Tuesday, November 22, 2016

growing up, christmas was nothing short of magical.

first, weeks prior, my parents would buy a few cartons of egg nog, some cheap, but delicious, christmas cookies - you know, the ornament shaped ones with the sprinkles on them - and we would decorate the tree together as kenny rogers' christmas album played in the background on repeat. it was a castrucci favourite, after all.

weeks later at the crack of dawn, we'd find ourselves around the same tree, only this time, watching each other open presents. as cliché as this sounds, looking back, it wasn't about the gifts - it was about the joy found in giving. i can still see the light in my dad's eyes as we opened 'santa's gifts', and it wasn't until after he passed away that i realized the very cost of those gifts. my mom told me years later that my precious dad would pick up extra shifts at work just to make sure that we got all that we wanted, and we always did. but now, decades later, i would trade every single gift that ever sat under that tree for a chance to spend just one more christmas with him.

our last christmas was so special. we spent it at the nottawasaga in alliston, where three of us used to work. i never went to breakfast with he and my mom that morning before everyone arrived because i needed some peace before all the troops arrived. mental illness will do that to you. but regret does so much more.

regardless, we had a great day that day! we pushed my dad in an impromptu wheelchair race against my brother-in-law's mom [obviously my dad won], ate a yummy dinner, [i still remember how excited my dad was for the buffet that night], and topped it off with 'operation spoil our parents'. it was perfect.

the next day, i said goodbye to my dad for the last time, and somehow i knew it. i hugged him, he hugged me back, and said, "bye, hun. see you soon" as i walked out the door. three days later, he died in his sleep, and christmas hasn't been the same since.

last year, we brought christmas to my mom on the seventh floor of a hospital. we decorated her windowsill with a small christmas tree, brought her presents she would never be able to use [but brought them any way], wore silly hats, and took even sillier pics. it was rough in many ways, but beautiful in so many others. for me, christmas will always look like this. maybe it will look like this for you, too.

i'm trying really hard here.

trying to find balance between treasuring the memories i have with my parents and grieving the fact that i can't make more.

trying to find balance between feeling insurmountable loss and pain, and celebrating the magic that still remains. the birth of Christ. his presence. christmas lights. stockings. kenny rogers. egg nog. cheap christmas cookies covered in the most colourful sprinkles.

my family has chosen to go our separate ways this christmas. for them, it means christmas with their respected families. for me, it will look like serving hundreds of delicious meals with my regent park family like i do every other saturday, falling asleep in a hotel watching cheesy made for TV christmas movies, and thanking God that no matter what my circumstance may look like, the reason of the season remains the same.

"the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" [which means "God with us"]. amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

my team and i were enjoying a lovely breakfast on a hot summer's day in malawi a few summers a go when my eyes were drawn to the rustling i overheard coming from a tree near by. to my surprise, a monkey climbed down the tree, jumped on a table next to me and stole a piece of toast out of the hand of a fellow traveler. i guarded my toast in disbelief and laughed. seconds later, a second monkey came down, jumped on the same table, and grabbed the jam. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?", i thought. "if that third monkey comes down and grabs a knife, i'm gonna die" [of laughter that is, not from a monkey stabbing].

this whole experience baffled me for years until my friend reminded me of the familiar saying, "monkey see - monkey do" the other day. those monkeys had been up in that tree watching us humans lather our toast with strawberry jam, and decided to follow suit.

and somehow, in this random brain of mine, i linked this whole thing to leadership.

those you lead don't listen to what you say, they watch what you do.

i can't tell you the amount of times that i've been told to do something, only to have the one who told me to do it turn around and do the complete opposite, leaving me feeling confused and wondering whether or not i could trust them as my leader.

the truth is, we've all been there.

your boss stresses the importance of showing up to work on time, and comes in 20 minutes late each day himself.
your mom tells you to hang up your jacket, but throws hers on the kitchen chair when she gets home from work.
your prof emphasizes the importance in deadlines, and yet hands your paper back three months after you handed it in.

you get the picture.

truth be told, true leadership isn't proven in one's ability to 'talk the talk', but in their ability to 'walk the walk'.

because, well, monkey see - monkey do.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

it was intimidating at first, even for me, to walk into a room full of 1000+ strangers. naturally, i slipped into observation mode. who was here alone? with a group? which conversations looked too deep to interrupt? was the lady glued to her phone screen busy? or simply covering up the fact that she, too, felt a little intimidated?

i did what anyone else would do at the moment. i went to the bathroom. it was in there that i decided to stop 'stalling' [pun intended]; i left there ready to do what i came there to do in the first place: to connect.

it didn't take long for me to start a conversation after that. i made eye contact with another woman as i came up the stairs. found out she was in the health profession. turns out she knows my housemate. we chatted, and made our way into the conference hall together.

i can't begin to explain the feeling of honour i felt when i saw the stage. tedx is something that i'm familiar with, and something i enjoy listening to, but being there in person seemed nothing short of magical. i couldn't wait for it to start.

talk after talk, i found myself feeling inspired. here were ordinary people doing extraordinary things; a courageous syrian refuge who chose to use his experience to help others who find themselves in the same boat, a doctor whose research and practicality is changing the face of occupational therapy, another who's passionate about encouraging healthy communication in the work place, a 19 year old who decided to change the world by providing water to those who don't have it, and the list goes on. and that includes an inspirational author who asked a lot of thought provoking questions, and a hilarious MC, who climbs mountains. literally. like, the ones you see on postcards.

but then, the clincher. nick saul, president & CEO of community food centres canada, took the stage, and it didn't take long for me to realize why i had a seat with my name on it that day.

i wanted to jump out of my seat when he started talking about poverty. there was so much truth to what he was saying; when we think that hunger is the problem instead of poverty, we believe that handing out sandwiches is the solution, but if we acknowledge poverty for what it is [broken down systems and cycles], we start searching for, and finding, other solutions. 'handing out sandwiches' isn't bad - food is necessary for survival - but so is connection and community, which is the whole reason 'connect2' [the name of my non profit/ministry] exists. hearing nick saul speak confirmed to me that i am on the right track. it's all about connection.

i wondered in that moment, and again during the after party, why every day can't be like this? why does it take a conference for us to listen to others' ideas, and share our own? or an organized event for us to put our phones down and connect?