Monday, October 28, 2013

Homeless Man Receives Dinner Invite

We have a man named Lawrence in our community who lives in a tent. He often will ride his bike with a trailer he built collecting bottles. I remember the day in the summer when Lawrence was passing by our home. He was a sweet man, rugged and smelling of beer. He was respectful and gracious and he had boundaries of never wanting to come inside our home. After giving him bottles, I told him that he could come back anytime to get more. Lawrence now visits us weekly to get his bottles.

A couple of weeks ago, my hubby and I asked him if he wanted to come over for Thanksgiving dinner. We wondered if he would show up, but he did. He had brought a gift for our kids that he had bought from the Sally Ann. I was a little nervous as we had never had Lawrence over before and we had another couple over for dinner as well.

Turns out, it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners we have had. We laughed, had great conversation and found out many wonderful things about our new friend. I don't know why we are so afraid of the homeless. I do believe caution is necessary, but towards everyone, not just a certain sector of people.

Lawrence left a little teary. Before he left he said, "One of the most beautiful things people can share is a meal together". I was touched by his statement as it is one of my dreams for my home. I dream of a "table of misfits"(you can read more about this here) and I got a glimpse of that on this Sunday evening.

Our homes can be lighthouses, a beacon of hope for those who need it. My kids can't wait to have Lawrence over again. He'll be over for dinner again very soon.

"The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbours, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be - and experience - a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor but the favor will be returned" (from Luke 15).

- Connie Jakab

Check out Connie Jakab's blog at where she blogs about her family's adventures in serving the less fortunate and her continued rebellion to what culture tells us. Be sure to pick up her book, "Culture Rebel - because the world has enough desperate housewives" at You can find Connie on Twitter at @ConnieJakab

----- Subscribe to The Mustard Seed Blog via RSS

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts "96th Street Exhibition"

Approximately seven community members were placed in the spotlight this month as several pieces of their artwork were put on display at the “Reflecting 96th Street” exhibition at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton. 

Community member Linda, whose Tiger inspired art pieces attracted many spectators at the exhibition, said that her pieces were mainly inspired by a theme of being alive. 

“I like to do life, anything that’s alive because I think they’re beautiful,” said Linda. 

Rachel de Leon and Laura Foster, the organizers of the exhibition, said that their work with community members in the church began back in 2007 when they started an open Thursday art group for community members at the church to participate in. 

“We keep a lot of the artwork with us because a lot of artists have nowhere to keep their art,” said Rachel. 

Elanor, who has been working with the art program since its inception, was proud to display her pieces which included, “the colorful Mandela” and the “A perched Owl.” 

“I get a lot of the inspiration for the art from magazines,” said Elanor. 

With a room full of spectator’s Exhibition Coordinator, David Janzen, said that he believes the future for this event can only be bigger and better. 

“Two years ago when we did a smaller exhibition it was a success. This year these folks needed a venue and you can see it’s a win-win situation,” said David.

The art will be on display at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts until November 1, 2013. Find out more here.

----- Subscribe to The Mustard Seed Blog via RSS

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Taking a Look in the Mirror

Have you ever caught yourself looking in a mirror and it’s like you’re seeing yourself for the first time? That happened to me recently and I realized that the tall good looking individual that I really never was, no longer existed, even in my own imagination.

It’s almost like for a few brief seconds you see yourself the way the world sees you and it’s somewhat of an eye opener. In fact, there is often a gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us, and occasionally the gap is much bigger than we think. Self awareness, not my greatest strength, involves a kind of brutal honesty that is often difficult to deal with, but it’s really the only way we grow. Sometimes it’s the only way we get better in our understanding of ourselves and our relationships with others.

Self-awareness often involves comparing ourselves to those around us. Sometimes what or who we deem as comparative can enhance or deplete our self-esteem, as well as benefit or hurt our health. For example, often in street life there’s a comparison of living situations. A person that is sleeping in a shelter might actually see himself or herself as having an ideal living situation. This, however, might be because he/she is comparing shelter-living to sleeping in a park in minus 30 degrees weather. Knowing what the comparison is can really help us unravel the complexities of street life.

I’m so grateful that God sees past all of that stuff in my life and the lives of others. Recently, a group of employees at The Mustard Seed in Calgary were reflecting on the names of God. Genesis 16:13 uses the name El Roi in reference to God – literally meaning a God who sees. There is great comfort in knowing that God not only sees me, but loves me and accepts me where I’m at. And there is no performance clause! If I get it right, God loves me. If I get it wrong (frequently), God still loves me. Who knew Billy Joel was sharing a biblical truth when he sang, “I love you just the way you are.”

How do the homeless see themselves? Likely not as their public persona, where because of deep hurt and rejection they have developed some pretty amazing self-defense mechanisms complete with corresponding story lines to build themselves up. Furthermore, some individuals experiencing homelessness might actually believe that they’re doing alright, mainly because their situation compared to others in their lives seems more ideal. Thereby making them seem like they’re putting on a brave face. If you’ve never had a bed to compare a shelter mat to, a shelter mat might actually feel like you’re sleeping on a Sealy Posturepedic in comparison to sleeping on the street.

Sometimes their social presentation seems very different than some of us would expect from people living “without,” yet even the stigma surrounding homelessness might influence the identity they present to others. If we expect certain attitudes, we often receive stories. On occasion, however, if you walk alongside these amazing people, you will get glimpses into the reality of the mirror image they see; an image that throws back broken pictures of abuse and rejection or of self-inflicted pain based on bad choices often forced upon them because of circumstances beyond their control. An image that makes them victims or, in some cases, even heroes of their own story. Their image is often no more accurate than ours.

And what about this gap between how we see ourselves, and how others see us?  Sometimes our flawed self-awareness makes us bigger and better. Other times, we do not value ourselves as much as we should. Many of the awesome folks we care for at The Mustard Seed see themselves as having little or no value. How often does our attempt to be an encouragement get lost in the false reality of their own self-image? This is perhaps why mental health issues amongst the homeless are so much more prevalent than in other population bases. I‘ve asked it a million times: did the mental health crisis result in being homeless, or did homelessness result in the mental health crisis? It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. We have expectations of the homeless to be broken, and perhaps, in some way, through survival self-defense mechanisms, mental illness arises.

So what’s the point? Simply this: the reality is that we have so much more in common with people we care for in this world. We are not that big of a deal.

It’s in our common challenges that we will often find the bridge that can lead to relationships, and that out of those relationships comes the opportunity to truly make a difference in our neighbours’ lives. We are all just out there doing the best we can; we all have good days and bad days. Some of us just look like we’re more successful at doing it than others.

-Kristen Desjarlais deKlerk, PhD ABD, Department of Sociology at U of C and Bill Nixon, Director of Support Services, The Mustard Seed

----- Subscribe to The Mustard Seed Blog via RSS

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My night of homelessness

Last week, I left my house with nothing but the clothes on my back and went downtown to our YWCA shelter to spend the night for "Keep A Roof Over Her Head". I can't deny how odd it felt to drive myself downtown to be homeless.

Let me just say right off the top that spending one night in a shelter with others who are there to learn more about homelessness can never, ever truly tell what someone who faces that every day goes through. The CEO of the YWCA (who also slept over) stated, "In the morning, I want you to remember that the average woman who used our shelter over the winter stayed 154 nights in a row. Think about 153 more nights when you wake up tomorrow." This is a thought I couldn't shake all night as I slept on a hard mat with the lights on.

In the morning, I felt exhausted. I couldn't get to sleep because of others in the room chatting and because of the lights. There was no comfortable position for my body on the hard mat. However, I was grateful for a mat, and not to have to sleep on the floor. Dinner the night before was upsetting my stomach. I have a wheat intolerance and the pasta and bun didn't sit well. Reality check: when you're homeless, you eat what you get - even if you have allergies.

However, let me get to what really struck me. Shone Abet Thistle from the YWCA told a story of her imagining she was fleeing domestic violence. She had three minutes to gather everything she deemed important and put it in a plastic bag. What would she bring? She managed to stuff items into her bag quickly, but then just before heading out the door, she saw a picture of her grandmother on the wall that was still in it's original casing. It had been passed down from her grandma to her mother, and now to her. Should she bring it? She broke down knowing she had to leave it behind.

We don't realize how much is lost when a woman has to flee her home. Imagine for a moment losing all you have in the comforts of your own home, only to find yourself sleeping on a mat, eating buns and pasta, and having to leave the building at 6am with no where to go other than wander the streets in the daytime - no matter what the weather. For many, they did not choose to lose everything. How easy it is to become an addict to numb the pain. To choose to sell your body for sex so you can at least sleep in a bed under a roof, even if it means giving yourself to a man who only cares for the use of your body. How lonely must it feel to sleep night after night wondering what will happen to you, your home, your kids, and your life as you knew it?

I can imagine most of these women want to cry out, "This is not who I am!", but her cries are not heard by those passing her on the street. All they see is a good-for-nothing woman who needs to "go get a job". The hard truth is that in my province of Alberta, we carry the 2nd highest rate of violence against women. 905 women and 195 children were turned away due to over-capacity from the YWCA in my city of Calgary last year. Where do they go from there?

There are glitches in our system that keep women impoverished once they get there. For example: women who lose their children due to living in a shelter, often can't afford to get them back because they no longer will receive government funding we all receive for her children, thus decreasing her income.  How can she survive on $323 a month?? Even if she has a job that pays $10/hr?

Even beyond issues of fleeing domestic violence, all it could take is one illness to find someone living on the street.  How many of us have money saved for emergencies such as this for 6 months of income? 3 months? Even 1 month? With the cost of living, many of us are living paycheque to paycheque. This became very real to me while I laid on my mat that night.

Homelessness is something that we have become used to in our society. It's not odd to see a business person crossing the street along side one carrying a big bag of bottles. We don't even flinch anymore. When we do look, we can easily think of all the reasons how they got themselves into that situation to dismiss their pain from our eyes.

I'm done with stereotyping them.
I'm done with coming up with why they are there.
I'm finding out the truth, and more than ever, I see how we are all the same.
I want to feel their pain, and let it move me to intolerance.
To me, they are not invisible any longer.

Women's homelessness is one of the topics we are presenting in our show, Invisible playing at Theatre Grand Junction June 14-15, 2013 in Calgary, AB.  Tickets are on sale.  Hungry to know more and what can be done.  Tickets are on sale for only $25 by clicking here.

- Connie Jakab

Check out Connie Jakab's blog at where she blogs about her family's adventures in serving the less fortunate and her continued rebellion to what culture tells us. Be sure to pick up her book, "Culture Rebel - because the world has enough desperate housewives" at You can find Connie on Twitter at @ConnieJakab

----- Subscribe to The Mustard Seed Blog via RSS

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Poem Dedicated to The Mustard Seed

The Mustard Seed

Before Care

While waiting here in this lunch line,
I look back when all things were fine.
When work was plenty, when bills were paid.
So Blessed was I –I had it made.

Now waiting here I’ve lost it all,
because one day I had a fall.
Those paid to care, they dealt in fraud.
Yet for this lunch, I thank my God.

After Care

I thank you Father for “The Seed”.
Your people cared to fill my need.
They did so happily in Jesus name.
They proved to me just why He came.

They proved to me my God You give.
They helped me find a place to live.
We know they didn’t have to bother,
yet did this service for you Father.

-Brian, a guest at The Mustard Seed

----- Subscribe to The Mustard Seed Blog via RSS