What It's About

TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Moments before the maelstrom broke

Nathanael’s left hand.

That Tuesday 1st morning in cold July, as we set off to have pictures taken of our baby, we thought little of it to be frank. Sure, we’d have some information for how baby was tracking, but I honestly cannot recall us talking about the significance of the moment coming at us from the horizon.
At about late morning, when I was waved into the sonographer’s room, I still had no idea. A second scan was conducted, in silence, the doctor attending with the sonographer — who I thought had lacked competence, because she had asked us to come back again later for another scan because she couldn’t see certain organs well enough. It was a story to get us out of there in order that she could brief the doctor.
Something was horribly wrong.
We were none the wiser as we sipped
on coffee and hot chocolate in the café.
Even the moment when we were ushered into the doctor’s office I still didn’t get it. I just wasn’t thinking. Something was going on, but I had no idea what we were about to experience in those fleeting minutes.
Those moments I wrote about, but I never wrote about the moment beforehand.
The moments before brokenness are moments of naivety. We never imagine what is about to take place; how our whole life as it is, or was, is about to change — unequivocally, irrevocably, undeniably, uncontrollably.
The moments before the maelstrom breaks out are those instants in time where the angels prepare for war. For a war like no other, God prepares them.
Within the divine and eternal realms there is unabashed solemnity. Within the dark realms, parties of derision, divisions of calamity, emerge then rage. And we’re all oblivious, apart from the fact we can tell life was never meant to be this way, not in the original blueprint.
Before the maelstrom arrives, we have no frame of reference for where on earth or all eternity we are. There is no clue for what is about to rain over us. So, when all hell breaks loose in the saying of a few words that take a second or two to say, or in the tears within a doctor’s eyes, his chin aquiver, there can only be disbelief; there can only be a hangover of conscious awareness, the mind lagging and hanging onto what it previously knew. Even as the minutes are replaced by hours, understanding is still out-of-range.
There is a place in time where loss bewilders us.
Those moments of shock are what we view as normal as we look back. We always imagined such moments were possible, we just never thought we would quite have to experience them. But we do. They come to us all at some point or other.
July First is as an important day for us as any. It was the day our dreams began to die. It was the day time stood still. It was also the day when a weird sort of season of life began; a season that had no discernible or clear ending, but just ebbed away silently in the cool dark of night — it was an ambiguous grief that left us amazed at the depths and possibilities of life, the magnitude of death and existence, the hope of eternity beyond all sorrow.
All this out of a moment of complete devastation.
Four years on life is different in so many ways. God has changed much of the circumstances and living environment we enjoyed back then. In so many ways these changes have occurred twice over.
Even on the day the maelstrom broke we had such an awareness of God’s abiding in the shock of it all. We can say, as we look back, we’ve never doubted the goodness of God.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Meet the Malevolent Brothers, ‘Abuse’ and ‘Manipulation’

Image Source: 

Suddenly it dawned on me, there is a possible dynamic on the slippery slope, either side of making peace.
The attack phase involves abuse.
The escape phase involves manipulation.
The thesis is this: those who are given to abuse are also given to manipulation, and oh how subtle both can be.
There may be those reading this who may think this is rubbish. Talk to a victim I say. And it’s a possibility that those who think this is rubbish may have the propensity to this condition, or certainly be lenient to those who harbour both brothers in themselves.
The Attack Phase
Those who have been abused know full well that there is an armoury at the disposal of the perpetrator. They have learned to weaponize potentially every opportunity that doesn’t run their way, and those who are the biggest worry are those who calculate exactly when to strike — usually in the strictest privacy for their safety. What renders victims most helpless is the strength of alibi in their perpetrator, and it’s despairing when injustice makes way for applause. So many who are given to abuse are suave beyond catching. Their winsome way often puts them beyond reach of doubt.
The Escape Phase
It’s common for the person who will resort to abuse to seek an escape, especially if their abuse is called for what it is, or it’s resisted. They only have two avenues: more abuse (if they can get away with it) or escape through withdrawal, to put on a pity-party that they’re the ones feeling hurt. To escape to safety is one thing, and that is expected of the one who is abused, but there is an escape predicated from the insidiousness of passive aggressiveness, in that the withdrawal is of itself an act of aggression. The perpetrator of abuse has withdrawal as part of their armoury.
There is a vexing question about those who take and use and even distort their power:
“What is it about power that makes powerful people abuse it
without seeming to know that they’re abusing it?”
source of quoted question
The question assumes that it’s only ‘powerful’ people who abuse power. But we all have the capacity what power we do have. It’s just such a pity, not to mention how costly it is to our mental and emotional health, that some make sport of abusing the power they have. It happens in workplaces, in marriages, in families, in church, anywhere in life where there’s relationships.
And, as the question says, those who abuse what power they have — meaning they exploit, and bear little empathy within, and have an entitled approach toward, their relationships — don’t seem to connect the dots as to the magnitude of their impact.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

‘Just tell me what to do, then I’ll do it’

My wife, the storyteller

Early in our marriage I can recall several conversations that went like this:
Me: [exasperated] ‘Darling, just tell me what you want me to do, when and how, and I’ll do it. Make it simpler. I want you to be happy. If you’re happy I’ll be happy.’
My wife: [livid] ‘But you’re missing the point.’
Me: ‘I’m confused, frustrated and angry.’
My wife: I can’t help you understand that it’s about more than doing what I want you to do.
Fortunately, at some point, I worked out the problem with the attitude of ‘I just want to be shown.’ As we discussed it recently, my wife and I deduced that it must have been a realisation in me through marriage counselling. I cannot thank God enough. It has been a game-changer in our marriage.
Having counselled dozens of individuals and couples now there is broad trend that suggests that when marriages are in trouble (and all marriages have times of trouble) a high proportion of the time men just want to know what they need to do, and how and when to do it. To have marital interactions reduced to some kind of formula.
Frustrated, we resort to the simplest, most direct way of fixing the problem. We’re even prepared to submit ourselves to doing what we would prefer not to do to keep our wives happy. And many times, we’re confounded as to why this frustrates our wives. Don’t they see our sacrifice? Yes, they see the sacrifice and they see right through it.
Whilst on the surface it sounds noble to be prepared to do whatever we need to do, I’m sure most women (and some men) who read this will detect the flaw in this approach.
It fails for motive. When someone says, ‘just tell me what to do’ they’re essentially saying, ‘I’m checking out; you’ve lost me.’ We may think that this is what our wives want to hear, but it’s exactly what they don’t want to hear, for it highlights that our love is reduced to checking boxes on a list.
All they need to see from us
is the desire to understand.
If we desire to understand,
sooner or later the penny will drop.
When finally we do understand
our heart begins to change.
When two hearts are engaged in marriage
both seek first to understand the other
rather than be understood themselves.
Most of all marriage is about two adults behaving as adults. Whenever a partner says, ‘Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it,’ we can tell something is awry in their commitment to the intimacy within the marriage. As marriage partners, we want our partner to want to do this or that, and certainly to be creative in how they love us.
None of us wants such a cheap love
that’s done just because we required it.
We want it to come from our partner’s heart — because they wanted to do it, not because of the pressure we place on them to do what we want, because we know that that’s not love. And no partner should settle for a cheap love that is in fact not love at all. It’s a counterfeit love.
It’s a behaviour that looks like love
but doesn’t feel like love.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Your right to feel safe in your relationship

You have every right to feel safe in your relationship. In any relationship. Especially in marriage. 
But it’s often a journey to get there — to arrive in this place with much surety. And this is not excusing abuse, for which there is no excuse! But it is the necessary concession we need to make if ongoing repentance and continued growth is evident. None of us wants to give up on a relationship with potential where we believe the other person is trying from their heart. No; we want and need to believe in their capacity to grow. Until they refuse to grow, refusing to be challenged. And we need to believe fervently that we’re committed to ensuring they feel safe around us and act accordingly.
We still have every right to feel safe, to be free of anxiety pertaining to a person’s presence. We still have every right to feel safe regarding what we do, what we don’t do, what we say, and what we think. To have our living and our being rest acceptably within sanctuary.
More is the pity that we don’t always feel safe. And it is tragic when we cannot say it. It’s the saving grace of a relationship that where we don’t feel safe our partner can simply hear us out and not judge us or feel accused or unworthy.
A right relationship is about feeling
right about the relationship.
And marriage is ostensibly about right relationship. Where both feel they can communicate and exist in the presence of safety. For both it will take maturity, the ability to be and remain in the adult space. For both, security, a definitive sense-of-self that acknowledges and accepts personal flaws. For both, faith, which is trust in one another and God.
Where there is no such assurance for safety, doubts for the rightness of the relationship are exposed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

T.E.S.T. – Try Every Single Time

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

The moment we see that an overwhelming situation is a test is the moment we’re empowered to overcome. Not by overcoming the moment itself as if we could do that. But by our reframing the moment. Not that the moment is simply more tolerable, but we can see the moment as a test and worth every bit just to:

This didn’t make sense to me when God first spoke it. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. This is not about mastering our spirituality in our own strength, for that is folly. This is about resolving to please God because we can.
This is about seeing everything in life as a test, particularly the extenuating circumstances, and as a test, the extenuating circumstance, one at a time, as they only come one at a time, is passable.
Let’s look at some facts of what tests do to us:
1.      We fail at the level of our will. Sometimes when we stop, we stop because we stop trying.
2.      Having failed, we lose heart. The test overwhelms us. We stop trying. We choose to give up.
3.      Believing we can do a thing is simply about the hope we have in us to have a go. We do this by trying. Even in the mode of despair there’s power in reframing our thinking.
4.      We overcome by not giving up. By continuing in our trying. If we keep trying we don’t give up.
5.      Every test is a matter of awareness — that we’re aware we’re being tested. Then, in knowing life tests us, it’s simply the decision of trying, of reframing, of choosing a hopeful joy as we do the difficult thing, even as we don’t enjoy doing the thing we have to do.
6.      Every test is passable. We pass the test by trying. And even if we fail, we have tried. To try is to please God.
7.      Having seen how trying works we learn the benefit of trying when we could give up. No matter how bad things get we see the impact of trying.
God first spoke to me about how life tests us amid a season of testing nearly 15 years ago. It has been a powerful lesson that remains true today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What we’ll discuss at your first marriage counselling session

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

The very first marriage counselling session is vital for setting the stage for the journey that ought to be the marriage repair that the couple require. Some are tune-ups, and some are overhauls, and some, I’m afraid to say, are salvage for the scrapyard. But there ought always to be hope for some form of reconciliation for peace, whatever the state of any relationship, together or separated.
Naturally, the couple will be keen to dive right into the present issues, particularly to deal with dysfunction around communication and conflict resolution. But, believe it or not, there’s something more primary.
Surely, we will discuss much more than the following dozen points of an unexhaustive list, but we must have some structure to be guided by God by; structure gives purpose and hope; it sets direction; it gives us something to trust as we seek God for the help only the Lord can provide.
I’ve learned the need for structure the hard way; when I trusted a process of guiding couples without structure and did them and I and God a great disservice. So, structure is necessary. It is the guiding light of God’s holy wisdom.
Here are some of the general points that need to be part of the first session, in no particular order:
1.             What work have you done on your marriage previously? Have you done a Prepare-Enrich inventory or similar? What do you already know about yourselves from previous marriage counsellors and mentors. What tools are you already equipped with? We need wisdom to quantify where the issues reside, and what to work on first.
2.             Teaching will be provided. It goes without saying that a lot of time can be needlessly consumed and wasted on red herrings that end up making matters worse. Getting torn up on present conflicts that only retraumatise, for instance. Marriage counselling is a place not only to hash things out, it’s a place to learn and discover. The counselling relationship is intended to model safety. It needs structure. Teaching the tools to equip the couple is an inherent part of good structure. I teach PeaceWise, Transactional Analysis, boundaries in marriage, languages of apology, among a host of other tools depending on what’s required.
3.             If you’re committed Christians, what is your theology for marriage? The hope is there is agreement on whether an egalitarian or complementarian approach is best. My bent is toward an egalitarian approach, but if the couple in the room with me are both won to complementarianism then that’s fine with me. There must be a shared vision for marriage. Most of all, what is most fundamental about marriage is that it is about loving the other to such a degree that we are consumed less by our desires and more by what we can give them, this gift that God has placed into our hands for companionship and safekeeping.
4.             Talking about vision, and this is pertinent especially for those in second marriages and blended families, I like to know what vision the marriage partners have for cohesive family in the broader context of the word ‘family’ i.e. with ex-partners and families. My preference is for a vision where the broader family can get along and do so without faking it. Though sometimes we do need to fake it until we make it. A cohesive broader family context is such a gift to the children. It is a vision for the best kind of reconciliation possible in a broken circumstance. How will celebrations of our children’s eighteenth and twenty-first’s possibly be joyous occasions where parents and step-parents get along as friends, or at least be friendly? It has to be a vision we work toward.
5.             What gauge do you have for your own baggage? What self-awareness is there? And is that perception of good self-awareness shared by your partner? Most of us think we’re further along the growth path than we actually are. Does your partner think you are self-aware, and of equal importance, able to manage your emotionality? We all have more work to do; we never truly ‘arrive’. Our perceptions of our own humility and character, in the context of marriage, are often bloated beyond reality. And that is okay. That is pretty normal. It’s time to be brutally honest. Honesty will never kill us, but pride can end marriages or at least kill them of the kind of life they ought to have. We need also to recognise that growth is dependent on a change of mind at a heart level; only a change of mind at a heart level (Christians call it repentance) creates sustained changed behaviour.
6.             For those in second marriages, what baggage are you reading into your present partner from previous partner/s? It’s common to see in a present partner what we struggled with and ultimately rejected in our former partner. It is often a default, because our vision is now piqued or skewed a particular way. Could it be true that we might have a bend toward a certain kind of perception? What stories are we unconsciously saying to ourselves? Is a skewed perception preventing you from seeing what is virtuous and acceptable about your present partner? Baggage will always prevent contentment in marriage.
7.             A warning needs to be issued: please expect matters in your marriage to get worse before they get better. Too many times we see that marriage counselling as the silver bullet when in all reality most people leave counselling far too late when significant damage has already been done. Undoing the damage takes time. A fair expectation for change is 1-2 years. Why should we be in a hurry? What’s most important is the willingness to begin the work, and the commitment to follow it through. All I’m saying is it is challenging work. Counselling is necessary, but most of the work is done by the couples applying the principles spoken about. It all takes time.
8.             Two questions for me as the helper in the session are, 1) ‘Lord, make me aware of what I need to be aware of in this situation, Amen’; and 2) ‘Lord, am I seeking to serve this couple or to exert power?’ I am a helper and I am responsible. I recognise I have power, and that power is influence. It’s a precious thing I must take seriously. I want you to know that I want you to challenge me if ever you feel it necessary. I am aware of the power I have and need to help you. But, relationally we are equals here. That said, I want you to be aware that your perceptions are yours alone, and they need to be tested with others to see if they are shared, otherwise they are only your truth and not the truth.
9.             As dynamics develop in the session itself, the above questions need to be at the forefront of my mind and thinking, even to the extent of discerning whether each partner in the couple is seeking to serve the other or to exert power. We are always aiming to serve the other and die to self. Wherever we cannot model that there will be a gentle bringing to account.
10.        Where does the Third Entity feature in your marriage? Is God central in the Presence of your marriage? Do you take things to the Lord, individually about yourselves and together as a couple? Does God convict you of your sin? Does God help you get the log out of your own eye? Does that then lead to confession, apology, forgiveness and restoration? Again, I teach PeaceWise.
11.        I want you to leave your first session, and do this in subsequent sessions too, prepared not to react angrily with your partner for what they said or did not say or for anything they did. Take it to the Lord for a day or three. Raise it only in a productive way. Value and exemplify the safety we will model in this counselling process.
12.        Finally, I am going to ask you to trust me. This may be a strange request given that you are already trusting me. But what I am asking is that you would continue to trust my guidance, especially when it is one of you only who wants to rescind that trust. If one still trusts, the other ought to trust me enough to share with me how I’ve hurt you or missed you. Challenge me. If you both are of one accord to remove your trust I will respect your decision. By all means, test what I say with others. If it isn’t from God, it needs to die.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The responsibility we have to friends

Deep friendships mean abysmal betrayals, when, for some reason, the relationship ends.
Inevitably every close relationship, friendships particularly, are affected by conflict, and ultimately some skirmish occurs to test the strength of trust between two buddies.
There’s deep hurt, sorrow, anguish, and loneliness. But things can get even more complex if one or both begin to interact from a platform of that hurt.
It stands to reason that it’s when we’re hurt we have more capacity to hurt others. And when the other person is hurt they will not respond well to our hurtful comments and behaviour.
Friends really have a responsibility to one another, and if one doesn’t take responsibility surely it’s up to the other. What an irony it is that one person from the eroded friendship must take the role of being a friend.
But what is the role of a friend when they’re in conflict with another friend?
Well, the obvious thing to say is this; if they don’t act as a friend, the friendship has no future. Not just that, the friendship will ever more be a source of pain that cannot and will not be reconciled.
Bitterness is bred on the spread of relational distance,
the refusal to vulnerably admit and lovingly address hurts.
A friend must act beyond their feelings of sadness and anger from betrayal, and genuinely reach forth to their friend as if the hurt hadn’t occurred in the first place. That’s right, for one attempt, or perhaps one more, it’s the godly thing to reach out and endeavour to understand the hurt in our friend.
This is helped by getting the log
out of our own eye first (Matthew 7:1-5).
It would be a waste of their time and ours, and potentially catastrophic to an already damaged friendship, to reach out without being ready to assume our own responsibility for what went wrong.
Remembering that the premise of this article is the initial interactions to get the friendship back on track after conflict, reconciliation can start with us. Redemption is in our hands if we walk humbly with our friend.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Am I seeking You, God, or power?

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

I have a sticky note plastered to a bookcase in full view as I type these words. It’s a prayer. It goes like this:
Lord, make me aware of
what I need to be aware of
in THIS situation. Amen.
A person like me, with my gifts and loves, needs to be reminded regularly of the seen and unseen contexts with which I’m required to operate. I’ve made too many errors by not having this prayer consciously before me. It’s a good weapon in my prayer arsenal.
Let me make a confession. It was my wife who, over a year ago now, suggested I pray this prayer as often as I could.
I mention this because only recently, during an ongoing conversation on our pastoral response to abuse generally, which is highly topical over the world presently, my wife shared with me another nugget of wisdom; another prayer. It goes like this:
Lord, reveal my heart.
Am I seeking to serve
or to exert power? Amen.
Especially as we endeavour to minister in spaces where exertions of power are manifest all the time, we’re reminded not to respond like-for-like. Conflict never abates when retaliation occurs.
It seemed to us, as we unpacked this revelation given to my wife, that, as a prayer, it’s a good test of our motives at any given time, for serving is the diminution to the denunciation of power. And that is always a good thing. Especially when we’re in roles with power, it’s important to discharge those roles without exerting power.
The exertion of power ought to be God’s prerogative. There are certainly times when we seek a demonstration of God’s power, but the exertion of power in relationships only serves to interrupt the dynamics of trust and respect.
Yet, we’re all tempted into acts of exerting power, and we’re all blindsided by others in their exertion of power against us. Of course, abuse is the misuse of power. Always has been, always will be.
As I pray this prayer I hear God reminding me of His power as I serve. And I’m able to hear Him gently reminding me of the inappropriateness of cavorting with power that isn’t mine to wield.
The exertion of power damages people and it dishonours God, but serving builds people up and it glorifies God.
Am I seeking to serve or to exert power? Am I genuinely trusting You for the next step along life’s path, or am I making my way in my own strength with whatever power I can exert? Especially in those fractured relationships, Lord, help me to seek to serve, and to trust You for the reconciliation I seek.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The boundary of ‘I get to choose my friends’

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

This is a straight forward article with one point:
my friend does not get to choose
those others I choose to be friends with.
I could leave it at that. But I won’t, because it helps to know why.
I think it also helps to keep this article in the first person — that is, I will speak for myself. This will allow you to judge for yourself whether it’s something you wish to adopt.
My friend does certain things that prove their capacity for friendship. The one in focus is they don’t try and control me. It’s hoped also that they don’t try to control anyone else I love either.
Control is the central issue here.
Control is the misuse of power.
Control kills relationships dead.
Friends don’t say, ‘you can’t be friends with
this person or that person’, or ‘choose who
you will be friends with —
me or them; one or the other.’
(Unless it’s their wise boundary)
My own gauge for people will lead me to judge who I will associate with. If I make an error in that process, I’m solely responsible for that error, but it must be left to me to decide.
Now, it would be different if my friend said to me, ‘Be careful with that person you’re calling a friend,’ based on some tangible reason of authentic, loving warning, and then follow it up with the words and behaviour of, ‘But it’s your choice who you’re friends with.’ Notice how I said behaviour. This means, having said what they have said, no further correspondence is entered into to deride the other person. Another friend’s words and actions are then in the vein of being for me instead of being against the friend they’ve advised me against.
When I say ‘my friend’ in the initial my-friend-does-not-get-to-choose-those-others-I-choose-to-be-friends-with statement I mean the kind of person who acts like a genuine friend does. That person who is my friend will not seek to control me in any way. They have their voice and should speak honestly to me, but they must understand and accept that my decisions and actions are mine and no coercion should occur.
Of course, this is hard. I’ve been in situations where I would have preferred friends to not associate with certain people who have hurt me, for instance. Indeed, I’ve been foolish enough to try and control who my friends choose to be friends with; I’ve seen my error, and I try to be alert to such behaviour and to turn from it.
Friends operate in a space that’s fair where
both are afforded the trust of freedom.

And, at the risk of being contradictory, there are times when my friend might choose to end their friendship with me because they believe so firmly that this new friendship is a bad idea. But they don’t endeavour to control me in the process. They simply decide to move on, harbouring no ill feeling toward me or the other person. Of course, that is very hard to pull off, but the idea is they’re not trying to control me.