Category Archives: Motherhood

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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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

 

 

Weather Wise.

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The weather in the past week has been, alternately, absolutely gorgeous and bloody awful.

No sooner do you think the cold and rain will never end (shouldn’t it be Spring by now?) than the next day dawns in peerless glory.  Only to be regularly followed by a return to said cold, miserable wetness.

We go from this

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To this

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Then back to this again

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The thing I hold onto is that it does keep changing.  On gloomy days you know it won’t last forever, on bright ones you know to enjoy it while you can.

So like life, eh?

Recently moved back from Los Angeles to leafy Surrey, I miss intensely the warmth, brightness and surety of California sunshine.  I miss the feeling of warm brick under my bare feet in the backyard as I wandered out to sit in the sun with my morning coffee after the school run.  I miss the sun soaking into my back.  I  miss my hammock swing where I could sit in quiet tranquillity watching the hummingbirds feed on our honeysuckle and the birds nest in our bougainvillea while my toes toasted in morning sunlight.

Last week, the cumulative losses that come with such dramatic change all fell in on my head.  As I watched delivery men struggle up the driveway with a new fridge in cold wind and lashing rain, I suddenly felt I couldn’t bear it any longer. “I can’t stand this weather!” I wailed. “I hate it all!  I want to go HOME!”

But of course California is not home anymore.  Not for the foreseeable future anyway.

Then the next day dawned and it was GORGEOUS.  Absolutely breathtakingly lovely, making it hard to dwell on just how dismal the rain and cold have been.

So like life, eh?

No one wants to think about rain when the sun is shining and, conversely, how crucial it is to hold onto the reality of the sun when you’re in the midst of pouring wet.

The key for me is to remember that all weather changes.  In Britain often three times in twenty minutes.  And moving back here I am struck by what a profound difference good weather makes.

I said to my son last week as we drove to school surrounded by shimmering blossoms under a bright blue sky with scudding clouds, “It’s really impossible not to feel your spirits lift on a day like this! You can’t be sad when it’s sunny.”

“We had bad days that were sunny in California, Mom,” he said.  But of course we did.  When almost everyday is guaranteed sun, it’s the given.  It doesn’t hold as much power to transform the context of your life.

I never thought I’d be grateful for British weather but, in some ways, I am. A gorgeous day truly does lift my spirits and I don’t take it for granted because it’s not standard.  Everyone I meet on my walk on gorgeous days can’t help but enthuse: “Ooh, gorgeous day isn’t it?” Knowing, grateful smiles abound. There’s almost a chuckle.

Of course all the rain is one of the exact reasons Britain is so lovely in sunshine.  All that fertile, bursting-with-new-life-green-and-pleasant-land is only possible because of the amount of rain.

So like life, eh.

On rainy, cold, foul days I have to put on more protective layers to keep warm, do activities appropriate to the conditions. Hold on.

On sunny days, I have to get out AND ENJOY IT!  It would be a crime to stay in. I must embrace it and breathe it in and rejoice in it and gasp at its loveliness! Because the sunny days make the rainy days doable. And on rainy days remembering sunny ones keeps me bashing on until the next appears.

So like life, eh?

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So like life.

 

jsg/March 17

Beggars can choose.

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Anguished tears in the car. I am silent in response. I’ve run out of ideas.

“The thing is, son, at some point you’re going to have to choose the life God has brought you.”

Hard truth when you’re eleven and you miss everything you loved so much.

My two children and I have recently moved from California to the UK (a return home for me, a new home for my American kids) and really nothing is similar. The milkshakes don’t taste the same, the language is different, the climate sucks, their own accent is the anomaly.

When I moved to the States 25 years ago, I remember thinking it would have been easier if I’d moved to Asia. Then I’d have expected everything to be different. Obviously I’d have to start over with the banking system, the postal service, the social cues.

But moving to the States I thought both nations were basically the same. So wrong! America and Britain are slightly different in every possible way. Which means one is constantly caught out and exhausted by the difference.

Now moving in reverse, my children are discovering the same. And they hate it. Everything here is not there and vice versa. I know the different-ness is not going to change so our attitude toward it must, but they don’t.

Grief is a process and I must not get in the way of theirs. There is denial, anger, bargaining and depression for all of us before acceptance.

And it’s tougher for my kids. I chose this trans-global move (albeit under duress) because I could see God’s hand in it. My children on the other hand have to take my word for it. I cannot urge acceptance or lose my temper. I have to trust new experiences to speak to them for themselves. I only increase resistance if I “Ooh, look! We couldn’t have done this in California!” about it all myself. Their BS antenna for my “bracing enthusiasm” is forensic anyway.

This season is what it is, and it’s tough.

They’ll get it eventually. They’ll stop not choosing this new life when the weight of good outweighs the weight of loss. In the meantime, without comment, I turn our attention to newness.

We weren’t in California today, but we did go to a lovely local farm for lunch.

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We didn’t go to the beach with our dogs but we did take them to a bluebell wood by a lake (an adventure enhanced enormously by my falling in).

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We didn’t see sand crabs underwater, but we did see newly hatched toads.

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I remind the kids that we are not victims of this new reality. The externals won’t change, but our response to them will always be our choice. With due process, beggars can absolutely be choosers after all.

And I tell them this.  The guts they both show in the meantime by just showing up,

Guy

continues to take my breath away.

jsg/march 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

Richer Soil.

What is the essence of a person? It has nothing to do with their circumstances. It is rather whomever they understand themselves to be while they’re doing – or not doing – whatever is in front of them in the circumstances they are in. 

I’ve just been on a lightning trip back to LA. The children and I came to England last July to visit their grandparents post-my divorce and, unexpectedly, a path of major life transition spooled out before us. We decided to stay for good. (For details see earlier blogging on bemusement, amazement and reckoning).

And so it came to pass (Advent motif here) that I would need to go back to organize the shipping over of all our stuff. A brief window of opportunity opened and, two weeks ago, I charged forward.

As I’ve written here before, when you move you use the time you have. So, for me, it’s better the shorter and harder you hit it. I’ve also learned that you can never “go back”. You’re no longer fish nor fowl once you’ve moved, so be fast and brusque and firm. No one knows what to do if you linger, and no one – least of all you – needs the emotional drain of mushy sentimental goodbyes. Focus instead on going onward together, flags to the fore!

I went for six days. I packed, I shipped, I sold, I conquered the monumental list.

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And in the midst I managed to squeeze in (I counted) over forty fierce hugs and hopes with beloved friends. Many of them one on one (my personal fave). How did I do it? There was a lot of providence in timing and unexpected windows opened.

I have to say it was utterly bizarre being back. It felt as though I had never left. Walking into friends’ houses felt so normal it was as if these past 18 weeks abroad had simply been some sort of brain seizure on my part: “Now THAT was a crazy dream!” Which of course it is not.

I think the problem with modern travel is that you traverse the globe too quickly.  Don’t get me wrong, the faster I can get there physically the better. However, one’s heart and mind don’t travel at the same speed as the rest of one’s body.

I left frosty, sharp Surrey on December 1 to touch down in balmy, blue skied LA just 11 hours later.  Going over, I coped with the transition by subsuming my recently established English life into a sort of surrealist daydream. I didn’t have to deal with it and, to be honest, I didn’t have time to.

Returning home has been a different story. I do think of here – England – as my home, but I have been almost unable to speak of my trip “home” to LA since I got back. It’s just too much. It feels like I have this huge holding tank of emotions in my chest and as long as I keep it level and don’t spill it, I’ll be ok. Briefing my sister I came perilously close to upset and changed the subject.

I have grown super sensitive to my limits, which is a good thing. While in LA I didn’t go within a two mile radius of our old home. I couldn’t see our neighbors, I couldn’t look at the house that had been ours, go to our local stores. There was a force field in my spirit every time I thought about it: “Don’t put yourself through it, Jose. It’s purposeless pain.” And so I didn’t.

I went to our old church to say goodbye though. Knowing there would be no orchestra to play me off, I took my Oscar speech moment and ran with it.

What I wanted to – and did – say was how hugely impactful the love of the Body of Christ in that place had been to the children and myself. We arrived in crisis in ’08, we endured numerous crises thereafter, and we left in crisis last July. What had remained constant throughout had been the love and support and community of our friends: down in the ditch together; scaling the heights; shoulder to shoulder; eyes always up.

I said that I would happily tell anyone more specifics of the circumstances of our move, but it seemed irrelevant. Because the point is that Sarah Jane, Guy and I are children of God going on with Him – just as all of our friends there are too. No matter where He takes us, what transpires, how many moves still lie ahead. We’ve got our anchor for high seas;we’ve got our rudder for the horizon; we’ve got our sail for the wind. And it’s Him.

At my parents Golden Wedding service a few years ago, I quoted Rupert Brooke: 

   There shall be 
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
   Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
   Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And I spoke of that richer earth within my mum and dad. That richer soil that had nothing to do with what they’d achieved or what had happened. It was the rich earth sourced only in their relationship with Christ. That rich soil concealed and therefore not evident to the naked eye. That rich soil that sustains them, grows them, strengthens them, heals them and is only made known through the fruit it has produced in them both.

For me returning home to the U.K. after 24 years abroad, I pray that all the mulch the Lord laid over that rich soil of my relationship with Him during that time – the pain, the joy, the challenge, the victory – may have served as the fertilizer needed to produce richer and more abundant fruit in who I am today. I do so hope anyway.

It shall just no longer be fruit that will grow in the balmy climes of California, but in the green and pleasant land of England instead.

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jsg/dec 16

The tyranny of the other.

In the middle of major life change and challenge, I am finding it so easy to fall into the fantasy that everyone else’s life is going just swimmingly well.

While I can’t find an extension cord to plug in my prehistoric hairdryer and my wifi extenders refuse to work, I imagine other people sitting down to cosy family dinners (which everyone likes eating) and telling funny tales from school and work.  They all kiss each other goodnight and drift into blissfully dreamless sleep.

I”see” couples on social media who are in these fantasy relationships where everything is going really, really well.  Anniversaries, birthdays, milestones. You’d never believe they’ve had an argument in their lives.

Also – obviously – I see that everyone else has got a job.

Or a calling.

Or a life.

Everyone else in my age group is actually a grown up and are where they are supposed to have reached by this stage.  Their children are thriving, even their pets are cute.

This mindset is so so easy to fall into every single day.

It’s brilliant, really. It’s just where the enemy gets us, isn’t it?  That “I” am the different one.  “I” am the one for whom the story didn’t work out.  

What has happened is that I have fallen for the mythic “other”. The “other life” I am supposed to have been living.

So as a Christian, what do I make of this myth?

“Well,” I remind myself, “Where are these mythical people for whom life is just going swimmingly? Either inside or outside of the Kingdom of God?”  Among believers I know and love, I have one whose entire life just burned to the ground – literally, in a canyon fire.  One whose unborn baby will not survive. One whose marriage is finally approaching the coffin stage.  One whose drinking is out of control.

And I slap myself back into reality. For there is no life – Christian or non-Christian – that is above trial.  No human life just “goes swimmingly.” We have periods of smooth sailing, but they are periods. They don’t typify the voyage.

What if, as Christians in these inevitable trials of life, our purpose/our meaning/our goal is to be found in just letting the world see what it means to travel through shit with Christ as opposed to without Him?

What if, in these trials, the fruit of our life is to show what HOPE looks like in real terms in the midst of trial?  To have it revealed  by our choices and responses? To show what it means to be struck down but not destroyed?  To be hard pressed on every side but not crushed?  To despair even of life and yet keep living?

Because we have that choice.

We can either live under what I call ‘the tyranny of the other’: the false belief that  everyone else is living some other kind of life. Everyone else is living the kind of life we were meant  to be living – carefree, glorious, “successful”- if we hadn’t messed up getting there along the way.

OR we can live in the reality that this life is often excruciatingly hard and difficult and unfair. (Even if you’re Kim Kardashian in a fancy Paris hotel you still get robbed at gunpoint, right?) We can live into the reality of every life in this world (filled with trouble no matter what as well as joy and hope and truth and redemption) in relationship with the only One who can ultimately make sense of and/or redeem every last bit of it.

So I choose not to allow myself to be ruled by the ‘tyranny of the other’. I choose to smack myself awake and live into the reality of my life (and FYI everyone else’s). To show what it looks like to live through these common messes and hurdles and tragedies with Christ as opposed to without Him.

Hope for me means there is purpose even when I can’t see it.  There is hope even when I can’t feel it.  There is redemption even when it has yet to be revealed.  There is forgiveness when I don’t deserve it.  There is mercy for my wrongdoing and weaknesses and mistakes. Because I’m in the hand of the only One who actually has any control over any of this – including my own finitude and wilfulness – and has paid the ultimate price to make it all come right. How could I not sign on to a deal like that??

When I struggle with feeling like a big, fat, loser because my marriage failed and I’ve lost my entire adult existence and been shipped to the other side of the world to start over, I have to remind myself that I’m actually standing on level ground with anyone else breathing in the world today. No matter my circumstances. And I have committed my way to the only One who has overcome this world in all its brokenness and unfathomable reasoning, and who will still make a way for me.

So “Fie on you, Comparisons!” Fie on you.

There is a reason that one of the favourite magnets on my fridge is this: ‘The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.’

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I’m going to bash on regardless. Just like everyone else.

 

jsg/oct 16