The Paradox of Reliability

What Is It?

Reliability is a value that works both internally and externally, outwardly it might look like: ‘Reliable cars that save you time and money on repairs, Reliable mail that gets delivered on time, vendors who show up on time and of course reliable friends and colleagues who do what they say’. .- extract from 8 ways to become the most realiable person un the room. 

Reliability– You do what you say you are going to do… deliver on commitments.”- Brene Brown

Being reliable because you are getting something in return is one thing, whether that’s money or the warmth and connection of friendship. But when there is no person or system checking up on ourselves, be that a boss or fitness tracker. But being reliable to your inner needs is something else harder to pin down. 

We are wired to survive, to live and overcome, to succeed, to have lives of meaning and connection. If that is lacking, if our actual inner needs are not being met, we do the next best thing to survive, the ultimate psychological life hack. 

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Jennifer Louden calls this life hack shadow comforts. Which are activities that allow us to numb what’s really going on for us, they help us keep up appearances. What we need to do is sit amongst the light and dark of our lives and own it, acknowledge it and learn from it. 

In contrast, real comforts are never numbing, they are always loving and always something that nurtures you. Just like when a child is picked up when they are crying and held safely in their carer or parents arms until they are ok. 

As I became aware of my shadow comforts and understood how they were just a quick fix and the comfort they offered was short-lived and for me had unintended negative consequences. 

I wanted to change, I saw shadow comforts to be used in emergency only activity, so for example, if I am tired and overworked, stressed and when I am working from emotional scarcity, I will have chocolate and coffee to keep me going or play on the Xbox or go shopping. I would avoid actually meeting my real needs. I used to live on that diet and still easily slip into old habits. The result of that diet over the years is that it left me broke, spiritually, emotionally, relationally.

Through reading on this idea of reliability in particular as a group of attributes that build trust from Brene’s work, I find that not building trust with myself utterly undermines, over time, the trust built externally! 

What Can We Do? 

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

Reconnect with ourselves, find somewhere quiet and safe, where you can begin that work of reconnection and self-nurture.

Whether we are, a doctor, a waiter, a methodist minister, or man, women, gay, straight, nonbinary, husband, wife, we all are swirling ball of emotions, spiritual connection, of light and dark, joy and failure, of vulnerability, and of hope, and that part deserves and ultimately demands proper attention, 

I find my personhood is rooted in a God who says I am fearfully and wonderfully made, loved and lovable, imperfect and ok. When choosing the shadow comforts I know, that what I am communicating to myself, is a need to be nurtured, comforted and loved in a cherished and compassionate way. 

As infants we have all existed in a state when we couldn’t make sense of the world around us, where you and I didn’t have a clue what up and down was. All of us discovered what felt ok, and not ok. 

Real comfort is like what makes that infant feel loved, it is something that is experienced and felt. True comfort is known not as just one word or action, but a rainbow of connections that nurturer that inner person in all of us every single day.

previous post was Brave Boundaries all connecting into the work of Dr Brene Bown on trust-building. 

Crazy Love

Kid’s they spend your money, scream at you and lie to your face. You have to clean up their rooms and bodily secretions! You experience tiredness like you never knew, which doesnt help you not to slipp into shouting at them on a line from time to time to all of the time.

Yet, there is no question that you would give your last breath or go without that new item of clothing or shiny piece of technology because of how much you love with your children.

Isn’t it strange how just one kiss, one hug, one “thank you mummy or daddy” immediately transports you to a universe full of proud parent moments, which obscure and blots out the ruggedness or rudeness of day to day parenting?

God is clever with this parenting stuff, they look like us, so we see ourselves in them, and the author of love gives us this great bond of love that is both an embrace and protective shield.

However for some kids they don’t get that bond, that protection, they don’t feel it’s warmth or safety. Perhaps it’s not surprising that understanding God as love, or even as a parent, is near impossible for these little ones because for them that parental relationship has been so disfigured.

A parents love is the closest I have come to understanding Gods unconditional love. A love that takes our our arrogant presumptions that we know all that there is to know about God.

I used to see Gods unconditional love in the forgiveness I receive when I mess things up, but now to my surprise and delight I see it also in my interrelationship with my kids.

How secure Are Your Boundaries?

Creating healthy boundaries is vital, as part of our self-care as is brushing our teeth and having a wash. Not having healthy boundaries leads to ill health and disconnection and even mistrust of our selves and those around us.

5 myths about boundaries

  1. Myth: Boundaries push people away.
  2. Myth: Love has no boundaries. 
  3. Myth: Boundaries are selfish.
  4. Myth: Setting boundaries requires you to be mean.
  5. Myth: Boundaries require too much time.

Whats Is Ok And Not Ok.

The best definition of a personal boundary that I can find is “A boundary is what’s ok and what’s not ok. Dare to lead Dr Brene Brown. it is not ok to habitually Neglect our foundational needs. Normalised in such self-talk as not wanting to upset others, not wanting to be seen as different or awkward, It is bound up in orientating our self-esteem or worth externally rather than internally. It is telling yourself, ‘I need this’ to be happy, safe, complete, whole or loved and later discovering it doesn’t live up to your expectations.

Unhealthy boundaries are in part what leads to the disconnect we see rampant in our world in so many forms. We may wonder why we are too busy, overly exhausted, internally isolated and disconnected from important relationships, nature and meaningfulness. This disconnect can lead to depression read Lost Connections by Johann Hari

So what can we do? 

A builder doesn’t build without a frame of reference, without a plan, or have purchased the tools for the job. The builder needs wisdom, discernment, skill and courage to see the structure take form. The builder knows their worth.

Boundary setting and maintaining it is built on a foundation of trust, self-trust. A lack of healthy boundary setting erodes this trust internally and externally and makes the structure you just built unstable.

Living out the Boundary

Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Just be true to who you are, what you can and what you can not do. Without personal judgement. There is not a lot you can do about external judgement! 

Add to this commitment knowledge about what you are worth. Jesus said you are “more precious than the Lillies of the field or the birds of the air.” It was decided that you should be made in Gods image in the depths of eternity, from that place life burst forth, expressing itself in the diversity of our world. A world that includes you. 

Mix in courage and wisdom, know when to make adjustments to what you have created and when to stand firm, this comes with practice and learning from mistakes along the way.

 In her book Rising Strong As A Spiritual Practice Brene Brown tells how she met with a group of Rabbis and asked them if they believed people were doing the best the can. Most said no, then Brene says to the group, ‘so now God turns up and whispers in your ear, do you know what, that person who you think is the worst, is actually trying the best they can!’ 

This so profound and deeply challenging for us to hear and to get our heads around. perhaps the only way we can begin to live this out if from a bounded place, a place where our wells of compassion can overflow into the lives of others. 

Loss, Wilderness and Hope

There are moments in grief that can overwhelm us, where it seems that everything else moves out of focus, except for perhaps one thing. For me one the focus is one person or to be precise the lack of their presence.

The impact of this moment is not so much the length of its duration, but the power it has over you, to make simple things harder. Basic things like choosing what to eat or drink, or whether or not to reply to all the messages. Weariness is your companion yet sleeping for any decent length without waking up in between, seems impossible.

As you navigate the world in the bubble, of the moment people going about their business, seemingly oblivious that things are not quite right, colour is slightly desaturated, regular objects seem slightly out of focus.

How are people not panicking or looking bewilderedly at each other, is not quite clear!! Truth is, you realise, it is only you that is inhabiting this space. They do not share at this moment this parallel universe in space and time. They pass through it untouched and oblivious. For them, there are no visual clues. There are no flags at half-mast, no headlines in newspapers or breaking news on tv.

We watched her being taken away for the final time. We watched them load and unload her coffin, we heard tributes, and prayers we sang her favourite songs, we remembered her. We saw her take her last curtain call in the plain coloured walls of the crematorium. The blue velvet separated us from her, as eternity now does.

In what way will we meet again I am not sure, there is a concrete finality at this moment, and the beginnings of a journey into the wilderness.

The wilderness can be scary, it can be a place where you can rest, can refresh, can heal. The unhurried wilderness can be what is needed, though not always wanted. In this wild place, you can find others who too have journeyed into the wilderness and are making their way, charting their course.

In this emotional universe, you won’t pass out, or grow hungry, those things are taken care off. For our job is to remember, to mourn, to find our way back to gratitude and emotionally breath again, as we journey through the door of acceptance into the light of new beginnings.

Previous post in the theme of grief can be found at: https://godlifechurch.wordpress.com/2020/01/09/traveling-the-valley-of-shadows/

Traveling The Valley Of Shadows

I gathered with loved ones to see a star. A star whose light was changing but was still beautiful and at times younger somehow. This star shone despite death’s dark shadow which loomed over the valley where we were, like storm clouds forming in the distance we each knew what was coming.

The line in psalm 23 The Lords My Shepherd, speaks of such a valley, the valley of the shadow of death. This psalm that is still fresh in the memory, one that we see written on cards or spoken at funerals. This is not a valley I am particularly familiar with, though I have repeated the psalm many times. There is another line in its narrative that reads.

“his rod and staff guides me…”

This line gives gives me a sense of forward motion, that it had a purpose. God knew my questions and heartache. Within such moments scripture was read, in the quiet prayerfulness of my private space, it was like holding onto the actual staff of the good shepherd. Just as a child holds it’s parents hand, walking and moving in synchronicity matching the gait of the step and each twist and turn.

To my surprise the valley was a place where love deepened. The shadows had not halted the growth of these precious blooms. Love was experienced in the nurses and doctors care, in the embrace of family, the quiet kiss good bye on the forehead, of the one whose starlight was passing from our awareness to something beyond. Love shone in the glisten of tear filled eyes, and the vigil kept day and night.

As we journeyed together there was occasional laughter, and abundant generosity, where people showed up the best of who they are, to pay respect to the one who was leaving so soon.

Silence would settle like a warm blanket between conversation, people lost in their own thoughts, or listening for the slightest change that indicated that her light was changing.

She was the star in the room, those gathered loved the star that was changing before our eyes, until we could no longer perceive her light anymore.

I am grateful for her light that guided me. However her light carries onwards, into the place Jesus prepares. We can discern the light in our relationships, in the reasons behind the choices we make, in the gifts we share. Giving our lives shape, depth of meaning, and teaching us values of substance that lead us forward.

Farewell Irene.

Finding Gratitude in Christmas

Feet toasting by a warm fire, dog outstretched, worshipping its inviting warmth. Kids are asleep in bed, yourself and your partner are reading quietly in tall backed armchairs. You notice the person across from you smile at some line that has amused them in the novel they are reading and all is well with the world.

Christmas Day the kids rush downstairs to get their presents and rush to embrace you and tell you excitedly what Santa has brought. As they open their gifts they instinctively fling their arms around you, expressing their love with every ounce of pressure they can muster.

Mid-morning excited children and their families attend church, the young ones can hardly contain their joyful anticipation at the opportunity to show the congregation what Santa brought them.

Relaxed and well-slept adults would chat drinking a warm beverage and munching mince pies before the service and later listen whilst listen to a witty and informative sermon.

Christmas television illustrates Christmas perfection and our memories can collude with the narrative we tell ourselves of Christmas’s past.
When everything was cheaper and people were somehow happier. Times when Carol singers would sing at your doorstep and everything would be wonderful. Snow would have fallen but not so much to hinder our plans, but enough so we could build a snowman.

It’s nearly time for Christmas dinner and all the trimmings, perhaps your dinner is on a plate made of china, metal, polystyrene, or eaten from a disused carton you found in a bin.

Wherever your feet find rest, or however you eat that day. At the end of the day, may you find peace, whether you are hopeful or hurting, full or famished.

Can Your Vulnerability Be A Gift?

This is the question that Researcher Dr Brene Brown answers. She states in her TED talk that there are two types of people. Those that feel worthy and those who don’t! 

Worthiness is a key motivator that underpins how we navigate relationships with one another and how we lead! She explains that the worthy and those that feel unworthy view vulnerability differently, for one it’s a strength and for the other, it has become a heavy yoke that can be often debilitating.

On the back of over a decade of research in this area, she wrote Dare to Lead. I have been listening to it and coupled with the free workbook has enabled me to dig deep, look at myself and how I work and lead. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing well ever is, it takes effort time and courage.

If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”

watch this

I am nearly at the end of the book*, and it’s making me think deeply about leadership and self-worth. It is profound and challenging and a process that you shouldn’t rush, but allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through it, bringing healing and new life. Get Dare To Lead

Update: I have now read it 3 times, and her other books are just as good, 

Get Dare To Lead

Beyond The Pew Part 2

What Rev Don Robbins in some small way stands on the shoulders of the john wesleys, martin luthers, who had one thing in common. That is vision and ability to see what was possible, God birthed in these people a willingness to engage, a strength of character to overcome, a stubbornness to see what might be, actually become reality. It began with a faith in a God who loved people and that love is infectious

What I found at the Lighthouse where people who had been set adrift by the circumstances of their lives, and who were commonly drawn to the light from this Lighthouse based at st Georges crypt and part of st Georges church.

I was looking to see what God was doing and attempt to document it. I found God in this place, both within the volunteers and the members of this its community. The God in Jesus who walked the streets the ancient cities and towns of Israel, and met people where they were, without prejudice but with deep compassion.

the welcome at the crypt

What shone for me in this community, was its inclusivity, its christ centredness, its commitment speak of and live out a vibrant life giving expression of what it means to follow Jesus in todays world. The comunity is lead by an enthusiastic team headed by Rev Jon Swales.

Community personified

The above image was taken in November 2018 on a light house trip to York Cathedriel and annual presentation. York centre was filled with Christmas stalls and hundreds of people going on their way. In the midst of this was a local band was playing and everyone except the christians were standing still, it was the christians from this comunity, that saw an opportunity to celebrate, to dance, to the music to show joyfulness.

I remember marvelling how it demonstrated community, there was no them and us, just community, joy, love, kinship. To me at least this image speaks of what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

As with any community there are difficulties, there are hills to climb, challenges to meet. Yet in this light house, nothing was too much effort, as an outsider, I loved the recurring experience of not quite being sure of who was receiving Gods love and who was offering it. It seemed to me at least the camera guy in the corner, that God was present and that was what mattered, whether in the giving and receiving of bread, or the sharing of prayer all of it mattered, all of it spoke to the tapestry of church woven in this place.

The images have been taken with permission from the light house team and in connection with myself at http://www.Lobecphotography.com

Beyond the Pew Part 1

There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.-Gandi

At the feeding of the four and five thousands, in the upper room at passover and the beach at breakfast time. Jesus illustrated who God was by meeting their physical needs. As they received from God they consumed more than nutrients for life, but a spiritual awareness of who God was that would possibly lead to a deeper spiritual awakening.

The redundant crypt of the church…might be the saving grace for these despairing people.

Rev D. Robbins- quote from the book Entertaining More Angels-

So in Leeds in the 1930s the Revd Don Robins, at that time priest of St Georges, in response to the poverty he saw. Opened up the crypt, a place for the dead to be buried and instead turned it into a place to offer a life line for people, and so began a story of resurrection that out of the tomb new life could be offered. That story has continued today, with the church crypt and community working in tandem. This is a story of the church on the margins, of meeting the needs in practical and spiritual ways, underpinned by the love of Christ.

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Matthew 25:31-46

Fast forward to 2013 and the inception of the light house offering a church service to the community that had grown up around the crypt. The Rev Jon Swales continues to lead that team, in their ministering to the needs of the community around St Georges, to those for whom life circumstances had become difficult.

In 2013 realised that the ordinary church wasn’t speaking to many of our friends here.

Rev Roger Quick- Chaplin to the Homeless- excerpt from Entertaining More Angels

The Light House offers lunch bible study, worship, fellowship, education, trips and above all hope. Rooted not in the shifting sand of life but the solid rock of a more eternal perspective. This hope is one that is lived out, on the rough edges of life, where deeds speak louder than words, actions hold greater authenticity than sound bites. A place where trust is won, respect is forged in the fires of struggle. Any other hope not seasoned, tested, lived out, would fall on deaf ears, be discarded like a disused cardboard coffee cup.

See Beyond the Pew Part 2

Surviving Your Sabbatical

Spoiler: I survived, and am still here!

The Task

The goal of my sabbatical was to document new forms of discipleship visually. But in short, my plans worked out how God wanted them too rather than how I had hoped they would! See beyond the pew for more.

Ministry as a church leader is unique with its pressures, and joys. But putting down the dumbbells of ministry is hard, accepting you are not in control, and someone else may or may not pick up that dumbbell, is not easy.

But it is necessary if the sabbatical has a chance of resourcing you and your churches. Before the start date of the sabbatical, I remember sitting in five guys Restaurant with a minister friend who offered some sage wisdom, they said:

At some point, (during the sabbatical) you will probably seriously wonder whether you should stay in ministry or not… conversation over a lovely burger at 5guys!

Mental Health

I have already had such thoughts so didn’t think that would happen to me again, but they did. You see not being in the flow of church-based ministry means you have space to think, and questions bubble up, doubts surface and old insecurities attempt to hijack your journey.

Now I was in a rough place emotionally and so for me and my family, the sabbatical came at the right moment. Around mid-way through the sabbatical, I felt able to produce the following video about my struggles with depression and the journey to wellness. 

“Sabbatical helped me slay some demons, and heal as well as face yo to some hard realities.”

Spiritual Health

That’s where the decisions you made about what to do on your sabbatical help, to focus you, steady your path through a sabbatical. Not all my plans worked out as I had hoped, meetings and promises made before sabbatical didn’t flourish.

I never found a church to journey with over the time as I had hoped, I didn’t feel very close to God throughout either. But here is the rub, God was there. Looking back God used what I saw as failures and opportunities dissipating to create space, to force me to be still and know God is God.

Lobecphotography.com

I followed the Northumbria community daily office which has steadied this spiritual ship of mine, giving me a rhythm to my day which was so important. I will share some wisdom my sister in law gave me, (she is a nun in the Anglican church) In responding to doing a daily office, she replied:

“Just do what you can” -she said, “don’t worry if you don’t do it all, just do what your schedule allows. “

This was such a relief to me and has probably meant that the pattern I am in now has stuck and been maintained. I also went to the cairngorms to pray and take photos which was such a wonderful time of refreshing and photography.

Physical health:

Be careful, within the first month of sabbatical as I got a chest infection (haven’t had one in years) and the week after coming back from sabbatical I got a nasty cold which stopped me doing regular workouts because I feared I was to get another chest infection! So make sure you look after yourself.

One of my aims was to receive personal training for 10 sessions, which by the end of, I expected I would be ripped and be fit enough to do the SAS selection process. (yes I do have an overactive imagination). Left is real me and right is alternate me (badly) reimagined through the power of photoshop!

  • A classic before and after image, altered with photoshop and not remotely true to life. 🙂

I did, however, do my ten sessions and apart from surprising the instructor at my lack of weight loss, I got a lot fitter and happier, I now do four workouts a week as a priority and set my apple watch for calories I should burn in a day. All this has brought my cholesterol down to normal, which it has not been for years. Plus I am noticeably quicker on my bike and have more energy for the day so time well spent.

The Greatest Gift

Image by Maciej Szewczyk from Pixabay

Image by Maciej Szewczyk from Pixabay

Chocolate, Jesus, friends and family, having Christmas off, to one side for a moment. A sabbatical is a gift, though it doesn’t always feel like it at the time, looking back it is. It’s an unconditional gift of love. It is in my case the church reminding me that I am, under God cherished and loved. 

It doesn’t matter I didn’t get everything done, but I was able to be unencumbered by the guilt of there is always something more to do, or there is always something that doesn’t get done.

That freedom, that love, has helped me untangle myself, to some degree, from things I had become a slave of the things that kept me awake at night. 

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