A Retreat

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.
Spiritually peaceful.
Supernaturally peaceful.

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.

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