So, this is Christmas. What have you done?
Today will be spent in the kitchen, finishing presents and creating a couple of desserts for family lunch, and tonight I’ll go to a Christmas Eve pantomime at the local church because my ten-year-old friend is the star of the show — literally, she’s playing a star. Today will flow into tomorrow and then tomorrow will somehow be over and we’ll be staring down the barrel of a New Year. And I can’t help but think, what have we done?
This year has been one of huge change for my little family. I began 2019 with a sense that it would be a year of transition, and so it has been. It’s been the year we asked ourselves what we wanted to come next, whether that was parish ministry or not. It’s been the year we decided to take a risk and go through the anxiety-inducing process of getting a mortgage, choosing a house, and moving back to the South Coast. It’s been the year James took time to broaden his qualifications and worked outside the ferries for eight months. It’s been the year we learned that if we’re not working together, then we’re probably not going to get anywhere at all.
But even now, as I sit on the other end of all this change, thankful but weary in the old yellow house we now call home, I can’t help but reflect on all this year has meant not just for me personally — but for the world around me. From the big stuff like the fires burning around Australia and world politics going a little cray cray, to the smaller moments that honestly, felt of little consequence when they happened but looking back marked big moments.
Australia is on fire and it’s a fact that’s hard to ignore when the Illawarra Escarpment is shrouded by smoke so thick you can’t glimpse a single tree. We’re seeing the fruit of our years of neglect of the creation and we’re now helpless to stop these blazes. Families will be without their homes because they burned down. Mothers & fathers will be away from their homes because they’re trying to protect more homes from burning, and blazes don’t observe public holidays. It’s hard to sit too long in this reality because it makes my stomach twist into knots but you’ve got to ask yourself — what have we done?
Politics is something that I don’t know too much about the intricacies of. I’ve followed the circus that is the impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump and marvelled at what mess it all is. I’ve seen Australia divide down ideological and political lines to the point where disagreements leads detachment and we can no longer sit at the same table if we’re not on the same page. That’s what I keep thinking about. When did we reach the point where we seem to be divided into teams, and those teams must be bitter rivals, and we cannot listen to one another because we’re both shouting at the same decibel and no, no, it is not a low level at all. Why can we not find common ground in humanity, find some community in the diversity, and work together towards something better? What have we done?
The smaller moments are those that remind me of the good stuff — of the things that I see God at work in. This year I’ve seen a church come together to act as a family, in a lot of little ways but particularly as we’ve gathered around tables together. Sometimes a table is a picnic blanket, and sometimes it’s a big table on a back deck, but it’s always good. My favourite of those this year took place in our apartment on Homer St. It was chaos, with twenty people eating and making pizza, and chatting all at the same time, and there was a chaotic noise all around as pans clanged and cups were filled and cars whirled by in a seemingly never-ending stream. I’m not sure what it was, but family isn’t always neat or tidy and we don’t always fit perfectly in a space or perfectly together… but we belong to one another. And that’s precious.
The other moment that defined this year for me took place in unassuming Armidale. Or, rather, thirty minutes out of Armidale at a place called Dobson’s Distillery. What had begun as an overnight trip to see my husband’s grandma, to say goodbye, turned into a five-day visit as final goodbyes were said and a funeral was planned. It was a strange five days, but I keep thinking about that visit to Dobson’s. The owner took us through a gin tasting, swore like a sailor, and made me promise to not fall in love with him when I tasted his coffee liqueur (note: I fell in love with the drink, but not the man). I’ve still got half a bottle of the sweet pea gin I left Dobson’s with and everytime I drink it I’m reminded that while grief hurts in ways that will never be okay, there’s always something more than that grief — and on that day it was a distillery in the middle of nowhere that reminded me of it.
So, this is Christmas. I need to stop procrastinating and start cooking, so I don’t end up wondering what I did to whittle this day away. But maybe you’re where I am, wondering what you’ve done this year. Take some time, think it through, and acknowledge the big and small and good and bad. What have you done?
I’m not sure, but I’d love to hear about it.