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 it wasn't 'saveable', and i was full.

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 and promoting peace and inclusivity in my own life, enough?
because truthfully, i'm at a loss for words (and actions).

what can i do? what can we do?

Monday, July 31, 2017

i had my saturday morning all mapped out. like literally. with bus routes and everything.

only, things didn't go as i planned.

i headed to main and bovaird to get my housemate (well, us) some of our favourite coffee when i noticed a first choice there. (getting my hair cut was on my agenda any ways, only i was unaware of this very particular location at the time).

now, let it be said that i loathe small talk. especially when it involves me sitting in a hairdresser's chair with no escape route. (and when the other party is holding me hostage with a sharp object or talking through an extremely hot blow dryer).

only, this time was different.

angela, though well in her fifties, decided to quit her job at first choice and 'try something new'. she is heading to sri lanka for a few months as i type this, and then returning home to do just that.

"it's never too late for change", she said.

she wasn't only inspirational and wise, but warm and kind, too. once in a while she'd stop cutting my hair long enough to compassionately place her hand on my shoulder as she spoke. i knew in those moments especially that i had landed in the right chair.

a friend actually gave me the money to get my haircut (either i have great friends or my hair was an embarrassment to them) so i tipped her nicely and wished her well before leaving her soon to be old workplace with an extra skip in my step. "it's never too late for change", i thought as i carried on with my day. ('coincidentally', my friends and i had a similar conversation later that day, too).

rewind to the previous day when my coworker preached right at me in the staff room. and by preached at me i mean that she very gently spoke straight to my heart about not settling at my minimum wage job and 'using my gifts and capabilities to dream big'.

dreaming big requires change, and like i was reminded of this past weekend, it's not too late for either.

thanks, ladies.

"the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (proverbs 16:9).

Sunday, July 30, 2017

there's a hole in my heart, you see
but you cant see it when you look at me
because it's hidden down deep,
except when it surfaces with the occasional bleed.

the same can be said about you, i know.
because something along the way wounded you, too.
some days, you forget about it
but other days, it consumes you.

so if this is true,
why are you not more kind to me, and me to you?

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.