Tuesday, January 9, 2018

love your neighbour as ... wait for it ... yourself.


as in you.

as in, at the risk of sounding like the beibs, you need to love yourself.

you see, i love a part of me. i love the funny (well, really funny) side to me. the thoughtful, kind, generous, encouraging (okay, okay) part of me. most of me. but i despise the 'other part. the moody, impatient, angry me. the part of me that shuts down and withdraws; the insecure, scared little girl that pushes people away.

so what do you do with that? what do YOU do with that? (because i know i'm not alone in this.)

1. practice acceptance.

i need to learn to accept me for me. the whole package. the fact that i'm flawed and imperfect. not who people want me to be at times. not who i want to be, either. at best, i'm content and full of life. at worst, fragile and insecure.

2. say no to shame.

shame, defined as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour, is my go-to. i feel humiliated when i react poorly, bury myself in guilt, and withdraw. of course, the degree of this looks different depending on other factors (who i hurt or frustrated, how stressed i feel, how tired i am etc), but i walk through the same process every single time.

which leads me to next point:

3. give yourself some grace and try, try again.

sometimes this looks like not letting my brain trick me into believing that everyone is going to give up on me. other times, forcing myself to look people in the eye, be vulnerable, open up and have difficult conversations (which i suck at, by the way.) and sometimes, it means taking a deep breath and reminding myself of how far i've come, that God isn't done with me yet, and that i actually do have a lot of patient people in my life who love me enough to see me through.

having a hard time loving yourself at times, too? practice acceptance, say no to shame, extend grace to yourself and keep on trucking.

ps. did you see oprah's golden globe acceptance speech? remarkable. times appear to be changing - women are finding their voice which is amazing and true - BUT lets not forget that there are some incredible (and hurt) men out there, too. in fact, i know a lot of them.

"and when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'me too', again". amen.

oprah for president. (just kidding.)

Friday, January 5, 2018

remember 18 years a go when we all thought we were going to die because of Y2K? well, we didn't. (you may, however, still have a buttload of non perishables sitting untouched in our cupboards, and if that's the case, food banks have been low this year.)

in fact, all of those other days (and years) you never thought you'd make it through? you did. (look at you go!) and the same will be said about this year, too.

will it be full of challenges? sure. aches and pains. perhaps. but will you find the strength to endure? absolutely. you always do.

as you know, the end of the year/beginning of another causes us to reflect on the past, evaluate where we are right now, and make plans/set goals for the future.

(a look behind.)

instead of making 'new years resolutions' for the past six years, i have chosen/prayed for a word to focus on each year:

2013: ameliorate (to make better; this was a year dedicated to working on myself.)
2014: healing (i started to sort through my baggage, leave it behind, and heal.)
2015: purpose (to start to dream again and make steps towards it.)
2016: hope (turns out my mom passed away this year and i learned what it meant to cling to it.)
2017: reap (i reaped what i have sown.)

i can't help but reflect on those words and what they've meant to me as i sit here. some years were harder than others (which goes without saying), but others were absolutely amazing. like the one we just finished. 2017 was definitely one for the books. i flew a plane. one of my favourite people in the world paid for me to board another one so i could watch her graduate from university in texas. i proudly watched my younger sister walk the stage to accept her PSW diploma and walked a stage of my own to accept a medal in honour of my beautiful mom who donated an organ. i gained an adorable (no, really) niece and some great friends. quit my job to pursue my dream one and landed it. started public speaking again. met some great people. joined the staff of a great church in regent park. gained a family. and the list goes on.

(a look around.)

this year's word is 'rooted': to establish deeply and firmly.

rooted in the word of God. in community. self-love. regent park. in my role with youth unlimited. in life.

just typing these things makes me feel really thankful. and excited.

(a look ahead.)

though i have no idea what the future holds (who does?), i am confident that it holds good things. tough things. fulfilling things and surprising things. but really, really good things.

i'm excited to be able to hang out with my family in regent park more. to introduce them to more of my friends. move closer and help serve the community in new ways. lead bible study. learn and grow.

i'm happy i get the chance to invest in more youth. teach them how valuable and life-giving giving back to their community is. expose them to those on the margins of society. watch them put their phones down, connect, listen to stories, share their own, and realize how similar their stories are, how similar all of ours are.

i'm excited to get more opportunities to speak and teach and just as excited to be able to nurture my relationships this year. with myself. God. my friends and family. people i've yet to meet, but will.

...and so much more.

what are you looking forward to? let's make 2018 our best year yet!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

i got 2% in high school keyboarding class. not because that is what i deserved, but because my teacher, let's call her mrs. higher (because i deserved a higher mark) didn't like me. or my pranks (and make no mistakes, i played a lot of pranks.)

i wasn't worried about what my parents would think about my mark because they knew i could type. that, and my mom was aware of mrs. higher's hate for her innocent daughter (enter wink emoticon here); she actually had a run in with my mom once and it wasn't pretty.

but what got me was the fact that she gave me 2%. 2%?! maybe she was drinking milk at the time, i don't know. but 2% would indicate that i put in zero effort, had horrible attendance and possessed crappy typing skills, and i'm typing this blog at rapid speed thank you very much.

2% is nothing.

and neither is 6%.

i wrote a blog just over a month ago stating that i had hit the 25% mark in my salary raising for my role as project serve toronto team lead' with youth unlimited. i'm happy to report that thanks to close to forty incredibly generous donors, i have worked my way up to a whopping 34% - a 'measly' 6% away from my next goal.

as it stands now, i am able to attend a few meetings and training sessions and help plan and lead a team of students coming in from montreal this march, but helping me shoot up to 40% would mean that i can not only work more hours each work, but able to lead more teams and impact more youth.

but i can't do it alone (nor do i want to); the more people who support me (those are hard words for me to type), the more people who get to play a part of what we're doing in toronto.

would you consider helping me reach my (next) $3000 goal by committing to $30/month (or an amount of your choice) or by increasing this year's tax return by donating a one time gift?

if so, you can write a cheque (do they still exist?!), call our office, or donate through Canada helps [canadahelps.org - search youth unlimited (toronto YFC) - scroll down to donate monthly (or donate now) and under "apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity", click my name (number 09)] and BOOM - you're not only helping me, but several non profits and youth in the GTA and those on the margins of society.

any questions? holla for paula. i would love to sit down with you and chat over a glass of egg nog (i still have some) or a delicious meal.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

it's the most wonderful time of the year!

colourful christmas lights. beautiful music. egg nog chais. turkey. family. friends. immanuel: God with us.

as josh groban sings in polar bear express, "there's no time to waste - there's so much to celebrate!"

but for some of us, there's also conflict, anxiety and financial stress, and heartache.

no matter how hard you try, you can't avoid it. you're overtired from working so much so that your kid can get that toy he's been eyeing. you dread sitting across the table from your uncle bill. you miss your mom and dad.

i'm right there with you.

the key to getting through any holiday (or any day, period), i find, is to:

1. be intentional about celebrating the good.

i bought a cute elf sweater last week because it made me feel 'christmasy', and well, because i look cute in it (maybe i should take a sELFie?). i wrote and mailed over 40 heartfelt christmas cards to my peeps far away and am currently working on writing more for those friends who are near. i stop in at a coffee shop once in a while for my favourite christmas drink or hot chocolate and feel all the feels as i drink from a festive cup. i have been reading the christmas story over and over to remind myself that God is with us - with me - through it all, and the list goes on. want to get through the holidays? make a christmas 'bucket' list of your own and check it twice.

2. let yourself feel what you feel when you feel it.

start crying in the mall when you see that special gift you would have bought your mom if she were alive? let the tears flow. tired of uncle bill's banter? excuse yourself for a minute to get some fresh air. stressed about money? be creative with your gifts. better yet, be present; you ARE a gift!

3. make time for memories.

this one is big for me personally.

sometimes i just close my eyes and picture my family and i sitting at the table at the nottawasaga inn four days before my dad passed away. i can picture how happy he was even now and how loved he felt when he opened all of his gifts. 'operation spoil your parents' is what we called it; my siblings and i decided to 'forfeit' all of our gifts and just spend everything we had on our mom and dad, and am i ever glad we did.

if i close my eyes tight enough, i can put myself back there and feel his joy once again, and when i'm really lucky, i can even hear his voice.

two christmases a go, on the 21st of december to be exact, i got the scariest phone call of my life. my brother in law called to tell me that the doctors wanted all of us to get to the hospital as fast as we could because she wasn't going to make it. this was especially scary for me seeing as how there was a five hour drive (at the very least) in between us. "please don't let her die before i get there", i prayed. "please".

well, she didn't. in fact, in true linda castrucci fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me when i arrived. "i'm not dying in december, paula. everyone in our family dies in december".

and she's right, most of my family has died around the holidays (hoping we all make it through this one LOL), but not her. oh, not her.

as scary as it was, i'm thankful for that phone call because it enabled me to spend an extra few days with my mom before she passed away less than six weeks later. because she wasn't able to leave the hospital for christmas like we planned, we brought it to her. decorations, presents, funny hats and antlers, the whole works. we made it work, and it was beautiful.

if i close my eyes, i can picture that, too.

missing someone? close your eyes. you may cry, sure. i just did. but keeping our memories alive is worth it.

4. now open your eyes and look at the people you 'still have left'.

i honestly dont know where i would be without my friends and family (and friends who are family). love can't bring your loved ones back or fill the hole you feel at the time of year entirely, but it can help. it does help. take it from me - i made it through the past six christmases because of it, and i'll make it through this one, too. so will you.

"the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us")

and remember most of all, God is with us. He's with me and He's with you!

Monday, November 27, 2017

a girl i work with called me fat the other day. (well, technically, she referred to the other paula as the 'skinny one' when i asked her which one she called for, but it sure felt like it.) i looked at her in shock and asked her why she would say such a thing. she laughed. i told her it's not funny, and she laughed again.

a few minutes later, she went out of her way to aPAULAgize to me. her face said it all; she was embarrassed that this particular comment had come out of her mouth.

"thanks, ____. i still love you", i said.

she apologized again, i told her i forgive her, she walked away relieved, and a guest stepped in right away.

"you're a great manager", she said. "the fact that your staff find you approachable enough to admit when they make a mistake is a big deal, and the way you responded to that girl is an even bigger one. we all make mistakes and i sure wouldn't want someone holding something i did against me. good for you".

this got me thinking.

1. in the same measure you forgive, you will be forgiven.

"for if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. but if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" [matthew 6:14-15]

my guest was right and that scripture is clear; i would hate for other people (or more importantly, for God) to hold my crap against me, so i better be quick to let go of other peoples.

2. people are always watching.

i had no idea that one of my guests was watching the interaction between my coworker and i, but i tell you one thing, am i ever (extra) glad that i responded the way i did.

the choices we make (and the things we talk about) not only impact others, but reflect who we are and what we stand for, and i want to be known for one who remains approachable, doesn't let offence take root in my heart and extends grace, because well, the Lord knows how much grace has been extended to me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

"all homeless people are a-holes", he said, as he stormed into the kitchen.

not a great start to our week, i thought.

you see, a team from the states and i were serving at one of my favourite spots in toronto, st. francis table. minutes before starting time, i had divided them into two groups: front of the house (servers) and back of the house (coffee makers, dishwashers etc). this particular gentleman, lets call him david for privacy reasons, nervously volunteered to serve in the front.

that didn't last long, if you couldn't tell. it took all of five seconds for david to label every single 'homeless person' an 'a-hole' based on one uncommon and unkind interaction. (unfortunately, this isn't uncommon; we're all guilty of labelling people from time to time based on one experience or assumption.)

part of my role as project serve team lead with youth unlimited is to prevent this from happening by doing what i can to break down the stigma attached to homelessness through pre-trip meetings, various service projects, and post trip discussion ...

but i can't do it alone.

some of you know that in order for me to do this full-time (in addition to my role on staff at the church in regent park), i need to fundraise my salary (whose idea was it to put the word FUN in FUNdraise). thanks to a whopping 34 generous donors, i have hit the 25% mark and am able to work for youth unlimited for ten hours a week. (THANK YOU SO MUCH.)

the 'scary' part is, i have until january to make it to the 40% mark before they decide whether or not i can continue to work for them at a sustainable rate. the good news is, i am only $900/month away from my target, which, if you break it down, means that i would need 30 of you to commit to $30/month, my '30 @ $30'.

for $30/month (or a donation of your choice including one time/end of the year gifts), you will:

- get a tax receipt
- receive handwritten letters from yours truly
- have the assurance that you are being prayed for (though you don't have to give financially for me to do so lol)
- be investing in the next generation
- be helping me break down the stigma attached to homelessness and those on the margins of society
- help many non profits downtown toronto continue to do the same by providing the volunteers they need to keep going (ministry profiles coming soon), among other things.

so ... what do you say? will YOU consider being a part of my team?

if so, you can write cheques (do they still exist?!), call our office, or donate through Canada helps [canadahelps.org - search youth unlimited (toronto YFC) - scroll down to donate monthly (or donate now) and under "apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity", click my name (number 09)] and BOOM - you're not only helping me, but many, many others.

any questions? holla for paula. i would love to sit down with you and chat over a glass of egg nog or lunch.

Monday, October 30, 2017

what you see depends solely on what you look for.

a guy came into starbucks the other day looking for an outlet, but there weren't any tables left close enough for him to plug in his laptop. a young woman noticed and offered him her table. love is thoughtful and kind.

a lady showed up to our mid-week life group for the first time ever last week and became emotional during the movie we were watching. I went out to get her some Kleenex, only to return to find two of our group members surrounding her and rubbing her back. love comforts.

i haven't been at my best lately. feeling anxious and fighting depression. my housemates sent me a text asking if i needed any soup 'or anything' the other day, to which i replied, "more like some pizza. j/k". a few hours later, my friend Justin knocked on my door and handed me a piece of the pizza he made for dinner. love notices and reaches out.

a mentor of mine once told me that when possible, it was in my best intention to bring a friend with me to any ministry related events. i had a speaking engagement last week and asked a great friend of mine if she would come along with me and she did. love supports.

another friend of mine is graduating university this december. she called me the other day to let me know that she paid for my flight to texas so that i could be there to celebrate with her. love is generous.

a lady at the community dinner i help with on saturdays is quite sick. she can be quite demanding and moody at times - and truthfully, very needy and time consuming - but as i remind myself of each week every time i see her, love is beautiful and patient. (lord knows i'm not always easy to deal with, either).

it always protects.
always trusts
always hopes
and always perseveres.
love never gives up.

what you see depends solely on what you look for, and all i see is love.