I Am Not Afraid of Halloween

True confession time…I don’t like Halloween. It doesnt make sense to me. Each day I leave my house, I drive past neighbours who have decorated their front lawns with depictions of skeletons, ghouls, and other ghastly and ghostly things. One neighbour in particular has created a guillotine where one creature is beheading another creature. I’m wondering which company will be the first to market an inflatable Ebola virus that can be incorporated into outside Halloween decor.

It makes no sense to me.

Over the last several months, the entire world has strongly reacted to scenes of violence throughout the world. We have seen beheadings, gas attacks, mass graves, civil war…the list goes on uninterrupted until the next commercial break….and then it starts all over again. I don’t see the need to go to a haunted house to be scared…the 6:00 news does a good job.

“Halloween is for the children…” people say.

I’m not sure how I feel about my child receiving mixed messages about violence, hatred, murder, and death. 364 days of the year, these are things I feel motivated to protect my child from…to counter the impact of these things with a barrage of love, reassurance, patience, and grace. So why is it that on one day, everything I fight to keep my young one from experiencing becomes cartoonish, publically depicted and therefore minimized?

I don’t get it.

And as soon as Halloween is over, its time to think about Christmas…peace on earth, goodwill toward men…joy, hope, festivity, caring for others…How is it that we can claim to embrace these December values when our October celebrations seem to exalt the opposite.

I’m confused.

As a new parent, I’m trying to find my way through the fog of how to shepherd my little loved one through the realities of life with as little emotional damage as possible.

Halloween and all its commercial iconography doesn’t really help…

I Am Not Afriad of Fellowship

Every summer, I wait for the perfect day…the day when the sky is brilliant blue, the wind is warm, the mood is relaxed and there is a deep sense of contentment with life as it is in that moment.  Last year, the perfect day involved kayaking with a good friend around Brentwood Bay and then joining him in a pint on the outdoor patio of the local pub.  The year before, the perfect day was a day trip with best friends to a nearby island for a hike, picnic and lots of laughter on the sandy beach.

What’s your perfect summer day?

Last night, my best friend and I shared in what has so far been the perfect day.  We slept in, walked along the ocean in the warm summer sun, lingered over conversation, and then were blessed to be treated to dinner on friends’ back patio.  The food was fantastic…a good old fashioned seafood  bake of  clams, crab, prawns, fish, sausage, boiled eggs, corn on the cob and summery sweet baby potatoes.  The patio had been decorated to look like a beach-side bistro complete with patio lights, cozy chairs and Norah Jones playing softly in and amongst our easy conversation.  We sat on that patio until close to midnight and only had to cut the night short because someone dared to look at a clock and realized that their sleeping wee ones would be waking up in only five short hours.

Last night got me thinking about fellowship – an old fashioned word that has come back into usage thanks to Froto and his adventures with a certain ring.  According to one of the online dictionaries, fellowship means the state of being with others, companionship, being part of a community bigger than yourself.

And that’s exactly what last night was…it was fellowship.  We were people who had journeyed with each other for many, many years through the good and the bad.  There was no need for the conversation to be shallow because our friendship is deep and rich.  On that patio last night, I experienced fellowship as it was a blessing to be known and to know others more deeply.

Food.  Friends.  Wine.  So far, it was the closest to the perfect moment of this summer.

Thank you friends.

I Am Not Afriad of the Core

Her office is beautifully inviting…bright, spacious, and with full height windows that look out onto the bluish-grey waters of the Strait of Georgia.  She made us some camomile tea as I sank down into the well loved leather sofa and began to quiet my mind in preparation for the discussion to come.

At first, it was easy.

“Tell me about your week.  What have you been thinking about what we talked about last time you were here?”

I was eager to share my experiences of meeting with some counselors who work in organizations where I would like to do my counseling practica – organizations that have been great supports to me during some very difficult times.  I was proud of how I had returned to places that had long been associated with sadness, grief, and loss – only to discover that they could be places of healing, learning and growth.

Then the conversation moved to a deeper place as we began to narrow in on some of the main reasons I had sought her out as a counselor in the first place.  And as the conversation moved to a crescendo, she asked me an awkwardly simply question…

Who are you?

When you strip away all the assumed expectations of others, and when you get past the constant self-evaluative chatter in your own head, who are you at your core?

What do you believe that is integral to your sense of self and that is untouchable by the advice, judgements, and opinions of others?

I don’t think I’m too far off by suggesting that these questions are not unique to me, but are part of the evolutionary process of self-discovery that occurs throughout life.  But where these questions are unique to me are in my partial list of answers that I share with you below:

I believe that my relationship with God is the most important relationship I will ever have and so it deserves time, attention, and transparency.

I believe that even in the darkest of places and circumstances, there is always hope.

I believe that the Shawshank Redemption is the most honest movie ever made.

I believe that humility, service and compassion will always win out over might and power.

I believe that I am stronger than I know, braver than I realize, and smarter than I am prepared to give myself credit for.

I believe that relationships are best measured by quality, not quantity.

I believe that the labor of my hands and mind can produce something of lasting value and worth that continues long after I am gone.

I believe my best friend is the most important person in the world.

I believe that I am much more than the labels, diagnoses, and expectations placed on me by others.

And I believe that all that I have is more than enough and that possessions, finances, businesses, and degrees are merely tools by which God’s kingdom continues to incarnate itself into the world He created.

I Am Not Afraid of the Cookie

I had briefly met Nathan the last time I was at Ambrose Seminary for a week long class.  It was my first go-round with week long intensive classes in this new academic program, and so I really wasn’t in the best ‘making new friends’ frame of mind.

But today when I was wandering over from the main school campus to a nearby coffee shop in search of a latte, I heard a voice call out my name.  I turned around and it was Nathan.  A friendly face…someone who remembered my name.  I immediately felt like I was welcomed back and was once again in a good place.

As we walked, we started to talk about the counseling program – the roads we had both taken to get to this point and highlights of what we had learned thus far.

We walked past the coffee shop and went into a Vietnamese restaurant instead – opting to trade in my latte craving for some supper instead.  Nathan was working on campus and so he ordered take out while I sat at a booth.  As he waited for his meal, he sat with me and we shard a cup of jasmine tea – and talked more about the counseling program, possible career directions, and where each of our hearts are at in terms of wanting to be used wherever God would have us used.

Then we got personal.   We talked about our insecurities that seem to circle back and try to hold us captive to our own self-doubts.  We talked about Rwanda and what it means for me to consider going and what it means for him to put it off until the next trip in a few years.  We talked about how it seems like what we have done is a departure from what we are doing now and our uncertainty about how the past will connect through the present to create a meaningful future.

In many ways we were strangers yet we talked like brothers.  Two people sharing a journey whose destination is uncertain yet resolutely holding on to the faith that we are where we should be.

After a few moments his food arrived and he had to go back to work.  We both agreed that we were looking forward to seeing each other in class all week and then he was gone and I was left to my own thoughts and lemongrass chicken.

When dinner was over, the bill came accompanied with a fortune cookie.

I cracked it opened and smiled as two fortunes slid onto the table…apparently one for my friend Nathan and one for me.  I don’t believe in fortune and I don’t live my life based on the predictions hidden deep within baked goods.

But for just a moment, it was thought God’s Spirit chose to use the randomness of a cookie to speak words that Nathan and I needed to hear.

You will step on the soil of many countries.


Past inspirations and experiences will be helpful at work or school.

The cookie has spoken.

I Am Not Afraid of Going Back

It seemed like a good idea the first time I went to Africa.

I was young…20 years old…and in my second year of university. I had the plan all figured out…finish university, become a teacher just like dad, and live for the two months off in the summer.

It was a good plan. A noble plan. And one that I could have easily followed had it not been for my friend Laura who, over coffee at the University Centre, innocently asked me if I wanted to be part of a youth exchange program to Zimbabwe sponsored by an NGO based in Ottawa.

She had no idea that she would change the course of my life.

I went to Zimbabwe as an innocent 20-something and over the six weeks, I fell in love. I fell in love with the music. I fell in love with the food. I fell in love with the open hearts and warm embrace of some very special people I had the honor of meeting. It was like when you give that piece of your heart to your first love knowing that you will never get it back and hoping that it will grow into something beautiful. I fell for Africa. And I fell hard.

But I also came home confused about poverty, angry about structural adjustment and the power of the IMF and the World Bank, and stripped of my innocence regarding missionary work that seemed to export a North American version of Jesus to a people and culture who existed far from the margins of anything even remotely North American.

On coming home, I went through reverse culture shock. I was ashamed of my whiteness. I was resentful and judgmental of my evangelical culture and its apparent lack of ability to see that sometimes people need bread before they need Jesus. I felt a deepening desire to learn more of Africa and so I got off the teacher track and completed a history degree with a focus on south African post-colonial history and liberation theology.

My love affair with Africa had changed me, shaped me and left its indelible mark on my heart.


The second time I went to Africa was in 2005.

I was part of a small team of people who were sent by a relief and development organization to assess the impact of a longstanding famine that was ravaging Africa’s north east. More specifically, our small team was sent to Ethiopia to see how many children were starving and to find ways to help get them get food before they died.

For almost 10 days, we traveled into some of the most remote places I have ever been…places where we saw the impact of the famine first hand. Children were starving…their hair turning orange from lack of vitamins in their diet…their bellies starting to distend…eyes sunken and hollow. The mothers were most often quiet…silently hoping that the six strangers who were now in their village could somehow fend off the agonizing process of watching their sons and daughters slowly fade away.

I have a clear image of Ben – one of our team members emerging from a hut holding a whispy, skeletal baby girl was not going to make it through the day unless something drastic was done. Ben’s face conveyed the sense of urgency and futility that was darkening my own eyes and soul…threatening to choke out any sense of hope.

In some cases, we were able to help and get food to those most desperate. The little girl that Ben had held limply in his arms received the help she so desperately needed. But for every success story, there were some stories that did not end so well. The reality of relief and development work is that not everyone can be saved.

I came home from this trip traumatized and afraid of Africa. The place that I loved had betrayed me and turned from life giving to life denying or life destroying. Even to this day, the memories are hard, crushing and can trigger emotions that I am still trying to wrap in the poverty of language.

I don’t talk about my experience in Ethiopia very much – its just the way it is.


The only reason I’m telling this story now is because I have the opportunity to once again go back to Africa in June – this time with a group of classmates and teachers as part of my Masters in Counseling program. I have the chance to go to Rwanda – more famous for its genocide than its unlimited beauty – to serve local counselors and therapists who are working with various communities and client groups.

There is part of me that doesn’t want to go back because I am afraid. But it seems like it might be time to revisit yet another personal place of pain and trauma in order to ‘reclaim the land’ and finally make peace with demons that I have wrestled with for almost seven years.

Africa captivated me in 1991 when I was there as a young man…and it broke me in 2005 when I returned. So now I wait expectantly, prayerfully, and admittedly somewhat nervously to see what it will do to my heart and soul this time around.

Moving forward sometimes means going back – moving into the fear rather than continuing to run from it or keep it hidden.

But above all else, the important thing is to keep moving.

I Am Not Afraid of Chapters

I’m starting to think that life is like a book.  It has a plot.  It has characters that come and go – enriching or complicating the story each time the page gets turned.  At times, life is a comedy and at others it is a tragedy.  And sometimes it seems like the bulk of life is lived in the ‘nowhere chapters’ – those pages towards the middle of the book where events slow and things start to drag.  But by then, I’m usually too invested in the book to give up so end up slogging through to the next dramatic twist.

If only life had a table of contents so that we could flip ahead.  Or maybe that would be just as bad as not enough understanding of where the road is going.

I was talking with my best friend about the chapters that have been written in the story of our life together….a 16 year journey.  Not sure if that qualifies it as an epic yet, but certainly longer than a popular romance novel.  And as we flipped through the pages of our life, we began to trace plot lines and develop themes.  It was like being in a very small book club.

At times, the journey has been joyful, passionate and full of wonder and adventure.  There have been lots of scenes where the sun has beamed down on our heads and the warm breezes of love and friendship have wrapped around us.  And like any relationship, there have been chapters where the plot takes unexpected twists and turns that have led into dark valleys full of strange creatures and sounds.

So far, we are a family of two…unless you consider the cat which bumps us up to a family of two-and-a-half.  And judging by how the year has started, it seems like the dominant emerging plot line will  revolve around what it means to be a family of two while hoping that we might be a family of three.  We had hoped that the bulk of the hard reading was past and that the story would lighten from here on in.  But instead, we appear to be headed into a period of greater uncertainty punctuated by hope, frustration, resentment, and yet love.

When we were younger, we never would have anticipated being this old and still being a family of two.  I don’t think we even gave it a second thought.  But like any good novel, character development requires struggle…both internal and external.

I can never fully understand what it is like for my best friend to go through this experience.  Nor can she fully understand mine.  So we talk and try to find common points of connection.  The dialogue isn’t dynamic nor artful.  It’s mostly pretty raw and gives a window into our inner monologues.  I think the important thing is that we continue to talk and are committed to turning the page together regardless of what may transpire.

Not having children – when there is much pressure and expectation from within and without to do so – is a strange place to be.  Its hard to miss what you don’t have but there is a strange longing for something that could be experienced.

I am not afraid of the next chapter.  I think I know the author well enough to know that the story will turn out as it should….or as it will.

I Am Not Afraid to Try

It was a rainy November day last year when I packed up the remaining personal trinkets and papers into an old photocopier paper box and closed the door behind me.

I officially left my job and all of the security and benefits that went with it.

I left great friends and coworkers that made coming to work each day worthwhile even when the work itself was blah.

I left almost ten years of personal investment into a career path that had led me into the forest and then seemed to elusively disappear into the thick underbrush.

I left a big part of my identity and my self image.  As I placed my box into the trunk and got into the car, it felt like I was at a funeral and a birthday party all at the same time.

The reasons for the departure are growing less important the further away I get from the whole storied mess.  The upshot of it all was that I had grown disillusioned, disengaged and was slowly fading away.  I was losing myself in a world where I was increasingly feeling like a stranger and a fake.

So with the encouragement of my best friend and a deep breath, I left my job in order to find myself again.  I went back to basics and spent a lot of time thinking about what was meaningful to me immediately after my heart attack in 2010 – because it was during that extended time of recovery that I started to hear faint reminders of who I believe I was created and called to be.  It was like wiping the steam from a mirror with a damp towel – the reflection is clearer, but just a little bit and only for a short time before it grows faint again.  I listened as I prayed and prayed as I listened.  I’m not one prone to showy displays of religion and am not a big fan of ‘churchy’ language – but during those times, I honestly believe that I encountered God.  Or perhaps more appropriately, God encountered me.

In my growing realization that  life had not led where I had thought it would go and that its current trajectory was not aimed in a good direction, I encountered peace, hope and an emerging depth of faith.  For the longest time I had quipped to others who were struggling with major decisions, “What good is saying you have faith if you never live like you do?”  And as the growing urge to change course into a new direction took hold of my heart, I found I needed to live like the faith I profess is based on something more than simplistic sunday school songs and gold stars for memorizing bible verses.  My faith had to have implications in order to be faith.  Otherwise, believing in Christ seemed like gift wrapping hastily wound around middle class happiness and other people’s definitions of success.

So with the support of my best friend and with a deep breath, I put my faith in faith and in the one whom has proven worthy of my faith – and jumped.  I no longer work for a large organization where I have a title and an office and staff that report to me.  Instead, I spend my days studying to become a counselor in the hopes of walking with others through some of life’s hard transitions.  Its not easy all the time – although not wearing dress slacks anymore is a major bonus.  Now when I wipe the steam from the mirror, I often wonder if I have done the right thing.

So I often find myself returning to where I discovered something about faith.  I love the words of Jim Wallis – activist, professor, pastor and I would argue, prophet.  He defines faith as “believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.”  And from what I have seen thus far, the evidence is changing which makes belief all the more believable.