The Gift of Gratitude

It was a quiet day yesterday. Staying conscious was a challenge.

Work on my new website – I am grateful for the tech staff at godaddy who so graciously and patiently walked me through my struggles during three separate phone calls. They gave me hope. But seriously, the work of trying to figure things out consumed me for much of the day and I didn’t focus much time on ‘making a difference’ as much as on receiving help from others. As one friend reminded me who reads my other blog (Recover Your Joy), “you make a difference everyday through what you write.” Thank you my friend.

In the process of assessing my day yesterday though, I realized a couple of things that need changing. Rather than simply recording the difference I consciously made, on Fridays, I shall write about the difference other people made in my life during the week. From the driver who let me in from the merge lane, thank you, to Dave who had an extra tub of fish food when I needed one, and for the fish, thank you.

People make a difference in my life in small and big ways, everyday.

Isabel and Dave for being with me on Project Miracle. The gifts are many when I open my heart and soul to seeing the dark and the light in my emotions.

Carolyn who called to invite me for a spontaneous lunch. She is always giving, always sharing her best.

Rosemarie and Debbie shared their hearts over dinner one night and I had an opportunity to delve deeper into my own.

Ellie, the wonder pooch, who reminds me everyday — I gotta get outside and get moving.

For my fellow dance and meditation partners, you remind me that together we can make a world of difference.

Barry, for believing in me, encouraging me and supporting me.

Dave T for staying in touch.

Nan for inspiring me when I needed a boost.

Linda who shared an opportunity she thought I might like to explore.

Mark who called just to get in touch.

Karen and Marina for offering me an opportunity to make a difference.

Sue, whose energy on and commitment to the “and My Name is…” project is unflagging and who reminds me to give my best, always.

My daughters who continue to embrace me in love and teach me of its depths.

And as I write my list I am reminded of the value of being present. I can’t remember all the people who touched my life this week and made a difference. Reality is, everyone who touched my life made a difference this week. From phone calls, to brief encounters, to smiles of strangers on the street, to those who commented here ,to those who emailed or simply read, to those whose blogs I read and feel our human condition connecting in awe — there are many, many people who touched my life this week and made a difference.

And I think that perhaps, along with ‘what I did’, is the need for an ‘I am grateful’ perspective to keep my heart open to the many gifts in my life.

Yes. Staying present means doing my best. It also means, seeing  and being grateful for the gifts that flow through my life and acknowledging them and thanking the people (and animals) who make them possible.

Thank you.


In giving, I receive.

It’s not surprising my father came up in meditation last night. 1) the instruction to the group was to ‘be’ our fathers’ during a piece of music. and 2) I had just been speaking of him to my friend Dave before going to our group meditation. On his way to group, Dave had dropped off my new friends who have taken up residence in my office. He is moving away and can not take his pets with him. He’d asked if I’d be willing to give them a home and I said yes. And now, I am the momma of three fish. Harry. Sally and Sue. They didn’t have a name when they arrived. Dave had never thought to name them. Which is good because I got to christen them and anoint their new home in my office.

When I was a little girl and into my teens, my father kept fish. Some of my happiest moments with my father were cleaning the tank, feeding the fish, talking about the different varieties he kept in the 150 gal tank that sat in our living room. And some of my most contented moments were simply sitting and watching the fish dart and dither about the tank. They were like poetry to me. I loved to rhyme off their names. To hear the sound of the consonants and vowels rolling off my tongue. Angel fish and Zebra’s. Clown fish and Leopards. And of course, Siamese Fighting Fish. I loved how the ‘s’ sizzled as it came out.

My father kept the Siamese Fighting Fish separated. He had to. If they’re part of the general population they’d kill all the other fish, he told me. I like their spirit, he added, but I don’t want them to destroy everyone else in the tank.

I was thinking about fish when I got to meditation. And thinking about fish always connects me to my father who passed away over 15 years ago.

And so, when Dal, our meditation guide directed the group  to ‘be your father’, tears began to flow and I felt the tug of the past pulling me under into the waters of memory. And in their flow I saw myself being my father. Angry. Frightened. Sad. An angry man with the heart of a poet boy, unable to let go of sadness for the past. I swam in that sea of sadness and felt the tendrils of regret release. I felt the sadness that had been buoying me up sink to the sandy soils beneath.

My father never had a chance to be a boy. Never had a chance to be the man he dreamt of being when war came and he ran off to fight. There was so much regret and sadness in his life. So much sorrow for the relationships he never had, for a past he could not change. I swam in those waters of meditation last night and let it go. I swam up through the darkness into the light and found myself free of regret. Lighter than air, I dove into the waters of forgiveness. In their flow I was reminded, that was then, this is now. And now is what matters most.

I adopted three fish yesterday. Did a favour for a friend who is moving away and needed a home for his pets. In giving, I received what I needed most — the gift of memory without regret. The gift of remembering my father as a poem in my heart that flows as sweetly as an Angel fish gliding effortlessly through the waters of life.

Getting out of my head and into my heart

I shovelled my neighbours walk yesterday. Not the older couple to the east whose walk I shovel with joy knowing I’m easing their burden. It was already shoveled by the time I got back from a meeting and got to shoveling mine. And of course, the neighbour on the other side of our house hadn’t shoveled hers. She ‘never’ does. At least not until its piled up and pounded down and icy and is dangerous to everyone passing by.

I didn’t want to shovel hers. My facile mind danced around the thinking about how she ‘never’ does it. Is always the last one on the block. Why should I help her?

Because I’m committed to making a difference. I’m committed to living from my heart, not my head’s judgmental dictates that measures the world in good deed/bad people, doling out reward for those who play by my rules while punishing those who can’t get it right by my standards.

I had to get out of my own way to shovel it. I had to get out of my head and into my heart.

And so I filled my heart with gratitude for the opportunity to be of service and kept my mind out of it. I shoveled and was grateful for the opportunity to be of service to someone who left that morning earlier than I did and wouldn’t be home until much later. It was nice to know she’d be surprised to see a SnowAngel visited while she was gone.

And seriously? It took all of three minutes to do her stretch of sidewalk.

And when I was done, I looked down the avenue to the east and every walk was cleared all the way to the corner. And I looked to the west, and every walk was cleared, all the way to the corner.

And I felt better knowing that whomever walked along our avenue could do so on sidewalks that were cleared of snow and safe to walk on.

I liked the difference that made to my community.

Caring about others

There is something different in the world this morning outside my window. It snowed last night. Nothing I do or say or think will change the weather outside my window. The only changes I can effect are within me.

This consciously ‘making a difference’ everyday and writing about it takes concentration. It takes presence. It takes me being aware of my surroundings, my environment and my inner spaces.

As I am no longer employed and setting up my own consulting practice I am networking with people to let them know who I am, where I’m at and what I’m up to.

It is not my favourite thing to do. Networking. I like to believe it will just, happen. And while the Universe is working for me and with me for success to transpire, it requires my active participation to get engaged, be involved in creating more of what I want in the world. It takes me getting out there.

Yesterday, two such opportunities presented themselves — and all I had to do was turn up. Pay attention. Speak my truth and, the most challenging part, stay unattached to the outcome.

A lunch with a brilliant woman lead to an idea for something big, something creative and inspiring and all the things I want to see in the world. We’re building the framework for taking our idea to the next level. We’re creating the environment for change to happen. More on that later.

A coffee with a man I admire greatly lead to opportunities to make a difference. An invitation to participate in a community based initiative  transitioning people back into community after addictions treatment, an invitation to create opportunities for change in how the sector serves the community, all of these and more have appeared on my horizon. I am grateful and in my gratitude is the commitment to be an agent of change, to be a steward of creating more of what works, and less of what doesn’t in the world.

And as we sat at coffee, making a difference simplified into the singular act of caring for another human being. A woman at the table behind us stood up to leave. As she gathered her belongings I noticed the middle button of her blouse was undone. Her bra was plainly visible. As she passed our table I interrupted my friend’s conversation and gently called out to the woman. “Excuse me”. She stopped, surprised. She wasn’t sure I was speaking to her. Did she know me?

“I just wanted to let you know your button’s undone,” I told her.

She glanced down, saw the two sides of her green blouse gaping open. Quickly she juggled her purse and belongings to do up the button. “Thank you!” she said, a big smile warming her face. The button connected, she left to go out into the world free of unintentional exposure and my friend and I continued our conversation.

There are opportunities to make a difference everywhere, every moment. And each of them, no matter their grandeur requires one simple act, that I begin with caring about others.

Poverty sucks

I saw it in a tweet. An invitation to experience poverty, even if it is only in a simulation online.

I took it. The challenge. I clicked on SPENT, an online simulation of living life in the poverty zone.

Poverty sucks.

There’s no way to win at life, get ahead, to make the ‘ethical’ choice when the decisions you have to make always come back down to — will I have enough money to pay the rent, buy food to feed my children, pay their school fees, pay insurance.

At one point in the game, while driving my children to school, I hit an icy patch and my car slid into a parked car causing damage. I had a choice. Stop. Try to find the owner. Leave a note. Get the kids to school and be late for work. OR. Leave the scene and hope no one saw me. Except my kids of course. They were watching from the back seat. Tracking every move I took. Learning from every decision I made.

Sure, in real life, I wouldn’t drive away. I would be accountable.

But in real life, I have more than $326 left in the bank to take me to the end of the month 20 long days away. I earn more than $9.00 an hour.

In real life, I have resources.

In SPENT, I lasted 11 days before I hit bottom. I wonder what happened to my kids?

What about you? Can you win at poverty?

You can find out for yourself by taking the test, playing the game of poverty called SPENT.

It was part of my making a difference yesterday. To do something to stretch myself out of my comfort zone, to experience something beyond my frame of reference and then to share my experience. Yesterday, after playing SPENT, I tweeted on my experience. Today I’m writing about it. And I’m looking at ways to get involved in reducing poverty in Alberta.

The other part of making a difference was to meet my once a week commitment to not drive my car and not spend money for a day (at least not real money). Ellie, the wonder pooch, had to settle for a walk in the neighbourhood and I spent time focussing on things I needed to do around the house. I did some tasks that have needed doing for quite sometime. I have a sparkling clean office and a stack of packages and cards to mail out.

Taking care of  myself makes a difference in my world. Taking care of tasks that have been lingering around, waiting for me to ‘get to them’, makes a difference in my attitude, my outlook and my energy. And with my attitude all sparkling clean and refreshed today, I’m ready to take on the world outside my window. I’m ready to get busy making a difference.

Expect the Unexpected


He is walking towards us at the park where Ellie, my golden retriever, and I walk. It is quiet. Not many people out on this blustery January afternoon, even though the weather is uncharacteristically warm. I am conscious of Ellie’s tendency to want to greet everyone we pass and so I shorten her leash and hold on tightly.

As I have made a commitment to greet everyone we pass on the trail, I smile as we approach each other and say, “Hello.”

I’m not expecting much of a response. He doesn’t look like he’s in the mood for greetings of the Ellie kind so I am surprised when he stops and says hello back and asks if he can say hello to Ellie who is straining at her leash.

I smile and let her bound over to him. At 11, Ellie doesn’t know she’s a senior citizen. She leans into his legs, squirms and groans and makes noises as if to say, “Oh thank you thank you. No one ever pays attention to little ole’ me.”

Ellie is a con artist.

The man laughs, takes off his gloves and rubs her haunches. Ellie is in heaven.

“She loves people,” I tell him.

“I can tell,” he says and then he bends down and looks her in the face and rubs her ears. He looks up at me. “I used to have a retriever. She wasn’t as big as this one. I had to let her go last July.”  And he rubs Ellie’s head some more.

She has become uncharacteristically quiet, as if she knows exactly what is needed without my having to remind her to calm down. “It was hard. My wife passed away just before that. Been married 48 years. Kids are all moved away.” And he stands up and looks at me and says, “Not many people stop to say hello out here.”

He places one hand on Ellie’s head as if in benediction. “Thank you,” he says before walking away.

And I don’t know if he’s talking to Ellie or me or his pet who is no longer here or his wife who passed away.

And it doesn’t matter. In our encounter I am reminded. Expect the unexpected. There’s always an opportunity to stop and make a difference, even when you least expect it.

Doing the hard

It began with the effortless. Have coffee with a young man, Des, who inspired by my TEDxCalgary talk in November, wanted to chat about volunteering and making a difference. Chatting with Des I felt awed by his commitment to volunteering, and to creating opportunities to raise funds for the charities he supports. And, I came away with a great idea for my daughters and I to make a difference together (more on that at another date!)

Meeting with Des I was reminded — giving is receiving

An hour of my time and one green tea latte later and I came away excited about how powerful we are as human beings to create positive change in the world.

The hard didn’t come until later. A conversation with a cohort lead to confirmation of comments someone else is making that cast a negative light on something I was involved with. I was hurt. Angry. Saddened. Confused. And when I’m confused, my victim’s voice gets active… What’s in it for them to attempt to disparage me? Why do they…? Why can’t they…? In my victim’s place I put my focus on ‘them’ and take it off where it belongs — on what I’m doing, thinking, saying.

I had an option. Let those thoughts eat away at my peace of mind. Let myself become embroiled in, ‘how could they’, ‘well I never’, “wait ’til I get even’ thinking, or breathe deeply and consciously focus my thinking on creating what I want more of in this world — peace, harmony, love, joy.

It wasn’t easy. I wanted to lash out. To stamp my feet and scream about the injustice, not to mention wrongness, of what is being said. But, to do that would undermine my integrity. It would create disharmony  in my world, and thus, send out ripples of discord to the world around me.

And I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to create shockwaves of unease. I want to create ripples of kindness.

And so I did the only thing I knew I could to make a difference within me. I meditated and held this  situation in healing light.

What others do is never about me. What I do is about me. And I cannot do my best when I am focused on what other’s are doing. I can only do my best when I focus on me and accept, my best is good enough.

Fighting fire with fire only engulfs me in the flames. Healing torched ground takes tender loving care and so, I opted to cast light on the darkness, to shed love on the pain. I feel better when I put my energy on creating a world of difference within me. A difference that I intend to let ripple out in waves of kindness as I move through my day.

Making a difference isn’t about what I do. It’s about the choices I make to create a world of difference in and around me. And sometimes, that requires my letting go of the easy and doing ‘the hard’.



Begin with turning up

It was a full house last night at the Joe Dutton Theatre for the live recording of The Eviction of Stuart Block, a radio play written and created by people experiencing homelessness and people who are working to make a difference in the homeless sector. Created by This is My City for this years High Performance Rodeo, The Eviction of Stuart Block tells the storied history of a three storey former rooming house in Calgary’s downtown core that now sits empty, awaiting demolition.

The cast was primarily actors from the homeless shelter where I worked for almost six years until I resigned at the end of 2011. A motley crew of troubadours, actors, writers, misfits, down and outs and up and comers as Col Cseke, co-director of the piece called them in his introduction. And everyone laughed and for the next hour and a half, everyone was enchanted. Seriously enthralled by this motley crew who brought the real life comings and goings, joys and traumas of a rooming house’s slide from inner city influence into skid row dereliction to life on the stage.

It was a moving, touching and compelling evening for me (and everyone there). As Max, one of the actors said to me after the play, “There will always be a bit of you up there on the stage Louise. This would never have come to be without you.”

I was touched by his words. Touched by the grace of this man whom I first met sitting on the second floor of the shelter painting by himself at a table, surrounded by the chaos and hubbub of the busy day area of the shelter. “Why don’t you come up and paint with us on the sixth floor?” I asked him almost everyday for a month after starting the arts program. “It’s much quieter up there and the view is awesome.” (and the view of the Bow River and the valley to the north of the shelter is awesome!) And eventually, Max did come and join the group that met every Thursday evening in the multi-purpose room. And eventually, he opened up to his creative urges to explore more, to give more of himself to not only his art but also to creating music at the shelter and in the community. And in his sharing, songs have been written, a singing group formed and performances shared all over the city.

In May 2006 when I began working at the shelter, I started an arts program which, over the years, evolved into full spectrum arts-oriented programming that encompassed all the arts from visual to theatrical to musical and written/spoken word. Over the years, the Possibilities Project, as it became known, created opportunities for clients, volunteers, staff and the community to connect in ways beyond the traditional “Let me help you” model prevalent throughout the homeless service sector. The Possibilities Project made it possible for people to connect on the common ground of creative expression — no matter the medium, no matter their address.

I had a lot of ‘me’ invested in the Possibilities Project and no longer being involved, I felt the sadness and the pull of separation anxiety when I arrived at the theatre last night. And then I walked in as the DI Singers (the singing group Max continues to sing with that co-director of the play, Onalea Gilbertson started in 2009) began to perform their pre-show concert. The performers waved and smiled when they saw me and I waved and smiled back. I sat in the front row (a place I never sit) and became immersed in their performance.

It was a night of magic and wonder. Of witnessing the human spirit in flight. It was a moment to let go of regret and savour the wonder of what happens when an idea takes wings on the spirit of  human beings celebrating their magnificence.

I was touched by Max’s words to me last night. Touched and awed by the splendor of the people on that stage. And, I was humbled. Years ago I created a space for people to explore their creative yearnings. Today, they are still exploring those yearnings, still expressing their creative impulses and still creating special moments for all of us to witness and experience and enjoy.

As my friend Rachael said after the performance, “You made a difference by turning up tonight, Louise. It was important for everyone on that stage that you be here.”

I am blessed. I didn’t have to ‘do’ anything to make a difference. All I had to do was turn up and be part of the magic.

It’s all any of us have to do. To make a difference begin with turning up. Turn up and let the magic happen.

And here’s a great article by Stephen Hunt in the Calgary Herald about the play. Homeless build show from century-old building. 

How I am in this world

The day started out with ‘easy’.

My friend Dave who needed help getting boxes the day before and then didn’t need help, did need help. Mission accomplished. I drove him to the north end of the city. We picked up boxes and padding and tape and all things packing. I drove him back home and I picked up a bunch of plants.

Giving is receiving.

I gave of my time and Dave gave me some beautiful plants in return.

It was later that the ‘make a difference’ broadened into a global perspective.

Every Wednesday night I join a group for meditation. The purpose is, as Dal our guide calls it, ‘to be of service in the world’. To join our focus with others who are focusing their energy on ‘more of what we want’ in the world. Love. Light. Healing. Peace. Joy.

Sitting in the meditation circle, surrounded by people who were sharing their selves in the encounter, I felt connected to the energy of each of us there, and to the power of each of us to create change in our world.

Through meditation, I let go of my ego’s need to be in control, and fall into that place of surrender where I become One in Love with the world around me. I become who I am in this world where Love overcomes evil, Light illuminates darkness.  Harmony dispels discord. And Joy transcends sorrow.

It is, ultimately, the purpose of this blog. To spend a year consciously focused on being the difference I want to see in the world. Being that difference must begin within me. It must begin with my thinking, my conscious acts that say — I am part of this world. This world is part of me. We are all connected. And what I do, say, think, how I act, how I am in this world makes a difference.



Be Flexible

When I awoke yesterday I didn’t know what the day had in store. It was my first, official, day of ‘not working at the shelter’ that wasn’t ‘holiday time’.

My thought was to make a difference to the environment by not driving my car and not spending any money.

And then, my friend Dave called. “What’s on your agenda today?” I asked him.

“I’ve got to pick up boxes.”  He’s moving to Winnipeg at the end of the month and is in the throes of packing.

“Do you need a ride?” I asked. He lives downtown and has not seen the need for a car in years.

He did and I agreed to pick him up later in the day after I’d finished off a writing piece I’m doing for a company in Vancouver.

I quickly rethought my notion of not driving for the day — helping a friend trumps environmental footprint. Except, he called me back a few hours later to inform me he’d found a website that will deliver the boxes, the next day. No need to drive.

Good thing. Because in the process of going through the mail, I found the notice with the renewal form for my driver’s licence. It had expired on my birthday! Dec 9. I kinda had to go and get it renewed before I drove people around, don’t you think? And I kinda needed my daughter to drive me to the Registry Office to do it (how sweet is that? She gets to make a difference too!) No sense taunting the gods of roadfarers, or the police, driving on an expired licence. For some reason, in my mind, there’s a difference between knowingly driving on an expired licence and accidentally doing so.

No licence meant it was a good day to save the planet. Not a good day to go out and about. And while I would miss dropping in on the rehearsal of a group of clients from the homeless shelter who were preparing for their world-premiere of a radio play they’d written as a collective, which I had also planned on doing, I definitely didn’t need to risk getting a ticket.

Back to Plan A.

Make a difference to the planet today.

Make a difference in someone’s life tomorrow. And even better – go to the dress rehearsal of the play too!

Another lesson learned — when making a difference, be flexible. You never know what life will deliver up.

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