Good Friday Bad Friday!

Have you ever been so involved in something that you never had to make a decision to be a part of it?  It just happened – no effort required.  It’s not that you didn’t want to be involved, you did, but even if you didn’t, you still were!  It was a part of who you were and you were expected to and you wanted to.  And then something changed!  Everything you loved about that thing became a huge effort.  It was hard and confronting and easier not to do anymore!

Maybe I need to make things a little clearer.  The thing I am talking about is church.

For the first 30 years of my life, my Church was the centre of my existence.  As a child, it was a place we went every Sunday with my Mum.  It wasn’t easy for us to go because my Mum didn’t drive and our Church was a good 30 minute walk and then a good 30 minute bus ride for us to get there.  I dressed up in my Sunday clothes (which did not include jeans) and I went to church with my sister, brother & mother.  My father wasn’t a church goer but never once did I consider staying at home with him!  Mostly, I loved it.  I loved the music, the friends, the babies I could carry around, the community lunches, the fellowship and I loved my relationship with Jesus!  It was so much a part of my life, that when it came time to fall in love and find a husband, being a Christian was very high on the list of pro’s.

So, when I turned 21, I married my husband, Adrian, who just happened to be a Pastor – straight out of  the Seminary!  The next 10 years, our ministry was our life as we served God in two parishes in Queensland, Australia.  I loved the challenging day-to-day life of ministry.  I loved the friends I made, the service I could give, the music, the fellowship and my relationship with Jesus.

But then it stopped!

Due to circumstances I won’t go into here, our family was cut loose from our church and our formal ministry ceased when we didn’t want it to.  We were not cut loose from our friends and family but everything that used to be so easy and comfortable, became hard and uncomfortable.  Together, we continued to worship and strive to serve God in our new uncomfortable life.  It was not easy, but we had each other for encouragement and to carry one another along the way. We struggled on, doing this for 18 years and it never really felt the same but we did not give up.

Then Adrian was diagnosed with terminal cancer and on a Good Friday, 6 years ago, he slipped into a coma and died on the Easter Monday.  It was then that church got really scary and hard and not even the remotest bit natural for me.  And here I sit on the eve of Good Friday, desperately wanting back that feeling of not having to make a decision to be a part of church.  Knowing that my relationship with Jesus has nothing to do with attending church but feeling like it’s starving from the lack of sustenance.  Feeling like the decision is just too hard and I am just too empty.  But aching for the comfort of the cross and the resurrection but only feeling death and pain and aloneness.

I feel ashamed of my inability to forgive, when Jesus so freely forgives me.  I question my sadness and loneliness when God,  also knows only too well the pain of loss.  For almost 25 years now, church has felt like a stranger to me.  I long for the friend that she once was.  Sanctuary.  Guidance.  Comfort.  These are the things I want to find there.  But I don’t.  I feel angry at Adrian because he is already with Jesus and no longer has to make the effort or make a decision like I do.

So why am I writing this down in my blog for the world to see?  What am I wanting from people in response?  When I began writing The Mandy Diaries, I was writing for myself.  To express myself, to feel connected to the world.  I still feel this is what I do here.  I want to be honest – even if it is too hard for others to read because this is who I am. This is my struggle.  This is my emptiness.  And as the tears flow down my cheeks, I need to say that I don’t want Easter to come this year or any year – until I can feel the empty tomb inside me filling up with the natural desire for church to be easier and expected.  Not hard or scary.

So I am ready to press publish …… but I feel the inner desire to apologise for this post.

But I have NOTHING to apologise for.

So if you are reading this ……. I had courage!

PS: I’ve loved this song for awhile now but haven’t really been comfortable with some of the explanations given of its meaning. I post it today because it perfectly describes the depth of anguish I feel today. And as I’m being courageous here is Take Me To Church by Hozierhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFROH_nzqfE

A Day That Made My Heart Sing.

What a gorgeous day I had yesterday!  I slept in.  No work on a Monday is great!

I met up with my girlfriend and we went to see the beautiful Cinderella.  Yes, you heard correctly!  Two plus 55-year-old women, with grown children and no grandchildren, went to see the movie Cinderella.  It was gorgeous and lovely and magical and sigh ….. We were taken on a dreamy journey from the very first “When you wish upon a star” – straight back to our childhood Sunday evenings.  Those Sundays and that song, signaled a family viewing of the wonders of Walt Disney’s Disneyland on TV.

Cinderella had us entranced from the very first scene, as we were transported back to our little girl dreams of finding our own Prince Charming.  Now, I’m not really a sparkle and princess kinda girl but I loved it.  Judging by the sighs coming from the seat beside me – so did my mate.  We had a magical  time of glass slippers and fairy godmothers and “Isn’t that Rose from Downton Abbey?” and “There’s the guy from Game of Thrones!”  It was great!  As was the catch up chat over lunch.

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Later that evening, another great friend and her hubby took me to the most stunning church on the top of a hill – yes you guessed right, it was a Catholic church – with the most stunning night-time view, to hear the most stunning music.  It was glorious!

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Old Boys from St Laurence’s played guitars, in a choir of no voices but only strings, that had me entranced for the second time in a day.  Then came a quartet of guitars playing JS Bach, that could only be described as exquisite.  Next, the Community Choir sang with such beauty and spirit, that my friend tells me that we (her & I) will aim to be a part of that group next year ….. and I think I agreed!!!  Lastly, the hour and a half of music ended with the Old Boys Choir!  As the mother of 3 sons, I had completely forgotten how much I love to hear men sing!  It was to die for and the Ave Maria brought tears to my eyes, as it floated back and forth between the divided groups at the front and the group at the back of that gorgeous church.  What a blessing that evening of music was to my heart and spirit – and all for a free will offering that was going to a mission project in Asia.

With my heart overflowing with joy and music and beauty I was transported home where the love and gratefulness continued.  BabyBoy, who has been staying with me for a while, decided to go on a late night Maccas run and we had some of the best fries we had eaten for ages!  Apple pies ….. did I mention apple pies?  Yum!

McDonalds-Apple-PieEnchantment from morning ’til night.  How lucky am I?

Christmas Thoughts.

I am struggling!

I so want to write about the wonderful anticipation and joy I am feeling about the approaching season of Christmas but I am just not there.  My thoughts are crowded by all the pain and hurt that the world keeps doing to each other and the distance from my extended family seems greater than ever this year.

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I am a Christmas fan.  I love everything about it.  I love the music.  I love the food.  I love the decorations.  I love the mail.  I love the gift buying and wrapping.  But most of all I love the gift giving.  Gift giving is my thing.  I find it so hard to describe the utter joy I get from finding exactly the right thing for the right person and then seeing the joy on the face of the recipient when they open the gift.  Don’t get me wrong – I love to receive gifts too but nothing gives me joy like giving!

Can you imagine, then, how suffering from extreme anxiety has played havoc with my Christmas preparations?  Gone is the ability to wander aimlessly around the shopping centres and malls, waiting for the right gift to jump out at me, shouting “Pick me! Pick me!”  Gone is the joy of last minute late night  shopping excursions for food.  No more do I have the “gay abandon” to play my Carols loud and long.

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I am plagued by what if’s and maybe’s and almost’s!  I may have found the right gift for the right person but it is yet to be wrapped – in case I find something better!  The CD may be in the player but it is not playing, in case I offend my neighbours.  My fridge is full of homemade goodies but what if they are not tasty enough to share?  Alternatively, some gifts have not yet been bought because the drive to the shop seems too hard.  Or posting the cards and parcels will probably be to late now – so why bother at all?  And church – where do I begin?

All my life, Christmas has stemmed from my belief that Jesus is the reason for the season!  I know that the babe in a manger  and the love freely given that day is and should be the focus.  But when your concentration is so shot to pieces that you have trouble walking the 100 metres down the drive to get your mail from your letterbox – it is sometimes too hard to get to church and sing his praises.  It doesn’t mean I love Him any less!

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So, as I stand in my almost completely, decorated home, next to my almost completely trimmed Christmas tree, with many gifts waiting to be wrapped and some still waiting to be bought.  I try to focus on the things I have completed and not that my house needs a clean or Mt Washmore is once again threatening to have a landslide or my yard is not a pretty sight!  I try to celebrate my have done’s not my still to do’s!

And if I do make it to church during the Christmas season, try not to think poorly of those Christmas & Easter worshippers!  Stop for a moment and consider what it may have taken for them to actually get there! And if you do receive a gift from me this year – know what it has taken to get it for you.  You are one of my special ones that have forced me out of my safe place – to take the risk because I think you are worth it!

Christmas is about how God Gave

Kind of like how God sent that tiny babe at Christmas.

Grief and the Holidays.

When you have been married to a Preacher Man, no matter how many years ago, when he dies, your memories good and bad will always be tied to those special Christian festivals.

I love the holiday celebrations.  They have always been my thing.  It started as a child for me, when my hard-working parents couldn’t afford many extras during the year but at birthdays and Christmas and Easter we were spoilt with gifts and food and church festivals. Don’t get me wrong – we never went without anything on a day-to-day basis – but excess was often the go at holiday time!  Rituals were begun and followed. Like the yearly Christmas visit to  my Dad’s brother’s place, where my Aunty always had her tree decorated with lollipops!  Or the fact that Mum always included a religious gift with our Easter eggs.  I remember with delight a beautiful pink twinkley cross to wear around my neck and my Living Bible that was all the rage in the 1970’s.  Christmas was church and carols and Advent Dinners and beaches and new dresses for the Sunday School Nativity.

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Pohutukawa tree also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.

I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand in a church with many European nationalities.  Each of those wonderful families brought a lot of their home culture to my Mandy Christmas tradition that was being moulded.  Candles were always important, as was music, food, and seasonal colours.  A real tree was much-loved and decorated with the symbols of God’s gift to us.  The Advent Wreath, that dripped candle wax on you, at Communion time, if you were not careful. And Carol singing will always begin in my mind with

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

and end with

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

So it was not surprising to me, that I chose to get married during Advent to my Preacher Man.  The church was decorated with the previously mentioned Advent Wreath and there were pine fronds in the church flowers.  I was presented with a beautifully decorated rolling-pin to carry from a Swedish family, which I cherish to this day.

Swedish rolling pin given at my wedding.
Swedish rolling-pin given at my wedding.

And so my own family tradition began!  Adrian’s family were not much on tradition, so it took  few years to train my Preacher Man up on what was expected.  A real tree was found and decorated with love and family heirloom decorations.  If money was tight, as many presents as you could buy for a set amount must be bought and each item must be wrapped individually!  The Advent Dinner must be full of purple and candles and Carols.  Then as our Boys arrived, more traditions developed with decorations galore, many with a European touch and presents opened on Christmas Eve, after church, as a nod to both of our German heritage. The Boxing Day test match on TV was never missed.  Our family celebrated the Christian holidays with gusto – both Christmas and Easter.

Our presents all wrapped individually!
Our presents all wrapped individually!
Easter tree.
Easter tree.

They were our favourite ….. and then Adrian died …… on an Easter Monday!

How to go on?  Not only on a day by day basis but those special holidays that were all of a sudden raw and full of pain.  He would want us to celebrate.  After arriving in our marriage with little or no Christmas celebratory spirit, Adrian, in his last years questioned why the Christmas tree couldn’t stay up all year long!  He loved it!

I go through the motions of Advent – the season of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Christ Child but also the coming of another wedding anniversary  – spent alone.  I buy and wrap each gift with love and thoughtfulness but when I sign the card from Mandy or Mum or Aunty Mandy and not Mandy & Adrian or Mum & Dad or Aunty Mandy & Uncle Adrian, there is always a lump in my throat and a sadness in my heart.  I decorate the tree using the old and much-loved family decorations, wishing it could stay up all year long.

Oldest Christmas decoration - once owned by my Grandparents and future cause of ownership dispute by the Boys in years to come. We only have one and they all want it!
Oldest Christmas decoration – once owned by my Grandparents and future cause of ownership dispute by the Boys in years to come. We only have one and they all want it!

The same occurs at Easter time where my heart is grateful for God’s sacrifice of his Son but empty at the loss we experienced at this time almost six years ago.  But my Preacher Man would want me to continue the traditions we forged as a family in the 30 years we spent together.  For our Boys and their future families and for those around me that help me through these times.  I try to continue making meaningful rituals that symbolize that life continues and we take our memories with us as we move on.

I am grateful for the reminders of God’s grace and love and the certainty of being reunited in eternity.  I can acknowledge the peace that passes all understanding but I give myself the permission to struggle through these wonderful celebratory days, with my heart brimming and my eyes glistening with love and loss.  And if I choose to be quiet and withdraw from life some days – that’s acceptable too!

Christmas remembrance
Christmas Remembrance candles for my Dad, Adrian & my dear friend Ross.