Putting out Fires

Did you notice that I had disappeared for awhile… that Mondays were awfully quiet around “Cassie Contemplates”? Well, it wasn’t your imagination. I have been busy the past few weeks… putting out fires.
Yes, you read that correctly, but it’s not what you think. No, I did not sign up with the fire department to literally douse flames that endanger people and property, but the fires that I have been extinguishing have been in the midst of community. As you may know by now, I hold many leadership roles. I am a camp director and mentor to teens with disabilities, a worship leader, and musician. At one time I even led two Bible Studies. It seems that at every turn I am leading something. That means that on a daily basis I have to interact with people, and oftentimes it is not always easy.
At every turn, I seek to serve and lead with the best of intentions. I have to think of those who are serving with me. Every decision affects my volunteers, staff and students. I have found that I have to set myself aside quite often for the betterment of the community as a whole. I have learned what it means to come to that place when you realize you can’t do it all. You aren’t gifted in every single area, and when you’re putting out fires (a.k.a. stressful situations), its best to have someone on your team who can cover for you.
Such a scenario came to mind as a board member and I were interviewing staff for our summer camp. We discussed the interview just passed and reflected on her abilities. One thing that stood out to us was her creativity and ability to make quick decisions. I confessed that it would be amazing to have someone like that on our team because I might be creative in writing and music, but creativity in decision-making and activities at the drop of a hat is definitely not my strong suit. In fact, I told the board member that we should have someone like that on our staff because I couldn’t be everywhere at once.
“Exactly,” the board member said. “If a speaker or leader is late for a session, more than likely you are on the phone putting out fires. You can’t be with the students, coming up with activities to keep them occupied because you will be busy with other things.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about community, especially recently, it’s that community is busy. In fact, our camp board of directors actually stripped some of my duties from me this season because they said they didn’t want me to reach burn-out with everything I had to accomplish. But instead, the opposite happened. I am a doer— someone who sees a task on the horizon and seeks to accomplish it as soon as possible to the best of my ability. When I am in charge of an activity or situation, I know my expectations and what I need to do to accomplish a task. But this year, with the board taking on more responsibility, I have felt like my hands are tied. There is so much to accomplish before July, yet I can’t spring into action because it’s not in my jurisdiction. Oftentimes, it’s frustrating to sit back and watch everything unfold when I can’t step in to fix things or take over.
I have also felt like there have been some spot fires to put out within my leadership role in worship and music. As Easter drew near, I wanted to be sure to include everyone who was interested in participating in the music on Easter Sunday. I didn’t want to offend anyone by accidentally leaving someone out. I made every effort to be amicable and efficient with everyone, but at times it wasn’t easy. We had just said good-bye to a faithful student teacher who had brought so much depth to our music department, and as he made a clean break, another young man stepped on stage. The transition wasn’t seamless; there were concerns, lessons to be learned, and some healing that had to take place in my heart. I was frustrated with myself for reacting in a not-so-healthy way to the obstacles and concerns that had come to the surface. In order to set volunteers and staff at ease, I tried to sweep everything under the rug and set it all aside. I was too tired, too emotionally drained, too overwhelmed to deal with it. These were fires I didn’t have the energy to put out, but I knew I needed to step out with my cool cup of water to stop the smoldering before it got worse.
If you haven’t caught on yet, let me make it clear: community is far from perfect, even in churches and nonprofit camp structures. I love my job(s), but sometimes community just gets messy and little fires of discontent and misunderstanding stir up. What is important here is the attitude of the people, particularly of the leader in charge. There are some mornings that I have to give myself a pep talk just to get going… not because I don’t love what I do but because working with people can be challenging. I am sure I’m not everyone’s favorite person, and my desire to please everyone does not help in the matter. I can’t make everyone happy, but somehow I think I can. But sweeping a situation under the rug or refusing to deal with it doesn’t solve anything; in fact, it quite often makes things worse.
In the coming weeks, I want to be better at reaching out with the cool cup of water and dousing a potential flame before it springs to life. Before I get irritated with someone, I will pause, take a deep breath, and pray before I spring into action. Instead of ignoring a situation, I will hold my head up high and face an encounter with prayer and hope. It certainly won’t be easy at all times, but in the end, healthy community is worth it. There’s no perfect way to interact with people, but intentionality and heartfelt focus can be the first steps toward togetherness.