10 things I’m thankful for about 2014

Here are 10 things I am thankful for about this year.

  1. I’m thankful for our precious daughter Eva! She is a joy and delight to us every day. I love watching her learn new things as she explores her world. She is such a happy little girl, loves people and also sleeps well most of the time, which is a wonderful blessing.Eva!
  2. I’m thankful for my husband’s perseverance through a difficult year in his job, his unwavering support through pregnancy, watching him love our daughter and for his grace and patience towards me as we have worked through the challenges and changes that parenthood brings together.
  3. I’m thankful for the support of our families here in Sydney. Not everyone gets to enjoy that, and so I really try not to take it for granted. We have loved watching our families embrace our little one, and have also appreciated a few nights off in the last few months, knowing she was in good hands.
  4. I’m thankful for the way that both of us having babies this year has brought my sister and I closer. Although we live about 50 minutes drive away from each other, the wonders of WhatsApp have meant that we’re in pretty regular contact. She has been a great source of support as we have started walking this motherhood journey together.
  5. I’m thankful for new friends in my local community in the same life stage. I have loved getting to know the other women in my mothers group. I know that not every group gels particularly well, but I feel really blessed that ours has, and I hope those relationships continue to grow even as many of us go back to work.
  6. I’m thankful for the support of friends of old too. I have so many dear friends that I can turn to for support, prayer and advice. One of the blessings of the year has been getting together most Wednesdays with some of the girls I went to school with, who also have kids – some a little older, and some the same age as Eva.
  7. I’m thankful for a year of maternity leave from my job which has given me space and time to enjoy this new chapter of motherhood. It is a unique time in both of our lives and I count it a privilege to be spending my days with Eva.
  8. I’m thankful for the opportunity (now that Eva sleeps better during the day) to start doing some sewing. So far I’ve just made some simple little outfits for Eva, and also a pram liner. It’s quite satisfying being able to produce something that she can wear over and over again.
  9. I’m thankful for the ways that being Eva’s mum challenges me personally. Motherhood can be hard and relentless, especially at times when baby won’t sleep or is sick. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and purposeful. It’s very tempting for this task-driven mumma to get so caught up in ticking things off the list each day, that I forget to just stop, and enjoy spending time with my daughter. I’m still learning, and I suspect I always will be.
  10. I’m thankful that amidst all the changes and challenges, God has not changed. Before Eva was born, I posted about the encouragement I found in remembering that God knew what my May, June, July and beyond looked like. He did. I had nothing to be afraid of. I am thankful that though I may struggle daily to be faithful, that doesn’t change the fact that his love is perfect, he is good and he is sovereign over our lives.

What are you thankful for about 2014?

Productivity redefined

One Tuesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from visiting my sister and her baby. It was quarter to five when I was coming off the Harbour Bridge and I glanced at the tinted glass buildings which surround the freeway. Beyond the glass, a myriad of desks, black-suited people and computers. The same scene on repeat in building after building, floor after floor all around me.

After having worked in an office for the last nine years, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t sitting at any such desk. Eva, our baby girl, was quietly sleeping in her capsule on the back seat. Looking after her may be a full-time job, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. It’s a privilege to be on maternity leave for 12 months. I’m very thankful for my daughter, very thankful that I get to be a mum and so happy to be in this current season of life.

But I don’t feel thankful all the time. Just that morning I’d been feeling overwhelmed. There seemed to be so many things on my to-do lists. Writing another post on here was one of the items.

I always expected that having a baby would challenge my task-driven tendencies. I love ticking things off my lists. I also knew that looking after a baby would keep me pretty busy, although I didn’t fathom just how much time caring for a baby actually takes. This is not a complaint. I suppose I thought that being home all day most days, that there would still be time in between to do other things. I was wrong. At the moment our little one has a maximum of three short naps a day, so in between having a shower, doing the washing, preparing dinner, there is only the tiniest bit of time on the side. If I’m feeling motivated I can be quite productive in half an hour. I made a muesli slice during one of her naps last week. That was my major accomplishment for the whole day!

I started writing this post four days ago. I’m learning that other things are possible but they just get done slowly. I still write a list each day, and I have an ongoing, long-term list called “Things to do in the little moments” – so that when I do have moments, I don’t get stuck wondering what to do next.

I am gradually trying to redefine ‘productive’. The value of my days can’t be measured by items ticked off a list. Loving Eva – from feeding, cleaning and clothing her to singing, reading books and playing with her is an incredibly worthwhile way to spend my days. I have a precious and unique opportunity to invest in her life. If I get some washing done and dinner on the table, great. But the dreams of sewing things, blog posts and various other creative projects whirling around in my head – well they are on my long-term to-do list – I will do them if I get a chance in the little moments.

And since I don’t have to meet deadlines or account for my days to my employer, some of the questions I probably should be asking at the end of each day are instead – What can I be thankful for today? Have I honoured God with my time? Have I loved and enjoyed my daughter? Served my husband? Invested in relationships with others? For those things will count in the end.

the gift of community

“Who knows other people in their local area who can help out when the baby arrives?” said the midwife.

In a room of about 15 couples, all about to have their first babies, we were the only ones in our antenatal class to put our hands up.

I know in some cultures it’s common for the grandma to come and help out for a few weeks, months or even years. And so I know that a quick survey like this doesn’t paint a full picture of people’s lives and support networks. Nevertheless, the thought that some of the people in the room might have to go it alone as they adjusted to being parents made me feel sad.

Without our church community, our hands would have stayed down too. But it’s now two and a half weeks since our baby girl arrived and I haven’t had to cook dinner since before I went into labour. We’ve had delicious fresh homemade meals delivered by people from church several nights a week, as well as a small stockpile of frozen meals in our tiny freezer for other nights. As well as the meals, we’ve received thoughtful gifts and several of the local mums are contacting me regularly to check in on how I’m going.

Our friends and family from further afield have been a great support too. One friend brought over an amazing hamper of goodies, including some homemade cookies, muesli bites and camembert cheese. And many people here in Australia and in our wider community of friends reaching across the globe are praying for us It’s so great to know we’re not alone and that our little family is in God’s strong, loving hands – both now in these early weeks, and also into the future. We want to raise our little girl in community too.

As I sit here watching our little girl wriggle and gurgle, I wonder how all the other couples in our antenatal class are going, and I pray that there are people in their lives who are supporting them through this big, challenging and exciting time.

He is already there

There’s less than two months to go until our baby is due. According to the books, my Facebook feed and the weekly Baby Center updates, we should probably have the nursery fully set up and stocked with hundreds of nappies, singlets, wipes and baby toys by now. It’s not.

It’s tempting to get caught up in planning the physical aspects of bringing a baby into the world. Of course there are a few essentials to buy and borrow. I keep wondering what my life, our life, is going to be like with a baby? Life beyond May (when our little one is due) is a great unknown. It’s one thing to watch close friends with their new babies, but I’m pretty sure it’s rather a different thing to have your own. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very excited. I can’t wait to meet her. I’m just also rather nervous about bringing a new member into our family.

It was such an encouragement to be reminded on the first night of Colour Conference, (now a couple of weeks ago) that God goes before me – before us. He is already in our April, our May, our June and beyond. He knows what the birth will be like, he knows if she’s going to be a good sleeper or not. He knows her. We are all in his mighty hands.
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As I was first writing this post, sitting on my own in a food court in Market City (opposite the Conference), one of the volunteers from Hillsong sat down opposite me with her dinner. We shared a little of our stories (Hayley was fresh out of high school in the US and loving her first semester of Bible college) and how we were enjoying the conference. When I shared that I was expecting a baby, she immediately offered to pray for me and our bub. She got out of her seat walked around next to me and put her arm around me and prayed. This lovely young woman I had only just met prayed passionately for our little girl to grow to know and love Jesus as her Lord and Saviour and to calm any anxieties that I had about this new chapter. I was deeply encouraged by her bold faith and her loving prayer. An experience I won’t forget.

Another human

My belly is larger than it has ever been and I felt an affinity with a mother kangaroo with a joey in her pouch the other day. I’m six months pregnant.IMG_6163

Despite this fact, most days I have to remind myself that in a few months time I’m going to have to give birth to a baby. And from that point on I’m going to be a mum for the rest of my life. Sure, there are lots of reminders. People asking me how I’m feeling or how far along I am (to which the usual reply is “You’re tiny!”), the regular loo trips, the sometimes fluttery, sometimes forceful movements from within day and night (including as I write this) and an often unexpected level of exhaustion.

I feel like I’ve been dreaming of and looking forward to this season of life for many years. I loved looking after my little cousins when they were babies and in recent years have cherished getting to know our goddaughter and her little sister, my friends’ new bubs and the many delightful little ones who are or have been part of our church. Always such a joy, but never quite the same as having your own.

Even so, it’s a bit hard to believe that it’s our turn soon. I have sometimes wondered if it would ever happen. On the one hand, I assumed and hoped for it at times over the years, but then once I found myself in this season, I realised I couldn’t assume anything – it was totally in God’s hands. Now there are only about 90 days until our little lady will be with us on the outside – a reality that’s hard to get my head around. I find myself taking note of ‘Best Before’ dates on food and thinking, before due date or after due date. My brain may be weird, but this is just one of my little ways of getting accustomed to the changes ahead.  IMG_6187

Ultimately I’m humbled that, God willing, we will have the joy of bringing another life into this earth to raise and care for. Not everyone gets to do that. I can’t wait to meet our little one. And if I could have spoken kangaroo, I would have wanted to say to her, “Me too.”

God said go. Jonah said no.

Reflections on obedience from the book of Jonah

A couple of weeks ago we went to ReachOut Conference, which aims to help Christians become fully engaged in God’s global mission by sharing our passion for his purposes.

Since the conference I have continued to reflect on one of the messages from Simon Longden in particular, about God at work in the story of Jonah. God showed compassion on the people of Nineveh and chose to work in and through Jonah in the process. He commanded Jonah to go and tell the people to repent. God said go, but Jonah said no. Jonah fled on a ship in the complete opposite direction, faced a storm, three days in a fish’s belly. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah telling him again to go and warn the people of Nineveh to repent. God gave Jonah a second chance. Jonah couldn’t hide from God – neither his presence nor his commands. He went and told the people of Nineveh to repent and this is what happened…

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 3:10-4:2

God is and always has been at work in the world, bringing people back to himself. God’s heart is for all the nations to worship him. And in his work of redemption he chooses to act through people. He doesn’t need us (Acts 18:25) but he calls us to share his word with others. It is by his grace alone that he works through broken jars of clay like me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

God has a plan for my life and things for me to do, that he doesn’t have for anyone else.  It’s humbling and scary and exciting all at once. My experiences, my past, my story, my gifts – I am clay in his hands to be used by him for his purposes, his work, his glory – if I will let him. Am I being obedient? Am I being faithful? Or am I, like Jonah, saying no?

Moved to tears | playing savings

Have you ever saved up the last of something you loved just because you didn’t want it to end? From Easter chocolate to money, stickers, jewellery or the tastiest morsel on my dinner plate, I have always been a saver.

A few years ago I refused to watch the last episode of Scrubs. I played savings. I know, I know – it’s just a TV show. But I was involved, and I couldn’t face the fact that it was over and there would be no more seasons.*

I recently decided that I was ready to see it, and last night we watched the final double episode. With ‘The Book of Love’ by Peter Gabriel playing in the background, I was moved to tears by the closing epilogue scenes. The scenes give a glimpse of the future – as JD and Elliot finally marry, have kids, and everyone reunites some time down the track for a Christmas celebration. The montage of happily ever after scenes gave me closure. I was moved to happy tears and it was good.

I am working on the ‘playing savings’ thing, and these days feel it’s better to use the things I have now, not wastefully, but also without fear about what the future holds.

This post was inspired by Moved to Tears over on the daily post.

* They did make Scrubs Season 9. We started watching it tonight. Some of the same characters, but a different writer and vibe.

Getting back on the horse

On Saturday I got to meet my friend’s beloved horse Genna for the first time. It was so wonderful to see this stunning animal who she has invested in, competed on and cared for since the middle of last year. My friend even let me have a ride…

…which was really lovely until I found myself trotting briskly towards a fence. In a moment of panic trying to make her stop or turn, I in fact clung on tighter and leaned forward (which in horse language means ‘go faster’), so she bucked me off. I completely confused her.

I have generally felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the old adage, if you fall (or fail?), you just have to get back on the horse. I’ve tried and failed and tried again plenty of times over the years – from music exams that didn’t go as hoped to recipes that didn’t work or my attempts to learn to surf.

And then I really did fall off a horse. So, despite being in a state of teary shock, covered in sand and dust, with a swelling right ankle and a rather sore back, as well as being the very last thing I felt like doing, getting back on the horse was exactly what I did.

It’s really tempting when something like this happens to worry about my injuries and pain and my own failings which brought them about. “What if I have lower back problems forever now…?” “If only I had…” I have been praying about and trying to resist these temptations.

One of the ways I have been doing this is by reminding myself that there is much I can be thankful for. I am particularly thankful that I wasn’t more badly injured, that I landed on sand, and my friend was right beside me within seconds with hugs and calm words of wisdom (and later ran me a spa bath at her house!). I’m also thankful that my friends  supported my decision to get back on. Even though I’m in no hurry to ride again, I’m really glad that my last experience on Genna and on any horse, was a calm, positive one. Getting back on really does make sense.

post fall - back on the horse

post fall – back on the horse

One foot in the door

After reflecting yesterday on the challenge of connecting with our neighbours, some relatively new members of our church brought along another of their neighbours to church this morning – the second young woman in less than a month. Just awesome.

When we found ourselves giving them a lift to a spontaneous lunch with other people from church, I couldn’t resist asking: what’s the secret?

He said “I just talk to people!”

I was like, but how? Where?

His answer: “The lift is the best place to talk to people. When people get in I check what button they press then estimate how many seconds I have to make conversation with them. I think quickly about what to ask them about. If they have kids I ask them about their children, or if they are holding shopping then I ask what they have bought and what they are cooking.”

So then I asked: “How did Sarah* come along to church?”

“Oh I met her in the lift last Sunday and we were talking about where we had been. I had just been to church, and wanted to know which one. I told her about One1seven and she was very interested. So I stuck my foot in the lift door and got her email address.”

He also reflected on the ease of striking up conversations with people in the park – you ask them about the dog – name, breed, age etc, and a few questions about themselves – find out about them first, then ask do they go to church? Apart from momentarily wishing I had a dog, this confirmed something I had observed recently – loving people always means listening to their stories and perhaps beliefs first, then sharing what we want to say – whether that’s telling them about Jesus or anything else.

Do I have the boldness, the confidence, the courage it takes? No, not really. But then I have to remember, it’s not about me. I can’t save people. God does that.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Romans 1:16

20 seconds is not enough time for a meaningful relationship to develop, but perhaps it could be a foot in the door. Who knows? A question about a dog or a baby could be an opening for a powerful message. I just have to be faithful, prayerful and take the opportunities I get.

Neighbours – so close and yet so far

It’s more than seven months since we moved into our flat. We love so much about living here – from the balcony to the dishwasher, from the parking space to the pool. We love sharing our home with our families and friends and our new small group every Thursday.

But when we moved here, close to church, into a huge apartment complex, we really hoped and prayed that we’d be able to connect with our neighbours. On our floor alone there are 11 other apartments. But most of the time our hallway looks like this:

our empty hallway

our empty hallway

So the best (and only?) time to interact with our neighbours is in the thirty seconds it takes to use the lift from the parking lot or ground floor, to our level and vice versa. In theory. And preferably going up, so that the conversation continues down the hallway. We soon learned however, that other people don’t really want to talk to their neighbours. Perhaps living in close proximity to so many others makes people more private. Perhaps Australians aren’t as friendly as we make ourselves out to be. Perhaps people don’t want new friends.

So we have become those people. We try to smile at our fellow building dwellers when we share the lift (although headphones and back turners can make this rather difficult) and strike up conversations ranging from the weather to work and little else in between. Beyond the lady next door and her cute little one year old, we don’t even know anyone’s names on our floor…

It can’t stay this way, that much is clear. But how can we love our neighbours if we don’t know them?

Should we start a building Facebook group like others in our community have done? Where to begin? What would its purpose be? Do we have the energy to establish and sustain something like this…and what if we move? Should we start small – a meal with the couple next door or invite our whole floor to casual drinks on our balcony? The ideas excite and scare me at the same time.

What if people aren’t interested or are too busy? A friend told me a few months ago about how their new neighbours in a very different part of Sydney declined to come over for a BBQ, full-stop. They were too busy. It would be sad, but it would be ok. At the very least we would know we had tried. And I really hope that in the next few months we will indeed try. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31