THE LIVING PARABLE OF THE CHRISTMAS EVE SNACKS
And it came to pass, in the year of our Lord 2020, that, due to sundry obstacles, most notably the extended closure of national borders, that the venerated traditional Christmas Eve snacks of Triscuits, cheddar, and summer sausage were naught to be found. Through months of advanced planning, such adversity had been averted in years past, but in 2020, December loomed with no prospects.
Then behold! As the Watts family prepared to return to Kibuye, a small offering of luggage space made it possible for the provision of a box of Triscuits. Weeks later, as Rachel and I gazed at this precious box of rosemary and olive oil flavored woven wheat crackers, we smiled. We could make do with local cheese and some leftover ham from Thanksgiving.
One week before Christmas, Erica surprised us with three (!) blocks of cheddar that she had brought from the United States as a Christmas gift for our family. And then, the very day before this traditional Christmas triumvirate were slated to take center stage, our team gathered for another holiday tradition, the White Elephant gift exchange. Skipping to the end, Rachel pried from the tragic hands of John Cropsey a solid log of Italian salami.
And so it was that the festal table in the McLaughlin household of Christmas Eve 2020 contained not only the unanticipated traditional family foods, but with a significant upgrade on the sausage front.
The italics and mildly absurdly elegant language above actually has a point. We are in desperate need (always, but perhaps especially in 2020) to believe that God is at work in the world around us. We are disheartened by the brokenness of things, and we ask God what could he possibly be doing. Then something goes well, as we immediately attribute it to coincidence, or worse, to our own brilliance and diligence. What we need is gratitude, but we find that it is a trait that does not come easily to our hearts.
"But the snacks? Really? I mean, I'm thrilled that you got some comfort foods, but this is no miracle."
Maybe not. But who I am to say that so definitively? It seems that, in the end, the degree of wonder that we see in the world around us has some irreducible degree of choice to it. I can choose to minimize the wonder of everything I see, or I can choose to believe in it. Either way, I have to choose. I'm not talking about blind faith, or something uninformed, but rather a choice that is intrinsic to the patent fact that we are just not 100% sure what is really going on. So I want to choose gratitude. Out of the desperate need in my heart, I will look for God at work in the world around us.
As to the ordinariness of the snacks, I will plead Christmas. I will plead the God of the universe as a baby. I will plead a government census that brings a carpenter to his ancestral town. I will plead the shepherds and whatever animals ate the hay in that manger. I will plead "God with Us." If a miracle is defined simply as "God at work", then it seems that "ordinary miracles" would be the norm.
Three weeks ago, Erica Ause and Steve and Mary Wiland arrived in Burundi. They had been trying to get here since August. They are now working in our kids' school and in other domains of Kibuye life. A week later, the Watts arrived, finishing their quarantine with just enough time to take up their annual roles as hosts of the White Elephant exchange prior to Christmas.
Their arrivals seem like Christmas miracles. We could still be waiting for them, but we're not. They have come. The long string of obstacles seemed like it might never ease up, but here they are. Their arrivals were due to mammoth efforts by many people, but those efforts were bearing no fruit - until they did.
I'm thankful that they are here. I'm thankful that they and we are well. I'm thankful that, for reasons unknown, the Covid pandemic continues to largely spare Burundi. I'm thankful for my children's growth and for being married to Rachel for 15 years. I'm thankful for the hundreds of doctors that Hope Africa University has graduated. I'm thankful for salami and cheddar on a Triscuit for Christmas Eve. I'm thankful that God is with us.