Tis the season of the have, should, ought. Sometimes in all this we miss out on the real reason for the season, which in many traditions has a basis for looking at light and celebration.
I have lots of decisions that are coming my way for 2019 which means that, to give them due consideration I will have to, in fact even now, will have to change how I live my life. I will have to give up on have tos, should dos and ought tos. I don’t have enough hours in my day. Some of the things I will give up are things I like but I am learning if I do this then I can’t do that.
I spent the last 10 days visiting family and friends this has meant that I haven’t done the usual Christmas newsletter or the run of Christmas cards. I have also been gentle working through “Finding the still point of your story” which again is making me look at what is important. Not that the things I can’t do are not important or the people I didn’t see, won’t send cards to are not important but that I have a finite time to do things and need to invest wisely. This means giving up being a member of the spa and not getting in my thrice weekly swims and saunas. This isn’t because I don’t like to go but because I want to take my writing more seriously I want more time to read and this will give me 3+ hours a week more to read.
I have not done the Christmas newsletter because I have decided that I want to message
certain people individually because that is where I am at the moment. But I cannot message 100 people that could be on my mailing list so it will be just a few. That way they can get special messages. Not that there is anything wrong in newsletters. In fact I had one from some friends which talked of her storytelling and has led me to using her story to tell when I am an elf at Santa’s grotto on Saturday. For me well worth having 🙂
So in all this I need to look at how I lead my life, what I want to do in it and not get rushed around by should, ought, have to. I am learning well this week too because my son is home for 10 days, which is lovely, but if I want to still write I have to leave him on his own. I am also asking him to help with things like walking the dog so that I am not run ragged there.
So for me this time between now and the new year will be of deciding that I do and what I will have to put to one side. I want to take my writing seriously – which means I have to stop doing other things.
I’ve not done a newsletter this year. The reason being that there is so much to say, so much has changed, but also that life is not standing still. I could have written about my volunteering work at Gwrych Castle but just as I was about to write things changed. Not majorly but just a little slip and change. I could tell you about my writing workshop business and what is going on there but then something does a little change. With the Barefoot At The Kitchen Table things I would have said that I was giving up doing overly writing for well-being and only doing creative writing workshops at Gwrych and the Memoir ones. But then I got an email from someone in the health service asking if I’d do some well-being with her clients, which was swiftly followed by a text from someone saying her friend would like me to do some well-being writing with some homeless people works with. I could tell you how I’ve worked out the pattern of Airbnb hosting in this area but then for the second half of the year we have had one room booked out by the same person for over 4 months, the other room for over two and now have someone staying longer term. There is no pattern!
I could tell you how my children will be here for Christmas and what they are doing. You know I even ordered a turkey just before the end of November. But then my daughter says she’s off to New York with her boyfriend to have Christmas with her boyfriend’s family, and my son, who’s halfway through his basic training for the army says that even though he’s got a fortnight’s leave that this year they’ll spend Christmas with his fiancee’s family in Cornwall. Oh yes son got engaged in the spring!
I could tell you of the places we’ve been which have been good but then I realise that we’ve only had one week’s holiday in the whole year together. We’ve both had time off separately and been away for prayer support, seeing family, etc. But even then just when I thought of writing I would have had to squeeze in another place because we went to a wedding at the beginning of December.
I could list so many things that really you don’t want to here and so this Christmas/New Year I’ve decided not to send out a newsletter. My hope is that those who want to know what we’ve been doing will have kept in touch and if not will now use this as a time to say Hi. I love knowing what others are doing but most of those I care about I message – email, letter, phone, text – often, or follow on Facebook or Instagram. So my Advent vow has been to keep things simple, keep things relevant, and keep in touch more regularly.
I have just finished reading a really good trilogy, who’s only fault was that each book was 8-900 pages long. So for the last month I suppose I have been hanging out with these characters and so I am missing them today. The trilogy is The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb. Well worth giving a month to.
There are many bits where the books really spoke to me. One part is where one of the ships talks about attempting to take his own life. (The ships are made of a wood that makes them alive, able to talk, think, have minds of their own, and have memories of those who have lived and died on them – can’t say much more or it would spoil the books). Anyway the woman talking to him says “how could you hate yourself and the world so much to want to take your life?” And he replies that all he wanted to do was to take the pain away. That really helped me to understand why those we loved took their own lives. It was because the pain was too much. There was nothing we could have done to stop that.
But then later in the book one of the main characters is dealing with the pain of having been raped and it is stopping her from giving herself fully to the man she is meant to be with. Her ship says to her “give me the pain. I will not take the memories of what happened but I will take your pain.” She does wrestle with him about this but eventually gives her pain to him, is able to tell her man about the rape and her heart is more open and able to cope.
I believe this is what Jesus asks of us and what I believe I have done without realising it,
to give the pain of what we have walked through to him. It won’t make those memories go. It won’t make us wary in similar situations. It won’t even “cure” our mental health problems. But it will make us be able to look clearly at what we have gone through and say “this is what happened to me.” I think we are often afraid to give that pain to Jesus because we are afraid that he will take our memories and that what happened to us will not be validated. That if we continue to hold the pain of what we have endured – be it rape, abandonment, seeing someone we love taken from us, and many many more things that escape me at this hour of the morning – then we will keep knowing how awful it was. That if we let go of the pain we may forget a loved one who has gone, forget a incident that actually has made us wiser now, will forget all that we have been through. This is NOT true. Jesus does not want to take our memories. In fact earlier in the story it is revealed that the ship did try to take the memories of one of the main characters but this then stopped him from being able to fully give himself to others. He was holding something back and often that was because he did not want to look at the memory because he was holding both the memory and the pain, and the pain totally overrode everything else – including his judgement of situations.
Giving our pain to Jesus is an on-going thing. Often when we remember things the pain will flair up again so we need to give it again. Very often it is not a once and forever thing. If we have lost someone dear to us through an untimely death there will be many times when the memories of them come with searing pain and that is when we pass on that pain.
Jesus died on the cross to take our pain as much as he did anything else. By taking away that pain it gives us resurrection. According to the Anglican and Catholic church calendars we are in that period between Easter and Pentecost and it is a time to reflect on resurrection. I was at a wedding of my dear friend who’s first husband committed suicide and during her talk the vicar said that this was my friend and her new husband’s resurrection time and that it was significant that they were marrying just after Easter. It’s true. She can now give her pain to Jesus, keep her memories of her first husband, but open up into the new life she has said yes to. And yes I weep through writing this because I have my own pain with it too. I can only give my own pain to Jesus again and again. I will still have the memories not only of the times when he was alive and the crazy things we all did together but also the memories of the fateful day and the aftermath of it. But they can be viewed as memories and a constant giving to Jesus of the pain.
“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) is not some fully leaping around
being happy stuff but a joy that settles deep, pervades one’s whole being and, I believe, comes from knowing that you can give your pain to Jesus, walk free from it, and yet still know what happened. It is a full and rich joy of living free from pain but of a life filled with memories which in turn guide and strengthen your future.
Ok so I’m a bit late. All the papers, etc had their predictions within the first year of the year. But I’ve been pondering and reading them and have been amazed at how, when they were so inaccurate for 2016 why they are now rolling them out again for 2017!
Most seem to be doom and gloom and that we need to be fearful and worry. Some of this might come to pass but some of it might not. Donald Trump may end the world as we know it but he might not. Brexit may be another end of the world as we know it but it might not. Things may get better or they may get worse. We could be overrun with refugees and as someone told me we could all die because “all the refugees are coming here to kill us.” I am thinking that one might be a bit over the top, but it is what this person believes.
I tell you what I do know will happen this year: there will be countries that in the West we either do not know or do not take that much interest in that will be at war and atrocities will be committed in them but our newspapers will ignore them; the cost of some things will increase; people we know and love will die – whether friends and family or celebrities; people will marry; children will be born; some will move house and some will stay put; etc, etc. I could go on but won’t. I hope you get what I am saying. There are a lot of things that will happen but we don’t actually know what.
And in all this we have a choice – do we live in fear that things might happen? Do we ignore it all? Do we try and do our bit? Do we believe we can change something? Do we live in peace with the world? And again there are many things here that I have left out. It is our choice what we do and how we think. We can choose to live, as the person who fears all the refugees does make her act in a certain way. We can choose to ignore there are any people in need and that will cause us to act in a certain way.
How will I choose to live? How will you choose to live? As a friend and I were saying yesterday we need to set little goals and then not beat ourselves up when we don’t achieve them. For me my goals revolve around writing and people. For others it will be other things. I know people who are fired up about politics and that is great and I want to encourage them. I have people due to circumstances who are fired up about disabled – both physically and mentally – people and are doing something about it, big and small.
I believe we need to get up each morning and see it as a blank page that we can enjoy whatever our circumstance. And actually I met with a friend yesterday who has cancer and does not know how long she might live and yet it was the most joyful lunch I have had in ages. Every thing was fun and enjoyable. Yes we did talk about tough things too so we didn’t ignore what was happening to her but she has chosen to be alive for however long she has left. Not Pollyanna-positive, but real, open and honest but living every moment. I have also spoken with other people who are fit and healthy and ok financially and who live with worry and fear.
It is a choice how we look at this year and how we live it out which is not based on circumstances.
“Translations vary, but in our modern day, conversatio morum suorum generally means conversion of manners, a continuing and unsparing assessment and reassessment of one’s self and what is most important and valuable in life. In essence, the individual must continually ask: What is worth living for in this place at this time? And having asked, one must then seek to act in accordance with the answer discerned.”
—Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life
This is something I would like to be plaster as wallpaper all around my home at times – both to remind me, to remind the rest of my family, to remind those who come to our home, but also to remind us to give this to others. So often our world works on this upward spiral, including in church, of getting better and better and of achieving, of reaching the goal. But this says that in fact we should understand where we are and asking what is worth living for in the now. It’s not about getting better, of having a purpose, of achieving, but of being and living.
Richard Rohr says something similar today (28th Dec 2015) :
Both God’s truest identity and our own True Self are Love. So why isn’t it obvious? How do we find what is supposedly already there? Why should we need to awaken our deepest and most profound selves? And how do we do it? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our present reality. This solution sounds so simple and innocuous that most of us fabricate all kinds of religious trappings to avoid taking up our own inglorious, mundane, and ever-present cross of the present moment.
I have been working with young people who haven’t made it in the education system and all we seem to do is trying to keep them in that holding pattern until the can leave school, which is now 18 years old. Why are we not teaching them how to make the most of where they are? Many of these kids have amazing gifts and talents, just not recognised in the modern school system, so they’ve been labelled and made to feel like they have nothing to give. Yet if we could get them to live fully in their present reality, which for many is really hard, but also to ask what is worth living for in this present moment? I think we could get them to change. I really do believe not just with these kids but with everyone if we could work out what things in this present moment are worth living fully for and how can be be fully present then things would change.
The reason why we don’t teach this? Because so very few people live it. I know I struggle to. But that is also something I’m learning and am going to take in 2016 – that if I don’t get it right today then I forgive myself and start again. I don’t even have to wait till tomorrow to start again. I can start again the moment I realise that I’ve messed up and am not fully present, not looking at what is worth living fully for at this moment.
I was trying to practise this whilst out walking with the dog this morning. Ok it was helped by the fact that there was the most gorgeous burnt copper sunrise. But I’ve got lots on my mind. Today my mum and her husband are coming to “do Christmas” with us, so there was food stuffs to think of; my son is having an operation and I want to be there for him but he leave 200 miles away; my daughter is off back to uni 100 miles away and I was trying to work out whether I could manage to take her back; and of course the big one – we’re moving. All these thoughts were crowding into my head and taking over often. As was the thing of wondering what life will be like this time next month. But whenever I realised that I was not in the moment I wouldn’t be cross with myself but would just pull myself back and go back to enjoying the sunrise and the lovely day, and watching the dog rushing about. And of course my mind would wander again and again would have to be pulled back.
Again I think this is a place where we aren’t kind to ourselves or others; we don’t cut anyone any slack. If we mess up we’ve failed. If someone does something wrong they are labelled as a certain type of person. Very rarely do we give ourselves or others the grace to just say this is a phase. I am learning with my family, husband and children, to try to just let it be and say this is what it is for now. Do I force them to change? No that would be wrong because what do I know about what is best for them. Many times I’m not sure what is best for me until I’ve tried it, and then sometimes its best of then but not later on. I am a fluid evolving being and so are those around me. To truly accept this growth and change and living in the moment we must trust that all will be well.
Or as it said is Star Wars: The Force Awakens “The Light — It’s always been there. It’ll guide you.” And also “As long as the sun is there we have hope”
I was brought up short on how little choice we give people when we are the ones in power to decide. We asked the kids that I work with what they would like for their Christmas party. Of course they came up with loads of different ideas but in reality there was only one option and we, the adults in charge, went with what we believed would work and would come within our budget. One of the young people challenged me on it and I did realise how often I do it too. In my family I will ask my kids what they fancy doing and then will make the executive decision myself.
In fact anyone who has a modicum of power over someone does the same. We pretend that we are including them in the process but in fact we are only going through the motions and making them feel good. Yet there are times, like with me in the week or with this article in the paper where someone pulls them up. What do we do about it? We carry on anyway.
I have often thought that we pretend we live in a free country, yes to a point we do because we can say what we want without fear of arrest, on the whole worship how we want without fear. There are certain rules, like not running naked in public, driving on the left hand side of the road, our judicial system, that keep us in check on certain things but on the whole we are free. But that freedom only comes with being able to safely do and say what we like. It does not mean that anyone will take any notice – whether government, parent or teacher!