U.S. Visit! | December 2013

As I’m composing the December U.S. Visit post, I’m suddenly aware that there’s another reason why I often wait to sort through pictures from home assignment. Sometimes, it’s just too painful to look at the pictures, to have the memories flood back, and to realize that I can’t hop in the car (or a less than 20-hour plane flight/thousands of dollars) and take my kids to visit their grandparents. Yes, we are incredibly grateful for the rare, special moments that we have with loved ones in the States, but the gratitude doesn’t always outweigh the ache of realizing that we must treasure each moment, because they are so few and far between. When I first left for Cambodia, my dearest friends put together a beautiful scrapbook for me, full of pictures, letters and lots and lots of love. It took me an entire year to be able to emotionally handle pulling out that scrapbook and reading all of their heartfelt words…and even then, I was sobbing, missing the beloved souls that I was no longer living life with. Sometimes I think that my struggles in Cambodia–especially intensely missing loved ones–would be easier if I hadn’t forged so many incredible relationships over the 30+ years of my life, before leaving for Cambodia, but I am quickly reminded that I have an amazing support group of prayer and yes, even financial giving, that I would not have, if it wasn’t for the Lord’s enormous blessing on this area of my life.

This was also our first Christmas in America in four years, and essentially the first time for our kids to experience it with the extended family. In addition, Cambodia doesn’t really celebrate Christmas, so the thought of experiencing the full glory of Christmas in America (yes, even the commercialism!), was thrilling, indeed! (Christmas in Cambodia has gained in popularity in the last few years, but is still very minimal.) For those of you expats/missionaries in Cambodia, I’d definitely recommend going “home for the holidays” at least once, if possible, when your kids are little. The memories made–by our children, us, and family members–are precious indeed, and will be cherished for years to come!

The month began with celebrating my dear friend James’ birthday. He’s been a fourth brother to me over the years, and our families grew up together. Ava was excited to make “playdough people” for him as a gift, and he graciously, enthusiastically received the smushy presents. The kids then had the pleasure of decorating Nana and Opa’s Christmas tree! It was Paton’s first time to help, and he was especially excited. The musical instrument ornaments were his favorites–though, he could not understand why they had to go on the tree, and could not be played. We also participated in several extended family traditions for the first time. We joined the Wells for their annual “Streets of Bethlehem” (live nativity) experience in Salinas,where the kids had a blast walking through the elaborate production of the Christmas story. There were live animals, an ancient market, Roman soldiers, musical numbers and a quite an impressive number of cast members (a local church sponsors and organizes it).  Ava also experienced a Norris family tradition by attending her very first Nutcracker Ballet, at a local ballet company. I had a prescheduled engagement, so she and Nana had a special grandmother-granddaughter date. While I was sad to miss this “first” experience with my little girl (the Nutcracker is a sentimental part of my own holiday memories), I was grateful that she and my mom could have this bonding opportunity. The occasion was made even more memorable by seeing some additional favorite people–Grandma, Auntie Kim and cousins–at the performance. We also made some new holiday memories–like going to “Holiday Lights” at the beautiful Gilroy Gardens with several members of my family. December was also filled with countless hours connecting with old friends (and new!) and supporters. We are truly blessed by so many people who invest in our life and ministry!

For Christmas Eve, we had two separate celebrations: the first with my family, on “Christmas Eve, Eve”, and the second celebration on the actual Christmas Eve–with a church service at West Hills Community (our home church), followed by a dinner with Nate’s family (including a belated first birthday celebration for Lindleigh!). Christmas Day, we participated in a few other family traditions, including a Christmas Day nativity skit (Wells), Christmas stockings on Nana and Opa’s bed (Norris) and lots of yummy food and precious moments with family!

Apart from the holiday festivities, December also included a wonderful girls getaway to San Francisco with two of my best friends, Sarah and Larissa. Sarah and I took the train up to the City, and then Larissa drove up later that night. Larissa’s sweet little 3-month old, Paolo, was the only boy allowed! It was such a blessing to spend quality time with these two special gals. As much as we love our children, it’s nearly impossible to connect well with each other, when we’re in the midst of parenting (even when chatting on the phone). To have such a  concentrated visit with my friends was the first time since leaving for Cambodia (Jan 2010), that I’d truly felt like we were able to catch up. It was a much-needed balm to my soul. I’m so grateful that they could both take time out of their busy schedules/mommy-wife responsibilities and share such a special gift with me! I’m also extremely grateful to our three wonderful husbands, for watching the kids and giving us this incredible opportunity!

Another significant event was celebrating my parents’ 40th anniversary with a belated surprise party. Their actual anniversary was in September, but the only child in town (out of five) was my sister. As siblings, we decided to postpone festivities until we were ALL present, in December (which is a rare occasion, nowadays, with several of us living abroad, and one brother in Texas). My parents were completely surprised (probably because it was three months late, ha ha). They were surrounded by countless family members and dear friends. It was truly a wonderful occasion, honoring two incredible people and their God-glorifying marriage of 40 years, and I am so very grateful to those individuals (especially my sister and her hubby) who made it all possible.

December can also be referred to as “the month of the long, black coat”, as I was freezing the entire month–well, actually, most of our time in the States. Nearly every picture (even the ones indoors) includes me in the puffy black coat. Apparently, I AM adjusting to Cambodia after all! And California winters can barely be called winters. I really sympathize for my Cambodia friends who are from such places like Colorado or Canada!

{We know that some of our friends prefer internet privacy, so if there are any pictures that you’d like us to remove from our blog, please let us know and we will happily do so!}


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