Friday, July 24, 2015

like some of you, i used to be afraid of homeless people.

but that all changed the day the course of my life did.

i remember coming in from my 'tour' of east hastings in vancouver [the poorest postal code in canada] and weeping - a gut wrenching weep - in the corner of the organization we were partnering with that week. though i wasn't sure what was happening inside of me at the time, i believe, looking back, that God was giving me a specific burden for that city, because, well, four months later, i jumped on my first solo plane ride and moved there for an internship.

i thought i was going there to change the world, you see. my naive 22 year old self thought that i was going to play an instrumental part in seeing heroin addicts set free from their addiction and play an even bigger part in ridding the streets from homelessness for good.

little did i know that God would use that seven month internship to show me just how broken i was, and how, in fact, it was my very brokenness that would help me better connect with those i sought out to help.

truth be told, i am no better than the ones i hand out water to on an almost weekly basis, and neither are you, and if we push past our fears and open our eyes, we may be surprised at just how much we actually have in common with those we're prone to overlook.

a bright yellow sign caught my attention as i was walking through downtown toronto last week during 'project high-five':

"suffer from depression and anxiety", it read. "welfare only helps so much".

being one that has battled such a debilitating disease, my heart automatically connected with the life behind the sign.

"may i?" i said, as i sat down beside her.

from there we talked briefly about our battle with depression, but more about the way she was treated on a daily basis. i wasn't shocked at the things people say or do to her as they walk by, but it confirmed all that i have been thinking and fueled me to do even more to break down the stigma attached to homelessness.

you see, roof over our head or not, we're all the same; we are all humans with beating hearts, and feelings, we all bleed red, and all of us - every single one of us - has a story.

still afraid? let this two minute video help:

[you may have to copy and paste it into your browser]

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

never forget where you came from.

my mom packed up her one bedroom apartment last week and made the trek to ottawa to live with my sister and brother in law. on one hand, i couldn't be more thrilled for her as i know that she's always wanted to move there and will be well taken care of, but on another, it made me feel kind of sad. sad that i no longer have a place to remember my dad [although i carry him everywhere i go], and sad that the place i grew up in suddenly seems oddly vacant.

alliston was more than a town to me; it was my safe place; a place where i landed my first job, started going to church, ended my six year high school stint with a valedictorian speech, played ball, cried a bit, and laughed a lot more.

but it was also a launch pad; a launch pad that saw me off to brampton, ontario when i was 21, and then from there, vancouver, edmonton, penticton, and ottawa before coming back to the GTA, all of which have moulded me into the person i am today.

as you know from reading my blogs, i've made some significant changes in my life as of late, and i've never felt so alive and tired all at the same time. with these changes comes the need to arrange [and rearrange] my priorities while trying to find balance between working, building my organization, and resting. i try and balance these three necessities every single day, all the while trying to make time for what's most important: my relationships.

today, i'm sitting in second cup with two of my friends who are in town until tomorrow. we hung out, had some lunch, caught up, and now all three of us are sitting at our respected computers and working on the stuff that keeps our hearts beating; one is working on designing a logo, another is in a business meeting via skype, and i'm taking a break from writing the content for my website to well, write this blog.

as much as i sit here and reflect on my past, i'm actually really pumped about my future. in a few weeks i have the honour of speaking at a youth group in mississauga, and a few weeks after that, i'll be crossing the last thing off of my original bucket list and jumping out of a plane to celebrate my fave friend's birthday [and hopefully not our death day].

august includes taking the same youth group i'm speaking at on my first official operation hydration run and serving alongside them at st. francis table in the span of two days, which i'm super excited about.

in october, i'm participating in 'ride for refuge' [] in hopes to raise money for regeneration, an outreach community designed to care for those who struggle with homelessness in brampton, where i will start volunteering with once my criminal record check clears within the next few weeks.[].

as far as november goes, i'm currently in the beginning stages of planning a trip back to aftica, which makes my heart burst with joy even more ...unless that's all the coffee i've drank today talking ;)

all joking aside, when all is said and done, our past may be behind us, but our future awaits. go get 'em!

Monday, July 6, 2015

no one can convince you that their product is the best if they don't let you know why it's the best, and the same can be said when 'casting a vision'.

i realized that letting people know that i was running an 'operation hydration' by means of a facebook status wasn't working about two statuses in. sure, it got a few likes, made people aware of what i was doing, and encouraged people to donate [which encouraged me more than anything], but i have done way more water runs alone than i have with anyone else.

that being said, i've decided to take a different approach, because, well, sometimes trying harder doesn't work, but trying different does.

the day after i had a planning session in a local coffee shop with my buddy justin, a friend of mine, who just happens to be a very talented and professional web developer, offered to create a website for me. seconds later, we bought a soon to be released domain, and have been working on creating a sick website ever since. [stay tuned].

on top of this, i have been pounding out blog ideas; ideas that will let you in on the why i have decided to dedicate my life to such things like operation hydration, and why i feel it's my personal mission to 1) break down the stigma attached to homelessness, and 2) let you, the reader, know how simple it is to make a difference in the world around you.

in the meantime, i will continue to run operation hydrations and let you know about them through various social media outlets,and this week, i will be giving a handful of people a 'high-five' [a $5 bill] instead of water as i feel it impressed on my heart to do so like i did in the story you're about to read below. here, you will find a journal entry that i wrote a few years a go after a friendly encounter with one of edmonton's homeless.

i sat on the cold ground with leonard today because i'm not too good to sit on the ground. it was cold, i'll admit. freezing actually. but somewhere in the back of my mind i remembered that i had somewhere warm to go when our conversation ended. he didn't; the sidewalk was home.

our relationship started when he asked me for some spare change. at the time i only had my debit card, and limited money on it, so i kindly turned him down. a few minutes later though, i felt "led" to give him some of the money i received as cash back at the bargain barn.

that's when i sat down beside him. the $5 bill was the "ticket" into his life sorta speak.

"i'm paula" i said as i put out my hand.
"leonard", he replied. "but my friends call me leo"
"leo it is," i thought.

i began to ask him questions about his life. in the short period of time i had between classes i learned about his love for golf and how much of an inspiration tiger woods has been to him. i learned that most of his friends are in jail and that he should be too. i learned that he's an eskimo as he proudly told me, and that because of this he's used to the cold and doesn't wear gloves. when he is cold, however, nothing warms him up like a hot tea, he said.

i sat back and listened to him tell me story after story. though each one was different, they all started the same: "OH! you gotta hear this one...!"

i didn't say much in response. i just sat there, smiled, and listened.

sometimes 'making a difference' can be as simple as sitting on the cold pavement listening to someone share about their life.

Friday, July 3, 2015

ever feel lonely? like really lonely?

maybe, like me, you fall asleep alone every night and wake up in an equally empty bed every morning. or maybe you, like so many others, might as well sleep alone because that's how you feel laying beside your spouse each night any ways.

maybe you're the kid in your class who unwillingly eats lunch alone, or the only one in your office who doesn't get invited to the pool party after work.

or maybe, just maybe, your calendar is jam packed with events and coffee dates, but you can't seem to make a deep connection no matter how hard you try.

we've all been there. at least most of us have. and it sucks. loneliness sucks.

but can we just take a minute and think about the guy you pass on the street every day? the one with the sign that says "anything will help", or the empty cup that sits at his feet each day?

i've been feeling deeply lonely lately myself, and yet there have been moments where i have found myself thanking God that i understand what that feels like because, get this, experience develops understanding, which in turn produces compassion, and compassion, if channelled properly, will move you to action. in other words, our experience equips us to help others.

i was on a streetcar in between st. francis table and nathan phillips square yesterday when my streetcar stood at a standstill for a while due to traffic. immediately, i looked out the window and my eyes were drawn to a young, full-bearded man sitting on the sidewalk. i watched this man, for what seemed like a good five minutes, try and get someone's - anyone's - attention. he said hi, attempted to make eye contact, and even went as far as opening the door for several of them by pushing on the automatic door opener behind his head. from what i could see, not one even one person looked at him. not one. and with each passing person, his disposition changed; it was as if i was able to feel his frustration and recognize the sense of loneliness he felt just by the look on his face as another human being, and another, passed him by. honestly, i wish i had gotten off of that street car and sat with him. i could tell he needed it; heck, i needed it.

truth be told, i wouldn't have the heart that i do for the poor if i couldn't relate to them in some way, and since i don't have a stinkin clue what it feels like to sit on a cold, lonely pavement all day, or wonder where my next meal is going to come from, let alone where i'm going to sleep, i do understand what it feels like to wrestle with a deep sense of loneliness at times. most of us do.

my challenge to you us today? send a text. tell a friend you love them. give someone a hug. say hi to a stranger. smile. make eye contact, whatever. if those of us who understand loneliness won't make this world a less lonely place for someone else, who will?