Hailing from Alice Springs in the heart of Australia, Rachel loves county music (Kieth Baby!), four wheel driving and camping. She is always the life of any party, and is convinced that a party is only a party if it has balloons.
Raised in a Christian home, Rachel has amazing parents. But, like many young people in their quest to find their own faith, Rachel got a little lost in her early years. Choices confronting, decisions misleading, left her riddled with regret. Regret that left a dent in her sense of self. A dent that became her best line of defence and saw her dancing around the periphery of the party, with one foot always out the door.
But Rachel never pulled back from leaning in [even when she wanted to bolt].
She leaned in as she lead the youth at church. She leaned in as she led a small group of mums with babes. She leaned in. In moments of depression, anxiety and extreme physical pain. She leaned into her relationship with Jesus. She leaned into any context that would provide her with the missing clue for a girl that often felt clueless. Rachel was one of the first girls to join my mentoring group for young women in leadership. That was over twelve years ago. I now call her one of my most favourite people.
Rachel and her family have entered a whole new season, completing their first six months as house parents to nine Indigenous young girls. Young Aboriginal girls who come to Darwin from remote communities in the top end of Australia, and live with Rachel and her family during the school terms so that they can complete a Secondary education.
On the beach in Bali at La Taverna, candle lit, with large lounge chairs we order bruschetta and lemon juice. I was curious about her greatest achievements over the past few years.
Living aligned with what is most important. She looks up, fills her lungs and holds her breath for a moment, then she speaks "one of my biggest achievements would be learning to look to myself first, instead of always trying to please other people. Looking at my priorities, my motivations, why am I reacting this way and staying true to my values. Staying true to things like my husband, our marriage and my family, my health, my relationships…" her voice trails off. "I’ve learned to actually look at what is most important to me first, before saying yes. And then looking logistically at how I’m going to do it".
The reason this is a big achievement for Rachel is because the opinions of others have always been very important to her. Perhaps too important. This approach begged Rachel to ask herself some hard questions "the gift in all this is that it has taken away the feelings of disappointment. Feeling like I am always disappointing someone, especially when it comes to my own family. When in the past I would over extend my self and put pressure on the family, now I think before I commit".
Living brave. Sitting cross legged, she pulls one knee up and hugs it to her chest "I would also say that learning to live brave at the cost of having control has been a big achievement. Even when I am very scared or can’t see how it’s going to work, I choose to be brave".
Rachel had an incredibly comfortable life. Her husband had a secure, prominent government position. They have two cute kids, a lovely home and holiday beach house. What more could a girl want? And yet, she struggled to keep her head above the rising tide of discontent.
A random conversation led to an open door with a distinct God whisper to enter. Stuart left his job, they left their home and became house parents for the Marrara Christian College, Family Group Homes Program. Rachel laughs "which means working together. Everyday! Precious! It meant living life so differently. It was a huge transition, way out of our comfort zone. Every day felt totally out of control". She smiles "which I think is living brave".
Living free of expectations. She smiles and something in her feels incredibly grounded. "the third achievement is all about friendships and letting go of what I expect friendships to look like".
She takes a sip of her drink "letting go of expectations around how I do relationships, and instead simply enjoying friendships. Friendships that might not necessarily look like I thought it would look. It has meant growing relationships with totally different groups of people and then going, hey, let’s just enjoy what’s here and be grateful for what these friendships add to my life and my family".
For Rachel becoming more intentional about investing in her relationships has seen friendships spring up in places that she would never have imagined. For this she is grateful.
What have been your three greatest challenges?
Life is always with challenge. Challenge is the stuff that grows you, Rachel draws a deep breath as we dig a little deeper.
The challenge of self reliance. Rachel had recently been through a major operation. This operation was to relieve chronic pain in her back from an old injury. For a woman that is seriously attached to the idea of being in control, this had been a significant learning curve "not long after my operation, I was laying in the bed and it was the middle of the night in the hospital. And I remember laying there and thinking oh my God. I’m laying on my back and I’m really uncomfortable but I can’t move. And I’m like, what have I done?"
She replays the internal conversation as it bounced like a ping pong ball back and forth "you actually made a choice to have the operation and now that means your completely reliant on other people! Navigating that really difficult decision, the challenge attached to the decision and the practical reality of how to get through the consequences of that decision, has been a huge challenge".
Rachel made a commitment to herself to be careful about how she responded to the pain of this situation "I was determined come out the other side, a stronger person. I took to heart the advice to be responsible for the way I treated others along the way. I did not want to get on the other side of this, be stronger within myself but have to go back and do damage control because I hurt people I love in the process".
She uses the post-op process to illustrate the lesson learnt "I had the challenge of the operating room but then I had to walk through the post-op exercises to actually become strong. On the table I’m vulnerable. I had to rely on other people. Now I need to do what they are telling me to do so that I become stronger. From allowing myself to be vulnerable at that moment I have grown from that place of weakness and become stronger on the other side by just following the steps, listening to wisdom and then actually applying it. One step at a time".
The challenge of self definition. She sighs "having to step down from leadership, my connect group within church all because of the pain of my recent operation was a bigger challenge than I thought at the time. Being at that level of, I don’t know, of being seen, or having that status and then not having it was hard! I didn't know at the time but I actually took on a lot of hurt. Little things that became big things and then kept rolling, gathering like a moss ball, and gained momentum".
This momentum affected the way that Rachel saw herself, her fit in church life and with God " I could have allowed myself to become resentful. I knew that I had to choose. I had to stop and ask myself why am I feeling like this?".
The practice of self awareness and self reflection proved to be a powerful ally.
Rachel explained that she became aware of the internal chatter that was chasing her away from the things that were most important to her—her relationship with God and with her place in the Body of Christ "the stuff that I had listened to was not stuff that I needed to sort out with people. It was the stuff that I was saying to myself about myself, and I was listening!" She painted a picture of someone reading out a list of accusations, lies about her, not caring what the allegations were, but happy that she is listening. She hugs both knees to her chest "looking back, I can see that it was not possible for me to continue in those roles. But it was realisation that I am so much more than a role. God took me away from everything that I would get my affirmation from and now it was just Him and me".
The sincerity that saturates this conversation is disarming "I am so grateful that I now see the bigger picture. It has been a long journey for me to be defined by who God wants me to be and not what I do". She pauses for a moment "it’s so easy for me to say these words on this side of the challenge, but when I was actually in it… ". Again she trails off "This is just another step, it is about the heart, it's not about a role".
The challenge of self sacrifice. Rachel winced a little "you know sometimes, I don’t want to talk about our move into the Family Group Homes. I don’t want to make my whole life about being a house parent, but in saying that, it’s also a very big part of my life now".
From practical issues like the lack of personal space to the more personal issues about how she and Stuart manage to stay sane with nine extra teenage girls added to their parental responsibility. At the moment it is negotiating across cultures that she finds most challenging "two totally different cultures colliding. What I see as a priority is not what the girls see as a priority. Which I’m glad I’ve worked that out because at the start that was really messing with me. Big time. Understanding that my way is not wrong or right, it is just different and the important thing is to make it work for everyone".
She goes on to say that through all the challenge, her family has grown together "originally it was about Stuart going into this new role, him needing a change, Stu and I wanting something different out of our life. We are too busy to be stressed now!" Again a reflective pause "I have a new focus now and that focus has purpose attached to it. I said, yes, we will do it. I am happy to do it. I know that God opened this door for us and He is the one that I am doing this for. The sacrifice stops where purpose starts"
What advice would you give a younger version of yourself?
The first word that comes to Rachel's mind is relax.
Just relax and just take in the moment.
Relax, and enjoy.
Having just traveled on a late night flight to Bali, Rachel reflects on arriving and going through the immigration process "I watch Abby, she makes me laugh. We’re walking into the airport last night and she’s captivated by the gardens. She couldn’t care less that we have to purchase visas, we have to go through immigration. She just wants to stop and look at the amazing gardens, the rocks, the flowers. We are focused on getting through the process but Abby is enjoying the journey.
As I watched her I thought, you know what? I really like that. Not consumed with what I have to do and where do I have to go, just relaxed and enjoying the journey"