Holy God, on this first Monday of November, we thank you for the wonderful fall colours all around us and the beauty of your creation in this season of transition.
We praise you for the wonder of the rhythms of how your creation works. For the reminders of your presence and your unfathomable imagination in the way that you have designed the universe.
We are overwhelmed by your greatness and even more amazed that despite the awesomeness of the cosmos, you still know and love each one of us by name.
Well I guess I’m keeping up with my trend of writing one post every couple of months. It’s kinda pathetic I know, but it is what it is.
On Thanksgiving weekend I found myself at a loss for words. Not in every area of my life, those of you who know me best would know I’m never short of having an opinion on something or other, but just in the area of being able to name what I’m thankful for.
This is that weekend when we find ourselves both reflecting on how fast the summer blew by and also planning for new fall season beginnings (school, church, work, etc). For me, this Labour Day weekend of reflection and preparation seems multiplied by a gazillion. There’s so much that I’m leaving behind and there’s also so much to prepare for.
“Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
This prayer comes from that app I’ve been raving about. (Mission St. Clare) And it punched me right in the gut when I read it the other night. It’s so timely. We’re in an era when mayors of major cities all over North America are not exactly poster children for integrity and civic fairness, to say the least. We witness oppression and injustice play themselves out in city streets on dozens of different stages. We see racism playing a significant role (Trayvon Martin, for one giant example) in urban centers everywhere.
Some people would argue that God has left cities behind to rot and decay. Many Christians have bought into a belief that you have to go to the country in order to experience God because God does not dwell in the city. Some days it’s hard for me to muster up the strength or even the faith to dispute that argument.
But on most days I know that’s a lie. God is in the city and I get to experience Him here. I meet Him in the streets amongst my friends. I encounter Her at my work. I’ve experienced His presence on my bike while riding throughout the city. I get to hear Her voice when I sit in silence in the Don Valley or by Lake Ontario. I become more acquainted with God as I live out my life with my family amongst my wonderful neighbours. I grow closer to God when I listen to or participate in playing life giving music.
God is in fact here in the city. And I don’t need to get in my car and drive to the country in order to find Him.
But I’ll keep continuing to pray for this city and for ‘the’ city in general. Because it needs some big things to happen. There are too many people being left behind by our consumer driven, self-absorbed lifestyles. People continue to die while mayors continue to lie and cheat and steal. We need God to step in and shake things up. We need honest and able leaders (and that’s not a ‘left’ or ‘right’ comment because I’m very aware that both sides are corrupt)
One of the things that drew me so powerfully to the work that I currently do at Gateway is the motto that I inherited;
“The Hand of God in the Heart of the City”. It implied that God is in fact in the city. And it challenged me then and continues to challenge me now that as a Jesus follower, I don’t get to sit around and wait for God to act. But that I am called, I am responsible, to act on His behalf as His child.
Oh Lord, even with this weakened and failing body of mine, give me the strength and courage to continue to try and be your hand in the heart of this great city.
I haven’t been going to church this summer. It’s too hot and humid. My tolerance for humidity has significantly decreased from last year to this due to MS related complications. When it’s humid I can barely put one foot in front of the other. It’s hard enough as it is. So when I told my doctor about how I feel when I go to my wonderful yet old and non-air conditioned church, she told me I’d be wise to not go in the summer.
I’m taking her advice.
But it still feels weird on a Sunday after so many missed weeks to not be going. I feel some guilt. I miss the community. I miss the worship time.
So I’ve decided to try and worship in a different way on Sundays. This morning I got up early as usual, got on my hand bike, rode down into Taylor Creek, sat on a bench near a rustling river, took in the scenery and the gentle breeze, pulled out my iphone, and prayed.
“Pulled out your iphone?” you might ask. “That isn’t usually on the list of tranquil things to do while trying to enjoy and take in the wonder of God’s creation.”
You’re right. But there’s an app! There’s always an app. It’s called ‘Mission St. Clare’. (She’s apparently the patron saint of cyberspace) It has daily morning and evening prayers, readings, and songs. It’s my fave app by far, even better than ‘angry birds’, and I’d highly recommend it for you praying types. And when riding, it’s hard to carry a Bible, prayer book, song book, and journal. But easy to carry a phone. So there’s my rationale and I’m sticking to it.
This morning’s prayers were so comforting. They reminded me yet again that God is God and that I am not. I was reminded that God is with me and always will be. I was comforted by the steadfastness and faithfulness of the God of the universe.
I needed the reminder that God loves me, that She is in control, and that He never changes.
The part about never changing was a crucial reminder to me today. Everything around me is changing. My health is in decline and so I’m doing necessary things to adjust. (I’m learning to drive with hand controls instead of using my legs so we can retrofit our car with those controls. I’m in physio rehab 4 hours per week. We’re renovating the bathroom so as to make it safer for me to shower. I have qualified for wheel trans. I have leg braces. And everything is so crazy expensive in all of these areas it’s bringing great stress on us.) Things at work are changing very quickly and mostly for the better (more on that in a week or so).
Everything around me is changing. It’s hard to even process all that is happening right now.
So today I did in fact go to church. Not the one with 4 walls and great people, but the one at Taylor Creek.
The one where I watched a rabbit hop around me.
The one where I saw squirrels gathering food.
The one where I got to listen to beautiful music made by the many birds all around me.
The one where I got sniffed by the odd unleashed dog (and only one howled and ran away from me very fast after his sniff).
The one where I pulled out my iphone and read some important prayers and scripture passages that reminded me that God is with me every step of the way.
So today was a very good church day indeed.
Benediction (from my app)
‘May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy spirit.”
Usually when summer arrives and winter is officially behind us, it’s a symbol of a time to come up for air, take a deep breath, and enjoy the slower pace of life and work for a couple of months.
But when you’re homeless, there’s no such thing as summer holidays.
There are no cottage plans.
No vacations to exotic destinations.
No long weekends.
In the streets it is business as usual. And at Gateway we are finding that to be true as well. We are very busy. There is much to do.
Here are some updates as to what we’re currently up to in order to do our best to respond to the needs and hopes of our friends on the streets;
1. All of the shelters in Toronto have been full since July of last year. So we have been asked to open 10 more beds, taking our total number of beds per night to 118. As space is an issue for us, we have purchased bunk beds and installed 5 of them on each floor of our dorms. We are now officially a 118-bed shelter and are still full and very busy.
2. 10 extra beds bring a domino effect with it that must be taken into consideration. With those beds comes extra revenue from our funder. But it also brings extra pressure on our building, our food and laundry services, and our staff. So with that extra revenue we will be hiring a 3rd case manager, which will be a dramatic improvement on our capacity to respond to our residents more comprehensively. As we don’t have an office for that case manager, we are renovating a little corner of our building in order to house that new employee. This is very exciting for us but is keeping us on our toes.
3. We also want to improve the condition of our drop-in and its washrooms. Right now they look worn down and institutional due to all of the traffic that we get every single day. So we have submitted a funding proposal in hopes of being able to replace the drop-in floor to make it look and feel warmer and less institutional. We are also hoping to renovate our drop-in washrooms so as to create a more dignified space to take care of the most basic of human needs.
4. Our Gateway Linens program is looking to expand. We have a proposal in for a very large contract that, if we get it, will double our whole program over night. It would take us to a 2nd 8-hour shift, add twice as many staff, and double the number of people we can train in our program.
5. I’m very pleased about the addition of our new volunteer coordinator/ community life director and newest member of our program management team, Jake Aikenhead. Since his arrival, we have organized and played in a softball tournament, are running a dental hygiene clinic, host Friday night games nights, developing a monthly concert series, planning an arts group, and are getting ready for our summer residents retreat up north. He is an exciting addition to our team.
These are just a few of the things we are up to that are keeping us very busy, to say the least. It is indeed a very hot summer. If you’re the praying type, we could definitely use your prayers in the coming weeks as we wait to hear from proposals, renovate spaces, and keep the Gateway moving steadily onwards towards our mission to be
‘THE HAND OF GOD IN THE HEART OF THE CITY’.
Well it’s pretty clear I can’t seem to find a regular blogging rhythm. The last time I was here it was the middle of winter. Now it’s late spring, the snow is all gone (knock on wood), the flowers are blooming, and summer is imminent. (Though I’m still wearing a sweater lest I freeze. But I refuse to wear pants in June no matter what. It’s just a rule of mine. This is a ‘shorts only’ zone until at least September)
Anyhoo, on this night I, as per usual, am full of random and arbitrary thoughts. So instead of honing in on one of them I thought I’d just throw a bunch of them out there.
1. Politics. This city is ripe with political insanity right now. Our mayor is making international news. He is a lightning rod of divisiveness. There’s no way to remain ambivalent as to how to feel about him. And on a national and provincial scale, stories of corruption and backroom deals abound. As a Christian, I’m convinced that I shouldn’t get sucked into believing there are only 2 sides to these political squabbles. Rather than believing the lie that there’s only the ‘right’ or the ‘left’, I need to stick to my belief that there’s a 3rd way- the Jesus Way. His politics never change. There is no pendulum that shifts. His way doesn’t refer to people as merely ‘taxpayers’ but as ‘citizens’-implying that we are all in this thing together as equals; created in the image of the Creator and Preserver of all things. Created as His beloved children regardless of how much tax we pay. This view changes everything about our politics.
2. Social enterprise. I had the privilege of visiting a brand new program today on its opening day. It’s called ‘Switchback’ and is a bike shop in the downtown core that hires folks who are on or close to the streets. It’s just down the street from our social enterprise at Gateway which we call Gateway Linens. These ideas fall in line with this 3rd way I’m referring to above. The Jesus way seems to be one where we create and provide opportunities for ALL people to find meaningful work for meaningful pay and not get lost in corporate greed where ‘the bottom line’ is the god that gets worshiped.
3. Health. My health is fading. Fast. I am really struggling to walk. I use a cane for everything now. I have a walker. I use a mobility scooter for anything over a city block in distance. MS is kicking my ass. I’m gaining weight and turning into a blob because I can’t exercise like I used to and can’t seem to stop eating. It’s getting brutal. I’ve just been outfitted for leg braces to help me walk. I have to undergo a driving test in the next few weeks to prove that I am still fit to drive. I got assessed for wheeltrans (transit that will pick me up from my home instead of having to use the subway which I can no longer do) and will find out in 10 days if I qualify (I was told by the assessor that I’d be a no brainer decision). I’m going for a comprehensive physio-nutrition-psychological assessment at Toronto rehab on Tuesday morning for help with all of those areas in hopes of bettering my options for exercise and weight control.
I am disabled.
I never dreamed this would be me. It is difficult; not just on me but on my family.
But I’m still trying. I have an awesome job that I can still do even if/when I end up in a wheelchair. I have a wonderful family. I have a cool bike that I can pedal with my arms. I have an electric bike that I love to ride to and from work. I have amazing friends who see pass my sickness. I have a church that I love.
And I have the Jesus way. This way doesn’t make everything easier. It just helps to make things in this very screwed up, messy, complicated world make a little more sense.
So I guess my thoughts aren’t all that random after all…
I’m sitting in Henry Nouwen’s living room (www.henrinouwen.org). Well it was his final living room before he died. Now it’s a retreat center and perhaps one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets.
I’m surrounded by his books.
It is peaceful here.
Every time I come here for retreat, the inevitable happens. I come with a list of writing, reading and reflection/meditation goals, and when I enter my room I feel instantly exhausted. I lie down out of necessity, and I sleep more peacefully and deeply then I can anywhere else. This heavenly nap lasts around 3 hours and usually ends abruptly out of my need to, well, pee. I’m just now coming out of my haze and sipping on a lovely cuppa tea enjoying the afterglow of a nap that feels like I just woke from hibernation.
I’m sitting at my laptop staring out the window at the bird feeders that have been set along the outdoor patio. The whole west facing wall of this room is glass doors allowing for a remarkable view of all that’s happening outside. I’m seeing the beginnings of what may become a snowstorm. (Of course the Toronto media is ramping it up to be ‘Snowmageddon’, but from my perspective it’s adding to the tranquility of the scene).
I’m mindful of so many things as I sit here and write. I’m not forgetting some of the harder things in life as I write. I’m mindful that today has been declared an extreme weather alert day and that some folks who are homeless may end up sleeping outside. I’m mindful of the fact that at Gateway, the shelter I run, we’ll be putting out 10 extra cots so as to respond as best we can to the danger of a snowstorm. I’m remembering that poverty workers will go outside tonight at some personal risk for the sake of keeping their friends on the street safe. I’m constantly aware of my own health issues as I limp around and struggle to come to grips with this debilitating disease of MS that continues to take.
But today, despite all of the things in the back of my mind that aren’t quite right, I feel blessed.
It’s been a whirlwind of activity for Erinn and me these past 4 weeks or so. On Jan. 21 we got all dressed up and went to an event where I was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal for community service. We got to celebrate that as a family and I accepted the award on behalf of my great staff and in solidarity with the many thousands of men and women who are still homeless in Toronto.
Then Erinn and I got on a plane on Jan. 23 and flew to NYC for 2 nights to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We saw 2 Broadway plays, spent half a day in Central Park, ate some amazing meals (including a meal that may end up being my demise when all is said and done but was so awesome at the time consisting of 2 deep fried chicken breasts stuffed with pastrami and Swiss cheese on a bed of red velvet waffles), and enjoyed each others company with no outside stresses.
Then on Jan. 30 I got to go with a friend and colleague of mine to see one of my musical heroes, Wynton Marsalis, and his band play at Massey Hall. And afterwards I glimpsed one of the all-time coolest actors Laurence Fishburne and nodded a hello to him. He nodded back. I tried to pretend I was cool…
Then on Feb. 2 I launched a new ministry that I’ve been working on for more than a year now, Causeway (www.thecauseway.ca) and was so encouraged by the turnout of 40 people to be trained and the emerging list of 15 people already to be trained in the next session.
Then last night I caught the Toronto premiere of ‘Breathe’, a two-man musical/dramatic adaptation of a book written by my good friend and life long mentor Greg Paul (He wasn’t there because he was off receiving his own much deserved Diamond Jubilee Medal). It was moving, challenging, heartbreaking and inspirational. And it was made even more special in that the two guys in the performance are friends of mine and becoming very well known for their crafts. It brought me full circle in terms of feeling blessed in that Mike Janzen, one of the 2 people in this play and the musical heartbeat of the presentation, played at our wedding 15 years ago.
Despite many bumps in the road and being dealt some bad cards, I truly do feel as though God is with me every step of the way. Sometimes dwelling on the hard stuff is all I can manage to do and in those difficult spaces I feel God’s presence too.
But today, I’m gonna rest in the pocket of feeling blessed because of the good things.
I love my wife Erinn. She’s so beautiful and talented and her heart is so big for folks who are marginalized. She runs an inner city ministry and is so gifted as a leader. I’m so proud of her courage.
I love my daughter Cate. She dances and sings and draws and makes my heart sing.
I Love my 2 sisters. They live in Newfoundland so I often feel far from them but they have been such steadfast supporters to me from the day I was born.
I love my parents. They’re not together any more but they never stopped loving and supporting me for all of these years despite their own struggles in life.
I love my job. What a gift the Gateway staff and residents have been to me these past 15 years.
I love my church. I have so many dear friends there that I can share the joys and pains of life with.
I love my neighbourhood and my home.
I am blessed. And thankful.
And I feel a nap coming on.
Well I decided during the Christmas season that I’d resurrect this blog site. I last posted something here back in 2010 when I was going through some stuff related to my journey with MS. So this site was mainly dedicated to processing the things I was thinking about as I underwent an experimental surgery called The Liberation Treatment. Rather than go into it too much here, you can just go back and read the older posts for just about any detail that might interest you. Those of you who know me would know that I’m a big fan of the new year’s resolution. Even though I fail miserably at most of them, I find inspiration in at least trying to do things that will improve my life and the lives of those around me. Usually those things revolve around food and weight loss and exercise. (I constantly hate how undisciplined I am with my diet and there’s no one on the planet that could beat me up more than I already do to myself on those things.) But sometimes I throw in some commitments to journaling, praying, reading my Bible, giving away more money, and more of the same kind of stuff. Again, usually I fail miserably at most of those things. Though, I haven’t eaten a french fry since I resolved to not eating those on January 1 2008. So there’s the tiniest glimmer of hope for me yet even though there are still times despite being 5 years clean from fries that I’d almost sacrifice my right arm for just one giant plate of fries and gravy. but I digress… This year I decided to give blogging another go. Does the world need another blog? Most certainly not! Do I find blogging cathartic? Most of the time. So as is the case much of the time in many other areas of my life, I’m going to blog for my own self serving needs. If you want to come along for the ride, I’d love to have you.