Sunday, December 30, 2012


AJ is a regular fixture at The Mustard Seed; he's a slight man, in his 50s, and is of middle eastern descent (his real name is long and somewhat unpronouncable, so AJ does the job just as well).  When I first met him, he always greeted me with a smile, saying, "God bless you" or "Thank you for looking after us."  He's told me a few snippets of his history - homelessness, drug addiction, a common story in the inner city, but he has had a home for the past eight years and is drug free, and he is not afraid to share that he owes everything to God.

What an example AJ is!

On Friday, not my usual night, but I felt like going downtown anyway, and I had a chance to speak to AJ behind the coffee bar - he was volunteering for the night.  He told me that he had a heart attack a number of years ago and was in God's presence, but he was sent back to Earth, and now feels that it is his job to tell everyone about our Lord.  He confessed that he has never learned how to read or write, but that all of his Biblical knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit.  I was amazed, because AJ can speak Truth as well as any literate church-goer that I've ever met. 

He then went on to explain how spiritually dead The Mustard Seed is, and how no one speaks of God, but he does, to anyone who will listen.  He doesn't do it to show off or appear knowledgeable - he does it because he truly believes God sent him back to spread the Good News.  It made me think of my actions when I am downtown - yes, I help, yes, I'm a "good person", but am I intentionally creating disciples?  Not really.  I can talk about God to those who ask, but that's not very often - it's those who don't ask who probably need to hear about God the most.

Yes, the church may be spiritually dead, but it only takes a bit of effort to bring God back into His house.  I'm going to follow the lead of a former drug addict, a former homeless man, a child of God, and spread the Word to those who need it most. 

We can't wait for a near death experience to decide that we need to spread the Word - time is of the essence.

Friday, December 14, 2012

One day He will wipe away every tear

I am not a crier, and on the rare occassion that I do cry, it is usually in a burst of rage or stress, and it is very short, and then it is over and I can move on with my day.  But today, a day that will live in infamy much like September 11, 2001 or April 20, 1999, the tears started the moment I heard the news and have continued throughout the day, to the point where I have no more tears left to give.

I cried for the little ones who headed out the door this morning, grabbing lunchkits and backpacks, kissing their moms goodbye for the last time.

I cried for the moms who were out shopping last night, out buying one last gift for their little one.

I cried for the dads who heard the news at work and rushed frantically to the school in search for their children.

I cried for the lego and Barbies that won't be opened on Christmas morning.

I cried for the teachers who were planning activities for the last week of school and looking forward to their Christmas vacation.

I cried for the mom whose last moments on Earth were left gazing at her son as he killed her.

I don't know why this tragedy has affected me so deeply - there have been other recent tragedies, and while sad, they haven't thrown me into a state of catatonic depression.  Maybe this was my "last straw", after being numbed by violence for so long, and they were just all bubbling below the surface, waiting to explode.

Can you imagine how God feels?

Tragedy after tragedy, not only gun violence, but human slavery, poverty, brutality, children dying in the streets of east Asian slums, building and building until we become numb to it all.  It's just too overwhelming.

But as I was sharing my grief with a friend, I remembered something that my sister once said:  You can't help everyone, but you can help one person at a time. 

And one of my Pastors, half way around the world, comforted me unknowningly with his Revelation quote.

Yes, one day He will wipe away every tear, but until then, we will cry for the lost, and provide hope to all that we can.  One person at a time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Frogs and Muffins

First of all, I must say that there is no way that it's been over a month since I last posted!  November was just yesterday....wasn't it?  Try as I might, I just can't seem to keep the days and weeks from zipping by.  I was hoping to slow down December, but here we are, on the 12th already, and still so much to do!

Life goes on in the inner city, most of the people are aware of the Christmas season but many don't care; it's a painful time for many and they just want to get it over with...but are still appreciative of the many festive meals served during the season.  Last week was a tough week at the Mustard Seed; it was bitterly cold and windy, and I was yelled at more than once and also sworn at, and I left feeling drained and tired, but would never quit trying to befriend these people; all God's children who have just taken a wrong turn somewhere in their lives.

I remember when I first started volunteering and a woman named Tammy would come in every week, never smiling, never saying thank you, but I was determined to break through her rough exterior and now we are buddies!  On the days that I see her she tells me about their new place, her grandchildren, and what she's been up to since I last saw her.  I am reminded of Tammy as I approach the folks who look grumpy, who don't say thank you, who bark responses to my questions, knowing that inside there is a mother's son or a father's daughter, and at sometime in their lives, even if it was a long time ago, they had a spark of hope. 

And we can give hope to so many, even if it just through a smile.

Last night was one of those fun nights downtown - it was cold but the mood was festive, and my volunteer pal Minnie brought me an apron that was shaped like a frog.  Even though I am not typically an apron wearing person, I thought it was pretty cute and might generate some smiles throughout the night.  Boy, was I right!

My frog apron struck up many conversations with the community, prompted lots of smiles, and kept me in giggles for the entire night.  We had plenty of food and I was able to hand out muffins until the end of the night, and everyone left with something extra for their lunches the next day.  I joked with a community member who was trying to get us to guess his name, and rather than cheating and asking one of the staff, I just decided we would call him Rumpelstiltskin.  That evoked more laughter and giggles.

We all went our separate ways at 10:00, they to the streets and I to my car, but I left with a lot of good feelings and a prayer that maybe some of the community members will remember that evening of joy and fun, and that it will bring some hope into their lives that things could be a little better.

Where You go I'll go and what You say I'll say.......

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Snow Day!

Our school has a policy that if the weather is too poor for the busses to run, they close the school.  Aaah, the freedom and benefits of being a private school!  Yesterday the kids bounded in from being picked up, their faces wide with Cheshire grins, and exclaimed, "The busses are cancelled tomorrow!"  Matthew was elated, realizing he had another day to study for his science test, and Elizabeth was just happy she could sleep in.

And so today the kids slept in, Matthew until 8 and Elizabeth until 930, they made themselves breakfast and were still shuffling around in pajamas when I returned home from the gym.  They helped clean the kitchen, pulled on their snowpants and jackets, and played outside all morning.  They made snow angels, buried themselves in snow, and at one point Matthew was singing Jingle Bells at the top of his lungs!

The kids huddled back inside and made hot chocolate while I prepared grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (with goldfish crackers by request!) and then we sat down to a leisurely lunch.  Scott arrived home from his class, all frazzled due to the terrible road conditions, and we went out to Coffee Corner for cinnamon buns.

As I watch the flakes of snow continue to fall, I wonder if tomorrow will be another snow day.

I think we all need a snow day or two once in a while.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Words of Wisdom

These words from a local Pastor really spoke to me:

"When you say, 'That's just the way I am' I would say, 'That's just not good enough.'  You can change!  Just because you have been one way all your life doesn't mean you have to be trapped by the restrictions of your temperment for the rest of your life."

Wow, so that means I don't have to be an anti-social introvert for the rest of my life?  Sign me up!

Maybe easier said than done, but I'm up for the challenge.  I'm not going to be able to make disciples with this earthly temperment of mine, so my God-given temperment must be so much different.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Qi Deficient

My trainer suggested that I try acupuncture to help release my tight hips.  I have never been a big fan of the thought of someone poking needles into my body, but my trainer has never steered me wrong, and so I went after my training session on Friday.

I had met the acupuncturist before at a function with my trainer, so I already knew who she was and I really liked her.  She took the time to explain the procedures, and after many questions, asked me to lay on the table while she poked a bunch of needles into me.

I'm happy to say that I hardly felt any of the needles going in (other than the ones into the tops of my feet).  My back had one spasm and my right glute had a big spasm, but once they were all in, it actually felt kind of nice. 

As I relaxed, my acupuncurist made me a concoction of various Chinese herbs - known as "Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang" when they are all mixed together.  Drinking this mixture twice a day is supposed to bring my Qi levels back to normal - to a point where everything in my body is working in harmony again.

After researching this Chinese medicine stuff, I became very intrigued with how the Chinese have been practicing this medicine for thousands of years, and how it all makes perfect sense.  How often have we gone to a regular doctor with this ailment or that complaint, only to have drugs prescribed within 5 minutes and then be ushered out the door?  While in many cases synthetic drugs are justified, how many of our ailments could be cured purely by eating a better diet and practicing some alternative medicine? 

And don't even get me started on what stress does to our bodies....I don't think most of us even realize how are bodies feel when they are functioning at an optimal level.  We're all too sleep-deprived, hopped up on caffeine, ruled by our to-do lists, and we are ignoring the malourished cry from our insides....from the only body we will have while on this earth.

My acupuncturist also suggested I try wheatgrass to help improve my iron levels (which have always been deficient and for which I take a supplement).  I would have laughed at the prospect a few years ago (organic-schmorganic, I say!), but the benefits seem to be amazing. 

I'll check in a week from now....after another acupuncture session and a week on Qi-boosting tea and wheatgrass, and see if there's anytruth to this hippy-dippy lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My New Baby

Even though I am a self-professed geek, I'm not really a gadget person; I have always been very happy with my cell phone that is just a phone, and was very happy to pay very low fees for my phone that was just a phone.

I was determined never to be one of those "texting people" - people that walk down the street texting, walk down the mall texting (the funniest scene ever:  three friends walking down WEM, two with their heads down texting and one on his cell phone talking, each oblivious to the others), and who basically ignore the beauty of the day, and the fresh air, and the blessings they have been given. 

However, back in April I decided to get a small texting package as a trial, it was only $5.00, and if I didn't use it, I would cancel it.  Days later, my son broke his arm and we were in the hospital for four days, and the texting was very useful.  I was able to keep my parents up to date on the situation without incurring long distance charges, so that $5.00 was worth every penny.  When we were in BC for my sister's wedding I was able to text and again saved myself long distance charges.  So, even though I text on a rare occassion, I'm still not one of those "texting people".

And I was also determined not to cave into the media juggernaut known as the iPhone.  I seriously think that people must have a screw loose since they spend a fortune on the "latest models", when the old models were just fine.  Now, with the new iPhone 5, not only are they spending money on the new phone (when the old phone was more than adequate), but the new phone is shaped differently, so they need to buy new cases, and apparently the headphones are different, and the docking system is different.  Apple is laughing all the way to the bank.

But then.....Telus was offering "old" iPhones (that were released a year ago) for $79, and I had always thought the voice recognition software was neat (the funny commercials with John Malkovich didn't hurt either).  So I decided to treat myself to a Gadget - an iPhone 4S that is amazing, and it makes me sad that millions think that they need to ditch this amazing piece of technology for the "next new thing", basically because they believed that this "next new thing" is better.  They must also believe it will make them faster, stronger, smarter, more popular, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.....oops, I digress.

I admit that I love my little iPhone 4S.  I have configured all of my e-mail so that I can easily check it straight out of my pocket, and I speak text messages now instead of typing them (so cool!), and it's very convenient and has made work a little bit easier.

However, the iPhone is still just a phone - it gets turned off at night, it gets turned off at church and in restaurants, and I will never interrupt a conversation with a friend to check an e-mail or a text message.

I love my iPhone, but it's just a gadget.....I wish more people would remember that.

Friday, August 31, 2012

"I Envy You Jo"

Tuesday was a typical night - I drove up to The Mustard Seed in my little red car, said hi to the gang waiting outside for dinner, and started my usual chores:  handing out plates, chatting with the community members, clearing away coffee mugs, and all the while just seeing all the people as just people, no different than I, and I always thought they saw me as an equal as well.

But maybe I was wrong.

I was chatting with one of my homeless buddies as we usually do - about work, the street, his "issues", and then suddenly he spoke frankly:  I envy you Jo.

My first thought was, "Why would he envy me?"  Maybe it should have been an obvious answer, but I've come to know some of these people so well that they are no different to me than our neighbours across the street.  The answer did not immediately come to mind.

And then his reply:  Because you get to drive home in your car, to your house, and to your family.

Oh, how we take our everyday life for granted!  To think that a person would envy me because I live in a house, when I never think twice about it.  And to have a family, when some of these people have such battered family pasts that maybe they lay awake at night thinking about what life may have been like if they had just been born into different circumstances....

As much as I see them as the same, these people are different.  The ebb and flow of their lives has brought them to one of the harshest and violent streets in Edmonton to get a meal and find some conversation.  Some of them are homeless by choice, but I'll bet lots of them dream about the day when they won't have to stand in line for food, won't have to use an outdoor toilet in the middle of the night, and won't have to freeze for most of the day in any given January.

How blessed we are.....I'll never forget that again. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Strength in Numbers

My running program has become a little intense - this morning I ran 30 minutes, followed by 13 hill intervals, and then another 30 minutes of running.  I've been doing hill intervals for a couple of weeks, and preferred to go with a friend, since you never know what could be going on down in our river valley.  However, my running bud moved back to Scotland, and so I was faced with the prospect of doing hills alone.

However, on Saturday the 11th I plodded over to the hill to find that a guy was doing hill repeats on his bike at the same time.  Yay - I wouldn't have to be alone!  I didn't know who he was, but he was crazy enough (like I) to be up at 630 am on a Saturday to get in a brutal workout.  We passed many times, and he was still there when I left, and it was nice just to have somewhere there and not worry about potential issues popping up from the river valley.

Last Saturday, I reached the hill and found the same little white car at the top of the hill - could the bike guy be back?  Sure enough, he was!  We exchanged a cordial good morning as we passed the first time (he was going up, I was going down), and I ran without worry.  This morning, the little white car was there again.  I thought it was kind of crazy that he was doing hill repeats again after just doing them three days earlier, but then again, I was there too.

I found it interesting how just having one person around, sharing in the pain, seemed to make the work go by more quickly and not seem so difficult. 

I stepped out of my comfort zone last night and went to a movie (gak) with a bunch of ladies (barf) - a "girls night out", no less! (aargh).  Even though I wanted to go home after, I went for coffee after even though I didn't know anyone (kill me now).  However, one of the ladies made a profound comment.  To paraphrase, she said that if we are going to be in Christ, we have to grow, and in order to grow, we need to move out of our comfort zone.  Jesus said, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  It's so easy to stay complacent, stay comfortable, but it's also so hard to find Christ on our own.  A solid group of friends can feed off each other, can make the journey easier, and provide strength for each other.  If I am going to grow in Christ, maybe I need to get out of my comfort zone and actually make an effort to make some lifelong friends.

They will stengthen me, just as the bike guy provided a different kind of strength.  We were designed to work in community, so why don't we all do it more often?  A pondering for another day.....

Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Year Ago Today

A year ago right now, I was lying in an operating waiting room, prepped for surgery, and when I awoke, my body was all jumbled up and stapled shut, and I didn't feel well for a long time.

I naively thought I would be running again six weeks postop, and that a little surgery wasn't going to get in the way of my love of the outdoors.  I didn't realize how big of a surgery it was, and six weeks later I could still barely walk around, never mind run!

In the fall I thought I would be ready, but I often felt sick after running, I had vertigo if my heartrate was too high, and I just didn't feel right.  I wondered if I would ever feel normal again.  I felt like a fraud teaching fitness classes when I couldn't even do the exercises myself, but I am so grateful that the owner of the local fitness centre looked past my scars and gave me a chance to teach classes.  She didn't care that I was out of shape, and her confidence in me gave me the confidence to move forward with teaching fitness, when I had been so close to just giving up on the whole thing.

This morning I ran for 50 minutes and it felt great, and I think my body is finally ready to take on some challenges.  If I would have known that it was going to take a year to get back to normal, I never would have believed it.

I can't wait to see what the next year has in store!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'm Missing My Peeps

It's 7:17 on a Tuesday night, and I would normally be standing at the front door of The Mustard Seed, handing out plates for dinner, and smiling and chatting with the community members.  But I'm in South Dakota instead, in the middle of an awesome family vacation, having visited Mount Rushmore this morning and basking in the glow of Matthew's excitement.

But I find myself thinking of everyone, wondering how they are doing in the heat without air conditioning, without constant access to water, and many of them being shunned in the shopping malls while looking for a cool place to rest.  I have confidence, however, that the staff at the inner city agencies are watching for heatstroke as diligently as they watch for frostbite in the winter, and that the Hope Mission van is constantly circling, looking for signs of distress.

The coffee bar would be steaming hot, and the fans would just be blowing hot air around, and people would be cranky from the heat.  But just as in the dead of winter, just one smile might brighten the day of someone who was grumpy from too much sun.

I read a quote on Twitter that one positive relationship can change the course of a person's life, and I'm determined to be that one positive relationship.

But for now, I'm enjoying the dry heat in the Black Hills, looking forward to a day at the local waterpark tomorrow, and hanging out with my family in our air conditioned hotel room.

I'll be back with my peeps next Tuesday.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


On Sunday morning I woke up and read the online news that a man had been beaten outside of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.  I'm very familiar with that building; it's right across the street from the Mustard Seed and there are always people hanging around, whether it's open or closed.

I immediately wondered if I knew the man, but the article said that he went by "Ghost", and that didn't ring a bell.  After all, I thought, there are so many who aren't allowed into the Mustard Seed since they drink or use, and surely this guy who was hanging out in the middle of the night wasn't one of ours.

But I was wrong.

When I entered the Mustard Seed on Tuesday night, Maria said, "We need to talk about Wes, he died this morning."  I responded, "Not the guy who was beaten on the weekend", but she nodded her head, and pointed to the picture from EPS.

I didn't know Wes well; he hadn't been in for a while, but I definitely recognized the picture.  He was quiet, never tried to converse, just politely took a plate and marched along.  There were rumours abound from the community members:  He was a pedophile.  He was told not to return to the neighbourhood.  But really, who knows the truth?

The truth is that a man was killed by three others on a street that many wouldn't drive down, much less walk down.  And yet I've walked around that street, I've stood on the street corners talking to people, I've chased people down the street when I thought they were in trouble.  I have never once thought about how dangerous it was, even when a community member told me once, "You shouldn't be walking alone around here."  I've always just seen it as a Street, and seen the people as People, and wondered why anyone would be scared to come down to help out the People on the Street.

I guess I know better now.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Two Years

I was just reading my blog entry on June 15, 2010 - the first day I worked down at the Mustard Seed, and I wrote that I was One Billion Percent Sure that I had finally landed where God had called me - into the inner city, working with people.  Last night marked the two year mark of my Ministry, and while it's been a challenging two years, it has also been two years of spiritual growth and self discovery.

It was a busy night last night, much like the night that I started, but I was able to do a lot of roaming around, a lot of chatting, a lot of helping.  The karaoke was entertaining, as usual, and the coffee flowed freely as people came in out of the rain.  The highlight of the night (for the community) was the snack group who served ice cream and cookies.  I managed to sneak some Cream Soda, my favorite type of pop, and sip it happily behind the coffee bar.  My highlight was when my little buddy Glen gave me a flower to take home - he had picked something out that would be difficult for me to kill - I only have to water it once every two weeks!  Glen has always been friendly inside the Mustard Seed, but I have heard stories about his fights on the outside, including one that got him suspended for a few months.  It reminds me to keep my guard up, which hasn't always been the case.

They warned me before I started not to get too close to people since they may try to take advantage of a friendship....and it happened, but also taught me a good lesson.  I had a favorite, and we became really good friends....and then he asked me for money, and not just a little bit of money.  No one has ever asked me for anything, not even a quarter for the pop machine, because they know we can't give them anything, but the fact that he had the courage to ask me for a significant amount of money meant that I had let my guard down and gotten too close.  It jolted me into reality, I said no (of course - I don't even lend money to family!), and haven't seen him since.  Lesson learned.

It's been a great two years, and I've met some great people.  I just wish more of us who are blessed with time and money would give our time to these people - they are not scary, they are just people who are so grateful for a smile or a helping hand.  God has his protective hand over those of us who are called, and I have never once felt concern about being in the inner city. 

I am looking forward to all that this next year brings....

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Does God Speak to Us?

I've been revisting my Chuck Missler Genesis study this month; I love how he breaks our world down into seminars of particle physics and beautiful biological explanations.  Yesterday he spoke of the giraffe and how it is biologically impossible that the giraffe evolved due to its complex structure.  He spoke of mitochodria and their little engines and the code within DNA.  He puts it in such a way that you can't argue with the gloriousness (is that a word?) of Creation.  My logical brain agrees with Chuck Missler, that there is a Creator of our Universe and we are His children, but my selfish heart keeps turning away.

I had a dream last night and I'm positive He was speaking to me, giving me some direction, but it's so easy to rationalize it and turn it into something beneficial for my own gain, not His.  I shouldn't ignore these dreams when I wake up and immediately say, "That was from God", and when I know exactly why He sent the dream to me.  Sometimes dreams are fuzzy and when you wake up you wonder, "What was THAT all about??!!??!!", but then there are dreams that are so clear, and you can say to yourself, "I know exactly what that was all about."

Some people long for God to speak to them in a concrete fashion, and here I am, the God of the Universe speaking to me, and I'm full of yah buts.  Yah but.....I say, No, He responds.   Yah but.....I say.  No, He responds.

This is too hard.  I'm going to listen to another session of Genesis now.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


The ward is quiet right now, no babies crying, no machines beeping, and I'm just awaiting the nurse to come in and wake Matthew out of a peaceful sleep, sleeping for the third night in a strange bed because of an inevitable slip.

I always knew Matthew would break an arm someday; I just didn't plan on it being a week before the end of tax season, just before the weekend where I was going to get all caught up and coast into April 30th.  But tax season doesn't really seem to matter anymore; that all went out the window the moment I saw him with an extra elbow where his forearm used to be.

It was a truly gruesome sight - his right hand dangled down and I knew immediately that he had broken through the bones.  X-rays would later confirm my suspicions.  Elizabeth ran screaming down the hallway at the sight and I broke into adrenaline mode - phoned the neighbours to get over there, kept telling Matthew to not move his arm, but for some reason my brain couldn't tell myself to get dressed (this all happened at 930 pm).  Adrenaline does funny things.

We sat in the Devon hospital for a while, and then the doctor said we had to go to the Stollery - and in an ambulance, no less, since they had given Matthew morphine.  The doctors at the Stollery emergency did their best, but the bone was too badly broken to fix manually, and surgery was the only option.

I hope we get to go home tomorrow, but if we don't, I'll stay, for as long as it takes, since Matthew doesn't want to be here alone.  I'll endure the sleepless nights, the noisy roommate, the crying babies, and if work doesn't get done, oh well.  April 30th comes and goes with no real consequences, but a child is forever, and it's my job to take care of him. 

 I would give up my entire career to make sure he's comfortable and unafraid.  He'll always be my baby, even when we're both old and grey.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What A Guy!

Ryan Smyth of our Edmonton Oilers visited Donnie in the hospital yesterday. Donnie of the Mustard Seed, Donnie of the inner city, who was always dressed head to toe in Oilers or Eskimos clothing. Poor Donnie will probably not live out the week, but he will pass away with a smile on his face, remembering the day that a millionaire took time out of his day to visit a dying fan.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I've been thinking about mortality a lot over the past week or so. First, with Michael's passing, then, finding out that Donnie (the Mustard Seed's #1 Oilers and Eskimos fan) has about a week to live, and today, walking into a hospital room and seeing my grandpa hooked up to machines with tubes attached all over his body.

At first I wasn't even 100% sure it was my grandpa - he looked so frail, he was sleeping, but his mop of curly grey hair gave him away. He always kept his curls tamed with Bryl Cream, but I suppose that's not too much of a priority in the hospital.

I watched him sleep for a while, and then I walked to the other side of the bed to look at his wristband to make sure it was him. Wouldn't that be silly if I was sitting beside a complete stranger? He opened one eye, looked at me and said, "Kathy Jo" in a quiet, slurred voice, and I figured he must be on a lot of medication. He tried to sit up and joked about how it would hurt if he pulled any of the tubes out. He then asked if I'd give him some ice chips. His mouth looked so dry, and he savored those ice chips as if they were rich European chocolate. He thanked me, and I asked if he wanted to go back to sleep. He said yes, I gave him a kiss, and left.

I logically know that my grandparents will not live forever, but I'm not ready to say goodbye yet. When I was a kid I thought I'd be stronger as an adult and could let them go, but I'm not - it's going to be so hard. I just hope I can have one more game of crib - we haven't played crib in so long.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sugar Girl

This young girl has been coming into The Mustard Seed for the past couple of months, and I noticed that when she hung around the coffee bar the sugar would disappear (faster than usual, anyway). She would ask for ziploc bags, and one evening I caught her filling it with sugar. She was very rude and constantly huffed and puffed when I wouldn't give her ziploc bags or extra plates. Since I didn't know her name, I called her Sugar Girl.

Tonight Sugar Girl was crouched in her corner, crying, and a few of us tried to talk to her, but she seemed to want to be left alone. I wondered what her circumstances were, why she was crying, and I felt bad for feeling disdain towards her just because she stole some sugar.

Even though we try hard not to be, a lot of the time we are so judgmental. I have tried to approach every inner city community member with an open mind, but it's easy to turn the other way when they aren't quite as friendly as we would like.

And how many times do we lay judgement against our Brothers and Sisters? Our insecurities cause us to put others down in order to puff ourselves up, but it's just wrong.

Just one more thing in a long list of things to work on.....

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I've been volunteering at The Mustard Seed for almost two years now, and occasionally someone in the community passes away, and their picture is put up on the bulletin board. I always look to see if I recognize them, but so far the pictures have been unfamiliar. However, I often have thought of the many older people that we see each week, and I knew it was only a matter of time before one of them left us.

On Tuesday, Stewart came in and told me that "British Michael" (as Stewart calls him) had died that morning.

Michael was a small man, hard of hearing, rarely smiled, and usually came in late for dinner. I always favored him because of his accent (my grandfather is also British), and because he looked so fragile. In the past few months, he could barely get up the stairs at the entrance to the building, and he would have to stop at each step. However, he would never take help, and he always served himself.

One of my best memories was when I first started and we had hundreds of little chocolate wafers to give away. I knew he loved them with his tea, so I gave him lots, and then I found him as he was leaving and gave him two entire packages. A few weeks ago, we had a great chat - for some reason he came right up to me as I was cleaning out the coffee machine and talked about the weather and his health, that he had pneumonia but was getting better.

The last time I saw him was a couple of Tuesdays ago, when his friend was trying to sneak food out for him, but eventually he came in since no one would let his friend outside with the food. It was the first time I saw him let someone help him, and I didn't know at the time that would be the last time I would see him.

I'm going to miss Michael, how he sat and read the paper while drinking his tea, how he asked for sweetener instead of sugar, and his refined British accent.

It made me realize that any of the community could be gone next; for many of them, a simple cold could be the difference between life and death.

I'll just step up my game a little bit - I want to make sure they all know that I care.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Almost seven years ago, in April of 2005, a beautiful young girl named Nina was brutally killed here in Edmonton, the story made all the more tragic when it was announced that this poor young girl was only 13. The story made huge headlines at the time, as did the trial, but since then, it has slipped from the minds of Edmontonians, as we continue along with our busy lives, forgetting about those who were so marred by tragedy.

I met Nina's mother last night.

As I sat at my table at The Mustard Seed, waiting for people to come to me with their tax slips in hand, a lady named Peaches approached me and then sat down across from me. Peaches Atkinson, the name was so familiar, and first I asked if I had done her taxes last year. No, she replied, she had just moved into the area. As I went through my list, sure that I knew this woman, I asked, "Was your daughter Starlet?" Again, she replied no, but said, "I've been on TV a lot." I though maybe she worked for a local news station.

I finished her taxes and she was thrilled with her refund. She and her daughter had been starving for the past three weeks, she said, and she only just realized that she could come down for a free meal in the evenings. I stupidly had to keep pressing: "Your name is just so familiar." That's when she announced grimly:

"My daughter was Nina Courtepatte, the 13 year old who was murdered."

I could do nothing but say that I was sorry, and she just nodded, like she had explained herself a hundred times before. I quickly went back to her taxes, she thanked me, and went off into the night.

I felt so terrible that I had brought up this woman's tragic past. I should have made the connection, and especially when she told me her sixteen year old daughter's last name, it was so familiar that I had no trouble spelling it, yet I still didn't make the connection.

I hope that I didn't ruin her evening, I hope that sending her off with a tax refund made her day, and I hope that I see her again so that I can talk to her, not about Nina, but about how she is doing, and whether she is getting enough to eat.

I can't even begin to imagin the horrors that this woman has dealt with in the past seven years. I've been thinking about her all day and praying for her peace of mind. She's probably forgotten all about me by now, more concerned about her next meal and a meal for her daughter.

My problems are so trivial.

Friday, March 16, 2012

To Help

I grew up in a good family - fantastic grandparents, fun cousins, nice sisters and parents I could count on. We sometimes forget that not everyone grows up with a positive influence in their lives; some people never feel loved by their parents, never have close relationships with their family members, and grow up feeling cheated, taken advantage of, and unloved.

Maybe that's why, when I see an opportunity to be a helping hand to a person in need, I jump at it with all of my heart and soul and strength. This week I met a man at The Mustard Seed who was behind 8 years on his taxes and his bank accounts were frozen. No one would hire him because there were garnishee notices for all of his employers, and he came to me, desperate and pleading. Yes, it was his own fault, but I felt he just needed that little bit of help, and then maybe he could straighten his life around. So I contacted his collection agent at CRA, did what needed to be done, and happily told him this morning that he could get back into his bank account.

Now maybe I'm naive - maybe he's going to get back into his bank account and blow whatever is left in there, but I feel like I'm a good judge of character, and I think this guy just needed a break, and I was happy to give it to him.

I'm the first to admit that I get too involved with the downtown crowd, I take them into my heart and overstep the boundaries put in place for our safety, but at some point you also have to listen to the Holy Spirit and go where He guides. If we were all only concerned with our safety, we would have no Missionaries in dangerous countries. They constantly profess that God will protect them for doing His work, and if something tragic happens, it will only further their cause by drawing others closer to Him.

I often feel the same way, with a shadow of protection around me - I have no fear walking around the inner city at night, and no fear of the people I meet every week. I think to do God's work we need to be fearless, not worrying about what others might do or say, but doing what we are called to do, whatever the consequences.

As the weeks and months go on, I feel this Ministry calling me deeper into it, and I wonder how much longer it will be before it envelopes me completely.

All in God's time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jupiter and Venus

When I was a young child, I was fascinated with astronomy. At age 8 I could rattle off all of the planets, their distances from the sun, their circumferences, the names of their moons, and their daily average temperature (yes, I was a little nerd). I received a telescope for Christmas and looked at the moon and stars, and wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up.

Practicality took over as a grew older, and astronomy became a fun hobby, but it still holds my interest more than most things. As I drove home from a friend's house last night, the sky was aglow with the almost full moon, and Venus shone bright in the west, unusual since it was not next to the moon. But there beside the bright Venus was a smaller but still bright star - Jupiter! I had read that they were becoming closer in our March night sky, and it's not normally so easy to pick out Jupiter, but there it was.

I was instantly filled with childlike awe, and forgot about petty troubles, taxes, and anything else inconsequential. I just enjoyed looking up at those planets and smiled at the awesomeness of our God's Universe.

It's been a great week - for March, I am oddly at peace and nowhere near as stressed as I usually am. I'm just taking the advice of my buddy Stewart down at the Mustard Seed - he told me he doesn't think about tomorrow or yesterday, but just about today.

Do not worry about tomorrow.....didn't Jesus offer that same advice? I think I'm finally taking it to heart - and it feels great.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


We had a great sermon at church today, one that has had me pondering all day. Our awesome new Pastor discussed the selfishness of human beings, and had us asking ourselves what would make us "happy". My immediate reponse of what would make me "happy" right now was so selfish that it makes me want to vomit.

He asked why Christian struggle so much with their selfish natures, and it was a great question. It made me think back to my Truth Project days, and the question: Do you really believe that what you believe is really real? And honestly, if we really did believe what is preached every Sunday, and what is taught in the Greatest Book Ever, we would all be acting a lot differently than we do now.

If we really believed, we would be taking the money given to us through God's gifts, and using it to further His Kingdom, not to fuel our materialistic needs.

If we really believed, we would help everyone who needed it.

If we really believed, we would never be judgmental.

If we really believed, we would be telling our friends and neighbours about Jesus.

Harsh? I guess so, but I'm the first to admit that there must be some doubt in my mind, because if I really believed I sure wouldn't be acting the way I do a lot of the time.

I guess it's these tough times that bring us closer to God, because there's no other way out but to find His guidance.

But I'm so selfish.....

Friday, February 10, 2012

Matthew's Party

Matthew is a bit of an "odd" child; he talks to himself, spins around on the floor, and generally can't be bothered with other people. Still, it broke my heart when, year after year in school, he was not invited to one birthday party, other than one in kindergarten. I can't imagine how many times he heard other kids talking about upcoming parties, and wondered why he was never invited.
However, since he changed schools and found his little gang of friends, everything has changed. He has been invited to at least a couple of parties since June, and right now he is downstairs with his little gang, chatting about lego, acting like boys, and having the time of his life.
This was Matthew's first "invite kids from school" birthday party. He never wanted a birthday party since he never had friends to invite. We were blessed in the past two years to spend his birthday with good friends of ours; a family with more than enough kids for a great party!! Two years ago, it was a surprise party at their house, and last year it was bowling and dinner with them. Now that they have moved away, I'm so thankful that Matthew can fill their void with some buddies from school.
I feel so content hearing them laugh playfully in the basement, and I wonder if they'll be friends all through school. I'm guessing yes - they are like four peas in a pod.
It's just a reminder of what's truly important in this life, and how these moments need to be protected and cherished forever. It's a good step back for me; a step back to look at life and what it's all about.
And I'll give God all the Glory for this one.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I played volleyball last night!!

I'm thrilled to announce that I played volleyball for two hours last night, jumping, stretching, spiking, diving, and other than some sore knees this morning, I feel great!!

Finally.....I'm starting to feel healed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Sad Tale

A few posts ago I wrote about how I couldn't be a Saviour in the lives of some of the people I meet down in the inner city, and it really hit home last night. I went in for my usual shift, it was VERY busy, but my favorite community member was not there, and I remembered how he told me on Tuesday that he might be out doing drugs before he headed up north for his new job. I thought he was kind of kidding, and I thought maybe I had talked him out of it, but no such luck.

And it was even worse than that.

His buddy came in and told me he had started drinking on Thursday and had been doing drugs Friday and Saturday, so obviously wouldn't be popping into the Mustard Seed on Saturday night. It was a sad revelation - all of my chatting and positive words did nothing to help this guy, and it sounds like he's on a downward spiral after having such a postive past few weeks.

However, I'm not going to give up - there are lots of others who need positive words of encouragement, and just because I couldn't save my favorite, doesn't mean I won't have an impact on someone else down the road.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

That's Better!

I'm feeling much better today than on Monday - the hectic deadline of January 31 is over, and February 29th seems light years away. I can relax (relatively), ponder, and enjoy my day rather than frantically working towards half a dozen deadlines. However, as quickly as January passed by, February will also pass by, so I had better keep on top of things.


Monday, January 30, 2012

I Hate Being Depressed

I know, wah wah, poor me. This is just such a tough time of year, and it's all uphill until May, but I need to just take it one day at a time and not worry so much about tomorrow.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

I'm Back!

I've had a few mental issues when it comes to exercise; logically, my body should be healed and be able to withstand some stress, but I've worried about pain, worried about hurting myself and ending up back in the hospital, so I've kept my exercise very low key: walking, yoga, occasional weight sessions with my trainer, but nothing had core.

But that has now come to an end!

There is a fitness studio right by Matthew's gymnastics centre, and they had a class running from 1000 to 1100, the same time as Matthew's class. The class was called "Weights and Stuff". Sounded okay, not too strenuous. I e-mailed the instructor, told her my story, and she replied that it might not be too challenging of a class, but it would help me get back on track. So, I was expecting a fluffy, lightweight class, one I could handle, to ease me back into things.

Needless to say, my expectations of the class were out to lunch!!

We did some kettlebell work, some kickboxing stuff, and lots of muscular endurance activities. It was WAY harder than I was expecting, but I DID IT, and I don't feel sore or sick, and I can't wait until the next class!!

I probably shouldn't jump back into six days a week of hardcore, but at least I know that I can do these classes once in a while and I'm on my way back to health and fitness!!


Friday, January 27, 2012

A Saviour

My heart has been heavy over the past few days; the more time I spend at the Mustard Seed, the more comfortable I feel talking to the community, and I'm starting to hear their stories, and some of them sure aren't pretty.

One of the older gentlemen has had deteriorating health for a while, has been waiting for operations, and is now walking with a cane and needs our help getting his dinner. Last I had talked to him, he was waiting for a consultation in June, but on Tuesday he said he was going for a biopsy next week. My brain ignored the word "biopsy" and only heard "next week", so I smiled and said how he must have been happy things were moving along. That's when he looked at me solemnly and drew a "C" with his finger. I felt so stupid. Now I just hope I see him again so that I can provide some comforting words.

Then of course, my favorite (we all have our favorites!), who was so cheerful at the beginning of the year, then so depressed, and now I know why. He explained to me his entire tale of woe, and it broke my heart to hear the stories from this guy who, in another Universe, would probably be a great success. But he feels as if he is stuck in a hopeless situation that he can't escape from. I half expect that he will disappear and head back east, never to be seen again.

I have always watched the community members carefully, and I can see them in another life where they weren't messed up by drugs, alcohol, or bad luck. They all have so much potential - don't we all? We are all God's children, and he wants us to be happy, but I just see so much pain that I wish I could erase.

I want to be their savior - I want to take them for coffee, be someone they could call anytime, help them through their problems, and be a light that they can remember - so that they can feel that someone cares about them.

But they already have a Savior, the One who gave His life for all of us, and I can't be some cheap replacement for the real thing. He is the only way they will have true hope.

And so I must remember my task - smile, listen, and be a friend for a couple of hours. But I can't save them; they must make that journey on their own.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Unexpected Comment

Scott wants to go on a Mission to Israel.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

They're Gone

And just like that, the birds are all gone.

The Birds

I sat down at the computer to write a blog entry, and in the computer screen's reflection I could see that there were birds flying past our window. I thought - are they crazy - it's -45 with a wind chill!! The flights were becoming more frequent, so I stood up to see what was going on, and there were HUUNDREDS of these birds flying around, landing in the trees, perching, chirping, for some reason not realizing how cold it is outside. They are perched on our roof, perched on the neighbour's roof, and are sitting in half a dozen trees from our house down a couple of doors.

I don't know what kind of birds they are; their tail feathers are orange underneath and then the tip is bright yellow. They seem to be a pretty fat bird - maybe they are from the north, trying to escape the Arctic chills?

All I know right now is that it's a little crazy out there - I took some video footage but I don't dare open the door since I'm sure at least one would fly in - there are that many birds out there!!
Besides, I don't want them to poop on my head.

Miraculous little creatures!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday Again

The weeks are passing so quickly, and here we are, it's Tuesday again. Tonight I'm going to have to greet people coming in from frigid -30 air, and send them off into the night again when we close at 1000.

Better put on my best smile - it's going to be a tough night.

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. Deuteronomy 15:7

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ignoring The Call

Every Sunday I mull over my Calling - what is it, is it what I think it is, is it something else that I am ignoring? However, if I let the logical brain go to sleep for a while and let my spiritual brain take over, I know that I am so close to God when I am downtown, and I always have been. I remember when I was quite young, 11 or 12, and taking the bus downtown to meet my grandparents. Before I met them I would wander around, at the time not knowing why I loved it down there so much.

Fast forward 10 years and I was freshly out of University, drawn to the skyscrapers and starting my first job on the 18th floor of Scotia Place. I was part of the hubbub and rusharound world and I loved it, and I loved being downtown. Once in a while I would see people begging for change, and I often ignored them on the outside, but my heart was always with them. Near the end of my tenure downtown, I actually started talking to some of them, and always felt a sense of euphoria afterwards. At the time, however, I was too bogged down in kids and paying the bills, and decided that was going to be my lot in life for a while.

However, every year I would read about a local church group that went down to The Mustard Seed to serve a meal, and I was always upset that I missed it again. For some reason, it was never advertised at our church, even though any of us could have joined in. Year after year, I missed my chance, until I decided that I had to make my own chances. Of course, I procrastinated a while, it was "too far", the traffic was "too busy", but then God opened up a door that I couldn't ignore: I had tried to take the easy route and volunteer right in Devon, but afte submitting my application, I never heard from them again, which didn't make sense, because I was a perfect candidate to volunteer there (and who turns down volunteers??).

That is when I contacted The Mustard Seed.

And now I never grow tired of being there, and I miss it when I'm not there, and I'm always thinking about the poeple I have met. Yes, the drive is long, and yes, I'm tired when I get home, and I don't usually sleep during that night, but when I stepped back and thought about it:

-- It's closer than Ontario
-- It's closer than North Africa
-- I have a warm bed I can sleep in any time

And maybe I'm just blessed that my calling is only forty minutes away, and not 4000 km or half way across the world.

How can I ignore my calling? Our morning sermon contained a quote from an extremely experienced Pastor: Throughout history, the state of a society is directly influenced by the state of Christianity in that society. Maybe if more Christians "walked the walk" our society wouldn't be in the mess that it's in. We shouldn't be blaming the world for corrupting us - we should be blaming ourselves for not influencing the world in a positive way. If we all acted the way Tim Tebow does, maybe he wouldn't be seen as such a "wierdo" and a media spectical - he would just be another Christian doing all that he can for the Glory of God.

It can all happen one person at a time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reality Bites

That's all I'm going to say.

Back to January's Reality

Last Tuesday I sat and wrote how I wondered what was going to happen at the Mustard Seed that night, and it was a warm, wonderful night, with people coming in wearing hoodies, no gloves, sharing the cheer of a New Year and a great hockey game.

But now, with the north wind blowing and the temperature dropping, I know what kind of night it will be:

-- People wearing hoodies, and freezing
-- People rubbing their bare hands together trying to warm them before taking a plate of food
-- Lineups for hats and gloves and blankets
-- Long lineups of hungry people who have likely already run out of money and won't see any again until near the end of the month
-- People wandering in near closing time, hoping for a few minutes of warmth before heading back into the biting wind

And so the reality of a Canadian January sets in, with -20 temperatures on the horizon, and I remember that life at the Mustard Seed is not a big hockey party. However, I can still offer a smile, serve a cup of coffee, and make someone forget for a few moments about the air that awaits them on the outside.

God, be on my shoulder tonight.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Here we go again!

Me, sitting here, thinking about Edith Keelor again.

Here in Ordinary Time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A magical night

I just walked in the door, and I know I need to get to bed since I have yoga at 545 - less than 7 hours from now, but I had to capture the feeling of tonight. It was one of those fun evenings, Canada lost to Russia but made a valiant comeback, and there was lots of cheering and yelling. I didn't even miss karaoke tonight.

My friend had a great time and met a lot of the community. We were busy, but not crazy, and I had time to talk to lots of people. Best of all, my crazy haired friend came in, after over a year of being away, and we had a good chat.

It was a great night, and I'm so thankful to be here.

I Miss My Buddies!

It's been a few weeks since I've been to the Mustard Seed - last week we were in Canmore and the week before I was studying for my PT exam (I passed with 94% - why was I worried?). However, it's been calling me....I almost went for New Year's Eve, but then thought it wouldn't be wise to drive home at 100 in the morning. I miss those guys - Stewart, Georgie, Sean, Alice, Helen, and I wonder how Paul and JJ did in court, trying to get their kids back. I think about them all the time, and fantasize about buying a Brownstone condo down on 98th avenue so that I could pop into the inner city any time I wanted. Maybe it's just not my time now, not yet, but I can do my Tuesday night work and be content with that.

I'm taking a friend tonight - she wants to see what we do there in the evenings, so it should be fun to have her there. If we have lots of volunteers, there will be lots of time to chat, to sit, to drink tea...I wonder if she'll see it in the same way I do, the shimmering of 96th street as I turn from Jasper Avenue, my heart jumping and my stomach full of butterflies, driving in anticipation of the evening. It will be interesting.....