When dreaming turns to despair and a messy, painful kind of love.

I was fast asleep, enjoying the start of what promised to be a fab dream.

I dreamed that I was getting ready for bed. My fella had snuck up behind me, kissed my neck, lovely. So I went to the bathroom, calling back to him on my way, chit-chatting, all was well with the world.

“Oooh, you’ve run yourself a bath? Very nice.”

I glanced in the bath and realised that no, this was the kid’s bath water from earlier, we just hadn’t pulled the plug out yet.

And then I saw something pink in the bottom of the bath. My son.

Suddenly the dream turned to horror. I grabbed him and shouted to my husband and I’m filled with utter despair.

And then I woke up.

And I’m at that place in between where you suddenly realise that it was just a dream so you’re flooded with relief but, at the same time, it just happened so it feels real and you’re beside yourself.

You can’t think.

Eventually though, your breathing slows down and the thoughts come crashing in.

So after getting up and checking on all three of the children, whispering to God in my head to please look after them, that I love them so much, please let them be ok, I laid back in bed wondering what it all meant.

Because dreams have got to mean something don’t they?

If nothing else they’re like a reflection of the party that goes on inside your head when the thinking is shut off.

But what does that say about me as a parent?!?

(Thankfully it’s only now as I’m awake and writing this that I have that realisation. If I’d have thought about that at 2am I’d probably still be crying now!)

I kept replaying the scene over in my mind and as I did so I noticed something:

My son is five years old, nearly six. And he’s a big lad. Tall. The Michael that I pulled from the bath in my dream was a baby. It was him, but it was him as a baby.

That awful ache in my heart is still there. Thinking about it makes me cry and pray and beg.

But honestly? That it was him as a baby also made me feel a whole lot better. Because he didn’t drown as a baby. I’d just checked on him in his room. He’s okay.

So what am I meant to do with this dream? Like, what was the point of it?

And that’s when I thought of you. And this place. Because at 2am I felt hugely compelled to get up immediately and write.

Writing this now some 8 hours later I’m feeling slightly uneasy.

Because I didn’t get up. Instead I lay in bed thinking stuff over. What would have been the result had I followed that nudge and got up and wrote?

Only God knows.

I know that at 2am I had thoughts enough for at least three blog posts but is there something else that I missed out on? Obviously I really hope not. All I can do now is say sorry and move on.

(Between you and I, I added a P.S. to that sorry that went something along the lines of ‘if it was something really cool and important for someone, can you pop it in my head now anyway please?’)

Us women are very good at feeling guilty, even more so than the men it seems. That’s why one of my resolves this year (and one that clearly I needed reminding of!) is to say sorry and move on. No more of the incessant beating oneself up. It doesn’t undo stuff and it doesn’t help!

But that wasn’t the thought I ended on.

The final thought I remember as I drifted off to sleep was one of God’s love. But not the nicey nice, trite sounding ‘God loves you’ kind of love that feels sickly sweet but empty.

This was a love that hurts.

The kind of hurt that you feel in your heart when life (or a dream) forces you to deal with losing someone you love.

That love isn’t neat or sweet or nice or red hearts and flowers.

It’s raw. And painful. And messy.

It bubbles up inside of you, uncontrollably.

And when it turns out to be just a dream, it changes you.

Leaves you feeling thankful for another day.

Sees you giving your son an extra kiss on the head or really looking at him, seeing him properly. And reminds you just how much you love him.

And that love, that ache, that yearning in your heart? That’s how God feels when he thinks about you.

He’s not sat on a big ol’ throne up in heaven with a big stick like some Triton, scowling at you and barking threats.

He’s there right next to you, stroking your hair, whispering your name into the sunrise.

Yearning. Aching. Loving you.

Maybe you knew that already, in your head, but just maybe you needed reminding today?

I see love notes, scattered all over the universe, especially for you.

Reminding you every day that he loves you.

 

This has been the most uncomfortable post I’ve ever written (although after that 2am compulsion I couldn’t chicken out at the last hurdle!) and now I’m lost for words. I don’t have a neat, tidy succinct ending for you.

Love is messy like that I guess.

 

This year I resolve …

To love more.

To smile at a stranger every day. To make eye contact.

I promise to be in each moment.

No more multi-tasking or sharing myself out. If I’m talking to you, that is all I will be doing. If we’re playing a game, I will not be secretly lost in thought.

And when I mess up (because hey, I’m new at this and I know it will happen) no more feeling guilty. Yes I’ll say sorry and admit my mistakes. But no more introspection, beating myself up with ‘if onlys’ and hanging onto stuff that I should have dropped years ago.

(Because come on, if I really believe in Jesus, what’s the deal?!?)

Every day is a gift and I commit to finding the treasure in each one.

(Even on those days when it seems to be hidden really, really deep!)

Smile more. Cry. Feel.

And love.

Because the greatest of these is love.

Wishing you a happy, messy, (very human!) Christmas.

Two days before Christmas my nan died. Three years ago (I had to ring my mum to check and ended up making us both cry. Sorry mum x) and yet I still remember the phone call, early that morning. And, as I just found out, it still has the ability to make us cry.

She was 83. She’d been in hospital for four months. And she got to celebrate Christmas with my Grandad so we totally knew it was the best thing for her.

And yet still we cried.

I really wanted to write a Christmas post. One that wished you a happy Christmas, with echoes of all the nice stuff that surrounds the day. The fun and laughter and excitement. Because I love Christmas.

And I still want to do that, wish you a happy Christmas I mean, but I couldn’t sit here and ignore the people who are hurting, pretend like it isn’t happening. It just felt wrong.

But neither do I want to pretend like I know how they’re feeling.

My nan was 83. Yes it was sad and yes, it came as a shock (despite having said goodbye to her multiple times) but she was an old lady. An old lady with no real quality of life left. She missed her husband desperately and she was ready to leave us.

I don’t want to even try to imagine how those families in Newtown are feeling because it makes me cry. Or April Jones’s mum and dad. Or any one of the other thousands of parents who have lost children.

Because three years after my nan died, we’re doing great. Sure, my mum and I got choked up just now but that’s just what we do. I can’t honestly say I think about my nan on a daily basis. It’s probably different for my mum because she was her mum but even so, I’m pretty confident in saying she has days when she doesn’t think about her mum at all.

But when a child dies it’s different. It’s just wrong. It’s not how it’s meant to be.

And yes, the shootings in Newtown have made us all a little more aware and sensitive to the hurt this year, even those of us who, thankfully, are in no way connected with events.

But every year, any year, even when there’s nothing horrendous enough to grab the media’s attention, there are thousands of people who have an awful time at Christmas. They can’t wait for it to be over and they would gladly hibernate for the whole of December.

Even people who aren’t missing loved ones can have a pretty crappy time of it.

If you can guarantee one thing it’s that keeping the whole family cooped up together for a couple of days is going to lead to at least one bust up! And that’s not to mention all the stress and last minute panic buying, spending money we don’t have on stuff they don’t need.

Talk about depressing!

So why do we bother? With less and less people being interested in the Christ part of Christmas, why haven’t we knocked it on the head yet?

Of course that would never happen. I don’t know who would shout loudest … the Christian community or the retail industry! Christmas is an institution. It’s just what we do.

And yet underneath it all, when you strip away the consumerism and the over-eating, what are you left with?

Ultimately it’s about people.

God and people. And people and people.

God loves people and so Jesus came along and, well you know how the rest of that goes. Christmas is like an extra chance for God to break through the busy and remind you that he loves you.

And, despite all the noise and the chaos and the quarrels over who said what to whom and why, Christmas is about spending time with people we love, and who love us. It’s a shared moment. A chance to step out from the regular day-to-day busyness of life and just be, together.

And of course that’s why it’s also a really tough time of year for a lot of people.

Because life is messy and those idyllic scenes portrayed in too many adverts on the telly, showing us how it should be, when our real life stuff doesn’t match up, it can leave us feeling cheated or wondering what’s so wrong with us that we can’t do the perfect Christmas gig that everyone else is doing.

But here’s the thing … life isn’t a TV commercial. Life is messy.

There is no one out there having the perfect family Christmas (no matter how much your friends on Facebook with their charming photos of their happy smiling kids will tell you) because such a thing does not exist.

Even two thousand odd years ago, it was probably less a case of ‘Silent night, Holy night’ and more a case of ‘argh, Joe, I’ve got to push and there is no way I’m gonna do that outside!!” And those shepherds that rolled up to offer their congratulations? Back in the day, they were considered the lowest of the low. Really dirty and noisy.

It actually makes me feel a whole let better about my noisy, messy family to know that God chose to have his son stroll into the world via a poor, unmarried teenage mum. I mean, it’s not like there weren’t any palaces nearby. But no, that wasn’t God’s way.

Shepherds. Unmarried mums. Born in a shed. And later, fishermen, prostitutes and thieves.

If there is one thing that I believe about God, it’s that he does messy.

So if you’re reading this and you’re hurting, please know that I’m sending you the biggest (messiest!) hug I possibly can. I’m very aware that that is in danger of sounding trite because I don’t know how you’re feeling. I don’t understand. I’m not where you are right now, dealing with all that you are dealing with.

But God needs someone to tell you that he loves you, that he’s holding you, even as you’re stood there in the shit. Correction: he’s holding you because you’re stood there in the shit. And it might as well be me.

And for the rest of us, as we look forward to our very human, messy Christmas, if we’re fortunate enough to be one of those families who aren’t nursing hurt and sadness this year, let’s take at least one moment to stop and breathe, to hug the people we love and to say thank you.

Because yes, life is messy, but it all starts to look a lot better through smile-tinted glasses.

And so I wish you the happiest and messiest of Christmases. May your laughter be louder than the telly and your heart fuller than your wine glass. Here’s to a happy Christmas and I can’t wait the next twelve months with you!

What are you hoping for from Santa?

Because hope. It’s a funny old word.

Ask the kids what they’re hoping for for Christmas and they’ll reel off a list long enough to daunt a whole troop of reindeer! Do they really hope to get it all? I don’t think so.

I hope not at least! 😉

We were hoping to put our Christmas trees up yesterday. It was never a dead cert. The local garden centre could have had a sudden run on pine trees. Or the lights that we needed to get because last year’s were in a tangled ball could have been sold out. But we’d hoped and planned on it.

And until ten to eleven last night, that thing I’d hoped for had come true. Christmas tree, complete with pretty lights and shiny bits and bobs, all present and correct.

And then the whole lot came crashing down!

The gold star from the very top made it halfway across the room and I was left feeling very sorry that I’d be quite so efficient and remembered to water it just hours earlier. Let’s just say I’m thankful that we have wooden floors!

And of course in the big scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. I put down towels for all the water, rescued the tinsel and sooner or later it’ll all be back up and looking lovely. At least we get the fun of decorating it a second time eh. 😉

But I was already thinking about hope. The happenings of my tree just helped the process along a little.

Because it’s my turn to preach in church today. When I got asked if today was ok and realised that it was the first Sunday in advent, I was super excited. “Yey! I get to do Christmas!” (Now do you understand why I do a Christmas themed blog every December? I just love it!!)

I did my usual trick of thinking lots but not doing a whole heap of writing stuff down before finally pondering on the idea of hope.

Every December we go through the routine of opening 24 little windows, counting down the days, full of excitement and anticipation. We’re full of hope but it’s hope for something we’re confident is going to happen. The chance that we’re going to wake up on the 25th and find that Christmas has been cancelled is fairly remote.

And that’s the same kind of hope that’s scattered throughout the bible.

Waiting. Expectant. Believing. Not actually having seen it or got it yet but hoping all the same.

So how about you? What are you hoping for?

That thing that you haven’t yet seen or got but you’re still hoping and trusting will happen?

I’m not talking about Christmas presents here. Sure, a new iPad would be amazing and the perfume I already picked out for myself will smell just gorgeous. But as 2013 is nearly with us, I’m hoping for a whole lot more than just stuff.

And so I dare you to believe that you can hope for that thing. Think about it, what it looks like, what it would feel like, why you want it, how it will make the world a better place … and then hope. Waiting. Expectant. Believing.

Not actually having seen it yet, but hoping all the same.

Go on, I dare you. 😉

Love El x

P.S. I recorded this morning’s gig. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea of course but if you fancied hearing more thoughts on hope, click here to download the mp3 or use the audio player below. Enjoy! 🙂