The grace spots at the end of the year

We got some decent snow fall at the end of November and early December and life slowed into “winter pace” where we aren’t going out for visits as much and are spending more time keeping the water running, getting clothes washed (and dried – that’s the tricky part) and keeping a room or two heated. We spend a bit more time with other ex-pats as we weekly celebrate Advent together, lighting the candles, singing Christmas carols and engaging our hearts with God becoming flesh. The week that we were scheduled to celebrate Thanksgiving together (the Saturday after Thanksgiving) our electricity wasn’t very good and we wondered, as we often do this time of the year, how we were going to keep everyone warm and get all the food cooked (being the only American family in town, we were hosting). We have lived here long enough that though we get stressed about these things at some random moments, we generally expect that we’ll figure out what plan will work when the time comes. That’s a whole lot of grace right there for this plan-ahead-and-be-ready-for-anything girl. Living in Central Asia has really beat a lot of those tendencies out of me (I still try to fight back sometimes, but I’ve learned how to wave the white flag a lot sooner – again, evidence of God’s grace in my life). We ended up with electricity almost the whole day during our Thanksgiving celebration and, as usual, were overwhelmed again by the sweetness of our “family” here – to whole-heartedly join in our holiday, making lots of good food and hanging out together. The kids dressed up in their costumes – Hannah was an “artist/veterinarian,” Emmett was Jake the Neverland Pirate (a costume we brought from the U.S. three or four years ago that finally fits properly) and Annabel was a fairy princess. In lieu of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey pinata, Rees sent the kids on a treasure hunt to find bags of candy. That’s another place where I see how grace has changed me. I would have put more pressure on myself to make Thanksgiving just like it usually is when our dear team mates, the Wilburs, are here (because it’s super duper fun). But I’m very slowly accepting some of my limitations and decided we would just do what we could do to make it enjoyable for everyone, even if it meant we wouldn’t do all the fun things we normally would. And guess what – we all had a great time. We also kicked off our first Advent celebration and lit the first candle together. We go youngest to oldest with the candle-lighting so the youngest Bucher twin, Elea, lit the first candle (with her mom’s help, of course). I wish I was one of those people who could say, “I love having people over! I love hosting!” but that wouldn’t be exactly true. I do love the effects of opening my doors and focusing on people and making a safe place for people to relax and enjoy each other. But I’m not a super efficient person and definitely not a multi-tasker, so it takes me a lot of time to get ready and then recover. We’ve made our margins bigger this year (I’ll talk about that later – another grace gift) and these last three months or so have been the first time in my parenthood life where I am actually genuinely excited to have people “stop by” and where I don’t feel great stress over hosting a big group. I was really thankful for that this year.

We followed up our Thanksgiving celebration with heading up into the hills for some sledding. The most amazing thing was that we were able to all go as a family, no one needing to stay home to nap, no one sick, no one too little to enjoy it, we didn’t need to bring diapers or anything. It was one of those milestone moments for us, where we felt that we have entered a new era of family life. I am thankful for three kids who all like the snow and enjoy sledding. Especially with some funny sensory issues in our family, we could have ended up with someone who can’t tolerate the snow or cold or something, but somehow we ended up with three who are happy with the snow. Thank you, Lord.

The rest of December we did “normal” Christmas-y things like making cookies, decorating, and we even took a couple weeks off school. That has been a HUGE gift to us. We have not just taken a regular break from school that wasn’t due to travel or getting ready to travel (and get our house ready for someone to stay in it). It was my favorite “week before Christmas” I’ve ever had. I relaxed a bit on the home-front too. I am usually kind of up-tight when it comes to tidiness – not only because I feel more relaxed when my surroundings aren’t chaotic, but also because (and I’m embarrassed to admit it) I don’t want my neighbors to think I’m a slob. Tajik ladies are ridiculously clean – sweeping, dusting, washing floors every single day. They like for the rooms in their homes to look like no one lives there. My home always looks like someone lives there. Five someones. I have wrestled a lot with this living here – especially since I’m outnumbered in my family. Let’s just say that there are plenty of people I live with who are not at all bothered by chaos, they don’t even notice it. The long and the short of it is that I didn’t want Jesus to look bad because the neighbors thought I was a slob (because the cleanliness of the home is 100% the job of the woman who lives there). I didn’t want them to disqualify the message of my life just because they thought I was “dirty.” Back to the work of accepting limitations – I just can’t make my home be as consistently scrubbed as my neighbors do. I am not superwoman (I still hate that fact some days, but am resigned to it). I value far more highly the discipleship of my children and that love and peace abound in my home than I do a reputation of being a stellar housekeeper (which these ladies do ascribe to people – or don’t, as it were). That is grace right there too – choosing the mission of our life and family, to give and receive the love of God, over trying to help out Jesus’ reputation by being exceptionally clean. He gets to make himself look great in my limitations and inability to fit in completely. He has no end of opportunities 🙂

I also experienced an interesting and subtle grace  during the wedding time of a family we’ve known since we moved here. Their oldest daughter was being married off. This young lady used to come to my apartment on Friday afternoons the second year that we lived in Central Asia. She would help me get some food prepped for the weekend, wash dishes and watch the kids while I did a language lesson. Emmett was always sneaking up and snatching bites of the bread dough she would prepare. He called her “Haho” (her name is Rafo, rah-FO). Well, Haho was getting married and I was so happy to see that she was actually happy about who she was marrying. That is not often the case so it was refreshing to see. Weddings last multiple days so we went on the day that their neighbor ladies came to celebrate with them and while we were there, got the news that another neighbor lady’s husband, 37 years old, had collapsed at the bazaar and was barely alive, not expected to live. His sweet wife and four children were only two doors down, beside themselves with grief. I don’t know this family very well at all, had never set foot in their home actually, but was asked to join the other ladies who were going to check on her and cry with her. These are the kinds of situations that any westerner cringes inside about. We highly value privacy during emotionally charged situations, but Central Asians are “gather-together” people, so by the grace of God I joined them, though it did not feel natural to me. I was with my Finnish friend, Henna-Maria, who knew her, as well as some local ladies I know and just cried and hugged and was there. Henna-Maria eventually figured out that all this woman’s own family was in a neighboring country and she didn’t have enough money on her phone to call them. So Henna-Maria called her husband to put money on this lady’s phone. We also slowly figured out that this woman’s husband was not actually dead yet, but on some kind of machine at the hospital. God gave us the grace to encourage her to go to her husband and because we had a car, we took her with her oldest son, to the hospital. That is an awkward situation – I hardly know this family and here I am driving them to the hospital, probably to say goodbye to their unconscious loved one. We encouraged her that her husband may still be able to hear her and prayed with them as we drove. It was heart-breaking to say the least. She was crying, “Oh God, if I can only get to him and speak some kind words to him. That the last words he hears can be good ones.”This is the kind of situation that our instincts are to move away from, especially if we’ve already done our “part.” It’s uncomfortable and we don’t know what to do. Well, I felt the grace of God again the next day, when we returned as a family to see our friend, the bride, get taken to her new husband’s home. I felt the little bit of courage in a slower moment to don the white funeral scarf (as I had found out the lady’s husband died  later in the night the previous night) and go back into that home where women were gathered to mourn with the bereaved family and hold that precious woman, cry with her and give her a bit of cash to contribute to all the expenses (the whole community helps in different ways like this). Sometimes God’s grace comes in the form of courage to step into a difficult and awkward situation where you don’t want to do the wrong thing, but you put aside your discomfort for long enough to show up. That’s what I experienced those wedding/funeral days.

Well, thank God, there is always sweet mixed in with bitter and we had a really sweet Christmas party with our ex-pat friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the most precious celebrations we have and they are actually extra sweet when shared with those we affectionately refer to as God’s Team. They have become our “family” here and in the absence of all the consumerism and pressure surrounding the holidays, they make the celebration of our holidays extra sweet. Our kids love Advent as much as Christmas and it’s because of these folks being here to celebrate it with. We were missing some people this year – some had moved to their passport country, some were out of the country, but we enjoy it with whoever is around. The years that we haven’t been here for the holidays, we have missed spending them here – that’s grace right there. I never imagined how much we could enjoy the holidays being so far away from our families and our friends and being in a country where our holidays are not celebrated. Of course, we love spending the holidays in the U.S. too, but the holidays in Central Asia will remain a warm, sweet spot in my heart no matter where we are for the rest of our lives.

Christmas day was spent at home, just our family. Hannah told me, “This was my favorite Christmas ever!” That’s grace too. We didn’t have huge piles of presents (don’t worry – they got plenty of presents, just not the big piles they get when we are in the U.S.) and we just played at home. Rees and I watched the Seahawks game since it had been played the day before (they lost – boo for that) and we played games, read books and just relaxed together.  I loved it.

For New Years we went with two other families two hours north to the capital for the weekend and stayed at a nice hotel who offers a significant discount to residents. We checked out a new pizza place – which was AMAZING and did lots of swimming, went in the sauna, took walks, ate really good food, the kids played and played and watched a couple of movies together and it freed up the adults to actually have lots of good adult conversations and play some games together. From our rooms we watched fireworks go off all around us when 2017 started. We all appreciated the constant electricity and endless supply of hot water. Ten years ago I would have felt guilty for doing something that feels so extravagant compared to our daily life here, but it was grace that allowed all of us to look at each other one day in December and say, “Let’s invest in a great family memory!” and then we enjoyed it as a gift given by a good Father.