So what is it, inside me, that chooses the wrong things for comfort?

It's not that ice cream is bad. It's not. It's not even that I'm unhealthy, because I'm not. I eat well. I drink mostly water. My vices are usually too much pasta, brown sugar in my coffee, coffee. I don't smoke anymore, unless I'm with an old smoking friend in Canada and just have to light up for old times sake.

But sometimes eating ice cream feels like the smoking in the alley behind my house that I used to do, late at night, when everyone was sleeping and I felt that teenaged hollow feeling, the hurting that I just couldn't understand. I loved that house. We had just moved from the suburbs, where we were homeowners, to a rental in urban Edmonton. For my parents it might have been a sad move, but for fifteen-year-old me, it was heaven. Thanks to an understanding landlord, I painted my room a green called "Ireland's Pride." You can imagine the shade. I also ragged it off, giving my walls the texture of a ferny rainforest.

It was the beginning of my love affair with old houses and gardens and lit windows. At night I'd sit on my couch in front of my long, tall window, and gaze at the enormous house that I could see on the next block. I'd watch their windows with the lights pouring from within, thinking about towers and nooks and little rooms, and I'd dream of the people who lived in that large red house. They loved books and cats. They ate yogurt for breakfast. They were professors. And then that ache would get to be too much and out I'd go to sit in the alley with a cigarette.

Last night I found out that my grandmother is very sick. I knew she was struggling with her health, but none of us had received any real diagnosis, yet, and the truth suckerpunched me in the gut. I sat on the couch. I called her. I cried. I called my husband. I prayed for a while, my hands on my stomach. I wrote a little. I turned on the television, then turned it off. I picked up my knitting, put it back down and then went for the food.

What is that? Once again, it's not that food is bad, it's just that it's not all that comforting. You're all shovel and chomp and then you end up burping. Baking is comforting, measuring out ingredients. Cleaning, reading the beautiful words of God. But nothing calls like the siren song of junk food. I believe this is called bingeing.

I did only end up eating about a third of a pint, hardly a binge. But there was some Pirate's Booty involved, and some peanut butter cups, also. Not many, but still. All designed to distract.

My grandmother is one of the strongest women that I have ever met, strong in that incredibly refined way, like the Queen of England. Except that she's Scottish, Scottish-Canadian, the kind of woman who enjoyed her childbirthing, the kind of woman who gets tears in her eyes every time she thinks of my baby brother, who died, and yet was the only member of my family I could bring myself to ask for the full details about him and several of the other family tragedies, because she processes grief by remembering, by talking about it.  She is a woman of detail, the kind who remembers every single birthday of every person she's ever met, who sewed all of her own clothes and her children's clothes, the kind who retired at seventy-eight.

I can't think of her sick.

This troubling tendency toward distraction in myself is something that I'm working on. I bet we all are, to some extent. I've been coming up with a group of practises, harvested from different Christian traditions, different homesteading and artistic traditions, which I am using to reconstruct my life. I know what I believe, I feel rock solid in my faith. But what do I practise? How do I live this life, how do I reap the most out of it?

Probably not by eating ice cream and channel surfing. I don't want to be too hard on myself, and if you could see my little heart right now you'd see that it is tender towards nine-year-old me gazing glassy-eyed at the t.v. that she had previously ignored on this writing retreat.

These practises that I'm working on are almost like bookmarks, like things I can return to again and again. I hope to come to a place where I reach for the things that will truly comfort, even in times of great need. Even when someone I love so deeply is sick, when the idea of too much change threatens to rock me a little too hard and tip me over.

I will pray for my grandmother and keep calling her, keep telling her I love her and hear her trying to reassure me as she says, "I know you do, dear."