Tag Archives: Faith

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

Advertisements

Tribe.

GOOSE!

Twenty years ago, I was staying with a friend in Philadelphia.  I was a single Brit, working in fashion and exploring the world.  One afternoon, we went for a girls’ tea at the Four Seasons with a group of her local pals.  Truly delightful women, they were all wives, mothers and grandmothers.

Set up for a lovely time, I began to notice myself doing something rather odd.  Whenever anyone ended a story, I hooted agreement and literally jumped on their words and pushed on with a story of my own.  I was laughing too loudly, agreeing too enthusiastically, sweating profusely and smiling til my cheeks hurt. Generally I was behaving like an hyperactive toddler who needs to hug everybody.

Inside this ebullient frenetic self, the real me was thinking, “W…T…F… Josie? Why on earth are you behaving like this? Why are you being so utterly irritating? Why can’t you just shut up, calm down, and enjoy these intelligent charming women?”

We went home with me mopping sweat, slathered in silent, embarrassed reproach.

The following morning I got up early for quiet time.  Getting my coffee, I said to the Lord, “Seriously, Father, I have got to understand what was going on back there! I’m just going to sit here until you help me get it.”  And I sat and I waited.

Here is what the Lord said to me:

“Josie, I have made you a goose and yesterday you were among hens.  There is nothing wrong with being a goose, and nothing wrong with being a hen. But they are different species.  Hens are called to nest in a hen house, geese are not. I made you a goose because I need you to fly across the world.  Hens can’t do that.

Here was your problem yesterday.  No matter how hard you try, your gooseness will never fit easily inside a hen house.  You can strain your neck in as far as you can and try to pretend that your shoulders aren’t smooshed in the doorway, you can even make similar noises and try to join in.  But I made you differently, for different purposes.

In the life I call geese to, they are powerful and graceful. They soar. They fly across oceans.  Waddling and honking happens when they are not in their element.

Don’t try and be who you’re not, Josie. The world needs you to be you.  Love everyone. But you will find your true companions in other geese.”

Other geese.  Suddenly I got it.  I thought of my truest friends: all of them laugh loudly at the hilarity of life and get its seriousness; all of them are powerful and can fly; all of them are prone to waddle and honk. How I love them!

I suspect one of the deepest joys in life comes in discovering one’s true companions.  Doing life together. Recognising each other’s strengths, pulling each other up. Reflecting back to each other who each one is and who they’re not.

There’s nothing wrong with being different to other people: you are neither better nor worse. It is simply that each of us – I believe – is made in a specific purposed way for a specific purposed life in specific purposed environments.

So go discover your true companions. Don’t give up until you find your tribe!

Geese!

They’re out there.

jsg/april 17

Know it all.

Chruch

Easter Saturday is a great day to remind myself that I don’t.

Before I met Christ, I absolutely thought that what I could see is what I would get. Perhaps surprisingly, knowing Christ doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in that belief.

In spite of the plentiful – and sometimes dramatic – twists and turns of my Christian walk, I still fall into the trap of thinking that I can see how “all this” (whatever it happens to be) is going to pan out.  Even when repeatedly I am completely wrong.

Over the years I have cried out to the Lord, “HELP! What do I do/which way do I go now??” And He replies, “Make your decisions on the basis of who you know Me to be.  I do not change.  Guidance comes through your relationship with Me in relation to your circumstances. Look for Me in my Word.  No neon signs, I call you to walk by faith not by sight. And in peace, because you trust Me.”

“Got it,” I reply seriously. Only to protest loudly in agitation not two minutes later: “BUT I CAN’T SEE WHERE I’M GOING!?” And so He and I go round again.  And again.  And so on.

Abraham went out ‘not knowing whither he went.’ That was evidently doable for Abraham but me? Not so much.  I go out not knowing where I’m going — while secretly thinking that actually I absolutely do.  

Did Joseph think he was ever getting out of that pit?  Was he holding onto the dream the Lord had given him about his future? Scripture doesn’t record his thoughts en route but I can tell you mine on my own journey.  I know in my heart that the plans the Lord has for me are ‘to prosper me and not to harm me. To give me a future and a hope.’ But do I live that way?  Not really.  I fall in a pit and think, “Well, this is bad.  And yet not so bad?  I could get used to the dark and the damp. I can be brave because God is still with me.”

Then I’m surprised when the pit gives way to a different landscape, just when I was getting used to it.  “Who knew!” I cry.  And the answer to that is obvious.

I’m not sure whether my surprise is the result of a lack of faith or simply self-protection.  God could change the pit in a few short months, but I also know that to the Lord a day is like a thousand years. And I seem to ignore the next bit — that God can also turn a thousand years into a day. “In my time I will do it quickly,” says the Lord.

My experience has been that after sometimes very long periods of waiting this is exactly what He does. And I am amazed even though He’s promised.

So I am, unsurprisingly, constantly amazed by God.

I know that God is the Lord of the whole jigsaw.  That He made the frame, He holds all the pieces, He knows what the complete picture looks like. Yet time and again, I look at the small number of pieces that have as yet been revealed to me and think, “Oy.  Doesn’t look good… Not much I can do with this.

Before Good Friday, Jesus had been clear with His disciples.  He was going to be betrayed, He was going to die, He was going to rise again.

Then it happened just exactly as He said it would. But His disciples? Those who had been physically with Him for three years?  They thought, “Well, it’s all over now then. He’s dead.  The Kingdom never came.”

In my ongoing struggles to keep faith in the dark, on Easter Saturday I can at least be reassured by the company I keep.

And how their weekend panned out.

 

jsg/april 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

Vulnerable to hope.

img_3263

“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.

img_3087

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.”

img_3162

Yep. We are. Hold on tight.

jsg/jan 17

 

 

 

 

Walk it out.

I visited the house of a friend last week who had papered the walls with a bible.  I was stunned by how effective it was.  Not only aesthetically but in terms of literally surrounding her family with words of life.

I’m a big one for placing scripture around the house.  I make it into signs, I stick it on post-its, if the children draw it I pin it up. Sometimes it’s just a phrase, even a single word but it’s to remind us of the truth.  Not perceived reality.

So you’d think that I might be pretty on top of speaking life to myself and those around me.  Be pretty on top of speaking truth over falsehood, fact over feeling.

Well, if you were to examine my thoughts forensically, not so much.

I know the spiritual battle is ultimately a battle for the mind.  I know I am called to walk by faith not by sight. I know these things. I’ve taught on them, I’ve written them, I speak them over others all the time.

And yet, when it comes to me, old Fenella Feelings woos me with her wistfulness.

I walk my three dogs everyday and, this morning, I was muttering away in my boots thinking about all the stuff ahead of me this year, all the things that I’m worried about. Then I noticed the  sunlight on the ground and I thought “Wait!  If God tells me that whether I go to the right or the left I WILL hear a voice behind me saying this is the way walk in it – why do I feel like I am walking this out alone? It’s a lie, Josie.  You have fallen for a lie.”

And then I began to think of other scripture.  God is the God of Life.  God has promised me a future and a hope.  God has promised never to leave me.  God has told me to trust Him with my children. God sits enthroned over the flood.  God has told me not to be afraid.  God has gone before me and calls me to follow a path He has already mapped out for me.  God stops my feet from stumbling. God is wiser than me and knows what’s best for me.  God’s got the whole picture, I have pieces but it will be beautiful. God is good.

I thought – I know this is remedially basic but – what if I was to actually WALK THAT OUT today?  Effect every action based on truth?  See the future for me and my children as better than I can ask or imagine?  Expect to see God’s redemption in all my selfish brokenness?  See my life as a pouring out to others and not a pouring into me-me-me-myself?

God is bigger than my crazy thinking. God is bigger than my old scripts of how this is all going to go.

If I pray and then don’t walk as if God is true and has heard and is listening and is responding and is bigger than me – what is the point of praying? What is the point of my faith?

“Walk it out.” I can hear Him whisper it to me in every atom of this created morning. 

“Walk it out.”

jsg/jan 17