Tuesday, May 29, 2012

done and dusted

six bags for check-in
five carry-ons
two boxes posted (not pictured)
one laptop bag
and a stroller with an Ergo.....

But the point is that we are all done packing. Except for one little teeny tiny load of laundry currently washing, plus the things we are all wearing to bed and toiletries. I don't know where any of that will go in the morning since all the bags are packed to their 23 kg and 7 kg capacities, respectively - but I'm sure we'll have a fresh perspective on that dilemma after a good night's rest. The women in my new mothers group here told me that the Kiwi airport staff is a bit soft and if some of my bags are overweight and I can squeeze out a few tears and clutch my pregnant belly tragically, everything will be just fine. I'm banking on it. In fact, our entire airport strategy consists of Richard quietly melting off into the crowd while I approach the check-in desk in a shirt clinging to my just-showing "with-child" belly, with 1 year old Joseph in the Ergo on my back, nearly three year old Bernadette in the stroller, newly five year old Maria holding my hand, and bags heaped behind me. At this point we imagine/hope desperately for a great horde of Traveller-In-Need-Of-Assistance Staff swooping in from every direction, anxious to collect all my bags, rush me through security and permit the kids and me to board ahead of every other passenger - all because I will be surrounded by so great a cloud of children. We don't have a back-up plan.

 It's 7:19 pm, the kids are all in bed, I just packed the last bag and Richard vacuumed the carpets. We're done. We have some friends coming over in ten minutes to celebrate our last evening Down Under. Last night Richard and I went for dinner at a little Italian place with Fr Michael (who is heading off to Rome next month to study at the Angelicum for the next two years). It was a perfect night out. Today: lots of goodbyes, lots of packing, lots of bustling about, lots of children crying - but it still has not really hit me that we are leaving tomorrow morning. Even when Richard asked me just right now to take a break from the blog to trim his beard and we couldn't find any scissors other than child safety scissors because I packed in dribs and drabs over the past two weeks and now have no idea in what bag any given item might be located so I had to trim his beard with that ridiculous instrument.....even then it did not really sink in (at all) that everything we own is packed and we are leaving tomorrow. After two years and four days, we are leaving New Zealand and returning to the States. I just cannot take it in. And there is no time to try to take it in right now because our friends are arriving and Richard's beard is still all over the kitchen floor. Until then, please pray for safe travels and for the kids to feel less panicky about the plane ride than they were feeling all day today. Thank you to all! This is not the last blog post, but it is the last post of missiontonewzealand written in New Zealand.  I'll write again in America!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

matching set

This morning we were very happy to learn 
that we are the parents of two American girls 
and two Kiwi boys. 

At least Richard and I were very happy to learn this. 
Maria burst into tears right there in the sonographer's office 
and begged the tech to check and see if maybe there was 
another baby in there who was a girl baby.

Alas. There was just the one. 

A little (pre-lunch) celebratory trip to the ice cream store
 soon put a smile back on Maria's face.
Richard didn't need any ice cream - 
what he will need is something to wipe the
 off his face. 
I think the plane trip on Wednesday should do just the trick. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

mars & venus in transition

Last night was the very last night of New Zealand ministry for Rich and me. He met one last time with "A Few Good Men" and I with "Girls and God". We each had an excellent "last hurrah" with our respective groups.

I had hoped to do something really special for those girls for our final gathering. Instead, they did something really special for me. Over homemade chocolate-raspberry cake, they each gave their own little "toast" to me - each girl spoke for a few minutes about what part of our time together has been most special or most fruitful for her personally. They went deep. I was awed - and a bit sheepish. They all laid hands on me and prayed. We talked and exchanged mutual assurances of gratitude, respect, affection and enduring friendship. It was incredible. It was emotional. It was very, very, beautiful.

The boys group took Rich to the paintball field and shot him repeatedly.

It's amazing that there are actually people in the world who claim there is no substantial difference between the two genders.

Now that we are done with ministry, these last five days are just party, party, party. And packing. And errands. And phone calls to airlines and banks and hotels.  Actually, everything is upside down. Joseph finished yesterday with his five day frenzy of full-afternoon hospital IV outings. Desperate to entertain him hygienically amidst the hordes of tiny pneumonia and croup patients, I gave him my sanitized cell phone to play with. He was delighted - and happily changed my phone settings so that my outgoing texts can now only be written in Chinese characters. Other than acquiring a language barrier, things went well on the ward. They'll retest him tomorrow to see if he's cured. Meanwhile, our house is like a train depot - so many comings and goings. Ladies traipse in and out to match wallpaper samples and window treatments. Burly men (covered in what my daughters call "scary tattoos") are measuring and replacing windows. Carpenters are banging and smashing walls as they update the office soundproofing on the other side. But the truth is - I like it. (No sarcasm.) It feels like closure. It creates a definite mood; there is a palpable feeling of hustle and bustle that puts me in just the right mood to clean and pack efficiently and get the heck out of here. 

The kids are a bit overwhelmed by it all. Particularly Maria. The other two have some built-in protection called "oblivion". But Maria really gets the total upheaval - and does not have the sense of how temporary it is. Even though Rich and I do know it's just temporary, we're a bit overwhelmed too. We aren't crying quite as much as Maria, but we have had some very funny interludes concerning the packing process. When it comes to transition, I like to dive in, plan, organize, get busy, do stuff. Rich likes to stick his head way down deep in the sand and pretend that no change is coming until the change is actually physically taking place. He'd rather I not start packing anything until a few hours before we have to leave for the airport. I'd like to have finished packing last week. Right now I'm making piles, cleaning things and stuffing suitcases. At the very same time, Rich is taking things out of my piles, dirtying things I have just cleaned and negotiating the return of items from perfectly packed suitcases. I wish I'd thought ahead and asked some of the guys to invite Rich to go out with them (a lot) over this past week. The next time I have to move, someone remind me to do that.

For the past six days he has been asking me to reveal the whereabouts of Moo, Baa, La La La. I keep telling him that it's packed already.

"But it is Joseph's favorite book!"

"No love, Toilet Time for Girls is Joseph's favorite book" (it has that working flush button)

"Well, it's his second favorite book."

I think actually Baby Signs for Mealtime is Joseph's second favorite book. I say so. I also mention that I'm almost positive that the animal book with the lift-the-flap windows is third for him - but that really, he is quite happy to bite the pages of any board book - indiscriminately. I think Moo, Baa, La La La might be Richard's favorite book (to read to Joseph). In fact, I'm pretty sure of it.

Today I finally realized I'd have no peace until I surrendered Moo, Baa, La La La. In exchange for possession of this Sandra Boynton classic and three free hours tomorrow to go play board games with the guys, Rich has solemnly pledged no more interference whatsoever in my packing ritual. He earnestly promised to set no more limits, make no comments and demand nothing back. We shook on it.  Then he read Joseph the Moo book. Twice. He triumphantly informed me that Joseph had laughed on every page. I hadn't noticed - I'd been busy, quietly packing up all of Rich's underwear.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

living on the edge

looks more like a broken arm!

The last two weeks we had in America before moving to New Zealand were literally chock-full of drama, complications and intense near-disasters. It looks like our last two weeks in New Zealand will be no different. After a very hectic week, yesterday afternoon little Joseph had to spend four hours on the Tauranga Hospital Children's Ward on an IV drip. He had had a bad reaction that morning to a medication (something prescribed this week for a UTI) and he needed to be assessed and given an alternate treatment for the bacteria. The only alternate drug needs to be given intravenously, so he was discharged with the line still in. Each day this week we will have to take him into hospital for a dose of antibiotics so that hopefully he will be healthy in ten days' time for departure. The nurse did ask if our plane tickets are insured just in case..... but we're not even going to entertain that possibility.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

last birthday

EVERYONE gets excited about birthdays!
After 2 years of birthdays abroad, the Sealy Family celebrated its last.
 On May 16, Maria turned 5. 
Packing is already tight, so I tried to think of the tiniest possible gift to give Maria 
and instantly, the answer was obvious -
it required no packing, would thrill her and
would fulfill a dream she has cherished since she was 2. 
not scared, but bracing herself

no tears at all - pure joy

and a fairy cake, complete with parasol that caught on fire

we love you so much!!!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

facebook & the culture war (part two)

Earlier today I wrote a post on why I personally abstain from having a Facebook account. Now here's Part Two of that previous post - here are my thoughts on using Facebook fruitfully.

Off the top of my head, I think there is one basic principle a Christian can bear in mind when communicating on Facebook: Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  I'm going to say "Facebook" a lot from here on out, but in using that particular example, I include social media like blogs, websites and other forums in which Christians are creating media (whether they realize they are doing so or not).

Being wise as serpents has more implications than I can tackle in this small space. In part it means thinking through what I intend to accomplish with my Facebook page. One approach is to use this media form to provide inspiration and encouragement and fellowship for fellow believers. That's awesome. The virtual world needs that. In my Facebooking days, I benefitted from pages such as these. If my intention, on the other hand, is to try to reach out beyond my fellow believers, a FB page consisting only of beautiful moral posts and deep quotes may be largely ignored. If my intent is to reach that wider audience, it may be more fruitful to create a dynamic page with broad appeal, a personal page, a page to which a wide circle of friends is naturally attracted. In this case, consider the manner in which peers use Facebook. Ask: Who is my intended audience? In other words, who are my friends? Who is actually seeing my Facebook? What are they most interested in? What do they write about? How can I most effectively engage them, attract their interest, spark conversation or thought? What kind of wholesome images and articles would they like? The answers to these questions will vary depending on my own age and the age of my Facebook friends. It will vary according to my personality and the personalities & beliefs of my friends. But chances are that my friends primarily come to my Facebook to learn about and connect with me - therefore, making myself accessible and human on my Facebook increases the chances that others will read my page when I post links and status updates that express my faith and morals. Facebook is not primarily a tool for evangelization - it is primarily a tool for connecting human beings. By that I mean that most people, when they sign in to Facebook, are seeking human connection, not ideology. That's not a bad primary purpose. We have to understand the purpose and power of the tool in our hands. We have to "speak the language" of those to whom we are trying to bring the Gospel. Many people do not speak the richly nuanced language of Church documents, Scripture passages and gorgeous religious art. How can I engage those people in a way that they can "hear" - in such a way that they will want to listen, to look, to click the link? That's not an easy question, but it's not impossible to answer either. Spending a few hours really looking at the Facebook accounts of those we wish to reach with the Gospel will provide some helpful clues. Ditto for scanning the Facebook accounts of Christians who are evangelizing well through their own Facebook accounts. The more "normal" and natural we are, the more people will take us seriously and hear us out. The more fanatical and "out there" we seem to be, the more we will be written off and the more unable to exert an influence on the general culture around us.

Being gentle as doves means that when we use media in the culture war, we do so in the spirit of Christ. We can't defend the King's honor or the Kingdom's in a way that inherently dishonors either. I can't urge others to obey the King by disobeying Him myself. There are two blogs I have regretfully unsubscribed from in the past six months - both are created by brilliant writers ingeniously defending the faith....but doing so with such frequent and intense uncharity that I was completely disappointed and uninspired. I don't see how a Christian blog that defends the teachings of Christ while violating the spirit of Christ (through intentional insults, barbed sarcasm, self righteous judgments and unkindness) is actually a Christian blog at all. It seems to me a Pharisee's blog, urging others to obey strict laws while ignoring the Spirit that those laws serve. The same would go for uncharitable Facebook dialogue.  I have enough uncharitable thoughts of my own to battle without having them fed from media sources meant to strengthen me in my Christian journey. Some people will protest that rants and cutting sarcasm are just about keeping things "real". Maybe. Maybe "real lukewarm". Or "real mediocre". But not real Christianity. Uncharity gives scandal and confirms for unbelievers those negative stereotypes they've heard about Christians. It hardens hearts and creates anger. It feeds self-righteousness and destroys humility. Christians who wish to fight for the Lord must strive for ever-greater discipline, virtue and self-control. We must become perfect in using the Ultimate Strategy of the Ultimate Chief General; we must become adept at adopting the tactic which is most effective and powerful: Love. Charity. We must 'adopt' it because it certainly doesn't seem to bubble up naturally from within us! This does not mean that we never take a firm stance or use strong language. Both are often necessary. But there is an enormous difference between boldly stating a shocking truth in unyielding language and engaging in the nasty mud-slinging hostility that marks much of the political and religious conflict that takes place on Facebook.

Jesus's most important, most central, most crucial teachings are not about health care or religious freedom or marriage. Those are very very important, but they are not the overarching essential truths for which He lived and died so as to teach us. They are these:

Love God above everything else. Everything.
Do nothing to another person that you would not want done to you. 
Be merciful. Forgive. Know you will be forgiven anything - if you forgive. 
Stop judging. 
Stop acting in anger. 
Be humble. Be kind.
Don't live with the emphasis on this passing world - live for the world to come. 

I could go on, but the point is that living these tenets is more important - and harder - than winning arguments and politics. In Jesus' day, those who were urging perfect universal orthodoxy while ignoring the points above got slammed with the whole brood of vipers thing. Ouch. It's not either-or, it's both-and. I need to vigorously defend the truths and morals being attacked or destroyed in the culture while at the same time not violating any of the above points. Man, is that hard. Nearly impossible. Sometimes I seriously just want to give up altogether because of how much I stink at it. But God's power is made perfect in my weakness. His grace is enough.  

Which brings me to my last (and longest) point. We do have to know our weaknesses. We do have to discern wisely where we serve best, what we are most suited for. There is a war going on, but we are not all Navy Seals, Special Forces. Some of us are just best at driving the trucks of food rations. Some are sewing tents. Some are fighter pilots. Some are ground troops. Some are generals. Some are by sea and some are by air. NONE OF US IS ASSIGNED TO BE A BOMBER PILOT. ALL of us are wounded badly and ALL of us are tending to the wounded.

This brings me back to my personal decision to avoid the Facebook front. I'm not gifted for it. In fact, I'm really bad at it. I'm better at hand-to-hand combat. I have much better emotional intelligence face-to-face. I'm both choleric and melancholic (the two most intense personalities) and a writer. Once I try to fight these fights in writing, I know no other way but to dive in with all my intensity, handling the issue at hand as directly, clearly, thoroughly, efficiently and idealistically as possible. It's too much. I'm far gentler and more effective in person. I need to see the other person's face. I need to hear their tone of voice and I need them to hear and see mine. In human interactions, it's far more prudent and efficient to bide time - to be more indirect - to be even a little vague and then gently build to the specifics. It's also necessary to know when to drop it. I seem unable to do so through faceless media. I need the cues of the human body. That's a simple truth I have come to see about myself. 

On the other hand, I know many people who are gifted at going gently and slowly through the process, even over media, but who perhaps struggle to make their thoughts clear - either through a lack of formation and understanding - or through the inability to communicate with clarity. Perhaps they leave the other person more confused and muddled then they were prior to the discussion. We need to know our strengths and weakness - and in which situations we tend to succeed, verses where we tend to fail. Obviously, on the spot, each of us must do our best to give a reason for our hope, despite whatever weakness we know ourselves to have. Once I've seen or heard something that is seriously blasphemous or immoral, my silence is assent and I must speak. Nevertheless, if I know I tend to flub things up on Facebook, it makes no sense to go courting those situations. 

Besides knowing my own strengths and weaknesses, I think it's essential to recognize the possibilities and limitations of Facebook as a tool for winning hearts or saving souls. The soldier need not pour everything into a skirmish that doesn't contribute much to the war. In this war, most victories are won face-to face, person-to-person, in the flesh. Most victories are the fruit of real friendship and testimony and prayer and timely conversations held in private - away from the noise and confusion of battle. In contrast, Facebook skirmishes are often fought very publically between parties who have no ability or intention of actually listening to each other. There is nothing an atheist can write on Facebook, no article he can link to, no argument he can offer, that for the slightest moment will open my heart to the idea that there is not a good God. None. He might as well use Facebook to try to convince me not to love and serve my children. I know God to be true, good and beautiful - worthy of my love - despite never having seen Him - in the same way that I know each child of mine to be good and beautiful and worthy of my love - and I know that to be true from the womb, even before the child is first laid in my arms and beheld by my eyes. The atheist's heart and mind are equally as closed to my arguments as I am to his. There is nothing I will say that is likely to make him question his most basic assumptions about the universe. There is very little I can say that resonates with the the atheist's faith in empiricism, his measure of all things - just as there is nothing in his arguments that resonates with my experiential knowledge of ultimate goodness - my measure of all things. We do not speak a common language. But we still ought to speak. Often. Respectfully. Trying to lisp words the other comprehends. And we must understand and accept the most likely outcome of our dialogue, and the limits of our given forum, or else we shall both be very frustrated indeed. 

Defending the faith on Facebook is the equivalent sometimes of trying to fight against something like guerilla warfare. It's very hard to make any real progress, but we can keep from losing the ground that is still in our possession. On Facebook, we are not going to beat the other army directly in any given battle, but we may influence a whole lot of "undecideds" who are passively watching these battles unfold. If we fight with honor and skill and grace, there may be some neutrals who decide not to join the other army - maybe they consider being our quiet allies - maybe they even start thinking about actively fighting alongside us.

In any case, charity is the winning strategy. And the victory is already won. 

(For further reading on this topic, 
Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media
 by Eugene Gan
 is a worthwhile book!)

"ardently anti-facebook" (part one)

Catie left a comment after the last post asking me to elaborate on why I am "ardently anti-Facebook". Catie is one of my dearest friends in the world, a sincere and gentle soul. Yet I refuse to be Facebook friends with her. Why is it that when my sweet friend Catie wonders about how old Kelly is doing, why - why - must I put her through all the bother of having to call or email? Why I can't I make her life - everyone's life - so much easier and just GET ON FACEBOOK?????

(**** disclaimer: Catie would never ask this demanding question or even think it ******)

Well, firstly, when I say that I am ardently anti-Facebook, it is not a blanket condemnation of the act of using Facebook. It means that I have come to realize that Facebook is very much not for me. However, I fully believe that Facebook is the primary place that the culture wars are being played out amongst those in their tweens, teens, twenties and even beyond. As Pope John Paul II so brilliantly stated, "If the Church holds back from the culture, the Gospel itself will fall silent." Christians must be on Facebook, giving the Gospel a voice and standing up for truth on these front lines of the culture war. But not every Christian is called to this front - there are plenty of other fronts in the war - too many - and we are each gifted uniquely and given different marching orders from the Commander-in-Chief. More on this in a moment.

I first discerned that Facebook was not for me because I couldn't handle all the rough language and blood on the front lines. I cancelled my Facebook account because I literally could not sign in without being assaulted by the profanity, crude language, vulgar posts, and abrasive status updates of my "friends" and my friends' friends. In 33 years, I have never become desensitized to profanity or potty language and both deeply bother me. I'd become upset by the deeply offensive, shockingly rude, aggressively disrespectful and utterly immature posts - otherwise polite people will freely write things on Facebook that they would never say in person. My relationships were damaged from reading harshly stated opinions about those things which I hold most sacred. Also I literally have OCD - other people could read these things perhaps and move on with their day. I cannot. I obsess. For days. I once forgot to feed my girls breakfast because I was so deeply disturbed by something I had read on Facebook. It was not until I gave the kids lunch that they informed me I had never fed them breakfast. That's a red flag. A big one.

Facebook also created too many awkward situations for me - unwanted friend requests, the process of "unfriending" and the subsequent attempt by others to be "refriended". How is one to protect one's privacy, make discerning choices about who should be kept in touch with via FB, and do so with sensitivity and charity? It seemed nearly impossible. Furthermore, FB does not actually in any way fulfill my social needs. I love Catie. Dearly. Yet I'm not terribly interested in what time Catie woke up or what Catie ate for breakfast. I want to know what Catie thought about while she ate breakfast; I want to know what is truly troubling her and what it giving her greatest joy lately. That's what makes me feel socially fulfilled. That's not usually the stuff of Facebook posts. Obviously. It wouldn't be appropriate on Facebook where all your friends and mere acquaintances can read it. (That sort of thing is much better reserved for your own personal blog where friends, acquaintances and complete strangers can access it.) When I was on Facebook, I had more "active" relationships, but overall, these interactions were increasingly shallow and meaningless and unsatisfying to me. Since leaving Facebook, I have less contact with others but it's much more meaningful, which is for me far more fulfilling. Also the people who only wanted to keep in touch with me if it was very easy have dropped me altogether - and that is actually a good thing, I think.

I still go on Facebook occasionally through Rich's account. We have given each other free access to each other's email and Facebook accounts as a protection to our marriage. I did see on Facebook how great a danger there could be of innocently friending an old classmate of the opposite gender and slowly creating something that threatens the marriage relationship. We are both protected by knowing the the other signs in to our accounts. I never go on FB to check on Richard, I generally go on because perhaps a friend is due with a baby and I check daily to see if the baby has born - or to see that first photo. (This behavior is known as "Facebook Stalking") Still, even with those good and innocent intentions, I find that I just end up wasting too much time once there. If the posts are not vulgar or offensive, they are often just plain insipid. It's easier for me not to have FB at all than to use it moderately and in a well-ordered fashion. Most people I know confess that they too struggle with using time on FB well.  Recently we were guests in a home and our host (or hostess) (a well-balanced, mature individual) kept the computer open and on throughout our entire visit - and kept checking repeatedly to see if others had posted in response to his (or her) recent post. That is just not healthy folks!

I think I've covered most of why Facebook was not "for me". But I still have much to say about the value of Facebook and why others should use it (and use it well) if they feel so drawn. I want to write about the culture wars and how that relates to Facebook. But my children have woken for the day and I need to make the prudent decision to get out from behind this screen and feed them breakfast. At some point in the next 24 hours, when the kids are all caught up on their meals, I intend to write part two -about the "pros" of Facebook. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

the future of the blog

In response to a query that is becoming increasingly common: yes, I do intend to continue to write after leaving New Zealand. But I don't know what form that will take. I've been back and forth about this multiple times - thinking, praying, discussing ad nauseum with Richard (sorry, love!)..... I love to blog because I love to write. I hate to blog because I feel very "exposed" in blogging, paranoid about how others will judge me for what I reveal about my spiritual life, my parenting, my marriage, my housekeeping, my cheesy insights into the mundane and everything else about which I write. Confession: I worry others will judge me because I find myself often judging what I read in blogs. I think that Jesus told us so often not to judge because well, we all judge. Too much. And the people who are most horrified at the "judgmental-ness" of others are usually exceedingly judgmental individuals. Really, Jesus didn't waste a whole lot of time preaching about rare sins; he focused on the areas that are common to man. I think I've met only three people in my entire life who were not sometimes severely judgmental. Two of them were younger than five years old. So despite the fact that I too often judge, I hypocritically and pridefully have a paranoid fear of being judged. The Lord has told me that this is not an acceptable reason for stopping the blog. He seems to think that it would be far better for me to work hard on stopping the judging.

A while back I started playing with the idea of a new blog. I wasn't intending to start keeping two blogs simultaneously, I was just experimenting with the design and possible focus of a post-New Zealand blogging project. I had settled on the idea of writing about  applying what I had learned over these two years, but in the mission of everyday life. If you check out the first post, you will understand the Lord's sense of humor. Days after I finalized the direction of this new blog and published an experimental first post, we learned that actually the Lord might not be sending us back to the life we already knew. So much for most of what I had written. Nevertheless, I may still pursue the theme, but I'm not certain yet.

What I am certain of is this: on this current site I will chronicle the wrap-up of the mission, which includes all the closing activities in New Zealand, the return journey, the settling-in process Stateside, the details of our new life (or our old life, as the case may be). I will (at least) occasionally update the blog with bits of news about our family life (for all our friends in New Zealand, as I have been doing for these past two years for our friends in the US). Since I am not only "non-Facebook" but ardently "anti-Facebook", I've already been informed by multiple individuals that this is the only fair compromise. I may start work on that new blog, unified by the tiny heroic moments theme. Or I may scrap that and try blogging from a different angle (if so, I will publish the new address here). Or I may discern that the Lord is calling me to steward my writing elsewhere. I've been working here and there on other writing projects. At the urging of my parents and in-laws, I've worked extensively on a book about our mission trip which includes details I didn't or couldn't include on the blog. I've also put some time into a children's book about our mission years written from Maria's perspective (because other than Little House books and Charlotte's Web, I'm having a hard time finding "not-stupid" chapter books written for a child at her comprehension level.) In time, when things settle down, I'll figure out what kind of writing is most feasible and appropriate. For now, there are many pressing matters to deal with and they alone constitute the material of my thoughts and written words. I'm grateful and humbled by how many people in the States and in New Zealand have encouraged me to keep writing. I assume most of those individuals are not judging me - at least not too harshly. (Do any of you happen to keep a blog about the mission of being nonjudgmental?)

crazy days

saying a sad goodbye

We're back to the crazy days. They feel so familiar. This is exactly what May 2010 felt like. I guess there's simply no way around the stress of an international move, whether you're coming or going. True, this time there is a lot less packing, but there are now more children to inhibit the packing process. There's an equal amount of cleaning. (No, wait, there's more. There are more children making things dirty faster than I can clean. And I wasn't pregnant last time.) Also there are more people who want to say special goodbyes since this time it is not "see you in two years!" but rather "see you in heaven!" And there are just as many baffled customer service representatives on the phone. This week I had to call our electric company in the States to have the power turned back on in our Pennsylvanian house. The woman who had the misfortune of picking up my call asked (routinely) for the address of my house, for my SSN, and for my telephone number. I don't have a telephone number. At least not one that is going to fit into the designated spaces on her computer screen. When I explained that I was calling from New Zealand and did not have an American telephone number yet, the phone went silent....and then the inevitable "Can you hold for a moment.....(while I go get a manager...because lady, this just doesn't happen in my normal workday and THERE IS NO FIELD FOR CALLING FROM NEW ZEALAND ON MY COMPUTERIZED FORM!!!!!) 

Just like exactly two years ago this time, I am cleaning. I am throwing things away. I am driving to St. Vincent de Paul's....a lot. I'm wiping down board books and laundering tutus and making mountainous piles of items that will have to fit somehow into the twelve bags with which we are permitted to fly. My planner is crammed with deadlines and lists and reminders. My mind is spinning and my shoulders always seem to be hunched up very tight together. 

And just like two years ago, I have no idea what will happen after the plane lands. In fact, I think two years ago I had a better of idea of what would happen after our plane landed in Auckland than I currently know about what will happen after our plane lands in Pittsburgh. That's one thing that I thought would be so different on the return trip. I thought we'd know exactly what to expect for the return voyage - no surprises. For these past two years, I thought that when the mission was over we were going back....back to what was familiar, back to what was known, back to our old life....back to the family and friends and community and home we'd missed so much all this time. But the Lord, the One who makes all things new, so often prefers to move us forward, not back. And it seems that there is a chance that He will indeed be moving us "forward" rather than "back". With 18 days to go until departure, I literally can't even guess at what we are "returning" to.  On the one hand, there's a good possibility that we are indeed returning to a (mostly) familiar life. That option is always open to us. On the other hand, there is also an equally good possibility that we are going to be starting over again in a brand-new life, knowing nobody, in a city, state and region which neither of us has ever before laid eyes on. (Kind of like two years ago...) The Lord may give that option as well, leaving us free then to choose. But we don't know yet for sure. Most likely we won't know until days before we fly out of Auckland (if then!). 

It feels....weird. I don't find that kind of uncertainty as easy as Richard does. I'm a planning type. I love to organize and structure things well in advance. Right now, I can make no solid plans. No doubt the Lord is teaching me a great deal by keeping me in this state of limbo. I don't normally "do" limbo. I barely know how to exist in limbo. In fact, late at night, the wheels of my brain simply spin with two sets of plans - one set for if we return to PA and one set of plans for if we do not. That's my limbo-resistant brain, where I live most of the time. But my heart - which I do visit occasionally - is different. Deep in my heart I trust that the Lord is simply going to make it obvious where He wants us and that He is at work even in the timing of our knowledge of where that is. He has a good plan, a brilliant plan, a beautiful plan. I have to keep reminding my limbo-hating brain of that. Hourly. Especially between the hours of 9pm and 11pm.   

So there is a feeling of  *some*  stress. I think I can honestly say that Rich and I are both at peace that the Lord is going to provide job, home and community - and that He will do all things well. He has given us clear signs and we are both at peace. Nevertheless, there is an ENORMOUS mountain to climb in the near future before there is any feeling of being settled or at rest. The mountain consists of packing, and of the emotional drama of saying goodbye to people and places we've come to love. It consists of the thousand little details that must be attended to when moving. It absolutely consists of a thirteen hour flight from Auckland to LA with three very small plane-phobic children, followed by seven hours of travel on two flights the following day before we finally reach Pittsburgh. It consists of the jet lag that will attend adjusting to a sixteen hour time difference. It consists of settling ourselves and our children back into our old home on Wilson and helping them cope with a total lifestyle change. It consists of possibly packing everything back up soon thereafter, preparing the house for sale, finding a new house and then settling the children again for a second time in a very short span of time. And then...just as perhaps we find some sort of new normalcy....we'll have a baby. I think even the saints would find this mountain at least a little stressful.  

So today we took a much-needed break from the stressful things and we paid a bittersweet final visit to one of our most beloved places in New Zealand. All these photos were taken today at the place we have called "Shelly Beach" (we have no idea what the locals actually call it.) Truly, photos do not do this beach justice. In these photos, you can't see the variety, abundance or perfection of the seashells. You can't see the stretches of beach where there is no sand, just layer upon layer of salty shells crunching underfoot. You can't see the tide pools teeming with starfish and crabs and snails (mostly because it was low tide when we went today). You can't see Mt. Maunganui towering immediately above you, ridiculously green, dotted with sheep and encircled at its base with fantastic trees that transform you effortlessly into your favorite character from Lord of the Rings. You can't feel the sea breezes or hear the lapping of the waves. You can't see the shifting colors of sea and sky, nor touch the amazing textures of the rocks. You can't explore all the secret hiding places among the rocks or hunt for the treasures they hold. You certainly can't pretend to be Ariel from the Little Mermaid, sunning yourself on one of the outermost rocks (and this is a good thing, as Richard's brother Jason nearly was dashed to bits by a powerful wave doing just that last year).  Nevertheless, this is the place that we have taken the kids more times than we can count, a place we have gone on sunset dates together, a place we have taken all our visitors. It is the place where I have collected most of my beautiful seashell souvenirs and the place Rich and I have climbed enormous rocks and sat in silence to watch the water crashing all around us, feeling very close to God indeed. Our family has had so many precious memories at this beach (to say nothing of the trips to the nearby gelato store that inevitably accompany these outings). I can't think of any place in New Zealand at which I have been happier, except for the (intoxicating) Tyburn Monastery. 

As usual, we had a wonderful time - but this time was also stabbingly sad. It was like saying goodbye to a really close friend - knowing that it would be a very long time before I saw it again, if I did see it again at all. For all its own charms, I'm not sure Pittsburgh has anything that compares to this. Not even on Wilson Avenue.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

thanksgiving day in new zealand

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the worst day of my life and Richard's. A year ago at this time, Joseph was baptized, hospitalized, received Last Rites and endured hours of agony from severe dehydration, infection and multiple failed attempts to insert an IV catheter. 

AND YET, here we are, one year later, with a strong, healthy, happy little boy - despite all the shadows that crossed his path. Rich and I just want to thank God this week for answered prayers. We want to reaffirm our trust in His Providence and goodness, and recommit ourselves to abandonment to His plan, come what may, even in the times that His plans do not turn out to be a perfect match of our most ardent hopes.  

Rich and I never look at these photos of Joseph's Christening

but now, he's strong enough for swimming

and for giving his Papa guitar lessons
(even if he's not actually a whole lot bigger than he was at 6 weeks old)

Monday, May 7, 2012

haere ra

Last night the parish gathered to say Haere Ra - farewell - to their American missionary family. All the young boys present- and some of the men - painted a "Richard Sealy style" beard on their faces (only they referred to this beard style alternately as "Rich's Amish beard" or as his "Abraham Lincoln beard".)  The whole parish gave us a beautiful night to remember, complete with an "American" meal of hot dogs and Twinkies.

unwrapping and putting on our new shirts

Before anything else could begin, the entire family was given t-shirts emblazoned with the words "I love New Zealand" - and we were ordered to don them. This was a massive "issue" for Maria, who had chosen her outfit with extreme care and was devastated to find it altered right off the bat. However, she was soon won over by the beautiful matching pink shirts that she and Bernadette received and sulked under the pew for only ten minutes. 

Rich making a really weird face, Maria is still under pew

Joseph's new shirt

Once we were wearing our shirts, the night alternated between deeply moving speeches, a beautiful slide show and uproarious skits. An ongoing hassle over the past two years has been the sheer volume of traffic that comes to our door on a daily basis. In each skit our co-worker Matt was dressed up as Richard (even wearing Rich's own clothing) while various characters rang "our" doorbell for various outlandish (but true!) reasons and at various outlandish (but true!) times of day. In each skit, Matt portrayed exactly what he thought Rich might be thinking when the doorbell rang and how Rich actually would respond to each supplicant. 

The speeches were a mix of serious and silly. My favorite line from the speeches: one of the young men shared a new term he has recently coined, inspired solely by Richard's unique sense of fashion. The term is "SNandals" - short for "Suit 'N Sandals" - Rich's signature Sunday style. True, my fashion-forward husband not only wears a suit, tie and Birkenstocks to most Sunday Masses, but on cold days he finishes off this incredible look with a pair of nice floppy white sports socks. The women here all envy me like mad. They dream of their husbands dressing with such debonaire confidence. The men are too shy to imitate this cutting-edge American trend at present (Kiwi "tall poppy syndrome", you know), but I'm sure once we leave, the bolder ones will hop on the bandwagon. 

NB: if any of Richard's potential future employers are reading this, I solemnly assure you that I would never let him turn up the office dressed in just SNandals and white socks. I would make sure that he also wears a nice holey old hoodie underneath the suit jacket, in a unique upcycled fresh style somewhat reminiscent of the old-fashioned sweater vest.

Fr. Michael giving his speech, complete with Amish beard

The MC, our coworker James, teased Richard extensively and lovingly during his speeches, but left me untouched. Rich told me that James had said I was "too scary" to make fun of. I can't understand that. Neither could Fr. Michael. His speech (and his random comments during my speech and Richard's) made that quite clear.  

Rich giving his speech

It was an awesome night of many laughs and a fantastic feeling of community and love. Near the end, Fr. Michael made all present rise, cover their hearts and sing the American National Anthem. That was awesome. Especially since the only other time I have heard that song in the past two years there was something in it about the "twilight's last reaming" (Superbowl XLV) - so technically last night was the ONLY time I have really heard that song in two years. But then the Twinkies got passed around and I was embarrassed to be American (my goodness, there are so many FAR more delicious things I wish they would associate with America!). 

Afterwards most of the youth went with Rich and our girls to light a beach bonfire under the full moon. Joseph and I went to bed........except that the doorbell rang (twice) between 9pm and 9:30. It wasn't part of the skits anymore. This is real life. Good luck to whoever inherits this house! We will be praying for you! 

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Even though Rich and I have not perhaps explored as much of New Zealand as we would have liked (due to the three car-trip-resistant individuals who cohabit with us), nevertheless it has not escaped our attention that this country is Seriously Gorgeous. We've seen enough to take our breath away.

There are a spots which have become special to our little family, such as the nearby beaches (including one made entirely of shells!) Even though I am not a 'beach person,' I will lament living 9 hours inland in a few weeks - there is simply no easier, cheaper or quieter family outing. After barely a four minute drive, we can unload the kids at deserted shoreline and all three immediately become deeply absorbed in digging and building and hunting for shells and feathers and driftwood and stones. There's barely any talking - and certainly no bickering. I can plant myself in the sand and not move (heck, not even speak) for sixty to ninety minutes. What more could a pregnant mother ask for?

 not just for hot summer days!

Yes, Bernadette bursts into tears if a dog or a "Jeep" appear on the horizon - and yes, inevitably Joseph's mouth and eyes will be completely full of sand - and yes, the car is an absolute sandbox when we arrive home - but everyone is really happy for at least one whole hour. I'll have to look into creating a faux-beach in our backyard when we return home.

But it's not the beaches or the shells or the beloved pointy green hills to which it will really be hard to say goodbye. After all, there's just as much beauty waiting for us back home: red autumn leaves and snowy serenity and hot summer nights filled with fireflies. (Also Entenmann's. And my beloved house.)

(not my photos!)

The hard goodbyes will be to people. To Fr. Michael. To the youth. To the parish. Yesterday morning that reality came crashing down on me in a crushing way. I was leaving Mass and an older gentleman scurried to catch me. He drew a small object from his pocket and pressed it into my hand. It was a small metal locket he had been given as a gift over sixty years ago, on the day he made his First Holy Communion. Inside it contained a teeny Rosary. With great emotion, he asked me to give it to my girls. I was overwhelmed. I honestly didn't want to take it; it obviously meant so much to him. He insisted, telling me that he had no one else to pass it on to, and how much he has enjoyed seeing my girls in church each morning. I told him that I would keep it until Maria's First Communion. He smiled, and teared, and said that that was exactly what he hoped. I walked away feeling totally overwhelmed and deeply moved - and very, very sad. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of four very intense weeks.

The people of this parish have loved us. I don't mean that we've been "popular" or regarded as "wonderful" - I mean that they have loved us - as a verb. It's about them. THEY have loved us. They have shown us immense warmth and generosity, and authentic concern for our well-being. Two years ago, the first day we walked into the church, a young mother greeted me with tears in her eyes - she was so overjoyed to have us. Those first weeks, so many parishioners dropped off baking, cards, fruit, flowers, bicycles, gift cards and other tokens of welcome and openness. Shortly after we arrived, a younger widow, noticing that Rich had not brought a suit with him, gave him the suit that had belonged to her beloved late husband. When Joseph was born, it felt like he was the whole parish's new baby. When he was sick, that feeling was even more pronounced. There are still parishioners who lovingly pray for him every day, even though he is doing so well now. Yes, they have loved us - and it is a sign of who they are, not of what we are. I will of course miss all the astonishing natural beauty, but the beauty of the human spirit matches even the most breathtaking vistas. The hard goodbyes will be to people.