I was 18, and had every possibility you could imagine in my future. I had just finished school and I had so many options for what to do next. Maybe I would work for a year and save up to go to Bible college; maybe I would go visit my sister in New Zealand- for at least a month; maybe I would travel the world; or find a job and build my savings account; I felt like I could do anything. So when my sister sent me a message asking if I wanted to come visit her in New Zealand, I eagerly agreed to. Then she sent me another message asking me to stay for several months… even six months. I was a little hesitant… that’s a long time!
A long time to be away from my family, my friends, my church. I would miss Thanksgiving… Christmas… but I realized that spending half a year (half a year?! It sounds so long!) in another part of the world was nothing short of an amazing adventure. So I would miss Thanksgiving; but I would be at home for the next Thanksgiving, and the next, and next… and Christmas? It comes every year. I’d be home for the next Christmas, to enjoy the festive music playing in every store, abundant decorations, the smell of warm gingerbread, hot chocolate and candy canes, Christmas movies, the biting cold, and the family traditions leading up to and on the day of Christmas.
Yes, there was always the next year.
So I decided to do it- to go to New Zealand for six months. I didn’t know many people there; only my sister, her husband, and his family. I had never been to New Zealand before. I knew I wanted to go sometime, but I’d never imagined going for such a long period of time.
Having something specific to work towards gave me motivation to transition to working full time and I enjoyed seeing my savings account grow after each long week. Between work and church, I was barely home, but I didn’t mind the long hours because I really enjoyed my job as a nanny, spending time with and taking care of four precious children.
As the days passed, I started preparing for my move. Going somewhere for six months really is living there, not just visiting. I sorted through what to take and what to leave behind. Soon it was only a matter of days until I left, and I finished packing, made sure I had my passport and my visa, and anxiously awaited the day I would fly out.
Saying goodbye to my family and my friends was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Not the most difficult; that was saying goodbye the second time. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Knowing that I wouldn’t see any of them again for six months was challenging. But I knew that we would be reunited, and we vowed to keep in touch in the meantime.
If I don’t know what to expect in a situation, I go into it without any expectations, ready for whatever happens. So, without any idea what the next six months would hold, I was off. My dad and I woke up at 2:30am and he drove me to the airport. We got some breakfast, checked my bags, said goodbye, and I went through security. I’m not a huge fan of flying (which is kinda funny since I’ve been on 30+ planes!) but at least on the long flights there are movies to distract from the fact that you are travelling hundreds of miles per hour and are thousands of feet in the air. I had a layover in Hawaii, and can I just add that the airport there is prettyyyy confusing. It took me a while to figure out how to get to my gate; and what my gate even was. Once I did, I enjoyed the view of the tarmac as I waited to board my flight.
When I arrived in Auckland, my sister Adalia, her husband Ben, and his brother Jason picked me up from the airport. I can proudly say my first food in New Zealand was McDonalds… what can I say, it was late at night and when someone offers you chicken nuggets, you never say no.
It was amazing to see my sister again after 2 1/2 years, and get to know Ben better, as well as his family. Those six months were so precious, and one of my favorite things was getting to spend a week with just Adalia vacationing in Australia!
After a few weeks in New Zealand, I was surprised at how much I missed my family. It’s one thing to go away for a few days, or weeks; even when I went to Malawi and was gone for two months, I knew I would be returning home to my family where I would once again be with them every day, for years.
But when you start getting older, you realize that you might not have much time left with them. With Ben and Adalia both working, and since I only worked for a couple weeks while I was in New Zealand, the house was often empty and quiet; with thirteen siblings, I wasn’t used to that. It just made me realize how far away I was from my other siblings and my parents, and I missed each of them. Anyone who knew me for those six months could easily tell you that I was a little bit homesick, even though I was in a great church and made several amazing friends.
Realizing that the time we have together is so precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, I tried my best to enjoy each moment, both while I was in New Zealand- I have some amazing memories from those six months- and when I returned home in March. The year before, when I was in school and when I was working, I was often too busy or tired to do things with my family. After returning from New Zealand, I tried to spend more time with them. Instead of crashing in my room on the odd day I got home while it was still light outside, I would join my siblings while they watched a movie. I went jogging with Tucker. Tried to be more involved, and live with my family instead of just alongside them.
I challenge you to do the same. I know I still take things for granted at times, but I do try to slow down and appreciate all that I’ve been blessed with. Since returning to the States, I got engaged, married, and moved to New Zealand permanently (which I might add is wholly different than even moving somewhere for six months). Thankfully my friends and I have been wayyy better about actually keeping in touch this time around, and since being here, I’ve gotten to see my mom and Jubilee, and my dad, which is pretty amazing considering Adalia waited two whole years for any of us to come visit her when she moved here.
These past two years have just taught me that you may never know until after the fact that it’s the last time you’ll spend Christmas at home. The last time you’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in the fall. The last time you’ll be sipping eggnog as snowflakes fall. The last time you’ll celebrate Independence Day in the country the holiday is all about. Even things as simple as the last time you go shopping with your sister, or the last time you watch a movie with the family; you might not know.
So, are you sufficiently sad after reading that last paragraph? I’m sorry, but please let me finish. I’m not just telling you how growing up sucks. Change can be an amazing thing. (Yes I’m still trying to convince myself of that as well) And what makes it easier is fully appreciating each moment so you don’t feel like you’ve missed out. I would hate to have spent six months in New Zealand just moping around missing my family and friends in the States. If I did, I’d spend the next few months moping around thinking about how I missed my New Zealand family and friends. No, appreciate each moment and don’t look back. The past is already finished, and you can’t change it. So the best you can do is to make sure you don’t repeat the mistake you’ve made before. In this case, I made the mistake of not appreciating my family enough, and it’s a mistake I don’t want to make again- with anyone, anywhere. God has truly given me amazing family and friends, all over the world, and I’m so thankful for each one of them.
Have you been taking anything for granted lately? As Dr. Seuss put it, ‘Sometimes you don’t know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.’
Let’s do our best to enjoy each moment so the memories we have are fill our hearts with contentment; not regret.