All the lights in the house are asleep....except for the white twinklers on our little Christmas tree. The tree subtly stands at the end of the bed where I'm sitting in our loft, and my toes can almost touch the branches. It's so peaceful up here. As I soak in that special quiet that surrounds you when everyone else is sleeping, I'm thinking about Christmas and how it began with one single bright star...a star that led us to the one Light of the World. Somehow, in the midst of stocking stuffers, wrapping paper, and mall traffic, it's progressed into one of the most stressful, busy, and downright superficial times of the year, and I've been caught up in it once again. This year is different though. I'm still excited about giving gifts, and we've definitely hung our stockings on our makeshift "mantle" (the railing for the stairs leading up to the loft), but tonight I'm wondering why I seem to so easily forget the one and only thing that is worth celebrating.
I absolutely love The Food Network, but if you watch it as much as I do, you'll really start to believe that "the holidays" are all about family, making cookies with sprinkles, and adding an extra splash of heavy cream to everything you're eating. "It's the holidays, throw some extra sugar in there! Indulge a little!"
Holiday. For a word that's supposed to mean "a religious feast day; a holy day," there doesn't seem to be much holiness about it (ouch...that hit home).
As I spoke with my friend Pastor Samson in India today, I was humbled to remember what I've been so quick to forget. The "holidays" are not about getting, eating, indulging, or even making the house look pretty (as I straighten the wreath on my door for the twentieth time). Why, for once, can't it be about LESS? Making myself less. Living with less in this world. Removing distractions so I can see that one light that shines in the darkness...the light that the darkness does not understand...the light that is life to us...the light that is sometimes much more easily seen by believers like those I know in India.
Oh, how differently we celebrate Christmas here as compared to the rest of the world. The first thing on my mind is how I'm going to beat traffic to make it to Toys 'R Us and still have time for all the cookie-making, house-cleaning, and gift-wrapping. And what on earth, out of my closet full of clothes, am I going to wear to the Christmas Eve service?? On the other side of the world, Pastor Samson and his staff are thinking about how many sarees they can gather to give to the widows in nearby villages who cannot even afford a single dress. They're looking forward only to their hour-long prayer meeting on Christmas Eve and the "love feast" they'll share together afterwards. And we'll probably be eating more food on Christmas Day than they've seen in the past week.
It's almost a year ago now that I stepped foot in India for the first time. After 19 hours on a plane, I made it to Chennai at 2 am never feeling so alone in my life. Anxiously, I scanned the crowd for Pastor Samson and a sign with my name on it. Dozens of empty, foreign eyes stared back at me at the baggage claim as I became more and more desperate - why on earth had I come here alone? Relieved, I finally found Samson and then proceeded to violate every cultural rule in the book by flinging myself at him for a hug. The blessed man forgave me quickly, and he and his wife Prabhukumari led me to the taxi. My eyes were wide as I took in the first sights of India...people living in shacks on the side of the road, cows crossing the street with the cars, wild boars feeding on trash, and the smells, oh, the smells. This was going to be an adventure...
During those 10 days in India, I went to the farthest corners of the earth, was in the most physical discomfort, was more hungry, saw more beautiful people, and experienced more joy than I ever have in my life. I was stretched farther than I ever thought I could be. I saw the hopefulness and joy firsthand that comes from walking closely with Jesus, and I'm not talking about just going to church on Sunday, singing a few hymns, and then going out to lunch. I met a widowed father of 3 little children who has one leg and walks to church with crutches and a smile on his face. I stood in a grass hut village of people who lost husbands and fathers to the tsunami, and still, these new barefoot friends of mine could only think of one thing: proudly showing me the new church they'd built for their village - literally a concrete room the size of a closet, the ceiling strewn with colorful paper lanterns. On that hard, cold floor, we sat together and sang hymns to a God who is so big that He is as present in the smallest village of India as He is in my apartment in Dallas. I played with children at the Peace City orphanage who pray more earnestly at 6 years old than I've ever prayed in my life. I held their hands and touched their little, skinny legs. I played ball with them and laughed with them, the whole time wondering how I got to have this opportunity...and humbled to wonder how I could make sense of my middle-class Western life after the trip was over. You know, I've heard that joy comes through suffering, but there, I saw it and tasted it. I didn't understand it, but I sure believed it.
A year later, I still haven't made sense of it, but I hope I'm a little farther along. Of course I still find happiness in decorating our tree, giving gifts, baking 15 dozen Yummy Cookies and playing my Nat King Cole/Dean Martin/Bing Crosby Christmas album on endless loop. And I'm not saying we all have to sell our things and move to India, but what am I doing with my life to make it clear what I truly value? To reach out to others in love? To make myself less and not keep asking for more? And by the way, what if God called us to move to India one day? Would I be willing to go?
So almost a year later and as Christmas Day swiftly approaches, I want to take a few moments to remember my friends oceans away in the little town of Ongole, India. Pastor Samson, Prabhukumari, Wesley, Hudson, and even little Kerthanea the orphan girl with pigtails. Peace be with you, friends. From another continent and thousands of miles away, you have reminded me: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). These white twinkle lights at the foot of the bed are a lot more than a decoration to me now...and I hope it doesn't take until next December for me to remember that simple Truth again.