Wonder Woman, Not.

Leadership is a funny thing. As someone who has been invited to lead, I am encountering the many challenges it presents. The challenge at the top of my list is people thinking that because of my role I am somehow Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman I am not (though I wouldn’t mind having an invisible plane to travel around in).

I am here to attest to the fact that I am completely, utterly human. I make mistakes. I have inward struggles that only a handful of people know about. I sometimes procrastinate. I forget things. I have double or even triple booked. I am enough of a klutz that friends wonder when I will break my next bone. I worry. I imagine that I will fall flat on my face in the journey that is PNC.

I do not deserve to be put on any pedestal. And the truth is, I really don’t want to be on one.

My hope and prayer is that I will play a role in helping others to discover how integral THEY are in Parkdale. Some of my favourite times are when I’m standing in the corner of the drop-in, watching things unfold in the kitchen, listening to various conversations, and seeing people bustle around getting the room set-up. I smile to myself and think, “what an amazing team”.

Yes, there are tasks that are for me to do. And yes, there is responsibility on my shoulders. I will endeavour to do what is required of me, using strength that is not my own but of God. A whole host of people constantly remind me that even if I could be Wonder Woman, I don’t need to be. Instead, I am accepted as I am. What a relief.

I’ll be a servant leader instead, albeit a clumsy one.







My daughter was once given a lovely little picture book called “Ish”, by Peter H. Reynolds. It is the story of Ramon, a young boy who likes to draw, “Anytime. Anything. Anywhere”. One day though Ramon’s older brother Leon snickers at one of his works of art, saying it doesn’t look like anything. This is so hurtful, that Ramon discards his work and decides to never draw again. He can’t make anything look “right”. That is, until he discovers his little sister Marisol has created a gallery of his crumpled up art on the walls of her room. Tenderly she declares which one is her favourite. “That was supposed to be a vase of flowers,’ Ramon said, ‘but it doesn’t look like one.”

“Well, it looks vase-ISH!’ she exclaimed”.

Marisol’s simple statement changes Ramon: “[he] felt light and energized. Thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely. He began to draw what he felt- loose lines. Quickly springing out . Without worry.”

Since re-reading this book the other night, I haven’t been able to stop considering how important thinking “ish-ly” has become in my life. Many have heard me lament that I don’t ever know how to succinctly answer the question, “how are you?”. The temptation so often is to say “okay”. However “okay” doesn’t really cut it. Okay presumes too much. The truth is, I’m okay-ish. I’m basking in the wonderment that PNC is not just surviving, but growing; I’m grieving death; I’m enjoying my family; I’m mostly trusting that there will be enough money to pay the bills- sometimes not so much; I’m tired AND I’m invigorated. I am no one thing.

I am also learning to embrace doing things ish-ly at PNC. We are no longer housed in a piece of the neighbourhood, we are more fully inhabiting it. The challenges of this (and there are many) do not outweigh the benefits. Our community is expanding as we keep thinking outside of the box.

At the end of the book, Ramon is sprawled out on a rock, his feet dipped in a lake, the sun shining on his face. “One spring morning, Ramon had a wonderful feeling. It was a feeling that even ish words and ish drawings could not capture. He decided NOT to capture it. Instead, he simply savoured it…”

May I learn to do that too.

In Honour of My Dad

It is almost October 12th. The 12th is important to me because it was the day my dad was born. We don’t get to celebrate in the same kind of way anymore because my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly on March 3rd, 2008. The grief has changed since that time, though it admittedly never goes away. A wise counsellor once said to me, “you don’t get over it, you make your way through it”. The truth of that rings in my ears every time I am hit by a wave of grief, often when I least expect it. Sometimes it is a smell or a look that seems familiar in my Cate’s face or seeing the kind of car he drove go by. I can’t even watch golf on TV without thinking of him.

I’ve mentioned my Dad in my writing here. I often wonder what he would have thought of this venture of mine. I suspect he would have quietly read everything, maybe only occasionally alluding to the fact that he had. I imagine that I would somehow, deep inside, know he was proud of me. Or that’s my hope.

In honour of him, here is the eulogy I spoke the first week he was gone.

To me and Logan, Barry was simply Dad. I want to honour him today by remembering the way our lives were entwined with his. Without him we would not be here today. I have so many memories, and am aware that this is a feeble attempt to capture but a few.

Dad was a man with many sides. He carried himself with confidence and yet could be very shy. He loved fine food and was an absolute gourmet, but at the same time could crave grilled cheese (made with white bread and cheese slices), a tall glass of chocolate milk and red jello. He was as happy wandering the streets of Italy as he was sitting on a rustic dock in Northern Ontario. Dad in many ways was a dichotomy.

Dad loved to read. He got through about eight books in less than a week at a cottage we vacationed at as a family a few summers ago. He looked happy as he went from hammock to lawn chair to dock, always with a book in his hand. I think it also made him happy that we were all buzzing around him as he did this. He liked being with his family.

When Dad inherited his childhood home on Parker Avenue, he decided to transform it into the house he had always wanted. He, along with Susan, made what I like to call, a “party house”. The house is made for entertaining, something Dad loved to do. He was always in his element when cooking in the beautiful kitchen. He could position himself right in the centre of all the action, while preparing interesting, delicious food. I think he took a great deal of pride in his self-taught culinary prowess.

Christmas Eve was always the piece de resistance for Dad. He took great pains to plan the perfect menu (always printed just so and posted on the wall) and find the perfect gift for everyone in attendance (even if he didn’t know them well). He wrapped everything meticulously. He used a ruler.

It is this attention to detail that made Dad the kind of person who was always sure to take a bottle of wine to both his butcher and his mechanic (among others) every Christmas. Dad’s wife Susan has mentioned this frequently over the last few days, that he was the only person she knew who did this. He noticed people, was respectful of their work, and truly cared about getting to know them. Dad had a very generous spirit.

Dad also loved his new children by marriage: my husband Dion and Logan’s wife Amanda. I will always remember how he enfolded them more and more, year by year. When my daughter Cate was born, Dad became “GB” (short for Grandpa Barry). He loved being GB- more than I ever thought possible. He even began signing GB on birthday cards to me…a mistake he never noticed until I pointed it out. It was like he had a whole new role in life. I will cherish the memories of him playing with Cate on his lap, making her “special food” (the hamburgers and French fries and bacon and French toast that he knew she desired), rubbing her back when she was sad and even playing the occasional game of Buckaroo. I am truly sorry that Dad will never get to meet the child that Logan and Amanda are about to have.

Dad had a great laugh. If he found something funny, his laugh would be contagious. And he could be funny too. He could tell a mean joke when he wanted to. We have laughed this week about how he referred to his hair as “executive blonde”. Only Dad would get away with saying “I’m not going gray, I’m going blonde”.

Dad, thank you for remaining faithful to us even though we didn’t get to grow up in the same house, for supporting Mom (Elaine) the best way you knew how, for listening to me whenever I got my heart broken, for allowing Logan to work for you and learn the business, for growing to respect the work that Dion and I do close to the streets, for always teasing Amanda, for being at all of Cate’s birthday parties, and for loving Susan.

I am so glad that Cate had a last sleepover with both her GB and GG just two Saturdays ago, and that we had our monthly family night- a fun time watching the Oscar’s. I think it is fitting that Dad won the Oscar pool and gained bragging rights. He would never have let us forget that, and now fittingly, we truly never will.

You were loved Dad.

Chapter Next

Years ago I had a serious run-in with a woman at PNC. The incident left a lasting mark. In bold is what I wrote the night of the incident.

Tonight I am tired. Maybe a more accurate description is this: I am feeling emotionally spent.

It’s true, I really was. I felt raw and wrung out; anxious and self-conscious.

After leading a service at PNC, I was verbally attacked by a community member. Something I did or said (although I do not know what) triggered outrage in her.

This person deals with significant mental illness. Knowing this, I still felt unprepared for what came out of her mouth.

I remained calm throughout our encounter, was mostly convinced that she had me confused with someone else and eventually left because it truly was the best thing for me to do. I got in to the car and took a deep breath while relishing in the quiet. Then I began to weep.

I wept for many reasons. While I believed she must have thought I was someone else, I was wrong. And this hurt. After sifting through the obscenities that she threw at me, I was left with some comments that questioned my character and motivation for doing music at a little inner-city church. I think it is highly unlikely that this person will even remember this incident, but I am left with an imprint of it on my heart. Mostly because it revealed to me, yet again, how broken we are as people.

I didn’t see this person for over a year after that night. The first time she walked through PNC’s doors I felt my stomach flip in anticipation of what the impending encounter might involve. Throughout the year I often comforted myself with the thought she would likely not remember the incident. I was wrong. She remembered. I know so because while we as a group were sharing peace with one another (through a handshake or a hug) she whispered, “I’m sorry”.

Tonight caused me to pause and think about the ugly parts of me that I keep deeply hidden- the parts that for the moment seemed revealed by a person I hardly know. While I don’t believe much of what she said, I do know that she is right: I AM a broken, sinful person.

I am still broken. I do things wrong. My friend is broken too. Her life has been hard in a different way than mine. Much of what she uttered to me that night were words all too often spoken to her: “You can’t be loved. You are unloveable. No one loves you”. Through our shared experience we are coming to terms with these untruths. No one is worthless. We are a people covered by grace.

Today I got a call from this woman. She heard about my new role at PNC and wanted to encourage me. How far we’ve come! She spoke beautifully, quietly and intently. I sat in humble awe.

I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude. The journey this woman and I have been on has truly ebbed and flowed. I could have easily believed our story was coming to a crashing halt that summer night long ago. The storm it created internally AND externally was intense. And for whatever reason God did not calm it. What I recognize now though is that God carefully guarded me (and her), providing respite from the storm while deliberately doing a new work in our hearts.

The story is still not over. Of this I am sure- there will be more chapters. I look forward to what might come next.