For those of you who have kept up with my journey at The Dale, this story has in some ways been told before. I beg your ear yet again because I firmly believe that telling stories is important. It is often in the re-telling of things that something fresh becomes apparent for me, which is partially why you’re stuck with me as a blogger. I process through writing.

Five years ago this month I found myself the only staff of what was then Parkdale Neighbourhood Church. I was terrified, though filled with the kind of peace which passes all understanding that I was where I should be. Then I did what I swore my whole career I never would: I ran a drop-in without other staff. Now, in many ways I was far from alone: Souad Sharabani steadfastly remained the Volunteer Kitchen Coordinator, while our core community rose to the occasion and helped in countless ways. The challenge was that I carried a unique responsibility for things, including conflict resolution. It’s okay if you’re thinking, “that’s crazy”, because in fact, it was.

One day I got a message from a woman I had never met but knew of, named Joanna Moon. She ended up coming to meet me in the space where we used to be housed before becoming a church without walls. In retrospect I understand that Joanna had no idea of the existing crisis. She simply knew of me and PNC and wanted to consider coming to work. When I explained that the only way we could hire someone was to have the person willingly fundraise the money for a salary, she didn’t run. We agreed to connect again.

Joanna was suddenly willing to help me with all kinds of things, she helped purge our belongings and pack what we decided to keep; cleaned; attended our last Open Stage at 201 Cowan Avenue; listened to and hugged me. I am amazed that I didn’t scare her off. The crisis that she had been unaware of was now entirely obvious. Somewhere along the way she decided that joining the staff was right and, as she always still describes it, would be my official “buddy”.

To say that I am grateful for Joanna is an understatement. And it’s not just because of all that she does (though that list is long), it’s because of who she is. Joanna is extremely compassionate. She pays attention to people and their needs. Her intuition is so high that she sometimes finds herself weeping for a person who she only later learns was having a bad day. Joanna takes things very seriously and is a hard, hard worker. She loves to help. Joanna is of high character.

When I unceremoniously almost broke my ankle on the way to be with my mother who was in the ICU, Joanna made it possible for me to get back and forth to the hospital. She would pick me up in a car, drop me at the entrance of the hospital and into a wheelchair, park, come and push me to the ICU, buy me coffee, and then take me home, only to do it all again the next day. She holds pieces at The Dale together when I need to be away. When I am falling apart, she routinely writes me a beautiful card and feeds me chocolate. Joanna is, in so many different ways, very present to me.

I trust that God was involved in having me and Joanna meet. I stand amazed that it was only four and a half years ago because it actually feels like I’ve known her forever. It is a privilege to watch Joanna grow and mature even more into the role that she holds at The Dale. I believe in her call to this work and though I say that privately, I am here to say it publicly.

I love you Joey. You really are my buddy and I want you to know that I am yours.