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?

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.

Three things I love about our fruit and vegetable co-op

One of our friends recently set up a fruit and vegetable co-op. There are five couples, we each put in $20 ($40 for our super nutritious friends) plus a few $ for eggs, and following a roster, every two weeks one couple goes to the growers markets at Flemington on a Saturday morning and buys fruit and vegetables in bulk for everyone. They bring it back to their home, split it up and then everyone comes by to pick it up. We went on Saturday morning for the first time and we will only have to go once again before the end of the year.

Our car full of healthy food!

So far, there are three things I love about the co-op:

1) Building community

All the co-op members are part of a private Facebook group. We communicate pick-up details for Saturdays, make requests for certain items and share recipes with one another based on the produce in all of our fridges. I’m getting to know other people’s cooking styles, visiting friends’ homes and learning a bit more about them in the process. It’s not exactly unique to be bonding over food, but we have to eat. So just like school was more fun with friends, our co-op is bringing a touch of community into our day-to-day meals.

2) Healthy, cost-effective eating

When our small fridge is packed full (and I do mean 3D-Tetris style full) of vegetables and the fruit bowl is overflowing, it’s hard to justify not eating healthy.  We are generally eating less meat and more eggs too. Given that most meals we make create leftovers, we have plenty of food to last for two weeks from the $20.

3) A variety of new meals

Since we started about six weeks ago, I have cooked more than 12 new recipes. In the busyness of life, I easily fall into a pattern of making the same old meals all the time, so its great to be challenged to try new things.

some recent meals (an old family favourite and three new ideas)
some recent meals (an old family favourite and three new ideas)

On Monday I roasted beetroots in balsamic glaze and poached pears – both things I’d been curious to try. Tonight I made my friend’s delicious pumpkin, broccoli and chickpea curry. Perhaps it’s the optimiser in me, or the memory of dad saying ‘waste not, want not’ throughout my childhood in my head, but either way I am simply compelled to put the fruit and vegetables in my fridge to good use!

It’s an early morning once every 2 months, but well worth it so far!

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

 

 

Advent Blog Day 22 – on being a god-mother and sharing our home with loved ones

Today we spent time with our dear friends Justin and Susannah, and their little girls Bethany and Sophia. Justin and Adam have been friends since Year 7, and sometimes it feels like Suse and I have been friends equally as long.

We usually go to their place up in the very north of Sydney, and they always bless us with delicious and creative food. But today we had the joy of hosting them, their first time to our place in Alexandria since we moved. I valued sharing our home with our friends. Bethany had tucked herself into our bed within minutes of arriving, to ‘sleep’…she really made herself at home.

Jus, Bethany & Adam
Jus, Bethany & Adam

It was good to celebrate Christmas together too. Our friends intentionally dressed their girls in ‘Christmassy’ outfits, just to spread some Christmas cheer to Uncle Adam, the Christmas grinch. I think it may have worked! ->

I really value our friendship with Jus and Suse. They are such special friends that they came back from living in the UK to come to our wedding. They are a constant source of support, prayers, encouragement, and being a few steps ahead of us, general life wisdom.

As I have talked about before, we have the great honour of being Bethany’s godparents. There are many things I love about being a god-mother, but here are my favourites:

  • being part of Bethany’s life since she was born, and praying for her to become a follower of Jesus (at 2, she already talks about ‘Jesus books’, so she seems to be on track);

    Suse reading to Bethany
    Suse reading to Bethany
  • watching and learning from our friends as they raise their daughters;
  • being Aunty Nai;
  • randomly receiving text messages with cute photos and quotes – which always bring bursts of laughter and smiles into my working day;
  • spoiling her with gifts;
  • And last but not least, she is a really clever, vivacious and funny kid:

Suse: “What are Adam and Nai made of, Bethy?” B: “Precious!”

I’m so thankful for this joyous privilege, and I look forward to the future adventures of ‘god-mother-hood’ and friendship, in 2013 and beyond.

cuddles with Bethany
playing with Bethany

Advent Blog Day 16 – Stronger than time and distance

catching up with our dear friends from Canada
catching up with our dear friends from Canada

It was such a joy to spend time with Matt and Claire and their gorgeous kids Malachi and Elleke. They’re visiting Claire’s family in Sydney for six weeks .

They came along to church, then we had lunch together back at our little flat. It was such an encouragement to have them choose to spend their first Sunday here with us. Though it’s been over a year since we last saw them in Canada, they are the kind of people we can just pick up where we left off.

Malachi
Malachi

The passing of time between catch-ups is more noticeable since Claire and Matt had kids. Little Elleke was only five or six weeks old when we were visiting them – now she is a sweet little toddler. And though only three, Malachi seemed to remember us, and quietly listened to me read an entire Dr Seuss story and later had a great time driving the famous Birds in Branches toy cars all over our apartment.

I’m so thankful for the blessing of this friendship that stands the test of time and distance.

 

Advent Blog Day 4 – Friendship

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Tonight we met with our church small group – probably for the final time this year. We reflected on what the book of Proverbs has to say about friendship. According to Proverbs, great friendship is characterised by loyal, constant, unconditional love that mutually encourages both people.

It was a joy to share and reflect on these things with friends – with people we have grown closer to as we have shared life and learned together over the past year.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

In dying for us we see that Jesus is the ultimate friend. He loved us before we even knew him.

God has blessed me with many wonderful friends. I’m thankful for each one and feeling challenged to be more intentional in my friendships. I pray that I might love my friends at all times, in a way that is deeply, truly encouraging.

Here’s a little photo snapshot of some dear friends…

NaiSuse

AJNAiKtKathNai Vioricaone1seven

(and if you’re not here I still love you…it’s almost midnight – my advent blog deadline!)

sharing our home

A year ago we moved to a two bedroom apartment with our friends Joel and Rachel. We didn’t make the decision lightly. We prayed about the opportunity and sensed God’s leading, so we took a step of faith and moved out of the only place we’d called home together.

I’d never lived with anyone other than my family and Adam.  So, like most married couples do, we learned many times over that ‘normal’ isn’t quite so normal after all.

Going into sharing with friends, I prepared to learn this all over again. We felt taking this risk was right and we trusted God would sustain us, but in truth I had many expectations and concerns. I like things to be done a certain way. I agonised over questions like:

  • How would I deal with other people’s mess?
  • Would we fight in front of our friends?
  • Would I be a ‘bad’ housemate? (I was really anxious that I would spend too long in the bathroom!)
  • How would we share the kitchen space, the cooking, the couch?
  • How would our relationship change?
Sunset view from our living room.

change

We found out a week ago that our friends are moving to Melbourne for work, so our time of sharing is fast coming to an end. God has blessed us with the provision of a new place in a short space of time, but that’s another story.

As the sun sets on this chapter of our lives, I’ve been reflecting on the year that has been.

adaptation

Sharing has been a year-long lesson in adaptation. For someone who doesn’t like sudden changes of plans and really likes things to be ‘just so,’ this has been beneficial. For example, while I was overseas, Adam and Joel had placed our microwave in the cupboard to save bench space. I thought it bizarre at first, but it’s still there, and who knows, maybe the microwave will find a similar home in our new apartment too.

simple living

Joel and Rachel lost almost everything they owned in the Haiti earthquake except their lives. They have lived in countless cities since they got married and most of their current personal possessions represent the bounty of keen op-shoppers and council clean-up opportunists. In many great ways we have been challenged to be more thrifty and to live more simply.

family

Joel and Rachel feel like family in lots of ways – we haven’t just shared rooms. From a great café or small bar find, to lengthy discussions about pacifism, theology, politics or injustice over long dinners and glasses of wine; from brunches with friends to endless cups of Rachel’s mum’s Anzac Tea Parlour tea, we have shared our day-to-day lives with these guys for the last year. We even created a mythical character together…a monacle & top hat wearing gentleman called ‘Audley Chester.’

Rachel & Joel at an Audley Chester Brunchorama!

Of course it hasn’t always been easy. There have been times when I have craved my own space, or my own way and times when indeed we have disagreed in front of our friends.

But in these moments I have received little lessons in patience and perspective, as I have been reminded to be thankful for our home and that living here for this season was part of God’s plan for our lives, so all I have to do is trust him.

As I look back I’m thankful for the adventures, laughter, and stories we have shared, for a friendship that has survived and evolved along the way, and for the many lessons God has taught me over the last year, both through our friends and the experience. Sharing our home was a risk worth taking.

With Rachel on a day trip to the south coast
Joel and Adam

a party and a story

Last week Adam and I went to a very unique party. A party to celebrate the fact that a family who once lived in fear for their lives can now call Australia home. Last year their initial application for residency in Australia was rejected, but on 26 March this year, I got a message to say it had been approved!

the story

refugees in Africa

The Sydney Refugee Team was working with this family last year. Their lawyer was doing a reasonable job but B* and his wife S* were very distressed and simply couldn’t understand why the government had refused them. They were scared and confused. So even though my knowledge of refugee law was limited, my boss Janice graciously let me don my lawyer’s hat and I listened to B’s story.

B recounted parts of his and his wife’s childhood, of growing up in a culture where violence, discrimination, poverty and corruption were sadly, normal. Like many refugees, their story was complex and fragmented. I asked, “Did that happen before or after this?” at various points. I too was confused, but at the same time filled with compassion for this man and his family. I was starting to pull the pieces together – it seemed that their case was really valid, but their story was muddled.

For him, the events had just happened. But I explained that he needed to tell his story to the tribunal in the order the events had occurred. I don’t think he’d even heard of chronological order, let alone understood it. I was struck by this vast African/Australian storytelling difference.

How does one talk about such traumatic events in an orderly way? If this couple couldn’t write and tell their story in a clear, consistent order, enabling our legal system to recognise them as refugees, there was a risk that they might be rejected again.

I also read to him the definition of a refugee according to the United Nations. He said in his culture persecution equated only to being killed. He didn’t know that other forms of harm and discrimination are also considered persecution.

B and S were able to rewrite their application, face the tribunal process and then wait the many months for the outcome with help and support from Sally and the SRT. The team truly walked with this family on this difficult chapter of their journey.

the party

At the party B* was almost the first person to greet us – he emerged from the loud African music and dancing – and hugged me, saying, “Naomi! It’s good to see you. Thank you. Remember that day! Thank you for helping us. Thank you.” He turned to Adam and embraced him – automatic friends. I was so glad to help them in a small way! Oh and I almost forgot to mention that they came to faith in Jesus in the midst of their trials!

helping refugees

Adam and I before RIDE 2010

I’m getting a team together to do RIDE for Refugees on Saturday 18 August in Sydney. I want to help people like B and S and others around the world facing uncertainty, fearing for their lives, fighting for survival and desperately seeking a place to truly call home. Want to join my team (leave a comment on this post) or register your own (go to the website)?

Today is World Refugee Day. Every refugee has a story, but few have a choice in what happens next…how will you help write a different chapter for a refugee today?

*Names withheld to protect their privacy.

 

the daily wrestle

I have a daily wrestle. Perhaps I’m not alone? I see things – clothes, shoes, furniture, photos of other people’s holidays on Facebook, pretty rooms and crafts and teapots on Pinterest…and I want. And yet at the same time don’t want to want.

I realised how strongly I felt about this tension when I read a column in Sydney MX (commuter newspaper of moderate quality) on Monday about the writer’s sadness at somehow resisting buying a pair of shoes. She felt so sad to have resisted that she planned to buy them the next day and looked forward to the ‘joy’ and ‘satisfaction’ in buying another pair of shoes which she admitted didn’t need. Then she predicted the satisfaction would last only until the moment she saw some other pair of shoes in the shop window while leaving the store.

She said ‘don’t judge me’ (really!) which on one level is fair – I’m rich by world standards and have more than I need. I too have felt happy about certain purchases and yet, still wanted more. But I’m pretty tempted to – as I read it I felt a growing wretchedness in my stomach. Has humanity sunk so low as to place hope in shoes to make them truly (temporarily) happy? This ‘unstash’ concept I stumbled upon via Facebook seems to give voice to the ache I feel for stuff to be put in its place.

At the start of year I resolved to remember something to be thankful for every day. I don’t always remember, but from time to time, when I do stop and be thankful, it makes such a difference to the sense of contentment I have with life. It makes me remember what matters. Friends, healing, answered prayer, the things I’m learning from living in community with friends, for Jesus, for life, for family.

We were chatting about these money issues in our small group last night too as we wrestled with Paul’s words to Timothy in chapter 6 of his first letter. He counsels Timothy in verse 6 that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain.’ His charge to the rich (definitely me and most Aussies) in verses 17 to 19, is to be ready to do good works, generous and ready to share. We talked about how to apply this to our lives, especially in the context of being members of our church in Redfern with many people with high needs in our community and congregation. How do we help the homeless man who sleeps on our church porch when he doesn’t seem to want anything we offer? We don’t have the answers. We observed that the ‘rich’ in this world are often lacking in time, while one of the needs of the poor is help, obviously in tangible sometimes financial ways but perhaps even more so in the form of time – of people willing to invest in them.

It’s almost a month since I completed my two month challenge of only purchasing essential things. I was really inspired by seeing Margaret’s story at Colour Conference and so I have chosen to support the Compassion Leadership Program with some of the money I saved. It’s a small response but I pray it helps one of the bright, promising future leaders in one of their programs. I always need to pray I remember Paul’s words about being generous – especially with time, energy and money.

As our friend Carolyn pointed out, the only thing that gets into heaven is people. We take nothing into the world and we can’t take anything out. Even if we don’t have all the answers, are we fighting the good fight, pursuing godliness and taking hold of eternal life.