Goals for 2017

Can you believe it is middle of February already???   Since we have JUST celebrated Chinese New Year, and I AM Chinese, I can still claim to be in “New Year mode” and think about resolutions and plans for 2017.  So, I thought I take a couple of minutes to share with you what’s in store for me for the first part of 2017:

Ministry Engagements:  In addition to helping out musically and leading worship at my church (The Bridge Markham), in April (April 22/23) I will be travelling to London Mandarin Alliance Church to speak about my journey with depression, promote my book, and to perform musically.  In June I have just committed to 2 concerts at 2 different churches to share about my journey of fatherhood, within the context of my experience with depression.  The title of the concerts is “爸爸不易做” which means “It is not easy being a Dad”.  The shows will be in Cantonese.  I will post more details as they become available.

Training: Since committing myself to race in an Olympic Distance Triathlon at the Toronto Triathlon Festival this July (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run), I have been in training mode ever since I recovered from my collarbone surgery late last year.  At my old age, I decided to enlist the help of a coach to help get this old bag of bones across the finish line. Currently I am training 6 days a week, and playing hockey on my “day off”.  I am feeling stronger than ever, and race season starts in June!  In addition to the Olympic Distance race, I hope to compete in at least 3 more races this season.

Personal: I am as committed as ever to be a voice raising awareness and reducing stigma about mental illness this year.  To that end, if you feel my experience can be of help in anyway to your church/group, please drop me a message and let’s talk.  At work, I told my colleagues this year I want to intentionally cultivate a culture of learning in our team, with the ultimate goal of all of us learning to become better people.  This year, you will also (hopefully) see a brand new website to promote my blog, my book and my appearances.  Stay tuned!!! 🙂

Well, that’s about it for the first half of 2017.   I am trying to build more meaningful connections this year.  So, hopefully I will run into you sometime, whether over a cup of coffee, at the gym, in the pool, or at one of my events.  Here’s to making 2017 the best year ever!! 🙂

 

January 25th 2017. Let’s Talk

Today is January 25th.  In many ways, just another day on the calendar.  But today is a special day that Bell Canada designated for their Let’s Talk campaign to raise money for mental illness research.  For those unfamiliar with the campaign, You can read about it here

Let’s Talk.

It is important to talk about mental illness because for all the dialogue that has taken place, both in the media and in our personal circles, the stigma surrounding mental illness is still very much alive.  Those struggling with depression or anxiety are often painted by others as weak, lazy, looking for excuses, lacking in strength, not being spiritual or religious enough, not trusting God enough, etc. etc.  I started publicly speaking about my journey with depression in 2009. I have written a book, translated and published a Chinese version, performed in many, many venues, had countless conversations with others about their struggles.  And yet I still encounter the ill informed, judgmental and condescending attitude towards those with mental illness, quite often in the church circles.  For this reason I know every single time I speak in a church, there are those in the audience struggling but are afraid to say so.

So Let’s Talk.

I know many of us are afraid to speak honestly about our struggles because we are scared, or ashamed, or both.  I know in the church, so often we publicly feature “sharing” from those who have “overcome” depression and hold them up as the standard and the norm for believers.  I know for many of us, we don’t want to say anything because we have not “overcome” our struggles.  I know some of you reading this think that I too, have “overcome” my depression and that’s why I wrote the book and hold talks and concerts, etc.

Let’s Talk.

I live with depression everyday.  I still have nights where I cannot fall asleep until I am drunk.  Today I had to step outside in the middle of church because I couldn’t handle it.  I spent the rest of the service sitting outside in the cafe area, crying to a cup of coffee.  Last week I chaired a staff meeting at work when all I wanted to do was to shut myself in my office, curl into a ball and weep.  EVERY time I get up to speak about my depression, EVERY time I get up to sing, I feared if I could get through it.  I have not “overcome” depression.  I have not “defeated” it.  It is something that I am learning to manage, rather than having it manage me.  You are not alone.

So Let’s Talk.

I believe in God.  I believe God writes the stories of our lives so we can share and help one another.  I am not an inspiration, but I believe God can use my struggles to encourage others to not give up.  If you are reading this, and you are struggling, and if you believe you are all alone, and you can never tell anyone.  Send me a message.  Shoot me an email.

Let’s Talk.

Hi everyone! I am excited to be a part of this community dialogue on the issue of mental wellness among younger, English speaking Chinese Canadians. I will be there from 11am to 1pm to chat, share my story and doing a few songs with my musical friends.  Please help spread the word and hope to see you there! aim-event-2016-revisedppt

Why I love endurance sports

bikeIt has been more than 20 years since I ran my first marathon.  Back then, the most popular question I got asked was: “What? You pay money to do this??  Why do you do this to yourself??”

Looking back, I realized through the years, my participation in endurance sports has gotten me through some of the darkest patches of my life.  Aside from the obvious physical benefits, endurance sports has taught me some of the most important life skills:

Keeping Life Simple: In a marathon or any other endurance race, everyone shares one thing in common, whether you are an elite professional athlete or someone who just got into the sport:  At some point, you are going to hurt.  When that happens, the challenge becomes pure and simple:  “Do I keep putting my one foot in front of the other?”  Nothing else matters.   It’s not about the equipment, the conditions, or what other participants are doing/not doing.  Everything gets reduced to this singular question:  Do I keep going?

When life gets overwhelming, I have learned it is easy to focus on things that I cannot control and feel helpless and victimized.  Sports taught me to reduce the battle to a fight that I can control and win: putting one foot in front of another, one step at a time.

Sharing the Journey With Others:  When you “compete” at my level, you are not really run“competing”.  I mean, is there REALLY a difference between who finishes 492 and 493?? The wonderful thing is that everyone that I run/race with don’t really care if you pass them, or they pass you.  We are each running our own race, and we each bring our own stories to the start line.  All of us are just trying to make it to the finish line.  Seriously, when I race I don’t even pay attention to the race clock anymore.  I find myself enjoying the experience much more when I seek to help and encourage others, rather than seeing other participants as my “competitors”.

Sometimes pain makes us focus inward and live life selfishly.   I have learned through sports rather than being obsessed with crossing the finish line first, the journey is much more satisfying when we turn our eyes outward, to share our lives and encourage others in the race they are running.

finish lineLearn From Mistakes: When your focus is in “learning” and “sharing” rather than “winning”, every race, every workout is a valuable experience.  In my first triathlon last week, the swim was cancelled due to wind and waves and was replaced by an additional run.  I failed to take into account that I sweat A LOT more running than swimming.  I forgot to hydrate adequately on the bike, and faded in the second run when dehydration set in.  Rather than freaking out, I was able to draw from what I have learned through years of racing and said to myself: “OK, this is gonna hurt.  But you know how to get to the finish line.”  On one hand, someone who has been racing for 20 years should not have messed up something as basic as hydration, but we all make mistakes.  Afterwards I quickly made a mental note to plan how I will take in enough fluids for my next race.

All of us are on our journeys.  All of us are running our own races.  All of us stumble and fall.  Let’s take it upon ourselves not just to run on our own, but help others along the way.  So that one day, we can say, in the plural “WE have fought the good fight, and WE have finished the race…”

 

 

See you this weekend!!

Hey everyone!! This weekend I will be speaking and performing with my musical friends on both Saturday and Sunday for Living Water Counseling Centre.  Click the link See below for info. Check it out!!

Living Water Counseling Centre Annual Conference and Gala

Also, The good folks at Herald Monthly 號角月報 recently did an interview with Anna and I and published an article on my story.  Many thanks to them for this opportunity to share.  See link below for the article, which is in Chinese:

Article on Herald Monthly

See you on June 4th!!!

13041348_10156801560455534_2405077246463726557_oLast Saturday many came out to the first session of the seminar and we were overwhelmed by the response to the sharing, the music, and the professional insights of Dr. Thomas Choy.  We are going to do it again on June 4.  Click on the poster to see the details re time and location.  I will again be speaking and performing with my talented musical friends, and of course Dr. Choy will enlighten us with his decades of professional experience as a psychiatrist.   My book will also be available for purchase at the event.  Don’t miss out!  See you there 🙂

A Few Thoughts on Prayer

I was going through some old files and came upon an old “prayer list” that we used to hand out during prayer meetings at the church. Sometimes if space permit we will print the same list in the Sunday worship bulletin. Looking at the list, the items were categorized under two sections: There were the “Items for Thanksgiving”, and then there were “Items for Prayer.” The “Thanksgiving” list contain basically the “good things”: someone finding a job, someone recovered from an illness, a successful church program, etc. While the “Prayer” list contained the “bad stuff”: Someone with a sick child, someone being laid off, etc.

Looking at the list today (and countless others that we printed using the same “template”), it became clear to me now that the implicit purpose of the prayer meetings was to move items from one list to the other, from the “items for prayer” list to “items for thanksgiving” list. That was it. That was the goal.

Interesting.

I can go on writing forever about the fundamental issues that I see with that approach. But I thought it may be more interesting if I simply leave this with you…with a few questions for thought:

What does it say about us, when we instinctively classify every human experience we encounter under those two headings? Can you think of different, or better “headings”?

Is prayer, fundamentally speaking, a “means to an end”? Regardless of whatever the “end” is?

If we accept the popular notion that prayer is fundamental to our Christian spirituality, what does this pattern or tendency of prayer say about our spirituality, and ultimately our approach or understanding of the Christian faith?

Depression Support Group starting soon

During the winter months, I lead a 10 week depression support group at the church my family is attending (The Bridge – Markham). We use Among the Ashes as a platform for discussion. Each week the group reads a chapter and we share our experiences and encourage each other. I share with the group some of the “behind the scene” stories behind the writing of the chapter and also lessons I am learning on my ongoing journey.

Our church considers this as a service we offer to anyone and we do not limit participation to people from our church (or ANY church, for that matter). If you or someone you know may be interested being part of the group, please pm me. We are very intentional in keeping the group relatively small (10-12 people) so it doesn’t turn into a “class”. We will probably start the weekly meetings towards the end of January.

Please email me (alfred.lam@gmail.com) if you are interested or have any questions.

What Paris taught me about parenting (of all things!)

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Paris is, in one word, breath-taking.  (Does that count as one word?)

There were times when I stood in front of the historic sites, and feel my breath literally being knocked out of me.

As a photographer, it is almost impossible to take a bad picture in this place.   Seriously, you can stand on just about any street corner, take a random picture and end up with something that is postcard worthy.

But beyond the visual beauty, the city is a living, breathing story book.  Every building, every street corner tells a story.   Who would have guessed that underneath today’s majestic beauty, the city’s streets once ran with blood from the French revolution and two world wars?

This morning at breakfast, I found myself having a good conversation about the history of Paris with the girls.  We talked about the stories of the city.  And we concluded with the lesson that if we don’t know the stories, it is easy to take what we see today for granted and one day repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Then it occurred to me that it is so important to raise our children with an appreciation of history and the arts.  I want my children to grow up with a strong sense of being part of a story that is greater than themselves, and they have to make choices as to how they will contribute to the story.  I want my girls to grow up wanting to create, to give to those around them, to add to the world they live in.   Without a sense of history, without an appreciation for the arts, it is so easy for kids to grow into a me-first, self centered, what’s-in-it-for-me, get-ahead-of-others-at-all-cost kind of life.  Which, sadly, is what I see so often in the Hong Kong culture that I came from.

Love or hate, create or compete, contribute or consume, give or grab…these are the choices that all our kids will learn to make.  They don’t need to all become philosophy or history majors.  They don’t all need to become singer-songwriters.  And they don’t all need to go to Paris to be inspired.  They all will, however, look at the kinds of choices WE make, and the messages WE in turn communicate to them and ultimately become the kind of persons the choices shape them to be.