"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Unexpected Blessings / An Angel?

Two years ago when our acceptance to serve with Mercy Ships was reversed in late 2010 we received many emails and messages of support. One came from a former Navy shipmate who I had known since we were Uni Midshipmen together. David had left the Navy for similar reasons to me and was now Managing Director of a small but successful asset management company.

Anyway by March 2011 it was time for me to find a real job to pay the bills and I was on the cusp of accepting one, albeit with some niggly naggly doubts that it was the best job for me. Then the night before I was due to start David rings me with the possibility of managing the Paying Off and Disposal of my old ship, HMAS MANOORA. Not a firm job offer but the possibility of one if he should get the contract for the task, if there was a task. Well I prayed a bit and remembered a sermon about trusting God as you stepped out of the boat.  I then turned down the job offer, in lieu of the possibility of one.
Two weeks later there was a contract for 3 months and a job for me as the HMAS MANOORA Paying Off Availability Project Manager. Well in the last two years this task has extended and grown to encompass a lot more including project managing MANOORA’s sister ship, KANIMBLA, as well. And the job I turned down – well I would have been working 60 hour weeks and spending at least half my time in Darwin.
David has proved to be a fantastically supportive “Boss”. He “gets it” that I left the Navy to have a real family work life balance and encourages taking time out to do stuff at school with the kids, like helping out at excursions or sports days or swimming carnivals. We work hard for our customer and provide solid outcomes but we do not work ridiculous hours but nor do we gouge our customers. We are honest, ethical and treat people fairly. All this stems from his leadership.
When I broached the subject of us serving with Mercy Ships again he was thoroughly supportive, not asking how my role might be covered but rather asking how he might help and support us as we prepared to serve. Since then he has paid for me to complete three courses: Working at Heights, Confined Spaces and this week, an Open Water Diver Course; purchased new safety gear and uniforms for me, provided financial support and offered to pay for drinks at my farewell. He has even discussed how I might do some tasks remotely to keep the coffers topped up. I don’t feel like I am leaving the company but rather taking a sabbatical.
We have never spoken much about our faith together but in January this year we attended the funeral of the wife of another ex-Navy Uni classmate whom I had shared a flat with for 6 months in 1988. Liz and Andrew have four kids and it was heartbreaking to see the kids farewelling their mother, aged only 46. Sharing this with David was special for me. We tried not to cry but failed. Maybe we are becoming more aware of our own mortality. Maybe it was because Liz was so young. Maybe it was because their children were so young. Maybe we were thinking how would we manage in Andrew’s shoes if Tammy or Sarah were taken from us so early. Probably a little of all of these. His grief and mine were too much to contain but I am glad he was with me.
He christened me “Digby” 25 years ago, he danced at my wedding (a lot on the floor in his ceremonial whites), he offered me support when I left the Navy, he offered comfort when our first attempt at serving fell through, he offered me a job and he willingly let me go when we applied to serve again and has provided so much support as we prepare to leave and serve. He is a true friend and I believe God placed him in my life to help me on this journey to serve. He might not be coming to Africa himself but he has been instrumental in us being able to serve. I am not sure you have been referred to as an angel before, but I think you are one, David Coyle. Thank you.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What does Success look like?

I'd be lying at present if I said I wasn't fairly terrified about what is going to happen next for us.  For starters, we have a set date for when the $$ stop - 31 May.  Living in a society where a great deal of importance is placed on what you have and what you earn - this is a mindset change that is challenging.

Secondly, in the same vein, there is the notion of living on our savings - ie there is finite amount of money and we will be taking out without putting in - at least until our house is rented.  What happens if we run out of $?  What happens if no one rents the house and not only are we taking out our living expenses and crew fees, but the bank repayments as well?

Thirdly, and for me most significantly, people keep asking about how our boys are going to cope with all of this?  That is a good question and one that we won't know the answer to until we get to the ship.  However, when I start asking questions of myself and begin to worry, I invariably end up with asking myself the questions I DO know the answers to..
Are the boys well prepared?  Do they know what to expect?  Have they seen what the ship looks like?  Do they understand what the ship does? Do they know what they will do? Can they keep in contact with friends here?  Are they having a farewell?  Are we all together?  Do they know why we are doing this? Do they trust their parents?  Do they know that they are loved?

Well, the answers are all YES.  We don't know what the future will bring but we do know that we are as prepared as we can be to face it all together. HR people are fond of saying that realistic expectations are a good predictor of a successful outcome.  We expect challenges.  We expect good days and bad days - hopefully more good than bad.  Maybe that will lead to a successful period of service.

A friend onboard said that she has never cried as much as she has during her time of service.  Neither has she ever felt more purposeful and alive.  I know I will be happy just to contribute to something that is bigger than our family that is making a difference.  That is what success looks like to me at this time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Starting to Finish

This morning I am writing to the school to let them know that we are heading off in June.  In fact, it is 4 weeks tomorrow until we fly out.  So much to do.  So little time.  Still it is amazing how it is coming together.
Our list on the white board is slowly being erased and we are taking photos of the boys with their friends so they can start blogging too - got to work out how we do that on a private page yet..
We have wanted to do this for about 10 years, seriously planned it for about 5 and now we are actually on the countdown, it seems almost surreal.  However, whenever I look in my wardrobe and at the bags and boxes being packed - reality sets in.
I am hopeful that I won't have to drive in Congo - I'm not great driving on the other side of the road and it's bad enough on Parramatta Road or John Street Lidcombe.  Nevertheless, I'd better go and get my licence renewed so I can drive should I need to.  Luckily google images has pictures like this of Pointe Noire roads... Doesn't look to bad

Parramatta Road routinely looks like this - so maybe I can do Congo driving... We'll see


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A series of random coincidences or .....

    A lot of our friends reading this blog will know why the posts stopped coming in 2010 but I thought I might take the time to write it down.  So here goes..

    We were all primed to go to Africa then with Mercy Ships, but an Aspergers diagnosis for our eldest son changed all that.  At the time it was a very difficult period for our family but the right decision not to go.  And I am glad that Mercy Ships made that decision for us, rather than letting us continue on without taking advantage of the excellent Speech Therapist and Occupational Therapist in Australia that have helped him no end.
    However, we are flying out in 5 weeks today.  So how did we get here? Well, that is a series of extraordinary coincidences or perhaps something even more amazing.
    In October 2010, when our acceptance to serve was rescinded, I felt that our whole family was out a long way, up very high on a very small branch - waiting to fall.  We had agreed with Mercy Ships that we would reapply in a year or 2 when our son had taken advantage of the services available here in Australia.  Nevertheless, I secretly hoped that they would ask us to reapply because I wasn't sure, at the time, that I had the strength to go through the "small branch" feeling again.  Mick had no job to go to at that point and was studying in England to gain his Third Engineers Merchant ticket to join the ship.  I was doing some Reserve days with the Navy but had already tied up all my work. We had plane tickets paid for and a good proportion of our house packed up ready to rent. It was a trying time for us.
   What actually happened was that when Mick returned to Australia, we all had a really good holiday with family and friends in South West Rocks.  Within a few months, and with several other choices on the table, he had secured a good job with a small supportive company that is happy for him to take unpaid leave to serve in Africa now.  Our son responded well to various therapies and the boys were all settled at school and Kindy.  I was able to continue my Reserve days as well.  I have never seen Mick so "at peace" with job hunting - and it is worthwhile remembering in his Navy days, we went through the stressful posting process every two years!
    Every time the boys received school reports, we forwarded them onto the Mercy Ships Academy Director in Texas to add to our file.  We had been doing this for about 18 months as Harry was finishing pre school and preparing to start school.  We had nominally thought 2013 or 2014 was about the time to reapply for Mercy Ships and had not considered actively starting the process.
    Then I was asked by an acquaintance if I would consider sharing a sea job in the Navy.  It was a Supply Charge Job - basically a Head of the Logistics department in a warship and my unfinished business in the Navy.  Mick and I discussed it and decided to give it a go, knowing that the job would start as Harry commenced school.  He would work part time and I would do the Charge job I hadn't managed to complete.  The only thing with the Charge job share would be that it would take 3-4 years to complete which pushed Mercy Ships service a long way into the future.  So we decided to withdraw my sea charge application and apply for a 6 month operational posting instead.  Fortunately,  in June 2012 I was selected to go to East Timor for the Final rotation of OP ASTUTE in a Contract Management style position starting Jan 2013.  I had to undertake a few courses prior to going which meant about 4 weeks away from home.   Everyone managed okay and I was looking forward to the challenge of the job.
   First coincidence.  In November, we received an email seemingly out of the blue, from the Mercy Ships Academy Director stating that having reviewed all the boys school reports, they were happy to accept them into the onboard school - the Academy - and see you in Texas in June 2013!  Of course, we went back to them and said sorry I am under contract to the Navy until Aug 2013.  We will have to delay it a year.
    Second coincidence.  I was talking to a lady at church  a week or so later who asked about Mercy Ships and I explained that I was going on deployment so it was probably delayed by 12 months.  However, I had also heard rumours that my deployment might have been shortened so we may still be able to go.  We finished our discussion with "If God wants us to go, He will make it happen".
    When I went into work on Tuesday, I sent an email to Joint Operations Command to try and find out whether my deployment was shortened or not.  A reply a few hours later said very sorry, but all future deployments, including yours, have been cancelled.  Whoa.  Huge.
    Third coincidence.  Mick and I were a wee bit concerned about the Field Service component of our training with our boys.  This is basically where we go and live somewhere remote from the ship and work alongside the locals - in the past, it has been orphanages and hospitals. Everything we had read about this talked about new experiences, new food, flexibility.  All things Asperger children have trouble with.  We hadn't even discussed this at all with friends and prayed about it or anything.  Then out of the blue one morning, we receive an email stating that we have been exempted this from our training because the school year starts onboard during the transit from Tenerife to Congo.
   Some people may say these are random coincidences.  I prefer to see them as God having a plan for us and guiding us towards it.  It is tremendously comforting to know that even those small worries He has addressed.  How much more will He make things happen for us over the next 2 years!