Beyond The Bubble

A coffee shop is easily one of my favourite places to be. It could be the ambience of the chilled out music, the quirky décor, warm sweet smells and big comfy chairs. Or it could be the company. I’ve always loved a good heart to heart, a good laugh, a good friend.

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An amazing hot chocolate in Amsterdam (2014)

I love my people. Being with my people is what gives me pulse. Add in a delicious cuppa or a hot chocolate made from real steamed milk (is there any other kind?) and I’ve got me a perfect afternoon.

Have I spent five entire dollars on a single hot drink in my day? You bet I have. And I’ve done it more than once because good drinks are delicious and I like to invest in my relationships. Who wants canned whip cream that melts into oil within moments? Literally no one does.

You know what else I just love? Travel. I love new places. I love new smells. I love new food. I love new people. I love learning about new things I never knew existed. I love being surprised by the unexpected and not knowing what treasures we might find on tomorrows adventure. I lived in England for 2 years in my early 20’s and it’s shaped me into the adventure-loving creature I am today. I learned more on my overseas adventure in 2 years than I think I learned in my first 18 years of life. I began to mingle with folks outside of my culture and socioeconomic status. I learned things about people that blew my little mind. It became more and more apparent that the life I lived for my first 18 years was not what these people considered to be normal- even if it was my normal.

When I was 17 I moved in with my aunt in the last semester of my highschool career, and only then did I begin to realize what the life of an average middle class teen looked like. I was no longer answering the phone to creditors. I didn’t have to worry about when payday was. I didn’t have to step foot into a food bank unless I was volunteering there. I just went to school, came home, occasionally worked at my part time job and banked the money I made there- in my own pocket. It was peaceful, and it was the first time in my life I had felt that way at home. This was privilege- although the word meant nothing to me at the time.

I knew what the word evicted meant before I knew what the word mortgage meant. Mortgages were only for rich people. I lived in more than 15 homes by the time I was 18. For the first few years of my marriage it was a bit of a joke when we would drive around different places because I would often find myself saying “hey- I used to live there” and my husband would just shake his head in disbelief.

As a young girl I knew how to budget for groceries, and how to add up the total before we got to the till- because goodness forbid we were wrong and had to put something back. More embarrassing than that was thinking we had enough and getting the dreaded “declined” message from the debit card. We were incredibly talented at stretching the dollar mind you. Cheap snacks were my thing. And I’ll tell you what- I still have a deep love and feelings of nostalgia when I treat myself to plain pasta with butter for a snack.

Sample day was one of the best days of the month. What’s sample day you ask? The day that Sunny D (or some other awesome company) decides they want you to try their products so every mailbox get a little jug. My brother and I would run as fast as we could throughout the subdivision collecting all the samples we could. They were fantastic and probably the only time we ever had Sunny D. They weren’t the most honest days of my life.

The other best day of the month was couch dive day. Back in the 90’s everyone kept their money in their giant pockets right? Well our family did, which meant that all (some of) the monies would fall into the cracks of the couch without us noticing. When we needed bread or milk or some other necessity and had no money left for the month we would just ransack the couch and if we found 5 bucks it was literally the best. I loved couch dive day.

There are things that poor families and children go through that ‘average” (rich as I saw them) families just never have to think about; money for school trips, participation in pizza day, access to sports, everything about Christmas, not fitting in because your clothes are so out of date no one wants to be your friend, having to explain to your friends why you can’t attend their birthday, having to explain to your friends (who you just made) why you’re moving-again. As a child and a teen I only saw these things from my perspective. As an adult and a mother, I have a new set of eyes.

I have been to Paris, London, New York, Boston, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Venice, Montreal, Disney World, Jasper and many other amazing cities that are too many to count. I’ve done many of these trips on a tight budget- but I did them. I frequently go grocery shopping without even checking the total on my receipt until I get home. I eat at restaurants sometimes where I can’t understand half of what the menu says, and I tip because I can- not just because I have to. We have two cars. One is on it’s way out, and the other needs a lots of maintenance- but we have two cars. Sometimes I justify expensive purchases for my family because ‘it’s worth the money’, completely forgetting that it’s only worth it because I have the money to afford it. Obviously a family with less would think a better quality product is ‘worth’ the money if they actually had that money.

I by no means am trying to brag. My life is in no way perfect.

All I know is that every morning when I wake up and look at my life I am absolutely amazed that considering where I came from, this is where I now find myself. I never forget where I came from. It is carried with me every single day. It’s embedded into how I perceive and interact with the world around me. It has made me who I am and I choose to use my life’s experiences for good.

It took me years to realize that when I met someone new they didn’t see a tattered, awkward, poor little girl who didn’t understand the world. It took me years to realize that middle class people weren’t evil. It is by no fault or merit of our own that we are where we are- especially when it comes to socioeconomic status.

A few years ago a good friend and I had been out for lunch, we were driving home talking about life and we passed The Cash Store, which is a place you can go to borrow money until payday at an extremely high interest rate. My earnest, loving, generous, loyal, well-educated friend asked me “in what situation would someone actually have to use a place like that?”. I realized in that moment that despite the beautiful loving home she was raised in, despite her university degree, despite her love for people and care for those who are affected by the woes of the world- her life experiences and middle class bubble had blinded her to the very real and very practical difficulties in the lives of those in our very own community- of people like me not so many years ago. Like many of the people I socialize with today, places like this were foreign to her. This is not her fault. When we grow up with enough, imagining having literally nothing is impossible, just like when you grow up without- imagining a life where you don’t have to worry about your next meal is just as difficult.

 

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Truth.

So many of us forget that there is need right here in our own backyards. There are abusive relationships, mental health issues, lack of support for mental health, drugs, poor choices, bad luck, a lack of advocacy, unemployment, and a cycle of poverty that is just about impossible to break. Often, it’s not what you know- it’s who you know. And you can’t get to know people who will get you places if you only grow up around people who are down and out.

All throughout my adulthood I see people getting ahead because they are in the right circles, and know the right people. And I get it, I’ve struggled to get a job before and would have taken any opportunity to get in if I knew the right person- but I think it’s easy to think that we’ve all arrived here because we have worked so hard. I’ve worked hard. I have always saved my money. I didn’t have a time in my 20’s where I was irresponsible. I didn’t blow my time or money. I’ve worked 2 jobs and put myself through college while keeping our house afloat when my husband couldn’t work. Many of my friends are the same. They have worked their butts off. But that doesn’t mean that those who are without did not work hard. Sometimes we just land on luck, good fortune or meet the right people. Remember that.

I am a firm believer in using your story for good. I am firm believer that we can use the “who we know” for good. We can use our circles of influence to spark change. We can inform our people of the injustices in the world that make us tick. We are meant to have passion. Whoever you are, and wherever you are in your life you have the ability to influence others. Whether you were raised in a healthy home and your parents gave you a head start or you’re a single mom who has been trampled on by the world and are just scraping by. You can affect change whether you’re a single childless 40 something, a divorced empty nester or a 15 year old introvert. It is our duty to make the world better.

We don’t all need to have the same passion. But we do need to pursue goodness, pursue love, and pursue a better life for those struggling in the world.

If you know me you’ll have heard me talk about The Shoebox Project- which is a charity that provides women in need with a gift during the holiday season. The community is encouraged to go and fill a shoebox with little luxuries and necessities any woman would love, pack it in a beautifully wrapped shoebox, include a note of encouragement and drop it off at one of our local drop off locations. We then deliver them to local shelters for women fleeing domestic abuse, women in homeless shelters, pregnancy care centres, and other organizations who service women in need. The women who receive these boxes often have no one. They are in the dark hours of life. They have seen and experienced trauma in their lives. They are the ones in our community who are often living under the poverty line, trying to provide for their children, and sacrificing everything to better themselves. Every box we collect locally is given to a local woman. I am the local area coordinator for the Halidimand-Norfolk counties and this season is the highlight of my year.

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200 shoeboxes at our first Shoebox drive in 2014!

I love to think that we can be a glimmer of hope and a ray of light in the difficult times of others. It feels extra special that we are giving to our local community and building each other up.

 

This November, I ask you to consider filling a shoebox for a woman in need. If you don’t live in Haldimand-Norfolk, you can give to your own local chapter.

 

If shopping, wrapping, packing and giving gifts aren’t your thing, find your thing. Maybe it’s international child sponsorship. Maybe it’s visiting the elderly at nursing homes. Maybe it’s sewing beanies for children going through chemo. Maybe it’s cooking meals for families going through tough times. Find your thing. What makes your heart beat faster? What fills your cup? What has happened in your life that has made you care more about something than other people care about it? Pick that thing.

Let’s use our stories for good. It doesn’t matter where you came from. Use your now.

Be the change.

For more information on The Shoebox Project visit www.shoeboxproject.com

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Ideas on packing a shoebox
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Because Being Kind Matters and Bullying Sucks

 

 

I rode the bus to school for 3.5 of my 4 years of high school. They were undoubtedly the hardest years of my life thus far. Let me tell you the rest of my life has been no piece of cake, but these years trumped all of the others by far. The bus wasn’t the only place I was bullied, but it’s where most of it happened.

I was an awkward kid, and an even more awkward teen. I mean, it’s no surprise considering the kind of home I was raised in, and the constant upheaval of moving almost every

year. Making new friends when you’re 6 is a lot easier than making friends when your 13. People already have their people and they are happy with that. It didn’t help that I was socially awkward because I didn’t have very good role models. I had a strange identity crisis around 14 where I wore more black eyeliner than is safe or attractive for any person on earth. I thought that tighter was better and no one told me any different. I probably didn’t have the worlds best hygiene merely because it was never taught to me, and had no one to really tell me how to dress (nor the money to afford clothes that anyone else was wearing). Basically I didn’t do myself any favors, but neither did the adult role models I had in my life at the time.

There were two girls who sat behind me everyday on the bus. I’ll never forget their faces, or their names. On the good days they just called me names. You know, they said I was dirty, ugly, had no friends, was weird, didn’t know how to dress, touched my hair too much (probably because they made me so nervous), and the list goes on. On the bad days they threw the contents of their lunch into my seat, smeared their sandwiches in my hair, and got the rest of the kids who were too scared to stand up for anything to chime in with them. A few times they’d write me lovely messages in the steam of the bus window that said things like “NOBODY LIKES YOU” and “GO KILL YOURSELF”. It’s almost like they were reading my mind. Things like this happened every single day, for years.

When I was about 16, I was getting off of the bus one day and heard a guy who was about a year older than me whisper to one of his friends that he legitimately thought I was the ugliest person he’d ever seen in his life. The whispering helped it cut extra deep because I knew he wasn’t just saying it to be mean, but that he really genuinely believed it. I’ll never forget those moments- although I’m sure he has.

I tried not to mention it to anyone. It was too embarrassing at the time. I’d rather suffer in silence rather than tell someone and risk being laughed at or have the nasty comments validated. I felt completely alone.

I had a couple girlfriends who bravely sat with me on the bus, enduring the onslaught of hate sent my way everyday, and I will love them to the end of time for the support they gave me in that time of my life (and they needn’t speak a word of it- just be there). There are times when I think they are the only people who kept me alive during those years.

I’m telling you, bullying does something to your psyche. It never completely goes away. I was out with my husband and 18 month old daughter last week and the boy who I mentioned previously was at the same event with his 2 children. The mere sight of him made me take a deep breathe and ask my husband if we could move on to a different activity. I’m a relatively confident 27 year old woman who can stand up for herself and carry herself well in almost any social situation, but if you put me in a room with those same people 10 years after what happened I feel like an awkward, ugly, misfit 15 year old again. I just want to bury my face and pretend I’m not there.

Here are three things I have learned from my experience of bullying. 

  • Bullies have problems too. I’ve learned things about the people who treated me so badly all those years and how they had a butt load of issues themselves (whether at home or else where). It’s no excuse, but it helps to understand that. When you’re 15 you don’t care why they are doing it, you just want it to stop.
  • Bystanders don’t hate you. They’re just too afraid of the result if they stand up to a bully on your behalf, or just too indifferent to realize the intense psychological impact it’s having you on. It’s taken me years to get this, and I personally have to evaluate my actions everyday to make sure I am not standing by an injustice in fear of my own mistreatment (adults can suck too).
  • Friends of the bullied are brave, like really brave. It’s scary standing up, and standing beside someone who is being treated so badly, fearing that at any moment you could be their target. Cherish those who are your people, they’re the ones who are going to go places in life. They are the ones you will remember the most.

 

A note to bullies:

Just stop. You need help. We know. You’ve got issues too. We get it. But deal with your own bologna instead of projecting it onto those around you. You aren’t making yourself feel any better and in the long term you’ll only create toxic relationships and make your situation worse. Go to someone who can help you through your issues and everyone will be happier. People don’t actually like you more when you treat other people like crap, they’re just terrified of being treated the same- don’t mistake those people for your friends.

A note to people who don’t bully and don’t get bullied: 

What an incredible position you have found yourself in! You are one of the lucky few and you have more power than you could possibly imagine. The power you give a bully when you laugh along or say nothing at all is greater than you could think. But the power you give a person who is being bullied when you befriend them, or stick up for them could mean the difference of their life. You might be the only person in a day who makes them feel like a person. So just do it. Put your fears aside and be kind. Man up, stand up, and literally go out of your way to invite the weirdest kid at your school to sit with you at lunch. Don’t patronize them, just treat them like you’d treat any friend. I’m telling you they will probably never forget you for it.

A note to people are who are being bullied:

It gets better. I know you’ve probably heard that before. You don’t care about the future at the moment, you just care about right now because you can’t think past tomorrow and the torture you will endure for what seems like forever. But there is an end and it comes sooner than you think. You get to become an adult soon, pretty much do whatever you want, and spend time with people who lift you up and make you feel human again. You get to decide who you are going to be and what persona you are going to emit to the world. It might feel like your wearing a neon “loser” sign wherever you go, but I promise you’re the only one who sees it. It’s a process. You aren’t just going to graduate and feel whole again, but you’ll figure who you are and become totally okay with that. Those people who make you feel like garbage will cross your mind less and less over the years until one day you’ll remember them- and even feel sorry for them. You are a wonderful creation who is beautiful, unique, treasured, and perfect the way you are. If it feels like no one appreciates you right now, one day they will. You’ll realize the bullies were the crazy ones. If you’re a weirdo like me, you’ll learn to embrace the weird and people around you will love you because of it.

Finally, a note to my bullies:

I forgive you. Legit. I do. I couldn’t go on if I hadn’t. I’ve seen you in adult life. I’ve served you at the restaurant I worked at, I’ve seen you at community events, I’ve worked with you in the school system even. You’ve attended my church. Some of you are doing just fine and some aren’t. I can tell by the way you look at me that you remember. You probably don’t remember the details like I do but you remember. Although I may have been on the brink of suicide at one point, I’ve come through that and I’m stronger now than I ever thought I could be. So in a way, I suppose should say thank you. I don’t know if you feel guilty, or empowered, or just indifferent. I know who I am though and that is what matters. I am someone who treats people fairly and kindly and wants the people around me to know how incredibly wonderful they are. I sleep well at night because in my heart I want good things for the people around me, even you. It’s better than being angry, I promise. If you’ve changed then well done. Being a teenager sucked for everyone, I hope you teach your children well and raise them to be kind to the world around them.

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People who are friends of mine might wonder why I share such private and frankly embarrassing details of my life. If you’re wondering if it’s scary for me then I say yes, sure it is. The thing that overpowers my fear of judgment or mockery is the power of transparency. Don’t we all dream of realness? Aren’t we a little sick of our “Pinterest Perfect” lives and our newsfeed highlights of a life worth lusting after? We’re all regular people who have moments of awesomeness and moments of gut wrenching pain. It is the human condition to want to be accepted, to be loved, to feel important. I think that by showing our flaws, our icky bits, and sharing our pains we give one another the authority to be confident and who we are and be happy with our own paths. I really hope you are kind. I hope that you treat people who are the most different from you, as if they were not different at all. It feels much better than the alternative.

This Wednesday February 24th is Pink Shirt Day. You might have heard of it. Essentially, you’re being asked to wear a pink shirt to support the “ANTI-bullying” movement. How did this start you ask? In 2007 there was a grade 9 boy who was teased for wearing a pink shirt to school (in NS, Canada). A couple older brave students decided this was ridiculous. So in a stand against bullies they deiced that they  would wear pink shirts one day to show him their support. The gathered their friends and altogether there were 50 teens, standing in solidarity against bullying. I can tell you this probably changed the kid’s life. What a cool story right? Now every year, in schools and workplaces all across Canada, and even other countries, people wear pink shirts on pink shirt day to show that they are against bullying. I’m asking you to do this. Sure, you could donate to the cause as well, but just by simply wearing a pink shirt you are showing anyone who is or was ever bullied that the bullies are the minority- not them. You are standing up for them without saying a word.

Click here to donate or learn more about #pinkshirtday

If you haven’t ever been bullied than be thankful. If you think bullying has never affected you, you’re wrong. People are just too afraid to talk about it. Your best friend might have been bullied, your kids might be being bullied right now, or your siblings could be bullied without your knowledge. It’s scary and awkward to talk about so nobody does it. Let’s take the veil off of bullying and give power to the voiceless. Let’s stand up for those who are, and who have been treated unfairly. We all deserve to feel like we belong. We all deserve to feel loved. We all deserve to fit in. Put on a pink shirt and do something nice this week- it feels good.

These are the girls who kept me sane, your everyday heroes, I’ll love you forever and always. And that’s me on the far right –>

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The Definition of Luck, The Ability to Love

I grew up in a single parent home where we knew of, and took advantage of, every social care that was possibly available to us. I am only slightly embarrassed by this, as the circumstances in which I was raised were not under my control in the slightest.

Sometimes this meant living on “welfare”, and often it meant regular visits to the food bank, breakfast programs, snack programs, sponsor a kid for camp programs, Christmas gift programs for underprivileged kids, and other services offered by a mixture of the government, the school system, the Boys and Girls club and the community, among many others.

Sometimes this meant calling food companies to complain about a product to get free merchandise in return. Sometimes this meant writing cheques we knew were going to bounce. Sometimes it meant trying to back claim on strange government forms because we thought we might be somehow entitled to money from years ago.

There was a while when we would have a yard sale every weekend, just to get some spare change.

Until we left the city around the age of 12, we were among the percentage of people who were likely poorest in the country – and yet we always had food, always had healthcare, and always had a bed.

Being children who grew up in poverty, on social assistance, and on strange looks from family members and teachers, we were used to being seen as different.

What I have learned from those years, and from my now middle class, educated, and average life – is that there is always someone around the corner to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s one of many, many government programs, whether it’s an estranged family member who feels guilty or even just generous, whether it’s a kind neighbor, or whether it’s the local church…there is help to be had and people willing to do good for those in need.

Between the kindness and generosity of everyday Canadians, the incredible social programs our government provides, the education system, the church, and the overall culture of the people around us – we as Canadians basically couldn’t have it any better. Whether you were born into the poorest of families, or the richest of families, you’ve still got opportunities. You can get a loan to go to school, you can make your own choices once you become an adult, you can choose to serve whichever God you like, you can be totally disabled, or entirely lazy. No matter who you are, you have every opportunity to make something of yourself, and at very least, you will at least have bed to lay in, and food on your table.

Soon after my father was born he went entirely deaf. Due to circumstances in the 1950’s he somehow went under the radar and his parents thought he had a mental condition. It wasn’t until he was 19 that he was diagnosed, finally given hearing aids and sent to a school for the deaf. This means he never learnt to read and his communication skills are hugely impacted. It affects his everyday life now in ways you wouldn’t possibly guess. He has had a very tough life. He lives on a government disability program and always has. The man does not have much. At the end of each month, after paying his bills, he is lucky enough to have $100 to spare – and he is the best budgeter I have ever met. The point is that he still has a $100 to spare – and he is grateful. Not the same can be said for many people in similar situations, even though our government chooses to support them and many others in various other situations in this country. It is not a lot of money, but the fact that we live in a country where you are able to support yourself without having to work (if absolutely necessary) is utterly incredible.

Some see it as a right. I see it as a privilege. I am able to say this because in my life I have known difficulty. I have seen what my government can do, and does do for its people. I have lived in other countries, travelled to many countries, and known many people who were born and raised under very different circumstances. It truly is a blessing to be here. I count my blessings.

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There are some countries where babies are aborted just because they are a girl. In some countries you will be disowned or even killed if you try to leave the religion you were born into. There are places in this world that believe you should not know what’s happening around you, where they monitor every single piece of news that is printed. There are places on this planet which are so underdeveloped and poor that children die every few seconds because of hunger. There are countries where, no matter how hard you work, how hard to try, how long you save for, you will never go to school, never own your own business, and never get to choose the path for your own life. There are countries not far away that do not allow freedom of speech. There are people right now who have no bed. There are people who have worked harder and longer, saved longer, did more, and tried harder than you or I will ever try for something in our entire lives for anything – and yet they are still in the same place, doing the same thing, surrounded by the same tragedy they were born into.

This is not to mention the places in the world where children are beheaded and women are raped in front of their husbands because they happen to believe in different God from another person.

Depressing right?

The thing is, it’s not their fault they were born there. It’s also not your fault, or mine.

It’s also not our fault we were born here. Should we feel guilty? No. Should we feel grateful? Yes. Should we feel entitled? No.

We as Canadians (and other first world countries) are the luckiest 1% on the entire planet Earth. So why do so many of us feel we “need to take care of our own” so badly? Are not all humans “our own”? Are the people who are born in this country so much more important than other humans that were born into such terrible circumstances? Are we so far deep into our bubble of first world comforts that we can’t see that these people we discard as “other”, feel the same deep, drowning, horrible emotions about the scenarios in which they find themselves that we would find when we are in trouble? Who do we think we are?

It is so easy to compare ourselves to those who have more. We’re always looking up, always looking ahead. What’s next? How can I better myself? And though there is nothing wrong with the notion of become better, or doing more, I find it often comes hand in hand with the dismissal of those around us. Those who have less.

“We’ve earned what we have”

“I’ve worked my whole life for this”

“I paid into this”

“I deserve this”

“I have a right to be here”

“I”

“I”

“I”

…as if every person who is “below us” or wasn’t born here hasn’t worked hard and doesn’t deserve a good life. What about all the work they did before their homes were possibly blown up or their families were murdered?

We forget that there are many men and women who died for the rights and freedoms we so easily partake in. We forget that many have earned, deserve, and should have rights to these very same things and yet because they did not win the birth lottery, they are immediately disqualified from the luxuries we receive.

It is by no merit of our own that we were born where we were. We made no choice in the matter. It was luck of the draw.

I often try to imagine what my life would look like in another time, or in another place. What choices would be available to me? What would I want for my life? I can’t possibly imagine working in a rice field from the time I was a child, knowing full well that all of my days on earth would look exactly the same no matter what I did. I can’t imagine getting a curable disease where it was almost certainly a death sentence because of lack of a healthcare system. I can’t imagine being forced into marrying my uncle at the age of 11 years old, having to bear his children, and know that it was physically impossible for me to ever escape the life I was forced into. My mind couldn’t comprehend the emotions I would feel to see my children taken from me or my village burnt down, and then having to live with that – all the while fleeing for my own life.

My heart aches for the world around me. There is pain, death and suffering everywhere we turn – and yes – even in our own country. But I dream of a world where this simply isn’t the case. And though I know that we won’t achieve world peace anytime soon, I also know that we as people, as a human race, are better than that.

We are capable of incredible love. It’s been proven.

We are capable of practical, real, life altering love. Not the kind that you feel. Not the kind that we write about on canvas prints and hang on our shabby chic walls. Love that does! The kind that fills tummies, clothes the naked, and comforts the grieving. I believe that we are able to sacrifice our own comforts to see the needs of others met. I believe that one life is no more valuable than another. We must not let fear overcome us. If no one ever leant a helping hand for fear of its repercussions where would we be? We have made it this far as a human race, I think we have it in us to do what is necessary and love those around us, to love those who might make us afraid. That’s what would really make us great.

That’s what would make us brave.

 

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Photo credit: Yumi Mariane Momoi via Foter.com / CC BY

On Becoming Stable, On Becoming Able

When I was about six years old, I stayed in a women’s shelter with my brother and my mom. We’d left home on very short notice and didn’t really understand what was happening or why- but I remember it was a scary situation. I have three things that I took away from the experience.

  • They cut the crusts off my bread if I asked nicely (THE BEST)
  • We watched The Land Before Time on VHS repeatedly and I loved every second.
  • Everyone there treated us like gold, and I was overwhelmed by love and attention.

There isn’t much more that a six year old can take away, or remember from a situation like that, but over all it was a really positive memory from my childhood- as strange as that may seem.

Although my shelter experiences may be limited (lucky me), my childhood experience with first world poverty, constant upheaval, and day-to-day struggle was not limited. I used to walk by houses much smaller than my current home and wonder how rich people really lived. I didn’t know any of the people who lived in them, and they seemed a world away from me, something I would never experience.

I knew (or thought) the rich kids got to bring fruit rollups for snacks to school. The rich kids got to wear those tear away Adidas pants (it was the 90’s okay?). The rich kids probably had never been to a pawnshop- never mind to pawn away their Christmas gifts. The rich kid’s parents drove cars. The rich kids got to stay at the same school with their friends year after year. That was the thing that was harder than any of the other things…knowing that other people didn’t have to made new friends almost every year.

By no means did I grow up surrounded by tragedy. There are stories much more tragic than my own. I saw a lot more in my first 17 years than most of the people I spend time with these days, but it’s nothing compared to the poverty, abuse, violence and uncertainty that many women and children experience everyday. In this very moment, there are families in my community who are struggling to keep it together, struggling to get through the day.

I share part of my story with you to show you that poverty, abuse, and struggle is not as far away as you think. There is no “us” and “them”. We are all the same. We (the lucky, the blessed, the fortunate) are no better a people than them (the struggling, the hurt, the poor). I have learned that life can change in the blink of an eye; with one decision, with one event, with one relationship- for the good, and for the bad. We have all likely arrived at our plenty by a mixture of good fortune and hard work. But there are many people that work hard and do not arrive at plenty. They could be us, and we could be them, so easily.

I am beyond blessed to have a home to come back to at the end of the day that makes me feel warm and loved- not frightened and afraid. As a wife, and a mother my heart is full to brim with the love I receive from my family on a day-to-day basis. I know what to expect from those around me everyday and they know what to expect from me. I am respected by my family and I respect them. Not every woman has that luxury.

There are women around us who are struggling in this very moment. Women who are afraid to tell their husbands they made a mistake. Women who are ashamed of the lunches they send their children to school with. Women who have to lie to their children to keep them safe. Women who have been victims of emotional, physical and psychological abuse. Women who are told they are fat, unworthy, and not good enough. There are women in your city who feel they are failing everyone around them. There are women who have been handed a really crappy deck of cards in life.

Lucky for me, the abuse and poverty I endured as a child and teen is a far off memory that I joke about with my friends sometimes. Stories they can’t believe are true. But for these women, their lives are no joke. It is tremendously difficult to see an end to the misery they face everyday.

Some of these women have to stay in shelters at some point or another-either by themselves, or with their children. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult thing for them to do. They are displaced from their families. Often, they have nowhere else to go. They have no support group. They have no means to help themselves. They have lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their confidence. Sometimes, they are in hiding from those who pose a danger to them.

I never imagined that I would shop at The Real Canadian Superstore, never mind go to the checkout without first calculating my total to see if my card would decline or not. I never thought that I would get gas without looking at the price. I never thought that I would own my own home. I never thought that I would go on a vacation. I never thought that I would look forward to going home because that is where I feel most comfortable and most loved. My home is my biggest blessing, and not the wood and shingles, but the people in it.

I’m not rich. I’m “middle class”, and if you’re reading this than maybe you are too. That means you probably work, you probably have a car, you probably go on vacation sometimes, and you probably don’t visit foodbanks unless you are donating. You probably wonder what to get your parents for Christmas because they usually buy what they want or need, and you probably set limits on your kids gifts because you don’t want them to grow up to be spoiled.
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You might be wondering why I’ve shared all of this. It’s because I wanted to share with you why I am personally interested in what I am doing. My personal experiences have shaped my passion. I’ve reached a time in my life I thought might never come. A time of stability, a time of ability. I am able to help those around me, and so I will do that because I too have been helped along in my journey.

I want to see women around me who are struggling in different areas of their lives reach their fullest potential. I want them to know how incredibly valuable they are- to their families, to their communities, and to themselves. I want them to know they are loved.

I started volunteering for a charitable organization called “The Shoebox Project” http://www.shoeboxproject.com this month. I am now the Local Area Coordinator for the Norfolk County area. The Shoebox Project is a charitable organization that provides gift-filled shoeboxes during the holidays to women who find themselves in shelters and resource centers.

The shoeboxes are to be filled with various items you think a woman might like -lotion, hair care, makeup, personal care products and gift certificates– items she doesn’t have access to or the means to purchase during a difficult time. Things that make her feel special. We believe that a small gesture can make a big difference. Creating a shoebox worth roughly $50 can be done alone or with friends. It isn’t a lot when you think about it, and can make a world of a difference to those who are receiving them. Customizing the shoebox with decorations and images makes creating the shoebox as important as the contents. For more details on what to put in a shoebox and how to get started you can click here. http://www.shoeboxproject.com/make-a-shoebox.html

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to coordinate the Shoebox Project for Norfolk County this year and I love that I have the chance to volunteer for such a unique and essential charity. The women in my community who have found themselves in difficult circumstances over the holiday season deserve to receive a gift that can give them a glimmer of hope and a message of love. That is my goal, to spread hope and love.

If it’s something that interests you please contact me!

Not only do we need people to lovingly make shoeboxes but we need volunteers and people to spread the word.

Do you have a storefront business in Norfolk County? Would you be interested in being one of our drop-off locations for the shoeboxes?

Would you like to get together with co-workers or friends to have a shoebox making party?

There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference this holiday season. What a blessing we can be to those living so close to us. Please join me!

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If you aren’t from my community check out www.theshoeboxproject.com to see what you can do to get involved in your area.

“What to Buy for the Person on Your List Who Already has Everything”- A Christmas Blog

What to get for the person who has everything”… we hear it everywhere this time of year.

My heart feels sad when I hear this. On almost every T.V program, radio show, and any kind of media these days this very question, or answer, is posed. All I want to do is stand up and scream “NOTHING”!

 What have we come to as a society? Are we so far removed from those across the world, those living in the town down the road, to our very own neighbors in need?

 I remember being 8 years old. We lived in a pretty rough area of the city. It was all my mom could afford. We didn’t have a car, my best friends’ Mom was a stripper, and we had “yardsales” pretty often just so we could buy milk. My brother and I grew up with a single mom on very low income. Christmases weren’t exactly frivolous. I loved Christmas though. I remember going to the food bank and getting to pick out a few things that I liked. It was SO nice to get the fancy Ritz crackers, instead of the no name salted ones. It was amazing to get some puddings to bring in our lunches to school. I loved having “rich kid” snacks like that. At Christmas time one of the local charity groups would hold a Christmas dinner for low-income families. We got to go that year and it was one of my best memories. I got a gift from Santa that night. It was a necklace making kit, and was one of my very favourite Christmas gifts I ever received. I’ll never forget it. I didn’t think of myself as a poor kid, a welfare kid, or one of “those” kids in need. I was just a kid. I probably didn’t put much thought into the fact that someone I don’t know spent their hard earned money on a gift for me and they would never see my reaction. I just got to do something that other kids did without even thinking about it, and it meant so much. I just got to feel “normal”. It was awesome.

 That year I found two loonies under the couch a week before Christmas. That was almost better than Christmas morning. I got to buy Mom a gift. I spent over an hour in the dollar store trying to pick out the perfect gift, picking things up, and putting them down again. I just couldn’t decide. I finally made my purchase and when I got home I realized I had put a candle in my pocket planning to buy it and forgot to put it back when I made my final purchase of something else. I was devastated. I cried the whole way back to the dollar store and thought I was going to be arrested when I returned the accidently stolen dollar store candle. I wasn’t arrested.

Most of the people I socialize with now were lucky enough to never have experienced anything like that. A necklace making kit today might cost me upwards of ten, or maybe even fifteen dollars. It blows my mind. I spent $13.99 of a brick of cheddar cheese last week. CHEDDAR. CHEESE.

 They say less than 10% of people leave the “class” or income bracket that they were born into. I am one of the lucky few. What that means is that not only am I lucky enough to have “moved up” as some might call it, but I am lucky enough to see the class gap from both sides. It comes with a certain responsibility. It’s hard for me at this time of year because I know the comfort that I have, and I know what its like to be a part of so many families who go without. Being a part of the first world middle class is something that 99% of the world dreams about, and most of us are quite casual about it. We just compare ourselves to those who have just a little bit more than us.

 I don’t claim to be the world best giver. I give, for sure, but I could also afford to give more. It’s hard to find a balance I’ll admit. I don’t adhere to not receiving gifts because I am in a place of privilege. I am not an extremist. But, I am definitely in a place a privilege, as many people I know are as well. I appreciate it and try to do what I can.

Some things are just ridiculous though. If it is stressing you out because you just can’t think of what to get Uncle Bob who has everything he needs, maybe don’t get him anything, maybe make him something, maybe make a donation in his name. There are so many options. I get it. Many of us show our love by giving gifts, but there are so many more creative ways to give.

What if we took all the money spent on unneeded gifts, unwanted gifts, things like luxury Christmas crackers, and put it towards gifts, or even necessities for others who only dream of having a spare $50 once in a while, never mind safe drinking water or 3 square meals a day.

This is a time of giving. We give to our friends, give to our family, and give to charities. Heck there’s people giving out the middle finger like its candy on the roads this time of year (the an entirely different issue).  Seriously though, it is fun to give. It’s one of my favourite things.

 It just really breaks me up sometimes to see all that is wasted, to see ungratefulness, to see entitlement. To see people braking their back trying to think of how they can spend $50 on someone who has everything, and can think of nothing they could possibly want or need.  

So on behalf of those kids halfway across the world who will soon receive the shoeboxes you filled for them a month ago, thank you.  On behalf of the single mother down the road who gets to give her kids some presents this year, thank you. On behalf of the kids who get to have a Christmas dinner because of your donations, thank you. Thanks to all who give.

I hope that more than anything this Christmas, even more than I hope I can give, I hope I can daily be thankful for the abundance I have, for the privilege I was born into, for the love that I am surrounded by, and for the freedom to celebrate Christmas however I choose. Merry Christmas, everyone!