Archives for posts with tag: Gratitude

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.

 

 

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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!

 

I’ve had the opportunity to tell the story of The Dale to a variety of new people in recent weeks. I try to pause often so that people can comment or ask questions. It isn’t uncommon for a least one person to ask, “how do you keep doing this?” Inevitably I find myself fighting back tears (or not) as I describe the deep sense of call I have, the variety of ways this community fills me up and how much more I receive than I even give.

One Sunday I arrived at the space where we hold our church service, feeling about as ill-prepared as one can. It wasn’t that I forgot an overall plan for our time together: I had printed off the necessary readings, bought bread for communion, and studied for the time of teaching. Lacking was my sense of worth. “When are people going to realize that I have no idea what I’m doing?” I felt rather empty.

I was reminded that day of how less of me means more room for the Spirit to move. Multiple people, without knowing what was going on in me, prayed that I be assured of my place in the community. One person asked that I be anointed in my leadership. My family was prayed for: not once, not twice, but at least five times. A dear woman and friend, one who knows poverty all too well, cupped my face during the sharing of the peace and said, “oh, little lamb. I worry about all that you carry. You are not alone”.

With my head bowed, I continued to listen to the prayers of the people. So much was acknowledged in a raw way: the pain of estranged relationships, the feeling of defeat in addiction, the brutal nature of physical disease, and the discomfort of dashed dreams. Tempering all of this was the ability to share gratitude for the simplest of things. It all felt real and somehow infused with hope.

Though my work is admittedly hard, it is so good. This community pushes me to experience life below the surface, in those deep places where one is enabled to both weep and laugh, mourn and dance, feast and fast. In almost inexplicable ways, God is present. So while I fumble around, sometimes second guessing my abilities and role, I am reminded that there is a place for me here. The truth is, I’m in this for the long haul.

 

Today I rose early to walk with a friend. The air felt good as the sun started to rise.

When I got home I sat on our porch swing, one of the few things I always knew I wanted when I imagined one day maybe having a house. For some reason a free newspaper landed on our stoop and so I looked at it. I remembered to cut the two peony blossoms from our garden so that we can enjoy them for a little longer as they perfume the living room.

Now I’m drinking coffee and eating peanut butter on toast, both things I could easily have for breakfast every day. The birds are singing. The sun is now high enough to splash on my face.

Every once in a while i catch myself sighing. The burden of the last while has been heavy and I’m attuned to the fact that I’m weary. When I get to this kind of place I try to remember that being present to the moment is helpful and good. This morning is about that. Hopefully the rest of the day will be too.

November 15th, otherwise known as Fundraiser day, was a blur of activity. Every once in a while I told myself (or Joanna reminded me) to slow down and take a look around the room, fulling ingesting what was happening.

I saw children: some just walking, some toddlers, some school aged dancing with the kind of abandon I wish we retained as adults. I saw my friend James, an artist and core member of the Dale selling cards adorned with his art so that he could give us a “cut” of the profits. Another friend, Norma was selling jewellery for the same reason. I saw people bobbing for apples, playing cards, throwing sponges at a target with a brave volunteer’s face as the bull’s-eye and tossing ping-pong balls into jars. I saw people dressing up at the photo booth and getting their faces painted.  I saw a table of beautiful pies for auction, some made by friends, others made by Wanda’s Pie in the Sky- a little shop in Kensington Market. I saw people enjoying bowls of chill and pieces of cornbread, those who eat with us on Mondays in the Drop-In and those who don’t. I saw people square dancing. I saw people reading about where the donations we receive actually go. I saw The Lovelocks take the stage. I saw so many different people doing whatever it took to make sure the event went smoothly.

As is true with any event, we will need to determine what worked and what we might do differently in the future. The time for that is coming. In the meantime, I want to celebrate all that was good. I have not forgotten that just a couple of years ago The Dale (then PNC) almost closed. We have been through a lot and come a long way. What kept bringing tears to my eyes throughout the 15th was the variety of people present and how you couldn’t tell who was who: The Dale community, Board members, supporters, volunteers, neighbours, friends and family. It has been this kind of cohesion, this kind of coming together that has brought The Dale to the present day. I do not take this for granted. Now I want to slow down, take a look around and imagine what’s next.

 

On Saturday The Dale is hosting a big event that we’ve dubbed our Fun Fair Fundraiser. A lot of planning has gone into this. Like, A LOT. Most of it done by a team of people, namely Ben and Gen (I just realized their names rhyme). They have brainstormed, made lists, produced written material, found donations, the list goes on. I’ve never experienced having a duo like them do so much for an event like this.

Hannah is a woman bringing her food prowess to the kitchen so that people can purchase something savoury or sweet. It’s a big job and she’s taken it on. This, after just completing a large event last weekend. Megarrah is producing banners for each game stall. The Lovelocks are coming, despite a busy day for them. John and Tom are doing the sound. The square dance caller is booked. Sean is willing to sell drinks. Melody and Michelle are making pie. Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, a shop in Kensington Market is rounding out the pie auction.

Our core community is rocking it too. Our regular kitchen team is showing up early Saturday to help Hannah. Terry, a former professional sign maker is busy at work for us. Tim designed the invitation. James wants to sell his art so that he can be a part of keeping this place going. I can’t tell you how many people have said, “I’ll do whatever you need me to”. Our Board of Directors will be face painting, taking pictures, setting up bales of hay and doing whatever else they can to help.

Joanna is doing such a variety of things for Saturday that I don’t know where to start. I have no idea what I’d do without her. I couldn’t do any of this without Dion and Cate, who are present, helpful and so encouraging about The Dale in general and about this event specifically. Cate is assisting me in making props for the photo booth and is sure that if we have enough moustaches on sticks everything will be well.

Each time I see that a friend has shared the invitation or hear that someone is sending a donation or discover that someone is able to come I am thankful. The Dale works because of what I’ve described above: it is a community of people, both at its core and more broadly that fully participates. It’s during a week like this one that I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude at that reality.

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