Ethiopia and Christmas

This post was originally published on my previous website on December 9, 2018.

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I came home to Christmas.

There was a pretty tree on the baggage claim carousel and evergreen tinsel hanging from the ceiling.

The Western world—often unknowingly—inviting God to be with us for one month of the year, every year, with plastic decorations and a rush of capitalism.

So maybe I'm cynical.

Or maybe it's that I haven't been able to stop thinking about—something—in the weeks since coming home.

I finally made it to our home church this week, after almost two full weeks of being home. The Christmas buzz has only become more intense with the start of Advent and Christmas shopping. It doesn't help that I go to church at the busiest and highest-grossing mall in Canada.

And we're singing Christmas carols at church now, too.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel. God incarnate, here to dwell.

Don't get me wrong—Emmanuel is for all of us. God is with all of us, in all of our mess, in every circumstance and context of life.

But as this Sunday's Advent reading is read, the scene of where God specifically chose to come to be with us, at that specific point in history all those years ago—the place He chose when He could only choose one—comes barrelling into my mind.

It's the thing I can't stop thinking about—the thing that's been resting heavy on my heart since coming home to Christmas.

And I'm suddenly back in the small home of a single mother in Ethiopia, reaching across to squeeze her arm in reassurance as tears flow while she tells me her story.

God is with us, there.

With Tigist and Yeabsira, who graciously invited me into their home and story.

With Tigist and Yeabsira, who graciously invited me into their home and story.

We like to invite him into our big and bright white Christmases of the West—without even a thought that His choice for where He would come be with us and spend that first Christmas was a small, messy, quiet, humble and dim brown Christmas in the Middle East.

I'm not saying He won't meet us where we are—He will fight every distraction and all our excess to get our attention and capture our hearts.

But I just can't stop thinking about how close He felt as I listened to the stories of mothers who were afraid when they first heard of their pregnancy...yet chose to say a brave yes anyways.

That's all I've been thinking about, actually.

I came home to Christmas...but in so many ways, I came home from experiencing all that Christmas was, is and should be—and no matter how many times I do it, it keeps on wrecking me, shaping me, forming me...and I couldn't be more thankful.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that it's never the same twice. Each time, it's different and it doesn't necessarily get easier, but it's never quite the blinding intensity and year-long anguish of the first time...nor does it follow the same path as the last time. It's a unique story every time.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that sometimes you might feel incredibly entitled, childish and privileged for experiencing it, particularly when it's part of your (dream) job...and that writing about it in a public forum sometimes helps like it did when you were fifteen, and sometimes that just makes you feel crazy vulnerable in ways that you don't want to at twenty-one (or ever).

But I think vulnerability is good? Or I'm just part of the narcissistic generation that puts their lives on the internet. At least I'm self-aware...or maybe I am cynical.

Anyways, I just wanted to pop in to share some reflections and give some (very small) peeks into what my experience of travelling to and back from Ethiopia was like, to add to (or in case you missed) what's on Instagram. To take the responsibility seriously of stewarding the stories of those I met—and my own story—well. —ae

When Oceans Rise

This post was originally published on my previous website on October 9, 2014.

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.

As one of the many airplanes that carried me back and forth over the Pacific this summer descended on the Philippines, these words poured through my earbuds - over the plane's whirring engines and the wailing baby 6 rows up.

Oceans became a little bit of a landing tradition.

You see, many places in the Philippines have the most gorgeous landings.

You come in over the ocean and as you peer out the window, it rises towards you and you don't quite see land until the landing gear is touching it.

So, I mean, I'm definitely not a nervous flyer (quite the opposite actually), but these landings can be a little nerve-wracking, too.

Talk about trust without borders.

And so it is with all beautiful things - they're also a little scary, a little nerve-wracking.

Beauty requires trust.

We sang Oceans at youth group last night - When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.

And I'm right back on that plane.

And I'm standing right there again - the tide slowly rolling in and out, its calming rhythm keeping time to the words I'm speaking to a rolling camera and countless teens back home all at once.

The beach where we filmed part of  True Story: What God Wants Us to Do About Poverty .

The beach where we filmed part of True Story: What God Wants Us to Do About Poverty.

But this beach is no Sandals ad. A slum is sprawled out behind me, and the curious faces of the Filipino locals—mostly children—stare at me from beyond the camera. Four Canadians and an American with a camera is no daily occurrence.

The watermarks are just visible on the stilts of these childrens' homes behind me, and the day before when we had visited their homes, we're told that their homes will sometimes flood during high tide.

When oceans rise...

And me? I'm just numb.

The reality of it all comes at me in waves.

When our team leader leaned over to me in the van on the way back to the hotel and said, "It's hard not to become desensitized to all this. But I just constantly remember how very real this is. This is their lives."

And when later that night my roommate and I realized that those kids were still there—they are still there—sleeping in those potentially flooded homes.

And most recently, the staggering reality of that place hits me at youth group. While singing Oceans.

The words leave my lips: When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace. For I am Yours, and You are mine.

I'm painfully aware of what I'm saying.

How easy is it for me to sing those words?

When oceans rise, my house doesn't flood. Plain and simple.

Of course my soul can rest—the floors of my home aren't soaked with those rising oceans.

Sure, I've got waves crashing at me but not quite as literally as those sweet Filipino children I met on that beach.

How is that fair?

I'm painfully aware that I'm angry.

I'm angry at my culture and my comfort zones and I'm angry at me.

Angry at how easily I'm able to sing those words and at how I so pathetically want need the comfort that allows me to easily sing those words.

To be painfully blunt, I'm angry at how much I don't care once those Filipino children aren't right in front of me.


I'm angry at all the ways I don't want to change for the sake of justice, and oh man—isn't it an ugly world where I can sing a beautiful song about rising oceans while a Filipino family's greatest trouble is a rising ocean beneath their home?

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.

Beauty requires trust.

And isn't that it? Those words I spoke on that beach to that rolling camera: the God we serve has a perfect plan to bring beauty to this ugly world.

All He asks of us is trust.

He asks us to trust Him enough to say yes to our part in this plan, and that is all. That is our hope.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You may call me.

Yes, God. Wherever You may call me.

I trust You, for I know that beauty requires trust.

And in a world where oceans rise into those Filipino homes and into my life, I trust You and I. say. yes.

When oceans rise—

My soul will rest in Your embrace.