Tag Archives: lessons learned

Polarity Management

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These past several weeks have felt very full! We participated in the “Spring into Parkdale” street festival, hosted a couple of different youth groups, went to a Street Level (www.streetlevel.ca) conference in St. Catharines, and held an open mic night, along with all the usual Dale programming. Erinn was also away for one of those weeks, which I’m sure is good for my character/leadership development… but I’m always VERY happy to see her come back 🙂 So, these weeks have been full of tricky challenges, lovely, sweet moments, and lots of learning. I’d like to share one of the biggest and most helpful bits of learning with you.

At the Street Level conference, Erinn, Steve (a member of our outreach team), some Sanctuary friends and I went to a session about Polarity Management.

Polarity Management is defined as “mastering unsolvable problems by achieving healthy tension between conflicting values”. Some classic polarities include planning vs. action, work vs. home, stability vs. change, etc. The basic idea of polarity management is that it’s not about choosing a side, or about finding the “perfect balance” between the two poles, but to achieve a healthy tension. Like breathing- we need to both inhale and exhale. There’s no “balance” between the two, but there is a dynamic, healthy, flow.

This concept is super helpful in the context of The Dale, and really in any community, organization, relationship, or within an individual. We all manage these types of conflicting values all the time, but having the language to talk about it is very useful, and it’s relieving to realize that struggling with the tension is actually a sign that you’re on the right track.

Coming back to The Dale, after the weekend, I started to take notice of the polarities that we need to manage as a community, in the framework that we had talked about at StreetLevel.

One of our deepest values at The Dale is the invitation into full participation. The polarity that lies beneath this value is that of empowerment and accountability. We have community volunteers who are deeply involved in the running of The Dale, and we recognize that we need to provide good structure/guidelines/supervision for these precious folks. The tension between these two things is tricky, and now I understand more fully that that’s okay! We need to keep the dynamic flow between these poles going, in order to work towards the higher purpose of full, healthy participation for everyone who wants to be involved. And this is just one of many polarities that I identified, once I started thinking in those terms.

So, I’m thankful for this new found language and framework. The idea of living with uncomfortable tensions isn’t new to me- in fact I wrote about it in my “Do this in remembrance of me” post, with regards to my thinking about alcohol… But being in that workshop, recognizing that we’re all in this together, and that there are helpful ways of thinking through these tensions was a gift.

Lord, grant us all the grace and wisdom to live in the tension, and trust you in it.

 

My friend and teacher

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I have a friend who I’ll call Jane. She is in her 80’s, and we first started hanging out last year because she needed help with grocery shopping. We would walk together (very slowly) to No Frills, pick up some food, walk back to her rooming house, and share some tea and cookies (or pop and crackers, depending on the week!). She always offered me something to eat, even if she wasn’t feeling well enough to go out. And she always wanted to chat.

When I met her, she was living in a house with about 7 other seniors. The conditions weren’t great, and she often told me that one of her housemates had “sticky fingers”, so she always kept her door locked. While she made plenty of loud complaints about her housemates, she also made a point of celebrating everyone’s birthday. She would buy ginger ale and a cake, and get everyone to sign a card for the birthday person. She also gave me a card for my birthday, graduation and Easter.

I’m sure she would have given me a card for Thanksgiving too, but in the late summer Jane had a stroke. Her ability to eat, speak and move the right side of her body were taken away. When I went to see her in the hospital, all she could do was cry, and all I could do was hold her hand and tell her that I loved her and that we missed having her around The Dale. It was brutal to see this vibrant, hilariously chatty, relatively independent woman confined to a bed, unable to communicate except via her tears.

A few months ago, Jane was transferred to a long term care facility across the city from where I live. I still get to see her every couple of weeks, and these visits are precious to me. I’ve realized, over the last year of our friendship, just how much Jane has taught me.

She taught me how to slow RIGHT down, and be in the moment. When we went for groceries, I needed to change my quick, long stride to match her shuffle. This was surprisingly hard to do, in our fast-paced world, but so good.

She taught me the beauty and importance of hospitality.

She taught me to celebrate everything, in the midst of crummy circumstances, and to celebrate everyone, even if they cause you frustration.

And last week she taught me another lesson. I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to her, when her feeding tube machine started to beep. A nurse came in, made some adjustments, and left. I read another paragraph, then it started beeping again. The nurse came in again, pushed some buttons, and left. This happened at least 4 or 5 times. By the third time I was getting annoyed, but when I looked up from the book, I saw that Jane was giggling! This was huge on a couple of levels; it was the first time I’d seen her laugh since her stroke, and she was laughing instead of getting annoyed! By the fourth and fifth time, we just looked at each other and chortled! In that moment, she taught me the power of humour over annoyance.

I’m so thankful for Jane, my friend and teacher.

As the day rises to meet the sun

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I often start my day by reading from a book called “Common Prayer: a liturgy for ordinary radicals”. The first line is always the same: “O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.”

Due to the incredible generosity of some friends who invited me to join them on their family vacation to Mexico, I had the joy of watching the sun rise over the ocean a few days in a row last week. It was beautiful, and humbling to remember that I wasn’t actually watching the sun rise… I was rising, along with the day, to meet the sun. The sun doesn’t disappear at night, we simply turn our back on it. And the sun doesn’t revolve around us, we revolve around it.

Thanks be the God, the same applies to Him! God is there, whether we turn our backs or allow ourselves to bask in the light. We change. We go through seasons. God does not. He shines brightly whether or not we acknowledge Him. Without the sun, there is no life, and without God, there is no sun and no life!

I am deeply grateful to have had this time away to rest, reflect, read, swim, eat, swim, read, reflect, swim, eat, rest, swim… you get the idea! And I am deeply grateful to have a home like The Dale to which to return!

And I am going to try to remember, every morning, that we are rising together to meet The Sun.

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Some post-Christmas and New Years thoughts

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Christmas and New Years can be complicated times. Christmas, especially, is an emotionally-charged time, and I have a lot of conflicting feelings about it. I had a bit of a breakthrough this December, which I’d like to share with you.

I accidentally went to the Dufferin Mall on Black Friday. I should say, I went to the Dufferin Mall to buy Advent candles and a swim cap, and I forgot that it was Black Friday! It was a terrible experience. So many people, so much consumerism, so little peace. I didn’t find any Advent-appropriate candles or a swim cap, but didn’t want the trip to be totally fruitless, so I picked up some cookie cutters to use the following week for a tree-decorating-cooking-baking party with my housemates.

On my walk home I thought about the experience that I had just lived through, and how it fit into my understanding of Christmas. I have always been bothered by the consumerism/materialism that surround Christmas, and find it SO frustrating that we collectively spend billions of dollars on a bunch of stuff we don’t really need, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of a baby who was born into poverty, became a refugee, and challenged his followers to live simply. I think that giving and receiving meaningful gifts is a lovely thing, I just don’t think that we need to spend SO much money, and I don’t think that buying more stuff should be the focus of Christmas. And yet here I was, walking home having bought cookie cutters because I didn’t want to leave the mall empty-handed!

But then I thought more about my new cookie-cutters. I hope to have them for a long time, and they are tools in the creation not only of home-made cookies, but of memories with my friends. They represent some of the great things about the Christmas season… time spent together, good smells, yummy tastes, beautiful memories. Along the same lines, we, at The Dale, did a bunch of Christmas baking, went caroling, and held a Christmas open-stage, decorated with red, white and green lights. These things (cookies, carols, lights, fun times) don’t need to be linked with the consumerism/materialism of Christmas that I oppose. They also aren’t the “true meaning” of Christmas, but they’re really great! I don’t have to to boycott gingerbread, just because I oppose the mall!

Then I thought about Advent. I never did find Advent candles, but made a makeshift wreath with tea lights and one tall candle in the middle. I did not grow up with liturgy, but went to an Anglican theology school and was introduced to the Church calendar, including Advent. This year I have really fallen in love with Advent’s focus on waiting, longing, aching and hoping for Jesus. Waiting in hope is hard, but it is good. This is a huge part of the Christian life, and I love that in December we sit and dwell in the waiting.  Advent has nothing to do with consumerism, and also has nothing to do with gingerbread. I know there are connections (Jesus is God’s gift to us, so we give each other gifts… We celebrate his coming, which includes feasting), but in my mind these three things (consumerism, gingerbread, etc, and Advent) are distinct aspects of the phenomenon that we call “Christmas”.

And then there is the fact that Christmas is hard, for lots and lots of people. The whole festive-ness of it all brings up pain for many reasons. Families are broken, relationships are strained, loved ones have died, resources are scarce. Christmas is hard for many of my friends at The Dale, for all of these reasons and more. And, as many of you will know all too well, this pain extends beyond the street. Many (maybe even most?) of us struggle at Christmas-time. The pain that we experience is raw and real, and we are in it together. This year I have been learning to dwell in the pain; not minimize it, and not make it more than it is.

So, Christmas is still complicated, but I think I’m okay with that! I have realized that I can be opposed to the consumerism, enjoy the gingerbread, dwell deeply in the hopeful waiting, and work through the pain. Or at least try to!

And then there’s a brand New Year, just beginning! After the intensity of Christmas, it’s refreshing to think of a new year, even if we know that the struggles of 2013 are likely to continue in 2014.  I haven’t made any resolutions, but am praying for increased wisdom and grace, two things that I know for SURE that I will be needing this year. And I hope to continue to dwell in the hopeful and patient spirit of Advent all year long.

So… Happy New Year, everyone! May peace be yours.