My God, We Need Change!

Some days I think, “What difference can I really make?” I am nothing but a tiny dot in this vast universe. I have practically no political influence and my voice is reduced to 5,000 friends on facebook and some twitter followers! If you are reading my blog, I am surprised, but honoured, because deep down, I want to make a difference somehow in this tiny little planet called earth.

I want to see our world able to thrive, survive, be alive with all the beauty that can be! I want a world where animals can roam, forage, and run like the wind. I don’t want to see another dead whale with a belly full of plastic bags and bottles! Let every environment be clean and our living spaces are safe for children and adult alike. Listen, I want a world where women can be respected and not fear for their safety. I want a world where war is no more, violence is shunned, marriages are sacred, rich nations help poorer ones to become better. I want a world where religion is about living out the highest ideals and living it humbly.

And even though I am a minor player in the grand scheme of things, I will continue to live out the change I want to see in the spaces that I inhabit here in my city of Paris. And maybe, just maybe I can bring some hope and love to someone, somewhere and somehow.

May we all bring the change we hope for and need in 2019!

Beauty and the Soul

There is beauty and purpose in each season. Who can deny the delight of witnessing the renewal of nature itself when gusts of warmth bring on the leafgreenburgeoning colours of delicate flowers and tree buds release their fingers towards the sun. We all love it when summer’s lengthy light entices us into taking long nature walks in short sleeves and lazy days abound around waterfronts and barbeques, and oh, the glorious sunsets. Who among us hasn’t ooh-ed and aah-ed as the sight of the bold reds, golds and oranges of autumn begin to herald the end of summer’s green. And then there is the season that gets the least love, especially if you are Canadian where complaining about dark cold days is a national pastime, winter. Yet even winter’s bleak skies and frigid climes has its beauty and purpose.

My soul has seasons too, though not always chronological. Soul-seasons seemingly can’t leafredbe rushed and suddenly change with little forewarning. Spring for the soul is about clean slates, fresh starts, and discovery! Summer is strength, delicate strands of hope taking form. It’s watching with confidence our projects and confidence grow. Fall is maturity, seeing our investments reach their prime. But winter, we are not so sure what benefits to the soul winter brings. It seems life is put on hold. It’s the biblical equivalent to the dry desert.

Looking back to one of my hardest soul-winters I remember the shame I felt during an illness that took months to recuperate from. My veins were alternately pierced and arm tied to an IV pole that dripped antibiotics and salt solutions for ten days into my system. I worried about the expectations of my peers and employers. I could not perform as I had in the past. It was humbling. I was sure that my ‘net worth’ was descending . I tried hard to speed up the process of healing, get myself going again. But my body and mind wasn’t ready for it yet. I think God was trying to teach me, “Slowly I am with you always.”

I understand better now that slow invisible change, both in us and in the way we see life, usually happens in seasons we dislike the most. Of course I still tend towards trying to rush my exit out of desolate dry seasons, cutting cold seasons, brown ground barren seasons and enter the seasons of colour, freshness, warmth and growth. We feel shame and quite useless (almost dead) in our winter seasons. That’s when we need to step back again and let wisdom speak. She whispers to us to embrace the moment, live into the now, leafbrownpossess or be possessed by the renewing power of winter! Let love lure you into the next newness.

The more I think about the rhythms in our lives, the more I realize that God’s steadfast love is the common denominator in each season and his mercies are new just the same. In his time He makes lasting beauty to break forth through the darkness or dryness or the disappointment.

A wise man named Thomas Merton said, “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” That’s something to hang onto! Go back and read that phrase again. The slow growth of maturing beauty lasts longer because it’s roots have gone deeper in the soul. Not long ago someone said to my wife, “You have changed and it is remarkable!” I began to reflect on that a bit and smile inside because I saw it too. Often we are unaware of the changes happening inside of ourselves until someone else notices. Until then we don’t properly appreciate the inner coherence of beauty being matured in us.

There is a process to any growth and it entails the mysterious miraculous. We are not simply mellowing out with age, no, God forbid! We are becoming more like original goodness in our soul and adding beauty to the world.  Like the crushing of grapes, it helps to remember that the juice will one day miraculously become like fine wine! It’s a slow but real process. Stop for a moment today and reflect on what is being planted in your soul these days.


Bottom Reaching Up!

To see Vikash is to know immediately that he has Indian blood. He comes from the Mauritius Islands and his ancestors immigrated there from India many generations ago, far too many to count. His family was a poor one and could barely afford to send their kids to school. However Vikash was a bright boy and was awarded bursaries to study further  vikashbecause of his good grades.

Still the family’s poverty demanded that he  help put food on the table. At the age of 14 he was hired to wait on tables at a hotel. He switched from time to time to a bellboy. But his life began to change when he found work in the kitchen of a famous hotel on the Island, the Palm Royal. A chef from France began to teach him some serious cooking skills.

By 17 years of age, Vikash was finished with schooling. He decided to find full-time work as a chef and actually made it to a Club Med cruise ship for about 4 years. From there he came to France. He was just 22 years. All he had known religion-wise till now was Hinduism. Yet the church buildings he saw all over Paris fascinated him. He just had to go in. What he discovered surprised him, his heart was at peace in those places of worship. It was the quiet, the fresh cool air in the hot summer, it seemed to help him clear his mind while sitting there, looking and meditating on life.

While in Paris he found work illegally with a well-known chef named Paul Menchelli. He learned more about French cuisine and some international dishes. His ‘piece de resistance’ was the Spanish Paella. His life seemed good. He fell in love, married and had three kids. He began his own business working out of his apartment as a caterer to events and was able to make a decent living providing for his young family.

However it all went downhill in 2008 when he became very ill with a bacterial infection that destroyed the usage of his pancreas. He was interned in the local hospital for a month. Not being able to work made it difficult to care for his family let alone pay the rent in expensive Paris; they had to move out. Things kept getting worse between his wife and he, and in 2010 his wife found it too much and she took the kids, two sons and a daughter and left.

Alone. Terribly alone. Could it get worse? He was able to find the odd work here and there, but eventually his health deteriorated further and he found himself homeless. For six months he begged, borrowed and did what he could to stay alive. The worst part of being homeless was the violence on the streets. Other homeless would sometimes rob or kick the other homeless wheel they slept. The fear was real. He was a lonely broken man.

Walking the streets he sometimes remembered how it was to have a good salary. He remembered the praise from clients about his well prepared meals. Once he remembered taking his whole family to India to visit the Hindu tourist sites. Though his wife discouraged it, he was drawn to an old majestic Catholic Church. While the family waited outside, Vikash went in and gave God his respects in his own way. Was God looking over him?

Eventually Vikash found a hostel who took him in with about fifty other men. Often there would be stealing and conflict even here. One time after finally having new shoes, he laid them on his bed and went to the toilet. When he returned the shoes were gone. There were days he was depressed. Many days. His depression once led him to the fast-moving waters of the Seine River where he wanted to end it all. “All I have to do is jump and I’ll be through with this misery,” he thought. Miraculously he heard church bells ring then and there. A sign? He decided his jump could wait another day.

And then in 2015 another cold lonely day, a day like the rest of not ever having a meaningful conversation with anyone. After all, he was a nobody and a loser. And he was at his wit’s end. He decided to clear his mind at the Catholic Church. There he asked God to help him once again. “All I need is 10 euros, God!” Ten euros to survive another day or two.

When he stepped out of the church and walked some, an Asian lady addressed him. He was quite surprised at this rare occasion. She asked him what he was looking for. And the ten euros came to mind and he asked for a bit of money. She reached into her purse, pulled out ten euros and said, “This is not from me, it is from God.” She then invited him to join her at her small church. “There are good people there”, she said.

That same day I remember seeing This small dark man in a heavy coat for the first time , sitting quietly, head bowed for the most part, not making eye contact with anyone. As quietly as he slipped in, he did the same slipping out. He did this week after week for months. Our church helped him with his medication needs. I guess that is why he came. Eventually though, as others would begin to speak to him, pray with him, he began to want to come. What stands out is how the people of the church never made him feel ashamed or guilty for needing help.

Eventually the day recently came this past May when he heard about the church organising a water baptism. He so wanted to be baptised. In his words He told us that for years no one gave him the time of day. Loneliness was a disease that was killing him more vikashbaptizedthan his heart problems. But here he found a family. He found people who would engage. On the day of his baptism he told me he was proud to call us his family. The words that came next touched me, “I am no longer afraid of life, I have you guys now!”

Vikash was quite ill immediately after his baptism. Maybe it was too much excitement for his heart that day. He spent almost three weeks in the hospital. I tried to visit as often as I could. That’s really when I found out about his fascinating life. This man truly touched the bottom to find God’s grace reaching for him.  Daily for a time we read the french version of Francis Chan’s book ‘Crazy Love.’ Afterwards Vikash would smile and comment on what we read.

During my visits his confidence and warmth surprised me, before this I took him to be a simple man who didn’t want to interact with people. I discovered that there was more to Vikash than meets the eye. He was more than a homeless broken man with a lot of pain, there was change happening in him brought on by hope. With a warm smile and a direct gaze from his dark eyes he told me his stories. We would always finish with clasping our hands to eagerly say a prayer. It is crazy to think of all he came through to somehow get to where he is today. It was thvikashlaurentpeter2016at crazy love of God that reached him. His dream is to see his kids again, now 12, 10 and 8. And to work as a chef. I looked at him for a moment, knowing how fortunate I was to have my wife and family together. Yet seeing his faith and hope as he shared his prayer request, my eyes watered up. “All things are possible,” I told him, “All things are possible.”