Learning To Say No

Do you ever feel too busy?

I do. The hard part is when all of the busy-ness is caused by a bunch of really good things. Over the last few weeks I have stayed afloat thinking that I just need to get through these extra events and then things will be, to quote a child-friend of mine, “easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy”. While I love the sentiment, I’ve used it in the wrong context. The aforementioned events are done, just to be replaced by new things. The beat goes on.

So how shall I ensure that I not just get caught up in the whirlwind of to-do lists? Where might I find the balance? I fumble around trying to figure out the answers. Apparently, there are no easy ones.

I am learning that part of balance is learning to say “no”. Saying no is something I have struggled with, probably since birth. In a very deep part of me I have equated saying the simple two-letter word with being a disappointment…if I say no then I’m letting that person down, or it proves I’m incapable or, get this, I’m un-lovable. This train of thought is twisted.

How freeing it is to discover that I am not the sum of what I do. In fact, by setting healthy boundaries around all the areas of my life (not just work), I can actually free myself to just be. By finding time to rest I am better equipped to honestly assess what I should say yes to.

At the end of the day, I am accountable to the one who created me. God has called me into a life of relationship with Him and others. I don’t want these relationships to fade because I’ve gotten too busy with cleaning the floor or fundraising or fooling around on Facebook (not that there isn’t a place for these things too). I long to develop a life marked with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things. To these things I must say an emphatic –


I didn’t give up anything for Lent.

There, I said it.

It’s not because I don’t think this is one of the most important times of the liturgical church year. Nor is it that I don’t believe there are things in my life that deserve to be abandoned. Important too is that I fully support any one who has chosen to give something up. One year I gave up television (except for the Oscar’s. For that we made an exception. Ahem.). I’ve given up chocolate, all forms of refined sugar, baked goods, chocolate and more chocolate. Are you seeing the trend? The hope is always that whenever I really wanted that thing I’d given up I would use the opportunity to turn toward God. That did occasionally happen. More than often it did not.

I long to learn more about sacrificial love. I deeply yearn for connection with God. Honestly, I do find that it is in the dark, challenging times that I am most keenly aware of Him. I am most definitely on a Lenten journey. I walk alongside loved ones who are sick and friends who are oppressed and marginalized. I touch death often. I weep over broken relationships. I sin. I struggle to find the resources needed to keep a precious community going. It is in these moments, these “giving ups” that I can do nothing but turn my gaze in the direction of God. I am forced to my knees. I wish that giving up chocolate would produce the same effect.

This Lent I am aware of how messed up everything is, including me. God’s promise that,” my yoke is easy and my burden is light” does not always feel true. It just doesn’t. As I look toward Easter I marvel at how my journey, however challenging and heavy it might be, is not the same as the one Jesus was on. It doesn’t need to be precisely because Jesus chose to do it instead.

I stand humbled.


“Jack” is a man I’ve known for years. He is a bit of a fixture in Parkdale: one of those people who you will inevitably find in the bus shelter by the library or on a bench in the park or wandering down Queen St. To some people he looks tough. That’s fair, though I know another side of him.

Whenever I see Jack he says, “how’s it going Girl?” and gives me a hug. He tells me when I look tired. He always asks how I am. When we say goodbye he tells me to “be safe”.

This past Monday Jack sat himself down beside me at a table and began to talk about knowing something in his life needs to change. Jack has been drinking alcohol since he was 9 or 10. He’s now 48. He drinks five to six bottles of cheap sherry a day. I don’t know if you care to, but just imagine what would make a 10 year-old start to drink. I have a ten year-old. There are a lot of things she wants to do. Drinking is not one of them.

Jack has also been talking a lot about what the PNC community means to him. He talks about knowing he will be treated with respect. While he jokes about coming just for the food he more seriously says, “here I feel safe”. Possibly even safe enough to quit drinking, something he fears more than anything. Jack needs to know that he can come to PNC, no matter what state he is in. He is welcome to come as he is. Though he is asked to leave the bottle at the door.

The invitation to come as you are means that PNC is one messy place. It is sometimes loud and sometimes wrought with angst. Sometimes people are disrespectful. Sometimes those activities that we would prefer to be subdued and peaceful are, well, not. It doesn’t make it easy. Nor does it mean that we won’t challenge bad behaviour in one another. It does mean that nobody needs to pretend, that there is a refreshing rawness to everything and that there is very little “us vs.them”. It is us.

Jack has my back and I have his. We’re on a journey together, one that I am confident will bring us both closer to healing, wholeness and hope.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  

PNC is still wandering. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think about it when I need to print something on a day that I don’t have access to one of our partners who actually HAS a printer. I think about it when I’m doing street outreach and need to find a washroom (just like so many of my friends on the street always do). I think about it when all of the dreams that are brewing for our community are slowed because of a very practical problem: it is winter and we don’t have a building of our own. There are many pros to being a church without walls. In fact, I think they outnumber the cons. Though some days admittedly feel more challenging than others.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see some of PNC’s former belongings being used in a different context. They are just things: tables, some chairs, a storage cabinet, however I feel a strange sensation rise up in me when I see them. I think it is because they serve as a reminder of what we had to give away. We gave away a lot. Our only possessions now are kitchen implements, a fridge and freezer, a keyboard, some percussion instruments, songbooks and our precious stole.

The dictionary definition of a stole is, “an ecclesiastical vestment consisting of a narrow strip of material worn over the shoulders or, by deacons, over the left shoulder only, and arranged to hang down in front to the knee or below”.

PNC’s stole is hand-woven and colourful and it sits on many shoulders. It is used as a talking stick: whoever has it slung around their shoulders deserves our full attention. It also signifies that we have a shared responsibility in this community. We acknowledge there are those who have been bestowed unique leadership while at the same time that PNC is made up of many.

If PNC were to have but one possession I would say the stole should be it. When I see it I am reminded that while we are under housed, we are actually not home-less. The sense of “home” is becoming more palpable wherever and whenever we gather.

Outside or in.