A God who fell down, and cried, and was sad…

sad christmasAnd so we’ve made it, to the last Sunday in Advent, to the end of term and the start of the holidays. We’ve made it to this strange land of Christmas. To be honest I’m not feeling it this year. I’m too much in a haze, my brain exploding with thoughts of moving house (don’t get me started on how odd and surprising that feels right now) and the weirdness of not having slept for more than 2 hours in a row for 10 weeks. 

Christmas feels a far away event, something to be gazed at through frosted panes of glass. However, the myriad of fairy lights outside houses around our city reminds me that something is happening. Son1 points out to me the characters in the nativity daily: kingandkingandshepherdandmaryjosephanddonkeyandcamelandpresentandpresent
andbabyjesus. There is something going on, however remote it feels.

There is something going on which helps make sense of this strange walking through treacle land I find myself in, which helps me keep on plodding through the dark. 

It’s that old word again, Emmanuel. God with us. God with man is now residing. The Maker of all has stepped into the darkness and the darkness doesn’t know what to do. In the midst of aching hearts, weary bodies and confusing times we have a God who knows what it’s like to be in our shoes. 

John1:14 says it all:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us
The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us.

Son1 has read his beginners bible book about the cross so many times (so much that I am sick of it…which feels wrong…) that every time he sees a cross shape he pronounces loudly that ‘Jesus died on the cross’. Interestingly he then recites his own little narrative of what happened next: ‘then fall down, then Jesus cry, then Jesus sad’. It’s the same narrative he recites when he has hurt himself. ‘E fall down, then E cry, then E sad.’ He’s teaching me something of what it means for Jesus to be human. Jesus knows everything my little weirdo toddler has been through and has been through it himself. He knows our pain and he came to ultimately do something about it and about our immediate problem which oddly is bigger than our pain. 

The trouble is I don’t think there is a problem bigger than my pain. I just want sleep, I want my mates not to go through what they are going through, I want a clear and certain future for my brother and his family. I want world flipping peace whilst we are at it. I’m with the Jews- give me a messiah who is going to sort my immediate situation out. What’s the use if he doesn’t?

What could be more important? 

And this is where the words get weak and frail and I can’t really believe them as I write. Apparently we do have a bigger problem. A rift between the Creator and Created that needs to be healed. A new creation that needs to be kick started. Life and death stuff that the birth, life and death of a baby 2000 years ago dealt with. 

There are reasons for rejoicing in the mess and uncertainty of this world but I think it’s a minor key kind of rejoicing. There is a Saviour. There is hope. There is a final day when all the sad will be made untrue but there is a whole lot of confusion and pain right now that doesn’t get sorted out. It’s a wintery joy. A pale sun shining through winter trees showing the hope of summer in the chill of winter. 

That’s all I’ve got right now, a whole load of confusion, mess and fear. Winter is around.

But the seasons change. I don’t understand many things but I cling to the hope of the tender mercy of our God. A God I do not understand and cannot feel right now, but a God who took on flesh, who fell down and cried and was sad. He’s here. Emmanuel. And so we rejoice in that minor key of weary hope. 

Emmanuel has come to us. 

Emmanuel is here.

And so we have Sufjan Stevens and his rather wintery singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

(Christmas points to whoever can tell me what the difference between Emmanuel and Immanuel is…<Mark?>)

(Rather entertainingly son1 also likes to wander around the house singing Rejoice, Rejoice, Samuel is here… that would bring a whole different meaning to Christmas eh…)

(surely that’s enough parenthesises for one blog post..?)

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The one with the Anniversary…

Alright, welcome to the annual mush fest that is the Anniversary Post. Yep, that time of year has rolled around again. It turns out we’ve been married for five whole years now. Our marriage is as about as old as our Godson. We like to look to him to see what kind of state we should be in, so we don’t over expect things from ourselves. This was very helpful in the first couple of years, looking at a small child learning to walk seemed pretty appropriate to where we were. Five years into this adventure and in people terms we’ve just settled into school life and can articulate some stuff.

Let’s remind ourselves of those fresh faced people of 5 years ago.

me and him

And now here we are with the tiny people joining us on this adventure.

us2

Mental.

It’s been a year in which I have been once more impressed at the ability of husbandface to love his grumpy pregnant/sleep deprived wife. He’s cared for me and our boys above and beyond his own strength. I continue to love and adore his passion for life, his giant brain, his gorgeous fuzzy face, his brilliant parenting, his love of our Maker, his patient care and his compassion for those around him.

5 years in and I’m so so glad of him in my life and am looking forward to the rest of this adventure.

It’s been 5 years…

5 years since the ‘I wills’ , the promises of whatever, wherever, whenever, I am yours.
5 years since the first stumbling steps we took together.
5 years since we grinned our way up an aisle.
5 years since we dripped tears at finally belonging to each other.

5 years of starting to figure out how to walk this path together.
5 years of struggling to love, to honour and cherish.
5 years of starting to learn to put the other first.
5 years of beginning to die to self and embrace the wonder of the other.

5 years full of fun, joy, laughter, cuddles, box sets, coffee shops, camping, holidays, Brighton loving, hand holding, delight in each other.
5 years full of misunderstandings, struggles to communicate, loud awkward silences.
5 years of storms knocking us sideways, end of term exhaustions and the darkness of my mind.

5 years and now 2 new lives to bumble along this journey with.
5 years and now facing new challenges and joys daily.
5 years and now learning to parent, to know more of sacrifice, to love through the sleepless nights and exhausting days.

5 years of me and you.

Here I stand. 5 years on. Learning so much from living this life with someone else. In awe of his love for me and our boys. Frustrated as ever by the sin and selfishness that entangles us both. Still delighted to share life with my best friend, my lover, my husbandface.

Raise your glasses once again :)

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Is my baby ‘good’? Well there’s a question…

IMG_3681Lots of people at the moment come up to me, coo at the small creature-like baby in my arms and ask that most ridiculous of all questions – ‘is he good’?

I find it the most laughable question in the world. He’s 9 weeks old. He doesn’t know anything. He’s a bundle of need who has exceptionally cute smiles but he’s all about instinct right now. He’s pretty much a creature. He has no idea what it means to be good, I’m 36 years old and I think I’m only just starting to get an idea.

It might seem to make more sense to ask it of my toddler. Is he ‘good’? I’m not sure what that means either. He’s just learning that he has opinions and can control some of his world. He’s struggling to come to terms with the sad reality that he can’t get what he wants all the time. He expresses that loudly. He delights in the word ‘no’ and he stomps off, deliberately ignoring us. He sometimes listens and does what we say and that’s helpful for him not dying from running in front of a car or burning his hand in the toaster. You can look at him in the space of an hour and decide he’s the most kind helpful child who has ever lived or the most disobedient child in existence. He’s a toddler figuring out the world and I don’t think that makes him good or bad.

I grew up with a profound sense that I was ‘bad’. I was the rebellious younger sibling. I wrote many sorry notes to my parents to try and atone for my wrongs. I hated being ‘bad’. They didn’t give me that label. I think I took it on from who knows where (I’ll get some counselling soon don’t worry..). I now hate using the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with my boys. I don’t want them to think of themselves in those terms. I prefer to encourage more specific words like being kind, helpful, listening etc. ‘Good’ seems so vague, so linked to whether the they are doing what I want them to or not and I think we all know that the world isn’t made up of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people. We are so much more beautifully complicated than that.

As a Christian I’m pretty firmly convinced we have a problem. A major problem. We aren’t born good or bad. We are all born beautiful ruins, insanely made in the image of our maker, immortal splendours (to borrow from CS Lewis). So much more glorious than the word ‘good’ could ever describe. We are capable of such beauty and care for each other. But we are also born in need of a radical change from darkness to light, from being people who naturally reject God to being people who are part of his family. From being people who are selfish and twisted to various degrees to ones able to live a life of sacrificial love. There is a whole lot more darkness in our hearts that we could ever imagine or want to. ‘Bad’ just doesn’t cut it. Here’s a nice video that sums it up better than my sleep deprived words ever could.

The issue isn’t one of how nice we are or aren’t. Lots of us are very ‘nice’ people. The issue lies in whether we accept the outstretched hand of our maker to come out of the cold and sit by his fireplace and learn what it really means to be ‘good’ as part of his family.

So no old lady on the bus, my son isn’t ‘good’. Nor is he ‘bad’. He’s a whole lot more complicated and simple than that. But I sense you are really asking ‘does he sleep all night?’. And no he doesn’t. He’s. A. Baby. He doesn’t do what I want him to. But that doesn’t mean he’s ‘bad’. When he has smiley happy moments he’s not being ‘good’ and when he wails he’s not being ‘bad’. Deal with it.

Your correspondent, sailing dangerously close to upsetting a whole load of people with this one. (Especially if we think about who it is that most wants us to be ‘good’ at this time of year… just how does Father Christmas work it out? Whose standards of ‘good’ is he calling us to anyway?)

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Kicking the darkness til it bleeds daylight…

IMG_3756.JPG
All my words feel hollow and misshapen this advent time. Life is about surviving day after day after day. Frankly it sucks. Yes it’s beautiful and I wouldn’t change it for the world but it still sucks. Big time. We are stuck here in this land of sleepless nights and long tiring days.

Joy enters through the back door. Dancing to Christmas music whilst making porridge in the morning. Cuddles on the floor with son1 as he demands books to be read to him. Christmas decorations up in our flat. The advent puzzle slowly pieced together. Sunset drives over the South Downs. Warm bodies to cuddle in the night. Brief moments of chat with the Husbandface. Light bleeds into the gloomy darkness. Yet I cannot conceive of or hope for change. This narrow world is all I can see right now but the light is not absent.

The light burns deep and long. This cave like existence is brightened and made endurable by the everlasting light who we look to in advent.

My hopes and fears are still met in him. In the baby Jesus. Immanuel. God with us now. There is nothing else to cling to in this broken messed up dark world.

There’s an old line in a song I’ve never heard but it goes a bit like this: ‘I’m gonna kick the darkness til it bleeds daylight’. That’s what we all try and do at Christmas with our sparkly trees, our street lights, our feasts and celebrations. We kick the darkness and we long for the bleeding in of the light. Trouble is our kicks are weak and faltering. We need a blast gun, a massive bulldozer and we need a bigger light. A light the darkness doesn’t know what to do with. A baby who grows to be a man to take all our darkness away for good. A baby who grows to be a man to live and die and rise again.

We need the light of Jesus changing the world, dealing with our pride, our greed and our selfishness. We need a light bursting our darkness so we can live as we were made to live, sons and daughters of the Maker of the world. We need this light so we can hope, so we can love, so we can live beautiful sacrificial lives for each other. Nothing else will work for the deep darkness of this world and our hearts.

I am glad this crazy weird advent that I know and have that light. I need it so I can know that all my anger and frustration that come from this sleep deprived life can be forgiven. So I know that with the dawn of each day comes fresh love and mercy into my dark narrow world.

In this deep darkness the Light has come and I am glad as my stumbling steps get me through each day. Somewhere out there I know that days will lengthen again, that I’ll have space to read and write, that I’ll be able to hold conversations again. There is hope because the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Because unto us a child is born. Because the tender mercy of our God shines on those in darkness. There is hope. There is hope.

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The advent calendar.

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Two years ago in a fit of mania brought on by son1’s birth and much sleep deprivation I sewed together this advent calendar. I think it had something to do with wanting to do something lasting for our children and also wanting to cling tightly to my love of advent in the sea of unknown I found myself in.

Last year son1 didn’t really know what was going on and we attempted to put bible verses in for each day and, as I recall, an attempt to listen to a bit of the Messiah each day. The best laid plans didn’t work and I found many unopened Bible verses when I got it out this year.

Son1 is getting hold of Christmas for the first time this year. He looks at the lights and the trees and decorations and knows they are about this new word in his vocabulary. He made an advent star with the characters from the nativity in Sunday school this week and can name them all with much glee. I’m excited to try and help him deal with the point of it all each year and want to do all we can to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the midst of the getting of presents. I still struggle with this massively and I want to help our family enjoy and embrace this season whilst holding back on the greed aspect. I realise that starts in my heart first.

Anyway. Back to the point. This years advent calendar fits with the simplicity needed in these weary days. Husbandface had the genius idea of getting a 24 piece nativity jigsaw and putting it together over the month. I loved it, we found a jigsaw puzzle that met the description and as our son loves puzzles so much we now have a slight meltdown each night that we can’t do it all at once. Sigh.

It remains a good idea and as son2, and no doubt chocolate, get added over the years I hope it makes up part of our traditions as we look to the mystery revealed at Christmas of the word becoming flesh and making his dwelling amongst us. As we long for the day when the puzzle pieces of life will finally fit together.

(Nice cheesy ending eh :)

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Advent

gloomIt’s advent. That time of the year when we ponder again the mystery of Jesus coming as a baby and long for him to come again. As anyone who has been around these parts a while knows, I love and adore advent. I love the build up to Christmas, the constant reminders of light in the dark, the weirdness of thinking about Jesus coming back again and the hope that is painted all over this season. 

As someone with a small newborn my initial advent musings revolve around having my mind blown that the Maker of the world came and allowed himself to be squeezed inside such a tiny bundle of need. Such vulnerability, such fragile smallness. Such weakness. 

I love the reality of such frailty, God coming as a man, knowing our pain, walking our road, experiencing life as a human. Showing us what he’s really like, letting the mysterious divine be unveiled and revealed to us. 

I long for his return, to make the sad things untrue. I long for Jesus to come back and wipe away our tears. We have friends going through crazy hard stuff right now and we long for a world with no sickness and pain which Jesus’ coming will usher in. Advent feels even more precious and necessary this year as in the darkness and gloom we long and ache for the light. 

Advent also challenges me to face up to whether I really believe Jesus will come back. Do I really believe in the reality of his coming? I think the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. At least in this season I have more hope of remembering and looking for the light of dawn.

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November gloom

treeNovember has a certain quality to it. It’s grey, grey, grey. The days are short and dark, the clouds make everything look bleak and dim. Even though you know there is a bright ball of blazing light out there behind them, it’s really hard to convince yourself of that reality. Once a week or so the clouds part and there are bright blue skies, crisp mornings and wonderful sunsets painting the skies with pink, green and gold in the late afternoons. But for the rest of the days it’s slogging through grey.

It’s a time of year where the grey has a different quality to it. January and Feburary greys are just bleak and depressing. November gloom somehow seems to wrap itself around me in a comforting sort of way. The skies reflect some of the grey bleak slog of life right now through the daze of sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums and newborn crying. It’s that old literary device ‘pathetic fallacy’ at work, where the surrounding weather reflects what’s going on in the story. (Hardy and Dickens love a bit of pathetic fallacy…). I like this kind of gloom. It makes me feel strangely safe.

I feel that way because I know it has an end. Coming around the corner of this weekend is the wonder and waiting of Advent. The lights are blazing in the skies around our cities. Christmas is coming and we love to bust holes in the darkness with the wonder of light and The Light come into the world which the darkness doesn’t know what to do with.

November gloom gives way to Advent light and hope. That’s why I can take a bit of bleakness and that’s why we can make our way through the gloom of this season of our lives right now. We might not see much of each other as we stumble around our children’s tears. We might not be able to connect with each other or friends as we stare blankly at the walls but there is Hope with a capital H living here as well.

The gloom of now is tempered by the knowledge that light is coming, in small ways by knowing that babies eventually learn to sleep, evenings will be ours again one day and that our boys will grow up, different seasons will come upon us. The gloom is also tempered by the knowledge that the Light of the World stands with us in this present darkness and holds onto us. Our walk is not dependent on our ability to pull ourselves together and keep going. It’s dependent on His strength holding onto us, helping us hope, helping us trust in the coming dawn each day and the coming final dawn.

For that is what Advent is all about, a coming final dawn when light will conquer darkness forever. When the gloom will be gone and we will be finally at rest. When the Light who came will come again. I long for the dawn light each morning as I stumble through another night of little sleep. I long for the ultimate dawn.

And so until then.

We look for the light. We look for the Light.

Your correspondent, meant to write about the weather, ended up writing about Advent.

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