Answering the big questions this Christmas. How a baby gave a message of hope. And made a fool of me.

December 25, 2012

My first memory of church is not Christmas, but cake.

A mate at school had a very religious upbringing. Every Sunday, he’d be dragged to the house of worship.

His picture of church was one where every table had a bowl of chips. Chocolates at every turn. And more cake than a skinny school kid could dream of.

It was with this glowing appraisal in mind that I ventured off for a morning with him. Mum was delighted. Dad shook his head, and said nothing.

When I arrived, it became clear that his feast of faith had been a cruel ploy. In fact, there was nothing to eat. Just a few hours of fire and brimstone from the pulpit. I had been conned. I didn’t hang around to ask if that was a sin.

Dad was fixing the car when I got home. I told him my tale of woe, and he laughed. Mum shook her head, and said nothing.

Since then, my trips to Holy Houses have been few and far between. Mainly weddings and funerals. Of late, sadly, more of the latter.

Two years back, we went to a wonderful church in New York on Christmas Eve. Old and majestic, with the first dusting of winter snow.

It was midnight mass, and the place was packed. As seems to be the case in most churches, there were several loud singers in the congregation. When I say loud, I mean Aretha Franklin in robes. The girls thought it was hilarious.

It was a modern service. The priest was most impressive. He gave an inspired sermon, about the need to look after each other. On every level. And that it’s never too late. Simple messages. For such a complex time.

Like so many others at this time of year, I’ve been searching for answers. To questions big and small. A helping hand , to chart the path ahead.

Guidance comes from many directions. Much loved family members. Great mates and colleagues. In kitchens and down the phone line. At the front bar and in racetrack grandstands.

It’s this long-term quest for direction that prompted me to pay church another visit.  A magnificent old building, next to The Teenager’s school.

I drive past it every day, and have often wondered what it’s like inside. It LOOKS like a place to soothe the soul. What better time than Christmas to find out.

I swapped my regular Sunday afternoon appointment with the old pub jazz band, for a session of a different kind. I know many of you just fell off various bar stools. And no, there wasn’t a lightning bolt when I walked through the door. Although I thought I heard the faintest clap of thunder.

It wasn’t a big crowd. In fact, for a pre-Christmas sermon, I was a little disappointed. The Big Apple had obviously spoiled me.

The man conducting proceedings was in shorts. There was music, led by an enthusiastic young bloke with long hair and a guitar. A few carols that I’d never heard of.

As time went on, I found myself having a closer look at that beautiful structure. Rich wooden beams, and stained glass windows.

It got me thinking. How many people had come here before me, looking for answers? Had they been helped, and given a clearer sense of what it’s really all about?

Those around me were happy. They were enjoying each others company, and the words of wisdom on offer. I was happy for them.

All the while, a baby in the front row was staring at me. He had blue eyes and a mass of blonde hair. With the most delightful giggle. I had seen that look somewhere before. But where?

Then it hit me. This little fellow was a mirror image of me.

It was one of mum’s favourite old photos. Me on a rug, with the most ridiculous baby smile. And here I was, looking at that picture once again.

Was it a message from above? Maybe the ultimate answer, to go back to where it all began?

I pondered this Christmas miracle in the making, and considered making a donation to the money bag doing the rounds. Even jumping to my feet. Right up until the man in shorts introduced the baby. His beautiful child. Named Lydia.

The smiling baby boy, was in fact a girl. Had been all along apparently. Everyone knew, but me.

It just shows, the answers we seek are never easy. Even when the question seems so simple.

We’ll get there, with love and support from those who matter. Someone way smarter than me said every worthwhile journey begins with one small step.

Merry Christmas Lydia. May your smile continue to light up those around you. And Merry Christmas to you and your family.

A lady with attitude and a runny nose – Chelsea brings some joy to the world.

April 26, 2011

It was hardly appropriate behaviour in the house of God. Even I knew that. The person just up from me was out of control. There was screaming. Punching. Tears. At one stage, a grab was made at the breast of the woman next to her. Outrageous.

Those in the front row were doing their best to find a solution to the chaos. Soothing words. Shiny objects. Cuddles. Nothing worked. There were stares from others, obviously more accustomed to quiet reflection in church.

 The wonderful thing about being 16 months old is that you don’t care. Chelsea didn’t tell me that herself, but I’m guessing she lost no sleep over the unholy outburst. After all, it was her big day. She could do what she liked.

We spent Easter Sunday at the christening of a special little girl. A very loud girl. Surely no carol has been sung with such gusto in that Cairns church than the notes she reached from Pew One.

Christenings are good spectator sport. It’s a group activity. Others are there doing the same thing. Sort of a spiritual buffet. Comparisons are inevitable. Which frock is whitest. Who has the brightest candle. That sort of thing.

Each party was given their own row. We were on the right hand side. From what I could see, amid the thrashing going on along our bench, the other babies had their best manners on show. The mob in the centre row would send a look our way every now and then, with the slightest hint of smug.

Granted, their little bloke was doing everything right in his first start. No tears. Big smiles at Grandma. No throwing shoes at the priest. Ticking all the boxes.

All smooth sailing on the left row too. Their party was perfect at repeating the bits from the little blue book. The bub wasn’t even fiddling with the bow in her hair. Unlike Chelsea, who by now had a stream of nasal discharge pooling on the church floor.

It got me thinking. Could this be the next reality tv series? The Biggest Baptism? My Christening Frock Rules? Each row could be a different colour. Cameras at home, and outside the church. Candid interviews with the priest on how he wanted to throw that noisy lot out. Troublemakers eliminated, so that only the shiniest, holiest survive. We could be on to something.

After a painful, ear-splitting half hour, we were almost done. Chelsea was now hanging upside down, frilly-socked feet in the air, as we hit the home turn. Her loving parents were a deep shade of red. Team Perfect across the aisle had progressed to head shaking.

The Treasurer had a role in proceedings too. She had to bring forward the new dress. When she was asked. All part of the ceremony apparently. But there was a problem. She left the gates early.

The starter, Father Martin, was less than impressed. Like nothing else was going wrong for him. He called for the dress carrier to return to her seat, his irritation obvious. She’s been ordered to barrier trial to the satisfaction of the church.

The girls and I thought this was a highlight. The Treasurer didn’t. She quietly suggested that this episode should not be written about, so we’ll not mention it again.

Despite all the dramas, Chelsea did get her head wet. I might have been imagining it, but I reckon the priest dunked her with just a splash more water than the others. Obviously one of those old pulpit jokes for those who stray from the hymn book.

I mentioned earlier that Chelsea was special. That’s what the family of Little Mr Perfect didn’t realise. They don’t know the half of it. That noisy bundle of joy was fifteen years in the making. To a mum and dad who refused to give up. Their only child, finally. The end result of so much love.

Yes, she was the most disruptive baby ever to don the tiny white gown. Responsible for a turn that will be talked about through the ages. But none of us cared. We still think she’s an Easter miracle.

Shame we didn’t have the cameras on her. It would have been great tv. I had her ahead on points. The judges might have thought otherwise. I’m no expert on these things, but I reckon the Executive Producer upstairs would have given her the thumbs up too.