Archives for posts with tag: relationships

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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This summer The Dale had the pleasure of having not one, but two amazing women choose to do internships with us: Olivia and Ahmeda. If you cycle back in this blog, you can read posts written by both of them, including a final entry by Olivia who recently returned to Chicago for another year of school.

Ahmeda is someone I have enjoyed the privilege of knowing and calling friend for a number of years, so when she indicated her interest in coming to The Dale, I was thrilled. Just today I sat on Ahmeda’s couch with her youngest child (she and her husband have five boys) sleeping on my lap, while we discussed the last bits of administration needed to bring the internship to a close. The reason I wasn’t filled with sorrow over this is because Ahmeda intends to stick around, having found a place of belonging at The Dale.

I value the way Ahmeda both intentionally observes and participates in life at The Dale. She asks excellent questions and beautifully articulates what she is learning. Ahmeda possesses a special warmth and passion that draws people to her. She feels things deeply, loves her people, and is generous with her heart. Ahmeda: you and your family are a beloved gift.

The following are Ahmeda’s own words:

I have so much peace here. In this hot old church on Cowan Avenue that is used on Sundays, a space with walls that give glimpses of past glory: its beauty found etched in the carefully carved stones and the stained-glass windows, so obvious the pride of the artists whose work lives on till this day, both human and divine. This space that invites everyone from all walks of life to come, pause, breath and lean into the arms of the one through whom the upside-down kingdom comes alive.

I have no need to pretend here. In this space where the offering is put inside a well-used winter hat and we are encouraged to hold onto it and offer a prayer if that is what we have to bring; a worthwhile gift that glorifies the father, as good as any coin or note can be.

I have so much hope here. In this community where a Second Harvest truck brings the bounty of food sourced from grocery stores and food terminals all over the city. A blessed colorful nutritious selection that will herald and highlight the mystery and delight of the Creator’s presence at Monday’s community meal.

I have no need to search for love here. In these friendships that celebrate the simple things and create space for me and my children, allowing me to come as I am and serve in relationship as best I can.

I will not neglect to acknowledge the pain that is here. I see clearly the hurt that has marred the journey of most of us here. And also, I know Jesus is here. I know God is here. I need not search to find, for I can feel so clearly the warm caress and joyful touch of the Holy Spirit, delighting in the gathering to share, to create, to show our pain, to sing, to eat, to heal, to pray, to hope and to love.

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One of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was her ability to be fully present. She had a way of actively listening and engaging in conversation that always made the time with her go too fast. I think this was only magnified when she was forced to move into hospital. Though hindered by fatigue, mom wanted to maximize her time with people. I know it was difficult when her health issues prevented her from visiting. Though she had a large capacity to manage a lot of alone time, mom thrived when with family and friends.

I miss my mom. I live around the corner from the hospital she called home. Every single time I go by it I look up at the window that was hers. Part of the beauty of living in such close proximity was that it was easy to pop over for a long OR short visit. We sometimes joked that a side benefit of her situation was that I always knew where she was. I often replay the journey to her room in my head: through the front doors, straight to the back elevators, up to the fifth floor and room 516, where I would announce my arrival in the doorway with a “hello, it’s me!” to which she would always say, “hello my sweetie”.

My mom loved to ask questions about everything that was going on in my life. I know that she kept a running note of things to pray about on her iPad. We laughed a lot. I would listen to all of her news (she was a great storyteller), sometimes as she directed me to do things around her room: dust, reposition a painting, open mail, tidy up one of her ‘meaningful piles’. I routinely cut her bangs, and with much trepidation occasionally gave her a full haircut.

My mom was gracious even when I failed to visit because life got too busy. I was never made to feel guilty. Instead, she would gently issue another invitation to come and explain that she missed me. I also knew that if mom was feeling especially lonely and willing to articulate it, I needed to take notice and get to her side, which in truth, I always wished I would have done before she even had to say it.

For my mom it was important that I show up even for just five minutes to have, as my nephew Harrison likes to call it, a “little hello”. No matter what length of time we had my mom would say she felt energized and I would leave feeling filled up. It was a great reminder to me that making time, even by setting aside little bits of it, contributed to both of us feeling valued and loved.

As I grieve and celebrate my mom, I want to remember the many lessons she taught me: lessons about the gift of presence, active listening, good storytelling, being honest about your needs, and how to infuse it all with grace.

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Cate with my mom, her Gran. They loved being together.

Yesterday, approximately a week after he entered hospital due to a stroke, our friend Mark Roberts died. This came as a big surprise, for while we expected he had a long road of recovery ahead, we believed he was stable.

Mark was a tall, broad shouldered man which earned him the moniker “Big Mark”. He loved to talk (and talk and talk). We often teased him about how few dishes he actually got done at our Monday Drop-In because he was too busy chatting, pausing only briefly to say, “okay, anyway…” before launching in again. One key topic of conversation for Mark was music. He would often quiz me about the music of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while commenting on current artists being played on the radio. He played the guitar and sang with gusto.

Mark had a spirit of generosity. Though he had very little, Mark was quick to share. He would regularly come to our Thrift Store Drop-In to distribute granola bars and pudding cups and whatever else he had gathered. He once proudly gave me a box of powdered lemon filling to make a lemon meringue pie, requiring only that I tell him about the result and how much Cate enjoyed it- he was a big fan of my daughter.

I’m sad that Mark will not be joining us at The Dale’s annual fall retreat up north. He intended to come last year, but couldn’t bear to leave his beloved cats behind. After hearing about all the fun we had, Mark promised that this time he would find somebody to care for his feline friends. He couldn’t wait to play his guitar around the campfire. I know that to honour him we’ll sing some of his favourites this September.

When Mark arrived at the hospital this past week he didn’t have any ID and couldn’t communicate. Joanna and I were able to see him a couple of times and were working with the hospital to locate family. Just yesterday I followed what felt like a flimsy lead, only to discover how to connect with Mark’s mother. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I’d found her and so relieved that she could speak with Mark’s medical team. It was with shock and dismay that I got a message from her that afternoon: Mark was gone. My heartfelt sympathies go out to her and the rest of Mark’s family. She asked me to share this news.

Mark was very much a part of The Dale community. I can’t imagine not having him in the kitchen on a Monday, or hearing him strum a guitar, or seeing him stroll down Queen Street. I know many, many people will miss him. And I am one of them.

Rest well friend.

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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.

 

This has been an especially intense, difficult week.

I find myself considering the words of Nouwen: “Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”

As an advocate in the middle of a very difficult and complex situation I have been simultaneously full of the awareness that there is no speedy fix at the same time as longing for one. I am touching pain that is beyond what I have known myself. I have participated in conversations that, leading up to them,  I was sure I had no words for. Finding the strength to compassionately respond has hurt, not because I don’t want to, but because the nature of the problem is that sad.

I am also reminded of The Beatitudes: that it is precisely in the poorness of spirit, the grief and sorrow that blessedness can be found, for there we can do nothing except turn to God. It is in this turning that I find hope. Hope is coming in the form of a whole host of people willing to help those hurting, meals showing up, friends checking in and gifts being thoughtfully given. My prayer is that those at the core of the crisis will discover that this hope is intended for them, and that while there is no immediate cure, help is on the way.

 

 

 

 

 

I got challenged recently and it stung.

It was December 15th, the day of our Christmas meal at The Dale. The room was buzzing with activity, including food preparation and carolling. The spiced chicken was being prepared off-site, since the kitchen we use is limited in its capacity to host that much meat. A Toronto Star reporter had come to, as she put it, “observe”. As I stood at the side of the room I remember distinctly thinking, “this is so GOOD” and having a wash of gratitude pour over me.

My thoughts were interrupted by someone I know, but admittedly not well. I will not describe the person, except to explain the gist of what I heard them say: “You have not been successful at building community here”. I was stunned. In fact, at first I thought I’d misunderstood, only to discover that I was wrong.

I’ve worked closely with people for many years, long enough to know that criticism will most certainly come. Fortunately, I deal with it much better now than when I was twenty. I also know that The Dale cannot be all things to all people. This incident surprised me, maybe because it was in the midst of a day that was marked with joy. I found myself stirred up and sad.

Since that day I have tried to uncover more of what is at the root of the sentiment I heard. It is complicated and probably less about The Dale than originally suggested. It still causes me pause, which I think is, though I wish it came in a less painful way, a good thing. At the beginning of this new year, I find myself waiting and listening for God to illuminate our next steps as a community. As we consider casting The Dale vision further, we must keep asking ourselves “what is it that we’re doing? And why?”

We desire to embrace people and to allow ourselves to be embraced by them. This takes time. I’m hopeful that for those who feel on the outside of what it happening, something will shift and they will come on in.

A lot of what we do at The Dale happens around a table. We love sharing food and discovering the kind of community that can be built when doing so. With this in mind, imagine the challenge it is for one friend whose schizophrenia can be triggered by the aroma of certain foods. There is this push-pull thing going on for him: wanting to be present while not wanting to be manic. Not an easy thing.

I have long understood that there are certain foods my friend can and cannot eat. I also know there are strict rules around HOW things must be prepared, making it very tricky when creating meals for the whole of our community. This person quite often declines our food, graciously, knowing the challenge his needs present.

On Sunday my friend showed up with a small carton of homogenized milk, one of the few things he views as a treat. He rather excitedly got two glasses out of the cupboard and asked me to have a glass of milk with him. He sent me home with the leftovers. Honestly, it felt like a precious Christmas gift and communion all at once. It made the season a little more…merry.

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A Dale friend pulled me into a corner at the Wednesday Drop-In, looked at me intently and said, “I want to encourage you”. This friend has the look of someone who has survived a lot. He knows the street and substance addiction. He is also a very good drummer. As he proceeded to talk, I felt he knew exactly what I needed to hear.

It is not uncommon for me to be huddled with people from The Dale in a corner, at a table or on a bench just like I was with this friend. Bystanders will occasionally quietly ask, “what are you doing? You must be helping that person, right?”. I usually respond: “we are helping each other”.

Wednesday was a beautiful reminder of this. I was encouraged to remember that God works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. I don’t know if my friend realized his words were right out of Psalm 103, but I suspect he did. He went on to pray that I continue to be patient; know that I am loved; and have a renewed understanding that God’s forgiveness is for me too. My friend’s words were genuine and full of grace. 

This kind of generous compassion is what we are all, regardless of economic or social status, called to. ‘Charity’ is not meant to be one way. I hope that I will have a word for my friend when he needs it. Good thing we’re in this together.

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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.