building something good

Hello, friends. I hope you have had a good week. I had an awesome moment last night, at the gathering of our wider student community, the Nest, of looking round the room and realising that a good handful of our student leaders from last year have really come onboard with where I see the group going. All of them were getting to know the new students, clearing up after dinner, moving the evening along, making people feel welcome – no matter what had happened in their weeks, which they were able to set aside to be fully present for that gathering.

And I know these guys – I know that some of them have some really tough stuff going on, while others are really busy and tired. They are amazing people.

It reminded me of a quote I read before, from a psychologist called Peter Kramer, who said that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness – it’s resilience. These student leaders (and good friends of mine) weren’t necessarily having the time of their lives; to them, it was just another weekly gathering, another time to serve. But they had the capacity, the tensile strength, to prioritise that mundane, but essential calling for the evening over sinking into some mire of self-pity and exhaustion and checking out.

And that choice, by these people working as a team, is making a real difference to the 40+ people who have visited the Nest these past couple of weeks. It is stamping positive memories of being in community, being loved and wanted and thought interesting, on their first weeks of living in Coventry.

I am so proud of them.

Feels like we’re building something good here.


Ps. Other interesting snippets from the week:

Related article about raising up team and shaping culture.

Watched this classic with my housemates on Monday night. How true to life is that Mexican-wave-softball-game scene?! Nora Ephron = pure genius.

Good bedtime reading that I’ve just finished. Very honest, funny, and delicious – you may need to fix yourself a midnight snack.

It’s an old album now, but she has a really great voice:

bugs, Mercy, and being an achiever

You know how sometimes you get into a crisis, and it’s pretty obvious? Like the sirens are screaming and the bailiff is at the door and all the neighbours are watching, and there’s no denying it, girl’s got problems?

That has really only happened once in my life (and not literally). In the Good Girl realm of things (which I very much inhabit), crises rarely arrive with such fanfare. In fact, they very often don’t feel like crises at all, they feel like little niggling bugs which I can choose to carry on ignoring, to my peril. After all, there are so many other things I need to be doing. Better get achieving; YOLO and all, you know?

Maybe it’s having tried to get rid of the bedbugs in my room for about three weeks now*, but I have been learning to take the little niggling bugs seriously. The fact that they are small is no invitation to ignore them; they are in fact from Mercy, who is saying, “deal with this before it gets bigger”.

This week, the bugs were things like:

  • I didn’t know how I was feeling. When people who wanted a real answer asked, ‘how are you?’, it stressed me out.
  • I was working too hard.
  • I was late to things.
  • I was scratchy towards people.
  • I felt shallow. I could feel my smile getting thin, and knew that I was no bigger on the inside than I looked on the outside.
  • I had no peace about decisions. It felt like skating on thin ice.

Eventually, while talking to a friend, I realised that all these things point to the fact that I just wasn’t having enough space to connect with God and feel like myself**. I had made my life too noisy. Uhhhh, hello, old problem.

out walking with sheep

Sometimes, life is full of space and stillness and I go on walks…sometimes, not so much.

Being an achiever, having time to meditate and pray and generally hang out with God is one of those things that makes no sense whatsoever. Hanging out is not efficient. It is not successful. I want to try to turn it into a project with success/failure as potential directions, but that would defeat the purpose. It flummoxes the way my mind works.

However, it is essential if I do not want my epitaph to read, “busy person; no character”.

“The fruitful way into the depths demands a great deal of patience from [achievers] and the readiness to experience nothing spectacular for quite a while, or to be confronted with their own hostility, boredom, and superficiality […]

[Achievers] must confront the secret of the cross, which is the secret of failure: out of our defeats God makes his victories — not ours! This doesn’t occur to [achievers], this doesn’t work, this can’t be integrated into any system of promotion. [Achievers] on the way to redemption free themselves from their vanity and begin to hope in God’s sovereign activity, which can’t be manipulated.”

— Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, from this very insightful book

The current plan for change is to get up half an hour earlier each day and just be with God with no particular agenda. I’m doing this with my housemate so hopefully the fear of social disapproval will work in my favour – we shall see.

*About the bedbug situation: the final cull is taking place this weekend – wish me luck and/or pray!
**Sometimes all the warning signs add up to different root causes, but this week was an elegant example of just one thing being the issue.

good and bad running on parallel tracks

bring the happy

It’s been an oddly bipolar week. My friends and I got to do tons of very lovely fun stuff, and celebrate some joyous happenings, while at the same time quite a few difficult things were also going on with us. It’s been a weird one, oscillating wildly between feeling like all is beautiful and we can relax, and feeling thoroughly pummelled by life.

Discovering a bedbug infestation in my room alternated with a visit to this gorgeous home and grounds (they had deer!) with my friends in perfect sunshine on a National Trust Free Weekend. Which in turn was followed by being seriously, horribly slammed with work deadline major crises. But then my dear sister came to visit, and we spent the day out in Coventry. And then it was Earth Day, so we scattered candles across our living room surfaces, turned out the lights, and invited some dear friends over for dinner (made a delish adaptation of this based on what sauces and aromatics I had). Over the course of the week three friends had serious health issues crop up with their loved ones — but yesterday another friend, who has a cartilage injury, got off crutches four weeks early. Plus I got to go watch an arty film (pretty good) with a bunch of friends that I wouldn’t normally do that with, which opened up new topics of conversation and meant that we now know each other that little bit more.

“Good and bad run on parallel tracks, and they usually arrive at about the same time.” — Ron Dunn

I guess most of life is normally like that, lots of different happenings bumping up against each other. But it’s been awhile since my week has felt that extreme, the joy and the pain so sharply delineated.

I could focus either way, and have swung from one extreme to the other many times this week. But I think I’m going to choose to be thankful. That the various raging beasts of work projects have been momentarily tamed; that many of my family and friends are healthy; that I’m seeing some of those friends in Nottingham today; that I have great people to live through it all with — that regardless of how different our situations may be, we are committed to mourning and swearing and rejoicing and feasting together. The fundamentals of my life are good.

When my sister was in Cov, we got to go see this rad happiness mapping project and submit a couple of memories. Bring the Happy started out during the recession a couple of years ago, when city centre businesses were dropping like flies. A theatre company called Invisible Flock decided that they were going to move into a city centre storefront, armed with a couple of big maps of your city, and ask people to log their happy memories on the places where they had occurred, marking them with glass rods (of lengths corresponding to your happiness level in said memory). At the end of the logging period, they would take those memories and transform them into an all-singing all-dancing bells-and-whistles-replete foot-stomping show.

BTH shopfront

BTH overall view

map on screen

walsgrave hospital

The bit I loved was nosily reading everyone else’s memories of my city, from the seriously inane to the life-transforming. The glass rods are a striking visual representation of where people have chosen thankfulness and hope; I was surprised to see a huge cluster of them on Walsgrave Hospital. Participating felt oddly like joining in with some kind of mass prophetic act, speaking hope into the city, hope into our bones.