I’m still an extrovert – the immutable truths of energy source

It’s been said, mostly by me, that I put the ‘extra’ in extrovert.

Extroversion and introversion are descriptors of energy source and direction. A simple analogy is that extroverts are solar powered and introverts are battery powered. That is, extroverts source their energy externally – from the social and relational stimulation of others. Introverts source and direct their energy more internally. They are recharged by being in more quiet, low-stimulus environments – most preferably alone.

The categorisations of extroversion vs introversion were a helpful discovery for me as I moved into my young adult years. They were informative as I sought a greater depth of self-awareness and understanding, and have proved extremely useful in life and leadership as I’ve worked alongside others. Knowing which you are is essential for your self-management and well being. Consistently operating outside of your natural disposition will see you depleted and ultimately dysfunctional – emotionally, physically and relationally.

It’s a function of adulting and maturing and participating in the world that we learn to manage our natural disposition with the demands and realities of life. Emotionally intelligent introverts realise that they need to be with at least some people for some of the time – family, colleagues, strangers at the supermarket. That we are built for relationship and cooperation. That the company of others and what they bring to our lives is essential for growth and flourishing. That part of exercising our humanity finds its expression in serving and contributing to the lives of others. Emotionally intelligent extroverts realise that being comfortable in one’s own company is an essential part of growth and self-acceptance. That the practices of solitude and silence are useful for reflection and mindfulness. That social stimulation is no replacement for physical rest which is necessary for revitalisation and renewal.

However, any amount of adaptation and intentionality will not override the fundamental truth of where a person’s energy is sourced. We don’t “grow out” of extroversion or introversion. We just find ways to manage our needs in less preferred environments.

Case study – me.

I am a raging extrovert! I am energised by human interaction. The more energised the interaction the more energised I am! While I don’t mind larger, anonymous groups, I’m more fuelled by social interactions that are personal, robustly engaging, stimulating and soul nourishing.

A friend once compared me to her peace lily. The peace lily is a plant and you know when to water one because its leaves start to droop and curl. Give her a drink and her stems will straighten up and leaves unfurl – almost before your eyes. That’s what I’m like with human interaction. People who know me well can tell from 20 paces when I’ve been on my own – my leaves are droopy! Instead of exuding energy and effervescence I radiate ‘flatness’ – like I’ve pulled a few all-nighters in a row! Friends also know that with even the smallest spritzes of the life-giving water of positive human interaction I will come to life before your eyes. You will feel like a magician for the radical turnaround you were able to conjure with just your words and presence!

As someone who has lived much of my adult life alone, sourcing the requisite people interactions to fuel me has always been challenging. Extroversion energy (like introversion energy) doesn’t store well. It requires constant replenishing – which requires constant social exchanges. A large pool of people resource is required in order to account for the number of introverts who will be needing less people time and also the reality that other people have their own lives and calendars to manage.

As a younger person, this drive for externally sourced energy masked as some sort of social animal who couldn’t sit still, stay home or miss out. Over the years, as I learned and understood more, I recognised that physically my body needed rest, stillness, sleep and down time. I’ve grown to appreciate the slow and relaxed – and even the quiet. But these things do not energise me. The reality of energy sourcing is that while my body and mind might benefit from alone time, I am emotionally deenergised by it. It’s a truth that can’t be outgrown or outmanaged.

Navigating this extended season of lockdowns and isolation, working from home, travel restrictions and all manner of limitations has been hard for everyone for a range of reasons. As an extrovert, the reduction of opportunities for live social interactions has been life-draining! While the utilisation of online communication platforms has been a life-saver, there are times when I still can go multiple days without speaking to an in real life adult person.

As I’ve repeatedly bumped into the worst parts of myself – impatience, intolerance, lack of motivation and discipline, reduced creativity and productivity, loneliness, aimlessness and even depression – I found myself increasingly unable to straighten up; to self-correct. “I can do better than this, what am I not doing better than this?” And while myself and others made passing reference to the fact that my current lifestyle and experience wasn’t conducive to extroversion, this was my reality, these were the tools I had, there has to be a way!

So, here’s my revelation and ever deepening conviction – there is no ‘cure’ for extroversion. There’s no sustainable work around. There’s not enough duct tape and stick-to-itiveness to hold it all together before some sort of external assistance is required. This is energy-source facts. It is what it is.

In some ways, this news was deeply disappointing. I guess I was hopeful to discover an alternate energy source that could be self-generated and subsequently self-replenishing. It would be simpler for me if connection to other humans was more optional than essential. The depth of my reliance on other people makes me intensely vulnerable. I need others, most likely disproportionately to how much they need me. (Read more here your single friends need you (probably more than you need them))

Conversely, the discovery was strangely freeing. It gives me permission to feel the lack and grieve it. This is not a deficiency but a reality. It reminds me to tread lightly in my own life in terms of expectations and demands when I’m operating out of a depleted tank. It may helps others around me recognise the valuable offering they can make to my well-being. It doesn’t excuse the times I show up in disappointing ways but it possibly explains some of it. It turns certain behaviours or feelings into the trigger to more intentionally seek out the company and energising of others.

EXTROVERTS – what do YOU think? How does your extroversion play out in your life?

INTROVERTS – does this ring true on the other end of the spectrum? Does identifying the source of your energy help diagnose and manage your own life experience?

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?

the river has moved

In 1996, the “New Choluteca Bridge” (also known as the Bridge of the Rising Sun as a nod to the Japanese company that designed and constructed it) was built and in 1998 it opened for use in Choluteca, Honduras.

In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit the region causing widespread flooding and devastation. The rising waters took out the access roads either side of the bridge but the bridge remained intact. However, when the flooding subsided it became evident that the river had carved a new path.

They were left with a bridge in near perfect condition that no longer had a function. The roads had disappeared and the river had moved!

I wonder if this isn’t a powerful metaphor for the era we have been (and are still) navigating. A season of incredible change and disruption to the usual flow of work, ministry, and life in unpredicted and varied ways. Although we would be right in hesitating to say that the hurricane has passed and the flood waters have completely receded, we are finding ourselves somewhat on the other side and facing a very changed landscape.

The river has moved!

WHERE IS YOUR RIVER?

It behoves us all, as individuals, families, leaderships and organisations to step back and do some assessing. Where is your river? Has it moved? Where was it? Where is it going now? What of the impact on the surrounding landscape? (I’m told the old river bed would likely now be considered more of a wetland rather than dry land or the usual terrain of river banks.) Where is the high land, the dry land, the firm land? What got washed away in the flood? What is now at the bottom of the newly directed river?

What has changed?

Working with a colleague recently he remarked “2022 won’t just be the 2020 we planned to have”. As we open up and return to some sort of new normal, in our rush to “go back” we can be deceived into thinking that we’ve just been on pause these past months and everything is waiting where it was when we left it. It’s not true. Many things have changed. You have changed, the community has changed (eg, we know differently about what matters to people in society), our engagement with technology has altered, our habits and routines have radically changed, our elderly may have aged inordinately during this time, the socialisation and development of our young people has been disrupted, social confidence has shifted, new patterns of behaviour have emerged (hello church in your jarmies!!!), your staff team might have shifted working hours and onsite routines, and I could go on indefinitely. No doubt you could add to this list from your own experience. Things have changed. It’s important we identify and appropriately acknowledge that reality. We’ll need to grieve some losses and face some truths. Pretending or hoping the river is still the same will get us nowhere.

WHAT’S THE STATE OF THE BRIDGE?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, the bridge was determined to be almost completely unaffected. Were there still roads accessing it, engineers would have had no problem declaring it fit for traffic. There’s nothing wrong with the bridge, other than the glaring reality that it’s not “bridging” anything anymore! It serves no purpose. Great bridge. Excellent feat of construction. And now obsolete.

In recognising the changes that have taken place in your world it’s inevitable that some of your systems and processes are no longer fit for purpose. Before we jump to defending them, remember, there was nothing wrong with the bridge – it just didn’t have a river under it anymore. We don’t have to disagree with previous practices, we don’t have to ‘backflip’ or contradict ourselves, we don’t need to undermine our credibility or integrity, we don’t have to criticise or pick apart past methods – we purely need to acknowledge that the landscape is different and ask what it requires of us.

What does a new river path require of us?

Could we relocate the bridge? Do our previous systems still work they just need to shift over a bit? Or do we need a new kind of bridge for new conditions?

Can we apply the same principles of design that were used for the old bridge? Or do we need to explore new engineering, new types of footings, new construction methods, different materials?

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

If things have shifted, as we know they have for everyone to some degree, and the old structures, old ways, old thinking aren’t going to cut it for moving forward into the future. What do we need to do?

Business leadership author, Marshall Goldsmith, puts it this way in the title of his book “What got you here won’t get you there.” New horizons, new frontiers, new experiences require new methodology, thinking and practice. What has served you in the past may not serve you so well in the future. If the ways you – or WE if we’re thinking more corporately or collectively – have been thinking, acting, believing, preparing and functioning were attached to the ‘old way’ of life then those behaviours and attitudes might need adjusting.

QUESTIONS

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

make zoom great again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOOM TIME IS DIFFERENT THAN REAL TIME

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

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

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

ZOOM MEETINGS REQUIRE STRONG LEADERSHIP

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

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

ZOOM SKILLS & ZOOM BUDDIES

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

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

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

VIDEO ON OR OFF?

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

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

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

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

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

EMBRACE THE ZOOM!

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

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

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

**THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT**

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

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

be like eleanor – women helping women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.