Monthly Archives: January 2013

deeper grief

they always come out of left field.

blindsided..

i lost another one of my friends today to addiciton.  he wasnt much older than myself.  losing africa hurts a lot.  much more than i ever thought it would, but then again, i never pictured losing africa.  for whatever reason i thought he would make it out alive.

i hate being wrong.

i met africa my first day on the job at first united.  i was standing in the lobby talking with a new coworker when in walked a very tall, skinny african man wearing a giant hat with large sunglasses.  he didnt walk so much as he stumbled into the building.  as soon as he saw me, he stumbled over to shake my hand.

‘hi, im africa.’

his african accent and intoxication level made it difficult to understand him but i got the gist.  this problem stayed the same for as long as i knew africa.  the more he drank the thicker his accent got and the harder it was to understand him.  sometimes he would lecture me for minutes on end, all the while i couldnt understand a single word he said.

africa’s name wasnt actually africa, but a nickname given to him by his friends in the downtown eastside.  not very imaginative but pragmatism wins out in a world when remembering where you woke up isnt easy.  the tall black man would forever be known as africa and he didnt seem to mind it one bit.

a nickname usually means acceptance and when you are thousands of miles from home, acceptance is just what you need.

africa’s friends got him drinking rubbing alcohol one day and he became hooked.  addiction to rubby (as they called it) was not a pretty addiction.  for me, its quite possibly the worse one to watch someone struggle with.

africa had an apartment somewhere in the dtes but he spent most days and nights hanging out or around first united.  thats where his friends lived and hung out.  this was the case for a few of the guys i knew in the dtes.  they would get a worker in housing to help them get an apartment in hopes of getting away from their addiction and the people they consumed their poison with.  some lasted longer than others but, one by one, they all made their way back.

since i left vancouver ive lost 4 guys from just one group.  since i joined the dtes community ive lost over 15 people.  those are just the ones i can remember..

i hate losing my friends to addiction.

this doesnt seem get any easier..

when i decided to start giving my life to the poor years ago, i didnt think that id see this many people die.  people who i had relationship with, a connection, a friendship.

i didnt sign up for this.

i invited africa to a small church in east van with me one summer sunday.  the church was having a community party in the local park with live music, games for the kids and bbq.  as soon as i told africa there would be food there he was coming come hell or high water.  he marched there like a man on a mission.  for as rail-thin skinny he was, the man could pack down the food.  we could never explain where the food went.

a couple other guys came along as well.  edson, one of my favorite guys to talk with at the shelter, came along with us as did aj (edson is now married and living in northern bc and doing great!).  as soon as the music starts up africa is dancing.  by himself.  in a dance only he knew the steps to.

it was something else to see.

we laughed until our sides split. aj fell off his chair he was laughing so hard.

i like that memory.

just as quickly as i remember that memory, the reality that hes gone comes crashing back.  my heart is grieved deeply..

in fyodor dostoevsky’s ‘crime and punishment ‘, he says something that gives me great comfort in times like this:

“the darker the night, the brighter the stars,
the deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

thankfully, this truth is more real to me than anything else i know.

ill miss you, africa.

africa

harry and africa

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dave’s help

i was late for sunday supper again.  those mid-afternoon sunday naps always get me.  its not that i have to be there before sunday supper starts but i enjoy catching up with some of my street friends that come to take in the community meal together.  regardless of the food placed in front of me (which is usually pretty tasty), its always a good time with interesting conversations.

i hadnt seen or talked with leonard in quite a while, but there he was, face buried in a hearty serving of pasta as i came in the doors.  he beckoned me over and i sat down across from him.

‘i made myself almost $30 in bottles today!’

‘high-five!’

leonard’s good hand is occupied with his digger (fork) and goes to high-five with his crippled arm.  theres not much of a clap but it doesnt seem to bother either of us and we laugh.  oh man, do i laugh when im with leonard!

i ask him where he has been and why i havent seen him around.  hes been hiding.  leonard gets bullied at some of the hangout spots in the city.  for the life of me i cant see why aside from him simply being an easy target, with a bad leg and arm he has had since birth.  hes a very quiet and humble migmaw man who usually keeps to himself, though has no problem holding conversation with anyone who wants to talk.

i dont like bullies.  when i was in grade two i was bullied by an older boy named yohan or something like that.  he never had the satisfaction of beating me up but for two years he chased me home from school and sent enough threats through other kids to make me live in fear.  hopefully yohan gave up his bullying ways.

leonard doesnt want to tell me who is bullying him.  he doesnt want it to get worse.  i try to tell him that i can help fix the situation but he wont budge.  he tells me its his battle to fight and he will fight it alone.  im not about to argue with my friend whom i havent seen in a long time.  i tell him to come over to my place later and grab a bag full of bottles.  a big grin comes over his face and says ‘thanks’.
street soccer starts.  we have tons of people out again.  we field 7 teams for the second sunday night in a row.  after coach val leads the players through some warm ups, we are ready to play.

i decide to give my ankle a try and put myself with dave, paul and nick.  dave was one of our original players in the beginning.  he sees the game better than anyone else that comes out to play.  unfortunately the street life has a strong pull on his life.  when he is stronger and winning the battle, he is usually at street soccer.  when he is weaker, he is hard to find.  right now hes healthy and engaged in street soccer every week.

dave was my first friend from the street here in halifax so he has a special place in my heart.

paul was one of our finalists when we were deciding who to send to mexico city for the homeless world cup.  skinny as a rake, long legs that start at his neck and a huge passion for the game.  we finally got paul a pair of shorts so he doesnt have to wear his jeans anymore.  he is self-conscious about his skinny legs and begins to balk at wearing his new shiny shorts.  i tell him my legs are skinny too and that he and i can anchor team chicken legs.  hes in and on go the shorts.

it was nicks first time to street soccer.  nick looked to be about 19 or 20, full of energy and what appeared to be a mental handicap.  when it came time to play 3-on-3, nick wasnt sure he wanted to play.  he said everyone moved so fast and he didnt think he could keep up.

he was right.  the games did go pretty fast and he had a tough time keeping up with the action but he played.  he played his little heart out, too.  he made mistakes but kept on playing.  after making a good pass to dave who was able to score, he celebrated by shooting his little arms up in the air as if he had just won a very important game.

maybe it was.  at least to him.

dave was like a big brother with nick.  he took him under his wing for the evening and coached him on little things he could do.  on the floor together, dave tried to get nick involved and encouraged him whether he failed or succeeded.  safe to say, dave made nicks night memorable.

while we usually cut games off at 8pm, the energy is high and no one wants to stop.  players are playing hard, teamwork is at a premium and everyone is getting better.

i think we may have to start playing more than one night a week.

after soccer, dave came out for all-you-can lasagna with a few of us.  i told him that i appreciated how great he was with nick.  he wouldnt hear anything of it, saying that helping nick out was what he was supposed to do.  he didnt feel he deserved anymore recognition than anyone else.  he was just being himself.

well, since you wouldnt take the ‘thank you’, dave, ill thank you here where everyone else can see your big heart.  thanks for making our little sports community that much better, dave.

just another sunday on the east coast.

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new chapter

everything in my life changed last night.

she said yes!!

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waiting for what?

‘time heals all wounds’.

how many times have you heard that said?

its one of those timeless clichés that gets repeated so often little thought is actually spent considering the veracity of it.

i, for one, dont believe time has the healing properties this old adage so proudly claims. in fact, i would go so far as to say that this old saying can cause much more harm than good.

martin luther king jr. day just passed a few days ago. like most of you who also live part of your life in the social media realm, i was taken in by a few good quotes and articles about mr. king and the battle he and many others like him fought for equality. it was after reading through a few of these articles dedicated to mr. king that this idea of time healing all wounds came to the surface.

let me explain.

martin luther king was an exceptional man who trumpeted an exceptional cause – racial equality. unwilling to simply stand on the sidelines, him and others forced their way into the public spotlight demanding something be done. marches, protests, civil disobedience.

the establishment wasnt happy.

so voices from the government officials, church leaders and even leaders within their own camp pushed back and said – just wait. they were told to ‘be patient’ and allow the courts to decide what would be best for society. the courts would come to the right decision. the courts always come to the right decision, right?

right..??

‘never forget that everything hitler did in germany was legal.’ – martin luther king

theres much that can be said about this statement that i have not the time nor the desire to write at this moment. quotes by or about hitler always have the ability to open a bigger can of worms than intended so ill tread lightly here. what i believe mr. king was implying here, which speaks so relevantly to his situation then (and ours today?), was that courts have not always been a friend of the people. in fact, as mr. king points out, the courts have, at times, been responsible for the peoples basic human rights being taken and held away from them.

just wait. allow for more time. time heals all wounds.

they told him and others that they shouldnt march and protest in the streets. that was bad manners. disobeying the government is not what good citizens do. fall in line, repeat the creed and shut up.

thankfully for all of us, mlk and others didnt shut up and kept right on protesting and marching, government be damned. thankfully, mr. king and other freedom fighters didnt buy into the old adage ‘time heals all wounds’, and kept pushing for the justice they and others rightfully deserved.

time is neutral. it doesnt innately possess the powers to heal wounds. its what we do with that time that matters. if we use it for good, good things can come from it. if we use it for bad, bad things can come from it. if we blindly accept that time can heal our wounds, we are giving up our choice and right to do something about it. time will not bring about justice. WE will bring about justice.

let us not forget that.

timeheals

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sunday turnaround

today didnt start well.

around midnight the biggest headache this side of 2013 went into a full-blown meltdown.  the weather in halifax had a part to play (damn, temperature swings!) but im pretty sure that the head cold i got from one of my street soccer youth was the main culprit.

youll pay, ryan.

the youth we sent to mexico city for the homeless world cup, is staying with me right now.  the at-risk/homeless youth program that he is part of decided to time him out (polite way of saying kicked out) of the program over a small infraction.  now i find it a rather curious method of punishment to use, especially when you are supposed to be trying to GET youth off the street and into proper housing.

why does it seem like we (the larger collective) are so obsessed with punitive justice?

it doesnt work!

why not something more positive?  why not community service?  volunteer some hours at the local food bank, serve lunches at a seniors home, or pick up garbage in the city.  something along those lines.  that makes more sense to me.  kicking them out of the house you have tried to make a home and establish them in, trying to make them comfortable in (which IS NOT easy), seems to me to be more counter-productive than anything else.

ok, breathe, lucas.

i digress..

so, headache, brutal cold with a nasty fever to boot, and i missed pax attempting to sleep my sickness off.  not how i like to start my week.

fortunately, things turned around.

i told val i wasnt going to make it to street soccer tonight and to run things without me.  i didnt want to leave my bed unless it meant i was going to the bathroom or getting chicken noodle soup, but after my cell phone started with all the texts asking about street soccer i decided to bury my inner wimp for at least a few hours and made my way to st andrews.

im glad i did.

we had our biggest turnout of our 17 month street soccer career.  a couple new players, some of our older players, and a great group of girl guides who brought our players sports socks and shorts.  thanks, girls!

7 teams squared off for some intense indoor street soccer, playing with a little extra incentive: timmys gift cards.  at the end, val and his team proved too much to handle for everyone.  he had been brooding for the past year since my team took the first sunday street soccer tournament.

congrats, val, even though theres a definitely asterisk next to your victory since i didnt play.  ha!

ive been trying for the better part of a year to get my buddy from pax, (another) ryan, out to play with us.  tonight he made his street soccer debut and did not disappoint.  he kicked butt.  after i told val that ryan had played varsity soccer at university he didnt feel so bad when ryan burned him repeatedly.  good impression, ryan 😉

nick, from unohalifax, another local non-profit, made his debut as well.  nick’s team won the first annual street soccer tournament in spectacular fashion, beating all the best teams to hoist the trophy.  coming off a recent knee surgery, nick was his usual patient, calculating self but appeared a bit more cautious because of the knee, but still was able to control the game and wow our players.  glad to have you with us, nick.

all in all, the day finished pretty well considering the terrible start.

ryan leaves to head back home tomorrow after spending the week here with me.  im going to get off here now and go watch something funny with him.

night, ya’ll.

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remembering nate

the last 13 years have come and gone so fast.  it seems time slips by faster and faster the older i get.  it seems like just yesterday i was an 17-year-old teenager, living at home with my parents and trying to finish up my senior year of high school.

where does the time go?

i remember older family members and friends telling me that time went by faster as you got older.  i thought that was just something old people told young people like me so we would appreciate our youth more.

i guess not.

i met nate when i was 12 years old.  instead of attending the junior high my elementary school classmates went to, i was forced to go to another junior high since my mother and i had moved districts.  i had to make friends all over again.  nate was one of those friends.

i cant remember the first time i met nate but id wager it was during a game of pick-up basketball we often played at lunch time.  i wasnt much of a basketball player at the time, having spent much of my childhood playing baseball and soccer.  basketball was nate’s sport.  he would dribble circles around all of us and score whenever he felt like it.  the rest of us were pylons.

by the time we were in grade 9 nate had really come into his own.  40, 50, 60-point games.  he single-handedly won us basketball games and even tournaments.  i remember watching from the bench in awe of the things he could do with a basketball.  after seeing him dismantle other teams, we didnt feel so bad that he did the same to us during practice.

we knew nate was special, but he acted as if nothing he did was out of the ordinary.  there was no arrogance or ego to him.  sure, he carried himself with confidence but he had a humility about him that kids at 15 arent supposed to have.  at a time in life when most kids are forming clichés and singling other kids out, nate wouldnt have anything to do with it.  he was mature past his years.

nate was also the first authentic christian i ever met.  i remember when we would travel to play tournaments, either on the bus or in the hotel room, guys would ask nate all kind of questions about his faith, church and God.  regardless of the question, he always took the time to give an answer. by the way he talked and walked, nate gave us all a compelling reason to believe him.

like i said, nate was special.

after grade 9, i moved to comox and went to a different high school than my other junior high classmates.  once again, i had to make new friends.  if that wasnt hard enough, when basketball season started i didnt have the luxury of having nate on my team.

i now had to play against him!

id have to lie through my teeth to say i won any battles him and i had during our grade 10 and 11 years.  i didnt.  nate had my number.  to be fair to myself, he had everyones number.  as improved as the rest of us got, nate got even better.  it frustrated me like nothing else in my life at the time.

so i decided to dedicate my life to basketball.  i ate, slept, breathed and dreamed basketball.  evenings after school and my entire weekends were spent at the gym, often by myself, running, shooting, dribbling and passing to myself off the walls.  i would dribble my ball the 5 or 6 kilometers to the gym and home.  my fingertips would crack and bleed from overuse so i would  have to tape them up so i could keep playing.

i was determined to get better.

more than that, i was determined to beat nate.  every time i went to practice by myself i pictured him practicing at his gym getting better.  when i got tired and wanted to go home and eat, i would tell myself that nate was still practicing.  that mental image forced me to stay longer and keep playing.
come hell or high water, i was going to beat nate.

over the summer between grades 11 and 12 i had a breakthrough.  my skinny body put on some well-needed muscle and my skills really came together.  all my hard work was finally paying off and just in time for my senior year.  i knew that this was my year.

i felt ready.

nate came to my church for the christmas play that we put on that year.  i was chosen to be joseph and had to perform a large monologue that i was nervous for.  i nailed it on opening night and felt pretty good about it.  as i stood in the church lounge accepting congratulations from people in my church, nate surprised me with a handshake and a hug.  we caught up on each others lives and talked basketball.  our schools were playing each other in a few weeks at his schools annual tournament.  my first chance to go head-to-head with him.

i still remember what i was doing when i heard the news.  i had just come up the stairs from my room and was going to the fridge to make a sandwich.  the phone had rung and my mom answered it.  she hung up the phone and told me the news: nate had died in a car accident on the way to his basketball game.  he had fallen asleep at the wheel and his small car had crossed the center line and collided with a large truck.

everything in my life came to a standstill.

i remember looking out the window at the tree in my backyard as my mom told me the bad news, wishing that this was somehow an awful dream that any moment i would awake from.  as the tears rolled down my face, much like they do right now, i couldnt believe what i heard.  this couldnt have happened to nate.  of all the people in the world..

i cried everyday for the next several months.

in my anger i wanted to give up playing basketball.  i had worked so hard to get better and finally beat nate and now he was gone.  i wanted to kick all the basketballs i owned into the forest behind my house and never play again.

but i didnt.

i found that basketball, unlike anything else in my life, brought me the peace my hurting and angry heart needed. i found comfort and joy in playing the sport nate and i both loved.  it became my place of escape.

it still is today.

more than an escape, basketball became a way for me to build life-long friendships, receive university scholarships and teach young kids life skills through sport.  for all the injuries it has incurred on my body, it has paid me back many times over in blessings; blessings i would have never experienced had i not met nate dasilva.

13 years later as i sit here at my computer, my left ankle still slightly swollen from a sprain i received the last time i played, writing about the friend that changed my life in more ways than he ever knew, i remember that mid-january day as if it were just yesterday.

thanks for everything, nate.

natesarticle

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giving up to gain

there wasnt much to do when i arrived at hope cottage on friday morning.  soup was on the burner warming up, coffee and tea were brewing in their respective pots, and sandwiches had all been made up for the day.  brian make quick work of the morning routine.  i found him at the back of the dining room hall nose-deep in his new book, the hunger games when i came in.  we exchanged a nod and a friendly morning grunt.  yes, we grunt when we see one another.

primitives, we are.

morning meal didnt draw much of a crowd.  gst cheques came in on thursday.  tim came into help serve and we got talking about life.  tim is only a couple of years older than i but with his grey beard seems about 20 years my senior.  i dont tell him that though.  its too soon in our knowing one another to tease about silly things like that.  tim limps a bit when he walks because of an old injury and serves coffee and tea with a giant smile on his face.

thanks for all you do, tim.

after breakfast, andrew asked me if i was interested in making soup.  having never made soup before i decided to take him up on the offer.  but first, lunch.  eggs, chorizo sausages and toast with a glass of orange juice.

mmm.

what looked and seemed like a great combination turned into anything but.  a collective belly ache came over the three of us (terry, our director joined us).  it made for an uncomfortable early afternoon.

never.  having.  that.  combo.  again!

on to soup making.

andrew got me to do most of the work.  something about learning better from doing.  sure, sure, lazy boy (kidding).  he lead me through the process.  boiling the chickens, tearing off all the meat, dicing up the meat, adding spices, veggies and rice, and voila!  chicken rice soup.
ill have to see how the crowd likes it on monday morning.  if any get sick im blaming it on andrew though.  thats legit, right?

in the midst of making soup, andrew and i got to talking about homelessness and poverty in our city.  what i learned was valuable.

a few years back, andrew went on a missions trip to the ukraine.  while there he witnessed what he described to me as the worst imaginable poverty.  it rocked his world and changed his perspectives.  upon returning back home, he felt some personal changes were in order.  he told me he felt a calling from God to give more of himself to the local poor and homeless community in halifax. unfortunately, working two jobs didnt afford him much time to do much of anything. so he did what any reasonable person would do – he quit his jobs.

with ample free time on his hands he devoted himself to volunteering at hope cottage, serving food and helping with whatever he could.  he loved it.  it filled a need in the community while also filling a hole in his heart.  that hole in all our hearts that can only be filled when we love our neighbor as ourself.

shortly after volunteering at hope andrew was asked if he wanted to be hired on as a member of the fulltime staff.  his desire to gives himself more to the local poor and homeless community lead to a completely different career. what a great example of what it looks like to really trust God with ones life; to step out in faith and sacrifice your comfort for some thing much larger than yourself.

inspiring to say the very least.

andrew is just another guy trying to follow Jesus the best he can.  im darn glad we are friends.

“human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” -mlk

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the year 2013

‘happy new year!’

three simple words when strung together illicit many different responses depending on the audience.

for some its a time to reflect on the mistakes of the past and look forward to a new year spent on mountain tops and not stuck in the valleys.

for some its a time to knock down the proverbial rearview mirror and look unblinkingly into the bright and beautiful sunrise ahead of us.

whatever it is, there seems to be a consensus on the new year being a time for new personal change.

what is it about restarting the calendar year that gets us geeked up to make personal changes, explore past and present dreams and believe that this year is going to be the best year yet?

why is the weight loss industry entering their best months of business as the ball drops on new years eve?  isnt losing weight just a healthy decision that should be made regardless of the annual year change?

im not necessarily saying its a bad thing.  if some people need a shared date on the calendar to be inspired to make changes in their lives, im all for it.  but does it actually work?

statistics say no.

most people mean well and probably do really want to change their lives in some meaningful way, but after a few months things usually look much like they did in the previous year than not.

why?

maybe all the big hype and collective resolution-making isnt working.   maybe it takes more than some really positive rah-rah moments to exact some lasting positive change.

it seems to me that something is clearly not working. maybe its good that its not working.

let me explain:

while some peoples new years resolutions are very noble and altruistic, many resolutions tend to be quite self-centered.  me-focused resolutions seem to only breed more individualism, selfishness and pride.  last time i checked we were all stocked up on these.

what if instead we focused on us-focused resolutions?

what if we looked outside ourselves to the hurting local and global community around us and determined to make positive changes there?

what if we decided to:

be a big brothers or sisters.  lots of youth need positive role models in their lives.

take a blanket down to the local homeless shelter.  say hi to one of the people that lives there and strike up a conversation.  it might be the best conversation you have all year.

plant a tree.

advocate and spread awareness about a cause that you feel passionate about.

sell all our things, move to a third world country and teach orphans how to read and write.

plus all the many other ideas out there that your creative mind can come up with.  im not saying that losing weight, eating better, swearing and drinking less, texting while driving arent good things in of themselves.  they are, but why stop there?  why not go deeper?

stop thinking about me and start thinking more about we.

what if instead of making resolutions we become part of revolutions?

now wouldnt that be something?

revolution

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