I have been reading a book that has challenged me to consider how to be very present to what is, or “consent” to be where I am. I will admit that the last few months have not been the easiest of times to venture into such a practice. It is a season of big transition: Dion living in Long Term Care, Cate leaving the nest, me discovering how to live alone. Then there is the general fatigue of Covid and the specific burden it is at The Dale: on both the staff team and the community. Add to all of this multiple deaths and limited ways to corporately grieve, systemic injustice, the list goes on. I even started to notice stress coming out in arguably small, but noticeable ways, including a sty in my eye and a kneecap that was moving around in ways it should not.

I am discovering that these less than ideal conditions (and let’s be honest, are they ever ideal?) are a very good reason to slow down and really notice what is going on both internally and externally. For example, what am I feeling? What do I need? What things might be necessary to root out of my heart? What are my hands busy doing- is it good or not? Together with my counsellor, I have been addressing these and many other questions.

We are now in the time of Advent, a word that means “a coming into place, view, or being; arrival”. For Christians, this is a period of preparation before Christmas and the arrival of Jesus. This year I am especially aware of how God is right in the place where I find myself: in the middle of the pain, the loneliness, the grief, and the stress. There is not an absence of God in the hardest of things. While I don’t always understand this, I do know it to be my experience.

By noticing and not ignoring the big things going on in and around me, I am re-discovering the joy found in being fully invested in a conversation with a person, cooking something, doing dishes, choosing a Christmas tree with Dion and Cate, creating home, making music, advocating, and remembering. It’s as though being present to where I am helps me experience the sacredness of living, in all of its complexity. It helps me to do what I can and know what I cannot. It propels me to rest. It rejuvenates my work.

None of this is easy. I have cried buckets of tears. Some days I am exhausted and would be content to hide under the covers. The transition that we face as a family is settling, but still strange and hard. The effects of the pandemic, injustice and grief are real. And yet. And yet, there is a coming into view, a sense that light is penetrating the darkness. I am (we are) being asked to walk this road and fortunately, when I pay attention to the terrain, I am confident that I am (we are) not alone.

Now that it is truly official, we are able to let everyone know that this week Dion moved into a spacious and bright private room in a Long-Term Care facility, just a short drive from our home. Quite honestly this feels like the impossible has been made possible. Since Dion’s hospital admission in August, we have repeatedly heard that what we need is not available: there are not enough Personal Support Workers, no more hours of care, the system is not set-up for a person in a situation like ours. We have gone into meetings feeling hopeful, only to leave deflated. Nearly every step has felt like an up-hill battle. Which is why, until entering the doors of this new place, we felt cautious about believing it was going to happen.

As you can likely imagine, this is the beginning of a massive transition for our family. There is a shadow side to this solution: we each live in a different place, something brought on by the disease that is MS. As relieved as we are for Long-Term Care, this is not where we imagined ourselves at this stage of life. I do believe though that the concept of home need not be limited to a single place, something we now have the opportunity to explore.

For those of you following our story will know, Dion and I are people of faith. We look toward and believe in Jesus. It has not been our experience that this makes life easy. Many of our prayers have not been answered in the way that we would have hoped. We are well acquainted with grief. Over the last few months we have chosen, often by the skin of our teeth, to lean into trusting that we would be provided for. We could not see the way forward. And yet we never were left alone. I am certain that we have been carried to this moment. God has used so many of you to participate in this work, and for all of it we are thankful.

I was looking at the first email I sent to people when Dion went into hospital. At the end I wrote this: MS has been a difficult journey, one that just got harder. Thank you for walking this road with us. As believers in the importance of community, we are grateful to our village for being such a source of light and love. As Henri Nouwen once said, we are trying to “be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand”. May it be so.”

It has become so.

On my way to work today I had the opportunity to listen to an interview of a person we know and care about at The Dale. I was thrilled to hear Tom share his story of living in rooming houses in Parkdale, the most current being a really good situation for him. Tom shares openly and honestly, saying things I think we all need to hear, including reminding us of our shared humanity. I decided to create the following transcript of his interview with Matt Galloway on the CBC’s The Current. For brevity’s sake, some “ums” and repeated words are removed. If you can, also give it a listen. Tom’s voice is important. 

Matt: So, Tom why don’t you describe where we are right now. 

Tom: We are at Beattie at my new address which is a great place. I lived at 1521 Queen Street West a long time ago, and my living conditions are a million times better. I can’t say anything bad about it. It’s great here. 

Matt: Can you describe what it is like inside? We can’t go inside but describe what the living conditions are like in this building. 

Tom: Well it’s basically seven or eight guys. We have staff on call. We have security. We have our own cooking, like we can cook ourselves. We have our own rooms; we have showers in them. So, we are self-maintained. 

Matt: What is your room like?

Tom: It’s big enough for one person. Compared to where I’ve lived before, it’s a million times better. 

Matt: What do you like about living here? 

Tom: Here, the staff are always there for you. You know if you need help, they’re there. The people who live in the building, we get along. Some of us have our issues, but we work it out. You know, if they had more places like this to help people, it would be a lot better. 

Matt: If you weren’t in a house, what would be the other options be in terms of somewhere to live?

Tom: I’d be dead. 

Matt: Why do you say that? 

Tom: That’s being honest, I’d be dead. Well for one, I wouldn’t know where I am and for two, I’d panic and for three I would just cut my throat. That’d be the end of it. 

Matt: So, this is a lifesaving kind of place for you. 

Tom: For me, it is more than lifesaving. I’m in an area where I know. People know me around here. And I’ve been here basically all my life, so it’s like a Godsend. A lot of people look at people who have issues with their mind or whatever and they look at them and they look down on them. You got to remember one thing, you could be that person. Don’t look at them with disgust, look at them as another human being with a problem and they are trying to get help. A lot of times people don’t do that. 

Matt: You mentioned that this place is better than places you’ve lived before. Describe what the rooming houses are like you have been in before. 

Tom: 1521 was a room, a shared washroom. You had drugs going in and out all the time. Here, you don’t have that problem. Because we’re really maintained in that way. So, there’s no show for any sort of narcotic, other than prescription. 

Matt: You mention you had a shared washroom. What was that room like? 

Tom: That other place at 1521? I’d like to say it in my way. 

Matt: What’s your way of saying it? 

Tom: It was disgusting. A shithole. I mean that literally. It was run as a hotel, illegally. You had 16-20 rooms on that floor, on one floor. And it was like everybody was battling, you know like fighting and the drugs that went in and out of there were like water. 

Matt: Given how rough it is there, why would people stay there? 

Tom: Why would people stay there? Because the rent was cheap. A lot of places ask you for first and last. 

Matt: And people couldn’t afford to pay first and last.

Tom: That’s right, that’s the biggest reason. When you can’t afford to pay first and last and you get the option…okay, it may be a crappy place but you gotta have your head put somewhere. 

Matt: Do you worry? I mean this is a big building and this city is really expensive now. And you take a look even across the road- they are doing renovations there. There’s a lot of money in this neighbourhood and people are renovating and turning houses like this that are split up into one big family house. Do you worry about that- that a building like this could be valuable in somebody else’s eyes?

Tom: It is valuable in a lot of people’s eyes. The houses around here are not cheap. 

Matt: One of the other things, there are people in some neighbourhoods who don’t want houses like this near them. What do you say to those people? 

Tom: Ahh. Wait until it happens to you and tell me you don’t want a house like this in your neighbourhood where you get help. You need houses like this. Give em something to lift their spirits, show them that somebody out there cares. But a lot of people don’t care. And that’s the whole problem with society. 

Matt: Sounds like you landed in a good spot. 

Tom: Ya, very good! I’m very happy to be here. If I didn’t get this, I would probably be dead by now. That’s being very, very honest. 

Matt: I’m glad you are here. And I’m glad to have the chance to talk to you. 


Since mid-August- however many weeks that is- my family and I have been on a rollercoaster. Dion’s health plummeted, then stabilized to a different place than before. He spent two weeks in a hospital setting that was and believe me when I say I am not exaggerating, terribly hard. An offer to a complex rehab program became available in what felt like the dark eleventh hour, a place that had not even been on our radar as an option but has proven to be the best thing for now. Just weeks ago, Dion, on top of everything, had to have surgery to remove a kidney stone, something that meant taking a few steps back in terms of his recovery. All along the way we have needed to push back on a broken system that is stretched too thin and often unable to meet the needs of the people within it. “Persist and resist” is the wise counsel I have received from a friend. And so that is what we do: persist with naming what we need for Dion to be safe and resist any options that are not.

How am I in all of this? That’s a challenging question to answer in a succinct way. I am sad. At times I am overwhelmed. I am determined to support and advocate and fight for what we need. Sometimes I feel okay. I am incessantly praying. Each day brings with it a mixture of laughter, gratitude, tears, fear, and hope. I think I have been wearing weariness like a second skin. 

One of the [many] gifts I have received at The Dale throughout this time has been the holding of space for me: my emotions, my need for flexibility to get to meetings at the hospital, my busy-ness, my grief, and yes, my weariness. People stop me on the street to ask how Dion is doing and rarely, if ever, respond with overused clichés. Instead, they meet me in the pain and are strikingly matter of fact about how hard this must all be. The Dale staff team walk with me every step of the way. 

I also am supported and strengthened by my family, friends, and neighbours. I am still whittling away at properly responding to their many notes of concern and care, all of which have made me feel less alone and very loved. I do not constantly talk about the importance of community as an academic exercise- it is something I have experienced first-hand. I have encountered many people who do not have anyone in their corner, and it is debilitatingly brutal. Without a community I don’t know how I/we would navigate all of this. 

The journey is not over. We have many things to figure out. I feel challenged every day to be present to the moment, and to take it all a step at a time- an exercise in restraint for this self-professed internal worrier. Dion and I are actively choosing to trust that the God we believe in is with us, whatever happens. We persist and resist. Just today though the light broke through and we feel closer than ever to a solution. And so, we wait with hope and in expectation. I might just be able to shed that second skin of weariness someday soon. 

It was nearly three weeks ago that Dion looked at me and said it was time to go to the hospital. We were out at the time, so I got him in the van and drove to the nearest emergency room. Once there, and after a bit of time, it was determined that Dion had an infection, one that was now in his blood. For someone with advanced progressive Multiple Sclerosis such as Dion, an infection is a particularly traumatic thing. His already reduced energy is forced to focus on it, leaving him unable to move. We always hope that with time, recovery will come. We also know that post-infection often means a new normal. 

At this time Dion’s left hand is doing very little. He has regained some use of his right hand, though it is different than before. This, along with a variety of other things, means that Dion needs an increased level of care. It seems that the time has come for Dion to move to an assisted-living situation, one that will ensure he has access to what he needs around the clock. Even though we have known for the last 24 years (the amount of time MS has been an unwanted guest) that this could happen, this new reality is very fresh and raw.

I will not attempt to share or explain what the last few weeks have been like for Dion. That is his story to share. I will offer some of my own experience. Due to a variety of situations over the course of my life, I have learned to step into the middle of crisis. I can navigate a hospital room. I am not scared to raise my voice as an advocate. I sit vigil. And so, when Dion was admitted, I began to do all of these things, except with many limitations because of the pandemic. I needed to book appointments to visit, was rarely able to speak with his health care team, and felt increasingly overwhelmed. As the severity of the situation became more apparent, I felt desperate to have support in making a plan. This culminated with what I believe was a panic attack in a hospital hall. The fact that it took this kind of event to feel heard is, in my opinion, wrong. 

Fighting for what we need to keep Dion safe, and for me to keep my head above water has been an up-hill battle. We feel grateful that Dion’s sister was here through a very tough week, and that our village has surrounded us with such care. Just when we thought the immediate options had been exhausted, we got the news that Dion could enter a rehab program at Toronto Grace, a hospital that we hadn’t even considered, but is proving to be exactly right. We needed a win and are grateful to have been surprised by this grace. We do not yet know what will come after rehab. We covet prayers and thoughts for Dion, for me, and for Cate as we navigate this part of the journey.

In the midst of all this, I have been helping Cate move to her new apartment. By Tuesday both my husband and daughter will no longer be living at home, something I cannot yet grasp. I am weary and sad. Every morning I wake up and immediately notice the anxiety I feel in my gut. I recently described myself as feeling paper thin, like facing one more obstacle might rip me in half. And yet, I am aware of being carried by God, and the faith of our friends. I have not lost hope. I am constantly praying and trusting that what needs to be, will be. And I’m not just saying that. 

I think I will close with words not my own, as for now, I have few more. “Heavy”, by Mary Oliver: 

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

I groan as I open my eyes at 2:30 am, frustrated to be woken from what felt like a deep slumber. I roll out of bed to walk down the hall to the bathroom, a familiar and quick route. The bathroom is located beside our daughter Cate’s room, a space that has been eerily quiet all summer long because of her absence. Cate works at a camp far north of the city in which we live. She is happily planning activities, singing campfire songs, and living amongst the trees, lake and stars until her return at the very end of August. Until then, her door is kept shut, mostly so the air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard, but also to hide the stack of boxes for her impending move away from home. I peek inside occasionally, recently noting that I need to remember to close her window. 

In the darkness of the bathroom it takes a moment for my vision to adjust. I grab a Kleenex and reach for a cup on the windowsill. As I go to turn the tap on, I become aware of a lot of noise, wondering what is going on outside. I listen, only to realize the noise is actually coming from the room right next to me- Cate’s room. Suddenly, I am fully awake. I lean my head on the wall and think to myself, “someone or something is in there and I know it is not Cate”. 

My stomach begins to turn while all of my senses shift to high alert. What do I do? At this point in the story many people suggest that running would have been the best option. To which, in retrospect I tend to agree. However, I chose to make some noise of my own. I turn on the hall light, stomp around, and use my fist to make one loud thump on Cate’s door. Then I stop to listen, only to hear the other activity intensify. I begin to quietly pace, my heart racing. What do I DO? 

Suddenly I hear what I feel certain is the little porcelain dish in the corner of Cate’s desk spinning. I hold my breath as I listen to it go around and around, until it slows to a stop. With that, the house goes quiet. I can’t recall how long it takes for me to work up the courage to open the door. I have to push it, as boxes are strewn about and now blocking the way. The screen from the window is on the floor, the gauze-like curtains torn and blowing in the breeze, a side-table now literally on its side. I survey the room, checking to see if any of its contents are now missing. Beyond the mess, all seems intact. 

As I get on a chair to put the screen back in the window, I notice what must have been a long-forgotten and tucked away solid chocolate Easter Bunny, now on the floor, out of its package and gnawed in half. As I peer more closely, I can see familiar marks in the chocolate. And then comes a wave of recognition: 

The intruder was a raccoon. 

There was a time when my love language was most heavily weighted toward gifts. Not extravagant things wrapped with a big bow, but a bouquet of wildflowers picked along a walk, or a note. Over the years, I have explored the beauty of each language, learning to express love and care in a variety of ways (to varying degrees of success). Recently I have been reminded by members of The Dale community of how special it can be to receive a gift given with heart. 

Olivia and I were walking along Queen Street West one Wednesday afternoon. The plan was to meet up with Joanna and Meagan who had picked up the van and were already getting things set-up for our outreach time. We ran into “Danny”, who always greets us with a little dance and a quiet smile. On this day he emphatically said, “I want to buy you both coffee”. He was not to be deterred by the long line of people waiting outside Tim Hortons, “I WANT to buy you a coffee because today I can and because we take care of each other”. Even the person behind the register seemed moved at Danny asking us each what we wanted, paying with change, and buying nothing for himself. He patted me on the arm, said a brief goodbye, and was gone as quickly as he had first appeared. 

She is someone we are very slowly getting to know. We mostly see her at our meals-to-go on Mondays and Thursdays. Last Thursday we weren’t sure who we would see given the heavy rain, but there she was. She walked right up to me and without a word handed me a bag of Jalebi, a South East Asian/Middle Eastern sweet that is served at festivals, weddings and family gatherings. Jalebi is a pile of bright orange sugary “squiggles”. I felt so grateful that she would make and gift us a treat that is so important to her. 

I have known “Jenna” for more than twenty years. Throughout our friendship she has taught me so much about gratitude, humility, and honesty. Though she would meekly disagree, there is a river of wisdom running through her. What many would consider mundane things, she counts as blessings. One day she carefully placed a gift wrapped in a piece of Kleenex in the palm of my hand. “I made this bracelet for you. I found these beads- do you see how they shine? Smile when you see them sparkle in the sun”. 

One of the lessons I have learned at The Dale is that it is as important for me to be comfortable in the position of receiver, as it is to be of giver. Sometimes this can be difficult: I might have worried that Danny didn’t really have the money to spare, or that I was depriving someone else of Jalebi or a beaded bracelet. But refusing would have robbed my friends of the opportunity to give, and I would have missed out on something beautiful.  In these three instances I was given very tangible items through which I experienced the attention and empathy of each gift-giver. To me these gifts are invaluable, as are the people who gave them. I am so grateful to be in a community where there is opportunity to experience the dynamic exchange that is both giving and receiving.

Whenever we plan an event at The Dale, there is admittedly a little nervous energy that accompanies it. That is how I felt as we launched our week-long on-line Community Registry, an opportunity to purchase much needed items for our people. Part of the anxiety was feeling a little out of practice- we didn’t do a fundraiser last year, a choice that felt right given the pandemic and the outpouring of support we were receiving. Another part was that doing anything like this requires that you put yourself and the place that you love out there, which can feel…vulnerable.

Fundraising is not easy, and yet it is also something I cannot imagine giving up. It teaches (sometimes forces) me to step out in faith, to rely on God and others, and to use every bit well. When The Dale was crawling out of crisis years ago, I would fervently pray, “give us this day our daily bread”. Each day was an act of trust that there would be enough. Enough never meant a bag of riches, it was having the $2 to buy some milk for the drop-in coffee, or the exact amount needed to pay a bill, or a surprise donation of food that could be transformed into a meal for over one hundred people. This past week reminded me of how grateful I am for all the people who have given, sometimes out of their own relative little, to make sure The Dale has enough.

For me, the Community Registry was an opportunity to show this same kind of care to others. We loved the idea of creating an event with multiple benefactors: a donation to The Dale = a purchase from a restaurant = a meal for a community member. Having been an organization acquainted with living on the edge, we recognized the challenge faced by so many local businesses because of Covid. Also, we wanted to share about the needs of our community, as identified by them and not assumption.

Now that the event is closed and the final bits of administration are underway, my initial apprehension has subsided and been replaced with deep gratitude. I am thankful for every person who shared about the Registry, who covered it and The Dale with prayer and good thoughts, and who made a purchase. I was regularly shocked at the reach this all had, oftentimes seeing social media posts made by people many degrees of separation away. As a team we can’t wait to place large orders with our restaurant partners, gather the purchased items, and distribute everything to our friends.

Just yesterday I was chatting with a community member who desperately needs a mattress. It was amazing to be able to say, “when can we deliver one?”. With a grin, he said, “I was just telling someone about you girls. I said, they are small, but somehow things come together and happen.” To which I laughed, explaining the group effort (which includes him) that is The Dale. Every supporter is a part of the beautiful tapestry of people that helps make things happen. You are each a gift.

Postscript: for those wondering, the Community Registry raised $11,105. Taking into account donations made to the Registry, but not on-line, we are up to $12,265!

Sometimes words fail me. This week has been significant, and I want to tell you about it, but I am all verklempt (overcome with emotion). 

We were walking along “the block” as it gets referred to in Parkdale on outreach. There are a few key spots on the strip, including outside the library, beside the Pizza Pizza, in the bus shelter, and in front of the liquor store. As we crossed at Dunn and Queen, we spotted a long-time friend, one whose health we have been concerned about and felt relieved to see. He and I have known one another since 2007. Initially we would primarily connect outdoors, then we would sit together at The Dale’s Monday Drop-In and share a meal. Our friendship formed quickly and has deepened with time and through many shared experiences. We have seen one another through a lot, navigated grief, and sung “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” together more times than I can count. 

On this day he had an urgent request: find his family, people he had not seen in close to a decade and worried he had pushed away. I immediately said yes, explaining that I could not promise I would be successful, but that I would do my best. Armed with a few names I began to investigate, a process that led me to a Native Friendship Centre in the area my friend is from. I sent messages in every form I could, praying that it might help. Within hours I had a stream of messages from various family members, all eager for a reunion. I nearly ran to find him, communicate how loved he is and help facilitate the re-connection. Today he was picked up by his nephew to visit home. 

A second story: He and I first met along the block too. I remember it clearly: we were introduced by the big globe beside the library. Since then we have journeyed together through a lot. Along the way he took to heart The Dale’s invitation to full participation and became pivotal to our breakfast program at the Health Centre, and more recently at all of our meals-to-go. He, just like my other friend, loves to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, referring to it as number 41 (the spot it lives in The Dale’s Songbook). It is no small thing that on Tuesday we got to help him move into an apartment of his own, a long-time dream that is finally a reality, his quiet excitement both palpable and contagious.

Things don’t always work out like this. Sometimes reunions aren’t possible. The road to housing can be impossibly long. But this week miracles happened. This week the troubled waters were stilled. 

Every Thursday we pop by the walk-up take-out window of Capital Espresso, a local coffee shop that for years has provided The Dale with their very tasty day-old muffins. We chat a bit, pick up whatever they have to donate, and oftentimes leave with a free drip coffee in our hands. Our relationship has deepened over time, slowly learning one another’s names and one another’s schedules. Before Covid we would rejoice if we could grab a table to de-brief after a drop-in. During Covid, we like to look in the window as we pass by on outreach, waving to our friends. Not too long ago we had money to purchase a large order of freshly baked muffins to give out at our meal-to-go, an opportunity to give back after being shown such generosity over the years. It felt like everyone was winning: The Dale felt so happy to offer support, our community got a treat, and Capital Espresso’s baker got to rise early to make a sizeable order for the first time in months due to the pandemic.

That experience sparked an idea. What if we could do this again? What if we could purchase food from a larger variety of restaurants in the neighbourhood in order to keep feeding our community who is well acquainted with food insecurity, while supporting businesses so run down by Covid? The Dale has always believed that something beautiful happens when sharing food: conversations happen, relationships form, and a unique sense of community is developed. While we grieve that we can’t sit around tables as we would like right now, we celebrate that food keeps us connected throughout each week.

I am very excited to share that from June 21st to 27th The Dale will be launching an on-line registry, a place for you to discover what our needs are right now and support us in meeting them. In addition to items like socks and sleeping bags, we will be highlighting a variety of Parkdale restaurants, all of whom have agreed to be a part of this project. You might be in a position to make a donation that will cover 50 meals from Ali’s Roti, or one gift card for Momos from Loga’s Corner, or 25 breakfast burritos from Rustic Cosmo, or muffins from Capital Espresso. Imagine the impact on both our direct community and neighbourhood partners!

One of the core values of The Dale is “full participation”. We believe that everyone has something important to give and receive, and that we can each flourish when supported to bring our full selves to the community. We think the same is true for our broader network of support. Your role in this Registry might be to tell someone else about it, or to buy an item, or to cover our efforts in prayer and good thoughts. You might be inspired to order from a restaurant local to yourself, which we would love to hear about. We are grateful for whatever way you are able to show up.

Please do save the dates!