Adventure Graham

Snippets of Graham family adventures in faithfulness

Category: Gratitude (page 1 of 2)

On 9/11, Solidarity, and Today

By Elizabeth

Solidarity. Let's Stand together.

Solidarity. Let’s Stand together.

Out of curiosity, I posed a question on Facebook this we week. Posing questions on Facebook can be a dangerous endeavor, I know. But this question didn’t involve the names of any US presidential candidates so I felt relatively safe. The results evoked feelings I didn’t expect.

Me: Kiwi friends—I am curious. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on this day [September 11] 15 years ago?

A few of their responses went like this…

 

PC  (India) I was in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India – when we got a news that my uncle was flying to London from India and he was stopped somewhere, don’t know in which country he was..No Msgs no phone calls- saw the attack on the news channels and was praying to listen to a good news about my uncle. Can’t forget that moment 😞

PW (New Zealand) I remember I was at the dress makers with my nana when we saw it on TV. Couldn’t believe what was happening. I was thinking of all the people who lost their lives and thinking of their families. Such a sad time. That was before i had so many American friends.

PW (England) I had just got home from High School and saw the news

BB (New Zealand) I couldn’t sleep so got up and watched TV. It was about 2am when I surfed through the chanels and saw the plane hit the building and sat watching thinking how did they manage to make that look so real (thinking it was a movie) after a moment or two I realised it was real so went and woke Adrian saying America has been attacked. We sat watching until 5am when we knew we had to get some sleep before going to work. I still find I get riveted to the TV when programs come on about it, like last night there were some on the History chanel.

AP (New Zealand) Yes, absolutely. We were living in London at the time. So I was at work, word got around as to the terrifying drama that was occurring, so we were all watching it on TV (saw the collaspe live on TV). Horrible, scary stuff.

SW (New Zealand) I was living in Auckland and my sister was staying with me. I remember just watching TV continuously in a complete daze with tears running dwn my face. I felt so helpless.

JM (New Zealand) I was pregnant with Paul and was in a shop that had s TV on and we all stood there saying is this real footage, not a movie??? We couldnt believe it. I worried for the people I met while living in Baltimore if they were safe 😢😢 just stared at all the news reports in complete horror and sadness x

FR (New Zealand) I had got up to go and milk cows. An A.B technician had arrived (if you don’t know what that is we’ll discuss it over a family meal together sometime 🙂 ). It was really early so I hadn’t seen the news. She told me the US had been attacked so as I began the milking I flicked the radio on to listen to the news. I spent the day following it and feeling devastated for those who lost their lives, the families, and worrying about the fear that would grip the nation, and what that fear might lead to. 9/11 holds horror for much of the Americas – also thinking of Chile and their remembrance of the horrible military coupe on 9/11 1973 that saw the death of their democratically elected leader and put the violent leadership of Pinochet in power.

 

As I read those, I felt a lot of things, but the one thing that has really stuck with me is a sense of solidarity. A sense of unity over something held in common. Intentionally shared experience. Though I call these people friends now, I didn’t know one of them back then. 15 years ago, many of them didn’t know a single American personally. Yet, in these responses, I hear them saying, “We stood with you. We hurt with you. We felt your pain. We remember with you.” 9/11 holds for them a significant place of horror in their lives as well. And, while I wish we could erase the atrocities surrounding these memories, the sense of solidarity that those shared memories provide, feels really good. They cared. They felt deeply. That matters.

The more I think about it, the more I can’t help but think of the gift of solidarity that we have to offer to those currently escaping the violence of similar extremist groups. To those whose homes have been reduced to rubble much like the Twin Towers. To those who don’t have the resources to fight back. To those who are desperate to help their families feel safe again. Thousands and thousands of those people will go to sleep in refugee camps tonight, not knowing what tomorrow holds. They’ve had that September 11 feeling every night for months, even years now, with no end in sight.

No matter how helpless we feel, we can certainly offer our solidarity, saying, “On some small level, we know what it is to feel the uncertainty and grief and violation in the face of terrorists, and we stand with you. We remember how painful that feels, and we hurt with you. We remember our own grief and we grieve with you. Even if we never have the opportunity to learn your name, or meet you personally, we stand with you.”

I hope and pray that if anything could come out of those events 15 years ago, it would be hearts of empathy and compassion for those who continue to suffer. It would be eyes that see our own children sitting in shock on the back of an ambulance or lying on the edge of a body of water. It would be hands that offer a cup of cold water and warm blankets. It would be spirits that desire peace and refuge for all. It would be solidarity. Let’s stand together.

 

Parting Shot

The calm, peaceful waters of Blue Springs (as seen in the picture above) pick up speed and force further down stream.

The calm, peaceful waters of Blue Springs (as seen in the picture above) pick up speed and force further down stream.

 

 

Putting it into Perspective Part 2

By Jaron

cool tree

Perspective. It’s a funny thing.  It’s one of those things that comes by way of experience, impacted by relationships and circumstances. Last week, I wrote about some of the ways living in New Zealand has given me perspective on how much disposable income many Americans and New Zealanders have—and how much is available for the average person’s disposal, but I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t take it one step further.

One of the things I love about living in NZ is that it is such a diverse place. In our small congregation we typically worship with people from 7 or more different countries. Because of this incredible diversity we have had the opportunity to build wonderful friendships with people from around the world. What I have learned from some of these relationships is that often those who have the least are the least concerned with getting more. In fact, we have witnessed and experienced incredible acts of generosity from people who understand that stewardship is the responsibility of all who would call themselves Christian whether rich or poor.

One of those people is a friend from a small island country. She has never owned a car and had never buckled a seat belt in a car before buckling up in our passenger seat. Our friend is a single mom studying in New Zealand, far from her young boys, so she can provide a better life for her family. She is (probably unknowingly) helping us gain some much-needed perspective.

Did you know that if you live in the United States, are married with two kids and make $100,000 per year that you are in the top 2.5% of income earners in the entire world? If you are that same family and you make $50,000 per year (just under the national average) you are in the top 8.7% of income earners in the world. Click here to enter your income and see where you stand in terms of world incomes. Did you do it? Kind of puts things into perspective, huh?!

The point is that rarely do we as Americans or Kiwis have any reason to call ourselves poor or act like we don’t have enough. Perhaps our finances are tight because of decisions we have made about what kind of cars we will drive, and how nice our house has to be, or any number of other things. But in truth, these are decisions only the wealthy have the privilege of making.

In fact, Americans and New Zealanders alike are richer than they have ever been, and for the most part give less to charitable causes than they ever have. Even the majority of Christians are unlikely to financially support the ministry of their church in an ongoing way, much less give to other ministries or organizations.

As I meet people from around the world, as I work alongside pastors who have immigrated to NZ who work all day in the secular world in order to support their ministry and then sign up to take bachelors courses at night so they can better serve the church, and as I am confronted with the generosity of those who perhaps steward much smaller storehouses, my perspective continues to grow.

Take our friend from that small island country, for example. She lives on a small stipend meant to cover her living expenses. Out of that, each month she sends as much money as she possibly can to her parents in order to provide for her boys. Yet, before she does any of those things, she gives a tithe of her meager income, and then she gives above and beyond that to help support the work of the church. Every. Single. Month.

My hope and prayer is that we, both from America and New Zealand, will come to terms with the incredible wealth with which we have been blessed. I pray that our perspective would be shaped by the knowledge that we are stewards of significant resources and that stewards carry a heavy responsibility. For that which we have been granted is not for the building of our own kingdom, but instead for investment in the Kingdom that will never spoil or fade. Let us be one in the spirit of generosity and may our faithfulness in this area grow and bear much fruit.

Parting Shot

Mt. Ruapehu and its reflect from the bogs on the Waitonga Falls Track.

Mt. Ruapehu and its reflection in the bogs on the Waitonga Falls Track.

Once Upon a Time…

By Elizabeth

 

Madi & Tyler... got into things at playgroup...

Madi & Tyler… got into things at playgroup…

Paddy is such a great cook, host, and cultural guide! She expresses love through food (and sharing her wardrobe)!

Paddy is such a great cook, host, and cultural guide! She expresses love through food (and sharing her wardrobe)!

Ready to go caving!

Ready to go caving!

Waitomo, NZ

Waitomo, NZ by Brianne Morrow

Slime and "big friends" at playgroup = entertainment for hours.

Slime and “big friends” at playgroup = entertainment for hours.

A surf lesson in Raglan. What could possibly be more kiwi?

A surf lesson in Raglan. What could possibly be more kiwi?

Sari selfie!

Sari selfie!

Our monthly Telugu (an Indian language) service took place last Saturday.

Our monthly Telugu (an Indian language) service took place last Saturday.

Once upon a time, Jaron and I were college students with stars in our eyes, dreams in our hearts, and a vast future full of possibilities ahead of us…

In those days, Jaron and a group of fellow students spent time working in Spain and led groups of high school students to serve the homeless populations in Toronto. I traveled with my family to work in Buenos Aires and cuddled babies with HIV in South Africa. In each of the places we traveled, we were welcomed and guided by people like Ronald and Shelly who eagerly shared the culture in which they lived and served. They helped open our eyes to the wide world beyond our familiar boarders and facilitated opportunities for us to hear God’s voice in fresh, new and challenging ways. We journeyed with peers like Gavin and Jill who became great friends (and matchmakers) and partners in ministry across the globe. We both found that our time spent in cross-cultural experiences across the globe was significant and formational, and would have been even if we’d never hopped the pond.

There is something rich and challenging and growing about stepping outside of our own normal to give of ourselves, and to learn from a different culture and context. Its’ the kind of experience that shapes ones worldview in tangible and intangible ways.

So when we were asked to host a group of students from Jaron’s Alma Mater, we jumped at the chance, although we were most certainly confused about how we could possibly be old enough to sit in the host/mentor seat. Once upon a time wasn’t actually that long ago, was it? We’ll chalk it up to being mature for our age. 😉 We believe in the value of cross-cultural experiences, particularly for young adults. We couldn’t wait to be a part of investing in a group of students.

Turns out, we got the awesome end of that bargain. The mums and caregivers at our music group for little ones agree. They are wondering when the next team is coming! As we put our team back on the plane on Monday, it was with hearts full of gratitude for six 20-somethings who for two weeks willingly served, explored, surfed, played, worked, prayed, and celebrated God’s good work alongside us. They ate all the food (no matter how spicy). They asked all the good questions and listened attentively. They articulated the ways they see God at work in profound ways.

One of our students wrote this in reflection:

“A few months ago, I would of never thought I would be serving God in such a beautiful country. No words can describe the beauty of God’s creation and what I saw while being on the trip. Saying this, my word for the trip was fearless. I was trusting God with all my heart with my unknown destination and there were many moments on the trip where I had to tell myself to trust God and be fearless in the conversations I had with others. One of my takeaways was just being able to see and experience a little glimpse of Heaven while being at Crossroads Church. The diversity of the Church and being able to come together and worship God from all different backgrounds and nationalities was truly remarkable. There were many times during the pop up events that I had to remind myself that we were planting seeds for God’s Kingdom, and even though we may not see the end result it is still very important. Every person has a name and every name has a story, it’s our job as Christians to know those names and find out their story. Thank you for allowing us to come and experience God in a new, awesome, and powerful way.”

In a week punctuated by horrific news in the media, these six were a source of joy, optimism and hope. Indeed a future filled with the faith, commitment, and love that these six live out daily is a very hope-filled future indeed.

 

Parting Shot

Madi, Bri, Bethany, Caity, Riley & Tyler's parting shot from Hamilton.

Madi, Bri, Bethany, Caity, Riley & Tyler’s parting shot from Hamilton.

For Love or Money

 

By Jaron

"Can I come visit you at your house in Figi," Q asked his friend P as they played on the boat. P responded in her Guatemalan accent with an occasional kiwi lilt thrown in, "Yes! You must come to my house in Figi!"

“Can I come visit you at your house in Fiji,” Q asked his friend P as they played on the boat. P responded in her Guatemalan accent with an occasional kiwi lilt thrown in, “Yes! You must come to my house in Fiji!” I guess it’s a good thing it’s only a short plane ride away.

“I love going to America. It’s like anything you could ever imagine has already been invented and they have it there!” our friend Mercedes exclaimed as we ate dinner at their home one evening. Like us, Mercedes and her husband Carlos are sojourners in a foreign land. We are from the U.S. they are from Guatemala, but among other things, we are united by our common love of salsa and guacamole, which don’t really exist here, and which Mercedes makes really well.

Some of our first friends here in NZ moved to Fiji this past weekend. Carlos and Mercedes have been good friends to us. They are a fantastic Christian couple with a daughter around the same age as Q and a one-year-old son. Plus, they use the same American English lingo as we do, only in the accent of of someone who’s first language is Spanish, which makes us feel even more at home. We love discussing things with them from the perspective that can only be gained by living away from your home country. One of those things is economics.

As a whole, Americans (me included), are completely unaware of how much money we have and how accessible everything is. Case in point: on one trip to their storage unit with a trailer load full of stuff, Carlos was telling me about this cool new service that a man he knew had developed. He excitedly described to me that the man had essentially built large storage shed-like boxes that he would drop off at your house for you to pack your stuff in, after which he would pick the boxes up and store them in a warehouse until you needed your things again. He’d then have the storage box dropped off at your desired location. That sounds oddly familiar to me. Or in a conversation later that day he told me about the new car wash he had recently used that allows you to put money in a machine and use a high pressure wand to clean your car. “It’s so cool! You can even use soap, wax, tire cleaner or any number of other products while you are at it!” Seems like I may have used something like that a time or two.  Some New Zealand entrepreneurs are looking at successful U.S. concepts (e.g. PODS and car washes) and introducing them here to great success.

The point is that we as Americans have everything available to us. And we consume a lot. A whole lot. For good or bad this impacts economics and innovation. Mercedes’ comment about America already having everything is in many ways true. Americans have the resources, the demand and the motivation to create any number of products. Our cost for basic necessities is also so much lower than much of the rest of the world that most individual Americans have way more disposable income than any other population group in the world.

This truth has been very apparent to us in NZ. New Zealand is a completely developed Western country. It has a high overall quality of life, relatively high average family income, and lots of things to purchase and use. Yet the amount of consumption by average Kiwis is markedly lower than that of my fellow Americans. I’m sure there are many reasons for this but one of the most noticeable is that things just cost so much. For example, food here is 3 to 4 times more expensive, low oil prices mean fuel is currently the equivalent of a mere $8 per gallon, a 2 x 4 at the hardware store costs $12, and a box of screws will set you back $200. The math is simple. People make salaries similar to the United States but things cost more, so overall they purchase less.

I’m not complaining. In fact I think it’s probably good that consumption is generally lower. It’s just that as a middle class American, my eyes have been opened somewhat to the power of our resources. Along with Western Europe we account for about 60% of the world’s overall consumption. That means that we spend a boatload of money on stuff each day of our lives. The average person in America will consume 53 times more over their lifetime than the average person in China, or 35 times more than someone from India. The bottom line is that we have more disposable income available so we spend it.

As I’ve reflected on this over the past few months I’ve been wondering what would happen if we consumed just a little bit less and redirected those resources to the mission of God? Take for example our good friends Gavin and Jill Fothergill who, with their two kids, serve as missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world. Recently while working to start a new church in Congo, Gavin had to drive for hours on unpaved roads, leave his car at the side of a river, and cross in a canoe, in the pitch black of night to reach his destination. All this so that the gospel could be spread. In Congo $12,000-$15,000 U.S. dollars can build a Nazarene school in any number of villages and could serve hundreds of kids by providing education and introducing them to Jesus. Click here to hear Gavin’s version of this story.

We have personally met missionaries from Papua New Guinea who serve in the small Island nation of Vanuatu. A few hundred dollars per month would help put food on their table and send their kids to school. We also have missionaries working knee deep in the refugee crises currently taking place in Europe. They are in desperate need of resources to provide things as simple as shoes for hurting families in search of a new, safer place to call home. Click here to read about their compelling work.

If we consumed just a little bit less, what could we do? If we passed up that new car and bought a used one instead, how many schools could we build?  If we ate out just a little less, how many missionaries could we help feed? If we bought just a few less items of clothing each year, how many refugees could we help provide food, clothing and shelter for? If we bought a little bit smaller house, what difference could we make in our own communities?

What if we all just started by tithing? What if we gave 10% of our income, right off the top to our local church? If we all did that, imagine the impact it would make not only in our church but around the world? Imagine the people that would hear the gospel with their ears, and feel the gospel in the extension of the loving hands of Christians who are fully resourced and sent into the world.

What if people like Mercedes could say, “I love going to America, because every way of supporting the spreading of the Gospel you can think of has already been thought of, and they live it out there like nowhere else in the world.”

Parting Shot

There were heavy clouds over the pond at Minogue Park as Q and I checked out the new-to-us playground and enjoyed a picnic with this view last Saturday.

There were heavy clouds over the pond at Minogue Park as Q and I checked out the new-to-us playground and enjoyed a picnic with this view last Saturday.

 

H is for Hospitality

I have long thought the great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen nailed it with this quote on hospitality.

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

It’s a quote that is particularly relevant in our current political climate. It is also very relevant in this phase of our journey. In a more profound way than any other time in our lives, we find ourselves as the stranger in need of hospitality.

We’re the ones who don’t know the right words to say.

Who don’t have the right accent.

Who don’t know our way around.

Who are trying to navigate a healthcare system that is foreign to us.

Who find “our foods” in the international aisle at the grocery store.

Who don’t know the rules of the road.

Who aren’t sure where to purchase household supplies.

Who don’t know how to read the names of places.

Who misunderstand and mispronounce names.

We are other.

And we are in need of hospitality—a kind of hospitality that allows us to become a friend instead of an enemy, that allows us to change and grow, that doesn’t create dividing lines.

It is this very type of hospitality we have received in ways that keep us feeling humbled and grateful and ever-mindful of the ways God is calling us to extend hospitality.

Our neighbor from down the road, Cedrick, stops by weekly to check in—usually with something like passion fruit ice cream, or a bag of freshly picked plums in his hand.

Cedrick and his wife, Stephanie, graciously invited us to share Christmas brunch with their family, where there were delicious foods assembled in ways we’d never tasted or seen before. They told us they’d be giving each of their grandchildren a gift and then provided Q with a small gift as well.

Paul spent hours and hours one week helping us car shop, price compare, negotiate, and complete the purchase of our car.

Hope has invited me to work out on Monday nights, hike Hakarimata Summit early in the mornings, join their family at the park, and try new restaurants—and she has driven every time so far! 😉

Carlos and Mercedes invited us to their house where they treated us to a Guatemalan barbecue complete with homemade salsa, guacamole, and tortillas. We savored their food and the familiarity of their accents and the commonality of being other.

Andum and Joyful and Joan, members of our new church family, gifted Q with thoughtful gifts to commemorate his first Christmas in New Zealand—sand toys for the beach from Andum and Joyful and a stuffed kiwi bird from Joan.

Gladys made extra sweet mince pies to share at tea time on Sunday so we could taste a treat her family loves at Christmas time.

Hayley, our next door neighbor, brought a pot of yellow flowers for us and a Christmas gift for Quentin, even though I usually just see her through our kitchen windows as we prepare dinner in our own homes.

The farmer we bought a dining table from stopped by a couple of days later with trout he had caught and smoked the day before. Never mind that the reason he had to sell his table in the first place is because a new motorway is scheduled to go right through the middle of where their house currently stands on their family farm.

The couple whose dog we’re dog-sitting (more on that next week) has invited us out to their farm for tea so we can get a true taste of the country-side.

Phill and Pam generously gifted us their old barbecue grill when they got a new one and then brought it over along with ready friendship and delicious pavlova to share.

It’s hospitality. Defined in word and deed. We couldn’t be more grateful. These and so many others have been a means of grace to us. Just when I thought I hadn’t ever been on the receiving end of such gracious and continuous hospitality, I read this blog post by Dr. Dan Boone, president of Trevecca Nazarene University. The entire post is worth a read, but in the midst of this season of Christmas, I can’t get these thoughts out of my head.

“The heart of Christmas is hospitality…This God has provided posada – a garden with food, water, air, shelter, safety, clothes, and companionship. God has thought of everything we need and shared it freely. What a gracious host. And even there in the garden, we raid God’s tree to rid ourselves from being dependent creatures on God’s hospitality…. The story of Jesus is the ongoing story of the hospitality of God.”

As I read and I reflected, I realized that perhaps I have taken such extreme hospitality for granted. I assumed that I was not the stranger that needed a placed to stay or the one who was thirsty and needed a drink. And yet, I am a person in need of the great hospitality of God as much as any other.

What’s more, my call as a Christian is to extend radical, gracious, limitless hospitality to both stranger and neighbor. Those who are like me and those who aren’t. Those who know how the systems work and the words to use and those who don’t. For it is in my extension of hospitality that others will see and come to know the very image of God.

Parting Shot

The view from the car park (parking area) at the rodeo.

The view from the car park (parking area) at the rodeo.

Similar…But Different: The First Sunday

I anticipate that this will be one of many installments of “Similar…But Different.” We’ve been in New Zealand precisely one week and already the list is long…grocery shopping, driving, laundry, banking and money, daily routines (i.e. morning and afternoon tea)…. This installment, however, has to do with two first Sundays: our first Sunday as pastors of Lovington Church of the Nazarene, 7.5 years ago, and our first Sunday at Hamilton Crossroads Church of the Nazarene. They are so similar…but different.

Similar… There were 27 people at church. This was the case on our first Sunday in Lovington, where the church board had sent letters to everyone who had previously been involved in the church, inviting them to welcome Jaron home and engage in the future of the church. There were about 27 people who worshiped at Hamilton Crossroads this past Sunday as well. Both groups were made up largely of a handful of committed church members who find their bodies to be aging and their energy waning.

But different… When Jaron and I arrived in Lovington, we were the youngest people in the church. His parents were the next youngest. There weren’t any children. At Crossroads, there were a couple of other young families and a total of 7 children, including Quentin.

Similar… It was summer.

But different… Our first Sunday in Lovington was at the beginning of July 2008. Summer was in full swing. Our first Sunday in Hamilton was the beginning of December 2015. Summer is just beginning. This is the last week of school before a six-week summer holiday.

Similar… A husband and wife pair led the worship with a piano and a vocalist.

But different… In Lovington, the husband and wife pair was Jaron’s parents, life-long members of the church, and were accompanied by another vocalist. The Hamilton worship leaders are a husband and wife team from Singapore who have recently been granted permanent residency in New Zealand. They have two children and are acclimating to new jobs and ministry roles as well.

Similar… We ate a potluck meal after church. Everyone brought a dish or two to share and there were more desserts than anything else, as is the Nazarene potluck way.

But different… Included in the fare in Hamilton was a fried rice dish from Singapore, corned beef, and pavlova. And of course, everyone drank hot tea. Lots of it. We weren’t squeezed into a small fellowship hall space, but we were huddled around tiny tea tables as we broke bread together for the first time.

Similar… The church gifted us with a food pounding. The food pounding included great staples, as well as foods we would rarely buy.

But different… This food pounding included treasures like pulled lamb, Vegemite, crumpets, and Edam cheese.

Similar… We were setting up residence in a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house owned by the church just a short drive from church.

But different… This parsonage is called a manse. We’ll save everything else for another blog post dedicated to window screens and heating and cooling and faucets and the loo.

Similar… We felt incredibly welcomed, incredibly blessed, and incredibly humbled to be a part of the work of God in each place. We anticipated what God might do. We made space for God’s dreams to fill our minds and hearts. We saw a place and a people filled with hope and potential and possibility. We also saw a community that was lost and hurting and in desperate need of the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

 

 

Thankful

IMG_2159

My family has this Thanksgiving tradition. The breakfast table is set with china. A spread of coffee cake (grain free and refined sugar free these days), frittatas, and halved grapefruits are prepared. Is that weird? Maybe no one else in the world eats grapefruit on Thanksgiving morning, but we do. Before we pour the milk into the goblets or dig into that deliciousness, we take turns sharing what we’re thankful for around the table. It’s a tradition significant enough to have survived several locations and alternate dates. The when and where are not important. Rather, it’s the giving thanks.

This year, our veins our coursing with a sense of deep, deep gratitude.

We are grateful for a baker’s dozen of churches that this fall welcomed us with open arms, extended incredible hospitality, loved our family, and then gave generously so they too might partner with us in the work God has called us to in New Zealand. Truly, we have been blessed and humbled by our worship and our fellowship with each one.

We are grateful that Q is healthy. All of the physical exams and tests have made one thing very clear: we have a strong, healthy, growing boy. He has braved the countless hours in the car, transitions, and doctor’s appointments of these past weeks well and with a sense of humor. God has equipped him well for the cultural and social transitions that are coming.

We are thankful to be a part of a global church family—a group of people from all of the world who were willing to pray for Q’s visa, who are a part of this call, and who have surrounded us with their love and support. They are our partners in ministry as we collectively seek to embody the Kingdom of God in the world.

We are grateful for Lovington First Church of the Nazarene. They’re a church family that gets it. They get what it means to serve the community and in doing so, point people to Jesus. They get what it means to care for the poor and powerless. They get what it means to be a part of the global church and the importance of continuing to look outside themselves. They get how to love pastors well—and how to send them well. As challenging as this transition has been for them, they get how to handle it with grace. They get how to celebrate the past while looking toward the future. They get what it means to be the people of God in the world.

We are thankful for the community of Lovington. It has been a great privilege to serve this community over the past seven years. This community has embraced us with open arms, given us a place of leadership, and loved us well. The people of this community give generously to feed the hungry. They volunteer their time to care well for others. It is a place where the cities and the schools and non-profit organizations can create the coolest partnerships. They supported us while we were here, and are continuing to do so as we go. We are proud to say that this is home.

We are thankful that all of the details—support raising, visas, insurance, etc—have fallen into place perfectly over the past few weeks. We are grateful for the assurance that provides and the needs that have been met.

We are thankful that God is already at work in New Zealand, and that we’ll get to be a part of the things that God is doing there. We are thankful that there are people there who will become our friends and help us navigate a new culture.

We are thankful for technology. Airplanes (Yippee for direct flights from Houston to Auckland starting soon!), What’s App, Skype, Facetime, iPhones, Facebook, videos on YouTube, and blog posts will all help make it possible for us to stay connected to people we love. They’ll help us tell the story of what God is doing in New Zealand. They may even help us tantalize you into coming to visit us. 😉

We are thankful that in the midst of being called to a place very far from home, that there are many things we’ll enjoy doing. We’re really looking forward to bike rides along the river, lots of swimming, trips to the beach, and exploring glow worm caves and the Shire and geothermal areas and so much more.

We are thankful that when we realized our dog-child, Bailey, wouldn’t be able to go to New Zealand with us, my parents willingly offered to make a place in their home and lives for her. As Q says, “Grammy and Papu will walk her and feed her and throw her ball for her and play with her.” As hard as it will be to say good bye to her in a few days, we are grateful that she will be lovingly cared for.

We are thankful for the grapefruit tree in our yard. There’s a grapefruit tree in the yard of our house in Hamilton. We’re excited about the delicious, fresh grapefruit it (and the lemon tree) will produce—almost year round. We are thankful that when we eat the juicy, tart fruit we will be reminded of the tradition of our family Thanksgiving breakfast, and we will be reminded of all that we have to give thanks for.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

 

“Thanks for opening up the gym for us on the holiday—” My father-in-law stopped mid-sentence and laughed. He was talking to our friends Korey and Lauren Frazier, who had opened the Events Center at Bonita Park for us to play in. The words had snuck out before he realized what he was saying. We all laughed along with him. It wasn’t Christmas for anyone but us. But Christmas it was…complete with lights on the tree, decorations, chilly weather, a fire in the fireplace, gifts, yummy food, cookie decorating, matching Christmas jammies for the little ones, and a little bear nativity, all in one of our favorite settings—Jaron’s parents’ cabin at Bonita Park Nazarene Camp.

We may be #seasonallyconfused as my sister-in-law put it, but it’s not without purpose. There are traditions—as important for the grown-ups in this family as for the kids—that must be upheld and passed on, even (or especially when) your scheduled departure date is Dec. 1. The season is so important it’s worth celebrating with family six weeks early if need be. The Patman family butter cookie recipe must be made and piled with frosting and stowed in the freezer (because the “experts” say somehow they’re better frozen). A nerf shooting device must be retrieved from every stocking for impromptu battles. The table must be filled with delectable foods for every meal of the weekend, and gifts must be exchanged. All this in celebration of the greatest gift of all—the hope of Jesus.

Not one thing was amiss. Qoo (pronounced cuckoo, as Q’s cousin calls him) and The Nut as he dubbed her wrestled through our attempts to capture their pictures, played with their Christmas gifts, reveled in the rare opportunity to eat cookies with icing, wallowed in the giant beanbag chair, and only paused their shenanigans long enough to let the adults catnap in the afternoon. Together they are Qoo Qoo and The Nut. No title could be more fitting.

Wrapping and gifts were collected into piles. Stuffed snowballs were thrown across the living room. A puzzle was assembled way past midnight. Then, we all gathered for worship at Angus Church of the Nazarene on Sunday morning, squeezed in a family photo session with Danielle Rush, and played at the playground before hugging good-bye on Monday.

So, while you were probably thinking about football and fall leaves this weekend, we were jamming out to Christmas carols, thanks to Lauren, as we climbed the rock wall and slid down the giant slide late in the afternoon of our Graham family Christmas day.

For the Sake of the Kingdom

We all love a family outing to First Watch. There's no ordering off of the kids' menu for this guy's breakfast.

We all love a family outing to First Watch. There’s no ordering off of the kids’ menu for this guy’s breakfast.

One of Q's favorite places in the world: The Wilson's Farm with Farmer Chad and Jack.

One of Q’s favorite places in the world: The Wilson’s Farm with Farmer Chad and Jack.

Play time at the park with our Bailey Dog. Soaking up our time with her.

Play time at the park while on the road with our Bailey Dog. Soaking up our time with her.

Making space for family time. Daddy and Q play date at Wonderscope Children's Museum.

Making space for family time. Daddy and Q play date at Wonderscope Children’s Museum.

These last two weeks have been full to say the least. We’ve made stops in 6 different states and spoken at as many different churches. Last week, I was a part of a conference called ignite for children’s ministry leaders. One of the things the ignite conference does is create space for us to reflect on why we do what we do. The words, “For the sake of the Kingdom” kept running through my head. So that others might come to know the hope of Jesus because of the way we live in the world.

At the end of our time together last week, a gracious friend said, “…I know God is and will continue using you for the sake of the Kingdom…”

This week, those words have been a powerful and helpful reminder about why we’re doing any of the things we’re doing these days…

  • Driving to Dallas to visit NZ approved panel doctors for the visa process. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Chatting with friends new and old around a bonfire at a friend’s farm. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Celebrating the snapshot of the Kingdom at a church that embraced people of all ages with special needs… an adult man playing with dominoes on the floor during the service, a child in a wheelchair, another being loved unconditionally in the nursery. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Driving in 4+ hours of heavy traffic to speak at a church. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Fellowshipping with long-time Nazarenes and homeless people alike over bowls of soup at a church that intentionally ministers with displaced and homeless people through a clothes closet, laundry ministry, and kinship meals together. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Sitting in long meetings, ironing out details like our new insurance policies, employment status, and deputation funds. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Scheduling follow-up appointments and further follow-up appointments for Q as we seek to get him cleared for a NZ visa. For the sake of the Kingdom.
  • Speaking the truth of God’s call on our collective lives in all kinds of different congregations. For the sake of the Kingdom.

To be truthful, it has been somewhat challenging to remember that we’re going to long meetings, jumping through visa hoops, and spending hours on the road for the sake of the Kingdom. The To Do list has seemed a bit arduous as the unexpected has seemed to pile on. True, we’ve had the great joy of being with some of our favorite people over the past few weeks. For that we are grateful. However, life is not just about the fun stuff. It’s about recognizing that everything we do, whether menial or life-giving, challenging or smooth, we do for the sake of the Kingdom. I wonder what it looks like for us to embrace that line of thinking in the day-in, day-out rhythms of our lives?

We do have a prayer request that we would appreciate you joining us in. When we visited the panel doctor in Dallas two weeks ago, the PA heard a heart murmur when he listened to Q. We know that he didn’t have one two months ago at our first round of physicals, nor had he ever had one before. However, a follow-up appointment in KC confirmed that he has developed a murmur. It is most likely a benign murmur that should not be cause for concern. Last week, an incredible group of people from around the world prayed that our visas would be processed. In a miraculous amount of time, they have been. Jaron and I are approved, thanks be to God! However, Q’s visa will require further review that could take up to 12 weeks. We’re scheduled to leave in 6 weeks. We know there are some options, but really, we’d just love it if you’d pray that 1. The cardiologist finds Q to be as healthy as we believe him to be. 2. That his visa is processed and approved well before our Dec. 1 departure date. Thank you for praying with us. May God’s will be done for the sake of the Kingdom.

For This We Have Prayed

 

When we first arrived in Lovington a little over 7 years ago, we would gather with a small group of people—the handful that remained a part of the church at the time, and we would talk and dream and pray about what God might be calling us to. We prayed for children (there were none). We prayed that we would reflect our community demographically (we were way too white and way too old). We prayed that we would impact teen pregnancy (our county has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation). Those are some of the things that have guided our focus and driven our ministry, and will continue to be essential to the identity of our church into the future.

But there were other things that Jaron and I prayed for as well. In life and ministry, it sometimes seems that we rarely get to reap the harvest of the seeds that we plant. However, in the past six months, we have gotten to see some of the most beautiful answers to those prayers. It’s as if God is putting a giant bow for us on the package of our time in Lovington. For indeed, these have been great gifts to us in our time of transition.

We prayed that we would see couples get married.

In our community, as in many others, couples have children at very young ages and then begin co-habitating. They may co-habitate for decades. Often, these relationships are mentally and emotionally destructive. We longed to see couples enter into covenant relationships where they seek to serve each other as Christ served the church and where their lives begin to serve as small snapshots of the Kingdom.

A couple of years ago, a 21-year-old guy walked up to the church with his small daughter in tow. “My girlfriend and I would like to get married. I came to this church as a kid. Could we get married here?” Long story short, that young man and his wife are living a different narrative these days. He has a great job. She chooses to stay at home with their now kindergarten daughter and their one-year-old baby boy. He’s the newest addition to our church board. She started teaching children’s church this fall. They’re both youth sponsors loved by our teens. Their lives are snapshots of the Kingdom. For this we have prayed.

Six years ago, I had a little boy in my second grade class with a mama who was only 22 years old. He had two younger siblings. He also had a step-father figure living with them that I never saw. Our hearts were broken for this family. After the boy had graduated from my class, the mom and her boys gradually became a part of our church family. She was working and putting herself through college. Fast forward to 2015. That seemingly absent father figure isn’t absent any more. He’s a teacher and a coach now. He’s learning how to be the man and father God desires him to be. I believe he’s going to learn to be a great husband too. She’s a teacher and a rock star mom who doesn’t shy away from tough conversations with her three boys. It hasn’t been easy. At times, the journey has been downright painful and messy—for all of us. By the grace of God, one of our last Saturdays in Lovington will be spent celebrating the marriage of that couple. For this we have prayed.

We prayed that children would feel called to ministry.

This summer at church camp, one of our soon-to-be fifth graders came up to me. “Ms. Elizabeth, how long are you and Pastor Jaron going to be in New Zealand?” he asked. “Well, we’ve agreed to five years, but I really don’t know, Buddy. What are you thinking about?” His next sentence brought tears to my eyes. “I think I want to be a pastor like you and Jaron.” Of course. “Don’t ever forget that,” I said. “I think that desire is God calling you.” This kid asks the best spiritual questions. He points his parents to Jesus when the darkness seems to be overtaking them. His heart is tuned to the heart of the Father. And God is calling him. For this we have prayed. P.S. He’s the middle child of that couple that is getting married in a few weeks. It’s redemption at work.

We prayed that we would get to send high school graduates from our church to a Nazarene university.

Jaron and I both believe in Christian higher education. We both experienced first-hand the benefits of spreading ones young adult wings surrounded by people whose life goal is to help you fulfill God’s call on your life. We both have deep, God-honoring, and long-lasting friendships from those days. We were both given opportunities to test our leadership skills, learn, and have tons of fun. We prayed that we might be a part of shaping young men and women who will live out God’s call on their lives with confidence.

This fall, we sent the first student from our church to Southern Nazarene University since Jaron graduated in 2005. The SNU community has embraced her. She’s blossoming. We couldn’t be more delighted. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for her, or for the other teens and kids from our community who may follow in her footsteps in the years to come. For this we have prayed.

We prayed that we would be able help expand our people’s worldview. 

We have long had a sense of the importance of short and longer term mission trips as a means of expanding ones view of God and the world. There’s something really powerful that happens when all of the comforts of home are stripped away and you spend a week or two serving others. We prayed that our people could experience the Kingdom far beyond our own city limits.

On October 19, Jaron will be leading a team of seven people on a 12 day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the past few years, we’ve heard our missionary friends tell their stories of life in the Congo. We’ve given money first to build a school, and now a church and a district center. We’ve built a partnership. And now, we’re sending a team. We are busting at the seams with anticipation with the way this will shape the team members and the life of our church moving forward. For this we have prayed.

These stories represent some of the deep desires of our heart for our people. We are so grateful God has seen fit to tie up our time here in such beautiful and hopeful way.

 

 

 

 

 

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