The Distant and Unfamiliar Christmas


This year, for the first time in my adult life, I spent Christmas away from the people I love more than anyone or anything: My family. With my nieces and nephew growing at magic-bean-stalk proportions, it becomes harder to stay away from them. FaceTime is a glorious and life giving invention that I am forever indebted to. Today I spent an hour just being with my family; I didn’t want it to end. Ro, No, and Co were off to a family Christmas thing at the Birkey’s household, but I was still able to talk with them for a little while. I love my family.

I knew, just knew, that this year, Christmas would be different. The weather is off, due to it trying to do its best blazing inferno impression. Suddenly singing, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…” couldn’t be more true in my life. My family is missing from this extremely familial holiday. This is quite big for me as I have never been away from them for Christmas before. I thought it wouldn’t be anything big, but as I was driving around on Christmas day yesterday, I felt a deep sense of loss. I wasn’t expecting it, and it left me kinda sad.

All of these things and more made it a very different experience for me. And I’m not saying in any way that I have been overly miserable during this time. I am surrounded by people who love me and care about me, and that’s honestly more than I could have asked for. I just couldn’t help but notice how different Christmas is celebrated here in New Zealand. It honestly made me Question which brand of Christmas I was missing: The Overly merchandised, decorated, red, white, and green, Santafied Christmas…or the Christmas imagesthat births the faith I hold in a God who created me, loves me, and takes care of me.

I have to say, I was asked A LOT by friends what I was doing for Christmas…being that I wasn’t from NZ and had never experienced a “sandal Christmas.” I replied that I was spending Christmas morning with the family who put me up when I first moved here, and then I would be going to work for the rest of the day. Their demeanor would immediately change and my friends would give that look that you generally reserve to give someone after they tell you that an extreme injustice has been done to someone or thing. I wouldn’t just leave it there though, I told them the truth, which is this: I work at a Residential Facility for Youth Offenders. Kids who are societies Unknownoutcasts. They are no-bodies. Some of these youth have no one coming to see them for Christmas. No one. No calls, no in-person visits. Nothing. If I can be there, for that youth, in any way to make their day a little more special…then that is quite the gift for them. It is a special thing to help someone feel wanted and appreciated in life, even when they absolutely don’t deserve it.

Yeah Christmas wasn’t decking the halls with an ugly x-mas sweater, or sipping the eggnog, but it was still a Christmas that I will never forget. Seriously. That’s something to think about.

Trust, Stress, and a Job

Man looking out to horizon

I have decided to attempt at something profound in this post, as this is a very important life moment for me. We all have those moments in our lives when we remember where we were standing, what noises were around us, who was standing near you, what the air smelled like, you name it, you probably remembered it. You have just had something monumental happen to you: You just had your first kiss, you got into your favorite college, your team just won the Super Bowl, you proposed to the love of your life, you finally got your novel published, you just walked the stage and graduated with your degree, you’ve just found out your having a baby…These are the things that stay with you, and they are usually surrounded by details that you will not forget.

I recently experienced such an event. I moved to New Zealand after working 5 years to get there. I remember everything about that 20 hour flight and the subsequent landing, followed by the 15 hours afterwards trying to stay awake (fighting jet lag). This was eleven months ago. I had certain expectations when landing in a country that desperately needed social workers. “Man was I going to be set up for life. Get a job, flat, car, and the rest is easy sailing.” I had told myself that by September I would have a job. I mean, September was AGES away. Psh. No problem. Well, September came and went. I told myself, surely, October would manifest a job….right? October 31st came with its ghouls, goblins, and pumpkins. I began to seriously stress. Tomorrow I would have to face the reality that I was not in control of my future. I know. Shocker. I remember being quite depressed about the entire situation. At this time in my journey, I was receiving rejection emails every single day from potential employers telling me that I didn’t have what it takes. I went to friends, mentors, and the family I am living with. I went to John, the head of the household, and asked him, “John, hypothetically, when should I be planning a plan B for going back home incase I don’t get a job?” John didn’t even lift his head. He just clearly replied to me, “The day before.” He told me that God likes working in the last minute, and that I might need to trust in his working near that eleventh hour. I left that conversation not feeling much better. Still, I knew John was right.

November was here and with it came hotter weather, impending Thanksgiving, and the last month before my deadline. You see, I had a talk with Immigration, and they told me I didn’t have much time left. My visa ran out on January 02, 2014…but…the renewal process takes about 25 days to process. My heart skipped a beat. I knew what this meant. I had a month less than I thought. How was I going to find a job in a month when I couldn’t find one in eleven?! I applied to six new jobs at the beginning of the month and prayed like I had never prayed before. I was in some seriously dire straights. I knew that if something didn’t blossom into a job, I was looking at a one way ticket back home with my tail between my legs. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had told everyone my dream, only to have come home not fulfilled it. That day I had a skype call with my parents who told me something I never forgot. “Eric, listen. If you end up getting a job and stay in NZ, it’s Good, right? But if you end up having to work things out back here, it is also Good. This problem is not, nor is it ever above God. This didn’t catch Him by surprise and He is not unable to work in it. God is always Good.” This stuck with me and gave me some serious peace on the matter. I was ready. I was prepared for whatever came my way. No longer was I stressing out about how much time I had. No longer was I freaking out to my friends, or letting negative thoughts ruminate inside my mind. I was ready.

It was November 13th. I had gotten a call in for an interview with CYFS (Child, Youth, and Family Services) about a position opening they had. It was the first interview I had since March. My heart raced. I quickly replied and set up a date. I told my family about the interview and had them praying (which they and MANY others had been doing for many months…a fact I later learned and was incredibly humbled by) I took the interview and 1471175_10152028539264684_2085960866_nposted this photo afterwards, calling it my, “I freaking nailed that interview.”…..face. I felt really good about it. Still, I had no idea about the result that would follow. I went about my week like normal and tried to stay positive about the entire thing. Days went by and I didn’t hear anything. Now I was nervous. Then I got a call. They told me that I was on a “preferred list,” but they needed to lock down a background check. I could practically taste it I was so excited. I continued to pray and seek Him in this moment. This is where St. Pauls and my community there really stepped in to comfort, pray and guide me in what I should have been thinking. Almost all of the sermons in November had to do specifically with my situation, it was a bit freaky. And yet, it was nearing the end of the month, with no reply. Thanksgiving was coming up and I was helping my friend Stephenie Couch with a Thanksgiving dinner shop for her youth group kids. When we got home, we were greeted with Josh, her husband, and pizza. We sat on their couches, surrounding their computer, playing Amy Whinehouse. We ate the pepperoni pizzas and enjoyed our bountiful harvest. Stephenie had retreated to the kitchen to unpack groceries I think, and I was talking to Josh. Suddenly I feel my phone vibrate. The notification was an email. I saw the heading as MSD (Ministry of Social Development). I had emailed them earlier asking them if there was anything I could do to help the process, so I opened the email expecting a response. I open up this email: Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 12.38.16 AM

I read this email about 3 times before looking up from my phone with a giant grin on my face. I say, “Guys?” Josh looks at me and knows, but I say it anyway, “I got the job…” 

1471326_10152059023959684_1831231690_nSteph runs into the room, throws her hands in the air and screams. Josh did basically the same thing in his seat. I got up, hugged them both, sat back down, and felt….happiness….peace….like a physical weight had been lifted off my body, and oddly enough, shame. How could I have doubted? After all that He has done in my life, how was this different? Luckily this was quickly replaced with elation and joy and I thanked God. This picture was taken right after Steph made me an impromptu “celebration ice cream” with an actual candle placed right in the middle of it all. It was perfect, and I will never forget it. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone, but 1477460_10152056268784684_1682323370_nunfortunately, my family was all sleeping as it was about 1am in Chicago. Later that next day I released this photo to the internet to announce the news. It was a compilation of all the 1441199_10152056539889684_1188634360_nresponses my family had when I told them the news. I love this photo. I love my family so much, and to share this with them was such an incredible moment for me to have. I miss you all so much. The following day I took this photo, as I turned in my paperwork to submit my request for a two-year work visa.

I think back on the entire stress fest that I had and come away with some hilarious take-aways. The people at Immigration gave me until December 2nd to find a job before it would be too late to submit a new visa request. CYFS told me that my first starting day would be December 2nd. Haha. Cutting it close isn’t exactly covering it. Also, as my friend Corbin pointed out, I was given a job on American Thanksgiving. It would seem that I had much to be thankful for on that day.

Today is my third day on the job and I really can’t help but think back to a night in October that I was sitting in a hot tub with some friends, talking about the future, uncertainty, and God. I told my friends that I would inevitably look back on this moment when I was loosing my mind over not having a job yet and laugh at myself. I can say that for once in my life, I have never been more happy to be laughing at myself.