Posts by: connie

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

Something we’re missing… and we didn’t even realize!

linkagesThere is a gap in society that my friends at LINKages in Calgary is filling.  In this new age of technology, segregation, and social media we haven’t really noticed this gap, but it’s importance doesn’t go unnoticed in the effects on community.

LINKages is connecting generations, a seeming lost art in our world.  It connects youth with seniors.  This is powerful because it brings the community together and reminds us that the world is bigger than just us and our own age group and demographic.  It gives youth a chance to learn from those who are older, and seniors an opportunity to give mentorship and wisdom gleaned from their years.  Transferred knowledge between generations is something that is supposed to happen but is getting less frequent.

Connecting generations is important because it takes a village to belong.  Whether we know it or not, the younger need the wisdom and friendship of the older, and the older have a sense of worth and purpose when they can invest in the next generation.  Perhaps many of our issues of fear of growing older, or things like getting grey hairs or wrinkles could subside if we were in relationship with someone older; to see their beauty, their grace despite aging?  What would this do to someone older on the inside concerning their beauty?  It could reinstate their value going past their outer appearance.

Bridging the gap also solves the “us vs them” issue.  Teens can view older adults as being against them.  Older adults can misunderstand youth.  Bringing them together brings back empathy and compassion.  We miss out when we don’t interact with one another generationally.  There’s a level of growth and maturity that doesn’t reach its full potential when a youth misses out on this relationship.

Here are some testimonials that Link Ages has received about this needed program:

“I am more able to cope and have a better perspective on community and how I “fit”.  I have more confidence as well”.

“It has changed my daughter’s perspective.  It has taught her to put down her phone and connect.”

 

It’s important to provide opportunities for generations to connect with one another.  Let’s see what bridges can be built in this capacity that will create waves of belonging for all.

To learn more about LINKages, visit their website by clicking here.

LINKages is one of our partnering organizations for The Cypher coming this month at the Martha Cohen Theatre, June 11-13.  You can purchase tickets to the show by clicking here.  By attending the show, you are helping us create resilient youth in Calgary.

Also join LINKages at Intergenerational Day on June 1st and we have events at the Genesis Centre from 11-3 and in the East Village from 1-4pm.

A young woman opens up about depression, self harm and overcoming

aloneI am proud of this young woman’s bravery to tell her story, but mostly to overcome.  She writes:

“My journey in over coming depression was a long and hard one. Being a child of a split family was not easy and it definitely contributed to the depression I suffered. My depression was always around ever since I was about 12 years old.

For the 3 years of my extreme depression my world felt empty, I felt like I had no one even though I was surrounded by so many loving people. The only way I could explain my depression in a way people would understand I would say to them; Picture yourself completely naked, vulnerable and alone in this pitch black room, you cant see anything or hear anything around you. All you can feel is loneliness and emptiness but you see this light and you do not know where it is coming from but you know inside this light leads to your escape of this room. Everything inside of you still wants to find a way out of this room but anytime you try to get up and move something in this room knocks you down and all you can hear is “you can’t do it, give up, give up nothing is going to change” and every time you try you are always hurt, knocked down and you just want to give up because it just gets harder and harder to go on.

This is exactly what I went through for three years, and because who I really was, was a vulnerable scared girl I hid behind a fake persona and I never let anyone get to know who I really was. So I went on like this for so long I fell further and further into depression, I felt hopeless, I didn’t really feel like I had anything worth living for, I began to self harm and I attempted suicide.

When I turned 16 I was so far into depression it was taking a toll on my physical body, and one night I sat in my room with a piece of broken glass in my hands in tears I cried out saying “Please someone help me I don’t want to feel like this anymore I’m begging someone help me, please don’t let me feel like this anymore” I sat there rocking my self back and forth, I felt so lost. When I finally couldn’t cry anymore I sat in the silence of my room and I thought to myself what can I do? I need to find a way out of this depression. I prayed for a long time and I said to myself “its time to break free from these chains that are holding me back, God please give me the strength to carry on” so I stood up and went into the washroom and looked at myself and I said “Its time to be strong, you need to love yourself and let yourself be happy, go out and embrace the world”.

The next morning I woke up feeling at peace I felt as if someone had come into that dark room and picked up my broken down vulnerable body from the cold floor and carried me to that light that I fought so hard to find for three years. That year I decided to stop hiding from the world and embrace it. I decided to throw away my fake persona and try to show people who I really was because I realized that the more I hid away who I really was from people the REAL me began to die away in depression and when I finally made the decision to open up to the world and be who I really was,it set me free and I let the things of my past that held me down in depression disappear with that dark room. I still to this day struggle at times with depression but I have learned to open myself up and be who I really am and I can proudly say that I CONQUERED my depression and I feel amazing.”

Resiliency to overcome.  This is what belonging does to people.  When my friend comes out on this blog with her honesty, how many of us want to embrace her, cheer her on, tell her never to give up?!  I’m sure every single one of us does.  How many who have battled through the same or are battling through this right now are feeling comforted by not being alone in your struggle?  This is the power of community, however even further than a screen, we need to be intentional and diligent to CREATE belonging around us by being present for others.  To give them a place of safety in us to be who they are and walk low and slow with them through their journey to freedom.  Friends, this is more powerful than we know.

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.

What makes some people resilient and others not??

belonginggirlsI had the opportunity to speak at My World Conference this week in my home city of Calgary.  A thousand teens gathered to hear inspirational stories of people who are making change in the world.  What I am writing here in this post today is what I spoke to the students.

The day started off with Molly Burke, a 20 year old girl who became blind at age 13.  She blew me out of the water with her story of resilience and strength.  She spoke of hope brilliantly to the students.  You need to check this girl’s story out.  She is remarkable.  You can hear more about her by clicking here.

In my session I asked the students this question:  “What makes a youth (or anyone for that matter) resilient?”   “Why do some in this life overcome incredible odds, while others flounder?”  “How does Molly Burke come out golden on the other side of tragedy, while others don’t?”

These are questions that stir inside me.  I’m hungry for answers.  I long for all to see resilience; for none to fall through the cracks.  The question is, “how”?

I told the youth my personal story of bullying when I was a teen.  I was a chubby girl.  Not, “I’m having a fat day” kind of chubby, but I mean CHUBBY.  They called me Connie Chunk.  Unfortunately I was buck toothed as well.  Every day I would leave my home knowing that torment would be waiting for me at school either verbally or some days even physically.  School to me was a place of fear, shame, and embarrassment.  By the time I was 22, I was quite heavy and was experiencing health problems.   That’s when I decided to take a hip hop class.  The gym was a scary place, but dance seemed unthreatening.  In dance, I found a community that was accepting, empowering, and gave me courage to face my health and weight.

However, one of the scariest experiences of my life has been going into what hip hop culture calls, “The Cypher”.  Being heavier and having past experiences of bullying makes the centre of the cypher the LAST place I ever wanted to find myself.  In a world of judgment, hatred, and ridicule, it’s a vulnerable place to dance on your own with a circle of eyes staring you down, yet I was surprised to find the centre of the cypher to be a game changer for me in terms of reclaiming my identity and finding out how powerful community really is.

This is where I discovered a powerful truth: “We” have the power to create identity in one another.  Inside each of us is the power to either create an atmosphere around us where “we” are for one another, calling out one another’s strengths and beauty, or disabling and shaming one another to isolation, depression and hopelessness.

That’s a lot of power.

We have the ability to create resilience in one another.  What if Pink Shirt Day became a historical event, rather than an annual plea to “stop bullying”?  We have the capacity to make that kind of change if we understand the power of “we”.  If I can lay aside my predudice of who I think you are, there is hope for this kind of change.  If I can say, “I don’t get you, but I’m for you”, or “You really annoy me, but I’m for you”, to even “You may be my enemy, but I will stand for you rather than against you” – then we can see what we’re all longing for, and that is to belong and create a space for others to belong as well.

Everyone wants to belong.  You do, the person sitting next to you on the train does, your parents, your peers, even those who seem to want you to fail – we all want the same thing: to belong.  If we can create a change in our homes, our schools, our workplaces where everyone is welcomed and belongs we won’t only change the atmosphere, we change the culture itself.

Belonging creates resilience inside of people.

But there’s only so long someone can be resilient on their own.  It’s only a matter of time before the opposition weighs more than their determination.  We cannot stand for this.  We were designed to be a community, to live in a state of “we”, taking care and ownership of one another’s destiny.  Imagine how much further one can go with a community cheering them on?  Imagine how much faster they can get there with their support system holding them through it.

The potential is limitless together.  It’s absurdly simple.

Imagine we truly “saw” one another for who we really are and not who we are perceived to be?

I’ll conclude with a story.  I was teaching at a Jr. High where I was faced with a difficult student who would bully and intimidate other students while i was teaching.  He even tried to intimidate me.  He was very tall with an attitude that was contagiously negative.  During dinner that evening I was venting about this particular student to my husband.  I labeled him “a jerk”.  That’s when my seven year old decided to interject.  He replied, “Mom, that’s not very compassionate.”  BAM, that hit me hard.  He was right.  Later that evening while doing dishes a picture of this student popped into my mind of him as a five year old boy.  Being the visual person I am, I often get pictures like this.  In the picture, he was the most tenderhearted little boy.  Compassion flooded my soul for this student as I reflected on who I saw him to be on the inside.  The next day I decided to tell him about this picture I saw of him (awkward…)  To my amazement, he wasn’t weirded out when he heard me share about my picture at all.  In fact, he became the most respectful student for the remainder of my time there. It blew me out of the water.

Perhaps it’s because for the first time in a long time someone saw him for who he truly is on the inside rather than who he portrayed himself to be on the outside.  Isn’t that what we all desire?  To be “seen” for who we truly are?

Creating that kind of belonging for people can bring a beauty to our world like none has ever seen.

You belong.  I belong.  Belonging creates resilience.  Let’s do whatever it takes to create that for those around us.

This is the theme for my company Mpact’s show this year, The Cypher playing at the Martha Cohen Theatre June 11-13.  You can view the trailer for the show here.  We’re booking schools, organizations and community groups for our matinees presently.  Wed, June 11 has been sold out so we are now booking Thurs, June 12, 2014.  Please email me at culturerebelonline@gmail.com if you’re interested in bringing a group.

(Also check out our fundraiser for the show April 6 at Hotel Arts!  A 90’s party!  Who doesn’t love those?!  For more information, click here.)

Here’s to the unconventionalists!

mathI saw this picture today and laughed!  I am one of the four.  I’ve always labeled myself a slow learner.  Even still today I tell students I teach how slow of a learner I am to encourage them to keep going when they don’t get a concept right away.  I’m the type that has to take something new I’ve learned home and work it out over, and over, and OVER again.

Before the days of Individual Personalized Programs in schools for “special needs” students there was one way to learn.  If you didn’t fit, you could easily fall through the cracks.  I struggled in school once I hit grade 7.  Social Studies and English were no problem, but I had a difficult time with Math and Science.  So much so that my parents paid crazy amounts of money on expensive tutors just to get me through – and I still ended up failing grade 12 math THREE TIMES!

I always thought there was something wrong with me.

I come from a smart family – smart in the sense they fit well in conventional learning.  Good grades were highly valued in my home.  The rest of my family seemed to understand basic logic.  I often felt like I was missing a piece of my brain.  I wondered why certain concepts would seem to take forever to learn.  Some concepts I still don’t get.

The last thing i am is conventional.  Never have been, never will be.  I don’t fit into any “category”.  I don’t think conventional, I don’t reason conventional, and certainly don’t create anything conventional.  I didn’t fit “the system” growing up and still don’t.  I delight in pushing boundaries, and am glad I’m ignorant of certain rules that say, “You just can’t do it that way”.  I guess I didn’t get the memo.  (and don’t bother sending it to me either because I’m not one to listen to rules)

Fast forward where I am presently raising an unconventional son.  I am thankful that there is room in our world for people who learn different, think different… who ARE different.  People like my son who’s method of logic is delightfully intriguing (or annoying, depending on how much math is involved).  I find my son fascinating in how he sees the world.  It’s so… so…. unconventional.  He has opinions like none I’ve ever heard.  He makes me think.  For an artist like myself, I’m surprised how much I’ve come to discover how greatly I value those who make me think far more than those who make me feel.  He’s opened my eyes to much.

I look at those I lean towards when teaching in the school system.  It’s always the unconventional, awkward, “special needs labelled” student who’s putting themselves out there in the cypher.  They don’t know (and maybe they don’t care) if they know the moves perfect or not.  Doesn’t seem to matter to them.  Their courage stirs awe all around them and creates “yes’s” in those who were hesitant.  They create a culture of “yes” just by their insane, consistent leaps of faith.  One of the most beautiful memories I have of this was when I was speaking at a Jr. High school in the fall.  A teenage boy with autism just got up, started to dance while 800 students circled around him.  The music played and student after student jumped into the middle to show off their moves.  The students didn’t want to stop!  I stood on the platform in total awe of what I was seeing.  This one unconventional student made a huge wave that day.

I hope he never shuts that part of him down, for it’s people like him who are the ground breakers, the inventors, the game-changers.  These are the ones who don’t give a …. who will create the future.

The best thing we can do for all the unconventionalists out there is embrace their chaos.  Let them be weird – but don’t treat them like they are.  Don’t leave them on the outside.  Let them flourish in a safe environment that says, “I may not get you, but let’s see what you got!”  They’ll amaze you every time, I guarantee it.

Today I raise my glass to unconventionalists everywhere.  Bend the rules, break the box, expand what exists and make it better.  Challenge the norm, ask the hard questions, and make us uncomfortable.  Our world is better for it.

 

Surviving in a difficult Christian marriage

ElisabethThis post was written by my brave friend Elisabeth who has a new book out on overcoming a shattering marriage and divorce.  You will find her words comforting if you have been through similar.  She writes:

I Was Doing that Wrong the Whole Time?

Question: So, apparently walking on eggshells equals enabling.  If this is true, when I thought I was putting out fires, protecting my kids, and keeping the peace, I was actually just helping him to control {get his way, keep his addiction going, fill in the blank}?

Yes, to an extent, walking on eggshells, protecting your kids, covering up, trying to catch what is falling through the cracks, et cetera, is enabling.  Yes, to an extent, these actions may have kept the cycle going.  And I know – trust me, I know – this is a tough pill to swallow.

But if I’ve learned anything from a few years of twelve-step recovery, it would be this.  You absolutely must come to a place of showing yourself deep and constant grace and compassion, trusting that that’s what God is doing with you.  And here’s why: You don’t know what you don’t know.  Let me say that again.  You do not know what you do not know.

When you were making sure your electric bill got paid on time so that your lights didn’t get turned off, you weren’t thinking, I am so totally helping him not take responsibility for his family.  You were probably thinking, my kids need electricity.  When you were rushing your kids to bed so they wouldn’t see their father stumble in drunk again, you weren’t thinking, I am so totally helping him keep getting drunk.  You were probably thinking, my kids are too young and innocent to see this and think confusing thoughts about their daddy.

In AlAnon, they have a saying about your loved one’s alcohol abuse: you can’t cause it, you control it, and you can’t cure it.  I believe that can be said of mental illness, of abuses of all kinds, of infidelity, of any type of addiction of someone you love.  Really and truly.  You did not make the person in your life do what they’re doing.  You cannot make them stop their hurtful actions.  And you cannot cure what is ailing them.  If you can really let this settle into your bones, this will bring you immense relief.

However, there will come a time when you will start to know what you didn’t know.  And that is this.  There are some things you can do and some things you shouldn’t do.  And they all pretty much fall under this heading — stop being your spouse’s Holy Spirit, mother, parole officer.  Just stop.  Jump off the merry-go-round.  This is one of those simple but ridiculously hard things to do.  Especially if you’ve been doing the dance for a long time, and especially if you’ve gotten really good at it.

It may mean letting the electricity get turned off.  (I know, crazy hard.)

It may mean letting him drive to work in the car that he just crashed up the night before, as opposed to giving him your car so you have to drive around in the banged-up one.

It may mean if his work calls because he didn’t come in again, you don’t tell a lie to cover for him.

It may mean if your children ask what’s wrong with Daddy?, depending on their ages, you tell them what’s true and appropriate for them to know.

It may mean taking the car keys out of his hand or refusing to get into a car with him if he’s been drinking.

It may mean walking through the doors of Celebrate Recovery or AlAnon and getting the help you need to cope with what seems out of control and completely unmanageable in your life.  It may mean breaking your silence and asking someone for help until you get it.

Now that you are beginning to know what you didn’t know, it’s time to do something about it.  It’s time to wise up and it’s time to stand up…to evil, to sin, to perpetuating dysfunction.  You can do this.  You have what you need – the power of Christ dwelling within you – to turn some things around.

Elisabeth’s new book, Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage, released on Valentine’s Day.

Elisabeth Klein Corcoran is the author of Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage and Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, along with several other books. She speaks several times a month to women’s groups, and is a member of Redbud Writers’ Guild. She lives with her children in Illinois. Visit her online at http://www.elisabethcorcoran.com/difficult-marriage-divorce/ or https://www.facebook.com/ElisabethKleinCorcoran.  She is the moderator of two private Facebook groups: one for women in difficult Christian marriages, and one for Christian women who are separated or divorced. Email her at elisabeth@elisabethcorcoran.com if interested in joining.
Elisabeth is a proud Member of Redbud Writer’s Guild and has been featured on Moody’s In the Market with Janet Parshall, This is the Day with Nancy Turner, and Midday Connection with Anita Lustrea.

 

How to bring better connection between you and your child

mother:sonConnection.  It’s what I am learning through our journey with our son. The most important thing we can do as parents is protect the connection we have with our children. Many of the tools we are being given right now aren’t necessarily to help with his behavior at this point, but with making sure our son feels connected to us and to our family. At first I thought it was crazy as I just wanted to solve the problem, but I’m finding that connection itself does much in the heart of a child.

But how do you go about creating that connection? Especially when you feel you are spending time with your children.  I’ve discovered recently that connection doesn’t equal spending time, necessarily.

We need to remember that measuring connection doesn’t come from us the parents.  It comes from the child.  When my son is throwing things across his room swearing at me, telling me he doesn’t feel a part of the family, I need to let go of my defensiveness and hear his heart.  I can’t be clouded by his unruly actions, nor can I take it personally.  I need to see a boy who is feeling something deep inside his heart that isn’t right.  This doesn’t mean that throwing things around and swearing is tolerated, but what it does mean is that I see past the exterior behavior into the heart of the matter.

I was surprised when my son told me he didn’t feel a part of our family.  My husband and I work very hard at being intentional with spending time with our boys, giving them each individual attention.  I had to bite my tongue not to list all the wonderful things I had done for him even that day that he wasn’t remembering.  Sometimes the first step to bringing connection is for us as parents to shut up and listen…. and swallow some humble pie at times.

Here’s the problem.  A child who is misbehaving is more often than not using it as a cry for help.  There’s a heart issue they don’t know how to identify or to solve.  Thus, they act out, sometimes in shocking ways.  This, of course, gives them the exact opposite of what they were wishing for.  For example, the other day my son didn’t get his way with something he had asked and decided to go awol on the family by cursing and swearing.  There was no calming him down or reasoning with him so we had to put him in his room where he only cursed and swore more at us through the door.  I explained that the door would open when he stopped and could be calm for 15 minutes.  It took awhile, but the door was finally able to be opened.  This isn’t what he wanted.  He wanted connection but instead had to be removed from the family common area.  Once calm, I held him and explained that we loved him no matter what he called us or said to us.  It was hard for me to know how to navigate through a breakdown like this knowing that what he wanted more than anything was to be pulled close, not be sent away.

This is why the books I’ve been reading have been focusing on giving tools for connection in times when tempers aren’t escalating.  I’ve been discovering that times when there is peace from blow-ups (which are common occurances with a son with O.D.D) is the time to come in and take time to connect.

Here’s a few ways I have been building connection with my son in this time.  I’m no expert, but I hope this can help any other parents who may be in need of building greater connection with their children.

1. I turn off social media when my son is home.

Some of my “work” is done on the computer.  Things such as writing, blogging, administrating my dance company’s projects and of course posting on social media.  I thought I had a good handle on it all until one of the sessions I had with the psychologists about my son’s results.  She had mentioned my son stating he didn’t think he could ask me for help because I was too busy.  When she asked him what I was busy doing he said, “She’s either too busy with Chris or she’s on the computer”.  Ouch.  There’s that humble pie.  He doesn’t know I’m doing work.  All he sees is my back.  in desiring greater connection with my son I have chosen to avoid the computer before and after school until after he has gone to bed so I can be fully alert to when he needs me.  I don’t want to be “too busy” in his eyes any longer.

2. Morning reading and cuddles

We have a little devotional we read every morning together.  What makes this most special is what we do after.  I hold my son on my lap for about 5 min.  I remember one night I had a dream of holding my son like this. Something in my dream whispered, “This is all your son wants”.  I thought it was ridiculous, but the next day I sat him on my lap and held him and asked, “Is this all you want?”  He started to cry and said, “Yes”.  He’s a big boy, but I guess we’re never too big or too old to want or need to be held.

3. Spending time one on one

It’s important to our son to have time with us without his brother so hubby and I have set up a time to take our son out with just one of us every week.

4. Listening to his concerns and practicing empathy

Like I mentioned, we often equate “connection” with “spending time”, but this isn’t the case.  The way we look at our children can create connection or disconnection.  I’ve been mindful as of late when conversing with my son about what my facial expressions look like.  Are they warm, or do they show exhaustion or discontent?  I’ve also been intentionally listening to what he says to me so I can practice empathizing with him.  “Oh, that must have been hard” or “I can see that you’re frustrated about that”.  If I don’t take time to really hear what he’s saying, I create disconnect.  When I empathize with him it creates in him a realization that, “Mom gets it.  I can trust her”.

5. Positive rewards program

When a child is used to using negative behavior to get attention, a pattern of negative discipline can start.  We found this was our reality.  Then I read the book; “Your Defiant Child” which gave an idea of a reward program that I’ve now implemented.  When the child follows through with an instruction, or does something right they get a token which can then be added up to gain privaledges or rewards.  Tokens can’t be taken away for negative behavior, only gained for positive behavior.  This is great for the parents as well, as it it gets us watching for those good moments we can sometimes miss.

6. Learning to laugh again

Just a few weeks ago my youngest said to me, “Mommy, smile?”  Once giving him a smile, he gave me the largest grin and stated, “Mommy!  You smiled!”  I guess it had been awhile.  When you’re in the heat of struggles with your child or children, it can drain the life out of you.  I’ve been intentionally looking for times to laugh with my kids.  Laughter connects, it heals, it restores joy.  It’s important in all the struggle to find things to laugh at as a family.

Like I said, I’m no expert.  This is what I’m learning and focusing on at present.  What about you?  How are you building connection with your child?  I’d love to hear.

Why society and the church both approach sex before marriage totally wrong

premaritalsex

One of my guilty-pleasure movies to watch is “Mean Girls”.  I laugh when I hear the coach teaching sex ed say: “Don’t have sex, or you will get herpies and die.”  Classic line of the movie.  A funny satire of the way we approach sex with young people.  Then there’s the messages out there to have at ‘er, live like there’s no tomorrow and sleep with whoever you want, or the responsible parent’s approach that says, “As long as you feel you love one another and there’s a commitment”…..  We know them all, don’t we?

This weekend I got to speak to a bunch of young adults about sex before marriage.  I mentioned the above, which everyone of course totally agreed with.  What became interesting is when I mention the church’s approach to sex before marriage and how off-base we’ve been.  You could see some eyebrows raising when I presented the idea.

I grew up in the church during the 80’s and 90’s when having premarital sex was almost considered to be the abomination of all sins.  If anyone in the youth group was heard of sleeping with another, there was ex-communication, gossip and even public shunning – I mean, confessions from the couple.  We were told in youth group not to ever have sex with anyone outside of marriage because if we did our soul would be tied to that person, “And you don’t want your soul tied with five other people do you?”  We all looked horrified and nodded in agreement.  Apparently that was a big deal and scared all of us fourteen somethings into weeping at the altar, vowing to never have sex.  I think what scared us more was the unacceptance, shame and humiliation if one was ever caught.   There went your church family you grew up with, your friends, and even the pondering if God could still love such a wretched mess.  I mean, He could IF you went through the restoration program.

Now you need to understand something about me before I continue.  I was a very “good girl”.  I didn’t kiss a guy till I was nineteen.  I’ve only kissed three guys in my life: one of them being my husband, the first guy I dated, and another who turned out to be a bit of a tool.  My husband and I were virgins when we got married.  So clearly I value the teaching of keeping oneself pure.  I was very passionate about my purity and still am.

That being said, I’m realizing what kept myself pure was perhaps not a motivation of loving God – it was my people-pleasing/God-pleasing nature, a fear of disappointing my parents, or being shunned by my church that truly fuelled the flame of my purity-keeping passion.  This, friends, is never a good motivation.

The problem with the church’s approach to sex before marriage is that we treat it like it’s the worst possible sin any young person can commit.  Thus we treat it like any other sin we’ve labeled “big”; we’re scared spit-less of it!  With the way we deal with it, you would almost wonder if we really believe in Christ’s redemption.  For those who believe in forgiveness and the ultimate price for sin paid for by Christ, we still approach it like it needs to be dealt with from an Old Testament standpoint.  It needs to be punished.  In some churches that may still mean public repentance, paying penance, being ex-communicated.  For others it’s subtle punishment of whispered judgments.  Friends stop calling, and the ones who are still calling insist on holding you accountable for behavior.

One word can describe the way sexual sin is dealt with: fear.  Here’s the problem.  Fear breeds fear and pushes love to the outside.  Yet it says in 1 John 4:18-20 that there is “No fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”  God doesn’t deal with sin out of fear but love.

God isn’t afraid of sin.  He’s not afraid of the young couple who messed up.  He’s not afraid of sex before marriage.  He’s not afraid of the temptation and choices we have.  If you remember reading, He placed the tree of good and evil right there in the Garden of Eden.  He did, not the devil.  Clearly, He is greater than sin and has always had redemption on His mind.  He doesn’t want to control us into good behavior.  He has something far greater in mind.

In preparing for my sex-talk with the young adults for the weekend I was reminded of the “soul-ties” scare-messages from my youth.  I asked God if that was really His primary concern in all of this.  What I heard was an interesting response.  Yes, He is concerned with people “becoming one” promiscuously with handfuls of people because yes, sex does something physically, mentally and spiritually between people.  It’s been cheapened and made into something selfish where we are seeking after our own experience or high, no different than we would from a drug.  When did love become self-consuming?  When did it become about how you can turn me on or what you can do to climax me?  This is a serious issue.  The quest to find the ultimate sexual experience can never be appeased.

But beyond this, what I felt in my heart that God concerns Himself with more at the very bottom of the issue is this: “Are you loving well?”  In the end, are we loving with a pure, unselfish, unconditional love that looks like God’s?  Under every behavior there is a heart issue.  Often issues with “sin” reveal our own interventions of self redemption.  We have a heart issue, not a behavior that needs to be punished or “flxed”.  This is why redemption is our only hope.  Grace is our lifeline.  No one can give it except for the Father.

Purity isn’t only about sexuality, it’s all encompassing.  What can keep us pure?  Connection with the Father.  Connection to His heart.  What drives us from that connection?  Fear, shame, punishment.  Therefore, the way we encourage youth to live is through love and connection with a God that has done everything to welcome them as sons and daughters.  When there is failure, we need to deal with it the way He does: in love, not punishment.  We need to hold one another accountable to behavioral management, but to identity and destiny.   God gives freedom and wants us to learn to manage that freedom in Him.  God is more concerned with the health of our hearts than getting us to comply and obey out of robotic notion or the desire to please.

When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus, He treated her with love and sent the punishers away.  He then said, “Go and sin no more”.  This wasn’t a: “You better watch out, I’m watching, so shape up your act” statement.  It was a, “I see much in you.  I’ve given you another chance to show who you really are, no go and be free to be that person”.  This is how God responds to us in our mess and how we can respond to others in failure.

The great news is that I’m seeing more and more churches and leaders dealing with sexual sin in this manner, which is creating shame-free, God-filled environments where people are thriving.

You can read another blog where I wrote a very valid reason for keeping oneself pure sexually by clicking here (What we need to tell young men and women about sex AFTER marriage)

 

 

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