Everyday Awe

Wonder: Christmas Not as Planned

Several weeks ago, I wrote a book review, recommending that you get a copy of This Ordinary Adventure. When you read Christine Jeske‘s post for today, I think you’ll know why a book about her family’s adventures and perspectives is worth reading.


Maybe Christmas not going as planned is the plan

One December, my husband and our two preschoolers and I were crossing South Africa in our decrepit old pick-up truck on the way to Cape Town.  We carried with us enough belongings to move from our old home on the other side of South Africa into what would be our home in the new year.  Two days after our arrival in Cape Town, we would board flights back to the U.S. to see our family for Christmas.  Two days was just time enough to unload, meet the people we would work with in January, and find the train to the airport.

Or so we thought.

Somewhere in the middle of a desert-like expanse of nothing, where cell towers, towns, and tow trucks were few and far between, our truck gave up its will to live.

Image Credit: Christine Jeske

While my farm-boy husband popped open the hood and did his best to diagnose the problem, the kids and I slumped beside the truck in the 12 inches of shade, out of the 90-degree sun.  We watched tumbleweed roll past, ate peanuts and raisins, read some of The House at Pooh Corner. And waited.

It became clear that out truck was going nowhere.  Amazingly, our cell phone showed two bars of proximity to a cell tower, and we calculated we were only about 30 minutes from a city.  We opened our guidebook, chose a little hotel that looked friendly, and called.

The hotel owner sent a relative to tow us, and an hour later the kids were splashing in the swimming pool behind the hotel.  I sat on the edge of the pool keeping watch, but hadn’t changed into a swimsuit.  Another girl about five years old quietly stepped into the shallow side of the pool.  I looked for her parents, guessing they were among the people chatting loudly around a corner and out of sight.

The little girl walked timidly across the pool.  When she reached the deep end, she slid under water.  She didn’t come up.

Her little face just below the surface of the water looked up at me with a growing sense of terror.  Her arms waved; her face did not surface.

This girl was drowning.

As the only adult in sight, I dropped into the water, skirt and all, and pulled the girl into the shallow end.  She took a few gasping breaths, climbed out of the pool, and went to sit on a chair by herself, silent and shocked.

I was also shocked.

Our truck, it turned out, needed parts that would take days to ship from another city. We couldn’t wait that long.  We booked a train to Cape Town at the only time it passed through—1 a.m.  We stood bleary eyed in the train station and learned that the train was delayed.  Nine hours passed.  The children slept on wadded up sweatshirts on the only benches in the station, next to a very smelly bathroom.  We arrived in Cape Town with barely enough breathing space to unpack, grab a long nap, and catch that flight.

Image Credit: Christine Jeske

But along the way, I learned that it wasn’t about catching the flight.

The first Christmas was also shaped by travel plans gone awry.  Mary and Joseph weren’t supposed to end up stuck in a barn.  A baby king wasn’t supposed to be sleeping in stable that smelled a bit like the stinky bathrooms in our train station.  For that matter, a king wasn’t supposed to be born of a peasant girl.

And yet he was, because it was part of a bigger plan.  A plan to bring good news to the poor.  A plan to bring life.  A plan to save.

We never know the full “why” of every interruption, detour, and broken pick-up truck life slings us, but that afternoon in the hotel swimming pool was one of the clearest wake-up calls I’ve ever received that God does have a why.  In the midst of the rushing, wrapping, driving, and gabbing of the season, there is a mission to save that rolls on beneath the surface, a greater purpose possible for every interaction.

He doesn’t always make his presence as clear as a drowning girl or a host of angels singing to shepherds.  I only hope this year I won’t miss it.


About Today’s Guest Blogger: Christine Jeske

Christine Jeske is the author of Into the Mud: True Stories of Africa, and coauthor of This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling.  She currently works toward a PhD in cultural anthropology at UW-Madison.  Find more on her blog at intothemud.com, twitter, or Facebook.


Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.

  • http://twitter.com/Vaderalman Mark Allman

    I loved your story. I really wonder if we ever know the full potential of what happens around us. God gave you the honor of saving a young girl that day. You don’t know the full impact of that and will never know until heaven. That little girl could be on her way to being a doctor or a missionary or a pastor or someone else who steps into the pool of life and pulls someone to safety. I am in awe of the glimpses God gives us and I also know that I know very little the impact of things that happen with a loving and awesome God in control. This makes me want to honor the responsibilities that I have and the opportunities that come when things go awry; honor them in a way that bestows wonder onto the mundane of life for God is the God who changes the mundane to magnificent and blunders into wonders.

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