20 December 2010

Multitude Monday ~ 1000 Gifts ~ Celebrating Birthdays!

It's birthday season in our house - a fact I've shared before. In the space of about 6 weeks, we finish up a school sememster, celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, our anniversary, 5 extended family birthdays... and then there are the 4 birthdays that we remember here in our household. It always leaves me feeling exhausted and breathless... and this year it was compounded just a bit by several factors, including Tim's whirlwind trip back to the States because of his mom's deteriorating health. But now, school is out, the birthdays are mostly behind us and we are looking forward to the most important and best birthday of them all... remembering, with thankfulness, awe and wonder the birth our Christ, the Messiah, Emmanuel, our Savior.

Sometimes it is hard for us to feel like it really is Christmas in Niger, at least for the two big people in this family. When you've been accustomed to snow, cold weather, dark mornings and early nightfall, bright and colorful lights everywhere, the smell of pine, holiday music... carols... in the grocery store... somehow sand, 80-90, sometimes even 100 degrees, routines marked as always by the insistent melody of the call to prayer, orange dust and sand everywhere, the smell of burning trash and Celine Dion crooning in the grocery store - listening to the same music tape you've listened to every week as you've shopped for most of the last 6 years... it doesn't really "feel" like Christmas.

This year, for our first time, we actually have lights on our tree and we are making an effort to play Christmas music. We bought more pieces (to replace the broken) for our clay pot nativity and are working to get that set up... and if we can find another transformer, we'll even put lights up around it, too! Our French school kids have the whole week before Christmas off... instead of school right up to the 23rd. Mornings have been cool - dropping down into the low 60's prompting us to wear socks and sweatshirts... it almost feels snuggly cold, if we use our imaginations!

Some other firsts? We are planning to participate in most of the events going on at our church this Christmas. Nigerien believers celebrate Christmas as a church family - not a nuclear or extended family, because many of them may be the only believer in their familes. There are evangelistic outreaches the weeks leading up to Christmas, showings of the Jesus film in neighborhoods, campaigns to invite children to attend the very-late-into-the-night Christmas Eve Sunday School program and fête, a Christmas celebration service Christmas morning followed by a church wide meal/potluck and then, since the 26th is a Sunday, a regular church service, followed by another meal for good measure.

Our western ideas of a family Christmas... kids tiptoeing out Christmas morning to find presents under a tree, reading the story of Christ's birth by Christmas tree and candle lights, singing a few favorite carols as a family and then starting the Christmas CDs playing as snuggled - still in our pjs - under a fuzzy blanket on the couch, we delight in watching the kids open their gifts, a leisurely breakfast and then heading to the grandparents' homes for a meal together and football on the telly... none of those traditional images are realized here. It leads me to reflect on how I define and describe Christmas... frankly, missing home and our own loved traditions is hard... but dwelling on these differences, I believe, misses the point, totally!

The point of Christmas, regardless of how we remember and celebrate this time, is that Jesus humbled Himself, swaddled deity - its splendor, glory and un-humaness - in human flesh to become one of us, born as a baby in the meanest of circumstances. Christmas is the epitomy of genuine gentleness and amazing grace offered to an often hard-hearted, stubborn and unrepentant people. I've shared recently how my heart has been deeply challenged by earthly pictures (here and here) given in the Scriptures of this type of grace... and what it might look like in my life if I allowed God to manifest His grace, becoming a channel of His grace to others... continuing to count an infinity of reasons for unending gratitude...

#646 contemplating the incomprehensible ~ swaddled diety

#647 carols

#648 anticipating sand dunes away from city lights, under starlight

#649 sleeping in vacation mornings

#650 biscuits, gravy... and BACON

#651 photo shoots

#652 wrapping gifts bought with love for grandkids

#653 sadness because of hearts full with so much love

#654 learning to fall towards the ones I say I love instead of seeking retreat

#655 hearing news of those who've truly found that precious, holy babe for the first time... and welcomed Him into their hearts, making Him Lord of their lives

#656 paper garlands made by many little hands to decorate the church for Christmas festivities... even when they remind me more of Easter colors

#657 anticipation of homemade eggnog

#658 laughter at a white elephant gift exchange

#659 reading this, because I've often wondered about the claims of the United States being built on Biblical values (while agreeing that there are many values that coincided with Scriptural priorities, I don't see that it was an overriding goal by all, or even the majority, of the founding fathers). I do,on the other hand, believe that hospitality is a biblical mandate and I do see open doors and help offered to any who wanted to come as a general founding principle of our country much more so than I veiw and overall commitment to God's Word:
America in one sense was exactly as I expected it to be: a place of gripping public theatre at election times, and a place of great private virtue nearly all the time.
I found that private virtue on the night I arrived three years ago on a much-delayed New Year's Eve flight, which slipped and stumbled through the icy skies over the choppy darkness of the cold prairies.
I chatted sporadically to the grandmotherly woman beside me about home, and family, although I cannot in truth remember much of what was said.
But I do remember what happened once we landed.
There were no taxis and my fellow passenger insisted, without checking with him, that her husband would happily drive me to my hotel.
It was a round trip for him in the Arctic midnight of a public holiday of perhaps two or three hours.
I expected to detect at least a flicker of surprise on his face when this was first put to him, but there was none.
"This is America son," he told me, "We help each other out."
Nothing that happened in the three years that followed was to undermine that first impression of friendliness and hospitality. (Kevin Connelly)
#660 teaching my two big girls how to make biscuits on a lazy Monday morning while my big boy makes snickerdoodles

#661 returning to where I started this portion of my gratitude list... still contemplating the incomprehensible ~ swaddled diety

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