Speaking Unknown Languages

This morning, I found myself reliving the past and cherishing the present. 

I laughed at the blessing of what I have surrounding me this Christmas Eve. I’ve been given memories I’ll never forget, loved ones I’ll always cherish… I can’t thank God enough for all these things. My worlds have officially collided. Every time I see strangers becoming family around my parents’ dinner table, I can hear God whisper, “This is both a reminder of eternal redemption you can’t run from & a gift of absolute love.” 

But still, in this quiet morning where memories can flow without interruption, I found myself missing Ohio. Last year, I was a guest in a friend’s home; a cherished stranger-made-family. I could have easily felt like a fish out of water, but I rarely did. 

Hearing German, Korean and Japanese happened often during that Christmas. Every once in a while, I’d throw in some Sign Language just to make my friends giggle… At times, my surrogate German-Mama would forget to speak English when addressing me and the kitchen would erupt in laughter at the confusion. 

Last Christmas Eve, in four different languages, we sat down and told the Christmas Story. As Jesus’ birth was celebrated simultaneously in each language, I laughed for fear of crying. 

It was a minuscule taste of what I can only imagine Heaven to be like. Voices raised with confidence, speaking the Truth of our Redeemer in our respective heart language. We shared knowing smiles as we let each other express our Jesus differently, knowing our bond would always hold some mystery. 

I’m surrounded by English speakers this year. Each time I hear snippets of the Christmas Story – Holy God coming to Earth as a baby to save His people – I smile. Jesus is so much more than a story.

He breaks down language barriers, cultural differences & economic struggles and creates family out of strangers. 

Ashamed to be Seen

It was cold outside. Her little nose was bright red, her ears already white with frostbite. As I carried her down the Shelter hallway to the room she would share with her parents, I bit back angry,  uncompassionate words at her parents. I didn’t know their story. I didn’t need to know their story.

All I knew was it was cold outside. We had an open bed. The three-year-old in my arms needed sleep.

As I sat my youngest charge on the bed, her parents unpacked their daughter’s small plastic bag filled with 2 shirts and a pair of pants. Thank you, Lord, for somehow at least providing this kiddo with a coat, I thought.

I shifted the girl from my lap to the bed and stood up to find the remaining paperwork for the adults in the room.

“That’s our bed, Sweetheart. Bed.. Yeah, you like it don’t you?” I heard the dad choke back tears as he paid attention to his little girl.

I made eye contact with the mom, trying to smile but positive my 22-year-old attempts at not being offensive failed miserably. Her mom answered the unspoken question with tears in her eyes.

“The only bed she’s had was a basinet when she was a baby. She’s always slept on me or a foam pad next to me. She’s… Yeah, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks for letting us spend the Christmas season here. At least she has a bed.”

I cried then. Not because their plight overwhelmed me, in all honesty, they were in pretty good shape compared to the others we had housed in the last weeks. I cried because she was the first client to bravely point out my judgmental spirit. Is that how she sees me, Lord? I cried out silently. Isn’t my purpose here to show love no matter the circumstances? She’s scared of me. What have I done? 

“You’re right, Ma’am, I don’t understand. I don’t have a toddler, but I’m sure she’s what has kept you going this far. We’ll talk more about what got you here when you’re ready. Let’s get you guys some food first.” I learned that day what it meant to take care of the small things God allows me to provide and to let Him handle the rest… void of judgment.

I was reminded of my winter at the shelter the other day as friends and I drove through a city in Ohio. As is typical for busy Ohio, homeless men speckled the highway. One man in particular broke my heart. His sign was nothing spectacular. The scrawled words Will Accept Anything Please Help were haphazardly placed on a cardboard sign. 

What hurt my heart was the fact that he didn’t dare look up at the faces passing by in the vehicles rushing down the highway. As the cars whooshed by, I saw his jaw tighten. I had seen that look of anger a thousand times before. As a man, there was no lower place to find yourself. I knew the lies he was feeding himself as one by one, my car included, no one sought him out.

Whatever your view is on panhandlers, I challenge you to change things up this Christmas season. I am not an advocate for giving cash simply because I don’t know the temptations that loom in that 10 dollar bill. I am, however, an advocate for reminding these men and women they are still a valuable part of the human race. Make eye contact with them. 

No matter how needy people may find themselves this Christmas season, no one deserves to feel shame for being seen.

Who knows, eye contact could lead to a meal for a hungry person. You may become the hands and feet of Jesus.

Melodic Memories

It’s just a piano, but it represents so much. As a toddler, it signified naptime at my mama’s feet. As a child, it was my fortress in endless games of sibling tag (read: sibling torture). As an ill teen, it signified time to unravel the harsh truths of loving music but being too sick to share a God-given gift with the world.

As an adult, it was just friendship. Hours and hours of my mom playing through every chorus and hymnal we could find. I’d practice artistic liberty while my mom bit back a smile when it didn’t sound so grand. Hymns like It Is WellSoftly and Tenderly or Sweet By & By brought on “remember whens” of the days playing piano was two females’ only respite from a cruel, confusing disorder.

It’s just a piano, but every time I see one, I smile. I unexpectantly choked back a laughing sob today when I realized how much this holiday season will change my perception of my mama’s piano.

Instead of just my mama and I, God is humorously and joyously adding a male singer to that duo… Wait. What? In all my years of tickling the pages of a hymnal, I never thought three people around my mama’s piano would be a reality.

Instead of closing the hymnal and promising to come back and sing more next week, I’ll be begging God for another chance to sit and make music around the piano with my mama at least annually. Wait, what? My mama’s piano is one of the only childhood memories I can recall without assistance. Getting to giggle and sing with my music-making mama once a year doesn’t seem like enough.

My pensive laughter turned into awe when I realized why I’m so shaken over this year’s changes. Sure, I’m focusing on my mother, her piano and holiday traditions, but I still can’t believe the grace of God these transitions represent.

I never thought I’d make it to 26. I never thought I’d be able to act on my dreams and talents. I never believed I’d live long enough to have to figure out Godly relationships, let alone get to figure them out.

I never thought I’d grow out of being the little girl whose only release was at the piano.

Yet as I prepare to embark on an insanely unexpected holiday season, I can only hear God chuckle and pull me in as He whispers, “I’ve given you all of this and so much more. When will you learn your life has purpose?”

It’s just a piano, but it signifies dreams that were written and left unspoken by a 15-year-old, only to be told years later by the Master of Heaven Himself. 

Christmas Defined

According to the “Christmas-aholics” I’m a midget sized Grinch with a really boring heart. I am not your typical “Crazy About Christmas” young adult. I don’t lay awake daydreaming about what I’ll get who or what lights I can buy to make my apartment pop out from the normalcy on my street.

I love Christmas, but I couldn’t care less what day the rest of the world celebrates it on.

I love going “all out” to give the kiddos in my life the gift of anticipation and the joy of mystery. But still… there’s a part of me that cringes living in the Midwest and watching how “Christmas” gets celebrated.

Christmas is the day celebrating Christ, God’s Son and His arrival on this earth as one of us. He came to save us from our selves. God – the Supreme of all gods and the Ultimate King Eternal became one of us. Hallelujah! Christmas!!

As Christians, do we have a right to celebrate Christmas as if it is merely a 48 hour joyride and then act as if Christ is an optional “thing” 363 days of the year? Do we actually treasure Christ as much as we make it appear we do when the time of year comes around where we sing songs most of us don’t have to ponder because we’ve known them since we were conceived?

It may sound cheesy but may this year’s Christmas be an attitude; not an event. May you see Christ and His gift of provision in the roof over your heads, the smile on your lips and the joy in your laugh. Only then will Christmas start making sense.

If Christmas is merely the “hype” of the “Baby Boy”, we have completely misrepresented Christ in the first place. Christ came to this earth concealed and lowly and yet His presence – the presence of God with Us – is not something to only strike up joy and excitement for a few days a year.

When the lights come down, the presents get exchanged and the wrapping paper gets put away… I pray your Christmas doesn’t disappear.

Christ is still here.

Merry TCK Christmas

“You really are a TCK aren’t you???”

I chuckled when my “host-mama” asked me that question. Apparently, I have all the personality of being a “TCK” – a Third Culture Kid. Though my heart understands what that means, my Spirit fights against it.

I grew up resonating more with the culture my parents served in as missionaries than I ever did in the setting where all my friends looked like me. I’d come back to my “White-life” and be intensely confused why I didn’t fit in anymore. But I was okay with not fitting in. I learned to laugh when Caucasian friends quipped dramatically, “Hey! You’re WHITE! Act like it!”

Okay… how?

A lot of my confusion and processing was because I was young enough to be impacted by everything I saw. It wasn’t very black and white in my mind what applied to me as a kid and what didn’t apply… I loved sharing my heart with two cultures.

I didn’t fit into either one.

Though it is just my opinion, I think “TCKs” feel their differences the most around the holidays. Every culture has their traditions. As a TCK, you never really know what your mind and heart is supposed to feel when Christmas comes around. I’m white… so Christmas trees, presents, Jesus and the manger it is. My heart still attests to the people I grew up with, so though traditions may be similar, they’re not the same.

I’m 25, I haven’t “done life” in the Culture of my Heart in almost 9 years. But I still battle the need to know how to feel about Christmas without someone else that tells the same stories, dances the same dances and sings the same songs that I’m mentally rehearsing simply because it’s a precious memory.

I’m a TCK- I can deal with that. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but… what do I do about Jesus? In the culture of my heart, Jesus is still Jesus… He’s God’s Son, He’s the Gift I’ll never be able to match, run away from or understand completely.

But Christmas feels different now that I’m the majority rather than the minority. I’ve never been able to say that out loud. I don’t know if I can even now.

As I was observing my jumbled TCK thoughts this morning, I could almost hear my Christ remind me that I didn’t have to completely understand a Savior that spanned cultures and traditions.

He did, after all, create every culture though they “see” him differently. I just had a small period in my life where I was given the chance to see Him in more than one at the same time.

Homeless Emmanuel

I grew up with the typical Christian family Christmas mantras. Thoughts such as- “It’s better to give than to receive” and “The richest man is a man that knows he’s loved” were things said often around Christmas. As a child I knew my family was poor, but I heard my mother’s optimism so often through those phrases that often times, I forgot we were poor. We didn’t have much, but we had each other. Christmas still had to have something for me, though. If I were to be honest, God coming as Savior was always the second thing on my mind. I loved Jesus, but… What would be in my stocking this year? I was 21 before that attitude changed.

That Christmas, I was serving my first of three years at a shelter and prevention center for the homeless community in my home town. Through the help of the Churches we started organizing Christmas gifts for people that just needed a little help that year. I made calls to quilters asking for as many handmade blankets they could manage. A coworker called local businesses asking for pledges of food, coats, pencils… Anything. We asked for any kind of toy… Anything at all.

One family that I was responsible for that year was just a single father and his four year old daughter. A group of ladies volunteered to sponsor the little girl.. And sponsor her they did. It took three of us several trips to the car and back before all the presents were delivered. The little girl couldn’t stop squealing. She knew those presents were for her and she couldn’t be happier.

Another one of the ladies with me took the daughter outside to play as I spoke to her dad. He hadn’t asked for help, but had been warned that we were stopping by with, “something.” The gentle giant just cried and hugged me until I almost couldn’t breathe. I had never experienced not being provided for… Nor did I know what it was like to not be able to provide for a child. The look on this father’s face testified that he knew that feeling all too well.

“You made her smile. You gave her a pillow-pet. You made her smile. You actually made her smile.” I didn’t stop smiling as I timidly apologized that the only thing we had for him was food and blankets. His next words changed my attitude of Christmas altogether.

“Hun, I couldn’t care less about what trinkets you could collect for me. You provided for my child when I couldn’t. My heart is full. You’ll never know the power of a gift until someone provides when you cannot.”

I walked away from their home overwhelmed with the reminder that I knew very little of the gift of Christ. But what this Daddy had said hit the nail on the head. God, in his Greatness provided for me when I couldn’t provide for myself. Without the gift of His Son, life would be pointless and impossible yet God gave me Jesus because He knew I needed Him. Just as this father in front of me sacrificed his pride because he knew the outcome would bring his daughter joy… God sacrificed his Son to bring me life- despite the fact that I would never have enough to match His gift in full.

From then on out, as trite as it sounds, Christmas became an attitude- not an event. God gave everything out of Love and with complete joy. He then called me to go and live likewise. It was never about what I got on Christmas in the first place. It’s always been what I could give and how my heart mirrored the joy of Christ because of the gift first given to me. Christmas became the reminder that God called me to be His image-bearer.

“Emmanuel” means something completely different when you lock arms with a struggling father.