The me I didn’t expect

My church sent everyone a book of mediations for Advent, and the book was called “The Christmas We Didn’t Expect.” It’s not a great title but it’s a good book, a thought provoking read.

On Christmas Day friends came for dinner, friends who haven’t come into my home for months, due to Covid. One asked, of a picture, “Who painted that?” and said he couldn’t remember seeing it before, although it’s been up on my wall for the last 6 years. Another noticed a small ornament, a Derby Ram (I am, by adoption, a Derby woman) and asked if it was new. It, too, has been on its shelf in that same position, facing the same way, in splendid isolation for 6 years. Nothing has changed, but my visitors had a new awareness of what was once familiar. I wonder if we will see the world with new eyes when life returns to normal and I wonder, too, if we will be more appreciative. That would be a good outcome, eh? To return to normality really enjoying what we once took for granted – a hug, a hand squeeze, a meeting, a meal, singing together in worship, just being together. A crowded church, that’s one of the things I miss. I didn’t think I would, and I’m still a bit surprised that I do. Lumpy, bumpy, loud, shuffling, crowding, blocking-the-way-out, caring, kindly, hugely annoying people. I’ve always loved the sermon, and the worship, but not the stuff before the service and the stuff afterwards, the filling up of the pews and the noise….. and now I find, I miss it all.

I miss people. I really, really miss people. I was once called a ‘recluse’ by the lovely Melvyn Bragg, who must have met a few strange writers in his time and, although my friends all fell about laughing, I recognised there was a smidgeon of truth in the description. I was a solitary kind of character, on the outside looking in, living alone, sociable on occasion but self contained and distant most of the time. I didn’t then seek out the company of others as much as I now miss them, and I certainly didn’t appreciate people as much as I do now. I don’t know, of course, how long that will last and I hasten to add that I haven’t turned into Saint Theresa of Liseux, all upturned face and piety… I’m still disappointingly me. But softening around the edges a tiny tad.

Have you learned anything unexpected about yourself during this last strange year?

Now here’s another way in which I have changed recently, and something I certainly didn’t expect; I am, all of a sudden, nobility. I am, in fact, entitled to call myself Lady Lucy. I’m sure that you’re absolutely free to call yourself Lord Snooty or Lady Godiva, or even Count Dracula, so it’s no big shakes but I have an actual piece of paper saying that I have the right to use a noble title. Which you don’t have. So there.

Mad pals (the best sort) knowing that I refuse to have any more clutter in my life, decided I could tolerate a piece of paper. So now I have a piece of fake parchment emblazoned with a hokey coat of arms, and a certificate…. all procured from a website. These mad pals (the best sort) paid a few quid, and along with the title come 5 square feet of English soil (the best sort) in Cumbria. I don’t actually, I discover, own anything at all, but the plot is dedicated to me. Hmmm. Still, never mind the technicalities – this could prove to be a little gold mine, albeit a tiny tiny one. It’s on the shore of Coniston Water and I reckon that there’s gonna be a steady stream of income (pun alert) from the many walking parties who trek through those wild and wonderful fells. There’s nothing worse than desperately needing the loo in the middle of a loo-less land and I, Lady Lucy of Hougon Manor, can relieve (sorry) their dilemma. For a mere ten quid, they could use my porta- loo! All sorts of even more horrible puns are jostling in my head, but I’ll spare you.

That’s a Christmas gift I didn’t expect. And now I’ll spend the next year trying to explain to the gifters that no, it wouldn’t be fun to drive up there (5 hours?) and stand on the brackeny, uneven, probably soggy lump of mud. No, it wouldn’t be fun to stay in a B&B and trudge through driving rain trying to make sense of a very vague map. No, girls, listen to yer old granny, it would not be fun. But it’s great fun looking through the brochure, and a whole lot drier.

This is a strange week, isn’t it? Christmas is fading into the past, New Year is not quite here, we’re in lockdown and when you live alone there’s no set meal time, no conversation, no agreement that ‘we’ will do this today, or that we’ll consider doing that, the day stretches ahead, no one at the door, who cares if the washing-up isn’t done? I think if I didn’t have the dogs I could slip into lethargy very easily but they need their hour (minimum) on the beach, and feeding and watering, and games and the occasional cuddle. And I need my time with the Bible and my time in prayer and I really really need a sense of God’s presence but sometimes all these good things are a bit of a slog. You know?

On Christmas Day I listened to two married couples talking about their lives and as I listened I realised, with great clarity of thought, as if someone (!) was whispering it to me, that I could choose to feel horribly alone and lonely as they chatted, or I could choose to enjoy their obvious love for each other and thank God for their friendship. It was an important realisation and reminded me forcefully that my state of mind and my spiritual life always involve choice. Not always easy but God helps, God enables even at the hardest moment. It’s my responsibility to opt for joy, rather than the glums, so when the day seems shapeless it’s my responsibility to give it shape, when the hour seems empty, I can choose to give it meaning. It’s my choice to focus on the truth that God is in control, and God is always with me whatever my circumstances. That thought stayed with me, and resonated again yesterday when someone on Masterchef said “this is the most important day of my life” and I thought “that’s what every day should be for us – the day we get nearer to our God than ever before.”.

I realise now that we can’t be amazed by God and conscious of him in our lives, and yet be bored and aimless at the same time! It’s my choice which way I look, to the dark or to the light.

With all that in mind, it’s occurred to me tonight that I’m going to use this next 5 days, up to New Year’s Day, as a personal retreat time.

Immediately, I mean really immediately, I’m excited at the idea. All sorts of opportunities spring to mind – I’ll listen to David Suchet reading Isaiah. Oooh, and as I listen I’ll get out that adult colouring book and shade in the intricate patterns and lettering. Absorbing and peaceful. And I’ll play Bach’s Mass in B Minor as I make soda bread (and try not to cry at the Kyrie Eleison). And I’ll bare-foot paddle with God and my dogs and listen to the Psalms, in the rain and wind. I’ll make a daily study of Hebrews, following the Wiersbe commentary which I’ve had for a couple of years and never opened yet. And in the evening I’ll watch Fargo again for balance.

And suddenly I can’t wait for tomorrow. I might even go to bed now, at 11.25, so that I’m up bright and early.

This morning on the beach I sang “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will be glad and rejoice in it.” Isn’t it great when all your thoughts collide and you find a new reason to delight in God? To quote Hannibal Smith “I just love it when a plan comes together.”

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