Friday, December 17, 2010

term 4 in review

Huka Falls in Taupo

Although it may sound a little disconcerting to all you frozen and snowy Americans, Rich and I have just begun our summer holidays this week! (I'm not gloating, I honestly do miss the snow like crazy). The final term of the school year was incredibly busy and blessed. This post is a hurried attempt to hit upon some (possible) points of interest.

You may recall that our theme was "Temptation". Many of our weekly meetings focused on issues related to stealing, lying, cheating and gossip - in all the subtle and not-so-subtle forms that these sins can take. Tahu (the junior youth group) had their turn at an overnight retreat this term, the theme of which was purity. It was a fabulous and FUN weekend - deep, well-received, beautiful....and bursting with silliness as well.

one retreat game involved being fed chocolate pudding
through some pantyhouse as fast as possible

another contest involved crafting an elaborate hairstyle
using only clothespins (aka "pegs")

there was also a competition regarding how many pegs could be 
affixed to the face of a willing participant.....

Tahu also benefitted immensely from a guest appearance by Deacon Henk (recently dubbed "Deak-y" by Bernadette). Our parish deacon is Fr. Michael's "real life" dad, a charismatic and holy man with a heart for service. He has been assisting with Lighthouse this term, but made a special visit to Tahu for Advent. He led the junior group in a guided meditation on the Nativity, teaching them how to use their imaginations to enter more deeply into prayer. They really enjoyed the experience and were very grateful to the Deacon for the time and love he put into his visit with them.

Lighthouse enjoyed a mini-golf outing with ice cream sundaes for winners and losers alike. Towards the end of the evening, one of the young men boasted that he could get a hole-in-one on ANY of the 18 holes. Naturally, I was a bit dubious. He and his friends assured me that he could and asked me to select any hole on course. I picked. He plunked down a ball. He positioned his club carefully, checked and rechecked the lie of the green and then swung. Immediately, his three friends sprang into action, scooping up the ball, tossing it down the green, one to another, until the man closest to the hole threw it squarely into the cup. Hole in one! This is what we LOVE about Lighthouse!

Lighthouse youth are not ALWAYS joking around -
they can be as fervent as they are fun

We're thrilled to welcome Glen Brennan as a new partner in our ministry. Glen is one of the amazing Lighthouse "graduates" I mentioned meeting shortly after our arrival in New Zealand. He's been doing youth ministry with NET in Australia for the past year, returning only late last month. Since then he's been helping out with everything we have done, including assisting Richard with the men's group. Glen is a deeply prayerful and astonishingly humble man. He is a fabulous role model of authentic and strong masculinity for our young men. We cannot state enthusiastically enough how excited we are that he's back and that he is so willing to be a huge part of this ministry.

We really need a picture of Glen's WHOLE face, 
but for now, this is the most complete portrait we have. 
He's the one not giving a thumbs-up.

We've also been really gratified to see a deepening appreciation of the sacrament of Confession among the youth this term. It has never been a struggle to entice these youth to go to Confession, thanks to the grace of God and the groundwork laid by our capable forerunners.  However, we have been filled with joy to see that the youth are going more frequently, preparing more deeply, reaping more graces, truly loving the Sacrament more fervently. Fr. Michael has told us that he knows the ministry is bearing fruit based solely on how seriously the youth are taking Confession. Naturally, he says no more than that vague statement, but it is more than enough to confirm what we too are noticing.

Christmas party for both youth groups and parents -
hot dogs at our house and a trip to the beach afterwards
(there were a lot more partygoers than this photo shows!)

So, it's summer break for us now. We'll be sightseeing, planning for next term, attending Parachute with youth (a huge nation-wide Christian music festival),  and - who knows! But I do think that first on the agenda will be coming up with some kind of special Christmas post for our blog next week....

Friday, December 3, 2010

advent meditation

Maria has been invited to play Mary in a Christmas pageant being held at our church on the 15th. She's been practicing for her role, as well as for her participation in the caroling portion of the gala, which will feature classic seasonal favorites such as:

"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way!
 Christmas in New Zealand on a sunny summer's day!" 
(only Maria says: "a summy summer's day")

Apparently, there's also a Kiwi version of the first Nativity, which I invite my readers to piously reflect on as you read.....

Joseph tenderly finds his wife a suitable place to 
bring forth her firstborn Son. 
Mary wraps the Infant in swaddling clothes and
the Holy Family is overcome with joy and wonder, 
which they diligently hide behind solemn and serious faces, 
lest they be inundated by a bunch of pesky shepherds and angels. 

 Finally, unable to contain her love and joy any longer, 
Mary gives in. She holds the Christ Child to her lips, 
covering his Holy Face with her motherly kisses. 

Joseph gladly follows suit. 
However, being a brand-new foster father, 
he really does not understand that newborns have no head control.
He holds the Infant by the stomach and a leg.
But little baby Jesus honors his earthly father
by holding his tiny head upright to receive the kiss.
Thus, his first miracle is performed. 

Mary gazes adoringly, lovingly, joyfully upon her Child. 
Every possible holy musing fills her mind and heart. 
She radiates all that is good and pure.

Joseph walks by eating a yogurt-frosted rice cake. 
Mary realizes she is famished from labor and all those holy thoughts. 
She's certain Joseph will not mind sharing just a bite or two.
But Joseph is hungry too -
after all, he walked the whole way to Bethlehem -
Mary got to ride the donkey.
Joseph tries to get his rice cake back.
He's a little shorter in stature than Mary.
Realizing he may not get another single bite of his treat,
he bursts into tears.

Happily, in the end, it's something they can laugh over. 
By the time the angels and shepherds show up, 
they're all smiles. 
A happy and holy ending.

I like the American version of Jingle Bells better, 
what with the references to snow and all. 
And I DEFINITELY prefer the Gospel version of the Nativity story. 
Then again, maybe Little Miss "Summy Summer's Day" 
has also gotten her Nativity story a bit muddled. 

For Advent. we're working with both our children 
and the parish youth on staying focused on the 
TRUE meaning of Christmas. 
We're also working on ourselves in that regard.
May your Advent be blessed with an unwavering focus 
on the real reason for all the bustle and excitement. 
We wish you a beautiful season of preparation 
for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

crime and punishment

Rich took Bernadette to an audition for extras in the upcoming Hobbit movie.
He's too tall to qualify, but is hoping B. makes the cut.

Thanksgiving was a bust. All that pious-sounding nonsense about gratitude being more important than turkey - garbage. And eating a huge heavy meal in the New Zealand summer heat - not recommended. I'm thinking we'll skip every semblance of a 2011 Thanksgiving and just really make up for it the following year.

Ok, now that we have that out of the way, onto more pressing matters. We have a bit of a domestic crisis on our hands. It's a wallpaper issue. And a "not-owning-the-house-you-live-in" problem. And probably many of you might also conclude that is a disciplinary matter as well, and I may not argue. Anyway, we have two disasters, neither of which I know how to fix -so if anyone has any "Hints From Heloise" type expertise, please see the photos below.

Maria. In the bedroom. With her bare hands.

Perpetrator: At large. Pictured above.

Misdemeanor: Vandalism of private property

Motive: Disgruntled about bedtime.
               Or maybe just bored.
               Perhaps fascinated by wallpaper.

Unsolved Elements of Case: Do we try to find exact matching wallpaper?
                                                    Do we strip the whole wall and paint?
                                                    Is Fr. Michael going to totally freak out
                                                            when he sees this?

Bernadette. In the bathroom. With the black pen.


Misdemeanor: Graffiti of a private restroom with a ball-point pen

Motive: Running with a bad crowd (see "Vandalism" above)

Unsolved Elements of the Case: How does one remove ink from wallpaper? 
              (NB: We have told Fr. Michael about this one,
                         although we have not shown him it yet.
                         He shrugged and said, "Can't you just 
                         wipe it off with soap or something?" 
                         Celibate men can be such a hoot sometimes.) 

Perpetrator: Luckily we got this sucker behind bars....

Sunday, November 21, 2010

thanksgiving, sans turkey

So it looks like we'll be celebrating this week with the slightly less traditional Thanksgiving chicken. Truth be told, I can hardly taste the difference anyway. I'm just pretty excited that my parents sent us some real stuffing. While some might argue that Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without a turkey, our Thanksgiving chicken will hopefully remind us that Thanksgiving is not defined by the bird on our plate, but by the gratitude in our hearts. Either that, or it will remind us that you just can't beat life in the good old US. We'll keep you posted. 

This past year has been like gratitude boot camp. From the moment we began preparing to come, we have been nearly drowned in blessings. We are truly thankful to be here. All of our gratitude, naturally, is directed to the Lord, who called us...and prepared our hearts to respond to the call. And provided all the financial and logistical help we would need to pull this off. And surrounded us with loving, prayerful people to support us. And sustained us through the culture shock and continues to give us grace when our spirits droop and our flesh rebels. And allows our efforts to bear fruit.

So yes, we are grateful for and in awe of Divine Providence. That said, how can we fail to bear witness to what others have done for us? Most of what the Lord provided, He provided through people. Very few of these blessings dropped miraculously from the sky into our empty hands (although really, some did!). Almost everything we have received, we have received through the generosity of those whose hearts the Lord stirred on our behalf. This week we are giving thanks for and to those many people who have acted as His instruments in our mission.

Every morning, we recall our benefactors in prayer. We have so many different kinds of benefactors who have supported us, so I'll start with the usual sense of the term, with our financial benefactors. There were a (surprisingly large!) handful of people who assisted us with Jaw Dropping Quantities of financial support. Naturally, we are exceedingly grateful (and inspired). And we have literally HUNDREDS upon HUNDREDS of other people who have sacrificially and generously supported us, to whom we are no less indebted. Many pastors permitted us to speak at their churches. After we spoke, they passed the basket. Hundreds of anonymous people, whose names we will never know, filled those baskets many times over. Then, in the week that followed a speaking engagement, the mail would overflow with further donations from churchgoers who had been unable to give during the service. Fetching the mail is not usually “fun” - it's generally just circulars, junk mail and bills. But for us, for months, the daily mail was fantastic fun. It's always fun to get a check in the mail, of course, but these checks almost always were enclosed in wonderful cards and handwritten notes. Those cards helped encourage us so much – they made the experience of fundraising so much more personal and human. Sometimes they were funny: one woman wrote, “I do not approve of your endeavor (because of your children), but if you MUST go, here is something to help.” We laughed a bit, but were moved too that even someone who didn't really feel that excited about our plans would help anyway because it was of the Lord.

Most people don't even like the word "fundraising". Asking for money was the most repugnant part of the entire preparatory phase of this mission, at least for me. I hated it. It was uncomfortable and my pride absolutely rebelled. Plus there were incidents like the following. One parish allowed us to run a notice in their weekly bulletin. A parishioner contacted me to say that we ought NOT have run the notice because the “time was all wrong”. Confused, I hesitated to respond. She went on to explain that “the checks don't come out for three more weeks!” Honestly, I still had no idea what was going on. Then she said, “When we get our Social Security checks, you'll get so many donations! You should have waited until they were almost out!” The last thing I wanted was for anyone to give us part of their much-needed Social Security check! I wanted to cry. I went straight to Confession. Fr. Howard smiled very gently at me and said, “Kelly, people want help. It's good for people to give. Let them.” That counsel helped me immensely. It was true. I thought of all the times Rich and I had been able to help people or causes and how truly good it is to give. We even have a monthly sum set aside each month to give to any cause that strikes our hearts during the month. We LOVE it – it's truly a source of joy and excitement to us. So I also thank Fr. Howard for helping me put my scruples to rest during the agonizing “Fundraising Stage”.

This Thanksgiving (and every morning) I am grateful for those who have offered any prayers for our mission. The preparations, the travel, the adjustment, the work and the homesickness all require that many people supported and continue to support us in prayer. We often receive assurances of prayers and we know that there are others praying for us of whose prayers we may never be aware. We also are deeply indebted to those people who offered invaluable practical assistance to us - adopting our cats, helping us sort out what to do with our house, loaning us trucks & muscles on "move-out day". I particularly think of Aunt Jan, whose immaculately tidy & well-ordered basement we have decimated with all our stuff. I also think of Rich's mom, Debbie, who watched over and fed my girls (and Rich) so I could "get stuff done" during our last hectic week in the States. She even accepted my parting gift of a sopping wet load of half-finished laundry an hour before driving us to the airport. In return, I have stolen her only grandchildren for two years. May there be some people to whom we show more proper forms of gratitude. 

We are grateful for the encouragement and support we have been given verbally. From the moment we first began discerning this call, we were blessed with the enthusiasm and support of many people. Upon arriving in New Zealand, this kind of support doubled - tripled - quadrupled. The parishioners of our hosting parishes here have blessed us in myriad ways, starting with a warm, enthusiastic and loving welcome. They have given tithes to support our mission, dropped off flowers, fruit and cookies ("biscuits") to welcome us, donated their children's car seats, cribs ("cots"), strollers ("prams"), high chairs, tricycles, and more... They have celebrated our birthdays and our successes with the youth. They have given us their phone numbers, had us over for dinner, slipped us gifts "for a date night out", cleaned our carpets, brought stickers to Mass for our girls. They have refrained from laughing at our American accents, idioms and bewilderments. (One example: a bar called "The Bach" opened across the street from the church. Rich and I were intrigued by this classical-music lounge and wondered if it might be a nice place for the quiet evening out together that we are always being pressed to plan. We remained in our pathetic state of ignorance for some time until a Kiwi kindly explained to us that a "bach" - apparently pronounced like "batch" of cookies - is actually a common term in New Zealand for a vacation house.) 

There are so many more people to thank and so many other ways that we have been supported and blessed, but my half-hour alone in the house with "little buddy" (the computer) is almost up. Just two last types of support must be mentioned: I am deeply grateful to all the friends who have made superb efforts to keep in touch over the past six months. My contact with the world beyond New Zealand is almost entirely limited to email and I know it can be hard to find time to write, so I am so thankful to have so many girlfriends who have really stuck by me through this always blessed (but often challenging!) experience.  I know Richard appreciates all of his American male buddies who put the thought and time into very occasionally posting "Hey, what's up?" on his Facebook wall.  Somehow that does for him what my girlfriends are doing for me.  Also, all 4 us, Maria and Bernadette included, are amazed and thankful for the care packages that arrive regularly from our families. I think that the parish secretary Jan quietly marvels at the package-delivery spike in the office since our arrival.  We owe her an extra-nice Christmas present for what we have added to her duties! And we owe our parents something really nice for Christmas as well, for sending "America" and "family" here for our girls and for us.

Richard and I do remember all our benefactors daily in prayer and we wish you ALL a very happy - and grateful - Thanksgiving. We look forward to celebrating again properly in 2012. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

the "m" word

I never wanted to be a missionary. 

In my mind, almost every single word in the English language carries a very specific meaning. "Missionary" is no exception. If I played a word association game with the word missionary,  I'd immediately sputter out: third world countries! extreme poverty! priests and religious!

When Fr. Michael asked us to come to New Zealand as missionaries I immediately felt uneasy with the term. When I explained the call to others, I tried hard to dance around that word. When we began fundraising and speaking at various churches, I distinctly remember feeling embarrassed every time that word was used. I can't count the number of times I asked Richard: "Why do we have to say  missionaries? Do you really feel like that word fits us?" But no, Richard had no problem with the word. If I had to use it, I did so apologetically, anticipating that my audience would have the same protests against its use that I had. I'd say things like, "Oh, I know we're not real missionaries, but Fr. Michael is calling it that because, you know, we're travelling far away for the sake of the Gospel and not getting paid, but obviously we're not REAL missionaries." I simply did not feel worthy of a term that carries such noble connotations of extreme sacrifice, hardship, courage and self-giving.

I thought that this awkward word would just sort of go away once we actually arrived in New Zealand. I could not have been more wrong. Granted, there was no way I could have anticipated that the church would have posted large color photographs of our family with the bold-face caption: "WE WELCOME OUR NEW YOUTH MISSIONARIES!" Nor did I expect that Fr. Michael would pray for us as missionaries from the altar...frequently. But the biggest source of pressure to "be a real missionary" came from the most unexpected source of all: myself.

It began with an attraction to the word "volunteer". Now there is a word I can live with! Volunteer is a term I can be at home with - a role I can comfortably assume. Before we met, Richard and I both (coincidentally) spent one year each as full-time volunteers in (separate) CapCorps programs. In other words, I have lived one very comfortable and not-at-all-awkward year under the title of  "Lay Volunteer". I began to wonder why we couldn't simply be called volunteers here in New Zealand. The idea was really gathering some momentum in my head when one little corner of my brain asked another little corner, "What's the difference? It's just one word or another - after all, it doesn't affect your actual role here at all, now does it?"

But it does. It completely changes everything. The essence of the word volunteer is radically different to me than that of  the word missionary. See, there's something wonderfully voluntary about a "volunteer"! When I was a volunteer, I saw myself as something akin to an unpaid worker. True, my ministry at the time was more than a job and it did entail a total lifestyle commitment...but it did not require a complete psychological and spiritual overhaul.  Some of the externals of my daily living as a "volunteer" were unique to that period of my life, but my interior will remained largely untouched. Not so here, not so.  Being here as a missionary calls me to a more total giving of self than I have ever been willing to attempt at any time prior. Honestly, much more than I'm fully willing even now.  Missionaries demand little and give everything. Missionaries do not jealously guard their own time nor do they keep looking back to what they have left behind. Missionaries are joyful and open - or they fail in their mission.

Coming to New Zealand as a missionary scared me...and it still does. If we are here as missionaries in the eyes of Fr. Michael - and those of our American and Kiwi benefactors - and those of the youth here whom we serve - then we ourselves must also look at the ministry through that lens...and we must strive to be worthy of the title. More importantly, we must strive to be worthy of the call because ultimately it was the Lord (not Fr. Michael) who orchestrated the use of that title to describe our posture here. I finally have realized that my reluctance to assume that title was largely formed by my reluctance to assume that level of responsibility. Deep down in my heart I had no real intention of being that courageous or generous. However it only took a few days of actually living here before I realized that there wouldn't be any other options. There is no escaping the title or the responsibility. The choice is either to embrace and grow into the whole thing - or spend two years trying unsuccessfully to reject it.

My desire to live up to the "m-word" with integrity has been a huge - and difficult - source of accountability in our first 6 months here. Just the struggle to live gracefully without Rice-a-Roni has humbled me in a way that I never thought possible - I see now why the Lord did not call us to a Third World mission territory! Thank you Jesus for simply wanting to stretch me, not break me completely. I'd speak for Richard too, but he might not want the entire readership to know that he's coping with the loss of X-Box by amassing a large army of little plastic tabletop gaming elves. He'd definitely be embarrassed to have everyone hear that his wife nearly wept over some Progresso breadcrumbs that her parents sent last week. Suffice it to say that we each find that there are some things that it is very hard to give up....even for "just" two years. We both tend to try to find a substitute rather than surrender the longed-for comfort altogether. In fairness though, I can't help but notice that Richard has accepted every sacrifice involved in this mission far more manfully than I have - and I believe that part of that is because he accepted and embraced and longed for the experience of authentic missionary living right from the beginning, hence his ease with that title even from the earliest stages of our discernment.

Food, entertainment, creature comforts - these smaller deprivations are easy to share and joke about. The demands on our time, our hearts, our patience, our souls, our privacy, our habits, our charity, our family life and traditions....these are harder and heavier and lend themselves less to laughter. We simply ask for prayers. Our attachments and weaknesses and smallness are some days very much before our eyes. We know that no one expects us to do this perfectly, but our true desire is to give the best that we are presently able - and to grow to be able to do so more perfectly by the end of this. And we do see that happening even now. But slowly. Very, very slowly.

I never wanted to be a missionary. But if I am now a missionary -and that by God's design and not my own - then I definitely never want to be a failed missionary. I do speak for Richard as well on that last note - and confidently so. By God's grace, we are not failed at present and we confidently wait upon further help from the One who has begun a good work in us, trusting that He will bring it to completion.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, patroness of missionaries, Pray for us!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

drum roll, please.....

Freckle - 20 weeks - 10am this morning

As Maria has insisted from the very beginning,
Freckle is indeed a little boy. 
It was awesome to catch the view on the inside this morning, 
as we are also just starting to get a view from the outside 
this past week or two as well. 
(Steph Mackin, the first 2 photos below are
especially for you, in honor of your last email....)

Freckle - 20 weeks - 6pm last night

and, lastly....

the slightly less adorable "Skeletor" view....
(pardon the dated cultural reference, 
for those blog followers too young or too Kiwi to 
know much about He-Man)

Friday, November 5, 2010

the BIG tithe

This morning I was eating breakfast, chattering happily to Richard about the growth of my new ministry to mothers of newborns. I digressed a bit to bask verbally in my excitement about the last meetings of Girls & God - and my small Handmaids discipleship class  - and ended up dwelling blissfully on how much I truly enjoy these ultra-feminine forms of ministry.

Then, all of a sudden, a horrible, sickening thought struck. Actually, in retrospect, I'm quite surprised that this thought never suggested itself to me at any time prior to our departure for New Zealand. But now it had, and there was nothing to do but grapple with it.

In short, I realized that if I were any one of the clergy at any one of the parishes that Richard and I have belonged to over the course of our five year marriage, I would be a bit miffed. I would wonder, "Why could this couple not have done one single tiny form of ministry in my parish?!"

It's not that I think that we Sealys are so talented and so gifted and SO WONDERFUL that everyone must now be feeling that they really got short-changed. No, I assure you not. It's simply that this is our first time in a very close working relationship with a pastor. We see Fr. Michael bursting with his own ideas to enrich parish life and very receptive to parishioners' suggestions towards the same end...but without the manpower to follow through. Finally we're understanding what it takes for a pastor to offer any kind of ministry within a church setting. We've been extremely close friends with Fr. Mike for seven years, but we never talked turkey too much with him. As with our other priest friends - and our unordained friends too, for that matter - we never got too deeply into the ins and outs of their "work" in our personal conversations. Now that we are living at the church and our front door is virtually a revolving door of ministry & parish business, the conversational lines have all blurred. When we relax and watch a rugby game with Fr. Mike, parish business inevitably comes up; during "serious" work meetings, we also talk about silly things our daughters said at lunch. Our friendship has become one with our working relationship and ministerial partnership. Seeing the totality of a pastor's life has finally connected the dots for me about how much a pastor depends on ordinary parishioners stepping up and offering to put talent or time at the service of the entire Church.
We've participated a bit in this drama as well, experiencing the logistical nightmare of trying to run youth events without any drivers or chaperones -  or with our key adult helpers pulling out. And we've felt the incredible rush of gratitude a pastor must feel towards those dependable individuals who do generously give of their time, even at no small inconvenience to themselves. Two to whom we are particularly indebted are teenaged girls who babysit for us, refusing pay, every week during youth group. Another is an American woman living in New Zealand, who even calls to offer her assistance with youth events while suffering from effects of a chronic illness.

Most people think that their pastor really needs money to put on events & ministries. Money, in actuality, just may be the least of his worries. Don't get me wrong -  our tithes are very much needed and appreciated - but money alone is not enough.  A vibrant parish life is completely and utterly dependent on church members tithing of things much more costly and elusive: their time & talent, their energy & enthusiasm.

Part of the problem is that we, as parishioners, don't really "see" the urgency of the need. We look around - there seem to be enough lectors and ushers - what more could be needed? Or, we do hear announcements about the shortage of Sunday school teachers, but we underestimate our own usefulness, assuming that we do not have the skills necessary. Sometimes we never even ask ourselves if we have a skill that the parish could benefit from. We might wish that "the church" offered such-and-such, never dreaming that we could be the one that organized & offered it! Lastly - and this was where Richard and I got caught- we know of the needs and we even know of the abilities the Lord has given us - but we honestly think, "I'd love to! I really just don't have the time....."

just daily life is exhausting! 
 where do we find energy left over for the Church?

I used to miss being involved in parish life the way I had been when I was single. I also missed teaching (my pre-motherhood career) - and so whenever I heard that our home parish was in need of catechists for the children, I was really drawn to the idea. But each time I ultimately decided not to heed that call because I worried that with my own babies to care for, I would not have time. Rich and I twice presented to engaged couples on married sexuality and I felt a nudge from the Lord in the direction of a fuller involvement in the diocesan Pre-Cana program, but found the above excuse quite handy again. Ditto after we appeared as guest speakers at our parish youth group. We both enjoyed the experience so much that I began to seriously consider asking permission to begin a small group for the teenage girls of the parish. But...I had tried to do full-time youth ministry as a brand-new mom (and failed) and the fear of having to pull out of something again stayed my good impulse.

I'm regretting now that I did not pick one of the above and "just do it". And I'm firmly resolved that upon my return to the States, I will not fade off into the congregation at large. I'll be coming home with 3 children under the age of 5 and I won't be living in the church building any more. I probably will not be able to be nearly as involved as I currently am, but nor will I drift back into my old comfortable anonymity. The Lord has clearly convicted me that if right now I am able to juggle all these ministries while in a foreign culture, while raising two tiny girls, while pregnant, without many of the housekeeping conveniences I was accustomed to in America (like clothes dryers & bathtubs), without any of the privacy, quiet, schedule or routine that previously defined our home life, without any family nearby....and sustain it all, without a blip, through several children's illnesses, sleep-deprived nights of teething, a near miscarriage, seasonal affect disorder, two cases of severe mastitis, an ER trip for Bernadette's slashed face and the "terrible threes" (just some of the excitement of the past 5 months!)....then is it really honest for me to say that I could not really serve my church in a smaller capacity in my "normal" life?

As the Lord would have it, about fifteen minutes after I made that resolution this morning, I went to Mass. And there, Fr. Michael (completely oblivious to my inner drama) preached on how very badly a priest needs ordinary parishioners to come and ask, "Father, what can I do for the church?" He urged each of us present to consider the talents, skills, abilities and experience the Lord has entrusted to our stewardship and to pray about how these could be offered to build up the parish. These do not have to be "churchy" skills. One older woman in our parish tends faithfully to the 25 gorgeous rose bushes outside the church door. Several families take turns cleaning the sanctuary each week. One mother organizes a weekly church playgroup for stay-at-home mothers of preschoolers. Some people make it their ministry to simply invite non-churchgoers at work to attend weekend services with them; that is a fantastic ministry! Fr. Mike reminded us that if we couldn't figure anything out we could ask him what was needed. He insisted that even if we only had a little bit of "free time" to offer, there would be a job small enough (or big enough) to suit the time we could give. His message was clear: Christians are not just obligated to tithe of our treasure, but of our time and talent as well. And a "tithe", by definition, is given of the firstfruits, not of the leftovers. In other words, we don't offer to the holy God whatever scraps of free time we have left after our hobbies & recreations are fulfilled. First we give to the Lord and then we build our social lives.

I don't believe in coincidence. That homily this morning was God nodding at me. I love when He does that. Perhaps He wants to nod at someone else today too through this blog. And if I may reverently paraphrase a well-known Scripture verse....."If today you see His nod, harden not your heart."

our "bathtub" doesn't seem sub-par to bernadette!
we can fit both girls in at once (just barely)
but unless Freckle is VERY skinny and VERY tough, we think 2's the limit.

Friday, October 29, 2010


these pink-leaved trees are as ubiquitous as red maples are back home

The final term of the school year is well underway and Richard and I are stunned to find ourselves already almost a quarter of the way through our mission period. Realizing how fast our time here is passing helps redouble our desire to make every day count. As it has been almost a month since posting last, I'll just try to summarize what exactly has been keeping us too busy to blog!

We've had a fantastic start to the term. Our theme for Lighthouse and Tahu has been "Temptation". Over the course of the term we'll be presenting on some areas of temptation that sometimes are overlooked in youth ministry, such as subtle forms of lying and stealing that are quite commonplace in "normal" high school settings. Richard dressed up as a cranky demon to share some insights into resisting temptation, a la CS Lewis' wonderful Screwtape Letters. We've been blessed with some excellent volunteer guest speakers this term and we'll be welcoming a new partner into our ministry later next month. We've also been pleased to be able to pay back our debt, in a sense, as we are asked to be guest speakers at events. This month I gave a talk on Christian Marriage at the local Catholic high school's Pure Love Club. Rich and I were also invited to speak at New Zealand's national CUF conference, although we had to decline as it involved some travel and fell just three weeks before my due date.

Rich is leading A Few Good Men in a book study of Wild at Heart. This popular handbook on Christian masculinity examines a man's desire for adventure, mission and danger, guiding young men to put these impulses in the service of God and others. In Girls and God, we're discussing a series of topics all pertaining somehow to the theme of human dignity. In addition to this larger girls' group, I  also offer a smaller and much more intense girls' discipleship group called Handmaids, the aim of which is to push its 5 members as far as they are capable of going in the area of Christian leadership - and then just a hair further. This term's focus is "testimony", and each girl gave her very first witness last week. We plan to just keep assigning new topics and practicing all term, ultimately moving into on-the-spot witnessing, so as to be always prepared to give a reason for our hope!

Other areas keeping us busy: Rich and I have put a lot of time into redecorating the youth room for the new term. He's added significantly to the number of young men that he mentors one-on-one, and finds doing so very fulfilling. Fr. Michael asked me to begin a parish ministry to mothers of newborns (St. Thomas More had a bit of a baby boom this spring and we now have 5 new parishioners under the age of 12 weeks!) It's a huge change of pace from youth ministry, but I love it. In addition to all this exciting ministry busy-ness, we have also made a firm resolution to get outdoors and explore with as many family day trips as possible.  These spring excursions have done much to refresh and energize us each week. They've also worked wonders on the overall "crank" level of the shorter Sealys.

some of the best-attired Tahooligans at our costume party in 
honor of All Saints' Day

Rich pretending to be St. Francis

Richard truly living the life of St. Francis

Bernadette, honey, could you just pretend to be excited 
that mama's holding a real live bird?

Maria jumped right on board with October's Franciscan theme; 
she volunteered to babysit her preschool's pet bunny for the weekend

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

dubious pro-life news

Amazingly enough, abortion is making huge waves in New Zealand right now. Suddenly, there are large segments of the population who are really upset - outraged - over the senseless termination of vulnerable young lives and they are getting vocal about it!  Last week a single man was responsible for over 200 abortions and it made the news in a big way.  Richard and I had hoped to see this kind of fervor and passion catch spark in the pro-life movement here, but we never dreamed of who might be the particular victims at the heart of the issue.

Calves. The abortion of unborn dairy cows is the issue here. Abortion (of human babies - in other words, unborn dairy cow farmers or unborn babies of any career potential) is legal and common in New Zealand - and considered too private to talk about. But the farmer who prematurely induced 200 of his pregnant dairy cows last week caused a big stir. Our deacon, a former dairy farmer, explained to me yesterday that if a dairy cow gets pregnant out of the correct calving season, the farmer will either send the mother cow off to the "works" (the cat food company) or he will induce the calf and send IT off to the works.  Even if the farmer permits a cow to give birth to her calf on its true due date, he still sends most of the calves off to the works on the 4th day of life...unless one looks like it would be a good beef cow. The farmer's concern is to keep his herd producing milk and a calf conceived at the "wrong" time is doomed no matter what - and sometimes the mother cow is doomed along with it.

haven't taken any cow photos yet, but this yak is a distant cousin

For starters, I'm glad not to have a cat anymore. But beyond that, it is mind-boggling that the untimely death of fetal cows could stir up the kind of compassion that the needless deaths of tiny humans does not. I'm not insensitive to the tragedy of the way that animals are used and misused for human profit, but there is a larger tragedy unfolding daily that neither makes the news nor breaks a proportionate number of hearts. Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and my prayer is that the irony of this controversy might impress itself upon the minds and hearts of our youth and the population in general here. It almost seems impossible that it would not.

Monday, October 4, 2010

guest bloggers!

the term, in his own words.....

Andrew enjoys classic American beverages at the bowling alley

This term I have been able to be more involved in the Youth group, Being able to attend the boys group more (Basketball games are on the same night as boys group.) I have found boys group and youth group great as always. Been challenged in many ways to step it up. Even being made to do a blind folded walk in a pin path listening to the guidance of one person and ignoring the other voices around me. Was a very intresting way to give a good message.
Other things this term The tasting of Twinkies! I had never tasted these before and to be honest they werent all they were made out to be!
Also other American food such as Pop tarts which are heaven. Ive had these before due to my american heritage with my late father being brought up in the Bronx. Its funny to talk to Rich and Kelly about the american stereotypes that are shown in the movies all the time. I am majorly jealous about the truth about the high school basketball scene being a big thing in America. Basketball over here isn't that big with little to no crowds.
This term has also been filled with a lot of fun filled events. With activities like Paintball, Laser Tag, concerts and the wrap up of A few good men for the term. Which finished with a night of playing Xbox and watching Band of Brothers. The Highlight of this overnighter being Beating Rich at Nfl Football [Madden] much to his distress. Beating him with a touch down in the final seconds! All in All its been a very good term and looking forward to what the final term brings.

giving the Lighthouse mascot a little cuddle after paintball

the term, in her own words....

Katrina (center) having some fun on the Lighthouse retreat

To know where to start would be great, Rich and Kelly have already brought so much to us. It’s truly amazing to watch everyone grow closer to God and together. Girl’s Group with Kelly is awesome, learning about different women in the bible is great. As a group we decided to go against the boy’s group in a game of laser tag…inevitably the girls lost. Well, we won the last game which was the team that died the most. Unfortunately I missed the Girl’s Group where they tried the twinkies, everyone had to try them though because they’re nearly on every American Movie and we wanted to know what they were like. Lighthouse this term, we’ve been looking into God the Father. We ended the term with a bang as we went to Rotorua for a weekend retreat, we looked deeply into the Our Father. The retreat included awesome activities, including Get the Flag in the dark. We also, it was a bit naughty, got the large oven trays from the kitchen and went grass sliding down the hill in the paddocks. The kitchen trays are little bit worse for wear now, opps. I’m truly looking forward to what Rich and Kelly have in store for us next term. Thank you to everyone in America for letting them come to NZ and we keep you all in our prayers. 
God Bless, Katrina

Thank you both SO MUCH, Andrew and Katrina! 
Rich & Kelly

Sunday, October 3, 2010

the state of the union

I was just trying to order some lunchmeat at the deli counter.  "Could I please have about 6 slices of the roast beef?" (I know - I should have said, "MAY I").

The cocky young deli guy smiled and asked if I was uncomfortable ordering in the metric system.  Feeling a tiny bit patronized and equally flustered, I quickly tried to remember how I would have ordered at home - would I have ordered by the fraction of a pound or by the slice?

Before I could work out an answer, he asked me where I was from. I said, "The States". Again, his "bantering" response had that slightly patronizing edge - "Yeah - which one? There are 52, you know."

So Americans, unless there has been some major news that we've missed while living abroad, I think I actually got the last laugh this time.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

who cares about a pot of gold?!

our house

"It's been a long, cold, lonely winter" - or at least a long, cold, rainy winter. I heard this morning that New Zealand hasn't seen a winter as rainy as this one has been since they started keeping track in 1973. If my math is correct (and it often is not), that means that it has been at least 37 years since winter has been this depressing in New Zealand. I think we had more rain this winter than they've had those 37 winters put together. No one here can think of 2 consecutive clear days in the past 4 months. I actually can't think of a single day that was clear from start to finish.
And then - this rainbow. Just when I was almost wishing the Lord would just officially send another flood and end it all, He set the sign of hope, the sign of His promise, in the sky once again and...He never lies. Five straight days of sun and warmth. Richard and I couldn't get over this rainbow. We'd never seen anything half as perfect in the American sky! It's the kind of rainbow you drew in bold colors as a child, before you realized that "rainbows" are usually just "faint fragments" that never have leprechauns sliding down them. This photo doesn't do justice to the intensity of the colors, nor can this post do justice to the lift in our collective spirits.

So, on the first day of this warmth and sun, we grabbed the girls and drove as quickly as we could to someplace, anyplace, where we could enjoy the "magnificent natural beauty" of New Zealand that we've heard so much about. We were not disappointed. The stunning scene above was about a 30 minute drive from our house - a petting farm situated on a mountain. As we hiked upwards (slowly - at the pace of a 14 month old) we fed, rode and petted every sort of beast, starting with piglets and chicks at the waterfall-studded mountain base and finishing at the summit with yaks and Texas longhorns. It may have been one of the top 20 most perfect days of our lives.
seriously cute lamb (or kid - we're not very good at that yet...)

the main attraction for our girls was
... a bug.  naturally.

Richard's spirits were so fine and free
that he had a deep heart-to-heart with an 
American elk. 
I think they discussed the Steelers. 

I was giddy enough to impersonate the emu -
AND let Richard photograph it

at the peak. 
happy smiles because we made both girls walk 
the whole time (a super-early bedtime was in the bag!)

At the moment, we're in the midst of a lovely 2 week school break. These breaks are our main planning time for the coming term, but also afford us opportunities to explore a bit. We're hoping to make one more excursion this week and then dive into the final term before summer break. This week we're also hoping to feature two "guest bloggers" - a couple of the youth have agreed to share a bit of their experience of youth group thus far and we're looking forward to their posts! Hopefully they can share their unique perspective on what this mission offers them ... without talking too much smack about the "Americanisms" that provide such endless fodder for humor among our youth. But I doubt it. So brace yourselves, brace yourselves. You have no idea what we endure - but you might be about to find out.