make zoom great again

As our perpetual state of lockdown, locked out and varying levels of restrictions drag on – the constant refrain we are hearing is how people are “so sick of Zoom“!

I put it to you that people aren’t sick of Zoom, they’re sick of bad Zoom.

I recently attended an online, 80’s themed, Murder Mystery party for a friend’s birthday! It was such a clever night and a great way to celebrate our friend while still in lockdown! We all had a character and most of us dressed up (costumes are easier online because they don’t need to be transportable and they only need to be from the waist up! No pants or shoes to match your costume? No worries!! PJ pants and ugg boots it is then!!). Each household had readied snacks and drinks. No one was complaining about being on Zoom! Saturday night at 8pm for a couple of hours and Zoom was our best friend.

People aren’t sick of Zoom, they’re sick of bad Zoom!

So what makes Zoom good or bad? Bearable or intolerable? Fulfilling and productive or life-sucking and downright depressing? Here are a few of my observations and thoughts.

A MEETING THAT SHOULD BE AN EMAIL IN PERSON SHOULD STILL BE AN EMAIL IN ZOOM-LAND

Don’t assume that a team’s desire to be together will override the frustration we all feel at being in a meeting that should have been an email. Endless recitation of facts, details, calendar items and reading through text heavy PowerPoint slides is not what meetings are designed for and are not a good spend of your Zoom-credits. Meetings exist for relationship building, collaboration, learning, vision casting and role assigning. Send the details ahead of time or circulate them for reading afterwards. Too much information sharing translates to a monologue that is hard to sustain in a physical room let alone a virtual one.

ZOOM TIME IS DIFFERENT THAN REAL TIME

There have been multiple studies and papers released about the realities of Zoom-fatigue. It takes greater effort to remain focused due to audio differences and the reality that our computer’s other open tabs and notifications beckon. We are more self-conscious and aware because we are more visible to ourselves and others than we would be in a physical meeting space – we consequently expend energy managing our appearance, body language, facial expressions etc more than is necessary in real life. There’s less “collective effervescence” – the experience of laughing together, rapidly exchanging ideas and energising creative interactions – because of the clinical need to take turns to speak and the inevitable annoyance that comes when audio intersects and gates. We are more sedentary – less likely to adjust our sitting posture. And a multiplicity of other factors that mean an hour on zoom costs us more than an hour in real life.

If you would normally meet for an hour, meet for 45mins. Normally present for 30 mins? Try 20.

Clearly communicating (and adhering to) the proposed timeline of a meeting will also help participants pace themselves and increase their capacity to remain engaged for the entirety of your time together.

ZOOM MEETINGS REQUIRE STRONG LEADERSHIP

Even more than in real life, whoever is hosting the meeting must work actively to maintain control of the meeting. Establishing and communicating expectations about how this meeting will function is important. Having a clear sense of flow – minimising down time between segments or presenters, reducing talk about the mechanics of the meeting, and making definitive statements about transitions between topics or modes – will help a meeting feel more in control and purposeful. In real life, we can use body language, non-verbal clues, physical actions, facial expressions and other means to demonstrate we are wanting to move on. This doesn’t translate so easily to Zoom and so it takes more effort to keep tight reign of oversharing or meandering contributions. But it is essential for maintaining the engagement of the entire group.

The size of your group will determine what degree of “free-flow” is manageable and helpful – whether microphones should be muted or open (for example). Leaders should feel the liberty to request participants to make changes for visual or sound quality purposes (Turn the radio off. Tilt your screen up a little. Close the curtain behind you.). Who is in your group will determine how much ‘power’ you give participants and how much you restrict to host privileges. The more interruptions that come because of mismanagement of the meeting dynamic the more frustrated and fatigued participants will become.

ZOOM SKILLS & ZOOM BUDDIES

Zoom has customised their platform to have multiple functions that can make meetings more dynamic and a more accurate replica of in-person gatherings. Whiteboard, breakout rooms, chat function, screen sharing, split screen viewing, emoji responses and other options are great for changing up the presentation mode and inviting interaction. However, they can be hard to navigate while maintaining a helpful dialogue.

“And the o….therrrrrr … thiinnnnn …ggggg … I’ll just share my scre … oh, nope, …not that .. and yes, the other thing is … ”

You’ve all done or heard a version of this. The more practiced you are in the engagement of these tools and the more advanced preparation you do, the smoother these things will flow. But if it is at all possible, I recommend traveling in pairs! A co-host who can mute the person whose dog has started barking in the background, or rearrange breakout rooms to accommodate people who’ve joined the meeting late, or interject with appropriate questions or comments participants have made in the chat allows the presenter to keep full focus on what they are communicating or on listening fully to the contributions of a participant.

VIDEO ON OR OFF?

Research indicates that having the video muted increases the energy and longevity of participation for group members, but it reduces the feeling of engagement for the presenter or leader of the meeting. It can also impact the feeling of shared experience if not all members are visible on the call. What are they doing? Are they fully engaged? Have they gone to the bathroom? Are they doing other work?

This can be detrimental to the accountability and commitment of team or group environments. If there is disparity between perceived engagement in a group it will be hard to reach consensus or for participants to conclude a meeting feeling it was effective or productive. This can quickly diminish engagement from participants – why should I have my camera on when others don’t?

A quick statement of expectation from the meeting leader is helpful to establish expectations. “It’s fine for your cameras to be off for this next segment …” or “Can I have all cameras on just while we sort out our decision on this?”

Likewise, narration from participants can bring understanding and build (rather than erode) trust. “I need to have my camera off right now because my child is doing something in the space I’m in” or “my internet is lagging so I’m switching off my camera to hopefully see yours better”.

Some notes for you, the presenter, it’s important that participants see your face well lit and well positioned (not up your nose!) in camera. And research also indicates that seeing your hands is helpful for trust and engagement from participants. If nothing else, the movement you generate on your screen will help re-engage and keep engaged those watching you. Be sure to toggle quickly between shared screen and your video screen to maximise involvement.

EMBRACE THE ZOOM!

As much as it is a distant second place to real life gatherings, Zoom has afforded us a level of relational connection and ministry/work functionality that we would not otherwise have been able to experience during these last 18 months. I would go so far as to say I LOVE Zoom because it allows me to replicate my work contexts and output in a way that means I’m still employable (!) and I am still actively engaging my gifts, skills and passions.

It is what it is and where it is for the foreseeable future. We would do well to embrace that reality and work to maximise its offerings rather than perpetuating the frustration of both attitude and experience.

In my world, Zoom has opened up opportunities that would not have existed for me in real life. Participation in multiple overseas conferences, workshops and forums. Learning from ministry leaders and key thought leaders of a status and location that would be otherwise inaccessible. Maintaining relational connection with family and friends through shared meals, celebrations and online experiences. I love Zoom!

**THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT**

Make sure you laugh! Do what you need to in order to elicit laughter from the group. Even if you can’t hear it or they can’t hear each other – psychologically we know that our brains associate laughter with comfort. We are more likely to recall a meeting positively if we have laughed at some point – even if the meeting itself was weighty or long. Laughter releases happy hormones that increase wellbeing and shift attitude. Do what you gotta do!!! It can take an inordinate amount of effort. It can seem frivolous or time wasting. It might be uncomfortable to deal with the silence (or the sound of your solitary chuckling!). But it is well worth it. Make laughter a goal of every gathering you are part of.

How about you? What steps might you take to Make Zoom Great Again and maximise it as a resource to us while we navigate these strange and challenging times?

be like eleanor – women helping women

Over the weekend I watched the series “First Ladies” on SBS. As the title suggests, it’s a documentary that highlights six wives of American Presidents; the different ways they filled their roles and the impact that resulted.

Amongst all the amazing humanitarian, peace keeping and world changing causes the various women gave their powerful voice and influence to – there was one incident in the story of Eleanor Roosevelt that struck me profoundly.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest serving First Lady as her husband, President Franklin D Roosevelt, was in office for four terms (1933-1945). Out of office her list of accomplishments continued to grow – she appears to have been a remarkable woman – aware of her influence and privilege and determined to use it on behalf of those with less.

One action she took when she first became First Lady was to hold her own daily press conferences. Due to her husband’s illness and her seemingly infatigable capacity and passion, she was an incredibly active part of the Roosevelt presidential reign. The American and global press were keen to know her daily movements and the causes she was involved in. So, she agreed to daily access for the press. However, she only allowed female reporters into the room.

At the time, women were excluded from the President’s press room and so she decided to make the opposite mandate for her own. As a result, news outlets were forced to hire female reporters if they didn’t want to fall behind on the news coming from the First Lady’s office.

What a glass ceiling shattering move! Whatever efforts were being made at the ground level to open doors for females in journalism at the time were instantaneously catapulted to a whole other level of opportunity and experience. Undoubtedly, it changed the landscape for women in journalism from that time forward. It was only 10 years earlier that the American Constitution was amended to give women equal rights to men. This was an incredibly progressive act that had immeasurable immediate and ongoing ramifications.

This right here is how to use your platform. This is what it means to be aware of your privilege and influence. This is what it looks like to recognise that when you get an opportunity it doesn’t stop with you. This is what happens when use your power on behalf of others.

I wanted to stand up and applaud her (and I might have were I not so comfortably ensconced on my couch!)!! It’s women like her that have made a way for women like me … and it made me conscious again of the way we make for those coming after us.

Not only did Eleanor Roosevelt make it to the Whitehouse. She made sure her making it enabled others to make it also. This is true leadership. Another First Lady, Michelle Obama, elsewhere in the series says, “When you walk through the door of opportunity you don’t slam it shut behind you, you hold it open!”

I reflected again on the many who have held doors open for me in my lifetime. And those that did it for them to make that possible. It’s easy to become frustrated by the slow pace of change or the entrenched ideologies and practices that close doors or fortify them to be almost impossible to open. It can be disheartening. But I can do something. I can chock open a door. I can invite more people in. I can sponsor opportunity. I can use my voice – however singular it might be. I can create space. I can pull up a chair. I can be like Eleanor!

I’m grieving

I’m having a moment to recognise how much grief there is – in me and around me.

This weekend, I was meant to be in Perth for a full 3 days of ministry. These are the things I love. Seven different workshops and preaches across three days to multiple different groups. The opportunity to invest in leaders who are engaging in Generations ministries across a number of churches. The privilege to be God’s voice of direction, correction, encouragement, inspiration or blessing as I deliver the messages He placed on my heart to bring.

But instead, I spent too many hours wrestling technology and sound and lighting and recording and editing and uploading … a whole lot of things that have absolutely zero to do with my gift and skill set! And I found myself becoming frustrated as every minute I spend on those things is a minute I’m not working on what I’m really being asked to do. Every ounce of energy and thought and focus spent watching to see that the screens were sharing correctly and the sun wasn’t shining on me in a weird way and that the delivery truck out the front of my house wasn’t going to start reversing and have its sensors beeping into my audio feed … had the potential to draw me away from the content I was delivering and the moment I was trying to hold for the people I was recording for.

And the people! Oh wow, do I miss the people!? I love the moments of exchanged encouragement – waiting in the coffee line, washing hands in the bathroom, sitting at a lunch table, in prayer response and worship. I miss the points of connection as we realise we share mutual friends, or similar life journeys or an interest in Disney movies or the work of Patrick Lencioni. I miss seeing the faces of people as I’m speaking. The nods of affirmation, that eyebrow-up-head-tilt-back movement that signifies an “aha moment” – the laughter over a mispronounced word or some other self-deprecating joke, the bent heads over notebooks that make my heart leap to know that God has nudged them in a personal way – “That’s for you! Remember that!”

And I’m also sad that I’m not in Perth! That for the second year in a row I haven’t been able to visit my friends there or see the beautiful beaches and sunsets or have my retreat time at Hilary’s Harbour. I miss being on the plane and going somewhere. I miss exploring new places and meeting new people.

And that’s just today.

More broadly, I’m missing meals and games nights in people’s houses and meetings in real life. I’m tired of rescheduling and cancelling and “waiting to see” and adjusting and reducing. Living in a relatively new town (I was here barely 4 months before Covid kicked in), I feel like I’m losing momentum on developing new relationships and routines. My friendship circle is shrinking. The freedoms of living regionally are overshadowed by how many of my people are on the other side of the ‘ring of steel’. My calendar mocks me with a holiday scheduled for last May that has been bumped and bumped and will likely just end up cancelled. I miss what psychologists term “collective effervescence”. The sense of “energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose” – the raucous laughter, the passionate exchange of ideas, the robust search for creative outcomes, reminiscing and story telling (that’s hard to recreate in the clinical environment of a Zoom meeting.) I’m genuinely weary from being depleted of extroverted emotional energy.

Etc, etc, etc … wah wah wah. That’s just me – having a pity party for one.

But then I consider my family and friends and I scroll through social media and watch the news and there are so many more stories of grief and loss. Those who can’t visit sick loved ones in hospital or farewell dying family members or attend funerals. Those whose weddings or parties or graduations or celebrations have been shifted and reimagined and cancelled or been adjusted and reduced to something far less than they’d hoped. Sports teams not able to play finals. Concerts cancelled or performed to empty theatres. Newborn babies taking weeks and months to be met. Increased financial pressures on families. Rising rates of Domestic violence and abuse in homes. Ever increasing numbers of children in out of home care. More businesses closing down after each lockdown. Families separated by oceans. Mental health struggles.

Etc etc etc … so much collective grief. So much loss. Languishing and fatigue. Depression and uncertainty. It’s real.

So, I’m having a moment to recognise how much grief there is – in me and around me.

I am easily able to identify good things in my life and the world around me. There is still much joy to be found – so much to celebrate, embrace and be grateful for. I am not without conscience that my lot is a far easier one to navigate than many many others. I’m ok.

But there is space for lament. In fact, it’s healthy to realistically assess what we’re seeing, feeling and experiencing. It’s right to acknowledge the hard and the non-preferred and the downright crappy. There is a “time for everything and a season for every activity”. We achieve nothing through suppressing our grief or forcing optimism.

Maybe you need to take a moment too? To have a cry or a rant or a release of some sort. To acknowledge the loss and grief you’re experiencing – personally or vicariously. And perhaps by doing so, to make room in your heart and mind for the energy required to keep going and to see the potential and hope in what’s still possible and the joy there is yet to be discovered.

learnings from counselling – it’s called trauma

2020 was a year of unprecedented change and challenge for many. (And also the highest ever recording of over-used terms like unprecedented.) So much was disrupted and there was an incredible amount of grief and loss experienced by people in various ways and to differing degrees. All of this at a time when many of our regular mechanisms for processing grief and loss were unavailable – which only served to cause more grief and loss. In fact, experts are predicting a grief bubble is still to burst as people come out from under the immediate threat and the need to ‘just keep going’ and start to feel the full extent of the losses they’ve experienced.

In May-June I experienced a specific (non-Covid related) life event that was devastating for me – personally, ‘professionally’ and relationally. Living alone and in various stages of lock down and restrictions meant it was a particularly bad time to face something so deeply impacting. I needed my huggers and my ‘bucket holders’ (you know, the ones who can handle the messiness while you word-vomit all the things that are clogging up your brain and heart). And also, the nature of the event meant there were sensitivities around who was able to know what I knew or who would be adversely impacted by what I would share – therefore caution was required.

So you just soldier on, right? It wasn’t good, it hurt, I felt disappointed (and all manner of other feelings) but there was work to show up for and things still to be done and people experiencing far more dramatic and challenging life circumstances than mine.

So you just soldier on.

By November the world around me was starting to open up again – shops and restaurants were functioning, the “ring of steel” around metropolitan Melbourne was opening up visitation to and with my family, work was readjusting and churches were starting to gather in person again. But I found myself feeling stuck.

I was struggling to get excited about social outings (yes, me!), feeling the affects of not having a home-church community, experiencing anxiety when I went out in public spaces, fearing or avoiding interactions and conversations, crying too much, sleeping poorly, reliving negative encounters in my head and rehearsing potential future ones. Stuck. It was an unfamiliar and decidedly unenjoyable place to be.

I thought about counselling. I’d never done that before. I thought about it out loud to a friend and the energy behind their response was strongly positive.

A friend once said “If anyone ever offers you a breath mint – take it!” You never know if they’re just generous sharers or are offering it to you for a reason! I think the same is true for friends or family who are enthusiastic about you going to counselling! 🙂 So I booked myself in.

When I sat down for the first session my counselor asked me why I was there. I bumbled my way through a brief summary of the event/s that happened and the various and numerous ways I’d been impacted. I shared how I was embarrassed by the way I was (or wasn’t) coping with it now – some six months later. And the counselor interrupted me.

“It’s called trauma!”

What you have experienced (and are now experiencing the ongoing affects of) is trauma.

Broadly defined, trauma is the response to events that are distressing or disturbing. There’s not really objective criteria for determining which events will cause trauma response. In fact, two people can respond differently to a shared experience. Trauma might evidence itself through flashbacks or intrusive memories, somatic or physiological symptoms (such as those responses associated with the “fight, flight or freeze” mechanisms, brain fog, increased heartrate, feeling hot or cold, gastrointestinal problems, headaches etc), negative thoughts or feelings, general changes in arousal responses, insomnia or oversleeping, emotional dysregulation, substance abuse, anxiety, or depression.

There’s also the phenomenon of ‘vicarious trauma’ which is experienced by those in helping roles or professions. Where, over time, the continued exposure to others’ stories and experiences of trauma builds up to overwhelm a person’s ability to cope themselves – impacting their own physical and emotional wellbeing.

To varying degrees, we all face “distressing and disturbing” events regularly. If we are emotionally healthy and functioning within our own range of normal, we are able to adjust and adapt to circumstances around us with reasonable agility and resilience. Bigger events of loss, threat, conflict or uncertainty move us to the edges of our capacity to cope and the longer we hang out at those edges the more likely we are to start experiencing and exhibiting the above symptoms of trauma.

It turns out, that ‘soldiering on’ probably wasn’t my best strategy. In fact, pushing past emotions and feelings was probably doing more to exacerbate the trauma impact on my physical and emotional wellbeing. Prolonging its disruption to my life and perpetuating unhelpful coping strategies (or avoidances) rather than naming and owning my experiences so they could be more appropriately processed.

“Give yourself a break.” was the basic learning from session one. Acknowledge your trauma, give yourself permission to not be ok … then we can start to work on healing and recovery.

Big Questions from Little People

I love hearing from parents about the ‘awkward’ conversations they have with their inquisitive children.

“Miss 6 wanted to know what ‘sexy’ means.”

“I overheard my kids calling one another ‘gay’ while they were fighting. When I asked them to stop they wanted to know what ‘gay’ meant!”

“My daughter was reading the Bible and wanted to know how Lot’s daughters got pregnant.”

Most times these conversations aren’t quite as traumatic as we make them out to be for the purposes of telling an entertaining story, but more often than not these questions catch us off-guard. We know that “ask your mother/father/teacher/pastor” is hardly an acceptable response – even if it does seem to be the first one to come to mind – and the next one is usually something like “you’re not meant to ask that question for another couple of years!”

I’m often asked for ‘advice’ to help navigate the more sensitive discussions parents are called upon to conduct. I’m certainly no expert but here are my three top tips that may be helpful for those of you preparing for such conversations (or hiding here online to buy time to respond to that question you were just asked!)! 🙂

1. Ask clarifying questions before launching into your response

2. Don’t overshare.

3. Check their comprehension.

A mum was driving with her kids in the back of the car when one of them piped up and asked “Mum, where do I come from?” The mum took a deep breath and launched into a stilted recount of the process of creating human life until her daughter interrupted and said “no, I mean, what hospital was I born in!?” Apparently they had driven past one and she wondered if that’s the one she ‘came from’!

Ask clarifying questions.

A child once asked his mother what sex was and before replying she said “why do you ask?” The son said, “Because Dad said he would play with me in two secs!”

Clarifying questions are helpful to make sure you’re answering what they ACTUALLY want to know and not giving unnecessary (and potentially unhelpful) information.

Once I was watching television with a friend and her 8 year old daughter. The show made reference to AIDS and Miss 8 turned to us and asked “what’s AIDS?” The mother blanched! She whispered to me, “how am I meant to explain that? … intravenous drug use and risky sexual behaviours …” I turned to Miss 8 and said “it’s a disease in the blood.” At which point she turned back to watching the tv.

Don’t overshare.

You know your children better than anyone and can probably best assess their level of cognition and emotional maturity to know how much information they really need to satisfy their curiosity or give them a degree of peace in relation to what they’re asking. By asking clarifying questions you can find out what it is that they are really concerned about. You can discover what they are mentally calculating and processing and how much information will be helpful for them to come to a satisfactory conclusion … for now. They will no doubt have additional questions as they process the information you give them, as their intellect develops and as they are ready to process more details or more complex ideas.

Before your chat is over (and potentially again at a later time or date), check what they have understood from what you’ve said. “Tell me what I just said in your own words.” or “How would you answer that question if someone else asked it?” “Do you have any other questions?” “Has that helped you understand?” Whatever you can ask that satisfies you they have received your information as correctly and usefully as possible.

Check their comprehension.

Finally … don’t forget to keep sharing the stories with other parents (& me). We can all learn something from your experiences … and they do make the most entertaining stories! 🙂

an interruptible life #choosinghowtolive

As I’ve previously shared (read here), at the end of 2019 I started to act on the sense of calling to relocate. I’d been living and working in the same community for close to 20 years and with a change of job came the option for a change of location – so I started looking to move to Geelong.

There are LOTS of things to consider when you look to make a move like this (price, size, style etc) but as I was processing all of these things, the sense that grew to a conviction for me was that it wasn’t just a matter of choosing where to live but how to live. If I’m starting with a blank canvas and almost every option is on the table – what is going to be the overarching framework for how I decide? And the question reverberated, HOW do I want to live?

A primary motivator for the move was to locate myself more intentionally in proximity to people I want to do life with. I want to live within walking distance to a community hub of shops and activity that will allow me to play and shop locally. I want to live in a location that is easily accessed by others and where I can develop relationships with my near neighbours (after 17 years in my previous home I didn’t know the names of anyone in my street!). I want to have a home that allows me to host and nurture community through shared hospitality and warm inclusion.

There was a great picture emerging of what would be possible, and I found the perfect home to facilitate this lifestyle, but also realised that none of this would happen without intentionality and a readiness to live a different way.

I needed to live an interruptible life.

As I said, in my previous home I didn’t know any of my neighbours. I was right into hosting dinner parties and ministry events and stuff but I was also really guarded about my own down time and home time. And so, confession time, on my days off I would go into advanced sloth-mode. I don’t keep a super clean house at the best of times but there were no cares given about my house on my days off. I would try and stay in my pjs all day. I’d eat a lot of food straight from the pan or from the packets and then leave it strewn across my loungeroom. I’d leave shoes, bags, clothes, dishes … whatever … wherever. If I did have people coming over I’d do the massive power tidy (or the morning the cleaner was coming I’d do a sprint around the house collecting stuff – anyone?)! So, often, I’d be at home, and someone would come to the door and I’d look at myself and I’d look at the house and I’d look at the time annnnnd … I’d mute the tv and I’d silence my phone and I’d hide. Not just from people wanting to sell me solar panels – from friends! People I knew!! (Don’t worry – you can’t judge me more than I judge myself!)

So, when I moved into my new place – where “living in community” was going to be a guiding premise and I was set to be intentional about “choosing how to live” – I added to my mantra that I wanted to live an interruptible life. That I would always be ready to answer the knock at the door. That I wouldn’t be caught out ashamed to show my house or my face and miss an opportunity to connect with people or respond to need.

I got super practical about it. I bought new, matching, presentable kind of pjs. So that, even if I was in my pjs it wouldn’t stop me answering the door. I keep my house more ‘visitor-ready’ and I keep working at having more margin. So that when someone knocks I’m not already late to something or cramming for a sermon or report that is due in 10 minutes!!!

True of my determination to live a more connected life and of any desire we would have to bring our best offerings to our families, neighbourhood and broader communities, is that busyness (in our hearts and minds or in our calendars) is the obstacle. Often times, we are not interruptible because we are tired, harried, rushing, stretched and overwhelmed. Living an interruptible life requires intentionality.

SLOWING DOWN

On one side of my house, my neighbour is an elderly lady who lives alone. She barely leaves her house. I lived there for weeks and weeks and never saw her. When the first lock down hit I bought some chocolate and put it in her letterbox with a note introducing myself and offering to help if she needed it. The chocolate went from the letterbox – and I hoped it was to her – but I still never saw her out or got the chance to meet her. Until one day I was running out the door, late to an appointment, and as I walked down the steps of my porch I saw her at her window. Finally!!! And (shameful confession) I pretended I hadn’t seen her and hopped in the car and drove off. In my defense, it was because I didn’t want to do the “Hi I’m Kim can’t talk gotta dash!” as our first meeting. With a bit more margin in my life (leaving 5 or 10 mins EARLIER than I needed to rather than 5-10 mins late!!) I could’ve stopped and chatted, made the introductions and still made it to my appointment on time.

For many of us, the thing that makes us so un-interruptible is that we are moving too fast and have zero margin. We may need to slow down our schedules so we are more ready to see who God puts in front of us and respond to those opportunities as they arise. To leave margin, have a more open schedule, not timetable every last moment so that there’s no room for the spontaneous or responsive, to not be running late or so tight to time that we need to pretend we don’t see stuff in order to keep things moving forward. Being able to stop for a conversation on the street, or to help someone take their groceries to their car, or to linger at your front gate to talk to a passing neighbour. There is no shortcut for just being present.

I’m ok – but being ok is exhausting

“Are you ok?”

Well, yes, I am. I guess.

In many ways, I’m better than ok. I have my health – not just for right now, but I’m also not in a high risk or vulnerable category that would make that uncertain or a source of fear. I have a beautiful home – if I was going to be ‘locked down’ anywhere, this is a pretty sweet locale for it! I have secure work – not just because I keep getting paid each month, but because the organisation I work with has incredibly supportive and sensitive leadership and colleagues. I am well-resourced and appreciated.

There are lots of other things that make me ok. The Victorian winter has been decidedly un-wintery … lots of days of beautiful sunshine and bright blue skies where too many grey skies and shut in days might have made the heart more cloudy and gloomy too. The internet! Let’s pause for a reverend moment of acknowledgement for the gift of the world wide web to us in these times! It brings the people into my home, allows me to be present where I’d otherwise miss out, and it delivers all these fabulous packages to my home (side note – who pays for the internet shopping bills? Just checking.).

So, I think I’m ok, thanks for asking.

But being ok is so exhausting.

Holding my okayness requires so much of me, it feels like another full time job. Above all the adult-ing and general life stuff there’s an extra portion of energy required to ‘be ok’.

Living on my own has always had its considerations when it comes to boundaries and routines. Bed times, home times, meal times, play times have no element of external imposition. And the challenges for me as an extrovert living alone have been well-documented. Our current circumstances have magnified and multiplied these things. Decision fatigue is real, and the self-motivation & self-discipline demands are next level. Add to that the pervasive uncertainty, the rapid change, the empathetic grief and loss, and also some personal disappointment and hurt.

And all the while, the usual avenues for emotional energy top-ups have been altered or completely closed off. I have gone multiple days without seeing a live human being! Instead of joining a congregation for worship and ministry I record a message to a camera in my lounge room and send a link. My Physio appointment last week was the only time I’ve had permitted physical contact with another person in … well, too long! I am missing opportunities to celebrate friends or gather with family.

So, I’m weary.

It is what it is. And it could be far worse. I’m so grateful for so many provisions and blessings in this season. I’m really ok. I am. But acknowledging the reality of the extra energy expenditure releases me to be ok with the moments it feels a bit too much. It permits me to be gentle with (and even more generous to) myself.

It also raises my consciousness of the unique struggles others are dealing with and prompts me to grace when that pressure leaks out for them in fear, complaining or even aggression.

Being ok takes more effort right now. Which might be why some people are not. And might explain some of the fatigue for those who are.

what does my house tell you about me? #choosinghowtolive

Last year I started to act on the sense of calling to move to a new area after living in the same community for close to 20 years.

There are LOTS of things to consider when you look to make a move like this. Of course there’s a whole slew of financial and adult-type decisions to make (spending limits, mortgage options, market speeds etc). And there are the more practical aspects like access to the freeway for driving to my work or the number of rooms I need or the amount of garden I could possibly hope to manage. (Let’s face it, I’m paying someone else to do that regardless of how big or small it is. Know your limits.)

A primary motivator for the move was to locate myself more intentionally in proximity to people I want to do life with. I am well engaged in my local church so I wanted to live close to it and to the other people who are part of that community. And of course, there were a few ‘wishes’ amongst that in terms of the style and character of the home, the number of established trees nearby and a few other preferences that would always give way to other more significant values.

As I was processing all of these things, the sense that grew to a conviction for me was that it wasn’t just a matter of choosing where to live but how to live.

If I’m starting with a blank canvas and almost every option is on the table – what is going to be the overarching framework for how I decide? And the question reverberated,

How do I want to live?

That was an entirely different way to look at things. Not just WHERE do I want to live but HOW did I want to live? Quite a few things rose to the surface and shaped my priorities but they could best be summarised this way; I wanted to live in community. Like, actually IN community. I want to live within walking distance to a community hub of shops and activity that will allow me to play and shop locally. I want to live in a location that is easily accessed by others and where I can develop relationships with my near neighbours (after 17 years in my previous home I didn’t know the names of anyone in my street). I want to have a home that allows me to host and nurture community through shared hospitality and warm inclusion. The list could continue if we were to move beyond the geographical and practical considerations (which maybe I’ll explore in future blogs) but for now, that’s enough of a summary. And it was this filtered searching process that led me to purchase the house I now own and live in. (Which I love! Check it out, how cute is it!!??)

 

I love sitting in the light-filled loungeroom watching and listening to the activity of the community that moves along my street. There’s a teenage boy who catches the school bus at the end of my street and when he walks past he bounces his basketball and it makes me smile to think how he is probably getting into constant trouble for the repetitive noise but I love it. There are some teenage girls who catch the same bus and sometimes they’ve walked past singing at the top of their lungs. There are families with dogs and young children on scooters, people tending their front yards and nature strips, friends honking their horns as they drive by, visitors coming and going and all manner of sights and sounds. I love it.

BUT, this is the view you would have of the house if you were to walk by on the footpath.

 

And this will. not. do!!

It’s the only house in the whole street that has a fence that high. In fact, when describing it to people I would say “it’s the one near the corner with the very high fence.” because it was the distinctive feature. That fence is almost 6ft tall. Most people can’t see over it at all. I can see over it from the elevated loungeroom and with the benefit of sheer curtains to shield my privacy, but anyone really wanting to look into my property would have to get up on their toes and crane their neck and be altogether un-subtle.

Some of you are thinking, “yep, that’s what a fence is for! Security, privacy and generally stopping nosey neighbours from seeing into your property!” But that’s not how I choose to live!

I imagine the children of the neighbourhood speculating about who or what is hiding behind that fence. “My ball went over the fence once and I was too scared to go and get it.” “I hear she collects the legs of crickets in jars.” I know, I know! My overactive imagination has been well documented and is clearly at play here! But you get the gist. When filtered through the “how do I want to live” question, a high fence is communicating exactly the opposite to my values and desires.

So, the fence got a trim!

 

How great is that? Who doesn’t love a good before and after transformation?

I feel like my house now says what I want it to say about who lives there and how she’s choosing to live. The large gates are gone, the fence is trimmed. People might not even really notice the difference or be thinking about what they’re thinking about when they look at my house now. But it’s not sending the wrong sub-conscious message anymore.

And last week, the guy with the basketball walked down the street and bounced his ball on top of my fence smiling to himself as he successfully balanced it the whole length of my block.

And just to add to my sense of joy and satisfaction in living where I live – I have landed amongst some great neighbours … one of whom voluntarily did the labour of cutting my fence down!! Can we just pause for a moment to admire the excellent work of my neighbour Blake? I came home one Saturday to a spotless front yard and a shrunken fence … amazing!!!

 

isolation and living alone

There are only so many times a living-alone-Single-extrovert can hear the words ‘isolation’, ‘social distance’ and ‘cancelled’ before the weight becomes a little too much to carry and it has to leak out of my eyes! Yesterday I had a significant ‘moment’ (think tears, snot, a few little hiccup-y gulps and one or two audible groans!).

Last month I shared a post how long ‘til the realise I’m dead? and it seemed to resonate. Single people commented repeatedly “This is exactly how I feel!” and married responses repeated the sentiment “I’ve never even thought about this before.”

The same people who worry about not being discovered to have died are bound to be experiencing an additional layer of anxiety in the face of these shut downs and measures of separation to responsibly manage the movement of COVID19 and it’s impact on our health care system and to protect our most vulnerable.

CHECK ON THEM!

Social media is being flooded with posts from Introverts saying this is their idea of heaven. From what I understand, the cancellation of social events and being ‘forced’ to stay at home are the stuff their dreams are made of! 🙂 HOWEVER, even the most introverted of introverts could acknowledge that, as much as they love being alone and are personally energised by that time to recharge, there’s also the reality that without the interruption of exchange with others there can be an un-health that shapes their thought life. As much as they can do without social interactions, the circuit breaker of other people’s engagement in their thought processes and internal dialogue is a healthy and necessary thing.

CHECK ON THEM!

As organisations (like mine!) move to working from home (can we just pause for a praise break that we live in such technologically advanced times – so many opportunities to stay working and connected through online platforms!) while this is a fantastic provision – it’s also a socially isolating move. Many living-alone-Singles rely on the accountability and regular interactions of work life and will struggle without it. As churches move to streaming their services, be reminded that it’s not just the sermon or worship our congregations will be missing (in fact, these things have been out-source-able for a long time now) it’s the connection to one another, a sense of engagement in something bigger than themselves, the opportunity to keep regular relational accounts with one another – to give and receive prayer and encouragement.  (My church has set up an online/phone prayer service to facilitate this – what a great initiative!)

CHECK ON THEM!

For those of us living alone who have the love language of physical touch – this experience has another layer of impact. The social distancing protocols don’t apply within your households. You might sleep closer than 1.5m to your spouse. Go ahead and TRY convincing young children not to invade your (or each other’s) personal space – that’s not happening! So, even in a time of physical disconnection you’re experiencing some connection. In my regular life I can go days without physical touch and now, it’s mandated! In my little ‘moment’ yesterday, this was part of my processing … how long do I have to go without any physical connection?

CHECK ON THEM!

I messaged my friends – the ‘her is ours now’ family referenced in this blog being family to those without family – and shared about my little meltdown and said “I decided you could adopt me, then if we need to isolate I’ll isolate with my ‘family’”. The response was, essentially, an affirmation that they thought I already WAS adopted, and that if we get shut in as family-units then my place of shut in is with them! “If ‘Her is ours now’ then ‘her corona is our corona now’ too!”

Of course, we’re prayerful that the measures our country are employing now might avoid a complete lock-down. Things are changing daily as we continue to track the spread and learn what we can from other countries (another praise break – how grateful are we for all the fabulously smart and compassionate people in our medical system?!) and there’s no real point in leaping ahead to worst case scenarios. Being sensible and caring in this moment is our best next step. If I came to know I was infected I would never intentionally expose them to the virus.

But, I can’t tell you the relief that came to me in my emotionally charged episode, to have my friends make it clear that I won’t have to be alone. It was such a circuit breaker for my fear, loneliness, overwhelm and distress. There’s a plan, an option.

CHECK ON YOUR LIVING ALONE FRIENDS.

If only to give them a safe place to process the emotions they might be feeling. Each of us will travel an experience like this differently as it’s shaped by our lifestage, personality, health status and other factors. Let’s do what we can to grow in our understanding and empathy for one another.