After our Christmas meal on Friday, we spent all day Saturday helping to make OneHouse Live :: Christmas Carols happen that evening. I didn’t snap any photos, but it was beautiful. Stephen did an incredible job and had a number of carols, all in a collection of local languages. He had singers for English, Burmese, Karen, & Thai; and it was lovely to hear as we gathered around candles. Some of our community teenagers came to join, Pyint Soe ran sound as Stephen led, and it was just beautiful.
Sunday welcomed in our church Christmas: hundreds of people, five loads of people from our community. Music and dancing, the Gospel, a meal, and a raffle! It’s an event, to say the least.
A few favorite moments: Stephen being a proud community dad, going to the front to take photos of the kids’ dancing. And the kids seeing him, beaming with pride, and missing a few steps.
One of the sweetest husbands in our community came along and was sitting just in front of his wife and I. I love that she kept having him lean forward so she could straighten his shirt. The woman next to him, who we didn’t know, had a hard time with the raffle. Perhaps she didn’t quite get it; perhaps she couldn’t read her numbers? I’m not sure. Either way, every time a number was called, she’d lean over and ask him if that was hers. He’d politely say no, repeat her number to her, and smile. Every time. This is through hundreds of plastic bins, fans, blankets, a rice cooker, bicycles: so many raffle numbers. So many times. He kept smiling, friendly as ever, and I was shaking with laughter behind them.
Some of our neighbors won in the raffle. And Stephen won a fan!
In the midst of all these Christmas activities, we spend our days at the market, secretly trying to buy hundreds of gifts. We sneak them into the house and fill our side with piles of gifts and wrapping paper.
This year was the best yet for gifts, too. It gets easier the more we know the kids; and the more we accept the discrepancies. We are getting better at abandoning fairness for friendship—who we know best and where the deepest relationships are, we get them better gifts that suit them. We do know them and know what they’d like; that’s a part of friendship! For those we might know by name or perhaps from a medical emergency, we find a more generic gift. Sometimes unfairness is hard to embrace, but it makes the gift giving much more fun.
For those families we know really need more, we give more. We use Christmas to provide extra to the families that are struggling the most, giving them new toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap, warm and new clothes for the constantly growing kids; and making sure the parents, too, have enough to wear.
This year, we did blankets for all the families. Previously we’ve given toiletries: toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent, soap. But in many ways our community has stabilized. We still included these things for some of the families we know really need them, but every family received a blanket.
Some families received just a blanket. The families we know well–a little over a hundred–each received a bag of gifts with their blanket. Inside was a gift or collection of gifts for each individual.
There were many highlights this year. First, we didn’t “forget” anyone (people we don’t really know, but they “know” us) or have kids (again, from a few streets over; they’ve heard of us) come to the door begging for gifts. That’s a big, big win.
And then there were just perfect little moments. When we gave San Aye her family’s blanket, she smiled broadly and said she’d told Mway Mway that’s what she hoped for this year because she really needed one.
When we went out to a group of families that live in the field behind our house, the kids came running out to the car. Really, they just know our car (it’s pretty loud, and they can see it coming on the road) and always come running to say hi. But when they saw the presents: the biggest smiles. And Lin Tet Oo came in for a big hug.
In one house, they said thank you for the gifts, and we started walking away. Just around the house we heard paper rip open and a four-year-old girl squeal, “A new shirt! A new SHIRT! It’s beautiful!”
At Thida’s house, the boys were comparing their shooter marbles and talking about how they’d play together. Kyaw Gee immediately got started on his off-brand Lego set, and Yedi gushed over her “Y” necklace—a friendship set with her best friend, Yaminoo, having the same one.
It’s uncommon to open gifts in front of people, so the older girls took their gifts with a thank you, and then slowly, subtly make their way into the house while the younger kids open their gifts at the outside sitting area. But then adorably, just a few minutes later, the older girls come running out smiling, holding up their treasures with huge smiles and thank yous! It was really fun to see them love them and feel like we really did a good job finding things they’ll love.
It should be noted that with all the late night wrapping, early morning wrapping, and lots of coffee in between—plus my giddy joy at their liking all the gifts!—I nearly fell off the bridge returning from Thida’s house! It was really close—scarily close—and would have left me with a number of broken bones on Christmas Eve. So we’ll just note that as the Christmas miracle 2018!
Really, this Christmas felt pretty miraculous. It went so smoothly, and had very few lows. It can be hard to host an epic Christmas, in a poorer community, with friends and acquaintances alike. It can be a lot for us and wear us out. But per the season, God was really gracious to us. He’s been gracious, despite some really challenging things lofted our way. We’re thankful for the miracles he’s sent our way, too.