Monday, December 30, 2013

Swallowed at Sandy Bay

2013 done and dusted. Almost.

2014 is a less than 5 hours away as I write this blog and soon we will cross the threshold into a new year.  The clock waits for no one, so it pays to be ready for this shift in history's timeline.
The agenda for today: RELAX.   What can be more invigorating and soothing at the same time than a day at the beach?!  With dramatic coastlines and warmer waters up here in the northern part of the north island, we have no shortage of good surfing spots.   In my car, well- stocked with food, water, and my "has-seen-better-days" boogie-board, we made our way to Sandy Bay to enjoy some fun in the sun.

And that we did! The day was clear and the surf was good, albeit full of seaweed.  Most waves were good for catching, and thanks to the help of a friend who has a keen eye for rip currents, we enjoyed the power of the ocean. 

And then. ..  .as often happens just when you think you're getting comfortable . . . a series of larger-than-expected waves came upon us like a brick wall.  The "wall" hit!  Right on it's heel came another one, followed by another, leaving no time to recover.  The merciless waves swallowed everyone in their path, driving us all like torpedoes into the sand.

In an instant I found myself tumbled and tangled, churning like laundry in a dryer, with no time to catch a breath or discern which way was up.  I'm a strong swimmer and have learned over the years how to avoid such predicaments on most occasions, but today all of us found ourselves finally emerging with sore necks, and bellies  full of salt water..  .which was soon regurgitated.  :-)

In the middle of the underwater tornado, realizing that it was going to be a while before I stopped spinning and saw the blue sky above,  a sense of reassurance came over me.  There was no reason to panic; this WAS going to end sometime. It HAD to!  I just needed to relax and ride it out with two goals in mind:
 1) don't break your neck; 2) don't swallow any more sea water!

Time and again the waves of the sea have been my teacher.  Perhaps today's incident couldn't have been more timely.  Here are a few lessons:

 1) Comfort.  Cruise-control. Auto-pilot. These can be the enemies of growth and the cause of way too much unnecessary pain. 

Dear friend who is "riding a wave" now.
2)  2014 is nearly here and like the waves of the sea, it will come with power and be pregnant with possibilities, joys and hardships.  If we are too comfortable and unprepared, it will swallow us whole and spit us out in 2015 with nothing more than sore bodies and fractured hearts to show for it.

On the contrary, if we anticipate the strong surges that are bound to come in the form of temptations, death, disease, and difficult decisions, we will have strategies to cope with them when they do arrive.  If we are prepared to "catch" them under our feet like a surfer riding the crest, they will be our servant, helping us ride long and strong safely to shore.

But even if we find ourselves spinning and a bit frightened, we will know to call on our Heavenly Father whose Spirit is within all who believe in Jesus Christ, and he will give us the guts and the wherewithal to  come out on the other side standing firmly on our feet . . .and with great stories to tell!

Be encouraged friends.  Waves were meant to be ridden!

2014 is coming.  Get ready to jump on board!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Tale of Two Families" Christmas Greetings from New Zealand!

Nga mihi o te Kirihimete ki a koe!
For those of you not so well-versed in Te Reo Maori (the Maori language), that means "Merry Christmas to you!"  I consider myself an extremely blessed woman 365 days a year, but this Christmas I feel even more so.  Though my natural-born family shivers in the cold without me 10,000 miles across the Pacific (and I miss them so much that it hurts!), the Lord has blessed me with a FANTASTIC Kiwi family here in New Zealand.

This is now my third consecutive Chistmas in New Zealand and each year I am more and more in awe of the kindness of God shown to me through His people.  Throughout my time here I have never lacked support, encouragement, care, practical resources, and a good dose of laughter!  The sharing of experiences unique to life here in Aotearoa has forged between us a special bond, for which I am very grateful.

In the USA right now my family is grieving the sudden loss of my uncle and dealing with the added stresses that come from handling these types of situations around the holidays.  While I hate being so far from home during times like this, God has sent his love once again through my network of friends and "family" here, so that I am assured I am not alone.  And because I know that God answers the prayers of the faithful, I am confident that He is upholding my family in the USA even as we pray for them from all the way over here in NZ.

The last two days I've enjoyed Christmas festivities with two different families in Whangarei, each with their own unique ways of doing things.  Most people only celebrate Christmas once; I get it twice!  (Which now means I need to do twice the exercise to burn off all that great pavlova, ham, cake, kumara, etc.  He he!)

Please enjoy some photos from my Kiwi Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Twelve Days of Christmas" - Kiwi Style

The classic "Twelve Days of Christmas" song is heard by millions every year on local radio stations and in shopping malls around the western world.  Carolers sing of oddities like maids milking, swans swimming, turtle doves and of course the partridge in a pear tree.

Here in New Zealand, however, this song has taken on a new form.  Let me enlighten you to the well-known Kiwi version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas"

"On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
Twelve piupius swinging
Eleven haka lessons
Ten juicy fish heads
Nine sacks of pipis
Eight plants of puha
Seven eels a swimming
Six pois a twirling
Five - big - fat - pigs !
Four huhu grubs
Three flax kits
Two kumara
And a pukeko in a ponga tree!"

Whichever version you fancy, there is a deeper meaning behind each seemingly nonsensical item mentioned.  This song was used in the 1500s to teach Catholic children in England the basic tenants of the faith when it was not in fashion to be Catholic.  For example, the "eleven pipers piping" represents eleven disciples who remained faithful to Christ.  The "eight maids a milking" symbolize the eight Beatitudes as mentioned in the book of Matthew in the Bible.  The list goes on and on. The culmination of it all, depicted by the "partridge in a pear tree", is God's greatest gift, the one that is more superior than all the rest, Jesus Christ his Son.

So. . .the next time you find yourself out of breath trying to sing all twelve verses of the song, just remember that you are actually participating in an age-old tradition with significant meaning.  And once you catch your breath, try the Kiwi version and pray for New Zealand.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Surf and Turf with the Teens

School is officially out and the young ones among us are on summer holidays.  With all this spare time, what is a kid to do?  What a dilemma, eh?
 Our Rock Solid team was blessed with access to funding that allowed us to take 50 intermediate students on a 3 day holiday programme, enjoying surf and turf of the Northland, and exposing them to the love and design of the Creator God. 

We had the privilege of sharing brief devotionals each days with the kids and engaging in meaningful conversations on the long van rides to and fro.  For some of these teens, the world is very dark and undesirable place.  But for 3 days, light-filled seeds were planted in hearts and minds as the kids were cared for and conversed with by our wonderful team of leaders. 

 I've really enjoyed my involvement with 11-14 year olds the last 2.5 years here in New Zealand.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gymnastics End of Year/ Christmas Show!

Many people and experiences bring a smile to my face and are reasons why I enjoy life here in Whangarei.  One of those is teaching gymnastics!  I am grateful to have been welcomed into the wonderful coaching staff at Whangarei Academy of Gymnastics for the last two years.
 In a city with high unemployment and a struggling economy, I am well aware that I am truly blessed to have a job that I enjoy, in a field in which I have work experience, and one which allows me space to continue serving as pastor.

Last night our gym celebrated the   success of the last 12 months with our annual End-of-Year/ Christmas Display.  Even us coaches gave the audience a good laugh with our own little gig!

Enjoy some photos.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Caroling at the Rest Home

This blog is a great platform for bragging on the wonderful folks with whom I learn and serve here in New Zealand!  Just yesterday our church fellowship enjoyed an afternoon of Christmas caroling at one of our local rest homes.   An old 1923 gramophone even made an appearance and played some classic  Bing Crosby Christmas hits!  Here are a few photos from the big day. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Confused Christmas or a Holy Escape?

In case you have just arrived from another planet, allow me to draw your attention to the fact that the Advent season is in full swing.  This is a precious time of year when we have the opportunity, if we'll take it, to recalibrate our hearts and center our thoughts on the Son of God who came to earth to make us children of God.

It's not just us adults that need a refocus during this season, a holy escape from the rat race that we've made life to be.  Have you ever considered that children need that sacred re-adjustment too?  How does our hurried lifestyle affect the youngest among us?  Is it possible that our fast-paced, not to mention increasingly secular and post-modern, culture has confused our kids?

Before I go any further, let me give you your first Christmas gift:

You now have permission to SLOW DOWN.

. . .And while you're in the process of slowing down, make sure to read to the end of this blog.  :-)

The last week has been filled with end-of-year festivities and holiday gatherings here in Whangarei.  December marks the end of the academic year in New Zealand and the beginning of summer. Our 2013 Rock Solid youth club came to a conclusion last night with a big feast and farewell.  Just days before that, I said a sad good-bye to my students at the local primary school to whom I've taught Bible for the past two years.  Many of them will advance to intermediate school next year. Next Tuesday gymnastics will come to a halt for the summer break.  If we're not careful, the Advent season will be nothing more than a blur and we'll arrive at Christmas day, thankful to have just survived it.

There is a different way.
 It is my intention with our Kids Club to show the children a different way by creating meaningful experiences for  Advent and answering some of those age old questions revolving around our beloved Christmas traditions.  There are even some myths that need a bit of debunking so that unnecessary and faulty thinking can be cast aside, making space for the truth that God has indeed incarnated himself on our behalf.  This requires intentionality and a slower pace of life.

Some of the questions that we are considering over the next few weeks are:

  • Why do we call it Christmas?
  • When was Jesus actually born?
  • What about Christmas trees?
  • Who is St. Nicholas and how did he become Santa Claus?
  • Why is Christmas such a big deal?
  • Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
  • What are the "12 Days of Christmas" all about?
 Once the question is presented, we give the kids an opportunity to share their guesses before diving into a bit of scripture and history.
 While their responses may be cute and quirky, clearly, we've got some confused kids.
You'll notice that many answers are a messy combination of Easter, Christmas, folk religion, and popular trends.

Q:  When was Jesus born?
A: " I think Jesus is reborn each year.  He died on the cross, came back to life, and is reincarnated into a baby each year."

 Q: Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
A:  "Jesus comes and puts presents under your Christmas tree."
      "We give people gifts because those two rich guys  gave Jesus fancy gifts when he was born."

 Q:  Why is Christmas such a big deal?
A: "Christmas is all about being with family and being nice to people."

 The cuteness wears off quickly when you realize that these responses come not only from young 5 year olds, but from 12-13 year olds who should know better.

Confused kids.

 But let's not be so hard on the kids. I dare say that some adults would come up with equally misguided answers, only disguised in more sophisticated, intelligent-sounding adult language. 

 And even louder than words from our mouth are the answers to these questions that our lifestyle broadcasts.  Are we communicating that Christmas is a big deal because materialism and Black Friday have made it that way?   Do our motives say that we give gifts because altruism makes us feel good about ourselves?  Do our calendars expose our belief that in order to do the season justice we must over cram our schedules, engage in gluttony, and watch as many holiday films as possible?  

Confused adults. 

Where is Jesus in all of this?

Here's the challenge for me. .. for you.    Take the family on a holy escape.   Settle in with the good Book and a hot cup of tea, and have a chat with the Son of God who came to make you a child of God.