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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

i don't have a stable career, or a house of my own. i don't have a car or even my license [which is on my bucket list this year], a full bank account or even a lot of spending money. i don't have a husband, any kids, or a golden retriever, either.

but i do have a roof over my head, a TV to watch my blue jays on [priorities, people], food in my belly, an understanding housemate, a great church, people who love and adore me, and so much more.

now, let me ask you this, which list did you prefer to read? the 'i don't' list, or the 'i do' one?

the i do one, obviously. and truth be told, i preferred writing it.

the i don't list made me feel ungrateful, worried, and sad.

the i do list, however, made me feel happy, confident, and rich.

so why do i spend time thinking about my dont's? why do you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

i'm a christian, but i've been hurt by the church.

i watched as what i call an 'extreme christian' prevent my dad from ever entering a church again by showing up at our house, speaking out of turn, and scaring him off.

i witnessed church leadership call my brother a loser for rollerblading to the service, followed by weeks of verbal abuse, to the point where he never rollerbladed to the church again, or accepted a ride, either, and still hasn't over two decades later.

i had one lady 'rebuke me' [whatever that means] because she heard i 'swore at school', people judge me or the choices i made, others take advantage of me, some backstab me, a few overlook me, and a heck of a lot of people fail to follow through with their promise or commitment.

maybe you've been here, too. maybe, you, like me, thought [or think] that 'church is full of a bunch of judgemental hypocrites'.

truthfully, it took me a long time to get over all of these things. a really long time, actually.

in fact, for a year and a half, i built a wall around my heart in the name of protection and stopped going to church because of it. i knew my life was lacking something - i really did - but the risk of going back seemed too great; the less hypocrites i had in my life, the better.

but all of this changed when i stepped foot into the church in regent park a few short months a go.

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

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

one person has a job, another doesn't.

one man wears a dress shirt, another, a ripped - or shall i say 'holy' - one.

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

but get this - the pastor doesn't stop to yell at him. no usher ushers him out; he is welcome at the church in regent park. i am welcome at the church of regent park, and it took me all of five seconds to see how well i fit here.

i missed three weeks last month due to travel, sickness, and financial reasons, and i had countless people tell me they 'missed me the past three weeks'. like they noticed how many weeks i was gone, and missed me.

leadership thank me for coming and serving every single chance they get.

one girl, whom i just connected with this week, gave me enough cash to cover my transit next weekend to ensure that i wouldn't miss another week of church.

my pastors [who are also my dear friends] make me want to know christ more by the way they emulate him; they drive me to the GO station every week, hang out with me, and invest in me. even this weekend, we hung out for a few hours after church after they ever so kindly handed me a gift card to cover my groceries this week.

needless to say, i leave church feeling encouraged, supported, and closer to the reason we gather together every week, and hope that others leave the same way because of me.

all that to say this: christians are flawed [including me]; there will always be churches who 'don't get it' and people in each congregation [and everywhere, really] who say and do dumb things, but if we stick around long enough, we may just find treasures amidst them; treasures like those i have found in the church in regent park.