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Dashing through the City, in a one Moto Open Tuk-Tuk

In the past week, I was vomited on in a tuk-tuk, found a squashed gecko under my couch, encountered at least two rats outside, and received vaccines for Japanese Encephalitis, typhoid, and rabies. I have not bought any gifts, eaten a single piece of chocolate that did not taste like chalk, nor experienced an ambient temperature under 77 degrees (with the exception of soaking in the cold while trying to rearrange our tiny freezer). Not good, not bad; just different. This is the mantra to repeat during your first year in any new place (within the majority or minority world).

Our family has moved from different to different over the past few years. Two Christmases ago, we enjoyed visits from our Cameroonian neighbors, caroled in the patient wards, and shared a delicious potluck with fellow ex-pats. Last year, we traveled from Africa into a Winter Wonderland and experienced a whirlwind of reunions in both New York and Arkansas. This year, Advent looked like moving to the other side of the globe, contracting multiple gastrointestinal and upper respiratory illnesses, and trying to figure out how to function with next to no communication capacity. Almost everyone we know in our new city is out of town for the holidays. We regretfully declined two invitations to Christmas dinner because our youngest has yet to go 24 hours without vomiting.

Christmas is just another day here. No time off, no pretty decorations, no very merry get-togethers. For the vast majority of the people here, the phrases Good News and great joy have absolutely no meaning. The developed, post-Christian world forgets the simple message of hope born over two thousand years ago, opting instead to embrace the fleeting (frenetic?), holly jolly aspects of the Christmas season. These parts of the holidays are so deeply ingrained in us as Americans that any other December experience seems off.

Feeling the void of traditions lost, we came up with some new ones today. Hearty soup for lunch, decorating cut outs in a low stress way (kids make only the ones they're going to eat, with no rules against finger licking), homemade pizza for dinner, crackling fire/carols DVD, and The Nativity Story before bed. As we watched the re-enactment, I was struck by the dissimilarity between the first Christmas and everything I correlate with the holiday season. Mary and Joseph journeyed away from their homes and likely, their extended family. They did not have a home cooked meal, a comfortable bed, beautiful music, sparkling lights, or creative gift exchanges. And despite having traveled while pregnant or nursing on four continents in the past few years, I cannot imagine the stress Mary experienced as a teenager delivering her first child far from home.

And yet. Scripture tells us that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Pondering is simply not something I associate with Christmas. Pondering is for retirement. Or for nights with insomnia. But actually? Pondering is for us. What exactly did Mary ponder? Not likely her circumstances, nor experiences. She seemed to be pondering the shepherds' testimony about who Jesus is, and what He would be.

We can do the same. We can treasure up what Scripture says about Jesus. Good News. Great joy. A Messiah born to save us from our sins, and ourselves. Peace to us on whom His favor rests.

Three years. Three continents. Our nuclear family and Jesus have been the only constants. We shouldn't be pitied for missing the wonderful aspects of Christmas in America. In fact, we may be the lucky ones because it is easier for us to focus on the real wonder of the Season. But whether covered in vomit in a tuk-tuk or sitting by a crackling fire sipping hot chocolate, we can choose to treasure the Good News of the Gospel. This message is for all the people. It can be heard over the bustle of holiday parties in North America as well as over the daily karaoke outside our windows in Asia. He has blessed us, every one.

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