Archives for the month of: March, 2012

“You are what you consume” said the keynote speaker at George Brown College’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts Student Success Awards. Given that many of the students are preparing to be chefs you might think he meant “you are what you eat”. That thought always kind of scares me, because I know how prone I am to eat food that isn’t so good for me. In fact, on my way home from last night’s event I bought a bag of chips. Ahem. Except that’s not really what he was talking about.

We are a culture of consumption. Many of us have become accustomed to a lifestyle that includes having information at our fingertips and enough disposable income to buy stuff. If we drive (a car OR a bike) we have to consciously think about not being distracted by our handheld device. We consume in other ways too: we are impacted by our surroundings, the people we interact with, the books we read, the television we watch, the work we do. Whether we like it or not, we are shaped by what we consume.

I am a consumer. I desire to create an environment in my home that is comfortable and beautiful. I have an iPhone. I have a closet with more than one outfit in it. I feel challenged daily that I have so much when others have so little. And then I go shopping. Ouch. So, what is the answer? The reality is that I’m still working this out.

Part of working it out for me is learning to place less and less value on the stuff, and more and more of it on the things that really matter. It is about sharing my life in its entirety: my resources, my home and my heart. And not just with people who think and act and look just like me. Important too is that this not become just an exercise in charity. I am not called to only give out of my relative wealth, I am invited to receive out of others (which may or may not have anything to do with money). Working all this out is not an activity that I can do on my own. It is in the context of community that we can collectively learn behaviour that is truly counter-cultural: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

Justice. Mercy. Humility. Love. Now those are things worth consuming.

Now excuse me, I need to go find something healthy to eat for breakfast.

 

 

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I have a confession: I’m seeing a therapist.

Now, this is not something I feel compelled to hide, nor am I embarrassed about it. I have noted though that people often don’t know how to respond when I bring this fact up. Sometimes I sense an uncomfortable, almost agitated need to suppress whatever they are thinking and trying not to say. I suppose it could be that they want to say, “it’s about time!”. I more readily suspect that the reaction has less to do with me and more to do with what seeing a therapist might mean for them.

Therapy is not easy. For me it has meant tearing open parts of myself that I thought could remain quietly hidden. It has meant talking about my relationship with my Dad- a relationship that was deeply loving and very complicated and quite honestly, hard. For the first number of sessions I hardly spoke a single word without weeping. From the comfort of an over-sized armchair I have said some very uncomfortable things, including confessing which parts of me are broken. There have certainly been times when the process has felt like too much. I have grown weary of crying, of sagging under the weight of things, of talking and talking and talking. There have also been real moments of breakthrough.

On a recent visit I was able to announce that I was truly feeling okay. I don’t like the word “okay”, I often use it when I don’t have a better descriptor. However, on that day I was able to say it and mean it. The process that my therapy has begun (yes, it is not over) is bringing me to a new place. It is a place where I am more aware of the way my past has shaped my present; where I feel exposed and raw and free; where I feel more responsible for my actions. While I could argue that this is the result of finding a great therapist (which is true), I actually want to point to something different.

That something different is God. Over the last number of months I have felt as close to the end of myself as I ever have. It was while hanging on the edge that I realized there is nothing for me to do except trust God. I have to choose to believe that God loves me passionately, mercifully and gracefully. He sees me. He knows all those quietly hidden parts and just asks that I take some responsibility for opening them up. And with the guidance of my great therapist I am opening up more and more.

As I unfurl I am recognizing how I need to be present in each moment. This is no easy feat for a self-confessed worrier. I have wasted a lot of time and energy worrying about the what the future might hold. For today I am not going to do that. Today I am going to meet some people about PNC, I am going to have lunch with Cate and my Mom, I am going to have coffee with a dear friend and I am going to stand beside my step-mother Susan as we give out the Barry Grant Memorial Award. I am going to be grateful for this day.

I’m also going to be grateful for therapy.

Last Sunday I decided to crack open the gallon of pink paint my daughter picked for her room and finally get down to putting it on the walls. It’s very pink. For those of you who know my girl this will come as no surprise.

The weather on Sunday was beautiful: the breeze through the window and the warmth of the sun helped to keep me happy as I worked. Cate and one of her best friends lounged on the bed as I painted, keeping me company with their chatter and giggles. The conversation took an interesting turn when they began to discuss what people are “known for doing”, i.e. that person is always doing dishes, or that person is always grumpy, or that person is always watching television. You get the idea. I almost reluctantly asked what I am known for doing, assuming that my worst qualities would be broadcast by those who get to most often see them in action. The room got quiet. I was getting less and less optimistic. Then the friend said, “I’ve got it, you are known for loving Cate”.

My heart swelled.

That thought, that I might be known simply as the one who loves my daughter, made me want to cry. I can get so busy with doing. I could easily be known as the one who never stops, who loves checking things off lists, who really puts the multi in multitasking. Not that my lists don’t contain worthy tasks. It’s just that I don’t want those tasks to define me. I instead want to be known as one who loves deeply and well. As straightforward as that sounds it is far from easy. Loving in the context of relationship is challenging and, well, messy. Loving isn’t just about giving Cate a room with pink walls (though that indeed spoke love to her), it is about caring for her needs, challenging her behaviour when required, holding her when she’s hurt, helping her discover boundaries, teaching her about God and life and loving her neighbour and celebrating the person she both is and coming to be.

I want to be present to Cate in order to love her well. Similarly, I want to be present to my husband, family, friends and community in Parkdale. Sometimes I will do this well, other times I will fail. Fortunately I have discovered that in all of this I am being loved too, despite my too long lists, my missteps and my downright failures. I am invited to receive love as much as I am required to give it. What a beautiful thing.

I will never look at those very pink walls the same way again.

 

 

Dear Friends,

When I look back at my adult life thus far, I am truly amazed that I have been given opportunity after opportunity to do work that I love: work that has been consistently about developing community which includes all people, while valuing those who are all too often overlooked by society. I get to hear people’s stories. I hear from the woman who was battered daily by her husband before she made the terrifying decision to flee; from the man who, as a child, was abused by the step-father that his mother loved too much to leave; from the family who is struggling to make ends meet; from the young woman who is working in the sex trade in order to pay her university fees; from the teenager who is sleeping rough on the streets; from the man whose job is so fast paced that he feels as though life is passing him by; from the woman who is weary of chasing after material things. Sometimes the stories are strikingly familiar, sometimes entirely unique, but always real and worthy of being shared. And it is in the sharing of them that the work of really knowing one another begins.

I have spent the last number of years working at Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC). PNC is situated in the heart of Parkdale, a neighbourhood in the west end of Toronto. Parkdale is a diverse place- walk its streets and you will meet people living outside, some with serious diagnosed mental health issues, urban “hipsters” who are opening coffee shops and art galleries, people living in rooming houses alongside those who are renovating the same houses into single-family dwellings. The street signs declare you are in the “Village of Parkdale”, an entirely appropriate label given that its inhabitants in large part know one another’s names.

PNC is a gathering place for people. It is a space in which all people, particularly the vulnerable and broken are encouraged to participate fully, to the best of their abilities. We are invited into mutually supportive relationships; the kind that assists each of us as we journey through the life God has given us. I am passionate about the work that goes on in this community: the drop-ins where we share a meal together, the art workshops, the group that gathers on Sunday afternoons to sing, pray, question and learn, the Open Stages where people have the courage to share a song or a poem or a dance, the list goes on. But really, the passion doesn’t spring up out of our programming (as good as it is), it comes from the people- people sharing their pain and struggle and joy in very raw ways. It is in the faces of my friends that I see Jesus, the one who extends love and grace to all.

It is because of this passion that I have agreed to lead PNC into a new phase in its life and mine. We are about to undergo a “reboot”. This means that we are taking some time to revision, rebuild and re-launch. In the meantime we will stay close to our people by continuing our drop-in and doing significant outreach on the street.

In an effort to strengthen the structure of PNC I have decided to become a self- supported worker. This means that I will raise the funds for my own salary. Having done this in the past in a different setting I am aware of the work involved. I also know the beauty of this- that I have the chance to gather a group of people together who are invested in my life and my work. I am scared, yes. I am also hopeful and very excited about continuing the work that I am convinced I am called to do.

Support in this context can come in various ways, each of equal importance: you can gift your time (i.e. walk the neighbourhood with me), your prayer and/or your money by making a donation to PNC and designating it to the “Support of Erinn Oxford” (the ways in which to do this are listed at the end of this letter). Whatever support you offer is truly a gift.

Please consider coming alongside me in my commitment to being a presence in Parkdale. I will take special care to diligently and humbly do the work that is necessary to deepen PNC’s roots and nurture its growth.

With deep gratitude,

Erinn Oxford

Ways to Give:

By Cheque, made payable to Parkdale Neighbourhood Church.

C/O 107 Queensdale Avenue, Toronto, ON M4J 1Y2

On-Line at http://www.canadahelps.org.

By PAR (Pre-Authorized Remittance)- please contact me for the form.

Welcome to my new blog. Please visit this site to read about what is going on in my life, particularly my work in Parkdale. I look forward to sharing and in so doing inviting you to co-journey with me.