Love Stories

500 Days of Jill Summer

Had it really been that long? Yes, it had. 500 days since he asked her to be his girlfriend and she had said yes. 500 days without having any major disagreement or fight (longest honeymoon period ever?). 500 days of Jill Summer.

Jack thought about how they had first met…

It was just over two years ago at Cameron’s house. Cam was hosting a Christmas dinner which was also doubling as an information night for those who were interested in participating in the local church’s medical mission trip to the Philippines. Cam, who was also the senior pastor of the church, would be leading the team, as he had done for the previous two years.

Jack had been a part of the church for four years by then and had gotten to know Cam well on both a personal and professional level. At the start of the year he had begun working part-time at church in addition to running his small consulting business. It was through this role that he had gotten to know Cam professionally. On the occassional Sunday night when he was free, Cam, a self-professed gamer and kid-at-heart, would host LAN parties where a group of 30-something year old boys would play Starcraft 2 late into the night. It was through this role that he had gotten to know him personally.

But enough about Cam, isn’t this supposed to be the story of how Jack first met Jill? Truly terrible narration ettiquette. I apologise. Let me get back on track…

Jack had been talking to who he thought was the church photographer – Frank. He would soon, quite embarrassingly, find out that he had been talking to Charles, who to this day he would swear looked remarkably like Frank. He had been talking to Charles about photography much to Charles’ confusion when Jill walked into the room.

Honestly, he was struck by her beauty. She had an instant girl-next-door appeal. Cam, ever the diligent host, had been shuttling new-comers to a nearby small group and making brief introductions before continuing on from group to group. Cam led Jill over to his group and made the introductions: “Jill, this is Jack and Charles. Charles is a doctor.” Jack flinched – Charles!

Jill flashed a nervous smile and put her thumb and fore finger in the shape of a tick under her smile, as if advertising the wares of her chosen profession, “I’m an oral health therapist. A dentist for kids.”

It would become a hotly debated topic once they had gotten together – about 10 months later – as to whether Jill was wearing a green or purple cardigan. Over time Jack would slowly relent to the fact that the cardigan MAY have been green, owing to the fact that Jill didn’t actually own a purple one.

Jack would be the first to admit that he was a bit of an oddball, a bit quirky. He had almost resigned himself to the fact that he would never find someone who would appreciate his particular brand of quirky. He was happy if he could find someone who could bear to put up with it… until he met Jill. They had, and continued to, get on like a house on fire, quirks and all. Jack longed for the days of Summer to never end.

Faith Journey

“There is no God”

It had been bothering him for a little while, not the sort of bother that keeps you up at night, more like the sort of bother that would pop up in the middle of the day and nag at you a little before going away… only to pop back up again sometime later.

It all started last week when his aunty (his mother’s older sister) and uncle, having just returned from travels to India, were over for tea – the beverage, not the meal. Jack had wandered into the dining area to see who the late night visitors were when he stumbled in on the end of a conversation about poverty. His aunt immediately greeted and accosted him, “Do you know how lucky you are to be born here?”

“Well, yes… I guess,” Jack replied, hesitantly.

“We are so lucky. You should have seen the poverty I have just seen. Your mum said: thank God! I say: there is no God!” Jack’s uncle immediately nudged his wife into silence before turning back to Jack with a sheepish, half-apologetic smile.

The intellectual side of Jack, the side of him that was half way through a graduate-level Bible college degree, wanted to engage, but his tempered (and some would say wiser) side held him back. He had learnt over the years that the power of God was not something conveyed through coffee-table debates. Oh, but he so loved such debates.

“OK… well then, good night,” was his eventual, more measured response, before sauntering back to his room. But over the course of the following week, the topic had continued to bother him. Finally, he turned to his much trusted devotional journal and penned a quick thought:

What makes someone look at the world around us and declare that there is no God? I think a part of it has to do with our concept of God, who He is and how that should play out in the world around us. The other part has to do with who we are, what we think is “good” and how that should play out in the world around us.

When did it become that spiritual freedom and physical/material well being had become so correlated in people’s minds. I guess it has always been like that. We are called to trust that God’s will is perfect, yet we look at the world around us and judge based on our view of what is good and right and true. Does someone living in abject poverty have it worse off spiritually than someone who lives in opulent decadence? I think we are each tempted to stray from a relationship with God in whatever life circumstance we find ourselves in.

I guess people who look at worldly conditions and come to conclusions on spiritual matters are the same people, Christian or non-Christian, who wonder why geological records don’t match implied biblical timelines, or who believes in Creation over evolution (or vice versa), or who wonder why the cure to cancer isn’t hidden away in there somewhere. Sorry, the Bible isn’t a history, physics or biology textbook.

The Bible’s core message has to do with God and our relationship to Him. His priorities for us are so crystal clear – to love Him and to love others. It’s so simple, it’s just not easy, but it certainly is more than enough to focus on for a lifetime. Anybody who extends the Bible’s authority beyond that needs to do so with generous portion of caution, lest they lead others (or themselves) astray.

There is a God. I think the most common struggle that people who believe that statement but who shun organised religion have is realising that He is not a being of our creation, it’s the other way around.

Jack put his pen down. There were so many thoughts running through his head. So many scenarios. So many flashbacks of conversations, lectures and rants. As he noticed that he had only written five short paragraphs in just over two hours he started to realise the truth of his own words: it certainly is more than enough to focus on for a lifetime.

Health and Wellbeing

The Dangers of Binge Stepping

The competition was off-the-charts! Not in a good way, either. At least not in any healthy sense. Wherever the line in the sand separating common sense from ludicrous insanity was, they had crossed that line about 100,000 steps ago.

Jack wiped the newly formed sweat from his brow as he reached the steps leading up to the front door. It was only a casual neighborhood walk, but it was summer and the mid-morning sun had begun to take its toll. He was happy to have reached home before it had gotten any hotter.

He began doing some light stretches, particularly for his hip that had started to feel a little stiff in the last part of his walk. He looked at his sleek new Fitbit Charge and prompted it to give him a report on his morning walk: 7,000 steps, 5.6km.

7,000?! He couldn’t believe it. He had been expecting at least double that number. In an instant it dawned on him how ridiculous a proposition it would be for him to compete with his peers, some of who had reached 70,000 steps (or 50km walked) in a single day.

In the competition spanning the working week, the top 3 contenders had clocked up more than 200,000 steps. Only two weeks ago 80,000 steps would have won the very same competition. Then again, Jack had also received a message earlier that the top contender, Emily, a housewife (with two hyper-active kids), had to pull out owing to chest pains in her herculean effort to keep up with the pack.

In querying the group’s ringleader, Quinland, a regular gym-goer with a self-confessed phobia of losing (or more accurately, a phobia of not winning), about joining the competition he was both surprised, and then not so surprised at the response: “We’re probably going to take a break next week… my body is suffering.”

“Just stop. This is an intervention. You’re binge stepping and its becoming a problem. Think of your children,” Jack replied. He was only being semi-serious.

EPILOGUE: Quinland ignored Jack’s pleas, but won the weekly competition with 267,898 steps ahead of Emily’s husband, Jean-Pierre, with 243,072 steps. Emily, who retired hurt with one day of competition left finished third on 196,092. The stepping continues.

Personal Finance

The Pain of Financial Loss

Jack checked his email. His computer program designed to read and trade various financial markets had already lost nearly $20,000 of a $50,000 initial deposit… and it had barely been a week. He stared blankly at the screen, “Damn.”

Then he flicked back to the news website he had been browsing and continued catching himself up on the happenings of the world.

It wasn’t until later, in the midst of more procrastination from doing real work, that he realised that it had been a long time since losing any significant amount of money had really caused an emotional reaction. Whether this was a strength or a weakness, had yet to be foreseen.

Jack thought back to one of the formative events of his trading journey so far – a journey that had now spanned 13 years – that had taught him to control the emotion stirred by financial loss…

It was back in 2004, while Jack was still at university. He had been trading naked options for a little while and had made some impressive gains which occurred sporadically between much less impressive losses. The net result had been a modest gain.

It was in the morning of the release of the annual results for one of the Big 4 banks as he sat in his room glued to his screen. He had the day before purchased some at the money puts hoping for a large move down. Despite average reporting numbers, the shares inexplicably bounded higher. His investment had evaporated before his very eyes. He remembered the panic. The shortness of breath. And the total loss of rational thought which led to what he did next…

In a desperate attempt to recover his losses Jack traded in and out frantically as the share price gyrated wildly, trying to overcome the artificial broker spread to eke out a redeeming profit. He had even abused the T+3 settlement rules allowing him to trade more than what he had… and he ended up paying for it by owing $25,000 to his broker in the form of a rather lengthy payment plan. It would take him the better part of two years working part-time to pay it off. It had been a painful lesson.

Much had changed since those days, he had a better understanding of the markets, of how and why it worked. Moreover he had a better understanding of himself and his emotions. He had learnt the hard way what most people know only through clichés: that money is only a means to an end and that the love of money was an evil to be avoided.

Jack no longer had a fear of financial loss. Part of if had to do with the fact that he had become desensitised. The other part was the confidence he had in his ability to make money in more conventional ways. Though, he knew that it would be naïve and premature for him to think that he no longer had any emotion or attachment to money. But he was working on that, too.

Health and Wellbeing

Of Fibits and Fitness

45… 46… 47… Jack counted his steps as he walked up the stairs back to his bedroom. Having just purchased two Fitbits online – one for himself and one for his girlfriend – he wondered how much difference the new device would make in his daily fitness regime of sitting at a desk.

But he had already seen how the Fitbit had motivated some of his friends to start walking more. It was the whole social networking aspect of it that really got some of his more competitive friends walking to walk and to and from the nearby shops for lunch. He wondered whether the same would apply to him, given that he worked from home.

General fitness had been on Jack’s mind for a little while, like a nagging thought that needed to be satiated. For a time last year he had gone to several Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes, which engaged him mentally at the same time as thoroughly exhausting him physically, but for a couple of months now he had been absent from their daily classes.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. “There was always tomorrow,” he thought to himself, “getting fit could always be done tomorrow.” He had, afterall, since the start of the year lost the 3kg he had gained in December. He smiled to himself, another day of internal conflict resolved.

Personal Finance

Dreaming of Millions

Jack had always dreamt of early retirement. It wasn’t an active dream, more of a passive dream. Since he was a teenager he had always said he wanted to make his first million dollars by the age of 30 and be retired 10 years after that. Everybody, including himself, thought it was a bit of a pipe dream.

As he sat in his room clattering away on the keyboard his dream coming to fruition right in front of him as he put the finishing touches on his small computer program. It was only a couple of hundred lines of code… but by his reckoning it was the key to financial freedom. He estimated something along the lines of $30-40k a month. A MONTH!

He couldn’t believe it, himself. And he certainly didn’t want to get ahead of himself. But having put his company on the back burner by starting to decline his client’s invitations to quote for jobs, he had in fact already started to put many of his eggs in this one basket.

In the back of his mind he knew it wasn’t prudent. And maybe it was the lure of more money he could ever think of spending… but he also knew that he didn’t get to where he was by being prudent, or by thinking the same way everybody else did.

“To hell with it,” he thought, as a plethora of generic idioms came to mind: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. No risk, no reward. With that, and with a press of a button, his algorithm began trading.

Faith Journey

Publicly Speaking

Jack had never considered himself a great public speaker, but yesterday he had the privilege of speaking in front of nearly 400 people as a lay minister at his local church.

Ever since he found out he was to speak, almost a week earlier, he had been constantly thinking about it. Right up until the moment he was introduced up on stage he was feeling physically sick. He had opted to not eat breakfast because he just knew that would have done more harm than good. So pre-occupied was he that it was only after he had stepped out of his morning shower that he realised he hadn’t yet rinsed the shampoo out of his hair.

Nevertheless, the sermon went off without a hitch. It started off shaky with a generous spattering of umm-s and ahhh-s but quickly gained momentum as the gracious crowd laughed at his occasional jokes. The feedback to him was unwaveringly congratulatory, though he was certain the more critical feedback was to come when he would be debriefed by the senior pastor.

When he got home he made sure to listen to the recorded sermon online, at first to make note of where he could improve for next time, but then eventually to appreciate his own jokes. “All in all,” he thought to himself, “a good day.”