December 16, 2012

THE CHRISTMAS LIGHT



LIGHT.

God spoke it into being...out of deep, deep darkness.

Isaiah prophesied about the coming Light into the world as the Messiah.  (Is. 9:2)  At this season, we celebrate Jesus Himself as that Messianic Light.  (Jn 8:12)

And so it is fitting that light is a prominent symbol at Christmas.  Lights on trees, in windows, in streets, in fireplaces, on advent wreaths and candles - they shine out a message.  And although many people decorating with lights don't pay attention to this deeper symbolism, some of us cherish this truth:

"For God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  (2 Cor. 4:6)


Did you notice there is light in His face?  How will we see true light if we don't look there?


This has become my meditation this season.  Meditating on His coming into the world as Light.  Light that has meant salvation for the world.  Light that has meant salvation for you and for me.  Light that has shone into darkness.  Light that restores life:

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."  (Jn 1:4)

And so I am inviting Him to shine into my own dark places.  To let His light burn through them. To let His light reveal, purify and renew.  It is not easy or pleasant some days.  But I am especially desperate this year for His light in me.  For His life in me.  Desperate to celebrate His dawning in all of the places of my heart.  And for that I am looking to His face just as the psalmist did:

"Let the light of Your face shine upon us, O Lord."  (Ps. 4:6)

Wishing you a light-filled Christmas!




Photo by:  Lindsey B. Photography

December 9, 2012

Romance? You Bet.


Next year Mr. Adventure and I will celebrate 25 years together.  I am psyched - not only because there is incredible victory in two head-strong first borns getting through a quarter century together but also because he is planning a trip.  Just for us. We don't do that too often so I am getting really excited.

Where are we going, you ask?  It is a surprise.  And that is why I am writing to you, dear reader. I need advice...

Not that his nickname is a complete giveaway or anything but you can probably guess that I get a little nervous when I think about him planning a trip for us.  Only because his idea of a cool trip and my idea of a cool trip can be slightly different.  Yes, even after 24 years together, we still have trouble coming together on our ideas about some things.  A real shocker, I know.

So far, my only ground rules for where we go are simple:  I don't want to be cold and I don't want to have to wear a burka.  Or a tunic.  Or anything resembling maternity clothes.  That narrows it down slightly.  (I think he was grateful for that.) But for an anniversary trip I confess I am thinking about romance.  Some girls include roughing it and romantic in the same sentence.  I am not one of them.  In the movies, the girls who are roughing it still look beautiful all sweaty out in the desert or in some jungle without a shower for a week but it doesn't quite work that way for me.  I am clearly not Angelina Jolie and my life is clearly not in Hollywood.

Because our work takes us to lots of exotic and sometimes rustic places (and I am grateful), is it wrong to yearn for something simple, something safe and something in a place that is not at war?  Don't get me wrong, there can be romance in these settings but I guess I am a simple girl at heart just wanting some basic sight seeing in a beautiful place with no worries.  I would love to just walk with my tall man and see lovely country or seaside, linger in an outdoor cafĂ© with a book and good conversation and end the day with great food.  A bit traditional, I know. Predictable.   Right out of a chick flick, right?  Sigh.  Guilty as charged.

We both work hard and we're both tired.  This anniversary trip could be the most rest we'll get for a long time!  So I don't really want to go anywhere where there is a complicated border control, where I have to get painful shots, where toilets have pet names like "squatty potty" or where I attract a crowd for not looking like anyone else within a 2,ooo km radius.  I actually find myself yearning to be one of the tourists that we've always made fun of - perhaps because they go to more "normal" tourist destinations.  I don't think we'll be guilty of being an "ugly American".  I rather think we'd actually be interested in people and informed and ask unusual questions that reflect our deep interest in culture and we'll do it in some language other than English.  (My dear US friends, please accept my deepest apologies for this ranting!)

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  Provence, Tuscany, Barcelona...Ahhhh, it sounds perfectly wonderful!  But what if he's thinking Tripoli, Darfur, Syria?   I know what he's up for.  He's always   RFA.  It's his self-appointed nick name:  "Ready For Anything".  I am not joking.   My version of  RFA is more like:  Romantic, Fire-friendly zone & Antipasto.  Or  Restful, Fun & Artistic.  I am definitely not marine corps material...

I am so thankful that we can even go on a trip - I don't mean to whine.  And I am thankful that because of my confidence in his love for me, I know that he will work hard to plan something that will delight both of us.  I am just wondering what he's up to or if I should leave any other hints...

Hmmm...I wonder if he'll read this post?

I know, I know.  Subtle, right?




Photo:  Restaurant Hacienda San Jose in Mexico

December 3, 2012

THE SOULFUL CAROL


(On grief and loss at the holidays)




Who can deny the celebratory spirit in the air as the holidays approach?   At least in the modern western world, there is more music, colour, food & drink, parties, opportunities to give to multiple causes, festive presentations and traditions as varied as the numbers of families that participate.  But if we´ve lived long enough, we become aware as well of an invisible yet palpable sadness underlying it all.  Why such juxtaposition of emotions?

This year (as well as every year), many people are alone and have no one to celebrate with.  Others are living a very difficult season in some arena of their life and cannot embrace the joy.  There are the poor & disadvantaged who find the typical expressions of celebration beyond their means. Many of us reading this live in lands or work with those who live in lands where Christmas is a non-event.  We are far from loved ones and many external “environment enhancers” that remind & prepare us for the holidays. There are a myriad of reasons - from estranged relationships & divided families to illness to distance to finances - that dampen the holidays for many.

But these days I’m thinking about those who are grieving the loss of a person this Christmas. There are people all around us who are living their “First Christmas”:  the First Christmas without someone dear to them.  Their First Christmas with that empty ache, a place unfilled at the table, a void that is unquenchable, memories that hurt and well-meaning people completely forgetful about that important loss.  The entire house – and season – reverberates with loneliness & melancholy.   This is the underlying soulful tune being played alongside the joyful carols throughout the holidays.

My “First Christmas” came in 1997.  My youngest brother was killed in a car accident that September.  He was only 30 years old.  I was living in Argentina at the time with my husband & our two small girls.  I had travelled to California for the funeral and although I had experienced sadness and loss to some degree in other ways in my life, for the first time, grief appeared in living colour.  Actually, it didn’t just appear - it invaded.  And it marked my life forever.

Even though I had been living overseas for some time, and therefore was used to going two years at a time without seeing him, after his death he was everywhere.  For months I thought I saw him walking down the street or coming out of a store or hanging with a group of young people in a plaza.  Young people don’t just die before Christmas!  They are supposed to outlast their parents!  But he didn’t.  I grieved him being gone.  I grieved for my Mom, for my Dad.  I grieved for his girlfriend.  I grieved for the whole family.  And I felt very, very far away.  But grief doesn’t respect kilometers.  It doesn’t respect age.  It doesn’t respect culture or economic status or your marriage or your role as a parent.  It doesn’t respect how mature you are or even how spiritual you are.  It just comes.  And it lingers…at the holidays, at birthdays, and at other special days that are part of your memory with that person.

As the years pass, there is a strange phenomenon with grief that recurs at the holidays.  It is resurrected.  There is something so collective, so relational about the holiday season that even after you make it through the First one, every successive holiday that brings any reminder of that family member or friend, resurrects sadness.  Sometimes it comes upon you through other unrelated things – you find yourself “crying for no reason”.  You may not even put the pieces together but I have found that much of it traces back to resurrected grief over that person.

Seven years later after having moved to Spain, I had another even more cruel “First Christmas”.  I lost my Mom, in the same month as my brother, but this time to a suicide.  I was devastated.  Beyond the sadness was the terrible guilt, with its choking questions and “what if’s”.  I developed a fear of depression as it had played a role in her death.  My role as the eldest daughter was complicated by living a continent away.  My Mom had been renting and we had to get everything out quickly.  This forced me to decide many things before I was ready.  When I returned to Spain, exhausted and grief-stricken, the festivities arrived quickly and were completely overwhelming.  I wanted to scream at the world, “How can you be celebrating?!  Don’t you know my Mom is gone?!”  I had to press on as a mother myself and enter reluctantly into some of our traditions for the sake of my own 3 kids.  But there was no joy that year for me.  Any half-hearted joy expressed was purely for my kids’ sake.

The ensuing Christmases have been slowly, but steadily, more merry.  But for me, Christmas changed forever in 1997.  Then it was irrevocably branded in 2004.  Certain elements of my Christmas Past are gone and my mood is wistful this time of year.  I miss receiving Mom’s “perfect” gifts.  I miss my brother’s relationship to his nieces.  I miss my Mom’s exuberant, child-like excitement at Christmas.  I worry about my Dad, my other surviving brother, my Mom’s siblings.  There is gratitude for memories sweet.  And there is regret for things not lived.  There is melancholy and there is love.  They are my companions at Christmastime.

This holiday season, may we all be aware of the underlying bittersweet carol that plays all around us – and reach out to touch a heart in need.


*If it would help you or someone you know to read a more complete version of my journey with grief,  “Grief in the First Person”, please write to me at:  pamsider@gmail.com.


**If you or someone you know have recently lost someone you love, I recommend this small but powerful series in the healing process:  Special Care Series by Doug Manning


Photo by:  Samurajii

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