Saturday, April 2, 2011

Where I'm coming from

     I grew up in a small town in northern Nova Scotia, the youngest of four children born into a working class family.  Neither of my parents had much opportunity to gain an education.  They worked very hard to provide for us, but had little to offer in terms of emotional support or guidance. I always thought of myself as the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, struggling to stay focused, to better myself despite what could only be described as a very unhealthy home environment.  I stayed in school and became the first person in my family to graduate from university.  My father died suddenly shortly after I graduated and I left home under difficult circumstances with little direction or support.
     Two things stand out in my memory as turning points from those years. My family might have been described as a traditional/nominal Roman Catholic family.  It was very important to my mother that we be baptized and confirmed as Catholics, and show up occasionally for church on Sunday, so in my mother's words, "when we die they will have a place to bury us. " I was always searching for something more, some deeper meaning or purpose.  When I was 11 years old I had a conversion experience at a very protestant summer camp.  I said a simple child's prayer asking Jesus to forgive me for my sins and invited him into my heart.  In that moment in my mind's eye I saw a red rose open, and that is how it felt, a trans formative experience.  The Bible came alive to me, like it was somehow illuminated where before it was like trying to read a foreign language.  As hard as life continued to be at home I continued to cling to my faith, and it held me through a very difficult daily experience of profound mental abuse.  I will always be thankful to the people who shared the Gospel with me.  I'm not quite as thankful for the scorch marks they left on my psyche.
     So after I left home, I was working at a well known Canadian coffee shop, (to say anything against it might be considered sacrilege to some-lol), pouring coffee, trying to keep from getting fired on a daily basis, sighing and thinking there must be more to life than this, when lo and behold I got fired.  I never really was all that good at the fast food business.  Perhaps I was too thoughtful and much too slow.  I remember wondering what I was going to do, when over coffee a friend suggested to me that I try L'Arche.  L'Arche is a network of communities for persons with mental disabilities and people who wish to live in community with them.  I remember an assistant mentioning to me on one of those first days that L'Arche was based on the beatitudes of the Gospels, blessed are the poor.  I remember opening the Bible to the sermon on the mount and seeing a glimpse of grace for the first time in my life.  I was so excited, because for the first time, I had found a group of like minded people, and I felt like I could be myself.  I remember going to bed that night, my first night in living in community, and sensing a light in the darkness.  That was the turning point in my life.
     Fourteen years later, I still work with persons with mental disabilities (although with a different organization). I'm still learning from them. I live in Ottawa; I'm married to my sweetie and I have four little girls that steal my heart on a daily basis.  It hasn't been easy though.  I don't know when life gets easier.  I'm estranged from most of my immediate family which was not an easy decision.  Got to keep the head screwed on straight if I'm going to be in any shape to care for my children. Perhaps it is these experiences, of loving someone and having to let them go, that has shaped my perceptions of the divisions that I see in the present society that surrounds me.  Someone once said to me, that he had realized after many years that the only person he could change was himself.  I had no idea what he meant. I was young.  I still thought I could change people.  God grant me the serenity.  When I was a teenager I remember thinking that the serenity prayer was a cop-out.  Now I feel I understand it.
     As a child I had a simple beautiful faith that really made all the difference in my life.  My deepest pain (and doubt) throughout my life was that my prayers for other people never seemed to make a whit of difference.  I've come to the conclusion that I can't change other people, but that my own life has been transformed because I've allowed God in.  And so I look at the issues that divide people the most in our society, abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, religion, politics, justice issues.  All the things I'm not supposed to talk about are the things that I feel like I'm bursting at the seams to talk about.  These are the issues that I seem to be drawn to.  Why?  I've often wondered the same thing.  Maybe it's because as a Christian who finds myself living in a secular society, I'm trying to make sense of things.  How does my faith fit into all of this? Why are people so divided on these issues?  Is there anything I can do to communicate or to reach out to people? Many many nights I've wished I could just turn my brain off and go to sleep but so often I can't.
    I don't know how many people will be interested in anything I have to say, if anybody, but this site is an attempt to communicate the Christian message to a secular society, and to try to build a community across what often appears to be an unbridgeable divide. In short, I think there will always be differences between people, we may not change each others views, but maybe we can come to understand each other a little better. The important thing is that we live in a free society and we are free to discuss our differences and free to disagree.  I hope you'll join me.


Margaret Harvey

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