Sunday Challenge #6: Who Can You Reach?

550_101905999 Being short can be pretty tough.  I have been short most of my life which has resulted in my constantly having to pull out a stool or stand on a chair in order to reach the highest shelf.  It got even worse when I moved into L’Arche Cape Breton and someone had the brilliant idea of having a “pot rack” much higher than my grasp could reach.  Thankfully, one of our assistants is 6ft 5 so I got him to help me out on numerous occasions.

Last week I ended off with a thought, that I’d now like to turn into a question: who are the people who have blessed you?  Who, in turn, can you bless?
Who are the people in your life that need someone to reach out to them?  Maybe you know a single mother who is working three jobs in order to provide what little she has to her children.  Or maybe you live in a big city where you walk past rough sleepers every day.  Who are the people in your immediate network that God might be calling you to reach?

Once you have located in your heart a specific person or people group that God is urging you to serve, ask yourself why you haven’t been doing it.  This is not a judgement.  It’s not always about apathy.  Sometimes we simply don’t reach out to others because we aren’t aware of the need until someone points it out to us.

Speaking from my own experience, when I first started getting involved in ministry there are a number of areas I would never have considered until someone suggested them to me.  It’s not that I wasn’t interested in pre-schoolers or pre-teens, but because I had no exposure and no experience with this age group, it never would have come across my radar.  Yet, when some members of my church thought I’d might enjoy it, I decided to give it a try.  I knew that there would always be more experienced people around in case it turned out to be a chaotic mess (as it often is in the toddler room!).  Suffice it to say, I grew in confidence, but I didn’t start out confident at first.  At first, I was a timid mouse, but I grew courage because people around me said “I don’t see you as a timid mouse.  I see your potential to be a tiger – and I want to unleash that potential.”

If you aren’t sure where to look, there are always opportunities to help serve others.  If you’re from a big city, there are even some great websites that can get you started as you look for an organization to be part of.  I found a great position as a spiritual life companion on one of them during my undergrad and ended up with a brilliant internship at a local Jewish nursing home.  If you’re from a more rural town, this might be a bit tougher, but if you’re creative, there’s always needs.  If you’re really stuck, a great place to start would be at your church.  Ask one of the deacons to grab a coffee with you, or nab your pastor after the service.  Explain what’s on your heart and where your interests lie and see if there’s something in-line with your gifts and strengths that the church could utilize.  You can even have a lot of fun with this.  If you’re a writer, it might result in some great poetry that will really bless a young family.  If you’re a painter, it might result in a lovely mural decorating a “boring patch” in the church basement.

Even if age or illness seem to be keeping you largely indoors, don’t despair.  I know of several elderly women who are largely housebound, but who are still doing some really amazing Kingdom work.  Some of them have never felt so alive!  Among other ways to serve, a number of them are involved with quilting blankets for disadvantaged children in orphanages, knitting hats, scarves, and gloves for homeless street youth, and even running a card ministry (where they bless students and young mothers with greeting cards).

Whoever God has laid on your heart to bless this week, I hope that it will be a great adventure!  May God guide, lead, and direct you as you seek to find needs to fill them all for the sake of Kingdom glory!

The Calling Check-List

downloadFiguring out God’s will can be amazing and life-giving, but it also takes some work. It might not come right away, and you might become discouraged. But don’t fear – God wants you in the centre of His will far more than you even want to be there yourself! Sometimes figuring out God’s will is a major life decision (or a broader question): Where should I study? What program should I major in? Should I marry this man (or woman)? Should I go to this church or that one? These are important questions that will likely direct the course of our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives and should not be taken lightly. At other times, God’s will might come in our questioning of the smaller things in life. I have the evening free for the first time in 3 weeks, does God want me to spend it with my family or in a ministry? How would God want me to respond to my co-worker who is giving me a hard time today? How does God want me to drive (you may balk, but I think any of us who have lived in Toronto knows this is a very legitimate question! In fact, I often have to repent whenever I drive on the 401…I’m sure I’m not the only one ).

While understanding God’s will is so personal and unique for each person here are a list of questions you can ask yourself that may help you determine your next steps.

Just to make things a bit easier, let’s focus on the “large” ticket items first. Questions of career path, educational study, or geographical location:

1) What breathes life into me?
2) What am I the most passionate about? What causes do I care so much about that I am willing to go to any length to see them brought to fruition?
3) What ministry do I feel most drawn to? Do I know why?
4) What gifts and natural abilities do I see in myself? How are they currently being used (or conversely, underutilized?)
5) Where do I see the greatest need in my community?
6) What do those closest to me (friends, family members, mentors) have to say about my line of thinking? What skills or abilities do they highlight in me? What areas have other people complimented me for where I really believed them? (this is not about being proud or humble, it’s an honest interior look at ourselves)
7) If I had $1 million right now, which charity or cause would I be most drawn to donate it to? If I chose to keep it for myself, what would I do with it to further the Kingdom?
8) What previous education or professional background can I see enhancing the direction I am currently being led in?
9) What recurring themes keep coming up? (When you hear multiple messages such as through a sermon, through friends, or through Scripture, I think it’s time to pause and take note) [Another way to phrase this: What doors keep opening and which keep shutting?]
10) Do I really have a heart for the people I feel led to serve? How do I know?
11) If I have family (spouse, children) and feel led to move, how will this affect them? (For this one it is crucial to not only pray but also to talk openly with your family before jumping into a new career or location.)
12) What subjects did I excel at in school? (While I do know of a few cases where God has called someone to a field they previously didn’t excel at and therefore I know it’s possible, I also urge you to be practical. I never finished grade 12 math, I’m pretty sure God is not calling me to be an accountant barring some miraculous intervention otherwise)
13) How does my personality fit (or not fit) with the area I am considering? (Again, there are some exceptions to this. For example, many pastors are introverts and yet preach incredible sermons. Many extroverts, like myself, have been employed as writers and editors. Yet, a profession which will unnecessarily drain you and where you feel like you can’t fully be yourself is likely going to lead to professional burn-out later on)
14) If I am considering a specific church or para-church ministry what about the congregation (or organization) interests me? Can I see myself aligning with the ethos and overall vision statement for the most part? Can I see myself agreeing theologically with the main statements of faith? If there are discrepancies, are the areas I disagree with deal-breakers? (For example, I always say as long as I agree with 80% of a church’s or para-church’s theology I am fine to work for them. As a theologian, I realize I will never find any organization where I am 100% in line with everything stated. But here’s where I realize my limits. I am charismatic, but I would still work for an organization that believes Spirit Baptism is not for this generation. That’s fine. I’m even okay when churches tell me not to teach their kids about it. However, if a church outright denied a fundamental area of my faith such as salvation or justification by faith, I would be out of there, no questions asked. These areas differ for each person).
15) Practically speaking, how does this ministry align with my other obligations? If it is unpaid, would I be able to work part time or help raise my own funds? If I have young children, how can I properly balance time with my family? If I am single, how can I still maintain friendships?

Now let’s say we are making a daily “smaller” decision. Here are some questions to ask:

1) If I choose to act or re-act in a certain way, how will other people perceive it? Especially if I work largely with non-Christians who don’t have contact with other Christians, will this further my witness or take away from it?
2) If Jesus were to physically walk into my work today and see me interacting with a client or co-worker the way I currently intend to, what would He say about it?
3) Will cussing another driver out or losing my cool really help me get to the place faster or will it simply elevate my blood pressure? Is it worth it? If I have passengers in the car with me (especially young children) how will my behaviour affect them? What strategies can I use to calm myself down?
4) If I am honest with myself, where do my daily priorities lay? How do I usually choose to spend my time? What can I reduce or give up entirely to make space for the things that really matter to me? What life-giving activities can I presently increase so that I find the most joy and fulfillment?
5) What arguments can I avoid because they simply aren’t worth having? Conversely, when do I need to speak up to defend the people who mean the most to me (spouse, children, friends).
6) What friendships should I invest the most heavily into because they breathe life and we both enjoy each others company? Which friendships should I limit because they are draining, toxic, or always end in arguments?
7) What areas of my faith do I feel like I have compromised on recently? What should I do about that?
8) Who are some Godly and mature people who can mentor me and help hold me accountable? (Here I generally would encourage your mentor to be the same gender as you or else a married couple. This reduces any temptation and makes it all the more comfortable to share whatever’s on your mind with someone who likely can connect a bit better with your struggles)
9) What church groups or other fellowships can I be a part of that would help keep me on the right path but also where I can give back and encourage others?
10) If I am a student, what extra-cirricular activity could I give up to make space for Bible reading and prayer? (By extra-cirricular I am referring to anything not directly linked to your schooling. I don’t necessarily mean basketball or softball practice, I mean things like excessively scrolling Facebook or checking your phone. Is it possible to put your phone on airplane mode for even 15 minutes a day while doing your daily devotions?)
11) If I am in Bible College, Seminary, or studying theology…what extra measures do I have to put in place to make sure the Bible is still speaking to me in a living and breathing way rather than becoming a mere textbook?
12) What growth have I seen in myself? What growth have other people noticed?
13) What seemingly small, unnoticeable act can I use to encourage and build someone else up today? What random act of kindness can I engage in?
14) If I am visiting a restaurant, hotel, or even fast-food chain how can I maintain my integrity rather than looking down on another person. (You’d be amazed but when I was in Edinburgh I noticed that so many people mistreat fast-food workers by being excessively demanding, rude, or arrogant. The same thing happens in Canada, the U.S. and virtually every country I’ve been to. I urge you not to look down on someone who has a job you don’t feel is “as important” as yours, but rather see them as a living human being and realize they have the same needs as you do).
15) If I am walking past a rough-sleeper today, what can I do to lighten the person’s load? (You don’t necessarily have to give money, but you can at least consider a smile, a nod, or a quick “hello.”)

Sunday Challenge #5: Give Thanks!

thanksgiving-snoopy  In hindsight I should have shared this message with you on Canadian Thanksgiving (October 10th), but with extra work hours, a crazy hectic schedule, and my brother getting engaged (kinda a big deal, you know) it somehow got missed.  That is to say that whereas I’ve been keeping up the practice, I realize not everyone has been informed.

This Thanksgiving my house at L’Arche decided to do something unique.  We took out a jar of red kidney beans and decided to add one to the fishbowl each day as we named aloud or in our hearts something we are thankful for.  When you work at a house where the majority of people are non-verbal this does get a bit tricky, and after successfully dodging a few attempts from our core members (residents) who thought it might be a nice, tasty after dinner dessert, I think we have finally got the hang of it.  Naming our gratitudes out loud every day is an excellent way to become more mindful of all the blessings around us.  It helps us to feel more positive especially on days that have been particularly difficult, demanding, or draining.

Prior to leaving for Edinburgh last year, I was sitting in on a Tyndale chapel service and the speaker (a young woman, no more than 21) shared about her experience of keeping a gratitude journal.  This is something I decided to take up when I was abroad.  Sure, there were days when life was wonderful, but there were plenty of other days when life was just the pits.  It was easy to feel homesick and lonely (especially at the beginning when I didn’t know anyone) and during the winter I went through a period of depression because of the lack of sunlight and the high amount of rain.  But through it all, my gratitude journal helped me to really put things in perspective.  When I was feeling down and out about the sunlight, I thanked God for the extra strength and energy my Vitamin D tablets gave me.  When I was annoyed by the rain, I thanked God that the vast amount of rain is the exact reason why Scotland is so beautiful and why everything is always so green there compared to our ugly brown clumps of grass we often get in Ontario.  When I felt homesick, I thanked God for Skype and good technology so I could keep in touch with friends and family while I was away.  When I wondered if L’Arche was actually where I was meant to be, I thanked God for confirming over and over again it was the place He wanted me at this stage in my life.

After Canadian Thanksgiving, I decided that between Canadian Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving (November 24th) I would think of 3 gratitudes each day.  Originally I was planning to write them on Facebook, but I declined this thought because I feel like it’s sometimes more meaningful just to thank God silently from the depths of your heart.  It’s not a competition to “one up” your friends or come up with the best gratitude.  Instead, it can be something simple yet profound.  A wide smile from a friend, a pat on the back, or a five dollar bill tucked into your shirt that you just happened to find now.

This week, my challenge to you is to find at least 3 things every day that you are grateful for.  Let them come to your naturally and at the end of the day, consider a way to make them tangible.  For some this might result in a Facebook status or Instagram picture, for others this might be writing your points of thanksgiving down in a journal or notebook.  Another thing you can consider (and that I’ve tried in the past) is to find an unused mason jar and write some gratitudes down on a slip of paper.  You can then see how your jar fills up and read the points out loud whenever you are having a tough day.  You can use other objects as visual reminders, too: marbles, pennies (or other small coins), or even kidney beans!  If you’re using coins, another thing you can think about it how to bless others.  Maybe at the end of the year you can donate the money to a charity of your choice as a way to “pay-back” the community and the world for all of the bounty you have received.

I hope that this week not only will you be richly blessed, but that you’ll also find a way to richly bless others.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you American readers!

Sunday Challenge #4: Thinking Positive – A Week of No Complaining or Critical Questions

i-like-you-2 Okay friends, this week is actually very similar to last week’s theme as the topic still concerns our tongues.  It’s funny how the tongue is perhaps one of the smallest parts of our body, and yet it holds such power.  The old adage goes “it takes years to build up trust and seconds to tear it down.”  Why?  Most of the time the culprit is the tongue.  Words can build up and encourage, but they can also tear down and abuse.  They can heal hurts, but they can also inflict pain.  They can flatter, but they can also falter.

All of us have been guilty of complaining at one time or another.  Sometimes we don’t even voice a complaint itself, but we ask a question that lets people know we disapprove.  Or sometimes we make a mocking statement and our voice gives us away.  This can be really hurtful and damaging to any friendship.  When a friend constantly criticizes you, even in a way that can be seemingly harmless or “all in good fun” it really impacts how we view them and what we then think about our friendship.  The same can be said about a marriage.  If a spouse constantly nags you or belittles you, it affects the level of respect you give to them.  A wife does not want to submit to a husband who consistently sees her as inferior or “second-class.”  A husband does not want to unconditionally love a wife who only sees his faults and doesn’t show gratitude or respect for his hard work and effort.  And when this happens, the marriage falls apart.  Instead of making a beautiful melody, we hear discordant screeches that sound vaguely like alley cats.

This week, my challenge is once again to hold your tongue, but not just that – replace criticism with something positive.  Here’s what I mean.  If you’re married, your spouse might come home after work late.  Maybe you are angry because you think he should have been home an hour earlier.  You had planned a lovely dinner and now your food is getting cold.  The ambiance and romantic mood seem completely wasted.  Instead of lashing out at him and saying “where were you?  I was expecting you an hour ago!”  Hold your tongue, take a deep breath, and think of a positive.  Maybe say something like “Honey, I’m so glad you made it home safe.  That weather outside looked so bad.  Thank you for putting in that extra time at work in order to bring home some more money this week.  I really appreciate having a hard working man in my life like you.”

Or suppose (just to be completely stereotypical) that your wife has just gotten back from a shopping spree with her girlfriends.  Instead of arguing with her about how she “wasted” her (or your) money, compliment her.  Say “Honey, I’m so glad you had a lovely time with your friends today.  That new dress you bought looks absolutely stunning.  I’m so impressed that I’ve married a beautiful lady like you with extremely good taste!”

If your single and you find yourself butting heads with a friend this week, instead of criticizing them, think of all the positive attributes they bring to your friendship and thank them for at least one or two.  Say “you know, we may not see eye-to-eye on this one issue that I know is so important to you, but I’m so glad to have you in my life.  I’ve always appreciated that you’re unique and your own person.  I really value hearing your contributions.  You always give me a completely different way of seeing things.  One that I would never have considered before.  Thank you for that.”  Then change the topic to something the two of you can actually agree on.

Just for this week, for these next 7 days, try your hardest not to complain – not once.  Don’t complain to your boss about not wanting to work on that extra project, don’t complain to your co-worker about submitting those reports a week late, don’t complain to your kids about muddying up their soccer jerseys, don’t complain to your church about the stale bread at the potluck.  Don’t even complain to God for not answering your prayers the way you wanted at the time you wanted.  Every time you are tempted to complain, substitute it with a praise.  I look forward to hearing how God will shape your life and reignite a passionate love in your marriage and your friendships as a result of this challenge.  Happy praising!

5 Ways to Prevent Burn-Out When You Work for Non-Profits: The Other Side (Part 2 of a 2 Part Series)

downloadIn my last blog 5 Key Ways to Prevent Burn-Out When You Work for Non-Profits which you can access here, I mentioned some key ways that individuals workers can limit the stressful impact working for a non-profit may bring them. In this blog, I would like to take the other side and suggest that there are also a few things that non-profit organizations can do from a leadership viewpoint that will help retain team members and foster morale among workers and volunteers.

#1: Provide Key Feedback Early On

Many people who work for non-profits truly care about the cause they are supporting and thus want to do the best they can for the organization. Thus, many individuals not only desire, but thrive off of feedback. Nevertheless, when feedback is given, it must be weighed carefully and delivered in a way that does not impact a worker’s morale. Remember that if the people you work with are volunteers (and this also includes those on a tiny stipend) they may be more likely to quit and look for other volunteer opportunities and/or jobs which would actually pay them in cash. My advice would be not to shy away from perceived “negative” or “critical” interaction, but to do so in a loving way that promotes the ethos of your organization (especially when you are a Christian charity). Do so in love, as a way to build the other person up to be a better version of themselves, and also mention at least one or two positive things about their character. In my experience of being a supervisor and leader, I have found two approaches that work the best:

The first approach includes a survey. Twice a year, I asked my workers to fill out a survey about themselves and how they felt their role was going. This allowed them to openly state the areas in which they were struggling, felt they needed more support, or were unsure about. If I had a serious concern about anyone of them, I would meet and ask them using an open-ended question format about it. Instead of condemning them “why don’t you work harder? Why are you always late? Why don’t you clean up after yourself in the staff room?” I would bring it about as a discussion: “how do you feel work is going? Are you happy here? What can I do to make it better?” I found that once I opened it up for their own personal response, individuals were often aware and did not hesitate to point out the very things I was going to gripe over. But when it came from them, not from me, they felt more in-control and more likely to change. When they knew I wanted to partner with them, rather than against them, those desired results were brought about.

The second approach that I like to use is the sandwich approach. I will mention a few things that they are doing well and sincerely thank them for it. Then, I will move on to a few key areas of improvement and collaborate to come up with a strategy together (step-by-step ideas and solutions rather than mere complaints). I will end my time by thanking them for being willing to receive the feedback and for being a valued member of our team. Once again, when feedback is delivered in this way it minimizes hurt and maximizes potential and growth.

In my experience, I have also found it best to provide feedback early on and throughout the process rather than waiting until the last minute. I have witnessed the hurt and devastation of many wonderful workers when their contracts were not renewed without warning. Many of them became resentful because they thought that if the organization were to raise these issues to their attention sooner they might have done something to change it, but as it is, they now have no power to fix anything. People do best when they feel in control and empowered of their own decision making rather than slighted or “left for dead” after giving so much to an organization with little in return. That’s why if you see a recurring pattern early on, best to nip it in the bud before it becomes too strong. And if you absolutely must ask someone to leave or you cannot extend their contract, make sure they know specific reasons for your decision, have an opportunity to defend themselves, and have plenty of time to make other arrangements.

#2: Find Opportunities to Encourage Your Workers

Many people crave a sense of belonging and of feeling “part of something.” This is why it is of utmost importance to foster a genuine team spirit and commitment amongst your volunteers. Encourage them in what they are doing by giving compliments. If you see someone going above and beyond in their work, mention it. If you see them staying much later than usual, offer to buy them a quick coffee before you leave. If this is generally the person’s character – where they are always going far above and beyond, recognize it. Perhaps repay them with another random act of kindness, buy them a Starbucks gift card, or make a cute personalized card to show your appreciation. Let them know how much they mean to the organization… don’t let them leave feeling invisible and unnoticed.

#3: Say Thank-You

Within non-profits it is paramount to genuinely show appreciation to your workers. Since workers are often not being compensated monetarily (and if they are, it is usually in the form of small stipends) intrinsic rewards must come from other places. While some Christians dismiss their need to be validated and respected thinking that they should just do things without expecting anything in return, the truth is that we do need some incentives to keep us going. This is not wrong or bad, it is simply the way things work.

That’s why THANK YOU may just be the two most powerful words in the history of non-profit organizations. Find ways to thank your co-workers regularly, but make it genuine. Not over the top or too often lest it seems “fake.” Some examples could be: a simple line at the bottom of a company email saying “while many may overlook your contributions, rest assured, I do not”, giving out Christmas cards or small token gifts, recognizing exemplary years of service (such as having a “Silver Tea” for those volunteering 25 years or more), or even posting sticky notes around the office that will make people smile.

#4: Work Towards Providing Stability in Scheduling

A lot of people (whether volunteers or paid staff) have extremely busy lives. Although work may be a huge part of that, it is not the only thing. Therefore, having some type of consistent scheduling allows the person to know when they can engage in other activities and have a “life outside of work.” Work together with your team to create a solid plan, then stick to it as much as possible. Periodically check-in with your workers to see if their days off still work for them or if they need it switched. Try your best to be flexible with specialist appointments and family emergencies. If your organization works on a “rotating-schedule”, please try to give your employees at least one weekend off a month (as the majority of social interactions happen on weekends). And if possible, allow time off for religious services and holidays which may be important to your employee.

#5: Allow Your Team Members to Also Give You Open, Critical, and Honest Feedback

In my experience as a leader, I have found that teams work best when there is a sense of ownership, approachability, and clear communication rather than when things are dictated from the “top-down.” People want to know that their opinions and feelings are being valued and listened to, not just that management is asking to tick another box off the list. One of the best ways that I have discovered to do this is to allow my team mates to write up reviews about me. Twice a year (at the same time as I ask them to do self-reflections, I also ask them to fill out a short survey about me). To rank me. Am I also following my job description? Am I providing what they need to thrive? And if not, what would they like me to pay more attention to? Am I providing enough training and if not, what type of training might they need? When people see that their leader is also being put into a vulnerable position, they generally become more relaxed about receiving their own feedback. While I have not always received positive feedback from my workers, as much as possible, I have tried to improve on the areas that seem to be a general trend, and in most cases my second yearly report comes back with much higher scores.

5 Key Ways to Prevent Burn-Out When You Work for Non-Profits (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

selfcare-is-not-selfishI have volunteered and worked for non-profits my entire life (because most of the time even when you work 40 hours a week for a non-profit you are essentially volunteering). My first exposure to a non-profit was definitely the church. I started greeting, ushering, and setting up snacks around age 10. Prior to that, I was a “bell ringer” when I was 4 (okay, that was more just because the pastor wanted to humour me, but still…) Eventually, my work with non-profits ended up including several internships, a few of which were paid. Come to think of it, other than a one month stint as a knife sale’s person for Vector (sort of like the Mary Kay of knives), I have actually never worked for a secular for-profit company before in my life. Most recently, I have worked full-time in a non-profit organization called L’Arche for the past 3 years. So it’s fair to say, that I have been around non-profits frequently enough and in a variety of settings to see what really works. What good management and leadership look like and what it doesn’t look like.

Working for non-profits can be extremely rewarding, spirited, and fun, but it can also be draining, disillusioning, and dis-heartening. Many of us initially choose to engage in non-profit work for good motivations (let’s face it, if you work for a non-profit, making money likely isn’t going to be your sole purpose). Yet, it is easy to find ourselves becoming disgruntled when we perceive that we are being overworked for little pay. Additionally, if you have a hard-to-please supervisor, it is easy to become bitter and resentful thereby forgetting the passion you first started your position with. Soon the day-to-day demands can create anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed so that we feel we no long have the time or energy to devote to the areas of our work that we truly care the most about. We may even begin to feel like our skill sets, abilities, and natural giftings are being overlooked, dismissed, under-utilized, or even abused. We may feel like our education is going by the wayside, and that people are not treating us with the respect we think we deserve.

There are a variety of ways we can respond to these ensuing emotions. Some of us, may justify them leading further and further into despair and dismay. Others of us, may plunge right on through, finding new activities to engage in and out of work. At first, this may seem rather counterproductive because if we feel drained and exhausted, it would logically make sense for us to rest, relax, direct, and delegate. But because of the funny ways our brains can work, we often do what is counter-productive, believing that we simply haven’t found our “niche” yet or we are simply going through a phase. There are people who instead of dealing with the cause of their burn-out let it completely permeate and devastate their entire career. They end up not caring, going through the motions half-heartedly, and doing a poor job when previously they excelled at all of their tasks and had a good reputation in the organization. Finally, there are a few of us, and I most definitely fall into this camp, who place the blame on ourselves. We think that because we identify as Christians, we should “do everything without grumbling and complaining.” We believe that it’s our position to help others and provide as much support as we can for them because it’s what “Jesus would do.” We also believe that because we felt a strong sense of call when we first entered the non-profit sector, that to back down or decrease our involvement would be a slight at God. We may worry that these over-arching emotions which over-power and over-shadow everything prove that we are somehow inadequate followers of Christ. We may feel like we shouldn’t feel a certain way, but yet we cannot deny that we do. We feel like we should have more strength to act professionally, but we lack the will power. And because we are not where we want to be, we feel like absolute failures, when in reality, we are likely just burnt-out human beings.

I’ve written quite a few blog posts in the past on the topic of burn-out: what it is, how to become aware of it, and what to do once it’s already set it. I hope that these posts have been encouraging, eye-opening, and informative to you. Yet, I realize that ultimately the most helpful thing would be to provide guidance on how it can be avoided (or minimized altogether). You see, I don’t believe that burn-out has to be an inevitable side-effect of long-term non-profit management. I also believe that prevention is the best cure. While I’ve certainly struggled with burn-out in a number of different settings, I’d like to offer a few examples of how you, as employees can minimize the stress of burn-out in your own professional endeavours based on my own experience and educational training.

#1: Know Who You Work For

This may almost sound like a complete non-brainer, but it’s so vital to our understanding of non-profit work. If you are a pastor, know that you are employed by your church and that your main responsibility lies with your congregants. If you are employed by L’Arche know that your main responsibility lies with supporting individuals with complex developmental disabilities. If you are employed by a pregnancy centre, know that your main responsibility lies with single mothers. This is not to say that you can’t get involved with any other charities or volunteer opportunities. In fact, I would encourage you to become active (whether as a participant or helper) with another group. I certainly did when I was in L’Arche Edinburgh. I didn’t just stick with my L’Arche friends, I became an active member of two church groups and occasionally led worship or Bible studies for them. Nevertheless, we must remember that we only have so many mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual reserves to give and it is up to us to find a balance. When we are working an insane amount of hours, something is going to have to give, and for the sake of your workplace, it would be better for that something to be a few hours at the thrift shop than your job at the church. It is also important that your congregants do not feel neglected as this can also create a heavy sense of resentment. As a wise professor in self-care once taught me, make your actual work 60% of your main focus so that you will still have 40% to give to the areas that you actually care the most amount.

#2: Take Care of Your Health (Physically, Emotionally, Mentally, Spiritually)

We are people, not machines. We need time to rest and tune-out the rest of the world. We need time to relax and have a break, and so, when we push ourselves past the brink of exhaustion, we end up with some fairly serious repercussions.

In order to be at our ultimate peak of service, we must take care of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs first. We cannot give when we are running on half-empty, or as one of my missionary friends puts it “we must practice selfish unselfishness.” In a nut-shell, we must practice self-care. Self-care is a buzz word that those of us in ministry or helping professions constantly hear, but what exactly does it entail? There is no “how-to” method for applying these techniques as they are so individualized based on personal preferences and styles. However, there are some overarching trends and themes that many of us would be able to benefit from.

Physical Self-Care: Physical self-care means taking care of our bodies. This can include things like going to see a GP regularly, being properly hydrated, and eating healthy. You’d be amazed at how many mood-swings and snaps could be avoided if we simply drank water and carried a bag of almonds around with us! You’d also be surprised to know that ministry is one of the professions where you have the highest chance of becoming overweight. Physical self-care also means addressing specific health concerns and struggles that we already have. For example, I have a terrible back, but in my profession of providing personal care to adults with disabilities I must do lifts and transfers frequently. For me this looks like: asking others for support so that I don’t have to do a transfer myself, knowing the proper way to transfer a client so that it presents the less strain to my back, practicing stretches before and after, learning the proper way to use a lift, and going for regular massages. This is just one example, but it gives you a general idea that we need to be self-aware of our own shortfalls and limitations in order to function the best we can within our job (while also utilizing the strengths and experiences of others on our team).

Emotional/Phycological Self-Care: Phycological Self-Care revolves around taking care of our feelings and thoughts. This can include areas like regularly scheduled sabbaticals, making times for hobbies, and scheduling in opportunities to spend with families and friends. It is important to find this work/rest balance, to take time for self-reflection, and to also have friends outside of the specific ministry or organization you are serving with.

Spiritual Self-Care: Spiritual self-care is all about finding time to spend WITH God not just FOR Him. Now that I have begun job searching for a full time pastorate, I am very appreciative that more and more churches are putting in their job descriptions that they are looking for an individual who can find this balance. A few churches even let pastors use some of their office hours just for prayerful intercession, Bible reading, and devotional practices (and more churches should hop on board!).

#3: Take Advantage of Organizational Opportunities for Support, Mentorship, and Training

Many non-profits are fully aware that you cannot put in these long hours and this strenuous work on your own. That’s why several organizations offer (or subsidize) personal coaching, spiritual direction, accompaniment, mentorship, or even counselling options. Many also provide professional training and staff bonding opportunities. My best piece of advice is to take advantage of these seminars, conferences, and retreats. While some may mock the idea of spending a weekend in the woods team building with people you barely even know, I have found them to give me new perspectives and even build lasting friendships. Ask your organization if they have policies and incentives for these types of resources and if they don’t, ask if they know of local agencies which they might be able to refer you to.

#4: Accept Organizational Opportunities for Self-Care and Run

While many of us blame our non-profits for our burn-out, we also have to take some responsibilities for ourselves. A good non-profit does not want to wear you thin, but rather sometimes this sense of exhaustion stems from our own inability to say no, our natural proclivity to be people-pleasers, or even our own unrealistic expectations (including that no one can do the job as well as we can and therefore failing to delegate roles to others). If we are honest with ourselves, a lot of what runs us ragged is not the job description itself (although that can highly contribute), but a sense of control. Many organizations recognize the difficulty volunteer (or almost volunteer) work presents and thus not only give the above opportunities but even offer time off for personal, health or family reasons. When you’re offered these opportunities don’t worry about offending someone or not being there for the sake of the company (relax – they can manage without you for the day). Take up the offer and run!

#5: Know Your Limit, Work Within It

I am a passionate person. That’s the word I would use to describe myself the best. I have always attempted to give 120% to everything I do, but the truth is that we really only have 100% of ourselves to give and that 100% needs to be divided into a variety of different tasks. It is good to be passionate, but we also must realize that passionate people are much more likely to face burn-out and exhaustion sooner and in more profound ways that those who are not. It is both the blessing and the curse of being a creative, go-getter type of person.

A wise professor once said, “you can either do a lot of things poorly, or a few things well.” So ask yourself, “what at the things I absolutely NEED to do (because they are on my job description)?” Then ask “what are the things I am really interested in doing and would LOVE to do?” Knowing the answer to these two questions is already half the battle. Figuring out what is not life-giving that you can let go of in order to make time for more life-giving practices is the other half.

Life After Trump: What Next?

trumpwillwin-notext On Tuesday evening, millions (perhaps even billions) of people flocked around their TV sets to watch the history of America unfold right before their eyes.   During and well after the election, social media was bombarded with a number of hashtags.  While some ranted and raved, called Trump a number of names and decried the apparent injustice, others lavished in what they believed was the culmination of the “American dream.”  While some are in a fragile state of considerable mourning over the loss of the #pantsuitnation, others are more about rubbing the results in your face with flashy buttons or funny memes.  Although all elections elicit a high level of emotional response, it is fair to say that this particular election brought many preconceived notions and attitudinal barriers to the surface.  It is fair to say that we as Americans, Canadians, and internationals alike still have a long way to go in order to create our “ideal” situation.  However, there is one ultimate truth that permeates throughout the results: the fact that Trump won, that he won because of the majority, and that he won based on a democratic process.  You can complain about the Electoral College or the way things ended up playing out, but the truth is, that whether you like it or not, Trump is going to be the president for the next four years and nothing we can do will change that.   However, there are some things I would urge us all to do as we move forward with this news: exciting for some and terrifying for others.

#1: Don’t Make Straw-Men

A lot of my friends are Democrats and quite a few others are Republican, so you can imagine how my newsfeed has been filled up recently with debates from either side.   While some of them are broad and open-minded, quite a few others point towards a divisive understanding of politics and even drastic measures such as unfriending or unfollowing people.  I thought I was safe and in the black until I recently checked my friends list and noticed that two people had unfriended me.  Even so, I am thankful it was only two people.  I get it, I may not be an American myself, but what happens in the next 4 years will greatly affect me.  It affects members of my immediate and extended family who live and work full-time in the States, it will affect a number of my friends who study and travel there frequently, and it will even affect a number of people I don’t know personally but who I am friends with on Facebook because of ministry connections.  Furthermore, what happens in the States does not just affect Americans themselves, but it really affects all of us – starting with their neighbours to the north (those of us up in Canada who can wave to them from across the river) all the way to people in both developed and developing countries that have trade and legal agreements with the US.

Nevertheless, it is important that we all find ways to steadily move forward rather than live in a state of shock and disillusionment.  It is important to not merely criticize Trump for his perceived personality, looks, or any of these surface level things we often get caught up in.  I am just as guilty as the next person.  I love making fun of Trump’s hair!  But the truth is that I can bet the majority of us have never met Trump or Clinton personally, so a lot of what we are saying is based on skewed media rather than seeing the person as they truly are: both beloved and fully accepted creations of God.

It is also important not to idealize the situation.  I hadn’t realized this until one of my former colleagues sent me a personal message this morning, but a lot of what I was posting on Facebook was serious skewed, biased, and perhaps even insulting or attacking towards people of other political persuasions.  For this, I most heartily apologize.  This was not my intention and I am sorry to anyone I have offended in the process.  Politics are truly a very difficult topic to tiptoe around and I can see why at certain points it is best to “leave well enough alone.”  If I were to be completely honest, I would say that neither candidate was the absolute best or strongest person.  Both said things during their campaign that pointed at archaic and naïve understandings of world affairs.  Both have apparent personality traits that make me cringe.  But both also had some really good, solid, well-thought-out points of view.  Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton were to be in power right now, each would have brought a unique set of skills and abilities, but also a unique set of challenges.  Both would have brought strengths to the US, but also weaknesses.  That’s because neither Trump nor Clinton is God.  They are mere humans like the rest of us, capable of making mistakes and finding themselves in short-falls, but both had a vision in mind and I truly believe that regardless of where you stand, in the end of the day, both of them really and truly wanted to see America thrive as a country.  Trump is not the only one who wanted to “make America great again.”  Either one of them would have had that type of potential, but both of them would have chosen to go about it in a different way.

#2: Be the Change You Want to See In the World

As President, Trump really doesn’t have as much power as we all think he does.  In fact, he’s really not much more than a mere figure head.  Yes, he will have to make a number of important decisions in the upcoming years, but he won’t be doing it alone.  We, as global citizens, need to rise up, let our voice be heard, and find ways to support and encourage our new leader.  In the Bible we read that we are to pray for our political leaders, but also to submit to their authority.  We also read that we are to try to live peacefully with others (as much as it is possible for us).  I’m sorry, but unfriending someone with a different political persuasion than you doesn’t sound all that peaceful to me, but then again, neither does back-stabbing, emotionally abusing, name-calling or making personal attacks.  We all must find a way forward in this mess and seek to bring out the best attributes of our country, our humanity, and our world.  It is not just the President’s responsibility to end racism, misogyny, bigotry, or homophobia, but all of our responsibilities.  We cannot simply blame the President for our world not advancing as we think it should, we must take responsibility for ourselves and act now.  Every action we make (whether large or small) to create a more just, peaceful world will have a cascading effect, bringing a chrysalis of energy to all those who are around us, and encouraging others to join in what we are doing.

Earlier this morning, I opened my Facebook and I saw a brilliant meme which said “Don’t wish for Trump to fail, remember you’re on the boat he’s steering.”  You may not like Trump, I certainly don’t, but I also certainly don’t want to see him fail.  I know that he has a huge responsibility which I cannot even fathom, and I certainly don’t envy him for his role and his position as leader of one of the largest and greatest superpowers of the world.  I want him to succeed and do the best that he can in office.  And I also know that he needs my help in order to do that.  He needs us, all of us, to pray for him to make wise and just decisions, he needs us to share our voices about the areas and issues that are the most important to us, and he needs to know that we are behind him backing him every step of the way even when he falters and fails.  I may not like Trump, but there is one thing he said when he gave his first presidential speech that raises a level of honour for me.  He said that he wants to be President of all America, but that he needs our help and our counsel.  He even said that he wants the counsel of those who disagree and voted against him.  You may think that he only said this to appease the crowd or because it’s what we’d expect a new president to say, but I really think it says so much more about his character.  That willingness to learn and that ability to reason and to hear other’s opinions is going to serve him well in office.  Yes, he said a number of stupid, stupid things during his campaign that made many of us “turn-tail-and-run,” but those few precious sentences he gave recently brought out a different, softer, gentler side to him.  A side that I always knew existed, but that somehow got buried underneath all the sly media coverage of his “foot-in-mouth” (speak-before-you-think) mentality.

Regardless of where you stand with this election, I hope that we will all eventually be able to put our political differences behind us and raise up as the leaders our country and our world so needs.  I pray that we will find ways to work together and put aside animosity and strife in order to promote a better, global society.  And I pray that through it all, both Trump and Clinton supporters will be able to see Donald Trump for the man he truly is – the 45th President of the United States of America.

Chicken Scratch By: Kelly Chripczuk (A Book Review)

14725505_1313635401989049_6036972711710161119_n   What do chickens have in-common with the day-to-day reality of family life, courage, and compassion?  What can these seemingly unintelligent animals really teach us about conviction, love and loss?

In Kelly Chripczuk’s brand new book “Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk, and Poultry” she recounts her experience as an active mother of four, a pastor of a thriving congregation, and a chicken farmer.  These pages are filled with the raw honesty of the ups and downs life throws at us, but are also graced with a sense of pastoral wisdom and humour.

Throughout her book, Chripczuk invites us to journey with her as she makes new discoveries, rekindles old ones, and ultimately falls into a rhythm of life that promotes balance and well-being.  Through her own search for what is right, she encourages her readers to find grace and strength in the sacred and in the secular, in the marvelous and in the mundane.

Chripczuk writes:

This book started as a journal, a commitment to pay attention and write as often as I could during the first thirty days with our new flock. I wrote nearly every day from the first of May to the first of June, 2016. I paid attention to the way life with the birds intersected with my own life and family life. I watched the way I behaved with the birds and how I thought about them. I listened to my life and discovered the questions I would have to answer and decisions I needed to make to be able to embrace a life I love. Not all of my writings made the cut and much in the form of details and explanations were added later.

 I watched the chickens, watched myself and listened for the nudge of God in the intersections of my life. And while I don’t often write directly about God in the pages that follow, I’m convinced that the presence of love, grace and joy on these pages means God is here just as clearly as God is there in the longings, confessions, hopes and angst of the Psalms. I’m still in love with that brown eyed boy and this past spring the world was again blooming fresh and green around us. Sleeping creation woke from its winter slumber and I stood for a while at the crossroads of love and risk where heaven and earth meet, waiting, watching and giving witness.

What is the most completely crazy thing your heart is calling you to do at this particular moment?  It might be an action or a career path that everyone around you discourages you from.  There might be plenty of external (and even a few internal) opinions and viewpoints that are pressuring you to change your focus and direction.  But just like Chripczuk discovers, finding a path that we love and then gaining the courage to continue down that road makes our lives so much more vibrant and interesting.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, funny, easy-to-read book but also one with a lot of depth and that will challenge you gently, I highly recommend “Chicken Scratch”!

Today is the official launch date for Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk, and Poultry By: Kelly Chripczuk (one of my fellow MennoNerds).  I was given the honour and delight of receiving an advanced copy of her writing in exchange for a fair and honest book review.  I was under no obligation to write a favourable review, although I highly enjoyed this autobiographical account.  Any and all opinions herein reflect my own beliefs and are not representative of any of the blogging communities I am affiliated with.  If you are interested in reading more of Chripczuk’s writings, please check out her personal blog at:

Sunday Challenge #3: Hold Your Tongue

2c6768f28a00e3ea624a3f69e0a62bf4   When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire. (James 3:3-6

I once took an online personality test just for fun.  The result: “You are a haughty intellectual.  You think you know everything…and you probably do.”

All joking aside, there is something that really bothers me. Quite a lot, actually.  The fact that I often have this insane thirst to be right.  I recently asked a friend if she thought I had a strong personality.  Her response?  “You give off the appearance of being open-minded…but secretly, I think you’re set on your own opinion.  You may ask others what they think and appear genuinely interested, but inwardly, you’re sort of hoping they will agree with where you’re thoughts lie.”  Wow.  Guilty as charged.

I think we all have a tendency to do this from time to time.  We’ve formed an opinion on something perhaps from our own personal life experience, from our educational background, or perhaps even from a deep study of Scriptures…and when someone else come along and rocks our boat, we’re stuck trying to figure out how this all works out.

It is an incredibly sad reality, but I’ve seen wonderful friendship and beautiful marriages struggle, and sometimes even fall completely apart because the other person felt they had to be right all the time.  Perhaps there were signs along the way.  Gentle hints or suggestions to change the topic and move on to something else, but because of the person’s internal love of debate… they kept at it.  They would rather be right and lose a friend than wrong and keep a marriage.

This week, I’d like to give you a challenge.  For the sake of love, of peace, and of friendship… just for the next 7 days hold your tongue.  Suspend your need to be right.  Avoid pointed questions, uncomfortable stares, or non-inclusive gestures.  Resist your desire to debate and prove the other person wrong.  When your spouse asks you to help in a way you’d rather not, do it cheerfully.  When your friend seems to go around in circles, politely smile and nod.  For one week, resist any urge to participate in judgementalism, legalism, or any form of “know-it-all” behaviour.  You might know more about the topic than your friend does.  Maybe you majored in it.  For this week, pretend that you don’t.  See what a difference this will make in your friendships and in your marriage.  See how it might change how you view or respond to others.  Begin thinking of other people’s opinions as just as valid (if not more so) than your own.  Consider their preferences, their wishes, their hopes, and their dreams…not just where you feel they should be headed or what you feel they should be doing.

I’ve often said I love a good debate.  Being academically inclined, I love reading books from all angles and often try to understand the opposing viewpoint just as much as the one I already hold.  That being said, I have discovered over the years that my “love for debate” is really not a love for a debate at all.  It’s a love for being right.  A love for trying to get other people to side with me.  And the very reason for that love is because of my own insecurity and my own pride.  You can be addicted to being right in the same was as you can be addicted to coke and heroine.  It’s a drug that gives you a high.  But it’s not the kind of drug Jesus wants us to take.  Jesus wasn’t a drug addict, instead He believed in fruit.  Fruits like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. So this week, when you’re tempted to be right and to fly into lawyer mode, take a deep breath.  Practice patience and kindness instead.  I look forward to seeing where this challenge will take you and how it will deepen your relationships with those who are closest to you.