The truth makes a difference

Ah yes. This is now officially the last Friday of November (thank you Diana S! ūüôā ) which also means, the last Friday of Family Violence Prevention Month in Alberta.

My challenge is… it’s also the last day of November which means… tomorrow is the first day of December… which means Christmas is just 25 days away. And I love Christmas.

But, I also made a commitment at the beginning of the month to write about Family Violence Prevention every Friday of the month and I like to, need to, keep my commitments.

Where to begin…

I remember our first Christmas together. I had just learned about his heart condition, about the fact he was scheduled for radical, experimental heart surgery that if successful, would save his life. If not, he would be dead within 3 months.

At least, that’s the story he told me. That’s the story that became truth as I watched him struggle for breath. As he disappeared for repeated stays in hospital where I could not visit because his daughters were there and we had never met. It’s best you not be there too, one of his ‘minions’ informed me. It will only make it more difficult for everyone.

I didn’t like it. I wanted to be there, but I understood. His daughters were only slightly older than mine and I was the first woman he’d fallen in love with since his divorce.

It was a time of joy and happiness and sadness and anxiety. A time where, in between his bouts of ill-health, he created a world of wonder all around. From my birthday, which kicks off the holiday season on December 9 (just saying…) to Christmas, my little house began to fill up with presents and trinkets and signs of the season.

I baked and wrapped presents, decorated the tree and house with my daughters. Perhaps, if I hadn’t been so blinded by all the glitter and glitz I might have noticed the red flags falling softly upon the rose strewn carpet of our romance. But my eyes were blind to the harbingers of dark clouds gathering on the horizon. I could only see the rosy glow of happily ever after unfolding in the arms of love — as long as those arms stayed strong.

It was the challenge of that relationship.

He was really good at lying and I was really good at believing.

I wanted to. Believe.

I wanted to believe that I was the amazing, incredible, astonishing woman he told me I was.

I wanted to believe he wouldn’t lie about that. Just as I wanted to believe he wouldn’t lie about his health. About his heart giving out. His life ebbing.

I wanted to believe so desperately I let go of any disbelief my rational mind might have held had I stopped to listen to reason.

I was too infatuated. Too in love. Too mesmerized by his promises of creating a life for me greater than any I’d ever imagined.

And he was, a really, really good liar.

He disappeared that first Christmas. He’d appeared on my doorstep a few days before to tell me the date for his surgery had been brought forward. “My heart won’t last if I don’t get this done right away,” he said.¬†The surgery was taking place in California. He was going down early to acclimatize, to get ready and to spend some time with his daughters.

My daughters and I shared Christmas with my family as we always do and in that beautiful air of  family time, we laughed and played and sang Christmas songs and decorated and cooked and ate and spent time just being together.

And through it all, at the back of my mind, worry for his health crawled silently through my thoughts. At times, I’d catch my mind wandering into the fear of ‘what if he doesn’t make it?’; ‘what if he dies?’ and I had to let it go. I wanted to be present for my daughters.

But still, I worried.

I’d call his cell, only to be sent to voicemail. I’d call one of his ‘minions’, only to be told there was no news.

And then, I got a call from a man telling me he was his doctor. The surgery went well, he told me. We’re hopeful.


Such a small yet powerful word. So humble. So filled with possibility.


Yes, I was hopeful too.

It would be almost four years later that I would awaken to the truth.

It had all been a lie. He was never sick. Never in hospital. Never put under the knife for radical surgery.

Like every thing else in that relationship, it was all a lie.

And that is the blessing I found in acknowledging the truth. From hello to good-bye. I love you to I hate you. You’re beautiful to you’re ugly. It was all a lie.

And in that truth I stopped searching for my meaning in him. I turned away from looking for ‘the reason’ he did what he did and accepted. He is the lie.

And I deserve more than lies. I deserve truth. And that is where I found myself. In my truth, buried within me.

I don’t need another to tell me I am amazing, incredible, astonishing. I am who I am. And when I believe in me, when I live up to my highest good, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world around me, what matters is what’s happening within me. What matters is what I am willing to do to make my dreams come true, because,¬†I’m responsible for making my dreams come true. I’m responsible for my own happiness.

And that’s the truth.



Dejana: Celebrating a young woman making a difference

Ellie’s Friends Dejana & Mike

When Dejana was in grade 3 her parents made the difficult decision to immigrate. The war in their native Serbia was too close.

A brother killed. A cousin raped. Another missing.

These are the stories of the war. Stories that touched too many lives of their family, friends and neighbours. Stories Dejana’s parents did not want their daughter to grow up knowing or experiencing.

They came to Canada. A land far, far away from the beautiful country of their birth. They came to Calgary, a city far, far different than their beloved hometown.

They came and made a life. They learned English. The parents found work. Dejana went to school. She made friends. Memories. Stories. She created her life. A life that reflects the heart of this amazing young woman whom I’ve known for 12 years, when she and my eldest daughter became fast friends their first few days of Junior High.

Dejana and her parents have lived in Calgary sixteen years now. They’ve bought a home. Settled into their adopted land and become Canadians. They’re proud of how far they’ve come, and, as her mother recently told me when I asked if she ever wished she could go back to her native land, “We did this for Dejana. We wanted her to have a different life, one that didn’t include always fearing what might happen.”

There is sadness in Dejana’s mother’s voice. Sadness for the loss of the times she remembers before the war when her country was safe, secure. “We had one of the highest standards of living anywhere,” she proudly said. But politics and centuries old animosities over-took the peace.

“It could happen again,” she said. And she sighs. “It is not stable. Who knows what might happen?”

And then she smiles. “Coming here has been worth it.” She puts one arm around her daughter’s shoulders where she sits beside her. “We are so proud of her. She’s worked so hard and now, she has achieved her goal. She has made it happen.”

This Friday Dejana defends her masters thesis. She flies to Victoria this morning and her parents will join her tonight. On Friday morning, two cousins, and a handful of friends, including my eldest daughter, will be there to support her and celebrate her achievement.

It is an amazing accomplishment. To come to a strange land. Learn the language. Make friends. Study. Excel. And now this.

It is amazing, but not really. If you knew Dejana you’d know why. She has always been committed. Dedicated. A hard worker. She’s always been willing to do what it takes to create more of what she wants in her life.

At twenty-six, Dejana portrays the same qualities that made her so engaging 12 years ago when I first met her. Compassionate. Kind. Caring. Dejana has a beautiful heart. When C.C. and I go away, Dejana turns up at our house to care for the animals. On her phone she has pictures of Ellie the wonder pooch and Marley the great cat. She likes to show people how Marley helped her write her thesis — by sitting on the keyboard of her laptop. “I couldn’t tell him to get off,” she laughs. “He was just trying to help.” Ellie on the other hand was not so helpful. She just wanted to play. To convince Dejana to feed her or, better still, take her for a walk. “She used to dance around me where ever I sat, begging me to play with her.”

Ellie is no slouch. She knows a mark when she sees one and Dejana’s kind heart cannot not help but give in to Ellie’s entreaties. Her daily walk goes up to 3 or 4 times a day when Dejana is here.

Dejana’s parents are incredibly proud of their daughter. So am I.

Dejana will make a difference in the world. She already has. Her thesis is on Community Engagement. What it takes. What it means. Why it’s important. Living here in Calgary, there’s a lot of room for community engagement — oil companies are constantly trying to push the envelope so they can drill on prairies soils. Engaging community in the process is imperative.

Dejana knows this and she wants to ensure it happens — the right way, for the right reasons, for the best outcome.

Tomorrow, Dejana defends her thesis. She’s worked hard for this. She deserves to celebrate and be celebrated.

Congratulations Dejana. Go for it!

You are amazing.

Open spaces make a difference

It begins with a comedy of errors. I take my laptop into an office where I’m doing some consulting to have it synced with the office systems, go to a meeting late in the day and the admin assistant, concerned for my laptops safety, locks it away.

When I return, she has left for the day (it was after five) and no one has the key to the cabinet where she’s locked it away. Not to worry I tell myself. I can use my iPad to write my blog in the morning. Using the keyboard is almost the same as working on my laptop, I convince myself.

Except, after five minutes, my keyboard dies. I go in search of batteries. Actually do find the package I bought awhile ago for emergencies just like this! Yes! I replace the batteries and begin to type.

Except, the keyboard keeps dying. After several attempts to get it to stay on, (what is it about doing the same thing again and again that is so appealing) I give into the inevitable, and somewhat frustrating process, of using the screen keyboard.

I begin to type. And WordPress keeps freezing. I type. Nothing happens. I refresh, it let’s me type a few words again before freezing up.


I keep typing determined I will teach WordPress a thing or two about being sensible and cooperative.

My temperature is rising and WordPress is oblivious to my dismay. Seriously, how can an inanimate object be soooo challenging and stubborn? It has its way with me until I remember I have the WordPress app on my IPad.


I am typing again but all the while I can feel my mood darkening. I can feel the voice of ‘hopeless despair’ revving up, set to take action and steel away my peace of mind.

Thoughts –of why me? What the…?– slither into the morning light of my thinking growing darker.


I will not let it happen.

I remember what someone said last night on the phone in class for the “Living an evolutionary life” course I’m participating in, “Thoughts think us more than we think our thoughts.”


So true.

Unless… I stay conscious. Unless I choose to be in the present moment with all my being, consciously choosing how I respond, react, stay accountable for my journey.


The universe is not out to get me this morning, it’s not against me. It’s not trying to teach me a lesson or even to trip me up.

The universe just is. The universe doesn’t “care”. It simply exists, evolving in ever expanding circles outward.

I am my reflection of my responses to the universe around me. What’s my ripple?

I’m the one who has the capacity to add meaning, or not, to events and circumstances. I’m the one who has the choice in how I respond.

Letting go of everything, I fall into nothing but the “all” that is everything.

In surrendering to “the all”, in letting go of the everything and the nothing, miracles unfold, magic happens, life awakens.

My mind would have me believe I awoke to a comedy of errors this morning.

It’s not true.

I awoke to the miracle of a day unfolding in awe. I awoke to the possibility of what is when I let go of believing all that I am is determined by my limiting belief that I have no choice in how I respond to the world around me.

I have infinite choice. The difference is in how I express myself.

No matter the circumstances, the weather or the times when I let go of holding onto to my thoughts, judgments, feelings about what is, or isn’t happening, I make space for anything, everything and nothing. And in that space of being open, miracles happen.

I awoke this morning and dark clouds gathered on the horizon. Letting go of peering into the darkness, my day awoke to the miracle of this moment unfolding in awe.

May your day be filled with wide open spaces where miracles happen all around.

Oh and WordPress… You can take your stubborn,uncooperative ways and shove them where…

Oh dear… Did I just slip?


And I begin again. Always begin again.

Have an inspired day.


A compliment makes a difference

Yesterday, on my way to a meeting, I stopped to pay for my parking at one of the meters that lines our city streets. A man approached, visibly homeless, stumbling unsteadily on his feet. As I pulled my credit card out of the meter he stopped beside me. I could feel his presence and for a second, a voice of worry slithered through my mind. My wallet was open in my hand, my credit card held mid-air between the parking meter and my purse.

“I like your outfit,” the man told me loudly. “I like the get-up.”

I turned to look at him. Smiled. Slipped my card back into my wallet. I debated searching for coins but held off. He wasn’t asking for a handout. He was giving me a compliment.

He was older, but life on the street is hard, so he could have been anywhere from 45 to 65. Face encased in a long white beard beneath a red toque with a white pompom bobbing at the apex. Green jacket. Prerequisite backpack. He stood and smiled at me, his blue eyes sparkling in his weathered face. He was missing a front tooth in his smile. He waved one hand as he checked out my long  winter white coat and matching flapper style cloche.

Thank you, I replied as he once again told me how much he liked my outfit.

“I know you,” he said. “You’re that lady who used to work at the DI. I remember you!”

Down the street, three men waited at a light. They called back to him, cajoling him, teasing him. “C’mon buddy. Leave the pretty lady alone.” “She’s not going to date ya!”

He waved a dismissive hand at them and turned back to me.

“You always smiled. I liked that,” he said.

“And I remember you,” I told him, which was true. I remember seeing him at the shelter. Like so many, he wandered in and out, spending his days scrambling for a dollar, spending his nights on a mat in Intox. “I apologize,” I continued. “I don’t remember your name.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “I don’t remember yours either.” He laughed at himself, slapped his leg and then added, “but I sure remember your smile!” He nodded his head some more, told me again how much he liked my outfit before shuffling off down the street to meet up with his friends who were still calling to him from the corner where the light was now green.

I thanked him again and crossed over to the other side of the street to go to my meeting.

When I worked at the shelter I used to tell visitors that the shelter was a ‘gated community’. Surrounded by tall wrought iron fencing and a gate that could be drawn across the driveway to lock off access and egress, the difference between that gated community and its more tony neighbours is, you had to lose everything to qualify to come through those gates. You had to be lost on the road of life to end up there.

But like any fence, like any gated community, it sets the occupants apart. It creates a divide between the haves and the have-nots.

And we stand ¬†on the other side of the street, looking in, wondering what it’s like to live on the other side of those gates. Sometimes we¬†venture in just to take a look.

And when we meet them, those fortunate and unfortunates who live in the gated community, we wonder, “How did they get there?” “What path did they take that lead them to that side of those gates?”

The stories are many. They come from every walk of life. They come from every community, faith, demographic. And the only difference is, one road leads to abundance beyond the gates, the other to scarcity.

And always, for those who enter the gates of the shelter, no matter what lead them there, the reason they stay is the same. They are lost in the grips of something they never imagined would be part of their life. Something they never dreamed would become their reality. Homelessness.

A man stopped beside me on the street yesterday to pay me a compliment. He was a passer-by. A stranger. But I know where he lives. I know the gated community he calls home.

It didn’t make a difference.¬†His compliment was lovely. Welcome. Engaging. He didn’t want anything other than to share his thoughts on what I was wearing.

He was the only one who did that. Pay a compliment to a stranger.

I didn’t stop anyone else during my day to say, “I like your outfit.” I didn’t stop a stranger to make a human connection and in my not doing it, my day was made less different than if I’d taken the time to share a compliment with a stranger.


There is no box. What a difference.

When I was in junior high school I sang in a folk group. I loved it. There were two girls, me and my friend Bets, and 3 guys. Doug, Tom and I think the third guy was Graham. I think Georgina sometimes sang with us too, but I’m not sure about that — but it would make sense because she went on to become a professional singer.

We were all ‘Military Brats’. All attending school in Metz, France. All displaced Canadians on foreign soil.

We were ‘a gang’. Connected through song. Connected through the folk music that was popular in the day. Gordon Lightfoot. Joni Mitchell. Donovan. Bob Dylan.

In High School, I kept singing. Sang in talent shows, plays the school produced, in the kitchen doing dishes, in the shower, on walks into the hills that surrounded our house in Southern Germany where we’d moved after Metz.

I dreamed of being a singer, songwriter, writer. Of standing on stage and moving audiences with my song. Of standing in front of an audience moving people with my words. I wrote poetry. Short stories. Newspaper articles. I took on the job of editor of the school newspaper and the yearbook. I wrote and I wrote. A lot.

And then I stopped.

To this day, I don’t know why I stopped. When I moved back to Canada I lived in Toronto and still held fast to my dreams. I just never told anybody. They were my little secret though sometimes, I tentatively took steps to fulfill on them. Once, I connected with a musician who was looking for a female vocalist. He gave me a chance. I turned up once and then I quit going back. Not sure why. Possibly it was that I was entangled in an inner dialogue about who I was, what I was doing, why and how I was not being the human being I wanted to be. Possibly I got scared.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I finally ventured out into the world of writing again. My first feature-length article was published in the Calgary Herald for Remembrance Day the same year I turned 35. It was a watershed mark for me. The mother of two daughters, I wanted to ensure they knew they had the power to believe in their dreams and make them come true.

But still, I didn’t sing. At least not publicly. The story in my head went something like, “You can’t sing.” “You’re not good enough.” “Nobody wants to hear you.”

The story came from my youth. From those days of singing when my family laughed at me for my dream. At least, that’s the story I remember. That’s the story I’ve told myself. It’s possibly not true, but it sure makes a good excuse for not doing something I love.

In fact, even getting published was a threat to the story I told myself about why I wasn’t a writer. Why I wasn’t doing what I dreamed of. Believing in myself was self-conceited. Wanting to be published was an act of self-aggrandizement.

Children’s minds convert what’s happening into a story they can remember. They take what’s happening and frame it in a mirror of their world that makes sense to them. Children need to make sense of their world and when the world is crazy all around, the sense they make is crazy too.

For me, the stories my child’s mind created included not putting me ‘out there’ outside the box of my comfort zone where I might get hurt. They wrapped themselves around the belief that to live my dreams was an act of defiance that would only lead to my being disappointed, ridiculed, mocked and excluded from the box labelled Family, Friendship, Kinship. The box where I so desperately wanted to fit in and belong.

Sometimes, the only way out of the box is to acknowledge, there is no box.

Never was. Never had to be. Never has to be, A box.

Boxes are for squares. Boxes are for packing up dreams and aspirations.

Boxes don’t set me free. They keep me on the ground, my arms tethered to my sides, my dreams locked down to the earth, tied up in bonds of steel to keep them from flying free, out into the world where they just might come true.

Boxes are designed to keep me safe. To keep me from getting hurt.

And that’s the conundrum of living in a box of my own creation.

The confines of the box hurt. I’m always rubbing up against my desire to fly free, to soar above the fray of my limiting belief that I am not meant to fly.

We are all meant to fly. We are all meant to soar free upon the clear, sparkling air of our dreams expanding out into the world of wonder all around us.

It’s just the stories we tell ourselves that keep us tied up in knots of fear and hesitation. It’s just the past, masquerading as the present that keeps us holding on to the fear that living this one wild, precious life might hurt us.

Living life for all we’re worth outside the comfort zone of our limiting beliefs doesn’t hurt. Not living it does.

When I was young I loved to sing. Today, I cry my song of freedom knowing that in my voice I have the power to touch hearts, open minds and set spirits free. 

What song is your voice singing today?



Seeing Through The Eyes of Peace (Guest Blog)

I met Sheryl Hinds at dinner one night when I was going to the Deva Premal/Miten concert. We connected through the brilliance of our mutual friend Judy Atkinson and recognized kindred spirits in eachother.

And then, Sheryl created the Chroning Ceremony which I wrote about a few weeks ago. What a gift she is to the world.

Today, Sheryl shares her gifts with us here as the Sunday Guest Blogger. Thank you Sheryl. Your light illuminates beauty all around.

Seeing Through The Eyes of Peace

by Sheryl Hinds
I grew up in the Armed Forces and travelled within Canada, from base to base, until my Dad left the forces after 10 years of service.  From being an infant to 10 years old, I lived through all those years of impending doom and World War 3 happening any moment.  We even had the air raid sirens to prove it!  When those sirens blasted we all ran for cover, waiting for the enemy to engage us in battle.  And the fear we all felt as we huddled in silence was palpable.  When the sirens stopped, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, and it was back to life as usual.  Except, the idea stayed that we could be obliterated by the enemy at any time.  We wore that hat of fear.   

Now, as I look out at the world and see what is happening all around us, I have come to realize that war is indeed upon us.¬†¬†However, it is not “out there”.¬†¬†Our enemy is judgement and entitlement.¬†¬†The face of terrorism is within.

There is¬†terrorism closer to home.¬†¬†On the Internet and Facebook.¬† In our schools.¬† Family violence and abuse.¬†¬†Children are taking their lives due to bullying and hopelessness.¬† And the “gloomers and doomers” would have us believe the end of the world is near.

But hope is near instead.  The enlightened ones join the rising number of voices calling for justice and our prayers to be answered, in peace.   

As hopeless as it may look and feel sometimes, as we are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of victims, we must see through the eyes of peace more now than ever.  We must rise above fear, hang on to faith and believe in a good and just world.  We cannot lose sight of all the beauty there is all around us, and most importantly, within us.  We cannot give up on any one of us, anywhere, as a lost cause.

The only weapon we have that is¬†freely at our disposal, is love.¬† It is the greatest weapon of all!¬† We¬†must be brave enough to look¬†beyond terrorism and focus on the victims finding¬†the love within.¬† The more we focus on love, the more love there is.¬† Literally. The effects of love are palpable,¬†synchronistic and exponential, nothing short of miraculous.¬† It’s working!¬† People, the world over, loving themselves enough to stand up for themselves, their loved ones, their community and their country.¬†¬†It’s spreading like a healing virus and it’s gone global!

Let’s choose to wear the hat of peace, and those rose coloured glasses of love.¬† It shapes us powerfully, profoundly.¬† It all begins with us.¬†


To find out more about Sheryl and her amazing work, please visit her website: ¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†— her contact info is there as well.

Heroes in our midst

There’s always time to celebrate heroes in our midst. It’s important we do.

Yesterday, I spoke at the 5th Annual Blue Friday Conference held at a high school here in Calgary. Organized by PMAST (Peer Meditation and Skills Training), Blue Friday is all about bullying — and how to stop it, shift it, end it. Winston Blake, Managing Director of PMAST kicked off the event with an amazing keynote address where he encouraged everyone to know and believe — It begins with me. No matter the situation; shifting it, changing it, enlightening it, begins with me. I have the power. The capacity. The ability to create positive change. We all do.

Winston Blake, Ian Tuckey, event organizer, Florence Lye, coordinator and all the speakers and volunteers who shared their time and talents are heroes.

In my session at PMAST yesterday I was deeply moved by some of the stories the youth shared. “What happens when the bully is your parents?” one youth asked, and I wanted to cry. What happens is what I saw everyday at the homeless shelter where I used to work. Men and women who never had the opportunity to expand into their greatness because the adults in their life when they were children never knew greatness either. Hurting people hurt people. To stop, we must stop the hurt within. We must quit acting out our pain upon the ones we love, the children who have been entrusted to our care. We must stop destroying the promise of our youth and celebrate life. Our life. Their life. Every life.

The youth who had the courage to stand up and give voice to their pain, and their promise, so that they can make a difference, so that they can end abuse and bullying, are heroes.

Kathy Christensen has worked with Alpha House Society for over 19 years, creating possibilities in the world of homelessness and addictions. Yesterday I visited with her at Madison — an apartment building Alpha House manages on behalf of Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF). At Madison, formerly homeless veterans have found a safe, secure and welcoming place to call home. And what an amazing place it is. Dave, a client I knew at the shelter where I used to work, greeted me with a hug and an invitation to come and see his apartment. With great pride, he opened the door, showed me around, described what he was doing with the decor and how important it was to him to have this place to call home. In the ‘common room’, Andy shared the peanut butter cookies he’d just made and talked about his life in the military. I was awed and moved.

Kathy Christensen, all the staff at Alpha House as well as CHF, the veterans who live at Madison, John Lundgren of Calgary Police Service who worked so hard to create awareness around veterans and homelessness and all those who have worked to make a difference are heroes. 

On Thursday morning I gave a United Way speak at the Cargill meat processing plant in NE Calgary. Standing in the cafeteria in front of almost 200 people, I gazed around the room and saw the global impact of war and strife in other nations. Before I began I asked the crowd, “How many of you were born in Canada?” Not one hand was raised amidst the people sitting in the audience. Of the supervisors standing in the back, a few raised their hands. But that was it. And I wondered, who would do these jobs without the willingness of these individuals who have withstood war and famine, poverty, homelessness and displacement,¬†to do whatever it takes to create a better life for themselves and their children? I was also impressed with management’s commitment at Cargill to encourage their staff to give back to community. Like many of the oil and gas companies in our city, Cargill matches dollar for dollar every donation employees make.

The staff and management at Cargill are heroes.

And, because I like to leave you with an inspiring video every Saturday morning, I share the following gem from the United Way of Calgary and Area’s website. Along with volunteers, they are sharing digital stories of hope and possibility. This is one created by two young women — may you be moved to take action. may you be inspired to make a difference.

Abuse hurts. Stop it.

This is the second-to-last Friday of November. Black Friday to some. Blue Friday to others. It is also, the second-to-last Friday of Family Violence Prevention Month.

Family violence kills. Spirit. Hope. Dignity. Trust. Life.

Last night, I attended a fundraiser put on by the Campaign Associates of the United Way of Calgary. It was wonderful to spend time amidst these caring and committed individuals who organize the events at which I speak almost daily. Many of them are ‘on loan’ from Calgary corporations for the 4 months of the fall campaign. All of them are funded by Calgary corporations. All of them make a difference.

What was significant for me about this event however wasn’t just the people, it was the place.

It was held at a venue where, once upon a time, I tried to end the relationship that was killing me.

It was fall, 2002. Life was spiralling out of control and I was falling. I had no money, no job, no home. My daughters were living with their father and I was falling further and further into the darkness.

‘The man’ was clinging to me in a desperate attempt to have life look as if it was normal. I don’t remember where he was living, but I was staying between the home of one of my dearest friends and at the time, house-sitting another friend’s house in the same townhome complex in which she lived.

I wasn’t sure what would happen next. ‘The man’ kept promising to make it all right. He kept promising that he would fix it, get my home back, get all my belongings out of storage, get me stable once again.

I didn’t really believe him but I couldn’t quit listening to his promises. I was so tired. So lost. So helpless.

And then, he made a scene. We had gone to a local pub (the same one as last night)  for a drink and he acted out, accusing me of flirting with another man in the bar. Yelling at me for destroying his life. Calling me names.

I left. Grabbed my coat and walked out.

I walked and walked in the cold, dark night.

The pub was only a couple blocks from the river, about a twenty-minute walk from where I was house-sitting.

I walked down to the river and along the path that skirts its shoreline. I don’t remember if there was a moon, or if the stars shone. There was snow on the ground. The air was frosty.

I felt so hopeless.

I wanted him to follow me. I wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted him to disappear. I wanted to vanish.

At one point, I took a path down to the water’s edge and sat on a rock watching the water flow past. I imagined what would happen if I could simply fall into the water. I imagined what it would be like if I could disappear. I knew his presence was choking me. I knew being with him was driving me crazy, that there was no truth in anything he said. And I knew I was lost and had to do something to find myself again.

Somewhere in that relationship he had given me a heart-shaped ring set with tiny diamonds. I had worn that ring ever since he’d given it to me in the belief that as long as I wore it he would not disappear from my life and my daughters lives would be safe.

Sitting beside the river that night, I knew I had to let go.

I took the ring off and hurled it into the river.

I broke the ties. In that act I rebelled against the bonds that tied me so fast to his deceit and abuse.

I walked back to the house where I was staying. I let myself in and went to bed.

It was over.

And then, the doorbell rang.

I didn’t want to answer it. I told myself not to.

But he started yelling. Pounding upon the wooden barrier that stood firm between us.

I capitulated. I told myself I didn’t want to wake the neighbours. I didn’t want him to cause a scene.

I told myself I would let him in just so I could tell him it was over. I didn’t care about the money, the home, the stuff. I wanted free.

It would be six long, terrifying months before I got free again.

I remember that night. It was the night I gave up on me completely. It was the night he threw back at me everything I had ever told him about my life for which I held shame or sadness or regret. In the reminding me of all my misgivings, he affirmed my deepest fear. I was not worthy.

I lost my spirit that night. I lost my direction completely in the darkness of knowing, I was not worthy.

It is the reality of these relationships that take such a toll. To be abused we must believe abuse is all we’re worth. We must believe they are right, we are wrong. We must give up on ourselves, and give into the who they tell us we are, what they tell us we’re worth.

To be abused we must believe in the one who abuses us.

And it is in that belief we die.

Abuse hurts. Stop it.

The difference begins with me

I heard an amazing woman speak last night. She was exciting. Inspiring. Uplifting. She was herself.

I’ve known Michelle Cameron Coulter for several years through my work with the United Way. I’ve known of her brilliance but never heard her speak. Last night I was blessed to chat with her and listen to her share her story.

Michelle is an Olympic Gold Medalist and six time world Champion in synchronized swimming. Excessively fearful of water, she didn’t start synchronized swimming until she was 13 years old.

It didn’t matter. Age had nothing to do with it. Her fear of water was simply a roadblock to be moved. ¬†Spirit. Commitment. Drive. Determination. And a, ‘can do’ attitude are what counted in her journey to gold.

I went to Women Embracing Brilliance, an event/organization created by the amazing Karen Klassen, out of curiosity and the fact a friend emailed me to ask if I was going. It was kind of a comedy of errors. My friend thought I was going because I was part of the group and had attended before. I thought she was going because she had gone before.

I like mistakes because they’re never really mistakes. We met at the event and spent a good part of the evening chatting and sharing and connecting. And that was the best part — spending time with a brilliant woman I really enjoy and admire.

Karen, the event organizer, is a woman of great heart and enthusiasm. She is committed to celebrating women, to making a difference by encouraging other women to join her in her quest to touch the lives of a million women in the world and open their eyes to see their brilliance. Like Michelle, Karen is committed to reach her goal.

And roadblocks in the way, just don’t matter. They’re meant to be navigated, surmounted, moved and set aside. Roadblocks test us. They must not stop us.

That was the message I got last night. That no matter what appears in your path, look for the way, around it, over it, through it. Do not let it stop you from achieving your goals. Do not lose sight of your dreams.

It was an important message for me to hear.

I have a book I started at the beginning of the year when I finished working at the shelter, “Lessons in Love: Everything I know about being human I learned at a homeless shelter, and I have been stalled.

No time. Too busy. Other ideas to explore. Lots of client work to complete. A life to live. yada yada yada.

You know the drill. Life is happening and I keep letting it get in the way of working on this book.

Roadblocks don’t matter.

I believe in this book.

I believe in the importance of why I’m writing it and the impact it can have.

The book contains 8 very important life lessons —¬†1. We are all connected. 2. There is no us and them. 3. Forgive and set yourself free. 4. Learn from the broken places. 5. Always begin again. 6. ¬†Giving is receiving. 7. We are all magnificent. 8. Love is the answer.

To highlight each lesson I share stories of my experiences working at the shelter. Human stories. Real stories of lives on the other side of the street that speak to our shared humanity, our common human condition, our forgotten beauty and magnificence.

And I have stalled.

I have let what’s happening all around me pull me from my goal.

Time to get real.

Time to let go of my excuses and step into my power to create that which I want more of in my life — a world of beauty, truth, peace, harmony and joy, within and all around me.

It’s important, for me, that I complete this book. It’s important not just because of the power of these stories to touch hearts and open minds. It’s important because I feel accomplished, happy, fulfilled, satisfied, I feel like a winner when I reach my goals, complete tasks I’ve set out for myself. ¬†I know the impact ‘completion’ has upon my spirit and I am responsible for creating what I want in my world, within and all around me.

Not finishing is a self-defeating game. ¬†Not finishing, or working on it, keeps me in that place where the ‘critter’ gets to whisper in my ear those stories I tell myself when I’m not feeling like I’m living my best — you know, stories like….¬†loser. You can’t finish anything. You’re a starter, never a finisher…¬† Stories that would have me live down to my lesser good, forgetting my capacity to live up to my higher greatness.

Enough.  To make a difference in the world I must begin with me.

Time to Breathe and begin again. Always begin again — with a grateful and loving heart.

Thank you Michelle Cameron Coulter and Karen Klassen.  You touched my heart, inspired my imagination and ignited my brilliance.

In sharing your brilliance I am reminded to shine and share mine.

Calgary Police Make a Difference

I have been presenting a series of workshops to Calgary Police on homelessness. Every Tuesday morning, I work with different officers on perceptions, views, ideas, opinions around homelessness.

It is enlightening.

It is inspiring.

It is uplifting work.

There was a time when I wondered if ‘authority’ would ever get it. When I thought, seriously guys, kicking someone when they’re down is not going to encourage them to get back up again, or even to believe they have the capacity to get back up again. Don’t you care?

I had a lot of judgments.

In letting my judgments go, I’ve encountered truth. Police officers do care.¬†Very much. My experience is that officers want to make a difference. They want to play a role in ending homelessness in our city. And they are.

Yesterday, we talked about Calgary’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The consensus from those who work on our streets — Housing First, one of the tenets of the Plan where chronically homeless are provided housing and from there, the wrap-around services necessary to integrate them back into community, is working. Where once they saw the same, chronically homeless, usually under the influence people again and again and again, the numbers are way down.

It’s working.

We are all in this together.

We all have a role to play in ending homelessness.

What’s yours?

Perhaps, your role is simply shifting your beliefs, or perceptions about ‘who’ ¬†these people are¬†experiencing homelessness. Maybe, all it requires for you to become engaged is to not call homeless individuals lazy, or drunks, or good-for-nothing. Maybe, it’s all about letting go of your judgments and simply allowing space for compassion to enter. Our thoughts create energy in the world and when our thoughts are focused on all that is wrong with this picture, what we see is always a picture that’s wrong.

Perhaps, your role in the continuum of ending homelessness is to donate to an agency, or volunteer your time. Maybe you already ‘get’ that people are not homeless because they had a dream of losing everything to walk our streets without hope of ever finding their way back home again. Maybe you ‘get’ that homelessness is not a dream but someone’s worst nightmare come to life. From that place of compassion you can, as the United Way invites all of us, Give. Volunteer. Act.

We can all make a difference when it comes to ending homelessness. We can all make a difference on our streets.

Working with police officers on homelessness is a gift for me. It moves me. It reminds me — it is not ‘us and them’, it is all of us working together that will make a difference.

Every police officer I have met shares a dream of making our city a better, safer place. They dream of catching criminals, dealing with the ‘bad guys’ and allowing space for everyone else to exist in harmony.

And there’s a role for each of us to play in that dream as well.

One of the things the officers often share is how frustrating it is to be chatting with a visibly homeless person and having everyday citizens walk by and tell them to ‘leave the guy alone,’ or ‘give him a break’.

I’m just trying to check on the guys well-being, the officers will say, or build a relationship, and people get on my case about abusing him.¬†It’s not fair.

There is little that is ‘fair’ in homelessness.

What there is though is lots of room for change, for shift to happen, for miracles to unfold.

We can all make room for miracles. We can all be open to that space where lives shift, where the many awaken to the truth that who they are is not found in a bottle or a crack pipe but in the dignity of being who they were born to be when they get out from under the pain and wounds and self-hatred of their lives lived on the other side of the street.

Miracles happen when each of us awakens to the truth — We are all connected and when one person falls on the street, we all suffer. When one of us judges another, we all judge eachother. And when one of us shifts, everything shifts.

Let’s shift.

On Monday, Calgary Police Service released the first in a three-part mini-documentary series on homelessness on our streets. Originally created as a training piece for recruits and officers, Homeless in Calgary gives a raw and edgie look at the lives of those for whom ‘home’ is not a place where they are safe amidst those they love. For these individuals, home is the street. A dangerous, dark and frightening place to live. In this video, we follow two officers doing what every officer does every day — taking care of those who have lost their way on our streets.

Changing our perspectives makes a difference. Let’s let shift happen. Let’s let¬†miracles unfold. The world will be a different place when we do.