Ruth: Hello, welcome! We are welcoming Phil with us on the show today. Phil and Liz just finished building their new house before the arrival of their gorgeous twins. He’s a science teacher at our local Christian high school. And what else do I have about him here? Yes, I did some research and found out that he uses an air compressor and a pigs voice box and if you put them together you can make pig noises. So. I’m sure there’s an awful lot more to Phil. I’m sure we’re going to have a really great time in our conversation today because I’ve already been hysterically laughing as we’ve prepared. And so I’m really looking forward to the interview. So welcome Phil.
Phil: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me along.
R: Can you tell me to start off with, why did you decide to become a teacher?
P: I have to jump back a little bit before starting teaching. I started doing youth groups when I was in about year 11.
R: Yes, very dangerous.
P: Yeah, and discovered the joy of that. And as I was going through college I was struggling to know what to do. So I initially enrolled in nursing, for no reason, mainly because I didn’t get into med. And then about a week before uni when I was like, ‘no I’m not going to go to Launceston, I’ll stay in Hobart, and I’ll do science.’ And then after a year of doing science, or about half-way through there was a, not a scholarship, but a course that they were offering which was a four-year science-teaching combined degree. I thought, that sounds great. I’ll combine my love of science and youth groups and become a teacher. So I kind of fell into it just by stumbling along.
R: Very cool, and you always wanted to be a high-school teacher? You didn’t have any …
P: Yeah, so I found leading the year 7-9 youth group most fun. Challenging but fun. I found the younger kids didn’t get my sense of humour, I’m quite sarcastic or I use irony quite a bit and they never really got that. And I’m a little bit too immature to teach, or to run the 11s and 12s so the high-school fits quite nicely.
R: Very cool. So how did you become a Christian?
P: So I was raised in a Christian family, so going to a local baptist church and just kind of went along until I went on a Boys Brigade camp up in the country’s capital actually. And they had some really good rallies and some really good messages and that’s where I decided to commit my life to Jesus. And when I came back–
R: So how old were you then?
P: I was fourteen. And then I got baptised but then I was kind of not very active in my faith until about year 11 when a lady called Kate invited me on Anglican Camps and that was when my faith flourished and my confidence in sharing my faith really grew.
R: That’s amazing, That’s the second time I’ve had someone on saying Anglican Camps. Very, very cool. So I probably haven’t given you warning of this one, but do you find science and Christianity is a problem for you? I know that, I as a scientist and a Christian, don’t have a problem with it but in the wider world people tend to think how can you be both?
P: Recently I’ve been looking at Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion and something that I tell my students is science’s job is not to prove or disprove God because it can’t. Science’s job from what I understand is trying to explain the world around us and the things that we observe and we can measure and then creating hypotheses and laws. And so that … science can’t prove or disprove God because God is beyond it. But science really helps us to understand the amazingness of God. So assume God is true and real, then science helps us to understand and explain God’s creation. So the more we understand about the world around us the bigger God becomes because you understand he must have some amazing power to be able to do all of that.
R: For sure. I love that, I love that. Alright, so how does, you talked about how your faith influences your teaching, I guess then, so how does it influence your life in other ways? How do you live your faith? Are you a get up at 5 o’clock and have a one-hour quiet time before you start the day kind of person?
P: No. So I am … No. So I’m terrible at regular devotions. But fortunately at my workplace, being Christian, we have morning devotions. Which is amazing so I can kind of tick the box there. I’d say I’ve got a strong prayer life but not a sit down for an hour and pray solidly. But including God in my life and reflecting and passing things to God and thanking Him for things that are occurring during the day. But I’m not great at sitting and meditating. And just focussing on a Bible verse or just sitting listening and waiting for God to say something. I’m kind of rubbish at that.
R: Cool. So it’s just, faith is something you just carry with you?
P: Yeah, and um, try to be. Like I like understanding and exploring some of the less straightforward things. And questioning different things. But for being a teacher at secondary school it’s gotta be practical as well. Being able to communicate to a whole range of students how my faith actually applies to me and it’s realistic, so some mornings I go in and just reflect on a challenge that I’ve had from either looking around the world and going, actually God tells us to do something different – this is how God guides us to live. It’s more that sort of application.
R: And that’s the really nice thing about teaching at a Christian school. It’s getting that devotion in the morning and also just being able to share with the kids. Cool. So, one thing I did really want to ask you about is the whole journey of your twins. Do you want to take us through?
P: That was a fun one. So we discovered about three and a half years ago that I’m infertile, or very close to infertile. Which was interesting in itself because I didn’t realise how much value I placed on being able to have children naturally. And I discovered I placed quite a bit of being a man in that. So that was all kind of going to remove that foundation that I’d built my understanding or belief on. That’s kind of where it started.
We then went through some IVF and things weren’t really working still. So if it was just male factor, so just me, then that would have fixed it quite quickly but there were some other issues as well with embryos being implanted and so after two years and I think it was 13 transfers of embryos, or 13 cycles, I kind of lose track of it, they … after about 9 transfers I think it is, they go ‘well you’re doing such a crap job here, let’s put in two embryos’ so there’s like, ‘yeah twins!’ from the get go we were like ‘c’mon, twins!’ And so after about 13 or 14 transfers we finally got one to stick, or both of them to stick. So that was … and after about 13 or 14 transfers or cycles, whatever it is, I think Liz was reading some research that said we might as well just give up. So it was on that transfer after that evidence base we had the twins. So for us it was … sometimes it was like, well now it looks like God was going ‘I want you to understand that it’s me that’s giving you these babies and not medical science.’ God’s blessed us with the science and IVF and all this medical intervention but I think it was really God trying to make it really clear that these are His gift to us as opposed to science’s gift to us.
R: So that must have been quite the emotional roller coster. I mean, I just can’t imagine…
P: So when you’re, I don’t know who your listener base is, but for those who haven’t even thought about having kids I don’t think they recognise the investment that each month’s cycle is. And with IVF it’s amped up quite a bit. So when you’re trying for kids, you’re kind of hopeful, do the tests but it’s spread out, and you’re kind of like well we’ll see what happens. IVF is quite tense in that you’ve got these – Liz has all these injections and then you remove, or you hope that there are going to be some eggs that have grown. They collect the eggs, then they fertilise them and from that you find a drop. Then you have to wait to see how many will grow on to five days. And then they select one and implant it and sometimes after all that you won’t have any. So it’s this constant really intense cycle. Which I didn’t realise at the time that it’s really draining. So I actually got quite unwell and got hospitalised for mental illness. Because it was quite wearing and quite draining. And apparently that’s relatively common where people can struggle with mental health issues going through that.
R: So yeah, I mean it’s very easy as a Christian to say, ‘well, just hold on to God and just trust him and whatever’ but …
P: Yeah, no it sucks. And I think in the Christian circles as well there’s this progression. This unwritten progression, that once you get old enough you find someone and get married, quite young. And then if you haven’t got married by about 24 or 25 what’s wrong with you? And then they go ‘and you’ll have kids’. So anything that throws that off is quite challenging.
And especially being in a place where I’m educated, my wife’s educated. We do a pretty good job. We should be able to have kids. Like, we can do everything else.
R: It’s so completely out of your hands.
P: Yeah and really unexpected. It helped us to really rely on God and recognise that we actually don’t have control of much in our lives. And so after that I’ve got better at recognising it’s OK. God’s in control.
R: I can imagine after all that journey just to get pregnant that nine months of pregnancy must have been full of hope and everything, but also quite terrifying. You know, things can go wrong.
P: And especially with twins. Twins are a higher risk. But once Liz got pregnant and they’d implanted there was tentative hope. So we were waiting to go OK let’s see what happens. And then we’d hit different milestones. So we hit 12 weeks which after that –
R: You can tell everybody
P: But also, when there’s a heartbeat the risk of miscarriage drops dramatically, which is before the 12 weeks. Then you’ve got 12 weeks, then after that you go 25 weeks. That’s viability. So even if they came now, they could survive. And then 30 weeks they’re like they’re viable and the long term issues drop, or the chance of the long term issues drop. Then every week after that, so 32 weeks the outcome prognosis is much the same as a full termer except much smaller. And each week after that is amazing. And so we knew with twins they’d probably come early, because they always come by 37 weeks or the doctors like to bring them on at 37 weeks. So we were just kind of holding our breath going ‘OK we’ve got this far.’
R: So how far did you get?
P: 33 weeks. So they were either side of 4 pound, which was 1.9 and 1.7 kg.
R: So tiny.
P: So they were in NICU for a week. So that’s the intensive care unit for babies, and then they were in special care at the hospital on heated beds and just trying to fatten them up for another three weeks, so about a month in all they were in hospital. So, but they are amazing.
R: How old are they now?
P: 11 months, so they are coming up to their first birthday soon.
R: Amazing. So you’ve got standing and pulling themselves up on things and …
P: Yeah and Alex is close. So Alex and Tilly (or Matilda). Alex is close to walking. You can hold his collar and he’ll kind of toddle along.
R: That’s pretty good. That’s hardly any support needed at all. Fantastic. Oh that’s good. You’ve got this amazing journey ahead of you.
P: And your husband said right at the beginning, ‘each stage is good’ how did it go? ‘It’s good, but each stage is better.’ And that’s what we’ve experienced. The newborn baby in hospital, getting to hold them for the first time was amazing. Changing their nappies sucked, because they were on fortifier. And I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced fortifier poos.
R: I can imagine.
P: They are rancid. And I remember changing their nappies first and saying to Liz I thought their nappies like baby nappies were supposed to be–
R: They are supposed to be good, they are supposed to be good!
P: Like this is not good. Liz said, ‘no this is fortifier.’ And I was like, ‘this is the worst!’ So fortifier poos suck, so
R: Remember that.
P: But it makes the rest of the things nicer. Like the vomiting on you is not an issue because it’s not fortifier poo.
R: Fantastic, excellent.
P: So every stage has been better.
R: Yeah. I have to say, so my kids are now (gotta get this right), 23 and 19 years old and yeah, it just gets better.
P: You should leave, like a gap, so that every year you can change the age so that the podcast doesn’t get old. So people can’t pin it. My children are … years and … years old.
R: That would work well. Yeah, maybe not. So, new question, when do you feel closest to God.
P: It varies.
R: We don’t need an -est. We could say when do you feel close to God.
P: Yeah I think often the moments where I can slow down and enjoy the moment. So for example, one really small thing but I felt close to God was in a school assembly after I had just taken the attendance for my grade and I was just standing back, looking at my grade and just having a moment of pride going ‘these are my kids!’ And just being able to thank God for them. So those are the moments. Just being able to celebrate and enjoy the quiet, slow, peaceful times.
R: Lovely. Alright, and if there’s one thing about God or Christianity that if you could tell everyone you’d tell everyone, what’s that thing?
P: I think it’s that people matter. So, often I see a lot of people that feel like they don’t matter. Especially with teenagers. And if they could take one thing it would be that they are special, or that you’re special, you’re created with a purpose, and you’re important, and God doesn’t make mistakes. Pretty much, have you read Punchinello? There’s this story by Max Lucado called Punchinello and there’s a book called, ‘you are special.’ And that pretty much sums up my message that I think is good from God.
R: Yeah, and that’s so vital to input into those kids, the high school kids. I think you’re in the right place.
Awesome, well thank you very much. So that’s two things for you to remember podcast people, is one: you are special, you matter, and two: fortified poos are really bad.
P: Yeah they’re rancid.
R: There we go. Thank you very much Phil that was fantastic.
P: No problem, thanks for inviting me.