Friday, January 30, 2009


Last Wednesday I attended a monthly meting of the ACW—Anglican Church Women. Oh, how it took me back. It took me back to cramped little living rooms on Thursday afternoons—always the third Thursday of the month. It took me back to the days before I started school; when I would sit among the women, sit as still and as quietly as was humanly possible, when I would listen to the endless deliberations of the women. Would it be $50.00 to the boys camp, or $75.00 to a mission in Uganda? Should the church be cleaned with Pledge on Tuesdays, or lemon oil on Fridays? Would the Valentine’s Day tea and bake sale be better on February 10, or ought it to wait until the 17th when Patsy would be back from visiting her daughter? And then there were the letters, endless letters read aloud by the secretary: pleas for support from far-off missionaries; thank-you notes for a get-well card send last month; vital instructions from the Bishop. Through all of this I would wait, and wait, and wait.
It took me back to the waiting, waiting for the moment when the ladies would perch daintily on the edge of chairs, balancing the hostess’s finest china teacups in their hands, never spilling a drop in the saucers below. It took me back to the homes of the women, to the foods that each one served when her turn came around: to Mrs. Clouston’s sausage rolls; Mrs. Thomas’s egg sandwiches; Mom’s tiny cupcakes dipped in coconut; to butter tarts and lemon squares and the miniature buttermilk pancakes that Jean Hepworth called Scotch Scones. I liked it all, but I loved those scones. I ate one scone, then another, then another.
“Let her eat them,” crooned Jean, when my mother moved to stop me. “She’s a skinny little lass.”
It took me back to later times, when I went to school and Mom went without me to the ACW meetings, even the meetings at Jean’s. I couldn’t be there of course. So Jean sent the Scotch Scones home for me. What a thrill it was to find a stack of them kept fresh in a plastic bag, too many for me to eat at a single sitting, waiting for me in our kitchen after a long day of arithmetic! This is what I ought to remember when I wonder whether it is worth the effort to show a little appreciation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Ronna Fay Jevne:
When we are able to articulate, to name the mission to which we are called, we are able to examine our work through the lens of hope rather than the lens of success and failure. We can attempt what is important rather than make important what it is that is easily achieved. To work without a call is to live in a place of doubt about what is and is not important. We are more easily enticed to working for the system than to working for the client when we are without a vision of the difference we truly want to make. Levov (1997) reminded us that Calls are essentially questions. They aren’t questions you necessarily need to answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose yourself and kneel before. You don’t want an answer you can put in a box and set on a shelf. You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life, a question that will offer you a lifetime of pondering, that will lead you toward what you need to know for your integrity, draw to you what you need for your journey, and help you understand what it means to burst at the seams. These questions will also lead you to others whose lives are propelled by the same questions, and from them you will receive, ”oh, never an answer,” as writer P. L. Travers says, ”but a spark of instructive fire” (p. 7).

And here I am today, looking at this passage, outlining a three-hour session whereupon I will be expected to impart my knowledge about counselling with hope and humour to a class of novice counsellors who hope to be psychologists.
And how shall I be: mysterious, inspiring, practical?

What if I say: “You have to start by being the person you are, and then find reliable tools you can use to structure your work with integrity?” They’ll be disappointed. They were expecting wisdom and a how-to manual.

What if I say: “I have this box of hope tools. I’ll show them to you. I have this box of humour tools. I’ll show them to you. But the thing I have learned over the years is that a person with integrity can’t effectively use a hope tool in a counselling session unless one person in the room can express some hope. Nor can a person of integrity use a humour tool in a counselling session unless there is somebody in the room who has a genuine compulsion to laugh.” They’ll be frustrated. “Integrity-shmegrity! They’ll whisper. “Who does she think she is?”

Or maybe I should just say: “I have this box of hope tools, and this box of humour tools. I love using them. I use them when it feels right to use them. I’ll show them to you. I want you to know they are available.”

Perhaps that is as much sense as I can make of the potential for using these tools with integrity given three hours in a roomful of novice counsellors.

(Quote by Ronna Jevne taken from page 272 of Jevne, R.F. (2005). Hope: The simplicity and complexity. In J. Eliott (Ed.). Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Hope (pp. 259-289). New York: Nova Science.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama's remarkable accomplishment affirms the power of hope

Edmonton Journal


Obama's remarkable accomplishment affirms the power of hope

What a blessing Barack Obama is to a hope scholar. His remarkable journey summarizes the findings of entire libraries of hope research. He has mastered
the art of creating hope by talking about hope. He has shown that you can talk about hope before you have a solution to everything. You can talk about
hope and reality in the same sentence and still have both.

Obama knows that hope is not the simple equivalent of wishing. It is a complex interaction of thinking, feeling, acting and relating. He knows that when
you pull hope from the past, you start having hope for the future. Then, in an incredible act of pulling all of this together, he capitalizes on the knowledge
that hopeful moments make people more proactive, more flexible, and more inclined to risk trying something new.

It is not always our first impulse to choose hope over fear. Obama has shown us how easily it can be done, and how good it feels to do it. He has chosen
to be openly hopeful for his country, to be the unapologetic target of cynics. Rather than mobilize its citizens with fear, he has given his country permission
to celebrate.

Hope is worth celebrating. In recent years, Edmonton and surrounding municipalities have proclaimed the first week of February to be Hope Week. The idea
came from the Hope Foundation of Alberta, a centre for hope studies.

Hope is a force that deserves respect. It enhances the work of counsellors and teachers and doctors and nurses and leaders. It changes the lives of patients
and students. It influences the actions of voters of all colours. Knowing more about the dynamics of hope helps us make better use of it. Talking about
hope creates hope.

During Hope Week we celebrate the difference that hope makes. We will go into Hope Week 2009 with the message that hope changes futures. We have an amazing
example of thinking, feeling, acting and relating to show us how it works.

Wendy Edey, director of counselling, Hope Foundation of Alberta, Edmonton

Friday, January 23, 2009


We were standing in the Hope Foundation reception area, Joan and Lenora and me, just chatting about Hope Week. Oh yes, Hope Week 2009 will begin on February 2, and there will be media coverage. After all, the purpose of Hope Week is to celebrate the difference that hope makes.
Talking about hope in the media is always harder than it seems. I never fail to be surprised at how much harder it is to discuss hope with a reporter than with a street person, or somebody who’s just been diagnosed with ALS. Maybe it’s because most media interviewers start with the premise that hope is intangible. Maybe it’s because we’re a little bit cautious, not wanting to sound like snake oil salesmen. Whatever the reason, we find it pretty easy to get lost when we start promoting Hope Week in the media.
At Lenora’s suggestion, we were looking for one simple idea, one eloquent phrase to keep us focussed. We were saying, “Hope changes lives,” and then, “Hope can change a future,” and then Lenora said, “Hope changes futures.” We stopped at that, pausing to reflect, wondering where to go from there.
The front door of Hope House opened, and there was Bev Carlson, in for an appointment, not with any of us. Oh dear, we thought. This looks bad, three of us just standing around chatting. It’s kind of normal at Hope House, where we truly enjoy each other’s company and learn together on a daily basis. But we don’t like to get caught in the act. We prefer to leave the public with the impression that we are mysteriously wise.
I don’t know Bev well. But I do have a lot of respect for her ideas. She once wrote a passionate letter about hope, a letter full of kitchen table wisdom that made us cry. Later she gave permission to reprint part of the letter in our annual fund-raising solicitation. So when she offered a warm smile from lips half frozen by the wintry blast I said, “Bev, I am going to say a phrase, and then I want you to say whatever comes to mind. Okay?”
She laughed. She knows I am a counsellor. Perhaps she was thinking of the word association tricks movie psychiatrists use to reclaim beautiful hysterical women from the crazy-making effects of long-buried memories.
I took a moment to gather strength, to imagine myself wise and resplendent, a paragon of wisdom among all the experts they call on to fill the endless hours of stuffy airtime on Newsworld. Assuming my most authoritative professorial tone I boomed: “Hope changes futures.”
Bev didn’t miss a beat. “Of course it changes futures,” she cried. She didn’t add, “That’s obvious!” But it was apparent that she had been expecting something a little deeper from an educated woman such as myself.
“And how does it change futures?” I asked.
“It makes people not give up,” she replied. “It keeps them going.” Then she gave us a few dozen examples from her own experience just in case we needed convincing.
Why do so many of us tend to start with the idea that hope is intangible, too fragile to stand alongside the facts? It’s not as if we have to choose between hope and reality. We can put them in the same sentence and still have both. Bev faces challenges. But her hope was as solid at the end of her story as it was when she walked through the door. And when she moved on into the meeting in the library that had brought her across our path, she left us standing there at the reception desk, hoping that Hope Week coverage will be a little simpler this year, daring to believe that it can.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


"Tell me about a time," says hope professor Dr. Denise Larsen, "when something was going your way, only you didn't know it." It's a hope cue, an invitation to remember an incident and then to believe that something you don't know about might be going your way at this very moment.

In October of 2006 David and I vacationed in Nashville after attending a storytelling festival in Jonesborough. I recorded the following on this blog.

We were walking toward to Saturday morning farmer’s market in Nashville Tennessee when a loud booming voice drew our attention.  It’s Abraham Lincoln,”
said my husband.  And sure enough, there was Abe, addressing an audience seated on folding chairs in the sun. 

 What a man he is!  Dead a hundred and fifty years and still riveting audiences, still making people stop their journey and sit down to listen! 

 And what was he doing there?  Well, defending himself I would say.  After all, he was speaking to a Tennessee audience.  Tennessee was not on his side
of the American Civil war.  And he was also spreading hope, inspiring it in the adults, enacting it with the children. 

 He told us how firmly he believed that the slaves must be freed, how painful it was to have so many of his wife’s relatives fighting for the south.  He
got out his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, and delivered it with such trembling passion that I had to search for a tissue because tears came
to the eyes of this previously disinterested Canadian tourist.

 Suddenly he changed pace and began to enact a message of hope to the children in the audience.  First, he encouraged them to stay in school so that they
might benefit from the best America has to offer.  Then he drew them from the audience.  To Emily he said: Ï hope that, in your lifetime, we will have
the first female president.” To Jim he said: Ï hope that in your lifetime we will elect the first African-American president.”  He also wants an American-Indian
president, but he thinks that might take one more generation.

 When he had finished, we left our chairs and resumed our stroll among the vegetables.  But his message stayed with us, grounded in the past, delivered
in the present, showing a hopeful way for the future. 

I will never forget that sunny Saturday, first because it left me hopeful, and second, because our imaginary abe was talking theoretically, hedging his bets. He was thinking about a far-off future. He was choosing the youngest people in the crowd and promising a black president or a female president some time in their lives. There was no mention that it could happen in just two years. Who knew? Who would have dared to publicly predict such a thing?

Sometimes things are going your way, only you don't know it.

Friday, January 16, 2009


So here I am, a staunch and loyal Canadian, doing something I never dreamed I would do, wishing something I could not have imagined wishing.
What am I doing? I am preparing exerpts from Obama’s speeches to present in a university class called Hope And The Helping Relationship. I will be using them to illustrate the points made in Eliott and Olver’s study of the discursive properties of hope derived from cancer patients’ speech. It seems an odd combination, I know, but the class will be taking place on inauguration day, and I can’t say I have ever seen a better example of the emotional, behavioural, relational and cognitive momentum that can be achieved through using a variety of word forms to make hope explicit. Hope is an adjective describing a noun: “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of Hope?” Hope is a noun. “It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.” Hope is presented as the emotion of hopefulness: “if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the
same hopefulness that I do -- if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine,
the people will rise …” Hope is a verb: “This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with
cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: yes, we can.”
Obama calls upon the temporal dimension of hope through stories stretching back hundreds of years. He enables the contextual dimension by placing his oratory firmly in the realm of current American politics. If you count out the charitable fund-raising campaigns and the pharmaceutical advertisements, it would be difficult to find anyone Who has ever made better use of hope. It’s the inspirational fire. It’s the multidimensional approach to the construct. It’s the perfect educational storm!
And what am I wishing? Well, as a staunch Canadian, it pains me to say it. This is atime of uncertainty. This is a time where the language of the leadership of my own country is the language of division, not the language of coming together. So here I am, wishing something I never imagined wishing. I’m wishing that I were an American, and only hoping to be a proud Canadian.
Mentioning hope, I have often heard it said that it is important to be realistic. This I do not dispute. But it seems to me that if you are faced with the need to be hopeful and realistic, and the challenge of placing one before the other, you can count on having them both if you start with hopefulness. For realism will follow hopefulness. Whether hopefulness will follow if you start with realism is open to question.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Today’s mail brings a note from Elizabeth Ellis, one of my very favourite storytellers.

I thought you might like to know that I am
a. doing a conference call for the NSN's Healing Story Alliance tonight and
b. doing a keynote for the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference in Utah in February.
The topic for both of these things is HOPE: Storytelling in Economic Hard Times.
In each I am going to talk about the importance of the artist in helping a community maintain Hope and how essential it is to think about that responsibility
in these financial hard times. Gonna ask folks to look for the blessing in our current situation and remind them that many of their listeners are grieving

Now there is nothing I would rather do than hear a presentation by Elizabeth ellis. My enthusiasm wouldn’t be dampened, even if it was a presentation about taking responsibility and being careful. Regrettably, I won’t hear this presentation, but it has got me thinking.

So here we go now, into a time of great uncertainty where so many people fear that the comfortable future they envisioned will be swept away by financial melt down.

And here I go now remembering so many conversations from my youth and young adulthood, proudly told stories By people who somehow lived
Through the Great depression.

And I wonder if the people who are grieving in 2009 would fine comfort in the stories about how people made it through the Great Depression.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


“Supposing,” I say to some university students whose opinion I value, “supposing you were an occasional professor teaching a hope class, a fairly small class in a fairly large classroom. And supposing you wanted the students to feel comfortable, and to get to know each other quite soon, and to talk to each other rather than always to you. Now supposing that this classroom is full of old-fashioned student desks, not tables and chairs. Would you move the desks into a semi-circle? “
“No,” say the students.
This is not the answer I had hoped to hear. I ask them: Are you sure?” They’re sure. They’ve got me on a technicality. They remind me that I said comfortable, after all.
It is the first day of class now, and I arrive early, about the time a nervous professor ought to arrive. Time enough, I think, to rearrange the furniture if I decide to do it, even though I have already decided not to do it, because I shouldn’t have asked for advice if I wasn’t willing to hear it. Yet this is a very large classroom, and I really don’t want students sitting in the corners at the back of a room in rows.
Like I said, I arrive early. Still, I have not arrived early enough. Two people are already in the room, and yes, they are registered in my class, and yes, they are sitting just where the most pessimistic among us would expect to find them, at the back of a classroom organized in rows.
"It’s a fairly small class,” I say. ”We’ll be talking quite a lot to each other. How do you think we ought to arrange the furniture?”
"In a semicircle,” says one, and then, as I take a step to pull a desk aside, “Can we help you move the desks?”
And that’s how the desks got to be in a semi-circle. Some things turn out better than expected.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Yesterday, when we were playing games after eating, discussing how many layers we would need to wear when taking Pirate for a walk, Margaret said she hated to go to bed because sleeping would end the Christmas holidays more quickly. Others might have thought this strange. I understood it completely. Christmas holidays are a friend of mine.
My love affair with Christmas holidays started long ago, perhaps when I started school, maybe even before that. And throughout my working career it has been my great privilege to be allowed time off around Christmas and New Year’s. My deepest sympathies extend to people who cannot choose to have time off. For them I would gladly permit the closure of stores, and I’d wish for wellness to cut the demands on hospital staff, and I’d wish for strong water and power lines to give utility workers the pleasures I’ve known.
Not everyone loves Christmas holidays the way I do. Others who have the choice say it’s good to work around Christmas and New Year’s. You can get a lot done, they say, with so few people in the office and the phone not driving you crazy. You can get more value for your days, they say, because the powers that be are apt to close the place down early. The logical side of me understands these principles completely. Still there’s nothing logical about my love for Christmas holidays. The experience is unabashedly emotional. So emotional is it that, even though I love working, I start looking forward to Christmas holidays—well, some time in October at the latest.
It’s the mornings I look forward to, dark mornings when the outside lights come on at 6:00 with the automatic timer, brightening our bedroom, and I hear Pirate barking at the newspaper delivery, then turn over to pretend it isn’t really morning yet.
It’s the afternoons I look forward to, walking Pirate in the sunshine. Can it really be –30? Feels like –28, or maybe even –25. It’s the evenings I look forward to, night after night of socializing with family and friends until I think I just cannot stand one more dinner, and then there is yet another dinner. There’s the presents on Christmas morning, and whatever happens New Year’s Eve, and the Boxing Day leftovers. I love it all.
Don’t misunderstand me. Christmas holidays are not perfect, in fact they are far from it. But this is the season when, despite the war and tragedy that annually occupies the newscasts, things seem somehow fixable. There is family tension, always family tension, but there is also good will to mitigate the worst of it. There’s over-eating, so much over-eating, and there are good intentions for weight losing in the new year. There is game-playing, all kinds of games, with a lot of game-losing to help build character. There is cold weather, usually cold weather anyway, and doesn’t that promise to stop the pine beetle from reproducing?
Oh I love Christmas holidays! I’ve tried to explain how much I love them, but Margaret said it better than I ever have. Is it any wonder that Margaret and I just want to stay up, to savour every last hour, even though we really like to work?