27 December 2011

Innocent, Christmas, Baby and Me

A recap and update on our family:
Innocent – The house is so quiet!  Innocent returned to spend Christmas with his great-grandmother (Fred’s grandmother, called “Dani”), and on the way back, Fred took him for an admissions interview for the boarding school we are planning to send him to.  We didn’t realize how competitive the admissions process is, but Innocent impressed the school officials and they offered him a place!  Although I’m sure it seems strange to Americans to send a six-year-old to boarding school, it’s really the best educational option here, and Innocent is so excited.  He was also really excited to go home and tell all his stories about life in our house, but he made sure that Fred knew that he was planning on coming back to our house before he reports to school on 4th January.  We now have the list of school supplies he needs, so I’ve been embroidering his name on his sheets and underwear while Fred collects pencils, notebooks and soap.  It’s kind of fun being the “parents” for back-to-school time!  We’re both planning to go on the 4th to deliver Innocent to school and make sure he’s settled in.
Christmas – I got some really kind comments and emails after my last blog post about celebrating Christmas, including an especially helpful and encouraging email from a friend who is a retired missionary to Southern Sudan and Uganda.  I made peanut butter fudge for Fred’s family’s Christmas celebration and lemon hand scrub for Dani.  With Innocent’s “help” I made homemade lemonade-flavored pixie stix (including sealing plastic straws closed over a candle…no joke) for the boy to give to his family.  All things considered, I think I went through an entire kilo of sugar (roughly 2 pounds), but everything turned out quite well.  I spent several days leading up to Christmas alone as Fred traveled with Innocent, so I made myself some Christmas decorations using scissors, crayons and recycled paper from the office.  I don’t have enough internet credit to post photos, but I made a little red-and-green paper chain, some snowflakes, a Merry Christmas banner and…drum roll please…a Christmas tree!  It’s my pride and joy, consuming 11 pieces of paper, complete with a star, ornaments and garlands.  Fred made it home Christmas morning, and we spent the day resting and listening to Christmas music, then I got a fantastic Christmas gift…a restaurant opened in Shirati!  I’m not joking that there were NO restaurants in this town, only a couple of bars that served nasty chips and meat.  We had chicken masala and pilau, and Fred shared a bottle of champagne with some friends while I drank non-alcoholic cider.  It was nothing glamorous, but a really nice way to spend Christmas.
Baby – I’m getting more and more inquiries about baby names, but it’s still not settled.  I read somewhere that the Luo tribe (Fred’s tribe) tends to believe that the name just comes with the baby.  This goes totally against my hyper-planner nature, so I have spent considerable time thinking about names, but we’re not locked in to anything except a first name for a boy, which I’ve wanted for years.  No spoilers here, but if you’re really interested, just email me.  Today marks week 34 of the pregnancy, about six weeks to go.  I’m not too uncomfortable, except always hot, and not growing as noticeably rounder.  The baby is still very active, but I can tell it’s getting a little tighter in there.  I’m really not very nervous about the birth, but I really am getting nervous about being prepared for the baby.  We got our crib, which is beautiful, and while Fred was traveling I finished the crib sheets (white, blue, green, orange and pink stripes).  Now I’m working on the matching bumpers, all by hand.  My mom and grandma are sending me some supplies to help with all these sewing projects, as well as a few essentials, and hopefully the boxes will arrive soon to ease my mind that the baby won’t be wearing a tea towel for a diaper.
Me myself – This Christmas season reinforced my sense of isolation here in Shirati, but along with that sense of isolation came a lot of peace.  I have come to be grateful for this season, which has pushed me toward greater reliance on God for my strength and growth.  I’ve also had a great opportunity to learn about being a wife, and, although there have been a few ugly, emotional episodes which I wish I could blame entirely on pregnancy hormones, I have learned so much about praying for, loving and submitting to my husband.  I know I’ll look back on this time as a gift given to Fred and me to enjoy settling into married life with very minimal distraction from outside.  I’ve also been given the opportunity to really dream about the life God has for us, and my role in that as a mother.  I’m reading a couple of parenting books, including The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson, which is challenging me to invest myself wholly in the children God gives us.  Everything I’m learning in that area is a whole blog post in and of itself, so I’ll save it for the future.  All this to say that isolation is not always a curse, and although I’ve been tempted to view it as such from time to time, today I’m reminding myself of all I have to be grateful for.

14 December 2011

To Christmas or not to Christmas

I have such fond memories of the holidays growing up.  Most of those memories are set at my grandparents' houses, mostly sitting around the dining room table eating great food.  Christmas Eve at Grandma Jones' house was a little less traditional and a little more chaotic. We ate something different each year, from tacos to sandwiches to ham roast, with the standard eight to ten different kinds of homemade pie. The tree was always real, because my grandpa worked the Christmas season at his friend's Christmas tree farm (it's an Oregon thing), and usually at least one of the gifts under the tree was wrapped in garbage bags or the comics.  Christmas at Grandma Adams' house was traditional and beautiful.  I remember the glittery antique ornaments on the tree, and perfectly wrapped gifts underneath.  We usually ate turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and all that great traditional food. 

I have especially fond memories of one Christmas Eve when we packed into the car for the drive from Grandma Jones in Newberg to Grandma Adams in Astoria (about 2 hours' drive) in the middle of the night.  My brother, sister and I fell asleep, of course, but I remember waking up to the sounds of Amy Grant's Christmas album as we pulled onto Grandma's street.  I loved that "Tennessee Christmas" tape.

As my siblings and cousins and I got older, there were more adaptations to the Christmas traditions.  We got older, presents became less important and we were more distracted by plans with friends.  The "Tennessee Christmas" tape got lost, and I personally became less interested in "non-Jesus" Christmas traditions like gift giving and Christmas music (aside from those amazing Christmas hymns).  Now I'm in a position to re-evaluate Christmas traditions, and I'm not sure what to do.  Christmas in Africa is quite different from the States, since the Christians here haven't really picked up the "extra" stuff that clutters our American Christmases.  Plus there's no snow here (obviously), no Christmas trees or ornaments, and very few of the traditional Christmas foods I remember from Grandma Adams' dinner table.  No Christmas cookies or stockings, very little gift-giving.  There's a whole lot of church associated with celebrating Christmas, but not so much the Christmas carols and nativity plays, more like the usual service, just three times longer.

Being a new wife, I feel like this is the year to start Christmas traditions for our family, but I simply don't know what to do.  Things like an Advent countdown and paper chains seem like kid things that are impossible to explain to Innocent.  Snowflakes and Christmas trees and stockings mean nothing to anyone but me, and seem kind of silly to explain to Fred.  Christmas cookies and other special food is pretty impossible to deliver on.  The thought of trying to come up with a special Christmas tradition and pull it off somehow seems...daunting.  All that combined with financial strain and baby preparation makes me want to opt out of Christmas this year, but the idea of sitting around watching movies and eating rice and beans on 25 December doesn't appeal either. 

How does one truly honor the beautiful miracle of Jesus' birth?  What's left after the sentiment and cultural traditions are stripped away?  Or, maybe, is there room for some nostalgia and warm fuzzies mixed in with Jesus?  Help me out, people!  How do you honor Jesus' birth in your family?