There was a moment in the latter half of last year where I ambled along a windy country path that looked like it was straight out of Pride and Prejudice. Silver ferns fanned out above my head, maples stood as sentinels at the foot of hills. Poplars and pines whispered hello to the wind– all these trees, an inherent part of my New Zealand life, and so different from my childhood on a tropical island covered in palm trees. My friend Hannah had shown this spot to me on one of our walks, and since then I had become well-acquainted with its twists and turns, its quiet and calm, in short– its beauty.
One particular occasion, I had the opportunity to become well-aquainted with the concept “pierced by beauty”. I turned a bend– the one where the Bethlehem hills and Kaimai Ranges beyond come into view, with its rich green cloaked by afternoon mist hovering above the Wairoa River. You have to understand, this was only ten minutes walk from my house of three years. For that, I started to cry.
You gave me what I always wanted, I breathed to God as I glanced all around me– my childhood dreams in full reality. People who grow up in Hawaii don’t hope for warm weather and dry tropical scenery. No, we dream of Pride and Prejudice countryside and Anne of Green Gables farmhouses– well, at least I did– especially when my family heritage was full of stories of 19th century England, and ship journeys to the mountain-laden Aotearoa. Growing up, we visited in New Zealand often– but I always wanted it to be home, to be somewhere I could come and stay. That quiet country walks could be everyday life, and not just in my books or a holiday every two years.
So, pierced by loveliness, I realised how God had given me the longings of my childhood heart. Even now, when I look out my kitchen window at my new house, and see blue sky and green hills dotted with sheep? I am in this state of shock. He cared. He was listening when I felt like no one knew that I sometimes felt like a foreigner as a kid, and I wanted something more than the world’s tropical dream of Hawaii. He knew I wanted to be in New Zealand. And He always wanted to make a home for me here.
Yet moving countries was not always this pretty, that moment of beauty last year was only so sweet because of the three years that were also riddled with emotional vulnerability, cultural misunderstanding, and pain from being so far away from my childhood home. The fulfilment of my desires didn’t mean that everything would be easy, as I have learned well in New Zealand. However, what it did mean is that my heart would come alive.
You’re familiar with that rugged feeling of not knowing what you want to do with your life. The terrible tension of trust and worry, obedience and fear, as you step out into your future. It takes a lot of guts and courage to jump out into the unknown. Yet you might not realize how difficult it is to know what you want to do with your life, too.
–When Obedience is Counter-Cultural (March 15, 2014)
I typed this in a blog post a year ago, wrestling with the fact that God had called me to New Zealand for university– even though I had grown up in a world where entering into full-time missions was the norm. I had been worn out by my own previous assumptions that YWAM was the only path for me, and that following God only looked like DTS. However, the main reason that I did not do DTS, and was not planning on it, was that God had told me specifically not to, and called me to attend BTI. Despite the academic workload and long days in the classroom, I started to realise that I loved primary teaching– and obedience in the season of BTI meant I was counter-cultural to what I had grown up with in YWAM.
Yet, although I knew I wanted to be a teacher, I had little idea of what the following year would bring. As my senior year continued on and job applications became a reality, I also was faced with “that rugged feeling of not knowing”. With flashbacks of a summer in Newcastle, Australia and snippets of YWAM life at my church, Hope Centre– I realised I was still ruined for the ordinary and missions was still pulsing through my veins. How do I apply for jobs that make me want to die inside? But as I did, God conquered fear of failure with every CV turned into primary school offices.
Most of you know the story, I felt to stay in Tauranga (despite everyone’s talk of how little jobs were there) and returned after Christmas in Hawaii, jobless. Yet I held on to God’s clear word: I will provide you a place of belonging before the doing. I then found myself amidst a YWAM team serving by teaching two primary-aged girls, with families and community that filled starving places in my previously-lonely heart. We dreamed of a school one day, as week by week I would have one-on-ones with Matt and Cora, praying and uncovering my heart, discovering places that needed healing as we all have.
In New Zealand, God has been fulfilling childhood dreams, so much so that I could see myself here for a long time.
Yet as my heart slowly emerged out of its winter,
it started chattering about teenage dreams.
I still remember that Australian winter morning vividly, when I woke up to a world engulfed in mist after a fortnight straight of cloudless skies. Coming from Hawaii, where clouds creep from the mountains every afternoon, Newcastle’s endless blue shocked me. Can you spot any clouds?! I wondered for the whole of my two-week trip. Then? My last morning, I glanced down the Lewis House hallway– now shocked to see nothing but fog out the window. With my emotions equally heavy, I almost felt comforted that the neighbourhood empathised. It knows… as I hugged goodbye to newfound friends and rediscovered family. It knew. I was thirteen years old.
Ever since my first visit to the YWAM base in Newcastle, Australia– I would count the days, or rather, the years until I could go back. Flashcards of deja vu would follow me around, especially rapid after a visit and would continue for long after. I rationalised it well to survive the grief. Oh, I just love it because all three of my brothers did DTS there… I just love it because I found good friends… I just love it because I’m famous there… and the list goes on and on. If I ever flirted with the idea of doing DTS there, I would go back to the fact that I needed to go to university and then teach for a few years– and shouldn’t I do one in somewhere a little more “exciting”? Shouldn’t I branch out? Meanwhile, my heart screamed, No way! as I tried to focus on final assignments and job applications.
Can you just laugh with me at the irony of it for a second? It’s a sushi plateful of contradictions. I knew the common missions life, something usually deemed as “unpredictable”. Then Jesus called me to rebel against my society’s definition of success– doing a DTS. Yes, yes, getting a Bachelor of Education degree looks good to just about anyone, full-time YWAMer and your college advisor alike. But when you spend most of your childhood dreaming about which YWAM secondary school you would do first (School of Illustration or School of Photography?!) it is a bit of a shock to everyone involved when you choose a different path.
–That Unpredictable Bend in the Road (August 31, 2014)
No matter how I tried to put on the sheen of “obedient daughter of God” and pretended that I didn’t want to be a part of YWAM, I continued writing blog posts and receiving revelation that following Jesus will have an unpredictable path– whether that obedience is in YWAM or university. Yet what did He promise? He’d be with me. And He kept asking me what I wanted. Didn’t you say not to do DTS? I kept whining back to God. Don’t I have a student loan that I need to be responsible with? I fling back to him. Shouldn’t I stay in New Zealand?
“What do you want?”
And in March I found myself in the Lewis House car park with one of my best friends, during a trip that came completely out of the blue for me. I’ve never actually told Jesus that I want to live here, I cautiously admitted to Chloe. And reminiscent of a Facetime conversation last year– she made me face Jesus with my desires, just like I made her face Jesus with hers.
“I want you to live there, too,” He responded genuinely in worship during one of my last nights there. I returned back to New Zealand, back to my responsibility to teaching the girls– yet in discussion about how Matt and Cora are leading the Ships DTS in Kona in July, and how I was interested in committing to DTS (but not feeling particularly drawn to being in Kona), Cora just asked– Why don’t you pray about doing DTS in Newcastle in July?
I just cried.
“Is that possible?!”
In short, after two weeks and clear confirmation from God and release from Matt and Cora, it is decided. I’m leaving New Zealand after my BTI graduation ceremony in a few short weeks, visiting Hawaii for my brother’s wedding, and then to work for a month and a half. After that? It’s decided, I’m going to do what I always wanted to do, but what I never thought I would.
The Music & Arts DTS in Newcastle, Australia.
There was a moment in the latter half of last year where I ambled along that windy country path– the one that looked like it was straight out of Pride and Prejudice. Silver ferns fanned out above my head, maples clothed in spring stood at the foot of hills. Poplars and pines whispered their goodbyes to winter– all these trees, an inherent part of my New Zealand life, and so different from my childhood on a tropical island covered in palm trees. I thought about the various twists and turns of the path, and of my journey in life. I reflected on how Jesus had been whispering to me that the best was around the next “bend in the road”, as Anne Shirley would call it.
I glanced up, just as the path made its sharpest turn.
It was a eucalyptus tree, standing tall.
Palms may remind me of Hawaii, and poplars of New Zealand– but there’s only one place that I have stared out a train window and seen miles upon miles of eucalyptus forest.
Well, of course.
The best really is yet to come.
Photos: Last weekend’s retreat at a farm in Paengaroa, New Zealand; April 2015.