Monday, June 14, 2021

5 years after Cam Acreman’s death. (a prayer)

Lord it’s hard to believe that it is five years since we were in Muscat, Oman just beginning to enjoy a couple of days leave. Most of the crew were exhausted after a long and demanding deployment. It was hot.


And then somehow word got around and we were recalled to the ship.


Many knew exactly why- others found out as our CO broke the news on the flight deck. Tears flowed!


Cameron Acreman was dead.


Our grief at the time was extreme. Looking back now Lord we wonder how we got through those days.  We lost an extra-ordinary ship mate.  Cam was a treasured member of our crew and many counted him as a friend. He was our sailor of the quarter.  His enthusiasm, theatrics, passion and bravado are etched in our hearts and minds forever. 


So many of the Darwins's sailors and officers did so much to help get through that intense couple of days. There were a maze of practical problems but somehow, the  ship's company, found a way through. We farewelled Cam with a ramp ceremony, at an Omani Air Base, in the middle of Ramadan. In the company of his best mate and the Pusser, the RAAFies flew Cam home. We sailed from Muscat a couple of days later without time to grieve but determined to crack on.


A few weeks later and back on Australian soil the Captain and I travelled from Darwin to Brisbane to conduct the funeral service. We met Cam’s family and watched them face unspeakable pain as they began their journey of devastation and loss. Many of Cam’s Navy cheffo mates from Sydney were there as well.


It was a tough day.


Jetstar red eyes each way didn’t help.


The next day the ship sailed from Darwin for home.


Five years on, the pain may have changed but remains an unwanted companion.


Many from that crew are still in the Navy and most have been promoted – some a couple of times. Many of the junior sailors of that crew have since married and quite a few have joined the ranks of parents. Leading Seaman Acreman would now be Petty Officer Acreman at the very least and the ranks of senior sailors would have been changed for ever. Marriage and family were not on Cam’s radar in 2016 but life might have surprised him too.


Alas death has robbed us of all those possibilities.  


Five years on Lord we remember that grief too can mature but it never entirely goes away. Life does go on. We learnt painful lessons from that terrible day.


We learnt that death is our final fate and hides crouching at the door.


Sometimes death stalks ready to punish our mistakes and at other times appears uninvited.


In the face of death, we are reminded of what really matters.


Friendships, especially those forged at sea and in adversity are incredibly precious. The memories become more special as the years progress.


We are reminded that love is our greatest gift. To have another person love us and call us their spouse or partner or mate fulfils us and deserves our commitment, faithfulness and passion. To raise children is our highest calling and the joys and pain of parenting are more precious than medals.


To have one chance to live, with all the uncertainties of life is still our greatest blessing – and deserves to be revered and celebrated, every day. Life’s ups and downs are refocused when we remember a ship mate who was unable to celebrate thirty years. Gratitude could replace entitlement, contentment should overwhelm dissatisfaction and peace might hold back anxiety when we remember the blessings we have and the opportunity that breath maintains.  


To work together in the Defence is more than a job – it is a national calling that rewards us in many ways. Being a member of the Navy family remains our special blessing.


Cameron Acreman’s life and passion was the Royal Australian Navy.


His legacy, cruelly shortened five years ago, deserves to be honoured by us remembering the brevity of life and committing ourselves to the things that really matter and the people who really count.   


Lest we forget.






Thursday, November 12, 2020


On Monday Nov 2, 2020 a young Asian fisherman did not return to his Sydney home after an early morning fishing trip. Some days later his body was found and identified as Wuttichai Khamjareon, aged 32. We and many of his large group of friends knew him as Woody.

 In 2004 Woody’s village, on the west coast of Thailand, was all but destroyed by what is often referred to as the Boxing Day Tsunami. In 2005 a team of students and staff from Macquarie University travelled to his village to assist with the clean-up. Our son Tim was a student and member of that team, and it was there that he first met Woody. Woody’s engaging personality, intelligence and vibrant spirit so impressed the team that the university decided to offer Woody a scholarship to learn English and to study Geography on campus in Sydney, Australia.

Woody arrived in Australia the following winter speaking almost no English. The culture shock of moving from a small, rural fishing village in the tropics to a huge Australian city was extreme. Woody moved into our home and became part of our family for several years. In Thailand Woody had been brought up by his grandmother. She was very ill at the time that he left home. Upon arrival in Australia Woody was greeted with the very sad news that his grandmother had died during the time he was in transit. It was a tough start to his new life.


The challenges Woody faced in Australian were enormous. There are few languages more different than Thai and English, and Woody had to learn not only to converse, but to be ready to start a university degree. I remember Woody asking us one day if we could take him to the market. When we arrived at Woolworths he was shocked. A market for Woody was a vibrant place of colour, smell, life, fresh food, and excitement. Aisles of processed packaged food was not what he had in mind. The Sydney winter was freezing. He was confused when people failed to treat him well or even fairly.


Despite the challenges and difficulties that Woody faced, there was always one constant. His smile. Woody smiled all the time. He smiled with his whole face and you couldn’t help but smile back. He was always willing to help. He taught us the correct way to serve a mango. One day he saw me up a ladder cleaning out the gutters and before I knew it, he was on the roof bare footed and sweeping the tiles. He joined us for Christmas celebrations with our extended families –everyone loved him. He attended all three of our children’s weddings. That smile somehow made those family celebrations complete.


Woody never did finish his degree, but instead found a greater love. He loved to cook. He trained as a chef. The staff and customers of one of Sydney’s leading French restaurants are no doubt also weeping at the loss of their beloved Woody.


In recent years we have seen less of Woody, but we knew he was doing well.  He fell in love and married. We watched on Facebook as that shy, lost teenager grew into an extraordinary young man. Fishing probably became more important for Woody for two reasons. Firstly, fishing was probably a link back to his village in Thailand where he stood on the edge of the ocean and fished as a child. And secondly Woody’s diet as a child was mostly fish and so he fished to cook, to eat and to live.


Woody was a person that embraced life. When the tsunami struck his village killing thousands Woody chose to embrace a new adventure rather than be destroyed by grief. He joined our family, was a part of Macquarie University, and then found a new career, marriage and a whole new group of friends. We don’t know exactly how he died, but he died accidentally doing something that he loved – fishing.


Grief is an emotion we cannot avoid. We live in the shadow of death. We love in the shadow of grief. Woody had every reason to despair given the tragedy and struggles he had faced and he could have easily given up on life. But he chose to do the exact opposite. His positive spirit, his generous smile, his warm laughter, his passion to achieve through hard work and his engaging personality spread blessings to many across the world from Thailand to Australia.


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace… Ecclesiastes 3: 1-5











Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bring on the cricket season.


Who is going to win the US Presidential Election?

With less than a week to go the media is dominated by speculation about the result. The polls seem to reflect one result. The experience of 2016 may suggest the opposite. The bookies have their view and so does the stock market. Pundits on all sides are speculating, pontificating, prophesying and guessing. With absolute conviction I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that today ………………………  we don’t know!


It could be argued that the endless speculation about such events does us no good and probably a great deal of harm. In cricket, the very best batsman all share a common trait when it comes to predicting what sort of ball the bowler is about to deliver. Impatient and reckless cricketers make up their mind about what sort of delivery the bowler is planning, and they then prepare their shot based on their prediction. When they are correct, as they occasionally are, they look like champions seemingly being able to conquer the bowler and score runs quickly. However, guessing what is coming next does not work well for long. Eventually, the batter makes an incorrect prediction, is caught in the wrong place on the crease while preparing to play the wrong shot and ends their innings with a long humiliating walk back to the dressing rooms.


The very best cricketers, however, wait and play every ball on its own merits. They study the bowler intimately, they watch with incredible concentration and then in less than half a second respond and play their shot based on the trajectory, pitch, swing, seam or spin of the ball. Great cricketers prepare tirelessly for the bowler’s entire arsenal and are ready to respond. Sure, batting is hard. But when it is done patiently, wisely, cleverly and fearlessly it is something to behold.


Our common human curse is to worry, fret, fear, and fuss about what is going to happen tomorrow, next week or next year. If 2020 teaches us anything, it is that many of the worries that dominated October 2019, now seem rather pointless. Taking life as it comes is much more efficient. Most of the things that cause us to worry never actually happen. Sometimes things worse than we could have ever imagined eventuate and yet somehow, we muddle through. And just as often, life surprises us with positive developments, unexpected opportunities, random breakthroughs and a juicy half volley outside off stump just asking to be driven through the covers for a boundary.


If you are a US citizen who has not yet voted, it is now time to decide and make your vote count. For the rest of us, we have to wait until next week to learn who will be the President of the United States (unless it’s close) for the next four years.


Today is our opportunity to live life as it comes and not waste it by worrying about what might or might not happen in the future.


Who of you by worrying, can add a single hour to your life? Luke 12: 25

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Each day has enough trouble of it's own.


2020 has been a good year to own a hardware store. In Australia the most dominant hardware chain is enjoying record sales. With restricted travel, there has never been a better time to begin that new project. I am not by nature a handyman, but years ago a dear friend taught me some basics principals that apply not only to DIY, but to life in general.


Rod Cook, could build, fix, repair and renew anything. By trade he was a fitter and turner. By temperament he was patient and positive. By nature, he was artistic. With unlimited skills and a well-equipped shed, Rod was a DIY master.


As a young couple Wendy and I had bought our first home in the south west of Sydney and it needed a lot of work. Rod helped me with great patience. Of all the skills Rod possessed one incident summed up his approach to problems. He was teaching me how to paint the house. We removed some disgusting wallpaper from a wall in our lounge room when Rod notice a lumpy patch in the wall. He poked around for a while, curious to know why the wall was uneven. Then as he prodded some more, and his hand suddenly pierced the gyprock and sank into the cavity leaving a fist-sized hole in the wall. My heart sank. Buying this old house had stretched our finances to the limit and this hole in the wall seemed to spell financial pain, if not ruin.  For me the hole in the wall seemed a mountain beyond my climbing resources. Rod, however, thought it was quite amusing and put in motion a plan to repair it.


Rod returned to his shed and after a small search found a couple of gyprock offcuts. He tidied up the hole in the wall, creating a neat square and then cut a piece of gyprock to match. He then bevelled the edge of the hole in the wall to a 45-degree angle and did the reverse with the offcut. He placed the offcut into the hole and it sat there well supported. A little premix plaster adhesive (that white stuff that dries hard and so you can sand it back) and Rod had repaired the hole in less than an hour.


The obvious lesson from such a story is to find a mate who can fix things and who also has a well-stocked shed. The other lesson that I learned that day is that a good handyman (or woman) is not fazed by a setback – they simply set about trying to find a solution. Rod never worried about what might happen, he simply got on with the job. He always started early, he persevered and dealt with problems, when and if, they arose.


This time last year no one saw the Covid, hole-in-the-world coming. We are still working on a solution. The attitudes of hard work, creativity, perseverance and a positive spirit remain important allies.


Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34


Thursday, October 8, 2020

The truth will set you free.


Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.
Fyodor Dostoevsky,   The Brothers Karamzov


I met a guy who a couple of years before had gone to our church. He was a high-flying accountant. He told me he had changed churches because he didn’t want to go to a church that judged him. I found a church, he told me, that affirmed my lifestyle, that supported my belief, taught me a truth I wanted to hear and most importantly made me feel good about myself. I remembered at the time being sad and rather fearful for where that might lead him.


Months later I heard that a significant public company had gone into receivership with fraud charges laid against a number of senior staff including the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The CFO was my friend who decided to go to a church that didn’t judge. He was judged by criminal courts instead and was found guilty of fraud and sent to gaol.


In recent times the whole idea of truth has been undermined. From the once cherished objective truth we have descended over the decades into relative truth, the idea that each individual can develop their own truth. Relative truth suited the generations who wanted to do things their own way. Now the facts only get in the way when my truth has become true not because its true but because it’s mine. This post-modern slide into relativism has been hyper charged by the powerful social media algorithms designed to reinforce our tribal and biased view of the world, to maximise sales not certainty.


Faced with a virus that is not limited by tribe, nation or tongue, the truth needs to make a comeback, fast. Working out how to live with Covid 19 is complex and complicated. There are many unknowns and abandoning the knowns only makes it harder.


The good book’s conclusion is that to judge is not weakness but strength.

We can’t always be sure where the truth lies or who is telling the truth – but the quality of a person’s life is a clear indicator. The Lord values...


The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others. (Psalm 15:2,3)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Could we be part of the problem?

Could we be part of the problem? I remember going to a doctor once and asked if my diet and general health could be part of my medical challenges. He was not happy with my questions. Why do you Christians always think it’s all about sin? he ranted. Why do you always believe someone has to be blamed!


Needless to say, that doctor and I never became close. But he did make me think. In previous, more religious times and in more religious cultures, when bad things happen people ask Could we be part of the problem? Could we be doing something wrong that is causing this season of difficulty, illness or pain?


I recently watched an amazing Netflix documentary called Kiss the Ground.

The central message of the film is that there is a lot wrong with the way we are living on Planet Earth. No news there. The message sounds negative, bleak and preachy. This movie, however, presents a message full of hope. If we are doing something wrong, then maybe we can change. Things might stop getting worse… and might actually start to get better… and those improvements might even begin to happen quickly.


The idea that we might be part of the problem sounds judgemental and negative, but quite the opposite is actually true.  If we are part of the problem, then we can be part of the solution. At the heart of the gentle Nazarene’s message was a call to repent.


But unless you repent, you too will all perish. - Luke 13:3 (NIV)


Repent means ‘to turn around’. If we are walking away, we need to turn back. If we are lost, we need to find the path. If we are headed for disaster, we need to do a U-turn. If we are stalled and have lost the wind, we need to tack and find the breeze again.


Could we be part of the problem? leads to the even more scary thought, Could I be part of the problem? Scary…yes…but hopeful too. If I am part of the problem, then I can also be part of the solution.


Michael Jackson might not have heeded the song’s advice, but the sentiment remains timeless.

I'm starting with the man in the mirror 

I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
(If you want to make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change…




Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Even the young grow weary and tired...

Imagine being totally restricted and not able to do what you want to do. Perhaps that’s not so hard in a year of lockdowns. But consider what it would be like to be trapped in your own body. Picture a bright young man – full of energy and intellect but literally trapped in a body that is not only unresponsive, but often quite uncontrollable.


I first met Damon when he started coming to our church in the mid 90s. He arrived in a van and his carer wheeled him into our church. Damon had severe cerebral palsy. Outwardly he presented as a crippled young man who had no speech and little control of his limbs. But after a short while it became clear that Damon was rather special. He communicated with the use of a “speech board”, that is a series of pictures on his chair, which he pointed to with great difficulty. Chatting with Damon was slow, confusing and frustrating, but after a period of time guesses became breakthroughs and communication started to happen. He had no trouble understanding me, I was the one who struggled to understand him. When he did finally get you to understand two things became obvious. Firstly, he was very bright. Secondly, he was very funny. Quite simply Damon was a witty, intelligent young man trapped in a body that fought him at every turn.  


Damon was also very serious about his faith. He had a favourite verse, which if anyone ever mentioned or read aloud would set him ablaze. To this day I cannot read the verse without immediately seeing Damon. I remember reading the words one day and watching as Damon began running, dancing and jumping in his mind- while his body became a disorganised distraction of moving arms and twitching legs. He couldn’t speak but he was making plenty of sound – sounds of enthusiasm, of hope, of delight and of very real joy. Damon’s favourite verse was from the prophet Isaiah Ch 40: 30,31


Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.


I’m not sure if Damon fully understood the historic meaning of those words in the ancient text. To be honest, I am not sure that I do either. I am certain, however, that Damon heard those words as divine comfort to his human struggle. For Damon, his spirit knew how to soar like an eagle, to run and not grow weary and to walk and not be faint; all from the locked down position of his wheelchair. His spirit refused to be extinguished by debilitating human suffering. His faith was not bound by his earthly journey. His hope looked beyond to a brighter eternal future, secured by a God of love and restoration.

All those years ago, when we were both young men, I was the preacher and Damon the listener.

My guess is that Damon has probably forgotten all my sermons. To this day, whenever I read those words from Isaiah, Damon continues to preach vividly and powerfully to me.


I hope you too, can hear Damon’s message today!