Advent for Christians is the season leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This year Advent began on 29th November, the earliest date possible. It’s a time when many traditional churches light candles, and Christians wait expectantly for Christmas Day when we remember the birth of Jesus, and look forwards to his promised return.
So what are we doing this Advent? Is it a special time? or are we absorbed in planning and logistics? Who to invite, who to ignore, and why? How much to spend, and who to buy presents for? What parties to host, and which parties to attend? What to eat and drink, and have we got enough? And above all, how do we get what we want, eat and drink what we want, and get to do what we want?
As a result, what should have been a blessed time for peace and reflection, we have made into a stressed time of soaking ourselves in materialism and over-indulgence. What began in a poor humble shelter has been commercialised and become all about money and corporate or personal gain. And what was a simple birth has become an excuse for gluttony and excess.
So what can we do about this, if indeed we want to do anything at all? How do we bring Advent and Christmas back to basics within all the busyness and responsibilities of modern life?
Well, I suppose I could try to take some time out of my frenetic preparations. Impossible you might say! But time-out doesn’t have to be hours and hours, just a couple of minutes of space and mindful thought can bring focus and rejuvenation. Perhaps I can think outside the box, and every time I go up the stairs, I can ask for His help in what I am doing. When I have that peaceful moment alone in the loo, I can ask God for patience in the turbulence of life. When I’m standing by the kettle, making yet another cup of tea or coffee, I can praise Him for the gift of friends and family. I can begin the habit of looking at things positively and endeavour to bring Jesus right into my busy life by my attitudes and the way I treat others. I can seek out the good, and stop thinking and behaving as if I am the most important person in the universe.
Just over a year ago; last June to be precise, I visited a friend in Littlehampton. It was a cold, damp and wind-swept day, and I posted a couple of ‘deserted beach’ pictures. This year, it couldn’t have been more different. The summer sun was shining brightly, the sky was blue, with high vaporous swirls of cloud, and the slight breeze was definitely a warm and gentle one. Despite being midweek, and most children not yet broken up for the school holidays, there were plenty of people spread out on the beach. We splashed our way through cold wavelets in the sandy shallows, while some braver folk were swimming in the icy water. The beach shops and stalls were open, selling everything from fish and chips and ice-cream, to beach shoes and buckets and spades. Gaudy summer dresses and sun hats were everywhere, and the ambient mood was light-hearted and carefree. What a difference a bit of sun, and a bit of welcome warmth make to an English summer beach.
Names are very important, but we rarely have any choice in the matter. My parents chose my name, they signed a form, and that was it. My name means ‘youthful’, but does its meaning have any impact on me, or define who I am?
Then we choose names for our own children. We pore over baby books searching for names we like, have suitable meanings, or sound right when linked with our family name. Or do we make something up, like J M Barrie with ‘Wendy’ in Peter Pan. Our children have no choice, we sign the form, and that’s it.
Some may change their names, but how do they choose? We all have pre-conceived ideas about names – the spotty kid we grew up with, the class clown, the girl who was always top of the class, or names of pop stars and celebrities. And would changing our name actually make any difference to the essential part of us, because surely we’d still be the same person inside?
Some names seem to go on for ever, weaving through history; some appear for a moment, and disappear again just as quickly; others come and go, their popularity waxing and waning like the phases of the moon. And don’t start me on spellings – how can children learn to spell if their own names don’t follow the phonic rules of their mother tongue?
However,whether we like them or not, our names do give us a place in society, a place in history, and a place within our circle of friends and family. My friends and family know me by my name, and I know them by theirs, and that’s a very good place to be.
I’m finally, and reluctantly coming to the end of my holiday in Australia. I have one more day, and will probably spend most of that packing and stressing about whether my luggage is over weight or not! If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I’ve had a fantastic time; visited lots of fabulous places; seen many incredible sights and scenery, had some very different experiences, been called a ‘pom’ a few times, and generally had a wonderful time.
I leave Australia with very mixed feelings. I’ve been here nearly two months, and am now looking forward to getting home – despite the cold and wet of an English winter, (but hoping I’ve missed the worst of it). I am eager to see my daughter and son, and of course my dog Brinny. I’m also looking forward to catching up with other family and friends. I am however very sad to leave my sister Sue, brother-in-law Chris, and the family, and also the brightness and warmth of the Australian summer!
So farewell Australia, till I visit again – which I’m sure I will!
Flag of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Families are great. We may be widely flung, sometimes across the world, but there is a connection between us that goes beyond casual acquaintance. I find that when I’m with one of my two sisters we will sometimes both start to say the same thing at the same time. We often use the same expressions, and laugh at similar things. I suppose we have similar early life experiences, similar foundations and we have some of the same memories. But all our relationships, family and friends, need to be actively nurtured. We cannot expect to have a relationship with anyone if we do not communicate. It doesn’t necessarily have to be face to face, but emails, snail mail, phone and texting, also have their place in keeping relationships alive. I remember that when my sister first emigrated we could only correspond by letter and the occasional tape cassette. There was no email back then, and phone calls were too expensive, but despite that we never lost touch, and our relationship was kept alive.
Now it is much easier to keep in contact with our far-flung friends and family, but it still takes effort. Email, phone calls and texting all have their place, but sometimes I still resort to old fashioned letters. In fact, the only way I could communicate with my Father-in-Law while he was in hospital, the only way I could show him that I cared, and that I was thinking of him, was to send him letters. But however we do it, we must keep communicating, keeping those lines open, and not taking each other for granted. We all have busy lives, and it’s easy to forget, and let time pass. So I urge you, contact that old friend, speak to the family member you haven’t seen for a long time, or send that letter, before it’s too late.
At the beginning of this week of cruising, I wondered how we would all get along – four ladies, closely confined in a cabin with bunk beds; sharing a bathroom with only one shower, one hand basin and one toilet. We were friends at the beginning; would we still be friends at the end?
So I just feel the need to mention a few things………
The Nitty-Gritty of Cabin Life – without dropping anyone in it!
(I may be persuaded to divulge names for a small fee. – Or I may be persuaded to withhold them for a larger one!)
In no particular order:
- Someone was free and easy with the curling tongs, she curled my hair, and got my hair tangled up in the curler brush. It took hours to get free, (well, at least ten minutes), and I’m sure I’ve now got a bald patch…… Oh, and someone else got their ear burned!
- The steward left a piece of chocolate on our pillows each evening when he got the bunks down and the beds ready. But it kept going missing. Who was stealing the chocolate? The person concerned did finally confess, but claimed she’d only been testing to see if it was milk or plain!
- We discovered that a certain person likes her bunk made properly (that narrows it down – it was someone on a bunk). She would not tolerate a badly rucked up bottom sheet without making a fuss! So one day she stripped the bed completely to make sure Glen the steward would make it properly, I wonder what he thought she’d been doing!!!
- Someone moaned every time she suspected someone else had been touching her towel. Mind you, it was a bit tricky, all the towels and flannels were white, there were big towels and little towels, flannels and a shower mat – all of them white – thats 13 bits of white towelling…… How did she expect us to know which was hers?
- Someone made special friends with a waiter called Milton. We think he must have been very clean.
- I broke a glass in the sink.
- Someone kept losing things (or was it more than one of us?) belts, strapless bras, Bergen fact sheets, phone chargers, trip tickets, chocolate (?) ………
- Someone reckoned that the rest of us were not always out drinking in the bar all night, (at least not with her), so that’s ok.
- Someone was insufferable when she kept winning at Canasta; and that was after I’d saved her life at the Briksdal Glacier!
- Someone draped other people’s wet socks over the television rail to dry.
- We did all agree that the 24hour buffet was too tempting, and that someone should be in charge of ‘waist/waste management’.
- I was rebellious and refused to ‘posh up’ on the ‘non-posh’ evenings.
- Someone had a secret stash of cabin biscuits (18 packets – we counted), which she claimed she would share out at the end, (end of what we wonder?) And towards the end of the week, the steward explained that he couldn’t give us anymore biscuits because he’d run out! (NB Think she felt guilty, because she did share them all out in the end!)
- We have photographic evidence that someone really likes cakes. Who’s got that photo?
And of course, you will have all realised by now that none of it was me, because I am perfect! (except for the glass, which was obviously an accident!)
PS. We are all still friends 🙂
I don’t like to disappoint people or let them down. I always aim to be accommodating, to do my best to help out, be a good friend, be supportive. There are times however, that I just can’t. It may be that I’ve made a mistake, someone else is at fault, or it’s unavoidable for another reason. There are also times when other people’s expectations are unreasonable, they have misjudged my capabilities, or perhaps what they expect isn’t right for them or me anyway, and I need to say ‘no’.
As I’ve got older I’ve gained some understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve begun to recognise my own limitations. I also know that I can’t please everybody. ‘You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ This quote is commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, possibly adapted from poet John Lydgate (1370-1450); but oh so true!
I try not to make a promise when it is something that I don’t know for certain. I hate it when an adult promises something to a child, and then doesn’t do it, for whatever reason. That child can carry the disappointment for the rest of their lives, unacknowledged and unresolved. And I don’t like those films where the hero ‘promises’ everything will be alright; but despite all his good intentions, we all know as soon as he has said it, that it is actually beyond his power, and people are going to die, and nothing will ever be the same again.
So where do I go from here? I will continue to be a good friend, I will always make promises carefully, and I will carry on learning when to say ‘no’.