Transformation in Darkness

When you hold a tiny seed in the palm of your hand, it looks plain. Insignificant. Smaller than a grain of rice. But inside that tiny seed lies something uniquely beautiful that God is creating deep in the soil’s darkness. This past May, we planted seeds for Sanctuary’s community garden. After we had carefully pressed the seeds into soil in their small seed containers, there was nothing much to see—we began waiting for what seemed the most remarkable: tiny green sprouts emerging from soil. Except this year, I was aware that the remarkable often happens long before we ever see that first green shoot emerging…

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.33.16 AMOne year ago May, we planted our community garden for the first time. As our garden filled with tomatoes, carrots, beans, peppers, brussel sprouts, and more, I was constantly reminded of how these plants were symbolic of new things God was creating in and around us: moments of his Kingdom in our Sanctuary community—God was growing beautiful seeds in each of us and in our relationships. Many 

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of our Sanctuary friends struggle in various ways: mental health issues, poverty, addictions, trauma, unhealthy relationships, homelessness, social disconnection, loneliness, and more. But there is also hope and resilience, healing, wanting better, and seeking joy. As the garden plants sprung up, and I witnessed the abundance of green filling the garden, it was a symbol for me of God’s faithfulness: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

I thought I understood what God was showing me: the importance of celebrating and proclaiming these good things that I perceived with my very own eyes—the plants I could see growing in abundance. But then, this past winter, God showed me a deeper meaning of his promise of a new thing—a trust in what we could not see. During a season of darkness both for myself and a few of our Sanctuary friends, God felt far away. And with darkness often comes a time of questioning: where was God during the darkness? Where was he when we had lost hope, wrestled with grief, depression, and illness, and longed for family, belonging, renewed marriage, reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, and recovery?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.31.43 AMIn the midst of darkness, God showed me that he often does his very best work in a place we cannot yet perceive—under the heavy soil, where that tiny seed is held in the fullest darkness, and where no human eye can see. I began to think more deeply about God’s transformation in our darkness. For a seed to become a plant, it must first crack open and come apart; it must go through germination, deep in the darkness of soil. The seed absorbs water, and its coat swells and softens. The cells of the seed divide and the root grows down into soil, anchoring the plant and letting it absorb nutrients. The curved neck of the seedling emerges from the seed, pushing slowly up through the soil and finally into the light, where the first seed leaves open.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.19.41 AMIn our own human darkness, what feels like death can actually be life—a transformation of our heart and spirit that causes our own leaves to open fully. Perhaps a call to change, growth, healing, and deeper relationship with God. Or something else uniquely wonderful. But in the place where it feels like no light can reach, God is doing a new thing in us! This year, as we planted seeds, I finally understood that the waiting time—when seeds are below the soil’s surface and all we can see is plain, bare soil—is actually the most beautiful part. He is working in ways we cannot yet imagine or perceive. Without this waiting time, we would never have the chance to behold the new and remarkable things God is doing, to see them transform, take root, grow, and spring up, and to trust and celebrate the harvest that is coming. 

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Coffee House!

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To Be Seen be seen and known, to matter to someone else—this is one of our deepest universal human desires. The heartbreaking opposite is to be invisible—to have others look right through you as if you are a part of the sidewalk. When others don’t see you, you start to lose yourself; you disappear little by little…

It’s mid-evening, and the Richmond sidewalks are a mess of melting spring-snow; damp air and drizzle sting my face. I notice a man a little ways ahead, in the shadows of a store front; he’s agitated, his posture tense, his voice loud. Soon, I can see his disheveled dark hair and scars on his cheek. It’s Freddy, a man I’ve come to know during many walks downtown, where he sits on the sidewalk day after day, ready to talk with anyone who will listen. 

I’ve never seen Freddy so upset before. When I pause and say hello, he seems surprised and relieved to see me, and before long, the hurts of his day pour out, his words tumbling faster than I can catch them. He tells me how a couple of people walking by that day said unkind things to him and judged him; but worse, he explains, were all the people who pretended they didn’t see him and said nothing at all…

“I’m a nice guy! I’m a nice guy, and I say nice things. Even the police know I’m nice, and they leave me alone, because they know I don’t cause trouble, don’t hurt no one. But the people who walk by me… they judge me! They say mean things, or lift their noses at me. But the worst is when they ignore me. I say hello and they walk right by, like I’m not even here… Why won’t they talk to me? Why am I invisible?”

The truth in his words overwhelms me. He tells me even his family won’t have contact with him. “No one in my family calls me when someone dies. When my aunt died, no one even told me.” To feel invisible is an unbearable loneliness. “Someday I’ll die on the street, and nobody will even know.”

I wish more people knew Freddy. For me, he’s always been welcoming and kind, inviting me into conversation, remembering my name, and making me feel at home. He tells me about his family, his sons, his life regrets and hurts. I’m blessed by his trust and openness. It seems easy now, to stop and talk, but I’m aware there was a time when it wouldn’t have been as easy, when I didn’t yet know the beautiful ways that God would reach me and love me through someone like him.

My story in learning about homelessness and poverty goes back a few years. I was new in London and attending Western, when I first began hearing confusing advice from well-meaning people: ‘don’t go downtown. Maybe go as far as Richmond Row, but not all the way to Dundas.’ They advised it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t like it, the people there were ‘different’… I know they were trying to help. Truth was, some of them didn’t seem to even know why there were telling me—it was a message passed on from person to person. A never-ending cycle of fear perpetuated by lack of understanding.

Thankfully, I ended up exactly where they told me not to go… living out community in the downtown. Thankfully I became involved with Sanctuary London, where I began to meet many people at street-level… some of the most warm-hearted and caring people I’ve ever met. During my walks downtown, I started to chat with Freddy and others in his shoes—I started to really see them in new ways.

Someone who doesn’t know Freddy might have misunderstood his frustration that night as unkind or unsafe, and avoided him. But the very reason for his anger and hurt was that no one knew him—no one cared… the chaos in his heart was born of a deep longing for human connection.

How do we get there, I wonder? How do we stop closing our eyes and pretending the hurt right in front of us doesn’t exist? How do we treat those we meet on the streets like they matter, as God’s sons and daughters, as his beloved? How do we follow God in loving those we are afraid to love? Often it’s through these very friendships that he gives us eyes to see, eyes to behold his glory. And as we see the ‘other’ with love, we also receive the eyes to see ourselves with love, and the deeper knowing that we too are God’s beloved.

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Warming the Cold

“It’s been 20 years since I slept outside in the winter…but when we get temperatures like this, I can still feel that cold. It’s a pain filled cold. Empty… yeah, I still feel that,” Manny shared with us a couple … Continue reading

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YOU are Invited!

Sanctuary’s 3rd Anniversary Celebration Return to the 80′s! Power bangs and mullets, Rick Astley and Twisted Sister, moon walks and Rubix Cubes! Join us for a night of fun, music, and an air band contest! Friday, February 28th, 7pm-11pm 513 … Continue reading

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Sanctuary is ‘Together’

It had been a long, stressful, and difficult day, and my heart was not in the best shape. To make matters worse, I was arriving at the Wednesday drop-in later than usual, and I dreaded entering the large, crowded atrium … Continue reading

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A Closer Look Into Sanctuary’s Monday Drop-ins!

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Ever wonder what we are up to Mondays at Sanctuary? This photo story will give you a closer look into a typical Monday drop-in. The fun, friendships, community, support, meal… but most of all, the togetherness and belonging, and walking … Continue reading

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Amazing Grace

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It was an early spring day, rainy, mid-March, and the drop-in was crowded with people coming in from the damp cold, stamping water off their boots, and gathering around tables for warm soup and sandwiches. Luke and I were sitting … Continue reading

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Love Stretches

I love you… You matter to me… I will not leave you.We long to hear these affirmations, but when they come, we struggle to believe them. We push them away. That’s impossible, we say, I’m not good enough… why would … Continue reading

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