Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Garden.

I read a book the other day that said, "Everything important had happened in a garden... God created the garden for man and placed him in it. Adam and Eve fell into sin in a garden. Jesus taught in a garden. Our Lord prayed in a garden. He was betrayed in a garden. And He arose in a garden..." I think this is why I like gardens so much. In some way I think being in nature - the mountains, the beach, the plains, anywhere that modern technology is far gone - this is where there is peace, life, and for me, the ability to connect with God. I spent Monday learning the history of NZ in the Canterbury Museum, then I strolled through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens - my favorite by far! It was an overcast chilly day in late afternoon, and the wind was making its presence known, not in a frustrating makes-you-want-to-bundle-up-tighter kind of way but in a brace-yourself-and-put-your-face-into-it kind of way. The kind of wind that fills you, gives you energy. The magnificent trees swished and swayed in a way that commanded attention. Even with the sun covered in clouds, the colors of the flowers and shrubs shone with glory. I found my way to the rose garden...holy cow, this was impressive! My love for roses has grown over the past couple months. Since Christchurch is a quaint city and as close to an English town as you can get without being in England, there are roses everywhere. Anyone with the slightest hint of a green thumb has several varieties spilling forth from their yards. I'll admit, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of this flower - way beyond white, red, yellow. This garden was exceptionally colorful. I found my way to a stone structure in an alcove and nestled in to read and pray.

Yesterday I hiked in a more large-scale garden, found at Hanmer Springs in the alpine forest. After a short, yet beautiful drive, I parked the car and headed up Conical Hill. I was shaded from the sun and wind by large pines on the way up. Once at the top, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the village and the surrounding mountains. As I passed the time up here listening to some new music and reading, I looked out to see a storm heading in. In the distance, ominous clouds slowly rolled in over the tops of the mountain peaks. Once back in the village, I was assured by a few locals that driving home would be no problem - and that I should stay and soak in the thermal pools that Hanmer Springs is known for. I consented and dipped in the warm steaming naturally-heated water while cold rain threatened all around - it was nature's hot tub! Pressing my luck as far as I felt comfortable, I then headed back home so I wouldn't be driving in the dark. Oh to have this at my fingertips forever! This amazing scenery is within hours of these NZ residents. I'm already thinking of where and how to take advantage of what the US has to offer upon my return.

As for Christmas Day, it did end up being a Christmas to remember. I ushered in the day with a candlelit Christmas Eve service. Then Christmas morning I went to two services at the Anglican Cathedral in the centre city. It was a unique experience for me as it's not tradition in our family and the church is unlike anything I'm used to. The boys' choir sang beautiful and slightly eerie melodies, we partook of communion, the large congregation sang traditional carols (with a NZ accent), and we recited lots of stuff - admittedly, I found this a bit annoying, and I felt a bit detached from God. It was neat to do all this in the large cathedral with a massive Christmas tree and stained-glass windows, though. And after the service they rang the bells. I can now officially say "I heard the bells on Christmas Day." I then joined a family for lunch and gift exchange, took a quick nap, then joined another family for their Christmas dinner. This included the traditional Christmas crackers (a cardboard tube wrapped in festive paper and twisted to resemble an oversized candy, you pull one side as the person seated beside you pulls the other end resulting in a loud pop and a treat spilling out with a tissue paper crown which everyone dons for the duration of the meal), turkey and the fixin's, summer dishes, and Christmas pudding complete with charms baked in it (in our case, coins from different countries around the world that we were to pray for). It was a lovely day, albeit no amount of hospitality replaces that of family. I missed them dearly, but was grateful for a phone call to my brother and skype time with the rest the following day.

Ok, enough rambling!  Happy New Year everyone!

Note: book quote from Francine River's Leota's Garden - I highly highly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Gonna Be A Christmas To Remember...

Truer words have never been sung.  It's already Christmas Eve for me (yeah, I get to experience everything before you guys by about 18 hours) and this morning I was listening to some music while eating breakfast.   It happened to be 8:15 am and I heard Amy Grant's voice streaming through with those lyrics.  I'll be honest - it brought tears.  Then tears again at 8:45.  I knew they would come.  I almost welcome them - it means I'm alive, I'm feeling.  And I always learn something through them.  I say this not make you feel sorry for me or to get you to think I'm having a miserable Christmas - because that wouldn't be true.  It's a great Christmas, just very different.  For the first time, I'm away from family, in a country that celebrates this holiday in summer.  I've learned a bit though the experience - being by myself significantly opens me up to self-reflection time.  It has made me increasingly more grateful for my family - and all the great memories I have of Christmases past.

I've also reflected on the first Christmas - Jesus' birth.  I had new respect for Mary this morning - as I face the day with no family around, it's hard to not feel a little bit lonely.  Even if you're around people, it's just not the same as family.  But Mary - man, she had it rough.  Later on in my music listening time, I heard "Breath of Heaven/Mary's song."  Her words "I am waiting in a silent prayer/ I am frightened by the load I bear/ In a world as cold as stone/ Must I walk this path alone?"  I might feel alone, but it's nothing compared to what Mary was feeling.

I also have new respect for missionaries.  A lot of the ones I know are in summer season this time of year as well.  And of course they're away from their families.  I've thought about it before, but it's something different to experience it.  Gives me more to think about in upcoming Christmases - prayer for missionaries, being more aware of those who don't have family or a "home" to go to.  It's means heaps to me that families - people I'd never met until last month - are opening their homes up to me during this season.  So, all that to say it will certainly be a Christmas to remember...a good Christmas to remember.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Love the Lord's Timing.

Wait, did I just say that?  Yes, it's true.  Sure there are times when impatience gets the best of me.  But right now, in what the Lord is revealing, I am aware that His timing is flawless.  And I do so love to see a plan come together!  The past few days have been lovely, but I wasn't aware of the events coming together to reveal one of God's truths, something in which I needed to be reminded.

I've been reading a couple books, of which I was just about to finish.  I knew that on Friday the family I was living with would be heading to the States for 5 weeks, giving me lots of time to read.  I had the weekend all planned - I didn't care if I didn't get anything done save spending ample time on the couch with a few good books and some Christmas movies (I felt a bit like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday when she gets to her quaint little home for a getaway).  But what books?  Thursday my answer came.  I received a package of two books from my dad.  Perfect!  I would spend the weekend lost in a book.  Soon after taking the family to the airport, I began my weekend of recluse.  The past couple weeks I've also been listening to a sermon podcast series, taking my time listening to it, savoring every minute.  I had put off listening to the next sermon because I liked the feeling of knowing it was still coming - when I listened to it, it would be over, and I'd have to wait until the next week to hear the next one.  So I was saving it (I do this with clothes too - when I get knew clothes I like to save them for a couple weeks, looking forward to that moment of wearing them...I like the anticipation, I guess).  I had intended to listen to it Friday, but found myself busy with other things - finishing a prior book I was reading, and watching one of my Christmas favorites, Home Alone (it was, afterall, my first night home alone).  Next came Saturday - the day I started a new book, the day I listened to the next sermon, the day I had my hope rekindled in an unexpected way.

God spoke through the words in the book, the words of the sermon.  I was a bit blindsided, not even realizing that I needed this hope.  But as the day progressed, I became keenly aware of a few areas of my life that I trusted God with, but in which my hope had dwindled.  Hope is so important.  It keeps our hearts fresh and alive.  When we hope, we have dreams, we live with expectancy - expectancy that God will do great things.  On the contrary, a life without hope is dead.  The Bible speaks of it often.  On Friday as I read His Word, He brought me to Romans 15:13 - "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  He was prepping me here, bringing hope to my attention.  Then Saturday I read Hebrews 10:23 - "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."  And today, 1 Corinthians 2:9 - " eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."  How exciting is that?  I don't know about you, but that makes me hopeful, expectant of good things.  So I started Sunday with a newfound hope, an excitement of God's plans - grateful even that He doesn't reveal them ahead of time.  Where's the fun in that?  And what a perfect time for rekindled hope, with Christmas Day approaching - a day we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the One who gave us hope in a world torn apart, the One who became hope for us, the One who rekindles our hope.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Four Seasons in One Day...Oh, I Believe It!

As I sit here typing this morning, I am in the company of the glowing Christmas tree (adorned with Santas and American flag ribbon - refer to pic in last post) and the tunes of all my favorite Christmas songs. I've got a steaming hot mug of tea with a splash of milk. I'm left with my thoughts as the family has gone to do their last-minute shopping. Time seems to be standing still. Do you ever have moments you wish you could pause? This is one of those.

I woke up yesterday to a bright sunny warm day. The forecast, however, warned of a brooding storm. So, of course, I ventured into the city to nestle into a warm cozy coffee shop to watch it all unfold. I was not disappointed. Clouds quickly rolled in, followed by massive wind gusts. Sideways rain pelted the buses, cars, and pedestrians as they bustled about. Couldn't have been a more perfect scene. As the chill grew outside, I was all the more thankful for the warmth found just on my side of the large window in front of me. Minutes later the sun shone through and the wind calmed. Still minutes later, it all rose up again and made people scurry for cover. On a cold, overcast, rainy day, the light on street signs and restaurants has a glow that is warm and alive, inviting - particularly in this holiday season. I soaked up this warmth and life as I rode the bus through the streets, even enjoying the walk/run in the rain from the bus stop to our house. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

Weather like this proves what everyone says about Christchurch: "You'll easily experience four seasons in a day!" I guess being along the coast of a small island rich with mountains in close proximity to contrasting plains will result in this phenomenon. I quite like it. It keeps you guessing. It provides me with warm sunny vibrant hours, cherishing the feeling as friends and family entertain winter at home, and then there are still the windy rainy cold hours to remind me of winter and everything familiar in December. The winds play a crucial role in the weather scene here. The Nor'easter, the Nor'west Arch, Southeasterly, and Southwesterly. Being on the Southern Hemispere, the south winds are cold, north winds are nice and warm - particularly the Nor'westerly, dumping all the rain on the West Coast as it travels over the South Island leaving hot dry winds for Christchurch. I love the Nor'west Arch, but apparently it makes people go crazy - something like a full moon. There is more crime as people get moody and crazy. Not sure why I love the wind - maybe it's because I associate wind with storms, there's an expectancy, a feeling of things to come. Maybe I'm just crazy. Whatever the reason, I'm not ashamed to admit I love the wind and the energy it brings.

Well, the family is home. Time is no longer standing still. I'm off to see their purchases and seize the day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!

The tree is up, the decorations hung, and while Thanksgiving Day did little to remind me of the holiday season, I have better hopes for Christmas. The warm weather (it's summer here!) will try to throw me off course, but I am equipped with a glowing Christmas tree, It's A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, a city full of tinsel and Christmas cake, and enough Christmas music to last a whole year. It will for certain be different than any December 25th I've experienced, but I am eager to check out some churches, see where I can volunteer, and feel the warmth of family and friends as they send their love (via skype :) and gather together back home.

After a few weeks of tenaciously playing the hunt and wait game that job-searching involves, I took a couple days to see more of this beauty-filled country before hunkering down and working. Two days in the West Coast with my homestay family was no disappointment! Driving through the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps via Arthur's Pass was undoubtedly breathtaking and only slightly nail-biting. We traveled through one lane bridges - sometimes shared with trains as well - over braided rivers, hugged the curves as we met campervan after campervan, and searched for music to fit the mood of the ever-changing weather. After checking in to our beachside motel and placing our complimentary milk jug in the fridge (what would tea be without milk?!?!), we drove off to all the family's favorite spots. In just over 24 hours, we searched for greenstone on Nine Mile Beach, tramped our way through a hidden path to a secret beach to watch the tide, slipped and slid around Punakaiki Cavern, and had a bonfire on the beach complete with sausages, smores (NZ-style), and our own set of fireworks. We also spotted a fair share of livestock, walked across the swinging bridge in the rain at Hokitika Gorge, did some adrenaline-pumping off-roading, and spotted the most beautiful rainbows nestled in the mountain peaks on the way home. A few firsts happened on this trip: I discovered the goodness of Jaffas - a orange candy-coated chocolate that tastes just like a Sixlet (my favorite childhood candy) only bigger and definitely more mouth-satisfying; I sat around a fire on the beach (glorious!); and tried the rich and creamy Manuka honey that NZ prides itself on. Two days of jam-packed fun!

To continue feeding the thrill-seeking adventurous spirit that invades every visitor in this island of a country, I went for a white water rafting trip down the Rangitata River yesterday. It was my first time on Grade 5 rapids and to experience that with the backdrop of the Gorge (also the backdrop for the scene of Edoras in The Lord of the Rings) was enough to make my heart rate rise to a wild level. In three hours of rafting, we had the opportunity to jump off a 3 meter cliff and a 9 meter cliff. And since I've embraced the motto "Do it now, you'll never get the chance again!" I jumped off of both. Being in a wetsuit kept me warm so the chill of the glacial water wasn't as shocking as the fact of knowing I was swimming in untamable rapid water! (I'm front, right in the raft below...)

Enough thrill for one week, well, a few days anyway. Back to reading, journaling, and hopefully starting a job in a few days. Speaking of reading, I've been delving into Scripture - experiencing it in a new way - discovering again the lives of the apostles, the accounts of their journeys as they spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus. As I read the other day, it hit me that the Bible is the same as it was a thousand years ago, the same as it will be in another 200 years. As we read it, God speaks through the same stories over and over - often offering reminders of hope, guidance, encouragement, and sometimes new lessons are revealed. So when I'm frustrated with myself for needing to learn the same lessons over and over, I can see that God knew that would happen - so He provided Scripture to remind me over and over. It's unchanging, but always relevant. He's unchanging, but always just what I need. That doesn't mean I should settle for learning the same lessons over, but I can rest in knowing God expects it and loves me in the midst of that.