Some gift ideas for Christmas

Before I left home, I cleaned out the bedroom that I grew up in. It is painful cleaning out a room with 15 years of accumulation of stuff. We get so much stuff in the U.S. Why is all that stuff important to
us?

At a church youth retreat weekend, us church youth (18-35) of Senegal stayed in a village near Fatick. I got to stay at the house of a young woman named Martha. She was probably in the 18-20 years old region,and one of the sweetest people I have met in my life. She said that it is wonderful that I am from the U.S. because they have lots of things. “In the village, there is nothing,” she said. I said, “You have a lot. You have lots of hospitality” (because that’s all I could say in French about the subject), but I wish I could have said more. Because the night I spent in the village I slept very peacefully. Martha got all my water ready for my shower, and led me around town, not once making fun of my accent but only helping me. Martha’s house did not have electricity, so we used an LED flashlight to go to the bathroom and shower. When we got back to our bedroom in the house, we laid down to go to sleep. The LED flashlight was still shining, and I thought of a current events article I had read in 7th grade about how these new LED lights would do wonders for people without electricity in farming communities. And when I remembered that, it felt like I got punched in the stomach. When I had read that article on my home computer (what an immense privilege) in 7th grade, it didn’t seem like that was a real thing. It was just “those poor people” and when I put the “those” in front in my mind, it made it seem like ‘they’re so far away, they’re not real’. But people all around the world don’t have electricity, and they’re not just “those” people. They’re part of our world family. I set my phone alarm for the morning (I wanted to set an alarm because we all stayed up late; there was a big concert for all the choirs in the area that night that lasted till 1am, with maybe 500 people) and put my head down. Martha said, “You’re going to sleep?” and to be welcoming, she put her head down too, and I heard her whisper, “Jookanjal, Faap es… Amiin” (Thank you, my Father, etc. etc., Amen).  How did she have that much together so late at night? I want to reach the level of peace that Martha seems to possess. In this village, there’s definitely not as much waste as in a town in the U.S. And people have to depend on each other. And talk to each other face to face. There’s no T.V. at home to block out your thoughts. You have to think through your thoughts, talk to people, and then give your worries to God, ‘cause what else can you do? (p.s. There is electricity and wifi at the church there, people have cellphones and keep updated on current events)

Martha wants to come to the U.S. someday. What kind of U.S. will we welcome Martha with? A wasteful one where people spend more time talking online than face-to-face? Where people care so much about buying new things, Christmas has been turned into a holiday about giving stuff as presents and posting some pictures? Or one where we are there for each other and use our privileges for good? I am learning more and more that the best present is presence. It really is. That’s the best gift you can give anyone, anywhere. A real smile, a real handshake, a real asking about someone’s day, a real listening to their problem. You already are a gift from God. The times in my life where people have really given me their kind presence are what I remember way more than physical things people have given me (plus I never have to give it away in a garage sale). Also, being present somewhere causes less waste than a spur of the moment gift that is bought because the giver ‘had’ to get a gift for someone (And the plastic packaging that will go in a landfill somewhere).

If we do have to give things (And it is expected, it’s just part of our culture & society), I am learning that a thought out card, a fruit, baked goods, music, a phone call, or something that you know the gift receiver really needs is a real treasure. Something that has a little heart in it. When I get back to AZ in July, I am hoping to have a different lifestyle than the one I had before I left. I am trying to set goals to share what I have (physical and non-physical things), care for the environment, and be kind, because we’re all in it together. Baby steps and grace, but I am hoping to do this, because I see a lot of hurting when I look online, and it’s making me hurt inside. I think that right now the U.S. is more ‘in-need’ than the village I visited in Senegal. The U.S. needs peace. Luckily, every person in the U.S. has the power to bring a little peace to someone else this Christmas season. Let’s give some presence.

And for all of you, I just want to say, “It’s You I Like

And another goodie, “It’s Such a Good Feeling

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Sunset in Saint-Louis

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