Simplicity is at the core of the entire universe

1 Comment

A day of tragedy and miracles


This day represents a mixed blessing for Debby Skramstad Nicholl. On this day one year ago after an exhaustive search, son Rodney MacKinnon was found. Sadly it was not a homecoming. He had succumbed to exposure from complications of an undiagnosed medical condition.
Something else happened that day that is rarely discussed. A miracle which of course has been shrouded by the tragic discovery. Most who know me know I am a Christian. And that  I do not go around reciting scripture (unsolicited) lol and rarely does my faith enter into conversations. I respect that faith and a relationship with God is a very petsonal thing.
Having said that, I also believe firmly in answer to prayer… and when prayers are directly answered, as in this case… experiences need to be shared; we must be witnesses as our account may give hope to others turning to prayer.
It was on this day three of us set out after work to travel to the base of the mountain where Rod’s truck had been found three weeks prior. We simply wanted to find a spot, sit quietly and pray for two things: that Rod be found and that Debby find closure…. whatever the outcome.
The interesting piece to this also is it was only a week previous that Mom Debby began vocalizing her willingness to accept something had happened; that Rodney in fact would not be walking through the door. This piece is important because God’s timing is always right. Sometimes His timimg does not coincide with our own… but God is never late. I believe God was waiting until Debby could hold the truth. That by the way is not the miracle… it’s way better.
As the three of us… myself, Renee de Bree and Sonia Bento sat on a gravel path.. in the forest, at the base of the mountain praying…. Brenda Bernhardt who was meeting with spirit drummers …. were drumming…… about five miles away.
Nothing much happened where we were. It was a beautiful spring evening and we rose and walked back to our cars. We had spent a good hour walking and then resting to pray. We had been praying at roughly 7pm … the same time the spirit drummers were sending their prayers. I arrived home shortly after … picked up the phone to find I had missed a call from Debby. It was now about 7:30… she answered her cell. She informed me she was on her way up the mountain…. that she had received word… a body had been found. I can tell you I was speechless. When? Was about all I could think of asking. When did she hear? She said about 20 minutes ago.
This is not my own story… two others with me , a band of independent drummers, Debby herself who knew our plans to hold a prayer vigil that evening. We all experienced this.
In such circumstances it’s so hard to praise God. For we are so consumed by the tragedy, the miracles go unnoticed. Why could it not have been another type of miracle? We do not know why some things happen. In fact a best selling book is titled…. When Bad Things Happen to Good People; we just don’t know. I believe to try to summon platitudes in trying to explain things we can’t and in fact they only end up insulting people’s intelligence and insulting  God Himself.
While we can’t explain the tragedies…. we can always pray for miracles. And thank God for those miracles He grants. So on this day.. I am grateful for the miracle in finding Rod a year ago this day… wisdom has taught me that a mother will never have closure on the death of a child…. so what is left is on this day is to ask God’s blessing on Debby and on the Son who has never stopped watching over her.


Leave a comment

Putting love on a whole new level


“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 New International Version (NIV)

   This is among the most famous pieces of scriptures in the New Testament. It appears on the face of it, very simple, straight forward and understandable. I absolutely love those ‘ahha’ moments, especially when studying the bible — when something not seen before comes to light.

  This is not the complete verse.. it is not the beginning of the verse nor is it the end. In fact, the beginning of this verse discusses love. In truth, the entire piece really is a message regarding love. (At this point, this seems fairly boring)… it gets better, I promise.

  In fact the 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul  states: “IF I have the gift of prophecy (could you imagine how amazing that would actually be??) and can fathom all the mysteries and all the knowledge and if I have faith that can move mountains (that would be Christ like… wouldn’t it? …. but wait for it), but have not love, I am nothing.”

  Clearly the emphasis God places on love is actually beyond our understanding. Here it is more important than faith, even more special than being one of God’s prophets! Truthfully I would not have imagined anything could have been more important than either of those two. So … I suppose it would be fairly important to know exactly what this ‘love’ is, we think… well I thought I understood the definition of love. This is where that beautiful ahha moment came for me.

   The word “love ” as it is used in the bible really refers to agape love. The type of unselfish love that God has for us, despite how unlovable we may be….and this was the piece that struck me… especially when I am in the midst of working on the Richard’s Hope for Homeless initiative. To love thy neighbor for example… is not based on how lovable a person our neighbor maybe. In fact who people are or even how deserving of our love… does not enter into the equation. This resonated with me strongly because of course some of the homeless individuals we encounter appear rather unlovable. But imagine if we all truly loved them, as the Bible in fact instructs us to do… to love one another as God loves us. We certainly would be treating the homeless, the less fortunate, the ridiculed, on and on… far differently.

 This all seems very simplistic but when discussing this with a fellow Christian, she too seemed rather overwhelmed and stated “it really takes the meaning of love to a whole new level”. Certainly for me when I read scripture referring to love I considered more like Philos love – a brotherly love or the type of love people have in a friendship. (There are four different types of love… I am not going to get hung up too heavily on the technical aspects of the definitions of each, but suffice to say — agape love is very different and does kick the whole meaning up a notch).

  So when we look at agape love, it has nothing whatever to do with the recipient. They are merely the receiver.. nothing is expected in return.. unlike the other types of love that rely on a give and take — on a shared compassion. God of course works that way with us. I have always said… Thank GOD that God does not follow our “laws of the universe” we so randomly throw out…  the laws like “you get out what you put into it”. Really? I am delighted to know that God does not put into me, what I have put into Him over the years. I would be in dire trouble.

But certainly when we put love into another, and I mean agape love — to show compassion, understanding, feel empathy towards another regardless of who they are or how they treat us… sometimes the results in what we can trigger in these people is nothing short of a miracle.

  In closing, I will speak about Gary again… our little homeless guy who hangs around. He is banned from the shelter (explain to me how a homeless person can be banned from a shelter???) In any case… We have known Gary for 3 years and never once have we encountered threats, rudeness nor violence. Where the shelter bans him, we pray with him.

  Agape love… it does put the whole message to a whole new level.

Leave a comment

Goodbye Stranger

There are special people who come to make an impression upon us, whether they are long time friends, or in this case, maybe take up what is a ‘glimpse’, in your entire lifetime — yet, they leave you with some sort of gift.

This person in my life only stayed but an hour, yet I have never forgotten her. The gift she left to me as a 14 year old girl was a wealth of gratitude. She was my first encounter with a vagabond, and meeting her may well have contributed to my work today in helping the homeless.

The chance meeting, or divine intervention as I like to think of these circumstances, happened on a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Stratford Ontario back in 1977.

I had been visiting Toronto (my hometown) and staying with a friend for a weekend. It was a Sunday evening in September and I was heading home. Perth County was a new ‘home’ for me. My family had sold up our home in Toronto only in August, but it was the only home and only friends I had known. At 14 the adjustment was difficult. I took every opportunity to visit friends over weekends taking the two hour bus ride.

The bus rolled into one of those lazy old Ontario communities to pick up more people. I gazed out the window as I contemplated what I would be doing that evening. Mom or Dad, or both would be in Stratford to pick me up; probably Dad because Mom would most likely be home cooking the usual Sunday dinner — roast beef. I would have to do some homework as I had done nothing all weekend — and piano — I had to practice for my lesson tomorrow after school.

As people began winding their way down the isles I spotted a young man. He looked to be about my age, but very scruffy in appearance.

“Please don’t sit here… please don’t sit beside me”, was my silent prayer as I tried not to make eye contact. For I could see he was already eyeing the seat beside me. Even though in the 70’s we didn’t have the number of crazy people who cut people’s head’s off while riding buses (or so it seemed anyway), I was young and felt vulnerable. I was also very shy. If he chose to sit next to me I would only have the glass window to stare out of as I would not be comfortable talking to a stranger. This would have been a great time to have a book

Sure enough, the backpack slid off the shoulder as this guy slid into the seat beside me. My head jerked towards the window.
“Hi, I am Deb, what’s your name?”
Deb?? I wondered if I heard right. I immediately turned to face this person now somewhat confused. Under the hair, the floppy well worn hat was the face of a young girl… a young girl with a very sweet smile.
She could sense my confusion
“You thought I was a guy… didn’t you?”
Now my embarrassment must have shown.
She explained she wanted to look like a boy to deceive police. I am sure by thus time I was wide eyed. I was certainly speechless. I had never met someone on the “run” before.
I remember asking tentatively as I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, what had she done?
Nothing criminal…. only she was a runaway and most of the police in this area knew her.
She explained she was running away from foster homes and had done so regularly.
Not only did “Deb” not really know what she was running from…. what I found so captivating was she had no idea what or where she was running to. I asked her where she was going to which she responded. .. First stop that looks good.
I could not help realizing even at my young age… how different our lives were…. she was running to no one. No one would be greeting her… to pick her up. I was going home to my canopy bed and Sunday night dinner
Just as I was trying to process her story… she was standing up preparing to get off in the approaching town.
We said our goodbyes… and she had a very small radio in her hand. She flicked it on as she grabbed her backpack and the words from Supertramp played as she made her way down the isle…. how fitting “goodbye stranger it’s been nice.. hope you find your paradise”.
I could not help wonder why me? Why her? What makes me so special to have all I had and why did she live in foster homes … where were her family.. her mom and dad? Even in those days I wanted to take her home… I wanted her to have all I had.
Trying to justify all this in my young mind was too big a job. I felt it but could not yet articulate…. but for the grace of God go I.

And of course some may ask . where is God’s grace in her life? It is the obvious question. God’s grace in her life as I understand it… is in the very challenges and struggles she faces. It is often our perceptions… which are not shared by God.. that we get confused or perceive unfairness. All I was focused on was what she didn’t have.. I didn’t look for what she did have. And this is the first mistake we make when we look at someone who is homeless.. or disabled. What gifts are they blessed with that we do not have.
We all need help from others. No one ever got to where they are with no support in some form from others. The homeless, the runaways, addicts, mentally ill, the poor…. need for those around them to focus on their potential. It starts with self esteem… confidence and that is free to give.


Homeless vagabonds are worthless

If you are looking for the definition of a vagabond or the difference between what a dictionary definition deems the difference between a vagabond and one who is homeless, you may, as I did, get a shock when you turn to the popular site which is used by thousands online as both a place of reference as well as thesaurus and definitions of words.

It is for this reason I am personally appalled to see the use of the word “worthless” to define a vagabond.

Vagabond:  “a carefree, worthless, or irresponsible person;rogue.”

It gets even worse; when you highlight the word “worthless” which takes you to that site’s definition of that word: “without worth; of no use, importance, or value;good-for-nothing: “a worthless person; a worthless contract” is provided. Are you kidding me???? 

A worthless ‘person’? Really? Since when did the word worthless refer to a person? Prior to looking up these definitions, the word to me is a description attached to an inanimate object; a piece of art can be ‘worthless’, certainly not a human being. Surely the only way a human being would be described in such a way would be through the cruel acts of bullying, or slang. Yet, here we have it…. online, at a popular site to seek out official definitions.

I work tirelessly for the homeless. Working for an international charity — as well following my own brother’s death on the street, Dec 23, 2013 I have started Richard’s Hat for Homeless. People try to assure me that the public attitudes towards the homeless have changed. Attitudes of law enforcement for example,  have changed. Really? Maybe — I have witnessed a small shift from repulsion to pity. A long way to where we need to be. There has not been a wide scale collective change like we have seen towards those who are challenged mentally or physically. It was only in the last century where we saw a collective shift towards individuals in our society facing physical and cognitive challenges.  Repulsion and or pity certainly was the manner in the way many mentally challenged individuals were viewed once upon a time.  Many were even hidden away in asylums.

We have come a long way in how we view challenged individuals and we need to step up …. take a huge leap from where we are as a collective society in how we view and treat the homeless now, to where we need to be. This definition would never be tolerated to describe a person in a vegetative state, or someone who was physically marginalized –and we must not tolerate for a minute, such a definition to be used for  those economically marginalized.

Awareness must be spread. For those in the comfort of believing attitudes are changing — please share this. For those who wish to help change attitudes — please share this. If nothing I ever do makes a change for the homeless — I hope this message gets heard.


They’ve got Gary!

As a prelude to this post, please enjoy my past stories about Gary, they are certainly worth the read. For those unfamiliar, Gary is a homeless man who I have known now for three years through my work.

Today I received a phone call, from Vancouver.

“Hello, I am just wondering if you might give me your fax number… but I must tell you, I am asking on behalf of some one else, I am calling from community living for seniors.”

“Sure, ” I say… but the lady seems a bit shy, a bit confused and almost seems as though she feels she should not be asking for our fax number.

“Who is it that wants it?” I ask innocently enough.

“Well, I’m very sorry but he won’t tell me his name.”

A long silence as I am trying to figure this one out.

“He says he knows someone at this number, a Susan.”

Suddenly I am beaming… it can only be —

“I am Susan  …. you have GARY!!!”

“Well I don’t know,”

“I do” I reply..

“Is this a little gruffly sort of guy, with an even gruffier Jimmy Durante kinda voice?”

“Yes.. I would say that describes him.”

“And he wants our fax because he tells you about his dilapidated old trailer that was towed years ago and he’s still trying to get it back?”

“You do know him!!!” she now sounds relieved.

“I not only know him, we love him” I offer to her.

By now she sounds greatly relieved and getting a sense that instead of feeling under obligation to make this call like she’s fallen victim some how and needs to appease this lunatic — I can sense just a bit of what we feel every time Gary comes by …. an honor to experience a guy like Gary. Amused yet at the same time a sense of humility and humanity all at once.

You see to look at Gary, he can be a bit scary to some. He stands no more than about 5’2″.  His voice is bigger than he is, he shuffles about like Paddington Bear yet probably only weighs about 90 pounds. But it’s his straw like hair that sticks out all over from under his hat — similar to how  Alastair Sim looks in a Christmas Carol when he is sitting on the staircase with the maid and for a moment tries to make her believe he has gone mad.  The actor ruffles his hair — but that is Gary’s regular look. Yet you look into the weathered face and the brightest, largest blue eyes stare back at you.


“I know you are sitting there all scared because you are wondering if I’m crazy, so I will just tell you straight up, I’m completely crazy — now — can we get on with business.” was the way he introduced himself once to one of our family service workers.

I assured her that Gary is harmless despite what he appears. And that when he gets comfortable — he can ‘feel’ a bit intimidating.

“Do you know that when you have a day off, he walks into this office, sits at your desk and orders me around.” One of my co-workers once told me… to which I simply had to laugh hysterically.

But Gary knows I love him in the most compassionate and caring of ways. He is a character to end all characters.

It appears he has made his way to Vancouver and has found this agency for community living for seniors. They assist seniors in purchasing wheelchairs and the like.

“He thinks we can perhaps help him, ” she explained to me. “But I have tried to tell him, we can only help finance wheelchairs, and he keeps maintaining that his home is on wheels.”

Again… I just have to laugh.

God love him and may God bless him. Maybe someday we will see Gary with a new set of wheels.

Leave a comment

From the Vinegar Silent Night days….God works miracles

I have come to the conclusion I will forever consider myself a new Christian. This is because when I think of other Christians. .. I assume they know far more than myself. And possibly the fact  I was not raised in the church there is this sense maybe that I am not a real one.
  I still do not belong to a church. Most churches I have tried contain far too much religion. But nonetheless this should not be measured by my level of faith, which through the years, through the trials of life, has become unshakable.
  As I said I was not raised in the church but was exposed to one or two now and again. Therefore even as a teen while I seemed to have questions in my head regarding Christ, when the topic would turn to anything biblical I would take a back seat. My knowledge was dismal. In fact it was so atrocious I have a clear memory of being caught out as a child due to my lack of knowledge. I was in the basement of a neighbor’s house and we were singing Christmas carols while her sister played the piano. It was Silent Night. One of my favorite…  I belted out the words with passion. Problem was…. there is no line in the song that says “vinegar, mother and child”. How did I  know? I was about 10… if that, and had never heard the word virgin let alone knew what one was. But the piano stopped. I mean you can imagine the incredulous stares as her sister said….”what did you say” ? I suddenly realized back in the day of Christ’s birth they were not calling to bring round vinegar.
  The point here though is I now work for a Christian organization. Through my fellowship with co workers along with my own passion for studying and learning thank goodness I  do know a bit more since the vinegar days.  And perhaps one of the greatest nuggets of wisdom I have picked up is that if nothing else… God wants your heart first and foremost. If he has your heart all other things will follow.
  I did not apply to a Christian organization because I was a Christian and wanted to work for one…  the appeal of the job was that I  would have an opportunity to help people; that my efforts and success would feed local families. I had worked too many years for the Conrad Black Southam Newspaper organization and was tired of the slave labor to deepen the already deep pockets of one of the largest newspaper moguls, while our staff went year after year with no raises, less staff and more work.
  What is amazing to me now, is to discover that everything we want to know… every answer we seek is in the bible. Even my terrible habit of procrastination can be found in the bible. And the other day a co worker and myself were chatting over lunch… her story was right out of Exodus. When the Lord sought out Moses to speak to Pharoh to free the Israelites. Moses was like “me… you want me to do that… not me, pick someone else.” Sound familiar to anyone?
And here I am now…. the kid who sang Vinegar mother and child, working for a Christian charity, speaking His word on a daily basis, praying for people and with people. And I am so delighted He did not pick someone else. It is amazing that with faith God will put you precisely where you need to be.

Leave a comment

My Buddy

Gary is back

I have written about Gary in earlier posts.

To his own admission, Gary  came from the ‘baby store’, a year later his parents picked up his sister there, or so the story goes; and that was 58 years ago. I know it was that long ago, because we celebrated Gary’s birthday recently. And of course there is no ‘baby store’. Gary is referring in his story, to the home where he was placed by the Ontario Children’s Aid Society. Gary was adopted.. and so was his sister.

Today, and for longer than Gary would care to admit, he has been homeless. Gary comes to where I work, always needing to use the phone, or sit and have a chat. Gary is on a continual quest to ‘fix’ his life.  We want to help, we are here to help but aside from giving him free use of the phone, photocopying, faxing and praying… there is little Gary will allow us to do, on his behalf.  The other day however,  I received one of the most humbling compliments from Gary while I was out of the office.  Apparently, Gary came in as usual, and as usual sat outside the office I share with another employee. Then, instead of asking for me by name, he asked “where’s my buddy who sits in that chair”.  When I learned this the following day, I was deeply humbled.

I do not know precisely what Gary’s own definition of a ‘buddy’ is, but for me it speaks of trust and comradeship. It is another word for ‘friend’. A friend watches out for another, we may not share the same  walk together, but we support each other. There are no egos nor status when it comes to friendship. Certainly, I am no better, nor wiser, than Gary. In fact, the first time I laid eyes on Gary three years ago, the phrase “but for the grace of God, go I,” resonated with me. What that means is it is only due to God’s grace that I have the blessings I enjoy.

For me, Gary is a constant reminder of how God wants to work in our lives, if we would only allow him to do so. We see Gary struggling to communicate to people over the phone. We are witness to his challenges in finding someone, anyone who would rent to him. Yet — when we try to help, when we offer to make connections for him, work on his behalf, he shuts us down. Just so long as we will agree to allow him to borrow the phone, he will work on his own problems. It is extremely frustrating to us. Without his permission and approval for us to step in and work as an advocate on his behalf, we truly can do very little.

Is our relationship with God not the very same? God wants the very best for us. God wishes for us to be fruitful, to prosper. And He wishes to come into our lives, so that we can walk with Christ in faith. Because we are provided with free will, until we allow God in, give our problems and challenges to God, until we give approval as it were for Him to handle our troubles — and we just stop trying to ‘fix things’ on our own, there is very little He can do on our behalf.

Matthew 7:7 gives us His promise, and is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. The problem is and as Joyce Meyer once described, so many of us will hand our problems over to God, yet get up in the morning with “another great idea”. It’s rather like asking someone to do a job yet continually interrupting, making suggestions, offering unsolicited advice or even giving direction on exactly how it should be done. Truth is we never really ‘give’ the job to anyone. We simply are instructing another how to do a task.

We desperately want Gary to prosper. God desperately wants us to prosper. Too often our lives can become far more complicated and challenging while we busily try to ‘fix’ things.

For now though I at least know I am Gary’s ‘buddy’. That speaks volumes to me. But sometimes as Christ needs to do with Christians every now and again, I will need to learn to what extent I am his ‘bud’. For I know more Christ-like, atheists than I do, Christ like Christians. I only hope eventually this ‘buddy’ perception of his will lead towards a level of trust to where we can actually be of help. Where he will give away some control. This maybe a small step in Gary truly handing his troubles to Christ. For Christ often does his work through people. We will continue to pray, and to give thanks… certainly give thanks for Gary, and for Gary becoming one of our ‘buds’.