Desperation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in October 1974 I arrived in Australia as a chubby, freckle faced 10 year old Irish kid with an almost unintelligible Belfast accent. To make matters worse I thought football was a game played with a round ball which in those days cast serious dispersions about my sexual orientation… We rented a house in one of Perth’s cheapest, but roughest suburbs and in those first 3 months I struggled to fit in at my new school and I became the obvious target for ridicule and bullying.

Pasty white skin, a thick Belfast brogue and no clue how to kick a real football meant that I spent lunchtimes in the library away from people, or with my only friend – Charlie – one of the ‘special’ kids as we called them then. Charlie didn’t know I was a loser so he was happy to be my friend.

It wasn’t a great start to life in this new country.

When the new year came we moved house and school. I was relieved as I wanted out and I wanted friends. In this school I knew one person, another kid my age called Mark. On that first morning I went to school I prayed. I don’t think I could even call myself a Christian at this point, but I was desperate and I hoped God might take pity on me and cut me a break. The prayer went something like this, ‘God I know one kid at this school. Could I please sit next to him and be friends? Please?…’

It was simple and direct – the way prayer ought to be I reckon. If I’m honest it was said more in hope than confidence, but I was desperate and prayer always seems to be the place we go to in times of desperation.

When we got allocated to classes I found myself in the lower academic group and Mark was nowhere in sight. I wasn’t convinced prayer worked so that was no great surprise. The morning went slowly, but about an hour before recess the teacher introduced some new maths to us – long division. She gave us a bunch of problems to solve and told us it would take us through to the break. I finished the lot in 10 minutes and got all of it correct. She was clearly a little puzzled at my academic capacity. Starting school a couple of years earlier than everyone else back in Belfast had definitely given me a headstart on the Aussie kids who hadn’t heard of long division until that day.

At that point the teacher decided I really didn’t belong in her class after all and brought in the principal to re-locate me. They had a brief conversation and then told me they were going to move me into the class next door – the smart class – woohoo! As I got to my new class I discovered there was only one seat vacant in the whole room – right next to a kid called Mark…

Now I was the one puzzled. Crikey… this prayer stuff really did work!

Mark became my friend and introduced me to all the other kids at his table, who oddly enough shared my love for football played with a round ball… I instantly had friends and the sense of belonging I wanted.

Although it was over 40 years ago now, I remember that morning vividly – the first time I recall God ever answering a prayer of mine – and what an important one it was to a kid who really needed a friend. Since then I’ve prayed plenty of times and some seem to get answered how I’d want, while others obviously matter more to me than to God.

I can’t say I understand how prayer works – except to suggest that if we see God as a good father then it’s a bit like when my son comes to me and asks for something. I love him and always want what’s best for him so sometimes he gets what he asks for and other times not. That’s what good dad’s do.

No doubt someone will call that experience a co-incidence, a lucky break and that I have just assumed it was an answer to prayer. Honestly?… Maybe you’re right. I can’t be one hundred percent sure it was an act of God, but over the years as I’ve prayed and got to know God I’ve developed a confidence in him that causes me to believe that he actually does care and does want to get involved in the lives of ordinary people – even lonely 10 year old Irish kids who play football with round balls.

Another Day in the Backyard

‘Do you eat marmalade?’ Sally calls out after she has backed her ute into the street.

‘Um… yeah… I guess… My wife will eat it.’ I reply.

So she drops a jar on the front seat of my car. ‘I make it, but I never eat it.’ she says with a cheeky cackle.

Sally is a 70 year old ex-crayfisherwoman turned farmer who lives in a neighbouring suburb and who I’ve worked for several times in the last few years. She lives alone after caring for her sick mum for the last twenty years. She’s tough as nails, a bit rough around the edges and kind hearted all in one quirky package.

A new retaining wall she installed has created some work for me – some plain grunt work digging trenches and laying pipe and some problem solving, wondering where the old pipes run and how I can make it all function again.  It sounded like two hours work on the phone, but on arrival I ring my next job and tell them to expect me after lunch. Its often that way at Sally’s place. I think her favourite phrase is ‘while you’re at it…’

As a farmer, she knows retic and knows exactly what she wants, so everything needs to be run past her before moving on. I’ve learnt that – its done Sally’s way or its done again.

At 9.00am after just an hour of work the rain sets in so I head indoors to sit at her kitchen table and have a cup of tea. She’s a self confessed hoarder and the room is full of random boxes, papers and junk that probably meant something to her once, but now just fill space. She lives between this house and her farm in the midwest that she manages on her own – no mean feat for an older woman.

‘I lost 21 sheep last week to bloody dogs,’ she tells me. She gives me the rundown of how the farm is going and then asks how I like my tea. Without the slightest blip of conscience she uses a vile racist description to tell me she likes hers very strong. I don’t think she realises how offensive her words are and I am bemused, but beyond wanting to correct her. It isn’t an offense to her and it won’t help for me to go there.

She has no clue how to use her printer to print my invoice out, but she can find the weather radar on her ipad quick as a flash. ‘This is only a quick shower’ she says, ‘but the next will be a big one…’  (and she was spot on).

I head back outside to work while she drives down to Yanchep to book a flight to Darwin for a friend’s birthday. She still uses travel agents and doesn’t trust the internet.

As she gets back a local restauranteur arrives to check out her fridge that is for sale. ‘Oscar’ chats with her, agrees to a price and then after an extended conversation, leaves with a bunch of shallots and some helpful gardening advice.

She potters out the front and tells me a bit about her life – never married – ‘not for lack of offers’ – she assures me. But she didn’t want to spend her life ‘waiting from someone to come home from the pub.’

‘Fair enough’ I say.

‘There have been a few blokes (and one son as a result) but I always wanted someone taller than me and stronger minded than me…’ she laughs.

I laugh as well… She’s 5 ft 10, but that’s not the point. ‘Stronger minded than you?’ I say. She cackles again and makes me another cup of tea as we continue to chat. I near completion and ask if she wants me to backfill the trenches, but she tells me she will do that. (I thought she might)

‘Nothing hard about that!’ she laughs, so I will leave and she’ll get on the shovel and clean up.

When its all done its $1100.00 which is good because she had budgeted $1-1.5K. She pulls out her cheque book and assures me she only has tradies in when she can afford to pay – although I reckon she’s got a few bob in reserve. We have another laugh about what kind of crazy job she may have for me next time and then I drive off.

I leave Sally’s at 12.30 and head for Dave’s house. I debate whether to head home for lunch but instead I pick up a pie to get me thru what I’m hoping will be a quick job. Dave & Edna are kiwis and long term Yanchep locals whose retic has ‘been on the dick’ (or ‘duck’ if you’re a kiwi) for several years, but they have never got around to fixing it.

It looks simple, but turns into a complex problem. Each step of the way Dave is watching me and cursing the retic ‘F$%k me. I hate this stuff’ he says.

‘No’ f$%king idea’ he says, when I ask about what work was done previously.

‘F$%k!…’ he yells emphatically as I finally work out what the problem is and explain that its not gonna be fixed today.

What I thought was going to be 15 minutes turns into two and a half hours and another extended conversation. As I’m packing up out the front and chatting with them I realise I have been here before – but at night. They are the local ‘Christmas lights house’. Dave tells me they have two sea containers of stuff that they store each year waiting for December to come around so they can decorate and serve the local community. Light, snow machine and Santa – the whole bit – people come from miles around to see it.

‘Its just us doing our ‘but’ for the community’ says Dave.

They tell me stories of the people who come to visit each year. Those who come early and complain because the lights aren’t on at 6.30 and those who arrive at 11.00pm and expect them to get out of bed and entertain them.

‘Its must make you think about giving it away?’ I ask, imagining how I’d be feeling if that happened to me.

‘Nah – no way – we love it.’ Edna says.

”F$%k yeah’ says Dave.

As I drive home I realise yet again how blessed I am to work as a tradie in the local community and to spend time with people like these. Beautiful, earthy, genuine people who have generous hearts and kind spirits.

In the evening I chat online with Ian Robbo, a theology lecturer in the East doing some research on the whole idea of being a ‘bivocational / tent-maker’ pastor and whether its a helpful thing or a hindrance to ministry work.

I remember I used to feel sorry for the poor blokes who had to work a ‘secular’ job because their church couldn’t afford them full time. These days I can’t imagine being sentenced to full time ministry work again. I certainly wouldn’t be encountering the likes of Dave & Sally on a daily basis, if at all, and that is worth more than you can ever imagine.