Teacups in the Jungle

Life stories from a missionary mama

Danny and I have hopped all over the globe at Christmas time during our 12 years of marriage. I would struggle to be able to remember where we have spent even our last five Christmases. This never really bothered me too much, but when Izzy, and then Judah joined our family, I started to give a little more thought on what I would like to pass on to them at Christmas time. What would our family traditions be? Of course, more than anything, I wanted them to know that Christmas is not the materialistic Christmas which this world has so successfully sabotaged for its own greed and glory. I wanted to instill in them that Christmas is the quiet, humble moment when the God of this earth became flesh. While Bethlehem bustled with a census, Immanuel – God is with us – arrived into this world.

While we were in the States I started to plan, in advance, for how I was going to start trying “to do Christmas” with our kids. We bought some kids’ books on the story of Jesus’ Birth and I, myself, got a new Christmas devotional book. There was also a last minute run to Target for Christmas stockings to take back with us, Christmas napkins and a few other trinkets that wouldn’t totally stand out in a little house in the jungle. We would decorate our house in the village for Christmas – but it wouldn’t be over the top.

As December rolled along we prepared to go home to the jungle; to finally unpack once again and settle into our home. Izzy and I talked about hanging the lights up in our house and I bought special supplies at the store to be able to bake lots of things to have that nice Chistmasy smell in the house. We had red candles for the table and new Christmas music downloaded from itunes….we were all set to “do” Christmas. I told Izzy we will soon be home for Christmas, just wait a few days longer.

And then, we didn’t get home.

After a series of circumstances on Saturday morning, we realized we would miss the church Christmas party in the village the next day (they had killed a pig!) We resigned ourselves to the fact we would not be home for those magical days before Christmas, but instead, we would be here at the New Tribes Mission guesthouse.  A room for board, a place for travelers passing through – but not home. I thought to myself, “Well, it will just have to be a low-key Christmas this year and, at least the kids are young enough that they will not have any real memory of this…”

Saturday night, I pondered. The little string of lights and the $3 tree we had rushed out and bought at the mall that afternoon, where twinkling while everyone slept. Resigning myself…it didn’t sit well with me.

When you can’t do Christmas, what does Christmas do to you? 

It enters into the home of your heart in the quietest of ways. The shattered reality and then the glowing hope that a place, a smell, a dinner shared, even a church singing hymns together is not Christmas all neatly wrapped up. That reality finally rings loud and clear on a lonely Saturday night, in a guesthouse on an island far from home. There are many dear souls who are children of God all around the world and they cannot enjoy even one of these things and yet they, too, in a little shack in Africa or on the streets of Brazil will celebrate Jesus this Christmas. Whatever our lot, wherever we are -Jesus will meet us there. Whether we are to have a low-key Christmas season due to the stage of life we are in or because of the news we recently received, Jesus will meet us there. He alone is the key, the Only Way to receive peace and joy in any season of life.  Our promised Redeemer laid down His Life on that cruel tree and He said, “It is finished.” It is done. I am not meant to “do Christmas,” not this year or any year because it is all about what Christmas has done for me; the new birth, the glad tidings of great joy that will be to all men. This year is the Christmas that is not wrapped up in the emotions of a familiar song or a nostalgic first ornament, not in the traditions of a family tree or of a star hung high on branch. This year, it is Christmas that has unwrapped me.

I thought I would start this very year to show my kids how we would do Christmas at our house. How we would put Jesus first before gifts and lights and parties and food. And Jesus heard my silent prayer and He gave me a gift that I didn’t know I needed. He took a place held dear; the platform to perform Christmas was taken away; and He spoke to my heart, “Philippa, make room for Me, for I will always meet you there.”

Good intentions, family traditions, busy school activities, friends gathered around the fire, Christmas movies to watch, presents to wrap, dresses to be bought, traveling home…and a census in Bethlehem; bustles familiar into our lives. How could they have failed to notice the King of Kings entered the world in their midst? He had to be born in a manager, in a barn behind an Inn! Yet, today we string Christmas around a plastic tree, run ourselves taut with presenting our food, our gifts and ourselves in the most perfect of ways and Jesus waits to meet us broken, at the foot of the Cross. The only place where any of us can be made perfect is in Him. He stirs within our hearts, and the very atmosphere of Christmas is presented as the Holy Spirit alive in our lives – and we can miss it all! We resign ourselves with second best, or nothing at all and miss Immanuel – God is with us.

Ann Voskamp writes this in her book, “The Greatest Gift.”
“He gave up the heavens that were not large enough to contain Him and lets Himself be held by a hand. The mystery so large becomes the Baby so small, and infinite God becomes infant. The Giver becomes the Gift, this quiet offering.”

These very words should draw our breath in; how can it be?  And yet He did, He did it for each of us on that first Christmas morn and never again need I “do” Christmas; for He has done it all.

I sit here tonight and that $3 dollar tree still twinkles, the Christmas Stockings from Target are hung on the curtain rail and a scented candle burns Christmasy smells through the room. The air conditioner is running to keep the room cool (so I can wear my Christmas Pyjamas) and ‘Silent Night” plays through the speakers. Papa-Daddy will be home from Manila in a few days with presents for us all! These things are not wrong. Traditions are not wrong, but filling our hearts with them can stifle our hunger for Jesus, the very Bread of Life.

Ann Voskamp says is so beautifully again here: “God gives God. That is the gift God ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need, God gives God. God gives God, and we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time: time in His Word, time in His presence, time at His feet.”

Have you pondered on Jesus lately? Or have you missed Him altogether? Sometimes it happens in the most shocking of ways…and at other times it can happen so subtly.  Either way, it is a tragedy for any of us to let the Savior of the world grace our thoughts, stir in our hearts and yet – make no room for Him to be King of our lives.

This Christmas I am journeying Home; it isn’t a place and the road never ends. But one day, I will stand before Him face to face, I will lay my gifts at His feet and worship Him for all eternity; my Saviour and my King.

Wishing you all a blessed Christmas Day
With love,

And that moment when you leave the doll you love behind in town
 – and then she is returned to you?
You love her all the more.
Kind of like the time when you lost the chance to do Christmas 
And you start out on a Journey to find yourself back Home 
Not a place, a smell or a song
But peace within your heart
And then you hold it close, treasure it more
And thank God for the Gift Who was with you all along.
God is With Us.

There have been lots of smaller, quieter moments this Christmas.
And special surprises of  new friendships forming. 
Celebrating a little boy turning 18 months!
When Mama is busy and Papa is in Manila…
big sister’s lap is the perfect option. 

No complaints from this boy about a Christmas at the guesthouse
…there is a swing!!
Home for Christmas.

2 thoughts on “My Journey Home this Christmas.

  1. aravis says:

    What beautiful reflections! I was blessed. Thank you!


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