transformed christmas

Her wrinkled hands touched the tree
lovingly
as though she held eighty Christmases in a touch.
And then she turned to us and smiled
joyfully
and thanked us that she was here now,
celebrating with us the birth of her Lord.
Turning again to the tree, she drew from her bag
carefully
the gifts that she offered,
and bending slightly, she placed them under the tree.
No gold, no frankincense, no myrrh
were greater gifts than hers
who gave all that she had
in celebration of his birth.*

*“In Celebration of his birth” Ann Weems Kneeling in Bethlehem.

1200px-Nativity_tree2011
This Christmas there will be a photo of my parents near our Christmas tree. We had hoped to be together this year, but they are instead with the Lord they loved and served for so many years. Their deaths have completely changed Christmas for me this year, as I reflect on becoming (in a very real sense) an orphan. So the table will be smaller, we will miss Mum’s homeliness in her kitchen, and Dad’s silly antics (and his monobrow!) There will be moments of pause and sadness and tears. I won’t deny that a deep sadness will accompany me this Christmas.

The four advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are important in their essence because they touch our hearts at times when we are hope-less, rest-less, sad, and without love. Their importance is raised off the pages of a book or liturgy precisely when they are most desperately needed. Christmas is one of those times.

So will that grief be the only story in my Christmas? I hope not. Because Christmas is not primarily about my happiness, nor is its purpose to fulfil my needs. Family is important at Christmas, but Christmas is not ‘about family’. While children bring delight and wonder and boundless joy, Christmas is not ‘for children’. Christmas is not only to be observed when my world is complete enough, I am worthy enough or when I feel like it.

The Christmas story urges us to take a moment to lift our gaze off ourselves. Whether we look the baby in the face with the shepherds, or follow the wise men and generously give something of value to another, or gaze in stunned wonder with Mary and Joseph at the scene of millions of people at worship … the Christmas story does not seek to deny my grief, but to touch its reality with hope, peace, joy and love.

Can I allow the Christmas story to transform my story – like the woman in Ann Weems’ poem who lovingly, joyfully and carefully participated in Christmas for others, and for One Other?

I hope that this year, The One who gave everything might meet your gaze or your grief or your doubt with hope, peace, joy and love.

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living in exile

To the exiled children of God,
who feel there is something wrong in this world,
Beloved, Sons and Daughters of the living God
Welcome home.

171126 jesus-in-the-breadline

To those who struggle to find place for their faith
among so many unanswered questions –
When the God we were promised doesn’t deliver what
we expect
Welcome home.

To those who struggle with life
living with broken lives and families
and when all you expected of life
is torn away from you.
Welcome home.

This may not be the world you expected
or wanted
Beloved, Daughters and Sons of the living God.
But with God’s love,
and a community of grace
together, we can make it
Home.

with a nod to a prophet called Jeremiah who offered hope to people forcefully removed to a new home (Jeremiah 29:4-7, the bible)

a thin silence

in this Silence
 
you might hear a pin drop,
or you might hear God
You might hear your breathing
or you may hear the Spirit
You may hear your neighbour
or you may hear Christ.
You may hear a magpie
and you may hear the Creator
 
You who are Beloved of Christ,
these are the sounds of God
inviting us into a deeper encounter
with God in a thin silence.
 
Will I pause … to notice them?
Might I stop.     To hear them?
Could I be still,
 
to listen to them?
 
And might I invite them into the deepest parts of my soul,
just as they invite me into encounter with the Divine?
 
This is the invitation:
to participate in silence, stillness, listening,
 
that we too might hear the sound
of God in a thin silence.
(with a tip of the hat to a bloke called Elijah in 1 Kings 19.12 in the Bible)

The End came.

After a short struggle with cancer, Dad (Peter Hanscamp) went to be with the Lord, and with Mum, this morning at about 9am.

We have so much to say about our wonderful Dad and Opa – but struggle to find words at this time. For now we want to say how privileged we were to be his children and grandchildren. We also honour Dad for his faith which was deep and shared widely, and his testimony to God’s faithfulness over many years.

We have been deeply grateful for all the love, support and prayers offered during these weeks.

Renata, Nigel & Rebecca, Letitia and Jacinta

Out of Control but fully human to the end

(A conversation with myself during the red-eye shift with Dad in hospice)

Young hand holding old hand

1.

If I were in control of this, it would not be this hard.
People wouldn’t have to watch this.
And there wouldn’t be long nights of watching, listening, wondering if this breath is the last.

2.

If I were in control, dying would not …

Would not what?
Be so final?
So hard?
So uncomfortable?
Like the homeless people I want off the street, so I don’t have to see another human being’s reality?
Like the schizophrenic woman who had an episode in the shop yesterday (‘they’ shouldn’t be in the community)?
Like the images of Syrian refugees carrying their belongings for miles or on boats, that make me want to change channels?

Dying is hard, and its part of being human.
Deeply, personally, sobbing-in-the-middle-of-the-night human.

Human to the core. Human to the … to the end.

3.

If I were in control …
But isn’t that the point (if there needs to be a point)?
I’m not (in control)
Dying is the ultimate in being out of control.

4.

If I were in control, I wouldn’t get a chance to say the words of love, to do the acts of care, to cry the tears of grief over and over and over.
If I were in control I would not have spent most of last night listening to the breathing of the man who taught me
how precious life and living is.
If I were in control,
I would not be here, learning to let go.

5.

If I were in control … I would miss this part of being fully human,

to the end.

 

Daffodils, a clock and Dad

From where I sit, I can see daffodils in a vase on the table.
On the wall is a clock in brass and walnut.
Between them is Dad – resting with the help of medication pumped into his body, a body riddled with cancer and grief.
Daffodils
There are daffodils in a vase on the table.
Like Dad, they
    Speak life and delight to many people
    A sign of spring and new life
    A pointer to hope and a Maker who uses vibrant colours
    (“Consider the daffodils”, to paraphrase a wise man)
.
On the wall is a clock in brass and walnut.
It’s a Family Heirloom which speaks of generations and history.
Dad’s story will soon become part of the story of the clock
    Moments in history.
    Hours in study and prayer.
    Days working to provide for a family.
    Years of proving (again and again) the faithfulness of the One present in all time.
.
Daffodils, a clock and Dad.
Kairos and Chronos in the picture:
Time in minutes, a life time of moments.

 

a paradox in grief: reflections on the last few weeks

Single Rose

“The scan indicates that the melanoma has spread to Dad’s brain and lungs. He has been given months to live.” This was the news I received on 24th August.   7 days later Rebecca and I were on a plane to spend Father’s day with Mum and Dad. We arrived at the family home at 6pm for dinner, wide and varied conversation, and beginning to understand what exactly was going on with Dad’s health. Dad was already talking about his funeral.

We were headed for bed around 10pm when Mum collapsed with a heart attack. As hard as we tried, and then the ambulance crews, she could not be revived.

My sister was on a plane from the Netherlands within hours, and our daughters flew from Melbourne the next day. We were, and still are, in shock.

Comfort and support came to us in many ways … family who turned up with food and made coffee while we made phone calls and funeral plans; friends who phoned; many gifts of food; visits to offer comfort; cards, flowers, emails, Facebook messages … and the faithful prayers of God’s people around the world.

On Sunday we attended the Anglican church where Mum and Dad had found a church home for the past few years. Through tears we sang words penned by faithful people – and when we could not sing for the sobs, the voices of God’s people carried faith to our hearts. Church is one of those rare places where the raw emotions of life are (or should be) allowed to be brought with honesty and without judgement. The liturgy reminded us that our faith is wider, bigger, older and deeper than this moment in our lives. In that moment and place, we felt like we were held securely and gently by this congregation, our HUC family, and our praying friends around the world.

A Celebration of God’s Faithfulness in Mum’s life was held on Wednesday 6th September. Dad had estimated 50-60 people, and my sister and I had planned for 150. In the end 240 people were there to celebrate a woman who had touched many lives with her love and faith. Once again “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “When Peace like a River” gave a space to allow our grief and lament, sobs and deep sighs to be expressed in the company of friends, family and faith.

Over the next 7 days we had a whirlwind of dealing with oncologists, hospice, doctors and Dad’s first immunotherapy. Dad still has stage 4 melanoma, and we expect that the treatments and multiple painkillers will only make his last months (how many?) more comfortable.

Back in Melbourne I can catch my breath for a short while. 3 weeks ago we went to NZ to be with Dad for Father’s day and to say goodbye to him. We came back with deeper grief and greater gifts of love and support than I’ve known before.

It’s strange to say that we were in the right place at the right time – but we know we were. It’s odd to express lament and grief while the faith of the church is sung with gusto – but it was. It’s puzzling to experience comfort through “I don’t know what to say …” or “I don’t have the words for this …”, but we did. And I’m coming to realise that Dad’s bold pronouncements of God’s faithfulness and contentedness that Mum is with the Lord and didn’t need to see Dad suffer, … all that can sit in the same lounge as my struggling lament and confusion; that doesn’t make his faith untrue or my expression invalid.

At the moment everything takes longer – getting up in the morning, writing, listening. One moment I’m happy and patient, the next I’m anxious or easily upset – or just plain exhausted. I still sometimes wake in the night in tears or with images in my mind of that night, while at other times I’m deeply caught by the joy of a new baby or running or the love of friends and family.

All this may be a paradox of grief, or it may simply be the diverse and rich reality of human experience.