The year being such as it was, I felt it would be almost remiss of me not to reflect upon what 2016 has meant for me.
I’ve already hijacked Dicken’s opening line from A Tale of Two Cities once this year, but for my wife Helen and I, a more apt phrase could scarcely be composed to summarise the last 12 months than the immortal “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
We began the year with the expectation that it might be the last full year we spent in Brisbane, before heading to Japan as missionaries in 2017. January was busy with training conference delegates in Systematic Theology and preaching on the theme of Godliness in 2 Peter (derived partially from my research thesis work). I was saddened to hear of the death of David Bowie (certainly the only artist to die this year from whom I have a dedicated Spotify playlist), with no prescient idea that the remaining 11 months of the year would not only bring a seeming deluge of celebrity deaths, but that the relevance of any given one of them would soon be eclipsed by death much closer to home.
From what little I remember of February and March, they were busy too. We had been excited to learn in these early months of the year that we would be expecting a child before the year was over and had plenty to do with visiting churches and building partnerships in the gospel in preparation to head for Japan. We spent Easter in Warwick at their annual convention, sharing about Japan and mission opportunities and meeting lots of brothers and sisters from the Darling Downs and beyond.
We returned to Brisbane on Monday 28th March. Helen’s mother passed away tragically and completely unexpectedly on the evening of Tuesday 29th and we learned of it late in the morning of Wednesday 30th. The shockwaves of this event have been felt throughout the rest of the year until now and would be the defining feature of our 2016, if not for the fact that we can attest to the goodness and grace of God sustaining us in the months since.
I am yet to make a serious attempt to recount what occurred after Easter and how it’s affected our lives: perhaps I will at a suitable point in the future. But suffice it to say that when the death of someone close to you comes out of nowhere, the shock and grief is immense, long-lasting and carries with it a complex array of unwanted side-effects. At the end of the year, I must thank God again for the way he moved the hearts of family and friends to care for us during this terrible time in our lives. Things would have been immeasurably worse if we did not have the support we received then and in subsequent months.
How does one “get on with life” when such a profoundly traumatic event has rocked your world? We certainly tried in the following months and I was able to slowly return to my research work, while together we resumed our church ministry involvement and continued to press on with preparations for Japan and church partnership visits. As our baby’s due date approached, I think we crammed as much as humanly possible into July and August in anticipation of a mandatory slow-down following her birth. I was quite badly affected emotionally by the death of my last living grandparent (“Poppa”), partly due to his rejection of the gospel over the years and partly because we had planned to visit him in New Zealand around this time or early next year to introduce him to his great-granddaughter.
When our little girl did arrive in September the joy of her birth, in no small way, salvaged 2016 from feeling like a year of devastation and desolation. She is a most precious gift from God that brings us great delight, even as we struggle to adjust to the challenges and demands of first-time parenting off the back of the difficulties that were already present in our lives during the past year. I cannot regard 2016 as a truly bad year – even though it has been an incredibly hard period, because I can never view the season my precious daughter entered the world in such a negative light.
I’ve reflected on some of the spiritual lessons of early parenthood here, and I could and possibly should add a considerable number more to another installment in the future. But having a child is not simply about reflecting and growing – it brings a unique kind of enjoyment that I relish amongst my daily struggles with sin, stress, selfishness and sadness. Thanks be to God for His wonderful blessing of a healthy, growing baby girl this year!
Four months on, we are grateful for her and for God’s grace to us, but exhausted in nearly every way imaginable. It was difficult to return to research again at a reasonable pace after yet another major life event within such a short space of time. And the adjustments we are trying to make to life with an infant have required probably more energy than we’ve had left. We have found it impossible to resume partnership building activities since our daughter’s birth and as a result have needed to put our preparations for Japan on hold while we try to refresh and recuperate over the next few months.
We have enjoyed recent opportunities to be with family and friends who know us well as the year closes and reflect on the great, eternal truths of Christ revealed in the Christmas story. 2016 was a year that stretched us at least to our personal limits and perhaps even past them – but we’re reminded as it slowly fades into history that there is no time like now to “Give thanks to YHWH, for He is good and His lovingkindness endures forever!”
Postscript: I had intended originally to make some passing remarks and reflections upon world and national events that coloured 2016, but have run out of time and space to do so. Obviously events such as the election of King Kong Donald Trump as U.S. President; the Brexit vote; and the election of a wafer-thin Turnbull government in Australia will all be events that continue to affect the unfolding of history and social issues in 2017 and beyond. They will no doubt appear in the pages of The Lion & Phoenix, should God permit me to continue writing in the coming year(s).
The parliamentary defeat of the proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage will unfortunately not bury the issue in the coming years. And the re-ignition of abortion as a social issue in Queensland by the actions of Rob Pyne MP and others will need to be engaged with hard in the early months of the new year.
The terrorist attacks on Nice and Berlin will unfortunately become distant memories, replaced in the public consciousness by more recent attacks by Islamic extremists. And while I sincerely hopes that 2016 will be the last full year of the Syrian Civil Way, it would be foolish to hold one’s breath while waiting for its definitive conclusion. The one truth that must guide our perspective as this tumultuous year comes to an end and its unpredictable successor begins is that: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”
“”You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12)
 Alan O’Rourke Year_2016_Navy (CC BY 2.0)