It has happened a few times lately. When asked about how long ago my mom died, I get the date wrong. Not the day, but the year. She died on May 22, 2017; except I keep saying 2018. It’s like my brain can’t comprehend that we are approaching the third year without her.

Since her death, life has carried on at a serious pace. Dion’s health has seen dramatic change, Cate has entered her last year of high school, and The Dale has seen both significant growth and loss. I have been repeatedly faced with crisis, during which I simultaneously leap into action and feel deep sorrow. It is in the ‘crisis pocket’ that I often catch time to consider the absence of my mom. But I don’t want that to be it, which is why I am exploring ways in which to create more space to grieve my mom.

There isn’t a day when I don’t think about her. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine her death to be a dream. I can place myself at her bedside on that Victoria Day when she took her last breath and it takes my own breath away. And somehow, inexplicably, it feels like just yesterday that we were having one of our long chats. It just doesn’t make sense that she isn’t here.

My mom lived and breathed the hope that the grave would not be the end. The moment she died I envisioned her more alive, more vibrant, more whole than ever before. I give thanks for that. And I so wish it wouldn’t take death to find new life. It all feels so mysterious. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” says Scripture.

Because of Elaine Clare Grant (Muirhead) I love strong coffee, toast that’s a little burnt, and popcorn cooked on the stove. I enjoy savouring food and company while sitting around a table for a long time, just as she did. I am so grateful for the way she taught me and my brother Logan to dig into our big trunk of art supplies and take the risk to be creative, for shuttling us around to piano lessons and basketball games, for supporting our choices as adults, and for loving our families. Our mom introduced us to Jesus and taught us about what it means to live in Him.

As I open up my heart, yet again, to feeling her absence, I recall the words I closed her eulogy with:

Mom, you caught me when I failed, and were always on my team. In addition to being my mom, you were my confidante, my friend, and my cheerleader. You were a good mother. I know you are celebrating with God, just as we are here to celebrate you.

I miss you already still.

A lot has happened this year. Things that were good, things that were hard, and everything in between.

The renovations to make our home accessible for Dion came to completion. And then the troubleshooting began. The swing of a door made it impossible for Dion to close it, and so an automatic door opener became necessary. The door of the elevator failed to latch and therefore wouldn’t move (we have now figured it out). The schedule of Personal Support Workers sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. What also transpired was that Dion, Cate and I could have dinner around our table again. And this Christmas we were all in the same place. So many of you made this possible through your generous financial gifts, participation in the meal train, phone calls and visits, and prayer. We do not take it for granted.

Our staff team at The Dale went through a few changes: Pete Nojd and Olivia Dower joined the crew, and Meagan Knight had a beautiful baby and went on maternity leave (she will be returning in the fall of 2020). On more than a few occasions I found myself dumbfounded by the work God has done to build The Dale. I recall what it felt like to be by myself, then for five years it be me and Joanna, then The Dale three with the addition of Meagan, and in 2019 almost doubling to five with Pete and Olivia. Each person is precious; each person feels a sense of call; each person brings something unique.

Cate entered her last year of high school. We have read about universities and colleges. She has been preparing a portfolio and will be sending in applications before mid-January in order to study photography. I have enjoyed every season of Cate’s life, and this one is no different. I also find myself reflecting on Cate’s early years and feeling nostalgic. Little Catie-Cate is not so little anymore. She is a seventeen-year-old with an old soul, a compassionate heart, a keen sense of joy, and a wonderful eye.

We said welcome and hello to many new community members at The Dale. We also said goodbye to Wally, Keith, Sharky, Rudy, Mary and most recently, Julie who was murdered on December 22nd. Life and death, joy and grief. As Henri Nouwen so wisely said, “mourning and dancing are never fully separated. Their ‘times’ do not necessarily follow each other. In fact, their ‘times’ may become one ‘time.’ Mourning may turn into dancing and dancing into mourning without showing a clear point where one ends and the other starts.”

Mourning has turned into dancing and vice versa on numerous occasions this past year. I often feel in a liminal space, or “in-between place”, at such times. Liminal comes from the Latin ‘limen’ which means ‘on the threshold’. I have found myself on the threshold in many situations, where I can see what is behind while also sensing what is in front. Living into this tension has been an exercise in faith and has required strength and grace not my own.

Dion is home/MS is brutal. The Dale is growing/people are dying. Cate is graduating/Cate will leave the nest. I feel thankful that in all these in-between places there is space for grief and fatigue, alongside opportunities for joy, courage, and hope. At the end of 2019, my desire for the Christmas promise is heightened. Let this weary world rejoice.

Merry Christmas everyone. May there be light in the darkness, hope in the difficulty, and love to cover it all.

I have talked (with permission) about our relationship before and the way it began outside the Community Centre at the corner of Cowan and Queen back when The Dale was still known as PNC. He was immediately menacing and demanded I give him a pair of tokens. At the time, PNC was in financial crisis and I didn’t have tokens, nor did I have the money to buy any. I tried to explain why I could not help, but none of it mattered. To Michael* I was a person he expected to have been able to meet his immediate need. Through tears I tried to explain our situation. Through anger he tried to explain his. Our parting that day was not pretty. 

Michael slowly began to show up at our Drop-In programming. His big personality and even bigger voice would fill any room. He claimed to hate our food, routinely told us our coffee sucked, and almost always became threatening. Rather than leaving at our request, he would plant his feet firmly down and say, “I am not going ANYWHERE”. Michael was accustomed to being restricted from drop-in centres and seemed intent on testing us to see what we might do. 

One day he decided to scream that I was terrible at what I do. We ended up standing, nose to nose, in an alley-like driveway at the side of one of our Drop-In buildings. I rarely raise my voice, but on this day not only did I raise it, I matched his profanity with my own. It was not one of my prouder moments. I felt something in me snap and became determined, at least in my mind, to not let him get away with the way he was treating me and multiple other people that day. Amazingly, there is a grace that transcends, and that screaming match became our turning point. 

One day this year Michael came looking for me before our Sunday service. He was clearly agitated and feeling vulnerable. I learned that he was about to lose his storage unit, the place that held everything he owned. Many of our people who are homeless rely on such spaces to keep their precious things safe, though for many the cost becomes prohibitive. We decided that I would try to negotiate with the owners a little bit of extra time to come up with a plan. Amazingly it worked.

Coming up with a solution that would fit Michael’s needs was not easy. I got very anxious as the time to clear out the old unit drew close. Pete, Joanna and I all arrived to help on move day, really not knowing what to expect. Would Michael be there? Would we get everything out in time? Would this nurture our relationship? Or, would it take us a few steps back, proving to be too vulnerable and difficult?

He was there. And we managed to move everything out and into a new storage space. To most onlookers it would have looked like mundane work, to me it felt momentous. In fact, I felt like the Holy Spirit was present throughout the day. As we parted, Michael embraced each of us (a first), and told me he loved me. When Joanna and I sat in the van afterwards, I couldn’t help but weep.

Both Michael and I have needed to discover who the other was. For many valid reasons, Michael distrusted people. For many valid reasons, I felt threatened by Michael. Building a relationship and trust was going to take time. We have developed a way to talk with one another. He makes me laugh. I make him roll his eyes. Things do still go sideways, but with less regularity. If either of us had bolted though, we wouldn’t be where we are now. And where we are now? Well, it is something I am deeply thankful for.

*For privacy sake, not his real name.

Last summer Olivia Dower became an intern at The Dale and now she is joining our staff. We couldn’t be more pleased!

We first met Olivia a number of years ago when she came to The Dale’s Monday Drop-In with Project Serve, an arm of Youth Unlimited. I remember her obvious interest in what we were doing and the ease with which she quietly met with people. Our team felt a quick connection and always looked forward to when Olivia could be around. We got accustomed to seeing her in the summer because during the school year Olivia was studying in Chicago. 

One wintery day we met Olivia at a coffee shop to discuss the possibility of her doing an internship at The Dale. As a Moody Bible Institute student, Olivia was required to do a placement, preferably in a context that matched her focus: Urban Ministry. Olivia felt like an obvious fit, and so we developed a eight+ week plan that would allow her to experience everything The Dale does. Through that time Olivia, along with our other intern Ahmeda, developed many relationships, participated in all our programming, offered support to and received support from the community, and attended staff meetings. Olivia was cheerfully game for everything. It was a special summer. You can read her own blogs about it here: The Dale Is and Saying Goodbye

Fast forward a year. With her studies complete, Olivia was ready to find work. The two of us met in another coffee shop where she indicated a desire to join The Dale staff team and a willingness to do the fundraising that would make this possible. I, along with our Board of Directors met with Olivia and were quickly convinced of how good a fit she is. Together we, along with Joanna, Meagan and Pete, are excited to announce that Olivia has been hired as a Community Worker. 

Olivia, welcome. We hope that you quickly feel embraced. 

To learn more about Olivia, you can follow her new blog at: https://oliviadower.home.blog/home/

Recently at The Dale Ministries someone remarked, “I don’t completely understand what is going on here, but I know I want to be a part of it”. What this new person immediately noticed was a place where all people are welcomed and invited to become not just acquaintances, but friends. When your normal experience is being marginalized, being treated as a friend is life changing. 

We want everyone to learn about what is going on at The Dale. And so, let’s go on a quick tour through who we are and what a week in our life looks like. 

The Dale values all people, while making intentional space for those who are dealing with poverty, addiction and mental health challenges. We invite everyone into full participation of all that we do, fostering opportunities to both give and receive. Together we are learning what it means to love God and our neighbour. As a church and community organization without our own walls, we rely on the outdoors and partnerships with other buildings to run our programming. Our well-established nomadic routine allows people to know where to find us and when. 

Each Sunday we receive a delivery of food from Second Harvest, out of which we determine a menu for our Monday Lunch Drop-In. Monday is our largest gathering, one where over one hundred people share a hot, nutritious meal. On Tuesdays you will find us in the Coffee Corner of a Thrift Store for a time of conversation, snacks and a board game. In the evening a group meets at another location to discuss and study the Bible. Wednesday afternoons and some evenings are spent walking through the neighbourhood in order to connect with people and offer support where needed. Thursday mornings we run a breakfast and art-making drop-in at a Health Centre. Sunday afternoons we set apart for our church service. Sprinkled through the week are opportunities to pastorally care for people: buying groceries for someone who is housebound, visiting a person in hospital, accompanying a friend to an important appointment. 

Since 2012, The Dale has seen steady growth. We have worked hard to develop partnerships, build a strong Board of Directors, generate financial support, cultivate relationships, and even expand our staff team. We believe that God has and continues to lead the way for The Dale. 

Our desire to love and serve our community runs deep. At this time, we would like to invite you to consider supporting the important work of The Dale. The reality is that as we grow, so does the financial burden. Your gift, coming at this time, will not only strengthen our current programming, but enable us to develop new activities and additional supports for people. 

We hope and pray that you are encouraged by the story of The Dale. We are heartened by the network of people who surround us with such care, either through volunteering, making a gift, being together in a community activity, staying in touch, offering encouragement, or praying for us. 

We are grateful for all your goodwill and support. Thank you for participating with us on this incredible journey. 

In peace and hope, 


CLICK HERE TO GIVE: https://www.thedale.org/donate/

The Dale Ministries is a Registered Charitable Organization. Tax Receipts are issued once a year. 

I first met Paula through her role as Team Lead for Project Serve, an arm of Youth Unlimited. Since then, Paula has become a dear friend. I know her to have the gift of encouragement, the best laugh, and the desire to build deep and authentic relationships. One of the greatest things is that we now all get to see her every Monday at The Dale. You are loved Paula! Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this space. To read more from Paula check out her own blog at: https://choosetoriseabove.blogspot.com

Picture this with me, will you? 

You approach a full table of people. On one side, you see people you recognize. One wears his addiction on his sleeve. Another does not. One was born in Toronto. Another was not. 

On the other side of the table, however, sit a few people you don’t know. You look them up and down and try to figure them out before considering sitting in the empty chair beside them. Are they safe? Can you trust them? Will you have anything in common?

Before you can answer that, a plentiful platter of deliciousness gets delivered to your table – made with more love than your heart can accept at times – and you realize that you do indeed have something in common: like the person sitting next to you, it’s lunch time and you’re hungry. 

All of a sudden, you feel at home. One of the people you rarely know scoops potatoes onto your plate while another pours you a cold cup of water, and soon, very soon, you start to realize that you have a lot more in common than just being hungry. 

You see, no matter where you were born or where you grew up, what kind of baggage you brought in with you that day or why you ended up there in the first place, at the Dale, there’s a seat at the table for you.

They have a seat at the table. 

You have a seat at the table. I have a seat at the table. 

Only at this table, there is no they, you or I, there is only us. 

It was a Monday. We were gathered in the large room we use each week for The Dale’s drop-in. Just the day before we had occasion for multiple celebrations: a person finding an apartment after eight months of living outside, new housing for our Community Worker Pete, his wife Frances and their four children, someone declaring The Dale to now be their community. We also prayed for the two babies set to make their entrance very soon. I think it is safe to say we collectively needed a taste of joy, and the hope was that it might permeate the week ahead.

Mondays are always a riot of activity, especially between 1 and 2 pm when the meal is being shared and clean-up commences. I was busy grabbing some supplies from the storage room when I noticed what had the potential to be explosive. Just weeks before two people had a very serious conflict. They had not interacted since. I held my breath as they approached one another and embraced, while offering words of regret and forgiveness. My eyes welled up and I started to jump up and down to get Joanna and Pete’s attention, hoping that they too might bear witness to what honestly felt like a miracle. I think I hopped the entire length of the crowded room to the kitchen.

As I often say, living in community is both messy and beautiful. Sometimes it is downright hard, especially when life feels more bleak than bright. There are many more people who still need affordable housing, some of our relationships remain strained, and conflicts continue to erupt. I am grateful though to be a part of a place where we keep trying to work these things out. We fail. I fail. And we try again.

In the midst of it all, there are incredible moments of provision and reconciliation. New life, both literal and figurative is happening. All of this makes me, however silly it might look, jump up and down.

This blog has been a wonderful place for me to process my thoughts, talk about life and share about The Dale. I get to use my voice, which is not something I take for granted. In an effort to share this platform (such as it is), I have decided to include more guest posts. In the past, this has primarily been a way for interns at The Dale to describe their experience with our community. I would like to broaden that scope and will be inviting a variety of people to write in this space. I am excited to encourage and support other writers!

To start, here is a piece from Joanna Moon, my beloved friend and Community Worker at The Dale.

Today we had our weekly drop-in at the Salvation Army Thrift Store “Coffee Corner”. A friend joined us who is often in conversation with herself and/or an unseen other. She is sometimes very clear, and sometimes not. Today she spoke about a lot of things, including the feeling that she doesn’t have anyone in her life to care about her. Another member of the community, “Jess”, who has had more than her fair share of struggles, replied “Yes you do! You have us! We’re here for you, if you want to hang out with us! If not, that’s your prerogative.”

Then Jess stopped, as if surprised by herself… “Prerogative?! Wow, where did that come from? I haven’t used that word in… a long time! Awesome! What a great word!” She then went on to think of other great words. A few minutes later was still coming up with words, and I heard her say, “Hope! That’s a big word. Well, it’s a little word, but it’s big. It’s a big little word!”

She’s so right. Hope IS a big little word. Jess offers me hope, just by being who she is, and by the way that she offers hope to other folks in the community.

Hope. Awesome! What a great word.

It’s rare for me to feel a sense of hopelessness, which is probably why my experience of it recently was so uncomfortable. A number of things contributed to it: Dion’s ongoing health challenges; an accumulation of grief for the too many friends whose deaths have been untimely, sometimes violent, and often preventable; the lack of space I’ve had to properly mourn my mother; the increasing awareness of how many layers of marginalization people face; my dear friend’s angst that the poverty she lives with will be never-ending; hearing about the many forms of racism that continue to exist.

I was sitting in a chair at ReImagine, a conference in Hamilton that took place last week, when my chest got tight and I began to cry. The group assembled had just listened to a profound and heart wrenching rendition of Ben Harper’s Call it What it Is (“Government ain’t easy, policing ain’t easy, hard times ain’t easy, oppression ain’t easy, racism ain’t easy, fear ain’t easy, suffering ain’t easy. Call it what it is.”)

I felt this overwhelming sense of dread in my heart and weighing on my shoulders. All the things I mention above were in my mind. I contemplated my own mistakes. I wondered if there was any way forward. It was a dark moment. I also began to worry about my impending talk, the one I needed to give in the same room the next morning. Given that we had spent much of the day acknowledging the need for further decolonization and the dynamics of power and privilege, could I dare to talk about practicing presence in Parkdale? What if I stumbled with my words or caused harm rather than good?

As hard as it was, I think I needed to sit in all that discomfort. Too often we do not provide room to lament, both our own wrong actions and the brokenness of the world. Maybe it’s because we want to appear okay, or in order to cope we have to just keep going. All I know is that whenever I think I can put my grief in a box it finds a way out. And usually when it does I have less control of it than if I’d held it in my lap all along.

Each day at ReImagine we sang a beautiful original song of lament written by Chad Cecil, that included the lyrics: we’re not okay/love make a way. Those words have been running through my mind non-stop. Collectively acknowledging that we’re not okay felt important. As we did so, there was a palpable sense of hope that re-emerged for me. I believe that all things are going to one day be made right. In the meantime, we have the incredible opportunity to learn what it means to love one another, to fight injustice, to celebrate acts of neighbourliness, and to be transformed by our Creator.

I did share the story of The Dale. I also shed the shroud of hopelessness. God reminded me in those dark moments that His light is real. I closed my talk with the words of Oscar Romero which I will do here too: “So, it is for us, we may never see end results, and what we do may in the end be very incomplete. Still we minister; still we love, hoping for the kingdom which is beyond our vision. Still we plant and water the seeds which may not be our own, but in truth belong to future generations. Still we find meaning in our lives as incomplete as they may actually be, because we participate in something much larger than ourselves, and in this hope we prophesy of the kingdom of God, we prophesy of a future that is not our own.”

Love make a way.

I haven’t written here in a little while, in large part because there have been many other things to do. I think I also needed a break from my own voice. Though, new stories are filling up my mind and slowly forming on the page.

I love telling the story of The Dale. It is a story that is sometimes difficult, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, sometimes joyous, and most times deeply good. I also love listening to the story of The Dale as told by other people, which is why I would like to share what Dion recently wrote on his own blog about Thanksgiving Sunday in Parkdale.

You’d think that people living in poverty wouldn’t have much to be thankful for.
But you’d be wrong.
Oh so very wrong.

I was reminded of that in church yesterday at The Dale. People kept listing things they were thankful for. Not big houses or shiny cars or other crap like that.
But for people.
Community.
For being alive.
One Person was thankful for clean clothes…

For me I found myself thankful for the incredible unity amongst so much diversity. There were:

Young children and senior citizens.
People with different colours of skin.
Syrian refugees and people born and raised right here in Canada.
People in wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and able-bodied folks.

People who had homes and people who did not.
People who speak English and some who did not.
People with obvious significant mental health issues and others who had mental health issues a bit harder to spot.
People of different genders including someone who is transgendered.
Some first timers to the church and some who are always there.

The beauty was that amidst all of our diversity we were one body worshipping the same God. I found myself forgetting all about my own plight in life and overwhelmed with gratitude. I have so much to be thankful for.

At the end of the service one of the youngest people there requested we sing one final closing song. I will end here as it is beautiful and my prayer for this thanksgiving day.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Jesus put this song into our hearts
It’s a song of joy no one can take away
Jesus put this song into our hearts

Jesus taught us how to live in harmony
Different faces different races, He made us one
Jesus taught us how to live in harmony

Jesus taught us how to be a family
Loving one another with love that He gives
Jesus taught us how to be a family

Jesus turned our sorrow into dancing
Changed our tears of sadness into rivers of joy
Jesus turned our sorrow into dancing

Amen

To read more from Dion go to: https://www.dionoxford.com