Three weeks ago, my life changed in an instant. One unfortunate misstep landed me in the hospital with a badly damaged foot. The next day, an orthopedic surgeon reset my bones, but for me, the real work is just beginning. My new reality is a fall season spent in splints, casts, walking boots and physical therapy. My new goals are to wear a shoe and be driving by Christmas. A friend who dropped by to visit asked me a great question. “You are an educator,” he said. “What are you learning from this experience?” I am learning many lessons and I realized that some of those lessons just might be applicable to institutions that find themselves in the midst of an unexpected difficulty.
Any number of events, from the unexpected departure of a staff member (especially if impropriety or controversy is involved) to an expensive and unbudgeted repair to an aging facility can throw a church or non-profit organization into a temporary tail spin. So from my new position in the recliner with my leg elevated and iced, here are a few lessons that might assist you on your journey:
- Sometimes you need an expert to guide the process. Although anyone could look at my foot and tell it was broken, we needed an orthopedic surgeon to fully diagnosis my injury and to get me on the road to healing. Likewise, in congregations, we may have a basic understanding of the problem, but a trained coach or interim can be invaluable for helping us flesh out the issues and get clear about the steps involved in healing.
- An expert can bring theoretical knowledge and a wealth of experience, but we are the ones that know our own context best. The occupational and physical therapists at the hospital offered a variety of helpful tools and strategies to help me adjust to my temporary reality. Once we got home, however, we had to use our knowledge and wisdom to figure out how to make those tools and strategies work for us. In the same way, trust the wisdom already in your setting.
- Get clear about the essentials. In the three weeks prior to my fall, I painted three of the six rooms in our home that were over-due for a fresh coat of paint. Now my attention has shifted to learning to accomplish daily necessities with the aid of a walker or a knee scooter. I’ll (hopefully) get back to painting in the spring, but for now my focus must be on tasks I took for granted just a few weeks ago. In your setting, what things need to be set temporarily set aside to allow you to focus on what is most important?
- Draw on the gifts and strengths of the community. I am fiercely independent and would far rather serve others than accept help. However, I quickly learned to graciously accept the gifts of meals, errands, transportation and house cleaning that friends and family generously offered. Every organization is blessed to have members with a variety of gifts and skills that they are ready to use in service, but we must be willing to be vulnerable and express our need for assistance.
- Be realistic yet hopeful; positive yet real. Although some people heal completely from this type of injury, the doctor warned me that I may not. It will be a year or more before I know. In the meantime, I will work as hard as I can to maximize the outcome. My prayer is that I can maintain a spirit of optimism while acknowledging the reality of discouraging days and the occasional setback along the way. And I trust that whether we are dealing with personal or institutional challenges, that God will be there, providing strength, wisdom, and healing, every step of the way.