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.