Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Transitions - Stepping Out not looking Back

Today is Mental Health Awareness Day, so I thought I would jot down a few thoughts.

Transitions can be scary.

Since the tail end of last year, I have been aware that I would be entering a new phase this year.
I did not know then that it would be so painful. For the last 13 years I have faithfully worked at pioneering a ministry. It is hard to let something you grafted over fall to the ground.

Sometimes you just need to let things fall and walk away.

Christian ministry can be the most peculiar thing. In one sense the joy and privilege of getting to connect with people and journey with them through life in the hard times as well as the good is just brilliant.
The demands that Christian organisations can put on you however can be unrealistic, soul destroying and to be quite frankly, very un-christian.

When all the weight is put at one end of a scale, one side is weighed down.
An uneven yoke is hard to carry.

I find it very interesting at the moment that there is social media trending and discussions on how the church will evolve in a post Bill Hybels era, along with discussions about Christians with mental health issues. People seem surprised that mental health is an issue for people in ministry.

I am quite surprised that Christians are quite surprised about this.

A church/Christian organisation has to marry different organisational entities. In one sense it is a corporate body and business structures need to be applied... but in another sense those organisations should operate with a different value base. Getting the balance right is so hard.

I have seen some organisations lift and lay business theory and plop it into church culture... This can work but the reality is quite often that these practices are plopped in without making the necessary culture modifications. The result is that you have a man made business mentality with absolutely no allowance for seeking God's heart.

The opposite can often be as bad. The opposite is that you have a Christian organisation that sees any plan or structure as a worldly mindset and does such things out of necessity. No forward planning can set you adrift.

Getting the equilibrium would be wonderful.... an organisation that is both prophetic, organised and oozing with the Love of God.... people may even be attracted to that.

My experience or Christian organisations is that they can be hard task masters.
Who has not heard comments like "It's okay, you will get your reward in heaven"
(Yeah thanks but if you drive people too hard  they may get to heaven faster than they should)

Or who has not had that colleague or person who has an uncanny knack of sending you an email on your holiday and starts by "Sorry to bother you when you are off" but still expects you to reply or grant whatever request they have at the click of a button. (I don't care its a holiday period, I want my needs met week or 2 weeks is too long to wait)

The problem with being a good natured person is that some people take advantage of your good nature.

So then you need to put boundaries in. We need to reset our heartbeat to be in time with the Father.... no running away with ourselves... just getting back to basics.

Sounds simple but if you start with new boundaries, some people react to the fact that the culture has changed.

If an organisation has an existing bad organisational culture, one person trying to get people to think differently is like a salmon swimming upstream.
 Constant knocking against the tide can really take it out of you, even when you are doing the right thing.

Structure can be a good thing, but if the pendulum swings too far either way you can have a controlling culture or a rootless, drifting and messy structure.

As Christians getting the balance right is so important and that is why we have to constantly align to God. We are also so different. Some are prophetic and some are apostolic. These characteristics often clash.... but both are needed in the church. Too much of one and not the other can adjust the pendulum.

I am sorry to say that even in this day and age its hard to be a woman leading things, even in organisations that outwardly promote women in leadership... there is still resistance.

If a man is confident, it is assumed he is a good leader. If a woman is confident..... she's okay, as long as she knows her place.

I know that some people reading this might even be objecting to my honest reflection and opinion in the blog..... after all organisations don't like to think that they  have a bad organisational culture....Ironically it tends to be good organisations that recognise they have practises that they need to change.

So I am letting go of the balloon. The visions, they dreams, the broken promises....

That can be scary too...

It is often after you step away or stop that you can see the true damage, trauma and exhaustion that you have allowed to happen to yourself.

You have to look after SELF and care for self.

When you have done so much for others and others have let you do it - it can be hard to say, actually I am doing this a different way now.

So, I am starting on a new adventure with God. How to continue my call with a different hat on.
The dynamics of that are still fuzzy. Like do I use my skills with other organisations as a volunteer or do I work towards consultancy and freelance work?

As a business owner already , a dog walking business, for now I think it is fine to use community worker gifts  for people or organisations that appreciate them... and I get involved in ministry that I feel called to, not what others think I should do.

There is a lot of freedom in that.

As a lifelong learner, I am always open to the new.... and with God as my lead... I am happy to go along with him on the journey.

Just me, God and a dog... ( or a few) makes for a better balanced day.

Take Care Of your Mental Wellbeing.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

A Prophetic Word from a Pig Farmer

At the end of last year I decided to book a Prophetic conference. I went myself and did not invite friends to go. I just went. I knew I had to.
As those of you who know me, you know that I find being a home based missionary hard. I have often wondered how a home based missionary gets a break.

Things got to breaking point the week before the conference. I decided the only way to take a break was to actually do it. With no time scale in mind.

So I arrived at the conference, with relief and uncertainty.

When I got there I wondered if there would be faces I know.... in one way that is nice but in another way I just wanted to be me.

On the second day I saw someone from my mission organisation. I thought I would say "Hello" but at the same time I did not expect word would have got out that I was on Sabbatical.

So I said Hello.

The person I knew was talking to people I did not know. There was a kinda awkward moment where the man she had been talking to asked me what I did.

I hummed and hawed for a few seconds as I explained I lead a team of missionaries but I am on sabbatical.... so I guess I run a business as a dog walker.

The man and I started to chat about how dog walking is just as much part of my ministry. It helps me to  grieve. It is also a way people connect with me. It is a way I connect with God.

The man laughed.

He said I know exactly what you mean, I am a pig  farmer these days. My daughter dog walks and she started that after a traumatic time.

Infact, I felt God has spoken to me about dog walking. Can I share it with you? Can I share this word with you, and see if it resonates with you?

Of course you can.

You are going to think this strange, it involves dog poo.

Okay, I said, let me be the judge of that.

The man, (we will call Mark) proceeded to say this.

As a dog walker you follow an animal and pick up mess. It is not your animal, so you are essentially following this dog around picking up someone else's mess. It is not a job that most people would do. It is quite literally something that could get your hands messy. Some people may even turn their nose up at you, as its a job that is menial.

You are not afraid to roll up your sleeves and get into the everyday mess of broken people's lives. You are community focussed. You care about people.
You do a kind of ministry that some people would not care to do. It may look small to some people, maybe even insignificant but it matters because people matter to God. Some might look at your ministry and think "What is that?" It's not big and brash and glossy. You are not afraid to work with brokenness and the down and out. The people on the fringe that could be lost or missed. You are at the heart of what matters.

I laughed.

"Isn't God good?" I said.

A pig farmer talking to a dog walker about servant hearted ministry. (You really could not make this up.)

I know some of you may read this and think "What?"

But I look at this and I smile.

I smile because God knows me. I smile because no more than 48 hrs before this encounter I decided to pause what I was doing. Tired and disillusioned.  Just to run my business for a bit.

Then Mark comes along with this insight. He does not know me, yet he spoke into the what was relevant at the time.

It most definitely resonated with me.

We parted company, a fleeting encounter, yet a meaningful one.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

In it for the Long Haul - Being obedient in the midst of trial.

Around this time last year, I had the privilege of having a YWAM team come to my city. I had the opportunity to speak with them. Having a team visit is often a way for you to encourage, envision and sometimes even recruit long term staff to the city. So I thought of all the history of what we did and why we do it. The things that give me passion - loving someone without any conditions. Sharing the gospel by Word and by deed.

But then when I went to bed, I felt I had to share some of the hard stuff. Being on short term mission is different to being in it for the long haul.
Short term mission you can have long days that are packed with meeting after meeting. On the road... but then you go home or move on...

You don't have time for establishing long term relationships and you look for the outcomes, who made commitments... who was healed...

Long term you are home, you can not go at the pace you would as a short termer ( otherwise you would burn out pretty fast) and you are interested in relationship with your neighbours and local churches.

You have to be able to cope when the rough and the smooth.

So after a sleepless night, I felt I had to change what I was going to say.

The next morning, my son came down the stair and suddenly told me some events that had happened the previous day at school.. he did not want to go to school because of what happened. It required my immediate attention and so I had to arrange to see the Head Teacher and the team had to wait.

Running an hour late and sleep deprived, I knew more than ever that I had to be honest with this team how hard it is at times.

I have had a rough 4 years...with little let up. I won't go into what I said, if I am honest I am not entirely sure. It was passionate and from the heart.

What I do know is that several thanked me for my honesty. I also know that more than one of them connect with me from wherever they are in the world if the want to chat about or mull over decisions. They know I will listen... they know I love the nitty gritty of pastoral care. Helping people to evaluate their position and enable them to create a space where they can stand back and work out what God is saying to them. It is easy to tell students that full time mission is just the best ever... and it is at times. I am fortunate to be able to share my life everyday and share hope and love... but there are days that are hard. Sometimes even Christians don't get you. Or they want you to spend more time with them, instead of those who don't know God. Almost like you will fall off the wagon, if you don't set yourself apart.
All of these encounters with people matter, even if it is 30 minutes of my day (or more). Seeing people through these small things are just as important to the more visible parts of ministry. One person matters to God.

Life is messy, are you going to roll your sleeves up or stand back and pass judgement?

If we are going to train people to be in the mission field, we need to equip them how to stay when the going gets tough. My trials can not compare to that of missionaries in danger zones.

I was juggling the challenge of ageing parents, bereavement, the grief of your children, whilst the challenge of bullies. Being a mum and doing work. Not to mention feeling orphaned. Then the panic of being in a supermarket, when you are at the point of still trying to function..Every part of you at full stretch for years, whilst few noticed.

You just want to scream "Can anyone see me?"

Just like the dynamism of short term mission you can't sustain that without the cracks beginning to show.... but you are on this runaway train and you can't jump off.

Spinning plate syndrome occurs...

Until one day God says "BUCK"

So like a heavy laden donkey, the yoke that has been weighing it down has been thrown.

Have I given up? No chance, I know who called me and I know who will see me through. Some things will be picked up again and some things won't.

This might be a crossroads in the journey.... or the end of the chapter ....but its not the end of the story.... but it may be a new chapter is about to begin.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

One voice can be the ripple that effects change

I sometimes say that I have Meerkat syndrome. Sitting upright, wide eyed and looking around, eyes darting in assorted direction. Point me in the right direction and off we go.
Lately I feel like I am playing swingball..... only I am the ball.... and there are some very hard plastic bats taking swipes at me.... sometimes they miss and sometimes I get right hooked. Only with more than one player in the game... the concept of turn the other cheek comes into play and both sides of my face are smarting.
So to continue with my random thoughts... What happens in swingball if someone thinks they have won.... you reset... and it starts over... and next time the game play might turn out differently.
Swingball is a great way to vent your frustration....but if we do that to people that is an altogether different matter.
Work places have an organisational culture... Some are good and build you up and some are a bed of bullying that tear you down.
Like many news items of the day there is a surge of people starting to speak out about behaviour that is wrong and inappropriate. Celebrities, Models, athletes are all finding a voice to things that have been kept under wraps. We have seen how hundreds of women have spoken out in court.
Actions that people take either intentionally or accidentally can leave a scar.
Sometimes physical, sometimes mental or emotional.
One job I had was in a Sports store. That had a very interesting assistant manager, who had some very unconventional ways of treating staff. If something was out of place at the end of the night, he might take the entire rail of clothes and throw it on the floor. One night he did this to every rail where the sizing was out of place, made the staff watch and then ordered them to pick it up and do it again.
He then locked the doors and said no one would leave until he was satisfied.
There were some young staff members in the store who were shaken and did not know what to do.
 I was in my mid 20s.... I also don't like bullies. So I calmly told the manager that under EU workplace directive I would give him 20 mins of goodwill to help him tidy his mess. I then said my husband is sitting outside waiting for me and if he did not open the doors at that point I would call the police and let them know that I was being held against my will.... Unsurprisingly the doors were unlocked and all the staff were allowed to leave.
I have often wondered how long it took for him to tidy the store that night
 The next day, I went to the manager and gently explained that his assistant was less than professional the night before. (We all knew that he had been arguing with his girlfriend, a store supervisor, and his anger was taken out on the rest of the staff.)
I am quite an accommodating person. If I am treated with respect and asked nicely (and if I am able) I will go the extra mile...come in early or work on my day off if something crops up that needs my attention.
I don't like it when people appear to not respect you. Manners and courtesy don't cost.
When I told the above story to a class of community workers, one person piped up "but that is a common place sports store culture"
Having never worked in a sports store before I was unaware that was the case... My answer was simple... It is not right, why is it allowed. People are too frightened to speak up as they fear they will lose their job.

Community workers help to empower people, they advocate, champion, encourage and build people up. They stand up and be a voice for the voiceless. That can be a hard thing to do.  It can be seen as challenging authority and if the organisation is big enough, I am sure they can make things very awkward. Some people give up for they sake of their sanity. Some people whistleblow and end up on Panaroma or at the more extreme cases.... in exile. There can be a cost to speaking out or challenging wrong behaviours.

I see the value in every person... even the ones that are broken or outcast.
One bad move in life or even a few can find you on a course  that you never planned... and the exit is not easy to find.

Recently during Street Pastors I found myself getting hugged by a man who was begging. I had just said how precious he was to God. (I am not always so forthright on the street) but he hugged and hugged me.... until it became slightly uncomfortable for me if I am honest.... then as I finally managed to break the hold he whispered " Thank you" "I can't remember when someone was willing to hold me, they think badly of me instead" My thoughts of discomfort melted away as God showed me his heart of compassion for the man.

Thankfully, there is a God that will always be there, unconditionally no matter who you are.
Life is full of such interactions.... and sadly it is all to easy to miss the important interactions of the day... as we have made ourselves too busy to see what is clearly in front of us.

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