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, and all i see is love.

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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

there's different kinds of depression, you see.

there's the kind that comes with losing a loved one (either by death or breakup) or a job, financial or relational stress, unmet expectations, you name it. i call this type of depression circumstantial. though it can be deep and often hard to shake, you're aware of the source of it.

then there's the kind i fought this past week - the kind that creeps up on you and doesn't make sense. no matter how hard you try, you can't figure out what's wrong.

you have so much to be thankful for - you know that - and yet, your brain - no matter how hard you try and stop it - keeps highlighting your lack, and making crap up.

you're a failure.
no one loves you.
they're using you.
don't bother reaching out - no one will understand.
they have both parents. you have none.
they have a spouse and kids. you don't have those, either.
and you never will.
you'll always be alone.

that was my thought process more or less the past week. some more intense than others, some more frequent than most.

here's the thing - these thoughts are so damn irrational. i know that. that's why this kind of depression doesn't make sense to me.

how can something you know isn't true seem true?

a lot of you won't be able to understand this, i know (i can't even put it into words a lot of the time), but for those of you who do,

keep fighting. reach out. seek peace. lock yourself in your room and turn off the lights if you have to. take a nap. pray. write. pet a dog. hold a baby. go see a movie. spend some time outside. go for a walk. do what you have to do. just don't give up.

i'm not giving up - don't you, either.

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.