Category Archives: Perseverance

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

Asses.

Blog 4

“Jesus comes to you disguised as your own life.”

I sat in the Palm Sunday service and the truth of it sank like a pebble to the bottom of my pond, the ripples reaching out and out and out.

I’d never heard it phrased like that before.  I know the Lord is with me – He is present in every aspect of my life, I see Him all around me.  But that my circumstances themselves would be Jesus Himself breaking in? It broke into the hurtness of my being.

These smelly circumstances, ungainly circumstances, uncomfortable circumstances, unimpressive circumstances. He comes to me disguised as them?

What a concept.

And what a goal to find through my every living moment the truth of who He is and what I’m here for. Who He calls me to be and how I’m to live my life in and for Him.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey. Few got it. But He was sure of why He was there and what He was there to do.

Today, I hear Him say to me, “Josie, this is your donkey. This life I’ve given you, redeemed for you, purposed you for, and allowed.”

Wow.

Ride on.

That’s helpful.

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

Vulnerable to hope.

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“I hate that she has no hope.”

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

What could I say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t do that to them.

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

More sleep would help.

More time will help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This hope shall not put me to shame.

jsg/feb 17

Not forsaken.

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I am always so grateful that Christ felt forsaken.  If HE was, what chance have I of not feeling like that at some point?

The difference of course is that Christ actually was forsaken so that I never shall be. No matter how much it may feel that way.

Transversing from one way of life to another can feel like scaling a massive mountain.  It’s interesting that the word ‘transverse’ should pop into my mind to describe the journey.  I discover it means ‘set crosswise’. I like that wordplay.

With massive change, one is climbing the mountain out of one landscape – full of familiar sights and sounds and smells and experiences (good or bad) – over the top into another which is as yet unknown.  Or one could take a tunnel through the middle.

It seems I have taken the tunnel.  And as the light from the old grows dimmer behind me, the darkness has deepened while I press on to catch a glimmer of the light I know will be there up ahead.

Which essentially leaves me – right now – pretty much in the dark.

I know I’m in the right tunnel but, blimey, it’s dark in here.

Do you know what I mean?  Have you been where I am?

It can be really cold and dark here in the tunnel.  All sorts of dark thoughts assault me. “You know there isn’t another end, right?  This is it.  It’s all over.  You’re just walking further and further away from everything you knew into complete darkness. It’s all been taken away. There’s no hope for you!  There’s no justice, no redemption. You know there’s really no point, right?  Not for you anyway.  For others yes, but not for you.”

I rebuke the lies and stumble forward. I press on blindly. What can I hold onto?

Well, it turns out I can hold onto the hand of God.  Because even though I cannot see, He can and I’m clinging on to His great big hand for dear life.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you.’ 

I have been thinking this last week how much I need to feel the Lord squeeze my hand as I hold His.  Give me a reassuring, “I’ve got this, little one.  You know I have.  It’s grim, but we’re moving forward.  I’ve got you.”

So how do I feel that squeeze?  I look for:

His presence

His personality

His promises

His provision

I find His presence in beauty.  In the aesthetic.  A vase.  A picture.  A photograph.  A face. Friendship. I take daily walks and STOP to view beauty.  To breathe it in, really see it, feel it all around me.  Allow my breath to be taken away by it.  Feel my limbs moving through it.

When my surroundings or circumstances feel ugly, I look for attributes of His character.  And most often the one I find most easily is kindness. Chesed.  I can always find kindness when I look.  And if I cannot find it outside of myself, I can find it within by being kind to myself. Cutting myself some slack. Giving myself a bit more rope, a bit more margin, a lot less whip.

When I feel helpless, I squeeze my heart hard around His promises.  I hold Him to them as well as myself.  “You’re not going to leave me.  You’ve never forsaken me and You never will.  You will complete the good work You have begun in me. You will bring all of this to good because I love You and I have been called according to Your purposes for my life. You are with me, right here right now.  I can’t see?  So what.  You can. And You have promised to keep my footsteps firm so that I will not hit my foot against a stone.” I keep telling Him and reminding myself at the same time. And with every truth, I cut back the lies being whispered around my head.

And I look for His provision.  I may not have all that I want in my life right now, but I do have all that I need.  On a daily basis.  And when I clock that, when I mark it and note it down and give thanks for it, I feel His hand squeeze mine.

When I have been praying with my kids recently, we have asked the Lord to show us something new, something deeper about His love for us.  And the two words He gave us were ‘Never-ending’ and ‘Unexpected.’

So I’m looking to be surprised in this dark place.  Because I don’t know it all.  God can do anything. And His resources and purposes so far outweigh my ability to imagine them.

God squeezes my hand, and I cling on to Him.  I am not forsaken.

Is this you too? If it is, I’m going to leave you with the theme song of the beloved and newly departed Mary Tyler Moore:

Love is all around, no need to waste it.

You can never tell, why don’t you take it?

You’re gonna make it after all.”

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Yep. We are. Hold on tight.

jsg/jan 17

 

 

 

 

The Gate of the Year

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

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

And he replied:

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

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

I believe it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And safer than a known way.

God bless you in a New Year.

Bash on.

 

 

jsg/dec 31 2016

*photo taken early morning 12/29/16

Taking Names.

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Apologies for taking a gap since last writing, my children and I are crossing the Red Sea. Which SUCKS BIG TIME.

I’ve never really thought about that before.  What it was like once the Israelites were actually in the Red Sea crossing it.  Yes, they’d been standing on the shore with the murderous Egyptians bearing down upon them and saying, “Anytime now, Lord, would be good.  A way forward ANYTIME NOWWWW.”

And the Lord gave them one.  The author of creation turned creation on its head and parted the waters.  Fantastic.  They had a way to go forward, now they just had to take it.

And there was the rub.  Because the waters parted, yes, but not to reveal cocktail waitresses offering refreshments and golf carts to help these weary, scared refugees (Over treacherous terrain? Deafened by indescribable noise? Under time pressure?)  The Lord gave them a way, and this was it.  This was the Lord’s plan, and it was not a second-best kind of deal.  It was huge and terrifying and they hadn’t seen it coming.  It was to save their lives and, as they embarked looking over their shoulders, the way back was firmly closed.

Have you ever considered how many of the Israelites took their children? Children who had probably had an entirely different experience of Egypt.  Who hadn’t been making bricks without straw, who’d had friends and food on the table and a routine.  Things had been relatively OK in their world.

Then their parents ripped them from all they had and, with only snatched explanation, dragged them from all they knew with only the clothes on their backs.  All the comforts of what they had understood as “home” gone.  In an instant.  And no turning back. No choice. No vote.

I empathize with the Israelites.  Have you ever taken a child somewhere they don’t want to go?  And the going itself is brutal?  And there’s no change coming up soon?  And there’s no way back only forward?  As a parent, you’re meant to be the one who gets it. Who cheer leads your offspring forward and tells them it really will be OK in the long run.  When you yourself don’t know the outcome exactly, so the faith you express to your kids is absolutely the real thing.  FAITH.

Faith in the One who provided you with the way – the only way – forward.  A miraculous way for sure, but horrifying, daunting, hard, and challenging to your core beliefs in ways that make previous tests of faith look like child’s play.

Like the Israelites, my children and I have had to leave everything on the shore behind us in the last month or so.  I have kept my faith and my hope. However, over the past two and a half years, I have lost everything else that I had been standing upon: marriage; dog; community; house and home; lifestyle; nationality; social strata; career; and adult independence of any kind. In the list of things that cause stress in one’s life, the fact my brain and heart have not actually exploded must be confirmation that the Lord’s hand is on my life to sustain me.  So I’ll take it.

I’m meant to be the one cheer leading my kids, when for much of the time I want to curl up and wait for the Red Sea to drown me too.  Bereavement catches me unexpectedly. Standing in a sofa store realizing that, before, I’d had a perfectly good sitting room I’d lovingly created over two decades.  Looking for a cup to measure dog food when, before, I’d had the perfect scoop at home. Catching a reference to a TV show that, before, I used to know the time of.  Seeing a photograph of bright sun that, before, I had felt on my skin every day.

At least four ideas for blogs have gone through my mind over the last three weeks, but none of them smacked of what I know to be true.   I am not hopeless.  Just because the way is horrid and horrifyingly humbling, it doesn’t mean it’s God’s no-better-idea.  It is in fact His best, so I am not without hope. (Just because I want to scream and have a tantrum right along with my children doesn’t mean I’m not still going to keep them and myself walking forward, because I know I can and I know I will.  I’m just HATING IT. At this point.)

Interestingly, one of the things I am struggling with the most is the loss of my independence as an adult.  I miss being in charge of things one usually takes for granted – groceries, diet, decor, space, rules, organization, calendar, TIME. I miss being able to pour myself a glass of wine after I’ve put my kids to bed and just doing something FOR MYSELF. It absolutely sucks.

But then I challenge myself with what I’m really saying, because the truth is I don’t want to be reliant on anyone ever – not even God.  I want God to give me a way forward where I won’t have to be so constantly on my knees asking for forgiveness, strength, grace, direction and provision.  I want a bit of a straight run.  A bit of a “I’ve got this now, thanks Lord.  We’re out of Egypt. I’m going to get us comfy and then I’ll check back in.”

HA! How wise the Lord is.  If He’d given me the Country Club lifestyle would my faith resemble in any way what it is today?  Of course not, I know myself.  I’d be a good-person-Christian. A church-on-Sunday and giving-to-Charity and doing-the-right-thing sort of Christian.  Not a down-on-my-knees-bloodied-bruised-stripped follower of Christ crying out, “You’ve got to get this, Lord, because I can’t do it! I trust You! I need You!  I’ve put all my chips on YOU! I LITERALLY CANNOT GET THROUGH TODAY IF YOU’RE NOT WITH ME. Fill me with Your strength, Your hope, Your truth, Your life, Your joy, Your peace.”

All of which are the genuine article – REAL strength, hope, truth, life, joy, peace.

So yes I hate my loss of independence and I hate this perilous crossing over from my old life of bondage into my new life of freedom.  But I wouldn’t trade it for the life I have in Him.

When the Israelites got through the Red Sea they went into the wilderness.  I’m going to skip that, I hope.  But then when they did finally get to the Promised Land they had to fight for it. Good grief, did the struggle never end?  Will mine?

And the answer is no.  Because in the struggle is the life, the hope, the peace, the truth, the joy. The life that constantly keeps eternity in mind.  The life that cries out “All for You, Lord!” not “All for me!” because His plan is better than any I could come up with — and He has proven that to me over and over and over again.

So now I’ve finally written a blog, I’m not calling it “Crossing the Red Sea” or “Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth.”  I’m calling it “Taking Names”. Because this Promised Land when we reach it is not one we’re called to simply receive but to conquer. So I’m going to take it, I’m not going to be afraid of it and I’m not going to wait for it to come to me. 

When these seas are behind us, I’m going to enter this Promised Land not as a victim of my past, but as the victor of my purposed, planned and prepared future.  The God who has promised me land is a God who loves me and has brought me HERE.  Through Him I’ve got this far so, with Him, what can stop me now?

As my children have struggled with new schools, new schedules, new home dynamics and new friendships this week, I’ve told them in the quiet following tears (and as much to myself), “Are we under these circumstances or over them? We are over them. We are children of the King and we are purposed to be a blessing wherever we go.  We’ve got stuff to do.  So don’t let anyone put you down.  You go into that school tomorrow and let your spirit cry out, “I’m here!  And I’m coming! I’m a child of the King and He has promised me this land so get ready!  I’m here to be blessed and to be a blessing! How are you today?”

Yes, we’re going to be kicking ass and taking names.  Because that’s the plan God has for us at the end of this ghastly sea crossing.

Jsg/Sept 16