We’ve wrapped up our second week of Home Assignment—a six-ish week period that we’re spending with family and friends (old and new) in the US. You can check out the first week’s reflection here. Home Assignment is an important part of the rhythm of our life for practical reasons like sharing the story of what God is doing in New Zealand and on the Asia-Pacific Region, getting finger-printed for an updated FBI background check, and reconnecting with people we love.
We spent last Sunday, August 6 with two awesome churches. One of the churches has been a part of the work God has called us to in New Zealand from the very beginning. The other church was brand new to us. While they were only a 30-minute drive apart, they had very different but equally wonderful flavors. It’s so fun for us to see how God works through different groups of people in different contexts.
Our days during this past week have been spent with extended family and at the 82nd Lea County Fair and Rodeo in Lovington, NM. The Lea County Fair and Rodeo is a big, week-long event that is quintessentially small town America and a significant part of Jaron’s heritage. In many ways, it’s a throw back to days gone by when America was primarily populated by farmers and ranchers. Jaron grew up raising animals (chickens, sheep, and steers) to show and sell. He also grew up eating all the fair food (caramel apples and funnel cakes), riding the rides, cheering on the bona fide cowboys and cowgirls at the rodeo, and listening to the late-night concerts.
Q has been captivated by the rodeo since he was a tiny boy (he attended his first rodeo at 3 months old) watching riders get bucked and steers get roped. Decked out in his hat, pearl snap shirt, jeans, and boots, he stays up late, enthralled by the music, the clowns, and the horses, and the carnival rides. It was extra-fun for him to get to share the joy with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of the family.
The view on the way home from Denver City, TX last Sunday.
At the end of the second week, our Home Assignment stats look at bit like this:
On the Odometer: 436 miles (702 km)
The running total on the odometer only crept up this week. It was pretty nice to stay put, especially since we have some long drives in store for the weeks to come.
On the Road: 8 hours
(Kiwi friends–check out a map of the US. You’ll notice that the states we’re visiting all boarder each other, but they’re also really big. We’ll end up driving the equivalent of Auckland to Invercargill several times over by the time we get on the plane to return to NZ.)
On our Plates: Juicy red watermelon, green chilis, & ice cream sandwiches (Thanks to our brother-in-law turning 30 and my mom’s excellent ice cream sandwich skills! YUM!)
On our Minds: All the Fair and Rodeo must-dos—the extreme bull riding show, see all the show animals, ride all the rides, watch all the rodeo.
Cowboys on a Tuesday night at the rodeo ready for Extreme Bull Riding. No filter needed.
Q and Gigi sharing moment at the Fair and Rodeo
Playtime with Grammy.
And the cutest nephew award goes to this one!!
Happy 30th birthday, brother-in-law. We appreciate that you thoughtfully chose the tastiest birthday treats!
A few weeks before we left for the US, Q got the idea that he wanted to build a castle fort with his friends and cousins in the US. He held several FaceTime meetings, encouraging everyone to collect big boxes. This week, his dream became a reality, complete with a list of Safety Rules dictated by Q and written by sweet Ellie. They’re my favorite part of the fort.
These two cousins were rodeo-ready. Q has been captivated by the Lea County Fair and Rodeo since he was smaller than little BB here.
5-year-olds are so sweet. Q got to spend the week with his second cousin M and her little sister.
Fair bunnies are so cute!
Fair food includes turkey legs, giant lemonades, funnel cakes, and Texas taters (pictured here).
Carnival rides are serious business!
Cousins at the carnival! Q said his favorite part of the whole week were the carnival rides. Alllll the carnival rides.
The view from the Ferris Wheel.
So many rounds of Settlers of Catan!
This, folks, is the beauty of a red, ripe watermelon grown in Plains, TX.
A couple of sunny days in a row have lent themselves to two-wheeled bike rides on the neighborhood sidewalks.
“Why is it so quiet in our house?” Q asked while sitting at the table for breakfast one morning last week. He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he burst out with a loud, “Lalalalala!” that expertly filled the empty space with noise. Q’s question wasn’t so off base though. We’ve returned to The Normal around here. After nearly 12 solid weeks of visitors, including these, these, these, and these incredible people, our house and our caravan (vintage camper) are empty. The sheets are washed (though perhaps still waiting to be put back on the extra beds). The fridge is significantly less full. And the house is much quieter. It’s just so Normal.
It’s The Normal that looks like laundry drying on racks in the dining room. A mom, a dad, and a talkative boy at the table for dinner. Leftovers frequently. It’s Sunday mornings at church that start early and go through lunch time. And it’s Sunday afternoons filled with raucous Kids’ Clubs where whole families play, sing, learn, and eat together. It looks like swimming lessons on Mondays and three mornings of kindy for Q. The Normal looks like lots of reading and writing, hours/days of doctoral project work and sermon prep and conference attending for Jaron. It looks like Mainly Music and Happy Feet mums’ groups in the mornings, corporate prayer time on Wednesday nights, and preparing to host a group of Nazarene leaders from all over the world for a dinner of Indian food and pavlova dessert next week.
The Normal looks like teaching Q to ride his bike without training wheels inside the church when the rain just won’t stop and around the loop of our cul-de-sac when the sun peeks out. Noticing the flowering bushes and trees that have taken turns flaunting their beauty all winter long. Planning for a few days of R&R in the snow on Mt. Ruapehu a few hours south of us.
After all of the excitement of the past months, The Normal—as full as it is—might be leaving us feeling just a bit ho-hum. North American summer is coming to a close. Our friends and family are going back to school. Kiwi winter is still going strong. The season of a full house and a calendar full of anticipation is over for now. We aren’t expecting any more guests until after the new year. That doesn’t mean The Normal is the least bit boring. Jaron is preparing to teach a pilot class for a satellite program he is developing that will bring Wesleyan theological education to New Zealand for the first time. I am getting ready for a trip to Tonga. We’re excited to share more about both of those later. Q is swimming under water like a fish, making increasingly developed Lego creations, and arranging afternoon play times with his neighborhood buddies.
We know we can’t survive in the crazy all the time. In fact, The Normal is important. We need The Normal to push reset, to rest, to care for some relationships that have been neglected in the crazy, and to tackle the projects that are demanding attention (yes, I see you class curriculum that was supposed to be written weeks ago), and to plan for the next time visitors come en-masse and the house is noisy, the fridge is full, and the calendar is crammed with a new event every day.
Flowering bushes year round seem anything but Normal, but you won’t find us complaining.
My parents were here with us for the past few weeks. We had a great time with them. Truly, we are so grateful that both sets of our parents are willing and able to travel so far to spend time with us. We don’t take it for granted. Several months ago, my mom (Mary) and my dad (Lon) had put together their short list of what they wanted do in New Zealand, including Hobbiton, the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, and the Zealong Tea Estate. We had a few other ideas as well, but a few weeks before their scheduled departure, we had a phone conversation that went kind of like this:
Me: Hi Mom, We’re so excited for you to come, but I just want you and dad to know that your New Zealand vacation is actually going to be more of a Work and Witness trip.
Mom: O.k. We know how to do that.
Me: Great! Can you lead the art station at our school holiday program? Can Dad build bunk beds for a missionary family? Can you both help remodel a manse (parsonage) in Auckland to get it ready for a new family?
Mom: Well, the mantra of Work and Witness is, “Be Flexible!” so we’ll do whatever we need to do.
My parents have lots of Work and Witness experience under their belts so I knew I could count on them to roll with what stacked up to be a pretty crazy schedule.
Here’s their take on Work and Witness and why it has been so significant for them.
High Tea at the Zealong Tea Estate
From Once in a Lifetime to a Lifestyle
“My first trip was to the Dominican Republic in 1999. Our team worked on building a church that had been devastated by a hurricane and showed the Jesus Film,” said my dad, Lon Dagley. “I thought, I’d like to do something like that again someday, but I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance. At that point, it was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
However, eleven months later, he was on a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina for Work and Witness trip number two. It was this trip that would pave the way for many others.
“The trip that set the tone for everything was the 2000 trip to Argentina because that was the first time that anyone had taken computers into the field,” Lon remembers. “We took computers in and took them to the seminary and moved them from typewriters to computers in one jump. We realized what a big impact new technology—not hand-me-down technology—could make on the field.
Dad realized his library and technology skill sets were needed elsewhere in the world as much or more than they were at home and he had a responsibility.
It proved to be a great time to spot several koru at Hamilton Gardens.
My mom, Mary, isn’t one to be left out of the action. She wanted to be obedient as well, but her first Work and Witness trip, in 2001, didn’t fall into the niche of her skill set. Rather, it was really far out of her comfort zone. She participated in a team that traveled to several Guatemalan villages where they shared the hope of Jesus through the evangecube during the day and then showed the Jesus film in the evenings.
“I didn’t think I’d ever go again. Ever.” Mary said. “It was a such a big deal for me to get to go. Plus, being more of a doer type person and not so much a sharer type person, it was a hard mission trip for me. It was out of my comfort zone.”
But God had other plans. Over the past 17 years, they’ve taken a sum total of 12 trips as a part of Work and Witness teams. Their trips have varied in length from one week to two months (Busingen, Germany, 2008). We think they can probably go ahead and add New Zealand to that list.
We spent several days working in Auckland, but we did manage to catch downtown Auckland from the Sky Tower.
Take-a-Ways to Talk About
They’ve both found the experiences extremely valuable and formational.
“The take-a-way from every trip I have been on is that I have so much,” reflects Lon. “God has given us the ability to give so much if we let Him to use us to give. American culture puts so much emphasis on things to make us happy. You look around the rest of the world and that’s not the case. Everywhere else I have been, when the people have so much less stuff, they often have so much more joy.”
“It—for me–has broadened my understanding of God’s grace so much more,” Mary said, “It has given me such a better understanding of how vast God’s work is—whether the people speak German or English or Spanish or something else altogether. It’s amazing to see how others worship. I think about Heaven and what that will be like with everyone worshiping in different languages or maybe in one language. I don’t know. The church is not America. The church is God’s people. It makes my heart sing to worship with other believers who may be singing or praying in a different language and to worship the same God together. It doesn’t matter if I understand, God does.”
They quickly realized that participating in Work and Witness trips is not solely about having something to offer. It is as much about having something to learn.
“Everybody has something, not only to give to work and witness, but to gain from it,” Lon says. “Work and Witness is the place—because we’re out of our American comfort zone—that we can hear God in ways that we can’t even begin to hear him in the US because we’re home, we’re comfortable, we’re busy. First of all, we will have prayed for the trip, which means we will begin to open ourselves up before we even leave. When we get there, we get to see God in action in a way that we can’t even imagine in our home contexts. Sometimes you’re participating in instruction, but often you learn so much more than you could ever teach.”
Mary quickly jumps in, “Oh more—You gain and learn so much more than you could ever give.”
Dollars and Sense
Some may wonder how normal people afford to regularly participate in Work and Witness. For my parents at least, it isn’t impressive salaries that have made these trips possible. It has a lot more to do with planning on a regular basis. As my mom explains, “it’s a matter of living below your means so you can be available to do whatever God calls you to.”
“I used to have extra teaching assignments that I set aside for work and witness,” Lon explained. “Now, we literally set aside money every month to a missions account. We don’t know when a trip will come up that we need to do. Two years ago, I went to Swaziland. It wasn’t a trip I was planning to do, but I got a call asking for my expertise at Southern Africa Nazarene University. I had the skill set they needed, and I felt like I should go. If we hadn’t had the money set aside, I wouldn’t have been able to go, but when I got the invitation, I said yes.”
Mary agrees with that line of thinking. “For the church in America—for any Christian, but especially for the church in America— it is important to remember that the money that we earn is not ours. It’s God’s first,” Mary says. “We need to remember that we don’t always need the latest and greatest. God provides for our needs and God provides abundantly.”
Hobbiton, of course!
Work and Witness isn’t all work and no play. While they worked right up until the minute they needed to leave for the airport yesterday (literally), they also got to see everything on their New Zealand short list. They have both loved their time in New Zealand, I hope, as much as we have loved having them.
“It’s an amazingly beautiful country and so diverse in population,” Mary said. “It is truly blended. Very few people that we’ve met were actually born in New Zealand. Over the past few weeks, we’ve gone to India without ever stepping foot in India. As always, we’ve met some amazing people. Our church and our friendships have grown. We still are friends with people we met in Argentina or Germany. That will be true of New Zealand. We’ll look forward to visiting our friends in New Zealand too.”
There’s one simple truth that compels them to serve wherever they are in the world, whether it’s Kansas or New Zealand or somewhere in between.
“There are hurting people and lost people no matter where you are,” Mary said, “We want to be a part of serving and bringing hope.”
Blue Springs Walkway, one of our favorite places, never ceases to amaze.
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
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.
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?!?
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.
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.
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!
Exploring Hamilton Gardens, magnifying glass in hand.
Only Bapa’s shoulders would do.
A rare moment of quiet coloring, resulted in a fine dragon picture.
TradeMe… sort of like Ebay meets Craigs List… has been a source of all kinds of treasures for us (as it is for all good kiwis). This $26.00 playhouse find is almost finished undergoing a fabulous makeover!
Just driving by…
We’re all enjoying the benefits of Jaron’s parents visiting for a few weeks… projects getting completed around the house… laundry magically washed, hung out to dry, and neatly folded on a regular basis… the best kind of childcare… belly laughter and high pitched squeals of joy… an impromptu trip to the beach…. special treats to taste. We have been grateful for the opportunity to share our new world with them, for their willingness to be explorers with us, and most of all for their love and support.
These days have reminded me of some reflections I had several weeks ago when we were at youth camp. They still apply.
Q walked hand in hand with Neville Bartle, our District Superintendent, down the hill and across the grass toward the beach. It was sprinkling lightly, but he was chatting all the way. My giddy feeling of relief was quickly followed by a twinge of guilt. It has been a challenging season for the parents in our house. And for the 3-year-old as well.
I’ve heard little people in this age category described as threenagers or threenados. Both seem fitting.
Tantrums appearing out of nowhere. Meltdowns over the silliest things. Lack of body control. So many necessary consequences for disrespectful words, disobedient actions, and straight up defiance.
More than once, Jaron and I have looked at each other and shrugged in confusion over a little body that had crumpled to the floor in tears and frustration over something we were failing to understand.
“Next time it’s time to go to the park, I’m not going to want to go!”
“Next time I can have a special treat, I’m not going to!”
“I don’t want to do anything fun!”
“I’m not going to play with any friends!”
“Can you help me choose my clothes… No, don’t help me with my clothes. Go out!!”
“Get out of here, Brother! I am not going to play with you!” He doesn’t have a brother. Or a sister.
Real words in the midst of anger, tears, and self-imposed (and sometimes parent-imposed) time-outs in the bedroom. The emotions have erupted out of nowhere on days when he’d had plenty of sleep, healthy food to eat, more than adequate attention, and numerous opportunities to do something fun and engaging. Remove any one of those factors and the volcanic activity skyrockets to hazardous levels.
By the time we watched Q skip off with Neville at camp that day, we were exhausted. A few minutes of a reprieve felt like a gift.
Q returned from his adventure full of tales of fishing for Nemo with sticks they’d found, soccer game play-by-plays, shells they’d gather to use as digging tools in the sand, embellished versions of the 3 Little Pigs, and a cute little rhyme he has repeated numerous times.
The reprieve from Mommy had been a gift for him too, it seemed.
I reflected on the way kids need grandparent-types—biological or otherwise— to shower them with undivided attention, spoil them with things or activities that seem like treats, and give into the rapidly changing whims of a small child. But my reflections quickly turned inward. Two whole hours without a whine, a complaint, or a crumpled-on-the-floor-crying-fit. Two. Whole. Hours. It seemed impossible. What was I missing?
The next morning as the two wandered off again for adventures only known to them, it hit me. The footsteps. They were slow. They were careful. They were wandering here, then there. My footsteps are quick, direct, and purposeful. These two walked exactly side-by-side. How often did I walk 10 steps ahead, calling back over my shoulder, “Come on, Honey. Walk a little faster, Buddy?”
Sometimes slow footsteps aren’t an option. Sometimes my child needs to be hurried out the door if we’re ever going to get out the door at all. Sometimes 3 year olds and adolescents alike just lose it.
But what about the other times? What if I slowed my steps wayyyy down? What if I didn’t watch the clock on my phone? What if when I shared our To Do list with him I didn’t put a time frame on it in my mind? What if I took a page out of Grandpa’s book?
I put it to the test one day when we didn’t have a mum’s group or kindy hampering our schedule. We had three errands to run at three different locations: buy a birthday gift and a thank you gift, purchase 7 items at the grocery store, purchase 3 items at the bulk bin store. It would involve getting in and out of the car three times. It would probably push the 12:30 lunchtime boundary. If disaster struck, the last one could be postponed.
I armed myself with snacks and the determination to take it slow. Even our departure time was delayed by a shared snack before we left. Even though I always pack snacks when we leave the house, we’d really be testing Q’s internal I’m-hungry-and-I-need-to-eat-lunch-bell.
We slowly walked the length of the mall to find what we were in search of. Q perused every toy, pushed every lever, felt every stuffed animal, and commented on every action figure before settling on a game and a book for the birthday gift. We walked across the parking lot to the book store, slowly, while he munched on raw cashews out of a Tupperware container. I declined when he asked if we could ride the carousel. He conceded. We talked about our favorite horses on it as we walked by slowly. At the bookstore, we searched out the other half of the birthday gift by plopping on the floor to read half a dozen books, look for hidden pictures, and re-read the gift book just to be sure. Errand #1—gift buying–accomplished. 1 hour 45 minutes. No tantrums. No whining. Time consuming. Miraculous.
The you’re-teetering-on-the-brink-of-lunchtime-alarm was going off in my head, but we headed to the grocery store. 30 minutes. Boom. I can handle that. In a world where we’re still navigating a new-to-us grocery store and new-to-us food products, that was a win for everyone.
Errand #3 proved to be easy. The bulk bin food store carries his favorite granola which we were planning to buy. We thanked the store owner and climbed in the car. As I pulled into the driveway, I realized I was tired, but not harried. I felt accomplished and peaceful. We accomplished our To Do list. And we enjoyed it. We enjoyed each other.
There are plenty of days when it isn’t possible for three “short” errands to take three hours. But there are a few days when they can—when I can match my steps and my pace to a three-foot-tall person who is busily exploring his world, wondering about how the carousel works, and requesting that every book be read aloud.
There are hours when tantrums happen. Out of the blue. For no reason. And, there are times when my slower steps and less-hurried persona cultivate peace in my little person. And I am reminded to take a page out of Grandpa’s book just a little more often.
Hamilton Gardens is always one of my favorite places to visit, especially when they open cool new gardens and structures.
The author grinning proudly after making it safely back to our driveway.
Libby and Janci had us over for the most amazing authentic Indian meal. Another story for another day.
Elizabeth, Jeanine, John, Q, & Jaron enjoying a little park on the edge of Napier.
There’s nothing better than a leisurely breakfast at Emporium during a rainy morning in Napier.
Bapa and Q in Napier.
Kiwis are all about their tea… and their coffee too. They claim they invented the flat white pictured here (and probably the tall black and short black as well).
Napier’s coast line.
Just followed one of dozens of little “scenic view” signs visible on any road trip and found this little gem of a view.
Afternoon neighborhood shenanigans. The neighbor kids think the American grandparents are fascinating. They’re also pretty excited about a little project we’ve been working on in the front yard.
Jaron’s parents are here visiting us for the first time. We’re having a blast showing them our stomping grounds, exploring some new places, watching the sticker shock register on their faces over the prices at the hardware store, and savoring Quentin’s delighted belly laughs as he plays with Bapa and Gigi. We’ve even snuck in a couple of dates…early morning at the Hakarimata Summit and late night at Star Wars (Yes, we are the last people on the planet to see it in the theater!). This week’s post is a guest post courtesy of Jaron’s dad, John.
by John Graham
“Does this car have cruise control?” I asked myself as I struggled behind the wheel of the 2004 Honda Fit.
I would have to wait to find out because there was no way I was going to take my eyes off the road until I reached my destination 124 kilometers away in Hamilton, New Zealand.
In fact, I was having a flashback to the summer of 1973 when I took Driver’s Ed as a 14-year-old on the Lovington High School campus. I can still remember the steely stare of Coach Bill Rippetoe as he ran me through the paces of driving a car through the streets of Lovington.
That seemed like such a piece of cake compared to what I faced now.
Jeanine and I had barely been in the island country four days before my son, Jaron, who now is the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene here in Hamilton, asked me to help him pick up a new car he had bought in the capital city, Auckland, an hour-and-a-half away.
It seemed like an easy assignment to me. In fact I kind of looked forward to the challenge.
There was one little hitch I was a little nervous about. My license back in New Mexico expired at the end of February so I made a trip to the MVD in Lovington two weeks before we left the country. I paid my fees, got my usual bad mug shot and was told the new license would arrive in 10 days as the clerk punched a hole in my old license and handed me a piece of paper that said I was legal to drive—sort of. The temporary license stated that whoever looked at the “temporary license” I possessed could make their own determination of whether I was legal to drive or not.
To compound the problem, I failed to bring my “temporary license” to New Zealand with me.
I told my son I was a legal driver, I just didn’t have the right papers to prove it. In fact, all I had to do was follow him closely and do everything he did and all would be well.
On the way to get the car, I kept replaying in my mind how I was going to explain the hole punched in the only license I had with me to a New Zealand policeman. “Yes sir, that’s right officer. In America they punch a hole in your license so you can wear it on a lanyard around your neck so you don’t lose it.”
I hoped I wouldn’t get stopped.
So there I was, behind the wheel of a car the size of a big go-cart zipping through city traffic at speeds of 100 km per hour (60 mph) and driving on the wrong (left side) of the road. Every part of driving that had been ingrained in my being since a young teenager was now being turned upside down in this 57-year-old brain.
It took all my mental power to keep the car in the middle of my lane while sitting on the right side of the vehicle. It was so unnatural. Soon I could feel my hands getting sweaty as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Sweat started to form on my forehead.
“I need some air,” I thought to myself. My fingers fumbled across the dash trying to find the controls to the air conditioning, but my eyes never left the road.
Every time I reached up to turn on the blinker, the wipers came on. (Like everything else in this car, they are opposite what I am used to in the USA.)
Maybe heading out in an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar country, in traffic in the country’s biggest city, and without a legal license was not the best idea.
After about an hour of white-knuckled driving I began to settle down and the traffic was now moving at a steady pace as rolling green hills passed by. Hey, this isn’t so bad, I thought.
By the time we pulled into the driveway of our destination in Hamilton, I was feeling like that confident 14-year-old 43 years ago. And as the wheels rolled to a stop, I finally took my eyes off the road and checked the steering column.
No, the car does not have cruise control.
Sometimes the shot through the window captures it best: the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand. Photo by John Graham
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.
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.
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?
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.
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! 😉
We spent New Year’s Day at Hamilton Gardens. Entrance is free, and every single garden is absolutely stunning.
Q relsihed the opportunity to chill in his own seat and watch a couple of movies.
Watching the plane land never gets old.
Snoozin’ over the ocean.
The Napping House–airplane edition.
The sun was rising as we were preparing to land in Auckland.
So much luggage. Jaron pushed and pulled. I pushed and pulled. Q rode on top like an Arabian king on an elephant.
Jim Clayton and Q feeding the ducks in the river on our first afternoon in NZ.
I am writing this on Friday at 9:45 p.m., but my computer thinks it is Friday at 1:45 a.m. It’s a little confused. Understandably so. On Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. we blew our last good-bye kisses through the window glass and walked outside to the small commuter plane that would take us from Hobbs, NM to Houston, TX. We turned and waved at the beloved faces peeking through the concrete architectural forms separating them from the runway we were walking across. It was real. Very real. Suddenly, all of the months of planning, preparation, travel, speaking, selling, packing, support raising, and Skype meetings were being realized as we walked up the steps to our small plane. We said good bye to all we had known before as we crossed the threshold anticipating the time we’d start saying “Hello” to all of the new.
An hour and 45 minutes in the air to Houston.
Super rushed layover.
4.5 hours in the air from Houston to San Francisco.
Super long layover. (4.5 hours)
14 hours in the air from San Francisco to Auckland, NZ.
2 hours collecting bags, navigating the airport with four luggage carts, setting up phones, and passing through customs.
30-minute stop for breakfast.
1 hour 30-minute drive to our house.
27 hours from door to door.
And a day. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean after we passed Hawaii crossed the international dateline and lost a day. The computer still hasn’t caught up.
That said, it all went as smoothly as it possibly could have. We checked 11 bags with relative ease (No, they were not free. Yes, they did cost significantly less than shipping.) We made every single flight on time. Quentin napped part of the way to San Francisco, walked a traveling cat on a leash in the airport, was thrilled to watch a couple of movies, and played happily with his toys. Then, we propped up the foot rest on our Sky Couch (a real thing you can see here, but don’t be fooled…it’s not that much space ;)) and slept our way across the Pacific Ocean.
All 11 checked bags, the stroller bag, the car seat bag, the guitar, the two carry-on roller bags, and our carry-ons all made it, and so did we.
We were greeted warmly by Neville and Joyce Bartle, our District Superintendents, and Jim and Nancy Clayton, the interim pastors who have been simultaneously preparing the way and holding down the fort for us. Quentin, in turn, doled out hugs readily, delighted with the grandparent-esque attention.
The grass is green, the hills are rolling, the plant-life is diverse, the guys in Santa costumes are sweating, and the people are driving on the left side of the road—but more on all of that later. For now, our bodies think it’s 2:20 a.m. and we should go to bed. Saturday is almost here. 😉
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.
Our visas are here! In case you didn’t hear the news, all three of our visas came suddenly on Friday. In a flash, the wait was over. Jaron and I spent the weekend with a couple of fabulous church families who, like so many others before them, poured out incredible hospitality and blessing on us. Then, we bounced (yes, bounced) home in a vehicle in which the rear airbag suspension had gone out. All that bouncing (and the news about the visas) propelled us into a flurry of packing and last-minute “To Do” lists. D-13 days and counting.
It’s an interesting time for Q. On Monday morning, the dishes had barely been cleaned up from breakfast when he announced, “This is not the best day of my life. Everyone is doing too much work!” We laughed, but truly, we’re paying attention to those statements–and to him. He even got a special movie night with Gigi last night.
Our friend Margaret Tyler has spent some significant time thinking through the process of helping kids move and journey through major life changes well. Margaret is the wife of Don, mom of two, grandma of five, pastor of many, lover of children, and bearer of much wisdom. Pastor M and her son, Kyle, put together a list of 11 things think about when it comes to nurturing children through big changes. They are as insightful and helpful for people who are moving across the state as they are for those moving across the world.
Pastor M and her husband Don
On occasion, I hear from young parents who ask, when considering a move and the needs of our children, how do we move them well? When should we tell them? How can we help them understand? Are there tangible ways that can help them understand? How can we make it easier on them? These are really important questions! It is wise to recognize that “moving well” is not as simple as discovering a new job, packing boxes and loading a moving truck. There are actually multiple layers including the good and necessary work of grief for the whole family (those moving and those left behind).
Here are a few thoughts related to the subject:
1. “Moving” is a pretty abstract concept for little people. Until you actually “move” it is difficult to grasp the concrete interpretation. So, depending on the age of your children, it may require more work to help them wrap their mind around the concept. Moving from left to right and up and down is different than moving our whole life where every norm will be altered. For little ones, I would not begin to tell them about moving until you have something to tell. However, as soon as you know where you are going and a timeline, it would be most appropriate to begin to introduce “moving language” to your daily conversations. I would especially tell them just before you begin to make the news public. You don’t want them to hear this foreign language from others.
2. Giving children space to participate in the “big deal” pieces of the move is important. For example, seeing the new place (even if it is through Skype of FaceTime). Seeing the new school, visiting the new church and helping in the process of packing to go to the new home.
3. Offering language the whole family can use so children know how to say what they are thinking. For example, our 2 year old Granddaughter referenced her “old house” and her “new house.” Her “old church” and her “new church.” This is a simple way to create clarity. 2 years later the use of this language has faded where she rarely references her old house or old church but at first she talked about them a lot. Now she says, “your state” and “my state.”
Kyle and Menda’s family
4. When my 3 year old friend Tyler made a move from one state to another, he had a really difficult time managing himself. A play therapist recommended we enlist Tyler’s help to assemble a photo album. This simple tool provided him with a “story book” to remember the past and envision today. It consisted of: Photos from “old” favorite places like church, school, neighborhood. Friends and special people from “old” home. Photos of “old” bedroom, kitchen, etc. Photos from “new” places like church, school, neighborhood. Photos of “new” bedroom, kitchen table, playroom, etc. Friends and special people from new home. A photo journal to help the family pray for old and new relationships. At first they used the album nearly every day. Soon, he no longer seemed to have such an intense need. This project helped him reflect on what he lost as well as helped him begin to embrace his new story. This is not always necessary since every child is different. This was very helpful for a sensitive child. Just what he needed!
5. One of the things I have learned from our son’s move 2 years ago, it is important to expect and create space for grief. Grief shows up in many forms and at some of the most unexpected times. Because little children cannot always “name” their struggle, sometimes we forget they are grieving. We may hear ourselves ask questions like, “What is wrong with you?” as a child finds ways to act out their feelings. Our son and daughter-in-law have done a great job of allowing Lucy to hang out in her grief. When Grandma and Grandpa are driving away, they do not say, “quit your crying.” Instead they hold her and validate her tears. They always allow her to walk us outside, wave until we are out of sight and cry for awhile if needed. Lucy has learned that it is just as “safe” to be sad as it is to be happy.
Kory & Katie’s family
At first, when grief was most intense, they allowed her to send pictures in the mail, FaceTime a couple times per week and many visits home. Slowly but surely Lucy is releasing her longing to be in her “old” home and embracing her new life. However, it has been 2 years and I think it is fair to say that it has taken a good chunk of that time to do the work of transition and grief. It just does not happen in a week. We often hear people say, “children are resilient.” This is so true. But parents are wise to recognize the real feelings, real fears, real loss and real adjustments in daily living. While our granddaughter who moved away has walked through significant grief, so have the 3 grandchildren who remain. They grieve of the loss of a children’s pastor they call Uncle. They’ve lost the tradition of our “whole” family gathering at the Sunday table. The loss of cousins who had been in their daily lives. None of this is impossible. It is just real. Don’t be afraid to allow grief to do its work in the whole family.
6. If your “normal” includes living near grandma’s, grandpa’s, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins, etc. Moving means a huge shift in your “normal.” Your new normal may include fewer occasions for date-nights or free childcare, family gatherings, ability to attend family/friend birthday parties, etc. Again, this is not impossible but it is real. If you have enjoyed close relationships with family, then they will likely be grieving too.
7. Think about a few practical ways to create opportunities for kids to make choices that affect the family in some way. These could be simple things like allowing them to choose which room will be theirs (within reason), or letting them pick their new wall color, or letting them decide between two choices on where the couch will go, etc. This will help offer a level of ownership and buy-in to the process. Thus, feeling less like “mommy and daddy are moving and we are going with them” and more like “we are moving.”
8. There are children’s books available that teach about moving. Perhaps you could pick one to read together so you have a common language and relevant story to reference.
9. Get children involved in the exciting parts of moving. Check out the local parks to see which one you like best. Let them choose a new restaurant near your new home. Go exploring together. These positive, fun parts of your new location will offer balance when feelings of grief are more intense.
10. Moving “sounds” exciting and the truth is, it can be. But it is kind of like telling a 4 year old, “We are going to get a new baby!” That news comes with hype and excitement until you begin to live the reality of, we have to be quiet all the time so the baby can sleep, it poops on everything including mommy and daddy, it NEVER plays like everyone promised, it’s always in mommy/daddy’s lap, when we walk into a crowd of people, I feel invisible because everyone wants to see the baby. On second thought, getting a new baby is really no fun at all. It takes time for “it” to grow on you.
11. Finally, much of the work of creating feelings of safety for a child is on those who are moving with them. Children want to be with their family. Even if they are sad at times, having the family transition together is the best thing for a child.
We are the Graham family–Jaron, Elizabeth, the little guy Q. The three of us are on an adventure in faithfulness, currently serving in Hamilton, New Zealand. Being faithful requires much sacrifice and brings great joy. Adventure Graham is the place we chronicle our journey.