The Gift that Dwells in Me

The first Christmas overseas, I sobbed—loud, embarrassing heaves, not gentle, wistful tears—and earned myself an awkward consolation pat on the head from a male teammate who wasn’t sure what to make of this small town Alabama girl who couldn’t pull herself together. I was young, sad, and missed home.

Fast forward 11 years, and I expect I’ll find myself in tears this Christmas, too. Only this time it’ll be the reverse: after spending most of the past decade in Asia, this holiday season, tears will be spilled because our family (I’ve added a husband and two little ones in the intervening years) has returned to the States and I’m missing my Asian home.

I’ve gone and written of salty streaks down my cheeks, not the grace of the advent of the Christ Child. But—oh!—this is where the joy comes. As cross-cultural roamers, we come and go, we put down roots and yank them up, transplanting ourselves from this continent to that, from one home to another. It’s hard, bitter, painful. But, almost against all odds, it happens: we again make a home. I found a way to make my mom’s sugar cookies, but I also found that now Christmas will always mean the lingering aroma of red chili peppers from the annual Christmas hot pot meal to which my local friends treated me (their hospitable homage to my culture’s highest holiday). Christmas doesn’t quite feel like Christmas until I’ve sung Silent Night in (at least) two languages. Christmas Eve will always remind me of the horde of people who pour into the city squares to beat one another with inflatable bats and spray each other with fake snow.

We little band of nomadic overseas workers lose a lot—family and tradition and memories, to name a few—for the gift of our overseas Christmases. But for me, the gains far outweigh the sacrifices.

Yes, I expect I’ll have many tears this season. I’ll miss the sweetness of a holiday centered on Jesus. (I’m not trying to embrace American culture wars over red Starbucks cups, but am speaking of the unique joy of living in a place where there’s no expectation of a month-long holiday hoopla.) I’ll miss sharing the story of the birth in the manger with person after person who doesn’t know what it means. I’ll miss the absurdity of the Santa Claus and the Seven Dwarves display in the hotel next to my apartment complex.

I’ll miss my friends, brothers and sisters who were also far from their families but who became my family in those years in Asia. I’ll miss other dear ones, brothers and sisters who didn’t grow up with the anticipation of presents under the Christmas tree but who now celebrate because they’ve met the One whose gift of himself changed all our paths.

Scripture describes Christmas like this: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”  (John 1:14a) As cross-cultural workers, we “dwell among” people who have yet to see Christ’s glory. That is the most beautiful, wonderful thing of which I can think! But the overwhelming beauty of this life doesn’t make it easy. It’s not just hard, it’s often agonizing to dwell in dark, broken, lonely places. Add in missing family and friends back “home” and you’ve got a potent cocktail of sadness that might just erupt, like mine did that first year, in a gush of tears at the most inopportune time.

The true gift of Christmas comes not because of where or in spite of where we are physically located. It comes when we sit at the foot of the manger and worship the Babe inside it. How that plays itself out is, in part, up to us as individuals. It might mean taking an hour-long ride on a cramped and swerving bus to the nearest coffee shop, somewhere it “feels like” Christmas, where you can find space and time to spend with the Savior. It might come through relationships with friends who are just getting their first glimmer of the Christ Child.

For me, this year rejoicing in Christmas means submitting my heart in obedience to a wise and just God who gives good gifts, the greatest of those gifts being his Son, Jesus. Moments of happiness will come. But no matter the state of my heart in one moment or another, as I look to Christ I find deep, lasting, true joy in the Gift that dwells in me—no matter which side of the globe I inhabit.

How have you experienced God’s gift of his Son this Christmas?

In what ways are you still longing to experience the Word made flesh this Advent season?

13 Comments

  1. MaryBeth J December 13, 2016

    Beth, loved seeing your name at the top of a VA post. Beautifully written

    1. Beth December 13, 2016

      Thanks, Mary Beth! I love following your life on Insta, thankful for your kind words. 🙂

  2. Brittaney Chellsen December 13, 2016

    I really enjoyed reading this post, thank you for sharing a bit of your heart, experience and journey, Beth.

    It’s honestly nice to hear the “other” side- the story of the cross-cultural worker gone “home” and how the tables are turned now- Asia had become your home, new traditions were formed, Christmas- the whole idea and concept of Christmas had changed, or had taken on a new face… or perhaps you got to see another facet of it and have gained a deeper understanding of what Christmas is and its significance to you and not what the media and culture tells us about its significance.

    This will not be my first Christmas away from home, but it is my first Christmas in a place I am deciding to plant my feet and call home. It will also be my first Christmas after a hard year. Honestly, I was thinking about just spending Christmas in my room – what is Christmas anyways? Traditions here are different, culture is different, everything is different, the people who will be here, I am still getting to know and don’t have much emotional energy or desire to truly invest in at the moment (not completely anyways, I am very all or nothing… needing to learn balance.)

    But, thankfully, my perspective (and attitude) are changing and I am beginning to discover and recognize what’s important to me about Christmas- and beginning to try to “change” my idea of “What Christmas is” (cold weather, hot chocolate, candy canes, busyness, cookies, Christmas music played at church, choirs, children’s performances, light shows, get togethers and gift exchanges, the list can go on…) and grow accustomed to a new idea of what Christmas will be like here (hot weather with lots of rain- more like torrential downpours that come quickly and stop almost as quickly; shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops, sharing the traditions of Christmas that I love with others in my community, teaching others how to make paper snowflakes, perhaps a water fight or two, celebrating Christmas on the evening of the 24th, quietness) I am also beginning to form my own traditions (and made my own version of an Advent wreath because I realized that of the many Christmas traditions my family had, this is still one of my favorites and holds deep significance to me.

    After almost a novel’s worth of content written on this comment, to summarize things- I am realizing that change is a gift. As much as I cringe saying that. Change in geographical location, housing status, even relationship status, gives me a few choices- look to myself and focus on what I don’t have or what I’m missing (aka- self-pity) or throw myself on the God who chose to leave his geographical location, housing status, even his relationship status in a sense, to be with me. To sit with me. To love me. To relate with me. To hold me close and tell me I am not alone. Putting my focus on HIm changes the way I see things- Christmas was never about the lights, the noise, the food, the parties. Rather, it’s about Jesus, which, regardless of location, never changes.

    1. Beth December 14, 2016

      Brittaney–
      Thank you for reminding *me* that “change is a gift.” Self-pity is a trap that I’m all too susceptible to, and as you reminded me, Christmas is about Jesus. Period. So easy to say, but so hard to realize! I’m so thankful that my experience being back can help you in some way this season–it’s SO good to remind one another that it’s not all roses, wherever you are!
      Praying for you this season as you struggle to do what you can to be present, even when you don’t have the emotional energy to be all there. Goodness knows we’ve all been there: it’s HARD. God draws near to the broken-hearted, and I pray you will experience that in the midst of myriad changes this Christmas.
      Oh, and I love that you made your own Advent wreath! I did that myself (it wasn’t a wreath at all but just candles) for many years. 🙂

  3. John Gunter December 14, 2016

    Beth, beautifully written article! I am honored to have spent so many of those Asian Christmases with you. As I’ve told you, I think I miss our lives and Asia most during the holidays. However, you brought it all back to Christ in this article, and I appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Definitely a blessing to read it this morning!

    1. Beth December 14, 2016

      Oh friend–really really grateful for our many years of shared Christmases. Grateful to have those years, and YOU!, in my life. 🙂

  4. barbara s masoner December 14, 2016

    Thank you, Beth, for this special post and site! Reminding us at “home” that home is never a place but The Person. Emoting is still important and followed by thanksgiving as you so sweetly illustrate!

  5. Sarah Saturday December 14, 2016

    Oh Beth, I don’t know what to say, as your article was so well written, straight from your heart. Thank you my dear Beth for sharing. Your thoughts are sure to encourage many, many who serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, wherever they happen to be. With much love and affection because of Jesus for you and your family and much prayer ( but I think you know that)

    1. Beth December 15, 2016

      Thank you, Mrs. Saturday. Appreciate it, and (you know this!) grateful for your many years of prayer.
      Beth

  6. Charlotte December 18, 2016

    I’m freshly back in the States,(48 hours) having completed a 3.5 year assignment overseas…going through the I’m not sure what my next step is or even how I’ve changed but knowing I have to jump into the season quickly, as Christmas is a week away. Your article helped me get centered in all the hullabaloo of our cultural Christmas in the States. Thank you. It’s all about Jesus and I want to emanate that as I stumble – no, as I rejoice along. Thank you, Beth.

    1. Beth December 19, 2016

      I’m so glad this was helpful for you–wow, what a whirlwind for you this must be–to come back and be confronted head-on with the insanity of cultural Christmas here. Praying for you as you try to wrap your head around life in this crazy time, that you will run to Jesus with your emotions and uncertainties.

  7. Ellie December 23, 2016

    Christmas is weird isn’t it? We’ve moved “home” to the UK and were “only” working in Europe (although we have been in SE Asia before and I hear you on the differences at Christmas there too!) but it’s become this weird “holiday” where it *is* suddenly all about the Starbucks cups and the decor and the food… not Christ centred at all…. I think it’s less commercial in Spain – still more family and eating together centred than “things” centred.. I think here in the UK we are “borrowing from/emulating” the States, and although in some ways the big pageants and stuff are cool and the lights brighten up what is otherwise a cold and can be dreary season it’s so weird that it’s all “constructed”.

    I think in a way what I’m kind of wrestling with is that this culture celebrates Christmas because of a historical belief in those things, because of truth and faith being the centre of our law-making, holiday days etc. we run on a Christian calendar. But now it’s become more commercial and I think it’s a trap of the evil one because while a lot of people are looking for meaning behind it all it is so easy to get hooked into “it’s all about the food and the presents and the experience” or so hard not to!!

    Being away strips away the trappings and we decide what the “essentials” are to us I suppose. (I too love the Advent wreath and the O antiphons 🙂 )

    Blessings my fellow travellers at this kind of world-weary confusing time!

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