Today’s guest is Michelle. Michelle and I know each other from church, although we sit on opposite sides – I’ve talked about this before, we sit on opposite sides so we don’t know each other very well – but Michelle and Cameron and their two kids came over here from South Africa ten years ago. So we’ve got a lovely South African accent this afternoon, so that’s wonderful. I want to get to know Michelle better, so I invited her on the podcast and she said yes! So I’m excited. (laughs) So, welcome Michelle.
How did you become a Christian?
This is an interesting one. I’d say I was born a Christian.
Which is a really funny answer, but in South Africa, especially back then – and I’m not sure if it’s the same now – you just identified as being Christian. It was just one of those things. And although I identified as being Christian and by and large the family was Christian, none of us actually went to church as a family. When I was about 15, I remember getting quite curious about church. I roped my friend in at the time, who didn’t have much interest in church at all, but she was interested in having fun alongside me, and I said to her I didn’t want to go alone, so off we went to church.
What was quite nice about this particular church is the youth part of the church was very separate from the adults. So for somebody who’s very young and doesn’t have parents or anybody to mentor me in the church, I got to have just that youth influence of quite fun atmosphere and really enjoyed it. So we went for about two years, almost every Sunday, until I went to university and then things, you know, sort of strayed a bit from the path. But I probably really sincerely became Christian and living for Christ after I got married to Cameron.
So was there a particular time then that you changed your mind, or was it…
When we’d met – so we were sort of both… not on the path God wanted for us, and we had encouraged each other. We both knew that we were Christians, we identified as Christians, and we were not living like Christians. So we were very encouraging to each other and found a church that suited us, went to several and finally found ‘Oh, this is home’ and started that journey. So it would have just been the fact that God placed two people who were not following at that time together and, because of that union, that’s it.
Yeah, like you changed your hearts as a couple. That’s really cool, that’s great. So, okay: what do you do for a job? I know what you do for a job, but tell everybody what you do for a job!
So I work as a dentist, in a dental practice I own with Cameron, and that’s in Hobart. I suppose I wouldn’t say that it’s a job because that sounds like so much hard work, and although it is a tough career to be in as a dentist, it is interesting. I get to meet a lot of people every week, a lot of people come in. So it’s more than a job, I must say.
You get to talk to them and they get to go (unintelligible noises).
Yes. (laughs) Although a lot of talking happens before and after. I get to know a lot of people, their stories. And then I just do dentistry on the side.
What made you choose dentistry?
I didn’t, actually. I would say it chose me. I was sure I was becoming a lawyer after school. I’d watched L.A. Law and I wanted to be one of those boys in the courtroom. And my dad explained to me that that’s not what it looks like, that it’s actually a lot more pen-pushing and behind desks, and working – being reliant on other people. And he had said ‘Choose another career’, just sort of sitting at the breakfast table. And we’d had a friend of the family, friend of my parents’ who was a dentist, and he was a lovely man. He had actually passed away. And I thought of him, and we called him – in terms I called him Uncle Robbie. He wasn’t actually my blood uncle, but we call people uncles and aunties over there.
Yeah, we do that.
And yeah, I thought of Uncle Robbie, and I was like ‘I’ll be a dentist’. And that was it. My dad said ‘Right, let’s get you into dentistry.’
And you found it really fulfilling?
I do. At first, not so much – it was a tough road ahead. I tried to back out of it a few times. I used to call my dad and go, ‘Oh dad, there’s pharmacy students with us, I could possibly do pharmacy’ and he was like, ‘No, you’ve entered into dentistry, keep going.’ And I didn’t think I’d be very good at it until I started meeting the patients. The theory was I like academia and I like that, but the patients – when I started working alongside them I thought, ‘Yep, I can do this.’
Absolutely. And it just makes such a huge difference. I’ve had a few dentists and some of them … they just get the job done and you leave, and others chat to you on the way through and it just makes such a difference to have … I guess it’s quite an intimate thing, dentistry.
Very much so, yeah.
Plus you always get told off for not flossing. (both laugh)
So the other thing that people always say about dentists is that they have the highest rate of suicide, although I think vets have overtaken them a little bit now.
I’m not sure, but it is a mentally taxing career. It’s an interesting one, because nobody can quite pinpoint what it is, but there is – I don’t know if it’s just … each day, there’s a theory that there’s so much negativity in the pain being a negative aspect, people coming in they’re anxious, they don’t like to be there, so there’s a lot of negativity. And I suppose even if you’re sitting at the table and there’s a lot of negativity around you, you can feel that. And I wonder if that has a lot to do with it.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. For sure. So how does your faith show in what you do?
Lots of ways. God shows up in a few ways in my working circumstances. I’d say support, mental support, talking about a pretty taxing career. I call on Jesus a few times in my day, just for clarity and wisdom, for peace. He shows up as care. It’s been a roadmap for how we run the practice. God taught us and Jesus came and affirmed that we should love and care, and that’s important in our practice of how we treat the patients, that it’s not just their teeth that we’re treating. They come in as a person, a person with lots of emotion, lots of things they’d like to get off their chest, so lots of love and care.
Provision. God shows us. We’re completely reliant on our faith and how God provides for us. It’s very interesting, although it’s been difficult at times with our practice, it’s not always been very easy to run it. We’ve stood firm on promises God made for us. When we were still in Queensland, I was stopped outside the gate by a close friend of ours, just before – outside the school gate, picking Michaela up, and she said to me, ‘I don’t know if this means anything to you, but God just said to me today, I need to let you know that – He gave me this vision, I just see newness, I see brightness and newness and there’s a mountain, and I don’t know if that means anything to you.’ And little did she know that behind the scenes, Cameron and I were struggling with a decision of, ‘Are we going to pick our family up, four years after landing in Australia, from Queensland and go to Hobart?’ This decision had come up, something had piqued our interest and we wanted to go but we thought, ‘Is this God’s calling?’ And that was affirming, so within a year after that, we bought the practice and we were here.
So I can see the mountain out the window, as I’m looking. That’s a very important part, the mountain. And the river. It’s beautiful. Wow.
And we’ve had a second prophecy. When we got to the practice it was old. Very old practice that we had bought, but it was a foot in the door, it was an opportunity, humble beginnings. But to try and change it into our vision was becoming quite difficult. We didn’t own the building, so to renovate and purchase the building was – the financial constraints were just too hard. We were getting a little bit sort of down, and we were having a small group at a friend’s house – pastors of ours, we had come down – when we’d come down we’d met them, they were pastoring a church. And they’d had guest pastors that weekend, and they’d joined us for the small group. And we were just chatting, getting to know one another, we’d done our Craig Groeschel episode on the TV and prayed a lot, and got to know – these pastors were asking us intimate questions about our life and our circumstances and stuff. But one pastor pulled Cameron and I aside at the end and he said, ‘While you were talking, God just put on my heart that there is a newness coming, and out of it will come abundance.’ And we thought, ‘Okay, we don’t feel that right now’. But God said so. And soon after Cameron found premises just down the road. Because we had to think about possibly leaving the area to set up premises somewhere else, which would affect the patients we had just gained. And we found something just down the road, managed to renovate it and turn it into something that’s ours, you know? Abundance has been slow, but it’s coming, I think. And I think it’s a journey that we’re on.
God shows up even in, our faith shows up in how we… the behaviour we set in our practice. It’s really important that the culture in our practice is inclusion, that there’s support.
I’ve just been thinking that as well as just the dentistry … because it’s not your job it’s your business. So you’ve got the running of the business and the staffing, and all that kind of thing too.
And probably one of the most rewarding things that I’ve heard is staff saying, ‘I can’t wait to get to work ‘cause then I can relax.’ Where life at home feels more daunting than being at work. And that’s a pretty safe place to be, and that’s a really special thing to have, that you can set that culture where we respect each other, hold each other up. And we know they’re always watching us, because they know we’re Christian, we’re openly Christian in our workplace, and they’re probably checking, ‘How do you do life? How do you deal with tough times? How do you treat each other as husband and wife?’ So it’s important.
Do you feel under pressure?
No. It’s an opportunity, for sure.
Because I guess if you fail, that’s part of the Christian walk, isn’t it?
Yeah. Exactly right.
Awesome. Okay, so we’re going backwards really, but what brought you over to Australia from South Africa? We’ve heard a bit about what brought you down to Tasmania, but what brought you to Australia?
So my parents thought about moving to Australia when I was still in school, and they made plans just in case they needed to leave, because there was turmoil in South Africa. And a lot of people were leaving at that time, they were going to the UK, to New Zealand, Australia, some even to Canada. And my parents obviously thought, ‘It’s safe enough, we don’t have to leave,’ and they packed the passports away and that was the end of it.
But not for me. There was a seed planted, and there was just something in me that thought, ‘No, I want to go to Australia.’ So the whole way through my university I knew that’s where I was going. I found out while I studied, ‘Can I go to Australia with me degree?’ they said, ‘Yes, you just have to write exams and stuff,’ so I knew. And when I met Cameron, second date I said to him, ‘Great meeting you, would love to get to know you more, I’m moving to Australia when I’m finished dentistry.’ And he was on board, he said, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’
So finished university, got married soon afterwards, and made plans to start coming to Australia. And it was always a case of wanting to go to Australia, rather than leave South Africa for us, which I think is really important. But things became a bit more urgent when things started going a bit pear-shaped in South Africa. So we started hearing more and more stories that were traumatic, and then we became more urgent in, ‘Okay, we need to get to Australia now.’
And although it was an easier journey for me, when I speak to other ex-pats compared to theirs, I think I was so busy with the planning and the moving to Australia that I thought I was exempt from that loss that I’d feel. And I did feel that. On our first night here, in Queensland, we’d landed, it was an emotional flight over – almost missing flights, you name it, leaving family, saying goodbye – and we’d put the children to bed in the accommodation we had, we were in bed, and I broke down. I’m not a very emotional person at the best of times, but I broke down. And I said to Cameron, ‘Is it too late to change our minds?’ And he assured me, ‘Yes it is.’ (both laugh) ‘Everything is on its way, yes it is.’ And it’s funny, overnight it’s almost as though God, the next day, switched a switch and took away the old and the new was there. Everything was just brighter the next day and it was, ‘Alright, this is home. I can do this.’
Wow. Yeah, so that’s definitely an easier change than a lot of people I think, but you’d prepared yourself for it for many years.
A long time, yeah.
It’s like when my daughter left home. She’d been telling me since about grade 7 that she wasn’t going to be staying here. So when people said, ‘Oh, do you feel so bad that she’s left?’ I thought, ‘Well, what was I gonna do? Chain her down? If she needs to go, I need to let her go.’
It’s that preparation ahead.
And have your parents felt the same preparation?
No, no. So they struggled. I think they thought we would go back, and they now know we won’t. Probably at the five year mark they realised, ‘They’re not coming back.’ And then my mum felt a different loss, she felt a more permanent loss. She struggled probably the most – I am the only daughter – and she says it’s different. My children, her grandchildren, it’s different with your daughter than with your sons. It’s just a different connection. So she feels the loss of having her daughter there to chat to, but hopefully they’ll make it here.
Yes, absolutely. That would be lovely. So, final couple of questions: when do you feel close to God?
I feel close to God when I spend time with him, for sure. I’ve noticed I’m most isolated if I haven’t spent enough time with His word. And it’s funny, in the beginning I used to think of God as distant. I’d sort of think, you know, ‘You feel very distant from me’ when it was just me. I was putting life ahead of God. And I think when we are most needy of God is when we are anxious or stressed, depressed, sad, and feeling that God’s not there. And He is, it’s just us that have moved. So I’ve had to relearn that lesson a few times over. I’m getting better at it, I’m getting more needy of God, and it’s pretty awesome that He doesn’t mind us being needy, he actually welcomes it.
And through trials, I feel really close to Him when we go through a trial. I think that’s – not everybody’s experienced really big trials, or really difficult changes, but we’ve all experienced something that’s brought us to our knees, that we felt really helpless, and that’s when we get really intimate with God. Like, ‘How do I get through this?’
So when you talk about spending time in the scriptures, would you mind telling us what you – do you have a morning quiet time?
Yeah, yeah. So I get up earlier than the rest of the house in the morning in the dark, it’s still nice and quiet, sneak through, make my cup of tea. And I’ll sit and I’ll go through the word. I have a study guide that helps me just sort of explain the history of what I’m reading, what it means what I’m reading, showing how it shows up in different parts of the Bible. So I just go through, so I’m literally starting start to finish in the Bible. I think I’ve always wanted to do that, and I’ve started and then got to Leviticus or something that’s…
Yeah, one of the tough ones.
Yeah, and I’ve gone, ‘Alright, I’ll skip to New Testament’ and then you just don’t have order. I function on order, so I’ve decided, ‘No, I’m doing it start to finish.’ So I’m almost done with Psalms, then I’ll get into Proverbs. But it’s been wonderful. So every morning there’s quiet time before I start my day, before anything else gets into my day.
Beautiful. We’re very slowly making our way through chronologically, so it’s absolutely fascinating to read the Psalms that actually go with the parts of the kings or the prophets who are talking about what you’re seeing in that part of the Bible
Yeah, it just makes so much more sense.
Suddenly it’s, ‘Oh, okay…’ It’s good. But I wouldn’t tag ‘in one year’ to the end of that in any shape or form, but we’re doing it! We haven’t given up yet.
What’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
One thing? It’s a really long one thing I think …
Excellent. That is good.
I suppose most importantly that it’s not an exclusive club. I think a lot of people think, ‘I can’t be Christian, I won’t fit in.’ It’s just a choice. It’s a choice to … ‘I want to feel love with Jesus. I want to feel what it’s like to journey with somebody right there by me. What is my purpose in life?’ They say – I’ve heard such an interesting saying about – ‘there’s the two most important days in your life: there’s the day you were born, and the day you realise why you were born.’ There’s a purpose to our life.
And the world sort of throws at us these phrases of ‘It’s all about you,’ and ‘Do it for yourself,’ and ‘Love yourself’. Very isolating terms which sound like they can be empowering, but at the heart, it’s not. We weren’t intended to be solitary people. It’s very lonely. Talking about distance, when we experience all those emotions, we need somebody close to us. A family, in Christ.
And I think for Christians it’s important to remember – and even not-yet-Christians, instead of non-Christians – that we all have a past that’s shaped us, but not defined us. And just because you choose to be Christian doesn’t mean that there’s a switch that switches off and you never struggle again. We struggle with the same things, of anger, disappointment, anxieties. We struggle with all of those things. And I think we become more aware of it. We try to do better at not failing at those negatives. I don’t think we get it right all the time, I’m sure of it, but we try.
That’s probably the most important, that it’s not this exclusive club that gets it right all the time. It’s completely open invitation to just do life with us, you know? Let’s hold each other accountable.
Who are you going to fit in with? That’s not what it is, is it? I wonder if we need to work harder at getting many different kinds of peoples in our churches so people don’t feel like they’re sticking out like a sore thumb when they first come.
Exactly. Because everyone’s journey is going to speak to somebody else’s journey that they’re going through, you know? We’ve been through them for reasons, and God will use it for good, even though it’s bad things.
For sure. Thank you very much for coming on the interview, that was great.
Thank you for having me.