Category Archives: Blogging

What do you do when you realise you’re not living out what you say you value?

My friend Sarah wrote a great post last week called “When the exceptions to your routines become the rule” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s well worth a read!

Her key point is that our lives can change and without realising it we find there is a disconnect between our ideas about the way we routinely live and the reality. And it has challenged me to consider where this might be true in my own life.

For example, I think of myself as a person who is always on time to things. But my life is currently a whole lot busier than it has been in previous years, and that perspective I have of myself is no longer entirely true. My Book Club friends could attest to this as for some reason they bear the brunt of it – I’m nearly always late (although come to think of so are many of them – perhaps we should change our meeting time!)

More significantly, I like to think of myself as a person who responds to communication from others promptly. I value good communication highly and try to work towards “inbox zero”. But between juggling four email addresses, text messages, and Facebook messages, I have to admit that things fall through the cracks sometimes. The reality is that I am not always as on top of my communications as I would like to think I am. And this means that other people probably don’t see me the same way I see myself.

Apparently my brother-in-law believes emails should responded to within the day. If that is the  expectation then I fail it regularly, particularly when it’s a reply that will take more than a minute or two. And when I mentioned this whole issue to one of my closest friends this week, she said, “Yes, you take ages to respond to text messages.” Ouch! But thanks for the reality check.

So what do we do when we recognise that we are not meeting our own expectations? Do we adjust our expectations or our reality?

Do I need to admit to myself that although I would like to be a person who is on time and replies to others in a timely manner, I’m just not? Or do I need to ask myself whether (and why) I still value promptness and then think about how I can re-establish it in my daily practices?

Sarah’s advice is this:

“A deliberate life that honours what matters to us most means constant recalibration of our routines.”

When I slow down and think about it, I have to say that I do value promptness. Not for its own sake, but because I value the people to whom I show it. I value their time, their commitment, their engagement with me. And it’s when I lose sight of that and focus more on myself (how busy I am or how stressed I am) that I overlook the message I am sending to them by my behaviour.

So perhaps this post functions as a confession. I do not live up to my own desire to be a person who demonstrates how much I value others in the way I respond to them.

It also functions as an apology. Friends, I’m sorry if I have dishonoured you or undervalued your time by not responding to you as you needed me to. Please forgive me.

It also functions as an attempt to make myself more accountable. I recognise that I need friends who are willing to call me out and remind me when I’m not living out what I say I value.

And maybe this post can also function as a reminder to some of you, that busyness can be one of the biggest hindrances to good relationships and true community.  And that it’s worth letting someone challenge you to rethink your own practices and habits so that you might be honest with yourself and make sure that you haven’t overlooked what you truly value due to a false sense of your own experience.

 

Back to blogging: my surprising #top3 posts list

I ended up taking a much longer break from blogging than I planned to. Like most things, once you get out of the habit, it’s much harder to re-start. (Although I think I did have a fairly good excuse – getting my thesis finished!)

But I’ve been thinking it’s time to start regularly blogging again. Thinking about blogging has led to me reflecting on my experience of blogging so far, and in particular some of the surprises I have discovered in seeing the popularity and responses to some of my posts. In response to that, and to kick start my return to the blogosphere, here is a list of my “top” (i.e. most commonly read) blog posts and the possibly surprising reasons why they have been popular …

#1 Can we please stop saying “Charity Begins At Home”?

This is by far my most commonly read post. Every single day for the past year, it has averaged between 20 and 50 views. This intrigues me. It was one of my earlier posts, and was born out of my own frustration at the frequent misuse of the saying. What the post’s popularity seems to suggest (along with the fact that most people come to it via a google search) is that although the phrase is frequently thrown around, a lot of people don’t know what it means or where it comes from, and there apparently aren’t too many answers to those queries available! I’m glad I can provide a helpful information service of some kind. 😉

#2 Beauty in the Dry Season

This post has been popular for quite a different reason. Written as part of my travel reflections, my intention in writing it was to reflect on different types of beauty out of my experience of visiting Victoria Falls in Zambia at both peak water time and during the height of the dry season. Unfortunately, some of my photos showing the lack of water during the dry season were picked up by a couple of other blogs and used as “proof” that there was a desperate drought in Africa and even as a “sign” of the judgment of God on the world!! It was quite bizarre receiving comments and emails from people all over the world, some wanting to check whether the photos were real or photoshopped (they are absolutely real), others wanting to warn me that they were being used without my permission (which bothered me less than the fact that they being used in a way that directly contradicted what I had written about them), and others congratulating me on getting the ‘truth’ out (which was disturbing because I had done no such thing!) I hope those who continue to come across some of the false information actually read what I wrote and get a different perspective.

#3 How does the church respond to #yesallwomen?

This was a post that I felt very vulnerable writing and so it was quite confronting to realise it had been much more widely read than my posts usually are. But it is also the one I am most pleased got attention, because of the ongoing discussions it started. Written in response to a twitter hashtag, it contributed to a conversation that has brought out into the open the experience of too many women that too many men were unaware of. It is certainly the post that I have had the most in-person conversations about and it has been a privilege to hold other women’s stories as they have been prompted by my vulnerability to share their own. It has also been incredibly encouraging to have people seek to respond to the ‘awareness raising’ that blogging can do with tangible, practical action. I trust this will only continue.

Three very different posts, and three very different reasons for the attention they have garnered.

What have I learned from them?

From the first, I’ve learned that you never quite know what is going to be helpful for people and that blogging can apparently have an educative role. From the second, I’ve learned that once you put something on the net you can’t control what people do with it and that blogging can get you into unexpected trouble. And from the third, I’ve learned that being open and vulnerable has incredible power and that there are always people who can hear you and say “me too.” I’ve also learned that it is possible for blogging to transcend the digital page and open up amazing and unexpected opportunities. All of these are helpful reminders as I re-embark upon this journey of “thinking out loud.”

So, just in case anyone has wondered why I’ve been quiet, or whether I’d given up blogging altogether, this post is my way of saying “I’m back” and of getting myself back into the habit of posting regularly again. I’m planning a similar mix to before – responses to current issues (whether global, local or just in my own head!), travel reflections, theological ponderings, political and social musings and lots of questions of all kinds. It’s a useful process for me and I’ve missed it. I hope some of you might be looking forward to engaging with the things that I think out loud about that interest you along the way. And I’m looking forward to seeing what unexpected responses are yet to come …

A lament from behind the scenes

When I started this blog nearly two years ago, my goal was to write a post every week. It quickly became apparent that aiming for at least once a fortnight was a more realistic goal. But this is my first post in almost two months – the longest break I have had.

There are a few reasons. I have been really busy and so finding time to write is a challenge. But if I’m honest with myself (and now you) there’s probably been some other reasons as well. I haven’t been sure if I have anything to say. Or maybe even more, I haven’t been sure if what I have to say is worth hearing. As someone who is often the teacher or the pastor or the leader or even somehow the “expert” … what I feel like I have most at the moment is lots of questions, irritations, hurts and fears. In a number of areas I feel like I haven’t been seeing much in black and white, but am almost overwhelmed by how much grey there is. And I’m never sure how much to let the rest of the world see my tears.

I think one of the dangers ­– or at least temptations ­– with blogging is something we all can experience on social media: feeling like we need to present our “best selves” for others to see. That we need to be “up” or “on”, that we need to look good and sound good and contribute something good for others. And so then we fall into the trap of comparing what we see from others with what is really going on for us and we always fall short.

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So here’s the truth for me. The last six weeks or so have been really tough and not much fun. There’s been the usual busyness, coupled with things like the day to day frustrations of tasks that should be simple but end up taking way more time and energy that you anticipated, or people who say things that you hope they don’t really mean but you still feel really hurt by. I’ve had a number of performance and presentation events for my PhD, which have taken a fair chunk of my intellectual and emotional energy. I’ve also been struggling with really enjoying the new church family I am a part of while also realising that I still feel new and dis-connected and that it is really hard and takes time to make good friends and to feel part of a new community. Most significantly, I have had both a family member and a close friend pass away, and while there have been moments of grace within each of those situations, overall it has felt incredibly sad, massively unfair, emotionally exhausting, and just downright awful.

Yet I can say with confidence that I have a faith that is strong despite how I am feeling. I totally trust that God is good, even though it doesn’t feel like it every day in every situation. For me, part of my faith is being honest enough to say that I don’t have all the answers, I don’t understand, sometimes I question God and am angry with Him, and yet I continue to follow Jesus and look to Him to lead me through because I believe He is my hope and my salvation.

How can this all be true at the same time? Hope in the midst of darkness, joy through despair? For me, that’s what lament is all about.

In the middle of the last few weeks, I gave a presentation to a group of hospital chaplains on lament. I felt completely inadequate speaking to them – I might have lots of study and head knowledge to bring, but these are people who are sitting in the trenches, walking alongside death and despair, and I know that I couldn’t do what they do every day. Our time together ended up being an amazing day where I learned from them even as they learned from me. And together we looked at the psalmists and the prophets of the Old Testament and how they teach us to lament. To be honest about our questions and doubts and hurts and fears. To speak them aloud to God and to one another and to wait upon Him. (I’m really glad the authors of the Bible didn’t feel the only thing they could share with the world was their “highlight reels”!!)

The book of Lamentations (literally the “lament of laments”) recounts the darkest chapter in Israel’s history. It is not a book for the fainthearted. There are horrific stories and desperate cries and unanswerable questions. And if you read it from beginning to end looking for a conclusion that ties it all up with a neat bow, you will be sorely disappointed. But what amazes me is that at the very centre of this book of pain and despair, lie some of the most profound words of hope and faith that you will ever find. Words that have been spoken and sung by generations of people of faith all across the world, and words that I am continuing to sing today:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them,

and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind

and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

(Lamentations 3: 19-24)