Today it’s my privilege, my great privilege to introduce to you Sandessa, who is my good friend.
So Sandessa, or Dess, we usually call her Dess. It’s a nice name Sandessa, a combination of …
Sandra and Vanessa, thanks Dad, you are awesome.
Well you could get a good website. I’m sure there aren’t …
Anyway, off topic already. This is what happens. So Dess is a good friend of mine. We’ve been friends ever since we did a science degree together. And Dess has worked as a scientist, and as an administrator, and she’s also (I’ve written here, but I totally agree) a damn fine singer and songwriter.
It’s great to have you with us. Welcome.
So let’s start, as we always start, with how did you become a Christian?
Yeah, so I was brought up in a Christian family, I’m the youngest of four siblings. And my parents would take us to church every Sunday. A little bit sadly though, I’m the only Christian out of my siblings.
So I’ve always known God and though I walked away for a little bit for a couple of years there I’d already been baptised into the faith and God was always in the background in my mind saying, ‘Hey Dess, you need to come back to me. I’ve still got you. You might not be walking in my path but I’ve still got you.’
So was there a particular thing that brought you back after your walking away?
I had moved down to Hobart to go to uni, which was where I met you. And I had a period of time where I had a boyfriend living with me. And we both called ourselves Christians and we didn’t really go to church. I’d kind of been looking for a church to go to earlier in the year but hadn’t found anywhere that I’d liked – even though you kept saying, ‘Come to St Clements, come to St Clements’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, I’m going to find my own church’.
Anyway, the relationship broke down and I kind of ended up with depression and was feeling really low and felt like a hypocrite and finally took your advice and came to St Clements. And that was really the start for me. I walked into St Clements, and our church has this amazing stain glass wooden thing up the back and a circular step up the front that had material on it. And I walked into church and I went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the church I’ve been looking for.’ The actual building itself was the building I’d been looking for.
Because I’d actually been there when I was younger. And had been going on my search for churches around the place thinking, ‘I wonder where that church was.’ And I walked in and I’m like, ‘This is it. Right. OK.’
So I started coming back to church and recommitted myself to God.
And how does your faith work itself out in your life now? Are you a one-hour in the morning devotion type?
Oh no. So as you know I’m not a morning person at all.
My faith, I’m still a bit hit and miss with my prayer life and my reading of the word. I’m really good on my days when I go to work. I work part-time and on those mornings I travel by bus. And unless I’m having a really good conversation with somebody I’ll be sitting there reading my Bible on my phone. And as I reach the top of Tolman’s Hill that’s when I put my phone away and I pray down into work, into Hobart.
That’s really nice, so that’s integrated into the bus trip. It’s a good use of bus time. That’s fantastic.
Absolutely. So on my days off, yeah, it doesn’t happen as much. I still pray in every situation and all the time but it’s not as rigorous and I’m less likely to pull out the Bible. To read the word in those times.
Yeah, it’s the importance of habits I guess. Nice
So, work. What do you do for a job.
I work for the Department of State Growth as a senior administration officer. In the State Roads Division. So my job is as it says, administration. I don’t really know what else to say about that. It’s just doing things that we need to do. We update intranet notices on our intranet page, we do basic correspondence – a lot of editing of other people’s work.
I want to ask, how many times has the name of the department you work for changed since you started working there?
It’s actually only changed once for me. It’s pretty good. But one of my colleagues who has been there for forty years now, it’s changed five times I think since she’s been there. So I’m expecting another change in the next couple of years.
Do you enjoy it?
Mostly I do. And I’ve just received a promotion this year so I’m much happier with my job.
But it has its moments. It’s not something that I aspired to do or to be, but God has blessed me with the gift of administration and this is the job that I’ve been blessed with.
How does your faith show itself where you work?
I was thinking about this and I thought, ‘Oh, how does it work out?’ I think … So it’s a secular world that I work in, and it’s very difficult to share your faith with people within the bounds of allowability. So I have to be very careful of what I say to people. Even things like finishing off my email. I would normally email my friends with ‘Blessings’ or ‘God bless’ at the end of it. And I have to change the way I do that with work so it’s ‘Cheers’ or ‘Kind regards’ or something like that. And I’m like, ‘it’s so not what I’m meaning’.
So most of the time I’m pretty sure most people know that I’m a Christian at work. And I think the most time that I would talk about God would really be when people ask me, ‘what did you do on the weekend?’ or ‘what have you got planned for the weekend?’ And I’ll say, ‘well I’ve got something on Saturday and church on Sunday’ or ‘I’m leading worship on Sunday’. Those sort of things.
Every now and again somebody might ask me about my faith, or people might tell me that something tough is going on in their lives. And that’s when I will ask them, ‘would you mind if I pray about that for you?’ Not then and there over them. But in my own time to put them on my prayer list basically and pray for that person. Pray for the circumstance.
I haven’t had anybody knock me back yet. But I have to be very discerning about who I offer that to as well.
Absolutely. If someone’s very anti- it’s not going to lead them closer is it?
Exactly. And if they are very anti- and there’s something going on in their lives, I just pray about it anyway.
That’s right. That’s always a good thing.
I have written ‘what has God shown you in your work?’ Because I think we were having a conversation about coming to terms with working in this area when you wanted to work elsewhere. Would you like to talk about that?
What has God shown me in my work? Yeah, so, he’s shown me that I need to trust him. And it is really tough. My chosen vocation would be in science. Somehow. But unfortunately I got sick and have chronic RSI in my neck and can’t, basically, do all the microscope work that I would need to do in science.
Hunching over and looking down and all that affects the neck, yeah.
Yep. So that path of options for me, and something that I’m really interested in, I can’t do anymore.
So I kind of fell into administration after about four years of not being able to work. And initially it was, ‘I just need to find work. I just need to find something that I can have an income and support myself and that I can do physically and sustain it in the long run.’ So I had a couple of years with the police and then I moved to what was then the Department of Infrastructure, Energy, and Resources (now, State Growth). And it’s been in the last two years that I’ve managed to increase my time to four days a week. I used to be three days a week. So it’s a sign that there’s healing going on still for me which is awesome.
But in terms of my actual having peace about my job that’s really difficult still for me. And it’s an every day … I just have to be trusting God in that.
We get deep quick here in this podcast.
But it’s hard. I mean it’s a dream … it’s giving up on a dream.
So are you going to make me cry?
I’m thinking. Do I go there?
But God has shown you that you’re using your admin gifting in that place?
Yeah, I’ve been very begrudging about that. But yes, he has. It’s certainly not something that I thought I would ever have the skills for. It never even crossed my mind.
And I think initially when I started doing administration type things I was actually a volunteer at the church. Going to the office and helping the Petes (Pete Adlem, and Pete Greenwood) to organise and run the evening service that we had at church back in the day. And it was from there that we took (I say ‘we’ because I went through the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services) so we took those skills of administration and went, ‘OK, so we can’t work in the science thing.’ We did several job trials in different places and that just caused more pain for me. So it was an, ‘OK can’t be in the lab, can’t be looking down, so you need something where your head is up, and working.’
So God’s shown me, he’s still teaching me that I need to rely on him. I need to trust him. And that if he wants me to do something, he’ll still open up that door. But it’s still really tough. Like even yesterday I was looking on the government jobs website and there were a couple of jobs advertised for the Royal’s pathology lab (the Royal Hobart Hospital). And I was like, ‘I could do that.’ I know I have the knowledge to do that. But my body, I don’t think would stand it.
So it’s still a love of mine to try and do that science but … I just have to surrender that.
We’re halfway through the journey. And I guess you wonder if you’re going to get answers before eternity or not but this is not an end of the story interview.
But I think it’s encouraging for people to hear people holding on to God when you’re still in the middle. When you haven’t come through to the other side yet.
Dess is making me cry too.
Let’s turn to music. How do you use your musical gifting for God? When did you start playing and singing?
Start playing and singing for God? Or start playing and singing?
From the start.
From the start. So my parents were both teachers and music teachers. And so I grew up in a family where my parents would always grab the guitars and we’d be singing around the campfire. Or if there was a party at home it would always end up with whoever would bring an instrument and we’d just all in play and sing. And just awesome fun times like that, which I love.
So I started singing when I was really young. And because I’m the youngest of four, everyone had their own parts, so I had to learn how to harmonise, so my brain automatically goes to a harmony on any song, pretty much. So that was the start for me.
I play guitar, a little bit of piano, and sax, tenor sax. I picked up piano first, when I was really young. I had a teacher and learned some of that. I didn’t really get along with the teacher though so at the end of grade six I gave that one up in exchange for playing sax in high school. I was in the band when I was younger with Youth Music Tasmania for several years which really helped me learn anything and everything really.
When I moved out of home when I was fifteen I got into a house where I didn’t have a piano to play but there was a guitar there and I wanted to be able to accompany myself and sing so I asked my Mum, ‘Can you teach me some chords?’ So she taught me the four basic chords, and away I went. I taught myself from there.
I keep asking knowledgeable people at church, ‘how do I do this? How do I do that?’ I pick their brains and learn from them.
So when did you start using that for God?
I think when I was in high school I would play my sax at the church I was going to in Scottsdale back then. There were always so many singers, so it was always, ‘there are too many singers, I don’t want to take anyone’s place.’ So I would play another instrument and that was fine.
And then when I came down to Hobart and started coming to St Clements, I think it was about six months in, I finally got up the courage to go and talk to Andrew Legg and I think I cried on him. Because I tend to do that when I’m approaching someone whom I admire and whom I’m a little bit scared of. And he was so gracious and he was like, ‘OK bring your sax along and let’s play’ and he was so good because I was playing by ear and so it probably took a couple of years before they were confident enough in what I was doing to mic me up and have me playing that way. And then again I was so scared that everyone was hearing me and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’
But yeah I started playing the sax and then with the evening church when that got started I started to play guitar and sing there and that’s where I started leading worship was at that. And then when I came back to morning church I joined back in with Andrew’s band. And then it became a, ‘I can’t do this one, can somebody else fill in?’ So I’m like, ‘OK sure, I’ll do that.’ So I started leading at the big church, and that’s where I’m at now.
Which is lovely. She does a beautiful job of leading worship I have to say.
Would you say that voice is your primary instrument now?
Yeah. That’s my passion. And I really do have a passion for helping God’s people to praise him and sing their hearts to him together at church. I really do. I absolutely love it when I can stop singing and just hear the church and they go for it and it makes my heart soar.
There’s nothing like it.
It’s amazing, it’s amazing. It’s so good and it’s just the best thing ever to hear people worship God all together. One heart, one voice, one mind. All together. It’s just beautiful.
So this year, just this year? You’ve been back at the conservatorium?
Halfway through last year.
Halfway through last year, to get extra training. So why did you go back to the conservatorium? Almost why did you go back to that university? What drew you there?
Part of it is because the Bible calls us, if you’re a musician, to be a skilled musician. And so because I’m self-taught, mostly, I didn’t necessarily feel like I had confidence in what I’m able to do. Or the understanding to be able to communicate with others what I want or that I understood what they were telling me when they were telling me what they want when I’m playing with them. So that was part of the reason, to be a skilful musician.
The other side of it is that I’ve been asking God for ages, ‘what is your plan for me?’ Given all my work stuff that’s gone on, and what I thought the plan was, was not the plan. So ‘God, what is the plan?’
Yeah. And it was actually at the start of last year, about Easter last year I was up at a young adults conference in Brisbane. And at the end of that they were asking people who felt like God was calling them to be an evangelist to stand up and they would pray for them. And I was sitting there, knowing that The Great Commission is to go and make disciples. But also knowing that I really don’t feel confident in being an evangelist, or a teacher, or a minister. That’s not where my gifts lie. But also know that he’s called us to do The Great Commission so therefore it’s got to be in there somewhere.
So I was sitting there and I was asking God, ‘I really wish that I could stand up, but I know that’s not what you’re calling me to. That’s not where my gifts are.’ And he said to me, ‘What are your gifts Dess?’ I said, ‘Well music is a gift that you’ve given me.’ And he said to me, ‘This is what I want you to do.’ So I wrote down in my journal that I had at the time: To travel Tasmania, to visit the small churches to help them find the heartbeat of God. And to use music to do that.
It wasn’t exactly those words but that was the gist of it. So I came away going, ‘oh my gosh, wow’. Totally overwhelmed and unprepared.
I came back and talked to Pete about it and shared it with the rest of the music ministry team and everybody was like, ‘Yeah, that’s really good.’ It lined up with what Pete had been planning with our church, as one of the visions of our church to go and support other churches around the place. And one of the key things he had put there was with music. And he was just like, ‘I think that Dess, that’s you.’ And I don’t know how it’s going to work out yet, I’m still praying about that.
So I’m trying to think about how I can do that. I don’t know when it’s going to happen but part of me going to uni is not only to become a skilled musician but also to receive training so I can go out and train other people who don’t have the opportunity to go to uni and receive that sort of training.
And the other side of it is that I’m majoring in songwriting. And one of the key things that I’ve struggled with, with the music ministry in our church is finding the right songs for church. And as Ruth knows, I’ve written some songs for church. And I really like the idea of being able to write songs that I can just give to people and say, ‘Here’s a song that’s Biblically based, that’s easy to play, that’s easy to sing, that can be fun. Here you go, if you want to use it please do. Here’s a track of it, here’s some music of it, make it your own. And may the glory go to God.’
So that’s kind of the thoughts at this stage.
That’s fantastic. So you’re really quite busy then, if you’re working four days a week and part-time at uni?
Yes. It’s going to take me a while to finish uni, if I finish the degree. Because that’s the other thing too. I’ve got a Bachelor of Science with Honours, and I did three years of a PhD, but didn’t quite finish it. So I’m going to uni, and sure it would be great to get the piece of paper at the end, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to be trained and skilled to be able to go and do what God’s called me to do.
So if that means that I get part way through the course and God says, ‘OK, you’ve got enough, now we’re going to go down this road’ then I’ve just got to trust him and go with it. Which also frees you up when you’re studying at uni. You know, because we went through together, I was a pretty high achiever.
And only got the highest marks in chemistry because of Ruth. She taught me as we studied together.
Whereas now I’m free to not have to get the high marks. If I get them, that’s really awesome, but at the same time, if I just need to get something in for the sake of getting something in, as long as I pass then that’s fine.
Because you’re there for the learning, not for the piece of paper?
It’s taken the pressure off to realise that, and go for that. I just need to keep reminding myself of that.
I had my first exam for the course only about a month ago now. And I think I probably studied for about maybe three hours for the exam. Whereas with science it would have been a good solid two days worth of studying, 14 hours each day.
So it was very different walking into that exam. And I’m confident that I passed.
I was talking to Josh (in episode 7) and he was saying the same thing. That his self-worth is not tied up in his marks anymore.
Your self-worth gets wrapped into God, and then the learning is for the learning.
Would you like to say anything else about music?
Music is when I feel closest to God. And if I’m having a really bad day, week or whatever, if I feel really far from God, it’s most likely because I haven’t been praising him and worshipping him in my own life.
At the moment at church I’m on most weeks, not every week but most weeks I’m on in some way, shape, or form. And being part of that really does ground me because I have to make sure before I get up there and be one of the people who is leading the church, I have to make sure that I’m right with God. So it leads me to that confession and that repentance and getting my heart and my mind right with God again before I can stand up there and authentically lead people to worship him, and to praise him.
So that really helps to ground me and to draw me closer to him.
Do you put worship CDs on in the background at home and things like that?
I did this morning.
Not as often as I should. When I go for a walk or whatever it’s normally worship music that I’m playing. And even my workout set for the gym finishes with this praise lot of music, cool music, and it’s very difficult not to sing with headphones in. At the gym.
So if you’re in a gym that just bursts into spontaneous worship or on a bus trip down to town that suddenly bursts into singing, you know that it’s Dess that’s done it.
But when I’m at home I don’t usually have music playing unless I need to learn something.
So it’s in the act of playing and singing that you feel closest to God?
So to finish off, what’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everybody knew?
I wish everybody knew that God loves them. Unconditionally. There’s nothing you can do that will separate you from the love of God. And no matter what you’ve done, even the worst thing that you could possibly think of, God can forgive that .If you turn to him and ask him for forgiveness he will forgive that.
I wish people knew that because so often we just condemn ourselves and think, ‘I’m the worst person, how could anybody ever love me? Let alone God.’ But he does. He loves you.
That is wonderful. Thank you very, very much.
Sorry I made you cry.
That’s alright, you didn’t get the real bawling.
Not the ugly crying.
Not the ugly crying, I’m a good ugly crier.
That’s great, thank you.