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.