Tag Archives: hope

Dreaming and grieving

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I never used to remember my dreams.

In the last few years, though, they have been more vivid, and more of them have stuck with me after I awake. Sometimes these dreams are a bizarre mash-up of things that I’m thinking about, and I don’t read too much into them. Others are about things that I fear and are a little too realistic, leaving me feeling tired and upset when I wake up. Thankfully these are relatively rare.

And occasionally I have dreams that are lovely at the time and heart-wrenching afterward, because they are about friends that I have lost from Sanctuary or The Dale. I’ll dream that these friends are alive and well, and I’m so happy to see them. Then I wake up and realize that they are still gone. These dreams are hard, but they also give me hope. They give me a glimpse of how wonderful it will be to see my friends in the Kingdom, when death is put to death once and for all.

The most vivid of these dreams occurred quite a while ago, but it frequently comes to mind, especially now that we at The Dale are in another season of grief.

In this dream I was standing in the parking lot at Sanctuary chatting with a group of people. Then Terra walked up, a woman around my age who died the day before my birthday, 4 years ago. In real life I had told her that I hoped to do outreach with her one day, knowing that she had been engaged in street outreach at one point.

In the dream she told us that there had been a mistake, and that it wasn’t her that had died that day. She had moved a few hours away, made a major life turn-around, and had been working at a community center. She looked SO healthy, and SO happy. She had just come back to Sanctuary to tell us that she was doing great.

The next thing I knew, there were a whole bunch of people in the parking lot who [we thought] had died… Iggy, Mark, Fred, Cliff. It was the most beautiful thing. Then we casually parted ways, knowing that we’d be seeing more of each other soon.

Waking up from that dream was the saddest thing. But like I said, it also gives me hope.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grieving, and how to do it well when there’s sometimes no time to breathe between deaths. I think that these dreams are a way that my subconscious is helping me to process the deaths of my friends, and are therefore a means of grace.

So, when these dreams come I will receive them as bitter sweet gifts; reminders to keep on grieving and hoping.

 

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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.

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)

In the end, in the end, in the end

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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.

Hope in the heaviness

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If you read Erinn’s blog, you’ll know that this has been a heavy week, and it feels like it might get heavier.

Last Wednesday there were two memorials in a row for folks from the Sanctuary community (one of whom also came to The Dale), followed by the death of another Sanctuary member a few days later. I didn’t know any of these three men well, but I know people who did know them well, and am sad for everyone involved. Erinn and I were able to attend one of the two memorials, where we were reminded that there is nothing fair about the way life unfolds, but that if the Beatitudes are true, the most broken WILL be the most blessed in the end. This doesn’t seem to do a whole lot for us or our friends in the present, as we bear witness to the struggles, illnesses, overdoses, accidents, and premature deaths. But if we don’t have this hope, we don’t have much.

I’ve been trying to hold onto this hope, as two beloved Dale folks have been hospitalized in the last week and a half with life threatening situations. Rumours were flying around this morning that one of them had been taken off life support, which is untrue. But the knowledge that this is a real possibility in the coming days or weeks is scary and sad.

Last week I also had difficult encounters with a Sanctuary friend, then a Dale friend a few hours later, while running errands downtown. I left both encounters genuinely and sadly wondering if my presence had had a net positive, neutral or negative impact on my friends. I was reminded of the fact that sometimes there is very little I can do for my friends in the moment, and that my best efforts may backfire. I was reminded that I don’t have all the answers, and I never will.

And yet, I/we hold onto the hope of the Beatitudes, the resurrection, and the coming kingdom.

In the meantime we’ve been given little gifts, like a beautiful, full-sky rainbow during street outreach at the end of the double-memorial day. And wonderful words of encouragement from various folks in the community who remind us that the presence of this little group of strugglers is important and good. And the chance to celebrate my dad’s birthday, with a beautiful bike ride along the water. So in the midst of the heaviness, there are reasons for hope and gratitude.

Choosing hope

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Today was tough. There were lots of things about our Monday meal drop in that were totally lovely- fun jamming sessions, an unforeseen and generous donation of clothing, lots of coffee and muffins, good chats, warm hugs, delicious potatoes, veggies, chicken and fruit salad, cohesive teamwork (and a couple of dance parties) in the kitchen, and interpersonal harmony more or less throughout the 5 hours we were together.

And there were lots of difficult things going on within us and our community. Things that don’t have easy answers, seem to be getting worse not better, and leave us feeling deeply sad and at a bit of a loss. I sat for quite a while hearing from a community member who really isn’t doing well. We came up with a few potential next steps, but the reality is that this friend is struggling deeply. Near the end of our conversation, my friend asked me, “Do you think things will ever get better?”, and all I could say was “… I have hope for you.”

Honestly, I have no idea if my friend will experience a huge transformation, or even a series of small ones. But I am choosing to hold onto hope; for this friend, and for all of us. I have hope that things can get better, and that one day things – ALL things- will be made ultimately right. This is the hope of resurrection, of which we’re reminded every Easter.

One of my favourite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, put it very well: “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ, and the resurrection of the body of all creatures great and small, not the literal resurrection of this tired body, this broken self, but the body as it was meant to be, the fragmented self made new; so that at the end of time all Creation will be One. Well: maybe I don’t exactly believe it, but I know it, and knowing is what matters.”

An advent re-post

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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!

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Experiences of redemption and gezelligheid

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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!