Beauty can rise up out of the ashes.
If you read my last post you will know that I have been in the middle of a very difficult situation. While I won’t explain the details of it here, I can share some of the expressions of care and love that have poured out of it.
Bare cupboards have been filled.
Out of some people’s relative nothing, a sweet assortment of thoughtful gifts have been procured for the hurting one. One giver had less than $48 in the bank for the entire month, but wanted to participate by giving a treasured something from their belongings.
A Dale friend who knows the same kind of pain being currently experienced said, “Everyone needs someone who KNOWS what this feels like. I want this person to know they are not alone. I will write them a letter telling them so and offer to listen”.
I can’t walk down Queen Street West with out people stopping me to ask how things are and offer to pray.
This has been an opportunity for The Dale, along with our supportive extended community, to stand in the gap that exists when the limitations of “the system” are exposed. It’s a special thing when a group of people who know the gaps all too well can work to eliminate the cracks, rather than simply reside in them.
This has been an especially intense, difficult week.
I find myself considering the words of Nouwen: “Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
As an advocate in the middle of a very difficult and complex situation I have been simultaneously full of the awareness that there is no speedy fix at the same time as longing for one. I am touching pain that is beyond what I have known myself. I have participated in conversations that, leading up to them, I was sure I had no words for. Finding the strength to compassionately respond has hurt, not because I don’t want to, but because the nature of the problem is that sad.
I am also reminded of The Beatitudes: that it is precisely in the poorness of spirit, the grief and sorrow that blessedness can be found, for there we can do nothing except turn to God. It is in this turning that I find hope. Hope is coming in the form of a whole host of people willing to help those hurting, meals showing up, friends checking in and gifts being thoughtfully given. My prayer is that those at the core of the crisis will discover that this hope is intended for them, and that while there is no immediate cure, help is on the way.
I got challenged recently and it stung.
It was December 15th, the day of our Christmas meal at The Dale. The room was buzzing with activity, including food preparation and carolling. The spiced chicken was being prepared off-site, since the kitchen we use is limited in its capacity to host that much meat. A Toronto Star reporter had come to, as she put it, “observe”. As I stood at the side of the room I remember distinctly thinking, “this is so GOOD” and having a wash of gratitude pour over me.
My thoughts were interrupted by someone I know, but admittedly not well. I will not describe the person, except to explain the gist of what I heard them say: “You have not been successful at building community here”. I was stunned. In fact, at first I thought I’d misunderstood, only to discover that I was wrong.
I’ve worked closely with people for many years, long enough to know that criticism will most certainly come. Fortunately, I deal with it much better now than when I was twenty. I also know that The Dale cannot be all things to all people. This incident surprised me, maybe because it was in the midst of a day that was marked with joy. I found myself stirred up and sad.
Since that day I have tried to uncover more of what is at the root of the sentiment I heard. It is complicated and probably less about The Dale than originally suggested. It still causes me pause, which I think is, though I wish it came in a less painful way, a good thing. At the beginning of this new year, I find myself waiting and listening for God to illuminate our next steps as a community. As we consider casting The Dale vision further, we must keep asking ourselves “what is it that we’re doing? And why?”
We desire to embrace people and to allow ourselves to be embraced by them. This takes time. I’m hopeful that for those who feel on the outside of what it happening, something will shift and they will come on in.