February Joy

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”  Psalm 28:7

I have recently been reading from the Psalms. I wanted to read another book of the Bible, but during this time of my life, I found people continuously directing me back to the Psalms. To be honest, Psalms was the last book of the Bible that I would turn to or study. I wanted stories and something “deeper,” but I discovered I was missing out on the power they hold.

Though some days at The Dale can be a little wild, each day also never fails to bring its moments of joy. The longer I’m here the more and more I am feeling a part of this family, and as a result, doing life together feels less like a job and more like a blessing.

Throughout the past few months, I honestly have been struggling with anxiety. It’s frustrating, but there is a lot that God teaches me every time I go through these seasons, and nevertheless, He was doing it again. One Monday this month at The Dale, I ended up having a long chat with a friend from the community. We ended up talking about healing, which is something that I often think about as I read about it in the Bible yet do not encounter it in the same way in my life. I ended up telling her about my struggle with anxiety and right then and there she prayed for healing. I felt so encouraged, my eyes got watery. I had never experienced anyone do that to me, and it brought so much joy in my heart.

After this prayer, I felt ready for anything. I knew times of anxiety would continue to come but I also felt a new confidence that God would take care of me. Since then, each day I try to focus on the many joys around me, rather than the things making life feel heavy.

Here are just two of the many joys that I’ve been experiencing since then.

Last week we had one of our biggest events of the year- and that is the February Feast! The February Feast is a big turkey dinner, similar to one you would see happening around Thanksgiving or Christmas. The Dale originally decided to do their big dinner this month because of the abundance of dinners already taking place during those holiday months, and since February can be a slow and difficult month, it brings something to look forward to! 

This was the first one I’ve ever experienced and it was something special. We had an open mic, which gave us the privilege to hear a variety of music, poems, and stories. There was also a community art piece being painted at one of the tables. It felt like such a joyous time, with people hanging out all around the room, and staying late to hear all of the performances. I felt thankful to get to sit and enjoy the night without rushing to clean up. I loved chatting with friends and seeing them perform their songs I’ve heard them tell me a lot about.

This week, as you may already know, is the beginning of lent. For Shrove Tuesday (or as some call it- Pancake Day), some of The Dale church gathered together to go to another church in a nearby neighbourhood to celebrate. I felt so much joy in getting the chance to sit at a long table together, be served some delicious pancakes, and spend time with friends. It was a different experience to not be involved in preparing the meal, but it was freeing to enjoy fellowship as a group.

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19

An Encouraging Silence

If you know me, you would know that I struggle with public speaking. No matter the crowd- even in one of my small classes of six students in college- I was very nervous. Nevertheless I still end up doing public speaking a lot in my life and though it is a challenge, it always turns out to be worth it. 

At The Dale on Mondays, we have a lunch program where we gather and create a large meal with the community and enjoy it together. It is one of our biggest programs as there can be over 100 people on an average Monday. It’s one of my favourite times of the week because I get to eat side by side with friends and make new ones as well.

Before passing the food around the room, a few announcements are shared by Erinn, Joanna, Pete, and I to the seated crowd. The first Monday that I was asked to announce the schedule for the week was quite the experience. When it was my turn to speak, the whole room went quiet, not just a hushed whisper kind of quiet, but an absolute silence, as if no one even dared to move.

It took me by surprise as I explained the schedule and tried my best to speak loudly so that they didn’t have to be so quiet. But, I realized, though my poor volume may have been part of the reason, they also were simply respecting a new speaker.

I talked to my co-worker Joanna about it and she described her first experience to be the same, saying “you could hear a pin drop in the room”.

I realized this more the next week I spoke because the community clapped when I finished announcing, which is not something they usually do during announcements. I felt encouraged and I think that was their motive. They know I’m a newbie so they did what they could to make me feel welcome.

Each day I show up to help, but I am always amazed by how much more the community helps me. I want to make sure people feel welcome in the space, but they do that for me in so many ways.

A New Year, a fresh start?

A new year can be deceiving. It comes with this idea of a fresh start, but the start of another day with a different name doesn’t erase what happened the weeks before. 

During our first Monday drop-in of the year, I sat down at a table to join a group for lunch. As we chatted, I caught up on what went on in Parkdale over the holidays. It was a difficult conversation because a long list of names came up of how many people, friends, and family passed away in December. The hard truth I discovered is that the holidays are extra tough on the community. 

Christmas songs and stories promise the joy of gifts, family, parties, laugher, etc. but that is not everyone’s reality. Instead, Christmas can put pressure on people, saying that it’ll be amazing, but that is a situation set up for a let down. Even I find myself stressed on the day of, worrying that it won’t be as good as it ‘should’.

To be honest, this year has started off feeling very heavy. I have been grappling with this idea of how to spend my time properly- how to spend it intentionally. It’s been a thought I’ve struggled with all my life in asking how can I be wise about my days? School used to fill my time, but now that I am ‘released’ into the world, I’m feeling that common post-grad struggle of “what do I do now?” and “how do I adult?” and “how do I live happily ever after?”

It often feels as though movies (especially Disney) come to this conclusion that your happiness is what matters the most. This idea was something I couldn’t agree with, and I’ve always been kind of mad about it. When life gets difficult, it causes a panic in people. Everything sad becomes sadder when your happiness is what matters the most in life.

It is comforting to know that I don’t need to always wonder what matters most, for it is explained in Matthew 22:36-39. Jesus says that the most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” and that the second one is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, to my understanding, the Bible never mentions the importance of happiness for our gain, but instead throughout scripture I’ve found countless verses about rejoicing in who the Lord is. 

Loving God and loving others can come with sadness, and I am learning to say “that’s ok”. I have only been at The Dale for about two months now, but regardless I have heard many stories of hurt and hardship, and though they make me sad, it is more important to walk alongside friends in love through it all, rather than searching for my own happiness.

There is one friend at The Dale, who mentions almost everyday that he is sad. I know that I cannot fix that, but what I can do is love him. I know that I cannot change the fact that many are dealing with the loss of loved ones right now, but I can love them. I know that God loves me unconditionally, so I can love others.

An Open Door

Now it has officially been more than a month since I started here at The Dale… and I really do love it!

There is something special about an open door. A space with an open invitation, open to anyone in the community, embracing them with open arms. Attitudes shift when you tell someone they are welcome, when maybe they are used to being pushed away or unwanted. 

This month, I experienced a night of caroling that The Dale does throughout Parkdale, every year. It was a festive night, filled with hot chocolate, Christmas songs, and laughter. We were quite the mob as we clustered together to sing on street corners, outside the library, inside a restaurant, and a few other spots. 

As we sang, some people in the community clapped, stared, took photos, but best of all- some joined us and sang along! 

I loved being a part of this crowd, spreading joy, and welcoming growth to the group as we moved about; people from all walks of life all uniting to do the simple joyous task of singing carols. 

Before we burst out into song on the streets, we gathered in a room to enjoy refreshments and chat. Erinn shared a bit about who The Dale is and, as she spoke, one phrase struck me; it was how she described people as having a “common humanity.”

It stuck out to me because that is the best way to describe it, this big picture that is missing in our culture. We all come from completely different backgrounds or lifestyles and yet we are still all united in this common humanity. 

Our society tends to build these walls between people who are (in their mind) too different. This leads to the exclusion, ostracizing, and disregard for people. It feels as if there is this self righteousness that can be achieved- but in reality no one can achieve that, and as a result, people are left with pressure, stress, and hopeless. 

In joining The Dale I learned how they like to go against the norm. The Dale opens its doors and says you are loved the way you are. It says you belong. And if that isn’t communicated well enough, if someone feels like there is still a barrier, it becomes our mission to remove it. 

The truth is, we can’t achieve self righteousness. The Dale can say “you are worthy of love”, but only Jesus can make you righteous through faith in Him. As it is written in Philippians 3:9,

“and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”

There is so much comfort in knowing that Jesus accomplished the impossible for me. So now, just as Jesus opened the door to a sinner like me, I’m excited to be a part of this ministry that holds the door open for everyone.

Here is a photo of our lovely caroling group!

Since I am still just starting, I’m far from my fundraising goal. If you would like to help me financially, you can donate on thedale.org and specify in the comment box that you would like to support me. And again, don’t hesitate to contact me for more information!

my first blog post!

Hi, I am Olivia Dower! I have just started on staff with The Dale Ministries, and I will be posting on this blog regularly to share the journey with you. 

Let me start by telling you what The Dale is! 

The Dale is a ministry located in Parkdale. Many follow up this statement with, “Where is Parkdale?” So here is a map:

Parkdale is located on the west end of downtown Toronto. It is a multicultural neighbourhood that struggles with poverty in many ways and is now dealing with a wave of gentrification. 

The Dale Ministries is an organization/church without walls. It has no building, but regardless, it is everywhere. The Dale is in coffee shops, churches, homes, and parks and even pours into the streets. We run programs throughout the week such as: lunch drop-ins, coffee hangouts, Bible studies, breakfast drop-ins, Sunday church services, etc. But, The Dale is even more than these weekly programs; it is a presence in the community. The Dale is a family that journeys through life together. This could mean moving someone into their new home or visiting someone’s cat. It could mean celebrating someone’s birthday or bringing them their favourite snack while they’re in the hospital. You never know what each day will hold!

This year I graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where I studied Urban Ministry for four years. My time there transformed my relationship with God and my understanding of ministry in the city. During my studies, I was required to do an internship in my field. So, last summer I joined The Dale for the first time! You can read about my experience there through these blog posts:  The Dale Is and Saying Goodbye

But to summarize, I fell in love with the ministry there!

Coming back to Toronto after school was a difficult change at first, but I dreamed of going back to The Dale. And this fall, Erinn, Joanna, Meagan, and Pete (the lovely Dale staff) welcomed me back to the Dale with open arms! You can read Erinn’s blog about this transition here: Here We Grow Again: Welcoming Olivia

Yesterday was my first day working in the community! I am excited to say, it was a great day. I was welcomed in with hugs and encouraging words as I reunited with friends and met some new faces. I love being back and I am excited to share with you how it goes. 

If you would like to join me on this adventure, stay tuned for more blog updates! Feel free to reach out to ask any questions you might have or even just to chat, I’d love to talk!

thanks for reading!

Since I am just starting, I’m still far from my fundraising goal. If you would like to help me financially, you can donate on https://www.thedale.org/donate/ and specify in the comment box that you would like to support me. And again, don’t hesitate to contact me for more information!

Awesome blogs by The Dale staff:

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