Beggars can choose.

Sky

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 anway.

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).

Falling in

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

Toads

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

Marching.

Do you feel like me?

God has brought you out of a difficult situation only to deliver you into another which is far from easy?  In some ways really hard?  And the not easy/really hard just seems to go on and on and on and on and on?

It has made me question the nature of my faith.  I seem constantly to be asking the Lord to “come through” for me.  To resolve situations, remove circumstances, bring in easier times, make life work within the framework of what I can see and hope for.

Is this what the life 0f faith is about?  This constant hoping for a period – even the balance of one’s years – when seas are calm and skies are blue and all temptation, hardship and challenge is taken away?

Because – if this is what I am subconsciously always waiting, hoping and praying for – what book am I reading?

I need to change my paradigm to recognise that struggle is my life.  And that’s not a bad thing. Struggle is what the Lord uses to change me, to move me forward, to peel away the layers of my selfishness and egotism to reveal a life far reacher for being lived for the sake of Him for others rather than for myself.

How I rail against this and beseech God to give me a frickin’ break!                                               But perhaps it is in His kindness that He does not.

Because I have not stopped growing.  My circumstances have not allowed me to become complacent and ready to stay put. I am not satisfied, my life has driven me forward to find more of Christ. To test Him and find that He’s true over and over again.  My life continues to be uncomfortable, challenging, heartbreaking. It constantly forces me to challenge my faith and find God here with me right where I am. Not where I wish I could be, but right here where I am.

I say I want to be in a life condition of floating-on-a-floaty-in-a-pool-under-a-cloudless-sky, but God and I both know I’d become bored almost immediately. (Almost immediately. I’m not nuts.)

I say I want the Promised Land and I want it now, but when I look at scripture the Promised Land didn’t provide floaties either.

I think of the Israelite army marching around the walls of Jericho.  Can you imagine?  They’re IN the Promised Land … and now this? They have to take this Promised Land, it’s not just given to them. (Josie? Are you listening?)

The Israelites have to walk around the city wall once a day for six days.  Can you imagine the conversations on about Day 3?  Day 5??

“We’re sure, right? We’re really, really, really sure this is what God wants us to do? My feet hurt, we look ridiculous.”

Just keep going, marching, marching, marching.

Then on Day 7, they have to march around the city wall SEVEN times.  “What if nothing happens?  What are we going to do then?”

Just keep going, marching, muttering, marching, muttering, muttering, marching.

Then at the long blast of the horn, SHOUT!

And the walls did come down and the Lord gave them the city.  The walls did come down just as God promised they would.  And the only way for the Israelites to find out what God was doing and what God had in store for them was to KEEP GOING.  To keep doing exactly what God had told them to do until the time was fulfilled when God would act.

Not stop half way.

Not lose heart.

Not quit.

Marching gives you a lot of time to think.  And to become aware.  And to be changed.

I think I’m on Day 3 of marching. So there’s a lot more marching to come.  Not a whole lot of change-up in the routine at the moment.  And I’m holding the story of Jericho to my heart. I’m plastering the Israelites faithfulness onto mine and I’m claiming the signs God has given me that He is right here and purposing all that the children and I are going through, just as He did for Israel.  I’m doing what God told me to do, I’ve gone where God told me to go, I’m trying to live the life God calls me to live.

At times I feel exhausted and despairing. I have my marching orders, feelings only discourage me from following them. So feelings, get down!  This is a battle for my mind.

God has promised there is land for me. I’m marching on.

And I’m turning my praise music up LOUD. You?

jsg/feb 17

Dear Daughter (a letter to my teenager)

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‘When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least…’

Dear Daughter,

Oy, another day! What can I say.

You are journeying through that savage landscape called teenagehood. Each day  brings a different conflict/insecurity/anxiety/pressure/fear/despair/uncertainty. It’s like Groundhog Day for the adolescent and who wants that?  No sooner do you get the hang of one thing, than everyone and everything changes places again. It’s exhausting.

As your mother, you and I notice that my responses vary.  I’ve tried sombre listening, patience, perspective, encouragement, humour, impatience (never good), rebuke (who thought this was a good idea?) and then all the way through to major irritation and my own exasperated fury. I’m sorry when I don’t get it right, darling girl. Please forgive me.  I would take all yuk away from you if I could and it’s hard to have to watch.

But I do know something you don’t.  That you won’t even remember most of all this in a few years’ time.  And that anything I say to you now from my own vantage point won’t be very helpful because – on some level – there are no answers.  You’re just experiencing what we all have to go through: the lifelong and often painful process of character refinement. Which hurts!

So I think my best response in the meantime should be sombre listening before subtle redirection, what do you think?

The good news is that, as your mum, I am not completely powerless over the dragon of these years. I am praying for you, and my daily prayer request from now on shall include this:

That you would find some spot, some moment in each day or when you lay your head to sleep at night, where you close your eyes and can feel the warmth of God’s love on your face.  That singular warmth that starts at the top of your head and slowly seeps through every fibre of your being until you know that you are, in FACT,

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Perfect in His sight

A joy to your Father’s heart

Worth losing everything to win you back

A bright light

A fresh breeze

A sparkly girl

Precious and fully known

Fully loved

Specific, purposed and unique,

And always forgiven.

That you would feel that sun warm through every part of your being as the ash and dust and grit of your day soaks off to leave you only radiant and refreshed.

For, tbh, that’s the only response to all these teenage woes really. Certainly the only response with any real power.

Find that spot each day, my darling girl, and lift your face. Then you too can finish your sonnet like Shakespeare:

‘Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.’

I love you, my precious one. Teenage on,

Mum.

jsg/feb 17

Artists’ Date.

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

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

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

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

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

And to be so greatly loved.

jsg/feb 17

Snarky texts and sassy comebacks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May the grace roll out before me.

jsg/feb 2017

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

 

 

 

 

Speaker, teacher, actress, artist, mum, believer… not in that order.