Almost three months ago now, I moved to Kaikoura, New Zealand. It was my second time moving here, but this time instead of planning to be here for four months, it was going to be almost a year. Almost a year of having my phone on airplane mode and always seeking easy wifi access. Almost a year of being away from my family and my first Christmas not at home decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving and drinking hot chocolate by the fire. Almost a year of keeping in touch via Skype, FaceTime, Whatapp video calls or basically whatever app works at the time.
Yet, while I said goodbye to many things that I’ve always known (living in the States, being surrounded by people I know, being in a familiar landscape), I also was saying hello to a new year. I was entering into a year living below Kaikoura’s beautiful Mount Fyffe, a year of living in intentional community (that can be equally frustrating and beautiful and growing), a year of learning in a place that I love and have been longing to return to since I left it in May of 2016.
About two weeks after I arrived, so did eight wonderful new friends who quickly came to be like family. Kelsey, Karoline, Kelly, Robyn, Matthew, Dan, Lilly and Adriannea quickly became Kels, Karl/Karol, Kel, Kobyn/Kob/Rob-Kob, Machu, Dan-O the Man-O, Lil, and Aid (even if sometimes I’m the only one who calls them that). Living in Dolphin Lodge with these new people became my norm, and a place where I felt safe and known. Days were filled with class sessions, reading, making up silly songs on the guitars/uke, playing card games, going on walks downtown, baking after tea, and riding bikes to church.
These few months have been very different than when I was a student here. For starters, I’m on staff now and instead of being a carefree goofball, I actually have responsibilities. I have to set an example, and the closer I become to those around me, the more I realise I am a flawed, broken person. I have had to grow in patience, because living with fifteen people in a cozy little hostel right next to town is not always the easiest, especially compared to a spacious Old Convent in the farmland where I previously lived. I’ve had to learn not to have expectations or compare, but to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving and joy during this time of my life.
And while it’s been challenging and hard and frustrating at times, it’s been a wonderfully sweet season. I’ve been able to make new friends, both within CCSP and in the local community. I’ve discovered more of who I am as an individual. I’ve learned to cook! I have learned ins and outs of gardening in a country whose seasons are opposite to those at home. I’ve worked on finding joy in chores, volunteering, and serving others. I have found delight in weeding even the most overgrown gardens.
About two years ago when I was a student here at CCSP, my friends Lisa, Johanna and I created a garden. Maybe we didn’t so much create it, as shaped it. It was already there, but you couldn’t tell from looking at it. It was overgrown with branches, weeds, and layers of dead leaves. For two or three weeks, we pulled weeds, raked up leaves, trimmed branches, and cut the edges of the bushes. We laid down weed mat, poured mulch and wood chips on top, created a gravel path, and put a couple of chairs and a bench in the middle. We got an old wheelbarrow to be the centrepiece of the garden, planted with purple and red flowers, and used old ceramic pots for some succulents. To finish it all off, we got mdeium-sized white stones, wrote on them a verse for every person at the Convent that semester, and placed them in the shape of a koru at the entrance of the garden. It wasn’t perfect or a magazine-worthy garden, but it was a sacred space. It had become a place I longed to be, to sit and enjoy the birds singing and appreciate life in all sorts of forms.
In some ways, I feel like this is the process that our lives follow. The Creator of all things, who also created us, sees us as the overgrown gardens we are. And yet he doesn’t leave us like that. Over the course of years, he cuts off edges of impatience, judgment and disapproval. He pulls weeds of arrogance, pride, and selfishness; he trims off past hurts and plants flowers of love and grace. He replaces branches of envy with the weed mat of joy and gratitude. And though we never reach perfection, we are allowed to become sacred spaces, places where joy and peace and shalom are present. One of the most beautiful things about it is not the end result, but the process: the process of living and growing and learning and being willing to be shaped by a sovereign Creator is a sacrament in itself.
I feel like living here at CCSP is like that – it’s hard and it hurts at times, and we can become blatantly honest or rude with each other. But we also are being shaped into beautiful people that, fortunately enough, are able to grow together. We are able to learn to see beauty in what used to upset us and love in gentle ways. Like ivy, we intertwine together, but also live and thrive individually. And it doesn’t matter if we are student, staff, friend of the program, local of the Kaikoura community, or family member – we are all the same, we are all growing, and we all have the chance to become sacred and safe spaces for each other, for the Creator, for creation, and for ourselves. What a lovely process to be able to be a part of, and to share.
– Alexis (Lex) Draut