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The Ugly Face of Suspicion

Tonight we invited a Ugandan inside for tea. I think my husband was won over when the smiling black man with teeth as white as snow told him that in Uganda Steve would be worth a lot of cows. That is the benefit of having many daughters in the African republic. Steve liked to think of himself as a rich cow-owner sitting by his straw hut by the African savannah. The Ugandan was selling books to raise money for his education. He is studying to become an electric engineer.

He was surprised by our friendliness. I was surprised that he was surprised. We only offered him some tea and bought a book. It wasn’t such a big deal was it? Apparently it was. He had experienced many more closed doors than open ones during his time in Norway. “I guess they are allowed to be suspicious of me,” he reasoned while he smiled and looked at us. “I am black.”

Some days ago a new report was released about the beggars in Norway. There are lots of beggars here from Eastern Europe. Most of them come from Romania. Our government has on more than one occasion tried to make begging illegal. They even suggested to make helping beggars illegal. One argument one often hears is that these beggars are not real beggars. They are owned by smugglers. They are dishonest and lazy. The report revealed what some of us had thought all along: None of the beggars were working for criminal gangs, smugglers or traffickers. They were simply poor people trying to make a living. They also told horrible stories of how they are being treated by the people passing them. Not with friendliness for sure.

homeless

In Burma (Myanmar, as I am trying to start calling it) people are marching in the streets demanding that the rest of the world stop telling them that they are responsible for the Rohingya people. They are asking, with the government’s help, that the whole people group be removed. All means are seemingly allowed. Murder, starvation, withholding of medical aid, drowning.

We are appalled by the stories we hear.

As I have been contemplating these stories today I have realized that we are all very similar. What the Burmese people are doing to the Rohingya is so terrible that words cannot describe it. But if we look at the root cause of all the violence and the hatred, I believe we find suspicion and fear. People act with hate and malice towards people when they don’t know who they are. They act with violence and injustice towards people they think are of less value than themselves. They act this way towards them because they don’t really know them, and they believe that these people cannot be trusted. This is why the Rohingya are hated and killed. But this is also why our new Ugandan friend is not welcome in many of the houses he goes to. Not only is he not invited inside, but he is asked to get lost. And the beggars on the street? Are they rejected, spat at and told to go back where they come from because people know them intimately? Not at all. The opposite is true. People DON’T know them, and therefore they are suspicious of them and assume the worst.

Suspicion is an attitude that has grown from insecurity and fear. There is the fear of something different, like a man with black skin and a strange accent, like a poor woman looking at you pleadingly, or a people group who follows a different religion, and has darker skin.

In my simple mind, the answer to the problem is easy. People need to get to know each other.

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Dinner with our Thai friends. It’s the way to lose our suspicions.

 

The Norwegians need to invite people with different skin colors home for tea and a talk. People from Uganda have great stories to tell. We all need to stop looking at beggars as parasites, but as people just like us. Politicians should be required to have dinner with a beggar at least a few times a year. So should some other people I know. And in Myanmar (Burma) the population needs to be encouraged to get to know the Rohingya, and to have dinner with them. World peace, I believe, can be obtained by more people eating dinner together.

 

 

 

How far does your love reach?

It struck me that she was just like me

It hit me that she was just like me

It was the mother who kissed her baby girl I remember the most from my last trip to Sittwe, Myanmar, a few weeks ago. She held her baby up to her face and kissed her while she breathed deeply and smelled the lovely smell only one’s baby has. It hit me as I watched her that she was just like me. I always did the same when my kids were babies.

The woman I watched and observed was from the Rohingya people group. According to the UN, they are one of the world’s most persecuted people. The result of that persecution was right before my eyes: Hungry and sick people, primitive and crowded shacks without a scrap of privacy, children who have no access to an education, 140,000 people, displaced to an enclosed camp they are not allowed to leave. In their own country.

The Muslim people group, who counts around one million people, had their citizenship removed in 1982. “These people don’t belong in Myanmar,” says the government even today. “They don’t look like us, and they don’t have the same religion as us.” In spite of evidence proving the opposite, the public opinion in Myanmar is that the Rohingya is not an ethnic group, but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The result of this demeaning treatment and the inhumane conditions they are forced to live in can now be seen on the Andaman ocean. Since this year begun an estimated  25,000 Rohingya have bought a ticket on a boat that is the promise to freedom. The problem is that no freedom, just more suffering, is in store for them.

Neither Thailand, nor Malaysia or Indonesia will allow the boats full of Rohingya refugees to come to land. Instead they use their own navy ships and pull them back out to sea. A death sentence.

My husband, Steve, together with a team from Partners and Fortify Rights, is out looking for these boats right now. They have water, food and medicines in their boat. They are also joined by lots of journalists from all the biggest news media in the world.

We can give them bottles of water. We can give them some bags of food. We can hand out fever-reducing medicines and pills to stop diarrhea. We can film and document. We can take pictures of crying mothers and begging men. We can show photos that the world can choose to see, or not to see. But we cannot save them! The only thing we have to offer is some relief from their pain, and we can buy them some time before they die on sea anyway. Unless a miracle happen.

The miracle would be if these people were allowed to return to their own villages and live the life they long for the most: A life without persecution and closed doors.

Recently I read a quote by a man named Jarle Haugland that has stuck with me ever since: How far do we have to be removed from our close relationships before other things become more important than other people’s lives?

Are these people’s lives as important as our own lives, or are they just too far away? Do the millions of refugees from Syria or Myanmar have the same value as our closest family? If the answer is YES, then why don’t we care more? If the answer is YES, then why do our elected leaders continue to trade with nations, like Myanmar, who treat people this way? If the answer is yes, then what do we answer a child who asks: Why don’t anybody want us? If we call ourselves Christians, how can we justify not loving our neighbor as ourselves.

There is a lot about this crisis on lots of news media. Start by checking out our Webpage. Then like our Facebook page. Thereafter you can read these articles.Do read Fortify’s latest publication as well.

Thomas the Tank Engine has also become a show off

Really sucks to be a Polar Bear these days

Really sucks to be a Polar Bear these days (Photo credit: http://www.criticalshadows.com)

Since the world is in such a state as it currently is, the best option for us would be to not get out of bed. Basically, no matter how we look at it, we are screwed. Sorry to break it to you, but anybody who says anything else is lying.

There may be a terrorist in every neighborhood. Countries are disappearing under water. The oceans are polluted with dioxins and other crap, making our seafood carcinogenic. The garbage incinerators send toxins into the air that falls down into the grass that the cows eat, making meat some of the worst things we can eat, along with cabbage, I presume. Our youngsters don’t know how to spell, much less write cursive. Species are disappearing. The rainforests are diminishing at rapid speed, while ISIS continues to grow. Thousands are dying at sea, and if they don’t die, they are likely to end up as slaves, fishing shrimps, or sewing our cheap t-shirts. And now I read that Thomas the Tank Engine has become a bad role model for children, who, according to The Guardian, “frequently shrink his responsibilities in order to compete against the others to show off.”

Even Thomas the Tank Engine is taking on the values of the world. He has become selfish.

Even Thomas the Tank Engine is taking on the values of the world. He has become selfish. (Photo credit: http://www.theguardian.com)

What are the odds of making it, whether you are rich or poor?

There are times when I think of this, and feel doomed. But mostly, I just go on with my days. Answering emails. Paying bills. Drinking coffee. Downloading an app that will help me stay in shape. Honestly, I try to avoid reading too much on global warming, about the homeless people in Nepal or about the rise of cancer world-wide. It just makes me depressed. And why bother?

I guess I should bother for the same reason you should bother, and we all should bother: Because it matters. Small people can move big mountains. We just need to start by moving the first stones, like a wise person once said.

So this is what I have decided. To keep fighting and moving forward. Because quitters don’t win. And winners don’t quit.

It matters what I do. Because THEY matter.

It matters what I do. Because THEY matter. (I took this photo of Rohingya munchkins less than a month ago. They need people like you and me to not give up.)

I can, for example, buy fewer new clothes. I could stop shopping less. Period. I could wash the plastic baggies and re-use them. I could boycott all seafood from Thailand and other places that use slaves to fish. I could commit to living on less. I could stop eating so much meat and more weeds that grow in the forest and on the fields around my house. Or just normal vegetables for that matter. Broccoli is the cure for all, with spinach a close second. Not to mention oats. I could share my wealth with organizations, such as Partners, who work their butts off to save lives, or to Fortify Rights who are reporting on atrocities the world seem not to care about. I could invite lonely people home for dinner. I could decide to not ever vote for politicians who will not help refugees in need. If I all did this, together with you and millions of others, the ship may start changing course. If we don’t, however, but instead stay in bed and let men dressed in black take over the planet, then we shouldn’t be surprised when the world goes from bad to worse.

I saw this quote that I thought was fitting for some of us who think that our calling only takes us as far as from bed to our computer screen: Dignity: The moment you realize God had greater plans for you that don’t involve crying at night or sad Pinterest quotes. Shannon Alder

 

 

 

When climbing Half Dome becomes a devotion

It seemed like my first blog for more than two months ought to be something important. Something that will get reposted and liked by many. I could have written about a new diet I have discovered that not only made me skinny, sexy and beautiful, but smart too. Instead I decided to write about how scared I was when I was going to climb Half Dome.

It was going to be the trip of the year with our family. Steve was so excited he could hardly contain himself. We went to REI more times than I like to admit, and we pretended to be hardcore. We planned every detail of the trip, because we would be carrying everything we needed in our backpacks.

Carrying our lives on our backs is a good exercise

Carrying our lives on our backs is a good exercise

Lesson 1. If you have to carry everything yourself, it will make you rethink what you really need. Turns out, you don’t need that much. Most of the stuff we have everywhere around us are things we want, but not need.

We hiked and camped in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We ate freeze-dried food and drank wine from a carton. The kids carried water and took photos to post on Instagram when they would again return to civilization.

Eating freeze-dried food is OK in these surroundings.

Eating freeze-dried food is OK in these surroundings.

Lesson 2. If you only bring the exact amount of food you plan to eat, you don’t overeat. But you may lick the inside of the bag that contained to freeze-dried dinner.

On day two we set out to conquest Half Dome. Harnesses and carabiners were in our bags, along with power bars and sun screen. The scenery and the conversations made the hiking easy. As we started the ascension towards the mountain’s steepest part, tears began to fall. Voices cracked. Some curses were said. But we kept walking, trying to be brave.

A good place to feel very small and even insignificant

A good place to feel very small and even insignificant

Lesson 3. Some times you may think that life is as hard as it can get, and then you turn a corner and it gets even harder.

We made it to the part of Half Dome that required harnesses and courage. I almost didn’t do it. I said No way at first. I justified my decision by telling myself I have already seen much of the world. Many others also don’t climb Half Dome and they have perfectly OK lives. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.

But I had a talk with my heart and understood that the real issue was my fear. I didn’t want my fear to steal my day. I looked at the others climbing and figured that if they could do it, being such novices I could too.

So I had Steve tie me in and show me how to move, and then I started. My pulse was so high they probably heard it all the way down to the visitor’s center. My hands sweated. I looked like a cow. But I kept going. Looking straight ahead, into the wall of the mountain.

Don't look back!

Don’t look back!

Lesson 4. When you are scared it is better not to look down. Just look up or straight ahead. Then your focus will be on where you are going instead of where you may fall if you fall.

Suddenly we were at the top and it was so spectacular. You simply cannot believe it until you stand there looking out and feeling like the whole world is under you. I made sure to breathe a lot because at such a beautiful place I am sure the air is particularly good to breathe.

Celebrate victory!

Celebrate victory!

Lesson 5. When you finally overcome your fear and make it to the top, make a big deal of it.

We then climbed back down and felt like we had been in touch with our inner selves. We have been living before, but this was really living.

If I were you, I would do something like what we did in Yosemite. There may be another mountain in your life. Just remember that even though it looks scary, you can probably overcome it. Just make sure you wear some protection.

Shitty days and Metaphysics

This is how I feel at times

This is how I feel at times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some days are just shitty. Sorry to use such a strong word, but there are times when strong words are the only words that suffice.

These are the days when your dog has gotten diarrhea and this is evident on the leather shoes you left on the floor in the hallway. They are days when you discover some unpaid bills that somehow had been hidden under a pile of newspapers, and whatever money is left in your account will be exactly enough to pay them. These are days when your children won’t stop reminding you of your ignorance, lack of wisdom and clumsiness. Days where everything you own is in disarray, your friends seem to have forgotten you, the only sms you get is one reminding you that you have failed at yet another task, and you feel the beginning of a sore throat.   You notice that all your underwear is dirty. These are the days when the scale in your bathroom is brutally honest and you understand that the price of excessive ice-cream-eating and wine-drinking is higher than you first thought. Then winter does its own thing, making your planned run more than an impossible challenge.  Days when all you want is a little peace, and all you get is loud noises everywhere.

I feel sorry for myself. I wish that somebody would take notice and come to the rescue. I clench my teeth and go on. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I remind myself. In reality, what doesn’t kill me makes me really cranky.

When my children’s lives are falling apart, according to them, I remind them that life will never run as smooth as Shinkansen. It is impossible. Because life is full of particles that have their own agendas, and there are metaphysics. Said in simple terms, life is hard because there are so many of us who are all trying to make it on this planet, and some of us seem to forget that one has to love one’s neighbor as oneself. And if that is not enough, dogs eat stuff that give them diarrhea and the climate seems to be doing its own thing too. The best thing one can do it to put on the seat belts and try to enjoy the ride, however bumpy.

This is what I will do too. I will put on my seat belt. I will enjoy the moments of pleasure, because one can find them, even during shitty days. It is challenging to find a reason to smile while cleaning dog pooh, but, hey, at least I didn’t step in it. It really did suck to find the unpaid bills, but at least I did have money to pay them. My kids are at times too eager to tell me about my shortcomings, but I need to welcome them. Nobody else told me I had bad breath or that my laugh was a little too loud.

And, besides, I am not living in a remote refugee camp, wondering if the world has forgotten me, and if there will be anything to eat today. At least I am not running for my life because evil men want to kill me. At least I am not dying from a flu that turns into pneumonia that cannot be cured since there is no medicine. At least I didn’t get Ebola. I am just having a hard day with problems that for most people wouldn’t even get close to qualifying as a problem. They would just call it a bump in the road, if that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Holocaust

Rohingya baby

Holocaust memorial day was yesterday. It is a day that most people don’t even know about. Holocaust day is nothing like Halloween or Valentine’s day where the stores display shelves upon shelves with paraphernalia, gifts and other stuff that bring us into a festive mode. Never have I seen a magazine full of ideas for how to celebrate Holocaust day. I have never been to a gift shop that has been full of decorations we can buy to make our house festive for Holocaust day. And we know why. One should not get festive when one remembers the brutal and horrendous murders of six million Jews. One gets in a sober mood by remembering the world’s worst genocide.

But I still wonder why the day is not a bigger deal. Why don’t we stop the world on January 27th? Why don’t we all take some time off and reflect? Why did it happen? Why didn’t anybody stop the massacres? Why weren’t there more people who spoke up and who overcame their fear? Why did so many innocent people have to die in the most gruesome way? How can we stop it from happening again? Is it happening?

Perhaps we don’t take the time to ponder these questions because we are afraid of the answers. Perhaps we are afraid to face ourselves an our own fears? Would we have defended the Jews? Would we have tried to save them? Would we have put our own lives, careers and reputation at risk to save the ones we knew were innocent? Or would we have just pretended we didn’t know what was going on?

I am aware that comparing anything that is happening today to what happened during the Holocaust is risky. And I don’t do it lightly. There has never been a genocide of the same magnitude as the Holocaust. Hopefully there will never again be. But we see similar attitudes and actions today. The attitude the Nazis had towards their own race, and towards the Jews we can see clearly in the attitude the Burma government and religious leaders have towards their own population, the Rohingya people. Some of the same things the Nazis said about the Jews, the Burma government and religious leaders say about the Rohingya. Like: They are a virus that we need to get rid of. Like: We need to either send them all out of our country, or we need to fence them all in. Like: We can withhold food and medicine from them for as long as we find it necessary.

Rohingya in camp

When trying to get the world to see that what is happening to the Rohingya right now is looking more and more like a genocide, the ears that are hearing appear deaf. When telling leaders and investors that the country they are doing business with, and the leaders they wine and dine are in fact responsible for the death of thousands, we only get a sad look and comments like: Yes, it is really bad. We hope that our investments and our engagement will bring about change in due time.

Yesterday, one of the 300 survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Roman Kent (85) had tears in his eyes when he recalled the horror he had survived. And his plea to the world, “Let us add one more command to the ten commandments: You shall not be a bystander.”

While feeling very reluctant to add or take away from Scripture, I still think that Mr. Kent’s point is worth considering. Are we bystanders to another genocide? Are we just observing when we should be acting?

Are we going to remember the death of thousands of innocent victims 70 years from now and ask ourselves: Why did the world let this happen? Or are we going to change history by starting to protest what is happening to the Rohingya?

 

How chipmunks taught me about justice

chipmunk 2I went to the IMAX theater with Kristin and we watched a movie about a chipmunk trying to survive in a world where most of the creatures were bigger and more dangerous. The chipmunk diligently collected acorns for the winter. He stored it in his little home and as the cold season approached his storage grew. He was confident that his hard work was going to pay off. He would be able to make it through winter with the acorns he had collected. Half way through the movie, an older chipmunk finds the storage of our chipmunk friend and steals almost all the acorns.

I felt so angry while watching this. What a mean, selfish, low-life, no integrity creature this old chipmunk was. The audacity. The complete lack of respect for other people’s property. The self-centeredness. I was cheering for the young chipmunk, and desperately hoped he would get his acorns back.

Then it dawned on me that I was getting upset about the unfairness of a chipmunk’s life. I realized I was angry on behalf of a small animal whose food was stolen. While it was indeed unfair and mean, I remembered that I had read in the news that very same day that 1% of the world’s population owns 48% of the world’s assets, and that of the remaining 52%, 46% was owned by 20% of the world’s population. If you don’t like math, just remember this: 80% of the people of the world have to share 5.5% of everything there is. This made me think that a few old chipmunks have stolen all the food from the ones who work so hard to make a living, and they are left with almost nothing. There is something really, really wrong with a world that allows a handful of people to enjoy 94.5% of everything that is, and then everybody else is left with just a few scraps. Selfish chipmunks is one thing. Selfish humans who take what they don’t need nor deserve and let children and their families starve is a whole other story.

In the movie, the young, hard-working, honest and courageous chipmunk won. He got all his acorns back while the dishonest, selfish, coward of a chipmunk who stole what was not his was left in the cold and probably died during the winter. It is not looking like the world’s chipmunks will endure the same fate. At the rate it is going, according to Oxfam, they will keep gaining acorns, making the poor poorer and the rich richer. How I wish we would care more.

 

Feeling as insignificant as fly poop

business mtngI was sitting in a office belonging to the biggest corporation in Norway. In front of me, across a big table were two well-dressed men. Everything about them matched. Their shoes, their suits, the color of their shirts, the hairdos and even their fingernails were statements of perfection, class and power. Before entering the office I had walked through the corporation’s headquarter, and it appeared more like a small kingdom to me. Once inside its walls it seemed like you became a loyal, faithful and devoted citizen of the kingdom. All the people spoke highly of the company they served, and if what they said was true, it was a flawless company. The company’s only aim and mission was to make the world better, safer, happier and healthier. That they worked here was only because their life ambitions were the same as the company’s. They would die pursuing the dream of a perfect world. You do understand, don’t you, that the company was an oil company.

“So what do you want from us?” they asked. It seemed like the question was genuine. It had been easy to answer the question: What do you want? when I practiced it at home before the meeting. I wanted them to give us money. Money to help children. Money to build schools. Money to train medics and to help the sick. Money to develop new methods to improve food production. But sitting there, across the big table, in the glass office, with the expensive suits and the high tech reception that was 100% digitized, I suddenly felt so small and stupid. Why would they give us money? We were like a speck of fly excrement on the top of their polished shoes.

And when I asked, the answer was as expected: “We don’t give money to groups like yours. We do of course give money to charity, but then we give to the ones who really matter, like the UN for example.” They went on to tell me why they couldn’t give money to any of the Partners projects. They also said that just because they were interested in oil drilling in Burma they weren’t directly or indirectly responsible for human rights abuses. And hearing what they said, I didn’t disagree. Even idealistic aid workers like me see the need for businesses to develop in order for a country to prosper. I just wished they had chosen a different business than oil drilling, and a different area than the ocean outside Rakhine state where currently the worst kinds of human rights abuses are taking place.

The honest truth is that there are times when I wish that my job was selling a product that promised beauty, long life and prosperity. It is so hard always promoting life-saving products, such as food, to starving, poor and oppressed people. There are times when I wish I did work for one of those large charities, the ones who claim to only be spending 10% on admin, but who still manage to find money to pay for ads that cost thousands of dollars every month, who still have a list of employees that is longer than our list of donors, and the ones who end up getting the sponsorships from large corporations who feel that giving to the big charities is the safest thing.

girl in Mae Ra MuuBut then I think like this: I know that we are not insignificant. Not for the 911 kids that get a home to live in because of Partners. Not to the hundreds of people who received eye glasses and to the thousands who received medical care. Not to the 71 farmers who got training in agriculture and who learned how they can produce food for their families and communities. Not for the hungry Rohingya people who received 94.9 tons of rice. Not for the 10,000 Kachin who have access to community care. Not to the thousands who have received food and blankets. Not to the almost 100,000 children who are allowed to go to school. To them we are not small and insignificant. To them we are a life-source. To them our help makes the difference between life and death.

boy w hat for winter warmth

Some times I wish that the corporations, agencies and other groups that say No when we ask for support would be able to see the children’s smiles when they get their rations of food, their new shoes, the opportunity to go to school, or the news that they can still live with their parents instead of moving to a refugee camp to study. Some times I wish they had understood that for the price of one of their high-tech computer systems, we could develop land and grow food to feed hundreds of people, we could train community health workers and birth attendants. We could pay teachers and buy school books. I wish it was a little easier to make the world better for the people who need a better world. And, who knows, it may change soon. Next time I meet the men with the suits they may be asking me how they can help. Miracles do happen still.

 

 

How to think about nothing and doing intervals while learning time tables

My youngest daughter, Kristin, is, in her own words, a doer, not a sitter-stiller. This is, in her mind, why she is not very fond of reading books. She was asking me what the heck we did when we were small and done with school, homework and soccer practice. We didn’t have Internet, computers, cable TV and computer games, so what did we do? Just sit there? Thinking about what a cool world it would be if somebody would hurry up and invent the Internet?

I told her I was hardly never bored. I read a lot of books, I bragged. That was my favorite thing to do. We also played board games. Then we would listen to the radio. Some nights there were music programs and I would sit close to the radio and keep my tape recorder on. When my favorite songs played, I would hit Record.

We talked some about that. She cannot relate to recording cassette tapes. “You guys didn’t have Spotify?”

Sitting still in not Kristin's thing

Sitting still in not Kristin’s thing

But then we moved on the her difficulty with reading books. “I just need to be doing stuff instead,” she said. And I have seen that. She is the kind of person who has to do push ups between her math and her science homework, and who needs to go outside and kick the ball before starting to prepare for a test. I told her that it is also a discipline, the same way as she disciplines herself to run intervals. You have to train your brain to concentrate, I said. It seldom comes naturally. Especially nowadays when we are always moving from one story to another on the internet, and rarely able to focus for many minutes at the time. We need to train our concentration muscle the way we train our biceps.

She told me about how they at track & field practices they sometimes do this. “Our coach tells us that we are not allowed to think about anything,” she smiled. “But that is impossible.” So we spent some time talking about what it means to try to think about nothing, and how we can do it. At first we can try to do it for a few seconds. Then a little longer. Soon we will be masters at thinking about nothing.

Of course, thinking about nothing is not thinking about nothing. It is letting go of all the noise that is in our heads and around us all the time. It is quieting our hearts and minds so that we can hear and see what really matters. This is where I believe we find God. This is where I believe he will speak to us.

Here helps to empty one's head.

Here helps to empty one’s head.

Tonight I am not thinking about nothing. I am thinking about a million things. Just while writing this, I have been skipping back and forth from my email to the news, to another like on Facebook and then trying to tidy up the kitchen. In my head are the names of people I need to talk to, email, call, meet. There are issues that are difficult to deal with, and there are lots of deadlines approaching. There isn’t really a quiet place anywhere in my crowded head. But I know I need to move away some clutter and find place for some quiet. If not, I will end up like all the athletes who over-train, thinking that the more hours of exercise they can force their body to endure, the better they will become. And then they end up with permanent injuries.

 

The true meaning of Christmas: To shop, eat and get drunk (?)

I spent some time yesterday thinking back on the best memories I have from different Christmases.

One memory is from a hospital in northern Thailand where I had given birth to a baby the day before Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve there was a knock on the door and then my good friend entered dressed in a Santa hat, and with a full dinner in her basket. She brought lamb chops, potatoes and all kinds of condiments. For a few hours she had left husband and children alone just so she could spend some time with our little family, and to bring some Christmas cheer. With my gut torn up by a C-section, boobs that were about to explode and a body that felt like it was leaking both here and there, her dinner and the love warmed me more than an electric blanket.

Sure a good thing that somebody came to cheer us up!

Sure a good thing that somebody came to cheer us up!

I remember my husband and my first Christmas together. We were so poor we could only afford to spend ten simple dollars on each other. I bought him a pair of fleece socks and he bought me markers. Strangely enough, I remember these gifts better than i remember gifts we have given each other in later years, when we have been able to afford more expensive stuff. Perhaps because not as much thought has been behind those gifts.

What parent doesn’t remember his or her child’s homemade gifts, and not to mention, the look of expectancy in their faces while we unwrap the pieces of art: A jewelry box decorated with more glue than beads, a knitted pot holder with holes and uneven stitches, a handmade card complete with enough spelling errors to give teachers a breakdown. I value these gifts, with all their imperfections, more than the most expensive diamond (which is an impossible comparison since diamonds have no value whatsoever for me. But I hope you understand the analogy).

I will never forget Christmases spent with refugees and poor people in Burma. If you ever want to understand the essence of Christmas I recommend sitting with these people under the starry sky while they sing Christmas carols while thanking God that he came and became a baby. Suddenly all stress and worry is forgotten, and only the most important remains: Faith, hope and fellowship with one another. During these times I have felt neither race, class or generation gaps. I have not felt that my makeup wasn’t on right, or that I underdressed for the occasion. Like magic we have melted together like one big pot of Beef Stroganoff, each one of us with our own infirmities.

Christmas a different way

Christmas a different way

These people are able to do something we are not so good at. They have chosen to prioritize the real values, the ones that will last. I am not talking about the added flab around our waist due to too many Christmas calories, but I am talking about the strength one receives from fellowship and care for one another.

When I think back on all our Christmases, I don’t remember the times when we had the most amount of money and bought expensive gifts for each other. I don’t remember the times when I had been able to clean the whole house for the holidays. Our decorations have never followed a particular color scheme, and we will never be considered experts on Christmas interior. But that doesn’t matter. What is left as the good memories are the people and the community, the feeling of belonging and being loved. I think that is what all of us actually want for Christmas. We want it so much more than the new iPhone.

Last year we invited some refugees from Burma over to make cookies with us. I will never forget one of the things they said:

“Here in this country people are not as concerned with fellowship with one another. But they are very interested in buying stuff for Christmas. In our village everybody would gather and celebrate Christmas together. We sang carols and made good food. We miss our own village during Christmas time. We are often so lonely here during this time.”

The true meaning of Christmas? I think it is what we all want. Togetherness in a place where we are allowed to be imperfect and true. The feeling of acceptance, even in our failures. Love that says: I know you don’t have it all together, but that is OK. I am in the same boat. If only one add some marzipan and chocolate to this mixture, one has the recipe for a good Christmas.

I am going to sit down with a cup of coffee now. With my coffee I will have a cookie my daughter made yesterday. It is not a piece of art, but it was made with a lot of love. I can taste it.

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