Sunday, December 26, 2010

Once Upon a Christmas

On Christmas Eve, as I stood in my church, holding a candle and singing Silent Night, I had a flashback to Christmas two years ago when I stood singing the same song and holding a very similar candle in a very different part of the world.  In Thailand the idea of Christmas is widely accepted but the actual Holiday of Christmas is celebrated by few, that's why you may find it interesting that I consider the Christmas I spent in Thailand the best Christmas of my life. 

   When I woke up that morning I must admit, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.  Christmas had always been a time for fun and family, but that morning there was no tree, no presents, and my family was thousands of miles away.  If I had had the opportunity, or moreover the finances, I would have taken that two week break to fly home, but instead there I sat on a stiff hotel bed in Chiang Mai, staring at a white sheet.  But my sad little self in a Thai hotel room is not where this story lies.  Instead we must journey several miles out of Chiang Mai to a place called Baan Saan Faan, or in English, the House of Dreams.  The nearly two dozen children that live there had no concept of the Christmas I longed for, but I daresay, they had a much better plan.  Christmas morning was filled with hugs and giggles and a rousing round of Sharks and Minnows. After lunch the games continued.  Relay races, food eating contests and water balloon volleyball.  The hours quickly passed and the children were overjoyed.  It's not everyday that they get a dozen new playmates.  But again, this isn't a story about some amazing selfless Americans, we weren't the heros of the story.  That night, after dinner we sat in a large circle and after a very unique version of a White Elephant gift exchange (involving tree branches and a bunch of interesting Thai snacks) the kids sat down to open their one Christmas gift, provided by sponsors in America.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young girl named Faith.  This girl had a light that radiated from every pore of her body.  As she opened her gift to reveal a new blanket and pajamas, her excitement couldn't be contained, a look visible on the face of every other child in the room as they opened their similar gifts. 

     I couldn't help but notice the differences between us and I felt so guilty.  At that same age I was consumed with counting my Christmas gifts, wanting as many video games or Barbie dolls as I could get.  Pajamas or blankets are gifts I would have scowled at but to these children this simple gift was precious beyond measure.  These children had nothing, and asked for nothing and yet they were happy.  This profound revelation hit me like a ton of bricks.  These children had a grasp of humility that is foreign to many others that are far older than  me.  They knew that Christmas wasn't about stuff.  Although they were thankful for the gifts they were given, they knew that Christmas was simply a big birthday party for Jesus. A day set aside for loving others, making memories and celebrating the life we've been given.

Playing Sharks and Minnows

All the kids
Faith and I
Opening their gifts

Sporting his new PJ's!
This year I once again joined my family for Christmas.  As I stared at our towering (and funny looking) Christmas tree I found myself fretting over the lack of items for me underneath it and I was finding it hard to get into the Christmas spirit.  And then I remembered Faith and her "Brothers and Sisters" at Baan Saan Faan and I once again found the prospective I gained in the orphanage two years ago.

Next year Christmas will once again find me in a different part of the world.  Whether it's in South Africa as scheduled or in an entirely different continent, I look forward to the lessons I will learn from those I meet, and not only taking them in, but applying them to my life in the future.

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