My friend smeared the frosting onto the edge of gingerbread—the first I’d made myself and surely, the first my Indonesian friend had decorated. It looked like it was my first attempt--lopsided, the edges slanted, thickness of the walls a bit uneven. I just hoped the house would stay together in the humidity.
It was my first Christmas in Borneo and I was doing what I could to make it feel, well, like Christmas.
Christmas music played in the background. Garland and red bows and lights and angels hung around my house, even as the thermometer held steady at 90 degrees.
My friend’s own house back then was a wooden shack with cracks in the floor and curses in the air. Christmas wasn’t celebrated there. But in recent years, while the cracks are still there, there is life where there used to be only empty religion. There is hope where there used to be only divorces and desertion. And while no tree is decorated, Christmas exists in my friend’s quiet prayers.
Her life has changed—on the inside at least, though on the outside, everything is not always perfect. Still no husband, with fatherless children, she lives with her parents who reject her choice of beliefs. She has cooked at a lumber camp and cleaned houses to make ends meet—most of the time the sole provider in this family.
But though her burdens seem to grow with the years, the walls in her heart have stayed together with faith. And it shows on her face.
I spend my Decembers in a world where Christmas isn’t over-busy with Christmas card mailings or crowded Christmas shopping or traditions that have more to do with warm feelings than beliefs that last.
And to be completely honest, it’s hard sometimes. I sometimes wish I could be busy with those Christmasy things, ending my days with cozy fireplace snuggles with the kids and my door shut tight against the cold and the world.
But really, that’s not what I want either. I want a Christmas that lasts past the date; a holiday that matters more than cozy feelings; a life that is part of something bigger than myself.
And so, I bake.
I make sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, coconut clusters—mixing and dipping and smearing and decorating—with friends who still live in houses of curses with hearts filled with doubts.
I use recipes from my childhood, from the grandmother who doesn't remember I live in Indonesia, from the mother who lived--daily--the meaning of Christmas. My warm Christmas memories take life in this place on the other side of the world, with these people who aren't family...not yet, anyway.
And we talk and share and listen, while I hope for a deeper sweetness in their lives…and mine. Our kids—both theirs and mine—sneak bites of cookies as they decorate, and I hope for them, too. That they all will learn about homes open to others; about blessings shared not hoarded, about a Love that covers like the frosting—sweet, indulgent, holding everything else together.
Later this week, I’ll share more practical ideas for Making Christmas Matter—both in the home and outside of it.
photo credit, timitalia