Adventure Graham

Snippets of Graham family adventures in faithfulness

Category: Holidays

Adventure 368

By Elizabeth

To infinity and beyond!

To infinity and beyond!

It’s one of those moments with events leading up to and following that are frozen in my mind. May 9, 2015. The phone call. The question. “Would you be willing to move to New Zealand?” The prayers, conversations and events that followed. Asking our family, our friends, our church community, and a group of people on the other side of the world that we had never met to take a giant leap of faith along with us. Happy one-year anniversary!

Astronaut in training

Astronaut in training

Day 364. Saturday. There we were again. Hosting a birthday party. In a different city. In a different country. On a different continent. In a different hemisphere. This one involved rockets and planets rather than horses and lassos. There was a giant cardboard rocket in our driveway instead of a horse in the back pasture. A bakers’ dozen worth of jet-pack clad kiddos blasted around the yard. I was overwhelmed with the community that joined us to celebrate—from church, from our neighborhood, and from Q’s kindy they came, offering the greatest gift of all—friendship. We are incredibly grateful.

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At the very same moment, my sister was in labor with my nephew 7,500 miles away. Baby B didn’t make his entrance into the world until later that night when we were devouring fresh homemade dosas (the most delicious Indian food ever!) with friends. When we got the first snapshot of Baby B’s sweet little face via text message, I wanted more than anything to be on the other side of the world, kissing those baby cheeks and cuddling that sweet boy. We’re the kind of family that shows up—for the ordinary and extraordinary—and I wasn’t there. No amount of wanting or willing or wishing could get me there. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be right where I was. Truth be told, it was in the top 10 of most difficult days of the previous 363.

Who wouldn't want to kiss those perfectly sweet cheeks?!?

Who wouldn’t want to kiss those perfectly sweet cheeks?!?

On Sunday morning, as I stood worshiping with our church family, it struck me. The call that the Spirit had begun whispering in our ears 365 days before was still the same. You can find it in Luke 9:57-62. “Come, follow me—don’t worry about your family. I’ve got them. I am holding them and loving them and caring for them in ways that you could not, even if you lived in the same town. I have called you to follow me no matter what.”

Excited cave explorers--grateful to have Bapa and Gigi here with us for a little bit.

Excited cave explorers–grateful to have Bapa and Gigi here with us for a little bit.

There are other big things we’re missing out on this week—a nieces’ baby dedication, a first softball game, a dance recital. We won’t be there for those really special moments or many others in the days to come. We’ll miss that proximity and savor the pictures and share in the joy of celebration, but we won’t have a lick of regret. Instead, we will be praising God for his provision for our families, giving thanks for the community of people who celebrate aspiring astronauts along with us, planning and praying for the future, investing in relationships, and anticipating evidence of God’s hand at work at every turn.

We are reminded that “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” We’re not looking back. On day 368 we are as confident as ever that God has called us to Crossroads Church and to Hamilton and to New Zealand for just such a time as this.

 

Parting Shot:

Glow worm caves. They're AMAZING! Pictures don't begin to do them justice. It's kind of like looking at a galaxy... from inside a cave!

Glow worm caves. They’re AMAZING! Pictures don’t begin to do them justice. It’s kind of like looking at a galaxy… from inside a cave!

 

Daffodil Bulbs, Monarch Cocoons, and Hot Cross Buns: Finding Symbols of the Resurrection Down Under

by Elizabeth

 

 

We're anticipating the a monarch butterfly from this cocoon sometime this week.

We’re anticipating the a monarch butterfly from this cocoon sometime this week.

Easter is a big deal. Actually, that is quite understated. Easter is the biggest deal. Death conquered. Hope restored. Fear eliminated. Life granted. Christians around the world intentionally journey through the wilderness of Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday before we arrive at Easter Sunday.

Glorious Easter Sunday. It has long been my favorite celebration of the entire year. It’s a day of grand celebration marked by Easter lilies and the promise of spring; the church family gathered and the Christ candle lit; joyful singing and responses of “He is risen, indeed!”; bread eaten and cup offered; pastel ties and bright floral dresses; ham and deviled eggs and a table full of the most delicious desserts. The very essence of remembering Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is tied to the very rhythm of the earth, with Easter Sunday falling on the first Sunday after the northern hemisphere’s spring Equinox. All of creation seems to shout—Christ is risen! Spring is here! There’s new life in Christ! Out of the barren wilderness of winter, we experience the hope and anticipation and alive-ness of spring.

Except in the southern hemisphere.

I totally get that nearly 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere. For 90% of the world, Easter falls in the spring time… a time when trees and flowers bloom and even the cute little bunnies and baby chicks signify new life. But for the other 10% of the world’s population, the celebration of the resurrection takes places as the leaves are changing colors, the weather is cooling, the flower blooms are fading, and living things are in the process of decaying. Where’s the hope in that?

The fact is that the majority of world’s symbols surrounding major holidays come from the western countries that colonized the likes of New Zealand and the great economic drivers of the world found in North America. The rest of the world tags along even when snow in the tropics and pastels in the fall make no sense at all. Granted, egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and new spring dresses are obvious non-essentials (and… gasp… even distractions) to the celebration of Easter. But if we removed the Easter lilies, sprouting grass, and freshly laid eggs as well, then what would be left of our Easter celebration?

Easter (along with the significant dates tied to it) is the only holiday of the year with a date that is tied to the seasonal rhythms of the earth. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. But Easter after the fall equinox? It seems so wrong. The truth is, I was tempted to fall prey to a pity party of my own making. No Easter lilies. No bright colors. No anticipation of spring. True, Jesus didn’t just come to save the people of the northern hemisphere, but what about the symbols of the resurrection that tell the story year after year with their rhythms of life, death, and resurrection? Don’t they have significant places in our celebration as well?

Pity party aside. I began to look more closely for symbols of the resurrection among the leaf piles and rain drops. God is so big. Surely the God of all creation has some signs of the resurrection for me (and the 730,000,000 other people) who live on the bottom half of the globe.  Baby birds chirping from their nests aren’t the only things that sing the story of Easter.

Lo and behold… I’ve found some—signs of the resurrection in the autumn. Symbols that point to the hope of Jesus even as we are pulled daily towards the wilderness of winter.

Daffodil bulbs. It’s time to plant them. We’re putting them in the ground this week, remembering that Jesus was completely buried. The Romans and the church leaders alike wanted to forget about him much like bulbs lay long-forgotten in the ground. Next spring… sometime around August or September… the daffodils will sprout their heads and bloom, and we will remember that on Good Friday, Jesus was put into the ground, but he didn’t stay there. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.

Monarch cocoons. Monarch butterflies love swan plants. We have five small ones planted along our back fence. We’ve been watching the caterpillars literally strip the stem as they gluttonously consume all of the leaves. On Friday, we discovered a couple of new cocoons attached to the bottom of large leaves nearby. Sometime this week—Holy Week— those cocoons will open to reveal big beautiful brand new monarch butterflies. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring.

Hot cross buns. Ahhh… food. It’s so important. We like to feast our celebration, and after 40 long days of Lent, Easter is a feast day above all feast days. During the Easter holiday, the overwhelming majority of kiwis do two things: sneak in one last holiday (vacation) at the beach before winter and eat hot cross buns. It’s true—there is more to hot cross buns than a little ditty for instructing budding musicians. Warm buns filled with spices representing the burial of Jesus and marked with a cross on the top have a long history with many affiliated legends. They were deemed so special by Queen Elizabeth that they could only be made and eaten on Christmas, Good Friday (to break the fast from Lent), and burials. If caught baking the buns any other time, you’d have to give them up. We’ll try our own delectable hot cross buns for the first time this year as we celebrate the resurrection, grateful for a reason to feast and the freedom to feast on whatever we want.

Let leaves fall and cool winds whisper of the coming winter as they may. Creation—the very rhythm of life itself—is still telling the story of the resurrection beautifully, purposefully, rhythmically. Birth. Life. Death. Resurrection. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. May the hope of Christ be with you this Easter season.

 

Parting Shot

Hamilton Gardens--Indian Char Bagh Garden

Hamilton Gardens–Indian Char Bagh Garden

Dog Days of Summer

This boy. He loves animals and asking questions. And, apparently, embarrassing his mother.

This boy. He loves animals and asking questions. And, apparently, embarrassing his mother.

These have been the dog days of summer. Literally.

It began with a simple question.

“Mommy, when is Bailey going to come visit us?”

We’ve talked about it dozens of times, and will probably discuss it dozens more. That’s part of it.

The reality is that one of the hardest parts of leaving the United States was saying goodbye to our big, furry dog-child, Bailey. Bailey, who was once a roly-poly puppy with soft wrinkly fur and velvety ears. Bailey, the reason we bought our first house with an extra-big yard instead of living in a townhouse. Bailey, the gentle giant with a tail like a whip that whacks the back of your legs repeatedly. Bailey, Quentin’s first playmate, pretend horse, cuddle buddy, and backyard companion.

Bailey is a member of our family. However, when it came time for us to move to New Zealand, bringing her along proved to be nearly impossible. You may have heard this story of Johnny Depp’s wife getting caught smuggling their dogs into Australia this past spring. There was a big to do about it being a potential bio security issue. New Zealand operates in a similar fashion. Even if we found a company that could transport Bailey to NZ (we truly tried), and even if we paid them multiple thousands of dollars, she would have to be in a 10-day quarantine and could possibly be denied entry into NZ once she was on the island. Those are hurdles that seem a little high even for our girl who can scale nearly any fence.

My parents graciously offered to take Bailey to live with them where she gets daily walks, constant tennis balls thrown her direction, and grandparent-ly attention. She’s as happy as a clam.

My dad sent us this picture after Bailey played in the snow this past week.

My dad sent us this picture after Bailey played in the snow this past week.

But four weeks in to our time in New Zealand, this question came up.

The adult conversation that followed after bedtime went something like this:

“Just look at these dogs waiting to be adopted.” –J

“No way. We are in no place to get another dog.” –E

“He needs some company.”–J

“How about fostering a dog?” –E

“You never know what you’re getting or how long it’s going to be. Some of those dogs may have been abused.”–J

“O.k. How about dog-sitting?” –E

“How are we going to dog-sit when we don’t know anyone?” –J

Within moments we were signed up as official dog sitters through and online dog-sitting service. We figured it would be really nice to get to know a few families, build some relationships, and have a dog around periodically. It would be all of the fun and none of the commitment. In a matter of two days, we had three dogs scheduled for a total of two solid weeks back to back. And so began the dog days of summer.

Teddy--such a loveable pup.

Teddy–such a loveable pup.

First, there was Teddy, a large 8-month-old boy who joined us for Christmas. He sometimes had to be coaxed into going for a walk rather than getting a belly rub. We thoroughly enjoyed him.

Macey--Isn't she cute?

Macey–Isn’t she cute?

Our next week-long companion was Macey, an adorable schnauzer with a sweet personality who would sneak onto Q’s bed during naptime. We sent daily pictures to her owners. At the end of our week with Macey, her owners invited us out to their farm for evening tea. It was a slice of Heaven.

Macey's house is this 100-year-old home that used to be located somewhere near our house, but was moved (in 6 parts) to its current location by previous owners when the city started encroaching.

Macey’s house is this 100-year-old home that used to be located somewhere near our house, but was moved (in 6 parts) to its current location by previous owners when the city started encroaching.

The view from Macey's house.

The view from Macey’s house.

However, it hasn’t all been roses. In between Teddy and Macey, Cody spent one day with us. He was small, with long silky hair and a shrill bark that made Q cry. He didn’t come to his name and tried marking his territory all over our house. When his owner came to pick him up at 7 p.m., I couldn’t have been happier.

“How was our boy?” the owner asked.

“He was just fine—“ I started.

Then, the cute little blond boy standing next to me on the front porch blurted loudly–

“Next time we’re not keeping that dog!”

I still wish there had been a trap door in the front porch for me to fall through at that moment.

Dog days of summer, indeed! 😉

 

Parting Shot

We spent New Year's Day at Hamilton Gardens. Entrance is free, and every single garden is absolutely stunning.

We spent New Year’s Day at Hamilton Gardens. Entrance is free, and every single garden is absolutely stunning.

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.

A Very Kiwi Christmas

We enjoyed a Christmas party with Happy Feet, a group for mums and little ones (bubs) that meets at the church.

We enjoyed a Christmas party with Happy Feet, a group for mums and little ones (bubs) that meets at the church.

Jaron's mom made this precious (and sturdy) nativity last year. It joined us in NZ where sees a lot of narrative "action"--retelling the story of Jesus' birth and otherwise.

Jaron’s mom made this precious (and sturdy) nativity last year. It joined us in NZ where sees a lot of narrative “action”–retelling the story of Jesus’ birth and otherwise.

Jaron and Q at Blue Springs in Waikato

Jaron and Q at Blue Springs in Waikato last weekend

It's picnic season.

It’s picnic season.

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‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house

Not much looked very festive, just the tiniest ounce (oh wait…that’s not metric)

Three stockings were hung on the wood walls with care

On oddly spaced nails that had already been there

A hand-made nativity perched near the TV stand

Awaiting numerous retellings oft reenacted unplanned

And mama in her workout capris, and I in my shorts

Relaxed as the warm breeze blew in from the north

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter

I sprang from my couch to see what was the matter

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the curtains and pushed open the glass.

The sun on the breast of the fresh-mown grass

Revealed lush green and a hydrangea deep purple at last

When what to my wondering eyes did appear

But a passel of small children heading to the pool that’s near.

With little bike riders so lively and quick

I knew in a moment this wasn’t a trick

More rapid than eagles the vacationers came,

Others whistled, and shouted, and hopped on a plane

To Brittan! To Aussie! Now a beach or a mount!

On a trip! On holiday! We’re off! School’s out!

To the islands up north! They’ve been planning since fall…

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

Last week, school let out for the summer holiday. Kids are running around in shorts and bare feet. The breeze is ruffling the curtains as it provides some cool relief from the afternoon sun. Businesses are shutting down. “I’ll be back mid-January” automated e-mail responses have been set. The beaches are filling up and every flight off the island is packed. It’s Christmas-time in New Zealand.

We’re experiencing a very kiwi Christmas, indeed. We live very near one of the biggest shopping districts in the country where a giant Christmas tree graces the lawn where the children play while parents shop. Garland with gold and red ornaments are draped across the store fronts. But it’s just not quite the same. For one thing, there are very few Christmas lights. After all, what’s the point, when it’s still light outside at 9:30 p.m.? No one is rushing in out of the cold. Santa costumes lack fur and padding (who can blame them?). But there are other things that seem slightly amiss too—we haven’t seen one Salvation Army bell ringer, despite the fact that the Salvation Army has a significant presence in New Zealand. Very few houses have wreaths on their doors and we haven’t spotted any lawn decorations—tacky or otherwise. There’s no Christmas music station on the radio.

When I mentioned these differences to a kiwi friend, he pointed out that most of the traditions associated with secular Christmas celebrations apply to the Northern Hemisphere where candles and Christmas lights distract from cold, dark nights and greenery gives life to barren landscapes. Then he quickly said, “The biggest culture shock I ever experienced was walking into an American mall at Christmas time. I just said… ‘Let’s get out of here!’ The displays piled high. The music. The decorations. The people. It was just too much.”

That’s not to say that kiwis aren’t as easily distracted. They’ve had graduations and Christmas parties and end-of-the-school-year celebrations on top of each other for back-to-back weekends. Not to mention plans to holiday abroad, trips to the beach, days on the lake, and two weeks to a month off of work for almost everyone!

We’re not gallivanting off of the island we’re just getting settled on, but we do have a very kiwi Christmas planned. (Disclaimer in case you’re feeling sorry for us: We celebrated Christmas all-out, tradition-packed Northern-hemisphere-style with our families in November.) We’ll celebrate with our new church family on Christmas Eve—though many kiwi churches opt for a Christmas morning service. Our tremendously gracious neighbors down the street have invited us to join their family for Christmas brunch that is sure to include sausages, sweet mince pies, and tea. Then, we’ll load the car with a camp-stove we discovered in our garage and cookout foods and drive about 45 minutes to Raglan, a beach town with black volcanic beaches and a big reputation among surfers. We’ll dip our toes in the cold surf and fly a kite per Q’s request months before we moved. “When we live in Moo Zealand, can I get a kite and fly it really, really high?” Your wish is our command, Buddy.

And in the midst of it all…big moves and new cultural norms to navigate or gifts to wrap and food to bake, Christmas lights or no Christmas lights, shorts or sweaters, ski slopes or beaches, the Kingdom is breaking in as surely and as quietly as it did all of those years ago when in the middle of the night a special star appeared in the sky, angels made a fantastic announcement to a bunch of unsuspecting, rag tag shepherds and a young girl gave birth to a baby in a barn. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to be so caught up in the differences (or the sameness), the decorations (or lack thereof), the holiday hoopla (or the relaxation of a summer vacation day) that I miss what this Advent season has been preparing us for. All the expectation and waiting and anticipation will culminate in the profound truth that the Light has come. Christ has come.

 

Parting Shots (1 just doesn’t do it justice this week)

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Blue Springs is the location of some of the purest water in New Zealand. The water spends up to 100 years filtering through rocks to this spring. The blue tint to the water denotes it’s purity.

Blue Springs 1

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.

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