married at first sight & back to school photos

One of my favourite times on the Facebook calendar is back to school week. My newsfeed is flooded with naaawwww-worthy photos of ‘firsts’. First days of school (massive backpacks on little legs and hiding under seemingly enormous sun hats; school dresses triple hemmed and ‘shorts’ that reach down to mid-calf), first days in a new year level or a new school. Last first days for those at the other end of their schooling. Some show the side by side photos of the changes made across the years – tracking the inevitable growth and accompanying differences. Moving from teary hugs and farewells at the classroom door to the increasing independence that sees a child walking or riding off on their own or with friends.

I love it! It marks a new season, acknowledges the passing of another year, signifies for the family yet another shift in life stage and rhythm and celebrates the success and potential of movement through education and other life markers. And it’s pretty stinkin’ adorable, too.

Running parallel with that this year, was the start of another season of Chanel 9’s super successful ‘reality’ show, Married at First Sight. “Successful” in terms of its ratings, not in regards to its success in bringing couples together who actually stay together. It’s a psychological and relational train wreck that produces fascinating television viewing and boosts the social profile of those who participate (surely that’s part of their purpose for being there, right?). But it also highlights underlying cultural and personal expectations that the narrative of a ‘normal’ or ‘fulfilling’ life is centred around finding your soul mate and living in marital bliss.

In the lead up to the show’s airing, one participant, Sarah, recorded a sound byte that played on repeat,

“I’m 38 years old and I have nothing to show for my life.”

As she looks at her life and she applies the known methods for measuring it, she finds herself with nothing to show for it. This comment (and the fears and feelings that framed it) represent her justification for applying for the show. She’s 38, she’s not married and has no children – time is a’wasting! It’s time to employ emergency measures!

At a cursory glance, this comment is dismissible as untrue. Without knowing anything much about her we could readily identify things she might have to ‘show’ for herself. Lives invested in, experiences she gathered, career and other successes she’s enjoyed. But I think we need to listen to what she’s saying. To lean in a little more and seek to understand more fully what her comment is echoing of a message society sends (in both subtle and more overt ways) of how a life should be measured and celebrated. And particularly how that translates for a Single and/or childless person.

For those who are married, each anniversary is an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and celebrate the achievement. High five, us! We made it through another year! Social media gives opportunity to publicly affirm one’s spouse and for the couple’s community to congratulate and encourage them.

For parents, milestone days – the birth of children, firsts of all kinds, ‘before & after’ pictures denoting achievements, changes and growth, performances and of course, birthdays, engagements and weddings – all bring opportunity to gather friends and family (in real life or online spaces) to again, celebrate, and encourage. To reflect on the journey till now; to dream and plan together for the future.

To use Sarah’s language, these are many of the things you have to “show” for the years you have lived, the transitions you’ve navigated and the impact you’ve made on the earth. These are the things publicly celebrated. They are acceptable, anticipated and even requested opportunities to share with others the rewards of the labours of time, money, energy, expertise and sacrifices of all kinds that being about these moments.

So, if you are not married and don’t have children – how does your life’s journey get marked and acknowledged? In what moments are the community of a Single person called to gather to celebrate, publicly affirm and encourage, to invest advice and energy, to reflect growth and change, to honour success and draw others in?

Commonly, Singles report that attempts to share moments of celebration, difference or success are often perceived as self-absorbed or self-promoting (“why are you making such a big deal about your birthday?!“) or met with jealousy (“I wish I were Single so I could travel more!“).

The success stories told usually include friends, colleagues or family stepping in to facilitate those celebrations and affirmations. My friend Nancy is a champion at this! She enthusiastically and creatively celebrates the birthdays, new jobs, buying a home, graduations, return from holidays and moving days of her Single friends to ensure they’re well marked. And to draw his or her community into expressions of encouragement and celebration.

Think about the people in your world (specifically but not exclusively Singles and/or childless). How can we act to ensure they know what they ‘have to show’ for the life they’re living? What moments of reflection, celebration, affirmation and gathering can we be part of facilitating?

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the power of the debrief


After living alone for several years a while back a friend moved in. The changes were immediate – both the super-fun and those more challenging as we navigated doing life together – but one of the more impactful ones was unanticipated.

Within a week of having a housemate I noticed a significant improvement in my mental health. I was sleeping better, I felt less ‘stressed’ and I was doing much better at switching off my work brain to enjoy my evenings more.

It was the power of the debrief.

Although we each led busy lives, there’d be some point after work where we’d get to chat about our days. Sometimes that was a quick touching base before one of us headed out to our evening commitments, other times it was more extended – her sitting at the kitchen bench chatting while I cooked us dinner. But in all of its forms it was powerful.

What happened today? Good stuff or bad? How’d that meeting go? What frustration did you experience? Did you accomplish much? Did you encounter any conflict? What’s on for tomorrow? What decisions are you facing? What options are you considering?

In the process of expressing those things out loud I found great release. It was like putting a metaphorical full-stop on that day, allowing me to set it aside to be picked back up the next. Freeing my mind to completely relax or to take on other thinking and processing related to my home or personal life.

It’s a consideration for us all but particularly for those who live alone. What steps do you make to give yourself a mental break? How do you get true separation or distance from work to let your brain process other things? How do you ‘switch off’ from one environment in order to be fully present in another?

SINGLES – how does this apply in your life? Do you have someone to debrief with? Is there a person at work that you can have a close-of-day chat with? Can you call someone on your way home? Is there a method of writing things down or symbolically marking your transition from one environment to another that you could practice?

EVERYONE – consider those in your family, work place or friendship group that might not have a default person to debrief with. Can you offer yourself to them to be a sounding board for decisions they’re facing, chat to them at close of day or invite them to call you on their way home?

 

counting days – living an intentional life


Imagine your life until now was turned into a book. 

If someone were to read it – how would you feel? “Oh yeah, you should read that, it’s a great story!!” Or would it be more like “let’s skip that bit you don’t need to know the details of that!” Or, “that’s just me doing nothing for 13 days straight!” Or “don’t look at that part, it’s not my best work!”

I’m deeply convicted to consider the fact that every day that I live is a page in the story of my life that I’m writing with God. Looking ahead, I would be most fearful of sections where I’d need to say “oh yeah, I was waiting for something to happen and so I didn’t do much then” or “I had an opportunity there but because of fear and/or laziness I did nothing with it” or “I’m ashamed of how I treated myself, others around me, my walk with God at that time.”

How do you want the story of your life to read?

It might not need to be a best selling page turner – world changing amazingness on every page – but surely we want it to be the story of a life well-lived. Nothing wasted. A life of meaning and purpose, right?

What do you want your story to read like?

Moses prays (in Psalm 90) “Teach us to number our days.” Show us how to count each day and make each day count. Show us Father, how to start each day seeking YOUR purpose and plans and to live intentionally toward them. Help us write a story that brings You greatest glory. 

I am responsible!


After a trip to Rwanda to visit her sponsor child, Brooke Fraser, a Christian musician wrote a song that included the lyric “Now that I have seen I am responsible.” 


This became something of the theme for the “Thai Team 2017” – a group of people from my local church who signed up for a Short Term Mission trip to Thailand.  They considered it as they were exposed to experiences that were heartbreaking and confronting. Dark places that most need the shining Light of Hope and Truth.

As a team, one of our greatest fears is that the impact of the confrontation and inspiration of this trip might fade as time and distance increases. It happens a lot. People are confronted or deeply moved, but then life settles back to its normal rhythm and nothing much has changed. 

So we repeat that phrase – now that I have seen, I am responsible! I can’t unknow what I know or un-see what I’ve seen. I can’t walk away from the need without asking God to show me the part He’d have me play in meeting it. I can’t enjoy the privilege of wealth and circumstance without considering how I might leverage it for those without.

We are responsible. 

It is just as true for us here in our day-to-day as it is for the Thai Team. We believe that God brings people and circumstances across our path for a reason. When He leads HIS people into the spaces where there is need it’s because something of His activity in those people is the answer. We can trust that He will supply what we require to respond as He asks.

How about you?

Who has God led you to? To what need has He opened your eyes? What’s the passion of your heart? What hurt do you feel or injustice do you find intolerable?

Now that we have seen – we are responsible.

Listen TO THIS PODCAST to hear more reflections from the Thai Team 2017 trip. 

 

5 ways to build up your kids min team


Kids Ministry is an exciting and exhausting place to serve. Those who do it well will absolutely love it and give their all to it – but that doesn’t mean they are immune to feelings of doubt or fatigue.

Here are 5 very simple yet super effective ways you can make your Kids Min Team better – building them up in their sense of purpose and energy to continue to invest in our kids and community.

1. Thank them

Give them a high five at sign in. Tell them you appreciate their commitment to your children. Help them understand the impact their serving has on you and your family. Remind them of the important part they play in your church community. Drop them a note, give them a FaceBook shout out, or speak it out loud.

 

2. Know their names

Make the effort to learn and remember their names. Get to know them. Find out what year they’re doing at school, what they’re studying at Uni or where they work. Try and discover what they do for fun, what their favourite chocolate is, what music they listen to or what sport they follow. Your effort will communicate such high value to them.

 

3. Bring them coffee

Because Sunday mornings are hard y’all!! Surprise them with coffee or breakfast donuts and fruit. Buy the night team a pizza for supper or bring slurpees on a hot day.

 

4. Give them feedback

When your kids remember something they learned at Kids Min or when they tell a story about something their leader did – pass it on. Help them understand how their influence reaches beyond the scheduled ministry times. Encourage them to know the impact they are having in your kids’ lives.

 

5. Serve with them

Join the team – Kids Min teams ALWAYS need more members – and multiply their ministry effectiveness by adding your own gifts and skills. If you can’t be part of the scheduled ministry times, find ways to serve from home or during the week.

PICK ONE (or more) – and do it NOW!

never out of reach


TRex

This has long been one of my favourite memes. Poor little T-Rex, limited in his love expression by his super short arms! 🙂

But even with the longest of arms, we often fall short of expressing the depth or degree of our love for others. The phrase “to the moon and back” gets well used because we’re so desperate to find a measurement sufficient to communicate all that we would hope to.

In Isaiah 59:1 is written …

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.

When I recently came across this verse in my reading I immediately thought of T-Rex and his restricted love! I imagined God – who is quite large in my vision of Him – with teeny tiny arms. Exaggeratedly miming His attempts to reach us. “I can’t, my arms are too short!” It’s a comical thought, but this is essentially the message of the text. Why would we doubt the reach of God’s love and His capacity (and desire) to save us and help us? Do we really think His arms are that short and His hearing is that bad?

In our more intellectual or theological selves we might answer “no!” Of course we know His arms are long and His ear is inclined to us. But in our hearts? In our difficult times, in our pain, our loss, our grief and our burdens we can sometimes not feel this truth to be real. We can feel far from God. We can feel unworthy of His love. We can feel alone or abandoned. We can feel we are beyond redemption.

Be reminded again today of the truth. God is not like a T-Rex! His arms are long and His reach is sure. His love knows no boundaries or limitations. He has done through Jesus all that is needed to make us lovable and reachable. His ears are open to our call.

 

nobody likes small talk (it’s not just the introverts)


“Introverts don’t like small talk.”

Introverts (those who gain or recharge energy by being alone – as opposed to extroverts who draw energy from others) are often assumed to be shy, socially awkward or even rude because of the way they engage or don’t in social environments. However, those attributes are more to do with personality or emotional intelligence than the number one marker of introverts – they find people-heavy environments physically and emotionally exhausting. 

Introverts often express a deep dissatisfaction and even frustration with “small talk”. But I have an increasingly strong belief that NO ONE likes small talk. Not even extroverts. 

Extrovert readers, please feel free to correct me if you disagree, but no one likes small talk. It’s repetitive, it’s shallow and it’s only really a means to the end – a more rich and stimulating conversation or connection. 

The difference is that extroverts have the social stamina to endure more of it. Because they gain energy from being with people, they are not as drained by the small talk and don’t fear an exhaustion of their social energy before getting to a deeper conversation. They are also happy just to be talking – to people! – and so will more readily settle for surface level chit chat. 

For introverts, there is a very real chance that all of their social energy will be spent before they get to a point in conversations where they find meaningful connection or intellectual enrichment. 

Nobody likes small talk. Some are better at it. Some can participate in more of it before fatiguing their social energy. But no one actually likes it. No one comes away from a party and says “that was so good I spoke to a whole lot of people about absolutely nothing”. People of all temperaments are stimulated and satisfied by intellectually or emotionally meaningful connections with others.  People want to laugh heartily, be challenged mentally or connect personally – regardless of temperament. 

My hot tip for an introvert to thrive in social gatherings is this – find yourself an extrovert! Stand near them and ride the wave of their small talk into an actual conversation. Save your energy for the good stuff! 

Further reading 

six truths about extroverts
extroverts and quiet times

‘oh no!’ or ‘oh yay!’


I have a little friend who is 4 and adorable. I love going into spaces where she’s playing or interacting with others and just watching and waiting for the moment she becomes aware of my presence. As she happens to look up and around, she will eventually notice me and it’s the best moment to watch her face completely change. From her pensive ‘looking’ face or her blank ‘wondering’ face to her ‘KimmE is here!’ face. Her eyes go wide, the eyebrows go up, a massive smile breaks across her face and she yells “Kinnay!” Then follows the enthusiastic run from wherever she is to launch herself into my arms for excited squeezes and kisses.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was that happy to see us!? Maybe not with the run and leap, but definitely the joy and the enthusiasm and the positivity that fuels it. “KimmE’s here, oh yay!” Good things will happen now. This will be an enjoyable place to be. I want to be where KimmE is. I’m so glad she’s here.

In scripture there’s a guy named Joseph who people called Barnabas. Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement’. It was a nickname they gave him because he was so stinking encouraging in every way and in every sense and at all times that they just had to call him that. He was generous and engaged. He was a champion-er of other people. He was a speaker of truth and potential into the lives of others. He was encouraging and supportive. OH YAY! Barnabas is here!!

On the other hand, we all know some ‘oh no!’ people. You know the type. The ones you see coming and think ‘oh no, what have I done this time?’ or ‘oh no, what’s gone wrong now?’ because they are so critical and so free with sharing their negativity. They can suck the life out of any environment with their pessimism and cynicism and their disapproval. These are the people you’d sooner avoid – particularly if you’re already feeling a little tired or deflated – because you know they’ll be hard work.

I really want to be an ‘oh yay!’ person – don’t you?

I want everyone (not just 4 year olds) to see me coming and be expectant of good things. That my encouraging spirit and joyfulness might announce itself in such a way that people know they can trust this encounter to be life-giving not life-draining. I want people to be assured of my support and championing! I want them to know I am for them – even in their weakness or failings. I want my tone, my body language, my facial expressions, my interest and my responses to all be expressing hope and help. To be speaking truth and life. To be reminding others of their gifts and capacity to do great things and influence others in meaningful ways. To speak courage and boldness to the fearful.

I want to be like Barnabas.

Don’t you?

the light is IN the tunnel


You’ve no doubt heard the saying before – ‘there’s light at the end of the tunnel’. Say it around the right (or wrong) kind of person and your attempts at positivity might be squashed by the response “hopefully it’s not a train coming to run you down!” (Hilarious!)

It’s a well used sentiment. When times are tough, when we’re in seasons of difficulty or despair, when we are swamped with busyness or challenging circumstances – we feel like we’re in the darkness of a tunnel. The idea that there is light at the end of it can be our best attempt at a more hopeful outlook. The notion that at some point, this time will be over and on the other side of it there will be a time of brightness or lightness – where this heaviness will be lifted and there is a new day to be experienced and enjoyed.

I’ve used it myself. I’ve heard it myself. It seemed to make sense enough.

Until one particularly difficult ‘tunnel’ season about 15 years ago. I was recently separated from a difficult and damaging marriage. I was completely messed up in terms of how I saw myself and what I was expecting from life and relationships and my future. It was so dark. Trying to process my way through it all was intensely overwhelming. There wasn’t hope IN my relationship and outside of it there was so much fear, uncertainty and self-doubt. Of course, it came in waves. Sometimes I was ‘ok’ but then others times it just felt like ALL despair and hopelessness. The grief and pain seemed all consuming.

In one of those more harrowing times I was talking to a good friend and ministry pal, Jeff. He remembers the conversation as well because it became quite significant for him too. He was trying to speak something positive or life-filled into my circumstances. Wanting to tell me it would ‘be ok’ – to paint a picture of something more hopeful for my future than what I was able to see for myself. And he went to use that phrase “the light is at the end of the tunnel” – but he felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to a greater truth and instead, what he said out loud to me was. “Mate, the light is IN the tunnel!”

Despite my grief and my despair, God was present and active – right ‘here’ and right ‘now’. He wasn’t out there waiting for me at the end of the tunnel. He was with me IN the tunnel. The light of His truth was not just a thing off in the distance or somewhere in the future or on the other side of the hurt and hardship. Here and now. His hope, His peace, His joy, His grace and His love, were all present here IN the tunnel. It was so powerful.

It’s 15 years ago now and I remember it with clarity. Because not only did it start to immediately change my focus, attitude and expectation; to shift what I was looking at and looking for. But it also became a picture that has stuck with me and that God used to shape my attitude and posture during the intensity of that time but also – from that – to be something of my life message.

God’s presence IN our tunnels and IN our hardships means that they aren’t wasted times, or times of abandonment and rejection. He is present and active.

The message of my book and that I get to preach all across the country on the topic of Singleness is birthed in this concept. These seasons are never wasted. They’re not just the dark tunnel on the way to the light. They’re not just waiting times. God is present and active in every moment. He is working all things for our good and His glory. He is turning even what was intended for evil into something good and purposeful.

The light is IN the tunnel.

How might that encourage you or someone around you today? How might that truth shift the way we experience our dark tunnel times?