Why Among the Ashes?

Do you know that even in the developed world, at least 50% of people with a mental illness never receive the help or intervention they need. That gap grows to 90% in the developing world.

Even in a first world, first class city like Toronto, resources for mental health is scarce. Resources don’t come anywhere close to being able to meet the need. Private counselling are costly and not everyone can afford it.

We need to change the way we think. We need to stop automatically shifting the responsibility for mental wellness to the hands of “the professionals”. Because the reality is that there are not enough “professionals” around and available.

The solution lies within ALL of us.

We need to create safe and healthy communities. In our churches. In our homes. In our work place. Among our friends.

We need to create places where it is okay to be transparent and honest. Where it’s okay to say “I am not doing well” when someone ask “How are you doing?”

We need to create communities where all of us are just “people”…and no other labels are put on one another.

We need communities where mental health issues are properly understood, where it is safe and okay to talk about it without being gossiped and labelled.

We need communities where we understand all of us go through tough times and all of us make mistakes. And it is okay to have failed and the community will embrace and rally around people to get them back on their feet.

I truly believe any solution we come up with towards solving the challenge of mental illness needs to be grassroots and communal. It is not about having more professional counsellors, more mental health hospitals, etc If that’s how we think, the resources will NEVER catch up to the need.

That’s why I wrote “Among the Ashes”. That is why I have done my shows over the years, to simply say, “Hey it’s okay. It’s okay to talk about depression. It is okay to talk about our failures. If I can be transformed, you can too. If I can have hope, so can you.” If enough of us start to think that way, I truly believe that a new kind of community will be born that can change the way we think about mental illness and ultimate change our society.

That, in a nut shell is our reason and our hope for the concert on June 20th. Please come and support us and get the word out:

Invite a friend.

Share our Facebook event.

Help us share the message of the book and get the conversation started.

Let’s start a movement!

Can we connect?

“Alfred, I have just finished your book…can we connect?”

Among the Ashes has been released for about 6 months. During this time, we have received many encouraging comments from those who found the book helpful, or could relate to it in one way or another. Beyond their gracious words, many of the readers expressed a desire to connect with me. I am so thankful every time I hear that, because that was one of my greatest wish for the book: To inspire a desire to connect with others.

Music and stories connect us in a way that is beyond explanation. Something wonderful happens with that connection: We learn that we are not alone. In the upcoming concert on June 20th, we hope to bring to life the stories of Among the Ashes, and bring us together as we discover our own “Among the Ashes” stories in each of our lives. We will sing, we will dance, we will laugh, we may cry, but most of all, we will share and be together. Encouraged. Strengthened. Connected.

Please help us get the word out and invite friends whom you feel can use a shot of encouragement. You can purchase tickets simply by clicking HERE or the banner on the home page. Like in our previous shows, we will be doing a combination of English and Chinese songs, but this time around we will be speaking more in Chinese, simply because I have come to learn that in the Chinese speaking communities, issues of mental wellness is still very much an unspoken subject. I noticed each time after I speak or perform in Chinese, people come up and share their private struggles with me. When I ask why do they feel compelled to speak to a stranger about such personal matters, they often reply, “There is no where else in my community that I can talk about this…”

Hope to see you there at the concert! I will be sharing updates here and on Facebook as we prepare for our special evening together.

Sometimes losing is better than winning…

In the end, we came up just a little short.

Today Taylor’s hockey team played in the championship game for the season.  She was playing in goal, and against a much stronger team, she held them off for almost 2 periods.  Save after save, breakaway after breakaway, I have never heard such loud cheers from the stands after every save she made.  As her proud Dad and one of her team’s coaches, I didn’t think my heart was going to make it to the end of the game!  At one point even the referee skated by our bench and said, “Wow, that’s some good goal tending!”  For a moment it looked like David was going to slain Goliath and pull off the big upset.

At the end, despite everyone on our team’s best efforts, the other team finally broke through and took the lead.  When the final buzzer sounded, Taylor dropped to her knees and cried.  Then the most amazing thing happened.  Our whole team threw away their sticks, dropped to their knees around Taylor, giving her a giant group hug.

The tears were quickly replaced by smiles and giggles as the girls were presented with their silver medals (and pizza!) in the post game ceremony.  Taylor was named Most Sportsman Like Player for her team.  I was so proud of her!  Afterwards when we were driving home, Taylor said to me, “Even though we lost, I am happy because our team learned to support each other.”

Sometimes, losing shows us things than we never learn to see when we are winning, :-)

Another step forward

Today was the last meeting of the depression support group that I have been co-leading, using Among the Ashes as a discussion text.  Eight weeks ago when we first started I was nervous and apprehensive, not knowing what to expect and how the group would respond to the book.  What an encouraging experience this group turned out to be!

As we concluded our meeting tonight, and as I was signing the book for the participants, each of them told me, in their own way that the thing they enjoyed most about the book was the honesty and transparency.  They felt that it in turn gave them encouragement to be open and honest with what they are going through.  Their gracious response to the book make me feel even more encouraged to keep sharing my story and keep encouraging others.    The last I heard the book has made its way to a few different cities in North America and Asia and generating positive responses.   For me, it has got nothing to do with numbers or sales.  I have believed, from day one that the book will find its way into the hands of those who will be encouraged by it.  If that means 100 people will buy the book in total, that’s fantastic.  If it turns out to be more, cool.  If it’s less, I am fine with that too.

On Saturday June 20, we are celebrating and “officially” launching the book with a concert.  It will be a night where the story of the book will be told through video, music and sharing of stories.  We are looking forward to a fun, intimate and uplifting night.  Just like the book, I believe those who need to be there will find their way there.  We will need your help in getting the word out.  Promotion will begin soon.  Can you give us a hand to spread the message and invite your friends to come and share that special evening with us?

Concert 2015 in the works!!!

It’s time to ROCK again!

Details are still being finalized at this point, but we will be putting on a concert based on the themes of “Among the Ashes”, on Saturday, June 20th.

Mark that on your calendar now!!

You have read the book, come hear the stories!

It will be yet another unforgettable night of great music, positive vibe and energy, encouraging moments, songs and laughter, all good stuff that will leave you feeling like you are part of a GIANT GROUP HUG :-)

Can’t wait.   Stay Tuned for more details!

 

I like being a dad more…

Couple of days ago I went to the hospital to visit a colleague who has just given birth.  A nurse came into the room while we were happily chatting, smiled at me and said “Awww…is this the new grandpa?”

Ouch.

Last night I shared the story with the guys at hockey, looking for some sympathy.  Instead, I got mercilessly laughed at and “Grandpa” became my new nickname on the ice.

“Grandpa!  left wing!!!”

“2 on 1, Grandpa, 2 on 1!!”

Whenever I missed a shot, the whole bench chirped: “Come on Grandpa!  Did they teach you to shoot like that in the ‘home’?”

It is a cruel world.

I came home after 1am, and after putting away my gear, noticed that there was still light coming from Taylor’s room.  I went inside and she looked at me with her sheepish smile, “Hi Daddy!”  Turned out she was still up after cleaning her room.

She said she wanted a snack, so I warmed a glass of milk and brought some cookies into her room like I used to do when she was little.  We chatted, about hockey, about school, about friends, about boys.  After she finished her snack, I tucked her in and she said, “Good night Daddy!”

I think I like being a Daddy more than being Grandpa :-)

Let your light shine!

Last week I was leaving a community centre after attending a meeting.  I checked my watch and was pleased that the meeting had finished 10 minutes ahead of schedule.  “Great!  Just enough time to swing by Starbucks before going back to the office.” I thought to myself as I headed out the door,

Just before I reached the exit, I heard someone calling my name behind me.  I turned and recognized it was someone who works for another agency whom I have crossed paths with every now and then.

She was huffing and puffing from running by the time she reached me.   “Hi Alfred!  I have heard you speak before and I have always been so encouraged.  I know you have a background in teaching and coaching public speaking.  I have to give a speech tonight…I hope this is not too forward, but would you mind giving me some feedback?”

I gladly agreed and we found a quiet spot where she rehearsed her speech for me.  It was a short, 5 minutes speech on her life story, and by the time she was done I was amazed at all the experiences she had gone through.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this as I drove back:  Everyday we are surrounded by amazing stories that people are living through.  They are not celebrities or stars, but every day people like you and I.  Can you imagine how much we can learn if we make it a point to discover the stories of the people around us?  Can you imagine how enriched our days can be if we seek to converse with people beyond the skin-deep “how was your weekend?”

Some have asked about when our next concert event will be…I am putting some tentative plans together but this time, I want the focus to be on stories…stories of people in my life, told through music.  As I wrote in Among the Ashes, I believe it is in finding ourselves in others’ stories that brings us together.  So, stay tune! :-)

A Day In The Life…

8:42am.  A single mom is trying to rush out the door with her 2 year old son.   She works 2 jobs just to make ends meet and can barely afford childcare.  Last month she was given notice that she will be laid off from one of her part time jobs, together with hundreds of others as a major retailer closes shop.  She has no idea how she and her son will survive without that income.

Yesterday she got a phone call from one of the jobs she applied for to go in for an interview.  She desperately needs this job.  It doesn’t pay much.  It demands longer hours which meant she will be sleeping even less. But it will pay the bills.

The morning of the interview, her son woke up sick with a fever.  Kids always pick the worst time to get sick.  She raced around the house to try and feed her son, give him some medicine and get ready for the interview all at the same time.  She dropped off her son at the baby sitter, and rushed off to catch the bus for the interview…

9:12am.  A man sits alone in his car outside of a Tim Hortons.  He has been sitting there, staring into a cup of coffee for the last hour.  He has a good job as a manager in a big company.  While he goes about his job during the day, every night he secretly battles the demons of depression. He could not remember the last time he was able to sleep.  He has a day lined up with interviews for new employees.  He has no idea how he will be able to get through the day…

9:30am.  The single mom arrived at the interview, barely made it on time.  She enters the office.  The man stood up behind the desk.  They shook hands.   Bright smiles on their faces.

“Good morning!  How are you?”

“I am doing well, thank you.  How are you?”

“Great thanks!”

Really?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there is a place we can go where we don’t have to put on that smile and tell the world we are doing well when we are not?

Wouldn’t it be nice if church can be that place where we can say, perhaps even just to God:

“Please…I need some help…”

For when I am weak, then I am strong

After speaking on the issue of depression and faith recently, someone came up to me afterwards and suggested that rather than having a mental illness, I was really suffering from demonic influences.  He further prescribed the following plan of action:

  1. Identify the sin in my life that is the root cause of the demonic influence.  In his own words, “sin is always the cause”
  2. Claim the power of God and have faith in him to remove the demon from my life.
  3. Conquer depression once and for all.

I have no doubt that every word from him was spoken out of genuine care for my well being.  While I disagree with his theological beliefs, such as all mental illnesses are results of demon activities, sin is the root cause of depression, etc., his worldview reflects a popular theology in the church that says God is here to help us conquer life’s struggles and it is in such “victories” that God’s power is displayed.

Over the years I have had many, many conversations with people diagnosed various forms of mental illness.  Some of them are people of religious faith, some are not.  The one thing that is common In all those conversations is that living with a mental illness is a life long journey.  Some days are better than others.  There are days when the battle is fierce, when it takes all the strength you have just to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.  There are days when the battle gets the better of you, and your can only hope to get through the night, and go at it again the next day.  I have not, up to now, heard one person told me how they “overcame” or “conquered” a mental illness in one dramatic display of faith or power.

I have said before that there is much the church can learn from the mental health community.  One thing they can teach the church is to stop worshiping success and strength.  After all, what is true strength?  Is it the ability to pick up 1,000 pounds, drop it and never come back to it again?  Or the steadfastness of picking up 1 pound per day, day after day, for 1,000 days?

Perhaps that is in part what Paul meant when he reminded the church in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

Deja Vu…New Year, New Hopes

Tonight I had to go to my church’s evening service to help make a special announcement to promote a depression support group that I will be helping to lead.   As I sat on the staircase near the front door of my house to put on my shoes, I suddenly had a case of deja vu…

Those who have read Among the Ashes will remember the chapter when I talked about what happened the morning I went to my old church to make a special announcement…to tell the church that I was resigning.  If you haven’t gotten the book or read it, I won’t spoil it for you here :-)  But that morning, so many years ago, I sat on those very same steps, by myself to get ready to go.  And it was at that time that out of nowhere I received that special phone call from my Dad that changed my life.  (Again, if you haven’t gotten the book, you will have to read it for yourself to find out what that was about.   Seriously, what are you waiting for?  It’s a great read :-) )

This time, rather than sitting there by myself, Anna was standing next to me, holding my coat to help me get ready.  Rather than going to announce the end of something, I am going to start something fresh.  And, rather than my Dad calling me out of the blue, this time, out of nowhere, MJ ran up to me, threw her arms around my neck, gave me a kiss, then ran back to her TV show. :-)

I was thinking about that the whole time I was driving to church tonight.  What a journey it has been.  For all of my friends, I pray that this year will be a year of forward steps, even if they are baby ones.  Don’t quit.  Your story is not finished.

Keep journeying on, friends!