Cloudless blue skies soar above us. Food and drink – all packed. We turn round the bend, then take a left onto State Highway 1. Two hours of driving towards the Southern Alps awaits. “It’ll be a day trip,” I assured the passengers: an elf queen and three hobbits. Yes – we’re going there and back again.
How to sum up 2018 – our second year in Sydney, our second year raising three kids, our second year digging into the riches of God’s Word? It’s been like a long stretch of gravel road sometimes – bumpy, never-ending, full of surprising potholes.
I learned to schedule important due dates a day or two early, and expect the rest of the time to be filled with unexpected moments. A difficult parenting moment. An impromptu confer and counsel with someone. A daddy date, a playground appointment, a train station excursion. A lecturer wisely pointed out that an essay takes as long as you give it. So this year was spent channelling research and essays into the allocated time. “Turn my eyes away from worthless things!” has been my constant, half-successful mantra this year.
Yet I’m grateful it’s a road others have travelled before us, and alongside us. It’s been amazing how fellow students were so willing to share ideas, resources, notes, and to spur each other on. What a privilege it’s been to learn in community.
“I want to see my name.” Dust billows behind us as we barrel towards our destination: Mount Sunday. Once upon a time, herders on horseback peeled away from their farms to meet on this rocky outcrop beyond the Ashburton Lakes. These drovers would perch on the rock to regale anecdotes of the past week, a tumbleweed-strewn valley before them, snowy peaks surrounding them.
My walk with God has been average this year. Some days were easier. Many days were hard. Is it ironic that I found it easier to parse Hebrew than to pray to the High King? “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps 94:19)
I’ve learned this year to try and give each area of my life full attention rather than attempt to power through multiple areas with partial attention. I’ve had to practice letting go of my need to perfect every assignment at the expense of sleep. It’s been a different rhythm this year: work hard during the day, then clock off and give Cheryl and the kids my full attention. Catch up on studies in the evenings, but be realistic. God will look after the results. And looking back, He really has. My proud self wants to claim credit, but no. It’s a work of God’s grace in me. My part to play remains – I want to keep changing and becoming more like Christ. To prioritise more than just my studies in 2019. I want to enjoy God, love Cheryl, nourish our children, and serve those around me: church and family, friends and neighbours.
We cross the one-lane bridge, and pause in awestruck wonder. At last! Mt Sunday these days is better known as the filming location for Edoras in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. You first meet Theoden, King of the Rohirrim, here: corrupted by the evil wizard Saruman. Hope seems lost for men, yet when Gandalf the White strides into Meduseld and reveals himself, he drives out the darkness in Theoden and the first ray of hope begins to shine through. Edoras becomes a Rock of Remembrance, where good starts to triumph over evil.
After God provides Israel with an undeserved victory over the Philistines in we read in the Bible that
Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, â€œThus far the Lord has helped us.â€1 Samuel 7:12
As we look back this year – wow, hasn’t the Lord helped us! So many Ebenezers. So many Rocks of Remembrance. So many moments of God’s faithfulness and kindness. A band of brothers sharing our weakness to a groom-to-be. Nature walks and ant swarms. Games of Crocodile on the lawn. Quietly exchanging verses and prayers while watching children play. Belting out “All Hail, Redeemer, hail!” with a thousand voices. The still small voice of comfort at a spiritual retreat. Children’s birthday parties. Sunday night laughs and tears. Sharing the gospel with a fellow bus passenger, and hearing him trade an addiction for a worship service. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
“Can we come back to my name?”
“I don’t know son. Perhaps one day.”
2019 will bring more adventures, more Ebenezers, more chances to reflect on God’s kindness to us as we sojourn a final year in Sydney.
So here’s to another year of walking by faith, amidst our failures, looking to our Solid Rock.
“Here I raise my Ebenezer,Robert Robinson, “Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing”
Hither by Thy help Iâ€™ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.”