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.