Christmas-time in Tanzania doesn’t really feel like Christmas.  People don’t decorate much, there are no big carol services, no one has real plans or Christmas parties, and the weather is nowhere near your typical White Christmas scene.  A few weeks ago, Grace Kanungha (boss/mentor/host mom/all around go-to person) and I were lamenting about Christmas traditions we missed most, but agreed that not having a “Western” Christmas wasn’t the end of the world.  Last week though, she came to me with the “crazy” (her words) idea of putting together a nativity play for our church service the following Sunday.  I love spur of the moment plans, so obviously I agreed and this left us with a little less than a week to plan an entire service for a congregation who had little to no experience or knowledge of what we were going to do.  She planned liturgy and logistics while I was in charge of costumes and props.  At first, this seemed like a daunting task.  At home, most churches would have some extra fabric and craft supplies lying around, but our church in Solya doesn’t.  There are very few shops you can just run to and buy supplies, and as much as I wish there was, Michael’s hasn’t made it to rural Tanzania yet.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Cardboard, sticks, and bits of fabric we had around the house could be turned into perfectly good props and costumes.  Dishrags tied around your head and a piece of paper with cotton balls on can turn anyone into a shepherd!  These people had zero expectations of what my vision of a nativity play looked like, and they would not know or even care that everything was (quickly) handmade by a 22 year old and a 13 year old (my wonderful helper, Patrick).  What mattered to the congregation at Solya Church was that they got to see, some for the first time, the entire story acted out before their eyes.  They were able to visualize and put human faces to the story that we’ve all heard a million times.  They could envision the scary idea of giving birth in a stable; one just like a stable that they or their neighbors probably have.

There’s a sign in our living room here that says “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”  I think about it often, and think it’s a perfect motto, not just for missionaries, but for people everywhere.  When you try your best and do what you can, even if it’s not much, God makes it enough.  So next time you’re having a little panic because you can’t find the ~holiest~ halo for your little angel, or Joseph’s beard falls apart halfway through the service, take a breath and know that it’s okay.  The costumes and props, no matter how adorable, are not the point.  The point is the message and the incredible gift God gave us when He sent His son to us.  These plays are meant to honor and remember that gift, and I really think God will appreciate whatever we put before him, even if it’s a little messy.

Look around

I am a person who likes to stay busy.  If I’m idle for too long, I start to feel restless and a little useless honestly.  In college, I filled my time with school, church, friends, and work, with barely any time left over.  I loved this schedule and relished in my busy-ness (even though you could often hear me complaining, it was way better than just doing nothing).  Here in Tanzania, school is out for summer break and I am left with a whole lot of idle time.  There’s no work to fill my hours, many fewer friends to spend time with, church is only a few hours a week, and so I am left with lots and lots of hours to fill.  I’ve taken to reading, listening to podcasts, spending time on social media, and planning for the future.  This last activity has been my real time-waster recently.  I think about things I could do months in advance, I’ve planned activities for the youth group I’ll be leading next year, I created a plan for how I want to decorate my future apartment, and I even planned an entire camp theme, down to each skit’s costumes.  I consumed myself with thoughts and plans for the future.

Last week I was taking a walk (another way I enjoy spending idle time here) and thinking about the future, not paying attention, when I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face.  I was shocked for a second, found that the only thing that hurt was my ego, and ended up laughing it off as my own clumsiness.  As the day went on, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and not just remembering my embarrassment.  I had this feeling that it wasn’t just a freak accident.  I think it was a not-so-gentle reminder from God to be more present.  To stop and take a look around and realize what an incredible place I am in and what amazing things I could be missing when my mind is elsewhere.

I think it’s easy to slip into fantasy when your mind and body is idle, but when you take time to be present in the moment you allow yourself to be open to all things God is trying to show you.  This morning as I read the daily scripture, I was struck again by God telling me to be more mindful of my presence.  Today’s psalm (85:1-2, 8-13) said “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people”.  Despite my discomfort with inactivity, regardless of my desire to remain aware of what is happening in the lives of my friends and family, no matter where I am or what I am doing, God wants to be, and DESERVES to be, heard above all.  He wants to tell us to be present and aware and above all he wants us to find peace with our surroundings.  If we constantly worry about the future and bemoan our trivial problems, we close ourselves off to the amazing gifts God is giving us right here, right now.  The second reading today (2 Peter 3: 8-15) says that as we are waiting for God to come for us, “strive to be found by him at peace”.  These next few weeks, I am challenging myself to devote more hours of my time to finding peace in my idleness rather than agitation, deliberately taking time to listen to God and being aware of my surroundings, and really looking around and appreciating the incredible gifts God has given me.  I encourage you to do the same, especially in this busy Christmas season.  Worries and thoughts about the future cannot be put away forever, they are important too, but every now and then, take a second to breathe and listen, before God sends a rock to trip you into awareness too.