Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud

Brown's Bay

It’s January 21st – my birthday!

January 21st has other meaning in my life too.  Six years ago – six years ago today – I was on an airplane headed to New Zealand for six months.  The time in New Zealand had been years in the making, starting with a distinct calling to go there.  It was as if God attached my heart to an arrow and flung it at the country and kept the tether tight, pulling me ever closer.  Reeling me in.

New Zealand was in my dreams, it occupied my thoughts and daydreams, too.  But for years, the doors to go were slammed, dead bolted shut.

And then they opened.  They opened wide and fast, and within a few months I was there.  I worked with a Christan family-help organization.  It helps families in crisis, and helps families avoid crisis.  Even a place as beautiful as New Zealand cannot stamp out ugliness.  There is domestic violence and teen suicide and a lot of drug abuse.

I’ll tell you more about New Zealand someday.  I could talk about it for hours.  But until then, here is an excerpt of a blog post written six years ago, just a few days after I arrived.  (The pictures are from throughout my trip).

Doubtful Sound

Flying into NZ was amazing.  The seemingly endless Tasman Sea was streaked with long lines of clouds.  But then the clouds began to change shape.  Now they were curved, mimicking the shape of the unseen coast line.  And then, without warning, imposing fingers of land – untamed cliffs covered in emerald green grass – jutted out of the sea.

And there it was.  New Zealand – my New Zealand.  The New Zealand that God whispered into my ear four years ago.  Beautiful pasture dotted by the occasional house.  Green fields segmented by British-looking hedges. I could see it with my eyes and soon it would be beneath my feet.

My first thought was from Rilke’s Poem (I, 19 from his Book of Hours) where he writes from God’s perspective:

I Am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

 I am the dream you are dreaming
When you want to awaken, I am that wanting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.

The dream is a reality, and I am standing on its soil.

That first night, as I lay in bed and thought about the hours I spent crossing seas to get here, I was struck by how small this little island is compared to the massive oceans.  I felt very exposed and vulnerable.  Maybe even scared.  This little blip of green in a mass of blue between Australia and Chile is very far from home.

I live with Paula and her three children: Daniel (9), Dominic (“nearly 7”) and Kristin (4).  They have been incredibly accommodating as I adjust to many things.

Having everything so different all at once is a bit of a shock – I guess that’s why they call it culture shock.  It is all so different, but I like it, and I know that in time it will be home and I will be sad to leave.

And it’s true.  I was sad to leave.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel that tether, that I don’t long for my New Zealand, my New Zealand routine, my New Zealand usuals like perfect coffee and tea and chocolate and fruit.  I miss how skinny I got from having to walk two miles every day between bus stops.

But most of all I miss my New Zealand family.  My throat clenches when we chat on Skype and Daniel has a man’s voice now, or when I realize that Kristin is the age that Daniel was when I was there.  I miss Paula, who became one of the most important and beloved people in my life.  I don’t call them as much as I should.  Mostly because when I do, the tether grows tight again in those moments.  It is equal parts joy and pain.

That tether, that arrow.  It still pins down a chunk of my heart that will forever be tied to New Zealand, or as the native Maori call it, Aotearoaland of the long white cloud.

New Zealand | www.accidentalokie.com

Dear Fifteen Year Old Me

me

This is me in 2007 when I lived in New Zealand. Take that fifteen-year-old me.

Reading this guest post on the (amazing) blog Great Smitten, by my friend Liz at Lark and Bloom caused me to examine my own sneaky dreams.

. . . . . . . . . .

If I were to look at my life today from the eyes of my fifteen-year-old self, I would consider myself a failure.

I lived in California from the time I was seven years old until I was 15.  Surf boards and eucalyptus trees and stucco homes with red tile roofs were the setting of my foundational years.  We learned about the gold rush (not the land run and not the Alamo), and we created alternative uses for the word like.

San Diego is where I fell in love with the sea.  It’s where I tracked out the course of my life to be a marine mammal biologist.  It’s where I actually got to work with dolphins.  It’s where I whale watched and cataloged tide pools.

I was passionate about my life goals.  My gung-ho fifteen-year-old self foolishly believed that all the people around me had once also desired to be marine mammal biologists, but they had let their dreams slip away and now they were shadow people – not doing the things they loved, settling for mediocrity.  I despised mediocrity.

I took loads of aptitude tests and every one of them came back saying my talents were in writing and design.  Every one was wrong, and I knew it.  My talents were in science and math.  Now, I never actually excelled in science and math, but I knew that somewhere deep down inside of me was a wellspring of left-brained brilliance. Besides, aptitude tests measured aptitude.  They didn’t measure passion, and I had loads of that.

It wouldn’t be until my senior year of high school that I finally reached my rude awakening and realized I would never be a marine mammal biologist.  I was a writer, not a scientist.  I was made to tell stories, not write grant proposals and analyze data.  I traded my childhood dreams for my real aptitudes.

New dreams evolved.  Now I was going to be a high-powered writer and wear expensive suits and drive a BMW.  Or I was going to live in the country and write in my romantic manor, just like in Under the Tuscan Sun.

Never in my dreams did I picture the reality of the giant student loan payments that came with my private college education, loving a low-paying job doing public relations for a non-profit, saving for months to spend a weekend in a cabin in Arkansas, and suburbia – my old idealistic self saw the suburbs as failure.  But here I am.  That is my life.

And it is a very sweet life.

I am blessed with the greatest husband, an amazing community, a little business and good job where I get to do good.  I have fabulous parents who still provide wisdom and a sister who stuns me with her photographic memory and heart of gold.  And me, the little girl who longed for a brother, now has four brothers-in-law.  I have family near and far and a passport with stamps and a master’s degree.  The Professor and I are learning Italian in hopes of going someday.  And I have a great little house in suburbia (thank you very much).  I’m not out lighting the world on fire, but we support missionaries who are fighting child trafficking, and we’re saving money so that one day we can have our own kiddos.

Yep, fifteen-year-old me would be so utterly disappointed.  Fifteen-year-old me would pronounce me mediocre.  Fifteen-year-old me sometimes haunts me and teases me and whispers in my ear that I’m a failure and that my world is small and my contribution meaningless.  But fifteen-year-old me had no idea what she was talking about and had the smallest, most narrow view of success.

Dear fifteen-year-old me, I still hate mediocrity.  I just have a better definition of it than you did.

What does your fifteen-year-old self tell you?