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!

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

 

 

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 13 – Gingerbread House Making Day!

photo 1

Tonight my friend Kaley hosted a ‘Gingerbread is awesome’ party, complete with gingerbread cocktails and tiny take-home gingerbread houses for your tea-cup! I’ve been surrounded by lovely ladies, and mountains of lollies, icing and delightfully scented gingerbread all evening. Bliss!

tea-cup gingerbread houses
tea-cup gingerbread houses

And this is my 2012 gingerbread house:

my gingerbread house!
my gingerbread house!

I don’t know how many gingerbread houses I’ve made over the years. My friends Kirsty and Mel helped instil this rather excellent and tasty tradition in me many years ago.

There’s something very satisfying about building a small house and then covering it in intricate lolly designs, while covering oneself in icing sugar, and eating all the ‘mistakes’ along the way. What’s not to like?!

But making the house and enjoying it on display at Christmas time is only half the tradition. This is the other half:

 

Advent Blog Day 11 – ready in Redfern

beautiful Christmas dinner table
beautiful Christmas dinner table

There’s something truly delightful about a set dinner table, and especially one set for a Christmas meal. The readiness brings with it a great sense of anticipation. Just waiting for the food and the people to bring it all to life.

The one above is the handiwork of my friend Naomi Johnson, set tonight for our church leadership and staff end-of-year dinner. It was such a joy to be gathered around one table, sharing delicious food and funny stories with the people I have served alongside and sat under the leadership of this year.

And there were no useless plastic toys, paper hats or bad jokes to be found on this table. Lindt chocolate crackers…genius!

Naomi's pretty table centrepiece
Naomi’s pretty table centrepiece

Adam is working in Perth for a few days so sadly he missed out, but I’m feeling thankful for a relaxed evening of fellowship and food. I also have a new-found appreciation for Christmas pudding. Tonight’s was ice-cream based – think I might have to get that recipe Hayley!

I don’t tend to host big dinner parties, but I still like to set the table even if it’s just the two of us. I like the table to be ready. But as I reflect on the value of being ready, I’ve been thinking not about pretty tables or completed Christmas shopping, not even about Jesus coming as a baby as he did the first Christmas, but coming again.

I saw this Christmas card yesterday, just in a regular shop:

Jesus is coming
Jesus is coming

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Revelation 21:2

Will I be ready when he comes again? Will you?

Advent Blog Day 10 – FFM Christmas fun

Now that my friends and I live all over Sydney, we all try to get together at least once a month (usually on FFM, the First Friday of the Month), to eat takeaway and catch up on life.

Except in December – when we have a Christmas Party of course!

This year two of the girls organised and catered the evening with a Christmas theme, including a photo booth. So much fun! Here’s a little taste…

FFM group shot!
FFM group shot!
FFM group shot #2!
FFM group shot #2!

I’m so thankful for my beautiful, precious, fun-loving FFM girls! We have been through so much together over the years – the highs and the lows. Love you very much xx

Oh, and here’s one of the husband. What a catch…

my grinchy and I!
my grinchy and I!

 

Advent Blog Day 7 – soaring with the Lord.

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Yesterday I, and many, many others, said goodbye to a precious young lady – Victoria Leah Pearce. Tori was 23 when she passed away last Wednesday.

Tori
Tori

The service was perfect. Tori loved her family, her church, her friends so much. And oh how she was so loved.

I remember visiting Tori in hospital when she was a baby – she was born with spina bifida and so throughout her life has been in and out of hospital for various reasons. My Mum and Dad were her god-parents. Our families spent lots of time together when we were kids…bushwalking, camping, birthday parties, playgroup, picnics, violin concerts and lots of things at church.

I hadn’t seen Tori for some time. The last time I saw her was at Hillsong Colour Conference – but it was so inspiring to hear the brave, honest words from her friends and family about the beautiful woman of God she had grown into. A young lady who loved Jesus with all her heart, and whose wheelchair never held her back from anything – skiing, swimming, singing, dancing in her chair, playing violin (we all had the same teacher) and more recently, driving. Determined, joyful, stubborn, loving and always smiling.

I can’t comprehend the loss that her family would be feeling. Her dear sister Sarah said, “Well, this sucks.” God’s timing is so far beyond our understanding. As I sat in the service, tears rolling down my face, sang songs of praise to and hope in God, and heard about the impact of Tori’s life on people, I felt a great sense of confidence that God would bring good, awesome things out of this. Her life had significance because she trusted in Jesus. Sarah thanked her parents for fighting for Tori each day of her life, helping her grow and flourish. She concluded with these words of hope and truth:

Tori is with the Lord. And the Lord is good. 

butterflies