Where feet fail.*

Memories from a time gone by.

T was a slender girl with fine features, average height and mid length ebony coloured hair that flirted with the wind as she walked. She had a cheerful, shy smile that more often than not she was very self conscious about. Everything about her spoke of a young woman who had a sensitive and tender soul. For me, it was her eyes that always drew me in. Eyes the shape of tear drops and the colour of rich pools of melted dark chocolate glistening with either, mischief, wonder or happiness. On very good days, that sparkle often transformed itself into soft contagious giggles. T never liked attention even though she had a way of brightening up a room without even trying.

For every moment that she warmed the hearts of those around here, there were even more days when life’s painful struggles would draw her into very dark places. Her eyes would change into ominous dark pools of pain, anger and bitterness. Sometimes we as friends shared hope infused words that would draw her out of her miry depths. A few times she was too far gone that our rescue efforts fell on deaf ears. On such days, I fervently prayed for her, imploring God to step into the depths that I could not reach. Ours was a friendship that was dominated by the constant game of tug-of-war between life and death. A fight to see who would be the ultimate victor, the few simple joys of her life or deaths hypnotic pull.

The last time we played the game, summer was almost upon us. The sun played hide and seek with a few of the scattered clouds but at the most part, they preferred to be left alone. It was not too hot and the afternoon air had a chill that warranted a light jacket. A perfect day to spend an hour at the local lagoon and that’s what we did as five friends. The car was filled with girly chatter and laughter as I meandered the villages roads riddled with treacherous muddy potholes. It was only when we sat by the lake and looked into each others eyes that I realized she was not well.

Even though I was grateful for the trust she had for us, her candid words describing her deep pain that afternoon frightened me. Even more so the state of her eyes, foreboding maelstroms of hopelessness that shook me to the core. I had never seen her so far gone. Our circle was pulsating with palpable anguish and yet the scenery around us was of picturesque serene beauty, very common to those parts. The lakes navy blue waves tenderly interacted with the shore whilst the wind intermingled with the birch trees. Its gentleness encouraging thousands of fresh green leaves to unfurl themselves for summer. Everything about the lagoon spoke of peace. It almost made me believe that everything would be alright.

One by one the four of us reminded her of the gold she had and the treasure she was to us. As we talked, It felt as if I was walking on razor thin ice, aware that one wrong step would unravel the protective bonds of hope that we as friends lovingly wove for T. As the conversation continued to flow, I watched as her eyes began to change and by the time we left the lagoon, the choking hold that despair had over her was gone. Her eyes shone.  Only then did I allow myself to believe that death had lost.

Two days later, she hang herself.

I now know the unique grief that comes with suicide. I understand the battle that rages in the mind as my heart is bombarded by a myriad of questions that I know will never be answered but my mind still clamors for a response. I have struggled to cope with the irrational guilt of not doing enough and the pain. Dear God the pain. Often I would welcome the numbness that enveloped my heart and gave me respite but even that was short lived as the pain would always pierce through my flimsy defenses. It felt as if, suicide had marched right up to me and ripped my heart out without remorse, leaving a gaping hole where my heart should have been. It was excruciating for months.

T left us two years ago, the pain has turned into a forever ache and I have learned repeatedly to lay the guilt and questions to rest. Tender and delicate tendrils of hope are now growing in the places that death left scorched and barren.

T,  I miss you, I always will.

‘I remember my affliction and my wandering,

   the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them,

   and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind

   and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

   for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

   great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

   therefore I will wait for him.’

Jeremiah the prophet.

https://youtu.be/dy9nwe9_xzw

Just keep swimming.

 If you have followed this blog for awhile, these girls must look familiar to you. My friendship with them began 3 years ago when I moved to Pikangikum.

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The desire to keep to myself in the first few weeks of arriving in a new place is very strong. Especially when I don’t know anyone and I am the only black person for miles! Because of this, I push myself to do the very opposite of what my mind is telling me to do. I purposefully put myself out there and go make friends. It is with this determination to make friends that I walked over to their home unannounced, not quite sure how I would explain my sudden appearance. By the time I was at their doorstep I had decided to go with the typical greeting that everybody back home will use when they rock up announced, ” I have come to visit.” I wasn’t quite sure what to say after that but my determination to make friends was stronger than my fear to stay away.

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These girls decided they did not like me the moment they saw me. Their first reaction to seeing me was a lot of screaming, crying and hiding away. The panic lasted awhile but their grandmother was very accommodating and in the midst of the wails and calls for grandma to come to where they where we tentatively held a conversation of two people getting to know each other. I must have spent an hour in their home that day and thankfully by the time I left, the girls had calmed down completely. Even after they realised I was quite harmless, they would not come any closer to me. I  assured grandma I was not bothered and confidently told her, eventually, the girls would warm up to me.

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I made a point of visiting the family once a week, a month went by and the girl’s reaction remained the same. That month turned to two then three, rolled into four, passed five and still the girls would not accept me. On my part, I did not impose myself on them, I waited. It was sometime in my sixth month of knowing the family when the change occurred,  by this time grandma and I were very comfortable with each other. That afternoon, I walked into their home fully expecting the usual cries but instead, I was greeted with three toddlers joyously shouting my name, running towards me each clamouring to give me a hug. I was amazed. I knew there and then, I had just made life long friends.

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I have often times found that we long for the fruit that comes with genuine friendships but we cringe and hide away from the work that needs to be put into making community happen. Obviously, my case with these adorable girls is extreme but the lesson is still the same. Healthy, long-lasting relationships are hard work, there is just no way around it. Most times pursuing friendships takes patience, sometimes it is messy and occasionally the temptation to walk away is strong. The Bible shares an incident when one of Jesus friends asked him how many time he had to forgive his friend.The Bible does not give a back story to his question but I can only assume the man was deeply offended with his friend and wanted nothing more to do with him. Jesus answer raised the bar for any of his followers, his response to the question was, he had to forgive 70 times 7. In other words, you never stop forgiving and you never tire of loving.

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When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and pursued a friendship that you know would stretch you to the limit? Sometimes some of the best relationships are made when we courageously step out in faith even when we are afraid and have no control of the outcome.

Sisters Keeper

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Creating community where ever God places me is one of my passions. A highlight for me this month occurred earlier today when my sister in law and I spent time reconnecting with girls I have known for many years. Some I have known for a little over 10 years. We sat for hours as all 20 of us shared the highs and lows of 2016. Some of the challenges they shared were; having to choose between staying at home uneducated or courageously attending night school and facing the constant risk of being sexually assaulted. One girl talked about the hardship of living with hunger as a steadfast companion because the family can only afford one meal a day.She candidly spoke of how difficult it was to concentrate in class on an empty stomach but remained determined to have the highest marks in class, of which she did. All shared their deep frustrations of dealing with teachers willing to fail an entire class unless each one pays a small bribe. A few spoke of either praying on their own or with their friends, asking God to help them pass because they had no money to pay the bribe the teacher demanded. Prayers that were answered.

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For some challenges, we had ready answers. One was creating study groups amongst themselves in order to encourage one another to keep studying and also to help those that are struggling in certain subjects. I noticed several things as the girls shared, they all have a very strong desire to excel in school, most of their problems revolved around getting an education.And, all of them ended their sharing time with a hopeful outlook of the future, with dreams of being lawyers, teachers, nurse or doctors.

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The teenage years here are especially hard on girls, not only do they have boys their age relentlessly pursuing them for sex, grown men unashamedly do the same. In my opinion, if a girl reaches her teen years unable to see herself as valuable and worth respecting and no one helps her realise this truth, it doesn’t matter how intelligent she is, she will fall prey to boys and men who care nothing for her well being.
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With this particular group of girls, we have some who are done with college, some applying to enter university and many more in different stages of high school. My hope and prayer is for them to continue looking out for each other, life is hard but if you have a few friends who genuinely care for you, burdens become easier to carry and hope never stops rising.
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May Hope continue to rise for you too in this new year!

Family

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My brother and his wife dancing to one of their songs.

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Game time.

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When your little sister is a chef and she decides to grace us with her amazing skills! It’s only natural to take as many pictures as possible of her creativity and work.

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There is no place like home. I love my family.

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Parents, siblings, cousins and friends.Coming home for Christmas was the best gift my friend could have given me. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and may you have a great entry to the new year.

Peace, my soul be still.

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Be still and know that He is God,untitled-4

Be still and know that He is Faithful,untitled-2

Be still oh restless soul of mine,

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Consider all that He has done, stand in awe and be amazed.untitled-3

Be Still.

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Be speechless.

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Words by Steven Curtis Chapman.

Broken walls.

Its been a very busy but successful week, my coworker Colleen hosted an internationally known band and I got to help with hosting them 🙂

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Broken Walls is a band that has been coming to Pikangikum for ten years. Their consistency has made it possible for them to build relationships with many people in the community.

Most of their songs have a traditional First Nation flavour to them and often when they perform they have First Nation dancers in full regalia. This time when they came they had a lady from Alaska who is Eskimo dancing for them. (FYI in Canada it is not considered proper to call them Eskimo but Inuit)I enjoy their music and if you are interested in knowing more about them, please check their website out: brokenwalls.com

So what did they do in four days?

Two school assemblies

One free community concert

6 classroom workshops from elementary to high school

Home visits.

Mentoring youth at a youth club

Concert for the young women and mothers.

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Of course I have not listed everything but these are the main ones that took up a lot of time.

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So did the people enjoy their time? I hope the pictures say it all.

When do they return? Next August, they have been asked to come and be a part of the official opening of the new school that is being built. Thank you Broken Walls!

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Chance Encounters.

Today I decided to take a walk after spending much of my Saturday glued to my laptop doing my assignments for the counseling course I am taking. I was antsy to finish my workload for two reasons. One, there is this show on Netflix called, Major Crimes that I thoroughly enjoy and I allow myself to watch an episode as a treat every time I finish my work and the other, the sun was out today!!! This week has been rather dreary and the impending gloomy long winter nights that are just around the corner make me want to spend every spare moment taking walks outside!

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Well, I finished my assignment and between watching Netflix or taking a walk, I chose the walk. I wasn’t really particular of where I was going, I just let my feet wonder, I found a spot by the lake and sat, soaking in the warm rays and for the hundredth time I wondered…how does an African end up somewhere the sun will soon stop shining by 3:30 in the afternoon?

A lady starts talking to me, I recognize her as one of the ladies whose baby I took pictures of when she had her boy dedicated. I am completely taken aback that she is talking to me and sharing so much, to say we are acquaintances would be stretching it! I sit and just listen, sometimes there are pockets of silence other times I distract her by drawing her attention to the antics of two dogs near us that are starring up a tree at a chipmunk that they so desperately want to catch but until they grow a pair of wings, that’s just not going to happen. We chuckle as we watch the chipmunk chew on something orange in peaceful contentment.
The small breaks of laughter help as what she is sharing is heavy. I remind myself, often people don’t want advise, they just want to be heard, so listen. She talks some more. Like a wood carver painfully crafting a piece of art, she chips away at the block of wood and slowly an image is formed. Its not beautiful, it is sad, painful and frightening to behold but it is her life. Her story. She talks for over an hour, repeating some truths over again maybe unknowingly stressing to herself how important I had to understand that particular truth. I listen some more and ask the odd question.
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Now that the artist has carved this image for me, now that I have this image in my hands, I wonder, what do I do with it. To look for too long at the tears, the brokenness, the pain and the death that polish off the image to give it its final look  makes me feel like a moth being drawn to a flame. We all know how that ends. So I take careful looks but don’t stare too long. As she talks, occasionally I look at the yellow leaves cheerfully brightening up the blue sky to remind myself that even in someones darkest moments, surely there is hope out there.
I cling to hope, in the last year I have come to appreciate it so much. It is my life line, my buddy and on those days my buddy is not with me, life is a horrible existence. The ladies life is currently devoid of hope. I know what that feels like in bite sizes, I pray I never feel the overwhelming tsunami of hopelessness that so many I have come to know struggle with everyday.

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This attitude that Christ calls us to have, “help carry other peoples burdens,” is no easy task, unless one gets to choose what burdens they want, which in real life rarely happens if you have set your mind to live a life like Jesus. This burden bearing reminds me to constantly go back to the teachings of Christ that always encourage me, I am not alone and even as I help shoulder someones heavy memories, I can turn to Jesus and he will do the same for me, breathing hope into my heavy laden heart and giving me the strength to go out there and be unafraid of chance encounters like todays.