Saturday, 23 August 2014

Goodbye Part Two

Saying goodbye to my beautiful children


Goodbyes suck.

This was what ran through my mind as I sat on the floor, trying to comfort the eight sobbing girls surrounding me. It was our last time as a group together, and so I had taken the opportunity to pray for each of them and tell them the things that I wanted them to remember the most. I told them that they were beautiful, that they were valuable, and most importantly - that the creator of the universe loved them despite the things that the world said made them unlovable.

"Fancy, I don't want you to go!"
My heart broke as I watched the tears run down the faces of my sweet little girls. Soon, almost every one of them was crying. And not quiet, sniffling tears, but shoulder-shaking, hiccuping sobs. I let them crawl onto my lap and held as many as I could in my arms as I rubbed their backs and tried to comfort them while holding my own tears at bay. I told them over and over that I was not leaving because I didn't love them anymore, but because God had different plans for me for the upcoming year, and I had to go. At this one girl turned to me and said between sobs,
"Just call...your mom...and get force stay!"

At one point, a fellow leader walked in to the room, but stopped short when she saw the soggy mess of whimpering girls before her. "Is everything okay?!"
Before I could answer, one of my girls cried out, "No! We're having a meltdown!"

Looking back now, the whole scene is rather comical, but in the moment I felt like sobbing along with them. I felt like crying that no, things were not okay, because these girls were my family, and I loved them, and now I had to leave, and how was I supposed to leave my own children and be okay?!

Eventually one of the girls ended up vomiting because she had cried so much, but then she started laughing, and pretty soon the whole group was giggling, and the moment of sadness had been turned into one of joy.

Tough Boy

"Fancy, when you leave I'm going to cry tears of joy!"

I just shook my head at Tough Boy. In the last few days of camp, many tears had been shed by my darling, sentimental children. However, Tough Boy had assured me many times that when I left he would not care. Instead, he reminded me that he was strong and brave and "didn't need nobody". And yet it was this same boy who always invited me to sit with him, rested his head on my shoulder when no one was watching, and stuck closer to my side than any of the other boys. I knew that Tough Boy liked me, yet it was as if by verbally denying any type of affection, he was disqualifying his actions. In other words, if he sounded tough, maybe he wouldn't feel so vulnerable inside. 

And it broke my heart, because at only ten years old Tough Boy was the only man of his home, and so he had to always be strong, always be brave. At ten years old, Tough boy had resolved it was better to love from a distance, to hold people at arm's length so they could not hurt you. At ten years old, Tough Boy had decided that love was not worth the pain.

However, as is the case with human condition, Tough Boy loved in spite of himself. As hard as he tried not to feel, not to love, his flesh - which is so desirous of affection - could not help but love and be loved.

Perhaps this was the realization that caused the heart-breaking goodbye he experienced.
It was the very last day of summer camp, and we were walking the kids home to their houses for the last time. Once they were signed out, most of the children ran out of their houses and followed us leaders to the community center where we debriefed the day. This was followed by many tears and hugs and promises to text or call or visit.

As the goodbyes came to a close, the children and began to disperse and make their way back to their homes. Only two of my girls and Tough Boy remained. They decided to walk me to my bus stop, and as I prepared to cross the street I gave the two girls one last hug which caused them to start crying again. As I tried to comfort them, Tough Boy laughed, "boo hoo now I'm going to cry!"
I just smiled and shook my head, "Stop fronting, I know you're not actually crying."
I said goodbye and turned to go when I heard a broken voice cry out,
"No Fancy! I'm serious, don't leave me!"
I turned and what I saw is an image that I will never forget.

There was Tough Boy, standing on the corner of the street, tears streaming down his dark cheeks. His faded black sweater that was a few sizes too big hung loosely off his shoulder and he used one of the long sleeves to wipe his nose. His shoulders shook with silent sobs, and his voice came again, this time quieter and with more pain than a child should ever know:
"Please Fancy...don't go".

My heart broke. I wrapped Not-So-Tough-Boy in a big hug and held him tightly as he sobbed quietly into my shirt. Tears sprang to my own eyes, and I prayed quietly for this young boy. I prayed that he would defy the odds; that the statistics about fatherless, at-risk children would not prove true for him. I pulled away and squatted down so that I was at eye level with tough boy. Wiping a tear from his face, I tried to make my voice as steady as I could as I said,
"I need you to listen close to me, okay? You're not a bad kid - don't let anyone ever tell you that. God loves you, and I do too. Please remember that...promise me you'll remember that."


The children and youth of Warden Woods have changed my life. Other than my immediate family, I love them more than I have loved anybody in my entire life. Even after days where they have frustrated me to no end, I realize that I love them more than ever before. There is nothing they could ever do that would make me stop loving them. And it is through this realization that I have come to understand Christ's love even more - his unconditional, relentless love.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

Goodbye Part One

The change that has taken place in my life over the past year with Urban Promise Toronto

City Lights

I told my sister once, at the beginning of my year in Toronto, that I thought the view of a city scape - one of buildings and lights and traffic and people - was so much more beautiful than a landscape of trees and water and grass and sky.

She just smirked and said that she'll ask me if I still feel like that by the end of the year.

A year later, as I sit here soaking in the view of Toronto from my eleventh floor balcony, watching the cars race by and the bright city lights illuminating the smoggy sky, I realize that I still do. I still think its more beautiful. 

But I no longer think this for the same reasons I did last September; I do not love the city because of the glamour and romance it seems to exude so pompously, or because of it's seemingly endless possibilities and opportunities I could never find in a small town.

No, I love the city because it is there that I find such a brilliant, poignant clash of beauty and brokenness. I love the city because I know that in every car that races by, and every room of the towering skyscrapers, there is broken people - people who need Christ so desperately.

In a view of a landscape - one of trees and water and grass and sky - there is no need. It carries its own beauty; it effortlessly boasts the majesty of our Lord. However, there is no need. An empty landscape void of people is a landscape void of brokenness, and therefore is void of potential for redemptive beauty. 

Something Has Changed

One night a few weeks ago, I was at a friend's apartment in Scarborough. The apartment had huge glass windows which looked out over the city and the freeway directly below. I stood there for awhile, just looking, and then asked my friends, 
"Do you ever just watch cars go by, and wonder about the people inside and what their life story is?"
They laughed and said no Katrina, only you do that. 

And I do it often. I wonder about the people in the cars or the people on the subway or the people I pass on the street. Just the other day, aboard the city bus, I watched a father - a huge, muscular, tattooed black man - holding his sleeping daughter, his chin rested lightly on her corn-rowed head. And I wondered about them; what was he struggling with right now? How happy was he? How was his relationship with his daughter? And most importantly, did he love Jesus?

As I watched them, I found myself praying for these strangers. I prayed that he would raise his daughter in the ways of the Lord, and that as a father, he would find his example in the Heavenly Father. As I finished praying, I realized:
I would not have done that a year ago.

It's Not All About Me

In fact, a year ago, I would probably not have even noticed them, let alone wonder about them or pray for them. 

When I came to Urban Promise last September, I struggled from a serious addiction. I was addicted to myself. I used to like to say that I was independent, but the reality was less about not being dependent on anyone, and more about not caring about anyone. 
Donald Miller sums it up perfectly in one of my favorite books, Blue Like Jazz:

"Life was a story about me because I was in every scene. In fact, I was the only one in every scene. I was everywhere I went. If somebody walked into my scene, it would frustrate me because they were disrupting the general theme of the play, namely my comfort or glory. Other people were flat characters in my movie, lifeless characters. Sometimes I would have scenes with them, dialogue, and they would speak their lines, and I would speak mine. But the movie, the grand movie from Adam to the Antichrist, was about me. I wouldn't have told you that at the time, but that is the way I lived."

And it was the way I lived.

I was pretty good at acting, so much so that if you asked someone - say a co-worker or even a friend - they would probably say I was a very caring person. And I suppose, in a sense I was, except that I only cared to the extent that it effected me. I had no concern for the needs or agendas of other people, because they could not possibly be as important as my own.

I saw myself as the main character of Life and everyone else was minor characters and I did not once consider the fact that in fact, in everyone else's lives, I was a minor character, and they did not think about me as much as I did. I did not consider the fact that if I died today, it would not be a world wide tragedy, or that 99% of the earth's population would not know or care. I did not consider that, perhaps, I was not as important as I liked to think. 

It Hasn't Been Easy

And then I came to Urban Promise.

Being addicted to yourself rather clashes with the system at Urban Promise. I was forced to live in close community with other interns, and to serve; day in and day out, constant serving and pouring out into the lives of others. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

And here is part of what made it so difficult: for awhile, I viewed the people I was living with and the kids I was serving as minor characters. I was sacrificing a year of my life to serve, I was living in less than ideal conditions, I was serving at-risk children. The emphasis was more on the fact that I was serving others, and less on the fact that I was serving others. 

I can not even say when it happened, but God eventually transformed my thinking. It happened through a series of struggles, which I God knows is the most effective method of teaching. Admittedly, this has been the most difficult year of my life. I have lived in a rather sketchy, cockroach infested apartment, and have been forced to live very simply. Every day for a year I have commuted hours on the TTC to work with kids who half the time make me want to rip my hair out. I have poured hours upon hours of planning and preparation into creating programs for these kids. I have sacrificed many "rights" - even the most simple ones, like that of safety or having a full fridge.

I do not say this to make me sound noble, but instead to show that the difficulty of this year. I have never had so much struggle, or been broken down so severely. But moreover, I have never had so much joy as I have had in this year.

I had no idea that becoming so utterly dependent on God, and giving until I felt as though there was nothing left in me could give me so much joy. It was a lesson that I had to learn for myself - my mother nor anyone else could tell me this in a way I would understand.


There is a beautiful story I heard one time, of Mother Teresa when she was serving at one of the dirtiest slums in India. She was washing the stinky, infected wounds of man with leprosy, and there was an American watching nearby. The American said in disgust, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars". Looking up, Mother Teresa replied, "neither would I". 

Now don't get me wrong, I don't claim to be Mother Teresa, but I have tasted and know joy that comes in loving and serving with reckless abandon. I understand why Jesus commanded us to put others before ourselves; it was not an attempt to belittle us believers, but rather, because Jesus understood the great mystery I have only begun to discern, which is this:

Somehow, in a strange paradox of events, we find that by forfeiting everything pertaining to "I", we find a joy that transcends the darkness of this world, like the city lights which outperform the stars themselves. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Tornado Child

 A true story of a boy and his demons.

Storm Watch

Meteorologists say that for the most part, tornadoes are largely unpredictable.

They say that though they can recognize conditions which could lead to a tornado, they cannot know with certainty when, where, or even if a tornado will occur.

And so we can do nothing but stare at the sky and wonder,
run for cover when it hits,
and then - when the air is still like there was no storm at all -
we begin to clean up the mess that was left in its wake.

The Tornado Child



“You know Fancy, we always see the same side of the moon. The moon rotates around the earth, and it also rotates on its own axis at the same rate. So we only ever have one view of the moon.”

I raised my eyebrows in amazement at Deshaun*, the beaming eleven year old who had spewed out more knowledge in the last forty minutes than I had ever heard come out of a child’s mouth. He was an overflowing wealth of facts about Greek gods, the solar system, or whatever happened to be the topic of discussion at the moment. I was impressed – he was a smart boy, and I told him that. But inside I was shaking my head in bewilderment.

Could this really be the boy we had to remove from camp?

Deshaun had begun camp earlier this fall, yet after a few weeks of the after school program at Camp Hope, our team had no choice but to remove him from the program. The Deshaun we met at the playground each day was clever, funny, and trusting. We couldn’t wait for him to join our program.However, each day nearly without fail, Deshaun would explode. There really is no better way to put it. From the outside it would appear as though he was having fun, getting along with others, and enjoying the program. Then, all of a sudden, he would erupt into a volcano of uncontrollable anger; a cacophony of wild punches, angry tears, and a downpour of vile curse words.

Try as we may have, there was no predicting when the next flash of rage would occur.
There was no telling what provoked, or inspired the anger.

He was calm – as though he had not a care in the world.
He was enraged – as though the whole universe was working against him.
He was still – as though there had not been a storm at all.

He was our tornado child.

In one circumstance, Deshaun admitted to a leader that coming to camp scared him, because he knew he would get angry, and once he was, he didn’t know how to stop it. She told him he was a brave child. Deshaun didn’t say anything.

Unfortunately, after several weeks of being in the after school program, our team had no choice but to remove Deshaun from Camp Hope. As much as it hurt us to do so, Deshaun’s bouts of fury prohibited Camp Hope from being the fun and – moreover - safe place we promised it to be for the rest of the kids. That wasn’t the last that we saw of Deshaun, though. We saw him outside of the school when we picked up the other children for camp, and around the community when we dropped them off. His bright, shining face greeted us often – so very unlike the boy we witnessed at camp one could have sworn it was someone else entirely.

Storm Warning

I smiled. There really was nothing that warms one’s heart quite like the sound of laughter from a happy child. I watched Deshaun laugh as Daniel – one of my fellow interns – teased and entertained Deshaun. It was Friday, and we were picking up the kids outside the school as usual. Deshaun seemed particularly happy, and that fact alone was enough to brighten my day. I turned for a few minutes, from the joyful scene before me to talk with one of the girl’s in my group.

Then, the storm hit.

It was the shouts and cheers of children that made me turn, and when I did, I saw a picture so alarming it will forever be etched in my mind.

It was Deshaun, lying in the snow, one arm wrapped around the throat of a girl, and the other arm punching her relentlessly. His face was pure anger – a deeply rooted, vicious anger. It broke my heart. The girl – who I didn’t recognize – thrashed wildly in Deshaun’s grip to no avail, kicking her feet and throwing empty punches. As I ran through the snow towards the small crowd that had gathered, I heard Deshaun’s voice – clear, strong, and saturated with rage,

“I told you not to f*ck with me!”

I pushed past the throng of children who watched with a disgusting mix of horror and amusement. By this time, Daniel had also arrived at the scene, and together we managed to tear the children apart. Deshaun released his grip on her throat, and she struggled to catch her breath as I pulled her to her feet.

“I’m going to kill you!” she screamed, jabbing her finger at Deshaun as I pulled her away, my hands on her shoulders. “You better watch your back!” She was screaming, but her voice shook and I saw fear in her eyes.

“I think you should go home,” I said firmly. I turned to Deshaun. “You too, Deshaun, time to go home.”

Deshaun’s jaw was set firmly, but his eyes darted with uncertainty. He tore himself from Daniel’s grip and stalked towards home.

I watched him go, and as I did, my heart cried. In a matter of minutes, the tornado had come and go, leaving nothing but two shaking, broken children quivering in its wake.

The Stallion of our Soul

I hope as you read this story, your heart cried as mine did. I hope your heart cried at the injustice of a child of only eleven being the slave of an emotion which controls his life. But I also hope that as you read this, you realized we’re all not so different from Deshaun.

Each of us is the rider of a wild, wayward stallion to which we are strapped yet seem to have no control.

For Deshaun, it is called Anger. Perhaps for you it is called Jealousy.
Or Lust.
Or Vanity.
Or Pride.

We each have our own demons, each one with a different name. We each have our own stallions, with spirits we cannot tame.

"I do not really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate...I want to do what is right, but I can't. I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway!" 
- Romans 7: 15-19 -

As I read this verse, I applaud Paul for being so real. I would easily argue that there is not a verse in the entire Bible as relatable as this one. Have we not all felt this way? We know what we’re supposed to do, we just don’t do it. Moreover, we know and we want to do what is right, but we still fail to do it. It is like there is some kink in the communication that connects our spirit to our flesh, and the message is lost in delivery.

"Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."
- Romans 7:24-25 -

Who delivers us through Christ our Lord. What a refreshing conclusion that Paul came to. We are rescued. As Christians we are not looking for a reason to sin, but a rescue. And we have found it in Jesus Christ. We are not slaves to our demons, we are not riders strapped onto wild stallions.

We are rescued.

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves."
- Colossians 1:13 - 

*Name has been changed to protect identity


As always, donations are very needed and very appreciated  in order to reach at-risk children like Deshaun. Your donations allow me to reach these kids spiritually, academically, and socially. If you feel led to give, please click the link below. Honestly, every penny counts!


Friday, 22 November 2013

Yet Still We Dare to Hope

A heart-breaking story, yet a hope that still reigns

The classroom is silent. Each nine year old girl has a look on her face not of judgment, condemnation, or even shock, but instead of concern and understanding. Their attention is held captive by the words of their fellow classmate, Bella*. Bella gives a short laugh, yet her eyes flicker with sadness. "I guess technically," Bella says, "I was abandoned too."

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed..." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

A Whole New Meaning

When I was deciding a name for this blog, I would have to admit that there was not a significant amount meaning in the name I chose. I searched for something that would grab the attention of readers, something poetic, something memorable. However, But Never Abandoned does carry some meaning: it is a small bite of my favorite verse in the bible found in 2 Corinthians (see above). However, the concept which envelopes the name of this blog has never struck me so profoundly as it this past Tuesday, as I stared in the face of a little girl who would claim that the words "never abandoned" are a sick lie.

The Story That Touched Her

Part of the afterschool program which we run for the children is what is referred to as "Word UP" - which is essentially a short bible lesson or teaching. The overarching theme that we have been exploring with all the children is the idea that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him. Over the past two months, we have learned about various people who God has used to accomplish huge things for His purpose and glory. As leaders, we decided to introduce the children to people from the Bible, but also people living today in an attempt to destroy the idea that God was different then than He is now.

On this particular Tuesday, I was reinstating this theme to my girls by sharing the story of Lecrae, a Christian rapper. The girls listened intently as I shared how Lecrae was abandoned by his father as a child, became involved in drugs and gang life, yet handed his life over to Christ after surviving a serious car accident.

As always, I ended the time by asking the girls questions which challenge them to apply the lessons learned to their own lives. Folding my lesson plan and leaning forward, I asked the young girls who sat before me: "What are some bad things that have happened to you that have made you question why God would let it happen?"
The first couple of answers were typical, innocent nine year-old answers - things like, "One time I fell off a treadmill and hurt my head and I wondered why God would let this happen to me". But when I called on Bella, who sat quietly with her hand raised, she shocked me with a story that no nine year-old should ever have.

"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you" (Deuteronomy 31:8)

The Story That Broke Me

"I don't usually tell people this," Bella says maturely. "But I know that I can trust you guys". She proceeds to explain that until she was seven years old, she never really knew her father. She lived with her mother, and had minimal paternal influence. One day, however, when she was seven years old, her mother told her she was going to spend a night at her father's place.
"It was one night, so I packed one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of socks, and one pair of clean underwear," Bella says with acute detail. The day after the sleepover at her father's, Bella says she packed her things and waited in the apartment for her mother to pick her up.
Her mother never came.
Her mother never came, and she did not hear from her for months. After several months, her mother finally called, informing Bella that she would be by the next day to pick her up.
Once again, Bella packed her things and waited.
Once again, her mother never came.
"I guess, technically, I was abandoned too."
She says all these things matter-of-factly, but through her eyes I can see her heart breaking.
And as I stared into the eyes of this precious girl, my heart broke. How could such a young child endure such pain, rejection, and heart break? She was only nine, yet her hope and her heart had been taken and smashed again and again, like a glass jar on bricks.

This series of circumstances repeated itself over the next few years. A vicious cycle of contentedness, renewed hope, expectancy, and crushing disappointment.

Yet, in spite of all this, Bella is easily the most well-behaved, mature child I have ever met; she speaks with the sophistication of an adult. Furthermore, in a culture where - in most cases - circumstance directly affects behavior, one would assume that Bella comes from a loving, happy home.

Yet Still, We Dare to Hope

And so my soul searches for something to offer this girl who is already accustomed to pain, and so I hold out the truth which now has more meaning than ever before.

"Bella...we are never abandoned by God."

At this, her lips turn up into a smile, a it is not sadness but hope which flickers in her eyes.
A hope that will disappoint her.
A God that will never abandon her.

But never abandoned.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

What Kind of Place is This?!

A twelve year old's very literal - and humorous - church experience.

Lightening the Mood

I would like to start off by affirming something everyone of my readers has most likely thought. I am aware that every one of my posts up until now has been rather heavy. They all express very deep, sobering realizations that I have had, and this is namely due to the fact that I love to think deep thoughts, ask the difficult questions, and ponder the circumstances that many people overlook in life. And in my moments of pondering I often have epiphanies that I simply must share with the world - hence the majority of my blog posts. I am a romantic and a dreamer, yet another quality of mine which comes into play here, on my blog, is my perfectionism. Each post on this blog takes at least three hours of writing, reading, editing, re-reading and re-editing. This is why I long forsook my goal of posting every week.

Today's post, however, shall be different than the others. The purpose is not to make you cry, or to have you reevaluate a certain area of your life. You will not get to peek into the scattered mess of my mind, or look at the world through my eyes. Instead, I only wish to put a smile on your face – if only for a brief moment. I wish for you to share just one of the moments of humor I often experience when spending time with my kids here in Toronto.

Sunday Mornings


Before I begin describing the situation, I must first give some context. Part of my internship program working with the kids in an at-risk community in Toronto is to take any willing children to church with us interns on Sunday mornings. This began just a few weeks ago, and so far - in my community in particular - the turnout has not been superb. Many of the kids quickly shut down the idea of waking up two hours earlier than they normally would just to sit in a church service. Those who do show interest often tell us later that they've changed their mind, or they simply do not come to the door on Sunday mornings. I have quickly learned that urban ministry requires a significant amount of flexibility. However, there is two children who have dragged themselves out of bed on Sunday morning in order to go to church with over-enthusiastic interns. One is a young five-year old girl, and the other is her twelve year old uncle, Damien*.

Introducing Damien

Damien, is - without a doubt - one of the most hilarious kids I have ever met. I have a feeling that describing him is going to be near impossible, but I will do my best to illustrate Damien without disgracing his character. Damien has no boundaries, and no filter. Whatever comes to his mind, he speaks. Undoubtedly, this quality often gets him into trouble, but thankfully, it is nearly impossible to stay mad at Damien, because a beautiful, contagious smile is always plastered on his face. For example, the first day I wore my glasses instead of my contacts, Damien told me that I looked weird and that I should never wear my glasses again. Absolutely no filter. But his smile and the mischievous twinkle in his eye made it impossible for me to be offended. He is loud, bold, and slightly obnoxious, yet he would not be Damien without a single one of these characteristics. He has one of those laughs - you know, the kind of laugh that when you hear it you can't help but laugh yourself. A bubbling, rich, infectious laugh. I have never seen him intimidated, shy, or melancholy. Damien's character is, in a word, rare. I wish everyone I know got to spend a moment with this child, for I believe their life would be richer because of him.

Church vs. Damien

The church that we are required to take the children to is a quiet, reserved church. There is few children who attend, and the majority of the church's population is over the age of forty. However, I have never attended a church which is more of a family than this one. Nevertheless, many of Damien's attributes contradict harshly with this church's atmosphere. Namely, his charisma and his tendency to speak to speak everything five notches louder than everyone else. The words "Damien" and "whisper" will never be spoken in the same sentence.
This makes Sunday mornings an interesting but memorable experience. Admittedly, I got absolutely nothing from the pastor's sermon this past Sunday due to the fact that my attention was completely consumed with teaching Damien how to act in church.
No Damien, worshiping the "Lamb of God" does not mean we are worshiping a sheep. It's another name for Jesus. No, Jesus is not a sheep. It's a metaphor, Damien.

No Damien, we're not actually going to drink blood. It's just grape juice. Yes, I know he said that - it's symbolic. We're following Jesus' example - no, Jesus wasn't a vampire...
No Damien, just one cup of grape juice, Damien. And one cracker. No, this isn't lunch. It's communion. Shhh, chew quietly. No, you cannot have more. Stop licking out your cup.
Don't worry Damien, you don't have to give any money to the offering. No, it's fine you don't have to give - well, okay. Yes, the pastor did say give whatever you can. Yes, I'm sure they will appreciate that Tootsie Roll, Damien.
No Damien, when the song says "set your church on fire" it does not mean they are going to light the building on fire - it's a metaphor...we're the church. No, we're not going to catch on fire. Stop freaking out, I'll explain later, Damien.  

A Very Literal Experience

In short, it was easily the most comical church experience I have ever had. However, one of the benefits of Damien's personality is that his comments are often the thoughts that other children have but don't vocalize. Having grown up in the church, phrases that I wouldn't think twice about are seen in a different light to those who did not have the same experience I had. Damien gave me a better look into the minds of the children that I am working with.
His experience was summed up in one hilarious outburst as we left the building: "Singing to sheep? Drinking blood? Setting churches on fire? What kind of place is this?!"
To say the least, I dedicated the ride home to explaining the symbols, metaphors, and representations used in the church, and thanking God for putting kids like Damien in my life to make it a bit brighter.

*names have been changed to protect the identity
As always, donations are always very needed and very appreciated so that I may continue reaching at-risk children in Toronto like Damien. Your donations allow me reach these kids spiritually, academically, and socially. If you feel led to give, please click the link below. Honestly, every single penny counts!
Thank you to all who read and all who give!
God bless,

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Curse our Blinded Hearts

A single act of compassion which challenged my entire way of life.

Twenty/Twenty Vision

I remember the first time I saw a homeless person.
I was young, but the moment is forever branded in my memory. I was walking through Toronto with my family - the occasion or circumstance I do not recall. What I do recall, with striking clarity, is the man against the wall buried in a sleeping bag and holding a cardboard sign emblazed with permanent marker plea: HOMELESS. PLEASE GIVE. GOD BLESS.

Having been raised in a very rural small-town, I was admittedly a very sheltered child. As far as I know, the homeless population in Centre Wellington is small, if not non-existent. When walking through downtown Elora, you do not have to step over bodies lying on the street, or fumble in your pocket for spare change. You do not try to avoid eye contact, or feel a pang of guilt as you walk by without stopping.

Therefore, when I laid eyes on a homeless person in Toronto as a child for the first time, I felt a confused mixture of emotions. Everyone else kept walking with a sense of purpose trying not to look at the man on the street. Some snuck a glance, but quickly averted their eyes so as to avoid obligation. My parents also urged me along, telling me not to stare and to keep walking please. But I couldn't help it.

He appeared to be a middle-aged man, though it was difficult to tell for certain because of the scraggly grey beard which hid most of his face. He wore a toque, an old plaid coat, and was wrapped in a sleeping bag. His worn, cold hands held the cardboard sign, and in front of him was an empty Tim Hortons cup, in it, a few random coins. But his eyes were what struck me the most. They were a bright, cold blue, and stood out against his old weathered face. They were beautiful eyes. I remember looking into them, hoping they would tell a story, give me some sort of glimpse into this man's life, or portray some kind of emotion.

But his eyes were empty. I do not know how else to describe it...they were simply... empty. They revealed no hurt, no comfort, no anger, no acceptance. They were blank, as if nothing that those eyes saw could ever affect him in any way.
Is that what years of hurried steps and averted eyes do to a person?
It was worse than if those eyes had told the worst story in the world.

A Poor Soul

Do you remember the first time you told a white lie? Just a small fib, or a minor exaggeration. Nobody knew, it could be that nobody cared. But you knew, you cared, and the guilt you felt ate at your conscience.

Do you remember the last time you told a white lie? The last time you exaggerated a story just a bit? Probably not. Repeated ignorance causes us to become numb to the urgings of our consciences.
The first time I walked away from the homeless man with the cardboard sign and empty eyes, I felt a sick with guilt. His face flashed in my mind, and my guilty conscience devoured me.

Today, I live in Toronto, walk past homeless people frequently, and yet only feel dull gnawing of my conscience which disappears soon after. If someone asked me to describe in detail one homeless person I saw that day, I could not do it.

I do not attribute this to a poor memory. I attribute this to a poor soul. I have become somewhat desensitized to something that ought to break my heart, and for this, I am ashamed.

Now some of you reading this may be shaking your head, or inwardly offering comfort to my guilty soul thinking: oh don't worry Katrina, it's not your problem.

No? Then whose problem is it? As humans we are so ready to hand off the responsibility to someone else, thinking that there is surely someone who will take care of the issue. So we play a game of hot-potato, singing "not my problem, pass it on...pass it on...pass it on...".

One of the devil's favorite strategies is a false sense of freedom from responsibility, and a desensitization of the things which should ache us.

A Beautiful Encounter

Yet just recently my poor soul was inspired. In fact, this entire post was inspired by just one moment. It was a Saturday, and the interns were all gathered downtown for  a tour of Toronto. The tour guide was late, and so we hung outside Old City Hall, talking and waiting. I drank my Starbucks and posed for pictures and - as many moments in my life - was utterly self consumed. My blinded eyes and desensitized heart did not even notice the man sprawled on the sidewalk just fifty feet away.

But someone else did. Another intern saw the man, but did not just see him. She approached him, and sat down in front of him on the dirty, busy sidewalk of Queen street. She did not step over him, or avert her eyes. Instead, she sat - coming down to his level - and looked him straight in the eye. Such compassion, respect and love were in those eyes. And as she sat there, she began to talk to the man on the sidewalk.

Now for the rest of us, we could not hear or know what she was talking about. In fact, few of us noticed the beautiful display of compassion that was taking place. However, when I did notice, my heart smiled. There was no sense of performance in her actions, instead, she acted quietly and sincerely. She saw this man with her heart, as a soul who needs love, and so she loved him. It was as simple as that.

The Least of These

"Then the righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!' "
~Jesus~ (Mathew 25:37-40)
Now stop. Go back and read that passage again. Read it over and over until it resonates in your heart. The righteous will ask the Lord, "when did we see you?". They will not remember seeing Christ, because they had moved on quickly, with a false sense of purpose.
"When did we see you?"
They had ignored the dull gnaw of guilt in their conscience.
"When did we see you?"
They had averted their eyes.
We have become blind.
Curse the selfishness that has clouded the vision of our hearts, for we no longer see the "least of these".


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Your Purpose Isn't a Mystery.

My reflection on the first week working with the inner city kids of Toronto.

The Not-So-Warm Welcome

"I don't care who you are. I don't want to come to camp unless Jo-Jo is going to be there."

I looked down at the defiant nine year old that stood in front of me, one hand on her hip. She was Jamaican descent, hair braided into tight cornrows, lips pursed and eyebrows raised. I had never seen so much sass packed into one little girl.

"Jo-Jo won't be there, she finished her internship. I'm your new leader!"

I attempted to share the slowly withering excitement I had, but this little girl would have none of it. She snapped her fingers in oh-no-you-didn't fashion, turned on her heel, and strutted away as brazenly as a nine year old could strut.

I didn't know whether to giggle or sigh at the reaction of Lexie - one of the young girls I would be working with this year. It was obvious from the beginning that among the other 8-10 year old girls, Lexie was the leader of the wolf-pack, and I was pretty sure she saw me as a tasty rabbit she would devour at any moment.

I was slightly intimidated, though the intimidation I felt sprung mainly from shock. I had been informed that the children I would be working with would most likely be different from any others I had worked with in the past, but I didn't realize just how incomparable they really were. Having counselled various ages at a summer camp for the past four years, I figured I had a good handle on dealing with kids. But the difference between mainly small-town rural kids and big-city urban children was mildly appalling.

Teaching to Trust

The main difference that I immediately picked up on occurred during the initial meeting. At summer camp - for the most part - the children run off the bus and love you instantly. The criteria for friendship: are you wearing a camp staff t-shirt? If yes - you are indeed a counsellor - you are immediately loved and admired. Even the older kids, who have become experts at masking any admiration, let on once and a while that they think you're the coolest thing since Justin Bieber, or whatever-the-heck kids are into these days. Signing up to be a summer-camp counsellor is pretty much signing up for a giant ego boost.

This, however, was a totally new experience. For these children, trust wasn't simply given out free of charge. Trust, respect, all came with a price. In all honesty though, I can't say that I blame them. For the children of the Warden Woods Community, nothing is consistent. You're ignored one day, you're targeted the next. What is okay one day deserves a slap across the face the next. Promises are broken, people come and go. Trust in anyone except yourself is foolish.

This fact makes my job, and that of all the other interns, rather difficult. It's not easy establishing a meaningful, lasting relationship with children who have decided that relationships are not meaningful, and they don't last. I had no idea how to go about altering this mindset they have developed, so I resorted to the one and only technique that I know works without fail: love.

Passing the Test

The first few days of camp seemed to be a series of tests; not for the children, but for us. The discipline techniques we had been taught and encouraged to use were implemented on day one. Kids were put on time outs, sent to see the supervisor, and even suspended. We spent the day chasing after runaways, working through arguments, and forcing a smile when the kids told us that camp sucks or they hate us. By the time we collapsed onto the couches at the end of the day we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

But we were encouraged by our supervisors who insisted that this was simply a phase. "They are testing you," they said with a smile. Well that much is obvious, I thought. I felt like a rubber band that the kids were stretching and pulling to see how much it would take before I snapped and went shooting off in the opposite direction. By the end of the third day with the children, it seemed it would be impossible to ever establish anything more than a surface level relationship with the kids. But I was determined to love them regardless; to pass their tests and show them that no matter what they did, I would love them anyways. That with every step they took away from me, I would take two steps towards them, arms outstretched with love.

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them." (Romans 12:9a) 

Not all Rainbows and Butterflies

In all honesty, the concept of "loving unconditionally" is a lot more romantic sounding than it is in actuality. Loving unconditionally is the exact opposite of what our sinful flesh desires, which makes it uncomfortable and even painful at times. Loving unconditionally can often mean the battering on your pride, or the plummeting of your reputation. Loving unconditionally doesn't mean prancing around kissing the cheeks of your enemies and as a result having them take your hand and prance along next to you into the sunset. Loving unconditionally doesn't always bear immediate visible results, and sometimes the results are not visible at all. Loving unconditionally means humility, self-rejection, and an honest, unbridled reliance on God. 

Unconditional love is what these kids need, and it's what I'm determined to give them. It's what everyone needs...the cashier drudgingly ringing through your items, the middle-aged man falling asleep on the subway, the kid in the back of the classroom who makes obscene remarks. The co-worker you can't stand, the girl you always pass in the hall on the way to chemistry. The woman in front of you in line, the man behind you on the escalator. Every single person on this planet wants love. Every single person on this planet needs love.

 Your Purpose Isn't a Mystery

"Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples - when they see the love you have for each other." (John 13: 34-35)

And we were meant to give it. If you have laid eyes on them, you are meant to love them. Everybody who has entered your life in any way, shape, or form - whether briefly or consistently - God has put them in your life so that you may love them.

How do I know this? Because you have no other purpose in life except to love. It's really all it boils down to. How easily distracted we are! How easily we forget our purpose! Praise be to God whose love for us is never distracted. 

Let's be real here: I'm not cut out to love these kids. I'm probably the worst choice of person called to love unconditionally. Good thing it's not my love that I'm giving them.

"We love each other because He loved us first." (1 John 4:19)