Totton in lockdown

Strange longings

Every day seems to come with a new prediction of when the current crisis will come to an end. These are tempered by the threat of a second peak or a fresh wave of the virus. There are questions about what will happen when lockdown restrictions are relaxed. Too soon and cases spike again, too late and the economy takes a greater hit.

I completely understand the desire for restrictions to be lifted. We moved to a new home six weeks ago to be closer to my parents. Five weeks ago the barriers went up and, though we’ve seen them and chatted face-to-face, I haven’t been able to give my mum or dad a hug, I’d really like to. I would also like to welcome friends into our new home and invite our new neighbours over to enjoy a barbecue and a glass of wine, oh, and I really miss live sport.

Yet, while I long for this I’m also scared that we will lift the restrictions too quickly and the benefits of this season will be rapidly forgotten. Quality time with my wife and children. Meals being the focal point of our day, rather than rushing from one activity to another. Talking to colleagues around the world as Zoom calls have become a natural part of our working pattern. Daily exercise as a family.

There have been other benefits too. Being able to openly question our accepted working practices and think afresh about how we do what we do, even if the long-term vision remains the same.

So here we are, five weeks into lockdown and while I’m ready for it all to be over I don’t want the end to come until some of those changes have become embedded in the way we live and work and we have become better at asking tough questions and adapting what we do to what we discover.

A good workout

For the last three weeks, at 9 am, we’ve been enjoying a family workout every morning doing PE with Joe on YouTube. It’s a little nuts being geared towards junior school kids (hence the dress up Friday), but the guy’s enthusiasm is amazing and the workout can kind of be as hard as you want to push yourself. Plus, all the money he’s making through YouTube (the audiences have been phenomenal) he’s giving to the NHS.

Well done Joe. I’m a fan. And probably in better shape now than I was three weeks ago. Amazing really.


Exercise is good for our mental health.

But then, what about spiritual health? That needs some exercise too.

Just like exercise, it’s not easy going it alone, which has made this lockdown a boon for online devotions. Above Bar Church, where we’ve been worshipping since our move, has a daily devotion that’s usually up on YouTube before PE with Joe finishes. But they aren’t the only church doing this and there are plenty of choices when it comes to spending time in your pyjamas (or a sweaty mess) watching a daily reflection on YouTube.

The final exercise though… silence.

I think there’s more noise in my life now than there was before the crisis. Four of us rattling around this house means that there’s little silence in my life. To drown out the noise I end up putting on to block out the other sounds. But, I need silence to reflect, put things in order and hear God speaking into this moment.

I’m trying to ask good questions…

What am I picking up during this time that I want to keep, post lockdown?

  • daily exercise
  • daily devotions (I hope churches keep this up)
  • more meals with the family
  • better connection with colleagues

What have I given up during this time that I don’t want to return to, post lockdown?

  • Still thinking on this

What is God saying into this moment? Not what he will have to say in the future, but right here and right now.

My friends. Keep exercising, physically, spiritually and asking good questions. Oh, and have a wonderful weekend.

Maunday (Holy)* Thursday, Zoom communion

This evening, our homegroup is going to have an all-age style communion on Zoom. It’s the best we can come up with considering the situation.

This is roughly what I’m going to share.

The first time the people of Israel celebrated the Passover meal they may not have known too much about what was going on. They were commanded to eat a meal made up of a perfect, one-year-old lamb, bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. They were to be fully dressed with their shoes on ready to depart. The blood of the lamb was to be sprinkled on the door frame and lintel as that night God was going to put to death the first-born son and male animal in the land of Egypt but would pass over the Israelite houses marked by the blood on the doorframe (Read the early chapters of Exodus for the back story).

That night, Pharaoh freed the Israelite people.

God commanded the people to celebrate the Passover meal every year since, to remember what he had done for them.

Years later, Jesus and the disciples gathered in a borrowed room to celebrate the Passover meal. It was another strange time.

Earlier in the week, Jesus had been greeted by cheering crowds as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. But now the pressure around him and the disciples was mounting (For the full story read Luke chapters 19-22).

During the Passover meal he spoke about his impending death and resurrection. He told Peter that he was going to deny he ever knew Jesus and that one of the disciples was going to betray him. They must have felt very nervous huddled together around that meal table.

How do you feel this evening as we do this together?

We know the end of both of these stories. We know that Jesus’ death was followed by his resurrection and we remember that every time we take communion. But, it’s also good to remember that this meal comes from stories where his followers were scared. Where the world around them wasn’t OK. There was fear and death in both stories. They were in situations they didn’t fully understand and had no control over.

In this meal, we remember that God is in control. That even in the darkest situations he brings hope and that he’s with us in the middle of it all.

*Maunday Thursday meaning

When hitting pause may not be the best move

Last week my inbox filled with messages of people waiting for life to get back to normal. Events were being postponed and meetings were being put on hold in the expectation that the coronavirus was going to pass and life would at some point return to how it was before.

I understand completely the feeling of loss and desire to return to what is typical and routine. Maybe even more so now as we enter the third week of the UK lockdown and the beginning of the Easter school holidays. A long weekend on the beach or a barbecue with friends is exactly what we feel we need in the Prior house right now. It’s just, I don’t think that talking about going back to normal is going to help anyone. And, for those of us that lead others, giving the idea that this will all pass and things will carry on as they did before could end up creating many more problems.

I work in the christian global mission sector, where we expect to see things become very difficult for years to come. I assume that giving to charity will decline as supporters lose jobs and this will lead to organisations closing. Our ability to work in many countries will be limited too, whether that’s due to the cost of travel or tighter restrictions on international travel. Ultimately, the whole shape of the way we work is going to need to change.

I would like to suggest that there is a different way to approach the current situation that could lead us to a better future. Partly it involves changing our language so that we create the space to think and reflect. Being prepared to cancel events rather than postponing them. Instead of talking about things ‘going back to normal’, speak about discovering the ‘new normal’. 

The other element is to start asking some good questions that will help us all navigate the transition to whatever is to come. Some of the questions I’m asking include:

  • What have I stopped doing during the lockdown that I don’t want to start again afterwards?
  • What good practices have I started that I want to keep going?
  • What have I learnt about myself and my colleagues during this time?
  • What is God opening my eyes to that I would have missed before?

Maybe you could suggest some other questions you are asking?

Get active and get space

Yesterday, I mentioned that last week was not my best week. Today, Tany (my wife) shares about her own struggles and the steps she has taken to minimise the impact. 

There are a couple of warning signs for the state of my own mental health. Today, after a week-and-a-half of home schooling, I noticed one of the warning signs and thought it may be helpful to share it with others…

Working from home, my level of exercise, activity and steps drops significantly but I find I am mentally tired. My warning trigger is when I start to feel tired all day and struggle to wake up in the morning, even when I haven’t done anything to warrant being that tired.

Years ago, when I first noticed this, I did nothing about it. Instead, I slept more, ate more and just got lower and lower. Some of my friends will remember when I finally worked out, with their help, a way up and out of my slump and ways to avoid this in the future.

For those that are struggling now:

Firstly, don’t knock the home schooling, it’s exhausting, especially if you are not a natural teacher. You are going to be mentally tired and that’s OK.

But, add to that, not leaving the house and getting minimal exercise, your body goes into a form of hibernation which isn’t healthy. It tends to affect your mental health before physically causing issues.

The answer for me was getting active and getting space. Even though you don’t feel it, and trust me I was soooooo not in the mood yesterday, try a bit of PE with Joe, Zumba, boxercise (or whatever takes your fancy) on YouTube (the kids can watch if they don’t want to join in). Then get yourself outside, sit in the garden, go for a walk, even better a run, listen to your favourite music, take time for yourself.

Also, take vitamin D as long as there is no medical reason for you not to. Most doctors advise anyone in the northern hemisphere to take vitamin D during winter. A lack of it will make you feel tired, sluggish and generally rubbish especially as we aren’t outside much at the moment!

So last night I got 8 1/2 hrs sleep (and I wanted tonnes more) and generally felt shattered. There was no physical reason for it, so I forced myself into PE with Joe (ask Phil, I DID NOT want to do it!) then I did home school in the garden (with jackets & gloves) followed by a half-hour run listening to positive uplifting music.

I am still tired, but it’s an, ‘I’ve done stuff’ kind of tired. Mentally, I’m a lot, lot better.

Knowing myself, tomorrow it will be easier to get out of bed, but that’s because I caught myself on day one. I just need to keep the activity going

If this sounds like you, give yourself a good couple of weeks of trying to get active and find some space. I’m sure it will help, but it does take time. The earlier you catch the trend, the easier and quicker you’ll get out of your slump.

I hope this helps – hang in there xx

I don’t have it sorted

Hi

Thank you for everyone that commented or shared my post about working from home. It was good to know that my little bit of experience has been helpful to some.

However, looking back it strikes me that I may have inadvertently allowed you all to think that I’ve got it sorted and that I’m finding working from home a breeze. Can I be very honest with you right now? Week one of lockdown was not my best week.

Let me explain a little about why.

I lead a team of people spread across the Globe. I’m used to being available at different times and on a variety of social media. WhatsApp is installed on my computer (you didn’t know that you could do that did you?) and my team are now making more and more use of Workplace which is Facebook’s app for businesses (you didn’t know that there was one of those either did you?). I’ve been using Zoom for a few years now and we’ve had a paid-for subscription for a number of months meaning that conversations aren’t limited to 40 minutes. Like many people, a lot of my day is punctuated by online meetings. Then there’s this underused blog that I occasionally write on, Twitter that I’ve been appreciating more and more, and don’t forget email.

I love them all (for different reasons) and in normal circumstances, I manage my online time quite well. That was until last week.

Last week everything went online, including my parents! My phone was beeping every few seconds. There were family and friends connecting to see how we were doing. I joined a global prayer group that would update regularly with the prayers of people from all around the world. Church went online and there were emails about Sunday school resources – these have been really helpful. Then there were the online meetings.

At home we were trying to find a new routine. Breakfast, feed the rabbits, PE with Joe, then Tany would take them for school and I’d try to find a place to work.

Only, I was getting all these messages during the day and paying too much attention to the news and Facebook. I would barely go 15 minutes until my phone would beep with an update or a message.

Last Saturday morning I was doing some painting. The kids, who had helped for a while, got bored and went off to watch a film, and for the first time that week I had silence and space to reflect.

I noted that during the week I had been overcome by noise. I’d allowed news, people, even good things like family and friends to invade all of my space. In my genuine attempt to help others and be supportive, I’d not done myself any good at all. My work had suffered because, feeling pressured by all the messages that were coming in, I’d become distracted  and I wasn’t thinking. I was just reacting to everything.

So, this week I have tried to make some changes. Mornings are still mostly the same. Breakfast, rabbits, PE with Joe, but I’m getting up a little earlier (before the kids) to read, pray and be silent. I’ll then check messages and reply to what I need to but then the media goes off and I can get some things done before lunch. Afternoons are still disjointed to some degree but I still make the effort to craft out some space. It hasn’t fixed everything, moods still go up and down, but not to the extreme they were. I’ve stopped listening to the news so much and muted messages until I’m ready to look at them.

I wanted to share this because you’ve maybe assumed that I have it all sorted. But the truth is we are all learning how to do this. We need to discover the patterns that work for us.

Hopefully, I’ll find space next weekend to think again. I trust I’ll see more balance in my life but I know that there will still be things to work at. That’s just the journey of life, I’m a work in progress.

Thoughts about working from home

Hi,

Last week, (hundreds of?) thousands of people in the UK were encouraged to work from home to slow the spread of COVID-19. While the idea of working in pyjamas for a few days sounds great, the experience can be something very different. By Friday I was reading a whole load of comments on social media by people who are finding the whole experience really frustrating.

I’ve been working from home for the past three years and I think that means I have something to offer from my experience, so very quickly…

Please, give yourself a break

Working from home can be a wonderful opportunity but like anything new, it will take time to adjust to. Most people have time to plan for this, create space for their desk, move what they need to from the office to home and probably shift to moving one or two days a week from home rather than being dropped in full time.

And, let’s be honest, it’s not like the rest of life is plain sailing either. There are many other distractions (which in my house include a seven-year-old and a four-year-old), and trying to organise a shopping delivery.

This isn’t a normal working from home time. Give yourself a break and realise it’s going to take practice and time to adjust. Try things, find out what works for you but try not to heap the pressure on and think that you’re just going to be able to work from home in the same way you do in the office (well done if you can).

Some ideas

For everyone working patterns at home are going to be different, but a few things I’ve learnt include:

Set time and space aside

The risk of working from home is that everything becomes work. You work from your bed, on your dining room table, out in the garden (if you’ve got that luxury), in the living room, on the loo. Problem is after a while work is everywhere and there’s no escape. Try to keep work to one space so you don’t end up living in your office.

Same with time. It can be liberating to think that you can work late into the night or open your computer first thing in the morning but after a while, it will mess with your life. Try to limit when you work, especially if you have others around that need your time too.

Get up, get dressed

Routine helps. I have friends who wear a suit to their desk at home. Others get up, make the bed, have a shower, breakfast, walk the dog, then settle to work. Whatever, you may find it helps to get into a routine that sets you up for work.

Keep in touch

This situation is strange for many people. After a few days you may find that the thing you miss most about working in an office is other people. Time to pick up the phone and talk to a few of your colleagues. Even if it’s not to do with work, have a chat anyway and see how they are doing. Social interaction matters. And if you are living in chaos right now, think about your colleagues who are on their own.

  • one idea a friend gave me is to arrange an office coffee time every day and get a group together on a Zoom call.

Get exercise and get rest

Exercise is important to your health. Without a walk from the bus to your desk, you’re going to miss it. So, whether you join in with PE with Jo like every other parent with primary school kids at home or take the dog for a walk every day. Make sure you get some kind of exercise.

Also, get good rest. You need time away from work so turn the phone off, shut the computer, get away from your desk (this is why I’d suggest keeping work to one room or part of the house) and take your rest seriously. Don’t let work take over!

Enjoy it and learn from the experience

This has been an enforced change in a particularly unique situation. One that hopefully we won’t need to repeat again. But, take the opportunity to learn from what you are being forced to do. Can you adjust to working from home? If not why not? Is there something that would help you to do this better in the future?

And, while having family or flatmates around may make work more difficult than normal. Try to appreciate the time you have with them.

 

The Gratitude Initiative

Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of spending a few hours in the company of Girma Bishaw. He’s a wonderful man seeking to change this nation by being thankful and showing gratitude.

An Ethiopian lunch with Girma
An Ethiopian lunch with Girma

The Rev Dr Bishaw, to give him his proper title, is an Ethiopian who has now spent more years living in the UK than in the country of his birth. In his time here he has seen firsthand how immigrant communities, due to their strong attachment to their country of origin and challenges they face here, may pull away from involvement in their new home nation and this lead to complex issues which could exacerbate the divide rather than solutions to problems. His experience has led him to believe that a culture of gratitude can begin to bridge some of those divides.

During our time together he told me the story of meeting a lady in central London. She commiserated with him the experience of being an immigrant in the UK right now and how difficult it must be for him to be here. Girma’s reply was to point out all the wonderful things about living in Britain.

By the time the conversation finished she had tears in her eyes. ‘If we were in Ethiopia’, as Girma said, ‘we probably would have hugged. This is still Britain’.

Gratitude isn’t about coving up the difficulties and problems that exist in society, but it is about choosing to start the conversation by recognising where there is good and appreciating it. As it says on their website,

We are convinced that a greater culture of gratitude can make a very significant social contribution. A society in which resentments towards the other are frequently expressed without respect and mutual appreciation is a society in danger of fragmentation. A society, however, in which gratitude to the other is readily expressed is one which will be inevitably more stable and coherent. 

http://gratitudeinitiative.org.uk/

It was a blessing to spend some time with this man and learn about how he’s seeking positive change. I feel inspired as to what gratitude could do to change my immediate community and even this nation.

Reflections on Faith Camp 2018

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Faith Camp, but the experience was amazing and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be part of the last one.

Here’s what I took away from the week:

  • It’s wonderful to be amongst a group of people that expect God to be at work in this world in amazing ways. I think some parts of the church know that God is at work, but here they see God at work.
  • The message that I heard most clearly from the week was the need for me to find time and space to be alone with God. I’m planning my first, semi-silent retreat this October.
  • No matter how much a church may focus on the work of the Holy Spirit, there’s always a need for a course or a programme to help put building blocks of faith in place.
  • Oh, and 3,000+ people singing is pretty amazing (see the video)

Forever

I’m in Kenya at our Alliance Leadership Team meeting. Today is day one and it has been busy, and the rest of the week already looks challengingly full. That said, one key focus that will go through our week is considering spirituality in mission.

This afternoon we took some time to worship and reflect. To focus our time we listened to Forever, sung by Kari Jobe. It’s impactful, so I’m sharing it here for you too.