Is this an interruption or is it the thing?

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Is this an interruption or is it the thing?

Dear friends of Refuge,

I love interruptions. But they do tend to throw my internal universe off balance. I’m not a particularly laser-focused human being anyway, so when I am focused enough to be productive, an interruption can seem like the enemy.

Except that interruptions generally come in the form of people. People I happen to love.

Early on, interruptions divebombed me in the form of little boys to whom every work of art, every question, every minor injury, every need for one more story or a glass of water ranked as a worthy interruption… or did it? I’d look the interrupting kid in the eye and wonder if this was an elegant ruse meant to divert me from my motherly duty to keep them focused. Or was it simply an expression of a tiny, beautiful soul crying out for me to see him? The same feels true today with every question, need, request, or simple hello that comes my way.

I recently shared the following “interruption story” with my friend, David Roth, the executive director of Memorial Drive Ministries. He nodded knowingly and asked the very kernel of all those niggling questions interruptions generate in me. He said, “I always wonder: Is this an interruption, or is it the thing?”

The thing meaning the important, central, valuable, necessary thing that is often hidden in all the other more measurable, purposeful, main things we nonprofit leaders do.

Is this an interruption or is this the thing?

As a leader, I find myself having to define the thing often, to explain in bullet form to myself, to our staff, to customers, followers, and donors what exactly it is that we do at Refuge. It’s a helpful exercise to continually communicate the thing. It brings clarity. And then interruptions come along that distract me and yet somehow more poetically define the thing.

Now for the story: Susan McDaniel, our COO, and I meet for several hours every Monday. We never fully cover all the things on our agenda, but we press forward in these meetings with remarkable intensity. We often meet at Refuge Clarkston, knowing we will most likely be interrupted. She’s great about it and I try to be.

Last Monday during our meeting, a man I recognized as a regular customer I’ll call Abraham approached us with his phone held out to me. He was having difficulty getting on a zoom for a court date and hoped I could help. Apparently, he’d just missed the zoom call. Then his phone rang. He answered and handed me the phone. The voice on the line was his public defender who asked me if I could impress on Abraham how important it was for him to be at the courthouse on a certain date at a certain time.

He asked me if knew any Amharic speakers who could help, and I told him I knew a bunch and in fact worked with several. Then he asked if I could get one to come to his office as a translator. Somewhere along the way, I told him I was sitting in a coffee shop and that the Amharic speakers who worked there full-time wouldn’t have the time or ability to come, but that I could probably find someone to help. Then the attorney asked, “What coffee shop?”

Turns out he had been to Refuge, so he offered to come later that week for coffee and a meeting with his client. Our Clarkston manager, Frey, was more than willing to translate for him, so the attorney and I set a time and date for their meeting last Friday. Abraham’s English is more than adequate, but he was desperate for support from someone who could help him navigate the confusing dilemma he was in. Soon after that meeting took place, I arrived at Refuge. Abraham was still there chatting with Frey, Leon, and our dear friend Darara, who is an attorney, speaks Amharic, and happened to be there to sit in on the meeting!

I can’t tell you how many times someone in our community has approached me or one of our staff members at Refuge, phone held out and important questions on their lips. Our customers have caseworkers, friends, family members, often a rich support network, so we are in no way providing for every need.

But, with your help, we have provided a safe and accessible space. A space that is wide open to interruptions, the kind of interruptions that make up the big, meaningful thing, the thing we would never be able to do without this place.

Grateful for your part in making space for good interruptions,


P.S. There’s power in a place. Ours in the heart of Clarkston happens to be expensive to keep open! Read a little more about that below.

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