Tag Archives: christmas

Hope in Hardship: a New Twist on Christmas

I’m sitting in my Grandma’s kitchen in South Bend, Indiana, trying not to feel sorry for myself.  My brain is swimming with so many thoughts, conflicting and colliding…

This was supposed to be THE vacation.  The one time I’ve taken vacation all year where I actually got to use my vacation hours because I didn’t end up working through it.  I planned an extra week after my parents left to spend time with my Grandma, my brother, my friends from college, maybe my uncle if he’s in town.  I’ve been looking so forward to this trip for months.

Then I got laid off.  Off.  Laid. Off.  30-day notice, with this 2-week vacation smack in the middle.  This sucks more than words can say.  If really Christian people didn’t read this blog, I’d use a lot stronger language.  I could just blow stuff off, but I’m not like that.  I could never live with myself if I didn’t use every waking moment to do everything I can to make sure my kids have everything in place when I leave.  I just can’t.  So I will work as much as I can.

I feel guilty.  I feel guilty about not working when I’m spending time with my family.  I feel guilty about not spending time with my family when I’m working.

I’m worried.  I’m worried about my life, my income, my cat.  Mostly I’m worried about my kids who have taken such a risk to learn to trust me, who have dared to hope that I’ll really be there, only to be ripped away through no fault of theirs or mine.

I’m scared.  I left my whole world for this job, and now I’ve lost it.  I’ve worked an average of about 50 hours a week for the past year, and I haven’t taken the time to really build relationships outside of work.  It’s a very lonely feeling.  I’m terrified I will lose this new passion that I have for foreign-born youth.  My ADHD hyper-focuses me, and it’s so easy to just move on; the idea of losing this scares me to death.

I’m grateful.  I’m pretty sure I have a job.  I’m so grateful.  And I have peace about being employed.  I truly do.

I’m so irritated that this layoff happened right at Christmas.  My greatest Christmas joy is giving gifts, and this privilege has been ripped from me this year.  My mom says I should write – give the gift of words, she says.  She’s probably right.  But it doesn’t feel good enough for me.  I don’t write well on command, and I’m not feeling it.

I’m happy.  It is so good to see family again.  My brother is doing better than he has in years.  His house is clean and healthy.  He has staff who actually do their job and care about him.  I got to see my aunts and uncle and 5 cousins and my two little cousin-nieces.

I got to sit around a table on Sunday with 5 dear friends from college, meet their families, children.  Awkward at first, everyone staring at each other.  I think I would have been happy just staring at them for 3 hours.  I love them so much.  Why don’t we keep in better touch?  MK problems.

I’m in awe.  God provided miraculously for my dad’s party.  Miraculously.  The generosity He showed for a simple birthday party is a display of his great Fatherly Love.  I see Him up there with a party hat on and organizing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, just throwing His kid a birthday party.

Mom’s passports disappeared, two days before her flight back to Mexico.  She was seen today at the US Passport Office without an appointment (anti-policy), and will have her new passport in a couple of hours.

I’m sad.  I had to say goodbye to my cousins and nieces for the last time before they return to Korea and Kenya.  I don’t know when I’ll see them again.  That’s the missionary life, it’s part of the “system,” but I’m still sad.  And I said goodbye to my parents this morning, who knows for how long.  Again, part of our system, but no fun at all.

So here I am, sitting at this table, trying to focus on work, unable to pull out of this melee of thoughts and emotions happening inside my echoing mind, when suddenly I remembered.  I remembered one of my first unofficial blogs that I wrote in the form of a FaceBook Note five Christmas Eves ago.   My situation was very different then, but the general idea was the same: things were frustrating, overwhelming, and out of my control.  I was crying a lot that day.  Then God said, “Girlfriend, I’m not a baby in a manger anymore.  Choose peace.”  And I did.  And I got an A.

So here I share with you my thoughts of Christmas Eve, 2008, unabridged.  May they encourage you as you face whatever your holiday season holds for you.  May you be challenged along with me to trust, shamelessly and fearlessly, that God is great and grown-up and bigger than whatever giant boulder stands in our way today.  And may this season prepare us for the mountains that will come later, as my academic pebble prepared me 5 years ago for today…

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December 24, 2008

I am NOT a fan of school. And yet, I’m working at this feverish pace to finish my master’s degree in May. In September my cousin got engaged; I immediately bought a ticket to Albuquerque, requested the week of Christmas off of work, and focused on nothing but this week. For the last two months my one motivating drive has been Eliot’s wedding and a week of nothing but resting and enjoying Christmas at my mentor’s house. And two weeks without any homework. My parents have been wonderful about purchasing my textbooks for me. . . I am so incredibly grateful, there aren’t enough words. But my mom goofed when she ordered the book for my December class. The book ended up sitting in Kansas City for a couple of weeks, then she mailed it to me book rate which meant that I’d eventually get the book the day before all my papers had to be turned in. I tried to stay calm and make the best of it, but I was pretty mad about the whole situation. I ended up borrowing some older books from a friend, using the internet, doing my best, and getting my assignments done in time – even though I had to take an extra day off work to do it. I worked really hard and I was really proud of myself.

The wedding was wonderful. I came back feeling more rested and relaxed and happy than I have in a very long time. Yesterday was very nice. I helped my mentor run some errands and clean out the garage, and we watched 3 Christmas movies. It is SO WONDERFUL to be here without having to do homework. Then last night I got a phone call and email from my professor telling me that 4 of my assignments were way off-base and that if I didn’t redo them my grade would be barely passing. The semester was over on Sunday, but she’s giving me the opportunity to redo them because of my textbook situation. I should be grateful, but I’m not. This means that after all of my excruciating work I have lost the vacation that was my main motivation for the last three months. Pissed is an understatement. I have spent most of the last six hours sitting on my bed alternating between trying to figure out how to decipher whether a WAIS-III subtest score is significant based on the mean standard score of the category and furiously crying my eyes out because it is so incredibly confusing and I was not given the WAIS-III Standard Report Form that tells me clearly how to do it. Tomorrow will be more of the same. I was thoroughly hating this Christmas.

Then this evening I got an email from an old friend (whose new blog you can visit here – definitely worth the read!) sharing his conflicting thoughts about Christmas. His words triggered many of my own philosophical musings. . . Forget the horrors of materialism, why must Christmas be such a warm fuzzy time? Why does culture dictate our emotions and behaviors so much at this time of the year? Jesus was born and laid in a manger, but He didn’t stay there. The focus of Christmas seems to be on being and staying comfortable, on having things be just so, preserving tradition, feeling good. Christmas doesn’t “feel right” if we don’t feel happy and peaceful. It’s almost like constantly seeking that “first high,” and the “feeling of Christmas” seems to become more elusive each year. It really has become such a self-serving time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. I love the music and the food and the families and the shopping and the presents and tradition. I so love the tradition. When I think about it, though, I love Christmas because of the memories it conjures, and I am repeatedly disappointed every year when the experience falls short of the memory. Christmas is no longer about Christ. Christmas is about tradition and memories and eating sugar and watching “White Christmas” and opening presents. It’s about dressing up for a meal and taking pictures and looking at colored lights. And setting up a manger scene that – every year – returns Jesus to his little bed. Christ is a TRADITION of Christmas, but He has been relegated to the position of a supporting actor rather than the main hero. I have fallen into this trap of focusing on the feeling rather than Christ. The main thing I have noticed this year: I have said several times that Christmas isn’t Christmas without snow; the irony is that only 11 of my 29 Christmases have included snow.

And then there’s the manger thing. Oddly, I am reminded of Harry Potter. (Stay with me, it will make sense in a minute.) In the 5th book, Harry and his friends enter the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic where they find abstract concepts such as death, love, thought, and time tangibly studied. Time is represented by an hourglass full of a sort of sandstorm. The sand swirls down: this is time progressing. Then a wind comes and blows the sand back to the top: this is time regressing. A chick hatches from an egg at the bottom of the hourglass and begins to grow until the storm swallows it up; when the storm calms the chick has returned to an egg and the process repeats itself. Over and over and over again. Every December our culture puts Jesus back in the manger in a big way. What a sneaky way for Satan to fix in our minds an idea of Jesus as a helpless homely infant. We are such a visual instant-gratification society. . . the mighty words of Gabriel are nothing compared to the timeless image of the manger.

So. . . I make the following proposal: the meaning of Christmas is “hope in hardship.” How foolish we are if we neglect to imagine the hardship of that miraculous yet dreadful night. The rocky barren trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary’s sheer uncomfortableness. Joseph’s frustration at the timing of the census. Mary’s disappointment at having to put her brand new baby to bed in a feeding trough. Joseph’s fury at having no better option than a stable for Mary to give birth to this Son of God, with whom HE had been given the responsibility to provide for and protect. How weak and ashamed Joseph must have felt; I can only imagine the knot in the pit of his stomach, the overwhelming powerlessness as he watched things unfold so very utterly against his plans. How clearly God gave the message that He would be the ultimate provider. Yet through it all there was hope: rugged, but sheltered; hungry, but warm; tired, but safe; anger, but joy; fear, but comfort. Hardship, but hope.

And I am no longer angry. I hate doing homework on Christmas. I hate having to give up my vacation for this stupid 2-unit class. But I have been given the opportunity to preserve my 4.0, and that gives me hope. This whole thing will be done in May, and that gives me hope. And those things that make it onto our Christmas list: a car, a good job, a spouse, degrees, enough money, friendships, nice bookends to hold up my Middle Earth collection. . . those desires are symbols of hope, too. As long as we are not focused on the things themselves but on the blessings that they are. They come from a God who focuses not on the gift but on the blessing. A God who provides a manger when it is enough and gives great wealth to those who seek wisdom. A Lord who chooses shepherd boys to lead His people and fisherman to lead His church. A Lover who touches the heads of children and notices the longing reach of the desperate. A Father who recognizes the hardships – no matter how petty – and extends hope to pull us through while He chuckles quietly about our desperation to claim the rock He sat on and our frustration at not being able to find the perfect Christmas cards from the wall of them at Target.

So tonight I skipped the turkey (ah yes, the traditions of others) so I’d stay awake and I’ll miss the Christmas movies, and I’ll muddle through the WAIS-III and the MMPI-2 and the MCMI-III and the Rorschach into tomorrow. But I’m not angry anymore. I marvel at the creativity of a God who confuses my mother’s ability to select appropriate shipping options so that I would remember this Christmas that HE is in control and that HE is the One who provides hope in the midst of my most minor hardships. And I am grateful for my wise friend who had the courage to share his controversial ideas about Christmas so that God could use them to pull me out of my reverie of self-pity.

Merry Christmas. May God reveal to you great hope in the midst of the hardships and trials that persist, even at Christmas. May you know His joy and peace, and may you find blessing in the most unexpected of places.

With the hope and overwhelming joy that comes from knowing that Jesus is no longer in His manger,

Sallie

He was a baby . . . and then He grew up.

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The Value of a Day

The Value of a Day

Tonight I’m very excited to climb into bed and watch the new episode of Dr. Who.  I was gonna skip it, but then I realized that I really would be much more comfortable with my hair clean.  And a deep thought came, as they so often do, when my head was stuck in the sink while I was trying to keep the soap out of my eyes and my hair out of the water that wasn’t going down the drain fast enough.  It was a thought about Easter.  Well, a few thoughts really.  Well, it actually started with Christmas because I was thinking about the last Dr. Who episode – the Christmas special – but my thoughts migrate and today’s Easter, so I landed there.  Kind of.  So these thoughts.  As usual, they were unrelated until they blended together into something I never thought of before.  And since my cat doesn’t really answer me when I tell her the stuff I think . . . I’m going to tell you.

My thoughts fired as my ears filled with soapy water . . . today is Easter.  Why does it feel like any other day?  My easy reason for that is that there has been so much transition in my life lately and I’m so exhausted and kind of floating around detached from the world . . . the days are really just blending together.  But deep down that reason isn’t good enough for me.  So my mind enigmatically shifted to economy…

Capitalism: the economy of America.  Make money any way you can.  Be creative.  Don’t break the law. . . or don’t get caught, anyway.

Entrepreneurship: if you can do it and someone else will buy it, go for it.

Supply and Demand controls us more than anything else in our democracy… if enough people want it one of two things happen: 1) It’s everywhere you look and they sure don’t make it like they used to, or 2) There’s not very much of it and it’s going to whoever pays the most.

These same principles are what make holidays special.  Think about it: if Christmas happened every month, no one would care.  Even though the marketing strategies work because we DO spend our money, I’ve never heard a single person say, “Awesome! I can start buying Christmas decorations now that Halloween is almost here!”  In fact, I usually hear the opposite.  I have conversations with strangers about it at Target… usually around the time I post on Instagram my strategically angled picture of Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas junk lined up for us to purchase all in one trip.  The cackling plastic candy dish in one aisle competes for my attention with the Here Comes Santa Clause demo CD on the next end cap over while I try to decide if this is the year that I – who has only once hosted an event in which they might be appropriate – purchase autumn-themed napkin rings.

My point: Supply and Demand.  Holidays lose their value when we broaden our access to them.

But what about the actual point of the holidays?

Now waiting for the sink to drain so I can rinse my hair it occurs to me that maybe Christmas and Easter really should be like any other days.  Yes, they are days to remember and celebrate fantastic events, great sacrifices of love that God made for us. I don’t discount that at all.  But that’s just it: holidays are about celebration. Celebration happens with people.  It’s an event.  If I want to get really controversial and philosophical I could say that holidays are just justified days off.  I won’t go there.  God set up a whole lot more holidays than we have on our Roman calender, and I like holidays.

But really.  Christmas and Easter are days to REMEMBER. But what’s to stop us from remembering every single day???  And if we did take the time to remember in awestruck wonder every single day that Jesus came and was and died and lived . . . well, wouldn’t Christmas and Easter be like every other day then? (Except for the people and food and traditionally accepted pagan adaptations, of course…)

And by the time I was toweling off my hair I was asking myself if being so excited to watch Dr. Who on this perfectly ordinary night that happens to be Easter means 1) That I walk in such awareness of God’s presence in my life that today’s celebration is normal for me, or 2) That I’m not dialed in because I haven’t spent enough of myself to fuel the joy I should be feeling.

If I’m going to be completely honest, it’s more the second choice for me right now.  I’m tired.  Bone-dead tired in mind, body, and soul.  Which is why I am so glad that my new pastor said from the pulpit today that it’s okay.  Jesus knew Peter was going to wimp out, and he loved him anyway.  He knew his buddies were going to fall asleep, but He still went back for them.  Because that’s how we humans are.  We get tired so easily.  We forget so quickly.  We’re distracted by every butterfly.  Jesus loves us anyway.  He chose us anyway.  That’s why he set up SO MANY holidays (seriously – read Deuteronomy).  To remind us.  To knock us back into reality.  To remind us that this is how we are, and that He loves us anyway.

How hard are you willing to fight to remember?

How hard are you willing to fight to remember?

Happy Easter, all you delightfully imperfect humans!  Walk in peace, knowing that you don’t need to be perfect.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.  Today we get to remember that Jesus took care of that little detail for us.  And, maybe, if – by the grace of God – we devote all the resources and treasures that one little fact of immeasurable grace deserves, we will keep remembering every day.  But if you do forget, just remember that God knows your humanity and your heart… and gave us Christmas.

Rupe Reunion 2011 Trailer

So my super-cool Uncle Brian, YMCA Director Extraordinaire, is putting together a movie of our time together.  The trailer was released today and I just had to share it.  I’ll share the finished project after the premeire!

Traveling Back

I’m closing up a beautiful 29-day vacation, 20 of which were spent in Mexico with my family.  I flew down on 12/10 and spent a week and a half helping my mom get ready for our family reunion.  On the 20th and 22nd we were joined by most of our Rupe clan and ended up with a group of 13: my parents, brother, and me; my Grandma, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Marilyn; and Uncle Brian, Aunt Lynn, Jachin, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison.  We all flew back on the 29th.  Never in my life have I taken a vacation like this, and I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time chronicling it.  I’ve written about how going home rearranges my whole sense of self, but I have to balance that with sharing the pure joy and fun that I had during those 3 weeks.  I could write about it start (I got gyped into buying an “executive” van taxi ride from the airport to the bus station in Mexico City) to finish (Cheeseburger with grilled onions from In-N-Out), but that would be boring in the extreme.  So instead, here’s my top 10 list.  There are a lot more than ten, but for the sake of time, space, and your sanity, I have to draw the line somewhere . . .

10. Battle of the Refrigerated Room

All the girl cousins (me, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison) got to stay up in Misa’s apartment (more on him

Girl Cousins!

Sallie, Amy, Adrienne, Allison

later).  This room is fantastic except for one little problem: it’s frigid.  Cement houses in Mexico tend to warm up during the day and lose heat at night.  This room is built over the shed and has 4 outside walls; even though it gets steamy during the day, by 6am it’s colder inside then out.  Amy and Adrienne got the bed, and Allison and I were on cots.  The cots were really comfortable, except for the fact that the air under the canvas basically meant we were lying on an ice cube.  But Allison and I were not to be dissuaded.  The second night we rounded up every extra blanket in the house.  We were warm on top, but it didn’t fix anything.  And all four of our noses were still frozen in the morning.  So the third night we pulled up the heated mattress pad and commandeered the gas heater.  Allison took the mattress pad, and I put four blankets under my sleeping bag.  We put the heater to work and voila! We slept warm and cozy for about 9 hours straight.  It doesn’t sound like much when I write it out, but trust me . . . it was a significant accomplishment.

4 girl cousins + 2 days = demolished bachelor pad

9. Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Allison drew my name in our gift exchange and got me the top priority item on my Amazon wish list: Voyage of the Dawn Treader blue ray.  I was thrilled with the movie as it was, but the best part came later on Christmas evening when all four of us girl-cousins piled onto my parents’ bed to watch the movie.  It was very cozy and comfy, with Amy and Allison fighting over the foot of the bed against Adrienne’s legs.  I wish we had taken a picture.

8. Mexico City    

On the 28th we made our pilgrimage to Mexico City.  I was thrilled with the bus

Adrienne, Allison, and Amy in Mexico City

ride there because it was the only time I really got to spend talking with Jachin.  We ate at the Casa de Azulejos (House of Tiles), which is now a delicious restaurant called Sanborn’s.  We did a little sightseeing, a little shopping, and ended the night with the “special” highlight of the week: an outdoor Folkloric ballet at the French Dictator Maximilian’s Chapultepec palace at the top of the city.  I’ve been to 3 in my life, and these shows depicting the dances of Mexico are incredible.  I must have been about 7 when I saw the first one, and not too long after that I was enrolled in a folkloric dance class at our local cultural center.  I must have been about 8, and the 3 other girls in the class were teenagers who’d been dancing for years.  My dad told me this trip that I came home from that class saying that feet were not made to move that fast!  I think I lasted about a month.  I was not destined to become a wonderful dancer of the zapateado, but I sure do love watching it.  This show started off a little strange with the most Mary-

focused nativity pageant I’ve ever seen (and some wild onion turban-headed Persian wise men on real horses), but by the time it ended I was proud to be at least partly affiliated with the Mexican culture.  Sometimes I think it’s a real shame that most Americans are transplanted.  The only people in our country with such a rich unified cultural tradition are Native Americans, and we don’t give them enough credit.  I suppose we have the Charleston, but it’s not really the same, is it?

7.  Repelling

A few years ago my heights-avoidant father decided that repelling would be a good team-building activity for his missionary candidates.  So he took a class and, against his better judgment, performed a practical “exam” with his instructor.  He’s been hooked ever since.  When I met my parents in Acapulco a year ago he kept looking for places for us to repel.  I turned him down on the basis that I didn’t like the idea of landing on the highway or on rocks in the ocean far from shore.  But at home dad has a couple of tried and true spots to walk backwards down a rock face, so I went.  He didn’t want to wait for the rest of the
family to show up, so he and I went with 3 other guys from the church during my first week there.  I was a little nervous, but am pleased to say that I’m no wimp and did a great job.  We went again when the rest of the family was

there, and I also went down the “intermediate” cliff.  I don’t think I’m as hooked as my dad is,

but there is definitely a thrill that comes from walking down a wall of rock.  And I have to admit, it’s impressive how my dad

ties all those ropes together, and I’ve rarely seen him so happy doing anything.

6.  Christmas at Church 

Church traditions are what I miss the most about Christmas every year.  But, like I wrote about before, my memories become rose-colored shrines to all that is good in the world.  Christmas is always a search for the magic we felt in childhood.  Here’s the thing: this is perhaps the one situation where reality is better than the memory.  I will never be so prolific a writer that I could adequately explain the amazing combination of Mexican Christmas and church.  Misa was in charge of the program, and he did an amazing job.  Over 200 people showed up, the worship service (including a great tambourine troupe) lasted over 30 minutes of joyful Latin church music, and the kids put on a great pageant.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was food.  Great food.  Food that is Christmas to me.  Sopes, tamales, buñuelos, apple salad, jello . . . and ponche.  Wonderful ponche.  A drink so delicious that all other forms of punch are named after it.  You can’t get it in America because you can’t get tejocotes, guayabas, and sugar cane.  It’s wonderful stuff.

PONCHE!!!

The festivities culminated with piñatas.  I don’t like piñatas – they’re dangerous.  When done properly, they can cause serious brain damage.  When I was about 6 I got kicked in the head in the middle of a piñata pile . . . and that was the last time that happened.  From then on I was the smart one that walked the perimeter picking up all the stuff that the other kids pushed through their legs in their candy-hoarding zeal.  I got a good haul without the potential brain injury.  Now that I am clearly not a child anymore, I certainly didn’t expect that I was at risk for piñata involvement.  The third one was reserved for the young adults.  I’m not really one of those, either.  There I was, innocently taking pictures, when all of a sudden I heard my name being chanted.  Crap.  The pressure of 30 people shouting my name was too much.  To deny the request would look absolutely ridiculous.  The greatest potential risk of piñata breakage is being the one who actually breaks it: not only does a bunch of stuff fall on your head (which could include sugar cane and pottery – both of which are quite hard), but you could be trampled when everyone else attacks the ground around you.  My strategy was simple: don’t break the piñata.  This is easily accomplished while blindfolded.  Naturally, there was no blindfold.  So . . . being able to see and being taller than everyone it would have looked really ridiculous if I didn’t get in at least a couple of good whacks.  I looked beseechingly at Enrique who was driving the piñata, trying to communicate with my eyes that I didn’t want him to make it too easy.  I think he got the opposite message.  I managed to make it through my 10 seconds of piñata swinging with a few good swings but without actually breaking it.  By the end, I had conquered an old fear . . . sort of.

One Piñata to Rule Them All

5. Family Piñata

Okay, let’s face it: American piñata hitting is just silly.  The thing is fixed on a rope, blindfolds are optional, the riot is minimal, and loot collection is relatively polite.  To do the thing properly, only one side of the rope is fixed – the other is held by someone standing on a roof whose job it is to make it very difficult for the hitter to connect . . . or, in some cases, a little easier.  Blindfolds really should be used, even though the church piñata was lacking on this point.  The riot really is orchestrated chaos, involving a combination of the “Dále Dále Dále” song and a mix of shouted instructions to the hitter that may or may not be accurate.  And when the thing finally breaks . . . sweet, innocent, respectful children become nothing more than rabid animals.  It’s a free-for-all, and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt or kicked or trampled in the violent race for the shower of candy and fruit.  Every little break before the candy counts, too.  The cones are especially important, because they serve as candy holders; there’s only a few of them, so you’re pretty cool if you score one.

So, in our efforts to encourage cultural awareness, we got the family a piñata to break on Christmas Eve.  Dad took me, Adrienne, Amy, and Allison to the market to pick out and fill one.  Before break time, we taught everyone the song and coached them on the importance of assertiveness and borderline violence, even (and especially) toward loved ones.  Then dad perched himself precariously on the overhang and away we went, youngest to oldest.  Everyone took a turn (except dad) right up to Grandma, who was allowed to break it.  I think some sugar cane landed on her head, but she made it through okay.  I was proud of the rush for cones, and my cousins did a pretty good job of picking up every last peanut.  In all fairness, it was a full piñata for only about 10 people, so they had an easier time of more work.  They fought it out, though.  The funniest moment was when Jachin’s turn came.  He’s about 6’4,” so dad (who had been sitting on the overhang) dangerously teetered himself to a standing position so he could cause a proper challenge and make the game last for the rest of us.  Then the girls started shouting opposite directions that he believed, and he spent almost his whole turn swinging wildly in the opposite direction of the piñata.  We were all crying with laughter, and my dad didn’t even move; I think in the end he made it easier, and Jachin finally got a hit in when he figured out the girls were tricking him.  It was hilarious!!

4.  Amy’s song

On Christmas night we all trouped over to church for a short evening service.  It was pretty cool to have so many Rupes in the room.  In our church the music tends to last at least half an hour, and songs are repeated lots and lots of times.  I like this method, which is not usually what you see in the US, but it can get a little redundant if you don’t know the words.  I was starting to feel a little anxious for my family when I glanced at Amy, who was standing next to me.

What I saw was my littlest cousin (who’s not really so little, but always will be to me), eyes closed and hands raised, worshiping God with words that she didn’t understand.  My heart soared and I again marveled at a God who speaks to our hearts regardless of location, language, skin color, and any other possible barrier.  I don’t think I’ll ever lose that mental picture of our sweet Amy.

3. Getting Ready for Christmas

I went 10 days before everyone else with the specific purpose of helping mom get everything ready.  I wiped down every dusty branch on the Christmas tree.  We cooked and baked, and made lists, and beds, and moved tvs, and went shopping . . . so much shopping.  I got to climb up in the attic and pull down all our decorations that hadn’t seen the light of day in 5 years.  We pulled out decorations from my childhood and found places for them in the new living room.

I pulled down a box of hundreds of pictures that I sorted during my days of smart-mouth related bedroom confinement, and had a blast sorting through them to create collages to put under the protective plastic in the living room.  I put 14 Christmas CDs on an MP3 player so we could blast Christmas cheer through our

airspace.  I spent a few hours walking through downtown with my dad looking for obscure details to put into our incredibly detailed 2-page scavenger hunt.  I spent hours developing the 12-page “International Rupe Reunion Handy Dandy Handbook” that included tips for living, a calendar of events, a map, a list of handy phrases, wifi codes, room assignments, and where to find more toilet paper.

In my foray into the attic I discovered about 8 boxes of my old books, toys, and random stuff.  I found my old Fisher Price tape player; my poster of Zach, Screech, and Slater (shirtless!); and my Benji dog.  Best of all, I found our family Nancy Drew book collection that spans 3 generations (we thought it was sold at a garage sale by someone who didn’t care) and a collection of  6 beautiful limited edition carousel horse music box plates given to me by my Grandma Wiedling that I thought had been lost in a move.  (I could mention that these were in a box labeled “Ship to Sallie” in my own handwriting, but that would imply that my parents put this box back into the attic instead of shipping it to me . . .)

Most of all, this time of preparation was just a great time to spend with my mom.  I know she was disappointed that there was so much to do that I did most of the decorating without her, but I was glad I could be there to help.  Christmas Eve was especially nice: neither one of us was feeling that great, so we stayed home while everyone else went sight-seeing.  We spent a quiet day baking and cooking for Christmas.  In the end the turkey never thawed, but we had plenty of food to go with the ham so it was all good.  It was such a blessing to spend time with her.

2.  Germ-a-palooza

Gross, but accurate

My parents invited a neighbor to the Christmas program on Sunday the 18th.  She came, so we sat with her to eat.  She had to leave early because her son was home with a bad cold.  Monday I started coughing.  Tuesday my throat felt like one of those baskets with a snake in it that Chinese illusionists cram full of swords: scratchy as a basket, slimy as a snake, and sliced raw.  Wednesday my lung capacity seemed to be about 1/3 normal, and I actually went to bed.  Since I couldn’t sleep, my brother watched a movie with me.  We went downstairs after the movie, and I discovered that my dad had sat on the couch and slept for about 4 hours.  Neither one of us gets sick very often, and we’re not usually wussy patients.

On Thursday my dad was supposed to go to Mexico City to get the second round of family.  I managed to drag myself out of bed, but he wasn’t moving.  He had a fever of 101.5.  I was invited to go to the doctor with him, but I turned down the opportunity – I really didn’t think I was sick enough for professional intervention.  As they were leaving I went into this massive coughing fit, and Misa instructed me to get in the van.  Dad and I sat for 40 minutes or so waiting for a consult at the hospital, then they practically forgot about me sitting in a cold room with a thermometer in my armpit while the doc saw him.  When the nurse came back for me the thermometer was so stuck to me that we almost couldn’t find it; she took my temp again, and I had no fever; I was, however, declared to be much sicker in my lungs than my dad.  Mom and Misa left that afternoon for Mexico City looking a bit peeked, while dad and I sat pathetically on the couch staring at each other and counting the minutes to our next dose of something.  The drugs kicked in and, fortunately, I was feeling well enough in a few hours that I was able to set up beds for everyone who was arriving that night.  Grandma and Aunt Marilyn did an amazing job taking over all the kitchen projects that mom and I had planned for that day.  Thanks to a combination of delayed flights and lost luggage the group didn’t get back from Mexico City until about 2am; this was a good thing, because everyone wanted a low-key day.  Which was also nice because mom was so tired and fighting a milder version of what dad and I had that she slept a good chunk of the day.  A few days later, Misa (who stayed with his family in Mexico City) posted on Facebook that his throat was on fire and he had a really bad cough . . . that I’m sure he got from me.  By the end of the trip we were all feeling better, although at our last meal in the airport we were passing around antivirals and benzocaine cough drops while normal people would share breath mints.  My cough has gotten worse again since I’ve been back; I just got off the phone with Misa, who told me to go back to the doctor – I coughed at least 40% more than he did during our conversation.

I know it’s a strange thing to put this shared sickness on my top 10 list of favorite events, but it really was a shared experience that was a significant factor in the dynamic of the trip.  We went through it together, and our greeting still involves “how are you feeling?”  We shared germs at Christmas 2011, and we’ll never forget it.  It sucked to not be able to talk or taste properly during most of the time I was with my family, but it all worked itself out.  Fortunately, no one else was drawn into the fray.

1. A New Brother

Most of the other things on my list are really about tied for position.  But the greatest blessing of the trip

Will my pack from 1984 help Misa keep track of his stuff? Most likely not.

really is in the top slot.  It has nothing to do with the Rupes, but everything to do with family.  It came completely unexpectedly, which is probably why it blessed me so greatly.  In the missionary world, you have two kinds of family: the first is the family you’re related to, which is permanent but distant; the second is the family God puts in your life, which is generally fluid, but consisting of relationships that are deeply woven throughout their duration.  Then there are a few relationships that span both worlds: not blood, but forever; not obligated, but deeply committed.

Enter Misael.  I’ve written about him throughout this blog and mentioned him on Facebook, so people have been asking me about him.  He’s my new brother.  My parents first met him a few years ago during a missions class they were teaching.  Misa wanted to be a missionary, and spent quite a bit of time studying in preparation for the ministry.  He’s spent quite a bit of time in several countries working alongside other missionaries.  Last year he began working part-time helping my parents in the administration of LAMM and promotion of Inmersión, then he started helping out with the church.  Ultimately, his calling has been confirmed as a support to missionaries rather than as an actual field missionary.  He left his parents’ home in Mexico City, moved into the frigid apartment over my parents’ shed, and now works with them full-time with basically only room and board as compensation.  In January he’ll be going to India for 4 months to develop some first-hand understanding of what it’s like to live on the field so that he can better support the LAMM missionaries.

Praying? Facebooking? In his case, quite possibly both.But that’s just what he does.  He IS a pretty amazing man.  After 3 hours, I felt like I had known him my whole life.  He didn’t join LAMM looking for a family, but LAMM is our family so he got us anyway.  And he joins in with gusto.  He’s not shy about sharing anything but he gives far more than he takes with his help, support, and just by creating an environment people want to be in.  He’s hilarious and willing to do just about anything for a laugh.  He loses his stuff all over the place, and works tirelessly to do the best he can on any task he undertakes.  He wants me to visit more often so that my mom will cook more, and was completely thrilled to discover we had an attic and owned Christmas decorations.  Best of all, he loves my parents.  And he understands them.  He’s in on all the insider information and history of our family, and he guards it without judgment.  I am no longer worried about my parents, no longer concerned that no one is making them slow down and pace themselves; I watched Misa head for the stairs to drag my dad out of bed and to the doctor.  We talked, and without my asking he assured me that I could go home and trust him to assume all the “son responsibilities.”  “Live with open hands,” he told me.  “That way you can receive all the blessings of God without hanging on so tight that you miss out on whatever’s next.”  True to that, everything he cares about in the world fits into a small suitcase and a laptop bag.  Misa could use your prayers.  He will be the next leader of LAMM, and that’s a daunting thing to train for.  He needs financial support, he needs to learn English, and he needs favor to get a visa to the States so he can start building relationships with the LAMM leadership.  He also needs a lot more heat in his room.

The greatest blessing of my trip was gaining a brother, as well as a new peace for the well-being of my parents.

And there you have it.

Imagine if I’d written EVERYTHING!!!

With my favorite mountain in the world, Malinche, behind me, I prepare to step backwards off a cliff . . .

The Christmas Story

This is about as simple, relatable, and just plain perfect as it gets.

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