Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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What does ‘Homefullness’ mean to you?

Photo by Hajran Pambudi on Unsplash

When my daughters were pre-teens I decided to volunteer with an organization that worked with troubled teens.

One of my first meetings with a director of one of their programs was at a building where they provided short-term housing for youth in crisis because of relationships at home. On this day, as I walked up the stairs towards the building, a young girl was exiting. She saw me, stopped and asked me where I was going.

“I’m going to meet someone,” I replied.

She grabbed one of my hands, dug her nails into the flesh and stated forcefully, “You can’t go in there.”

As calmly as I could, I looked into her eyes and said, “Please let go of my hand.”

She kept digging her nails into my flesh so deeply she drew blood. And all the while she kept looking into my eyes and repeated, “You can’t go in there.”

I calmly kept looking into her eyes as I repeated, “Please let go of my hand.”

She paused, looked at me and I repeated, “Please let go of my hand.”

Finally, she did.

She walked away and I walked into the building.

Shaken by the encounter, I told the man I was meeting with what had happened.

He sighed and smiled sadly and told me that she had just been informed she was going home that afternoon. She didn’t want to and had probably done what she did to draw attention to herself and to create a situation where they wouldn’t let her leave yet.

How tragic that home did not feel like a safe haven for her. How sad she wanted to stay and not return to her family.

I’ve thought about that young woman many times over the intervening 20 years since that incident. I’ve wondered what happened to her. Where she ended up. Did she have a safe, secure home today?

Yesterday at a meeting, we were asked to consider the question, “What does ‘homefullness’ mean to you?”

Is ‘homefullness the opposite of ‘homelessness’? As in, instead of being considered ‘less than’ because you don’t have a home, you’re full of possibilities and potential because you have a home.

For me, it’s a word bigger than just a place to lay your head, to come home to everyday. It’s about belonging. Security. Feeling welcomed, wanted. Safe. A place where dreams are planted and love grows.

I work in a world where home is none of those things for the people we serve because home is not part of their reality.

For many, home doesn’t even feel like a dream because the only vision of home they have is what they’ve seen on some TV comedy show where everyone laughs at the exploits of the main character and everything always ends up well.

In their worlds, things don’t always end up well. In fact, their entire existence has been built upon the reality that nothing ends up well for them. Nothing. Ever.

And I wonder… how many of the parents we serve today are like that young girl I encountered on those steps many years ago?

Without ever having known what it means to feel safe at home, without understanding how home, and family, are nurturing, caring, safe spaces, how do you create ‘home’ where you children feel safe and nurtured?

Child homelessness is a complex issue. But there is one fundamental fact that cannot be ignored. Without a safe and caring home, a child will struggle to find a safe and caring place to belong in the world. In that struggle, they will act out in order to get the things their heart so desperately yearns for.

It is only human. We act out when we don’t know what else to do to get the things we most desperately want. To feel safe. To know Love. To have a sense of Belonging.

 

Namaste.

 

 


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What makes you happy?

I dropped in to visit friends at Choices over the weekend. The seminar was in session so I knew there’d be lots of people there to hug and say hello to.

I wasn’t wrong.

It is what I love about visiting Choices friends. It’s as though whatever time has passed is erased and we are all standing, heart-to-heart, connecting on the deeper plane we each discovered exists when we went through the program. It’s the space the space that makes life so much more rich and vibrant.

At one point, I sat and chatted with a lovely woman whom I don’t see very often but when I do, always reminds me of the power of the human spirit to grow and heal and stretch and deepen.

I haven’t spent a lot of time with her, but today, as we sat and chatted about the things in life that have held us back from living the life we want, time wasn’t important. Our heart conversation was.

We talked about how the experience of going through Choices and using the tools in our lives has changed us and all our relationships. How we have both found our lives enriched and our capacity to use our voices strengthened.

One of the greatest gifts Choices has given me is the belief in myself and my right to be happy and my accountability for my own happiness. There was a time when I thought a man would make me happy. Or perhaps the right job, or more education, or more money, or more anything.

What I didn’t realize was that my search for externals was keeping me from diving into the one place where I would find the source of my discontent, and my happiness. My own heart.

Another friend commented that my life seems really busy. “It is,” I replied.

“Are you happy?” she asked.

I heard her question coming straight from her heart and stopped a moment to reflect. I took a breath. In. Out.

Am I happy?

I listened deeply to my heart.

“Yes,” I replied. “I am. And even more than happy, I’m content.”

“What makes you happy?” she asked sincerely.

Ahhh.. Well, of course my grandson. Daughters. My marriage. My life. Beaumont — of course.

But even deeper is my sense of fulfillment. My sense that the work I’m doing matters. That I matter.

A few weeks ago, when I took on the role of Interim Executive Director of the family emergency shelter where I work, I wasn’t thinking about my happiness. I was thinking about  how taking on this role was the right thing to do for the organization at this time.

Doing what I believe is the right thing makes me happy.

I hadn’t thought of that until my friend asked me, “What makes you happy?”

In many instances, I’ve been focused on how scary it is to step into these shoes. How daunting a task to try to stabilize an organization that has gone through a challenging period.

I haven’t thought about my own happiness. I haven’t had to.

In doing what I believe is the right thing, I have inherently created a sense of happiness within me. Because, to not do it would have left me disquieted. Uneasy. I would have felt like I was letting people down and while that’s not always a good enough reason to do something, there is a place in me that recognizes that being of service to others fills me up. It feels right within me. And when I feel right within me, I am happy.

I spent a few hours this weekend immersed in the world of Choices. It was a gift of time. Of connection. Of deep-feeling and listening.

It was also an opportunity to delve inside and connect to what makes me tick. What gives my life meaning. What brings me joy.

I am so blessed.

I have a life I love. I am surrounded by people who love and adore me and whom I love and adore.  I get to work everyday in a place where I find meaning and fulfillment. And I have friends who are willing to ask me the tough questions that give me pause to consider… What makes me happy?

What makes you happy?

 

 


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We Are So Blessed

We drove through rolling hills shimmering in autumn glory.

We took the first route Google Maps offered up — a backroad, circuitous journey that crossed over the freeway a few times, but never joined in.

It was delightful.

From Barry’s Bay to Ottawa Airport we were surrounded by Eastern Canada’s autumn showcase of reds and golds, russets and greens. We had lots of time to meander along curving roads, through luscious valleys dotted with lakes glistening in the late afternoon sun. To ooh and aah at hillsides covered in autumn leaves.

C.C. had one last little travel itinerary hiccup when he realized our flight didn’t leave at 6 as he thought but at 7. An hour’s delay because of dense fog in the Ottawa area, we arrived home close to midnight.

It was a journey filled with laughter and time spent in the best of places, with family and good friends celebrating what makes our life so rich — Love.

The only thing missing is Mr. Beaumont who spent the night at our dear friends who were his guardians while we were gone. C.C. will pick him up this morning while I go off to my office — and life will pick up its normal ebb and flow here at the edge of the Rockies in our beautiful home along the Bow.

We are so blessed.

This morning, I listened to one of my favourite centering meditations from my sister of the heart, Kerry Parsons. I share it with you so you too can revel in the loving awareness of how blessed life is.  namaste.


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#WestJet Rules are meant to be broken.

We were supposed to fly home today.

And then we weren’t.

Last night when C.C. went to check-in online, we realized our mistake. Our tickets aren’t for today. They’re for tomorrow!

A hasty phone call to WestJet to try to remedy our mistake reveals, airline rules are rigid. Mistakes are costly.

Doesn’t matter that there’s room on the flight today.  The only way to remedy the situation is to cancel our original flights ($100 cancellation fee) and pay an extra $1,000 for two one-way tickets home.

I’d rather put that money towards something more meaningful than an airline’s bottom-line and rigid adherence to rules that don’t make sense.

Phone calls made. Meetings rescheduled. We will take our original flights home. Thankfully, our hosts are gracious and insist we stay here for another day. And more gratitude, our friends who are looking after Beaumont the Sheepadoodle are equally as gracious.

I am grateful for amazing friendships that are flexible enough to bend with our mistakes.

And I’m grateful for laughter. Because in the face of a mistake, what else can I do? (Our travel arrangements this trip have proven to be a great source of laughter thanks to my beloved’s creative route-making.)

Beneath the laughter is curiosity.

What I’m curious about is an airline’s intransigence when relaxing their rules could result in goodwill and happy customers.

It’s funny, in the WestJet of old, I remember a similar occurrence, except in that case, I thought my flight was the day after it actually was. I got to the check-in desk only to be informed I’d missed my flight. The attendant graciously booked me on the same flight that day. I think it cost me all of an extra $50.

Rules. We hang onto them, hang our hats on them and while the saying goes, ‘rules keep us safe’, sometimes, rules can be the roadblock to creative responses to situations where, a little relaxing of the rules would make the world of difference to others without costing you a penny.

I get it.

We made the mistake that put us on a flight a day later than we’d intended.

But what I don’t get is how in the name of profit, an airline chooses to hold fast to rules that do not engender good will, even when to do otherwise would be a simple matter of a couple of keystrokes and the problem would be solved.

The skies may be friendly but those who fill silver bullets with paying customers and send them up into the skies, are not.

Namaste.

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In the spirit of gratitude, I am sharing photos of my morning walk and the breath-taking beauty which surrounds me. There are a lot worse things than being here — we could be flying back today to the snow in Calgary. Maybe by tomorrow night when we get home it will all be gone!

 

 


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Turning wounds to wisdom

Fire can be brutal.

In a hearth, it is warm and inviting.

Uncontrolled, untamed, it destroys.

My friend, Ula, whose house by the lake we are visiting right now, picks up cigarette butts when walking their dog. Their road is quiet, ending at the lakeside where they live. It’s the only way in and still, she finds cigarette butts on the road.

In the verdant forest, one cigarette butt casually thrown from a car window could have devastating impact.

In the case of the fire that raged through the upper floors of the building where my daughter and son-in-love lived in Vancouver, the cause of the fire is still unknown.

It’s the unknown that continues to devastate the lives of many people.

Alexis told me yesterday about a mother who called her, crying. She is desperate. Her 13 year old daughter is supposed to return to school today but they have no home, no clothes, no money. The disaster relief supports have run out and she does not know where to go, what to do.

Disaster does that.

In the heat of the moment, we run to support those affected. On the day of the fire neighbours brought sandwiches, coffee, baby-strollers for those like my daughter who picked up her son in her arms and ran.

Six days later, Alexis and her family are finding their ground. They’ve made a list of things they need to do to get their lives back in order. They’ve even found a home to rent that will suit them even better than the apartment where they were.

And still, the emotional impact of the fire resonates.

“I want to help that mother so desperately,” she said. “But I don’t know what to do.”

Yet, even in her not knowing, her need to help those whose lives were gutted by the fire compelled her to build a Go Fund Me page to support those who lost everything. She’s setting up a committee to ensure the funds are distributed to those who need it most.

As she says in a CTV news story, ‘there are seniors in the building who have lived there for 30 years.’ Many have pets and are grateful their pets got out alive, but where will they go in a city where rents keep escalating and their fixed incomes don’t.

In the ebb and flow of life, disasters leave us awash in emotions. We fight hard to cope, maintain our equilibrium and still the emotions are there as we struggle to understand the unnamed feelings disaster awakens.

For my daughter, the loss of so many things that were the substance of her life, particularly for her young son, triggers memories of a time when she was a teenager and we lost everything we owned.

In our case it was a man-made disaster of a relationship I had with a man who tore into our lives with the ferocity of a tornado and ripped the ground out from beneath our feet. In that situation, all our belongings were in storage that he promised was being paid, but wasn’t. When many months later he was arrested, I had 72 cents in my pocket. In my emotionally fragile state, I couldn’t conceive of how I would pay the back rent on the storage and in my haste to let go of the past, let everything go to auction. For my daughters it was devastating. Their favourite clothes, toys, photos, memorabilia. Gone.

The fire last week pulled the trigger on some of those memories. For all of us.

For me, it is the feeling of helplessness, of being overwhelmed of not knowing how to fix what I had broken. I want to protect my daughter from the pain. To race to her side to shield her from the hurt even though she is safe, surrounded by people who love her and able to rebuild her life with her husband and son in the face of this disaster because they did have insurance and they have family they can stay with.

For my daughter, the memories and trigger are different, their impact harsher. She was a 16 year old. She didn’t have a voice.

Now she does.

I am so proud of how she is turning that wound from the past into action today. How the wisdom she has gained through losing everything is compelling her to do something to support those for whom this loss is rippling through their bodies and minds in a tsunami of fear and grief, sorrow and despair.

We cannot change the past. We can use its wounds to fuel what we do today to help others. Or, as Oprah famously said, ‘turn your wounds to wisdom.’

Alexis is wise. In the face of this disaster, she is taking action on behalf of those who cannot to help heal her wounds and the wounds of others.

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I am posting the link to the Go Fund Me page in recognition that not everyone has the means to help strangers, and some of us do.

For me, I donated because I want to support my daughter and because I know what it’s like to face a disaster and feel broken beneath its weight. Years ago, when I came out of the hell of that relationship, there was only one thing I could afford to do — volunteer. And so I did. Every Tuesday I made sandwiches with a church group that we then took down to the east end of Vancouver for those for whom homelessness and addictions ravaged their lives.

This is what I can do today. Speak up. Let other’s know. Donate and invite others to join me if they can.

Giving is receiving.

Even if you can’t give financially, please consider saying a prayer or blessing to help ease the road of those for whom the way is dark. As they struggle to rebuild their lives, they need our support however we can give it.

Thurlow Steet Fire Relief –– Go Fund Me Page.

Namaste.

 


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I am grateful for those who make it possible to run away from danger

Gratitude fills my heart. It permeates my being creating a sense of peace, contentment, joy.

I am grateful.

We are in Eastern Canada this week vising friends. Autumn leaves are falling, golden, red and bronzed. The lake is calm, its surface mirroring the beauty of the forest lining its shore.

Last night, we sat around a long table decorated with Thanksgiving flare and shared a meal, toasted one another and talked about the things for which we are grateful. The conversation was laden with stories and laughter. It was a communal dinner, everyone bringing something to the table.

It was Thanksgiving at its best.

Five year old Eli shared that he was thankful for Cranberry Sauce. I think he was also very grateful for the laughter his comment evoked.

From friendship to family, good health, travels, wives and husbands, children and grandchildren, we all talked about the people who make our lives rich, vibrant, meaningful.

This year, the gratitude in my heart has grown beyond my comprehension.

This is the first year Thurlow, our 8 month old grandson,  is in our lives. And while we are not sitting at the table with Thurlow and my daughter and son-in-love in our midst I am grateful that he is in our lives and that they have a table around which to sit with family and friends this Thanksgiving on the other side of the country.

Yesterday, as I sat around the candlelit table and watched the faces of our friends as they shared their stories of gratitude and love, I remembered other Thanksgiving dinners, other tables around which I have sat. I felt my heart smile.

This is what makes my life so rich. People I love. Listening to their stories. Hearing of their adventures in the world. Of their family and friends in other places.

At one point my youngest daughter called from my sister’s home in Calgary where they too were sharing a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. My mother was there, a tiny 96 year old woman who gave this story of my life its roots.

Earlier, I chatted with my eldest daughter in Vancouver. They are now staying with his mother and step-father for awhile. Their next abode uncertain. Last week a fire destroyed the apartment building in which they lived in downtown Vancouver. On Friday evening they learned it was deemed uninhabitable.

Heartbreaking news in a city where the cost of housing is sky-rocketing.

Her confidence and determination, her desire to help those who lost everything in the fire reminded me of the power of our human spirit to endure. To persevere. To overcome hardship.

Aside from some smoke damage, their belongings survived the fire. Others in the building did not.

When it was my turn to share the things for which I am grateful, I talked about my family, friends, loved ones all. But the thing I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving are the First Responders. Those women and men who run into danger as we run away. Those women and men who respond to our need for safety, help, healing.

When my daughter ran out of her building with her son on Thursday morning, she flagged down a police officer driving by. She yelled, “There’s a fire in our building.”

Without hesitation, he stopped his car, jumped out, grabbed her fob for the front door of the building and ran in to ensure people were getting out.

“He didn’t think twice,” my daughter told me.

Within minutes firetrucks were on the scene and firemen and women raced into the building.

I am grateful.

Because of them, 34 of the 44 families in the building did not lose their belongings.

And while it is tragic and hard to think of 10 families with nothing this Thanksgiving, every single person in that building got out safely because of the men and women who raced into the fire to ensure they got out.

I am grateful.

There is so much in my life I take for granted because there are those who safeguard my freedom, my safety, my life.

May I never take for granted my family and friends who make my life so rich, vibrant and meaningful.

And may I always express my gratitude for those who ensure I can take for granted my safety, freedom and peace of mind. May I always be grateful for being able to run away from danger because they are there to protect me.

Namaste.

 


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Gail the bartender and #StrazStrong – one person’s difference-making

Her name is Gail. She’s the bartender at the Cork and Well situated near Gate 19 at Toronto Pearson Airport.

She loves her job.

It shows..

It’s the guy sitting next to me who asks the question that really makes her character shine.

“So what’s with the 3 hats beside the TV?” he asks, pointing to 3 ball caps lying on a small wooden ledge above the bar, beside the TV.

She smiles as she passes him his beer and says, “There’s a real story behind each one,” she teases and goes off to serve another customer.

When she comes back she says to the man who asked the question, “So, you want the story?”

“Can I guess first?” I ask.

“Sure,” she replies. “But you won’t get it right.”

Game on.

She’s right.

I don’t get it right.

Turns out, players from each team did not give her the caps. She bought each one.

She points to the Maple Leaf’s ball cap, the one on the outer left of the three. “Well, how could I not have this one?” she asks us. “This is their city. It’s only right.”

She points to the Boston Bruins cap on the far right. “The Bruins are my team,” she says. “They’re my screen saver on my phone. I gotta have their cap on my ledge.”

And then she carefully picks up the black middle cap with a yellow No. 10 above the peak.

“This one is special,” she says. And she puts it on backwards to show the hashtag sewn in yellow thread on the band across the back. #StrazStrong

“Ahh,” I say nodding my head. “Humboldt. Nice.”

The guy beside me nods his head too. “Nice.”

Gail places her hands on either side of the cap and adjusts it just right.

“The day after it happened, I put out a sign on my counter and told people that every tip I got that day was going to help the survivors and the families.

She earned over $500, all of which she sent along.

Since then, she’s done various different things to support the StrazFoundation, including buy only green and yellow napkins for the bar, use only green pens, tell people the story, and write condolence cards to the 16 families who lost their loved ones.

She’s even asked celebrities such as Canadian football legend John Hufnagle who happened to sit at the bar one day and ask a similar question about the hats.

She’s got 16 different celebrities to sign and has been in touch with the Humboldt Bronco’s team administrator to get the cards sent out.

She tells us all this, and more, about her admiration and support of the team in between serving customers who pop in and out of the bar. Our connecting flight to Ottawa has been delayed. We’ve got time.

As I’m getting ready to leave, Gail is standing on the far side of the bar, talking to another staff member. I wave and call out a thank you. She calls me over and tells me excitedly, “I’ve got one more story I gotta share.”

Excitedly, she talks about her friend who is 76 and not well. “She’s got breast cancer and just had a mastectomy, She’s not in great shape but she’s feisty so I like to help her as much as I can so she doesn’t do too much.”

One day while she was over visiting her friend, she hears her call her from the bedroom. Come quick. She rushed into the bedroom and somehow her friend has fallen and wedged herself between the dresser and her bed.

“I can’t really get to her and pull her out without causing her pain,” Gail says. I’m panicking. Don’t know what to do. She’s crying. Can’t get up. I gotta do something.”

That’s when she remembers her hero, Ryan Straschnitzki, one of 13 survivors from the crash that took 16 young lives.

“I ask myself, ‘what would Ryan do?’ and then I remember what he’s been learning and practicing. Crawling.”

She tells her friend to roll onto her hands and knees and start crawling.

It worked.

At this point we’ve both got tears in our eyes and I have to go.

“Thank you for sharing your stories. You’re very inspiring,” I tell her.

“Thanks for listening.”

She smiles, open her arms and says, “we gotta hug.”

And so we do. Two virtual strangers standing heart to heart in the memory of #StrazStrong.

Namaste.