Celebrating The Dale’s Own ‘Force of Nature’

It was almost six years ago that I was introduced to the one who I now affectionately describe as a “force of nature”- Souad Sharabani. At the time we needed someone to help direct the kitchen at our Monday Drop-In and Souad was willing. Since then she has transformed the way we cook, convinced our community to “eat their vegetables” and become a very good friend.

Souad was born in the Middle East, has lived and travelled all over the world and now speaks five languages. When Souad is not at The Dale she is an independent radio-documentary producer who explores politics and social/cultural trends, a blogger and more recently a published cook book author (check out Scents of Memory). Souad adores her family and shares pictures and stories of them whenever she can. Her cooking is largely influenced by her travels, rich in flavour and extremely healthy. In fact, her food is so full of herbs and spices that we have dramatically cut down on everyone’s salt intake in the drop-in because the food just doesn’t need it.

When things got bleak at PNC (now The Dale) Souad remained present. I remember dreaming together about how to make things work beyond our impending homelessness. We found an alternate location for the Monday meal and Souad adjusted to cooking in a much smaller space, one where we learned to use glorified hot plates to prepare food for more people than we ever had to in our former industrial kitchen. The group of community volunteers has become a real team under Souad’s leadership. She quietly and consistently works to show them her appreciation, constantly recognizing that it is collectively their kitchen.

Souad has always been straight up with me, something I appreciate. I know when she is mad, concerned or pleased. She has endlessly listened to me. We have enjoyed homemade bread and tea at her kitchen table, walks with her beloved dogs and many a coffee with LOTS of milk.

When Souad isn’t in the kitchen, we all miss hearing her call us either ‘Angels’ or ‘Munchkins’, her colourful language and the way she dances to Motown blaring on the stereo. When Souad is in a room you can’t help but notice her dynamic presence. Six years in, we are incredibly grateful for that presence. Souad, thank you for everything: your fierce loyalty to The Dale, your friendship, your food and all the love that you show through it. Here’s to many more years.

Working to Rest: Resisting An Attempt to Control

I am working hard to have a day that resembles rest this week. Doesn’t that sound wrong?

For the last few years I have intentionally taken a Sabbath at the end of the week instead of on Sunday, a day that is too much a whirl of activity to be considered restful. On my day off I find myself anxiously thinking about all the things I need to do, especially at The Dale. I worry about fundraising. I think of all the e-mails I should be writing. I craft a newsletter in my head because surely that will alleviate my concern about the budget. I plot meetings and what times they might work.

Oh, the irony and agony.

The crazy thing is that I know I need to rest and nothing is going to immediately change or get fixed if I do it right now. No newsletter is going to be written, laid out, printed and sent out in a single day; we are in a new year and the way our eventual year-end looks will not be decided in an afternoon; the meetings don’t need to be set until next week. Worrying, as I repeatedly tell myself, will not help.

I finally settle into our big arm-chair with a cup of coffee in my hand, close my eyes and pray. I remember a quote from author Marva Dawn, “A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we learn to let God take care of us, not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.”

My own feeble attempt to be in control rapidly unravels. Fortunately as it does, I finally find rest.

From Hopeless to Beloved

Last Wednesday Joanna and I were washing the dirty dishes from The Dale’s breakfast/art drop-in. Someone new to both of us wandered up to the door, peered in and began to talk. I wish I could have captured what he said on a recorder of some kind, it was that beautiful. This is a pale re-telling but here goes…

This is a beautiful place. I want to be a part of the beauty.

I have been homeless, I have been hopeless and now I want to be beloved.

I want to help. I want to do dishes.

I want to live life differently.

I feel ready.

I want to say that God is here. I can feel Him. I can see Him.

I just wanted you to both know this. Thank you. God bless.

Then he was gone.

I turned to Joanna. We both dissolved into tears. Somehow the tears turned into laughter and we just felt overwhelmingly grateful for the unexpected gift. It had been a tough start to the week and so we sat in the moment and then…tenderly finished the dishes.

“Kiss the World Beautiful”

Last night Dion and I joined friends at a concert. We were introduced to the music of Martyn Joseph many years ago and felt pleased to hear him live. The last song of the evening was “Kiss the World Beautiful”.

I have been thinking of the lyrics as I recall a conversation I had with a longtime friend yesterday at the drop-in who talked about how his desire to stop drinking can’t compete with his need to numb the pain. While I know I can’t, all I want to do is make it better.

I sang the song in my head this morning as I somehow managed to be present while someone died. I’m grateful to have been there, mindful of those who couldn’t be and quite honestly feeling as though I didn’t deserve the opportunity and experience. Gregory “Iggy” Spoon was absolutely surrounded by family and friends as he peacefully breathed his last breath.

Psalm 85 promises that one day “love and faithfulness [will] meet together; righteousness and peace [will] kiss each other”. I wait in hopeful expectation for things to be made right. I also acknowledge the beauty that was born yesterday and today: my friend chose detox and Iggy left this world loved and is now whole. Almost inaudibly i sing:

I want to kiss the world beautiful
I want to kiss the world fine
Shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek
That don’t sound much like a crime
I want to kiss the world beautiful
I have no name for this desire
I believe in light, but don’t know what to write
With the darkness drawing near
I want to kiss the world beautiful
Lay down this life I think I would
Give up my shoes and all of my views
Don’t know why just think I should
I want to kiss the world beautiful
Under the weight of all this earth
Sometimes it takes someone else’s life
To make us see what we are worth
I want to kiss the world beautiful
Dream but never fall asleep
Go up to God and say, do you have plans today?
Are you walking down my street?
I want to kiss the world beautiful
And not forget from where we came
There are losers and winners, saints and sinners
I hope we all end up the same
I want to kiss the world beautiful
I want to kiss your lips tonight
Sometimes it’s just more important to love

Lessons Learned

It has been almost three years since I was invited into my current role at The Dale. The time has simultaneously crept and whizzed by. So MUCH has happened and as I sit here I am reminded of the many valuable lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) along the way…

1. You do not need a building to be a church.

2. The use of other people’s buildings that might be otherwise empty is a good use of resources.

3. The Dale needs and thrives because of partnerships.

4. It takes time to convince others that a crazy idea like “spilling into the streets” is a good one.

5. You can do a lot with very little [money].

6. Being present in a neighbourhood matters.

7. Sharing stories is important.

8. People are built for and need community.

9. People who live on the margins are some of my greatest teachers.

10. God provides.

There’s more of course, but a list of ten seems a good place to start.

My desire for The Dale is that it will always place at its core people who know poverty, for it is through them that Jesus invites us to recognize our own. I just finished telling some people this afternoon that The Dale pours more into me than I will probably ever pour into it. It’s absolutely true.

The last three years have been a roller coaster ride, one that has exposed both my fragility and strengths, my brokenness and restored health, my deepest fears and highest hopes. I have seen money arrive when we had none and food feed more people than it conceivably should have. I, along with a whole team of people decided to keep going when by the world’s standards we should have stopped. The Dale tells the story of a community’s resilience through God’s presence and provision. It is a story that I am humbly grateful to be a part of.