Bookending, Acceptance, and Making Home: Reflections from Resident Leader Alyssa

Blake Street as Home

As a Resident Leader for Act Five, I’ve had the privilege of watching three separate groups of people make this place home over the past 18 months: two groups of students, and one group of summer sublets. As a result, I’ve become ingrained in this neighbourhood and in love with this square piece of land on Blake Street, as much as I have been able over just two years. 

When you think about it, that’s a really short time to be somewhere and experience so much turnover and transition. People move in, stay for a while, and leave. Then a new group moves in, stays for a while, and leaves. The community’s habits and rhythms are short-lived. But in these small windows of time I’ve noticed something: that for each of these groups, this house became their home during the time they lived here. These people became their people, and they cared about this place. 

As we’ve come to the end of Term One, I can say I’ve seen it happen again. Sixteen young adults have made, and are making this place their home. 

Last week, before students returned to their families for the Christmas break, we had two consecutive evenings of storytelling. One after another, each person shared stories of reflection from the term and ways their sense of belonging, connection to the land, or experience of homemaking has been changed or enhanced. We heard tales of challenge on the canoe trip, of the practice of paying attention. Stories of perspective shifts on Barton Street, and the ways they now think about land and our connection to it in a new light. Descriptions surfaced of unique people they’ve met in Hamilton and of experiences of moving away from their childhood homes for the first time. It was beautiful! 

In each of these stories, there were references to this place and this community as being a central ingredient to their journey this term. Inside jokes and funny anecdotes arose, and questions were asked of each other that revealed something significant: these people know and care for each other. Jon said it well recently, when he noted that the “knowing” that happens in this home and this program is rare, and it’s beautiful. Often we take it for granted. 

Woven Together

We began the term by walking up the Wentworth stairs to meet John Terpstra, local Hamilton author, who welcomed our students to Hamilton. He read us his poem Welcome to Hamilton, written for Act Five. He writes of the changes and complications of a city that is both wounded and thriving, and invites students to become a part of it. Throughout the term, students saw and interacted with this reality in their daily activities and projects. Then, at the end of the term, we hiked up the stairs again, this time to hear Daniel Coleman share about his story in Hamilton and how he has come to love this place by first paying attention to his own backyard and the people who lived here before him. From Terpstra to Coleman, those experiences at the top of the stairs bookended the students’ time in Hamilton. 

Our term was “sandwiched” in other ways too: in outdoor experiences, with the Canoe Trip and the Amazing Race, and in celebration. Beginning with our first meal together in the backyard, we practiced well celebrating the “milestones” of the community: a thanksgiving meal, a “Prom” (in lieu of the cancellations of our students’ high school proms this year!), and finally the Christmas party. Our students really know how to dance! Likewise, the term began with Nina instructing us at Camp Norland to sit down quietly and just pay attention for thirty minutes. The term ended with students sharing their stories of how that practice informed their experience of the whole three months with Act Five so far. The term was written with moments of beginning and moments of ending. Through these open-and-close experiences, times of welcome and celebration, I’ve been witness to something subtle, yet remarkable, this season.

My Own Discipleship

Lastly, I want to conclude by sharing about my own discipleship during my time as a leader at Act Five. The following are excerpts from my journal during two separate days this past semester:

“I’m sitting by our tarp, on a small patch of sunlight that’s poking through the trees. It’s so warm and beautiful. Everything looks like it’s glistening. My body and mind both feel rested. I think I’m finally starting to understand what people mean when they say that nature is restorative. In the past two days, I think I’ve begun to feel or sense a little of what it might be like to feel whole, and to not be afraid.” – September 20, Walsh Lake, Temagami

“This has been a challenging time for me. I’ve cried, my hands are raw, my body is sore. I’ve been wrestling with myself to give up control.” – September 20, Walsh Lake, Temagami.

“I’m tired. Lord I need you. I know I’m limited. I know I’m addicted to my phone. I feel weak. I feel sad. Joyless. Like everything takes effort.” December 11, Blake Street, Hamilton

“It’s pretty cool how they [the Act Five community] all moved in here as perfect strangers, and now are as familiar as they are with each other. When I take time like this to watch it, it’s wonderful.” December 11, Blake Street, Hamilton

As you can see, I’m a person who holds within myself sharp contradictions. One moment I feel full of life, and the next, drained. I can be satisfied and, seemingly simultaneously, longing. How hard it is to accept this in myself! The term, for me, was “sandwiched” you could say, by these contrasting realities of what it means to be Alyssa.

I’ve been reminded that this is God’s work. All too easily, I forget the gift of what we get to do here. At 7:55am when I groggily make my way down the stairs to join our community for morning prayer, I’m often more irritated at the person who is late than observant of the joy that it is to gather together every morning, look each other in the face, and commit to living out our day alongside each other. God is inviting me into a radical acceptance of myself and others, and to make my home here, with these people, in this place. I am again made aware that this is his program, and he will be the one to both begin, and finish, the work he is doing in our students — and in me. 

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