I am a December Girl.
My birthday comes early in the month and has never been overshadowed by holidays. Growing up, my family chose to decorate our fresh-cut pine tree on my birthday and endure the judgments of others that we were rushing things. This was before the present trend that Christmas-starts-the-day-after-Halloween. December snow fell the day of my birth, and the wonder of such miraculous winter beauty still captivates me.
Christmas is my absolute favorite season of the year. I yearn to begin playing my huge collection of holiday tunes but usually restrain myself to the end (okay, the middle) of November before starting my daily music marathon. The foods, the decorations, the events, and the chance to focus on Jesus in glittering yet natural ways as His birth is publicly celebrated, are all treats I adore.
Then I moved to a place where there was no sign of the holiday—Afghanistan. No window displays boasted yuletide colors or twinkling lights. No recorded melodies like Jingle Bells or Joy to the World came through shop speakers. No nativity scenes or even Santas appeared anywhere. Depressing.
CELEBRATE ME HOME1
Working overseas as the principal in an international school afforded summer and mid-year breaks built into the yearly calendar. With one round-trip ticket included in our benefits, my husband and I chose to pay the costs to return home to the United States a second time each year. Arriving in Afghanistan annually to start school in early August, I had my December flights booked by September. It was one of the carrots that kept me going in my stressful, restricted world as an American woman leader in male-dominated Afghanistan. We missed our young adult children and needed time outside of Kabul.
I loved my mission at ISK (International School of Kabul). The people on my staff were dedicated Christian educators who delighted me (most of the time). The families we served came from diverse ethnic and experiential backgrounds, particularly in the early years of the school before security concerns drove most expatriate families out of the country. They continually expressed their gratitude for the school because it allowed them to live together as a family in Afghanistan instead of sending the children elsewhere for quality academic instruction.
The work was a significant calling and kept me busy and fully occupied. I never doubted the impact of our educational endeavors. We planted top-standard seeds in all our K–12 grade students and knew the harvest would be worthwhile as we watched our graduates enroll in universities around the world. Many have graduated from college now and returned to assist in the rebuilding of their beloved Afghanistan. We are proud of them.
Truthfully, however, I never enjoyed living in my second home or country. Over the seven years of my two-continent life, December became even more of a treasure than it had always been.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS2
Through a series of surprising and divine circumstances, we were able to keep our Missouri home during our time in Kabul. Our first December return visit exemplified God’s abundant care for me and remains a powerful memory. A couple of the ladies on our sending team contacted our college-aged daughter to arrange a decorating party. My tradition of transforming our house for Christmas was well-known, and the women worked together to clean and deck the halls before my homecoming.
When I arrived in Missouri and opened my front door to the picturesque scene, I cried. I sat with a cup of tea in that wonderland many hours during the next days, allowing the festive display to restore my joy and contentment. When family and friends came to visit during the following two weeks, I felt more like myself and less like the foreign woman who wore cumbersome headscarves, lived on a closed compound, never drove, and barely left her office or apartment in Kabul.
In all honesty, I was not craving spiritual renewal at those times, not during those first days at home. I cherished sleeping in my own bed, making breakfast in my kitchen of twenty-plus years, walking on amazing paved streets and sidewalks, and moving freely wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without first checking security clearances or reserving a driver. Having the chance to stop being principal 24/7 and just be mom or friend felt relaxing and easy.
Christmas became more about being home and less about the birth of my Savior—not a great confession from a global worker.
JESUS IS THE REASON 3
Each December and summer during our time home, our local church asked my pastor husband to preach, and he would inspire the congregation about what God was doing in Afghanistan among new Muslim-Background Believers and other ventures by Christians in that desolate place. He always did a great job applying Scripture to our cross-cultural experiences.
Then I would share our personal update. I always teared up at some point, either in boasting of ISK achievements or in my transparent accounting of homesickness, daily work and living challenges, and missing the life I left behind. Everyone knew:
- My husband really enjoys being in Afghanistan.
- Gail is there out of obedience to God’s call (but she does not want to stay any longer than required).
I was trying to faithfully live each day in the Afghanistan destiny Jesus laid out for me back in 2003–04 as He revealed an undeniable path for me to follow—not my husband, nor every Christian—me.
Coming home at Christmas during the Kabul years was a gift from a loving Father to one of His struggling servants. I received it in the same way I received God’s gift of the Baby born in Bethlehem to all humankind that first Christmas—with overflowing gratitude and a desire to follow hard after Him. The gift of life in Christ is the source of my hope and joy to continue serving wherever I find myself. Christmas is a special, shiny, star-shaped symbol of that hope.
1. Celebrate Me Home – Kenny Loggins
2. All I Want For Christmas – Mariah Carey
3. Jesus is the Reason – Kirk Franklin
Question to consider: How do you practically focus on “the gift of life in Christ” where you find yourself this Christmas?