Category Archives: Hope

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

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

Marching.

Do you feel like me?

God has brought you out of a difficult situation only to deliver you into another which is far from easy?  In some ways really hard?  And the not easy/really hard just seems to go on and on and on and on and on?

It has made me question the nature of my faith.  I seem constantly to be asking the Lord to “come through” for me.  To resolve situations, remove circumstances, bring in easier times, make life work within the framework of what I can see and hope for.

Is this what the life 0f faith is about?  This constant hoping for a period – even the balance of one’s years – when seas are calm and skies are blue and all temptation, hardship and challenge is taken away?

Because – if this is what I am subconsciously always waiting, hoping and praying for – what book am I reading?

I need to change my paradigm to recognise that struggle is my life.  And that’s not a bad thing. Struggle is what the Lord uses to change me, to move me forward, to peel away the layers of my selfishness and egotism to reveal a life far reacher for being lived for the sake of Him for others rather than for myself.

How I rail against this and beseech God to give me a frickin’ break!                                               But perhaps it is in His kindness that He does not.

Because I have not stopped growing.  My circumstances have not allowed me to become complacent and ready to stay put. I am not satisfied, my life has driven me forward to find more of Christ. To test Him and find that He’s true over and over again.  My life continues to be uncomfortable, challenging, heartbreaking. It constantly forces me to challenge my faith and find God here with me right where I am. Not where I wish I could be, but right here where I am.

I say I want to be in a life condition of floating-on-a-floaty-in-a-pool-under-a-cloudless-sky, but God and I both know I’d become bored almost immediately. (Almost immediately. I’m not nuts.)

I say I want the Promised Land and I want it now, but when I look at scripture the Promised Land didn’t provide floaties either.

I think of the Israelite army marching around the walls of Jericho.  Can you imagine?  They’re IN the Promised Land … and now this? They have to take this Promised Land, it’s not just given to them. (Josie? Are you listening?)

The Israelites have to walk around the city wall once a day for six days.  Can you imagine the conversations on about Day 3?  Day 5??

“We’re sure, right? We’re really, really, really sure this is what God wants us to do? My feet hurt, we look ridiculous.”

Just keep going, marching, marching, marching.

Then on Day 7, they have to march around the city wall SEVEN times.  “What if nothing happens?  What are we going to do then?”

Just keep going, marching, muttering, marching, muttering, muttering, marching.

Then at the long blast of the horn, SHOUT!

And the walls did come down and the Lord gave them the city.  The walls did come down just as God promised they would.  And the only way for the Israelites to find out what God was doing and what God had in store for them was to KEEP GOING.  To keep doing exactly what God had told them to do until the time was fulfilled when God would act.

Not stop half way.

Not lose heart.

Not quit.

Marching gives you a lot of time to think.  And to become aware.  And to be changed.

I think I’m on Day 3 of marching. So there’s a lot more marching to come.  Not a whole lot of change-up in the routine at the moment.  And I’m holding the story of Jericho to my heart. I’m plastering the Israelites faithfulness onto mine and I’m claiming the signs God has given me that He is right here and purposing all that the children and I are going through, just as He did for Israel.  I’m doing what God told me to do, I’ve gone where God told me to go, I’m trying to live the life God calls me to live.

At times I feel exhausted and despairing. I have my marching orders, feelings only discourage me from following them. So feelings, get down!  This is a battle for my mind.

God has promised there is land for me. I’m marching on.

And I’m turning my praise music up LOUD. You?

jsg/feb 17

Dear Daughter (a letter to my teenager)

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‘When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least…’

Dear Daughter,

Oy, another day! What can I say.

You are journeying through that savage landscape called teenagehood. Each day  brings a different conflict/insecurity/anxiety/pressure/fear/despair/uncertainty. It’s like Groundhog Day for the adolescent and who wants that?  No sooner do you get the hang of one thing, than everyone and everything changes places again. It’s exhausting.

As your mother, you and I notice that my responses vary.  I’ve tried sombre listening, patience, perspective, encouragement, humour, impatience (never good), rebuke (who thought this was a good idea?) and then all the way through to major irritation and my own exasperated fury. I’m sorry when I don’t get it right, darling girl. Please forgive me.  I would take all yuk away from you if I could and it’s hard to have to watch.

But I do know something you don’t.  That you won’t even remember most of all this in a few years’ time.  And that anything I say to you now from my own vantage point won’t be very helpful because – on some level – there are no answers.  You’re just experiencing what we all have to go through: the lifelong and often painful process of character refinement. Which hurts!

So I think my best response in the meantime should be sombre listening before subtle redirection, what do you think?

The good news is that, as your mum, I am not completely powerless over the dragon of these years. I am praying for you, and my daily prayer request from now on shall include this:

That you would find some spot, some moment in each day or when you lay your head to sleep at night, where you close your eyes and can feel the warmth of God’s love on your face.  That singular warmth that starts at the top of your head and slowly seeps through every fibre of your being until you know that you are, in FACT,

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Perfect in His sight

A joy to your Father’s heart

Worth losing everything to win you back

A bright light

A fresh breeze

A sparkly girl

Precious and fully known

Fully loved

Specific, purposed and unique,

And always forgiven.

That you would feel that sun warm through every part of your being as the ash and dust and grit of your day soaks off to leave you only radiant and refreshed.

For, tbh, that’s the only response to all these teenage woes really. Certainly the only response with any real power.

Find that spot each day, my darling girl, and lift your face. Then you too can finish your sonnet like Shakespeare:

‘Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.’

I love you, my precious one. Teenage on,

Mum.

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

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

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.

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

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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.

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

Looking up:

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

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His eternity in trees here before me –
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and still here long after I’m gone.
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God here in a changing season – a new one birthed while an old one dies:
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God in the dew:
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In fruitfulness –
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God in light, illuminating my focus.  “See Me here, Josie?”
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“Over here, Josie!”
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“See Me here?”
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“And here?”
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“And here?”
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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:
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Only the immeasurably more must be on its way.
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jsg/nov 16