A New Mattress for Mom

Almost 9 years ago my mom had brain surgery on a benign tumour that was in a very bad place. Things have not been the same since.

The removal of the tumour caused exactly what the tumour, if left alone, had threatened to do: it took away my Mom’s ability to move freely and to swallow. My Mom struggles with neurological pain, infection and all that goes along with having very complex physical needs. She has a tracheostomy and is tube-fed. She lives in a hospital. She also has a pretty cool wheelchair.

What the surgery did not change is my Mom’s remarkable ability to be patient and full of the knowledge of grace in her life. For those of you who know her, it will come as no surprise to hear me describe Elaine Grant as one incredible woman. For those of you who don’t, I invite you to discover that for yourselves. My Mom is a woman of deep faith, a great listener, an amazing artist and an even better friend.

There are challenges that come with living in a hospital setting. The latest one for my Mom is that she needs a new mattress for her bed and the cost is not covered. Because she spends most of her day in bed, this is not just any mattress. It is a therapeutic air mattress with a pump in it that will help ensure my mom is as comfortable as possible. This mattress will cost $5,500.

That’s a lot of money. My Mom is on a fixed income, the majority of which goes to the hospital already.

This is where we all come in. Years ago we had a fundraiser to buy my Mom her wheelchair (it did cost more than many cars do!) and were amazed at the outpouring of support. It’s time to have another fundraiser because while $5,500 is a lot of money, it doesn’t have to be when shared around. That’s one of the beautiful things about community.

This will be a free-will offering. We can’t offer you a tax receipt. If you are able to help, we invite you to participate by sending a contribution to Elaine Grant, c/o Erinn Oxford 107 Queensdale Avenue, Toronto ON, M4J 1Y2.

With deep thanks from my Mom and our whole family.


Years ago a friend of mine, torn and tattered, stood in the middle of a church service at Sanctuary (the place I worked at pre-Cate and still in many ways consider a home), threw back his head and cried out to God,

“Oh, F$%@”.

It was one of the most profound moments of prayer I have ever been a part of.

Now I know, some of you will be thinking or even saying out loud, “did Erinn just call that ugly four letter word a prayer?” Yes, I did, because when that little word is not over-used, and depending on the context, it actually carries significant weight. In this situation it was the only word that my friend could think of that summed up the overwhelming agony of a life marked with abuse at the hands of others and his own. It was a guttural cry for help and completely heart wrenching to hear.

There were a lot of people at that service, including those who might consider themselves fairly conservative in their approach to living and use of language. What I recall though is that no one batted an eye. People’s heads were bowed and bodies swayed in recognition as the prayer was uttered. It made sense. When most words would have failed in that moment, this one didn’t.

As we approach Easter, we first must experience the darkness of what the Christian world calls “Holy Week”. On Maundy Thursday people will gather to remember the last Passover feast that Jesus shared with his friends before Good Friday, the day he was killed. Then there is the quiet, solemn lull of the weekend when Jesus lay in the tomb, very much dead. I can imagine that it would have been a time, especially not knowing the rest of the story, that people may have been at a loss for words. They had to wait.

Our waiting is different from those who lived that first week. We are anticipating Easter, except we still live in a world that isn’t as it should be.

I, like my friend, want to cry out.


On March 20th, 2012 I started this blog. That was one year ago today. I can’t believe it.

At this time last year I had just made the decision to assume a new role at PNC. I was feeling hopeful, determined, inadequate and downright terrified. I knew I needed to create a means to connect well with people who were eager to support the work. I admit I liked the idea of putting my stuff out there in such a way that people could choose to read or not. I thought it possible some people would drop by; I never imagined that it would take on the life that it has. This blog has enabled me to interact with people from all over the world. I have made new friends and reconnected with old ones. The wild world of social media has often helped me to feel less alone during the downright challenging times. I am humbled and grateful.

So here I am on March 20th, 2013. My friends, you have been through much with me. Thank you for reading. Thank you for encouraging, celebrating, challenging and weeping with me. Thank you for graciously receiving my confessions and rants. Thank you for choosing to support PNC either from a distance or up-close.

As I sit and write I have been listening to a song called “Beautiful Things”. I’ll close with the lyrics. Sometimes the words of another better describe this journey I’m on. As much as I like words, sometimes they fail me.

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new


Get Your Calm On

Thank you to everyone who gave me a reassuring hug after that last post. I got through the week and was reminded on more than a few occasions that living in the moment is truly helpful. I could have easily spiralled into imagining the worst about the future, because believe me, I’m a whiz at that. Instead I firmly planted myself in the present: I walked the streets, worked a bit from home, went to a few meetings, hosted multiple sleepovers for 10-year-old and under girls (it was March Break after all) and drank a fair amount of coffee.

Now I’m into a new week.

Today was PNC Drop-In day. For the last several weeks our Monday drop-in has been particularly calm, dare I say, peaceful- this, despite our growing numbers. I often wonder if everyone else in the room is feeling the same thing I am. Today I heard from more than a handful of people that they can  sense the calm too.

One man sat with me and began to weep as he talked about the community, until he noticed his boys coming in and told me “I don’t want them to see me cry right now”.

Another said, “everyone talks about this place- they all say they come here to get their calm on”.

Grumpy, as he’s known on the street, sat down and announced that “everyone here has gifts to give. Some of them just don’t know it. The peace of the Lord is in this place”. Grumpy gave me permission to say this. He also wants you to all know that he lives up to his name.

Yet another said, “I always leave here feeling better than when I arrived”.

So interesting that in a place where no one can help but wear their brokenness close to the surface what emerges is a deep sense of belonging. Culturally we want to fit it because of our strengths, not our weaknesses; we often hide behind masks. PNC extends an invitation to come as you are, to expose all those things that you struggle with and to discover that you are accepted precisely because you ARE human, a human in desperate need of love and grace.

I am that kind of human. I struggle with so many things including, as I confessed above, a strong inclination to worry. I need the PNC community just as much as the next person. I need the kind of peace that Grumpy was talking about: the peace of the Lord.

I have no idea what the future holds. I do know that right now, in this moment today, I am given what I need by God to be calm. And much of that comes via what my co-worker aptly described as our “amazing family here”.







I have been reading a book about writing by Ann Lamott where she encourages authentically writing about your experience, whatever it may be. I don’t know if she would consider it wise to write (for the public) when one is feeling low. I should ask her. Or maybe I should really go hide in a corner. Instead, here I am.

Someone told me this week they wonder if I should consider “throwing in the towel” at PNC. They didn’t mean I should step aside for someone else to do the job. They meant close the doors. If it is possible for tears to well up in your stomach, then that is what happened to me. They started to slosh around, rise up and finally escape out my eyes. There were few words at first.

Then the words started to pour out of me, so fast they overtook the tears. I talked about how unique it is to have a community whose core is made up of people who are not traditional leaders. I talked about being a church without our own walls and how we do so much with the little that we have. We don’t spend money that isn’t there. We rely on partners, and they in turn on us. We love being together. I wanted to scream, “listen to our story!”.

PNC is a motley crew of people: we have different skin colours, cultural backgrounds and life experiences. We are a beautiful tapestry, woven together not by our differences, but the ways we are alike- our common humanity. I cannot imagine disbanding our group. Not for a single moment.

I can understand, on some level, why someone would suggest that stopping might make sense. We don’t have a building; our funding isn’t secure; my “office” is the street. Those, and I truly mean this, are just the surface things. Would it be nice to have those things? Absolutely. Can we rely on them? Absolutely not.

And so I am feeling weary and raw and quite defensive of my community. A community that doesn’t have a “church”, we are just trying to be one. I am not going to throw in the towel.

I have been thinking a lot about the disparity of wealth in this world. It’s really messed up. I can barely stomach listening to what one sports figure will get paid in their 3 year contract, or what another mogul is estimated to be “worth”. I hear people complain about the temperature of their bottled water while some drink out of filthy streams. I turn the gaze at myself and know that I have more than the majority of the world: I live in a comfortable house, have a closet of clothes and a refrigerator full of food. I am writing this as I sit on a plane having been able to visit Florida in March. I just got served a free drink.

In the big scheme of things, I would rank on the negative scale in Forbe’s magazine. I fundraise the money for my own salary- a salary that some people in the urban ministry field balk at. I have learned A LOT this past year about running an organization on next to nothing. Having said this I do not live under the poverty line. I know that I cannot shrug the truth that I am part of the problem.

The notion of “Jubilee” deeply resonates with me. Jubilee has roots in many religions, including Judaism and Christianity. In Biblical times every fiftieth year was considered the year of jubilee: debt was cancelled, slaves and prisoners were freed and property was returned to its original owners. We don’t live in a world where this happens on a grand scale anymore (though give http://rollingjubilee.org/ a read!). I wonder though what could happen if we began offering such pardon to people in our direct communities? Maybe even better, what might happen if we became brave enough to let our communities in on how we need help, and in return our communities became brave enough to respond, before spiralling into debt?

I am constantly challenged by my friends who have very little. When PNC was first facing our deep financial crisis a community member presented me with a garbage bag. Inside I discovered a pile of change. This person, this friend who lives rough outside, gave me all of his pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, because PNC needed it more than him. Yes, I wept. It was a little taste of Jubilee.

I want to taste it more.


Glimpses of Good

I have been feeling really, really tired over the last week: emotionally, spiritually and physically. Many people around me are feeling the same. I know too many people who are at the proverbial end of their ropes. Some have run out of tears, even though the reason to cry continues to exist. Life is sometimes just…hard.

It’s at times like this that I notice the need to be grateful for even the smallest of things. I haven’t always defaulted to this. I still don’t always, though I am making a concerted effort to keep my eyes open for even the almost imperceptible moments of good.

Take today: neither my co-worker Joanna or I could manage a drop-in that was anything but calm. Except that we run a DROP-IN. One of the things I most love about our drop-ins is that people are welcome to come as they are. The reality is this invitation can mean people come angry or drunk or even frantic. Most times this is fine; sometimes it means things go sideways. Those kind of days are challenging. With little in our reserves, we sat to pray there would be peace.

Remarkably, there was. A beautiful calm descended on our dear community.

Today I am grateful

for a serene drop-in,

for a few minutes to pray with Joanna,

for sausages, mashed sweet and white potatoes and salad,

for the sound of people making music,

for an amazing crew of people who washed every single dirty dish,

for being able to explain to someone how much I miss my Dad who is no longer alive,

for a few more minutes to pray with a friend who had run out of words to pray himself,

for the person who said, “Erinn I don’t know why, but I have to tell you something” and proceeded to speak the exact words I needed to hear,

and even for the bad jokes I was told (that I don’t dare repeat here).

On their own, these things might feel small. Written out together they all of a sudden feel pretty big.

For that I’m grateful too.