Category Archives: Divorce

Breaking.

“You broke a promise.

My son’s young back view, shoulders sloped, walking away across the bridge.

What could I say? Yes, I did break a promise but… but… but…

And this was just a small promise.  A small disappointment.  But when I tried to remedy it, when I produced a solution, he refused.  He wouldn’t let me solve it.  He didn’t want me to make it all right. He was mad and he wanted to hit back. Of course he did, there’s so much to hit back at.

And this, this momentary exchange, proved to be the Jenga brick that – once knocked – collapsed the tower right onto my maternal heart.  I was furious.

For the love of God, couldn’t these children see how hard I was trying to make everything all right?  Didn’t they have any idea what all this is like for me?  Do they think I find this easy?  “WHAT ABOUT ME????” I wanted to scream.

But they’re kids. Really really lovely kids. It’s not their job to worry about me, to be concerned about my feelings, my pressures, my sorrow. It is mine to take care of theirs.

It was just critical mass.

I stormed off to the car.  I’d had enough and I wanted to rage at someone, at anything.  I wanted to be Sally Field at the end of Steel Magnolias just losing it in front of a group of girlfriends in my rage and despair.  But no girlfriends were around, just my two struggling children.

Shit.

I wish I could be the Mom Blogger on-the-farmstead-in-Iowa-who-married-my-high-school-sweetheart-and-has-a-beautifully-calligraphied-chalkboard-on-my-kitchen-wall.

But I’m not.

People ask me how my faith makes a difference in the midst of it all.  I can tell you.

In moments like these – breaking moments – I can scream at God. I can sob at Him. And He can take it.  All my grief.  He can take it, and He does.

I lay it all out before Him.  The no-answers nature of it all, the rock and the hard place, the forsakenness and the loneliness, my own faults, the sorrow and the shame. All of it.

He’s right there and He’s not shocked. He’s already got it covered.

And He loves me even so.

I have discovered that in my breaking, I meet Him most closely. When the Jenga tower collapses and I can no longer make any pretense at holding it together or being any good at any of it.  He’s right there. Never left, won’t leave. He’s come for me.

And He’s the only one who knows it all and can make a way through. Is making a way through for me and the kids.

My alabaster jar is broken. It’s all I’ve got so I place it in His hands.

Miraculously, He receives it as gift.  Fragrant even.

My kids and I forgive each other and go for a lovely walk.  Easter season.

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Resurrected life goes on.

 

jsg/April 17

 

 

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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 anyway.

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.

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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

Artists’ Date.

The calendar on my iMac reminded me not once but three times that it was Valentines Day today.  Three times!  Where would I be without technology?

My children are away with their father for half term so I took myself out on an artists’ date. I went this morning to a friend’s gorgeous photographic exhibition at a local bookshop with some friends, and laughed till I cried with genuine hilarity.

As C.S. Lewis put it so brilliantly: “We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

To have such people in one’s life, to appreciate the glory in oneself (not of one’s own creation so no credit can be taken) and all the gifts given to bring to the table and share, to grasp the sacrament of the present moment — is an everyday glory so very far from mundane.

So hurray for today.  I am very grateful to love.

And to be so greatly loved.

jsg/feb 17

Snarky texts and sassy comebacks.

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There is a reason I never wear white. And it has nothing to do with my virtue (which is obviously unassailable). It’s because I have a drink problem.

Yesterday I was on my way to an event to coordinate a lovely young couple’s wedding.  As I left the house, I congratulated myself on how chic I looked: new Christmas black cardigan, a dazzlingly white as yet unworn shirt, skinny jeans and fabbo boots.

“Wow,” I thought to myself as I glanced admiringly in the rearview mirror. “I may be wading through the proverbial, but I can still really pull it togeth– ” And that’s when it happened.  As I slugged back my last bit of coffee, it sloshed straight out the side of the mug and – in a sort of Dadaist pattern – went right down the front of my brand new white shirt. With three minutes to go before my arrival.

So goes my life.  Or, isn’t that just how life goes though?  Life in my experience is one long banana peel waiting to happen interrupted by occasional moments of brilliance.  All the more stunning for their rarity.

And isn’t the coffee spillage just the very moment when we have to style it out?  Isn’t life itself to be made all the richer, all the funnier, all the warmer because we make such a mess of it so much of the time?  When we have to pretend the coffee spill, the lipstick on the chin, the stocking split, the mortifying misunderstanding, the hopeless vulnerability trousers-down-in-public-moment is just exactly how we planned it?

I can (eventually) laugh until I cry with most examples like these.  Yet social media and its effect on society seems to have stolen from us the opportunity to flounder in our humanness.  It allows for so little camaraderie of grace.  We’re all so horrifyingly good at the snarky text and the sassy comeback.

Were you to see my teenage daughter’s Instagram stream, there no longer seems to be any room in friendship for mistakes or unknowing. Everyone knows everything about everyone all the time, and everyone’s got a really smart super quick comeback.  So nothing deeper is ever allowed to emerge and grow. Nirvana today and Outer Mongolia tomorrow.

It’s not just teenagers either, I see it throughout all media.  While technology allows us to communicate in a nano-second, we no longer seem to be allowed to take longer or to get it wrong.  To take longer in our answers, or to recover gracefully from our mistakes. Politics is savage by nature but technology has armed it with an armageddon-esque lightsaber. Who is willing to give anyone a chance anymore?

So I’m going to mount a counter attack.  Not to make fun of myself out of low self esteem, but to continue to expose and laugh at the ridiculousness of myself and my situation at my age.  I’m a divorced mother back living with her parents! I have no long term plan, I’m surviving day to day!  I haven’t got it together at all!  I can’t even wear white!  And I realise I am so willing to show that.  For my own sanity and to model it for my anxiety-ridden kids, let alone in the hopes that it may comfort anyone else equally struggling with the reality of what it means to be alive.

Yesterday, I did brazen it out.  I got lists checked, and laughed and cheered through an entire wedding faire of young couples on the brink of wedded eternal bliss.  Right as I am inwardly bleeding out from the hideousness of a shattering divorce still so fresh I can taste it. I fought back tears as I tasted cakes and desserts and drinks and the canapés got stuck in my throat.

And MY GOD I looked fabulous while I was doing it! Coffee stains and all.

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May the grace roll out before me.

jsg/feb 2017

Not forsaken.

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I am always so grateful that Christ felt forsaken.  If HE was, what chance have I of not feeling like that at some point?

The difference of course is that Christ actually was forsaken so that I never shall be. No matter how much it may feel that way.

Transversing from one way of life to another can feel like scaling a massive mountain.  It’s interesting that the word ‘transverse’ should pop into my mind to describe the journey.  I discover it means ‘set crosswise’. I like that wordplay.

With massive change, one is climbing the mountain out of one landscape – full of familiar sights and sounds and smells and experiences (good or bad) – over the top into another which is as yet unknown.  Or one could take a tunnel through the middle.

It seems I have taken the tunnel.  And as the light from the old grows dimmer behind me, the darkness has deepened while I press on to catch a glimmer of the light I know will be there up ahead.

Which essentially leaves me – right now – pretty much in the dark.

I know I’m in the right tunnel but, blimey, it’s dark in here.

Do you know what I mean?  Have you been where I am?

It can be really cold and dark here in the tunnel.  All sorts of dark thoughts assault me. “You know there isn’t another end, right?  This is it.  It’s all over.  You’re just walking further and further away from everything you knew into complete darkness. It’s all been taken away. There’s no hope for you!  There’s no justice, no redemption. You know there’s really no point, right?  Not for you anyway.  For others yes, but not for you.”

I rebuke the lies and stumble forward. I press on blindly. What can I hold onto?

Well, it turns out I can hold onto the hand of God.  Because even though I cannot see, He can and I’m clinging on to His great big hand for dear life.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you.’ 

I have been thinking this last week how much I need to feel the Lord squeeze my hand as I hold His.  Give me a reassuring, “I’ve got this, little one.  You know I have.  It’s grim, but we’re moving forward.  I’ve got you.”

So how do I feel that squeeze?  I look for:

His presence

His personality

His promises

His provision

I find His presence in beauty.  In the aesthetic.  A vase.  A picture.  A photograph.  A face. Friendship. I take daily walks and STOP to view beauty.  To breathe it in, really see it, feel it all around me.  Allow my breath to be taken away by it.  Feel my limbs moving through it.

When my surroundings or circumstances feel ugly, I look for attributes of His character.  And most often the one I find most easily is kindness. Chesed.  I can always find kindness when I look.  And if I cannot find it outside of myself, I can find it within by being kind to myself. Cutting myself some slack. Giving myself a bit more rope, a bit more margin, a lot less whip.

When I feel helpless, I squeeze my heart hard around His promises.  I hold Him to them as well as myself.  “You’re not going to leave me.  You’ve never forsaken me and You never will.  You will complete the good work You have begun in me. You will bring all of this to good because I love You and I have been called according to Your purposes for my life. You are with me, right here right now.  I can’t see?  So what.  You can. And You have promised to keep my footsteps firm so that I will not hit my foot against a stone.” I keep telling Him and reminding myself at the same time. And with every truth, I cut back the lies being whispered around my head.

And I look for His provision.  I may not have all that I want in my life right now, but I do have all that I need.  On a daily basis.  And when I clock that, when I mark it and note it down and give thanks for it, I feel His hand squeeze mine.

When I have been praying with my kids recently, we have asked the Lord to show us something new, something deeper about His love for us.  And the two words He gave us were ‘Never-ending’ and ‘Unexpected.’

So I’m looking to be surprised in this dark place.  Because I don’t know it all.  God can do anything. And His resources and purposes so far outweigh my ability to imagine them.

God squeezes my hand, and I cling on to Him.  I am not forsaken.

Is this you too? If it is, I’m going to leave you with the theme song of the beloved and newly departed Mary Tyler Moore:

Love is all around, no need to waste it.

You can never tell, why don’t you take it?

You’re gonna make it after all.”

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Yep. We are. Hold on tight.

jsg/jan 17

 

 

 

 

Richer Soil.

What is the essence of a person? It has nothing to do with their circumstances. It is rather whomever they understand themselves to be while they’re doing – or not doing – whatever is in front of them in the circumstances they are in. 

I’ve just been on a lightning trip back to LA. The children and I came to England last July to visit their grandparents post-my divorce and, unexpectedly, a path of major life transition spooled out before us. We decided to stay for good. (For details see earlier blogging on bemusement, amazement and reckoning).

And so it came to pass (Advent motif here) that I would need to go back to organize the shipping over of all our stuff. A brief window of opportunity opened and, two weeks ago, I charged forward.

As I’ve written here before, when you move you use the time you have. So, for me, it’s better the shorter and harder you hit it. I’ve also learned that you can never “go back”. You’re no longer fish nor fowl once you’ve moved, so be fast and brusque and firm. No one knows what to do if you linger, and no one – least of all you – needs the emotional drain of mushy sentimental goodbyes. Focus instead on going onward together, flags to the fore!

I went for six days. I packed, I shipped, I sold, I conquered the monumental list.

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And in the midst I managed to squeeze in (I counted) over forty fierce hugs and hopes with beloved friends. Many of them one on one (my personal fave). How did I do it? There was a lot of providence in timing and unexpected windows opened.

I have to say it was utterly bizarre being back. It felt as though I had never left. Walking into friends’ houses felt so normal it was as if these past 18 weeks abroad had simply been some sort of brain seizure on my part: “Now THAT was a crazy dream!” Which of course it is not.

I think the problem with modern travel is that you traverse the globe too quickly.  Don’t get me wrong, the faster I can get there physically the better. However, one’s heart and mind don’t travel at the same speed as the rest of one’s body.

I left frosty, sharp Surrey on December 1 to touch down in balmy, blue skied LA just 11 hours later.  Going over, I coped with the transition by subsuming my recently established English life into a sort of surrealist daydream. I didn’t have to deal with it and, to be honest, I didn’t have time to.

Returning home has been a different story. I do think of here – England – as my home, but I have been almost unable to speak of my trip “home” to LA since I got back. It’s just too much. It feels like I have this huge holding tank of emotions in my chest and as long as I keep it level and don’t spill it, I’ll be ok. Briefing my sister I came perilously close to upset and changed the subject.

I have grown super sensitive to my limits, which is a good thing. While in LA I didn’t go within a two mile radius of our old home. I couldn’t see our neighbors, I couldn’t look at the house that had been ours, go to our local stores. There was a force field in my spirit every time I thought about it: “Don’t put yourself through it, Jose. It’s purposeless pain.” And so I didn’t.

I went to our old church to say goodbye though. Knowing there would be no orchestra to play me off, I took my Oscar speech moment and ran with it.

What I wanted to – and did – say was how hugely impactful the love of the Body of Christ in that place had been to the children and myself. We arrived in crisis in ’08, we endured numerous crises thereafter, and we left in crisis last July. What had remained constant throughout had been the love and support and community of our friends: down in the ditch together; scaling the heights; shoulder to shoulder; eyes always up.

I said that I would happily tell anyone more specifics of the circumstances of our move, but it seemed irrelevant. Because the point is that Sarah Jane, Guy and I are children of God going on with Him – just as all of our friends there are too. No matter where He takes us, what transpires, how many moves still lie ahead. We’ve got our anchor for high seas;we’ve got our rudder for the horizon; we’ve got our sail for the wind. And it’s Him.

At my parents Golden Wedding service a few years ago, I quoted Rupert Brooke: 

   There shall be 
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
   Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
   Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And I spoke of that richer earth within my mum and dad. That richer soil that had nothing to do with what they’d achieved or what had happened. It was the rich earth sourced only in their relationship with Christ. That rich soil concealed and therefore not evident to the naked eye. That rich soil that sustains them, grows them, strengthens them, heals them and is only made known through the fruit it has produced in them both.

For me returning home to the U.K. after 24 years abroad, I pray that all the mulch the Lord laid over that rich soil of my relationship with Him during that time – the pain, the joy, the challenge, the victory – may have served as the fertilizer needed to produce richer and more abundant fruit in who I am today. I do so hope anyway.

It shall just no longer be fruit that will grow in the balmy climes of California, but in the green and pleasant land of England instead.

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jsg/dec 16

Redemption.

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I visited my brother’s grave last week. I took the dogs with me after a long walk, and there was something very comforting about bringing this current life of mine to where his memory has always been.

This cemetery has been a part of my life since I was small.   The stinging pungency  of dead flower water being rinsed out of moss-stained jam jars. The wind in the trees or the heat of the sun depending on the season. The names on the graves – young men lost at Jutland, “Little Chel” who will always be remembered. The yew trees and the beech hedge.  The stumbley path where you could crick your ankle if you weren’t careful. My mother’s seventies summer dresses. My father’s gloves and feet. The quiet.

David was buried in 1970 in a far corner reserved for children.  He was the only one there.

Over the decades it slowly filled, and I looked with eager interest to see who else had gone. Perhaps weirdly as a child I found it reassuring – that we were not the only family to have experienced devastation.  It was simply a part of life.  No one got away free.

As I stood there this time in the misty rain and autumn leaves, I thought again about God’s protection.  How my sister and I have discussed in later years that we just don’t know what God protected David from by taking him so young.  All we see from this side is the loss, but God is a God of mercy and wisdom.  Unfailingly.

I think about all the loss I feel in my life right now.  It’s extraordinarily hard to lose your home, your community, your adult independence, your life as you knew it. But standing there with David’s stone and the dogs, I wondered too what God might have saved me from.

It’s hard here, but might it have been even harder if I’d stayed where I was?

God took out of my hands the decision to move the children and me across the world.  He positioned me to move and in that too there was so much mercy.  So much parental protection.  I could not have made such a complete life change of my own volition, I’m not strong enough.  It’s just too massive, too radical to undertake.  How could I possibly know?  So to be manoeuvred into it was absolutely the kindness of God, no matter how hard I find it from what I can currently see.

One day leaving court in my divorce, I was weeping.  As I climbed into my car I said out loud, “Lord, I need a word. Please give me a word. I need your encouragement now.” Before this plea had fully formed on my lips, a word sprang up in my spirit: REDEMPTION.  I was so surprised by the immediacy of it that I gasped and stopped crying.  God did have a path forward for me! I put my key into the ignition and drove away.

But what does redemption mean in the face of so much loss?  It does not mean getting all those lost things back.  God restored to Job twice over what he lost, but he never got those children back did he.

I’m not sure it’s possible to know what God’s redemption in my life really looks like.  How can I grasp it?  I can see some of the things He brings into place as a result of where and who I now am, but I cannot quantify it by what I can see. Because what if much of God’s redeeming power comes into effect through things that now won’t happen, can’t harm us, won’t steal any more from our battered souls? Perhaps it is enough to know that redemption is present, redemption is happening simply because that is the unchanging nature of our redeeming God.

Because the one thing I DO know in all this is that God is a good God.  Wholly, utterly, unerringly, unimaginably good.  And the fact that I know this and have an almost thirty year track record of witnessing it, means that I know He MUST be redeeming all my loss as I submit my life, my broken heart, my soul to Him.  Because He’s promised to.

Whether or not I perceive redemption cannot be the stick by which I measure if it’s there.

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Faith has to cover that.

 

jsg/nov 16.