Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The God Who Loves You

A friend sent me this poem today. I found it very powerful.

The God Who Loves You.

It must be troubling for the god who loves you

To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.

It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week --
Three fine houses sold to deserving families --
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,

Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted

Whose ardent opinions on painting and music

Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.

A life thirty points above the life you're living

On any scale of satisfaction.
And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.

You don't want that, a large-souled man like you

Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments

So she can save her empathy for the children.

And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?

It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight Than the conversation you're used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.

Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You're spared by ignorance?

The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him

Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven't written in months.

Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about

With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,

Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.

Carl Dennis

Monday, October 30, 2006

autumn's soul

Does autumn have a soul? I think so. It's a teasing paradoxical soul heaped with both gratitude and scorn, bountiful harvests of plenty and bereft fields littered with discarded misfits. Colourful and muted...................it flirtatiously engages you with its vibrant reds and yellows and then grounds you with it's earthiness of rusty brown.

It has a soulful melancholy lament when the frost-nipped wind is allowed to bellow and moan.........making the trees bend while desparately trying to hold on to their youth.........forcing the brittle bone leaves to rattle and crackle as they tumble along the grey pavement. But it also has a merlot jazzy sound to it as well that accompanies the moody late afternoon light that ripples off the river.

The end of the day. The dying days of the year. Embers and elegies surrounded by a cavalcade of birds swooping down to say goodbye to the once fanciful flowers.

Autumn forces us to remember the battles won and lost.........with poppies and bagpipes and wreaths, with antique uniforms clothing smart elderly men who have autumn in their souls and spring in their hearts and minds. Attentive to the sound of one horn piercing the moment of silence.

Autumn is a serious thought full soul.........of contemplation, protestation and interpretation. Dialogue turns to the big questions as opposed to the frothy light fare of summer. What if? How come? Why? Why?

The late autumn soul is retiring. Looking back...........and looking forward a little bit, and then looking back assessing. Was it bountiful? Did I do everything I had wanted to do? Were all my waking moments filled with living life?

Hoping for another warm day.........just one more warm gift of a day.........before I forget what the summer suns feels like, the soul of autumn turns our attention to mortality.

Think it's time to pour ourselves a brandy.................to warm the soul.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hope Lost and Found

"There is one thing
which gives radiance to everything.
It is the idea of something
around the corner"

G.K. Chesterton

What would we do without hope? There are periods in our lives when hope seems be to tucked away in the dark junk drawer underneath the twist ties, thumb tacks and twine........ sitting amongst the half used packages of birthday candles, picture hooks and unsharpened pencils. If hope is hidden from sight and mind, we can wallow a whole day or week or lifetime away feeling very stuck. Unlike all the other items in a junk drawer that are only used at certain times for certain tasks, hope needs to be placed up on the counter by the windowsill in a brightly coloured open container right beside the essentials. We need hope everyday.

For many reasons, I had forgotten hope needs to be held often in order to thrive.

About a month ago as I was cleaning up the clutter in the kitchen, I forcefully shoved hope into a drawer and then promptly forgot where I had put it. It hadn't been as helpful as I had expected it to be. Hope had let me down and I banished it from sight. There it sat in the drawer beside the sparkle in my eyes and the bounce in my step that normally accompanies the ability to generate the creative idea just around the corner.

Radiance stuck behind a grey cloud. Out of sight, out of mind.

I was angry at hope..........where was it getting me anyways? It seemed deceitful and untrustworthy. I had kept using it along with optimism and all I got was stark reality thrown at me. I was completely stuck.

"Piss off hope. You're no good," I shouted.

However, I quickly realized that I missed it. I missed the impressionistic glow it gave off when I looked at a sunrise. I missed the way it allowed me to look around at my life with gratitude. I missed how hope generated a smiling sense of purpose. Every morning I would wake up thinking that some magical star was going to shine on a new path for me to take.........or at least glimmer over a patch of spring grass. Every morning I would make my way to the kitchen to put the kettle on and to look around for that container of hope. I'd find the kettle, but I couldn't find the hope container. It made me anxious and it even made me cry....... a lot.

Where did I put it, I'd be thinking as I robotically went through the morning motions. Every now and then, I'd catch the slackness and sparkle-free reflection of my face in the mirror. As the days tumbled by, the fear that I had lost hope for good made my heart race.......it gave me shivers of apprehension. Doubts doubled as I tried to maintain my footing. I was stuck, stuck, stuck.

One morning, I awoke early feeling a little more alert again. As I tiptoed down the hall to the kitchen trying not to disturb my family who had been worried that I had lost my hope, I realized that I needed to look at this dilemma from a different perspective. So, I altered my routine. Before I put on the kettle, I stood in a different spot in the kitchen and I looked around. My junk drawer caught my eye. Aha! That pesky hope was in there, overshadowed by my impudence and self-doubt.

In order for it not to slip away again, I quietly snuck over to the drawer and pulled it open gingerly. There it was. Waiting for me to embrace it again. I picked it up and placed it by the windowsill in it's yellow container where it could do it's magic. Then, I made myself a cup of tea, went into the dark living room with the big windows that look out on my river and calmly watched a sunrise that Monet may have painted.

It was radiantly hopeful.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

That Wise Petit Prince.

"Good bye," said the Fox. "And now here is my secret.
It's very simple: it is only with the heart that one can see properly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Tres sage, n'est pas?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Sense of Wonder.

In Anthony de Mello's book, Awareness, he introduced to me the idea that one can't really define God. We do our utmost to put words to our vision of God, to try to draw a picture but we will always fall short of capturing God's essence. The journey to understand, to see, to feel and then to realize that His essence is indefinable is a lifelong pursuit. It is indefinable, but all around us. When we have these moments of realization we are struck by a sense of wonder......by an overwhelming sense of humility.

I have to admit, I didn't quite get it until now. A year later, the light bulb went on. What I hadn't connected was how his message tied in with a sense of humility. Why? Because I had the wrong definition in my head of what humble means with respect to the Bible. Until recently, the idea of being humble wasn't something I wanted to aspire to. According to the dictionary, the definition of humble contains words like submissive, passive, non-assertive, absence of pride. To me that just completely went against all the lessons I had been taught and all the lessons I have been teaching to my children and to my clients.

Words and actions like: Express yourself! Assert yourself! Be kind and show some modesty, but be proud of your work and offer genuine accolades to your peers so that they can feel pride too. We are all equal! So, why strive to be humble?

Thank God learning is lifelong............as is our pursuit of spirituality.

Humble in the eyes of God. Humble in our realization that we are just tiny beings in a larger universe. Humble that we need help, that we need His guidance. Humbled when we feel a moment in our lives that is way bigger than us. I think I get it now.

When do these moments occur? Often we feel them when we are confronted by nature's vistas that take our breath away. Sometimes, it happens when we are in the presence of a newborn. Sometimes, it occurs when we have hit rock bottom and we are struggling with despair. Sometimes it manifests when you are surrounded by others in a church or another kind of gathering and you realize that you're one small voice added to many and that your own presence belongs. Humility comes in many colours.

When I think of the most profound times in my life when I felt humbled, I automatically return to the moment my children were born into this world. No words can really capture it completely because it is as illusive as God's essence. It was humbling, exhilarating, daunting, joyful, but more than anything it was a moment when both my husband and I felt a connection to each other so deeply, because the connection was wrapped in the awe of something bigger than just the two of us............

Yesterday, Harbour wrote his thoughts on the Divine Voice which provoked my own thinking on the sense of wonder that precipitates the feeling of humility. In it he writes: "When there are tears, laughter alongside ritual and prayer and singing then we will know that Jesus is once more in the world." Automatically, two memories of when all of those things occured, came to mind. Neither were in a church. Rather, they were both chapel services..........one in a boardroom of a hotel last spring while attending a reunion and one in the middle of a forest.

Last year, I wrote this poem to try to capture the chapel in the forest that had taken place many years ago. I used to organize the chapels at the summer camp I attended as a child and teenager. One Sunday, we decided to take the whole camp into the woods to sit within the cathedral of trees. It was a gloomy morning and I was worried that the impending rain was going to ruin the opportunity. However, the rain held off and as we all marched quietly into the forest, the clouds gave way to sun, which filtered through the trees to shine down on us. I have shared this poem with my camp kindreds and was amazed that some of them remembered this particular chapel as well...........................it was truly a moment when singing and prayer and laughter and sadness and ritual culminated............when there was a collective sense of wonder and a feeling of being humbled by the essence of God.

We can spend our days searching too deeply for it...............sometimes you just have to let it find you................

Green and Light

We walk through the autumn leaves of splendour
Reminiscing of our youthful past summers
Of green and light and a sense of wonder.
We talk quietly about the look and feel of goodness
Sharing a silence filled with harmonious assurance
That life is good
Life is good.

Sometimes lost in the spinning world
Alone in the struggle, lost in the crowd
Looking for miraculous answers, strength of conviction
Far away from nature's cathedral of splintering light, filtering rays.
Silently remiss of green and light and a sense of wonder.
Wondering, hoping that life is good.
Life is good.

A moment flickers a quiet breath
Catpuring a thought amidst life's pace
A picture frozen in time, seen through a rosy lens
Of nature's splendid colourful grace
Producing a smile, remembering the goodness
of green and light and a sense of wonder
That life is good.
Life is good.

Shadows lengthen as dark envelops the day
Red sunsets dismissed, stars glimmer so far away
Separate lives drifting, floating yet still aligned
While thoughts close in like thunder
Loudly harking, filling with light
Of green and a sense of wonder
That life is good.
Life is good.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

In Search of Forgiveness.

What are the seeds of forgiveness?
Empathy, compassion, understanding, trust, and believing all come to mind. From that grows hope, and a sense of connecting with humanity.
Forgiveness cuts the cords to the oppressive burden of guilt roll away
Leaving a lovely scent of violets?

Sharon is a 20 something single mom of an eight year old little boy. She is an exuberant, gifted young woman who is fully bilingual, has many marketable skills, excellent interpersonal talents and has a strong presence. I was drawn to her the first time she walked into my office a couple of years ago, seemingly full of confidence with a strong streak of independence. That persona dropped quickly as she openly shared her story.

There is always a story. Someone doesn't end up at the end of the road trying to live on social assistance without a story.

Despite her many talents, Sharon had little hope at the time of finding employment. Why? She had stolen money from her employer and was being charged with theft. In the fall of 2003, her partner had left her holding a big bag of financial debt, with the sole responsibility of caring for their son. Her crisis continued to escalate. Rent was too steep for her to manage on her own, and she was getting behind on her bills. Instead of reaching out to her family, she tried to deal with her situation on her own. Pride and denial drove her deeper into a financial quagmire until one day she received a last notice from the Hydro company stating that her power was to be turned off within a week unless her bill was paid in full.

What to do?

There was a money float of petty cash in the large office where she worked in as an administrative receptionist. She decided to "borrow" the money to pay the bill, with the intentions of repaying it before anyone noticed it missing.

More bills came in. More threats from companies. More pressure to manage her life and look after her son piled on her. Suffocating from the stress, and very tired from lack of sleep, Sharon. admitted that she was not thinking straight at all when she decided to "borrow" more money. All the while, she kept her head in the sand, not admitting to herself that what she was doing was illegal. 3 months later just before Christmas, reality slammed into her. She was in way over her head and had no means to pay the money back. Finally, she turned to her mother and her aunt and told them the story. Undoubtedly they were taken aback by it all, but quickly arranged to support her by loaning her the money to pay the office back in full.

Sharon's story rivetted me............this vulnerable individual doing the best she could in the situation she found herself in. Sure, her choices were wrong......... but what would I do if I found myself in her shoes?

The next day, Sharon went straight into her Manager's office and confessed. She explained to her that she would have the money back in full by the end of the week. Her Manager was shocked, mostly because Sharon doesn't "fit" the picture one has of a thief (whatever that looks like), but informed Sharon that she would have to report the incident to her superior. Expecting this response, she wrote a long letter to the CEO explaining the circumstances, describing how badly she felt about it, and that she had full intentions of paying it back. She thought that given her unblemished track record up until then, the fact that she got along with everyone, that she worked hard etc, that they would reconsider pursuing the matter with the local authorities. Unfortunately, when management did an accounting of all petty cash withdrawals etc, they found that 3 times as much money had been siphoned off than Sharon was admitting to. They didn't believe her when she told them she didn't take that amount. Very quickly they contacted the police and pressed charges.

I listened to her story and was perplexed for many reasons , but mostly because I knew that if I had been in the same situation, I may have done the same thing. She was no different than me. In fact, we had clicked because we shared similar personality qualities. Given that she really had nothing to lose by telling me her version of the events, and she seemed gracious and full of remorse, I intuitively believed her. We talked at length about her fears of the impending court hearing, and the reality that she was now living on a small fixed income with no possibility of working for a while until she knew where things were headed. It was grim.

Our conversation then shifted gears as I offered her some hope by arranging for her to meet with a Career Counsellor to explore the possibility of going to university. We talked about her dream of obtaining her degree. It was exactly what I had envisioned for her while we talked and I shared that with her. This bonded our interaction even more. I encouraged her to take the opportunity to focus on her future dreams after the nightmare and penance were over. Then, I gave her the name of her Case Manager, gave her a hug and wished her well.

2 months went by. We didn't meet again, but I kept up to date on her situation by the the front page article of her court case in the local paper. She was not going to jail. Instead, she received 6 months in-house arrest, and 6 months probation after that. I called her at home that day to see how she was. Relieved but still shaking and upset she was ready to serve her time. I told her that I was thinking about her and let her know that she could call me anytime. I never heard from her directly throughout her house arrest period, but knew through the grapevine, that she had enrolled at University September 2004, amazingly starting while still under house arrest and managed to successfully complete her first year.

This time last year, a colleague happened to mention that her morning appointment to apply for a childcare subsidy had cancelled because she had withdrawn from university. Because I'm nosey..............I asked who it was. It was Sharon. This colleague was new and had no idea that I would have had any previous contact with Sharon. It seemed like a fluke, but as soon as I heard Sharon's name, I knew that I had to act. I wanted to act. I called her promptly to invite her in to talk. Her response was one of surprise and gratitude that I had remembered her and that I cared.

Sharon arrived back to my office days later armed with two coffees and a hungry eagerness to talk. In-house arrest was very tough. But, she did it and learned from the experience. She spoke of the incessant need to be self-directed and disciplined during the circumstances. She spoke of the loss of dignity and respect, the feeling of always being monitored, the bottomless sense of freedom she felt when it was over, her relationship with her Probation Officer and how she is still in touch with them (that's a first, I'm sure). Most importantly, she described the impact that the whole awful episode had on her son. He had taken the brunt of the emotional turmoil and was acting it out in school, on the playground, and at home. Sharon felt that she had to withdraw from school, find employment and be present for her son. He needed her, and she needed to have regular work hours to offer him a more secure and predictable home life.

Throughout the conversation, Sharon sprinkled it with comments about forgiveness; finding forgiveness, forgiving herself, believing others have forgiven her, searching for a sense of calm that forgiveness provides. Ridding the guilt. She hadn't found it yet. In fact, she had experienced the freeze out by a potential employer that had initially sought her out and was on the verge of offering her a very good job opportunity. But when Sharon openly told them her whole story, the door was slammed shut. And it hurt. She was stung.

So, she continued to to search for the grace to forgive herself and move on, still hopeful that someone out there would give her a chance at redemption. She also continued to touch base with me, which I encouraged because I really liked her. I really wanted her to succeed. Most importantly, she had taught me a huge lesson in honest integrity and in owning up to mistakes. I wanted to see if she would be able to move on and forgive herself and not be like so many who remain stuck flogging their own foibles.

It didn't take as long as either one of us thought. Sharon had arrived at a fundraising Christmas Bazaar I had organized for my son's school last November to volunteer to run an activity for me. She had offered as a way to support me, and I had gratefully accepted. After the event was over, we met up outside when she told me that she was going to be starting a new job at the beginning of the week..... She had been completely honest with her employer during the interview. It was her honesty that landed her the job.

Sharon continues to work. Her son is doing well. She has a new man in her life. She has moved on as an active and successful member of our community.........with hopes of returning to University one day soon. She wants to be a lawyer. :)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When I Least Expect it.

It is felt most profoundly when I'm least expecting it.

I may be going through the motions of meeting with someone whom I have already judged based on the information I have read about on their history with other frontline workers or colleague heresay, or I have already summed them up in a dismissive manner, possibly even written off the chance that I could make an impact in such a short meeting. I have let my biases show..........or I am pre-occupied with other matters that for some reason seem more important.

Then, the person walks into my office..........
Sometimes I notice in their eyes too that they have already made a judgement on this obligatory appointment with me...............they feel forced to be attending because they may have been told that our meeting is somehow tied to their monthly cheque.

Our appearances, our ages, our gender, our background, and our personal experiences may be drastically different. All of these things could easily hinder any connection

Going through the motions............keeping our heads down.........eyes closed........judgement already made...............

If you keep your eyes closed, you can avoid seeing the situation.

But what happens when you open your eyes, and ears? What happens when you go from hearing to listening?

The other person begins to trust. It allows for a portal to emerge.

What happens when another person starts speaking from their heart, with honesty? What happens when they begin to tell you their story that includes sins, wrong choices, and the desire for redemption? A tinge of guilt, and a tinge of owning the wrongdoing......

Your prejugemental thinking turns into feeling.
Feeling turns into an open heart, receptive to the story. You begin to see vulnerabilities. You begin to appreciate their heartfelt request to be accepted again as a person who has foibles who can make mistakes. A tinge of guilt, and a tinge of owning the wrongdoing of judging.......

You are struck by the thoughts............I can see why this happened to him. I can sympathize with his situation. ...I am no better than he. It could easily be me on the other side of the desk feeling that pain of worthlessness.

I begin to hear the desire for forgiveness.....the need to be validated.

The lesson of mercy is in full flight.............
brought to you by the awareness of a moment of grace,
passed onto you by His light...............

Merciful moments allow you to be the vessel for passing on God's forgiveness.

My thoughts this Sunday evening................

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Please Don't Feed the Monkeys

Our pals in Parliament are at it again, wasting taxpayers dollars, time and patience while throwing mindless barbs at one another. Nothing seems to change in the land of politics. It doesn't seem to matter who is running the country and who is in opposition. It's the same old "Question Period" antics of who can throw out the goofiest rebuttal comment, or who can toss the missile banana to the monkey on the other side of the floor. Then, all of a sudden the accusational fur starts flying and anything worth debating or making a decision on gets tossed aside like yesterdays lunch and the voting public has to endure the media circus lapping it up.........

The latest brouhaha comes from the mouth of the one and only Mr. Peter McKay who, as anyone in this country would know if you have had the radio on, or watched the national news, or picked up a paper or scanned the internet news blew it again. Our Minister of External Affairs, known for his previous throwaway dig to the Leader of the NDP party, Alexa McDonaugh when he told her to return to her knitting (and then had the gall to apologize with the appendum that it was not meant to be a slight, and that it was a Martime expression.............. ah............ not......... never heard it before Mr. Peter Pumpkin eater) faux pas'd again. This time however, he slighted the Ultimate Puck Bunny, the Princess of Auto Parts and his old flame who dumped him for another political party and a dumbass hockey player...............

Peter......... you fed the monkeys. Can you hear the cacophonous screeching you've created?
Didn't you know that monkeys are really sharks in monkey Halloween costumes? The monkey sharks now smell blood because of your throw away comment inferring that Belinda was a dog. She's a Puck Bunny, Peter. Get it right.

The most predominant political monkey talent is connecting the dots..............the banana tossed to them this week allowed the chimps to have the fodder to generate nasty discourse on the budget cuts on the Status of Women office.....an extinct dinosaur if there ever was one.

Now, I consider myself a strong feminist from a family of feminists. But the Office of the Status of Women have never represented my views. In fact, I can't think of one concrete action they have performed in years! Millions of dollars have been poured into basically a lobby group that is perched up in some ivory tower far away from the feminist masses who are out there working their asses off, while they complain to the clouds. My opinion aside, however, the Status of Women is a ticking little icon bomb..........that the opposition will use in guerilla question period warfare. As will the media. It sells papers. How easy is it to drum up a headline that screams:
"Conservatives Hate Women.........Here's Proof?"

Peter, you have fed the monkeys. Not only that, you have exposed your personal open wound. They now know where to stick the preverbial knitting needle......right in your eye, "boys oh boys."

Here's connect the dot#2

Women voters, according to the most recent polls are stating that the Conservative government is not looking out for their best interests. Now, whether or not this is true is a moot point when we all know that 99% of the political game is perception. 1% is reality. The hungry orangutans, with the Puck Bunny in the lead as the Women's issues representative for the Liberal party (insert gag reflex here) expressing her disgust, demanding an apology for being compared to a dog. Though she wasn't present during Question Period when the inference occured, word got to her royal highness and she made the best of it....................the Conservatives don't represent women. They don't get women.

Peter...................bon chance in the dating scene...................... what woman would want to face the potential headlines...........

"A New Dog for McKay.........Is she a Bitch Too?"

Here's connect the dot #3

This time last year, this Conservative government was in the opposition stables looking for banana missiles. And they found them.........and they used them in the last election. All of a sudden, they are running the country, with a minority win. From the moment the Harper became PM, he has been running things like he has a majority of seats. Initially this was a good tactic because there wasn't a soul in this country who wanted another election. He could get away with it, and used the opportunity to make some necessary changes to legislation, and to the priorities of the government, the most predominant was accountability. He was doing what he said he was going to do. However, one of the biggest challenges Harper faced was to keep a lid on the right wing yahoos out there who managed to win seats. Unfortunately, he has tried to control information sharing and communications with the media and the public. How ironic that the one he probably doesn't worry, Mr. Red Tory McKay, is the biggest gaffer. The perception? The Tories have secrets.........they can't be relied upon..........and when they speak they blurt out bananas......

Here's a thought for our fine furry friends in Ottawa to contemplate............

Bernard Lord's government in New Brunswick won the popular vote, but lost the power. It was a small shift in voter opinion that led to this.........2 seats. Harper needs to pay attention to what happened in New Brunswick. It will easily occur in the next federal election if this party doesn't smarten the hell up.

Harper needs to rethink his communication plans. Harper needs to alter the perception that the voting public has for his government. And, Harper needs to put a muzzle on McKay and make him sit in the naughty chair............without a portfolio........and without a photo op in some farmer's field licking his wounds.

10 Little Monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his head. Momma called the doctor and the doctor said.................No more monkeys jumping on the bed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What do you hear?

"Every word, every image used for God is a distortion more than a description."

"Then how does one speak of God?"

"Through silence."
"Why then do you speak in words?"

At that, the Master laughed uproariously. He said,
"When I speak you mustn't listen to the words my dear. Listen to the silence"

Anthony de Mello

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reflections on Counselling

The role of a counsellor varies depending on the connection made between the two individuals. Many variables have to align before there is a flowing openness.......a movement in the conversation that evolves from polite safe topics to the client's story and eventually to the identified issue. The key to this happening always starts with a connection built on trust and respect. Often it doesn't happen if one of the two aren't alert to the process or have decided to remain cognitively and emotionally asleep, fearful of personal awareness.

If a strong connection does occur, the chemistry and the client's prospect of establishing a sense of self-recognition, altering of perceptions, and making decisions to forgive and move forward are limitless. By assuming the role of a guiding agent of change, the counsellor can experience a sense of personal fulfillment knowing that they have witnessed an amazing transformation. Whenever this occurs the counsellor and the client part with a strong bond, new perspectives and the knowledge that they have shared an emotionally charged intimate moment unique to the relationship.

The roots for all effective counsellors must be embedded in a genuine desire to help and an interest in communicating at a deeper level with others. Often taking on the role of "private eye", they must also have a strong foundation in critical analysis, puzzle solving, quick intuitiveness and of course curiosity. Counsellors are inherently nosey. The fertilizer around the roots is enriched with empathy, authenticity, thoughtfulness, and respect. Using attentiveness and light, the client has the potential to stretch,and to develop in strength and personal veracity.

Learning is ongoing......................

The counsellor is a leader, confident in providing the light and the path for a lost individual. Sometimes, the path is a dark unknown to both parties. Still, the counsellor must be able to project a sense of safety and trust to maintain a conviction that will allow the process to be fruitful and to judge the timeliness of the "aha" moments for the client.

Paradoxes need to be confronted daily in the life of a counsellor, and these stem from the very reason he/she has chosen this field in the first place. One has to have the ability to care and to show concern, to be receptive to whatever issue has been thrown out for resolution, and the ability to accept deeply felt and expressed feelings from others. These qualities can ultimately leave a person open for taking on another's problems and trying to solve them. On one hand, the counsellor must continue to be receptive. On the other hand, he/she must take all precautions to protect themselves from becoming a "saturated sponge" full of other's issues. The counsellor must keep a distance, maintain objectivity while also feeling for the person in conflict.

Balance is key.

Sometimes, it isn't possible..........the story is too piercing and you lose your balance. The counsellor finds his/herself in a quandry, wrestling with issues that he/she don't logically own, but have somehow managed to get under their skin. It's important to be able to recognize when this occurs and learn ways to let go of it or it will ultimately affect their life outside of the counselling environment and eventually cause burn out. This takes experience and an understanding that selfishness is a necessity in this field. It also means that a one needs to take time to go back to their own roots and re-evaluate just why they chose this career path in the first place.

Frederick Buechner stated that we need to "pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death." I couldn't have said it any better.........and it is something I emphasize in any of the workshops I run for frontline staff......

So, where does one go to reflect..........to pay mind to your own life?

To your own inner garden. The answers all lie within their own cultivated and ever changing garden, full of light and shadows.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Spiraling Angie

Angie was a young mom when I met her in 1989. Fueled with energy, she burst into my Life Skills class with her long flowing strawberry blonde hair, blue smiling eyes and sunshine determination to pull herself out of a life of struggling poverty.

A natural leader, her optimistic outlook permeated throughout the group. They absorbed her infectious laugh, her drive to learn about solving situations effectively, about becoming more assertive, confident and in charge of their own lives. Angie had goals……….not lofty ones…………realistic goals that would allow her to pull herself out of the poverty that she had grown up accustomed to. This young single mom with a baby in tow was on her way. That’s how I felt when we met on the last day of class. Within a few months, Angie was off Social Assistance………the first one in her family. She had found a temporary job with the local power company and the possibility of moving into something more permanent with benefits.

Every now and then I would bump into her at the store or downtown on her way to work. She was tired just like the rest of us trying to juggle work and home responsibilities, but her glowing smile told me that her confidence was still intact and her juggling act was working. Angie always asked about the other women who were in the class with her………how they were making out. She always talked about how much the life skills course changed her life. Like many Maritimers, she always called me dear.

Word found me when Angie became pregnant with her second child. She worked up until the due date, still in a temporary position and was able to collect Maternity Benefits after her daughter was born. But, there wasn’t a job to return to. Still, she was in love with a guy who seemed to have work opportunities, though seasonal labour work and she was being cared for. Turns out, this knight in shining armour was unreliable. Just like her own father.

The cycle began again……………………

With two young ones in tow, Angie ploughed ahead. She managed to find a cleaning job which she didn’t mind. Her own mother was able to care for her kids at night. Angie continued to juggle her responsibilities while she scraped together the money to pay the rent and bills. Every now and then, her “husband” would show up for a while and the family would get back on track as a whole. Constantly behind in their bills, constantly trying to make the relationship work, life started unraveling when Angie’s eldest son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. He was a handful, and with no real help, Angie didn’t know how to deal with his erratically busy behaviour.

One more pebble on a pile of pebbles to carry……….her burden worsened when she found herself pregnant again. In her heart, she thought maybe another baby would help her marriage……would force her husband to be responsible and accountable.

I don’t know when she gave up. I think it was after the birth of her third child. Angie didn’t have the energy to look after her home, provide for her children, discipline and teach them on top of working. She lost her job and applied for Social Assistance again. Her husband every now and then would show up with some money from a job where he was paid under the table for. He also introduced Angie to the drugs...............a quick hit prescription to keep depression at bay.... an escape hatch that guaranteed freedom from thinking..........

I only learned of this part of her life when I received a phone call out of the blue a couple of years ago. We hadn’t spoken for 5 or six years. When I answered the phone and heard her voice, however, I knew who is was……….despite the sound of surrender………………. Angie wanted me to meet with she and her eldest son, who was failing out of Grade 9. She couldn’t do anything with him and thought maybe I would be able to help her out. Of course I would try……….and arrange for a Youth Intervention Worker to follow up with him in the school system.

Angie arrived in my office looking worn. Her shine was gone. The sunshine determination had been worn right out of her. It was obvious to me that she was sitting in my office high on some kind of medication, but I focused on her son to find out where his head was at and what made him tick.........so that I could link him to a mentor....... a "Big Brother" of some kind who could give this kid the direction and structure he obviously thirsted for. Our meeting lasted most of the afternoon. Not a lot of hope, but a feeling that maybe the burden Angie was feeling could be lifted a wee bit so that she could possibly focus on finding her path again. Her son would get some direction.
Yesterday as I was coming out of my old office building, Angie was struggling up the stairs. I barely recognized her. Not a speck of shine is left in her long strawberry blonde hair that now is streaked with grey. Her clothes were filthy, as were her fingernails. When she smiled to greet me, I almost cried. Her teeth were all gone except one. Her face was marked with open sores.
Her voice was the same, as she greeted me with the familiar........ "Hi Dear......" What was missing her spark.
There was no spark in her voice............
Angie's son is now 17. Her daughter is 15. Both have quit school. Her youngest? He is living in a foster home because this family fell apart. Angie has struggled with drug addiction. Dilaudid is her drug choice, which is easy to purchase when one can approach many a physician in this province for a prescription. Her knight in shining armour is in jail......sentenced for two years......assault, theft and cocaine possession. Angie just started on the Methadone program three days ago. She's hopeful, she says.............she wants to be well again.
My heart tells me that it's not going to happen. She is a shell of herself at the ripe old age of 38. Tired, worn, unhealthy, and unable to pull it together........
What happened here? So many interventions............. so many good people involved in trying to help this family ........... and yet .............what the hell happened here?

The Scarlet Tide

When I recall his parting words
Must I accept his fate
Or take myself far from this place
I thought I heard a black bell toll
A little bird did sing
Man has no choice
When he wants every thing

We'll rise above the scarlet tide
That trickles down through the mountain
And separates the widow from the bride

Man goes beyond his own decision
Gets caught up in the mechanism
Of swindlers who act like kings
And brokers who break everything
The dark of night was swiftly fading
Close to the dawn of day
Why would I want him just to lose him again

We'll rise above the scarlet tide
That trickles down through the mountain
And separates the widow from the bride

Alison Kraus.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday on Springhill Road

Caregiving winds have changed their tune
to whistling brisk notes
like slapping cold water on my face the morning after
like piercing needles stinging my sweatered skin
blanketing the sound of crunching gravel under my well travelled shoes.

Over the crest of Springhill, the winds kick up a noisy fuss.
I walk on, in search of inspiration
I walk on with determination
to seek the shining steeples
in the distance
across the river
where faith lives.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I'm a sucker for the sound of the harmonica. Though I did get over my teenage love of Peter Frampton and his wailing sound, there are a few songs where the magic of the harmonica fills part of my soul with wanderlust and faraway eyes.

Tonight, as I was driving home from the grocery store feeling whacked out Friday tired, I was listening to a compliation CD that my husband made for me for Mother's Day. Right when I needed a bit of an energy boost, the eerily sweet sound of the harmonica began emanating from the speakers.........Springsteen.

Before I knew it, I became more alert..........more aware of the late afternoon sun hitting the bright yellow and orange leaves still holding onto the branches. Before I knew it, I caught sight of the glistening river and how the low water level exposed the sand around the little islands in the middle of the river where the cows spend their summers grazing. Before I knew it I was turning onto my street happily singing, glad it was Friday.

I can't imagine living a life without a musical soundtrack to enhance every moment. And depending on the event........or the moment, one needs to find the right tunes. Sometimes, the right tunes find you, just when you need them to. It got me thinking about songs I relate to daytime driving, especially when I find myself heading somewhere on a highway and what my top 10 would be.

In no particular order........................ I present to you................ the songs I love to sing along to..................

1. You Can't Always Get What You Want, Rolling Stones
2. When God Shines His Light On Me, Van Morrison

3. Multiply, Jamie Lidell

4. Under a Stormy Sky, Daniel Lanois

5. (I Would Walk) 500 Miles, The Proclaimers

6. When the Night Feels My Song, Bedouin SoundClash
7. All the Way Home, Bruce Springsteen

8. Follow Her Around, Jimmy Rankin
9. Northwest Passage, Stan Rogers

10. River of Dreams, Billy Joel

11. Waitress in the Sky, The Replacements ( I can't count)
12. Drive South, John Hyatt

Those are very different than the songs I prefer to listen to driving at night or early morning. Then, I usually like to listen to a CD from beginning to end..........but there are also songs that come to mind that stand alone........here's a combination.........of oldies......each of them I can tie them to specific moments quietly driving with my husband who is normally behind the wheel and the kids sound asleep in the back.

1. Jersey Girl, Tom Waits
2. Soundtrack from Cal, Mark Knopfler
3. Summer Highland Falls, Billy Joel
4. Come Away With Me, Norah Jones

5. Song for a Winter's Night, Gordon Lightfoot

6. Jesus Was an Only Son, Bruce Springsteen

7. Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison
8. Fire and Rain, James Taylor

9. The Coldest Night of the Year, Bruce Cockburn

10. Harvest Moon, Neil Young

The last one I'll mention fits in a category on it's own. It was the first song I danced to with my husband even before we started dating and the first song we chose to dance to on our wedding night.

Irish Heartbeat, Van Morrison

Oh won't you stay

Stay a while with your own ones

Don't ever stray

Stray so far from your own ones

'cause the world is so cold
Dont care nothing for your soul

That you share
with your own ones

Don't rush away
Rush away from your own ones
Just one more day

One more day with your own ones

'cause the world is so cold

Don't care nothing bout your soul

That you share
with your own ones

There's a stranger
And he's standing at your door
Might be your best friend,
might be your brother

You may never know

I'm going back
Going back to my own ones

Come back to talk

Talk a while
with my own ones

'cause the world is so cold
Don't care nothing
'bout your soul

You share
with your own ones

Oh won't you stay

One more day
with your own ones

Don't rush away

Rush away
from your own ones

This old world is so cold,

Don't care nothing for your soul
You share with your own ones

Just reading the lyrics, I can hear the tune and remember the moment almost 19 years ago........... I think I was floating.........

Yes, music to fit the moment.......it finds you at just the right moment. Will someone please cue the harmonica.........

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Burkas arent Bulletproof.

Late last month, this woman in her 60's............a grandmother who with quiet strength continued to maintain an underground school for girls in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule............was assasinated. Safia Ama Jan was gunned down by the Taliban, on her way to work. She was the Provincial Director for the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar.

Her loss needs to be recognized beyond the borders of her own country.

Right after the invasion of Afghanistan took place, the news indicated that women were no longer imprisoned in their own homes. Girls were able to once again attend school without fear of punishment. Job opportunities opened up......veils were being lifted.

That was then. This is now: “The situation of women remains dramatic and severe violence against them all-pervasive,’’ Yakin Erturk, the United Nations special envoy for violence against women, reported in February. “Reports of kidnappings and rape of women by militia and warlords continue to be widespread to the present day, including cases of executions by local councils. Thus, the rule of power rather than the rule of law continues to be the norm in Afghanistan.’’

Our role in fighting the Taliban, in freeing the women and girls in Afghanistan must continue. We owe that to Safia Ama Jan. We owe it to the others who must live in fear behind their burkas that our troops remain where they are.

Burkas are not bulletproof. Behind every burka clad woman in Afghanistan is a female who lives in fear. Behind every burka is a smile waiting to be seen. As far as I'm concerned the burka only represents imprisoned moving targets.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One Flickering Light

Candles have a way of warming up the ambience of a room. Just a couple of flickering candles glowing on a mantlepiece make a room feel so much more inviting. Though I sometimes light them in the summer on the back deck, my real urge to light candles doesn't seem to appear until the fall. Maybe because it starts getting darker earlier. Maybe it's because it's colder outside at night and somehow they make a difference.

Amazing too that only one simple flickering light can make a difference.

At the camp I worked at as a camp counsellor when I was young, there was a tradition that was followed every "last night" of camp. After the big banquet dinner, all the camper groups and their counsellors would congregate on the beach to share a letter that each group had written while sitting surrounding a blazing campfire. As we arrived, we were given an unlit plain white candle with a piece of tinfoil wrapped around the bottom of it. We would circle the beach area with the little ones sitting up front and the older campers closing in behind them. Then, one group after another would have a chance to read their letter to all.

The letters varied............humourous, lyrical, serious, but always heartfelt and hopeful..........kids describing the special times that they had shared living together away from home, away from family. In between the readings, the whole camp would sing familiar campfire songs for the last time. And as we shared our stories and many laughs, the blazing fire would begin to die down. The sun would begin to disappear. The evening became solemn.

Once the letters were finished being read, Skip the Camp Director would collect them all. He'd then roll them up in a tube and place them in a plastic container to be buried, only to be dug up the following year to be read aloud during the first night of camp. By the time this ritual was completed, all that would be left of the campfire would be silent embers.....enough though to light a candle.

Skip would then take his candle, bend down to the embers while talking about how one little light can make the whole difference. He would light his candle, and then turn to his wife "Nish" to help light hers. From there, they would pass their light onto the counsellors. The counsellors would turn to light their campers candles. Before you knew it, the cold darkness was gone.

If I close my eyes right now and picture the scene from my memory.......I see glowing faces of the kids quietly watching their own candle flicker from the breeze, in awe of being a part of such a simple yet powerful lesson on sharing. And in the background, the older kids would quietly start singing one more song as they huddled together, holding their candlelight, feeling the warmth of many summers of friendship.
The song ends as soft humming continues. Each group files past the firepit to throw their candle onto the embers. Quietly campers and counsellors head back to their tents for a last night together...............a quick turning glance at the glowing resurrected flames.

One flickering light shared.

Flickering hope

Flickering happiness

Flickering goodness.

One flickering light spreads companionship.

The warmth of the candle needs to be shared.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Go and do Likewise"

After reading one of Henri Nouwen's books where he promotes choosing a prayer you can incorporate into your daily life by repeating the words openly and to yourself, I have also been trying to make a concerted effort to read the daily scripture housed on a website that I found. Yesterday's message is from the Good Samaritan parable. It's one of my favourites and it's one that resonates with me.

Go and do likewise..........................

It's the story that broadens our way of looking at who our "neighbour" is. Suffering occurs all around us...........we are responsible for those who suffer. As God reaches out to us, we must be cognizant of reaching out to others as well. We can only do that if we remain openly receptive to seeing those in need. Gotta have your eyes and ears open.

Awareness.............Go and do likewise................

The fascinating aspect of helping others is that it is always a lesson in humility. Our problems melt away ........ diminish .......... when our focus is on our neighbour. It's so easy to keep our head in the sand, to twiddle our thumbs perseverating over our own woes, or to let judgemental opinions of someone elses situation stop us in our tracks. The problem is that by avoiding our role as a good neighbour, we may have missed out on an opportunity to experience a moment of intimate grace. An encounter with God.
No one is better than anyone else. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Everyone is a neighbour.

Go and do likewise....................

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"”
Martin Luther King

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Courting Bravado

Last night I stepped outside away from the chatter of friends and into the silence of the clear country air.

The moon, a day past full was suspended just above the pine treetops wrapped in wispy comforting clouds while it illuminated an indigo sky.

Impressive in it's swagger.

It's rays filtered down projecting my shadow.

My tiny human shadow.

Wow I thought, such strength shining up there alone.

I felt humbled. I felt exposed by it's presense.

Crowsfeet crevices that harbour secret wishes exposed by nature's spotlight.

I looked for the stars, but they seemed diminshed........unable to compete with the munificence of the broadfaced bold moon.

Where did the stars disappear to?

We know better. Stars don't diminish.

I turned my back on the moon and looked up to the sky again.

A million team of stars winked back at me from a galaxy that allows a moon courting bravado to think it's the big cheese every once in a while.

That's the secret...............................

Saturday, October 07, 2006


"In this crazy world,
there is an enormous distinction between good and bad,
between sorrow and joy.
But, in the eyes of God, they're never separated.
Where there is pain, there is healing.
Where there is mourning, there is dancing.
Where there is poverty, there is kingdom."
Henri Nouwen.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Warm and Delicious

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't enjoy a cup of tea.

In fact, if you were to pop into my office, or walk into my home........if you were to find me hopping into the car for a drive longer than to the grocery store, you would see that my left hand would be sporting a mug of tea. On the sidelines watching my son or daughter play ball...........tea. At a meeting discussing whatever one discusses at meetings that are so important..........sipping tea. Blogging? Yeah, it's here in front of me half consumed already.

Write a sentence, take a sip. Write a sentence, take a sip. Feel the warmth. Feel the comfort. I am definately more in tune when tea is close by.

It was my Mabel, my grandmother who weaned me on the stuff. She always made sure that when I was visiting or staying overnight when I was little that my tiny china cup was filled with the sugary warmth of a good cup of tea just like hers. Whenever she would visit my house when I was growing up, which was very regularly the first thing she would ask my mom............"Andrea, can make me a cup of tea please." It's like she couldn't fully relax until a strong cup of orange pekoe was placed beside her. It's funny how often I think of her when I put the kettle on and smile knowing that I too can't relax until a strong cup of orange pekoe is placed right beside me.

It's a calm settling thing for sure. Pavlovian too, because I always feel more focused and grounded if I have a cup of tea on the go. I'm just conditioned that way.

Years ago when I was backpacking through Europe, I had the toughest time finding a cup of tea that met my standards. In France for example, tea was always served clear with a slice of lemon on the side despite my feeble attempts at trying to explain what exactly I wanted. In Turkey, tea is called chai, and chai is basically any warm beverage. I recall being asked if I wanted a cup of chai and envisioning (salivating actually) for a warm cup of honest to goodness tea, I eagerly replied affirmatively...........and was served this tiny shot glass of warm Tang. Even when I visit the United States, a good cup of tea is hard to find or make. We may have the same namebrands, but the difference in taste is like night and day. Yes, if I ever move to the States, I'd have to arrange for someone to send me teabags from Canada.

Yes, I crave it....................the taste of it and the reflective feeling it produces in me.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was only too aware of the so called affects of caffeine and the other million rules that one has to abide by. I was also aware of my whole body nausea during my first trimester. I felt so rotten for three months that even the thought of a cup of tea would send my system churning. I remember one day in particular. I had just arrived home from working all day feeling just plain awful. But I had one thought............if I could just make a cup of tea, I'll feel better. No sooner had I added the milk to my steeped friend when I looked at the concoction I had made thousands of times before and started to spin into a dizzy faint. Luckily I made it to the couch where I sat in a stupor shocked that a cup of tea of all things could make me feel worse than I did. Luckily that passed along with the first trimester yuks.

Months later..................after 23 hours in labour..........after 9 months of wondering and ruminating over the health of my baby..............my daughter was born. And as she was placed lovingly into my arms, as my husband and I basked in the joy of the miracle of birth, I asked the nurse for a cup of tea.........please................................Honest to God, the memory of that particular cup of tea is etched deeply. Funny, my daughter has turned out to love the stuff too. Must be in the British/Scottish/Irish genes.

I have a china cabinet that houses a few of Mabel's teacups and a cupboard that contains several teapots, but I prefer to make my tea in a mug. It's a control thing, I think..............one that comes from being particular to the strength and temperature of it. It's also more convenient. I find that most people don't know how to prepare the teapot so that the tea is hot and steeped properly when it's poured. I'd rather just make myself a fresh mug of tea..........no fancy herbally perfumey stuff either..................so that I can make it just right.

So, if you happen to see me after a long harried day, looking stressed and worn out assume that I'm parched and in need of a good cup of rescuing orange pekoe tea and please put the kettle on. I promise it will take the wilt right out of me.

"Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one."
Ancient Chinese proverb