Monday, January 26, 2015

no i.d. no family and friends in sight. no eulogy or even a funeral. just a simple tweet that read: 'a man, believed to be homeless, has died after being found without vital signs at a yonge and dundas streetcar shelter'.

a day prior to this, another nameless man was found dead inside of a delivery truck on a cold winter's night.

and a few days after that, according to CP24, another man lost his life when his makeshift shelter caught on fire by the very flame he lit to keep himself warm.

sure, the latter man has been identified, but far too many haven't. want proof? go and read the 'homeless tribute' board located right outside of the infamous eaton centre; there you will find nothing but a list of john and jane does, along with their estimated death date. [example: jane doe - august 2013].

sad, isn't it?

i mean, can you, the reader, actually fathom what it would be like to disappear without a trace? to live your life only to be regarded as a random death, and even worse, a nameless human being? i sure can't.

but the truth is, identifiable to us or not, like you, every single one of 'them' has a story.

take my friend 'joe' for example.

i met joe when i was serving in one of the soup kitchens downtown. within a few minutes of talking, i had noticed that he had a tattoo of a couple dates on his neck. curious, and interested in tattoos, i asked him what its significance was.

"that one is when my wife was born", he said, "and this one is when she passed away". i gulped.

next thing you know, he began to share his life with me and one of the youth i was working with, and before we knew it, he was telling us how losing his wife was so traumatic that he didn't know how to cope. next thing he knew, he was drinking. a lot. so much in fact that he quickly lost his job, and his house, and then his kids ... all because he didn't know how to grieve. [who does, really?]

he wasn't - and isn't lazy. he didn't choose to live on the streets, nor did he choose for his wife to die. but it happened. all of it happened. and he hasn't been able to get back on his feet since.

if his story isn't eye opening enough, let me introduce you to my friend 'kyle'.

working in the financial district with over 300 employees underneath him, kyle was more than successful. that is, until the day his company decided to downgrade, and being one of the highest paid employees, and also one of the oldest, kyle was the first to go.

to his bewilderment, his severance package ran out before another company could take his resume [and his age] into consideration. next thing you know, kyle no longer had a job, or a home. kyle was homeless; a hard working and successful business man was homeless, and yet countless people walk by him every day and judge him as if he's a low-life who chose to be there.

these stories make you think, don't they? and they should. because they represent a vast majority of those who struggle with homelessness, and contrary to previous belief, every single person you walk by on the street has a story...and it's probably not what you think it is.

what's YOUR story?

Monday, January 19, 2015

like a permanent fixture in the building i work in, i walk by him and his tattered paper cup every day after work. i should know, i dropped a twonie in it once. just once. but i make a point of making eye contact and acknowledging him every other time.

i found myself looking for him yesterday, though, because as odd as this may sound, he was the first person i thought about when i woke up that morning. soon after waking up, my eyes were drawn to the money i have sitting on my dresser in a jar labeled 'giving', and seconds later, i felt a very specific amount impressed on my heart, and just as quickly tucked that amount into my coat pocket.

truth be told, i felt nervous about giving it to him all day. i knew i had to, but how? do i just non-chalantly walk up to him and put the money in his cup without saying anything? or do i say something spiritual like "God bless you", seeing as how He was the one that laid this man on my heart in the first place?

here goes nothing, i thought. i walk up to him after work, put the money in his cup, and before i know it, i'm telling him that he was the first thing i thought of when i woke up in the morning. [somehow it didn't seem as awkward or creepy as it does now lol]. we talked long enough to exchange names, long enough for me to find out that he has a brother named paul, and long enough for me to notice that his cup, with the exception of two measly dimes, was completely empty. like empty. a cup that gets passed by 72 floors worth of people each day had two - two! - dimes in it. as in twenty cents. as in not enough to buy a stinkin gumball.

now, before you get your panties all up in a knot, i am not here to judge the passerbys; if you remember correctly, i started this blog off by emphasizing the fact that prior to this morning, i had only given this man money on one occasion. one. so i understand why some people just walk on by.

what baffles me, though, if i'm being honest, is the fact that a lot of people think that this man, this human being, is only worth the twenty cents that sat at the bottom of his cup. having worked in three different inner-cities [vancouver, edmonton and toronto], i'm aware of [most of] the preconceived ideas that are floating around about people who struggle with homelessness, and about poverty, period, and want nothing more than to 'destroy' those ideas, or at the very least, challenge your - our - thinking.

that being said, i plan on blogging about such topics over the next little while, so stay tuned for ... well, my two cents.

Monday, January 12, 2015

this may come as a surprise to some of you, but i've been in quite the introverted mood lately; a - something deep is happening inside of me - isolated mood. i got off social media for a while, locked myself in my room to pray a little, journal some, read a lot, and think way too much. but it's been good. and now, though i feel like i'm still processing, i feel like i'm through the thick of it and am about to embark on a new season in my life.

while some make resolutions each year, i choose a word that i'm going to focus on. last year, i chose ameliorate [to make something unsatisfactory better; to become better], and this year, i chose discipline [to train yourself to do something by controlling your behavior].

you see, i am quite the emotional being, and ashamedly, have let my emotions control the decisions i've made more often than i'd like to admit. i've quit jobs on impulse [though leaving my most recent one was in my best interest], stopped working out because i didn't 'feel like it', put a book or two back on my shelf before i could finish it, and the list goes on. i'm a good starter - a really great and passionate starter - but i suck at finishing, because, well, my emotions have been known to get the best of me. but this year? this year will be different, and though we are only 12 days into it, it already has been.

i've already read more than i did last year in total, made my bed every single morning before leaving for work at 5:30a.m., packed healthy snacks for the day so that i'm not tempted by the garbage that is way too accessible at work [small things count, too], and am proud to say that i have reached all of my financial and fitness goals to date. in fact, just yesterday i hit a milestone on the treadmill, a milestone that wouldn't have been possible if i let myself get distracted while running on it a few weeks a go.

it wasn't the first time someone tried to get my attention while working out, in fact, it's a common occurrence when i'm exercising in the gym in my condo. "do you know how to work this?" "do you come here often?" [okay, so i threw that one in there, but still]. normally i'd take my head set off and help where needed, but that particular day was different. that day, i felt compelled to stay on track.

i was on minute seven of running, which was, at the time, four minutes and one second away from beating my personal best, when a family of four walked in and surrounded my treadmill. like actually surrounded it. i look in the mirror and see them all staring at me and trying to get my attention. "stay focussed, paula", i thought to myself over and over as i was nearing my record. but they just kept staring, and staring. all four of them. i assessed the situation - were they in trouble? was there a fire? - but concluded that they, like everyone else who thinks i work there, probably wanted to know how to work a bless-ed machine. [must be my rock solid calves and amazing physique]. i battled feeling rude, but knew from experience that if i took my eyes off of the prize, i'd end up becoming frustrated, lose momentum, and miss out on what i set out to do in the first place, and i couldn't let that happen that day.

at the ten minute mark, the mom jumped on the treadmill directly beside me [even though there were six other treadmills to choose from] and continued staring at me, along with her two adorable children and her not so adorable husband. [sorry, lady, you can't win 'em all].

"stay focussed, paula", i said to myself.

a few minutes later, they left. and a few minutes after that, i beat my freakin record, only to crush it again last night. yeah i did. [enter fist pump here].

naturally, this got me thinking. life is like [sorry, forrest gump] my journey on the treadmill that day. here i was running my race, focussed on where i wanted to go, in the zone, and boom - out of nowhere came this purposeless distraction, forcing me to make a choice; i could have 1) let myself be distracted and steer off track, or 2) kept focussed.

aren't those our options when it comes to the distractions we face day to day? sure, some, unlike the above distraction, may not seem as obvious, or may be, dare i say destructive? [like a sin we're struggling with, or a toxic relationship we have in our life with a person we have invited run on 'the treadmill beside us'], but, really, if you think about it, a distraction is a distraction; no matter what the source, it sets out to achieve the same outcome: to throw us off course...

the choice is ours if we let it.

"therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" [Hebrews 12:1]