Archives for posts with tag: Overcoming Anxiety

I started last Saturday with getting a massage. Doing this always feels like some amazing luxury that I don’t really deserve, except I know that it helps keep me healthy. Apart from my heart, I tend to carry my stress in my shoulders and neck. 2016 has been pretty heavy thus far and on this particular day we were about to have our annual February Feast, an event that is bigger and sometimes more challenging than anything else we do. Seeing a massage therapist felt in order.

Before heading to Parkdale I stopped at The Gateway to pick up the turkey Second Harvest provided for our feast. We simply don’t have the kitchen capacity to cook as much turkey as we need (150+ people), so my caterer friend Sammy has his crew do it in the kitchen of this Salvation Army shelter. This relieves much of the “feast stress”, so I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me as the meat and a bucket of drippings for gravy were loaded into the car.

When I arrived at the drop-in, Joanna acknowledged that she too was feeling some angst about the night ahead. We went to the storage room and took a few moments to pray, for: enough food to go around, volume issues with the Open Stage portion of the night to be well managed and peace to prevail. We both took a deep breath and went back to helping set things up.

What transpired next was a reminder of why I love being at The Dale. We had more hands than we even needed to set up the room and cook the rest of the meal. The room totally filled up in time for our 6 pm start. Everyone got to eat and while some were concerned that their portion would be too meagre, it wasn’t. A few situations threatened to erupt, but were solved without major incident. The Parkdale Villager (our local paper) surprised us by sending a photographer to document the night. There was music and dancing.

One of my favourite moments was when my daughter Cate got up to share a song. As soon as she started to strum her ukulele and open her mouth, a hush descended upon the room. From my vantage point I could see how everyone stopped and really listened, erupting into encouraging applause at the end. The pride that I feel for Cate was reflected back to me in the eyes of the community. It was beautiful.

Joanna and I high-fived at the end of the night in acknowledgement that we’d been witness to God’s presence and our team at work. I realized the stress I was carrying in the morning slowly dissolved as I took notice of so many good things: the provision of Second Harvest, turkeys being cooked for us, a relaxed kitchen crew, a man being able to eat for the first time in days, a sense of celebration and fun. I’m hoping the memory of this Feast will linger for a long time.

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When I walked into the Monday Drop-In last week I did not have the capacity to manage the barrage of questions and comments that came my way. Just the day before I had received the news of the death of a friend. Couple that with lack of sleep/general busy-ness/mounting concerns and it equalled me: the one coming undone.

My teammate Joanna maneuvered me into the washroom where we prayed. Actually, with her arm slung around me, she prayed. I became a puddle of tears. In order to catch my breath I left the building for a short walk. As soon as I exited the front doors I saw two of my friends: Chaz and Steve. {Sidebar: I don’t often use people’s actual names in my writing. For this post they are, used with permission and because I think they ought to be publicly thanked}. Chaz and Steve admittedly live life very hard and it shows. “How are you doing girl?” said Chaz. “Crappy”, I responded.

Chaz picked up where Joanna left off: he put his arm around me and said he understood. You know how sometimes people say that and you want to shout, “NO, you don’t!”? This was not one of those times. Chaz showed a depth of empathy that I believed. He then dug around his pockets, pulled out a stack of brown paper towel and provided what I needed to dry my tears.

Steve quietly stood by with his head down. It wasn’t until later in the day that he ushered me over for a hug. He said, “Erinn, I couldn’t eye-ball you earlier because I felt your pain. I know what it’s like. I don’t like seeing you cry because I love ya”. Steve has buried nearly every one of his family members. He thinks he has more than the nine lives of a cat because he just keeps surviving things he likely shouldn’t. I am completely honoured that he cares about me the way he does and chose to express it.

Throughout the day I was supported by Joanna, Chaz, Steve and countless others in the Drop-In who gently slowed my spiral down through a word, a hug or even just a knowing look. This is community. What a relief to be a part of it.

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I recently spoke at a regional gathering of a network of people known as StreetLevel. Some people asked if I would share the same words here…

On a sunny day in June, nearly two years ago, I had to pull down the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC) sign from both the gate and door at 201 Cowan Avenue. For me, this act made things official: PNC no longer had its own building. That was the day we became a church without our own walls. I like to say it was when we “spilled into the streets”.

Fast forward to the present. Parkdale Neighbourhood Church is now known as The Dale Ministries. You might wonder why we would seemingly shift away from “church” by changing our name. As an organization we don’t function as a traditional church institution, for instance, we are not made self-sufficient based on tithing. Our people give, they just give out of very little. We came exceedingly close to ceasing to exist because of this. Playing with the language that had become a barrier to our long-term stability was worth it. At the beginning of our search for a new name, I asked our community members to describe what PNC meant to them. Though there were many descriptors used, the number one word was “safe”. A dale is a valley that cuts through a mountain, the place where one hides when facing a storm. Every day The Dale Ministries, or more often simply The Dale, endeavours to be a safe community for many, including me.

We are a varied group: some of us live rough outside, some in community housing and some in houses of our own. Some of us are struggling with addiction to street drugs or alcohol or television or eating too much food. Some of us have diagnosed mental health challenges that range from depression to schizophrenia. Some of us are refugees. Some of us are seniors. You get the picture. All of us are broken. We choose again and again to journey alongside one another toward deeper wholeness in Christ. We choose to be church. For The Dale this journey continues without a building of our own.

To be honest, I was relieved when the move out of our former space was finally done. The amount of “stuff” that had accumulated was, at least for me, astonishing. As we purged almost all of our belongings and packed just a few, I became thankful for the freedom from things. I also became admittedly overwhelmed, occasionally stressed and rather emotional. During that time I remember reading this: “You gain confidence through knowing that I am with you- that you face nothing alone. Anxiety stems from asking the wrong question: ‘If such and such happens, can I handle it?’ The true question is not whether you can cope with whatever happens, but whether you and I can handle anything that occurs.”

Becoming under-housed was an opportunity for me to discover if I was asking the right question. This was truly scary, for as right as I believe it was to move, it meant entering a time of unknown, of in between, of newness. In response to the question, “what is something that makes you sad?” one of our youngest community members drew a picture of many stick people carrying a large box. She said she felt sad that the people were carrying away her church. It was indeed what was happening in the eyes of that little person.

It was important to honour that sadness. I didn’t want to belittle the magnitude of the change. I joined with others in weeping. I also had to persist in announcing that as a community we could exist outside of a building. Today I am here to say we are still a community and that yes, though “church” is no longer in our name, we very much function as one. We continue to gather; to support; to create; to eat together; to question; to pray; to worship; to dance; to love.

By spilling into the streets we more fully inhabit our neighbourhood. By knocking on the doors of our neighbours we have found space (though it sometimes revolves) to run our programs: in churches, in stores, in community AND health centres- space that we don’t have keys for, but that costs us nothing. We have the opportunity to be shown hospitality at the same time as giving it. How beautiful is that?

Henri Nouwen once said, “Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared. When we remember that, we may be able to say, ‘I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it’…Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.”

In the context of this little struggling church community I am/we are reminded of God’s presence. God has seen fit to multiply the loaves and the fishes in Parkdale and I mean this literally. On days when there was no money to purchase food for our drop-in we somehow had full plates. I am no longer the only staff- we are the Dale girls: Erinn and Joanna, surrounded by a community that has heard the invitation into full participation. Two years into this wild experiment we still exist! We are HERE. And we’re thriving.

My love for the church, my love for The Dale, is a true love.

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Last week my daughter Cate managed to do two things that, for different reasons, were real challenges: fasting from food for thirty hours and singing a solo in front of a large group of people. It took courage for Cate to do these things and I’m very proud of her for conquering the fear associated with both. I don’t know that she will be racing to do either again anytime soon. I also imagine that being in a vocal recital will still cause Cate stage fright. The difference next time though is that she can draw from her previous experience and remember that she can open her mouth and sing.

I recognize the anxiety that Cate was feeling. There are things that I know I need to do that quite frankly, scare me. Sometimes when I think about those things that enliven fear in me I can feel my stomach drop out from under me. Lately this has been happening when I think about the long-term life of The Dale. To be clear, I don’t feel anxious about the community or its ability to continue to gather. What I wonder about is my capacity to fulfill the role I have in it: pastor, director, administrator, fundraiser. I feel ill-equipped.

When I confessed this feeling to my husband recently he simply said, “then you are exactly where you should be”. I know he’s right. Being in this place forces me to lean on others, ask for help and rely on God. Here I have to choose to take leaps of faith, which isn’t so different from what I was encouraging Cate to do right until the moment she had the last bite of food before her fast or when her name came up in the recital program. Some of the best things have happened because I decided to jump despite the fear and trepidation.

In truth, I also have scars because not all the jumps have resulted in the desired outcome. With time these scars do take on a different form. A song I love says, “they are less like scars and more like character”. I want to battle fear with a certain abandon and trust that my wounds will turn into scars of character. This life of mine requires stepping out in faith, over and over again. It also affords me the opportunity to be a part of a radically beautiful place like The Dale.

The next time I am overwhelmed with my role I want to recall the way Cate stepped up to the stage, composed herself and sweetly sang “The Swallow”. She was anxious the entire song AND she did it. I hope I can do the same.

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