Nearly everything I'm usually involved in was intensified by Christmas.
Stanborough Park Church Main Service?
-Christmas Fellowship Lunch happened on the same Saturday as the teens' banquet. Most of it was set up the day (Friday) before (which involved what seemed like every table we had making rows that filled up all of Cedar/Sycamore room, which is a sizable space), chairs for the long table rows and decorations. Again, a bunch of us were waiters & waitresses. Luckily, the Fellowship Lunch meal was served in shifts. Pat Walton sent us out like troops, so it was much more organized. Another stroke of luck is that sundown was extremely early at the time (like app. 4pm), so we were practically shooing the lunchers to get out of their seats so we could set up the room for Teen Banquet, which meant different tables; not the rectangular folding tables, but the heavy ones that look square and have a tricky-to-install round table top to attach. And we had 90+ teens coming, so... yeah. It was quite the deal.
Date: December 4, 2010.
-A huge teen banquet that involved helping decorate (Sara was the queen of it all; she volunteered for so much decorating in December and is quite the trooper; kudos to her!) as well as setting up the tables & chairs. The icicle lights hanging from the ceiling were quite an adventure. We wore banquet attire, while waitressing, helping with entertainment, doing dishes and cleaning up afterwards. I sang, "Let it Snow!" at the beginning and towards the end, "Silent Night."
Date: December 4, 2010.
-Visit from Santa Claus + drawn-out Christmas crafts.
Dates: December 9 & 16, 2010.
-A huge Christmas party wherein Sara and I were waitresses and performed a messy musical skit about the 12 Days of Christmas, which involved a drop cloth 2 chickens (actually purchased from ASDA/Walmart), bells, fake phones, bins of water, eggs, bells, and several other things. The eggs didn't make it. We weren't involved in the decorations (they were done the day before by the Senior Club members), but boy we were with the clean-up.
Date: December 13, 2010.
-As fate would have it, we had a reunion for Christmas' sake.
-Basically it was another banquet, but the dress code was semi-casual and we called it "A Christmas Cafe" but 95% of the effort for teen banquet was called upon to be repeated (with a few twists) for Parallel's Christmas Cafe.
Date: December 18, 2010.
Now, all of this was made even harder by the fact that I got sick. This wasn't a cold or a virus or the flu. Somehow, I picked up a sinus infection from someone, and that bug was a BEAST. I first felt the twinges on December 2. This was before most of the seasonal chaos began. The evening of the Teen Banquet, I knew it was more than a twinge. Sunday, December 5, I realized it was full-on war. It didn't help matters much that all of us "flat-dwellers" (Dejan, Deana, Sara and myself) had been invited to a friend's home for some of the most delicious and regrettable food: pizza & hot chocolate. This wasn't just any pizza - it was unique and completely handmade, and our host Kept It Coming. The hot chocolate was made from actual melted chocolate and cream. It was thick, smooth and divine. I knew it was the stupidest food to eat when you're getting sick, but I didn't want to be rude, and I knew that I was too far downhill to avert the bug anyhow. I slept for 8 hours that night, woke up to help with a booked room for 45 minutes, went back to bed and slept for 7 more hours. I was completely knocked off my feet. I had a slight fever when I woke up in the late afternoon, but it didn't last through the night.
This delightful BEAST of a bug was the bane of my existence for FOUR WHOLE WEEKS.
During the first week, I had a sore throat and was very phlegmy. Sorry for those of you who are sensitive and frequently squeal "TMI," but I promise I'm leaving grossness out. I googled the specifics of my symptoms and diagnosed myself with a sinus infection. I mistook it for chronic, but my mom (used to be a nurse) set me straight that it was acute. By the end of the week, I had gone to the doctor (ridiculous: 50 pounds to be seen by a professional to ask me what I already knew, agree with what I'd already figured out, write me a prescription and shoo me out in UNDER 5 minutes - no joke. Psh...) and was in possession of antibiotics (at the near-screaming urges of friends on Facebook, bless their hearts), aside from having gotten cough drops and sinus-directed pain killers.
During the second week, I felt less stopped-up and sore. Instead, my nose started running a marathon and I began to sound like a man. In the evening, I sounded like Yoda from Star Wars or like two drug addicts talking at the same time. I've lost my voice before, but this time around I set a record for sounding terrible. No special musics were possible until the Christmas Eve service - even then I was afraid I'd cough, but God is good and there was no coughing.
Third week = chest cough + nasal marathon still happening. Dejan suggested I get cough syrup. So I did, and man it had so much menthol that drinking water after the cough syrup felt like what I imagine hard alcohol feels like when one swallows. I wouldn't know, so I can't verify, but you get the idea. My nose was red from being sore from being blown so much. BLAAAAAAAH.
Fourth week = nose & cough still an issue but noticeably lessening. I didn't begin to feel like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel 'til the fifth week.
Through all of this nastiness, I pushed through.
And you know what?
It showed me what I'm capable of. Sure, I probably would have recovered sooner if I'd been able to rest more, but I feel like I still got enough rest, and until this happened, I never knew how strong I was. Plus, exercise isn't a bad thing when you're sick and I definitely had exercise, albeit indoors with all the tables & chairs.
And you know what else?
I called December rough - yes it was. It was also TONS OF FUN. My last Christmas was much less joyful and much harder to adjust to than this one, and last year I wasn't away from family and I didn't have a sinus infection. Last year, we completed the move out of the home I grew up in (we built it when I was 4 years old; we moved out when I was 20 = 16 years) and into a completely different house in a completely different geography: California. I'm a Michigan girl. I dream of white Christmases and my old house was surrounded by trees. When it snowed, I was in a diamond fairy tale setting and our house was filled with warm, familiar Christmas decorations. I was incredibly blessed. Last year, for my Christmas break, instead of driving 15 minutes away from Andrews University to be at home with family, my mother and I were flying to California with my grandmother who was having serious heart problems and our cat Chutz in a airplane cat-container. Poor thing.
I first met my grandmother (to my conscious memory) when I was 6 years old in Kenya. She was independent. A real kick-ass woman. She drove her own vehicle and lived in a house by herself. Sometimes she had people stay with her. She had a huge fan base in her town and she took us to Nairobi and on a safari. She didn't have a heart problem back then. She barely used a cane, definitely didn't need a wheel chair and didn't need an oxygen mask with an oxygen tank on wheels. But that was over 10 years ago. Last year, I nearly fell apart because Grammie's condition was so serious; she'd had to move in with us and couldn't drive her own car anymore. Gradually she used a walker more & more and then a wheelchair became her primary mode of transportation. Seeing my tough-cookie Grammie in the hospital being emotionally vulnerable and sweet nearly broke me. I'd start crying at the most inopportune moments and I dropped one of my classes. Instead of Christmas "at home," it was Christmas in California. California was flat, brown-bordering-on-gray, cloudy and cold with no snow. We went from a 2-story brick house to a 1-story house that wasn't brick; I don't know what it was. When my mother & Grammie and I finally made it there (I became Grammie's caregiver during this time & slept in her room at night to replace her oxygen mask when it'd slip off & beep and to help her in & out of the restroom when necessary), there was no heat in the house and no furnishings or decorations. An impersonal hotel room would have felt like home in comparison to our new address in Lakeport on Riggs Road. That night I slept wearing a bunch of clothes (as well as my winter coat) on a mattress on the floor. It got better, though. The heat got fixed, Daddy & Lucy & my dog Belle (Golden Retriever) arrived via truck, having driven across country. And then Katie arrived by plane. We slowly put the house together and even decorated a little bit. We couldn't do presents, but we had stockings on Christmas morning and watched George C. Scott's "A Christmas Carol," "The Grinch," and other things. We ate good food. We spent time together.
As cheesy as it sounds, Christmas came.
Christmas isn't about what's familiar.
Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus is all about LOVE.
Back to Watford, England.
I was sick, I was physically miserable a lot of the time, but I was too busy and too happy for it to depress me. Truly. Having a sinus infection was something I dealt with in a box all its own. I'd be running around fulfilling my responsibilities and helping with all the Christmas fru-fru and not even notice that I was sick.
Proverbs 18:14: "The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit?" (NLT)
I have never been so seriously sick for so long (4 weeks!!).
Nothing like it has ever happened during Christmas, of all times.
I have never been so happy and upbeat despite being so sick.
I never dreamed I'd have such a blessed Christmas even though I was "away from home."
God gave me an amazing gift this year. I already noticed that Stanborough Park Church (when I first got here) is a brick building, surrounded by trees. At night the moon comes through my window - the sunshine pours into Sara's room, which is fine with me; I prefer the bluer daylight of not receiving direct sunlight. Back in my old house in Berrien Springs, I could see the sunrises & sunsets shading the green trees with pink light and the autumn trees with purple light. The moon would shine through my window at night. And in December, England had SERIOUS snow. It was gorgeous snow - difficult to drive in (hehe, England thinks it was "so much" but not compared to my Michigan winters & Sara's in Colorado) but so incredibly gorgeous to look at. My heart felt so Romanced by so much this Christmas. God knows the things that make us come alive, that puts a sparkle into our eyes and sometimes he just dumps these things into our situations to show us how well He knows us and how much He's thinking about our hearts.
Another phenomena I experienced was that of receiving ZILLIONS of Christmas cards from people I knew well and some people I hardly remembered meeting! Sara and I both got cards and chocolate and little gifts for all our SM work in the church.
And then came Christmas day.
We went to a friend's house for dinner - they told us to bring our cards and gifts and not open them. So we did :-) First we had some drinks while lunch was getting ready to serve. The house was decorated form Christmas in a way that reminded me of home. There were presents under the tree and Christmas music playing from the radio (or a CD?). We had an amazing and HUGE lunch, which we took our time with. I can't remember if it was at the end of lunch or when we gathered for "tea" (i.e., a light supper bordering on a full meal during which tea was served LOL) after presents that we heard the Queen's Christmas address on the radio... But that was really neat! Especially since I was around people who were British and so for them it was a moment of transcendence because a member of their monarchy was speaking. After lunch, we opened presents and what do you know, they had a tradition that we practice in my family! 1-2 people put on Christmas hats/headbands and pass out the presents until everyone has their pile, and then they're all opened. People cross the room to hug and thank family members and friends who gave them something they either wanted or were surprised by and still loved anyway. I was excited just to have my stack of cards, a gift from Sara and I was looking forward to her opening my gift. But lo & behold, by the time all the presents were passed out, I had a little stack to open too! It was one of those moments when you're so happy you could cry, but instead, you're so full of joy that you're quiet, can't stop smiling and there's no such thing as too many hugs.
I fell asleep in my easy chair for an hour (we'd gotten up a little earlier because the Christmas service in church is longer than the usual service, plus Sara and I had helped with a special children's story skit about candy canes) and afterwards it was time for "tea," which - as I mentioned earlier - was basically another meal. Less hot food, but pretty much just as abundant. When we'd finished this part of our Christmas, we returned to the living room to play games. Not card games, not board games, but REAL games. A lot of us had changed out of church clothes into either casual clothes or actual pajamas. They were the kinds of games you play at camp, where the rules are simple and it's tons of fun and there's no age restrictions. No more stiletto heels, no more fussing about fancy church clothes - it was play time :-)
We didn't leave to return to the flat until after midnight.
It was one of the best Christmases I've ever had in my life. Ever.
If you simply stay open to receiving,
If you let go of what you think you need to be happy,
If you leave room for God to surprise you,
If you remember He knows your heart and wants to give good gifts,
God can and will sweep you up into His arms in the most unexpected and amazing way.