Tag Archives: Christmas

Frosting and Barbie Dolls


Her frosting recipe is my favorite- not too sweet and easy to work with when you have the correct ingredients available. I have to make a substitution when I make it here in PNG, but it still turns out mostly ok as long as it doesn’t start to melt in the heat before I have the chance to actually ice the cake. My aunt Debbie made our wedding cake. It wasn’t nearly as big as the wedding cake she made for a Chicago Bear football player (a cake that ended up being taller then she was). With our cake, her eyesight was declining due to blindness brought on by diabetes, so my cousins helped her do the finishing touches. The cake was of course delicious. My aunt told me that one of her tricks is to substitute milk when the recipe calls for water because it makes for a nice moist cake.

My aunt passed away last week. She had suffered a stroke this year and when my sister sent me a message two weeks ago to tell me that Aunt Debbie was in the hospital due to having water in her lungs, I knew that was not a good sign. She was just 60; my dad’s only sibling. My heart hurts especially for my grandparents, my uncle and my cousins. Aunt Debbie was someone who loved to help people. She loved to bake and she loved to spoil her nieces and nephews with gifts when we were young.

There is one gift in particular that I will never forget. It was our first Christmas back from Africa. My sister had passed away that year, and it was not an easy adjustment moving from a country where I felt comfortable to one where I had to completely relearn social rules.

That year I remember walking around in the toy section and a Barbie doll caught my eye. She had brown skin, long black hair down to her waist, bangs (who didn’t in the 90s) and her accessories included rollerblades and ice skates. I was so drawn to that doll. I loved to rollerblade. Her bangs and waist long hair mirrored mine just in a different color and her brown skin reminded me of the country that I had recently left. I didn’t tell a soul that I wanted that doll, yet when I opened my Christmas gift from Aunt Debbie there she was.  My cousin had been given the matching roller skating/ice skating doll with red hair and I was given the exact doll that I had longed for. Somehow, my aunt knew. It was a sweet reminder that God saw little eight-year-old me in the midst of my grief and cultural adjustments.

Due to living on the other side of the world and still waiting for our daughter’s passport to be sorted out, I won’t be attending the funeral service this Saturday. Times like this make it especially hard to be far away, a very real challenge of the expat life. I know my aunt touched many people’s lives from her work with Make a Child Smile, and volunteering at a local food pantry to the many, many cakes that she decorated helping make sweet birthday and wedding memories for countless people. She will be missed. She touched the world in her own unique ways, and I will never forget the ways that she touched me.


Filed under Contemplations, Grief

I Wonder How She Felt

I doubt they had a donkey, you know, even though there is a donkey present in most Christmas pageants. They didn’t have money for a lamb, what the law required when consecrating a baby, so they gave the less expensive (but still accepted option) offering of two pigeons.

A mud soaked road gave me a new appreciation for Mary. Last year I was newly pregnant and trying my best to make my way up the mountain road with a sister-in-law on each side of me very kindly reaching out to grab my arm when I started to slide which was frequently. Humbling to say the least. It was about an hour worth of walking before we reached the spot in the road that was finally dry enough for the bus to make it down without getting stuck. Mentally, I worried if this hilly climb would put any unnecessary stress on the little life inside of me. Sure the PNG ladies did it all the time, but they were in much better shape then I was. After six hours worth of bumpy bus rides, no restrooms (apart from stopping on the side of the road) and, greasy gas station food we were dropped off on the side of the road and wait for over half an hour for our ride to pick us up. Stunningly beautiful scenery, but hardly ideal traveling conditions when expecting. I was just so thankful that I didn’t throw up.

I wonder how Mary felt as she travelled during one of the most inconvenient times to travel. I’m sure she had swollen ankles and felt keen disappointed as, after such a long journey, inn after inn was full. Finally Joseph managed to find them a spot in a dirty stable. I’m sure she worried, as most new moms do, about keeping her baby clean and avoiding sickness especially during those first crucial hours. I wonder if, as she wrapped his tiny frame in strips of cloth (swaddling clothes), she thought, “does God see me here, bringing His son into the world in the midst of dirt and dung. Is this how things are supposed to be?”

I find myself wondering the same thing sometimes while hand washing dirty dippers in a tiny sink when I’d much rather be in bed. “Does God see me, my situation, is this how things are supposed to be?”

He does see, especially in those humble, dirty times. When no one else sees. He showed Mary that he saw her right where she was. Angels filled the night sky singing of the birth of the new born savior. But, he not only sees; he has been there himself. The most high God entering the world in the most humble of surroundings.

A King born in a manger.


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Brown Paper Packages


The stockings are hung on the windows. Popcorn chains wrap the tree. There’s a roll of brown paper just waiting to wrap the carefully sorted out presents. Christmas eve—the count down chain finally says one day remaining until Christmas. It’s finally here the day to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Apparently we are going to grill a goat and enjoy some nyama choma, that and lasagna to get a little taste of America at Christmas as well.

The kids are excited. They keep calling the homemade stockings socks and ask what goes inside of them. They are excited about the tree. When I came home last week from taking a day off the first thing George told me was, “our tree has torches that light up.” Good job Richelle for finding Christmas lights in Kenya. I didn’t have as much luck finding wrapping paper. The only paper I found was very shinny and had pink hearts all over it. Not very Christmasy, so we’ll have to do the brown paper packages tied up in strings look. But, no worries it’s Christmas and that is all that matters.

I love Christmas the music, the presents, the time together as a family everything just seems extra beautiful at Christmas. This will be my first Christmas away from my family, which will be hard, but I’m excited about spending my favorite holiday with my kids and the other volunteers here at the children’s home. It’s going to be a day of memories, laughter, and love. What more could you ask for on Christmas.

Some of the kids around the Christmas tree

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Filed under Contemplations, Kenya

When Your Forgettery Works Better Than Your Memory

I’m not sure why I packed for a month, but I did. I felt like a bag lady with my oversized duffle, bulging backpack, and large purse. But, with a limited time to pack and no idea what weather in Florida would be like over the week of Christmas, I just threw in everything. It has literally been years since my whole family has taken a road trip together. So long that we no longer have a car which fits everyone, but thanks to the use of our friends’ van we were soon on our way from Southern Illinois to Florida with a two night stop in Tennessee for a wedding.

The call came in somewhere between Tennessee and Florida. There had been a car accident. It’s the kind of call no one wants to get. Details were sketchy. Grandma had been airlifted to a hospital in Ocala. Grandpa was taken by ambulance to a near by hospital. Things seemed stable but not good.

Apart from some broken ribs and back pain my grandpa was doing well physically, but he suffers from Alzheimer’s and is unable to live on his own. He came home in time for Christmas, and we were all there. My aunt cooked Christmas dinner at her house and brought it over. All the good stuff—ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes.

Part of us went to visit Grandma. Her leg was shattered to the point of needing surgery, and the pain medicine she is on is making her delusional. The hospital staff say this is common in someone her age, but it is hard to see someone you love not recognize you and insist that they are cooking a meal in their own home while they are laying flat on their back in a hospital bed. Snippets of the conversation made sense, but most was gibberish as Grandma reached up to invisible shelves attempting to put away invisible dishes.

The last couple of days have been mushed together. My family had to head back to Illinois. My sister is leaving to teach for a semester in Kenya and has less than a week to pack and get on the plane. Everyone else has jobs and previous commitments to return to. Thankfully, I have a flexible job at the moment and am able to stay a little bit longer while things get settled.

My aunt and uncle and Florida cousins have been amazing finding a beautiful assisted living facility for my grandpa to move in to and really making it feel like home. Grandpa resisted at first insisting that he was fine staying on his own, but when you can’t remember how to make a telephone call it is not good to stay by yourself. My mom and aunts had the hard job of making decisions and getting all of the details to fit in place. My job has been much easier listening to my grandpa tell stories and helping out with little things. Even though I’ve heard the same set of stories over and over during the last couple of days it has been good at times, and I even heard a couple of new ones. But, it’s hard explaining to my grandpa who I am over and over, and it’s not easy listening to him talk about how he thinks he should still be able to drive even though the state of Florida has revoked his license.

“It’s not easy getting old,” he says, “my forgettery works better than my memory.” I have to agree with him. Loosing your independence must be a very difficult thing. But it was good beyond words to see him today start to settle into his new home. What could have been a very difficult thing turned into a beautiful transition as he slowly went from hostile to happy. He liked the food. He liked the staff, and by the end of the day he had convinced himself that he had stayed in this facility once before after a surgery. I wasn’t going to argue with him. It’s not the home he built and has lived for many, many years, but it can become home and at least he is finally willing to give it a try.


Filed under Contemplations, Travel

A Child Like This

What Child is This“Who are you texting?” my friend’s daughter asked as she looked up at me as I entered numbers on a handheld calculator.

“I guess I’m texting the calculator,” I answered with a bit of a smile. I love kids. The crazy things they say, the imaginary worlds they live in, the simple yet complex way they look at life, it all fascinates me.

Kids are often so innocent and unaffected by the things that plague adult life. To them, life is a curious adventure, and they are content with love, attention, and the chance to be themselves. I help out each week  with a kids group at my church called AWANA, and honestly it is my favorite part of the week. This week I got cornered by a group of kids who had heard that I am going to be moving, and they peppered me with questions, begging me not to leave. I wish I could tear myself in half sometimes and follow my dreams but still stay with the people I care about. I love those kids so much and it’s not that I have done anything extra special for them it is just that they love someone who stops and pays attention to their world.

When I listen to the kids each week talk about their day, what they want for Christmas, and how they view life, their excitement leaves me seeing more good in the world then I did before I walked in the door. They inspire me. Each week I walk away reminded that life is often about simple pleasures. Seeing a child’s joy and excitement over something as simple as a decorated cookie may seem unimportant, but it is a beautiful thing.

As Christmas approaches, some people get stressed planning parties buying gifts and trying to juggle all of the demands of holiday programs and family expectations, but Christmas is about a child. A tiny, helpless baby who has so much to teach the world. Christ, the King of Kings, became small and weak a dependent infant who, through weakness, provided a way for people to become right with God.

Even today, children continue to show the world what is important. Young children do not care if their friend is wearing designer jeans or if their friend’s skin color is the same as theirs. Kids aren’t concerned with how much money their playmate’s parents make in a year. They just want to play and explore the world. As they grow older, society begins to dictate how they should act, what friends they should and shouldn’t play with, and what people will raise their status in life, but  maybe it is time to stop telling kids who they should be and start learning from them.

Kids are precious, incredible mini human beings; and I don’t think they should be seen and not heard like some adults seem to think. I think they should be listened to and listened to carefully. Children as small as they are have the ability to change the world. I know they change my world every day, and I am a better person because of it.


Filed under Contemplations

Talk is Cheap

It’s easy to talk, get into a debate, post an angry rant on Facebook but what does that change? It usually results in more talk and even more debates where both people walk away unchanged thinking that their side won.

I find it sad how rare it is that someone actually comes up with practical solutions to a problem. Talk really is cheap. Everyone has their two cents but so what? If you really want to make a difference, if something truly matters, why not act on it. Even small things can bring about change, and a single person’s actions can have a ripple effect.

This Christmas a friend of mine decided to do more than just talk about two things that are close to her heart. She’s doing a charity drive for the 5900 floor of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and for the Covering House in St. Louis. The 5900 floor of the hospital is the floor where Leukemia patients receive bone marrow transplants. My friend, whose mother lost her life to Leukemia this past February, spent many long hours on that floor. The list of items being collected is very practical: used books, DVDs, CDs, games, socks or blankets or even just a card to let patients know someone is thinking about them. “Anything that can make the place feel more at home,” my friend wrote. “From personal experience, it’s the little things that can bring great comfort.”

The second drive is for The Covering House which rescues and rehabilitates girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. The Covering House is just starting out so they are looking for items like staples, paper clips, post-its, organizational calendars, tape dispensers, and things of that nature for their new office spaces. They also need items for the girls whose average age is 11-14 although some are younger. The Covering House suggest journals, coloring books, gardening tools (new), craft materials, exercise balls, equipment storage bins, and things of that nature.

It is amazing to see someone helping in such a tangible way. I’d like to extend the drive to this area, so if anyone has any of the above items they would like to donate to either of these causes please contact me before December 14th, and I will see that they get to the right place.

There is a lot of need and hurt in the world, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done about it. We can talk or we can actually act. The Covering House posted this William Wilberforce quote on their facebook page- “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” A powerful quote especially knowing that it came from the man who helped bring an end to the slave trade in England. One person can help alleviate suffering and stand up for those who have no voice.

Whatever it is you are passionate about, whatever causes are close to your heart I encourage you to look for ways to help out practically. Maybe that will involve monetary support or maybe just volunteering some time, or starting your own charity drive.

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The Weather Outside

Three days into December, and it’s hard not to feel the nippiness. I’m not a fan of winter.  Growing up in central Africa showed me that life does not have to be this cold. But I’m here not there, and every time I step outside the icy chill reminds me that winter will be here for awhile.

This week I was driving home after scraping ice off the inside of the windshield of my car (not sure how that even happened), and as I turned the corner coming into town Christmas lights greeted me. Those white lights brought my cold heart some hope. “It’s going to be Christmas soon,” I thought, and suddenly the world didn’t feel quite as heartless.

The best thing about Christmas is it’s a warm glow in the middle of a harsh season. I don’t know if Christ was born on December 25th. Chances are he wasn’t, but I’m glad we celebrate His birth in December. Lights, togetherness, hot chocolate, and colored ornaments. Christmas music, gifts, and time set aside to remember the birth of the prince of peace.

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