The Dirty Work of Christmas

Tears gathered with the sweat that had accumulated from our hot and dusty moto ride across town to the Pizza Company.  It was Christmas Day—my first in Cambodia.  And I was not happy.  My husband sat next to me as we waited for a table to open up.

“This is one of those culture shock moments, right?” he said.  My, what made you think a thing like that? Of course it is!  It’s not supposed to be hot for Christmas.  It’s just not.  Christmas means hot apple cider, snow, fireplaces, and snuggling up under a blanket.  It most certainly does not mean 100-degree weather.  I was having the ultimate breakdown in a restaurant filled with curious people.

I didn’t realize until that moment, how much I had wrapped myself around this ideal of “the Christmas environment.”  Having lived in Mongolia, I at least had the cold weather.  It took me a few years to come up with our own traditions in a tropical country, but it’s something I still struggle with.  Listening to “Let it Snow!” while I am wearing a tank top and shorts is just not the same.

Dirty work of Christmas2

As we headed home on our home assignment last year, I was excited about spending Christmas at home in Iowa.  Finally, after five years, I would have that “ideal” Christmas once again.

That all changed on Christmas Eve when our three-week old son came down with bacterial meningitis.  We rushed to a city an hour and a half away, and we desperately prayed for our son’s life to be spared.  Suddenly, nothing else mattered.  Not the weather.  Not the decorations. Not the special Christmas Eve candle-lit service. All that we could think about was our son.  As I held him on Christmas morning, tears once again rolled down my face–my son was alive and in my arms.  We would have more trials in the months ahead, but at the moment, he was resting calmly.

Dirty work of Christmas4

Think of the Child who came so many years ago, to burst through our selfishness, to come meet us where we are. The shepherds were astonished at the great host of angels who came to declare the good news. Simple shepherds who were just going about their normal, dirty work.  They rushed to the Child because nothing else mattered.

When we encounter the Christ Child, there is nothing else to do but to let go of what we feel we are “missing out on” and embrace Him fully. Like the shepherds, we can run with anticipation towards Him. He is the Creator made flesh and He came to dwell among us–to speak into this mundane, often dirty work that we do and make it sacred.

How about you? Are you having a hard time letting go of what you are missing out on?  How is Christ meeting you where you are this Christmas season?  



  1. Mikkin Helvig December 18, 2013

    While we are now celebrating Christmas in the States, I am definitely struck by your story of your first Christmas back in Iowa. This past Friday there was a school shooting just down the street from us at Arapahoe H.S. My husband, being a pastor and I simply being a person who cares about people have been deeply involved in lots of conversations as we knew many students and teachers that were there the day of the shooting. My husband actually was there just minutes after the shootings comforting students and families. I was home with two napping kids watching the Facebook feeds, “I’m alright,” “Please pray,” news updates. Interspersed were random “I want for Christmas” or funny Christmas pictures and movies posted. For me, I was so focused on what was going on at the H.S….absolute tragedy. Even as I ponder it now, I am struck by the constant need we have as humans to be reminded of what’s significant, of what’s lasting. As I start really pondering Christ’s gift of his presence, so many little things fade into the background.

    1. Amy Young December 18, 2013

      Mikkin this last week was kind of the same for me with a family member’s health. It was truly an awful week for our family. So many things drifted away as we focused on trying to get the most out of our time together before it was too late. In our case, small mercy upon mercy has been extended and it seems we may be out of the woods. Either way, good to be reminded.

      Danielle, I know that meningitis is no picnic! Begged my teammate to kill me :). Very glad your son is alive!

  2. Melissa Connally December 18, 2013


  3. M'Lynn December 18, 2013

    God is good and takes care of us all the time! I’m sure Christmas Eve will never be the same for you. Also, this is my third Christmas to have a baby less than 2 months old in the family. Having such a small one during this time of year makes Christmas extra special as I’m so near the experience of a newborn. I’m so thankful your newborn was healed last year! I remember following your updates about it last year. Praise Him for His faithfulness in carrying you through that hard time!

  4. Danielle December 19, 2013

    Thanks M’Lynn. Your little one is so precious!

  5. Dawn December 19, 2013

    This is beautiful, Danielle – thank you for the challenge. So much of this first Christmas season here in Thailand is not how I planned it to be (my husband traveling the full week before Christmas, a visa run that has to happen on the 23-24th, etc.). My heart has struggled with letting what it “should have been” (whatever that is!) go and embracing all that IT IS. I loved your quote, “When we encounter the Christ Child, there is nothing else to do but to let go of what we feel we are “missing out on” and embrace Him fully.” YES. May I let the rest of it go and embrace the King Baby, my true Hope, the reason I have peace with God, fully right now. Thank you for your words and Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    (By the way, my husband is currently in Cambodia and has a meeting with your husband set up sometime in the next few days … small world!) 🙂

    1. Danielle December 19, 2013

      It IS a small world! You’re right: we do have so much to embrace, instead of focusing on everything we feel like we’re missing out on. Merry Christmas to your family, too! I hope that your visa run goes smoothly.

  6. Megan December 19, 2013

    That hot sweaty moto ride will be my Christmas this year as I spend my first one in Cambodia. Thankfully it’s been chilly the last few days. Thanks for sharing! The thing I miss most about Christmas is just my family… I can deal with the heat, being from Florida, but it’s not having my mom and dad and sisters with me that is difficult.

    1. Danielle December 19, 2013

      The weather here is the coldest I remember! It’s so wonderful! Missing family is definitely the hardest part about living overseas. Do you have plans with teammates/friends for Christmas?

      1. Megan December 19, 2013

        No official plans. There are a bunch of barang who work for our NGO and we normally do community nights once a week. I’m guessing we’ll probably plan that… but we didn’t plan Thanksgiving dinner until the week of, so who knows. (: I am going to Phnom Penh tomorrow and staying for the weekend with a friend in Tah Kmao

        1. Danielle December 19, 2013

          Yes, last-minutes plans are the way of expats! I hope you’re able to do something that makes your Christmas special.

  7. Lana December 11, 2016

    Reading this in yap Micronesia and it really spoke to me. I have found all the Facebook posts of winter pictures and perfectly decorated homes, all cozy inside not helpful. I started to decorate coconut palm leaves and put them all in a (hidden ) cooler… it looks nice but will still be my first Christmas without cold and without a real pine. Oh well. We can all remind ourselves that our savior, the Christ in Christ-mad has neber seen snow while he lived. It helps to remember that it was not all perfectly decorated in the stable that night..let’s focus on what really matters like you said. Thanks.

    1. Amy Young December 12, 2016

      Lana, thanks for sharing — I appreciate how you are making gestures towards both having parts of Christmas feel “normal” and also letting go of big chunks. Focusing on Christ helps (and is necessary!), but also knowing you’re in transition and to be gentle to yourself 🙂

    2. Danielle Krouch December 12, 2016

      My first Christmas in the tropics was so incredibly hard and to be honest, it took awhile to improve. Looking at Facebook from Fall-February was always difficult for me too. I’ll be thinking of you these next couple weeks and I do hope you are able to find some sweetness amidst the differences.

  8. Jenilee December 12, 2016

    We are in our 2nd HOT Christmas. For a Michigan girl, it is so hard to get the feeling of Christmas in the tropics. But, I can see it happening. Little by little, the letting go and embracing the REAL reason for Christmas. How being overseas simplifies that for us!

    1. lana December 12, 2016

      Hi. where are you serving and where are you from in MI. thats were we spent our last year in the states and my husband is from Adrian…. wishing you a merry christmas.

      1. Jenilee December 12, 2016

        We are in West Africa serving in Senegal. I know Adrian! We are from the Grand Rapids area 🙂 nice to meet you!

    2. Amy Young December 12, 2016

      As cranky as I’ve been recently over being cold . . . I think hot might make me cranky too. Thanks for pointing us to Jesus 🙂

    3. Danielle Krouch December 12, 2016

      Hot Christmas’ never felt normal but we did start to adjust slowly as well. That was one day I always cranked our AC in the bedroom for a couple hours during the day. ? (If our power was working!)

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