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Tag Archives: Holidays

Easter in Two Stadiums

Parties. Presents. Decorations. Months of anticipation.

Christmas gets so much hype. But for a Christian, Easter is the really big deal. Jesus was born, and Jesus died, but without his resurrection, we would have nothing to celebrate. And nothing to place our hope in.

A couple of months before Easter, our pastor delivered a sermon about how Christians should throw big parties. Basically, heaven’s gonna be a big party, we throw parties for other things here on Earth, so we should throw big parties for Jesus as foreshadowing to Heaven. Invite lots of people, have lots of good food and drink, and just celebrate. No need to preach, just be generous and party to the glory of God.

And then he announced that for Easter, Mars Hill would be throwing the biggest party a church in the Northwest has ever thrown: They were renting Qwest Field for Easter Sunday. Having been members of Mars Hill Church since 2005, and maintaining that membership during the years that we’ve searched fruitlessly for a new home church in Portland, and now eagerly anticipating the launch of a Mars Hill Church Portland campus, I knew we had to be a part of the celebration.

And I’m so thankful that we were. I could feel the energy building as we navigated the traffic surrounding the stadium, and then joined crowds of people climbing up the ramps to open seats in the third level (we were a bit later than planned, so the close-in seats were all filled, nonetheless we were happy to be under cover from the drizzle!). Once we found our seats and gazed down at the massive stage and row of baptism tanks, I felt like crying. It was overwhelming to worship God along with 17,500 others, and the scale and power of the service was truly moving. Pastor Mark belted out the message as if he’d forgotten he had a microphone. And there was no way to misinterpret the message: Jesus is God, and the only way to Heaven is to believe in him. At the end we sang as we watched hundreds of believers be baptized — some who’d been planning to for weeks, others who spontaneously borrowed sweats provided by the church and got dunked in the moment.

After the service we walked just next door to stadium #2, Safeco Field, stopping for a crowded yet delightful lunch at Pyramid Brewery with our church family.

The Mariners had offered special ticket pricing to those attending the Mars Hill Church service, and even invited Pastor Mark to throw the first pitch of the game. We used to enjoy attending baseball games when we lived in the Seattle area, so we joined in on the deal.

It was Eliana’s first major league sports event, and while she didn’t care so much about the baseball game, she thoroughly enjoyed the blue cotton candy. She also enjoyed climbing around the stadium chairs. That is, until I reached the limit of my anxiety about her falling down the cement steps and placed her in timeout at the very tip-top of the stadium. She loves timeout, so it didn’t ruin her Easter. In fact, we all enjoyed our Easter quite a lot.

Next year we plan to repeat the party theme, only this time we’ll be hosting our own party in Portland. And you’re all invited.

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Fireworks on the Alps

I don’t have a photo to remember it by, but I can never forget the beauty of New Year’s Eve in Innsbruck, Austria.

The locals had told me that many visitors feel claustrophobic in Innsbruck, as the mountains surround the city so intimately that you can see the former Olympic ski jumps in plain sight from the city center. As midnight approached on New Year’s Eve, the landscape was dark enough to hide any trace of the Alps as I huddled in with the crowd that had gathered to welcome 2002.

And then the fireworks began. They felt closer than any I had seen back home. With every blast of color, a jagged mountain would light up in reflection and then disappear as quickly. It was as if I were wearing a blindfold that would be lifted for one second to glimpse the breathtaking Alps, and then hide the few before I could take it all in. FLASH — A red peak. BOOM — A green mountain. CRASH — Golden glaciers. You’d think it was a black night sky and then POW — Blue shining slopes.

I could have watched the show for hours.

Thanksgiving in Niger

The last time I traveled to Niger, I had the option of missing either Thanksgiving or Christmas back home. I chose Thanksgiving. I still wanted to celebrate the holiday, though, so I found a way to do so with my Nigerien family. In the absence of a turkey, we slaughtered a guinea fowl.

If I were a Nigerien woman, one thing I’d be thankful for in the midst of this very male-dominated society is that the task of slitting an animal’s throat falls upon the man. And then if the animal is any sort of bird, it’s handed to the woman to de-feather and prepare. I worked on a chicken once when I was a volunteer, and the dead thing kept squawking as I squeezed its belly to pull out the feathers. This time I chose to just observe. So did Madou’s 10-month old son Aminou, who played around in the dirty feathers and fowl guts and bloody knives as he pleased. Pregnant with my first child at the time of that trip, I’d never realized until then how many dangers Nigerien babies are surrounded by. Or is it how overly-protective we American mothers are? For me, I’ve found a balance between realizing a little germ exposure is okay for my baby, but I keep her away from dead animals and such.

The guinea fowl was tasty, as it always is. And I was thankful to be surrounded by my African family.

Wearing their Tabaski best

Sahabi and Yanoussa were constant fixtures at my home in Niger. So naturally they came to visit me on the biggest holiday of the year — Tabaski. This is the day that Muslims celebrate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and God providing a ram for sacrifice instead. (Only Muslims believe the son was Ishmael, whereas Christians believe it was Isaac).

Much like Christmas is now more about presents and decorated trees, Tabaski is more about dressing up in your very best clothes and visiting your neighbors in hopes of scoring candy, dates, or maybe a coin. Yes, sheep are slaughtered and skewered whole in front of open fires lining nearly every street. And people very much savor one of the few opportunities they have to eat meat. But the holiday is more social and festive than spiritual, at least from what I observed.

And for Sahabi and Yanoussa, their complete joy came in a pair of new, cheap sunglasses.

Squash-o-Lantern and the Halloween Monster

This year’s Halloween was uneventful. We bought candy at about 6:30pm, gave some away to a few groups of cute kids who knocked on the door, and then gave more away to obnoxiously old teenagers sans costumes. Then we turned the lights off.

But, 10 years ago, I had a very unique Halloween.

I had been living in my new home — Tokoye Bungou Sud — for about a month and a half. I didn’t yet speak more than a few words in Hausa, and while the villagers were very welcoming and kind, it would be a while before I really started making friends. So there I was on Halloween 1999, sitting outside my mud hut with my usual entourage of curious children, feeling very far away from America. It was harvest time in the village, and someone brought me an enormous squash. At that point in my life, I wasn’t a fan of many vegetables (the rarity of anything non-carb in Niger would quickly create a desire for tasty produce) and I knew almost nothing about cooking. But, I did know how to carve a pumpkin!

So, with a bit of naivete about the fact that the squash was actually a valuable food source, I decided to make a Halloween squash-o-lantern! I carved in a pretty standard jack-o-lantern face, but then added some traditional facial markings common in the village. That night, I lit a candle and stuck it in the squash. Kids and adults were rather perplexed by the “squash head,” and I’m quite certain that my attempts at an explanation were insufficient. But, they’d already determined that I was unusual, so they were just happy that I was passing out candy! And I was happy to have that small connection with home.

Balkissa & the Halloween Squash

(By the way, I did try to dry out the squash to preserve it for food. But, I underestimated the humidity factor and the whole thing became a moldy mess!)

The Squash-0-Lantern was not my only Halloween memory from that night. Once the sun had fully set, I pulled a chair to the middle of my yard and sat under the moonlight enjoying the cool evening air. A young girl, Hajara, from the chief’s family would bring me dinner every night, but I hadn’t yet learned that I could go join their evening gathering and share the meal with the women. So I sat alone. Enjoying the calm.

Then there was a rustling noise in the woven grass mat that served as my bathroom wall. I shined the flashlight to where I heard the noise and out emerged a horrible creature — a disgustingly creepy scorpion! The first one I’d seen in Niger. The first one I’d seen EVER! What to do? I was alone in the moonlight on Halloween with a scorpion charging towards me! So I grabbed the garden hoe a neighbor had loaned me for weeding my yard. It was an iron spade attached to a wooden handle the length of a rake. Plenty of distance to keep me safely away from the monster. So I whacked it a couple of times with the flat end of the spade, and that only served to piss off the scorpion and make him (yes, it was definitely a him) run faster towards me with that nasty little stinger ready to strike. Quickly, I learned the best use of my weapon — strike with the blade. So, I guillotined the sucker, and he went flying in two separate pieces across the yard.

And I felt very proud that I’d not only found a way to celebrate the fun parts of Halloween all alone in my African village, but I’d killed the scary monster too.

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