Archives for posts with tag: christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or not. Mostly not for a lot of people I love.

The sentimental songs, the snow, and all the stuff can serve as reminders of estranged family, or no family, or family that is very far away; of cold nights spent in stairwells or under a bridge or in a house that is not a home; of no money for rent or food or presents. For me, this month is magnifying the absence of my mom. I am also admittedly feeling a weariness about the excessive commercial nature of Christmas. Part of me wants to hibernate until January.

Today we had our Monday Drop-In. Interspersed throughout the day were interactions with people experiencing a variety of emotions. Some were grieving lost relationships and the death of loved ones. A number of people lit up when a new friend of The Dale showed up with their six-month old baby. Others expressed anger and frustration at life. A few joined in a rendition of Silent Night. By the end of the day my heart was heavy because though there were many sweet moments, there was much sadness.

Yesterday we gathered together for our Sunday service and lit the Advent candle that represents joy. What does it mean to not just experience a fleeting happiness, but a grounded joy in whatever our circumstances might be? A number of people, many of whom were at the drop-in today, and all no stranger to challenge, contributed to the discussion. We encouraged one another to not allow our struggles to define us or rob us of joy, to practice gratitude for even the smallest of things, to learn to rejoice, and to again and again, choose joy.

Right now, even as I sit here feeling burdened for my friends and missing my mom, I am trying to slow down and do what we talked about yesterday. I hunger for the peace that passes all understanding, something I know is real and gratefully regularly experience. It helps to remember that the impact of Christmas is to be felt everyday of the year, not just on the 25th, for light has pierced the darkness and brought with it hope and yes, joy.

“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy.” Psalm 126:5-6

Light in the Darkness

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I got challenged recently and it stung.

It was December 15th, the day of our Christmas meal at The Dale. The room was buzzing with activity, including food preparation and carolling. The spiced chicken was being prepared off-site, since the kitchen we use is limited in its capacity to host that much meat. A Toronto Star reporter had come to, as she put it, “observe”. As I stood at the side of the room I remember distinctly thinking, “this is so GOOD” and having a wash of gratitude pour over me.

My thoughts were interrupted by someone I know, but admittedly not well. I will not describe the person, except to explain the gist of what I heard them say: “You have not been successful at building community here”. I was stunned. In fact, at first I thought I’d misunderstood, only to discover that I was wrong.

I’ve worked closely with people for many years, long enough to know that criticism will most certainly come. Fortunately, I deal with it much better now than when I was twenty. I also know that The Dale cannot be all things to all people. This incident surprised me, maybe because it was in the midst of a day that was marked with joy. I found myself stirred up and sad.

Since that day I have tried to uncover more of what is at the root of the sentiment I heard. It is complicated and probably less about The Dale than originally suggested. It still causes me pause, which I think is, though I wish it came in a less painful way, a good thing. At the beginning of this new year, I find myself waiting and listening for God to illuminate our next steps as a community. As we consider casting The Dale vision further, we must keep asking ourselves “what is it that we’re doing? And why?”

We desire to embrace people and to allow ourselves to be embraced by them. This takes time. I’m hopeful that for those who feel on the outside of what it happening, something will shift and they will come on in.

A lot of what we do at The Dale happens around a table. We love sharing food and discovering the kind of community that can be built when doing so. With this in mind, imagine the challenge it is for one friend whose schizophrenia can be triggered by the aroma of certain foods. There is this push-pull thing going on for him: wanting to be present while not wanting to be manic. Not an easy thing.

I have long understood that there are certain foods my friend can and cannot eat. I also know there are strict rules around HOW things must be prepared, making it very tricky when creating meals for the whole of our community. This person quite often declines our food, graciously, knowing the challenge his needs present.

On Sunday my friend showed up with a small carton of homogenized milk, one of the few things he views as a treat. He rather excitedly got two glasses out of the cupboard and asked me to have a glass of milk with him. He sent me home with the leftovers. Honestly, it felt like a precious Christmas gift and communion all at once. It made the season a little more…merry.

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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!”