Dear Kayla-the-High-School-Graduate,

I can see you at your kitchen table, surrounded by that pile of leis. You’re systematically opening each envelope, shocked when you find another wad of cash. Darling, it’s high school graduation. People give you money. Enjoy it. 

But not this envelope, sorry. I know it’s thick—I tried so hard to keep it short. But I also know you at 17. You complain when your books are too short. So even though you’re rushing to your final Makua Lani grad party—I know you’ll be reading every word. I’d be curious, too, hearing from my future self. What’s that one word of advice? We’ll get to it.

First—let me share a little bit about your next decade. 

You already know you’re moving to New Zealand. I know it seems like it’s too good to be true—but darling, I want you to know it happens. It really does. You’re going to arrive on a bright summer morning and never want to leave. But more on leaving and staying, in a moment.

You’re going to love university. Your house with the gable windows, walking across Moffat Road to class, learning to be a primary teacher from the best educators in the country. You’ll make friends on your first day who you will renovate houses with, a decade later. Assignments will be hard work. But you’ll pass with flying colours. 

And yes, that’s colours, not colors. You’ll learn a lot of Kiwi culture while you’re at it. Because even though your parents are Kiwis and you’ve visited New Zealand all your life, you’re still pretty American. You’ll feel out of place. But that culture shock is going to propel you into the deepest belonging you’ve ever known. (Go with “cultural identity” for your Ideals essay, you’ll thank me later).

Right now, you don’t think you’ll ever be apart of YWAM. You always wanted to be a missionary. It’s painful to let go of that dream, I know. You prayed, and felt to go to university. But trust me—you discovering you are successful by obeying God—is invaluable for your seasons ahead. (But please, keep hanging out at YWAM Bethlehem and the House of Prayer).

And when all of your classmates are applying for teaching jobs, and you are offered one yourself, please go for that walk across the Bethlehem College field to pray. And when you hear, “I will provide the place of belonging before the doing”—and “stay in Tauranga”—don’t doubt. Stay.

I mean, there’s so much more to say. About how choosing to stay means you do become a missionary, and during those five years you rediscover your dreams to be an author and artist. And you go on those adventures you always wanted. You skip along the streets of Paris. You hike the Himalayas. You fly to England and place forget-me-nots on C.S. Lewis’ grave.

Then during a global pandemic (oh, don’t worry about that now), you’ll decide to pay off your student loans. You’ll stay in New Zealand, and settle down in one of the most crazy adventures of all—preschool teaching.

But I want to circle back to that one word: stay. 

I know, at this moment, sitting at your kitchen table, “stay” isn’t attractive. And it shouldn’t be, not now. You’ve spent 18 years of your life in Hawaii, and you should be impatient, ready to leave.

But don’t ever make leaving a habit.

Staying is something you didn’t always see, living on an island people couldn’t wait to escape. And people leaving was the norm, growing up in an international missions movement. 

Yet this is my one word of advice: stay

Stay in that city, stay in that flat, stay in that church, stay in that job—at least for a little while longer. Especially those moments you want to leave the most. Press through. Press on. 

Yes, you’ll have moments where you need to leave. Those will be painful and exhilarating all at the same time. But more often than not? You will find what you’re longing for—when you choose to stay on the path you’re on. 

Oh, it’s going to be hard. Wild, of course.

But it’s going to be far more beautiful than you could ever dream.

Much love,

May 2021
Tauranga, New Zealand

P.S. I regret to inform you that you’re not married yet. That topic deserves another letter. Just kidding. It will be a novel. Trilogy, probably. Nah, a full-blown Netflix series. You’re welcome.