Posts by: connie

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)

 

 

Why helping the homeless at Christmas may not be “helping”

christmas-gift-for-homeless-manEvery Christmas eve for the past three years, I have taken my son downtown on Christmas eve to hand out packages to the homeless.  It’s a highlight every year.  We started this tradition after a day when driving downtown and saw a man in a suit walking past a man pushing a cart with bottles.  Usually I wouldn’t give it a second thought, as it’s not out of the ordinary to see such a sight.  But this day was different for me.  I’m not sure what got me thinking about it or why, but I saw this scene through a fresh set of eyes; eyes that were looking from a birds eye view above our culture down, like never seeing anything like it before…. and I thought it was the strangest sight I’d ever seen.

Almost childlike I wondered why some should be doing so well while others suffered – and in plain sight!  The variables involved are indeed complex, but a deep desire to understand took over me.  I produced an entire show that year called Something To Say which was all about poverty issues that I had been learning about.  I became a student of homelessness and poverty.  Today I know more about poverty than I did then, but still know nothing in the light of its complexities.  I can say this: It’s really is much more to it than “just get a job”.

That’s how my passion for keeping granola bars in my van and passing out homeless kits was started.  However, three years later I don’t see this as “helping” much – especially at Christmas.  I know many people who do the same around Christmas time.  Soup kitchen volunteering has waiting lists for the Christmas season while having to beg for volunteers during the summer months.  Skeptical eyes from the homeless have met our Christmas care packages wondering if we’re just in this to appease our consumer conscience.  It was reactions like this that got me thinking about helping the homeless and it’s craze during the Christmas season.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had wonderful experiences in our times of giving on Christmas eve.  You can read about the homeless man who gave my son a bong in my book Culture Rebel, or the woman I gave a present to this year who’s eyes welled up with tears because no one had ever showed her such kindness.

I started to think: if we care about the homeless at Christmas, shouldn’t we all year round?  Why would I put so much effort in wrapping soups and putting together kits, hitting the streets in whatever weather on Christmas eve, only to pass them by throughout the year without even a glance?

This is when I gained a heart for the person, not the masses.  I started conversations by asking for their name.  I sat down and talked to them.  I gave them great big bear hugs despite whatever odor they carried.  I found I was giving them something gifts and money couldn’t bring and I could do it all year round.  I was giving them humanity.  Now I realize that “humanity” doesn’t put food in their mouths, but I do know that ignoring them just because I feel powerless to help them isn’t doing anything either.  And isn’t that why we ignore them?  We feel powerless, not because we’re heartless.

My son and I started visiting the same homeless people in their “spots” – like Michael at the market down on the bike path who always told the same joke to us every time.  Like Rory who sells a street paper and can act like a gnome or a robot (he does kids parties apparently).  Like Lawrence who visits our home to get bottles.  We’ve now had him over for thanksgiving dinner and dinner on Christmas eve this year.  Got him a nice present and everything.  He’s become someone our family loves.  He just recently found a place to live in our community.  We’re doing what we can to see what we can do to help him.  He brought us a beautiful picture of an eagle he drew for us for a Christmas present.

Today I ran into Andrea, a homeless women who refuses to stay in the shelters.  She makes money in an underground parking lot by asking for people’s tickets so she can sell them.  She’s a beautiful, sweet lady.  She asked me how our family’s Christmas was.  When I asked her what she did for Christmas, she looked down and whispered, “Nothing”.  When I talk to Andrea and give her a hug, I remind myself of the worth of another human being.  Andrea is no different than you or I.  She is someone worthy of love – someone who needs love.  Where does she sleep?  Is she alone?  Is she scared?  Is anyone ever abusive or cruel to her as she tries to sell her tickets?

Someone has to care.

Is helping the homeless at Christmas “wrong”?  Heavens no.  It could open up a world of seeing differently.  In fact, I was moved at a church service I attended just before Christmas where they as a congregation they had gone out to give to the homeless and spent much of the service having people share about how it impacted their lives.  You can’t deny what giving to others, and those less fortunate does on the inside of someone.  I believe it awakens us to a deep part of the Creator.

What will “help” is if we stay connected to that part of our Creator and remind ourselves of the humanity in people, seek to treat them accordingly…. and not just during the season of giving.

 

Do we “invest” in people because we want to make an impact – which will end up being measured by what we consider to be “successful”, which will then determine whether we consider this person worth our time or not. OR, do we invest in people because we love them, nothing else, just because we truly love them. Changing the focus from “impact” to “love” changes everything – Connie Jakab

Where does identity come from? The answer may surprise you

identity-crisisIdentity.  It’s the foundation that drives one forward into destiny.  In contrast, a lack of revelation of one’s identity will lead to despair.  Identity is the understanding of the great value we have and who we belong to. It comes to us not by education, but revelation.  It’s more caught than it is taught.  The heart has to embrace it. It’s not something we can just “know” in our minds.

People are told to “believe in themselves” by mass marketing, educators, motivational speakers and even preachers.  “You can do it!  Just believe you can!”  This is something everyone deserves to have; an encounter with the beauty within that comes from the very image of the Creator.  However, identity and belief in oneself was never meant to be an individual process.  You can wake up in the morning determined to believe in your personal value all you want, but the minute you step out your door, that belief will be tried, tested and come directly against by:

- your own doubts and assumptions about yourself

- mis-reading (or correctly reading) someone’s negative body language or look towards you

- opposition

- sometimes downright cruelty

- discouraging words

- trauma

- the list could go on

 

By the time you arrive home in the evening, every ounce of determination you had to “believe in yourself” has been sucked out, leaving you feeling defeated.  Clearly, we can’t do this on our own, can we?

It’s because we were never meant to have identity reinforced by our own selves.

I know what you’re thinking the answer is: God.  Yes, God is the one who confirms who and whose we are.  Above all, this is truth, however God has chosen a means by which He desires to see this become a reality in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  God IS community: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  He puts us in families to learn how to become more like Him.  He has a dream of having us be a part of his family, his kingdom.  In his family, there is a way he loves to see identity revealed, confirmed and continually reinforced, making us strong to be able to face our giants.  How?

Through community.

Allow me to explain by giving an example of the power people’s words have on us.  My son came home from school today telling me how worthless he is.   After some prodding I found out that there’s a boy who tells my son on a daily basis that he hates him.  He could live with that to a certain point, but today, his good friend decided to speak the same way to him.  This destroyed his spirit.  No matter how many times I tell my son to not care about what other people think about him, I know it’s almost virtually impossible for anyone to absolutely not care about what others think – especially those we call friends.

The intention God had for community was to reinforce and strengthen identity and value in one another.   It was meant to become a shelter, a safe place for those who’ve had a rough day.  When haters come in droves, the community protects, builds up and provides rest for the crushed soul.   Courage floods a heart when 20 others speak words of life into your spirit.  Who doesn’t thrive in an atmosphere of safety and belonging?

However, there are many who are struggling in this fight alone.  All you have to do is scroll through a news feed on facebook to see numerous status updates stating something along the lines of; “When haters hate, it only makes me stronger” type of statements.  Somehow, we’ve taken on the role of self protection which has driven us all into isolated caves with protective walls so high no one could ever see in.

Ironically, our self protection keeps the greatness inside caged in us as well.

Greatness is released fully in community.  It’s released when others call out my destiny.  When they hold me accountable not to “shouldn’ts” but to my identity, I thrive.  When I can fail and not be shamed, but applauded for trying, I’m more likely to try again.  When my community doesn’t let me sit on my arse because they are just as committed to my success as I am, I push past my own limitations faster.

I see this reality as I reflect back on where I would be if it it weren’t for the people who invested into me, spoke words of life into my heart and told me to stop being so lazy and get moving.  In myself, I don’t have what it takes to move me the way they were able to.  God used them in ways I will never forget.

When we build communities that become safe places that speak life, people thrive and become courageous.  it produces something that individuals cannot do, and were never meant to be able to produce on their own.

It’s hard to find a community like this so I’ve decided to BE that kind of community to others around me.  Slowly I’ve been finding others who want to be this as well.  We can create this kind of culture by choosing to create it.  I am proud to be a part of two amazing communities that do this: The Redbud Writers Guild, where a bunch of amazing women write in community and bring out the best in one another rather than competing, and The Lab – an urban arts space for youth where we will be providing a place of safe community for youth to experience all I have mentioned.

Community like this is waiting for people like us to create it.

A teenage boy in my city committed suicide today and what I’m doing about it

teensuicidestatIt’s heartbreaking to hear when a teen commits suicide. In this particular case, there is talk that bullying was involved.  My heart is fired up for what I advocate for regarding youth issues.  It angers me that we are seeing some ground being made in bringing awareness to youth about bullying but not enough.

Not enough at all.

In my honest opinion, I believe it’s because we are starting from the wrong place.  We’re bringing awareness to youth about the issue and telling them to stop, to care, and to BE the change.  I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but that just ain’t gonna happen.  Youth laugh and sometimes mock their way through anti-bullying presentations.  However, if you ask any youth if they would like to see a world with no bullying, no suicide – it would be a very odd-person out to say “no”.

So what’s not connecting here?

I believe we need to cover significant truths BEFORE we get youth to the empathy piece.  Youth today are raised by busy parents, live in isolation in ways we didn’t growing up. They have no idea of what “community” actually can look or feel like.  They’ve been forced into independence, void of connection with adults or caregivers.  Not all, of course, but many.  There are more complex issues youth deal with today than ever.  They have more opportunity, knowledge, resources and options, but are also more lonely and left without the value of relationship than ever before.  There are more legitimate “at-risk” youth facing problems at home, homelessness, mental illness or issues today than 20 years ago.  So saying to this generation of youth, “be nice to others” isn’t connecting because they have no idea what that looks like, how it works, or why on earth they should care.

Youth today are experiencing an identity crisis . Even among all our campaigns to increase their awareness of the great potential and greatness within them, they are still floundering in self doubt and sometimes even despair.  In the book “The Connected Child” by Karyn B Purvis and David R. Cross Ph.D.,  states the incredible need for children to feel connection in order to align their bodies and minds to be able to function and flourish in our world.  My heart was heavy reading this book knowing that many youth have not had this kind of connection in their lives.  It is a great need that needs to be addressed and answered if we are to see anything change around us.

Based on the above, I feel in order to bring youth to a place of empathy, we must start with a coming back to connection.  Connection with:

1. Personal Identity.  A place where youth know their value and worth.  This cannot come from within themselves.  As resilient as they are, it will only get them so far.  The amount of opposition they face in today’s world, belief in oneself isn’t enough.  The good news is there is something that can not only enhance value, but keep it instilled.  That is covered next.

2. Supportive community.  A place where belonging is unconditional and there is a giving and receiving of support. Youth live in an interesting world of individualism and encouragement to be a good “global citizen”.  With the whole world at their fingers, it’s hard to imagine community and how it effects them individually.  But “community” speaks into our identity more than we realize.  Without community, we are left with just “me against the world” to find our “inner ninja.  Taking out bullies on our all-black hoodie.  Learning our own art form and finding our inner peace” as the song states. However if they could have the opportunity to not only find, but experience true community we would see this “me alone in the world” mentality lose its power, only to have youth be strengthened in purpose, value and a sense of security.  This is greatly needed in order to bring young people to an understanding of empathy and compassion.

3. Their inner courage. I am always amazed at how long it takes for youth to be lured into courageous acts.  Yet, at other times, they surprise me with crazy acts of courage that make my heart stop and the quota of grey hairs on my head go up.  But when it comes to courageous acts that go against the flow of their peers, there is a great fear of judgment and ridicule. I get to hear their feedback on this after a debrief discussion I lead them in after going in the hip hop cypher in schools. However, a re-connection with identity and having that reinforced by a supportive community can allow for a youth to connect with courage they never knew they had.  Who doesn’t flourish when everyone around you is rooting for your success?  Imagine an atmosphere that could be created where youth aren’t afraid to express themselves, stand up for their beliefs, and even fail courageously?

Reconnecting with identity, community and courage will lead to a natural manifestation of compassion and empathy. It’s not the starting point, it’s the end.  We need to tackle these issues that lay under the surface first in order to see the change we all desire.

This is what I do in schools and with my company Mpact, as well as with Legacy One in our project in starting The Lab – an urban arts space for youth.  We teach about community, courage and compassion and do so by allowing youth to experience it through the hip hop cypher. It’s powerful.  Every time I hear of another suicide, I become more committed to what we are doing.  I want to continue to challenge the way we are educating youth to respond to these issues so we can see the change we all want actually begin to take place.

 

You can help make a change by committing to be one of the 5000 voters who will #vote4thelab every day from December 2-11.  Votes will get us $150,000 of grant money to start The Lab!  Click here for more info.

On getting my son diagnosed.

tiredparentsFor 7 years we have struggled with our oldest son.  Exhausted, worn, and expended of every strategy we have read about and advice we’ve received.  Nothing has worked, bringing us to a dead end wondering what went wrong in our parenting.  We wondered if we were completely incapable.  We questioned where we messed up.  We struggled endlessly with trying to get through to our precious boy, only ending with all of us hitting our heads against the wall.

I know some have their own ideas about seemingly rash diagnosis’ that are being put on young ones these days.  I know hubby and I used to think those with  “ADHD” were really just kids who needed more discipline or parental invovlement. You can imagine the humble pie we are eating as just this week, our boy has just been diagnosed with not only ADHD, but oppositional defiance disorder  and depression.  Here’s a boy who comes from a loving home that is full of both love and discipline.  There are consequences for actions and loving discipline when needed.  How could this be our reality based on our clearly ignorant assessment?

I write this to bring awareness to the positivity a “label” can mean to a family who has exhausted all their efforts.  If you are or have been in the same place with your child, then you know of what I speak.

1. The label tells you the parent: “You aren’t crazy”.

For the longest time we thought this was normal parenting.  We thought maybe we just didn’t have what it takes to be good parents.  We shamed ourselves for the same walls we would seem to hit time after time.  Burned out of our own resources, we would wave the white flag of surrender and feel hopelessness flood our souls.  I would personally watch other moms and their children exchanging in peaceful interaction while I would be carrying my son kicking and screaming out the shopping centre for the third time that week.  I really thought I was lacking the skill to parent.  I would tell friends of my struggles only to have some respond by dismissing my fears.  Was I imagining all this turmoil?  Apparently not.  The diagnosis told me that “Yes indeed, this has been a rough go.  You weren’t imagining it”.  Oh thank God.  I’m not nuts.  That, my friends, is a big deal.

2. The label gives you direction

Many, including myself, do not like the negative labels we put on young people as a means to belittle them or give them excuse to slack off.  However, without the label you have no idea what your dealing with.  Your aiming for success in the dark and you feel it.  Every time you try and miss, you come back with less hope and motivation.  You ARE in over your head because you can’t win against something you’re only guessing at.  The label allows you to know exactly what your child is going through so you can respond accordingly.  How freeing.  No more shooting in the dark.

3. The label gives others understanding of what’s going on.

Before our son’s diagnosis, I was afraid of who I could invite over.  Time after time we would have new friends over only to have sent our son to his room for misbehavior.  They would then hear him yelling through the door at us and hitting the walls with his furniture.  You could feel their discomfort.  Many invitations back to our home for dinner would be returned with a polite “no thanks”, and how could we blame them?  People wanting to help would give parental solutions that I had tried and failed at time and again with our son.  Judgmental looks would haunt me by strangers who would wonder why I couldn’t just get a grip on my kid.  We started to get phone calls home from the school principal about disturbing behavior of aggression and profanity.  As soon as the diagnosis came in, I called the school only to be met with empathy and resources.  I almost broke down on the phone with the principal as I was desperate for an understanding ear.  One friend wanting to give me advice out of compassion in her heart was re-directed when I was able to tell her of our diagnosis.  This may sound bad, but I was happy it could stop people from nattering their opinions and give them the ability finally listen to what was really going on.

4. The label gets you help

Unfortunately, I have cried for help numerous times.  Too many to count.  As soon as the diagnosis came, we were told of the amazing amount of resources that were going to be at our disposal.

Many asked me when the final diagnosis came in if I was dealing with any depression or grief over the matter.  The exact opposite was true.  After dealing with grief of being in the dark for so long, when someone brings an answer you feel free, and relief beyond words.

For those parents who are struggling with whether to get a child assessed please remember: a “label” is not a definition of your child.  It doesn’t hinder who they can be. It equips you, the parent, in HOW to parent this child so they can succeed.  Unfortunately after discovering our son’s diagnosis I realized the way I was parenting wasn’t assisting him in the ways he needed.  Sobering.  We still haven’t told our son about his diagnosis.  I want to get advice from the psychology centre on the best approach in talking about it with our son.

You’ll know if you need to look into assessment.  It’s not little problems here and there you’re dealing with. When you come to this point, it’s  been endless struggle and exhaustion from constantly facing defeat and frustration time and time again.  You’re ready to do whatever it takes to see resolve.

The good news is resolve is there.  It’s not an easy road, but at least at this point, it’s not a blind one.

 

 

A new, innovative way to reach At Risk Youth that works

cypherSome of you have heard of the project I am involved with called Vote 4 The Lab.  We are in a nation wide competition right now to get $150,000 in grant money to start a hip hop space for vulnerable youth.  I wanted to take a moment to explain the idea behind “The Lab”.  It’s empowering and like nothing I’ve seen yet.

“Draw a circle to take them in” – a metaphor of poet Edwin Markham

 

Without help many vulnerable youth will drop out of school, become involved in substance abuse and possible drug dealing to over come poverty, or get involved in crime.  These youth are not just stats. What would you do if they were your children?  There is a gap between adults and youth in today’s world;  the family is under pressure, parents are stressed, schools are overcrowded, and communities too isolated to fill the most basic need of youth to belong.

 

The Lab seeks to build a positive culture and a place to belong. We seek to reclaim vulnerable youth.  “To be reclaimed is to be restored to value” (from the book, “Reclaiming Youth At Risk”)  We restore value to youth through learning through the Cypher and labbing as one of our methods.

 

What is “The Cypher”?

To start, it’s a circle. This beautifully paints a great picture of it: “The circle is a sacred symbol of life… Individual parts within the circle connect with every other; and what happens to one, or what one part does, affects all within the circle. (Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve).  It’s a place where dancers learn to not only dance, but experience what true community looks like and how it can ignite courage and compassion in those who participate.  The best way to find out what a cypher is, is to experience one.  You can book a cypher team training or school workshop with us to see what we’re talking about. Contact me at culturerebelonline@gmail.com.

 

How we will create community: 

“Consider these children to have fallen among thieves, the thieves of ignorance and sin and ill fate and loss.  Their birthrights were stolen.  They have no belonging.” – Karl Mennigner.

 

“To be alienated is to lack a sense of belonging” (Urie Bronfenbrenner).  Being isolated and excluded can lead down a road of mental illness, delinquency, depression and a mental state of defeat. Unfortunately, those who experience this reality more seriously become “relationship resistant”, viewing even those friendly with a skeptical eye.  These youth have come to expect rejection.  They lose the ability to build close attachments.  The tragedy is that for many youth the option they look to is to seek out relationships with other vulnerable youth.  The youth with the greatest needs for relationship are often the ones most forgotten or avoided.

 

However, the beautiful reality is that building positive community can combat many of these issues and bring a new hope to the hearts of these youth and a revelation of their identity and worth.  “Research shows that belonging to a community continues to be the most significant factor in identity.” (Reclaiming Youth At Risk)

What we will do is create a place of belonging, positive relationships and meaningful involvement to the community at The Lab.  It is proven that there is a strong relationship between youth being able to make positive connections/attachments and the ability to empathize.  The Lab will enable youth to find identity and friendship with one another, learn about how community works and see courage and compassion for others become a part of their every day mindset.

A youth who is struggling could wake up every morning and try to “believe in themselves”, leave the house only to be hit with obstacle, after opposition, after label, after spews of hatred all day.  By the end of the day, their belief in themselves has fizzled down to nothing.  Imagine this youth had a community of people who affirmed their belief in them and their identity.  A youth with that kind of support has more than just a fighting chance.  They will thrive.

“Living with and loving other human beings who return that love is the most strengthening and salubrious emotional experience in the world” – Menninger

 

 What learning in community looks like

“Throughout history of the human race, almost all worthwhile learning has taken place in a social setting.  The human brain has developed so that it functions better in social interactions than in isolation”. (Reclaiming Youth At Risk)

 

There is a growing concern that youth are not learning the kinds of skill sets needed to make them productive, thoughtful and contributing members of their communities.  For this reason, The Lab is founded on cooperative learning.  This means all will be made accountable for participation.  Youth will be encouraged to grow their own mastery as well as be committed to the mastery of others in the community.  We do this through labbing, sessioning through the cypher.  Bringing out the best in one another whether it be dance, emceeing, graffiti art or music.  The result? Youth will become more positive, develop healthy self-esteem and develop higher levels of empathy, generosity and social skills.  Kurt Hahn believed the first task of youth programming was to build the prosocial values of courage, compassion and self discipline.  This is what The Lab is about. We create experience through labbing that calls out the capacity and identity in youth.  These “activities” teach compassion.  Compassion isn’t just taught, it has to be caught.  Youth will not only hear about how to change their world, but be given the inner tools to do it.

 

 

What igniting courage looks like

“Today little is asked of young people other than to be consumers. There are limited opportunities for youth to produce for others”.  (Reclaiming Youth At Risk)

 

The typical approach to solving youth issues is to create a new “program” for them. Jane Addams describe today’s youth as “Plagued by a lack of adventure”.  She insists that most teen rebellion today could be remedied by mobilizing the adventerous spirit in youth. Young people cannot develop a sense of their own value unless they have opportunities to be of value to others.  Youth need to feel competent in order to gain motivation to want to continue to achieve.  The problem happens when youth have no opportunity to show themselves they are capable of achievement, thus ending up in negative behavior patterns or wrong crowds.  They may also become isolated in feelings of defeat and inferiority.

At The Lab, mentors and peers become encouragers, rather than people to be intimidated by.  Youth will be encouraged to achieve their highest potential while not being superior to others in the community.  The youth will take ownership over their personal success and the success of others.  Success will be for everyone, not just the “talented”.  There will be many opportunities to see their potential untapped such as in dance arts, music, leadership training, and art.  We will give them the skills and confidence to prove to themselves they are capable of self discipline and leadership.  Youth are constantly under the pressure they put on themselves and others put on them to succeed.  They are afraid to fail.  The Lab will show them tools to put failure at work for their benefit.  We show how to fail courageously.

 

 

“The child who succeeds gains a strong feeling of pleasure which fuels future motivation.  repeated failure has the opposite effect.  The child learns to feel anxious in mastery situations and thus the natural desire to achieve is curtailed.” – Psychologist Robert White.

 

 

How compassion will be caught

“Millions of children are not safe physically, educationally, economically or spiritually… the poor youth who shoot up drugs on street corners and the rich youths who do the same thing in their mansions share a common disconnection from any hope or purpose” – Marian Wright Edelman.

 

Youth have too many labels put on them.  Some of these labels they have had put on themselves, some by their peers, and some have even been spoken to them by adults. Youth have been described as anxious, aggressive, attention-disordered, affection-less, unmotivated, and unteachable.  Kurt Hahn described youth as suffering from “the misery of unimportance”.  The most amazing aspect of The Lab will see youth experience true community, ignite courage giving opportunities for achievement.  From there significance, competence, respect will grow giving youth the opportunity to see compassion happen as an after-thought.  Empathy, altrusim, compassion will be caught, giving opportunity for youth already exposed to the results of The Lab to want to include others to feel it as well.  It becomes a continual cycle of community feeding into courage leading to compassion that continues to cycle through.  “Young people cannot develop a sense of their own value unless they have opportunities to be of value to others”. (Reclaiming Youth At Risk)

Anti-bullying initiatives and youth programs try to instil compassion first.  We encourage youth to have empathy for others, but this is not where they can start until they understand the true power of community, know what community does to reveal and affirm identity in oneself and the courage that brings.  THEN compassion can flow naturally forth.  It doesn’t have to be conjured up.

Come December 2, you can  help us make this dream happen by voting for us EVERY DAY by going to vote 4 the lab and registering and clicking vote.  We’re looking for people who will vote every day for the full 10 days.  We need a mass load of people who will commit to doing this.  Imagine $150,000 free dollars to see this happen!  It’s all too easy.  All we need is people like you to come a long side and even encourage your school, workplace, church and organization to get involved!

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