Vending machine empathy

I haven’t met a snack-dispensing vending machine that I did like (yet!) But my favourite vending machine (so far) is the one I discovered in the old Downshire Hospital while doing on-call shifts in Psychiatry. It dispensed large bags of Haribo Starmix before they were trendy. Though these little rings, stars & cola bottles are not the most nutritionally beneficial snacks in the world, the sugar hits kept me going through the night.

Last year on Facebook I scrolled upon a photo of another vending machine. ‘The light’s out but I’m still working’ was scrawled on A4 paper & stuck on its glass. It struck a chord & I empathised with the vending machine more than any human I’d encountered that day.

After months of overworking my light was snuffed out . My inner spark was gone. Sticking an ‘out of order’ sign on wasn’t an option. Like the vending machine, I just had to keep on working.

On reflection I can’t say I totally burnt out but the candle was very definitely burning at both ends & smoldering in the middle.

I had a pounding headache during my waking hours, felt unrefreshed after waking from broken sleep & developed ocular migraine that I’d never experienced before.

I’m not a workoholic. I didn’t choose to be this busy. I was simply trying to do what needed to be done. But this didn’t feel like the job I signed up for. I didn’t need this pressure. Due to circumstances beyond my control, work had become unmanageable & out of control

As the hours racked up I felt that I was getting nowhere fast:

‘Everything was important, as a result you get stretched thinner and thinner. He was making a millimeter of progress in a million directions.'(Greg McKeown)

Most days I felt like I was wading through treacle in a fog.I didn’t feel depressed – just really stressed.

‘Burnout’ occurs when ‘…people give too much for too long and receive too little in return’ (Taylor and Francis, 1988.)

‘Stress is the feeling that we have when we perceive that we have a need or obligation [but] inadequate resources to handle it,’ (Alan Levine)

At the height of my work related stress,I completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) for the craic & I scored at high risk of burnout in all 3 elements:

1 Burnout- emotional exhaustion

2 Depersonalisation- loss of empathy, with detachment & cynicism

3 Personal achievement- negative assessment of self, failure to achieve despite efforts

As Professor David Peters, head of the Centre for Resilience in London, states: ‘Long term drowning in high levels of adrenaline and cortisol eventually makes you ill. But before that, it makes you stupid and unfriendly.’

That may sound harsh but it’s true. I hardly recognised myself. My short fuse had blown. I definitely didn’t like the person I’d become.

Throughout this time I could just about hold it together at work but at home I was the worst version of myself. Yet I felt I could relax with my nuclear family & that Rob & God were the only ones who really knew what was going on in my head.

I felt connected with God on trail-runs- my favourite form of creation therapy! Yet church felt so far removed from my real life. It felt less painful not to go – or even to just work {gasp}

I got annoyed & resentful about those who worked part-time or don’t work at all. Or who used to work but now everyday is a Saturday. I felt nauseous at the inequity of spare time. I grew more introverted & mourned bygone days of balance.

I thought back to a different season, a favourite chapter when the kids were small & work was confined to 3 days. My week was punctuated by coffee & Bible Studies with friends – doing life together & connecting our souls.

One night I had reached the end of myself, dialling -in to do more work on the laptop after a long day at work

Above the desk I have a photo Rob took at Mount Blanc with a quote from the Getty’s hymn:
‘Help us grasp the heights of your plans for us’

“Is this the height of Your plans for us? For me?” I vented at the Only One who could help. God is able to deal with our raw emotions & fragile state.

I knew deep down that this frenetic way of life was not God’s design. I couldn’t keep going.

“I’m not cut out for this!” I informed Him.

Instantly the words from Emily P Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday came to mind.
You are not cut out but placed in’

I knew I was where I was meant to be. That didn’t minimise the pressure but perhaps started to rekindle my purpose.

I’m not telling my story because I think I’m unique. Stress at work is sadly too common

A survey of 500 GPs in the UK published in the BMJ in 2012 found 46% were emotionally exhausted, 42% were depersonalised and 34% felt they were not achieving a great deal.(Orton et al)

And of course it’s not confined to healthcare. And those who don’t have paid employment can feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life.

What can we do if the light is off but we’re still working?

Look after yourself

‘Self care means giving the world the best of you instead of what is left of you’
(Katie Reed)

Be kind to yourself – We need to be . Listen to Andrew Peterson’s song

Cut yourself some slack in this season

‘Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment and ask yourself what is important this very second.’
(Greg Mckeown)

‘Do the next thing’ (Elizabeth Elliot)

For ‘A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’
(Lao Tzu)

Reframe

We need to see things in a new way.

One helpful quote I discovered was:
‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf’ (John Kabat-Zinn)

I really need to turn it into a poster for the wall!

For church I try to remember:
‘You don’t just go to church, you are the church!’

Choosing change

‘There’s no life work balance without making decisions or without courage’ (Michael Hyatt)

I needed to make choices or this season would become the pattern for rest of my life. The children won’t be at home forever- & I want to spend quality time with them.

I decided to go into work early each morning to get things done at the start of the day. I made an executive decision to leave the work laptop at work.

Having boundaries between home & work has helped. There’s pressure but it’s contained & feels more manageable.

Know yourself

The ancient wisdom (& painful accuracy!)of the Enneagram helped me understand myself. I’m a type 1 (perfectionist) Whose harsh inner critic was deafening. Under pressure I disintegrate into a badly behaving type 4 ( ie all emotions & little sense!)

Find out your type.

Listen to typology podcast or read ‘The road back to you

Read helpful books
– in small chunks when you can concentrate

On Kindle I’ve been reading ‘Refresh-Embracing a Grace paced life in a world of endless demands’ (David & Shona Murray)

On Christian audio I’m listening to ‘Reset-living a grace paced life in a burnout culture’ (David Murray)

Reset is geared for men (especially those in ministry) & Refresh is written for women. David is a pastor & counsellors & Shona (his wife) is a Family Doctor.

Even the thought of a Grace paced life brings hope

It’s good to talk

Burdens are better shared & it is good to talk but sometimes we have to choose carefully who we talk to.

If your family & friends can’t really help- speak to your GP. We’re here to help!

Lastly but most importantly

Trust God

(The One who made you, knows you best yet loves you most)

I love the way the Bible tells the whole story of its characters – the best of times & worst of times.

In 1 Kings chapter 18 Elijah had challenged the Israelites to choose their true God, defeated the prophets of Baal, climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, seen answered prayer for rain & ran 10k supernaturally fast.

One chapter later he ran for his life, journeyed into the desert & sat under a broom tree praying he might die.

Elijah fell asleep then was advised to get up & eat by an angel of God (Sometimes simple tasks like sleeping & eating are what we need most & all we can muster) Strengthened, Elijah journeyed to Horeb the Mountain of the Lord& into God’s Presence . He experienced wind, earthquake & fire then the still small voice of God

When we are His, God meets us in the middle of our mess & chaos- if we can hear his gentle whisper above the noise of our troubled minds.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
‭‭(2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

I love this verse amplified:
“My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough–always available–regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me.”
‭‭(2 CORINTHIANS‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

We can trust the grace of God & His power & promises as we journey through life & work:
‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises’
‭‭(2 Peter‬ ‭1:3-4 NIV)

‘Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.’
‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭32:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Blessings

Ruth x

Fashionably Busy

Have you noticed “busy” is the new “fine”?

People ask “How are you?” We answer “Busy” or “Busy as always!”

And it’s true- we’re busier than ever before. Even before the school routine is up & running after summer, I feel like I’m scrambling to keep on top of work responsibilities. Time spent working is mushrooming out of my control. Like many, I’m drowning in a sea of paperwork! We often are so busy we feel dizzy & weighed down by pressure!

‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life’ urges Socrates

‘Busy is not the same as productive’ states minimalist Joshua Becker

We’ve got to face facts-there’s never going to be more hours in the day.Twenty four hours are available, & that’s it.

The challenge is to re-orientate our days & maximise our time.

We crave the utopia of life-work balance. To achieve it, we must look to the One who keeps planets in orbit -our Creator God who made the world then rested.

How can we maximise our time?

Seek God first

‘Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.’
(1 Chronicles 16:11 NIV)

In quiet moments with God, consider:
*What has God given you to do?
*What is your assignment from Him?
*Are you where God wants you to be?

If you honestly answer these questions, I suspect you’ll either feel a calm assurance or an unsettling realization that something has to change.

At the Worldwide Convention, I heard Jamie Taylor (great-great grandson of Hudson Taylor) ask:
‘How is God using your profession as a profession of faith?’

‘Your career is what you’re paid for.
Your calling is what you’re made for’
(Holly Gerth)

Once you discover your God-given assignment, don’t hide from it (like Saul who hid in the baggage when Samuel was choosing the first king- see I Sam 10)

Samuel later urged Saul:
“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”
(1 Samuel 12:24 NIV)

Whatever you do pray

Samuel’s challenging last words to Saul were:
“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you”
(1 Samuel 12:23 NIV)

We can pray about our day ahead, our family, friends & co-workers. We can talk to God about our pressures & frustrations.

Make good choices

In her devotional book Savor, Shauna Niequist encouraged me to make a list of things I do & things I don’t do. This helped bring clarity to what I should agree to, & things I should decline.

‘Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t matter’ (Francis Chan)

Make time for healthy habits

If we are to stay well enough to accomplish what we’re meant to, we need to eat well & get adequate rest. We need to carve out time for exercise. For me- preferably in the great outdoors. There’s nothing like connecting with creation to clear the mind!

Cut out distractions

“It is impossible to do everything people want you to do. You have just enough time to do God’s will. If you can’t get it all done, it means you’re trying to do more than God intended for you to do (or, possibly, that you’re watching too much television.”
(Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life)

We all need to relax & unwind at times. But, we all waste time. Maybe you binge-watch TV? Perhaps, like me, you’re busy surfing (the net) On 24th August 2017,there were 1 billion Facebook users in a single day!

“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
Hard hitting words from John Piper

Like David, we can pray:
“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”
(Psalm 119:37 NIV)

Just do it!

So, as we start another week, in our unique God-given assignments :
‘My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.’ (Colossians 2:6, 7 MSG)

And remember, you don’t have to complete your assignment alone, God is with you & will give you the strength you need:
‘We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.’
(Colossians 1:12 MSG)

Blessings,

Ruth x

Glimpses of God

It’s felt like a long winter. But now, there’s daffodils in the vase, tete a tete on the doorstep & crocuses creating colour on local roundabouts. It’s that time of year when new life bursts from the dark ground & seemingly lifeless twigs.

In spring,more so than during other seasons, creation tells our Father’s story. For,

‘Our Lord has written resurrection not in books alone—but in every leaf in springtime.’
(Martin Luther)

The Greatest Artist’s brush strokes are majestically displayed at sunrise & sunset- from dawn to dusk.

In our simple daily life, God is closer than we think. Closer than we realise. As close as we want Him to be.

One night last year, sleep had eluded me. I was trying not to be anxious-especially as the preacher had proclaimed that worrying is a sin. Yet, as is often the case, God met me in my weakness, & gave me grace for that moment.

I looked up above through the velux window. The clear night sky was scattered with stars- the Milky Way twinkled right above our house!

I stargazed for a moment, & recalled a quote:
‘Don’t wish up on a star- pray to the One who made them!’

I smiled, grateful for the reminder.
‘He counts the stars and calls them all by name.’
(Psalms 147:4 NLT)

He also knows our names, our story, our joys & our troubles.

We have glimpses of God when we need strength, when we calm our troubled souls enough to see.

Two years ago I attended the Kingdom Women Conference at Willowfield Parish. Sunlight cascaded through the stain glass window as we began to praise. Powerful words that were new to me retold the familiar story & I caught a powerful glimpse of the God of Easter:

‘I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me.
I see His wounds,His hands, His feet.
My Saviour on that cursed tree

His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb.
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

And then on the third at break of dawn,
The Son of heaven rose again.
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God

He shall return in robes of white,
The blazing Son shall pierce the night.
And I will rise among the saints,
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face’

{O Praise The Name (Anástasis)-by Hillsong}

Anastasis is the Greek word for resurrection – the audacious truth that Jesus died, trampled death, rose to life & will return one day soon.

Our God is God of life & death, Creator of resurrection & rebirth, Giver of Truest life- turning even the darkest winter of the soul to spring eternal

When we catch a glimpse of God, when we gaze into the truth of His Word, we find hope when things seem hopeless. We can grasp God’s unending love, no matter what:

‘And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—
not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
No power in the sky above or in the earth below—
indeed, nothing in all creation
will ever be able to separate us from the love of God
that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
(Romans 8:38-39 NLT)

Blessings,

Ruthx

Just real ordinary 

In the pre-digital days of photography when we sent off films to be developed, I often collected a packet of disappointingly bad photos with unwanted red-eyes & fingers obscuring the object!Now in our digital age we can delete them before anyone sees them & photoshop the good ones to make them even better!

Apparently, 200,000+ images make their way onto Facebook alone every minute. Yahoo! claims that as many as 880 BILLION photos were taken in 2014 (popphoto.com)

On the World Wide Web, we can project the Facebook perfect, Pinterest pretty version of our lives. Life can be bunting & cupcakes, on matching Cath Kidston & Bridgewater tableware, surrounded by our airbrushed family in colour co-ordinated clothing – a life where everything goes according to plan…

Often we are zoned into the virtual world, which exists only on our smart phones & tablets. We can become preoccupied with an edited & digitally enhanced version of reality – that is not real at all. A distortion of the truth , which in reality is a {little white} lie.

‘Stop instagramming your perfect life’ urged Shauna Neiquist in Relevant magazine.

Most of us will freely admit that our lives are far from perfect- more like an episode from the Simpsons than the Waltons (even on a good day!)

When we compare our lives to others on-line, our lives may seem:
Mundane
Routine
Normal
Uneventful
Ordinary

Our real life may fall short of our {unrealistic} expectations

On-line comparisons can affect our perspective of the snapshots in the panorama of our everyday life. Seasons of life may seem dull-black & white vistas interrupted by the odd colourful celebration. We perceive uneventful weeks punctuated by
the occasional unexpected event- compared to other’s action-packed colourful instagrammed lives!

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ Theodore Roosevelt wrote. Conversely, gratitude nurtures our joy.

So,’Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life’ (Galatians 6:4, 5 MSG)

Also,we can be totally immersed in our virtual {unreal} world to the detriment of our spiritual well-being. I ask myself:
Are we dazzled by the eye-candy of perfect images on the web & starving our souls?
Are we captivated by God or distracted by a million & one snippets of {useless} information bombarded to us daily on our smart phones?

Hudson Taylor wrote, ‘If we are faithful to GOD in little things, we shall gain experience and strength that will be helpful to us in the more serious trials of life.’

In this age of technologically enhanced images, we need to focus on the fact proclaimed thousands of years ago that we are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27) And He is conforming us to be more like Jesus.

‘What we are becoming is more important than what we are accomplishing’ (Catherine Campbell)

‘It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with {social media & the World Wide Web} when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’
(Adapted from C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)

Frederick Buechner writes:
‘God is right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives… trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.’ (The Magnificent Defeat)

‘If God doesn’t rule your mundane, then he doesn’t rule you. Because that’s where you live.’(Paul Tripp)

Jesus lived for thirty quiet years before three in the spotlight.

His birth was not Christmas card picture perfect-

His death was too horrific for our minds to truly picture.

Jesus, who knew the sweat & grim of an ordinary carpenter’s workshop, who walked the ordinary dusty Galilean roads,can infuse our ordinary days with his extraordinary presence. He can bring the miraculous to the mundane.

Because:
‘Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries’
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

‘God breaks into real,normal, boring time & makes Himself known’
(Amy Orr-Ewing)

Our God breaks into ordinary lives of working people:

The shepherds were looking after sheep on Bethlehem’s hillside, just as they had many nights before, when a myriad of angels appeared, proclaiming Jesus’ birth.

Peter & Andrew were casting nets.They had gone fishing as they did everyday.

Matthew was collecting taxes-business as usual.

They had an encounter with Jesus just where they were.

We can have encounters with God everyday- on a Monday en route to work just as much as in the church sanctuary on a Sunday. He can transform our 2D monochrome moments into 4D technicolor by His Spirit in us.

So,
‘Do the most everyday & insignificant tasks, knowing that God can see…We are doing more than we know’ (George Matheson)

We can see glimpses of God in our ordinary life!

Rather than waiting on the next big thing, we can wait on God here in this moment:
‘What we have is time. And what we do is waste it, waiting for those big spectacular moments. We think that something’s about to happen—something enormous and newsworthy—but for most of us, it isn’t. This is what I know: the big moments are the tiny moments. The breakthroughs are often silent, and they happen in the most unassuming of spaces.’
(Shauna Neiquist in the foreword Jeff Goins – The In-Between)

‘Maybe what we call “mundane,” what feels boring and ordinary, is really how we spend our lives. And we have an opportunity to make of it what we will—to resent its lack of adventure or rejoice in its beauty. Perhaps the abundant life we’ve been seeking has little to do with big events and comes in a subtler form: embracing the pauses in between major beats.’
(Jeff Goins The In-Between)

The banner outside Bethany Baptist proclaims:
‘Ordinary people worshipping an extraordinary God’

This Extraordinary God can make our ordinary lives extraordinary ,
not perfect-but real.

So,
‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering’ (Romans 12:1, 2 MSG)

‘Let everything you do be done as if it makes a difference’ (William James)
{because it does!}

Blessings,

Ruth x

*Revised & updated from original post @ www.blessedme.co.uk