True to the title of this post, we have done a bit of traveling lately. We were blessed with the opportunity to go back to the States and visit my family for Christmas. Immediately following the final Christmas program at our school (i.e. one of the busiest nights of the school year), we left for the airport, spent 22 hours in transit, finally ended up in Chicago, and somehow managed stayed up for another full day, all while our inner clocks screamed, "WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON??" Fortunately, we got the inner clock thing figured out within a couple of days, and were able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the trip.
Having not been in the US of A for the Christmas season in the last few years, there were a few things that really struck me.
1) Consumerism: Michael and I don't get each other Christmas presents. This isn't because we don't love each other or because we're boycotting the gift-giving idea - we just don't need anything. If we get each other presents, it's usually something that we decide to do together for the both of us (like buying a TV!). As I spent some time watching TV over our break, the number of commercials having to do with "getting just the right gift" really shocked me. It didn't matter that we had already done most of our shopping - hearing so many "buy this or that" messages made me actually start to feel like I hadn't gotten enough stuff for the people with whom I was going to exchange gifts. I eventually asked myself what was more important - the stuff, or the thought behind it, and my answer only reassured me a little. All in all, it was really tough to battle those feelings of inadequacy in light of the media messages as well as how much I felt my entire family was giving to me while I was around.
2) Being away has changed me in ways I didn't realize: Following up on my previous comments, being in the States made me feel inadequate and different. I grew up in that culture and have only been away from it for three years, but it was enough to make me realize that the way I celebrate Christmas has changed from the way I grew up celebrating it. I had to think relatively hard about things like, "What do I wear to church on Christmas morning?" and "What exactly is my role within ________ (insert group of people or event)?" Prior to leaving the US, I never had to think about these things. Coming back, though - I felt a little lost and very uncertain of myself in most of the situations I encountered. Reverse culture shock at its finest, I guess.
3) The blessing that is family: I'm pretty sure I did the wrong thing and/or said the wrong thing in many occasions during our visit. Despite these downfalls and miscommunications, though, the biggest thing that completely overwhelmed my entire experience was how utterly and outrageously blessed I am to have a family that accepts me for who I am. I felt this most strongly in two different situations. We got together with one entire extended family for a wedding and Christmas party one weekend. It was the first time everyone had been together in a number of years, and I was overjoyed to reunite with all of the best friends of my childhood. We relived the funny moments (over and over and over...), made new memories together, laughed until our sides ached, and simply enjoyed being together again. We're kind of a mish-mash group of people spread out over several states, countries, and continents most of the time, but when we all got together - none of those differences mattered. It was beautiful.
The other time I felt this blessing of family so strongly, it was a lot less loud and chaotic. We spent quite a number of hours playing games - card games and board games, that is - with my immediate family. Maybe some of you aren't game lovers, but in my opinion, nothing beats a good card game. It's comforting and relaxing and just such a good way to interact with people. I remember pausing during one of our (many) games of Pinochle and thought to myself, "There is no other place I would rather be right now." -- Pure contentment.
I guess this leads me to my main point. We spent thirteen full days in the States. That's not very long, especially considering where we came from. During these thirteen days, the most critical thing that I learned was the importance of being. In a world that is so full of distractions, I sometimes fear that I will miss something because I'm too busy to see it. This was not true of our Christmas vacation. With so little time to see, talk, experience, relate, and be - I knew, even before we left, that I would need to be purposeful in the things I did. I was, and I think it turned out to be one of the best experiences of the last year. I got to reestablish relationships with cousins and friends I hadn't seen in a long time. I got to relax with my parents, sister, and brothers. I got to visit with my grandparents and express my love for them. I got to dance. I got to laugh. I got to walk in the snow. I got to wear purple fuzzy slippers. The list goes on.
So, how was our Christmas break in the United States? It was. And I couldn't have asked for anything better.