Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trusting in me

I have trust issues. It's not surprising you might think, given the relationship I had with Conrad.

But, my trust issues don't necessarily stem from only that experience. They arise from my neediness. That place where I feel the need, the want, the yearning for someone else to validate my existence. That place where I do not accept, nor admit, that I am enough. That I am loved. I am love.

This neediness has always been with me. At times, it has triggered my behaviour in ways that are unhealthy, unloving and definitely harmful for me. As I've grown and 'matured', the ability of my neediness to trigger negative behaviours has lessened, but it still exists. Like the tapes in my head that want me to believe the lies I sometimes tell myself, my neediness never goes away -- it's my ability to manage it, to not listen to it, to not be triggered by it that has increased.

Don't get me wrong, neediness is not an awful thing. We all have needs. We all have wants. It is in denying that I have needs that I lead myself into turbulent emotional waters.

Like yesterday. C.C. and I have been discussing what we are doing this weekend and I had promised the friends who wanted us to come and visit that I would let them know yesterday. C.C. is much more flexible and patient than I am when it comes to planning. He doesn't have the same need to have plans made concrete and that can cause some angst as I attempt to hold back my impatience while we figure out what fits. When I called him yesterday afternoon, he was rushed. Busy. In the middle of a hundred and one things. He responded quickly to my Hello, "You called. What is it?" "Just checking on this weekend so I can let our friends know." "We'll leave Friday at noon," he replied and hung up after saying a quick good-bye.

Now, I'm not into long phone chatter, and C.C. and I seldom talk during the day on the phone. But, yesterday his hurried response triggered a tsunami of insecurity in me.

I knew it wasn't about him but I sure wanted to make it about him. "Why can't he chat more on the phone?" my critter mind whispered. "Why does he have to be so abrupt?" Yada. Yada. Yada.

Later in the evening when I phoned to tell him I was finished early from the volunteer commitment I had been working, he was just leaving his office. "I have to stop at my partners office to drop off some paperwork. I'll be at least an hour."

Pretty innocent. But, in my heightened state of insecurity, the critter mind leaped to my defence, fighting desperately to keep me off-balance. "He's lying. He's not going to his partners. He's going to....."

And that's where it gets not so pretty. My fertile mind can create scenes of deceit where none exists. My insecurities can awaken distrust where none is warranted.

I went off to meet a girlfriend for a late dinner and had a lovely evening. But through it all, I was not in the moment. I was not 100% present. My critters mind was whispering in the background, eagerly looking for any opportunity to disrupt my peace of mind -- which was pretty slim at that point of time anyway.

When I got home C.C. was not yet home. I called and he was on his way. When he arrived home I was still stewing in my angst, chewing on my discord. I didn't feel like talking. Didn't feel like being welcoming. I went to bed. Turned on the one device I know will prevent any communication -- the TV -- and watched some mindless piece of drivel.

As we were falling asleep, I commented to C.C.. "Sometimes when I call you, I feel like I'm the last person you want to speak to."

He's not unaware. He knew what I was referring to.

"I was busy, Louise. I'd just come out of a meeting and was on my way to the next one. I love talking to you. Sometimes, the timing is off."

Now, the truth is, C.C. tends to call me more than I call him. While I am prone to not leaving messages about where I'm going or where I'm at, he consistently leaves me messages to keep me informed. He always turns up when he says he will, and he's never been somewhere when he's said he'll be somewhere else.

Where does my angst come from?

Within me. From that needy place that wants to create discord rather than harmony. From that place within me where the critters voice overrides my peace of mind with its ability to burrow into my psyche and make waves. When I give into the critters voice, I am giving up on my truth. I am letting go of my accountability for my voice and my actions. I am letting go of my right to live my life with grace, ease and dignity.

John F. Westfall wrote, "It is important for us to grasp the truth that there is no shame in neediness. For those of us who were raised to appear strong, neediness is a horrible condition from which we turn away. We don't mind giving generously or acting with compassion toward those who are needy around us, but we don't let ourselves get to the place where we must receive help from others. This fear of unmet needs can drive us to acquire, achieve and accumulate symbols of satisfaction...These symbols of satisfaction, while holding at bay our gnawing sense of insecurity and self-doubt, also can cloud our view of what is important. They may also inhibit our pursuing the very things we need most in life: relationships in which we are known intimately, in which we share vulnerably, and in which we discover love and accountability."

Yesterday, I fell into a vat of neediness. That vat wasn't about what I need more of in my life. It was about looking for affirmation from outside me that would tell me, "I'm okay". In my needy state, I wasn't being vulnerable, nor allowing intimacy. I was being insecure, untrusting and deceitful. Because in my neediness I wasn't being honest about what I was feeling or doing. I was playing self-defeating games that kept me from getting more of what I want in my life -- Accountability. Intimacy. Love.

Fortunately, C.C. has learned to weather my storms with grace and equanimity and I am a fearless woman able to turn up for myself and pay attention to where my path leads me astray. In turning up for me, I turn up once again in my beautiful life where balance is restored and peace of mind rises gently with the morning sun.

The question is: Where does your neediness keep you stuck in blaming someone else for your inner angst? Where do you look to someone else to give you back your right to be that which you always are, that which you will always be? Love.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shaped by my environment.

"Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them." W. Clement Stone
When I was with Conrad, the man who lied and cheated, I became like Conrad. I lied to my daughters, my family and friends about what was happening in my life. I lied to myself about what I was doing, what was happening, what was going on. I let go of my integrity. I became like Conrad.

Free of him, back in the clear, clean air of freedom, I am able to reclaim my integrity, to reclaim my right to live with truth, with grace, dignity and ease.

Recently, I heard from a woman whose daughter's friend is involved with Conrad. Tragic. Sad. Sorrowful. Those are all words to describe what this family and the woman involved with Conrad is going through. Fortunately, the woman who contacted me was courageous enough to listen to her intuition. She knew the environment of her home was being poisoned. She just didn't understand why. Rather than focus on the victim's question of "Why is he doing this?", she took action. She got him out of her home. She rid her family of his disease.

For the woman still involved with Conrad, her life continues to be poisoned by the lies and deceit. She continues to believe he is all she deserves.

I remember those days well. Those days where every breath I took was filtered through my fear and self-loathing. Where every step I took was away from the life I once knew as I sank deeper and deeper into the poisoned well of his deceit.

On the weekend at Choices, Thelma Box, founder and facilitator of the program, told her story about having once been in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic. "I told myself I was to blame. I told myself it was all my fault." she said. And then she added the kicker. "In taking on all the blame, in saying it was all my fault, I made myself feel like I was powerful."

Like Thelma, when I was with Conrad, I told myself, "It's all my fault." That was my victim's voice. The voice that would hold me down. If it's all my fault, then I must be powerful enough to create the entire situation.

"All my fault" was my way of avoiding accountability. All my fault let me off the hook of having to do anything to change what was happening in my life. It let me off the hook of having to accept any responsibility for what was happening.

American writer and feminist Erica Jong wrote, "Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.”

Once upon a time I blamed a man for all that was wrong in my life. In freedom, I accept I am 100% accountable for what happens in my life. He is 100% accountable for what he did and is doing. In stepping clear of his deceit and lies, I clear my path of the insidiousness of the web he wove to block the sun from breaking through the F.O.G. of his deceit. The Fear. Obligation. and Guilt. that kept me stuck in abuse has evaporated and I am free to live my life of beauty, with joy and passion.

In freedom, I surround myself with wonderful people of integrity. I surround myself with beauty.

It is the gift of having awoken to the truth of my life. I am a wonderful woman of worth, living up to my magnificence.

The question is: Where do you blame others to avoid taking responsibility for what is happening in your life? How is your environment shaping you?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Think it. Create it.

Something I like to do every morning before I begin to write is watch an inspirational movie. One of my favourites is Finding Joy. I've put a link to the site at the bottom if you want to watch it.

Every day we are given the opportunity to awaken to new ideas, new thinking. Benjamin Disraeli, British Statesman and Prime Minister in the 1800s said, "Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think."

Once upon a time, man did not believe he could fly. Today, we fly around the world, and up into the stars.

Once upon a time, man did not believe he could explore the bottom of the ocean. Today, we submerge into the depths and journey through the seas.

There are so many things in this world we never believed possible. I remember in the 70s when I first began working that it was inconceivable that anyone would want a computer on their desktop. Today, the ubiquitous laptop and home computer have taken over hundreds of millions of desktops around the world.

Alexander Graham Bell didn't listen when someone told him he couldn't get his voice to carry through a thin wire. Today, telephony is a technology we rely on to connect us with family and friends around the globe.

The world is filled with proof that what we imagine we can create into reality. And yet, we doubt.
We doubt the power of our thoughts to change our lives. We doubt we have the capacity to quit drinking. Lose weight. Climb mountains. Heal broken hearts.

If we can conceive it, we can create it.

But first, like inventors throughout the ages, we must think it into reality. We must change our thinking that says, 'it can't be' into the thought that knows, 'It will be'. And then, we must take action. We must keep our highest thoughts at the forefront of our minds as we take steps to create reality from our highest thinking.

The question is: Do you want to be like an eagle in the chicken coup refusing to fly because he doesn't believe he has wings to support him? Or, do you want to believe in your possibilities, spread your wings and soar into your dreams come true?

The movie Finding Joy can be watched here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fairy dust sprinkles

While I love the fact that at Choices I see miracles happen before my eyes, one of the most fulfilling and rewarding aspects about coaching is -- I feel miracles happening within me whenever I'm there.

There were two things on the weekend that really gave me a chance to face my truth -- and choose to grow from what I learned.

On Saturday, I was responsible for a certain aspect of the activities. I did a good job, the best I could. A woman came up to me and said, "Thank you for being such a good leader." I laughed and heard the little voice in my head whisper, "She's just saying that. She doesn't mean it. She's lying." I thanked her for her support and said, "You guys did all the work and made me look good." I didn't want to take responsibility for being the leader and wanted to deny her truth by telling her, "Oh, I wasn't that good a leader." Fortunately, I didn't say that -- but the voice in my head really wanted me to!

Yesterday, a woman came up to me and said, "Your daughters are amazing. I love watching them together and with you. Your love for each other is wonderful to see."

I thanked her in one breath and then in the next discarded her compliment. "Oh but you should see us when we argue..."

It is a habit of mine. To take a sparkly moment and sprinkle dirt instead of fairy dust upon the gift of someone else's words of love.

And that's the miracle of Choices.

In the past, I would have done what I did and not noticed I did it. I wouldn't have noticed that I have a pattern of discarding compliments.

Inside me there is a voice that whispers, "Don't believe them. They're just saying that. They want something. Get them before they get you." It is the voice of the lie. It is the voice of my fears. It is the voice that would keep me a victim of living small.

Truth is, when someone compliments me, all I need to say is, "Thank you." Their truth is in their words -- not in the voice in my head that would deny their truth.

Truth is, when I compliment someone, I am speaking my truth. In discarding and disbelieving someone's compliments to me, I am actually saying, "Liar." And when I do that, I am treating them in a way they do not deserve to be treated.

Truth is, I did a good job on Saturday. I was appointed the leader of that group -- and I did my best. My best is good enough.

The truth is, I have two amazing daughters. They sparkle and shine where ever they go. They light up rooms and hearts with their laughter and their love. They are smart. Funny. Courageous. Loving and kind. Their voices are pure and sweet, their wisdom profound. They are awesome.

The miracle for me is that in having recognized the pattern of my behaviour, I get to choose what I do with my knowledge. I have the courage and the wisdom to Stop Doing It. I have the tools to break the pattern, to love myself enough to give myself the gift of forgiveness and the opportunity to change.

Dissing someone's compliment does not get me more of what I want in my life. It gets me less.

Listening to lies in my head does not get me more of what I want in my life, either. It only gets me less.

I want love and joy, peace of mind and serenity. It is what I deserve. When I do things that disrupt my serenity, that treat me as less than and others as less than, I am not living up to my truth. I am not being all that I am meant to be -- a magnificent human being. A Woman of Worth.

The question is: Are you a fairy dust sprinkler or a dirt dumper? Where do you listen to the lie and step away from your beautiful truth?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New. Day. New Beginnings.

No one thought it would end this way. Greg's computer and camera were stolen. End of story.

Goes to show. No one can predict the future.

As I was walking back from a meeting yesterday I passed another staff member on the street.

"Have you heard?" he excitedly asked. "Greg got his equipment back." Earlier in the day, the same staff member had come to my office to ask if he could set up a fund so that anyone who wanted to could contribute money towards new equipment for Greg. He's a former client. Young guy. Works on our maintenance team. "It makes me so angry," he said. "Greg's a good guy. He helps us out all the time. I want to help."

Help was not necessary. The culprit was arrested at a computer shop where he had tried to convince the staff that his friend had lent him the computer and he needed to change the password as he'd forgotten it. The employee was suspicious. Checked the serial number and called Greg to confirm he'd lent the guy his computer. "No way," said Greg. "He's a thief." The computer shop employee called the police. They came. They saw. They arrested. And later that day the equipment and CDs were returned to Greg.

He's out taking pictures already.

"With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts." Eleanor Roosevelt

What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

On Monday, after his equipment was stolen, Greg didn't want to bother to go to the police. "What's the point?" he asked. "There's no insurance. They won't do anything."

"At least if you file a report, should the equipment turn up in a pawn shop, they'll know it's stolen and you have a better chance of getting it back," I said.

Eventually, he decided to go and file the report. It was something he could do, something that had value. Because his report was already on file, it was easy for the police to take action and return the equipment.

Today, Greg will awaken to once again having the equipment of his trade ready and waiting to be put to work. In having taken action while he was down, he's lifted himself up. He couldn't fail in filing the report. He had nothing to lose and now, he's gained everything back -- and then some.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who challenged me to think about the purpose of writing this blog every morning. "Isn't it a bit self-indulgent," he suggested. "It's great, but it's an hour of writing time where you could be working on your book."

With a new day comes new beginnings, new thoughts, new hope and strength.

I was a bit irritated with my friend when he suggested I reconsider the blog. "You've proven you have the ability to make a commitment and keep it," he said when I suggested that was what the blog was about for me. With 466 posts, there's no doubt about my discipline and commitment. Question is, does the blog inhibit or promote my success? Is my strength turning into my weakness? Where once writing here was an integral part of getting me writing, getting me going, has it now become the inhibitor to my continuing to write, continuing to work on my book?

Perhaps I need a different set of glasses. A new day. New beginnings.

Perhaps the point of the blog is to get my fingers moving across the keyboard -- and I now need to get my mind into shape by going back to where I left off on my book and start writing on it everyday. With my life coach on Monday evening, I committed to writing half an hour a day on the book. Here's my chance to shift the scale -- a half hour max on the blog, an hour minimum on the book, every day.

New day. New thoughts.

On Monday, Greg went to sleep believing his equipment was lost, but not his talent, not his passion for taking pictures. Yesterday I had a meeting with a friend and business associate about a conference that he is organizing, Dare to Soar, (check it out. You will be inspired.) When he heard about Greg's loss he said, "You know, you can steal the equipment but you should never steal the dream." The dream was in Greg's CD's. The thousands of images stored on the computer. Last night, when I got home, he had emailed to say he would be willing to buy Greg a new computer or camera so that Greg could keep his dream on track. Whether or not Greg had his equipment returned, there were people like my co-worker and my friend who were willing to step up and keep the dream alive.

How many dreams die in a day? How many dreams go unrealized.

New day. New thoughts. New dreams.

I have a dream. It's up to me to make it come true. And the only thing that can do that is action. Commitment. And a willingness to BE. committed to DO. what it takes to HAVE. what I want.

Be. Do. Have.

Does this blog inhibit my writing?

Rather than thinking of it as the end of my morning writing time, it's important I change my glasses and see it as the beginning of my writing time. A half hour warm-up exercise.

New day. New beginnings.

And for today -- those thoughts will carry me into my next five days as I dive into a place where my heart flies freely as I soar on the inspiration of being surrounded by a group of people eager to become all they're meant to be.

It's Choices week. And I won't be visiting here much as these are the days of fast sleeps, short nights, long days. Days filled with love and caring. Inspiration and magnificence. Days of miracles coming alive in the hearts and minds of everyone I meet.

See you on Monday!

The question is: What new thoughts will you awaken to today? What new beginnings will you unravel? Will you plant seeds of hope, of love and joy? Or will you dig into the soils of regret, holding yourself rootbound in the past?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Optimism in the face of adversity

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself. Lucille Ball
He's tall and quiet. His bright blue eyes sparkle from amidst the full beard that covers most of his face. He wears a white cowboy hat low on his brow, a jean jacket and jeans. He hails from the other side of the country. Came here for a two week vacation twelve years ago and here he still is. "That's life," he says with a shrug of one shoulder.

In the fall of last year, he bought a disposable camera and started taking pictures. "If I'm going to be walking the streets I may as well do something," he told me yesterday. "I don't really aim to shoot so much as click to see what happens."

That happening resulted in a series of photographs at Sunday's art show that caused every visitor to pause and take a second look. They were stunning.

His first disposable camera led to another and another until his interest sparked and he saved up the cash through his job as a snow removal worker to buy a small digital camera complete with laptop computer and software to store and manipulate the images on. In six months he has over 5,000 images stored on his computer and disks.

Or rather, HAD 5,000 images stored on his computer and disks.

Yesterday, his computer case was stolen. In it were his laptop, camera and his disks. The images are gone. The equipment he can replace -- someday.

When I heard the news I wanted to cry. How could this happen?

According to *Greg, it's easy. "There are always going to be people who want what you have. It's my own fault. I left it sitting on a chair. I went for a smoke and when I came back, it was gone."

I wanted to do something. I can't get him back the lost images but there must be a way to help him to replace the equipment. I called the media. A reporter friend was intrigued by the story and came in to interview Greg.

"How did you feel when you realized it was gone?" he asked.

Greg couldn't describe his feelings. He had no words. He shrugged a shoulder and said with a chuckle, "It was time to upgrade my equipment anyway."

Optimism in the face of adversity.

A great lesson.

The question is: When adversity strikes who do you blame? Where do you look for retribution?

Monday, July 21, 2008

God is in our being

The day began with a walk to a local church where the art show was being held. The artist's were already there. Busy setting up. Organizing their displays. By 10 we were ready. A co-worker and I decided to take in the service -- the church had graciously offered their space for the show and I wanted to say thank-you.

I grew up Catholic. Grew up believing the giant Hand of God lay suspended in the sky ready and waiting to come barrelling down upon my head for the tiniest infraction. In my child's lexicon, God was all-seeing, all-knowing and God didn't Love as much as God wanted control. He wanted me to be a 'good girl'.

I wanted to love and be loved by God but according to my world, I was never good enough. I was always on the other side of having God's love -- whatever that 'other side' was.

Walking into the sacistry yesterday was a different story. God was visible in the friendship, the invitation to 'grab a cup of coffee and have a seat' that greeted every visitor. Those who attend the church regularly had the option of wearing a pre-printed name tag while visitors were invited to print their first name on a stick-on tag -- so people can call you by name, one of the greeters told me.

The offering was made at the beginning with the children wandering through the aisles carrying the offering plates. Chaos. Laughter. Lightness of being. There was no crucifix with Jesus hanging suspended, blood dripping from his wounds. There was no statuary, no candles burning in alcoves, no hushed reverence filled with sliding of rosary beads through penitent fingers and the rustling silk of a priest's robes and the smell of burning incense. God was visible in the laughter, the smiles, the conversation.

When the service began, the minister invited everyone to take a moment, listen to a piece of music being played on the organ, and to meditate, to listen with hands cupped beside their ears to what they don't normally hear in the busy-ness of everyday living.

"Today is about celebrating music," he said. "We're going to play three different pieces of organ music, one light and lyrical, the next sombre and contemplative. A Bach and a Beethoven. The third piece will put us in the mood for our street festival. A unique version of Van Morrison's C'mon Baby Light My Fire."

Huh? C'mon Baby Light My Fire? Since when was that 'religious'?

"All creation is a reflection of God's majesty," said the minister. "I invite you to listen to each piece. Close your eyes, sink into the notes and let your mind flow into the music. We are all reflections of God. He is here among us in our beings."

He is here among us.

God was in the art show. He was reflected on the smiles of Sandra, a sixty-five year old woman who stayed at the shelter for two years and who recently moved into an apartment of her own. "I sold one," she said to me, her body bouncing up and down as much as her arthritic bones could carry her. "Someone bought one of my pieces!"

God was evident when a woman came up and with her purchase asked, "Wow! What can I do? Can I make a donation? Can I come in and volunteer?"

And God was evident in a child's face when Joe, our resident guitar player, asked a little girl in a pink dress, "Can I play you a tune?"

She smiled. Nodded her head up and down, bounced on the toes of her little pink sandals and clapped her hands.

Joe began to play, "You are my sunshine" and she began to twirl. The hem of her pink dress floated out around her like a church bell as her tiny body began to spin slowly around the room. She kept dancing, spinning and weaving to the music, her arms extended from her sides. A tiny Sufi dancer twirling endlessly to the rhythm of the beat.

It was a magnificent day filled with the joy of watching people who didn't believe they made a difference find the difference they make in the sharing of their gifts and talents.

It was a day filled with reverence, with inspiration, with magnificence.

It was a day in which each and everyone, both artists and attendees, participated in the power of the human spirit to express their birthright of being Godlike creations; unique, magnificent, divine. God was in our beings. He always is.

The question is: Are you celebrating your birthright? Are you expressing your Godlike qualities today?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Art and other glorious Sunday pastimes

Lazy weekend. Beautiful morning. Off to an art show for the day.

It's part of the work I do at the shelter. Six clients of the art program have their work on display and up for sale at a local festival. The festival attracts thousands of people -- and the artists have worked hard to create pieces that reflect their unique talents and perspectives.

I'm looking forward to the day -- hope you are too!

The question is: Where's your heart? Leading the way to a day of love and laughter, or hiding out in your mind, heading for trouble at every corner? It's your choice!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Writing out your truth

"The time for action is now. It's never too late to do something." Antoine de Saint Exupery
There were eight men in the class. Ranging in age from early twenties to mid forties they shared one thing in common; they wanted to get their work tickets to be able to find a job in the oilpatch. They wanted to change their lives.

Their circumstances for being there were varied. One was a former client of the shelter where I work. Another was the son of a known 'gangsta' who was desperately trying to not follow in his father's footsteps. One a father from India trying to make a better life for his family.

At one point I said, "When I look at you I see a magnificent human being. When you look in the mirror, what do you see?"

They laughed. One man piped up, "A loser." Another chimed in with, "Nothing magnificent."

"Isn't that kind of conceited?" asked one man.

"If you're not magnificent how do you see yourself," I asked.

"Well, I'm not that great. I mean, look at my life, it's in a bit of a mess," he replied.

"If you separate your life from who you are, what do you see?"

"A pretty pathetic human being," he said, his shoulders hunched over in defeat.

I asked my favourite question when faced with this response, "Would you like to imagine yourself to be magnificent?"

He looked at me. Hesitated. Nodded his head. "Yeah. That'd be cool."

"Then do it. Everyone. Right now. For the next 60 seconds, imagine you're magnificent."

They laughed and hesitated.

"Seriously. Do it. Close your eyes and imagine you are a magnificent human being. How would you hold your head? How straight would your spine be? Would you smile? Laugh? Stand tall?"

Slowly, they each closed their eyes. Within a blink of the eye, they each sat up straighter, their spines lengthened, their faces lightened.

A few moments later they opened their eyes and the worried looks on all their faces had been replaced. I saw wonder, surprise, consternation, happiness.

"How did that feel?" I asked.

"Wow," said the young man who hears the voices of his mother and father berating him with every thought. "I felt it."

"So, do you agree it's possible to see yourself as a magnificent human being?"

"Yeah," replied a young man whose dream is to be a rap artist. "But what if you've done so many bad things in your past you just can't get away from them?"

"Can you change what you've done or what happened?"


"Do you want to keep doing those things today?"

"No way."

"Have you made amends for what you did if it hurt other people?"

"Sorta. Yeah. Mostly."

"Have you forgiven yourself?"

He hesitated. Shook his head. No.

"What's in it for you to not forgive yourself? What's in it for you to keep carrying the shame of your past?"

"How do I get rid of it? How do I let it go?"

"Remember how you just imagined yourself to be magnificent?" He nodded his head. "Well, imagine yourself forgiven. Imagine yourself free of shame and blame. They are emotions. They are not 'things'. You can put them down at anytime simply by starting to imagine yourself putting them down, cutting them off, letting them go. Imagine you've got a balloon in your hand and it is filled with 'shame and blame'. Imagine letting that balloon go. And if it keeps coming back, imagine again and again that you are letting it go. Eventually, all your imagining will become real to your brain."

He looked at me like I might have rocks in my head or perhaps just a vacuum filled balloon. "Yeah right. Like that's going to work."

"What do you know about your shame and blame," I asked him. "Can you describe it? Can you see it?"

"Not really."

"So, you're holding onto something you can't describe, something you can't see."


"So, if you can hold onto something you can't describe or see, why not empower yourself to let go of something you can't describe or see?"

Suddenly he sat up straight. His face lit up. "Wow. That's cool. It's all in my head."

I could feel the tension in the room, everyone listening and watching him with careful consideration.

"How many here tell themselves they are to blame for everything that's gone wrong in their lives and then hold themselves tethered to that blame so that they can never change?"

Several hands lifted slowly.

"What if blame isn't the issue. What if being accountable is what it's about. And being accountable means making different choices, doing things differently, seeing things through different glasses?"

I waited as they thought about it.

"What if you could have the life of your dreams what would you do differently?"

They started to fill the room with ideas for their future. Voices called out to each other, I'd be singing my music on the radio. I'd own my home, have a family. I'd own my own construction company.

"So, you're able to identify what you want in your life, how about write out what you'd do differently to have those things in your life. List one thing you can do differently today."

It was a lively and enlivening session. At the end, I asked each of them to write themselves a love letter. Write the words you have always wanted to hear, or need to hear from your mother or brother, wife, daughter. Write them out.

One man wrote and started to cry. No one laughed at him. No one teased him. They all kept writing. When they were finished I asked them how it felt.

"It was hard," one man said. "It would have been easier to write a hate letter to myself."

Those letters you wrote are you truth. Live it. When you're feeling down, or frightened. When you think the road is too rough or the sky too grey, read your letter. That is your truth.

And that's my challenge for you today -- write yourself a love letter. Write about how magnificent you are. How unique. How incredibly special. Write it out and embrace it. It is your truth.
The question is: What's keeping you in believing the negative side is your truth? What's keeping you from accepting your magnificence?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting rid of clutter

"Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it." William Feather1889-1981, Writer

Yesterday I decided to clean up my office at home. Since moving into this house in January, I hadn't unpacked a few boxes of papers and books -- there just didn't seem to be anywhere to put them or anyway to get rid of the junk!

Two hours after carrying a new bookcase upstairs, my office is tidy and organized!

That messy little corner of my world was distracting me from feeling the happy in my writing space. The clutter was preventing me from stopping to enjoy something I love -- writing.

Two hours of tidying for hours of enjoyment? What took me so long?

Well.... it was a bit of self-sabotage.

You know, that self-defeating game where you do (or don't do) something you know you need to do because once it's done, all excuses are gone.

That's what the clutter represented to me. An excuse to not get busy working on my next book. The outline is done. Some of the chapters are sketched out and there I was, not doing it.

Who can work in such a cluttered space? I'd tell myself. Who can think clearly when the world around her is messy? I'll get to it once I get the space cleaned up -- but the task is daunting, best not do it until I know what I'm going to do.

All it took was one bookcase, a couple of hours and a fearless commitment to ditch and throw unnecessary papers and junk.

And now I can enjoy my working space freed from the niggling annoying distracting chatter of my brain whispering -- you can't write in a mess.

Happiness is.... a clean office.

So simple. So easy to accomplish. Where else in my life am I using clutter as an excuse to avoid doing what needs to be done, what I want to do?

Oh, well, there's my bedroom..... There's still a box filled with clothing I never wear. I could just take it to the shelter and give it away. Oh, and all those books. Another bookcase would take care of that clutter and there's one on the front porch looking for a home!

Cluttering up my life is a self-defeating game I play when stopping to enjoy happiness frightens me! It keeps me from doing things I love because I tell myself -- oh, I can't spend two hours painting today, I 'should be' cleaning up the clutter -- and then, because the clutter is too daunting a task to take on, I avoid doing it thus limiting my enjoyment of the space and the opportunity to do something I love! The 'should' becomes the siren's call leading me away from my life of wonder into the tumultuous seas of guilt and self-defeating games.

Ahhh, the circle of self-defeating games could go on endlessly.

But, cleaning up my office has demonstrated how all it takes is a couple of hours -- and I can easily find a couple of hours to do what needs to be done to get more of what I want in my life.

Be. Do. Have.

Be committed to Do what it takes to Have what I want -- I want to enjoy every moment. I want to be happy doing what I love -- what will it take for me to have it? That's easy! Get rid of the clutter and get doing it!

The question is: Where do you allow clutter to distract you from having what you want in your life? Where does a messy little corner of your world keep you from being happy in the moment, enjoying what you love to do? When are you going to get busy doing what it takes to have what you want?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Don't take yourself so seriously.

It was a simple rule, the only rule to follow during the seven days of SuperChoices, the personal development course I took in March -- a rule I often forget in my day to day journey. "Don't take yourself so seriously."

It is a habit. Taking myself too seriously. Unfortunately, clad in the black and white robes of 'let's look at this seriously' thinking, I often forget to look at the world with childlike wonder with eyes wide open to seeing the colours of the rainbow in every raindrop.

Now, there are times when taking myself too seriously does not interfere with my progress in life. Like at church, or maybe at a funeral. But the rest of the time, well, it ain't so simple, nor so black and white.

Take yesterday. I had a call from a reporter asking for information about a situation that has affected the shelter where I work. I knew nothing of the situation and couldn't give her any assistance. When I clicked off my cell, I had a fissure of irritation -- why didn't anyone warn me?

Duh. Maybe because they were busy and didn't have time? Oh, and maybe because I was home sick?

See, in my "I am so important thinking", I often forget that everyone else is important too. I often forget that I'm not the only one who has a life to live! But, because I have a tendency to look at every situation as 'life and death', I get caught up in my belief that if I don't know the answers, it will make a difference. Nope. If I don't know the answer it simply means I have something to learn -- and isn't that what life is all about? Learning. Growing. Evolving. Changing. Becoming. Being.

It's good for me. Laughing at myself. It's healthy. It is also an opportunity to not take myself so seriously. It gives me a chance to laugh at my peccadilloes and say, "Oh look. Aren't I funny!"

Though I'd best not say that out loud. That phrase can get me into trouble in my home. C.C. and my daughters groan when I suddenly exclaim, "I'm so funny!"

Truth is, I'm not funny like a comedian, but I am pretty funny being me, especially if I forget to tap into my sense of humour at my predicaments. I mean, really, who else would laugh at me if I didn't?

Og Mandino says it best, “Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously.”

So, for today, I'm off to look for rainbows in every corner of the sky, my eyes wide open to the wonder of the world around me. Instead of seeing only dead end alleys and one way streets, the way ahead is filled with roads of limitless opportunity as I step outside my comfort zone and fly free of limiting beliefs that would have me believe it's my way or the highway. Wings spread wide, I soar above the narrow corridors of black and white thinking as my day becomes filled with wonder at the incredible vistas opening up before me.

The question is: Where do you let go of your childlike wonder of the everyday and fall into the trap of seeing only the black and white shadows of how you want the world to be? Where do you take yourself too seriously?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Giving myself a break at golf

One thing a weekend at the lake can do is make me pretty relaxed. Tension eases. Stress evaporates and the world looks shiny and new.

It was a lovely weekend. Good friends. Great food. Wine and laughter. We played cards. Sat by the water. And, I played my very first round of golf ever!

Thing about golf is -- it's all in your head.

I did well the first 12 to 13 holes. Stayed focused. Relaxed. Hit a couple of good shots. Didn't take it too seriously. And then, round about the middle of the 14th hole I started thinking about how many holes we had to go. I was tired (we'd gotten in late the night before, had a late dinner and played cards to past midnight). The end of the course look a long ways away. My mind drifted from where I was at to how far I had to go, how many shots I had left to play. My swing became erratic. My hands hurt. Neck ached. Feet yearned for the last green as I blasted my way through where I didn't want to be in the rough without thinking about where I was at in my game. It was my first game ever -- I didn't have to prove anything!

The game lost its lustre. The mountains faded from view. The river along which we were playing lost its sparkle.

We were playing with another couple. L.B. and her husband, G. I like LB's style. "I don't keep score because I'm not playing to beat anyone. I play it to improve my game with each round. If this hole isn't going well, I sit it out. If my ball isn't somewhere I like, I pick it up and move it to where I want it. I don't need to stress myself out trying to hit shots I don't yet have the capacity to make. I de-stress myself by giving myself lots of opportunity to hit well."

I played through the 14th, teed off on the 15th and changed my last name to 'ManyShots'. Decided it was time to sit back, relax and take in the scenery. I drove the cart. C.C. played through. On the 15th green, I had my best putt yet. Didn't matter that I hadn't played the hole, what mattered was I played to my strengths not my weaknesses.

Teed off on the 16th with a strong hit, started falling apart further down the fairway. Decided to sit out the rest of the hole. By the end of the 17th, I knew I was finished. I made the decision to simply enjoy the day. To watch the other three play through and to enjoy the incredible vistas of the world around me.

All in all, a great game of golf. A great morning in the sun, laughing and joking, enjoying the companionship of good friends and the opportunity to learn something new.

Golf can teach me a lot about living in the moment. No matter how hard I swing, if I take my eye off the ball, I lose sight of my goal. If I swing just for the sake of swinging, I get out of balance, stressed out and tired out. And, when learning something new, I need to give myself permission to play bad, to call it quits when I'm tired out and to step back and reflect on how well I've done to get as far as I've gotten -- and to not chastise myself for not doing it 'right' the first time out.

I was there to enjoy the game. I was there to encourage myself to keep playing. I wasn't there to make a point of finishing all 18 holes. I was there to enjoy each stroke I took. And I did.

The question is: Where do you push yourself to get involved even when you know you need a break?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Aim High

"Aim for the highest." Andrew Carnegie

Last night, C.C. and I went to watch the Grandstand Show of the Calgary Stampede. A multi-million dollar outdoor extravaganza complete with flamethrowers, flying acrobats and fireworks. I love the show. At fifteen, my eldest daughter Alexis auditioned for a spot in the Young Canadians, the troupe of 126 young performers who headline the show. She stayed with the group for four years. Performing outdoors for ten nights every summer in front of a screaming and hollering crowd of 18,000 people a night.

The Young Canadians take Andrew Carnegie's advice. They aim high and keep on soaring higher.

It is inspiring to watch 120+ young performers, ranging in age from 8 to 21, do their absolute best to entertain and thrill the standing room only audience who come from all over the world to witness The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth -- sometimes in spite of the weather.

And last night was no exception.

It poured late afternoon into early evening. Just before the Chuckwagon races began at 8pm, the rain tapered off. Heavy grey clouds still hung low, but little moisture fell. The show started at 9:30 and still the rain held off. At 11:45 the last bow complete, the final fireworks expired with a sizzling, spitting sigh across the sky, the rain began in earnest again.

But nobody cared. It had been a spectacular show. An exuberant song and dance celebrating the talent and heart of these young performers.

Bravo! It was a night to remember. A night to honour excellence, youth and talent.

Today, C.C. and I are off to a mountain retreat for the weekend. I won't have Internet access so will not be visiting until Monday.

Have a terrific weekend and remember, Aim High! Let the brilliance of the stars lead you to your dreams.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Taking out the trash

"Acceptance is hard. To accept my pain means holding it in my arms, like a package handed to me, my proper burden to be carried. The package may be heavy as lead, or burning hot, or stuck through with razors, but I must concede that it is my package, simply because it has arrived in my life. It is not a mistake. It has not been sent by accident to the wrong person. I may not welcome it, but accepting it means I carry it without protest for as long as necessary - and then I lay it down." Jeanne DuPrau, author, The City of Ember

Last night I did a walkabout in our community with a peer from a neighbouring shelter. We left the entrance of the facility where she works and encountered a group of men, sitting on the stairs, chatting, laughing, having a smoke.

One young man jumped up and quickly walked down the stairs, "I know, I know," he said, waving one arm in the air above his head the smoke from his cigarette circling above him like tiny halos, "I can't smoke this close to the building."

"We're not here to talk about smoking," she said. "We're doing a community survey and just want to ask a few quick questions. You're responses will be anonymous. We just want to find out where people are staying in the neighbourhood."

One tall, good looking man stepped forward. His blue jeans were neatly pressed. His shirt freshly laundered. "I'll tell you where I'm staying if you tell me what they're going to do about the food in this place," he said. "How come the guys who work get less to eat than those who don't work?"

He went on to fill us in on the lack of nutritional value in the bagged lunches he was provided every day.

Another man chimed in. "Yeah, we're always hungry. Though we did have surf and turf the other day?"

The first man looked at him, astonished. "You did?"

"Yup. Sardines and beans." He laughed, his lips smacking against his gums where multiple teeth were missing. "Deeeelicious!"

The pathos and humour of the street.

Grown men worried about their next meal finding the humour in school boy jokes.

We wandered down the street and encountered two men sitting under the shade of a poplar tree. They jumped up as we approached, one of them immediately recognizing the woman I was with. "Hi! We're just out enjoying the evening," he quickly told us before we could state our purpose. It's a common trait amongst those on the street. Tell what you're doing before asked. Who knows what trouble you could get into for doing nothing?

"It's a great evening to sit out and enjoy," she said. "We're just doing a community survey and have a couple of questions to ask."

"I answered them last night," one of the men replied. "Nothing's changed since then."

"That's okay," she said. "We're taking a snapshot of the whole week so I'd like to ask you the questions again, if that's okay."

He smiled. His toothy grin replete with missing teeth.

As we finished up the questions he started to tell us a bit about his struggles to find a place to live. "It's so expensive now," he said. "I've been coming to stay here off and on for over twenty years. You know. A relationship would go bad. I'd lose my job. Have a fight. Whatever. Used to be I'd come and stay here for a few weeks and then move on out. Now, I keep having to stay longer and longer."

"How different is it now than twenty years ago?" I asked.

"The drugs," he quickly replied. "I can understand the guys with alcohol. Who doesn't sometimes have a drink that leads to too many? But the drugs. They're bad."

The second man piped in. "Yeah. This is my first time here. The drugs are scary."

We said good-night and walked away. I thought about the man's comments about using the shelter off and on for over twenty years. His social safety net. A safe refuge to come to when times are tough and life is beating him down.

Later, as we returned to the shelter I watched a couple of young men directing cars to park in the parking lot across the street. Odd. We lease the building connected to the lot where they were parking cars. I hadn't heard of anyone using the parking lot during Stampede. I walked across to enquire about what was happening.

A nice looking young man, official looking badge clipped to his t-shirt greeted me while one of his buddies directed cars in off the street to the safety of the lot for a $10 parking fee.

"Hi," I greeted the young man with the badge. "Just thought I'd check what was going on. I work for the organization that leases this place. Who do you work for?"

The man gave me a quick explanation of a company that had arranged to use the parking lot during Stampede in exchange for a charitable donation to the shelter where I work a few blocks away.

"Really?" I asked. "I'll have to check it out. I do all our fund-raising and I hadn't heard of this arrangement. What's your name?" And I took out my notebook to write down the name of the company on his badge. He gave me a name. I thanked him and turned away to walk back across the street to meet the woman with whom I'd been doing the walkabout. By the time I reached the other side of the street, the young men had vanished, along with the $280 they had collected from people believing they had the right to charge them for parking in that lot.

"Gotta give them kudos for creativity and for balls," I told the other woman.

Just then, a pick up truck with official markings pulled into the driveway to the lot and blocked the entrance. I walked back across the street.

A tall lanky man stepped out. I could almost feel the steam pouring out of his ears.

"Hi," I said and explained who I was.

"I own this lot," he fumed. "Those good for nothing crackheads keep parking cars here and charging people to use it."

I told him about my encounter.

"It's the third time this week," he said. "I've called a towing company to come and tow all these cars away."

"That seems harsh," I said. "They didn't know they were parking illegally."

"Yeah." he sputtered. "Well they park here in their hundred thousand dollar cars, dump out their ashtrays and garbage on the ground and I have to send a crew in to clean it up. I'm going to teach them a lesson."

I was a bit confused about the lesson he intended to teach them. "Perhaps we could send some client volunteers over to clean it up. It doesn't seem fair to penalize these people for a scam they didn't know was happening."

The man was adamant. He was going to call a towing company and have the cars pulled away. He pulled a couple of concrete bars across the entranceway and moved his truck to the side of the drive.

How unfortunate. The only lesson the drivers would learn is that some 'homeless' guy cost them a fine and a tow job.

I rejoined my fellow survey taker and we continued down the street in the opposite direction. About fifteen minutes later I saw the man in the pick-up truck drive down the lane. He'd decided not to have the vehicles towed and instead, left the concrete in the drive to force the cars to manoeuvre over and around it in order to leave the parking lot. I was relieved. At least they wouldn't be towed.

But it did make me think about what he'd said about the garbage left behind. $10 does not give anyone permission to dump refuse on the road.

The continuing saga of the juxtapositions of those who use the street to survive on and those who use the street to dump their garbage. People whose only social safety net is a shelter to help them over life's bumps in the road. People safely ensconced in their sparkling new Jaguars and Mercedes dumping garbage in a parking lot as they manoeuvre over a concrete curb to get over life's bumps in the road and a man who wants to teach the world a lesson about respect.

Different perspectives. Same side of the street.

Perhaps the best answer is in the laughter of the man who joked about turf and surf and found the humour in his situation.

The question is: Where do you dump your garbage when the bumps in the road are tough to manoeuvre? Who do you dump on? When will you put your burdens down?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How the west was won.

It's Stampede time in Calgary. A time when cowboy wannabe's dust off their boots and don their stetson's to hit the trails, and the bars, for a foot stompin', knee slappin' good ole time in the west. A time when horse drawn carriages parade through city streets and ol' fashioned gunfights leave the best man standing in the OK corral on every street corner.

Stampede has erupted with all its riotous exuberance and celebration of how the west was won and suddenly every street side cafe is corralled off with wooden barnboards and bales of hay.

With Stampede also comes a letting loose of public morals and good behaviour. Suddenly, law abiding citizens are staggering out of hotel bars at 8 am, their bellies full of sausages and eggs swirling in a bath of vodka and OJ. Boot weary feet stumble to the next festivity as everyone gets into the act of living it up in the Wild Wild West.

Last night, C.C. and I met for a late dinner at a downtown restaurant. I had an early evening meeting and he had a desk load of paper work to clear up. It was 8:30pm by the time we sat down for a leisurely meal and chat.

Two hours later, dusk had fallen but the streets were still alive with Stampede revelers. As I walked to my car a man came stumbling towards me. He'd obviously had a few too many at some cowboy joint down the road. His cowboy hat sat askew on his head. His gait was unsteady. As he navigated the sidewalk he smiled and leered at passers-by who deftly sidestepped his crooked progress. Like everyone else, I gave him a wide-berth. Drunken wannabe cowboy's can be unpredictable.

As the man reached an intersection, the light turned red. He didn't hesitate. He stepped off the curb and kept on walking. Brakes squealed as drivers stopped to give him safe passage. A couple of horns blared. He laughed and smiled and kept right on walking. He made it safely to the other side, waved at the drivers who had stopped to let him pass and kept on going. People laughed and waved back. Hey man! It's Stampede. Nothing much wrong with a drunk holding up traffic. It's part of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

It's a far cry from a scene I'd witnessed earlier that day when driving to a meeting. A couple of blocks from the shelter where I work, a man who appeared visibly 'homeless', jay-walked on a red light. Cars slammed on brakes. Horns honked. Expletives filled the air. One man called out from his car, "F***** idiot. Get off the **** road and get back in your **** dumpster." He didn't wait for the man to reach the other side of the road. With a gunning of his engine, he swerved around him, and peeled away.

It's okay to be drunk if all you're doing is partaking of Stampede revelries. It's not okay if you're mired in poverty and despair.

We live in a city of contradictions. Stampede is one of the greatest. A draw for tourists from around the world, Stampede is one big 10 day long party in every quadrant of the city. It's hard to avoid it and while many Calgarians bemoan its raucous days, they eventually make it down to a bar somewhere to imbibe in the festivities. Conversations around water-coolers centre around how drunk you got the night before; that's if you even make it into work the next day. Line-ups form outside hastily erected tents that span parking lots in the downtown core. They've got one sole purpose in life: to ensure every thirsty office worker has the opportunity to consume their body-weight in alcohol and partake in some good ole' fashioned western hospitality before hittin' the dusty trail homeward bound.

At the shelter, where we are home to 1100 people a night, we struggle to keep clients safe from the excesses they encounter on the streets. Visibly homeless individuals are easy prey for drunken party-goers who perceive them as fair game on the open range. A man peacefully sleeping on a grassy verge may find his sleep interrupted by a citizen whose tin badge sparkling on his chest, feels obliged to give the homeless guy a kick in the ass, with a slurred, "Move along there pardner. You don't belong here."

Problem is, there's not much 'pardnering' goin' on and there's no safe place for a homeless drunk to sleep it off without encountering the condemnation of passers-by.

Across the road, drunken citizens stumble along searching for the next opporunity to get into the spirit of the Stampede. They've got the world by the tail and they're flying high on opportunity. Yee! Haw! It's the wild wild west.

And that's the way it goes in the OK corral. Some got it. Some don't. And when the have's get to livin' it up western style, nobody cares if you fall down drunk. It's just part of the how the west was won.

Have a drink pardner. It's Stampede!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Heart Talks

"Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough."Og Mandino
What if I couldn't fail? What if everything I did was simply a stepping stone, a part of my journey to create the life of my dreams? What if success is only measured by my steps taken, not by my destination?

Last night C.C. and I had a 'crucial conversation'. You know, one of those discussions where I didn't really want to talk about it but knew I had to share what I was experiencing to give both of us the opportunity to grow closer, to deepen intimacy and to gain understanding of each other.
I was scared.

I have a lot of issues around trust -- go figure! LOL -- Some might call me the Queen of Distrust.
Recently, I have found myself distrusting everything C.C. was saying. Not because he was untrustworthy. Had nothing to do with him and everything to do with where I was at -- in a distrusting, scared and frightened place.

Intimacy can be that way. Scary.

Yet, intimacy in my relationship with him is what I want. Is what I deserve. Is what I believe is necessary in order for us to have the relationship we both deserve and want.

So, there I was, treading into the emotional mindfield of telling the man I love that I was having distrustful thoughts about his words.

Now, for C.C., trust, being trusted, being trusting is very very important.

Imagine his chagrin when the woman he loves says, "I'm struggling with trusting you right now."
Yup. Definitely a bummer.

And that is the beauty of being fearless. In opening the conversation, it is my responsibility to create a safe place for both of us to talk. I am responsible for ensuring that my words don't pierce him like a knife but rather, open his heart to being touched in love.

I need to be honest -- with the good, the bad and the ugly -- and I need to do it in a way that is loving, caring and considerate. I need to share my feelings, and in that sharing, speak from my heart, not from that place of fear that says, oh no, he's not going to like what I'm going to say but I'm going to say it anyway.

It is my responsibility to Turn up. Pay Attention. Speak my truth (lovingly) and Stay Unattached to the Outcome. The scripting that goes on in my head, prior to the conversation, attaches me to the outcome because my scripting means I'm putting words in his head, pre-determining his reaction, and expecting him to respond the way I want.

Hah! Life doesn't happen the way I want. Life happens. I determine how I respond.

It was a wonderful conversation last night. (Okay, so it didn't start out so wonderfully as I tripped and stuttered through my fears of talking about my distrustful nature.) Eventually, I gave up on my script and flowed into the moment opening my heart in love to hearing him as we talked about trust and what it meant for him to hear me say I was being distrustful of him.

See, in my fear, I had thought a lot about whether or not I could/should/would trust him. Truth is, I have no reason not to trust him. My head was playing mind games with my thinking, spinning me in circles as I worried myself around a knot of fear churning in the pit of my stomach.

Trusting someone else is tough for me. Trusting someone enough to open my heart and dreams, to be open and honest and loving -- that's a challenge.

And every day I learn more as I journey deeper into the wonders of relationship with a man I love.

Success is in having had the courage to talk about my fears last night. The journey is continued in each step we took towards each other as we talked about our fears and hurts and pains and our commitment to each other.

See, my issue wasn't about trusting C.C. My issue was about being trusting. About choosing to trust instead of getting caught up in my mind games.

Big difference.

In having questioned whether I could or could not trust him, I was being untrusting. I was the one lacking in trust.

In sharing my fears, I stepped into trust. In trust, we were able to talk about what was going on and find a deeper place from which to communicate.

Trust is a choice. Being trustworthy is my responsibility.

The question is: Where do you put the responsibility for creating a trusting relationship on someone else's shoulders? Where does your distrust interfere with your being trustworthy?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Asking for what I want.

I have to thank Nosinkmolly this morning. I was unsure of what I was going to write and then I read Molly's comment on my blog yesterday, Rudeness. Thanks Molly!

She asks, "Should there be a difference in the way we ask for what we want when dealing with strangers or people we are close to? And what do we do if we are afraid to ask or stand up for ourselves."

For me, it has always been difficult to ask for what I want, even though one of my father's favourite sayings was, "Ask for what you want. You've got at least a 50 percent chance of getting a yes."

Problem was, I also had a voice in my head that said, "Don't make waves."

Because the actions of the adults around me were often contradictory with their words, asking for what I wanted became a risky business fraught with opportunities to be ridiculed, shut-down, or simply ignored.

And so, I learned to become quietly manipulative. If I wanted something I couched my 'ask' beneath the veil of subterfuge -- you know, that inverted way of asking that wasn't direct enough to get me in trouble, but ended up giving me sort of what I wanted without having to come right out and ask for it. Funny, I remember men in my past often telling me I was manipulative -- guess what? I never believed them! What? Me? Manipulative?

And yet, I was. Because, in my non requests, I was undermining the relationship by not being honest and forthright in my conversations.

It takes time to undo a lifetime of stifling my 'honesty'. In my family of origin, honesty was not big on the agenda. An honest response to "How are you today?" could have left me at risk of being mocked because, had I replied with anything other than the equivalent of, "Happy", the ensuing lecture would have left me feeling wrong for feeling how I was feeling.

Children are inherently honest. They learn through adult's responses whether or not their honesty is acceptable, or not. In many instances, the 'or not' becomes de rigeur.

I remember once when my youngest daughter was about four, we saw an older woman in the grocery store whose face resembled that of a chimpanzee. Liseanne, looked at the woman, and said, "Mommy. That lady looks like George the inquisitive monkey!"

I quickly hushed her, distracting her with some sort of treat while I smiled at the woman and said, "Oh, she says that to everyone."

Imagine Liseanne's confusion. She saw a woman who resembled a character in one of her favourite books and her mother lied to cover up the truth. Truth is, she didn't say that to everyone. Just this woman who did look remarkably like George, the inquisitive monkey.

I did talk to her when we got home about the importance of keeping some of our thoughts to ourselves. "But mommy. I like George. He's funny," she replied.

Learning how to speak up and ask for what I want has been a continual journey of unravelling my childhood voice that is filled with the fear of speaking up. It has been a constant struggle to determine, 'what is my truth?' versus, 'what's important here?"

I still struggle with speaking my truth -- especially in my close relationships. My mind dances around my fear, pitter-pattering in my heart, tiptoeing around my aversion to making waves, whispering all sorts of messages about why I best not do or say something.

If it's a really important discussion, like my wanting to talk to C.C. about smoking, I have to write out my thoughts first -- 1. What's important to me around this issue? 2. Why is it important to me? 3. How do I begin the conversation so that I create a safe space for both of us to be heard? 4. When the going gets rough, how do I bring us back to that safe space so that the conversation doesn't get diverted into opposing sides drawing a line in the sand with the only smoke in the room puffing out of our ears as our tempers steam over?

One of the biggest issues for me, just like the Runaway Bride, is to determine, What is my truth?

That's why speaking up in the coffee shop is important to me. Molly is right -- I will probably never see those people again. What's the risk? In speaking up I was building up my 'truth' muscle. I was practicing 'truth speaking'.

See, I spoke up. The woman was annoyed with me. I didn't die. A big hole didn't open up in the ground and swallow me up whole. Her annoyance is hers to deal with.

What I have to deal with are my runaway thoughts. You know, that conversation in the head that goes like this... 'oh my god, I was rude. I shouldn't have spoken up. She'll hate me forever. She's going to leave here and spend her day telling people about this rude woman who accosted her in a coffee shop, a public place of all places, and told her to shut up....'

Ultimately, it was just a moment in time. A passing moment in which I lived up to my commitment to be fearless. And in that moment, I created the opportunity for me to practice my voice, to test its tonsure without risking more than a look of disdain from a stranger.

That practice helps me in speaking up in my intimate relationships -- and gives me a guide in how to do it better each time. Truth is, when speaking up doesn't come naturally, using strangers as my testing ground is safer than creating havoc in my family!

In the end, it takes practice, patience and a commitment to being my loving self, in every kind of weather to learn how to speak my truth.

And it takes learning -- I've read several books that have helped me. One of the best which I'm reading right now is Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al, (McGraw Hill 2002). It provides, "Tools for talking when stakes are high."

For me, learning how to speak up when my head is saying, shut up! is a constant journey of fearlessly turning up for me, acknowledging my truth with loving care and staying unattached to the outcome.

The question is: Are you willing to step into your fear and be heard? Are you willing to shut off the chatter in your head so your heart can lead you fearlessly into loving yourself enough to ask for what you want?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rudeness on both sides of the street.

I was having coffee with a girlfriend when our conversation was interrupted by a woman's voice. It was loud and grating. She wasn't speaking to us, but to the man sitting at the table on the other side of us. She was waiting to pick up her coffee at the counter which was just beside our table, in between her and the man she was yelling to.

My friend and I tried to continue our conversation but it was hard. The woman's voice was too loud, too raucous, too invasive. Finally, after we'd both commented that it was distracting, I turned to the woman and asked, "Excuse me, it's very hard for us to have a conversation with you speaking above our heads. Would you mind going over to the table to talk to the gentlemen?"

The woman paused, looked at me and said, "This is a public space. Deal with it."

"Yes, it is," I replied. "That's why it's important to respect the rights of everyone in it."

The woman huffed, looked at the man she was yelling to, rolled her eyes and quit talking. I achieved my goal -- not sure how gracefully.

Later, on my way home, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few necessitites for the dinner party C.C. and I were having last night. As I loaded my groceries into the back of my car, a young man came up, leaned into the back of my car. He pointed to my wallet in my left hand and asked, "Can you spare some money so I can get a piece of pizza?"

Now, I don't give to pan-handlers. I work in an agency that supports homeless individuals. For me, giving to pan-handlers is counter-intuitive. It reinforces two things, 1) the thought that all someone is worth is to ask strangers for money, and that's okay; and 2) I work hard for my money. I contribute daily at the place where I work, both as an employee and as a volunteer. I know there are lots of facilities for people to go to for food. Pan-handling is not a necessity. It's not something I support.

"I don't give to pan-handlers," I told him.

He motioned towards my groceries, "How about giving me some food?"

I thought about his question. "I just bought these groceries for my family," I replied. I looked at the bag of nacho chips. I could give him that bag, I thought. But he didn't give me a chance to even consider it further.

"F*** you. You're lucky you've got a family." And he walked off, his body rigid with anger as he approached the next car where a man and woman were loading their groceries.

He was right. I am lucky and blessed to have a family to buy groceries for, to come home to, to share meals with, to share laughter with.

What struck me with both these incidents was the rude behaviour. It didn't matter what side of the street -- both parties were oblivious to my rights to also share in public space without being hassled, or condemned, for stating my boundaries.

The fact the woman was incensed I asked her to carry on her conversation in a way that respected others, is not my 'issue'. I'm proud of me for having the courage to ask for what I wanted and to speak up about her behaviour.

The fact the pan-handler was angry that I wouldn't give him money or food, is also not my issue. I am proud of me for having the courage to tell the truth when asked to give him money.

It's a challenge. To not give-in, to not give.

When the woman's conversation first started interfering with ours, I wanted to just ignore her, to sit with my friend and role my eyes and grumble, just loud enough for her to hear, that she was rude. I chose not to complain but to draw her attention to how her behaviour was affecting the world around her. For me, that's a huge difference than what would have happened in the past. In the past, I would have silently bore her rudeness and seethed inwardly about how stupid, inconsiderate, yada yada yada, she was. Yesterday, I chose to respectfully ask for what I wanted, and to let go of an expectation that she would see it my way.

When the pan-handler came up to my car, I was tempted to give him money. I knew I had coins in my wallet. I knew I could afford it. But that isn't the issue for me. The issue for me is I don't give to pan-handlers, not because I don't want to help, I do. I don't give to pan-handlers because it's my choice. It is a personal choice. And no one has the right to judge me on my choice. If he chooses to pan-handle, that's his choice. I don't condemn him, or call him out for making that choice. I don't have to play into his choice by compromising mine.

I believe it is our responsibility to treat each other with decency and respect. I believe we each have the right to respectfully state our boundaries, and our needs.
And, as yesterday demonstration, we can be rude on any side of the street. The important thing for me is to not cross over.
The question is: Are you willing to stand up for your rights and ask for what you want?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Making a difference

"Live life fully while you're here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird. Go out and screw up! You're going to anyway, so you might as well enjoy the process. Take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes: find the cause of your problem and eliminate it. Don't try to be perfect; just be an excellent example of being human.” Anthony Robbins

Yesterday, my eldest daughter, Alexis, and I had a talk about 'making a difference'. It is a term I hear often from volunteers who come into the homeless shelter where I work.

"I just want to make a difference," they inevitably say when asked, "What brought you here?"

It is perhaps, one of the greatest struggles of our clients. They don't believe they make a difference to anyone let alone have the capacity to make a difference in their own lives.

For most of our clients, the mistakes they've made in their lives, the mishaps that have tripped them up have brought them so far down they've lost the belief they have the power to change their direction, or that getting up will make any difference to their lives.

Like me, my daughters share in an innate desire to change the world. I don't think I consciously passed along my desire to create a world of change, but after listening to my daughter, I realized, I have.

Most of my life I have wanted to 'make a difference'. Even as a little girl I wanted to change the world. In discussions around the dining room table about world events, I inevitably took the side of the underdog -- who would protect them amongst the vociferous voices calling them down, calling them out to stand up and get a life? I believed it was up to me, my job, my purpose.

It is a belief I have quietly carried most of my life. Quietly carried because it was one I began to fear in its expression. What did it mean to 'want to make a difference'? What was the difference I was making?

Marian Wright Edelman said, "We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."

Years ago, I wrote and produced a play with a group of street teens. Ten years later, I ran into one of those young actors at a business meeting. He gave me a big hug and proceeded to thank me for making such a difference in his life. He is now married, working, has a home of his own, two kids and a dog. "Because of you my life is way different than it would have been had I continued in the direction I was going," he said.

At the time I wrote the play and struggled to get it produced, I didn't know what difference I was making. I just knew I wanted to give these kids a chance to tell their story, to speak up for themselves and find their voice.

On May 21, 2003 when I was released from the abusive relationship that was killing me, (visit my website to find out more) I didn't know what to do to make a difference in my life. I just knew I had to do something different if I was to heal. I didn't feel like I made a difference, but, believed different was possible if I kept taking baby-steps away from the past and into the possibilities of my today.

To keep myself inspired, I reminded myself of things I'd done in the past that made a difference, in my life, or in the lives of those I loved or those I worked with. Because I had forgotten (and lost) who I was, I needed to find those touchstones that said, remember -- you did this, you were capable of that, you achieved this. If I could do it then, I could do it again -- it just took conviction, commitment and a ceaseless desire to heal. Writing that play was a significant touchstone for me. Not only did it change the lives of the kids I worked with, it changed my life, then and when I needed the memory most.

Sometimes, we don't know what the difference is we make until someone reminds us that in what we did or said, they found hope, strength, encouragement, inspiration.

To make a difference, we have to accept that what we do is enough. Being our most magnificent selves doesn't mean climbing mountains, jumping tall buildings, and putting out forest fires all in one breath. It means accepting the difference between hope and despair or love and indifference, is felt in how we live this moment. When we live it with fiery passion, never letting the flame of our belief in our magnificence be extinguished, we make a difference.

There are enough people in this world who would have us believe life is a senseless journey with little purpose other than to struggle from cradle to grave.

Life is a passionate journey of love.

Life it up. Live large. Live it for all you're worth. And, as Anthony Robbins suggests, keep taking chances, keep turning your mistakes into wonderful lessons of living life fearlessly.

The question is: Are you struggling to find your purpose? Do you use fear of making a difference as the reason for not being the difference you want to make?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Living my highest intentions

Today is Parade morning. The Calgary Stampede begins to roll through downtown streets as hundred of spectators line the avenues to watch -- The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth come to life.

Today, I'm happy in the quiet of my home. C.C. and Liseanne are still asleep. The puppies are fed and walked and life unfolds with aplomb.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Let me make it my best day yet.

Hugh Prather, 70s iconic writer and 'philosopher' wrote, "Live as if everything you do will eventually be known."

Dale Carnegie said to speak of everyone as if they are in the room with you.

What would I do differently today if everything I do is 'known' by the world? What would I not do? Waht am I doing? Where do I speak of others as if they're not there? As if they can't hear my gossip. My non-supportive words, or my supportive words? Wher am I living my life as if it doesn't make a difference, as if I don't matter and what I do is not important?

We live in a universe where everything is connected to everything. What can I do today that connects me in powerful and positive ways to the world around me? How can I live my highest intentions and be the light that casts away the dark of my world, leading me through my magnificence?

The question is: What about you? What can you do that speaks to your highest intention to celebrate your magnificent, to live in the light of your wonder?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who are we kidding?

When my eldest daughter was in grade one, she came home from school distraught about the behaviour of a couple of boys in her class.

"They keep flipping up my skirt and trying to pull my panties down," she cried. "They try to do it to all the girls who wear skirts."

I was incensed. I marched into the school the next morning and spoke with the Administrator.

Upon hearing what the boys were up to, she replied, "Oh. That's just boys being boys. There's no harm."

I began to sputter. "Excuse me? No harm? It's wrong. It makes my daughter cry. Is that okay?"

She shrugged. "It's not okay. But we can't make them stop being boys. Rather than crying, maybe your daughter should learn how to stand up for herself."

"Perfect," I replied. "I'll tell her to grab the next boy who flips her skirt up by the balls and squeeze."

"That wouldn't be okay," replied the Administrator.

"Maybe not. But it definitely would get his attention and yours too."

Boys grow into men. Boys who do not respect girls grow into men who do not respect women.

Yesterday, I read the Bad Date Sheet published each month by a local non-profit that works at harm reduction for sex-trade workers. The Sheet is meant to advise street workers about men who are violent with their dates by providing a description of each incident and man involved.

I was incensed, furious actually, as I read about some of the things that these girls have endured in the line of their business. Rape. Being forced to have sex at knife-point. Having guns pulled on them. Beaten and left naked in remote industrial areas of the city -- often because she requests payment for services rendered.

One man, and I use the term 'man' hesitantly as I do not want to offend the real men out there, picked up his 'date' in the downtown core. There was a large dog in the back seat. He drove to a remote spot they had not agreed upon. She complained. He hit her. He was large. Overpowering. He locked the car doors and threatened to kill her if she didn't have sex with him and then his dog. She refused. He beat her and dumped her battered body in a ditch.

She lived to tell the story. She lived to turn another trick. Her description of the man is very vague. Girls don't look at their dates. They don't want to connect to their eyes. They don't want to give them any chance to see inside their minds, to see what little of their spirit they have preserved beneath the degradation of being a 'ho'.

Perhaps the men who beat and rape their 'dates' never flipped a girls skirt and pulled her pants down, but somewhere in their journey from grade school to degrading behaviours, they never learned about respect. About decency. About treating human beings with dignity. They never learned they had value. They never learned they could make a choice other than to overpower helpless women surviving on the avails of prostitution.

Girls don't become prostitutes because their parents told them, "This is a fabulous career honey. I think you'd be terrific at it. It's a lifestyle you'll enjoy."

Girls become prostitutes because of supply and demand. Their bodies are the commodity and there's an endless supply of men demanding their wares. Often, girls step into the trade because a man tells them they must. She calls him Darren, or Paul, or Simon. His real name is 'Pimp'. He tells her he loves her. He's the only one who does he tells her as he pulls her away from family, friends, anyone who might be able to tell her the truth. Can't you do this one thing for me, just this once, honey? Please? I need the money and my buddy offered $2,000 to sleep with you, just once. You know I love you. Look at all I've done for you, given you. Just this once can't you do it for me? It's just sex. It doesn't affect our love. That's forever after.

She believes him. Believes he loves her, forever after. Believes it's just 'sex'. And it is. Just sex. But it's sex at the cost of her life, her dignity, her spirit, her grace. It's sex that traps her into a life she never could imagine. Love, his love, her love. That's just part of his game. And in playing, she forfeits her soul and her freedom. Sure, she uses drugs. Who wouldn't if night after night you had to stand on the street, or wait in a hotel room for men to come and spill their spoil into your body as you moan in ecstasy and call him, Baby and tell him lies he needs to hear to believe he is 'the man'.

I read the Bad Date Sheet yesterday and thought of those boys who flipped my daughter's skirt when she was in Grade One. What lesson did the schools condoning of their actions send them? What did they learn about girls? About authority? About superiority?

My daughter quit wearing skirts to school after that. I quit trusting 'the Administration' to have the best interests of my child at heart and began teaching her and her sister about their rights as human beings.

It's a long road. We're women in a world where some men believe it's okay to take a date to a deserted parking lot, rape her and dump her. We're women in a world where pundits call for the legalization of prostitution. "It's one of the oldest professions," they spout. "We're not going to stop it. Let's at least make it safer by making it legal."

Safer? What is safe about a man called 'John' who uses your body and then sometimes pays, sometimes not? What is safe about spreading your legs for a few coins that will buy you your next fix, or perhaps feed your kids because prostitution is the only trade you've ever learned?

Who loses? Definitely the girls. But also, the mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. Aunts and Uncles. Those whose daughters and siblings and nieces step off the street into a stranger's car in order to fulfill on his needs.

We lose. Society. Us. You. Me. Our neighbours. We lose because in the act of legalizing prostitution we legalize the subjugation of women. We make it okay for men to have their sexual needs fulfilled at the expense of another human being. We lose because we make it all about the need of man to not have to control his urges in ways that show respect to every human being.

So, this isn't one of my inspiring posts this morning. I'll have calmed down by tomorrow. I'll be less strident. Less vocal. And in my silence, who will speak out for these girls? Who will speak up for these victims?

This morning I'm angry. I'm upset. I'm saddened by the hypocrisy of a world that makes it okay for girls to sell their bodies -- as long as nobody gets hurt.

The question is: Who are we kidding?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The game of life.

In my youth, I always figured golf was a game for middle-aged old farts who couldn't dance around a tennis court any longer, or were too lame to go hiking.

So, what was I doing, golf club in hand, swinging at a little white ball hiding in the grass? I'm not middle aged. I'm not too old to chase a tennis ball and I'm not too lame to hike! Oops. Wrong! I haven't played tennis for 20 years since a serious case of tennis elbow followed by bursitis put my right elbow out of the game. I can still hike but I've given up climbing mountains. I don't need to stand on top of a peak to get my highs. Life does that for me every day!

Suddenly, walking sedately around a golf course has appeal!

Franklin Adams wrote, "Years ago we discovered the exact point, the dead center of middle age. It occurs when you are too young to take up golf and too old to rush to the net."

Guess I must be middle aged.

Middle aged? How can that be? I dash to the mirror as fast as my varicose veins will support me. Who am I trying to kid? I have a head full of grey hair streaking through my black faster than a streaker at a football game evading the security guards.

Streaker you ask? Who remembers streakers? Mostly just us middle aged farts who remember a time when streakers were de rigeur at any large gathering of folk! Way back when in the seventies when our bodies were fit and lithe with nary a sag or wrinkle bearing down with gravities pull.

Actually, it's not the aging that's getting to me. It's the having to eat some of my words. They're choking me on the bile of blind youth's chatter about never growing old, about never giving up on my ideals, about never being like all them other old folks over there who have stagnated in the blissful youth of never giving up on being young! You know, the old lady with the spidered legs strutting around on stiletto's, wearing a mini-skirt only her teen age granddaughter should be sporting! Or the guy over there, the one with the comb-over. That twenty-something can't be his wife can she? Oh my. She is! Which means, the baby in the stroller is his son!

To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living. Henri Amiel
I'm into a life of continuous learning. Guess it's time to take up the art of aging gracefully and learn how to become a creator of master-works of wisdom that reflect my age.

Rather than balking at the prospect of aging, (it is inevitable!), I've decided to take it one step at a time, one day at a glance. It's time to stop running helter-skelter into the dawn of a new day, grasping at straws in the hopes that this one will bring me happiness. It's time to accept the happiness I feel being me, exactly the way I am, right where I'm at, grey hairs and all.

Golf great, Arnold Palmer, said, “The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.”

I always thought I would never play golf. I also believed growing old was a choice.

Time to let go of fear of change and accept the changes all around and within me.

Time to quit resisting the greener side of life. I'm not being put to pasture! I'm taking up the call to live it up with joie de vivre where ever I'm at, whatever my age. And in my wisdom, I know how to act my age with fun and laughter filling in the blanks of every page.

C.C. was right. Golf is for winners. And I'm a winner! Time to pick up the golf club and really learn how to play this game that some call, the game of life!

The question is: What are you resisting? Your age or the thought of giving up where you were at yesterday to step fearlessly into where you're at today?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I am Canadian

We Canadians live in a blind spot about our identity. We have very strong feelings about who we aren't but only weak ones about who we are. We're passionate about what we don't want to become but oddly passive about what we should be.

John Cruickshank (in McLean's Magazine)

I am Canadian.

Today is Canada Day! A day for fireworks and celebration. A day to give thanks for my Canadian identity -- whatever it is.

When I was in my teens we lived in a small town in southern Germany. It was a Canadian Forces base and we were invited guests on sovereign soil. Soil that belonged to a land of Teutonic origins. Guttural. Harsh. Steeped in a proud history of conquerors and vanquished. The language reflected the German spirit. Fierce. Defensive. Stoic. Proud.

In total I spent fifteen years of my life living on foreign soils. Neither of my parents were Canadian born. Displaced. Dispersed, my family history pulls the threads of nationhood into a multi-hued mosaic reflective of Trudeau's dream of a tapestry of colour made up of nationalities from across the globe.

Like my peers, whenever I travelled and someone stated, "You are American," I would vehemently respond, "No! I am Canadian." Inevitably, my inquisitor would shrug their shoulders and mutter under their breath, "Same thing." And I would launch into a discourse of why being Canadian was different.

It was always a vague and fuzzy dialogue. "We sing God Save the Queen because the British Monarch is our Head of State. Our flag is red and white and has a maple leaf on it not little stars and stripes. We have a Prime Minister and a parliament and we're not as big. At least not in people. We're nicer. Yup. Definitely nicer. We don't...." And then I would begin to list the things we don't do and who we aren't as Canadians.

"We're not pushy like the Americans. We don't believe we rule the world. We don't try to force our culture on yours like the yanks and we do things differently than them. We don't always just follow."

"Like when?" they would ask.

"Ummm. You know. We harboured draft dodgers who didn't want to fight in Viet Nam."

"Oh, so you betrayed your neighbour's trust?"

"Oh no. It wasn't like that. We just didn't want to make a fuss about the Viet Nam war. We, um, didn't really take a side. It just wasn't our battle."

"So, you sat on the fence."

"I didn't. I disagree with war. Any war. It was our government. They didn't want to take sides."

"Well, you're taking sides here. Being in Germany. You're only here because Germany lost the war. You took a side then."

"Yes, well that was different. That war was necessary."

"So, war's okay as long as you're on the winning side?"

"I didn't say that! I meant we were invited here. It's part of our responsibility to NATO."

"Who invited you?"

"Um. I don't know?.... You?"

And so it went. My Canadian identity was founded upon a hodgepodge of metaphors and altruism, unfounded beliefs I had never assessed, principles I couldn't stand up for and values I didn't know how to express.

I am Canadian.

Liberated. Free.

I have the right to vote and the freedom to express my opinion without fearing for my life.

I drive on the right side of the road. I have a car. I have a home. I have a job that I love. I have the right to oppose my government. I have the right to speak out.

I don't carry a gun. I carry a passport that promises me safe passage anywhere in the world I choose to go.

Because, as a Canadian I have choice.

Being Canadian is not about not being American. Being Canadian is about claiming my right to live in a country where tolerance and justice share equal voice with compassion and the right to a fair defence.

We don't have the death penalty in Canada. I'm proud of that.

And, as we seem to lose more and more of what makes us different than being American, I fear the loss of safety on our streets. I fear the loss of freedom in our schools.

As we become more 'politically correct', I fear the loss of Santa Claus and O Canada in our schools. I am Canadian and I am proud to celebrate Christmas and Easter. I am proud my neighbour is free to celebrate Hanukkah or Ramadan.

I am Canadian means I live in a land where the tapestry of nations woven together in our vast and varied lands creates a rich and vibrant world of colour. Stitched together across a land where every voice is equal.

I am Canadian and I stand proud before the Maple Leaf, shoulder to shoulder with my brethren, no matter our skin colour, no matter our belief as we sing loud and clear, "O Canada, my home and native land."

And then I realize in my oh so Canadian conscience that the very words of our national anthem deny the truth of one-third of our population who do not claim Canada as their 'native land'.

Oh dear. Best we change the words so everyone feels they belong in this amazing land called Canada.

I am Canadian.