steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

growing up in an ‘unusual’ family

So far, despite being a bit unwell, the Christmas break has been really enjoyable.  In chatting with friends over the last few days, I realised that some, who know me less well, we’re unaware of how I grew up and what my mum and dad did, so I thought I’d post an edited version of an article I wrote for work (in a different context) earlier in the year.  So here it is (and yes, this is a picture of me!)…

My parents have fostered over 20 children over the years, adopted two and I’ve an older long-term foster brother who has learning difficulties. I was the youngest of six for most of my childhood, and foster children came and went fairly regularly.  In my younger years I didn’t know any different and assumed everyone had this sort of family set-up!

For most of the time I would have been the youngest, but we did have children coming to live with us who were younger.  It’s only in adult life that people comment about how I felt about being displaced as the ‘baby of the family’.  I knew no different, so it really didn’t bother me. Our house was pretty busy, as you can imagine, but mum and dad had us organised to military precision.  The boys would set the breakfast table and the girls would clear up (unless my brother paid my sister to do his job!) and dinner was at about 6.15 – although mum always said it would be ready at six.  This made me chuckle – dad was always early for everything.

Recently, when visiting mum and dad, we got into discussion about life as it was and life as it might have been.  For the first time ever, my mum said that her time and energy was not shared out evenly.  In my head I’m sure I always knew this, but had never really thought about it before. I’m sure I wasn’t aware of a fraction of the meetings, court cases and discussions with social workers that went on, and I think mum and dad tried to keep us ignorant of this as much as possible. Life was as it was, and I was happy.

Mum commented that I was very laid back and didn’t need much attention – and wasn’t given it if I didn’t demand it.  If mum and dad hadn’t fostered all of those children, my life would have been very different!  I would probably have gone to a private school and, academically, I would have done much, much better.

Being brought up in a Christian home, I’ve always had an absolute assurance and awareness that God is with me and loves me, despite my many shortcomings.  I gave up feeling guilty about not doing things like a ‘good Christian’ many years ago which was quite liberating.  Even through the toughest times (both in childhood and adult life) I’ve always had an absolute confidence that God is with me and loves me for who I am right now, regardless of who I might aspire to be – and God couldn’t love me any more even if, in my own eyes, I was a ‘better person’.

If, with the benefit of hindsight, you asked my mum and dad if they would have done anything differently I’m sure they would say ‘yes’ – like any other parent would.  Would they, if they had their time again, have done all of the fostering is a more difficult question to answer.  The decision mum and dad made to foster all of those children defines who they are now, and I have no doubt they made a huge difference to the lives of the children they took in.

If you asked me if I would have changed much about my childhood, the answer would be ‘no’.  All of the experiences I’ve gone through have shaped the person I am today – and, generally, I’m pretty happy in my own skin!

I guess bringing up children will always be a balancing act, and in my view, ensuring that you build a good self-image and self-confidence in all children in your care, will go a long way to them growing up to be rounded adults.

Looking at what my brothers and sisters have achieved now, I think mum and dad did a pretty good job!

Abbreviated from the full article “Not Neglecting ‘Natural Children'” – http://ccpas.co.uk/Documents/Caring%20Spring%202011.pdf
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discovering wisdom

While visiting my dad today, he reminded me about a couple that had gone to see him for some advice recently.  Even though he is ill, his brain is fully functioning, and people still look to him as a source of wisdom.

At our home groups we have been watching a series of  DVDs on Proverbs and wisdom.  This lead to a fascinating discussion.  I’ve always looked for people who I could go to for advice and to learn from their wisdom and experience.

Along with parents and family, I have always had three or four people who I trust and value their advice.  This, to me was quite normal.  It wasn’t until a little way through the discussion that someone said it had never crossed their mind to ‘discover’ someone (not even parents) they could go to and benefit from their wisdom – it was quite a revelation to them.

I remember meeting up with my dad over fish and chips regularly when I first started work.  We would chat about everything and nothing.  If I had any problem, I knew I could ask for his advice and he would readily give it.  I know I’m blessed to have two sets of parents who I could turn to at any time, and many people don’t have that, but there were also other people at church that I knew I could go to.

I think we have a huge wealth of wisdom in our church that we somehow need to tap into.  The question is; how do we create an environment where people (especially young people), are able to mix with others who have more life experience and – wisdom?

A solution must be, to build relationships.  House groups, or other small groups where there is a mixture of people of different ages and backgrounds are probably the best way of getting to know people.  When I first came to St Peters, top on my list was to get to the home group and join the music group. In fact, one of the people I know I could go to now was one the first people I met at the home group

Points to ponder

  • Who are the key people who I can go to and benefit from their wisdom?
  • What can I do about helping others to be able to tap into the wealth of wisdom that there is in our church

is worship a performance?

This is a subject that has been discussed for years, and I’ve heard many opposing views on the subject.  In my view, worship should be open, free and lead by the Holy Spirit with the whole church actively being involved.  It should not be a well rehearsed song set which can’t be deviated from.  That said, the question is not nearly as simple as it may seem.
‘Performance’ has become a dirty word in many churches – and not so long ago, I would have taken a pretty strong view against worship being a performance – however, I’ve observed that all worship leaders will have an element of performance when they lead.  The better question is, what does performance mean.

Whenever someone presents or leads something there will nearly always be an element of performance.  When a speaker preaches, they will present in the most engaging way to get the message across.  Just reading, in a monosyllabic, expressionless voice would not change the message, but would impact on how the listener receives it – in this sense, the presenter ‘performs’ their message.  With leading worship, this can be more exaggerated (especially as we work as a group of musicians) as in order to make it easy for corporate worship to flow, there has to be an element of practice, competence and a clear focus on where you’re heading as a worship team in any particular service.  Performance, in this sense, I don’t think I have any problem with.

If we are leading worship, by definition we should know where we want to be going.  Therefore, when leading corporate worship, we should be showing an example of where we want to be – and that includes all of the worship team, not just the leader.  This may not always match up to our own individual preference.  For example – I am comfortable being quiet and reflective, but if we want a more free and exuberant expression of worship at church, I should be setting that example – even if I do find it hard sometimes!  I have plenty of time for private worship during the week when I can be more comfortable in my own ‘style’.

So, for me, if performance means a very slick, well rehearsed song set which is difficult to deviate from; your moving into the area of a concert – performance in the most commonly used sense.  This I struggle with.  If performance means being open to where the Holy Spirit is leading you and being flexible to adapt, but still striving to do that in the best way possible in order to lead a congregation closer to Gods presence – this is a more diluted definition of performance, and one that I can subscribe to.

In the end, I guess it comes down to our focus.  If our main focus is on what our worship sounds and looks like, I want to avoid that like the plague.  If our main focus is on worshipping God, and being good at how we deliver that is important, but secondary – this I where I am (I hope!).

Points to ponder...

  • What does worship look like in our church?
  • If there was a power cut and the PA, staging and lighting went, would our church be able to carry on worshipping – or can we not worship without this?
  • How much is our worship weighted to performance?

time – a bit of a juggling act

We get into a routine of doing things week by week, month by month.  I can be incredibly busy, but as long as my routine doesn’t change too much, I’m pretty much able to cope with that.  I would certainly rather be busy and doing something useful than sitting around twiddling my thumbs.  In fact, when I do have some time free from the usual routine, you’ll find me pottering around the house doing all of the little jobs that have been waiting for ages to do – this makes me happy!

Recently, while looking after my boys we spent ages designing and building a lego house – complete with garage and swimming pool.  We also spent the best part of a day making a Christmas decoration and some other bits out of MDF last week.  These times are great.

And so, life goes on – until something messes up my routine!  Then organising my time really does feel like a juggling act.  Trying to prioritise doing this or that, while not upsetting or letting down people can be pretty hard.

Back in September, I made a conscious decision not to make myself too busy over this Christmas period.  Last year I was shattered by the time New Year came, and thankfully we had booked a short break to recoup.  Adding to my time pressure this year was the fact that my dads’ health was deteriorating and so, naturally, I wanted to spend more time with him.  Having to re-prioritise my ‘usual routine’ brought some challenges, and some interesting observations.

We sometimes think that ‘we are the only ones that can do the job’ (unless that’s only me?).  In reality this is rarely the case – it’s usually the case that someone else will do it just as well, but maybe differently.

What I’ve found over the last few months, as I’ve been with dad more and had to step back from some  commitments are two things…

1. I have a fantastic support network.  From family to church to work – all have been there to give me some time out, cover for when I should be doing things and generally being supportive.

2.  Other people can do jobs just as well as me (and probably better in many cases)!  Given opportunity, it’s amazing to see people head up areas of work which they wouldn’t have been so willing to do if I were around to do it.

I consider myself an inclusive, encouraging sort of guy, but I wonder if sometimes I get in the way of other people reaching their full potential.  It’s certainly given me some things to think about…

Points to ponder…

  • Where would we be without or support network?
  • How can we actively try to ‘give away’ some area of responsibility and encourage someone to develop?
  • How would we respond if someone asked us to take on a new responsibility – and with what attitude would we do it?

… a little introduction

Family, faith and work
In four words, this pretty much summarises what I get up to.  All are very important to me.  I’m blessed to have a fantastic family, privileged to be able to serve at my local church and really enjoy both of my jobs.

Why write?  I’ve never kept a diary, but I thought it would be interesting to see what I can learn – not only about myself, but about life in general – from keeping a blog. Why make it public?  You never know, my experiences may help someone else, and I’m sure other people have a great deal more wisdom than me and so will be able to help me!

Family
I have two fantastic boys (yes – really fantastic), a beautiful wife (beautiful in many ways) and a small hamster (hmm… it’s OK).

We’re a musical family.  Barbara sings and is part of the worship team at church, my eldest son plays the drums regularly at church and also school events and my youngest is learning the saxophone.  I play various instruments – so between us we’re quite a band!  (For the record, the hamster doesn’t play anything.)

My extended family are all fairly local, so we get to see them several times during the year.  More recently, I’ve seen a lot more of my brothers, sisters, mum and dad as my dad is seriously ill.  This sort of situation often brings families closer together.

Faith
Having grown up in church (sometimes it felt like I lived there!) my faith has always been a central part of my life.  I lead worship at a Pentecostal church before moving several years ago to our local Anglican church.  There, I’m part of the Leadership Team with specific responsibility for worship.  This is something I count as a privilege and a responsibility.

With the ups and downs that come with church life, it’s good to know that there is a committed team all working together for the same goals.  I have valued the support from the worship team and the Leadership Team – especially in the last months with dad being ill.

No doubt I will be posting plenty about worship in time to come.

Work
I have two jobs – both of which I enjoy and give different rewards.  The majority of my working week is at a safeguarding charity (CCPAS).  I’m responsible for overseeing the IT side of things (with help from other people).  I also design all of the literature that comes out of the office, which is wide and varied.  Any ‘special projects’ usually come under my remit too.  Most recently, an interactive ‘Safeguarding in a Digital World’ resource and managing a new Safeguarding App that has just gone live – all very exciting!

My other job is a piano teacher.  I’ve been doing this for getting on 25 years now.  Starting as a favour to a family friend, it developed into a successful music school in a music shop before I took the plunge to teach from my own little studio at home.  This was a great move, as it meant I could see a lot more of my family – the commute from my garage to the back door is about two meters!

Well, that’s about me in a nutshell to start with. Will I keep it up?  We’ll have to wait and see!

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