Merry Christmas Eve-Eve!

It’s Monday! It’s December 23rd, which makes it the Eve of Christmas Eve!

Hooray!!

And not only that, it’s school holidays for the next six weeks or so. It’s Summer (apparently). And it’s time to sort out the truckload of stuff my kids have brought home from the end of their school year.

So I’m just gonna take a minute today to wish you all a wonderful, very merry Christmas. Thanks so much for reading, for checking in, stopping by, for making the world a smaller and friendlier place with me.

Have a lovely day. And, in the words of your drunk uncle dressed as Santa waving his can of beer, “I love yers orrl!”

 

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Taking off the training wheels

Yesterday my daughter had her primary school end-of-year violin recital. I was running a little late, and when we got there we discovered that their teacher was unable to make it, she’d called in an anxious fit to say that she’d been waiting for a taxi for some forty minutes now, and the dispatcher’s promise of “he’s on his way” had come to naught. By this time the parents were neatly seated in rows in the school music room and the students had their music on their stands and their violins in hand. We weren’t given any introductions to students or titles, but they played through their repertoire and lifted their bows and bowed as they’d been taught, and we duly applauded. They’re our kids. They were lovely.

The teacher called me late yesterday afternoon while I was cooking dinner, wildly apologetic about her no-show. I told her, as I’m sure every other parent she spoke to did also, how extremely proud I’d been of the children, and how wonderfully they’d presented themselves and their concert without any external help or direction. The teacher said to me, as she’d probably said to every parent she called, “But they always need so much help, in tuning their instruments and in remembering how to stand…” Sure. I think one of the instruments needed a little tuning, but the point is, they did it. She’d taught them, and they knew, and when she wasn’t there they did it anyway.

I told their teacher about how my eldest had learned to ride a bike. We’d been at the park, the boys were to play on the playground equipment while I ran next to her and kept her safe while she rode. My littlest boy fell off the slide, so I left my trainee-rider on the path and went to comfort him. By the time I’d got back she’d got bored and decided she could ride a bike without me. And she could.

My youngest is the same. He learned to ride a bike the other week (so proud!!) although he hadn’t yet mastered the skill of starting himself off, so I had to be there to steady the bike while he got his feet on the pedals, and give him a little push-off. Last night I wasn’t available when he wanted to ride, so he, having watched a small friend from kindergarten do it, gave it a go himself.

Now I know full well that my daughter would never be able to play a note on the violin if it weren’t for her teacher. Nor would my children be able to hoon around on their bikes without a few years of riding with training wheels, but it was interesting for me as a parent to reflect on what happens when those supports are not available. If you teach them they will learn. If you put in enough ground-work, if you keep reminding them of the basics, no matter how much or how little confidence they may possess in their abilities, sometimes they’ll surprise you and fly.

Made me wonder, what other areas, in my kids and in myself, do I need to take off the training wheels?

The snow ideal

We went to the local Carols by Candlelight on Saturday night.

Carols by CandlelightMy girl sang with her school choir, which of course made me cry. I snuggled in my camping chair and cheered on the dancing girls and sang some carols, and we bought junk food and said hi to people and marveled again at how everybody seems to know everybody else in Tasmania. We went home at half past eight while it was still broad daylight, even though I’d only sung a few carols really and it was still nowhere dark enough for people to light their candles. I was tired. It’d been a big day.

It’s occurred to me a lot over this Christmas lead-up season that part of what we enjoy as part of our celebration of anticipation (think about that one) isn’t part of our Christmas at all: snow. We love snow! We all send Christmas cards (well, if we have school age kids then THEY send Christmas cards) with pictures of snowmen and snowy windows with candles in them, and small children playing in the snow. It’s a particularly Northern-Hemisphere thing, yes, but we love it. We all dream, somewhere in the deep recesses of our brains, of having a White Christmas.

And candles. We love candles! All across Australia it seems we love our Carols by Candlelight, and we huddle up in our parkas and light our candles and eat our picnics and sing Christmas carols about…snow. It’s as much part of Christmas tradition as Boxing Day cricket and planning a camping trip over New Years’ Here in Tassie, because we’re so far south, it didn’t get dark until nearly 9pm on Saturday night so we have to wait a fair while to  experience the magic of those candles (oh, oh! Priceless anecdote…at our Church Christmas celebration service yesterday all the kids sang Silent Night holding plastic battery-powered candles, and one little boy discovered the magic of how when you put it up your nose and turn it on it makes your nose glow. Yeah!), and on my way home I thought about my Northern Hemisphere friends, and how early it would be dark for them at this time, and how much they must love coming around for the evening with all their community in their local parks and pulling out their picnics and camping chairs and singing carols around their candles…in the snow.

And then I got it.

Snow doesn’t make my Northern Hemisphere friends feel festive at all. From what I can tell it makes them feel cold and miserable. Snow is cold. Sitting around on a camping chair at the local park at eight thirty at night is cold, and it’s SUMMER! Most of my Northern Hemisphere friends, it seems, view snow as some kind of awful endurance experience, and seem to dread its coming. Not here.

It never occurred to me before that Carols by Candlelight may be a particularly Australian tradition. Is it? It may never have occurred to my Northern Hemisphere friends (except for the ones I’ve stayed with who have witnessed me lose my head in joy over the white stuff falling) that snow is some kind of idealised Christmas dream in Australia (only on the 25th though thanks. We want it to be hot again on Boxing day so we can have a barbecue and watch the cricket thanks very much). Snow is something we anticipate, even though the reality is something quite different. Much like a young girl who dreams of wearing stiletto heels, until, as an adult, she has to wear them for hours at a time and longs to kick back in her sneakers like when she was a kid.

I know this. I still don’t care. I still love snow at Christmas.

What about you? Have you ever idealised something only to find out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be? Do you dream of a White Christmas too, or do you think that just for once a Christmas in Summer would be rather grand? Happy Christmas my friends, wherever you are!

The kids at church singing Silent Night. You can't see the candle-up-the-nose from here though :)

The kids at church singing Silent Night. You can’t see the candle-up-the-nose from here though 🙂

 

A little bit of honesty never went astray

There seems to be a lot going on at the moment around me. Not just the usual stuff, Christmas and shopping and end of school and general December madness, but big stuff. Death, illness, uncertainty. Tragedies that break my heart, that I have no easy answers for, especially when we’ve experienced the opposite–such blessing and abundance around us. I have friends who are hurting. There are no easy answers, or if there are, the answer is “sometimes things just suck”.

Where’s the hope and joy and peace when people you love are being ripped from you?

Where’s the blessing of the virgin birth and the miracle of baby Jesus when there are children left without parents, and parents left without children? How do you “ho ho ho” when it takes all your strength to get out of bed in the morning and make breakfast without breaking down again?

I tried to put on some Christmas music yesterday. Took it off again. Put on something less hopeful, less joyous.

So this morning, this post is for those friends, the ones for whom life is making no sense at Christmas. The ones whose trees are shrouded in grief. The ones who are struggling to wrap presents because everything seems so futile. This is my little attempt to share in your sorrows, and, instead of offering platitudes of “God is with you, go and be well”, sitting in the dirt with you for a few minutes and saying “I understand”.

Here is my small offering. It’s the one part of the Bible I refused to read for a number of years when I was younger: Psalm 22. The one right before the one that everybody knows.

“God, God . . . my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere? Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long. No answer. Nothing. I keep at it all night, tossing and turning. And you! Are you indifferent, above it all, leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise? We know you were there for our parents: they cried for your help and you gave it; they trusted and lived a good life. And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm, something to step on, to squash. Everyone pokes fun at me; they make faces at me, they shake their heads: “Let’s see how God handles this one; since God likes him so much, let him help him!” (that’s from the translation called The Message, by the way).

Life can suck. And it can suck especially when Christmas is just around the corner. If it sucks for you today, I just want to let you know that I hear you. It’s okay to be honest about how you’re really feeling. Hang in there, okay?

But is there blood?

1487773_10152061855468330_2059612794_oThis is my youngest son. He’s just turned five years old, and yes, how you see him here is pretty much how he approaches everything. With gusto. He a real “Life, Be In It” kid, and he’s a real lot of fun. My boy wasn’t afraid to ride his bike without training wheels. He wasn’t afraid to ride a horse. He wasn’t afraid to ride a roller coaster at Luna Park a few months ago (granted though, that one scared him off any kind of roller coaster since), and he isn’t afraid to try new food, meet new people, go new places, do new things.

Only one thing really scares my boy…

Blood.

I first noticed it, like really noticed it, when he was about two years old. He’d fall over, maybe graze his hand (maybe not, I couldn’t tell), and after the screaming was over (granted, he’s not much of a screamer. He’s the kind who picks himself up again and says “I’m okay!”) and the cuddles had quieted him I wouldn’t be allowed to check for damage. He’d hold his possibly-grazed-possibly-not hand in a tight fist, or behind his back, or both.  For hours. Hours and hours.

Can’t look Mummy. There might be blood.

Generally, after a bit of a cuddle and by the time he’s off and running again it’s pretty obvious that nothing’s broken (okay, as I write this I’m remembering the story of when my husband was in grade 4 and hurt his ankle playing soccer…possibly even continued to play until the end of recess…before they discovered later that he’d actually broken it. Mummy note-to-self: resuming of activities doesn’t mean things are definitely okay. Hmmm.) and there’s no great rivers of red running down his arm I’m happy to let him go.*

I used to think he’d forget about it, that he’s open his fist to catch a ball without even thinking about it, that he’d pull off his socks and jump into the bath at the end of the day without batting an eyelid.

Not my son.

I’ve bathed him in socks because he’d stubbed his toe in the morning (he’s also scared of bandaids, although sometimes I have to force that issue. They need to be covered with a sock). I’ve washed his white-knuckled fist and carefully dried it again, praying that he opens it in his sleep before any kind of mildew sets into the wound. And I’ve witnessed tender moments of trust late at night when he’s called me in and made me stand a good enough distance away and promise not to touch while he carefully unfurls his hand and shows me the remnant of the damage.

He makes me laugh, him and his “Mummy it’s okay, I haven’t got blood.”

Sometimes, let it be said, I’ve laughed a little too hard. That changed when I realised the person he’d inherited this strange trait from was…ermm…me.

Want to hear another story?

When I was young, maybe in my early teens, something happened to me. No no, before you jump to the worst, it wasn’t that. Nobody would ever be arrested for inflicting this kind of damage, nor was it really that serious in the large scale of things. Dumb more than deadly; stupid more than shameful. But it hurt. A lot. I’d been in a vulnerable place. Always been a sensitive soul. And the trouble was…you guessed it…I didn’t tell anyone. I bunched up my metaphorical fist and hid it in a glove and wrapped it in a jacket and put it behind my back and kept playing. For twenty something years.

Now, I’ll repeat myself here. This was the emotional equivalent of a grazed hand, not a gaping wound that needed stitches, but still it frightened me. The fact that there was a hurt there frightened me. The longer I hid it the more it frightened me. And the more it frightened me the longer I hid it.

I grew up around it. I learned, metaphorically, to do life quite well one-handed, and to use that balled-up fist for balance if I needed it. I knew it was there. It didn’t bother me that much. Only occasionally did I look at my friends who could use both hands and experience that pang of longing to be like them.

Twenty. Something. Years.

I can only vaguely remember now what prompted me to peel off those wrappers and begin the arduous process of looking at my wound. I remember the person I showed though, and how I’d made sure she had her (metaphorical) hands behind her back, and that she was a good safe distance away. I remember with acute detail the act of showing her though, the fear and trembling, her compassion and understanding. How she looked at my wound and said “yeah that must have hurt”.

That simple thing, the me showing, the her looking, made all the difference. I use two hands now, open-palmed. So much more practical for things like, you know, living.

Through that painful process of exposure I’ve realised that I have some amazing friends around me. Top quality people, people I trust, people I know that I can, whenever I need to, go to and show them where it hurts. And it’s made me more aware of the people around me who are living life with one hand in a fist in a glove tied in a jacket behind their backs–or worse, and how I may be able to be the person they come to and say “Is there blood?” and, God help me, that I may be able to be the one who has compassion for them and not laugh off their fear but instead say to them “Yes, but I can help you.”

 

*For anyone out there who’s concerned about my parenting style here, YES, if I thought there was serious damage I would absolutely haul him off to the doctor and prise open his rock-hard fist and make him endure whatever suturing he needed. Thankfully none of his injuries have ever come to that. Heaven help us if it does!

The day that Jesus came

I wrote this recently for someone who asked me to tell them what happened when I became a Christian, what was it like, that change, and why. It’s short, because brevity was what was called for there, although I now wish I’d saved a longer version to share here with you now. I hope you enjoy it. And please, if you feel like it, share your own stories here too. 

If I knew one thing at sixteen it was that I was sick of being alone. My whole self hurt, and what hurt the deepest was isolation. I didn’t want to pretend that I was okay any more. I was far from okay, and I needed someone to hear me.

A friend took me to see a Camp Counsellor, who asked me to say a prayer I didn’t understand. I repeated something after her, asking Jesus to be the boss of me and telling God I was sorry for the stuff I’d done wrong. She smiled, as if everything was okay now. I shut my eyes against the disappointment and wondered why I should be sorry.

Something did change, but I felt worse, not better. The next day I woke to feel the dark deadweight wreck of my life resting on me like a coat I couldn’t shake off. I bawled snotty tears and let words tumble out from inside of me, a measly offering to a God I didn’t know cared, of all the aloneness I carried, and how sorry I was for for every stupid thing I’d done. I felt ashamed, and it terrified me.

Then the miracle happened.

Suddenly in front of me I saw a vision of a sky dark with clouds, and a cross, and there was a man in white robes reaching out to me. It was Him, Jesus, with me.

I stretched out my arms and told him He could have it all, my stupid sodden mess of a life, that if He wanted me I would be His, and, just like that, He took it. I didn’t feel it any more. I didn’t feel the shame in my mind, the hurt or the aloneness or the darkness or the fear. Where there had been just me, now there was me and Him, and nothing else mattered. Now I was found. Now I was wanted. Now I was rescued. Now I was loved.

The presence of Jesus stayed with me that day and the next, the way you sense someone’s presence in a room even with your eyes closed, and through that day and the next the relief spread tangibly throughout my body. I told my friend and she got out her Bible and showed me Matthew 28:20, and it was there for me, in black and white, a promise written that I could claim as mine: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Now as an adult, if I know one thing, it’s that no matter what my circumstances tell me I’m never alone, and when darkness looms and threatens there, still, is Jesus.

On Coming Home

We’re back. I know, you know that. We’ve been back for a while really, a few weeks now. Except…not so much. People ask me all the time, and have asked me pretty much since we arrived back here “Are you settling in to life back home?” They ask because it’s what you ask, and it’s a fair enough question, although the answer is really anything less than straightforward.

I’m reading this book at the moment, called “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”, by Susan Cain (yes, it’s brilliant, and yes I recommend it highly) and she makes the interesting observation that while extroverts tend to throw themselves into events, introverts tend to need time to process the meaning behind the events. Oh Hallelujah! SOMEBODY understands me!! (okay, I’m sure a lot of you do). It helps ME understand me! It helps me understand why, after being back in Australia for four weeks I finally feel now like I’m actually home, and why it’s okay that it took a while.

So yes, thank you. I’m settling into life back home. I’ve gradually shifted that amazing present to the past, and I’m embracing the memories with gusto. I’ve asked all the stupid questions “Why us? Why were we so blessed to be able to do such a thing, when so many others are struggling?” and “What’s the point of it all? How do we deal with it when we come home and step back into life as if nothing has happened, when SO MUCH happened?”

We learned a lot on that trip. We learned a lot about ourselves, about how to do family well, about how to communicate, about how to be effective parents. We didn’t always get it right, and we learned to forgive ourselves and each other and keep going. We made memories. We made family.

Lake Louise AB

Canoeing on Lake Louise, AB, Canada

I think, for all that, a little bit of bumpy adjustment time coming home has been worth it.