Thursday, September 22, 2011

the big bad blog

It's been a good week. Bernadette graduated from diapers. I realized this week that I have not seen a single roach in the house in months (I refuse to count the garage as part of the house). So the war of Kelly vs. Cockroaches -which has been raging for over a year - seems to definitively have been lost by the nasty black critters. Christine began taking driving lessons from me for the second time in her life and I'm enjoying teaching her to drive on the left side of the road as much as I enjoyed teaching her to drive on the right side five years ago. Her presence here has also afforded me sufficient opportunities of late to take a few moments here and there to breathe, to not feel so crushed by the overwhelming burden of it all, to (gasp) read a book. And the book that I have chosen is none other than the all-time beach favorite, Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undstet. Laugh, those who will, at my choice of recreational reading, but this book is mesmerizing me. I've read biographies of a lot of holy people in my life, but never before have I felt such an intense attraction to the subject. She energizes me. And gives me an inner calm. At the same time. I'm excited about her and thinking about her all the time now. I've never experienced that before in reading the life story of any hero, secular or religious. I feel like she is the only person who could really ever understand all of me. Except maybe Maria in a few decades, since her father keeps warning me that she is proving to be more like Mama every day. I'm going to ask her to be my patron saint. St. Catherine, I mean - not Maria.

One more awesome thing happened this week. Girls group. Perhaps my favorite girls group meeting of all time. It's the only ministry in which I am still substantially involved and now that Christine is here, I'm able to pop in and out of meetings as my children's needs demand. That's reduced the associated stress level to almost nothing. The meeting this week was definitely not the deepest meeting we've ever had. We watched the video footage of the puppet shows the girls performed earlier in the month. We planned out our upcoming trip to Auckland to visit the Cathedral and the Missionaries of Charity and the ice-skating rink. Many of the girls have never ice-skated or have hardly ever done so. It's exciting. And then....things got hilarious. Karen arrived. This week, in one of those crazy instances of Divine Providence generously responding to prayer, another female youth missionary just showed up at the parish. Her name is Karen and she's from Arizona. Through a bizzarre chain of coincidence and happenstance, she blindly stumbled upon our ministry after arriving in New Zealand only two weeks ago. She's extremely excited to join our ministry team and last night was her first introduction to any of our youth.  So Karen walked into the meeting and the girls were very pleased to meet her. It was an awesome moment of witnessing the realization of another instance of the Lord's power and generosity. Several months ago, I was pleading for the Lord to send some women to minister to these girls. Rich, Glen, Chris and Fr. Michael are doing a fine job at leading the youth to God, but none of them are suitable for leading Girls and God. But now, a few months and many prayers later, Christine and Karen are here - it's beautiful. And we have a luminous young Kiwi woman, a member of Opus Dei, who contacted me out of the blue this month asking to become involved with the girls as well. Her name is Vivian and she'll be meeting the group next week. Neither Karen nor Vivian knew anything of our need here. I'm astonished anew at the power of prayer and the generosity of the Lord. I was thrilled to have just one woman here to help, but He was satisfied with sending nothing less than three. Maybe more are coming. In fact, come to think of it, I know of one more who is coming. Jessie, you're locked in now.

Anyway, as introductions were made last night, all present were ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 for their "Kiwi-ness". As the company included one English girl who recently became a New Zealand citizen, a Maori girl, two girls of American parentage and three American women, the rankings were extremely humorous. Despite having lived here for over a year and given birth to a Kiwi baby, I still came in dead last, losing even to Christine in the rankings. She doesn't even know how to drive on the left side yet!

Some friendly American vs. Kiwi squabbling followed, culminating in the young girls attempting to prove that they could recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They began (in loud faux-American accents): I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America!!......and to the.......Constitution...?"

I can't exactly remember how, but somehow the conversation turned from there to the fact that several of the girls in the group have recently begun keeping blogs about their spiritual journeys. They seemed eerily aware of whether or not Rich and I have been faithfully reading their posts. I simply had to know how they were tracking this information. With a frenzy of excitement, they opened my computer and showed me this secret little part of the blogger's world called "Stats". A blog keeps track of how many people read it! I'm serious. It knows how many people read it and in what country they read it and it even knows why they read it (it keeps track of what search word led each reader to each particular post.) The blog makes a chart of which posts were most popular and can even tell you how many people are looking at any given post at any given moment. It's like cyber-spying taken to the extreme. I almost could not believe it was possible. The girls watched my face with glee as they showed me that this blog has had 19,590 page views since its inception. Over ten thousand people in America have read all or part of it. It's been opened by Kiwis 6,007 times - although the members of girls group freely claim responsibility for about half of those hits. 86 people in Japan have read a post, 71 in Russia and 47 in El Salvador. Just this week 4 people in Lebanon read it. I think the girls thought I would be ecstatic but I am freaking out. When Richard first conceived the idea of having a blog, it was meant to be his project. He lost interest after designing its title page and turned the whole thing over to me. He wanted me to write a blog that would keep our many benefactors updated on the mission they had supported. I tried to do exactly that for a long time before "realizing" that probably no one was reading except our friends and family and the youth here (I don't really know why they read it - maybe they love to see the photos of themselves? Girls - let's chat about that - I'm quite interested). So anyway, at some point I began to write with this smaller, more intimate audience in mind. Less like a blog and more like a group email. I know by blogosphere standards we have a very small readership, but to me it's so far beyond what I imagined. Frankly, I'm stunned and intimidated. My dad was just saying to me last week that he thought I should write a book - "people should read this stuff!" Well Dad, people are reading this stuff. In Norway. I just don't know whether my dad could possibly be more shocked than I am. I mean, there were even people who landed on the blog by searching for information on Alagille Syndrome.

I don't really know how to proceed from here. The internet is infamously public - but nothing drove that point home to me like seeing those graphs and charts and statistics. Spaniards, I know you're out there. I didn't before - but now I do. Hola! 

I need time to reflect on it all. Maybe I'm making a huge deal about nothing at all. I do that. But there are twelve Kiwis on the blog at this very moment - twelve. It's like they're waiting. It's nearly 11 PM here and the Americans are still asleep because it's not 7 AM there yet. That must be why there's only one United States citizen on here with me. Dad? Is that you? I'd feel much better if it was. And that says something to me. But why? Would it freak me out if 19,590 strangers around the globe read a book containing essentially the same material? Definitely not. And it never made me feel vulnerable to write for a magazine with a readership of one million. So why this sudden temptation to withdraw into a "safe" silence? It's time to sit down and think - and pray - through this whole concept of "blog". St. Catherine of Siena (author!), pray for me!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

posting pictures

the church of St Thomas More Parish, Mt. Maunganui, New Zealand -
something which I think has not yet appeared on this blog

our home in New Zealand

puppet show performed this morning by the girls group -
a dramatic reenactment of the parable of
The Workers in the Vineyard
for the attendees of Children's Liturgy -
last week the puppets acted out 
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.
Both weeks, the young audiences were delighted.
behind the (crowded) scenes

a few members of boys group taking a class in chivalry 
(our photo uploading woes continue)

(primarily of interest to our FUS classmates)
(miniature Steubie reunion Down Under)
Christine Wood and her parents visit from Australia
before Christine departs to teach theology at 
John Paul the Great College in CA, USA

Sunday, September 11, 2011

dreams, wishes & prayers

There is someone out there who prays. Someone who reads this blog has an incredible gift for intercession. We can barely keep track of all the prayer requests we've posted that have been answered exactly as per our specifications. I can't think of a single prayer request that I have blogged about that has not been fulfilled in the way we hoped. Not that that is the test of prayer, but still, we've been astonished at the sheer power of prayer over the past two years. In response to prayer, the Lord provided the exact amount of money we needed to come here; renters for our house materialized; Joseph miraculously survived his attempt at miscarriage; also he was born on the exact day and at the exact time we prayed he would be and has defied every doctor's prognosis; Christine joined us here just as it felt that the girl's group might actually fall apart....the list is extensive, even if wee Joseph hogs half of it.

healthy and whole, thanks to much prayer

And so now, as we slowly begin turning the ship homewards, we're praying for a smooth return voyage. This is the area about which the naysayers most warned us, but we're confident that the Lord won't abandon us on this critical point. There are still eight months before departure, but some preparations require much time and to these we've begun to turn our attention. First and foremost is a job for Richard. Because I'm utterly convinced that there is someone (or a group of someones) whose prayers for us are particularly fruitful, we've created a detailed prayer wish list - half playfully and half seriously - describing the perfect conditions of our "dream return". 
and did we mention HAPPY???

Richard's Main Wish:
 A Job

Richard's dream job is to be The Guy who plans and leads student mission trips for Franciscan University.
We think that job may be reserved at all times for a T.O.R. friar. Alas.

His second-tier dream jobs include the following (in no particular order):
-any job at Franciscan University, including picking gum off the inside of trash cans
-teaching theology at a seminary or on a college* level
-any job that involves regular travel to mission areas, especially to Haiti
-college* campus ministry, preferably as part of a team
-any job that involves being part of a team of godly, high spirited male colleagues

[*college in the American sense, meaning university level, rather than in the Kiwi sense, meaning high school] 

Despite this rough outline of his desires, Rich sincerely enjoys how the Lord tends to blindside him with calls to unexpected and unsought ministries. So deep down, all he really wants is to be serving the Lord in a fulfilling capacity whilst earning a living wage. [By "living wage" we mean a job that allows Kelly to continue on as a full time mother to a growing family. By "growing family" we agree to mean that our children are all growing, even if some are growing more pokily than others. Richard also means that we hope to have another child....(some day)  - while Kelly means that she hopes to have twelve more children, and sooner rather than later. But we agree perfectly that there should be more children in this growing family.] 

Kelly's Main Wish:
A Home

My dream is to be Amish. But with buttons...and indoor heating....and the Pope. Maybe "almost Amish" is more accurate.  

I love the tiny two bedroom house we own in the Hopewell suburbs. I'd live there indefinitely and just cram in the three children we currently have plus the dozen to come. We'll be moving back into that home when we first return to the States and I tremble with anticipation. My excessive longing for that house is the butt of many of Richard and Fr. Michael's jokes. However, Rich is adamant that we move within a year of our  return. My broken heart is soothed only by the dream of moving into a nearly-identical home set in a quiet and wholesome farming town. This new house will be a plastic-free haven of simplicity and all things natural and unplugged. I ache to settle into this charming little home and commence homeschooling my expanding brood with as few interruptions from the outside world as possible. By fraternizing regularly with our Amish neighbors, we'll ensure that our children learn appropriate social graces.  

In a far-distant season of my life, I see Richard and I doing another mission excursion like the one we are currently completing - maybe in Europe next time - but not until after our days of being elbow-deep in very little children have passed.  Here I must digress again and return to the naysayers who warned us that the mission lifestyle would simply be too hard while raising young children. You were right! I scoffed when you warned me, but it is indeed far too hard. I had no idea. I definitely do not recommend that anyone seek it out. Nevertheless, however difficult, it is not impossible, so should anyone find themselves unmistakably called, despite not having sought it, (much like ourselves), I hope not to deter you. To the contrary. This experience has been by far the most overwhelming and painful font of blessing and grace from which I have yet drunk. For a very long time I found it hard to notice anything else beside the "overwhelming" and "painful" parts. After many hours of study in the school of suffering, I have finally begun to understand the lessons of grace that have made it all so worthwhile.  

Digression over. Back to the main theme, which was my own little dream for the life I'd love to come home to. It involves finding that sweet little country house. 

*Size: Small. Charming. Maybe three bedrooms instead of two. With warm, homey wooden floors throughout and a ridiculous abundance of windows and sunlight. An updated kitchen and bath (just avoiding the seasick 1970's hues of our Hopewell bathroom). Great storage spaces. Clean, no mold or mildew issues to torment my asthma. And I'd love a tiny sunroom. Sunrooms are all the rage in New Zealand and I've grown rather fond of them. An established garden would be nice too, but is really not nearly as important as the wood floors and sunlight. In fact, scratch the garden. Let's just focus on the floors and windows and the lovely kitchen. 

*Location: Rural. Ideally within 10 minutes or so of a church so that we can continue attending daily Mass. A 35 or 40 minute commute (max) to Rich's Dream Job. In driving distance of Grandma's house. In close community with a few likeminded young families. Surrounded by quiet country roads (paved or no) suitable for long walks with multiple children in tow. And when I say "country", what I mean is that I want chickens and a lamb. Not a whole farm, just a few farm animals. I'd like to live next door to a farm (so that I could ask the farmer questions like if we need to keep our chickens safe from the cat we've already promised the children?) I've never actually done "rural" as a lifestyle - but have always dreamed of doing so since I was a girl and used to sketch out the farm and farmhouse I'd inhabit as an adult. New Zealand's sprawling farmlands and friendly roosters have reawakened those desires that I have dismissed as childish for too long. Handling a 36 hour old lamb this week (umbilical cord still attached) cemented everything.

Ok, those who read and pray. There's the dream, all laid out. A job for Richard and a home for Kelly. Now we wait and see what the Lord has in mind. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

our latest film

This video BOMBED at Tahu on Friday night. 
Fortunately, Lighthouse has a much keener sense of humor!
They loved it. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

what feeding tube?

preparing to celebrate the feeding tube

Yesterday we had an appointment at the hospital with Joseph's pediatrician. It was The Big Feeding Tube Appointment. If the trial medication had not helped him rise above the second percentile line of the WHO chart, we knew the tube was going in. We knew the medication had not done so. So we prepared well. We gave the girls real feeding tubes to touch, handle, play with (and become bored with) in hopes that when Joseph came home wearing one they would not be fascinated by it, need to touch it, and end up pulling it out. I explained the tube to Maria in depth - until she was quite peaceful about it. She even took one to her Montessori preschool and explained it to the other children at "mat time".

Richard and I had decided the only way to approach the inevitable tube was to plunge right into it head on. We decided not simply to accept it in defeat but to embrace it. To paraphrase Kimberly Hahn, it wasn't that Joseph "had to" have a tube, it was that he was going to "get to" have a tube. Other children in the world needing that kind of assistance aren't always able to access it. Other parents would give anything if only their child could receive nutrition through a feeding tube. We drove to the hospital yesterday totally ready. And then, as has become the norm with Joseph, we were blindsided by another non-event. The nurse weighed him. The doctor plotted him on the chart. We all saw his little dot sitting there firmly on the second percentile line, not having moved the titchiest little bit since last time. We sat down in the office with our calmest faces on, ready to hear the precise date the tube was going in (on the drive over we were guessing it would be Monday). But instead we heard that there would be no feeding tube - and no more talk of feeding tube - unless Joseph fell beneath that second percentile line. It was bewildering. I actually felt disappointed for a fraction of a second. Really. A long medical explanation followed, of which there is no succinct blog-worthy summary. Only then did the full triumph hit us. Richard high-fived me in the hallway. I don't really "do" high-five. He worried that I was not really joyful about this news - I mean, doesn't everyone high-five when they get good news?????  No, love; in fact, women often weep at good news. Be glad that I am not weeping.

Joseph's liver functions are back in the normal range for the first time in almost four months, which is huge news. Basically the only thing right now that is really "wrong" with him is that he is growing at the same pace of any other normal, healthy child who follows a curve on the WHO chart (but doing so on a very unpretentious curve - the docs would prefer that he grew at an accelerated rate so as to rise on the chart - even though his "compromised" liver is already accomplishing the same feats of which a healthy liver is capable. Perhaps the doctors' desire strikes others as unfair as it does us!) In other words, Joseph's only abnormality right now is that he is very small - he's still wearing some of the same clothes that he did as a newborn 5 months ago - but he also wears many items that are completely appropriate to his age. He's very strong and all of his developmental milestones are completely on target. We are very blessed.

This crisis seems finally to be truly waning and our next adventure is that of starting Richard's job search for our June 2012 return to the US. More on that in coming weeks, but prayers and "leads" would be extremely helpful. These past two years have been for us an experience of radical dependence on Divine Providence. And by "radical", I mean "crazy". Finding a job is kind of the final(??) (and biggest) area (of this mission!) in which we are casting ourselves trustingly upon the Lord. Once that's sorted, we'll start discerning our next act of foolishness for Christ. Stand by.