A complaint is a gift

complaintAs a church pastor, I can tell you there are few things more discouraging than complaints. We tend to feel under attack and immediately break into defence mode. “How dare they criticise my preaching!” “What would you know about the pressures of trying to organise and run a church?!” “They complain about us not being friendly, but they don’t make an effort!” “It’s not my fault!!!” Maybe we could do with a fresh perspective.

A complaint is a gift, written by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, is a helpful challenge to rethink complaints. I read the first edition of this book over a decade ago and found it liberating and empowering. Since this time the forum for complaints has gone ballistic. A tweet, facebook comment, or blog post can destroy a product or business. Word-of-mouth can go viral, quickly becoming ‘world-of-mouth’ in a matter of minutes – just witness the current Koni video. The second edition of this book (2007) takes account of these kind of changes, incorporates ‘complaints’ and feedback from the first edition, brings us up to date, and introduces suggestions about how to make complaints, how not take them personally, and how to use the internet constructively.

What is a complaint? Fundamentally, it is a statement about expectations that have not been met. But more importantly, it is an opportunity for the organisation, business, or church in our case, to make some helpful changes. This book calls upon us to redefine complaints as gifts. This will require us to separate the message from the medium. We must distance the content of the complaint from the emotion of being blamed. In other words, we shouldn’t take things so personally!

This will mean gaining empathy for the disappointed people and rethinking how complaints can help us to move forward as a church. The very fact that they made the effort to complain indicates some level of commitment to us. Many will only grumble to others or simply walk away. We’d do well to put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine that what they are complaining about had happened to you. How would you react? What would need to happen for you to be satisfied?

This book warns against a strategy of reducing the number of complaints. Complaints can be avoided by closing down lines of communication. But all this does is bury problems and maintain the poor state of affairs. Instead, we need to create opportunities for feedback. We can do surveys from time to time, but they will never adequately reflect the levels of dissatisfaction. Such people are unlikely to wait for the next survey to air their complaints. Maybe they’ve already walked away in frustration.

Churches, like businesses, depend heavily on word-of-mouth advertising. The way we handle complaints will work for or against us. People are much more likely to believe a friendly recommendation than formal advertising. If we handle complaints well it can be a powerful source of positive word-of-mouth. On the other hand, the more dissatisfied people become, the more likely they are to spread bad news. I couldn’t tell you many times we’ve had people turn up at our church, saying things like “I used to go to… but I left there because…” And I’m sure there are plenty who’ve left our church, headed elsewhere, and told a similar story. So much movement and pain could probably have been avoided if we’d done a better job of listening to complaints.

While written with the business sector in mind, this book has value to a much wider audience. The issues raised are relevant for personal relationships, resolving conflict, and improving communication. At a time when people are craving connection, pleading to be heard and understood, churches and their leaders would do well to take notice. While some will read the book and be motivated by the desire to increase profits, pastors should read it with a regard to people’s souls.

A complaint is a gift (2nd ed.) is divided into three parts.

The first part, Complaints: Lifeline to the customer, examines the strategy for developing a positive mindset toward those who complain. It helps us to understand what is going on when someone complains, and how they are likely to respond when they are not satisfied.

The second part, Putting the complaint as a gift strategy into practice, focuses on how to handle complaints well. It develops an 8 step gift formula for keeping our words and actions consistent with our beliefs that the complaint is a gift:

  1. Say “thankyou.”
  2. Explain why you appreciate the complaint.
  3. Apologise for the mistake.
  4. Promise to do something about the problem immediately.
  5. Ask for necessary information.
  6. Correct the mistake – promptly.
  7. Check customer satisfaction.
  8. Prevent future mistakes.

The final part, Dishing it out and taking it in: the personal side of complaints, is new to this edition. It is a helpful addition, broadening the scope and value of this way of thinking into other areas of life. There is good stuff here for strengthening marriages and other personal relationships.

This is probably not a book that many church leaders would think to add to their libraries. You probably wouldn’t buy it to help resolve conflict with your neighbour or a work colleague. I doubt you’d be impressed if I recommended it for strengthening your relationships with your spouse or children. However, this book offers practical help for all these scenarios.

Of course, there is another book that has contained this wisdom and more for centuries. It hasn’t been revised or improved, but then it doesn’t need to be. Check out these gems:

He who listens to a life giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. Proverbs 15:31

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise. Proverbs 15:12

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trust in the LORD. Proverbs 16:20

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

However, it’s not just the head that needs to change, it’s our hearts. The temptation is often there to take things personally out of pride, or to get defensive because we want to look good before others, or to blame others because we don’t want to confront our own selfishness. What we really need is for God to renovate our hearts and minds, to transform us from the inside out. When you read the gospels about Jesus, you can see how he modelled and taught that genuine humility is the key to relationship with others. Christians have a special reason to listen and respond well to others. As it says in Philippians 2:

1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

High points of marriage?

Some time back, Fiona and I attended a marriage enrichment workshop with other couples from our church. We were all encouraged to graph the high points and low points of our marriages. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly the point of the exercise. Perhaps it was to remind some of us that there have been highs as well as lows!

Well, I was thinking about this again recently, and there are three experiences in our relationship that stand out above all the others. They’ve drawn us closer together as a couple, we’ve come to appreciate each other more deeply, and they have enriched our relationship beyond all expectation. And they’ve each been hard – harder than we would have imagined we could bear.

The first took place 15 years ago. We’d just planted a new church, moved into a new house, and Fiona was expecting our third child. We decided to grab a holiday to catch our breath a few months before our baby was due. We were camping in a tent up the coast, and the next thing we knew our daughter was born – at 26 weeks, weighing 900 grams, and not much bigger than a can of coke. She spent the next three months in neo-natal intensive care and we made two or more trips to the hospital everyday. On many occasions we weren’t sure if she was going to make it. The social workers told us that events like this can damage marriages, pull couples apart and often result in divorce. It was hard – SO hard. But for us, it drew us together and deepened our love for each other.

The second experience is more recent. We were travelling on our long service leave, having just experienced the breathtaking wonder of the Kimberley and the Pilbara regions. Travelling across a remote cattle-station, we suddenly found ourselves – 4wd and camper – sideways, out of control, and rolling like a dice. The scene was awful. Our 12 year old had been thrown from the vehicle, my wife was badly hurt, and we were so far from anywhere or anyone. After ambulances, flying doctor, cross-continent travel, two surgeries and a shoulder replacement for Fiona, our family returned home with everyone alive and mending. It’s still hard to relive the experience of the accident. And the rehab and struggles continue for Fiona. But there is no doubt these experiences enriched our marriage, and our family. Petty conflicts, annoying habits and foibles, concerns for ‘possessions over people’ – were shown to be so stupid, so insignificant. We treasured each other, and thanked God that we still had each other. And realised that we needed to keep looking after each other.

The last situation is happening now. It’s been documented already in this blog. We were only days from leaving Canberra to start over in the Northern Territory. We’d been planning, building a team, getting excited and exciting others, and getting ready to begin a new church with a fresh vision in Palmerston. And then, out of the blue, no warning, no preparation – we discover that I have cancer, and all our plans go out the window. Hospital, sickness, surgery, weakness, fear, grief, sadness, tears, panic, and more. Let me say, in all truth, that I have never loved my wife as well as I should. But the last three months have helped me to see what a precious jewel she really is. She has been my deepest friend, carer, lover, pray-er, advocate, nurse, doctor, organiser, empathiser, researcher, communicator, caring mother to our children… and so so much more. And I know she too has been hurting so deeply at times. The journey has a long way to go, but I thank God that we journey together.

Why do I share these three high points? Not so that we can plan for things to go wrong and then reap some magical benefits from our suffering. We can’t and don’t plan these things. But we have both learned, and it’s been confirmed through our experiences, that God works through our weaknesses and struggles. He gives us grace when we so desperately need it. He enables us to experience real joy in the midst of suffering. Not a superficial happiness, but a deeply contented joy that is not dependent on our circumstances.

Fiona and I have never been very good at reading the Bible together as a couple. But over the last three months we have done this quite a bit. I’d like to quote a few verses that have taken on a greater significance for us recently. Firstly, from 2 Corinthians 1:8-11:

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. 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 favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

And from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

…but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The key thing in each of our experiences is that God has been at work. In the darkest of hours, God has always been there. He has picked us up, and carried us, and cared for us. He has reminded us of the foolish arrogance of thinking that we can do better on our own. He has taught us humility and patience, and these are among the hardest lessons to learn. (And we’re still in preschool in these matters!) God has given us a unity in our relationship – not by focusing on ourselves and our own needs, nor by simply focusing on each other, but profoundly by getting us both to focus on him.

Dave

Journey with cancer 13 Mar 2012

I just noticed that I have a problem! I’ve started to define myself as a cancer patient. Sometimes, with exotic pride… “I have a rare genetic mutation that is driving the cancer.” Sometimes, just the mundane… “I’m sick of being sick all the time.” Sometimes, in boring detail… “Let me tell you the latest side effects of the chemo!” Sometimes, in self pity… “Why is this happening to me?”

The truth is, this way of thinking is a lie and a trap. Always has been. I know that I’m not the sum total of my upbringing, career choices, sporting successes, travels, relationships, accumulated possessions or circumstances. My significance can’t be measured by wealth, or wisdom, or health, or the lack thereof. I believe God has made me for a purpose. Not to wallow in self-pity or be puffed up with pride, but to look outwards to others, to consider others more important than myself, and to put other’s needs before my own. God has shown me how to do that, in Jesus who had everything but incredibly sacrificed it all for you and me. It’s not easy, but please God, help me to remember that it’s not about me.

Dave

Naked God

naked_godIt seems winter has come early this year! I spent most of yesterday in front of our open fire reading Martin Ayers’ book Naked God. I’d had a few people recommend it, and I’ve been on the lookout for good books to give friends who are interested in finding out more about what genuine Christianity is all about. I found this a very readable and helpful book, and enjoyed reading it in a couple of sittings. If you are keen to begin exploring Christianity, without getting lost or distracted by all the junk that often gets added, then this book is a good starting point.

A quote from the book explains the title and the aim of the book:

In his famous book and TV series, The Naked Chef, it wasn’t Jamie Oliver who was naked, it was the food. Jamie Oliver succeeded in stripping down the food to its bare but glorious essentials.

And that’s what we need to do with God. We need to look at the evidence and find out what it uncovers. We need to strip away any false ideas we’ve developed from our culture or background, and reveal the truth. This is the truth about God, exposed. This is Naked God.

Martin Ayers begins by arguing a case for why the God question really matters at all. He does this by first considering the alternative – a world where there is no God – and what this means for our day to day lives. He probes the implications for meaning, purpose, freedom, morality, life and death. In the first part of the book he explores where atheism leads, drawing upon some of the claims of Richard Dawkins and others. His aim here is not to prove whether atheism is true or not, but simply to highlight the real implications of holding to this view of the world and the difficulties associated with seeking to live with a consistently ‘naturalistic’ way of life.

The second part of Naked God focuses heavily on the historical person of Jesus. He defends this approach by highlighting the extraordinary life, teaching, and impact of Jesus. This focuses ultimately on Jesus’ unique claims to be, quite literally, God among us. His untimely death at a young age by crucifixion, and the claims by his followers that he had been raised from death, are shown to be the linchpin in understanding Jesus and his relevance for us. In doing this, he tackles problems people may have with the reliability of the New Testament, the transmission of manuscripts, and the claims to uniqueness over against other world religions. While this is a relatively brief book, the arguments are well made and references to more substantial works are offered to the serious researcher. Ayers also addresses the ‘gut reactions’ many have against Christianity, such as its perceived social regressiveness, or the taking away of personal freedom, or the appalling track record of many who claim to be followers of Jesus.

The final section of the book speaks to the reader in a more personal way. Ayers explores the barriers we have to really knowing God. Importantly, he demonstrates that religious self-righteousness is just as big a blockage to relating to God as the choice by many to ignore God and shut him out of their lives. However, the book takes us beyond the problems and difficulties that stand in the way of knowing God, and invites us to take hold of what God is offering. And this is a genuine personal relationship with the One who made us. This relationship is shown to be a step into reality, not an escape into wishful thinking or myths and legends. It makes a big difference to life now, and beyond the shadows of death into eternity.

Journey with cancer 1 Mar 2012

Dear family and friends

Once again, it is with deep gratitude for your prayers and love that we start this letter. You’re prayers have been answered in 3 ways:

1. We are so aware that it is your prayers that are continuing to sustain us in relatively good spirits and in complete confidence in God.

Taking David to chemo was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – like taking the kids for vaccination, but far worse. You know it’s good for them, but the pain inflicted! We understand those who go into denial. It would have been so much nicer to have stayed on holidays at Burrill Pines. We loved being there for our few days as we find it one of God’s most beautiful peaceful places on the south coast.

Taking him 3 weeks later for the second time was no easier, knowing from experience, not just fear, what lay ahead. It doesn’t sound that bad: he sits in a chair for five hours while they put bags of fluids into his arm. First time he watched movies, second time he had a chat with his neighbour. For the first 24 hours he feels okay. After that he starts feeling poisoned, which he has been. Without going into graphic detail, it messes up his stomach, gives him headaches, skin rashes, aches, fatigue and more, making him feel like he’s got a bad dose of the flu with trouble sleeping. By day 10 he’s starting to feel less toxic, and starts regaining the weight he’s lost.

Friends have been tempting him with all sorts of treats: ginger beer, coffee, chocolate slice, chinese herbs and acupuncture, ‘words with friends’, walks, books to read, movies to watch, sermons to listen to, good conversation. When he’s sick, we feel like we’re holding our breath, wondering if this poisoning is worth it. When he starts feeling better, and starts doing more, it’s hard to believe he’s got cancer, except when there’s an abrupt reminder because of pain, or blood test, scan due, visit to oncologist etc. Today he’s preparing a sermon for this Sunday – a commissioning service for Marcus that had been planned for December last year! But next Thursday preparing a sermon will be an impossibility, as the chemo cycle starts again.

Answer to prayer no 2:

Monday he had a progress scan. After 6 weeks of holding our breath – no wonder I was looking blue and feeling dizzy – the scan has shown that the tumour has shrunk from 26 mm to 18mm (such a small, little nasty).

After visiting our oncologist today, it means we continue with this particular course of standard chemotherapy (carboplatinum, alimpta, avastin for those who want to know – the latter two being current state of the art treatment) for another two cycles of one day on a drip every three weeks. We’ll then have another progress scan, and consider our maintenance options.

Our oncologist didn’t encourage us to breathe easy, so I guess we’ll be holding our breath again. However, praise God for His gracious answer thus far, and read on, for what gives us more hope…

Amazing answer to prayer no 3:

We asked you early on pray that David might have one of 2 receptors. The EGFR, which is now routinely tested for, was negative. It was always unlikely because it is most prevalent in younger Asian women. But we have discovered David is ALK positive! (And thank God we asked for this to be tested because it’s not routine to test). This is a rare (3-5%) genetic mutation that is the driver behind David’s cancer, ie. causing the cells to grow out of control. Just why this ALK gene has flipped itself upside down and fused where it shouldn’t have, is still not yet known.

This mutation was only discovered in 2007 and is still under investigation. There are new drugs, still being tested which aim to turn this driver off, which have been showing some very positive results since they first started trialling it in 2008. They’re up to phase 3 of the trials now, answering the very questions that we’re asking: which treatment is more effective? Unfortunately we were not able to be included in this trial, but our treatment is very similar and will allow us to, hopefully, use the new drug Crizotinib to kick the driver out when David’s cancer stops responding to the standard chemotherapy.

This new drug is not a cure either, but results seem to show that it can work more effectively and for longer before resistance builds up. This is also being studied, along with another even newer drug which is just starting to be trialled in the US and England (but not Australia, tho the director of the pharmaceutical company was just lovely when I emailed him.)

For those who want to understand more fully than this simple explanation see a link sent by a kind oncologist in Melbourne. He’s the Aussie speaking in the video.

http://www.oncologytube.com/index.php?page=videos&section=view&vid_id=102199

And just praise God with us for scientists who are so clever! I’ve always agreed with whoever said that science was thinking God’s thoughts after Him. It must be so exciting to be on the cutting edge of science like this and hopeful for us being potentially on the cutting edge of new designer drugs.

All this means, God willing, that though not medically curable, David’s cancer might be able to be managed for significantly longer than we were previously given hope for. We’ve been inspired by stories on a cancer forum of the survival of those on Crizotinib and the more normal lifestyle that can be lived.

Praise God for this hope and pray it is realised: longer life for His glory, as described in Phil 1: 19-26 (and take note of the challenge to you, dear reader of verses 27-30.) We’ve enjoyed reading Philippians as a family recently. 1:21 points out the win/win situation we find ourselves in; 2: 1-11 has been the inspiration for my life; 2:14 is a great verse to quote to squabbling kids; Phil 3:7-14 is inspirational for our circumstances now; and 4:4-8 continues to be a great source of challenge and comfort. The peace I feel can only be the precious gift of God to me in this time, in answer to your prayers.

We’ve also enjoyed reading some good books: ‘Suffering Well’ by Paul Grimmond helps us reflect on where is God in all this, and ‘Naked God’ by Martin Ayers is a good read for sceptics.

But we also hurt for those around us who’re also suffering. There are a number of close friends with medical conditions, whom we pray for regularly. We’d like to encourage you to think about who you know that might be struggling with serious illness, and uphold them to God. Please also pray for David, for opportunities David has to share his faith and hope. Pray that we will continue to serve our church family in their grief and joys. And pray for me as I seek to care for my patients, in their sickness and the trials of life.

We are so thankful to our church, Crossroads, for their care for us. David had the opportunity to speak for 15 mins or so at a special church family meeting on Monday night. He shared his appreciation of being able to serve the church as senior pastor these past 16 year. He thanked many whom he’d worked with. He shared of the shock and heartache of being diagnosed with cancer, the time in hospital, the struggles, facing his own mortality and more. The pastoral staff and the elders specifically prayed for David to be healed and to honour God with his life.

David has also been welcomed to continue serving in ministry at Crossroads as he is able. He is excited to be able to speak this weekend. Obviously he is going through a bit of an identity crisis (not too badly!) as his life has been so focused on ministry leadership for so long. He has been thinking of writing a blog or something, but hasn’t got anything off the ground yet. [My letters are getting it launched for him!] The Brumbies have also welcomed David back as team chaplain. They have been very supportive of David and our family over the past 3 months, and it was great to be able to go to a game together again last week. Jake White has welcomed David’s involvement with the team and he is hoping to have a positive impact on the lives of many. He had the opportunity to share with the whole squad recently.

Our children continue to be an amazing source of joy and encouragement. Their visits and calls. The joy of conversation and praying together. Their sports, musicals, friends, youth group, activities, and their faith and struggles. Even organising a team of teenagers to raise money for cancer research through the Cancer Council “Relay for Life”.

Thank you all for your love, and remember God loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Love Fiona (and Dave)

Journey with cancer 19 Jan 2012

Dear family and friends

Thank you so much for all your prayers concerning David. We’ve felt so supported by your love and concern for us from all around the world. It’s just been amazing to see the world wide church in action. A great testimony at this time! We know your prayers have been answered as we’ve continued to deal calmly (well most of the time!) with all that’s been happening and have continued to trust God (not without tears) through it all. The frustration of last week has been overcome within a week (as opposed to the initial four we were quoted) as we’ve seen God at work through His people.

We are very grateful to God for the provision of a Christian oncologist, and friend of a friend, becoming our friend when we needed one most. He’s been amazingly kind and generous with his time and has been communicating on our behalf with specialists down here. We are also grateful to God for our Canberra oncologist. He’s a very intelligent man and knows his stuff.

Unfortunately, the receptor test has come back negative. I knew I wasn’t married to a 40 year old, non-smoking Asian female (the category of people who mainly have this receptor!) but it was worth asking God for. This means that we don’t get to use specific designer drugs, but are left with a more general approach. David will start chemotherapy next Wednesday, after boosting his red blood cells with a week of Vitamin B and folic acid. We’ll be using drugs that appear, from research, to give the best outcome, with least side effects and best quality of life. Praise God, that he has given people such intelligence, that they can research and come up with such drugs with great criteria like that!

Whilst this last week has been very hard, and yesterday it was suddenly very much all in our faces again, we have been so grateful to God for His provisions for our family and His amazing timing. Yesterday, in all the stress, a friend randomly dropped around a gluten free orange cake just half and hour before David’s mum, a celiac, dropped in. Just wonderful!

The other great news from the extended McDonald clan, was that David’s dad’s cancer has been declared to be in total remission after his 6 cycles of chemotherapy were completed just before Christmas. It was great to see him looking stronger yesterday, than when he was down for the ‘not the farewell prayer meeting’. Thank God with us, because Norman having cancer, had weighed heavily on us leaving to go north.

Our kids have returned home. Grace having had a wonderful time at summer school, and Marcus had a great time on beach mission (thanks Old Bar team) and holiday with our friends the Elkingtons. We’re now heading down the coast for a few days of brief holiday with our family and extended family before the chemo begins. Our church have got into the habit of coming with us to Burrill Pines. We can’t not share the most fabulous God-given peaceful place around!

Pray we’ll have good times with all our kids both this next week and into the future. Pray that despite the stress, team McDonald will work together well, loving and caring for each other, able to talk, laugh, share, cry, question together, but always trusting in God and his amazing love and care of us, and witnessing to that in our lives. Please pray for our kids as they have to grow up fast, and for us as we remember they’re still kids.

Whilst the battle ahead is daunting, it’s a relief to be finally doing something to fight the cancer.

Thank God for his armour (Ephesians 6) and pray we’ll be “putting it on” (as Colin Buchanan and my supa club kids sing so enthusiastically) every day. Sing the Dambusters hymn with us: Psalm 46. Please pray that David will have the energy, strength and trust in God to face what’s ahead, and that the side effects will be kept to a minimum and can be dealt with. Pray that we will finally have some routine, structure, clarity, as to what each day might hold, whilst being glad and rejoicing for each new day, praising God for his new mercies each morning, and being flexible so as to cope with all the unexpected things that will come our way. Pray for conversations with old friends, current friends and new friends as we head into a new world and join a new community, that we’ll continue to share with joy of the One who loves us and holds us in the palm of His hand.

Thank you for all your cards, texts, fb messages, emails, phonecalls, presents, and presence. Please keep them coming, as they are such an encouragement to us. David is someone who is energised by catching up with people. It doesn’t matter if you’re worried that you don’t know what to say, no one does! I cant say to David, “I know what you’re going through” because I DON’T and most of you probably don’t either. If you’re worried that you’ll wear him out, or that he’ll have too many visitors, then just pop in briefly – though sometimes David is up for ‘a chat’! He hasn’t gone back on coffee yet, but will happily make you one. You can always give a call before you come to check it’s ok.

Once again, we can’t thank you and God enough for all your support and encouragement.

Love and prayers

Fiona (and David)

Journey with cancer 11 Jan 2012

Dear friends and family,

As many of you were aware, we visited the oncologist today. Unfortunately the receptor test, that we were waiting the results for today, was inconclusive, so further samples have been sent off to try and obtain a definitive result. Again, it will be a 2-3 week wait. Please pray for patience as we wait (again). There is good cause to wait, as targeted chemo with specific designer drugs will give better outcomes, and works better if not used after general chemotherapy. In the meantime we live in limbo land, with our brains in suspended animation.

Well no, not really. It was very special to have David go to church on Christmas Day, although it exhausted him. We had a wonderful family lunch provided by friends in our beautiful backyard. It was special to be together and to remember that Jesus is truly with us. If you missed out on a good Christmas service then can I recommend the carols from St Andrew’s Cathedral. The message was awesome, as was the music. Hearing an old friend sing ‘Immanuel, Our God is with us’ had me in tears (& still does).

Our container of goods arrived back on Tuesday 3rd. Many wonderful friends helped unpack and reset up in a day. What took us 6 weeks to carefully pack, only took our friends 6 hours to get back in place! It was a bit bizarre to see the truck being unloaded by the same men who had loaded it 5 weeks before. I think our goods enjoyed the break! The dog was certainly confused but happy. The house is the same yet different, as we’ve taken the opportunity to repaint, and rearrange kids rooms and the studies. They say change is as good as a holiday.

Actually, after David’s PET scan, (where, no, they didn’t find any unwanted pets) we did escape for a holiday down at Moruya Heads to a flat belonging to good friends. David’s rehab program continued with good food, good rest, but now also the benefit of sun, sand, walks and fishing! Many small fish were kissed and thrown back. His swimming was excluded on basis of healing wounds, infection risk, and the wind-chill factor. It was a great relaxing, refreshing time alone together: 3rd honeymoon, as we felt too young to be empty-nesters just yet. The bizarreness of our life was contrasted with the bizarreness of Sam Tyler’s life as we enjoyed watching the BBC series ‘Life on Mars’.

We enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation, the great tastes of his creation and reading his word together: specifically 2 Corinthians, where we’re reminded of the temporary nature of this life compared to the wonders of eternity. David said he was beginning to grasp this contrast more strongly.  2 Corinthians 1:3-11 has always been a favourite with me.

We are also very grateful to friends for the lovely holidays our kids have enjoyed. Matt and Marcus had a great time at Old Bar beach mission, where both had great opportunities to share the gospel and encourage and be encouraged in their Christian faith. Grace is enjoying Summer school, and Luke and Sharon had a wonderful camping trip at Gerringong, before plunging back into summer swim schools this week.

There’s plenty to do in the meantime, with studies and books to be arranged, cards and letters to be answered, more rehab to increase David’s strength for the fight to come and perhaps even our annual holiday with our church family down at Burrill Pines. Who knows, there might even be a school of salmon passing through to inspire the recovery!

It has been bitter sweet to farewell and hear from those who’ve gone to Darwin without us. Please continue to pray for Northern Australia, and for beautiful feet to take the gospel to those who haven’t heard or responded yet and to encourage those who labour so hard in such isolated and hard areas.

If you’re inspired by the fact that it’s 100 yrs since people first walked to the South Pole, then please google ‘Humpty Dumpty South Pole Expedition’ to check out our friend Rob’s trek to the Pole, raising money for the Humpty Dumpty children’s foundation. It sounds even more scary than waiting for chemotherapy.

Thank you for your continued prayers in this waiting period. In part it feels like we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, as we wait for the medical system to lumber forward. However, we know we have God who is able to do the impossible, with the improbable, and so we continue to trust in Him, because there’s nowhere and no one else to turn to.

Fiona (& Dave)