Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Our stories make a difference

I was expecting an interesting morning.  A morning filled with information and insight into story-telling.

And I got it. And then some.

Yesterday, I attended the Calgary Foundation’s, Community Knowledge Centre seminar on building an online community for charities to ‘show-off their stuff’ (my description, not theirs!) using story-telling. For three hours we were given insight into the power, art and imperative of story — and a look into how to tell story through video.

I’d heard the first speaker, Patrick Finn, once before at the Calgary Foundation’s Vital Signs Community celebration last year. He was engaging, entertaining and filled with valuable insight into how story is “the operating system of the human mind”. Patrick is a powerful speaker – even though he claims that because he’s an academic, he’s not. I pace. I look back at my slides. I fling my arms about, he told us. Apparently, that makes him a bad speaker. I thought it made him human, and engaging, and charming.

Patrick does what every great story-teller does. He connects with his audience through our shared human condition by being vulnerable and real. He shared a story of one of his not so inspiring moments that actually, because of the story he created from that moment, propelled him into a life committed to helping others find and tell their most compelling stories yet.

When we engage with story better, he said, life will be better.

I believe when we engage with each other better, life is better. And sharing our stories is how we engage, heart to heart so that our minds can dream and scheme and conceive and create possibilities for more of what we want in the world — Love. Peace. Compassion. Joy….

Story is the most effective means we have of passing along information — because through story, we touch eachother in the most vulnerable of places — the heart. And when we touch the heart, we ‘see’ eachother as human beings. Flawed. Imperfect. Hopeful. Possible. and…. Magnificent.

We all want to be ‘better’ at being human. We all want to make a difference that counts in the world. (except for that small percentage of ‘not so nice’ who really don’t give a damn about anyone or anything other than themselves.)

And that’s the thing. If we focus on the 10%, we miss the 90% of amazing human beings all around.

I spent a morning deepening my understanding of story yesterday. And in that learning, I was made different through my knowing that we are all connected — and story is the thread that weaves the tapestry of my life to yours and his and hers and theirs.

There is only one story I want to tell in this world — and that is of our magnificence.

In each moment of the day, there are opportunities for me to be ‘made different’ and to make a difference. From laughing with the man behind the counter at the Passport office, to sharing a smile with a stranger on the street, to buying a coffee for the person next in line at the drive-through at Starbucks, opportunities abound to create a story that speaks to the wonder and beauty and awe of our shared human condition.

We are our stories, Patrick Finn told us yesterday. And I agree.

My dream is to create a story of wonder, of joy, of beauty. My desire is to share in the story of this world of such incredible and immense possibility that we are in awe of all that we do, be, have, see and create.

What’s your dream of making a difference? What’s the story you want to create today?

Patrick Finn at TEDxYYC April 2011

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Touched by grace

I was touched by grace yesterday. My spirit gently kissed by the whispers of compassion, kindness, forgiveness.

I was moved by grace’s beauty. Her softness. Her stillness.

I felt her presence when I came home. There in the mailbox was a book with a card tied to it with a silky white ribbon. Not sure who had left it, I eagerly opened it and was surprised to see the sender’s name at the bottom of the message.

Really?

Wow.

What grace.

The book and card were a gift from a woman with whom I’d had a falling out about a year ago. I’d done something. She’d done something. We hadn’t agreed on the value of our respective somethings and agreed instead to part ways. We both had our ‘stories’.  We both had our higher ground and lower perceptions of what she did/I did, what she didn’t do/I didn’t do, to create the discord. And, regardless of our respective positions, we both lost a connection we valued. I missed her presence in my life. I missed  our conversations, the way she challenged my thinking, not to mention the fact she is one of the few people I know who needs to constantly read and learn from as many similar books as me.

Over time, however, I’d let my regrets of the discord between us go. When we occasionally saw each other at an event, we’d smile, say hello, be polite and go our separate ways.

Occasionally, I’d think about contacting her, but pride, ego, ennui, the chatter of my critter telling me ‘she doesn’t want to talk to you’, ‘she doesn’t even like you’, ‘you don’t need that kind of drama in your life’, blah blah blah, kept me from taking steps to attempt to repair what was broken.

And then I arrived home to find her light envelop me through the gift of her words and thoughtfulness.

I am blessed.

One of the invitations we are extending through the upcoming Summer of Peace Calgary 2012 initiative is to encourage people to ‘make peace’ by healing rifts, discord, broken threads in the tapestry of their lives.

This relationship is one I had registered in my mind to heal. I had not yet determined how I would reach out and extend peace, and am grateful this woman had the grace and courage to do so now. Sooner is better than later. In her offering, I am graced with peace of mind. I am blessed with knowing, what was broken is forgiven.

There is value in these situations. For me, back when the discord happened, I learned a great deal about my boundaries and about my lack of grace in setting them. And in her gesture today, I learned a great deal about grace and courage.

Yes. I am truly blessed.

In leaving her gift in my mailbox, she has made a world of difference. In reading her words, I too am made different by the knowledge there is value in all situations, there is wonder in all happenings. Letting go of discord doesn’t mean picking up where we left off. It means, continuing on free of the burden of regret, anger, resentment, sorrow — all the things we humans carry around with us when we do not make peace with what we’ve done, or how we’ve been in relationship to others that caused pain or sorrow, or anger and resentment to grow. Free of the negative, we can both move in the beautiful light of love knowing, all is well in our hearts.

Is there someone you need to make peace with today? Is there someone to whom you can extend forgiveness?  Try it. You might like it! You might even feel touched by grace.


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How I survived myself makes a difference

She thought she was ugly. Fat. Gross.

She thought she was the only one in the world who felt like they were unworthy. Undesirable. Unloveable.

She thought she was all alone.

She’s learning. She’s not.

It’s been a tough journey. A difficult, and long and winding, road to come to a place where she can see and feel and know — she is not alone and she is beautiful, just the way she is.

Several years ago, when I was first coming out of the relationship from hell, I met once a week with a psychiatrist to talk about ‘my stuff’. At one point I said to him, “I know I’m an experiential learner and I really like the place I’ve come to, but seriously… did I have to take such a painful route?”

“It is the path you took,” he replied. “That’s all. There were a thousand paths you could have taken and this is the one you took.”

In his comment, my judgments of my path fell away and I began to appreciate the journey without bemoaning each painful step of the way. In his words, I found the beauty of my strength and courage, and let go of my  self-criticism, denigration and judgment.

It was a powerful moment. A moment that made an enormous difference in how I moved into freedom to be open, caring, honest and true in a world of wonder. In that moment, I felt the gentle touch of self-compassion and love embrace me and I knew — I am not alone.

My eldest daughter has struggled for many years with an eating disorder. Yesterday, she called to tell me she’d done it. She’d posted her first blog about her journey. She is determined to heal and to share her journey publicly so that others can join her on the healing path.

I am in awe of my daughter. I am in awe of her courage, her strength and her commitment. (and a tad envious of her incredible writing talent! She’s got soul.)

Like Lisa at Lisa W. Rosenberg who writes on Body Image and Identity, my daughter is courageous and open and willing to share her experiences to offer strength and hope to others.

Like Alyssa at Journeys in Lyssy-Land who writes about her explorations of her creative world and ongoing journey from survivor of childhood sexual abuse to joy-filled thriver, my daughter believes in the power our stories hold to connect each of us, heart to heart, soul to soul so that our minds can be set free to see and know the beauty of this world we live in.

And like Nikky and CZ and Marilee and countless upon countless others who write it out and connect and shine their light to illuminate the path out of the darkness into the light of Love. Peace. Harmony and Joy.

I am in awe.

It has been a painful path to come to this moment. A difficult journey for my daughter. Yesterday, she called me to tell me she’d posted a blog. I cried when she told me. Not because of ‘what’ she’d written but because she had written and shared her journey. —  As her mother, I would have wished for anything else than the pain of what she’s experienced. I cannot change her path. I can celebrate her courage and strength and be grateful she is alive and learning to thrive in a world where she is making a difference through being present, exactly the way she is.

And I am grateful. She is stepping into the light and the world is shining through her beauty, love and grace.

Her blog is:   How I Survived Myself


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Nature makes a difference

On the road to the west

I went greenhouse exploring yesterday. A girlfriend and I drove an hour south of the city to her favourite greenhouse in the small town of Turner Valley– Vale’s — a delightful oasis of colour and greenery spread out along the joyous sound of the creek flowing through the land.

The drive out was glorious. This is ranching country.  Rolling hills unfolding in spring greenery rolled westward towards the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies. Young foal and calves gamboled in the fields while their patient mothers munched on grass. Houses dotted the countryside. Sprawling fences marched along the horizon, a long thin line marking my land versus your land.

There is no line. There is no my land, your land.  There is only our planet.

At Vale’s I spotted a robin’s nest tucked into a piece of copper garden art, a proud mother sitting on the nest, protecting her chicks.

“What do you do if someone wants to buy that piece of art?” I asked the woman working there.

“We tell them to pick another piece,” she replied without hesitation.

I liked her response. I liked that nature took precedence over commerce. That Vale’s acknowledged the bird’s right to roost over the human desire to acquire, to own, to possess.

There is no line. There is no my land, your land. There is only our planet.

I wandered the greenhouses, loading my cart with annuals and perennials, a metal leaf sculpture, a plaster lion’s head, a bag of earth.

“What’s your colour scheme?” my girlfriend asked.

I laughed. “I don’t have one. I just go with what pleases my nature.”

And when we were done, we drove back to the city, the car laden, the scent of greenery wafting around us, the vibrant hues of pansies and daisies and snapdragons and viola floating in a riot of colour all around us.

I don’t like wearing gloves when I garden. I love the feel of earth in my hands. I love the sensuality of dirt rubbing up against my fingers. The sultry, fecund smell of earth assailing my senses.

Beneath the canopy of the crab apple tree bursting in blossom, I spent the afternoon digging and transplanting, filling pots, moving pots, and arranging them to create splashes of colour on the deck.

And when I was done, I sat back and admired my work and whispered, ‘job well done’.

I am pleased.

Digging into nature is divine.

I spent the afternoon, hands deep in dirt, my mind peaceful in the work of experiencing nature’s beauty unfolding.

I do not own these flowers. I do not own the birds flitting amidst the blossoms of the crab apple tree, pecking at the seed in the birdfeeder, hiding in the hedge. I do not own the grass growing rapidly in spring rains, or the gentle breeze caressing my skin as I work. I do not own nature’s expression — but I can revel in it, experience it, enjoy it and honour it. And I can let my enjoyment and appreciation of it make a difference in how I treat it. I can give way to robin’s nesting in art. I can make room for beauty all around.

There is no line. There is no my land, your land. There is only our planet.

I do not own this planet.

When we let go of owning nature, the world unfolds its wings and opens up in the glory of planet earth’s evolutionary impulse to create beauty in riot’s of colour and birdsong and the simple act of building a nest where life is cherished and protected in a world of wonder.

When we let go of possessing everything we want in the world, we make a world of difference in how we express our appreciation, and awe, of the world around us.


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Make my Heart Different — a guest blog by Nance

I have never met my blogging friend Nance in ‘real life’, only here, in the virtual world of blogging. I have met her on the page, however, not just on the screen. Nance has a giving nature. One day, a couple of years ago, she invited a group of us who have an ‘informal blogging circle’ to participate in a ‘travelling poetry journal’ project. Each of us was invited to create a poetry journal, write a couple or three or four poems in it and then, send it along to the next person in the circle. In total, there were six or eight of us participating. I sent my journal off, and a few days later, someone else’s arrived in my mailbox. I entered a couple of poems, some artwork and sent it off. And the circle continued. A couple of times the circle got stalled, and Nance tracked down the wayward journals and gently coaxed them back onto the path.

I loved that circle of travelling journals. The unexpected whimsical nature of the new arrivals. The anticipation of my returning words and the sharings of others. And while my journal got lost somewhere out there on the road of life — I do not regret joining the circle. Because, in Nance’s tender ways, I always feel cared for, acknowledged, seen. It is what I notice most about Nance. She ‘sees’. Whole people. Light. Darkness. Shadows. She sees beneath the surface to the heart. I experience her ‘seeing’ whenever I visit her blog, A Little Somthin’,  read her words, see her photos. She is whimsical. Light. Airy. She touches down upon the page, gently. She never presses hard. Never carries a stick to pound her senses into someone’s thoughts. She always touches, gently.

Thank you Nance for the difference you make in the world. Through being a light and gentle touch upon the earth, and my heart, you soften my senses and create openings of wonder and joy all around.

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Make My Heart Different

a guest blog by Nance

When my friend, Louise, asked me to write a post about making a difference, i decided to give it a try. Though at the time, and even now, i’m not sure what to say about it.

I know that everything makes a difference, being born, and not being born. Everything makes some kind of difference.  Though i really can not see all  that makes a good difference or a bad difference all of the time.  There are some things that people do that show immediate results of something that looks like it helps another person, in some way, or seems to help.  As there are things that seem to hurt.

I don’t go out of my way to save someone’s life.  And actually, i know that i’m quite self-centered and unaware.  And yet in my faith, i am called to be compassionate (together suffer).  I know that there is all kind of suffering.

I have seen darkness up-close.  But, it is rare that i realize that i stand with someone in their suffering.  But, i know that i must see it in this life, more than i do.  I must not run and hide from it.

I think that if my heart is in the right place at the right time, then a good difference can take place, even if i don’t realize it.  I think that a special connection happens that allows the transfer of Love.  That kind of exchange is probably the most important kind difference that could ever happen through me.  I would go so far as to say that it’s the most important kind of difference that takes place in life.

I can only hope that my heart will be transformed and that i will be able to see the good difference in the end.


 


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Heroes in our midst

I encountered a lot of heroes this week. And in each connection, my life lit up in the beauty of their presence. Thank you everyone for all that you do every day to make a difference!

I don’t often go into the bank — I like ATM’s. But yesterday, when I mis-entered my PIN enough times incorrectly, I was forced to enter the bank to get it reset. A lovely woman at the Service Desk, whose name tag read, “Carol-Anne”, helped me so that I wouldn’t have to stand in line at the teller. As she punched in codes and typed on her keyboard, we chatted about the forgetfulness of  ‘our age’. “I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten too much about raising children,” she said at one point. “I’m about to do it all over again.” I was a tad surprised. She did look a bit over child-bearing age… I think it might have been the look on my face that caused her to laugh and explain. “I’m adopting my grand-daughter.” And she went on to tell me more of the circumstances drawing her into parenting ‘at my age’.

At any age, what she is doing is noble. My daughters have a beautiful friend, Jenn, whose grandmother raised her and her siblings because, like this woman’s daughter, their mother lived a ‘at risk’ lifestyle that did not provide the stability children need. “I have to do this,” Carol-Anne said. “I’ve tried to help my daughter but I can’t stop her hurting herself. What I can do, is stop my grand-daughter from being hurt.”

Carol-Anne is a hero and so are all the other grand-parents in the world who take on the role of parents to ensure children are cared for by  families who love them.

Earlier this year I was invited to sit on a Communications Advisory Board for the United Way of Calgary. This week I attended my first meeting and was in awe of the energy, commitment and openness of the group. From bankers to oil and gas communications professionals, everyone on the board willingly gives of their time, talents and treasures to help the United Way deliver targeted and impactful communications. It’s an easy job. The work the Communications group at the United Way does is exceptional — and their willingness and openness to hearing and receiving the feedback delivered by the advisory group is integral to their spirit of working together to create meaningful engagement tools that inspire Calgarians to get involved, take action and make a difference. We all win when we unite in our desire to create a great city for everyone.

Bryce Paton and the communications team at the United Way of Calgary are heroes and so are the volunteers who lend a hand with such open hearts, minds and spirits.

Can I indulge in a bit of motherly pride?  Today is the second annual Why?Race being held by the United Way of Calgary. My youngest daughter, Liseanne, began working part-time for the United Way in 2010 during her final year of University. She’s now working full time and loving it. As the BeCause coordinator, she’s played a vital role in this year’s Why?Race — and that’s a big undertaking!  To all of the volunteers, participants, standers’-by and recipients of the furniture that will be built as part of the race, today’s events are more than just a fun day — they’re a fun day that makes a difference.

Liseanne, (and yes, I know it’s not politically correct to name my offspring — but heck, it’s my list!  I get to call it as I see it… 🙂 ) the team at BeCause, the volunteers and participants are all heroes!

I first met the amazing team at INVIS when I was working at the homeless shelter. Every Christmas, as part of their “Angels in the Night” project they’d arrive wearing yellow capes and Santa hats, bringing with them a truck laden with winter necessities for the clients of the shelter. And, every summer, they hold a

giant garage sale

to raise funds to buy the mittens, jackets, boots, underwear that they deliver at Christmas during “Angels in the Night” Homeless Shelter Project.  Today’s the garage sale day!  Click on the link to find out more :).

All of the team of Angels in the Night and INVIS Inc. are heroes.

So…. what are you waiting for? Got any heroes you want to celebrate today? Just do it!


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Yes we can. Make a difference.

They are three men, lined up along a brick planter box at the edge of the building where I’m consulting for an agency in downtown Calgary.

They are three men I recognize. From the homeless shelter where I used to work.  They are not ‘visibly’ homeless. They are not under the influence of alcohol or mind altering substances. They are simply three men, sitting on a planter box outside a downtown building, on a busy avenue on a cool, cloud covered May afternoon. Chatting. Laughing. Watching traffic go by. Watching people pass along.

As I walk by one of the men says Hi! I know you!

And I know you too!  I reply.

And I stop and we chat. About the shelter. The people. The happenings in their lives.

Yeah, says the man who greeted me. I’m still working on getting out of there. It’s just so damn hard.

And I remember. Alcoholic mother. Absent father. Foster care. He’s never known ‘stable’. He’s never felt, unconditional love. This place, this life, this viewpoint from living in a space where uncertainty edges up against anxiety about where to next, what next, why this now, riddles your thinking with the impossibility of change, the defeatedness of being stuck, making seeing ‘better’ or even ‘other’ a far and distant possibility.

You can’t see what ‘better’ is if you’ve never experienced more than ‘this’. This life of grinding poverty. This place of hopelessness and despair. This place where escaping into the fog of alcohol or drugs is the only place you can go to get away from ‘the life’ that is bringing you down, not because you expect more, but rather, because you’ve never had a place to know what it feels like to experience more than this without fear of losing it.

And I realize, they aren’t under the influence of anything other than the beaten down experience of homelessnessness.

“Do you miss the place?” one of the men asks.

“Not the place,” I reply. “I do miss the people.”

“You wouldn’t miss them if you had to live with them every day,” one of the men replies.

And it hits me.

In their world of ‘lack’, people are abundant. In a place where 1100 people share the same roof every night, there’s no getting away from people. You can’t just walk into an empty space, a calm room. There are no quiet corners, no hidden places where you can just chill out, on your own to get in touch with you, yourself and I. Chaos. Noise. Activity. A fight erupting at the table next to you. An argument heating up in the bunk on the other side of the bunk that separates you… all these are in abundance in a shelter. What’s not abundant is peace, quiet, tranquility, calmness.

What’s not evident is personal space to grow silent so you can experience the grace of time and space to plan for, what next.

As I turned to walk away, one of the men called out, “I like your… what do you call it?” and he motioned to the vibrant red shawl I wore draped around my shoulders.

“It’s a shawl, dude,” one of the men replied. “Louise always wears them.”

And that was the moment that made the difference.

He remembered my name.

I did not remember his.

And that was when I realized, I can’t just walk away from homelessness. I can’t just walk away from people who’s names I may not remember but whose stories resonate within my heart. I can’t just walk away from the pain and suffering of others. I may not be able to do something about what is happening in their lives to keep them in that place where they cannot see, or find, the way out.

I may not remember their names. But I can remember their stories. And sometimes, all we can do is hold someone’s story until they find whatever it takes to create a new one.

In my remembering, I can speak up, speak out, speak against the things that drag us down. I can keep doing one small thing everyday that makes a difference in the world to open up possibility that says, “Yes we can. End homelessness. Yes we can. Stop abuse. Yes we can. Make a difference.”