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.

how long ’til they realise I’m dead?

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I wondered if it was just my overactive imagination, or perhaps the product of watching too many true crime documentaries, but a quick poll of some of my Single friends tells me I’m not alone in asking this question. How long could I be dead before people would notice I’m missing?

I’ve seen the news reports – I’m sure you’ve seen them too – where neighbours alert authorities to an unpleasant smell, an overflowing mailbox or dogs barking incessantly and the subsequent inquiries reveal someone who has died. Clearly, some time ago. And it had gone seemingly unnoticed until now. It’s one of my worst fears.

As someone who lives alone and quite independently, there are often long stretches of time between points of check in. Frequently, when travelling between locations – the office, home, from one work visit site to another, church, a friend’s, the gym, a family event – I’ll find myself calculating the amount of time there is until the next point that my absence would be noticed. My church friends might just assume I’ve slept in or I’m speaking at another church, the gym has my money and doesn’t check to see why I didn’t show up to a class I’ve booked, my work colleagues could assume I’m having meetings or working offsite … it leaves substantial chunks of time in which I could be dead (or in less dramatic but still significant difficulty!) and no one knows yet.

I spend a lot of time on the road. That same active imagination allows me to envisage a scenario where I’m involved in an accident of some catastrophic, fatal nature, and the attending emergency services have to find out who I am. They could discover my home address but no one would be there. They could knock on a neighbour’s door but it depends which door they chose as to how helpful that would be. They could try the last number called in my phone – but that could be someone that I don’t even know personally. Anyway, these are long drives, I’ve had plenty of time to (over)think.

I recently saw a conversation thread on an online chat forum that raised the topic of Singleness and Illness. Pertinently, several Single post-ers commented on bouts of sickness that saw them home-bound for multiple days without anyone inquiring or offering assistance. For many, it was not so much the issue of being unable to look after themselves or requiring medical care but the fear attached to the experience. What if my condition worsens? How long must it be before someone notices my absence?

Of course, the answer is simple and, perhaps, obvious. A Single person who is sick just needs to make sure they let someone know they are, right? But the flip side of that is the often larger fear of Singles that they are perceived as needy or overly focussed on themselves. “Hi Pete, just ringing to let you know I have a bit of a cold coming on.” “Lucy, it’s 8:07, I’m leaving home. It’s 8:52, I’ve arrived at work. It’s 4:39, I’m going home via the supermarket.”

Every time I speak (write) something like this out loud it’s met with an enthusiastic cry of “yesssssss!” from Singles and a general sense of relief to hear that someone else knows and understands. That maybe they’re not so strange, or needy, or self-focussed – that maybe, just maybe, this reflects a legitimate heart cry to be known, looked-out-for and not too far beyond the reach of care or interest.

Couples and families, next time you’re feeling “checked up on” you might consider the gift that is to you. When you’re someone’s someone, they generally care about where you are! They keep short accounts. They check if you’re not where you’re meant to be when you’re meant to be. There’s a blessing in there that you could be mindful to appreciate.

And all of us, check in on your Single friends! Notice when they’ve not been in touch for a while, inquire about their health, show interest in their movements and schedule. It doesn’t take much to keep everyone connected … and off the news!

your single friends need you (probably more than you need them)

A few years ago I was sitting with my housemate and we both got a text message from a married friend. She was letting us know that she’d had some medical issues arise. There’d been some preliminary testing that was either worrisome or inconclusive enough to warrant further investigations. So she was going to have more tests done and was asking for us to be prayerful.

My friend and I both thought to respond in the same way and I sent a message back including “I hope you have some friends journeying this with you”. We later discovered that this was considered to be a strange kind of response. There she was informing us as her friends and inviting us to be part of the process – why were we questioning whether she was including her friends? Ultimately as a married person the need to contact friends was triggered far later in the process than it might have been for a Single person. A Single person who is experiencing negative health symptoms would probably contact a friend straight away. A Single person would seek the opinion of a friend or family member to know if they should go and get that checked out. A Single person might let a friend know that they’re going to a doctors appointment and perhaps even invite them to come along. So by the time further testing was required a Single person may have included their friend/s a lot more in the process. The reality is that for the married friend she had been processing all that with her husband up until that point.

Single people can have different expectations and requirements of friendship.

For a Single person, their friends are the entirety of their network of advice giving, problem-solving and listening. For those who are married and in a family environment a friend serves a different purpose. If circles of trust were to be drawn a spouse might find themselves at the very core and then friends at varying stages of distance in the widening concentric circles. For a Single person without a spouse at that core, often friends are drawn into a place of higher trust, of higher reliance; of higher connectedness.

What this creates is a potential power and need imbalance in friendships. Where the Single person requires more of you than you require of them. Where your name would be listed closer to their inner circle than their name would to yours. A friend of mine recently recounted a revelation she’d had of this when her Single friend asked her to come around to look at her new flooring. She thought it was an odd request until she connected with the fact that she would have had numerous interactions with her husband over new flooring and not felt the need to tell others – whereas her Single friend might not have had any engagement about her floors with anyone else. Perhaps a trivial example, but a helpful illustration of the different experiences.

This plays itself out in many ways, including socially. Where a planned social gathering might be additional to your weekly social calendars and fuller household, it can be the entirety of a Single person’s social connectedness. Where a cancelled dinner or a lack of invitation might result in you having a more quiet night at home, for a Single that could equate to being completely alone.

My friend Nancy and I talked about this recently as we sat across from one another at dinner. I made the observation that I needed that interaction more than she did. She’s married and is also a mum and as we talked some more she reflected, “I don’t think I had ever really considered how much my relational tank is filled incidentally and how that shapes how many friends I need, what I need from them, and the time and space I have to give them.”

What that means is that a Single person needs to maintain a lot of relationships to ensure their input and output are sufficient to experience the human connection we are built for. Even for me, as a highly extroverted and socially and relationally competent person, that can be EXHAUSTING! There’s a lot to balance to ensure that there are enough of those once a week, once every fortnight, monthly catch up types of relationships to spread across the day to day of life in order to keep the relational tank at a healthy level. That need makes us vulnerable. There’s great risk attached to this reality that we probably need you more than you need us.

Singles, identify and own this reality. You need others. It’s risky. It’s exhausting. It takes intentionality and purpose but you can create the kinds of relationships that will allow you to give and receive the love, belonging, serving, fulfilment, purpose and joy that you need.

And for you non-Singles, maybe you could do a self-audit like my champion friend Nancy, to recognise the level of relational filling you operate out of before leaving your house or making any extra effort. It might increase your sensitivity to the needs of the Singles in your world and grow your understanding of the neediness they experience and the risk they take to stay relationally engaged.

they win • you win • we win (the power of fundraising)

In December, I donned a dress as the “uniform of an advocate” to participate in the dressember campaign. Every day for the month I wore only dresses. The rules are clear – no skirts, dresses – with the exceptions of activewear, sleepwear and a uniform if one is required for your work.

Founder, Blythe Hill, started the movement in after hearing about the issue of human trafficking (listen to her TedXtalk here) and desiring to be part of the solution. She started as just one but now the movement is “a community of international advocates utilising fashion and creativity to help end human trafficking”. To date they have raised over $5m!

Social media has provided a platform for increased capacity to raise funds and awareness for a plethora of causes. In fact, sometimes it can feel like there’s an overload of people seeking support or finances. There is no shortage of need and no limit to the creativity of people seeking to get cut-through in a crowded platform.

But I am a big fan. And that’s because of the multiple layers of impact and change that are realised through fundraising.

THEY WIN. YOU WIN. WE WIN.

Everyone wins!

they win

The most obvious winner in any fundraising process is the recipient of the funds! Organisations the world over are financially resourced for their endeavours for change. Research is commissioned, staff are released, consumables are purchased, people are reached, enterprises are launched, education is provided, lives are saved, campaigners are energised and real difference is made possible.

Through ever-increasing processes of accountability and community pressure for transparency and integrity around the appropriation of monies raised, people are able to give confidently and often see the stories of immediate impact and transformation.

Even the very act of liking or clicking-through on a post about an event or a cause can translate to financial support as corporate sponsors respond to the potential for increased public (positive) profile.

you win

The general premise of a fundraising event often pivots on a participant sacrificing something of personal value. Fasting from food or technology, participating in a gruelling physical activity or moderating one’s dressing habits all require a degree of sacrifice and personal cost.

It’s hoped and/or assumed that this physical stretch will fuel a degree of personal engagement with the cause that’s being championed.

For me, the daily task of facing a restricted scope of choice when dressing for the day is a prompt to remember that even in that very moment there are millions of women across the world who have no choices at all. Children are capture, abused and exploited. Labourers are working at threat of their own lives. I have autonomy. I am spoiled for options. I am free.

It’s a great way to stay mindful of your privilege and to be prompted to gratitude for your own circumstances when you are caused to step outside your comfort zone, to give something up; to act without personal reward.

we win

A while back I decided on the practice of giving to every campaign that came to my attention on social media, in my workplace or church. Every one.

I am wealthy. Like, actually rich. And before you get excited about hitting me up for a loan, chances are pretty high that so are you! (If you earn the average Australian salary you are inside the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world!) And every time a fundraising campaign comes to my notice it’s an opportunity to check that reality again. And I welcome the challenge to my otherwise well-developed ability to think only of myself and to want to keep what’s “mine”.

The amount I give is inconsequential, and sometimes it’s probably quite literally inconsequential in terms of the difference my meagre offering could make – but I win every time I am given the choice to choose others over myself.

We win as a society when we are allowing ourselves to be oriented towards the other. To consider those less fortunate, to champion those attempting something they couldn’t do without outside support, to encourage those seeking to make the world a better place; to give voice and advocacy to those who might otherwise not be heard.

So, do Safe Water September, or Frocktober or Ride-around-the-bay. Read books, walk laps, sleep on the streets, play Ping Pong, wear your footy colours to work or wear a dress (or tie) every day for a month. Do something.

And commit to give. If it can’t be your money, give your support, your influence, your like or share, or the time to become more educated on a cause that addresses a need in our world.

They win. You win. We win.

reflections on gratitude (2019)

I’ve been keeping a Gratitude Jar for several years now. It started as an intentional practice to invite ongoing joy into my life and as a discipline to choose to filter a day through the lens of what it was rather than what it wasn’t.

(You can read about the why here – disciplines of gratitude)

My Gratitude Jar is a collection of small, dated pieces of paper sorted by month and waiting for me to write a reflection for every day. My practice has been to do it as part of my end of day routine. To pause and think of a couple of sentences worth of things to be grateful for. Sometimes the words flows freely and the page is too small. Sometimes the blank space is something of a taunt as I sift through a weary or sad heart to find something to write. I’ve found over the years that just the act of walking past its spot on my dresser is enough to activate the mechanism – and even if I don’t write it down, my heart is turned to gratitude. The habit of that has been a gift to me. As my friend Mel says, “I’m grateful for the gratitude.”

At the turn of the new year it’s time to dive in and read them back. I love to gather them in groups to see those things that get some more regular mentions – names that are repeated, evidences of themes and affirmations that are finding deep roots in my soul, the number of times I can be “surprised” by something before the language turns to that of expectation or acceptance.

2019 was a year of stark contrasts for me and my notes reflect the extremes. There were so many aspects of my life in 2019 that were beyond anything I could’ve imagined but simultaneously this ran parallel with times of deep loneliness and grief.

From the highlights column – some general themes.

Loving my work –

I am so grateful for a work context that has such a healthy and empowering culture. Not only do we get to do meaningful work together, we also celebrate well and have heaps of fun. I feel highly valued and appreciated, and totally resourced to be a blessing to all those I meet and minister with. I constantly reflect on how perfectly Kimmy-shaped this role is – where all of my gifts, skills, passions and experiences are utilised and where there are no limitations to exploring all God would lead me to do and be.

Amazing ministry opportunities –

Both inside and outside my BUV role, I am grateful for all of the ways I’ve been able to minister this past year. I’ve been in some great locations – locally, interstate and overseas – and in a variety of contexts – podcasts, preaching, workshops etc. I’ve spoken to some fabulous groups and been honoured by the trust of others expressed in mentoring and one-to-one moments. I’ve been encouraged again and again by the continued ministry impact of my book as it keeps finding its way to the ears and hearts of those most needy of it. I saw the amazing impact of the KidsHope relationship (and did the sad farewell to my special friend as well as ending my 13 year involvement in the program). I was blessed again and still by my involvement in the Arrow Leadership community.

Friends & family –

I regularly marvel at the high caliber of people I know. As I travel the country (and parts of the world) I am convinced I know all of the best people in those places! I say it again, you should be my friend just so you can know my friends. I am truly blessed by those who invest into my life, welcome me openly and allow me the privilege of loving and serving them. Amazing people who nurture my soul by seeing, knowing and championing me to be the best Kimmy I can.

We also welcomed a new niece-husband, 2 niece-babies and a nephew-fiancée into our family. It was so great to christen the new home with a family Christmas gathering on Boxing Day. So exciting to fill the space with stories and memories and laughter.

A refreshing church –

In 2018, it was prophesied to me that OneHope would be a church of refreshment. That I would go out (to minister beyond my previously understood boundaries) and come back to be refreshed. And that has definitely been my experience. I’ve been so blessed to truly find a home amongst the people of OneHope. A place to exercise my ministry gifts and capacity with maximum impact. A place of honour and embrace. A place of relational engagement across generations and with a diverse spread of people. It wasn’t an easy process – settling in a new church is hard work! But the rewards of persistence have been many. I’m excited for what this next year will hold – especially now that I’m living 2 mins from my home campus.

Baking and making –

There was a repeating thread throughout the year around my love for baking and making. I love the process of creating (made in the image of a creator God!) and love, love, LOVE the opportunity to bless others with what’s produced. I need to do more of it. Does anyone need some cupcakes? Or a crocheted something?

Adulting –

I did some pretty grown up things in 2019.

Like renovate my bathroom, toilet, en-suite and laundry. Of course, I didn’t actually do any of it – but I did do all the deciding and 100% of the paying!!!

But it turned out to be a well-chosen investment into the value of my home that facilitated me buying another property in Geelong. Again, I didn’t do much of the actual things but, again, I decided and paid!

#choosinghowtolive underscored all of that process. I’ll reflect more at another time on all of the aspects of lifestyle and posture that God laid on my heart that have culminated in the new iteration of The Tent (read here why I (happily) live in a tent).

The process of decluttering (I estimate I reduced the amount of things I own by more than half!!!!) was a sometimes traumatic but ultimately rewarding process. I’m glad to start here free of a lot of unnecessary things and having blessed a whole lot of others with items they’ll be making much more use of rather than them sitting in my cupboards (or in piles randomly scattered throughout the house)!

From the lowlights side of the ledger.

I struggled with living disconnected. My work was over there and my church community was over there and I was in the middle. After 18 years of living, working, churching and playing in the same area it was a massive adjustment. And, ultimately, I was just sleeping at my house. It did pretty much zero hospitality – which is what it was consecrated for – and not enough hosting of life, activity and ministry. Sure, some of that is just geography but with it came some grief for all that had changed and had been lost – and some hurts that still attach themselves there – that made for some pretty low times.

My health was a challenge. “The change”, as we delicate women-folk might reference it, has been a significant physical challenge as well as an emotionally difficult thing to process.

Also, on reading back through the gratitude notes, I’m reminded of the battle I (largely) lost to regain my confidence and rhythm in writing. It was going to be my year for getting back on the writing horse, but I didn’t manage more than a few rides before I was bucked off – and for the most part, I didn’t even mount up! I could keep the analogy going but that would be like flogging a …

gratitude in 2020

So, the jar has been reset. The first 7 days have been logged. There is great expectancy as things rev up for the new year.

My usual questions for end of year review

  • How is my relationship with God?
  • How are my relationships with family and friends?
  • Am I remaining open to “relationship”?
  • What new things have I learnt or experienced in ministry?
  • What “project” did I complete?
  • How is my health and fitness?

..are all mostly answered in the above reflections.

I’m excited for new opportunities at work and in ministry. For a new local neighbourhood to explore. For a new era of “Tent-life” to unfold – including an extension and some extensive renovations! For improving health and fitness. For deepening relationship with God and with my family and friends.

I will keep inviting and welcoming joy into my life by CHOOSING GRATITUDE.

why I (happily) live in a tent

You know those years that become lifetime markers? Where your story becomes divided into before and after? 2002 was that year for me.

Amongst a whole lot of changes, challenges and growth it was also a year of great loss. I miscarried a much longed for baby and then my marriage of 8 years ended.

As dramatic as it sounds, it really felt like I was “done”. My greatest hopes for my future – to be a wife and mother – were dashed. I’m 28 years old and I’m done. And, as if my own fears and doubts weren’t screaming loudly enough, others gave voice to judgement and condemnation. “Divorced people can’t serve in the church.”

Done.

Through a dear friend, God illuminated Isaiah 54 to my heart and rarely has a portion of scripture ever spoken so directly and powerfully to my very core.

It’s long. And there are many layers to the significance of all 17 verses and the context of the scripture in the greater biblical narrative. But let me highlight just a few (reading from The Message translation).

“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.” v1

‭‭‬‬Boom! What?

“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.” v6

‭‭‬‬🙋🏼‍♀️

So incredibly affirming and embracing. He sees. He knows. He holds.

Amidst all of the upheaval I was processing two big decisions – an apparent call into generations ministry and what to do with the large family home of which I was now in sole possession.

“More are the children of the barren woman…” at that time there were at least 30 who would come under my ministry umbrella! And God in His grace called me to nurture an ever growing gaggle of children and families that shaped a culture and focus for ministry in the context He placed me. Also moulding a lifelong ministry message and opening my heart and arms to some incredibly special little ones He has gifted to my life over the years since.

But, to the main point of this reflection – the Tent.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” v2

‭At a time when it felt like my world and my dreams had been completely shrunk, God’s word to me was one of expansiveness and big picture dreaming. Spread out!!! Think big!! So, as I looked at this big 4.5 bedroom home – purchased with the dream of hosting a growing family but now just a home for one – God was shaping a vision for a different type of filling and a redirecting of my mother-heart to a different kind of loving.

Thus The Tent.

Make room. Make room for ministry, for meeting spaces, for parties, for storage; for a community trailer. Make room for guests, for those in need of emergency accommodation, for the convalescing, the international traveler, for the visitor and those needing a place to call home. Make room for dinner parties for 16 and takeaway on the couch for two. Make room for dreaming and writing, preparing and creating; for baking and making. Make room to embrace and to launch. Make room for tears, for doubts, for reflection, for grieving, for searching; for prayers. Make room for great joy and loud, loud laughter. Make room for deep learning, for growth, for failure and recovery. Make room for singing and dancing and trampoline jumping. Make room for babies and children, for youth and their leaders, for mentors and friendships, for family and colleagues. Make room for memories and moments.

Make room.

Stretch your tent curtains wide. Don’t hold back.

A vision for a physical location, but more importantly a mandate for a way to live. Make room. A desire for an ever-enlarging heart. For ongoing and greater generosity. For continuing openness even when wounding or grief would seek to close me down. For hospitality in its truest definition – welcome, inclusion, comfort and connection.

And now the Tent has relocated. But the physical aspect has only ever been one part. So even though this iteration is smaller (for now) the prophetic vision over it is still as large. The door is open, the kettle at the ready, the guest beds are made, everything is to be shared and my heart’s desire is to always be a place of welcome for all who would come.

The full text of Isaiah 54 (The Message translation) can be found here

being family to those without family

“Her is ours now!”

This was the declaration of a new 5 year old friend when she discovered I didn’t have my own family. She had inquired about it after a few visits where I’d shown up clearly without one! “Does she have a family?” Her dad assured her I had parents and siblings, but she was thinking more about the kind of family that would come along with me. After some reflection, she made the decision that this ‘no-family’ situation would just not do and announced my immediate and complete adoption into hers!

Out of the mouths (and hearts) of babes.

The reality is that there are many Singles who journey life in the void of all that we are designed to express and experience in family. That’s where you and we come in! The opportunity exists for us to be family to those without family. Here’s some thoughts to consider as we endeavour to do that and do it well.

not all singles are created equal

Every Single is unique. Personality and temperament; factors like extroversion or introversion, history, circumstances or life stage, contribute to ensuring every Single has a unique set of needs as well as contributions to offer. While some generalisations might be made about certain demographics, there are often more exceptions than inclusions.

assume nothing – talk about everything

The only way to ensure what is on your heart to offer to a Single in your world is going to be accepted in the manner you’ve intended is to avoid assumptions and ask lots of questions. What are the situations that you find most difficult? How can I best support you? Is it helpful if I did “this” or would it be better if I did “this”? I read/heard/saw this from another Single, is that your experience? How does it differ? etc Often, things done with the greatest heart to help and include miss the mark because of the misalignment of expectations that could be easily averted if communication had been clearer.

what you take for granted

In the busyness and monotony of your every day life it can be easy to take for granted some of the things you experience in family (and potentially, even begrudge them). The buzz of noise and chatter as family goes about their regular routine, the sharing of responses over something seen on tv, serving one another in practical ways, incidental contact that happens as you move around each other, externally debriefing your day, a kiss goodnight – all this and more takes place in your home constantly and, often, without much thought. Singles often experience deep longing for these experiences and also could benefit from the grace, capacity for compromise and others focus that these circumstances demand.

the gift of normal

Don’t underestimate how powerful it might be to include a Single friend in the normality of your life. As chaotic or mundane as it might feel to you, it could be an incredible gift to someone whose day to day is often absent the dynamic these family environments bring. It’s possible to inadvertently communicate to a Single person that they’re an imposition or separate to your family when there’s a sense that they require a level of ‘hosting’ that is disruptive, rather than a type of inclusion that is mutually beneficial.

singles have more to lose

True, the responsibility to extend invitation, action social planning or nurture relationships doesn’t rest solely on those who are friends to the Single. But, the reality is that in the instigation or execution of such interactions a Single has less to offer and more on the line. If your family invites a Single person to dinner – whether they say yes or no, you’ll still be having a family dinner; if they cancel last minute, you’ll still be having family dinner. For a Single – the contrast is stark and so the risk is greater. When a Single invites a family to their house, they can’t offer an existing social dynamic – you’ll need to bring that with you. Until you are there, nothing is happening! It might seem an obvious point to make but perhaps it’s a perspective you haven’t fully considered. It’s certainly a dynamic by which many Singles feel hamstrung.

monitor & adjust

Seasons and circumstances are constantly changing. What works in one stage of family or life rhythm will need to be adapted as things shift. A biological family navigates these transitions constantly and included others can also – but it requires communication. The courage to ask the questions as changes happen will ensure that relationships are kept strong and mutually edifying as each new season is embraced.

LISTEN HERE – for further ideas for being family to those without family

READ THIS (“arriving alone”) – a practical encouragement to support Singles by helping them overcome a simple yet often debilitating obstacle