Archives for posts with tag: Gratitude

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.03.15 AM

 

It was not without some fear and trepidation that I wrote my last blog. My need for another set of wheels was entirely dependent on others being able to help provide one. This was not the kind of problem that could be fixed alone. I was amazed at the understanding with which my words were received and moved by the number of people who wrote to ask more questions and offer suggestions.

One person read my plea and remembered a conversation they’d had with someone else earlier in the week. This someone was in the process of buying a new car and wanted to gift their old one to someone else. The only problem was, they hadn’t been able to find anyone to give it to. Whoa. You can probably tell where this is going.

On Saturday Dion, Cate and I went to look at the car. By mid to late November it will be given to us. A huge THANK YOU to the givers of this vehicle. Just writing this makes me weepy.

This whole experience has reminded me yet again of our interdependence on one another. The economy of our culture says that we need to get things via our own hand. The world is all about private ownership. The economy of God, or of Kingdom, is all about building access. Instead of simply being “owners” we are “stewards”.

The car will be steward-ed by us. It will be used to ensure that all the things I outlined before will get done at The Dale and at home. I also want the car to be available to others. Whenever possible, this will be a community car. I am so glad I finally took the risk and asked. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Last week I received a very lovely gift on the occasion of my birthday: a book full of encouragement from a beautiful collection of people in my life. One entry, from a Parkdale friend, said: “When Erinn isn’t smiling, she’s crying…”. This made me laugh out loud (through the tears). She’s right, I have very active tear ducts.

I went through a period when I wanted to temper my tears. I sometimes felt exhausted by the shear force of them. I attempted to will myself to not cry, to hold in that which so freely flowed. It sort of worked. I think I learned more about where my emotion was coming from. In some cases it exposed unhealthy behaviour and patterns in my life. It also made me realize that there is something very precious about crying and that I need not dry myself out.

One of the Bronte sisters once wrote, “But smiles and tears are so alike with me, they are neither of them confined to any particular feelings”. This resonates with me. Tears are a way for me to express my grief, regret, anger, embarrassment, joy and pride. I can laugh so hard that tears stream down my face, and then when no one else finds what I find funny, I tearfully laugh even more (this happens a lot). Occasionally I cry for what seems like no apparent reason until I realize that a smell or some other sense has triggered an old memory. I routinely weep over injustice.

Though sometimes I feel like a crazy mess, I know that crying has a cleansing quality to it. I quite often feel like I need to let myself weep so that I can take a deep breath and keep going. I’m grateful too for friends who know me and accept me as I am, including my friend who says it like it is: when I’m not smiling, I’m crying. Ha.

water-droplets

 

Our homelessness was born out of necessity and is now one of our greatest gifts. This is the story I need to tell about The Dale.

During the early summer of 2012 The Dale moved out of what had been our home for years. We didn’t have anywhere to go, except we knew we must continue to gather as a community. I recall saying, “if we have to, we’ll host our drop-in in the park” and I meant it.

Since that time we have found new places to gather around the neighbourhood. Relationship and partnership have sustained and strengthened us. Various organizations generously opened their doors, including: St Francis Table, Sketch, Parkdale Community Health Centre, The Jeremiah Community, Epiphany and St Mark Anglican and Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian Church. We got creative and decided to meet in unexpected places such as the back of The Salvation Army Thrift Store. A home also known as Junia House became a meeting place and occasional host to Board meetings and even baking parties. We wander the streets, visit on park benches and frequent a large number of coffee shops. We host a Bible Study in a Coffee Time which has generously waived the maximum loitering limit. We are, in a word, mobile. This mobility means that the neighbourhood knows us in a whole new way and us, it.

With this in mind, it has become clear that the next step for The Dale does not include finding a building large enough to fit everything we do. We are dreaming about maybe a storefront or a small Winnebago. Either way, we will remain committed to being a presence that roams. By being a church without our own walls we have increased our visibility and yes, our viability. The money we save by not having to manage the general upkeep and day-to-day costs of a building is huge. Instead, we can use it to staff and run programming that directly impacts our community. With additional money we can do more of the same.

Are there challenges? Absolutely. I don’t carry keys (other than a few internal ones) to a single building that we use. Our storage is minimal. People need to remember where to find us on any given day. I will be the first to admit that some days my own optimism gets worn down by these limitations. Though I suspect everyone can, to some degree, relate to that feeling. The truth is, these cons pale in comparison to the very real pros of our situation, which include that our friends who know transience see that we have learned about it too; that we are working together with more and more groups; that we know our neighbours better, including residents, store owners and even the police; that we do a lot with very little.

Homelessness is not something I would hope for anyone. I long to see its end. I am grateful that The Dale can stand alongside so many who are under-housed in a different kind of solidarity now because of our own limited experience. In that sense, our homelessness is a gift. I believe too that it has led us to a clarity of vision and mission. We survived a terrible crisis and are stronger now. We are here to thrive.

I have written here about the camp my family and I spend a lot of time at in the summers. I have long dreamed of taking a group from PNC to Camp Koinonia and this past weekend it happened!

For many, the opportunity to leave the city doesn’t come by often. For one of my friends this was the FIRST time he had experienced the woods of Northern Ontario. Though he has been through much, including jail, he became childlike as we drove in the dark toward the camp. He kept asking if I really knew where we were going. What about animals? It’s too dark! Are we safe? Is this where they write ghost stories?

By the time we left at the end of the weekend this same man was telling me, in his broken English, that he felt “happy in his head”. He, once he got used to the dark, slept deeply. He kayaked. He ate well. He hung out with children, including my daughter. He played dominoes and sang camp songs and received communion. He even wrote this on the time line that we each added significant events to: “Erinn apcepted me work 2011 at PNC. That my 2nd home”.

This makes me weep.

Thank you to the many people who made this retreat possible. Thank you to Camp Koinonia for welcoming PNC. And thank you to the PNC community for gathering, eating, singing, hiking, fishing, playing, resting, remembering and celebrating together. I mean it when I say I am honoured and humbled to have received the call to lead PNC through serving you. To say I’m grateful is truly an understatement.

Let’s start planning the next retreat.

I sometimes moan that God (who I do believe in) is not giving me what I want, dare I say it, what I need. Bluntly put, I sometimes think he is not giving me enough. I question whether or not He loves me. I live in a sense of rejection, of less than, of pain. What about being happy? Don’t I get to be happy? Don’t we get to be happy? Certainly a God of grace would want that for us. I am coming to realize that God does want that. God longs to draw us into His presence so that we might be filled up with perfect, redemptive love. It seems that to experience this I need to say “yes” to all that He freely gives and choose to live my life full of Him.

I recognize that this may be easier said than done.

In an effort to do this I began to pay attention to things that often wash over me; things I take for granted; things that I don’t always think of as special and maybe a few that I do. As my list grew longer I began to see how this might be a first step toward believing that a life full of the knowledge of grace might be possible.

My List:

  1. The warmth of the sunlight through a window, falling on my shoulders as I write.
  2. Tulips.
  3. A sound of a child playing the piano with one finger.
  4. Mail that isn’t bills.
  5. The smell of beeswax candles.
  6. Wind in my hair.
  7. A freshly painted room.
  8. Catching a streetcar before it rolls away.
  9. Colourful graffiti that catches my eye in a lane-way.
  10. A record spinning on a turntable.
  11. Seeing my mom in her wheelchair instead of her bed.
  12. The forgiveness of a friend.
  13. Having someone see me in my brokenness and loving me anyway.
  14. A new pencil.
  15. The click a camera makes when I take a picture.
  16. The smell of BBQ.
  17. Spring in the air.
  18. Suds in a bath.
  19. The gurgle of coffee perking on the stove.
  20. A touch.

This list has helped me to see that these 20 things are very real gifts from God, and in the action of writing them down I am actually receiving them as such. The list is my attempt to seek joy and to find God in the process. I believe we are invited to let God change us- maybe not our circumstances, but how we manage them. God can change your state of mind and how you perceive His good gifts. God makes it possible to live a life FULL of grace.

“Grace” has a number of different meanings: it is seemingly effortless beauty or charm or movement (she moves with such grace); it is a short prayer before a meal; it is mercy; it is favour rendered by one who need not do so; it is indulgent. God’s grace is just that: indulgent. On the surface of our lives, it might not feel that this is true. We live in a world marred by debt and despair and death. Imagine though being able to cultivate gratitude DESPITE this. A man named Paul wrote about this in the book of Philippians 4:11-12, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or with little.”

Judy Collins (yes, the singer) wrote a book about what she calls the 7 T’s: Truth, Trust, Therapy, Treasure, Thrive, Treat, and Transcend. Judy decided to write about these T’s after her son committed suicide and she began a journey of grief and mourning. While this is not the context of each of our lives, we can relate because of our own experiences of pain, sadness, addiction and remorse.

If the challenge for us is to choose to live a life of joy, abundance, forgiveness and grace, than the 7 T’s provide a framework to do this.

Truth: Tell it. Tell it like it is, even if it is painful. Don’t ignore those wounded places in your life.

Trust: Allow it. Don’t allow the pain to prevent you from talking. Talk with friends. Talk with your community.

Therapy: Get it. Seek help.

Treasure: Hold on. Find things that you treasure. Remember those things that are good in your life- however big or small you perceive these things to be.

Thrive: Look up. Keep living with your eyes wide open. Try to not blunt or blur your sadness with unhealthy things.

Treat: Nurture yourself. Discover the things that fill up your soul.

Transcend: Choose to live a certain kind of life- a life of gratitude- a life of grace.

When I chose to make Jesus central to all that I do, life began to look different. Mother Teresa once said “The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action. If we pray the work…if we do it to Jesus, if we do it for Jesus, if we do it with Jesus…that’s what makes us content”. When I am blue or frustrated or angry or…whatever…I now try to pause, think about Jesus and consider what I am grateful for.

Joy will come from the touching of Christ. I am confident that God is healing the places in my heart that are deep holes. And in those deep places is a new sense of gratitude.