"Your birthday is exactly one week after Waitangi Day," I told my student during lunch earlier this week.
"What's Waitangi Day?" his girlfriend asked.
"It's a national holiday in New Zealand to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and the Maori people."
"Oh, I spelled it right. Oh, she's right."
"Did you just Google it? I didn't make it up; I'm not your boyfriend." "Hey! Oh, that does sound like something I would do."
I laugh a lot in conversations with this Korean girl who grew up in Northwest Africa and the American boy who spent his formative years in Germany. I really love that I have the chance to tell them some of the cultural details I learned in New Zealand along with other truths I've learned about how to love God and love others. I also asked them about their respective knowledge of culture and slang as we talked about whether or not I would prematurely alienate all of my prospective Australian audience based on my oversight in titling my textbook. I had posted a picture on my Facebook last week about a Korean friend who was trained as a missionary in New Zealand before working for years in Bulgaria who had offered me comments on the text to make sure I was using orthodox and accessible language for Asian students. After posting it, an Australian friend dropped me a note to say my chosen title had a different connotation in Australian slang. In our brief back and forth, my Australian friend gave me the benefit of the doubt that I'd considered Kiwi slang as she'd checked if it was used there (it's not).
All these cross cultural conversations were not something I was raised for, but I'm incredibly delighted with the story God has written with my life. No one who knew me growing up would have expected me to be the one who moved overseas and never came back. I loved my suburban Oregon life. I love that I was raised with that unique experience. I love all the people who invested in me along the way to raise me into the woman who would be prepared to celebrate Waitangi Day in a unique way as an American living in Germany.
Thursday I was talking to my mom about how much it means to me that I was able to have some incredible teachers in my life who've remained important as they follow my story and encourage me in my journey. I named a couple in particular, and then I was recounting to Chris the next day about how meaningful it is when my first grade teacher comments on my blog or my supervising professor from grad school likes a post. I was telling him about how I never planned on leaving Oregon as I reflected on those incredible people, but I also have some incredible people in my life that would never have crossed my path in Oregon.
When I was looking into moving to New Zealand, I started listening to RCC sermons online, and in one of the first messages I heard, Mark mentioned something about the Treaty of Waitangi. It was actually a pretty significant point in his sermon, so I emailed him that week and asked if he could point me to some resources to learn more about that historical document and event. Mark graciously replied with some websites that gave me an overview of the complicated history between the British settlers and the Maori people. I was excited to learn more about this unique country, and I still love finding details about another place my heart considers home while I'm back in my current host country.
I can laugh easily as I reflect on how the anxious homebody in Oregon grew up into the woman who adventured on her second transcontinental move after being paralyzed in a rock climbing accident overseas. The English teacher in me might even call it character growth. Another major growth for me was in trusting my friends this weekend to completely plan my birthday celebrations. I've got to brag, I've got some pretty incredible friends. Honestly, I'm not one to plan much for my birthdays beyond the prayer event though by chance I've had some pretty unbelievable celebrations - breakfast at the Eiffel Tower and road trip through Middle Earth destinations ending in Hobbiton among the more recent ones.
Paige took charge this year to plan an epic surprise covid possible adventure, and it definitely did not disappoint.
My celebrations extended through a long weekend, but Saturday my instructions were to wear layers and be ready to leave my house around 1pm. Paige drove Amanda and I to Zurich for a ferry cruise on the lake before heading back to one of my favorite restaurants in Müllheim. We were blessed with a stunning clear day and a jaw dropping view of the Alps in addition to absolutely delicious burgers and waffles. Tonight I'll get a steak dinner while watching Encanto with two of my favorite people. One of the things that Paige and Alyssa prioritized in the plans for celebrating my birthday this year was honoring my request for prayer. Dozens of people messaged me encouragements on Friday or notes before letting me know they'd be praying through my list of requests on my birthday, and last night, Amanda and Paige ended our adventure by lifting me up before the Lord. Daniel and Alyssa have promised the same tonight, and I can't express how loved I feel to know people intentionally pray for me.
My prayer journey has been so strange over the past 18 months, and I am confused about a few turns along the way, but I'm grateful to have so many people all around the world who care enough about me to reach out and to keep me in their prayers. My birthday celebrations have gone on for a while, but I also have birthday wishes for about 45 hours each year because my Kiwi friends are 12 hours ahead and I get birthday wishes from Japan, Korea, and Australia ahead of me before the European greetings start and then carrying on through North American friends who keep sending me notes after I fall asleep.
Like I shared on my traumaversary, I think this year is looking up. I'd been frustrated with several weeks of leg spasms, and Anja's spent the last several sessions working hard to loosen up my tight calves while I spend each day sensitive to the blisters recovering on my feet and stretching out my tight muscles to the best of my ability. Before going to bed the past three nights, I've been able to thank God wholeheartedly that my spasms have been significantly reduced and caused no major pain or distraction during the days. I'm still asking for everything, so let's turn our eyes to heaven and cry out for the whole thing - no spasms, full function, and all glory to God who gives more than we can ask or imagine.