Tag Archives: Divorce

Judgment.

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‘Judge not that ye not be judged.’

This verse has always made me cringe.  Because I judge so easily.  Do you?

I “work out” who someone is within twenty seconds:

“No no, all teeth and tan.”

“Blimey, I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of that.”

“Homeless.  What happened to them?

It helps me to remember the immediate response to people I have in my own heart, when I feel hurt by the judgment of others.

Which I do.

One of the hardest things I find about divorce is feeling so constantly judged. Now I realise much of this is probably my own projection.  We worry about what others think of us when really they’re simply not thinking about us at all, they’re thinking about what people are thinking about them.

But forget other people.  As a divorced woman, as a Christian divorced woman, I judge myself.  I am constantly levelling judgment against myself.

It gets to that moment in the conversation when I have to say, “Actually I’m a single mum.  Yup.  My divorce was final this summer,” that judgment rears its head.  I gulp.  My stomach lurches forward a little.  My face takes on the pinched look of a hamster in pain plastered under a bright smile that’s meant to cover my shame and communicate, “I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine! Yes, I’m all squared away on this.  Yes, me and the Lord, we’re squared away on this. Yup. Yup.  Here I am.”

And then depending on how guilty/ashamed I feel on any particular day, I might stop there or sputter on about how I never expected to be divorced blah-blah-blahtyty-blah. As if that means that somehow I’m not?

I feel the need to justify myself even when there’s nothing I can say.

Because the thing is, even though it’s true that I am squared away with the Lord about it, I always wish I wasn’t divorced.  I wish I wasn’t a single mum.  I wish we could be a regular family unit.

But we couldn’t. It was not possible. So here I am.  I couldn’t have changed the course of action I ultimately had to take, I just wish my life hadn’t been that.  I wish I hadn’t had to take that course. I wish my children lived with two parents.  I wish we’d been functional.  I wish we’d managed to make it work.  I wish we’d got it sorted out.

But it wasn’t possible.  My head knows that but my heart still grieves it.  It probably always will.  And so my condemnation against myself – legitimate or otherwise – remains.

And then there are the moments when even the people who know my story, the people who know all its ins and outs and know me, display – unwittingly – their own judgment on my situation.  My single mother state. My divorced-Christian-woman state.

And it’s devastating.  It’s doubly devastating because even though they love me they – just like me – cannot ultimately conceal their own prejudice about where I am.  Judgement rises like a subtle mist out of an apparently innocent exchange.  Here’s a recent example.

In order to better understand my current circumstances and my depression, I asked someone very close to me to think through the following scenario:

“I’m 51. Where were you when you were my age?  What stage in your life had you reached by then?  Think about it for a moment.  Have you got it in your head?  Can you see yourself back then?  OK.  

Now think about how you felt about who you were at this life-stage.  What had you achieved work-wise?  How long had you been married?  How many homes had you created?  How many times had you moved?  How many children did you have?  How did you feel about yourself as a functioning adult?

Now, imagine this for a minute.  Imagine that everything you’d built up in your adult life gets ripped away from you.  Can you imagine that?  I really want you to try for a minute. Your home’s gone, your marriage is gone, your career’s gone.  You are now – despite all intention and expectation – the sole provider for your children. Who are traumatized and needing enormous amounts of emotional support.  Financially, the only responsible decision is to move back in with your parents.  

You can’t believe it.  Are you kidding?  Move back in with mum and dad?  Really?  Now?  At your age?  

Yes.  I want you to imagine what that would be like.

This is your situation and you now have to think extremely carefully about whatever capital you have left.  You must save, which makes the only responsible option to come back under your father’s roof.  At this stage in your life, now.  

Can you imagine that?

This means you will also have to come back under your mother’s way of doing things – not your own which you’ve developed over decades as an adult – but hers.  You love your mother, but you learned to do things your own way long ago.

You’ve had to leave all your possessions behind and so your parents – with massive generosity – have offered you rooms in their house until you can get back on your feet.  How does this make you feel?

You must – respectfully – find a way to make space in their house for you and your children. It is not actually your space, it is their home and their things.  So you must try and create boundaries tenderly, firmly, gratefully.  You buy a few essentials, but really you are cobbling together an existence with nothing that actually belongs to either you or your children. Yet you must try to make it your own recognisable home. Your own refuge.

And now as well as your home not being your own, your time is not your own. Your choices cannot be yours alone.  Everything must be gauged, weighed, measured, received.  For you are no longer an independent agent in any manner or by any means.  You, of necessity, are entirely reliant on the kindness of others.

Can you imagine all that?   Can you imagine what that must be like?

That’s my life right now.  Can you imagine it?”

There was a long pause, and then here it came.  The unbearably, unwittingly revealing response:

“No, to be honest, I can’t.  Because it’s just so totally improbable.”

My breath caught.  There it was.  Judgment lurking unspoken underneath even given all the facts.  Judgment that cannot help but eventually make itself known.  Because you know what they’re really saying?  “You see I can’t imagine it, Josie. Because I would never have let it happen to me.

They echo the thoughts I have toward myself.  And it guts me.

So next time I (for example) judge a homeless woman for being homeless?  I’m going to stop myself in my tracks and say this:

“You know what, Josie?  She could have made all the right decisions and still ended up homeless.  You know why?  Because she’s a human being and life happens.”

And maybe, just maybe, that will lessen the sting when I feel so judged myself.

 

jsg/oct 16

 

 

 

The tyranny of the other.

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

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

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

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

Or a calling.

Or a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we have that choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

jsg/oct 16

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

 

 

A Severe Mercy.

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We all have our favorites, right?  In the Bible, my two favorite women are Sarah and Ruth.

Sarah, because no matter what Abraham did she remained faithful to God. And God honored her.

Ruth, because she played the hand she was dealt.  

I’m sure Ruth did not want to be widowed and she did not want to be childless. But she was.  However, she didn’t bugger off home like the other widowed sister-in-law. She looked around at what was left and thought, “Right.  I’ve got my mother-in-law, Naomi, and she’s got a God she trusts.  I’ll go with her and her God, and together we’ll find our Kinsman Redeemer and he’ll take care of us.  And then we’ll go from there.”

And of course she did this. She and Naomi found Boaz, he did the honorable thing and he and Ruth got married.  And from their line -from Ruth’s faithfulness and Boaz doing the right thing – eventually came Jesus. Who saved everyone.

All because Ruth played the hand she had been dealt.  She didn’t refuse the cards.

The problem with stories we know well is that we re-read them already knowing the ending:

“And of course Ruth met Boaz and it was all tickety-boo in the end.”

“And of course Noah obeyed God. The rain came down and the flood came up and they were marooned with stinky animals for aaaages. But the dove came back, the waters went down and there was land for them and on they went.”

“Well of course Joseph‘s brothers did try to kill him BUT (after various nasty episodes) it all came right. Because Joseph became ruler of Egypt and his brothers had to come begging, his dad survived to see him and he forgave everyone in the end.”

And we re-read them and praise God’s faithfulness and thank Him for His same faithfulness today.

Yet it’s hard to rejoice when you don’t know the end of your own story, and the people in the Bible didn’t know theirs either. What was it like for them?

No one talks about Ruth’s grief in her story line.  I bet she walked in tears most of the way with Naomi. Questioning God, questioning why her life should have gone that way.  But she kept walking. Ruth persevered which must mean that (unlike Naomi) she had hope that her story wasn’t over. She wouldn’t give up.  She refused to go, “Well stuff this. It’s over for me. What’s the point.” She did the next thing available, and then the next, and then the next.

Which is actually the only way one can walk out one’s story, right?  There is no skipping chapters.  There is no flipping to the back page to check in advance.

So I have had to ask, like Ruth, “What are the cards I’ve been dealt, and what can I do with them now?”

Like Ruth I weep for no marriage and no home, but I have two beautiful children and I have somewhere that we can go. And have now gone.  It’s just on the other side of the world.

The opportunity to be here is a severe mercy because it forces me and the children to leave so much behind. But it is mercy nonetheless. To be allowed to return and be present to people we love. While they are still here to be present to.

So, like Ruth, I shall persevere and do the next thing.

The story isn’t over.

 

 

jsg/aug 16

 

Moving.

So tomorrow, we fly away.

It has been an intense couple of weeks.  Two yard sales and everything boxed up, packed up or given away in the last 14 days.

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This is my nineteenth move and I know from experience that one takes all the time allowed.  Hence I chose to do it swiftly like a marine charge (“YAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!”) And there is a mercy to speed. Not enough time to think too much.

My children are thirteen and ten and conflicted about leaving the only home they’ve ever known, so I gave them a free pass.  As many playdates, away days and video games as they could squeeze in were all maternally blessed.  It’s enough they were having to go through it, they didn’t need Evil Queen screaming at them to hurry up or not forget.

I know I also have a huge advantage over them.  I have a track record of God taking me through this process many, many, many times.  I know how enormous moving is in the process, and how tiring. I know the (sometimes) uncertainty about where you will land next and when.  And I’ve seen God cover every detail, even at (in fact often at) the eleventh hour.  It’s a whacky ride at best and I’ve never had to experience it in conjunction with the breaking up of my parents’ marriage and my family home, as well as for the first time.

My children are though.  So in my book, they’re doing brilliantly.  The occasional slammed door, sassy response, colorful profanity or dropped ball is fine with me. They’re getting through it and that’s what counts.

In the midst, we’ve had all three dogs suffering from “suitcase syndrome” around us. Agonized looks at every turn of “How could you?” “Are you leaving us?” “It’s the end of the world!” “You’re dead to me now, you cruel woman.”

And then yesterday when we dropped them off for a month at a heavenly kennel run by friends, they wagged their tails without a backward glance as they immediately got taken off for a walk.

Yesterday evening was the children’s and my last night together at the house.  A slammed door and a video game left me the peace and quiet to go and sit for a while on the cement of the back porch, lean my back against the wall and think.

I too was crying, but when I thought of sadness or regret it didn’t seem to hit the mark.  What hit me instead – and to my surprise – was an immense in-filling of gratitude. The bread of tears. There was nothing more to say than “Thank You.”

Thank you, Lord, for sustaining us here.

Thank you for protecting us.

Thank you for all the life you poured into us through this house.

Thank you for the fantastic neighbors you placed around us.

Thank you for new friendships forged here in hardship and happiness.

Thank you for keeping us here.

Thank you for giving us this space for exactly as long as we needed it.

And thank you now for moving us on.

Three years ago, I planted two fruit trees from my sister in the yard.  We had seen only two daring oranges and two tentative grapefruit up until this year.  The orange still has an only child, but the grapefruit for the first time has gone gangbusters.  There must be forty fruit on that little tree.  And we’re going to miss the harvest.


But the gal who’s moving in here won’t.  She’s going to really enjoy them.  So it’s not wasted fruit at all.  It’s fruit intended for her.

And so I pray that too, Lord, for my life and for the children’s lives.  That all the fruit You have grown in us here, all the learnings that are still green in us, You will continue to grow and ripen and multiply as we move forward.

That none of us is wasted.  None of this is wasted.  That we will constantly bless new recipients, possibly ones we haven’t even met yet.

All in good time.

 

jsg/july 16

Faith as Extreme Sport.

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Today we celebrate Independence Day in America and, though British, I’m aligning myself with the Patriots.

They were prepared to lose everything to get out of an unholy alliance. If the Crown refused to get the point, the Patriots would have to make it for themselves.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Bicentennial described the outcome thus:

“We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time, and the manner of yielding, what is impossible to keep.

I’m identifying with the Patriots because they set themselves on a course to liberation and independence, as have I. It’s a tough road but I’m strengthened by the fact that, similarly, it was the only reasonable choice to make.

I can see only a few steps ahead. Just when I think the incline might be easing up, I get hit with something I haven’t faced before.

The upside is discovering that all the previous obstacles have made me stronger for all those still coming up.  I can now climb a higher wall, I can now sprint a longer distance, I can now carry a heavier load.  I may not like it, but look – I can do it!

As my sister put it, my divorce has turned my faith into extreme sport. I am leaping vastly, stretching widely and carrying more not to test myself, but because that’s what is right in front of me. Divorce has pushed my faith further and harder than I think it can possibly go.  Yet as I stick to the path, I discover what my faith is really made of.

Divorce has thrown me to depths where I’ve had the opportunity to discover God’s love can still reach me.

It has added to my load until the only means forward has been to kneel down and crawl.

Its waves and squalls have smashed me in the face until I’ve learned that God is my oxygen and my breaths can be timed.  (i.e. do not panic and drink salt water!  It makes you puke. Timing is everything.)

This epic life of faith (so say I) reminds me of the courses set in American Ninja Warrior.  Athletes undertake a seemingly impossible course to test their strength and agility.  (Nothing beats this clip of Kacy Catanzaro from 2014.)

As I watch these Ninjas, I find some helpful parallels for the life of faith:

  1. As a Ninja or a Christian, you’re discovering your commitment. Can you stick it out?  Will you? Your course is laid out before you, only you can choose to do it and only you can persevere to complete it.
  2. For both Ninjas and Christians, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing around you.  Focusing on their race can only delay yours.
  3. The bystanders choosing to watch can either help or hinder.  Be grateful for the helpers and try to ignore those booing and throwing cans of tomatoes at your head.  Shouldn’t they just be getting on with their own race?  Remember they can’t stop you, even though their attempts can hurt.
  4. The Christian’s race as with the Ninja’s is not about time but completion.  Kacy Catanzaro chose not to watch the clock but focus on carefully overcoming each obstacle.  (Smart thinking in both scenarios.)
  5. The goal for both types of competitor is to keep going.  If you fall in the water, climb back up onto the platform.  If a can of tomatoes hits you in the eye, stop!  Nurse the cut, clean up the mess then carry on as you were.
  6. If you’re actually injured, give yourself time to heal.  But then just keep on going.

Paul wrote to Timothy from prison just before he was beheaded on account of his faith:

‘I have fought the good fight,                                                                                                                 I have finished the race,                                                                                                                         I have kept the faith.’

If he could do it with the help of God, so can we don’t you think?  If we focus on what is coming next, and recognize the strength God has already built in us along the way?

We can do this

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Jsg/July 16

 

 

Keeping Calm While Taking on Water.

I panicked this week. I ended up shouting at my ex on the street. It was horrible.

Horribly public.

Horribly undignified.

Horribly futile.

Horribly childish.

I was out of ideas. I could not think fast enough how to counter preposterous comment verbalized as calm reality. I just couldn’t think fast enough to refute soberly what was declared as fact. So I screamed with rage and insult.

And the children were there. Who are fully aware. Watching, seeing, hearing, listening.

It was awful, and shocking.

And in response afterwards I panicked about what I must do to stop this ever happening again. I felt desperate, horrifyingly on my own and wholly responsible to create an effective boundary to prevent a repeat performance. Ever.

I have been on this particular battlefield for a long time now. I have good days and bad days. I have days when I can look back on my responses and my actions and think, “Classy, well done. You backed away, you didn’t speak, you took the high road.”

And then there are examples like this week.

Later as I lay on my bed staring in muted fury at the ceiling, I asked the Lord what I could learn from it. And He told me this: “Where pride gives up, grace remains.”

What does that mean? Well, you see, I want to be dignified through all this conflict. I want to take the high road. I want to be mature and Godly and, honestly, I don’t want to get tarred with the same brush – “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” 

However, there are times on these mighty seas where my boat appears to be taking on so much water I resort to desperate measures. I grab whatever comes to hand to beat back the waves.

Do I keep calm? Are you kidding?! In these moments I’m not keeping calm! I’m just surviving.  And – I have to remind myself – the whole point is to survive. Survival is victory. Not the manner in which I achieve it but the fact that I will have done so.

This incident confronted me with the truth that – of course, Josie! – it won’t always be pretty and I won’t always behave as I would wish BUT… at the end of the day I will still be here. I will still be functioning and able to continue on. Only with the immeasurable advantages of greater strength and less encumbrance.

As I reflected on the incident, my greatest grief (apart from the childrens’ witness) was about my own behavior. And this realization broke my pride. I had engaged. I had allowed myself to become so publicly naked, so nakedly desperate, and so childishly aggressive. As if I should have known better, could have done better. HA!

And with the breaking of pride came breakthrough. The platform I had been standing on looking down on my opponent cracked and broke beneath me. Shame and disappointment crashed down on my head and I fell and fell and fell to the hard ground beneath.

Which turned out to be the Rock of grace that had been there all along.

Waiting for me to land.

 

 

Jsg/June 16

As for me and my house.

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I remember, I remember,

The house where I was born,

The little window where the sun

Came peeping in at morn –

 

I remember, I remember,

Where I was used to swing,

And thought the air must rush as fresh

To swallows on the wing –

 

I remember, I remember,

The roses, red and white,

The vi’lets, and the lily-cups,

Those flowers made of light!

The lilacs where the robin built,

And where my brother set

The laburnum on his birthday,—

The tree is living yet!’

 

The divorce was finalized last week. Not something really to celebrate, although the relief was enormous.

Now the mighty wheels of change are beginning to grind forward. The For Sale sign went up in the front yard on Tuesday and down to its very bones the house was spruced up by yours truly for picture-taking on Wednesday.

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Losing the house is a particularly harsh consequence for my two. Their lives have been framed by its walls from the moment they came home from the hospital.  I have a different story.

It was our first and only home as a married couple.  We had been living in Santa Monica in his house after we married.  Then on December 23rd 2002 – me heavily pregnant with our firstborn – we were told by new owners that they would pay us to leave our rent-controlled nest by the end of January.  This placed me way too close to the Nativity story for my own liking.

There was no way we could afford to buy a home.  And yet, through God’s extraordinary timing and economy, we found this sweet house.  On account of my morning sickness, we asked God to show us a house on our first day of looking.  And He did!  I walked into this room and was overwhelmed by the light and space.

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However, surely it couldn’t be sensible to plump for one on the first day without looking around at other options?  All prayer instantly forgotten.  So we passed and it immediately got snapped up by brighter people.

Three weeks later and realizing with every passing day what wallies we had been – the house was truly the diamond in the coal heap of our price range – it miraculously dropped out of escrow.  The couple passed for one of the very reasons we loved it – so many families in the neighborhood. We made an offer within the hour and someone made another shortly after at a higher price.  Again miraculously, the owners who were Christian decided to take our offer of asking price.  There is no explanation for this kindness other than Kingdom living.

I was in heaven.  We had very little to do inside the house before the baby came.  Looking back now it had so little decor or personality, but it belonged to us and so I thought it was glorious.

We stumbled through several years of mortgage, paying by hook or by crook. However we went under threat of foreclosure in 2007.   And there we stayed for five years.  Five whole years.

During that time, I kept saying to the Lord, “Anything but the house, Lord.  Please don’t let us lose the house!  I can’t handle two small children with no home to handle them in. Please no.”

Then three years into the five, I was sitting in church when the Pastor said, “What in your life have you not surrendered to God?” And it hit me like a brick: “The HOUSE!” I thought.  “I am holding on with all my might to the house.  As if to keep the house would somehow keep us safe.”

In that moment of revelation, I could also physically feel the amount of emotional energy draining out of me by holding onto it with white knuckles every single day.  “God’s got us, Josie,” I counseled my weary self.  “Wherever you are in Him, you’ll be OK.  You can trust Him. You can let it go.” So I did.  And the relief was tangible.

After five years, without any possible explanation other than divine, the bank granted us a loan modification (we had been through three applications right up to the point of signing, and then told to start over.  God.)  On paper there was no way we were eligible.  They also forgave us almost a quarter million in debt.  Why?  No earthly reason.  Watching ‘The Big Short’ last Christmas drove this truth home to me even more sharply.

Over the past two years of separation, I have prayed and tried to find ways not to uproot the kids by leaving the house.  My bedrock assurance has been that if we were meant to stay here, God would make a way.  He had done it so many times before.

But He has not this time. So I stand on the consequent truth that He is indeed moving us on.   The children and I are being called to carve out a new start. Which can only be a good thing and one for which one may be grateful, no matter how poignant the leave-taking.

IMG_5498[The hand painted numbers which seemed like such a great Color Me Mine family project. In theory.]IMG_5582[My ducks from Godmother Quill that have followed me all the way from Glasgow.]IMG_5594[Stu’s puppy picture remains in pride of place.]IMG_5581[Me and my brother, David.]IMG_5583

For over thirteen years, this home has housed all our laughter and many of our tears.  Christmas mornings and caroling suppers.  Endless summer birthday parties with games in the garden, and celebrations at long tables under the sun-slatted/twinkle-lit patio roof. Hammocks and swings, Easter egg hunts and learning to ride bikes on the front lawn.  Dinner parties and barbecues and firepits and yard sales.  Beloved dogs, puppies, hamsters, fish, butterflies, mice and – for a short season – uninvited rats.  Possums have run along our wires and squirrels have woken us squabbling outside our windows.  Birds have nested in our honeysuckle and daily choose to congregate on our cables for their social hour.  I think they love our hedge of bougainvillea.  When my English mother thinks of our home, she can hear the birdsong in her mind.

IMG_5686[My Mothers Day gift. Hummingbirds constantly hover in the honeysuckle.]IMG_5608[The honeysuckle were planted two weeks before Sarah Jane was born.]IMG_5607IMG_5617[Stuey’s memorial garden.]IMG_5626IMG_5602IMG_5604[The hammock that broke my back – and then God healed!]

I have planted roses and fruit trees, and found a biblically blossom-less fig.  We’ve had vegetables, wildflowers and herbs.  We’ve done swing sets, trampolines (briefly two at once), badminton and frisbee.  Who knows at this point how many boomerangs, balls, bears, shuttlecocks and possibly a kite nestle amid the honeysuckle on our roof?

And I have painted.  Over the years I have painted every single room in the house – several more than once.  The kids got their blackboard walls and I finally got my rosy-apple-red front door.  Only last summer I painted golden stripes on the living room wall that continue to give me endless enjoyment every day –I mean, come on! Who can’t love a stripey wall.

IMG_5693[Me and my sister, Jinny.]IMG_5692IMG_5618IMG_5557

The pictures show how I have made the house over the past two years.  I gave the children their own rooms and my bedroom also became my office.  I ripped out all the carpets to reveal the gorgeous original wood floors.

IMG_5565[Where the coat rack fell out of the wall after an overpacked backpack proved its nemesis.]IMG_5523IMG_5524IMG_5525IMG_5529IMG_5526IMG_5708[The bluebirds I painted for SJ to keep her looking up.]

IMG_5501[Minecraft green. Obv.]IMG_5503[The loft bed Guy and I put together with only half the instructions from IKEA.Then cut the legs off.]IMG_5502[Blackboard doors!]IMG_5505

IMG_5511[The red hallway I let the kids paint with their paintbrushes after Picasso.]IMG_5508IMG_5513IMG_5517IMG_5518IMG_5643[The bed where I lay for months in 2013 listening to the birds outside.]

Every object in the house has a meaning and a story.  The only thread that pulls all the styles together is…er… me.

IMG_5549[The kitchen with archaic oven and stovetop where I cooked 473 jars of chutney in 16 days before Christmas in 2007. So began Josie’s English Kitchen.]IMG_5532[My Yale degree above the washing machine to remind myself in the toddler years that I had had a brain. At some point.]IMG_5536[The Queen never stops waving…]IMG_5573IMG_5531IMG_5678[A chart left over from homeschooling days.]IMG_5568[‘Go DWILL help mewhen’ became a family catchphrase.]IMG_5538

For those of you who have visited us here, I hope every inch shouted, “WELCOME!”  And you know that you were wanted, loved and invited into our lives.  I love that it was a house where people kicked off their shoes to put their feet up on the sofa.

Now we shall take our home with us, and look forward to welcoming you into our next that God will provide.  I know He will, because he’s done it before and He doesn’t change.

In the meantime, as for me and my house?

We’ll continue to serve the Lord.

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jsg/june 16

 

 

Revolution/God’s Wink

 

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So there I was standing in a field in the middle of nowhere with soldiers running past me in every direction. Muskets were firing, flags were waving and general pandemonium reigned around me under a cornflower blue Californian sky.

“Sorry? Say that again??” I yelled into my cellphone to my lawyer on the other end with one finger stuffed in my other ear. “I didn’t hear that, he offered what?

You see, my soon to be ex-husband had sent me an 11th hour divorce settlement in order to avoid trial the following day, and given me only three hours to respond… but I was standing in the middle of a full scale reenactment of the Revolutionary War.

I was in a field, above an apple farm in Northern California, on an overnight field trip with my ten year old son and his class.

Doesn’t that sound like a crazy dream you’re left trying to interpret? Well it could have been but no…

Redcoats raced past me while I fielded phone calls and talked strategy. Captains marched past yelling orders in loud English accents – “Look lively, you young scoundrels!” – to hundreds of highly excited elementary schoolchildren while I negotiated huge life decisions that would impact the lives of my two children and myself for years to come.

Below us, at the bottom of the field, very noisy if diminutive Patriots armed with sticks were defending the farm yelling, “THE BRITISH ARE COMING!”

The whole company had been enlisted to fight either under the banner of the righteous colonists or under the Union Jack as the soon to be massacred army of an unjust English King.

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“Hang on!” I yelled into the phone watching from the sidelines, “I think my son just went down with the first wave!!! Oh no, wait – he’s up!! Carry on!!”

It was one of the more surreal days of my life, I have to admit. However it did make a weird kind of sense to be there. Who else but God could have orchestrated such a metaphor?

First: It was the Americans vs. the British.

Second: The Americans were revolting against the unjust rule of the Crown to gain their completely justified independence and freedom from tyranny. The dividing of two nations whose union no longer proved either tenable nor honorable.

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I flip flop between sides in the metaphor (I’m British and gaining my independence) but what an uncanny parallel to my present passage in life.

It was a day full of tears and laughter. The children’s father and I finally settled our divorce – through my lawyer – over the phone – at around midday. When it was done, I left a courtroom scene the children had been enacting to walk away for a silent weep.

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It is such a massive chapter of my life – and my children’s lives – that has come to a close. All will be different from here on out. Even though divorce was ultimately the only decision I could have made, there is still enormous grief in its realization.

However, as well as tears, laughter did come at the end of the day –

As I strolled over to the Trading Post to buy my son a slingshot, I happened to notice the glorious red t-shirts they were selling. WAIT.

Of all the PLACES I could have been on that day?

Of all the T-SHIRTS they might have been selling?

They were selling only this one:

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How could I not buy it? I roared with laughter and took it to be God’s wink that He really is, indeed, absolutely in the midst of even the smallest details of my life.

So, what now?

ONWAAAARD!

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jsg/may 16

Open Handed.

I am seven days away from my divorce being final.

Final. Wow. There must be a cauldron under the surface but, for now and while there are still things to be decided, I feel calm.

Head up, eyes straight, staying alert.

In some ways, this is not a week to bash on regardless. This is a week to be prayerful, thoughtful, slow. To stay in the present moment.

In slowness there is time to see things. I realized today, for example, that as awful as this process is (just as awful as you suspect except worse), I am blessed to go through it cleanly:

I am not in doubt;

I don’t hate;

I’m no longer bitter;

I don’t seek vengeance;

I have no agenda;

I’m not trying to finagle;

I wish well to the other side;

I am clear in my mind.

This must be one of the best ways you can get to take this path (if you have to take it). Just walking it out. And my calm, my clarity, my patience, have been given. They’re not coming from me.

I can grasp that the only thing I’m looking for in final settlement is a sealing. While this cannot be fully accomplished because of the children, as much as can be cauterized of the communal life now gone I pray we do effectively. Wholly.

I am saved from looking backwards.  No recriminations now could be worse than divorce being the ultimate consequence. Whatever either of us did or didn’t do before, the horse is dead. Flogging it won’t help.

This week, there are things I’m still unsure how to resolve. Some large things. So I woke up this morning ready to listen and watch. I’m on the lookout for new information or confirmation or newly arriving decision.

In the meantime, I am standing squarely on the promises made to me:

“Whether you go to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, “THIS is the way, walk in it.””

“In your heart, Josie, you plan your course… but I determine your steps.”

“I will withhold from you no good thing, Josie.”

“I shelter you and the children in the shadow of my wings, Josie. It doesn’t matter how far the drop! You’re safe.”

“I know everything and you don’t. Remember that, Josie! I will achieve all that I purpose for your good.”

“Be strong. Take heart. You are waiting for Me, Josie.”

“Trust me. Don’t forget all that I’ve done already.”

“I’m not going to leave you now. I’m never going to leave you, Josie.”

“You belong to Me. No one else.

So I walk into this final week with open hands. As long as I keep my hands open, I can read what I’ve written on my palm.

I don’t always know the right way to go, but I know how to recognize it. And so I go where there is light for my path and a lamp for my feet.

I’ve taped the qualities of wisdom to my desktop. For every email. Every point of contact. Every decision.

And I am immeasurably grateful that –

I’ve placed all my chips in one place.

I am looking for help in one direction.

I am relying on one unchanging nature.  The only one that doesn’t change and is Good.  Not only to me, but to all.

My hands are open, and I can only discover the best route for me by walking forward slowly.

That’s my week this week:

Head up.

Eyes wide.

Shoulders back.

Breathing deep.

Step by step.

 

 

Jsg/May 16