What Easter Means to Me

Spring is just around the corner and with it comes Easter. For many, it can be merely a long weekend to spend with family or children’s activities like hunting for chocolate eggs. But really, what is Easter all about?

 If you ask people on the street, you’ll probably get answers like, “a Christian holiday”, “new life”, “Spring”, “the Easter bunny” and “Resurrection.” Indeed, Easter is the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Isn’t it strange that we have a holiday mourning death (Good Friday) and then almost immediately, celebrating life (Easter Sunday)? Yet, I am reminded that we ought to be doing so every day—gratefully remembering sacrifice as well as taking hold of the wonders of life in the present.

Our society and culture teaches us to plan ahead for our own personal gain, but many in our street community are forced to live in the present. They are just trying to survive. Making it through each day is an achievement in itself.

They have taught me a deeper meaning to this passage in Matthew 6: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

So many in the street community exemplify this. They have no other option than to live by faith. And those with faith hold fast to this promise, truly depending on our heavenly father to provide daily bread. Why is it so difficult for our society to live in the present rather than constantly trying to get ahead in the rat race?

To me, Easter is about recognizing the trials of everyday life, but living each day anew in the midst of them. Every day is a new day. Every moment is a new moment with the potential for hope and life. Be present in each conversation, action and activity. Take in today for all it’s worth. Stop and smell the roses because Spring is just around the corner.

Gifts of Love

It was Friday morning and persistent rain had continued through the night. I had just about finished delivering coffee, donuts, blankets and sleeping bags to the absolute homeless who spend their nights in the doorways and alleys of our city. It was still before dawn and I was wet through to the skin. There was a different kind of chill about that morning.

The traffic lights on Government and Johnson Streets were just about to change to green when I noticed a tall, young, well-built stranger, walking down out of the alley. He was pushing the familiar shopping cart full of blankets, clothing and articles that I thought he had dug out of the dumpsters that night. He stood motionless at the edge of the alley while I parked the van and walked towards him. As I approached him, the smell of the alley was foul in the air.

It was then that the night lights of the street revealed the stranger’s face for the first time. He had a stoic face, a face of the past, free of emotion and of time itself. It was almost marble in appearance. He was perhaps a Roman and certainly European — strikingly handsome.

Before I had the chance to speak he asked “Do you wish anything from my cart? All is for sale. I have a good radio, a CD player and some great vinyl records and other family treasures?”

He was at least 6 foot seven, his arms sculptured with muscle, large neck, Roman-shaped head. Definitely his eyes were timeless eyes. Eyes of wisdom; of insight. They sparkled in the early morning light. They were eyes of intrigue; luring eyes; seductive eyes. What was his story I wondered? Surely a man of such obvious strength combined with his handsome, noble features need not be rummaging through our garbage for his existence.

He began to push his cart forward. I offered him a coffee and a donut. “No thank you, he answered. “I have all that I need here in my cart.”

I began to walk with him, for he had caught my curiosity and I longed to know his story. As we walked up Johnson Street I told him who I was and what I was doing out in the early morning rain. He then suddenly stopped and intentionally looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I know who you are and what you do every morning; it is my honour to walk with you”.

Just then we heard the cry of a young woman. She was sitting on the steps of a doorway that led into a hair salon. She had obviously been collecting pop cans and empty bottles all night. One of her garbage bags that held the pop cans had fallen over and they were all over the sidewalk and lying in the gutter in front of her. She had her head buried into her folded arms resting on her knees and she was sobbing uncontrollably. She was shivering and shaking while her wailing broke the silence of the night.

The stranger quickly left his cart, stepping around the pop cans that were scattered on the ground and spoke softly to her, “Give me the cans and I will give you what you need”.

She lifted her head and looked at him, her eyes wet with tears, her nose running. He stepped back to his cart, quickly dug through it a while and pulled out a small rectangular wooden box. He opened it and presented several new white silk handkerchiefs, that were wrapped neatly in the box. As she grabbed a clean handkerchief out of the box and put it to her eyes he said once again “Give me your cans and I’ll give you what you need”.

In an angry voice she replied, “Take the fuckin’ cans; I’m too tired to carry them anyway.”

With that he went back to his cart and dug through it, this time for quite a while, before he came upon an old wooden ring box. He lifted the lid off the box and presented it to her “This was my mother’s wedding ring; it has great value. Bring it to the jeweller on Fort Street. He knows someone is coming with it. “Promise me” he said, “that you will not sell it on the Street. Its value will offer you the possibility of new life in abundance.”

She wiped her nose with a clean white handkerchief, looked at the stranger and said “Thank you.”

Without a word, he turned around, rather quickly grabbed his cart, and began to push it once again down Johnson Street. I realized he was weeping, also wiping his eyes with one of the handkerchiefs from the box. It was then for the first time that I noticed that the seat of his pants was wet but because it had rained all night and I myself was wet through to the bone I didn’t think too much of it.

We came across another homeless man on Douglas Street sleeping in a doorway–his cart full of old blankets and other items that he had gathered from the garbage can the night before. Once again the stranger left his cart and said softly to the homeless man “Give me your old blankets and I will give you what you need”.

“If you need the blankets you can have them, but they’re wet; they’ve been in my cart all night.”

The man quickly went back to his own cart and dug through once again for a moment or two and found an old wallet. He handed it to the homeless man. “Take this,” he said. “It will offer you the possibility of a new life; use it wisely.”

Quickly he turned, grabbed his cart and began to push it once again. The tears running down his face were too prevalent not to notice as he wiped them away with the white handkerchief he had in his hand. We did not walk far before we came across an old man wrapped only in a dirty old army blanket, unconscious on the wet cement beneath him. The tall stranger went to his cart and pulled out several clean new blankets. He took the wet dirty blanket off the old man and gently, one by one, laid some of his new, clean blankets over the old man’s cold body. Tears once again streamed down his face as he then grabbed his cart and began to push it along.

By this time the light of the day was beginning to break its way over the majestic Olympic Mountains and the city was coming alive with traffic hustling and bustling its way into town. It was then I noticed drops of blood running from his pant leg dripping onto the ground. “You’re bleeding.” I said. He stopped pushing his cart and looked at me. “I know; I’m dying,” he said. “Yesterday the doctor told me I only had days to live. I decided that I would go to my home and collect some my of valuables and give them away in hopes that whoever I gave then to would find life as my life was passing away.”

I walked with him while he pushed the cart another two or three blocks before he was unable to push it any longer. “Call the ambulance,” he asked. “I cannot push my cart any longer.”

I called and in a few minutes they arrived. They wrapped him in clean blankets, placed him on their stretcher and put him into the ambulance.

“What do you want me to do with your cart?” I asked.

“There is nothing of great value left in it,” he said. “Bring it to the alley where we met and let them have what they will.”

As the ambulance drove away, I pushed the cart back down Johnson Street to the alley where I had met him. I did not look through his possessions. I left the cart there as he had instructed.

Due to the rain the next night there were many that needed my ministry on the Street. Many needed dry socks; one the needed a coat; many asked for dry, clean, safe sleeping bags. Some asked for bus tickets. One had cut his hand badly while digging through our garbage dumpster the night before and needed me to wrap his hand in clean gauze — while others were just thankful for the warm coffee and the simple donuts that I offered them.

One of the younger women came up to me and said, “Look Rev. Look at this beautiful necklace a stranger gave me last night. He said it was his grandmother’s and that it had great value. What do you think?”

“Did he tell you to go to the jeweller on Fort Street with it?” I asked.

“Yes; how did you know?” she answered.

“Did he say it would offer you the possibility of a new life?”

“Yes, he did say something like that.”

“Go to that jeweller this morning,” I said. “New life is being offered to you.”

To this day I do not know the stranger’s name nor do I know if the gifts he gave were of great value, but I’d like to believe that the gifts given by him really did offer the possibility of new life for those who received them. I also know this: I have not seen the three people he gave the gifts to on the Street since that morning.

Yes, even today, miracles are possible when gifts of love are offered.

Winter Community Report is Up!

Winter is passing quickly – flowers are beginning to poke out through the ground and soon, the rain will let up. As we leave behind the cold winter, we want to share our latest stories with you. That’s why I’m thrilled to share our winter community report with you.

Read about the holiday season with the Dandelion Society, learn about why it is so important for me to visit our street family in the hospital and hear a little of my friend Michelle’s story.

These stories wouldn’t be possible without your generous support. Without you, the work that I do to support Victoria’s street community would not be happening. Without you, these stories wouldn’t be possible.

My sincerest thanks to our supporters

I feel humbled and grateful for all the cards, letters, gifts, donations and calls wishing me and the Dandelion Society well and encouraging us to continue our ministry on the Street with the suffering Christ in our midst. This letter, as you can see is a collective “thank you”. I would have liked to write to each one of you and to each group, personally, but you can imagine I cannot! I must say I feel held, loved, warmed, and strengthened by this hidden – yet not so hidden – gentle cloud of family, friends, volunteers, donors and community. It is like the cloud of the unknowing in which God is hidden and revealed. The creation of this cloud goes back to that first Christmas, a cloud of Saints present and hidden.

The Dandelion Society is only three years old. Its future will depend on you being part of the vision, your ongoing support, your dedication and your willingness to put your shoulder to the plow as we forge ahead. Our heartbeat is a relationship-it keeps our heart of belonging alive. The people we serve are loved and they know it.

Thank you does not express my feelings for all of you, for you are rather part of my heartbeat in our relationship together. We have done wonderful things for wonderful people in 2013. If we together continue to hold hands and opening our circle for others to join us, in 2014 we can move mountains

Rev Allen Tysick

Executive Director of the Dandelion Society

The courage to look into his eyes

He was sitting on the corner of Douglas and Yates panhandling and I sat on the wet sidewalk beside him, “top of the Christmas season” he said. The deep wrinkles, furrows on his face revealed a lifetime on the Street. His layers of clothing over a skeleton of a man revealed the condition of his health. The familiar odour of his unbathed body revealed the suffering trampled down Christ at Christmas.

Yet this man, his humility, his littleness, his gentleness, his openness, his total welcome to all who approached him reveals him as a living disciple, a Guru, a man of wisdom, a deeply spiritual man.  I have seen consistently over the years the way he gives away his personal items that he has found, as he has dug then out of the dumpster, offering others the only things he has.

As I sat down beside him he reaches into his worn out dirty backpack that he carries around with him day in and day out. Rev “I found a set of rosary beads in a dumpster last night and I thought of you” as he handed me the rosary with his right hand he closed my hand with his left hand saying “they should be kept warm and close of the heart.”

When we talk about wishing that Christmas was all year round, he makes it happen as he gives his gifts away endlessly. Over the years I have come to realize that he had been offering all of us a bigger gift than the material gifts he offered freely.

He has given all who take a moment to just look into his eyes the gift of touch, with tenderness. It’s this gift he possesses, to touch with tenderness, given freely which is the treasured gift that this modern day wiseman offers to all who have the courage to look into his eyes.

He is showing his age, now near the end of his life. Just perhaps this is the last Christmas he will touch me and others with his tenderness. As I walked away, etched in my mind was his look of his wine colored eyes as he gazed into my heart. They were the eyes of the weary Christ, the feminine Christ, the trampled down Christ, the poor Christ with a gift in his hand freely offered to all who have the courage to be.

Our Christmas Eve Vigil

It is easy to lose sight of what matters at this time of year, especially when we are all be pushed so much towards the consumerism and materialism that takes over Christmas these days. It is for this reason that on Christmas Eve, I want to encourage all the citizens of Victoria to join me in a midnight candlelit vigil on the legislature steps to remember Canada’s poor.

While many of Victoria’s citizens will be tucked away in their warm, cozy beds, we will be gathering together at 11:45 to pause, slow down and reflect. We will be remembering those in our city and nation who have died because of homelessness or who are still suffering in poverty.

For the past two years, we have come together like this on Christmas Eve, bringing our own candles to honour all those that we are there for. We carry the candles as a reminder that though we are just one person, we can still make a significant difference in a dark, and often unjust, world.

By challenging each person who takes part to really stop and remember the suffering of others with an open heart, I believe that we are more equipped to know what’s wrong with this world, grow in compassion and find the true meaning of Christmas – the desire to really help others. By coming together to remember, we can commit to a brighter future.

Please join me for our third annual Christmas Eve Vigil on December 24th at 11:45 pm on the steps of the Legislature.

Holiday traditions

What’s your favourite holiday ritual?

There’s something important about the repeated pattern of familiar—and familial—activities. This is especially true when theses rhythms are rooted in community, when they’re practiced with that chosen (or not-so-chosen) group of people that make up your family. Maybe you hang Christmas decorations together. Maybe you go over to your mother’s house and stay up late frying latkes. Maybe you travel home to see the people and places where you have roots. But for our friends on Victoria’s street, family support isn’t always an option, and neither are these particular traditions.

Around this time of year, the Dandelion Society gets to host one of our favourite holiday traditions. It happened this week. And two days later, we’re still revelling in the deep sense of community that this tradition provides.

On Tuesday, we filled a bus with our street family and drove to Butchart Gardens to celebrate the season with each other. What a night! We can be a messy family. But it’s in the chaos of our diversity and the cracks of our brokenness that The Dandelion Society’s sense of community comes to life. That’s why traditions like these are so important. We put our services on the back burner for an evening and come together as a community, as family. People bond over shared memories. And that’s exactly what we’re building: memories that build hope, relationships that reinforce it, and a community to belong in.

Don’t get me wrong. A holiday ritual like our Butchart trip doesn’t erase the barriers that someone in poverty deals with. It doesn’t put injustice on hold. If you’re living every day in struggle, and if you’ve spent years building up self-defensive resilience in response to society’s rejection, the holidays can heighten these sorrows. Our Butchart trip isn’t about forgetting this. It’s about responding to it.

We challenge ourselves to break individual cycles of suffering every day. We work hard while providing practical, compassionate services. Sometimes it’s crucial to have an evening that responds with simple things like celebration, community, and participation in something joyful. On Tuesday, the only thing that mattered was to just be with each other: singing, huddling in Butchart’s cafe, being together as a family. Because sometimes, amidst the hardship of the holidays, that’s where we find our hope for tomorrow.

The Dandelion Society AGM

The Dandelion Society had its AGM in the beginning of October and 2012 – 2013 is behind us. It was a very successful year for a small, on-the-ground Society. In many ways it was an unbelievable year. What we have achieved, how we have advanced and most importantly, the numbers of people we have helped for our size was remarkable.

We are happy to report to all our donors that we have ended the year with a zero budget that translates into what you have given for the poor, has gone out to the poor. This shows a nonprofit at its best and what it was meant to do. Thank you for believing and supporting our work on the street with the most weak and vulnerable.

With your continuing support, our vital work on the street will continue and we will be able to help transform the lives of many more.