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. 

1 comment:

  1. Wishing you God's rich blessing as you begin new 'news'. Keep up your gift of writing!