to be vulnerable.

I’m in a cozy little coffee shop waiting to go into an appointment, sipping on some tea. I sat here for a while looking into space thinking about what I would try and write today for this blog thing that I do, and I felt conflicted as to what to write about. I think I know what I want to say, and maybe how to say it, but being able to say it out loud is what was stopping me. Which is ironic since it corresponds with what I wanted to say! All that makes sense in my head which is usually the only place it does, so I hope you can follow along here with me.

I have been practicing being vulnerable. I think in some ways, the practice is coming to me without permission or conscious effort. I find my anxiety has been more obvious to me in the past couple weeks, which may be the result of my therapy or mood or something. And I think it is pushing me to open up more than I would have in the past. Before, old Meagan may have tried to play it off like everything was fine – nothing bothered her, things were all good, she was relaxed. New Meagan is trying to actually feel emotions rather than push them away. Which is happening mostly because new Meagan is trying to heal. It’s hard work, and I am grateful for the support of my people who make me feel comfortable enough to be myself, whatever that may be.

As you can see, this is why the saying out loud part can be scary. Because it can be hard to be vulnerable. It can be hard to remember sad things and try and work through them, it can be difficult to go through a wave of emotions and try and sort through them quickly, and it can be scary to say out loud to everyone reading that you’re trying to do these things.

I feel comforted by the people in my life who listen with open ears, speaking gently into my aching soul, and holding tight when my chest and breaths are pounding away. I am grateful for my community who shows me how to be open and trust, even often after being hurt over and over again.

Recently in a Tuesday drop-in, our friend came in struggling. She was sad, hurt, and tired of being pushed around. She wanted to go home but was not able to, and her load that day was heavy, the kind of heavy that makes you want to sleep and wake up with a new frame of mind. She was told she was loved as we listened to her sorrows, and hugged her again and again. In the end she laughed and said she felt lighter. She came in vulnerable and raw, and left cleaned up and slightly put back together. She was cared for in ways that we should always care for each other, with love and gentleness.

Today Jo, Erinn and I accompanied someone to court. She was vulnerable enough to trust us to love her. We sat beside her, waiting and eating chocolate bars. We were in court when she received her sentence, and were able to come out with hugs and smiles. She could have gone alone, embarrassed by things she had done. She could have not asked for support. She could have easily not trusted us. But she did. And that is an incredible gift that we are fortunate enough to receive from our friends more often than I ever think possible.

All this to say that we are human. We go through seasons of walking through tough crap. I am so blessed to have my people and my community to walk me through the deep ends. And I am ever grateful for the gift of love my community offers and for the endless trust they have for us to walk them through things as well.

We hold each other tightly, and I am learning how beautiful of a thing that is. I hope you have people holding you tightly today. It’s okay not to be okay some days, and I hope you have love on your side. Peace to you, friends, until next time.

 

 

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the beginning.

Opening Note: This is a story about a beginning – my beginning at the Dale to be exact. You may be thinking to yourself, “Hmm… this is a little late six months in, no?” Yes. It is a little late. However, I think it is a story that is still unfolding. I think about the beginning a lot… and more recently these days. It is also a vulnerable story to tell, which too explains the lateness. If you make it through one sentence, thank you. If you make it to the middle, thank you. If you read through to the end, thank you. Thanks for being apart of my beginning and for allowing me to tell my story. After all, what would a story be without anyone to hear it?

*it’s a long one this time around.


I used to work a lot. Well, it was a lot for me and it seemed like a lot at the time. It became a lot a couple of years ago. I was working at Sanctuary covering a maternity leave, and was there a few days a week for chunks of time. To fill out that time, I worked at a retail store that I had been at since I was in school. Often, I would open the store, work a couple hours, go to Sanctuary and work, and sometimes go back to the store to close. If there was a free day, I would also work at Gateway, a men’s shelter downtown, doing a shift of 12 hrs/day. I remember one time near Christmas working my day job, then doing an overnight shift, then the day job again, an overnight shift again, and… a day shift again. I slept maybe 5 hrs total during this time.

Anyways, I digress. All this to say that I worked. I think I worked a lot because it became part of me, part of my identity. I would miss family gatherings sometimes, not hang out with friends, turn down fun things. I kind of enjoyed being busy, and I felt I had to work so much to have some kind of self worth. What was I doing with my time if not working? Nothing of value. Who was I if I wasn’t working so much? A nobody. In the meantime, I racked up a lot of hours. I also racked up a lot of money. I was comfortable. Single. Living in a small, cheap, old apartment. It became routine.

Flash forward to December of last year. At this point I was no longer single. I had also just quit working at the store, a very important step in a series of many steps to come. They were my safety net, the people I saw more than family, the most stable income I had. But it was a rocky relationship and one that needed to end. I was also very aware that my time at Sanctuary was coming to an end in a few months. The only thing I would have was Gateway, and only when needed. Something needed to happen.

In January of this year, I went for a training session with Gateway that was going to be facilitated by Dion Oxford, my current boss’s (Erinn) husband. He is the founder of Gateway, and is still involved with the Salvation Army in many ways. It is funny how God sometimes lines up the people you need to see at the time you need to see them most. Once Dion and I reintroduced ourselves, he happened to mention that Erinn and Joanna were still looking for a third staff member and that I would be a great fit. Of course I knew they were looking for someone to join their team. They had been since the end of the last year, and had not found anyone that I knew of. However I also knew that they fundraised their own salaries which meant the income wouldn’t be stable for me for a long time. I got sidetracked during Dion’s training (sorry, Dion) and wondered how I could ever pull that off. How could I fundraise my own salary, ask people for support, be vulnerable and ask for help after working so hard? How could I leave the comfort of my stable pay for quite possibly nothing? How could I work a job that I like that would allow me to have weekends and free time and be myself and fill me in a way that my other work didn’t?

This next part still freaks me out to be honest, and you don’t have to believe it. I know it will be hard for some to hear. But I believe the Lord needed me to hear something in that moment and I heard a voice say to me, “I have always taken care of you and never left you alone. You have always been provided for. Why do you think now in this moment that I would forsake you.” I tried not to cry. That night I went home and talked to Ian for a long time about what had happened. I decided that I would email Erinn and ask if we could meet. Funnily enough, she got the email that night sitting at the dining room table just as Dion was telling her that he had seen me that very day.

That was the beginning of the rest. Erinn and I met and chatted, I met with the Dale’s board of directors, I received a job offer, and on April 18th I had my first day at the Dale. My life was starting to look a lot different. I still had no retail job, and my contract at Sanctuary had come to an end. I was in a committed relationship, was working 20hrs a week and trying to pull off a couple shifts a month at Gateway, and trying to wrap my head around asking people for help.

Things are hard sometimes, and I know they will continue to be hard. There are times that I sit and wonder long and hard if I did the right thing by joining life at the Dale. Things are changing at Gateway as they do, and I no longer get the same amount of shifts I used to. I still feel like a failure that I can sit and read a book instead of leaving my house in the morning to work and coming home to sleep. I still don’t know what hobbies are, I struggle sometimes to keep my head above the water of floating bills, and I am looking for more work to do on the side to fill the gaps.

However, I am also very privileged. I get to spend my days with my friends, and join in meals and conversations with people that teach me how to love deeper and look harder and be better. I have a roof over my head and clothes on my back. I am in love with someone who loves me. I get to see Erinn and Joanna all the time and laugh and cry with a team of strong women. I have a family and we care about each other. I am blessed.

Friends, I am thankful that I can come to you and ask for help. I am grateful for your words of love and encouragement, for your prayers, and also for your financial gifts. I am encouraged by all of these things. The Dale would not function without the generosity of many people far and wide who share their resources of love, time, and money. We are fully supported by donors – the organization itself and those of us who work for it.

If you have supported me financially since I started at the Dale, thank you. If you think that is something you would like to and can do, I appreciate you. Here are the ways that you can give:

·Pre-Authorized Remittance. If you would like to support me in this way, please ask me for a form through email (meagan.gillard@gmail.com)
·CanadaHelps. Please indicate that the donation is for me.
·Cheque. These can be made out to The Dale Ministries, with my name in the Memo Line and mailed to: PO Box 94, Station C Toronto, ON M6K 3M7

One time donations are deeply appreciated, and monthly donations help to keep my income stable. If you are more of a prayers or good thoughts type of person, I welcome those with open mind and heart. If you would like to join us for a meal and spend time getting to know our community, we welcome you!

Thanks for letting me tell my story. Thanks for letting me ask for your help. Thanks for letting me be vulnerable. I appreciate you.

Peace be with you.

 

 

where everybody knows your name.

Through my time in this field, I have discovered that knowing people’s names is very important for a few reasons. Luckily I am not usually one of those people who struggle with names. I get it after a few times, and tend to remember which has been very beneficial to me.

I remember when I first started at Sanctuary as a student intern, I started a list of names on my phone with a little description of the person to help me remember.

Tommy – talked about coffee

Julia – bright pink nail polish

Matt – leather pants and jacket

Some of the descriptions were silly, some ended up being too generic to be any good at helping me remember, and some people I never saw again. However, writing that list (which I didn’t show to anyone) helped me learn that names and people were important. If I was going to be in community with people, I needed to know who they were.

These days, I don’t write lists of names. It becomes sad to look through old lists and see how many of those people have died, to be frank. I also just discovered I didn’t need them. These days I like to write memories and quotes, but that is a blog for another day.

I can’t tell you how many times knowing and remembering someone’s name broke a huge tension. It’s one thing to ask someone how they are. But to say, “Hey Jeff! How are you?” somehow tends to capture people’s attention. They may think to themselves, or even say out loud, who the heck is this lady, and how does she know my name?  But usually it works! People are pleasantly surprised to be remembered, and it feels nice. It means you cared enough to remember in a world where my friends are being forgotten. It means they had an impact in a world that doesn’t give a second glance. It means you want to build a relationship. I will say someone’s name again and again until we are connected in some way, and I really like that it brings me and the person closer together.

I have also learned many name tips! For one thing, introduce yourself first. Sometimes people are guarded, and for good reason. I’ve had the awkward situation happen of asking for someone’s name and they get up and walk away. However, if you say, “Hey I’m Meagan, nice to meet you.” It opens things up. They can either give you their name or not, but at least they didn’t get up and walk away! Another – don’t use someone’s street nickname the first time you meet them, unless that is the only thing they go by. You might get a nasty look. You might get yelled at. It’s happened! And it’s not cool!

There are many things in a name. A personality, a soul, a life, a legend. At the Dale, we like to build community. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone belongs. And if you know people, and even know something as simple as their name, they feel that. They feel like they belong, and it can create beautiful friendships.

It feels good for me too, to be honest. What got me thinking about names today was that we went on an outreach walk this morning as a team. I’m getting to know people, and they are getting to know me. That means they are remembering my name too. It’s been six months. They’ve felt somehow long and short, heavy and light, hard and easy all at the same time. In a place where I wondered when I would become known, I can feel it beginning. When people remember my name, when they come into a room and call for me, when they say too, “Hey Meagan, how are you?” It feels cool! It feels beautiful.

I think sometimes that through all the ways we are different as people, we are also just the same. We want to be remembered, we want to be cared about and cared for. We want to be known. We want to be loved.

From the One that knows every name, to all of us down here trying to figure it out, I say hello to you all by name out there today and hope you know that you are known. You are cared about. You are making an impact. You are loved.

 

farts are funny.

Tuesday may have started off a little tense.

As the end of the month nears, moods can be in all sorts of places, as people try to survive with no money and wait desperately for the next cheque to come in. This makes for the busi-est of drop-in times and sometimes the most tense. Of course, money is not the only source of stress. People are just people, and there are many stresses that our friends live with on the daily (and walk resiliently past).

On Tuesday, usually the quietest day of the week where we gather at the Thrift Store and have coffee, play scrabble, and eat chips, the mood was slightly tense, I must admit. People who usually get along where snapping at each other, while other frustrations and past griefs came to the surface. This is all normal. I mean, when we walk in community together, it won’t look perfect. Friendships may be dented and scratched. However, this also means that usually we come back together with love and grace, which is a beautiful thing to witness.

So although moods were tense on Tuesday to start, we pushed through. Scrabble was brought out and letters were distributed. Guitars were tuned and music played delicately in the background (sometimes over harsh words). Snacks were consumed. And in the midst of a really tense time – a fart app was brought out on someones phone. Someone who is getting better at self regulating their mood and saying respectfully what they need instead of yelling at someone, brought out the farts and the whole table was instantly in giggles. It was the best. There were a plethora of farts to be heard and we were mesmerized for at least 10 minutes, listening to them all, faces red with joy instead of anger, and laughing uncontrollably.

At the end of the day, people made up. They were able to talk about their frustrations and express themselves. They fist-bumped and made peace. We left with smiles and hugs. Things may have started rocky, but at the end of the day, it is fun and amazing and beautiful to watch people be in community together and love each other deeply.

And no matter what anyone tells you, farts will always be funny.

 

 

jumbled up.

jum·ble
ˈjəmbəl/
verb
past tense: jumbled
  1. mix up in a confused or untidy way.

Hello friends,

It has been some time since I have been here in this space with you. Thanks for waiting patiently for me to be able to be here again. I think the only way to sum up the rest of the summer is to use this word: jumble.

The beginning of August came and went with a flurry of tears, memories, and prayers as we said goodbye to two of our friends at the dale who passed away near the end of July. Nicole and John are and were deeply loved and missed. Having two funerals in one week was…something. We had very sad hearts as two friends with their own stories, lives and souls were remembered and grieved two days apart. We continue to miss them very much.

That same week, we met a very shaken friend in the hospital who then left to be with her doggy at home (as you might remember from my last post). Thank you for your prayers, as she is doing better than before, and better than we expected. She continues to find great comfort in her dog, and we are grateful for the love of her little companion.

Erinn then left on holiday, followed by Jo shortly after. I am so thankful for all that they bring to this team and how they lead fearlessly and love largely. For them to be able to have time away to rest was so good, and I am glad for them.

Being solo in Parkdale left my heart jumbled up a little though, I must admit. I think between being out of routine, having my teammates missing, and living as well as working in Parkdale left me feeling funny. I dreamt of moving far away and working on a farm to care for cows, which seemed easier at the time than caring for people. Although I don’t know much about cows… I don’t know how that would have turned out!

There were some lovely moments that happened while Erinn and Jo were away, and I am thankful for my new community that comforted me, stayed longer than usual to help me at drop-in, and played long Scrabble games with me. I think it was hard to see the good when I felt like my heart was tipping over with hopelessness at the way Parkdale can feel sometimes, especially during the long summer days, like we are all stuck in an alternate universe.

It made me miss my friends at Sanctuary, who I had deeper relationships with. It made me miss familiarity, and space working away from home. It made me miss stability and comfort. I was reminded by Ian as I sat in tears on the couch that there was a reason I was called to be in Parkdale. The anxiety that fills my mind sometimes may be telling me to run far away. But there was a call in my heart, a spark, that knew I needed to be here doing this work.

I am so happy to have my girls back with me, and happy that we can be honest with each other when we feel not quite right. I am glad for rest, and also for work. I am filled with hope when we laugh, overcome a challenge, see growth in someone, and see healing right before our eyes. The days continue to be weird around here, sometimes bright and sunny, and sometimes filled with deep despair. Ian and I lost another friend from the Gateway. Our buddy Tom has passed away, and I miss his raspy-ness, his generosity, and the way he could be brutally honest and make me laugh in the same sentence.  He had his own struggles, as we all do, and I pray that he is filled with peace. He is missed dearly and loved deeply.

I, for one, am glad that the summer is finally over. It wasn’t the best, although it had it’s good moments. I am still happily engaged and trucking on with planning a wedding. I am still here in Parkdale even though I wanted to run and never come back. However, it still feels like death is waiting to greet us at every corner as we say goodbye again and again to our friends. Pray for us as we walk through Autumn, that we may have fresh crisp air that fills our lungs, and a new start. Thank you for your encouragement through this season. I feel like I am jumping from unsteady stone to unsteady stone. Thanks for being the hands alongside me to catch me when I feel that I may fall.

Peace to you as the seasons change! May you be filled with that magic that only the Fall brings!

 

baking a cake.

If anyone reading this knows me well enough, you know that I am not great in the kitchen. I prefer to work around the chef (as a sous-chef, if you will) cleaning up and putting things away, giving the pot a quick stir, setting timers and all the other stuff that doesn’t actually include cooking the food. This not only goes for cooking meals, but for baking as well. Some people are good at one or the other, few are great at both, and I am mediocre at best. I feel like if we were to go ahead and think of my life in this analogy (which you know I am about to do…), I could say almost the same things.

Last weekend, I feel like I baked a metaphorical life cake. Please try to follow along… I feel almost as if I’m thinking this through as I write which I often do, and I’m sure it will begin to make sense soon.

The bottom layer of the cake came about as follows:

I got a phone call early Saturday morning from a woman in our community who is in a crisis of sorts, flip-flopping between life at the hospital and life with her dog who she can’t live without. She was meant to be at the hospital but was thinking of leaving to be with her dog. Erinn had left for holiday, Jo was out of town, and I was in Vaughan. Close, but not close enough. I left where I was almost right away, trying to call my friend back a couple of times with no luck. By the time I got home, got a few things I needed to give to her, and made my way to the hospital in Caribana traffic, it was too late. She was gone. The circumstances under which she had left the hospital were infuriating. After saying my piece in a not so graceful way, I had no choice but to leave. My boyfriend was with me due to the circumstances of the situation and it felt kind of normal – this life which we have both chosen to live can be like this. We ran all over God’s Parkdalian acres and looked for our friend, hoping and praying that she was safe. 

The top layer of the cake looks like this:

After spending hours at the hospital, around town in Ubers, at her building and in many other spots in Parkdale, our friend was nowhere to be found. The rest of the day was spent, for me, trying to let this go. For my boyfriend, the wheels in his head were spinning, trying to tie the final knot in a series of conversations we had been having for some time. At around 8pm that Saturday night, I came home from a walk and was greeted to string lights on my ceiling and pictures of the places that mean to much to Ian and I. I looked at them with tears in my eyes as he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. This moment was filled with joy, excitement, and hope. A deep contrast from our morning together.

I realized that on this day, we had made a cake. After so long of shying away from chef-like responsibilities in my new community, it was time to put on my bakers hat. I was the only one of my co-workers here and my friend needed a friend. Although she could not be found, I walked head first into corners of Parkdale and spoke with authority. I had to take the reins. It was terrifying, and I was thankful for someone like Ian to be by my side. We built the layers together, walking alongside each other in Parkdale on a mission as we often do in this line of work. And in the evening we took next steps in building our life together. I traded a confident working lady hat for another hat, one that will involve needing to step up and be a wife. Lord knows that these are big responsibilities.

I hope this came together in a way that makes sense, but I’m learning that it’s okay if it didn’t. That day in our life was jumbled and still doesn’t make much sense. Growing up is scary and making tough decisions, being confident in your heart, and stepping up to love people is going to be terrifying and often won’t be clear. I wonder why people make the decisions that they do. Why do they leave the hospital when they need care? Why does the love of a dog come before the love of oneself? Why would someone choose to love me and my messiness? Because life is like baking a cake. The layers are important and create depth. The toppings bring and hold everything together. And often the kitchen looks messy, as will your life… in the end you can only hope to have something good.

let it be.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
“Let it be”


We sing this song often at the Dale at many of our regular weekly gatherings. Usually it means nothing more to me than a Beatles song that I somehow know the words to. However this week, it has been more of a source of comfort. 

There have been an increasing number of deaths in our community these past few months, most recently in the last two weeks. Finding myself still slowing walking into the community from the outside, I feel at odds with my emotions. Wanting to give space to our friends to grieve, I say little. But having connected with people more and more often, and losing them before deeper friendships can be made, is sad. 

Compared to many colleagues that I have worked with, past and present, I have been in this line of work for what feels like a blink in time. Still during that time, many of my friends in community have passed on, all in differently heartbreaking ways. Having just passed my three month anniversary at the Dale, I find myself wondering how to do this work “well” for a long time, and how many of my co-workers have done that before me. There is no easy answer. Grief is hard to navigate. 

As a collective group of people that work so closely in community, I feel like there is a common sort of sadness when we agree that when one of our friends passes on, it is not just them that leaves us. It is all our friends who have passed on before them leaving us again and again. We remember each with the loss of another, and that is a sad thing in and of itself. How do we remember each one well so that their life can carry on? There is no easy answer. Trying to remember so many friends who have left us is a heavy thing.

I have also found myself contemplating how much longer I can live and work in Parkdale when the relationships that we value building with our community run so deep. I cannot walk but five minutes to the market without running into a handful of community members, some in a good space and some not. I cannot walk but a few steps along my street before seeing the place where a friend recently left this world. In a neighbourhood that is already small, it is becoming more complicated to be so deeply rooted in Parkdale than I thought or hoped it would be. How do I live and work here and be well? There is no easy answer. Wanting to be so close, yet so far away is confusing. 

All of the deaths of my friends have been the result of injustice. Homelessness, addictions, mental health stuff… the list is long and the system that we (try to) function in in our society is failing my friends. They are dying at the hands of violence, of sadness, of a lack of things that they need, of many things that could be prevented if we sought to serve people better. I have been reminded that through rough times, the work that we do is still good. It remains good when it feels bad. However, when times are heavy, I find myself questioning if this work is worth it. Is it worth it to keep pushing against a system that fails my friends daily? Are we doing enough, advocating enough, for things to be better? There is no easy answer. Wondering how to serve people better and well takes time, and in that time, people are still dying. 

Sometimes I wish I was older, that I had worked longer, that I knew more than I know now. I wish my connections with people ran deeper and longer, so that I could soak up their goodness before their time with us ran up. I wish people weren’t sad, and that they knew that they were loved deeply. I wish people weren’t in so much pain when I walk through my neighbourhood and see people living in their brokenness. I wish this work was easy.

But the reality is that this work is not easy. There will always be many questions and times of second guessing. There also are and will continue to be good things – when agencies come together to bring justice, when small steps to good things happen, when people are freed from their struggles, when we sing together and smile. 

We ask for your prayer as this season continues to be heavy. We ask for wisdom and peace, and that the hands of God be ours as we serve our friends. And we ask for patience as we push though hard questions that have no easy answers. 

And when the brokenhearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer
Let it be.

 

balance.

On Tuesday we went to the lake. We almost didn’t make it.

As is the usual pattern for Tuesday’s at the Dale, (I am slowly learning) the weather is uncertain and indecisive at best. We had planned for weeks to go to the lake on Tuesday to celebrate the beginning of summer. We would have hot dogs and chips, and have a picnic on the benches. Foolish, knowing how Mother Nature feels about Tuesday’s? Maybe. But we like to hope for the best. On the day in question, the clouds came and went, as did the rain. It was on and off for so long in the morning that we had decided to surrender to the weather and postpone our picnic and meet at our usual indoor spot.

Our friends had other plans. Once word got out that we had waived the flag of defeat, we were coaxed by our friends into hope and belief that the storm would hold. And that it did. With last minute pizza in hand, we went to the lake with community in tow and sat together. We ate pizza from the box, and salad and fruit that was generously brought by our friends. We laughed together, discussed the ever flooding lake, watched the rowers go by, and took silly pictures together.

Earlier that day as a team we visited a friend in the hospital. I stepped back and watched as Erinn and Jo touched the hand of our friend and prayed for her. It was sad. I felt sad. I thought of many of my other friends who had become ill. Some still here, and some gone to be with their maker. This work is hard. We value being in community with one another, and not just on good days. On days when we feel hurt, helpless, hopeless, angry, sad, broken. On those days we are still together.

That Tuesday was bitter sweet. We saw brokenness – our strong, resilient friend in the hospital, the only thing to be done was to touch her hand and pray. But we saw hope that day too. Hope for clouds to clear and the sun to come out. Hope in community and how it encourages and brings joy when we feel like we walk in defeat. We saw laughter and sweet moments of friendship.

Erinn, Jo, and I put our arms around each other and looked at our friends around the table, laughing together. This is our crew, and we are glad. On days that this feels sad and hard and hopeless, let us look to each other and to the One that brought us together for joy, hope, and healing.

On Tuesday we went to the lake. With stumbling steps and a grace that is ever true, we made it.

to pray.

Oh…to be a “prayer warrior.” I hear about these types of people all the time. These people with prayer lists and journals, who can start and end a prayer with such grace, who speak confidently and with conviction.

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of these people. I will even go so far as to say that I am really bad at praying (maybe part of my perfectionistic nature gives me reason to even think there is such a thing as to be “bad” at praying, but I digress). I can never sit still long enough to be quiet and listen to someone pray, I have a hard time keeping my eyes closed for so long and being in my own darkness, and I have a hundred things running through my mind at any point in time that listening to a prayer from start to finish seems impossible. I’ve always wondered if there was some secret formula to praying that I was missing. How do I balance my helps, thanks, and wows (as is the title of a book by Anne Lamott that I got to help me out and still have not read)? Am I asking for too much? Am I asking God for things in the “right” way?

I remember praying with Erinn and Joanna on one of my first days at The Dale. We sat beside each other on a Monday morning, about to finish our check-in and head over to our Monday community meal. Erinn asked if we could pray (we?!). My mind started to race and I’m sure my palms started to sweat. It got quiet. Joanna started to pray (beautifully, as she often does). It was eloquent and kind hearted, well balanced and graceful. Then, my worst thought came true. She ended in God’s name, but didn’t say Amen. I knew we would have to continue. Sure enough, Erinn started to pray and much like Joanna’s prayer, her’s was honest and sweet. She was grateful, and also unafraid to ask her Father for what we needed for the day. How would I follow up? I’m pretty sure when my turn came I prayed the shortest prayer I could, a classic prayer that I usually say in my head – one for peace and a friend, especially on my first big day.

Now that I have a couple months under my belt at The Dale, I find it safe to say that I’m still not comfortable with prayer. But I am learning. I am learning that this unsureness I’ve had about praying all my life is an insecurity I hold in my own heart. I am learning that God gifts people in many ways – that some people have prayers that can move mountains, and some are quietly strong. I am learning that there are many types of prayers – long and short, made-up, and written many years ago (side note: I went to a conference recently and attended a lesson on ancient prayers. Did it ever help me out to know that people have written prayers already that you can read for the day!). I am learning that my words don’t always have to make sense, and that this is okay even when I am praying out loud and people are listening. I am learning that it is okay to just say, “Amen” some days after Erinn and Jo pray (and I am grateful for their great examples to me of what honest, brave, and grateful prayer is).

I am practicing talking to God. I am practicing praying out loud, even when I am nervous to speak in front of others. I am practicing being thankful to Him for answering our prayers, and I am in awe that He always does in His own way. And I am practicing being less insecure about praying – with my colleges and friends at work who I trust, with my community who I care for and who care for me, with my boyfriend at the dinner table, and with myself whenever I feel like I need to talk to God on my own. These things take time, and I am grateful that God is still there listening to me fumble day after day.

“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console:
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love:
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to
eternal life. Amen”

– attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi

storm.

I have a new friend. I’ll call him Storm.

From what I know of Storm so far, he reminds me of a walking tornado (hence the name). He will usually join us at our Monday lunch gatherings, showing up early to help set up. He sets up the tables very quickly, which often means that he takes a long time to set up chairs because he likes to colour coordinate them. He makes up for this delay by haphazardly placing cutlery at each place by the plates that I’ve carefully centred by each chair, and napkin I’ve delicately folded. Cups are placed on one side of the plate and then another depending on the table. A tornado of an arrangement.

As disorganized as this may seem, and as painstaking as it is for a control freak like me, I’ve come to really enjoy our morning routine, as I have gotten to know Storm during this time and can work on seeing The Good. When I first met Storm and we started this routine, it took all of me not to fix every single thing he did. Not to straighten out the place settings or put the cups on the same side.

But to know Storm is to know that he is calm in the midst of his chaos. That he makes the coffee really early so that it is fully brewed and ready for when people will want it (although he might yell at you if you try to touch it too early). That he warms the muffins that we get donated because he knows they taste better this way. That he will offer to fill your plate with food before his own, and will offer everyone around our table this same gift. That I feel the need to sit next to him during announcements so that his constant noise doesn’t disturb others, but that he sits quiet during the prayer. That he likes lots of sugar in his coffee, and will remember how you like yours. That he invites me outside to chat, and although he talks in circles and sometimes I have no idea what he means, he asks me to keep him company and hopes that he can be company for me as well. The Good.

I often think that to the world, we are like Storm. We are rowdy, loud, and quick to move. People judge us by our outbursts and by the fact that we can’t sit still. That we get angry and yell and break things. That we are too “much”. I think we are all like Storm to God as well, but He sees The Good. The good intentions and joyful offering to help. The pain that comes out in the circles we talk through. The giving and graceful. The kind and helpful. He sees the calm in our chaos and for that I am grateful because I know for sure that some days I am a walking tornado as well.

I am grateful for my new friend Storm and all that he offers to our community, and for all that he teaches me about patience. For his peace and his chaos.

And I am grateful for a God that sees The Good in me too.