"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" This Charlie Brown quote has been haunting me for the last month.
I feel like life is like a cartoon right now. The old kind where the character would dig to China only to find everything is turned upside down. Yup. That's a little what it's like.
Christmas, in particular, has been disconcerting. Everything to do with Christmas seems to have gone awry. It has made me seriously call in to question just what Christmas IS about.
I can tell you what it's not about…
The decorations. Ours missed the boat and are (hopefully) in storage somewhere. So we went to Ikea and got the picked-over cheap ones.
The tree. We ordered a relatively small artificial tree before we left the States, unsure about the availability of live trees. The picture on the box looked promising. The reality was pretty sad. Take away our collection of ornaments (in storage), add some cheap Ikea balls (only to the top 1/3, as the baby launches the ones on the bottom), and voila! Crap.
The gifts. Some of the gifts I really wanted to order would have cost an arm and a leg for shipping, and you just can't find them here. However, the culture here would have you believe that all your dreams come true in the shopping malls. One huge sign read: Make luxury a habit. Another: You CAN buy happiness. Ugh.
The weather. Most versions of the song White Christmas omit the opening stanza: "The sun is shining. The grass is green. The orange and palm trees sway. There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills L.A. But it's December the 24th, and I am longing to be up north." A.Men. The weather here is gorgeous. It's a tropical paradise. But it sure doesn't feel like Christmas.
Even the church service. This year we headed to church in the hopes of capturing the Christmas spirit. I wanted carols, quiet, a poignant message. I should have known it would be a disaster before we left the house. Everyone was melting down. Crying, complaining, tired after having been allowed to stay up too late the night before. We arrived at church and noticed the children's section was closed. We were handed candles and headed for the back. As we waited for the service to begin, the kids were crying, flopping around in their chairs like beached sea creatures, and visions of our candle-holding hellions burning the church down danced in my head. We left. Before the fist song began, we scuttled out of there and into the van again, tears in all of our eyes.
What was missing??
I was searching in all the wrong places. I was searching for a feeling, a familiar scene, the perfect holiday tune. I had taken Christ out of Christmas. For weeks I had been drilling the message that Jesus was "the reason for the season" into the kids heads, but my words were not matching my actions. Instead of making an effort to serve others, I was catching buses and carrying bags all over Singapore in search of the perfect gifts (which, given the reactions Christmas morning, apparently were not found). I was up all night online arguing with Amazon over shipping prices instead of reading the Word with the kids.
The only time Christmas felt remotely like Christmas was when I headed to a friend's house to collect my wallet. I had left it there the night before when we hastily left the Christmas Eve party because our kids were falling apart. I was frustrated with myself for misplacing something so important, for interrupting my friend's Christmas day, with my kids for freaking out and requiring a quick exit.
But, ahhh, the quiet of an empty van. Suddenly I was alone but not alone. I was able to pour my heart out. I am sad, Lord, I cried. I am sad to be away from family on such a family-centered time of year. I am sad that it is not cold and snowy and Christmas-y. I miss the familiar.
At the same time, I was thankful. I was thankful that it had all been stripped away for once. That I could examine my heart and decide: Would I truly practice what I preached? Could I blame my kids for being ungrateful because they weren't totally thrilled with 100% of their gifts? They were looking at me. I was literally surrounded by blessings and whining because it wasn't exactly what I was used to. It wasn't exactly as I had hoped.
I am truly glad for this experience. Moving here I was worried my kids would be robbed of certain American experiences. For once, I think it's a good thing. I want them to know Christmas is not all about us and getting exactly what we want. It's about appreciating the perfect gift that was given to the whole world and recognizing that without Him, there would be no reason to celebrate. So, thank you, Jesus. Thank you for leaving your perfect, beautiful, familiar throne, to be born in a humble manger so we could learn how to love and serve. Thank you.
Wishing you all a merry Christmas.