Saturday, December 3, 2011

Trying to find normal

While Travis was at a 5 hour Board of Governors meeting for CSB, the kids and I decided to surprise him with one of his favorite parts of the Christmas season: Christmas Cookies!

Now that the kids are all old enough to be actively involved, it was really fun. Of course, there are sprinkles all over the floor, it took four hours to make four plates of cookies, and Aidan ran around in circles on a sugar high. But the measure of success was their huge smiles and their pride in showing their creations to Travis when he returned home.

Baking Christmas Cookies is a normal part of the American Christmas tradition. But here in Bundibugyo where there are no convectional ovens, sugar is a luxury, and icing is unknown, it is not normal. I find myself often straddling these two worlds, two sets of norms, not knowing where or how or what to do. How do I handle the 5 knocks on my door requesting "assistance" in the short time I am baking with my children? How much of my home country's traditions and customs do I hold on to and how much do I embrace my host country's culture and norms. Sometimes I am baffled in my new "normal."

As I reflect upon the year 2011 for many of our friends, I remember that I am not alone in the struggle of new normal:

One family now lives daily with one son instead of two. Another has battled non-hodgkins lymphoma and this week celebrates that last chemo treatment. A doctor who planned for a glorious retirement, lost it all in the stock market crash and now is working at a walk-in urgent care at Wal-mart. A minister who dreamed of missions now wakes up at 4am to operate a fast-food restaurant. In one very traditional American family, the mother is now forced to be the sole bread-winner and the dad stays at home with two boys, with a third on the way. Others are adjusting to a new job, new child, new diagnosis, or simply a new stage in life.

In the middle of these reflections about change, struggle, and new norms in life here and in America, I am reminded to dwell on the character of God:

He is Unchanging in uncertainty. He is Mercy in the hard places. He is a Shepherd who gently leads those with young. He is Big when obstacles seem looming. He is Powerful when the darkness surrounds. He is Protector for the weak. He is my Joy when I am missing the familiar, the comfortable, and my old normal.

When Travis brought down our one box of Christmas decorations from the attic, he reminded me that we used to have eight boxes of Christmas lights, ornaments, wreaths, angels, garland, etc. I laughed in remembrance as this one current box not only held our decorations, but our whole tree too! After we put the lights on it, Patton looked at it glumly and said "I don't like it." We took a moment and all sat on the ground to acknowledged that it did not have many ornaments on it and it was small, but that we get to make new traditions, new ornaments and make it however we want it to be! So, this year's Christmas tree hosts paper snowflakes, an origami duck, and photos of loved ones. And though it will never be on the cover of any magazine, it is okay with me because this is a part of our new normal.


  1. Awesome cookies, Johnson kiddos! Praying that the memories your family makes will be woven through with knowing Jesus as the center of the season. Much love from the Ward family!

  2. it was good for me to read this while struggling with getting used to the new norm myself (although mine doesn't compare to losing a son or watching a daughter battle cancer :(.) we miss you and think of you daily. i hope to email soon. sorry for the gap in communication :(.

  3. Great post Amy! Normal is a strange concept to me. I can't even picture what a "normal" tree looks like! For my family, we keep our Christmas tree up ALL YEAR ROUND, and never take it down (partly because we're too lazy/busy to take it apart/put it up every year). And the funny thing is, we put all sorts of things on it...yep, basically anything with a hook or loop on it and can hang on the synthetic branches. Thanks for the encouragement, Amy, as we all struggle with periods of change!