Upstairs downstairs

IMG_6393Hello from quarantine. I haven’t been overseas, and I don’t think I’ve been exposed to the virus, but my pre-existing lung condition and daily treatment for lung cancer have put me on high alert. In some ways, I’ve been slow to grasp what is going on here. The practice of distancing is a personal and a public health strategy. It’s not just about stopping me getting sick, it’s about reducing potential channels for the spread of this virus. I tend to be a bit of a social butterfly, often out and about, time in coffee shops, catching up with people, hanging with people from church and at church, and trying to catch up with a couple of mates. Now it’s lock down. I’m not simply at higher risk of illness, but if I kept up my normal social behaviours then I would also be at at risk of becoming a super spreader. So, lockdown it is.

IMG_6391The coronavirus has changed how we live at home. I live upstairs and Fiona lives downstairs. I’m spoilt for comfort in my quarantine. We’ve made a kitchenette and created a ‘flat within the house’ for Fiona. We are keeping strict physical distance. Separate beds, separate bathrooms, separate kitchens, separate entrances. We are using gloves and disinfectants. I cook dinner and leave it on a tray on the stairs for Fiona. It’s already challenging and stressful. But it’s Fiona’s initiative and it’s motivated by love for me.

Fiona is on the medical front line in this war on the virus. Three days a week she drives off to the front line. The rest of the week she is following up on patients, tests, and results. She gowns up with oversized men’s shirts from the op shop. She covers her hair with a shower cap. She puts on gloves and a mask. And she is courageously putting herself at risk for the welfare of patients. Now telemedicine is supplementing car consults and physical distancing. But there are still people walking in with ‘normal’ sicknesses. She is navigating a potential minefield. A handful of patients just haven’t grasped what is at stake and have put medical staff and other patients at risk through their careless or arrogant behaviour.

Please practice careful physical distancing.

It is now estimated that as many as 31% of new COVID-19 infections are being caused as a result of transmission through asymptomatic individuals those who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 but don’t shown signs and symptoms of the disease.

(Nishiura H, Kobayashi T, Suzuki A, et al. Estimation of the asymptomatic ratio of novel coronavirus infections (COVID-19). Int J Infect Dis. 2020.)

90290957_10159478194782067_1672564310645145600_oThis is an especially important aspect of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and reinforces why we need to practice stringent social distancing to flatten the curve.

Please take this seriously. Look at what is happening in Italy, Spain, France, USA. Health workers are now having to choose who will live and die as their medical system is overloaded and broken. It’s catastrophic beyond belief. I pray this won’t happen here. Please don’t take your health for granted and please don’t carelessly put others health at risk. And take a moment to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, and other health workers who are risking their lives for the sake of us all.

 

 

The importance of not practising social distancing

Okay, I know I’m going to get into trouble for that headline. This is too important to send confusing signals. And I agree. I’m getting the message. We’ve got to flatten the curve, stem the flow, stop transmission, practice good hygiene, wash hands, clean surfaces, use hand sanitiser, keep away from cash,  protect our elderly, care about the vulnerable. I get all that. I’m one of the people at risk. And I live with a GP, have kids who are teachers, doctors, social workers, and students. But let’s be clear.

It’s not social distancing we need. It’s physical distancing.

Physical distancing is a strategy to stem the spread of the pandemic. Social distancing creates a mental health risk, amidst a while lot of other problems. We weren’t created to be alone. We need each another. Now more than ever. Fear, anxiety, panic, stress are all around us. We need kindness, calm, consideration, and courtesy.

Yesterday our church was told we can no longer meet on school premises. Like so many churches, we are exploring online strategies, streaming videos of talks, delivering Bible studies via the internet, purchasing hardware, trying out software, and scrambling to know what we’re going to do and how we’ll make it work. We can all play around with technology. We might even be able to make ourselves or our churches look better than we ever have before. But that’s not really the issue.

How we are going to do community? How will we put the ‘one another’ exhortations from the New Testament into practice? How will we stay in touch with one another? How will we identify the needy? How will we encourage the spiritually weary? How will we offer the message of real hope to a world in crisis? How will we pray together and for each other? How will we support one another when we need to keep our distance, when we can’t congregate, or when we need to quarantine or self-isolate.

phoneLet’s do a thought experiment. Take yourself back 30 or 40 years to a world without the internet. There is no Google, no Facebook, no email, no Instagram, no Twitter. How would we manage our current challenges in such times? My first thought is that we’d go back to speaking on the telephone. Remember the telephone! We’d call and say, “How are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you?” “Have you got enough toilet paper?” “Can I drop a meal around?” “How are you off for money?” “Are you feeling any better today?” “What can I pray for you?”

We might call one another to pray for each other, or read the Scriptures together, or get some help on a matter, or share ideas on how we can encourage, help and support one another…

1456

I’ve just passed six months of daily chemo. That’s eight tablets a day, four with breakfast and four with dinner, seven days a week, totalling 1456 tablets. A friend recently shared with me that my silence on social media had made her anxious that perhaps I wasn’t doing too well. So I figured that it was time for an update.

Health-wise, I’m doing pretty well, thanks. The chemo seems to be doing a good job of shrinking and keeping the cancer in check. My last scans showed no observable changes. No change is good with this treatment strategy. It means that the drugs are stopping the cancer from progressing. And probably better than that.

IMG_4676I’ve grown use to most of the side-effects. Seems I’m now allergic to sunlight! The drugs make me burn very quickly and I’ve had to invest in hats, long sleeve shirts, and carrying a small pack of sunscreen with me. This has been kind of weird for someone who has just moved to the beach! I’ve been experiencing fluid retention, swelling to the feet, and muscle myalgia, especially in my legs. I’ve put on weight, gained the alectinib belly, and felt rather bloated a lot of the time. Chemo brain has returned and I find myself forgetting things, but what’s really bad is that chemo brain has returned and I find myself forgetting things. My resting heart rate has dropped over 20bpm to the rate of an elite athlete—except I’m not. When it gets really low (mid 40s) I find myself feeling totally smashed. Fatigue is a big issue for me now. But, I’m alive, getting on with life, and the cancer has been dealt a blow for now. Thank you God.

2020 marks a lot of changes and they’re not fully worked out as yet. Technically, I’m unemployed at present. My work with FIEC has finished and I’m waiting for our local church to work out a firm offer for me to pastor with them. My plan is to work with Salt Community Church at Bonny Hills, and run for President of the US in my spare time. (Did I say that chemo brain makes me think weird thoughts?) I’d love to keep active in ministry, take up opportunities for sharing the good news of Jesus, speak on Hope Beyond Cure, and perhaps move into doing some mentoring/coaching of pastors.

I’ve got a few personal goals. Trying to lose 10 kilos—4.8 so far in 2020. Getting back into writing. Travelling the Great Ocean Road with Fiona—in a couple of weeks time. Taking regular days off—something I’ve struggled with the past 3 years. Our son, Marcus, is studying in Indonesia, so we’d also like to pay him a visit sometime this year. I’ve got a few more goals, but I’m not overly ambitious. Mostly, I want to love God, love my family, love my church, love my friends, and share the love of God with others. I’m not awesome at it, but I know God works through my weakness and failures to bring about his good purposes.

In sickness and in health

sandy-millar-YeJWDWeIZho-unsplashThis week Fiona and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. We thank God for bringing us through so many ups and downs, and we keep asking him to help us love each other whatever the future may hold. We don’t have a perfect marriage and we’ve got lots still to learn. But the promises we made weren’t conditional. They weren’t dependent on feelings or good circumstances. We went with the traditional options… you know… better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health. I suspect we made these promises without pausing to contemplate very deeply. We just knew we wanted to get married and we wanted to stay married. Still do.

Back then it was…

Richer? Who cares?

Poorer? I doubt it—we were both students.

Better? We’re about to get married. It can only get better, surely?

Worse? I hope not.

Health? Of course, we’re both young and fit and full of life.

Sickness? Everyone gets sick sometimes, don’t they?

Fast forward to 2019 and one promise stands out. Never would we have contemplated what this could mean, what it would mean. “In sickness and in health”.

On any count, the typical annual dose of the flu, occasional colds, a few broken bones, irregular migraines, four caesareans, bouts of labyrinthitis, recovery from a major car accident, and eight years of living with cancer, add up to a lot of time “in sickness”.

And what about all the sicknesses and injuries to our children? More than three months in the NICU, regular injuries from skateboarding, cycling, or rugby, catching the bugs from school friends (sometimes literally). And then there are ageing parents. And mental health struggles. And pregnancy complications. And, and, and.

Let me go out on a limb and say I reckon marriage for us has been at least 1/3 sickness, 2/3 health.

Marriage is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not for casual or temporary affections. Marriage is a covenant to love. It’s about putting your life partner before yourself. It’s about “we will work it out—whatever”. It’s about let’s keep asking God to help us.

It’s about learning to love, actively, showing the initiative, being the first to forgive, killing our selfish pride, overcoming our discontent, and rejoicing in the wonder of growing together in all the ups and downs of life. It’s about a love that grows in patience, and kindness, without envy, boasting or pride. This is a love that isn’t self-seeking, doesn’t get easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, and always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

How can you learn to love like this? Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Even though he never got married, Jesus shows us the kind of love that will make a marriage work.
  2. You know love when it gets put to the test. Seems like “in sickness” is a challenging place to grow real love.

We have dear friends whose marriages have faced the challenges of better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, more than we will ever know—friends who have no relief from continual pain, perpetual fatigue, aching brokenness, chronic illnesses, and more. Please pray for friends’s marriages, pray for your marriage.

Now it’s time to seek God’s help to practice what I preach.

 

Eight years closer to eternity

rhodi-lopez-Cxpqnzd3Psg-unsplashWe spent this morning at the funeral of a friend’s mum. She died at 64, leaving a husband, 4 kids, 10 grandkids, and so many friends. The church was packed, the overflow was packed, and it was standing room only outside. We’d been to the church before and it was all but empty. I’m talking single figures of regular attenders. Today there were literally hundreds.

Church mattered today. People flooded the building. People engaged with spiritual matters. They prayed the Lord’s Prayer. They recited the 23rd Psalm. Today God was on their agenda.

I thought to myself, “Why are we normally content to mindlessly fill our lives with trivial pursuits?” “Why do we drift toward death, without pausing to consider what life is all about?” “Why does it take the death of someone we know, love, care about, to cause us to stop and think about matters that really matter?”

Today is exactly eight years since my cancer diagnosis. Eight years I never expected. Eight years of lows, highs, and everything in between. Eight years of being personally plugged into my mortality. Eight years of continual reminders that life is brutally short. Eight years of growing, deep conviction about the meaning of life and the purpose of existence.

Is it all blind meaningless chance?

I don’t believe so. I’m persuaded that there is a God behind it all, that he can be known, that he is good, that he gives hope, and that hope is real.

What do you believe?

And why?

Preparing for marriage

IMG_4919
Waiting for the bride

I married a couple yesterday in the beautiful surrounds of the Old Butter Factory at Telegraph Point. God’s timing with the weather was awesome—we had clouds and drizzle then sunshine and storms—all at the right times. It was a thoroughly Christian wedding, pointing to God’s amazing love for us in the gospel of Jesus.

We enjoyed celebrating this day with the beautiful couple—but all the more because we’d spent a number of evenings over the past few months preparing them for marriage. Not simply preparing the wedding—but preparing for marriage. We’d have a meal together and then talk specifically about preparing for married life. More precisely, we’d get the couple talking together about their expectations, hope, fears, and dreams for life together. Fiona and I use the Prepare/Enrich material to gain insights into the couple and assist them to prepare for their life together.

It’s not enough to prepare a great day, we need to be preparing for a lifetime. Two previously single ‘selfish’ individuals need guidance and support with communication, conflict resolution, managing finances, preparing for intimacy and sex, encouraging each other spiritually, and much more.

IMG_0977If you’re looking to get married, then don’t sell yourself short. Don’t put all your focus on making the day just perfect, but take the time to prepare for what comes afterwards. For better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. This is the important stuff. This is the tough stuff. This is where the deep and lasting joy is to be found. This is really what it’s all about. Marriage is for a lifetime together. Isn’t that worth a little serious preparation?

If you’re a pastor or Christian marriage celebrant, what do you do to prepare your engaged couples for marriage? Can I strongly suggest that you take a number of meetings with the couple to focus on what a Christian marriage is all about, and to explore the particulars of building a new family. Have some good books that you can share or give away, such as Married for God by Christopher Ash or What did you expect? by Paul Tripp.

Get trained in using the Prepare material. This gets the couple answering questions separately, collates their answers, and highlights strengths and work areas for their relationship. It gives you real data to work with and it gives them a workbook for now and later on. It moves you someway from idealism and starry-eyed dreams, to realism and areas for growth in relationship. It helps facilitators to pinpoint matters of specific relevance to each couple. Preparing for marriage is hugely important, so don’t sell the couple short. Let me encourage you to get well prepared, so that you can help the engaged couple to be well prepared.

Prepare training is available throughout Australia. Check it out here.

Stepping down

fiecDear friends

I’m letting you know that I will be stepping down as FIEC National Director next year. It’s been a tough decision and a while in the making.

There have been a number of new stressors this year, most significantly declining health. My health problems reached a crisis point in June, when I was trying to function with constant pain, coughing, and breathlessness. Scans and biopsies confirmed that the cancer had been growing in my lungs and pleura. My poor health, fatigue, uncertainties, and stress, are among the factors behind my decision to step down. However, it’s not just the last year—it’s been eight years of living with the effects of lung cancer.

I now have reduced physical, mental, and emotional reserves, and I need to listen to my body and make some changes. While the pain and difficulties of the cancer have been reduced through the treatment, the side effects continue to limit me. I have increased fatigue, need more sleep, and yet often don’t sleep well. My stamina and durability have declined. I am still seeking to discover my new ‘normal’, but I am aware that it must be lesser than the previous normal. While I pray regularly for healing and relief, I must factor in continuing daily chemo for the remainder of my life.

A friend said to me this week, that not only have I had to drive the ship, but I’ve had to build the ship while driving it. It’s had its challenges, but I’d take the opportunity all over again. And I will miss it—that’s for sure.

This is not to say that I intend to stop serving within FIEC. Fiona and I have developed significant and supportive relationships among pastors, wives, and churches. We enjoy being able to offer practical ministry help, mentoring, and encouragement. It’s a joy to partner with churches to spur them on. It’s been a privilege to represent FIEC, as I’ve visited colleges, spoken at conferences, and exercised wider ministry. I will share with you more of our future plans as they become clearer.

I want to thank everyone involved with FIEC for the honour of serving you over the past three years. Thank you for your faith in me as I’ve sought to pioneer this role. It’s been a privilege to serve alongside each of you. I’ve appreciated your support and your fellowship. I’ve loved the opportunity to invest in the FIEC ministry, and to encourage men and women to work together in building God’s kingdom. Visits to churches and our annual conferences have been highlights for me over my time in this role.

As I’ve said, it’s been a tough decision to step down as National Director. I am stepping down from this specific role, not from ministry. I want life to continue to be about the service of God and others, it will just take a different shape. I understand that this will be disappointing news for some—we feel the grief ourselves. We would value your prayers and encouragement at this time of change.