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

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.