Today’s guest is Marion. And I think I have known Marion all her life. She’s actually one of Mum and Dad’s godchildren. And so, yeah, we’ve grown up together but like not in each other’s pockets. Different churches and stuff. And then come together for a special family occasions. And then Marion became an adult, as you do. And the age difference just stopped mattering altogether. And it’s just really cool to see how you’ve grown up into this, not just a real person, but an amazing person.
So I’m looking forward to sharing my friendship with Marion, with all of my listeners. So very welcome.
All right. Question one always. How did you become a Christian?
I was thinking about this the other day and chatting to someone at church and saying, it’d be fabulous to have this amazing conversion story. But for me, not so much. I obviously grew up in a Christian home because my dad was an Anglican minister and Mum and Dad were missionaries with CMS when I was born. Growing up, I had this sense that God had a plan for me because when I was three months old, I actually had appendicitis and had my appendix removed in East Africa by an eye surgeon.
And as an adult you go, wow. But as a kid, you just go, oh. So I had an operation as a three month old. But I think that gave a sense of purpose throughout my childhood and particularly through my teen years.
And then thirty years ago this summer, I was on Mayfield Camp, which is an Anglican camp. And I experienced God in an undeniable way. So one night in my tent. I was praying and I just had this amazing sense of God’s presence. So I think that really kept me going through the teenage years where you question what life’s all about. And yeah, I guess that’s my story. Obviously, that changed, morphed over the years and I got to know God better.
It just goes to show, see, I didn’t know about that appendicitis. I think this is one of the reasons why I like doing these interviews, because I find out things like that. That’s … That’s incredible.
Yeah, it was amazing. Like mum and dad were basically told to say goodbye to me as they took me off to theatre because I was so ill. They suspected a bowel obstruction. And obviously, it was an eye surgeon because he had the finest surgery skills in East Africa. And yeah, they happened to go hunting and found an appendix about to burst.
So how old were you when you actually went back here?
I was one when we moved back. So I have no memories. I wish I did, but I don’t.
And you have four siblings?
I’m the youngest or five, two brothers and two sisters.
And some of them have probably had quite good memories of Africa?
Yeah. Yeah. They all they all have memories, which is pretty unfortunate that I don’t. Family slide nights were always really boring because I only appeared right at the end. And then we came back to Australia and switched to photos.
So, you know, childhood memories of being left out.
And your parents’ story is is huge. Can we briefly encapsulated it?
Yeah, my dad was Dutch Indonesian. So he was in Indonesia when the Second World War broke out. He was then put into a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese and separated. He and his next brother in line, he was the oldest, was separated from the family and treated as adults, even though they were teenagers. They eventually were sponsored to Australia after the war. Dad was an electrician, became a clergyman. He felt the call to East Africa. So he went to East Africa and then wrote my mum a letter (who was also the daughter of a clergyman) saying, Would you like to marry me? So my mum jumped on a boat by herself and headed out to East Africa to meet to marry someone she obviously had met. But yeah, it’s quite amazing. My mum’s courage and my dad’s courage and those things.
Yeah, absolutely it is. It’s incredible. Did you feel pressure to be a good Christian because of what they’d been through?
I think mum and dad always had this strong desire that our faith was our own. So that they didn’t want us just coming to, they obviously wanted us coming to church, but they wanted it to be our choice as well. So when Sunday sport came into the picture for my brother, they went, well, we don’t have a Sunday night service, but you need to find somewhere that does.
And it was never about looking good for the family. It was about knowing God and building that relationship for ourselves.
That’s really awesome. So you studied science?
What interested you in science and where did you find God in science?
I did science because I love learning and I’ve got a very science-focussed brain. And I love learning just for the sake of learning. I’d happily just work in research if it didn’t involve grants and politics and all that sort of thing. I went into science. It seemed like the right thing to do. I don’t know. I didn’t have any sense of huge career plan other than I loved learning. It was interesting, one of my first years in the science course, we had to write an essay pro or against creation. And I wrote obviously pro-creation. And I wrote this really good essay and I got it back and my lecturer who marked it said, ‘Really good essay. But I couldn’t give you a higher mark because I don’t believe in what you wrote.’ Even though he could see my argument.
That’s very poor academically.
So I was very, very aware in life sciences, where I was studying that it was very evolutionary based and made for some good discussions.
But I tend to not to initiate those discussions. But I love the fact that in nature you can see so much of God’s design. It doesn’t work if there’s no thought and design behind it. And I ended up in aquatic botany and I loved looking under electron microscope at, you know, things that aren’t visible to the human eye and just the detail and the beauty of them. I mean, yeah, I’d love to do that every day.
For sure, I want to say. So we’ve talked to other scientists. Last week I talked to Steve. We didn’t talk a lot about science, actually, but he’s definitely an evolution-believing Christian scientist.
So, yeah, I just want to say, for people listening, I think there are Christians who lean both ways.
Absolutely. I mean, I don’t think I don’t necessarily believe in that it happened in seven days. Exactly. I think life morphs and changes over many, many years.
I think it would be really wonderful if somebody had been there. Then we’d know for sure.
But it’s much nicer not knowing for sure. Because then there’s questions and then there’s conversations whereas if it’s an absolute then that leaves no space for discussion and theories.
That is absolutely the point. That is a great point to make. And I think if as Christians, we can have the conversations without the anger and the angst about.
Oh, absolutely. I’m always open to someone saying, have you thought about this? How does that match up with your beliefs?
Yeah. Yeah. Marvellous. Okay. So you married Tim? Yep. And then you had a baby and your life changed in a very big way so how about you tell us about that.
Tim and I got married at the end of 2000. And unlike the stories we’ve heard, our first year of marriage was lovely, our second year of marriage, we concieved Joseph and were expecting Joseph our eldest. And my mum also got diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is asbestos cancer. And she died a week before our second wedding anniversary while me and two of my sisters were pregnant. So, yeah, it was it was an interesting launch into parenthood because I didn’t have my mum there who would have been my you know, you ask your mum all the weird questions. And I’m blessed to have sisters who I could ask weird questions of and ‘is this normal?’ questions. But then nine months into Joseph’s life, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. We’d suspected long before that. But health professionals who only saw glimpses of him didn’t see too much cause for alarm because he was alert and following conversations. But yes, he’s got cerebral palsy. And for him, it just a physical disability. There’s no intellectual or emotional or behavioural aspects.
But yeah, it’s ended up that we’ve had a parenting experience very different from what you plan.
You don’t kind of fall pregnant and think, oh, I wonder what disability my child will have? You know, you block those out. So yes, that’s challenged my parenting ideals, you kind of think, how do you parent and then your world turns upside down and you go into survival mode and grief mode for on an off probably for his entire life, I imagine.
Yeah. Very much survival mode for the first few years.
So you were telling me a while back that it’s been difficult in that his physical disability is so profound.
And then there’s just no mental disability. He’s very bright.
He’s a typical teenager. He wants all the independence that typical teenagers have.
And in one sense, in one sense, he’s an amazingly well-balanced kid. We haven’t had huge. I mean, there’s obviously occasional tantrums, but we haven’t had huge tantrums or anything like that. And it’s possibly because we learned very early on that communication was key.
So we worked hard on his communication and we over-communicate to all our children because we’re used to communicating so well. But yeah, obviously for him now, his friends are getting part-time jobs and learning to drive and going out of a night and drinking some of them, even though they’re a bit young. And it’s he can’t do a lot of those things. There’s some things he doesn’t want to do, like the drinking bit. But yeah, the rubber’s hitting the road in one sense that he’s life’s quite different.
And he’s so he’s so aware of that.
Absolutely. Absolutely. His most recent argument with me was that he wanted more control over his life. But like a typical teen you give them more control, and they go ‘I don’t want that much’.
So, yeah, it’s a it’s a challenge walking that minefield and balancing. Giving him independence. Keeping him physically safe and cared for.
Yeah. It’s a huge challenge. Yeah. Was it challenging to to have another child?
It was. It took us quite a while to be ready to have another child. I mean, the fact that Joseph barely slept for his first few years of life and still doesn’t sleep all night means that you really don’t want to add a screaming newborn into the mix. But God in his grace knew what we needed and what we could cope with. And our second child, Daniel is a textbook baby. He slept through the night without any effort. He fed. He did everything they meant to do you. He talked early. Obviously, I think cause he went speech therapy, which I certainly he got on the go, you know, all those things that as a parent, I was probably ready to be anxious about. God really made that without me even asking him for it. Yeah, we survived just by the grace of God, I think. But I mean, Joseph, as an only child, he would, as much to he’d like to say he’d love it. He’d hate it. And I love the fact that my kids have siblings. And they like each other.
You have a daughter as well?
I do. Yeah, I do. I have a daughter, Anna, who’s 7, Joseph’s 16, Daniel’s 13. And Anna was kind of in. You know, she was the icing on the cake. Shall we say?
And I don’t know that I’m wired to parent girls quite as easily as parenting boys. But, you know, well, it’s nice having a daughter. And obviously their relationships are different.
And it’s good for the boys to have a sister. Good for her to have brothers?
It’s always the challenges in life that make us grow and mature.
How can the church support better people who are in your sort of situation?
It’s a really tricky question because I often ponder these and I’m just so aware that our experience of disability is quite in many ways quite different from the norm.
I think. As a society. We cope better with knowing how to support those with Down syndrome or those with an intellectual disability. I think for Joseph, the struggle is that he doesn’t really necessarily feel like he fits in at youth group and, you know, the typical church activities that we provide for young people and young adults. But having said that, he’s got some amazingly good relationships with some of our youth leader at church who’s just moved on to a different job.
But he and another couple of adults at church are the reasons Joseph turns up every Sunday. They are the ones who you message him and say, Joseph where are you? You know, we missed you or … So I think that building relationships really helps. The early years I definitely appreciated our church village helping out with, you know, looking after kids or dropping a meal off or all the normal things I guess a family enjoys and appreciates.
But maybe for us it was just helpful to survive.
Yeah, but I guess it’s that looking at Joseph as an individual and not as a disabled child.
Absolutely. And, you know, just thinking about how, I mean, the worst thing he hates is people pushing him to do something just because they’ve made the effort because he’s disabled.
Because for him, there’s no intellectual disability. He’s just like, just don’t, you know, you’re trying too hard. Yeah. It’s looking how churches can support him. And I think it’s down to individuals. It’s down to that building relationship and building community.
I’m very conscious that those individual relationships that make the difference.
With him, and with you and with Tim as well.
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I think for many years, Tim and I have had our heads in the sand not recognising the impact of Joseph’s disability on us, because it’s just what we’ve known as life. You know, it’s our journey. And only more recently, when Joseph’s become more independent, we’ve gone, oh, this is what life’s like for the rest of the world. This is how easy it is just to get two kids off to school who can do it all themselves, you know.
It’s really huge.
Yes. But but I guess what my take home message is, this is not a one size fits all.
No, it’s a really, really complex thing because I mean, some people like Joseph with cerebral palsy would have processing issues or sensory issues, which church does doesn’t match. Often what families need at church is a difficulty, whether it’s getting your kids to sit through church or cope with the loudness, or the number of people or … I think the beauty is when the Christian community can offer flexibility. Things outside of the typical Sunday service.
Yes, I know one of my friends went to church on Sunday, she looked at her daughter who has autism. And no, not huge, but she’s on the spectrum. But she just looked at okay, we’re starting school, which is when we’re recording this, by the way, like second week back at school. We’re starting school. Everything’s changing for her. And she just can’t cope with being inside the big church. So they just sat in the foyer and their daughter did craft all over the floor and nobody had a problem. It was fine. And I thought to have the sense to say this is what we need. And, you know, church was still part of it. But yeah, it was, you know, flexible. I think it was beautiful.
Well, Sunday for us, Joseph choice to stay home from church and we just had to go, okay, you’ve had three big days of school at a new school with new people, new aids, new everything. And he just couldn’t process anymore relationship, you know, kind of interaction. And we went, that’s fine. You know, God still loves you even if you can’t make church. So it’s partly walking that teenage line of they don’t always want to go to church with mum and dad too.
Yeah. Yeah. Which is just for normal teenagers it’s hard enough. When do we push? When do you hold back?
Yeah, I know.
Absolutely. No, I get that. Okay. So there’s more to your life than just being a parent. What else is happening for you right now?
Well, this year is different from the last few years. I’ve been working as the office manager at Edge Anglican, my local church.
But six months ago, I got the sense that God was calling me to do something different. So obedient to that. I went, okay, God, I’m going to take a month to work out what you want me to do and not react from emotion or tiredness or whatever.
That’s because that change point often just feels like I don’t like what’s happening at the moment. I feel uncomfortable.
I just sort of run away.
So if you’re feeling that at the moment it might be that God’s saying actually, time for something new.
Absolutely. And so I took a month and week one into the month, I went, Well, God, what am I going to do if I’m not at work? Like I’m not an idle person. I like to fill my time with something. And I’m sitting there and God goes study theology. And I just sat there absolutely floored because that was not what I was expecting. And then obviously, I went through the whole. I’m not good enough. How will I cope? Financially, can we do it? I’m not good enough. I don’t know enough about God. And suffice to say, it took me three weeks to even mention it to my darling husband, let alone anyone else. And Tim is not the most prompt at giving feedback. He likes to process things. And so one Sunday lunch we were washing up and I just dropped into the conversation my idea of quitting work and studying theology. He was aware of the quitting work bit. But his immediate response was go for it, it is perfect. And I just, God again totally floored me because it’s like, how can someone who doesn’t like to make decisions respond like that? So for me, that was confirmation that it was really something of God and things are falling into place. I’m about start a graduate diploma in divinity through Ridley online. So much to my children’s relief, we’re not moving away to do it. Although I think the younger two would be keen for a year or two in Melbourne. So I’m gonna fill my time by study. But at a part time load so I can still balance Joseph’s care needs and setting him up for the future. So it’s a bit weird the first week back of school, not going to work and being effectively unemployed.
And I’ve had this conversation with Marion. Where do you think that’s going to lead? And the answer is, I want to study theology this year.
Very much a sense of I’m taking it one year at a time. I have no idea what’s beyond this year. I have a heart. I’m willing to admit now I have a heart for ministry. And I think it’s being the child of a clergy person, you kind of go I don’t want to be like my parents. But I’ve got a heart for ministry and I’ve got a few murmurings of what God is putting before me, but no fixed plans beyond studying for a year. So it’s pretty exciting.
At some point I’ll need to find a job probably but.
One step at a time, one step at a time. Okay, so when do you feel close to God?
I think I feel closest to God when I’ve got dare I say it when I’ve got life in balance and a little bit more space. I find when life gets busy and I get overwhelmed, I kind of have this inner monologue of praying, you know, a lot of the time. But it’s almost my relationship with God changes when I’m under pressure. I love music. And even just putting on a worship CD when I’m washing the dishes I’ll often end up in worship and the dishes won’t matter. And I have a really, I guess a really strong sense of God through music and also through nature. I love photography. So, you know, I get amazed by God so many times. Yeah.
Yeah. And even viewing those sea creatures.
Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Cool. What’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
That’s a really hard question.
I think one thing I’ve learned is that everyone’s experience of God is so unique and there’s immense beauty in the uniqueness of people’s stories in how they even experience God on a day to day level.
I guess I’ve had those experiences of God’s presence, which have been undeniable, but I know other Christians who love God with all their heart but have never spoken in tongues, even though they’d love to. You know, everyone’s experience is so different and it’s so rich when we have time to hear other people’s stories. I think finding the depths of God when you’re at your lowest point, too, is is amazing like there’s nothing like it. But also being able to share your story so that you can bless others. Maybe you’ll say something that at the time you’ll think is insignificant and it’ll come to them at a time when they need it most. And I mean, I just love the fact that God is so big. And so immense, that he is he’s the one God but we do experience him differently. Yeah, I think that’s the thing that I love and appreciate about God.
That’s a really awesome insight. I like that. It’s like taking that elephant story and turning it on its head.
He’s the one God.
He’s just so diverse, I guess.
And I mean, I’d love to live in another culture and see the different way God is experienced in a different culture to our western culture. I think in our western culture we can pigeonhole God into us Sunday morning or into a ‘Gods only there when I’m feeling blessed’ or whatever. And I’d love to see how other cultures experience God.
Thank you so much for sharing with us. It’s been awesome to hear your story.
Thank you. It’s been a lovely privilege.