A Crucial Life Lesson I Learned From 500 Orphans

Most of us want our lives to matter…to make a difference. We want to make an impact on the lives of those we connect with, whether our families, friends or business contacts. And I think that is a worthy pursuit.

If you were to pause, and consider how you are doing what would your conclusion be? Go ahead…stop for a moment and simply ask yourself, “Am I making a difference in the lives of others? Am I using what God has given me for His sake and the sake of other people?”

I’m hearing the music of Jeopardy in my head as I wait.

While you’re considering the question, I’d like to suggest that while most of us do want our lives to count, one thing that can often get in the way is this…We believe that our impact will happen in the future once _______ happens. You can fill in the gap. I suppose there a hundreds of possibilities.


  • I have X amount of money in the bank
  • I get the promotion I waiting on
  • I get out of debt
  • I get healthy
  • I complete this project
  • The kids get to a certain age
  • The kids are grown and out of the house
  • I finish my education

When X happens then I can do Y with my life.

Have you ever thought like that? I know I have, and still do sometimes. Another way of saying it is, you wait until circumstances are perfect (as you perceive they need to be) before taking action.

It’s the idea that you will accomplish something with your life, but only after something in the future happens. But here’s the problem. If our dreams, goals & ambitions are based on what will happen in the future, they will never take place. Why? Because even if we do finish “that thing”  something else will come along to focus on. Then we’re right back to future thinking…and the present doesn’t really change.

It’s kind of like the advice I once received when considering marriage. If you wait until you can afford it or circumstances are ideal, you’ll never say “I do”

But what if there is an alternative?

What if, instead of waiting for ideal conditions to live out our potential, we decide to use what we have now in every opportunity we’re given.

In 2009 I had the privilege to visit Burkina Faso, West Africa. Along with a team of about 14, we spent 15 days living and working at an orphanage, home to about 500 children. We were there to work on a construction project…a security wall. But we also had the opportunity to interact with the kids, sit in their classes, play with them on the playground and watch them thrive.

During my visit, I learned something very important, something the kids already knew.

Near the end of our visit, our team watched the children put on a night of music and dancing. It was incredible to see them and hear them.

This particular night also happened to be my birthday and to be honest, I was missing home, missing my family and wishing I with them.

And without any warning, all of sudden, in the middle of this concert, the children began to sing happy birthday to me. I don’t know if you have heard 500 African singing, up close, but it was the most incredible gift ever. I was caught off guard as I stood in front of this amazing choir. (I’m sorry for the poor iphone 3 quality)



Tears were pouring down my face as I listened to all these beautiful children…children who were orphans, who ate rice at every meal, who were up at 5am every day and at school from 7am-5pm, who had nothing to their name, but a few clothes and books. But they blessed me in a way I will never forget.

Here’s my point. These kids had very little, but they took the opportunity and used their voices to make a difference in my life. They used what they had and made a difference. They didn’t wait until their circumstances were better, they just used what they had and did something…they took action and did something.

That’s the point. If you wait for Y to happen before doing X, you may never do X. Instead of waiting for ideal circumstances, just use what you have in the the opportunities you are given.

You may think that a group of kids singing happy birthday is insignificant. And maybe that’s our problem. We think changing the world is for CEO’s or non-profits or world-renowned entrepreneurs. But maybe changing the world starts by doing what we can today, for the people we come in contact with…today.

I learned a lot from my these children and my visit to Burkina Faso, particularly this…our circumstances do not have to dictate how we live our lives…we don’t have to wait until our lives are “better” before we impact others with it.

“We don’t have to wait until our lives are “better” before we impact others with it.” 

Q. Have you been so focused on the future that you have missed todays opportunities?

Q. What can you do with what you have to improve the life of someone else?

Are you looking to make some changes? Life coaching can help. Contact me to arrange an initial free 30 minute Discovery Call. Let’s talk.


A Relationship That Changed My Life…And Can Change Yours Too

I can look back over my life and identify numerous people who have had an impact in my life. My parents, colleagues, close friends and mentors.

Keith is one person who stands out for me.

We met 36 years ago…I was 14 and he was the guest speaker at summer camp. He was also the leader of my cabin (I suspect, because no one else wanted me). It was an uneventful week really, but I thought he was alright…as old people go. He was 8 years younger than I am now.

Someone’s Knocking At The Door

The following year, Keith came on staff as youth pastor at my church. A church I had grown up in with my family.

I remember the first time we were reunited, just over a year after meeting at camp…it was 4pm on a Thursday afternoon and Keith was at my front door.

I was not impressed.

I was not hospitable or engaging…Keith came inside but I don’t remember saying anything other than, “What do you want?”

By all accounts it would have appeared to be a non-starter as far as a potential relationship was concerned.

You see, by this time, I had essentially turned my back on my faith, my family and started down a self-destructive path.

When I finally got Keith out the door, I figured that was the end of that. But the next Thursday at 4pm Keith showed again…and the week after that, and the week after that. I wasn’t sure what motivated him to do it since I certainly wasn’t inviting him.

But slowly, after many awkward visits, things slowly began to change…I actually looked forward to his visits and a friendship of sorts began.

Within a couple of years Keith moved on to another ministry position in British Columbia, but not before we forged a bond that has stood the test of time. About 36 years now.

Over that time, our relationship as morphed from pastor/ troubled kid, to father/son, to colleagues in ministry.

Throughout, Keith has been a mentor to me. He has modelled so much and I have learned so much from him. He has influenced me as a parent, a pastor and husband. He has modelled a strong work ethic, integrity, faithfulness and perseverance. He has taught me things without saying a word.

For example, he never said, “Stop doing this or that.” Even though I was doing many things that I needed to stop doing. He taught me to believe in, who people can become, not just who they are. To love who they are becoming regardless of where they are at.

He modelled who God is…patient, loving and full of grace. Keith would tell tell you that I was the meanest kid he had ever met in his life…and as a youth pastor he had met thousands. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing me and loving me at my worst, believing there was something better ahead.

I’ve been visiting Keith at his home in Ohio over the past few days doing what we do best…talking and drinking coffee. I shared my story with the Jr/Sr high group on Sunday as well. Time with Keith is always refreshing, encouraging and life-giving.

Sometimes it’s still hard to believe how our relationship happened and how it not only survived but flourished all these years. Our relationship has survived hard times, long distances and various life changes.

The reality is, I may not be writing this blog, I might not be, period, if God hadn’t brought Keith into my life. I’m so grateful.

This past Sunday I spoke to a group of young people to talk about the difference between being familiar with who God is and having a personal relationship with Him. And that everyone needs a Keith in their life.

  • Someone who steps out of their comfort zone to engage you.
  • Someone who believes you are worth the effort to get to know.
  • Someone who believes you are more than your worst choices and current self.
  • Someone who sees your potential, even when it’s virtually invisible.
  • Someone who loves you, not for what you’ve done or not done.
  • Someone who is in it for the long haul.

“Most people can do absolutely awe-inspiring things. Sometimes they just need a little nudge.” ~ Timothy Ferriss

Q. Do you have someone like that in your life? If not, consider who that might be? Who is just ahead of you, someone you respect and would like to learn and grow with?

  • Pray about who that might be
  • Approach them to see if there is a potential mentor relationship there.
  • Set out clear expectations.
  • Commit to it.

Q. Can you be that person for someone else?

  • Who could you benefit from your life experience, wisdom and compassion?
  • Contact them and take them out for a coffee
  • Engage them and discover their story
  • See where it goes.

You might be the difference in someone’s life as Keith has been for me. What an awesome opportunity!




“Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”  Mother Abbess to Maria (The Sound of Music)

A Life Lesson From “The Sound of Music”…Really

The other day, I saw a Facebook memory from 7 years ago… a wonderful date I went on with my daughter Megan. We enjoyed dinner in Toronto then took in our first live production together, “The Sound of Music” at the Princess of Wales theatre.

Megan @ SoundofMusic

(Celebrating Megan’s 14th birthday)

In case you’re not familiar with the 3-hour musical…

The Sound of Music is a 1965 American musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film is about a young Austrian woman studying to become a nun in Salzburg, Austria in 1938 who is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer and widower to be governess to his seven children. After bringing love and music into the lives of the family through kindness and patience, she marries the officer and together with the children they find a way to survive the loss of their homeland through courage and faith. (excerpt from Wikipedia) 

People seem to love or hate this movie, but I enjoy the music, the story lines and the humour.

Though Maria is studying to become a nun, she takes on a role as the governess to seven children, then falls in love with the Captain. Guilt and confusion cause her to return to the abby where she hides from the outside world.

“Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”  Mother Abbess

Maria, was always a bit unorthodox as a nun and many including Mother Abbess were not convinced she was suited for a life “devoted to the Church”.  Convinced Maria is hiding from the life she has been called to, she encourages her to return to the villa, the home of the Von Trapp family and “look for her life there.”

Of course not before singing the following words…

“Climb every mountain, search high and low, follow every highway, every path you know; climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream, a dream that will need, all the love you can give, every day that you live…”

You were singing weren’t you. It’s okay.

The point is obvious isn’t it? We can either hide from the life we really want or we can go after it.

5 Ways You Know You’re Hiding From The Life You Were Created For

  1. You’re playing it safe. Maria, returned to the abby, not because of a desire to live as a nun, but to hide from what she really wanted her life to look like.
  2. You’re giving into fear rather than embracing it. Fear can stop us in our tracks…and Maria was afraid of the love she was feeling…assuming until then she would live the life of singleness as a nun. Fear caused her to retreat into the safety of the abby.
  3. You choose what’s familiar over what makes you come alive. Maria hid in her room but the familiarity of the abby only served to make Maria more distraught and unhappy.
  4. You ignore the input from those who have your back. Maria, was not interested in the insights from those around her who could see she was unhappy at the abby and had to pursue a different life.
  5. You routinely think about pursuing other things in your life, but you never take action. When was the last time to paused long enough to take stock of your life…Your relationships, your career, your finances and your core values. Are you living the life you were created to live?

Ultimately, Maria, left the abby and returned to the villa, was reunited with the children she loved and eventually got married to the Captain. She said goodbye to her old life to pursue a new one. Oh and by the way…though she was living the life she wanted, the family had to leave their estate and their country to avoid the Nazi regime. And it was still worth it.

Whether you like the Sound of Music, or not, a clear takeaway is that we can either pursue a life we really want to live, or remain stuck in comfort and safety. But you can’t do both.

“These walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”

Q. If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would do that you’re not doing now?

Q. Have you been playing it safe? What has been the result?

Q. If you could make one change today, what would it be?

Q. What is one thing you can do to move toward the life you were created for?

Are you looking to make some changes? Life coaching can help. Contact me to arrange an initial free 30 minute Discovery Call. Let’s talk.

The Power of Doing Nothing

The Hardest Task You Will Face Today

A number of years ago, I was sitting in my office looking out the window. A colleague knocked on the door and walked in and said, “Oh good you’re not busy…got time to talk?”


It’s hard to get away with doing nothing isn’t it?

Actually, while I appeared to be taking a break from “work” I was thinking about many things related to my work. In fact I would suggest that some of your best work is done when you are quiet and seemingly doing nothing.

But taking time to do nothing seems irresponsible doesn’t it.

When was the last time you just paused, took a deep breath and sat quietly and did nothing? That’s what I thought. I think it’s more difficult then ever to find the time and space to experience quiet.

Here are a few suggestions why…

  1. We value busyness over restfulness.
  2. We are never separated from our smartphones.
  3. We create “to do” lists that are longer than our grocery lists.
  4. We take on more believing our lives will be better for it.
  5. We fill our daily planners with everything except for quiet, unproductive, down time.

But what if doing nothing is in your best interest.

Many companies today–including Apple, Google, Nike, and AOL Time Warner–offer employees a variety of programs to help them find time to clear their minds, from meditation to yoga to stress reduction.

Why would some of the largest companies in the world invest in their employees personal well-being?

Doing Nothing Is Actually Doing Something

Okay, maybe you’re not convinced that doing nothing is actually in your best interest. Well, lets start with 6 reasons why you should reconsider…

Doing nothing…

1. Allows you to clear your brain and unwind. Constantly being “on” doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It’s an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time.

2. Helps to improve concentration and increase productivity. When you remove as many distractions and interruptions as you can from your day, you are better able to concentrate, which will help you get more work done in a shorter amount of time.

3. Gives you an opportunity to discover yourself and find your own voice. When you’re a part of a group, you’re more likely to go along with what the group is doing or thinking, which isn’t always the actions you would take or the decisions you would make if you were on your own. (This is also an argument against group work and brainstorming sessions but I’ll save that for another post)

4. Provides time for you to think deeply. Day to day responsibilities and commitments can make your to-do list seem as if it has no end. This constant motion prevents you from engaging in deep thought, which decreases creativity and productivity.

5. Helps you work through problems more effectively. It’s hard to think of effective solutions to problems when you’re distracted by incoming information, regardless of whether that information is electronic or human.

6. Can improve the quality of your relationships. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you desire in life, you’re more likely to make better choices about who you want to be around. You may also come to appreciate your relationships more after you’ve spent some time alone.

But as important as alone time and doing nothing can be, it is still a challenge to find ways to make it happen.

Here are some guidelines and ideas to get you started:

  • Schedule the time in your day. Make sure you are realistic in where the best place to schedule the time is. Don’t make it the first thing in the morning, requiring you to set the alarm earlier or the last thing in the day when you are too tired to really focus on doing nothing.
  • Start with 5-10 minutes. You’ll be surprised the difference it can make.
  • Get outside. Sit quietly by water or another peaceful setting. When I’m at our cafe, I often step out back to stand by the river and just listen. Feel the warmth of the sun
  • Silence all technology, completely disconnect. When was the last time you left your phone in another room, or left it at home on purpose?
  • Find a quiet and private place where you will not be disrupted, if this means in the bathroom with the shower running and the door locked, and then spend your 10 minutes there.
  • Sit by yourself.
  • Simply take notice of your thoughts. Where do they take you?
  • If you really struggle to truly meditate, just pretend, it totally takes the pressure off.
  • Just breathe
  • Listen to God. What is He saying?

So…the power of doing nothing…it may be undervalued in our culture but just 5 minutes a day can be the start to a better day.

Q. How about you? Do you take time on a regular basis to simply do nothing? Why or why not?

Are you looking to make some changes? Life coaching can help. Contact me to arrange an initial free 30 minute Discovery Call. Let’s talk.

12 Life Lessons From A New Small Business Owner

What I've Learned After 1 Year of Being The Boss

Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about things…things that you never tell anyone about? But you still dream and wonder…what would happen if?…what if it is possible?…what’s the worse that can happen? That’s often where the dream dies too. When we think about the unfavourable outcomes, they scare us back into reality.

Have you ever been there? Yeah, me too.

A year ago, Kathy and I made a decision to leave our jobs and open a cafe in Coldwater ON, a town of 1100 people. Yes, I think it was a risk. To some perhaps a great risk, even a bad risk. But we did it.


We just celebrated our first year at Em’s Cafe and I’ve been reflecting on what it’s meant for us to chase this dream.

I’ve concluded that the lessons I’ve learned so far as a small business owner translate into valuable life lessons as well. So here is some of what I’ve learned after 1 year in business.

12 Life Lessons From A New Small Business Owner

You can’t underestimate the value of wise counsel. We never would have made the decision to leave secure jobs and start something that we had no previous experience in, without the input and counsel from people we trusted. The small circle of individuals who guided us were invaluable, and still are.

Do you have trustworthy people in your life? They tell you what you need to hear not what you want to hear.     

Starting a business is hard work. This seems obvious, but I’m not sure if we knew ahead of time what it would take, we would be so anxious to do it. Perhaps a little ignorance helps. We have never worked as hard as we have this past year and it was awesome.

I’m reminded of the season 1 “Frazier” episode when he was about to engage in a street fight with Mr. Mann. It was broken up be for it started and as he makes his way into a cafe he says… “Dad, dad, did you see me? My hands are trembling, my chest is pounding, my mouth is all dry and my legs feel like jello…I feel great!”

Accomplishing something important to you will likely be harder than you could ever imagine…do it anyway. 

You can do more than you imagined. So many aspects of the cafe were new to me: bookkeeping, staffing, payroll, ordering food, dealing with customers and vendors to name a few. But you won’t know what you’re capable of until you start. You can never foresee all the tasks, responsibilities and challenges that you will face as a business owner, but you will be able to do more than you ever thought you were capable of.

I’m convinced that most of us never reach our potential; don’t let fear keep you stuck…don’t settle for mediocrity. 

Even when you love your spouse you may have fleeting thoughts of killing them. From opening day, Kathy and I worked together, 7-days a week for over 5 months. (In October I launched my life-coaching business which meant spending fewer days each week at the cafe). Working 70+ hours a week together week after week can strain even the best marriage. We’ve had our moments for sure. Thankfully the occasional thought to commit a felony against the other was dismissed as we vented, sometimes screamed, but eventually talked and resolved our differences.

Conflict is a means to greater growth and intimacy. Don’t avoid conflict, strive to do it well.       

Not everyone wants you to succeed. It’s true. Some people will be surprised if you succeed and some may hope you don’t. There will always be those who want to discourage you from pursuing your dreams. I won’t go into the reasons here, but it’s good to be aware. Use their cynicism as motivation. But don’t let them too close either.

Proper boundaries can protect you from those who want to harm you.  

The people you surround yourself with make all the difference. The cafe would never have happened without the support of so many wonderful friends and family. Everywhere we look in the restaurant we are reminded of them. The space is so personal to us because of who were involved. So many contributed in so many ways; selecting paint colours, painting, wiring, plumbing, creating menus, furniture and more. 

Who you surround yourself with can make all the difference between success and failure. 

Success is not defined by money. We have people ask us all the time, “Has the cafe been successful?” I suppose most are asking if the cafe is making money. Sure as a business you want to be profitable, maybe in the beginning , just paying the bills. But that kind of success will be hollow and unfulfilling if that’s your only measurement. Our vision, from the beginning was to create a meaningful experience for our customers through a warm atmosphere, friendly service and great food & coffee (especially the coffee) and to have a positive impact in the community. If we are doing that, then we’re successful.

Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” 

Our life is not about us. I was a pastor for 15 years, I’ve been a therapist in private practice, and I drove a truck for UPS before that. Now I’m a cafe owner and a life-coach. Each has been an opportunity to make a difference in someones else’s life. I may actually connect with more people as a cafe owner than I did as a  pastor?

Whatever you choose to pursue in your life, make it about improving the lives of others not your own. 

Generosity is contagious. We hopefully foster a spirit of generosity at the cafe. Whether a free coffee or lunch for someone in need, or a quiet conversation with someone who is hurting, you can never go wrong caring for others. Customers leave money with us to pay for others meals and we’ve seen other local businesses do incredible things too. To celebrate our 1st birthday this past weekend, about 10 Coldwater businesses teamed up with us to raise funds for the Men’s Lighthouse Shelter & Soup Kitchen, here in Orillia. It was incredible to see so many rally around a great cause.

You can create change and momentum by taking action and leading the way for others to do the same.   

You can’t do everything so do a few things well. Our goal at the cafe was to do a few things really well, rather than try to do a lot of things potentially with mediocrity. Even customers will ask for more; “When will you offer salads? Why don’t you sell bread.” My standard answer then is, “I’m not getting up at 3am to bake you a loaf.” Doing too many things can compromise what you want to accomplish.

Take time to consider how you want your life to look and don’t let other things crowd our the most important. 

Be clear on you you want to be. As a cafe we are not trying to be Tim Hortons or Starbucks, we’re trying to be the best Em’s Cafe we can be. Although I don’t mind when I hear our coffee is better than theirs. Is not about market share & profitability but about being the best version of Em’s we can be. Learning how to do that is a daily, on-going process.

Don’t try to be someone else. You’re not them, and you never will be. You are uniquely qualified to be you. 

So there you have it…12 life lessons that I gained from 12 months of being a small business owner. There are more to learn too.

Q. Did a particular lesson stand out for you? Why?

Are you looking to make some changes? Life coaching can help. Contact me to arrange an initial free 30 minute Discovery Call. Let’s talk.