The world’s a mess. So, did the Christmas angels get it wrong?

The classic nativity tells a lovely story but the reality was a lot messier. Perhaps the message of the angels sounded as preposterous then as now, given the state of the world. What can we make of it? This is my attempt.

“Joy to the world”, sang the angels that night;
“Peace to all men”. And the skies shone with light.
But whatever came of that heavenly pledge?
For just here and now life seems right on the edge.

Where was the peace when to Egypt they fled?
What joy could there be as the babies lay dead?
Slain by the word of a paranoid king;
Witnessed by those who had heard angels sing.

I wonder if stories of thousands of years,
Of people and families, their joy and their tears,
Are enough for the message we can’t get it right;
For nothing and everything causes a fight.

We’re faced with two choices: Is this all that’s there?
Is it just down to us to decide if we care?
To do what we can for world, family and friends
And accept when it’s over that that’s where it ends.

Or….did the angels sing?

Did they point to a hope that lies deep in our soul,
That everything matters; we’re part of a whole.
We’re held by a love that is vast and immense,
Even when what we’re going through doesn’t make sense.

If true joy and peace isn’t ours straightaway,
They gave heaven’s pledge that it will be one day.
Their song was a promise that broke through the fear,
Proclaiming to shepherds that God was so near.

So near at his birth, through his life and his death,
Sharing our suffering, until his last breath.
And then when he rose on that first Easter Day,
His body was new, all the pain gone away.

He promised He’s with us still, though we can’t see.
And through Him we glimpse how things one day will be.
A new world: creation, restored to its soul.
All brokenness banished; just perfect and whole.

Now it is messy, of that there’s no doubt.
Love and peace whisper: Hate has a shout.
But even in darkness, His hope can shine through,
Kindness and love can show faith to be true.

We might feel connections that can’t be explained;
Love that forgives, though impossibly strained,
Friendship persisting whatever the cost,
All echo His love for the broken and lost.

So join with the angels, and sing out their song,
Peace still eludes us but they were not wrong.
The hope of the world came to earth Christmas night.
He asks us to trust Him, and follow His light.”

 

I saw this picture at a market stall in Greece in 2017 which seemed to capture what I was trying to say. Apologies for not knowing the artist – if anyone does, please let me know!

 

IMAG2224 (2)

 

 

 

A Christmas letter….of sorts

Christmas letters can be like facebook: You see the photos; read the update and feel different reactions. For some, you enjoy the connection with someone you haven’t seen for a while and its good to know what they are doing. With others you wonder what lies behind the idyllic family pictures. And with a few you know the inside track; perhaps you helped mop up the tears on the holiday, or helped agonise over a decision that, from reading the letter, you would think was all straightforward.

We tell ourselves and our children that who we are is more important than what we do; that success and status count less than people and relationships; and that it’s ok to go through hard times. But we still live in a society that prizes wealth, activity and institutional position; that rewards things that get you noticed and ‘liked’. It’s rare to hear much discussion in the media of what builds ‘character’, or what it means to live a good life. I feel that without that grounding we seem to be in a bit of a tailspin about what our lives are for, and its reflected in the national state of our mental health. So, in a world where ‘”Its time to talk”, perhaps it’s time to be more honest with ourselves and our friends about how our experiences of the last year have really felt.

This post is my Christmas letter…of sorts. It’s a bit circumspect as this is a public blog. And I appreciate that the line between authenticity and self-indulgence is an easy one to cross. You can be the judge.

“Our greatest achievement this year has been an improvement in our family’s ability to kick about at home; to understand what each of us needs in terms of space, activity and downtime, and to be generous about allowing it for each other. It doesn’t always work, but it is getting better. One day, we may even be on time for church.

My daughters (7 and 2), have become much better at playing together: Dens, camping, lions, princesses etc. Normally they want to include each other. Normally they are happy with half of my lap each, and sometimes they interact beautifully and make each other giggle. Other times they yell and scream at each other. I find it astonishing how quickly, particularly in the holidays, my overwhelming sense can go from “this is fine, why don’t I home school, what’s the problem?” to “If I see my child do anything or hear them say anything. Anything at all, I think I will scream”. The most useful phrase we’ve found as a family is “I’m sorry. And sorry means I will try not to do it again” and the most helpful thing I’ve seen is a lecture by Jennifer Kolari on CALM parenting. It’s long but I’d thoroughly recommend it.

My eldest daughter is learning to control her feelings better and is less prone to tantrums. She managed the discipline to finish a story and enter it into a competition and then manage the inevitable disappointment of not winning. But she is still writing stories. She keeps me on my toes when her toys act them out “Mummy, I don’t mean to be rude but are you paying attention to your cue” and her expectation is that Father Christmas, who is magic and can do anything, will be able to bring her a doll, complete with clothes, cot and teddy; not for her, but for her toy panda. She is mocked at school for being small and whilst it makes her reluctant to go, she is being fairly resilient.

My toddler is trying to rule the roost as toddlers do. She knows her mind: “Mummy nuff swim. Ice cream now please”. I am not allowed to hum, for fear of being told “Mummy, open your mouth; sing nicely”. If she wants a book read once, she will want it 20 times in the next few days. She is often very pleased with herself; her most frequent phrase is “I’m doing really well” or recently “I’m doing brilliantly”. Woe betide your breakfast if you come and stay – she will stand next to your chair ready with her spoon to dig in. That is, when she isn’t suffering from a winter illness that seems to have been constant. After a few nights of shouting (by her) for an hour in the middle of the night, I confess I struggle to maintain family calm.

For me, I have had a bit of time at home to read, pray and write. Without that time in the school holidays, I recognise I get irritable and lose perspective.  I have to accept there is always less time than I would like and my first free morning is normally spent sleeping (I appreciate that’s a luxury but it still seems the best investment in building resilience!). With regard to the blog, I don’t check thefigures or dwell on it as furiously as I used to. With each post I still go through a cycle of getting the idea, thinking it’s brilliant, start to write it down and realise it’s much more challenging, and then rushing to get it finished, panicking no one will read it and then moving on. I keep reminding myself that I don’t want it to take off as a thing but it’s a useful way to see reactions to particular ideas.

The playgroup that meets here each week gives me great joy. I aim for it to be an amalgam of all the best aspects of the different groups I went to in the UK and after a year, it is starting to feel like a real community. Almost the best moment was last week when I needed to take some time out with my toddler – and everything carried on regardless. As my friends remind me when they come to visit, our house and my life here feels a world away from the part-time London commute I will return to, and I am quite apprehensive about that. But for now, it’s good to use the space and time.

In the summer, my husband and I went away to celebrate my 40th birthday which proved he was more than capable of romantic gestures. We are getting better with each other about trying to be kind, rather than right. I am managing to anticipate stress points better, and recognise what I am likely to feel. However, I don’t always manage to manage what I feel in the stress points. That’s one of the challenges for 2019.”

So that reflects some of my preoccupations for 2018. Perhaps it is as smug in a different way: Perhaps it still conceals as much as it reveals. Frankly, Christmas leters are a declining breed. But even if not through this medium I do think we should be prepared to talk as much and as concretely about what we say really matters as about any external achievement.

Finally, I wanted to appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read any of my posts in 2018 and I wish everyone a very joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Breaking the taboo that it has to be new….

My last post was about the plethora of children’s stuff. In two months time we will have the festival that sees most families make their greatest accumulation of childrens stuff in the year.

I like getting presents. Through Christmas and Birthday presents, I have been introduced to my favourite authors, acquired jewellery I wear frequently, and my children have discovered new interests I wouldn’t have known to share. What makes the gift special is the connection – when people want to pass on something they have enjoyed themselves, or they want to encourage something we’ve shared. It’s never about the price tag, and it certainly isn’t about the packaging; in fact, many of our most used playthings are hand-me-downs.  I love that because I think of the people who gave them to us every time they are played with. They were all given in good quality, and frankly, most things I have bought for my own children come from charity shops, ebay or second hand sales.

So if gifts are about sharing a connection and the hand-me-downs are good quality, why didn’t my friends just tie a ribbon around their old toys they knew we would like and call it our Christmas present? Why did one friend donate to a charity her perfectly functioning plastic toy (that will last for generations) once her children had grown out of it, and then buy an identical new one for my daughter’s birthday?

Because we all have this hang up that whilst we happily equip our own families with second hand things, it can’t count as a gift unless we have spent a certain amount of money on it. There’s nothing new in that: there is an Old Testament story where King David says ‘I can’t give to the Lord something that has cost me nothing’. And there is nothing wrong with the principle behind it: gifts are a sign that you value people, and spending money on them is a way of saying that.

But this is now a social hang up that drives a massive amount of unnecessary production and bursting houses. People who would swear blind you can’t put a price tag on friendship still have a mental list of those who merit £10 Christmas presents, or what the going price tag is for a school birthday party.  And the factories and the shops are ready to meet them. My 5 year old daughter was given 36 craft kits for her birthday because we had a shared party for the whole class and didn’t have the guts to say no presents. 36. And Yes, they have mostly been re-gifted, because in my life that’s a good thing. So these 36 craft kits, because they are mainly sold for presents, all have to be self-contained and came with their own plastic paint pots, sequins, individual plastic glue tubes, etc which are now either languishing in cupboards or landfill. Just like the “Stocking fillas”, a term that makes me shudder – many things, particularly for children, are deliberately marketed to play to your need to give something for the sake of giving, produced by factories and sold by shops for the sake of it. Yes, providing jobs, but not necessarily good jobs, and also a heck of a lot of carbon and waste once the novelty disappears.

So this year, this is what I’m saying: “To all friends and family who have us on your Christmas list. Thank you! We love your presents. But we dont need to open something in pristine packaging with a label for us to know you are our friends. If you want to skip a Christmas or a birthday, that’s fine with us. And if you have or see something second hand that you would buy for yourself or your kids, that’s good enough for us too. Our kids need our action to protect their future far more than they need new stuff.”