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

 

 

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you are more than what you look like

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come off a platform – after preaching, singing or leading – and the first comment to me has been something about my appearance.

Sometimes it’s almost comical the people who will make a determined effort; interrupt a conversation, come from across the room, or wait patiently to get the chance to make a comment on my dress, my shoes or how I’ve styled my hair.

After a recent preaching engagement, at the end of a very detailed and authoritative review of my outfit (the colour, the suitability of the style to my figure and the context, the appropriate choice of sleeve and hem length, my choice of accessories, and even my fingernail colour) someone said “Oh, and what you said was good too.” I replied “I’m glad to hear that because I spent many hours working on my sermon and far less than that on my outfit selection!”

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate others’ appreciation of my appearance. I do put a fair amount of thought into it. Presenting from the platform requires a bit of thought for females. Not being over or underdressed while being mindful of potential distractions – ribbons coming untied, frills flapping, earrings clinking on headsets, necklaces reflecting light, bracelets that jingle, hair that moves … all of the things. Not to mention tech related issues like having a collar for a lapel mic to clip to or a waist band to hold the wireless pack. And of course, the general goal is to look “good” when we’re out in public, so no one is above the affirmation that she’s succeeded.

In my experience and observation it’s only women who do this to women. Men will very rarely comment like that to a woman. And I’ve not heard many stories of men receiving comments like that at all. In fact, in a recent gathering of leaders, the females were sharing some of these experiences and the men in the group were incredulous to discover this was even a thing.

Ladies!! Why do we do this to each other?

Can I suggest something of a self-audit and some further thinking before we’re tempted to perpetuate the narrative that our appearance ought to be what draws greatest attention and reflection?

  • Before (or instead of) commenting on a person’s appearance – offer meaningful encouragement for the function they performed or the presentation they offered. Pause to purposefully reflect on what you observed, received or appreciated in what they shared or did and tell them that! We’re all fighting fears and self doubts to get up before a group of people to speak (or present) and we can be one another’s greatest advocates in standing up in the face of them.
  • If you do want to comment on something aesthetic – make sure you emphasise the insignificance of it in comparison to what they’ve given of themselves in presentation or preparation. Add it as your “by the way” rather than making it the headline news.
  • This used to be a point of comic reflection for me. I’d roll my eyes as I recounted another story of smiling graciously as someone gushed over how well my shoes coordinated with my dress after I’d poured myself out in a sermon or worship time. But the more I speak with women who are struggling to find their place of comfort and authority in upfront roles, the more I see this as a tool to sow doubt and to cause us to take our eye off the ball.
  • Let’s get intentional about our peer support and advocacy by keeping the main things the main thing.
  • (Suggested replacements for “you looked great” include – you looked comfortable, confident, radiant, joyful, expressive, strong, or welcoming or you were articulate, dynamic, compelling, knowledgeable, gracious, or convicting or thank you for what you brought, how you prepared, your vulnerability, or your authenticity or good job you for overcoming everything that presented itself as an obstacle to you getting on the platform!)
  • how to RECEIVE feedback 4of4

    A culture of feedback is one that nurtures a healthy level of trust, self-awareness and continuous growth. Groups and teams where feedback is asked for and given with clarity and in grace will thrive together while supporting individual flourishing. The final piece of the picture addresses the posture of those receiving feedback.

    Don’t be defensive!

    The first (and potentially most important) consideration when receiving feedback is to regulate our natural response to defend ourselves. In our words, our posture or our facial expressions (especially for those who, like me, have a particularly ‘loud’ face!) we can communicate a reactivity or negative response that will derail the effectiveness of the process and potentially cause that person to hesitate to give feedback in the future.

    Look for what is helpful (even if it’s delivered badly).

    Our tendency is to hone in on the points of feedback that are incorrect or communicated poorly. When a reviewer uses exaggeration (such as always or everyone), when they are aggressive or dismissive in their language and tone, or when they make comments that you know to be completely untrue we have a choice in how we respond. The most productive option will always be to find what is true and helpful in what they’ve said and allow that to teach us. There will always be fault to find in the delivery but your choice to overlook that for the purposes of the growth potentially contained in what is being shared will firstly, nurture that healthy feedback culture and secondly, lay a stronger foundation for addressing any changes you might suggest to their mode or method at a later time.

    Clarify and identify.

    Ask questions to be sure you’ve understood what the reviewer is meaning to convey. “When you say that the presentation was hard to follow are you referring to the structure of the notes, the order of the content or another aspect?” Don’t walk away with disclarity. It essentially means the feedback has been wasted. You don’t know what you can do differently in future (to course-correct or continue to improve) and the reviewer’s time has been without purpose.

    Be sure to quickly identify points of the review that you can agree with or acknowledge fault in. Apologise for anything that was missed or that had implications for others. (Eg, “I’m sorry I forgot to mention …” “I’m sorry my disorganisation impacted other things.”)

    Say ‘thank you’!

    Even if the feedback has been difficult to receive, thank your reviewer for giving it. Thank them for the risk they’ve taken to share, for the time they’ve taken to articulate their perspective and for the part they’re playing in your ongoing development. Expressing appreciation will keep them on the journey with you.

    Circle back.

    You don’t have to implement every bit of feedback you receive. Some of it can be readily discarded; some will need to be verified and validated by others. When you do take some feedback on board be sure to let the reviewer know that you are  (eg “After your comments I’ve started doing that a different way.) and what the implications were (eg “My team have noticed a real difference”).

    This can be the most effective culture shaping step in the process. When individuals feel the benefit for themselves and when teams and organisations notice the impact collectively, there will be a natural drive to repeat the process. The culture of feedback becomes self-perpetuating once people recognise that, without it, they will be missing opportunities for greatest productivity, excellence, development and impact.

    READ THE REST OF THE SERIES :

    let me give you some feedback
    how to ask for feedback 2of4
    how to GIVE feedback 3of4

     

     

    how to GIVE feedback 3of4

    When looking to create a culture that is defined and informed by healthy review and encouragement it starts with asking for feedback. Leaders go first in demonstrating a posture of humility and a desire for continuous growth. What must we consider when it comes to giving feedback?

    Giving helpful feedback requires THOUGHT and PRACTICE

    Having an opinion is easy – communicating it in ways that are beneficial to the receiver is not. At least, not without some intentional consideration of language, purpose and context. It is completely unhelpful (and potentially destructive) to give feedback that is unprocessed.

    Train your BRAIN!

    There is no such thing as ‘constructive criticism’!

    Criticism is the expressing of disapproval in response to someone’s faults or mistakes. It’s about de-construction not construction! Constructive critique? Yes! But not criticism. There’s no place for criticism in a healthy culture of feedback.

    We need to intentionally train our brains to look and listen for opportunities to affirm, encourage and build up. When watching others in action, attending events, sitting in meetings, hanging out with family and friends … wherever!! …the question on our minds should be, “what can I appreciate about what is happening here?”

    Leaders tend to look more analytically at things – which is part of what enables them to lead change and increasingly better outcomes. Left unchecked, this can lead to being highly critical, negative and fault-finding.

    Encouragement is by far the greater tool for emboldening people for their best contributions and positioning them for maximum growth and development.

    Stop at ENCOURAGEMENT.

    People are often quite aware of their weaknesses, they trip over them every day.

    We need to recognise that most people are their own worst critics. The internal dialogue of many is a replay of all that has gone wrong, could go wrong and is going wrong. The last thing they need is to have those thoughts verbalised externally and in the voice of others.

    Personally, encouragement around what I can do and what is working has made the greatest contribution to my growth and improvement. I see this repeatedly in those I mentor, lead or train. Encouragement provides a core foundation for future development, a strong base from which to launch into addressing those areas of weakness or skill deficiency. When a person is confident in your confidence in them they are best positioned to tackle difficult stretch and growth.

    A “PRAISE SANDWICH” needs more bread.

    The old ‘praise sandwich’ – one piece of criticism sandwiched between two positive comments – is a good start, but research tells us that this ratio is inadequate. Most studies indicate that the ratio is more like 6:1 of positive words or experiences to counteract the negative for a person to reflect on an encounter, relationship or overall experience as ‘positive’.

    Always ASSUME the BEST.

    When giving feedback after failure or that requires a degree of rebuke, always assume the best. In trust-filled environments we must start with the belief that others intend for positive outcomes rather than assuming intentional failure or shortfall.

    “I know you were hoping the game would include everyone but there were too many left on the sidelines.” as opposed to “Why wouldn’t you play a game that included everyone?”

    Not only will it nett a more positive response, it’s a reflection of your own heart, attitude, focus and discipline to have gone to the best case scenario rather than assuming the worst.

    Assuming the best positions us alongside someone in their fight for greater personal character and outcomes rather than in opposition to them.

    Distrust is cancerous to healthy culture and relationships. Choose trust.

    Give an ACTIONABLE take-away.

    Ensure that your feedback conversation lands in a way that the receiver can walk away with some practical next steps. What can they do differently? How can they address the shortfall? What might they think about for next time? Who could they enlist to help them toward a better outcome?

    Some situations are so specific and unique that they are unlikely to be repeated but there are always principles within them that can be adopted and transferred. Constructive feedback will help tease those out and highlight them so that a person feels they’ve added extra tools to their belt.

    STEWARD the moment with care.

    Remember, when your feedback is invited or required you are given incredible power. Another person is submitting themselves to your opinions and your words – this is incredibly sacred ground and is a position of high vulnerability for them.

    Regardless of the intensity of the situation, don’t forget you’re dealing with a person.

    In a healthy environment you might establish capacity for more robust levels of feedback and review but this is developed gradually and gently.

    In the rush of a moment or the busyness of personal or organisational life, we can be careless with our feedback. We can flippantly throw out observations that carry great personal impact to others. Or, we can neglect to take the time to speak encouragement. Often in meetings where time is short, we focus on what needs to be fixed as it seems most pressing – but sometimes, the greater investment might be to celebrate what ought to be affirmed so that it will be repeated.

    Read more in the FEEDBACK series – Let me give you some feedback, Asking for Feedback … stay tuned for Receiving Feedback.

     

     

     

    how to ask for feedback 2of4

    Feedback is an essential component to personal and organisational growth and success. In part one – let me give you some feedback – we looked at how feedback helps answer the question “How am I experienced by others?” and is essential for improvement, self-awareness and for nurturing an environment of high encouragement and trust.

    INVITED feedback is always best.

    If you’re asking for feedback you are already in a better posture to receive it than if it was offered unsolicited. You’re somewhat in control of the timing, the circumstance and the framework of the feedback. Inviting feedback also serves the person giving the feedback. If they don’t have to find a way to raise a difficult topic with you or overcome any barriers to delivering encouragement they have emotional energy free to direct in to giving helpful feedback.

    Choose WISELY.

    When you’re intentionally seeking out feedback for growth, choose people who are FOR you and are onboard with the purpose of your work or with the direction of your character development. Choose people whose wisdom and honesty you can trust and rely on. And those who are willing to journey alongside you rather than just ‘dump and run’.

    In some situations it might be most beneficial to ask someone who is well-educated or experienced in the area you’re looking for feedback to inform their reflections. Other times, you might be looking for the observations of people who aren’t as involved or aware to get a more clear ‘outsider’ perspective. Choose appropriately.

    Ask a LEADER.

    Leaders have opinions on everything!

    The nature of leadership is that they are actively engaged in making things better. They’re constantly reflecting on best practice and looking for the best way to lead others towards great outcomes and what is most likely to cause people and organisations to flourish.

    Be SPECIFIC about what you want reviewed.

    Particularly if you’re in the early stages of actively receiving feedback (or the person you’re asking is in the early stages of giving it) narrowing the focus of review can be beneficial and provides a softer entry. Specific questions or a more narrow field of focus eliminates the distraction of the irrelevant.

    Identify your own INSECURITIES.

    What am I afraid to ask and why am I afraid to ask it?

    Previous experiences of failure, doubts about our own abilities, and just our general desire to succeed and be approved of shape our attitude towards feedback. Often, it makes us fearful of any kind of review because we don’t want our negative internal dialogue to be given an ‘outside’ voice. Identify that with the person who is reviewing with you. In doing this you empower them to be gentle with you and to stand with you against your fears and insecurities, and in bringing those into the light they can be somewhat diffused.

    Go FIRST.

    If you’re looking to shape a healthier culture of feedback in your relationships, families, teams or organisations you need to model what it is that you are wanting others to value.

    Leaders go first.

    The temptation to go first in GIVING feedback must give way to modelling the RECEIVING of feedback.

    For more in the feedback series – read “let me give you some feedback“. Stay tuned for posts about GIVING feedback and RECEIVING feedback.

     

     

    let me give you some feedback

    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read the words feedback and review?

    For some, it might be a sudden bolt of terror as you consider being on the receiving end of a rant about your inadequacies. For others, it might remind you of awkward moments of forced encouragement sharing around the boardroom table. For others, it might be more about overly long meetings that meander around, are unnecessarily drawn out and don’t always have any tangible impact. Or a combination of all that and more.

    When I read the words feedback and review I think necessary! 

    Feedback is PERSONALLY necessary.

    External feedback and review is essential to personal development and discipleship because it answers the question (we should all be asking), “How do other people experience me?” You know your motives, you know your own strengths and weaknesses, you know your intent but what you don’t always know is how those things are received by others. Feedback is the key to discovering that and to inviting the wisdom and perspective of trusted others into your personal and character development.

    Feedback is essential to IMPROVEMENT.

    If your team or organisation is wanting to do things well (and if you’re not, what are you doing them for at all?) and to do them the most effective and efficient way (and if you’re not, you’ll be frustrating and burning out high capacity volunteers and staff) then you need to know what is good about your good so you can keep doing it!

    You can’t improve what you don’t review.

    Even if something is going well, you need to know WHY so you can continue to do what made it work in the first place. Without reviewing to identify the key components to your success (in anything – a project, strategy, team meeting, performance or service provision) you may unwittingly attribute that success to the wrong thing and neglect to focus on or repeat those factors that led to the success. Furthermore, your capacity to turn good into excellent is thwarted when you don’t know why it was good to start with.

    If you don’t know why it’s working when it’s working you won’t know how to fix it when it breaks.

    Feedback is essential for SELF AWARENESS.

    Ignorance is not a virtue. Feedback is the anecdote to that moment of revelation when we discover something about ourselves that we previously hadn’t known. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The people around you know your weaknesses and strengths – they are on the receiving end of them everyday. There is no benefit to remaining unaware of the impact we make on others and how we are perceived and received.

    We want to learn from those who love us so we won’t be unnecessarily shocked by those who don’t.

    As Proverbs 27:6 frames it “Wounds from a friend can be trusted…”. We want to invite healthy and helpful feedback from those who love us, are for us and who are onboard with the mission and vision we have for our life or our organisation and will help us to head confidently in that direction.

    No one has been fired for asking for feedback but many could’ve avoided being fired if they had!

    Feedback given well results in profound ENCOURAGEMENT.

    People need more encouragement than we think they do – and sometimes even more than they think they do. For the most part, many of us live in the void of knowing how we positively influence people or contexts around us.

    We are never in the room when we are not in the room so we don’t always know the impact we made on the room!

    Feedback is the vehicle to help us understand the unique offerings we contribute to relationships, to teams, to projects and to environments.

    Often, our greatest strengths and our most unique capacities feel so natural to us that we don’t realise the impact of them on others. You might observe this for yourself, often when you affirm an attribute in someone they’ll respond with “yeah, but anyone could do that.” – when the truth is no, anyone could not do that. The fact that it comes easily or naturally to you doesn’t make it universally common.

    Intentional feedback gives opportunity to highlight and celebrate strengths, talents, skills and gifts in others. Providing great encouragement and fuelling ongoing engagement.

    Feedback shapes a healthy CULTURE.

    When feedback becomes part of your culture (in relationships, as a family, team or organisation) it is self-determining. The more we give feedback, the more aware of self and others we become and, the more aware of self and others we become, the more feedback we will be led to offer.

    When feedback is expected it is more accepted.

    The more we engage in intentional feedback; the better we get at giving and receiving it and, the more we anticipate that as the natural process of living our best lives. Feedback culture creates pathways for feedback to be given – intentional processes and opportunities for feedback to be invited, offered and received. These pathways are predictable, accessible and supportive of the easy exchange of ideas and review. A culture of feedback also shapes language that makes this feedback most useful.

    A simple example of this is the use of the word ‘because’. “I liked your presentation this morning” is a nice pat on the back but holds little value. What did you like about it? What’s your idea of a good presentation? What are you comparing it to? What did you get from it? How has it impacted you?

    “I liked your presentation this morning … because …” You used great visuals to support your point. It was really engaging. You helped me understand something new. You brought a fresh perspective … you get the idea.

    Empty praise is not accepted in a healthy feedback culture.

    TRUST is required and nurtured.

    A key component in a strong and healthy Feedback Culture of a team, family or organisation is trust. When feedback is part of natural rhythms and interactions it builds trust.

    We can trust the motives of those who would give us feedback. We can believe that they are all about working towards our shared goals or for my personal benefit.

    We can trust the silence of others because we know if there was something to be said they would have said it. Feedback culture means that there is as much honesty in the meeting as there is in the hallways (or the “meeting after the meeting”). We don’t have to fear what is not being said.

    We can trust how we are being spoken about because of how we are being spoken to.

    A healthy culture of feedback will nurture high trust and shape an incredibly healthy work or relational environment.

    ***

    Let’s keep this conversation going – watch out for future blogs in this series about the necessity of Feedback. We’ll look at asking for feedback, how to GIVE it and how to RECEIVE it. Stay tuned.

    talking about divorce

    “The reason there are so many divorces is that we live in a throw away society and no one is willing to work to fix things.”

    You’ve no doubt heard a version of this statement before, or possibly even repeated something like it yourself. It is often followed up with comments that start with “in my day” or “I was raised to believe that …”

    Yes, the statistics on divorce are alarming at worst, disappointing at best. But not just because they seem to increase or because they might reflect a shift in attitude to marriage (or any other cultural trend that we might point to) but because each of those numbers represents two broken people, maybe a broken family and a whole lot of implications for those in the sphere of this couple … forever!

    Divorce is devastating. Divorce is sad. Divorce is taking a ‘one’ that has been created by the union of two and tearing it in half. God says He HATES divorce (Malachi 2 :16) and I can totally understand why. It’s messy, it’s hurtful and its consequences are far reaching. I know this from my own experience – both as a child of divorced parents and as a divorcee myself. 

    It doesn’t matter how bad a marriage was, a divorce is never good.

    Our language matters.

    We need to be more careful in how we talk about divorce – because, again, we’re talking about people. Not just a social trend or statistic. People. On the end of every one of our generalisations is a person who has been impacted by divorce in ways that flippant language not only fails to consider but may also compound. As I move around I hear so many stories of people being unnecessarily wounded by the careless words of others and see the easy traps people fall in when speaking about divorce. Our language matters.

    No one gets married intending to be divorced.

    No one.

    Even people who don’t do anything to make their marriage work aren’t expecting that it won’t! Anyone who finds themselves divorced, even if it was them who initiated and actioned it, is living a different future than they expected. It might be better (safer, healthier, necessary) to not be in the marriage anymore but it still isn’t anyone’s goal to be divorced.

    Divorce isn’t the easy way out.

    Even when the pathway to divorce is clear – an abusive partner, an unfaithful spouse, untenable circumstances – divorce is not an easy option.

    It is practically taxing. Division of assets, closing and opening bank accounts, relocating (for one or both), potential custody considerations and all manner of things required to detach and then re-establish independently and recover financially. It’s emotionally devastating. Even the most amicable of separations are founded on a level of relational fracturing that carries all sorts of implications for a sense of self and one’s view of the world – a life story is forever altered. 

    It may seem easier than staying. It might seem like a cop out. But it carries its own consequences and challenges that can’t be underestimated (by those considering it or those journeying through it with others).

    “We just never gave up” only works if it’s truly ‘we’.

    Often, when asked the secret to a long marriage people respond “We just never gave up”. Which is undoubtedly true. Sticktoitiveness is one of the essential ingredients to longevity in anything. But it’s important to emphasise the ‘we’ in that statement. It requires BOTH people to have not given up.

    The old adage applies that if only one is paddling in a two person canoe it will just go around in circles. Some divorced individuals never gave up. Some fought harder to compensate for another who didn’t fight. In the end one can’t be married alone.

    A high value of marriage should be second to a high value of people.

    Many people stay (or are counselled to stay) in abusive or destructive relationships because of the emphasis placed on the value or sacredness of marriage. Well might we benefit from a greater honouring of and investment in marriage – your own or those of family, friends or church community around you. Let us be champions of marriage – encouraging and supporting in anyway we can. But let that never be at the expense of the emotional or physical safety of the people in it.

    Our language matters.

    How you speak about divorce – in public forums (the platform at church, social media or other communications) or in casual conversations – matters to those impacted by divorce. Let’s be mindful to consider the people the statistics are referencing when we make observation of cultural trends or shift. Let’s be champions of people and places where healing and support can be sought and experienced rather than (perhaps inadvertently) communicating judgement or exclusion to people already navigating a difficult life experience.

    there’s prosperity but not as you know it

    It’s a well-known, well-loved, oft-quoted and oft-shared verse.

    Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

    In 2018, Biblegateway reported it as the most read Bible verse on its website.

    It’s a personal favourite of mine. I’ve preached it, posted it, prayed it and even painted it for a friend.

    However, it also pops up in the lists of the most misused or misinterpreted verses of scripture. And it’s this abuse, and potentially its perceived overuse, that has many listing it as one of their least favourite verses!

    Who was it written for?

    Jeremiah delivered this prophetic message from God to His people, the Israelites, as they came to the end of around 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They were a broken down and scattered people. Their knowledge of God’s love and goodness towards them would often not have seemed supported by their current circumstances. And so this promise of hope, prosperity and a future beyond their present experience would’ve been so desperately needed.

    How generous of God to direct Jeremiah to remind them – “I see you, I have not forsaken you, your future is in my hands and it’s better than you can perceive or imagine, I’ve got this.”

    Any message to the Israelites is a message for us too.

    Yes, this is a contextually specific word for then, them and there – but when God spoke historically to the Israelites it was part of the picture He was painting of His heart for His people. His plans and purposes. His generosity and grace.

    It’s true for us today. His heart is for us. He desires that we would experience His truth and be filled with hope for the future that He has gone ahead of us to see and prepare. Ultimately, this scripture says more about who God is than anything else. He is the same today as He was then.

    Who is defining prosperity?

    The misappropriation of this verse lies largely in the definition of prosperity. By today’s dictionaries we understand it to mean “success in material terms” or “financial flourishing”. The Hebrew word used here is shalowm – which is more about safety, welfare, happiness and peace. In fact, in the majority of uses of this word in the Old Testament it is translated as peace or wellbeing.

    The former definition suggests promises of the dream home, dream car and dream bank account. The latter indicates a more holistic picture of a preferred future – where God ordained peace and wellness is your experience.

    For many readers, that’s a significant shift in focus and expectation.

    God’s plan for our welfare might look different than our own.

    God’s plans for our future are to prosper. He said it Himself and it aligns completely with His character and activity towards us. His heart is for our wellbeing, happiness and deepest sense of peace. Shalowm.

    What I’ve come to understand in a limited form, and what scripture and hundreds of years of testimonies lead us to accept, is that God’s idea of prosperity for us is often different than our own.

    To start with, we’re generally only concerned about just that – our own – whereas He is mindful of the prosperity of all people and how each of our experiences interplays with another’s.

    Just like a parent constantly makes choices for a child that they aren’t able to make for themselves (because of a lack of foresight, wisdom and maturity) so too, God is working things for our good – our protection, our thriving, our faith development and our future – in ways that sometimes don’t feel like “prosperity” to us.

    The most powerful words.

    The strength in this verse is in the 3 words at the start. “For I know…”

    It’s not really about prosperity. It’s not about a future that we can define and approve. It’s not about hope in circumstances or specific outcomes. It’s about the fact that creator God – all powerful, all creative, all knowing, all loving God – knows.

    The message of Jeremiah 29:11 to us today? It’s exactly what it was to the exiled Israelites.

    “I see you, I have not forsaken you, your future is in my hands and it’s better than you can perceive or imagine, I’ve got this.”

    writing again

    This year I will be writing again.

    That’s a statement of commitment, of aspiration, of obedience and stewardship … but also one of hopefulness tinged with fear.

    I lost my mojo in 2017. I’m not sure how to explain why (in just a few sentences) but even now, as I’m writing and re-writing and re-starting and starting over again and feeling verbally constipated and questioning every thought that comes to my mind – I’m fighting the oppression, doubt and intimidation – the voice of criticism and questioning – that comprehensively beat me (specifically in relation to my writing) in 2018.

    I hate how derailed I’ve been. I hate how much power I’ve given to a voice that’s not speaking the truth and life of God. 

    But this year I will be writing again.

    “Your message is for ministry.”

    Running parallel to the paralysis that carried over from the end of 2017, last year was the most freeing, affirming and empowering time I’ve ever known – an odd juxtaposition.

    I feel like God has done a Mufasa on me – you know, the scene from the Lion King where he takes Simba to the top of Pride Rock and says “Look Simba, everything the light touches is our kingdom” (God often teaches me in Disney metaphors and quotes – don’t judge me – He knows my heart language.)  God has lifted my chin to cause me to look up and around and see so much possibility and opportunity, and then let me loose in it! I feel like I’m in the sweetest ministry spot; where everything that I’ve been privileged to experience and learn, is combining with all of my gifts, skills and passions, and I’m more confident than ever in my shape, call and capacity. By confident I mean, I am completely aware that anything of wisdom or value I have to offer comes from God and His resource for those things is inexhaustible – so, let’s go!!

    Years ago, when I was feeling the final prompts to write the book, I was wrestling writing-doubts and commented to a friend, “Perhaps the message of this book is just for me.” She fired back, “No, when God gives you a message, it’s for ministry.” Boom!

    So, this year I’m writing again. Because He keeps giving me messages, so I’ll keep handing them over for ministry.