Archives for the month of: December, 2012

I have much to reflect on as I think about 2012. So many things have happened. This blog adventure of mine is proving to be a helpful journal for me: similar in many ways to the hand written journals I used to keep. I can look through the archives and be reminded of what I was thinking about, or experiencing, or grieving, or longing for, or celebrating. Except now I’m making the entries public. My heart beats a little faster every single time I hit “Publish”- I never know how what I write will be received and recognize that it is kind of out of my hands once it hits the internet. Quite a lesson in relinquishing control. I’m learning a lot about that these days.

One of my first blogs begins with this: “I have a confession: I’m seeing a therapist.” To this day, Therapy is one of the most read pieces. I felt vulnerable writing it. I read everything out loud to myself before I put it up and in this case, I wept. Therapy has been hard, at times uncomfortable, full of emotion and incredibly freeing. I continue to learn a lot about myself.

In A New Adventure I wrote: “…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.” 9 months later PNC is still standing. I admit that while I have always been fiercely determined to see it continue, in my darker moments I haven’t always known if it would. We have truly spilled out into the neighbourhood. In fact, when I got asked a little while ago “so where exactly do you find PNC?”, a community member responded before I could: “you find it by being outside in the hood, natch”. Yes.

I smile when I read Pink Walls, laugh out loud at Choir Carpool and maybe wince just a little in Wonder Woman, Not. I appreciate being able to reminisce about being with my family at camp in the summer, the early days of becoming connected to the streets and more recently, even the trudge that was packing up PNC’s home. I am grateful too for a space in which to work out some of my own thinking on things like Christianity, consumerism and charity.

I find writing very therapeutic and am aware that I am processing much of my grief through it. When my Mom found herself in the ICU yet again, I had to write My Mom. I eagerly shared it, wanting to tell everyone what a woman Elaine Grant is. The most precious moment came when I was able to read it aloud to my mom. What a gift.

I re-live moments too:

The challenge of delivering a Eulogy for my Dad in In Honour of My Dad.

The bittersweet experience of saying goodbye to my Auntie Laurie in Our Town.

Saying a horrible farewell to my friend, Kimberly Rivera in War Resister.

Learning that God yet again provided PNC’s daily bread in Enough.

Hearing Stevie shout out my name in Little Stevie.

I am struck by the common thread of grace in all my stories. Grace permeates everything: the darkness and the light. The story of PNC overflows in it. Grace has arrived in unexpected and surprising ways. It has come quietly. And in some areas, I’m still waiting for it. I’m certain that if we all looked back on the tales of our lives, we would discover the same.

Here’s to 2013. May it be a year saturated with redemptive grace. For all of us.

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PNC went caroling last night. During the lead up to the event, we had mixed response from some of our community: many loved the IDEA of caroling, but when asked if they would be there, balked. A few gleefully explained that they had another commitment and couldn’t attend. I gently teased those people, imploring them to at least give it a try.

The night began at The St. Clare Centre, the same room where we meet on Sundays. A group of us baked last week, so that there would be an assortment of goodies to enjoy. We also shared apple cider and pop, popcorn and chips. I had no idea what to expect in terms of numbers. And then guess what happened? The room packed out and we had a wonderful assortment of more than thirty people! A longtime PNC’er remarked, “how are we going to do this with so many people?” What a great problem to have.

We gathered around the open doors of storefronts, sang around the Christmas tree in the Public Library, marched into the Dollarama, took a request in the Coffee Time, performed for the security cameras in the lobby of a Toronto Public Housing building and on and on. Ernesto, a community member, accompanied us on the harmonica (or mouth organ as he kept correcting me). Everyone warmly welcomed us, sometimes obviously perplexed at why we would be offering to sing a carol. Some people pulled out their phones to video us, others clapped, all seemed pleased. The very old tradition of caroling still means something, especially during a season that has become stressful and even sad for so many people. A song is a simple gift.

I found myself thinking about the gifts that the magi brought Jesus so long ago as I witnessed the gift-giving of two of my friends last night. One cuts paper, both as a creative outlet and a serious coping mechanism. I have never seen him without bags of scavenged paper and his scissors. He presented a paper cut-out…snowflakes, trees, angels…to as many people as he could, including every store owner we greeted. One is a Native man of small stature, street-involved and struggling with alcoholism. He delivered our caroling group a box filled with hot chocolates and “pops for the kids”. Yes, I wept.

Caroling has been a tradition at PNC for many years. I can assure you, next year we will be out again. Until then, imagine us singing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

 

I turned on the computer and was met with the horrible news: 26 people killed; 20 of them children. I think I croaked out, “oh God, no” and began to weep. I felt sick.

I immediately thought of my Cate. She goes to a school quite similar to the one in Connecticut, except that it goes to grade five instead of grade four. I stand in the schoolyard five days a week, kissing Cate goodbye in the morning and hello in the afternoon. I remember as though it were yesterday her first day of Junior Kindergarten. She seemed so small and everything else so big.

And now so many parents, just like me, are simply saying goodbye to their beautiful small ones. Nothing about this is right.

I have no idea what was going on inside of the mind of Adam Lanza. I am completely dismayed that he was somehow able to have a firearm in his possession. I mourn the systems that are so broken to begin with and just don’t protect people the way they seemingly intend to. I can’t comprehend how the families and friends left behind will move through Christmas. I wonder where God is in all of this.

I have so many questions and no answers. I hang on (sometimes by a thread) to the faith and hope that lingers in my heart. I believe that there will come a day when mental illness, anger, weapons, fear, misguided pride, injustice and murder will all be eradicated. Until then you and I get to be a part of ushering in the kind of kingdom that will one day reign, one where we recognize we belong to one another. Cate doesn’t just belong to me and Dion- she belongs to a much larger family. As Mother Teresa once said, “”If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten [this]”.

Today I want to remember.

Death has been touching the PNC community this latter part of the year. It has also been touching other communities we are close to. During this time I have been finding it very helpful to tell stories of the ones we have lost. There is something healing about remembering. And remembering need not be about sanitizing the past; it’s not about only remembering the good. In fact, I would argue that the important thing is to remember the entire person, faults and all. “John” (not his real name, in this case out of respect for his family) was a gregarious guy. He had a big personality and a great laugh. John also lived life pretty hard. He was broken. The truth is, I am broken too.  So are you. We are ALL broken. That is our shared humanity. It is when we acknowledge this that we learn we are not alone.

Once we discover we are not alone, we can go about the business of creating community. It is in the context of community that we can learn we are loved, we are valued, and we are accepted no matter what happened to us in our childhoods or our marriages or on the streets. We are accepted whether we consume alcohol, drugs or too much food. If we begin to get this, then it becomes easier to lean on one another, enabling us to begin taking even the baby-est of steps toward healing and wholeness.

The good news is that we are invited to come as we are. God invites us to show up in all our brokenness and receive His full grace and mercy. We are not required to have it all together, in fact it is precisely when we realize we do not have it all together that we can fully experience the presence of God in our lives. In my own darkest moments I have met God. I don’t know why He seemingly didn’t show up until I was at the end of myself.  Or maybe, it wasn’t that He didn’t show up, it’s that I was getting in the way. All of my own junk was blocking the doorway. I’m not writing this claiming to have all the answers; I am here to attest to the power of love and forgiveness in my own life.

God has spoken His love to me through my community in Parkdale. I see God in the faces of the people. I saw God in John. When PNC had to leave our building at the beginning of the summer it was the people who made me believe we could keep going without it. On the day we had to be out of the basement I still had no way to move our industrial fridge and freezer (some of the only things we still count as belongings). A mover wanted over $600 to move them one block to the building we are in right now. I was stressed. Then along came four guys who lifted those suckers up a flight of stairs, stuck them on dollies and wheeled them to the new space. One of them was John. John helped without a second thought.

Now John is gone. I know for me John’s death has stirred up the grief associated with people we have already said goodbye to. Death does that. It also reminds us of our own mortality. Let us think too of the ultimate hope that we have. Our hope is that God met John somewhere along the way and is loving him into a life free of pain and guilt and loneliness.  Our hope is that He is doing that with every single one of us.

I’m trying to warm up after a 5:15 morning walk with a dear friend. I’ve been checking e-mails and just received the good news about a grant proposal being accepted for PNC. Yes! And just last night a group of new friends announced they had taken up an offering for us- an offering that reflects loving generosity. Yes, again! As I sit by the fire in my living room I am struck by the gratitude I feel that, at the end of a crazy year, PNC is still here. We have weathered many storms and are not looking just tattered and torn, but hope-full. On more than a few occasions I have said (and will continue to say), “there is beauty arising from the ashes”.

At this time last year another dear friend shared an Advent reading that has proven to be a constant source of great encouragement. One part says this:

Think of the seed. We commit it to the darkness. And a new plant emerges thanks to what O’Donohue calls ‘the ancient symmetry of growth: root further into darkness and rise towards the sun.’

This is so powerfully embodied in the great poise of the trees. ‘A life that wishes to honour its own possibility has to learn too how to integrate the suffering of dark and bleak times into a dignity of presence. Letting go of old forms of life, a tree practices hospitality towards new forms. It balances perennial energies of winter and spring within its own living bark.

A dignity of presence. I love that. I love that PNC has been able to urge our roots deeper, spill into the streets, learn to rely on God for our daily bread and find a new way. I am learning SO much about trusting God in each moment. Without fail, when the bank account has dipped to a bad place, there is either just enough money in my pocket or someone else says, “I will take care of it”; when there is little food in the pantry we get a donation; when we need a space to run a program another organization says “here, use this space”. I have desired to be open and attuned to the possibility that God might say it is time to close the doors. All these happenings though say the exact opposite: stay open, I am with all of you.

The PNC community is rising up. With humble gratitude I say, thanks.

To all who mourn he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair…they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory (Isaiah)