It was about a month ago when I decided that I needed to come home for Christmas. I had been planning to put it off until later in January, just to come home for a visit. But it's an odd thought to think of your family, thousands of miles away, incomplete, eating homemade waffles for breakfast and later devouring a Christmas feast without you, reading Luke 2 before getting to the gifts. And so it seemed a much better idea to fly home and be there for Christmas. I didn't tell my parents.
Well, I sort of did. There was a bit of deception on my part, for which my parents have already forgiven me. I think. I told them I'd be home in January - check, cuz I'll be here until January 1. I told them I'd come home on the 21st. I flew into Grand Rapids December 21st. No harm done. Jon was my inside man, he picked me up at the airport. He also ran an errand to fetch my credit card about a month ago. I tried to be vague in phone calls leading up to my return, but even so, I assumed they must have suspected. But that wasn't the case. Mom and Dad were shocked. My sisters and brother-in-law were surprised. My sister-in-law sorta suspected because she sorta overheard a phone conversation with my brother that sorta alluded to it.
When I returned, I held my niece, Mae, and she just looked at me and smiled, and it looked like there was disbelief in her 18 month old eyes. I can't say whether or not she fully understood what was going on, but she filled me with joy. When I saw Elli, my other niece, she was tired and cranky and overwhelmed, and she screamed. She seemed to feel a little better today when I saw her again.
Today, my Christmas stocking is somewhere in Puerto Rico, in a package my parents sent for me. That's okay - it will be waiting for me when I return New Year's Day. It was worth it to be here, to hear Luke 2 (which is much shorter now than when I was 9), to make annual use of the family's waffle iron. We sat and played Balderdash and Uno, and frustrated as I was with the new rules that either I didn't catch or they didn't explain, it was a lot of fun. There was a huge blast from the stereo in the living room, with Mae sitting in front of it, suddenly terrified and bawling, having found the volume knob before the power button.
I've got another week here, with some time planned and some time blessedly open and empty, which I intend to keep that way and which makes it, in a way, planned. Then next Sunday, I'll board a flight and head back to Puerto Rico, away from the cold and (sparse) snow. And this time, I really have no idea when I'll be back here, when I'll see my family again. It's much easier for me to get here than it is for them to get down there. But that, I guess, is the tradeoff of doing good work in a beautiful place.