The Christmas highlight of 2015 will be, for me, celebrating with four kids in a real home, a place we are working to make our "basecamp" for decades to come. We are still a family of pilgrims, but having a specific spot tied to family history, a spot that is ours, where any of us can land when we need to, means a lot. And even as I consider that, I know that it was not true of Christmas two thousand-plus years ago, when Mary and Joseph had no place to call home. And it has not been true of many Christmases for us, when we've been displaced by war or on the move. So while I truly am thankful for our wood-burning stove-warmed kitchen, our hand-me-down table and plates, our new comfortable beds, I know that Christmas was more than a glow of lights in a West Virginia mountain hollow. The gathering of people whose hearts are bound to each other makes the home, and that can be mobile until we are all rooted together in a New Heavens and New Earth.
So with that in mind, we celebrate the moments and the memories. Taking Granddad to play putt putt golf with the hunch that once he held the club and was oriented to the hole, muscle memory would take over. It is no small thing to find an activity that engages late-teens and mid-80's, so let me recommend miniature golf. He was far better at it than the rest of us. Except Nana, who with her 5 foot frame and laid-back personality was never the family athlete, but came out of nowhere to hit 4 holes-in-one. The shock on Scott's face and the delighted surprise on hers were priceless.
Then there were the little photo albums of baby pictures my mom put together from the stacks of old pictures as she moved. The cousins all remembering the old days and poking fun of each other as we celebrated with my family, the fun secret-santa gifts, the creative putting together of Christmas in a hotel room where we all met the weekend before. Memorable.
Music flowed during the rainy days back at home. Caleb's siblings decided that the main family Christmas gift would be an amplifier and loop pedal for him, so we had some jam sessions with our 80 year old minipiano and multiple guitars. The special Scandinavian treats, with Nana teaching Julia to use her own grandmother's rosette iron, and me making lefsa that even impressed Granddad. The traditional annual puzzle project. Abundant meals, lingering conversation, games, movies.
And because we are still cross-cultural in some ways, we made cookies and went caroling to some neighbors, and found a local Christmas Eve service as well. West Virginia has plenty of Angel Tree kids. Small ways to give to others.
On Christmas day itself, the first firing of the new pizza oven, with leisurely production of gourmet pies. And if you can't beat it join it . . . days of rain and milder temps inspired a family dip in the frigid river that runs by us, with some adventurous kayaking. Probably the first time ever for pizza or a kayak on Christmas, but hey.
But the cozy days (all four of them) of home-for-Christmas came to an abrupt end on the 26th. Luke went back to Charlottesville to study intensively for his board exams, coming up in a month, and weighing him down with oppressive hours and determinative outcomes. (Prayers appreciated, particularly as he strained his back and is in a lot of pain). He went by way of Dulles to get Scott's parents to a flight back to California, while the rest of us dismantled the tree and packed our bags. By early afternoon we were on the road to St. Louis, with an overnight in Louisville. And we'll be on the road for all but 2 nights in the next 5 weeks.
Which brings us to Urbana, the biggest student mission conference in North America, held every three years to worship God with thousands and thousands of college students, focusing on God's merciful heart for all nations. Tornadoes and floods pounding the midwest give this event an apocalyptic feel. We were awakened at 4 am by harshly alarming cell phones warning of flash floods for our area, but since we're on the 16th floor of a hotel we went back to sleep. In a few hours Scott and I will give a seminar called "Child Health in the Majority World: A Billion Reasons for Hope." There are exhibits, booths, books, speakers, chatter, music, lights, and a lot of damp cold young people asking God for purpose and direction.
Christmas in motion once again, our brief respite and taste of home now a memory in the more realistic life of pilgrimage. Pray for us to move in faith, and to see the hand of God as we go.