Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I believe in Magic

As a toddler, Young Lady was terrified of Santa.  Not only did she want nothing to do with the Mall Santa, she was scared to got sleep on Christmas Eve, afraid of the strange man in a red suit who might come into our house in the night while we’re sleeping.

“How about if Mummy and Daddy fill your stocking and just pretend its Santa?” I suggested.  She nodded eagerly, snuggled under her blanket and was asleep within minutes.

Several years later, a few days before Christmas, I was driving with a 7 year old Young Lady in the car with me.

“Santa’s not real, is he?” she said suddenly, “It’s just you and Daddy pretending.”

“Actually,” I answered her, “He was a real person.  His name was Nicholas, and he was a bishop of a town called Myra many hundreds of years ago.”  I then told her what I could remember off the top of my head of the story of the original Saint Nicholas (as summarised by Gary Hansen in his post here).

Her eyes grew wide, her little mouth dropped open, “You mean he really is really real?”

When we got home, I showed her in the Atlas (with a little help from Google) where Myra was (yes, that is a very long way from the North Pole).  We found this beautifully illustrated book at the library which told more of the stories of Saint Nicholas.

I found it tragic that a Vicar in the UK got into trouble for telling the story of Saint Nicholas to a group of children.  When I read some of the comments of the complaining parents that were quoted in the report, my first reaction was you can’t be serious! Either this is some over-reactive attention seeking, or these parents have missed the whole point completely! (Remember, there was this baby, who was put to sleep in a manger because there was no room in an inn…)

My own experience with my children has been that the original story of Nicolas has added to the awe and wonder and magic of Christmas, perhaps because it’s grounded in a real person (possibly some of the stories are slightly exaggerated by the distance of time) who lived in a real place (locatable on a map) in a real time (even if it was 1700 years ago). 

I’ve told my children that even though Nicholas died a very long time ago, because he was so good and generous and kind and loving, that his Spirit has lived on and become part of the Magic of Christmas that is still alive today.  Every time someone does something kind and generous in remembrance of Nicholas, they keep the spirit and magic of Nicolas alive.  (Yes, that’s the same magic that fills children’s stockings with goodies on Christmas eve).

Stories like this one in my own neighbourhood:  an anonymous benefactor has bought a HOUSE for a pensioner who would otherwise have been left homeless.

Or this story doing the rounds of Social Media:

Real stories, that happen in the here and now.  Not just the big ones that hit the news headlines or go viral on the internet, but also the smaller, everyday random kindnesses by ordinary people.  They are far more inspirational than the commercialised fantasy story involving flying reindeer and a sleigh full of expensive toys.  (I wonder how much in royalties Hollywood has paid to Coca-Cola over the years for their use of their character?). 

Here is the real magic of Christmas.  Ordinary people can be inspired by the greatest gift of all that we remember at Christmas – that God himself came to make himself known to us as one of us.  Ordinary people can demonstrate that love to others that was first shown to us through a child born 2013-ish years ago.  Ordinary people keep that Spirit and Magic alive.

Sometimes the very best of stories are the ones that happen to have been true once upon a time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are you listening?

There’s been a bit of attention in our local newspaper around the issue of poverty in our city.  This has generated some interesting conversations with various people about the issue.  This opinion article by Michael Gorman makes some excellent points.  The sad reality is that the stories that are published in the newspaper represent the tip of the iceberg.

I find myself straddling the tracks somewhat, between the “haves” and the “have-not's”. 

I grew up in a middle class family, with parents who were able to support and encourage me through school, and tertiary study as well.  My husband was forced through his family’s circumstances to leave school at 15 with no qualifications. His parents hadn’t known how to help him learn and support him in doing well, since they had also left school at a young age to enter the unskilled workforce.

I work in a professional environment, and many of my social contacts are on a “comfortable” income.  Yet I live in a neighbourhood just around the corner from Struggle Street.  My children have classmates who would be among those classified as being in poverty.

Of those I know, they are not families who are irresponsible or lazy or wasting their money on smokes or booze, which are the accusations the “Better-offs” often come out with.  They work, but on a minimum wage.  They have never had the opportunity of education to get the next step up the employment ladder.

Some families are on welfare benefits, through ill health, redundancy or relationship breakdown.  None of the beneficiaries I know want to be there, yet dealing with Work and Income to try to get what assistance they are in need of is a nightmare of condemnation and belittling put-downs.  If you can get though an interview with a case worker without ending up in tears you’re doing really well.  It’s easier to not ask.

These families are careful budgeters, where every cent is accounted for.  They are skilled at making a few dollars go a long way.  But in the last 4 years there has been a steady increase in the cost of food, rent, petrol and power, with no change in their income.  There is no room in that budget for any savings, for putting aside a contingency fund, so when there’s an unexpected trip to the doctor, or the rent goes up again, that’s enough to tip the balance from “coping” to “not coping,”

When I try to describe what some of these families are going though to my “better-off” friends, it’s like trying to describe what the Christchurch earthquakes were like to Aucklanders – despite their best intentions they just don’t get it.

This is not a political blog, and I don’t think there is an easy solution from a political point of view.  All I do know is the current government’s policy of “do nothing” seems to be achieving nothing.  Until those in the position of making those decisions actually take the time to get to know, listen to and understand those having to live on Struggle Street they’re not going to be able to find a solution that makes a real difference where it’s needed.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s nearly Christmas.  For some families it’s going to be yet another lean Christmas, a stressful and depressing time when they see all the glittery stuff the retailers are pushing at them.  No parent wants their child to miss out, yet even buying simple presents for the children can only be done by incurring further debt or else finding some second hand things for presents for their children and hoping there are no unexpected expenses this year.

Christmas is when God came to us, became part of our world, rubbed shoulders with us, and understood humanity by living with us as one of us.  He didn’t come to palaces, to the elite, he came to a peasant girl, born in homelessness.  His arrival was announced to shepherds not nobles.  His ministry was characterised by compassion for the needy.  His call to us is to be His representatives in this world, to continue His ministry to those who need it most. 

The Christmas message should be one that’s most relevant to the disadvantaged, yet they’re the very ones who struggle to afford to celebrate it. 

There's more to charity and compassion than a quick hand out to appease your own conscience.  It needs to start with respect, listening and understanding. What about you? How can you bring His presence into those who need it most in your community this Christmas?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

O Christmas Tree

At last, with 10 days to go before Christmas we finally have a Christmas Tree up.

I assembled the “tree”, then left the room while the children tackled the box of decorations.  I think they did a particularly good job.  My favourite bit is their use of a “Happy Birthday” crown that Miss Boo brought back from a birthday party earlier in the week.

I pulled out the nativity scene I’d hand made from modelling clay back last century.  It’s showing a little bit of wear and tear, but I just love the expressiveness of these figures. 

When I first made it I always had in mind to go back and make more figures in later years, but when I tried my hand at a shepherd the next year I just couldn’t get it to work. The knack or muse had passed.

If I don’t see you again before then, may you all have a blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Diabolical December

Nutty November has become Diabolical December – at least for the first half of the month.  It seems like everyone thought “Let’s do our end of year thing at the beginning of December before it gets too busy” with the result that the beginning of December is now frantically busier than the second half of December.

I’ve made an advent wreath, and because I wasn’t organised enough to buy lollies, I photocopied the devotions for December from Bible Through The Seasons (that I used last year), and slipped each day’s reading into the advent calendar pockets.

Even with making a little bit of “slow time” each day with the family, I’m still feeling the effects of the busy-ness of this season.  I’m finding that normal pressures are becoming stressful, normal stresses are triggering anxiety, the knots in my stomach are out of proportion to what’s triggering them.  I’m recognising that this is my body’s way of telling me I need a break, a holiday!  Until that happens, I’ll make do with crawling into my nest/cave/corner of the bedroom whenever I can and hiding with a book.  Let me know when it’s all over and I’ll come back out then.

How are you coping with the “Silly Season”?