February 10, 2019

Working with the palest of excuses

You’ve never seen me go white, have you?
You know… white.
As a sheet.

You might say that it’s pigmentally impossibly.
But, I assure you… there have been one or two times in my life when I’ve felt the blood drain clear out of my face.

The last time was about 25 years ago.

I was sitting in front of President Mann, the ecclesiastical leader responsible for 8 churches in West/East Sussex. Think ‘Bishop’, and you’ll get the idea.

“David” he smiled.
“We’d like you to accept the assignment to oversee part of our very successful Youth Programmes.”

Oh right.
“You’ll be responsible for developing leadership and teaching skills in the Young Women’s Programme”.

“Great!” I said. “Just up my street.”

“Yes, I know.” he continued.
“That will also mean that you represent me, as the Presiding Minister over all of their events and activities, during the next three years.”

“Oh, right.” I hesitated. “Such as…?”

“Well, your first assignment is the week-long Young Women’s Camp… in Wales.”

“But President.” Here’s the white-as-a-sheet bit. “I hate camping. Hate it!
I’ve suffered two disastrous attempts. And I hate it.”

Then he smiled.
That “Are-we-really-going-discuss-this?” smile.

One month later I found myself seven hours drive away, on Wilks’s farm in West Wales.
The scenery bathed my soul and took my breath away.

But one week, with 50 energetic, mouthy, unfairly-bright teenage girls?
With five children, you get used to a home regularly made chaotic by PMT.
But 50?


That week – the first of six years of camps – proved a glorious Baptism By Fire.

There were snake bites, dashes to hospital, broken fingers… PMT…  torn ankles. diarrhoea…
There was cliff-walking, cliff-abseiling, cliff-jumping (don’t ask)…PMT…
kayaking, water fights, flour fights, midnight hikes, Hunt the Dragon (the Dragon is Wilks’s tractor. Don’t tell the parents)…

There was MDK (if the “M” stands for “Murder”, guess what the “D” and “K” stand for? Definitely don’t ask!)..
ice cream fights, egg fights, midnight hikes … more PMT…

Those 50 young women became intertwined with our family’s lives. They became part of our story.
We grew to love them. Even the gobby, rebellious ones. Particularly those.

Through the years, I’ve attended their weddings, coddled their babies, chased their toddlers, taught their teenagers.

Those mouthy girls are now the leaders: in business, in church, in communities, in their families.

In the constant turmoil of business… change is frequently thrust upon us.
Legislation, technology, regulation, client expectations.

We can whine and blame and moan and kick.
We can go pale with anger and fear.

Or we can ask this question “What Is It That I Need To Learn Here?”

And this: “Is It The Business That Is Required To Change Now?
Or Is It Really Me That Needs Changing?”

Maybe there are times when you can match my white-as-sheet.

But you’d be hard-pushed to match the torrent of emotional memories that well up, and the gratitude I feel…
For those who have asked me to face up to my greatest fears.
And seek the glorious possibility that is beyond them.