This time last year we had just said yes to our first expat adventure. We were facing massive unknowns, planning for the transition that this change would bring and choosing our attitudes.
This year as I reflected on that season in our lives the thoughts and feelings came back in a flood. In order to fully share that experience I have to take you back in time…
I grew up in a little town in rural North Dakota. A town so small we had no stoplights and no 24-hour grocery stores, and the closest mall was an hour and a half’s drive away. (The entire county today has approximately 9,000 people in it.)
In spite of the small size, the people there are committed to creating “cultured” events for the community. One of those events takes place each December.
For months volunteers come together and practice Christmas music.
Then just before the holidays the community packs into an old gymnasium that has been transformed.
As a child I remember a slightly run down, musty and sweaty smelling building that suddenly became a magical stage, filled with risers, candlelight, angelic voices and dozens of fresh evergreens that were so strong their fragrance would fill the entire building.
For a couple of hours we would be surrounded by music that you would never expect to hear on the plains of North Dakota.
Each year the concert finale would be a song that has become a favorite, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus…
Last year, just before Thanksgiving, we were asked to make our move to this big sandbox on the other side of the world.
We knew when we said yes to this adventure that many of the freedoms we had always enjoyed would not exist here.
So as our last Christmas in The States approached, I found myself savoring the things I typically love at an even higher level and wondering what our next Christmas would look like. Then in early December our church choir and a local orchestra gave a concert that very much resembled the community concert I had grown up with.
As I sat there willing every cell in my body to soak in the music, several thoughts ran through my mind:
- First I hoped with all of my heart that they would sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.
- Then I found myself grieving my future ability to sit in a church and hear this music.
- Then I realized I would not even be able to walk through a mall, or down a street or go to a community event and have this music playing in the background.
As my heart was overwhelmed with sadness I choked, and tried to hold the tears in:
- Suddenly the negative thoughts turned positive as I realized how blessed I am to have known this kind of freedom.
- And then realized that although I always thought I appreciated my freedom, I hadn’t really understood the gift I’d been given.
And then as much as I tried, I could no longer hold back the tears…
- I’m in a land that looks like a time-machine has blended the middle ages with the present day.
- In spite of the limitations of the land, today’s tecnology has allowed me to play that cherished music. As I do, I close my eyes and imagine that I am sitting in that gym surrounded by familiar faces and the intense smell of fresh pine and remember what it is like to be in a place where I can freely celebrate with others in public places.
- I am missing the treasured parts of this season but I am thankful beyond words for the understanding I am gaining.
For those of you who live in free countries and can practice the faith of your choice without fear of arrest or execution, those who can walk through streets, or malls, or sit in restaurants or go to large public arenas and hear that music playing: Please close your eyes, let that music move you and savor it like you’ve never savored it before. You’ve been given a gift that some people will never experience on this side of heaven.
For those of you that want to enjoy that favorite song, check out the YouTube Video below.
And for those of you in or near Mercer County North Dakota and able to attend the Knife River Christmas Chorale please go and savor it for me! (I’d love to see pictures, videos and to hear from you!) Knife River Christmas Chorale, Hazen Elementary School Gym, December 14th at 7 PM, and December 15th at 3 PM.
image credits: The Hazen Star, iStock