I have to say it was truly a blessing to be able to be home for the holidays this year. It had been a long time since I was able to celebrate with my parents, and it was definitely time. I really enjoy hearing Czechs talk about their Christmas traditions, and then telling them about mine. It is one of the times when I really get to talk about what is meaningful to me during the holiday. I must admit that there are a lot of times when I don't exactly feel like a missionary. When I worked with orphans it was all so obvious. I was helping the fatherless. I was giving them love, and caring for their most basic needs. But here? In Europe? What am I really doing?
If there was someone out there calculating how useful a ministry is, they would no doubt look for numbers and statistics of conversions, or even of clearly spiritual conversations. And in truth, were someone to do that with my ministry, they would come out with ridiculously low numbers. We won't talk about how ridiculous, but in so much as evident results are concerned it would be negligible. And yet I don't feel like my time here is wasted. Quite the contrary in fact. The way I do ministry it's doubtless never going to have dramatic results, but I honestly hope that the people I come into contact with are able to feel that I really do care about them. If nothing else, I hope they're able to see that my heart belongs to Jesus, and that through His love I come to love them. I'm sure I'd fail to pass mission board questions about how I intend to dramatically effect the people I come into contact with. I've never been the type to force issues, or make people talk about things they aren't comfortable with, but I try to offer them a friendly smile and an open heart. A place they can turn to. I'm not sure if it works, but I do believe it is worthwhile, and that God has had me in this place for the past three years in order to be that friend to my students. I don't know how this will look in the future. I won't hold my breath for future letters telling me the impact I had on their lives, and how I turned their hearts to Jesus, but I do want to continue praying for them, even after I return to the states. I do want to continue to love them, and I know that God is able to speak to the needs of their hearts and to bring me to mind if they ever want to talk about these things.
I guess recently I've just been thinking a lot about my purpose here, and how effective what I'm doing truly is, and when I took this moment to write, it all sorta came out. I'm the last person to write a book on how to reach the nations, but my heart is true in desiring to reach out to be people God puts in my life.
That being said, I love having the chance at Christmas to tell them how my favorite thing about Christmas is being with family and thinking together about how amazing it is that God sent His son at Christmas. I also tell them of our traditions on Christmas Eve (they're always really excited that my family celebrates on the 24th like they do here) and how I love the time we spend singing Christmas Carols and reading the Christmas story. They all quietly accept the things that I say, and only freak out when I tell them that we generally eat Pizza for Christmas dinner on paper plates. I tell you, it's the quickest way to get at the presents, and when you have a crew of excited kids bouncing off the walls, easy cleanup is a MUST!
This year at Christmas we had quite a few craft projects that we did as well. It's interesting to see how Julie's creativity has increased since she became a mother. We had some laughs over her childhood art and craft attempts, but this year she was the one who had us doing things like making these colorful snowflake decorations. We gave the yellow snowflake to David...
We also decorated about a bazillion sugar cookies. It brings back recollections of my Grandmother and her classic cookies. We followed her recipe and while they were really good, they'll never quite compare to her fabulous treats. She just always had a way of making things turn out better. Sort of like when she would come to visit in my childhood, and despite spending endless time cleaning the house prior to her arrival, she'd always manage to somehow make it look better in a matter of minutes after entering the house. Magical.
And now, for a small competition and an attempt people to actually comment on my blog, I'll ask which of the little sugar cookie men is the best...
Being the poser that I am no post would be truly complete without a portrait. Here I am with our lovely Christmas tree, made marvelous because my mother is a decorating genius. Despite the fact that every year she ceases to be completely happy with the chosen tree, she always manages to turn it into a work of art. So here I sit, along with before and after shots of the presents underneath.
The whole time I was home was really a blur. There were games with the kids, conversations with sisters, shopping trips, and endless treat making. We even managed to have a lefse day, which made me really excited. I hadn't had lefse since Christmas in 2005! That's a long time ago. Although I learned that Cheryl got a lefse griddle this year, so if I do Christmas in Alaska again we can do things differently ;) It was all pretty magnificent. For those not aware of the wonder that is lefse, it's a Norwegian treat that everyone should have an opportunity to experience. They're kind of like tortillas, but they're made with potatoes, and you butter and sugar them and then roll them up into a sweet melty delicacy. Upon returning to Czech I happened to mention to Karina that we'd had lefse and she turned a little green with envy seeing as how she's also of the lefse eating tradition. Basically, once it becomes a part of your life you never want to let it go...
Some other highlights of the trip:
Getting to finally meet Peaches, the fabulous one dollar horse that has finally made Julie's lifelong dream come true.
Seeing David for the first time in 2 and a half years. There were some complications with his pass at first, but in the end it worked out so we were able to pick him up on the 30th and spend as much of New Year's Eve with him as possible. He always has an agenda, so it wasn't exactly all family all the time, but it was still nice to see him again, all safe and sound. As you can see, I seemingly shrink every time I'm around my nephews. You know, there was a time when they were all little babies in my arms. Crazy what a few years can do!
And now I'll end this post with a little sisterly love. It's rather blurry, which is unfortunate, but it's definitely a large part of what this holiday was all about :)