Category Archives: Everyday Life

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

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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

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

 

 

 

 

Sick Mothers.

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As mothers, we are sick. I mean it is totally sick what we manage to get done.

We keep going, we get through Christmas, we’re into a New Year and we’re still spinning those plates. (Are you kidding me right now In Style about how I look? SHUT.UP.)

Just being a mother is more than enough. I’m not even talking about running the household, marriage, finance management, outside the house employment, community commitments and extended family ties.   I’m just talking food, shelter and clothing emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually for our offspring. No matter their age. (In my experience, what changes over time isn’t intensity but its genre.)

And so what happens when a mom actually gets “sick” sick? Well for a start we don’t get sick. We just have a slight cold/irritating cough/feel “a bit off”. Am I right?

And, again in my experience, we only get “sick” sick when all other options are taken away from us. I can count a number of occasions over the years when this has been true for me.

You see there’s a reason it says in the 23rd psalm “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Once, when very sick, I asked the Lord why He hadn’t simply and gently suggested it. To which the reply came, “I tried.”

Both my kids were sick over Christmas and New Year. It was only last week when they went back to school that I realized I had not managed to shake off the “slight cold” I’d had myself (alcohol really doesn’t work?). I dropped them back and went to bed thinking, “Man, I’ve got to kick this thing quick!” But I got worse. And worse.

By Thursday, I resorted with reluctance to Urgent Care where they chided me with suspected pneumonia. Whoops, and at least I got the drugs and was ordered to rest. (Ordered!)

Now I’m no stoic. But I’m a single mother and when was I going to cancel everything in the precious two weeks over Christmas break? And who could I call?

I find it extraordinarily tricky as a single mother to reach out for help from married mother friends. Because in the end you feel like you’re always asking, even if you only ask every couple of months or so and ask different people. What is this about? Do I project my neediness onto them because of my own recognition of gaping need, or am I actually seen as an imposition?

Well let me say, it is just so lonely, lonely, lonely trying to do this motherhood thing alone. I’m not willing to be a chirpy-brave-robust blogger about it because there must be someone out there who feels like me and I want to shout, “You’re not alone!!” And I’ve got pneumonia so cut me some slack.

Before I was a single mother, I had no idea what that meant. I felt sick just imagining the relentlessness of life for my single mother friends, but I didn’t get it and – in all truth – felt slightly annoyed when they asked for my help because didn’t they get that I was incredibly busy myself?

So, to all you TOTALLY SICK MOTHERS out there of every stripe! Spare a thought for your single mother friends. Don’t wait for them to get sick. Don’t wait for them to ask. Don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” “You’re amazing, I don’t know how you do it.” Just help. Do it. Offer it. Suggest. They’re the ones straggling at the end of the relay race we’re all trying to run, except they’re doing it with the same amount to carry as that which was meant to be borne by two.

And we need you! And you need us. Because we can now contribute in new and different ways to your life as well. Ask us. One of the most powerful things about motherhood is the brilliance of its mutuality. Don’t you think? Gather us back into the center of the pack. We are needlessly exposed on the edge.

No one can ever replace you as the mother of your kids. But mothering can be done by many. And, of course, I’m fifty and who do I want now I’m really sick? My own beloved mum, five and a half thousand miles away. 

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Jsg/jan 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTEXT.

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I have rarely raised my voice in a public place (being British, obv) but I did a couple of weeks ago, at a computer store. “You’ve gone on to ANOTHER PERSON?? YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD HAVE THIS DONE FOR ME IN FIVE MINUTES!!! THAT’S WHY I LEFT!!

I feel sorry for the guy now, but on this particular day I had my very unwell daughter with me in the car. I had a major voiceover audition 40 minutes away from our house, but it was also almost round the corner from a computer store that I’d been trying to get my computer to for months.

My daughter was on her third day of a foul stomach bug so I couldn’t leave her, but I couldn’t afford to miss the audition either.  And I was right there!  And I desperately needed my computer fixed. So after the audition, I quickly nipped over to the computer place and dashed in lugging my weighty iMac.

This was where I was coming from when the nice (and very young) man in the computer store (when I explained I had a sick child in the car and needed to be quick) kindly suggested I should go for five minutes and they would enter my computer into the system.

But I misunderstood what he meant. He meant “Go and check on your sick child, and I’ll set you up when you get back.” Not (as I thought) “and when you get back it will all have been done for you.”

So when I came back five minutes later and they not only had not touched my computer but had moved onto another customer in what had now become a long line??? I was furious!  Couldn’t these people see that I-wasn’t-coming-back-any-time-soon??! That I couldn’t stay any longer because-my-child-was-sitting-outside-in-a-hot-car-on-her-third-day-of-VOMITING??!! 

Well of course they couldn’t, they weren’t mind readers.  And I was just a sweaty, panicked, red-faced angry lady.

I apologized when I realized my mistake, meekly waited while they entered my info, walked back to my sick child in the car, promptly burst into tears and drove home.

Sigh. Context mixed with stress, heat and hormones was not my friend that day.

Life is all about context, isn’t it? Nothing in one’s everyday life ever happens in a vacuum.

I’m a Christian so I believe my life happens in the hands of a loving God whom I have entrusted to be in control of it. All of it. And whose daily grace I embrace radically – especially on days like the computer store.

Two or three hard things have happened to me in quick succession recently: BHAM!; BHAM!; and BHAMM! If the context of my life were different, why might I not respond with fear, rage, panic, or despair? “Oh the injustice and randomness of it all!”

BUT. My context is that none of it is random or unseen.  I live in the fortress of someone who is stronger than me, wiser than me and in charge.  I can see ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ but I am not their pawn. I am safe, no matter what.  And I never have to go out there and face it all on my own.

So right now I am standing perplexed about the present, but not in despair about the bigger picture. I am calm, I am enduring. I’m not enjoying, but I’m enduring. Because the owner of my fortress lives and – even as I write – is at work to redeem all of it.  Even as I wait and watch.

Every last bit. Computer stores included.

Jsg/Aug15

Rain.

 

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We have had rain in Los Angeles this past week, and it has been glorious.

So needed, you could almost hear the ground sucking up water like a five year old armed with a chocolate milkshake and a straw.
You could feel it stretching out and arching up to the downpour to let soak in as much water as possible.

Trees creaked with the joy of it, leaves stuck together on paths glossed with the celebration of it, drooping pot plants looked up in the hope of it, and the rather desperate-looking dried out grass of our front lawn (long left un-watered by sprinklers) sighed with the possibility of its new life.

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It was good.

Of course my car chose the rainiest day of all to need repair.  The garage owner kindly offered us a lift home (only 10 blocks away) but my nine year old urgently whispered tugging on my arm, “No, Mom!  We want to walk!”  And so walk we did, arm in arm and umbrellas crossing, talking about how fantastic the world looks when it’s raining.

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Being Californian born and raised, my children have raincoats but own no wellington boots – why would they?  They are the only children I know who get on the plane for England and pray pray pray for raaaaiiinnn. (In that moment I can only note with amusement that there’s not an English bone in them – what British child would pray for a rainy day?)

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On our walk home, my son was wearing the one pair of shoes he owns.  Initially I squeaked at him to keep them dry but, when we encountered a torrent too wide to jump, he turned his big blue eyes beseechingly toward me and waited.  What could we do but go forward?

Pure joy lit his face as he splashed straight in ankle deep and stood there for several moments just thrilling to the cold wet feel of it all.

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The rain has soaked into us this week like a balm of blessing.  So good, that it just kept on coming, and coming, and coming.

Right at the beginning of Advent.  Where all the weeks leading up to Christmas seem so full of hurry and noise.  There seems only rare time to stretch one’s back into the hot water of the shower let alone lift our face to the cold refreshment of rain.

But we need real water so badly.  It soaks deep into our pores to get to our heart. It enlivens us, refreshes us, nourishes us, quenches our raging fires, and revives our joy in the infinite gifts set before us every day.

Living water indeed.

So, after this week, my recommendation to myself – and to you – whatever you’re doing each day as we progress through the rest of Advent  is this:

Let it rain.

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jsg/dec14

Clinging to Yes.

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When my son, Guy, was small I used to call him “Baby Tree Frog”.  Every opportunity he got he would wrap his arms and legs around my leg and get me to walk him around the house/to preschool/through the store while he clung on.  It was hilarious.

We were designed for clinging.  I think of how a baby instinctively curves into the shape of its mother, or a toddler immediately wraps their legs around your waist and arms around your neck.

I think of how we hug – arms wrapped around another person.  And the longer the (appropriate) hug, the more and more comforting it becomes.  Our heart sings.

We were born to embrace.  When life is full of hugs, it’s easy to forget how amazing they are.

At a Thanksgiving giveaway last weekend while I was praying for a beautiful woman with a haunted expression in her eyes, I “saw” the Lord hugging her.  So when we finished I said, “Might I give you a hug?” Her face broke into a surprised grin and she nodded.  When we let go, both of us were a little teary.  We had both been touched. Our hearts sang.

Tomorrow, it is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States.  So we are all caused to think about what we are grateful for – why?

Because in giving thanks – either in remembrance or for today – we cling to the YES of life.  It’s an almighty shout-out to all things created and the Creator.

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YES to the beauty of the world!

YES to the gift of another day!

YES to this breath, this heartbeat, this person right in front of me!

YES to what I do have, the love that does surround me!

YES to the things that are happening!

YES to hope, love, truth, purity, faithfulness and redemption!

YES to the infinite possibilities of the human heart!

YES to the miracle of life itself!

There are times when this is easy, and times when it seems impossible.

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The celebration of any holiday is a time of blessing and mourning, how could it be any other way?  But clinging to YES is a defiant shout of victory against all those things we cannot change. Because we’re still here.

When we cling to YES, we cling on to Life itself.  We come into connection with Life Himself, and we come into the place where we have always been meant to be.  Our heart sings.

And here’s the mystery.  That when we cling to YES – when we seek it and find it and wrap our arms and legs and heart and head around it – we discover that it is in fact the YES, that Almighty Shout-out of Glory, which has been holding us to life all along.  Catching us and keeping us.

So today may we let go of NO, DON’T, CAN’T, HAVE NOT and cling to YES.  May we cling to the known, the already here and the never changing.  The heartbeat of all that is given NOW.  We are – literally – clinging on for dear life.

Clinging to YES also gives us something to do and life rushes in.  To do otherwise changes nothing and leaves our arms and our hearts achingly empty and our heads bowed.

So I choose today a defiant YES!  YES!  YES!

And I wish you a blessed, connected and YES-filled Thanksgiving.  God is still on the throne, may our hearts sing.

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jsg/nov 14