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!

 

Thank you for a wonderful 2014! Onwards and Upwards to 2015!!

Last night as we enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with our girls, I looked back at 2014 and still find it hard to believe what had happened.  On New Year’s Eve 2013, I had one New Year resolution:  To write a book.  After years of encouragement from my therapist and counselor, I finally decided to go ahead with it.  I started writing during the crazy ice storm of December 2013, the book went to final editing and layout in August, and was released in November.  I will never forget the feeling when I held a printed copy in my hands for the first time.  I owe my thanks to Anna for her support and for writing a pivotal chapter in the book.  Many have told me that they actually read her chapter first before reading the rest of it. :-)

Since the book came out, I have had so many encouraging conversations and dialogue with people.  I was asked to help with a depression support program at my church and use the book as a resource curriculum.   We are looking forward to telling the story and the message of “Among the Ashes” through music in 2015.  To all my musician friends:  Let’s get together and make music again!!

So, thanks for a great year.   Whatever happened in 2014, let’s rise from the ashes and journey onwards.  Happy New Year everyone!!

Giving away a piece of me

Tonight I performed at a fund-raiser for an upcoming Leadership Training camp in South Africa in 2015.  Even though our performance was only a small part of the evening, I felt honored and humbled to be a part of such inspirational efforts from our young people.  It’s amazing to see the global vision of our youth!   I can only hope and pray that our churches will become communities that will encourage them and elevate them so they can see even further, rather than simply institutions that try to wall them in.

During the evening I gave a copy of Among the Ashes to a friend whom I know was going through a difficult time as a Christmas gift.   As gifts go, obviously this was not one of great monetary value.  But I was so touched when I saw her cradled the book in her hands as if handling something of great worth.  Right there and then in that little exchange I felt something special has taken place which reminded me of the essence of true gift-giving:  Giving away a piece of yourself, giving something uniquely yours, something that only you can give.

Can I challenge you with this as we draw ever so near to this “gift-giving” season?  I know we all have our share of “frivolous” gift giving to do at this time of year:  gift exchanges at parties, “Secret Santas” at work, etc.  But, for those whom we love, let’s try to give them something that is unique ours to give: It may be words of encouragement for your children that only you can give, or reaching out to express love for your spouse that can only come from you, or how about the gift of forgiveness that you have been withholding for years?

Of course I have no clue what those special gifts may be for you, but I think you do.  I pray that you too will experience the joy of giving something that truly touches the person, not because it is something of great dollar value, but because it is something unique that can only come from you.

P.S. I continue to be encouraged by the positive response to the book.  Amazon.com right now has a holiday sale on, and you still can get the book shipped by Christmas through their amazing shipping set up.  Obviously I cannot autograph the book before it is shipped to you, but hey, that will give you another reason to get together with me, right? :-)

Among the Ashes, page 173…

Among the Ashes has 172 pages.  172 pages that I wrote.

I am looking forward to what’s in store starting from page 173…

Part of my hope in writing Among the Ashes is to see how my story can encourage others in theirs.  I am looking forward to seeing how the story will continue to unfold beyond the last page of the book.  A quick update:  It looks like I will be helping out with a depression support program in the new year and Among the Ashes will be part of the material used as the curriculum!  I am excited, scared, nervous all at the same time.  But isn’t that how you are supposed to feel when you turn another page on a good story?

Thank you for all your encouraging response to the book so far.  Please keep letting me know your thoughts.

Here’s to page 173 and beyond…