Archives for posts with tag: Life

It’s not hard to describe the regular schedule of The Dale. On Mondays we have a lunch drop-in, on Tuesdays we meet in the park, etc. What maybe is more difficult, unless you’ve spent time with us, is describing how things feel.

On Monday I found myself unable to meet with all of the people who wanted to connect and it admittedly led to some tension. I became a little sad and needed to take a minute to compose myself. I want to listen well, make the calls someone needs (often to a Social or Housing Worker), and generally be a good friend.  In that moment of deflation, there were many community members who did for me, exactly what I hope to do for them: they noticed I was a tad out of sorts, offered encouragement, gave me a hug, and asked how to help.

On Wednesday we held a Memorial Service for Mike. It was somber. He was an important friend to many people. A number of people spoke to me about the difficulty of compounded grief: how there have been too many untimely deaths and that the need to say a proper goodbye is necessary. There is relief that The Dale is present to facilitate memorials and funerals. One person came to me after and in their grief for Mike repeatedly said, “what would we do without The Dale? We need to keep being together”.

Following the Memorial a group of us went to a small stretch of beach along the lake because a community member named Kim had indicated her desire to be baptized. Joanna and Meagan led two readings, one from Scripture, the other something Kim wrote. And then we waded out into Lake Ontario where Kim announced her faith and allowed me the honour of baptizing her. What followed was communion and a tea party on the sand. With her permission I share Kim’s words about The Dale here:

Loving me as I am, in my loner spirit and nomadic ways, I felt drawn to a spirit community that I had not known before. I had always found my “spiritual” needs in nature, among God’s creation of wooded areas and rivers, and away from critical judging eyes. I had become a loner due to difficult circumstances in life, and felt I never quite fit anywhere else. Then I saw an open door, and the light shone on my heart, and a community grew into my family that I had not known before. I felt connected, and my loner spirit changed: I grew from being an “I” single, into a shared “We” community, and that felt good. I found stability, built a foundation, within a church with no walls, yet full of a caring community spirit. I now walk proud, and take risks to move forward, knowing I am part of community, and we walk together spilling out into the streets!

So many different feelings: tension, grace, grief, relief, joy, connection. The thing about The Dale is that we really do want it to be a place of belonging for whoever comes here. It’s not just about me, or other staff/volunteers doing something FOR other people, it’s about all of us doing something together, wherever we come from. We all, including me, need to both give and receive. Choosing to do life together in this way is messy. Sometimes we let each other down. People fight. The challenge of life circumstances, either poverty, or addiction, or mental health, or broken relationships, or death, or [insert your own struggle] can impact the way we interact with one another. And, it is most often in working through the messiness that we experience the joy of redemption.

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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.

It is all over the news: a van, moving at high speeds, intentionally drove along a more than one kilometre stretch of sidewalk in Toronto’s north-end, killing ten people and injuring numerous more.

I have been thinking about this traumatic, violent event a lot. For this born and bred Toronto girl, it touches my home. I read an account of a woman who was left unscathed, while the friend walking alongside her was swept away by the van. I walk these city streets all the time…it could have just as easily been me. For too many, it WAS their loved one. Tragedy has struck close.

One of the reasons I feel so sad is that while we begin to process and grieve this incident, other incidents are already underway. There is a trail of carnage in this world. It is shockingly easy to feel as though violence will always only touch the “other”. But as Mr Rogers so aptly said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”

So what does that even look like? I am admittedly overwhelmed. The problems seem too big, too pervasive, too bleak. And yet, there is light piercing through the darkness. It comes when people choose to listen to one another, to extend hospitality, to share resources, to weep when the other is weeping, to hold one another to account in love. We are invited to respond to one another’s needs. It isn’t easy. The best things rarely are.

Tonight I grieve for the victims here in Toronto. I pray for those left behind, the ones who saw it all happen, and the neighbourhood as a whole. I pray for the man responsible and against violence. I also pray for the many people who are intimately acquainted with tragedy across this globe. You are not simply the “other”.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-7

 

 

 

 

One year ago today Meagan joined the staff of The Dale.

Meagan’s first day was, shall we say, unique. Months prior, I had been scheduled for a colonoscopy (ahem). We had wondered about delaying Meg’s start so that I could be fully present, but she was ready to go. Because I was going to be sedated, she and Joanna agreed to be the ones to pick me up and get me safely home. The sum total of what I recall after they picked me up?…sitting in my living room, eating scrambled eggs that Joanna made, and me saying, “I have a feeling I’m not going to remember anything I’ve just said”. Not exactly the way I envisioned welcoming Meagan to the team!

Looking back, I’m somehow grateful for the opportunity to greet Meagan in such a vulnerable state. I knew that Meagan, though for different reasons, was feeling vulnerable too. Choosing The Dale was a leap of faith for her, one that required joining a small staff, getting to know a whole new community and doing fundraising for the first time. I remember one of her earliest prayers before a Monday Drop-In: it was simply for peace and a friend, both things that she desperately wanted.

I have said this to Meagan privately, but I also want to say it here: today I celebrate and give thanks for her. I am grateful for her courage; for her quiet strength; for her calm, solid presence; for her humour (she regularly cracks me and Joanna up); for her ability to process things which then reveals such wisdom; for her active choosing to be transparent, even when it’s hard; for the way she loves our community; and for her friendship.

Meagan, the last year has truly been a study in contrasts. We have experienced joy, sorrow, loneliness, community, and that’s just a start. Building relationships takes time, even when it feels like it shouldn’t. You are doing such patient work, slowly and carefully developing trust with a lot of people. I hope you feel enfolded and aware of how deeply you are loved and valued. I know the life we have chosen and been called to is not easy. I often think of the way CS Lewis describes Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Is he quite safe?…’Safe?’ said Mr Beaver…’who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good’.” This journey is not safe AND it is so good. I’m glad we’re doing it together.

PS If you ever have a colonoscopy, Joanna and I will be there to pick you up.

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Joanna and I had just finished helping a friend by spending about one hour cleaning as much as we could in their place. We retired to my car (affectionately known as Darlene the Dale-mobile) and took a deep breath. Though we worked steadily, it was easy to feel like just a minuscule dent had been made. The reality for this person, along with so many others that we know, is that the hoarding of stuff has become a serious issue, and one that quite often threatens their ability to remain housed.

I am regularly witness to the traumatic effects of this kind of hoarding. Reflecting on this, I have been reminded that in a sense, hoarding is something that touches us all. For some, like our friend, it is characterized by a constant procurement of things. For others, it might be the cluttering of a schedule with too much work, or social engagements, or activities for children. For me, my mind can be filled with too many to-do lists and what-ifs. I suspect that for all of us what might accompany the hoarding is a fear of letting any of those things go.

When I studied art, we talked a lot about the importance of white space. Too much white or negative space and a drawing can appear incomplete; used properly it can bring balance to the overall composition. I wonder what it looks like to create similar space in my own life? What if I were to not fill up all the voids with busyness? What if I let go of the what ifs and remain more firmly in the present? It’s not so much about purging everything, it’s about carefully choosing what can remain and appreciating the new-found space between things.

Which is what began to happen with our friend. When anyone allows us in to their space it is an act of vulnerability, and this time was no different. Together we got to work. Before departing, we all marvelled at the counter cleared of dishes and the small path of floor finally exposed. A few cherished belongings now stood out, no longer hidden at the bottom of piles. In many ways it felt like small, slow progress, but I suppose that is how it goes for most of us. Again, and again we are invited to loosen the grip we have on the things that produce clutter in our lives. One little step at a time.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly every day I turn to a series of readings and prayers in both the morning and evening. This particular rhythm has only become a habit over the last year. As I walk through the valley of grief, I am relieved that this practice has produced muscle memory, the kind that instinctively takes over. And so, on those days when I don’t know what to do with myself, I at least begin and end with good words.

I recently read, “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves”. I have so many questions, many of which are the kind I suspect won’t be answered in my lifetime. I wonder what it looks like to accept the things I cannot control and to develop the wisdom to know what I can change. I looked up patience in the dictionary and found this definition: “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”. Oh, how I long to grow the dimensions of this attribute in my heart.

One of the things I have learned a great deal about in the last number of years is being present to the moment. I began to discover that my tendency toward people pleasing and perfectionism (as though that is even possible) was deeply flawed and rooted in terrible insecurity. My worth it turns out cannot be tied to a job or a person or a skill, it comes entirely from God. This work-in-progress heart change has better equipped me to pay attention to what is right in front of me. I cannot change the past, nor can I live in the future. Instead, I must live in the now.

‘The now’ is a jumble of challenge that requires a significant amount of patience. The grief over the death of my mom is a good example: I must be present to the pain of this significant loss and endeavour to tolerate the suffering without lashing out or giving up. Not too long ago my daughter described me to other people as an optimist. Though I don’t always feel like one, I was relieved that she could identify me as that. What I want her to know is that even in my grief, I hold onto hope.

One of the things I pray each day is: “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors”. In this time of uncertainty, I choose to fuel patience with hope, and to live with the questions. I trust that with time understanding will come.

 

I must have been two, maybe two and a half. My mom had taken me to the park at the end of our street and then popped into the little corner store when it began to pour. As I sit here listening to the rain I can remember how she ran, pushing me in a stroller, the whole block home. We were soaked. She wrapped me in a towel, put on a Judy Collins record, and gave me a snack. She tried to dry off the monkey that I carried everywhere (and later tragically lost at that same park). I remember sitting in her lap on the floor. I know to some it might be surprising that I would have this strong memory from such a young age, but I actually have many.

I remember my mom walking me back and forth from school when I was in kindergarten. She let me invite my friends over for lunch, heating us bowls of noodles and making sure we had cut up carrots and cucumber too. She encouraged me to play outside and taught me to identify flowers and trees by name. We planted marigolds and lily of the valley and my favourite forget-me-nots in the backyard. When my first fish died she helped me bury him in that same garden bed. At night my mom would sing me Edelweiss from The Sound of Music, one of the songs I chose to sing to Cate every night of her early years.

As I begin the long and winding road of grief, it is memories like these, little moments in our shared life, that keep coming to mind. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Memories of my mom do include what she said and did, but what reverberates in my heart is how she made me feel. When I remember her tending to my many skinned knees, it is her tenderness that sticks out. When I shared my anxieties and troubles with her, she listened and somehow managed to make me feel like things would be okay, even if they were to continue being hard. I loved being in a room full of people and picking out her laugh. Knowing she was close by made me happy.

I think why the memories I cite here remain so vivid is that they all leant to me feeling safe: being pushed through the rain, walked to school, having my friends welcomed, being taught how to both garden and grieve, hearing lullabies at night. She was a very good mother. After my aunt died, my mom spoke of her own grief for her sister and how even the best memories were difficult at first. I understand what she meant, because the flooding of recollections serves to make the absence even more real. Comfort is also found in choosing to remember. I can take myself back to that rainy day, and many others like it, where I could sit safe in the lap of my mom.

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My mom died on Monday night. This is the first time since then that I’ve been compelled to write something here. I know that many of you met my mom Elaine on the pages of this blog. She has always, and will continue to be, one of my primary sources of inspiration. She was an incredible woman.

Last Friday night (technically very early Saturday morning), I was woken by a call from my brother Logan. The hospital needed us to know that mom had taken a sudden turn for the worse and we should come. I got dressed and walked to meet Logan, because we amazingly live just one block away from each other on the same street, and just minutes from the hospital. Having received calls such as this before, we could imagine what to expect, and that proved true again: mom had an infection that was causing a high fever, her blood pressure was dangerously low, and she was non-responsive.

Mid-morning Saturday Logan and I spoke with a doctor who advised us that mom had pneumonia and likely an empyema, a serious accumulation of infection that would require more than antibiotics to deal with. Mom however was too weak to manage any invasive procedure, and so we were gently, and very compassionately advised to call together family and close friends.

What ensued over the course of the weekend was what I would describe as beautiful, precious, and deeply sacred. Mom’s grandchildren Cate, Oliver, Harrison and Teagan came, along with Dion and Amanda. My mom’s sisters, brothers-in-law, many nieces and nephews and long-time friends joined us so that we could all be together. We filled mom’s room, flowed out into the hall, and spilled into the nearby sitting room. Hospital staff commented repeatedly at our presence, moved that mom had so many people who loved her. The doctor came to me later saying, “you were right when you said people would come. This is amazing”.

Cate brought her ukulele and sang song after song for her Gran. My cousin Kate sang A Life That’s Good…”at the end of the day, Lord I pray I have a life that’s good. Two arms around me, heaven to ground me. And a family that always calls me home”. Teagan and Roy, the two babies of the family got passed from person to person, offering sweet distraction from the sadness. Joanna was always nearby. We held times of prayer around mom’s bedside, including a late night vigil where we sang songs and hymns. We told stories, laughed, and wept, sometimes all at the same time.

I slept beside my mom on Sunday night. Though she lived in a hospital room, mom managed to make it a home, something I was again struck by as I lay there looking at pictures and her collection of sentimental things. When I woke up in the morning I decided to play mom’s playlist of favourite songs from her iPad. As I listened to the words of the top song, “Hold on, if you need to hold on, you can hold on to me. What ever road you’ve chosen shouldn’t be walked alone. Hold on”, I thought about how she had done just that for so many years. Mom clung to Christ though the road was hard.

Monday evening I decided to go home for a brief break. I ate a bit of food that a friend had generously dropped off and got changed. As I was finishing up, my phone rang. It was my aunt saying death was suddenly close. I ran all the way to the hospital, praying that I would make it. As I got closer, Victoria Day fire works started to shoot off in front of me, and I became even more overwhelmed. I did make it. At approximately 10:25 pm, surrounded by family, mom breathed her last breath. We remained with her for a while, even toasting her with wine served in styrofoam cups (all we had) and eating chips, two things that she loved, and always together.

We had a funeral and burial yesterday. As a group we hovered around her grave for a significant amount of time, her grandchildren and grand-nieces and nephews playing with each other. I kept imagining her sitting there, happily tucked in to her wheelchair with a huge smile on her face. She loved being with her family and so this felt like an appropriate book-end to the last week, one that started and ended together.

Mom, I know you are no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair, a truth that makes me smile. And I can’t believe you are gone. I began to miss you the moment you left. I took the photo below of the view outside your window on Monday. You would have loved the sunset. I know life was hard, but at the end of the day you always thought it was good. I love you, always.

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When I was in Grade Four I played a music box in my school’s Christmas play. I wore a decorated cardboard box that hung from my shoulders and black tights that I was always tugging on. I don’t recollect everything about the plot, but I do remember the song I had to sing and how it summed up the moral of the story: “Christmas is for giving, it’s not for getting things…”. I recall being nervous until I stepped onto the masking tape x on the stage, looked out at the audience, and opened my mouth to sing. I fell in love with performing as a result of that elementary school experience. At the time I thought I had discovered what I would do with my life: theatre.

Life is funny. I didn’t end up on the stage, though for many years I wholeheartedly pursued it. That was, until I found myself sitting on the pavement beside a man who was living in the entrance of the Royal Bank Tower parking lot in downtown Toronto. That person, along with so many others I met outside at night, changed the trajectory of my life. At the time it wasn’t clear what a life spent working with people who know poverty would look like. I just knew in my gut that it was right.

Twenty-ish years later I find myself reminiscing about those early days of connecting with the street. I was so young. Here I was, a girl who grew up in fairly affluent North Toronto, suddenly hanging out with people teaching me how to make a house out of a cardboard box, telling me stories about all they’d lost, and inviting me into their lives. They even asked me to sing before I left to go home. I’m certain there were many people who questioned my sudden change in vocation. I had many difficult conversations about my choice to give up what I had, until that time, always been working for.

Now I find myself the Executive Director and Pastor of The Dale. I only bring up those titles because they are truly not what I ever aspired to and yet now hold. I guess when I was invited into this role I felt much like I did as the music box: a little uncomfortable, tugging at my clothing and only strangely confident once I stepped onto the proverbial masking tape x on the floor and looked out at the community. I’m grateful that people took, and continue to take, a chance on me.

If you had asked me what I’d be doing as an adult when I was in Grade Four, I would not have imagined this. Though as I think about it, maybe there was a part of me that knew. As the music box I was asked to sing about finding joy and discovering what you wanted to give and receive from your heart. When I met that friend in the parking lot I witnessed a great deal of pain, but more than that I saw joy rooted in a life deeply felt and lived. I was taught about what it means to give out of whatever it is you have and be willing to receive out of whatever people have to give. That first solo was a life lesson in more ways than one. I am so glad for its lasting impact.