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 www.canadahelps.org? (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.