Alumni Interview: Kenton and Lacy Starr

Kenton Starr is an alumnus of the Residential Internship (2012/13) and currently works as a Litigation Solicitor with Vallant Hooker and Partners. He is recently married to Lacy, who is originally from a little town near Albany in upstate New York and currently works as a Teacher Aide with Arohanui Special School. They met in Delhi while working with different NGOs. After reconnecting years later, they dated long distance while Lacy was volunteering in Uganda with the US Peace Corps. Kenton joined Lacy there for the last year of her service, and they got married in February 2020, shortly after moving back to Aotearoa amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here, Kenton and Lacy answer some questions around what they’ve learned over the past 12 months.

This has been a significant year for you both: getting married, moving countries, and starting new jobs back in Aotearoa. What has been the shape of this new life for you both?

Our relationship has been characterised by tumultuous change, interspersed with long periods of waiting. For the first eight months of 2020, we were impatiently tapping our feet, waiting to action our plan to move to the United States, and then, suddenly, we received some news that made the decision to stay in New Zealand clear. After being on hold for so long, the sudden gear shift was deeply unsettling and painful, especially for me (Lacy). I haven’t visited home in New York or seen most of my family and friends since 2016, except for one three-week long visit and connecting with a few who could make it to our wedding in February 2020. I was really looking forward—and needed—to spending time at home. Multiple life changes and the stress of the financial and opportunity costs–it’s been a lot to handle in two years. I’ve also had the experience of watching my country (the United States) disintegrate politically while benefiting from staying in New Zealand with one of the most stable and competent governments in the world. It has shaken my faith in my own country and left me grieving in more ways than one. Grief seems like a strange way to start a marriage, but the reality is that there has been a huge cost to each of us. The “new life” that we are starting in New Zealand couldn’t be more different from what I’ve known or from what we would have experienced if we’d moved to New York as planned.

In light of these significant gear shifts, what have been some of your key learnings, opportunities, and challenges from this past year?

We’ve both dealt with a lot of anxiety regarding our longer-term plans and the start of our marriage. We dated for two years before getting married, so we knew each other pretty well, but, even so, marriage does feel pretty different! We’ve been developing more patience with each other, learning how to communicate so that we understand one another, and finding out what it really means to share in one another’s struggles. Figuring out our marriage in a space that is in flux has been really difficult. We haven’t always succeeded in loving each other in the ways that we needed, but we’ve also made some good progress. One of the ironies of marriage is that you start to know yourself better as you get to know the other person better too. We’ve had a lot of opportunity to learn to recognise what we want and need, and how to express it in constructive ways.

What are some of the ways getting married, moving country, and beginning life in New Zealand has changed you both?

As much as we have loved our journey together, it’s been a rough couple of years in a number of ways. In response, we’ve grown a lot of patience with each other as we each manage our stress very differently and have had to adapt to that. We’ve also grown a lot of resilience and willingness to let go of what we can’t control. A great example is our wedding, which we held in New Zealand at the start of 2020. We had to plan most of it from Uganda through numerous video chats and emails, and on a very tight budget. We approached that by accepting that our wedding was going to be amazing even if it didn’t look exactly like we might have imagined it. And it was a beautiful day! I (Kenton) would like to think that I’ve grown slightly less selfish as well. For all of the stress that I’ve gone through–moving to a new country with a completely different culture, trying to navigate four different sets of immigration processes, and worrying about money while being out of work for a large part of 2020–it’s now Lacy who carries a lot of the cost of our move and needs my support.

In what ways are you settling in to life in New Zealand? 

We finally found our groove once we made a firm decision to change our plans and stay in New Zealand. The apartment we rented has a garden in the back that Lacy is doing up, and Kenton accepted a long-term legal position that suits him well so far. Right now, our priorities are to get used to (even more) new routines, learn how to balance our work schedules with only one car, and spend quality time with Kenton’s family and friends (who are also slowly becoming Lacy’s friends, too). Kenton loves sharing bits and pieces of New Zealand life and culture with Lacy–in early March, we went to see an America’s Cup race at Silo Park, which was fun! And we often go jaunting to parks around Auckland and visit the Museum. Once we are fully settled, we’re looking forward to doing even more exploring and relaxing outdoors; we both love hiking and lazy days at the beach. Once New Zealand is vaccinated and no longer in fear of lockdowns, we’re looking forward to attending more social and large cultural events too. In the meantime, Lacy’s practising her slang in preparation for that one time she can say “yeah-nah” and finally nail it.

Easter draws out themes of new life, resurrection, and hope. What does Easter represent in your life and how does it shape your faith?

Easter represents renewal and the re-creation of something new, beautiful, and good. For our relationship and new marriage, this re-creation narrative has landed in particular ways. Our new life together has very vividly meant giving up our old individual lives and practising building up and supporting the other. Easter also reminds us that there is always something good around the corner even when life events seem dark and tragic, and when you aren’t where you wanted to be. In this phase of our lives, but especially mine (Lacy’s), it’s like living during Easter Saturday, having hope that I will see my family and home again soon. It’s like I’m waiting for Sunday morning to come so I can let this load of grief off my shoulders and celebrate instead. Trusting in God’s renewal in such a tumultuous global (as well as deeply personal) time is also a balm for our hearts as we remember that even though the situation looks bleak (or even is bleak) right now, that isn’t all there is. Remembering to fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal has the power to align our perspectives and moods with what is true, away from despair rooted in deception and toward hope rooted in the truth of who God is and what he’s promised. We still grieve and are sometimes inconsolable–we feel all the feels!–and joy comes in the morning.

What are you hopeful for in your work, home, and church life as we enter further into 2021?

In this phase of our lives, we’re excited to have more space to build our lives together, not just as a married couple but with our friends and family. As much as we miss Lacy’s family, this is an unexpected opportunity to build stronger relationships with Kenton’s. We’re also setting the foundations for the rest of our marriage, laying the groundwork for how we’ll relate to each other for years to come—not to put undue pressure on us, but just the right amount of care and thoughtfulness, especially since American and Kiwi cultures are just similar and different enough to throw us off in unexpected ways, on top of typical personality differences! One of our top priorities this year is to find a church to attend regularly; it was one thing of many that fell by the wayside last year when we didn’t know if we were staying or going.

How are you praying this year?

We pray for our marriage and our families–particularly keeping Lacy’s family in the United States safe. We still mostly pray separately but would like to build more rhythms around praying together as we settle more into life in New Zealand. I (Kenton) have found many of my prayers have taken a focus on “your kingdom come.” I read the news daily. While there has always been a lot of suffering, the way the world shut down to various degrees last year during the pandemic reminded me how fragile we are. It emphasised for me how much we rely on God’s renewal and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to be agents of God’s grace to keep us from the full consequences of the messiness of the human experience.

What passages of Scripture have you found helpful and encouraging and why?

The passage about love in Romans 12 is always a favourite, but this year it has really stuck with me (Lacy). It’s actually quite hard to hate what is evil and cling to what is good, especially in a deceptive world when the words are often deliberately misapplied, and in a world where social and political communities are becoming more caught up in partisanship at the expense of love and truth. Reading and rereading Romans 12 brings me back to what actually matters: honouring others before myself, showing restraint, and being devoted in love and patient in affliction, all possible through the renewing of the mind in Christ Jesus.

(Image: Supplied)