Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas in the Mess

You know, I think sometimes we’ve got Christmas all wrong. Christmas today is all about perfection—food perfectly cooked that looks like something out of a Southern Living, a house perfectly decorated like something out of Martha Stewart, and thoughtful presents expertly wrapped under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree. There is the way we’re all supposed to feel as well—happy, carefree, laughing like in all the pictures and commercials, and of course everyone always makes it home for Christmas.

As enchanting as this fable is, I’ve never experienced a Christmas like that. My Christmases always seem to involve way to many last minute shopping runs or minor (and major!) kitchen disasters. My tree is lovingly but eclectically decorated, and I’m not sure but that the cat plays with the ornaments when I’m not looking. My presents are wrapped, but you can totally see that place where I miscalculated how big a piece of paper to cut, so there is a patch under the back seam. My food usually tastes the way it’s supposed to, but usually there are some ‘wugglies’ that I have no choice but to serve. I have been fortunate enough to spend the majority of my Christmases with my family, but this year I’m very much apart from the people I love.

That first Christmas was not the clean, neat, glowing picture we like to print on Christmas cards either. It was pretty messy in every possible way. Mary was far from home when her time came to deliver the baby that had ruined her reputation. Despite all the pictures, stables are not generally well lit or automatically full of clean hay in comfortable piles. Tax day is usually one of the worst days of the year, and to complicate matters further, Joseph had to take a road trip for the privilege of paying for the luxuries and excesses of the cruel invaders of his country. I wonder if when Mary later told Jesus the story of his birthday, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry first. Laughter because seriously, you can’t make this stuff up (a stable?), and tears because it truly was all so hard.

Yet in the midst of the very human mess, there was beauty. The baby was born safely, and we can assume that there was enough money to pay the taxes. Stinky shepherd showed up with a story of angelic majesty spread across the skies, and Mary and Joseph received confirmation that no, they weren’t crazy, but this really was Emmanuel in their arms. After hundreds of years of silence, the presence of the Lord was back with His people.

Only this time, it wasn’t hidden behind a thick curtain in the temple that only one man once a year could pass. It wasn’t a pillar of fire or smoke, and it wasn’t an angel. It was God, Himself, in the form of His creation. Jesus, very God, experiencing air on His skin, hiccups, pain, and laughter. God with us—Emmanuel. Jesus living the human experience so He could provide perfect comfort for us as we sorrow, hurt, and heal. Jesus showing us the way God intended us to live so that we could know His joy despite the brokenness of our world.

Christmas is about presence in the mess, rescue from the bondage, and love for the broken. Christmas is about a sinful world that deserved nothing better than abandonment or destruction being given a chance for healing and being cherished. Christmas is about the mess that is all of our lives, and what the Lord does when we allow Him to be here with us in our broken nows. Christmas is the glory of the Lord coming to where we are today, and changing our lives—if we’ll let Him.

So, Merry Christmas in the mess. Because God is in the business of taking the humble, the lowly, and the broken, and making something beautiful. Whatever your mess is this year, may God grant you peace and grace as you wait to see what He’s doing with it. Here’s to messy Christmases, and a God who came willingly to save His broken world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Weary Traveler returns!

I just got back from my trip to the Copper Belt; boy is it good to be back in the bush again! I didn’t take many pictures because I was so busy living, but here are a few of the highlights of the trip.

* I went to the dentist and found that instead of having a massive problem like I feared, I have a gum infection. Easily taken care of; less than $100 for a cleaning and the antibiotics. I love living in Zambia sometimes…

* I treated myself to a manicure and my first non-home haircut. I am very happy with both, and it was a nice way to pamper myself after a stressful term.

* I did a lot of shopping; I don’t know when the next time I’ll be able to take a buying trip is, so I stocked up on staples like flour and sugar, as well as not available in the bush commodities like meat, cheese, and apples. I also bought new curtains for my living room, and found a few other nice household things.

* I enjoyed getting to eat out a bit and enjoy gelato every afternoon on my way home. $2 for two scoops? Lovely little splurge!

* I got to spend some time with my ‘Zambian family,’ the Fernandos and enjoy some amazing Sri Lankan cooking as well as lots of laughter and fellowship. I desperately needed some family time, and the Fernandos were a good substitute for my family. No, I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy enjoying my time with them!

* I ended up transporting 51 point of lay chickens as well as two bags of dried fish back up to the school with me, and picking up the school’s textbook order before heading up. Needless to say it was a smelly drive. I had to have all the windows cracked because the chickens generated so much heat, and so they could breathe. Feathers blew all over me and out the windows the whole way up, and if I never smell a chicken in that state again, it will be too soon!

*On my way back to Sakeji, after leaving the pavement in Mwinilunga, between the first and third river that you have to cross to get to the school I found myself facing a steep hill that had turned into a sea of mud after several cars had shredded it. I had to back down the mud hill to let a lorry down, and then I got stuck as I tried to climb it. I ended up being pushed up the hill by a crew of enthusiastic Zambians in exchange for a loaf of bread. I was nervous about what I would find on the last hill, but that one was still fine. Praise the Lord that it was still light, and that there was enough manpower on hand to get me up! It is very good to be back home in the bush.

Parting shots: This poor robot (what they call traffic lights here) in Solwezi got nailed!

This is what the car looked like when I got back!

This is how narrow the road is in many places right after Solwezi; after that it disappears entirely for large stretches while you are sent on long detours full of speed bumps, mud, and dust. They aren’t fixing it fast enough; this is the main highway through the country!

Finally, my new haircut right after it was done while my hair was still straight. The humidity took care of that in quick order!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

End of the 2015 School Year

I had every intention of updating the blog this weekend with some pictures and thoughts from the end of term, but then I came down with a cracking case of malaria, and quietly fell off the world for a few days. I’m crawling back on as we speak—I’m about to 70-75% or normal—and thought I’d go ahead and write about end of term this time, and the suffering of malaria another day. So, some thoughts and pictures about end of term!

* It’s always interesting to figure out how much you can say to a parent; usually if they agree with/affirm the very mild description of their child’s behavior, I feel like I can go into more detail. Trying to tell one anxious dad that there is nothing wrong with his daughter’s mind except she seldom engages it first and might be adequately described as an airhead? Interesting…

We put icicle lights on the hall!

For leavers party we made copies of part of the kids entrance interview, the dread 'draw a man.' They had to try and guess who's was who's; oddly enough, only one kid recognized hers! Watching them laugh as the answers were reviled was priceless!

* It's really easy to say goodbye to some kids, and very hard for others.

End of term shows give me gray hairs... Here are the kids mostly behaving for a moment while Jill talked to them.

Me with my handwork kids; we made beaded felt ornaments in addition to working on knitting this term.

This end of term program was one of the hardest I've ever done as I had a pinched nerve in my right shoulder, and a strained right hand and arm. Playing was physically uncomfortable to painful, and the music was particularly ill suited to that limitation on my part. I crashed through it by the grace of God, but it's not something I can recommend. I'm working on getting the pinched nerve cleared up now.

In general, it was a good close to the school year, but it also meant that Beth was leaving. Very bitter-sweet days for me, but God is good. Am I ready to do it all over again in a month? HA!