Life Change Stories


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!


“If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it”

O WOW!’ 
Walking along Ludgate Hill Street we had just rounded the corner and two young fellows who accompanied me caught first sight of the magnificent columns and sky scratching dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. “Wow, look at that!”  This structure still takes one’s breath away.

 450 years ago Sir Christopher Wren surveyed the effect of The Great Fire that had devastated much of the city, and laid to ruins this church. Today evidence of Wren’s superior skill can be found throughout London, but none more impressive than St. Paul’s. Einstein said, “If you can’t imagine it you can’t do it.” As Wren stood on this very spot staring at the ruins with his feet sifting through the charred ground his imagination took him to the place where few could go. And now today, centuries later, men and women are still catching their breath at the sight of his masterpiece.

Looking at this crazy world I sometimes catch myself entering a cloud of despair. Despair is a very real option. But then so is hope; a hope fuelled by a picture of a far better world.  Wren wrote that his architecture “aims at eternity”. The counter to the despair, I feel  must be hope… hope for a fairer, more just, more compassionate world.  And the aim of that hope must lay beyond what we currently know as our reality and on towards eternity.  Like Wren, we must stand with one foot firmly shifting through the ruins while permitting our ambitions to soar towards eternity.  (*The year was 1669)

LCA exists to help us imagine and work towards a better world. In subsequent posts we will tell of various ways this is possible.


What is “Life Change”

What is Life Change Adventures?

I can think of few better way of communicating than the following story.

Recently we travelled to Toronto with 40 elementary school kids from our local neighbourhood to participate in an annual 5 K run. This year the Ontario summer has arrived early and the sun that day beat down upon us relentlessly. The day was quite exhausting.  As one of our kids; Samira, a twin from Sudan with thin little legs and a mouth that never stops chabbering, left the stadium, I urged her to pace herself for her speed hardly seemed sustainable.  After all 500+ runners had departed the rest of us sought the cool shade and waited.  Fifteen minutes later the first fellow came tearing back onto the track followed by the second, third, fourth and fifth. And then, out of nowhere, Samira!  Her spindly legs churning, her hair catching the wind, and beads of sweat glistening on her lovely brown forehead. There running beside her, and because of his size towering over her, one of our coaches. Samira never lost stride and in a minute or so she crossed the finish line. Overall FIRST among all girls! (Samira is only in grade 2 and beat girls 4 years older than her!)

Later, on the bus, I asked her, “Samira, how did you do it?” Her reply says it all.  “It was that big guy,” she replied, “The coach, he ran beside me and kept saying, ‘you can do it, and you can do it. Keep going. You can finish. He didn’t let me quit!’

That is the Life Change story… we journey with those who are active in bringing about change in the world. We often do the work of a coach… providing the tools, giving guidance and in many different ways saying; “you can do it, you can do it, no need to quit.”  If you have an idea and you need some help in finding traction of it get in contact with us.