Christmas this year was…

: Cate creating the coolest, thoughtful and oh-so-unique homemade gifts, all on her own.

: Handing out gifts and turkey sandwiches with The Dale’s outreach team on Christmas Eve day. One man was so perplexed he kept declining, until he finally understood we meant the gifts were truly FOR him.

: Realizing that I miss my Dad a lot this time of year. I wanted him alive again.

: Cooking a turkey ahead of time for the Sunday service before Christmas. Then the ice storm happened. Miraculously I managed to clear the car of ice and actually make it safely to Parkdale, turkey in hand.

: Having friends stay with us because their power was out until December 24th. I don’t know how or why, but we were in a pocket that didn’t lose power, except for little blips here and there.

: Thinking of those who experienced Christmas without power.

: Thinking of those who don’t have power to lose and sleep outside.

: Enjoying an Open Stage and Christmas party for The Dale. One person sang a song about losing their partner to an overdose one Christmas. Another had the courage to recite what he remembered of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The evening was marked with melancholy and joy, tears and dancing.

: Hosting a shockingly serene Drop-In on the 23rd. The dishes even got done early.

: Thinking of friends who would prefer to blink and have it be January 1st. Trying to trust that the truth of Christmas might shine through the sentimentality and consumerism that has become the season.

: Being woken on Christmas morning by Dion and Cate with the banging of pots and pans. This has become a tradition. I am always the last one up.

: Being with Dion, Cate, my Mom, brother, sister-in-law and nephews on Christmas Day. My Mom isn’t able to be over very much (she lives in hospital close by) and almost didn’t have transportation here, but everything worked out to have us all together.

: Staying in my pajamas all day on Boxing Day. The 26th is one of the few days of the year I do nothing. My biggest decision is what I should eat or drink next. Sigh.

: Praying for my friends who are estranged from family and/or friends and who may be numbing the pain with unhealthy things, or isolating themselves further, or falling into deeper depression.

: Believing that God is with us. Holding onto the hope that one day peace and joy will truly reign.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Our Monday Drop-In is always a riot of activity with people chopping food, making coffee, setting tables, finding the stray olive oil, making more coffee, sanitizing the sink, getting trays into the oven, handing out tokens, cleaning up spills, dealing with crisis inside the kitchen and out, doing A LOT of dishes, etc., etc. This past Monday we decided to make things even more of a riot by planning a special, festive meal that required the use of an additional kitchen off-site. At this time of year there is a lot of turkey on the go in the neighbourhood. As a result, we have traditionally held off our turkey dinner until the dark days of February. Still wanting to feast, we were so pleased when Second Harvest gave us a number of beautiful hams. The problem? Our ovens are rather small. Fortunately our friends at the West End Food Co-op agreed to make their big convection oven available to us.

So, first thing on Monday morning the hams were loaded into my car (The Dale’s current storage space!) and driven just down the street. Things at the Drop-In seemed to progress smoothly: squash, apple and peppers got roasted, salad prepared and potatoes boiled and mashed. The hams? Well, they mysteriously just didn’t seem to be cooking. I kept checking in with the keepers of the hams, Joanna and Ian only to become increasingly worried that our lunch would not be starting at 1 pm as it should.

12:45 pm came and the hams were not to temperature, despite being in the oven for longer than required. Panic started to rise. We decided that at 1 pm I would announce that things were running behind and invite people to sing some carols. After singing every verse of Joy to the World, Silent Night and O Come all Ye Faithful the hams were still not in the building. We made our usual announcements, Souad introduced our kitchen team one by one (greeted with much applause) and finally we decided to serve the salad as an appetizer (a first for us).

Finally the hams arrived, though there was concern we might need to cook them further. More panic. Here’s the amazing thing: we began carving the meat in order to fit it all back in the oven to discover it was in fact done. We cleared the salad plates and replaced them with platters of steamy food and it was…delicious! Sandy, a friend and volunteer passed around the 500 (!) beautiful homemade cookies she brought. There was a lovely air of celebration and gratitude.

Someone joked we had experienced a Christmas ham miracle. Something tells me they weren’t far from the mark.

How Big is Your Brave?

I’ve been listening to a song lately that includes this lyric: “Show me how big your brave is”. Every time I hear it I wonder how big my brave is and am struck by the bravery and risk-taking I get to witness every day amongst The Dale community. I suppose as I stare down the end of a year and the dawn of a new one this phrase is particularly poignant because I am looking both backward and forward.

At this time last year I couldn’t have imagined how all the things that needed to happen in Parkdale were going to happen: finding enough funding, making sure the buildings that had housed us in our time of crisis were okay with us staying, keeping up with administration while being fully present to people, discovering the right name for us and actually announcing that PNC was to become The Dale. I will confess there were moments when I wondered what the heck I was doing, when I hid in our little storage space off the drop-in and cried, when my incessant praying became exhausting. Fast forward a year and I’m wondering again how everything will happen and am having the same moments of fear and doubt. I’m trying to remind myself that I know this feeling and that it will be okay; that I am invited again and again to choose bravery over timidity.

Whenever I doubt, I just have to stop and look around. I know people who slept outside last night and braved the cold in a way I cannot even imagine. I have friends who are reaching out to family members they have been estranged from even though the risk is they will be rejected again. I experience people coming to church on Sundays and actually confessing their wrongs or doubts or fears IN FRONT of everybody: no masks, no claiming to be something they are not. Just yesterday a friend had an epiphany that it was time to get well, sought help, found a bed in a recovery facility and actually went. Is it just the first step in a long journey? Yes, but I think we can all relate to the first step in anything usually being the hardest.

The Dale resides in a place very close to the edge. We remain in existence, in part, because as a community we have been willing to think outside the box. We have few belongings, are nomads in the neighbourhood and depend on others to support us. God is doing a good work here. The community itself sets the tables, cooks the food, makes the coffee, plays the music, creates the art, participates in discussion, etc. Our Kitchen Coordinator Souad is a volunteer, while Joanna (Community Worker) and I raise the funds for our salaries. Some might think us crazy.

I prefer to think of us as brave (though I personally don’t feel like it much of the time) and the recipients of much grace and blessing beyond ourselves.

Each day I find myself experiencing series of moments that serve to remind me of that which is most important. Today was no different.

One man spoke intently to me about the sorrow that follows him around, a sorrow rooted in not sharing in enough relationships where he can be entirely himself; where he isn’t expected to foot the bill (even though he has very little); where he can give and receive. He kept saying, “all I want is to have friendships that are founded on simple things, like where we can just talk, seek to understand one another, wish one another peace and it is…enough. One of the only places I have these kind of friendships is here”.

Another long time friend finally let me and one of my outreach partners into his “pad”- the rather large, one bedroom apartment that he recently got into. It is VERY sparsely furnished, a little worn and dirty, and HIS. This friend is struggling with multiple health issues which range from cancer to substance addiction. He has little, but now is warm at night. When asked what else he needs, his reply was, “a plant, one that can help filter the air and warm up the place”.

I sat beside a man at the drop-in who carries a bottle of sherry in his sleeve at all times. Some days he consumes 9 of them. He told me that all he wants for Christmas is to drink egg nog instead of booze.

Every Monday is the same: I get a hug from a friend who wants nothing else except a hug back; I am handed a coffee, made just the way I like it, from one of my crotchety-est friends because that’s his self-declared role; a friend plays the real piano in the drop-in for 20 minutes and can’t shake his smile.

As I consider that we are already in December and staring down Christmas, I am struck by how I long to relish in these moments, these gifts. On the surface they might seem so simple, but are actually deeply revealing. We fundamentally need to be in relationships and have safe places to be ourselves. To find this is a greater gift than anything that comes in a box. Though I suspect that some of the most precious Christmas gifts I give this year are going to be a single potted plant and a carton of egg nog, sans the spirits.

I plan to put big bows on each.