Our Christmas Wish List

Who would have ever thought that Scott and Gabby would be spending a Christmas in Guatemala?  Not us, that’s for sure - at least not a couple of years ago.  What a crazy thing life is.  As we reminisce over this last year, we are so grateful for all we have been able to do, see and experience together.  We’ve been through a death of a parent, the selling of a home, the abandonment of our dogs, the closing of a business and the end of a six and a half year career at Dell. 

Whew.  It wears us out just thinking about it.  But as always, there were a lot of highlights to 2003.  One was having our first anniversary in Guatemala.  There are countless others but just to name a few, the surprise 30th birthday party for Scott at Jen and Marty’s house, the boys trip for Scott to Oklahoma, and visiting family and friends in Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, NYC and Houston.  What a blessed life we lead. 

Gabby & Scott By The "Gallo Tree"
(Named for the "national beer of Guatemala" - Gallo, that sponsors it.  Not that we can drink it, being Presbyterians here.  
We have smelled it though.  
Is that a sin?  What would Jesus do?)

And now the Christmas season is upon us, so Happy Holidays everyone! 

This is definitely the “most wonderful time of the year.”  The air is filled with the fragrance of cinnamon and pine.   Buildings are adorned with brightly colored Christmas lights.  Christmas trees are drooping with the weight of homemade ornaments, tinsel and popcorn strings.  Part-time mall Santas are “enjoying” the sounds of children’s voices whispering wishes and tiny ones screaming bloody murder with wet their pants in his lap while moms feverishly take pictures.  (Note to selves:  Don’t look for mall Santa job when we return to the U.S.). 

In both of our houses, Christmas was all about sharing time with family and friends.  There was always the eager anticipation of the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, immediately followed by those after-Christmas door-buster sales.  Nothing says “Joy To The World” like your favorite sweater at 75% off.  Family always came first, but the commercialism was never too far behind.

Scott & Josesito Making "Corn Angels"
(The tradition hasn't caught on here)

Needless to say, Christmas in Guatemala is a bit different.  The stores are starting to put up lights and decorated plastic trees, but it doesn’t have the same feeling as home.  The melodies to the Christmas songs sound the same but the words are all different (blast those Spanish translators!).  There are open markets selling interesting crafts for the holidays, but the traditions aren’t familiar.  Pine needles for sale to put on the floor of your home on Christmas Eve?  Colored sawdust for a Christmas celebration?  Let’s hope Santa puts some Claratin in my stocking!  Instead of a traditional pine tree for our arbol navideño (Christmas tree) we are getting a cypress branch from out back.  Apparently there is a law against cutting down pine trees as they are almost extinct here.  We are imagining a skimpier version of Charlie Brown’s tree this year, loved but a little puny, like the runt puppy that you get on sale from the breeders.

Still, the craziest thing of all in our Guatemalan family is the lack of a single Christmas list.  We have yet to see a single television commercial trying to sell us the perfect Christmas gift.  There is no Salad Shooter.  There is no singing plastic fish.  It’s just not part of the culture here.  When Scott was a kid, he remembers asking for puppies, fishing poles, remote controlled cars, Stretch Armstrong and REAL CARS, while Gabby had dreams of Breyer horses, new fashion Jordache, a new basketball and a real horse. 

Here, it’s unheard of.  Christmas focuses on the birth of Christ and celebration with family.  It’s that simple.  Granted, in many homes there’s barely enough money to feed everyone and keep them healthy, much less to purchase a Betsy Wetsy doll.  But it brightens our hearts and this experience to hear all the talk of singing, food, and spending time with family.  It is a tradition to exchange gifts on the 24th of December.  Still, it’s a pretty small affair.  Boyfriends and girlfriends exchange a gift.  Husbands and wives exchange a gift.  Parents usually can scrounge up enough money to buy the kids one small present, but it’s nothing close to the mound of Christmas Cheer we’re used to seeing underneath the tree (and coming out of stockings that would fit only the tallest man ever to walk the earth. Check your Guinness Book for the name).  The biggest deal about Christmas here is staying up ‘til midnight to eat dinner on the 24th.  All of the celebration surrounds the church and family.  It sounds quite lovely and we are looking forward to it.

Many of you have written to us and asked what sorts of things we could use for care packages or Christmas gifts.  Thanks!  In fact, many have already sent candy, warm socks, peanut butter, Polaroid film, ivory soap, Crest and books.  For this, we are eternally grateful.  Still, here are our thoughts for the time being:

Scott:  the gift I would like most right now is a plane ticket home.  As the holidays get closer, I start thinking about how much I miss family and friends.  I can now see why the family aspect of Christmas is the main focus here.  However, we can’t come home.  It just wouldn’t be right.  In fact, when I really think about it… I don’t miss home as much as I miss the feeling that you get when surrounded by people you’ve known and loved for dozens of years.  Unfortunately, as hard as we try, that’s something we just won’t be able to replicate here.  But, if any of you can find a way to box that up, please send it Fed-Ex.

Where's My Beanie?

And Gabby:  While I miss all of you like crazy, I honestly want to be here.  I am sad to be away from family and friends but I am also looking at it as a rare gift.  The chance to feel something that I otherwise would probably never have felt – what it’s like to be isolated from family and so many of the people we love at Christmas time (my favorite time of the year).  What a blessing for us to truly understand, in the deepest recesses of our hearts, how much we love our family and our friends.   And as for what I’d like for Christmas, well, unless all of you can come down to be here with us, almost nothing will suffice.

The Gallo Tree, Parque Benito Juarez
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

We have heard countless stories from our friends in Guatemala about family and friends who have left the country to go to the U.S. (Norte) - the promised land.  Our host father, Martín, has a brother who left for the States in 1986 and hasn’t been heard from since.  Most think he has died, but none are sure.  People here save up the equivalent of three years’ salary just for the chance to cross the border for the promise of a better life.  Most simply want to make enough money so their kids can afford to go to school beyond the 6th grade, or so they can afford medicine or food to keep their families alive.  Many die or get badly injured trying to cross the desert, filled with dangers both natural and human.  For us to simply spend the equivalent of a years’ salary here to buy a couple of plane tickets so we can visit for a week would be a counter to the work we are trying to accomplish here.

Still, that doesn’t keep us from missing all of you guys.  However, we have an incredible host family here that will do everything in their power to help us feel at home.

All of this makes us realize just how important relationships are.  We would gladly trade indoor plumbing and showers for our warm and friendly host family.  Without them, the upcoming holiday season would be miserable.  We’ll take a sincere hug over a flush toilet any day!  It also reminds us of all the people that don’t have family and friends to surround them this Christmas.  What’s their day going to be like?  For this reason, we’ve included our Christmas List here.   If you’re looking to get Scabby (our new nickname here, Scott and Gabby = SCABBY) a gift this year, just choose from the list below or invent one of your own.  Many of you probably have your own traditions for the holidays but if not, here are some suggestions.  If you choose to get one of these gifts for us all we ask is that you write us an e-mail or a letter explaining your experience.  We would love to hear from you.

  1. Go have dinner at a soup kitchen.  My brother (this is Scott talking here) is the inspiration behind this idea.  One summer I volunteered with Jeff as he led a group of youth on a mission trip.  One of the jobs was to serve at a soup kitchen.  They had worked all day preparing the place for the meal.  Then, just before dinner, his brother said, “OK guys, you’re not serving food tonight.  Instead, what I would like you to do is simply eat dinner with these people, talk to them, and get to know them.  Ask ‘em what foods they like.  Ask ‘em if they like the summertime.  Ask them what their school was like as a kid.  Whatever it is, I want you to get to know them.”  I was mortified.  Still, I sat across the table from a man who called himself Clint Eastwood.  In a 45 minute period, I listened to his stories about his childhood, his likes and dislikes, and everything else.  It was great for both of us.  Remember, the most precious gift you can give to the poor is their dignity.  So… go have a meal.  If you’re dying to work there, do the dishes afterwards… but make sure to spend time in REAL conversation.  Listening and learning.   It’s an awesome experience.
  1. Visit the hospital on Christmas day.  You’ll probably have to call ahead… but talk to a nurse and find out which patients don’t have family coming to visit, and spend time with those people, talking or singing carols… or simply bringing goodies.  When Gabby’s mom was in the hospital one of the things that struck us most was the number of people who didn’t have family there to hug them and tell them they were loved.  Can you imagine having heart surgery and coming out of it with no one there?  It can break a person’s heart.
  1. Take a group of people and sing Christmas carols at a nursing home.  The residents LOVE IT!  We did this with Mom Kubo a couple of Christmases.  Though she nearly killed some diabetics by giving them an unlimited supply of Christmas cookies, it was really cool.  We sang to one woman who looked about 107 who was nearly deaf.  She kept saying, “Huh?  I can’t hear you, Dears.”  We ended up scringing (scream singing) to her standing only five inches from her chair.  That was a cherished moment but the best part of the experience was seeing the gratitude and love these people had when we simply went up to them and gave them a hug, listened and talked to them. 
  1. Write a real letter (not the e-mail kind), and send it to someone who is really important to you.  Tell them how wonderful they are.
  1. If you know any people who are without family this Christmas, (exchange students, widows in your church, etc), invite them to Christmas dinner at your house even if they might be subjected to some thing akin to the Yelling House (the nickname for my mom’s house.  Always filled with love but often yelling as well, they are a loud people).  My mom (Scott again) invited a poor family to our house for Thanksgiving dinner one year.  At first, I was shocked.  I had to sit next to Anna and Leroy.. but afterwards, I was glad she had reached out.  It was a really cool experience.
  2. Get together with friends (or better yet… your kids) and write a bunch of Christmas cards for people who won’t likely get many this year.  Nursing homes and prisons are good places to get a list of names of those who would like to get some holiday cheer.

  3. Get involved with Compassion International.  Momma Kubo mom was a part of this organization when she was still around.  It’s one of those organizations that allows you to sponsor a poor child in a foreign country.  We weren’t totally certain that the organization was legit, even though we like that Amy Grant, until two boys in our own host family received letters and donations from people in the U.S.  They are recipients of the good graces of this organization!  It was a weird coincidence, but was a definite sign from God that this organization is for real and it felt like a hug from heaven from Mom too.  Our host brother Marlon received $10 from a woman named Betty in Cincinnati and they used it to buy shoes for school.  Still, the best part of the donation was the two-page letter Betty wrote to Marlon.  A gift that said that people in wealthy countries really do care what happens to the people in faraway places.
  1. While the real point to all of these ideas is to give your time to those who would really LOVE it, funds are needed here too.  We have updated our website with a list of groups in Guatemala that could use a helping hand (and a helping dollar).  Some organizations help women go to school to finally have the opportunity to become pastors.  Others help fund community development projects here.  And another, allows you to earmark funds for kids here so they can pay for school (for instance, you could help one of our host brothers or host sisters go to high school, or even college!  They are all bright, and just need the opportunity to advance in their schooling).