Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The one with where Twitter triumphs

I just wasn't interested.  It seemed pointless.  An unnecessary use of my time and effort.  I didn't understand the fascination or its purpose.  I steered clear.

Facebook was all I needed.  I had friends there, friends in real life. Why would I need anything else?

Then I opened up a Twitter account, and slowly the bug got me!

All was good at first.  I had Facebook to keep up with my friends from across the world, to share photos, arrange tea dates, and generally catch up on life with - and I had Twitter for networking, meeting new people and gaining a better understanding of a myriad of interesting and diverse subjects!  A perfect combination: Facebook and Twitter.

But recently I have noticed that Twitter is beginning to take priority over Facebook.  My number of 'followers' outweighs my 'friends' and status updates on the two platforms sit at around 30:1 - in favour of Twitter!  I am often interacting on Twitter whilst Facebook lays dormant in the background. Twitter has captured my attention to the detriment of Facebook and has won a battle I hadn't even realised existed!






To my Facebook friends - I am sorry!  I still love you, and am keen to share life with you.  Things will change and we will once again share funny, inspirational, challenging and sometimes just plain ridiculous status' and wall posts.








To my Twitter followers - thank you for welcoming me, interacting with me, challenging me, correcting me, enlightening me, introducing me .... the list goes on and long may it continue.  I appreciate you!






And with that I could end ... but, in typical 'Jo' style, this experience has caused me to reflect on something similar that may happen in a different context.



Are we in danger of doing the same thing in our churches?

  • Can we be so passionate and excited to see new people come to church that we begin to forget the faithful members who come week in week out?

  • Can we be so keen to welcome visitors and guests that regulars leave the building questioning their visibility and even their worth?

  • Can we turn all our focus on extending the Kingdom numerically that we neglect to build it spiritually?


I don't throw out these questions without thought.  They are questions that have been on my heart and mind for quite a while now.  I want to get it right.  But how?  Is it really possible to embrace the 'old' and the 'new' equally?

I suggest the answer can be found in balance and team work.

We need to get the balance right. We need to identify the three different groups of people that are likely to be in our church:  Long-term regular members, those that have been on the fringe for a while, and first time guests.  All are important and need to know the love of Jesus in their lives.  All of them.  If one person leaves the building on a Sunday morning without feeling cared about and significant then I think we have failed.  God does not show favouritism and neither should we. 

Once we have identified the different groups of people in church, we can then work together to ensure each group are cared for.  Some churches will develop a strategy for this - and this can be a tremendous help - but I don't think it should be the responsibility of just a few people on a particular team.  We are all called to love everyone, and I therefore believe each person should take responsibility here.  We need to remove our blinkers, put down our agendas, break out of cliques and walk across the room!

I know we don't all find this easy.  Sure, we are not all confident extroverts, but I don't think this is a justifiable excuse to exclude people.  If you step out of your comfort zone, put your trust in God, and talk to just one person, you could make such a difference.  On the other hand, if you are gifted at welcoming people and putting them at ease, then get out there and help the less confident people out.  Share the load according to personalities and gifts!

Everyone deserves to be acknowledged, given value to, and embraced with the love of Jesus.  Let us work together to ensure that each person that walks through our doors experiences this - regardless of whether they are apprehensively showing their face for the first time or if they have been so often they are almost part of the furniture!


Following the Twitter and Facebook example above - I should perhaps use this as an opportunity to apologise to those whom my behaviour at times has contributed to feelings of exclusion at church. I am sorry.  I know I am not anywhere near getting this balance right yet, but I am trying.  Let's not dwell on the past - but learn together and move on.  Are you with me?


And now - I will make sure I post this on Facebook and not just on Twitter!! 










Monday, 1 October 2012

Does love always give out?

I love a good discussion.   An exchange of views with an aftertaste that encourages action.  Ideas that dance around the table; theology and praxis in perfect partnership.

Over coffee today this happened.  Three of us chatted, shared thoughts, questioned ... until the conversation drew to a close with the call back to work.  I now find myself left with the cold remains of a latte, and the need to pursue the thoughts further.  Perhaps this is the place for this?  Maybe you can add something different, something unique to the mix that generates a more complete perspective, resulting in a more Christ-like response.

I could lean on Kolb and take the experience around his cycle to find an answer - but I would rather ask you what you think ... and we will work it out from there.  Much more friendly this way isn't it?

The 'Concrete Experience'?

For the last few weeks, a man has come into our church, before the service, asking for a bag of food.  His appearance is 'tatty' and he is in need of a good wash.  Not much is known about him, although it is clear that he is not new to the area, or, it seems, to the situation he finds himself in.  Each week he is offered coffee whilst a food bag is made up for him.  He drinks the coffee, engages in a small amount of conversation, takes the bag, and leaves.

We are able to make up a food bag for him out of the food that is donated for a charity that has its base in our church.  However, this food is really already accounted for, and ready to give out to other people in the area that are in need.

We are also involved in the Food Bank that is about to open up in the area, so have food being collected for this as well.

The problem is, neither of these charities work by giving people that just walk in food.  They are recommended by and then looked after by various services.

When we give away their food, we are, in effect, stealing from them.  We are robbing from Peter to pay Paul.  This situation may continue.  What should we do?


Reflections

  • Does supplying this man with a bag of food really meet his needs?
  • Are we helping him to find a more sustainable way to live?
  • Do our actions encourage him to find life to the full in a relationship with Jesus?  Perhaps he already has this?
  • Does providing him with food result in him having money to spend on activities or substances that we may not be in favour of?  Do we have a right to judge this?
  • When we hand out food - is that our 'job done' or is there more to it?
  • What if, by continually giving out food in this way, we find ourselves in a situation in which we are no longer able to supply food to those with an identified genuine need?

Dare I ask it, if we continue to provide a bag of food each week are we showing the love of Jesus or do we risk being taken advantage of?  What if 'the word on the street' is that free food is given out without question and the demand becomes greater than the supply?  What if it doesn't stop with food?

What then should we do with this:

'Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.' (Luke 6:30)

Or this:

'I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'  (Matthew 10:16)
  
What is the relationship between love and wisdom in this situation?

Is love always the trump card?  



What do you think?  

Friday, 28 September 2012

The one with the opportunities

Five Minute Friday

Earlier on today Kay Morgan-Gurr shared their 'Five-Minute-Friday' Blog on Facebook.  A little later Tanya Marlow shared theirs on Twitter.  Now, I have interacted with social media long enough to have seen this blogging concept before, and although I have enjoyed reading many 'Five-Minute-Friday' posts, I have never considered writing one myself.  Could it be that I am just too busy on a Friday to write?  If I said 'yes', then I would be lying.  I do have time.  I mean, it's only five minutes isn't it?  If it were a problem I could slurp my tea a little faster, shower quicker, or spend less time surfing the net. Time isn't the issue here.  It's my speed.  The simple fact is that I am a slow writer.  I can touch type, but the words just don't flow at speed.  I am fussy and often delete sentences or paragraphs that don't quite communicate what it is I am trying to say.  That's the problem.

So the very thought of writing a post in five minutes is actually quite comical.  I might get past the title, but I can't envisage much more finding its way from my head - to my fingers - and onto the page.  And with that in mind, is it even worth me considering it?

But, what if I gave it a go?  Would it really matter if I only managed a few lines?  Would you be hugely offended if my grammar was dodgy or my spelling incorrect?  Would it be reported to the blogging police and taken offline?  I seriously doubt it.  So - how about I give it a go?  You never know, I might actually manage to put a thought out there that might make a difference.  Doubtful, but  not impossible.

But wait.  I have already taken quite some time in writing the above.  That doesn't have to count does it?  Can I be given more time on the clock?

Five minutes.  Clock set.  No cheating.  And ... go!

This week at Twinkling Stars, a baby and toddler group I run, I had several really exciting opportunities to have meaningful conversations with some of the parents and carers that attend.  I have known them for quite a while now, and have slowly been developing a good rapport with them.  We often talk about how we take our tea.  Or the weather.  Or the farm trip at the weekend.

But this week, something happened.  A concerned parent opened up about the possibility of her cancer returning, and the agonising wait she had for the results.  One of the carers asked me about my life, and my experience as a Christian.  And another parent shared how difficult she was finding it since the death of her father.  All important life conversations and I got to be a part of them.

What changed?  Did we do anything different this week to encourage meaningful conversations?

Well, yes, actually we did.  We prayed.  Don't get me wrong, it isn't as though we don't ever pray for the group.  It's just that we don't usually get time before people start arriving.  This week, however, we set up early and had time to spare.  We asked God to give us opportunities and to be in our conversations that morning.  And it happened.  It was an amazing morning!

That afternoon, as I walked back from school, I reflected on the morning's conversations.  And it got me thinking - did God give us more opportunities as we asked him - or were we just more aware of them?

Of course I believe that God answers prayer - so I can see how the conversations etc could have been a direct answer.  However, I can't help but wonder whether our expectations of the morning had something to do with it as well.  We had asked God to provide us with meaningful conversations and expected them to happen.  Our eyes and ears were open and we were ready to embrace the opportunities given.  Perhaps we also asked the questions with a greater authenticity and a tone that said 'I really care'?

Which was it?

Does God only provide opportunities when we ask him too?  Or, could it be that the opportunities are always there, we just don't see them?  Or maybe we do see them, but lack confidence in taking them?

I don't think it matters.  What does matter is that we keep God at the centre of all we do. Our expectations will then be raised, we will have greater confidence in our ability through him, and we will encounter Him moving in spectacular ways in our lives.







Confession:  I forgot when the five minutes started!


Thursday, 27 September 2012

The one with the School Bag

Last week there were tears.  My five year old niece came home from school having been told that she was no longer allowed to take her bag into the classroom.  Instead, she should use a book bag.  Luckily, she already had a book bag at home, so the changeover should have been straightforward - but no!  She loved her bag.  It was big and brown, had funny animals printed on it, and it could hold everything a five year old could possibly need!

She wasn't happy, but it was school policy.

Bags like hers take up too much space in the cloakroom - they cause a potential tripping hazard in the corridor and create a general untidy environment to work in.  Book bags, on the other hand, fit safely and tidily in the box provided.  It makes sense.

I explained the rationale behind the bag exchange to her, and although she understood, she wasn't impressed. 


But, rules were rules, and reluctantly she swapped her beloved brown bag for the regulatory blue book bag.  And that was that.  End of story.


Until ...




You can read the rest of this post, written for YouthWork Conference here ... This will take you to the main page, click on the blog tab at the top, and find the post titled 'Everyone Else Does it!'  And while you are there - why don't you check out the rest of the blog posts and site?  There's a lot of good 'stuff' there!

Let me know what you think :)





Monday, 17 September 2012

The one with the problem

I have a problem, and 18 years ago today, in a speech my Father gave at my wedding, he told all the guests about it.

I still struggle with it today, despite knowing it limits and restricts a life lived to the full!

You would think that after all this time I would be free of it, but no, it still lingers and rears its ugly head without invitation. 

I need to shake it off and get over it, but it's deep-set and firmly lodged in my very being - in my thoughts, words and action.  It sucks - and it's time to come clean in an attempt to loosen its hold on my life.

This blog welcomes the start of the healing process ...

You see, I'm a competitive perfectionist.  There, it's out.  Written in black and placed on white.  A truth that has often been dressed up and disguised as something good.  But it's not.  It's really not.

The words my Father spoke all those years ago came as a surprise - I hadn't realised he knew me that well to be honest.  We were not the closest of families!  And yet, he recognised it.  He had seen it play out in many areas of my life, and seen the effect it had on my ability to enjoy the opportunities given to me.

'Joanne (that received an audible drawing in of breath from the guests as I had never been known by my given name, and had changed it to 'Jo' by deed poll before getting married!) - is a talented and gifted girl (well - I was only 23) who is capable of achieving great things, and I hope she does and that her need to be the best at everything she does won't get in the way of this.'

Wow.

That was me!

So many times I had given up on something when I realised I wasn't the best.  I wasn't the fastest.  The toughest.  The most clever.  The funniest.

I loved life and learning new things and often found myself at a pretty good standard at most things I did.  But pretty good wasn't good enough.  Silver or Bronze looked dull compared to Gold!  I felt a failure.  I couldn't handle it - and when it became clear that I was unlikely to push through and achieve what I wanted I found an excuse to give up.

And today, nothing much has changed.  Even when it comes to blogging.

When I first dipped my toes into the sea of blogging nearly two years ago, I never expected to find myself feeling totally submerged and tossed around by its waves.  

In my first blog I explained ...

'Writing somehow allows me to express myself in a way that makes sense - to me at least!  As someone who finds expression difficult in word - I seem to be able to put my true thoughts and feelings down through pen and paper (keyboard and screen!).  Which - I guess - is ultimately the whole point of attempting this blog.  I hope writing this will allow me to explore and express!  That is for me.  For you?  I hope that through my ramblings you will somehow be encouraged and empowered - to explore your life - and all that God has planned for it :)'

The truth is, whilst I obviously hoped that one or two of my friends would read my ramblings, I honestly never expected my posts to reach the eyes of anyone else.  I guess I had a rather naive understanding of the blogosphere!

And now ... 60 posts on - with almost 50 followers and 25,000 hits on my blog - I have began to feel the pressure.  People actually choose to read my writings?!

But there are so many good bloggers out there.  They are funny, interesting, profound, creative, well-written, frequent, encouraging, insightful ... and I just can't compete with them.

And so, as always, I back off.  I go quiet.  I focus elsewhere and create excuses not to write.  Here we go again ...

But no!

I love writing.  I love sharing my thoughts.  I love that people are kind enough to read and sometimes comment or share.  I love that you have come back to read this after I have been in hiding for so long.

So, I'm not the best writer.  I am slow.  It takes me a long time to put my thoughts into sentences and paragraphs that I am happy with.  My grammatical understanding isn't great.  I just can't get my head around 'affect' and 'effect' - or when a colon or semi-colon should be used.  I make mistakes.

So, I'm not the most creative of thinkers. I can't always think outside of the box and offer new thoughts and ideas.  I don't often write in a way that captures the reader and carries them to new places.

And I could go on ...

I am never going to be the best blogger out there.  I'm never going to win an award.  I'm never going to soar the heights with stats and followers ...

But that's ok.  It isn't why I started blogging in the first place, and I need to remind myself of this.

It isn't about being the best is it?  We can't all be the best.  Imagine the blogosphere (or any other area) if all bloggers fought to be the best.  It would no longer be a colourful meadow of experiences, thoughts and ideas - but a battleground. Cold.  Ugly.  Messy.

I can't be the best at everything - and neither can you.

However, although I can't be the best, I can do my best. And this makes a big difference doesn't it?

I believe that God wants us to do our best in all that we do.  He has given us each unique giftings and talents and wants us to use them well. Half-hearted efforts do not reflect well on our relationship with a God who went all out and sent his Son to die for us.  We should do our best with what God has given us.

When we are doing our best, we consider our own experience, skill, resources and time - and not those of others.

When we are doing our best, we can let go of competition and enjoy the experience.

And that is where I am right now.  I accept I'm not the best blogger out there, and that I never will be and that is good. It releases the valve on the performance pressure that has built up almost to a level of writing paralysis.
 
I can stop the fight and enjoy the ride!

Maybe you understand?  Maybe you have battled with something similar.  Perhaps not in blogging, but elsewhere.  Can I encourage you to take some of the pressure off.  Accept you are not going to be the best at everything, every time.  It's just not possible.  Drop it.

But you can do your best with what you have, and when you do you will not only being to enjoy the experience but you will be able to live life to the full!

So, I'm blogging again. I will do my best.  I believe that God wants us to do this.  I love sharing my thoughts and experiences with you and hope that what I write will entertain, encourage and maybe even inspire you.  Yes, mistakes will be made, and others will write with greater creativity, but I am going to enjoy the experience again- and I hope you will too.
   





Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The one where I get a little heated

'No, you are not entitled to your opinion, until you have listened to that of others,  then you can make an informed opinion!'

I hadn't realised I felt so strongly about the issue!  What started (and finished) as a relaxed chat in Starbucks with a good friend, soon escalated into a more heated discussion, revealing a passion that until that moment I was unaware I held, at least to such extent.

The discussion began as we unpacked the success (or not?) of something new that had taken place during a Sunday Lite* sermon the previous Sunday.  What was new?

I had a live Twitter feed on the screen behind me and encouraged people to tweet their thoughts during the sermon using the designated hashtag.

[Ducks, waiting for the shocked comments to come my way!  Heretic!  Culture embracer!] 

This is an entirely new concept in our church.  Actually, I have yet to come across a 'live tweet' sermon anywhere else.  I knew it involved an element of risk, and would be a challenge to effectively pull off, but it was one I was prepared to at least try.

Why did I do this?  Were the congregation ready for it?  Would they understand the purpose?  Would they engage with it?  Would the Holy Spirit still feel able to speak into peoples' lives?  (Yes, that last question is peppered with a touch of sarcasm)

I explained the purpose to the congregation ...

1 - To encourage a greater (or different?) number of the congregation to engage with the sermon.

Sermons are (and have been for a long time) generally geared towards aural learners - those that sit, listen and take in.  Some sermons are presented in a more visual format, engaging those who learn through what they see.  However, there's a third group, kinaesthetic learners, who learn by doing - and this group often struggles during the more traditional style of sermon.

2 - To demonstrate that the Bible is for everyone

Image Source
By encouraging individuals to tweet their sermon related thoughts, I hoped to demonstrate that the Bible isn't just an empty story written long ago, neither is it limited to my understanding and application, but that it is something that comes alive in the minds, hearts and souls of all who hear.  It is 3-dimensional: Relevant, real, and relational.

Having explained the 'why', I then explained the 'how'.

All sermon related tweets should include the preselected #hashtag and would then appear on the large screen behind me.

It would be a live powerpoint written by the congregation.

It was a risk.  It was radical.  But I think it worked.

So, what about the heated discussion?  Did I have to defend the idea?  Well, in a sense, yes, but this wasn't what actually lit the fuse.

'It isn't my thing!'

It was the way in which it was so easily brushed aside as not being 'my thing' that propelled me to the edge of my seat.   Why the frustration? Surely each person can decide for themselves if something is their 'thing' or not?   It's down to personal opinion, right?

Yes but ...

Is it always possible to tell whether something will work for us or not, having had so little experience of it?   How many of the things we enjoy now weren't our 'thing' when we first tried them?  It's a shallow example, but I really disliked my very first experience of Starbucks.  It wasn't for me.   But now, well, I am there several times a week, known by name by most of the staff, have read several books on the company, and even used their motto as sermon themes. I am sat in my local Starbucks writing this blog!  It is definitely 'my thing'.

Many of our traditions at church would not be experienced and enjoyed now if 'not my thing' held weight every time.  Hasty abandonment could restrict the development of new practices. Consider the style of music a lot of us enjoy during our worship service.  Playing an electric guitar in church is now generally accepted and 'normal' ... but at first ... well I am sure it was dismissed as the devil's music, and would certainly not have been everyone's 'thing'.

But this wasn't the only angle that irritated me as I considered the thought.  It was the 'my' in the 'thing'.  What could this suggest?**  Because 'I' don't like it, it isn't right?  Since when has church been about the individual?  The church is a community of believers coming together to worship, serve, learn, encourage - to do life with each other.  Each other.  It is not about 'I' but about 'we'.  Perhaps we should take our eyes off our preferred style or practice and see how other people engage.  Worshiping together in this way will require sacrifice, but then, isn't this what Christianity is all about?  Laying OUR lives down?

I absolutely believe we must continually question the way we 'do' church.  Is it relevant?  Is it reverent?  Is it reaching people?  Is it engaging?  Is it authentic?  Is it what God wants?

I am not prepared to stand still, to plateau, and watch the church slowly become out of date in a way that no longer reaches the community.  I want people to discover Jesus!  If this means I may have to lay down some of my preferences - then I would like to think I am prepared to do this.

I know I haven't got it all right.  I have my traditions just like everyone else!  But I really pray that I will be open to new and different practices, if it allows a greater experience of God.

If we keep on doing what we've always done, we will always get what we've always got.  I want more!  Do you?  Are you prepared to let go of 'my thing' and experience something new, for the sake of others?

The live tweet really encouraged some people to engage in a different way.  For them, it worked.  I accept that for others it may have been a distraction, and I need to take this into account.  For to completely ignore their thoughts, and tweet during every sermon in this way would be allowing 'my thing' to prevail.

I don't want church to be about me.  Actually, I don't even want it to be about us.  I want it to be about Jesus!  How often does 'my thing' stop this from being the case?  Hmmm .....

Your thoughts ...

+ How quickly do you dismiss something as not being 'your thing'?

+ How can we make sure church is less about 'me' and more about 'them'?

+  How do you feel about a live tweet during a sermon?  Might it help?  Distract?

+  How do we ensure church engages with culture (ie social media) without losing sight of its purpose?







*Sunday Lite is our monthly outreach service - it's shorter, gospel centered, fast paced, interactive, and is targeted specifically for non-church goers, or those with little understanding of church patterns, words, and rituals.  Oh, and it finishes (as all good Christian outreach services seem to) with Do-nuts!

** Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that this is what the person I discussed tweeting with thought - but rather, what it could mean in certain contexts with different people.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Please Let me be Me

Ten years after this was originally written - I still think its important to understand and put into practice. It is because of this that I have decided to share more of myself than comfortable with, and post here!


Please Let me be Me

Recently I watched a programme about Kings College Hospital in London with great interest.

You see, last year I was a patient at Kings College (Harris Birthright Centre, a hospital specialising in difficult and unusual pregnancies and births).  I had been referred there by my doctor when I found out I was expecting my third child. The year before I had been looking forward to the arrival of my second child, thinking of names, getting excited, preparing myself to be the mother of a new-born again, but when I was 16 weeks pregnant all my hopes and dreams were shattered. The bottom of my world fell out.

Strangely enough I had always felt that something wasn’t quite right, but put it down to paranoia. Why would things go wrong?  I already had a healthy baby and the pregnancy seemed fine, so why would this be any different?  I don’t know how, but I knew.  At 16 weeks I developed a pain around the area of the scar received after an emergency section with my first son.  I went to the doctors, and was referred to the local hospital for a scan.

As I lay on the bed preparing for the scan, fear took over me.  I somehow knew that a bumpy ride lay ahead.  However, nothing could prepare me for the next half hour.  The scan commenced and an uncomfortable silence filled the room.  The silence fled as the sonographer told me that there seemed to be quite a lot of fluid under the babies skin.  All I heard was things weren’t right.

I was left alone as the senior sonographer was called.  During this awful wait, I lay there looking at a still picture of my baby on the screen.  I knew it and loved it.  I wanted this baby so much.  As I stared at the screen I can remember praying, not that things would be okay strangely enough, but thanking God for life, and dedicating the life inside me back to Him.

My baby had a thorough examination, again in silence, and I finally heard the words … “There is a very serious problem ...”  That was all she said at first, I guess to give it time to sink in.  This annoyed me … I wanted to know more, what was wrong, what was going to happen etc.  I forced it out - 'So?' It was explained to me that the baby had a lot of fluid under the skin, all around, but the major concern was the large amount of fluid around the brain. This baby was very unlikely to survive the pregnancy and if it did it would almost surely die at birth.  I sat myself up, and waited for a consultant to come and speak to me. I was in shock.

Once the consultant started speaking, I wanted to know everything.  I asked questions and went through various scenarios.  Yes, I was terribly upset, but I didn't fall apart, I needed answers.

I was offered a termination that I refused. I believe God gives life and I couldn’t do anything that would take it away.  I was told that it would be hard having a baby grow inside that I would probably never see alive.  I knew, but I would cope, I had to.  Several times the termination was offered and in the end I felt like it was being pushed on me, so I made sure that 'Will not consider a termination' was written clearly at the top of my notes.  I would leave it with God.

They wanted to see me at the hospital once a week to check if my baby was still alive.  I was warned that I might miscarry at any time.  I didn’t. I carried on at home knowing that it wasn't the same as most pregnancies.  There would be no baby to bring home at the end.

I tried to carry on as normal.  I was scared and hurting.  I didn’t understand.  I just somehow managed to cope.

Two weeks later I felt my baby move its last.  The following day at the hospital they confirmed my baby had died.  In a way this was a relief,  especially when I thought that the baby would no longer be struggling.

The consultant talked me through the next events.  I would go back into hospital the next day to have labour induced.  They warned me that even though my baby was still quite small, it would be very painful.  I went home, told a few people I wouldn’t be about the next day and prepared myself. I had to think about whether or not I wanted to look at my baby, hold it, give it a name … such a lot to consider.

In hospital the following morning several people explained what would happen. The hospital Chaplain also visited to discuss whether we wanted a service, burial, cremation etc. I made as many decisions as I could and labour was induced.  I won’t go into detail of the next bit, but after over twelve hours of labour I gave birth to a tiny baby boy.  Alfie.  He was taken away for a while as I had to go under general anaesthetic to have the placenta removed.

When I returned and was fit enough, Alfie was brought into me in a tiny Moses basket.  He was beautiful.  I looked past the obvious swelling around the head and saw my little baby.   Our Pastor and close friend visited us, and before Alfie was taken away, we held a short service for him.  We gave thanks and said goodbye.

The purpose of sharing all this?

We all know we are unique and cope with things in different ways, and that includes how you deal with the loss of a child.  I found losing Alfie the hardest thing I have ever gone through, grieved him immensely.  However, during all that time I didn’t cry.  I am not super human, neither am I hard and unemotional.  I hurt, my mind was a mess, and I needed support from friends and family ... but I didn’t need to cry.

I found it very difficult when my close friends and family told me I needed to 'stop bottling it up and let it out'.  Hadn't they been listening?  My feelings weren’t bottled up, they just didn’t come out as tears. I wanted to talk about Alfie.  I didn't cry, but this in no way meant it wasn't difficult, or that it wasn't a big deal for me.

If you ever have to offer support or friendship to someone in a similar situation then please just let them be themselves.  They may need company, or they may prefer solitude.  They may need to talk, or they may prefer silence.  They may need to cry, and probably will and if tears fall, let them.  But if, like in my case, the tears don't come, don't make things worse by trying to force them out.  It might not be what they need for that time.

It is also important that you are yourself as well.  One of my friends would walk away when we were talked about Alfie, because it made her cry and she didn't want to cry in front of me.  Her crying helped not hindered.  I wanted her to be herself too.

To this day I still haven't cried about it.  I often think about him and question why.  He is still in my memories and I wont forget him.  Tears haven't fallen, but this doesn't mean he isn't missed.

Alfie had Downs Syndrome, and had he survived would have been seriously ill with no quality of life at all. I don’t know why things like this happen, and don’t pretend to have the answers.  I just know that when things like this happen, people grieve in different ways.  Be sensitive, listen, and let them be themselves.

Jan 18, 2002



Monday, 2 April 2012

The one where I 'come out' (Part Five)

*This is the fifth in a series of posts explaining how and why I decided to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will make a lot more sense in light of the first post, second post, third post and fourth post'*


... As I tried to tell myself that the title didn't matter - I realised that it was no longer about me.  It was about the experience of all women.  If I continued to keep quiet, could I expect anything to ever change?  How many other women would walk a similar path and end up unable to fulfill God's calling on their lives?

I knew I had to say something, and this time it was obvious a little whisper would not be enough...

For two weeks I experienced a deep rooted sense of unease.  My heart hurt.  I prayed for peace, but it failed to come.  I tried to live out Philippians 4:8, and think about all things noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy - but my soul found no rest.  A battle fought within and I longed to experience the respite of a victory on either side.  But it remained relentless.

A PA.  It's only a title.  A PA?  It's only a title.  But, a PA?!  I wanted to be able to accept it, to let it go, and to move on.  But I was torn.

What did it matter?  Did the title actually create any barriers to stop me doing the work I believed God had called me to do?  Not really.  So why did I still feel unable to let it go?

What was really at stake here?  Had my pride forced its way to the surface, forcing discomfort and unrest to propel rebellion?  Had I developed an enlarged, unrealistic and unhealthy view of myself? Had I lost sight of the things that mattered to God, in favour of what was important to me?

'He must become greater, I must become less.'  (John 3:30)

Yes.  God, you must increase, and I must decrease. 

I laid my frustrations down.  It was about Him, not me.  As long as I continued to serve, the title was of little importance.  And yet, still no peace.

But why?  Accepting the title of PA would have no impact on my ability to serve God in the way that I had been.  So my distress had to be founded elsewhere.  

Could it be that this was something God actually wanted me to fight for?  Was this why I had not found rest?  If so, would I be brave enough to do it?   I was doubtful.  I feared confrontation.  I feared being seen as a status seeker.  I feared becoming a trouble maker instead of a peace keeper.  Then, with all these fears floating around my head -  I realised that I had made it about me.

If this was something God wanted me to challenge, then I would do it, and face any consequences afterwards.

With a surprising surge of boldness I arranged to see the Elders.  That was easy.  The difficult part came a few days later when we sat together to discuss my role.  Despite knowing this was something I had to do, I felt sick. 

The conversation started and on the surface all seemed fine.  Discussion flowed easily around pay, hours, expectations etc.  I spoke at speed and kept the conversation going.  Perhaps then 'the' subject wouldn't come up.  However, I knew it must.

Whilst my mouth engaged in conversation, my thoughts were elsewhere.  How could I bring the subject of my title up?  Would the words come out?  More importantly, would I be able to contain the anguish that thrashed inside?  I am not an 'emotional' person usually, but this went deep.  I feared releasing the pressure on the valve, and an ugly and uncontrollable wave of emotion flooding out - (potentially confirming the theory that 'women are too emotional to lead').

As fear engulfed, I wanted to run.

'God's not given a spirit of fear, but of love, power and sound mind.' (2 Timothy 1:7)

I had to do it.   

'Can we discuss the title?'

It was out.  I half expected to be sent out of the room like a naughty child.  I shook, if not physically, emotionally.  I searched for a place to hide with embarrassment and shame.

Silence.

Could the beating of my heart actually be heard in the room?

Silence.

I don't remember the exact words that followed, but as I began to off-load my thoughts, a peace began to fill the space they previously occupied.  I felt able to express my concerns with honesty, clarity and sensitivity.  A sound mind.

'Do you think a guy would happily accept the same title?'

That was the issue at the root of it for me and I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.  In fact, I seriously doubted whether PA would have been suggested in the first place.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Gender made a difference to the proposed title.  In both cases the actual role and responsibility would be the same, and yet the title different.  This was injustice.  Sure, the title would have no impact on my ability to work, but what would accepting it without question say?  That it was acceptable to call a woman a PA, but not a man?  That a man fulfilling the same role should have a more appropriate title, but it was safer option to use PA for a woman?  I knew I had been right to challenge it.

With the question that followed I realised I hadn't actually considered anything beyond querying the title.  'If not PA, then what?  I thought about it ...

I had Probationary Minister's status with the Assemblies of God (training for full status) and had completed a degree in Theology.  I led the youth work, ran the women's ministry, gave significant input in the running of the church and served on the Pastoral Team.  A suitable title?  I knew what I thought, what I hoped for ... but dare I speak it?

And then, somehow, in the midst of the awkwardness, the word 'Pastor' was spoken.  Who spoke it first, I don't actually know.  Perhaps it was me?  Perhaps not.  But what did it matter?

'What is the work you actually do?  It is that of a Pastor.  A Pastor who assists the work of the Senior Pastor.  An Assistant Pastor.'

It was agreed and I allowed myself to relax.  It was going to be alright. 

Two weeks later came the official announcement at church.  I was called up to the front and the Elders prayed for God's anointing on my life as I served in my new role as an Assistant Pastor.

Although I felt a peace, I knew that for some in the congregation this announcement may cause a degree of concern.  Perhaps concern is too strong a word.  A questioning?  A woman serving as an Assistant Pastor? 

No one spoke up or walked out in objection.  In fact, after the service and during the weeks that followed, the comments I received were encouraging and supportive.

I thanked God for his faithfulness and strength through the storm, and gave my all to the work he had called me to do.  Training with AoG continued, and my ministry developed.  I loved it.  I knew I was in the right place.  I felt his presence, power and peace. The journey was exciting and fulfilling.

I enjoyed calm seas for a while, but storms were building in the distance, and it wouldn't be long until I once again found myself in the middle of them.  Jesus never promised a smooth journey did he?  But he promised to stay with us through it. This encourages me to keep going.  At times giving up does sound tempting, but I know that God has called me to push on through, not only for my sake, but for those that follow.

When the storms subside, I will continue to share my journey with you, but for now it would be both insensitive and painful to do so.  Through it all though I know that God is good and faithful and knows the plans he has for me, for good and not disaster, to give a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

For all those riding the storm at the moment - hang on in there - you are not alone.







You may also like:
Part One in this series
Part Two in this series
Part Three in this series
Part Four in this series

Friday, 16 March 2012

The one with the Strong Woman


Following a few rant-like conversations on Twitter I was asked to write a guest post on 'Strong Women'.   The original post can be found over at James Prescott's blog here.  Why don't you pop on over and read some of his posts and say hi?  You can also hear an audio version of the post on Partakers  (March 10th 2012)

Strong Women

‘She’s a very strong woman!

Last week, this statement cropped up in three separate conversations regarding different women.  Strong women.  And each time - I cringed.
 
I used to be a ‘strong’ woman.
   
I lifted weights at the gym regularly, practiced Judo weekly, and had a pretty good success rate with arm wrestling. 
 
There's nothing wrong with being a strong woman. 

But, this wasn’t what they meant, was it?

No, the focus of their strength had nothing to do with their muscles, but their character. 


What is a strong character?


Therefore, a strong character can simply be defined as someone with the ability to respond with strength in all circumstances.  To remain constant and strong in a world crazed with uncertainty, inconsistency, and irrationality.  A strong character is needed if we are to effectively navigate life's experiences. 

If this is the understanding of a strong character, then why does the phrase so often get spat out with disdain and caution when specifically referring to women?


A strong woman?

The term 'strong' when referring to the character of a woman, often carries quite a distinct interpretation.

Bossy
Opinionated
Outspoken
Stubborn

But only of a woman. 

Very rarely does the phrase get used when describing a man.  And if it does, then it is usually referred to as a positive character trait. 

Is strength in a man a virtue, but strength in a woman a vice?

Is it good that a man displays strength, but a woman conceals it?

Is this what God ordained?  Did he create men to have strong character and women to be weak?  Can we read only of strong male characters in the Bible?

What of Ruth?  A woman of 'chayil' - (power, strength, resources, army, effective) 
  
What of Deborah?  The prophetess and judge who had to know her own (or God's) mind and speak it.

What of Mary?  Who chose to go against the cultural norms of the day, and engage in something she (rightly) saw as more important.

And what of Jael?  Who took matters into her own hands, confidently driving a tent peg through the head of an enemy.  

And Biblical women weren't strong? 

Shouldn't all Christians, whether male or female, aspire to have a strong character?  A character that allows them to follow the will of God, speak on his behalf, and love and forgive in a culture that exemplifies the opposite?

Shouldn’t all Christians, whether male or female, demonstrate a strength of character that comes from knowing who we were created to be?

Shouldn't all Christians, whether male or female, be encouraged to speak up, and not shut up?

Shouldn't all Christians, whether male or female, be encouraged to stand up for what is right?

Shouldn’t a strong character in all Christians be celebrated and not shunned or frowned upon – regardless of gender? 

Yes, even a strong woman.

And if the idea of this makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps you ought to ask yourself why.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

The one with the catching up

Sadly, it has been quite a while since I last blogged something fresh.  I have tidied up a few blogs, and written a few guest posts, but nothing new has come this way.  The silence does not represent apathy, but rather a busyness of life outside of the blogosphere.  Nothing much has changed either and I suspect the balance is still going to lean heavily on the side of 'real' life for a while.  This will eventually pass ... and I will be back to more regular posting (and reading) again soon.

But in the meantime, here's a little insight into the current life of Jo ...


Blood:Water Mission
Forty Days of Water 

Just before the Lenten period started, I received an email from a friend.  It said:
'Jo, if you did this, you could provide a lake!!'  Attached was a flyer from Blood:Water Mission about their Lent challenge to drink only tap water for 40 days.  The money saved by not buying drinks is donated to help provide clean water in Uganda.  The statistics were shocking - donating the cost of a latte each day -  $3 (it's an American charity) will provide a family of 6 with clean water for between 15 and 20 years!  That can't be ignored can it?  I had to take up the challenge.

I used to drink A LOT of tea, at least ten mugs a day, (hence the joke about me providing a lake).  I have now only had tap water for eleven days!  Yes, it has been difficult.  My head hurt a lot during the first week and I walked around in a bit of a fog, unable to wake up properly.  But a week in, and both the fog and the pain lifted.  Whooop.  I can do this!

Drinking tap water only has made me appreciate how blessed I am.  Not only do I have a range of drinks to choose from, but I am also able to turn the tap on and safely drink the water.  So many don't have this luxury, that I have always taken for granted.  I am thankful. 


Email Clean up

Ok, this isn't the most exciting thing to be sharing with you!  But, I am amazed at how many email subscriptions I had picked up along the way.  The emails came in thick and fast and had began to clog up my inbox.  Their density also meant that I occasionally missed important, or interesting mails.  It was time for a clean up!  Over the last two weeks I have been clicking away at 'unsubscribe'.  Finally, they are slowing down, and my inbox is enjoying a bit of respite!

It is surprising how quickly we can collect junk.  We sign up for something that seems like a good idea at the time, and let it run on.  We click subscribe to get the best deals sent to us, but more often than not nothing exciting comes in.  We just stand by and let it all come in - just like life! 

Alongside the great email clean up - I have also been reflecting on various aspects of my life, and attempting to clean up all the unwanted or unhelpful elements.  Time is too short and too precious to have 'junk' in it, isn't it?


Open Doors


Everyone knows that opportunities are found by pushing on various doors don't they?  Well, during the last month or so, several doors have opened for me.  Brilliant!  But what has been even more exciting (at least to me!) is the fact that I haven't actually been out on a door pushing mission.  In fact, I wasn't even aware the doors were there to push!  It has been amazing.  Emails, conversations, circumstances, connections ... doors just being flung open.  And with all the opportunities presenting themselves I am reminded that despite my insecurities, weaknesses and feelings of inadequacy, God has a plan and a purpose for me - far beyond that which I can imagine.

However, it would be unwise to blindly run through every door without first seeking God's will.  I want to be doing the right things, not just the good things.  Lord, please direct my steps and help me to faithfully fulfill your will for my life.


There are plenty of other things I could share with you, but as I try to keep my posts short, I will close here.  Despite a few frustrations and disappointments along the way -  life has been very good :)

I will be back writing more regularly soon - but until then - know that God is faithful, can be trusted, and has a plan.  Love it!!


  


Monday, 13 February 2012

The one with the Encouragement



Wisdom for Women in Leadership

During January, Sophia Network ran a series on Encouragement and Empowerment, in which various women were invited to share how they have experienced empowerment in their lives and ministry. 


I was privileged to be asked to share my experience:


'Throughout my time in Christian ministry, I am thankful to have received encouragement in many different guises; from a casual pat on the back accompanying a ‘well done’; to kind words written in a card; through to more intentional mentoring conversations in which various abilities were identified and encouraged.   All have been appreciated, and no doubt have had a positive impact on my personal development and ministry.   To attempt to individually name and thank all the encouragers in my life would be an impossible task, so I offer a collective ‘thank you’ with sincerity here.
The impact of a simple word of encouragement should not be underestimated; it can literally be life changing.  Sadly, the opposite can also be true.  A word or a look that discourages can hinder development, and unless corrected, could potentially snuff it out altogether. 
The phrase ‘it’s not your thing’ spoken to me after I (very nervously) gave a short testimony one Sunday morning became ingrained in my mind, resulting in a self-belief that I had no gifting or ability to speak to adults in a public setting at all.  From then on, although happy to speak in front of young people, I avoided speaking to adults whenever possible.  After all, it wasn’t my thing!
Since then, many encouraging words have been given that have helped me to loosen the hold that phrase seemed to have over me.  However, one incident in particular stands out as having a significant impact on my development, and actually, I think on my life as a whole.
We would like you to preach at our wedding’.
Dan and Gemma, who both served on the youth team with me, were due to get married and wanted me to preach at their wedding ceremony.  They must be joking?!  I can’t speak in front of adults. But they were absolutely serious. 
This conversation impacted me tremendously, because they demonstrated a belief in my ability, not only in theory, but also in practice.  If they trusted me in this way, then perhaps I could do it after all?  Despite being petrified, I did speak at their wedding, and I am thankful for the opportunity to do so - what an honour.
Encouraging words are great, but when they are accompanied by a demonstration of trust, I believe something far greater is experienced.  This is true empowerment. 
Jesus didn’t just speak of his love for us, he demonstrated it on the cross.   Likewise, Dan and Gemma didn’t only say I had the ability to speak, they demonstrated it by entrusting me to do so.   This spoke volumes. 
Who is God asking you to encourage in theory and in practice?'

I found the series both encouraging and challenging as it forced me to consider how intentional and effective I am as an encourager.   Why don't you click on the links and read the series? 
 



(This post was first posted on Sophia Network on the 28th Jan 2012)

Friday, 10 February 2012

The one with the Award

And the 'Versatile Blogger' and 'You Bless Me' Awards go to ...... Jo Royal, at All in a Day!







Yes, this morning I awoke to find that I had received my fist ever blog award!

So, in true award winning style, I would like to thank all those who have made this possible, those who believed in me, those who take time out to read my writing, those who ...... yeah, I will stop now!

OK, so the Awards might only be a bit of blogging fun, but I am thankful to Rhoda, over at Living to Please God, who nominated me for the award.  I feel encouraged to keep writing. 

I have been thinking a lot about encouragement lately, and the role it plays in our Christian development.  It is key.  Encouragement says:

You can do it!
I'm right here with you.
You're appreciated
Hang on in there
Go for it!
You're not alone.

I appreciate all the encouragement that comes my way - it keeps me going!

It is a joy to receive encouragement - but 'It is better to give than to receive' (Act 20:25)

So, I'm giving.  One of the 'conditions' of receiving the award requires the recipient to pass it on. This is rather like a chain letter, but without the curse!!  There is no threat of writer's block, or your blog losing readers if the award isn't passed on.  The 'magic' is in the joy of being able to encourage someone. 

I therefore send some Blogging Award encouragement to five blogs that I enjoy reading.  And perhaps you can encourage them too, by hopping over to their blogs to say hello!

1 - Sam at The End of my Tether?  Sam is such an inspiration.  In her blog she shares her journey as a Cystic Fibrosis sufferer.  She is funny, real, informative, challenging and truly inspirational as she invites her readers to join her on the journey, always pointing to the Hope that she has in God.  If you only follow one of my suggestions - make sure it is this one.  You wont regret it. 

2+3 - It is always good to encourage new bloggers, so I am sending an award to both Hannah at Not Yet Perfect and Gemma at Whirlwind through Life.  Both these bloggers share their thoughts and experiences as they work out what life as a Christian really means. Ladies, keep it up! :)

4 - I am also sending a Blogging Award over to Laura at Fingertip Meditations - Laura was the first follower I had on my blog that I didn't know personally.  I have enjoyed reading her blog - especially as she unpacks her thoughts about Christian living in a very down-to-earth way. 

5 - And, finally, Emma at A New Name.  I absolutely love reading this blog.  Emma has an amazing way of writing, that not only entertains, but really provokes thought.  She shares with brilliance.  I appreciate her transparent thoughts (and challenges!) a lot. 

(Nominees - here is the part where I tell you that if you choose to accept the award, you must put the badge on your website, nominate a further five bloggers to receive the award, and tell us five random facts about you! - Of course, I don't really expect you to - but hey, you may choose to accept the challenge to encourage someone instead?)



And there's more ...

The other condition of receiving the award is that I share five little known facts about myself.  Ok, time for a bit of self-indulgence - and pressure to portray my life as exciting, funny, quirky, spiritual - or whatever!  Forget that, I am just going with randomness!


1 - I own 16 pairs of Converse.

2 - I have been to Colin Firth's House (OK, so he wasn't in - but I did see baby pictures!!)

3 - I love hanging out in my local Starbucks - and, depending on the barista - I can walk in and ask for my usual.

4 - I really really really dislike butterflies, moths and ladybirds.  I will freak if they come near me.

5 - I am all or nothing.  If I can't do something well, I would rather not do it. 

There - that's me!


Enjoy your day :)
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