Category Archives: Gratitude

Finishing God’s Sentences.

img_6215

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:

img_6337

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

**************************************************************************

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

Advertisements

Daily Dose of Gorgeous.

On my daily run on the Common, my secret weapon of self-defence is to look as batty as I possibly can.

img_0915

I go with my three ebullient dogs, unrestrained, which helps. They think they’ve already gone to Heaven after moving out of the city.

Dogs 1.jpg

My blood is pumping, my lungs are filling, my cheeks tingle, my eyes sparkle, my legs move carrying me forward. I feel alive all over again.

My secret weapon of motivation is to imagine that I’m running as far and as fast into my future as is humanly possible.  Thinking that my every step is taking me closer to what God has in store makes my heels kick up and I want to fly.

I call these times on the Common my Daily Dose of Gorgeous.  It sets my world to right.

IMG_0903 (1).jpg

My heart rate lifts and my spirit calms down.  I see the Living God all around me.

Looking up:

IMG_0904.jpg
God’s grace in a new day dawning –
new-day
His intention right here in Creation’s immeasurable variety –

img_0881img_0993img_0936-1variety

His eternity in trees here before me –
img_0782
and still here long after I’m gone.
img_0820
God here in a changing season – a new one birthed while an old one dies:
IMG_1009.jpg
God in the dew:
dew.jpg
In fruitfulness –
Berries 1.jpg
berries
God in light, illuminating my focus.  “See Me here, Josie?”
Here 1.jpg
“Over here, Josie!”
IMG_0953.jpg
“See Me here?”
Here 4.jpg
“And here?”
img_0848
“And here?”
IMG_0970.jpg
All around me, all the time.
Lord, I wonder what new life you are gestating in me right now.
If this daily dose of gorgeous is merely the ultrasound:
End blog.jpg
Only the immeasurably more must be on its way.
img_1020
jsg/nov 16

Moving.

So tomorrow, we fly away.

It has been an intense couple of weeks.  Two yard sales and everything boxed up, packed up or given away in the last 14 days.

img_6855

This is my nineteenth move and I know from experience that one takes all the time allowed.  Hence I chose to do it swiftly like a marine charge (“YAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!”) And there is a mercy to speed. Not enough time to think too much.

My children are thirteen and ten and conflicted about leaving the only home they’ve ever known, so I gave them a free pass.  As many playdates, away days and video games as they could squeeze in were all maternally blessed.  It’s enough they were having to go through it, they didn’t need Evil Queen screaming at them to hurry up or not forget.

I know I also have a huge advantage over them.  I have a track record of God taking me through this process many, many, many times.  I know how enormous moving is in the process, and how tiring. I know the (sometimes) uncertainty about where you will land next and when.  And I’ve seen God cover every detail, even at (in fact often at) the eleventh hour.  It’s a whacky ride at best and I’ve never had to experience it in conjunction with the breaking up of my parents’ marriage and my family home, as well as for the first time.

My children are though.  So in my book, they’re doing brilliantly.  The occasional slammed door, sassy response, colorful profanity or dropped ball is fine with me. They’re getting through it and that’s what counts.

In the midst, we’ve had all three dogs suffering from “suitcase syndrome” around us. Agonized looks at every turn of “How could you?” “Are you leaving us?” “It’s the end of the world!” “You’re dead to me now, you cruel woman.”

And then yesterday when we dropped them off for a month at a heavenly kennel run by friends, they wagged their tails without a backward glance as they immediately got taken off for a walk.

Yesterday evening was the children’s and my last night together at the house.  A slammed door and a video game left me the peace and quiet to go and sit for a while on the cement of the back porch, lean my back against the wall and think.

I too was crying, but when I thought of sadness or regret it didn’t seem to hit the mark.  What hit me instead – and to my surprise – was an immense in-filling of gratitude. The bread of tears. There was nothing more to say than “Thank You.”

Thank you, Lord, for sustaining us here.

Thank you for protecting us.

Thank you for all the life you poured into us through this house.

Thank you for the fantastic neighbors you placed around us.

Thank you for new friendships forged here in hardship and happiness.

Thank you for keeping us here.

Thank you for giving us this space for exactly as long as we needed it.

And thank you now for moving us on.

Three years ago, I planted two fruit trees from my sister in the yard.  We had seen only two daring oranges and two tentative grapefruit up until this year.  The orange still has an only child, but the grapefruit for the first time has gone gangbusters.  There must be forty fruit on that little tree.  And we’re going to miss the harvest.


But the gal who’s moving in here won’t.  She’s going to really enjoy them.  So it’s not wasted fruit at all.  It’s fruit intended for her.

And so I pray that too, Lord, for my life and for the children’s lives.  That all the fruit You have grown in us here, all the learnings that are still green in us, You will continue to grow and ripen and multiply as we move forward.

That none of us is wasted.  None of this is wasted.  That we will constantly bless new recipients, possibly ones we haven’t even met yet.

All in good time.

 

jsg/july 16

Never underestimate the blessing of an easy fix.

There are many things that are falling apart in my house. Thankfully not me and the kids, but many others.
This week my son pulled open the Tupperware cupboard and it swung drunkenly from its lower hinge. It was unhinged and so was I. Ach. What would I now have to do? Take the door off its hinges, take the door to Home Depot, ask what kind of hinges they have that I could replace mine with, get the right screws, come home and reattach the cupboard.

This doesn’t sound earth shattering I know, but as a single mum it’s just one more bloody thing.

Then a lovely thing happened. In going to take the door off the following day I suddenly thought, “What if it just needs a longer screw to hold it in place?” And – do you know – I was right! What I had envisaged as a couple of hours of laborious life in the material world of door fixings, I was – voila! – sorted.

IMG_0950

I felt as light as air, and I moved on with my now miraculously free day. Well, free in the sense of all the other things I had to get done without fixing the door. Which meant a lot.

It made me think about the ‘easy fix’ and how often I skip by it. Like when you’re delving into your handbag and you pull out the right lipstick first time. What are the odds of that happening?

Or when you ask your ex for something and – instead of argument – you hear, “Sure. I can give you the check this evening.”

Or when your child feels rejected and you come up with something simple that solves their world.

All these are what I call ‘easy fixes’. Freebies if you like.

Like when my son was three years old and decided to potty train himself. Start to finish in ten days. SAY WHAT?!@#$!! That was a divine freebie. No agro, no stress, just happened.

When I think about easy fixes they’re hard to remember. The cupboard only happened this week so it’s fresh in my mind.

Why don’t I remember them? And why don’t I remember the things that didn’t happen and focus only instead on those hard things that did? Why is my scale so balanced toward the hard stuff and so laid back about the every day graces like: My kid’s getting better at math! I got the job! The chicken was on sale! There was a Groupon for the party!

Why do I almost feel like I am “getting away with” anything good that happens? That the good I receive was somehow not intentioned, but (happily for me) slipped through unnoticed? “Oh well, that’s something I don’t need to worry about!” I say as I move on forgetting, to fix my eyes instead on the next problem/obstacle/deficiency.

My thanksgiving is always so pathetically generic: health, kids, home, beauty. I am very grateful but, the truth is, I rarely rest to consider the good.

Yesterday I was driving my kids to school, and the car two behind us collided with a metal trailer attached to a van that failed to make a late left turn. We were forty feet from disaster. I rushed to the desperately shaken 16 year old driver and was glad to help, but did I consider that could have been us? No. It didn’t occur to me, because nothing bad happened to us.

The other month at prayer group, we spent ten minutes silently reflecting on our day. I sat there thinking nothing happened, and then realized that actually I had been happy that day. This didn’t even register until I’d done a laundry list of everything else.

My question to myself had been, “OK, what did I have to overcome today?” Apparently nothing, given my criteria. If I hadn’t been forced to reflect, I wouldn’t have even noticed that actually that day had been one simply to cherish. Nothing bad happened – so what then, it didn’t rate for me? What is up with that?! I am so hardwired for disaster that blessing almost doesn’t seem to count.

We have been having incredible skies in LA this week. We’ve had glorious rain on and off, and the sky has been outdoing itself in majesty.

IMG_1074 IMG_1072

It made me realize something: EVERY cloud has a silver lining. Of course it does! You know why? Because the sun was still always behind the clouds, no matter how thick. The sun doesn’t change, the clouds do.

IMG_1129

Why then do I live my life from the perspective of oppressive clouds only with the sun occasionally breaking through – against all odds?

Sometimes there are many clouds, sometimes there are none. But the sun? The sun never changes. What if I were to live in this reality? To know good is never absent, the sun will come out tomorrow if not perhaps later today. Why? Because it is always there.

Last week, a friend in church said to me, “There has never not been a dawn.” Never. Even if it is obscured by bad weather and clouds, it’s still there. It is simply beyond our sight.

I want to live in the awareness that the sun is always shining on me, even when it is obscured by clouds and I cannot see it. That these “easy fixes” come not as a rarity but as a certainty. And they more than tip the scale in the opposite direction.

All “weather” is temporary. God’s love, His truth, His blessings, His favor, His redemption, His grace? These. These are eternal.

What if I were to consider this day within the context of permanent, constant blessing and not difficulty? What if I changed my grading system?

What would my life look like then? What would yours?

jsg/nov 15

COMPARISON.

IMG_0529

Hello, my name is Josie and I am a Comparison Addict. A compara-holic.

This sounds a bit harsh but, then again, I don’t know who could withstand a daily dose of comparing given the current culture of constant comparison.

Just stand and look at the tabloids/person in front of you/a magazine/Facebook:

  • My hair never looks like that.
  • Their marriage is fantastic, look at them.
  • How did she lose weight so fast?
  • Bet they don’t have to worry about Health Insurance.
  • I’ll happy face you in a minute.
  • OH.SHUT.UP.

And then there’s the reverse:

  • See, at least I don’t have [x, y or z]!
  • I may be divorced, but blimey it’s better than [x, y or z].
  • I’d take my problems over theirs any day.
  • Whew! That’s perspective.
  • Man, it would be a nightmare to be famous.

My particular pity party at the moment is everybody’s “Happy 1000th Anniversary to my best friend/love of my life/best husband and father ever!!” pictures on FB. The temptation to be bitter is immense.

So I have to turn from my computer saying to myself, “Oh shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!! You think you’ve got it hard? You think your life is difficult? Oh for the love of God, Josephine, SHUT.UP.”

The ridiculous thing is that when my mind turns to comparison it is an entirely all-or-nothing scenario. Someone celebrates their Anniversary and I immediately forget any other challenge and reality of life I know they have faced/are facing. “Oh great, look at THEM. LOOK AT THEM!!  And who am I?  One big… fat… p-a-t-h-e-t-i-c… LOSERRRR.”

As you can see it’s pretty loud, brash, and ugly up here where my comparisons live.

Why can others’ joy make us compare ourselves as having less?

Why can others’ grief make us compare ourselves as having more?

Either way, it’s a trick. A big fat ugly trick that takes me away from the present moment and the reality – from every aspect – of my OWN LIFE.   All the things I have been blessed with either become less/meaningless or make me feel somehow superior to someone living through a nightmare.

Either way it cuts me off from community into the horrors of my own calculations. And the point is what exactly? Does comparison change my life at all?  Do the comparisons beginning with, “Well at least I’m not struggling with…” help me with anything?  When I say, “I don’t have anything like that, poor me”, is my life improved in any way?

Doesn’t comparison just mentally push me into a self-absorbed insulated bubble of “Not Me-ness” – for good or for bad?Comparison of either type is entirely about navel gazing, and then all I can see is my navel. Which just gives me a crick in my Spirit not to mention my neck.

The Lord tells us to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn’. I am recognizing that I am only FREE to do this authentically when I do it without self-reference.   Losing my life I gain it by getting to participate truly in the joy of others, or getting to carry a bit of their load.

I think of Paul. “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.” I bet this took time, and I bet he achieved it because experience taught him to stop looking to left or right, in front or behind. He just kept looking up to the only one who has any control and is also the giver of all good things, and staying present.

The only place God can be with me is where I am now. The only place that I can be is where I am now.  Comparison is a temptation, not a gift.

So enough already. Ix-nay Omparison-kay.

And I can feel my attitude improving immediately.

Jsg/Oct 15

Stinging Nettles.

image

In my sister and brother-in-law’s garden in North London, they have a strip of woodland. A great place for my kids to explore and build swings and forts.

image

It is in the beginning stages of being landscaped, however there are still huge banks of ivy and stinging nettles growing wild and free.

image

My sister and I decided to try our hands at Nettle Soup – and why wouldn’t we with so many of the ingredients readily available?!

image

Sleeves pulled down to avoid getting stung and wearing gloves, I grabbed handfuls of the nettles and shoved them in plastic bags.

image

Then, sitting on their sunny patio with mug of coffee at hand, I began patiently to snip each individual leaf off each individual stem and chuck it in a bucket.

image

image

image

The recipe required 1lb of nettle leaves. Blimey, I thought, I’ll be here forever.

image

However, in the beautiful morning sunshine with budding trees all around me, the Heavenly-smelling Verbena coming into flower beside me and clumps of tulips ready to burst, I decided it was a pretty pleasant exercise.

I relaxed, the unexpected heat of English spring sunshine warming my back.

As with any creative endeavor, it gave me time to think. Engaging my faculties in one activity seems to enable my mind to wander freely over any number of topics meantime. Have you noticed this?

So as I snip, snip, snipped – carefully protecting all exposed skin – I wryly noted how much this activity represented my own life.

Nasty things happen in life, they do. The question then must be, what do we do with them? How can we move beyond them?

Stinging nettles were the scourge of our childhood growing up in the countryside. Many an intrepid walk was halted by an agonizing brush with their leaves. Yet here they were in my sister’s woodland in abundance. Was there anything we could do with them other than just burn them in the next bonfire, add them to the compost or simply throw them away?

There was – we could make soup. We could take something poisonous and painful, and turn it into something fruitful and nourishing.  Not all of it, but some of it.

I thought through some of my own experiences in recent years. In which of them were there redeemable elements and what might I make of them, and of myself because of them, now?

ALL is not lost in the bad. God promises us the ‘treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places’ that only occur because the darkness in spite of itself produces them: courage; perseverance; wisdom; gratitude; maturity; strength to name but a few.

image

At supper, pureed then swirled with a bit of cream and black pepper, the soup was declared a complete winner.

image

Ah yes of course, I thought, tucking in. So are we.

Jsg/april15