20 Thoughts to Consider in Providing the Best Furlough Support for Workers

Originally posted March 28, 2014

What is a funding-furlough?

In the field of global workers, often the term “furlough” is synonymous with home-assignment, funding-furlough, or offsite assignment. It is, however, not to be confused with a sabbatical or long period of rest.

It is not uncommon for workers to set aside anywhere from 1 month to 1 year for this unique period of time. Typical is a summer or 3-month stint. Historically the time was designed for face-to-face contact with supporters, to raise awareness of vision as well as gain new financial and prayer support. For many, this is often a time combined with a desire for a measure of spiritual and emotional rejuvenation as well.

Consider the fact that the average worker may have a support list of several hundred to even a thousand people! This is a blessing, for certain. However communicating with this large of a group and structuring time for meaningful interaction in a short duration of time can be a logistical nightmare! There is never enough time to connect at the level desired with each individual…

This combined with issues of re-entry shock, jet-lag, children’s needs, keeping up with logistics and life back “home” (on the field), and other expectations of work can make a furlough feel more stressful and much more “work” than regular day-to-day life abroad. Families are stretched as well, as the kids may be also be dealing with constant mobility, meeting countless new people, missing friends back “home,” and adjusting to yet another transition time.

As receivers of these workers, thinking and planning ahead about potential needs can help to make the furlough an incredible experience, as opposed to a dreaded and exhausting one. Here are some ideas of ways you can partner effectively as a sending person or church group:

  1. Ask what they need on any and every front. From lodging to transportation and rest. Give the worker several months to think about it and extend grace if they change their mind on something.

  2. Establish a main point of contact. For the sake of ease of re-entry establishing a main, reliable single source in a primary location can alleviate unnecessary transition challenges as well facilitate important communication. This person should ideally be logistically mindful, well-connected and respected in the community – meaning safe, honest and having good boundaries, both with planning and people’s stories.

  3. Have a small group of people “adopt” them in the planning phase and while the worker is in passport country. This allows people to share the responsibility of partnership and care. Categories to consider are emotional care, logistical support, & funding support.

  4. If they will be in multiple locations ask if there are needs you can help partner with others on or help think through. As much consistency as possible in the whirlwind is always helpful.

  5. If you are the point person, find out ahead of time what, if any, calendar items are important for you to know. Are there events they would like help with like an open house, or scheduling a meeting to broaden a network? Would they like other special services planned such as a “sharing time” or a “taste and see.”

  6. Give them a head’s up if any major changes have happened in the church or within your community or city. Introduce them to new members or pastors as well as others who may not know them.

  7. Be sure workers are welcomed back upon arrival. Whether meeting them at the airport, or arranging for a car to be left for them, ask them ahead of time what they might need and want. Although it might sound fun to you to have 30 people greeting them upon arrival, it may not to them if they’ve been traveling with kids for 30 hours straight. (Or it may! Best to ask.)

  8. Ask if they need help arranging somewhere for them to stay. Typically it is less stressful on the individual or family if there is a single location to stay for a longer duration. Partnering with other supporters is often a helpful way to open up other options and protect the time of the missionary from feeling like they always have to “be on.” Check with their personal needs and desires. Give them space to decline without hurt feelings. Housing needs of families and singles vary. With both however, there is a need for a sense of normalcy, privacy and balance of work and rest. Furlough can be an exhausting time filled with lots of people and lots of transition or a restful time of reconnection. Help make it the latter not the former.

  9. Stock the fridge of the place they are staying. Likely they will not get out and go grocery shopping right away. Find out if they have any food they regularly miss or any dietary restrictions. Having a home-cooked meal ready in the fridge is also a greatly welcome surprise after traveling multiple time zones!

  10. Consider technology trends that you may take for granted in your daily life routine - from phones to GPS to computers. Depending on country of location, some workers may be out of touch. A tech-minded person with access to a few items to lend and instruct how to use is a true gift. Some IT help is almost always needed during furlough as well. But don’t assume that he/she wants to adopt these practices either.

  11. Remember the children. Ask a mom or dad in your community to help you think through what they might need such as car seats, travel baby bed, etc. Consider what others in your community could lend for a short duration: Games, bikes, toys, books, even a library card. Don’t overindulge them with gifts without asking the parents first, as they likely will be traveling light and very intentionally, and luggage restrictions and fees have become very tight. (See: “Gift-giving for the TCK”)

  12. Think of creative ways to bless them. Gift cards for gas or coffee are fantastic blessings as they travel around and meet often with people. If they have young children, bless them with babysitting for a support gathering or a date night. The skies the limit on your creativity!

  13. Talk to others who have recently been on furlough or in re-entry. Ask what they had that was helpful or what they wished they’d had?

  14. Ask them if there are services they can’t access that would be helpful while they’re back. If they would like help arranging a dentist, eye doctor appointment, or back massage. Consider gifting it as a form of member care. Depending on where they are living these services may be scarce as well as often over-looked areas of self-care.

  15. Along the same lines, ask if there are new resources or books they had been hoping to access. These can make great gifts. But some will prefer to read digitally, so once again check first.

  16. Some may desire help personalizing a plan for rest and relaxation, self and relational growth programs, programs for upgrading skills, or retreats. Once again, don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you are limited on coordinating it all. Even just a few days at someone’s second home in the mountains or by the beach can help set an incredible environment for some spiritual retreat and rest, especially during entry and timezone adjustment.

  17. Collaborate on what kind and extent of involvement they would like during furlough. Don’t expect that they’re able to attend every meeting or every weekend service. Be flexible and clear to them what you would like and vice versa. Don’t expect much, or much quality from them in the first couple days on entry.

  18. If you have the capability or role, prepare the congregation in anticipation of their coming and as to the purpose of their time. Many people are confused by what a furlough or home-assignment is. It sounds like a great time of fun travel! What is it really? Send them this blog article!  As well, help them feel free to ask questions (even seemingly simple ones!). Most people when they feel ignorant of a place or topic tend to not engage, or just talk about more comfortable things. To a foreign worker, this can very easily be mistaken as disinterest, disconnection, and make them feel forgotten, lonely and displaced.

  19. If you are a skilled or trained debriefer or counselor, offer to debrief and process the furlough before the worker returns to the field. Did the time meet their expectations? What would they have liked differently? Were expectations communicated well and clearly both ways?

  20. Furloughs cost a lot of money! However, they are so incredibly important and needed, and nothing can replace the effectiveness of a regular furlough cycle, for both the worker, their home community and their families. Though it may seen like a “catch-22,” helping finance or defray furlough costs ahead of time to more effectively connect with others may be the most welcome gift of all.

  21. Reading this list can feel a bit overwhelming. These are just a list of ideas. NO ONE expects them all! Choose one. and then share this post with others who may also be able to help. Get creative and even if you are only able to do 1 thing from this list, it will likely be a huge blessing to be seen and thought of!

  22. Not last or least…Continue to Pray for the duration of their whole time on furlough. This is so key! Home assignment is such a wonderful opportunity for face-to-face contact, rejuvenation and support. This time is also filled with mixed emotions for the feelings of loss and sadness, as well. Re-entry shock can sometimes be much more pronounced than the cultural shock of going overseas. Covering prayer is needed on many levels.

What other ideas have you seen or experienced that have worked?

Making Furloughs Fun for Everyone: Think outside the Meeting Box

Are you dreading the idea of being gone for multiple months from your current context? The thought of packing and re-packing can be such a daunting endeavor that it keeps us from the enjoyment and gift that furloughs (or home assignment) can be. Although there are often an unending checklist of details to attend to, might I suggest starting with the positive?

What if instead of the dread, the feelings were replaced with anticipation over what could come? Imagine your kids at the end of the time saying “I love being on furlough” and you not feeling exhausted. What would it take to get there?

Here are a few creative thoughts for making furlough fun & less exhausting for everyone, especially for kids. 

1.    Think outside the primary reason you’re there - meetings! Create a furlough bucket-list! Start by asking each individual (or yourself) what one fun thing is that he/she would like to do while you’re away. This may take doing a little research of what there is to do in the area or could be very basic. Start by brainstorming a list, then narrow it down to 3-5 and then 1. Others may feel inspired by sharing out loud the creative options of wanting to go horse-back riding, doing a park tour through each city, getting an autograph of every person met. One year when we were planning to be in 4 states and 9 cities, with a two-year old and six year-old we each chose one thing we wanted to do in the city: Try the ice cream, go for a walk, see the moon from the unique point of earth we were on! You’ll be amazed at the ideas not to mention the joy of conversing about the possibilities.

2.    Think creatively about setting. Where we are meeting people is not limited to a restaurant or cafe. We often suggest meeting at a park or beach. Inviting people to a park is a much more casual and neutral space that requires less of everyone. For us as a family, this option allows us to play with our children and include them once again. Our kids have many positive memories of meeting people at the beach and parks where otherwise they may have been bored or not attend at all.

3.    Engage in physical activities as you meet with people. When we started planning our calendar with this in mind, the joy returned. The idea of another coffee or meal made my stomach hurt just thinking about it. However the idea of a walk on the beach, a stroll through a new neighborhood or a hike together as a family felt much more energizing. It was so good for us, our children and those who we were meeting with. Meeting and walking isn’t a new concept, sometimes it just takes a little more intentionality. 

4.    There just are times when we can’t (or choose not to) bring our children to a meeting. Set up fun play dates with local kids and families. This is a tremendous support gift and practical way that people can help. As well our kids remember the families that support us through the children they enjoy. This ignites anticipation for the next time we will see them.

5.   Speaking of no children…Host a coffee shop “open house”. When we land in an area we typically start with this as a priority. We will set up “office hours” for several hours at a local coffee shop and let everyone in the area know where we’ll be. We try to meet where people can drop in during a 3-4 hour window (late lunch hour is good). This is a fun way to see lots of different people, as well have your worlds integrate a bit. Simultaneously, this takes some of the scheduling pressure off of you. And as an introvert this idea is much easier for me than packing a schedule back-to-back with individual meetings.

6. When we are all together we try to not both be pulled in to a conversation. If one of us can solely attend to the children we try to think of creative games we can do in a coffee shop or restaurant. One of our favorites is the “who can get the most waves” game. You know it! Every person playing waves at strangers trying to get waves (or smiles) in return. Talley the points. As an adult, this is one game you are CERTAIN to lose (waving adults get fun looks though!) We have hilarious memories sitting in the window of coffee shops around the world trying to make people laugh or smile or wave. It’s a day brightener for everyone!

7.    Give your kids a scavenger hunt of things to find from their seat – whether a restaurant, coffee shop or car. (Person with glasses, child crying, strange hat, someone who looks like they’re having a good day, etc.) These can be made up on the spot by you or children. Sure this may only take 20-30 minutes in total, but it can be really fun.

8.    Enjoy the Journey. Plan a side trip wherever you may end up. As global workers one of the perks we’ve enjoyed as a family is the ability to make memories en-route to our destination. SIDE TRIP! Needing to go on furlough has afforded us stop-overs that turned into stay-overs at unique and amazing destinations. For the cost of transportation out of the airport and possibly one night’s stay, you can make incredible memories in beautiful destinations around the globe.

9.    Get out in nature by yourself. There isn’t a country on earth that God did not bless with some incredible & unique landscape. It may look like desert or it may look like marsh, but nonetheless, getting out into nature and engaging in the unique eco-systems of the world is an incredible way to declutter your thoughts and connect with your creative brain. We try to set aside one day a week for this necessary outlet as a family and 3 times a week of solo time to exercise or just reflect. We do this through taking turns and limiting our morning commitments.

10.    Be intent to try the local food. From Louisiana creole to Minnesota hotdish, not every meal needs to be pizza or hamburgers (thinking US-based here.) If people invite you over, ask what their favorite local dish is and offer to join them in preparing it. Or suggest something like, “I’ve heard there are really memorable ____here. By any chance do you know how to make them?” Learning a new recipe and eating new food is both a memorable way of engaging with people as well as the culture. 

11.  As well, you can reciprocate and bring the cuisine from your serving country and teach others how to make it. (Lesson learned: just keep it simple and make sure it’s not too exhausting of a task for you to make or carry unique ingredients for).

12.  Make a smash journal. I despise clutter, and struggle with the amazingly well-intentioned outpouring of gifts to my children. Once we had the idea as a family to “collect” memories along the way through a journal. We made space to “create” these little memory books in the form of a journal with everything imaginable stuck inside. Tickets, receipts, napkins and flyers instantly became more valuable than toys. This was a delightful way for each person to have something tangible from their trip, personalize their experience and remember their “highs and lows” from the trip using their own unique way of expressing it. As well minimized the need for extra storage space.

13.  Take a picture of every bed you have slept in! This might sound strange or bizarre, but it’s memorable. (Dogs is another option!) However, for us, it’s another memory-building exercise. Sometimes the pictures validate the wonder of exhaustion. And sometimes it acts as a memory trigger of the beautiful space that was created on our behalf. Still other times a understanding of your reason for chiropractor care! Top tip: The pictures look better if you take it before you sleep in it!

Getting kids involved from the beginning with the planning can be an incredible boost instead of a bore. Be creative and think outside the box. You’re sure to make incredible memories that only other global workers truly understand.

What other ideas have you thought of? What has worked and not worked?

Holding Calling Captive: Top 4 Creativity Killers that Limit our Potential

The incredible architectural masterpiece of antoni Gaudi, la Sagrada Familia

The incredible architectural masterpiece of antoni Gaudi, la Sagrada Familia

Top 4 Creativity Assassins

We were created in the image of an incredible Creator - just look around. He gave every individual a distinct fingerprint of creativity. “We are God’s workmanship, his masterpiece work of art, (his Sistene Chapel or La Sagrada Familia), created anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us” (Eph 2:10). And yet somewhere, somehow we have limited the creative work potential existing inside all of us and written it off as something for the professional artists. What if instead, we saw every person, ourselves included, as making up a greater part of a creative whole! And with whatever role we have, we consider the possibilities of tapping into this creativity? What if we considered how a person in finance, in leadership, in construction might think outside the box and utilize his/her imagination for purposeful and life-giving work for the greater good? 

Creativity is so much more than art or artists. I frequently hear people say, I’m not the artist type! The potential to be inspired with awe and wonder is ingrained in every single human person’s unique design - that’s where creativity lives. I believe we are all born creative people. But not only that, our brains and particularly our prefrontal cortex, unlike those of other animals, gives us the capacity to tap into a wellspring of unlimited imagination and use our unique creativity for the good of others. It’s unlimited! Imagine that!!!

It is every individual’s responsibility to discover what exclusive design we were particularly created for. Just like every tool in your kitchen or garage has a unique purpose and designed for a specific task. We were each created to fulfill a distinct job on this earth.  What I create is different than what you create because my life experience and my skillset are uniquely me! And yet we do several things that are unhelpful to cultivate this creativity within us and in others.

Top 4 Creativity Killers 

1. Busyness

We live in a noisy world, even when no one is speaking. The clutter of our lives, whether material or conceptual, keep us from the joy, spontaneity and creativity found in artistic expression space. When we remove the excess in our lives we find free space enlivening and inspiring new ways of being. The clutter on the other hand, consumes both the literal space and mind space where artistic expression once lived.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor and early childhood advocate writes in, Taking Back Childhood. She says “kids benefit emotionally and cognitively from having long uninterrupted blocks of time to explore art materials such as paints, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, markers, clay, etc.” She writes how open-ended materials and time can can bring a child’s personal narrative to life! It's been proven that participating in art creation soothes the soul, provides inspiration, promoting mental and emotional well-being. In addition, adults, similar to children, need free, uninterrupted blocks of time to explore their artistic voices. It’s through pushing the boundaries of materials in long uninterrupted time, that our personal narratives can come to life! We limit our creative potential by leading overly-full lives. Boredom is creativity’s greatest fertilizer. It is the process that matters most in art, not the end product.

Boredom is creativity’s greatest fertilizer

2. Comparison

If boredom fertilizes the growth of creation, comparison is the weed killer. Comparison rears it’s ugly head in the form of self-limiting beliefs or other-limiting beliefs, limiting possibility and inspiration. “I’m not as good as____” or “You’re not the musician that she is.” These thoughts, regardless of how or if they’re verbalized, may keep you from experimenting with what the expression of how God-given creativity looks within you.

These limiting beliefs, similarly may keep you from encouraging development in others. For years, I compared myself to my husband. I would say, I’m not as creative as Jeff. And the truth is, I’m NOT Jeff! He’s different than I am. He has a completely different skillset than I do. But from the end product I see, through the eyes of jealousy a creative block inside me that can not sponsor his expressions. The way he upcycles and designs a table out of garbage is something I could never do. And although he IS naturally really good at a lot of things, he doesn’t create the same as me. For many years, I allowed the thought that “I’m not as creative as…” from allowing me to experiment with and discover my often ugly, messy, tasteless, sometimes beautiful, but irregardless, unique to me – meal, travel plan, or blog article. Comparison kills creativity. 

What I create is unique because my life experience and skillset are uniquely me

When our unique skill set, natural abilities, learned traits, and personality all line up and we use them in the unique way they were formed for, we know it. And so do others. This place of pleasurable work I believe brings delight to God, ourselves and others. Whether baking, dancing, welding, or doing complex computer technology. We can feel a life-giving, purpose-filled element of God’s design at work in and through us. It is also up to us to foster that, not stifle it in others. That is how it’s meant to be! And yet we must welcome that creative potential within us and discover where our unique fingerprint meets the world’s deepest need. We must harness the creative potential the season of transition offers us.   

IMG_6568.JPG

3. Being the “Art” police

Likewise, we limit ourselves and other’s creativity in the language we use, or the judgment of others work. Take my recent interaction with my daughter, as an example. She’s 6 and unafraid to mix all media all the time! My acquired organizational skills go a bit mad when she gets in her zone! A few days ago I found her painting rocks. But she didn’t restrain herself there. She began using the paint to color sand, then mixed the multiple colors of sand (turned back to brown) with the painted shells, and finally added a bag full of chalk! A couple hours later, hands and clothes covered in paint and sand – wahlah! She had created her masterpiece! Where she saw a beautiful creative expression, I couldn’t help but see a mess to clean up. But did she see a beautiful creation? I didn’t ask her…I think in hindsight she was just really enjoying the process.

Simultaneously amazed and perplexed at the unlimited boundaries of her mind, I managed to contain my inner art police! I don’t intend to limit her or other people’s self expression. My censor lies in part in my own inhibited creative-self. My logical, well-developed left-brain trying to tell my artistic brain there is no logic in that.

Despite my desires to empower people through the arts, I must pay careful attention that my own blocks do not cause unnecessary limitations. Our limitations of both language and self-imposed boundaries of what art should look like keep us from exploring new ways to mixing media and pushing into new levels of untapped creativity – in both ourselves and others. 

4. Take the same comfortable approach.

We limit our own creativity when we fail to step into the new. . Creativity emerges when we get off the path of least resistance and try something new! (Think: Mac-n-cheese quesadillas, thin-mint brownies, batter-fried oreos! Creative food creations!) Our brains naturally default to what we've done in the past. The past is known, familiar and comfortable.

Getting off the familiar path and taking a new direction gives us a whole new set of possibilities. It is often scary, yes. Typically a new path is scary primarily because we are afraid to fail. We’re also afraid of the unknown and the possibility of the future being worse than the present. Ruth Haley Barton summarizes it powerfully in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership saying, “When the fear of staying the same is greater than the fear of the unknown, we are ripe for change!” We must be motivated to consider that the future holds hope of discovering new possibilities. 

While thinking about things the way they've been thought about and doing things the way they’ve been done is comfortable, these ways can be broken. What brings people, and global workers in particular, to transition is a way of life that is not working. The realization that one or more aspects of life needs to change brings painful awareness – for the children who need a better education, for a sustainable financial structure, for aging parents, for the ability to not always be in a burn-out state! Doing things the way they’ve always been done; when these are no longer working, we have the opportunity to see this as a season of possibilities! For many of us, we must get to the point of desperation for change. To be desperate for something different you have to be willing to step out AND BE WRONG! We know that the most beautiful testimonies are lives risen above pain where beauty has been made from ashes. This is the redemptive and transformative work that we get to be about - being made in the mirror image of our Creator. 

Sky is the limit

Sky is the limit

Give yourself space to explore possibilities. Allow yourself to acknowledge what you are good at. Spend time intentionally noticing what others are good at. Be aware where Jealousy creeps in. And get the necessary support to take whatever necessary first step is in front of you. The work of creativity is up to all of us. We get the privilege of joining in the pleasure of creating new with our great Creator.

Question: How can we be facilitators of artistic expression in both ourselves and others?  

Practical Application. What if instead we…try to fit into my day and particularly within my work one of the following words: wonder, imagine, invent, design, create, express, I’m curious, what if? Kids are comfortable with this language!

Or

Start a conversation with a child beginning with one of these words - imagine if…you could go anywhere right now, where would you go? What if…you could eat whatever you wanted for dinner – no limits! The potential responses are UNLIMITED and delightfully fun! What if you actually did it?!

Or

as a coach, I might say to someone in major life transition - Imagine you had five other lives to lead, what might they look like? What would you do in each of them? This approach gives permission to dream and takes people out of their logical responses that can often fail in times of transition. Begin to imagine that which has yet to be created. 

The 5 Ideal Phases of a Sabbatical: A Framework for Conceptualizing a Plan

The 5 “Ideal” Phases of a Sabbatical 

Dr Steve Hoke defines sabbatical as a space and time away from ministry to reflect, study, and experience holistic refreshment to enable ongoing fruit.

45.5 percent of pastors from North America have experienced depression or burn out, while The Alban Institute estimates up to 50 percent of professional ministers are exhausted from their work. Long unstructured hours come with the job, weekends are taken in preparing for and administering the church service, and high expectations are placed on the pastor as troubleshooter, conflict manager, counselor, or friend. For cross-cultural ministers, the problem of stress and burnout is magnified : Expended emotionally by their transition, the need to continually fundraise, and the cultural differences faced on the field to name a few. One study showed 15 percent of first-term workers return home within two years.  Like those who serve as church ministers, their work is often all consuming, but combined with cultural dynamics that can drain and frustrate, burnout is extremely common*

Combined with cultural dynamics that can drain and frustrate [cross cultural workers] burnout is extremely common.

Taking intentional, God-mandated regular breaks are an essential part of a self-care plan, especially for cross-cultural workers.

Sabbaticals are a daily part of the conversation in our home these days. My husband, Jeff is on his second month of a six month sabbatical - his first. When I started this blog post 2 months ago he was in the planning and on-ramping phase. Many conversations two months ago started with, “When I’m on sabbatical…” There were scheduling ideals flowing in dreamland space of “the other-side”. And yet alongside the feelings of exhaustion built up due to years without an extended break, came the curious questions of how is this ever gonna work? “We know this stuff!” He would say, “sometimes it’s just hard to practice what you preach!” Primarily putting all of the responsibilities of life down.

As he planned his sabbatical I secretly wrote. But it wasn’t his sabbatical alone that motivated me to capture this process. It is rather the frequent contact in this line of work with people who say “I think I’m burned out” now what do I do? This is what inspires a few penned thoughts.

A hug, a high five and a huge “Congratulations you’re taking a sabbatical!” is my internal response when I hear someone has made this major life decision. It’s no small feat in getting to this decision point. Whether forced or chosen, this counter-cultural step requires great work. In the pragmatic, performance-oriented world we live in, where our identities and values are often deeply intertwined with performance and production, stepping into a sabbatical can feel quite jarring, lonely and even pointless!  The task of releasing our performance orientation is challenged here as “production” comes to a halt. Here we are provoked with often painful but incredibly rich soil to discover our true identities; growth in discovery who we are apart from our work. This is the challenging task of believers embracing “being versus doing”.

What do you do with your time? I hear the question frequently. It’s a good question really…a foreign concept to many, what does one do if they don’t work? And if this is your first sabbatical you’re likely asking similar questions: What do I do with my time? Do I schedule or not schedule? And how long do I do nothing?! “Your work is your sabbatical,” I say. “It is your full time job to rest well and offer yourself up for spiritual and personal transformation.” Laying out a plan tailored to each individual’s reasons for why they are taking a sabbatical, helps best facilitate internal growth, and desired outcomes especially in the midst of the process that can often feel uncertain and floundering.

Arguably, every sabbatical should include elements of rest, rejuvenation, play, direction and realignment. Below is a suggested 5-phase plan, organized under the categories of: Release, Rest, Reflect, Re-align, Re-engage. These phases are not necessarily linear, with one phase ending and the other beginning. Rather they flow fluidly between them.

Below is a suggested “best practice” for organizing one’s time usually consisting of a minimum of 3 months to one year.  As well included are a few considerations for engagement, warnings in the moment and questions to ask yourself or to engage with a coach around. Use this as a reference tool, coming back to it as you walk into your or another person’s sabbatical.

The 5 Phases include Release, Rest & Recovery, Reflection, Re-alignment and Re-engage

(I write the following to someone who has just said, I think I/we need a sabbatical…)

1.   Release

Like the rush of a finals week or the need to cross off a long to-do list before going on vacation, the preparation period needed to enter into a sabbatical can feel quite intense. When a car prepares to leave a highway, it often picks up speed for a short while prior to slowing down. The “off-ramping” can feel like dropping down from 5th-gear to neutral in one movement, unless adequate, thoughtful preparation exists. 

The “release phase” is also considered the off-ramping from work and on-ramping into sabbatical phase. Give yourself lots of grace as you are in this season of “in between” the past and the future. During this first phase of preparation before your sabbatical starts, begin to disengage from any work, ministry and leadership responsibilities you can let go off. Establish a plan for your sabbatical desirably with someone who has also gone through one before or who knows the process. This sabbatical plan is an initial framework for direction and reflects priority needs.

Considerations: 

*In this phase you may get push-back from yourself and others (co-workers, supervisors, spouses, your budget, etc.) You may question whether you made the right decision. This “luxurious sabbatical” idea is not something everyone is afforded. But then not everyone has the intense type of non-stop work that you have, either. If you’ve been feeling the need for it for some time, likely you’re long overdue. Ask permission organizationally and trust God with work out the nay-sayers. It can definitley feel like slow work getting too the next phase of rest, but remain tenacious. I am certain that this gift will be worth it.  

Note: *This is an intense time! There is often a long to-do list. You will eventually get there.  

Questions to Ask:

What are the top 2-3 benefits I would like to see come from my sabbatical? What is your sabbatical plan?

2.   Rest and Recovery – “Rest” is the second phase of the sabbatical but the first phase once the clock of time starts. “Rest” for our discussion does not imply ceasing from all activity. (Although it could.) Many fall or land into sabbatical exhausted. At or near burnout, the need for adrenal recovery is typically high and ceasing from activity is essential before going any further. Stopping ministry activities and, where possible, and eliminating other areas of stress, are necessary! For some, like those working in poverty contexts, or pastoral positions, the need to leave a geographical area may be required for adequate rest and boundaries from daily demands. 

Considerations:

*During this phase, be sensitive to feelings of isolation or lack of significance. Resting is hard for many of us.

*Pay attention to feelings of guilt that you should be doing more. You need this to function!  

*You should be out of regularly scheduled ministry activity but not out of fellowship.

*Find one or two people who get this unique season; even better spend time with someone who has done a sabbatical before. 

*Give yourself space to rest and do things that are life-giving. 

Questions to Ask:

What still needs to be done or taken off your plate in order to rest well? What restores you emotionally and feeds you spiritually?  

3.   Reflect– Phase 2 includes reflection. This will likely be the majority of your time on sabbatical and doesn’t need a lot of explanation. During this phase, you will hopefully be experiencing some of the fruit of your prior focus on rest – more energy! You should be asking the question, “Lord, is there anything You want to say to me?” “How would you like to transform me?” Consider how God has spoken to you in the past and posture yourself to hear His voice. 

 Considerations:

*You will likely be feeling restlessness and desire to be doing more. Be cautious in adding to your plate at this point.

*Remain in a posture of rest and self-care.

*If you are reading, be open to asking God what content He would have for you rather than the idea of checking off a book list. Consider listening to podcasts or audible books instead of reading for variety and ease.

*Implement regular life-giving rhythms of creativity & spiritual nourishment

 Questions to Ask:

“Lord, is there anything You want to say to me?” How do I best utilize my time today?

**2-day Life-Plan Discernment Time BEST FITS HERE

4.   Re-align or Re-assign 

Following a sabbatical a leader should have enough freedom to change directions or let go of responsibilities if a new vision emerges during their sabbatical. There should be space to dream, to explore personal, vocational and family longings and consider new opportunities without future performance expectations. This is the purpose of a 2-day life-plan.

If you are in a season of discerning whether or not to continue into the same roles that you previously had, this is the best phase for a discernment evaluation or life plan. Taking part in a comprehensive evaluation does not necessarily imply a change of roles, but rather the goal is a clarification of calling. During this phase of the sabbatical, it’s important to review and reaffirm your calling by examining what areas of your life have been most fruitful and rewarding. (Calling simply defined is living into who God uniquely created you to be with the opportunity for the most long-term and sustainable impact.) The goal is to experience maximum contribution in this next season of life, which may or may not mean a major shift or re-location. 

Considerations

*Just a reminder - you are still on sabbatical. Keep practicing the disciplines that you have leaned into.

*Try not to take on other’s expectations or responsibilities just yet.

Questions to ask:

Do you feel like you need a re-envisioning time? What if anything appears to need changing in the near future?

5. Re-Entry/Re-Engagement

IMG_2031.JPG

If you’ve been intentional about rest and renewal you can expect the joy of being refreshed physically, reaffirming His vision for you, and having gaining renewed perspective! Like returning to work after a vacation or a wonderful retreat away, reality can feel jarring! One of the hardest re-entry facets is maintaining the rhythms you worked so hard to implement. Like all the other phases, this phase requires grace - yet on a different level. You are returning to your normal, yet you are also in a new normal. Give yourself the time and space to find your groove. It took considerate and intentional time to off-load. On-ramping will be a unique phase of what to say yes to again.

This may be the hardest phase of a sabbatical.  In this phase you will begin to transition back into ministry. Expect emotional stresses, pace issues, spiritual warfare, and struggles in working out desired changes in life and ministry.

How you’ve changed in personal development and transformational growth may not be known to others. Where there is an idealized desire to have freedom to change directions and let go of prior responsibilities or conflict that may have led to the need for a sabbatical, removal from these, or immediate freedom from these realities may not be possible. The roll-out of changes may take many months. And you may experience opposition.

One final note of consideration is that 3 months, 6 months or a year can shift changes within the church or organization you temporarily took a sabbatical from. The reality of organizational change during the period of rest should not deter you from taking a sabbatical. But be aware that many changes and shifts were likely to have occurred: New staff, new leadership, new programs, changed vision. As you enter back in you may choose to reflect on how these changes are impacting you with a sabbatical coach or spiritual director.

God modeled stopping from work after 6 days of creation and enjoying rest. This day of rest, or season of rest was commanded and blessed. The gifts that are gained are innumberabe. As you enter into a season of sabbatical know that it will be worth it. In this final phase you and others will be able to note significant internal and external changes. As you reflect back, acknowledge with gratitude this gift that sabbatical was. And the many other gifts which you have gained: An ability for clarity & re-focus, renewed passion, and the reminder that even in your absence God took care of all of the details.

This is our current life. We're right there in the mix of the questions, the tiredness and the expectation - alongside of you!

Questions to ask:

What do I need to do now to sabbath well? How can I maintain the rhythms and disciplines gained from sabbatical, in my day-to-day life?  

What of this is helpful to you? What one step do you need to take today?

Do you know someone who could benefit from this material. Feel free to pass it along?


Portions of this text are modified from Navigators Sabbatical Policy

*Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership The Transformational Effects of Sabbatical in Leadership Development by Christopher K. Turner, Douglas L. Fike

When Change is Inevitable: Stepping into the Unknown for Survival Sake

In my own recent transition, I experienced a tremendous weight of confusion accompanied by paralyzing feelings of stuckness. I knew the place and position I was in needed to change for my own emotional well-being and growth. I was not thriving or utilizing my gifts to the fullest in my current role. When I was able to break out of my limited landscape and gain a bird’s eye view through the help of outsiders, I could see clearly I was developmentally in a growth lock-down! I began to see how restless and stuck I had felt for years. Was I really wiling to admit this? If I stayed where I was, I most certainly would feel the ongoing discontent and likely would stunt any potential growth. If I took a courageous step of faith to explore the unknown, the possibilities were unlimited, risky and uncertain. Change seemed inevitable. Scary. And hard. Yet I was the only one who had the power to shape the trajectory of my future. 

It has been said, that a person, similar to a company or an organization, needs to shift focus periodically in order to achieve healthy growth for the long haul. When organizations reach a certain size, they must rethink their strategy for overall effectiveness. When the strategy changes a different skillset in a leader may be required in order to guide the company where it needs to go. This is basic organizational growth knowledge. Yet when it comes to the change that individuals must make, the way forward feels shaky. The recognition of change and the aftermath to come that will most likely affect a greater community outside of ourselves often causes great caution and avoidance. 

Change and growth is a natural part of all of creation. I find it fascinating to consider that all living things have an innate measure of adaptation. Without this ability to adapt no species would survive! Yet we are hard-wired to fight it as we find great comfort in the familiar. Here we feel a sense of protection. Moving from the known to the unknown is what our animal instinct fears most. 

Moving from the known to the unknown is what our animal instinct fears most. 

While I’m drawn into nature and perplexed by the mystery of natural instinct of all living things, no one has ever described me as animal lover. (I say I have my favorites - but too many scar stories to love them all!) Oblige my tangent to offer as an example. During graduate school, I applied to work at the catering department at a zoo. During our first day of orientation a group of about 30 of us all sat around a circle to discuss next steps. I was aware all of us mostly in late 20’s and 30’s were just needing a paycheck. The majority of the work would be service-oriented in the gift shops, restaurants or small vending carts. In reality we all just needed money but the common denominator was really the love of animals - all except maybe me! I quickly learned many had hopes that this would be their big chance to get their foot in the door of animal care. As an ice-breaker we started with going around and answering: “What is your favorite animal at the zoo?” The answers and the speed of which they responded fascinated me. Animals I had never even heard of were mentioned. These were clearly people who loved animals more than me. When it came to my turn, I blurted out, “My favorite animals are people!” Everyone laughed. I was in a league all my own. And yes it was humorous, but truly I couldn’t think of a single animal I was excited to work with more than the humans I would interact with in large catering events! I still got the job - but was probably watched a little more closely as "the animal hater” in the group.

So why am I talking about animals as we discuss change? I find it fascinating to consider the entire animal kingdom’s response to change being more functional as a means to thriving. And quite honestly my love for all God’s creatures grows even just a little greater when I go down this road!

All animals we see have natural habitat needs. “If an animal’s enclosure is too sunny or too wet or too empty, if its perch is too high or too exposed, if the ground is too sandy, if there are too few branches to make a nest, if there is not enough mud to wallow in – then the animal will not be at peace.” In this lack of peace adaptation and the need to make a change is the hardwiring that allows for survival amongst animals. Peace and safety are the ultimate goals and are sought after with primal instinct. Peace is sought after even if it requires extreme risk and change.

As seen in animals that are forced out of their familiar habitat into a new one in the wild, escaping or migrating animals usually hide in the very first place they find that gives them a sense of security. These are considered our basic mammalian needs. Different for humans than for animals, we are given the unique opportunity to self-actualize and consider, to think about and live out our purpose here on earth. We are given a choice to decide our future.

In this lack of peace adaptation is the hardwiring that allows for survival amongst animals.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The comparison of an adaptable animal to that of a human provides insight during periods of vocational shift.  As humans our particular “habit needs” are not simply finding a home and food. Although that may be a part of our safety. Our basic needs include physiological “habit needs” at the core. But they also include emotional care as demonstrated in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The most basic, at the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological needs of hunger and thirst, sickness, and fatigue.  We see firsthand when we are sick or in physical pain, our bodies require every ounce of attention to that particular part of our body and nearly nothing else matters in life at that point. When these needs are met we’re able to move into caring next about our safety.  

To expand the analogy further, Take a look at the example of animals in a zoo versus animals in the wild taken from the book, The Life of Pi .“One might argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second…In the literature can be found legions of examples of animals that could escape but did not, or did and returned.” We are reminded from this example that safety is what all species seek as a very basic need before moving up the metaphorical pyramid of life. 

However, safety for humans compared to that of animals must include safety on the more emotional level than that of a primal physical safety. (Although our physical safety is likewise a mandatory minimum.) We were created for intimacy to connect with people on a heart and soul level. Relational connection is our greatest emotional need as humans. This basic knowledge once again leads us to the hierarchy of needs: Yet when unmet we are faced with feelings of isolation and of worthlessness. Might a connection void be a greater risk for us to live with than that of physical safety? People can and do endure great suffering if they know they are not alone. 

In the book, Safe People, Dr’s Cloud and Townsend discuss our needs for emotionally safe people. They state that the second greatest theme of relationship after connection is separateness. “Separateness is the ability to maintain spiritual and emotional property lines, called boundaries between you and others. Separate people take responsibility for what is theirs – and they don’t take ownership for what is not theirs”. The opposite of separateness is enmeshment where a person can be swallowed up in the needs of the other or the organization. For those in enmeshed relationships, teams or organizations, individuality provokes a feeling of threat and differences are discouraged.  One must ask, “Are my no and my yes respected here with this person, this team or this organization? Am I shamed or made to feel guilty for the decisions I make, especially if they are different or threatening to the overall structure? Or am I empowered to think differently or act with a conviction of integrity even though it may cause unrest?”

Self-differentiation is defined as “a setting apart of oneself as distinct from others (such as one's family or classmates).” The medical definition includes: “differentiation of a structure or tissue due to factors existent in itself and essentially independent of other parts of the developing organism.” It’s in this space of self-differentiation that cause strain, and at times even unhealthy sabotage of growth in relationships. 

Self-differentiation as seen between a parent and a teenager, we know as a potential shakey developmental period. The natural developmental cycle of a human would imply that every person will grow and change and need to think on his/her own in order to develop into a healthy adult. Yet the internal struggle persists for the one in authority, whether a parent, a mentor or a supervisor. The message comes mixed, “we want you to grow, but we would rather have you to change in the direction back to the way you were before you differentiated (self-actualized) and became different! We were comfortable with you the way you were before. Ultimately, we were comfortable with who we were.”This same tension seen between parent and child may look similar to a relationship between a worker and an organization when the need for developmental growth space is required. The underlying message: You changing means I also have to change and I am uncomfortable with the presenting need to change in me.

 You changing means I also have to change and I am uncomfortable with the presenting need to change in me.

Vocational restlessness includes an awareness of potential “habitat change” and the repercussions for all involved. The discontent comes in many forms as we become aware of our own unique needs, for example: being valued in our daily contributions; given space to create and make decisions on our own; individualization in our work or close collaboration with others. Although these “habitat needs” may be slight, the difference in peace will be great! Like animals, our habitat, or our working environment requires a basic makeup unique to our needs in order for us to thrive. 

In this growth cycle, exists the tension of both passion and excitement of possibilities joined together with doubts and feelings of personal insecurities. Does my past disqualify me? Is it true that I am just trying to go my own way, or is this really for my good? Do I really have what it takes to make this step? Here we all require faith to step into the unknown. We are unsure if we have the courage it takes to break out of a habitat that does not allow for us to thrive. It is here that confusion and a sense of stuckness persists if nothing shifts. 

 Yet if we step out, the peace we are seeking may be actualized. If we stay, most likely it won’t. Our inner voice of restlessness sounds the cry of our interior calling that we must pay attention to. Parker Palmer says it well, “Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original self-hood given me at birth by God”. Self-awareness alone is not enough. Many can not hear the voice of reason from within. A safe and supportive community of care supplements where the voices of insecurity compete.

What keeps us from taking the step required to find our deep peace, our unique habitat where we can thrive? The simple answer is that we, like animals, don’t want to leave a safe and familiar environment to move into one of unknown unless we are at risk. It is often the self-limiting insecurities which disempower us from making these changes. It is a risk to step into the unknown. But the risk has the potential to open a whole new environment not just to survive, but to thrive.

And while I’m still fascinated by humans more than animals, I find it remarkable to compare the great correlations all of creation shares in common.

Questions: What keeps you from taking the next step required to find a place where you can thrive? What change is on my horizon that I am struggling to make? What help do I need to process these changes? What can I envision the future on the other side of these changes to look like?

Resources: Merriam Webster online, Life of Pi, Parker Palmer, Safe People, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need

What do I do in the waiting? - Part 1

waiting

What do I do in the Waiting

The questions of complex transitions

As we were wrapping up an initial consultation, a potential client recently asked me, “So, what do I do now while I wait?” We had spent the previous 45 minutes talking about the difficult transition they were in & the lack of fit for the husband while the wife was thriving. I gathered a sense of expansive understanding to the openness of both time and untapped energy that permeated his question. I was invited to an internal pause. While I could answer with a quick appeasement something like, “Wait with intentionality!” I felt a deep sense that his question came from a different place than a child fighting off boredom while waiting for a guest to arrive. This question was likely a daily, hourly, nagging, question in his mind. And not just a question related to time but something so much more compelling. I imagined underlying the simple question of “What should I do in the waiting?” resonated a sound like a base drum - a deeper, harder to answer question about core identity and purpose.

I sensed that without purposeful response, this unwelcome intrusion of a question would not easily go away. I couldn’t help but empathize with intense sadness. I felt this conversation ignite in me a painful visceral, not-all-that-distant memory and response. I felt the question in my gut. I resonated with the desperate longing to be useful. To be noticed for one’s unique skillset. The natural inborn desire to be invited to a table to share a unique point of view. To be asked to show up with a voice that is welcomed. To contribute the expression of creation that only my unique fingerprints could create.

I couldn’t help but feel that this question daily nagged my transition companion. And yet like any coach might do, I turned his question into an opportunity to dig deeper. “What do you think you should do in the waiting? And secondly…what does your wife think you should do?

It wasn’t meant to be a cop-out. Coaches are often asked questions back; often the ones the client doesn’t want to answer. And yet on the flip side many coaches go into a coaching or care profession waiting for the moment to be asked his/her opinion. If we’re honest we’d rather be consultants and give quick answers and we’d rather share ideas and solutions! Yet here I sat together with my fellow sojourner, in the complexity of his painful transition without a lot of answers and certainty of what to do next. Yet I could respond with a presence of familiarity and a knowing it won’t last forever to validate and feel alongside him the deep pain in the not knowing and in the waiting in between. 

And now here as I write, I suppose I wear the hat of a consultant, not as much a coach. I share my ideas a little more openly at first with just my computer…not sure where they’ll land or who will read them or relate. My story not that unlike his - consisted of that redundant and not-always-answered question “God, what do you want me to do in the waiting?” For almost 2 full years (if not longer), it was for me a daily gnawing at my core identity question especially when the calendar was empty and the phone didn’t ring. I felt alone - people don’t really like to talk about that in-between place of isolation and the reality of what it actually looks like to be waiting. And yet, in hindsight, I recognize I often did hear a response. I heard an invitation to new disciplines. Over the course of many months and years, despite long days of silence, these are a few of the disciplines I was invited to discover in my time of long waiting:

7 playlists I created in 2017-2019 coinciding with each of the 6 transition themes. Find them on iTunes & Spotify “The Way Between - Limitations”

7 playlists I created in 2017-2019 coinciding with each of the 6 transition themes. Find them on iTunes & Spotify “The Way Between - Limitations”

 1.    Praise – Praise turns my heart on. I hear the mandate of scripture: “In all things give thanks”. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Noticing the beauty in life, the good that I’ve been given, takes intentionality and discipline. And yet here my heart, like David’s in Psalms does not want to rejoice. I hear the voices of literary mentors say, “Thanks is what multiples joy and makes any life large”. I admit, it does not come natural for me. So I turn to those who’ve penned lyrics of pain and married them with the life-giving instruments of worship acknowledging a place of surrender. I listened, and listened some more to the hymns and to the modern day poets give their doubts and unmet longings to God in praise. Time after time as if this was my prescription - this posture of worship changed me. It calmed me like unlike anything else. It brought me to a place of holding open all that I could not control. It’s not all about me or my unmet longings. God is in the business of transforming my heart by giving me this grand pause. Can I see it as a gift and give it back to him in worship? He held me in it and he performed healing in places of my heart that really needed some deep surgery.

“Thanks is what multiples joy and makes any life large”-Ann Voskamp

2.    Play – I learned to embrace, like my children, the present. My propensity being a forward-facing and actively moving thought life, the future is where my mind and body naturally want to go. The present can often feel stifling & uncomfortable to me. Yet I recall my word for that year - excitable! Not a word anyone has ever used to describe me!! Yet when I think about a person who is excitable, I conjure up positive thoughts of people that I love being around! In hindsight, I recognize I was being invited into a practice of mindfulness. A call to notice and to enjoy the every moment. A call to attend to my inner child and just enjoy what or who was in front of me. This invitation was for me was a summoning to play! Turn life into a joyful game. Play encouraged me to stop to embrace the joy of just being and not focus on doing anything or becoming anything. Whether through an Uno game with my 5 year-old or a more adult game of strategy, drawing, wrestling, or just responding to enter a pool with a cannonball instead of a careful wade. I was (and am) continually implored to enjoy my life in the moment even with all its pain and uncertainty.

3.    Explore – be curious and remain open. As I began to write I just brain-dumped my thoughts on paper day after day. I wasn’t strict about it. And I didn’t intend for it to go anywhere. And yet as I kept writing I felt like my words gained some momentum. Maybe not worth sharing with others. But maybe. I surrounded myself with my spiritual and literary mentors; those who spoke eloquently and articulately with words on paper and poets of music like I mentioned before.

When I got stuck I would read. I read what inspired me to think differently, grander thoughts. I read people who played with words in a way I had not been comfortable doing. I explored new ways of adding color to thoughts that I felt only others knew how to do. In this I stumbled and I stuttered and it was clunky. But I persisted and I gained new life every time I did. I explored new creation through exercise and movement and I explored new ways of thinking. I took what I already knew and I expanded on that pushed boundaries of my imagination in a way that I had felt stifled in in the past. What was provoked in me was the designer side of me that had been dormant. In that creative, playful, exploratory space came the creation of what is now my primary work - The Art of Transition.

The period of waiting in transition has been such a long long season for me. I often felt like I did as a child in the endless snowy climate of Minnesota – will summer ever come? And like a bear moving out of hibernation, I’m ecstatic to see that spring is here for me and summer on the horizon! And for those in the waiting of in between: Though the winter is long, I believe your season will come.

—to be continued

 “If all I know of harvest is that it’s worth my patience. Then if you’re not done working, God I’m not done waiting”

 “Seasons” by Hillsong Worship

Listen:

Like the frost on a rose 

Winter comes for us all

Oh how nature acquaints us 

With the nature of patience

Like a seed in the snow

I’ve been buried to grow

For your promise is loyal

From seed to sequoia

I know | Though the winter is long even richer | The harvest it brings | Though my waiting prolongs even greater | Your promise for me like a seed | I believe that my season will come

————————

Lord I think of Your love

Like the low winter sun

As I gaze I am blinded 

In the light of Your brightness

Like a fire to the snow

I’m renewed in Your warmth

Melt the ice of this wild soul

Till the barren is beautiful

I know | Though the winter is long even richer | The harvest it brings | Though my waiting prolongs even greater | Your promise for me like a seed | I believe that my season will come

———

I can see the promise | I can see the future | You’re the God of seasons | I’m just in the winter | If all I know of harvest | Is that it’s worth my patience | Then if You’re not done working | God I’m not done waiting | You can see my promise | Even in the winter | Cause you’re the God of greatness | Even in a manger | All I know of seasons | Is that you take your time | You could have saved us in a second | Instead you sent a child

The barren is beautiful

The barren is beautiful

Though the winter is long even richer

The harvest it brings

Though my waiting prolongs even greater

Your promise for me like a seed

I believe that my season will come

And when I finally see my tree

Still I believe there’s a season to come

Like a seed You were sown

For the sake of us all

From Bethlehem’s soil

Grew Calvary’s sequoia

The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition - Clarity exercise Part 2

See The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Questions to ask - Part 1

When it comes to a vocational or career change, the possibilities appear unlimited. Our minds may take on a fight, flight or likely a freeze effect. The frontal lobe in our brain, acts like an overheated engine. It can’t take the myriad of options, so it begins to shut down…anxiety sets in. If we are able to employ a trusted friend or set of tools to gain perspective the ugly monster of overwhelm becomes a much more manageable companion.

We left off in the previous post (the overwhelm of decision-making part 1) with “together let’s approach the blocks that feel like an elephant and make them an eye - seeing them as an opportunity to explore, discover and create something new & life-giving! We can’t tackle the whole elephant right now, What feels most pressing? Although the options may still take on 100 different variations, the primary decision can be broken down into just a handful of categories or even just one. How does one get from overwhelm to decision? What decision appears most pressing?

Now before we go any further, there exists an assumption that a well-thought through discernment process of gaining information about one’s options, talking to trusted individuals and mentors and a concerted amount of prayer, has gone into the process up to this point. Decision-making happens most effectively after a long season of discernment.

Transition takes place over the course of many small decisions, month after month. Getting to this point in making a major life decision primarily consists of listening to one’s heart and attending to the desires and longings of the soul that have existed for many months if not years. This point in time is often just a finalizing piece to a greater series of decisions. This is not to minimize the importance and the complexity. But rather to validate that your gut, your spouse, your friends, and God have all been speaking to you up to this point.

Decision-making happens most effectively after a long season of discernment.

In this post exists an exercise, a tool called the decision-making grid, to utilize in times of complicated or overwhelming decision-making. It’s quite simple and chances are you’re already familiar with it. A few years ago when faced with a series of decisions that seemed fit with equal pros and cons, I asked my friend and coach for some perspective. When she suggested using a decision-making grid I couldn’t conceptualize how it was different than making a list of pros and cons - my typical style! She briefly walked me through it over the phone. The simplicity almost seemed elementary. Yet it worked! Maybe like myself, you never thought to utilize it in major life decision. Here’s how it works.

The simplifying of options and narrowing down of questions, brings greater clarity than remaining in a place of swimming in the ocean of unlimited possibilities. In my opinion the process of discerning a major career move, organization or vocational path includes focusing first on personal fit (often referred to as calling). When we approach personal fit through the lense of these limited possibilities the decision-making begins to take the shape of a just a handful of possibilities.

Here we are talking primarily about decisions around personal fit and calling:

The 7 categories to consider personal fit/calling: (from the previous post The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition)

1.     Keep doing what I already do well but change the environment - Maybe you have outgrown the structure of the team or organization. Potentially staying in an environment, limits the opportunity for growth.

2.     Keep the work; reallocate or change the quantity - some may consider focusing their target audience to better match their passion. As well, changing the quantity allows for specialization, influence and impact.

3.     Change the work, but stay in the same environment - Within an organization maybe there is another set of possibilities. For example maybe you were hired on as an assistant but have outgrown the role where your gift mix would be better used.

4.     Turn an avocation into a new career - many look towards their voluntary service opportunities as what they would ultimately like to do for life-giving work. For example, during a transition season in my life I went to a local hospital and asked if I could volunteer doing play therapy in the children’s ward. Amazing to me now, is the passion I’ve always had for kinesthetic healing!

5.     Take on a parallel career For example, take your training role and look for another outlet like public speaking or book writing. This track is often pursued for the sake of funding, peer-mentoring, or influence.

6.     Get more training - maybe the way forward for you requires a complete shift and more specialized training in a specific field of interest. This option affords one more discernment time as he/she researches a specific field.

7.     Keep on doing the same thing - After a season of discernment and searching, you may have learned that what you have now is really a great fit and at this point nothing needs to change but something internally. Possibly it required an internal shift of gratitude or perspective to recognize the value of what you have and that every organization and team has faults. Answering, these are the ones I’m willing to live with!

I often recommend a sabbatical for a time of rest before major life decision-making. (See: “Overcoming the Top 3 Objections for taking a Sabbatical”) The need to clear one’s mind and gain perspective is invaluable in clarity gaining regardless of what decision may need to be made.

Where does one start in sorting through these 7 options and creating any semblance of a plan? Might I suggest as my mentor did, to utilize a decision-making grid?

When a decision-making grid is utilized, it allows one to see the options on paper and begin to compare them one against another not one to one million! Which is how it can often feel in your head. This process can help begin to make concrete the seemingly unlimited possibilities that can tend to have a swirling and overwhelming life of their own. 

Here’s how a decision-making grid works:

1.  Form the main question. Start by forming a question that you will use to evaluate all of the possibilities. Ask a question like: Which of these 7 options currently resonates most with me? If you are unable to get past this point, employ a friend or coach to help you form the question.    

2. Make a table to represent your top 4-5 choices for your futures (a 5x5 table for example). An equal number of horizontal and vertical boxes will be used. It isn’t necessary to compare all 7 options as not all of them may be possibilities. Limiting the options is the goal at this point, not expanding.

3. Assign a number and short identifier such as an abbreviated description of your top choices in the top row and far left column. The list will be the same on both the left row and top column. So for example if you’re utilizing the list from above, you would consider #’s 1-7. If they are all options than they all go on the horizontal and vertical lines.

Vocational Discernment Decision-Making Grid Example

Vocational Discernment Decision-Making Grid Example

4. Put X’s on the numbers that coincide such as 3 vs 3 as you won’t be comparing the same number against itself.

5. Go through each row. When you compare number 1 to number 2, ask the question that you have chosen:   “Which option more accurately aligns with my current longings? Or – Which option do I believe best allows for utilization of my personality & strengths?  Or “Given our current family needs, which possibility is the best future fit?”

Note: You’ve already done the hard work…Don’t over-analyze. Go with your gut at this point. 

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6. Write the number chosen between the two options in the box. You will be comparing the same things twice, for example 2 vs. 4 and 4 vs. 2 it’s okay to change your mind or have a split. Often this double comparison produces double confirmation. But do not be alarmed if it does not!

7.  After you’ve gone through the whole table, count up how many of each number you have: 1 - __, 2 - __, 3-__, 4-__, 5-__, 6-__

8. You should have a number with a higher total than the others.

9. At the end of this exercise, consider how the option with the top number of points sounds to you?

10. If all ends in a tie, consult a friend or sleep on it. Try on the different options wherever you land. If you’re truly at a place of being able to live into your decision, imaging your life in that change will provide you with new ideas for the future.

11. When all is done, run this decision by the same people that have helped you get to this point. Something like: Given what you know about where I’m at, does this sound like a good option for my future?  Is there something else that I’m not considering? Surprisingly to many who are in transition is that those closest to the decision-maker already had a pretty good idea and are NOT surprised with a big decision. Call it intuition or a good friend. I would also call it the gift of being outside a cluttered decision-making mind.

The sweet dog ended up with the name Tracker. Unfortunately he only lived into that name as a sick rescue puppy for another 3 weeks. Our family misses him.

The sweet dog ended up with the name Tracker. Unfortunately he only lived into that name as a sick rescue puppy for another 3 weeks. Our family misses him.

On a smaller scale our family recently used this method to decide on the name of our new dog. Not a perfect solution to over 30 ideas, but the process for four very different individuals created both a memorable exercise in decision-making and greater unity in the process. What became apparent was that there were many names not even worth considering. Similarly for you, many options not worth considering at this point for your future.

Utilizing a decision-making grid helps to shed light and gain clarity during complex decision-making times. The myriad of possibilities can now be broken down into only a handful or even just one. Concrete comparisons and intentional set-aside space allow for the ability to see the most important tree through the forrest of possibilities.

Don’t be surprised if this big decision catalyzes many decisions thereafter. Making a bold moves chart is a suggested next step. New blog post on “Now That You’ve Done a Decision-Making Grid, Bold Moves are Next” coming soon!

Questions to consider:

What do you learn from your created decision-making grid?

What is clearer after having done this exercise? Who do you need to share it with?


Overcoming the Top 3 Objections for Not Taking a Sabbatical

The signs on the dashboard say: rusty & worn out!

The signs on the dashboard say: rusty & worn out!

While many of us recognize the warning signs of burnout include lack of motivation, lack of focus, irritability and lack of desire. Much of this can be traced directly to prolonged workplace stress and fit. We operate our bodies and our minds as though they are machines and unlike machines that need fixing, we expect them to keep performing without regular maintenance. Although suggested regular maintenance best includes daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms, it is here after years of lacking that a prolonged period of time off is absolutely essential.

The concept of the sabbatical is based on the Biblical text in Leviticus 25 related to agriculture. The Jews in the land of Israel were mandated to take a year-long break from working the fields every seven years. According to farmers the land benefits from this rest as much as the people. A "sabbatical" has come to mean an extended absence in the career of an individual to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or traveling for research. Sabbatical is most often thought of today for academicians and clergy. But we know the benefit extends to every worker regardless of discipline.

Many large corporations are getting on board with this long-standing biblical concept - 22% of Fortune 100’s “Best companies to work for” now offer paid sabbaticals, (Fortune Magazine 2018). Companies the likes of Intel, Google, Adobe, Microsoft, and Paypal all endorse and support sabbaticals through giving both the space, time and financial support for their employees to take extended time off. Intel’s policy fifty years ago! in 1969 included: "We see sabbaticals as accomplishing two things - allowing people time for revitalization and giving the employees who remain, an opportunity for new challenges and growth," says corporate affairs manager Tracy Koon. Employees return to their jobs, in their own words, with renewed enthusiasm and heightened creativity. We find that not only are employees more relaxed and better able to handle work stresses when they return, they also come back with new ideas and fresh winds blowing between their ears.” 

"We see sabbaticals as accomplishing two things - allowing people time for revitalization and giving the employees who remain an opportunity for new challenges and growth,"

Take a current example of a business model of sabbatical. The 9th best restaurant in the world in 2018, Mugaritz in Errenteria, Spain, close their doors every year for four whole months!

Their annual cycle of work includes 8 months on and 4 months off. Instead of focusing on filling their tables every day all year, they live their value of creativity through providing the space to create in those off months in order to offer a service of highest quality in the subsequent 8 months. Their creative is precedent to their standard. Because of that they remain booked months in advance! How can they afford to do it? They use the period of time in what would be their slow season to create. Instead of responding to the demands and pace of a Michelin star restaurant day in and day out, they stop to reflect on what is working and what is not. The owner says, “We close for four months every year. We understand that if we want to do something truly important, we have to stop, reflect and discover new ideas…How many plates in this restaurant aren’t born from that creative process?” These months allow for full days of experimentation and research. In a sense they are able to go back to their love of playing with food and remember why they love what they do!* 

With the Bible mandating it, and major corporations and successful culinary venues endorsing a long time of rest for better productivity and creativity, why is taking a sabbatical still considered such a luxury for an average worker and often not taken even where permitted? Why is it so hard to carve out the time and protect it in order for a period of rest, rejuvenation and creativity to be implemented?

 We understand that if we want to do something truly important, we have to stop, reflect and discover new ideas…How many plates in this restaurant aren’t born from the creative process?”

Here are the top 3 objections I commonly here for why people don’t take a sabbatical:

1.    The top justification for the argument as to why not to take a sabbatical is not having sufficient time. What would I do with all the responsibilities that I currently carry? I’m a dad, a coach, a supervisor, cross-cultural worker, a teacher, etc…Who else would take any of these responsibilities from me? Today busyness is an epidemic worth fighting against. Nearly everyone seems to be pulled in a hundred different directions. Keeping balls juggling in the air is often more responsive than planned. How does one even get time to think about self-care let alone about taking a long period of time off? The truth is, the ball may drop a little or a lot! When people come to us, they are unfortunately often past prevention. However an intentional well-thought through plan for rest makes absolutely possible for almost anyone intent on seeing it through past an otherwise simply good idea. Planning a year or more in advance to be able to set aside the space and time is not uncommon.

Many cross-cultural workers think of a sabbatical as going to one’s home country for an extended period of time. For me, although I was in between roles, I wasn’t able to take an extended leave. We had to think creatively about how to give me the time. My kids still had school and my husband still had work. As well, we recognized a home-stay would be more restful than traveling the whole time. So we made adjustments and did the best we could. We had to make it work within our limitations. We discussed which responsibilities I could release. Practically speaking, I didn’t do as many school-runs. My husband didn’t take as many out-of-town trips. We didn’t overschedule or sign our children up for more than one extra-curricular activity each. From September to December I created my sabbatical to exist during what would be my normal working hours. Every day from when I woke up until school was out, the time was mine. My responsibilities as mom, wife, and expat did not go away. I also engaged at times in community rhythms and church. Not every role was able to be put on hold. But the ones that needed greatest re-adjustment and a period of re-evaluation, related most significantly to my vocation were. This gave me the ability to release control and gain clarity on what needed to shift.

Now to some that might not seem like enough time, but to me, my sabbatical was my work. I was grateful for four months of limited demands and ample creative space for 4, 6 or even 8 hours a day at times. In addition, I also created two extended times away – one long weekend and one full week. We carved those into our greater schedule, although it was only planned a few months out. One of the weekends away was purely for fun with visiting friends and the other was an intentional strategic-planning getaway with my coach.  Neither broke the bank (more on funding a sabbatical later).

2.    For some the excuse may be financial. People often say their employer does not offer a paid sabbatical. They clearly can’t afford to not work unpaid. That makes a lot of sense. Today you read of countless people traveling for months on end. How can they afford it? Many have saved up, lived simply for months and years prior. Many also report selling their belongings to live a more simpler life and take the needed space they so desired. Sacrifices are required to live the value of rest. No one that I have ever heard of regretted creating the space, time and money for a sabbatical. If there is a will, there is a way. It may include living on less but the payoff will come back many-fold. I believe there is potential for almost any average worker to take time off if proper planning happens, once again.

3.    The third top explanation for why people don’t take a sabbatical, is that he/she would lose their “position” and title they have worked so hard for. This is also a valid and viable reason for not taking a sabbatical. The many years of service may be a sacrifice. The building of one’s business or ministry may all suffer if not attended to. Yet with the example of many top corporations, it’s not unusual for bosses or supervisors to understand that the need exists. As well, in the role of sabbatical coach we see people finding temporary replacements for many different types of roles.

Let me give the example of one friend Susan who felt like she was on the verge of burnout and didn’t know how she could possibly take a sabbatical. She had been working cross-culturally for over 7 years. She was single and often felt overworked. She lacked vision in her current work and desperately needed a break. She presented the idea to her company who did not have any policy as such in place. Their response astonished her. “What do other organizations do?” they asked. “What does a sabbatical policy look like?” They asked Susan to do her research and come back with a proposal plan. So she did. She contacted me for resources and much to her surprise not only did the organization grant her the needed space, but they created a sabbatical policy based off of her hard work for others to benefit from, as well! What a blessing that she stopped to attend to her needs. Not just for her but for many others in the future of the organization to come.

Making the time, having the money, and not losing one’s position are all valid and viable reasons as to why people don’t think they can take a sabbatical. Understandably, many objections must be overcome in order to create this beneficial space. Yet, if you keep listening to the voice of your body, your heart and your mind and it keeps nudging you towards one, really listen! Think creatively, ask for the time off, create a plan, employ a sabbatical coach, overcome the objections you need to care for yourself and others. It may be the single best gift you can give yourself, your family and those you care about.  

Considerations: If you’re thinking of taking a sabbatical, what are your primary objections? Who can help you overcome those objections? If you know others who have taken a sabbatical, what benefits did they gain from their time off?

For further reading: Top 20 reasons to take a sabbatical

*Note: This does not imply that their workers are getting four months off. However, the organizational value portrayed is one of rhythm - rest and creation.

 

Sources:

http://www.thesabbaticalcoach.com/html/hrmagazine.html

“The final table” - Netflix

The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Questions to Ask - Part 1

Within the last week I’ve had at least four conversations with individuals who are experiencing the inner restlessness of pending transition. These feelings of restlessness are often accompanied by anxiety, stress and disturbed sleep. The awareness has surfaced that they are on the verge of burnout, are living in a place of deep disconnect with their values, or are not being utilized in their current role. These persistent places of discontent and lack of clarity in direction create a feeling of uncertainty & often stuckness not to mention intense stress on our whole ability to function. Is this where you are at?

The difference between a simple wrestling and minor tweaking and a major life transition is the persistent won’t-go-away acknowledgment that something major needs to change. Whether an organizational shift, a role change, a geographical move - this shift feels disorienting like an aftershock of an earthquake. And it is. Prior to these thoughts are often a series of events that have led to the present. Conflict, discouragement, feeling unused, crisis - these moments or series of changes may have felt like the earthquake but it is the frequent aftershocks that are the call to action.

I often hear from those I work with:

“The writing is on the wall.”

“It’s just painful to admit we’ve been so discontent for so long.”

“The hard part is acknowledging all that we’ve invested in and have to let go of.”

“Goodbyes are once again in our future.”

“We just don’t know what to do next.”

Although transition may feel like a season of winter, there is light ahead

Although transition may feel like a season of winter, there is light ahead

Some talk about transition as beginning the moment you begin asking the deeper questions related to restlessness. I struggle with that sentiment as some, myself included are uniquely wired towards an analytical and futuristic processing style; thinking frequently about possibilities without implying that a major shift or transition needs to happen. At the same time, I feel strongly that we must listen well to our gut instincts, our bodies that carry continual stress, and our minds that race seeking calm. We know internally that things can’t stay as they have been. However, we don’t always know what a next step would look like or what exactly needs to change. Let’s first consider the 6 major areas that most commonly require decision-making intentionality.

For cross-cultural workers decision-making is complex where each decision effects every other. The choice of a role shift, for example, may alter the geographical fit, may determine the organizational fit, may change one’s entire landscape of friendship and social circles. And not just for the adult making the decision but for the entire family. For the sake of understanding how to better navigate the complexity here we break down the decision-making options into 6 major areas.

The 6 areas of decision-making:

(For the sake of this article, the word “fit” replaces the word calling, as there are many interpretations of the word “calling”.)

Personal Fit (significance)- Where does my deep gladness meet the world’s great need(s)? Is what I’m doing the ultimate contribution role that I am on this earth to engage in? If not, is it on the same track? Is my vocational work life-giving?

Team Fit (operation)- Am I able to live out my ultimate contribution “personal fit” on this particular team? If not, why not?“ “Am I supported in my unique gift mix?”

Organizational Fit (support)- Is this the organization that my values most align with? Where I can be supported? Where I can contribute my voice? Are there other organizations that are doing similar work?

Location Fit (effectiveness) - Is the location I’m working in supporting or inhibiting my call? Is this the place where my calling can best be lived out?

Other considerations:

Collective Marital Fit - Some may believe that when they exchanged vows, God called them together as a couple to engage in the same organization and team fit. Others have discovered their uniqueness may be best lived out as individuals in two very different settings of work. Especially as cross-cultural workers it is important to ask the previous 4 questions, “Is my spouse living into his/her vocational calling? Are they doing life-giving work?

Family Fit - Similar to the above. There is disagreement around children being “called” to the same ministry and what their particular role is. Nonetheless I stand firm in believing that the health and well-being of the kids is top priority. How are my children thriving with my personal fit, team fit, organizational fit, location fit? Do their current needs require a prioritization above my fit or calling?

One piece of the elephant at a time

One piece of the elephant at a time

For many, the transition out of - a role, a vocation, an organization, a specific location - can be very clear. For others these layers all mesh together. And for most, where to go next carries the most frightening set of unlimited options. It is recommended to break down the great big elephant of a problem into small pieces - whether which door is closed or which doors are opening.

Consider, for example, the location you are working, as a tusk or a foot or an eye of the elephant. (Too many decisions already?) Okay, it’s an eye! The type of work you are doing as another part. Focusing on each of the pieces one at a time can begin to bring clarity in a much more manageable way as opposed to feeling overwhelming.

In cross-cultural work, it’s hard to unpack the complexities of the overlapping variables. One has likely given up comforts, home, and culture to do the current work engaged in. If shifting to a new culture versus returning to a previously familiar culture the emphasis of adjustment will be quite different. For example, people don’t often consider a re-entry moving budget when returning, despite assuming you would need one when landing in a new and foreign country. They also might not consider the adjustment phase that is needed for re-entry. Much has been written on the topic of re-entry. For discussion here, is the recognition of the complexity of conflicting values particular to transition and how to break it down.

The idea that the door is closing yet a new one has not yet opened paralyzes many from taking a step of faith into the transition space of the unknown. It’s this transition space where I love to work with people. I say, “together let’s approach the blocks that feel like an elephant and make them an eye - seeing them as an opportunity to explore, discover and create something new & life-giving! We can’t tackle the whole elephant right now, What feels most pressing?” For most, it is vocational fit.

The simplifying of options and narrowing down of questions, brings greater clarity than remaining in a place of swimming in the ocean of unlimited possibilities. In my opinion the process of discerning a major career move, organization or vocational path includes focusing first on personal fit (often referred to as calling). When we approach personal fit through the lense of limited possibilities the decision-making begins to take the shape of a just a handful of possibilities; the eye of the elephant once again.

7 categories to clarify confusion relating to personal fit (calling)

1.     Keep doing what I already do well but change the environment - Maybe you have outgrown the structure of the team or organization. What you were initially hired on for 15 years ago is no longer needed. Potentially staying in an environment, under certain leadership or in a specific role may limit your own personal development.

Question: Can I keep doing what I love but change where I do it?

2.     Keep the work; re-allocate or change the quantity - some may consider focusing their target audience to closer match their passion and gifting. As well, changing the quantity allows for specialization, influence and impact as well as sustainability. Those who we see who are burned out often re-allocate their responsibilities and realize it takes several people to do the same title they carried for years.

Question: What needs to specifically change about the work I do in order for it to be sustainable?

3.     Change the work, but stay in the same environment - Within an organization maybe there are another set of possibilities for your skillset. For example maybe you were hired on as an assistant but have outgrown the role where your gift mix would be better used in leadership or development. Consider changing the role to adjust to your developmental phase.

Question: Is there potential for advancement or a lateral shift within this organization? If not, where might I best execute my gifts, strengths, and talents?

4.     Turn an avocation into a new career - many look towards their voluntary service opportunities as what they would ultimately like to do for life-giving work. For example, during a transition season in my life I went to a local hospital and asked if I could volunteer doing play therapy in the children’s ward. I was in a funk, but knew I had always wanted to try working with creative therapy methods. They were happy to have me for the year I could give. Amazing to me now, is that although that was over 25 years ago, the passion I’ve always had for kinesthetic healing has been a part of my DNA! That voluntary service also gave back to me through caring for others - it took me out of my own worries and allowed me to leverage gratitude in an otherwise difficult season.

Question: What would I love to do even without getting paid?

5.     Take on a parallel career The reason you may be experiencing a shift is primarily financial. For some taking on a parallel career or supplemental income may be the necessary transition step towards balance. People don’t take on a parallel career only for financial reasons. It may also be for convergence into the final years of service. You can now choose more specifically to work in a very narrow field. For example, take your training role and look for another outlet like public speaking or book writing. Leverage the years of knowledge and wisdom to benefit others. This track is often pursued for the sake of funding, mentoring, or influence.

Question: What do I already do that I could leverage better in a different setting?

6.     Get more training - As you think about your future the most obvious way forward may require a complete shift and more specialized training in a specific field of interest. Take someone who has always been passionate about physical health and healing. They may have lived it in their own life, but now need a degree in nutrition or being a yoga instructor to integrate their passion with a professional practice. This option of gaining more training affords one more discernment time, as well as he/she researches a specific field and his/her fit.

Question: What have you felt lacking knowledge in your current work or wanted to gain greater understanding of to gain professional integrity?

7.     Keep on doing the same thing - After a season of discernment and searching, you may have learned that what you have now is really a great fit and at this point nothing needs to change but something internally. Possibly a season of rest resets all the gauges to better see the joy of personal fit. Possibly an internal shift of gratitude or perspective occurs to recognize the value of what you have and that every organization and team has faults.

Question: Can you answer yes? For now this is where I best fit and what I am willing to work with for the next five years!

Your decision-making and discernment will likely take you down confusing, questioning roads. As you think about it in small chunks give yourself grace to also think about it in smaller periods of time. This decision is not forever. Continue to explore and try it on and commit for a certain period of time. Give yourself or your spouse the needed permission to try, fail, succeed, change their mind, but soon to put down the need to continue processing. Make one step of a decision and begin moving forward right where you are at.

To be continued…

See The Overwhelm of Decision-Making in Transition: Clarity exercise - Part 2

Here are a few questions to prompt deeper thinking:

What is the most compelling reason you believe a change needs to happen? What have you already tried?What has been the response from the significant people in your life (God, spouse, boss, supervisor, etc.)? Given their reaction, what do you feel you need to do next? What’s coming up for you as we talk about this?

Strategic Thinking! Feelings Not Welcome?

by Sara Simons

A recent conversation with a corporate strategist spurred a few thoughts for me. I caught him on the back end of facilitating strategy meetings for a cross-cultural team helping them discern their next steps together as a team. This is a familiar scene for him where emotions often run high and people experience real and perceived threat to job security. Wonderment persists as to the process and where it will lead the team and individuals in future decisions. Different in this case, however, included a group of 8 individuals of different disciplines than he typically worked - therapists, spiritual directors and coaches.  How did this affect the process? He said he had never worked with a group so self-aware!

I immediately wondered, what changes in that dynamic from those who are not self-aware? Everyone in this group knew how they felt almost instantly. They knew when they were anxious. They were aware when their heart beat faster. They report they have a gut ache around certain topics and stressful conversations. They carry the weight of others, as well. They notice the way others in the room are experiencing these meetings and their visceral reactions that can affect the communication flow. They were skeptical of the process as many were in their own time of discernment. 

Fascinated, I asked, how does that change the process for you? He said, "Ultimately it slows  down the process. Not that it's bad. It makes it harder to facilitate." He reported that trying to be a self-aware leader himself required facilitating the process more intentionally spending more time waiting for those who were not just making decisions with their logical brains but also with their hearts and their bodies.

From this conversation, I couldn't help but wonder “Are there places and times when  emotions and things of the heart need to take a back seat to that of the head? Why do we place such emphasis on self-awareness when it can slow us down, especially at important times of decision-making? 

Let me back up a minute. I showed up late to the idea of emotions being wonderful and powerful and necessary. I spent much of my childhood devaluing my emotions. I hid them when I sprained an ankle in basketball. If I was sad, I resolved to never let others see my feelings. Although the sub-culture I was born and raised in did not value emotional expression, I was surrounded by a family who did. Two dozen moves before the age of 20 led me to vow to never feel the intensity of the sadness that comes with goodbyes. Recognizing the impact on my relationships and my capacity to hold others emotions in early adulthood, caused me to see that I was a slow learner in developing this essential core element of who I am today. 

In addition to my upbringing and a host of moves, my natural wiring is more of a thinker, strategic and analytical type. When I take (and re-take) the Strengths FinderTM assessment tool, I hit the strategic column in all the top 10 list. What this says about me is that activating my thinker-brain is how I process the world around me in nearly any situation. This current wondering in turn comes from my wiring NOT from my knowledge about feelings being essential and even guiding in how we interact with our world. The voice of our hearts comes through our emotions and I’m convinced that those nudgings are 100% worth acknowledging.   

However my desire when working with people as a transition coach is multi-fold. My current work and passions are ALL ABOUT the integration of emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. My whole job revolves around helping people gain self-awareness in their transition.  Yet, I have spent a lifetime in conflict with how much and when to be utilizing one aspect over the other. Are there more appropriate places to display or utilize one element over another? Historically I admit I’ve felt like there are certain places where emotions or thoughts are more welcome - a funeral > emotions; a business meeting > thoughts.

Coming alongside people (or teams) in places of stuckness, is conflicted head/heart work. I'm not meant to solve others problems or discern next steps for them. Ultimately I'm a question-asking guide. "Have you thought about X?" "When you use your strengths in this area of tension how does that work for you?" Asking the what-ifs and the brainstorming questions allowing for a desired safe space to consider possibilities. I guide as someone gone down a winding path; yet having continually come out better on the other side. 

I believe the place for feelings is alongside the other parts of us that also need to be acknowledged. Having strong Myers-Briggs type feelers in the decision-making room brings depth. Likewise does having thinkers in a room full of feelers. Maybe the question isn’t where is it appropriate, but rather how can our tendency towards one be more fully developed and “taught” by others not like us. How can we begin to embrace both thinking and feeling in all situations to more fully integrate our head and our heart in every situation ESPECIALLY DECISION-MAKING?! And might there be the need on teams and in organizations for the feelers, the thinkers, those with big hearts and those with strategic minds to all come to the table to express the unique wiring that makes up a team or organization? 

Questions to consider:

Who in your life models for you how to be the thinker or feeler that you lack?

Are your team or organization’s deciding bodies made up of both head and heart types?

What would more of a balance look like in your own life?

Essential Whole Brain Engagement: The Benefit of Integration During Times of High Stress

Originally published Jan 2018

The Case for physical engagement

For four months, I was employed by the Department of Defense (DOD) alongside a group of a dozen other young post-college students. We were assigned to work on US military bases in Italy and Germany. As civilians we were employed to care for soldier’s children in the daycares as the soldiers reunited after direct combat. Most of the centers were run by active duty spouses who were mandated to return stateside for a furlough with their families. Vacancies in the childcare centers created a place of need for workers like us to care for the remaining children whose parents were still at war. This post-war care plan attempted to implement new efforts designed to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) seen evidently from previous wars and rather promote healthy bonding and attachment within the family units in the midst of re-entry.  This re-entry care was what I was passionate about learning from. 

The invitation enticed me personally for several reasons. I already knew I wanted to work in the field of care for expatriates. Yet the opportunity came during an in-between stint of re-orientation & re-direction in my own life. Caring for and being present with children I knew would be a reciprocal gift and ultimately part of the physically-engaging healing triad I needed at the time.  I predicted that it would allow me to give my life away in an I-need-you-you-need-me interdependent way. Not to mention the allure of free European travel; also a life-giving space for me sparking new joy to my adventurous side! 

The assignment for caring for these children provided first-hand insight into processing grief. For eight emotionally & physically exhausting hours every day I engaged with these little 1-5 year-olds. I was amazed at how each small child carried burdens beyond their years. I felt the weight as a parent wanting to love and rescue each one from the pain inflicted on them by the ugliness of war. My job: Play, draw, interact, encourage.

I recall one unique day of reprieve for all of us. In a big room with padded walls, filled with soft toys, myself and two other workers engaged in physical play with a group of 8, 4 year-old boys. Simple safe-zone forts constructed, ammunition of plastic balls gathered and a plan of spontaneous attack was created to let out all their little-self energy.  I watched the children come alive as we engaged in a very physical but safe soft-toy “war” for over an hour. The smiles on their faces were unmatched to anything else we had done up until that point or would do thereafter. I watched as otherwise normal little kids burdened by their environment, were given permission to once again play and engage in child-like behavior. By accident we created a space for these boys to be physically engaged in their own developmentally-appropriate and needed way. It also unleashed in us, the workers, an ability to come to their level and release our own weights. This modeled for me evidence of the way our bodies, of any age, respond to the release of intense emotions. Re-enforcing for me the need all humans have for play and especially in the midst of the intensity life hands us. 

What happens in our brains when we play?

Much research has been done on how the right and left hemispheres of our brain function. In summary, the Right brain (sensory brain) is earlier developing, holistic, nonverbal, uses images, metaphors, whole body sense, & raw emotions. This is the brain the children had to work with.The left brain (logic brain) is later developing, linear, linguistic, logical, literal, labeling and list-making. The logic brain is the survival brain and kicks into survival mode when threatened. As with these children aged 1-5 we could see the tension in the developmentally impossible requirement of their logic brain for 8 hours a day of preschool. The best gift we could give them was NOT to require them to process their feelings or take on the responsibilities of adulthood but to attend to the present creating spaces of play and healthy outlets; physically engaging opportunities.

What happens when we’re left dominant?

When one hemisphere of the brain dominates for a long time rigidity, disconnectedness and/or chaos results. When the two collaborate we achieve horizontal integration.  

“There are many reasons that someone might grow up ‘leaning to the left’. What if our need to be close to others – to share our non-verbal signals, to feel seen and safe – is NOT met by a caring, connecting, communicating other? Or even worse, what if those early interactions are terrifying? If we live in an emotional desert or are being tossed about by violent storms, our right hemisphere may shrivel in response retreating to a more left-dominant mode.(Siegel,  Mindsight).

As our brains develop, an over-emphasis is placed on the left, linear, logic brain and the right brain becomes under-utilized. So many of us are forced to live daily life in our logic brain in survival mode. Therefore we must be intentional about tapping into and filling the often empty well of our right, artistic, sensory brain. Take for example: Walking, cooking, washing dishes, biking, driving a car on a long road trip, even a shower. All of these activities are repetitive and rhythmic in nature, taking us from our word-based logic brain into our creative sensory, rhythmic brain. These mundane daily activities when done with attention can allow us to create in new and richer ways we never thought possible. As well, in our right brain we have the potential to flee from ruminating over-analytical thoughts to a centeredness and a grounded presence actively engaging in the world around us. Our presence allows others the invitation to be present to their whole self, as well. 

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 During the most painful times of my most recent transition, during moments of intense stuckness all I naturally could think to do was to process, analyze and try to fix my way out of my situation. In actuality I became obsessed with thoughts of what was said or not said that led me to where I was. I wanted to figure out the next steps, NOW! I knew the answer for how to approach my future was somewhere in me if only I could figure it out. If only I could think my way to it, like my INTP/J, strategic, analytical self could often do. Then I would know what to do next. 

 

This type of ruminating only created greater frustration and paralysis taking me into a tailspin of panic as my future looked so confused and hopeless and my normal mode of operating fell short. I slowly learned that the best thing I could do for myself in these times was to actively engage kinesthetically. So I walked. I walked and I hiked and I thanked God that the beauty of nature was so accessible within 5 minutes from my house.  I needed to basically shut down the thinking. When I walked or drew or rode bike my mind had a chance for stillness. Sybil McBeth states in Praying in ColorIf I permit my body to move - even just the movement of my hand, fingers, and arm with pen and marker - then my bones and muscles are content. I can become calm and relaxed enough to find inner stillness and to pay attention.” 

In general it's not the body that needs to be stilled; it's the mind. In stilling my mind, my body caught up. It released the intensity of emotions that would otherwise flood my brain. I had to, like these children of soldiers find my way back into the space of engaging my body in movement and play. And in that space of play I began to once again find my true self.

 

For deeper thought:

How often are you intentional about utilizing both aspects of the brain?

Which activity sparks greatest creative potential for you?

Are you aware of intense feelings that are released when you engage with certain activities? 

Fostering Emotional Health through Transition Coaching

Originally published on Jan 15, 2019 Shepherd Heart Consulting https://www.shepherdheartconsulting.com/2019/01/15/transition-coaching/

– by Sara Simons

According to architectural terminology, transition space is considered an in-between, connecting space between two confined spaces. An essential element of any structure.  One of the most important functions of transition space being sustainability of the building design. Whether a long hallway or a magnificent entrance, these spaces play important functional roles inviting others to linger and anticipate before entering into a new, often grander space. Temples and places of worship have historically been designed with this architectural transition space concept in mind. One who enters a holy space, having gone before through a transition space to get there, has been given the gift of preparation. There is an invitation to  intentionally prepare one’s head and heart for the encounter with a Holy one.  

It is safe to say, transition space is an invitation to a grand pause with an expanded capacity to enter into the next space with greater awareness and expectation. Not unlike architectural transition space, a season of major-life transition invites one to slow down, pause, and anticipate the next season. We know transition as the slow, internal, physiological response to change.  And change, the moment or moments in time typically sudden and unwelcome that lead us into a period of transition. Change may be the external factor that launches a transition. But transition is the often uncomfortable “in-between” season, not moment, meaning potentially long pause, that requires a recalibration. Even when change is expected, or positive, the reality that one is entering into a new normal requires attention in response and can still feel jolting with much to grieve. God uses transitions to shape life direction and further the discovery of one's unique contribution in the expansion of His Kingdom.

Well-known author William Bridges, in his book The Way of Transition states that "Transition is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then take hold of the way they subsequently become. In between the letting go and the taking hold there is a chaotic but potentially creative ‘neutral zone.’" How then do we enter this neutral and often barren-feeling transition space? What an incredible gift of a space to meet another passerby in - in the midst of confusion, pain and grief! 

 My desire when working with people as a transition coach is multi-fold. 1. I hope to be a creative catalyst unblocking the God-given creativity in each person I’m with. Aiding them in places of stuckness, by providing tools and experiences that give hope and help lead them to their ultimate contribution. Thus in turn being able to exit confusion with lightness, centeredness and focus 2. My desire is also to equip people with the resources and tools for their current and future transitions. Simultaneously validating that the intensity of transition is not only normal, but an intentional design of the Creator pointing us back to Him in our pursuit of direction. Trusting that everyone seeking guidance and clarity is ultimately seeking intimacy with the one who masterfully designed them. And like a transition space in architectural terms, I feel called as a transition coach to be alongside others as they anticipate the potential greatness of what is to come!

Contact sara@thewaybetween.org for more information on transition coaching

Attending to the Present: Mindfulness Lessons from a three year-old

Originally posted November 2018

Have you ever walked anywhere with a 3 year-old? The distractions are endless. The opportunity to notice and engage with the world are bountiful! Look! a stick! A ladybug! A worm! A piece of chewed up gum! For a 3 year-old, this observing is an opportunity for incredible engagement and learning from the world around her. Most observations made at an eye level that many of us can’t even see anymore. All the tiny little things in the world that call for a moment of undivided attention.

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From the age of crawling, we noticed the keen eye for the littlest of details from my daughter. This DNA not likely to have passed from my gene pool! I learned through her, that life was best lived whenever she could spend time noticing, attending to the glitter, or the sparkle or the bug and engaging with her whole body and the world around her. She was the kid who would turn a  spaghetti dinner into a full facial experience! Every day was a discovery in tiny little lost treasures of the world.

At the age of 1 ½ we called her the bug whisperer. As she sat in her little booster seat eating her peas and cut up cheese, we would look over and notice an obnoxious summer fly pestering their way into her space. Apparently she didn’t share our sentiment. Sitting very still she let the fly land on the tip of her tiny finger. Attending to it as if it was the most precious gift given to her, she could keep the fly sitting on the tip for far longer than I was comfortable with. She would chat with it as if a long lost friend. Eventually, she would move it slowly towards her mouth, thankfully not accurately enough to consume it. (At least not that I know of! Protein!!)

All the beauty around me that I miss without accepting the call to attentiveness

All the beauty around me that I miss without accepting the call to attentiveness

For children and maybe also those with the gift of sensing, observing is more than just noticing. It is a pause; an attending, an engagement that the little humans amongst us naturally do with their world. I question, what would it take for me to have such a God-given appreciation for my world? A mindful approach to what and who is near me.

At the turn of the year I ask God for a word for the year. My word for this year was “excitable”. It has taken me most of the year to accept it. Excitable! - not a word that anyone who knows me well would use to describe me; nor a word I'm incredibly comfortable with! Yet excitability is a value I hold deeply in the people around me. It’s a character trait that I love and so appreciate in others primarily because it is so lacking in me! Being excitable takes observation and attending to the next level. It invites one to be present enough to observe and then have a reaction to the world around them. Where for me in the same scenario, I had hardly stopped to notice. “What big green bathtub in the hallway?!” For me, life is often more about efficiency not accuracy and detail.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I would rather hurry my sensate daughter through her day and world to get done the other “important things” that needed getting done. The idea of being excitable, movable and open to being attentive would consume more time and energy than I believed I possessed!

Thomas Merton once said we spend most of our lives under water. Every so often our heads clear the surface and we look around and get our bearings.

I wonder if transition isn’t such a gift of the pause and invitation to look around, take a deep breath and let ourselves be moved by the world around us. I’m challenged by the metaphor Merton uses. If we don’t emerge out of the water long enough to take the necessary breath, the ability to submerge ourselves back into the water of life becomes unsustainable. If we don’t come up for a breath long enough, we cannot submerge back under the water called daily life. For me that coming up for breath is a call to attend to my body, my heart and my mind. I naturally do the latter. But the attentiveness to my body, my heart and all the gifts around me require much more of me. An attitude of gratitude and a daily posture of this habit require me to attend to the many many gifts that exist all around me.

Deep breaths, intentional prayers, attending to my inner world, creating space to unhurriedly walk alongside the world my daughter loves; all my personal invitations in this season of transition.  All a stretch for me, as well as an invitation to be present and excitable! My desire is that by the end of the year the word will be more embodied and maybe even an adjective used to describe me! The action of attentiveness a bit more natural, even desired…one sparkle and one ladybug at a time!

I don’t want to miss the awe of the world all around me

I don’t want to miss the awe of the world all around me

Embracing the Pain of Transition using Art & Movement

In my recent season of intense stuckness, where every path forward was cloudy and unclear; I often could not see past my own pain. Rather the still small voice invited me to sit in the fullness of confusion on a day-to-day basis and just wonder. My choices became noise cluttering my already full and naturally-analytic brain. I would feel flooded easily. I could not think my way in or out of this complex transition. I sought to not just simply exist, as I daily felt was all I had the energy for. Ultimately I desired to gain healthy momentum past this painful season. But how?

As I sought the way out, I was subsequently enveloped in new but familiar pain...residual from both my recent and distant past. Lessons I had to return to and learn in a new way. The depth of my experience of pain, I prayed, would enrich the empathy I felt for others—equipping me to better come alongside. Yet in the midst of my own soul-aching darkness, I truly could not imagine the other side of the pain. And even more troubling was the nagging thought that I may never have a capacity to work with others in this painful painful place.

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A wise mentor of mine consoled me in this season, "Sara, if there was ever a top 10 list of things people (and especially workers) experience on the field, you're basically learning the dictionary and becoming proficient in it! If anything, your experiences of painful transition broaden your capacity for the work that you are called to do." How dreadfully dark to base a career on the most intense seasons of pain! Yet the reminder of feelings of intense isolation, and those that accompanied me in it, propelled me toward but a sliver of hope that maybe this time would be redeemed to help someone else in their dark season. I desired hope and ultimately purpose in it all. Not to push past the reality of the pain, but to learn to embrace what God wanted to teach through the intensity that could only be learned through transition.

As my thoughts became noisy and I couldn’t analyze or strategize my way out of my transition, I in turn took to walking. My body was required to pick up where my thoughts left off. Walking, hiking, biking and yoga became my outlets to hold my pain. This bodily engagement afforded me time and space to NOT have to figure life out. These outlets became a life source for me.

My sole purpose in the pain became fighting to learn all that I could; about my own weaknesses, my own woundings, my past, and how my body needed acknowledgement and outlets for carrying my pain. A far more poignant and intense classroom than theories, concepts or textbooks could convey were these lessons I was learning. The experiential learning unequivocal to the conceptual knowledge catalyzed me to engage the learnings of transition in new and deeply profound ways—through both movement and art.

I began playing with ways of using transition tools and art to process using the right & left brain

I began playing with ways of using transition tools and art to process using the right & left brain

Because transition requires all of our being, I've become convicted through my own learnings that navigating these seasons should be approached with our whole self; our whole brain. The holistic approach includes experiences of physical, spiritual, and emotional encounters to integrate our often-felt disorientation and disintegration. Alongside body movement, finding and creating art that captures the heart became my goal: Look for art that captures the heart became my mantra!

Visual art and kinesthetic movement became powerful outlets for the overwhelm I would feel in my brain. I played with words and color despite the negative voices from my past discouraging me to do so.

The most comforting voices in transition are those who have gone before us and can genuinely say “keep going,” “it won't last forever,” "YOU ARE NOT ALONE on this pilgrimage,” “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”

This powerful image of the controversial girl placed in front of the Wall Street bull still exists as one of the most profound public displays of art that captures my heart.

This powerful image of the controversial girl placed in front of the Wall Street bull still exists as one of the most profound public displays of art that captures my heart.

Despite not being entirely out of my own current transition journey (and question if we ever really are) I am grateful to be in the direction phase; trusting God that He will use my scarred stories similar to the way in which he has redeemed other's wounds for my growth. I pray that I would be used to provide a healing balm where the wounds remain so raw and open in others.

Therefore, my goal for the creation of both the Art of Transition and The Long Camino Walk is simply: To use art and movement to learn the unique lessons God is inviting each of us into as we continue to unpack our unique calling in this world. May we together embrace these transitions as a normal process the Creator intended for us. And similar to the transition cycle that all of creation is subject to, may we see the mistakes, the time of unfruitfulness, as a vital and necessary season on the journey of making something more beautiful and abundantly fruitful. I am still on a long journey of embracing this season of the way between.

A Transition Prayer of Lament

Injustice, Sorrow, Tears

A deep well of seemingly never-ending grief

Keeper of my heart, beautiful Jesus

Humbled, I bow

You wrong the right 

It is all yours

That others would see your love—

not my pain, my anger, my shame or my sin.

Brighten my face that your wisdom would shine through

Redeem my experience in worship to you

 

FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION:

·       What change has precipitated your entry into your current transition? 

·      What do you sense God is trying to address in pushing the pause button on your journey?  

·      How are you currently receiving it?

Relational Saturation: When Our Love for People Turns to Burnout - Part 1

Authors: Jeff & Sara Simons April 2015

It’s amazing how many leaders we sit with from whom we hear this sentiment: “I still love God, and I still feel “called”… but man, I just really can’t stand people right now. I just want to get away from them!” It may sound extreme but it’s a very real aspect of full-time relational ministry.

Even as an extrovert in the ministry world, I’ve been there too! Too many times. I’ve felt the same sentiment for example when support-raising to “get to the field”. As we would hit the road for yet another support-raising roadtrip. Pulling up to an appointment I would feel myself just wanting to be somewhere alone; away from ministry, family, and the energy output. I even remember pulling up to a close friend’s house one time and asking my wife what this friend’s kid’s names were again… it’s like the relational saturation was even flooding my ability to remember normal details—a helpful saturation “threshold sign” I’ve come to identify in time…

 Consider your relational “web” for a moment:

·       How many people are on your ministry newsletter list? 

·       How many are in your local gathering of followers and seekers in your context (whatever form that takes)?

·       How many “friends” are you connected to on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other frequently used social media sights?

·       How many individuals, churches or groups are currently supporting your ministry in tangible ways that you keep up communication with?

 Despite how structured, organic, tangible or fluid our ministry work and lives are, the bottom line of the “business” we deal and interface in is the currency of relational equity.

Where We Don’t Lean in Enough…

Often-referenced leadership author and teacher Bobby Clinton made some pretty significant discoveries around the area of relational connection, saturation and management in a lesser-know study that he called the core Social Bases of leadership endurance for long-term service.

In the process of researching the leadership timelines and patterns of hundreds of leaders, some significant patterns pertaining to leadership endurance began to emerge. Interestingly, there was not a marked difference between leaders who finished well and left a growing legacy, and those that “finished” but collapsed over the line, and those who burned out or fell away from ministry prematurely. At least not a marked difference in the usual support systems we think of: financial-support and prayer-support

However, some very interesting patterns emerged in other significant areas; one of which Clinton defined as Emotional Support. This could include regular, life-giving relational connections for you that support the various needs for your social and relational needs—e.g. intercession teams, Spiritual direction, accountability groups, Counseling, time for free-flowing fun with friends, hobby-based groups, local gathering of believers, and frequency of life-giving connection with family and friends local and “back home”.

Intentionally engaging these areas regularly in a leader’s life proved to truly be a key aspect of empowerment that influenced a marked a difference between the few leaders who finished well, and those who left the journey of calling pre-maturely.

This remains a key attrition area to help leaders intentionally lean into, develop, and manage for relational health in our support structures. Often this is malnourished in place of our impassioned tunnel-vision attention to our growing “donor-base back home” and our growing “ministry community in context”. Often there is overlap between these and the areas of Emotional support described above, but how the time is focused and intentionally spentmakes the main difference. 

Our hope is that new perspectives for connecting more authentically and sustainably with family, team, community, supporters, those you’re ministering to, and with God, will help move you toward better resiliency on the field.

See Relational Saturation - Part 2 for a construct to discuss healthy balance and sustainability

·       Q: What implications could this have for doing furloughs and support-raising trips more effectively, sustainably, and fostering authentic connection?

·       Q: What implications can this have on how we communicate to particular audiences in our newsletters and ministry reports?

·       Q: What implications does this have for mixed ministry teams: families, singles, lifestage differences, age differences, cultural or sub-cultural differences? 

·       Q: What implications does this have for questions of “team” and “community” structure and how much they should overlap?

·       Q: What implications does this have regarding the ways we are connecting, or pressuring ourselves to connect, and also projecting or pressuring our kids to connect in the context? 

·       Q: How do we expose our MKs to a variety of environments and help them process authentic and appropriate interaction in each? 

·       Q: What implications does this have for the way you do ministry and where and how you connect?

·       Q: What similar and different implications does this have for doing ministry to moderns and postmoderns?            

Relational Saturation: When our Love for People Turns to Burnout - Part 2

Authors Jeff and Sara Simons April 2015

Part 1 - Relational Saturation: When our Love for People Turns to Burnout

Are you able to “un-plug” and put down work and relational dynamics on a regular basis? 

Do you have places to process and connect outside of your direct ministry context and donor base? That’s what matters for resiliency…

Areas We’re Drowning Ourselves…

How do we think creatively about this with the ever-increasing pressure to grow the connections in our context, with those back home, and with those available to us virtually?

Joseph Myers, in his work, Search to Belong, provides a helpful construct for us to process this for our personal areas of relational saturation and management. He labels the 4 relational spheres in which we develop our personalities, culture and communication and through which we move towards creating a sense of belonging: 

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·       Intimate sphere (often only 1-3 people in your life actually are intimate connections); e.g. married couple, very close friendships, close siblings: “Intimate Belonging occurs when we share “naked” information and are not ashamed” (Myers 67).

·       Personal sphere (3-9 people connecting); e.g. closer person or group of friends, often share with deeper passion/knowledge: “Personal belonging occurs when we share private (but not ‘naked’) experiences, feelings, and thoughts” (67).

·       Social sphere (usually between 8-25 people connecting); e.g. new small groups, work teams or groups : “Social belonging occurs when we share ‘snapshots’ of who we are” (65).

·       Public sphere (25 or more connecting) “Public belonging occurs when people connect through an outside influence [such as a team or a church]” (64).

Now, obviously there is overlap between these spheres of connection for us in our day-to-day. However, one thing that may surprise us, especially in the ministry world, is that in all 4 spheres we have potential to connect, to be committed and participate, and to find the connection significant

Contrary to ideas and fads, belonging is not demonstratively achieved through more time, more commitment, more purpose, more personality, more proximity, or more small groups. These can be helpful environments, but don’t show a promising track record for yielding increased “belonging” in people. Belonging happens spontaneously when the environment is conducive. Therefore attention to the environment for others and ourselves, and realistic expectations for the level of appropriate connection that can take place in that setting becomes very important. People must move from the public sphere first and must do so willingly. Contrary to many relationally-minded people, not ALL people want to move or even should move from the public to the intimate sphere. Ultimate health and balance in one’s relational health is determined by the balance in all four.

Community—the goal humankind has sought since the beginning of time—is achieved when we hold harmonious connections within all four spaces. Harmony means more public belongings than social. More social belongings than personal. And very few intimate. True community accomplished through the significant relationships we embrace in all four. This study provides insight into the environments we spend our time in, and sheds a light on the appropriateness of our expectations for connection in those environments. 

How many times have you participated in a small group (or the like) that formed out of a larger community or gathering? The first few meetings often involve telling our life stories in an attempt to quickly form “intimacy” and commitment. Within the walls of the church the focus is most often on two spheres: the public and the intimate to the neglect of the other two spheres. The balance is what is needed for healthy community and more importantly like Clinton would say, support structures. We ourselves fall into the same trap, and then feel the inauthenticity and guilt that relates.

The principal power behind all of this is that we are given a construct with helpful guides/boundaries to be able to evaluate our significant connections in our social life, to determine if there are areas that are missing, or would be good to lean into; and if there are areas that we are over-saturated for whatever reason, and need to healthily take a step back and give ourselves grace and boundaries. Seasons of transition and grieving are especially unique seasons of grace extension. The ultimate goal is for healthy balance and authentic, reciprocated relationships. It is here that we can find healthy balance and avoid unnecessary emotion burnout and fatigue, or unnecessary loneliness and isolation. That we would be able to effectively and authentically engage and know when we are able to give and when we are not.

 

Some key questions that could emerge from these principles:

  • Which sphere is most challenging, or confused for you currently?

  • Which sphere is most life-giving and healthy for you?

  • Is there a relationship and connection that you feel you need to either consider more realistic boundaries, give yourself more grace, or that the Spirit may be nudging you to be more open?

  • In what ways, if any, do these perspectives change the way you are doing, or will do ministry in the future?

  • In what ways do you need to give yourself grace in the pressure you feel for connection levels in your context?

  • In what ways do you need to credit others with more trust and grace, allowing them to belong to the space they choose in this season?

Transition game for the Whole Family: Questions to Engage Before Short or Long-Term Transition

Originally posted: March 26, 2014

Reality shows us: Furlough and re--entry can be a very unsettling times for all the members of a family

OBJECTIVE: To help families talk about their feelings and experiences. To create a safe space for every member of the family to process. Families could do this at any time, but there is an especially high need for children to feel secure and understood during times of transition.

INSTRUCTIONS: Take one month prior to your transition during a meal or other time and as each person is able, answer one question per day. You can play this 1 of 2 ways. Pick a number corresponding to the questions. Or print out the questions and cut the questions out drawing them from a hat. Note: You may have to reword questions for younger children, or modify those that don’t apply.

Dear Parents,

When your family relocates, either for furlough or for a change of assignment, that transition experience is sometimes a “mixed bag” of feelings for various members of the family.

The following communication game has been designed to help you and your children talk about these feelings in a non-threatening manner. It allows questions to be asked or topics to be discussed at the suggestion of an external source (the game), rather than through the initiative of any single family member. Everyone is on common ground…everyone who can, plays.

As you use this game, there are some things worth remembering:

  • Ask questions in a relaxed, spontaneous, non-judgmental way

  • Don’t try and fix their experience or what they share

  • Be willing to admit your own feelings – fears, loneliness, etc.

  • See the upcoming time in your country of origin as a great time to experience new things

  • Re-frame the questions if it’s confusing or not age-appropriate

  • Remember that during times of transition it is especially important to find something each day to praise/celebrate with each child.

  • Don't force processing or make this game go on too long. It's meant to be a fun listening and sharing time, not an obligatory experience.

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Transition questions (pre-furlough or pre re-entry): Talking to a 4+ year old (give younger children concrete situations they can relate to; adapt questions to maturity level)

  1. The thing I miss most about where we are going back to (passport country) is…

  2. What is a funny question a national friend has asked you?

  3. What is the strangest food you have eaten? Do people in this country think it is strange?

  4. Tell about a travel experience you’ll never forget, either in your passport country or this country

  5. One thing parents should never do is…

  6. One of my favorite memories of celebrating a holiday in my passport/this country is…

  7. What is one of your favorite things that you own? What makes it valuable to you?

  8. The food I miss most from my passport country is…The last time I ate it was in___with___

  9. One of the things I’m looking forward to most this year is…

  10. If I had one wish I would…

  11. Is there something about being here/living here that made you feel uncomfortable at first but not anymore?

  12. What is something you’d like to thank your parents for?

  13. What will you miss most about being here? What could help with this when you are gone?

  14. What helps most when you are lonely or sad because of being separated from friends or family? What could someone else do to help?

  15. What do you do with friends here?

  16. When you get back to your passport country and people ask you what it was like here, what will you say?

  17. One of the feelings I have a hard time expressing is…

  18. What is a good thing that happened to you today? Could it have happened to you in your passport country?

  19. The thing I will miss most about this country is…

  20. Tell about an embarrassing situation you’ve experienced since coming here. How did you get over feeling embarrassed? How do you think you might face situations like that back in your passport country?

  21. Is there anyone you’ve met that you’d like to be like? What makes you want to be like them?

  22. How do you figure out what to do when you don’t know how to act?

  23. When you get back to your passport country and people ask you where you are from, what will you say? (Do you think that sometimes you will want to answer the question differently?)

  24. What would you do to help someone who is sad?

  25. It was really fun when our family went…

  26. What are the things that make you feel happy (or sad, worried, afraid, angry)? Why?

  27. Sometimes I wish I would never have to ______ because…

  28. Who do you miss the most from your passport country? Write a letter to that person?

  29. Who would you like to invite to our house for supper?

  30. The first thing I would do if I were back in my passport country would be…

  31. What is the best thing about being a TCK (or being in ministry for parents)?

  32. Where is home for you? Where do you feel like you belong? What makes you feel that way?

  33. When I feel excited, I…

  34. When I feel disappointed, I…

  35. When I feel lonely, I…

  36. When I feel happy, I…

  37. When I feel discouraged, I…

  38. When I feel angry, I…

  39. *Make up your own question today

Talking to an older child 7+

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  1. Tell about a person who has influenced your relationship with God

  2. To me, living here has been…

  3. Tell me about one of your fondest memories in the country you live in

  4. Describe your favorite teacher and what it was about the class you liked

  5. Complete this statement: To me, living here has been…

  6. Tell about one of your fondest memories of something we did as a family together on the field

  7. One of the biggest celebrations of my (our) life has been…

  8. Which skill would you like to develop that you have an opportunity to learn while here, that may be difficult to learn in your passport country?

  9. What makes you feel more “at home” either in your passport country or here?

  10. I hope we never stop doing ______because…

  11. Right now my friends back in my passport country are probably…

  12. What cultural differences do you notice between here and your passport country?

  13. Are there cultural things you’re unsure of when you get back to your passport country?

  14. If you had all the time and money you needed, what would you like to do most? Why?

  15. What is the hardest thing about being a TCK or someone in ministry?

Remember the most important part of this communication game: Creating a safe space to be heard and understood. You may have to gently remind players that there is more value in open communication than being correct. "That's how he feels" Can keep kids from arguing over the right or wrong answer. Older children may have the tendency to want to correct younger ones and parents may have to resist the urge to fill in the sentences for their children. Finish by thanking the children for what they shared and for letting you in on a part of their journey.

Other Potential talking points prior to leaving:

  • Do you know anyone else who has ever left from where we live for 3-6 months

  • What is a TCK?

  • What is a passport country?

  • What does it mean to be a national?

  • If it’s your first time back in years, talk about things that might be different or strange that they’re not prepared for (i.e. technology, consumerism, friendships, how they’ve grown up and so have their friends)

Transition:moving from one state or condition to another 

TCK = Third Culture Kid

Adapted from: Jim & Ruth Lauer Transition is a Family Affair: Communication game for the family Modify for pre-deployment or indefinite re-entry

The Powerful Art of Reconciliation - Part 2

Originally posted Feb 5, 2019

Read The Powerful Art of Reconciliation - Part 1

Forgiving ourselves

Often times the hardest area of forgiveness is to look in the mirror with love and grace, and say I forgive myself. Forgiving ourselves of actions (or inaction) requires acknowledgment to see that our choices have caused pain in ourselves and possibly someone else. It requires an admission and confession of pain. When we are able to gain perspective and acceptance, we can experience both freedom and responsibility simultaneously. Forgiving ourselves requires the difficult task of self-love.

The invitation of a cross on the Camino de Santiago

The invitation of a cross on the Camino de Santiago

Similar to others hurting us, we have the choice to use these learnings to reshape our future. If we can recognize that an event or events is not the totality of who we are, this liberating place of acceptance, holds power for ourselves and ALL of our relationships.

“What discipline is required for the future leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism? I would like to propose the discipline of confession and forgiveness. Just as the future leaders must be mystics deeply steeped in contemplative prayer, so also must they be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister.” (Nouwen 64)

This transformational work of the cross becomes that much more evident in times of transition. The encounters of the dark parts of our selves require attention – we either face them or stuff them away and become more calloused and bitter.

We all at some point in life will face that chaos. Many artists depict the pain and struggle of their soul in their creative work: Paintings are dark with shades of black and red, scenes of skeletons and war. Poetry is filled with words of hatred. Lyrics to songs blare with rage. The artist’s within each of us, are given a chance in seasons of transition to express ourselves, make amends and choose beauty instead from this pain. As we tap into those difficult and often dark places, a knowledge of a restorative God desiring to use our woundedness and pain for His glory persists. It’s here we have decisions to make.

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life…Change initself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting goliving in the confusing dark space for a while.

Drawing by #EMYOArtwork

Drawing by #EMYOArtwork

God’s restoring plan is the patient work of spiritual transformation. It requires on our part a repeated yes to the Lord’s nudging us to go knock on the doors of ugliness inside each of us. The lasting transformation comes only through the active engagement with confession and forgiveness. The invitation for everyone is to release with the new that which is old, bitter, not working, worn out. The desire is for the cross to provide the freedom only it can. The wounds and the pain released rather than staying clung to us. The transformative peace can only be found here.  The great invitation remains: The opportunity transition provides for us to be self-reflective reconcilers, confessing and forgiving deep areas of incredible hurt and pain. To move into the new with great freedom.

In our challenges with others, can I actively thank God for the people that bring dissonance in my life? “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll your tongue over the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you” Fredrick Buechner

For deeper reflection: 

Where do you feel deep emotional hurt? Where do you carry anger or bitterness in your heart towards yourself, your spouse, your parents, your organization, or your community with whom you’ve ministered? What is your invitation today as it relates to confession and forgiveness? What are the dark sides of your leadership that lie beneath the surface and need attending to in this period of in-between? 

Drawing by #artofhoping

Drawing by #artofhoping

Visual Prayer Exercise:

Draw a cross with as much or as little detail as you’d like. Consider someone with whom you are currently struggling. (i.e. Yourself, God, another person). As you draw, let the color express heaviness, negativity, ways you are hurt or have been wronged. As you think of words list them in relation to each party on either side of the arms of the cross. These might include thoughts or feelings, ways you’ve been hurt or wronged, things you dislike about the person, ways that you have done wrong. Let negative and angry thoughts be welcome but not take over.

Walking into the Labyrinth called Sabbatical 

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In many ways going on a sabbatical is a lot like the purpose of walking a labyrinth. A labyrinth opposed to a maze, uses the same path in and out without any dead ends. Where the path winds or turns there is an opportunity for reflection into one’s life. With an open heart and mind, walking a labyrinth offers each one who walks an opportunity to engage his/her whole self: body, heart, and mind.  The intentionality of walking a labyrinth includes 3 stages: Releasing, Receiving and Returning. 

First Stage: Releasing

As one enters into a walk through a labyrinth there is an invitation to stand at the “entrance” and consider what is ahead. The releasing stage is where you stand at the edge of the labyrinth, knowing you are about to enter in, but uncertain of what is to come. It is a space to prepare one’s heart and mind. To shed thoughts and distractions that would disable you from entering in more fully. Letting go of the details and logistics of life enough to open your heart and quiet your mind before God. 

 Off-ramping daily tasks in preparation for a sabbatical parallels this concept of entering in. There is intentionality needed. Sure once could just start walking or as many do on a sabbatical stumble in exhaused. And sometimes this is the only option of how to arrive. But what could be gained in the intentional preparation of your heart, mind and body to receive what this unique and sacred space has to offer? 

Second Stage: Receiving 

Whether you pray, sit, stand, meditate, as you walk through at your own pace, allow yourself to connect with your whole self and consider where you are at right in this moment. For many sabbatical is a unique and precious gift of rest. Much of life is lived in a hurried rush from one event or meeting to another. Sabbatical is a call to release the tasks that might otherwise consume and fill one’s thoughts with too much noise. And an invitation to receive the gift of the stillness and silence often not afforded by the demands of daily life. 

 

There is awareness that for many, kids still need to be attended to and bills still need to be paid. The challenge here is to engage this labyrinth-like space daily on sabbatical while the structure of life is less demanding to be able to implement this intentionality these rhythms in the midst of normal routines after.

It is from this place of receiving that a richness; a connection of head and heart ensue. The re-integration of one’s whole self, drinking from the well spring of life at “the center” provides the life that one needs to carry on with the task he/she has been called on this earth to fulfill. If this rushed, ignored or never encountered there is a drought of the spirit and mind that remains. 

The other joy encountered in receiving from the the center is Creativity. The encounter and connection with the creator God happens in the stillness and openness afforded at the center. A depth of openness to accept who God created you to be happens after shedding off the logistical cares of the world, listening without the noisiness of the world and refocusing on that which is important for the greater good of the world. 

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 Third Stage: Returning

Leaving the center requires faith and courage. From this safe and comfortable union remains the invitation to go boldly back into the world. Yet not alone; carrying with you the certainty of the encounter and experience of the wonder of the Creator God. There can be a peculiar and wonderful sense of strength and clarity that comes from having walked in. The renewed invitation is not to stay but to take what has been learned, absorbed, & experienced at the center and give it back to the world in the unique way that your unique calling in this world allows. From the richness of the center and the returning to give life away, each one who enters becomes more empowered to find and do the work your unique soul is called to do. 

Finding Perspective in Pursuit of a Treasure

Originally posted July 19, 2018

Photo: “All the things” A tradition of mine to take pictures of all the things I didn’t buy! Prizes given for the most bizarre thing found!

Photo: “All the things” A tradition of mine to take pictures of all the things I didn’t buy! Prizes given for the most bizarre thing found!

We walked into a trinkety-tourist shop at the end of a family trip, eager to spend the few coins the kids had. Spying the ever-familiar snow globe, keychain, and magnet, with the flare of the current location, I judged the location as your run-of-the-mill tourist-trap. My kids however saw every item as a “remember when” moment of our trip. A possibility to possess a memory of this family holiday. What form would each person’s memory come in?

A day prior, the four of us walked for 2 hours on the beach. Decision-making power delegated to my son to control the plan for our time. Warning: Accommodation and flexibility required! We all complied to our 8 year-old’s lead and set a time to search for sand treasures and after reunite for the great family swap of 2017!

This day seaside treasures were the commodity causing family equilibrium in the greater scheme of currency. No one possessed any advantage over another here to collect memories.

I admit, I had a bad attitude to start. It was a windy but sunny December day. The beach seemed abandoned yet still beautiful.  My preferred engagement with the beach is generally to soak up nature –  swim, walk, rest, read, take pictures, or even dig in the sand. This day I walked in circles! Random pieces of trash littered about. I found nothing. Disappointed there were no shells to be found but rather a standing pond of water with a plethora of seaside foam causing a great sense of caution of what bacteria was waiting to parasitically call us home.

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I reluctantly complied and showed up to the barter party, however, empty-handed. After 30 minutes of trying I found nothing “treasure-worthy”. Nothing that I wanted to keep for myself or give value enough to initiate a trade.  My children gave me some of their loot! Having discovered treasures unending. They possessed bags full of rocks and random pieces of whatever they stumbled upon: broken shells, an empty water bottle, chewed on trinkets, and a few bones! Treasures, eh?! The bones, as you can imagine became the hot commodity which led us scavenging through sand for a potential gravesite. Fortunately (or not) the discovery of a whole bird skeleton was eventually puzzled together and a lesson in biology, the food chain and God’s creation ensued.

My attitude gradually changed as I engaged and began seeing the experience through their eyes. Dune jumping concluded, slow-motion videos captured and bartered goods collected…we called it a day. With wonder and delight my kids shared later this was their favorite day of our vacation!

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My kids remain the best teachers to me for perspective shift. Delighted over the simplest of things: Look at this rock! Look at this stick! Watch me jump into the pool. I bought you a beautiful flower! When I see the value of things, experiences or life through the eyes of a young child – I’m reminded of the un-ending need for gratitude. I’m reminded to stop and slow down and look at an experience from a different angle. I’m challenged to find the little joys in life that are right in front of me. I pray a quick prayer of repentance over my bad attitude. Sometimes the treasures are right in front of us. And sometimes they take looking at them from a 36 inch height.