I found out first hand this Christmas how hard it is to be a woman, a grown-up, and in Africa all at the same time. My sincerest appreciation and thanks to all of the “grown-up”women in my life who have worked so hard to make every Christmas special for me, cause it about wore me out this year! Cooking, baking, wrapping, and making things special for two weddings and 54 kids (and trying to remember my husband somewhere!) makes me wonder, “How did my mom and Becki and Jeannie ever do it all?” Whew! So here’s to you…lovely ladies…you deserve it…Christmas is tough!
A few weeks ago, one of the Zambian men asked me how Christmas is celebrated in the States. I must have been feeling sassy that day because I immediately responded, “obnoxiously.” He had never heard the word before. I explained to him that Christmas in the States goes on for weeks and weeks, and that it’s often too much about food and gifts and parties, and not often enough about family, friends, fellowship, and worship. He still seemed slightly confused. Today, though, he stopped me at the clinic. “How was Christmas?” He asked. “Was it obnoxious?” I laughed. No. Definitely not. It was the least obnoxious Christmas I’ve ever had. I worked so fast and furiously, thinking that the standards here were the same. The gifts must be wrapped! There must be cards for everyone! I must bake delicious desserts and scrumptious side dishes! The house should shine with lights and smell like gingerbread! And I should be wearing a red checked apron and humming while I make candles! Uh-huh. Then I walked outside. And it was like any other day. Church would start soon, and there were people in the back cooking a big meal for everyone. But other than that, nothing was different. No one had new clothes on. The kids weren’t carrying battery-operated-right-out-of-the-package new toys. The ladies in the orphanage weren’t upset that they had to work Christmas, they were happy because it had rained the night before and their maize is growing. No. Not obnoxious. A little understated maybe. A little difficult for an American kid who wakes up early every Christmas and insists upon peanut butter balls and sweet potatoes while opening packages of new clothes and beautiful jewelry (yours truly).
We went to a potluck dinner with many of the other local missionaries. (Okay, let me just mention for one minute how intimidating it is to take food to a potluck where every woman in the room is a grandmother and has been living in Africa and cooking from scratch for 20 years.) They make their own bread, ice cream, and pickled beets. They have fresh cream from their cows and eggs from their chickens. They whip up layer cakes in a matter of minutes. I brought deviled eggs and cookies (my mom’s and Becki’s secret recipes, respectively.) They politely fawned over me. I wish I could spend a week with one of them just to learn how to whip my own cream and debone a turkey.
Maybe everyone should spend their first “grown-up”Christmas in Africa, without a mom to cook for you, and with 54 kids to entertain. Maybe we would all have a better perspective about what Christmas is really all about. I think maybe a couple more Christmas’s here and I might start to figure it out. Not about me. Not about my family. Not about my friends. Not about gifts or cookies or dinners or lovely Christmas dresses. About Jesus. About the birth of a Savior. About remembering what that means in our lives. I would love to say that there’s nothing wrong with the way that we celebrate Christmas at home…but I don’t know. I’m sorry if I’m getting all organic and un-American on you. But, here I am…supposed to be super missionary. Supposed to be reveling in the true meaning of Christmas. And I almost missed it. All because I was cleaning and baking cookies.
Did you catch it? Somewhere in the midst of running to grandma’s and the last minute trip to Walmart…did you catch it? I don’t mean, “Did you have a good time?” “Did you get nice gifts?” Maybe you’re saying, “Yeah. I got it. I sang in a cantata. I went to church. We prayed before dinner.” Maybe what you’re really saying is that you did the same things that you always do at Christmas, thus making you feel comfortable about having a good time and contented that you celebrated it for the true meaning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m downright jealous that you got to shop at Walmart and eat good turkey and be with family…you’ll get no false righteousness from me! But it’s easy to challenge when you’re here….(I’ll let you know what I think about the sparkling New Year’s ball next week ;) ) I love you all, and miss you terribly. Merry Christmas…for real.