Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year - at the right time

(from stock.xchng)

Do you ever watch QI? There are lots of questions with seemingly obvious answers but the responses you think are true turn out to be wrong.

Last night's episode asked how many senses we have. The obvious answer is five. But no. As well as the usual  five, we also have a sense of balance, a sense of direction, a sense of body position, and a sense of time. Some people list up to 21.

For the past few months I have been hearing those familiar words...
"It's almost Christmas. Can you believe it? The year has gone so fast!"
Does our sense of time really tell us things are going too fast?
Are we fighting time?

Look at medicine - we are trying to defy disease and decay. Look at cosmetic surgery/procedures - we are trying to defy age. In our work, we try to do more in less time, bowing to the gods Efficiency and Outcomes. In our families we value 'quality time' and hate to 'waste' time. On birthdays, we focus on advancing age as a sign of decrepitude rather than a sign of wisdom. We gingerly celebrate the passing of time but nervously laugh that it may just 'catch up with us' as we run from it in fright.

But time goes at the pace God set it to go. Time passes because the world is on its way through a journey from its careful formation, to its eventual transformation. Each day has night because our bodies need restoration and relief from daily strains. Each year has seasons so that we and the earth can be renewed and refreshed. The marking of time allows us to be anchored, yet travelling, in our walk through life.

It's easy to wish that time would stand still for us to savour goodness or fit more worthy stuff in. And then sometimes the trials of life drive us to pray for the acceleration of time. We long for the shortest, fastest time of suffering for those we love, and it is natural that we do.

But let's stop fighting so desperately to beat time. It is actually our friend, a companion guiding us to the fulfillment of our lives. It is not our master, berating us for not getting enough done. Or our enemy, forcing us to measure our inadequacies. Time rescues us from being trapped in our mistakes and failures, drawing us to ultimate redemption. It gives us now to experience mercy and grace, today. It gives us hope, for tomorrow is new, fresh, unblemished. Time delivers us into a new day.

I want to try to accept my experience of  the pace of time. Not wish it away, not claw it back to me as I resist its flow. The new year will arrive at a propitious time, at just the right time. It will bring fresh hope and opportunity. The daily renewing I need to survive.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas joy

It seems like December is a race. I just need to keep pushing, to make it over the finishing line. Marked by December 25. I am only relieved once Christmas Day is here, and I am starting to relax now that it's the 27th.

This feels like a slightly sacrilegious thing to say. I love the concept of Christmas, but I don't really like the reality. I love the reason for Christmas, the story of Christmas. But I dislike doing Christmas, being squashed by Christmas, and losing real life in Christmas.

Why do all my Christmas-defining activities feel burdensome? Shopping for presents for people who don't really need anything. Cooking for a meal where there's always too much food. Co-ordinating family activities or meals with people who I'm not sure want to spend time with me.

The have-tos and should-dos seem powerful in my pre-Christmas blur. And I realise that the world's crazy Christmas drowns the stillness of the first Christmas. Noisy advertising, crowded shops, the pressure of how beautiful Christmas should be. I realise that sometimes I would like to escape the pressure of 'having a good Christmas'.

My struggle is exemplified in Christmas tree decorations. I would love to have a lush, 7 foot, colour-coordinated, tastefully decorated extravaganza adorning my lounge room. Early in December, my children excitedly ask when we can set up for Christmas. Grumpily, I make them wait until the first weekend in December. (Imagine the inconvenience of decorating mid-week!) So we get out the boxes stored on the garage top shelf. We put together the 4 foot tree (perfect to put up on the coffee table, out of reach of toddlers). And they love getting out the many and varied decorations, and arranging them on the tree - as only kids can.

And I have to stop myself from arranging them better, from making it look better. I want to control Christmas so much, make it so much about me, that I want to re-arrange the decorations. So they can look, well, more beautifully arranged.

I am enticed by the expectations of what Christmas should be - the beautiful, tasteful, well-planned Christmas - to forget the values that birthed Chistmas. Humility, generosity, self-giving love.

I read it and remember, because I need to remind myself...
So this is Christmas.
"The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son."
(John 1:14)

And this truth makes the four-foot lop-sided tree the best one in our street, it makes the impromptu meal with friends a feast, it brings peace in the mad rush to the finish-line. It makes Christmas a joyous glimpse of our God - glorious grace and truth.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reflections on Family

The kids had started to call me Dad...

Desperate to belong, to fit in the picture. You know the one. The smiles range from awkward to delighted. It was taken the last time we all got together. "Do we have to take one?' someone groans, but we cherish the have-to. The necessity is the mark of belonging together.

He's been her boyfriend for just on three months, and one of them calls him Dad. Of course he's not their dad, but the instinct is deep in both of them. The pitiful story of a fatherless child looking everywhere, because he longs for that loving eye on him. The bedraggled, broken man clinging to this glimpse of himself with possibility. Wondering how to earn the name and the love bestowed so early and indiscriminately.

Is it the expectation which leads to his retreat? He turns his back on the lisped invitation to fatherhood, ends the relationship. Disappoints himself, and the child, because he is afraid of being a bigger disappointment.

My mind turns to the disappointments I create. When I cannot be what someone in my family needs. When I don't try because I'm afraid. When I try so hard to please that I miss seeing what is really needed. Family and childhood memories blind me to reality. Emotions rise, so deeply familiar, so sharp-edged with anxiety. I realise, too late, that I've made the wrong choice and disappointed again. It makes me sob - and I'm not one to sob - frustrated, disappointing eight year old me sobs.

I marvel at this messy, paradoxical invention - family. Delight in the belonging, the familiarity, the shared history - we can laugh, and care, so deeply. Frustration with the misunderstandings, the different perspectives, the pleasing everyone and no-one. Hurting and healing in one complex gift. God knew we would need family, but he also knew that family would need his redemption.

No wonder the church is complicated when we are seeking to be family.

'The kids had started calling me Dad' at Circumstantial

Friday, December 17, 2010

Uncomfortable with being listened to

Important words are tricky to find. The hardest time to speak is when I know it must be said.

I can discuss all sorts of issues and situations, as an observer. And its easy to make a statement that will be forgotten by all who hear it. But my tongue stumbles over sentences that reveal too much of me.

People apologise for talking of their struggles, for spending time on their sadness, or their anger, even their delight. Are they sorry for their honesty? Or is it an acknowledgement that saying what they've said was tough. Because it was important. Because it revealed who they are.

And most of us protect our vulnerable selves from too much exposure by preparing in advance. We decide what we will say, what feels safe, and what we will hold back. We know how to filter. And we do it to survive.

When we really listen, and hear what people are saying, sometimes we hear what they are trying not to say, too. Sometimes we see and hear more than they intended. No wonder they feel uncomfortable.

Accept the apology, because they are sorry for their revelation. They were not intending it, and it catches them by surprise. Accept them. You may not like or agree with what has been shown, but remember it has cost them to show it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The inconvenience of advent

I bristle at inconvenience. Respond hastily, not with patience.

There's so much that needs doing, so many that need pleasing. And Christmas shopping doesn't do itself.

Why can't you just calm yourself down and go to sleep? I don't say it aloud, but I think it loud enough for all of us to know.

Endless reappearing after tucking-in, reassuring after another drink or trip to the toilet. And its just more inconvenience. I'm double minded in my comfort - wishing peace for him, ... and for me.

Advent is about waiting, quietness, contemplation of the Christ-child. I read it many places. Just in passing.

I wonder about Mary. Travelling on a donkey. Waiting for a baby near birth. Laden, swollen, tired. Perhaps she had this impatience, too. Not just serenity and thought. There is a messiness to Christmas, an inconvenience.

Maybe I need to feel stretched this way, so that I'm not caught in my own holy purifiance. I'm caught between. Desiring God with me, in my senses, and cloistering me. Knowing life and its messy, busy, selfish neediness. In peaceful advent, the cure for impatient lostness. In broken humanity, the antidote for holy pride.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Blogging and Repentance

So I wrote about leadership.

Mainly because I was hurt and angry. Partly because I wanted to stop being resentful. Bitterness in me breaks people I care about. So I wrote about it.

And then, in a series of unconnected moments, everything was turned upside down.

Suddenly there is spirit movement in the process and I see more around the corner than I expected.

How did the misunderstanding and disappointment sink into the ground and help things grow?

I confess amazement at the power of God to turn things upside down - especially my hurt, angry heart and my helpless hesitancy about the future. Now that is power.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is she playing with my mind?

Is she playing with my mind?

Desperation. It drips from him. Only to be sopped and dried by lasting reassurance that he's loved. Where can he find it?

He's stuck at the question about a game, this playing. Urges me to see the proof and decide. Why does my opinion matter? Especially when others have already gently (even roughly) laid this possibility in him.

He trawls an ocean of emotion in the wake of her messages. Rocked, pulled under, lost. Washed up on unfamiliar sand expanses. He has no map, no compass and nothing to steer.

No wonder that he sees her as malevolently controlling. That he suspects her motives, her actions and her ability to control him. He is consumed by her.

Reassurance is impossible, brief at best. Can he even hear me through the confusion?

I long to tell him - no human exerts this God-like control over another. He has been tricked into powerlessness. He is blind and lost. She is much more inert, broken and confused than he imagines. She is washed ashore on her own forsaken place, adrift from him, yet seeking. Desperate, too.

Know that we are like grass, every one of us. That we are all desperate, lost and blind.

THIS IS NOT A CONSPIRACY. A game. To be played by another.

We all need someone to find us, to heal our blindness, to love us out of our desperate confusion.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36)

'Is she playing with my mind?' at Circumstantial.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Post triggers

How to prompt a post?

Talking with a faithful friend of mine has made me realise that I often blog in response to things that happen to me during the day. (You may have picked this up?) I keep it pretty general/anonymous but the emotions are often the trigger for me.

So I'm going to post once a week in response to a question or statement that someone makes to me. The twist to the challenge, is there will be two posts - one here and one at my other blog. Two perspectives. This post is an example of one I've already done that sprang from a statement someone made to me one night.

My friend also mentioned wondering what had happened to prompt a particular post. If you do the same, I'd love to hear from you. Email me or leave a brief comment and I can tell you a bit more (with some confidentiality limits). I don't share specifics because this is a public space, but I'm happy to 'talk' more in other places.