How do I sum up this year? Do I even try?
A pandemic. Two moves. An election. Protests. Living apart from my husband due to his work. An earthquake. Living with family. Buying a new home. Selling our old one. Saying goodbye to the place we’d called home for over a decade. Saying hello to new chickens, new neighbors, and possibly new bunnies (yes).
When 2020 started, I literally could not have fathomed what this year would bring, even if you’d given me a million guesses. I never thought we’d be here, in a new house in a new town in a totally unfamiliar part of the state. I never thought we’d be asked to walk the path that we’ve now walked.
But through it all, I have felt the roots of my gratitude take hold deep within me for those parts of life I hold most dear—my faith, my family, the warmth of friendship, the joy of small daily moments, the pleasure in learning something new.
Has it been a hard year?
Has it been a good year?
The older I get, the more I’ve repeatedly been made to learn that challenges and sorrows and joy and gratitude can all coexist. That they do, in fact, seem to bring each other out even more.
Right now, our tree only got half-decorated a couple days ago, and I still have around 4 boxes of Christmas decorations that never got unpacked. I have gifts yet to wrap, cookies to make in a kitchen that still lacks a floor, and a menu to plan for tomorrow. My husband is in our playroom/guest room, trying to get enough of the floor put down so that we can have somewhere to put my mom and stepdad when they come to visit tomorrow.
In other words, the house is not currently in its best state, nor will it be for several weeks yet (as we still have all that flooring to put down and more painting to do).
But it is okay.
It’s okay that it’s been a weird Christmas season. It’s okay that things have looked different this year. While traditions are wonderful and lovely and life-giving (and while we’ve still tried to fit in many of our usual ones this year), it is okay to throw in a Christmas every now and then that looks completely different than any before it. In fact, those are the Christmases that are usually the most memorable.
Longtime blog readers will know that over a decade ago (before I got married), I served a religious mission for 18 months in the Central American country of El Salvador.
The Christmas I spent down there could not have looked more different than anything I’d experienced before. My tree was about 10 inches high and was a fiber optic plug-in that my mom had sent as part of a Christmas package. Most of the homes I visited lacked any kind of traditional Christmas decor—only the very wealthiest families could afford to decorate trees, buy wreaths, etc. (and really, those ideas about how you “should” decorate for Christmas didn’t really exist there anyway).
In El Salvador, the big day is actually really Christmas Eve — families gather together for the traditional meal of panes con pollo (chicken and bread) and amass any money that can be spared to buy fireworks. If gifts ARE exchanged, they’re usually articles of new clothing for the children and youth, as dances are often held late into the night on Christmas Eve for the young people.
We usually had to be in before dark (and we especially couldn’t be out in the more dangerous parts of our area after dark), but we had received a gracious invitation to join a family we’d been teaching for a long time for their Christmas Eve. They lived far out in a cantón (the Salvadorean equivalent of the backwoods boonies, which in this particular region was an area basically in the middle of the jungle), and we had to get special permission to be in that area and to be out past curfew.
We ate our meal outside under the stars and trees and then watched as fireworks lit up the sky all around. We drove home in the back of a pickup truck with bars on the sides to use as handrails, and I remember riding through the jungle amidst all the shimmering bursts of light from late-night parties and breathing in the trees and marveling at the confluence of circumstances that had brought me right to that spot in that moment in time.
The next day, the whole world slept in as Christmas Day in El Salvador is largely a day of rest and leftovers and very quiet time with family. The streets were literally filled a foot deep in newspaper confetti (which comes out of the fireworks), and the only cars on the road sent huge flurries of the paper swirling every which way.
We had made very simple candy “leis” using red and green saran wrap, curling ribbon, and wrapped candy, and we took them to family after family and shared a very short message together of the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that His birth brought to humankind over 2,000 years ago.
It was one of my most beautiful and most memorable Christmases ever, and most of all, it taught me that when your Christmas looks far, far different than anything you’ve expected or have been used to in the past, you still always have a choice—revel in the very different-ness of it and do all you can to make the most of it, or rail against it and make yourself miserable with comparisons.
So this year, we’re reveling in the different-ness. We’re laughing about our “construction zone” Christmas and giving daily prayers of thanks to have Matt finally home with us all the time again (last week was his last week having to commute to the old location!). We took pictures of the kids dressed up as shepherds and wise men so that they could be part of our Zoom Christmas Eve celebration with Matt’s family.
Tonight we will read the story of Christ’s birth with the children and talk about how the Son of God condescended to come to earth as a baby and to live a perfect life in a fallen world, so that when it came time for Him to give the ultimate sacrifice to pay the price of death and sin, He could.
I’m so thankful for Him.
May you revel in the different-ness of your own Christmas season, and if yours is tinged with sadness and sorrow, may you find peace and hope through the Prince of Peace and the Ultimate Giver of Hope.
Love you all, and Merry Christmas to you!