Christmas in Kenya

Christmas in Kenya, in some ways, was not so different than it would have been in the US. In some ways, it was a LOT different!

Differences: 1. Eric was requested to play the music for a Kenyan nurse getting married on Christmas Eve day, 3 hrs away. Who gets married on the 24th of December? (I'm sure the same was said of us getting married on New Year's Eve) But he made it home in time for dinner.
2. It was 70 degrees and raining. No White Christmas here (which I'm sure these cows appreciated)
3. No family (but we did skype). :(
Similarities: 1. Candlelight Christmas Eve service
2. Opening gifts!

3. McLaughlin family tradition of cheese and sausage snacks on Christmas Eve.


An Obstetrician's Thoughts on Christmas

I was walking home from the hospital last week, after my third C-section of the day. It was dark, the stars were out, and I picked my way over a rocky downhill road to my house while my own baby kicked inside of me. The day and the environment made me start wondering about Mary. The Bible is notoriously absent of all the details we seem to want to know. Why are some passages repeated in great detail, sometimes retold in multiple passages, and some are far too sparse (in my opinion)? Perhaps it wasn't so important to know the details of Jesus' birth. In fact, I am as an obstetrician probably more curious than most.

What I do know is that birth is a messy, noisy process. "It was not a silent night, there was blood on the ground" starts one of our favorite Christmas songs, "Labor of Love" off of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God CD. So much more true than visions of a baby Jesus slipping quietly into a peaceful looking stable. First of all, to walk or ride a donkey long distances over bumpy roads in your third trimester is excruciating (well, I can't speak from experience about the donkey part, but it's pretty bad even in a car over rough Kenyan roads). Cramping, back aches, contractions, going to the bathroom (by the side of the road while squatting I'm sure) every several hours. Sleeping on the ground. Hip pain. Swollen ankles. Blech. Poor Mary. And as I work in a developing world situation, where many women die in childbirth and many more babies die during that same process, I wonder what she was thinking. Was she afraid? Did she have assurance that everything would go well? Did she know what to expect? Was she sure that Jesus would be ok but not so sure about her own well being?

When labor started, how long did it take? Did God give her a break? Was she one of those lucky women who have a quick and low pain labor and delivery? Was it a typical first labor with stops and starts, "false" labor, days of contractions, two hours of pushing? Was there anyone there to help her? Was it Joseph, or a midwife or other kinswoman, or was she alone? Did she know what to do and when to push? How did they cut the cord? Was Jesus BREECH?! If she had delivered in this day and age would she have ended up with a C-section? An epidural? Was there fetal distress? A cord around his neck? Meconium stained fluid? Was he on time or early, or late? Did he cry right away?

Yikes. I think of more details than most, probably. But in the end, what matters is that THAT DAY, in Bethlehem, all of God's promises began to be fulfilled. For thousands of years, God had been spinning his plan of redemption. For thousands of years, His people had been waiting for this Savior. That day, His Son came into the world, to set us free. Light into the darkness. Hopes fulfilled. Amen and amen. Merry Christmas, friends.

Labor of Love, lyrics by Andrew Peterson
It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph by her side
Calloused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
On the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love


Why I Can't Stop Reading Buechner

When I was at Belmont University, I kept hearing about this author named Frederick Buechner from the religion majors. I first read "Son of Laughter", probably because it was required reading for some religion class, and thus ended up in the free book pile at the end of the semester, and I had a habit of scavenging.

Later I read "Godric", and it remains one of the best novels I've ever read. From there, I've moved on to his non-fiction, and now our quotables page has a disproportionate amount of Buechner. Truth be told, I would quote him more, if I didn't feel weird about it. And now, like CS Lewis, Thomas Hardy, and Stephen Lawhead, I'll read anything that has his name on it, regardless of topic or genre.

Why? Well, he is a certainly an amazingly talented author, but there seems to be something more, and I've been trying to figure out what that something is. I recently finished "Alphabet of Grace", and I probably couldn't tell you exactly what that book is about, but as I finished, I was pretty overwhelmed with the beauty of what I just read.

His chief theme seems to be the grace of God in the everyday, the seemingly mundane. Now and then, he says, some ordinary event, a dream at night or two branches hitting against each other, break for a moment to reveal a weight of glory underneath that seems to have been there all the time. He even goes on to say that perhaps the reason we don't see it more is that, in our mortal frame, we couldn't handle more than the brief glimpses we get.

He is honest. Even to the point that some might call him crude. He doubts aloud, he bares his faults. And not only in this refreshing, in and of itself, but without this commitment to honesty, his assertion that God's grace is present in the everyday would ring hollow. As it is, his honesty brings it alive.

And then there is his method. He is indirect, and he purposefully strives to project the emotion of the thing he is stating, even above the rational "word" of it. And thus I am left at the end of a book, not sure of what he was saying, but feeling it with full force nonetheless. And I think his indirect method brings it alive as well. He presents little to no argument as to why he is speaking the truth. You don't have to be convinced. He just names it. And I think, "Oh, right, it actually has been there all along."

All this put together means that, when I set down his books, I can't help but look at my own life with a different lens. I can't help but sense the undercurrent of the omnipresent love of God, that breaks through every now and then. I rarely have to remind myself, and I never have to convince myself. It just sneaks in, like the light of the world on the darkest night of the year. And thus his work emulates the Christ he has served these many years.


Christmas Decor (Part 2)

Since our last Christmas decoration post, things around here have gotten even MORE festive (I know, is it possible?). We got a brand new ornament in the mail from Eric's sister Mariah...the three snowmen that Maggie is pointing to, with our names and 2010 written on it.Then, Eric got the brilliant idea of where to put our Christmas presents. Since we never use our fireplace, it seemed the logical place to store our gifts. We put the grate in front and for some strange reason, Maggie has not disturbed it in the least. It's like the "gift cage" or something.
On Saturday, a fellow missionary family loaned us a small tree that they weren't using. We place an angel from Bangladesh atop, wrapped 1/2 string of lights around it, and fashioned decorations out of wrapping paper (creating a paper chain) and green snowflake ribbon bows. Ooh! says Maggie.
And finally, let the Christmas baking begin! So far, buckeye balls and Russian tea cakes have been checked off the list. Sugar cookies (cut-outs) and molasses cookies to go.


Tasty Croc

Long has it been one of my stated aims in life to eat as many different animals as possible. However, I admit to a noted complacency on this goal overall. Thus, 3 months or so ago, we visited Gilani's Butchery in Nairobi, which is where we normally get most of our meat. I had noted that you can get several unusual meats there, including pigeon, ostrich, and rabbit. You can also get crocodile, which is probably quite expensive, but they had these little nuggets for only about $2, so I picked it up, just for the next time you thought "Hey, I wish I had a crocodile steak."

Well, as you might have anticipated, that moment never really comes. But yesterday, we were getting together to do some cooking with our friends the Popps, and I thought "It's now or never."
After some quick research on the web, along the lines of "how to cook crocodile", I discovered a few fun facts:
-it's better cooked frozen than thawed.
-go easy on the marinade, for the croc hath a subtle taste.
-apparently it's pretty healthy meat
-Australia is big in this industry.

So, I made up a marinade of soy sauce, lemon juice, and olive oil, and stuck my frozen croc in for thirty minutes, followed by a quick searing on both sides, and voila!

As the more anatomically astute may notice, it appears that we had a slice of the tail, and that the central bone was a vertebra. We all went around and tried a bit, which was quite yummy, an odd cross between the texture of fish, but the taste of chicken.

Maggie got in on the action, and promptly requested "more".


Prestigious Alma Mater

So, someone just brought this to my attention today on facebook. Can you guess the college/university that produces the highest paid grads in the US? It's not any of the Ivy League schools or the big university schools. Surprise, surprise. It's Loma Linda! I guess it makes sense from the standpoint that they have almost no undergrad programs, and the largest schools are the schools of Medicine and Dentistry, two well paid professions.
No wonder I keep getting letters asking me to donate money to the school. All I can say is, I guess I'm bring the average down. WAY down. :) See if your school made the list by clicking the link below.


One Year Anniversary

One year ago, we packed up 8 suitcases and departed the US for Tenwek Hospital. We celebrated this morning by having a candle-light breakfast (because the power was out, not because we were really all that festive). Hard to believe it's been a year, in some ways. Seems like quite a long time in others. Next year at this time, we'll be drinking egg nog that we bought in the store. Adding flavored coffee creamers to our coffee that we didn't have to make ourselves. Eating cereal for breakfast, because it's not $8-10/box. Driving around in a car on the right side of the road, to do something frivolous like running to Target for one thing. Strapping TWO kids into their carseats to make the short trip.

One year from now, we'll have said goodbye to many friends. Wearing heavier coats because it won't be 7o degrees every day. Unable to walk to most of our errands/to work. Buying milk at the store instead of having it dropped off at our door every morning. In transition once more. We have enjoyed many parts of living in Kenya so far, and saying goodbye in another year will be bittersweet, I'm sure. Thanks for your prayers. We continue to seek the Lord's guidance on next steps, and will keep you updated.


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Here in Kenya, there are not necessarily a lot of "Christmas cues." The weather is just about the same, 70s and sunny with afternoon rains most days. We don't have TV or radio, or get the newspaper, so no ads. We haven't been to a store outside of Bomet since October, so haven't seen any stores selling Christmas stuff or putting up decorations. So all that to say, we have to take steps to make ourselves feel like it's Christmas! Many missionary families around here have a lot of traditions that help. We're trying to make some.

Last year we made sure to bring a small box of favorite ornaments with us to Tenwek, although there are no Christmas trees for sale here. We hang them up on a long ribbon above the fireplace. This year it was a LOT of fun to unpack the box with Maggie. There were many "ooohs" and "wows". She especially liked anything with bells. Here she is, getting ornaments from the box and handing them to Daddy to hang up. Not sure why she looks so distressed, since she was rather enjoying herself. :)
Here you can see Eric working on the arranging above the fireplace. Also on the mantle are featured our stockings. Everyone's mom made them one, including Maggie's. :) And one extra stocking, to remind us of the new kiddo we'll have next year at this time!
Right after we got home from Thanksgiving dinner, Eric put on Christmas music for the first time. We always put up our tree in the US (always meaning the 4 years we were there for Christmas) to Christmas music and drank egg nog. Mmm. Well, the egg nog is a little harder to come by (I made it last year for New Year's Eve, but it was a bit extravagant with its 12 egg yolks...we may save it for another special occasion), so we went with hot chocolate instead. I made some whipped cream from skimming our cow's milk, and added a festive touch.
Something else we always liked to do in the States was make an Advent wreath out of fresh greenery and celebrate the Sundays of Advent with devotions. We had a wire frame that we used in the States, but here Eric just cut down some branches and fashioned a circle with some green twine. We put the candles (could only find white) in little glass ramekins. Nice, huh?
Every day when Maggie gets up, she walks into the living room and says, "Oooh!" We're teaching her to be "gentle" with the ornaments and stockings. It's been fun to feel like Christmas really is on its way, and fun to see it through Maggie's eyes, too.
Oh, and one last picture. It wouldn't be Christmas without cookies, right? Here is Maggie, helping me make molasses cookies. She really liked licking the molasses jar lid (I needed something to keep her distracted). It was actually quite surprising to me how much she liked the taste of molasses. :)