The return of the sensitive cynic

It’s been a while. Almost a year since I wrote my last blog post on Christmas Eve. I didn’t mean for that to happen; I wanted a bit of a break for a few weeks but a year? I didn’t see that coming. I’m thinking you probably didn’t miss me and may have actually forgotten who I am anyway. I’m the blogger who can’t stand Christmas so much I write a whole series about it. Yeah, I thought it was a pretty stupid thing to do too but hey ho.

So, it’s a little late in the year for talking about such things, but my New Year resolutions for 2015 were

1) Pay my loved ones more attention

2) Work on an album of songs

I’d say I tried but mostly failed on resolution 1 and didn’t bother trying number 2… and therefore failed dismally.

I certainly didn’t resolve to let my blog page gather dust, so yeah, another fail.

It’s funny how life just takes you by surprise isn’t it? Last year was crazy and turbulent and glorious and heartbreaking; an emotional roller-coaster. A year of learning about loss. This year has been crazy and wonderful and exhausting and totally unexpected. I didn’t expect to have no time or inclination to write. I had no clue that I’d come back to it after a year, typing with one hand while breastfeeding a seven week old baby girl, in a new home living quite a different life to the one I had this time last year.

Turns out typing with one hand is painfully slow and annoying so I might just have to get to the point here….

After feeling like I wanted to hide away from the world while pregnant and getting acquainted with my little bundle I now feel ready in my heart to get back to the harsh but wonderful world of blogging. Trouble is, I don’t even have time to keep up with the laundry and the dishes right now, so I need to ease myself back in gently. My life is thick with the fog of falling in love with a newborn, with delicious snuggling and gazing and heart melting moments to cherish, and with trying to make sure everyone has clean underwear and a meal on the table of some description. This is a time of my life when things are just messy and I have to go with the flow in each moment, just to keep up with the basics. It’s a time when I find myself doing things like not brushing my hair for five days because I left the brush in a pile somewhere and trying to remember that I must buy a new one urgently. And then forgetting again.

So to get back to it gently, I’m going to re-launch some of the blog posts from last year’s Christmas Survival series – not all of them, just on days when I can find a minute to switch on the laptop. Preparing for Christmas this year is going to throw up a whole load of new challenges with the baby, so I will be glad of a bit of a reminder of coping mechanisms. I must’ve found that last year’s surviving the season series made a bit of an impact on my attitude, as this year I’ll admit I haven’t been quite as whingy as December approaches and I’m even thinking it could be quite nice to get the decs out soon, and then I see the mess I can’t manage to clear and change my mind again. The Christmas grumpiness in me hasn’t disappeared entirely, there’s definitely more taming of the Scrooge to happen yet….

I’m worried about becoming type-cast as a seasonal blogger – the type who hibernates all year only to come to life when the tree lights come on. But I hope that in the new year I’ll be back, unless life takes another twist and I want to hibernate again. Who knows? I’m looking forward to blogging about something other than Christmas that’s for sure.

Here’s to another chapter and another December coming round too quickly for my liking. Cheers, and all that jazz,

Naomi

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A Christmas Carol nightmare.

I had another little look at my list of things I struggle with at Christmas:

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 I think I’ve done pretty well this year to overcome and survive most of those thanks to my Survival Guide. But there’s one that remains a real problem – Christmas music. I can’t bear it. I think it’s because it’s on every where you go for two months before Christmas, and eventually, it does my head in. Not to mention the fact that I’m a musician, which means I’ve spent many a Christmas rehearsing and performing the same old music, to the point that I really need something fresh.

Oh, and loads of them are just frankly depressing. We have to listen to “Blue Christmas” and “Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away”. Oh please. How is that spreading Christmas cheer?

I spotted a really cheap Christmas album yesterday, and despite my husband’s warnings that it was a bad idea, I went ahead and popped it in the trolley.

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I played it today during the crazy last minute tidy-up (which is still not finished). The kids hated it. My husband begged me to turn it off.

I left it on just to torment them (‘Tis the season of goodwill I realise, but I’m allowed the odd childish moment, surely?). And then I realised, they were right. It was just another awful Christmas album.

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So depressingly s–l–o—-w….. Pah! I’m fed up. I need a decent Christmas album, but at this point now, I’m too tight to spend any more money on something that frankly might be just as awful. I love acappella choral music, but it gets a proper thumbs down from the rest of the family, and let’s be honest, it’s not ideal for playing while cleaning or during the Grand Presents Opening. You need something with a good foot-tapping beat.

But this is progress. I mean at least I’m considering buying a Christmas Album this year. Usually I try to hide my husband’s Christmas album collection from him (more childish behaviour. Sorry).

There is however one song I’m quite keen on. That’s the one my band recorded a few months ago. It’s called “Tacky Christmas Song”. You can see it on Youtube or download the song on iTunes.

Hope you enjoy it!

My thought for the day is to think over how I’ve got on with the entire Christmas Survival Guide so far, since it’s nearly the Big Day. To reflect on how it’s gone, what’s worked, what hasn’t, what I might want to do differently.

The task for the day is to pick my top three steps from the whole Survival Guide and share them with you.

So here goes….

The mindsets behind the mask (Day 11)

Why “why” is a wonderful word which works wonders (Day 21)

Shut up and listen (Day 22)

I’m not sure why, actually I changed my mind a few times on those, but anyway, those are the ones I think made the biggest impact on me. I also loved my husband’s debut blog post “Grated Expectations”.

I’d love to know if there’s a favourite of yours which made an impact on you…

So, tomorrow is the last step before I sign off for the festivities. Nearly there now….

A Tale of Two Sisters

Day 7 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to someone’s house for Christmas, and they were so engrossed by your dynamic presence, they didn’t bother to make you a meal? If so, how did you feel? Flattered? Or sorely neglected and hungry?

One more question… Have you ever been invited to someone’s house for Christmas, and they spent the whole time in the kitchen, cooking up a lavish feast for you to enjoy? And then, when it was time to sit up to the table, they were so stressed out and exhausted they could barely be bothered to eat, let alone talk to you?

Ok, I lied. There’s one more question (I really mean it this time)… Although you might not be able to answer “yes” to either of the above, which scenario do you think is better?

I’ve gotta be honest, I hate being hungry, but I hate being in a house with a stressed cook even more (especially when I am the cook, I’m a nightmare).

There’s a proverb in the Bible that says “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife”.

There can be plenty of feasting and family strife at Christmas can’t there?

  • Who’s not helping in the kitchen?

  • Who forgot to take the turkey out the freezer?

  • Whose toy is better than whose?

  • Who cooks the best sprouts?

  • Who let the rabbit near the Christmas tree lights?

  • Who bought their wife a diet book for Christmas?

We try to gloss over it with feasting, but it continues to simmer.

Even before Christmas was a thing, Jesus’ arrival was the subject of domestic disagreements. Take two sisters-in-strife, Martha and Mary, who opened their home to Jesus while he was in town. Immediately Martha cracked on with the cooking, putting together a lavish meal. After all, their guest was no other than the Son of God. You’d have to make an effort wouldn’t you really? You’d probably wish you’d known sooner, so you could’ve prepared a banquet.

Martha knew how to look after a special guest. She wasn’t gonna be handing him any dry crust that’s for sure.

Feeling the heat in the kitchen, and unable to cope doing the preparations on her own, she started to silently seethe with anger at her lazy sister. Why did Mary think she could get away with sitting on her backside? So unfair.

Meanwhile, Mary was oblivious to any idea that Jesus might need to be fed, along with all the others who had invited themselves in to hear what he had to say. She was sitting right at his feet, drinking in his every word. Why would she want to be in the kitchen and miss these nuggets of wisdom falling from the mouth of the Lord himself?

Well, Martha couldn’t keep her mouth shut any longer. She came storming out of the kitchen, and asked their esteemed guest the question: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Enter stage right – STRIFE & STRESS.

M and MRight now, it doesn’t matter how delicious the meal she serves is, the atmosphere is thickened with animosity and it’s not gonna disperse by dinner time. Everyone will smile and say “Thank you, that was delicious Martha!”, but they will be leaving with a bitter taste in their mouths that they will never forget. So, how did Jesus respond? Did he say “Ladies, ladies… work together now, come on, play fair. This is a special time, can’t you just get along?”? Well, no. As usual he said something a little more unpredictable…. “Martha, Martha….you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”.

I can imagine him saying – “look, I probably won’t be with you for long. My days are numbered, and then you’ll look back on when I came to stay and you won’t remember a word I said. And you’ll regret it for the rest of your days.”

It’s important to take care of our loved ones and our guests, to feed them, to make them feel special. But really, it’s not the main thing. I realise that food plays a unique role in special occasions. I can’t imagine planning a celebration without it. Eating is something we all do, and it’s a wonderful thing to share a meal. It invites connection (as long as we all like what’s on offer!). But it’s not guaranteed to bring people together. It can’t smooth over the cracks in our relationships. And if we don’t actually have time to connect because we’ve been too busy planning the “perfect” meal, it’s just functional food. It might fill our bellies, but it won’t satisfy our need for meaningful connection with the people around us.

I don’t think I need to throw the baby out with the bath water and just forget the trimmings altogether, in the name of spending time with loved ones. I just need to reign in the perfectionism. Nice as it would be to be a domestic goddess, it’s more sensible to aim for simplicity, so that I can save time and energy for what’s truly important – the matters of the heart.

Thought for today

Although there are many levels of meaning to this story, I think the most relevant message to me today is this…

Jesus is reminding his hosts that he wants to really connect with them in person. As much as he likes to see us nurturing others by making sure they are fed and warm, what he values the most is our presence.

Imagine that – A friend who is saying “come spend time with me, hang out with me, listen to me, talk to me. Even if it means you don’t do anything for me”. Imagine that that person is God in human form. I don’t know about you but, well, that just blows my mind. It’s almost too unbelievable to be believed.

But I believe it.

Task for today

It’s all too easy to get caught up in doing stuff, and no more so than at Christmas-time. Whether that’s helping others out, or fulfilling family, community and church commitments, or just doing stuff I want to do. Sometimes I enjoy using my God-given gifts a little too much and I just take on too big a project. A project like, let’s just say, erm, 24 blog posts in a row by Christmas Eve. That’s quite a big commitment. I might love doing it, but it becomes an empty gesture if I just haven’t got time to sit at Jesus’ feet and just be with him for a while.

I keep finding myself back in Martha’s shoes. And they don’t really fit me. So with that in mind, today’s task is to find my inner Mary again. I think it might take me a few days.

I’m going to knock my perfectionism on the head and give myself three days to renew my spirit, and get back to the feet of Jesus. I’m gonna just make some time, amidst the Christmas madness, to sit with him. Talk to him, listen to him, love him, marvel at him, enjoy him. I believe he’s waiting for me to get off the treadmill, so he can lavish me with some TLC.

Over the next few days I will be re-posting all the steps from the last 7 days.

See you on Thursday – Day 11!

PS – did you notice any mistakes in yesterday’s post on perfectionism? It took all of my strength not to feed my perfectionist streak and go back and correct them. But now my will is breaking. I’m going in to make those corrections, so it’s nice and perfect….

Bible extracts taken from:

Proverbs 17.1

Luke 10.40-41

Leave me alone world.

When I woke up this morning, I just felt, to use a much overused word of the times, “meh.”

It wasn’t depression (I know what that feels like), it wasn’t even glass half empty thinking, it was just plain “I just can’t face it today”, and by “it”, I just mean living life, being awake and having to function. To be fair to me, I am completely and utterly exhausted, recovering from a stomach virus and so I’m probably just in need of a good meal and lacking in a few nutrients. Yeah, must be a lack of B vitamins.

I dragged myself out of bed at 7am (ish) and headed in zombified fashion towards the kettle, my usual routine, but today the heaviness was crushing me. It dawned on me what date it was.

15 years since I met my lovely husband. A day to celebrate!

Pay day (for my husband) – Phew!

I should be happy! Why am I feeling so low? I have two beautiful children, a home and food on the table, a husband who adores me, who just spent the last few days when he wasn’t working taking care of things at home, willingly, happily, so that I could rest. I mean he even held my hair for me when I was throwing up in the loo! (And cleaned said loo beforehand for me!). Yes, I am blessed beyond belief.

I am a musician, I play with some brilliant musicians, I’m doing some really exciting stuff with music at the moment. I love it so much, and when I’m playing good music, I’m literally in a state of bliss.

Most of all, I have Jesus! Hallelujah! The joy of the Lord is my strength!

Yep. All true. But still, that cloud of weariness, of can’t-face-the-world-ness persisted.

Meh.

Why? Today, it is not the fact that I lost my much-loved mum-in-law and had a miscarriage within a month of each other during the summer. Those things, as heartbreaking as they were, were not on my mind this morning. Even though I wrote a blog yesterday about the whole experience, pouring my fragile heart out, shedding tears, and then lost the whole damn thing just as I finished it. I knew I couldn’t write it again for a long while, it was too emotionally exhausting.

But it wasn’t that that was making my day dark this morning.

I should have prayed and read my Bible instead. My normal routine, while clutching my mug of tea. My little bit of peace and quiet before waking the kids. But I couldn’t face any deep and meaningful thinking about life. And I couldn’t be bothered to talk. So instead I bombarded my mind with Facebook statuses and images about, um, LIFE. Good move. I scrolled through with half opened eyes, quickly, because I couldn’t really be bothered to read anything properly.

I am confronted, at 7 am, cuppa in hand, with LIFE in all its beauty, it’s ugliness, it’s mystery, it’s infuriatingness, (I realise that’s not a word, sorry, but, well, meh) – all shot at close range at my fragile, sleepy mind like rapid gun fire.

One mother is going to do a nature project with her children about something my son would love. Why don’t I get off my lazy butt and do stuff like this? I’ve been talking about it for ages and not actually DONE anything about it. But this mother has.

Sigh. “I am not a good enough mother”.

One person is lamenting the germs shared on public transport. Mentions something about Ebola. I feel sorrow for the people, deep sorrow, for them, those who are seeing it ruin their whole community, losing loved ones to it. Some people are risking their lives to help. Not me. Me, I’m too knackered to get out of my pyjamas.

Someone is ill. Needs prayer. A Bishop has been cleared of some allegations, someone nearly missed their plane, someone wants me to help save the polar bears, someone wants me to buy a spa party planning kit (ha! yeah right), someone I went to school with is holding a random baby I know nothing about (a quick thought flashes in my mind that I should be blooming by now), someone is remembering a lost loved one today, someone is telling me that “life is a rollercoaster, you just gotta ride it” (please sod off now), someone is excited about the Christmas markets (no, Christmas stress, leave me alone it’s October for heaven’s sake!), someone shows me a picture of their cat (ok, that’s cute but not enough to cheer me up), someone quotes a hymn about Jesus and  hard trials and something about “though the whole world against me convene, I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between”, someone shares a picture of a dog collapsed on the floor and the caption “I just can’t handle life today“, someone is so excited about blah blah, someone has the best hubby in the world (really?) and another angry about blah blah. Someone is sharing a bluegrass song called “Life is like a Mountain Railroad”.

You got that right.

I wander into the kitchen and turn on the radio while I make up the children’s lunch boxes, get them breakfast, empty the dishwasher. I’m not really listening, I’m beating myself up that I just can’t seem to get back on that damn horse and achieve my goals. I remind myself that I did actually work myself to exhaustion to get the house back in order the other week and that’s probably why I got ill and now feel too tired to do anything. Alright, maybe I’ll let myself off a bit.

An interview with Ann Widdecombe comes on the radio and bursts into my consciousness (she’s got that voice you just can’t tune out…):

“So Ann, how do you manage to achieve your goals, to write books etc when you are so busy?”

“You’ve just got to sit down and write. Like my mother always said, things don’t get done themselves! I’m sorry there’s no other way around it, you just have to get on with it. Sometimes you take too much on and you have to work through that, but generally, if you want to do something, just get on and do it!” (or words to that effect).

Good advice Ann. I turn off the radio. But today is not one of those “just get on and do it days”. When life is on-the-edge-of-your-seat a plain disaster, I immediately pray. But when I just feel “meh”, like there’s no sense of urgency to get a smile back on my face, I sometimes just want to sit it out a bit. To explore it. Wallow in it. I used to immediately search for a plaster of sorts, a quick fix Bible verse or praise song. But today, I just want to feel my “meh-ness” in all it’s fullness.

I don’t want to become so cloudy that everything turns to darkness though, so I turn on some nice chilled out gospel bluegrass album and eventually some song called “The Unclouded Day” comes on. Oh the irony. But all I can do is listen to the violin and mandolin playing and think “I will never be that awesome”.

Even I am annoying myself now. Pull yourself together woman!

Yes counting your blessings helps. Thanking God for the good things, it’s good advice.

Yes praying and reading the psalms helps. It’s helped me more times than I care to remember.

Yes, a cup of tea is always a good tonic when you feel those blues.

All those lovely positive quotes on Facebook, not bad advice. Usually. But today they can all xxxx right off.

Yes, knowing that one day I’ll Fly Away to God’s Celestial Shore (Hallelujah by and by!), where sorrow and sighing shall flee away, can help me sometimes when life is an uphill struggle. But today, well, just no.

But I don’t want to write a three point blog-sermon that says 1) Here are the challenges of life 2) Here is me empathising that life is tough 3) Me concluding that it’s the times of difficulty when we know God’s love and comfort, when we change the most, learn the most blah blah blah (Hallelujah!) so just count your blessings and smile!

I might write one of those blogs one day, they can be helpful.

But today I’m writing to you honestly, I’m staying “meh” long enough to write about it from the vantage point of “I just feel low today” rather than “hey I felt blue earlier, but then I did XYZ and now I’m happy again!”

There will always be blessings mixed with frankly horrible, evil, terrible things in our lives. When I lost my mother in law and my 11 week pregnancy, it was a time of wonderful healing in my marriage. It was a time of doors being opened with my music. It was a time when I learned stuff I could only learn through experiencing loss. It was a time of growth I can’t describe. Honestly I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I laughed as I met with friends, played at gigs, within a few days and weeks of losing my baby. I still don’t understand how I could have done that. But I did.

And then, only a few weeks ago, I stood in the middle of the supermarket while choosing baked beans and sobbed my heart out about the baby I lost. Took me completely by surprise. I expected the tannoy to announce “Flooded floor in the tins aisle”, such was my uncontrollable outpouring of grief. But people just walked on by. No one took any notice of this strange woman holding onto her trolley, as she attempted to stifle wild sobs on each inhale of breath. Sobs which were escaping without permission, leaking out from within the emotional pain which had surfaced following a casual glance at an innocent mum-to-be, who’d been lovingly stroking her bump in the laundry aisle.

We’d laughed within seconds of seeing our beautiful mum/mum-in-law take what we thought was her last breath, before making us all jump with another, final one, (“that’s mum all over – stubborn to the end!” we’d said affectionately). And then we’d wept bitterly. And we’ve been crying, and laughing, and feeling everything in between ever since.

This is the stuff of life. The irony, the mystery, the totally messed-up-ness of life and death and loving and losing. The making the most of precious moments, tinged with the sadness of knowing they won’t last forever. Whether with a child who is growing up too fast, or a dying parent.

Sometimes it’s ok to just be meh. Or be depressed. Or be wildly ecstatic. Or to pull yourself up by your boot straps and get on with it. There is a time for everything. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to be silent and a time to speak. Everything in its season. But often, the seasons seem to all come at once. It’s not the pursuit of that emotion called happiness that makes us happy. It’s not being happy that makes us happy. It just heaps more pressure on us. I have more to say about such things, but not today.

One thing I know, Jesus felt it all and everything in between. And I love him for that. It’s comforting. That’s not my point 3 of the sermon by the way. I’m just saying.

Now excuse me while I go and draw the curtains, cry my eyes out, feel sorry for myself for a while, stress about the responsibility of parenting and feel overwhelmed about what to cook for dinner (while feeling guilty for being overwhelmed and not grateful for food on the table!) Then I might just eat that chocolate my husband bought me and send him another silly snapchat of me looking fed up with a caption of “15 loooooong ass years!!!!”, giggling my head off.

Meh.

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The Cross is my Crutch

Chris·tian [kris-chuhn] – adjective 1. A person who makes major life decisions based on things they cannot see and believes in a God who cannot be proven to exist. 2. A weak person, who needs faith as a crutch to get them through life. 3. A person who doesn’t want to stand on his/her own two feet and be … Continue reading