Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
Celebrating life and the beauty of close friendship started in the early years of our lives as we began to idealize the ways we wanted to live. As I gaze back over the decades of my life, I can see so many experiences that have shaped my view of the world. But none has had quite the effect on me as living with Clay as a young couple in Vienna, Austria. Our lives there brought us a variety of faith-stretching lessons as we were confronted by the challenges of living and working in a foreign culture. My idealistic, conviction-laden husband found himself a junior pastor at the International Chapel of Vienna, and we quickly began to build connections with the expatriate community there.
Because Vienna had one of the highest costs of living in the world at the time, we struggled to find a suitable place to live with a two-and-a-half-year-old princess, a bouncing baby boy on the way, and a desperately needed au pair. After a challenging search, Clay and I finally found a small house tucked away in a northern suburb of the city. Our crooked little gray-stucco bungalow boasted nine hundred square feet divided between five people, and we stumbled over one another in the small space as we attempted to craft a lovely life.
That house was a daily adventure—closet-sized rooms, interior walls that streamed water when the roof gutters overflowed, and an attic where pigeons would fly through the holes and get stuck inside. (We named one of them Walter Pigeon.) Even with all the unwelcome surprises, I was happy in that little house. The energy of young love and my newfound joy at being a mother sang happiness and vibrancy into my life.
Joel had just been delivered by an Austrian midwife in the hospital down the cobbled street on a cold, windy November night, and Sarah toddled around telling everyone who would listen that “Dod had diven us a baby boy— dust like Desus was when He came to Mary on Christmas!”
Having heard the story of Jesus’ birth in the dark of our chapel one evening, she was sure that Joel was our own Jesus, and she would look out the window each evening watching for the angels to appear to sing him a song.
On Christmas Eve, we thought our little home had never looked more beautiful. Light from the crimson candles shimmered each time someone rang our bell. Our tiny antique dining table was laden with winter delicacies: red apples, golden pears, and large polished hazelnuts and fresh crusty bread. All our guests would crowd around that table, content to share in the friendly companionship of such a festive evening. Living alone in a foreign country, away from friends and family gave each of us a longing for close friendship to cover our loneliness.
Our motley but happy company included a young German friend whose girlfriend had just broken up with him, a youthful Taiwanese secretary working for the United Nations; a refugee who had escaped his Middle Eastern country by crossing over the border at night, chased by secret police; and a young missionary from England, lonely on his very first Christmas away from his family.
Sarah sat chattering in my lap and talking about the angels. Our live-in friend helped me serve our “shepherds’ meal”— potato soup, freshly baked homemade bread, a variety of cheeses, and an assortment of nuts and fruits—and we all sang “Silent Night” as a prayer because it was the only carol everyone knew. Hearts were opened by the beauty of the meal, and as we all delighted in our feast, we spoke of the shepherds who had received the Good News of Jesus on that first Christmas so long ago.
My heart was warmed by the sight of friends smiling, laughing, singing sweetly familiar songs, joining our motley crew from such different cultures. I cherished the love that whispered Christ’s reality through the moments of the evening and we shared memories around our table.
No matter our circumstances or struggles, God has spoken the light of life into the universe in the person of Christ, and in His work through Christians like us, the world is being made new, one person at a time.
Whatever season, whatever event, celebrating moments amidst the days of our lives ties our hearts to others who will invest in our sweet memories to hold us fast in years ahead.