Candle Time


December is the time of year where morning comes slowly and evening quickly.

I feel melancholy as I wake up far before the sun rises over the Atlantic ocean, just a few miles to the east of us. As much as I want to embrace these days and all they hold, I am a woman who loves light and sun. I love it when sunlight floods my living room and bright light and warmth comfort me beyond my bones to my soul. As soon as I rise, I go to the kitchen and turn on the lights of the newly decorated Christmas tree and light a single candle. Somehow these small acts are enough to comfort; enough to calm my anxious soul and bring light into life.

It was during days like this that we began our favorite Christmas tradition, something we call “Candle Time”. It began in Cairo with my sister-in-law, Carol. We had the joy of having them live just a few blocks from us during our second year in Cairo. During the Christmas season we found ourselves back and forth at each other’s homes a lot. Together we had five children – three belonged to us, two belonged to them. One evening as our children were winding down after dinner we started “Candle Time”.

We began by turning off every light in the flat. Clad in their onesie pajamas, their toddler fat still squeezable, they sat still in wonder as we lit a candle and began singing Christmas carols. Then we walked each of them off to bed and looked at each other in amazement. We had never had this calm a bedtime routine.

And so began a tradition. Beginning soon after Thanksgiving we started Candle Time. By candle light we sang Christmas carols, talked, and prayed. By candle light we ate frosted sugar cookies. By candle light we drank rich, hot cocoa. By candle light we then walked each child to their beds, kissed them good night to the sound of Silent Night.

It became a favorite part of our holiday season.

Candle time became a treasured tradition, a time of quiet and connection during what is often the busiest time of the year. As the kids grew budding guitarists accompanied our candle time, initially clumsy with chords but soon playing confidently and leading our singing. At times our time became less sacred and more humorous as we tried to harmonize, laughing at those who could never quite find the right note.

Sometimes I would beg to keep one hall light on but the kids would have none of it. It was all lights off except the Christmas tree lights, one candle lit, all of us together. There was no talk of presents. No mention of Santa Claus. Just singing carols and quietly closing the day.

We no longer have little kids and candle time has had to evolve with our family growing up and away. But every year, once the tree is decorated, we try to have candle time a couple of times during the season with who ever happens to be home.

Because no matter how old we get, it helps to stop, turn out all the lights, light a single candle, and, with the glow of the Christmas tree lights creating magic and joy, reflect on the season.


Readers – I’m also over at A Life Overseas today retooling a post that I did last year called Home[sick] for the Holidays. I would love it if you headed over there and offered your thoughts and experiences! Here’s a trailer:

You cannot predict it. It’s invisible. The symptoms are not obvious like a cold, a fever, a stomach-ache. It comes on swiftly and unexpectedly, overwhelms immediately. It’s the inability to control, the surprise with which it comes, and the intense pain that comes with it.

“It” is homesickness. Physical symptoms do come later – inability to concentrate, dry mouth, feeling of being close to tears all the time, not sleeping well. But initially it is invisible.

Many of you know what it’s like to be homesick during the holidays. One of our most poignant family Christmas stories comes out of deep homesickness and my mom’s experience of loneliness and vulnerability in a strange place, a place where God met her in unexpected ways……Read the rest Here.

And I am Cold

Silent_Night_Holy_Night_28The instrumental music to Silent Night plays and my tears begin to fall. It is a few days before Christmas and I am in Chicago, away from my parents for the first Christmas ever.

And I am cold.

I am a student nurse at a small school in the city. In the four short months since I have been here I have ballooned from a curvy teen to a size 16 – the chapatis, curry and chai of my upbringing replaced with midnight study breaks of trail mix and Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza. I have gone from cute to fat.

And I am cold.

I feel the strangeness of this city and the contrast between the life I have left and the one I am currently living. I have left family and community. I have left winter Bougainvillea and am now surrounded by trees with no leaves. I have left belonging and am now a stranger. I have left peace and I now feel conflict.

And I am cold.

My tears fall into the cold. It’s almost Christmas and even now my parents are gathering for the annual Christmas pageant with Christians in Shikarpur, Pakistan. They are making sure they have sweets to give all their neighbors, my dad making last-minute trips to the bazaar for mittai (sweets), packing them in square pink boxes. And I hope my mother is missing me.

I am so alone. And I am so cold.

And I think back on the story I have heard since I can remember. The story of a baby and a mom and a dad. A baby and a family away from their family home on that first Christmas. A teenager who is giving birth without her mom by her side; a young man who is walking by faith and that’s about it. A baby who has left, not only the womb, but something far bigger, and is experiencing the strangeness of a new place with a first cry, a first experience of cold and pain.

A baby who has left belonging and is now, like me, a stranger; has left peace and entered conflict.

In what can only be the comfort of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious third person in the Godhead, there is a breath of warmth, light, remembrance. Although nothing has changed, all of this feels different–And suddenly I am not so cold.