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…

Encouraging Words…

“Among the Ashes” has been out for about 10 days, and I have been blessed by many of your kind words in response to the book.  Some of you have shared your thoughts with me by email, private messages, and posting comments on my Facebook.  I want to let you know that I treasure every word.  As you can imagine, writing and releasing a book like “Among the Ashes” is a very scary thing to do, and I can use all the encouragement in the world!   Please keep your responses coming!  I am really interested in hearing what you think!

One comment in particular made an impression on me.  It came from someone who attended my church many years ago.  He reminded me of something that I apparently said in a sermon all those years ago (I have no recollection of ever saying it :-P ).  He wrote:

“After i finished your book, the words you said long time ago on one of your sermons keep on cycling inside my head. You said “do not put your faith in people, for they will fail you. Do not put your faith in money. For it will fail you..do not put your faith in the church, for it will fail you too. But have your faith on God, for he will never fail you.”

Thank you Alfred for sharing your story. It’s an awesome book.”

I was touched by that comment because 1. The person remembered something I said over 10 years ago, and 2. It showed me that the writing of Among the Ashes is not something that “just happened”.  The story chronicled in Among the Ashes is part of a wider story that was set in place years ago.   I am eagerly looking forward to what is on the next page of this story…

A quick update:  We should be receiving the second print run shortly from our printer.  Please let us know quickly if you would like to order copies.  Also, Amazon.com has a US Thanksgiving sale on, and you can save a couple of dollars if you order the book there during the sale.

First Run SOLD OUT!!

Thanks to your support, the first run of Among the Ashes is sold out!

A second print run has been ordered and we should be receiving the shipment soon.  Please go to the “Buy the Book” section to purchase your copy.  As we are approaching the busy holiday shipping season, please place your order soon to ensure you receive it by Christmas!

Thanks again for your support!  I am grateful and humbled beyond words…

Motivated by Fear or Love? The battle behind the publishing of Among the Ashes

John Lennon once said “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love.  When we are afraid, we pull back from life.  When we are in love we open to all life has to offer…”.  On the night before the “birth” and release of Among the Ashes, I found myself staring at that very question.

Writing Among the Ashes has been, without question, one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.   The writing itself took about a year, done in bits and pieces late at night after my family has gone to bed.  After the manuscript was finished, I was blessed with the opportunity of working with Annabel Middleton, a FANTASTIC editor.  The design, editing, rewriting took another few months.  It was a big day when the final, ready for print files were sent to the printer.

The night before the release of the book, I woke up in the middle of the night and asked myself, “Do I REALLY want to do this?”  “Do I REALLY want to lay my story out there, with my failures literally for the world to know?”  “What will people think of me?”  “May be I should pull the plug on the whole thing while I still can!”

That was when I remembered the John Lennon quote, and I realized I had a choice to make:  Do I want to be driven by fear, and hold back from releasing the book because I am afraid of what people may say?  Or do I want to be motivated by love, and share my story with the world?  Yes, some will not respond well.  Some will judge.  Some will be unkind.  BUT, some will be encouraged and helped.  And it is for those that the book was written.

I am thankful that initial response to Among the Ashes has been tremendous.  The first run has sold very well.  But that is not my concern at all with the book.  If you read it and find it helpful to you, if the book and my story has played some small part in encouraging you in your own journey, then for me, it is all worth it.  Because, at the end of the day, you are the one for whom the book was written.  Perhaps together, we will encourage one another to keep telling our stories.  And together, we will remind ourselves that life is so much richer when we are motivated by love rather than driven by fear.