Tuesday, October 17, 2017

my backpack mirrors my brain today; it's bright but full of clutter.

i had my whole day planned before i went to bed last night. get up early and make some oatmeal work on my life group talk for tomorrow. make an important phone call, write a birthday card and letter, blog, go to work, prepare for life group some more and so forth.

only i slept in. granted, it was only ten minutes, but those ten minutes threw me off guard.

a minute later, i received a text from my friend and housemate, justin, asking me if i wanted to go get some work done at our local starbucks. i said yes and immediately felt stressed.

the amount of time it took me to shower and make oatmeal stressed me out. so did the pile of dishes in the sink that greeted me, and the fact that the garbage men come tomorrow and i had to get that organized before i left for the day. not to mention packing a lunch and snacks so i don't spend money and eat crap, and trying to remember the million other things i needed to pack to ensure that i was set for the day and didn't forget anything (which i did, by the way).

and then i get to starbucks and my friend needed to talk (not complaining - this will always be a priority), my laptop wouldn't work, and i wasted a lot of time fighting with it AND a wasp that kept attacking me. and on top of all of this, i missed an important call and sent an unnecessary text (and beat myself up for it).

needless to say, i feel a little overwhelmed today, because, well, my brain is cluttered with so. many. unnecessary. things.

ever have one of those days? days when you feel you can't keep up and everything is going wrong? if so, you're in a good company.

BUT here is my advice to you - to us - this afternoon as i sit here and reflect on my chaotic morning:

keep the minor stuff, minor, and the major stuff, major.

those dishes in the sink? they can wait. that stuff you forgot at home? forget about it. the text you sent? you can't take it back. that wasp that's pestering you? kill it. (or trap it and set it free, wasp lovers).

you catch my drift.

instead, focus on the fact that you have a friend sitting next to you and that you were able to be present when he needed you to be. that your laptop eventually started working again and that you have a backpack full of things - or the biggest major of all (or at least, my biggest major): that bad days end, everything always has its way of working out, and above all else, God loves me (you) and cares about every single detail of my (your) life and is always by my (your) side.

i leave you with this:

"as Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named martha opened her home to him. she had a sister called mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. she came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? tell her to help me!”

“martha, martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”.

few things are needed - indeed only one.

keep the minor stuff, minor, and the major stuff, major, friends.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

i know i told everyone to call me FALLa starting today, but due to the sudden burst of beautiful weather this week, i just can't seem to retire my summer name, POOLa, quite yet.

i got out of the pool this morning only to notice a feisty squirrel staring down my cat. disclaimer: it's not my cat - it's my friend's cat; i don't even like cats, but the protective lioness in me came out when i saw that my my friend's cat was being hunted by a predator. like for real - i'm pretty sure i saw it it licking its lips.

but here's the thing. harper was oblivious to the fact that she was seconds away from being on the wrong side of the food chain. but i wasn't. i stared that squirrel down eye to eye as i blindly tried to untie harper's leash. and yes, she's on a leash. which is why i needed to swoop in and save her. she had nowhere to run.

would you believe me if i told you that this dumb cat (sorry, dan) hissed at me, her hero? that she was royally pissed that i was bringing her inside, away from the vicious, hungry squirrel? (i tried to tell her what was happening, but i don't speak cat). IS SHE NUTS? ;) (evidently the squirrel thought she was).

she's still mad at me as i type this, but i don't care. she's alive, and she should be grateful that she's alive. (you're welcome, harper).

all kidding aside, this got me thinking.

how many times have i thrown a hissy fit at God (or my parents or anyone else who loves me) for protecting me from something i couldn't see? a toxic job or disastrous relationship? exciting plans that fell through because i was needed somewhere else (i had planned to be in cuba the week my mom passed away) or because what i was about to get involved in (or with) wasn't God's best for me? you name it. (insert anything else you can think of here).

but as i was reminded of today, sometimes, just sometimes, there's a squirrel in the tree that you can't see.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

i started my new role as the community dinner co-ordinator at the church in regent park on Saturday and my heart could not be more full.

some would say that this has been in the making since i started volunteering back in November, but for me, it started a lot sooner than that. i can't help but reflect and see how God has had His hand in my life long before pastor jake (who, by the way, i am very grateful for) ever resigned.

in 2011, i was in a van full of people touring the ins and outs of Toronto when we came to regent park. I don't know whether it was the poverty I saw, the stories I heard, or the hope the people driving the van had for this community, but something stuck out to me about this place and only grew from there as I spent some time hanging out there with the salvation army that summer.

fast forward to the summer of 2016 when I couldn't get regent park out of my mind. unbeknownst to me at the time, a few months later i would end up reconnecting with a friend, who, just so happened to have just planted a church in regent park. i showed up a few weeks later to check things out and the rest is history.

i'm so thankful for this job, the incredible people i get to work with, and the community i get to serve, and am looking forward to loving, and learning, and growing as i serve in this capacity.

[part two : mcdonalds]

happy to report that as of today, i have been promoted to the 'guest experience leader champion' (how's that for a job title?), a new role that is being introduced to mcdonalds this week. i have a conference call with head office tonight at five to go over my new job description, but the jist of it is this: i'll in charge of training, coaching, and motivating all of the GELS in my store and responsible for making sure our surveys are being handed out and that our scores remain high.

i'm thankful for this job, too; for my understanding and flexible bosses, and the top notch crew that i get to work with!

[part three: youth unlimited]

my supervisor is having a baby in a few weeks and so i had the honor of helping her lead a team of youth from scarborough at the beginning of august so that i would know what i was doing when she goes on mat leave.

we led them through a poverty meal (which i blogged about previously), a street walk (which i didn't) and served alongside of them at a great place that provides meal for the poor downtown Toronto.

i walked away from that day and a half even more convinced that i was born for this.

here's the clincher, though.

youth unlimited requires me to fundraise my own salary and I cant do it without YOU.

at this stage, i'm getting paid minimum wage for up to ten hours a week for fundraising (usually ends up being about five hours a week with my schedule being the way it is), and am not able to work at my target 20 hours/week (which will be salaried income at the point) until i reach 40% of my target goal.

right now i am sitting at 17% (which i am so so so thankful for), but i did the math this morning which leaves me $1100 short/month.

if i break that down, that means i would need:

110 people to commit to $10/month
55 people to commit to $20/month
22 people to commit to $50/month
11 people to commit to $100 month

... and so forth.

i know this is a lot to ask - i barely make ends meet some weeks myself - but if you are interested in being part of a really great non profit/ministry (and a part of my kickin team), i humbly invite you to do 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 you're helping youth, those on the margins of society, and the organizations downtown Toronto that are making a difference every single day!

want to grab a coffee and talk further? holla for paula. i'd be happy to make time for you.

ps. pastors, youth pastors, and leaders, i'm also available to come and speak to your church or youth about urban ministry/hang out/whatever you need me to do. just say the word! (feel free to spread the word, too). thanks, peeps! :)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

i was standing at the bus stop minding my own business when an elderly man approached me.

"excuse me, miss" he said, followed by his toothless grin. "do you have a loonie so i can buy a soda? i found this food around the corner and i would love a pop to wash it down with".

i couldn't help by stare at his dirty, half-eaten container of food.

"i sure do", i said. (i don't always have money to give them, but i happened to that day).

he vanished into the convenience store behind me as quickly as i pulled the loonie out of my pocket.

a few minutes later, he ran up to me an extra skip in his step. "thank you, thank you, thank you" he said with the same toothless grin that blessed my heart the first time. i, too, couldn't help but smile.

you see, he asked for a dollar for a pop - and get this - he bought a pop.

not all panhandlers spend their money on alcohol and drugs, and this is just one story out of many where i have seen this firsthand.

but, let me pose a question here - so what if they do?

don't we use drugs, alcohol, sex, netflix, food (enter anything else here) to cope with our pain? how can we expect anything less from them?

and better yet, does our responsibility lay within our willingness to give when we're able to, or in how they spend the change we place in their cups? (because if that's the case, we should probably stop tipping our servers at the restaurants we go to because a lot of their tips go right back to the bar after work).

addictions are real things, sure. and a small percentage of people are on the streets because of theirs. i get it. (but even still)

but not all are.

some are there because they fled from a level of abuse that i can't comprehend and their alternative is worse. others, because their job got outsourced and they couldn't find another. some because of mental illness, and others because of the family/societal structure they were born into and they can't seem to break the cycle. it's hard to break a cycle, after all.

now, let it be said that i can't possibly (and don't) give to every single panhandler i see on the street, and i'm not asking you to, either. all i'm asking is that you - we - challenge ourselves to break down the preconceived ideas and judgements that we have about why they're there and what 'they will do with the money we give them' and extend a little grace to a fellow human in need. if you have an extra loonie floating around, say hi and hand it to them, and if you don't, make eye contact and say hi any way.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

her body lie face down in the small space between the toilet and the wall where she strategically placed herself in hopes that no one would notice her. on the change table above her lay 3/4 of a bottle of vodka, house keys, and a ball cap, and on the floor directly below that, her cell phone, which, as we could tell from looking at her lock screen, was being blown up with phone calls and texts from her concerned parents and friends.

it took me all of two seconds to realize what was happening here; this young girl - no older than 19 - tried to end her life in a stall where i work, and my heart sank as low as the ground she placed herself on as i watched two of my managers try to wake her up.

thankfully, thanks to a concerned customer, quick thinking staff, and educated paramedics, there was a happy ending this particular story, but that isn't always the case.

according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages 10 and 24 and accounts for 24 percent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds in our nation.

that's twenty-four percent too many.

i remember the pressures that came with being a teenager quite well. the longing to fit in and peer pressure and depression. the pressures of balancing homework and a social life, and let's not even mention the infamous 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' question that had the ability to send you into panic mode.

and yet, youth have it much harder now than i ever did. the pressure to fit in has increased tenfold. drugs and alcohol are more accessible than ever before. the pressures of being in a relationship has changed, and social media, quite frankly, has changed everything; the amount of followers you have (as well as the amount of likes you get) is what determines your worth.

it doesn't, of course, but that's what they believe.

for over 65 years, Youth Unlimited has been imparting God’s love, truth, and hope to young people from all walks of life regardless of race, faith, economic levels, or cultural background.

we believe that an individual’s life is shaped by a number of facets that influence who they are as a whole: physical, emotional, spiritual, social and intellectual, and aim to develop each of these areas through relationships so that every youth may reach their full potential, and i get to be a part of this exciting organization as the project serve toronto program lead.

for those of you who don't know, we, at project Serve, organize and facilitate local and international service projects, providing youth with a life-changing experience as they encounter and serve those living on the margins of their communities. here, we provide pre-project training that is designed to enrich students’ understanding of poverty and injustice, as well as introduce them to the culture in which they will be immersed. through their experience with project serve, youth will be inspired to find ways to serve as catalysts for change in their own community when they return home.

our vision? transformed youth transforming their city.

i wholeheartedly believe that the few things that helped me get through my teenage years (mentorship (someone who believed in me) and opportunities to give back) can help the youth of today, too, and i believe that it's my duty to give back myself and do what i can to help them navigate their way through this difficult season of their life.

but, i cant do this alone.

youth unlimited requires each of their staff to fundraise their salary - something, i'll have you know, i am very uncomfortable with - and as i type this, i am sitting at the 13% mark (and grateful for every single penny, and every single ounce of encouragement and support behind it!), but i cant start working at full capacity until i reach 40%.

Would YOU consider being an integral part of my team by supporting me prayerfully and/or financially? would you consider praying for me continually? sending a cheque (what are we? 85?), arranging direct deposit, making a quick phone call into out office or donating online at www.canadahelps.org? (search for Youth Unlimited (Toronto YFC) and then click my name when it asks if you want to "Apply your donation to a specific fund"). all donations are tax receiptable.

of course, if you have any questions about the above, youth unlimited, or my role in it, i would be happy to arrange a skype or phone call, or even better, a coffee or lunch date. as busy as i am, my calendar will always make room for YOU.

whether you are able to give or not (i know how difficult it can to be able to make ends meet), let's do what we can to help the young people of today feel valued and accepted, because, one, they are, and two, the world will be a much better place when they believe it!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

fall is my favourite.

the pretty colours and crisp air. thanksgiving. pumpkin spice lattes. (my mouth is watering just thinking about it.)

of course, there's a freshness to this time of year, too. for some, the start of a new school year. for others, a fresh start and new beginning, and for me, a time to step into my new role at the church in regent park.

come on a quick trip to the past with me to the summer of 2011. i was amidst a car full of people participating in a tour of toronto when we drove through regent park, toronto's oldest public housing project. known mostly for poverty and crime (especially) back then, i was intrigued, and thanks to the salvation army, i was able to get to know that community a bit better that summer.

but, even still, i never expected to play a small role in seeing it develop years later. (what you are a part of is always bigger than the role you play.)

now fast forward to the summer of 2016. i don't know how to say this other than the way i am about to say it, but i couldn't, for the life of me, get regent park out of my heart; i kept thinking about it and praying about it, reading up on it and brainstorming ways in which i could get involved it the community there somehow.

a few months later, i reconnected with an old friend, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, just so happened to be a part of a church plant there!

needless to say, a few weeks later, i headed to Toronto to check things out.

i remember walking into the community centre for the first time as if it were yesterday. there, hundreds of people were seated (and in line) for a home cooked meal, and some, for clothes.

i was directed to pastor jake, the community dinner leader, and got to learn about his heart for the community. i met countless others, too, who have lived there and/or have been coming to the dinners for quite some time. so many people. so many stories.

i looked around and saw people of different cultures and race, backgrounds and class.

in one chair, a new immigrant sat. in another, a woman born in toronto.

some had jobs, others didn't.

one man wore a dress shirt. another, a ripped (or shall i say 'holy?) one.

and my absolute fave, an intoxicated man sitting at the back of the voluntary post-dinner service who decided to stand up in the middle of the message and serenade us with the best rendition of O Canada that i've heard in a very long time.

but here's what stood out to me the most.

the pastor (my friend i mentioned above) didn't try and stop him and neither did anyone else; this particular anthem singer, hilarious 'interruption' and all, was welcome at the church in regent park. i was welcome at the church of regent park, and it took me all of five minutes to see how well i fit in there and how quickly i felt at ... home.

nine months later, i can honestly say that my heart has only grown bigger and bigger and more in love with regent park. what started with a small seed being planted in my heart during a tour of toronto in the summer of 2011 has blossomed into so much more, only i was oblivious to just how significant this very seed was back then.

you see, a few weeks a go, pastor jake announced his resignation as the community dinner co-ordinator and i was asked to fill the position.

i am both excited and honoured to report that as of september 16th, i will be giving leadership to the several churches and volunteers who so generously give of their time each week to make sure that that our friends in regent park are fed physically, emotionally and spiritually, as well as leading a mid-week life group in the core of their community starting a week later.

so ... here's to a new season, friends. a season of purpose and growth, full hearts and rich (in the best way possible) lives. the best is yet to come!

ps. for those of you asking, i still hold both my 'project serve Toronto team lead' position with youth unlimited (still in the fundraising stage - more on that later) and my guest experience leader role with mcdonalds here in brampton, which i plan on keeping until i move closer to regent park.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

picture this.

you and your friends are sitting at the dinner table enjoying a full course meal. caesar salad with all the fixings. pasta oozing with sauce that has been simmered for the perfect amount of time. succulent garlic bread. and warm (yes, warm) cookies and ice cream to top it all off.

but, there's a catch.

on the floor next to you is another group of people. they're eating dinner, too. only they're not eating a full course meal; they're eating half a bowl of rice with their hands, and washing it down with a cup of tap water.

seems weird, doesn't it? that you would be sitting at a table eating a home cooked meal while others are sitting on the floor next to you eating rice?

welcome to the poverty meal; an activity that my co-leader and i ran last week with a group of students from scarborough.

even though i was considered 'rich' that night (a meal i couldn't seem to enjoy, by the way), the debrief was hard for me. listening to how the group felt sitting on the floor, eating rice, and even worse than that, the divide they felt because of some of our comments (the other leader and i were told to say certain things, though we got carried away). it was hard to see that their feelings were hurt. in fact, it angered me. it angered me that i have plenty (something i am equally as grateful for) and that others don't.

sure, it was only an activity - the ones who pulled a 'P' out of the hat got to go back to eating whatever they wanted the next day - but for some, this isn't an activity, it's their reality.

even still, i've thought about this meal every time i have eaten since. it's helped me portion my food better, think about the money i spend on it, and caused me to feel sick to my stomach when i threw half of my meal away the other day because i was full and it wasn't 'saveable'.

i have more questions than answers as i type this.

is educating youth about poverty through youth unlimited or handing out water through operation hydration enough? is helping run a community dinner every Saturday in regent park helping? will a bridge between the rich and the poor ever be built like i believe God intended? and the biggest question of all, what more can i do?

admittedly, i've become numb to a lot of things happening in the world today. ashamedly, most things don't affect me or surprise me as i scroll my twitter feed anymore.

the event in Charlottesville, however, was different. i felt angry and heavy hearted, and still do.

but again, what can i do? is posting a facebook status necessary or even helpful? is doing a heart check and making sure i hold no prejudice of my own, along with praying or promoting peace and inclusivity in my own life, enough?

truthfully, i'm at a loss for words (and actions).

what can i do? what can we do?