Category Archives: Faith

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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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

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

 

 

Vulnerable to hope.

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“I hate that she has no hope.”

So said my thirteen year old about me/to me in therapy. She was angry.

What could I say?

It is hard to share appropriately with one’s children your real outlook on life. Especially if it’s bleak.

It is not that I’m hopeless.  It’s simply that I have no emotional bandwidth to even think if I have hope or not. There is no emotional margin to consider such things. On a macro level I always have hope, even if it’s not for this life but the one coming.  I can always find that.

But on a micro level, it’s like asking someone fully awake and haemorrhaging on the operating table if they feel hopeful about their situation.  There’s no time to consider that!  All they can think about – if anything at all through the pain and shock – is whether the surgeon can stitch them up in time to stop them from bleeding to death. All while their children are watching.

My daughter’s words stayed with me all week.  I tried to explain at the time but it cut no ice. She is hurting so badly and I’m not providing her with any rope to climb out of the pit alongside me.

I’ve chewed on the truth this week and I recognise that, while it’s true I feel there is currently no margin for hope, that’s not the whole story.  I’m also protecting myself from hope.  When sufficient margin/time has been regained to allow for it, I know I am scared to make myself vulnerable to hope.  To dream. To open myself up to new possibility beyond where we are right now.  Beyond the debris and the broken glass and the re-creation.

Yet the consequences are grim.  ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.‘ This week I see that there is another way of reading that verse.  Without hope, I am a poorer version of myself.  Putting off hope doesn’t do me any favours and my children desperately need to see that I have it so that they can have hope themselves.  The fish stinks from the head. If I take hope off the table for the time being, they can’t see it either and we’re all heartsick.

I can’t do that to them.

So how do I allow for hope in the midst of my overwhelmed-ness, my grief, the enormous and unending minutiae of setting up a new life on the opposite side of the world? How do I make room for it?

More sleep would help.

More time will help.

St Paul always helps. He talks about hope on the macro level: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.’

Along the lines of ‘Everything will be all right in the end, and, if it’s not all right it’s not the end.’

Meantime, Paul also talks about hope on the micro level: ‘We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’

What does it mean to glory in suffering?  I don’t think it means to enjoy it, that would be whack-a-doo.  I think it means to own it.  To recognise a) that you are suffering and b) to put it in its correct context.

i.e., as a Christian, your suffering is not outside of God’s control. He doesn’t will it upon you (ever), He’s allowed it, He’s right with you in it, you are passing through it (it’s not eternal) and He will bring good out of it.

This does not make suffering for me, “OK! Not so bad!” But it is transformative to know that any suffering is not just random bad luck, unjust and completely without point.

With that assurance I can (Step Two) persevere in it. To me, perseverance is taking on the weight and still pushing forward.  Still going.  Not giving up. (Bashing on regardless).

And this produces character?  No, evidently not. Not all coal under pressure becomes a diamond.

The carbon that forms diamonds is much purer, and requires much greater temperatures and far more direct pressure that can only be found deep into the earth.  Carbon near the surface just becomes coal.

Character is produced in human beings who are willing to go in all the way.

Because only then may we discover our character can be transformed by the heat and the pressure. We ourselves will be the proof of transformation when we come out the other side.  Stronger. Wiser. More knowing. More generous. More forgiving. More patient. More kind. More Christ-like.

And THIS gives us hope. Not hope of something else, but hope of God in us. This transformation shows us that we shall not go forward from this point as the people we were before, doomed to repeat ourselves over and over again. We have been refined in the fire, God can change us.  We can now hope for an encounter with the life God has for us that is new and hopeful – simply because we are too. We shall become more fruitful.

Ah, I see now.  I can have hope right now in this process of transformation.  That by owning the suffering I am in and persevering through it, I will be transformed. For His glory. It’s not for nothing. I will become more truly who I’m meant to be to do better things in a better way for Him.  And I can hope for that transformation from glory to glory right now in the midst. It’s already happening and it will bless me too.

THIS HOPE, I can make myself vulnerable to.  For there is more than this and I am being prepared for it by Him and for Him through this season of difficulty.  God does have more for me.

This hope shall not put me to shame.

jsg/feb 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

 

 

 

 

Getting up and getting on with it.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.”  Theodore Roosevelt.

My 100th blog – ta da!  So here we are.  2017 is upon us, ready to go whether we are or not.

So actually can someone tell me?  How do we get ready – and go?

I took my children out to a pub lunch yesterday as a last hurrah of the Christmas holidays.

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I wanted a chance to mark our first Christmas and New Year living in the UK, and spend some time looking at the year ahead and what the three of us wanted to make of it.

 

I asked three questions.  The first was, “What is your word for the year?”

After some thought, mine was to choose to believe that the best is yet to come.

My thirteen year old chose “Life-giving.”

My eleven year old was silent. Then he said, “All that is coming to me is this:  Hope.”

How revealing short answers can be.

My second question was: “What do we hope for one another and for ourselves for this year?”

And my final one was: “How can we make better where we are right now?”

Because I’ve been thinking about vision and what to do when you don’t have any.  My daughter asked me where I thought I’d be in ten years and I wanted to say I have no vision for where I’ll be in one let alone ten.

But if you look at how vision is born – unless it’s divinely given and a clear call (gosh how I think I’d love this) – most of the time it’s just a step by step process isn’t it?  ‘Trust God and do the next thing’ as Elisabeth Elliott put it.

Get up. Do what is needed. Look in the margins.  Keep your ears open. Don’t die to hope.

And that’s a key one.  DON’T DIE TO HOPE.  Because if you’re pressing forward into a future God has for you that you cannot yet see, hope is the momentum that keeps you moving forward. And the death of hope is not its absence, it’s a driving rain cutting into your face and drenching your clothes demanding you give up at every moment.

One of the best ways I know to keep hope alive is to choose to EXPECT SURPRISES.  Expect unexpected gifts to show up.  Expect them. Be caught out by them. Recognise them when they happen. Because surprises remind you that, actually, you don’t know everything and God is a good god who does.

If you don’t expect surprises, you will easily miss them.  I wonder how many I’ve missed already just this year.  So shut down in my emotions and locked in by what I can see. (Oh woe! It’s all over!  There’s nothing more for me!) I don’t leave any room in the margins to remember how much I cannot see and how much God has provided for all that lies ahead.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’  If this is true, isn’t it certainly stupid how quick I am to think I know it all?

So heading into this new year, I’m going to DO THE DEEDS.  Bloodied, dusty, sweaty, tired and a little care-worn I am.  But I’m gonna DO THEM.   And I’m going to trust that in so doing, and being grateful that I can, new vision will be born.

 

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jsg/jan 17

 

The Gate of the Year

‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.’

I believe it.

I believe it and I cannot see what’s ahead.

I believe it and I have placed my hand into the hands of the only Redeemer.

I believe it and there has never not been a dawn.

I believe it and I am facing forward because the way on is the way through.

If you have nowhere to turn, no way to go back, no sight going forward, no clue as to the whys and hows and wherefores — put your hands into the hands of God.

I can tell you myself.  It is better than light.

And safer than a known way.

God bless you in a New Year.

Bash on.

 

 

jsg/dec 31 2016

*photo taken early morning 12/29/16