On Sunday night, we had the undergraduate leadership team over for dinner and their weekly leadership meeting. (We’ll be hosting them this semester, while Aaron is on sabbatical and Hans is working with the undergraduate InterVarsity chapter.) During dinner, Hans asked everyone to describe their winter break with one word. He started with the word, “exhausting”. When my turn came, I answered with the word, “refreshing”, to which everyone laughed… apparently they liked the contrast between our answers.
The truth is, exhausting is a valid word to describe the last four weeks. We spent the week before the break by working hard to get year-end ministry things done while also spending more time with international students than normal, since they were more available during the exam week. Then we jumped into the car and zoomed to Minnesota, to spend most of a week with my (Lindsay’s) family. My brother, who works a crazy night-shift schedule, was able to be there the whole time we were, and we spent the week playing games, enjoying food together, and of course, celebrating Christmas with all of the Williams family traditions.
The day after Christmas, we jumped into the car and made our way east across Wisconsin and the UP, to Hans’ parents’ house. Both of his sisters and their husbands were there for the weekend, and we enjoyed the time with them. Between playing games, installing solar lights on the woodshed (one of Dale and Mary’s Christmas presents), watching his sister’s bunny run around, and opening gifts, the one full day we were all together passed way too fast. After his sisters left, we had the rest of the week to enjoy being with Hans’ parents.
And then, on January 2nd, Hans and I left Caleb with Grandma and Grandpa and went home. Our time at home was short – just over 24 hours (in which we worked on finishing drywall) – and then we hopped on a plane and went to Texas. The purpose of the trip was to attend an International Student Ministry (ISM) conference near San Antonio, and we took advantage of the time to take a few days before the conference for ourselves.
Even though it was a big reason the break was exhausting, the conference was also what made it so refreshing. We had four days to spend with other like-minded staff, worshipping God, studying the Bible together, and sharing our ISM experiences. Hans and I asked questions, learned a ton, and were re-awakened to the passion that God has given us to serve international students. I went to the conference feeling like ISM was a job, and I left the conference being reminded of it as our calling.
Because our last flight was cancelled, we had to scramble to get home (and as a result had a fantastic visit with friends in Chicago). But that meant we arrived (via an overnight bus) just nine hours before we hosted the leadership meeting I mentioned above. Even with all of that, and though it was hard to leave Caleb for so long, I am incredibly thankful that we had the chance to go to the conference. Here’s to 2015 and what God has in store!
Recently I heard a devotional about Advent, a time of reflection on the coming of a promised Savior. Many churches and families celebrate Advent with a wreath, lighting one candle each week until Christmas, when the center candle is lit. My mom had one that we lit each year growing up and our church also lights one.
Since I heard the devotion, I’ve been thinking about preparation for Christmas. Most of my preparations are finished already – presents bought, decorations up, plans made for traveling. I still plan to make a few Christmas cookies and a few more gifts, but I feel ready for Christmas to come.
I was surprised when the topic of Christmas preparations came up with friends. It seemed to me that many of them feel like there are too many things to do before Christmas to finish it all. And I wondered why that seemed odd to me – I don’t feel that way at all. I’m sure part of it is due to only having one child and that he is still young – we don’t have extra school or church Christmas-related activities filling our schedule. Nor do we have to prepare gifts for teachers, coaches, or Sunday School leaders.
But I think some of it is that I don’t feel like we have to do much to celebrate anymore. The big Christmas excitement for the last few years was seeing the giant Coca-Cola tree go up in the parking lot of one of the supermarkets in Cochabamba, and seeing all of the seasonal Christmas items show up in the market. We listened to Christmas music at home and celebrated with our teammates and our church. And that was about it. Christmas in Bolivia is pretty similar to any other holiday in Bolivia – there is a little preparation, the celebration on Christmas, and then it’s over. There isn’t nearly as much hype in the culture over Christmas, and so it is a lot simpler.
We want Advent to be a time of preparing our hearts to celebrate the joyous news that the King of kings was born on earth. We want our focus to be on God and what He is doing around us – and how we can be used to bless others, especially at this time of year when we remember how He has blessed us. We’re still learning how to do this, and I’m sure it will be different as our family grows. But I’m thankful that God has given me the desire to draw near to him.
O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
-Verse 3, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
We did something a little different this year for Christmas… we travelled! The first time we visited Copacabana over a year ago, we fell in love with the small city and the big lake. Since it’s a big tourist spot and we didn’t know when else we could make it, we decided to go for Christmas. There weren’t too many people and it was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Unfortunately it was cool and rainy for a good portion of our time in Copacabana, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless!
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” -Luke 2: 9-12