Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

 

christmas-tree

Each year our Christmas tree gains more decorations and loses any semblance of colour coordination.   But each year I love our tree a little more. It captures memories from long ago, with its frayed and faded decorations which once adorned the Christmas trees my husband and I gazed at as children and the collection of treasures made by our sons when their fingers were small and chubby and scribbly masterpieces were presented to us with enthusiastic smiles and lots of glue and glitter.   It’s a tree full of memories.

Christmas is a funny time which brings out both the best, and the worst, in many of us.  I think of it as the bipolar time of year.  When the mood is high, we have the warmth of community carol evenings, churches gathering treats for hampers for the needy, the giving and receiving of gifts and all of the champagne-popping feasting and festivity that happens when friends and family get together.  But then there’s the low mood moments – the pushing and shoving to be first in line at the shops, the road-rage to find a parking spot, the arguments in the supermarket, the stress about having too much to do, the anxiety of waiting to face a festering family conflict on Christmas Day and that lonely empty feeling that everyone else is having a much better time than you.

I witnessed both the highs and the lows last week on a brief trip to our local shopping mall.  There was the helpful man walking by in the congested car park who directed us to a free car space, just out of our vision.  He didn’t need to do this, but he did.  But then there was the lady who pushed into a queue ahead of us, making no eye contact, head held high.  The lady serving saw what had happened and pleasantly said to both of us:  “So who was next?”  The lady jumped in immediately, like a winning contestant on Family Feud punching her buzzer with: “I was”.  She reminded me of a footballer diving in for the winning try.  And I let her enjoy her victory.  When she left the shop assistant made a comment about the rudeness of shoppers at this time of year, and we laughed together. 

On the next leg of my journey I noticed a woman with a young daughter with her shopping trolley stuck on a busy escalator. She wasn’t strong enough to shift it and  the crowd grew rapidly behind her, building up like items on a conveyor belt.  There was lots of huffing and puffing and rolling of eyes and a few creative expletives were thrown around. Eventually one man found it in himself to assist her, but even then it was done in an angry and abrupt manner.  The lady’s small daughter looked on with large frightened eyes.  Meanwhile “Silent Night” played away in the background and the pretty lights twinkled. 

It’s interesting how stressed we become at Christmas.  There’s so much to do, so much to organise, and there’s this gnawing feeling deep inside that our lives have to look and feel perfect at this time of year.  Sometimes in all the striving, the worst in us can come to the surface:  the selfishness, the aggression, the Me-First attitude.  Just as we long for peace, joy and hope all we see are chaos, stress and misery staring right back at us. 

If you are feeling this way this Christmas, if that little knot of anxiety is starting to form and grow in your belly, can I encourage you to step back and remember what Christmas is really all about.  It’s not actually about overspending and eating lots of turkey.  It’s about the person we occasionally catch a glimpse of in the Nativity Scene or hear snippets about in a Christmas carol.  He doesn’t play a starring role in the whole Christmas extravaganza these days, but Jesus is the meaning and heart of Christmas. He came to bridge the gap between mankind and God and to model a life of sacrifice, service and compelling love.  

So please pause for just a moment this Christmas. If you have a long Christmas gift list be thankful for it.  My list is smaller than it once was, with a few key family members now missing.  If Christmas holds memories of absent family members and times long past, pause and remember them and don’t be ashamed of the tears.  Just let them fall as they heal and cleanse you.

If someone steals your parking spot, smile at them and don’t yell.   This will probably shock them more than your yelling will.  The other day I blew a kiss and smiled encouragingly at a man who cut me off in traffic.  You should have seen his face!  So much more satisfying for the soul than getting flustered.  Smile at strangers, help people when you can and give someone who really needs it an anonymous gift.  

Breathe and look around you.  Buy simpler gifts and serve simpler food if the effort of creating perfection is impacting your mental health.  It won’t matter.  You’ll be more relaxed and have more fun that way and that’s what people will notice.  Even if your house isn’t pristine and perfect, Christmas can still be wonderful.  I hope that whatever Christmas looks like for you this year, whatever memories and longing it stirs up, that you will be warmed by the true Christmas spirit  – the flame of God’s unconditional love and the light of peace which surpasses all understanding.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

" ... because of the tender mercy of our God,
     by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
  to shine on those living in darkness
     and in the shadow of death,
 to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

 

Read Full Post »

 

Sydney flower memorial

Martin Place flower memorial

It’s Christmas night and a stillness has settled over our home after all the busyness.  Our bellies are full, our eyes bleary and there are discarded bits of wrapping paper all over the house.  I love the gently flashing Christmas lights – silver and gold dancing in our darkened loungeroom.  Tonight I can finally take a breath and think about all the joy, wonder and longing that Christmas evokes in me.

I think of the families who are facing a time of deep sorrow this Christmas. Sydney was adorned last week with a floral memorial in Martin Place, the vivid colours and sweet fragrances symbols of our collective grief and sadness at a cafe siege where two hostages and the gunman lost their lives.  The flowers brought beauty to a place tarnished by ugliness and evil.  They have since been removed, but the memory of that sea of flowers has left a lasting image in my mind.

The flowers were a positive and powerful reaction to an act of violence against innocent souls.  They demonstrated that people have the capacity to react with love and grace, rather than rushing to seek revenge or to judge others, and I felt so moved by this spirit of love.

Christmas is many things to many people. For some it is packed full of gift-giving, heart-warming folk stories of Santa, lights transforming ordinary suburbs into fairy lands, and bucket-loads of delicious food which we devour unashamedly. For others it is a lonely time where ‘Brady Bunch’ families flaunt their perfection and amplify the emptiness we feel, where fractured families are forced together and old grievances are revisited, or when financial pressure stretches us to the limit. Whether yours was a positive or a negative Christmas, it’s easy to forget the reason for all the fun and fuss – the humble birth of Jesus.

Reflecting on Jesus and the extraordinary way he lived his life tonight has highlighted a few truths for me.  These truths are just as relevant today as they were over 2000 years ago.  One thing that jumps out at me is the unexpected and controversial ideas Jesus held in violent and turbulent times:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.… ” (Luke 6, 27-28)

History tells us that Jesus lived an exceptional 33 years on our planet. He wasn’t exceptional in conventional terms.  He wasn’t powerful or rich, but he was exceptional in his love for all mankind – particularly those who were doing it tough – the diseased, the mentally ill, the disabled, the homeless and those on the fringe of society, the prostitutes – and even the much hated tax man. He offered acceptance, healing and new life to everyone searching for it.  But he was betrayed and murdered while still a young man, despite the fact that he’d done nothing wrong. When faced with unspeakable violence, he didn’t fight back.  He didn’t condemn his murderers, but forgave them. Even while hanging on the cross, he spoke healing words to the criminal hanging next to him.  Yet in his life he was never weak or wimpy. He never hesitated in pointing out to the religious hypocrites the error of their ways. But he didn’t try to force himself on others, he never resorted to violence and he always responded in love. Jesus lived his life overcoming evil with good.

I wonder how somebody as flawed and ordinary as me can ever hope to follow in such lofty footsteps.  Two weeks before Christmas I was in my local post office and I encountered a woman who gave me a clue to the answer.

Struggling under my bundle of Christmas parcels, I hastily grabbed some post-packs and fumbled my way back to write the addresses. The post office was elbow to elbow crowded, with a line of flustered shoppers going right out onto the footpath. The atmosphere of tension and impatience was suffocating. Finally at the desk, I grabbed a pen on a string to write the addresses.  It didn’t work.  I moved to the next one, but this pen was out of ink too.  I scribbled and scribbled on a spare piece of paper, but all I got was dry scratching.  Anxious now, my face getting hot, I reached into my bulging handbag and everything you could wish for was in there – except a pen.  At this desperate moment I felt a gentle pat on my arm. I looked up to see a kind face of a woman, smiling knowingly at me.  “Here you are dear. I have plenty. You can keep this one.” It was a shiny, burgundy pen, full of blue ink.  I smiled and got teary all at once.  Her kindness and thoughtfulness overwhelmed me.  In that one simple act, a rushing tide of selfishness and stress lost all its power, and kindness and joy gently and gracefully took over.

So this Christmas, let’s not despair at the evil intentions of others, but instead remember that each of us has the choice to tip the scales for goodness.  Jesus is so much more than the baby in the manger in the nativity scene. His spirit of love lives on like a steady flame which ignites and glows more brightly each time one of us offers a simple act of kindness.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.    Romans 12:21

Happy Christmas to all and a big thank you to my readers, for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts, for your thoughtful comments and special friendship.

 

Read Full Post »

There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.        Conrad Hall

Christmas Eve is alight with anticipation.   The presents are wrapped, baking complete, salads prepared and decorations in place.   Coloured lights flash in the Christmas tree and a certain magic fills the house.   Only three hours until our friends will arrive for our annual Christmas Eve celebrations.  I find the red candle holders and little tinsel tree to decorate the table, and pull out my best platters.   Now where is the table-cloth?  Last year after a succession of tacky plastic Santa cloths I splashed out at David Jones on an  elegant white cloth.   Eventually I find it at the bottom of the linen cupboard, hastily washed after last Christmas, but obviously not ironed.

The three-hour window of time fades to two as I push a hot iron over and over the wrinkly white cloth.   No matter how much steam and Fabulon I use, the wrinkles won’t budge.   Then I notice a pink tinge, the remnants of last years’ late afternoon musings over several bottles of Merlot.    We must have been talking with our hands, with wineglasses still in them, as we solved the problems of the world. 

I remember last Christmas.   After Santa’s visit to my boys, I packed a picnic for the nursing home and met my sister and her family there.    We sipped champagne and nibbled on cheese, biscuits and chips.  Mum ate nothing and I spoke brightly, giving my sons gifts from Nanna while she looked on blankly.  I gave her ‘Beautiful’ perfume and matching body lotion, holding it up to her as I unwrapped it.    I wanted the morning to be perfect.   Next to us a DVD played karaoke Christmas carols, well-known songs accompanied by clichéd Christmas scenes.  The carols were simply background noise until Silent Night began playing.   Mum looked at me then, eyes shining, and began to sing.   With a melodious voice and word-perfect, she sang the entire song, and I sang along with her through my tears.   No longer able to speak, her words returned in the lines of this carol.   Silent Night brought Mum back to us briefly.  It had always been her favourite.

It was hard leaving Mum at the nursing home on special days.  We trailed back to our house for the usual mish-mash of Christmas fare, bon-bons and presents.   By evening I was feeling weary but relaxed in the soothing company of my family, our conversation expansive and the wine flowing.

Thankfully my Christmas Eve friends aren’t the types to notice a few pink stains on a table-cloth.   I lay it out on the table and add the decorations.  It is still wrinkly, and pink around the edges, but it looks festive all the same.   Chris comes in and says ‘Don’t you think you should iron that?‘ and I laugh.

I haven’t sung Silent Night this year as Mum is no longer here to sing it with me.   Perhaps by next year I’ll be able to sing it again.   I suspect the cloth will gain more colour tonight – perhaps some seafood sauce or chocolate cheesecake, and I’ll soak it and wash it again.  Next year there will be some new stains – memories of another Christmas spent with people I love.

Every Christmas I have an irrational desire for the perfect day and the perfect life.  Yet what is perfection anyway?   A white table-cloth without stain or wrinkle to impress my friends?   A life without pain or heartache, spent guarding my heart?  Or is my challenge to live with the spills and stains, the pain of loving people and losing them, and the knowledge that nothing ever stays the same?   Next year I’ll iron the white table-cloth again, and remember that a few stains and wrinkles never hurt anyone.   In fact it is imperfection and difficult times that have the potential to transform us and to form our most cherished memories.

 

Read Full Post »

I’ve been reading some profound blogs and articles about Christmas by people who seem to have transcended the rush and tumble of the season and are able to view it from a lofty height, while the rest of us flounder around in stressed-out-Santa-land.    I feel devoid of  wisdom tonight, like a breathless swimmer with L plates, choking and reaching out my hand desperately for the warm concrete at the end of my lane.

Each year I vow that I will start my shopping in October, but I never do.  I invariably have the ‘all in one day scramble’ when I spend too much and develop blisters on my heels and a twitchy eye.   There are certain traditions that begin to form as the years go by.   Last night we attended our local carols in the park which was enjoyed by all – perched on uncomfortable picnic chairs munching on takeaway pizza, singing Jingle Bells badly with our friends and neighbours in silly hats, while the kids pranced around with glow sticks.    Somewhere amidst the crowd I glimpsed a little of the mystery of Christmas – a community coming together to celebrate something bigger than we are – which is seldom admitted or acknowledged in suburban Australia.

We’ve spent several evenings admiring Christmas lights which transform the modest fibro cottage into a enchanted palace inhabited by prancing reindeers, sneaky elves and dancing fairies.   Again, the glinting lights remind me of the mystery of Christmas – a little peep-hole in the dull blanket of reality which leads us to a new world, brightly coloured and filled to the brim with our childhood hopes and dreams.

Another of our traditions is to spend Christmas Eve with close  friends.   It is the perfect finish to the final countdown to Christmas, and we drink champagne and exchange gifts and reflect on the year that has been.   My friend and I write a ‘thanks-giving list’ about all that has transpired throughout the year.  Sometimes I find it difficult to get started on the list, but it is amazing what comes to mind when the words begin to flow.   We exchange our lists on Christmas Eve and that list is one of the most precious gifts I receive.

I sat holding Mum’s hand again this week at the nursing home Christmas party.    The day was as well organised as ever by the dedicated nurses and diversional therapists.    Last year I sadly watched an elderly lady with dementia sob in unrestrained agony when Silent Night was played.   She was so distressed the nurses discreetly took her to her room.    In a wave of melancholy I wanted to join her in her sobs as Silent Night can be very sad when you are feeling alone and missing somebody you love.   However, this year I noticed the same lady sitting at the next table.   This time she was not alone, but her middle-aged son in his Holden T-shirt sat beside her, and her chubby arm was squashed up against his.   When Silent Night rang out, I glanced over hesitantly, and she was smiling widely, pressed against her beloved son, and she continued to smile for the rest of the afternoon.

Yesterday during my shopping frenzy I thought about the mad materialism of Christmas – of the overspending and silliness that the season brings.    But as I chose my gifts for those I love, I began to feel a deep joy and gratitude knowing that I have these people in my life to buy for.    Some of the presents didn’t cost a lot, but conveyed  a private joke or a special passion.   I  imagined their smiles and laughter on opening their gift.   Again, a little window appeared in the maze of glitz and superficiality, and I could look through to a clear blue sky beyond.    Beyond the maze and through the window was the realisation that there is great value in expressing love for family and friends, no matter how you go about it.

I wonder what it was like that first Christmas.   Mary and Joseph had been given some wild ideas about the baby due to arrive, yet the reality of the situation was an unmarried mum giving birth the old-fashioned way, without the benefit of epidurals or happy gas, crouched on some spiky straw, amidst the stench of cow manure, in a damp and draughty stable.    Surely Mary must have wondered how something so wonderful could be taking place when all around her everything seemed to be going wrong.   If God was making his way into the world in human form, why didn’t He organise a room for her at the inn, with a comfortable bed and a caring nurse?    The reality of her circumstances were in stark contrast to what she had been asked to believe.   Did she cry out for a window of enlightenment in the dark wall surrounding her that night?   Even in her pain and torment that evening, I suspect that a little beam of light shone through a window from another world, stilling her racing thoughts and soothing her aching heart, as the mystery of Christmas began to unfold in that humble stable.

The mystery of Christmas  is there for all of us – in the crowded shopping malls as we wait in queues, in the twinkling lights & tinsel of our homes, and in the wrapping of presents and scrawling on the endless gift cards.    The mystery is also with us as we weep alone, missing loved ones who are no longer with us, and when we are wondering where our next meal will come from.   Look for the mystery in the simple things.  It is there in the kindness of a stranger’s smile and  in our every act of giving, particularly when we give of our time and our selves.   It is in every thought that holds others above ourselves and leads us away from selfishness.   The mystery of Christmas is alive and well, and can live within us all.   Jesus is that mystery, but there is so much more to him than the baby sleeping peacefully in the nativity scene.   We can never fully know and understand how glorious he is.   He’s the light shining through the window when all else is dark, and the embodiment of kindness, love, colour and hope.    He takes jaded old cynics  like me by the hand, and leads us to a place where long forgotten childhood dreams really do come true.

Happy Christmas to you all and may you discover a little more of the mystery this year.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.    1 Corinthians 13:12     

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.    John 14:27

 

Read Full Post »