Gifts from ajar

Last year I decided to make a lot of my Christmas gifts because I wanted to give something that didn’t break the bank but also had a nice personal touch. So I decided to stick to  a theme to also save time on shopping and making: namely, put stuff in jars, or if posting the gift, a home-made bag.

I love jars. I’m literally obsessed with them. I’m like a jar squirrel. I hide them everywhere and forget where I put them, much to the frustration of my husband.

This year I’ll be doing nothing of the sort – I’m no superwoman and there’s every chance I’ll need to pull out the”just had a baby” excuse.

Anyway, the jars and bags seemed to go down a treat, so here are some ideas that I shared on my blog last year, that could inspire those of you who prefer the idea of staying away from the shops and making your own gifts. Obviously you have to buy the ingredients and materials but that can be done quickly online once you know what you’re making.

Spa in a Jar 

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…..Filled with an assortment of home-made or bought creams, bath stuff, herbal tea bags, body brush, essential oils etc. I’ve been busy experimenting with a new kitchen activity: making my own body products as gifts. It’s been so much fun, and way better than fighting my way through the shops. But if you’re out of time, shop-bought body products would work nicely too.photo (56)

Here are some of the things I made to go into it:

Hard lotion bars (in homemade wax paper bags) – Made with Shea butter, bees wax and olive oil, and coconut oil infused with chamomile and calendular and lavender.

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Soothing balm (Coconut oil, beeswax, lavender oil, Vitamin E oil)

Lavender bath soak (Epsom salts, pink Himalayan rock salt, coconut oil, rose petals).

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Bath “tea” in home-sewn muslin bags (which my children helped sew). Two different ones made with oatmeal, sunflower seeds and lavender buds, and also epsom salts, rose petals and chamomile flowers.

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 Two other really great ideas I haven’t tried yet are – “Ginger and coconut oil sugar body scrub” and “How to make 100 natural body care gifts in an hour”.

I had a few other Jar ideas:

  • Jar for the car – Fill it with handy journey items – Some money and loose change. First aid, snacks (with a long shelf-life), cloths, nappy sacks (handy to put rubbish in), small bottle of mineral water, pen and paper, kids’ colouring book and crayons, mini travel games/cards.

  • Hairy Jar – Containing hair things accessories, bought or home-made. Clips, bands, pins, headbands, hair ruffles.

  • Chocolate Jar – Need I say more? Ah yes, but to make it more creative, I would make my own RAW chocolate for them (much healthier) and also include instructions and ingredients for them to make their own, plus optional silicone moulds.

  • Man Jar  – (Actually, Man Bag sounds so much better than Man Jar. So you could make him a lovely masculine bag (blue of course.) Ok so I’m not a fan of “genderizing” items, but if you’re stuck for something to give a man, this is just a thought… Mini packs of lego, travel toiletries, shoe laces (tied around the top) a torch, pocketknife, socks, bookmark, matches, oh and a tea towel 😉

Just to clarify, I (a girl) would love to receive a “Man Jar”, bar the Lego. Not because I don’t like Lego, but because I can’t follow building instructions. And obviously I would LOVE the jar itself to satisfy my jar obsession….) By the way, I found Ikea to be a great place for Jars. And cheap too. Being in Ikea was like being in jar heaven. (Other Jar sellers are available…just saying).

So I was saying that I made bags right? Well, did I mention that I haven’t really ever got the hang of the sewing machine, or even really done that much sewing before? Well, my boys love sewing so I decided I had better start learning. I *really* struggle to visualise written and verbal (and even pictured) instructions – I mean, it’s a real problem. So I needed a bit of help from the other half (you know, the one who has two people’s share of instruction-following skills), but I am so happy to say that I’ve managed to make bags and hair bands…without tears and tantrums (Ok, that last bit was a slight tinkering with the truth, alright?)

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I also made a toddler “bag of discovery” out of cute material with trains on it and inside I put –

  • small toys

  • A kaleidoscope

  • A cute sensory play box full of trinkets like shells, marbles, buttons, shiny things (With a note to say: NB: Small parts – Strictly to be played with alongside a responsible adult!!!)

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  • Homemade sensory playdough – with rose petals and lavender buds, glitter and lavender oil, wrapped first in wax paper and then shiny material which they can play with.

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For children, we filled a loo roll (yes, the ultimate Blue Peter item) with the following: A homemade bookmark, some dried fruit, some marbles and a headband (for the girls). Then pushed in the loo roll ends and tied with a bow:

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The teachers will also get a jar. Teachers must be able to find a million uses for a jar! Inside they will get some of the toddler playdough, AKA “Stressbusting doughball”. They can sniff and squish the lavendery dough every time my child drives them nuts. They’ll also get some post-it notes, a book mark (tied round the top) and some of the above body care products.

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So after all that, I’m feeling pretty shattered, but a lot better than if I’d set foot inside the shops. Kitchen and sewing based tantrums are a little more private than Black Friday based ones….

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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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The Ghosts of Christmas

It’s finally here! I thought it would never come! Christmas Eve! I’ve had a blast I really have, and I really feel like I can toss my “bah humbug” hat in the bin. I’ll never be one of those types who starts getting excited for Christmas in September, but for once, I feel like I’m free of all those things which keep me in a spirit of Christmas dread. Oh yes, it really has been a case of “The Taming of the Scrooge” here.

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I’ll be back in the New Year and won’t be mentioning the “C” word for at least 8 months…. I promise. Wishing you a “blue skies Christmas”….

Naomi 

Day 24 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide

All too often we get an unwanted visitor at Christmas – the Ghost of Christmas Past haunts our present day and has the power to tear it to pieces.

 Memories of….

  •  A lost loved one

  • A far away loved one

  • Love turned sour

  • Past mistakes

  • Past hurts

  • Past disappointments

 ….eat us up inside and cast a shadow over us, especially at Christmas.

 This Christmas is going to be the first without my mum-in-law who passed away in June.

This Christmas I’m going to be acutely aware of a big empty space inside me where I’d expected to feel a baby kicking, after we had a miscarriage in July.

 That hurts. It hurts so much, it takes my breath away sometimes.

 I don’t plan on sweeping that pain under the carpet. Equally I don’t plan on being so caught up in what might have been that I miss the present moment.

I believe in letting myself feel whatever I feel, and not feeling that I have to hide it so that others don’t feel uncomfortable. Life is not all about just putting a smile on your face and getting on with it. It’s a rich tapestry of love, loss, joy and pain. Of course, we all prefer to be on the mountain top all the time, but the fact is, life in all it’s fullness requires us to take the long journey and to experience the mountain tops, the valleys, the plateaux, the beautiful meadows and the dark forests.

I’m learning to embrace it all.

I remember one year, when I was in my early twenties, that I was so devastated by a long-term relationship break up which happened just a few days before Christmas day, that I couldn’t even eat my Christmas dinner. I tried to put a brave face on it, but my life had just fallen apart. I just felt sick and empty inside and I dampened the atmosphere everywhere I went.

Other times, I’ve let a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future come and take my eyes of the present. I’ve been so caught up with “what if’s” and worries that I’ve ruined it for myself sometimes. Wanting so badly for the future to turn out a certain way, worrying that everything will go wrong. Trying to control it all.

I don’t want my Christmas this year to be ruled by the ghosts of the past or ghosts of the future. I want to enjoy the present moment and be a blessing to others around me too.

I don’t think it’s enough to just focus on the present, to practise “mindfulness”. It’s a great thing to be able to do, but I believe there needs to be deep level healing if we want experience the present with peace and joy.

There is a ghost which has the power to do that. I’ve seen this ghost at work in my life and my husband’s life. And I’ve seen my marriage, once full of bitterness and tension, healed and given a fresh burst of life. Yes, there is a ghost who can walk into our past with healing power and write us a new future. A ghost who can help us to live in the present with joy and peace and wisdom….

 …The Holy Ghost.

You see, we focus on the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and I’m all for that, but we often forget that it was the Holy Ghost who “fathered” the baby in a miraculous, immaculate conception.

Don’t freak out on me. Please. Because if you can grasp this, you will find power to exorcise those ghosts of the past and the future. If you want to. Or just stop reading now and get back to “reality”. It’s your choice.

Here’s what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit – the modern translation of the Holy Ghost….

“I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, for it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, for he lives with you now and some day shall be in you. No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm—I will come to you….

“I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Comforter instead of me — and by the Comforter I mean the Holy Spirit—he will teach you much, as well as remind you of everything I myself have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid”.

When I lay awake half the night, bleeding and not knowing if I’d lost my baby or not, it was the most horrible place of “purgatory”. It felt like the night would go on forever, while I waited for my scan appointment. It was the same when we had to wait weeks to find out whether my mum-in-law had untreatable lung cancer, or just a bad cough.

Waiting, waiting, and more agonising waiting.

As I lay awake, I felt my mind go to a verse in the Bible, as if the Holy Spirit was guiding me and comforting me.

It wasn’t a verse I wanted to hear. It wasn’t a verse I would have chosen if I was trying to imagine a verse of comfort for myself.

“Even though the fig trees are all destroyed, and there is neither blossom left nor fruit; though the olive crops all fail, and the fields lie barren; even if the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be happy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; he will give me the speed of a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.”

And yet I knew, at that very moment, that it was the best thing I could read. I’d wanted the Holy Spirit to tell me that everything was going to be alright. But instead, what I learned was that the worst thing I can ever do is to depend on a circumstance, person or thing for my peace and joy. If I do that, then I will spend my entire life haunted by the ghosts of the past and the ghosts of the future, bouncing between worry and anxiety for the things and people I might lose, and an ache for those things and people I have indeed lost.

Jesus offers complete peace and joy regardless of circumstance. That means that if I’m in the trenches, he’s there. If I’m on cloud nine, he’s there. He’s not going anywhere. He will always be with me:

 “Yes, he alone is my Rock, my rescuer, defense, and fortress—why then should I be tense with fear when troubles come?”

Jesus was a man of sorrows and also great joy and peace. He wept for his dead friend Lazarus, even though he knew he was about to bring him back to life. It’s not only possible to experience the full range of joy and sorrow and everything in between, I believe it’s the only way to experience a full, true life. It’s okay to laugh and feel deep sorrow at the same time. It’s ok to feel sorrow and yet a deep sense of joy, simultaneously. I wrote more about this in my blog post “Leave me alone world“.

I’m not a great fan of campaigning to keep the Christ in Christmas. That’s because, for those who aren’t interested in Jesus, why would I want them to celebrate his birth? It’s just an empty gesture. If you want to, make Christ the centre of your Christmas. If you don’t, don’t.

As for me, Christ is the centre of my life. He’s the centre of everything I do. I don’t know how to live without him, now that I’ve tasted life with him. Christ isn’t just the centre of my Christmas, he’s the centre of my day, my night, my ups and my downs. Whether I’m partying or falling apart, I’ve got him to go to, to love and to be loved by.

God doesn’t ever promise that life will be a bed of roses. He offers something better. He promises to be there in the thick of it with us. He promises to bring beauty out of ashes, joy after sorrow, healing to the wounded, comfort to the hurting, wisdom to the clueless.

And so, may your Christmas be filled with joy, peace, contentment, and love, no matter what your past, present or future was, is, or will be.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”…this Christmas and forever-more.

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Bible references:

– John 14

-Habbakuk 3.17-19

– Psalm 62.6

Shut up and listen

 Day 22 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.

The title of this survival guide gives it away, but I am a highly sensitive person – or HSP for short. This means that when I’m around people all the time, I need to de-socialise afterwards. If you’re like me, you’ll understand the overwhelming need to withdraw into solitude when you’re knee deep in visitors and noisy kids, toys and chatter.

I LOVE being with people. I really do. But my system just gets a bit “overheated” if there’s no break from company – it needs to be given some space to cool down periodically.

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself tuning into the almost imperceptible ripples of tension and anxiety running beneath the surface of social interactions. I’m all too acutely aware when someone is hiding their true feelings from me and it puts me on edge. I’ve often been guilty of trying too hard to please everyone and to keep the peace (a common trait of us HSPs). It’s all a bit too exhausting and can drive me a little bit crazy.

But, there is hope. After many years of praying and reflecting on the matter, it has recently become very clear to me what’s actually going on for me, and how I can cut out all that social stress.

Here’s how I’m going to survive Christmas. I’m going to be heading off to the middle of nowhere on Christmas Eve for a few days, alone, and have my blue skies Christmas. So, au revoir friends. See you in the New Year!

The End.

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Aha, I had you there for a minute right? Like I said, I love spending time with people. I’m not trying to get away from them.

Firstly, being open and honest about needing to find my head is really important. Thankfully my family do understand. If they didn’t understand, it would be a lot harder.

Secondly, I learned that the thing that is causing me the most stress is my own need for control. I used to spend way too much energy trying to control other people’s perceptions of me, trying to control their opinion of me, trying to control the dynamics between everyone to ensure there was no strife or conflict.

Ironically, I think I caused the very things I was trying to prevent, by trying to control them.

And so now, I’m in a process of letting go. Letting go of fear, pride, control, and the need to police, please and appease.

I am done with being the person other people want me to be, just so that they feel more comfortable. I’m done with minutely over-editing what I say before I say it, just so that I don’t offend. I’m done with modifying my behaviour to gain points at the Bank of Approval. I’m done with giving people a more palatable version of myself, a version which is about 3% of who I am, because the remaining 97% makes them uncomfortable and doesn’t match up with who they want me to be.

And it’s not just me I’ve been guilty of modifying. I confess I’ve done the same with Jesus in the past. I mean, let’s be honest, he’s a bit like that larger-than-life friend who you love to bits, but wouldn’t invite along to your works “do” or your mate’s wedding. The type who are just too unpredictable and say stuff that makes people choke on their drinks in disbelief. The “marmite” type of friend, who people either love or hate.

In times past, I’ve been guilty of giving people a safe, comfortable version of Jesus because I was afraid that they might get a bit scared off if they knew some of the stuff he came out with. It’s a little close to the mark. Not very politically correct. Not really what people want to hear. Well, I’m done with that too.

I’m not saying that I’m going to be rude. Quite the opposite. I’m not going to start telling everyone my inner monologue – “Hey, great to see you, looking rough today aren’t you?” or “yes, your bum does indeed look big in that dress hun. Huge!!! Find another dress…please, for the love of sunlight!”

No, that’s not the kind of authenticity I’m talking about.  You see, there’s this verse in the bible that mentions “speaking the truth in love”.

Yesterday I had a little conversation with my children about how to respond when someone gives you a gift you don’t want. I explained that sometimes, although we don’t want to lie, we need to be careful about people’s feelings before we give them the whole truth. I explained that it’s ok to just say “thank you” and just describe what they see.

“Oh thank you, it’s a neon-green sweater with “I love neon green stuff” across the front. It looks very bright! Cool! So thoughtful of you”. 

It’s the whole “treat others how you wish to be treated” rule of thumb.

Its’s just about being honest and real while being sensitive to other people. And I do think we have to be careful who we share our hopes, our dreams, our joys and sorrows with. But If my words and actions are motivated from a place of trying to control other people’s perceptions and judgements about me, then I’m heading for a very miserable time indeed.

So how do we “speak the truth in love”? I have one word for you.

Empathy.

But empathy is not just about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It requires us to do something that many of us find really hard, but it has so much power:

Shut up.

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Just shut up, shut up. It’s the latest Doctor Who’s phrase. It’s the Black-Eyed Peas’ best advice (along with the question “Where is the love?”). I know, we all like to get things off our chest. But, nobody likes a conversation hijacker. And people who have had a nice big chance to speak already are better at listening back than those who don’t feel heard. So shutting your mouth for a while to give your brain a chance to engage is a wise move. And while you’re shutting up, breathe deeply and…

Shhh….listen.

Shut up and listen for a minute to the advice of the disciple James:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:18-20)

He also said “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. Ooh, strong stuff. But it rings true to me. He’s essentially saying :

  • Love

  • Shut up

  • Listen

  • Be empathic.

Active listening requires us to take a moment to reign-in our need to launch a verbal tirade against the person we are upset with. Instead of immediately defending our position, the alternative is to get vulnerable, and take the bullet of criticism being aimed at us. It hurts, but it’s not fatal. In the end it can lead to dialogue and hopefully, with prayer and patience, new connection and healing. Just listen to what they have to say.

Let the dialogue commence with you lovingly shutting up, listening and empathising. It’s better than getting lost in a stalemate of smiles and silences. It’s the best way I know to manage conflict peacefully. And as we listen, it’s good to affirm that we understand. That’s the “active part”….

“So, Aunty Ethel, when you asked me if mushy sprouts were the new Christmas trend – it sounded like you were hoping for the sprouts to be a little firmer, would you agree?”.

Wait for the response, SHUT UP, and listen further.

Then, to EMPATHISE with them, verbally –

“How disappointing for you, as you really do love firm sprouts, and were expecting them not to be so er… soggy, as you put it”. (NB: there must be no trace of sarcasm detected in your voice).

At this point here is a very important rule:

DO NOT TRY TO FIX THE SITUATION!!!!

It’s no good offering to cook more sprouts. Don’t try to minimise her sprout sadness either. “Oh, Aunty Ethel, they’re not that bad, I actually think they taste good. Don’t start crying over soggy sprouts, for goodness sake”.

Aunty Ethel just wants to get that sprout-frustration off her chest and know I’ve heard her, and I mean really understood, really heard. And then guess what? (Here’s the good bit). With a bit of luck, she’ll be the one to shut up. It’s the people who don’t feel heard who just go on and on and on and on….

Once Aunty Ethel feels heard, she may then be in a position (but I won’t bank on it!) to listen to me. At which point, when I sense the opportunity to speak and be heard, I could use what are commonly labelled “I messages“.

 “I messages” are not loaded with blame, unlike “you messages”.  A “you-message” would be something like this:

“Aunty Ethel, you are always criticising my cooking. You upset me every time you visit because you just have to find something to moan about. I try so hard to get those sprouts just right, but it’s never enough for you is it? I mean, what’s your middle name? GoldilocksI am so fed up with it.”

Let me be clear – that last sentence was not an I message.

I messages contain plenty of “you’s” but they are not loaded with blame-casting “you”s. The minute someone feels attacked and blamed, they go on the defensive, and things get real ugly real quick. Do you really want that to happen at the dinner table on Christmas Day? Didn’t think so.

So then, an I-message:

 “Aunty Ethel, when you tell me that the sprouts are not firm enough, I feel upset, because I really did try to make sure the sprouts were just right to suit everyone at the table, and that’s not easy. Would you be willing to leave them on the side of your plate?”

She might say “no”, in which case, we go around again, with the listening and the empathising, until she really is as done as a soggy sprout.

Ok, so option 2 sounds a little wooden and long-winded, and it requires the patience of a saint, but it sure beats option 1.

The difference between the two is merely the absence of blaming and fixing, and the presence of grace, respect, empathy and love. Notice that in option 1 I blamed Aunty Ethel for me getting upset about the criticism, whereas in the I message, option 2, I took full responsibility for my own upset feelings. That’s the key to the I-message.

No-one can “make” me feel upset. I can, however, feel upset because of someone else’s words or actions. There is a whole world of difference. And if I’ve let go of my need to control Aunty Ethel’s perception of me, then I can be at peace with that fact that she does in fact perceive me as some lame-ass, absent-minded waste-of-space who can’t even remember to take the sprouts off the boil on time, rather than  a very capable cook and a worthwhile and good person. I know what the truth is and I know God loves me however I cook my sprouts, and that’s the most important thing.

On Day 7, I told you of the Tale of Two Sisters, Martha and Mary, who were friends with Jesus. The tale is told that Jesus popped in to visit them one day and while Martha rushed around the kitchen trying to cook up a storm, Mary sat at his feet hanging off his every word, completely oblivious to her sister’s sky-rocketing stress levels.

Let’s imagine that Martha and Mary had read this blog post and learned all about empathic, active listening, using I-messages, taking responsibility for their own feelings, not trying to control the perceptions and reactions of others.

Instead of Martha storming out of the kitchen and tattling on her sister to Jesus, saying “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”…. things could have been so different:

Realising that her expectation of having Mary’s help was way off the mark, and that she hadn’t actually communicated that need to her, Martha has a quiet word with her sister:

“Mary, I’m really struggling on my own in the kitchen, would you be willing to come and help me?”

Mary: “You seem really overwhelmed and frustrated that you’re on your own. I can imagine you just want to do something really fancy for Jesus, because you love him so much. You’re a more practical person than I am. My concern is that this might be the only opportunity I have to listen to him. I don’t want you to miss it either. Is there any way that we can both get to spend time with Jesus, and make sure we feed him as well?”

Martha, taking responsibility for her feelings, says: “I’m finding it really difficult to stay calm. When you are out here sitting with Jesus, I feel abandoned in the kitchen. But I understand how important it is for you to listen to his teaching. I realise we have different priorities. I’ll see if I can simplify the meal a bit. I guess I did get a bit overambitious and I really thought you would be in the kitchen with me, which was a bit presumptive.”

“Ok, I really appreciate that. I’ll serve the food and clear up while you chat with Jesus if you like”.

Jesus overhears the conversation and tells Martha not to worry about food because he’s really not hungry. He can eat later. He urges her to just sit down and rest, and spend time with him for a while. Eventually she decides to take his advice, and later on, both sisters prepare a simple meal.

Happy families eh? To be fair though, my alternative ending was a lot less gripping than the original. Probably wouldn’t make good viewing material in a soap opera. But in real life, with real people and real feelings, if I was Martha or Mary I’d rather have my version. In my version, Martha doesn’t wind up bitter and Mary doesn’t have to live with the aftermath of her sister’s anger and jealousy. Martha doesn’t have to see the smug look on Mary’s face when Jesus said she had made the right choice. Don’t you just hate it when you tattle on someone and you end up being the one having to eat humble pie?

Yes, my version is a bit boring, and long-winded, but much more peaceful. Much more “happily ever after”. We have to work for peace in relationships, but in the end, we reap the many rewards for our labours.

(I need to say here that there are of course some relationships which are plain abusive. In those situations I would urge you to get to a place of safety and get help. It’s important for me to add that).

Thought for today:

So now, I can be aware of underlying social tensions and messages of disapproval during social situations, without feeling the need to control and fix. Letting go of control means I hope to come away from social situations without feeling edgy and stressed out.

Task for today:

In order to remain calm enough to shut up and listen, I need to make sure I am feeling heard by those closest to me. Firstly, I need to find pockets of time, in the busyness, to get alone with God and get things off my chest. After all, he is “quick to listen”. Jesus often got away from the crowds and withdrew to lonely places to pray and re-charge.

The only true way I know to be patient, empathic, forgiving and full of grace, is to lean hard on God for help. But it’s also a good idea to know who I can go to when I need a person to just listen and not fix. I need to be aware of my needs, and be kind to myself.

And if I blow it and find myself yelling in Aunty Ethel’s face, tipping the plate of unwanted sprouts in her lap in a momentary loss of self-control, then I won’t be too hard on myself. An authentic, heart-felt apology and a good cry in the bathroom afterwards will help….

And looking on the bright side, it’d make a juicy tale to tell every Christmas for the next 50 odd years.

Helpful websites:

The Centre for Non-Violent Communication: http://www.cnvc.org/

Parent Effectiveness Training: http://www.gordontraining.com/parent-programs/parent-effectiveness-training-p-e-t/

The Way of the Peaceful Parent: http://www.peacefulparent.com/

(The parenting websites are great ways to learn about all aspects of healthy, peaceful ways to communicate with people of all ages, and are not just helpful for parents and children).

Why “Why” is a wonderful word which works wonders

Day 21 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.

We humans seem to really get hooked on traditions, rituals and ceremonies.

We just can’t seem to get enough of it all.

I guess it’s about bringing some sort of meaning and structure to our lives. Repetition is comforting isn’t it? It connects our present with our past and with our future. It’s something dependable and safe. It’s an attempt to feed the soul… to satisfy our unquenchable hunger for meaning, purpose, connection, belonging, hope.

It’s a heavy anchor of certainty in a sea of change.

Sometimes, we don’t realise when what we are doing has lost its meaning. We carry on doing the same old thing time and again. We do it that way because that’s the way it’s always been done. The tradition becomes a solid rock in a constantly changing world. The tradition may have been created in the first place to be like a protective shell – protecting and preserving something precious, or something useful.

But now it’s like an empty shell. Whatever it was protecting inside has long since disappeared.

We often create our own family rituals and traditions at Christmas don’t we? The traditional dinner, the tree, the mulled wine and mince pies, the same old Christmas songs album, the same order of events to the day.

I once heard a story about how the instructions for cooking the Christmas turkey were handed down through the generations, from daughter to daughter.  The main rule to be followed was :

 “Always cut off the end of the bird”.

Every year, for 75 years, this rule had been obediently, unquestioningly followed. That is until one day, the youngest, newly instructed daughter got curious. She contacted her great-grandmother and asked her:

“Why do we have to cut the end off of the Christmas turkey great-grandmother?”

Great-grandmother chuckled…

“Why, it’s quite simple my dear. We couldn’t fit it in our tiny oven in those days. You don’t need to do that now do you? Not with your nice big modern oven?”

All those years, and they’d been following instructions that were completely pointless, in the name of tradition. Until one person chose to say one very important word: “Why?”

My mother tells me that as a child, “why” was my favourite word, I suppose like many children. The incessant stream of “why’s” bombarded towards my poor mother was almost enough to shut her brain down entirely.

I’m 37 and I haven’t changed a bit. Well, except for the fact that I’m not usually asking my mother “why” but asking myself instead.

I question everything.

  • Why do we do that?

  • Is there a point to that?

  • How is that still relevant?

  • What are we doing that for?

It’s like I have a “bullshit detector” that sniffs out meaningless practices and outdated rules. I often end up smashing the useless empty shell of ritual that I’ve become trapped inside, and then look for a brand new one that suits better.

It’s not that I’m against rules and traditions, rituals, practices and ceremonies. I think they have their place. I’m all for structure and order and rhyme and reason.

But to have the rhyme without the reason? It’s just not logical, Captain.

Rules that are relevant and serve to benefit us? I’m a big fan of those. The ten commandments in the Bible are timeless rules which are still as relevant to my life today as they were thousands of years ago.

But rules for the sake of rules? Well, there goes my bullshit detector again. I’ve nothing against them, as long as they are a means to an end, rather than just the end…..it mustn’t spell the end of the story, the end of debate, the end of reason. Keep traditions, practices and rules where they belong, as the means, and not the meaning.

Now, if there was a trend-bucker, a tradition-breaker, a ritual buster, it was good old meek and mild Jesus. He warned the religious people of the day against getting stuck in the tradition rut, saying : “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

Jesus challenged empty religious practices, he challenged rules for the sake of rules and he exposed those who loved tradition more than they loved God and people.

The religious people around Jesus constantly criticised him for it, to the point of plotting to kill him, such was their passion for rules and tradition.

Have a read of what he had to say about unquestioning adherence to rules and traditions:

Another time, on a Sabbath day as Jesus and his disciples were walking through the fields, the disciples were breaking off heads of wheat and eating the grain. Some of the Jewish religious leaders said to Jesus, “They shouldn’t be doing that! It’s against our laws to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” But Jesus replied, “Didn’t you ever hear about the time King David and his companions were hungry, and he went into the house of God…..and they ate the special bread only priests were allowed to eat? That was against the law too. But the Sabbath was made to benefit man, and not man to benefit the Sabbath”.

Then as if to prove his point, he went and healed a man’s deformed hand right in front of them, on the Sabbath – the day of rest! How could he?!

One word of warning though, before you go and declare – “Scrap the Christmas dinner, the crackers and the presents – it’s all pointless!” We can be in danger of scrapping tradition for the sake of it too. Sometimes, in the name of “non-conformism” we can get so obsessed with not being tied to a ritual or routine that we go out of our way to smash it unnecessarily. “Not conforming” becomes the goal, rather than part of the process of asking “why?“.

Just remember that right at the very kernel of the shell is supposed to be love.

Does Aunty Joan always have to have Christmas dinner at 1pm and watch the Queen’s speech at 3, but Aunty Pat wants to eat at 12 and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” instead, and everyone else just wants to eat at 2pm and then go down the pub? Well then, we have a problem. I don’t know the solution, but I do know that we have to lovingly consider preferences and the importance of rituals to others around us.

Sometimes, adhering to a tradition is simply this – it’s an act of love. It’s saying “this is important to you, and so it’s important to me”. But if preferences within the family conflict, it’s important to be lovingly open to compromise and communication. More about that in the next few days….

Thought for the day:

After Jesus’s death and resurrection, there were many practices that were no longer necessary. Many of the old rituals had been put in place there because of the huge rift between man and God. No-one but the High Priest could go into the “inner sanctuary” in the temple, the most Holy place, and be in the presence of God, because of that rather old fashioned word – “sin”. How could fallen, imperfect man approach a Holy God? There had to be all manner of animal sacrifices and rituals to observe before coming into this most Holy of places.

But when Jesus died on the cross, we are told that “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

This was a new era.

Jesus had basically opened the way for man to connect openly with God. He’d volunteered himself to be the once-for-all-time sacrifice, on the cross, to deal with that rift between God and mankind.

This means that we have no need to go via a high priest to get to God. We have no need to observe rituals and practices which were only meant to be there before Jesus came and sorted it all out. He came so that we could have freedom and life, not be slaves to outdated rituals. Jesus is the new “High Priest” – the way through to the presence of God.

We can read in the bible that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

He said he was the “way to the Father”, the “truth” and the “life”. He said:

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Hmmm, you can understand why a few people might have got a little tetchy hearing him make such bold claims about himself. Many people still do. But ultimately, either we say he was right, or we say he was wrong…. there isn’t really an opportunity to sit on the fence on that one and just call him “good”.

My point is, that Jesus came and ushered in a whole new era. He wanted people to leave behind their old “slaves to the law” ways, and to embrace the freedom he offered.

He wasn’t saying “do what you like”, he was saying “get to the heart of why those rules are there. Think about it, and let love be your guide”. We are given the following rule of thumb as our yardstick:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 Listen to what Jesus said about the futility of hanging onto useless rituals of the past:

 “No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” 

 I can’t help but feel that too many of us still hold onto things which belong in the past. All too often, the baby in the manger gets boxed in and swaddled too tightly to be able to be the wild, living, breathing force of change in our lives he was born to be.

Task for today:

At Christmas, I want, more than anything, to celebrate the freedom that the birth of Jesus brings to me. I want to do that by observing traditions that express that freedom, rather than ones which confine it.

Today, I’m going to ask myself two hard but much needed questions about the plans I have for celebrating Christmas:

 “Why?”

 and

“Where is the love?”

photo (64)

Bible references:

Mark 7.8

Mark 2

Mark 3

Matt 9.16-17

Hebrews 4:15-16

John 10.8-10

John 14.6