This was a strange, lonely Christmas for our family. 

We’ve been traveling for a little more than four months now — and we’re far enough into the experience that we’re past the novelty of it. It’s still a gift, but the trailer feels smaller, the pile of dirty clothes larger, the miles to our home back in Michigan longer than before.

We worshipped this morning in a mostly empty, beautifully appointed Episcopal church, overlooking a stunning mountain and grove of picturesque palm trees. It felt comforting to be saying the familiar liturgy, to receive communion, to sing the hymns that we’ve always sung on this day. And, it felt lonely.

I hadn’t noticed before how hard it is to ignore Christmas. I’ve never tried to pretend it wasn’t Christmas before. But Christmas is un-ignorable. Nothing is open except Walgreens, and even there the cashier is wearing a Santa hat and asking what your plans are for the day. 

This week a friend of the Christian Reformed Church named Abdoul was featured in a national news article — he and his brother, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in Grand Rapids eight years ago as refugees. He was sixteen. After living in a camp in Rwanda, they were finally permitted to move to the United States, and eventually obtained citizenship. Abdoul goes to Calvin College.

Abdoul — this Christmas, and every day — is waiting to see his family again. His aunt, uncle, and cousins (the remaining family that survived the brutal civil war) were scheduled to arrive in September. but because of senseless and heartless delays, denials, and changes to refugee policy in Washington, he hasn’t seen them yet. He hopes this will soon change. I hope so, too. 

This morning in church, I heard the old, old story — the baby born to a world that failed to welcome him, to parents who were far from their home, attended only by strangers and livestock. And even with all the parts of that story that felt easier to grasp this year than ever before, I admit that I felt like an outsider to the Christmas club, without a dinner plan or closet full of Amazon boxes. And I wondered how the holiday had become so starkly different than the moment it claims to commemorate. 

For Abdoul, and for all those longing for those they love this Christmas — peace, peace to you from the one in whom all things hold together. 

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

8 Comments

  • Carlene Byron says:

    Katie, this is going to sound harsh (and maybe my gripe is just w your headline writer) but: you weren’t alone. My widowed and divorced and never-married women friends (all of us over 60) were alone. Many of them spent Christmas in an empty apartment or condo or rural house without relatives or friends who cared to invite them. Some organized an afternoon movie outing to break up the long, empty day. Some of those who have kids at home (including the divorced mom caregiver to an adult child w disability) felt the day as a burden to produce a celebration instead of a celebration in itself. Those longing for family, or even a place that feels like family, may be very close at hand.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      There are so many people, and so many ways to find yourself alone, and Christmas is an especially hard day for that. Thanks for the reminder. I’m certainly not alone very much right now.

  • Ron Rozema says:

    Thanks for reminding us that alone takes many forms always but especially at Christmas.

  • Grace says:

    Thanks for being so honest regarding your experiences. I’m glad you are taking this year off and it’s always hard to be apart from your extended family at the holidays. Blessings in 2020!

  • Rev. Linda Rubingh says:

    Oh Kate — as ever, thank you!!!

  • carl kammeraad says:

    Much appreciated once again, Kate. Got me to do some serious pondering…. Miss you all, mightily!

  • Karl westerhof says:

    You reminded me of our first Christmas in Manila. You guys are held close in our hearts

  • Donna Stelpstra says:

    Kate, thanks for your story of Abdoul. One of the refugees that we supported from Eritrea had not seen his wife and daughters for more than 10 years. His girls are now 16 and 18. But this fall they were finally reunited here in Canada and they were able to spend Christmas together! He never wavered in his belief that God would bring them together again. His steadfast faith in God and his constant “Thanks be to God” even during his years of waiting have been amazing examples to us who take so much for granted.

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