What is your emergency?

I’ve been watching a three-part documentary called ‘Ambulance’ on the BBC. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch on iPlayer. 

‘Ambulance’ – BBC (c)

As fascinating as I found it, it challenged me. I used to think I had bundle loads of empathy, but watching some of the calls who ‘waste’ the time, money and resources of the London ambulance service, I find my true colours coming out and I’m not sure I like what I find. My levels of empathy definitely have limits! For example I feel immensely frustrated with the failing of the mental health provision available. It seems to me that we need a mental health A&E – for those who are having a lapse into unmediated bipolar; who are full of anxiety and can’t get hold of their care teams; who are threatening to jump off Hammersmith Bridge; who are homeless and incoherent; who are having a crisis in the throes of dementia and constantly, and I mean constantly, phoning for ambulances. I’m not cross with those people – and yet at the same time when there’s someone else, for instance, whose 6 year old daughter has fallen from a bunk bed and hit her head – it is frustrating to see the delays in others getting treatment. For those with issues of homelessness and/or alcoholism – is an ambulance what they really need? Wouldn’t sustained help to rehabilitate, to get warm, to get fed, to get cared for be better?

And what of the elderly? Some with no friends, no family and failing health – lonely, worried, vulnerable. One man has a carer come in three times a day, but it’s not enough to stop him calling for ambulances again and again and telling them his heart hurts. I almost wonder if it’s heartache – he seems so desperate for someone to look after him, to care about him. It’s not traumatic heart pain and he doesn’t need taking to hospital so the ambulance crew discharges him, again. You can’t help feeling that he may well call them back before the night is through. He is clearly troubled.  Where is our social care in all this?

The ambulance service staff talk about what avenues are open to them, and those which simply aren’t there. What would it be better to do with and for the homeless guy who discharged himself from hospital with a canula still in his hand (it can’t be removed by the ambulance staff – why, I’m not sure)? Back to hospital he goes, with his suspiciously diluted bottle of Coke which he gulps regularly, and clarifies his priorities, “when I get there, I’m going to tell them I want a sandwich, otherwise I’ll die.” They get there and they’re out of sandwiches for patients apparently (who even knew that was a thing?) and the best they can offer is bread and jam. Apparently that’s not up to standard – he doesn’t like bread and jam. Huh. Then he falls asleep sat in a chair in the warmth waiting for his canula to be removed. It’s a result of sorts.

It’s a strange kind of poverty that we see here, and compares peculiarly with what you see in other countries where we see people fall on a sack of uncooked rice or flour like vultures, desperate for anything to feed their families. Perhaps it’s a poverty of community, of social care, of family? I don’t know. Neither, it is clear, does the government.  

I feel frustrated for the paramedics on a Friday night dealing with an ecstasy drug overdose; a stabbing, sorry no – stabbing, after stabbing, after stabbing; a taxi driver punched; a guy in a pub glassed in the face…by a woman; people passed out from alcohol; people fighting – is the assailant still on scene? On with the stab vest. Seriously? This isn’t what these courageous, caring people signed up for (although one young paramedic does love the adrenaline of the unexpected and the chaotic – just as well really!).

The guy who has the unenviable job of assessing the calls and deciding who gets an ambulance, and who must wait when there is no one available – that’s right, no first responders, no ambulance crews, no air ambulance, no motorbikes, none of the private ambulances contracted to provide additional cover, no volunteer responders (again, who knew?) – he says he anticipated making a difference, helping deliver babies by phone,

and giving life saving instructions for CPR – it’s just not like that now, they are small percentage of calls.

I mentioned empathy – and I found it really hard to continue to feel for the woman who repeatedly calls up saying she’s having an late miscarriage of a stillborn baby when really she’s an alcoholic and just wants help and attention. Especially when that means a 92 year old ‘elderly faller’ who has been on the floor for hours (three hours, I think, in the end) has his ambulance diverted away at the last moment to help her. 

She has needs clearly – but an ambulance wasn’t the answer. 
What of the older man with bipolar who hasn’t been taking his medication. He has been sat outside in the cold for hours, and his son is at a loss as to how persuade him to accept help. He won’t let the paramedic even touch him. The police have to be called to assist.

The only ‘avenue open to them’ is to take him to hospital- it’s that or if he resists help and is a danger to himself or others, it’s the police station. Sadly he’s been there before. They do their best to care for him without having to resort to handcuffs and manage it in the end. You can’t help feeling though that this mental health problem and the man suffering with it, is like a ball in a pinball machine, passed from pillar to post. 

Now, they’ve done their bit, the police and ambulance can get on with dealing with other more serious call outs, and he becomes the hospital’s problem. I’m not entirely sure what they will be able to do for him, but it’s pretty certain that numerous nurses and doctors and other hospital staff will be involved. They will now get to tussle with him, cajole, persuade and placate him with a mental health band-aid until the morning comes, when I guess his social worker or mental health care professional will be contacted- “Aha! Tag! You’re ‘it’!”. But strangely no one is laughing; and the ambulance crew know that more likely than not, they’ll meet this chap again- in a week or a month. Do I feel cross with him for stopping taking his medication and ‘bringing this upon himself’? Momentarily, yes; but of course I know it’s not that simple, and medication isn’t the panacea we wish it were.

The call out for the ambulance is about ¬£450. Imagine totting up the cost of all those resources and staff across all the different services – police, ambulance, hospital, social care, mental health.  And what of the human cost to this man and his family – this is no way to live.  What better illustration of a system which is clearly, if not already broken, then certainly at breaking point?

If I were to end there, it would be pretty depressing. As a tenacious problem solver, I can’t let it stop at that point. The question becomes, so what can I do?

There are different trains of thought here – many would be tempted to say, “well it’s the fault of the government isn’t it”, and then list a litany of criticisms; or perhaps complain about the local MP or NHS. Others might be spurred in to enter politics themselves.

On the one hand it’s too easy to blame; and on the other whilst making a difference politically may be laudable, personally I can bear neither the snail’s pace of progress, the schoolboy posturing of parliament or the untold bureaucracy of local government. Equally whilst campaigning at a strategic level is important – yes, you must lobby your MP and your local council when you see the opportunity to make a difference, if you leave it there, you miss the opportunity to make a difference yourself, today even.

“What can I possibly do, faced with these enormous issues??”

I mentioned community above, so how about some starters for ten: do you know your neighbours? Are there elderly people living on your street? Are there young people you can positively engage with? If you could extend care and compassion to those in your immediate vicinity, you – yes you, can make a difference. 

Pah! I hear you say, so what if I help just one person, how can that ever help our current crisis?

Have you heard of the starfish analogy? Where the little boy says, ‘yes but I made a difference to that one’. Some might say there are limitations to this parable in that blindly doing one thing, without looking at the bigger picture of the ecology and the root cause, could at best cause burnout for the ‘little boy’ and at worst perpetuate the problem with no long term resolution. 

If we want to see significant social change, I think we may need to acknowledge that Government can do some things that impact society, but I don’t think it can cause fundamental culture change; that has to happen from the ground up.

Much of political policy is about looking at dealing with symptoms – more policing, more prisons, more drug treatment programmes perhaps – but what of the root causes?  These are often too big for a political party with a 4-5 year mandate to get to grips with. They require cross-party consensus, cross-cultural participation and commitment to make a long term sustainable difference. 

What are the possible causes behind this panoply of social issues? Breakdown of the family and it’s dispersal far and wide – away from elderly family. Loneliness of older people – some living kinger than others, but sadly often outliving spouses and friends. And the loneliness of young people and children too – living in a world where people think they’re connected – by the wonders of the Internet, but we know according to research this generation is the loneliest ever; cyber-bullying continues unabated; parents are advised to talk frankly with their under-10s about the dangers of sexting. Wow.

We see both adults and teens desperate for escape – they don’t know how to deal with their problems, dysfunctional family life, the mental health issues (estimates vary from 1 in 4 of us having mental health challenges in their lifetime, to 1 in 2. I can put my hand up and say that I am and have been one of that number.) Do people know how to get help? Where do they turn? All too often it is to easily available alcohol – bargains abound in pubs, clubs and supermarkets? Or to drugs perhaps? 

It seems to me, these are people lacking two important things in their lives – hope and purpose. They don’t know what the point of life is any more, and they despair of their existence getting any better. 

‘Be the difference you want to see in the world’ ~ Ghandi

What if on your daily wanderings through life, you could inject a little hope into those who cross your path?

  • Perhaps with the supermarket checkout worker? Give them a smile or a compliment. 
  • Could you give a hearty or silly wave to the kids on the bus and see if someone waves back? See the delight on their little faces!
  • Let that annoying pushy executive car out into the traffic with a smile and a gesture of ‘you’re welcome’. Choose to bless rather than curse them in their stress and drive to hurry wherever they’re going.
  • Thank your child’s teacher for the job they’re doing with your kid – even if you don’t totally agree with everything they do – they’re doing the best they can.
  • See a police person out and about? Give them a thumbs up, or a smile, or a word of thanks.  Be a role model to those around you – show that we respect and are grateful to the defenders of our society and the upholders of the law. 
  • Greet older people out and about – they might look at you askance at first, but persevere – being the ‘salt and light’ in a bland and dark society takes courage and heart! Before long they’ll recognise you and greet you first, and how great does that feel?!

Imagine it starting with you, and with me. Then imagine an army of ordinary people rising up to stamp the ground, and shake the earth just where they stand. Tapping into the organisations already working in these areas*, finding more and more synergies and connections. Wouldn’t the tremors of positive social change start to spread far and wide? You might be just one lantern in the darkness – but what if we were one of thousands or even millions chasing away the shadows and the darkness that pervades our society?

 It’s the accumulated power of the little things. 

If a group of neighbours rallied round to look out for that potential ‘elderly faller’ and pick them up when they fall down. That’s one person quickly helped, an ambulance call saved, and a person having a stroke or heart attack more quickly attended to. 

What if more of us had first aid qualifications? I’ve had to give CPR before – it’s brutal, but it can be life saving. You can make a difference there and then – and if an ambulance is called out, then you know you’ve got that patient into the best possible position for a good outcome with the paramedics.

What if you took the time to find out who amongst the parents at the school gate had asthma, epilepsy or diabetes? What if you took the time to ask and find out what life saving care they could need? A diabetic going into a hypo could be saved by a sugary sweet or drink – life saving help right there and then with the right knowledge. 

I love Jesus with all my heart and I try to love him with every aspect of my life – hands to help, feet to go, voice to speak out on behalf of those who can’t, heart to love, eyes to see those in need, finances to bless, time to give and to serve. It strikes me that my first aid qualification is years out of date now – I still remember most of what I learned but it wouldn’t take much time, effort or money to renew it. To make myself available to those in my immediate surroundings.

Jesus’s told the shocked and appalled pharisees the story of the Good Samaritan (link) – and people today often say, well who is my neighbour? Let’s start with our neighbours. Knock on the door, introduce yourself, take biscuits  – invite them for a cuppa. You never know when you might be on the receiving end of their help. 

It took a bit of courage to knock on the door of our neighbours on a cold winter especially afternoon after we had moved in to our place, and some older folk were pretty suspicious at first.

But since then, neighbours have become precious friends: people who babysit for us; who have called to tell me that in my distracted state I had left the front door wide open; other neighbours who called to let us know that some unexpected tradespeople had tripped our burglar alarm on a Sunday morning; they’ve shared harvest from their gardens or allotments; they’ve provided a shoulder to cry on when times have been tough; we’ve helped with transport to hospital; they’ve watered plants; we’ve messaged to check everything was alright when the curtsins were closed and the lights off for more than a day or two – illness turned out to be the reason; we’ve watched films; commiserated over England’s sporting defeats; had a bring and share lunch, explored selling unwanted stuff on Facebook together!

Isn’t that what building community is all about? When you take a little time to become vulnerable yourself, to risk rejection, to be a little brave…who knows, you might just make the world of difference.
I hope these thoughts stir you up, and make you want to make a difference to your neighbourhood and your spheres of influence!

  • Who could you reach out and make a connection with today?
  • If you have elderly parents or friends – what would you want their community to be like – every day and in times of need?
  • If you have a faith- would you prayer walk your streets and ask for blessing and protection over all those who live there?
  • Could you make a point of smiling and saying hi to the dog walkers and the shoppers at your corner shop?
  • What will you do differently today? 

I’d love to know what resonates for you, and if you’d like to share in the comments below how you are creating a community you want to live in, or what you will start doing, that would make my spirit soar!
* Here in Gloucestershire for organisations I can recommend:

  • The Barnwood Trust – building communities and offering free training for this
  • Trinity Church Cheltenham – homeless ministry ‘The Garage’ and Street Teams
  • Age UK
  • GRCC manages befriending services for the elderly
  • CCP working with children, young people, families and vulnerable adults who have multiple and complex needs
  • Street Pastors engaging people all kinds of people out and about in the evenings and weekends
  • Young Gloucestershire works with young people not in education, employment or training – and offer Prince’s Trust programmes as well. They are always on the look out for volunteer mentors to support their young people  

What a tangled web we weave

The other day I found several messy bundles of tangled cotton thread – straight off whole reels and directly into ‘tangle-dom’ – my heart sank and I was just a touch cross with the ‘perpetrator’. (For more of the back story and something of what I learned about myself in the untangling process, pop over to the Connected Coaching blog and take a peek.)

Long story short, I ended up untangling some of the thread. As I did so, my hands were busy, but my mind was occupied much less than usual with the task at hand, needing as it did little intellectual thought, and a lot more perseverance and determination! At times like these I suspect God sighs with relief, and says something like, “Finally! Now she’s not so swept up with her own thoughts, worries, plans – analysing, struggling and empathising, perhaps I might now get a word in edgeways and she’ll actually be able to hear me!”. 

And so it was, as I carefully drew threads apart, teasing, pulling, gently prising, this is what I saw.

My thread was golden, and I saw it as if a daddy were looking at his son or daughter; a mass of energetic potential which had got itself into a terrible mess. 

If this child were to try to extract itself, much like me, it would struggle to find the free ends, and even then with each pull or semblance of progress, something somewhere else would pull fast. The knot would become unworkable and more loops and twists would suddenly have formed. Frustration would surely ensue!

I was challenged as to the value of the thread. Why not throw it away and start again? 

My time is worth so very much more! It seems quite ridiculous.

Dad looks on. He could never again give up on His child like that! He had wiped the face of the earth once before in horror at what his creation had become and the mess they had made, but had promised resolutely never to do that again. 

He loves his children fiercely and jealously. He pursues them, gently though, always hoping, believing they will let Him ease out the tangles, loosen the knots and bring things back into alignment.

He looks at that golden thread. He knows full well that the enemy will whisper to His precious children – ‘You’re worthless’, ‘God’s given up on you; abandoned you, you’re condemned to be messed up like this forever’, ‘Your parents probably wish they could chuck you away again and start all over with your little brother’, ‘What a disappointment!, ‘What a monumental mess you’ve made of things!’, 

‘Well, you’d better sort yourself out, get straightened up on your own – surely know one is going to come to your rescue now – they wouldn’t want to know you if they saw what you were really like inside’. 

It’s important to know and remember, the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy (our truth, our love, our peace, our future, our relationships – especially our spiritual childlike-ness). (John 10:10). The only father the devil is good for, is being the father of lies.

When God looks at that tangled thread, he might feel sad for his child, but he doesn’t condemn; he doesn’t throw his hands up in despair, or roll his eyes in contempt at his kids’ predictable lapses. He is committed to the process with a heart full of love.

He sees those pinch points, he knows our pain and distress. He works slowly and tenderly, taking just one piece at a time. Work it a little, find the lines of the thread, seek out the roots, loosen it up. “I’ll come back to that part in a bit, that’s enough for now.”

Then taking up another tangle, working now with that – what looked like an impenetrable and hopeless bunch of fibres, suddenly come loose revealing a few twists here and there. Finding a knot that wasn’t really much of a knot, just a small loop around some other loops. He sees where the thread has become immovable, where it seems a cut must be made to make any more progress, his penetrative gaze sees how truth and lies have become twisted together meaning they are stuck, apparently embedded the one in the other. Somehow, with a delicate pull here, and a teasing apart there, they fall apart so easily as if they had never been attached. 

Occasionally there is a small length that must be cut out. It is knotted in on itself and to try to prise it apart would shred the cotton to pieces. The part that has already been wound back onto the reel just won’t fit through.

To preserve the part that has been saved and to continue to make progress, it is cleaner, kinder, just better to simply remove it – as a surgeon takes out tissue that has become infected. 

Michaelangelo (allegedly) said of when he created his most famous stunning statue, all he had to do was the chip away all the stone that wasn’t David. 

Now, regardless of the fact that it’s highly unlikely to have been said by him or any other famous sculptor, there an enchanting idea contained therein which perpetuates the myth.  Similarly it occurred to me that with this cotton thread, perhaps the Lord simply takes out those parts which never truly reflected his child; the sections that added nothing to his or her potential. As he continues the untangling – a life long process it seems, he gently removes that tiny knot which would prove such an obstacle if you were to try to thread it through a needle; or that frayed part which would no doubt have broken the thread under the least tension or strain.

There are times when it seems that God takes something away from us which we had been very attached to. 

We find that even lengths of cotton that have been freed still have kinks and creases which encourage the thread to twist up again at the least opportunity. To be properly marshalled they must be turned round and round the bobbin – kept under tension to keep them in place.

 Left to their own devices they would return to their troubled nature! Only later can we look back and see the bigger picture. See how it was for our benefit or how he worked it all together for our good.  For a future – at that time yet hidden from us.

Let me know what you think. Are you in a place of tangles perhaps, or feeling fairly safely wound onto that reel at the moment?

The Choice: Have or have-not

We are just so blessed.

Who is we? Well, we three are me, my husband and our 5 year old boy.

However, we also consider that we have three African children of 16, 12, and almost 6 yrs (in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya respectively). If you looked at the hearth in our lounge, you would see the gorgeous faces of our precious Compassion-sponsored children shining out at you.

We started with one, Mercy, when we had just had our own son. We knew the cost of sponsorship would be nothing compared to the costs of having our own child, and if we could afford the latter, then we would afford the former.

Our second and third came quickly one after another. We saw the film, A Small Act, telling how a Kenyan guy had been sponsored by a Swedish lady, as a boy and how it had led to him eventually setting up an educational support programme in her name. It moved my husband and I to tears. We simply had to act; so we did, that very evening.

We chose Joyce, knowing that being that bit older (almost 15), there was a strong possibility both that she’d lost her sponsor through the recession, and that if she didn’t find a new sponsor to support her schooling, being a Maasai, there was a risk of her being subjected to FGM and married off.

When through our Tearfund-arranged church partnership with the Diocese of Kericho in Kenya, there arose the opportunity just months later to sponsor a third child, it was a chance we had to leap at. It is so important for our son to know that far away, is another little boy, just like him, but living in entirely different circumstances; and so little Samson came into our lives.

The truth we have to face is that even if things get tight for us, it’s nothing compared to the desperate poverty that these children experience. Not having electricity, a bed, access to healthcare…it’s all so hard to comprehend, but even worse? Being without hope for the future – no child should have to experience that.

As a moderately well-off family in the West we have to face the realisation that we are, in comparison to the rest of the world,  ‘rich’. It sounds so smug, so superior, so self-satisfied.

Checking on the internet (that we take for granted) we see that we’re in the top 0.1% richest people of the world – that’s just incredible! We feel we ought only to be up there if we had a Lear jet, or at least designer clothing. But sadly it’s not so much a reflection of the things we don’t have, as a picture of the dire situation of millions of people.

Then we realise that we have Jesus in our lives, so we are truly rich beyond measure! We have the One who loved us first, who was broken for us, who dwells in us. In Him we are chosen, we are significant, we are accepted, we are secure…and He will never ever leave us. Wow. That is hope indeed.

We have a choice. What do we do with this remarkable blessing?

We choose consciously to turn away from looking at the ‘even-richer’, and at all the things we haven’t got.

We look to make a difference, to share our ‘wealth’ with the hopeless and the least; with our global and our nearby neighbours.

We choose to see, to let our hearts be softened and to act.