Category Archives: single motherhood

Finishing God’s Sentences.

img_6215

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:

img_6337

Last week, as I lay face down in worship pondering where God might lead me next, I distinctly heard Him say this:  “THINK BIGGER!

**************************************************************************

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

Weather Wise.

IMG_4165

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

IMG_3947

IMG_3942

IMG_3955

To this

IMG_3978

IMG_3980

Then back to this again

IMG_4084

IMG_4070

IMG_4110

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?

IMG_4163

IMG_4183

IMG_4170

IMG_4168

So like life.

 

jsg/March 17

Bite Me.

 

Christ pic

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.

X2001

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

Sick Mothers.

Dogs:bed:blog

As mothers, we are sick. I mean it is totally sick what we manage to get done.

We keep going, we get through Christmas, we’re into a New Year and we’re still spinning those plates. (Are you kidding me right now In Style about how I look? SHUT.UP.)

Just being a mother is more than enough. I’m not even talking about running the household, marriage, finance management, outside the house employment, community commitments and extended family ties.   I’m just talking food, shelter and clothing emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually for our offspring. No matter their age. (In my experience, what changes over time isn’t intensity but its genre.)

And so what happens when a mom actually gets “sick” sick? Well for a start we don’t get sick. We just have a slight cold/irritating cough/feel “a bit off”. Am I right?

And, again in my experience, we only get “sick” sick when all other options are taken away from us. I can count a number of occasions over the years when this has been true for me.

You see there’s a reason it says in the 23rd psalm “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Once, when very sick, I asked the Lord why He hadn’t simply and gently suggested it. To which the reply came, “I tried.”

Both my kids were sick over Christmas and New Year. It was only last week when they went back to school that I realized I had not managed to shake off the “slight cold” I’d had myself (alcohol really doesn’t work?). I dropped them back and went to bed thinking, “Man, I’ve got to kick this thing quick!” But I got worse. And worse.

By Thursday, I resorted with reluctance to Urgent Care where they chided me with suspected pneumonia. Whoops, and at least I got the drugs and was ordered to rest. (Ordered!)

Now I’m no stoic. But I’m a single mother and when was I going to cancel everything in the precious two weeks over Christmas break? And who could I call?

I find it extraordinarily tricky as a single mother to reach out for help from married mother friends. Because in the end you feel like you’re always asking, even if you only ask every couple of months or so and ask different people. What is this about? Do I project my neediness onto them because of my own recognition of gaping need, or am I actually seen as an imposition?

Well let me say, it is just so lonely, lonely, lonely trying to do this motherhood thing alone. I’m not willing to be a chirpy-brave-robust blogger about it because there must be someone out there who feels like me and I want to shout, “You’re not alone!!” And I’ve got pneumonia so cut me some slack.

Before I was a single mother, I had no idea what that meant. I felt sick just imagining the relentlessness of life for my single mother friends, but I didn’t get it and – in all truth – felt slightly annoyed when they asked for my help because didn’t they get that I was incredibly busy myself?

So, to all you TOTALLY SICK MOTHERS out there of every stripe! Spare a thought for your single mother friends. Don’t wait for them to get sick. Don’t wait for them to ask. Don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” “You’re amazing, I don’t know how you do it.” Just help. Do it. Offer it. Suggest. They’re the ones straggling at the end of the relay race we’re all trying to run, except they’re doing it with the same amount to carry as that which was meant to be borne by two.

And we need you! And you need us. Because we can now contribute in new and different ways to your life as well. Ask us. One of the most powerful things about motherhood is the brilliance of its mutuality. Don’t you think? Gather us back into the center of the pack. We are needlessly exposed on the edge.

No one can ever replace you as the mother of your kids. But mothering can be done by many. And, of course, I’m fifty and who do I want now I’m really sick? My own beloved mum, five and a half thousand miles away. 

Version 2

 

Jsg/jan 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make an end is to make a beginning.

New Year Fireworks 16

Happy New Year! As I watched the kids gasp at the fireworks from our garage roof last night, I thought of T.S. and how right he was.

Much of the good endures from 2015. And as I step over the threshold (climb, really) into 2016 I recognize that I can choose to leave much of the bad behind me. I can make an end of whatever I choose not to carry further, and let it explode in a glorious mass of sparks. I can feel the explosion of its weight bursting in my heart and setting me free as I move forward with the scent of smoke dissipating behind me.

Thank God! It is just too weighty holding on to so much story.

So here’s what I choose this day:

I choose faith.

I choose to thought-check. Daily.

I choose opportunity.

I choose generosity.

I choose my kids now, my time will come.

I choose hope.

I choose unimaginable possibility.

And, most of all, I choose the unknown.

Because if this year is indeed new, isn’t it all unknown really? I choose not to frame it. Not to limit it. Not to assume “knownness” upon it.    I know the One who does know, and it’s not me.

So.

Today I climb out of the old.

And I clamber over into the new.

I’m ending all that I can – I’m saying “No More” to “All That” – in order to make a beginning. And I’m not going to pick it all up again.

The end is where we start from.

Join me?

Self

 

 

Jsg/jan 16

 

 

 

A better path, a better place.

Version 2

 

‘But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.’

This fall I decided to build a better path in my side yard. The old one had disappeared under weeds and years of neglect and what could still be seen was only visible by dogs’ paws digging it up.

I had to tear out what remained of the original termite-ridden wooden planks, spray Round Up liberally on all the weeds then wait to pull them up. I had to dig over the soil to remove stones, and then start again.

I needed to find the right materials to make a path that would last, and in sufficient amounts that rain, puppies and kids would not be able to wash or dig or kick it away. And I needed to find its edges, and lay down its new boundaries.  Then soak it with water and stamp it down to make it firm.

Such an obvious parable for my own life I had to laugh.

Now, in the days leading up to Christmas, I think of Mary and Joseph and the new path they had to make. Their life together was not to be a continuation of the path they had known. Theirs was to be an entirely new way and they were walking blind.

‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

Mary committed to Joseph on the old path and Joseph had asked a girl he thought he knew. But they had to pull all that up, find the right materials and start again on a path they knew almost nothing about.  The only thing they had to hold onto was the nature of the One who had made the path and chosen them for it.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think they both might have wished for something easier, less publicly testing, less vulnerable to misconstrual.

I should think there were lots of things Mary might have liked to add to their path. Her mum, for example. Giving birth alone with only her new husband on hand? Exhausted, dirty and in a stable?

And Joseph. Some kind of public covering might have been nice. A small cabale of male friends who got it, who knew the truth and who understood at least as much as Joseph did. (Maybe there were, but we don’t hear about them. At least Mary got Elizabeth.)

They had the right materials though, and they had them in sufficient supply. They knew who had spoken to them and what He had said. They knew He wouldn’t let them down: ‘These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.’

We get the Magnificat from Mary, not the agony of doubt. And Joseph held his own. No nipping down the tavern to mope with some mates.

They knew their path had boundaries and what those boundaries were. They knew those boundaries delineated their intended course and so they knew to stay within them.

It didn’t mean they were ‘safe’ in the way we would like it to mean. That new path led to some unimaginably terrible places. Places they could not possibly have foreseen when they set out. But every step they took was leading them to a better place, a better destination than the journey itself could ever provide.

That’s the thing about a path. Its purpose is to get you somewhere, it’s not a place to stop.

My new path is similarly unknown. God-built, it’s taking me through some stark and intimidating landscapes. However it’s not leaving me in them. I’m just passing through and I’m not alone. The One who made my path is determining my steps. So I’m keeping going.

And I am on a better path now. On my way to a better place.

I wish you too a Happy Christmas wherever you are. Wherever you’ve got to on the path laid before you, arise and shine.

Our Light has come.

Immanuel.

 

Jsg/dec 2015