Sir Ashley Hilary & the Trek up “The Mountain”

The blizzard is coming and the skies are grey. We have come to a place in the mountain where even the four wheel drive cannot drive further – not because of the mountainous terrain, but because of the weather. We edge out and away from the car, and our fingertips numb, then our fingers, then our knuckles. The chill creeps its way to my heart and I begin to trudge, step by step, up the snowy mountain to our lodge half way up, the snow covering up to my knee as the crunching noises of ice, sleet, and snow rise to my ears and I know that I have found my Everest. Layers of cardigans and snow jackets make it nearly impossible to look down and see each step as my feet move uphill, rising steeply, stopping every meter as dizziness and stabbing headaches break me down. Though I can hardly look down, I can look up and see clouds of white dustiness blown from the nearest ridge above. I tell my companions, “Go on without me!” And they say, “…Okay.”

I trudge on. Suddenly the wind picks up, colder, swifter, breaking into me as though I am a part of the mountain. My legs no longer move and through the ski goggles stretching into my cranium I only see spots of purple and blue. I realize that these spots are not snow. They are not droplets of water. They are mirages created by my eyes as I lose oxygen – as I climb in altitude.

Looking back, I can still see the café, warm and filled with the smell of hot drinks and hot food. I choose to turn away and press on. But my feet do not move. I take deep breaths and try again. Five steps. Right, left, right, left, right, topple, catch balance, pause. Three minutes pass. I try seven steps. Right, left, right, left, right, left, right, topple, catch balance, arms out, and I do not fall. Pause. Eventually this takes me up the current stretch of mountain to a place I could not see from 100 steps down. In my mind, when I reached the top of this “peak”, everything would be okay. There was hope up here when I was down there. Now, hope has moved and I create a new goal for myself. I will climb the next 100 steps upward – the next bit that I can see. I wonder if hope is up there. And so I trudge. Dig right foot in, dig left foot in. Dizziness sets in and sharp icicles seem to pierce my head. Two more steps. I cannot make this. I cannot. The blizzard comes, and I am wrapped in snow.

There is no other choice. I must press on toward the lodge. Base camp is below. The summit is above.

I am Sir Edmund Hilary, climbing Mt. Everest.

In my mind, I view all of the Everest documentaries seen throughout the past decade and I realize that I am checking off all the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness. I think of all the mountaineers who turn back right before they reach the summit – oxygen is scarce and motivation disappears in the midst of confusion, cold, and fear. This is me. I will not turn back.

But, I cannot go on. I fall into the snow. Then a figure runs toward me, and I know that somehow, I will make it.

_______________

So. That’s not exactly how it happened. But, it’s definitely how it happened in my mind. My boyfriend Mark and his dad took me down to “the mountain” starting early yesterday morning. The official name for “the mountain” is Mount Ruapehu. On the way, Mark realized something, “Ah, Ashley. Do you think you’ll be able to climb up the mountain from the car park? The lifts might not actually be working today.” And I was, like, “Ah, yeah. No worries.”

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We left the parking lot at Happy Valley at 1:28 pm. Mark rescued me around 2:42. We took a selfie at 2:57. I conquered the mountain at 3:57.

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I realized halfway up a steep kilometer or so (we actually climbed 6.5% of Mount Ruapehu, which I personally find impressive) that surviving that climb at high altitude was much like how I’ve felt in life at times. For example, have you ever climbed anything and thought that if you could just reach that one section – that one piece of rock – that one snow machine – that one pile of snow – if you could just reach it, then you could make it? Sometimes, we even think that it might be the top of the mountain. One time while climbing some boulders in the Wichita Mountains by Lawton, Oklahoma, I kept imagining myself reaching the top. Every boulder was a journey to the top – the top being the place where I could see everything around me. At the top, everything would be clear to me. I wanted everything to be clear.

That time, I ended up climbing further than I had ever climbed before. But, it was only because I kept reaching for the top.

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Yesterday while climbing 6.5% of Mount Ruapehu, I kept finding hope at the next level up. I didn’t know where the lodge was. When the boys trekked ahead of me so Mark could come back and help me without luggage, I had no way of knowing just how far it would be along the ski trail until I reached where I was going. Each step was a move toward hope. Each step was a move toward my goal, but I didn’t know where my goal was. I didn’t know what I would experience what I got there.

I’ve found that I don’t always know where I’m going and I don’t always know why I’m going. Nine years ago, while trying to figure out what to do with my life, God made it clear that he wanted me to go to school at OBU – my first move away from everything familiar, or at least the first time I was on my own. Eight years ago, God put me in Kathmandu, Nepal. I didn’t know that I would get sick and that giardia would have such an effect on my future health, nor that friends would be put in my life to help me when I needed to hear truth. Four and a half years ago while drinking tea and talking to Jesus, I was told by the Holy Spirit to go to New Zealand. There was no knowing that I would meet Mark or Ellen and my other friends here, or that I would take care of two beautiful girls that I still think about every day – nor did I know that I would get sick for two whole years of my life. Two years ago, I had a dream that I was teaching in Nocona, Texas and somehow I found myself there.

My point is that we don’t always know what’s ahead of us. In fact, most of the time, we don’t. I think that is for a reason. There is a purpose in not knowing. I didn’t know that there was a reason for my depression. I didn’t know that there was a reason for chronic and adrenal fatigue. I didn’t know that there was a purpose in my dad’s car accident or my mom’s diagnosis with cancer. But, God showed me enough. He showed me hope as far as I could see – and that was far enough.

All I need to do with my life is do what he says to do. Therein is my hope – that there is a God who cares enough about my life to tell me where to go. He must have a purpose if he takes time to lead me and to hold me along the way.

I didn’t know what the lodge was like when I started up the mountain yesterday. I didn’t even know if it would be warm. I didn’t know if there was a café in it with a soy cappuccino waiting, or if it was just a little hut where we would freeze to death. When I first came to New Zealand, I didn’t know what it was like. I didn’t know anyone, and I certainly didn’t know what I would face or who I would meet. But, I saw hope in my Saviour as he walked beside me, holding on to me when I could move on my own, always pointing me to the next level up, the next ridge, the next conflict in life.

That, indeed, is all we need to keep climbing our Everest – whatever that is for each of us. A Saviour. A hope.

He is all we need for every step of the path.

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Happy.

Today, I am happy.

Those of you that know me at all are probably thinking, Aren’t you always happy? Sometimes I don’t always know how to respond to such comments. There is so much joy in almost everything we encounter on a daily basis. While moving out of Nocona, Texas last week, there was so much anxiety in my body and my heart. It was in my spirit that I found joy. Packing up after a two year teaching adventure, you find memories in everything. While putting pencil skirts in boxes while sweating in the ever-present Texas summer heat, memories flooded my mind of all the students I have met and had a chance to help – whether with grammar and spelling or to encourage and show them that they have more inside of them than the people around them can comprehend. While packing my poetry books and my beautiful classic novel, I couldn’t help wondering if they got what I wanted to teach them – that they are wonderfully created. That they each have a purpose. That no matter how well they do in English class, they are good at something. Even if they couldn’t write in complete sentences, some were geniuses in math. Or science. Or farmwork. Or welding. Or waiting tables. I think back to my time in high school. I think of the teachers that encouraged me and told me that I was good at something. I remember the ones that made me feel stupid. But, I choose now to listen to the voices and to remember the comforting notes of my teachers on my tests and my essays. I choose to remember Mrs. Struck’s voice in Ready Writing and Mrs. Wallace’s notes on my creative writing pages in Film Criticism and three years of English. I choose to remember Coach Wolf questioning my interest in international missions, then encouraging me through the way he treated me. I am thankful that these teachers invested encouragement and respected my gifts without demeaning me when I failed. Packing up my classroom, I prayed that I had followed in their footsteps. But, I had prayed that every single day of my Nocona teaching career, and God does not tell us to go somewhere without giving a purpose for the journey.

Lately, I have been seeing how all that has happened in my life – and even in the lives of other people that I know – is for a reason and I know that this sounds cliché. The saying goes, “Everything in life happens for a reason”. I’ve always been skeptical of this. Haven’t you? I mean, I’m a Romantic and I should just accept and love the idea, but it just seems like going to the toilet doesn’t do much for your life’s purpose. Maybe it does. But, one thing I do believe now is that the tough things that I’ve been through – that you’ve been through – have sculpted me into who I am now. This is another cliché that I’ve found to have some truth to it. Our experiences define who we are.

When I look at my dad and I remember when he was in a coma, I’m reminded of how that experience has shaped me – both for the better and for the worse. I’m probably still learning and finding out how that time in John Peter Smith Hospital and then at Baylor Rehab my senior year in high school was for a reason. I saw my family touch others as they watched us press forward with Jesus as our comfort – and I saw how our church changed and stepped up for us and for Christ’s purpose. I know there was a purpose for others, but it was hard to find the purpose for my life. But, watching how my dad – rebuilding his brain and his body through every kind of therapy, and then continue to go on and run even more marathons than he did before his car accident – has persevered through every trial and how he is still the same amazing man now that he was before… well, that has inspired me. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I have joy every time I look at him. Not only is he alive, he is smart and kind and strong. I find joy in who he is and that he is still here to be my dad.

When I look at my mom and think back on the past year and think about her cancer and surgery and chemotherapy, I remember that it was hard. I remember that my worst nightmare had come again – to my mom now as it had with my dad – and I recall how my life changed for a couple of months and I had to give everything once again for God. But, just like with my dad, I look at her now with joy. I have seen her strength in the easier times of our lives, and I have seen her strength even when she was weak from chemo. And the verse sticks out to me clearly: “when I am weak, then I am strong”. How true that is for us. And the thought and realization of this truth through all that we have been through gives me joy.

All of this gives me joy.

Yesterday morning, at 5:10 am, I arrived back in Auckland. Having my best friend and my boyfriend with me makes me happy. The thought of who they are and the strength they have in Jesus gives me joy. Kumara hummus with roasted pumpkin seeds, then church where we first did something together outside of Bible study, then salt and vinegar chips, then kayaking seven kilometers from the Harbour Bridge to Okahu Bay… yeah. That makes me happy.

Through everything in life, yes, I always have joy. It is different from “happy”. But I feel blessed and lucky today to be truly, completely, and undoubtedly happy. My cares and worries do not define me today. I give them away. And my life from the time I was born, through high school and college, through traveling the country and the world – everything up until now makes sense together. Sometimes, we go through the hard times to help others. Sometimes, we go through the hard times to become who we are meant to be – who our God wants us to be for Him.

I hope that wherever you are sitting and living right now, that you find joy. I wish for you happiness, but I pray that above all, you find joy and peace in all things – whether good or bad, whether sad or happy. I pray you have joy.

Sincerely,

Ashley Ruth

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Home.

We are back at home. Mom is so awake, which I do not understand. She’s amazing. I, on the other hand, am sick. The coughing roommate must have been a little too much for me.

It is good to be home, I think. Every story is made up of an exposition, rising action, a climax, falling action, and resolution. Resolution is when the story resolves. Like, when Bilbo comes back to Bag End after defeating Smaug the dragon… or when Frodo returns after having destroyed the ring. Home is good.

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We may not have defeated a dragon or an evil ring, but we have had a little adventure. In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller calls these sorts of stories “practice stories”, where we create an inciting incident that pushes us into a story. He does this, and then he learns that there is a difference between a good story and an epic. One of the men making a movie of his life explains this to him. There are two things that make a story into an epic: 1) “the thing a character wants must be very difficult to attain… more risk makes the story question more interesting to an audience”, and 2) “the ambition [has] to be sacrificial. The protagonist has to be going through pain, risking his very life, for the sake of somebody else”.

Now, if we follow this sort of story, there is a lot more at stake. Being in Belgium with a fever felt like an epic story to me… and I do believe that each person’s experiences can have a different effect on them. For some people, it is actually more difficult to tell a good story with their lives. When I have fever, it is very hard to tell a good story. 🙂 But I do wonder if, at the end of my life, I will have a good story or if I will have an epic story? Will my life be a good indie film or a timeless blockbuster? Will people say “Oh, she was published”, or will they say “That was an amazing story”?

I think that we all need to think of these things right now. It’s like losing weight and making New Year’s resolutions. We say we will be healthy and exercise and lose weight this year, then we say we will start tomorrow.

That doesn’t work. We need to start living our lives today. We need to fly away to Europe for a week and start living our lives. We need to finally start listening to our neighbors, creating some dialogue in our lives. We need to fight for something – risk something about ourselves for someone else. My real-life heroes are Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Corrie ten Boom – not because they were extraordinary, but because they lived their lives for others. They lived epic stories. I want to live like that.

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Reflections on Baker Street. Literally. Yes, that IS a pun.

Having just dropped Momma off at 221b Baker street for her tour of Sherlock Holmes’ residence, I’m sitting in a little ristorante & cafe eating my spaghetti bolognese and sipping on my magically delicious soya flat white. Life is good.

I can’t imagine being back at school in a week, starting a nonfiction unit and telling my students that I took a last minute trip to Europe. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bad example for the youth of today. Like, is it wise to do life as quickly and spontaneously as I do some things in my life? Nepal happened quickly. New Zealand happened quickly. Teaching in Texas happened quickly. This trip happened very, very quickly.

But, then I think, what is life without adventure? I feed of of these “pilgrimages”. They make me so happy. It makes me glad to be alive. and I like being glad to be alive. It’s not a bad feeling.

I know not everyone is like me. Many people find happiness in security and in being around the same community. And that is, indeed, a beautiful thing. I love that as well. But what I am thinking about now is the joy and peace I find in a place surrounded by culture. Currently, I am sitting in the lobby of our hostel. I can’t even count on one hand the number of languages and accents I am hearing even as this sentence is being typed. I cannot even begin to count on two hands the number of countries represented within a ten foot radius of where I sit on this tilting blue-cushioned booth. This energizes me. It brings me peace and, as I said, happiness.

I know not everyone is like me, but I have realized that I am like me. What’s more – I have realized that I like me. And I like me the way that i am. It’s a hard and long path for most people, I think, to come to this realization. My best friend is always telling me that I don’t need to care so much about what other people think. I am a people pleaser. But right now, I can eat a bowl of spaghetti filled with delicious gluten and it’s okay. No one actually cares. I can wear my Sherlock Homes coat and decide not to worry what people think of me. There are, in fact, much more offensive tourists than me. I can go to church wearing a nose ring and not stress about judgment. Because we are not meant to judge anyway.

I am me and that is perfectly fine. I’m not talking about being obnoxious and being whoever I want to me without consequences. Anyone who knows me will probably know that. I am me, though. And I am me because that is who I want to be.

It’s hard, I think, coming from the world in which we life, to be happy with yourself. There are so many pressures and opinions and ads marketing beauty products and “true happiness”. But I am content with who I am right now. I am an adventurer. I am an artist. I am an author. I am what I wanted to be.

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Scottish Guardsman Saves the Day

One thing I have realized in the twenty-seven years I have been alive is that everything will always turn out right – or at least that everything will be okay at the end of all things. This small, yet difficult, lesson has taken me a little while to begin to learn, and I continue to grow in my application of it. In college back at OBU, there were countless times when I’d sit and cry just because I had a plan that did not go, well, “as planned”. One time, a good friend of mine decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to join us at the Norman Medieval Faire. I cried all night. All of this began to ease when I spent the summer in Kathmandu. They have a saying there: “Kay garnay?” It means, “What can you do?” The implied answer is nothing. We can’t do anything about most things that happen in life. We actually have very little control. I ask my students during our “Julius Caesar” unit if they believe in fate – if they think we have control over the future. And the truth is that we can’t do anything about the external elements in life. I cannot do anything about what happens outside myself. Car wrecks, cancer diagnoses, suicide of friends, injustice in the world. I cannot change much – if anything – about any of these things that have happened and will happen. But I can (and should) change what happens within myself. That doesn’t mean that I must always be happy. But it does mean that I need to love God and love others. It does mean that I need to take every opportunity to find my journey in the same Jesus who changed everything inside of me and made me new.

So, yesterday morning, my mother and I woke up at 5:30 a.m. We walked to the tube and headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car. By the time we pulled out of Enterprise (on the other side of the road, I might add), it was 8:30 and time was ticking away. The day was not like we had planned, but it was wonderful. For the record, I am amazing at driving on the British side of the road. Nailed it.

We drove for a few hours longer than expected, but we passed some pretty darn stellar places- such as Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick Castle, and adorable villages like Tamworth and Lichfield. The motorway was very busy, so it took us twice as long, but we got there: Liverpool, England. We came in from the top, I think. Which is weird become we came from the south. But – hey – now we know. And we were able to see quite a bit of Liverpool. Driving by the waterfront, we saw some Beatles museums from the outside. Apparently, the Beatles are from Liverpool.

Also apparently, Liverpool is such a charming city. I think the name is a bit off-putting. But I want everyone reading this to know that Liverpool is a beautiful city with such friendly people.

I also want everyone to know that I tried to sing Beatles songs all the way up.

After driving around the city, we eventually made it to Sefton Park – destination of my fourth Peter Pan statue. Momma went off to the café and I journeyed onward with my camera and we were to meet at the statue in just a few minutes. So, I pranced down a magical, tree-lined pathway, holding my camera dearly next to me, taking photos here and there and then here again. Then I prod upward and upward to the giant glass house and I know that Peter Pan must be right in front of me. But, as I came closer, I noticed that up ahead, at the time of the hill, was a large, black, iron gate. It was foreboding, looming over me like the Great Wall of China.

Well, probably not that big. But, still.

On the gate, there was a lock.

I looked to the right. The gate belonged to a long fence.

I looked to the left. There was more fence.

I’m not talking about a tiny white picket fence. I’m not talking about Texas barbed wire. This fence was in a circle and it was taller than, not only me, but everyone twice over. I could not climb this fence.

I saw that this large, black, iron fence curved. I realized that it was a large circle surrounding the glass house. Peter Pan was inside the fence and the bushes climbed the fence. I could not see inside. I went back to Mr. Ward’s geometry class from high school, recalling that there are not openings in a circle. Thus, I began to become disheartened.

Luckily, a grey squirrel decided to pose for some pictures. So it wasn’t that bad.

After my woodland creature photo-shoot, I circled the fence and came across my mother. We put our heads together and decided to find some sort of clearing in the bushes. Maybe we could see Pan at a distance. She had seen someone moving inside the glass house, so we went to investigate. Indeed, we walked around and found another locked gate. A man on the inside was talking to some kids and parents on the outside. They walked away from the man looking disappointed.

Uh-oh, we thought.

We walked up to the gate, making eye contact with the man. He was the guard. He said there was a private event in the glass house and no one would be allowed inside the gate.

Here is where my mother comes in handy. I mean, she’s a very handy woman anyway. But, she did something no other person, no matter how brilliant, could have thought of in that moment.

She began to cry.

Obviously, it worked. Thank goodness for my momma.

This guardsman, who we believe is from Scotland, let me in. And I was able to see Peter Pan in Sefton Park for approximately one minute and maybe twelve seconds. Enough time to take some photos and say hello. Yes!

Thus, my mother and the sympathetic Scottish guardsman saved the day.

Life may not be what we plan. But, it all turns out alright. The drive home took twice as long as well, but the day was beautiful. Kind Brits gave us directions everywhere we went and we got back to our hostel safely. Today, we saw the original statue, which I will try and write more on later.

We are having adventures. We are taking control of what we can and creating stories with our lives. And it’s a good feeling…. minus the jet lag. 🙂

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London.

London is a beautiful city, and has the exact same air about it that you would imagine. We took the underground from Heathrow to Picadilly before getting off for a wee bit of tourism, We watched the cobble-topped three-storied cottages as we rolled slowly through on the train tracks. In the gardens we passed, I imagined Beatrix Potter’s little Peter Rabbit searching around for carrots and turnips, watching carefully for farmer MacGregor. Vines and moss covered the walls lining the rails as the dew and the mist covered the window and our jet-lagged minds.

We found lunch at the Picadilly Circus stop for less than 3 pounds each, had coffee, walked into a beautiful cathedral, then got on the tube (train) again and found our hostel. To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about yesterday. But I do remember walking through the rain with my mother to London Bridge and the Tower of London. Which was pretty cool. Minus the rain.

I’ll catch up on today tomorrow because we will have more time. Right now, I need to get one of our roommates to stop talking to mom so that she can go to sleep. Wish me luck!!! 🙂 Goodnight from the UK.

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Christmas Adventures!

Merry Christmas! I bet you all woke up pleasantly, the spirit of Christmas in the air, got everything you wanted for Christmas and gave everything you wanted to give. Oh, the mystery of the boxes! Oh, the excitement of knowing what’s in the ones you wrapped as you watch the receivers agonize over what’s in theirs! 🙂

We had Christmas last Sunday with Gunnar, Sabra, Mimi, and Papa all here. It was beautiful. Carrots on the roof (albeit baby carrots this year), cookies and milk out for Santa, and family everywhere you looked.

But, today, as everyone out there is celebrating Christmas, mom and I are loading up the car with backpacks and dad is picking up all the things we forgot to pack. After the Christmas Day service, we’ll head to the airport and get on a plane, ready and anxious for all the adventures ahead. We wish that everyone could come, but it seems they all have work. :/ But I hope you can all find joy this Christmas in reading our blogs, for we have been given joy. And we hold the joy of Jesus in our hearts, and we come to him like the wise men and the shepherds to honor him with our gift – our lives.

A very joyful Christmas to you all.

Ashley Ruth

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London Adventures Ahead!

Here I am, working on my first blog post since the middle of my year in Auckland. It’s a bit weird, but at the same time, it feels oddly familiar and definitely good.

I woke up on the first day of Christmas Break (I’m a teacher now – who knew that would ever happen?) and decided to run away to Europe for a few days. After all, there are Peter Pan statues to see and books to finish writing. There are adventures to be had – and, dag-nabbit, I am going to have them. Thusly, I informed my parents of this decision that night. The next morning, my mother woke up and decided that she would like to run away to Europe for a few days as well with me. Thusly, we bought tickets that night.

May I hear a round of applause in the name of adventure?

Yes, thank you.

We will leave Christmas Day at 3:55pm and be back in Texas on New Years Day. Please follow along on our adventures – with me and my perspectives here at this blog, and with my momma on her blog: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/delanesewell .

Oh wait! You want a back story? You are making comments and asking questions like: “Wow – That was fast! Why would you take such a crazy, last minute trip?” Eh… I guess I’ll tell part of it. But only because I love you.

It was six days ago exactly, while school was still going on and finals week was crazy, that I decided to go to my favourite American café. Instead of bringing my homework to grade as I always do, I chose a book from my home shelf at random – but still one that I had been intending to read for a while. In my weariness and in desperations for true rest, I drive my fifteen miles, received my almond milk latte and curled up in the chair by the fire, opened my book and began to peruse, and then, to cry. This, my friends, is what I read:

“I wanted to be an easy story. But nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That’s what makes a good story good. If you think about stories you like most, they probably have lots of conflict. There is probably death at stake, inner death or actual death, you know. These polar charges, these happy and sad things in life, are like colors God uses to draw the world.”  – Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”

When two young men come wanting to do a movie over his life, Donald Miller finds that his life story is not interesting enough for them or for himself. He’s faced with a choice: to continue living vicariously through television and through his writing OR to actually live a life of adventure, overcoming conflict to create a better story of his life. He attends a conference about “story”, to which his friends sums up what “story” is – It’s “when a character wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”.

He comes to a place where he decides to “face [his] greatest fears with courage” in order to make his “story good.”

That is what mom and I are trying to do. We are two characters who know that we want a good story and we will overcome conflict to get it. The most obvious conflict for us this year was cancer. At the end of that, my mom has overcome conflict and created a good story. Here and now, we have this conflict: Do we sit at home or do we go to Europe?

Today, we choose Europe. And God will color in the illustrations for us. He will lead us and guide us and comfort us. And that is all we want – God’s story in our lives.

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Where I sat this week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011
The hills of Texas are around me now. Around the birdhouse, various forms of beautiful flyers are fluttering, then stopping to eat. A hawk soars, wings outstretched, in the distance – the backdrop of its canvas are small white puffy clouds against a bright blue sky, massive as only Texas sky can be. The sounds of air force jets and helicopters humming are lost in the buzzings of hummingbirds and bumblebees. And I sit in one of many rocking chairs on the open front porch of my grandparents’ house, silent and listening.

It’s good to be home. I lived here with Mimi and Papa for a summer… maybe three years ago now. The summer before had been spent in Nepal. The year after coming back from such an amazing place was hard. I had fallen in love with a country and a people, and was heartbroken to leave. My best friend at the time had disappeared from my life, leaving me heartbroken again. Living with my grandparents in this beautiful place was just what I needed. On this porch, God began to speak to me again. And between the love of my God and the love of my grandparents, a healing process began in my life.

Looking back now, I can see so clearly what this Saviour has done in my life – so clearly that he was always there. I sit content, thinking of all he’s given me – the peace in this heart that was once hurting and broken, the purpose in this mind that was once confused and obstinate. I questioned him so much that summer, and when I reached out for help from my Christian peers here, they changed the subject and joked flippantly about things that don’t matter. But he was there, listening to my cries for help, loving me as he has always done. And always does. And always will do.

It’s been a good week at this home. My brother (who is my hero) surprised me at the airport when I came in late last Tuesday night. He drove to Arkansas with my parents and I for my old roommate’s wedding. My parents drove me through three states this week, and we got to spend loads of quality time in the car. We all worshiped to songs from Gunnar’s ipod, and laughed to the country songs that came up between. In Oklahoma, I got to see some of my favourite friends, and visit with my fellow English majors. I saw my grandma at her new home in Wichita Falls a few times, then we came to my grandparents’ house in Belton. My youngest cousins were here, so we’ve been doing skits for the “grown-ups”, as we always do.

So here I sit now, and here I live. But going home to New Zealand comes in a few hours. And I can’t wait to continue sitting and living and loving.

me in my favourite tree – Shawnee, OK
me & my bubba with a bison
family at our alma mater
English major friends. 🙂
Christmas in Arkansas
Dad opening the Marmite
dad’s kiwi tie
Gunnar playing with the balancing kiwi blocks
hummingbirds at Mimi & Papa’s house
um… north Texas scenery.
sitting down for dishwasher brisket
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Lucky

Monday, May 16, 2011

Every day for the past six months, whether waking up to silence or to screaming kids, this thought is always present: I must be the luckiest girl alive. It’s always worded differently in my mind, and it’s not always felt with the same sense of contentment and satisfaction, but, no matter how tired or rested I am, it’s always there. There is no single reason for this recurring realization. Or perhaps there is, but words don’t express the sense of peace a person can have in every moment once Jesus has begun the ripples of redemption in the life that once gasped for air.

Last Sunday was not only Mother’s Day – it was also my dad’s birthday. My parents are the most wonderful parents in the world. My mom has taught me what it means to be comfortable in my own skin, and how to be a woman that continually seeks after the heart of God. What’s more – she has taught me both through the way she lives and in the way she carries herself what a strong woman looks like. How to be both feminine and beautiful and gentle, but also never becoming less in value than anyone else. Despite all my wack hippie ideas about peace and vegetarianism, against all my ultra-conservative ideas about feminism and the church, she has kept me grounded and questioned me at every level. Without her, my life would be a confused jumble of feelings and ideas rather than the truth that I now know how to seek. As for my dad, he has taught me through his silent wisdom and his loving service to my mom, me, and my brother, what it means to show people love and to show them Jesus. Through the way he lives out what he says behind our church’s pulpit, he teaches me to be genuine – that with God, I can be real, and I can live out my faith with fear and trembling. Even when no one else does. And even when everything else seems to be crashing down. He has taught me to serve by taking me visiting in nursing homes and in hospitals, and he has taught me that it is normal and beautiful to pray with people in both helpless in hopeful situations. Last Sunday, I missed them both tremendously.

My family here is gone to Australia on holiday this week. Which reminds me of other reasons why I am so lucky. I get to wake up in New Zealand every day. The most beautiful country on earth. And I get to wake up to two wonderful little girls that make me laugh a minimum of five days a week. They’ll be back in a few days, and I will be very glad to see them. It means I’ll stop having to talk to the cat to fill up empty space.

With the house all to myself, last Friday I invited my friends from church (Ellen, James, & Mark) over for momma’s tortilla soup. Which doesn’t taste the same without Rotel tomatoes, but hey, I tried. After dinner, and a last minute Feijoa cobbler that Ellen & I whipped up, we had tea, looked at all my photos of FBC Holliday youth girls, OBU friends, my entire extended  family, and, of course, my dog, then drove down to Mission Bay. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Mission Bay is the beach that is a five minute drive from my house. Tamaki Drive is the road that goes beside it and some other beaches east of the city centre. We walked along the beach to the playground where the little girls and I go often, and I got to swing on the swings that I’m usually pushing, and twirl on the spinning thing that I’m usually spinning. Ellen & I watched the boys disappear while climbing a massive tree, then teeter-tottered  before deciding to try and reach the first branch. We failed. But when you fail at climbing a tree, there is no shame in deciding to hug the tree instead. He doesn’t care. And so we hugged the tree, then sat on the fence talking until the others came down.

We walked down Tamaki Drive until we reached the yacht club. Then we climbed down onto the rocks. Until is started raining. Then we all ran back the car. Until is stopped raining. Then four little wet friends drove back to my house. We watched VeggieTales and drank my two favourite teas. It’s no wonder why I think I’m lucky with a night like that. Mexican food, photos, talking vegetables, beaches, trees, and tea. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Every so often, friends come into my life that change me forever and make me a better person. These friends challenge me, and they love me no matter who I am. In elementary school, it was Tommy, John Mark, and Dustin. In middle school, it was Angie, Jolynn, and Dawnel. In high school, it was Brad, Bryan, Jeff, and John. In college. It was Reagan, Becky, Elisabeth, and Patrick, along with others. In Nepal, it was Jaben, Mark, Misti, & Aaron. But now I’m in New Zealand. And I’ve met new friends that are already shaping my life.

My friend Ellen took me to Tauranga, her home, on Sunday after church. We had many adventures along the way. Stopping at Waihi Beach, we got wet as the tide snuck up on us unexpectedly. Then at Leisure Island, we climbed rocks to the highest point, watching the waves crash powerfully on the boulders below us. As we drove home two days later, I thought about those waves. We were listening to a Casting Crowns song that means a lot to both of us – Who am I. Here’s a chunk of it: “Not because of who I am/But because of what you’ve done/Not because of what I’ve done/But because of who you are/ I am a flower quickly fading/Here today and gone tomorrow/A wave tossed in the ocean/A vapour in the wind/Still you hear me when I’m calling/Lord, you catch me when I’m falling/And you’ve told me who I am/I am yours”. I thought about that wave tossed in the ocean. Waves come up as they get close to the shore, or close to the rocks – any time of solid ground. They also come up in storms when the wind is raging and tearing at a ship. One wave crashes, then disappears. I watched those waves there on that island, next to my friend. And I thought without words about the power of God, and the littleness of me. I felt the satisfaction of being called a friend of God, a child of God, a lover of God. I am one little wave in a sea of many – one that comes once, then goes away. But this relational God that gives me family and friends calls me his own. He hears me when I scream to him, when I’m pounding against the rocks; and he hears me as I fall backwards into the sea, my purpose done. He tells me that I am his, and that everything is okay.

me frolicking at Waihi Beach
unexpected waves at Waihi Beach
the Mount from Leisure Island
 chillin’ on the island
feet. 🙂
at the top of Leisure Island
waves crashing into Leisure Island
gelato!
sunset at Mount Maunganui beach

On Monday, Ellen and I climbed Mount Maunganui. When we were nearly to the summit, Ellen told me the story of the mountain as I huffed and puffed my way up and up. She said that this mountain and a mountain near New Plymouth called Mount Taranaki were both in love with the same mountain. But she was in love with Taranaki. They fought over her, and when Manunganui lost, he began to tear himself from where he was so he could drown himself in the sea. The mountain was saved and dragged to the place where he is now so that he could be away from the place where he lost his love. He stands there still, looking over the ocean, and we were climbing him that day. Reaching the top, out of breath, face red and puffy, I looked around and smiled. People can connect to stories like that, and reaching the top of that heartbroken mountain, seeing what he sees, and being rescued from a place of failure and ultimate sadness, we were connected to the fact that we had been rescued and replanted. If a mountain like Maunganui can be dragged to safety, so can we, and so can all people.

Mount beach
view from the mountain
me & ellen on Mount Maunganui
me about to eat turkish delight
me & ellen in our secondhand bargains
me in Katikati with my man
on a bridge in Karangahake Gorge

There were so many other things that happened in Tauranga. I had Turkish Delight and Pavlova. We rewarded ourselves for being hardcore mountain climbers with a marvelous Veggie Burger, and we had yummy gelato. We bought secondhand clothes at an op shop. We edited photos like crazy photography fools. We talked about hard times and we talked about Jesus. It was good. All of it. Life is good. And I’m lucky to have my new friends. I’m lucky to have all that I have. Grace has been good to me, and life is not what I deserve. But it’s what I’m given. And I love it.

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