Archive for the ‘Family stuff’ Category

Christmas is all about family. About celebrating together, about eating as much as will fit inside, about drinking a lot and about having fun together. Silly games are optional. You hear the stories of the harassed mother who has to cook for thirty on Christmas Day and then another twenty on Boxing Day, but the dishwasher is on the blink. You hear people complaining that they are just so busy as they travel around from pillar to post. But quite frankly, sometimes I just get a little jealous.

I love cooking and entertaining and having fun with friends, but Christmas is a family time. And so often it feels just like I don’t fit. Sometimes, even the events scream out “you need to have children” or those who have come by themselves have to move from the best seats with a view so that others who have come together can sit together. It’s fine. It’s a season for everyone, and yet, there is a lie right at the bottom of it. That lie says we are measured by who we’re with and what we can cook for them. That it isn’t Christmas if it isn’t fun.

Last night I watched a programme about Christmas No. 1 singles, and they started with a comment about Christmastime in post-war Britain. Apparently things were tough, and no one had any money, and it took music from the US to come and cheer things up a bit. That seems so distant now from the excesses we see all around us all the time today – even in times of great poverty and austerity.

Being with friends and family isn’t what makes Christmas. It is still Christmas when we’re lonely and on our own. When the family have fallen out and we’ve been dumped by another half. It’s still Christmas whether we’re rich or poor, young or old, ill or well, whoever and wherever we are.

Because Christmas is about God coming to earth, to live with his people and to be one of us. It’s about God taking a humungous risk in order to save us from the things we’ve done wrong. It’s about celebrating the incarnation of the Messiah, God’s special saving king, not about celebrating who we are and what we have and who we know.

That’s what’s going to keep me going through all the family services and the awkward dinner and the bad tv. That’s what I’m going to be celebrating this year.Ho Ho Ho

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I have a patchwork quilt I made a couple of years ago. A patchwork quilt is supposed to tell a story. It is supposed to be made of all the special and beautiful and significant fabric that you can find. They are supposed to be carefully and exquisitely designed. Some families have passed quilts down for centuries. Some are made with baby dresses or bits from other blankets. Mine wasn’t.

In some places, prisoners have made patchwork quilts as something to do, and something to teach them the art of sewing. There is a link between captivity and creativity. And those quilts began to restore those prisoners into human beings with purpose and imagination. They now had something to do with the hours of solitude that their confinement gave them. Those quilts also told a story.

Now, I’m not so sure about mine. I used odd bits of fabric that I had, some I bought especially. But I didn’t really believe that I could do it. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to invest lots of money into a project I wasn’t sure I could finish. I didn’t really have lots of money anyway.

Somehow though, that quilt charts a difficult story in my own life. It charts the time  of rejection by my mother (and loss of sewing machine, so needed to be finished by hand). It charts the subsequent year and descent into depression and the dark places. It charts God meeting me there at the bottom of the pit and gradually showing his light into the hole and bringing me to the surface gradually and surely. It charts eventual reconciliation and restoration of a broken relationship, even if it will never be completely perfect. And it looks good on my bed and keeps me warm.

It may not be the finest fabric or a complex design, but my quilt does its job. It tells a story. It reminds me that even when I feel like a prisoner in the darkest place there is hope and creativity and imagination possible. It shows me that I can do it – maybe it isn’t perfect but I made a quilt of my own, and that is a great place to start.

Finally, it demonstrates that even in the darkest places, even at our most hopeless, we still have a story to tell. We still matter. We are made in the image of God, and so we are born to create, elegant or exquisite things or not. And even in the darkest places, we can still believe and trust in the God of hope.

So, yes. I’m single. I don’t have a boyfriend or partner or husband. I don’t have the 3 children that I dream for, in the lovely house in the country where I will have time to bake and do all the fun things that perfect people do (like in the adverts). Have two and a half years to go before I’m thirty (scary times) and no, I’m not on the shelf.

I’m losing count of the times when people have said “I don’t know why you’re still single – there’s nothing wrong with you” or, “You’re not exactly ugly, are you”, or even (a personal favourite) “You’re off to a wedding…do you know that 80% of people meet their other half at a wedding?”

I’m not worried though. I mean, I am only 27. I do still have a few years in which I can work to achieve my dream, as long as I find someone right. Mr Right. Preferably tall, dark and handsome. Funny would be good too. And someone who doesn’t mind helping around the house and all those sorts of things.

But then I think, well, maybe there is something wrong. Maybe there is some sort of arrow pointing down onto my head that I can’t see, but that marks me out as “ooh, I wouldn’t go there…” Maybe the only sort of person who is ever going to fall in love with me will be the person that I could never return the love for. Maybe I’m boring. Maybe I’m fat and ugly and just not interesting at all. Maybe my hair gets too greasy, or I have bad breath and need better deodrant (and I really hope that someone would tell me if that was the case), or maybe…..

And then I have to remind myself to STOP. Because it isn’t really about me is it? Surely it is about falling in love with another person so much that these things don’t matter any more. Its about a relationship that mirrors God’s love with his people – and I think, quite honestly, I’m just not there yet.

I’m sure we have all heard the cheesy statement from someone newly in a relationship that God had been waiting for them to be happy being single and content with life before he provided their Mr Perfect. Just popping out to throw up for a minute.

In my imagination, somehow a husband and the 3 perfect children will solve everything. I will know that I’m loved. I will have a real family again. I won’t need to worry about where I will spend Christmas. Somehow everything will be allright.

Surely I should know these things already? I should know that I am loved unconditionally by the Creator of the Universe, who cared so much that he sent Jesus to die on my behalf. Surely I know that I do have a family. My biological family may be a bit broken, but I do have a family of other Christians who are there (mostly) instead. And there are people who gladly invite me to spend special times with them.

Let’s face it, no husband is really going to measure up to God, are they? However perfect, however right they might be. But I don’t want to let go of those dreams just yet. Maybe I need to grasp the fact that I don’t need someone else to make me complete. Another person is not going to take away all of my problems.

Clearly, I need to trust in God. I need to remember his goodness and his faithfulness, and let him change me and challenge me, transforming me day by day into being more like Jesus. But I probably need to stop beating myself up about it along the way.

So I don’t really have any answers. Hopefully there is nothing drastically wrong with me, and being single is actually good fun. But I do still dream of Mr Right.

I’m just going to put it out there straightaway. I hate Mothers’ Day. Even the apostrophe in it seems out to get you.

I’m sure it is a great time to celebrate families, and give mothers flowers and just show a little appreciation for the fact that someone did change your nappies and clear up your sick for a good few years, before dealing with everything else you decided to put them through.

But what if you don’t have a mother? Or if yours has failed to keep up to the gold standard that society seems to demand? What if you don’t want to show your appreciation, because, it seems that changing nappies was a small price for them to pay for the damage that you feel took place instead?

One of the first Mothering Sundays that I can remember was when I was 8 or 9 or so, and somehow I had manage to wake up and completely forget what day it was. I just remember that she treated me as a criminal for the rest of the day. Just because I hadn’t said Happy Mothers’ Day. I hadn’t properly forgotten, but just failed to realise the significance of the day. And let’s just say, I never forgot again.

Things with my Mum never really got much better than that. I was always in trouble for something, or had always just done something wrong. As I grew older, I just spent more and more time in my room to escape.

But then I became a Christian, and started going to church. And then suddenly I was part of a bigger family. It might be a family that fails sometimes, but they seem to be headed more in the right direction, by aiming to follow Jesus in all that they do. So rather than concentrating on the failure of a relationship which seems to create hurt whatever I do, I want to pay tribute to all the women who have “mothered” me in the Christian sense over the past few years.

First there was M. She was lovely, and had three kids of her own who were also lovely. She helped me to see the good parts in life, and helped me to cry about the bad things.

Then there was D. She helped me to recognise that we can move on from being in a mess to the life Jesus brings to us.

A helped me by simply understanding me. And allowing me to be the person I am, without criticism. She helped me to see how good a family could be, and taught me to relax and be less hard on myself. And promised me that there was always a bed for me if I needed it.

Then we had another A, who totally opened her home to me, and told me that I was always welcome.

L offered me some of the best advice around, helping me to address the problems I have.

J allowed me to be a broken person, reminding me that God loves me still even when I mess things up. And helping me to win the battles deep inside of me, encouraging me to want to get better.

So, thank you God for putting these women in my path over the last few years. I’m so grateful to all of them, and would gladly take any for my mother. It is amazing how we can become family to one another, and I pray that one day, I might be able to help someone else just as these ladies have helped me.