Wondering if I really know my country at all.

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I’ve just returned from a road trip with three girlfriends. We drove all the way across Australia, from one coast to the other, south to north.

On our first day of driving, as we left our city and drove through the countryside, I felt an almost umbilical connection to this land. My love for my country and my sense of pride in it runs deep. It’s what I know, it’s my home, and it’s been good to me.

By the end of my trip, however, I began to wonder how much I know my country at all.

The face of Australia is so multi-faceted, that I began to realize how vastly different my experience of ‘home’ is to other people’s. Outside the cities we drove through rural farmland; country towns that have a lifestyle and culture of their own.

Beyond that, things change even more. Decades of bush lifestyle have been carved out in remote regions, where a run down roadhouse is the central social hub and isolation is a way of life.

Further on we came to Aboriginal lands; where children roam the dusty streets with vicious looking dogs in the middle of the day.

And I wondered about school.

And I realized how much I don’t understand.

And we discussed and debated what should be done, and realized that we don’t have the answers.

And we wondered if anyone does.

And I thought of the bright lights of Sydney…

…and it felt like another world.

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My family beyond my family

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My Grandad had a fall yesterday. He’s 92 and still lives in his home. He tripped by the bed and managed to drag himself, with a broken hip, around the bed to the phone to call an ambulance.

Dad was getting ready for church when Grandad called him, and he left and went straight over there. My sister and I were down south having a surfing lesson at the time, and didn’t find out for several hours.

When I finally got back, mum and dad and I sat around the kitchen table and debriefed, and then dad got a phone call. Some life-long church friends called to see how Grandad was going. They chatted for a while, asking questions, listening and just genuinely caring.

Sunday night I went to church. Dad walked in a bit late, but I watched as several people approached him to see how he was doing and to show that they cared. As I looked on, it really struck me that this is how the church is meant to be. It’s my family beyond my family. How they knew what had happened when dad wasn’t even there that morning I don’t know, but they did, and they cared. And they’ll be praying.

Growing up in the church, I never had any doubt that if something happened to my parents I’d be cared for. The Church was instituted for many reasons, one of which was to be a family. What a blessing to see it in action.

Why I travel as much in books as I do on planes

granada-alhambra_19-137430When it comes to traveling, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.

The experiences that you gain stay with you for life. The dingiest of hotels, the smelliest of trains and the most bizarre experiences become part of the fabric of who you are, growing only more legendary with time.

It seems strange then, that I’d even consider comparing my ‘book traveling’ with my ‘real traveling.’ But I can. As a traveler, I’ve stood before the Eiffel tower, seen Mount Everest and floated in the Dead Sea, but each of these things had one thing in common: I experienced them as me. And I’ll tell you something, being me is pretty ordinary. I’ve done it my whole life; it’s not very magical.

That’s why when I travel through books I travel as much as I do on planes. In books I’ve raised my children in Paris and lived in war-ravaged Kabul. I’ve been an early Australian pioneer, and I’ve risen from the deepest slums of India. I may not have lived their lives in reality, but through them, I’ve experienced much more than I ever could have on my own.reading_28819

And the marriage of the two is perfect, because as I walk down the cobblestone streets of Düsseldorf, I feel the shadow of a woman over me. As she glances into a shop window, I sense her fear that the Nazi’s grip is growing tighter and it becomes more than just a town, and I am more than just me.

Beauty in the Strangest Places

IMG_1272464560519683A friend of mine posted this picture a while back, and I saved it because it captivated me. It’s clever, it’s funny and it’s beautiful.

It reminds me of the last time I was in Germany. I regularly saw huge paintings like this on the side of buildings. In a country in which the skies are often grey, things like this can really lift your spirits.

We live in a world that can so often become monotonous. Sometimes it feels like all we do is eat, sleep, work and commute. The cares of this world can weigh us down, and the never-ending power lines, roads, skyscrapers and reams of paper can prevail in sapping the beauty out of life.

But the beauty is still there.

I encourage you, as you go through your day, to look for something beautiful; it can be found in the strangest of places.

What beauty have you seen today?

When the world gets stifling…

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I have a lot of things on my mind at the moment. Nothing major, just all together they start to add up. I find my mind spinning with plans, agendas, moral issues and sometimes fears.

My mind is so busy, that it’s time to stop for a minute and think about some things that I love; the simple things; the things that are still there when all the busyness fades away.

Today I’m thinking about the night sky. Living in the city I don’t always get to see it in all it’s glory, but it makes it all the more special when I get out into the country and lie in a field and become captivated by the vastness of the sky. I love to drink in the millions of stars and the complexity of the universe.

Somehow the more complex the natural world appears, the less complex my life seems, because it reminds me that I have a God who holds it all in His hands.

My life and its complications will fade away, but my ability to wonder over and delight in the complexity of God will live on for an eternity.

So, when the world gets stifling, it’s often time to look beyond. Beyond our politics and selfishness and general humanity, beyond time even, beyond this world to the eternity that we are to live for. And if eternity had a face, for me, it would look like the night sky.

A Different Look at the Garbage Man…

662916_88280650When I was growing up, if you’d have asked me what was the lowest and least of all jobs, I’d probably have said ‘garbage collector.’

If you’d asked me again as an adult, I’d have been more diplomatic. I’d probably have spouted some jargon about every job being valuable and any aspiration being noble, but really I was just being politically correct. I mean, seriously, what a horrible job. Sure, someone has to do it, but surely not anyone I know.

Shame on me for my ignorance and stigmatising.

I have to say, that my mind has been drastically changed by the simple viewing of a TED talk. Robin Nagle challenged my stereotypes of garbage collection and radically reversed them. Never have I been so appreciative of those faithful people in that humble industry who are the lifeblood of our civilized society.

We have taken sanitation for granted for so long, we can hardly imagine the consequences of a society in which it doesn’t exist. We hold professionals such as doctors and nurses in high regard, crediting them with the management of our health and well-being, all the while forgetting how much we owe to those who are our first line of defense in the prevention of sickness and disease.

Have a watch of Nagle’s clip, and gain a new appreciation for these men and women who work tirelessly and often thanklessly behind the scenes.

When God Takes Away

138261Some time ago, I posted one of my favourite segments from the book Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss. This has been a hugely influential book in my life, and I’d like to share another section that I copied out into my diary several years ago.

‘God does nothing arbitrary. If He takes away your health, for example, it is because He has some reason for doing so; and this is true of everything you value; and if you have real faith in Him, you will not insist on knowing the reason. If you find, in the course of daily events, that your self-consecration was not perfect – that is, that your will revolts at His will – do not be discouraged, but fly to your saviour and stay in His presence until you obtain the spirit in which He cried “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: Nevertheless not my will but Yours be done.”(Luke 22:42)

Every time you do this it will be easier to do it; every such consent to suffer will bring you nearer and nearer to Him; and in this nearness to Him you will find such peace, such blessed, sweet peace as will make your life infinitely happy, no matter what may be its mere outside condition.’

I hope this inspires convicts and fills you with hope in the way in which it did for me. I can attest to the truth of these words. Our God is faithful. He does nothing arbitrary.

When my Year 12s Play Pictionary

I had my last day with my senior students today. Earlier in the year, during a down moment, we played a class game of Pictionary: Two teams, two whiteboards, a lot of shouting and ‘senior worthy’ things to draw like ‘quantum physics’ and ‘Boo Radley.’

It became so raucous and epic that we decided to have the game of all games for our final lesson at the end of the year. Not only was my class involved, but also a few stragglers we’d picked up over the year; it was game on.

The following pictures were taken the moment after the team had correctly guessed the answer. I’ve put the answers at the end, so that you can have a guess too, though I think you’ll agree, their guessing skills are better than their drawing ones!

Class of 2013, thank you for a crazy year, and for the side-splitting laughter you caused me during this game!

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ANSWERS:

1. The Hunger Games

2. Encyclopedia

3. Air Force One

4. Compulsory Education

5. LOST

6. Carbon Dioxide

7. Evening

8. Oh Captain, my Captain

9. Machu Picchu

10. 21st Birthday

11. Back to the Future

12. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

13. The Roman Empire

14. Fossil

15. Abba

16. Seven Wonders of the World

Any Luck?

What it Feels Like to Jump off a Cliff

Thanks to Luke George who took this photo a couple of years ago at our cliff jumping spot.

Thanks to Luke George who took this photo a couple of years ago at our cliff jumping spot.

If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow?

Actually, yes I would.

One of my favourite summer activities is cliff jumping.  There’s a spot about 2 hours away, where the deep ocean meets the cliffs to form chiseled inlets.

There are various heights from which you can jump. Three meters; seven; fifteen. I once saw someone jump from about twenty meters and was afraid I’d see their body splat onto the rocks below.

I say I love cliff jumping, but to be honest, everything in me hates taking the leap. As I stand on the edge, every nerve ending tingles, frantically bombarding my brain with the instinctive message that jumping is a bad idea.

I hate the moment when I almost jump but don’t, and then, even more, when I launch myself out and have that split second realization that it’s too late to go back.

I hate the feeling of falling; legs kicking at the air; arms tensing in an attempt to defy gravity.

I hate the way the water hurts if you hit it on a bad angle, like a mammoth slap.

In fact, there is only one thing I really like about cliff jumping. It’s when the water catches you and holds you momentarily in its belly, and you rise and break the surface and feel ecstatic triumph. When you know, with a sense of pride, that all your friends jumped off a cliff, and you were brave enough to follow.

Truth that Surpasses a Bed of Flowers

Kamille und Mohn am Wegrand im Sommer

Scarcely have I read a passage that resonated so deeply both with the objections of my own heart and my desire to hear truth, as this one from Stepping Heavenward:

‘Having been pardoned by your God and Saviour, the next thing you have to do is show your gratitude for this infinite favour by consecrating yourself entirely to Him, body, soul and spirit. This is the least you can do. He has bought you with a price, and you are no longer your own.

“But,” you may reply, “This is contrary to my nature. I love my own way. I desire ease and pleasure; I desire to go to heaven, but I want to be carried thither on a bed of flowers. Can I not give myself so far to God as to feel a sweet sense of peace with Him, and be sure of final salvation, and yet, to a certain extent, indulge and gratify myself? If I give myself entirely away to Him and lose all ownership of myself, He may deny me many things I greatly desire. He may make my life hard and wearisome, depriving me of all that now makes it agreeable.”

But, I reply, this is no matter of parley and discussion; it is not optional with God’s children whether they will pay Him with a part of the price they owe Him and keep back the rest. He asks, and He has a right to ask, for all you have and all you are.’

Stepping Heavenward. Elizabeth Prentiss. P86-86