Three weeks ago I blogged about the bitter sweet nature of Christmas for Christians and it was all tied up (in the mish-mash of my mind) with the sweetness and sharpness of lemon drizzle cake.
I’m not a great baker – there are just two things I do really well, muffins and plain cake. But I do them SO well that Frankie (16 and often hungry) feels obliged to give me a huge hug every time I produce them. So I produce them often. She’s a great hugger. Sort of envelops you in her arms and leans in, so that you’re helpless and gently pressed into the earth…. it’s better than it sounds.
Tomorrow I’m talking to a small group of elderly people in a Care Home and I’ve recycled my blog, rewritten it but using it as a jumping off point, and to illustrate the talk I’m taking along two large lemon drizzle cakes. I made one and it was too brown. Not burnt but just too brown to be a good visual aid. So, we are having to eat that one (Frankie says “Result!”) and I’ve just taken cake number three out of the oven. As I’ve baked we’ve had Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ belting out, and Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home For Christmas’, and Macca warbling about his Wonderful Christmas Time…. and then there’s ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ and ‘Mary, Did you know?’ and ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ .
We’ve had a great afternoon, Frankie has new eyebrows (!) and huge eyelashes, we’ve finished wrapping Secret Santa gifts, the crossword is done (cheated only once) and cake aroma wafts through the house. So much to be thankful for.
This blog doesn’t have a huge readership but so far it’s reached 35 countries, and I often wonder what you all make of life here in West Wales, and if my descriptions make any sense at all. Can you, in Hong Kong or California, the UAE or Malaysia, imagine this septuagenarian and her granddaughter, two sleeping dogs, a Christmas tree, and the rain lashing down as darkness falls? Here are a couple of images to help;
And here’s where I write these words
But tomorrow I will be in that council home, talking to elderly people (many not much older than me) who have had to leave their homes and most of their treasures behind, people who went to live among strangers and who now are vulnerable and frail. If the thought of that, looking around at your own lives, at the freedoms you have, doesn’t make you pause and think and give thanks, I don’t know what will.
And if you have a partner, a husband, a wife, Oh, give thanks. Seriously. Even if you’re furious with him, fed up with her, slamming kitchen doors to make your displeasure known, taking the dog for a walk just to get a break…… give thanks. Bend a bit. It won’t kill you. Be kind. Remember why you love him, remember why you fancy her. And that will please your God. It will.
Sorry. Got carried away. To return to the old people:
Once upon a time, in what feels like a faraway land, families lived close together, and the child who moved away was the exception and not the rule. Now, in relatively remote areas like this, where there’s no industry and greatly reduced farm employment, most children move away. Some return to bring up their families where the air is pure and traffic is light, where crime is rare and community still exists, but many never come back, or return only for holidays. Often, when a spouse dies, the surviving partner becomes, overnight, more vulnerable, needing a greater degree of care and oversight, shaken after maybe a lifetime of marriage, a lifetime of another beating heart beside them, the breath of another person, maybe unheeded, but always there. The world changes, the horizon tilts, when death comes.
My husband died when I was 43. I remember lying in bed that night with our daughter beside me, and hearing a strange chink-chink sound, through the pillow. I held my breath, listened, there it was. When I moved it seemed to stop. When I lay still, it returned. And then I realised, we were both as rigid as wood, deep in shock, ice cold and trembling, and the bed was trembling with us. That week I developed shingles. Bereavement is an emotional, spiritual and physical thing.
At 43 I had time, strength and the resources to adapt. But lose your husband or your wife when you’re already old, frail, already struggling, already isolated from your family, already fearful, and it’s a disorienting, bewildering, emotionally catastrophic loss. No wonder so many move to Care Homes.
These then are the people I’ll be talking to tomorrow. Some will be struggling with dementia and depression while some will be content with the kindness of the carers and the security of their sheltered lives. Some have known Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour and some haven’t. For some, the days drag and they are ready to slip away, but some long for yet more days, for another go on the merry-go-round. Some are, quite simply, homesick and heartsick. How to talk to them? How to avoid being patronising and yet keep it simple? How to give them encouragement and something to think about, to get their teeth into, without boring them rigid? How to meet them on the road we all walk along and link arms and recognise in each other’s eyes, ourselves? Ourselves in a few years maybe. How to say the truth in love?
How to say ” You matter. You are important. You are loved. You are a part of God’s plan”, how to say that? How to say that when they must sometimes feel irrelevant and disheartened ? How?
I have no flipping idea how to do that.
So, I turn to the one who walks beside me. The Paraclete, the God of all creation, “Lord, look at your children, these tired, aching children, with whole lifetimes behind them, wisdom and folly, great things and foolish, tears and laughter. Lives I can’t even start to imagine. What can I show them that life hasn’t already shown them?”
And God whispers “You can show them nothing. But I can show them everything.”
So I’m leaving it up to Him. And the Christmas story. And some cake.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16