Life Change Stories


Desiring change?

Wow… change is hard! Often feels like a constant pushing against a hard charging stream. How do I know? I know me! I talk a lot about my desire to change, but resistance to any kind of change is my daily companion;   I want to be fit but fight to go to the gym, I want to assist someone, but second guess myself even into paralysis, I want to learn a language, acquire a skill, study something, but always, lingering just on the other side of decision, is my companion, ‘inertia’.

I recently met Simon.  He seems to live naturally within the constancy of change.  But ‘oh the  cost… as a young boy he ran for his life from war ravaged Sudan, watching as mother, father and brother each succumbed to violence and illness under unrelenting African sun. And then he spent 20 years ‘trapped’ in a massive and oppressive Ethiopian refugee camp.  His profound state of homelessness resulted in him being profoundly detached from ‘things’. His devotion to relationships and community building overrides everything.  Simon possesses little fear of change and confidently strides his seven foot frame directly into mouth of the future.

What is it that I fear about change?  What am I afraid to give up? Where do I place me my confidence?  If I had nothing to lose would I be more open to change? I heard it once said “Fear is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life.” I think fear is the great enemy of life!

Malala Yousafzai,exclaimed that her attempted murder resulted in the following;t “weakness, fear and hopelessness died; strength, courage and fervour were born. “

Fear… when you have nothing to lose you have nothing to fear.


Its a Beautiful Thing

“Jeremy I made it, I made it! His face was a picture; eyes sparkled, smile immense, proud, so very proud. My 9 year old friend, introduced to basketball a year ago, today was one of 12 selected to the travel team. Major accomplishment!

Few things give me greater satisfaction than feeling the success of others, than in watching someone succeed or realise a new achievement. Simply stated; I love helping set the stage for someone to breakthrough and succeed, and with each breakthrough a new door, a new possibility.

Accomplishment builds momentum. I have concluded that it often doesn’t take all that much to help another; opportunity, hope, time together and encouragement, go an awful long way. And a beaming smile makes the effort so very worthwhile. Mother T. said that even a smile could make a difference… I think she might be right.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”


Learning from the Margin of Life

My office walls are lined with books, so many that they spill into the room next door room. love books! I have sat through multiple sermons, listened to grad school lectures, conversed with some very experienced and wise people, but nothing, nothing has brought me more learning or promoted greater personal growth than my involvement with those who have been forgotten, who struggle to make life work or who have been bruised by our world. The lessons learned have been truly transformative. They form the bedrock of life. I am not anti-luxury, anti-wealth, anti-privilege or anti-power… but my experience has taught me that these do not lead us to the real value of life, if anything they tug us away.

 Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with the families of Pambil, Ecuador. The people of this very remote and largely forgotten village have established their lives on the daunting precipice between life and death; the place where each day brings survival struggle. Our time has served to pound home a number of truisms for me. I am keen to share these with you in the hope that all of us may be reminded of that which matters most in life.  Next post – “People: Simply Astonishing”

Together We Must Change the World


Reflection of a freshly minted 60 year old

Two days ago as Mary and I sat on our porch soaking in the remnants of the day’s sun a woman walked by. She had seen me limping around the block and so asked how I was doing. (I had my knee was replaced 4 weeks ago). She then surprised us by asking if she could join us on our porch. I had only interacted with her during a sidewalk walk-by a few days before. We didn’t even know her name!

For the next 90 minutes, as the evening breezes turning to cool, we listened and she, with tears pouring, (lap dog licking them away,) related an immensely sad and desperate story… one of profound abandonment, failure, disappointment and conflict. Now, more than 60 years of age this frightened woman is alone; without anyone and with only the flickering hope for a better future.

Yesterday, through various media, including old fashioned postal mail, I have been affirmed and loved with many greetings for my 60th birthday. (Do I need to get a real job now?) I was reminded that the greatest of riches is to be found in the quality of our relationships. And I am a very wealthy man!

I am humbled by the contrast! How many others are like this woman?

In my little life I try to make the world a better place… more compassionate, more just, and more beautiful. I know I am hopelessly naive and idealistic, but I chose to believe this can happen if only more and more people care for another. So here is my birthday wish/request, here is what I would like for my birthday… if within the first 24 hours of reading would you attempt to make the world a little better for at least one other person? However you chose to do it; but make one other person’s life a little bit brighter… a gift of flowers, a kind and gentle word, an act of kindness. Perhaps it’s a significant act? Your call. I would be thrilled if you were then to take a moment and communicate the act or deed and what, if any results you experience. Yesterday I chose to rededicate my life to making this world a better place. I will believe that change is possible. I love being idealistic.

“If you don’t change, you’re lost.”

Don is my neighbour. In the summer we watch him trim his hedges and weed his gardens. In the winter he will shovel the snow from his driveway before he carefully backs his car slowly into the road. Donald celebrated his 100 birthday on December 26, along with his twin Oscar! Must be some kind of record! Donald is a survivor; wars, depression, extensive travel, illness. There is little remarkable about the man.

“Is that a surprise? I don’t see it as a surprise,” he said with a smile when questioned about his use of an iPad. “You’ve got to change with the times. Change is good. If you don’t change, you’re lost.”

My life is dedicated to helping change happen. Donald is a living example of the ‘Ghandian’ principle; the change we desire to see in the world must first be evidenced in me. I wish it wasn’t so. It would be far easier to simply be able to observe the faults of others and set out to fix them. But Don is right. Change in me is what keeps me relevant and real.


How much does it matter?

Christmas Day work at St. John’s Kitchen. For those of us who volunteered it was a great experience; coming together with so many from with such diverse backgrounds. It reminded me but again just how much can be accomplished with joint effort. But to be honest; there is little that is praiseworthy or noble about what we did. For us it was enjoyable and fulfilling. Tiring, yes, but satisfying!–christmas-spirit-overflows-at-st-john-s-kitchen

The real heroes are not those who swoop in for a few moments and leave feeling better about themselves, no the real heroes are the men and women; some employed, many not, some retired, some not, students, etc. who join the Kitchen day after day, week after week, year after year to provide warm and nourishing meals. In my mind the real heroes are the people who get up at 6:00 each morning to head off to the elementary schools of our city to provide healthy breakfasts for children. Across our city men and women engage with amazing consistency, largely in anonymity, and care for others. Our world has duped us into believing that heroes are sports stars or rich business tycoons or entertainer. Rubbish! The real heroes are those with little fanfare, who day after day go and care for others, who by their consistent actions say ‘ You matter! You matter to me. You are important.”


Questions abounding

8 days traveling around Ecuador with two global studies grads from Wilfred Laurier University. Whether we were in the squatter communities that surround Guayaquil, or among the forgotten people of African descent that live along the Onzole River deep in the northern jungles or walking down the streets on a mountain village the theme of change was our constant companion. How can we work with others to make change possible? What would real meaningful change look like? How do you know when change really is taking place? And what are the dangers of trying to empower people to hope? Questions abounded for us. Concrete, achievable and clear answers seem so elusive.

It is clear to me that a lack of answers is not enough to persuade us from working for change and joining with others who do the same. We three have been struck by the indomitable spirit, the generous character and the irrepressible attitude of so many we encountered who truly live hard lives. A little 9 year old who works daily in a factory, a young journalist student who has taken on leadership for a youth camp, or the father of 3 who farms, teaches, leads his community, advocates. We were struck anew with the how are Canadian privilege must lead to ever increasing sense of responsibility to a world of immense need.

My neighbour – 99 x 2

From across the road our neighbour waved quite vigorously. He isn’t usually this welcoming, friendly but a little guarded. I sauntered over.

“Good morning Mr. Duke .” I called out.

“Good morning. How’s your wife?’ He always starts off with a comment about my wife.

“Fine.” I replied, “a little weary after her recent trip to UK, but doing well.

“In 3 months I will be 100”m he said with the vigour of a 30 year old. “December 26. 100!”

Amazing I think! Two weeks ago there he was trimming his shrubs. This week I watched as he black-topped his driveway. Yes, I know I should have offered to help but has always been reluctant to accept assistance. “What would I be doing in my 100th year I thought? Now what makes this all the more amazing is that my friend Mr. Duke has a twin brother. On December 26, 2012 they will both become centurions!

It seems to me that a person of this experience might be a place to extract some wisdom for life.

“What makes life worth living?” I asked Mr. Duke. His answer was not what I expected.

“There are no bad people in this world. There are only good. See well and value in everyone. I have no time for conflict or violence.”

He responded.

I am still getting my head around this. I am not sure that I really agree with everything, but I see the idea that the quality of our life will be largely determined by the level of value and appreciation that we see in those around us, and that there is value the worth of every life, every person. Now that makes sense to me. I am not sure that this guarantees a long life, but it sure goes a long way to ensuring a life of meaning and value, and we can avoid life sapping conflicts.


5 Fun Days – Waterloo

Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Pakistan, Canada, India, Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, Burundi, Congo, Syria, Iraq, El Salvador, Iran… NO, this is not the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. This is 5 Fun Days with an Olympic flavour! These are a few of the nationalities represented in our camp that stretches across this week. FIVE FUN DAYS is officially off and running! Our kids from various corners of our world, some after perilous journeys, now live in the local communities of Sunnydale and Albert Street.

We have the incredible privilege to work with them and their families. For these 5 days we will give them an experience that they will not soon forget. Typical camp-like activities include; games, crafts, snack and singing, along with lots of one-on-one interaction. But what is not so typical is our leadership team. This is composed of a number of extremely gifted adults joined by many teenagers who are involved in our weekly teenage program; Sunnydale Connect. The highlight for me is to watch these kids learn how to serve their own community. “I want to be a teacher’s assistant,” one said to me yesterday. Another: “I want to be a child care worker.” It is truly beautiful too watch! If you are in the Waterloo area drops by for a visit… you are guaranteed to leave impressed.


An Accidental Legacy

Some people set out from early in life to leave a legacy. Somehow they seem driven to leave a mark. Do they feel that their accomplishment on earth will provide a better place for them in the afterlife? Or perhaps the fear of death is so great that the only reason for living is to build something they feel will last, forever? It all feels to me a little crazy. A few weeks ago I walked among a number of massive monuments and tombs, I saw huge edifices formed from massive stones. I read plaques chronicling peoples ‘achievement”. But for me they all seemed a little empty, magnificent tombs possessing little more than dust.

Yesterday, I watched grandkids and great grandkids, along with spouses: numbering 60+, sing a tribute hymn at their grandfather’s funeral. It occurred to me then that the best legacies come to us almost by accident. We don’t set out to build ourselves a legacy through the power we obtain, the successes we accomplish or the wealth we gain: no, a real legacy is rooted in character and not accomplishment, in the fidelity of relationship rather than power or prestige, and in generosity rather than acquisition. I guess we can set out to try and create a legacy, but a life well lived in the quiet and unobserved areas of life more than under the glare of the public lights is what earns a legacy. Because those who live nearby, know. They just know. The legacy I saw in the eyes of those singers yesterday was a legacy earned and deserved, almost incidental to life. Certainly not sought or strived for. Well done Mr. Martin!