Category Archives: Mom

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

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

 

 

Today is enough.

‘You are a tree replanted in Eden.’ Psalm 1 [The Message]

 
When my kids were little, a kind neighbour brought me two trays of mature irises given to her by a friend. They were all yellow and she didn’t like yellow, so she offered them to me.

I was thrilled. I loved my garden but had no budget to fill in my borders, so these irises – a favourite flower in a favourite colour – were an amazing answer to an as yet unvoiced prayer.

I carefully soaked them in buckets of water as directed, then planted them correctly in good soil and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

“I’ve killed them,” I thought. I loved my garden but, not naturally a green thumb, this was entirely possible. I left them where they were and kept hoping that eventually they’d take on a new life of their own.

Much to my surprise after three years, they did! And my garden was dotted sporadically with clumps of glorious yellow irises set amid my roses, fruit trees and bougainvillea.

The problem had been that the irises were “shocked” by their transplant and it took them that long to readjust before they could, again, thrive. Had I given up and dug them up, I would never have seen their joy filled new life in my yard.

The analogy is obvious. My children and I were unexpectedly transplanted to England far far away from our Californian home and everything they had ever known. Like the man in Psalm 1, we are replanted trees and we are in shock.

So actually it is enough just to be. Just to survive. Just to dig our toes into the new soil beneath our feet, drink in moisture, soak up sun (whenever it’s out in our new pluvial climate) and rest. It’s OK just to be where we are, not doing anything particular. The transplant is enough.

What a relief this new understanding has been to me this week, when I seem to have lost my mojo for anything beyond the absolutely necessary.

In the first few months I threw myself into a new church family, making new friends, trying to create community for my kids.  However the effort, the determination to make sense of this monumental transplant, seems to have utterly drained my tank. I’m like a child on a tricycle who’s encountered a lip in the sidewalk and every time I try to push myself over it my tricycle just rocks straight back. I haven’t got any push to get me over the hump.

But it’s OK. It’s OK to rest on my tricycle exactly where I am. It’s enough to hug my kids, to keep them warm and fed, and simply for us to exist. Psalm 1 continues:

‘You’re a tree replanted in Eden,

bearing fresh fruit every month,

Never dropping a leaf,

always in blossom.’

As I read this I wondered how it was possible to bear fresh fruit every month. And I felt the Lord tell me this:

“Josie, a living tree is always bearing fruit. It is either manifesting fruit on the outside, or it is germinating fruit on the inside. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean new life isn’t always in process.”

Just like my irises. They weren’t doing anything I could see but they weren’t dead. They were recovering.

So this week’s revelation is this: for the time being and for as long as it takes, it’s OK for the children and me to do nothing. We’re recovering. There’s still life growing when I’m not trying to create it. God’s at work in what we cannot yet see.

Today is enough.

 
Jsg/March 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

Artists’ Date.

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

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

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

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

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

And to be so greatly loved.

jsg/feb 17

Snarky texts and sassy comebacks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May the grace roll out before me.

jsg/feb 2017