Tag Archives: beauty

The beauty of spilling out


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.



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


Sidewalk reminders



Parkdale sunsets


Backyard bonfires


Friends who like to swing from vines


Friends with farms and pies


Colourful little critters found at farms


More graffiti reminders


Good poetry (thanks Wendell Berry!)


Cherries picked blocks and hours from our drop in



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)

In the end, in the end, in the end


Things continue to be pretty heavy at The Dale. Two dear friends are still in hospital, and may not come out. Another community member who it seemed was just beginning to trust us, and was only a year older than me, passed away last week. As a community, and as individuals, we are sad, and tired.

This morning I was with one of our friends in the hospital, just before he was transferred to a different, further away, hospital. I read him a psalm, and reminded him that he is God’s beloved. He replied, “I know. I’m his creation. I’m his son!” This friend has seen more than his fair share of struggles (and showed me some of his scars today that prove it… not that I had any doubt), and yet he holds onto his true identity as a beloved child of God.

Later in the day I was at the Thrift Store, for our coffee and hang-out time. We are often visited on Tuesdays by a small friend and his babysitter, and their presence is always a blessing. This little guy has a very kind and, I think, pastoral heart. Before he left today, he went around and gave each person in the circle a big hug. I can’t even tell you how beautiful it was. This child knows that he is loved, and out of that love flows love for others.

The other friend who is hospitalized is on life support, so I haven’t been able to talk to him in two and a half weeks. But he has many sayings that have been running through my head over these past weeks. One of them, that he used in the way that I use “anyways” or “in any case”, is “in the end, in the end, in the end.” I’ve been thinking about that, and holding onto the hope that it points me towards. In the end, all will be made right. We are beloved children of God, and in the end we will no longer experience loss, fear, illness, confusion and pain. In the end, in the end, in the end.

And in the meantime, we need to keep remembering our identity, know that we are loved, and love each other with that love.



Tonight’s Bible study was really lovely.

We were small in number, but had a good, deep discussion and the chance to really share and pray together, which is sometimes hard in bigger groups.

One member took off a bit early to get to an AA meeting, and we cheered him on his way, congratulating him on 13 days of sobriety.

The rest of us spent some time praying. One member prayed “for the guy in the bus shelter, even though he’s crabby with me. I don’t really know why I’m praying for him… but I love him, and I’ll miss him when he’s gone.” Another prayed for “everyone who thinks that no one loves them.”

Wowzers. What a group.

Words from the community


A friend at The Dale recently told me that he writes poetry, and asked if I’d like to read some of his work. I excitedly said I would love to!

The next week he handed me two work books containing his handwritten poetry/theological reflections/prayers. It has been a deep privilege to read through his work, and I’m trying to convince him to publish it, in some way.

In the meantime, he has given me permission to share some of his words with you. Here are excerpts from a piece called “The Lord Make his Face Shine upon us”

Our Heavenly Father looks upon us with pleasure. He looks upon us through the lens of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Father no longer sees our sins for they have been washed away in Jesus Christ’s blood. He no longer sees our weakness, because we have been clothed in Jesus Christ. God’s face is shining upon us because we are His dear children through faith in Jesus Christ, who on the cross earned for us a place in God’s family.

Father in Heaven, we are grateful to you, Lord, that you know our hearts with our pain and joy. Thank you that you never leave us nor forsake us, as your word tells us. Father, do not turn your face from me, but always look upon me with the shining grace of your Son. Keep me as a sheep of your flock, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Thank you Father.

May you be blessed by these words today.

Art doesn’t judge.


Just over a month ago I was gifted with two tickets to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I asked a friend from Sanctuary, who adores classical music, to join me. He did, and we had a wonderful time. He knows far more about classical than I do, and enjoyed it on a deeper level than I think I’ll ever be able to. It was a joy to be with him, seeing him soak in the piano concerto, as at home in Roy Thompson hall as he is on the street. He belonged there, and the music welcomed him in.

Today I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario with a friend from The Dale. Someone had gifted her with a family pass, and she was having a hard time finding someone who wanted to go along. Eventually she asked me, and of course I said yes! Again, this friend knows way more about art than I do. We spent a long time looking at the model ships, and she taught me a ton about them, having made some herself when she was younger. We cruised around the halls of this grand gallery and soaked in the beauty. Again, my friend was totally at home, and the art welcomed her in.

I love having these experiences with my friends. I love being welcomed in by the art, to enjoy its beauty, with no questions asked.This reminds me of the Source of all creativity, who created us with the longing to create, and to enjoy the creations of others. The Source who welcomes all of us in.

Another brutiful year


It’s a new year. Christmas has come and gone again. A friend from my Sanctuary community, Maggie Paul, shared a new word with me just before Christmas that I found/find incredibly helpful when thinking about Christmas, the new year, and life in general: brutiful. This word is originally from a blog called Momastery [http://momastery.com/blog/2010/10/04/brutiful-2/]

The word brutiful reminds us that many things are simultaneously brutal and beautiful. This is similar to the idea I was trying to get at in my last post, when I talked about grief and grace living side by side.

I found Christmas Eve at the Dale to be brutiful. Brutal that so many of our friends were already in hibernation mode, hunkering down and attempting to ignore the holidays altogether. Brutal that the festive season brought up so much past hurt and current pain for so many of us. And beautiful that a group of us came together to enjoy a warm, yummy breakfast and a gingerbread house that we had created a couple of weeks before. Beautiful that two 12 year old “elves” (Erinn’s daughter and her friend) handed out gift bags to the folks who had gathered. Beautiful that the number of bags was exactly the same as the number of people.

Once I started thinking in “brutiful terms”, I saw this paradox everywhere.

A friend called me throughout the holidays to update me on his efforts to secure a room in a rooming house for another friend in the community. Brutal that a small, windowless room without kitchen facilities is currently the only feasible option for this friend. But beautiful that members of the community are looking out for one another, and allowing me the honour of being kept in the loop.

A friend fell off the wagon after being sober for over a month. He came to talk to us because people told him we were worried about him. We chatted for a while, and it was brutal to see him intoxicated when I knew how desperately he wanted to not be. But then he got quiet, looked me straight in the eyes and whispered, “Jesus loves you. He really does, you know.” Beautiful.

So here we are in 2015, a year that we know for sure will be brutiful. Brutal isn’t nearly a strong enough word to describe today’s shootings in Paris. And yet we know that, somehow, beauty will keep surprising us throughout the year. We may need to train our eyes to see it, but it will be there. By the grace of God, beauty remains.

Lord give us the wisdom, courage and grace we will need in this brutiful year ahead.


The gift of giving


As December gets rolling, everything around us tells us to think about giving gifts. Like I said in my last post, I have a lot of thoughts about this… but for today I want to ponder an alternative way of thinking about gift giving, which applies all year long.

Central to the vision/mission statement of The Dale is the idea that all people are welcomed into full participation; all are encouraged to share the gifts that they have been given with the rest of the community. These gifts might include food prep, music, art, time spent on outreach, insights shared at Bible study, and any number of other things.  This invitation to both give and receive is important to us, because too often folks who are on the margins find themselves passive recipients, and are robbed of the opportunity to give.

Over my time at Sanctuary and the Dale, I have been the recipient of many precious gifts: smiles and hugs, words of deep wisdom and encouragement right when I needed them most, shared meals, wild (or something like that!) flowers, cards and little items. I have a treasure box where I keep a delightful assortment of bracelets, key chains, toys, a baseball, etc. One of my most treasured gifts is a french onion soup bowl that was given to me by a friend who heard me say that I’d like to buy a butter dish 🙂

Last week I received a beautiful piece of writing from a new friend at the Dale. He said that I could share it with you. Here it is, just as he wrote it:

Trust Jesus

Trust him in the dark places of your mind. Trust him in the light. When everything is wrong, you have to trust him. Trust him in the valley; trust for every moment of your life. Thank him for every breath you take. Trust him he gave the the newness of life, from the dead through his blood. Trust him for he never fail. Jesus is not a failure. If you put your trust in a man you are heading for trouble because man always fails. Put not your trust in man, man will fail and sometimes laugh at you, so put your trust in Jesus not in any many. Jesus he deliver from the dead not me so you trust Jesus. Jesus he is the only one. He made you. Jesus is the Lord God the creator of life there is no other way but through Jesus his blood gave you salvation. Trust him with all your heart. It is Jesus it is Jesus.

So friends, may we remember that giving is a gift, and that the most precious gifts usually aren’t tangible. And in this season of gift giving, may we hope for, long for, and ache for the arrival of The Gift. It is Jesus it is Jesus.

An advent re-post


Last year I did a lot of thinking about Advent and Christmas, and wrote a post about it. These thoughts still pretty much sum up how I feel about December, so I thought I’d post it again:


I accidentally went to the Dufferin Mall on Black Friday. I should say, I went to the Dufferin Mall to buy Advent candles and a swim cap, and I forgot that it was Black Friday! It was a terrible experience. So many people, so much consumerism, so little peace. I didn’t find any Advent-appropriate candles or a swim cap, but didn’t want the trip to be totally fruitless, so I picked up some cookie cutters to use the following week for a tree-decorating-cooking-baking party with my housemates.

On my walk home I thought about the experience that I had just lived through, and how it fit into my understanding of Christmas. I have always been bothered by the consumerism/materialism that surround Christmas, and find it SO frustrating that we collectively spend billions of dollars on a bunch of stuff we don’t really need, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of a baby who was born into poverty, became a refugee, and challenged his followers to live simply. I think that giving and receiving meaningful gifts is a lovely thing, I just don’t think that we need to spend SO much money, and I don’t think that buying more stuff should be the focus of Christmas. And yet here I was, walking home having bought cookie cutters because I didn’t want to leave the mall empty-handed!

But then I thought more about my new cookie-cutters. I hope to have them for a long time, and they are tools in the creation not only of home-made cookies, but of memories with my friends. They represent some of the great things about the Christmas season… time spent together, good smells, yummy tastes, beautiful memories. Along the same lines, we, at The Dale, did a bunch of Christmas baking, went caroling, and held a Christmas open-stage, decorated with red, white and green lights. These things (cookies, carols, lights, fun times) don’t need to be linked with the consumerism/materialism of Christmas that I oppose. They also aren’t the “true meaning” of Christmas, but they’re really great! I don’t have to to boycott gingerbread, just because I oppose the mall!

Then I thought about Advent. I never did find Advent candles, but made a makeshift wreath with tea lights and one tall candle in the middle. I did not grow up with liturgy, but went to an Anglican theology school and was introduced to the Church calendar, including Advent. This year I have really fallen in love with Advent’s focus on waiting, longing, aching and hoping for Jesus. Waiting in hope is hard, but it is good. This is a huge part of the Christian life, and I love that in December we sit and dwell in the waiting.  Advent has nothing to do with consumerism, and also has nothing to do with gingerbread. I know there are connections (Jesus is God’s gift to us, so we give each other gifts… We celebrate his coming, which includes feasting), but in my mind these three things (consumerism, gingerbread, etc, and Advent) are distinct aspects of the phenomenon that we call “Christmas”.

And then there is the fact that Christmas is hard, for lots and lots of people. The whole festive-ness of it all brings up pain for many reasons. Families are broken, relationships are strained, loved ones have died, resources are scarce. Christmas is hard for many of my friends at The Dale, for all of these reasons and more. And, as many of you will know all too well, this pain extends beyond the street. Many (maybe even most?) of us struggle at Christmas-time. The pain that we experience is raw and real, and we are in it together. This year I have been learning to dwell in the pain; not minimize it, and not make it more than it is.

So, Christmas is still complicated, but I think I’m okay with that! I have realized that I can be opposed to the consumerism, enjoy the gingerbread, dwell deeply in the hopeful waiting, and work through the pain. Or at least try to!


Experiences of redemption and gezelligheid


November has been a very full month so far!

I am part of a team of that worked together over the last few months to plan a conference for young women in ministry, which we called “Junia’s Daughters” (Junia is mentioned in Romans 16:7, as being “outstanding among the apostles”. Her name was mistranslated “Junias”- a male name- for many years, as translators couldn’t fathom the idea of a female apostle). On November 8th, a group of about 80 women came together at Wycliffe College to worship, discuss, pray, eat, and listen to and share stories and experiences. It was a wonderful day, and I feel so blessed that I was able to be a part of it. We honoured the strength and courage of the women who have gone before us, gave thanks for the many ways that women are now allowed to participate in vocational ministry, and acknowledged the struggles and barriers that we still face.

Two days later, when I was opening up The Dale’s Monday drop-in, I looked around and had a wonderful realization. I was surrounded by eight men, of different ages and stages of life, each busily preparing for drop in; setting tables, chopping vegetables, starting up the stove. A little later we were joined by a number of women who are also essential to the running of our Monday meal. But in that moment, these men were naturally, happily, carrying out tasks that have traditionally been delegated to women. This was not intentional, and I doubt that anyone else even noticed. And to me this felt very redemptive; a glimpse of the kingdom where everyone uses the gifts they have been given, without regard for prescribed roles and gender norms.

The next week, The Dale held a “Fun Fair Fundraiser”, where we invited one and all to come and play games, have their faces painted, square dance, bid on pies, eat chili, fudge and caramel apples, enjoy a concert by The Lovelocks (a Toronto-based country/folk band), and learn more about The Dale. Our incredible Board of Directors did much of organizing for this event, and a beautiful team of volunteers from Parkdale and beyond helped it all come together. We were blown away by the number of people who showed up, celebrated with us, connected with life at The Dale, and donated. I think the best word to describe the event is “gezelligheid”, an untranslatable Dutch word that encompasses the words “cozy, fun, quiant, nice atmosphere” and also “belonging, time spent with loved ones, the fact of seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness that gives a warm feeling”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gezelligheid). Basically, it was pretty awesome 🙂

I can’t describe how grateful I am for these experiences. Thank you to everyone who helped make these events happen, to everyone who makes up these remarkable communities, and to the good Lord for bringing us all together. Here’s to many more moments of redemption and gezelligheid!