Thursday, July 20, 2017

they say the way into a man's heart is through his belly.

well, i've recently learned that making your way into a youth's heart is through a jr. chicken.

as mentioned in my previous blog post, i had been wrestling with finding balance between 'disciplining' certain kids that come into my work, and extending grace. i've since adjusted my approach, changed my way of thinking, and started praying for ways in which to connect with them.

as i was praying one day, i pictured myself placing a tray of jr. chickens in front of them and letting them know how much i believe in them.

but where do i start, and who do i buy jr. chickens for, i wondered? (i am not rich).

the other day, a kid came up to me, asked me if i was a manager. after telling him that my job description was "to connect with people and make them happy", asked me if i would buy him a jr. chicken. like who says that?! (if that wasn't a sign, i don't know what is).

i bought four. one for him, and one for each of his friends. they were ecstatic! i told them i believed in them as i set the tray down like i had envisioned, but truthfully, i don't even know if they heard me through all of their thank yous.

i walked away feeling really encouraged and excited about life. i know that God doesn't answer every prayer (not with a yes any way), but is it ever fun when you see such a clear answer to one.

or two.

before i go into work each day, i pray that i would connect with the right people, that God would show me who needs encouragement, or a good laugh, and who needs to be left alone. (i can usually figure out the latter myself LOL).

last week, i prayed just that (and that God would start opening up doors for me to able to use one of the gifts he's given me: public speaking).

the next morning, as mentioned in one of my most recent facebook statuses, a young gentleman came up to me and asked me if i would come to the group he runs on sundays (which turned out to be a great church) and share the importance of being welcoming with his group. again, knowing what i have been praying just the night before, i couldn't help but chuckle.

this past sunday, he arranged a ride for me. (we don't waste time). turns out i knew the two girls who picked me up, too. one is an uber eats driver who frequents my work, and the other, the daughter of a mom i used to have tea with every Monday when i lived across the street from her. it's a small world, after all. (is that song stuck in your head now? - you're welcome).

i'm not sure where this whole opportunity will lead, but i do know that i felt encouraged when i left there on sunday, made some great connections, and got a job offer worth considering.

speaking of job offers, i have a really exciting announcement to make butttttt you'll have to wait for a few weeks to hear it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

there's a fine line between discipline and grace.

before working at a youth homeless shelter in edmonton, i was all about the grace. who cares if 'they' break the rules? they need love!

but now, it seems as though i've made my way on over to team discipline.

there's a group of youth (two main ones, actually) who come into work all the time and cause a ruckus. and by ruckus i mean acting like they own the place; cussing at high decibels while there's kids around, opening packages of sweet and sour sauce just to flip them upside on our furniture, throwing garbage at each other and soda at other guests. (true story). most wont even acknowledge me when i say hi, and 99.9% of them leave their garbage on or under their tables, and truthfully, I WANT TO SNAP EVERY SINGLE TIME.

but i don't. because i'd lose my job. and even worse than that, i'd be adding my name to the list of people who act on the frustration they feel towards (some of) 'the next generation', and truth be told, i don't want to be on that list.

i do, however, want to be on a different list; a list of leaders who have an unshakeable belief in a young person's potential no matter how poorly they act, and a list of adults and mentors who extend grace when they do.

is discipline necessary? absolutely. should a student (or anyone, really) be kicked out of an establishment for being disrespectful? for sure. but should they be blacklisted? i don't think so.

of course, this whole thought process stems from a few events that happened at work this week.

a few of 'these' kids came in the other day, and truthfully, as soon as i saw one of them, i wanted to do everything i could to 'make sure that he paid' for the mess he left the day before. (and by make him pay, i mean keep my eye on him and make sure he cleaned up his mess today). within minutes, he and his friends were throwing pop bottle lids at the tables next to them. seeing this, i approached them calmly and asked them to stop. a few minutes later, i see another lid fly by. this time, a lady got up to address them as i gave them a look. then boom - another lid. LIKE HOW MANY POP LIDS SO THESE KIDS HAVE. WE DON'T EVEN SELL POP BOTTLES. i went over there and gave it to them. (and by gave it to them i mean raised my voice a little and told them that if i have to kick them out they're never coming back on my shift). "miss, it wasn't me", one said, as he pointed to his friend who nodded his head as if it weren't him either. "i don't care which one of you it was", i said, before giving them a speech about being associated with who they hang out with. i walked away feeling good (and powerful). I'MA SHOW YOU WHO'S BOSS.

later on, however, i felt like a tool. not because i stopped them from throwing lids around or gave them a heartfelt pep talk, but because i said that they wouldn't be welcome back if i had to ask them to leave that day, because, well, there's a fine line between discipline and grace.

another group of students came in shortly after, and i decided to take a different approach - a proactive approach - and it worked. (sometimes the best thing to do isn't to try harder, but to try different).

later that day, another group came in - hung out long enough to make a huge mess and proceeded to leave it behind - until one of the girls made eye contact with me and very quickly went back to the table to clean it up. "thank you", i said in front of her friends when they came back and asked why she was 'doing that'. "you give me hope for young people today", i said, (or something just as cheesy), while looking her right in the eye. later that night, she came back, smiled at me and gave me a high-five, and you know something, that felt way better than telling the other ones that they'd have to throw their lids around elsewhere.

as for me, i'm working on my balancing act and trying to get better at this every single day by reminding myself that behind the inappropriate behaviour lies a big fat why. (there's always a why).

truth be told, at the end of the day, discipline is necessary, but grace is life-changing. (i know this because it changed mine).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

what if i told you that $20 a month (or less/more) could help in three significant ways?

well, it can.

a monthly (or one time) donation will:

1. help invest in youth and help inspire them give back to their communities.
2. help breakdown the stigma attached to homelessness.
3. help me do what i was put on earth to do.

a few months ago, i was hired on as the project serve toronto program lead with youth unlimited, an organization that has been investing in youth across north america for over 65 years now. one of the (many) unique things about youth unlimited is that each staff member is required to raise their own salary. (and can't work at all until they reach a certain percentage of it).

now, let it be said that i struggled with this at the beginning (and still do some days if i'm being honest), but have since changed my mindset about such a process. i am not begging for money, i am merely inviting you to be a part of my team.

let it also be said that i can't even escape a grocery store without a cashier asking me if i would like to donate to such and such a cause, or hit the corners of downtown brampton without some overly eager young person putting a picture of a cute orphan in my face. i realize that there is great need everywhere, and we can't give to every cause and every one. (this has been true in my own life).

but, for those of you who have a heart for youth, those stricken with poverty, or just plain love me (a lot), i have included a little more detail about my position and what led up to it in bold below:

The whole trajectory of my life changed that day.

Here I was sitting in a homeless shelter with a 45 year old man named Cecil and a middle-class teenager from Wichita, Kansas. At first, we did what any strangers would do - we made small talk about sports and the weather - but minutes later, the conversation shifted when I asked him about the tattoo on his neck. "That was the year my wife was born, and this”, he said as he choked up, “was the year she passed away”. He spent the next few minutes reliving the dreadful day where his life changed forever because of a tragic car accident.

Like many others, Cecil found comfort in the form of a bottle. In an attempt to numb his unimaginable pain, he eventually spiraled, losing his job, his kids, and lastly, his house, causing him to become yet another ‘invisible fixture’ on the city's cold and lonely sidewalk.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Ashlea had lost her Dad in a tragic motorcycle accident only eight months prior, which enabled her to connect with Cecil’s heartache in a way in which I was unable to do at the time. Needless to say, both of them left feeling a little less lonely that day, and I left changed.

You see, I’ve always known that I was called to mentor youth, and ever since an internship in Vancouver in 2003 (and several jobs within the social sector since), I’ve been determined to do what I can to break down the stigma attached to homelessness, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to connect the two until that particular morning; The connection I witnessed between my two favourite people groups that day gave my dreams a face. I have been on (and have led many) of these trips since and have seen firsthand how life-changing they can be for all of those involved, especially the youth.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year when I came across an opening for Project Serve’s Toronto Program Lead Position with Youth Unlimited/Toronto Youth for Christ. I just about jumped out of my skin when I read the following blurb:

“Project Serve organizes and facilitates local and international service projects that educate and equip young people to love and serve God and others. Through pre-trip meetings and practical volunteer opportunities, young people are exposed to the realities of poverty and injustice and are encouraged to face these issues head on” ... and I, as the Program Lead for Toronto, get to spearhead these connections!

I’m super excited to be able to invest in the next generation, to serve alongside them in various organizations downtown Toronto, to help them process all that they’re seeing and feeling, and to help them bridge the gap between what they learned during their trip and what that looks like for them when they return to their own communities.

But, I can’t do this alone.

Would you consider being an integral part of my team by supporting me prayerfully and/or financially?

would you? would you consider praying for me continually? sending a cheque (what are we? 85?), arranging direct deposit, making a quick phone call or donating online at (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").

have questions about the above, youth unlimited, or my role in it? great! want to arrange a skype or phone call, coffee or lunch date? even better! my calendar has room for YOU.

ps. all donations are tax receiptable.
pps. there are perks to being on my team ;)

Monday, June 5, 2017

"we assume life will go a certain way, and then it doesn't ... and we find ourselves in a place we never would have imagined on our own. and so it was difficult, and unexpected, and maybe even tragic, and yet it opened us up and freed us to see things in a whole new way. suffering does that; it hurts, but it also creates".

suffering creates.

a few months a go, i spent the night in a waiting room in a hospital in london as my sister-in-law was giving birth to my beautiful niece, arloh. i won't go into detail - it's not my story to tell - but they (we) had a huge scare throughout the delivery process to the point where my brother wondered whether or not he was going to walk out of there a single dad, and yet, within weeks, my sister-in law was already talking about having another one. anticipating the result of her pain and suffering (her beautiful daughter) and the love she already had for her caused her to keep going and to keep pushing. suffering creates strength and perseverance.

there are days when i wish i never knew what it was like to wrestle with depression for half of my life, days when i wish i didn't feel this unshakeable loneliness, and days when i would trade anything (and i mean anything) in for the chance to hug my beautiful parents once again.

but here's the clincher. in hindsight, all of the above has made me a better sister, friend, youth worker, and person, period. because of the things i've been through in life, i'm able to connect with people on a deeper level; i'm a better listener and helper, i'm much more compassionate, and i know what to say (most of the time) and what not to say. suffering equips.

but most of all, suffering can develop a deeper appreciation for life.

i can honestly say that i'm the happiest, most at peace, and most content that i have ever been in my entire life. my parents gave me the gift of life, but in their death they gave me the greatest gift of all: a desire to live mine to its full.

the key, i find, is to be able to find a healthy balance between dwelling/processing/feeling, and choosing to get up and enjoy your life any ways.

do i let myself process the reasons i feel sad/depressed/stressed (enter any other emotion you feel here) and let myself feel it at times? absolutely (our feelings are valid and often point to something deeper), but do i let them paralyze me and stop me from living my life? not a chance. on these (very rare) days, i let myself feel what i need to feel for a short while and then i force myself to get up and do things that bring me life. go for a walk. spend time in chapters. watch a ball game. send an encouraging email or text. fly a plane. you name it.

and you know something? it works!

why? because suffering creates.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

if you know me well enough, or have read any of my previous blogs, you'd know that i've struggled with mental illness most of my life. (you would also know that i have worked my tail off to combat it, and that, thankfully, i've been pretty successful at doing so).

but sometimes, even now, depression and anxiety have their way of rearing their ugly head, like they have off and on for me the past few weeks.

perhaps it's because mother's day and my dad's birthday fell on the same week, and even though i distracted myself enough during both (and tried my utmost to celebrate them any ways), the underlining sadness i felt was unavoidable.

or maybe it's because i've been feeling really lonely lately, overly busy (to no fault but my own), and quite depleted as a result, i don't know.

but what i do know is that i've been able to get out of bed each morning and do my best to do what i have to do to get through the day, which is more than i could say years a go.

some days required a few extra deep breaths, some self-talk, and a lot of grace, but most days, it took me being intentional about looking past my own feelings and circumstances and doing what i could to ease someone else's.

truth be told, for one, life is hard and we really don't know what anyone else is carrying, and two, when it comes down to it, we can let our pain cripple us, or we can let it fuel us.

i write on tim's cups because i know how much weight the words we speak hold and how much of a difference a two minute (or even less) interaction at a coffee shop in a hospital can make. (i spent a lot of time in the hospital with both of my parents).

i make people laugh at mcdonalds because i know that laughter is distracting and healing.

i reach out in a practical manner when someone loses a parent (or anyone else for that matter) because i know what loss feels like.

i make a point of talking to people on the street because i know what it feels likes to be overlooked at times.

i spread kindness because it's rare and powerful.

i listen because i know how rare that is, too.

but i wouldn't be able to do any of the above if i hadn't walked through what i have walked through in life and refused/refuse to let it cripple me.

the truth is, our pain will not only provide the fuel we need to connect to others in theirs if we let it, but it can also help us find some purpose in our own.

how can you use YOUR pain for good today?

Monday, April 24, 2017

project serve toronto team lead slash fundraiser. guest experience leader. barista. volunteer. leader. friend. sister. aunt. roommate. these are the hats that i wear on any given day.(though i do my best to make sure that none of these hats define me, because they don't. and neither do yours).

it isn't uncommon for someone to ask me how i have so much energy, or if 'i'm always like this', in fact, a handful of people ask me this each week during my overnight shift at sick kids alone. and the answer to that question is no, no i'm not always 'like this'; i can be really, really, moody on mondays.

monday is my catch up on sleep (and sometimes TV) day. i often feel worn out and am not always pleasant. i hibernate, rarely make plans, and talk to a minimal amount of people. and sometimes, i even blog. I DO WHATEVER I WANT TO DO, because, well, it's PAULAday, and PAULAdays are crucial for my survival (and for my relationships).

if there is one thing i have learned through my parents' passing, it's this: life is fragile and is meant to be lived to its full (and we can't live life to its full if we're not taking care of ourselves in the midst of its crazy demands).

in the spirit of 'do whatever i want to do mondays', here are just a few things i do to take care of myself:

1. as mentioned above, i have a 'me' day once a week, which helps me focus, rejuvenate, and keeps me (relatively) sane.

2. i do things that i enjoy; i sit in coffee shops and read or write, and i watch baseball. religiously.

3. i keep my bucket list up to date (to ensure that i don't kick the bucket quite yet) and try new things, like exploring a new city or restaurant, or flying an airplane.

4. i eat fruits and vegetables like they're going out of style (or at least going bad), and drink a lot of H to the O.

5. i surround myself with really good people.

6. i encourage others, practice hospitality, and 'give back' to my community, which proves to be more life-giving than anything else on this list.

except for #7, that is: nurturing my relationship with Christ. i study the Bible, sing my little heart out, and keep the communication lines open, which in my opinion is the most important one of all, because, well, without number seven, numbers one to six wouldn't be nearly as fruitful.

what do you do to take care of YOU?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

i closed my eyes and saw a tree; a big, beautiful, and full tree. only this wasn't just any tree. this particular tree symbolized something.

the trunk represented the pain i was feeling at the time, having just found that my mom was going to lose her battle with cancer.

the branches represented my thought process through it all; the fear, the worry, the what ifs, the compassion i felt towards my mom, and the unfillable void i knew i would feel once she passed away.

and yet, my eyes were drawn to the roots.

at first glance, i saw the strong and unshakeable root from which i draw life and strength from: my relationship with Jesus, my anchor, the One who keeps me going in life, and keeps me grounded.

upon my second glance, i saw the few (unhealthy) things which i let take root in my life; seeds of insecurity that derived from my life-long battle with depression, my fear of abandonment, and the most crippling one of all, my unrealistic expectation of others.

and here's what all of this taught me.

there's a time to focus on our pain and a time process what we're feeling and experiencing because of it, but there's also a time for uprooting, because, well, no matter what your source of pain is at any given time, each root has its way of breaking through the soil and rearing its ugly head in the most inconvenient and unattractive way.

but how do i start digging, i wondered? and how do you?

by picking up the tools - in this case, a shovel - and putting in the work.

for me that meant finding a good counselor, retraining my brain to focus on the positive, saturating myself in the truth, reminding myself that people can only do so much, acting accordingly, and praying (a lot) to the One who can reach even the deepest part of pain, loves me even at my worst, and promises to never leave me nor forsake me.

and you know something? though it took a lot of hard work (and still requires work to this day), i really dig this whole digging thing, because it works!

i expect less from my friends, i no longer live in fear that people will leave me, and thankfully, even though my depression episodes are less frequent and less intense these days, i've come to accept the fact that this, too, is part of my journey.

today, a beautiful tree sits on the dresser in my room as a reminder of my healing process, the time i closed my eyes and first saw the tree and what each part of it represented, and all of the work i have had to put in to become a healthier me. only now when i look at this tree, i don't just see a big, beautiful, and full tree, i see a big, beautiful, and full life, and a heck of a lot of growth.