The honest truth is that the last six or seven years of our lives have been some of the hardest we ever experienced. We’ve been living with rental insecurity, financial pressures (oh, hi, pandemic), and physical and mental health needs that sometimes felt beyond our means for addressing properly. At times we’ve been on the receiving end of broken promises or unfair situations that were not within our control. More often than not we lacked privacy and space. We’ve been faced with scenarios where choosing the ethical route has cost us dearly.
I will not sugar coat the challenges. Life in Sydney has been harder than we anticipated. (And we arrived with our rose colored glasses firmly put away—or so we thought.) As a family and as a ministry we’ve made sacrifices, we’ve forgiven debts, and we’ve shouldered as much as we felt we could. We’ve had our share of feeling sorry for ourselves, complaining to God and to each other, growing resentful, and wrestling with our sense of entitlement and “personal rights.” At times we have been dismayed with our own sense of powerlessness or have felt stuck as victims of our circumstances.
But our years in Sydney have also been fruitful and held blessings in ways we could have never imagined. All of the hardships I hold in my memory could never compare to the riches of life afforded to us and the incredible privileges we enjoy having been born into the bodies and place and time we exist in the world, including these last years here in Gadigal Land in our beloved little neighborhood of Newtown. Many times we’ve been given much more than we feel we deserve. Often it’s come from unexpected places—a stranger or an acquaintance, a reader, or maybe even something divine disguised as a coincidence.
Before moving to Sydney in 2015 we made the commitment to ourselves, to each other, and to God that we would do our very best to “be the people” we wish others were to us through generosity, hospitality, and grace. Of course we have sometimes fallen short. But we remain committed to keeping ourselves grounded in our promise to “be the people.” These years have taught us that sometimes the real work of the ministry is an open door, a willing ear, and a simple spread on the table. We are beginning to see the resilience God has slowly been cultivating in us and we know this will help us as we make some huge changes for our family.
The end is a beginning
It’s time for us to say goodbye to Sydney. We also believe it’s time to end our service as missionaries after 22+ years in Youth With A Mission (YWAM).
I’m not sure how to process leaving a mission we’ve given our entire adult lives to so for now I’m focused on processing how to leave Sydney (and our chapter here) as we shift our family to a small beachside town in South Australia where we believe we can find a life and housing and work that will be more sustainable for us in the second half of our lives. (We have written a family newsletter detailing the why and when and how of all this; if you want it I’m happy to privately message you a copy. But this is different—it’s just me trying to encapsulate a period of life and searching for tangible ways to choose the perspective I will take with me.)
So, seven years—how do we describe our time in the beautiful place we’ve made home? Is it a mission? An assignment? A city? A neighborhood? A house? A passion? A conviction? A community?
It’s all of it, really.
We’ve always known this particular house we live in doesn’t “belong” to us, but “home” isn’t attached to a deed; rather, finding home is a way of being in the world. This home has been ours and we’ve done our best to love her well, despite her 100+ year old pipes and creaky floors and drafty windows and propensity for welcoming mozzies and other unsightly city critters that I’d rather pretend I never saw.
Our neighborhood and our house has been ‘home’ in every sense of the word.
We had a baby in this house. We got our first family dog in this house. We renovated our (landlord’s) kitchen and bathroom on a shoe string, built an outdoor entertaining area from scratch and landscaped an entire yard from the gumtree “freebie” section and kind donations. We have always lived in community (shared our house with others) and at one point we lived with seventeen people for about eight months. (That was certifiably absurd but we made it out miraculously unscathed.)
We celebrated engagements and anniversaries. We grieved deaths and threw birthday parties and made Thanksgiving feasts. We lost a daughter. We wrote a book. We launched a bereavement ministry. We had French and Korean and German and Vietnamese and Swedish and so many other languages spoken around our table. We had Easter egg hunts and visits from Santa and movie nights with huge bowls of buttery popcorn. We launched an English program for ESL students. We trained twelve staff. We mentored young women and men. We marched for asylum seekers and refugees and wrote letters to lawmakers. We supported friends through divorce and absorbed painful diagnoses and moved furniture for elderly neighbors and kept our espresso machine humming every morning.
We taught people how to study the Bible and consider context and how to ask critical questions around issues of faith and culture. We spent hours and hours and hours in prayer. We cried. We laughed. We sometimes cry-laughed. We used table cloths and candles and made hilarious costumes out of garbage. We encouraged people to not give up on the established church, nor to let it get in the way of building genuine community. We supported young people as they navigated dating relationships. We had living room dance parties and working bees and late night debates about politics. We hosted couch surfers and weekenders. We gave hugs and cups of tea after break-ups.
We had doors opened for us we never thought to knock on. We had other doors we felt certain to knock on never budge an inch. We watched as eight different pastors in our small neighborhood ended their assignments and moved on to other work. We saw local businesses open and close and reinvent. We hosted a discipleship training school inside a Japanese bar. We questioned God, questioned our sanity, questioned the world as we knew it. We furnished an entire student house in a week with free items sourced from marketplace and dismantled that same student house in a day when the pandemic took so much away.
We served at the local Indigenous festival. We walked the kids to and from school. We made meals and got to know many of our displaced neighbors. We shared Jesus, shared our lawn mower, and brought in the neighbor’s mail when they were on holidays. We gave directions to tourists and hosted playdates and wished we could sleep in a little longer on Saturdays. We perfected home made sauce and pizza doughs and even brewed our own beer. We made plans and scrapped them.
We sometimes (often) didn’t know how we’d pay the next week’s rent and yet somehow we always managed to get the bills paid and stuff the stockings at Christmas. Our kids started school here, had their first crush here, got potty trained here, started puberty here, learned to read here—not in that order. We got confused about the American or Australian way of spelling or saying things, made jokes that didn’t land, and tried to outdo each other with clever puns.
We memorized train lines and grew patience waiting for the bus. We read Scripture and Green Eggs and Ham and Harry Potter and everything we could find by Brennan Manning. When golf ball size hail totaled our car, friends and strangers helped us buy a new one. We got access to a small beach cabin for two years that served as a refuge from our chaos when we could squeeze down for a weekend. We bought a surfboard and a keyboard (and still can’t ride or play them well). We homeschooled and public schooled and remote schooled (and dreamed about going back to school for our Masters). We did approximately one million loads of laundry. We hit ‘delete’ a lot.
We built a workshop and built toys and equipment and furniture. We fixed countless broken things. We planted seeds. We hosted outreach teams and guests and visiting speakers—more than two hundred guests in our estimation. We unplugged toilets and cleaned mould and painted—oh wow, did we endlessly paint. We paced with a sleepless baby, held our kids’ hair while they vomited, watched West Wing, cheered our football team, burnt muffins, navigated sibling blow-ups, answered tens of thousands of emails, balanced the ledgers, fought and made up, and did more milk runs than we ever thought possible.
We made presentations and pitches and applied for grants—won some and lost some. We hung art and curtains and backpacks after school. We ordered Turkish for in-home date nights and took visiting friends to eat the best Thai in town. We stepped out in faith. We dealt with fear. Every now and then we acted with courage. We created. We read. We walked. We sweat. We bled. We rejoiced. We ran. We marveled, though likely not enough.
We forged friendships, ‘adopted’ new family members, resolved conflicts, sought forgiveness, rearranged furniture, re-examined theology, and repaired broken fences. We made lists and crossed things off. We saw Hamilton. We ran races. We grew gray hairs and got reading glasses. We realized some of our dreams and let go of others. We kept the fridge full most of the time.
In plenty and in want
If you’re on our family mailing list you know by now that we’re moving and starting a whole new season of our life. If you’re not, well, this is me saying so, but it’s also (some of) my process of remembering all the hard and good and beautiful things that have happened while calling Sydney home. We could never describe them all. And we could never neatly separate out the work from the ministry from the family from the faith from the personal—all of it is woven together for better or for worse. I cannot say that I’ve learned to live with contentment both in plenty and in want like the Apostle Paul describes, but I can say I’m learning—present, active tense—and it feels hard and good to keep on learning.
In our final stretch of life in Sydney we have been reminded how important perspective is. Do we spend our energy focused on the interruptions, the disappointments, the injustices, the hardships, the parts of the vision that never came to pass, the pain, the stress, the heartache? Or do we acknowledge those things while deciding to give even more mental space to all that we have gained, all that has been accomplished, all the love that has been shared, all the ways our hearts and and minds have been enlarged?
The glass half empty or half full cliche is an inadequate metaphor because we are both. Perhaps we should be less focused on the volume of the contents and more focused on the remarkable glass that holds it all—the container which embodies the incredible capacity to be filled and emptied, to give and to receive.
My prayer for our family as we move on to the next season is that we may be people that never stop growing forward. May we be people that never gloss over the hard or assign platitudes where lament is needed. But may we also be people who declare the good while admitting the hard; there is place for both, sometimes within the same breath.
Farewell to our beloved Sydney
We love you Sydney. We will miss you incredibly—more than I have words for. You’ve been a wonderful container to hold our lives as we poured out and filled up and had opportunity to practice what we preach, even (especially) when it was hard. Thank you for shaping our lives in incredible ways through all the ordinary and extraordinary stuff. You have been my dream come true and that’s no small thing.
Onward. It’s time.
*Of course friends know that I almost always use “note” as a euphemism to mean an extremely long letter-ish thing that I don’t know what to call.
Rachel Norman26 July 2022 at 2:03 am
I’d love to read your family newsletter on this transition, can you send it to email@example.com as you said in your post!