Category Archives: Christianity

Finishing God’s Sentences.

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When I take my dogs for their daily walk, they can tell twenty minutes before we leave.  (Unfortunately any time I bend down to put on my shoes they can also tell and get wildly excited – even though, most times, they’re not actually going anywhere.) All the signs are pointing – potentially – in the direction of bliss but, alas, there is more to it than me just putting on the right footgear.

When we arrive at the gorgeous common where we walk – the dogs having howled deafeningly and in unison at the sheer joy of it all en route – the three of them spring from the car and dash off in all directions at once. I corral them back (often having to put them on leads) before we can set out on our intended route.

How very true it is to say that dogs resemble their owners.

When I was at seminary twenty five years ago, I had a brilliant counsellor who helped  me process my journey. Almost every session, she said the same thing to me, “Stay the course.” When she first said it, I asked her what she meant. She replied,

“When God gives you a whiff of something, Josie, you’re all in.  You put your pedal to the metal and suddenly you’re going a million miles an hour and becoming a missionary in Africa. Just stay the course! Stay. The. Course.”

Blimey, how I struggle with this.  Just like my own children, I constantly jump ahead. I say to them:  “After dinner, we’ll…” They say: “Watch a movie?!”/”Get an ice cream?!”/Buy a new video game???!!!!” Sometimes they’re right, but not yet. And sometimes they’re just completely wrong.

As I come to the end of this particular season of transition – married to divorced, America to England – I can see so clearly how constantly I try to finish God’s sentences. “Oh yeah, OK, right Lord.  I can see how this goes…”

I think it’s the product of three things:

  1. My desire to get out of a situation I’m currently in.
  2. My passion to be in His will.
  3. My sometimes desperate need to know what on earth is really going on.

On occasion with my littlest dog, when I can’t get her to stay close to me on our walk, I just lift her off the ground and carry her. She squirms and wriggles, but I hold her tight until we reach a place where she can safely run.

So too with Jesus and me.  Looking back, I can see where He lifted my feet off the ground to stop me running all over the place.  In frustration and fury, my legs kept pumping and my fists landed more than a few good punches on Jesus’ chest meantime. How I hate not “going” anywhere (and how much He must love me when I can be so unpleasant.)

Of course, it’s not that I haven’t been going anywhere. He’s got me and He’s simply been moving me forward at a pace and in a way that I could handle.

How much I wish I would have rested in that and not struggled so hard.  It was exhausting and changed nothing.  How much I wish I would have enjoyed the ride a bit more! Trusting that Someone knew what was really going on, Someone knew where I was going next, and Someone was going to get me and my kids there safely.

How much I wish I had spent more time doing less.  Not striving, not fretting, not peering into a future I could not as yet see.

For, as tortuously hard as the last three years have been, they have only been matched and overcome by God’s kindness and faithfulness to me in the midst.  I have not struck my foot against a stone.  I have not lost my mind.  I still have two provenly robust, loving and remarkable children. And I am closer to my saviour than I have ever been.

If you are walking a path of transition, my recommendation to you is this: relax and recognise Jesus surrounding you. The people in your life, a great cup of coffee, escapist shows (some shows), fellowship, friendship, the outdoors, rain, sun, seasons reminding you of the cycle of life.  Breathe and let the road take you – don’t strive to take the road.  He’s already got it all laid out, certain of your every step. Keep laying your heart before Him and wait for Him to speak.

Where you stop, He’ll continue you forward. Where you stumble, He’ll pick you up and set you straight. Where you totally give up, you’ll discover it was Him who was getting you there anyway.

And if you don’t know Jesus, He’s walking beside you anyway.  Closer to you than breathing.  Because that’s just how He rolls. That’s just how much He loves you as much as He loves me. No matter what. You can just ask Him.

So what can I do now that I’m trying not to pre-empt God’s every next move in my life? Well, all I can say is this.  Since Christmas I have had a big eraser sitting at eye level above my desk:

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Last week, as I lay face down in worship pondering where God might lead me next, I distinctly heard Him say this:  “THINK BIGGER!

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Thank you so much to the tens of thousands of you who have read my blog over the past three years.  Your companionship has been a jewel in my pocket.

Bash on!

Steps

Regardless.

jsg/May 17

Tribe.

GOOSE!

Twenty years ago, I was staying with a friend in Philadelphia.  I was a single Brit, working in fashion and exploring the world.  One afternoon, we went for a girls’ tea at the Four Seasons with a group of her local pals.  Truly delightful women, they were all wives, mothers and grandmothers.

Set up for a lovely time, I began to notice myself doing something rather odd.  Whenever anyone ended a story, I hooted agreement and literally jumped on their words and pushed on with a story of my own.  I was laughing too loudly, agreeing too enthusiastically, sweating profusely and smiling til my cheeks hurt. Generally I was behaving like an hyperactive toddler who needs to hug everybody.

Inside this ebullient frenetic self, the real me was thinking, “W…T…F… Josie? Why on earth are you behaving like this? Why are you being so utterly irritating? Why can’t you just shut up, calm down, and enjoy these intelligent charming women?”

We went home with me mopping sweat, slathered in silent, embarrassed reproach.

The following morning I got up early for quiet time.  Getting my coffee, I said to the Lord, “Seriously, Father, I have got to understand what was going on back there! I’m just going to sit here until you help me get it.”  And I sat and I waited.

Here is what the Lord said to me:

“Josie, I have made you a goose and yesterday you were among hens.  There is nothing wrong with being a goose, and nothing wrong with being a hen. But they are different species.  Hens are called to nest in a hen house, geese are not. I made you a goose because I need you to fly across the world.  Hens can’t do that.

Here was your problem yesterday.  No matter how hard you try, your gooseness will never fit easily inside a hen house.  You can strain your neck in as far as you can and try to pretend that your shoulders aren’t smooshed in the doorway, you can even make similar noises and try to join in.  But I made you differently, for different purposes.

In the life I call geese to, they are powerful and graceful. They soar. They fly across oceans.  Waddling and honking happens when they are not in their element.

Don’t try and be who you’re not, Josie. The world needs you to be you.  Love everyone. But you will find your true companions in other geese.”

Other geese.  Suddenly I got it.  I thought of my truest friends: all of them laugh loudly at the hilarity of life and get its seriousness; all of them are powerful and can fly; all of them are prone to waddle and honk. How I love them!

I suspect one of the deepest joys in life comes in discovering one’s true companions.  Doing life together. Recognising each other’s strengths, pulling each other up. Reflecting back to each other who each one is and who they’re not.

There’s nothing wrong with being different to other people: you are neither better nor worse. It is simply that each of us – I believe – is made in a specific purposed way for a specific purposed life in specific purposed environments.

So go discover your true companions. Don’t give up until you find your tribe!

Geese!

They’re out there.

jsg/april 17

Know it all.

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Easter Saturday is a great day to remind myself that I don’t.

Before I met Christ, I absolutely thought that what I could see is what I would get. Perhaps surprisingly, knowing Christ doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in that belief.

In spite of the plentiful – and sometimes dramatic – twists and turns of my Christian walk, I still fall into the trap of thinking that I can see how “all this” (whatever it happens to be) is going to pan out.  Even when repeatedly I am completely wrong.

Over the years I have cried out to the Lord, “HELP! What do I do/which way do I go now??” And He replies, “Make your decisions on the basis of who you know Me to be.  I do not change.  Guidance comes through your relationship with Me in relation to your circumstances. Look for Me in my Word.  No neon signs, I call you to walk by faith not by sight. And in peace, because you trust Me.”

“Got it,” I reply seriously. Only to protest loudly in agitation not two minutes later: “BUT I CAN’T SEE WHERE I’M GOING!?” And so He and I go round again.  And again.  And so on.

Abraham went out ‘not knowing whither he went.’ That was evidently doable for Abraham but me? Not so much.  I go out not knowing where I’m going — while secretly thinking that actually I absolutely do.  

Did Joseph think he was ever getting out of that pit?  Was he holding onto the dream the Lord had given him about his future? Scripture doesn’t record his thoughts en route but I can tell you mine on my own journey.  I know in my heart that the plans the Lord has for me are ‘to prosper me and not to harm me. To give me a future and a hope.’ But do I live that way?  Not really.  I fall in a pit and think, “Well, this is bad.  And yet not so bad?  I could get used to the dark and the damp. I can be brave because God is still with me.”

Then I’m surprised when the pit gives way to a different landscape, just when I was getting used to it.  “Who knew!” I cry.  And the answer to that is obvious.

I’m not sure whether my surprise is the result of a lack of faith or simply self-protection.  God could change the pit in a few short months, but I also know that to the Lord a day is like a thousand years. And I seem to ignore the next bit — that God can also turn a thousand years into a day. “In my time I will do it quickly,” says the Lord.

My experience has been that after sometimes very long periods of waiting this is exactly what He does. And I am amazed even though He’s promised.

So I am, unsurprisingly, constantly amazed by God.

I know that God is the Lord of the whole jigsaw.  That He made the frame, He holds all the pieces, He knows what the complete picture looks like. Yet time and again, I look at the small number of pieces that have as yet been revealed to me and think, “Oy.  Doesn’t look good… Not much I can do with this.

Before Good Friday, Jesus had been clear with His disciples.  He was going to be betrayed, He was going to die, He was going to rise again.

Then it happened just exactly as He said it would. But His disciples? Those who had been physically with Him for three years?  They thought, “Well, it’s all over now then. He’s dead.  The Kingdom never came.”

In my ongoing struggles to keep faith in the dark, on Easter Saturday I can at least be reassured by the company I keep.

And how their weekend panned out.

 

jsg/april 17

Asses.

Blog 4

“Jesus comes to you disguised as your own life.”

I sat in the Palm Sunday service and the truth of it sank like a pebble to the bottom of my pond, the ripples reaching out and out and out.

I’d never heard it phrased like that before.  I know the Lord is with me – He is present in every aspect of my life, I see Him all around me.  But that my circumstances themselves would be Jesus Himself breaking in? It broke into the hurtness of my being.

These smelly circumstances, ungainly circumstances, uncomfortable circumstances, unimpressive circumstances. He comes to me disguised as them?

What a concept.

And what a goal to find through my every living moment the truth of who He is and what I’m here for. Who He calls me to be and how I’m to live my life in and for Him.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey. Few got it. But He was sure of why He was there and what He was there to do.

Today, I hear Him say to me, “Josie, this is your donkey. This life I’ve given you, redeemed for you, purposed you for, and allowed.”

Wow.

Ride on.

That’s helpful.

jsg/april 17

Weather Wise.

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The weather in the past week has been, alternately, absolutely gorgeous and bloody awful.

No sooner do you think the cold and rain will never end (shouldn’t it be Spring by now?) than the next day dawns in peerless glory.  Only to be regularly followed by a return to said cold, miserable wetness.

We go from this

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To this

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Then back to this again

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The thing I hold onto is that it does keep changing.  On gloomy days you know it won’t last forever, on bright ones you know to enjoy it while you can.

So like life, eh?

Recently moved back from Los Angeles to leafy Surrey, I miss intensely the warmth, brightness and surety of California sunshine.  I miss the feeling of warm brick under my bare feet in the backyard as I wandered out to sit in the sun with my morning coffee after the school run.  I miss the sun soaking into my back.  I  miss my hammock swing where I could sit in quiet tranquillity watching the hummingbirds feed on our honeysuckle and the birds nest in our bougainvillea while my toes toasted in morning sunlight.

Last week, the cumulative losses that come with such dramatic change all fell in on my head.  As I watched delivery men struggle up the driveway with a new fridge in cold wind and lashing rain, I suddenly felt I couldn’t bear it any longer. “I can’t stand this weather!” I wailed. “I hate it all!  I want to go HOME!”

But of course California is not home anymore.  Not for the foreseeable future anyway.

Then the next day dawned and it was GORGEOUS.  Absolutely breathtakingly lovely, making it hard to dwell on just how dismal the rain and cold have been.

So like life, eh?

No one wants to think about rain when the sun is shining and, conversely, how crucial it is to hold onto the reality of the sun when you’re in the midst of pouring wet.

The key for me is to remember that all weather changes.  In Britain often three times in twenty minutes.  And moving back here I am struck by what a profound difference good weather makes.

I said to my son last week as we drove to school surrounded by shimmering blossoms under a bright blue sky with scudding clouds, “It’s really impossible not to feel your spirits lift on a day like this! You can’t be sad when it’s sunny.”

“We had bad days that were sunny in California, Mom,” he said.  But of course we did.  When almost everyday is guaranteed sun, it’s the given.  It doesn’t hold as much power to transform the context of your life.

I never thought I’d be grateful for British weather but, in some ways, I am. A gorgeous day truly does lift my spirits and I don’t take it for granted because it’s not standard.  Everyone I meet on my walk on gorgeous days can’t help but enthuse: “Ooh, gorgeous day isn’t it?” Knowing, grateful smiles abound. There’s almost a chuckle.

Of course all the rain is one of the exact reasons Britain is so lovely in sunshine.  All that fertile, bursting-with-new-life-green-and-pleasant-land is only possible because of the amount of rain.

So like life, eh.

On rainy, cold, foul days I have to put on more protective layers to keep warm, do activities appropriate to the conditions. Hold on.

On sunny days, I have to get out AND ENJOY IT!  It would be a crime to stay in. I must embrace it and breathe it in and rejoice in it and gasp at its loveliness! Because the sunny days make the rainy days doable. And on rainy days remembering sunny ones keeps me bashing on until the next appears.

So like life, eh?

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So like life.

 

jsg/March 17

Today is enough.

‘You are a tree replanted in Eden.’ Psalm 1 [The Message]

 
When my kids were little, a kind neighbour brought me two trays of mature irises given to her by a friend. They were all yellow and she didn’t like yellow, so she offered them to me.

I was thrilled. I loved my garden but had no budget to fill in my borders, so these irises – a favourite flower in a favourite colour – were an amazing answer to an as yet unvoiced prayer.

I carefully soaked them in buckets of water as directed, then planted them correctly in good soil and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

“I’ve killed them,” I thought. I loved my garden but, not naturally a green thumb, this was entirely possible. I left them where they were and kept hoping that eventually they’d take on a new life of their own.

Much to my surprise after three years, they did! And my garden was dotted sporadically with clumps of glorious yellow irises set amid my roses, fruit trees and bougainvillea.

The problem had been that the irises were “shocked” by their transplant and it took them that long to readjust before they could, again, thrive. Had I given up and dug them up, I would never have seen their joy filled new life in my yard.

The analogy is obvious. My children and I were unexpectedly transplanted to England far far away from our Californian home and everything they had ever known. Like the man in Psalm 1, we are replanted trees and we are in shock.

So actually it is enough just to be. Just to survive. Just to dig our toes into the new soil beneath our feet, drink in moisture, soak up sun (whenever it’s out in our new pluvial climate) and rest. It’s OK just to be where we are, not doing anything particular. The transplant is enough.

What a relief this new understanding has been to me this week, when I seem to have lost my mojo for anything beyond the absolutely necessary.

In the first few months I threw myself into a new church family, making new friends, trying to create community for my kids.  However the effort, the determination to make sense of this monumental transplant, seems to have utterly drained my tank. I’m like a child on a tricycle who’s encountered a lip in the sidewalk and every time I try to push myself over it my tricycle just rocks straight back. I haven’t got any push to get me over the hump.

But it’s OK. It’s OK to rest on my tricycle exactly where I am. It’s enough to hug my kids, to keep them warm and fed, and simply for us to exist. Psalm 1 continues:

‘You’re a tree replanted in Eden,

bearing fresh fruit every month,

Never dropping a leaf,

always in blossom.’

As I read this I wondered how it was possible to bear fresh fruit every month. And I felt the Lord tell me this:

“Josie, a living tree is always bearing fruit. It is either manifesting fruit on the outside, or it is germinating fruit on the inside. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean new life isn’t always in process.”

Just like my irises. They weren’t doing anything I could see but they weren’t dead. They were recovering.

So this week’s revelation is this: for the time being and for as long as it takes, it’s OK for the children and me to do nothing. We’re recovering. There’s still life growing when I’m not trying to create it. God’s at work in what we cannot yet see.

Today is enough.

 
Jsg/March 17

 

Beggars can choose.

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Anguished tears in the car. I am silent in response. I’ve run out of ideas.

“The thing is, son, at some point you’re going to have to choose the life God has brought you.”

Hard truth when you’re eleven and you miss everything you loved so much.

My two children and I have recently moved from California to the UK (a return home for me, a new home for my American kids) and really nothing is similar. The milkshakes don’t taste the same, the language is different, the climate sucks, their own accent is the anomaly.

When I moved to the States 25 years ago, I remember thinking it would have been easier if I’d moved to Asia. Then I’d have expected everything to be different. Obviously I’d have to start over with the banking system, the postal service, the social cues.

But moving to the States I thought both nations were basically the same. So wrong! America and Britain are slightly different in every possible way. Which means one is constantly caught out and exhausted by the difference.

Now moving in reverse, my children are discovering the same. And they hate it. Everything here is not there and vice versa. I know the different-ness is not going to change so our attitude toward it must, but they don’t.

Grief is a process and I must not get in the way of theirs. There is denial, anger, bargaining and depression for all of us before acceptance.

And it’s tougher for my kids. I chose this trans-global move (albeit under duress) because I could see God’s hand in it. My children on the other hand have to take my word for it. I cannot urge acceptance or lose my temper. I have to trust new experiences to speak to them for themselves. I only increase resistance if I “Ooh, look! We couldn’t have done this in California!” about it all myself. Their BS antenna for my “bracing enthusiasm” is forensic anway.

This season is what it is, and it’s tough.

They’ll get it eventually. They’ll stop not choosing this new life when the weight of good outweighs the weight of loss. In the meantime, without comment, I turn our attention to newness.

We weren’t in California today, but we did go to a lovely local farm for lunch.

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We didn’t go to the beach with our dogs but we did take them to a bluebell wood by a lake (an adventure enhanced enormously by my falling in).

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We didn’t see sand crabs underwater, but we did see newly hatched toads.

Toads

I remind the kids that we are not victims of this new reality. The externals won’t change, but our response to them will always be our choice. With due process, beggars can absolutely be choosers after all.

And I tell them this.  The guts they both show in the meantime by just showing up,

Guy

continues to take my breath away.

jsg/march 17