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Grace in the hospital

I have a friend, a faithful sister in Christ. She and her family are currently living in Australia while she studies. She has important research to do that will have a great impact on the welfare of people back home. Her highly capable husband took a job as a cleaner at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to support the family while they are here. But he was too good at his job – he got promoted into a managerial position!

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I share this story because three weeks ago I gave birth to a daughter at his hospital, and even amid all the drama of delivering and caring for a newborn, my friend’s family stayed at the top of my mind. The thing is that our stay in hospital had a few unexpected twists and turns. I spent nearly a week there, I slept in three different wards, and I was cared for by countless midwives as my health – and Sophia’s health – jumped up and down over the course of a week. I spent time in all sorts of unhygienic places. On the floor. In the bathroom. Soaked in blood. Sometimes completely on my own.

It made a big difference to me to know that, behind the scenes, a team of cleaning staff were being managed by a kind and capable brother in Christ. God was keeping me safe in the hospital through the work of my friend’s husband. I prayed so many prayers of thanks for him!

The week I spent in RPA played out like an extended meditation on grace.

I spent days floored by God’s common grace. Hour after hour I saw God intervene and provide for us, not just through this unseen brother in Christ but through every midwife, consultant, doctor, cleaner and caterer that we met. I was tended to with care, I was encouraged and supported, I was nourished and kept clean. In the night my midwives checked in to make sure I was recovering. In the morning we awoke to glorious sunrises over Sydney. God is at work in his world, not just through his church, but through skylines, through hospital systems, even through people who deny his name. I left hospital praising God for the beautiful gifts he gives. What grace! To think he has given such wonderful things, even to a city where many people ridicule the name of his Son.

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But the week also played out as a meditation on saving grace. We have welcomed a new child into the world, an immortal soul. “You have to be born again,” I heard Matt whisper the words of John’s gospel to her in the hours after her birth. True life, life to the full, comes through Jesus alone! And this truth was made abundantly clear in the hospital too, on day six. A midwife came to check on me. As she took my blood pressure, she turned and asked me about what I did for work. When I told her I was a pastor at a church, her face lit up! She sat down on the bed and excitedly told me about how she and her husband had been baptised three months ago. She loves Jesus so much! She loves being part of his family! What a wonderful glimpse of joy and new life in the hospital. How wonderful of God to give such a gift to this woman!

I pray that our daughter finds this life and joy too. I pray that she grows up to call these people brothers and sisters. I pray that she becomes a person thankful for beautiful sunrises and good healthcare and the kindness of strangers. I pray that whether she works as an academic, a midwife, a manager or a cleaner, that her work will honour a beloved Father in heaven.

He is incredibly kind to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 

James 1:17-18

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Lady Preacher

In less than a month I begin maternity leave and hit the pause button on my (paid) ministry career. I am expecting lots of things to be different, so I am taking some time to thank God for what this last season has looked like.

I’m especially thankful that I have been given so many opportunities to teach people from the bible, especially as a preacher. There is a broad spectrum of evangelical opinions on women teaching, but I’m thankful that so far, my story of training as a teacher has been filled with very supportive people – even among the institutions and personalities that I least expected, and even among people who may disagree with what I do.

So, a month and bit out from having a kid, with no more scheduled sermons or SRE classes to give, hardly any kids church lessons left to run and only a handful of bible studies left to lead, here is a collection of thoughts on what it has been like to train as a lady preacher.

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Just breathe for a second

There have been lots of highs and lows. Lots of intensity and exhaustion, just few moments to stop and rest.

Here are some of the fleeting moments so far in 2017, when there was peace and I took a photo. I am both excited and anxious about my prospects for peace in the immediate future.


Bushwalking and sketching at Mokoroa Falls.


Friday mornings at Cafe Ella.


That 40 degree day when we jumped in the car, drove to Wombara and spent the whole day on the beach.


Taking time out to read Ali Smith.


Discovering Quarrantine Reserve – just up the road from our home.


Chasing the sunrise on Easter Monday.

Return to suburbia

This afternoon I ran errands around our church building. As I walked across the property towards the main street I heard an excited voice shouting out my name: ‘HEY ALISON!’ A couple of 12 year old boys tumbled out the tree in the front of the church, laughing, then a dozen more started running around up and down the street playing tips, suddenly ignoring me again, wrapped up in their own game.

I got to witness a moment of suburban perfection – young boys, not quite men, still entertained with the place they’ve grown up in, owning the streets and the public places, not anxious or afraid to run around in the open, genuinely enjoying childhood games that they’ll grow out of in about 18 months.

And I only got to witness it because of the perfect timing of three things:

  1. A year ago I moved back to the suburbs.
  2. I have been volunteering at the local youth drop in where I’ve met all these kids.
  3. Our minister’s oldest son is one of these kids – it’s him and his friends running up and down the street and climbing the church trees.

And December is just around the corner, that sweet time for year 6 kids, when school is ending and everything is parties and Christmas is coming and you are on top of the world. This afternoon I was flooded with waves of nostalgia. I am feeling OK about living in suburbia again.

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Colin Meloy: Wildwood

How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries. In fact, if she were to list her worries right then and there as she sat spellbound on the park bench and watcher her little brother, Mac, carried aloft in the talons of these five black crows, puzzling out just how this feat was being done would likely come in dead last…

And so opens the adventure of Wildwood: the story of Prue and Curtis on an incredible adventure to the Impassable Wilderness. It’s a kind of Narnian story: two kids stumbling into a magical place, where animals talk and take you flying, where things look quaint at first and then you discover there is an evil queen, and there is a battle to end all battles – will good triumph over evil? – and then (no spoilers) the story ends. It was a great read.

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This book was on the Premier’s Reading list for children in years 5-6, so I’m not sure I am the target audience. But I had to read this book because it was written by Colin Meloy, the frontman of the Decemberists, and illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis, who is responsible for all of the Decemberists’ artwork. I love this band. One of the distcint things about them is the way their songs tell epic stories from all times and places. They sing vivid and imaginative songs about star-crossed lovers in fighting gangssoldiers in Iraq,  David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, guerrilla wars, the arrival of a Spanish princess, the Japanese legend of the Crane Wife. They reached stunning highs with the saga of the Mariner’s Revenge, and then followed that up with The Hazards of Love: an entire album telling a tragic fairy-tale story of two lovers thwarted by an evil queen.

So obvs Colin Meloy has an incredibly vivid imagination, and a creative way with words.

Given the expectations I had, Wildwood did not disappoint. It was like reading a Decemberists‘ song, it was vibrant and exciting and it opened another window into the creative mind of Colin Meloy. And Carson Ellis’ illustrations were simply beautiful. There is no other word for them. They were perfect.

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Wildwood is the first of three novels, but, as much as I enjoyed it, I think I will leave it at this one. I loved to have one of my favourite musicians as the guide for this adventure, but I think one adventure with Colin Meloy is enough. Maybe next time I will read something higher up the Premier’s Reading Challenge list!

 

A season for reading

When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.

That’s a quote from the classic film ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and it regularly runs through my head.

I watched that film in the cinema with my parents as a 12 year old and I remember that quote. It was shocking! I heard it as ‘children read differently to, more meaningfully than, better than adults’ and I thought ‘No way.’

No way. How could that be? We were taught to read as part of growing up. How could a kid do such a grown up thing, like reading, in a superior way to an adult?

Well, unsurprisingly, Nora Ephron was right in all her screenwriting brilliance. It’s exactly how life has panned out for me. I devoured books as a kid and a teenager, and I can tell you about so many books that have shaped my outlook on life, my identity. And then I finished school, I had to read piles of textbooks and journal articles for uni, and suddenly I stopped reading fiction. I had forgotten how to lose myself in a book! And then when I tried to start reading again, well, it was enjoyable enough, but very few books – especially fiction books – have stayed with me in the same way they did when I was young.

This year I began properly working four days a week. I’ve had extra time up my sleeve for housework, for visiting family and friends, and for reading. It’s my season for reading. And I know that these books will never become a part of my identity in the way that my reading as a child did, but I’d like to try and remember it at least! I’m going to record and review this year’s fiction reading here. Maybe some reflecting will help these books to become more of my identity after all.

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