I… (Won’t) Be Home For Christmas…

If I’m learning anything these days, I’m learning that every moment can be a learning moment if you’re paying attention. If you check out this blog every-so-often, you are probably aware that I am in South Africa. And I’ll be here for a while. And I won’t be heading home for the holidays.

I’ve been honest and said that this wasn’t my first choice among options, since we were here with Mark’s family last Christmas, and this year was (in my mind) supposed to be a North Carolina Christmas. But, as I’ve also mentioned already, it seems clear that we’re actually where we’re supposed to be. And that’s a good thing. And I’m glad to be back in Bloemfontein. The sights and the smells are more and more familiar every time we pull into the drive and the gate closes behind us. It’s becoming a wonderful home away from home.

Bloemfontein ChristmasJust the other day, as I was thinking about being away from home at Christmas, the story of Christmas suddenly clicked in my mind in a whole new way. Sure, I’m 7,000+ miles away from home…but what is the story of Christmas? It is the story of God, leaving all the comforts of His infinitely better and more glorious home in heaven, to submit Himself to the humiliation of becoming human, to live the life He lived and experience the death He died, and then the glorious Resurrection that is a promise of the life we have to come in Him. The Creator stepped down into His own creation, and the story of our amazing rescue began.

Far, far, far away from home, lying in that manger, I wonder if Jesus yet had cognitive abilities — was He aware of where He was or was He like other babies? Like, did He have the mental capacity to realise He was going to have to trust someone else to feed Him when He was hungry, and change Him when he needed changing? Did He lie in the manger and think for a moment, even if a brief one– What the heck did I sign myself up for?

While it’s occasionally uncomfortable to be somewhere other than where you’d like to be sometimes, in comparison, I don’t have a holly jolly lot to complain about! How glorious and amazing and challenging it is that the Lord stepped down into this world for you and for me. And He stepped into it for real. Full on. Messy, dirty delivery amongst animals in a stable full on. Travelling preacher without a place to lay His head full on. Healing blind touching lepers people wanting to kill Him full on. To bring us back into right relationship with Him. I’m so thankful that Jesus wasn’t home for Christmas a couple thousand years ago. That’s where the story of us finding our way back home began.

The Sermon in a Nutshell: Whether you’re where you’d like to be this holiday or not, take a moment to be thankful for the God who left it all and surrendered to those humble beginnings in Bethlehem. Remember that in appearance it wasn’t as ‘pretty’ as your church nativity scene might make it out to be. But remember the beauty of this love story — the greatest love story ever told — God came near, and it all started at Christmas.

Creative Christmas Gifts on a Budget

Yay! I have to share the excitement with you. I really love being in the kitchen, especially when making a mess is involved, but not usually when the dirty dishes are staring back at me. Mark and I spent a wee bit of time making salsa for our neighbours. It was a creative Christmas gift on a budget, and I thought I ought to share!

I have a delightful hodgepodge recipe for Salsa and it is as follows:

  • 1 Can of Chopped Tomatoes (chili flavour)
  • 1 can of regular chopped tomatoes (in case you want to compare size — they’re 440 grams/15 oz. in my present locale)
  • a nice handful of fresh coriander or cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 finely diced green chili pepper
  • and away we go!

But why am I so extra-delighted about salsa? I’ll be honest. It’s the containers. We picked up some fru fru plastic ones that they sold us really cheap off the counter in the deli section at the grocery store. I wasn’t so excited because they were frumpy. I now digress to say my husband loves Coca Cola. And he especially loves it here because it still comes in glass bottles. And he thinks it tastes the very best that way. We had six glass Coke bottles under our sink waiting patiently to be recycled. And we arrive back at salsa. Now in gorgeous, thoroughly cleaned coke bottles. Garnished graciously with ribbon and a wee Christmas card apiece.

Here’s the play by play. If you like it extra spicy, drop the plain can of tomatoes. We tripled the recipe and added one extra can of the chili flavoured tomatoes, and an extra couple of garlic cloves for good measure. Maybe a few extra spices too, who knows. Anyway, start with the happy ingredients listed above.

Happy Ingredients

Mark had to convince me that this tiny food processor was a good idea. And now I use it like it’s my job. I suppose it is. Anyway he is great. So we mince the garlic in this bad larry first by itself, and then the onion follows. Then you can just add all the other tasty stuff.

Mix it up

You might want to put a few slits through the coriander first, or else it might get wrapped around the spinny thing, and not chopped! (Not pictured, but be sure you know we made that mistake!)

Chop Chop

Now is a good time to turn on the Wonder Pets, because the baby is probably tired of not getting enough attention, and you still have lots to do.

Wonder Pets to the Rescue

You’re almost there! We dumped our three and a half batches of salsa together in one big pot, gave it a good couple of stirs, and then began the process of funneling it into our coke bottles.

Big pot…

Pot o Salsa

Funnel… (and use a straw if you get cloggies)


Sorry ladies, that handsome demonstrator is claimed! And this is the final product…

Finished Product

I am pleased to report that the neighbours are really enjoying their spicy salsa Christmas gifts. I was delighted to deliver such a cute product at such a great price! I hope this has your brain-a-storming with creative ideas for being a blessing at Christmas without cursing your wallet! If you do have some Christmas-on-a-budget ideas, please comment away – I would love to hear them!

Tis the Season: For Christmas Change

Does Christmas ever feel a bit icky to you in some strange way? Like you feel like you’d like to do things differently…make it less about Santa and more about Jesus…less about the presents and more about His Presence…less about the twinkly lights and more about letting your light shine? You get the idea.

Charlie Brown's Delightful TreeIf so, I just want to share a quick recommendation with you. There’s a website called Christmas Change that I came across the other day, and from what I’ve read so far, I’ve found some great thoughts and encouragement that you might also find inspirational for making some of the changes that will make Christmas less ‘icky’ and more full of peace, love and Jesus! I particularly enjoyed this post — especially the loads and loads of comments. Please read the comments — they’re the best part!

A few of the changes around the Collie household so far…I think I’ve already told you we won’t have a tree in our flat (since we gave it away in Edinburgh and I’d rather save up for a dishwasher!) and we’re not spending money on new decorations. I’ve been trolling the web for ideas of things to do with things we already have. (Like my pom-poms!) I’m hoping we’ll draw names among the adults at our get-together at Mark’s parents’ in Bloemfontein, so that we don’t waste money getting each other something just to get each other something, but everyone still has a little prezzie on Christmas morning. (The Bear will probably still get prezzies from everyone…but that’s okay, he actually needs new toys.)

More than anything else, I am really hoping to take our peaceful time in Bloemfontein as a time of refreshing and reflection, to go after His Presence instead of going out to look for presents, and to share love and a good time with family. (Although I will surely be missing my Mom & Dad & brother & sister!)

Are you planning on making any changes to your Christmas this year? Please do share!

Tis the Season: For Goodwill Toward Men

Have you ever washed anybody’s feet? Have you ever had a pedicure and felt kind of sorry for the people washing yours? I am excited that as a part of our ministry here in South Africa, there’s a lot of footwashing in my future.

Every time I read the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, I find it so striking. I suppose you might think it just takes lots of humility to be humble. But I think it also takes some confidence to be humble in the right way. Verses 13 & 14 explain that “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” And there takes place an event so strikingly beautiful, and so strikingly other-worldly to me: Jesus washes the Disciples’ feet.

Happy Heart, Clean Feet

A while ago I wrote a post about how contrary the ways of the kingdom of God are to the ways of the world. It is beautiful and intriguing to me, as I understand more and more about how the call to follow Jesus is so contrary to the call to live life the way the world might tell you to. Here we have such an incredible, tangible example of the mindboggling paradigm of our Saviour and King. He’s about to die for the sins of the world. He’s about to be denied by those dear to Him, abandoned in His darkest hour, even betrayed by one of those among them…and what does He do? He washes their feet.

And He explains: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” And a little later He points out that this servant attitude, this love we demonstrate, when we love each other (which is obviously intertwined with serving each other) this is the love by which “all will know that you are My disciples.”

Does He tell us to chase after a bigger peace of the pie? No. Does He tell us to make sure we have enough for ourselves before we even consider sharing with anyone else? No. He says love each other. Serve each other. Trust Me to take care of you.

This holiday season, I want to aim to find myself in God. Can I encourage you to do the same? Find out who you are in God. Remember how much He loves you. Remember that’s why He came. And let that knowledge give you the confidence to be a servant. To be an agent for the love of God to flow into the lives of those who need it. I am confident that you will find it more blessed to give than to receive…and I’d encourage you to give not just out of your pocket, but out of your heart and your time. And not just to those who will give back to you, but to those who might be Peters and Judases in your life. That kind of love is the light that shines brighter than any other, and points to God. Tis the Season.

Tis the Season: For His Presence

There are a lot of things I love about the Christmas season. A lot of them have to do with twinkly lights, chilly weather, happy smiley faces at shopping malls, pretty window displays, and peppermint mochas at Starbucks. But what I want my heart to be about in this season has nothing to do with a lot of that, and I feel like being halfway around the world again this Christmas is another opportunity for my heart to learn to focus on the real meaning of the season.

Sure there will be an opportunity for books…

Bears and Books

And toys…


and even a little sparkle and twinkle…


But as I was reading in Exodus yesterday and today, I was reminded of what really distinguishes the people of God as the people of God: His presence. We celebrate Christmas because Christ has come. And we celebrate the fact that because He has come, He is present with us, dwelling in our hearts, directing our steps, and changing the world through us.

In Exodus 33, Moses was kind of at his wit’s end. He was up on Mt. Sinai for forty days receiving the commands of God, and the people got sort of “impatient” waiting for him…and then things got ‘rowdy’ and ridiculously out of hand. They’d basically decided “Forget Moses…he’s been gone a long time and who knows what happened to him? Let’s find a new god to worship, and have some fun!” Moses and the Lord had a long chat about this unfortunate situation, and God decided He would still give the people the land He promised them, but He wasn’t going to be with them when they went to inherit it. I think He was so mad He thought He’d just wipe them off the face of the earth if He spent any more time with them.

Moses was distraught. He said to the Lord, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” The Lord had given other people groups land. The Lord had blessed other people groups with promises. But the covenant sign that Moses was seeking was the mark of God’s presence in the lives of His people. If You aren’t going with us… I don’t wanna go!

Moses found grace in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord promised to go with them. And as the story continues into Exodus 34, we find that the being in the presence of God is so unmistakably incredible that when Moses returns to talk to the people, after speaking with God, his face and skin shines so much they have to put a veil over him. There is beautiful, changing power when we get into the presence of God.

So this Christmas, I am looking forward to the things that make my heart a little happier and my step a little lighter, but more than that, I want to celebrate Emmanuel — the God with us, who came to this Earth so that we, like Moses, could find grace in the presence of God, and be transformed. Tis the Season for a lot of things…but for His Presence most of all!