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.

 

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making the most of…today, tomorrow and…

I like my job, but on days like Friday, when all the first drafts of articles appeared in my inbox for the next edition of the magazine, I really like my job. An inbox full of honest, creative stories about what God is doing. Pretty cool.

I attended a funeral on Friday morning of a church member who sadly passed away very suddenly from an aneurysm. He was 48. As we said farewell to a shy, kind, but troubled man, who we hope knew Jesus as Lord, I was reminded that our days on earth are numbered. Paul tells the Ephesians that this truth must impact the way we live, every moment, every day.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5: 15-16

I’m sure Paul isn’t just talking about what we do for work (i’m keen to come back to the other aspects of life in a future post). Every day at work I read, write, and pray about the things God is doing all over the world through his people. From Cambodia to Spain to Chile and all sorts of places in between. It’s such a privilege.

This week marked three months since I started my new job as the writer at CMS Australia. They still want to keep me it seems.

On Thursday night I caught up for drinks with some colleagues and bosses from my first full-time job at a law firm. They told me they would have me back any time, and while it’s flattering & lovely to see them catch ups like that and days like Friday confirm that where I am is where I’m meant to be. Over drinks I heard the latest on a couple of the cases I was working on two years ago(!!). Let’s just say that no amount of sweet talking could make me give up writing about God’s work, to account for every six minutes of my day working with neighbours, developers and crazy rubbish-collecting ladies. Someone has to, but it’s not for me.

I want to make the most of my days on earth. I hope that by helping missionaries tell the stories about what God is doing in the tiny villages and the massive megacities that God is glorified and lives and communities are changed as more people come to know him. I’m thankful for the peace I have that my job is right where God wants me.

Like any job it can be uninteresting and slow at times, and while I have lots of ideas about improvements I’m trying to be wise about when to speak and when to stay quiet. But so far at least 20% of the time or more it makes me come alive and for that I’m incredibly thankful!

In the words of switchfoot:

Why would I wait til I die to come alive? I’m ready now, I’m not waiting for the afterlife. (“Afterlife” from Vice Verses, 2011)

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made to be friends

Created for relationships

Relationships are a really important part of my life. Chapter 4 of The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller is titled “The Mission of Marriage” and Keller starts by looking back to the first marriage in Genesis. Being created in God’s image means that we were designed for two relationships – vertical with God and horizontal, with one another. And so, God created Eve to be Adam’s ‘ezer, his ‘helper-companion,’ his friend.

I think it’s so good that our triune God wanted us to be in relationship too. Keller says “there are two features of real friendship – constancy and transparency.” (p.112), both of which are key to marriage also. Friendship is…

the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away. (Craik, A Life for a Life, p.169 in Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, p.112)

This is such a beautiful picture. I thank my Heavenly Father for the blessing of a husband who has shown me grace like this time and time again, and for friends about whom I can confidently say – this describes you too.

Something more

Adam and Nai old school. I think there's always been that something more...

Keller looks to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and C S Lewis – who both said that even with constancy and transparency, a true friendship can’t just be about the two people involved.  It has to be about something. A common purpose, vision, passion. Perhaps like a mother’s group where the babies were all born within weeks of each other – brought together by the “me too” moments as they experience motherhood week to week month to month.

For any two Christians, faith unites us. A few nights ago we met a couple who are old friends of our housemates for the first time. As soon as we learned of our common faith, the small talk wasn’t so small – and it was a privilege to hear how God has been at work in their lives and humbling to be warmly embraced and encouraged ourselves.  Faith can make new friends like old ones. We’re all journeying forward to the ‘high and far’ horizon of the day when Jesus returns.

Friendship is a deep oneness that develops as two people, speaking the truth in love to each other, journey together to the same horizon. (p.116)

Not speaking nice appeasing words to avoid a fight, but the truth in love. Another blogger recently suggested “Five ways to fight your way through to a loving marriage.”  Intriguing idea, but the old adage ‘the truth hurts,’ is… true. In the short term words of truth spoken in love can sting the ears and heart. Conflict can be necessary. But as we travel the journey of marriage in joyful servanthood not self-centredness, the sure hope of Christ appearing again must keep us focused on helping our spouse to be growing into the man/woman God wants them to be in the long term.

The bigger picture

My anxieties and concerns with the smaller things have often caused major blind spots to seeing the bigger picture of what God has planned for my husband and the man God is shaping. Self-centredness can be destructive to the true friendship God desires for marriage.

Adam and I talk about the bigger picture more and more these days. We wonder what God’s plans are for him this year and for the years to come and we yearn to understand what God is teaching us through this time of uncertainty.

Keller says,

The goal is to see something absolutely ravishing that God is making of the beloved. You see even now flashes of glory. You want to help your spouse become the person God wants him or her to be. (p.123)

Yes! That is what we journey towards. An ultimate cause which unites.  From the menial to the magnificent, each day together as man and wife, we get to play a part in helping our best friend to be more like our creator God as we look forward to the day of Christ Jesus. God is at work in our spouse and sometimes he may use us, his humble vessels, to do this work.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

on seasons and surfing

Having just finished reading My Seventh Monsoon, by Naomi Reed, I’ve been thinking lately about the seasons of life. The seasons changed quickly for me recently. As I left International Teams, one season ended, and then another began when I started at CMS a couple of days later.

One of the main conclusions Naomi draws in the book (yeah I know it’s weird for this Naomi to write about another Naomi’s book, but bear with me!) is that God provides for our needs differently, but always for His purposes in the different seasons of life. This rings true and is deeply comforting as I am in the beginnings of a new season.

At four weeks in to the new job at CMS, I think I’m just starting to get used to it. There was a moment in my third week there, when I found myself staring at the two blank computer screens, interview notes and emails all in front of me. All I needed to do was write the article. If only it was that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I feel hugely privileged to be in a role where I am getting paid to write about things of eternal value. Then and perhaps most days in this season I’m going to be up against the age-old enemy of writing and all creative pursuits: resistance.

But enough about work, this week we’ve been away with friends staying in a lovely house in Green Point, NSW with an amazing view of Wallis Lake. After the big, quick change, this week has offered much-needed soul refreshment. Up until this week, amidst the busyness of Christmas and learning all the new people and operations in the new role, I was functioning in survival mode. Now after waking up to the sounds of birds tweeting and insects screeching, and watching the sunset over the lake in the evening, I think my head and heart may have almost caught up to my body.

Reading My Seventh Monsoon has also challenged me anew about focusing on being not doing. I find this hard, because I really like to achieve. Hence feeling rather frustrated with the writer’s bloc and wondering what exactly I had produced that day!

This in-built desire to achieve is something I have struggled with in learning to surf. Surfing is hard and achieving is close to impossible. Today, out of the many waves I bumbled onto, full of hope, there were many rides which could be considered failures, and maybe only one or two where I felt like I was really riding the wave in any sense of the word.

Given that I emerged from the surf today with a twisted ankle and some cuts on my toe and the usual knee grazes…was the half second ride worthwhile? I have to say, it’s a resounding yes. The beauty of surfing is in the journey of just being there in the waves, under the bright blue sky, with the sunny glare reflecting hard into my eyes and the headlands rising up on either side of the coast.

in it for the fun!

Learning to surf has taught me a few lessons over the years…

  1. Enjoy the journey. Along the lines of the being not doing.
  2. Control is illusive. When you are surfing, you have almost none. Certainly no control over the waves, the currents, the clouds, the wind.
  3. Some risks are worth taking. I decided to start surfing because I was over sitting on the sand watching Adam and others have fun. Even if I never quite have the courage to venture “out the back” to where Adam rides, I still feel like taking the risk of trying to surf is worthwhile, compared to not trying at all – because of the sheer fun – and nothing to do with whether I’m actually any good at it.

I look forward to the surfing and the lessons learned from it in years to come. But for now, one closing excerpt from My Seventh Monsoon that resonated with me, Naomi and her husband Darren were discussing whether to go back to Nepal with their three kids…

N: “…what would it say to our kids if they knew we had taken a deliberate risk, and died?”
D: “It would say to my kids that more than anything else, I’m on this earth to follow Jesus. If following Jesus means taking the hard calls, then that’s what I want to do. I want my kids to know I took risks.”

more than proud.

“Proud” goes some way to conveying how I felt last night as I stood amongst loyal friends – old and new – and family watching my dear husband launch his EP – “Foreground Vice, Background Sky.” I felt the kind of joy and love that sits right down in my gut and makes me well up if I think about it for too long.

The words, melodies and beats forged together with his passionate heart and intensely focused mind, as he overcame barriers, both technical and personal, over long days and late nights, are completed and released. Set free rather like wild birds released from a cage.

It would be a lie to say it has been easy to walk alongside him on this road. But when a friend asked me last night whether it had all been worth it, the answer has always been and still is, a resounding YES!

It has been a privilege to be there each step of the way – from hearing the newly written songs in the raw to making decisions about mixing, from clapping out percussion tracks in the studio with friends to celebrating the completion of the final mix. I loved being involved.

To those who partied with us at the Launch last night – in spirit (from Mexico to the UK and in between), and in person (from the Shire to Blacktown), thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for encouraging Adam in the pursuit of this dream.

Adam – you continue to amaze me. It is such an honour to be your wife.

Above all, may God receive the glory! Last night saw many prayers answered. We are deeply thankful for His grace, gifts and guidance and are filled with hopeful expectation at what may lie ahead.

Curious to hear his songs? You can buy them here!

Watch Adam’s pre-launch video here.

a book review of sorts – the alchemist, by paulo coelho

To realise one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation. – The Alchemist

Two months ago while doing some filing I found a post it note I had written some time in the last few years which said…

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

I researched the book and ordered it online straightaway…and then waited…

I’ve now finished the story. After every reading I was left with such a “yummy” feeling inside – so much so that I may have ‘drawn out’ the final 20 pages or so cos I just didn’t want it to end. This book is good for the soul.

The story is about a boy who leaves his ordinary life behind, listens to the desires of his heart and sets out on a journey to find the treasure. Along the way he meets some interesting characters, all of whom teach him something vital to the pursuit of his dream. He faces obstacles too. His money is stolen, he is beaten and held hostage in the middle of the desert. He truly has to fight for the desires of his heart.

I was struck by the way Coelho weaves in stories and lessons from the bible about faith and where we place value in our lives – “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This story challenges both people from western and eastern cultures to be countercultural and live from the heart. It is also a reminder that there is learning to be had in the paths we walk towards the realisation of our dream and in the journeys life takes us on.

“In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to test of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty nor impatient . If he pushed forward impulsively he would fail to see the signs left by God along his path.”

So if you do read this book one day, enjoy the journey! Hope its yummy for you too.

Pilot Post

After a good four months of deliberation, I have started a blog.

Hardest part is knowing what to say for the pilot post…inexperienced blogger here. I’m thinking I’ll keep it short for now. I really enjoy writing but I am a brutal self-editor, so I’m hoping that may change as I ease into the flow of writing here.

I’m hoping this blog will be about my reflections and thoughts as I seek to live a brighter life for the one who gave me life.