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Saturday, December 29, 2018

The truth about the “perfect” Christmas

I won’t speak for all mom’s, but I think I do speak for the majority when I say that we want Christmas with our family to be “perfect”.  We work tirelessly to find the perfect gifts, wrap them perfectly, decorate the house the way you always do, bake everyone’s favorite goodies, meal plan the favorite meals and then worry about what isn’t going to go right.  The sense of control is profound and important, because we want perfection.

This desire for perfection escalates when you only see your children once a year, and only once a year you are together as a family, and it’s for a short amount of time. I know that many of you know what I am talking about.

This year was no different for me in this area.  The HARDEST thing about being obedient and serving the Lord by moving to Africa is the impact that it has had on Spencer and Chloe.  Spencer went off to University on his own as we packed all of our earthly belongings and moved a million miles away, and Chloe moved with us, only to move on to High School in Taiwan the following year as it was a better fit. 

That was 6.5 years ago, and they have navigated through life with their parents a phone call away, but not a hug away.  I have shed many tears over the things I have not been there in person to help with, and can hardly see the computer as I type these words.

Christmas is a most precious time for me, and for us all, and I always want it to be perfect, and perfect requires control. Well, we all know that we aren’t in control, God is.

When Chloe arrived she was missing a suitcase, which had all her clothes and most of her Christmas gifts, which she too had worked so hard to find just the perfect gifts for all of us. Not only did Ethiopian Airline lose her suitcase, but there were items stolen from the suitcase that did make it with her.  She gift wrapped a box that when opened on Christmas morning the recipient found the contents gone.  Can you imagine that? 

Spencer had a terrible journey home with 18 hours of delays, including TWO disembarking from two airplanes due to mechanical problems. It took him 52 hours to fly from Barcelona to eSwatini and we lost a day of family time.  And again, his baggage was opened and he was robbed. They even took things from the bottom of his suitcase, moving things around so that other Christmas gift items were broken. Yes, zip ties are a great idea, and they will use them next time, but seriously?? Should they have to do that?

We are told that Joburg airport has one of the highest theft rates in the world.  That was proven true when 100% of my family travelers were robbed this Christmas. Chloe’s bag never arrived, she borrowed clothes for the week and finally found it in Joburg on her way back out of the country on Dec 27th.  While we are thankful that it was found, it did not provide for the perfect Christmas (and resulted in dozens of expensive phone calls to Toronto, Ethiopia and South Africa).

Did I mention that it is always unbearably hot here at Christmas time (between 96F36C – 104F/40C) with full humidity, leaving us to sit sweating under the fans and putting ice packs around our necks? Oh, and did you know that with this type of humidity a pavlova (meringue) will not hold its shape because it’s too humid? Christmas dessert was a fail. But Ian cooked the turkey on the Green Egg outside because we simply couldn’t bear to put on the oven in the heat, and it was perfect, and delicious.

But with all of that said, our Christmas was perfect.  We were together, and we got to celebrate Jesus’ birth together, as a family, once again.  We enjoyed delicious food, that wasn’t always perfect.  We survived the heat, with very little complaint (except maybe from me J).  We loved seeing 170 children eat French toast and bacon until they couldn’t eat any more (Jonathan ate FOUR pieces and an unknown number of pieces of bacon!) and then we go to hand out a special Christmas gift to each of them and watch them all wait patiently and then squeal with delight (new pajamas).


We live in a broken and hurting world where thieves steal Christmas gifts from weary travelers, where mothers dump babies in pit latrines to die and where each of us have moments of doubt, fear, pride, resentment, jealousy, anger and we just can’t ever hit “perfection”.  But friends, I was reminded over and over this season that Jesus came to the earth and He is perfection, and He is all we need.  Afterall, the first Christmas wasn’t so perfect either though, was it? No room in the Inn?  Having a baby in a barn with no medical support?  No clean water, warm bed or pain killers?  But in the end, it was all worth it, and it really was perfect, it just wasn’t as Mary had planned it to be.

I am eternally grateful for this opportunity to serve “the least of these” in this tiny Kingdom, but I am even more grateful that Spencer and Chloe still come home at Christmas, knowing that their journey will be long and hard and that they might be robbed. They know that mom and dad aren’t perfect, and we all have our “stuff”, and yet they come. 

I have had a very teary Christmas season, some tears because I miss my children, some tears because I wonder if we made a huge mistake in moving here, some tears are from gratefulness, and some tears because I see a deathly ill child (Isabelle) smile when eating pudding for the first time.

Thank you all for reading this very long blog, and for being on this journey with me in 2018.  I will continue to write in 2019 and hope that you will continue to pray with us, love us and support us.

Many blessings to you and your family, broken and all.  Let none of us strive for perfection in 2019, except in Him.

Live from eSwatini … I am thankful.


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  1. Janine, this letter has touched me as deeply as some of your (true) horror stories. Maybe because I am a mom too. Maybe because I now have adult children and also fantasize about perfection. How I wish I could comfort you!
    Theft is so disgusting. It is wrong on so many levels. It is sickening that you and yours experienced that.
    What made me tear up is that the enemy got to you, that he stole from your heart, your joy. (Don't regret writing that, I know you are ok.
    I know it was momentary.)
    God bless you!
    Please know that you have a praying friend in the US. And I will send a little money too ;)
    Thank you for being obedient, brave, strong, loving, for living in Africa....for being honest, transparent...
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you Laura for your kind words and encouragement.

  2. Thank you Janine for sharing your life for us. Don Farnsworth

  3. the whole blog...thank you for your honesty about things..bless all,of you for all you have sacrificed.

  4. Blessings Janine. Thanks for being totally transparent. Thinking today about the scripture that talks about overcoming by the blood of the lamb and the words of our testimony. You've done just that.What an encouragement for us all.

  5. This so touched my heart I know The feelings a mother has wanting her family with her on Christmas. I also know the deep sadness when they can't be there. My oldest grandson moved away this year and I experienced the sadness of not having him here to hug. But I know he is healthy and happy and starting to travel his own path in life. Most important I know he loves me. I so enjoy reading your blogs. It makes me feel like I am there still. I pray every day that God provides for all of your needs for all the children, aunties and workers. I pray God continues to grow the love and desire within you and Ian to continue the journey God has laid out before you. I pray God holds His hands over Project Cannon and that His healing will be upon all those in need. I feel privaledged to be a very small part of what you do. May God bless you richly. You have most definitely earned your wings.


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