Christmas struggle, Easter Joy

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Bethlehem walk – Coldsprings

I was sitting in the back of the church sanctuary, a place that has become familiar. The longer I listened to the seasonal lyrics the greater the contrasts of two realities came into focus. The disconnect was real. It was strange to find myself in tears as the congregants were singing in wonderful harmony.

Silent night, Holy night…

The lyrics made associations with the celebratory nature of Christmas. At that moment the ‘merry’ part of Christmas was not within my reach. As the carol singing continued, I was wandering in a confused and disrupted mental landscape.

The neural loading during the first part of the worship service had been gradual and subtle. The ‘greeting’ part of the liturgy was two long minutes of chaos; handshakes all around and brief introductions. I had joined in the responsive reading that followed till I lost focus.

The meaning of the words got lost navigating my compromised neural network. My network lacked the necessary efficiency to comprehend the full message. My mind wandered a few lines into the reading.

All is calm, all is bright...

Each element of the liturgy gradually and subtly moved me away from a calm and focused worship. This, along with the pains which resurfaced with my recent struggles added to the nagging discomfort whether I sit, stand or walk. As my body pendulated between headache and fatigue a sense of calm eluded me.

Away in a manger no crib for…

The disrupted sleep added to both the fatigue and headaches. While in recovery mode any available energy is redirected to the essential areas. The brain is an opportunist that co-opts whatever energy happens to presents itself and claims it for the most essential job of mending the compromised neural network.

… no crying he makes…

These discomforts added to my emotional vulnerability, and left me out of tune with the spirit of the music. Tears filled my eyes much too easily.

As I lost focus I retreated into myself. I questioned the authenticity of the line from the lyrics that echoed in my brain. I choose to believe that like any other baby, that the Christ baby cried, probably even screamed. It’s definitely more reassuring to consider he cried. He would have cried for all the world to hear when he was hungry because his mother’s milk was slow to come in. He would have cried when the swaddling clothes were soiled and Mary hadn’t noticed it because the manure from the animals would have distracted her.

Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the …

At one point I once again joined in the singing.

While I have always enjoyed singing, (though choir participation never was my forte,) lately music moves me more deeply. Singing and live music has a vibrancy that can’t be missed. It touches me deeper than almost any  other art form, the words, the melody, the reverberations of tones and overtones. While my sensory loading reached it’s manageable limit there was a comfort that came with the emotions that emerged.

… to all he brings, risen with healing in his …

Deep down I know that Christmas is a message of hope. Hope for those who don’t find it anywhere else. The promise of healing reaches deeper than the merry greetings of Christmas. That’s what helped me close the gap between the lyrics and the space I found myself in.

Once in royal David’s city … he feels for all our sadness …

The lyrics affirmed me. It gave me a sense of hope, a reason to celebrate.

Praise the Lord, … and forget not all his benefits… and heals all my diseases … crowns me with love and compassion… Ps 103 in the Communion liturgy

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My grandson thought it was fitting to wrap Christmas presents with a cross on it

My grandson held my hand as we joined the procession to the communion table. Observing Christ’s death as a preparation for marking the birth of Christ?

Communion actually brings the Christmas message into focus. After all, isn’t his birth the quiet but official marking of “Let His Suffering Begin.” His suffering with a definite purpose.

With a short but pronounced slurp my grandson cleared the last drops of grape juice from the individual communion shot glass.

This makes Easter joy a reality, makes it real. It reaffirmed that the birth of Christ was to accept his invitation of healing, of bringing wholeness and restoration to my life.

Joy to the world the Lord has come ...
... No more let sin and sorrow grow
 nor thorns infest the ground; 
he comes to make his blessings flow
 far as the curse if found ...

Even while I struggle I look forward to marking Christmas as a time of laughter, a celebration with family, friends and community. Not with the same spontaneity or exuberance but nevertheless with a sense of Joy that comes when celebrating with people who can be authentic with each other; sharing tears, sharing joy, sharing hopes for tomorrow.

Let me wish you dear reader – Joyeux Noel.

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The Gift of Suffering

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Aesthetics of stark reality, Elora

A fellow blogger, Rose Wolfe, who is a true encourager, shared the following response to one of my postings.

Just recently, I have been formulating a concept that there is the Gift of Suffering. In its most basic form, the idea is that our suffering adds to our spiritual maturity. As we continue to add to our faith, we grow in our relationship with Christ. Once we trust God with our lives (and, we, who are disabled, know the meaning of this), we can move forward in our appreciation of God’s plan for us. One gift: tribulation develops patience; and patience, character (maturity). Another gift of suffering: we can then comfort others with the comfort that we received from Christ.
Rose Wolfe   Living Free with disAbilities.

Let me explain how I experience the Gift of Suffering.

It’s been 21 months since my life took a sudden and profound turn. I continue to adjust to the changes which have included a liberal dose of suffering. The suffering has extended deeper into my personhood than the initial, immediate and persistent physical pain. The pain of sudden loss of a job. The pain of losing the ability to do so many physical activities that I took for granted. The pain of memory loss. The pain of not understanding what was happening to me. The pain of not being able to deal with various social situations. The pain of having plans evaporate. I never could have imagined such a multi-layered array of pain.

Suffering has given me the ability to live in the moment. Having daily familiar activities of job and family come to a grinding halt has changed my view of life. This new perspective is not a dull, monotonous, emptiness. I have learned that life can be also be appreciated at a much slower pace. Had I known this was coming I would have been wrong in expecting impatience to be one of my greatest trials. Even as the dust initially settled I had this sense that whatever healing I might receive it would take time. This has given me the gift of recognizing and appreciating the moment.

Suffering has exposed me to the compassion that lives in the community in which I worship. The words of encouragement have been generously shared. The questions that I get asked, I see as a heartfelt desire by people reaching out, wanting to understand this part of my journey. This has given me the gift of compassion and surrounds me with a level of encouragement that is hard to describe.

Suffering has shown me some clear personal limitations. There is something liberating about not being able to put up with someone’s inappropriate behaviour. I no longer try to negotiate with myself on how much to tolerate or how to put the best spin on dealing with someone’s rudeness or impertinence. My internal or subconscious response has been a clear signal to call out the inappropriate behaviour or quietly walk away from the situation. It’s a gift to not deal with lingering doubts of pushing my personal limits.

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obsolete industrial park, Elora

Suffering has given me the time to explore new interests. Advice for those contemplating retirement is to resist the urge to immediately jump into something else. Commit to giving yourself a year or so before signing on to new responsibilities or projects. My recovery time has given me the gift of moving at my own pace without the threat of giving in to feelings of selfish restraint.

Suffering has created an environment that encourages reflection. In being forced to take on different activities, different pace, and different timelines I’m confronted with contrasts and comparisons. Being mercilessly pulled out of one lifestyle with it’s various pressures, choices and expectations has in some strange way benefits akin to traveling. A change of scenery creates conditions conducive to refection and taking stock. It’s a gift to be able to experience acknowledge blessings more deeply.

Suffering has given me a greater sense of trust. One word that describes much of the initial experience is ‘vulnerability’. There was so much that I was not able to manage or control. I was exposed to many unknown forces and impressions. What first expressed itself as confusion, helplessness and anxiety, gradually gave way to a beginning level of acceptance and trust.

Suffering has not destroyed my sense of hope. Initially my sense of hope was expressed in the form of “I’m glad the injury wasn’t worse.” Right from day one I had a sense that my injuries were not insurmountable. That sense of hope has given me the conviction that God has a clear purpose for me. He has gotten my attention. God chooses ways to slow us down. We might not like the means, but we would be at a greater loss if we miss the message.

It’s strange in a good way, how having suffered significant loss, I am able to see rays of hope however faint, shine through when others share their experience of loss. It seems that in the telling,  when a person is sharing their loss, there is a sense of hope. One needs a sense of hope, even if it’s a mere glimmer, to be able to share their story of loss. Without hope there would be no motivation to share.

Recently a friend shared a passage from 2 Corinthians 1 that has given him hope.

Praise be to the God …, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.