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!