bridges, wineskin and armour (images of an unknown future)

In my previous blog, THE RIVER HAS MOVED, we saw the profound image of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. When Hurricane Mitch came through the area in 1998, the resultant flooding washed away the roads to the bridge and, when the waters receded, the Choluteca river had changed its course. It no longer flowed under the bridge rather had charted a new path alongside it. The bridge was left structurally sound but with no function. It didn’t bridge anything anymore.

As we find ourselves in the emerging stages of life after (and with) Covid, the Choluteca Bridge can serve as a metaphor for what many of us might be facing. The river has moved. Things have changed. Not everything is where we left it back at the start of 2020 when we found ourselves rapidly responding to the impacts on our work, family, communities, ministries and organisations as the pandemic swept the globe.

My writing ended with two questions

  1. How has the ‘river moved’ in your life, family, organisation, work, or ministry?
  2. What might you need to do differently as a result?

In this blog I want to offer two further metaphors or imagery as we consider our response to these questions.

NEW WINESKINS

In Mark 2:22, Jesus says shares this metaphor “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Historically, wineskins were made from the hide of an animal, such as a goat. Partially fermented wine was stored in them. As the fermentation process continued it would produce gas that expanded the wineskin and stretched it. After the wine was consumed, to try and repeat this process using the same wineskin would be impossible as the hide was not elastic enough to stretch a second time. Instead, the fermentation process would likely split or pop the wineskin.

There are many ways this metaphor can apply to our lives – Biblical scholars often speak of the need to create new structures and new institutions, to not be rigid in holding to patterns and processes of the past but to be flexible, adaptable and stretch-able like new wineskins. But we must also acknowledge the challenge that Jesus was bringing not just to structures and systems but to us! To people’s hearts and minds. That we would submit ourselves to be new vessels for God’s mission and work. That we would be positioned ready to sustain future growth and change, elastic enough to allow for His Spirit to stretch and shape and mould us.

UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES

The Biblical story of David and Goliath is well-known. The Israelites, under King Saul, were in a battle with the neighbouring Philistine army which has been going for about 40 days and was at a bit of a standstill. The Philistines had a giant on their side (like, a literal giant who was over 9 feet tall!) and he was big, loud, strong and scary! He could lift more in a single battle weapon than most of the Israelite army guys weighed! He had been taunting and intimidating the Israelites to come and fight him. The prize was that the winner would have the entire losing nation as their servants. The Israelites were so scared they were going to lose and the people of God would go into servitude that they didn’t even send anyone to try and fight him.

David is a young boy who comes to the battle line to bring food for his older brothers. He’s not a soldier. He hears Goliath mocking and ridiculing the Israelites and he’s wondering why the people of God are so afraid. “I can do this! God has rescued and protected me in the past – he can surely equip me to beat this guy!” (You’ve gotta believe the Israelites were feeling slightly mocked and taunted from within at this point! The teenage boy, David, had more faith than all of them put together!)

King Saul approves David going to fight Goliath and the Biblical account tells us that “Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So, he took them off.” (1 Sam 17:38-39

The picture here is of a still-developing young boy with an ill-fitting armour. Perhaps the helmet wobbled on his head and fell in his eyes and the breastplate reached to below his knees. They would have been weighty and cumbersome. Not what he was used to wearing out in the field as a shepherd, and not something he felt comfortable to wear to battle.

Physically and metaphorically, Saul’s armour was the old while David is a picture of the new. David was a new kind of warrior preparing for a different kind of battle. We know that in the end David took Goliath out with a well-executed swing of his sling shot – hitting Goliath between the eyes – the only unprotected part of his body. Felling him and allowing David to come close enough to execute him with his own sword (with the fairly gruesome detail of chopping his head off that is usually rushed over in the kids books and definitely not included in the illustrations!).

If God is doing a new thing, if we are looking to new frontiers, to different parameters of war, to a whole different battle ground – the old armour might not do the job.

As we look ahead to 2022 and beyond, we need to consider a whole new way of facing what lies before us. What has changed? How have dynamics altered? What new strategies and ways of thinking does it require of us? Might the old armour not only not serve purpose (after all, David didn’t need to protect himself from anything, did he?) but might it actually impede future progress? I can’t imagine David’s rock slinging might have been so on target if his helmet was slipping from his head and the heavy tunic was restricting the movement of his arms.

In 1 Chronicles 12, we see an older David who is king-in-waiting while the wheels are starting to fall off Saul’s Kingship. A band of men begin to assemble around David. All sorts of groups offering various battle equipment and fighting skills. Then, in verse 32, there were 200 chiefs from Issachar. The description of their contribution is that “they understood the times and they knew what Israel should do”.

As important as any tactical or practical offering is the ability to see what’s happening and respond accordingly. To know the lay of the land. Who is the opposition, what are our assets, what’s the goal, what’s the best strategy, what’s changed, what’s required, who is best, how is best, when is best?

QUESTIONS

And so we add to our previous question as we consider what we might need to do differently as a result of the changes that have taken place around us.

  1. What are we doing to allow God to renew and refresh us to be receptacles of the new wine, the new thing that He might want to do in and through us?
  2. Do you understand the times? Have you taken inventory to really know the new lay of the land so as to know what to do in response?

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.

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!!!

 

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.