Archives for the month of: April, 2012

Today, after the drop-in lunch at PNC we held a community meeting.

As I sat looking at the faces of my friends, about to open my mouth to start the meeting, my stomach did a little turn. I have anxiously been waiting for the opportunity to share some very important news. The news is this: we have given notice to our landlords at 201 Cowan Avenue and are on the move as of July 1st, though we don’t yet know where. Some mouths understandably hung open.

On flip chart paper I wrote 5 points that I hoped we would all leave remembering:

1. We will move to another location.

2. We will continue as a community.

3. We will assess what is working and what needs to change/grow.

4. We will continue our drop-in.

5. We will plan for the future.

PNC is a community that exists outside of a building. That’s just a fact. We will gather, eat, love, learn and worship in a park if we have to. The harsh reality is that we do not have the money to stay in our current space. I am actively looking for an alternate space in the neighbourhood that will allow us to continue our drop-in for free or a nominal charge. There are some real possibilities already in the works. We also plan to be highly visible through street outreach. The folks at Sketch have graciously offered me a desk in their administrative office just blocks east of our current location. This time of “Reboot” (that’s what we’re calling it) is opening up opportunity to create new partnerships, new plans and new structure.

After the initial shock of the announcement began to wear off, we proceeded to talk about what we need to do. We are going to have a Moving Team, one that helps with cleaning, packing, moving and “fueling” (that’s making this work FUN! Preparing food to share, music to pack/dance to…); a Working Group Team, one that helps facilitate the process of community discernment; and a Street Outreach Team. If you are someone who would like to be involved in some of this, please do let me know.

As we got talking, so many ideas began to percolate. The energy was good. Some suggested buildings we should look into, others offered to sell tie dye shirts and baking in order to raise money, some came up with ideas about communicating the move to the neighbourhood. Everyone said that, “together we can do this”.

After we closed the meeting, someone came over to me and expressed her elation at the invitation to be involved. While she will miss the space, she is relieved that all this change is happening at once, that in many ways this feels like a new day for PNC. My stomach did a little turn again, though this time not out of anxiety but excited hope.

We WILL continue as a community.

Post Script:

I know that many of you are wondering about my Mom. She remains in ICU. She is on antibiotics for pneumonia and an infection in her blood. We wait for the medication to do its work. She is steadily becoming more alert and is understandably very tired. Please keep praying…

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Right now:

I am a muddle of thoughts.

I am trying to not be worried about my Mom and admittedly not doing a very good job. Yesterday was a harder day for her. She remains in ICU. We covet your prayers and healing thoughts.

I am considering everything that needs to be done at PNC. It is a challenge to prioritize tasks when everything is important…we need the door, but the door can’t be hung without hinges, and the hinges need to be screwed into the wall and the wall needs to be repaired..whew!

I am thinking about Cate’s big Ice Show. Tonight and twice tomorrow she will don her figure skates and green outfit (her number is called “Seaweed”). I know one of the things she is most looking forward to is the Grand Finale, when all the skaters roam the ice and hope to have flowers tossed to them. Dion and I will have a bouquet in hand.

I am grateful for the way my almost four-year old nephew Oliver prayed for his Gran last night: “thank you and make Gran feel better. Thank you and give her medicine”.

I am continuously pondering what it means to be thankful in all things. And at the same time be willing to talk about what’s not right in the world and to seek after justice in a humble, merciful way.

I am preparing for a Community “Town Hall” Meeting at PNC on Monday after our lunch (if you are reading this know that you are welcome to join us! Lunch is at 1, the meeting will start shortly thereafter).  We are going to talk about the changes that PNC is facing and brainstorm together about our future. I am excited about the ideas that are brewing and being batted about already.

I am listening to Mumford and Sons and loving this lyric:

And there will come a time,
you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart,
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see
what you find there,
With grace in your heart
and flowers in your hair.

I am recalling listening to Joni (pronounced John-ee) Eareckson-Tada speak at a conference years ago. Joni is a woman who, at a young age, dove into shallow water and broke her neck. She has lived in a wheelchair ever since. I have always been struck by the glow she has about her as she talks about her life, her faith and her hope. In fact, she reminds me of my Mom.

I am doing my best to lose the muddiness in my head and again choose to be in the moment.

Right now.

Today I received a call from Toronto East General Hospital saying that they needed to “update me on my mother’s condition”.

Gulp.

For years now my Mom has lived in hospital, most recently in the Complex Continuing Care Unit in Toronto East, just around the corner from both myself and my brother. Fortunately, as scary as a call like that is, she’s okay. She is recuperating from a bout of pneumonia in the ICU. The call got me thinking though about the amazing woman my mother is.

My Mom is quite honestly one of the strongest people I know. She has endured much- not least of which is losing the ability to walk and eat food through her mouth. Yet she never complains. In fact, I sometimes feel like I need to complain on her behalf. She carries herself with a huge measure of grace cloaked in very real love. As I reflect on this truth, I recall the many things I love about and have learned through her.

My Mom knows how to linger with people. She listens. I have always admired her capacity to sit at the dinner table for hours, enjoying food and company. I think about her when I realize I’ve actually been sitting with someone for an inordinate amount of time- surely the clock must be wrong! But it’s not- I’ve just lost track.

A creature of habit, my Mom still listens to the same albums we listened to years and years ago. I love that “Famous Blue Raincoat”- the songs of Leonard Cohen sung by Jennifer Warnes- became one of her first itunes purchases. We listened to that recording constantly. I especially remember singing along during our car rides to the family camp in Killarney more than twenty years ago. I still know all the words.

My Mom never discouraged me from asking hard questions about life and faith and God. On more than one occasion she listened to me and my friends ask, “but why? Is there really a God? What’s the deal?” I endeavour to do the same.

I have learned to love strong coffee, toast that’s a little burnt, popcorn with butter and salt, wine and all things cheese because of my Mom. Definitely things worth learning.

An artist, my Mom often creates the things she gives as presents. I remember her drawing portraits of all her nieces and nephews one Christmas. Much of her art adorns the walls of our house. Though her hands don’t work the way they once did, she continues to create with paint, pencil crayons and pastel. She has even made the foray into digital art. Whenever I feel a creative block I think of her and become inspired. I make gifts of my own now too.

As a single parent, my Mom found ways to ensure we always had enough. Astonishingly, she managed to home-school my brother for a little more than a year because it was what needed to happen. She has moved through life with faith and a willingness to depend on others. As I take the plunge into this new phase in my work life I constantly remind myself of this.

I have learned to appreciate “meaningful piles” (a mom-ism)- you know, the piles of letters and bills and artwork that can easily accumulate in corners of your home.

My Mom’s mom was “Gran” to me; my Mom is “Gran” to Cate, Oliver and Harrison. I love how she loves her grandchildren.

Patience is a word that could be used to define my Mom. She knows patience. I have watched her be patient through terribly difficult situations and I long to be the same. Her very real faith gives her strength beyond what is humanly possible. She knows what it means to have God walk through the valley with her and consistently attests to His presence. My faith has grown because of hers.

I could talk so much more. I could mention my Mom’s prayer life, her humour, her affinity for sparkly things, her curious mind…really it boils down to this:

I love my Mom.

I am a mom. As I mom I get to participate in the many activities of my daughter, Cate. On Mondays Cate has choir practice. Today I was on for our carpool, so I locked up at PNC and went to pick up Cate and her two friends, J and A. I must say, the trip to and from rehearsal is always highly entertaining.

Here’s why:

1. These kids like to be wordsmiths. J was trying to figure out an adjective that started with the letter O. A suggested “origami-ish”. I asked him to use it in a sentence, to which he replied “Erinn, you are always sooooo origami-ish”. Um. I decided to take it as a compliment.

2. Listening to incessant giggling makes me want to giggle.

3. I get to hear the three of them sing together, even at the end of the day when you’d think they might be tired out.

4. Cate and J decided to compose their own opera about fruit. The chorus included the line, “Do you want to be a raspberry?”

5. The four of us had a highly intelligent conversation about what it means to be homeless. They were keen to point out that you could have a place to live and still feel home-less. Yes.

6. It’s become a bit of a tradition that I take everyone to Tim Horton’s for a small treat before rehearsal. When we get close to the parking lot they put their hands in the air and announce they can “feel the turn”.

7. It’s good for this piano teacher’s soul (I have a handful of students) to hear kids talking about theory and practicing singing minor thirds and perfect octaves.

These three kids make me laugh. I really do enjoy having them fill up the back seat- even when it means I can’t stop singing about being a pineapple.

I sometimes moan that God (who I do believe in) is not giving me what I want, dare I say it, what I need. Bluntly put, I sometimes think he is not giving me enough. I question whether or not He loves me. I live in a sense of rejection, of less than, of pain. What about being happy? Don’t I get to be happy? Don’t we get to be happy? Certainly a God of grace would want that for us. I am coming to realize that God does want that. God longs to draw us into His presence so that we might be filled up with perfect, redemptive love. It seems that to experience this I need to say “yes” to all that He freely gives and choose to live my life full of Him.

I recognize that this may be easier said than done.

In an effort to do this I began to pay attention to things that often wash over me; things I take for granted; things that I don’t always think of as special and maybe a few that I do. As my list grew longer I began to see how this might be a first step toward believing that a life full of the knowledge of grace might be possible.

My List:

  1. The warmth of the sunlight through a window, falling on my shoulders as I write.
  2. Tulips.
  3. A sound of a child playing the piano with one finger.
  4. Mail that isn’t bills.
  5. The smell of beeswax candles.
  6. Wind in my hair.
  7. A freshly painted room.
  8. Catching a streetcar before it rolls away.
  9. Colourful graffiti that catches my eye in a lane-way.
  10. A record spinning on a turntable.
  11. Seeing my mom in her wheelchair instead of her bed.
  12. The forgiveness of a friend.
  13. Having someone see me in my brokenness and loving me anyway.
  14. A new pencil.
  15. The click a camera makes when I take a picture.
  16. The smell of BBQ.
  17. Spring in the air.
  18. Suds in a bath.
  19. The gurgle of coffee perking on the stove.
  20. A touch.

This list has helped me to see that these 20 things are very real gifts from God, and in the action of writing them down I am actually receiving them as such. The list is my attempt to seek joy and to find God in the process. I believe we are invited to let God change us- maybe not our circumstances, but how we manage them. God can change your state of mind and how you perceive His good gifts. God makes it possible to live a life FULL of grace.

“Grace” has a number of different meanings: it is seemingly effortless beauty or charm or movement (she moves with such grace); it is a short prayer before a meal; it is mercy; it is favour rendered by one who need not do so; it is indulgent. God’s grace is just that: indulgent. On the surface of our lives, it might not feel that this is true. We live in a world marred by debt and despair and death. Imagine though being able to cultivate gratitude DESPITE this. A man named Paul wrote about this in the book of Philippians 4:11-12, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or with little.”

Judy Collins (yes, the singer) wrote a book about what she calls the 7 T’s: Truth, Trust, Therapy, Treasure, Thrive, Treat, and Transcend. Judy decided to write about these T’s after her son committed suicide and she began a journey of grief and mourning. While this is not the context of each of our lives, we can relate because of our own experiences of pain, sadness, addiction and remorse.

If the challenge for us is to choose to live a life of joy, abundance, forgiveness and grace, than the 7 T’s provide a framework to do this.

Truth: Tell it. Tell it like it is, even if it is painful. Don’t ignore those wounded places in your life.

Trust: Allow it. Don’t allow the pain to prevent you from talking. Talk with friends. Talk with your community.

Therapy: Get it. Seek help.

Treasure: Hold on. Find things that you treasure. Remember those things that are good in your life- however big or small you perceive these things to be.

Thrive: Look up. Keep living with your eyes wide open. Try to not blunt or blur your sadness with unhealthy things.

Treat: Nurture yourself. Discover the things that fill up your soul.

Transcend: Choose to live a certain kind of life- a life of gratitude- a life of grace.

When I chose to make Jesus central to all that I do, life began to look different. Mother Teresa once said “The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action. If we pray the work…if we do it to Jesus, if we do it for Jesus, if we do it with Jesus…that’s what makes us content”. When I am blue or frustrated or angry or…whatever…I now try to pause, think about Jesus and consider what I am grateful for.

Joy will come from the touching of Christ. I am confident that God is healing the places in my heart that are deep holes. And in those deep places is a new sense of gratitude.

Yesterday a group from PNC and The Gateway went to The McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, just north of the city. What an impressive collection of art in such a beautiful setting. We had a guided tour, wandered and shared lunch out. For my folks it came as a sweet, spontaneous trip out of the downtown. One person, from the back seat of the van we travelled in, announced: “I couldn’t have had a nicer day”.

Enough said.

PNC functions because of the participation of many. From the beginning of 2012 until the end of March a handful of people stepped into leadership in order to ensure PNC continued. I am indebted to Souad, our long-time Kitchen Coordinator and Rob, Kim, Naomi and Wendy, our interim staff. Souad captains the kitchen with great humour and warmth. Her culinary skills have enabled us to create very healthy, flavourful meals at surprisingly low-cost. Like a mother, she reminds the community that they have to “eat their vegetables”. The interim staff graciously joined her on the front-line, maintaining and building relationships with those who keenly felt the absence of myself and Joe.

In order to give you all a better sense of what PNC is like on a Monday, I invite you to watch a video that Souad helped to produce. While some of you have likely seen it in the past, I assure you it is worth a second viewing.  Our drop-in is often the first point of connection a person has with PNC; it is through this program that people decide to get even more involved. Mondays can feel like a wonderful whirlwind and couldn’t have kept going without the support of Souad, Rob, Kim, Naomi and Wendy.

As we face even more transition, these five people have stayed close. Saying I’m grateful just doesn’t suffice.

So, while it feels meager: thank you friends. Your work has not gone unnoticed.

A couple of years ago I was sharing with a friend what our Sunday gathering at PNC looks and feels like. We were having a relaxed conversation over a drink at a cozy neighbourhood spot. My description actually led to this friend, a self-professed Atheist, to say “now THAT’s the kind of church I could go to”.

I kept thinking about that comment as I sat with the community just yesterday.

We usually start our service at 3:30 p.m. Yesterday though the chairs were filled almost thirty minutes early and everyone wanted to sing. We have songbooks that are pages and pages long. One after another, people called out a number and we made music together.

Eventually, after an official welcome, some readings and even more singing I invited people to share what they were struggling with so that we might pray. There is never pressure to do this. People can share as much as they feel comfortable to- we know that those things kept quietly in our hearts are heard by God too. One person confessed the violent actions they had recently made against another; one spoke of the deep desire to recover from a serious addiction; one expressed the need for better self-control…all things that so rarely get spoken aloud. I was profoundly moved, not only by the raw nature of the sharing but also by the reaction of the group as a whole: the confessions were met with grace and gentle challenge.

Internally I was struggling to know how to articulate what is going on with me. I looked up at the ceiling and finally said, “I need to ask for support”. Tearfully I spoke of the challenge of all the change I (and we as a community) are going through. I explained that I am excited and hopeful. And scared. A long time friend and member of PNC, who has no idea how wise she is, said simply: “we need to pray for you”. I was invited to stand in the middle of the circle and be surrounded by everyone present. They held my hands and touched my shoulders. They prayed that I might know I am not alone, that I be enabled to be there for all of them and they for me, that we move forward together.

The rest of the service unfolded as beautifully as it began. We closed with extending the peace of Christ to one another through hand shakes and hugs. Some people lingered over donated cookies and tea. We quietly dispersed.

I left feeling encouraged and elated. While gathered with friends I encountered God. None of us are alone. PNC is most definitely a church that I want to go to.

Have you ever felt like you were in a free fall and entirely stuck at the same time?

I have. It’s a strange combination. It’s as though I was living in parallel universes: one where I walked up to the edge, jumped and began to spin out of control and one where I walked up and just stopped, paralyzed.  I was thinking about this as I recently sat beside Cate on a plane, thousands of feet in the air. She kept looking out the window and saying, “it doesn’t look like we’re moving at all”. I tried to explain how fast we were really going, to which her reply was, “but it doesn’t FEEL like it”. Ah, yes, I know that feeling.

I’ve discovered that the way out of this feeling is to believe that whether I’m hurtling through the air or teetering on the edge, I need to trust. For me, that means trusting God. I need to cast aside my internal anxiety, which quietly resides in the pit of my stomach and move forward. The answer has not really been to make big future decisions, but to make the choice to do what is right in front of me, right now. As I’m more keenly aware of than ever, life can change in an instant. Worrying about things that have yet to happen prevents me from doing what I should today. Ultimately I am held in the palm of God’s hand, a place that I can trust is sure and real and safe.

Not too long ago I was on my way to a meeting that I was worried about (big surprise). I was faced with a choice: do I live in the worry or do something else? I firmly informed myself that I needed to focus on getting a coffee, actually enjoy drinking it and then drive myself to where we were gathering. Only upon my arrival would my focus change to the meeting itself. It sounds so simple, yes? And yet so very challenging. I’m truly learning a new skill.

While the plane didn’t seem to be getting us anywhere, we were able to disembark in a totally different region. Though I didn’t realize it during my time in those parallel universes, I have been brought to a different region too. It’s not that I’ve gotten off the plane in a picturesque, perfect place where everything  is easy. Far from it. It’s that I’m more able to navigate the rugged terrain.

Trusting is a good feeling. I’ll keep working on it, one step at a time.

Today is Maundy Thursday. It is the day we remember Jesus Christ washing His disciple’s feet and sharing His last supper with them; the day that Jesus declared there was a new commandment: that we love one another as He loved us; the day that Jesus asked His friends to stay awake to keep watch; the day they…fell asleep.

I often think about this. That they fell asleep. I wonder if I would have done the same. And I guess the truth is that I very likely would have. I once even challenged myself to hold vigil from Maundy Thursday through to Good Friday. I didn’t make it. The truth is that my head nods off all the time when it shouldn’t. I watch the news about people getting killed in war-torn countries, drive by people living in tents along the Don Valley, walk through hospitals full of people with severe health needs and fail to even blink.

It’s as though the brokenness of the world lulls me to sleep. I doze into a dangerous place- one where I forget the work begun on Maundy Thursday and accomplished on Easter. I become like Puddleglum and Jill in CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair. The Witch throws some green powder on the fire that induces a sweet smell and begins to thrum on a mandolin-like instrument. She tries to make them believe that Narnia, a beautiful land where Aslan the Lion reigns, has never existed.

“Yes, It is all a dream,” said the Witch.

“Yes, all a dream,” said Jill.

“There never was such a world,” said the Witch.

Thrum, thrum, thrum goes the mandolin.

Thrum, thrum, thrum.

There is no love.

Thrum

There is no hope.

I need to no longer numb myself to the world’s needs, and do what Jesus asked me to. I need to be alert in order to love people. I have to ask them what they need and not assume I always know what’s best. Loving arouses me from my sleep- it enlivens me to my surroundings. As Puddleglum says to the Witch: “You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing more likely. But I know I was there once. I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him [Aslan] up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.” There IS hope.

With my eyes wide open I can withstand the aroma of the green powder and resist the thrum of the mandolin. I can notice all that has gone terribly wrong and not allow it to plunge me into despair. I can choose to love and stoop to wash another’s feet.

I can stay awake.