Archives for posts with tag: Gratitude

Some people called him “Rasta” others, “Dreads”, but to us he was simply Jahn. I first met Jahn when he regularly hung out at the now defunct Coffee Time on Queen St West. He would always shout a greeting, even when I was still a block away. I noticed three things about Jahn right away: his kind smile, his radio worthy voice, and his unbelievable hair- dreadlocks that when released from his tam (hat) were longer than he was tall.

Over time, Jahn became a regular at The Dale. I always appreciated his presence at our drop-ins. The place we most often saw him the last few years was the parkette beside Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. He became one of the unofficial caretakers of the space, making sure that it was kept as clean as possible. At Christmas he helped decorate one of the trees with a variety of ornaments, saying that it was a good way to spread some cheer. Not long ago he was hired as a Peer Worker for the Health Centre’s Harm Reduction Program, a role that he was keen to fill.

Jahn loved dogs. A week or two ago while we were on outreach, he excitedly showed us pictures of the two puppies he recently got. He lit up talking about them and describing the good tired he was because of their endless energy. The dogs, a new place, and the Peer Worker job all made his big smile even broader.

Over our many years of friendship, even if I was the first to ask, “how are you doing?”, Jahn would wait to answer until I told him what was going on in my own life. No matter how challenging circumstances got, Jahn would express gratitude for life. “It’s a gift just to be walking around, you know?”

This past Monday I had a conversation with Jahn where he again expressed his upbeat outlook on life, though he wasn’t feeling physically great- nothing to worry about he assured me. He even let my daughter Cate and her friend take the pictures included here. Cate has a video of him too, one that is beautiful and now very hard to watch. We don’t know what happened between Monday and today, but this morning we learned of Jahn’s death. I can’t believe it. Many people are reeling from the news.

Jahn: thank you for the gift of your friendship. I am fortunate to have known your gentleness and your smile. Your absence is already felt. You will be missed on the block. You will be missed by The Dale. You will be missed by me.

May you now rest in deep peace. 

One thing I try to practice is keeping a gratitude journal. Years ago, I found a little hard cover book (if you saw it on a shelf, you’d think it was a novel) with the title, “The Heart Talks”, that I write in regularly. During this pandemic I have found it especially important for me to consider the things for which I’m thankful. I think that’s why I really appreciate John Krasinski’s Some Good News or SGN show that he’s doing from his home. So, here’s SGN from my world, including The Dale front.

On a recent Thursday, a person came to get a bagged breakfast from us. While a good size meal- it included a fried egg and bacon English muffin sandwich, one banana, one tomato, a yogurt cup, a granola bar and a cookie- it was definitely made for one person. Joanna later discovered our friend sharing this breakfast with two other people, all three of whom are living outside. Fortunately we had more food to share, but felt extremely moved by this example of generosity.

A couple who live close by and are currently unemployed due to COVID, have volunteered to make deliveries of groceries and prepared meals to community members every Monday. Thank you, Sheila and Ross! On top of this, Sheila is making and selling earrings, the proceeds of which go to The Dale (message me if you are interested).

There is a boy, I would guess 10 years old, who I see walking nearly every morning now as I leave to go to work. He is ALWAYS singing. He seems happily in his own world, quietly singing made up songs for his own enjoyment. Without knowing it, he helps me start the day with a smile.

A Dale friend has started to make the most amazing sculptures out of plastic cutlery. I don’t think this picture does them justice, but if you look closely you will see an intricate dinosaur and another animal. This person is gentle, quiet, creative, and resilient. If you notice him panning in Parkdale, please offer some support.

Our daughter Cate is perennially optimistic, and this is no different right now. Not that there haven’t been moments of sadness over things lost- there have been. It’s just that Cate finds things to celebrate: building a fort in her room, watching a movie projected on a sheet, painting watercolour postcards, getting all of her laundry done. Cate’s genuine zeal for life is something I am thankful for.

I am grateful for food to distribute, and a place to have people safely line up to get it. I am grateful for the conversations we can have, even two metres apart.

As some might recall, we had to do a major renovation in order to make our home accessible for Dion. It was completed last year. Over the course of all that work our little front yard took a major beating, so much so I would have been surprised if anything sprung up out of the ground this spring. There is a solitary tulip that is pushing its way through the ground right now. Something about that gives me hope. Things might be upside-down, and yet there is new life pulsating out of it.

Some good news.

The lead up to The Dale’s February Feast always makes me a little anxious. Which is funny, because in many ways it isn’t that different than what we do for the majority of Mondays throughout the year. It must be the unique variables: needing to cook enough turkey for 150 people without the kitchen facilities to do so and managing an Open Mic, to name two. This past week included making multiple lists, buying groceries in bulk, delivering turkeys to willing volunteer cooks, and always, a lot of prayer.

As I was driving around to pick up turkeys and vats of gravy yesterday, I was struck by how amazing it is to have such a supportive network of people that surround The Dale. Twelve people helped with cooking prep. Another had a friend make 150 packages of beautiful cookies so that everyone attending the feast could have something sweet at the end of the meal. My anxiety lessened as the van filled up with such an abundance of food.

When I arrived at 250 Dunn Avenue, the site of the feast, the space was already filled with people ready to make things happen. Together we got to work. Core community members and staff got potatoes and vegetables on to boil, made stuffing and gravy, buttered rolls, mixed punch, put cranberry sauce in bowls, and refilled salt and pepper shakers. Some decorated tables with tablecloths, tea lights and place settings. Sam, our friend and sound guy for the night, got the stage ready with gear.

Much to everyone’s delight, we also got to visit with Meagan (our Community Worker who is on Maternity Leave), her husband Ian, and their baby Charlotte, as well as our newest staff member Olivia’s husband-to-be, Grant. I have to say, it is so exciting to have The Dale’s family expanding!

By 5:30 pm the room began to fill up. More people willing to volunteer arrived too. Shortly after 6 pm I welcomed everyone and explained how things work when we gather for a meal: we are invited to take care of one another by passing the platters of food at each table, ensuring that we all get a good first serving; the meat and gravy would be delivered to each person separately, just to make sure it gets around to everyone; that we want The Dale to be as safe, respectful and peaceful a place as possible, and that we all play a part in keeping it that way; that should any issues arise to come very quickly to any staff member; we thank everyone who has participated in making the evening happen with a round of applause; and finally we pause for prayer.

The room was full, lively and…so peaceful. The Open Stage began as people were still finishing their very full plates. Children shared songs and poems. One man spoke about discovering The Dale and his memories of the daughter he lost to Leukemia, followed by a song/rap in her honour. Flowers By Irene, a band fronted by two Dale folks, rocked a set. Mr. Bittersweet, Doug, Sam, Sunny, Alisha, Peter, Marlene, Joanna, and I all offered something too.

There is something very special about the kind of community that has emerged at The Dale. We are all the things really: noisy, peaceful, raw, grateful, grief-stricken, struggling, and somehow/sometimes hopeful. We disagree. We have a lot of fun. We are discovering our togetherness in our diversity. As the February Feast came to a close, I looked around the room and thought, what a gift to be a part of this. I became aware, yet again, that the anxiety I carried at the beginning of the day had beautifully melted away.

Lately, I have been feeling reflective about the journey that has been The Dale. It was nearly seven years ago that we gave up our leased space and became a nomadic community. At the time (and maybe still) many thought it a crazy decision on my part. I could feel the skepticism. I don’t think anyone wanted us to fail, I just think some wondered how it could possibly work.

I remember being scared for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the thought of messing things up. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to close down and yet I knew that to be a very real possibility. It seemed wise to set markers in the first year, ones that if not met would signal the plan wasn’t working. Looking back, I am struck by how often we were surprised by grace, again and again experiencing unexpected provision.

I know that God invited me to step in to a role that I would never have considered myself for. I felt inadequate and strangely determined. Fortunately, I was and continue to be surrounded and supported by my family, a Board, and our precious community. I continue to learn from Jesus’ example that to lead I must serve, a posture that is messy, challenging and necessary to choose repeatedly.

At my ordination examining council a community member said, “Erinn is no stranger to suffering, and so she can walk with us”. What a relief that I get to be a part of a community where that is valued. I don’t need to pretend that everything is easy, when everything is not. Together we are discovering what it means to lament well, to practice gratitude, to engage in prayer, to feast together, to admit our failures, to apologize and forgive, and to be transformed by God.

Last week The Dale led a workshop at Assembly, the annual gathering of our denomination. During the debrief time near the end, I sat at the front alongside our team: Joanna, Meagan, Pete, and our two interns, Jan and David. Six of us. Even as I type that I have to stop and take it in. Seven years ago, I was alone. I can’t help but weep tears of wonder.

It is a privilege to be a participant in the work of The Dale. Thank you to everyone, past and present, who has been a part of the journey. I have tucked our many stories in my heart and love knowing that there are countless more to come.

The truth is, I wanted to be able to write something this weekend about all that I have to be grateful for. I know there is a lot. For some reason every time I sat to write, nothing came out.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that I have long loved (my dad’s birthday often falls on it) and felt conflicted about (just ask any of my Indigenous friends to explain). This year, Thanksgiving weekend was particularly hard. I could feel it coming in the days leading up to it: I was melancholy and tired. Then the tears hit. I couldn’t stop missing people who have died. I felt overwhelmed by a number of different circumstances. Mixed up with the sadness was undeniable resentment.

I recently read about resentment being one of the opposites of gratitude. As I prepared to share about this idea at The Dale on Sunday, I couldn’t help but see myself in the middle of it. What does it look like to break through resentment and find freedom from its chains: the chains that prevent action, preoccupy thoughts, and propel unhealthy choices?

I suspect the starting point is confessing our resentments, which is not easy. One of the things I treasure about The Dale is how so many of my friends confess so freely. There are few masks, which challenges me to remove mine. So, through many tears I poured the hardship of the weekend out to Dion and then again at The Dale. In that act I felt heard, which in turn helped me feel less alone. Not news, but it turns out carrying resentment is very…human.

There is a space created for understanding, forgiveness, and grace when we confess. In turn, we are freed to develop a new spirit of gratitude. The act of gratitude takes practice, almost like working a muscle in order to make it stronger. I acknowledge there are many things to be thankful for, even in the midst of great struggle. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that the seemingly “little” good things in life are actually very big and definitely worth noting. Resentment is hard to hold on to when there is a burgeoning spirit of thanksgiving.

I’m still tender. A serious wave of grief hit, and it has yet to break entirely. There is a lot about life that is hard, for each of us, in so many different ways. It is impossible to make sense of it all. What I believe is that life is a gift. I choose to believe that all things will ultimately be restored and made right. In putting away my resentment, I get to sing a new song, a song that can be sung everyday. Even on this Thanksgiving weekend.

 

 

On May 14th of last year my brother Logan and I went to spend some time with our mom. It was both Mother’s Day and my birthday, a double whammy that seems to happen every few years. We had a good visit, the kind that was full of shared stories and the occasional bought of laughter. Eventually I had to run off to a birthday dinner, but not before mom had the chance to point in the direction of her present to me. She was a great gift-giver, even when it required buying things on-line from her hospital bed.  That day she gave me a sturdy blue and white striped canvas bag, one that she hoped I would fill with things like flowers, baguette, good coffee beans and of course, chips.

I had no idea at the time, but that would be the last opportunity I would have to chat with my mom. I heard from her on the 17th via an email filled with family news, and gratitude for our visit. On the 19th we got the call that she was not okay. What transpired next still feels a bit like a dream, though it was all very, very real. The doctor carefully and sympathetically told me and Logan that we needed to bring together family and friends because the end was near. A huge group held vigil throughout the weekend. And then on Victoria Day, surrounded by her immediate family, Elaine Clare Grant (nee: Muirhead) took her last breath.

Nearly a year later, I find myself struggling to cope with the way my beloved mother’s death, Mother’s Day, and my birthday have all become intertwined. I suspect the acuteness of this will soften with time, but for now, on the eve of this first anniversary, it hurts. For the majority of yesterday I did a little better than expected. I looked at Cate and marvelled that I get to mother her; I was greeted by multiple people at The Dale as “Mom”; I felt safe to acknowledge how complicated a day like Mother’s Day is for so many people, including me; I thought of the many mother-figures I have in my life; Dion and Cate took me out for dinner. It wasn’t until the later evening that I started to panic: how can the day be almost done and I haven’t seen my mom? Of course I knew the answer, but as Joan Didion so aptly wrote in her memoir, it’s the kind of magical thinking that happens after someone dies.

The long and short of it is this: I miss my mom. Nearly every day I think of something I want to tell her. In all of the ongoing challenge of life (and there is a lot), I long to hear her voice offering comfort, wisdom, and love. She understood. I also know that as a result of so many years of persevering, mom was weary (though she never complained). It is a relief that she is no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair. Mom’s faith sustained her in life and promised her so much beyond it. I like to imagine her walking, maybe with a striped bag on her shoulder like the one she gave to me, filled with things that she loves. As Mother’s Day 2018 drew to a close, imagining her smile made me do the same.

I had just finished a session with my therapist and was entering the subway to head home. The station (or more accurately, the building that it is housed in) was under some major construction and erected some temporary, metal stairs. An elderly woman was next to me, carefully holding the railing and slowly making her way down. I felt the toe of my boot snag in a gap which thrust me forward into an almost movie-like fall. I tried to grab something to stop myself and nearly took out the woman in the process. I somehow managed to keep either of us from tumbling and breathlessly apologized for the accident.

I will confess that I can be a klutz. I suspect this, along with being pre-occupied by all the thoughts running through my head from the earlier appointment lent to my near fall. I was also thinking a lot about my impending ordination council. The next day I would be presenting my statement of faith before a group of people who would then vote about whether or not to affirm my sense of call, not exclusively, but particularly to The Dale. I guess I felt even more anxious than I realized.

I carried on with my day, only to have yet another incident. I needed a quick dinner and decided to pan fry some perogies. Somehow, and I swear I don’t know exactly what happened, I managed to spill hot oil onto my hand. It left splatter marks and one sizeable blister. This was not helping my nervousness about the next day.

After my ill-fated supper, I went to an event at Cate’s school which was a good distraction. Later in the evening I felt relieved that I was tired enough to go to bed at a reasonable hour, hoping I would sleep well. In the early hours of the morning I was suddenly awoken by…my reading lamp, affixed to the wall since 2001, FALLING ON MY HEAD. I kid you not. The light bulb even broke, leaving shards of glass on my pillow. I thought, this is either a bad sign or everything terrible that needed to happen is now out of my system and today will be fine. I hoped it was the latter.

Thankfully the ordination council proved to be a beautiful time of encouragement. All of my anxiety melted away as I told my story of faith and journey with The Dale, explained my philosophy of ministry and theological views, answered questions, and was voted (unanimously!) to be ordained by the CBOQ. I felt surrounded by the community that presented me for this process, which made it not my day, but OUR day. And the truth is, after a year of too many deaths, struggles and heartache, it was good to have something worthy of celebrating together.

In a weird way, I’m even grateful for my series of misfortunate events. The fall, the burn, the lamp all reminded me that I am a frail being. Whether I managed to steady my feet on those subway steps or not, God is with me. It is God who has invited me into my role at The Dale. In humility I want to be a leader who serves and loves people, albeit a klutzy one. I am thankful for the affirmation of my peers. I really can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’m trying to direct my attention to the things that are happening in the present moment. It’s helpful for the most part. I say that because what’s right in front of me is a collection of things that are good, hard and pretty much everything in between.

Take today.

I woke up feeling good, which I received as an incredible gift. I’ve been sick and out of sorts this past week, acutely missing my parents and hyper aware of the challenges that I face. Somehow this morning my spirit was lighter.

I love the fall and today felt more like it to me. As I write, there is a cool breeze and late day sun pouring in a window.

Two funerals took place this afternoon for women I did not know, but were connected to many people I love, including Dion and Joanna, through The Causeway and Sanctuary (a place that functions much like The Dale). My heart grieves two more lives gone and reminds me of the many people we have said goodbye to this year.

Cate has decided she wants to be a watermelon for Halloween. A watermelon! So now I sit surrounded by reams of fabric and an old hula hoop, endeavouring to create a costume that she will be proud to wear. It’s a definite work in progress.

Today we celebrated a friend’s birthday at drop-in. We ate cake and carved pumpkins.

There are a number of people at The Dale who are not housed or at risk of being evicted. They need help, like yesterday. My voicemail is full of requests for The Dale to offer assistance. It’s humbling, hard work.

I’m making a pot of turkey soup, which is filling the house with a familiar, comforting smell.

Being mindful of what’s right in front of me does not make everything easy, though it does help in the way I manage it. Similar to my experience of Sabbath-keeping, it helps me to slow down and really look at things. I am able to pay better attention to not just my feelings, but what is motivating them.

Which brings me back to today. I have laughed and cried (and likely will do both again). I feel a mixture of joy and sadness. Somehow this day has been infused with a mysterious, yet firm sense of hope. Today, in this moment, I am grateful for all of it. Even the challenge of making an outfit that resembles a watermelon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think about gratitude a lot. I recently read an article that highlighted the importance of distinguishing it from the act of appreciation. Intrigued, I did a little research and came to better understand that appreciation is what you feel for the good in people or things, whereas gratitude is experienced when you realize good is experienced beyond the obvious. I was delighted to discover that the latin root of gratitude is sometimes translated “grace”. If there is an ‘awe’ to grace, then it would follow that the same would accompany gratitude.

I don’t recall feeling very appreciative when The Dale became homeless. I did however feel a deep gratitude for so many things about it: the community that was willing to teach me about transience; the hospitality we experienced from others; the freedom from belongings; the discovery that we were a living, breathing “church” without four walls. During those early days I regularly found myself in awe and wonder that I was witness to a phoenix rising from the ashes.

These truths are knocking around my heart as I think about The Dale today. We’ve been looking for a new location to house our Wednesday morning breakfast and art-making Drop-In. It isn’t easy to re-locate and we’ve been feeling admittedly anxious about it. The good news is that Parkdale Community Health Centre has opened its doors to us, eager to deepen the partnership we’ve been developing for years. I got this news the same day First Baptist Church agreed to let us use their building for administrative work and meetings. I am appreciative AND grateful.

As is so often the case, good is accompanied by difficult. During the same phone call with the Health Centre about space, we needed to discuss the death of another community member, Andrew Kri. As hard as his death is, I love that we knew Andrew and can now remember his life in all of its complexity. At the same time I am aware that as our losses accumulate it is difficult to process them, especially when there is so little space between each. As I was recently discussing with a friend, it does seem that we can only truly grieve when we have also delighted in life. Gratitude is somehow suspended in the tension of joy and sorrow.

I suspect that as we learn to appreciate the many pleasing things around us, a sense of gratitude will be cultivated, one that says, in all things, I will give thanks. Looking past the obvious, sifting through our pain and acknowledging that life remains a gift is not easy. Gratitude, as Martin Luther argued, is a “disposition of the soul”, a virtue that can be exercised and strengthened. Gratitude reminds us that grace is real and invites us to stand in awe.

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Last November we made it public that The Dale Ministries was ready to grow our staff team. We are now thrilled to announce that we have found our new Community Worker in Meagan Gillard. Meagan comes with an education in social work and experience in a setting similar to The Dale, plus she calls Parkdale home. I loved listening to Meagan describe to our Board of Directors her heart and passion for this kind of work and life. I trust that The Dale is going to be a good home for her, and that she will bring so much to us.

This is also a leap of faith for Meagan. She has agreed to fundraise the money for her salary, a task that can certainly be daunting. As someone who does the same, I understand the anxiety of not being sure where the funds might come from. I also know the beauty of having an incredible network of people invested in this work. My hope and prayer is that Meagan will be encouraged by those who come forward to support her.

It is exciting to have The Dale expand in this way. I believe the time is right. Meagan starts on April 18th, the day after Easter Monday- fitting given that Easter is a time of new beginnings and this is definitely one for everyone involved. Please join me, Joanna, the Board, and the whole Dale community in welcoming Meagan. We’re so glad you said yes!