I was away for the past couple of weeks. I had the fortune of spending a few days working with the leaders, Board of Directors, and service users, of a women’s shelter in Ontario. During my time there, one full day was spent talking with, and especially listening to, women who have accessed this shelter and those residing in Second Stage Housing. As they make plans for independent living, Second Stage housing programs provide housing and supports for women who have left abusive relationships.
The personal stories of these women are more than most of us can imagine. These women have literally fled for their lives. Thanks to these programs, they now sit in a place of tentative promise. Promise of safety, emotional support, and security with food and housing. For now, they told me, they feel like they are home.
As we talked, they gave me suggestions for changes in the system they have had to navigate. My task is to relay their ideas and reflections to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director, and the Leadership Team so they can be considered as we create the new Strategic Plan for this organization in the new year.
It's a privilege to be trusted with not only their stories, but with their ideas, suggestions, and dreams. Many of these women’s voices have not been listened to and most have not had their voices valued.
At the same time I carried out this work, I worked on a Leadership Review for another Shelter. There were more stories to hear, more feedback to receive and the challenge of putting it all together into a practical, accurate document.
In our second week there, Jim and I embarked upon our usual whirlwind tour of Southern Ontario. Our timing was perfect for so many things. We celebrated my mom’s eighty-ninth birthday, with a gathering of not all, but many of my siblings. I was able to accompany Jim’s mom, now ninety-two, to her doctors visit where she completed a cognitive functioning test. She’s noticed her memory slipping and wanted to make sure it was not something more than just age-related memory loss. It surprised no one to find out there is absolutely nothing wrong with her memory. As the doctor said, you are not perfect, but you are really good. We had most incredible visits with a few treasured friends and spent time with my brother, Daniel, who I miss not having nearby here.
As we flew home, I had time to ponder not only the work I’d completed, and the wonderful visits we’d had, (not to mention the report I had yet to write), but I also pondered gifts. Gifts we handed out along our route, gifts I had yet to purchase, the gift of safety I’d witnessed in the Shelters, the gift of family and friends, the gift of giving, and the gift of receiving.
I’m not an easy person to buy a gift for. I suppose most of us aren’t. We are lucky to live in a world where most of our wants don’t get dusty on our shelves. When we want a book, we get it, when new music comes out, we download it, when new fashion graces magazines, we order it. It makes for a nice life, but it’s a challenge for others who might want to leave a gift under the tree for us.
What I really want for Christmas is a box. I’d love for it to be decorated beautifully. It doesn’t need to be a particular size. It just needs to have room for my memories. I have so many precious memories from this year. I wish for a box that can hold them all. I want to be able to take them out and look at them, feel them and remember them. I want to remember the first time I laid eyes on our precious new grandson, Andy. And I want to remember his beautiful two-toothed smile of late. I want to remember all my Gramma days with Ben, and our camping trips together, my incredible Tuesday hikes in the mountains with Brenda, Jim’s and my adventures, big and small, my summer bike ride with Greg, and our family ride on my Birthday. I want to remember my conversations with Kaitlyn, and our time spent together. I want to be able to remember exactly how it felt cycling up the incredible hills of the Cabot Trail with my brother. I want to remember the things told to me by the women I met at the shelter, so I never take my life for granted.
As I write this, I realize this one box will not be enough. I want another gift. Another box. This one can be empty. It will hold the space for all the memories I hope to make in this next year. I’ll keep this box in plain sight, reminding me I hold the power to fill it any way I wish.
As the busyness of the Season washes over us, and we rush about attending to all the things on our list, may we each take time to make a few little memories, and add them to our carefully decorated boxes. At the end of it all, I can’t think of any better gift than a box filled with our precious memories.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What memory am I adding to my box?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations and for conducting leadership reviews. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to create your best memories.