Humans of Canadian Memorial: Tammy

“I was born in Hamilton Ontario, 2 months too early which is why I have a visual disability. I was so small that they put me in an incubator. I think I was only 2 pounds when I was born and back in the 60’s they didn’t really know much about incubators so they turned up the oxygen too high and my retinas got damaged. That’s how I lost my sight.”

Can you tell me about your faith journey?

“I remember going to church with my aunt once in a while. It was really formal, the choir was very traditional and the minister would go on and on. And I didn’t like it because I just got bored. My mother came from a Baptist home and my dad was united with an Italian background – both had very strict backgrounds so they brought us up with the freedom to make our own decisions with religion. I used to stay with my Aunt in a little village outside of Brantford on some weekends. She went to a Baptist church and I would go to the youth group and I really enjoyed it. There was this one time during youth group where we could raise our hand if we wanted to be saved and I remember raising my hand; it was a very surreal feeling of being saved even though I really didn’t know what it meant at the time. But after high school and university I didn’t go to church. There was just other things to do: spend time at the gym or spin class. It wasn’t until I went through a personal crisis a few years ago that really made me rethink my commitments and affiliations with people. So in 2016 I decided to go to the Marcus Mosley concert at CMUC in June and I thought if I don’t like it I don’t have to come back. But I really liked it so I kept coming back. I really like the music and the people at CMUC. And on my first day there, somebody introduced himself to me and now I usually walk with him to coffee and it’s something that I look forward to. Beth has been really great too. She thought being a part of the hospitality team would be a great way for me to meet people at the church. She really tries her best to make sure everyone feels included and involved in church if they want to be.

Besides church, I am really interested in physical fitness. Not competing anymore. I used to compete in swimming in the Paralympics and I went to Seoul in 1988. I used to compete in dragon boating as well but I’m not committed to winning anymore and that wasn’t fair to the team so I thought it would be best to do my own thing. Now I go to a trainer once a week who tailors my workouts, and I go to the gym on my own for weight training and I swim with a local Masters swim club. It’s all really good and I enjoy it a lot!”

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Wilda

How did you get into stand-up comedy?

“Over a lifetime, in a round-about way. As a child, my mom entered me in public speaking contests and talent shows. She could see I got a kick out of entertaining. In my adult life, I’ve been on a quest to find my purpose. I was in a long-term marriage and spent a lot of my energy on things important to my husband. But I was out of sync with myself and finally couldn’t do it anymore. Since leaving in 2008, I have discovered that I like to make people laugh, so when I saw a course for stand-up comedy last fall, I had a gut-sense to take it.

When a comic comes out on stage, it’s good to acknowledge what people see and then blow their stereotypes. As a class exercise, we took turns standing at the front while our classmates jotted first impressions. Several people in my course wrote ‘old’. I was probably ten years older than everyone else in the class, but in my heart I am not old! I realized I had some ageism because I thought, what’s this with not wanting to be perceived as old? So I’ve got some work to do there. I became aware of my stereotypes and realized we all have much common under the skin — our fears and things we’re trying to heal from. I love to say something that makes everyone join with me and each other in laughter. It is healing…when it happens. Sometimes a joke bombs! I’m learning to roll with that, too. I enjoy writing the jokes, so the process is healing for me.”

What’s your faith experience?

“Even though I grew up in the United Church, I pulled away from the church. I knew the problem with religion was in me more than in a particular church. I was an observer for a quite a while and respected the UCC for standing up for gays in the late 1980’s. So I knew that if I were to go back to church, it would be the UCC.

The second Sunday I was at CMUC, the choir sang Do not Leave your Cares at the Door, and there’s a part where the soloist sings: every story is sacred here even yours. And I thought, yeah really? Broken family, an erratic career path, long periods of my adult life where I didn’t go to churches, and a lot of seeking help for anxiety and depression. And I thought, where is the sacredness in that? But I decided to stick around and to see if I could find out. Through this process, I’ve been starting to reflect on how maybe it was Spirit that helped me find yoga, and specific therapists, and a couple of soul-mate women friends. All these experiences contributed to finding myself enough to risk sticking my toe back into religion. And I realized God works in many mysterious ways, only some of them in churches. So the sacredness of story now resonates with me. And I believe we all have a sacred story. So the thing I appreciate about CMUC is the invitation to keep growing because I know that’s what I need to do. I feel called to lead in the community more than in church. One way I attempt to do that now is through comedy.”

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Michelle

“I came to Canadian Memorial three years ago, after a crisis in my life. Six months earlier, my husband Paul had contracted a severe case of cerebral malaria after a trip to Africa. He was in a deep coma, with complete kidney failure, liver failure, and a very poor prognosis for recovery. We ended up taking him off life support, but then he started to improve a little bit, so we plugged him back in.

At that time, our son Micah was 2 ½ years old, so of course he had no idea what was going on, and I couldn’t really explain anything to him. He was just a little boy who needed his mom and a steady, normal life. He needed to go to the park and eat grilled cheese sandwiches and read bedtime stories, and I was so scared I just couldn’t do it. Suddenly, I was up against something that was way too big for me to handle, and it was the first time in my life that I just gave myself over to God and said “Help!”

And I felt it so clearly—this immediate “YES” from the universe. I could feel God’s arms around me, but not just around me, I could also feel God’s presence inside me. That was the first time I’d ever had that experience. I’d always believed that God lives in our hearts, but I hadn’t experienced it like that before. Because of that, I was able to cope and (hopefully) be a good mom at this time.

We were also blessed to have a lot of love and support from our family and friends, and it was the first time I’d ever had a whole community rallying around me like that. Suddenly I could feel the loving presence of God in the people around me, and in myself at the same time. It made me feel like I was a part of this great web of love all around me, which sounds a bit cheesy but I still don’t know how else to describe it.

Fast forward three years later, Paul ended up making an amazing recovery. He was in a coma for almost 2 months, in the hospital for 4 months, and then had round-the-clock nursing care for a few more months at home. He went from being unable to sit up on his own when he first came home from the hospital, to walking the dog at least an hour a day, riding a bike, driving a car, etc. To put that in perspective, for people in a coma as profound as Paul’s, it’s very rare for them to make any kind of meaningful recovery at all.

After all of that, I find that my way of relating to God has changed. I’m deeply committed to keeping God with me in my everyday life, and I want to be surrounded by people who actively believe in God and do something about it to help the world. I’ve found an extraordinarily open-minded, loving, and active congregation at Canadian Memorial. Here, I feel like I can connect with that web of love that I experienced and maintain that closeness to God that I felt when things were so difficult. It’s my favourite place to be on Sunday mornings!”

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Jay

How was Trilojay formed?

I knew Jason Nickel from a recording session we did a while back and J2 (Jay Esplana) as a substitute drummer for a hip hop group I was in called the Airtights. Jason, who has been with the CMUC years, recommend us to Lonnie as great options for the band: thankfully, Lonnie agreed!

It was actually Andrew, the church sound tech, who came up with the band name: “Hey, there’s 3 Jays… it’s a church… Trilojay.” This band owes a lot to the church because it gave us the idea to create this band and, because we saw each other every week, a place to really learn each other’s style. During the week, we play at some really rowdy clubs and crazy parties together: when we tell people we’re a Sunday church band, no one believes us.

How did you get into music?

I was probably in Grade 4 and there was a mix tape my aunt made. It was a bunch of ’80’s/90’s pop music but she did sneak in an old Buddy Holly song from 50’s called “Peggy Sue.” I thought this song was so cool: it was really raw and had a really neat energy to it… So I got obsessed with 50’s culture and 50’s music (and made sure I had the Buddy Holly glasses). When I inherited my grandparents’ old acoustic guitar, my dad taught me some Buddy Holly tunes and I was hooked.

I got my degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Played around NYC and Montreal for a bit and one night, while playing at the Venetian Casino in Macau, a big Asian pop singer – Sandy Lam – caught my performance. 6 months later, I was the lead guitarist on her world tour – travelling throughout Asia, Las Vegas, San Francisco, London, and Europe – while also writing and playing music for others in the Hong Kong music scene. Not only do I play with a bunch of local party bands, I play with Vancouver original artists such as Warren Flandez, Redeye Empire, and Rosemary Siemens. I’m also make promotional videos for guitar companies like Yamaha, JHS Pedals, & Robert Keeley, run a YouTube guitar page, and have built a recording studio in East Van… So music is definitely a full time job.

Any advice for musicians?

Everyone thinks the music industry is really tough. But I don’t think so as long as you treat it like a job. Some think you have to be a big star just to survive in the industry but that is not true. There is a lot of opportunity for blue collar musicians where you can do projects like commercials, soundtracks, corporate events, and festivals. If you’re good, dependable, and have a cool attitude, you’re never going to starve. You hear about artists that are waiting to be inspired by something but you’re the one that inspires you: you control your creativity. Always be on a search for knowledge and that knowledge is going to lead you to meet a lot of cool people and keep you busy.

Why do you like golfing?

Music is loud and crazy and my life is loud and crazy. In golf, you’ve got a ball and a hole… and the ball just needs to go in the hole. You have nothing but wide open space, it smells like grass, it’s calm, and you can drink beer: a sweet escape from the noise. Keep in mind though, I’m a horrible golfer and that’s probably why I got addicted to it. When I first got the guitar, I was awful; I was a horrible guitar player for a long, long, long time. I have the feeling I’m going to be a horrible golfer for a long, long, long time too and maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Tell me about your faith journey.

I was raised Catholic and I had one really good pastor, Father Scott, who was an ex-undercover cop. He’s seen things – you can tell. I never felt condescended to and he made God really easy to understand. After college, I didn’t go to church at all. I was little apprehensive about playing at a United Church but, the first day I played here, I saw a gay couple baptize their child. I remembered thinking, “this is great, this is really cool”, because that was definitely not going to happen in any church that I had been to. It was so relaxed and everyone was very loving.

My faith and soul discovery comes from the people and the boys in the band: playing music and making coffee with the Jays and Lonnie every week. Through thick and thin, long nights, and overnight flights, we still find ways to come to this church. You have strong leadership, patient and open relationships. Also, the music is great because it’s a blend of traditional, modern, gospel… It’s not stagnant, it’s varied and the people are open and receptive to it. That’s really what this church is for me.

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Duncan

“What I like about being a physician is the relationships. They became the key to my enjoyment of  medicine. They are built on listening at a critical time. People come to the doctor to tell their story and if the patient doesn’t have a chance to tell their story it’s an unsatisfactory encounter. I came to view medicine’s job as helping patients by listening to their symptoms and helping them to find an ending to their story. Patients can choose my suggested ending or not – for example they can take the chemo or go on holiday to Mexico. I know the perception is that medicine is about curing illness but that is an uncommon outcome

I like the idea of medicine as an “avocation” rather than “vocation”.  What you do and what you are become so closely related. I taught school for a few years before I figured out medicine was what I was going to do. I was actually lucky to be accepted as I realized, after we were assigned our dissecting tables in first year, that the order of the tables was the order of the selection committees’ opinion. So table number 1 had all these super bright people and I was near the last table. I think I only received a place because somebody who had been given the chance to get in decided to go somewhere else. Life goes like that, no?

I particularly liked delivering babies and attended many births. I wrote articles about maternity care, I taught maternity care and maternity care was a source of international travel. I’ve been going to China since 2000. I don’t think Chinese doctors need anyone to teach them but it expands our understanding to share across cultures. I’m interested in hearing what doctors in other countries know as well as what I might teach.

What I enjoyed about delivering babies was that it was never anything short of miraculous: you go into a room with 2 people, you leave with 3. Usually birth brings joy. Sometimes it brings disaster.  Assisting at a birth involves some technical skills but it also builds relationships that you don’t get with other parts of medicine. When I stopped doing maternity care I switched to nursing home care as it provides some of the same meaningful relationships with families.”

Tell me about your spiritual life.

“I was born in Scotland and grew up Presbyterian However, I think we get caught up too much over arguments of doctrine. I’m comfortable to go to most any church that is authentic. We call ourselves Christians because we aspire to be followers of Christ. One of the terms used for Jesus that I really like is rabbi, teacher. He just went around talking to people, teaching people and telling stories. So my faith journey is to figure out how to be like Jesus: caring, provocative, intolerant of injustice and, most difficult of all, being prepared to die, being prepared to suffer for the things I believe in. I don’t suffer: nice home, nice family. So that’s the dimension that I struggle with: how to get out of my comfort zone to do what is right.”