Fridays with Phil

Life, family and unshakeable faith


August 2014

Learning to sail before the storm

People have asked me many times over the past 18 months of my journey with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), “how have you stayed so peaceful and strong through it all?”

Sometimes I don’t feel as at peace or as strong as I may appear. However, more often than not, I am.

I believe the reason is that throughout my life I have read the Bible on a regular basis and the word that was in me has given me strength in my time of need. As a believer, a Christian, I hold the Bible in high esteem and see it as a necessary tool to shape my soul and spirit.

Someone once said, “we don’t learn to sail in stormy seas”.  In other words, don’t wait until you are in a storm to learn to sail. Don’t wait until you need the words of God in your life to find out what they are. You could find yourself sinking instead of sailing.

When I was first diagnosed with MND, Lenore, my wife, said to me, “I can’t even read the Bible, I can’t focus, it’s all just too much.”  We encouraged each other to let what we had read and heard previously rise up and give us strength.

It’s called “meditation” or “Holy Spirit enlightenment.”  It comes from chewing on what the Bible says, from reflecting on it and considering how you can apply it to your personal world.

I would hate to think where we would be if we hadn’t already learnt to sail, spiritually speaking.

When I go to a quiet place and read my Bible, it’s not to avoid the world and its challenges but to build my own inner self and strength to be able to deal with anything that comes.

I try every morning to set time aside for reading the Bible and write down something  about what I’ve read. I may just copy down one verse or a needed encouragement at the time. In fact, since 2007, I have determined to write at least something that each chapter has revealed to me.

When I do this, it may have no real connection to my immediate circumstances but it’s like putting money in the bank for a rainy day. I will draw from it sooner or later and I’ll be ready.

In Psalm 23, we find that the shepherd makes the sheep lay down on green pastures. Green pastures are typically what the sheep would eat. This says to me that there comes times when our Shepherd, Jesus, wants us to “lay down” or rest and on what we would normally “eat”.

Here is a verse from the Bible, why not just read it, think about it, and meditate on it.  See if you receive insight, strength or encouragement to your soul.

Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.”


Me and a bucket of ice


Raising awareness for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) or more commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in the States, has taken a giant leap forward over the past week with the #icebucketchallenge going viral.

I’m deeply moved and excited because I am confident that awareness is the first step towards finding a cure. As someone living with this disease, it is a personal passion of mine that one day no one would have to.

Neuroscientists have told me that they will find a cure, it’s only a matter of time and resource. In the meantime, with no prevention and no treatment, every 12 hours someone dies from the disease and every 12 hours someone else is diagnosed with it, in Australia alone.

The idea of the ice bucket challenge is pretty simple: get a bucket of ice cold water tipped over your head, nominate friends to do the same and donate to the cause. Everyone’s doing it; Oprah, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and many others in the sporting and entertainment world.

And it’s working. Twenty eight million Facebook users are discussing the challenge, while the ALS Association ( has received unprecedented donations, so far more than $35 million.

Here at home, Kochie, Russell Crowe, footy teams, and politicians are getting behind this social media phenomenon. Tonight, MND Australia are hosting the #icebucketchallenge world record attempt at Etihad stadium in Melbourne.

You may have heard that Neale Daniher, one of our AFL sporting heroes, revealed this week that he has MND / ALS.  Sean Lee, a sports writer commenting on this said,

It will attack his body, take away his strength, destroy his independence and kill him. Nothing is surer…

And yet Daniher maintains his sense of humour. He remains positive…he says on more than one occasion that he has been lucky. It is a typical Daniher response to hardship. “She’ll be right mate.”

Except that it won’t be right. Not this time.”

As someone battling MND, a disease that I have but that does not and will not have me, I am so encouraged by the #icebucketchallenge, throwing this disease into the realm of public awareness.

Imagine if this crazy, fun challenge was the catalyst for raising enough money to fund enough research to find the right cure for MND / ALS.

Then, like Neale, we could say “she’ll be right mate” and it really would be.


The Art of Beginning

Crossing the finish line last year with Lenore (at an MND  fundraiser event).
Crossing the finish line last year with Lenore (at an MND fundraiser event).

I hate arguing with my wife but I like making up. It’s easy to end a disagreement in silence. The hard part is whoever bites the bullet, ends the silence, and starts talking again.

As soon as you start, as in life, the easier it is to move forward.

Take your tax return for example. Many of us put this off until the last possible moment. But no matter how hard it is to sit down and do it, it only becomes easier breaking it down, question by question, hour by hour.

If something in your life seems too big, too hard, too long, too complicated, or too painful to even start, this blog is for you.

I have found that getting started can be the biggest hurdle of a pending victory. In fact, no battle has ever been won unless it was first begun. I’m not saying that starting something guarantees it will be easy. I am saying that starting is the biggest step to victory.

The Bible says that God who “began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished.”  Not even God can complete what He hasn’t begun. And neither can we.

Putting off seeing a doctor for a check-up, talking to a loved one about a sensitive issue, admitting a mistake or even mowing the lawn, only makes it more difficult, and the grass even longer!

The truth is, more often than not, when these things are taken on and started they are never as bad as what we imagined them to be and even if they weren’t pleasant, they are now behind us and not before us.

So, just do it. Procrastination is something we can all beat.

The best way to beat procrastination and the decay of failing to start what needs to be done is to stop making the less important and perhaps easier things the reason for not doing the important thing.

Along the way to completion, remind yourself of the pleasure of finishing, reward yourself along the way, celebrate progress, and maximise your optimum energy times (for me, that’s the morning).

Maybe you haven’t started something because you are afraid of the stress it may cause you. However, have you failed to consider the more harmful stress that procrastination is causing you?  In other words, the longer we don’t start something that needs to be started, the longer we live with the stress of that and the more damaging that can be.

What is it that you need to start today?


Back on track

I never thought I would need one of these.

This picture was taken riding my new four wheel scooter on the local Fernleigh Track.

It’s the first time I have returned to the track since being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (referred to as MND, or ALS). I used to run along here all the time, but because of the muscle waste in my feet and calves, I can no longer do that.

To tell you the truth, I would much rather be running: the pace, the clear mind, and the sense of accomplishment. Not being able to run is one type of loss, an unexpected change and disappointment, but I know that many of my readers face their own set of challenges.

For all of us, we have choices to make about our current state of mind, whether we allow challenges to completely derail us or whether we get back on track. Personally, I don’t want to get stuck in a place of sadness or regret for the things I can no longer do. Instead, I want to rest in a place of thanksgiving for the things I can.

In life, we decide whether to live in the memory of abilities or opportunities lost, or in the moment of new experiences to be found. We either waste our time carrying the burden of what we don’t have or we win today’s battle with the joy of what we do have.

Maybe in your yesterday, you were married, but today’s reality is that you are divorced or widowed. Then don’t let that divorce or death steal your life, start to find new ways of moving on, being you and loving again.

Maybe you are single and waiting to be married, or married and waiting to have children. No matter how challenging it is at times, life is far too short to spend our days wishing things were different, missing out on the wonder of life around us.

Or maybe, like me, you face a progressive disability, or simply the challenge of the normal aging process (that’s all of us!).   It’s hard when you find your recovery times are longer and you can’t bounce back like you once did. But do we stop trying or being involved at all just because we’re not as agile or fast as we once were?

I remember hearing from Australia’s most decorated women’s tennis champion, Margaret Court. Just because she is no longer world number one, did she stop playing tennis altogether? No, she still plays. I’m sure she has simply adjusted her game and expectations.

I throw you the challenge today, take your focus off your inability and onto your ability. Consider what you are able to do today that tomorrow you may not be able to and then enjoy doing it.

My scooter rides may not be the same as running but I’m doing what I can do. Besides, on my scooter, I get to enjoy more of my surrounding: the ferns, the beautiful trees, the sounds of bell birds above.

It’s never too late to get back on track.


Money Master

Proud of my youngest, their first home!
Proud of my youngest, their first home!

No matter where I go in the world, I see that money plays a pivotal role in people’s lives. One thing I know to be true is you master money or it masters you.

Just like a master says to the servant “go” and they go, or “come” and they come, if you master your money, you know where it comes from and can send it where you want it to go.

Why am I encouraging you to master your finances in this way? Because if you don’t, someone else or some other thing will.

More than that, you need to decide for yourself what is important to you long term. Do you want to leave a legacy of being generous to those in need, investing into people who will live beyond you and making sure you resource the important things in life?

While I don’t pretend to be an expert, I’m a pastor afterall, here are a few things I have done for years that have helped me control my money –

  • Know your current reality. Do you know exactly how much you earn and spend each week? Do you know where all your income is coming from and where all your spending is going? It starts with writing it down.
  • Create a budget. With a budget, I can decide how much I spend, and what I spend it on. I can see if I need to immediately reduce my expenditure so that it is less than my income. I would be happy to send you a template budget I use (just reply to this blog below so I have your email).
  • Try basing your standard of living on less than your total income. For example, if you are a two income family, you could try living off one salary. This hasn’t always worked for us, but in trying, we have usually only ever lived off 1.5 salaries. The discipline of this, even choosing not to immediately apply pay increases to your spending, sees you able to save and give more.
  • Schedule set amounts to automatically come out of your account so that when the rates, electricity or gas bills come in you are already in front and prepared. I also do this in tithing and giving to my Church: a biblical principal and non-negotiable in my life, allocating resources to what is important to me.
  • Value things with reference to your savings, not your earnings. For example, if a TV costs $3,000 and I earn $600 per week then it doesn’t seem too expensive because it’s only 5 times my weekly salary. However, if I value the TV by how much I save, say $60 per week, then that TV costs 50 times my weekly savings. I should probably think hard about spending 1 year’s savings in one go.
  • Consider tomorrow. I have often wondered if God provides on His foreseeing knowledge. I would encourage you not to spend everything you get today as it could be for what you don’t see coming up in the future. Those who are ready for opportunity can respond to it.
  • Ask for help. If you don’t know where to start with making a budget, or saving for a house, find someone who can show you how. Over the years, many young couples have asked me for help and I hope I have set them up for a life of mastering money.

If the Bible is true when it says that you can have only one master, don’t let money be yours!


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