What Ms Castle could have written…

IMG_4761Following Raelene Castle’s letter to Wallabies fans yesterday, where she failed to show any appreciation to the Australian side, this is the letter that I believe would have been more befitting the CEO. This is what she could have written…

Dear Wallabies fans

As we lower the curtain on another World Cup, can I ask you to please join me in thanking so many who’ve worked so hard. It has been a tough campaign and it’s been far more than a few weeks or months. It’s been four years in the making. We expect more and more of our professional players and coaching staff. The competition has become incredibly fierce. The quality of rugby keeps getting better and better. Our teams keep being pushed harder and harder as the game gets tougher and tougher. Join me in thanking everyone involved for their grit and determination during four tough years of international rugby.

Let me begin by expressing gratitude to Michael Cheika and his coaching team. Being a professional coach is often a thankless task. I laud the long hours spent by our coaches, medical staff, and trainers, devoted to maximising every opportunity to put the best prepared team on the paddock every time we play.

Let us express our congratulations and gratitude to Michael Hooper and his team of players. You have represented your country with pride. Sheer guts and determination, game after game, season after season, year after year. And thank you to the players in the squad who haven’t taken the field, or who haven’t seen much game time. We understand how it takes many more than 23 players to win any serious competition, let alone a world cup. Every one of you has played your part. Thank you to the players in Super Rugby, the NRC, and club rugby, for challenging one another, and lifting our standard of competition.

Thank you to those in our team who have endured special hardship to represent our country. To Christian Lealiifano for your inspirational journey back from leukemia to play flyhalf in a World Cup quarter final. To David Pocock, for your difficult journey through injury and rehab, to put your body on the line for one more World Cup campaign. To the unrecognised and unheralded players who have gone above and beyond for our entertainment and joy in this great game.

Many of our players have played their last game for Australia. We want to say thank you for representing us so well on the world stage and to wish you all the best for your futures, both in rugby and beyond.

Our thanks must go further. So, to the wives, partners, parents, children, and extended families of our players and high performance staff, we salute you. Many of you have accepted being temporary widows or orphans to allow your men to reach the heights they have. Thank you for your support, love, and sacrifice.

As we come to the end of another World Cup campaign, there can only be one winning team, and we eagerly look forward to seeing who that will be. We will need to review our own campaign. We will examine our processes, systems, priorities, and strategies. We will review our coaches, high performance staff, and players. We will examine our board, and I will submit to review, in my capacity as CEO of Rugby Australia. There will be changes. There must be. It is only right that we take a long look in the mirror. But, for now, let us not forget to appreciate the men, women, and families who have worked so hard for so long.

With deep appreciation,

Raelene Castle

CEO Rugby Australia

A ride down memory lane

Having cancer often gives me cause for reflection. Sometimes, in grief and melancholy, but other times in joy and delight. I grieved that I would never see grandchildren, and now four of them bring us enormous blessing. I lamented the loss of ministry experience, and God has opened doors that I didn’t even know existed. I’ve learned how easy it is to take life for granted, and God has given me a renewed delight in so many of the simple things in life. Let me reflect on a thread that has been woven through my life.

I’m going to take you on a ride through some back roads of my nostalgia. It’s 40 years since I gained my motorcycle license and rushed out to purchase a second hand, blue Honda CB250. It didn’t go very fast and that wasn’t such a bad thing. It was my first vehicle and it gave me some independence. It took me to school, to friends’ houses, to the rugby, to job interviews, on some weekend rides around the Cotter-Tidbinbilla loop outside Canberra, and it got me praying. Dear God, help me stay alive. In case I don’t make it home tonight, please forgive me for all the bad stuff I did today. 

But I need to go back a few steps.

My introduction to motorbikes began much earlier when I was 9 years old in Tasmania. My best mate, Vaughan, had a Daytona 60 and we’d ride it on his property and on tracks near the Gorge in Launceston. It was awesome to get on a bike that ‘went by itself’. You didn’t have to pedal. You just had to learn how to not fall off and then how to stop. A few of my friends had motorbikes. Me? I didn’t even have a push bike. We lived on a steep hill and bikes were considered far too dangerous.

We moved to Canberra in 1975 and, again, many of my friends had motorbikes. My Grandpa gave me the money for my first bike. It was a Malvern Star Skidstar GT, with twin halogen headlights, 3 speed shift, speedo, and chrome mudguards. The only thing it didn’t have was an engine. Mind you, I did crank it out to 80 km/h going flat out down the road from Mt Ainslie. I wish I still had it—apparently they are collectors’ items.

Some of my mates had trail bikes and they’d ride the fire trails of Mt Majura before they were old enough to get their licenses. It was on one of these, when I was 12 years of age that I rode for the first time on a ‘proper’ motorcycle, with gears and a clutch. My friend, Paul, would double me to the forest and then let me take turns in riding. Once I got the hang of it, I was hooked.

I loved the look and feel of bikes. My Bible study leader rode a WLA war model Harley Davidson. It was camo green, had hand gears, a foot clutch, and was sometimes working. I loved checking it out whenever he rode it to church. My good friend, David, bought himself a Honda CB250 road bike—the same one I was to purchase later from a dealer in Braddon. Another friend from church, Jack, who worked for the Canberra Times, had two Moto Guzzi Californians—and in later years we would go on some long trips together.

My friend Ross, who was a theological student, had some amazing bikes. He’d race them, customise them, drag them, and do outrageous things on them. My favourite was a Yamaha 650 that was semi-chopped, airbrushed, and had the sweetest exhaust sound I’d ever heard. I don’t think I knew what a theological student was. It had something to do with studying the Bible and becoming a minister. My dad was a minister, but he didn’t drag race Kawasaki 1000s!

smithDuring high school I met John Smith and other members of the Gods Squad Christian Motorcycle Club. We had John and other Squad guys visit or stay in our home at different times. I admired their passion for Jesus, their support for the disadvantaged and the marginalised, and their guts in reaching out among outlaw bikers, such as the Hells Angels MC. It was during one of the Squad visits to Canberra that my whole outlook on life changed. I decided that I wanted to work among people, to reach out to those who are doing it tough, to share Jesus with others (and maybe one day to ride a Ducati or a Harley Davidson!) I wanted to quit school immediately and become a youth worker. The problem was I was only 17 and I needed to spend some time growing up and working out my life and faith. I’d grown up in a Christian home, but I needed some independence to work out what I really believed for myself.

cb250That same year I bought the CB250. I’d saved enough to buy the bike through working on a milk run after school. I’m not sure how my mother agreed, but she did. Dad and I went to the shop and I purchased the bike. I bought some boots, gloves, Barbour oilskins, and conceded to buying a bright yellow helmet. I stuck a cross on the back with electrical tape and then I spray painted the helmet metallic blue, leaving a bright yellow cross. I’m not sure why I did it, but it probably had something to do with working out my identity.

daveLater in the same year I got a labouring job in the outer suburbs of Canberra. I’d start work at 7am and decided that I needed a reliable bike to get me to and from our worksites. My next purchase was a burgundy Honda CB400 twin. It was smoother, faster, and leaked less oil than the 250. This was a bike that would take me places—rides along the Kings Highway, up and down the Clyde, camping at North Durras or Burrill Pines. It was powerful enough to carry a load, but laboured a bit when doubling a friend. It would become my means of transport between Canberra and Sydney, where I’d moved to commence a Social Work degree at UNSW.

brotherhoodUniversity gave me the independence I needed to force a crisis of beliefs. I’d left home—would I leave my faith behind, or would I see it grow into maturity? I thank God for surrounding me with friends who were serious about following Jesus. They opened the Bible and expected it to make sense. They saw Jesus as the key to meaning, life, and the future. I learned that I could be forgiven for everything, because the death of Jesus had paid it all. Being Christian wasn’t about being good enough to be accepted by God, it was about God accepting me because Jesus dealt with all my sin on that first Good Friday. During these years I also became loosely involved with the Brotherhood CMC. They were similar to the Gods Squad, based in Sydney’s west, with an outreach to the marginalised. I’d considered applying to become a patched member, but I didn’t go ahead with it, and I realise now that my heart wasn’t in the right place.

new doc 2019-10-01 12.09.34_1They say the ideal bike is the one that is just a bit bigger than the one you’ve got. I’d started to take a couple of my best friends, Fiona and Barry, on rides to different places. Fiona’s brother lived in Wollongong and I’d take her for visits to his family. I’d say, let’s ride to the Gong for a hamburger on Friday nights. The truth is we visited a Christian outreach called ‘The Hamburger Hut’ in Fairymeadow. We’d meet interesting people who surfed, rode bikes, did fun stuff, but significantly wanted to share how good God is. The CB400 soon got replaced by a blue Honda CX500 Shadow. It was a super-comfortable, shaft-driven, V-twin. It was the ideal tourer and was loads of fun in the twists and turns. I’d take it everywhere—to and from Canberra, even in the cold of winter; along the Great Ocean Road; outback NSW to Narrabri and West Wyalong; to and from Wollongong via the Royal National Park.

vf754_1Somewhere along the line the blue CX500 was traded in on a newer black CX500. It was one of the nicest bikes I’ve ridden, but I didn’t keep it long. Fiona and I were getting married, so we opted to replace the bike with a 1974 Corolla and then a Datsun 180B SSS, so that we’d have a vehicle that we could both use. We temporarily swapped our Datsun for a Honda VF750/4 for ‘part two’ of our honeymoon.

After we were married I started working in a Christian ministry apprenticeship based in the Eastern Suburbs around UNSW. Fiona had her medical training to finish and life became a little frantic. I had an ex-police model, white Suzuki 750, with almost no suspension, during this time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter four more years in Sydney and completing theological training, we left to start ministry in Canberra. In the busy years of raising four kids, we decided that I wouldn’t continue riding much, other than occasional times when someone might lend me a bike (or even an OzTrike) while they were away on holidays!

moto moriniAt one point I purchased an ‘almost restored’ Moto Morini 3½. It was a collector’s item and now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum in Nabiac. Now that I’m nearby, I must pay it a visit sometime soon.

120816 HD2A highlight of my motorcycling experience was when Fiona arranged for me to have a Harley for 24 hours as a gift for my 50th birthday. It seems bizarre when I look back on it. I was 9 months into my cancer journey and still pretty weak and frail. Here I was dodging the effects of chemotherapy and Fiona arranged for me to ride a 350 kg Harley Davidson with her on the back. That is trust for you! I marvel that I could even hold the thing up, and we rode it for more than 300km through country NSW.

IMG_0092As my cancer seemed to disappear, and I had no evidence of disease, I considered getting another bike. A good friend gifted me his BMW R1100S. He was very generous and it was such a treat. I remember the feeling of being alive as I started to regain confidence on the bike. But I owned this bike for a little more than two months, before it was stolen from our backyard and we never saw it again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

IMG_3101And, so, to now. We are living in a beachside town, with awesome scenery and some nice roads. Every Sunday we watch a steady stream of bikes going backwards and forwards on the coastal stretch in front of our house. Earlier this year I test rode a Triumph Bonneville T120. It handled nicely, looked great, and sounded awesome. I took Fiona on the back and we explored some country roads.

But there was a problem—the pain I felt afterwards. Fiona didn’t find it very comfortable either. After a few days of riding, my back was in such pain, my ribs were so sore, and I remember saying to Fiona that I must be getting too old to ride. I needed some physio, but the massages just seemed to make it worse. After a dozen sessions trying to get my back and chest right, nothing seemed to work.

It turns out that the problem wasn’t riding motorbikes, nor this particular bike. It was the recurrence of the lung cancer. Tumours had been slowly regrowing in my left lung, and activities like motorcycling caused the pain to flair up. Now that I’m back on treatment again, my pains have all but gone. And I’ve now purchased a bike and I’m loving riding it. A commute to town has become a joy rather than a chore. Fiona has ridden with me. We’ve done a few winding roads, climbed a couple of mountains, and found a café with a view worth lingering over. We’ve been thoroughly drenched in the rain. We’ve enjoyed the sun and the wind. And we’ve done it together, like we did so long ago.

Is it safe? No, it’s not ‘safe’—but we can be and will be careful. We’ll dress safely, stay alert, and look out for trouble. I would like to do an advanced rider’s course. I will assume that we are invisible and take precautions.

Lately, I’ve been praying when I ride—not just for our safety, but I thank God for life and the feeling of being alive. And I pray for others—for some bikers I’ve met, for some neighbours who’ve lost their wives or husband, for my friends with cancer, for our little church at Salt, for my family, for my friends, for some people who are doing it tough right now.

Harley Davidson - CopyWhat motorcycle did I get? Well, let me say, it runs in the family. My grandfather, Dave McDonald, had a Harley before my father was born. Grandpa and Grandma brought my newborn dad home from the hospital in the sidecar in 1935. What can I say? Perhaps I have another genetic mutation!

IMG_4652Last month, I picked up a Harley Davidson. It’s a little more sophisticated than its forbear. It chugs along pretty well. It’s a cruiser, a bike for old blokes. It’s low to the ground and easy to get on and off. It looks good naked (the bike, not me); and it has saddle bags, a comfy seat for Fiona, and a windshield to clip on for longer trips.

It’s opening new opportunities with people, we are making new friends, and I’m getting opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others. There are a few riders in our church, and there seems to be many bikers in our community. I’ve become friends with a Harley rider who is only alive today because of a lung transplant, who knows what it is to be given new life.

Eric Liddell, from Chariots of Fire, said that when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. I can say something pretty similar. Thank you God for the joy of riding.

It’s not a cure, but it is good

IMG_4661My new targeted chemo regime is now in full swing. So much easier than the previous routine of hospital visits, IV chemo, crash for a week, regroup for two weeks, then do it all again. Now it’s just four tablets with breakfast and four with dinner. Instead of a chair in hospital, I can sit on the deck at home.

This week I had my first CT scan since starting treatment and the results are exciting. The drugs are working, the cancer is shrinking, and life is stabilising. The pain has all but disappeared, the coughing has gone, and my breathing is getting easier. There’s increased fatigue, some aches and pains, my heart has slowed down, and my brain has become a bit muddled at times. Latest blood tests show that I am tolerating the impact on my liver and other organs. The breathing is getting easier and I’m keeping fairly active.

Thank you for your concern, your prayers, and your encouragement. I’m very grateful for God’s kindness in giving me a renewed lease on life. God has put a smile on my face and an increased desire to number my days for his sake. It’s not a cure, but it sure is good.

Round 2

This post is by Fiona McDonald. We are in this together.

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Ding. Ding. Ding.

The bell sounds the start of round 2.

This will be a different round from the first round.

Round 1 had seen an unknown featherweight sent into the ring against a known heavy weight—LC.

No one had known why the round had even been scheduled. It was a total mismatch.

There had never been any doubt in the minds of most as to the outcome.

It had just been a warm up round for early spectators to the main event, a small sideshow off to the side.

But as the young featherweight danced around the ring, in his naivety throwing punches that LC hadn’t expected, fighting in a totally unconventional style, this round had gathered the interest of the spectators, both professionals—medical and theological, and amateurs—believers and non-believers.

Much to everyone’s amazement, including the featherweight himself, blows had been delivered that had knocked LC around, causing him to stumble and fall.

The judge’s decision was totally unexpected—the featherweight had won the first round.

But now the bell is ringing for the second round.

It has been a long time since the first round.

The crowd has drifted on to other matches, other things in life.

The featherweight himself has moved on from that first round.

The unexpected win had given new lease to life.

There had been the book written of the experience and talks to encourage others in their unexpected fights with LC’s brothers.

There had been a new job—leading a church in the Stromlo region. Then taking on and shaping the first FIEC national director job. With pastoral ministry to the local, national and even international church.

There had been the fulfilment of bucket list prayers—kid’s graduations; weddings; special birthdays; the joy of four grandchildren; family holidays to beautiful places; joy, beauty, life; celebrating the life God continued to give; celebrating NED.

But there had also been occasional reminders—scanxiety every 3 months; the serious oncologist with somber warnings; the progression of LC in others; and the deaths and funerals of fellow LC and other C brothers and sisters.  Life, and sometimes even breathing were reminders of LC not being far away.

And now the bell sounds for round 2.

Years later…

Some had thought the battle had been won and there would be no round 2.

But the wise, including those in the corner of the featherweight, hadn’t been caught totally unsurprised when LC suddenly scheduled a second round. LC didn’t like losing. His backers didn’t like losing. They’d bided their time before turning up again, hoping to catch the featherweight off guard, untrained, unprepared.

It’s now an older, middleweight who now steps into the ring against LC.

Older, wiser, more tired, still bearing the bruising and scarring from last time.

But not totally unprepared.

Not quite so naïve as last time.

Maybe more skill than last time?

They’ve been working on the left jab, fighting hard, building strategies.

Jab… the research and experimenting with new treatments that has happened in the last 8 years. No longer is the world so scared of LC, or his siblings. Great advances have been made.

Jab… no longer is all LC the same. Now it is understood at the molecular level, cell types and genetic mutations promptly looked for.

Sure, there’s still the discrimination… “you must have been a smoker” and “You get what you deserve”.

Sure, funding for other Cs is still greater… who doesn’t want to help their mum, their girlfriend when they’ve got BC? Which bloke hasn’t come to realise more about PC? Who hasn’t been encouraged to do their poo test when the government sends it out? Which lady hasn’t been cheering that pap smears are now only every 5 years and encouraging their teenage girls and boys to suck it up and have their HPV immunization.

The middle weight is grateful for groups like the Lung Foundation Australia, and for their support, research, and advocacy. He’s got involved. He’s joined the team. He’s been in the papers and on TV.

HIs involvement in Rare Cancers Australia has opened doors to better government understanding and funding.

The middle weight has been glad to be another little voice in the PBS listing of new medications and the need for genetic testing. It’s been a pleasing change from the initial “I’m sorry, we don’t speak with the public” to now being asked to participate in public forums, as a ‘consumer’.

Jab… many LCs are able to be treated more like a ‘chronic disease’ than a ‘death sentence’. It’s still the largest C killer, but things are changing.

Jab… in 2011 research was still deciding that chemo could continue beyond the first four doses to a maintenance regime—something the featherweight had proved in person, with four gruelling years of maintenance chemo to back up his surprise win.

But the glimmers of targeted therapy had been just beyond the featherweight’s reach. Now they are a reality, things have changed.

Jab… the targeted drugs are now first line therapy, and second line therapy and even third line therapy. They are now standard treatment. And they are available to our middleweight combatant. The question is more “which one to use?” rather than desperately trying to get access.

Jab… we’re not alone. Last time the featherweight coach had been desperately researching, desperately trying to find specialists with understanding and experience. Now these people are all in place. They are on our team.

A respiratory physician/oncologist in our neighbouring town of Port Macquarie.

A world class researcher and expert in Melbourne.

Access to the best research through the LC international symposium. Research that comes straight to our email box, rather than having to wade through the internet.

Initially it was the patient experts on the online community, Inspire, and the medical experts who took time to answer on CancerGrace.

But now a specific ALK group—connections in Australia, NZ, Canada, the US. Friends online have become friends in person. Friends we’ve shared our lives with, who’ve stayed with us, and at whose funerals we’ve wept.

Jab… Jab… Jab…

Our technique has certainly improved.

But it was the right-hand knockout punch that caught us as much as our opponent by surprise.

It totally blew us away. LC throwing in the towel. NED being announced and continuing to be announced with successive scans.

The joy and privilege of life granted, the miracle of healing despite the odds and the usually powerless chemotherapy combination.

The knockout punch forged through desperation last time, has now strengthened.

The right-hand cross of trust in God, forged in the battle last time, supported by the reading and writing of books and, most importantly, given its power by people’s prayers.  This punch has continued to be practiced and used and refined.

It’s been humbling to have had so many people say to us over the intervening years that they’ve been praying for us.

David didn’t want you to be uninformed.

You prayed and many have given thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted to us in answer to the prayers of so many. To see prayer—intentional and interventional—makes us more aware than ever that we’re not alone, and we don’t suffer alone or in silence. God had given us the community of the church to care, love, support and pray for each other.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

It’s been amazing to see God at work in so many ways through this first round.

To know the reality of Romans 8:28 in our lives, and to see the effect flow on into the lives of others.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.

It’s been wonderful to enjoy the peace of Philippians 4:6-7, rather than anxiety.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It’s been a blessing to rejoice in our physical, emotional and spiritual sufferings, and to know the hope that God gives. It’s been a privilege to see God act in mercy, reconciling people to himself.

we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

It’s been a joy to receive comfort from God and to seek to offer real comfort to others, through the comfort we have received, praying with and for them, trying to encourage others to persevere through suffering because the rewards are immense.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It’s been a privilege to continue to minister to God’s people, to hear David preach, to be part of our local churches—Crossroads, Stromlo, and now Salt.

It’s an awesome thought to know that we’re in the plans and purposes of God for our lives. To know that nothing is beyond his control, his knowledge, his reach, his working. To know that our time is in his hands, that he is all powerful and all good, and that he is indeed our Rock and our Redeemer.

The bell rings for round 2.

They had never wanted to enter the ring first round. They wouldn’t have wished it on their worst enemies, and yet it has been a joy and a privilege and something that had brought them closer to God and given new ways to serve others.

The bell rings for round 2.

Slowly the middleweight climbs onto the canvas. The scoffers and jeerers can be heard. The doubters are fearful. The resilient stand grim-faced and determined.

The crowd is expectant.

The bell rings.

The combatants face off, mentally preparing for jab, jab, jab, right cross.

But this round and many others were all won so many years ago.

Jab… the creator and sustainer of the world entered our world as a human being.

Jab… his teaching brought wisdom and understanding of the one true God.

Jab… his miracles pointed out the presence of God in their midst.

Uppercut to the jaw… his crucifixion.

Knockout punch… his resurrection.

The bell rings for round 2.

The combatants step up.

There is confidence and a trusting smile, for we know that Round 2 was won many years before. And even if we lose, yet we win.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
(Philippians 1:20-24)

And through it all, we keep trusting in our great God—faithful, kind, good, sovereign, loving, and powerful— and we are deeply grateful for those who will pray with us through this next round, comforting, encouraging and spurring us on.

Goodbye NED

I’ve got some news to share and I apologise for the impersonal nature of this communication. Some of you have kindly asked about my health over recent months and I have given partial and non-committal answers. I haven’t been that well, and have undergone many tests and scans and have not had clarity until very recently as to what is going on.

The bottom line is that I’m no longer NED (No Evidence of Disease). My cancer is back. There is clear evidence of cancer growing again in my left lung and pleura. I have suspected this for some time as I have been unable to shake symptoms, such as back and chest pains that have grown more severe, a cough that will not go away, and increasing breathlessness after minor exertion such as walking up the stairs in our house.

IMG_4073It has been a slow and detailed process to reach a confident diagnosis. I’ve had multiple CT scans, a PET scan, blood tests, and a lung biopsy taken under CT. All this has confirmed that the original cancer has progressed in the same area of the left lung and pleura.

The diagnosis was not a surprise, but it has been hard to take. I’ve enjoyed more than three years without chemo and I’ve been enjoying a pretty ‘normal’ life. With a phone call from the oncologist, all that has changed, and I have once again become a cancer patient.

IMG_4166I am very grateful to God for the availability of new drugs that target my cancer sub-type: ALK. When I was first diagnosed, these types of treatments were only just being developed. In fact, Fiona and I both lobbied the PBAC to have these drugs available in Australia and placed on the PBS to make them affordable to people. I have now been on one of these targeted oral chemotherapies for a few weeks. The regime is completely different to my previous four years of intravenous chemo. I take two lots of four tablets every day. The drug is a targeted therapy. It is a new technology, developed since I was first diagnosed. It would have cost us $100ks, but is now available on the PBS for less than $40 a month.

We don’t know whether or how well it will work, but our prayer is that God will use this treatment to give me many more years to come. There is initial evidence that it is doing something as the pains in my chest aren’t as severe, but there is a long road ahead. We know some people who have done really well on this treatment—some who, like me, were given months to live, but have been no evidence of disease or contained disease for years now.

It will take a little while to get used to this new regime and to manage the impact of this treatment. The side effects are becoming more obvious. The main impact so far has been with swelling in my feet and ankles, myalgia in my legs, fatigue, and photosensitivity— hence my new hats! We will need to monitor the impact on heart, liver and kidneys. There will be regular visits to specialists, blood tests, scans, and more. I will need to monitor my energy levels and work out my capacity for various tasks and ministries.

If you are one who prays, then I ask you to pray: for healing; for the treatment to be really effective; for the ability to cope with the ongoing chronic nature of things; for our mental health—that we will trust God and not get too down; for Fiona who has asked for patience; for our love and kindness towards each other as we process life together through different lenses; for our children—who are older now, but have strong memories of last time.

There will be much more to say, we will need encouragement, prayers and support on this journey. We know God is with us, loves us, and will never leave nor forsake us.  God, in his mercy, listened to the prayers of so many in 2011/12 as people pleaded with God to extend my life. My hope is that God will grant me many more years in his service. So please join us in prayer.

Feel free to get in touch, but appreciate that there is a lot going on at the moment and it might take a little while to get back to some of you.

A window of hope for Rugby Australia

sasha-freemind-780719-unsplashDear Rugby Australia

I see a window of hope for our great game. It will take some humble pie. A decision or two will need to be reversed. But you have an opportunity to make rugby great again.

I love rugby. I love the Wallabies. I’ve held the Bledisloe Cup in my hands. I love the Brumbies. I’ve drunk from the 2004 Super 12 trophy. I love local rugby, standing in the driving rain, the sleet, the mud, and the heat, watching my boys compete with all their hearts. I’ve cheered Aussie rugby from my lounge room, the stands, the sidelines, the change room, in Australia and overseas. I’ve supported rugby and rugby has been my reward.

That is why, Rugby Australia, you are breaking my heart. I listen to so many who say they’ve had enough. They don’t care anymore. The politics, the ignorance, the mismanagement, the bullying, the elitism—they’ve had enough. And what can I say? They’ve got a point. But I won’t give up. In fact, I see a window of hope.

71edf81b5810a66b4f3c696b83f0c5a8Rugby Australia, you have made a mess of things, but there is still hope. You just need to own up to a few things. It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants to play rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window. Don’t miss it. Offer an olive branch now. Do it now before rugby league gets the jump. Do it now before he signs overseas. Do it now before our best player misses the World Cup. Do it now because you can and it is the right thing to do.

Be honest. You have made things far worse than they needed to be. You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose. They knew Izzy. They knew what he believes. It’s never been a secret. And they chose to follow him anyway. What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love. You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.

Rugby Australia, you didn’t handle things well. For years you’ve been saying we need to respect our players. All of them. Together with the Rugby Union Players Association, you have provided chaplains, cultural liaison workers, welfare workers and more. Orientation camps for players have included important pieces on the cultural, family, and religious convictions of our Pacific Islanders especially. Now you heavy-handedly ignore them. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to consult with cultural and religious experts, to seek to gain insight and understanding, to work toward future agreement, to learn from the misunderstanding to create a better outcome for all? But you rushed in like a bully in a china shop.

When Andy Friend was the coach of the Brumbies, he once surveyed all his players to discover the most influential people in their lives. A significant number of the players put Jesus Christ, or the Lord, or God as number one. I suspect this result would have been repeated in many of the teams across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Most of the players who gave these responses were Polynesian. So, what did Andy do? He saw an opportunity to respect his players and further their development. He asked the chaplain to work with him to understand his players better, and to determine how he could support them in their beliefs. He explored how to enable players to live out their beliefs when at home and when on tour. We could do with a lot more of this kind of emotional intelligence among the leaders in our game.

Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and other church school teams? If you are going to lead rugby into the future in Australia, then you need to get back in touch, and there is still time. Please, do it now.

You have painted Izzy into a corner. You demanded that he take down a post. That seems reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes. Why would he be open to having all future posts vetted, but not take down an existing one? Have you thought about that? Have you asked him? Could it be that he sees you asking him to deny his beliefs? Please, lighten up a bit. The nature of social media posts is they are quickly buried and forgotten.

Look to the future, not to the past. Take the opportunity to forge a new future for religious and cultural liaison in rugby. Lead well. Show some grace. Be the sport that unites rather than divides.

Rugby Australia, I plead with you. Do the right thing. Give Israel Folau another chance. Take this window of opportunity to reconnect with Israel and work together for the future of our sport. I, for one, will respect you deeply if you do.

Dave McDonald

National Director, FIEC
Salt Community Church Pastor, Bonny Hills, NSW
Brumbies Chaplain 2003-2017

Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian

117888There aren’t too many books you can read, cover to cover, on a flight between Port Macquarie and Sydney, but Just Starting Out: Seven Letters to a New Christian by Al Stewart and Ed Vaughan is one. It’s short, pithy, punchy, and well worth the read. The book has been written for someone who has just become a Christian, to introduce them to some of the basics of the Christian life. They’ve chosen seven topics:

  1. Saved by God
  2. Trusting in God
  3. Living God’s way
  4. Listening to God
  5. Talking to God
  6. Meeting with God’s family
  7. Meeting the world

Each chapter corresponds directly to one of the seven Just for Starters Bible studies that were originally written for people who responded to the call to become Christians at the 1979 Billy Graham Crusades in Australia. These studies are more familiar to an older generation as the 7 Basic Bible Studies. Thousands of university students began Bible studies in their first year by working through these studies, and thousands more new believers have learned the basics of Christian life and doctrine by the same means. I remember these studies as a first year uni student, wondering why no one had taught me this stuff before. It was my introduction to basic Christian discipleship. I’ve since led hundreds of students through these studies, I’ve written talks to go with them, and I even worked them up into an ‘unpublished’ book in 1990! All this to say, I reckon it is so helpful for a new believer to be guided in the basics and not left to flounder around trying to work out how a new Christian is called to live.

So well done Al and Ed, and congratulations Matthias Media. This is an excellent resource. I envisage buying many, getting our church to buy many. God-willing, as we see people becoming Christians, we will pass on these books. Young people coming to grips with how to follow Jesus will find this book simple and clear. Older people, who’ve been around church for ages, but can’t really tell you what matters matter most, will benefit from reading through it. People who are unclear as to whether they are a Christian or merely a church-goer will gain clarity through reading this book. Mature Christians wondering how to get alongside a newby will do well to read this with them.

The style of the book—seven letters from a mature Christian friend, Michael, to a young believer, Dave—is reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. The conversational style is very engaging and carries the reader along. This book covers way more than 7 topics. Gems of wisdom on a range of topics are squeezed onto every page. It’s probably the type of book to read more than once, as I suspect you will pick up new things each time.

The best way to read this book is in tandem with the Just for Starters Bible studies. It’s the Bible bit that’s the most important. So use this book as a stepping stone to discovering more and more from the Scriptures.