Tag Archives: beauty

Planting bulbs

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For the first time ever, I have planted bulbs in the garden in front of the place I call home. I grew up seeing my mom trundle out into the chilly/dreary/sunny/rainy October weather to dig into the earth and deposit dry, dead-looking little items which she would then cover up and forget about.

And then- wonder of wonders!- on some chilly/dreary/sunny/rainy March day, she would excitedly call me out to see the first little white snow drop or purple crocus. Every single time, my mom was beside-herself-happy to see these little harbingers of spring.

While I always shared in my mom’s excitement, I don’t think I realized the beauty and poignancy of the idea of planting bulbs until doing it myself this afternoon. There I was, in my rain coat, rain pants and rain boots, with a butter knife and big metal spoon (I have yet to invest in a proper trowel… Ha.) I loosened up a little patch of earth, dug twenty little holes, and placed a dry, dead-looking little item into each hole. I covered them up, watered them (to supplement the rain they’re also getting), and went inside.

I will do nothing else except wait, hope and trust that on some March day I will see a wee bit of green popping through the soil, or even the snow (I planted snow crocuses, given to me by… guess who? Yup. Thanks Mom!)

This week has been a heavy one, mostly due to the fact that a number of friends outside The Dale have been struggling with very heavy burdens – acute trauma, loss of relationship, loss of a loved one, scary surgery. I have felt so sad and weary for these friends, and have endeavored to be present to them as I was able.

In the middle of this acute awareness of the heaviness around me and my inability to make things better for my friends, I heard a sermon at Wine Before Breakfast that felt like it was meant for me (you know that feeling?) My friend Andrew Colman was preaching on one of the two parables of the sower, and the parable of the mustard seed. In each case, the Kingdom is compared to the process of plants growing, with little/no human involvement. The sower just sows the seeds, then eventually reaps the harvest. The mustard seed is probably blown by the wind, then grows into a shrub all on its own.

Andrew reminded me/us that the Kingdom will grow, with or without us. We have the great privilege and calling of engaging in Kingdom work, but through these parables God is saying, “if today you cannot till the ground – that’s okay, I’ve got it… If today you can’t shine – that’s okay, I got it… If today you cannot even throw the seeds, Jesus tells us – that’s okay, I got it.”

So this week, when I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of pain in the lives of those around me, God reminded me that, “if today all you can do is plant some bulbs- that’s okay, I got it.”

The Kingdom will come, God’s will will be done.. and in a few months we will be surprised by snow crocuses.

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Camp

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This past weekend about thirty of us from The Dale went up to Camp Koinonia. It was an adventure, from start to finish!

This year we had a number of strong personalities on the trip, and a couple of folks with significant mental health struggles. The combination of these factors led to some tension on the bus ride up, a few spectacular blow-ups during the weekend, and more tension on the bus ride back (which also involved getting a flat tire on Highway 400). Good times.

That being said, all of these tense situations were handled in the moment, everyone stayed safe, and the difficult moments were far outnumbered by the beautiful ones.

One of my favourite parts of the weekend happened on the Saturday afternoon. As I wrote in my last blog, I had promised a friend (Kim) that I would paddle across the lake while she swam. In the end, another friend, Tim, did the paddling, and Erinn and I joined Kim in the water! It was chilly, refreshing and wonderful. A large-ish group of folks cheered us on from the shore as we swam from the camp beach to a rocky point partway across the lake and back again. Meagan and her fiance Ian paddled out to heckle us, and Cate (Erinn’s daughter) made her way out on a paddle board to accompany us on the way back. It was great.

Another beautiful period of time was during a hike into the forest behind the camp. We enjoyed some amazing scenery, breathed lots of fresh air, got a tiny bit lost, and found our way back to the trail. After returning from the hike, a community member who had never been up to camp with us before said that it felt like a whole other world, being out in the woods like that. Her face was glowing with joy and hard-earned perspiration.

At the end of the weekend a number of people said they’d like to stay up north forever 🙂 Despite the difficult moments, we were reminded again how important it is to take some time out of the city, as a community. Looking at the stars, singing campfire songs, working on puzzles, being outside almost all day… These are good, good things, for which we are collectively grateful.

Returning from the big swim!

John

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This week has been a tough one. Just days after having Nicole’s death confirmed, we learned that our friend John had also died.

John was a genuine kind of guy. A couple of years ago he was quite a constant presence at The Dale. He was going through a very difficult time, and would come into our Monday drop-in to talk things out. He was very open about the depth of his pain, and also about his appreciation of our community. He and his partner at the time were known to describe The Dale as a place to come and “get your calm on”. This made and makes me really happy.

Over the last few years John had been doing better, and we didn’t see him quite so much. When I did see him on the street he would always stop, ask how I was, beam his smile at me, and when we were parting ways he would almost always say, “take it eeeeeeasy.” He had a way of making me feel that taking it easy may actually be possible… If he could, then I could too.

I’m really going to miss seeing John around the neighbourhood. And I’m glad that he was able to get out to the east coast to be with his family before he passed away.

John, may you deeply enjoy taking it eeeeeeasy, from now on.

 

 

Nicole

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Nicole was special.

The first time I met her was at our Wednesday morning art and breakfast drop in a few years ago. She sat in the corner, quietly creating beautiful pen and marker drawings. She would eat breakfast, continue drawing, and then slip out. It took a number of weeks before we had a conversation, and even then it was short. It was soon obvious to me that Nicole was a woman of deep intelligence, courage, creativity, and carefully hidden pain.

Over the months Nicole gradually opened herself up, sharing some of that hidden pain with us. She also shared her art, her entrepreneurial dreams, and her incredible smile. Even when she was struggling mightily, she would look me in the eye and ask how I was doing.

Nicole and her partner came up to camp with The Dale last fall. They were newly dating, and it was very sweet to see them caring tenderly for one another. Nicole worked tirelessly on a big jigsaw puzzle and delighted in its completion, even though a few pieces were missing. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a beautiful result of a joyful communal effort.

For the last number of months Nicole and her partner have been homeless. This was a massive source of stress for Nicole. She had a number of treasured possessions that she asked us to keep safe for her, including a large, beautiful painting of Paris that she dreamed of hanging in her new place. She also asked me to keep a small vile of a loved one’s ashes safe for her, and I still have it in a special corner of my wallet.

Every death at The Dale makes me sad, but Nicole’s death also makes me angry. While there were a huge number of stressors in her life, homelessness did not need to be one of them. And from the outside looking in, it seemed that homelessness was the final straw for her. She had a huge network of people from various community organizations who loved her and were seeking out a safe place for her live. And the reality of the affordable housing situation in Toronto is such that she was left waiting and hoping for something that may not have materialized for another number of months. This is wrong. This city should not have homeless deaths. Full stop.

Nicole, you are very very missed and very very loved. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Know that we’ll keep advocating for a solution to the needless homelessness that you experienced. Rest well, friend.

The spice of life

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If variety is the spice of life, yesterday was a flavourful day!

We met in the morning to do some admin work at our new “office”, the kitchen of a baptist church in Chinatown that has graciously offered us space, access to wifi, and a coffee maker 🙂 We talked through some logistics, answered emails, and wrote letters to members of our support team.

Next on the docket was a recording session for “The Noisy Jesus Band”, a group of musicians from The Dale who help lead worship on Sundays. A generous friend of one of the community musicians has supplied some equipment that makes recording possible, and so The NJB got down to work!

After a quick lunch-on-the-go, Meagan, Erinn and I then journeyed to the apartment of a community member who struggles with hoarding. This friend had been talking about having us come to help clean for quite a while now, and this week took the vulnerable plunge to have us over. It was saddening to see the conditions in which our friend lives, but a privilege to be invited in. Our friend played upbeat music and told us stories while we began the process of cleaning up.

After saying goodbye to our friend, I popped by the community garden to do some weeding in The Dale’s plot. The dill, kale and parsley that we planted as seeds are sprouting up nicely, and our basil, tomato, rosemary, oregano and mint plants are doing well too. I connected with another gardener who was curious about who we are and what we do. I gave him our info, and he said he’ll considering joining us for a drop-in or church service with his daughter sometime soon.

On my way through one of the many Parkdale parkettes, I ran into Marlene, a dear community member who was going to feed the birds. She stopped for a little chat and a hug. Marlene makes my heart smile.

My final stop was the apartment of a community member who is currently in the ICU at St. Jo’s. This friend is the proud and loving owner of six cats and a dog, and a few of us at The Dale are taking turns caring for these critters. Yesterday was my turn. I’m sad for these little dudes, as they miss their mom, and grateful that we were able to gain access to her place in order to help care for them.

So yeah. That was our day. Just another day at The Dale.

I am grateful for the generosity of our many supporters, and the person who donated that recording equipment. I am grateful for the way our friends let us into the vulnerable spaces of their lives, and that we receive such care from the community at the same time. And I’m grateful for new growth sprouting from the good earth, and new connections that remind me of the that saying my dad instilled in me: “there’s no such thing as strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet!”

Resurrection hope

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Back in December, Erinn and I heard through the grapevine that a dear Dale friend had passed away. We sought out confirmation, but neither the hospital, the police, nor the coroner’s office had any news for us.

So we held onto hope that we would see him around the neighbourhood…but the days turned into weeks, which turned into months. Erinn and I both wrote blogs about him, in attempts to process our sadness that he seemed to be gone.We were contemplating holding a memorial, but didn’t feel right about that since we didn’t actually know if he had died.

And then, through the persistence of another dear friend, we discovered that he was alive, and safe!! Erinn and I went to see him yesterday, and it was like seeing someone who had been raised from the grave. While he isn’t well physically, he is living, sober, and still very much his hilarious, grumpy self. It was SUCH a joy to see him, and I can’t wait to go see him again.

As Easter nears, I am so grateful for this reminder that resurrection hope is real. While this friend will eventually pass away, along with the rest of us, death does not have the final word. Hope will not disappoint us.

 

The word of the day…and of life

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here, as there’s been rather a lot going on within my life outside The Dale; housing changes, family changes, community and individual relationship changes. Most of these changes have been good, and also tiring… as change often is.

But I have a story that I’ve been meaning to share for weeks, and now I finally will 🙂

One Monday, I was about to head off to our meal drop in, and was telling one of my housemates how overwhelmed I was feeling by the hard things going on in the lives of people around me, and in my own head/heart. After rhyming off the list of things I was mulling over, I said, “But I know there’s hope. There has to be hope.”

When I got to drop in, a conflict that had been simmering for months erupted. Both parties felt misunderstood and wronged, and I had no clue how/if the situation could be mediated. Then, miraculously, one of the people involved suddenly came around to the other person’s point of view, and they agreed to shake hands. I was so genuinely shocked that I burst into tears, and couldn’t get my act together for a good five minutes! Both folks have been part of the Dale for a while, and this turn of events is evidence that they have both come a long way, by God’s grace. Evidence that change is possible. Hope.

A while later, a dear mentor/friend of mine came in with a gift for me. It was her “God loves Parkdale” t-shirt, and a note with this verse:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13). Hope!

I’ve had to the chance to describe my understanding of Christianity to a few new friends recently. I’ve realized that, to me, my faith all comes down to this one word: HOPE.

I believe that in the beginning there was God, God’s creation and relationships, and it was good.

I believe that in the end, there will be God, God’s new creation, and relationships, and it will be good.

In the middle, we’ve really screwed things up, for ourselves, each other and the creation with which we were entrusted.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean that death, sin and despair have been defeated, and that the end of the story will be good.

Hope. It’s all we’ve really got, and it’s enough.

Salty and bright

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I was reading the Gospel of Matthew a couple of days ago, and read the passage where Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:13, 14)

Somehow I had always associated those words with the end of Jesus’ ministry, and assumed he was talking to his closest friends, the disciples who were about to start the Church.

But, according to the chronology of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks these words to a large crowd of folks during his Sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of his ministry. Matthew, the author of the gospel, hadn’t even been called by Jesus yet!

Jesus had just finished healing a large number of people who had been afflicted with all sorts of diseases and struggles that would have left them on the margins of society. Matthew writes that these folks followed Jesus, and we can assume that they made up a large portion of the crowd to which Jesus was speaking. He started his sermon with the Beatitudes, proclaiming that the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted were the most blessed in the Kingdom.

And then, immediately after healing people who had experienced deep pain and marginalization, and telling them that they were The Blessed Ones, he tells them that they are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. He tells them not to lose their saltiness, or hide their light.

In my experience in communities like The Dale and Sanctuary, it is absolutely true that folks who have suffered the most are the saltiest and brightest.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who is wonderfully wise, and struggles mightily with an addiction to alcohol. She said to me, “I’m so weak…but His strength is made perfect in my weakness. He’s blessed me with nice people like you and Erinn, and I turn my back. But He never turns his back on me… I think about you a lot, you know. How is your family doing?”

A week or so later, I was speaking with another friend who is in chronic pain and struggles to make ends meet. At first he was focused on his pain, but then transitioned into an amazing mini-sermon about how it all comes down to love, how we need to listen to God even when it hurts, how it’s important to be a giver not just a taker, and how we need to learn to see the good in other people even when it’s not readily visible.

Another friend adopted a cat many years ago who wasn’t expected to live for very long, due to a variety of ailments. My friend has cared tenderly for this cat that would likely have otherwise been put down. He sat cuddling his beloved pet the other day, and the image was too beautiful not to capture. He told me I could share it with you.

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While Jesus is the ultimate Salt and Light, he makes it pretty clear (all throughout the gospels) that people on the margins are uniquely blessed with the ability to display his saltiness and brightness. I am so grateful for my friends who are constantly reminding me of this deep theological truth.

The beauty of spilling out

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When Erinn or I tell the story of The Dale, we often say that roughly three years ago we spilled out into the streets. The Dale (then PNC) could no longer afford to pay rent, and the decision was made to become a church without our own walls, rather then shut our (figurative) doors completely.

This way of being a roaming church has become a huge part of our identity, and sometimes I even forget that it’s not “normal”. Having no space of our own has it’s challenges, for SURE, but on days like today I am reminded anew of the beautiful blessing that it is to be a mobile church.

There is some work being done on the space that we usually inhabit on Wednesdays, and so we moved our art and breakfast drop-in into the park! It was the loveliest morning. We shared a simple meal of muffins, fruit and coffee. Some of us did some art, and some of us created music. We were able to connect with folks in the neighbourhood that we don’t usually see, and enjoyed being outside under the warm sun. The community was not at all thrown off by our change of location, since we have all become used to moving around, and being The Dale wherever two or more of us we end up!

At one point, a man came over and complimented the musicians on their rendition of “Sultans of Swing”, saying that he thought someone had been playing it on the radio. He was delighted to find the two of them playing it live. It turns out that this gentleman is a classical music radio show host! He was intrigued by our gathering, and took Erinn’s business card. While nothing more may come of this encounter, it was super encouraging, and another reminder of the neat things that can happen when we spill out into the neighbourhood and make ourselves open to new friendships.

I am grateful for days like today.

Gratitude

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I realized the other day that I haven’t done any blogging in a while, and I think it’s because things are still pretty difficult around The Dale, and within myself. Many good things have happened… and over all it’s been tough slogging. I don’t want to downplay or diminish the hard things, but I do want to take this blog post to name the things for which I am really grateful. And, in honour and anticipation of our upcoming Photo Exhibit (opening July 23rd at Gallery 1313 on Queen West… come!), I thought I’d use some pictures I’ve snapped over the last few weeks.

So, I am grateful for:

Our community garden plot, tended entirely by the community

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Sidewalk reminders

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Parkdale sunsets

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Backyard bonfires

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Friends who like to swing from vines

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Friends with farms and pies

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Colourful little critters found at farms

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More graffiti reminders

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Good poetry (thanks Wendell Berry!)

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Cherries picked blocks and hours from our drop in

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As Anne Lamott says, “Awful stuff happens and beautiful stuff happens, and it’s all part of the big picture. In the face of everything, we slowly come through… And at some point, we cast our eyes to the beautiful skies… and we whisper, ‘thank you.’ ”  (Help, Thanks, Wow, pg 51)