5 ways to know if you’re really about community as much as you think you are

communitySo here’s the thing about community.  Everyone talks about it.  Everyone wants it and at the end of the day, we actually NEED it.  However, our culture values community with words, but individualism with actions.  When the rubber hits the road, its often not about “we”, it’s about “me first”.  If “we” becomes the end result it becomes a bonus.


We all love the idea of community, but to love the idea of community will only end in us breaking community.  We must truly love one another, preferring one another above ourselves for authentic community to flow naturally.  The reason community often fails is because we want what we want first.  We want our freedom, our dreams, our desires.  We have been sold an individualistic message that tells us these come first, but in order for God’s idea of community to manifest, we must lay down our freedom for one another.  This is where we know we’re not just talking about love, but living it.  Love that is shown through sacrifice is sacred.  Jen Polluck Michel puts it this way in her book, “Teach Us To Want”, “Community, you could say, puts a restraint on desire”.  There’s a message we don’t hear much of: embracing our restraints for the sake of one another. We are so accustomed to consuming that the idea of investing of lives for the sake of others indeed sounds inspiring, but is often the road less travelled.


It’s important to get passed the theory of community that most will nod in agreement to and commit to work out the nitty gritty of what God’s idea of community truly looks like.  I believe it starts with a simple statement; “I see you”.  In order to “see” one another, we have to remove the blinders that keep us focused on ourselves; when we “see” one another, we take a glimpse into another’s soul.  When we do this, our eyes open to see the DNA of our Father placed in one another.  We see the wonder of our creator reflecting in the eyes staring back at us.  When we can see God in and at work in another’s life this does wonders for creating community.  How?


1. It changes the way we hold one another accountable.  Instead of seeing sin in the life of another, we see who they truly are and hold them accountable to that.  Because of our great love for one another, we call each one up to the destiny and identity they have been given by our Father.


2. We walk and journey with the broken and commit to them until we see them reach victory.  We don’t expect everyone to have it together before they can be a part of the community.  We are not afraid to get our hands dirty to do whatever it takes to see us all cross the finish line together.


3. We aren’t afraid of one another.  When we see our Father in each other, there is no color of skin, rich or poor, male or female, slave or free.  We see the oneness and find the common ground of our adoption into His kingdom.


4. Jealously, greed and pride find no place among us.  If we lay down our freedom, we find joy when others succeed.  We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.


5. Poverty is eliminated.  Being growing up in a Pentecostal church, I often heard about the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to the first believers.  I have heard much about the signs and wonders that followed.  What I didn’t hear much about is how they had no need among one another because they gave everything they had and shared.  As radical as this sounds, this may be one of the most profound ways to know whether we are truly about community as much as we say we are.  How can I walk along side my brother carrying empty bottles and not see him as a part of my city, my community?


If we take HIs idea of community seriously and are willing to lay down ourselves for the sake of others we may be on the brink of not only just understanding God’s heart, but seeing the cultural shift for the sake of the Kingdom we have all been praying and yearning for.

This will totally change the way you’ve looked at “sin”

badshirtSin.  What a nasty word.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get some sort of ick feeling when they hear it.  I certainly don’t like the word that much.  It carries with it a drastic range of emotions from elitism, to shame, to the middle finger raised up to it.  Images of street preachers on boxes preaching doom and turning from the fires of hell come to my mind.

Sin. No one really knows what to do with it.  Christians don’t, atheists don’t, your average person just trying to do good in the world doesn’t either.  In fact, not only do we not know what to do with it, we would rather pretend the word doesn’t exist at all.  It truly becomes a place where offence can easily take place.  It creates a sense of “higher/lower”, “us vs them”, you’re “in or out” that people strait up just don’t like.

But maybe we’ve got the idea sin all wrong?

The original greek word that “sin” came from is hamartes which means “to miss the mark”.  I was sure it would mean, “to break the rules”, but that’s not the case.  Interesting..

Each one of us carries a piece of the Father’s DNA in us.  He carefully designed each one of us with His beauty and His wonder.  My friend described God’s creation of us beautifully by reminding me that God “spoke” everything into existence, but with man He knelt on the ground, formed us with his very hand and breathed into us.  He created us to experience the vastness of His realm.  Inside each of us is His very kingdom.  We all have a special part in this world that is valuable and honored by Him.   Sin isn’t to do “bad things”.  Sin is to miss this wonder.  Sin is to become less than we were created for.

Yes, sin is to fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  This verse so commonly used has very often been shaming as if to say; “You have fallen short.  You have been bad, wrong and God’s had to save your sorry butt so you better start writhing in sorrow for the awful things you’ve done”.   I like the way Eugene Peterson’s, The Message refocuses the verse back onto God’s true intention.  Romans 3:23 in the Message states: “Got set things right”.  The focus is back on God’s heart to do whatever it takes to bring us back to our true identity, not on all the shit we get ourselves into.

If you’ve invited Jesus into your life, your life will be marked with trying, striving.  Your emphasis will become, “I have fallen short”.  You will focus on “sin” and “behaviour”.  On the other hand, if you realize Jesus is actually inviting you into HIS life you will be able to receive what He is giving: restoration of who you actually are.  You are precious, chosen and full of God’s wonder.  He did all that was needed to provide the way for you to rediscover this.  No striving, no effort needed; just receive it.

I just finished the most remarkable book I’ve ever read; The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.  If you are on any journey to find true faith in Christ, or if you’re drained from Christianity’s do’s and don’t’s this book is something you need to dive into.  One of the greatest revelations I received from the book was about forgiveness and repentance.  I always thought that you “repent” so you can be forgiven.  But it’s actually the other way around.  God has already completely provided forgiveness.  To repent (change our mind or destructive behavior) is actually a sign you’ve truly entered into that forgiveness.  Mind blown.  That completely has revolutionized the way I approach God, especially after I’ve screwed up.

As my friend Jen writes in her book, “Teach Us to Want”, “The truth about sin is that we want too little.  We sin by wanting too much from God, but we also sin by wanting too little”.

Sin is settling for objects, behaviours and mindsets that take me away from who I was meant to be.  I’ve actually said to my kids when engaged in negative behaviour, “Stop because this isn’t representing who you actually are”.  Then I proceed to tell them who they are; you are kind, you are gentle, you are self controlled.  Words are powerful.  I’m in no way perfect at this and don’t do this in the heat of typical momma-reaction-mode, but it is something I’m trying to cultivate as I feel this is what God does with me.  “Connie, that’s not who you are, this is who you are really….”

This mindset has not only helped me draw closer to God through mishaps that have come my way that usually would shame me to run from Him, but it has also given me a different point of view when looking at people caught in destructive behaviours, habits and mindsets.  They are not “sinners” to me.  They are beautiful people who have forgotten who they really are.

Maybe Jesus isn’t just trying to save you from hell?

hellGrowing up in an evangelical church in the 80’s and 90’s I have vivid memories of church events literally scaring us young people out of hell causing us to say a yearning “YES” to Jesus so we would never have to go to that dreadful place.  I remember the play “Heaven’s Gates, Hells Flames” where we would perform scenes of people’s death depicting where they would end up in the afterlife.  Those written in the book of life were joyfully welcomed into heaven with a chorus of angels singing to greet them.  Those who never invited Jesus into their hearts would dramatically be dragged to hell screaming by actors dressed as demons.  I remember bringing a row full of friends to see the play, all of who decided inviting Jesus into their hearts to avoid hell was a great idea.  My church applauded my “evangelical” efforts to reach “the lost”, but it wasn’t long before the effect of the show wore off and none of my friends graced the doors of my church again.  They had their insurance from hell.  Isn’t that all they needed?


This was the norm 20 years ago in the church.  Heaven, hell, sin, phrases such as, “Where will you spend eternity if you died tonight?”  Invitations to bow your heads, close your eyes, put up your hand if you would like to invite Jesus into your heart.  “Repeat after me” the sinners prayer.  Now come to the altar while we all stand and applaud you.  Honestly, I’m glad we’ve grown up a bit.


Do I believe in heaven and hell.  Yes I do, but I’m happy that there’s been a depth of foundation that has been getting louder than the preachers soap box.  “Foundation” that author Lance Ford mentions much of in his new book “Revangelical”.  What is this foundation?  The Kingdom of Heaven.   If you read the words of Jesus, you won’t find the “sinners prayer”, altar calls, or scaring the hell out of people.  His focus was in revealing that His kingdom was now among them, what it looks like, and what it means for now and the future for all those who will receive it.


I must share with you some of my favorite quotes from the book as it puts much into perspective regarding this:


“We have all heard it said, ‘If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?’  No one ever seemed to ask: If you LIVE tonight, how will you enter the kingdom of heaven?…. The evangelical gospel has been reduced to a message that has a lot more to do with dying than with living.  It has been more about ‘hellfire insurance’ than living a life on fire from heaven….  We have reduced the gospel to a plan of salvation that has more to do with the afterlife than our actual lives….. One of the problems with contemporary Christianity is that we have made eternal salvation the end product, when all the while it is but a by-product of surrendering our lives to Jesus.”


Maybe Jesus isn’t just trying to get us into heaven. Maybe He wants to get heaven into us? (Dallas Willard)


Maybe Jesus doesn’t want us to invite Him into our lives (or our “heart” as we like to say). Maybe He’s inviting us into HIS life?


Understanding those two statements, friends, changes everything.


Jesus is inviting us into something far greater than just a destination years down the road.  Eternity is now.  His Kingdom is now.  What would it look like to “enter into” his invitation to be a part of this?  What kind of image comes to your mind?  Is it “churchy”?  Does it give you memories of a past with shameful preachers telling you everything you’ve done wrong?  I can tell you, Jesus is far above all of this.  We have settled for far too little in the church if this is all the “good news” is about.


The Kingdom sets things right.  The oppressed are released, the poor are taken care of, shame is removed, justice reigns, peace and joy are standard.  This is what we enter into if we choose to be a part.  This is a much different message than what we’ve heard before, but this is the message of Christ.  Restoration of things lost, brokenness redeemed, and a re-connection with the Father.


“The question is often: ‘Have I accepted Jesus as my savior?’ but we never ask the question; ‘Have I accepted Jesus as my teacher?’  And that’s the real question.  – John Ortberg


Our answer to that question changes everything.


If you’re tired of what evangelical Christianity has been, I invite you to read “Revangelical”.  As “churchy” as the title sounds – yet rebelliously “unchurchy” as the book actually is – you will find it’s pages represent what Jesus actually meant when He said His gospel is good news.  It’s pages refreshed my weary soul from religious residue I’ve carried and have been seeking to be rid of for years.  You can view the book here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were meant to desire for more.

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

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

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


Stop trying to grow your church

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

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

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


People aren’t numbers, they’re valuable.


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

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

You can find out more about the book here.





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

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

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

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

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

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



They’re not “the homeless”


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


Danene states:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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