chilling feet

chilling feet

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Austin Comes to Visit: Amazing Connections

(Kayaking the amazing Milford Sound - really a fjord carved out by a
glacier.  The beauty of this place is indescribable and best seen from a
kayak for certain)
It never fails to impress me when one discovers how people are connected.  New Zealand is one of those places where everyone seems to know everyone, or at least someone's cousin who is friends with the person in mention.  Yet, somehow they just know one another and it's truly amazing.  

When I was in grade school and moving into middle school (in a town where we only had three middle schools feeding into one decent sized high school), I can recall the sense of awe when I would hang out at my friend Matt's house as we would fearlessly make our way into his neighborhood where kids lived I had never met.  It was strange feeling the weird sense of home and otherness all at once, especially at an age when thoughts were way behind understanding many of my feelings.  

Thus when my friend Austin Russell came to visit in New Zealand, 
(Beginning the trip in Sydney, Australia, we went to a park specifically to
pet Koala bears... but don't let that keep us from petting a wallaby!)
worlds collided and I could smell the wholly bizarre odor of unexplainable air about the entirely serendipitous occurrence.  As a former student from a high school ministry at Hope Church in Memphis where I worked for four years from 2006-2010, Austin is now in college and working at the same church as an intern.  It's truly a blessing when those who you work with in the ministry end up deciding they too feel the call to give back. When we originally started talking about a possible New Zealand trip for Austin the main obstacle is the same as it would be for anyone else - money for the plane ticket.  

I mentioned serendipity earlier because there are those moments in life that feel ordained or in the very least fortunate beyond explanation.  Austin and I both share a friend we know from the ministry at Hope who is a person of
(Austin happened to visit at the perfect time to enjoy "Christmas in July" -
or a celebration of Christmas when it's cold and "feels" right.  New
Zealand is home to plenty of folks who are accustomed to having
Christmas when it is cold and so we did just that with a nice dinner)
extreme generosity.  Through the immense kindness of this person's heart people have been exposed to an example of God's boundless support and grace.  In said relationship Austin found himself with plane tickets and a trip "down under" - it is safe to say there are many thanks to be said to this anonymous benefactor!  

(When in Sydney one has to go past the Shell.  Cool)
The trip, as with any, was too short but we thrust ourselves at the mercy of New Zealand's South island with everything we had anyway.  The whole thing began with a quick few days in Sydney, Australia where Koalas were pet, strange pizza waitresses decided they did not quite like Austin's style or maybe his accent and imposed upon his good nature with straight up dominance, Jews for Jesus were met and chatted with, the famous Bondi Beach was visited and enjoyed, and all of the in between things that happen when anyone travels anywhere took place from awkward conversations to randomly awesome experiences with people and/or food.  We could go on and on about Sydney and the many faceted Austen/Brett times that happened there but this is a blog about New Zealand and so we will refocus our attention there.  

It's always fun to have someone like Austin visit after Sarah and I have made a home here for almost a year now.  He has video chatted with me before and has seen the house through the lens of a computer screen, but this was his first time stepping onto the soil of Invercargill, New Zealand - the Southern most city in NZ baby!  We were not there long because he needed to see the sites - The Catlins, Milford, Queenstown to name a few.  

(I've never seen these guys this active - it was cool to watch them wrestle
and play with one another for about ten minutes straight!  They did not
seem to mind the strange humans watching, though they did keep a
watchful eye on us the entire time - you can see the one looking right
at us in this shot)
We saw the local wildlife (seals, penguins, sea lions, birds, etc), kayaked in a fjord, lost control of our car driving back from the fjord on icy mountain roads (but through the skills of a stellar moment on the driver's part regained control before anything bad happened), enjoyed an Invercargill Christmas dinner gathering in the middle of July, sought out the darker and mysterious corners of Queenstown, and all the while taking photos to commemorate said adventures.  It is in thought of all of this I pause to consider how fortunate any of us are to experience anything in the realm of God's glory.  Reading the news lately only makes me feel... well, I guess oddly thankful for any peace we have in our world.  Not only peace but sheer joy and leisure which is becoming more rare than normal.  

My thanks go out to Austin for being willing to come all of this way and even more so to the benefactor who has given us this shared experience we will alway be able to look back on with extreme fondness for years to come (hopefully). It would not have been possible had the heart of one not been poured out so selflessly for others.  Also, thanks to Ali for letting me borrow Austin for a few weeks.  I have added more pictures (as always of course) for the enjoyment of anyone who wishes to look.  It's hard to pick out of the many great shots we came home with but here is an attempt to sum the trip.  
(We climbed to the top of this waterfall and took pics to show the proof - the tree leans out over the falls)
(I'm trying to point to where we were in the last photo - not too far off but a little lower obviously)
(Not a bad shot of the iconic Sydney landmark)
(Bondi Beach where I believe Austin is quote as having said, "Seriously man I could just move here even if it meant I would have to live as a homeless person.  This place is amazing."  It was something like that)
(Having a camera that takes shots while for you is a fun thing - though you never quite know what you're going to get as you can't truly know when it's taking a shot, especially with the one Austin was using. But it made for a fun time)
(Standing on the banks of Milford Sound the day before we went out in Kayaks - what a great look at the sunset as it reflects off the water and shows off a different sort of look to the landscape)
(This was the money shot - getting to pet a live Koala bear and living to tell the tale.  Truly I promise, Cooper the Koala bear was alive and well when we touched him.  He was just sleeping and taking it easy.  We were warned not to touch his head lest he wake... who knows what happens when a person rouses a sleeping Koala bear)
(We did a lot of driving - oh ya)
(A strange sculpture we came upon while in Bondi Beach - we hoped Ali would like it)
(Milford Sound is a place of indescribable beauty - it's like nothing I've ever seen before)