A Christmas Letter

Time can get away from you. As we near the end of a most untraditional year, here’s a chance to revive a holiday tradition—the Christmas Letter.

People have always sent holiday greetings but the Christmas Letter, as far as I can tell, became somewhat of a tradition in the 1950s. The format is simple. The writer will, in one way or another, comment how quickly time has passed and then give a recap of some of the highlights of the year—usually light-hearted. In some ways, the letters can sound like bragging. I don’t want that to be the case here.

If there is any charm in a Christmas Letter, it is in the fact that it is a simple reminder that time passes too quickly and we don’t always stay in touch with the people we care about as often as we should. In a world immersed in the instant gratification of social media, you’ve likely already seen a photo of every interesting (or uninteresting) meal, every cute (or not) thing your friend’s dog did, and every place they have checked in during the year. Or is that just me?

A Christmas Letter is more than a compilation of real, and imagined, accomplishments. It is also a message of friendship and a reminder that we should all spend a little more time with each other. Here’s mine.

***

It’s been a strange year.

I started 2020 in Uganda, Africa as part of a mission team. To put that in context, I should back up to December of 2019 when I started my current job leading mission teams to Africa. You often hear people say things like “if you’d told me ten years ago I’d be here doing this, I would have thought you were crazy.”

Well. If you had told me ten years ago…

Actually, according to my Birkman analysis, I’ve always been moving on a collision course with ministry work. As someone told me, “this is who you are and what your soul wants to do—and now it is actually what you do.”

Something like that, anyway.

As I mentioned, I spent New Year’s Day of 2020 walking through a village in Uganda. As we approached people with a small bag of staple food items, we would often be invited to sit and lead a prayer for the family there. I am not one to volunteer to lead group prayer but people expected me to speak and it was an honor and very humbling.

I noticed several things on that trip—especially on that day. Most of the homes I visited were missing fathers. I only remember visiting one home where the father was present. It’s possible that more were around but were busy farming or running a business. Uganda is, by some standards, one of the most entrepreneurial nations.

Grandparents, especially grandmothers, are revered. If a “Jjaja” was present, she was the one who greeted you, received your gift, and asked you to pray. More than half of the country is under age 15, so the older citizens are viewed with great respect.

Celebrating a new year is not a normal concept. As one person in the village explained, they do not welcome a new year until they have bid farewell to the old year. I found that refreshing. Many of the families asked for prayers specifically to let go of old problems in anticipation of blessings.

Who among us isn’t ready to bid 2020 farewell?

I returned home January 8 with a new way of looking at life and I look forward to leading many more mission teams. Later in the month, I had a little chest cold and lost my sense of taste and smell for a few days. Make of that what you will.

In March, our children’s choir arrived in the U.S. for their third tour. After about a week or so, the virus shutdowns began to take effect and the children sheltered in place here in Birmingham, unable to perform. You can read more on that experience here.

They all got home safely in July and we are busy planning for their next tour in 2022. I am also optimistic that mission teams can resume soon. If you want to travel with me to Africa, or if you are looking for a great ministry to support, message me.

The real estate market was going nuts this year. Over the summer, we sold our house of 17 years and moved closer to the city. We found a great home in an amazing part of town. I’d have to write a whole blog on the series of blessings that had to take place for this to happen but everything fell right into place at exactly the right moment.

Our new home is very close to Edie’s office and much closer to mine also. Both kids returned to school in August, although Sara’s classes all moved online and she moved home with us.

We had a much lighter Thanksgiving with only our family, my parents, and two close friends sharing a meal together.

In December, Andrew and I went to the Florida Keys for a few days. In fact, I started writing this Christmas letter by the pool after we toured Hemingway’s house. The trip was a welcome break after a hectic year.

As I wrap this up, I am sitting in our new home looking at the tree. I haven’t finished shopping yet—which surprises no one—but I am looking forward to a short week and a festive Christmas. It might be a bit different this year than most but it is still Christmas.

That’s a nutshell of our 2020. As we prepare to say goodbye to this year, I am grateful for family, friends, and the sense of purpose that you can only find when you realize God is in control.

May the Christmas season be a blessing to you. May the new year bless you more.

TS

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