The Last Word

“A young 12 yr old tried to commit suicide tonight .. en route to hospital right now.” A text message I received November 13th, 2017.

My friend Janice is the Principal at Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy. We became friends last spring when I visited the school she runs on Ahtahkakoop First Nation Reserve.

There was stark contrast between her excited expression as she spoke proudly of her school and students and the difficult aspects of hopelessness she described.

The suicide crisis is ugly and the Christian Academy is facing it head on with mighty big Hope for kids and families feeling lost.

Schools have the power to transform society as they shape the hearts and minds of an entire generation.

“If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.” – George Couros

Meaningful change is happening for students at the school. Relationships are being built. Quality education is being taught. The food program is meeting practical needs. The Hope of Jesus is being felt – and is transforming lives.

However, the challenges are real.

“Sorry sis … the ambulance is calling, can’t talk now.” – Janice Nov 2, 2017 4:04pm

I am a high school teacher. I teach in a public high school and I am grateful for the outstanding and unique learning opportunities, tools and supports made available to Canadian students in my classroom. There are many practical needs that would enhance the ways students can be empowered at Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy such as: A school playground, food program supplies, support staff, a new bus, building needs, and educational tools and supplies.

Janice recently wrote to me, “I need prayers today … lots to do … I know Jesus is with me.” – Janice

Yes, she needs prayers. Yes there is much to do. BUT Jesus is with her and this changes everything. Hope is here. Hope gets the last word. The suicide crisis is NOT the end of the story for youth in this province. Hope gets the last word – Always. Because over 2000 years ago He rose from an unlikely Stable … the King of the universe rose up, for us.

Powerful leaders, advocates, athletes and world-changers are rising up from unlikely places at Ahtahakakoop Christian Academy too – and across this province.

I play with a band called Rise. We are a musician/songwriter collective that loves Jesus and aims to instill God’s hope. We recently recorded a Christian song called Hope Will Reign. Songwriter Vanessa Samuel scripted the lyrics, “In that stable, lost are found … Hope is here, here to stay.”

The song, Hope Will Reign can be purchased today at https://riseyxe.bandcamp.com/track/hope-will-reign.

All proceeds will go to Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy so that Hope can continue to reign in bigger ways through the school.

Hope is the belief that things can change.

The crisis is real, but it’s being beaten one heart at a time. Thank you for considering being part of this change!

Sisterhood Soul Roots

She stopped me suddenly and clenched my sweaty hands in her strong ones. I’ve come to appreciate the clasp of aged hands; they mean wisdom is being lavished.

Her crystal eyes penetrated with concern. She said, “You are going to burn yourself out if you don’t slow down. I know how it is—you are new and you want to prove you can do it all. Don’t do it! I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it and I don’t want it to happen to you…”

The day before, I sent a quick text asking a friend for help setting up a party. She graciously and wisely said no, and gave a suggestion for another avenue I could take. She knows the voice of Jesus and her highest aim is to walk in obedience to Him. She listens and moves in rhythms of grace and believes Jesus when He says:

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – MSG

She lives a grace dance with her soul roots stretched in grace ground.

Too often, I have kept moving because I thought I needed to … but I am learning that my utmost need is to be found at the feet of Jesus. Bowed low in surrender, listening, clearing clutter to get close to His heart.

Later that same day, a coffee shop table held cups of conversation –my friend Genny oozed new passion for wholeness and health. Her eyes dazzled as she explained surprises Jesus keeps leaving on her path, like a little girl on a treasure hunt, she described finding shimmering gifts and the joy of abiding.

Prayer before saying “yes”.
Knowing the wise “no”.
Risk-taking boldness.
Accessing The Holy Spirit for strength.

I want to know when to say no.
I want hands hard at work in response to God’s leading and timing.
There is rest here.
There is space to move and breathe and be sustained by Father God.

On October 29th, Sisterhoodyxe presents Restore My Soul, an event where God’s rest and His commission to care can beat together. After all, the world is transformed one heart at a time.

You are invited to participate as we expand, with many hands, the Kingdom of God in our city. Come with expectancy and tampons. (Yes, you read that correctly!) In fact, bring any of the following: tampons, pads, bars of soap, deodorant, small hand sanitizer, package of plain underwear, make-up remover wipes or a $5 Tim Horton’s or McDonalds card. Before the event, we will prepare individual, woman-to-woman, packages for girls in need in our community. These will be distributed through EGADZ Youth Center as a tangible expression of God’s love.

So come, those who are thirsty, and settle your soul roots in grounded grace and let love grow.

 

Plant Hope

“Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Maggie John is the Senior Executive Producer and host of 100 Huntley Street. She is a respected public figure, a deep God-lover, and a bold groundbreaker! Maggie was recently in Saskatchewan hosting interviews for Huntley’s segments called, Canada’s First People. We talked about God’s heart for all people to have equal opportunity.

Maggie told me when she began working at Huntley, an influx of applications came in of Black Canadian women.

Courage is contagious and many were inspired by Maggie’s presence and position.

God’s heart is the most expansive place of belonging. There is room for all and all are valued. Thank you Maggie, for treading unknown roads, coming to plant hope in Saskatchewan hearts, and leading a nation to truth through your work at Crossroads.

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Pass the Pen

On a Monday I sat at a banquet celebrating literacy in Saskatoon. The festivities included dancing, performances, local artists, and keynote speaker, Bill Waiser. On the cover of Bill’s fascinating historical account, A World We Have Lost: Saskatchewan Before 1905, there is a photo of a Bison looking out at the vast Canadian plain. During his keynote address, Waiser explained that the perspective of the Bison is reflective of his publication. He wanted to tell the story of Saskatchewan’s history from the perspective of Canada’s First People. He wanted to give voice to their stories.

Throughout the evening, stories of Aboriginal people were told in a variety of ways. Lights flickered elegantly while people laughed and experienced captivating dance and music that told stories of the past and of today. The commemoration was spectacular and great progress is being made as stories are told. However, there is still much rebuilding to do.

Literacy is defined as: The ability to read and write.

Voltaire said, “Writing is the painting of the voice.”  

Malala Yousafzai wrote, “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”

When someone’s story is silenced – they become disenfranchised. Marginalized. Isolated.

People are empowered when they have a place to tell their story – from their perspective. Dignity is restored. Unearthed pride buds. Future hope is charted.

Earlier, on that same banquet Monday, literacy and Canadian Aboriginal peoples were the subject discussion of our English classroom. The voice of Documentary Producer Hannah James filled the room as we learned together. Like Bill Waiser, James tells the stories of Canadian First Nations people on Global News 16X9. The TV segment explores the reality that many families in First Nations communities face the challenging choice to send their kids away to school or keep them at home without an education.

The storytelling film says, “We see an Ontario district where the literacy rate is as low as 21%. This statistic is among the lowest literacy rates in the world” … Our classroom is shocked. Then, through the screen, we meet Shannen. She was a girl from Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay. She attended school in portables that were cold and mice-infested. She courageously and boldly gave voice to her education story – reaching out to whoever would listen. She said, “It’s hard to feel pride when your classrooms are cold and mice run around … Those younger students are still thinking that those portables are real schools.” Shannen passed away in a car accident at 16 years old, while travelling a long journey to school. Her legacy and story lives on and continues to influence and sanction other young people to tell their stories.

On a Wednesday, I attended a the film Release at Saskatoon’s Broadway theatre called She Has a Name. The movie, written by Andrew Kooman is about the trafficking of children in sexual slavery and tells the true story of 54 women who were left to die in the back of a broken down semi-trailer on the side of a Ranong road in Thailand. After the film, a justice-fighting-friend Cassie Van Camp, along with other members of Saskatoon’s Hope Restored Canada told the stories of sex trafficking in Canada … in Saskatoon. Through stories, the voices of abused men and women were given room and space … and knowledge became the responsibility of all present.

Yes, literacy is power.

Story-telling is strength.

And knowledge is responsibility.

When we hear someone’s story, we are responsible to act in ways that give honor and dignity where it has been taken.

Bill’s publication. Hannah’s documentary. Shannen’s appeal. Kooman’s flim. These are earth-shaking forces that bring change and healing – and each unique perspective spreads through words. Literacy. May we be people who actively pass the pen so untold stories can be scripted. By doing this, we ascribe worth to all humanity.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly…” – Micah 6:8

 

 

 

Reflect to Reach

One year ago, on my 25th birthday I let my thoughts leak from my heart to a computer screen. I had read somewhere that when you own your story you gain power. I wanted my 25th year to be marked by genuine change and growth, so I started mad scrawling stories … desperate for raw gospel power to be at work in me – right in the ordinary of life. And it has. And it does. When I have taken time to reflect, right here – on these digital pages… This year I will keep reflecting and sharing the stories of empowered people I encounter so that I can keep the learning rolling…

The truth is: Travel doesn’t instantly mature. Adventure doesn’t directly make you interesting. Experience doesn’t equal seasoned. Character doesn’t automatically shine from a well-read person.

Character, growth and transformation don’t happen automatically because of what we experience. Instead, how we process experiences dictates how and if we grow through it… Writing out what I have been learning this year has helped me to change and grow through experiences. My brain does a particular kind of dance when I take time to process it all, and so does yours … we are wired for this. When we reflect, we internalize – we choose how experiences will shape us and if it will grow us.

This week Cheryl and Keith Kowalski were guest presenters in our English classroom (Scroll down to see some incredible photos and stories). This dynamic duo told about their 8-year mission stint living in Botswana and their upcoming plans to head to Uganda with their family. They oozed passion for the Nation of Botswana as they told stories of hopeless women and fatherless children … they also told about renewal and unfathomable restoration they witnessed In Botswana too, all in the same hour. The tales sent jolts of joy, sorrow and motivation through our tiny Saskatoon classroom. By the end of the hour – thick inspiration and life-giving love floated between us as we were challenged to live for something greater, to do something more…

Sometimes after a presentation like this – we feel inspired… but then let the bustle of life whisk our hearts and minds away, untouched and unaltered.

We can have heads full of knowledge and hearts waning and wanting – unless we take time to reflect. When we reflected as a class, we came up with several things we can do to make a difference. We also talked about the ways the presentation changed our thinking (which in turn hits our behaviour and our feelings too)Change. Growth. This is the life God intends for us.

This week I turned 26, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the adventures that have shaped this year. I have learned to trade bustle for breaks – to reflect, to doodle out stories, to practice being still – with God himself. This year I will keep reflecting and sharing stories of empowered people so that I can keep growing with them too. It’s important to take time to reflect back on God’s work (in your own life and in the lives of others) so you can reach forward in life with power.

For me, the highlight of year 25 was the Jesus-trodden trails of Israel. There, I experienced and I wrote and reflected … Although my heart-shaping scribbles are nothing more than sentences strung together … These sentences continue to fuel my spirit to reach into the future with might – you are welcome to journey along with me under the category, Living History.

Please check out Cheryl and Keith’s powerful photos and stories below! Be Empowered. (Check out http://www.mac/org/missionaries/kowalski if you’d like more information or to support this couple)

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The Holy Spirit gave me the directive to plant a church in our yard.  I didn’t know what that would look like but it started with a 5 day Bible Club.  Over 100 kids attended and from that point on about 40 children would come play almost daily in our yard after school.  We had a trampoline and slide and swing (the only ones in the neighbourhood) and the kids loved to come and worship and have a safe place to play.  We would pray for their needs and teach a Bible Story or scripture, and little by little the Lord was helping me to make little disciples who love Jesus! – Cheryl

 

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We were invited to pray for the sick at the government hospital after my neighbour from across the street was healed when I prayed for her.  She told everyone about the miracle and sent anyone who was sick to my gate to be prayed for.  I would tell people that their Father in Heaven cares deeply about them and that is why we were in Botswana. I also brought the teen girls from my Bible Study along and they prayed with incredible faith. Many people were healed and delivered.  We would bring in little care packages and Bibles too which were greatly appreciated. – Cheryl

The Holy Spirit gave me the directive to plant a church in our yard.  I didn’t know what that would look like but it started with a 5 day Bible Club.  Over 100 kids attended and from that point on about 40 children would come play almost daily in our yard after school.  We had a trampoline and slide and swing (the only ones in the neighbourhood) and the kids loved to come and worship and have a safe place to play.  We would pray for their needs and teach a Bible Story or scripture, and little by little the Lord was helping me to make little disciples who love Jesus! – Cheryl

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Winter months in Botswana could get very cold (down to 5 degrees Celcius at night)  We collected lots of sweaters one of our visits back to Canada and distributed them to the destitute kids we got to know from church. – Cheryl

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Right after Johnathan (Cheryl and Heath’s son) died, my mother in law came to visit and brought me beads and a few clasps and tools.  Around that time a met a group of 5 girls that wanted to learn about the Bible, so we started a Johnathan’s Seeds and Beads group.  We would have Bible studies once/week and beading lessons on another afternoon.  We would listen to worship music and talk about God and Life and what we were studying. Beading itself was so healing to me as I was grieving and I’m sure to them as well, and with that skill they could go on to make necklaces to sell to tourists. – Cheryl

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We were asked to help teach at Afterschool Bible Clubs at private schools around town.  As part of their homeschool, Jacob and Abigail learned to perform funny puppet skits that taught Bible Stories and Character truths to kids.  They would lead worship songs and prayer times as well. – Cheryl

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We ran several Bible Clubs and Camps.  In this one, God gave me the idea to do something fun and dress as Professer Praise.  Professer Praise appeared many times throughout our time in Botswana at Churches and Afterschool Bible Clubs.  Professer Praise would teach kids worship songs, scriptures, and how to PRAISE THE LORD!

Here Professor praise is running a PRAISE POWER LAB where the kids got to do science experiments that taught Biblical truths.  Professor Praise was cool because rich kids from the private school loved it just as much as the poorest village kids.  And when they figured out it was actually me dressed up, they felt so clever! – Cheryl

 

 

Just Passion Is a Game Changer

“Justice for Colten! Justice for Colten!” These were the chants cracking the North Battleford sky yesterday outside the courthouse. A 22-year-old man shot and killed on a farm near Biggar, Saskatchewan …. The people’s plea for justice is loud, and passionate. This sad news story was my morning wake up.

Some people say they have no passion. However, there is passion embedded in every person for justice. God’s definition of justice is simply, “How things should be.” God is justice, and we have been made like Him. When God finished crafting man, He said He made people to reflect His nature, “So they can be responsible for … Earth itself” (Genesis 1:26 msg). Do you ever wonder what separates the people on Earth who hear about injustice and close the newspaper, and those who do something about it? Passion is a game changer.

Yesterday my path crossed with hockey rock star Adam Oates on a jet plane (Poor guy, there was no escape from his new chatty companion). He is clearly a champ on and off the ice because he answered all kinds of questions and jumped in to discussion with a farm-girl-school-teacher from Saskatchewan. He was even humble enough to compare my work to his as he coaches players, and in a sense, I, students. As we were talking, I noticed how his voice raised and words flowed like wild lava when he talked hockey. The man was, and is fiercely passionate about the game, strategy, skills, injuries, and the thrill of open ice. Passion drives action, and changes the game.

Passion is defined as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Somehow Adam Oates and I swung in conversation from hockey jabber to social justice. We talked about the power of one story. We discussed the image of the Syrian Refugee boy that has shaken the world with emotion and passion for justice. He talked about visiting a child in the hospital with leukemia. He said he will never forget that fundraiser because the statistics of leukemia have a face. One story ignites passion. Sometimes we think we either need to change the world (way too overwhelming), or close the newspaper.

What if there is another option? Mother Theresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

We were created to have a passion for justice, or to have: Just Passion. If you are wondering how you can get some, passion comes from The Passion Himself. The second definition google gives for passion is “The suffering and death of Jesus.” This is passion that saw your story of need, and did something. This is passion that hung for you. This is red sweat drops of scandalous love mixing with dirt in the garden of Gethsemane. This is the source of Just Passion, and the deeper we understand the heart of God himself suffocating, demonstrating unthinkable love, the deeper our own well of passion goes so that we can be love to the person in front of us. The more we feel our purpose and our “Just Passion”, the more likely we are to restore the world back to “what should be”, one person at a time. Just passion truly is a game changer, for you, for the person in front of you, and the world.

Get your Just Passion on by diving into the power story of one of these game-changing people of the last century:

Nelson Mandela (South Africa)

Paul Rusesabagina (Rwanda)

Ken Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria)

Iqbal Masiah (Pakistan)

Aung San Suu Kyi (Murma)

Craig Kielburger (Canada)

Corrie Ten Boom (World War 11)

Rosa Parks (United States)

Irena Sendler (Warsaw Ghetto)

Farida Nekzad (Afganistan)

Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)

Regretless

In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the number one regret expressed was this, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

May we all grab shovels and dig for that courage so that we can live regretless. It begins by examining our habits, as they are the building blocks of our lives.

Routines are double-edged swords. Establishing regimens helps us to be consistent and achieve our goals. It has been said, “Sow a thought, reap an act; Sow an act, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a character; Sow a character, reap a destiny.” This quote embodies the importance of habits. However, unchangeable routines make your world small so keep them flexible and be gutsy enough to pursue the new.

Many of us want to be able to do this, but we don’t know how or where to start. Let me suggest your master-grey-matter-controller works powerfully in conjunction with your prayers and your God to make change in your life. Spice will erupt when you get intentional about doing something different. Our brain capacity for empathy and problem solving increases when we get serious about breaking the mundane. This benefits everyone because emotional intelligence is the best indicator of your success – and your success, if channeled for the greater good, makes a better world.

There are many beliefs that I claim to believe in my head – but sometimes my stated beliefs have a hard time gushing from the paint-tube of my mind to the canvass of my life. Gandhi himself said, “Action expresses priorities.”

One of my core values is this: every life has equal value. However, often I do not live like I believe this – and the truth is – I never will be able to live this belief perfectly. I often judge people different from me because I have not taken the time to understand or learn from them – I have been too afraid or lazy to pursue new.

If I truly believe that all people are of equal value, my life canvass should be full of all kinds of colour, designs, and stories. Pursuing new experiences doesn’t have to shake your life completely. Perhaps it’s time to let the taste buds dance with a new salad dressing flavour, to walk through that unknown park, to try another running path, or sway to some reggae. The most powerful “new” we should pursue is people. Have the courage to intentionally get around people unlike you, and feel your heart and mind expand. People are incalculably prized by God, and as such, should be considered immeasurably precious by us – every story matters.

Mary and I are rocking different life stages. However, she marks the canvass of my life with stories of invigorating worldwide travel and various daring work experiences of a young woman in the 1930’s (These tales far surpass The Adventures of Odyssey I used to doze off to).

My mentor and friend Betty Mutwiri and I have differing cultural backgrounds. She introduces vivid faith growth and leadership development insights to the canvass of my life by sharing her experiences and astounding accomplishments.

My cousin Rachel Cey marches behind me about a decade (but stretches above more than a foot, as she likes to remind me). Gravel road walks and summer camp adventures with her have splattered my canvass with rib-cracking humour and the most intelligent considerations.

May we all get audacious enough to step outside our established norms and circles in order to pursue the new, and live regretless.