose, and hope in the last year, that I know even if I don’t fully recover, life will still be worth the hardship.

In light of this revelation, and the theme of this month, here are some thoughts about this past year, in no particular order:

I think I am a wiser, more confident, more purposeful person today because of my TBI.

An insightful woman from my old church tweeted a little while ago:

“Humans will do almost anything to avoid suffering and conflict. Yet, often it is in these challenging places, points of tension, that we get stretched, do our biggest learning, and are transformed.” (Anne Mackie Morelli, Oct 2018)

For me, this seems to ring true.

I’ve learned more clearly what I value through this experience. When my energy was suddenly extremely limited, and my brain could only offer a fraction of what it used to be able to do, I had to make decisions each day on what I’d spend my limited abilities on. This is what I’ve learned:

I value and crave the beauty of nature.
I value the Earth’s well-being.
I care about helping people who are being marginalized by an unjust society.
I care about encouraging others, giving others hope, and inspiring others to find good in the world.

I now spend my limited energy on the realistic goals that align with this, as much as I can.

So I can’t do overnight hikes. But on my little neighbourhood walks, I desperately soak in any beautiful sight God offers me. The setting sun, the dying fall leaves, the hilarious puppy enjoying a park, etc.

So I can’t cycle to work anymore. But can still switch to bar shampoo/conditioner made from earth-friendly products, and start utilizing reusable menstrual products (not glamourous goals, but still helpful!)

So I can’t really attend rallies and marches for social justice. But I what I can do, is choose to uplift Black and Indigenous authors by buying their books and sharing quotes and photos of them online. I can still spread their stories by sharing about them in a blog. I can still listen to what they have to say and allow them to teach me.

So I can’t be a social worker right now, as is my training. But I can text a friend encouragement. I can visit someone in hospital in their time of need, even if I’m too tired to do more in our friendship after that. I still have social media to uplift people on, to spread joy through.

Knowing what I actually value and what I am willing to work for even when it’s hard has given me confidence, purpose, and direction. My decisions are so much clearer now that I know what I value.

Everyone’s experience is unique--so it’s best for me to ease up on the advice, and the opinions.

I wrote about this in an article featured on The Mighty and Yahoo News

Because of my community, my personal history, my weight/age/sex, my social location, and various other factors, I experienced this brain injury in my own unique way. And everyone’s experience of illness, loss, addiction, marginalization, trauma, etc, will be different because of these factors.

As well, brain injuries in particular, play out differently for each person. And I think it’s important to ‘know thyself’ when dealing with a TBI.

For example, some people get migraines for a long time, and frequently. I didn’t get migraines until 10 months after my brain injury. Why? No idea. Prior to that it was cognitive impairments, brain fog, fatigue, and a weird lightheadedness, but rarely headaches. Now I have less cognitive impairment, less brain fog, less lightheadedness, continuing fatigue, but now awful monthly migraines. Others experience severe balance problems from inner ear damage--I was lucky to be spared this. Some have memory problems--again, I was spared this. Some stroke sufferers, like my late grandfather, lose speech, or movement. That’s a really tough reality. So whatever I go through will be my personal story. If someone found a ‘fix-all’ treatment--it may not work for me. And if I find a helpful therapy--it may do nothing to help someone else.

I may lose things, but I also may gain things.

This week I was published on a magazine that I’ve liked for many years, with millions of visitors to their website each month. I threw them an article, with the full expectation that I wouldn’t hear back. But a few weeks later, an email showed up in my inbox informing me that they loved it and published it! Not only that, but the editor had encouraging words about my writing skills. Phew!! It’s a pretty cool moment for me.

It was thanks to this brain injury over a year go that I started to blog and submit articles to local magazines. Once my cognitive functioning began recovering, I was full of thoughts and ideas, and had no way to share them because I was stuck at home resting. So I started putting my them online. I had hoped to add good to the world through it, to somehow inspire justice and hope. But I really had no concrete plans for my writing.

I may have lost my ability to go for long hikes, attend concerts, learn new sports with my husband, go skiing, etc. But I have been published in a magazine that I never thought I’d be published in. So, it’s not all losses. There’s gains. I grieve the loss of some things, but I find hope in the good things that might be around the corner.

I’ve gotta dream.

I’m generally an optimist in my hope for the world. It’s what keeps me fighting forwards to things like social justice. I think my faith has a lot to do with that. I’ve been taught to believe that there is hope in the darkest places--and God has affirmed that through so many experiences.

However, there’s one thing about me that’s not optimistic. I don’t get my hopes up about personal goals, dreams, and ideas. I hate having expectations for something exciting and not having it come to fruition. I tend to try things I’m around 90% sure that I’ll succeed at.

But in this darker time of life--I needed to set goals. I needed to dream. Not always goals to better myself or succeed at something important, but goals and dreams so I could have hope for the future. I need to believe there are good things to come.

What worked for me: a dream board. I took a giant piece of cardboard and wrote dreams and goals on pieces of paper and taped them on it. The dreams and goals sat there as a reminder, not as a pressure. They held things like ‘write articles for ___ magazine’, ‘read some books by female authors and submit them to the leadership library at work’, and ‘have coffee with (person)’. Over time it’s felt great to cross things off. I realized that, even if it took a long time, I’d get through some of these life-giving things.

It’s not just dreaming—it’s hoping. And hope is quite important to not just surviving—but thriving.

It has helped also, to learn from those who have suffered and still impacted the world for the better. At the beginning of last year I was sincerely encouraged by listening to a podcast by Stuff You Should Know about Harriet Tubman. She apparently had a severe head injury that created significant brain troubles throughout her life, yet she still went on to do such great things for humanity! Somehow, she still impacted the world in a significant way. I’ve been pricking up my ears to realize there are many people’s stories in my own community, who have had serious migraines, chronic fatigue, and/or brain injury struggles, that still go on to do good in their world. My hope is fed by these stories.

There is so much more that I could share, but instead, in conclusion, I say this:

Even if I keep struggling with symptoms for many years,
I will try to keep actively finding Hope,
It will be helpful to know myself and who I am uniquely,
Even with barriers, is still possible for me to have purpose, meaning, and to impact the world in a good way.

And If I DO recover more fully, these are extremely good lessons to take away from this time.

Happy Brain Injury Awareness Month!


Learning to Filter Unsolicited Advice by Robyn Rapske

This was originally published on The Mighty, and I am posting it here with their permission. See the original article here: “Learning To Filter Unsolicited Advice as Someone With Chronic Illness” and also cross-posted on Yahoo News here.


When I first dealt with Graves’ disease in April 2017, and then when I developed post-concussion syndrome in January 2018 (that’s still going strong), I received an ever-changing set of problems that require adaptions. One of these was the unexpected amount of unsolicited advice given by people in all levels of my social world.

From what I’ve heard, most people with any kind of health trouble will receive unsolicited advice. I guess it was my turn to see what this reality feels like.

At the beginning, I was eager to try everything offered to me.

It started with diet.

The naturopath says try cutting gluten out of my diet? Sure! Eliminate dairy, decrease added sugars, decrease processed foods? Yea, sure, sounds reasonable. But then I was recommended to cut out nightshade vegetables, and told to follow the autoimmune protocol diet. I was being told to cut out canola oil and sunflower oil. I was switched from iodized salt to sea salt. I was told I should drink copious amounts of bone broth and kombucha. I was encouraged to eat hormone-free meats raised without antibiotics, only non-GMO products, and the most organic options I could find. Most forms of soy were also off the table.

I had panic attacks over food choices, and I was spending triple the money I normally would on grocery bills. I was crushed under the weight of responsibility for my wellness. I felt that every bite of “wrong” food could mean never overcoming a potentially solvable health problem. There were tears, there was anxiety, and I was terribly bored with the food available. When people asked me why I was so restrictive in my food, I couldn’t even really explain because there were too many reasons and rules to keep track of.


I felt that every bite of “wrong” food could mean never overcoming a potentially solvable health problem.

Luckily these panic attacks slowly evolved into a realization that there is just too much advice for this anxious soul to follow, and the stress of it might be worse than the potentially inflammatory food entering my body. This was a very important lesson. It involved understanding myself and choosing what to do based on who I know myself to be.

It doesn’t mean I rejected every bit of advice I received, but it meant I needed to learn to filter advice better.

I kept some food advice that I felt I could follow, and gently shelved the rest at the back of my mind. This is how I treat all health tips handed to me now.

As this filtering of advice involves a lot of interactions with people, enacting it has meant that I need to figure out how to respond to the people who offer it. It’s been difficult, especially as someone who is sensitive but also tries hard to keep relationships smooth.

I’ve had people kindly offer advice in a gentle way, acknowledging that I may not follow it for my own reasons, and they won’t judge me for it. I’ve also had people offer advice in a tone that implies I am doing myself a disservice if I don’t immediately follow their advice. That’s a bit hard to handle. And there are plenty of people in the middle who boldly offer advice I may not be in the mood to hear, but they also don’t have any kind of judgment towards me if I don’t follow it, so I really feel no right to be angry at them.

To cope with all levels of advice, this is what I’ve come up with so far.

First I ask myself, does this person seem to care about my well-being? Generally I can say that yes, they want me to be well, and the advice they offer is for the betterment of my health. This helps me orient how I continue to deal with their advice. Any initial anger, defensiveness or frustration is lessened when I remember the person is saying this because they care about me.

Is this a professional health care provider? If they are, I will put their advice higher on my list of options. That’s a value I hold, trusting medical professionals, and I think it’s important to remember what I value. Others may have become distrustful of the medical field, and I understand where they’re coming from, but I more seriously consider the ideas of medical professionals.

Will this person be receptive to an explanation that I can only act on a few bits of advice at a time? (Or even no advice sometimes?) If they aren’t receptive, I will probably silently let them continue to advise, and leave the conversation as soon as I can. I have only so much energy; I can’t use it all up on convincing well-meaning folks that I’ll only be filing their advice away with a lot of other advice.

After all of that, I can go home in my introverted style and consider what I want to try next. I can look at my budget, what is covered through work, how much I can handle in a given week, how much energy I have at that time and my motivation level. Eventually, I’ll also have to judge if I really need to try more things, or if adjusting to a new normal is my best option. These are all personal things nobody else can really decide for me, as they don’t know as much as I do about myself.

Right now, this is where I’m at. But this is how I respond to my own health diagnosis, my own life circumstances and my own personal mental wellness. If someone else has a brain injury or Graves’ disease, or other health struggles, they will respond in the way that is best for them. Maybe they’ll reject all advice. Maybe later I’ll reject all advice too.

I’ve learned so far that advice feels best when offered out of care for my well-being, and with hesitancy and openness to it being turned down. And on my end, it’s important for me to know what I value, where I’m at, and how much energy I have for new therapies, and let those filter out the opinions others offer me.

I can’t change how others approach me, but I can change how I respond. (I can also change how I approach others in the future if or when I choose to offer them advice!)

Remembrance Day. Honouring both sides of my family history. by Robyn Rapske


November 11th, “Remembrance Day” in Canada and the commonwealth, has been celebrated since the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1919, honouring the end of devastating WWI in 1918. On this day, we are supposed to take time to remember those who served in our armies, fighting so that we can be ‘free’ today. Specifically those in WWI, but I believe it is now extended to remembering veterans of WWII, and by extension, any Canadian veteran who has fought to keep peace since then.

My first memory of Remembrance Day was at an assembly in Middle School. I held a small candle and stood with my choir-mates in a line against the wall of our gymnasium singing “One Little Candle”

“If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free
A wonderful dawn of a new day we'd see...
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be”

I also recall hearing the words “In Flanders Fields, where poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row....” to mark the beginning of John McCrae’s famous war-time poem.

It was important that children like me were taught to remember the deaths and the lives of those who fought in wars. We were taught to appreciate their sacrifices that allowed us to live safely in our country today.

I grew up understanding that Canadians had died in the pursuit of peace. I internalised the sense that we were the force of good, and that we’d triumphed over evil.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life, things got more complicated for me.

I turned over a few stones of my family’s history to be confronted by things that I wasn’t sure how to process.

Yes, the majority of my family currently lives in a country deemed to be on the ‘good side’ of WWI and WWII. But, many came from Germany and German-speaking Poland. Many of them after WWII.

….Weren’t the Germans considered “bad” in both WWI and WWII?? Isn’t that why the League of Nations punished Germany in the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, so that they would not continue their ‘evil’ ways? Isn’t Germany the birthplace of Nazis and of the Holocaust?

Yes, my one grandfather served in the Canadian Military during WWII, but my other grandfather was, at the same time, a member of the Nazi German Military, along with many of his relatives. Recently I learned that the Polish Army also contained one of my relatives in WWI, which was definitely not on the ‘right’ side as I should understand it.

How do I face these facts on a day like Remembrance Day?

Do I remember my one Grandfather’s involvement with the ‘good’ side, and ignore the experiences of my family that were on the ‘bad’ side?

Due to migraine this November 11th, I sat at home for hours without much other than my thoughts, and I figured out how to process this.

I know that the topics of war, military involvement, and the experiences of veterans is very sensitive. It involves people making huge sacrifices, it creates very complicated decisions, it is steeped large amounts of politics and power-struggles, and it also contains immense pain for a lot of people.

I am of a generation in Canada that enjoys peace-time. I am looking backwards in history to WWI and WWII, to a time that western cultures reflect on frequently. I do not know enough about current wars that Canada is involved in, to have a proper opinion on those. I also don’t know anyone currently in military service in Canada. So I’m not speaking about how I feel regarding current wars.

However, I do speak to my own experience. Being connected to both sides, and remembering these globe-changing wars with complicated emotions.

My grandfather, who held me gently in his arms after I was born, bought me Christmas gifts, attended weddings, thanked God every day for the food on his plate and the safety of his family--was on the ‘wrong’ side with a gun.

If soldiers hadn’t continued killing men like my grandfather, I would not have freedom and peace today.

How do I hold this painful paradox?

Canadians and other Allied forces died in these wars. So did many of my family who were in Germany and Poland, part of the Axis and Central Powers. I would like to mourn both, but am I allowed on Remembrance Day?

What I decided this Remembrance day, and what I will try to keep at the forefront of my brain, is the reality that everyone involved suffered from the effects WWI and WWII to some degree. The ‘good’ guys, the ‘bad’ guys, and every person stuck in the path of war. It is not an Indiana Jones movie, or a war-glorifying video game, where the enemy has been stripped of humanity and no longer garners compassion.

Real war is real pain for so many. Good and bad sides. Also, evil is evil not just because it creates victims, but also because it also creates perpetrators of more evil. Those who might have been peaceful citizens became murderers for their country. Both good and bad sides became killers of their fellow humans because of these wars.

Canadians had to keep fighting for the end of this disastrous reality. As soon as it did end, they were free to choose peace instead. It gave them that chance.

As well, their triumphs also allowed my German and Polish relatives the option of peace, which they used to move to Canada. It brought both sides offers of freedom from killing.

I am so grateful that the Allied Forces fought to put an end to both WWI and WWII so that we could have peace in Canada.

But, I am also grateful that they fought so my relatives, who were the ‘bad guys’, could also have peace.

I remember the WWI and WWII veterans, for all they did. Including providing the safety and freedom of my relatives.

Every Remembrance Day, I am going to remember both sides, thank God that it’s over, and express gratitude to those who stopped it all.

The stories and photos that I’ve included from my family below were real people with real pain, and I wish each of them never had to touch wartime. I wish none of them were involved in the murder of their fellow humans.

Each person in a war is a human to me, and I am grateful for anyone who fought so that their fellow humans could have peace.

“If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free
A wonderful dawn of a new day we'd see...
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be”

I have only a few stories of my family in the war to offer, but these are some of the things that I remember being told. Experiences that colour the reality of my family.

My maternal grandmother was trying to live a peaceful life in what was called “East Prussia” at the time of WWII. The Russians, who were waging war on the power of Germany, were coming her way and my grandmother’s family had to flee. They were German speakers in the wrong place at the wrong time. While fleeing, their train was under fire from Russian fighter pilots. Shots riddled the train-car my grandmother was on, and she watched as her mother was hit and bled to death. I only learned about this through my mother later in my life as my grandparents did not wish to relive the war if they could avoid it.

My Grandma Tutschek on the boat coming to Canada after the war

My Grandma Tutschek on the boat coming to Canada after the war

My grandfather, who my grandmother had yet to meet until they came to Canada, was German, and of an age that demanded he join the army. I don’t know my grandfather’s feelings towards Nazis while they rose to power, but I do know that he did not enjoy being in the German Forces. My belief is that he was probably swept up into the army like thousands of other men--unsure, maybe disagreeing, maybe seeing some truth in the governments convictions, but ultimately fearing the deathly repercussions of even contemplating refusal to be in the war. My grandfather was lucky to have poor eyesight, as it prevented him from being in regular duties. He was a telephone line runner, ensuring communication between groups. I believe he still had to kill others while he on duty, but very infrequently, and only if necessary for his survival--it was not something he wanted to do.

My Grandpa Tutschek, in his German Army uniform

My Grandpa Tutschek, in his German Army uniform

My Grandpa Tutschek at the top, while in the army.

My Grandpa Tutschek at the top, while in the army.

Both my grandmother and my grandfather came to Canada after surviving WWII, and chose not to speak of it very much. Due to the war experience, my grandfather was very quiet, and didn’t talk much about his past, and my grandmother had some anxiety and health struggles, but overall they were very happy with their safety, their quiet lives, and the peace that they found in a new country. I grew up knowing a quiet couple that treasured me and my brother, and liked things peaceful around the home. Both my grandparents passed away in my early 20’s.

My Grandma and Grandpa Tutschek, married in Canada

My Grandma and Grandpa Tutschek, married in Canada

My paternal grandfather was in the Canadian Forces but never had to land in Europe. However, knowing who he was, I believe the threat of one day being required to kill another person would have weighed heavily on him. I was 5 when he passed away, but I continue to hear stories about the respect he had in his Vancouver community, his kindness to others, and his deeply held convictions to follow Jesus. I am sad I didn’t really get to know him, and so I treasure the scrapbooks that my grandmother made for her grandkids with photos and stories of our family.


His wife, my now 89 year old grandma, the matriarch of our family, was born and raised in Vancouver, but her mother and father moved here from Poland. It is her father that served in the Polish Army during WWI. My grandma said her father moved here after the war because he was tired of being in Poland, where was land constantly being fought over by German, Russian, and Polish governments. He found it very unsettling and wished for a happier, safer, and better life. He came to Canada and met my great grandmother here, being married only 5 days after meeting each other. She had been living in Warsaw, Poland, and had come to Canada on her own, I imagine also leaving behind the constantly stressed country of her birth.

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Embodiment: Life In This Body by Robyn Rapske

A shortened version of this article was published online Libero Magazine here

It’s been a fair amount of time since I added a blog post to this website. The reason for this is actually really great. I’ve been quite distracted with improvements to my health.

As I’ve written about before, for over a year, I’ve struggled through two health diagnoses that have made me super, insanely tired. I’m always ready for a nap after the few part-time hours I’m able to get through at work.

However, over a month ago, I was arriving home after work, mentally exhausted and ready to collapse on my couch, when something strange happened. Somehow my body spoke to me. Not audibly, obviously, but in a way that I knew it was saying to me: “I’ve got to run right now. Please, put on some running shoes and let me run.” I felt a rush of energy that had to be expressed in a run.

A hike that many local Vancouverites would recognize, Quarry Rock, is now possible for me to enjoy again!

A hike that many local Vancouverites would recognize, Quarry Rock, is now possible for me to enjoy again!

Despite barely being able to do any exercise other than long walks for over a year, I let my heart rate soar as I pushed through sweat and throat-searing breathe while running through my neighbourhood.

It’s a good thing I listened, because the next day my Post-Concussion-Syndrome-head felt clearer than I could remember in a long time. Since that day, I’ve either run or (more recently) hiked at least twice a week.


My soul lights up knowing that I’ve built up enough cardiovascular strength, that this week I graduated to trying two short hikes!

With a Saturday opening up with no plans, it felt like time for me to process out another blog post. With this recent exercise, the improved health of my body, and contemplating what I’ve learned while experiencing life so vividly in my weakened body, I thought it might appropriate to share about the topic of Embodiment, as I understand it and have been thinking about it.

I’ll start by saying that I used to think a lot about “Body Image”.

I had a terrible 'Body Image' after puberty hit and I began evaluating how my body measured up against standards I’d been blissfully unaware of as a child. I remembering scratching my fingernails along my stomach at 13, hating that it wasn’t flat like my skinnier friends. It was a really unpleasant feeling, hating my body, but I was stuck in it until my body started to lose fat.

Whenever I lost weight in future years, I would be given elated moments of really ‘great’ body image. If I slimmed down, fixed my hair well, or wore something I felt flattered me, I felt like I measured up to the standard of beauty, and counted it as having ‘good’ Body Image day.

I’ve experienced what I’d call a ‘Yo-Yo Body Image’. When I was matching societal standards of beauty, I felt happy, I felt proud of my body, and I felt satisfied with my life. When I didn’t feel I matched these standards of beauty, I felt less satisfied with my life, I felt my mood plumet for the rest of the day, and I wanted to hide under baggy clothing.

Then when I discovered things I was passionate about, like social work and justice for the marginalized, I found I could step out of the Yo-Yo for a brief time while I was distracted by the other things I cared deeply about. In this time I didn’t think about my body at all because I was so ‘other-focused’.

But it was never long-lived. I’d step right back into the Yo-Yo again when a photo of me surfaced that I didn’t like. Or likewise, I’d feel a rush of joy over my Body Image when I looked in a mirror and I felt like I looked fantastic.

Essentially, I had the options of judging my body as “Good” or “Bad”, or simply being “Disconnected”.

I’m a white, Christian woman from a middle class family in Canada. I have never suffered from something like anorexia, bulimia, or diagnosed body dysmorphia, so I know my particular experience of Body Image is unique to my life. But I’m sure we have all heard and talked a lot about “Body Image”. Body Positivity, Good Body Image, Bad Body Image issues--there’s so much conversation about it.

I thought this was the only conversation I could have about my body.

What I’m grateful to God for, is that this is not my only option. There is another conversation I can have. I’ve only recently heard it termed “Embodiment” on a Liturgists podcast of the same name (listen here).

What is Embodiment?

I don’t know that I can define it well, but for me, this is how it’s mattered to me as a term:

Embodiment is experiencing life through my body. Experiencing society through my body. Experiencing who I am through my body. Experiencing my everyday life through my body.

Instead of thinking about and judging my body, I can spend my energy in living life through my body.

It sounds a bit weird, and I don’t know how else to explain it, so I’ll try to ‘flesh’ it out with stories.

Now, that's a completely happy and elated little Robyn

Now, that's a completely happy and elated little Robyn

When I was a kid, I lived an almost fully ‘embodied’ life. I didn’t judge my body, or think ‘about’ it, I didn’t even really ‘listen’ to my body; I simply lived out my life through my body. I wept when my body said that I should. I laughed hysterically when something was funny. I ran in circles when it felt a rush of energy. I sang when I wanted to (at the grocery store, out my window, at the dinner table). I followed around my big brother, copying whatever he did because I admired him. I screamed when something scared me. When my stomach hurt, or my head hurt, or my throat hurt, I stopped doing the things that would hurt it until it felt better. When I wanted comfort I’d find my mom to hug me.

I experienced my life fully through my body, and didn’t think much about it.

If this sounds weird, or you’ve been taught by religious leaders 'not to trust the flesh’--I understand, as I have also had these thoughts. However, I’ve also had other thoughts that say my body and my life are so intimately entwined that it makes no sense to sever the two.

I’ll expand on how it looks for me now, trying to live this kind of embodied life as an adult. After all, as adults, we learn that following all of our body’s instincts isn't always helpful, because we live in a very imperfect world that teaches our bodies some bad lessons.

I started thinking about this ‘embodied living’ when I suffered some consequences of disconnecting with my body.

A major consequence I experienced was heartburn. I suffered searing and debilitating bouts of it. Doctors couldn’t figure it out. My diet didn’t aggravate it that much. They wrote it off as a possible weak muscle between esophagus and stomach. After many years of heartburn, I started to realize it was more connected to my experiences of insecurity, than to what I ate.

When I was around people I felt might judge me, I would get very anxious, and my stomach pain would begin to build. Sometimes it was while keeping up with smart people in a conversation, and I would ignore the uncomfortable position I was in for hours. My body couldn’t digest properly or relax into comfortable positions because I was ignoring it. Sometimes it would be aggravated while being near boys I liked, or girls I feared the judgement of, and I would unconsciously suck in my gut to appear thinner, due to the unspoken belief that being thinner would make me more loveable. Doing this for hours also prevented proper stomach functions.

With confidence building and insecurities lessening over the years, as well as learning to take care of my physical needs moment-to-moment, I started to notice less problems with heartburn. I’m so grateful for friends and family who consistently helped me build up that confidence, and was astonished to see how much it affected my physical well being.

This experience helped me see that I live my experiences through my body--not just with a mental perception of my daily activities. My body experiences my insecurities just as much, if not more, than my mind.

During this time, I also struggled with growing bouts of insomnia.

You know that feeling, when you’re anxious about not being able to sleep, and you count the hours passing by, wondering if you’ll be able to do work the next day? And how it just makes you more anxious and less likely to sleep? That would happen to me so frequently that my brain was was being trained to get more anxious as bedtime loomed nearer.

Out of desperation, I succumbed to my psychologists suggestion to try ‘Mindfulness Meditation’, despite feeling a very haughty judgement of things such as Mindfulness practices.

I did an 8-week program she prescribed--a daily regime focused on learning how to reconnect with my experience of the world through my body. The book was titled "The Mindful Way Workbook".

8 week course.jpg

I had deep scepticism, especially when I read the instructions for the first exercise titled “Raisin Exercise”. I was supposed to spend 10 minutes slowly observing my body’s experience of eating a raisin. Touching it, looking at it, smelling it, letting it sit in my mouth, chewing it one chew at a time, swallowing it, then finally sitting with the flavour in my mouth.

What was phenomenal… is that when I was forced to stop and slowly experience something as silly as eating a raisin, I realized there was so much to my body’s experience of the world that I was unaware of. I noticed my body was really good at subconsciously operating multiple muscles in order to chew, and that there were muscles throughout my throat that operated without my knowledge to get food to my stomach. I didn’t realize raisins were so juicy in my mouth because normally I ate them in handfuls, like people eat popcorn during a movie--so mindlessly.

It made me wonder how much my body was experiencing and doing in life that I wasn’t noticing because I was so darned ‘cognitive’ about everything.

After 8 weeks straight practising a variety of exercises to train my brain, learning to notice my body’s experience more, I no longer struggled with debilitating anxiety over sleepless nights. I also noticed a lovely calm building stronger in my mind. I didn’t get as panicky over things. I enjoyed simple things more than ever before.

All from taking intentional time to understand my body’s experience of the world.

Developing a Thyroid disorder in April 2017, and then being dealt Post Concussion Syndrome January of this year, I’ve also been learning what it means to listen to a body that struggles with daily tasks.

In the past year and a half, this body of mine has been so loud about it’s needs, weaknesses, and struggles, I’ve been learning even more how my experience of the world is rooted within it.

I can’t push through daily fatigue anymore, as I used to. When my thyroid hormones were too low for a few months, I was near fainting if I ignored my tiredness. After Post-Concussion Syndrome settled in, if I pushed through full-time hours, ignoring fatigue, I’d have to cancel on work. Instead, I had to acknowledge that all my body could do was part-time.

As well for a while, if I didn’t go for an intentional walk outdoors at least twice a week, I would get so depressed and anxious that I would cry copiously and lose hope about my future. If I maintained even the smallest amount of exercise, I got just enough of a shot of endorphins and perspective to get through to the next day. My body’s experience is connected with my soul’s experience.

I was told dietary modifications would help both diagnoses. After adjusting my diet, I found that if I didn’t listen to my body’s experience of food, I paid for it in a larger ways than I ever had before. While my thyroid was problematic, if I had too much sugar or processed foods, my heart rate would pound higher, and my head would feel horrible. Currently, if I drink more than one alcoholic beverage in a span of 4 hours, I will be disoriented in a way that is more than ‘tipsy’, and it will make my next day absolute crap. Also, if I don’t eat 3 full meals rife with nutrients each day, my brain fades to mental fog much worse than I ever felt before this illness.

As much as I’d rather not have gone through these diagnoses, my old insomnia, or my heartburn, it’s the way it is. I experience the world through this body. It is intertwined with my life--it feels everything I do in life, it pays for whatever mistakes I make, it can teach me things about being well, it can help me understand the world around me better too.

I’m paying attention more in other ways as well:

I love that I cry when I pray for someone. Usually only a few tears escape, which I can hide away quickly before people see--but it is a way my body shows the beauty of prayer and the intensity of reaching out to the God of the universe.

When I go for walks, I love to pay attention to the wind on my skin, smelling the cooking of my neighbours, inhaling scents of the soft, wet ground after a rain, or noticing that sounds are muffled by snow. My body is the only way I can experience these things that bring my soul joy or fullness.

My body has also collected experience about the world and protects my being. It shows me that I am not yet safe in this world as a body with female qualities. Despite all of my efforts to protect my sexuality from society in modest running shorts and a super-contained sports bra--men still whistle, stare unabashedly, and comment. Because this still happens to my body, if I run past a man (or worse a group of men) my body tenses up completely, my arms close in towards my chest, and sometimes I feel a rush of protective adrenaline that causes me to act out. I will cross the street, or I will run faster or glare at the offender, and in some circumstances I’ve even snapped and flipped men my middle finger.

(Thomas thought I should add a note here:
When I first expressed to him the intense protectiveness I have of my body around unknown men, he felt it wasn’t fair to men, or a necessary response.
Of course I know that there are many men out there who are not threatening to my body.
HOWEVER after hearing my many stories of 'everyday' sexual harassment, and the countless stories of my female friends and acquaintances being harassed, assaulted, and even in the past, raped, Thomas realized there are some pretty good reasons that I’m so protective and now understands why I am this way.
Even if it’s not all men, it’s enough men to warrant this daily protective response.)


The above is a protective response that is okay in my opinion, BUT I do acknowledge that sometimes have to retrain my body’s learned experience, too. It’s learned some bad lessons from being in this society. For example, when I’m sad, my body wants to feel better, so it will reach out to unhealthy options--overeating, zoning out to unhealthy amounts of TV, and (years ago) seeking affirmation for my physical attractiveness--and this all will take energy to unlearn.

The body experiences the same trauma and joys that our minds experience. If we ignore this, I think we’re in danger of being stunted in our growth to be fully alive--and stunted in our healing from the ways the world has injured us. I’ve been particularly bad at this, I think, so I have to consciously relearn it.

Perhaps body-disconnection is a Western kind of problem introduced by certain dominant cultures. I’ve heard other cultures don’t struggle to live an embodied life as much. Regardless of reason, I’m here now, relearning my body’s connection to who I am and the world I interact with, and it’s a much fuller experience than Yo-Yoing between condemnation, pride, and disconnection. I still get bouts of this frustrating Yo-Yo, but less so as the years go on.

My body is not bad. It’s just had bad influences. It’s actually very good. It’s a part of the whole thing that is Robyn Grace Rapske. Jesus came to earth within a human body. I think it’s worth reconnecting to our bodies which were, after all, created in God's image.

I have a tendency to forget what God teaches me, like these lessons above. But sometimes writing about it helps solidify the learning.

And I’m sure that, if I do forget this lesson, this body of mine, which God created so intimately, will remind me.

This was a particularly embodied moment. I still remember the chill of the morning, the awe for this incredible sight, the joy of feeling on top of the world. Maui's mountain was full of other people, but I barely noticed them while this was before my eyes and the sun began to wash over my face.

This was a particularly embodied moment. I still remember the chill of the morning, the awe for this incredible sight, the joy of feeling on top of the world. Maui's mountain was full of other people, but I barely noticed them while this was before my eyes and the sun began to wash over my face.

Trauma, Peace, Persistence, Grace, Integrity by Robyn Rapske

Hillary McBride, Tenth Avenue Church, Vancouver, BC, June 25, 2018

Hillary McBride, Tenth Avenue Church, Vancouver, BC, June 25, 2018

This weekend I attended an event titled Spiritual Trauma, led by therapist, researcher, speaker and writer, Hillary McBride. Hillary is at the forefront of studying trauma, amongst other things, and I’ve heard her speak on the Liturgists podcast regarding Spiritual Trauma before. This blog post addresses mostly how Trauma impacts the work I do, but if you’d like more extensive information on Spiritual Trauma specifically, I’d recommend the podcast episode, if you can’t make it to one of her talks.

Talking about trauma can bring up difficult emotions for those who have experienced it, so if this post is making your body freak out, then I’d say not to bother reading it. I really don’t want to invoke a panic attack. Try these calming techniques if you're needing a moment of peace.

Due to working with women and families on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), I encounter a lot of people with some pretty intense responses to their past and current traumatic experiences. As a general outreach worker here, my job is to offer support during various crises that women and families go through. This means I step directly into moments where they might be coping with real-time trauma, being reminded of a traumatic time in their lives, or trying to manage a new crises when they’ve already got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder going on.

My coworkers walking down a back a DTES alley on International Women's Day 2016

My coworkers walking down a back a DTES alley on International Women's Day 2016

Because of this, despite having a basis of education in Social Work, I continue to find ways to expand on my understanding of it--hence attending this weekend seminar.

What is "trauma"? Well, that’s a huge topic on its own. I’m not an expert in the research and study of that topic. So instead, I will throw down a few points from my recent experience hearing Hillary teach on it.

Trauma, she pointed out, means “wound” in Greek. In our understanding of trauma, that “wound” can refer to something harming the body (eg. concussion), it can refer to something harming the mind (eg. emotional, verbal, financial abuse etc), or to the mingling of those two (eg. emotionally and physically abusive relationship leading to a concussion).

The brain is a leading factor in our response to trauma, and it’s a confusing but amazing thing.


One of its many attributes is that it has an intense survival instinct, with a variety of tools to support that instinct.

When something within the body is harmed (from a broken bone, to abusive language tearing at your concept of self), one of those tools jumps into gear without our conscious effort.

This, as Hillary taught us, is a form of intense “Sensory Memory”. When a traumatic event happens, the brain’s sensory system will memorize what exactly is happening in that moment. In the future, if anything similar begins to happen, the brain has remembered that it’s time to activate fight/flight/freeze modes without consulting your conscious decision-making skills.

For instance, if you’re in a cycling accident with a car that ran a red light, next time you’re cycling and a car is coming up to another red light, regardless of whether it is properly stopping, your brain may send out signals to tense up and prepare to react quickly just in case it doesn’t. It wants to keep you alive and well, and regardless of your opinion on the matter, it will probably start an adrenaline rush in case it’s needed to keep you safe.

This is a great survival instinct, and it’s probably why we survive longer than age 6.

This is an unconscious action, and not something you can easily stop from happening. It is fantastic in this circumstance, as cycling can be dangerous if you’re not alert to dangers that are always quite real.

However, what if you were verbally abused by someone over time, and your brain imprints a survival instinct to tense up any time you’re around a person who resembles the one who verbally abused you? You can end up tense, anxious, and frightened whenever someone reminds you of that person, and it can be frustrating because those people may not actually be dangerous.

Just as the brain creates this imprint without consulting your conscious brain, likewise it won’t easily be changed by your conscious choices. Only with some intentional therapies, certain ongoing practices, and lots of time can we change our unconscious survival reactions.

It’s my experience that these are part of what we sometimes call “Triggers”. Being ‘triggered’ by an enclosed space, by the presence of a white male in power at a church, by hearing loud noises close by, by human touch, it’s all part of those learned survival tactics of the brain that may be frustrating, but they’re trying to keep you alive, and it’s hard to change them.

Pausing a moment for what may seem like an irrelevant story but I swear, it’s not:

Recently my supervisor asked our team to read the books of the bible Ezra and Nehemiah. She is also a Reverend so she likes to refocus on the Bible when we're doing our work, which is nice.


I believe this is the relevant summary of what I got from those books (feel free to correct any historical inaccuracies):

In Ezra, God’s temple is being rebuilt in Jerusalem, but there are immense barriers to them completing it. People in power nearby created systemic pressures because they didn’t like how the Judeans’ God inspired people to be less subordinate to the kings. They stalled it and made everything harder in this pursuit given by God. Eventually, however, through persistence, the Judean people build the temple back up.

In Nehemiah, the Judeans begin to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and this time they have the power of a wealthy king on their side giving them construction materials. However, they are still being discouraged from this task by others. The enemies of Judah plan violent surprise attacks. The people rebuilding the walls had to hold a sword in their hands to fight, as well as continue their efforts to build.

Our supervisor asked us to think about what we are 'building up' in our lives, and what our 'swords' are, which we use to fight off those things trying to prevent us from building.

I’ve decided that what I’m trying to “Build” is Peace.

Peace in someone’s painful, chaotic moments
Peace between myself and others
Peace in everything and anything I have any influence over

I think of Peace as the opposite of trauma. If we have experienced trauma, aren't we always trying to find our way back to Peace?

As for what I have to “Battle” back at, I think that involves anything that threatens Peace.

In order to pursue Peace, and at the same time battle back against what discourages Peace, I use these three “swords”:

Persistence, Grace, Integrity


It takes time, energy, supports, and commitment in order to heal from trauma. Studies in “Neuroplasticity” (the brain's ability to heal itself) show that it is possible to heal from trauma, but it can take a long time, and it involves dedicated supportive systems and significant helpful contributions to that healing. Hillary pointed out how, if we say the phrase ”Just get over it!” that we don’t understand how the brain works. It’s a long process and it has less to do with conscious decisions of ‘being over it’ and more to do with ongoing support, practice, and time to rewire the brain.

In my work--this means that I can show love, support, and care for someone over and over for the next 5 years, and might only see gradual changes, but I shouldn’t get discouraged, because it’s normal to take a long time to build back peace. The building of the temple in Jerusalem was interrupted for 15 years, and they must have been so tempted to be discouraged and give up--but they didn’t. So I shouldn’t.

Intergenerational Trauma is also a real thing which extends the time it takes to heal on a larger scale.

Intergenerational Trauma can be a result of environmental re-traumatizing--if the environment doesn’t change much, obviously the traumas just keep going. For example: Residential Schools happened in Canada beginning in the 1870’s, and then governments altered their policies, but continued the trend of separating kids from their families and cultures via the 60’s Scoop. From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, massive amounts of Indigenous children were moved from their families into foster care or adoption. As of 2016, 52% of kids in the foster care system in Canada were Indigenous, but across Canada, Indigenous children only represented 7.7% of the population. There’s not much chance to get out of the trauma of family separation, if it keeps continuing.

Scientifically they’re also discovering that, even if the environment changes, the brain and body can pass along genetic markers helping their offspring avoid certain traumatic experiences.

There is an experiment ongoing, which Hillary described, (if you’re an animal rights activist I’m sorry, you’ll hate this experiment), where mice are being given the scent of cherry blossoms right before receiving an electric shock in the foot. These mice developed a fear of the scent of cherry blossoms. When they inseminated female mice with the sperm of these fearful mice and baby mice were born--despite the mother and baby never being exposed to electric shocks or to the 'father' mouse, the baby hated the scent of cherry blossom scents! They’re still continuing the study--they’ve already confirmed that the genetic marker that creates a fear of cherry blossoms has been passed at least 2 generations.

This study is new, so we’ll learn much more about the reasons for this as science progresses, but it is beginning to create a scientific defence for what so many people have already known--that the learned responses to traumatic events can be passed along generations.

So for example, integrating this information into my own life; I work with a lot of Residential School survivors, 60’s Scoop Survivors, and the children and grandchildren of these survivors. Indigenous people and Settler people in Canada will have to keep working for many generations before things will be fully peaceful. It will take a long time for people to “get over” the fear of white people separating their families, and the distrust of government and churches.

This leads to my next important weapon:


Just as God had Grace and sent Jesus to redeem us, save us, and make us whole, despite our inability to be ‘deserving’ of these gifts--I see Grace as an important part of loving, supporting, understanding, and being kind to people who may be acting out their responses to trauma in unhelpful ways in relationship with me.

If “Sensory Memories” can be created by trauma, and those memories can become “triggers” for people, this can mean that someone may have a horrible reaction to me without realizing that's why they are upset. It could be because of how I look, the way I speak, where I work, the religion I hold to, the way I pray, the power I am unaware I have--simply because one or some of these things resemble someone who has traumatized them or their family. The past trauma may not be my fault, but their reaction to who I am is overwhelming for them, and it is their brain’s learned response to protect themselves from someone like me.

Their biology is protecting them without them even realizing it.

Due to the nature of the community that I work within, I have been yelled at, screamed at, sworn at, I have been called a F***ing C***, I have been threatened, I have been called racist, I have been told I’m a bad Christian, I have had women throw very clever guilt-trips my way.

I don’t like being treated this way, but when I understand trauma, I am less concerned with feeling offended and indignant, and more concerned with what led them to need this survival tactic.


I still put in boundaries, such as saying “I believe your situation, and I want to hear more, but I’m feeling unsafe, so go take a break and cool off”. Or it can look like a physical barrier, when a man is unable to handle his emotions and starts smashing his fist against our door so we keep it closed.

It’s less about me, and more about their past, so I don’t take it as personally anymore. I have grace for their situation. I want to see them heal, rather than scold and judge them for their behaviours which are uncomfortable for me.


Integrity can be meant in many ways, but I understand that integrity means that one's words match one's actions.

If I know how trauma is a huge part of everyone’s lived experiences, and I say I care about fostering Peace for others, then it only makes sense that I take action to create that Peace.

One example of how I’m trying to match my beliefs to my actions, is through my use of words.

I try not to use words that others identify as ‘triggers’ when I know what they are. Not only for individual traumas, but for collective traumas.

After understanding our body’s response to trauma, I don’t see avoiding “taboo” words as being “Politically Correct”, I see it as understanding the instinctive reaction that someone’s brain is going through, and doing my best to help avoid triggering it. Hillary didn’t relate her teaching on trauma to this concept, but I think it can be applied.

Ijeoma Oluo says in her book "So You Want To Talk About Race?":

“The history of a word matters as long as the effects of that history are still felt”.

I would say that this history of trauma associated with a word will probably be felt until the environment changes and the generational trauma is given a chance to heal.

Indigenous people still feel racism, so the word “Indian” matters. It was used in ideologies such as “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” to justify cultural genocide (Richard Pratt, as cited in Cheryl Bear-Barnetson’s book). It was used in racial slurs and still is. So I won’t use it outside of explaining why it’s inappropriate. I don’t want to trigger the trauma that is associated with that word.

Maybe Indigenous people themselves will use that word, but I’m part of the group of people that wielded it in terrible ways, so my use of it can be very triggering.

If I say I care about not triggering the historical and ongoing trauma in people, this is one example of how my behaviour matters in order to create that.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, and sometimes it can be.

But honestly, it’s quite helpful.

Not only can I personally cope a lot better with the trauma I see in the world if I find something to do about it, but it also really impacts people around me for the better.

I have heard and seen miraculous things when women and families are given the safety of a place that makes efforts not to re-traumatize them. They may not be able to express it all the time, but I see it in their trust of me, in how they know that we will always be there for them.

Change flourishes in those places. I’ve seen women grow so much stronger than they thought they could, because they were given opportunities to be safe, and to rewire their brains slowly towards more Peace. They did hard work of healing, but the context is a huge help.

People sometimes talk about my job like I’m willingly doing the most painful work in the world.

But actually, this job gives me more hope than I thought I could have in a world full of trauma and pain. Women have a much better chance to heal in a place full of safety, peace, love, and non-judgemental care, so if we can help create more of that, there is hope.





Some of What I Got Wrong, Some of What I’m Trying to Get Right (or The Clumsy Efforts of Reconciliation in One White Life. Part 2) by Robyn Rapske

I care about the well being of other people. I think many people say they care about others’ well being, too. For sure every church I’ve been in claims that as a value and a goal.

Since my early 20’s I’ve tried to expand my care for others by widening my perspective on how to do this well. This has meant trying to learn a lot. Who others are, why they are struggling with life, how they would like to be treated by me, what structures are in place that are harming them, etc

It’s not easy to get better at caring for others, and I struggle to do it, especially when I’m tired, when I’m commuting, when I harbour resentment towards someone, when I just feel like I can’t read or learn more about the pains that people suffer, etc. And of course there are limits--I do not have to put myself into situations with someone who is speaking or acting abusively towards me. I also can’t care for everyone all the time, (due to being tired and stuff!) so I have to figure out what setting those ‘healthy boundaries’ means. But still, I keep trying.

One of those things that I’ve been trying to learn more about and widen my perspective on is:


That big, confusing, dark, painful thing

Historically, currently, and most likely into the future, racism hurts the well being of people all over the world. It’s hurting my closest friends, my coworkers, my fellow church congregants. Many of the people on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside whom I meet are suffering from it, the authors of many books I’m reading are harmed by it. It touches unbelievably large amounts of people I will never meet.

I've made this post also Part 2 of The Clumsy Efforts of Reconciliation in One White Life series because in my home country of Canada, racism also harms Indigenous people in very painful ways, and this post ended up talking a lot about how this can contribute to my clumsy efforts of reconciliation.

I am just one person talking about my one experience as a white person. If you would like to learn a lot more than what I can offer, and from the lips of people who are my teachers in all of this, I think highly of these books from my recent readings:

“So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
“I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown
“Introduction to First Nations Ministry” by Cheryl Bear-Barnetson


The hardest thing about trying to battle back the racism for my loved ones, is that it is so multifaceted in my life;

I’m white (very, very white).
I grew up without consciously realizing I was embodying racist beliefs.
I didn’t realize for a long time that systems of my country and other western countries were supporting racism and sustaining structures to keep racism in place.
When I realized that racism was bigger and closer to my life than previously thought, I tried to improve, and ended up being slow and sluggish at improving.
I’m currently doing my best, and I am still so, so behind.


I care about the well being of others.

So even if I can’t perfect these efforts, they're worth working at.

Sometimes, it’s nice to learn from other people’s mistakes. If you can watch someone else’s mistake before you make it, there’s that freeing possibility of not having to make the mistake yourself.

In a vulnerable moment, I’m going to air out some of my mistakes as I’ve begun to realize them.

At a recent event I attended, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Hillary McBride, pointed out that shame, which keeps us from loving ourselves, doesn’t actually change us, and in fact it drives us into even more dysfunctional behaviour. So I share these things with as little shame as I can manage for myself. 

Oh, also, if you’re not white, you’ve probably heard/experienced enough racism, so feel free to skip these confessions if you don’t want to have to deal with some of this racist history of mine.


Mistake #1

From high school into my early 20’s, I genuinely used to think that I was better, and elevated, and 'above' racism because I had a Congolese friend, a Persian friend, a Nigerian friend, a few Chinese friends, and a Phillipino friend.

What I've Learned:

Just because I have valued, and became friends with people who are part of a group that has historically suffered oppression due to their skin colour, did not make me immune to racism. It’s not like a vaccine, I was not protected from the many unrealized misdeeds I probably did, unaware of how racist they were. I cringe at wondering what I've said and done without realizing the racism that inspired me to act that way.

This belief also had the even more troubling effect of preventing me from making further efforts to see what racist behaviours I had. Like a false-negative test for cancer, I couldn’t treat the thing that existed because I thought I didn’t have it (except in this case the cancer would harm someone else other than me). I'm very grateful for the teaching of professors, authors, film directors, etc that led me to realize I had deeper problems going on.


Mistake #2

I didn’t see Indigenous people until my early 20's.

I grew up in Canada, so I obviously must have seen Indigenous people around, but what I mean is that I did not really see them. If an Indigenous person walked past me, my brain categorized them as Filipino, or Hawaiian, or some other ethnicity that I didn’t fully recognize and didn’t bother finding out about.

What I've Learned:

This blindness is probably because I learned about Indigenous people in the context of the incomplete history given to me by my schools. In textbooks and stories, Indigenous people were wearing regalia, associated with longhouses or teepees, occupying themselves with tanning hides, etc. This is obviously part of many Indigenous cultures, but that’s where it stopped for me. I didn’t see Indigenous people as someone shopping at the mall with me, participating in choir competitions like me, owning cell phones, eating next to me at the McDonald's. They were firmly stationed in my brain as a historical people no longer rooted in current Canada.

I knew nothing of the complex and painful history leading up to where Indigenous people are now, and also could not see that we were living in the same culture, with all that our society entails. It wasn’t until my I attended UVic’s Social Work program where I learned about the history more in-depth and learned from Indigenous teachers themselves, that I began to finally see. Thank God for the learning I received there.


Mistake #3

Even as I began to see Indigenous people, I still feared their traditional cultural practices. I thought they were dangerous, full of idolatry. It was entrenched within me, this fear, and who knows how it came out in my words and actions and general lack of support for Indigenous people's cultural practices.

What I've Learned:

Well, I’ve learned a lot about Christianity and Indigenous beliefs. First of all, I did not grow up understanding that I lived in a particular, man-made culture. And I did not see that this culture was just one unique way of expressing one’s life. I didn’t know that my western style of worshipping God, honouring God, and communing with God was not the only way to do so. Second of all, I was either fed misinformation about Indigenous cultural practices, or not taught about them at all.

To illustrate with a few examples; Smudging freaked me out. I didn't understand it, and it felt like a spooky, strange, 'savage' practice. What I found, once properly taught, is that it's quite multifaceted and wonderful. Smudging can just be another practice to use in connection with God (Creator). It can be used as a physical act of preparation for praying with God. It can also be used to dedicate a new home or an important room to God, just as I've seen oil used to anoint a new home while Christians pray over it. Another example: I thought that Indigenous people worshipped animals and nature and ‘mother earth’ in idolatry. I didn’t remember that Christian scriptures are absolutely full of talk that animals and nature are innately tied to God. When traditional Indigenous practices respect and honour creation with a variety of ceremonies or prayers, the ultimate goal is to respect and honour God. How beautiful!

As the author of “Introduction to First Nations Ministry”, Cheryl Bear-Barnetson of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, said in her book:

“A question that burns in the mind of every non-Native Christian when thinking about Indians: ‘Is Indian religion evil?” That is a valid question for American or Canadian people to ask, however it is very offensive for a Native person to hear. Please do not think that indigenous people are overly sensitive, they are not. After five hundred years of being scrutinized, stereotyped, and misunderstood, indigenous people often feel overly exposed. Christians react in a similar fashion when radical Islamists state that Christianity is a false, polytheistic religion.” 

In her book, Cheryl provided much more information about Indigenous beliefs, which helped chip further and further away at that ignorant fear of mine. Again, if you're Christian and Canadian and not Indigenous, please consider reading it. It's not even very expensive on Amazon

These are just some examples of how I’ve accidentally done wrong, and some of what I’ve learned. I have spent a lot of mental energy trying not to say and do the wrong things, expanding my knowledge on how to be less racist.

However, what I’ve been learning through the wisdom of others, including in the books I’ve recently read, is that this still isn’t enough.

Racism exists in systems, in people, and in culture. With what efforts I can muster, I’ve been shown that, aside from talking about racism here, and changing the thoughts inside my own head, I should also be seeking ways to actively battle back at racism in larger society.

It’s not just about me keeping my ‘street cred’ as a ‘nice person’--coming off as someone not actively doing racist stuff. It’s about going out of my way to try changing the systems that people with my skin colour have been benefited from on the backs of people without my skin colour.

Ijeoma Oluo says in her book:

“We cannot understand race and racial oppression if we cannot talk about it….But understanding, on its own, will never equal action.”
“Talk. Please talk and talk and talk some more. But also act. Act now, because people are dying in this unjust system. How many lives have been ground up by racial prejudice and hate….We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society”

But what to do? The anxiety of feeling overwhelmed with how many problems there are is real.

Well, Ijeoma provides some good examples in her book, which I encourage you to get ahold of. I won’t list all of her suggestions here, as that would make this post even longer than it already is!

My husband Thomas suggested to me that I pick one of Ijeoma's ideas, and commit to doing it, using the accountability of writing it here to get it done. It’s a fair point; my inner integrity won’t be satisfied if I don’t commit to doing what I said I would here.

One of Ijeoma’s suggestions is:

Vote for diverse government representatives. Help put people of color into the positions of power where they can self-advocate for the change that their communities need. Support candidates of color, and support platforms that make diversity, inclusion, and racial justice a priority.”

She also suggests:

Get in schools. Do you know what the racial achievement gap is in your school district?”

Well, we have an election coming up in Vancouver for mayor, city councillors, park board commissioners, and school board trustees. This seems like a great opportunity to use voting powers that I don’t use as much as I could. Although I’ve participated in local elections more in my adult years, I haven’t really put the energy I could into influencing it with my vote. And not just in researching the candidates to vote for the 'best' option, but rather making my voice heard in all of the candidates offices.

For example, I clearly like writing, so why am I not writing letters and emails to candidates in elections? I can make my desires quite clear, pointing out that if they want my vote, this is what I will care about and vote for. This can address those in power as well as the ones making significant decisions in Vancouver schools.

If I find someone I really support, then would I consider volunteering for them? Giving them donations? I suppose we’ll have to see.

Nominations are in September, but already there is a lot of talk around who is running, and that gives me plenty of time to get some letters ready.

Again, the imperfections of my attempts are going to continue being so real, but I shouldn’t get disheartened. The efforts are worth it. Some may even say that it's very 'Christian' to keep trying to provide relief in society from racism.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Mark 12:30-31

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Calling It Bravery by Robyn Rapske


Recently Thomas and I travelled for over two weeks. We celebrated his Masters program graduation in Philadelphia, we visited some friends in Scotland, and then we finished off with a few nights in London. It was a whirlwind, and I loved it. Feeling the pride of Thomas’s accomplishments, seeing my friends’ new baby in Scotland, meeting up in London with a friend for a show--it was all so wonderful.

However, as I posted pictures of our escapades on my social media pages, and received exclamations from friends over what grand adventures we seemed to be having, I thought about the stuff that didn’t make it on Instagram. I posted about castles, hikes, food, landmarks and monuments. I had a fantastic time commentating on the wonderful sights we were seeing.

But there was other stuff that I dealt with while travelling. Stuff I didn’t think people wanted to see.

I have sincere, uncomfortable, frustrating fears around travelling. And I travelled anyways. And I was proud of myself for it. I call it ‘bravery’. But that felt weird to post on Instagram, so I didn’t. However, why not? I'll do it now!

People who know me well, will know I have lot of fears, as I try to be vocal about what gets me anxious. Speaking about these fears can help me name them and find humour in them. The list of things that make me afraid is large, and has varying degrees of intensity from day to day. I think the only person in the world who might know all of them is Thomas, and even he forgets about some.

One of these things is heights. Another is the related sensation of falling from a great height. You’ll never find me bungee jumping or doing any free-fall amusement park rides. It makes my stomach churn.

Unfortunately, both of these fears tie in closely to flying.

Sitting 37,000 feet in the air, relying on the skills of flawed humans to put together a powerful engine and a sturdy metal structure to ensure that I don’t die by falling is terrifying to me.


In 2010, my fear of flying began to show up when I made the long trek to Zambia and South Africa.

In 2016, when I went to Calgary for Christmas with my brother’s family, leading up to the trip and during the trip I had a constant, nagging anxiety at the knowledge that I’d have to fly again soon. It was very unpleasant.

By 2017 I knew I’d struggled through too many flights with gripping anxiety, so I decided I would finally accept the help of drugs. Flying to Philadelphia, and then home from New York, I gave my body the kindness of Ativan.

So a month ago, knowing that I’d be boarding six different planes for varying flight lengths, I had the Ativan ready. But as I kept checking in with my body, I was surprised to notice that the tell-tale anxieties weren’t starting. As we drove to the airport, sat in security checks, and found our boarding gate, nothing escalated. I wasn’t sure why this was happening, I found it quite interesting.

It would have been absolutely fine and kind to my body to pop the Ativan and fly, in anticipation that I might get anxious later on.

But I wanted to see what my body would do. I thought I’d try out it’s limits. So I breathed through the parts of flying I hate the most (take off and landing *shiver*), and lo! I made it through five of the six flights on our trip without the assistance of Ativan.

Each flight I waited to see what my body would do. I breathed through anxious moments and waited to see if they’d go away. Thomas complimented me each time I didn't pop my Ativan. It was wonderful to feel like I was overcoming the thing that makes me afraid.

That sixth trip, however, was a 9.5 hour flight home from London, in which the stresses prior to boarding were more than usual, and I was not feeling at ease.

I got through the takeoff, and the anxiety didn’t calm down. The sweaty palms, the racing thoughts, and the desire to cry was not going away. I decided that the line was too far. The anxiety was too much. I took my Ativan.

And that, by the way, is fine. I’m not going to hold on to any stigma that taking Ativan was weak. I personally found my bravery in seeing if I could try to do the thing that scares me without the help of a drug, but at some point, I think it becomes unkind to my body to push through unnecessary pain. So I was brave five times, and one time I was kind to myself. At no point do I consider my experience ‘weakness’.

There were many other times that anxiety accompanied my experience throughout the trip, and I had to decide what was a limit to push through and what was not worth it.

Would I do the hike that hugged cliffs, wind pushing at my body, the sea and rocks below? I did. I needed Thomas to hold my hand at parts, but I did it. I had my reasons for trying.


Should I climb the tower to overlook Edinburgh, protected only by a small railing? My knees shook terribly, but I did it for the view, and after some photos promptly scurried down the spiral steps and drank water at the bottom while my heart rate cooled off.

I also had to face the question of whether or not I could even travel in my current condition. I’ve had chronic fatigue and brain fog since November last year from a concussion, and I had no way of knowing what my limits would be on this trip. I had a LOT of anxiety about worst case scenarios. And in part, they were slightly merited. My short time in Edinburgh was spent wondering how I’d get through each next hour, because my brain felt like it wanted to quit. And I did have to quit once we arrived in London, I missed out on the British Museum because of it. The majority of a day in London was spent doing very little, feeling very poorly, despite having only 2 full days to explore the city. But again, despite all of these fears and possible outcomes, I wanted to travel, it was worth it to me, so I tried being brave. And I'm so glad I travelled.

Each of us, I feel, have our own things to be brave about. These fears of mine seem like little battles in the very great troubles of the world. But they are my battles. And unfortunately they haunt my life in a way that only I will ever really understand. There are a lot more of them, which I won’t get into now, and I’m sure we all have our own sampling of them. Maybe for you it’s eating alone in the cafeteria, writing exams, talking to that intimidating coworker, attending an event you only know one person at, etc.

I know how silly my fears can sound--oh ‘bravery’ in such privileged circumstances. ‘Bravery’ in such glamour as being able to travel. I understand. To a degree.

It is still my reality, and the biological responses of what scares me are real. Therefore my bravery to face these issues is also very real.

So when someone comes to me and describes that they’ve done this seemingly mundane life activity that actually terrifies them completely, I am so excited for them! Although we have different fears, I know that feeling. I acknowledge that, for them, this was a horribly terrifying experience, and I’m very proud of their bravery to do what they did.

At the same time, if they were paralyzed by that fear and did not feel they could face it that day, I also get that! I understand. And I’ll let them know that just because one day they didn’t face that fear, doesn’t mean that they never will.

It’s up to each of us to face our fears. We know ourselves better than anyone else, and if we push ourselves, it’s because whatever we’re thinking of pushing through is worth it to us. And if our ‘pushing through’ looks different than others’, that’s okay too.

My bravery feels like bravery because I call it that. Maybe that's just me. I try not to call it ‘just getting through life’, or say ‘it’s pathetic that I deal with this fear’, because naming it ‘bravery’ is kinder to myself. Some loved ones call it bravery too. Thomas holds my hand and looks me in the eye and says he’s proud of me when I fly. When I hiked next to that terrifying cliff, he told me he was proud of me. My mom always said she was proud of me for doing things that she knew were scary for me. My closest friends never shame me for my fears, but smile and say they’re glad I did the thing that I wanted to do despite the fears.

I’m trying to take heart in my own bravery, unique to the things that are hard for me. I would love to see you do the same, and I will try to be a good support to you, if I meet you when you’re facing a fear.


In the theme of this being Mental Health Awareness Month, please consider your own mental health and the mental health of others around you. 

If you'd like to donate to an organization that I really like, which addresses mental health, try out Libero Magazine here:  

Libero Magazine

Article: "Poverty Has No Easy Answers" by Robyn Rapske

"“What is the root of poverty for women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside?”

I was asked this question recently, because I am an outreach worker in this Vancouver neighbourhood. I have some pretty strong feelings about being asked this. It’s similar to how I feel when I am asked these other common questions:

Why do addicts keep using drugs when they know the risk of dying from fentanyl overdose?

Why don’t women leave their abusive partners?

Why don’t people just get a job?

Sometimes I’m glad people ask these questions—it’s an act of acknowledging they don’t have the answers and are seeking them out. However, whether it’s because I’m burning out, or because I am experiencing what everyone goes through when they work in social services, below are my honest feelings when I’m asked these types of questions...."

Read on here

Being white, and thinking about racism, as I travel through NYC and Philly by Robyn Rapske

Disclaimer: There are lots of books, articles, and other multimedia which explain and point out the experience of black people, and other non-white folks. I may write more on what I’ve learned from those resources at a later time. This post is more about my own experience, as racism is really more of a white person problem than a non-white person problem. Whiteness has been and currently is the thing that keeps non-whiteness in painful positions. So I thought I’d talk about my own whiteness a bit here. Perhaps you’ll relate, my fellow white friends, and to my non-white friends, feel free to laugh about my ignorance and silliness as I fumble along. And as always, all are welcome to respond in respectful ways to challenge what I say, encourage it, or point out what I’ve missed.

My husband has been working on his Masters of Urban Studies out of Eastern University, Philadelphia, for three and a half years. In this time, he’s done on-campus classes, travelling to Philly six times, each time for about a week. I’ve joined him only twice, last year to do some touristy things, and this past week to celebrate his graduation.

We are not excessively frugal people, but for some reason we feel Airbnb’s, public transit, and the occasional hostel is a better option than hotels and renting cars. Transit is less hassle (no need for parking), and Airbnb’s are more home-like than hotels, and are cheaper.

I think a byproduct of this, however, is that we also enjoy getting to feel more like a part of the city while we visit places.

Sitting on a bus, we hang out with commuters on their day-to-day business.

On trains in NYC and Philly, we interact with an actual person who is punching tickets for all passengers.

In Airbnb’s, we chat with the homeowners as they garden, as they head off to their night-shifts, or text them to ask questions about the local area.

We enjoy it.

It can also be a bit uncomfortable too.

Transit can be crowded during rush hour, and there’s always the stress of ‘will we miss the bus?’ ‘where is the station?’ ‘what did the announcement say about our train being delayed?’ 

Airbnb’s can be awkward, because we sometimes have to make small talk with owners when we don’t really want to. 

But we like it still.

While visiting NYC and Philly, the combination of staying in someone’s home outside of the city-centre, and taking public transit, has provided me an interesting, uncomfortable, illuminating experience as we’ve sometimes stayed communities that have mostly black residents.

I’ll share just a few things that I’ve processed here. These are my own reflections, and they are so very imperfect. But I think they are still important to acknowledge, so that I can build on them in the future.

My first time in Philadelphia, we stayed in an area just outside of the city-centre, and about 10 blocks away from one of the local universities. When we first arrived downtown, I felt overwhelmed by the sights and sounds after a long day of flying. I wasn’t scared of a new city, but just very tired and groggy. We had a dinner at Chili’s, and made our way to a bus.


The city-centre had been made up of a mixture of black, white, latino, and asian people. I barely noticed a difference in racial mixing comparing to my home city in Vancouver. But that changed when we stepped onto a bus. I became extremely aware of being white as I saw that every person on the bus was black. Our west-coast Blundstones contrasted to the feet of everyone else on that bus, which were shod in Timberland-style boots. In Vancouver, my boots were iconic of our location. They did not feel like they belonged here.

A strange tingling of fear rippled through my body as we sat down, and I tried to not to make eye contact with anyone.

Fear? Where was this fear coming from? I felt it throughout my body, in a visceral way. Tension, heightened awareness, and shallow breathing.

I was so confused. I work on the downtown eastside of Vancouver, rife with drug use, stabbings, prostitution, street-fights, and people wandering around during their psychotic episodes. I never feel fear down there. Why on this bus did I feel fear, when nothing fearful was going on?

I tried to analyse this fear over the next few days. When I went back into the city centre the next day and felt an easing of tension in my body as I saw more white people and white symbols of wealth again, I wondered why that was. When we walked to the nearby university to watch an NFL game at a bar at night and walked through the black community, I wondered why fear bubbled up every time I walked by a black man. When I walked alone to a tourist attraction, but had to go through an area of the black suburbs before getting there, I wondered why I was so aware of eye contact I did or didn’t make with black people I walked by.

There were a few things that I contemplated:

I had a fear that black Americans might hate me because of my skin colour. Were they angry for me existing in their town? Did I carry with me a reminder of all of the racism they’ve experienced over the years?

I was afraid I might be wandering into a part of town that I shouldn’t be in.

I wondered: Did people really carry guns everywhere in the states, like the media told me?

I thought: were there really gangs and violence everywhere in black communities, like hip-hip music and Save the Last Dance implied?

I couldn’t believe how much of my body carried the fears that had been bred into me from the media. 

I had never been in this place before, so none of this was from my personal experience of black communities. This was purely because I’d been listening to stereotypes in the media all my life about ‘dangerous black communities’.

Fresh Prince of Bel Air told me that ‘West Philadelphia’ was terrifying enough to move your child away from.

Movies and TV shows and Documentaries and News.... all teaching me to fear.

This community had not yet actually proven that it was, in fact, a place with people to fear. But I instinctively feared it anyways

So while visiting, I tried to push through the discomfort and let my body learn that the area had not proven to me that it was a place to be feared. I tried to remember that my body was basing it’s cognitive response on a stereotype. We visited the pub, we walked to a coffee shop, we kept using transit to get back to our place.

I didn’t really learn much from the experience beyond self-reflection. And I didn’t know what to do with it except keep being brave enough to let the communities show me what they really were, not be ruled what my brain’s learned biases thought they were.

Now I am back, a year later, and I’m experiencing it again.

After celebrating Thomas's graduation in Philadelphia, we’re now in NYC for a one-night stay before heading off to our next destination. We chose an Airbnb nearby the airport, in Queens.


We walked to our place from the train station, walked to a grocery store for dinner, walked around the very busy store for a while, and walked to get coffee. I have only seen only one other white person in passing. 

It seems like a very nice neighbourhood. It was Sunday when we arrived, and I saw what looked like a cute older couple who were heading back home in their church outfits, perhaps after eating a luncheon with their church community. There are adorable houses adorned with brick, and little gardens. Kids were playing basketball in the alley beside a big house. Lots of people sat on their porches enjoying the warmth of spring.

And yet. There it is again. That tense feeling coming with being the only white person. A beacon of wealthy white skin, adorned in a Patagonia jacket and hipster glasses.

Not fear this time, but still that ongoing discomfort.

I tried a new approach this time.

I tried to smile at people as I passed them by.

Why? Well, it made me feel like I was showing each person that this white female wanted to be kind. I wanted to represent a white person who was not cruel/racist towards her temporary neighbours.

It felt like my small contribution to reversing racism in America (LOL. giving myself a hearty *eye roll* as I write this in reflection)

As I smiled at people, I was confused. Nobody really looked at me. They seemed quite aloof to my efforts. (those grande efforts, LOL)

Why? I wondered. Are they mad that I’m white? Are they angry that I’m in their community? Am I unwelcome?

Then the words filtered back to my mind from the first few chapters of a book I’m reading by Ijeoma Oluo, “So You Want to Talk About Race”.

Read more  here

Read more here

Firstly, she asks: when I, as a white person, am talking about race in conversation, how many times do I use the word “I”?



Most of the above conversation was about myself. How I was able to help. How I experienced this situation. How black people interacted with ME.

Goodness. How incredibly self-centred I’ve been.

These were Ijeoma’s other words regarding race in America, which I was reminded of, that helped illuminate the situation further:

Black people just want to go about their lives, with all the ups and downs of it, just like everybody else.

Black people are tired. Tired of explaining things to white people. Tired of racist systems. Tired of doing more work than white people to get the same benefits out of Western Society.

Black people would rather the systemic racism be reversed, than to have people just be more ‘nice’ to them. (Ahhh....)

My individual presence, for a few days, in a black community, is more important to my own experience than it is to the black community’s experience.

I carry whiteness with me for sure, and that does sometimes mean I need to act in a more humble, listening way, within interactions one-on-one, and that’s important to be aware of.  

But my small presence visiting these black neighbourhoods is just not that important.

So, if I'm not superhero with grande powers, what do I do with this desire for justice, to do good, and to feel like I’m helping, rather than hurting?

I’ve thought of some things that can have good impact. Rather than stressing out about if I’m going to get shot, or thinking I can reverse racism by being ‘nice’ to people.

  1. Let people go about their business, just like I do for others in my own community. Be humble, listen more, and learn more about racism on my own time, through reading articles, books, etc, so black people (and other non-white people) don’t have to keep putting in so much efforts to educate me. They’re so very tired.

    1. I’ve heard this from books and words of friends. Cheryl Bear-Barnetson’s book “Introduction to First Nations Ministry” points out that Native people are tired of explaining their experience of racism. Ijeoma Oluo’s book (referenced above) talks about the fatigue of black people in the USA, who just want to live their lives, but have to work harder than white people, explain to white people their own whiteness, and teach white people about racism. Friends have also told me that they’re tired of explaining to white people that, yes, racism exists, and convincing them to see how it exists.

  2. Acknowledge what good things I actually can do in my very small interaction at this moment, my very brief time in these two communities:

    1. Keep paying for Airbnb’s in the areas that are less visited by tourists. Hotels will be fine without my money, but homeowners could use the extra cash if they’re living in a large city. I know only so well how expensive it is to live nearby a popular tourist town.

    2. If it’s a nice place, write a good review! Then other people will continue to want to stay at this person’s home, and in this community.

    3. Buy food at local places nearby. That’s always something we, as a couple, like to do, because it invests in the communities we visit. I feel like that’s just always a good idea.

  3. Continue to be mindful of my subconscious reactions to situations like this--what stereotype is deep rooted in my body that makes it so tense and fearful? Is that a legitimate reaction? How much is legitimate and how much is just based on biased media? Explore it. Find out why. See if it can be changed. Accept my whiteness. Accept that it is awkward to figure out my own whiteness. Sit in the discomfort for a while, slowly knead out the knots of tension in my experience.

  4. Let this experience teach me a bit about what non-white people experience. I’ve heard from friends, that this sort of experience of discomfort is similar to the discomfort that black people and any other non-white race feels in this world. I am just experiencing a brief moment of what their entire lives have been in this white-dominated culture feels like. It’s for different reasons that we both feel discomfort, fear, confusion, etc. But maybe this can help me grow my empathy for what non-white people go through on a daily basis.

A last thought:

White Supremacy is not just the KKK, Jim Crow Laws, Residential Schools, and other big, nasty pieces of history. What I just described above is part of White Supremacy. A lot of my life is about White Supremacy. I am still learning how every facet of my life is influenced by a White Supremacist society. I'll be kneading out that truth over time.


I’ve been thinking about going to local Indigenous Reservations near Vancouver and Coquitlam to somehow acknowledge to these nations that land that I’ve grown up on and live on is their unceded territory, in efforts of reconciliation. I now have two things to process around that:

1. What grande feelings about my importance do I have going on here? Do I need to humble myself again? Chip further away at the white saviour/power complex again?

2. If I do feel it is still a good idea, the discomfort should not stop me. It will be uncomfortable for me, because I am white and not native, and that’s just a reality for me. I will have reactions of awkwardness, fear, confusion, etc. That is just part of the experience. That’s okay.

When We Dehumanize Others While Fighting for Justice by Robyn Rapske

"The natural/easy way of fighting for equality/justice is to dehumanize dehumanizers. But perhaps we could find a way to transcend that cycle"
Michael Gungor, May 2, 2016, Twitter

I regularly listen to Michael Gungor on a podcast he runs with three other podcasters, called The Liturgists. Having listened to most of their podcasts, I’ve seen that Michael is not always super great at what he suggested on May 2, 2016. He reacts to ‘dehumanizers’ in a somewhat unhelpful way, teetering over the line of grace and into unkind words.

However, he has surrounded himself, at least on that podcast, with people who see beyond his human instincts of dehumanizing the dehumanizers. The other podcasters, as well as guests they invite to speak, generally keep each other in line. Within friendship and accountability, they always come to a more gracious point together.

I see that in many people, including myself. Blind to how we dehumanize others on our unique journeys towards justice and equality for the oppressed.

I began to notice this in myself more when I started to get involved in the lives of people from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.


In my fourth year of university, I volunteered with a group of women who came down to the DTES to offer hot chocolate and prayer to women in the survival/street sex trade industry. I don’t know how helpful we were in anything we did, but maybe God used us anyways.

One time I felt shattered as I saw a fancy car driven by a man, pick up a woman, so he could pay her for the use of her body. I seethed with anger and hatred against that man, and all men who would ask a vulnerable woman to dehumanize herself to distract himself from his own sick soul. All I could see was a woman struggling to survive amidst trauma and pain, and a man taking advantage of her struggle to use her as an object.

At that time, this event solidified my hatred for men who would do this, rich or poor. I could only see them as an oppressor. I could not see their humanness at all.

Luckily God works well into the depths of our sins, and he gradually showed me how my dehumanizing of the ‘oppressor’ was not in his will. It’s not even helpful for my goals of bettering lives for vulnerable women.

This happened in many ways, but a major influencing factor was learning the stories of men in the recovery program attached to the organization I now work at. The organization I work at is on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where every street corner nearby has vulnerable women selling the use of their bodies. The recovery program attached to our program works with many of the men in the area who were previously the pimps to vulnerable women, or who paid for women to have sex with them.

These men were coming into our recovery program and revealing the horrid sickness they had been hiding within their souls, and how much pain they were in. They were in severe addiction to substances, and their relationships were devoid of health and goodness. The solution? Love, Acceptance, and New Life. Their remorse and apologies for previous hurtful behaviours, including paying vulnerable women for sexual services, slowly had the opportunity to heal them, as they were shown such grace and love in our program. Listening to their stories has chipped away at my hard heart towards men like them.

I was waiting at a bus stop sometime after just getting a job at the organization I’m now at, when a man who had gone through recovery started talking to me. I don’t think he knew that I worked in the same organization that he had found this recovery through, but he struck up a conversation with me about his freedom from addiction anyways. He included the fact that he used to think it was fine to treat women like objects, and said he regularly paid women for sex. Now, through his recovery, he realized it was hurtful both to the woman and to himself, and was finding freedom from that realization.

I still get the gut instinct of hatred towards those cars stopping by, or the men who strike up a conversation about sex with a woman in street prostitution. But when that fades, I also see a man who is sick, and in pain. He may not admit it, but I know that God sees his pain, loneliness, and/or anxiety, and if I do as well, maybe I can be more useful in helping him stop the dehumanizing behaviours.

It doesn’t mean that I have to condone behaviours I disagree with, but it does mean that I can see the humanity in all, not just in the people I’m defending.

Not only is this a relational, healing way of approaching dehumanizers, but in a more pragmatic way, it seems like it could be more useful for the goals of those wishing to bring forward justice.

Have you ever been dehumanized by someone because they disagree with your behaviour? It sucks! Even if you secretly agree with the behaviour being wrong, being treated that way hurts.

I remember a conversation with a Greenpeace advocate in California many years ago. It was a conversation full of judgement towards me, hatred of my choices, and zero care for my well-being in that moment. It brought absolute stubbornness in my soul to their message, out of self-preservation instincts against their attacks.


However, a few years later, I unexpectedly won a book at a justice conference, called “Planted”, written by a wonderful woman, Leah Kostamo, who runs environmental work in BC. In the book, she was gracious, honest, kind, and she understood, even related to, the conflict many of us have with environmental decisions, and how hard it is to involve a better earth into the daily, practical needs of our lives. And what was my response to her love, respect, and her efforts to see the best in her readers? I was inspired to make changes in my life.


I gradually went from driving to work, to then bussing to work, and then to cycling (rain or shine!). I cycled for two whole years to work and back, and when I became ill, I went back to bussing to work for a further eight months. I directly attribute this decision to the words of Leah Kostamo. Her kind, understanding, realistic words. I continue to make better efforts of what food I buy, what clothing I buy, and other small efforts towards environmentalism because of her kindness. What a vast difference to how I responded to the Californian Greenpeace woman who could only see me as an unjust object against the environment. To Leah Kostamo, I was a human who was worth love and respect, and she offered me non-judgemental inspiration to be a better human.

It may not work to cause change and growth instantly in everyone’s life, and we don’t have continue to be in the company of those who hurt us if it’s too traumatizing, but still, I think we can have much more hope in our future if we treat the person we disagree with more humanely. Whether in our person-to-person interactions, our posts on social media, or our conversations with others about them.

Questions to consider:

Have you ever felt dehumanized by someone else for your life’s decisions and felt defensiveness or stubbornness?

Have you dehumanized someone else because they do something you disagree with? Does it actually work in changing that person’s decisions?

The Clumsy Efforts of Reconciliation in One White Life. Part 1. by Robyn Rapske

About this Series:

Senator Murray Sinclair said “Getting to the truth was hard. Getting to reconciliation is going to be harder” Full talk here


I, like much of Canada through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, have been told a lot of the truths, being exposed to the realities that were hidden from my eyes for so long, but that is just the beginning. Reconciliation is harder. Reconciliation is messy, it’s confusing, it’s difficult, and it’s ongoing. I will be stubborn, uncomfortable, stressed about it. Others will also deal with it that way. Different people will have different perspectives on how it looks. It happens in relationships, within workplaces, within our choices of industry, through our decisions of language. It’s going to be revealed through so many levels. It will take a lot of time, effort, bravery, and humility.

But it is possible, and it is important. My faith is that God has a way.

Sarah Bessey speaks about the similarity of reconciliation in Canada, to God reconciling his church back to himself through Jesus Christ. She says:

"Christ’s death and resurrection is the story of the greatest reconciliation, the end of our separation from God….could we truly be that ambassador of reconciliation without reconciliation between one another?”
Sarah Bessey, 2018, Read more here 

Our individual and corporate reconciliation with Jesus was made possible through his resurrection, but it is also ongoing, confusing at times, within relationships, and full of mistakes.

Reconciliation in Canada between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people might just look similar.

I believe, SO STRONGLY, that God, our Creator, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, cares about this reconciliation within his children. I believe that, if I ask him how to be part of reconciliation, he will answer that prayer and guide me. I also believe that all Canadians can be part of it.

So I’ll be writing about my mistakes, my learning, and my next steps here, if you’d like to walk along with me.

Disclaimer: This series is an honest reflection on reconciliation as I’ve learned so far in my life. Just as the efforts I write about have been clumsy and sometimes ill-advised, this blog itself may reflect that clumsiness. I apologize to anyone who sees glaring evidence of my colonial brain still in action. I’ll keep trying, and feel free to kindly discuss with me my mistakes.


Part 1

In 2010 I was graduating from university. It was coinciding with a time that I was trying to become a Christian again after a hiatus from the belief system. I was single, living at my parents, debt-free (phew!), and jobless with absolutely no plans.

It was then that I had some offers of going to two southern African countries with acquaintances--one to visit some missionaries for a month, and one to join some counter human-trafficking initiatives for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. At the time, I barely knew either of the people who offered to have me along on their adventures, but I had asked God to do something with my life, and I figured I’d go along with these opportunities he was dropping in my lap.


I got to know a lot about the history of South Africa while I travelled, through books, museums, and paying attention to their culture. I received a horrible shock when I realized that South Africa’s oppressive institutional segregation and discrimination we had learned about in school, the system of Apartheid, had been inspired by, and modelled after, Canada’s Indian Act. And also that we still have the Indian Act in place, despite some alterations. It’s still called that today

It was the first time I felt real shock over the realities of Indigenous people in Canada. I choose here to use the word “Indigenous” to encompass Inuit, Métis, and First Nations people of Canada. Each Indigenous person has a preferred way of identification, but for the purposes of this post, I choose this term because, as Cheryl Bear-Barnetson describes, this term relates to the concept of naturally originating in a specific place, and belonging to that specific place. She says that the term implies Indigenous people were here first, are rooted in the land, and have a sense of belonging within the lands they stewarded for thousands of years. (Bear-Barnetson, p. 26)*

I grew up learning about the history of Indigenous people through my white curriculum. We treated Indigenous culture and history like an old thing worth interest but not worth any serious interaction with in modern context.

After my trip, I applied for a Social Work program at University of Victoria, where I learned even more about the awful past and present things that Indigenous people deal with. I started to have conversations with people about the state of things, feeling so upset that most of circle of friends and family weren’t doing something to change it all. I got pretty riled up at a relative regarding residential schools one Christmas Eve, which I didn't handle well at all. It was a time of directionless passion to make the world better for Indigenous people.

I attended a Truth and Reconciliation event at my church during that time, which involved a documentary screening and a representative of the Mennonite Central Committee and his Indigenous wife answering some very uncomfortable questions by our congregants. I couldn’t believe the bravery of the Indigenous woman facing some pretty judgemental ignorance from some people.

That night, after the event, I drove to my car to a parking lot I knew wouldn’t be visited, and wept.

There are lots of reasons to weep, but I was actually weeping for my own selfish reasons.

I wept because I felt so unable to help the situation and so badly wanted to do more. I wanted to support Indigenous people, but knew no way of doing that well. If I charged in to situations I wasn’t invited to, proclaiming ideas of my own, I was just continuing colonization in a modern context. I knew very few Indigenous people, and even if I knew more, I wouldn’t know how to ask what I should do to support them well. I also made a pretty poor ally when trying to convince my fellow white people to care about the issues as much as me.

In my car, alone in the parking lot, I literally begged God to let me do something more to help the situation.

It’s been almost 8 years since I visited South Africa, and I’m so glad to say he is slowly and faithfully answering that cry in the parking lot. I haven’t ended up educating groups of white people on the changes needed for Indigenous people in Canada. I didn’t end up creating programs that support Indigenous people. I didn’t even attend a lot of events benefiting Indigenous movements. Each step for the journey so far has been small and cautious, but as gradual as it’s been, I feel like I’ve moved forwards. My current stop on the journey of reconciliation is being somewhere that God has combined my passion to help, together with what I’m actually good at.

Right now I get to do an incredible job in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, sitting with women of all races and ethnicities, including Indigenous, offering support in their crises. We provide necessary things like food, hygiene items, clothing and gift cards. But the most important part, and my favourite part, is what we call ‘holding space’ for women. We are available to talk in a safe place, with a non-counselling setting, showing care for their stories. I get to act out Jesus’s love to women in a way that fits perfectly with my skills. I can set aside time to listen to, affirm, pray with, and encourage Indigenous women who have ended up in poverty, addiction or sex-work as a result of the painful history of colonization. I feel incredibly honoured to be there. I wanted so deeply to do anything to help.

One of the things that I’ve realized about God, is that our cultural tendencies don’t confine him. Paradoxically, he is both free from them, and yet working deeply within them. He cares about, and gave us the ability to have cultures, and yet continues to be bigger and better than them.

“God is not colorblind, our Creator invented color, distinctiveness, and diversity”
Cheryl Bear-Barnetson, pg. 24*

I am from a very individualistic culture, which means that my personal journey of vocation (above) is very important to me. And yet, what is required for reconciliation is a path that doesn’t just acknowledge, but gets changed by, the more collectivist culture of Indigenous people. I know that generalizations are never fully correct, plenty of Indigenous people, especially in modern context, are like all of us, a unique blend of a variety of influences. Also many white people are much more collectivist in nature than myself. But what I mean to say is that somehow God sees us in each of our individual desires and hopes, and also sees the greater troubles of Canada’s cultural divides, and in his wisdom can reconcile these all towards healing and goodness. 

I believe that, somehow, God is both working out the story of myself growing into my vocation as an individual, and at the same time also building my story as a white ally being changed by the efforts towards reconciliation. 


*Bear-Barnetson, C. (2013) "Introduction to First Nations Ministry" Cleveland, Tennessee. More info here. 

One Month of Biblical Healing Stories? by Robyn Rapske

On March 1st of this year, I attended a spiritual retreat focused on the concept of ‘resiliency’ held at the Carey Centre on UBC campus. My work sends staff to classes and retreats like this so we don’t burn out. I’m glad of it.

These kinds of experiences tend to be encouraging, but can also bring a challenge, if you’re open to it.

This time around, I found a challenge, and decided to take it.

A coworker that has since landed a dream job elsewhere, is an outgoing soul. I’m going to stereotype here and say she probably grew up in a pentecostal church, or else in a very charismatic version of another denomination. It gives a bit of context for my reaction to her words.

We were in a small group discussion together. I told her about my Graves’ Disease, which I was diagnosed with in April 2017 and unexpectedly gained remission from by October 2017. I then described the Post-Concussion Syndrome I developed in January of this year and continue to deal with. I was chatting about the lessons I’ve learned through this experience.

After I spoke, she said I needed to ask God for healing.

My instinct was to give her a very hearty eye roll. But I didn’t, because I try not to be rude.

She went on to describe her own physical healing from an illness. She had proclaimed God’s power of healing over her body, and had told doctors that she would not suffer because God would heal her. She was healed, and she believed I could be too.

While she spoke, the top thoughts in my head were:

  1. I am so awkward around this charismatic Christian–my stoic, Mennonite church background can’t handle it.
  2. Do I even believe in physical healings?
  3. I have heard miraculous healing stories from friends so… maybe it is possible to have physical healing?
  4. Am I going to offend her by not responding to her in an equally charismatic way??

I hushed myself up (to be polite), and listened further.

She summed up her talk by giving me a task. She said I should read the bible and find all the passages where people were physically healed, and I should pray over each one, asking for my own healing. I was to do this for the entire month of March.

Mostly to avoid being rude (again, that tendency of mine!), I said I would.


From March 1st to 31st, I diligently found stories of physical healing in the bible, wrote them in my journal, pondered them, and prayed healing over myself.

As I write this, it is April 4th, and no, I am not physically healed. 

I have had a bad headache for a week straight, and I have huge anxiety that Graves’ Disease is on it’s way back into my thyroid.

So why tell this tale?

Because I learned some interesting things regarding God’s character as I read over these stories, which are the following:

(Disclaimer: Each person with chronic illness has a very different experience of life, and therefore will respond to the idea of “Healings” differently as well, so this is just my personal thoughts. I don’t pretend everyone with chronic illness would believe the things I learned below.)

God cares a lot about my physical wellness

In his very short time ministering on earth, Jesus healed SO many people! I stuck to stories where demons were not said to be creating the illness, and tried to cross-reference between the gospels so I only touched on each healing story once. And with this, found 22 stories of Jesus healing. That’s a lot if you consider that many of those stories included more than one person healed. He could have spent that time teaching, or doing something else more ‘heavenly’ minded.

In my ongoing health ups and downs God cares deeply for what my body and I are going through.

God lets physical healing interrupt ministry and the laws

Most of the 22 times Jesus was healing people, those who were suffering sought him out in their desperation, very much interrupting his work. At one point, two blind men at the roadside were making such a loud ruckus that the crowd around Jesus started rebuking them. It says “but they cried out all the more, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’”. Jesus stopped the whole parade of people to speak with them, hear their pain, and heal them (Matt. 20:29-34). At one point he shows the Pharisees that it’s more important to have compassion on the sick than to follow the rules of the Sabbath they so strongly held to (Mark 3:1-6). In Luke 5:17-39 a man is so desperate for healing that his friends cut a hole into the very house where Jesus is teaching. That’s about as disruptive as you can get, and Jesus rolls with it, hears his pain, and heals him. Matthew 21:12-14 speaks of the time when he tore apart the temple tables and kicked out the pigeon sellers and money-changers. Whatever they were doing, he wanted it replaced with the “blind and the lame”, who entered shortly after, and he promptly began healing them.

This year while I’ve had to take lots of time off work, I’ve struggled a lot with the pain of being unable to do as much of the ministerial job I love, as much socializing as I desire, and as much activism as I’d want. I was unable to do the things that I value as good works. The stories above make me think that it’s okay that seeking healing has interrupted the ministry and tasks I care about.

God has compassion for the unique context of each person (especially women!)

This one was particularly wonderful to read about. Jesus came across a widow whose only son had just died. Death is hard for everyone, but the cultural context for that woman meant she, without the two men she was attached to, was now in a desperate economic situation. Jesus “had compassion on her” and raised the son from the dead (Luke 17:11-19). He also healed Hannah through her barrenness, understanding what that meant for women in the time (1 Samuel 1:9-20). Similarly, he healed Rebekah’s barrenness in Genesis 25:21, and Sarah’s in Genesis 21:1. It’s hard enough to deal with barrenness when one wishes desperately to have a child, but I think the true suffering of theirs was to also have the immense pressure of the cultural context. God saw them and brought healing to them.

The reason these resonate with me, is because I’ve witnessed many people forget cultural context for people in suffering, and God himself showed compassion to the cultural context of these women. My own contextual pain matters to him.

Generally, Jesus waits to be asked for healing

It was interesting to realize that most of the time people came to Jesus requesting help, expressing their pain to him, he did not force it on them. In John 5 he even explicitly asks “Do you want to be healed?” to a man at the healing pool.

This one hit me mostly because of the ever troublesome Ableism I’m trying to be taught more about. These people who sought healing desired it and wanted so desperately to be freed of their struggles. He didn’t force it on them, telling them what was wrong with their bodies. I’ve heard stories of well-intentioned Christians praying for healing over a child with Down’s Syndrome when the parent didn’t ask for it, or seeking healing for Autistic folks who don’t feel that they need healing. Jesus cared enough to ask. He cared about our opinions of our bodies. Many people find beautiful life even through their physical differences, as long as society adapts to them (as I think we should).

God uses the healings for a bigger purpose

Multiple times he uses healing to show that he is God, as a part of the bigger picture to show them he is the Messiah. He even raises multiple people from the dead. It’s one thing to alter aspects of an alive body, but if you know how much brain damage and deterioration of a body happens immediately after death, he HAS to be divine to bring someone back from that. Many times the stories say people understood he was God by seeing miracles of healing. The disciples also did their best to attribute the power to God when they healed others, to be able to proclaim the gospel.

So, through our experiences of healing, or of pain, there can be redemption for a greater purpose. Maybe I was always going to get injured, and deal with an autoimmune disease like Graves’, but he has the ability to use whatever goes on in the body for greater purposes.

So, what does this all mean for me?


1. God cares about the pain my body and I are going through. He cares about the times of extreme fatigue, he cares about the on-and-off headaches, he cares about the pain my eyes get from too much light, he cares about the stress I feel when I see signs of Graves’ Disease coming back. He has compassion for my experience.

My body's experience matters to him.

2. God cares about my physical healing just as much as the ministry that I feel I ‘should’ be doing. If I can’t work as much as I want, or do incredible things I’d like to do, because I have to seek healing my body instead, that’s okay.

My body's experience matters to him.

3. God cares about my cultural context. As lame as it is, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) cripples millenials like me–loneliness sets in very hard when you can’t go to the events your friends are going to. Also the fear of being ‘useless’ is terrifying–this world is obsessed with what you can contribute to the economy etc. When I fear that one day I won’t be able to work, it’s because I have been culturally brought up to believe that my usefulness is tied securely to my worth.

My body's experience matters to him.

4. God welcomes me to tell him how I’m feeling. He wants to hear about my experience. I’m invited to cry and pray in anger and sadness. He welcomes my feelings.

My body's experience matters to him.

5. No matter what occurs, there can be a bigger plan, and a redemption. A bigger purpose has already come of my experiences. I am much more compassionate to others with chronic illnesses now. I also have learned a bigger appreciation for nutrition and how that plays a large part in our mental and physical well-being. I also savour my life much more–if I can only go to one social event a week, oh BOY do I savour that event!

My body's experience matters to him.

My body's experience matters to him

I repeated that phrase five times because that’s what has stuck with me. Even if my healing doesn’t look like it did in biblical times, or in the dramatic events of a modern ER room; if it just means that I have to live life differently due to my changed abilities–I’m still worthwhile, loved, and my physical body’s experience matters to God.