Tag Archive | Christmas

Let’s do lunch…

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We British have  one or two polite stock phrases readily to hand for those times when we want to say something, but don’t really have anything meaningful in mind at that moment. Apparently they are known as ‘phatic exchanges’.

‘Nice weather we’re having…’ is one, and ‘lovely day isn’t it?…’is another. Also ‘must do lunch sometime’ (when not immediately followed by an invitation), and even ‘how are you?’ is often reduced to a phatic unless we are genuinely prepared to listen to the answer.

In fact, it’s an area we can be inclined to struggle. That whole thing of finding friendly words to fill the embarrassed silence in the lift, in the queue or wherever else we happen to be momentarily stuck in the personal space of someone we don’t know well, can leave us groping for ideas.

But come the first day of December, everyone seems to leap with relieved alacrity on one more:

‘Are you ready for Christmas?’

No-one is actually really interested in whether you’ve wrapped your last present and put the final touches on the Christmas tree, whether your mince pies are made and turkey stuffed; it is simply an observation that at this time of year, all eyes tend to be focussed on the coming festivities, and an assumption is made that we’re all in the same boat, travelling in the same direction. Something to say..

Responses vary from ‘Bah, humbug’ through to a rather smug, and – depending how early in the month it is, perhaps slightly irritating –  ‘Yep… all ready!’

In the UK, recent statistics indicate that only about two thirds of people, who describe themselves as Christians, are aware that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Which leads us to draw the conclusion that the other third of Christians must have absolutely no idea what it’s all about. (Survey conducted by the Evangelical Alliance in 2016).

Slightly worrying.

In another survey, 61% of people expressed a view that Christmas is only for children, and 18% of people expressed a feeling of dread of Christmas for a whole variety of reasons – the primary one probably being that the season brings into sharp focus how isolated and hopeless our lives often feel (ComRes on behalf of Theos).

We have turned Christmas into a noisy, expensive charade that has largely lost sight of what we’re meant to be celebrating.

Let Satan get his hands on anything wonderful and he will ruin it.

The evidence for the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is too strong to be ignored. It happened over 2000 years ago, was documented by the Apostle, Matthew and by Luke, a Greek physician with tenacity and an eye for detail. Both are believed to have written their accounts within living memory of the actual events described. They clearly interviewed many of the people who had witnessed events first hand, and both have since been researched and investigated with the purpose of discrediting their accounts by some pretty weighty historians (A.N.Sherwin-White, Sir William Ramsay). Those who have investigated in any real depth have come to the same conclusions, the accounts of Matthew and Luke are authentic and can be relied upon as fact. Some of our most highly educated and investigative minds have been turned from atheism to profound faith by the simple act of reading the gospels with the intention of discrediting them. Ex barrister, now Anglican Priest, Nicky Gumbel and Oxford Academic and author, C.S.Lewis being two well known examples.

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Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was born in a smelly stable, and laid in a manger. In the style with which He has continued ever since – by appearing in the place we are least likely to look for our saving king.

So, before you lose the real joy of Christmas among tinsel, turkeys, mince pies, silly hats and the huge pressure to look as though you’re having a good time, remember this:

Christmas is not empty…

He won’t be seen among the pomp and the glitter, He won’t be heard among the noise and celebration unless you listen really hard. The birth of Jesus Christ brings real hope, not just for intellectuals or for the crashingly naïve, but hope for everyone, no matter who they are or what age they are.

The magic of Christmas is in the manger. Jesus’ style is gentle, meek and unassuming. His voice tends to be quiet, often felt rather than heard, and we need calm moments to stop and listen.

Or we may miss the greatest gift of all.

 

 

What a Tangled Web We Weave…

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The older I get, the more of a shock is the arrival of Christmas. It seems that just as I manage to get the ‘thank you‘ letters finished after last year’s onslaught, I am swept up in the throes of the festivities for the oncoming year. This year, Christmas cards have been started just hours after the nice lady in the post office told me that we’d missed the first class deadline. I’ll probably get them posted tomorrow.

At the beginning of December, with uncharacteristic forethought, Kevin and I created a list of family members and close friends who would be expecting a Christmas present, and headed off on the first of a series of shopping expeditions. Each time we found a suitable present for someone, their name was ticked off the list with an efficient flourish, and the item purchased was duly noted. After two hours of shopping, we had managed to buy four presents for four people and had remembered six people that we’d forgotten to put on the list.

But all this is as nothing when compared with my biggest anxiety of 2015.

My award for biggest anxiety of the year goes to my concerns about whether my thirteen year old son still believes in Father Christmas.

All that time ago, when I was a naïve first time mother, I was ready prey to early years professionals who had the statistics for when your child should be showing various signs of development. James was early to smile, late to walk, very early to talk, and very early to read, but I’m not sure if the healthcare system has a statistic for the time when your child should have stopped believing in Father Christmas, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and The Bogeyman.images5KQCGSLK

Well, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and The Bogeyman never featured on the list of fictional characters we introduced our son to. But Father Christmas did.

Each Christmas, for thirteen years, we have gone through the same routine on Christmas Eve. A large sock is found, and at about eleven thirty in the evening, just when we are completely sure our hopelessly excited boy is asleep, we have wrapped small presents and stuffed them into large sock. We’ve never put them at the end of his bed; instead, we’ve always hung them from the mantelpiece at the bottom of the stairs outside his room, so that Santa can find it easily when he comes down the chimney. We’ve never discussed how absurdly small that particular chimney is for a rotund man in a red suit, but we’ve always provided a small glass of brandy and a mince pie for Santa, and a carrot for the reindeer. By Christmas Day, the brandy has gone and both the mince pie and the carrot have had a polite mouthful taken from them.

James has made a few interested observations along the way, such as how often Santa uses the same pattern of wrapping paper as we do, and Kevin and I have agreed that when the expected enquiries arrive as to whether the man with a sleigh really exists, we will never lie in response to a direct question.

And so the years go by. And the direct question has never come.

And hence, my dilemma…

With so many people that haven’t experienced Jesus Christ and therefore who believe He is a lie, I had to wonder to what extent Jamie has, so far, experienced Jesus Christ, and whether being told that Santa is a lie would lead him to believe that Jesus is a lie.

You see what I mean about the tangled web?

So, this year, I figured that enough was enough… Kevin and I discussed it and the one thing that clinched it for me, was the mental image of Jamie expounding the ‘truth’ of Santa Claus as vehemently as I knew he would expound the reality of Jesus Christ. As a responsible mother, I couldn’t possibly allow it.

I prayed about it, psyched myself up, prayed about it again, planned.

What if he was angry?

Oh heck – just get on with it.

The best opportunity for discussion with Jamie is the walk back home when I meet him off the school bus. So, that’s what I decided to do.

After the initial ‘hello’s and ‘how are you’s, the conversation ran something like this:

Me: ‘ Jamie, there’s something we need to talk about.’

Jamie: ‘Uh-oh’.

Me: ‘Do you believe in Father Christmas?’

Jamie: ‘Yeah.’

Me: ‘James, I think we need to have a little talk about this…’

James: ‘I know he’s not real Mum! I just want the presents…’

 

I’ve been a mother for thirteen years…

And I still haven’t a clue.

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Stuff…

 I have, in the past, been guilty of buying presents for people with the sole intention of amusing them. I now realise that the laughter will only have lasted for a few moments, whereas the need for dusting, and ultimately the irritation, will have been ongoing. So, first of all, an apology. After writing this, I will be turning over a new leaf.

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My mother in law once made, what I suspect, was a grave error. She let her friends and family know that she loves elephants.

It was a grave error because her house is now so jam packed with elephants of all shapes and sizes as to represent a wild life scandal. She has elephant salt and pepper pots, elephant mugs, elephant duvet covers, elephant stationery holders, elephant salad utensils, stuffed furry elephants, elephant pictures, elephant plant pot holders, lamps and door mats, and elephant ornaments are three deep on every possible horizontal surface of her house. She actually reached such a point of desperation last year, that she very sweetly asked if the world would please desist from making elephant orientated purchases for her.

We do like to buy presents for those we love. And, actually, in certain situations, we sometimes seem to feel the need to buy presents for those we barely know.

There is such a demand for ’things’ to buy as presents, that there are now shops that specialise in different and original ’stuff’ on every high street. They base their entire business strategy on the misguided generosity that can result in the delighted exclamation “oh, that would do for Grandma!”

I think the polite term is ’novelty’ shops. Those that are aware of the size of the rubbish island in the Pacific Ocean have another term for it.

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I never used to understand why my grand-mother would never tell me what she wanted for a present. “Save your money”, she’d say. I thought she was just being nice. When I was in my twenties, and starting a home of my own, I couldn’t undersatnd why anyone wouldn’t want more things to fill their empty home with. I have now grasped that she was actually saying “please don’t give me any more ’stuff’ that I’m obliged to keep, to treasure, and to find a home for.”

Now I understand.

There was once a time when, every Christmas, men were given underpants, pullovers, handkerchiefs and socks; women were given smaller handkerchiefs, knickers, tights and slippers, along with a few smelly things to put in the bath. But somewhere back in the mists of time, some higher wisdom informed us that those were the ’uncool’ presents that no one wanted. Now there are retailers specialising in things that we really want. And their vastly superior knowledge (no doubt accompanied by rigorous market research) assures us that what-men-want are nose and ear hair trimmers, miniature golf sets and pool tables, lots of advanced calculators (because one’s never enough), electric fans that will display LED messages for us (are you serious?) And all kinds of incredibly expensive executive toys. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone yet, that if a man loves playing snooker, he doesn’t automatically continue to love it when the scale is reduced to four inches by six inches, and comes from China.

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Oh, and judging by an awful lot of shops in numerous shopping arcades up and down the country, women want ornaments. Hundreds of them. Apparently we’re desperate for cute kittens, cute puppies, bunnie wunnies, anything you can think of that can be made of glass, low grade silver, shiny fabric, straw, wood, or – and I shudder to say it – plastic. Am I beginning to rant here? But then, of course, we women just love dusting don’t we? There’s nothing we like being given more than something else to dust.

NO WE DON’T!

So many of us will go through agonies trying to work out what the perfect present is for someone, and, the truth is probably that if they don’t want something functional and in likely need of regular replacement, then they probably don’t want anything at all.

But, to all those who you love enough to want to give them something, what they really value is you. Your presence in their lives; smiles, laughter, memories. And whilst we in the Western world really don’t need anything, the truth is that there are people in the emerging world who really do need all kinds of things. Why not consider adopting a child on a Compassion project as a present, or buying something from World Vision, Oxfam or one of the other aid organisations who are desperately trying to relieve suffering in other parts of the world.  With the catastrophic events in Nepal recently we really can make a difference to individual lives through gifts we can choose to make…

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Oh and on a personal note, to all of those of my own nearest and dearest who might glance at this, one last thing – if the drive is so overwhelming to put something that has to be unwrapped in Kevin’s or my hands, then at the time of writing this blog, there are two hundred and forty shopping days to Christmas (the need for taking Sundays out of the maths being sadly obviated). Knickers and handkerchiefs please. And Kevin needs pullovers; no one has given him one for years and it’s getting desperate. He loves getting socks, and I love it when he gets more handkerchiefs.

And no more novelty potato peelers please, the kitchen drawer is getting difficult to close.

 

To give to the dec appeal for the Nepal Earthquake please PLEASE consider giving a gift (that is more personal and meaningful than a furry elephant!) by visiting Tearfund’s website and their Nepal appeal.  

 

 

What to keep and what to let go

What to keep and what to let go….

Letting Go

This year, rather than make promises to myself as the chimes started at twelve o’clock on New Year’s Eve, I prepared in advance. Nothing new, just part of my ongoing battle to get closer to God… I’m learning to let go, to give in to His plan, His benevolence, His will.

If you look in any of the drawers or cupboards around the house where my husband and I live with our son, Jamie, you would find an astonishing number of them contain stuff that ’might become useful one day’. I am a hoarder… clothes, padded envelopes, rubber bands, outgrown toys, old business cards, defunct mobile phones. I just looked what was in our kitchen drawer and I have to say, the list was comprehensive, and all tied up with unraveled string.

But I would venture to suggest that the physical stuff that I cling onto is probably as nothing when compared to the mental, emotional and spiritual mill stone that I drag around behind me. I’m not quite sure why we collect it all up, what it is in our psyche that feels the need to hold tight, that makes us afraid to make room in our hearts, spirits and minds for new possibilities, new opportunities, new relationships and most importantly for God to be able to work in our lives… but hold onto it, we do.

Even when I realise that handing it all over to God would be a positive step, the act of doing so evades me. Hurts, failed relationships, resentments for long past injustices. And most pointless of all, I hold on tightly to the very things I’m trying to get God’s help with… I really should know better. When we ask God to intervene in our lives, He does actually need real freedom to act.

Perhaps I should tell you how I came to be able to sing.

When I was sixteen I started going regularly to church with a school friend. It was my first real experience of a ’live’ church and I loved it.

One night we were travelling home after the service and I realised that the others were discussing a rehearsal for a band. I asked what they were talking about and was told that they were planning to start a band playing Christian music.

Well, I couldn’t play an instrument and I’d always been told I couldn’t sing, but, nonetheless I felt I could have a go at backing vocals. I muscled my way in, and as a result I felt I had achieved a level of cool that I’d never hoped to see in my whole life.

Until the first rehearsal. When my lack of talent became abundantly clear to all of us… worst of all, to me.

The rest of the band – bless them – were clearly in an uncomfortable dilemma. Should they get rid of me and lose the dreadful noise in the back row? Or should they give me a tambourine, take away the microphone and reduce my impact on the sound as much as possible, thereby never actually having the embarrassment of sacking me? Looking back, I feel for them.

I remember how I felt, and I promise you, it was painful. I knew what I had to do… I needed to admit my shortcomings and leave the band graciously; but that would mean admitting to all my school friends the truth about my lack of ability… Oh boy! I’d just achieved some small level of cool and I was about to lose it again?

I was desperate.

I prayed, asking God to help me; I prayed for courage, humility, honesty. Everything I didn’t have and knew I needed. I realised that my only way through this maze was to hand it over to God completely. To let go.

I spent the ensuing week praying. I didn’t sing once. I was delighted to realise that God would have other, equally exciting plans for me.

The next rehearsal found me sitting and watching the band practice without feeling the need to take part myself. Thank you God. I felt completely in His hands, completely in His will. Peaceful.

As the end of the rehearsal arrived, it seemed that the leader of the band suddenly became aware of my presence. There were only a few of us left in the room and he took the opportunity to hear some of the songs I’d been writing. “Come on Pen” he said, “let’s hear what you’ve been up to”.

I sang through a couple of ditties I’d put together. He looked at me quizzically. “Sing this” he said, giving me one of the songs the band had been working on. And then “sing this”, and then again “how about this one”.

There was no other way of looking at it. My voice had changed so much as to be beyond recognition. God, given my complete submission to His will, had given me not only what I had asked for…

He had given me the very desire of my heart.

It’s something I’m working on… nothing new. Part of my ongoing battle to get closer to God… I’m learning to let go, to give in to His plan, His benevolence, His will.

One day, with His help, I’ll do it.

Christmas Lady

Did I mention my son?…

The story behind our song, Christmas Lady. Click here to listen to Christmas Lady:

Christmas Lady

I’m a mother like many mothers, and it would probably be fair to say that I am disproportionately delighted with my child. You’ve probably met one like me at parties; we’re tiresomely obsessed with our little darlings to the exclusion of most other more interesting conversation.

To quote a rather more well known and less overstated parent… ‘In him I am well pleased’; in fact, let’s not beat about the bush, apart from the odd spell of high blood pressure at about the time we’re trying to get off on the school run, he is the veritable apple of my eye.

However, as has been said many times before… you worry. From the moment they arrive, until the moment (I suspect) that I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil, I dare say I will continue to worry over one thing or another, some undeniably scary, some absurdly trivial.

I’ve had my nights sitting by a hospital bed while machines went ’beep-beep’, praying to a seemingly absent God; I’ve had my moments of astounded delight at my son’s charms and achievements… and I’ve had my moments of longing to protect him from every fall, every knock in confidence and every unkind friend.

I battle with those issues that go with parenthood… when to hold tight, when to let go; when to encourage, when to rein in. I am so mortal, so inept, so unqualified.

And my son is, in most people’s eyes, just an ordinary boy.

So what must it have been like for Mary? A teenage parent, wholly innocent. Her son was anything but ordinary. The birth in a stable, a hasty flight from the plans of Herod, and then watching him grow into… well… God. How did she feel as she watched him grow up, walking, talking, running, his early signs of exceptional wisdom and understanding, the events surrounding his baptism by John and then that first and numerous subsequent miracles? His teaching, his purity of spirit, his insight and his kindness. Had she been able to comprehend what was to come?

I can’t zip my mouth at important moments with my own son (I called him ”poppet” when cheering for him at a football match once; that caused amusement among the other mums and dads.) I can just hear myself if I was in her place…”Jesus, please keep away from the Pharisees”; “Jesus, please stop winding up the Sanhedrin”, “Jesus, please don’t do miracles on the Sabbath, you know how angry they get…”

And here we are, over two thousand years later. Has motherhood changed so much? Are we able to comprehend what she must have gone through?

Did Mary the mother tickle the tummy of Baby Jesus? Did she kiss his tiny feet? And as he grew up, was she crippled with anxiety when she became aware of those who longed to hurt him? We are rightly horrified by the loss of a child… I shudder to think of the pain she must have experienced…

And then… he rose again. My imagination sputters, flickers and goes blank.

I’m hoping to meet Mary in heaven, and when I do, I’ve got a lot of questions for her.