Category Archives: Perspective

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

Airports.

Airports are brutal really.  They are not designed for subtle emotions.

Every Christmas Eve wrapping stockings, I re-watch Love Actually.  And every time I see that opening clip of people greeting each other at Heathrow airport with Hugh Grant’s voiceover about the twin towers, I burst into tears.  Who doesn’t get that moment?  And then you pull yourself together and enjoy the rest of the film until – don’t you know it – they close on a similar montage and you start all over again. Richard Curtis you cruel genius.

I’ve actually always loved airports.  It’s the feeling that something is happening.  No one there is at a stand still in their lives, something’s happening for everyone.  So you have all these millions of human stories going on all around you all the time.  If your flight departure or someone’s arrival is delayed, you have the best opportunity there can be on the planet for people watching.  Who’s with who and why/for how long/what’s next/what’s just happened/what’s their relationship/where are they traveling to and for what/where have they come from/why are they on their own/are those their children?  The possibilities are endless.

I find that no matter how stressed I may be feeling at an airport, my compassion for and interest in others is always at its highest pitch. Mothers are fraught, children are fidgety, businesspeople are tired, backpackers are grubby, rockstars are obvious, cleaners are overlooked, baggage handlers get on with it, all humanity is ON THE GO.  It’s like seeing everyone with their clothes off, and everyone’s handling it the best they know how.  It’s fascinating.

It’s not surprising really that we’re all in an altered state of expectation and reality could spin off sideways at any minute.  I mean for heaven’s sake, whatever we have to do to square in our minds getting into a massive tin box and rising above the earth by thousands of feet to shoot across it, has to alter our everyday equilibrium.

So it could be exciting, exhilarating, desperate or scary.  Or why not just a little bit of all of that?  The perfectly balanced in-flight cocktail.

Yesterday I was at Heathrow to see my two children off to spend half term with their father in California.  My two chickadees.  My beloved two.  On their own, off across the world, in one tin box, together.  How could I be OK with that??  How could I stay calm?  The risk is so massive, and yet all of us do such things all the time. We just can’t think about it.  We’d never get out of bed.

The children and I were all very brave, we were all very upbeat.  The loving, meaningful exchanges didn’t happen because my teenage daughter got sassy and I snapped back.  Hey ho, not the Hallmark moment you’d like but definitely real.

And I’m sure they’re going to have a fantastic time.  They’ll watch all the in-flight movies, catch up with loads of friends, eat In n Out and enjoy time with their dad who has missed them greatly.

But then I watched my two going off down the corridor with their airline guardian.  And just for a second you catch their back view when their guard is down, and it’s written there in huge human letters.  What we ask of ourselves and each other all the time but cannot refer to.


My tears welled and, with a final bright wave, I turned briskly on my heel and drove home. I slept for fourteen hours straight.

If I remember that wherever they go they go in the hand of God, I cope. I can trust Him.

So God speed, my brave and bold chickadees.  Come back safe.

jsg/oct 16

Bite Me.

 

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Well, today struck another big blow to my life plan. Or at least the current one, the one I could see, of how to take care of myself and my kids.

But you know what? These situations have TEETH.  Isn’t today exactly the kind of day when you jump up and down a little on your foundations to see if they can still – really – hold your weight?

My friend, Rains, texted me on hearing:

“This is not a tragedy.                                                                                                                                     This is not a comedy.                                                                                                                                 This is a farce.”

I love that perspective.

In Proverbs 31 there is a passage about this ridiculously spectacular woman – the Wife of Noble Character. A) She does all the work while her husband sits in good repute at the City Gate (what the what?) B) She keeps it all together running her family while being an entrepreneur and C) She still looks fabulous all the time (but because she is clothed with ‘strength and dignity’ not Stella and Zac.)

However my favorite verse is this one:

 ‘She can laugh at the days to come.’

She can LAUGH at the days to come. Why?

Not because she’s made wise investments and the stock market won’t crash. Not because she’s married to the perfect spouse (sitting at the city gate??) Not because her children will never get sick. Not because she’s worked her butt off to ensure her family are secure. But because she knows she’s not ultimately in charge.

She’s not in charge of all the stuff that can go wrong or will go right. She can’t tilt the world on its axis and make the weather patterns change for her vineyard. She can’t have her finger in every pie and keep every plate spinning, no matter how noble she is. No one can.

But she can laugh – no matter what – because she knows the One who does and will move mountains in the everyday to take care of them.  He’s great at all this stuff.

If my life is a farce (which I think is how life should be viewed generally, Oscar Wilde was right) then I too choose to laugh.

I’ve had far worse blows than today’s (remember my panic last week?) My specific lack of knowing today is about money. But if I had all the money in the world I’d still be living and moving and breathing because of a loving God who allowed me still to be here. None of my life is a given. Not even my daily bread.

The only difference between today and yesterday is that I have new information. About my circumstances. No change, however, in the One who holds all my circumstances in the palm of His hand. Just like He did yesterday, just like He does today, and just like He will tomorrow.

So, today, I choose to put on my sparkle shoes and not tell my kids. I choose to do the next thing. Make my coffee and see the funny side now I’ve grasped (by writing it down) what this new info does and doesn’t mean.

What it does mean is that I am again fully reliant on Him and hyper alert to taking hold of new opportunities. Both my hands are back in His, and the rollercoaster continues.

What it does not mean is that my floorboards are rotten and I’ve fallen through my foundation. Because my house is built on solid rock.

So you know what, Satan and your scaremongers? BITE ME.

I’m laughing.

Sparkle Shoes

 

Jsg/may 16

Rollercoasters.

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I have a pathological hatred of rollercoasters. Here’s why.

When I was 21 years old, I flew off a freeway bridge in a car and landed on a major road 40 feet below. [Spoiler!] I survived, but needless to say I have loathed rollercoasters ever since. That feeling of your stomach dropping away from you and your limbs going limp above an enormous drop is specifically mortal to me. I loathe it.

However, I’m a mother and my two kids love rollercoasters. So, a few years ago, I succumbed and took them for the day to Six Flags Magic Mountain. My son was 7 at the time and fairly nervous so I, of course, pretended to be extremely confident.

Since I don’t even take the mini ones calmly, when they asked if we could ride X2 (the one that truly looked like death on a rail) I inwardly balked. “Sure!” I replied. “But it’s near the end of the day so we’ll only be able to do it once, OK?

As we approached the long line the children chatted excitedly while I drifted off into a catatonic reverie.

At the starting gate, my 9 year old daughter went with friends two rows behind me and my son.

“Just breathe,” I kept whispering to myself. My son looked as white as a sheet which was helpful so I concentrated on him instead.

“Look, G, it’s going to be really fun – and anyway very quick.”

“Really? Just very quick? Oh no!”

“No, no! Just the right amount of time really…”

We locked in. I always feel better in the ones that come down over your shoulders and not just over your legs to your waist. How can you not fall out of one of those? My knees press into the metal front as if somehow by force of will I can magnetize myself to the seat. But the ones with the shoulder bars coming down to lock over your chest do feel a lot safer. You can tell yourself there is no way you can fall out… you just have to hold on.

The cars started moving steadily up their long ascent: CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK. It was hideously slow, as if they were enjoying it. I distracted G by remarking on the loveliness of the weather and encouraging him to enjoy the incredible view we now got to see.

“Look, G!” I said, reassuring myself, “Look at that! We’d never have seen all this if we hadn’t…” and we were OFF.

At an insanely death-defying (one could only hope) speed, straight downhill, twisting around, hanging upside down, shooting to the sky, falling to earth, going through fire, misted by water, surrounded by screaming, over and over and over again.

As soon as it began I went from calm, maternal presence to screaming madwoman:  “DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES, G!! DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES!! DON’T.OPEN.YOUR. EYYYYYYYYYYYYYYES!!!!” I was really saying this more to myself than to him but it sounds better if I say I was doing it for him.

When the ride ended four hours (probably about 300 seconds) later, I wanted to stay exceptionally still for a very long time. I had no voice from screeching, but I did have that feeling of having inhaled vast amounts of oxygen in a very short time.

I glanced over at my son who was all bright pink cheeks and sparkling eyes. “Mom!” he said. “That was AWESOME!!! Can we go again? Why did you keep screaming at me?”

Suffice to say they will never go on that ride again – with me.

I was reminded of this experience a couple of days ago when I was praying with a friend. I was processing how out of control my life feels at the moment (nearing the end of divorce proceedings, out of work, trying to spin all the plates) and she said that the Lord gave her a picture in prayer for me.

“It’s of a rollercoaster,” she said. “You are sitting on the rollercoaster with the kids beside you and you all have your arms in the air. The kids are having a fabulous time.”

Long pause.

“Well I absolutely hate rollercoasters, you know that right?”

“Oh no!” she laughed. “Well it’s probably not at all from the Lord then! Just forget it.”

But I said I’d think about it. And when I did, I realized it was absolutely a word from the Lord for me. As always,  it was stunning in its specificity and knowingness.

Because what I received from Him was this: I am on a rollercoaster in this stage in my life. All the parts are constantly moving, twisting, hurtling me round, turning me upside down, spinning me, scorching me with fire and misting me with water. And I HATE IT. I absolutely hate it, and the Lord knows it.

It was as if He was saying to me:

“I know how much you hate this ride, Josie. I know how much, and specifically why you hate it. I know it all, and I’ve got you. You’re on it with the kids and – in spite of everything – they’re still having a good time. They’re largely able to enjoy it simply because you’re there with them and you’re telling them it’ll be OK. Which it will be. Because I’ve got you.

Stay the course, Josie. You don’t have to enjoy it, you just have to endure it. You are safely locked in – bottom and top – in my arms and I will never let you go.

You can never fall out of my arms, my Josie, or fall out of my purpose. My purposes will stand for your life, and for the children’s lives. I am the faithful God who has brought you through everything this far – even the thing that gave you your fear of rollercoasters – and I’m not going to change now.

You don’t have to put your arms in the air and you don’t have to pretend before me. But I’ll tell you this. Because you’re completely safe in the midst, perhaps you can put your arms in the air in praise. Because the outcome of this ride is sure, Josie. There will always be rides to go on in your life but this particular one, just like all the others, will end.

Keep focused on the finish line, even as the course swerves and hurtles and pivots and dives and spins about you. Keep focused on that moment which is surely coming when you will splash heavily down into that final stretch of water and glide to a stop. And I will have been with you all along.

You don’t have to enjoy it, my Josie, and maybe you can’t. But if you open your eyes occasionally to the bigger picture, you will get views you never could have seen if I didn’t have you where you are.

You can trust me. I’ve got you.

I’ve thought about this picture constantly ever since. And you know what I realize? I realize that since I can’t get off the ride until it’s over, and since I can’t fall out and I know the end is sure, I can resolve to have an attitude of victory about it.

Even if I do need to keep my eyes tightly shut in the midst of it all.

Jsg/Mar 16

Never underestimate the blessing of an easy fix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jsg/nov 15