Christmas Resolutions

Image credit: By Kelvinsong, via Wikimedia Commons

Twas the night two days (in NZ) before Christmas… and all through the house world, not a creature was stirring (well, that’s just wrong!) and every Kiwi (and probably Australian too) was hard at work baking a pavlova (staple Christmas food Downunder).  Me?  I have no pav to bake, and my contribution to Christmas dinner can’t be made until the day.  So I’ve been writing and here’s my Christmas post…

You maybe thinking that I’m a week early on setting New Year Resolutions, as is the usual practise for many people.  I’m not though.  I don’t do New Year Resolutions because they never seem to last, and I never seem to be enthusiastic enough.  But as Christmas has approached I’ve realised that I’ve quietly been setting Christmas Resolutions instead.  The great thing about Christmas Resolutions, in case you didn’t know, is that they come bearing a little Christmas magic with them.  A perfect way to make sure they come true.

So here they are.  Completely unrelated, but of importance to me…

Image credit: Connie Bowen (used with permission)
Facebook: I Create My World: a Children’s Book of Affirmations

Christmas Resolution #1
I believe (again) in the magic of Christmas!

I admit that I gave up on the magic of Christmas a while back.  Actually, I had almost given up on any Christmas.  I didn’t enjoy it, couldn’t really see the point, and just hoped it would be over sooner rather than later… with as little pain as possible.  But actually, Christmas is kind of cool.  There’s the Christian Christmas Nativity story, which I’ll get to in a minute, but there is also Santa Claus and reindeers…

I’ve been watching a few Christmas movies lately, my favourite being the one my friend Kathy very kindly sent to me.  That is ‘Miracle on 34th Street‘.  It makes me sad when children, through the ideals of their parents usually, are taught to believe that Santa Claus is not real.  I think those children miss out, on a lot.  I think it’s good for children to use their imagination and experience such tales.

I can remember when local television stations used to track the progress of Santa around the globe.  What amazed me was just how Santa made it around the whole globe in just one night.  Well I understand that better now and it helps that some places don’t celebrate Christmas, so he can zip past those places.  But again, it is sad that those children (and adults) miss out on the magic of Christmas.

So what is this magic of Christmas.  I think we need to get away from it being about gifts and start to see it as being about spreading peace, joy and love around our whole globe.  If each person, adult and child, could have a piece of that this Christmas, then I think we’d be going a long way.  And if it could apply to the whole world, and not just those of certain religions, then that too would be a great move to seeing the world be kinder to each other.  Now I believe that is something Santa Claus would support.  Throw in a few reindeers, and a bit of mistletoe, and we’d be getting somewhere.

One more point on the magic of Christmas.  For a few years now I have been aware of a debate within the Christian church of whether the virgin birth (at Christmas) was really a virgin birth.  I was raised in a Christian home and spent a good chunk of my life as a practising Christian (although I’m not now).  The Christian story of Jesus’ birth was what I was raised with.  Santa Claus took a very definite second place, and I know that many people reading may also see it this way.

So what of this virgin birth?  Was Jesus’ mother really a virgin?  This is far from a theological stance(my argument would probably not hold up anywhere) but I’ve come to my own conclusion that if I can believe in the magic of Christmas, then I can believe in the virgin birth. Maybe it takes a little imagination, but imagination is a very good thing.  And why should we confine it to children believing in Santa? In my mind, it is sad when we limit our experiences to what we see as literal.

So yes, I believe in the magic of Christmas, including the virgin birth.

Christmas Resolution #2
I support the survival of the rhinoceros  (and I did tell you these were unrelated!!)

Image credit: Andrew McMillan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It broke my heart a few weeks ago when I read that the black rhino as a species is now extinct.  Rhinos are wonderful animals.  In my mind they are part hippo, part dinosaur and part unicorn (yes, I did say unicorn).  That spells a wonderful mix.  The thought that we as human beings have killed off a species because ‘we’ wanted the ivory from their tusks, is a tragedy.  It’s happening to elephants too, another animal I like, but I won’t get side tracked.  Why can’t we salute the rhino?  Why can’t we put an end to the hunting, and celebrate the unicorn in the rhino.  That little bit of magic.  If you look closely you’ll probably see a rainbow too.

One species are extinct but we can’t afford to lose more.  As for me, I will do what I can to support their survival.  What about you?

Christmas Resolution #3
I must stop crossing oceans! 

This third resolution comes on the basis of the quote I read some months back and knew instantly that it was ‘my‘ quote for 2013.  Anyone else might read this quote and think “oh, that’s nice advice” but after this year, it is imperative that I get on board with it… and not on board a plane either.  I did something like 75 hours (there and back) of that before I learnt my lesson).

The quote is:

“There comes a point when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t even jump puddles for you.”

I have no idea who uttered these wise words, but I’m sure they were speaking metaphorically, and not literally.  Only I could do this literally, crossing many, many oceans (and lands) before I read this quote. Sure, you can say I was in love and had my head in the clouds.  It’s true.  But from now on I check first on the ability of the person in question to ‘jump puddles‘.  I checked many things, but alas, I forgot to check whether he would jump a puddle for me.  Even if he’d lay down his coat in a puddle so I could walk over it (as I remember my Dad telling me that a gentleman would).

If they won’t jump puddles for me, my feet are staying firmly on kiwi ground.  And I expect them to jump big puddles too.

That’s the end of my resolutions.  There’s no point making so many that you can’t keep up.  New Year Resolutions are made to be broken, but these Christmas ones are firmly embedded in my mental ‘it’s happening‘ list.

So sit back, look out for Santa Claus and his reindeers flying past. Oh, and keep a very big eye out for any flying rhinoceros.  I think that would be a sight to see, but also one to perhaps avoid if you can.  Have a lovely Christmas.  Forget the stress of families and money and food (especially for those of us who battle eating disorders and know this time of the year is the absolute worst).  Have a little magic instead.  Have a little peace.

And while you’re about it, check out the wonderful Facebook page where I got the image from.  It is I Create My World: a Children’s Book of Affirmations  A big thank you to Connie for her permission to use her work.

“Christmas magic is silent. You don’t hear it—you feel it, you know it, you believe it.”

― Kevin Alan Milne, The Paper Bag Christmas

I Matter

One of the things I battle with on a daily basis is that I matter, and whether I actually matter to anyone else.  Do I love myself enough to say I matter to me?  And does anyone else love me enough to say that I matter to them?  And will they show it by their actions?

Some of the struggle with this comes from the Christian upbringing I had which constantly told me to put others before myself.  Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last.  And I guess that’s where I always put myself.  As the youngest child in the family, my name always came last.  I’m not saying that my parents put my needs last, but that my brother’s and my parents names always came before mine.

In the school roll my name came near the end because my surname was Reddell, near the end of the alphabet.  I can remember wishing my name started with a A, so that I could be at the beginning.  But then the Christian upbringing  would no doubt have listed that as a sin.

Another thing I was taught was “pride cometh before a fall“.  That meant I couldn’t be proud of myself, I couldn’t take pride in my achievements, and actually no one else was ever going to proud of me.  It might not be what I was meant to learn from the statement, but it is what my young mind concluded.

My Christian upbringing even served to protect those who stalked me.  I was specifically told in relation to them that I should ‘love my neighbour and do good to them that hate you“.  What that meant in reality was I was supposed to be nice to them, and my needs for protection didn’t seem matter to anyone.  Christian love and compassion was what was called for.  When I was a teenager I thought that was just how life was.  My needs didn’t matter.  Now I am an adult I worry that teenagers might be taught this stuff now days.  I hope not.

Since my mental health ever became an issue (it’s interesting that it simply doesn’t matter until diagnosed with a mental illness) people have been telling me that it is okay to put myself first.  It’s okay for my needs to matter.  At this stage, after many hours of therapy I can tell you that I do matter, but I still find it hard to put it into practise.

At what point do my needs matter more than loving and accepting another person?  I still haven’t worked that out.  I still am not sure how to put this into practise in everyday situations.

I struggle with it in a number of places in my life, and still there is this little voice in the back of my head that recites ‘Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between’.  It’s so ingrained in my head that I don’t know how to say ‘well actually my needs come first’.  Even as I type that, I’m thinking “selfish“.  I’ve done the textbook learning but I still don’t have it totally in operation in my life.  I don’t yet know how to strike the balance between me and the rest of the world.

Last week in What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve I told you about my family starting a family meal before I had arrived.  As I sat there that day my thoughts were “I don’t matter to these people“.  It seemed to me that I didn’t matter enough for them to think/say “We can’t start yet because Cate’s not here yet“.  Now I can see a number of logical reasons for why it might have happened, but it still hurts.  Not that they started lunch without me, but that I didn’t matter to them enough for them to think of me.

What makes it more painful is that I look around for people who I matter to, and actually most people have their own lives, their partners and children, and I am just me.  I know that I mattered to my father when he was alive, and so it makes his absence is more painful when something like that happens with my family.

The thing that I wonder is ‘who’s going to put me first?’  Will anyone?  Or has everyone got greater priorities than me?  I promise I’m not having some pity party for which I need huge doses of sympathy.  I don’t.  But I know that learning to matter to myself is helped when I can know that other people say to me “you matter to me“.

Maybe the psychology of that is all wrong, and I need to be able to just matter to myself.  But don’t we all want to matter to other people?  And surely knowing that I matter to someone else teaches me about mattering (Is that a word?  It is now.)  to myself.

I know I matter to some people, and yesterday I spent time with some of those people, purposely because I desperately needed to feel I matter to someone.  I knew with them, I would feel that, and I did.  It was in complete contrast to the lunch I nearly missed last week, simply because I knew without at doubt that I mattered to them and that my needs were important.

PS.  I need to say this isn’t at all a criticism of Christianity.  It’s not.  All it is, is my experience.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the
person you are.” 

―    Marilyn Monroe

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

―    Harvey Fierstein

A Long Hard Journey

Music has always been a really good way for me to learn.  Give me a song, and I’ll learn is quickly, but trying to learn a poem is really difficult for me.  It’s always been that way.  I can easily remember all the songs I ever learnt.  I can sing perfectly the parts I had to learn for school choir, so many years ago that I’m not saying how many.  But I don’t remember much of what I learnt in classes at school, or even university for that matter.

So it makes sense that the songs I learnt as a child, had their impact.  I still know them word for word.  The songs regularly leap to mind and actually when I think about how I learnt how to live my life, it came from songs.  That can be good, but it depends what those songs were.  And like I spoke of in Happiness Is…, the songs I learnt in Sunday School  made the biggest impact on me.

This isn’t a theological discussion of what children learn in Sunday School, but rather an explanation of my personal experience.  I’m not saying it was wrong to use such songs.  Actually I think music is an excellent tool in such settings.  I’m simply saying that for me, they made their mark.

This is one song that perhaps left the biggest mark.  It was sung to the Jingle Bells music:

J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between,
J O Y,    J O Y,
This must surely mean,
Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.

Note that I didn’t have to go looking for lyrics.  I know this one perfectly so many years later.  Whether or not this is my, or your, interpretation of what joy might be is not what message I got from singing this repeatedly.  What I got from it is that I always had to put myself last.  My needs didn’t count, but that Jesus came first and then other people.  Actually this is a message I got repeatedly as a child.  I’m not saying it was intentional for me to learn that what I needed didn’t matter, but it is the lesson that fixed itself in my head.

That ‘yourself last’ is what I heard over and over again, right through to well into my adult years.  It was what would make me a ‘good Christian’, apparently.  And if Christianity wants to believe it, that’s fine, but for me, it was actually very harmful to learn about where I came in the world.

I was last.  My needs were last.  Actually my needs didn’t matter because it was what other people needed that did matter.  It’s an often taught principle in the part of Christianity that I grew up in, to put the needs of others ahead of yourself.

But what if I’m being harmed by my needs coming last?  On a number of occasions this idea that my needs didn’t matter, caused me great harm (physically and emotionally) because other people took advantage and it was said that what they wanted was more important than what was safe for me.

The following is an example of the type of teaching I got, both as a child and adult:

We must aim to put Jesus Christ first in our lives. Matthew 6: 33 says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”.

If we want to know the fruit of joy in our lives we must do all we can to have a close growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We must seek to be like Him And to live for His glory in our daily lives. We must put ourselves last. Too often we are taught in these life that we need to blow our own horn .We need to praise ourselves. But God tells us to be humble and not braggers about ourselves.

In humility we are supposed to seek to live gentle lives for the glory of God. In our day to day lives we are to seek to help others. We are to seek to be light in our dark world. The lives of others and their needs ought to be the emphasis of our lives and we need to seek to be extended leaders pouring out ourselves for the glory of God. We are to seek to put others in-between Jesus and ourselves. We are to seek to be magnets that draw others to you our Lord.  ( 1.)

Let me be clear that my point is not about whether individuals choose to ‘put Jesus first’.  To me, that is an entirely individual choice and it’s not what I have the issue with.  My issue is that I was taught to always put other people’s needs ahead of my own, and how I interpreted that (as a child and then an adult struggling with serious self-esteem issues) was that what I needed didn’t count.  Even my safety didn’t count, and I saw this demonstrated in a number of ways over the years as both child and adult.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s beliefs but for me this didn’t work, and I don’t even believe that God wanted me to get harmed by what I as taught was my Christian duty.  I believe it is important that we practise compassion and be there for other people, but I don’t accept sacrificing my safety and my needs in order to do that.  Let me put it this way: by having this teaching, I was harmed and I have spent many years very unwell because of that harm.  That meant that  I have been unable to be there for other people.  Isn’t that crazy?  If I had been protected then maybe my journey would have been different, and maybe I would have been able to help more people.

I totally agree with helping others, and much of my life at the moment is devoted to trying to do that.  But I can’t do it unless I put my needs first.  I have to make sure I am safe, and I have to make sure that my needs are met.  If I don’t do that, I can’t adequately be there for others.

In practice what this means for me is realising that I, personally, can’t help some people because it is harmful, or at least triggering, for me.  It’s okay for me to leave those people to someone else to help.  I have to do this or I never get free from my own past hurts.  Maybe one day I can use my experience to help, but for now my physical and emotional safety has to come first.

The lyrics of the song were harmful to me, but then I was taught this message repeatedly in different ways, and so I can’t completely blame the lyrics.  I needed to know that I was important.  I needed to know that I was safe.  I needed to know that I was loved.  And I needed to know that my service to others was not to be at the expense of myself.

It has been a long, hard journey to learn this, and actually removing myself from a church environment was necessary for me to ‘get’ that I matter.  I’m not saying anyone else needs to do that, nor am I saying that I have given up my Christian beliefs.  It’s just that these particular beliefs didn’t work for me.  Actually they worked completely against me and I was hurt by them badly.  I’m inclined to think that too often religious beliefs like these get warped by people who don’t care about what happens to others, and they simply cause harm.

“Putting yourself first is the highest level of service you can offer in the world. It allows you to serve your partner, family, friends and others with joy and generosity. As long as you put yourself first to keep your love tank on overflow, your heart knows no limits in its ability to love.”

 – Susan Blackburn

What Dad Taught Me About Shoes (Passions Profile Challenge #4)

When I introduced my Passions Profile Challenge, this is what I said I would do with this topic of Social Justice:

“For want of a description of what I mean I found that in my country (of New Zealand) Social Justice is seen as Equal Distribution, Tolerance, Equal Treatment, Criminal Justice, Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Legislative, Responsibility, Democratic, Collectivism  and Individualism(1.) While I feel strongly about all of these, to tackle them all will be more than a mouthful.  So please excuse me for concentrating on equality in distribution, treatment, opportunities and rights.”

Image via Fresh Minds Matter

I could take an academic approach to this topic (like I implied I would) but that just isn’t me.  Rather, social justice to me is simply about treating people the way I would want to be treated myself.  Simple.  I don’t want to be hurt, judged, segregated, refused my rights, denied opportunity.  I want to be treated in exactly the way I want you to treat me.  I want you to put yourself in my shoes, live my life for a day, week, year or however long it takes, to understand my reality and appreciate my need for compassion and acceptance regardless of my beliefs, preferences, income, health, skin colour, religion.  Getting the picture?

It’s actually a much easier way to live.  There’s no having to think “does this person share my… religion, skin colour, sexual preference, income status, etc?”  None of that matters.  It is simply that they have the same rights as I do.  No exceptions.  And I am passionate to see the world adopt this way of treating each other.

So where did I develop this way of looking at the world?

Actually I learnt this from my Dad.  He was a good man, and a great example.  While my father was a Baptist Church minister for most of my life, he also had a strong sense of compassion for others, regardless of who, or what they might be.  He always opened our home to a wide range of people, and while a couple of times that left a young Cate feeling a little fearful, I could always see that Dad was just treating these people as he would want to be treated himself.  My fear came out of the unknown, probably caused by youth.  Sometimes these people were very different from what I knew, and sometimes they acted in ways to different to me.  Everything about them was different, yet Dad opened our home to them, and showed me how I could do the same, if that is what I chose.

Dad also taught me something else.  As a Christian he used the principle of What would Jesus do? to determine his actions.  This was Christian philosophy that built in the 1990’s (but I think Dad adopted it much earlier than that) and was a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through action.  Regardless of your religious belief I think this isn’t a bad way to work.  Maybe it suits to take ‘Jesus’ out and supplement it with something from your own faith.  One thing I like about a variety of religions is that they give a guide of how to live and how to treat others.  I mention Dad’s belief not so much for its religious significance but because it is something he lived day to day.  It was something that he used to determine how he acted towards others, and for him, it worked.  For me, watching him was a 45 year lesson in compassion and how to treat other people.

As a result of Dad’s influence on how I live I ended up in a wide range of situations for which now, I am very grateful.  It lead me into jobs where I could show compassion and then lead me into study (I have a degree in Sociology and Social Work) where I could hopefully make more use of those skills.  Because of my physical health I am not currently able to work but it is still the way I live, by putting myself in another’s shoes.

Image via Try God’s Patience

I strongly believe that it is not my place to judge another person.  I also strongly believe that I should stand up for what I believe in and support people who are unable to stand up for themselves.  I am not some ardent activist, at every protest going, although at 16 I joined a large portion of my country to protest against apartheid at the time when our national rugby team wanted the national team from South Africa  (the Springboks) to play here in 1981.  In New Zealand it was a big thing at the time and many people first chose to stand up for what they believed in.  In hindsight I’m not exactly sure that this is something dad wanted me to be involved in but I think he would have appreciated my sense of wanting to do the right thing.  I admit though that at 16, while I felt strongly about the issue of apartheid in South Africa, there was also an element of excitement in being rebellious and doing what my friends were doing.  To be honest, I’m not sure what was the over-riding factor at the time..

Something that I’ve noticed is that s/he who shouts the loudest gets the action, and for some reason that often seems to be that the loudest is the one with the resources (even if that is just the microphone).  This makes me sad because it means that s/he who does not have the resources, maybe does not have the language skills, does not have the confidence… (there are lots of things they may not have) are the ones who miss out.  Time and time again.  For five years, in an earlier life, I worked for New Zealand’s social security system and I saw this all the time.  People who were confident, English speakers, who knew how a government organisation worked… were much more likely to get the help they needed than those for whom English was not a first language and possibly had some type of health issue (including mental health).  And it will be the same anywhere.  In your country and in mine.  It pays to know how to work ;the system’ and shout loudly.

This is what breaks my heart and really does my head in.  The people who really need the help, aren’t always able to make themselves heard, and to access what is available.

Maybe that’s slightly veering off track but Dad taught me to walk in those people’s shoes, to experience their pain, and not to judge.  He taught me to make a difference.  Dad died suddenly just over a year ago, but this is something that I am very glad he left me.

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
- Mother Teresa

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
- Mahatma Gandhi