Friday, February 23, 2018

i don't really know how to go about saying what i'm about to say in regards to something that has been keeping me up at night this past week, but i'm going to try and attempt to express my thoughts any way. (this is my blog, after all.) ;)

a lot of it is has to do with people's opinions, mind you. i mean, we all have them. but there's a difference between sharing our educated opinion in a respectful manner and spewing our pain and personal agenda onto others in a hateful and hurtful one. especially while using a public platform.

so, i'm going to practice what i preach here and assure you that the issues i am about to unpack in this (and my next) blog have been well thought out and researched, and will be done so from a posture of respect. (that being said, as always, i am open for discussion providing that this, too, can be done so in a respectful manner.)

i think we can all agree (at least 99% of us) that the shooting that happened in florida last week was tragic and preventable. why some teenager had access to a gun (although we all know why) and had the audacity to take innocent people's lives with it is extremely heartbreaking, and frankly, quite scary.

but the response that has come from all of this has left me feeling sad, too.

i get it. it's in our nature to point fingers in attempt to try and make sense of something (even when we can't) with the hope of coming up with the proper solution, but our approach is off when we start believing that social media debates are helpful and/or worth our time.

i'm speaking from experience here. i have spent more time than i'd like to admit reading (and rereading) my friends' facebook posts and scrolling my own twitter feed this past week, and frankly, this is probably why certain issues have been on the forefront of my mind as of late. but i can't be the only one being affected by this, and i surely can't be the only one thinking that there isn't only one solution to preventing a mass shooting from ever happening again. call me crazy, or even naive, but i believe that there are many things that played a factor in this tragedy and the 18 shootings that have happened in america so far this year, starting with the obvious: (lack of) gun control.

i don't live in america (thanks, captain obvious) and so my research on gun laws and such is limited to the several articles i've read and clips that i've watched, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that an AR-15 (or anything similar, whether it has a certain grip or folding stock or not) has no place in the hands of a mentally unstable teenager. or any teenager for that matter. or a 64 year old man hanging out of a hotel window in vegas. or a teacher in the name of defence. or anyone, really. (unless you're a soldier at war which is a whole other blog and not something i necessarily agree with, either.) so trying to eliminate semi-automatic rifles is a start; that florida kid (i refuse to put his name in print) wouldn't have done as much damage with a pistol or a knife. or (enter any other available weapon here.)

of course, lenient background checks play a factor, too. AND inadequate mental health care. AND the lack of thorough FBI follow ups and training. AND society's inability to be able to recognize warning signs and report them (there were many people in this case specifically who heard the kid say some really questionable things including expressing interest in school shootings). AND sometimes, video games/the isolation they can create, AND at times, so can poor parenting.

now let it be said that in no ways am i about to jump on the "lazy parenting is to blame here" bandwagon, in fact, reading through these types of comments infuriate me (especially this time around seeing as how this specific kid lost both of his parents within the last few years due to death, which could have also played a part in this), but at the risk of sounding like john lennon here, i do believe that 'love is all we need' and that the love and sense of belonging we (should) receive from our parents (in its various forms), the love that we share with each other day in and day out, and the unconditional love that i believe that God has available for all of us, is part of the solution.


that's the whole point to this blog, actually; there are so many factors involved in finding a solution and so many steps required for change.

so what do we do? (a question that has kept me up at night this week.)

if i'm being honest, i still don't know.

for some, it may look like getting rid of your guns like that new york man (scott pappalardo) did, changing your vote OR actually voting. (i'm not here to preach at you or to tell you who to vote for; my name may be paula, but i am not a pro when it comes to PAULAtics). for students and survivors like emma gonzalez, cameron kasky and david hogg, or fred guttenburg, one of the victim's parents, it may look like standing up to the marco rubios (florida's senator) and the dana loeschs (spokeswoman for the NRA) and demanding answers. to others, it may not look like anything at all; 'all we know how to do is offer thoughts & prayers" or write blogs ...

but for goodness' sake, people, can we please stop wasting our time and tearing each other apart on facebook and twitter and have serious, action-based conversations instead?

Monday, February 12, 2018

my program director called me into the office and passed me an envelope with my mom's handwriting on it. outside of a tiny 'alliston, ontario' on the top left corner, it had no return address, but i could tell it was from her.

confused as to why my director handed it to me, i looked up.

"just open it", she said.

inside this mysterious envelope was not only a $20 bill, but explicit instructions to 'give this money to a student in need". a paragraph later, it explained how grateful this 'anonymous lady' was for all the help other people had given her daughter (that would be me) that year and wanted to pay it forward. my mom was thoughtful and generous.

i had a teacher call me fat in high school. the minute i came home and told my mom what she said is the minute she picked up the phone and gave it to her. and by gave it to her i mean she pretty much threatened her life (or at least her teaching career.) my mom was feisty and protective.

but she was also softhearted; she hugged every nurse that helped her throughout her cancer treatment and hospital visits, including her family doctor minutes after he reluctantly told her that her cancer was terminal and that there was nothing else they could do for her. (i know because i was there and i can't stop thinking about it.) my mom was appeciative.

during her stay at the princess margaret cancer lodge, my mom would often galavant into the neighbourhood in between appointments. on her stroll one afternoon, she saw a homeless man diving through the garbage looking for food. "i took my wallet out and gave him my last $5", she said. "could you imagine having to do that?". my mom was compassionate.

not to mention selfless. she spent the last sixteen years of her marriage taking care of my dad as he deteriorated, 'forcing' her to sacrifice so many things (some of which i wouldn't even dare to write in this blog) to ensure that my dad never suffered alone. she pushed through the stress and 'burden' of it all with minimal complaint - even when it cost her her own health - proving to my dad that she stood by the vows she made on her wedding day and proving to my siblings and i that although love can be messy, it’s also durable. my mom exemplified sacrificial love.

and influence. i'll never forget reading a post a woman had written on her facebook wall the week she passed away. she recounted time after time when my mom's sense of humour and welcoming nature helped her overcome her battles with (school related) anxiety.

when i was young, my mom drove a school bus and she was great at it. even won first place in their annual bus driving competition. i remember that day so well, actually - just as much as i remember sitting in the front seat as a young kid as she drove around making her rounds - but what i don't remember, and would have had no way of knowing at the time, is how much of a difference she made in the lives of the students who boarded her bus each day. reading this particular tribute three decades later made me smile; my mom was a difference maker.

of course, she was one of the funniest people you'd ever meet, too. you couldn't possibly be in her presence for more than a few minutes without laughing uncontrollably and getting your ab workout for the day.

she was hilarious, thoughtful, generous, feisty, protective, appreciative, soft hearted, compassionate, influential, an example and a difference maker, and so much more, but today, above all of these things, on what would have been her 72nd birthday, she is fondly remembered and still worth celebrating.

happy birthday, mom. love you and miss you every. single. day. xo

Thursday, February 1, 2018

the phone rang. it was my sister calling to let me know that my mom fell in the middle of the night, banged her head and was on route to the hospital via ambulance. my heart sank. when would this woman ever catch a break? when would we?

i felt sick to my stomach just thinking about it. i had planned on going to ottawa a week later to celebrate my mom's 70th birthday but was it wise for me to go now? my busy calendar told me no but my gut told me yes.

no joke, within the hour, i get an email from a high school friend telling me that she not only thinks that i should go and see my mom right away, but that she wants to pay for my flight there. soon after, not only did i have a flight booked to ottawa the next a.m., but a ride to the airport at the butt crack of dawn.

unbeknownst to any of us at the time, the day i landed in ottawa proved to be my mom’s very last day on earth and because of the kindness of a few of my friends, i got to experience many lasts with my mom; her last words and pep talk, last hand squeeze, her last breath.

and even though it pains me to type (and retype) the word 'last', am i ever grateful for that day, because, as painful as it was, it was also full of beautiful, memorable moments and what i like to call 'pockets of grace'; moments in life that enable you to pause, take a deep breath and give thanks amidst hardship.

so today, i’m thankful for ‘gut feelings’, the faith to follow them, people who make it easier to, the day i got to spend with my mom before she died, and the friends who let me crash on their couch two years later to assure me that i’m not alone as i relive her final days, either.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

i'll never forget what she said as long as i live.

it was the summer of 2010 and i had packed my bags to move to penticton, BC for a few months to help my friend manage her home while her husband was away for school.

though i spent most of my time cleaning, making mean shepherd's pie, hanging out with her two 16 year old foster boys, biking through the mountains and sitting by the lake (tough life), i needed to find a job.

'WANTED: ONE AMAZING, FUNNY, BEAUTIFUL, DOWN TO EARTH FEMALE TO RUN MY KAYAK SHOP', the ad read (okay, okay, maybe i made that up), but it had something to do with being by the lake all day so i (obviously) sent in my resume.

a few days, later, i was sitting at a picnic table lakeside having a pretty relaxed conversation with ms. kayak herself.

she asked me the typical questions, where i'm from, what brought me here, what i liked about my previous jobs etc.

and then? then my friend's two foster boys walked by (they were spying the whole time) and waved.

"who are they?", she asked, and i answered (that's the way Q&A's work, people).

a big smile came across her face.

"you know, paula", she said. "when you were talking about your previous experience, you did so in a passionate manner, but when you talked about those boys and youth, you lit up. i would love to hire you, but i would being a disservice to you and the world".

i have never heard such a powerful and uplifting no in all of my life.

and you know something, she was right; when something brings us life, it shows. when something makes us feel alive, other people see it.

“don’t ask what the world needs. ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (howard thurman).

what makes YOU feel alive? put the kayak down and get to it! (unless kayaking’s your thing, of course).

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.

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!

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.

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!