How long do you spend online?

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I’m realising as I get older that I place a huge value in growth, productivity and the pursuit to embetter oneself. I love everything related to productivity, how to really get good at it, to the psychology behind it and the simple small tweaks that can yield huge results.

I like measuring stuff. I’m known as the stats and data girl at church. I’m one of the few that cares about the numbers and the figures. I love to track and document different areas of my life. Here’s a list of things that I am currently tracking:

  • How fast I run and how often I’m running (currently really slow and not very much)
  • Where our finances are going (mostly into our bathroom at the mo attempting to turn the 64 year old taps off)
  • How many steps I walk each day
  • Which books I’m reading
  • How many days till I go on holiday (36 days!)
  • How many people read this blog (Basically my Mum & Ben)
  • How much sleep I’m getting
  • How many buds the orchid that I killed but resurrected had on it (8 and going strong!)
  • How many buds the orchid that I killed & resurrected has on it since I snapped the stem since I knocked it off the windowsill (umm…zero.)

We measure a load of different aspects of church life: attendance on Sunday, how many people are getting baptised, how many people are engaging in small groups, how many of our visitors returned to church and got stuck into our community…

You can better control an area, manage and promote growth in it if you begin to measure and track its progress – I’m sure you’ve heard the old management saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

On this stream of thought, I’m sure you’ve noticed the recent conversations about people spending too much time online and connected to their smart devices and the Internet. My husband took this to extreme and did a Blackout of devices during lent – you can read about it here. I discovered 2 tools that help me track how much time I’m spending on my devices and on the computer each day. They are:

Rescue Time – Rescue Time is an Add On that runs securely in the background on your computer and mobile devices. It tracks time spent on applications and websites, and gives you an accurate picture of your day. I love the reports that you get at the end of the day which gives you a percentage for how much of your time was spent on productive applications (Excel/Word etc) and less productive sites (Facebook/ BBC News). It gives you detailed reports and data based on your activity and also shows you your most productive hours and time slots. You can set alerts to let you know when you spend a certain amount of time on an activity and also block distracting websites. It’s given me a different perspective on my workday – I’ve learnt what hours of the day I’m most and least productive and can see which websites are my time drains.

Moment – Moment is an iOS app that automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone and iPad each day. The idea is that encourages you to live in the moment rather than attached to your devices. If you’re using your phone too much, you can set daily limits on yourself and be notified when you go over. You can even force yourself off your device when you’re over your limit. When I’m on for 15 minutes, I get an alert to tell me to get off my phone – this happens basically 5 times a day at the moment, but you can personalised it to fit your lifestyle. Apparently after installing the app, Moment users spend 25 minutes less on their phone per day than before. The average moment users use their phone for 71 minutes overall and mostly in the evening after 6.

I’ve been using these both for 3 or so months now and am finding I’m more conscious of the time I’m spending digitally.

Don’t spend so much time scrolling through other people’s moments that you miss out on creating your own.

So you don’t know what your niche is

IMG_3819Recently, I’ve been feeling the pressure to have a “niche” or a “thing”. It feels like there’s a constant stream of messages asking “what’s your calling?” and “what is the unique contribution to the world that you make that no one else can offer?” I think we’ve begun to believe the lie that there is just one lone and solitary role or activity that we need to find in order to fulfil these questions. When we do this, we limit what we’ve been made for and constrain the potential that God has put in us.

Late last year when I was in Italy, I learned a little about Michelangelo. As I stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and took selfies next to his statue of David, I realised just how versatile Michelangelo was as an artist. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. He didn’t limit himself to just one stream of art but branched out to engage in many practices. I also love that he thought very little of painting as an art form but still managed to produce one of the most famous frescos in Renaissance art, that’s just not fair!

I’ve often beaten myself up about not having a “thing”. I like drawing and writing and painting and leading groups and teaching and making and cooking and planning and strategizing and dreaming. I don’t fit neatly into a box and will flick from project to project. But I wonder if it’s actually a good thing to have a variety of passions. To have a number of passions that you don’t have to pick and choose between. Those projects that I play with and just mess about on, when I flick from venture to venture – they all matter.

I don’t want to limit myself or remove any part of my interests. Let’s not stress about the grander vision or how it all links up. Lets be released from the worry of the overall picture or unity. What unifies your work is the fact that you made it. Perhaps your calling is many things. To be a painter and banker and father and writer. To teach children all day and to write music at night. To work in marketing 9-5 and at 8pm, to mock up a website or 2. Perhaps it’s not either/or. Perhaps we really can have both.

How to Live an Epic

epic“you can do anything you want, you’re going places”

“you’re special and unusually wonderful”

“you’re going to change the world”

“you’re better than everyone else”

This is the steady diet of messages that my generation has been bought up on. We’ll have a fulfilling career, rewarding relationships and healthy bank accounts. It will be wild and adventurous and filled with passion. Life will be a breeze, and people will be in awe of the impact we have in the world…

Sadly, our reality doesn’t quite live up to our expectations. There’s only space at the top for a small handful of people which leaves a lot of us disappointed. Day to day moments feel mundane and plain. Our colossal expectations have usually exceeded our reality.

We can quickly become dissatisfied with the lot in life that we’ve been given: we scroll through the moments of others’ lives on Instagram and Facebook and compare our behind the scenes to the highlights that they post. We become restless and unsettled, convinced that life isn’t quite as it should be. In the words of Bethany Schaeffer, “our greatest trial isn’t even that anything awful has happened, but that nothing epic has. We’re convinced our lives are not what they’re supposed to be if they’re just going along uneventfully.”

So how can we combat this dissatisfaction?

Understand that epic stories can appear quite ordinary

Not all epics are filled with adventure and thrill. What about story of Rosa Parks. She simply said no to giving up her seat on a bus, an ordinary moment that changed history forever. Look at the lives of the disciples – if they knew that they would be a student of the Messiah, they might have expected a grandiose king on a flaming horse overthrowing roman soldiers. Instead that got an ordinary man who washed people’s dirty feet and hung out with sick people. Maybe it felt quite plain and underwhelming.

Realise that epic stories involve acting for the greater good

Romeo and Juliet wasn’t about them, it’s about love’s power in reconciling their families. The Hunger Games isn’t about Katniss winning, it’s about justice for the different districts. Epic stories aren’t about the “main character”, they’re about the greater good. God invites us into the colossal story He is writing. The life you’re living really isn’t about you. We each have unique gifts and contributions to make to the world and when we choose to accept the invitation to take a role in what God is doing, we catch the vision of a Kingdom significantly weightier than our own.

Know that God cares more about doing something epic in you than doing something epic through you.

We can have an overly inflated opinion of ourselves and believe we’re way ahead of where we are. We can prioritise attaining grandiose achievements and believe that a change of circumstance will solve our discontentment. But God knows that changing our circumstances won’t make any difference if we’re unwilling to change ourselves. He may send us to far off countries to do this, but often he’ll call us to stick at doing the hard thing, to keep going in the job that’s so frustrating and to persevere in that tricky relationship. He will grow you through the ordinary moments. It’s in the repetition of the day-to-day, in the very places we most easily brush off, that growth so often happens, making packed lunches for the children, that conversation with your colleague, that small decision you have to make at school.

We need to see our lives from God’s perspective – to see the role that we’re playing. I love how Cara Joyner words it:

“When we wake up daily with a full awareness of how powerful God is and how deeply He loves us, the ordinary becomes saturated with life. And it is wild. It’s wild because not only do we breathe in and out under this perspective of God’s sovereignty, but we also remember that this incredible God invites us into the enormous story He is writing.”

So stay wildly ambitious and enthusiastic. Aim big and believe that if God wants to use you for great things, He will. But stay attentive to what he’s doing in you. Live a life bigger than simply building your own empire and don’t neglect the ordinary.

Our DIY Refurbished Farmhouse Table

1000610_10201385378229319_1450289511_nAbout this time of year, I get itchy feet and want to get my sander and paintbrushes out to revamp some furniture in our house.

A few Springs ago, I decided to refurbish our dining room table. When we got married, we got given a high gloss, dark wood table from someone who was getting rid of theirs. It was a really lovely table, except it didn’t match any of our furniture (and also Ben accidentally melted the gloss varnish one time when ironing a table cloth on top of the table…!)

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So I decided to refurbish it to fit in with the rest of our furniture. Firstly I wiped the whole table down and dismantled it. Then I stripped the table and chairs of varnish using varnish stripper. If you don’t want to see the grain and are happy with an opaque finish, I’ve heard you can skip this step and go straight to using the chalk paint. If you do strip the table of varnish, You definitely need to do this outside – this is the messiest job as it’s so gloopy. First paint on the varnish remover and then scrape off the varnish layer with a paint scraper. The table top is really fun as it’s lovely and flat to scrape (be careful you don’t scratch it) but the rest with all the corners and edges is unbelievably boring to remove the varnish from and seems to take forever. I liked the end effect immediately and was tempted to stop at this point (just in case I mucked the rest of it up), but it still didn’t match the rest of the room.

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Once all the varnish was removed, I decided to do a two tone effect table with the table top a natural wood, with the bottom and chairs a blue grey colour. I wanted to age and grey the wood on the table top to make it feel a little more “drift wood” looking so do this, I’d heard about using vinegar and steel wool. All I did was put a glass jam jar of white vinegar (from tesco) with a ball of steel wool in it. I let it sit for 24 hours and gave it a shake ever now and then. The liquid was grey with bits of steel wool at the bottom. Then the following day, I painted on the stain in line with the grain of the wood. Here’s the difference before and after.

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I then bought some Annie Sloan chalk paint in Paris Grey and painted 2 coats on top of the chairs and table. You don’t need to prime or sand down before but I did both (as I didn’t believe the paint can). I just used basic paint primer and briefly sanded the chairs with sandpaper. If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t bother. Chalk Paint leaves a slightly aged, scuffed, textured look. I wanted a smoother finish so added a tiny bit of water to make the application smoother, then I gently sanded it to soften it. I also used some really watered down chalk paint to lighten the grey table top. I just applied this on top of the vinegar stain, waited for it to dry and used some sandpaper to distress it. I finished the whole table and chair set using a lint free cloth and soft wax just to buff and protect both them both.

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I bought some fabric from a John Lewis sale and my mum kindly covered the cushions for me.

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And here’s the finished table. (I don’t think we reconstructed it very well as it collapsed on our dear friend Avril when she came round for Sunday lunch one time!). 2 years on, it’s still standing the test of time. I probably should re-wax it and restain the table top, but the scuffs kind of match the salvage/shabby chic/antique/aged look.

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Breathing Room

IMG_4581Excuse the gap in posting, I have recently come back from a week off where I spent time grazing on treats from local deli’s, meandering the beach in the late winter sun, playing and pottering, doing a few lengths of the pool, and frittering away the hours. I’ve come back refreshed and alert. I feel awake and on form.

The strange thing was, I wasn’t exhausted before I went on holiday. I realised that for the first time in a while, I am in that lovely moment in time when I have capacity in my life. I have some margin. Some space and scope and surplus. The really strange thing is that I feel quite ashamed and reluctant to admit that. We glorify and glamorise the idea of being rushed off our feet, working at 110%, proudly brandishing the title of busy. But I am none of these things at the moment.

I am, however, a little restless. My big temptation is to fill the gap. To eradicate the breathing room. To load and stuff and cram and jam more things into the space that I have. But I’m leaving it there quite intentionally. I know that I’ll have to fight to protect the margin. I’ve recently read Lysa Terkeurst’s The Best Yes, and she shares “A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul.” Margin is healthy. Margin is the difference between what you could handle and what you take on. When we say yes to something, there’s less of us for something else. We need to make sure that our yes is worth the less.

I was reading through Genesis the other day and noticed time and time again that “there was evening, and there was morning”. Evening comes first. We begin with rest and sleep and replenishment. Sleep goes before work, not the other way round. We were created to function out of a place of rest. God intended for there to be Sabbath and rhythm in our schedules.

Of course as soon as I press publish, I know something will come along that will fill my time. God will show me a project or open an opportunity and I will look back and laugh at this post. And there will be seasons. Seasons where the days are longer and night resting is shorter. But I’m writing it as a reminder to make breathing room. In the old testament, they made altars as a reminder of lessons that they’d learned and things God did through them. And this post is an altar of kinds. It’s a reminder of the healthy place. It’s a way of living where when God invites me to something, I have the surplus of space to say yes. In every season, I want there to be space.

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Feeding Hedgehogs

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In the house I grew up in, there was a large, flat bush that grew across the patio. Underneath the hedge, you could hear all sorts of scuffling about as there lived a variety of wildlife – mice, blackbirds, robins, beetles, frogs, ladybirds and the like. You could sit in the kitchen and see different creatures sneaking out to eat the latest titbits that my Mum had left for them.

Every now and then, we’d get a hedgehog in our garden take residence under the hedge. And we would leave milk out for them and watch eagerly to see if we could catch a glimpse of them. They would totter out in the blanket of evening light and lap up the creamy goodness. But one day, we learnt that milk wasn’t the best for them. Although they seemed to enjoy it and would drink it, hedgehogs eat slugs and snails and insects, not milk. Milk was tasty, but to make them strong and healthy, they needed nutritious grubs and creepy crawlies.

Our spiritual diets can become a bit like hedgehogs. There are thousands of faith blogs and books and podcasts out there that talk about the gospel and biblical principles that you find in God’s Word. And they’re wonderful. I find them helpful and challenging and inspiring and they sharpen and refine me. But they were never supposed to replace the word of God. The meaty, nutritious meals that make our faith strong. If we’re not careful, we can end up living off the latest sermon or preach or Christian bestseller instead of turning to the bible. We can live off Christian resources that are perhaps a little easier to digest and take less work to understand. The bible is true and pure and powerful and mighty and perfect. It’s a light to our path and lamp to our feet. These other resources are good but they’re imperfect. They’re flawed and limited just like the people that wrote them. They don’t carry the same power and authority that you find in the bible.

Perhaps you get to the phase where you think “Did I really read that in the bible or did I just read about someone else who read that in the bible and thought that?” There’s a time when we need to silence the other voices and opinions and interpretations of what the bible says and just get alone with God to meet with him and listen to what he wants to say directly to us through the pages in his book and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Not to us through that Tim Keller, or to us through Spurgeon or Bill Johnson or Bobbie Houston, but to us through closing the door and opening the bible and hearing God’s voice personally.

So don’t stop reading the books and blogs and listening to the preaches, just make sure you eat the grubs too.

Boring Mondays

unnamedWhen I was a child, I remember numerous times moaning to my Mum that I was bored. She’d always answer with the same thing – “that’s nice” or “go and find something to do then”. So we did. My siblings and I would go and play teachers with pens and paper. Claire and I would play stables in the garden being horses. We published a fairy newspaper and created weekly matinees of musical versions of Aladdin. I’d play interior designers and create a dream house I’d want to live in. The boys would choreograph some new fighting scene with Kung Foo kicks off the sofa (often to the demise of various household ornaments). When we were bored, it turned out that we could be quite resourceful.

We can fear boredom and see it as a negative thing. When we’re bored, we reach for some kind of entertainment to see us through – a TV screen, or a mobile device or a slew of other devices to fill us with amusement and fill the void. We consume avidly to erase boredom. But boredom is the impetus to creativity.

The creator of Gilbert, the U.S. Comic Strip, wrote this “I make a living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.”

My best ideas and thoughts and notions come when I’m bored; an idea for my work, a project at home, a creative piece for a Sunday. When I’m in the shower or running or lying in bed trying to get to sleep, when my mind isn’t stimulated by the constant stream of our technology soaked culture.

But do I like being bored? No. I’m all “go, go, go! don’t dilly dally, get a move on!”. If I’m standing in line or waiting for a meeting, I’ll reach for my phone to check emails or swipe through social media. If I’m driving the car, I’ll put on some music or a podcast. Erase the boredom, only boring people get bored.

 

Training up an Army

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We launched our church site in Sandhurst 18 months ago. It takes 160 volunteers every month to put on our Sunday meetings at Sandhurst and as we started with a team of about 40 volunteers, we had to train up lots more people very quickly in every kind of area. We’ve seen new tech team, new worship leaders, new kids teachers and welcome team. We’ve seen people get on board with publicity and preaching and hosting the meetings and leading life groups. Every area comprises of new people that have been trained up to further the vision of our site.

I was reading Genesis 14 the other day and it struck me how Abram had trained people up and was preparing people to protect this nation that God had promised.

“When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”

(Genesis 14:14).

There hadn’t been a war at this point, there hadn’t been much conflict but Abram was ready. He hadn’t just trained one or 2 people, he had trained up 318 people. He had built a whole army and was prepared.

Our teams all follow a really simple way of training others in whatever area they are working in. It’s from the book “Exponential” by Dave and Jon Ferguson:

  1. I do. You watch. We talk. As an experienced leader leads a team, an apprentice takes time to observe him or her. Within a few days the two should meet to discuss what the apprentice has observed. This debriefing time should include three simple questions: (1)”What worked?” (2) “What didn’t work?” and (3) “How can we improve?” This time of debriefing needs to continue throughout the process.

  2. I do. You help. We talk. In this phase of development, the leader gives the apprentice an opportunity to help lead in a particular area. For example, if someone is being developed to lead a student ministry small group, the leader might ask that person to lead the prayer time while the experienced leader leads the remainder of the time together. Again, this experience should be followed up with a one-on-one to talk.

  3. You do. I help. We talk.Now the apprentice transitions from supporting or helping the leader to taking on most of the leadership responsibilities of the team or group. If a person is being apprenticed to lead a team of sound technicians, he or she will operate the sound system and provide leadership for the other sound technicians. The more experienced leader now begins releasing responsibilities to the new, developing leader. As in the previous steps, the leader and apprentice leader should meet regularly to debrief the ministry experience.

  4. You do. I watch. We talk.The apprentice process is almost complete as the new leader grows increasingly more confident in his or her role. Consider how this step might look in a children’s ministry. A children’s group leader, at this point, would give his or her apprentice the opportunity to fulfil all the functions of leadership, with the more experienced leader now looking on and watching the new leader in action.

  5. You do. Someone else watches.R They talk. This is where the process of reproducing comes full circle. The former apprentice is now leading and begins developing a new apprentice. Ideally, the leader who has developed and released several apprentices will continue to work with those leaders in a coaching capacity.

One day, we’d like to launch another site from our Sandhurst site perhaps in Fleet or Farnborough or Aldershot which means that we’ll need to train up 160 volunteers to go and launch a site which will bring the gospel to other parts of the South East of England. So we’re investing and training people now. We’re on the look out for new site pastors who can lead these sites, for new life group leaders who can build community in these areas. We know that if you want to be successful in the battle, you’ve got to train people up.

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I Still Love Calligraphy

10734031_10204414470594735_5603430516819942575_nFor as long as I can remember, I’ve loved getting to learn about lettering and fonts. I used to be all about bubble writing titles and outlining words in chunky black felt pen in my “topics” book when I was in school. I’d add flourishes to title when I underlined, did a circle as the i and try to add my own style (until the teacher told me off and told me to write properly). Then it moved onto the computer with curlz and comic sans and selecting the most unique and interesting fonts I could find, whilst still just about being readable. Even now, I’m particular about the fonts I choose. I like experimenting with combinations and exploring shapes of lettering that are interesting and unique. I find it fascinating how you can create a mood or a style through a typeface. I’ve never had the neatest handwriting so have always tended to rely on digital tools when it comes to creative lettering.

However, for my birthday, Ben bought me a course by Melissa Esplin called “I Still Love Calligraphy”. Melissa is a Calligrapher who has created some beautiful pieces. It’s a course for beginners to show you the basics of Copperplate Calligraphy, how to use the tools and it teaches the anatomy of letters. It looks at the traditional methods and techniques of Copperplate Calligraphy but gives you freedom to develop a more contemporary style.

I’ve learnt different strokes, different letters and have graduated onto words. I’m on style and flourishes. Here are some of the exercises that I’ve done so far, hopefully you can spot a vague improvement!:

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I could not speak highly enough of this course. I’ve found the rhythm and flow of drawing letters beautifully therapeutic after a day at work. Melissa has been really encouraging and helpful in her feedback and the exercises and videos are clear, concise and easy to follow along with. If you’re into fonts and always cooing over the beautifully drawn envelopes and quotes that you see on pinterest, have a go!

Living a Better Story

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Earlier this month, I picked up a book that had been sitting on my shelf for the last 6 months or so. It was Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. It’s about a time when some film makers came to Don to ask if they could turn his memoir into a film. He then began the process of thinking about the kind of story that he was currently living and started to explore what it would look like to live a better story.

I read it in a few days. It was a really compelling, easy and captivating read. He bases the book around the idea that a good story is about “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”. During this process, Miller realised that his life was lacking direction, he was a character that wasn’t sure what he wanted. And he also struggled not to run away when faced with conflict, his character was not willing to overcome conflict. It documents different subplots in his story – relationship with his father, his quest to get healthier and find a wife and it also talks about the subplot that he is playing in God’s story.

What I love about it is that he doesn’t just talk about the epic, venturesome, larger-than-life stories. He talks about the role that the everyday; the tough, monotonous routines that don’t feel significant or like you’re making any progress and the role that these play in creating a great story.

“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”

Ironically, at the same time, Ben bought me Don’s book “Storyline” which is an accompanying workbook for people to help assess the story that they’re creating. I didn’t realise that they were linked at the time, but as soon as I get a free moment, I’ll go through the storyline process for myself too.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes and one liners from the book, but you should really read it. I think you’d enjoy it.

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

Human beings care about characters who suffer and overcome obstacles”

“Extreme experiences aren’t enough – there is more to life”

“We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner-tubes and head to the river.  We have to write the poem and deliver it in person.  We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill.  We have to put on our suits, we have to dance at weddings.”

 “If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation.”