As our twenty-fourth Christmas overseas approached, an overwhelming sadness shrouded me. Shouldn’t it get easier with time? We arrived to Central America on December 28, 1991 with a babe in arms, ready for any adventure the Lord called us to. Over the years we built many wonderful relationships and established Christmas traditions of our own, untainted by US commercialism. We live in a country where nativity scenes are publicly celebrated, and it is the Baby Jesus, not Santa, who brings gifts.
In their younger old age, my parents visited every Christmas for two to three weeks, and this brought much joy during the holiday season. We made tamales with friends and ate them on the 24th before attending the candlelight service at the International Church. Then we would come home, and our little family of three plus my parents, took turns reading the Christmas story from a synopsis of the four Gospels while eating Christmas cookies and drinking eggnog.
Although our son could open his stocking on Christmas morning before Grandma and Grandpa were up, he was not allowed to touch any other gifts before we ate a leisurely breakfast together that included a traditional Central American Christmas cake with a candle in it for Jesus’ birthday. I got out my fine china with my grandmother’s Spode Christmas plates and everything was washed, dried and put away before opening presents. Then we took turns opening the many gifts our gracious friends in the US sent along with my parents.
As time went on, my parents got too old to make the trip but we always enjoyed spending the holidays with other workers. But as the years passed, our son grew up and moved to the US, my parents moved to heaven, and many of our expat friends also moved on, while others seemed to make a mass exodus to the US to be with their families over the holidays. Though we had plenty of national friends, they too spent Christmas with their own families, never thinking we might be alone.
Our first Christmas as empty nesters was really hard. Even though God reminded us of His presence in many ways, it wasn’t quite the same to eat a big dinner on the 24th at midnight with national believers as it was to celebrate with our own family traditions on the morning of the 25th.
As Christmas 2016, our third as empty nesters approached, I anticipated yet another holiday alone with no one to bring us gifts from the US and no friends around to celebrate with. I could feel myself spiraling lower and lower, yet I also sensed God calling me to focus on joy. As an act of obedience and belief, each day in December I posted a photo on Facebook of something that gave me joy. I also sent out a plea in our newsletter for someone to come visit at Christmas time.
Little did I know that God had a bigger plan.
In the US, a close friend said good-bye to her father in November as he went on to glory. Her mother Ethel wanted to do something different for her first Christmas as a widow. When Ethel read our newsletter she said, “That’s what I want to do for Christmas!” My friend thought it was a crazy idea for her 84-year-old mother to come all alone but Ethel was determined, and we were overjoyed to receive her.
God answered our prayer and hers, sending us a “Christmas Mom.” She stayed for ten days and we had a great time together. We made tamales at our friend’s house, attended the candlelight Christmas Eve service at the International Church, and read the Christmas story together as we ate Christmas cookies and drank eggnog.
I found such joy in picking out just the right gifts for her so we could all take turns opening presents after our leisurely breakfast on the Spode Christmas plates on the morning of the 25th. Over the ten days Ethel spent with us we did puzzles, knitted and played cards, like we used to do with my parents. We laughed together and cried together as Ethel shared memories of her husband of 61 years. Mostly, we felt peace in the presence of God and one another, knowing that He brought us together for a special Christmas to remember.
When has God surprised you with a special blessing that shows you how much He cares about you? If you are feeling a little sad and lonely this holiday, how can you discover joy right where you are?
[totaldonations-progress-bar id=”19498″ button=”yes” button_text=”Give Now to the Not Alone Campaign”]