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.
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.
Advent is upon us. Christmas is near.
This is a complicated month for many. I struggle with discerning how to move through this season with The Dale, a community that acknowledges how hard Christmas can be when one has lost or is estranged from family, when money is scarce and the weather is cold. Most of us feel deep resentment at the commercialization of it all.
Some would prefer to close their eyes and have them open on January 1st. For many this is not “the most wonderful time of the year”.
It is because of these sentiments that I long to strip away the trappings of Christmas and look at the overall story. When we lit our first advent candle last Sunday, we were invited to think of the hope that its light represents. Advent provides us with an opportunity to remember that Jesus was, is and is to come. We are asked participate in this hope, to wait with longing for the story to be made complete.
On Wednesday night, as we do every week, a group of us wandered around Parkdale. One of our community members commented that he is becoming a healthier human since becoming involved with The Dale. I asked him what he meant. He described how isolated he used to be, that he never had contact with anyone other than his pets. Now he has friends. Bit by bit he is drinking and smoking dramatically less, losing pounds and finding God. He proudly announced, “I’m not even dreading Christmas”.
I couldn’t stop smiling. My friend has discovered, kind of like the Grinch, that Christmas doesn’t evaporate when you take away the gifts, the tree, the ornaments or even the ‘roast beast’. As lovely as those things are (and we will even bring some of those things to The Dale), this season is about remembering the arrival of Jesus, anticipating the time when He will rule with truth, justice and righteousness, and confessing our own responsibility to be people who love God and love our neighbour. As is true with my friend, we are learning to hope one little step at a time.