Driving with the Handbrake On

Last week I read an interview with Bono that enquired about his recent ‘health scare’. (I’m not sure how recent) In the interview he declined to discuss the issue because he felt it a bit rich for a wealthy white westerner to be complaining about ‘health problems’ when around the world millions are dying from preventable causes and do not have access to health care. Fair call.

I have felt similar over the last 12 months as I’ve battled a disturbing and chronic health problem that I can’t seem to resolve. Honestly – my life is pretty damn good. I don’t want for anything, and I’m very content with all parts of where we are at, so to complain about a small problem has felt a bit indulgent. That’s why I haven’t said anything.

But if you’ve wondered why this blog has been so neglected then this might help to explain. Back in January 2017 I developed a problem in my butt. I thought it was a haemorrhoid and I ignored the pain for a bit but when it didn’t go away I went to see the Doc. By this point it felt like strong pressure from inside my butt pressing out – like I needed to go to the toilet – but I actually didn’t…

So it was off to have a colonoscopy to make sure it wasn’t cancer (nope) and then from there it was ‘diagnosis by elimination’. It seems I have developed chronic pelvic pain – a constant spasm of the inner pelvic muscles that results in a really sore butt – a literal pain in the arse…

People describe it as like having a golf ball stuck up your bum… It’s an accurate description – (although I have never actually put a golf ball up my butt before)  It means sitting is uncomfortable and sore. Walking isn’t so bad. But I just can’t sit still for any length of time without squirming in pain.

When I say ‘pain’ maybe 2-3 on the pain scale so hardly the end of the world, but enough to distract me from anything I am doing.

It has taken its toll on all of my activities that involve sitting still for extend periods of time – writing being one of them. It has improved a little bit over the year and I have tried various means to deal with it – physio, stretching, meditation, none of them particularly effective. Google suggests some people acquire this problem and are never able to resolve it – yeeha… So going out to dinner with friends has been hard, driving has been hard, being at church has been hard… just relaxing has been really difficult. And being unable to resolve it has been hardest.

I have never had mental health issues, but this year I’ve had to make a conscious effort to stay positive and not to be overtaken by despair. Part of that is knowing that some people I know have far worse issues than I do and get thru. Part of it is that life just requires me to press on and keep getting things done. It’s given me a level of empathy for those who struggle with ongoing pain that I previously wouldn’t have had. I think that is a good thing, but I’m pretty weary from it now…

So this year has been like driving with the handbrake on – looking at a sunny day thru scratched lenses – whatever metaphor works for you. I can still do everything but it’s been restricted and as a result I feel like I haven’t achieved as much or been effective in what I have done. It has been hard to sit and think and write and reflect like I used to without giving up and going to lie on my bed. Most evenings I leave the lounge room around 8 and lie on our bed because it eases the discomfort, but it also takes a toll on family dynamics.

I’m not sure if 2018 will see this issue resolved or whether I will just keep ‘learning new things…’

I hear botox can help so that is possibly my next port of call, but in the meantime I just carry on.

The hardest part has actually been my struggle to think ahead and to see the future because I have become consumed with the immediate – relief of discomfort. As someone who likes to think ahead and plan the future that has been frustrating and dis-orienting.

So – this isn’t a ‘poor me post’. Really its not. I have hesitated to even write this – not because its ‘personal’, but because I’m really not suffering like some folks suffer and I’m writing this from the comfort of a big chair on my balcony on a balmy summer night in Yanchep. Life is good. But a part of it sucks right now. As I’ve talked to friends over the year about what they have been struggling with I’ve wondered if I’d swap my ‘problem’ for theirs and often the answer is ‘for sure’, but the reality is that a problem free / pain free life isn’t gonna happen for anyone so sometimes we need to learn how to live with pain.

I was chatting with my mate Scott today about hiking (his thing) and how sometimes it happens in cold and rain and ugly weather and that sometimes it really sucks – but sometimes you just have to ’embrace the suck’.

Right now I’m trying to ’embrace the suck’, learn from it, grow in it, but I’m also hopeful that things will change this year and I’ll be back to normal – or at least something else will suck 🙂

So if you’re wondered ‘what happened to Hamo blog?’ then this might help explain… (And the image above – the evening sunset in Yanchep – is completely unrelated except as a reminder that we live in a beautiful place and life is very very good.

The Squeeze

squeezeIts been a year of transition.

The kids went back to school at QBC, Danelle has picked up some work there and by virtue of having to fit into school schedules we have started to live a somewhat ‘normal’ life.

We now have children to get to school every morning, and home every afternoon… there is homework… and lots of it… Our lives have become governed by school hours and school terms.

I realise this is how most people live, but I’m not enjoying ‘the squeeze’. I’m not enjoying the sense of conforming to the rules of suburbia and there is a part of me that is wondering how long we can sustain this kind of life, or if we even want to.

‘Oh don’t be silly – of course you can sustain it – just look around you – everybody does it!’ I hear someone say.

And I’d say ‘so what?! Who said it has to be this way? And what impact does it have on those people?… Is it all good?’

Obviously we made these choices for a reason. One of my life’s mottos is that ‘life is a series of compromises’. You just can’t have everything you want all the time and sometimes you simply have to be willing to trade ‘x’ for ‘y’. We have made a choice to trade some of our freedom (and Danelle’s sanity) by outsourcing education to a third party.

But I didn’t actually realise how much of a family life change it was going to be having the kids back in the system. We originally made the decision because Danelle was struggling to cope with the demands of two kids in more advanced schooling and by sending them back it took that load off her plate. And it has done that… she has not struggled with anxiety anywhere near as much and the sheer weight of planning their education is no longer hers.

For the most part we are really happy with their school situation, but lately I’ve been noticing the squeeze – the forces being exerted on us that are shaping us into the predictable patterns of suburban life (and I get that they aren’t all bad – people need to know how to ‘fit in’ as well as how to think for themselves.)

That said, for the last 6 years I have always liked that at any time I could say ‘hey let’s down tools and take off for a few days down south!’ And we could… Or ‘Hey the surf looks good today Sam. Forget maths this morning and lets hit the beach’ And he could…

Earlier in the year I offered Sam a day off to come surfing with me and he told me wasn’t allowed. ‘What?!… I’m your dad boy! If I can’t give you permission then who can?!’

‘Yeah… we aren’t allowed to wag school dad,’ came the autobot reply. My butt cheeks clenched tight.

The squeeze… literally…

It started right back then. Sam is a natural law abider anyway, but what kid wouldn’t take their dad’s offer of a day off school?!

As part of our arrangement with the church we choose to take a lower salary in exchange for an extra two weeks holiday each year. It was partly to help the church with the $$, but it was always my intention to make sure we spent plenty of time on the road travelling.

That was great when we could shoot off up north for a month over July and then slot another couple of weeks in at other times, but now the mid year break is just two weeks. Exams come at the end of term and apparently it isn’t cool to skip them… And then it’d be tough on the kids for them to miss all the start up stuff in the first week of term.

So we fit in.

Part of the challenge is running a seasonal business, and yes – that’s my choice. So we can take 4 weeks over Christmas, but apart from the crowds and the premium prices its also the prime time to make some good $$.

Perhaps this is just how it is and we need to suck it up and slot in. For the next 4 years our life revolves around our kids’ education and their adolescent years. I do think there is an element of inevitability about that. But I also hope that when we (and they) come out the other end we haven’t become so entrenched that we have lost the ability to think for ourselves and choose our own path.

Or in the immortal words of the not so well known philosopher Forrest Griffin, I really hope the juice is worth the squeeze…

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Like Going to War?

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One the day I got married I woke at 8am and was ready by 9am for a 10am wedding. I love being a bloke. It was a Saturday so I opened the newspaper as I usually did on and as I was thumbing thru read the quote for the day:

‘Marriage is an adventure. It is like going war’

GK Chesterton

True story… with an hour to go I had that thought to ponder.

Now I help other folks get ready for marriage and every time I sit down to do some marriage counselling with a young couple about to get hitched for life we do the ‘Prepare‘ course, a comprehensive questionnaire that looks at how the two individuals think in various areas of life. It asks questions about communication, conflict resolution, finance, sex and several other important aspects of a successful relationship. Its comprehensive and very worthwhile so if you’re newly engaged make sure you get a marriage counsellor who can do it with you!

It also does an assessment of how realistically the couple are viewing their future marriage relationship and provides a score for ‘idealistic distortion’, in other words, to what extent the future is being viewed through rose coloured glasses and to what extent it is being viewed with a healthy dose of realism.

Almost without fail (among those who have never been previously married) everyone approaches it with a strong sense of idealism and the expectation that because we are so in love nothing could ever go wrong. I am yet to find a couple who approach marriage with a strong sense of realism.

What’s with that?…

Well its obvious isn’t it – they haven’t had to live with the same person day in day out for years on end, so they haven’t yet encountered the challenges that come with that kind of relationship.

Everything looks wonderful from the front end. What could possibly come unstuck for two young people so wildly in love?

Part of my role in preparing people for marriage is bursting that bubble to some degree. I don’t want to engender cynicism, but I do want to ask;

What if one of you gets really sick?… what if one of you farts in bed?… what if one of you stops feeling attracted to the other?… what if one of you develops an addiction – alcohol, porn, drugs?… what if you decide to work shifts and FIFO rosters and end up hardly seeing one another… and then you find someone else who lights your fire?… what if you just get really busy and bored with one another?… what if one of you goes off sex?…

The list goes on. So much can ‘go wrong’ in marriage if you are unprepared and idealism is a sure way to walk in blindfolded. So one of my key questions in marriage prep is to ask ‘what don’t you like about your partner?’ or ‘what annoys you about your future spouse?’ If you can give me an answer to those questions then chances are you seeing a bit more clearly.

If not then give it time…

Part of a maturing love is knowing what irritates you about the person you love but accepting them anyway and loving them so they can become the best version of themselves.

Marriage is adventure, but it doesn’t have to be like going to war…

Someone Has to Go First

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As a retic & turf bloke I sometimes find myself laying lawn in the rain and those days are nothing but a long miserable grind. Even with a raincoat on, my clothes get damp, my boots sodden and the rolls of turf weigh almost double because they get waterlogged too. Everything is difficult and depressing, harder than it should be, but you keep going… you slog on, because you have to, because there is no other option – no way out.

As I look back on our married life, I would see that the hardest times haven’t been the sharp disputes and angry arguments, but rather they have been the ‘slog’ times when it feels heavy and dark and like there is no alternative on the table, with no future except to keep going.

On those days I’d rather lay 200 rolls of waterlogged turf in driving rain than keep pushing on in a relationship that seems to have lost its rudder and has drifted into darkness.

But it happens from time to time as for various reasons our lives begin to become parallel tracks rather than one interconnected track. (And yes – I write that in the present tense because it is not a ‘one off’ past experience that we are now immune to.) It happens slowly at first as we get busy, distracted and pre-occupied, self centred even… but then one day a little while later you look at each other with indifference or maybe even resentment and wonder ‘what happened?’

Well… a lot happened, but not much of it happened together, intentionally, or with the other person in mind.

The end result is a room-mate, a co-parent, a financial partner, a domestic assistant, but not a wife or a husband. And with those new identities comes a dark and disturbing loneliness, of being in the same room with someone you know and love (you think) and yet with whom you have little sense of heart connection or worse still a growing resentment and disappointment, (because its easier to blame than accept your own flaws.)

If you’ve been here then you’d know the inner angst that comes in these times, and the immense challenge of making a course correction when you have sailed so far off track. I’ve met couples who have never made the much needed course correction and who have slowly drifted into being co-habiting strangers, because its too difficult to even contemplate parting ways. There are kids to consider… finances… and even if we don’t like each other any more its just more convenient to stay in the same home even if we live separate lives.

That’s a dark picture, and I have tried to paint it that way intentionally because when you’re there the temptation is to look away and carry on hoping that the tracks will magically reconnect and the spark will re-kindle on its own. But if you’re reading this and saying ‘oh no… that’s us…’ then the challenge (if you are willing to accept it) is to pick up and move back towards the other person.

I’m no fan of divorce as a solution, nor I don’t subscribe to the idea of ‘falling out of love’. I do see that we can drift apart as we choose not to love, but equally I see that we can choose to love, to give and to put the other person first even when the raw feelings are leaning in the opposite direction and often that reignites the embers that are struggling.

These days we are better at spotting our tracks starting to diverge, but equally we are better at choosing to take early loving steps back together knowing that our marriage is built on more than a bag of warm feelings.

So if you’re there, then maybe its time to call it for what it is…

And then… someone has to go first.

Someone has to be the one to acknowledge the need and take the initiative. Maybe its you… Wherever you have drifted to, I believe its possible to come back from, but it starts with a single step… and then another…

Grateful

Trench

Its been said you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.

This week one my jobs was installing some backyard retic and 70m of turf in a home in Alkimos, a job I’d usually knock off by lunchtime, but I was feeling a bit ginger and sore so it didn’t go as expected.

You see running hasn’t worked out. The very first run I did saw my knees hurting quite badly. I pressed on thinking it was just settling back into new routines and all would be well. The pain persisted so on return home I spoke to my physio who advised me to keep going. Probably not his finest moment… I kept going another two weeks dosing up on anti-inflammatories and hoping things would come good.

But they didn’t. I stopped the anti-inflams and went to see him, with a very sore left knee and clear swelling. My body was yelling ‘stop!’ but I was trying not to listen. This time he agreed I should stop running and I didn’t need much persuasion.

That was Tuesday morning as I was about to hit the job in Alkimos. I couldn’t bend down easily at all on the left so it was going to be a hard day either way. Then with the first dip of the shovel my back kinked on the right hand side. One of those random things that can happen when you’re tying your shoelaces or bending over to pick up the newspaper even. Suddenly I couldn’t bend at the knees or hips and both were shooting pain thru the body.

I pushed on and got the job done despite the pain – you do what you have to do – but midway thru as I was trying to kneel on the ground and join pipes I found myself thinking maybe my days of doing this are over… Maybe I need to give this body a break and go back to a more cruisy and sensible job.

The disappointment I felt was deep. And it made me realise I really enjoy what I do.

I still can’t really fathom that.

At face value its pretty basic manual labour, and many times over the last 10 years I have wanted to give it away. But in the last 12 months particularly I have found myself enjoying it – feeling alive in it – and that sense of disappointment wasn’t about losing an income, or the lifestyle that goes with it. I could employ someone to ‘be me’ – that would be easy – but it was about the possibility of losing the ability to do something I enjoy.

I’m sure I could pick up a full time ministry job somewhere, or even go back to teaching, but that’s not where my heart is these days. To roll into a local backyard on a sunny winter day and spend the morning doing some serious work that ends in an instant transformation is rewarding. The conversations I find myself having with clients often go to unexpected places and that is rewarding too. Knowing you are serving people and going to leave them with the best job they can get is also a good feeling.

I worked again on Thursday with the back pain easing slightly and the leg still dodgy and now I’ve got a week off when hopefully it will settle and get back to normal.

Some days you don’t like what you do. It annoys you and feels like an impediment to the life you wish you had. Perhaps it just needs to get taken away for you to realise its value.

That was my realisation this week – and I’m grateful.

Third Row Back

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Last weekend we had our QBC bloke’s retreat up in Lancelin and as part of that I led us in a meditative exercise using Matthew 14 and the story of Jesus walking out on the water to the disciples who are in the middle of a storm.

I always find it tricky ‘leading’ and participating fully, but I managed to enter into the ‘imaginative’ phase of this time, where we were picturing ourselves as one of the disciples and trying to see where we ‘found ourselves’ in the story.

I’ve preached on this passage a few times and its usually been one of those ‘get out of the boat’ messages. You know the one – the call to take a step of faith and keep our eyes on Jesus rather than the storm?… It suggests that we most commonly imagine ourselves as Peter in this story – or even that we should see ourselves as Peter…  but what if that isn’t the case?

As I entered into the story this time I imagined Jesus telling us all to go hop in the boat and take off while he hung around to send the crowd away and then get some alone time. In that moment I saw myself as just one of the crew, doing as I was told because he had said it. The horizon looked dark and it was probably going to be a tough journey, but oh well… He calls the shots and we just do what he says.

As we got in the boat I found myself third row back pulling an oar.  And in that space I was simply plugging away and doing what needed to be done to get the boat to its destination.  As the storm increased and it got ugly I just kept working. When Jesus appeared on the water I wasn’t at all interested in hopping out of the boat and going to see him. I was intent on staying focused – on keeping going – and not stopping.

It made me wonder why I wasn’t seeing myself as Peter, as adventurous, daring and courageous. He is the one who we hear about and who we seem to like to identify with. John Ortberg wrote that book ‘If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat’, but no one has written ‘If You Want to Get the Other Side You Have to Keep Rowing’. It is distinctly less glamorous, but much of life is just that – keeping going and doing what is needed.

Maybe that’s a fair metaphor for my own life at the moment – leading a small church in an outer suburb, running a small business that has no dreams for world domination and being a dad and husband along the way. None of it is earth-shattering stuff, but its all good stuff. And it is the stuff I have been called to do and for now its just head down and keep rowing.

Maybe one day I get to be a ‘Peter’ again, but for now I am ‘Bartholomew’… and that’s just how it is.

And its good.

Musing

If I go back 10-15 years in life and think about how I approached Christian leadership it was with energy for the role, the tasks and motivated by the big picture of what we could achieve. The people were somewhat incidental and I found I often viewed them according to what they brought to the cause.

 

The people I connected best with were the ones like me who were head down, bum up going, going, going and who could help us get where we were headed. Those who detracted from the cause I had no time for and similarly those of ‘neutral’ value.

 

I was captivated by what I was doing (emphasis on ‘I’), loved the role,  the tasks and the challenges and people were a means to that end.

 

Danelle and I have been considering an extended break from leadership in the following year, partly because we are a bit weary of the roles and tasks we find ourselves a part of, but what is interesting is that we don’t like the thought of a significant period away from the people we have been leading and grown to love.

 

It’s an inversion of where we were previously and another one of those things that snuck up on us. Both of us feel somewhat tired of the regular responsibilities that form Christian leadership in a local church and would like some time to refresh and renew. But we will miss the people… would never have thought that would happen 15 years ago.

 

We’re not sure what form a ‘sabbatical’ type of year will take bit we are currently praying and thinking about it.

 

Part of the challenge is that it’s not a ‘me’ question but a ‘we’ question. It has to work for all of us if it’s going to be worthwhile. As we discussed this the other night as a family Ellie asked me what I’d really like to do. I found myself a little caught off guard as I hadn’t really considered that… I had been considering what is possible or what may satisfy all of us, but not what I really want because I didn’t see that as even a possibility.

 

We finished up in some tense conversation as Sam adamantly stated he ‘wasn’t going anywhere ‘. He wanted to spend the whole year in Yanchep, not taking any holidays and doing well at his school work. Might need a paternity test I am thinking…

 

While it was a difficult conversation it was also a good one because we worked hard at discussing and negotiating as a family.  We explained to Sam that ‘no – we wouldn’t cancel all plans if he wasn’t keen… ‘ but we also want to go ‘together’  and enjoy time together. Once Ellie starts year 11 and returns to regular schooling we will be restricted for the next 4 years until Sam finished year 12, so this is the window of opportunity to clear the heads,  recharge the hearts and come back ready for another 5-7 years.

 

I’m not sure what will happen to this point and it feels like there is a fair bit of ‘work’ to be done before we can agree together what will be valuable. But I also think it will be a good process and important in shaping our kids understanding of decision making and listening to god.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling, Stability, Selfishness, Family

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Its been almost 5 years since we started at QBC and we are now in the process of discerning whether God wants us to stay around for another period of time and continue to lead this community, or whether its time for change – for us and them. I think these reflection times are healthy as its easy for all of us to settle into a rut and get comfortable with each other. Sometimes its good to step back and ask honestly, ‘should we still be doing this together?’

But discerning God’s call is a curious process. It is not as simple as saying ‘God told me to stay/go so that’s that…’

I wish it was.

The previous times we have been thru a ‘re-call’ process it has been with a very different emphasis. In those times ‘pastoring’ was something of a career and my thought processes were shaped by that paradigm. There was also a sense of ourselves and our ministry being assessed and weighed up to see if we still cut the mustard. As it was my ‘career’ I was keen to keep it moving and the discernment process felt a bit like a one way street – we were evaluated – albeit kindly and positively. It didn’t dawn on me that we ought to review the church community as much as they ought to review us. We should have asked them about their intentions and the commitments they were making to us as we stayed. We should have given them feedback on some areas of growth if we were to stay.

These days I am not a ‘career pastor’ and I see the role very differently so I don’t feel like a ‘performance review’ is what we are doing. Rather as a community we are listening to God and asking the question ‘what now?’

As Danelle said recently, ‘If we weren’t doing the review then there wouldn’t be any question about what we are doing. We’d just roll on.’ Perhaps so. But I am in favour of times of reflection and review as they stop us getting too entrenched in our patterns of operation and challenge us to consider the future afresh.

One of the challenges I have faced personally in the last 10 years has been one of moving from a place of sharp vocational clarity to one that is more ambiguous and undefined. By that I mean that I no longer live with the laser sharp sense of purpose and personal vision i once did. Now I have a broad concept that shapes my identity, but the specifics of how it works out are much more fluid. I’m ok with that now, although it took some adjusting to.

Occasionally I wonder if my time as a ‘pastor’ is up. I am curious about what it would be like to not lead a church as we have done it in one shape or form for the last 23 years. I wonder what it would feel like to voluntarily return to the pews (like anyone has pews any more…) and be a member of a congregation. I wonder if I could do it even…

I’d go as far as to say that I’d like to experience it for a time. I’d like to see what its like to be out of the loop of leadership conversations and some of the bigger picture church discussions. I’d like to be a ‘fly on the wall’. But reality is that after 23 years of being a pastor you can’t just plonk back into a congregation somewhere and be anonymous. At least not in Perth. Its too small a city.

One of the complications of taking time out, or possibly a change of direction, is that we love the people we currently lead and they have become our family very tangibly. To stop leading would inevitably mean moving to a new church community to allow a new leader room to move. I don’t think its wise to hang around and believe my presence wouldn’t be a hindrance.

But we wouldn’t want to leave… We like these people, this church culture we have been part of creating and I really don’t like the thought of entering a new church culture which wouldn’t resonate with us and having to start all over again with relationships and fitting in. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

I sense the depth of connection and commitment to the community is a very strong and anchoring factor in discerning God’s call. The impact a move would have on our family is also now a significant guiding factor, one that wasn’t so strong during previous transitions or decisions. Now my kids have friends in the church and they would be upset if we moved, left or dislocated them. And fair enough. Its God calling ‘us’, not just ‘dad & mum’.

So – even if I feel like flitting off to some new project I have to consider that part of the call process is listening to what is happening in my family.

Then this morning I had a conversation with one of our church members about vision. The flow of conversation was urging me to fire up a new vision so that people would be inspired and the church would re-ignite and grow. it has definitely levelled out in terms of numbers and for this person that was a major concern.

I explained that we did have a vision. I explained that our vision has been to lead people to live more Christlike lives, to see their communities and workplaces as mission fields and to intentionally live counter cultural lives that challenge the dominant western values of affluence, busyness, superficiality and self centredness.

It isn’t sexy. It doesn’t put more bums on seats, and often it takes people away, but if you want to know what I am committed to there it is.

I knew this wasn’t going to be considered a ‘vision’, but for now that’s what I have… and I don’t see it changing. In fact I own that more deeply than any building project, attendance goal or new program idea.

In that conversation I knew that the hope was that I would have some more tangible ideas for people to rally around and see as a shared project – to galvanise the community into some corporate action. I am open to those ideas, but I don’t think they are our ‘vision’. They are just things we do to serve God and our community and they can sometimes contribute to our vision and sometimes detract.

Seeing people become like Jesus is slow work, three steps forward and two steps back often. It lacks the visible and tangible expression of a new drum kit. And I know that if we just ‘played the game’ a bit more then maybe more people would come thru our doors… More people would speak of QBC as a cool church and the numbers might jump again. But my heart isn’t in that. I don’t think it ever will be again.

The word selfishness is in the title of this post because some of my reflections on this subject are shaped by just that. Some times I want to slip out of Christian leadership because I am tired of it all. I could do it under the guise of God ‘leading us into a different season…’ (love Christianese…) but truth would be that we were just weary of carrying the responsibilities of leadership. To constantly be the voice that calls people to surrender, follow, give, serve, step up etc is tiring, particularly when it often feels like you are repeating yourself.

And then sometimes I would just like the option of staying in bed on a Sunday, or taking a few weekends away camping, or generally seeing the church as there for my convenience. Pure unadulterated consumeristic selfishness… Its in me as much as everyone else. I wonder if I would still be a committed part of the church if I wasn’t leading it. I’d like to think so… But we do fool ourselves so easily don’t we?…

So as a review approaches and we consider this question we do so without any blinding lights. Without any booming voices or even deep convictions that this is the only place we should be. I think that if its just down to us we will keep going at QBC for a number of reasons:

– we have done it for 5 years and now have relationships and credibility. It’d be a shame to start over when the foundations are there.

– we belong there as a family. It would be hard to see ourselves anywhere else. The culture of the church is as relaxed and easy going as I have found anywhere.

– we love the people there and we’d miss them. I wouldn’t like that at all.

– there are no other attractive options popping up.

– we don’t want to move from Yanchep.

And I think at core there is still a very strong sense that God has gifted Danelle and I to lead communities towards the vision I articulated earlier. We both believe deeply in the importance of forming people into Christ, of equipping people for mission in everyday life and of challenging people to lead a counter cultural life. If you want KPIs and strategic capacity development then maybe we won’t be your people. We’ve been there done that (today I opened a file from youth ministry days with 78 goals in it for 1999…) but if its the simple stuff of discipleship and mission then I think we’re up for it for another period of time.

Opportunities and Dreams

My days are shaping up a little differently year and I’m considering some shifts in what I do with my time

I have taken a break from my part in our home-schooling. As much as I love my kids and as much they tell me they enjoy my teaching, (I think they mean it…) I have become stale with it. Towards the end of last year I hit a wall and began to lose interest. Its not a pretty place to be and knowing myself I knew I needed to jump ship quickly before it started to show and before I ended up fudging and doing a shoddy job.

I am also in a place now where I can more effectively regulate how much time I put into my business.  With my friend B starting up as ‘Mr Retic’ I have been sending him almost all of the work and quotes that come in south of Joondalup and as a result my travel time is down, my  costs are lower and I am enjoying life a lot more because of it. This may change come the winter months and its harder to find work, but then again I may just work less.

Church is continuing at the same pace and together Danelle and I share a 3 day/week leadership role. Its great because we get to do what we are good at and because there is only so much that can be achieved in that time some of the peripheral or non-essential aspects of a church leader’s workload is shed and the priorities are seen more clearly.

So I am feeling like I have some extra time and that’s a nice feeling…

Some of what has been bubbling around in my head as possibilities are:

Writing – I have loved writing and in a conversation with my mum the other day we discussed that ‘what would you do if money was no object?’ question. My answer – I’d write. I have a couple of books in my head, one fiction and one non-fiction.

If money were no object… yeah… I reckon I’d probably give it a really good shake. What holds me back is that I sense and I hear that writing is not easy and I am not sure if I have the discipline to finish what I start. I began writing a novel on our trip around Oz 4 years ago, but that was a bad idea. Who wants to knuckle down on a lap top when you’re on the trip of a lifetime?

So I may write… I am in the ‘counting the cost’ phase at the moment, but I am thinking I’ll take 5 or 6 Monday mornings when I would have been teaching to see if I can get some momentum up. Two houses up from us in our street lives a woman is a published fiction author so I may even wander up and have a chat.

Owner Building – We love where we live, but we could do with an extra living area that is good for bigger groups. Right now our lounge is small and two families is more than it can handle. We do tend to have people over fairly regularly so its been a real consideration.

Probably the smartest and most practical thing to do would be to go up one level and add space up there. I could pay a builder to do it, but I am guessing there wouldn’t be much change out of $150K when all was said and done, or I could DIY as an owner builder and probably save $50K or thereabouts.

That would take some time and energy and would be an invigorating, creative project, but my biggest obstacle is the level of debt we would incur. I realise more and more that the big financial loss we took several back now has left a mark on me and made me both risk averse and skittish at the thought of increasing the mortgage.

Its a really bizarre situation and I can reason in my head that it makes sense, will be a good investment etc, but there is a ‘block’ within that refuses to say ‘yes’ to a project like this. I’d love to do it – I think we could really use it – and then we could possibly rent out the lower section of the house if we did a little remodelling.

So if we land up with a lotto win for $40 or $50K then it might happen but given we don’t enter lotto its a long shot.

Yanchep Mission Project – I mull this one around often and its slowly gathering a bit of energy. We have lived here for 3 years in July and right now there is one church in the area. Just one church to reach out to the Yanchep / Two Rocks area and I know we could do something of value up here. The Anglicans move out shortly to relocate to Alkimos and leave one ‘Foursquare’ mob to hold the fort.

Up to now I haven’t sensed any desire to plant a new venture and I can’t say I have sensed God calling us in that direction, but I am wondering if that is shifting. Its more a ‘wondering’ than a burning desire. There is also a part of me that simply says ‘just do it‘, but I’m conscious that isn’t always the ‘god’ part of me.

This would be a project that would take some creative and physical energy because I don’t imagine it would be in place of leading QBC, but rather alongside. So we would need to work out the hows and whats of it all if it were going to happen. We’d also need to form a team of people committed to the local area and I am not sure if we have those people at the moment.

But I like the thought of it… Anyone want to move to Yanchep and form a team?!

So there’s 3 projects that each require some level of creative, physical and emotional energy. I’m not sure I want to tackle all three this year…  but then again maybe that’s the way to change gears. Hit them all at once and charge like a rhino?…

 

Looking Back and Looking Forwards

I usually do a blog post around that theme at this time each year so… here it is…

In many ways 2013 has been a somewhat uneventful year, in that there have been few dramatic life changes, but some of the less obvious ones have been valuable and significant.

I began the year experimenting with the sabbath and seeking to ‘rest better’. It was in the middle of the busiest retic season we had known and I was feeling pretty ragged. I haven’t stuck to the regime/practices I laid out in that post, but I have been able to keep a really healthy life balance all year and rarely felt like I’m getting swamped with work, or unable to disconnect. I don’t answer the phone at all on Sundays, but it still amazes me that people will call me – sometimes at 7am to ask retic questions. I had one person ring this year who I ‘declined’ 3 times in a row, however the next time they called I answered with ‘this better be important!’ and there was no one there… funny that. I used to be someone who would call tradies whenever I felt like it. Not any more. I had no idea just how annoying I was.

I also sought out some spiritual direction this year as a way of helping me hone some of my own reflections on life, faith and personal directions. No question it was time well spent and a really worthwhile change to the schedule. What did it do?… I think I enjoyed having someone help me think thru the questions I mull over alone. It helped chewing around some of the challenges of ministry in a focused way. It helped pondering where life is headed and considering the future a bit more intentionally. I have friends I do this with but its also good to set aside specific time. I feel more focused and ‘in tune’ for it. Thanks Jennifer.

One of the outcomes of the spiritual direction process was a change in the way my life is structured. I had been losing the passion for my retic business over the last few years, but haven’t found anything to replace it with. I would regularly go thru ‘quitting season‘ where I would get to the end of my tether and seek ways out of business. This year I actually advertised the business for sale on Gumtree with the intent of giving it up. I had no clue what else I was going to do, but figured that maybe that would fall into place if I took the first step. I did a sophisticated calculation as to the value of the business and advertised it for the value of our mortgage… My thinking was that I didn’t care what ‘market value’ was – that was what I wanted to get to opt out.

It didn’t sell and by June and July I was relieved and enjoying myself again. Working shorter hours with less pressure in cooler weather was nice. But around July just before we took off up north for a month a mate came by and asked if I was interested in selling 50% of the business… I was interested. We discussed a figure that we both felt was fair and then we began to work towards sorting out the details of a working agreement. But the further we went into working things out the more complicated life became. Right at the start I expressed what I wanted from my business – simplicity, flexibility and autonomy – and B wanted the same, but the more we discussed a ‘semi-partnership’ the more convoluted the process became of getting there. So instead I agreed to help him get his own business off the ground and to send work his way and take a small commission. Now he’s up and running and all work south of Joondalup gets sent his way.

The beauty of the whole thing has been that he has found the life he is seeking – closer to his family and away from the rigours of the corporate world. He is finding a new rhythm of life and mine feels much more sane. I’ve been really enjoying the more compact working area and especially the growth in work around the Yanchep area. Come the cooler months I may have to travel a little, but my hope is to eventually work the areas north of Clarkson and not have to head further south than that.

work

My invoice app allows me to track where I have been working this year and the density of work further north is pretty obvious in the pic.

Part of being able to slow down was to ensure I had more headspace for the work Danelle and I do at QBC. We increased our combined time to 3 days/week and we share that between us according to what we are good at.

As a church it has felt like a steady and fairly undramatic year. It is our fourth year with QBC and next year is the final one of this first term. I’m not averse to a steady year, but I feel the need for a bit more energy as I think we are in danger of lapsing into being just another happy bunch of people who sing songs and listen to sermons. Not a good place and be and time for some refocussing and prayer as to what the future might hold for this community of people.

It was the year of car changes but finally I have landed on the big ole Cruiser and am very happy with her. I’m no mechanic, but I love cars and to have the right one is a nice feeling. I’ve heard it said that ‘women wear clothes and men wear cars’… Well, this one fits nicely. Tough as nails, big and spacious with lots of grunt, but also some pretty decent fuel economy.

cscamp

We also relented and got a dog this year – Lucy – a 5 year old labrador who has been a wonderful pick up. She loves people, the ocean and eating. A bit like me except for the people… She was a bit toey around other dogs initially – I’m guessing there was a story there – but now she’s great. The daily walk means we get to the beach just about every day of the year so rather than just seeing it from the balcony we walk it and take in its different moods which is always fun.

IMG_4226Around the middle of the year I stopped drinking alcohol. That was a biggie. I haven’t blogged about it because I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but the short reason was that I sensed God saying ‘that’s it’. At least ‘that’s it for now’.

It was hard because I am a red wine lover and at times I loved it too much. It began to be one of those things that shaped my life negatively, but because I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to let it go. I woke up early one Sunday morning with what I felt was a prophetic message for our church. I rang Ryan and cancelled him for the morning and spoke myself. The message was simple – that sometimes we have ‘demons’ in our lives that need to be removed, but that often stay because we are attached to them.

Alcohol had become that for me. A love and passion that was morphing into a demon that was controlling me more than I was controlling it. I had ‘cut back’ a few times but always slipped back into unhealthy patterns. I was conscious it was an issue but not aware I was going to be speaking to myself. Well… there you go…

It took me a week to let go, but its been 7 months now and I haven’t had any alcohol. I’m sad about that because my take is that alcohol is good and given to us to enjoy. I’d like to be able to be a moderate drinker, but I always liked ‘one more’ and could see the potential for disaster ahead. It also loomed as a simple discipleship issue. I’ve seen too many people as they get older just decide to live with a level of personal compromise that means faith lacks its punch and I have dreaded becoming one of them.

I don’t know if I will ever get back into it – I doubt it. Has life been richer for not drinking? I honestly don’t feel ‘better’ for it and I do miss it, but I also feel like there was both a response to God that was good as well as a simple issue of self control sorted. Sometimes you just gotta roll with your convictions whether they bear fruit in any specific way or not.

 

I haven’t read a lot this year, but my ‘Book of the Year’ would be Winton’s Eyrie. My TV Series of the Year is a tie between Ricky Gervais’ very funny and poignant Derek and the ABC series, Time of Our Lives, an insight into middle class Australia. We don’t watch a lot of TV so its good to know when something good pops up.

Blogging has been sporadic, but also meaningful when it happens. I still enjoy writing, but the demands of physical work still limits the creative impulses.

So 2014 happens shortly and it will be the year I turn 50. I don’t feel especially apprehensive about it, but I am aware that I am leaning towards the other side of middle age now. We will celebrate the 50th with a visit back to Ireland around the middle of the year and I’m looking forward to that. I guess we’ll have a party in May, but not a big one if I have any say in it.

Lately I’ve been praying about the possibility of a church starting in our area, and listening for any rumblings of the spirit. If its on God’s radar then I’m in for sure – I’ll even stick my hand up to lead if he’s giving it a green light. But I don’t need or want another thing to do, so in the mean time I will pray and wait and see what emerges. Possibly the greatest shift in the last 10 years has been that one – ‘I can make it happen’ (whether God’s in it or not)  to ‘If God’s in it then I want to be part of it.’

So, thanks for reading my ramblings and sharing the journey. I’m always a little surprised by who is ‘still with me’ after 10 years of writing.

May 2014 be a wonderful year for you and your family!