Monday, 25 December 2017

Disappointment at Christmas?

It’s been a weird few weeks, a Christmas season like we’ve never quite experienced before.

Lately, my facebook feed and e-mails have been full of Christmas wishes from family and friends. I wanted to respond, but things got a little busy, so we decided to post New Year’s wishes instead. Instead, you are getting my first-ever Christmas blog.

The story started last week. We decided to make a 2-day run for the mainland to catch our three grandgirls in their extravaganza Christmas program. Sure, there was the little matter of a cold coming on, but the Tradex had been rented so all the grandmas and grandpas and omas and opas could attend. The youngest was going to sing a duet in front of 1500 people – how could we miss that?

Well, we did. On Monday, we got to Abbotsford, but on Tuesday, the day of the performance, it began to snow. Whiteout conditions prevailed. The performance was postponed and my cold came on like gangbusters – probably a flu bug in a minor strain. So we headed home again. We watched Aerin’s performance on you-tube instead of live. What a disappointment.

We moved on... by Thursday evening, the bug seemed to have disappeared, and there was much to do. We knew that Saturday and Sunday the kids would be dropping by to play games, open stockings, have a nice meal together. On Monday we had invited other guests to come for a Christmas meal while our married sons attended their in-law gatherings. Eight around the Christmas table: nice! Gives you warm fuzzies thinking about it.

Saturday morning, the phone rang. One of our anticipated guests had gone to hospital overnight, and they were cancelling. Fortunately, the condition righted itself quickly in the next few days, so that was a blessing, although a bit disappointing for us that our good friends wouldn’t be able to join us.  However, we still had a house full of family and would have 6 people around the Christmas table on Christmas day.

Ho, ho, ho: the best laid plans, etc. Saturday afternoon, while making dinner for the family, the bug returned with a vengeance, out of the blue: a heat flush, a near faint, and a run for the bathroom. While the family gathered around the table, I lay in bed shivering and feeling bad. What a disappointment! 

When I let our remaining Christmas guests know about the bug at our house, they gracefully bowed out. Can you blame them? We did have a good Christmas eve – the cook was out of commission, but the “show” went on. I watched mostly from the sidelines, my accustomed role abandoned. Not nice.

Disappointment at Christmas: not an unfamiliar theme, I’m thinking. Rarely do holidays meet our built-up expectations, do they? Some people feel so sad because they are missing someone special on this day. Others have broken relationships that make everything less than perfect. You’re alone, and everyone else seems to be having a good time. The Christmas eve service was a noisy shambles instead of a reverent time of reflection. The gift you were hoping for? It was a slow-cooker instead of the spa-date. We overspend, or overcommit, or are overly busy, or overly lonely,  and then, overly exhausted. Major and minor disappointment all around. My short story of disappointment is really nothing compared to many other stories around the world – stories of refugees, hunger, violence, war, broken politics. It’s a mess out there.

What to say about that?

We managed to make it to a Christmas eve service at a church with a balcony, where the Schut clan sat alone, not spreading my germs to the rest of the congregation. It was good to be there, to sing the carols, to watch the children act out the timeless story, to light candles. But especially good to hear the message, which was startlingly appropriate: Christmas is not about nice. God doesn’t need a nice story, decorated with all the trappings we’ve put on Christmas. Christmas is a messy story about homelessness, hopelessness, violence, political brokenness. Whatever we’re dealing with, it was real back then, too.

Instead,  Christmas is about God with us, entering our lives to show what love was all about. It’s about love made flesh with us, in whatever situation we find ourselves: disappointed, sad, alone, anxious, overstimulated, less-than-perfect, sick with the flu. Not just at Christmas, but everyday. Always has been, always will be.

May you experience that Love, the love that came down, in this wonderful season that disappoints and thrills, that is filled with warm fuzzies and cold shoulders, sickness and health, chaos and caring, joy and tears.   

The advent candle wreath: candles of hope, joy, peace and love -- the gifts of  Christmas, surrounding the Christ candle.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Peace in the Valley

As I begin writing this, it is 10:24 in the evening. I am bushed, but happy. There’s been a lot of hustle and bustle here, but now there is peace.

This is the weekend that our church held its 4th annual display of Nativity sets, and the RS and I are deeply involved in that. The logistics are mind-boggling for my little old non-math-oriented brain: 217  nativity scenes, lent by 50-60 lenders, representing more than 3 dozen countries; 500 visitors; 100 + children who are engaged in crafts, dress-up, and treasure hunts; musicians to be scheduled; scores of volunteers to set up the display, then take down and pack up. There’s lots of preparation – our committee has been meeting since the beginning of October. And then,  all in the space of three days, it happens, and it’s over. 

It’s a labour of love, but that doesn’t mean that all is sweetness and light. There are days that I wonder why we do this, and then, when the actual event happens, we know it was worth it. But isn’t that the way it is with life – most meaningful and fulfilling things take some effort? 

Yes, the rewards are many. Here are some photos: they speak louder than words.

There’s the little fellow, who, upon hearing the story of God coming down to earth and being laid in a box of hay in a barn, exclaims, “But that’s not right! He should be born in a beautiful palace!” There’s another little guy whose eyes are filled with wonder as he looks at a simple scene carved from olive wood. I tell him the set comes from the same country Jesus was born in, and he asks, “Is that across the ocean?” When I nod, he says, “Well, that’s my very favourite set. It’s the most real!” There are busloads of seniors who come pushing their walkers; they wouldn’t miss this annual outing for the world. There are first-time visitors who gasp when they see all the sets. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Oh, wow!” There are families who dress up in costumes and pose around the manger for photos: that’s a new wrinkle on the annual picture with Santa! There are people who tell me, “This brings tears to my eyes.” All of them are meeting Jesus in one way or another: through the eyes, the ears, hospitality and laughter, the experience of seeing that old, old story again for the very first time, as expressed through the artistic skills of people around the world.

But now the hullabaloo is over, and at the Schut ranch, all is calm – or it will be when the boxes and crates are sorted and put away for another year. For me,  the icing on the Christmas cake was that my friend Joy posted a meaningful blog that I think you might enjoy reading, one that gives you food for thought as we light the candle of peace in this second week of Advent leading up to Christmas (it even involves quilting.) I wish you peace from our home to yours.

Read Joy's blog about Patchwork Peace at

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Creature of Habit

Habits, schmabits. Hmmphh. For me, the word “habit” is associated with negative emotions.

When the word pops up in conversation, I feel guilt. I have bad habits. I shouldn’t have bad habits. For example, I’m checking my FB and e-mail way too much. It’s wasting time. I need to change this habit. Associated with that,  a sense of doom. I know I need to get rid of my bad habits, but that’s easier said than done. I’m going to fail. I know it. But I decide: from now on, FB and email once in the morning, once at night. And then there’s frustration, because I park myself in front of the computer and before you know it, presto-bingo, there are the FB and email screens open already. Why do I do this? Bad, bad habit. This is the song that never ends – go back to the beginning of this paragraph, my friends, and you will see what I mean.

Then I do some positive self-talk (another one of my habits!) The self-talk goes something like this: “Habits are good for you. (Like cod-liver oil, replies my rebellious self.) Just think of all the good habits you already have in your life. (Right. I brush my teeth every night before I go to bed. I cook supper most nights. I do a Sudoku every morning, first thing, when I get up. Boring. Boring. Boring.) Habits keep people on track; people with good habits get way more done. Try it, you’ll like it. (Reluctantly, I buy this line of thinking. Only reluctantly. But why can’t I get good things done without resorting to a habit?)

I admit it: I have a hang-up about habits. My image of habits is one formed in my younger years. A habit is something you thoughtlessly do time after time, long after it’s no longer meaningful. (You always have tea with your breakfast; you always wear a hat to church; you always wash the kitchen floor on Saturday morning.)  And changing these lifelong habits is like setting off a bomb that rips apart the fabric of your life. Okay, I exaggerate – bad habit. But you get my drift.

I need an attitude change. Along comes a book called Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, subtitled “Mastering the habits of our everyday lives.”

My impression of Ms. Rubin is that she is one strong woman with a mittful of wonderful habits which she is eager to sell me. There’s no time like right now to begin again to create good habits, she says.  She describes 4 different tendencies in people when it comes to mastering habits: The Upholder, the Obliger, the Questioner and the Rebel. Yup, I’m the questioner with strong shades of rebel. If people tell me that a certain habit is good for me (drink 8 glasses of water every day!) I will say, “Oh, really? Everybody should be doing this? Maybe 6 would be good enough? And can I count coffee and tea as part of that, too? Wine, perhaps?” The rebel part of me mutters under her breath, “Phooey! You’re not the boss of me.”

After showing me who I am (oh, really?), she proceeds to show me that different strokes work for different folks as far as forming good habits or battling bad ones are concerned. An Upholder only needs to be reminded of the good reasons behind a good habit, and she’s off and running. Guess what personality type Ms. Rubin is? The Obliger will do it because she doesn’t want to let anyone down, she wants to make sure everyone is happy. Guess what type of personality many, many women are? And me, the questioner verging on rebel? The questioner is pretty good at meeting inner expectations, but not so good at outer ones. Apparently, I’m the one who needs to dig deep inside myself to figure out her own best techniques. There’s no point in anyone telling me what’s good for me. That dog doesn’t hunt.

This is about as far as I’ve gotten in the book. (And I’ve already renewed it once, which shows you how much I am resisting thinking about this.) I turn the page, and there’s a quiz you can take – you won’t be graded on it, but it might reveal things about yourself that will help you. I like quizzes, especially ones with no right or wrong answers, which I would question, anyway.

The RS and I discuss some of the questions, and WHOA! a light bulb goes on. I’ve been bemoaning the fact that I have hardly written anything or done any fibre art in the last three months. I have plenty of reasons to trot out about why this is so: commitment to other involvements (hello, Obliger, my old friend. Still living here, eh?), lame excuses about needing big blocks of uninterrupted  time for these pursuits, distractions that lead me down dead-end rabbit trails, blah blah blah. Oh, yes, and checking FB and e-mail a dozen times a day might contribute to my lack of productiveness just a teeny weeny bit. You think, maybe?

But now I see the real reason: I have not made a habit of doing the things that give me the most pleasure and have sustained me.

Writing and creating art are the two things that I do to maintain an even keel in life. They are like air for my spirit, water for a thirsty soul.  But instead of supplying myself with a steady dose of necessary things, I have subconsciously thought of them as personal indulgences which I treat myself to when there’s time and opportunity. I used to put these creative pursuits at the top of my list, but  – dare I say it? – I’ve gotten out of the habit.

Thanks, Ms. Rubin. This questioner is on her way to answering her own questions about habits. Writing and making art: making these part of my daily routines will leave less time for the bad habits I would like to eliminate from life.

One last thing, Ms. Rubin: the rebel in me will not call these routines a habit – that word is too mundane for such imporant work. Habit might be a good enough word for brushing your teeth, but not for art and writing. I will call them practices – the things you do to stay in tune with life.

And I’ll follow your advice: I’ll begin NOW.

And I did. First I wrote this blog, and then I pulled out the beginnings of a new piece of work that had been circulating in my imagination for the last weeks, but I was waiting for the right time to begin. NOW is the right time!