Why “God has a wonderful plan for your life” is bogus

fortuneThe problem with the statement “God has a wonderful plan for your life” is that it doesn’t take into account hardships and difficulties we will face.  Try saying this phrase to a family who has just lost their child to cancer, or to a nation devastated by war.  Through life’s context of brokenness, this phrase is shallow, and brings the opposite of it’s naive intent.  It’s very words are like lemon juice on a wound, creating a sting of hopelessness.  “If God didn’t work, then what will?”

  • In her remarkable book, “Teach Us To Want”, my friend Jen Polluck Michel brings this statement’s core problem to the light: The problem is not in it’s ignorance to suffering, but it’s “constricted understanding of God’s kingdom.  An understanding of God’s kingdom is fundamental to answering our hesitations about our desire which are often rooted in our confusion over God’s will.”

So…. have you ever been confused about God’s will?

We don’t understand the kingdom.  We understand our kingdom.  This is our problem.  We are trying to live with a view of God’s plan through our lense, not His.  In order to break out of despair and confusion we must change our perception to His.   If you’ve heard me speak, you’ve probably heard me talk about how we like to “invite Jesus into our lives”, but the truth is, “He is inviting us into His”.  This stance changes everything, including the way we look at His will for our lives.

First, let’s take a look at that statement closely.  Notice it says: “His will for MY life”.  “God has a wonderful plan for MY life.”  Who is the focus of these statements?  ME.  This is our problem.  We are trying to live out a life of faith that’s entirely based on “ME” rather than seeing who God’s wonderful plan is really about.  We have become the author of what we define as “good” and have dictated it to God to meet our demands.  In addition, Jen states in her book, “We become hell bent on creating a name for ourselves”.

Everyone knows John 3:16. “For God so loved the world”…  There lies his wonderful plan.  His plan is for the world, not only for me.  This certainly includes me, but I inherit what I call a “selfie faith” when his plan becomes just for ME without considering the truth that I’m a part of a bigger picture.  In fact, you don’t have to look too far to see that, as my good friend states, “Faith is free, but it will cost you everything”.  Jesus tells us to readjust our ambitions.  Don’t lay up treasures on earth for ourselves.  We are to seek God’s kingdom first.

  • If we are supposed to be about God’s kingdom first, then what is His kingdom actually about?  You ask Christians if they know this verse and all will nod their heads.  Ask them if they know what God’s kingdom is really about and they stare blank.  It’s time we know.
  • The heart of the Kingdom is to make God known.  His name, His desires, His will.  I am invited and included in this.  I have a valid part as one of His treasured daughters.  I get to make Him known on the earth.  To switch my focus from my kingdom to His, I find my treasure.  Ironically, as I lay “me” down, I find the “me” I was created for.  We are meant for so much more than what we try to create for ourselves.

We were meant to desire for more.

When it comes to “my” desires, in her book, Jen defines human desires and how they were meant to be listened to.  She speaks of newness of desire.  Many swing on a pendulum of denying self of desires to the point of unhealthy self denial to “dreaming big” for ME, I mean God.  There is a middle we were meant to find.  Jen reveals that middle in her book.  In her beautiful words; “If Jesus is king, our desires are turned upside down.  The kingdom of God is to be committed to the honour of God’s name.  We need not give up our desires, but rather judge their nature.  The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires.  The failure to want may not be contentment at all, it may be cowardice.  Our desires for God’s goodness are chastened by:  “Your Kingdom”.

It’s taken some hard punches for me to come to this place of saying a willing “yes” to all the above.  But I can honestly say that I’ve found something I never could have dreamed up through a selfie faith.  If you’re searching for answers to desire, God’s will, life’s “stuff”, then I can’t recommend this book enough.  Jen’s words are rich with substance and life for you.  You can check out her book here.

  • “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak”. – CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 

Stop trying to grow your church

slowchurchLike for real.  Instead, I’d like to offer an alternative; an alternative I was pleased to read about in the book, “Slow Church” by Chris Smith and John Pattison.  I was pleased to be asked to review this book.  As one who has grown weary with the way church has been, I couldn’t put the book down as in each page the author’s described what I’ve been dreaming it could be.

I was personally challenged by the book’s emphasis on slow.  Carl Honore in his book, “The Cult of Speed” describes speed as: fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity over quality.  Slow expresses the opposite character: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality over quantity.  Western Christianity’s relationship with industrialization has led to messy or inefficient facets of faith.  Church growth emphasis only being one.  Emphasis on church growth reduces Christianity to marketable “goods”.  Following Jesus has been diminished to to an individual faith rather than a lifelong journey that happens in the context of Christian community.  When it comes to all the hype churches or “hot spots” these days, we need to remember what the authors state, “you can’t franchise the kingdom of God”

  • True Christian community based in love (not numbers on a Sunday morning) is essential to reconciliation.  Michael Frost and Allan Hirsch suggest that perhaps 95% of western churches operate with a “come and hear” mentality.  Come to us.  Attractional.  If you want to make me sick, just tell me how many people you have in your church or how much it’s grown in the past year.  I really don’t care.  What I may care about, however, is how many people you have loved into transformation.  Who are you journeying with?  Where were they before?  I have no interest in the transfer growth you’ve experienced through your efforts to deliver an amazing “show” on Sundays.  I’ve been there, done that, and given the T-shirt to the thrift store.

 

People aren’t numbers, they’re valuable.

 

  • In the book they describe “Slow Church” as this: “not attracting people to our buildings but rather deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, neighbours and even our enemies.”   That’ll preach.  I loved what they stated about the church being a “centered set”.  “It sees people not as in or out, but as closer or further away from the centre.  In that sense, everyone is in and no one is out – everyone is a part of the community in it’s broadest sense.”
  • We need to remember that we not only belong to Him, but to one another as well.
  • Alan Roxburgh says, “The way to know God is to enter into the ordinary, everyday life of neighbourhoods and community where we live.”  Dwelling among, working beside and eating at the table of those who live beside us.  Not with an agenda, but because love drives us to be a blessing. “People long for the personal rather than the pitch.”  The author’s state that “our fates are wrapped up with the fates of our neighbours”.
  • Church growth models and their teaching on methodoligies and formulas results in becoming consumed with “results”, taking our hearts away from loving people.  In fact, “loving people” becomes a mundane thought.  To many churches, attracting the masses sounds incredibly sexy!  However, the author’s mention a crucial thought, “God who acts in time, but is not bound by it enters the neighbourhood with the posture of a listener.  He lingers at the table.”
  • it is in a slow-cooked community that we learn how to be poured out for one another and for our neighbours.  This takes sticking it out for the long haul.  Being invested in the neighbourhood.  Many churches have put down only shallow roots in their neighbourhood, or no roots at all.  The book poses a good question: “It may be good to ask this question: if our church moved 15km away would we notice the difference?  As our roots grow deeper in a neighbourhood, we can’t help but want to see that community thrive.

I believe this book is a must-read for anyone thinking of church ministry or planting a church.  The book answers the “how” in ways I haven’t seen in other books or resources.  Or if you are an individual, like myself, thinking there must be more to church than what we have seen, you will find hope in it’s pages.  I can’t help but feel there is a great future for those who choose the “slow” and the richness it encompasses.

You can find out more about the book here.

 

 

 

 

Maybe God’s face is completely different than you thought?

please-do-not-feed-the-fears If you closed your eyes to picture God’s face, what would you see?

  • - disappointment in everything you’re not?
  • - one who is not interested in you?
  • - judgement for your mess?
  • The truth is, many of us mask God with likeness of the imperfect faces we see looking back at us on earth.
  • Who we imagine God to be determines more of our identity than we think.  We are formed by faces that surround us.  Who you think God is says much about you.  It determines whether you live in fear or free.
  • We are formed by faces; the disappointed teacher, the absent parent, the demanding “friend” that wants you to keep up appearances.  These faces can design God’s face towards us in our imagination.

Have you struggled to see a God who’s face is gracious?

  • What mask have you given God?  What mask do you wear as a result of wanting to belong?
  • The answers to these questions are only a couple of the best parts of my friend Margot Starbuck’s new book: “Not Who I Imagined – Surprised by a Loving God”.  It was a refreshing read.  In a world that wants our lives photoshopped to bring our best face forward, there is a God who receives us as is; without all the spiritual clean up we often feel we need in order to approach Him.
  • One of the greatest revelations I received from reading this book was seeing the verse: “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Growing up in evangelistic circles, this was always directed towards a heaven or hell destination after death.  This book enlightened me to the idea that it means so much more than that.  Who we are, our essence is only found in Him.  He is the way to find out who we are and what life is about.  He is the way we receive purpose, our belovedness, and our ability to love.  He is the way to it, He speaks the truth about who we are in Him and He brings us life through it.
  • Mind blown.  A refreshing perspective.  Perhaps because maybe God isn’t trying to get us into heaven only – maybe He’s wanting to get heaven into us?  That, my friends, changes everything.  It changes our thoughts towards Him, and gives freedom to find His face without whispers of human opinion or face painting Him in our own image.

Seriously, you gotta get this book.  It’s time for you to experience freedom in your desire to know who He really is.  You can find her book right here.

notwhoIimagined

 

They’re not “the homeless”

Homeless_Boy_Header

I am proud to have The Alex Youth Health Centre not only as a partnering organization for The Cypher, but the organization we have chosen to financially donate to this year.  I am a big fan of what they do, and after my interview with Danene Lenstra -a fiery, passionate individual who challenges me – I knew we made the right choice.  Her words are so powerful I’m just going to paraphrase her for the rest of the post.  Get ready to be rocked.

 

Danene states:

 

Out of the 3500 youth who came through The Alex Youth Health Centre  doors last year (2013) , 70% of them identified as currently experiencing  homelessness. 90%of the youth we served last year have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.  The reasons youth potentially face homelessness vary; family disconnect, poverty/homelessness, issues with parents, the push and pull of friends, trauma, sexual exploitation, etc.  The biggest contributing factors are mental health and addiction.

 

I don’t like the word “run-a-way” as youth don’t “choose” to be homeless.  It puts a label of guilt on the youth.  No person chooses to sleep behind a dumpster or under a bridge when home is a safe, supportive place where they feel they belong.  There are many, many factors to consider; one can be parents who are lacking skills to parent and have nothing left by the time their child is of youth age.  They don’t have what they need emotionally and/or financially to work through the issues that are coming up for their kids.  On occasion, some have just dropped their kid off at the shelter feeling there’s no other option left.

 

I have been asked why I do what I do.  I vividly remember what it was like to be 15 years old.  I remember feeling like adults didn’t listen.  These youth need someone to be their advocate.  For a youth to be successful, it has been said they need one adult, bare minimum, to make it.  Bare minimum.  We will be that one for that youth.

 

People often want the sensational story.  They want to hear about the amazing turn around of these kids or the horrible trauma they have overcome.  Unfortunately,  by wanting a youth to retell their story you risk re-victimizing them all over again.  I want to protect the youth that walk in our doors.  I often hear statements such as “they’re just lazy” or “they need to go home and face their problems”, and it’s frustrating.  There is so much more to the situation.  Some of them are struggling with mental illness.  It’s pretty hard to get up and get a job when you might not even know what time it is or what day it is.  I have two university degrees and it is hard enough for me to deal with all of the hoops that have to be jumped through in order to get these youth what they need to move forward.  How can we expect them to do this on their own?

 

At The Alex Youth Health Centre we care about doing what it takes to see these youth get what they need.  We have no paper that states specifically, “This is what we do…”  You need counselling? We’ll get some for you.  Need help finding out where to go for a specific need? We’ll connect you.  Pregnant?  We’ll walk you through from ultrasounds to even having someone come with you for your birth if needed.  We’ve even helped some youth get needed dentures or plan a family funeral.  We try and connect the youth to what they need and if we don’t offer what they need we will do our best to find the person or program that does.   We also try to connect youth back to their natural supports and help them with figuring out what they and their natural supports need  take to make that relationship work.

 

In the Youth Health Centre we have a full walk in and appointment medical clinic, including pregnancy and STI  testing.  We have full service social and emotional supports that include access to counselling five days a week.  We help the youth get birth certificates, photo ID and SIN cards. We can help them get into a housing program or if they are able, to  find their own market housing.  We help connect them to other supportive agencies and programs in the city. We help youth with transition plans from correctional centres or arrange visits to youth incarcerated who otherwise would get no visitors.  We help youth navigate the child welfare system.  Our Alex Youth Health Bus is an extension of our services and visits eight high schools in a week providing the same services we offer in our centre.

 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: If you don’t know what you’re eating or where you’re sleeping, nothing else matters.  If necessary, we address their basic needs first so that they can move on from there.  This is where we start.

 

One last thing, it is offensive when people who are experiencing homelessness are referred to as “the homeless”.  When we say this, we make “them” some sort of sub-group.  We perpetuate the “us and them” mentality which helps us separate ourselves from “them”.  Most of us are only a pay cheque or 2 away from homelessness ourselves.  If you lost your job tomorrow and did not have stable family supports, how many months would you be able to pay your rent or your mortgage?  Using this language is dehumanizing.  It strips people of their humanity.

 

I left my meeting with Danene greatly moved.  What they do day in and day out isn’t “sexy”.  It doesn’t have the Chariots of Fire theme song playing behind them to inspire.  No, you could tell by talking to Danene that they get their hands dirty everyday and sometimes it isn’t pretty.   Each day they see tragedy and victory together.  They keep going.  Words can’t express my admiration of this.  They do what some of us only dream of doing.

By attending The Cypher – a show about resiliency through belonging TONIGHT-Fri at the Martha Cohen Theatre, you are also contributing to the work The Alex does.  Tickets are still available for the Wed and Thurs evening shows.  Friday is sold out, however there is a special viewing Friday morning at 10:30am as well.  Find out more about the show by clicking here.  You can also find out more about the Alex by clicking here.

When people think you’re different – a place changing the face of autism

autism

Autism and other mental states such as Asbergers, Oppositional Defiance, ADHD, mood disorders etc are as unique as the individual who experiences them.  Often misunderstood or generalized, these individuals can often be pushed aside or avoided in society.  Thankfully, research and further awareness to the subject has been bridging the gap in this matter.  This means the world to the individuals and families who are experiencing this.  I know this personally because my oldest son has Oppositional Defiance as well as mild asbergers.  As a family, we have tasted what being the “outsider” can look like in terms of our son’s behavior in public, in making friends, being understood,  to having blow ups at the park.

This is why I was relieved to hear of a place in Calgary called the Autism and Asbergers Friendship Society.  This organization has created a safe place for anyone on the spectrum to come and belong.  It’s a place where people don’t have to feel they need to be perfect.  It’s a place where they can take risks and try.  They focus on the individual rather than on the diagnosis and help the individual figure out ways to relate to others.  I love how they give the students skills to connect, as this is so valuable – I know it is to my son.   What I also love is how they instil open mindedness in others, create empathy, and celebrate one another’s differences.  They find the beauty in others and help others see that too.

To be social you have to take risks.  It’s already a scary scenario for those who have no social limitations.  Imagine someone who struggles with their own state of mind?  I know for my son, building friendships has been a struggle.  Knowing there is a place I can take him that can help him build those skills is a beautiful thing for our family.

It was a guy named Isaac who took my class at Decidedly Jazz who introduced me to AAFS.  He is a program coordinator there.  To see what AAFS has done for him is remarkable.  I could hardly believe the person he described himself to be before. It sounded exactly like my son.  This is not the guy I see now.  He is confident and able to lead.  He’s personable and friendly.  Such a beautiful thing to witness.

It has been said, “If you know one person with Autism, you know ONE person with autism”.  You can’t generalize or even stereotype one and figure you know them all.  One thing I do see, though, as I teach in schools is that it’s often the ones with autism who are the first to risk it all in the cypher.  One boy with autism in a school started an 800 person cypher in his school assembly!  They are truly remarkable individuals.

I am proud to have AAFS as one of our partnering organization for The Cypher – a show about resiliency through belonging playing at the Martha Cohen Theatre THIS Wed, Thurs and Fri! Show starts at 7pm.  Tickets are still available.  Friday morning is a special show starting at 10:30am as well.  Check out more or purchase tickets here.  Learn more about the amazing things AAFS is doing in Calgary by clicking here.

A new immigrant to Canada speaks out about her struggle to belong

sadasianwomanBeing new to Canada can be intimidating.  In one of our pieces for The Cypher coming up in 2 short weeks is the theme of someone who is new to the country trying to find belonging.  In this piece choreographed by Theresa Tucci, we get to see through the eyes of one who so wants to belong but doesn’t.  Simple things like ordering a Tim Horton’s “double double” can make someone new feel awkward, wondering what IS a double double?  Today, one of our cast members from the show tells her story of being new to the country and finding inside of herself belonging.  Having to find belonging outside of people’s affirmation shows her brave soul.  She writes.

“Go to university in canada. It’s your opportunity to start a new life in a safe and free country.” My mom said. “Don’t worry about tuition. I will sell our apartment and borrow money if i have to.”

My mom’s love and support was the wings that lifted me up to the sky and across the ocean to this foreign land that promised hope.

I came with ambitions to succeed and be able to support my family back home. But my constant fear of failure crushed my dreams and faiths, and turned me into a neurotic, insecure person.

I saw hostility in my surroundings and in people at any random signs that probably had nothing to do with me. The more I thought people didn’t care about my unhappiness, the more I withdrew and hid myself from others. It was a self-reinforcing, viscous cycle.

The self doubt along with contrast and shifts in values in this new country made me question myself “Perhaps I am not that smart and pretty like everyone back home told me… Who am I if I lost my edge?” “Perhaps I will be happy once I reach all my goals. There is no time to socialize or do the things I love. ” I thought. I ignored my intuitions, suppressed my emotions and I became my worst critic. All my energy was focused on getting a good degree, a secure job, and avoiding any risks because I couldn’t afford to have a single thing go wrong. Years went by. I “made it” but there were barely any experiences that made me feel connected to the people I met in the process. This foreign country still didn’t feel like home. Most importantly, I lost the connection with myself.

“Perhaps I will be happy if I can feel others love me.” I tried very hard to prove my abilities, to be likable, only to realize that the more I attached my self-worth to others’ opinions and actions towards me, the more my psychological identity felt threatened. I never knew that the satisfaction i missed and longed for cannot come from others’ approval but moments of genuine connection that I feel inside. Not until I learned to accept myself unconditionally without judgment, could I be present enough around others, and open enough to recognize beauty, potentials, and passions in others, and allow any connections to grow on a deep level.

Self acceptance also allowed me to build a strong sense of self-esteem that depends on nothing. I am more than my past, my words, actions and appearance. Now I don’t worry about if i am an outsider. Standing outside offers a wider horizon and fresh new perspectives, and inside everyone is a unique, wonderful soul awaiting me to discover and connect with in every encounter.

“If you do not see God in the next person you meet, you need look no further. —Mahatma Gandhi”

Interestingly enough, if you can find this inner belonging, you can create belonging for others around you.  As hard as being on the outside is, you can then see others outside and invite them into your world.

You can purchase tickets to The Cypher playing at the Martha Cohen theatre June 11-13 by clicking here 

You’ll be amazed what a ticket can do to bring belonging to a youth!

kidsupfrontThere was a man named John who worked for Corus entertainment who one day sat at a Flames game and noticed empty seats at the game.  Wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, he saw an opportunity in those empty seats.  What if those seats could be donated to people who couldn’t afford them?  He took action right away and donated tickets to a local school down the street for an upcoming Flames game.  And thus, Kids Up Front was born.

Kids up front gives tickets, or as they like to say, “experiences” to those who normally wouldn’t get the opportunity.  They partner with 180 child serving agencies in Calgary to find those who would benefit from these “experiences”.   Since their beginning, they have just celebrated their 1 millionth experience (ticket) donated!  Tickets to events such as hockey games, theatre, shows, concerts, day camps and more.

I love what Kids Up Front is doing because it goes much beyond just giving an night out to someone in need; it actually creates belonging.  In the times I have worked with the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative one of the points stressed in bringing awareness to poverty isn’t the fact of money itself, but poverty meaning that some are left out from what the rest get to engage in.  Isn’t it every family’s right to be able to spend time with one another, creating memories and experiences?  Some don’t have that opportunity, not just due to the lack of funds to afford the outing, but the tireless work schedules of parents juggling two or three jobs just to provide survival for the family.  Imagine a family under such stress being given a night out to enjoy one another?  What a beautiful gift.

I think this letter of thanks sent to Kids Up Front sums up the difference they are making nicely:

An organization writes: (“this boy” has been meant to replace the boy’s real name)

“I am writing to you to thank you for the wonderful experience my client (this boy) had at a Calgary Hitmen game.  This boy is an engaging, intelligent child who is a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable hockey fan.  In his life, he has experienced many traumatic events which have impacted his learning and behavior.  He lives with his grandparents, whom he loves, but has little contact with his father who he adores.  

In December I decided to request hockey tickets for this boy and his grandparents.  At the time the grandparents were feeling overwhelmed with this boy’s difficult behavior.   The family truly needed some activity that could be fun, lively, or an event that could bring the adults and this boy together in a non judgmental way.

This boy invited his father to the Hitmen game and his grandparents came along as well.  This was the first time this boy had been to a professional hockey game and also the first time he had spent more than 2 hours with his father since 2012.  

Words cannot express how exhilarated this boy and his grandparents have been since this amazing opportunity.  They continue to talk about how fortunate they have been and how grateful this boy has remained.  Please accept my genuine thanks to your organization for making this possible.”

All it took was for one man to notice the need for inclusion and the opportunity he could provide.  We all have that capacity inside us to notice a need and offer a solution. Offering inclusion so everyone belongs doesn’t take money.  It only takes compassion coupled with action.  It could include donating tickets to Kids Up Front to impact a family or a youth.  You can find out more about Kids Up Front by clicking here.

Kids Up Front is one of our partnering organizations for The Cypher, a show about resiliency through belonging coming in a few short weeks to The Martha Cohen Theatre June 11-13.  By purchasing a ticket, you are helping us all create resilient youth in Calgary.  Find out more or purchase tickets by clicking here.

This woman is making a difference in youth who are in prison

youthcentralI visited Youth Central, one of our partnering organizations for The Cypher Show (June 11-13) and met this woman, Sylvia who hosts emcee session (rap) with youth in the correctional centre and then puts all the lyrics they’ve created into a book.  She then gifts it to them when they are released from the correctional centre.  I was moved by this.  The name of the book?  “Bounce Back”.  What an amazing title, suiting hip hop culture and a message of empowerment to know that they can bounce back from whatever they are facing.

I love meeting people like this because they remind me that there are people out there seeing a simple need and meeting it with things they love to do.  Sylvia likes hip hop and she likes to invest in youth.  Put them together and it’s that simple.

That’s what I love about Youth Central.  They are making Calgary a youth friendly city by giving youth opportunities in volunteering, leadership and skill development.  There are many ways Youth Central is doing this.  Here are just a few of the things they do:

- give youth volunteering opportunities such as volunteering at the food bank, Salvation Army, Seniors homes, helping with sports camps, helping out at city festivals etc.

- doing environmental programs such as weeding or building a greenhouse out of recycled bottles.

- hosting a blog site where youth can write articles on issues they are facing.

- outreach programs to Discovering Choices schools in Calgary where they provide leadership development for schools.

Through all their various programs, Youth Central is giving youth a voice to issues, a chance to feel they “belong” in our city by making it a better place, and all the while building new friendships with other like minded students. Youth Central is giving youth the benefits of giving youth the opportunity to work as a part of team, experience Calgary communities, achieve new skills and gain a sense of pride an identity.

One youth said about their experience with Youth Central, “My eyes have been opened to the amazingly large amount of potential Calgary youth have.  I have been able to see first hand how Calgary youth are trying to leave their footprints on society.”

I love what Youth Central is doing in our city.  You can learn more about them or get involved by clicking here.

Youth Central is one of our partnering organizations for The Cypher, a show about resiliency through belonging playing at the Martha Cohen theatre coming up in a few short weeks!  You can purchase your tickets by clicking here.  By purchasing a ticket, you are helping us all create resilient youth in Calgary.

 

You’ll never believe all this young woman has overcome

cenI am proud of Cen, who is a part of our Mpact family, for releasing her powerful story.  She has overcome much.  May her words give encouragement for others going through similar to know that you can make it through like she did. She writes:

I was in Social Studies class, staring straight ahead at the whiteboard, trying to ignore my surroundings and focus on what the teacher was saying. “Ugly, you’re so fucking ugly.” It was the incessant whispering from Aaron, a classmate a few seats away from me. “Ugly,” he kept whispering, his eyes boring into me and an arrogant smirk on his face. “Ugly, ugly, ugly!” For the first time all school year, something inside me snapped.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” I screamed. The classroom went silent and then, he laughed. “Shut up!” I picked up my chair and threw it at him. He dodged it. The room burst into fits of laughter and the teacher dismissed me to the office.

“What a freak.”

“Loser.”

“Spazz needs to chill out.”

I walked out alone, my head hanging in humiliation as my peers called me names and laughed and laughed and laughed…

-

I had a pretty normal upbringing in Winnipeg, Manitoba. If what you call a “normal” childhood includes growing up in the ghetto with a mother who has a mental disorder, a cousin who once molested me, and a sister who got pregnant at 16 years of age, making me an aunt at 9 years old, then yes, my life was pretty ordinary. My father worked hard for my three siblings and I. We took camping trips, I biked around the neighbourhood with my friends, and my favourite hobby was reading.

Junior High was when things changed. It meant leaving your old elementary school behind and going to a brand new school, with new people, and new teachers, and new classrooms. I was excited to make new friends and nervous about being in a new environment. The girls wore make-up – lots of make-up! – and tight clothes. I wore sneakers, baggy jeans, and a sweater. I had no idea I had to try so hard just for school. The boys would only talk to you if they found you attractive and, because I didn’t meet the criteria, I was totally ignored. My best friends in elementary suddenly became strangers. They found their own clique to hang out with, make-up and tight clothing included. I quickly became an outcast. There were the “cool” girls, the pretty girls, who would taunt me in the hallways, calling me ugly and telling me to wash my face because of my acne. I ate lunch by myself in a bathroom stall and sat at the back of the classroom alone.

At home, it wasn’t any better. My Mom would look disapprovingly at my acne, saying things like, “Ceniza, your face is so dirty looking. Your teeth are ugly, and your eyes look crooked. You’re not as pretty as your sisters.” Don’t get me wrong, my Mom was a good mother. She worked hard to give us a better future, we always had fresh clothes, hot meals on the table, our lunches packed, beds cleaned, and the house neat and tidy. But, she was never there emotionally. To this day, I can count on one hand how many times she’s hugged me and told me she loves me. Maybe her way of showing love is different, that her mental disorder prevents her from being an affectionate mother. However, it caused me great pain to be bullied not only at school but also verbally abused at home too.

I was singled out and I became depressed, crying almost every night. “You’re the ugliest girl in the world,” a boy at school said to me one day. “You’re such a loner. Ew, go hang out in the bathroom stall!” a girl added. At home, my Mom would greet me with, “Why do you always have a frown on your face? You’re such an embarrassment when my friends see you! Look at your sisters, they’re always smiling. But you… you’re so worthless to me. You’re so useless, despicable.” One day, I made the mistake of talking back to her. She threw a chair at me, told my Dad, and he slapped me twice across the face.

During this low time in my life, I attempted suicide twice. The second time, I called Kids Help Phone just so I can have a stranger tell me that I’m worth it. The one thought that kept me going was being with my ‘Nanay’, which is Tagalog for Mother. In the Philippines, I was raised by my Aunt who took care of me like I was her own daughter. She hugged me, kissed me, tucked me into bed, read to me, and held me until I would fall asleep. I loved her so much. To me, she is my real mother. However, we were separated when my family moved to Canada and my other Mom took me with them. I made it my goal that, when I turned 18 years old, I would work and save up enough money to sponsor my Nanay here to Canada so that we could be together again.

Junior high went by in a blur. By the end of it, I had made some friends… with the wrong crowd. The summer before high school started, I dyed my hair blonde, began to wear make-up, wore tighter clothes, took up smoking, and partied at an all-ages club every Friday. On the first day of high school, I was unrecognizable. I walked up the stairs of my new school and the harsh comments were replaced with, “Damn, Ceniza.” And, “Whoah, you got hotter over the summer.” The newfound attention was addicting.

I attended an inner city school where the influence was terrible. During my first year of high school, I started dating a drug dealer, my friends and I smuggled alcohol into our lockers, I skipped 75% of my classes, and I was on the verge of getting expelled. At one point, my favourite pastime with friends was stealing cars. One day, my friend was on his way to pick me up in one of the stolen vehicles. He was drunk, and he crashed into a tree. That night, they amputated his leg and his dreams of playing college basketball ended. Things at home weren’t any better. In junior high, my Mom gave me loads of negative attention, but in high school when I rebelled, she completely ignored and disregarded me. She called me a disappointment and that she didn’t know what she did to deserve a daughter like me.

During spring break, I went to Edmonton with my sister Christine to visit our sister Bernadeth, her three kids, and her husband. We went to Jasper where I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time in my life. We went shopping, went to the zoo, stayed up all night talking, and had sister bonding time. Bernadeth asked me how I was doing, and told me that the entire family was concerned about me. She told me that I’m better than the life I was leading, and that I needed to smarten up or else she would force me to move to Edmonton with her so that I could focus on school and make better friends. During that trip, I had some time away from my friends back home and time to think about my life. To know that my family cared meant the world to me and I decided to make some changes.

When I arrived back in Winnipeg, I immediately ditched my friends and broke up with my boyfriend, It wasn’t easy. I was scared of being alone again, and my “friends” threatened to beat me up for thinking that I was better than them. I didn’t think I was better than them, I just knew I deserved a better life than the one I had chosen. I started attending all of my classes and worked hard to pass my first year of high school. I started seeing a counsellor, who challenged me with extracurricular activities and signed me up for dance the following school year. Back then, I had no idea how much dance would be such a big part of my life, well into my 20’s. I was a loner again, but I liked it. It was for the better, and it felt right. It was all because of my sister’s encouraging words that made all the difference in my life.

That summer, I got a job and spent most of my time with family and also at home reading a ton of books and writing. I was content and, for the first time in a long time, my Mom was happy with me. Then one day, while out getting dessert with a friend, I got a phone call that changed everything. My sister Bernadeth was involved in a car accident and she was admitted into emergency for head trauma. I immediately went home, where my Mom was tearfully packing her bags to take the next flight Edmonton. I waited all night with my Dad and my sister, praying like I’ve never prayed before. I’ll never forget the moment my Dad answered the phone, optimistically at first, and then he went silent and fell to his knees. My sister, my saving grace, was gone.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse from there, just a few months later, my Nanay passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. The grief was overwhelming and I felt the black cloud over my head once again. I was at a new low, but this time, it was different. Instead of going into depression, I knew I had to keep going and be strong, not only for myself, but for my family. I wasn’t going back to my old life again and let my sister’s words fall on deaf ears. I would make her proud.

At some of the most difficult times in my life, I had two things. God and dance. With God, I found strength and purpose. With dance, I found belonging and acceptance. To this day, both have been positive influences in my life. Both have kept me going. Life hasn’t been easy. In fact, I can’t pinpoint a time where it has been easy at all. However, the point of life is not that it should be easy, but that we persevere and find enlightenment through our darkest moments, so that we can be a voice in the world to people who are going through their own difficult journeys.

At 26 years old, I’m finally beginning to accept my Mom’s mental disorder, and forgive her for the years of verbal abuse. This is my biggest scar that has yet to fully heal. I miss my sister and my Nanay everyday, but the most important lesson that I’ve learned through the most difficult of times is to keep your head up and trust that this is all part of a bigger purpose

Resiliency to overcome.  This is the theme of Mpact’s show this year at the Martha Cohen June 11-13.  You can find out more or purchase tickets here.

The power of what ONE person did to make a difference in a girl bullied

chubbyteengirl I love this young woman’s story.  It reminds us that sometimes all it takes is just one person to make all the difference. 

Growing up I have always been bullied. I cant remember a time where I wasn’t bullied. Even when I moved schools and towns and even provinces it never took long for people to bully me. They would find any possible way to put me down and laugh at me. I remember this one time in grade 5 when I got made fun of because I was wearing a one piece bathing suit to school.  I had nothing else to wear.  I was a “bigger” girl which made it worse.  That day the girls in my class made so much fun of me that at the end of the day when I went to my pastor’s house to play with her kids. I ended up crying and crying.  My pastor ended up taking me out and buying me new clothes and becoming a really close friend. 


This is just one story of me being bullied.  As I got older it got way worse to the point that in grade 7 I was not allowed to leave my house unless I was wearing what my “friends” had picked out for me to wear to school that day. So this caused a lot of self esteem issues and caused me to never want to be me. I questioned who I was through all of this. 


How did I overcome this? Well this took a long time and I think I am still in the process of over coming all the damage that bulling has done to me. But what helped me the most when I was dealing with this was my pastor. She is the lady whose house I went to crying, she has seen me through everything and to this day we are still the best of friends. But through this she has just encouraged me and talked me through a lot of the bulling. She has helped teach me that is ok to be myself and not what people want me to be. She has helped me realize that’s it not about what’s on the outside and how big or small I am but what’s on the inside. She has helped me get some outfits that fit me properly and make me feel confident in who I am. She has helped me be me and let me be the fun, crazy, bubbly me that I really am. And with being me I am now able to stand in front of people and speak and not be as afraid as I was. I am now wanting to help people overcome and see a light in the end of the tunnel of being bullied. My pastor along with many other powerful women and in my life are the ones who helped me over come this and see that I am worth something and that what I have to say is important and does matter. I have also learned that bulling does not define me and that not everyone out there wants to hurt me. So the bottom line is I have over come this with God and with the help of many older women who have loved me and showed me that they are my friends!!

Never underestimate the power we have as one person to give courage to someone to make it through.  You and I can be that for someone today.  This is the theme of my (Mpact’s) show, The Cypher coming to the Martha Cohen Theatre June 11-13, 2014.  Tickets are on sale now.  It’s going to be an inspiring show not to miss.  You can get tickets, see the show trailer and find out more by clicking here

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