Getting in Rhythm

The University of Washington 1936 Olympic rowing team wins the gold!

The University of Washington 1936 Olympic rowing team wins the gold!

Heading into this new year and new season, Dr. Morgan Wills’ comments taken from the 2013 Winter Edition of Healing Waters are fitting:

At a recent Siloam staff retreat we offered an “unplugged” session where team members could ask any question they wanted of me as their new CEO.  Seizing the moment, one intrepid staffer asked: “Where in your life do you feel completely incompetent?”

Yikes!  Although there were many things I could have shared, a reflexive answer quickly tumbled out of my mouth: “On a dance floor.”

Truth be told, musical rhythm eludes me.  Like many men with two left feet, however, I have learned over the years to compensate.  Can you say, “Line dancing”?!  Yes, it is easier to find rhythm as a part of a group.

I found this to be particularly true in college as a member of the freshman crew team.

Dr. Morgan Wills, President and CEO, Siloam Family Health Center

Dr. Morgan Wills, President and CEO, Siloam Family Health Center

With eight large men, each pulling on 12-foot oars in a two-foot wide racing shell, there is little margin for error.  Hitting the water out of sync with your teammates can cause an oar handle to smack you in the midsection – called “catching a crab” –  slowing momentum and potentially even knocking you out of the boat altogether.

Those first few months on the crew team were awkward – especially for the novice rowers like myself.  But after getting over the initial learning curve, something cool began to happen.  Our ragtag group of oarsmen began to row as one.  When rowers move completely in rhythm, they can generate a phenomenon called “swing,” when boat speed exceeds the sum of the individual rowers’ contributions.  A team with swing can outperform more frenetic crews rowing at a much faster rate.*

We have seen major transitions for our team at Siloam recently.  Many staff are new – or in new positions.  We have been learning to navigate through the “wake” of health care reform, and we are experimenting with new tools – such as a new website, a new annual fund campaign, Health Assist Specialist services, and a nurse-driven home visit program.  At times it has felt like an all-out sprint with new rigging amidst choppy waters.

But after a challenging start, our team is starting to settle into a rhythm.  We are learning how to pull more in sync with one another, our patients, our volunteers, and our partners in the community at large.  Maybe even sensing a little swing!  The objective?  To provide exemplary, affordable, whole-person health care for the roughly 5,000 uninsured patients God has given us.

These patients are some of the most vulnerable in the city – and among the most challenging to care for. To move effectively amidst such challenges, it helps to have someone else set the pace – to enter into a rhythm that is bigger and steadier than your own.

For the Christian community, the Advent and Christmas season offers such an opportunity.  It is an invitation to get our lives in rhythm with God’s healing activity in the world.

Perhaps it is unsurprising then that one of the keys to our team’s newfound swing comes from these words of Jesus, which we pondered at our staff retreat:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  (Matt. 11: 28-30, The Message)

As we head into a new year, please keep Siloam in your prayers.  With uncertainties afoot and so many moving parts to consider, we are prone to wander off the beat.  Whether in the all-consuming business of “religion” or health care (or both!), it’s easy to look around, get anxious, crank up the pace, and burn out prematurely.

It is so much better to keep company with the Master!  As we go about our work in 2014, may we all learn to live freely and lightly, to keep time with “the unforced rhythms of grace.”

*(For a fascinating glimpse at this dynamic and an inspirational slice of history, check out the award-winning book we’ve discussed in staff meeting, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics.)

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