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Saturday, October 9, 2010

One Afternoon In The Cool Club (The Teacher Who Cared)

I was teased mercilessly in elementary school. I was the weird kid. The smelly kid. The kid with the bad haircut; the second hand, ill-fitting clothes. I was picked last on every sports team. I was talked about, pointed at, giggled at and ostracized. I wanted to fit in, but I didn't have the right anything to be in 'The Cool Club'.

That all changed one day in grade 7. For one unforgettable and life-changing afternoon, not only did I get let into 'The Cool Club', I was the queen of it. So what if I had to violate my conscience and sacrifice everything I believed in. I was in!

Here is how it happened.

As I said, I wasn't an athlete, but there was one talent I had in spades. I could write. I wanted to be a writer after graduation. That was my desire for as long as I could remember.

The girls in 'The Cool Club' didn't like one of the other girls in the school. I don't know why (who ever knows with 'cool' girls). I remember that the girl's name was Rhonda and I didn't know her well, but she had never done anything to me, so what I did next can only be described as cruel and heartless. It was out of character for me, but I did it and the ramifications of what I did changed the entire course of my life. Forever. I think Dr. Phil calls it 'a pivotal moment'. Not that I watch him often, but the few times I have caught his show, I've heard him say that.

So, my ticket to 'The Cool Club' came in the form of a song with warped lyrics. I could write stories, poems and songs from a very young age. By age 12, I had written tons and tons of lyrics. I wouldn't say they were all worthy of a prize, but they were preparing me to become a good songwriter/lyricist later on in life. I wrote a ridiculously cruel song about Rhonda. It took all of five minutes to write. Can I remember the lyrics? Not word for word, but it was about 'dog food'. "Puppykins dog food" was the title and it went on and on about how much you would hate to eat this dog food "unless you're like Rhonda... arf arf arf". I insinuated that she was a dog and in 1976, that was one of the worst things you could call a girl. It sure pales by today's comparisons, but back in the day, I was being very insulting. Again, this girl had done nothing to me and I knew... I knew fully well that what I was doing was wrong, but the girls in 'The Cool Club' were so taken with the song that I was basically knighted and inducted into 'The Cool Club' Hall of Fame instantly.

For a whole afternoon, I got to hang out with the cool girls and do their cool things (which in retrospect were utterly boring). They wanted to eat lunch with me and they smiled at me and, for a change, I wasn't the object of their cruelty. It was usually me, but now I was in. The geek was in with the chic! I had sacrificed poor Rhonda to the wolves to preserve my own position in the school hierarchy.

I know I know. You must be so disappointed in me. Does it make you feel better to know that my conscience was pricked to the core later that day when I heard the girls from 'The Cool Club' singing my song to Rhonda, who curled up in the corner and just sobbed and sobbed? It was the most bitter victory of my life. Hurray! I was cool... and a girl was crying her eyes out. I literally felt like I had sold my soul to the devil.

Things got worse for me. Much worse. Be sure your sin will find you out!

I had a teacher named Maureen McEwen. I liked her. She was tall and thin and matronly. If I was born to be a writer, Mrs. McEwen was born to be a teacher. She was strict, but fair and she could even be fun.

Maureen McEwen heard the kids singing my song, taunting poor Rhonda. She saw Rhonda crying. Do you know what? She didn't even have to ask. She knew 'the cool girls' and she knew they couldn't come up with something like that. I mean, for all of its malice, the lines were clever. She had budding scientists and mathematicians and artists in her class, but she only had one that the teachers called 'a gifted writer'. She recognized my work as if I had signed my name to it. I was doomed and my time in 'The Cool Club' was almost up.

I was walking down the hall towards my classroom when Mrs. McEwen stopped me dead in my tracks. She had me in the corner. Her bony finger impaled me as it pointed towards my guilty heart. I was shaking in my shoes before she even spoke.

"Did you write a song about Rhonda?"

I wanted to deny it, but my face was already blushing. "Yes."

It would have been easier if she had said, "Then go to the principal's office" or "Write me some lines" or "You've got detention". NO! Not this teacher. She was going to follow through and teach this lesson in a way that I couldn't forget.

"Sing it for me."


"Sing the song for me. Right now. All of it."

I did not want to sing it to her. Not only because it was the teacher I was singing to, but every word of that song stabbed my conscience so hard that it was hard not to cry myself. What had possessed me to do such a thing? To hurt somebody else just because I wanted to be liked?

I sang the song in a pretty shaky voice. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. It was like I was standing before God singing something dirty.

There were a few seconds of silence before Mrs. McEwen's finger pointed at me again like a rapier. The words she spoke next are etched in my brain like a brand. I have never ever forgotten it and it has been like a rudder for my ship all these years.

"You use that God-given talent for good."

And then, she walked away.

I was booted from 'The Cool Club' that day and good riddance to them. I couldn't tell you most of their names now.

I was 12 years old then. I'm 45 now and, do you know what, I hear Mrs. McEwen's words ringing in my ears every time I write songs, plays, stories... anything! It forever changed my course. It may have saved my life in some ways. That teacher didn't only teach me reading and writing. She mentored me. She steered my life in the right direction.

Every time I write, I think of her. I try to do the best job I can to be a good writer and, even when I'm writing about something difficult, to do it with lots of grace; to never deliberately malign people with it.

A few years ago, Mrs. McEwen passed away and I went to her wake. Two of her sisters were there, who were also teachers by profession. I had the privilege of sharing this story with them. I wanted them to know that I considered that moment with their sister, to be the most important and impacting moment in all of my years of schooling. You should have seen the smiles on their faces. They knew me as well. Could it be that she knew? Did she see my writing? Did she hear my songs? Did it ever occur to her that she was a beacon shining for me and saying, "This is the way. Walk ye in it"?

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the teacher who cared.

Monday, September 6, 2010

No Runts In The Litter

I am not afraid to say that I have been having dreams and visions since I was in kindergarten. I remember the first one happening while I was on the kindergarten bus being transported to Walter Zadow Public School. I didn’t know it was a vision then, but I had the same vision on numerous occasions and, being a kid, didn’t realize what I was seeing.

That being said, I still don’t always know what I’m seeing, but I’m getting better at it. I’m getting better at approaching the symbols in my dreams and the colours and the messages from God in them and I usually get the interpretation fairly quickly. Sometimes not, but we’re working on it. I am NOT a psychic or a medium. I can’t talk to your dead auntie or pick out your lottery numbers, but I get dreams and visions from God on a regular enough basis to pay attention. I have dreamed at least six houses that I lived in six months or more before the fact. I know that there’s something to it and I love that God talks to us today if we’re willing to tune the radio to His station. His station is playing all the time just like the radio stations are always playing in your town, but you don’t hear today’s top ten list on Bob FM unless you put the dial there, do you? Well… I think you get the drift.

So last weekend, at the start of my holidays, I went to a conference that changed my life because I got healed of some major ailments there. This was stuff that had been plaguing me for a long time. I believe the healing is ongoing as I keep noticing stuff changing in my body and I can’t thank God enough. I don’t like diseases and I’ve spent enough of my life in hospitals to be sick to death of them, so if I can get rid of sickness, good riddance to it!

Anyway, I was at the conference and I was enjoying the music. I was worshipping. I was singing. I sat back and closed my eyes to just appreciate the sound of hundreds of voices all singing in harmony. It was a beautiful sound.

As I leaned back in the seat and closed my eyes, all of a sudden, the movie screen that I sometimes get opened up in front of me and there came a vision. It was a strange one. It made me wrinkle my forehead and go, ‘what’?

I saw an animal lying on its side. I don’t know what kind of animal it was. It could have been a dog or it could have been a pig. I know it couldn’t be a cow or a horse because they don’t lie down to feed their young.

This animal’s teats were full of milk. Like, the mama whazzit was ready to feed her litter of babies. She was sooooo full of milk and then, in came the babies and in the vision, it was like I was one of the babies. I know that’s weird, but it will make sense.

I did what I always do. “What’s that?” I asked. I heard God’s voice quite clearly saying, “There are no runts in my litter.”

It made me laugh. Like… what? What are you talking about? But, I come from the country. I do understand the way of litters. Dog litters. Cat litters. Pig litters. There is always a runt on the farm. You know what a runt is. It’s that one poor little thing that the other fat puppies/kitties/piglets shove out of the way because they’re bigger and weigh more. They get the best of the milk from the mother and the runt is left with the leftovers, the dregs, and is usually small and skinny and in real danger of dying if it doesn’t get enough food. Sometimes an animal mother will even abandon the runt.

So, God says. “There are no runts.” And in my vision, it was true. There was enough milk in that mama for all her brood. Plenty. Enough milk to give them all fat full little bellies and to make them very happy little babies.

I smiled. This was nice to know, but God spoke again and said, “You think you’re the runt.”

Huh? No! No! I don’t think that!

Yes. You do. You always reason away why I’ll heal and help every other kid in my kingdom… except you. You think I love the others more. You think I don’t have enough blessings to go around, so you’ll ‘sacrifice’ and settle for whatever you can get.

Oh-oh. I think I just got told off… it was kind even so. It wasn’t a mean scolding. Just… well… I needed to hear it. I realized that it was absolutely true. I believed God could help me. I believed God could heal me. I just didn’t think I was all that important in the ‘litter’… in the pecking order. Let Him heal some great person who is destined to change the world and I’ll just be happy sitting here in pain and suffering and waiting for Heaven and the afterlife.

You know what? That didn’t make God happy. He wasn’t interested in my willingness to sacrifice my health and wellbeing for the bigger puppies in the litter. In the vision I had, it was like he was shoving me toward the milk. He was telling me to go and get it. He was telling me there’s plenty for everyone and He is not running out. So, stop going hungry and get in there and get what you need!

“Ok. I’m so sorry for thinking like that, God. You are the best Father and You always provide the best for your children.”

Even you?

Even me.

I got healed that night of the following list of ailments:  hiatus hernia is gone; gastrointestinal reflux disease is gone; asthma is nearly completely gone - I’m having a little squeak here and there, but my friends know how often that thing almost killed me and I’m not wheezing or taking meds all the time; my digestive issues are gone. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to. No more pain. I was in so much pain in the past few months that I was crying and desperate and missing work and could hardly eat. I would fast for fear of the pain. The pain has left the building. I’m eating normally again.

So, there are no runts in the litter after all. If God will help me, then I know He will help you, so stop thinking your problems aren’t important to Him or that He’ll help everybody else… except you. His love for His children is measureless. You are loved by Him. Your problems and all the circumstances facing you are not God being angry with you or wanting to harm you. He wants to help you. Just… tell Him yes, will you? He was waiting for me to say yes and really mean it and accept that I was truly loved and not just tolerated by Him. He loves me and… even more… He likes me.

I’m not saying we don’t have stuff in our lives that needs changing. We all sport attitudes or have issues that we would like help with, but that’s the thing. He wants to help.

After what happened to me last weekend, I don’t care anymore. I don’t care who likes it or who doesn’t. I don’t care if people even laugh at me. I’m running in full throttle like a fat little greedy puppy and I… want… the… milk!!! There are NO RUNTS in God’s litter!

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Response to Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking says that we don’t need God anymore. He can speak for himself. God knows how much I need to believe in a being that is higher than myself. If I’m it. If I’m all there is, that’s a sad statement. I wouldn’t even call that evolution. I would call it devolution.
No. I’m not dissing myself. I’m not a loser or a ne’er do well, but I’m certainly not the picture of perfection. If I’m it, evolution has been a failed experiment indeed.
I know Mr. Hawking is a brilliant scientist. He has studied atoms and quantum physics and all of those high things that show us how the world works. Still, knowledge is one thing. Wisdom is another and this brilliant brilliant scientist has a serious lack of wisdom going on. I mean, he’s going on and on about how we have to go and settle other planets if we want to survive as a species and yet, we mustn’t contact alien life forms or we’re in big trouble.
This guy wants to tell me whether I need God or not? Sorry, Stephen. Your knowledge has puffed you up, as knowledge without wisdom always does. You go on worshipping science as that is your religion and I’ll go on worshipping God who has forgotten more about science than you know.
And according to Frances Collins, another brilliant scientist and the man who unlocked the human genome, creation does not negate the existence of God, but illustrates and strongly suggests that He is there. And since I don’t see Frances in the press uttering all kinds of ludicrous things about alien life forms and real life Star Trek expeditions, I think I will get my science from him and not you.
Oh I know. The politically correct police are going to lambaste me now for thinking I’m persecuting a man in a wheelchair. That’s not the issue here. Stephen Hawking has made a name for himself in the scientific community for being one of the most gifted scientists in the world, but he has had a few forays into the press that indicate his stability may be in question and this man is presuming to tell the whole world what to believe.
What’s next, Stephen? Should we stop being kind to each other as we don’t need morality and human decency anymore? Should these things go the way of the dodo bird? Should we stop caring for those less fortunate in society (such as people in wheelchairs) for, if there is no God, there is no need to obey a moral code and we can do as we please.
Darwin noticed a huge flaw in his theory of natural selection. He said that he observed that a dog would go by an ailing cat every day and would lick it and exhibit kindness toward the cat. He said that if natural selection were correct, that animals would have no capacity for kindness, but would simply be competing with each other without restraint in order for the fittest and best to survive. (I paraphrased, but that’s what he was saying.)
You have been staring at test tubes and microscopes for too long. You aren’t looking at humanity and the biggest evidence of God that there is. Human beings are born with the knowledge that there is a right and there is a wrong. They have some kind of leaning toward a moral code of some kind. That would not be present in any way, shape or form if we were all just an accidental mound of goop, if our existence were just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh. We would be killing each other at will. We would be stealing each other’s stuff with no restraint. No law. Taking what we want, for we are living out the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’.
It doesn’t happen that way, though. Does it, Stephen Hawking? Even a dog will nurse a cat’s young. Dolphins have rescued human beings in the ocean from sharks or from drowning. There is Darwin’s kind dog, licking the cat every time it walks by.
The same God who initiated the big bang; the same God who designed all of the universe we enjoy; that same God shows His existence so clearly and so often, and yet brilliant scientists and fools refuse to see it. He couldn’t illustrate His existence any clearer to me, the simple writer who dares to look for Him.
Of course, you could not admit to God’s existence, could you, Stephen? That would suggest that there was someone greater than you. Worship of oneself is foolish because we’re here today and we’re gone tomorrow. We make very weak and paltry gods.
I haven’t even bothered to bring up Dawkins and Hitchens here as I’m only dealing with Stephen Hawking’s words to the press yesterday. I have the same argument for the claims of those men. Yes. I respect them as brilliant scientists and excellent journalists, but I do not draw their conclusions from the evidence that they seem to twist and manipulate at will. I hate that the young are drawn to their arguments. Of course they are. The young do not have the capacity to understand when they’ve been duped.
So, you can go ahead, Stephen, and believe in nothing. Believe that all of this just happened by accident. I can’t even throw two slices of bread, a butter knife and an open jar of peanut butter around and get a sandwich, but you can believe that all of the universe was random.
Believe what you want, Mr. Stephen Hawking. Believe in disbelief. Spend your whole life examining what God created, missing the forest for the trees. Frankly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in nothing. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Enchanted Island

I had a wonderful time with the kids watching the fireworks competition at the park beside the Casino de Lac Leamy on Saturday night. Four countries were showcased in the grand finale, the culmination of three weeks worth of entries from various nations around the world.

We watched breath-taking displays from China, Portugal, The United States and Germany. Germany, set to the tune of Amazing Grace, won the crown this year.

As we walked back from the beach toward the park, extolling the wonder of the pyrotechnics we had just witnessed, a disco band took the stage and the kids ended up dancing and jumping around to tunes that were cheesy when I heard them the first time, in 1978. Still, they were having pure, unabashed fun without the aid of alcohol or narcotics and they seemed to marvel at the fact that this was possible and that they were having more fun than those vices afford without the headache or empty wallet the next morning.

So, it was fun to see them having fun. If “Disco Inferno” taught them that valuable lesson, I will have to concede… finally… begrudgingly… that disco had a purpose.

We ate hot dogs that cost a buck (oh yeah! Thanks for not gouging us!) and helped locate the owner of a set of lost keys that we found under the picnic table where we were eating.

And then, it was time to go to… The Enchanted Island.

We were beside the casino, its superfluous row of fountains spewing out enough water to hydrate The Congo, lights changing the water purple, pink, red and yellow. Limousines pulled in to the grounds. We saw Porsches. We saw Bentleys. We saw any number of cars that cost more than the entire year’s budget for the homeless shelter. Valets waited on these people like they were royalty and that is part of the whole fairy tale, isn’t it?

The kids wanted to experience the casino. I didn’t want to go that badly, but being there would keep them from doing something foolish with their money and would also make sure they could get home as they didn’t seem to think ahead enough to figure out that transit stops at midnight. Like Cinderella’s coachmen, they turn back into mice… or something like that.

So, we went in and they tried slot machines and poker machines and the bells chimed and the buzzers whizzed and the lights blinked and it was all very awesome-looking and mesmerizing at first. Here we were on The Enchanted Island where money floats in the people’s heads like the dance of the sugarplum fairy. And like the sugarplums, the money is a dream too.

We saw reams of money coming out of the wallets of desperate gamblers thinking that maybe if they play one more time, this will be the big one. Another group of singers were murdering ‘The Beatles’, smiling even though people were gambling all around them and paying them absolutely no attention.

Then, after a little time passed by, my daughter, in her wisdom, pipes up. “This is boring, isn’t it? How do people do this every day?”

Well, my Darling, it’s the enchanted island. It seems magical. It seems like another world. It promises big things, but you walk out feeling small and when the spell wears off, and you go back to sweeping the cinders, you just feel like a fool.

I couldn’t have given them a better lesson in life if I tried. They came. They saw. We left a little less rich, but so much wiser.

False hope. You liar. You hold so many people in your clutches and they are so taken with the lights and the bells and the magic that they don’t see the dead men’s bones strewn about the entrance to your lair. Broken families. Weeping souls. You leave nothing but a bitter taste and destruction in your wake.

Turn off the music, Sweetheart, and strip off that gaudy makeup. You’re wasting your efforts on me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Letter to the Lost Generation - The Love Rant

Dear Lost Generation,

I apologize on behalf of my generation. We have failed you miserably.

When I was young, love was patient and kind. Now, love is nothing more than kissing, groping and bruising each other with little or no clothing on MTV music videos. It’s who does who and how sexy you look and then it’s over as quickly as a summer storm.

When I was young, love was not selfish and didn’t insist on its own way. It sacrificed for the greater good, for the wellbeing of others. Now, love is money and how much a person spent to buy that ring/car/video game/insert shallow material product here.

When I was young, a movie told us that love meant never having to say you’re sorry. We already knew better than that. We knew that love means saying sorry… often. It also means saying “Forgive me” AND “I forgive you.”

When I was young, love was not arrogant or puffed up. It humbly served, happy to do so because hey, when you love someone, you want to serve that person and do wonderful things for their benefit. Now, love means coming around and being all sweet and wonderful… until you get sex. Then it turns off like a tap. It’s instant like microwave food and then cools off just as quickly.

When I was young, love would never fail. It would sail rough seas. It would even argue sometimes. It would get rough, but in the end, when the dust settled, love was still there. Now, it’s cheap, “Made in Taiwan” plastic, but don’t worry. There will be another season of The Bachelor in a few months.

When I was young, love bore all things, believed all things and endured all things. We believed in those we loved. We knew they weren’t perfect, but we gave them the dignity and respect they deserved and we naturally knew that was the right thing to do when you love someone. Now, love lasts five minutes and after it’s over, you murder the character of the one you ‘loved’ on Facebook or, if you’re lucky enough to get interviewed, you do it on Dr. Phil.

When I was young, there was no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. Now, we don’t love our friends enough to lay down carpeting for them or lend them a hand or even a buck. It’s all me me me and if you fall down, I’ll step over you, “Friend”, and be on my way.

When I was young, God was love. We were grateful for sunrises and sunsets and trees and flowers and beautiful things in creation. Even those who were a little naughty among us – you know, that drank a little too much or got into mischief, even those ones would acknowledge and thank God for their daily food and knew He was loving. Now, God isn’t love. He isn’t even there. Apparently, all this stuff happened as a weird, ridiculously impossible accident and, due to Christopher Hitchens’ legitimately negative experiences with religious people and politics, not only is God not love, He isn’t even great.

When I was young, love conquered all and covered a multitude of sins. The person we loved might be an utter jerk, but they were our utter jerk and they were accepted, fed, cared for solely on the basis of the fact that we loved them and could overlook a few faults. Now, love is for those who can afford Botox and Jenny Craig’s diet plan. One ounce or wrinkle this way or that way, and the umpires on America’s Top Whatever scream, “Yooooooooou’re out!”

When I was young, love was a commandment. Love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. Sometimes the love was sappy and huggy and sometimes it was a kick in the pants to set you back on the straight and narrow, but either way, it made you a better person. It was a prescription to ward off heart-sickness and loneliness. It meant laughter and squabbles and having to buy an extra box of popsicles so that every kid in your back yard (who are all these kids playing with mine anyway?) got one. It meant sometimes having to have the kid on your ball team who couldn’t hit the ball worth a darn. It meant sharing and lending. It meant helping to build the neighbour’s barn when it burned. It meant making a casserole for the neighbour who just had a baby or lost her husband.

Yes. Lost Generation. These things really existed. They aren’t myths like Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Of all the things that have gone extinct, I think I miss real love the most. It wasn’t some weak, flighty, passing craze. It was rough, tough, gritty and sweet. It’s what we need to stop all these kids from shooting up their classmates, doing drugs and committing suicide. It’s a companion to faith and hope, which we forgot to dole out to this generation too. We threw those things out when we decided our parents’ way of doing things wasn’t cool.

Can we get it back? You betcha. And I look forward to seeing a new generation of dissatisfied youngsters rising up to say, “Enough of this crap! I want something real!” Enough of this fluffy froufrou "love". The tingly feelings are great and they’re an expression of love, but real love starts on the days when those feelings aren’t there. The feelings come and go. They go up and down. They depend on moods and stress and hormones. They can wax and wane like the moon.

Love is a decision. Love is an act of your will. It rides out the low tide knowing that the high tide will return.

If we want it back. If we want the real love that goes the distance, it will cost us nothing and it will cost us everything.

How do we get it back? It starts off small. An act of kindness here. A good word there. A pat on the back. A smile. A prayer. The setting aside of grudges. Letting somebody else have a turn. Taking a second to stop and think that the guy who just cut you off on the highway might have just lost his job or received news that his wife's got cancer. Just cutting each other some slack instead of flipping the bird or letting the f bomb fly every time there's the slightest irritation.

It’s not that simple, you say. I say. Oh yes it is. The sooner we realize that each of us are not all by ourselves living in individual little bubbles, the sooner we can go back and find where we dropped the axe head. It will come floating right up to the surface of the water where we can scoop it up and start back where we made the mistake of throwing love away in the first place.

Will we do it?

I hope. Oh… do I hope!