What Is Saving My Life Right Now: Winter 2019 Edition

Last winter I was really struggling, but I made it through. I think it was the combination of lack of sunlight (one of Christchurch’s darkest winters ever, or so they say), a cold house, adjusting two members of our family to celebrating winter birthdays, and just regular depression stuff. SO MANY THINGS came to my rescue, and I wrote about them here.
This year I’m happy to report that, overall, my spirits have been so much higher!
Here’s the next edition of my answers to Barbara Brown Taylor’s famous question, “What is saving your life right now?”
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1. Sunshine
Like I said, it was SO MUCH sunnier this winter which inevitably boosted my spirits. Between June 1-19th last year Christchurch had less than 14 hours of sunlight, and the average for June is usually 119 hours! Even when cold this year, I took the opportunity to sit out in the sun and I didn’t have to get out my light therapy lamp or supplement with vitamin D. I’m a much happier person when there’s sunshine! Everything looks, well, brighter.
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2. 5 HTP + Magnesium
These two supplements I did continue and I never skip them! I take 5-HTP for boosting serotonin production which is an important chemical and neurotransmitter for us and helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory, etc. I take magnesium to increase energy, calm nerves and anxiety, for better sleep, and to relieve muscle pains.
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3. Ducted Heating + Floor Insulation
We got (what I call) REAL HEAT in our house! *happy dance* Insulating the floor and getting our heat ducted through ceiling vents has made a massive difference. To my American friends: yes, it is almost like having central heating, hooray! Our home, our refuge, our safe space, is no longer perpetually freezing cold, yay! And I didn’t get chilblains 😄 PTL for a warm house.
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4. Yoga + Lunch
A big part of supporting my mental health is hanging out with friends. This is a hard one when you still feel somewhat new to a place (and you’re introverted) but you just have to put yourself out there, which is also hard when you have anxiety and depression. Thankfully, one of the yoga classes I frequented was always followed by lunch at the cafe across the street. When the teacher announces it in class, and everyone else goes, it’s hard to say no, even when some days I’d have rather gone home and curled up on the couch. I had so much fun getting to know people in my class and making new friends! We laughed a lot and ate some spectacular food.
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5. Rasa (Coffee Alternative) and Bengal Spice Tea
There’s nothing like a warm cuppa to keep the cold away. I had to get myself off coffee again after our stressful and busy ten weeks in the U.S. so I found this coffee alternative called Rasa. There are three different kinds to choose from, all full of adaptogenic herbs to target your nervous system and help your body recover from stress and give you sustained energy. I love it! Also Celestial Seasonings tea is hard to find here but we did manage to snag a few boxes of Bengal Spice, a spicy, cinnamonny, gingery, cardamommy, and clovey blend that reminds me of Kansas City winters with my mother-in-law, yum!
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6. Marco Polo
If you don’t have the Marco Polo app, GET IT and send me a message. It is a super fun way to keep in touch with people! I’ve had a blast sending videos to friends and family and receiving theirs in turn. You can watch it live or just whenever you have time, and they can do the same. It’s perfect if your loved ones live in a different time zone, if you want to send clips of your kiddos to grandma (and don’t want to deal with them “behaving” on FaceTime), and way better than Facebook messenger.
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7. Geraldine Ukulele Festival
This will probably make the list every year. It is so well-placed during the July school holidays, when it is the middle of winter and everyone is craving some good music and good company. Last year was my first time and I had a lot of fun, but this year… this year was even better than the first! I heard some incredible musicians, participated in fun workshops (and even got to go on stage!), cheered on my friends from Angelfish, met some cool people, and stayed in an airbnb with some lovely ladies who made me laugh harder than I had in a long time. Here’s my video of the weekend!
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And of course, John’s endless support and delicious cooking can’t go unmentioned… he really doesn’t get the thanks he deserves! Bless him.
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For now, winter is (basically) over and Kiwi spring starts tomorrow, the 1st of September.
Thanks for tuning in,
Abigail

Perks of (Our) Thanksgiving Abroad

22 November 2018
So we’ve now had our third Thanksgiving overseas and, over the past week, we’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing about our Thanksgiving celebrations on American soil. We missed extended family visiting from all over the country, late night board games, constantly bumping into people in the kitchen, catching up with stories and laughter, and eating a variety of dishes lovingly made by those we’ve known forever. Both our families even got caught in a blizzard in Kansas City this year! It would have been nice to be snowed in, baking cookies, and prepping our hearts and homes for the advent and Christmas seasons. And while it is really something special to celebrate with other Americans in our country of origin, we came up with a few perks of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad! In random order… 🙂
Friendsgiving!
We had so much fun inviting friends over and sharing one of our favorite holidays. Thanksgiving has always been huge in my family; one year in Kansas City we had 70 people! While this year’s event was a more intimate gathering at 13, we really enjoyed sharing what the holiday is really about. We didn’t whitewash the history for our guests and you won’t find puritan hats and indian feathers here at our house, but we were able to discuss the story of white settlers arriving to a new land and encountering indigenous peoples and what that must have been like. We each shared what we’re thankful for (the best part, really) and I just want to say how thankful I am for each person who came and ate with us!
Borrowing from a Friend’s Garden
I’m grateful to have friends in our neighborhood who are willing to share! I rode my bike to two different friends’ houses, one who shared rosemary sprigs (for the stuffing) and the other who let us borrow springform pans (for the cheesecake). One perk of celebrating on the southern hemisphere is that it’s springtime and nice enough for neighbours to have beautiful gardens growing, and the weather’s nice enough for me to ride my bike over for sharing!
Shops Aren’t Closed
It’s not a national holiday here so no one has the day off work. While this made our dinner start a bit later than normal (we waited for friends to arrive home from work), we were able to run to the shops last minute and grab a few things we’d missed on our first (and second) supermarket run(s)!
Homemade Pistachio Pudding
Speaking of supermarkets, we were able to find most of the usually hard-to-find-abroad ingredients like pumpkin, cranberries, and marshmallows, but one ingredient remained elusive…pistachio pudding mix. John’s family always has watergate salad at their Thanksgiving meal, you know the green stuff with fruit, cool whip, and marshmallows? Usually it’s made with Jell-O Pistachio Pudding mix but we couldn’t find any. This led to John making pistachio pudding from scratch, he literally shelled and ground his own pistachios! The pudding was delicious by itself, but we mixed most of it with homemade whipped cream, fruit and marshmallows for a less-sweet but super delicious watergate salad. A new (more involved) tradition I think!
An Opportunity to Practice Scruffy Hospitality
We’ve always enjoyed having people over to our house, but we’re not fancy hosts. Don’t be surprised if you have to get your own glass of water when you’re invited over here! For Thanksgiving this year we set up two big tables in our living room and, while it probably would’ve looked nice with tablecloths, we don’t have any! So our table was graced with crayon marks, mismatched plates and cutlery, different sizes of jars for drinks, paper towels instead of cloth napkins, stuffed animals all in a row, and the “save your forks!” announcement when we got out the desserts. Having friends over is more important than making sure the house looks perfect before they arrive.
We have so much to be thankful for, and here’s to next year’s feast!
Blessings <3

My Sense of Adventure

13 November 2018
My mom sent me a message and said she’s zip-lining through the Redwoods this afternoon. She and my dad are celebrating their anniversary in style! Just two months ago, she zip lined over Niagara Falls and, when I was 16, our whole family zip-lined through the rainforest in Costa Rica.
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People often tell me I’m adventurous and ask where I got it from. I realize it’s both of my parents’ sense of adventure that has rubbed off on me in different ways. Both my mom and my dad love to travel and they are the main reason I have visited so many places, and why our family’s favorite foods are not your average American cheeseburger! My mom is so brave. She tells stories of leaving her hometown after university to start afresh in New York City. You hear stories like this a lot, of people making their way to the Big Apple to start a new life, but my mom had a $20 bill in her pocket, an old car, and a whole lot of determination. Later she met my dad at a church event and, while he was playing his guitar by the pool, someone dared her to go ask him out… so she did! They ended up getting married, living there for 12 years, and my sister and I were both born there.
Besides zip-lining, my mom loves a good thrill. She was always the one riding rollercoasters with us as kids and, now that I’m an adult who doesn’t ride them, I realize she must have really loved that adrenaline rush! I remember her going down waterslides, jumping off diving boards, snorkeling, and swimming with dolphins. She was always up for a road trip for my various dance competitions in Pike’s Peak, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and other cool places. She has shown her love and support by coming to visit me when I lived in Haiti, Northern Ireland, and New Zealand, doing adventurous stuff along the way.
My dad’s style of adventure is less thrill-seeking and more pilgrim-on-a-journey. Growing up in Texas, my dad loved taking trips to Mexico with his buddies and I’ve heard stories of sunburns, spicy foods, and once eating an entire bag of mini-limes! As a teenager, he set out to make his faith his own and as he tells it, ended up walking around Montana and spending time discovering who God is. Even on business trips, we’d be staying in fancy hotels where the conferences were held, but he would lament that we weren’t out in the community with the local people. He’s reflective and smart which led him to the adventures of Law School at NYU and Seminary at Princeton. He started his own law practice and nobody knows immigration law like he does!
When I was 8 years old I traveled abroad for the first time when we visited family living in Asia. As a shy, sensitive, and introverted child, I don’t know that I would have been prepared for this trip, except that my parents took it in stride, setting a good example for me by sampling all the new foods, observing the music and language, and taking us to see exciting sites. If you know me now, you know I haven’t stopped traveling since, thanks to them. Together we visited over half the U.S. states on road trips, and also Mexico and Costa Rica during my years at home. They have instilled in me a joy of seeing the world and noticing the good parts of all life’s circumstances.
This all goes way beyond a simple sense of adventure. My parents take chances on people and offer grace and love to everyone they encounter. Memories of my childhood are filled with various people living at our house, people who needed some space between transitions, or people who didn’t have homes at all. I know sometimes it was frustrating for them, but mostly we saw generosity, hospitality, love and support lived out in an accessible way. They’ve always volunteered at church and for local community groups, advocating for those whose voices are not being heard. They are humble and kind, and make you feel safe when you’re with them.
I smiled when I received that message from my mom today. I’m happy to see that their sense of adventure has not been lost now that they’re officially empty-nesters, and I’m happy to see that their signature grace, humility, love, hospitality, and kindness has only grown over the years. I want to be like them when I grow up. Happy 36th anniversary mom and dad, and happy birthday mom! You really are the best.

-A-

Mom and Dad on their honeymoon in Mazatlán, Mexico <3

Ten Favorite Memories from Our 1st Year in NZ

Last week we celebrated ONE YEAR of living in Christchurch, New Zealand! You may remember our post detailing some things we loved after living here for six weeks but, now that we’ve been here for a year, there are just so many things to write about! We absolutely love it here and have enjoyed making friends and settling in to our new home. Here are ten of our favorite memories from our first year (in no particular order):

1. Shared Kai Sundays + Seating Change

You might remember that there were fewer than 8 people attending our church when we arrived a year ago. It felt SO EMPTY because there were like 60 chairs set up in the sanctuary! We took out over half of them and arranged the rest into a semi-circle with a few couches. This makes it a lot more cozy! We also organized a potluck meal for the first Sunday of every month. Seeing as how the people in our church are ethnically diverse, we get a delicious range of Indian, Kiwi, Samoan, and American foods! This has helped us get to know everyone in our congregation so much better because we all love to eat 🙂

2. Homeschool Journey + New Friends

We made the decision to continue educating Hosea at home. We didn’t want to do it on our own so we banded with a few other likeminded families to form a co-op! This is where we’ve made some great friends and shared in the joys and trials together. We’ve also taken advantage of all that the homeschool community has to offer. The boys have tried out and loved dance, gymnastics, bush school, and kids yoga, and we hope to do music classes and swim lessons next year!

3. Our First Summertime Christmas

We love Christmas and we love summer weather, but having them both at the same time was pretty interesting! We tried to re-imagine some old traditions like having frozen hot chocolate, playing outside on the trampoline instead of huddling under blankets inside, and planting a pine tree in our back garden, but it wasn’t quite the same. We figured out we really just need to create new traditions, so we’ll be working on that in years to come! We still got out all of our nativity scenes we’ve collected from around the world and listened to Christmas music as we celebrated with only our family of 4 for the first time ever!

4. Afternoons at the Beach

Growing up in a landlocked place, anytime we ventured to the coast for the beach we made sure we maximized our time there, spending every waking moment by the water. We now live within close proximity of several beaches and we discovered that heading to the beach doesn’t always have to be an all-day event! Many Sundays after church in the summer we’d head to the beach for a couple hours and just relax. Often the boys occupied themselves in the sand while John and I read books; it was glorious! Our favorite last summer was Cave Rock at Sumner beach.

5. Birthdays

All 4 of us have now celebrated birthdays here in New Zealand, in opposite seasons from what we’re used to. For Moses, an October baby, we hiked in the middle of a Spring downpour at Bottlelake Forest. For John, born in February, we went to outdoor pools and had ice cream. For Hosea, a July baby, we went to see a movie and made a cake. And for me, also born in July, we had hot chocolate and enjoyed a ride in a cable car up the port hills.

6. Hosting Visitors

Many of our favorite memories occurred while we had friends/family staying with us. We are so grateful we have people who sacrifice their time and money to come see us on the other side of the world! We’ve hosted my mom and brother, John’s parents, my aunt and uncle, and a few other friends passing through. It is such a treat to share with them our new home and some of our favorite places, allowing them to get a glimpse of our ministry and life here.

7. Quail Island, Tekapo, and Anakiwa

Many agree that New Zealand has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and we’ve gotten to see some of that this year! Quail Island is an old quarantine area and leprosy colony just a 10 minute ferry ride away! We took a nice 3 hour hike around the island and shared a picnic together. Tekapo is just 3 hours drive from Christchurch and is the Southern Hemisphere’s only international dark sky reserve! There are beautiful mountain views, ice skating, and hot pools too. Anakiwa is in the Marlborough Sounds (a 5.5 hour drive from Christchurch) and our friends let us stay at their beautiful holiday home there! We tried out kayaking and stand up paddle boarding while sting rays swam beneath us! We have great memories from all three of these short trips!

8.  District Assembly + Youth Camp

These two events helped us get a better idea of what our district looks like. We so enjoyed getting to know people from the other Nazarene churches across New Zealand! District Assembly was in Auckland in November and it was a time of multi-cultural worship, delicious food, and learning about the ministries of some other Nazarene churches. Youth Camp in January was in Whangarei and it was a time of late night games and music, energetic young people, and water play. Our boys loved hanging out with other leaders’ kids and the teenagers!

9. Mid-Winter Christmas Party

Some friends from church had the idea to host a Mid-Winter Christmas party in July. This was so much fun! We had yummy Indian food (biryani), decorated cut-out Christmas cookies, had hot chocolate with marshmallows, and played Christmas music. It was a fun time with our church people, and several invited friends too. This actually felt a bit more like Christmas than December 25th did, ha! We all want to make this an annual tradition now.

10. Baptism at the Beach

Near the end of Spring, two people from church asked John if he would baptize them. This was a big celebration for our church! We all went down to the beach while John and a couple others braved the icy waters (it was a cold day!) to perform the baptisms. Then we went back to church to warm up with lunch and tea + coffee. This was one of our first celebrations with our congregation and we’ll always remember it!

So there you have it: ten of our favorite memories from our first year! Undoubtedly there are great memories that have been forgotten from this list, but this is a great summary. Thanks to those of you who support and pray for us! We are forever grateful for your texts/phone calls/emails/notes of encouragement as we find our way. Here’s to digging even deeper roots in the years to come.

Blessings on the journey,

Abigail + family

 

Winter is Hard + What is Saving My Life Right Now

“What is saving your life right now?”

This is a question from author and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor and she says it can be answered as simply or as deeply as you wish.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I make my way through these dark winter months. I’m really trying to embrace winter and do special things that you can only do in winter, but I often just feel like I’m slogging my way through. If you know me, you know I struggle with anxiety and depression which gets worse if I don’t take care of myself. I also have Seasonal Affective Disorder which basically means I experience more intense depression in a particular season which, for me, is winter. (Shoutout to all of those who experience SAD as well. I feel you!)

So after way too many days in bed, not changing out of my pajamas, crying all the time, and without any trace of energy or motivation, I sought help from a professional and started making small changes. I incorporated a few new things into my life that have really helped, and here they are.

These are the things that are literally saving my life right now (in no particular order):

Restorative Yoga

I was asked a few months ago to join the front desk team at my favorite local yoga studio. I happily agreed and started opening/cleaning the studio on Friday nights in exchange for attending that evening’s restorative class. This was at the height (maybe “depth” is a better word choice here?) of my depression and to be honest, I hadn’t been exercising at all. This proved to be exactly what I needed during this season: not an intense workout, but a class focused on 100% comfort, that promotes rest + deep breathing, and where I’m completely supported in each pose by blankets, bolsters, and blocks. It was during these classes where I was able to quiet the inner chatter coming up with an endless to-do list and telling me I wasn’t good enough, strong enough, happy enough, or organized enough. This more mindful perspective helped me become aware that I needed to incorporate some other useful tools into my routine too!

Tea + Supplements

I went to a local Medical Herbalist and told her about my situation. She was super sympathetic and helped me decide on a few supplements that would help. She suggested 5-HTP, which boosts serotonin-production, hormone-balancing herbs like red raspberry leaf + nettles, adaptogenic herbs like eleuthero + astragalus, vitamin D, a multivitamin with extra vitamin B, and a St. John’s Wort tea. I was happy to see her again after two weeks and share how much better I felt already! Now a month after taking these consistently I can honestly say they are saving my life. I’m getting a bit of energy and motivation back, and nothing feels as hopeless as it did several weeks ago.

Light Therapy Lamp

I had been reading about the benefits of a light therapy lamp and saw that it’s really common for people who live in locations around the world that are dark for a big portion of the year. Looking back to 2015, I probably should have had one while living in Northern Ireland! We ordered a lumie lamp and I try to sit in front of it for at least 30 minutes a day (usually while I drink my tea!).

Spotify

Some say music is the best therapy, and I often say I couldn’t survive without my Spotify subscription! I have so many playlists for various moods/situations and when I can’t decide what to play, Spotify does a phenomenal job of recommending new artists/songs/albums to me based on what I’ve listened to in the past. A song I’ve had on repeat recently is Truth About the World by Andrea Marie. Go have a listen!

Heated Mattress Topper

This may seem like a small thing but without central heat, I was feeling perpetually cold in our house. John found a good deal on this amazing invention: a heated mattress topper! It goes on top of the mattress but under the fitted sheet and warms up my side of the bed on three different heat settings. Whoever invented this has my eternal gratitude!

Funny Youtube Videos

There were many times where I had no motivation to get off the couch. On these days, my saving grace was watching funny youtube videos. Here are some of my favorites! Comedians Jon Christ and James Corden, “Cram!” ram videos, fail army videos, the best of cheese rolling compilation, and kalen allen cooking videos. My younger brother also helped recommend some hilarious videos for me to watch! Thanks Gabe! Check these out if you need a boost.

Books on Pilgrimage

If you know me, you know I love to travel. But feeling depressed makes it hard to make plans, let alone want to physically go anywhere. Awhile back I had purchased several books on the ancient practice of pilgrimage and reading about other travelers’ sacred journeys has encouraged me in my darkest moments. I love hearing about how people journey to holy places and discover more about the character of God along the way.

Ukulele

Experts in mental health say a creative outlet is “instrumental” (pun intended) to healing. I have been playing my ukulele a lot more when I’m at home and I’ve noticed a big difference in my mental state! My kids even ask me to play more now because “it sounds so peaceful”. I’ve always loved playing worship songs but I’ve also started playing some other non-church-related music and it has been super fun for me! I even got myself a new ukulele for my birthday while at the Ukulele Festival (a tenor!) and I’ve really enjoyed playing more often.

All of these things work together to help me get back to where I need to be. I hope you don’t see it as a to-do list (which only causes more anxiety and more feelings of “not-good-enough-ness”), but as an inspiration to find some healing in your own life.

What is saving your life right now?
Blessings on the journey,
Abigail

Summertime Boys

a rainy Summer day

As I sit here in my warm home, I look out the window to a torrential downpour and high winds. Living on an island has its weather-related perks, but it can also come with a lot of rain! We had a much drier Spring than normal so all this rain is welcoming, although we’ve already been issued a state of emergency and flash flood warning for the city of Christchurch, so maybe it’s a little “much” right now.

foraging for yellow plums

All this rain reminds me that the seasons are changing, and I’m thankful to live in a place with significantly varied seasons, even if they are at the opposite time of year than what I’m used to. Fall is coming, and as people are quick to point out, it’s actually Autumn that’s approaching, not “Fall”. Whatever your word for it is, when it arrives, all semblance of summer is gone. This was our first summer in our new home, and our “year with TWO summers”. Here are some thoughts on this waning season:

Marlborough Sounds

Several times this Summer I found myself saying, “This is the life!” Being a parent in Summertime brings me so much joy and I think this is what my dreams are made of. Hosea (5) and Moses (3) have spent their Summer constantly barefoot, covered in dirt from head to toe, running inside and outside with buckets of water, finding and collecting bugs, admiring monarch butterflies, jumping on the trampoline, and eating heaps of cherries, blueberries, and watermelon. On the cooler Summer days they’ve honed their crafting skills, cutting endless amounts of paper, taping things together, and twisting pipe cleaners while simultaneously building blanket forts, having light saber fights, constructing Duplo homes, and cuddling their new bunny.

water hose + trampoline = hot weather fun!

Their hair is growing long but only one of them wants a haircut. Their muscles are growing strong and they’re both becoming great climbers. I had to get rid of the small pairs of underwear, because now they wear the same size. They’re both much taller than I think they should be. They’re not to be bullied by anyone except each other, and they’re quick to provide comfort when one of them gets hurt.

our favorite plant-based ice cream

They’re encouraging and hopeful, funny and strongly feeling. They’ve experienced grief this Summer when their first bunny was killed by a cat and then immense joy upon getting another bunny 3 weeks later. They’ve made more friends and developed new skills, always willing to try out a new experience if the other one is nearby cheering him on. They’re getting better at pushing each other’s buttons, and also at speaking each other’s love languages. They share knowledge about common interests (currently: sea creatures, Ferdinand, animals, plant facts, Harry Potter, bible stories, rocks, forts) and can improvise plays on a whim, feeding off one another for each line! They’re inseparable, and they share their impressive and detailed imaginations with each other constantly.

admiring a monarch

“Summertime boys got it goin’ on. Shake and wiggle to a hip hop song…” (If you don’t know the song I’m referencing then, I apologize for wasting your time just now ?) They’ve done a lot of dancing and singing this summer, even joining mom and dad for daily workouts. They love to sing, often force me to sing various movie soundtracks in their entirety (think: Moana, Frozen, Beauty and the Beast) and occasionally put in song requests for our Sunday services.

enjoying the sun and sand (and the driftwood fort)

Spending time with them this Summer solidified my decision to homeschool them. I’d been tossing the idea around for a long time, and we’d homeschooled for Hosea’s pre-k years already, but I decided I just couldn’t bear to send them away! We all looked at the pros and cons together and decided homeschooling was the right decision for now. I just love watching them learn and grow!

pretending to be seagulls

This is a snapshot of our life this past season, balancing a million different things, but loving our roles as parents the most. Boys at 5 and 3 are crazy fun! I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s actually really hard some days. But it’s also rewarding, enlightening, and challenging in all the ways I didn’t think I needed to be challenged.

making “sand angels” instead of snow angels at Christmastime

Unfortunately 2018 won’t offer us TWO Summers like 2017 did, so until warmer weather visits us again, peace and blessings to you <3

Advent + Christmas Day: New Traditions, Same Celebration

Advent is my favorite season. A time of anticipation, expectation (read last year’s post HERE), longing, desire, and preparation for a new birth. I always look forward to advent, maybe even more so than Christmas. There’s something to be said about foregoing the instantly gratifying option and embracing the stillness of WAITING. In today’s world we can often get anything we want at the touch of a button (if it’s not already at our fingertips). Everyone rushes around getting ready for Christmas day, but what about stopping to rest in those sweet moments of advent? If we never stop to breathe in the STILLNESS, we miss why this season is so special. Advent invites us into the WAITING that so often gets overlooked. The majority of December is not yet about celebrating Christ’s birth, but rather the HOPE and LONGING of ANTICIPATING Christ’s birth. I definitely made this a priority this season. We got out our only decorations, our multiple nativity sets from around the world. We told the story over and over in a variety of ways, and answered a billion questions from our two boys, now 5 and 3. I lingered over (multiple) cups of tea and spent more time than usual reading books (for fun! not for my Master’s). I played and practiced my ukulele more for fun too instead of solely prepping for church music, and I savored time with my kids out in NZ’s beautiful Summer weather.

the boys loved this giant tree at a nearby mall

Advent leaves us longing for something more and greater, EXPECTANT of a new life just waiting to burst forth.
What many call “the Christmas season”, advent is not about preparing for one day of gifts and cookies, stressing over not having purchased “enough” gifts or having everything wrapped in time for the big day. It is about PREPARATION for the BIRTH of something new. Jesus’ birth in fact, which changed the whole course of history.

we’ve had a lot of extra reading time recently

I always look forward to advent, but this season was different from advents of years past. For one, I’m on a different hemisphere; it’s warm this advent, and that alone is a bit disorienting. Second, something about the slower pace of life in NZ has encouraged me to slow down even more. It’s summer break here in NZ so it seems everyone and their moms are out of town (literally!). Everything seems quieter than usual, all the regular activities are canceled for a couple months, many shops are closed, and the only busy areas are the touristy ones with people taking the holidays to visit from all over the world. And not having nearly as many friends or family nearby, we weren’t invited to many parties or end-of-year get togethers. Third, I participated in the #Dressember campaign this year, raising money for organizations that fight against modern day slavery and work to rescue victims from human trafficking. There’s a lot rolling around in my head and my heart about what it means to advocate for a cause like this. What help can I be? How can someone who’s never known oppression firsthand fight for the oppressed?

Moses always wanted to be in my pictures for Dressember 🙂

Advent was filled with patience, desire, and stillness which led to a wonderfully joyous Christmas morning.
It was our first time celebrating as a small family of 4 and we enjoyed attempting to create new traditions and craft new markers for these seasons that feel so foreign and so familiar at the same time.
This post-holiday downtime reminds us that we’re a bit isolated down here and that can sometimes feel a little sad. There’s nothing like calling family to see them all laughing together to make you smile and then sorely miss being with them. I miss Kansas City Christmas: watching the Christmas trains at union station, ice skating at crown center, endless (dairy free!) hot chocolates and coffees from my favorite coffee shops, Christmas lights, bundling up for fun in the snow, caroling at nursing homes, getting invited to far too many Christmas parties to realistically attend, and BAKING (healthy) treats! It is far too hot here to turn on the oven!

gifts from family arrived just before and just after Christmas day!

This advent season was marked by:
Christmas Music, all the time- especially the Hawaiian Ukulele Orchestra’s Christmas album! It sounds very Summery and is a nice change from all the winter-focused songs!
Frozen Hot Chocolate- all the right flavors with a different temperature 😉
Christmas Eve Enchiladas– Dec 24th was not super sunny so we took advantage of the cooler weather and baked enchiladas for dinner! Mexican food is an annual Christmas tradition on the Carr side of the family, so it was fun to continue this!
And, eating cherries on the beach, seeing “The Star” movie in theaters, eating our meals in the back garden, helping the boys pick out gifts for each other, and taking advantage of a rainy day to bake and decorate christmas cookies.
cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning (a paleo version!)

Nearby Fruit Foraging- We live within walking distance of the Red Zone, an area that used to be neighborhoods with houses and streets but was devastated by the earthquake. Now it is a grassy area with loads of trees often ripe with fruit this time of year! We picked some delicious yellow and red plums.

playing with Wilder provides cuddly entertainment!

sunny trampoline fun!

How do you mark the season of advent and christmas?

Ordinary Time: Settling In

As we’re coming to the end of this year’s season of ordinary time, I wanted to write a second installment. If you missed the first, read it here.

brothers having a chat

This past Sunday was the last one (for a bit) where we had the green cloth covering the communion table. Green: growth + life + cultivation + flourishing, all themes of ordinary time. On the northern hemisphere, ordinary time begins with Spring and ends a few weeks into Winter. It’s easy for us to think of metaphors of new life and growth when we’ve got SPRING in our gardens! This year on the southern hemisphere, it’s the opposite! We are ending ordinary time just a few days into Summer. Instead of starting out green, we’re ending it green. All the Spring blossoms have gone and given way to bold summer hues and a hot hot sun. This gives me a whole new set of metaphors as I think about growth. Do we grow more/stronger/faster/significantly at the beginning of our endeavors or at the end? Is it better to start out strong or finish strong? Hmmm… I’ll be rolling those around in my head for a wee while…

a beautiful Spring hike to a nearby waterfall

Ordinary time is a green growing time, and nothing about it has been “ordinary” for us per say, but we’ve seen growth in a variety of ways. This second half of ordinary time has found us settling into our home in a new country, a new city, and learning a new culture by jumping in head first. Part of the idea of “growth”, they say ordinary time is a season of discerning your vocation and shaping your ministry. That part is true. We are discerning what our role is as pastors in Christchurch, and shaping what the ministry of our church will look like. (Although we will be doing that for years! Constantly reevaluating what our role looks like.) One thing we’ve noticed is that people are longing for community.

Moses is so confident on his balance bike these days

How can our role at the church foster a connected community? How can we show people what a loving community of faith looks like? What does it mean to be part of an intimate community that spurs each other on in faith and love? And how can we guide our church congregation to do the same? These are all questions we’ve been asking ourselves these last four months as we seek to grow our community.

one of our local beaches (about 15 minutes away)

We are establishing rhythms and routines and getting a better feel for our city. We are making friends, joining various community groups, and putting ourselves out there every day (hard work for this introvert!). We are cultivating something new. We’re being “grown”, you could say 🙂
So, ordinary time, we’ll see you again. But now we continue our journey through the liturgical year. Next stop: Advent (my favorite)!!

Sunday Observation

I believe in the Holy universal church.

“I live a much more Christian lifestyle than those supposed Christians who meet at that church down the road.”

This sentence has been rolling around in my brain all weekend. I can’t seem to shake it. It was the beginning of a listening session that I was able to be on the receiving end of. The hurting woman told me about the horrible bitterness she had encountered at the church she was talking about (luckily it wasn’t the church I am pastoring), she told me that she didn’t have much respect for Christians, or for church politicking (me either).  She rounded off by telling me that she would never understand why people would waste the time going to church. And finally she looked at me and asked what I was doing in New Zealand. I kind of chuckled and told her I had come over for work, and I half hoped she wouldn’t ask what sort of work I was doing.

She did ask, and I then got to tell her about how I was so serious about being a Christian I had become a professional one. Just kidding. But really I told her that I was working at a church in the area. I told her that we believe that things like shame and guilt and hatred and pain don’t have to stick with you for your whole life and that we believe there is healing from that. But at this point in the conversation I could have told her she had won the lottery and she wouldn’t have heard me. She had checked out of the conversation.

So I find myself wondering about church today as I preached the sermon, and as we prayed the prayers, and as I listened to my wife lead us in singing on her ukulele, and as we recited the creeds, and as our small congregation gathered for tea and bickies afterward.

It is of course trendy right now to say that the church is not the building, but rather it is the people inside who make up the church. I can’t help but wonder if this sentence has lost its meaning to many people. What does it mean to be the church anyway? What does the church do? Why the church? The church has always been, and I believe always will be known for her habitus; our embodied disposition. Those things that we do. When we love our God and our neighbor in actuality it is love that we become known for. Maybe try giving a listening ear or a hug if it is welcome.  However if we simply meet together as a social club that is sometimes full of bitterness and church politics each week then chances are good we will become known for that disposition. If we gather and talk about all the things that Christians don’t do, then we will become known for that. If we gather and don’t talk, or don’t listen, or don’t celebrate, then I think you get the idea.

Maybe you’ve asked the same: “Why church?” It is a legitimate question. One that doesn’t always have an easy answer but I think novelist Flannery O’Connor speaks to it,

“I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed”

Sometimes, when a person in my congregation will come to me and tell me they are frustrated and tired and about ready to give up on God, I won’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say a lot of the time, and I don’t know why frustrating, and horrible and hurtful things happen. I don’t know the answers to these things, but I do know how to hug, and I try my best to listen, and I try to be the body of Christ.

Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t need the church, and maybe you’re right. But I think its only because the church you’ve encountered isn’t the church that God has envisioned for God’s people. 

Maybe you are hurting today, and frustrated, and ready to give up. If this is you, please know you’re not alone. Please let me (or someone near you) listen to you and hurt with you and be the body of Christ.

Our First Six Weeks: 6 Things We Love About NZ!

Hello! Long time, no blog post! Moving to a new country is hard, hey?! We often find ourselves exhausted and overwhelmed (<<thanks to culture stress) but that’s par for the course. We’ve noticed though, that much of the conversation in our home revolves around our excitement for NZ life! We are still so new to this country but at first “glance”, here is what we LOVE about living in New Zealand so far:

1. Eco-Friendliness

It seems that everyone and their mom cares about the environment here in NZ. And they don’t just SAY they care, they actually DO things to care for the environment. For example, at coffee shops you have to request a takeaway (to-go) cup when ordering. Otherwise, they just automatically put your drink into a mug for you to drink there. Generally, takeaway containers and grocery sacks cost extra to encourage you to use/bring your own! At every cafe I’ve visited, I’ve seen people bring in their own cups. It seems like everyone recycles and composts (the “trash trucks” pick up food scraps and compost it for you!) and I’ve overheard many conversations about being more green. Obviously, there are definite areas where we can all improve, but this is something that has stood out to me since arriving!

2. Opportunities for Nature Exploration

If you didn’t know, New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for spectacular views and amazing hikes. The South Island, where we live, is home to the Southern Alps and we get to drive by them all the time! We’ve taken advantage of nearby nature reserves, parks, ponds, and forests, spending time hiking, walking, and picnicking. We love to admire God’s creation, knowing full well God delights in our enjoyment of it. Our adventures out and about have helped us meet people, learn a bit about NZ’s history by reading strategically-placed signage, and simply explore our new area. Also, it’s free!

3. Cultural Diversity

One thing I noticed right away was the diversity in Christchurch. People who know NZ are probably laughing because Christchurch is actually one of the least diverse cities here! But even still, there is a great international presence here. We’ve met people who’ve moved to NZ from Germany, Ukraine, the U.S.A, India, Fiji, England, Canada, Colombia, and Chile. We’ve also been able to learn a bit about Maori culture, NZ’s indigenous Polynesian culture. The Maori language is popular in schools and is on various signage throughout the country. There are a few Maori songs and many words that get used in daily conversation that everyone seems to know. For example, “Kia Ora” = “Hi/Welcome” (Literally means “Be Well”), and “kai” = food.

4. Slow Pace of Life = Kind Citizens

We all know that Americans love to be productive, efficient, and busy. I’ve noticed a big change in my lifestyle since moving to NZ, surrounded by people who actually take vacation days and often have nothing on their schedule. This allows for time to explore this beautiful country and enjoy family and friends! People obviously go to work and participate in extracurricular activities, but it does seem like there is a slower pace of life here. It’s been good for all of us! For example, one thing I’ve noticed is the ability to wait for various fruits/veg to be in season. There’s no rush to have avocados in the Winter, they’ll just wait for Spring and Summer when they don’t cost an arm and a leg! Also more often than not, random strangers seem to enjoy taking the time to say hi and ask how my day is going. Everyone has been kind and welcoming to us.

5. Accommodating to Dietary Restrictions

Overall we’ve noticed that almost every restaurant/cafe has vegetarian/gluten free/dairy free options. I’ve met more vegetarians and vegans here than I’ve ever met in my life! Everyone has their own reasons for eating the way they do, and I love the intentionality behind it. Some do it for health reasons and some do it out of concern for the environment, but no one bats an eye at our family’s odd mix of restrictions. And better yet, there are loads of choices for us if we get the chance to eat outside our house (a rare occurrence, but still…)!

6. 100% Kiwi

New Zealanders are humbly proud of their unique culture. You’ll see “100% Kiwi” on labels and in shops, stating that the ingredients and/or labor all originated in NZ. Websites like ebay, craigslist, amazon, and groupon don’t exist here because someone has created a kiwi equivalent. There are hardly any outside chains, because Kiwis just create their own awesome stuff!

the sunset over our house last week 🙂

There are so many more things we love about this place, but I wanted to keep this short. You can count on us writing more about our life here as we continue to get settled and find our footing. Thanks for stopping by! Give us a shout if you’re thinking about us. It really helps in those times where we miss our dear friends and family back home <3