The awkward conversation I had to have

At the beginning of this year I felt like I had the proverbial rug pulled out from under me. It felt within weeks I’d gone from being in a loving, committed and fully supportive relationship to being left bereft, bewildered and wondering where the hell the cyclone of convenience came from that swept through to leave me relationally destitute. Or in other terms, felt abandoned, rejected and demoralised. Simply, I was devastated.

Merely weeks earlier I’d been told I was perfect for her (& her kids) and she was blessed for having me in her life. We’d discussed future possibilities, celebrated an anniversary whilst on holiday together…then wham! Her decision came out of left field and I was left spinning for months wondering what on earth had happened. I was caught completely off-guard. Perhaps you’ve experienced a break-up like that too?

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Paying tribute…Rachel Barber

I have many books on my bookshelves.  Over the years I’ve accumulated reference books, fictions have been devoured, or discarded midway, but few have simply sat there untouched. There is one however. It’s a book that for years I felt unable to physically pick up and read. It was simply too painful.

This book is written by a mother about her daughter and I’m a father of two sons so you may be wondering why this has been difficult.

“Perfect Victim” tells the story of Rachel Barber, a young woman murdered at the age of 15.  Tonight, an Australian TV series, INSIDE STORY, is showcasing her story in light of the recent release of Rachel’s murderer.

The book tells the story of one mothers nightmare as her daughter went missing, the discovery of Rachel’s body and the unfolding investigation into the motivation and manipulation of someone who sought to literally take on Rachel’s identity.

Rachel was a part of my youth group and used to come on high school aged camps I ran. I knew her family. Rachel was a gentle soul with a spirit that danced. Behind her shy sheepish green eyes lay the depths of a young woman emerging from her childhood. She was carefree, friendly and beautiful.

It’s not hard for me to remember the way she’d often light up a room with her infectious smile, or the way she was always dancing and prancing when she walked.  For her, to dance was something she simply had to do, it was an extension of her soul. I chuckle to myself as I remember being the first “adult” she told about her first kiss with a young guy named “Macca” at one of those camps. And I smile warmly, recalling her excitement and delight.

There are so many things that don’t make sense in our world and there are times I find myself simply shaking my head as I try to comprehend the evil that lurks within us as humans. For me as a Christian, to come to terms with a concept called “theodicy” (which in my simple mind means something like this…how can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?) has not been easy, especially with this.  Rachel’s body was discovered in March 1999.  Still today I shake my head and my heart rests heavy when I think of a beautiful life cut tragically short.

Rachel’s funeral, held at St Hilary’s in Kew, overflowed with an estimated attendance of more than 1000 mourners. I’d been asked to do a reading by Rachel’s mum and share a small tribute, but at the time felt I wasn’t up to it. Today I regret that.

I’m a man with mates with daughters and an uncle with nieces and I find it hard to fathom the pain Michael and Elizabeth have endured over the years. I’m now a father and my eldest is nearing the age Rachel was when she was murdered, I think it’s time I picked up that book.

I hate cliches and pop-psyche mantras…but friends, life is short. Embrace life, embrace those you love and care about. Make the most of opportunities that come your way, even those that seem difficult. And whatever losses you’ve experienced, ensure you continue to embrace the here and now.

So as I pay tribute to Rachel, I remember the many young people I’ve been blessed to work with over the years and am thankful for the way each of them, in big and small ways, has helped shape me to hopefully be a better me.

If you’d like to learn more about Rachel’s story you can check out: http://www.rachelbarberofficialmemorial.com/index.html or http://www.9jumpin.com.au/show/insidestory/latest/series-2/episode-04/fatal-obsession/

Paying tribute…to Phil

There are times when tributes are appropriate, and others just seem out of line.  During the Australia Day celebrations, the Australian Prime Minister, without consulting any within his own party or executive leadership, announced that Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) was to receive the highest honour, the Order of Australia. There has been much speculation as to why, and certainly much disagreement about the choice.  Majority of people, including many loyal monarchists, have at best thought the decision odd. Others indifferent to Australia becoming a republic, have reconsidered their perspective and see this as un-Australian and requiring a shift in their philosophical and political emphasis.

In stark contrast, were the many tributes made after the passing of Australian cricketer Phil Hughes following his freakish and tragic accident from a cricket ball leading to his untimely and premature death. Tributes flowed in about the young mans talent, his joy of playing in the baggy green, and his infectious humour and goodwill across his team mates and opponents alike.

In contrast to the confusion and condemnation towards Tony Abbotts actions and words with his tribute to Phil, Michael Clarke (Aussie test skipper) was applauded for his exemplary leadership, poise and heartfelt empathy shown towards his team mate and dear friend.

I’m a coach of a basketball team of teenagers, most of whom love their cricket but no longer play.  At the first opportunity we gathered the team, spoke about paying tribute to Phil, and took to the court with our opposition for a minutes silence. Each of the boys scribed #408 onto their left arms (in place of black arm bands) and some even brought along cricket bats and stood them beside the court.  It was a fitting tribute to someone who loved playing sport, and who paid the ultimate price for something they loved doing.

The solidarity of tributes across sporting codes reflected a deeper value – no matter what your sport, no matter what level you play at, sport unites. Well for most anyway.  There was one parent who remarked that this border-lined on idolatry and was over-the-top. I’m aware this person never played a team sport and has a tendency to super-spiritualise things.  This parent, much like our Prime Minister missed the point.

Paying tribute is important.  Doing so in a respect-full and meaning-full way is equally so.  Paying tribute is something that pays honour to a person, for their character, their conduct and their contribution to their community. In the case of Phil Hughes, this crossed sporting codes and country boundaries. In the case of the Prince, well Tony just got it totally wrong.