Today I wrap up my 3-part series on my experience as a remote staff member with Church Online at LifeChurch.tv. I’ve already covered perks and pitfalls, so be sure to check out those posts.

Now I want to share a few points to consider, or pieces of advice, for anyone contemplating joining the ranks of the remote work force.

Points to consider:

Exercise trust. It’s been said that distance breeds mistrust. When there is distance, we fill the gaps in our information based on how much we trust our team and leaders. Work hard to build and maintain that trust within yourself.

Talk about it. Keep the lines of communication open with your leader, your team, and even your family. This work/life style impacts each of them in some way, so be ready to discuss how you’ll manage the pitfalls and maximize the perks.

Be honest. Invite feedback, and offer it authentically. Be open about the struggles you, your team, and your leader are facing in relation to this situation.

Be flexible. No matter how much you prepare for what you think remote life is like, something is bound to surprise you. Be ready for changes in communication, technology, schedules, etc.

Know yourself. Remote life is not for the faint of heart. Go into it with open eyes. Know yourself, and consider whether you could succeed in the remote environment. This depends on your work style, job requirements, personality, and family life. Acknowledge your own potential perks and pitfalls. Also consider your team and leader, and what it would be like for them to work with a non-local team member.

Yesterday I shared part 1 of a 3-part series about remote life. In my last post I covered the perks of this work environment. Today I want to discuss a few of the pitfalls I’ve discovered along the way.

 

Staff meeting as a remotee often looked like this.

Pitfalls:

  • Missing community life. Team coffees, lunches, and celebrations often occur with a “sorry you can’t be here.” Getting together outside of work, attending church or small group together, getting to know one another’s families – it doesn’t happen much when you’re a remotee. You may work together, but you don’t “do life” together.
  • Anonymity. People on other teams may not know remote members, so they won’t reach out to communicate about opportunities to collaborate on projects.
  • Home, but not. It took a while for my family to adjust to having me in the house, but not available to interact with them. This was especially challenging during the years when I didn’t have a separate room in which to work, and more difficult when my daughter was younger and couldn’t understand that Mama was visible but not accessible.
  • Communication. This could almost be its own post, as it is probably one of the biggest potential pitfalls to remote life. Being remote means missing out on those “water cooler conversations” that sometimes drift from random discussions to work brainstorming sessions. While no one means to forget to tell the remotee, there’s a greater likelihood of, “out of sight, out of mind.” Also, even with video conferencing, body language and tone can be lost – or at least misunderstood. And of course, there are tech challenges inherent in video conferencing. I haven’t stopped to add up the minutes hours lost to tech problems, but I’m sure it’s a significant number.
  • Loneliness. Even when I would work shift (set up at a coffee shop, etc) it was be lonely to be on my own all day, every day. For some personality types, like mine, this can be a big struggle, but even my introverted friends acknowledge this struggle.

Tomorrow I’ll share some points of advice I share with anyone considering joining the ranks of remote employees. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. If you’re a remotee, have you faced any of these challenges? What other “pitfalls” have you encountered? And if you work with a remotee, what is your perspective on the potential problems that come with having a distributed team member?

Five years ago I joined the staff of Church Online at LifeChurch.tv. Instead of moving to Oklahoma to work out of our central offices, I worked from home as a “remotee”. This week my time as a remotee comes to an end, as my family has moved from Alabama to Oklahoma so my husband Paul can be a grad student and teaching assistant at Oklahoma State University.

From time to time I’m asked what it’s like to be a remote employee, and to live so far from the LifeChurch.tv locations. My usual response is there are perks and pitfalls to remote life – ups and downs, so to speak. Today I begin a 3-part series on my experience as a remotee. The first installment, Perks, awaits…

 

Perks:

  • Family. I was able to do things for my family because I was “home” while still working. I greeted my daughter Jadyn when she got off the bus, tossed in loads of laundry or put dinner in the oven during my lunch breaks. It also helped that I could be home for repairmen, deliveries, etc.
  • Focus. Because there are fewer disruptions at home, I could “get in the zone” and knock out a lot of work in a short amount of time. Remotees get stuff done! (And even when my family was home, my husband Paul did a good job keeping distractions at bay during work hours.)
  • Location. Being remote meant living (pretty much) where my family wanted (or needed) to live. Paul was able to work and attend graduate school in the best places for him, even if that meant somewhere other than Oklahoma. And sometimes I worked from very beautiful places. My motto: Have internet, can work!
  • No commute. Ok, well, there was a tiny commute – like 10 steps from my bedroom to my home office. But seriously, my fuel costs were next to nothing. And if I decided to work shift at a coffee shop, I didn’t mind the 5-10 minute drive.
  • Casual work environment. Outside of making sure I looked decent for conference calls, no one really cared what I wore or how I did my hair. I didn’t usually let myself get too relaxed, but it was nice to be comfortable. Yay for yoga pants and ball caps!

Tomorrow I’ll cover some pitfalls I encountered during these 5 remote years, so stay tuned. In the meantime, do you have experience as a remotee? If so, I’d love to hear what perks you’ve found! If not, what questions do you have about this work/life situation? Speak up in the comments!

Sometimes I’m haunted.

Haunted by dreams that died, by possibilities that passed on, by hope that turned to heartbreak.

I often say that if we are only able to have one child, we certainly got a great one. Jadyn is an amazing girl, full of creativity, joy, and wonder. She’s bright, friendly, and caring, and even when we’re frustrated as parents, we’re so grateful that God allowed us to be her parents.

The path to parenthood was not easy. I’ve written before how it took 4 1/2 years of trying before Jadyn came along. There was a miscarriage at the one-year mark. We were thrilled when we found out she was on her way, and then arrived healthy and with no complications. When she was 2, we went through two more miscarriages within 6 months. Almost 2 years ago, after we had finally moved past the idea of having any more children, we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting. We’d only begun to hope again when that pregnancy ended at 10 weeks. Since then, nothing.

Most days, I believe I’ve once again moved on beyond the hope of more children, but every so often I go through a season where I’m haunted again by whispers of past losses. Usually it happens when I’m surrounded by people with happy news of pregnancy, gender reveals, or birth announcements.

I find myself in such a season once again. 

It’s interesting. I thought by now, with my 43rd birthday just a few months away, I’d have finally written it off completely. After all, I’m well into the dreaded “advanced maternal age” when it’s a greater risk to conceive and carry a child. I believed each announcement from a friend would make happy for them, without the aftertaste of longing in my own heart. I expected that if I hadn’t “shut the door” to it by now, I’d at least have remodeled the room in my heart that was reserved for this hope. Instead of a nursery, maybe an office, library or art studio.

But that room is still haunted. Faint giggles and coos of a baby sister that Jadyn keeps praying for. Images of infant toys for the son Paul has never known.

And when I’m brave enough to be honest with myself about it, I realize I haven’t released the ghosts. Maybe I never will. I might remodel that room in my heart, but the whispers may always be there.

So I celebrate the wonderful life I’m grateful to live, and the beautiful joys my friends experience. And I’m learning to live with my ghosts.

Sweet Home…Oklahoma?

amandasims —  March 19, 2014 — 6 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 8.19.58 PM

Yep, the Sims family is on the move!

It was because of a storm that we moved from Starkville, Mississippi to Auburn, Alabama back in 2011. We came here knowing only a handful of people, but having a basic sense of familiarity because we already owned property in the area. The path ahead of us was uncertain. Even though my work as a remote employee with LifeChurch.tv would continue, Paul was leaving not only his job, but his career in journalism. And to do what, we did not know.

It’s amazing to look back over the last three years. We became part of a solid church, built many wonderful friendships, and felt at home. Jadyn benefited from a great school district, going through Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Paul earned his certificate in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), and is about to earn his Master’s degree in Adult Education. He’s also working as a writing tutor as well as an adjunct instructor of ESL (English as a Second Language). During this time he discovered his purpose and his passion – building relationships with international adults within the United States and empowering them by helping them learn English.

I’ve been on staff with LifeChurch.tv’s Church Online team for almost 5 years now. Being a remotee definitely has perks. (I can’t understate the value of “little” things like tossing in a load of laundry between conference calls!) At the same time, it’s not always easy for a people person like me to spend 40 hours a week by myself. (Sometimes I take my laptop to Panera just to see people in 3D.) It has often been our desire to move to Oklahoma, where the church is based. We want to become fully immersed in the culture and community of this great organization. When we began to consider Paul’s next steps after graduation, we felt it was finally time. The only question was how.

Paul wants to further his education to specialize in his field, so to that end he applied for admission to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK. His goal is to earn a Master’s degree in TESOL, which when combined with his Master’s in Adult Education, will equip him to better serve those he wants to help. We’re thrilled that he was recently accepted to the program and has been offered a position as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.

What does all this mean? Well, we’re moving to Oklahoma! This will allow me to be in the Church Online office several days a week, rather than several days a year. Our goal is to be there in early July, and we are excited to get ready for this move. It’s going to be quite an adjustment, but one that’s been a long time coming.

Anyone have any spare boxes?

Learnings from #recreate14

amandasims —  February 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

A few days ago I wrote a post about highlights from this year’s re:create conference. Along with these highlights, I wanted to share some specific learnings from the conference. I came away with several points I feel I can apply to my own personal situations.

From Melissa Greene‘s Talk

  • She shared the quote from Mother Theresa: “In the absence of clarity I found trust.” I was reminded of several situations I’ve faced (or am facing) in which I do not currently have clarity, and I may never have it completely. I’m beginning to realize that trust can be (or maybe is meant to be) a substitute for clarity when it is simply not possible for a specific time or in a specific situation.

From Randy Elrod‘s Talk

  • Randy shared this quote: “God sees our wounds, and sees them not as scars but as honors. . . .
    For God holds sin as a sorrow and pain to us. He does not blame us for them.” (Julian of Norwich  ~ Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 39, Showing 13) As I considered this, I realized that for so long, I thought (quite subconsciously) that God blamed me for the hurts I’ve encountered – especially those so deep that they have shaped much of who I’ve been for most of my life. I’ve believed that he’s been mad at me and held so many things against me, some of which were not done BY me as much as done TO me. I’m recognizing the lies and replacing them with truth. Such freedom!
  • He shared a story about how Reverend E.V. Hill described a big difference between he and his wife. The Reverend would meet new people and set his expectations about them at 0. If there was a positive interaction, he’d raise it to 5. He’d repeat this each time, and be happen when they hit 50. On the other hand, his wife would set her expectations at 100. Every time there was a negative interaction, she’d reduce it. Then she’d be upset to be at 50, but her husband would be glad to be at 50. It taught me to manage my expectations, not only for others but also for myself. I want to start at 0 and look for positives, letting them raise expectations, rather defaulting to disappointment.
  • He mentioned that we love to hate people’s sins because we can’t face our own. Ouch.

From Alice Sullivan‘s Talk

  • Feel worthy enough to write your own story. We often feel like we don’t have anything good to say, but our insight really can be helpful to others. I do not want to waste my story if it can be of value to someone else.
  • It is a myth to believe that you are only a “good” writer if you are published. I admit I have believed this lie, let it box me in and hold me back. No more. (Hence, this blog.)

Of course, there were other nuggets, but I’m holding them close and still processing them privately. I’m so thankful for the work God is continuing in me through all I experienced at re:create!

Highlights from #recreate14

amandasims —  February 9, 2014 — 6 Comments

This is the third year Paul and I attended the re:create conference, and this year was probably my favorite so far. The content was great, as usual. Recording artists, speakers, and an amazing spoken word poet. But it was more than that. It was also about the deep connections with other creatives, and the permission to just BE. No pretenses, expectations or requirements. Just authentic interactions with people who really “get” one another as creatives in ministry.

I told Randy Elrod (the creator of the conference) that I couldn’t decide if being there felt like releasing a long-held breath, or finally taking a much-needed breath. Probably both.

There were so many memorable experiences, including some “you had to be there” moments, but I want to share my top highlights from the conference (in no particular order).

Micah Bournes performing

Micah Bournes performing

  • The spoken word poetry of Micah Bournes. I recently fell in love with spoken word, and am just starting to attempt some myself. I had never heard of Micah before the conference, but from the first few moments, I was riveted, moved and inspired. I highly recommend checking out his material!
  • Concert by Margaret Becker, Kim Hill & Ashley Cleveland. When I was 13 I started to play guitar and sing, and I listened to these ladies on Christian radio and considered them pioneers for young women like me. I’d only ever heard Kim Hill live, so this time was special and meaningful to me, especially as they shared not only their music but also their hearts with us.
  • Conversations with my friend MarkHearing how God has worked in his life and ministry really encouraged me and gave me hope, as we’ve had some similar ministry experiences. It’s true, what C.S. Lewis said: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
  • Karaoke night! There was a venue where we could do karaoke not with a machine, but with a LIVE BAND! The number and variety of songs on their option list was impressive. My friends did songs like “Dock in the Bay”, “Rollin’ in the Deep”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, and “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Of course, it was a bit intimidating, since most of the people at the conference were incredible singers and performers in their professional lives, but I got up there and did “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benetar. What a blast!
  • Concert by Lee SingersThis fantastic choir from Lee University in Cleveland, TN did not just perform. They led us in worship. Their talent is truly stellar, but even more impressive was the atmosphere of worship they created that led us to engage with God in powerful ways.
  • Meeting new friends Ashley & Nathan Johns. We hit it off instantly and I’m so thankful for this connection. The only downer is that they live in Austin, TX. That is just too dang far away!
  • Randy’s talk “Doing it Right by Doing it Wrong”. As someone who highly values authenticity, I loved this talk. I am going to do another blog posts on specific learnings from the conference, but for now, suffice it to say that I was challenged by his honesty.
  • Lunch at Mack & Kate’s. It wasn’t about the food, though the fried green tomatoes and lobster mac & cheese were great. It was about the conversation, especially Paul Ralph sharing with us stories about his time working with E.V. Hill. We laughed, cried, and laughed again!
  • Finding brothers. As women, we often talk about finding “sisters” with whom we can share, and I completely agree that those relationships are important. But I think it’s also good to develop healthy “brother” relationships, and I found many such brothers. Chase, Drew, Rich, Paul, Nathan, Mark, JR, and more. Thank you, guys, for the laughter, the stories, the encouragement, and for showing God’s love to this sister.
  • Alice’s talk “Book is Not a 4-Letter Word”. My dear friend Alice Sullivan talked about how important it is for us to write and to share our stories. My favorite quote from her talk was, “The truth will set you free. And it will set others free.” WOW.
Alice speaking

Alice speaking

I’m so grateful for this conference, and even more for the community. I’m inspired to write again, and after 4+ years, to dust off my guitar, reform my callouses, and make music again.

I usually don’t start thinking about my word of focus for the next year until sometime in December, but this year it came to me in October. And it scared me, even more than last year’s. I even considered that maybe I could should pick a different word. But as I thought and prayed about it, it was clear. Everything was pointing me to this word.

Selfless.

(See why it scared me? It still does…)

I care too much about myself – what I feel, what I think and what I want. I care too much about what others think about me – whether they like me, respect me, accept me, care about me. Even though I want to be focused on God and on others, my self-focus gets in the way. It impacts my friendships, my marriage, my parenting and my work in ministry, and it’s time to deal with it.

This isn’t to say I should never think of myself. There will always be a certain amount of self-care that is necessary – healthy choices in diet, exercise, rest, mental & emotional health, etc. It’s like they say in the airplane safety briefing: you put your own mask on before helping others, so you CAN help others. (I imagine it’s pretty tough to help others put those masks on if you’re gasping for air yourself.) I want to make the right choices not out of selfish motives, but so that I can do what God calls me to do for my family, friends, and others He puts in my path.

I’ve chosen a verse – or rather a pair of verses – to go along with this word, to be like a banner that keeps me mindful of being selfless.

photo (2)

I suspect this will be like a mirror that reveals to me exactly how selfish I am. It may be frustrating and ugly and painful to the point of gut-wrenching. But Yeah, I’m scared. But in a good way.

 

Did you pick a word to focus on for the year? I hope you’ll share it in the comments below!

My Vulnerable Year

amandasims —  December 30, 2013 — 5 Comments

While I usually end each year by choosing a few goals for the next year, I also pick one word that serves as a banner that guides my through the year. It’s something that helps me focus on my choices and brings intentionality to specific areas of my life.

When I landed on my word for 2013, I was a bit nervous. What would it be like to intentionally open myself up like this?

photo

My word for 2013 was vulnerable. It involved embracing uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. I wasn’t sure what it would look like, but I knew it had the potential to be painful, scary, exciting and empowering. The verse to go along with it was Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

As I look back, I see some specific times when this word was a current, moving me in directions I may not otherwise have chosen. It was evident in conversations I had with young women in Moldova, women overcoming horrible circumstances and learning to accept the love of God and of others.

It pushed me past my comfort zone to open up to friends and share parts of myself I usually keep tucked away. And when I did, I found a freedom I had subconsciously believed did not exist – at least not for me. Authentic community is a powerful thing.

It helped me tear down walls I had unintentionally built between myself and my husband. I saw how my efforts to shield myself from pain actually caused more struggles in our relationship. Letting go of my desire to protect myself with him enabled me to see him – and our marriage – in a whole new way. And we are stronger for it.

Most of all, it helped me face some difficult realities about myself and how certain thoughts, words and actions have impacted me both professionally and personally. This was probably the biggest challenge of the year, and it’s taken up much of the last 3 months of the year.

But as I move through this, I see God using it. He’s drawing me closer to himself and showing me the lies I have believed about him and about myself. He’s replacing them with truth, and I can tell you, that truth really is setting me free.

All of this has been instrumental in guiding me to my word for 2014. More on that in my next post, so stay tuned!

Did you choose a word to guide you for 2013? What was it?

 

Maybe It’s Just Me

amandasims —  September 5, 2013 — 1 Comment

A new poem…

I’ve noticed something lately
In this crazy world of social media.
We say people are our friends
Simply because we are
On the same webpage
Or talking through tweets
Or liking each other’s pictures.

Maybe it’s just me, but
This isn’t friendship.
I mean, not in the strictest sense of the word.

Friends get together.
They have coffee or lunch
(And they don’t have to show one another pictures of it.)
They talk on the phone
And laugh and share
(Without using emoticons or buttons.)
They know one another’s
Families and friends
(And not just in pictures.)

But, and this is a pretty big but,
There’s a place where the concept of real friendship bleeds over
Into the world of likes and comments and retweets and hashtags.
Where people I’ve never met actually meet a need for community.
Where a post is more than words on a screen.
It’s an encouragement, a glimpse of hope, a lifeline.

From here in my tiny corner of the world I share
My fears, my joys, my woes, my victories.
And from across the globe I hear friendly voices saying,
“Me, too.” Or “Way to go!” Or “Can I help?”

I’ve heard people say that you can’t have online community.
I say they have no idea what they’re missing.
Of course it’s always amazing when I meet a friend
I’ve only ever chatted with through a keyboard.
But that makes them no less dear to me.

So, maybe it’s just me,
But real friendship is about the value placed on the relationship
And not the digital nature of it.
After all, they’re real people.
Why can’t they be real friends?