Archives for posts with tag: christmas

It is now Advent, that time when we prepare and wait in expectant hope for Christmas. 

I feel pensive about this season. On the one hand, I love it: the candles being lit one by one, slowly bringing light to the darkness, the traditions that have come to be a part of it, the growing excitement for the arrival of Jesus. On the other, I have a deep sense of unresolved longing: for hope to manifest itself in the total healing of people, for justice to roll, for the kingdom to get here fully and completely.

Oftentimes when I am full of all kinds of feelings, I turn to music. Yesterday I listened to this song, on repeat:

Blessed are the ones who do not bury
All the broken pieces of their heart
Blessed are the tears of all the weary
Pouring like a sky of falling stars

Blessed are the wounded ones in mourning
Brave enough to show the Lord their scars
Blessed are the hurts that are not hidden
Open to the healing touch of God

The Kingdom is yours; the Kingdom is yours
Hold on a little more, this is not the end
Hope is in the Lord, keep your eyes on Him

Blessed are the ones who walk in kindness
Even in the face of great abuse
Blessed are the deeds that go unnoticed
Serving with unguarded gratitude

Blessed are the ones who fight for justice
Longing for the coming day of peace
Blessed is the soul that thirsts for righteousness
Welcoming the last, the lost, the least

Blessed are the ones who suffer violence
And still have strength to love their enemies
Blessed is the faith of those who persevere
Though they fall, they’ll never know defeat

Common Hymnal, Wilson, Spencer, Massey, Keyes

I find the idea that we are blessed when we are suffering a relief, and I also wonder, what does it mean? How does it even make sense? Years ago, I did a word study on the word ‘blessed’. I discovered that its root means to consecrate and speak well of, most often used toward God. To bless something means to view it as holy and sacred. Viewed through this lens, I believe that God consecrates our grief and poverty. God holds up and makes blessed those who are broken, revealing them as precious and having connection to Him. Similarly, when we seek peace, when we show mercy, when we mourn and when we are meek, God is connected to us. There is not an absence of God in life’s greatest challenges. 

I find comfort in this, especially right now, when so many things seem to be on fire. This year has stripped many things bare. We have all, in one way or another, experienced loss. For many in my own circle, the loss has inflated poverty and marginalization. Somehow in all of this, I have also noticed a surge of resiliency, a desire to create change, and increased resourcefulness. To quote CS Lewis, I do believe that “Aslan is on the move”.

Instead of straining ahead to Christmas, I do want to sit in Advent and look for the ways light is creeping into the picture, and for the ways it is already here. I pray for a hope that might persevere and be rooted in trust, a hope that sings, “hold on a little more, this is not the end”.

A lot has happened this year. Things that were good, things that were hard, and everything in between.

The renovations to make our home accessible for Dion came to completion. And then the troubleshooting began. The swing of a door made it impossible for Dion to close it, and so an automatic door opener became necessary. The door of the elevator failed to latch and therefore wouldn’t move (we have now figured it out). The schedule of Personal Support Workers sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. What also transpired was that Dion, Cate and I could have dinner around our table again. And this Christmas we were all in the same place. So many of you made this possible through your generous financial gifts, participation in the meal train, phone calls and visits, and prayer. We do not take it for granted.

Our staff team at The Dale went through a few changes: Pete Nojd and Olivia Dower joined the crew, and Meagan Knight had a beautiful baby and went on maternity leave (she will be returning in the fall of 2020). On more than a few occasions I found myself dumbfounded by the work God has done to build The Dale. I recall what it felt like to be by myself, then for five years it be me and Joanna, then The Dale three with the addition of Meagan, and in 2019 almost doubling to five with Pete and Olivia. Each person is precious; each person feels a sense of call; each person brings something unique.

Cate entered her last year of high school. We have read about universities and colleges. She has been preparing a portfolio and will be sending in applications before mid-January in order to study photography. I have enjoyed every season of Cate’s life, and this one is no different. I also find myself reflecting on Cate’s early years and feeling nostalgic. Little Catie-Cate is not so little anymore. She is a seventeen-year-old with an old soul, a compassionate heart, a keen sense of joy, and a wonderful eye.

We said welcome and hello to many new community members at The Dale. We also said goodbye to Wally, Keith, Sharky, Rudy, Mary and most recently, Julie who was murdered on December 22nd. Life and death, joy and grief. As Henri Nouwen so wisely said, “mourning and dancing are never fully separated. Their ‘times’ do not necessarily follow each other. In fact, their ‘times’ may become one ‘time.’ Mourning may turn into dancing and dancing into mourning without showing a clear point where one ends and the other starts.”

Mourning has turned into dancing and vice versa on numerous occasions this past year. I often feel in a liminal space, or “in-between place”, at such times. Liminal comes from the Latin ‘limen’ which means ‘on the threshold’. I have found myself on the threshold in many situations, where I can see what is behind while also sensing what is in front. Living into this tension has been an exercise in faith and has required strength and grace not my own.

Dion is home/MS is brutal. The Dale is growing/people are dying. Cate is graduating/Cate will leave the nest. I feel thankful that in all these in-between places there is space for grief and fatigue, alongside opportunities for joy, courage, and hope. At the end of 2019, my desire for the Christmas promise is heightened. Let this weary world rejoice.

Merry Christmas everyone. May there be light in the darkness, hope in the difficulty, and love to cover it all.

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

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.

two-glasses-of-milk_290

 

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!”