Christmas: A Light In The Darkness

Christmas is probably one of the best times of the year. Family coming together, celebrating, giving, laughing, sounds of joy filling the air. It is a time when many of us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and remember the very first Nativity. This year more than ever, after all we have been through, we could really do with something to celebrate. But for some of us, this Christmas will be unlike any other that has come before it. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I love Christmas, because it brings a smile to so many people’s faces, no matter what they have been through. A lot of us have been through hell this year. There were the bushfires at the beginning of the year. COVID-19 came along and threw our world upside down and inside out, keeping us from seeing our family, friends and loved ones, putting us on edge. Many would have suffered from mental health conditions due to the constant lockdowns and isolation. It has affected us all in different ways, but I think we can all agree it’s been a really tough year. So, we can all use a bit of Christmas cheer to reignite our hope and bring some much-needed happiness to our souls.

For me personally, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year. It’s been a pretty bumpy ride. Although I went through a stage for months where I was in a pretty bad way mentally, in the second half of the year, more from around September onwards, I found my grounding and became more motivated than I had ever been before. My life turned around, and that was truly a Godsend. But I’ll speak more to all of that in my yearly wrap up next week. This one isn’t about me. It’s about you, all of you. Because 2020 has not discriminated. We have all faced many hardships this year, and we all deserve to be happy, if at the very least for a day.

Now this Christmas is going to be different for some of us. While some of us will get to celebrate the occasion with family and friends, having a feast and giving gifts, there are still a lot who will not be afforded this opportunity on Christmas Day. Those who have been affected by COVID-19 in some degree, be it directly, being in an area that has been designated a hotspot and being told to isolate, or having restrictions imposed on them by governments, will have a somewhat different Christmas this year, being unable to celebrate with their family and friends (for some it may be all, for others they may be able to still celebrate with those in their household). In particular in NSW right now, our Christmas is restricted in that we are only allowed no more than ten people to visit our homes on Christmas Day. This is just adding insult to injury after all we have been through this year. And so, I have a message to share that will hopefully bring some warmth and joy to everyone at this time when I know many of us will be feeling deflated.

I know we have all been through a lot this year. And I know many of us are still going through it. But Christmas is a time when we can stop, even for just one day, and consider all that we are grateful for. We can take time to reflect on what good things have come out of this year. As we think about these joyous things, a smile will no doubt begin to beam from our faces, in turn lifting our spirits so that happiness may bubble up inside us, bringing about a warmth within us that brings us great comfort.

Christmas is a time of hope. As I have spoken to before, hope is such an incredible thing. One of the three members of what I call the Trinity of the Heart (Faith, Hope and Love), all it needs is a spark to set ablaze, to come alive within our hearts. Hope nurtures the soul, bringing about a sense of peace in times of anguish. After all we have been through this year, I think we could all use a little hope in our lives. Even now, as all our Christmas plans are thrown into chaos and uncertainty, we need to hold on to those little sparks of hope, no matter how disheartened we might feel. There is a quote from Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” This year we have been surrounded by darkness, but, as I have learnt, just one ray of light, one that may even be unexpected, can guide us out. That reminds me of another quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” This year has taught me that much is true. Only in the dark times I went through this year did the stars in my life come out to greet me and change my life.

Christmas is typically a time when family and friends come together to celebrate and share in the spirit of the season. This year that might not be possible for many of us. But that should not discourage us from getting in touch with those special people in our lives on Christmas Day. To those who won’t be able to see their family, friends and loved ones on Christmas Day as they usually would, I say this: Spend time on the day contacting and talking to those people you care about. Be it a phone call, text/messaging through various apps, video calls or whatever else, we have the technological tools at our disposal to still spend time with those we care about on Christmas Day, even if we are not able to be in the same room as them.

To put it bluntly, I know it sucks that we can’t all be together for Christmas this year. I’m going to miss seeing my extended family, cousins and all. It’s devastating not being able to have a normal Christmas after all we have been through this year. Personally, I’m going to spend Christmas Day contacting those I care about, because even though we cannot all gather in the same place, I want to feel at least some sense of normality about Christmas. I might be lucky enough to see a few, but regardless, I’ll be making sure to reach out to them on Christmas Day. I’m sure I will not be alone in this sentiment.

To all those who are in isolation over Christmas, I can only imagine what you are going through. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and I hope that you’ll still be able to find some hope and joy this Christmas, be it through contacting family and friends, or even through reading this message.

Christmas may look different this year, but we should not let that stop us from celebrating the occasion. We cannot let this virus take Christmas from us. The human spirit is an incredible thing. It can help us to persist, to keep going, even through the darkest of times. Combined with the Christmas spirit, its effects are amplified. We have all been through a lot of darkness this year, but I hope that at this special time of the year we can find the light.

God Bless you all and have a very Merry Christmas.

Influence and Impact

Throughout our lives, we meet a lot of people. They enter and exit our lives at different times and for different reasons. Each one of these individuals has a role in the story we call our life. Some may have a minor role, appearing for a few pages, maybe a chapter or two. Others take on a larger part, maybe even sticking around for half the story or more. Regardless of how much they feature, each one of them helps to shape our lives, helps us to learn and to grow. Influence and impact each contribute to our lives through others that we meet along the journey.

The first people to have an influence on us are our parents and families. From the moment we enter this world, they are the ones who raise us, who teach us important life lessons, and who help us to grow to one day do the same for our own children. As we progress through our lives, our family tend to have the greatest influence on the person we become. Be it our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins, we form connections with them. We often engage in discussions with them that may indeed shape our own perspectives, and they might just help us to learn more about ourselves and how to navigate the journey of life.

As we write new chapters in our lives, we begin to interact with people outside of our families. We start making friends, some of whom will remain a part of our lives for years and decades to come, others exiting stage left or fading into the background after joining our journey for a shorter interval. Sometimes, we may meet people who take a different path to us, but who re-enter our life a few years later when their path converges with our own. These people can have an incredible impact on our lives. In fact, sometimes it is these people who we wish we got to know earlier.

Like any good story, we all meet people who take on the role of a mentor in our life. They could be teachers, coaches, family friends, sometimes even certain family members, etc. They guide us in navigating challenges in our lives and help us soar to new heights. Often there will be multiple mentors who impart their wisdom upon us throughout our lifetime, and it is up to us to use this wisdom to lead a fulfilled life.

But just like those we meet have an impact on our lives, we can also have an impact on theirs. In connecting with our family and friends, in offering our own perspectives, we may be able to help them to uncover things they were yet to realise about themselves and the lives they lead. We might introduce them to something that we can connect more over. We might be able to help them through their own challenges, their own hardships, something that could strengthen our bonds.

We can also have an impact on those who play the parts of mentors in our lives. For example, as students, we learn from our teachers, but teachers can also learn from their students. I’ll give you an example from my own life. In teaching Scripture each week, I always go in with a lesson prepared, ready to ensure my students learn something that they can apply to their own lives. But the incredible thing is when, throughout the course of some lessons I have taught, they provide answers or bring up points that I never would have thought of, and thus I learn from them. Teaching/learning is, at least to some degree, a two-way process: They learn from you, and you learn from them. In addition, students I have taught engage in the lesson, and always seem happy to be there, even thanking me at the end of lessons. These moments all have a sincere impact on me in that I am grateful to be able to share my faith with them and that I am making an impact on their lives by doing so.

I mentioned towards the beginning of this piece that people enter and exit our lives. Reflecting upon this notion, I considered how this is particularly true of friends we have, and how our friend groups can change as we grow. Again, I’ll take from my own experience thus far to demonstrate this point. When I was in primary school, the friends I had changed a few times. I think the first solid friendship I formed came about when I was in Year 3. That friendship has continued throughout primary school, high school, and beyond. I had other friends in primary school who I stuck by for a few years, however, when we all reached high school, we drifted apart and formed new friend groups. Again, I met many people throughout high school that I formed connections with to varying degrees, however, I only remained close with three (one being the aforementioned friend from my primary school days) after graduating from high school. That being said, there have since been other people from my high school days that have re-entered my life, or indeed entered it in the sense that I didn’t really know them before. One of these connections that formed has had a profound impact on my life for the better. As I said before, it is these people, those whose path is different to ours but then later converges with our own, who we wish we got to know earlier. The impact others can have on our lives, even when we have known them only for a short time, is incredible.

As we write the story of our lives, we will find that each chapter brings with it an array of characters, some old, some new. They will impact our lives in different ways, yet no matter what, will remain a part of the story that we create for ourselves. But it is important to remember that, although there are many noteworthy people in our stories from the beginning, some of the most important ones will come later on, sometimes when we least expect it.

Can I Get A Connection?

Human beings are naturally social creatures. We need to interact with one another for the sake of our own mental wellbeing. This is because when we become isolated and alone, we tend to let our thoughts get in the way, which can lead us down a deep hole of darkness and depression. Having a network of people in our lives allows us to stay connected, improving our mental stability and our overall quality of life. Human connection is something we crave yet can sometimes be difficult and complex in nature. Nevertheless, we must persist with forming such connections, despite the challenges we may face.

Throughout our lives, we make a multitude of connections. It might be making friends at school, meeting people through some sort of group activity (eg. Sporting teams, book clubs, etc.), meeting others at church, through work, or at an event. In the modern world, where technology has become central to communication, we can even connect with people online from all around the world. Mind, some of these interactions might just be a one off, or temporary, but they can assist us in working out the kinks of communication, and some may prove to be more constructive than others. We may, however, also connect with others who become a larger part of our lives. And we may reconnect with people who we have not seen in years. The realm of online communication is quite something.

When we meet new people, we often try to form a connection with them. Sometimes it may be a matter of asking a few questions, having a conversation, and getting to know each other. Sometimes you’ll want to keep in touch, others you might just not click. And then there are the times when you do, and you find you have a lot more in common with someone than you would have thought. That is something you can build upon, something that can form the foundations of a much stronger connection. It is times like these when we can find ourselves in awe of not only the ways in which life works, but also the uncanny similarities we share with others. Some connections can be truly incredible. They can change our lives for the better.

Maintaining connections is part and parcel of human life. In order to retain a decent social network, we must be able to navigate how to effectively sustain communication with those in our lives. Now this is not always easy to do, and sometimes a connection we have with someone may break down for any number of reasons. This may bring us to a point where we must evaluate whether it is worth salvaging it or taking it as a lesson and moving on. Sometimes this can be difficult to carry out as our judgement may be clouded by other thoughts and emotions that prevent us from thinking clearly. We might need to take some time to step back and allow time for this fog in our minds to dissipate, so that we can best assess the situation.

In these cases, we may find that a person was in our life to help us to discover something about ourselves, maybe to teach us a life lesson. They may exit stage left in our life story, but they can leave us with a valuable experience that changes our outlook on life so that we may become better people. This in turn helps us to grow and gain a greater understanding of human connection and life itself. For sometimes life’s most valuable lessons are taught in its harshest moments.

Building a social network of people you can rely upon is also essential to living a better life. Be they family, friends, work colleagues, or whomever else, it is important to have people around you who you can trust and talk to in good times and bad, throughout your highs and lows, and all that lies in between. The people who we surround ourselves with can have a resounding impact on our lives, potentially handing us little pearls of wisdom when we need it the most. They can make all the difference in ensuring we do not fall off the rails, nor dig ourselves into a deep dark hole. Even if we were to do this, it is these people that can pull us back up, bringing us back into the light.

Of course, sometimes we aren’t necessarily looking for connections when they occur. As I have mentioned before, life works in the most mysterious ways. Sometimes it will bring people into our lives unexpectedly. It may bring us together with someone who we may form one of our strongest connections with. Life has a funny way of bringing people together at the right time. Indeed, God also has perfect timing. There is a quote that goes:

God’s has perfect timing: never early, never late. It takes a little patience and a whole lot of faith, but it’s worth the wait.”

This one struck a chord with me because it is so very true. In the fast-paced world of today, many of us lack patience. As they say, patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait. That does not mean the wait is going to be easy. Hell, it could be grueling. But by having faith and waiting with patience in hope of what is to come, incredible things can occur. I can say this with certainty because I have lived it. Through my own experience, I came to find something truly incredible, a connection unlike any other. It has changed my life for the better, and for that I am so incredibly grateful.

Faith, Hope, and Love

In the world in which we live we are subject to the relentlessness of evils. Certain groups are trying to destroy and rewrite history to suit their agendas. Others are manipulating fear for power. Some are attempting to bring society to its knees through the imposition of certain social constructs to create a socio-political system that they believe is superior, but which has been tried and tested and has ultimately failed every time. But in these times of chaos, we must remember that there are good things within our world, within our own hearts, that we can use for the betterment of society if we can harness them.

At times like these, and in times where I find an incredible thing has happened to me, I recall an inspiring Bible verse. Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, which some may call Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (pretty cool acronym, right?), my personal favourite is 1 Corinthians 13:6-8 and 13. It goes as follows:

Verses 6-8: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

Verse 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

What I love about these verses is that they demonstrate the powerful nature of love. They show that, despite all else in the world, everything that is evil, everything that tries to cause despair and destruction, love persists.

Verses 6-8 are particularly relevant in current times. In the modern world, truth is often obfuscated or hidden. People would rather live in the comfort of lies than open their eyes to the truth and awake to the realities of the world. People in power do all they can to prevent the truth from getting out if it does not benefit them. If a lie is viewed as more favourable, they will choose the lie. But as we hear, we will only find love in truth. That is why truth is so important, and why, even when the odds are against us, we must continue to speak truth to power.

Verses 6-8 also relate to our world today in that in recent times we have borne witness to certain groups of people who are engaging in modern day “book-burning”, whereby statues of historical figures are being pulled down, and books like the Bible itself burnt alongside flags. The people who perpetrate these horrendous attacks on human history do so because they are clearly looking for a clear path to repeat its most grievous mistakes, its worst evils. Yet knowledge only passes away when those who contain it within their memories do. If that knowledge has been shared beforehand, it can live on. But, as we all know, everything ends someday.

But Verse 13 is the greatest one of all. It is truly the most powerful. In a nutshell, it tells us while everything else may disappear, three incredible things will endure: faith, hope, and love. These three are interconnected in such a way that they form what I call the trinity of the heart. I call it this because I view all three as residing within our hearts. Each has a powerful role to play in our lives and can be the difference between living a happy and fulfilled life or living a life of chaos. It all comes down to how you implicate them into your life.

Faith is our belief, our trust. We often find ourselves putting our faith in others who we trust to do right by us. We may ask them to do something for us in the belief that they will do so. In the same vein, we may entrust a friend or family member with a secret in the confidence that they will not break our trust. Faith is linked very closely with hope, in that when we put faith in another person, we hope that they will come through for us. But just like we can put our faith in other people, we can also put our faith in God. We can trust that He is there looking out for us. He often works in mysterious ways. At times we may feel as if He has left us to fend for ourselves. These may be times of great hardship for us, times when we do not understand why something is happening. Yet while we may feel this way, He might just be nudging us in another direction, maybe onto a different path.

Before we move onto hope, I just want to share how this has affected my life. I have discussed this somewhat in a few previous posts, but I think it fits in quite well here. For many years, I knew I was headed down one particular path, which involved writing. At the beginning of 2019, I thought I was headed in a direction where I would go to a physical University, complete a degree over the course of three years, and then go into a career that involved writing in some capacity. But just a month and a half before I was due to start, I went through a challenging time which resulted in my anxiety returning stronger than before. That and a general dislike for the course at UTS put me on a different path. At the time, I didn’t really see what was happening in that sense. But I ended up choosing to study online with Griffith Uni, which would allow me to also teach Scripture each week at my old primary school. And despite further challenges like fluctuations in my anxiety and COVID-19 keeping us all isolated and putting a hold on Scripture, I managed to persist and get through the tough times. But here is the kicker, I didn’t come to realise this until around just under six weeks ago. You know, sometimes things happen that seem so random, but are just incredible. They give you this sense of clarity that allows you to understand why things happened the way they did. This happened to me almost six weeks ago. It was truly liberating. Meeting new people can have such an impact on your life. COVID-19 may have created a world of chaos, but from the chaos came a ray of hope. I truly believe that God gave me a nudge last year and put me on a different path because it would lead me to some of the best things in my life. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Hope is what we long for. It is both something we can gain and something we can lose. At times, we may feel down, like things are not going the way we hoped they would. Indeed, they may have gone in the opposite direction of what you were hoping. At times like these, we may reach a point where we feel like giving up. Yet there may still be a small spark of hope alive within our hearts. And in time, sometimes when we least expect it, that spark can catch alight, and that hope transforms into a flame, burning bright within us. Sometimes, it may take time for that spark to ignite. If we put our faith in God, that He might bring that spark to life, we can trust that He will do so in His time, and His timing is perfect. Sometimes it takes a little faith and love to kindle the flame of hope. To have hope is a wonderful thing, because without it, we can easily fall victim to depression and misery, and that is no way to live our lives.

Love is powerful. It can make us, or indeed break us. Love has the power to change lives. It has the power to bring people together, to create a bond between people that is like no other, unbreakable. That is why love is the greatest of the three. It brings us great joy in our lives, a happiness unlike any other. In some instances, the euphorically powerful nature of love can be overwhelming, but in a good way. And just like the love in our own hearts, God’s love for us is truly incredible. In fact, God loves us so much that He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to be sacrificed for us so that we could experience an eternal love in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is intrinsic to the nature of love itself, because with love comes sacrifice.

Sometimes we have to make sacrifices of our own for love and the betterment of ourselves as human beings. Sometimes this may even mean allowing a part of us to die so that a new part can rise up and take its place. In the same vein, we may come to a realization that allows us to push past something that was holding us back. Moments like these can be freeing. They can provide a reflective window to the past to allow us to see that there was a reason behind events that took place. At the time, it may have been difficult to make sense of such things, but at this point, it all comes together in one incredible epiphanic moment.

Before, I referred to faith, hope and love as the “trinity of the heart”. Now that we have been through all of them, it should be evident as to why. All three of these incredible parts of humanity come straight from the heart. They are enkindled within it. The heart is like a fireplace where the three come alive. Hope is the spark and the flame, faith is the kindling, and love is the warmth it provides. While the world around us may fall victim to chaos, faith, hope, and love are the key to restoring order. They have the power to bring about positive change, and never fail to inspire.

And so, I’d like to finish this one with a poem I wrote:

Faith, Hope and Love,

The trinity of the Heart,

Three things that have been with us

From the very start.

In times of great joy,

And even in despair,

Where a spark of hope endures,

These three will be there.

When order turns to chaos,

And we are not sure what to do,

Turn unto this trinity,

Have faith and peace will ensue.

And although time will march on,

And things may fall apart,

These three will transcend,

Faith Hope and Love, The trinity of the Heart.

Life Works In Mysterious Ways

Life works in the most mysterious ways. Remember that because it’s going to be the central focus to this one. Sometimes, the most random things happen, but they can be the most incredible things. It is these moments that really make us think about both life itself and the people that come into our lives.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve experienced some of my lowest lows. I have battled with varying degrees of anxiety and moderate depression. These were once things that I guess I thought at one point or another wouldn’t affect me again. After going through some of my worst moments at the beginning of last year and eventually recovering mid-way through the year, I thought it was over and that I was free of the mental restraints on my life. However, after an extremely stressful period in my study, the anxiety returned, and made life difficult again. I explained this more in depth in a previous post on mental health and my own journey, which you can find here:  if you haven’t already read it.

So, going into 2020, I thought things would be better. It started off nicely, with my grandfather staying with us for a couple of weeks throughout the bushfires, providing the opportunity to spend quality time with him. However, a few weeks after he returned home, we were saying our final goodbyes, and he tragically passed away. It was by far one of the most emotional times I have ever experienced in my life. I don’t think I really realized the impact it all had on me until a few months later. Upon reflection, I thought about how we had been so lucky to have had those two weeks with him, and how everything in those two weeks had worked out so well. And it made me think about how life is so strange that way. It was as if, despite all the bad that had happened throughout the bushfires, something good had come out of them.

A few months later, I began to spiral again. The anxiety returned and the depression followed. I just want to explain this a little more. Since my anxiety returned at the start of 2019, I go through this cycle of being anxious and then becoming depressed because of the anxiety and how it affects my life. It can be a real challenge to navigate. A couple of weeks before I started back with my studies after a short break, I became anxious about even the smallest things. It was a truly trying time. And it continued for weeks. I ended up going to see a GP, who was so considerate and easy to talk to. It was a real blessing. It was during this time that I realized the impact that seeing my grandfather in his final days had on me. I wouldn’t change it though. After a series of appointments to set up a mental health plan I started seeing a psychologist, who I continue to see periodically to this day, and who has been so helpful in providing me with a number of strategies to deal with my anxiety whenever it turns up.

They say everything happens for a reason. Upon reflection of the last two years, I believe this to be true. By extension, I believe that everyone comes who comes into your life does so for a purpose. I believe that last year, when certain things happened to cause my anxiety to return in force after a six-year hiatus, they were necessary, and that the anxiety had to come back. Now that does not mean I wanted these things to happen. But in some sense, I’m kind of glad they did. I think they needed to occur, so that I could actually face my anxiety and find ways of dealing with it rather than suppressing it and allowing it to build up over time. I needed to as they say, ‘face my demons’. And while I’m still getting there, I’ve definitely gotten better in the last couple of months.

I have only really come to understand these things over the last few days. I guess amongst all the politics I’ve been talking about this week, something really cool came out of it all. And it just made me think about how, when you least expect it, something new comes along that makes you realise just how mysterious life is. And whilst you may lose things, while you may struggle, you really appreciate moments of unexpected amazement that turn up. People we’ve know for years can exit our lives, and new people can enter. But along the way, we learn things from these people, and from the experiences we have, and we grow.

Upon understanding all these things over the past few days, I’ve become happier, and more at peace with certain things. I suppose I blamed myself for things that happened in my life over the last couple of years. At some points, I can honestly say I wished time machines were a real thing. But now, I can say that I don’t feel like that is necessary anymore.

It truly amazes me how sometimes the most random of things can have such an impact on your life.

Social media is something that can be somewhat toxic at times, particularly when you’re a Conservative like me. Most of the major social media platforms these days tend to be filled with Left Wingers who always want to argue or insult. It is an echo chamber. But every now and then, you come across someone really nice and genuine, and they also turn out to be Conservative. It’s truly incredible. Conservatives really are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

So yeah, life works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you go through hell, and you wonder “why?” But then you come out the other side to a find a ray of light, and it helps you realise that you had to go through the difficult things to learn, to grow, and to become a better version of yourself. Personally, I am so grateful to have come to this realization over the last few days. It’s been enlightening for me.

That little bit of hope within me is starting to burn brighter.