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Why do you have a gate?

When I started visualizing a place where The Butterfly Project would begin I made a sketch of a country driveway with a wooden picket gate. I also drew a cottage nestled in some trees with 2 Muskoka chairs on a deck beside a pond. I’m an artist. Imagery is my language. Some people thought I was putting the cart before the horse by visualizing the place and showing my drawings. If I knew then what I know now, I should have drawn more.

I recently started reading a book called Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster. In his book he describes a man named Bezalel. Bezalel was the artist who was in charge of building the Tabernacle. (You can find his story in the Old Testament in the book of Exodus chapters 25-31). Richard Foster makes the point that Bezalel caught the vision for what the Tabernacle could be. He had to see it as a thing of beauty in his mind’s eye before he could build it. He also said Bezalel had some unusual personality qualities as well. Sounds like my kind of guy.

There’s definitely something to the idea of making the invisible, visible.

A few weeks ago we installed a gate across our driveway and some people have been wondering why. I had pretty much forgotten about the drawing I did, but I have felt very strongly that one of the first things we needed to do here was install a gate. I thought it was providential when I compared our new gate to my drawing from 18 months ago and that alone seemed like a good enough reason to me. Like Bezalel, I have caught the vision and have started to piece it together. There’s more to the idea behind it though.

I’ve shared in other posts about a trip that Mike and I took to Alberta the summer of 2019 to visit a ranch that cares for children who have been sexually abused. That trip was a turning point for us and really marks the beginning of The Butterfly Project, even though at that point we were still saying “this thing that God is calling me toward.” It might seem strange, but one of the things that impacted me the most about visiting the ranch was the gate at the entrance.

Having never been anywhere west of Ontario, driving through the very wide open spaces was a sight to behold, and somewhat unnerving as we were depending heavily on the accuracy of the directions we had been given. We turned off the highway down a country road, turned down another and another, we were beginning to wonder if we were going the right way. Then, as we drove over the crest of a long hill, we saw a gate. A really big, intimidating gate. We slowed down and drove forward very slowly as our minds worked to make sense of what we were looking at and legitimately wondering if we had in fact taken a wrong turn. I looked at Mike and said, “What’s with this? Looks like the kind of gate you might see at a jail, not a ranch for kids.” There was even a booth by the intercom that would normally occupy a security guard.

We pulled up to the gate and I got out of the car. With some trepidation, both because of the intimidating gate and the fact that after 10 years of dreaming of this moment, I was a bit nervous. I pressed the button. “How can I help you?” “Hi, my name is Christina MacBean, I have an appointment to see Jen.” “Sure, no problem. The gate will open in a moment. Please park in X parking lot just inside and to your left. Please come directly to the main office, you’ll see the sign.” I got back in the passenger side of the car and waited for the gate to open. When it opened, it lifted and tilted upward to the side rather than sliding across. As we drove through and the gate closed dramatically behind us, I felt a big lump in my throat and my stomach was unsettled. I felt for a few minutes like I was in jail and really wondered if the kids that are brought there felt the same way. It definitely was something I wanted to ask about.

It seemed very unlikely to me that anyone could find this place without directions, certainly not wander in ‘off the street’ but it happens. The kids that go there are often involved in domestic abuse situations. There have been instances when the accused spouse shows up irate and demanding to gain access to their child, even though there is a court order prohibiting contact. There are other situations that are so violent and disturbing, the gate is the least they can do; it made me think they should have an armed guard. Truly unthinkable circumstances.

What do the kids think of the gate? The kids appreciate it. It makes them feel safe. When it closes behind them after they arrive and are told by the police or the intake worker “you are safe now” the kids believe it. Healing begins with the closing of that gate. The physical protection also has a significant impact psychologically. It initiates the beginning of a "scaffolding" or framework that helps kids to be fully present and engage in the program without worry or concern that something ‘bad’ might still happen. Leaving at the end of the program is equally powerful. The kids have done some healing, they have been given some tools, they have gained some resiliency. Leaving through the gate is like a rite of passage; a sign of healing, change and accomplishment.

When we left the ranch through the gate, we knew something very significant had just happened. When I imagine what this place could be, I want people to know they are entering a sacred space and when they leave, I hope and pray they leave with that same sense that something significant happened.

You can see for yourself our gate is not very intimidating. When the Amazon guy came the other day, he parked and just walked around the side post because the gate was closed. No biggee, but we do need to get a mail box! The gate is meant to be a visible boundary, at the least it suggests the desire for privacy. Since we plan to have vulnerable people here, establishing some boundaries early is imperative. There will come a time when it will be very important for our friends and family to call before they drop in because the anonymity, peace and tranquility of our guests is essential, as is our obligation of confidentiality. People who have just gone through or are actively in crisis are fragile and need to be in a somewhat controlled environment where they are free to regain calm, find rest and connection.

This is something we are working toward even now. Covid has prevented us from having friends and family here as often as we would like but with the restrictions gradually lifting, we have been preparing to have guests. We're looking forward to afternoon BBQ's, evenings around the bonfire, and maybe even a few campers who are brave enough to really tough-it-out back in the bush. Our hope is that even now, any encounter with this place, whether that’s the delivery driver, my parents or friends, they will have the sense that there is something significant about this place and leave feeling rested and connected.

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