Of Before & After

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‘Every now and then we have these experiences that slice our lives into before and after’.

Recently I read this statement on Elaine Fraser’s Instagram feed where she was posting quotes from Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect. She shared enough gems from Niequist that I ended up buying the book for Danelle for Christmas – and I hope she reads it quickly because I want to get into it too.

While Elaine shared a new thought every day or so, this one struck a chord. I’ve had a few ‘before and after moments’, but my mind turned to one immediately as a standout. It was like I knew intuitively that THIS was the ‘before and after’ moment that had given new shape to both us and our family.

You would probably expect me to say that my ‘big’ moments were the day I decided to follow Christ, or the day I got married, or the birth of our kids… and I guess they were, but instantly my heart and mind flashed back to an altogether different experience.

Maybe its because (nearly) everyone gets married, has kids, buys a house etc… Don’t get me wrong – these are significant, but perhaps the before and after moments need to be thought of as unique and specific to our own lives and our family’s life… (or maybe I’m just trying to alleviate my own guilt at not seeing these as the biggies…)

The one I keep returning to was our 6 month trip around Australia way back in 2009. I still think of our (family) life as ‘pre-trip’ and ‘post-trip’ and while that might initially sound somewhat odd, I have come to see it as a pivotal, shaping experience for us.

So much so that any time someone indicates they might be interested in some extended travel with kids in tow I can’t affirm them enough.

Before

For us life ‘before’ the trip was neither remarkable nor unremarkable. We had made some very conventional, predictable choices and to some degree fallen into line with the rest of middle class suburbia. We had bought houses, had kids, kept steady jobs and followed a fairly standard trajectory for people in our life situation. Our kids went to the local school and we had slotted into the local community.

We had also made some less conventional choices by leaving a secure pastoral role in a good church to plant a new missional community and by engaging with some of the fresh missional thinking that was just taking form in the early ‘noughties’. It was largely untested R&D type work we were in and it didn’t all go to plan. (We learnt many things that ‘didn’t work’…) As part of that period I found myself raising personal financial support as we kicked off ‘Upstream’, and then Forge. I had a role coaching Baptist youth pastors for a while and when that ended I stumbled on the idea of starting a ‘hobby-business’ in reticulation.

It was 2007-8 when the financial boom hit Perth and property prices went nuts. We heard of the idea of building a house and selling it on completion. Banks were lending money to literally anyone – even missionaries whose ‘on paper’ salary was around $15K – so we borrowed an insane amount of money to fund house, land and all finishings and then we borrowed extra to fund the interest payments while the house was being completed. It was utter foolishness in hindsight – except for the fact that the property market was about to explode. In that one year we made over $200K and wiped out our mortgage. It was a shock to the system for us low income pastor types who had resigned ourselves to paying a mortgage off over the rest of our working lives.

I remember being on a train to Kalgoorlie on the day I heard that our investment project had sold and that we were now no longer $150K in debt but we were $50K in front… It was a disturbingly liberating feeling – disorienting even, but with it came a sense of freedom and dare I say it, power. That’s a word I dislike – and I dislike that I felt it – because it speaks of where I find security, but it was the truth nevertheless.

Around that time I also found myself surfing eBay regularly and ‘watching’ big ole converted bus style motorhomes. It wasn’t a result of being debt free. It was just something I would do as I dreamt (quietly) of what it would be like to own one and to travel around the country. I eventually suggested to Danelle we look at buying one and travelling around Oz for a year. She laughed, baulked… but didn’t shut things down completely.

The kids were 6 & 8 and slotted into school and friendships. We were well connected and embedded in the community. There were friends to think of… family… our small missional community… But I was also tired after 8 years of pioneering work and really felt the need for some space – for some ‘R & R’ away from the ‘R & D’. Our missional community was struggling to survive and it seemed that maybe this was a way of bringing closure to that time of life.

We had built a second spec home and finished it off just as the market stablilised. We lost $5k or thereabouts on this one and it was here that I developed some retic skills, as I needed to finish the landscaping work to save some $$. It was a bummer not to make more $$, but we were still in front financially so we just called it a learning experience and moved on.

We began planning the trip in 2008 – it gave us a year to anticipate and think it thru. I’ve discovered anticipation is half of the fun, so now I plan the following year’s holidays well in advance. We bought a 1996 GQ Patrol – a sensational car that was going to be our tow vehicle around Oz. The bus idea had gone out the window and we were trying to work out the ‘best compromise’ for travel. Space, ease of operation, ease to tow and comfortable to live in. We finished up with a Jayco Eagle bought from the nice people in the next street.

Given our last few holidays have been in a full Jayco expander van, I chuckle when I think we travelled for 6 months in an Eagle…  It seems so small and flimsy now! After a couple of test runs with the camper we felt pretty confident when we hit the road in April 2009 that we could make this work.

We were still in investment mode and after the last failed project we went for something safer. We borrowed $250k and put it into a property syndicate that was returning 40% PA and had been very reliable. We figured we would travel and make $100K while we were away… It was a nice theory and if we had been a year or two earlier it would have succeeded. Around the time we left, the syndicate director became hard to contact and while occasional emails and texts assured us all was well, but we had become a little worried that all was not going to plan. The GFC was starting to ripple out and while we wanted to believe the best, it was clear we stood to lose a bit of that money.

Before leaving we had also been thru a ‘trial’ at Quinns Baptist from December to April. It was a trial in more ways than one and it hadn’t gone very well.  The church was quite polarised when we arrived, and our presence and leadership accentuated that. While we were gone the church would vote on our future ministry and hopefully we would come back to lead them. While the trial had been difficult we felt sure it would all smooth out and we’d come home to leading a church and running a hobby retic business in the background. We’d make some more savvy investments and live a fun life.

Of course we didn’t realise the impact 6 months on the road would have on us…

After

So what happened while on the road for me to give it ‘before & after’ status?…

We had fun – lots and lots of fun, as we explored, adventured, learnt and discovered. Fun matters in family life and – fun is serious business. Many of our friends in the neighbourhood were busy people, struggling to even take half of their allocated annual leave. We were regular holiday takers, but this cemented in us the value of enjoying being together and of making space for family holidays.

I remember someone told me about the value of camping for family life, but me and tents don’t get on that well… The camper however became our Taj Mahal and we loved it.

I don’t have much sympathy for those who tell me they are too busy to get away and then complain about their life. We make our choices… I think our kids have been shaped by this choice into people who find fun easily and who will make ‘time-out’ a priority for their own families.

We discovered we could live really (really) simply – There isn’t a lot of space in a Jayco Eagle so both big and little people’s toys were kept to a minimum. No one struggled. We had the bare essentials and we were forced to focus on other things – the environment around us – the people we were with.

We read a lot – we read to the kids each night – Enid Blyton’s famous five… I still remember the suppressed laughter as we read about Dick & Fanny… a joke our kids now ‘get’, but were oblivious to back then. ‘Dad – what’s so funny!’ Sam would ask. ‘Mum! Tell me!’

We travelled light with clothing and we never ran short. I recently did another clothing audit in my own bedroom and wondered why I have all this stuff!

What is it about being at home that sees us continually acquiring more stuff?…

We realised we could live well on a very small budget – Different from ‘living simply’ – in travelling around the country we lived significantly cheaper than we did while at home. We didn’t try to travel particularly frugally, but even when we stayed at upmarket caravan parks we still lived much leaner than an average week at home. I would say that when all was spent (food, fuel, accomodation, fun) we lived on half of our back home budget.

Half… that’s crazy hey?

It was far cheaper to live on the road than to live in a suburb. I think this discovery actually gave us an ‘ace up our sleeve’, whereby if life ever got financially ugly we knew there was a way to live cheap if we need to – just pack up and travel…

Danelle discovered home schooling – If not for the time away our kids may have spent another 5 or 6 years in primary school doing what every other kid does. But 6 months of travel convinced her (and inspired her) to make home schooling her role when we got back. As we got home there was no thought of re-entry to regular school life and I know our kids have loved and benefited from it. They have been one year back in regular school and are doing well academically and socially. Sam can even spell his own name now.

Home schooling spun off in other advantages. I saw a lot more of the kids as they were around home – and I did my share of teaching. We had some more fun times – memorable times. This way of life afforded us the option of organising school around holidays rather than the current system of having to fall in line with school holidays… something I am pretty dark about now.

Home schooling taught our kids to think differently about ‘the system’ a learning I hope doesn’t get bled out of them over the next few years.

My relationship with money changed  – The experience of paying off the mortgage had left me somewhat elated, so when the news came in half way thru the trip, that we had been taken for all of our $250K and were now in huge debt – greater than we had ever been – I had a number of reactions. The first was anxiety – a struggle I had never had before and rarely experienced since. But I remember lying in bed at night from Townsville onwards realising we were coming home to an uphill struggle to get back in front financially. I felt devastated – and I don’t use that word lightly – which was odd because pre the investment era I had hardly given money a second thought. We needed enough to live on and that was the deal.

Now I wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted to be back where we were 2 years previous – debt free and feeling ‘powerful’, but instead I felt weary and defeated and there was no quick fix or easy way out. I struggled as I considered the shape my life would take when we went home.

We contemplated ending the trip early and just trundling home asap to get started on earning $$ to pay off the debt, but we made a conscious choice to not be floored by it and to continue as we were. We would allow interest to accrue on the debt and deal with it when we got home. While the anxiety never completely lifted we were able to keep a positive frame of mind and put in the drawer marked ‘when we get home’.

This was a valuable decision and while it was difficult, I think it was our way of saying ‘we will not let this control us’, even if it was eating us up at times.

It was the beginning of my 7 year wrestle with money and its place in our lives.

I discovered financial planning – Again, making money was never really part of our lives pre trip. ‘Enough to get by’ was the mantra we had lived by, but the loss of $$ and the time on the trip gave me a window to consider what we would do when we got home.

I did some sums and realised that if we lived really tight and if business went well, we could probably clear the $250K in 5 years. So I came home with a plan – I was a man on a mission and as with most things I get into, it became a bit obsessive.  I kept a log of where our money went. I kept a record of how much we were earning and after one year we were well on the way. I was now a serious retic guy as well as a pastor. We cleared the debt ahead of schedule in 4 years and my body told the story of it with all sorts of overuse injuries flaring.

Had it not been for the loss and the experience of the trip I don’t think we would have had to grapple with the challenge of finances.It was way too easy to get in front and equally way to easy to kiss all of that money goodbye. If not for the loss I would have never contemplated the possibility of paying down debt rapidly by hard work, but in that time I learnt that you don’t have to settle for the 25 year plan.

That said, even now I struggle to be in any debt and I’m still processing my own relationship to money. There is some good – some growth – and some darkness that lurks and snarls at me. It is tenuous and fragile.

We took the road less travelled – and it did make a difference. The choice to take 6 months out is becoming more common but it was still seen as a bit odd back then. Homeschooling has grown hugely in popularity, but then it was still the domain of denim skirts and head scarves.

My physio once introduced me to his work experience girl as ‘this is Andrew – he’s semi-retired…’ and I realised that is how he perceives me, possibly because its how my life looks from the outside.

Being your own boss has much going for it and I doubt I will be working for anyone again over the rest of my working life. I work at my own pace – I am not chasing work and I take days off when I want to. Yesterday was a ‘work day’, but I took Danelle & Sam, because its my business and I can…

Pastoral work also allows the sort of autonomy that I need to feel alive in.

We flew blind into a storm

Around the same time we heard we had lost the $250K we got the message that the church had gathered and we had been ‘voted off the island’. That was a knock. We knew it was a possibility, but didn’t really expect it to happen. We knew we had stirred and made enemies, but we wanted to make sure there was no mistaking who we really were and what we were about.

At the crucial meeting there were enough ‘nays’ to send us packing. The church then had an ugly fight and we got invited back again. Long story and best forgotten…

But we then had to make a decision – to accept or refuse… It didn’t feel like a healthy environment to head back into, but it felt like the right call, the one God seemed to be leading us towards, so we just swallowed hard and said yes. And into the storm we flew… because it was hard again when we got back. Conflict and tension was rife, but we had committed to being there so we fought thru the struggles and kept going despite resigning internally every second week.

I think pre the trip I might have just said ‘screw this’ and walked away, but we had a sense that this was where we were to be for a long time and that taking a few knocks was just going to be part of the experience.

Seven years on I couldn’t contemplate being anywhere else, and often we imagine this as our last stop in paid Christian leadership. But then.. occasionally when I hear of a basket case, beat up church that is in chaos and mess I think to myself ‘I’d like a crack at helping them get healthy again…’. Its not a scary proposition, nor a hopeless one. We’ve been there done that and seen what God can do.

——————

I’m sure there is more that I have missed but I have no doubt that 6 months of travel shifted something permanently in our identity as a family and we have benefited from it. So if you are contemplating a similar experience I can not say strongly enough, ‘DO IT!’

Don’t be put off by the obstacles and challenges. There will never be a perfect time to take 6 months out, but the sheer act of choosing to make the space will create new openings and learnings you will have never contemplated previously.

There was ‘before’ and there is ‘after’ and in between was a 6 month trip around this great country of ours. More than that there was an unexpected internal journey that began and continues on today both for us and our kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading about Fairies…

After a disappointing read with ‘Into the Sea’ I was ready for something a bit richer and stronger. I decided to give Hannah Kent’s latest novel ‘The Good People’ a shot and it was well worth the effort.
Kent wrote Burial Rites and this is her second novel. It’s the story of a poor village family living in Southern Ireland in the late 1800’s. The novel opens with the husband dying suddenly and this being the second bereavement for Nora in the year as her daughter had also died. She finds herself left with the care of her 4 year old grandson who was once a healthy boy, but now is suffering from some debilitating illness that prevents him from walking or speaking. He is totally dependent on others so Nora, struggling with grief and the weight of responsibility, hires Mary, a young farm girl to be her assistant and to care for him.
In time Nora is convinced that the boy (Micheal) is actually not her grandson but that he is a fairy – that ‘the good people’ (the fairies) have stolen him and replaced him with one of their own.
The local expert in folk remedies (Nance) enters and the remainder of the story follows their various bizarre, but sincere attempts to rid Micheal of ‘the fairy’. 
It is an interesting reflection on the power of superstitious belief and the degree to which it affects us. It highlights many practices of the (not so) ancient Irish and as you read it you realise our society is only different by degrees and not by kind. We still believe and practice odd things from time to time (touch wood…) in the curious belief that there is another power at work. I had written ‘a higher power at work’ but I’m not sure it’s necessarily seen as higher – just ‘other’.
As it finishes the story depicts a primitive Irish culture alongside the more sophisticated mainstream, but it also shows how deep and strong the folk beliefs lie. When a culture is formed over thousands of years simple rational explanations for sickness and struggle are unlikely to suffice.
As well as dealing with the subject of folk religion, it deals with how we perceive and interpret illness, especially serious mental illness. It looks at how we view calamity or lack of prosperity. It looks at how grief affects us and it is unique in that it focuses on the issues faced by single women, an elderly spinster, a widow and a young single girl. Nance the elderly spinster says: 
‘An old woman without a man is the next thing to a ghost. No one needs her, folk are afraid of her, but mostly she isn’t seen.’
It’s a statement I have heard several times – that older single women are unnoticed in society.
From a faith perspective we would often pooh pooh superstitious practices, but we are sometimes blind to our own ‘folk Christianity’, that believes
– if we tithe faithfully God will bless us with abundance…

– That ‘x’ wasn’t healed because she didn’t have enough faith…

– That certain prayers must be recited word perfect to deal with spiritual oppression, curses and the like (because God won’t pass a near miss)

– That trouble in life is because of sin – that God is repaying us and balancing the ledger… because Jesus’ death was inadequate.
I could go on, and I’m sure you could suggest plenty more that you have heard or experienced. 
While it is based on real events, it is still an odd subject for a novel, but Kent opens up the world of the Irish village community so well that it becomes intriguing and enjoyable to read.

Get Me Out of Here – Now!

I hardly ever write negative book reviews, but there are few things that annoy me more than a bad novel. 

I just finished a re-read of one of my all time faves, The Poisonwood Bible – a brilliant book that was even better on a second pass. Then I moved on to ‘Into the Sea’, a novel that based the story around the subject of surfing. It was set in WA in the late 70s to early 80s as two mates get into surfing and get hooked.

While there are no places named in the story it was obvious the two boys grew up in a suburb near my own, in the same era I started surfing, so that part of the story resonated. Skipping school to surf, buying your first board, living for the waves, were all things we did in that time.

The story moves across to Cactus (not named) for another 100 pages where not much happens and then one of the characters heads off to Indo and doesn’t come back. His mate goes looking for him and finds him surfing perfect waves and happy in his island paradise. 

The end.

Yeah… it was a book pretty much devoid of plot. I read the whole thing, all 300 dreary pages in the hope that some energy would rise from it, but it just lobbed from one surf setting to the next with bland characters and little to hold attention.

Given its origins and characters, I had high hopes for this novel, but it was a mega-disappointment. If surfing magazines are ‘wave porn’, then this would be the equivalent of a porn movie – scene after scene of same same same… blokes surfing or talking about surfing. It might sound promising but it’s actually unsatisfying.

If you see it around give it a wide berth. A good novel ought to evoke some deep stirring, but this one felt like a suburban bus ride where every chapter was a prolonged stop. In the end I was just happy to be home.

If you enjoy reading then get a hold of The Poisonwood Bible instead and delve into the complexities of character, culture and religious nuance it offers. 

I’m onto Hannah Kent’s Good People now and already breathing easier…

Sorry Jay Laurie – if you read this… I really wanted to like your book, i even ‘saved it up’ for holidays, but in the end I just couldn’t. You got the era, the language and the characters down well, but something needs to happen for it to be a good story. 
 

Holden Colorado 1 Year On

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It was a big move to shift from the much loved HJ61 Landcruiser to the Holden Colorado, but after the transmission died on our last big trip north and we began planning a trip to Tassie I realised that the cruiser might not be my ‘forever’ car.

After much research and pondering I settled on the Colorado – a 2015 model with 7000ks on the clock and being sold by a young bloke who just ‘wanted out’. He had done some mods – a $3K stereo (wasted on me), some big Cooper max’s, snorkle and tint. It was a good looking beast and a real bargain.

I drove a few different dual cabs and I liked the drive of the Amarok the best, but I couldn’t beat the deal I was going to get on the Colorado – especially as it came with a 5 year warranty and 3 years of free servicing.

So how has it been now that we are 37000ks in?

Well… I don’t think its a car you ‘fall in love with’ like the old cruiser, but it has been a really good beast. I have since added a brake controller, reversing camera, roof racks, side steps, nudge bar and lights, canopy and seat covers to make it a bit more suited to my needs.

It rates highest in its class for power and torque and it doesn’t miss a beat here. It has heaps of grunt, tows well and accelerates nicely. There is a little turbo lag but not heaps. We tow 2 1/2 tonnes of caravan and it has no trouble at all. You certainly know the van is there, but its never been a struggle.

The fuel economy is not as good as the specs – not by a long way – but then I rarely drive it at 80km/hr around a flat track with no wind… I drive it loaded up in the rear every day and often with a trailer. Without a trailer we are looking at 11.8 around town and with a trailer around 13. With the caravan I can tow it down Lord Forrest Freeway at 90kph and get 15-16 on a good day… or if we have to smash into the wind while doing 100kph on the way back from an up north trip it might get 20-21… ouch. I did get 8.5-9 when I first had it and drove it like a granny on the freeway, but who does that every day?!…

After driving a car made in 1987 things like ‘auto off’ headlights, bluetooth and all manner of warning lights are quite a hit. The best thing is the comfortable seats – made moreso by the addition of sheepskin covers – meaning driving never gets old. Adding a canopy to the rear was also a smart move. It dramatically increases the storage space and means working from the back is so much easier. The original tonneau cover was always going to be a stretch,.

What’s not to like?

It gets a bit rattly when you wind it up and that engine noise could do with a bit of refining. The Coopers look great but they do kick up some road noise (gotta rotate them every 10k to prolong their life and stop the chunking out). The sound system is great but Pandora loses connection often which is a PIA, but none of these are major things.

The best bits?

I love the steering wheel controls for audio and cruise control and the driving position is great. There is heaps of rear leg room for the kids and power to really take off is awesome.

I haven’t decided yet whether I will give it another 50K and then change it up or whether I will try and hold onto it for a while. I do 30-35K a year so it could rack up the ks pretty fast.

Would I buy another one?

Probably – although I reckon the dual cabs are all pretty similar, so I would just look for the best deal and go with that.

 

 

Because Life Has ‘Brown Bits’

grass_copy_c83-0-659-336_s885x516Recently I arrived to do a reticulation job for a client who had just laid some new artificial lawn. If you know artificial lawn then you’d know there is the stuff you look at and straight away know its fake and then there is the type you need to look twice at.

His was that kind. It could have just about passed for real turf had I not known. And the reason it was so believable was because it had flecks of ‘dead grass’ strewn thru the weave, giving it that appearance of ‘reality’. (Ironically one of the things you are looking for in artificial grass is that it looks as ‘real’ as possible.)

The obvious fakes are those that are a rich dark green all the way through, but the ones that that make the grade as premium are those that have realised no one has a perfect lawn. No one has uniformly lush green grass over their entire yard.

The ‘brown bits’ gave the impression of authenticity – of it being the real deal.

In the same way its the ‘brown bits’ that give our life its authenticity… There is no such thing as a life free from pain, or darkness, or failure and when we try to give that image or even suggest that life can be something other, then we stop living in reality.

We pretend.

Even the most ‘together’ life has its ugly, shitty moments – times of darkness and despair – questioning and lament.

And its in the sharing of those ‘brown bits’ with one another that we actually move forwards on the journey of Christlikeness. Its as we own our darkness and confess it to one another that we find healing and grace to move on. Conversely its as we hide our sin, as we deny our humanity even that we stunt our journey Christward and end up pretending.

Jesus had no issue with people who were aware of their ‘brown bits’, but he had harsh words for those who sought to give outward appearances of godliness but inwardly were rotting away.

If we are to be fully the church then a significant part of that will be in acknowledging that we are a community of broken people trying to help one another become formed in the image of Christ.

However until we see the value in vulnerability and can admit our need we will keep running services, events and smiling at one another from afar, yet we will live with that nagging sense of disappointment and frustration that there has to be more…

There does – but it requires the courage to say ‘this is me’ whatever that means and in that space to find grace and hope to move forwards – or to offer grace and hope to others.

Techy Bumbling

Sorry if you recently got a stupid number of bizarre emails from me!

If you’re a subscriber or follower you will probably have been deluged.

I have been experimenting with a new template for our church and thought I’d test it on the blog. I used to be pretty tech savvy, but I’m not so up to speed with all things wordpress these days.

I imported a template and some dummy pages and I think you got sent all the dummy pages. Anyway – this one’s the real deal.

It’ll save you all emailing me, texting or phoning to let me know 🙂

And thanks to those who already have!

 

Remember ‘Making Friends’

Should churches still run small groups?

Obviously the answer is ‘yes’, because everyone does – and everyone can’t be wrong… Right?…

Or maybe its time to give ‘small groups’ away?

Seriously…

Maybe its time to rethink what we are trying to achieve and try some different mechanisms. I want to suggest one. Its called ‘making friends’.

For most churches the purpose of small groups is connection and discipleship. People form stronger connections in these smaller groups than they do on Sunday and in engagement with one another, the Bible and prayer there is some element of spiritual formation taking place. Sometimes they do those things well and other times they limp along.

And for the most part I think that is true. For some their small group is their lifeline, while others do not attend a group of any kind and live with that nagging sense of ‘ought’ gnawing at them – even though they don’t want to.

I am wondering if small groups operate on the basis of people being somewhat relationally incompetent. Maybe that’s overstating it, but I do wonder if we develop groups structures because people are not good at simply making friends.

Remember ‘making friends’?

And I realise we want to go beyond just ‘making friends’ to having ‘soul/spiritual friends’, but I wonder if its time to put the onus back on individuals to make the significant connections. How often have I heard people moan about their small group not being ‘deep enough’, ‘biblical enough’, ‘friendly enough’, whatever enough! And the small group simply becomes another aspect of our religious consumption.

What if we said ‘we don’t do small groups here – we do spiritual friendship (and yes we would need to unpack that) – so the onus is on you to make friends – to invite people around for a meal, open your life up (as appropriate) and form a friendship that doesn’t rely on a leader, a curriculum or an overseeing body. And its on you to sustain and nurture that relationship because that’s just what people do…

I wonder what would happen if said ‘hey you’re all adults – just do what adults do! Get on the phone to someone you’d like to know better and invite them over. Maybe invite a couple of people…’ Then see how it goes and if you connect well, then do it again.

I am 100% convinced that in an age of individualism, a strong commitment to community is essential if we are to really ‘be’ the church, but I wonder how much of that initiative needs to come from a structured approach and how much needs to be pushed back to the people who genuinely want spiritual friendships.

Those who don’t will never attend a small group anyway and often for those who do, a small group doesn’t come close to the depth of conversation needed to really be called spiritual formation or discipleship.

So I’m wondering – what would it look like if we said ‘no small groups for 12 months, but just connect with people as you feel the need.’ It may be your need or their need.

The idealist in me sees this as a way of reforming imagination around this issue. The pragmatist in me says people will find it too hard and if they aren’t ‘forced’ into being part of a group they will lack any sense of greater connection.

The ‘pastor’ in me says what can it hurt to begin encouraging people back into intentional, meaty relationships that go beyond the trivial and inane and genuinely nurture faith for both parties

Psycho Season

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For farmers it’s harvest season and for retic blokes it’s late spring or early summer where life ramps up and you just run hard. It’s partly about ‘making hay’ and partly about trying to help the people you’ve come to know over a long period time.

Here’s what my Wednesday looked like:

6.00 hazy prayer and I think I read a Psalm

6.30 on the road to the first job

7.00 bang on the door and a sleepy owner answers looking like he may have forgotten our appointment. I begin to swap his retic controller out and at 7.05 the first phone call comes in. ‘Am I coming today?…’ Its from someone who called last week but never did get back to me, so unlikely… I tell him to text the address and if the day goes well maybe I will squeeze it in. I change a couple of nozzles and keep moving.

7.40 arrive Mindarie to fix a seized solenoid. The owner is running late but when he arrives it seems the solenoid has unseized… nice… for me… he looks puzzled… I do a couple of small repairs and hit the road. An hour job becomes 10 minutes. I’m glad because my hands have been sore and the less work I have to do today the better.

7.55 also in Mindarie, apparently a solenoid that has stuck open this time, but when I get there it is working fine. I call the owner – a regular – who says he didn’t really check it out that closely so maybe I’m right. Another few nozzles changed and I’m on the road by 8.20 and driving past the school to pick up some pipe I had left at home and that Sam was going to bring down… except he forgot… bugger…

8.30 Ridgewood – a ‘fuse’ message – a typical issue for Irritrol controllers, but in keeping with the day it won’t misbehave with me present. I advise the owner we can either do nothing and I will just charge a call out or we can change the controller over because it will recur… so he does. I mount a new controller while discussing with him his marriage, history of mental illness, bad experience with church and Christians and then discover the controller is DOA. So I start again… that’s annoying. (The controller not the conversation)

9.15 Heading south to Kinross to do some work for a real estate agent. I know what the problem is so should be an easy fix. Another controller swap over, a few sprinklers and I’m on my way to Currambine to hunt for solenoids.

kerb

10.10 Currambine now… Five jobs knocked over and it’s only 10am – it’s a good feeling to be running ahead as it’s heating up. I arrive to finish a job I started the week before. It’s for a new real estate agency who have signed me up. It’s a pain in the butt job but it’s a foot in the door with a new crew. There are logical places to locate solenoids and then there are real dumbarse places – like right next to the kerb where they can get driven over. After 20 minutes of tracing and wondering I finally realise what has happened. My solenoid detector does its thing and I find them and fix them. There are a few little glitches that get wearying in the pre-seabreeze heat but I’m done by 11.30 and ready to have some lunch.

11.30 Maccas in Currambine – Classic Angus meal (small) while I catch my breath, send some invoices, clear emails and read the paper. The coke goes down well…

12.00 Padbury – another controller swap out that takes all of 15 minutes in the shade of a patio. A nice bloke and an easy job. I keep waiting for the day to turn to excrement… inevitably the next job will be a broken wire that I have to dig up the entire yard to find, or a solenoid deep in tree roots… That’s usually how it rolls.

12.45 Carine – I remember the morning phone call, so figure I can squeeze this bloke in. Its a bit out of my normal area, but an older man is having trouble with his controller so I figure it could be another easy job. I arrive and he begins to point out where every solenoid and sprinkler is in his entire system… I just want to know what’s wrong! Anyway I listen patiently – and then I eventually tell him I don’t need to know this stuff and we look at his controller. It’s fine – he just didn’t know how to set it. I set it then try to escape.

fuel

1.15 I’m running out of control boxes so I drop in at Total Eden in Joondalup to see the guys and pick up some supplies. I’d like to hang around and chat, but I have a couple more jobs to squeeze in. The manager gives me an early Christmas present – a Milwaukee impact driver – not something I have a lot of use for but I’m sure Gumtree will help out!

1.45 Kinross – a call came in while I was on the road – a riser stuck in a fitting – please help. I can spare 5 minutes for a regular. And a backyard retic quote please?… established yard with lots of paving to lift… this isn’t going to be a pretty quote. And yet I win the job anyway…

2.00 Iluka – an elderly man is concerned about this lawn not looking good. I laid it 5 years ago and he wants me to drop in and check it out. I want to keep moving both but I promised him I would check it out, so I do. Black beetle – just like I told him on the phone. I don’t stop to talk to him because I will be there for half an hour easily. Its funny how as some people get older their world gets smaller and the tiniest things become major issues for discussion.

2.30 Mindarie again – a controller swap out – yet again. It’s an easy day and this one is a quick job.

3.00 Off to Ocean Drive Quinns Rocks – to see a lady with another dodgy controller. As I drive along the beach front I recognise the car in front. Its Chucky my larrikin, carpenter mate from just around the corner. He pulls over and pull up alongside. We chat for a while until I need to get off the road. A 15 minute interlude ends with me off to do more work and him going for a swim.

I’m glad I restocked on controllers because another one gets swapped out. While I’m there Susan calls and tells me her retic I fixed last week isn’t fixed after all… (and I’m an idiot) ok.. I will be back. I’d been back once and she was wrong about the issue. I think she is wrong again, but her tone tells me she isn’t convinced. Sometimes people are right – I do get stuff wrong – and sometimes it’s another issue entirely. But those who default to ‘blame the retic bloke’ in the first instance go to the bottom of the queue.

3.30 heading home and one job left in Eglinton. That’ll be my 13th job for the day. ‘My sprinklers won’t pop up’. so I get there and discover one broken sprinkler affecting the rest. I fix it and I’m now really ready to head home, but I notice the other sprinklers are all dodgy… What to do… I want to bale, but I let the owner know as I can’t look away, so I’m there a bit longer changing them out. By this point I am over it…

4.00 Now I’m driving home… and trying to clear voicemail that has accumulated as I drive. it’s been a good day and a pretty easy one all things considered. The ugly job didn’t turn up and I managed to get everything done.

4.15 home for a couple of frosty fruits, a coffee, and an hour of invoicing, returning calls and writing quotes.

On days like these I remember why I love autumn, when work start at 8.00am and the cool breeze makes being outside a pleasure.

The phone rarely rings and it’s just a few jobs for the day before trundling home about 2 to go for a surf or walk the dog. I get to stop and linger with people, have that cup of tea, look them in the eye.

But for now it’s psycho season and I will run hard… and sleep well.

 

When The Cupboard is Bare

empty-cupboardI haven’t preached at church for nearly 4 weeks now and I haven’t blogged on here for over 3 weeks.

Its lucky I haven’t had to preach because the cupboard feels pretty bare. I am lacking inspiration and spark – maybe if I was more spiritual I would say the Spirit’s voice is quiet, but the more honest reality is that I have been ‘blue arsed fly’ busy – and my thoughts have been consumed with my business and its demands.

As a seasonal worker whose ‘season’ started late after a long cold winter, I have now been deluged with phone calls and service requests. People have turned their sprinklers back on and discovered they don’t work… and the rush is on to get them fixed before the real heat begins.

After 10 years in business I have enough regular clients to never run short of work so my phone rings constantly and no matter what I am doing, I am almost always interrupted. Texts come in from 6.00am to midnight and sometimes in the middle of the night…

Its not a pace of life I enjoy, but I surrender to it for the three months each year that it requires. It means the rest of life suffers during that time as I work 10 hour days from Tuesday to Thursday and try to get thru as much work as possible.

Its difficult to be a good dad and husband when you are preoccupied and weary. Its hard to get motivated to see people, or go out. I eat dinner, watch some braindead TV and then chug off to bed around 9pm and generally I’m asleep in minutes. I was going to go to swimming training with the kids on Friday mornings but I just can’t bring myself to physical exertion on a day when I don’t have to go hard.

That’s one way in which busyness takes its toll, but the other way I see it impacting is on my creativity.  In this time creativity shrivels up and lives in a dark corner of my world and the tasks which it fuels (preaching, blogging, future dreaming) get dropped or done sub-standard because there is little fuel in the tank.

I sometimes open this blog, click on ‘new post’ with a vague idea percolating and discover that there just isn’t the clarity of thought or turn of phrase that comes so easily when my head is in a different, slower space.

My observation is that (at least for me) busyness is absolutely incompatible with creativity – that for the mind to be in a generative mode there needs to be peace and space and quiet. Even in the still moments I do set aside at the start and end of each day I am conscious of the need to ‘get going’ or of other important business pressing in on me. Prayer becomes a task – often a futile one – and I sometimes just give it up and go and ‘do something useful’.

Some of my most creative moments are actually on holidays – when there is nothing to do and nothing to think about. But even then it can take a while to get into that zone.

So for now this blog will show signs of neglect. I will do my best to pull together ideas for teaching at church, but chances are I won’t be ‘in the zone’ for a little while to come.

That said, I know there will come a day – I’m guessing in January once people have overspent on credit cards – when I will get a breath and I will be able to sit at peace with little pressing and listen to the ‘other voice’.

I know that will happen… but what about those for whom ‘January’ never comes – those for whom all of life is lived in the frantic zone? I’d suggest one of the reasons imagination and creativity is seen as the domain of children is because they have wide open mental spaces in which to play and they are not caught up in a life of activity – yet…

I would suggest we all have a creative side to us, but unless it is tended it gets squeezed out of us by a world that insists we get busy. I know there are times we need to be run hard, but I sense the world would be a richer place if the creative spark were fanned into flame more often albeit at the expense of productivity.

The Gift of Reassurance

I’ve been going to see the same Physio for over four years now and almost every time I see him I walk out feeling better – hopeful and with a lighter step – not necessarily because he has ‘fixed’ me.

Ever since the ‘running debacle’ back in July I have struggled with painful knees and more recently with them making a mild crunching sound as I bend. Scary… they sound like a twig being bent almost to snapping but then released.

And then over the last two months as retic work has fired up my hands and fingers have begun to ache, my forearms are telling me a story and my back is chipping in with his own complaints. Its that time of year, but 10 years into this form of work and I know my body is being worked harder than it should be.

So last Friday I went to see Damian. I’d been to the Doc who was quite nice, but whose advice was simply to take some anti-inflammatories and slow down (next patient please). I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt concerned and anxious about the state of my body and the potential damage I was doing.

So I chat to Damian about my knees and explain the problem.

‘Any pain?’

‘No – not really – none really…’

‘Nothing to worry about!’

‘Really?… It sounds bad. Will the noise go away?’ I am concerned at his lack of concern.

‘No – it will get louder – but if there is no pain then you don’t need to worry. It’s just like creaky suspension’ he says.

‘Ok..’ I say, digesting this info. And my hands?’

‘They’re just adjusting to the new pace of life. Nothing to worry about there either. Keep working and they will get used to it.’ (Read – ‘toughen up princess…’)

‘And what about my back?’

I explain that it’s been spasming for a few months and even though I’ve stretched it every day it hasn’t stopped.

‘Ok – let’s stick some needles in you and free that up. If it isn’t better in 48 hrs come back and we will repeat the procedure.’ And so my acupuncture loving physio gets to crack open his needle box and turn me into a human pin cushion.

I write this seven days later after 3 x 11 hour retic days with over 30 different service jobs and my back definitely feels better, my hands are also better (not perfect), and I’m no longer worried about my knees.

I have realised that I don’t go to see Damian just for physical healing. I go for reassurance – to hear someone tell me that despite what I feel about myself I’m going to be ok. Or – if I’m not going to be ok to hear the truth and how I can be fixed.

And as I ponder that I am conscious of the power of reassurance and the truth that I bring to bear on the lives of those I connect with.

Some really need someone to remind them that God loves them… no matter what… no really… no matter what… that he never gives up and despite their failure he will stay with them. More than that he will love them.

That simple but profound truth sits so often beyond our comprehension and we live in constant dread of ‘what may happen’.

Some need to know ‘despite what you feel it’s all going to be ok.’ Our feelings are notoriously deceptive. As Damian told me not to worry about my knees my anxiety lifted. ‘Really?…’ I asked in disbelief.

‘Really.’ he said. There was no ambiguity in his tone.

He has also told me when I’m doing something stupid or that is going to make pain worse. And I have listened and obeyed.

In the same way some people need to hear the truth – to be told their life is headed for disaster if they keep on the track they are on. Its not ‘judgement’ to do that. Its love and wisdom being given.

My hope is to get at least another 8 years of physical labour out of this body. That’ll make me 60 and almost of an age when I should slow down.

As I left the consulting room the other day I was conscious of my spirits lifting, of my load lightening and my hope that I could keep working being restored. Most of us are ‘bad Christians’ at best and barely Christian at our worst and constantly in desperate need of the knowledge that God doesn’t just tolerate us because he has to – but he loves us more than we can ever know.

Maybe you need to know that now – its true.

Or maybe you know it – and you just need to remind someone else whose heart is heavy and spirit depleted.

Reassurance… its powerful… but its something we can’t do for ourselves.