Hope Remains Real

The sentimental, sugary, Santa kind of Christmas has me struggling right now. It’s not that I refuse to participate in our commercialized version of the season. In fact, I am very sentimental, love cookies and enjoy getting and giving gifts. No, it’s that I have daily reminders of how difficult Christmas is when family is scarce, memories are painful and presents are an unattainable luxury.

If I’m honest it’s not just the Christmas filled with stuff that has me stirred up. I’m longing for the Christ-child who was born into this world so long ago to fulfill the hope He established and finally make things right. I want poverty, addiction, injustice, disease and war to end. I want weapons to be turned into plowshares. I want estranged friends and families to be reconciled. I want the Kingdom to be fully realized.

There have been times these past few weeks where I have felt deep sadness. Joanna and I have been involved in end-of-life arrangements for someone who found themselves alone in death. We are making plans for a friend who will be entering the palliative phase of illness. We have stood in a tiny apartment, soon to be home, that is completely run-down, smaller than some people’s garages, and ill-equipped for the one moving in.

Just as I’m tempted by despair though a little light flickers that reminds me Christmas will come and hope remains real. A dignified end is now possible for our friend because of the efforts of many. A group of supportive people is going to meet soon to create a plan for our buddy who is sick. With a little elbow grease, that tiny apartment can be more home-like and is SO much better than the street. Last Monday we had a beautiful lunch with Christmas music, dancing, and lots of cookies. It has been chaotic, painful and good.

“We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”- Nouwen



A Different Kind of Success: Stories of The Dale

The last few weeks have produced experiences that serve as encouraging reminders of why I stay the course at The Dale, both for others and myself. As we approach the end of another year I find them particularly poignant, in part because they stand in stark contrast to what many would consider “success”. For me, they reveal the complex nature of building community: a process that is marked by small, yet deeply meaningful steps toward healing and the restoration of hope.

A long-time friend came to the entrance of one of the buildings we use for a drop-in intoxicated in a way I’d never seen her. Previously abandoned by loved ones, the thought of Christmas had became too much. My effort to physically hold her up failed and we both landed on the floor, which is where we stayed for a while. In the doorway we sat cross-legged, holding hands and sharing the sorrow. Eventually another friend assisted her home. I was scared that once sober she might feel the accompanying shame and not return for awhile. We’ve talked since and what she remembers is being loved, by me, Joanna and the many who cast her understanding looks.

Every week we take an offering at our Sunday service. We believe that everyone is invited to give back a portion of whatever they have been given. This looks different for each of us, and for many is not financial. As a group we decided to change out our wooden offering plate for something else. That something else is now a woollen hat. Some simply touch it as a symbolic gesture of their gift while others give money. One Sunday someone gave a 2 for 1 coupon to coffee shop, an item that could easily have been been beneficial to hold on to and use. We ALL have something to offer.

“You do not need to do this alone” is a constant refrain from so many people in the community. I hear it when I’m stupidly trying to grab a box from a too-high shelf in the storage room, or failing to yield the many requests in the drop-in from a large number of people, or fretting about finances, or attempting to do too much in a single day. Meals are made, dishes are cleaned, people are listened to and fundraising is done by this beautifully diverse group of people. I realize that as often as I say, “you are not alone”, I still need to hear it for myself.

This is just a fraction of the stories I can tell. Today I was given a toonie to buy Cate a chocolate bar and a $5 bill to help her celebrate her birthday on Sunday from a friend who is very familiar with homelessness. Friends consistently bid Joanna and I farewell for the day with “God bless. Love yous”. People are praying for one another. We have a lot of disagreements, even fights, that are increasingly ending with forgiveness and restored relationship.

The Dale is a messy place. Some days are harder than others. The brokenness that we share is sometimes uncomfortably palpable. It is also a home to a lot of people. I want The Dale to be where a friend can come and collapse on the floor with us, where we share the load, give what we can, receive where we need to and learn how to love. My prayer is that we will truly journey together toward deeper wholeness in Christ.

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