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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

i'm not a mac fan, i'm 'adele' fan [some of you will get that later], and here's just a few of the many reasons why.

a minute into her tribute to george michael, adele stopped live television like only adele can, and asked for a do-over. "i'm sorry for swearing", she said. "i'm sorry, but i can't mess this up for him. i just can't" as she motioned for the band to start again.

i don't know about you, but i could relate to her in that moment.

sure, i've never been asked to sing in someone's honour, and i certainly haven't stopped live television in the middle of the most watched award show on TV, but i have made mistakes before. many of them, in fact. and so have you.

sometimes, as adele reminded us last week, things don't go as rehearsed. sometimes, just sometimes, things get messy and we could use a do-over.

sometimes, we can all use a dose of humility, too.

imagine having adele's resume; a powerful voice. millions of songs and albums sold. the ability to pack venues. award after award, including five of them in one night, and the list goes on.

now imagine having enough humility to admit that even a dynamic resume doesn't prevent you from making a mistake, admitting it, and starting over on live television.

truth be told, most wouldn't have even noticed that her first time was a little rocky - not even george michael - but she did, and that was enough for her; she had to make things right.

and if that wasn't a big enough dose of humility for one night, she then 'pulled a kanye' on herself.

years a go, as taylor swift was accepting her award for best video, the infamous kanye west jumped up on stage and told the world in so many words that 'beyonce' should have won that award, causing a lot of controversy, and giving TSwift enough ammo to do what she does best: write another song about a guy who hurt her feelings. [i don't know much about her dating life, but what he did that night was horrible].

kanye wasn't there this year, but kanye didn't need to be; adele so humbly told the world herself that beyonce deserved at least one of the three grammys that she won over her, stating that beyonce's album lemonade was brilliant, and 'showed another side to her'.

and right before that, she honoured greg kurstin, the one who wrote 'hello', by letting him accept the grammy for album of the year since he was so rudely cut off during his thank you speech an award earlier. ironically, the writer of hello didn't have time to say hello here.

but, thanks to adele, he got a chance to later, and in doing so, they both said hello to two things that all of us ought to say hello to: humility and honour.

"do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" [philippians 2:3-4]

Monday, February 6, 2017

i had a few hours to kill before i had to [wanted to] serve dinner in regent park with my church. i had a book in my bag, as i often do, and truthfully, i just wanted to be able to sit in a coffee shop and read it more than anything. but where? tims is cheap, i thought, but it's not necessarily the best atmosphere to sit down, relax, and read a book in. second cup is hands down my fave when it comes to their coffee selection, but i didn't know of any close enough to my church and feared that i may get too caught up in my book to make it in time. there was, however, a starbucks close by, but i really had to think about whether or not i could justify spending money on a latte when i haven't been working, and so i just sat there contemplating what i was going to do when my bus reached the big city.

what seemed to be less than a minute later, my phone made a ding, informing me that i had received an email.

"adam gilfillan had given you the gift of starbucks", it read. i tell you no lies; as i was sitting on the bus wrestling with whether or not i could afford a coffee, my friend was sitting in ottawa emailing me a starbucks card.

God knows our thoughts, and cares about even the 'little' things in life.

a week a go, i was sitting on the couch feeling lonely - like the deep, unshakeable kind of lonely. most days, i can force myself to snap out of it and dwell on the things i have to be thankful for, but i found it especially hard to do so this particular day. i was thinking about how much i missed my parents and how not having them around made me an orphan [i put this word in on purpose - keep reading], how i'm not married and don't have kids, how many friends i've lost over the years due to my brokenness or due to the fact that people [and seasons] change, all of which have the ability to make you isolate yourself even further.


my phone dinged once again. only this time, it was a text from my friend kari that said, "i've got youtube videos playing in my office while i work. this one popped up and as she prophesied over loneliness, i felt like it's a word for you".

i opened the link she sent me and began to weep. at the 4 minute and 38 second mark, the singer, amanda cook, began singing "this is the year your loneliness ends" over and over, followed by - get this - "he sets the orphans in families", a word that had been playing in my head all day. after a few more bars, she began praying a powerful prayer that i believe was for me in that very moment, and i felt a peace come over me. [for those of you who understand the loneliness i'm talking about here, i've included the link at the bottom of my blog for you to copy and paste in hope that it will encourage you also].

God not only knows our thoughts, but He cares about the state of our hearts, too.

i had this excruciating earache this week, and because of my past experience with this, i was terrified to go to the doctors. the first time this happened, the doctor - i warn you, this may get gruesome - grabbed not one, but two sharp objects - broke the cyst in my ear, and spent the next few minutes draining it as my mom held my hand. i bled for hours.

the second time, the doctor used a needle. A NEEDLE. he jabbed that big up thing in my ear and suctioned all of the stuff - i'll say stuff here in case you're eating as you read this - out, and i squeezed my friend's hand so hard that she needed an xray before we left ;)


so you can appreciate how petrified i was to go to the doctors this time [and why i would consider an ear transplant if there were such a thing].

in that very moment - again, i tell you no lies - i get a message on twitter from a friend i've lost touch with over the years, asking for my phone number. i gave it to him, and seconds later, he sent me a text.

"God says ... do not be afraid".


here i was, scared to death to get some huge needle stuck in my ear [and no hand to squeeze during it], and BOOM - another message.

needless to say, i jumped up right away while i had the courage, got dressed, and walked across the street to the walk in clinic, where a very hot [and i assume very rich] doctor looked into my ear, poked around a bit, whispered sweet nothings in my ear [at least i think he did, i couldn't really hear him], and prescribed me antibiotics. no sharp objects, no needle, nothing. just medicine.

do not be afraid.

i can't help but think about one of my favourite passages of scripture, psalm 139, as i sit here and reflect on the past few weeks:

you have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
you know when i sit and when i rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
you discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
[verses one through four].

he knew i was worrying about my finances when he put me on my friend's heart, he knew i was feeling lonely when my friend was listening to that song in her office that day, and how scared i was about going to the doctors last week when my friend sent me that text, and he knows which thoughts i'm wrestling with today, too.

as the above psalm clearly points out, he perceives our thoughts from afar!
our thoughts - not just mine, but yours, too!

Friday, February 3, 2017

twelve short months a go, i held my my mom's hand for the last time as her strong and courageous spirit departed from her cancer stricken body.

there were a lot of lasts that happened that day,
and a lot of firsts for me ever since;
365 days worth of firsts, to be exact.

the first time i woke up and realized she was gone.
her first birthday, a measly nine days later.
my first mother's day, thanksgiving, and christmas.
my first new years without a phone call from her at midnight.
the first time i wanted to call her, but couldn't.
the first time i really needed her.
the first time i was sick.

...and the list goes on.

suffice it to say, it's been a year of adjustment.

i once heard a grieving father draw a parallel between different weather patterns and the unpredictability of the grieving process, which resonated with me more than any other analogy i had heard before, or have heard since.

most days feel like winter, you see. you spend the little energy you have hoping for a snow day so you don't have to go outside and face the bitter cold. some days, you get your snow day; you cuddle up on the couch with some wine and a blanket, or, better yet, stay in bed, wrap yourself up in your covers, and distract yourself with some netflix.

but other days, you have no choice but to face the cold; you slowly get up, get dressed, shovel your driveway, scrape the ice off of your windshield, and face the day. the truth is, winter requires effort, and a whole lot of work.

but then there's the summer - the beaming hot sun and the pretty blue skies - both of which feel like a breath of fresh air to you, and something you don't take for granted.

these are the days where you jump out of bed, pack a lunch, and head to the beach with your friends. here, you tan, swim, laugh, and, maybe, if you're ambitious enough, throw a frisbee or two around.

but even on those days, the waves have their way of creeping up on you.

you notice a mother playing with her daughter. a friend says something that triggers you. your mind wanders during frisbee. whatever. SO MANY THINGS REMIND YOU OF HER.

and suddenly, right there in the sand, it feels like winter all over again.

the odd thing, though? as unpredictable as the waves can be, and as bitter as the winter can feel, you don't want a life free of either in fear that your memories will fade along with them.

the grief process is the weirdest thing! so is time; each day pulls me further and further away my mom's existence here on earth, yet has its way of gently pushing me closer to the hope i have of spending an eternity with her in heaven.

but for now, all i can do it try and keep my balance during the waves, do my best to brave the long winter months, and enjoy the sun when it decides to come out and shine.

miss you, mom. even though you're not with us anymore, you'll always be a part of my every day. xo

Thursday, February 2, 2017

a year a go yesterday, my gut told me that i needed to make my way to ottawa.

the next morning, i made the trek. little did i know at the time, my gut was right; the day i landed would turn out to be the last full day that my mom was alive.

below is a recount of that incredibly hard, yet beautiful day.

my sister picked me up at the airport with tear filled eyes. word had it that palliative care planned on taking my mom off of all of her meds [outside of morphine], and that mom, in her words, was out of it, and unresponsive.

driving there, i prepared for the worst.

those of you who know my mom won't be the least bit surprised when i tell you that she was waving at me as i walked into her hospital room a half an hour later.

"hi paula!" she said, with excitement.

all of a sudden i was having flashbacks of the time just before christmas when the doctors called us in to say goodbye to her for good. after an excruciating five hour drive, i arrived only to see my mom sitting up and smiling. "i refuse to die in december", she said, and she meant it.

but it was february now, and my mom wasn't doing well.

one of my sisters was flying in a few hours after me, and the other had a previously booked a tattoo appointment [which just so happened to be for my mom], so i had the chance to snag a little alone time in the meantime. she slept most of it, mind you, but i sat there holding her hand and letting her know how much i loved her. somewhere in there, i 'gave her permission' to go, assured her that i [we] would be okay [although i had to convince myself of the same thing], and let her know how proud i was of her, and of how well she fought.

moments later, she woke up gasping for air.

s-c-a-r-i-e-s-t moment of my life.

her hands clinched my chest as she took these long and drawn out gasps, and her eyes stared at me in fear, begging me to do something.

i yelled [in true paula fashion] for the nurse. my mom was suffocating - or at least felt like she was - and though somehow i was able to remain calm on the outside, i felt like i was, too.

what seemed like hours later, my mom was back to sleeping peacefully, and i was back to holding her hand.

fast forward to 9:30p.m.

the five of us were gathered around her bed when my mom woke up. she looked around, smiled, and grabbed all of our hands.

"there's so much castrucci love in this room", she said over and over before looking at her watch [which is something she had been doing consistently ever since my dad appeared in one of her dreams the night before].

i sat there soaking it all in, thanking God that i was there for that beautiful moment. so much castrucci love indeed.

little did i know, that was one of the last things my mom would ever say to me.

she died peacefully the next morning.