The sun is shining. I’m trying to position myself close to its rays as I write. Cate had four friends over last night for a sleepover. They surround our dining room table, groggily  eating breakfast (I won’t divulge how late they were up). There is laughter. It all feels normal. Which is a relief when there is so much about life that is the opposite.

Last night, hidden away from the noise of our house guests, I found myself thinking about control. At various points in my life I have been made all too aware that control is not in my hands. By that I mean, I couldn’t/can’t fix everything and make it look the way I want. Except for maybe how clean my house is. Which is why I’ve become a tad obsessive compulsive about keeping things especially neat. But I digress.

I’ve been reading a book by Kate Bowler titled “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved”. It is, among other things, an exploration of suffering and surrender. Maybe not a surprise that such a topic would speak to me. Take this: “What would it mean…to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, ‘You are limitless’? Everything is not possible. The mighty Kingdom of God is not yet here. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy, and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people of ‘the gospel’ meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”

This made me think of my mom. She was not wealthy, but would have described herself as rich; not physically whole, but definitely experienced healing in other ways. Though I could see how beautiful her surrender was, I still hated that she had to go through so much. To borrow again from Kate Bowler, she was a “superhero. But I wish [she] didn’t have to be”.

I can’t help but wonder why everything is happening as it is right now. Why does MS exist? Why are we going through so much as a family? Just in case you’re wondering, those are rhetorical questions. I don’t think there’s an obvious answer, and even the most well-intentioned attempts can do more harm than good. All I know is to work on what’s right in front of me to do, to relinquish the idea that I can fix it all, to remain rooted in my faith, and to remember that I am loved. WE are loved. In the eye of this storm, that truth, along with sunshine and teenage chatter, brings much comfort.



I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a portion of an interview with a grief psycho-therapist. Two things she said have stuck with me. The first: unresolved grief contributes to 15% of psychiatric referrals, and the second: how our fear of talking about death thwarts our ability to deal with its consequences. This also got me thinking about how grief can meander into our lives for other reasons too. While grief is what we usually associate with the loss brought on by death, the dictionary allows for a broader meaning: “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” 

I know something of grief. It has touched my life a lot. I try very hard to allow myself to fully experience what I call the “waves” of grief. They often come at the most unexpected and even inconvenient moments. I once wrote a blog about being hit with such a wave, all related to my dad, while standing in an aisle at Canadian Tire of all places. These days I feel like I have been hit by a tsunami. I’m in the first year of grief over my mom, on March 3rd it became ten years since my dad died, and on January 25th Dion entered the hospital system, where he remains for the immediate future.

Grieving relatively publicly is hard work. I don’t think I need to share everything here (which is why I can be very quiet at times). I desire to be as transparent as possible AND it comes at a cost: I feel exposed and rather raw. In my day-to-day I occasionally want to avoid conversations about how I am because I almost inevitably start crying. I can understand the compulsion to disguise the pain of loss, or sweep it under the carpet (so to speak) because that feels safer, less vulnerable. I sat to write this and worried immediately that all my recent posts are too sad. I don’t want to exhaust everyone with my struggle.

Last week I was walking through the little park beside the Health Centre in Parkdale. Three of my Dale friends were sitting there, so I stopped to say hello. Each earnestly wanted to know if Dion was seeing any improvement, and how I was managing. I shared a bit and then explained that I’m not having an easy time. I keep crying, though I can’t believe there are any tears left. One of them turned to me and said, “there is a fountain inside all of us, making tears always possible. This just means you’re human. You can cry with us any time”. These words, coming from one who knows so much grief, were soothing.

Grief is a journey, one that doesn’t fix everything. It changes along the way, yes, and it never truly goes away.  My hope is to not suppress the effects of grief: I’ve learned over the years that by being present to it, room is made for more than sadness. It’s true that I  spend a lot of time discovering and feeling joy. As hard as this road is, I am glad to be walking it, am aware of God’s presence, and when I can, am willing to share it.

I’m hanging in. That is generally my response when people ask how I am. What does “hanging in” mean? All sorts of things really. It means: I’m able to give expression to my deep sadness; I’m putting one foot in front of the other; I’m encouraged by all the support being offered; I’m consumed with trying to figure out how to make good decisions; I’m tired, but not the kind of tired that is solved with a nap; I’m praying, but usually with groans instead of words. This is a very trying time.

One evening Cate looked at me and earnestly asked, “do you think going to work a bit might help?” A good question, especially coming from one who knows that going to school has helped maintain a sense of normalcy. I began to consider what parts of my usual routine would be worth resuming and decided that I needed to 1) connect more with friends and 2) go to work (even if just a little). And so, last Tuesday I arrived in Parkdale for the first time since Dion was hospitalized in January.

People greeted me with concern and love. Hardly anyone asked a lot of questions. Most simply acknowledged how difficult things must be. One woman who likes to greet me as ‘Ms Padre-ess’, hugged me and repeatedly said, “I’ve been worried about you. I want to help. You’re here for me and I’m here for you. That’s how we do things.” Other friends stopped panhandling long enough to give me knowing looks about how hard life is and offer words of encouragement.

Today was our morning breakfast and art drop-in. A community member, who also happens to be a refugee from Syria, cooked pancakes and bacon for everyone.  A group of us had a pretty hilarious conversation about…squirrels (I still don’t know how it started). One person was beading, another colouring, another sketching. A friend hovered around me while I did dishes, telling me about what it’s like living outside in the rain and the nasty cold that he caught while there. Before he left though he said, “mama, I’m gonna give you a hug”.

One of my folks recently got moved to Bridgepoint, the same facility Dion is in. This afternoon a group of the nomadic tribe which is The Dale gathered with him and Dion in order to share communion, pray, and sing the gospel song, ‘Soon and Very Soon’. And then tonight our Dinner Shuffle had pizza together in a lounge at the hospital, so that we could all be together. In both cases, it was a sweet merging of worlds.

This period of life feels like an in between place, neither here nor there. What will be is not yet clear. In the midst of a lot of change, there is something grounding about returning to some regular rhythms, like being at The Dale and gathering with our Dinner Shuffle friends. I have no illusions of being self-sufficient. If anything, this is all causing me to more fully surrender to my/our need for support. Through my helplessness, the door to grace is again opening.


The view of Toronto from Bridgepoint, the hospital where Dion has been moved, is pretty spectacular. You can peer over the Don Valley and see the downtown core. On Thursday, a therapist directed me to a lounge, handed me a box of tissues, and left me to stare out the windows at the skyline of my beloved city. I was in a contemplative, sad mood. Having just had a moment of panic, I needed to slow my breathing and turn my attention to something else. The new vantage point helped.

When asked how we are doing, I find it difficult to muster an answer. I am hesitant to try to describe how Dion and Cate are because I don’t want to put words in their mouths. As for me, I’m feeling a very long list of things: sad and angry, exhausted and…less exhausted, strong and weak, overwhelmed and focused. There are a lot of decisions to be made, many of which are still based on hypothetical situations. The first steps toward a possible renovation are being taken. There is a lot going on.

Multiple Sclerosis is a brutal disease, one that has stolen much from Dion and by extension, us. I know there is something beautiful about our faith propelling us through the challenge of it. We have learned much and have opportunity to teach because of it. And, it SUCKS. There is no way around it. I guess many of my tears over the last number of weeks have been ones of grief.

It is clear that I have been invited to enter places of pain: to actually share in sorrow and weakness and confusion while at the same time acknowledging my own. The strange paradox is that when I touch pain I also see the light. Hope is evident in the darkness: this situation is evidence of that. I was reminded of this as I looked out of that lounge window: at the former Don Jail, now owned by Bridgepoint and repurposed as a place of healing; at the west where The Dale is collectively moving toward deeper wholeness and health; at Moss Park where an armoury was turned into a shelter.

Dion is in a good place at Bridgepoint. It seems possible that life can settle, at the very least, into a new routine. This sense of hope urges me forward, restores joy, and invites me to express gratitude. Thank you to everyone for the variety of expressions of support. I am not sure of much, but I do know that in this dark valley we are not alone.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

I watched a movie from bed the other night. In one scene a primary character is seated across from an old friend and reacts to hearing about her life with tears. Giving a bit of a self-deprecating grin he says something like, “I have this problem with my face. It leaks”. I immediately thought, that’s me!

Crying is one way I give expression to my feelings. I am easily moved to tears when something makes me happy OR sad. This is a part of myself that I have always embraced, though I must confess that right now it is mostly proving exhausting.

As of today, Dion has been in the hospital for a week. We really don’t know what is next and are waiting for a plan. Yesterday one of the doctor’s came up to me in the hall and, with great concern, asked me about how I was doing. “It seems like every time I see you, you are on the verge of tears”. I agreed and tried to explain what has been going on in me.

My emotions are all over the place. I am trying to be present to the moment, except that most moments are terribly hard. Added to the mix is that we are in the hospital where my mom died less than a year ago. It’s almost too much to bear. I don’t know where the relief is for Dion, for Cate, or for me.

During one of my meltdowns, an elderly patient walked up to me and asked for help. He seemed oblivious to my state and was understandably focused on his own. There we were, waiting for help in the middle of a crowded hall, he struggling with some undergarments, me trying to wipe my eyes. In retrospect it almost felt skit-like, except it was very, very real.

I guess that’s the thing right now: everything feels all too real. We cannot ignore the challenge of Dion’s Multiple Sclerosis. Having never done major renovations before, I have to get them started under pressure. There are big decisions to make. And somehow parts of our regular life need to continue, like Cate getting to school. The Dale has freed me to be present at the hospital, though Dion and others are encouraging me to feel like I can re-engage as I want to, and as a way to bring balance.

I can’t imagine what this would all be like without the kind of network of people we have. The meals, the messages, and the prayer are reaching us. I know many are at the ready to offer practical support in a variety of ways, including toward the renovations. I keep saying that now is the time for a collective action of the community, in other words, it’s ‘barn raising time’. Thinking about the village around us makes me feel deep gratitude.

In a good way it’s making this face leak again.


Over the years I, along with my family, have invited you to be a part of our journey, even if it has been from a distance and primarily through what we share in our writing. I know this offers merely a glimpse of what is true for us on a day-to-day basis. We joke at The Dale that someone should make a documentary about what we see and do there, because otherwise how could one believe it? Words, as effective as they are, don’t always capture the essence of an experience.

I’m sitting in the hospital, uncertain about Dion’s health and what the future holds, and can’t muster the language to describe what this feels like, for myself or anyone else. Dion was admitted last Thursday, a day after our twenty year anniversary. Multiple Sclerosis has been with him the entire time. There is a weariness that has settled upon our family. We are tired of the struggle. Though we are routinely given strength that is not our own to manage, we quite frankly want a break. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Our reality is this: we need to equip our house to accommodate Dion’s needs, or move. Moving is a difficult thing to imagine. We intentionally chose to be rooted in our neighbourhood and are now surrounded by a large network of support. It is the only place our fifteen year-old Cate has ever lived.  My brother and his family live on the same street and just one block away. Until her death, my mom lived around the corner in the same hospital Dion is in right now. For me, the house is a more than a shelter, it is a refuge. The reality is doing renovations will take less time than selling the house and waiting on an accessible condo to be built. We don’t know how much anything will cost, but know that in order for this to happen we will need to humbly ask for your help (and will soon let you know how).

I am constantly praying about all of this. I don’t understand why our road has been so repeatedly marked with suffering, though I know that it is in the dark places I have encountered great light. As I listen to the following song, I’m reminded that God remains my sanctuary. Somewhere in all of this is we will find hope. And mercy. And grace.

Turn the light off, go to bed
Tell me all about the day you had
Lay beside me, it’s time to rest
You can close your eyes, you’ve done your best

Let me be your sanctuary
Let me be your safe place to fall
I can take away your worries
The refuge from it all

All this time
We have together
Is our shelter from the rain
I will share the weight you carry
Let me be your sanctuary

We have weathered through the storms
Taking comfort in each other’s arms
When the dark clouds come again
I will lift you up and take you in

Let me be your sanctuary
Let me be your safe place to fall
I can take away your worries
The refuge from it all

Oh, this time
We have together
Is our shelter from the rain
I will share the weight you carry
Let me be your sanctuary



Yesterday I had the privilege of getting ordained. Today, as I reflect on the experience, I am still overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s hard to put my feelings into words.

Many of my worlds collided in the sanctuary of 201 Cowan Avenue, all people I love. As I stood at the front of the church I was struck by the many, many faces that were looking back at me. The room was packed with a cloud of witnesses. Had there been time, I would have thanked each person by name for being there and told stories of how their life has impacted mine.

Some of the people in attendance I have the privilege of counting family, many of whom have known me my entire life. Sitting right near the front were Dion and Cate, the two I start and finish each day with. I could almost picture my parents in the crowd (and was grateful that my step-mother could be) even though my dad has been gone for nearly ten years and my mom since last May. Today, on what would have been my mom’s 71st birthday, I am feeling both her absence and in an inexplicable way, her presence and affirmation.

The journey toward ordination has been a long one for me: it started many years ago and finally picked up pace because of a few people’s strong encouragement, not least of which were my two supervisors Elaine and Andrea. These two women have become my friends and staunch supporters. I want to say a public thank you to them both.

I share all of this with The Dale. This is not my celebration, but ours. Together we are learning to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, to bear with each other, to forgive each other, and to put on love (taken from Colossians 3:12-15). It is messy, and raw, and very beautiful. Thank you for presenting me for ordination, for participating in the service, for decorating the room, and for extending hospitality to such an array of visitors.

It made me very happy to learn that someone left the service saying, “that was all about love”. I suppose those are the words I’ve been looking for to describe my feelings. Yesterday was about love. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.








What is an epiphany? The dictionary defines is as “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”. It is also what the church calls the 12th Day of Christmas: Epiphany, or “Three Kings Day” is a reference to when, after having travelled for possibly two years, the wise men finally get to meet and visit Jesus. I have long wondered what was in the sky the night Jesus was born. What got these people motivated to pack up and begin a journey with an unclear destination? Something had been revealed to them. Whatever was in the sky moved their mind and heart to go.

There is little historical information about these wise men and their journey.  In the gospel of Matthew it says they came from the East, leading many to believe they started in Persia. Matthew doesn’t explicitly say there were three of them, and it wasn’t until the seventh century that we began to call them by name. It has been argued that the star could have been either a regular star, a comet, or even a grouping of planets. This lack of specific information is, to me, a reminder that this story is not exclusively the wise men’s journey. We are on an epiphany journey ourselves.

I don’t know what the star looked like that prompted the wise men to move. Did they have any idea how long the trip across the desert would take? I have been thinking about those times when my heart and mind have been illuminated by a foreign light, especially during a dark night of the soul. Though the future remained unclear, I suddenly had a sense of what needed to happen next. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. An epiphany can call us to courageously move into unchartered territory, a place where we see the face of God in a new way.

The wise men were beckoned to follow the star in order to come face-to-face with the child who would be the answer to their hope. Their lives, and now our lives have become entwined in the big-picture story, the story where the creator actually calls out to us by name and invites us to come, the story where divinity is revealed in humanity under seemingly very ordinary circumstances.

At The Dale last Sunday we talked about moments where God is revealed: holding a new-born baby; witnessing a beautiful sunset; saying “I love you” to a friend and really meaning it; being present when someone dies and trusting that death is not really the end; joining a community where you are accepted; believing that our lives are covered in grace. We can witness God in these ordinary, yet extraordinary places and suddenly find ourselves on a journey we never expected. Though the road might be long, it does promise to change our lives.

Light in woods


“I’m trying to wrap my head around how it is that you function without a building”. I’ve heard this sentiment from numerous people over the last two months. People seem to understand how a business would make the decision to have its employees work remotely, say from home, but a community organization and church choosing to be without walls? Less so. I do realize how hard it is to ‘get’ if you haven’t been around The Dale.

I often say that we have a well-established “nomadic routine”, one that rarely varies: Monday Drop-In and Lunch at 250 Dunn Avenue, Tuesday staff meeting at a local coffee shop, Tuesday Drop-In at The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Tuesday Bible Study at the St. Clare Centre, Wednesday Breakfast and Art Drop-In at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, Sunday Service at 201 Cowan Avenue. Every Thursday morning you will find us walking through the neighbourhood on outreach. Sandwiched into the remaining space is supporting people in a variety of ways, administration, and fundraising.

In 2018 we will have been functioning in this manner for SIX years. I remember sharing the decision to give up our building and seeing the understandable looks of caution from people. I know there were many who presumed this would be a short-lived experiment, not because they wanted us to fail, but because they couldn’t imagine how this would work. I am here to attest to this: what was born out of crisis has become one of our greatest gifts.

The Dale relies on the buildings of others and are so grateful to all of our partners. By  aligning with such a variety of groups in Parkdale, we have access to a broad range of resources and expertise. I am convinced that together we are all made stronger. Further, in being “homeless” we have been reminded that the church is not a building. We have been taught by those who know what it means to be transient, how to be transient ourselves. Together we are living stones, ones that wander and tell of redemption and reconciliation.

Near the end of June 2012 we pushed our industrial fridge and freezer down Queen Street West to 250 Dunn Avenue, just a block away from our former home and the new location of our Monday Drop-In. A few friends dipped their feet in chalk paint and left a trail of prints along the sidewalk so people would know where to find us. If you look closely, you might see a few remnants of those footprints even today. Whenever I notice the faint outline of one, I grin and remember that was just the beginning of what has turned into an amazing adventure.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or not. Mostly not for a lot of people I love.

The sentimental songs, the snow, and all the stuff can serve as reminders of estranged family, or no family, or family that is very far away; of cold nights spent in stairwells or under a bridge or in a house that is not a home; of no money for rent or food or presents. For me, this month is magnifying the absence of my mom. I am also admittedly feeling a weariness about the excessive commercial nature of Christmas. Part of me wants to hibernate until January.

Today we had our Monday Drop-In. Interspersed throughout the day were interactions with people experiencing a variety of emotions. Some were grieving lost relationships and the death of loved ones. A number of people lit up when a new friend of The Dale showed up with their six-month old baby. Others expressed anger and frustration at life. A few joined in a rendition of Silent Night. By the end of the day my heart was heavy because though there were many sweet moments, there was much sadness.

Yesterday we gathered together for our Sunday service and lit the Advent candle that represents joy. What does it mean to not just experience a fleeting happiness, but a grounded joy in whatever our circumstances might be? A number of people, many of whom were at the drop-in today, and all no stranger to challenge, contributed to the discussion. We encouraged one another to not allow our struggles to define us or rob us of joy, to practice gratitude for even the smallest of things, to learn to rejoice, and to again and again, choose joy.

Right now, even as I sit here feeling burdened for my friends and missing my mom, I am trying to slow down and do what we talked about yesterday. I hunger for the peace that passes all understanding, something I know is real and gratefully regularly experience. It helps to remember that the impact of Christmas is to be felt everyday of the year, not just on the 25th, for light has pierced the darkness and brought with it hope and yes, joy.

“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy.” Psalm 126:5-6

Light in the Darkness