for my christmas this year there are no christmas lights. there are no carolers. there are no bustling department stores.
for my christmas this year there is no tinsel. there are no overdone christmas trees. there are no presents. no wrapping paper.
the agenda for my christmas this year does no include anything about santa claus, kris kringle, or even father christmas. for my christmas this year there are no little kids anxiously waiting to see a bright red nose or hear hooves on their rooftops tonight.
in fact, my christmas this year is about as anti-american as you can get.
in zambia, christmas is not about a day. christmas is not about money. christmas is not about glitz and glamour. here the only celebrity on this day is the one for which it was originally intended.... a small baby, a son, and the very child of God.
sure, i miss the holiday hype. i miss the spirit of christmas. i miss singing christmas carols at the top of my lungs. i miss being surrounded by my very favorite people. i miss days in a row of the best food and desserts you can ever imagine.
but, i also have the opportunity to finally experience christmas for its true meaning. i am experiencing a christmas that is truly about life, about family, and about love. and not only that, but i get to celebrate with people who know the importance of these things and truly cherish them.
next year, i will most likely plunge back into the american style of christmas... but for this year, this year i get to experience a very different kind of christmas.
i'm a problem solver... a solution finder... a fixer.
and the things i see on the world race on a daily basis are things that i just can't fix.
i sat in a living room this week and looked at a young baby who was cuddled into her mother's chest and couldn't help but think about the fact that she had no idea what lies ahead in life. she doesn't know that once she is ready for solid food that most likely she will go hungry. she doesn't know that in a couple of months that she might not have a roof over her head. she doesn't know that both her parents are sick and are HIV positive. she doesn't know that she might one day be an orphan.
i sat with a group of teenagers this week who have already lost one parent and have another parent that is sick. teenagers that have to miss school because they have to take care of their family. teenagers who can't always even afford to go to school. teenagers who are expected to act as adults.
i sat with a church member in his home this week who recently lost his 18 year old son. his son committed suicide. this sweet man had to bury his own son and is left to question how things could have been differently. this 18 year old boy thought life was too hard, and so he left his family with questions, with grief, and with one less child.
i sat inside a house this week with a woman who has one of the biggest hearts i have ever met. this woman works with orphaned children her in zambia. she lives in a mud brick house, with two small rooms, and no electricity. this woman could afford more, but instead her priority is being able to give at least a couple of these orphans a place to live. she goes on very little food, and sacrifices her lifestyle in order to make sure more children have a roof over their heads.
i sat beside a mother this week and listened to her talk about her husband. how he is an alcoholic, how his alcoholism affects him from working, and how he can no longer provide for their family. i listened as this mother told me that her husband had a girlfriend, and as she showed me the scar marks on her arms from a run in with the other woman. i listened as this mother talked about how her family was slowly falling apart.
for me these problems aren't just problems anymore, they aren't just statistics or things you hear on the news... they are people. they have names. they have stories. true, real stories... and as much as i want to fix all of them... i can't.
i'm am having to learn the hard way that sometimes things are just out of my control. sometimes i can't fix every single problem. sometimes i don't have all the answers and i am learning to be okay with that... only as long as i never forget that these problems, they still exist.
Imagine you are a 40 year old woman living in Africa. A 40 year old woman infected with HIV. A 40 year old woman with 6 children who are also all infected with HIV. A 40 year old woman who recently lost her husband, the sole provider of the family. A 40 year old woman who in a short period of time lost her property, her spouse, and her means of living. A 40 year old woman who is sick. A 40 year old woman who is tired. A 40 year old woman who is hungry. A 40 year old woman who most days cannot even feed her own children.
This woman has a name... her name is Mary.
As I sat in Mary's small home a couple of days ago, my heart broke. Through tears, she told us her story. Through tears, she choked out the details of her life. Through tears, she exposed her vulnerability and she admitted that she was not okay... that she was tired, she was hungry, and she was struggling.
As I looked into Mary's tear filled eyes, the only thought that went through my head was that there was absolutely nothing I could say to this woman to make things better. There were no amount of words within my vocabulary that would fix any of this. Nothing I had to tell her was going to heal things. All I had to offer her in that moment was my love.
So, I walked across the room, sat down beside Mary on the dirty floor, placed her hand in mine, and just cried with her.
I wont ever really be able to understand Mary's situation, but for the time being God allowed me to experience her pain. For the time being, God gently reminded me that sharing His love often involves sharing in the burdens of His people. God reminded me that we don't always need people to fix our problems, sometimes we just need people to scoop us up, to hold us, and to cry with us. Sometimes all we need is to be loved.
In case you didn't already know... I pretty much have the greatest family in the world. A bold statement, I know, but also a true one.
Let me tell you just how great they are. But, first I have to go back a couple of months.
During month 2 of the race, I had the opportunity to live and work at an orphanage in Haiti called HIS Home for Children. Not surprising to anyone, I quickly fell in love with the beautiful faces there, but there were two kids in particular that stole my heart... a 9 year old named Jasmine and a baby named Sammy.
Let me give you a little background on these two.
Jasmine has lived at the orphanage since she was about 2 years old. At this time she was severely malnourished and her mother brought her in because she just could not take care of her on her own. At the orphanage, she was nursed back to health and her mother was actually given the opportunity to attempt to raise her again. Unfortunately, a couple months later, her mother returned with the baby because she could not provide for her properly. Jasmine was my shadow from the day I stepped into the orphanage. She's beautiful, she has a smile that lights up the room, and while she loves the color pink, she sure doesn't mind getting down and dirty in the middle of a soccer game with all of the boys. Definitely my kind of girl.
Sammy, a one year old in the nursery, stole my heart at first glance. He has big brown eyes that read both of sadness and of love. From the first time I picked him up out of his bed, I knew we had a special bond. Throughout the month, I would stop in the nursery many times a day just to kiss my sweet baby on the head. It got to the point that he would start jumping up and down with a huge smile on his face whenever I would even peek my head in the room. This beautiful, sweet baby, like many other orphans just craved love.
Why tell you about these two? What does this have anything to do with my family? I'm getting there, I promise. :) You see, throughout my month in Haiti I prayed specifically over these two and their huge needs for a family. During this time, I also jokingly mentioned to my parents and my older sister that I had found Haitian children for them to adopt.
Somewhat to my surprise, and by God's divine intervention, my family took this advice seriously and agreed to be prayerful about it. Wow.
Long story short, these two Haitian kiddos will soon be coming to the United States to be a part of my family! I now have another little sister as well as a second nephew! Two little loves of my life will officially be a part of it forever.
How crazy is that? It still blows my mind.
See, I told you... I have a ridiculously wonderful family.
First time I have survived a whole month without electricity. First time I have ever shared a house with a family of mice. First time I slept in a house with dirt floors. First time I have taken bucket showers. First time I have eaten things like goat meat. Definitely lots of new experiences to add to the list.
However, my favorite first of this month was one I never would have expected...
During the last week of our ministry here, we were surprised by our contacts with the opportunity to visit a local prison to share the love of God with them. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The most I have ever seen of a prison before is the back area I was escorted through in order to get fingerprinting done for my teaching licensure! I was quickly beginning to think that it was probably not going to be quite the same experience.
Don't forget... we are in Africa. Government buildings and facilities are not quite what they are in the United States. This prison is located in the middle of a couple villages, its a small, rectangle, brick building. Nothing special. No barbwire. No armed men. Only one small gate that served as the way in and the way out. From outside, it was already evident that this place had the potential to get pretty rowdy. Outside the walls, we could hear the violent banter and rustling of the abundance of men inside. The presence was almost overwhelming and we had not yet even stepped inside the door. It was intense, and it was harsh, but we did all we know to do... we spent some time in prayer and trusted our God to lead us.
The prison itself it a square courtyard type setting with rooms all along the outside walls. As we step inside, it's clearly evident that this place is overcrowded. There are people everywhere. Hanging out the rooms, sitting on window sills and on top of ledges, pouring in and out of the bathrooms. Everywhere. We boldly step in, being escorted by one and only one guard. Here we are, in the middle of this mess of chaos, but still fully expecting God to show up.
They seat us up front on two long benches and begin to attempt to gather the crowd. The banter continues until our pastor begins a worship song in the native language. Suddenly a hush comes over the group and people begin to congregate near the front. Many of them know the words to the song and begin to sing and dance along. The atmosphere of the place is slowly changing. This new peace is beginning to wash over the chaos.
After the song is over, the crowd is completely silent. The men are sitting quietly. The faces are attentive. The large courtyard I stepped into just minutes ago looks like a completely different place. As we begin to share with them the wonderful news of salvation, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
For a split moment, I actually forgot that I was in a prison.
God continued to do his thing, and the day ended with over 60 men dedicating their lives to Christ. Over 60 men, bound by prison, but now forever freed by the love of an eternal Father. Amazing. Ridiculous. Mind blowing. 60 men who no longer have to live under the bondage of the past. 60 men who can now walk in a new life with a new beginning.
What a great reminder of God's ability to calm a storm. A great reminder of God's ability to let His light shine in even the darkest of places. A great reminder of God's grace, His forgiveness, and His love for even those people who have fallen far from Him.