For the Ones Who Are Far From Home

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m sitting at my desk at work trying to say something meaningful about incarnation and hope and glory, but all I can think of is how much I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be at work and I don’t want to be in Korea.

For twenty Christmases I’ve spent Christmas Eve in the holy hush of a candlelight communion service. I’ve worn snowman socks to bed and slept with my sisters on piles of blankets on the floor upstairs so we would wake up together on Christmas morning. For twenty Christmases I’ve been the one who woke up first in the pale gray hours, too full of excitement to fall back asleep. I’ve watched my parents and siblings opening twenty years of Christmas presents, each carefully chosen and wrapped by hand. The memories of these Christmases are joyful and sweet.

This year I will spend Christmas Eve huddled over a space heater in an apartment that’s always cold, 6,000 miles from my family. I will climb into bed and tuck my shoulders beneath my husband’s arms, draping his body across my back like a cape to protect me from the cold and from my sadness. I will close my eyes and try to pray for joy and wonder to return, but mostly I will pray for sleep. I will pray to wake in the morning and find that Christmas has come anyway. I will pray for gratitude for the Christmases I’ve shared with my family and for gratitude for the Christmas I am sharing with my husband today. I will pray that Christmas morning can still be beautiful and miraculous. And I will pray that I will have the eyes to see it.

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30 comments

  1. It’s hard being far from family and close friends at Christmas time, even if you’re living the life you’ve chosen with someone you love. For years I had to really work at keeping a smile on my face on this day, and periodically I would have to go hide away in our bedroom and just be by myself. Phone calls were lovely, but then one would have to put the phone down and oh, that was hard.

    I have found, however, that the sadness eases over time, as you develop traditions of your own. One thing that was important for me – and to an extent still is – was not to have to leave home on Christmas Day. On that day I needed to be somewhere that I could hide when I needed to. So we have always opened our home to others. At first it was mainly family, but we didn’t want to get sucked into competitions with in-laws and others with a claim on my husband’s children’s time, so we also started inviting other people – some friends, some just people we liked, some that we didn’t know well who were alone.

    Now every Christmas day we pile the table with whatever food we feel like preparing (it’s not a sit-down meal) and we invite everyone we like to drop by any time between noon and 6PM. There is always plenty to eat (even if it’s just a pot of soup and good bread and my famous Christmas cake), and I never know whether we’ll have five guests or 50. One year the snow was heavy (we live out of town) and no one came. It doesn’t matter! I spent the day relaxing and reading, and the food I’d prepared was all suitable for freezing – I didn’t have to cook for weeks.

    I guess what I’m trying to say with this comment that’s longer than your post is, yes, it’s hard. But I hope you will find ways to make it warm and bright and happy – traditions that you and your husband can look forward to, no matter where in the world you are.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I found it so encouraging and also a really practical way to deal with some of those feelings. This isn’t my first Christmas away from home – in fact we were in Korea last Christmas – but for some reason it seems to be hitting me harder. I took your advice and stayed home last night for Christmas Eve instead of trying to go out and brave the cold and the crowds which make me grumpy anyway. I think it was the perfect decision. It might not have been particularly Christmas-y but we made cookies and watched You’ve Got Mail. This morning I woke up feeling lighter and content with having a day off of work and the ability to skype with family members and exchange gifts with my husband.

      I love your idea of cooking up a bunch of food and opening your home to anyone who needs a place to go. What a beautiful expression of love and generosity. I hope we can do something like that in the future – especially in times when we aren’t with our own families. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that your house is full of joy today. 🙂

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      1. Thank you for your response – and I’m so glad my suggestions helped! It’s late on Christmas Eve right now and I am so very far behind in getting ready for guests. But all the ingredients are here for a good Christmas day, so that’s what I’m expecting. You be blessed, now, okay? Enjoy the time with your husband, and visiting with your family online.

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  2. Definitely having the same feelings today. Being at work watching Halloween movies with my class instead of Christmas movies (not my idea), sitting through a 1 hour teachers meeting in Korean, and now sitting by myself at my desk alone in my classroom is not anything what I would have expected for Christmas. However, I am constantly reminding myself that this is Korea, not my home, and life is different. I feel your pain as well as I watch my family post pictures of holiday cheer without me, but I am trying so hard to stay positive and grateful for all that my husband and I have here. Tonight we are so lucky to celebrate with friends sharing a home cooked meal and fellowship together. I will pray for you also during this challenging time! 🙂 Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thanks, Valerie. And this is your first married Christmas, so you will remember it forever anyway. 🙂 I woke up this morning feeling a bit brighter – happy for a day off of work, for my warm bed and my sweet husband and the ability to skype with my family and actually see their faces even if we can’t be with them. In particular, both Jonathan and I are anticipating a lot of big changes to our work situation for the spring semester and we’re feeling a bit burnt out at work, so I think those things have made us feel the distance even more this year. But…we are 2 weeks away from vacation in Thailand – something we never could have dreamed of doing back in America. We have each other and in so many ways we have more than we need. I think I’m ready to look at today from the the perspective of our haves instead of our have-nots and appreciate that missing our families so much speaks to a so much love there which is a gift in itself. Merry Christmas to you and Tyler. I hope you have a sweet and wonderful day together.

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      1. Lily,
        Finally just saw this! I’m so glad you both were able to have a happy Christmas! Tyler and I did as well and definitely tried to focus more on our blessings (haves) and less on our have-nots! It was a Christmas to remember for sure! I hope your work situation levels out and that you will be able to enjoy the next term! Love you blog updates, thanks for being so honest and raw! 🙂 Happy New Year!

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  3. Being away from home during special occasions is the most cruel thing. However, whenever I feel really homesick I just tell myself that someday I will end up missing what’s happening around me today and all the hidden surprises and goodness that it holds. Total presence complemented by a sense of gratitude is sure to work magic at any given situation. I wish you have a happy, joyous and delightful Christmas 🙂

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    1. You are so right. I am a firm believer in the importance of being fully present where I am – I’m just bad at actually doing it.;) And I think you’re right that next year, I will probably be back with my family and I will have moments where life feels too boring and ordinary and I miss living abroad and I will wish I didn’t spend the time I was here resenting it. (Not that I always resent it, but I definitely have those moments). Thank you for the reminder and I hope you enjoy every minute of your Christmas!

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    1. 15 Christmases….sounds like it’s become more normal for you not to be home than to be there. This is actually my 3rd Christmas in a row without my family – the first I was with my in-laws who live across the country from my family (though that was still being with loved ones) and last year we were in Korea as well, but for some reason I was just sadder about it this year. But this morning I woke up feeling a bit lighter. I’m going to skype with my family and open presents with my husband and have dinner with friends and try through all of that to see the grace being offered to me today. I hope your Christmas is full of beautiful moments.

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  4. Happy Christmas Lily, I hope you can still enjoy the day albeit in a different way. 😊 Having spent time away from
    home myself I know how precious everything is from back there. I’m sure you will be in their thoughts too, at least with our modern technology (time differences permitting) you can speak to them on FaceTime or Skype? I found it comforting when I was across the other side of the world. Take care Lucy x

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    1. Thank you, Lucy. We will be able to skype this morning with both my family and my husband’s family and that will certainly help. I can’t imagine what living abroad would have been like without the technology we have today. To be able to talk to our loved ones and actualyl see their faces is something of a miracle in itself, isn’t it. This isn’t my first Christmas away from home – we were in Korea last year as well – but for some reason I’ve just been grumpier about this one, haha. But this morning I woke up in better spirits and I’m looking forward to a quiet, but sweet day with my husband and dinner with some friends. Thanks for your kind words and understanding. Merry Christmas!

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  5. I’m also praying for the eyes to see Christmas this year as I’m struggling with it myself.
    I’m not far away from my family like you are, even though I have been in years past. The past few years I’ve either been in the hospital or I lay in a dark back bedroom with the door shut while the rest of the family celebrates.
    It’s hard getting into the holidays this year and I feel for you, your first time in a very different place, so far away from home. We aren’t so different, trying to adapt to so many changes during the holidays.
    I’m trying to remember that the most important things about Christmas is what remains in my heart. That doesn’t change no matter where I am, who is with me, or what state my body is in. The love and the magic of the season I take with me.
    Thank you for sharing this as this season can be difficult for many this time of year. Like you eloquently said, on Christmas, I hope you have the eyes to see it.
    God bless you and your husband.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s good to remember that I’m not alone – I can be dramatic sometimes, building things up in my mind like I’m the only person ever to experience the injustice or the sadness of a particular circumstance, haha. Your honesty reminded me that not only am I not alone, but that there are so very many things to be thankful for and that we can feel sadness and loss at what we are missing and STILL feel joy and thankfulness at the same time. I hope that your Christmas is filled with an inexplicable peace and, if possible, that your body is well enough for you to fully enjoy that. Blessings.

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      1. Thank you so much for your warm sentiments. You are very kind.
        I hope you did, after all have the eyes to see Christmas and the blessings you saw lit up your heart.
        Isn’t it funny how sadness, pain, and loneliness makes us all feel so isolated and set apart? In truth, everyone deeply understands these sufferings. Really, it brings us together in a way…
        I wish you and your husband a very happy New Year

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  6. Oh my sweet girl. I am sending big hugs 6000 miles today. The Lord will deliver them. We miss you more than I can say. Know that you are wrapped in our prayers and our love.

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  7. Merry Christmas to you from across the globe! Embrace the sadness, because it means you deeply love and miss someone. I hope your Christmas is a time of thankfulness and joy even in the midst of homesickness!

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  8. Love you sweet Lily. Prayers for peace and fun with jonathan. Prayers God spreads His joy in you heart this Christmas. I know how hard this yr must be. Love love you

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    1. Love you too. It will be a quiet, but good day – and it will remind us to really cherish all those times we have spent with our families in the past and will hopefully spend again soon. 🙂 Merry Christmas.

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  9. I was reading your post and yku have no idea how much I felt in your shoes. I just want t say that you are not alone, I am miles away from my family too and it is not a good time. But I have hope in that, if I close my eyes I will be able to feel that we are all together. Keep your hopes and keep your love always alive, they will bring us better times. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year my friend 🙂

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  10. I hear you. It’s not easy to create magic at the other end of the world. It takes a lot of creativity and love. I’ve been through the same this (last) Christmas. But it still worked somehow. Thanks for the post 🙂

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    1. We made it through as well, though it was admittedly a pretty anticlimactic Christmas since my hubby woke up with a fever and the presents our parents sent didn’t arrive on time. But, we were together and that’s the important thing. 🙂

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      1. Yes, very true. I woke up with a stomach bug and had to pass on our planned brunch. Better this year…hopefully 🙂

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