The truth is, I wanted to be able to write something this weekend about all that I have to be grateful for. I know there is a lot. For some reason every time I sat to write, nothing came out.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that I have long loved (my dad’s birthday often falls on it) and felt conflicted about (just ask any of my Indigenous friends to explain). This year, Thanksgiving weekend was particularly hard. I could feel it coming in the days leading up to it: I was melancholy and tired. Then the tears hit. I couldn’t stop missing people who have died. I felt overwhelmed by a number of different circumstances. Mixed up with the sadness was undeniable resentment.

I recently read about resentment being one of the opposites of gratitude. As I prepared to share about this idea at The Dale on Sunday, I couldn’t help but see myself in the middle of it. What does it look like to break through resentment and find freedom from its chains: the chains that prevent action, preoccupy thoughts, and propel unhealthy choices?

I suspect the starting point is confessing our resentments, which is not easy. One of the things I treasure about The Dale is how so many of my friends confess so freely. There are few masks, which challenges me to remove mine. So, through many tears I poured the hardship of the weekend out to Dion and then again at The Dale. In that act I felt heard, which in turn helped me feel less alone. Not news, but it turns out carrying resentment is very…human.

There is a space created for understanding, forgiveness, and grace when we confess. In turn, we are freed to develop a new spirit of gratitude. The act of gratitude takes practice, almost like working a muscle in order to make it stronger. I acknowledge there are many things to be thankful for, even in the midst of great struggle. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that the seemingly “little” good things in life are actually very big and definitely worth noting. Resentment is hard to hold on to when there is a burgeoning spirit of thanksgiving.

I’m still tender. A serious wave of grief hit, and it has yet to break entirely. There is a lot about life that is hard, for each of us, in so many different ways. It is impossible to make sense of it all. What I believe is that life is a gift. I choose to believe that all things will ultimately be restored and made right. In putting away my resentment, I get to sing a new song, a song that can be sung everyday. Even on this Thanksgiving weekend.

 

 

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Saturday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and there was a bit of a breeze, perfect conditions to be walking/riding/wheel-chairing in the Ride for Refuge down at Ashbridge’s Bay. For the last three years The Dale has participated in this event, an opportunity for organizations like us to raise much-needed money.

First thing in the morning I ran into a double-flat tire issue that meant I would either 1) fix them and be super-late or 2) choose to walk and be on-time. I chose the latter! I have to say that the walk along the beach was stunning, especially with the sun making the water truly sparkle.

The Dale had a great team, many of whom you will see pictured (sadly not all. Note to self: take a group shot at the BEGINNING of the day before people depart on the various routes). Thank you to Dion, Cate, Joanna, Dave, Nancy, Meagan, Ian, Natasha, Hugh, Mike, and James. Together, with the help of so many donors, we raised $12,500. Thank you to everyone who made a contribution. Each and every gift is such an encouragement. For those who don’t know, The Dale receives no government funding. We instead rely on the support of a growing network of individuals, churches, organizations, and foundations.

Fundraising is hard. Admittedly, I sometimes get scared and wonder where the next bit will come from. With every passing year though my amazement grows at how The Dale is provided for. That feeling of wonder is something I never want to lose.

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It’s not hard to describe the regular schedule of The Dale. On Mondays we have a lunch drop-in, on Tuesdays we meet in the park, etc. What maybe is more difficult, unless you’ve spent time with us, is describing how things feel.

On Monday I found myself unable to meet with all of the people who wanted to connect and it admittedly led to some tension. I became a little sad and needed to take a minute to compose myself. I want to listen well, make the calls someone needs (often to a Social or Housing Worker), and generally be a good friend.  In that moment of deflation, there were many community members who did for me, exactly what I hope to do for them: they noticed I was a tad out of sorts, offered encouragement, gave me a hug, and asked how to help.

On Wednesday we held a Memorial Service for Mike. It was somber. He was an important friend to many people. A number of people spoke to me about the difficulty of compounded grief: how there have been too many untimely deaths and that the need to say a proper goodbye is necessary. There is relief that The Dale is present to facilitate memorials and funerals. One person came to me after and in their grief for Mike repeatedly said, “what would we do without The Dale? We need to keep being together”.

Following the Memorial a group of us went to a small stretch of beach along the lake because a community member named Kim had indicated her desire to be baptized. Joanna and Meagan led two readings, one from Scripture, the other something Kim wrote. And then we waded out into Lake Ontario where Kim announced her faith and allowed me the honour of baptizing her. What followed was communion and a tea party on the sand. With her permission I share Kim’s words about The Dale here:

Loving me as I am, in my loner spirit and nomadic ways, I felt drawn to a spirit community that I had not known before. I had always found my “spiritual” needs in nature, among God’s creation of wooded areas and rivers, and away from critical judging eyes. I had become a loner due to difficult circumstances in life, and felt I never quite fit anywhere else. Then I saw an open door, and the light shone on my heart, and a community grew into my family that I had not known before. I felt connected, and my loner spirit changed: I grew from being an “I” single, into a shared “We” community, and that felt good. I found stability, built a foundation, within a church with no walls, yet full of a caring community spirit. I now walk proud, and take risks to move forward, knowing I am part of community, and we walk together spilling out into the streets!

So many different feelings: tension, grace, grief, relief, joy, connection. The thing about The Dale is that we really do want it to be a place of belonging for whoever comes here. It’s not just about me, or other staff/volunteers doing something FOR other people, it’s about all of us doing something together, wherever we come from. We all, including me, need to both give and receive. Choosing to do life together in this way is messy. Sometimes we let each other down. People fight. The challenge of life circumstances, either poverty, or addiction, or mental health, or broken relationships, or death, or [insert your own struggle] can impact the way we interact with one another. And, it is most often in working through the messiness that we experience the joy of redemption.

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This summer The Dale had the pleasure of having not one, but two amazing women choose to do internships with us: Olivia and Ahmeda. If you cycle back in this blog, you can read posts written by both of them, including a final entry by Olivia who recently returned to Chicago for another year of school.

Ahmeda is someone I have enjoyed the privilege of knowing and calling friend for a number of years, so when she indicated her interest in coming to The Dale, I was thrilled. Just today I sat on Ahmeda’s couch with her youngest child (she and her husband have five boys) sleeping on my lap, while we discussed the last bits of administration needed to bring the internship to a close. The reason I wasn’t filled with sorrow over this is because Ahmeda intends to stick around, having found a place of belonging at The Dale.

I value the way Ahmeda both intentionally observes and participates in life at The Dale. She asks excellent questions and beautifully articulates what she is learning. Ahmeda possesses a special warmth and passion that draws people to her. She feels things deeply, loves her people, and is generous with her heart. Ahmeda: you and your family are a beloved gift.

The following are Ahmeda’s own words:

I have so much peace here. In this hot old church on Cowan Avenue that is used on Sundays, a space with walls that give glimpses of past glory: its beauty found etched in the carefully carved stones and the stained-glass windows, so obvious the pride of the artists whose work lives on till this day, both human and divine. This space that invites everyone from all walks of life to come, pause, breath and lean into the arms of the one through whom the upside-down kingdom comes alive.

I have no need to pretend here. In this space where the offering is put inside a well-used winter hat and we are encouraged to hold onto it and offer a prayer if that is what we have to bring; a worthwhile gift that glorifies the father, as good as any coin or note can be.

I have so much hope here. In this community where a Second Harvest truck brings the bounty of food sourced from grocery stores and food terminals all over the city. A blessed colorful nutritious selection that will herald and highlight the mystery and delight of the Creator’s presence at Monday’s community meal.

I have no need to search for love here. In these friendships that celebrate the simple things and create space for me and my children, allowing me to come as I am and serve in relationship as best I can.

I will not neglect to acknowledge the pain that is here. I see clearly the hurt that has marred the journey of most of us here. And also, I know Jesus is here. I know God is here. I need not search to find, for I can feel so clearly the warm caress and joyful touch of the Holy Spirit, delighting in the gathering to share, to create, to show our pain, to sing, to eat, to heal, to pray, to hope and to love.

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I forgot that quiet like this existed. I’m retreating in a cabin owned by long-time friends. The property is situated on a lake, far from the winding gravel road one must travel to get to it. I’m alone, a rarity these days, which is why the quiet has taken me by surprise. It’s dark. The kind of pitch black I don’t experience much in the city.

I sat for nearly the entire day on the dock, only breaking to either dip in the water, or get another drink. The bag at my side contained the following: three books, a journal, one pen, sunscreen, a large beach towel, and a container of corn chips, a treat that I don’t think I’ve had in years but had the sudden urge to get on the drive up from Toronto.

Memories are flooding my mind. Everything from picking warm blueberries in Sudbury with my cousins when we were all little, to my mom sitting on a dock indulging in wine and chips, to my dad helping Cate make a fishing rod out of a stick, a bobber and a bit of line. Many of these recollections make me both smile and wince with grief.

With all that has happened this year, it has been hard to really stop and let my emotions play catch-up. I don’t mean cry, as that’s something I do nearly every day (and not exclusively out of sadness). I mean really sit with the magnitude of illness, care-giving, death, loss, and upheaval. Doesn’t sound like much fun, I know, and yet ignoring it is simply not an option. I choose to grieve.

As I lay in the sun, a unique sense of calm came to rest upon me. I can’t think of another way to describe it and don’t think it was something I could conjure up for myself. I allowed myself to fluctuate being reading, being still, and praying. I listened to a loon. I broke my rhythm of sitting and dipping by taking out a kayak and paddling around the lake. I wrote in my journal. I expressed my sadness and anger, gratitude and joy, longing and hope, all punctuated with tears that periodically welled up and spilled out.

The processing is far from done. I suppose that will always be true. This journey I’m on, one that has been so marked with challenging AND remarkable things, promises to continue being a wild ride. Maybe ironically, I have been reassured in this time of solitude, that I am not alone.

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Just yesterday, on August 6th 2018, our friend Michael DeWolfe died. Even as I type, I find myself in disbelief. It’s not that Mike was well. He had struggled with a variety of health issues for a long time. Somehow though he always seemed to pull through and rather miraculously be out and about in the neighbourhood. I guess my brain got tricked into believing he would always beat the odds.

Mike was one of the first people I met when I began working in Parkdale. At the time he was known as “Iron Mike”, a clear leader and known by most. He always spoke with a gentle authority, liking to claim that he never raised his voice or swore, which in my experience proved true. He usually substituted the word ‘Christmas’ where one might have used a more typical expletive.

I learned early on that Mike was from Nova Scotia. He spoke of it often. With time I came to understand how complicated a life Mike had led, one that caused him both joy and regret. The east coast held many memories and often seemed to be calling out to him. Years ago Mike was able to move to Newfoundland. I still remember how big a deal it was: for him, and for those from Parkdale who watched him go. He even came for a visit once, asking to address everyone at our Monday Drop-In, where he encouraged people to see how change is possible. Mike had found a job, was in a relationship and healthier than he’d been in years, which gave others hope that it might happen for them.

Over time Mike returned to Parkdale. During the last few years he was a constant presence. He would always make sure to talk to me, whether it was in a drop-in or outside. Usually Mike would express concern about the many challenges I was going through, asking if there was anything he could do to help. Almost always he would talk about his family, specifically his children. More often than not Mike would cry freely during those conversations, wiping his eyes with the palms of both hands.

Just months ago, Joanna, Meagan and I had the opportunity to meet Mike’s son, daughter, and their mother. They had travelled a great distance to be with Mike who was in hospital. I always count it such a privilege to connect with the families of people we are walking alongside at The Dale. We have been in touch since, sharing concern about Mike’s health. It was Mike’s son who confirmed that his dad was now gone. To the whole of Mike’s family and friends, on behalf of The Dale, our deepest condolences.

Mike: thank you for being my friend. I will miss your laugh, your words of encouragement, and your presence. You know that at times you drove me crazy, and I will even miss that. The ‘block’ certainly won’t be the same without you. The last time I saw you was on the steps outside the church on Dunn Avenue, and it was because you sent someone in to the drop-in to get me. Thank you for that last visit. We said goodbye saying, “loves ya”. Loves ya I do.

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September 12th, 1962 – August 6th, 2018

Note from Erinn: Saying goodbye to Olivia is hard. We all not-so-secretly wish she could stay. She has eagerly participated in all that we do at The Dale and we deeply value her presence. Olivia: you are a kind, sweet spirit. Thank you for sharing yourself, deliberately building relationships, and offering to help in such a variety of circumstances. I am grateful for your smile, your hugs, and your quiet and thoughtful strength. There is no way this is goodbye, because there will always be a place for you at The Dale. You are loved. 

I have been working with the Dale for almost three months now, and unfortunately it is time for me to say ‘goodbye’. I have learned so many things from this experience. I do not think it is possible for me to have done more for The Dale than what The Dale has done for me.

There is a passage in the Bible that says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalms 139: 13-14) This truth from Scripture is a powerful reminder to me, that I have been designed by God and it is wonderful. This truth also applies to each person I have met, shared a coffee with, or played ukulele alongside.

Each friend that I have made in Parkdale is so unique. So many of them love to create and are willing to share what they have more than most people I meet do. But most importantly, they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. I was always reminded of this when I met someone new and they told me what makes their heart happy, such as poetry, gardening, or singing. Even in times of difficulty, like seeing someone in the hospital or someone frustrated and upset, I was reminded me that we are the body of Christ, we are the church, and each are so loved by God.

One personal struggle that I have dealt with my whole life, is feeling like my weaknesses are so big that I am not qualified enough to do ministry: that my shy personality and nervousness gets in the way of relationship building and speaking in front of large crowds. But, God is constantly trying to teach me that I am wonderfully made and that He is using me in my weakness. Entering a new space can be difficult, but when I came to the Dale I felt like I walked into open arms. I came to give, but instead they embraced me with found gifts and sweet encouragement. Every time I felt like I messed up, we laughed together. When difficult news spread, we cried together. The Dale showed me that doing ministry does not require a specific and perfect personality, but simply someone who will say “yes” to going; someone who will say “yes” to loving others and joining with one another in the messiness of life.

Being at the Dale exposed a new side of this type of work to me, one that goes deeper. I not only met and built relationships with individuals from the neighbourhood but got to hear their life stories and sometimes meet their family members. This was over-and-above any of my other experiences, which was usually to meet someone, maybe give out food, but then move on. There was something special about being welcomed into homes and meeting the parents, children, and spouses of the friends we love. This made me think about how life goes on after a meal program ends or after I get on the bus to go home. Each of these dear friends have a different circumstance to go home to and that I should not stop thinking about them or praying for them when I leave.

These are only some of the many reflections and discoveries I have learned during my time with the Dale. I am so thankful for Erinn, Joanna, and Meagan for welcoming me onto their team, taking the time to show me the ropes, and for exhibiting how to serve and love a community so well. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but I know I will see them all again when I visit Toronto.

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There’s a four-wheel loader, otherwise known as a Bobcat in my backyard. The basement has been demolished, revealing strange things like no framing or insulation along certain walls, wood panelling, and linoleum tiles. A film of dust covers everything, at least on the first floor. Orange fencing surrounds the front yard. And maybe most traumatically, the porch is gone, leaving the porch swing beached for now.

Renovations have begun.

I am grateful that my brother Logan is our contractor. We communicate easily and have the same vision for things. One day six of our friends showed up to help Logan get all of the debris into a bin. It got done so quickly, that some of them were able to stay and continue working, notably taking down the drywall from the ceiling. To say I am thankful is an understatement.

As many of you know, Dion has not been living at the house since January. Multiple Sclerosis, though constantly present, reared its head in a dramatic way for him at that time. Since then he has been adjusting to a new normal at three different facilities, Michael Garron Hospital, Bridgepoint, and now Bellwoods. This period has been a very difficult one for him, and for me and Cate. I don’t quite know how to describe it all. Suffice to say, while there are good things happening, I am also scared, sad, and tired.

The plans for the house include digging down and underpinning, putting in a lift from the main floor to the basement, a barrier-free washroom, and space for a hospital bed. We have no idea when it will be done. Currently Dion is receiving good care at his new place, and outpatient physiotherapy at Bridgepoint.

With everything going on, I have chosen to be pretty quiet here lately. I haven’t known what to write, even though writing often helps me sort out my thoughts. I am trying to live in the tension of a life that is full to the brim, and some days it all feels like too much. I’m looking for ways to rest and am eagerly anticipating having the month of August off from work. There is a lot to process, and I’m hoping for a little more space in my brain to do just that.

I do wonder if there is something symbolic about having to tear down old things in order to make something new. As strange as it is to have a Bobcat parked where my car usually is, there is something exciting about it all. Things are happening. And that, however messy it is and nervous it all makes me, is good.

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Julie Gold has been found! While we can’t share details, what we can say is that she is safe. Thank you to everyone who has been looking, praying, sending good thoughts, and sharing her picture. To say we are relieved is an understatement. We are crying tears of joy.

Julie Gold is a member of The Dale community and a friend. We have recently learned that Julie has been missing for eleven days. The last time she was at The Dale was June 24th. Though from Uxbridge, Julie made the long trek to Parkdale on a regular basis (always to my amazement). There is evidence that she may currently be in the Toronto area. We join together with Julie’s family in deep concern that she be found.

We have been instructed by the police to ask the following should you have any information about Julie:

Please contact the Toronto Police at 416-808-2222, or in case of emergency, 911. This is Durham Regional Police case #18-136926. The officer in charge is Police Constable Gerritts, Badge #3521, 905-579-1520 ext 2000. PC Gerrits can also be reached by email at 3521@drps.ca

Julie is 5’8″, has a medium build and shoulder length brown hair. Those are important features to know as you look. Please also know that Julie is the kind of friend who consistently encourages me to take time out for myself and regularly offers to meet for a drink (she doesn’t like coffee, but knows I do) or a lakeside walk. She is: a loyal friend and a lover of cats; can be very quiet and has a great laugh; is quick to help with the dishes and gives good hugs.

Julie: may you know deep in your core that you are loved. I hope you are safe. We all do. 36636842_10156213384211223_3177978359669850112_n