Tag Archives: gratitude

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!

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Back in the saddle

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Happy autumn! I/we are back in the swing of things at The Dale, after a very full summer and then some time away.

Thanks to the generosity of a dear friend, she and I were able to spend the last couple of weeks away from our regular lives, doing some traveling: exploring, reading, hiking, thinking, swimming, praying, eating and resting. This time away was a gift in so many ways, and I’ve come back feeling grateful and refreshed. I am also grateful for Meagan, whose presence at the Dale made it possible for me and Erinn to have overlapping holidays for the first time ever (without The Dale being closed the whole time)!

I spent some time reflecting on the first thirty years of my life while I was away, and marveling at the fact that I get to do what I love for my job…and that I’ve been doing this work at the Dale for five years now! Half a decade of life in community: learning from each other and from God (often through each other), laughing even in the midst of hard things, getting frustrated with each other and seeking to work through it, grieving with and for each other, seeing changes in one another. What a ride it has been, and will continue to be!

This weekend we’re heading up to Camp Koinonia in Parry Sound for our annual fall retreat. About thirty of us will pile into a school bus with all of our stuff, and spend a few days up north. This is some of our folks’ only chance to be out of the city all year, so it’s a pretty special time. We’ll go for hikes, go paddling, and have camp fires. Some of us will go fishing, and some others will go swimming. I’ve already promised to paddle alongside a friend who would like to swim across the lake! If you think of us, please pray/send good thoughts for safety and harmony.

After the retreat is over, the next big Dale event will be the Ride for Refuge on September 30th! This bike ride/walk has become our annual fundraiser for our general budget (which comes entirely from donations). If you would like to join us on the 30th, we would love to bike or walk with you!! You can register at:

https://rideforrefuge.org/register

If you’re not able to join us but can donate, you can do that here:

https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=768324&langPref=en-CA

Again, happy autumn everyone. May this season be full of apple cider, cozy sweaters, and fresh perspectives.

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!”

Grateful!

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Today I am very grateful.

Grateful (on many levels) that Erinn’s husband Dion has been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks now, and that Erinn has been able to return to The Dale.

Grateful that a young man in our community will soon be out of the shelter system, and into subsidized housing, after many months of transience. And honoured that we get to play a small role in helping this to happen.

Grateful that I got to accompany another community member to the signing of the lease for her new, much improved, apartment. We’re already making plans to have tea on her balcony 🙂

Grateful that we’re about to take another trip up to the Zola Community Land, the 2.5 acre plot near Haliburton that friends of The Dale have invited us to use for gardens and retreats. We’re hatching plans for raised beds for veggies and herbs for our Monday lunches this year, and for an outdoor kitchen, walking labyrinth, and yurts in the years to come!

Grateful for a day full of good news, after a long period of time with lots of tragedy and uncertainty.

Grateful for spring!

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.

Well cared for

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A lot has happened since I last blogged! August really got away on me; a familiar feeling, I’m sure.

As I wrote last time, Erinn was away for a few weeks. As I trusted would be the case, I was very well supported while she was gone. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

In my blog I wrote about how the community “has my back”, and this was literally and figuratively true. During one of the (remarkably rare) conflicts between community members that may have become physical, I stepped between the two friends of mine who were experiencing tension. Another friend slid in just behind me, and we stood back to back, collaboratively diffusing the situation. This happened the very next day after I had blogged!

I was cared for in many such ways over the following weeks. Friends stepped in to help me lead music for our Sunday services. A core member of the community helped to clean one of the spaces we use by scrubbing a bunch of toilets and mopping the floor. A couple of friends from Sanctuary lent their support during a Monday meal drop-in.

Last week we closed The Dale so that both Erinn and I could be off at the same time. I was very well cared for during that week too. I enjoyed a bunch of meals with various friends, and spent a few days at a beautiful organic, off the grid farm that is owned and operated by friends/mentors/professors of mine. This is the same farm that has welcomed The Dale for a day-trip two years in a row now. I rested, worked in the garden, read, learned to make salsa, went for long walks in the woods, and shared delicious meals and fellowship.

A couple of days ago I managed to take a tumble, and banged myself up a bit. I received lots of immediate and follow-up care from the friends who witnessed or heard about my fall, for which I was/am very grateful. I arrived at drop-in a couple of days later, and as soon as I explained that I was pretty sore, folks from the community insisted that I take it easy and that they would “do whatever you usually do!”

I am so grateful for these ways in which I’ve been reminded, once again, that I am deeply blessed with wonderful communities of friends. Thank you to everyone who has been a conduit of God’s love over these past weeks!

Never flying solo

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Erinn’s away for the next couple of weeks. When I’m explaining The Dale to people and tell them that there are just the two of us on staff, I get some funny looks. And when I say that she’ll be away for a while, I get even funnier looks!

I’ll admit that I get a few butterflies in my tummy whenever Erinn is out of town for a while. But the beauty of The Dale is that I’m never actually “flying solo”. Our Monday meals happen every week because a whole bunch of community members, along with our awesome kitchen coordinator Souad, make it happen. Even next week when Souad is away, it’ll still happen. Everything that goes on throughout the week is a group effort, and I know that the community has my back.

We are also very blessed with folks from outside Parkdale who come and pitch in. These various friends and family members have become part of the community too, and I am so so grateful for their love and support whenever they are present.

This t-shirt, sent to me by my wonderful sister, sums up this post:

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All this being said, I/we would still appreciate prayer for a peaceful couple of weeks 🙂 At The Dale we’ve go each others’ backs, and I know that there is One who has our collective back too.

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.