Tag Archives: Kids

Today is enough.

‘You are a tree replanted in Eden.’ Psalm 1 [The Message]

When my kids were little, a kind neighbour brought me two trays of mature irises given to her by a friend. They were all yellow and she didn’t like yellow, so she offered them to me.

I was thrilled. I loved my garden but had no budget to fill in my borders, so these irises – a favourite flower in a favourite colour – were an amazing answer to an as yet unvoiced prayer.

I carefully soaked them in buckets of water as directed, then planted them correctly in good soil and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

“I’ve killed them,” I thought. I loved my garden but, not naturally a green thumb, this was entirely possible. I left them where they were and kept hoping that eventually they’d take on a new life of their own.

Much to my surprise after three years, they did! And my garden was dotted sporadically with clumps of glorious yellow irises set amid my roses, fruit trees and bougainvillea.

The problem had been that the irises were “shocked” by their transplant and it took them that long to readjust before they could, again, thrive. Had I given up and dug them up, I would never have seen their joy filled new life in my yard.

The analogy is obvious. My children and I were unexpectedly transplanted to England far far away from our Californian home and everything they had ever known. Like the man in Psalm 1, we are replanted trees and we are in shock.

So actually it is enough just to be. Just to survive. Just to dig our toes into the new soil beneath our feet, drink in moisture, soak up sun (whenever it’s out in our new pluvial climate) and rest. It’s OK just to be where we are, not doing anything particular. The transplant is enough.

What a relief this new understanding has been to me this week, when I seem to have lost my mojo for anything beyond the absolutely necessary.

In the first few months I threw myself into a new church family, making new friends, trying to create community for my kids.  However the effort, the determination to make sense of this monumental transplant, seems to have utterly drained my tank. I’m like a child on a tricycle who’s encountered a lip in the sidewalk and every time I try to push myself over it my tricycle just rocks straight back. I haven’t got any push to get me over the hump.

But it’s OK. It’s OK to rest on my tricycle exactly where I am. It’s enough to hug my kids, to keep them warm and fed, and simply for us to exist. Psalm 1 continues:

‘You’re a tree replanted in Eden,

bearing fresh fruit every month,

Never dropping a leaf,

always in blossom.’

As I read this I wondered how it was possible to bear fresh fruit every month. And I felt the Lord tell me this:

“Josie, a living tree is always bearing fruit. It is either manifesting fruit on the outside, or it is germinating fruit on the inside. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean new life isn’t always in process.”

Just like my irises. They weren’t doing anything I could see but they weren’t dead. They were recovering.

So this week’s revelation is this: for the time being and for as long as it takes, it’s OK for the children and me to do nothing. We’re recovering. There’s still life growing when I’m not trying to create it. God’s at work in what we cannot yet see.

Today is enough.

Jsg/March 17


Beggars can choose.


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 anyway.

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.


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.


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,


continues to take my breath away.

jsg/march 17

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.’


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


jsg/oct 16

When you stop being brave.


I’m in a fairly horrible season of my life and I’m not enjoying it. I’m very grateful it’s not something worse, but it’s delivering a fairly earthy kick nonetheless.

Loved ones keep calling me brave, or valiant. What is bravery really?

I think of bravery as being about choice. However, if you’re just in it, should you de facto be considered brave?

In the ER following a bad car wreck in my twenties, a doctor and three nurses cut into my stomach while I was fully awake. They stood over me and poured pints of saline (in a white plastic jug I remember, but could this be correct?) through a tube into my stomach to flush it out. All the while they discussed the details of the upcoming wedding of one of the nurses. What flowers had she decided on having and was so-and-so going to be able to come?

I lay there in a detached state of un-categorized pain thinking how surreal it was. Did they know I was there? Could I survive this? I remember thinking calmly, “This is insupportable. It’s insupportable. I’m going to rip out that tube, throw off the blanket and scream.” But there was nothing I could do. So I just lay there silently and stared at the ceiling as they pulled and tugged and chatted on.

Was I being brave? It didn’t feel like it, what choice did I have? I stayed silent because screaming could only have made it worse.

There are times when we clearly are brave. Brave to stand for justice (Nelson Mandela); brave to choose death over prolonged but limited life (Roger Ebert); brave to stand for belief in the face of religious persecution. But is it brave simply to endure something when you have no choice?

What are the choices in the death of a child, or the end of a marriage, or the loss of one’s health?

In Webster‘s bravery is defined as ‘to defy, challenge or dare. … A general term that suggests fortitude, daring and resolve.’ And ‘valiant’ implies ‘an inner strength manifested by brave deeds, often in battle.’

All things you choose to do. You could stick with where you are, but you choose to do something more instead. Some visible action in the face of testing circumstances above and beyond simple survival.

I didn’t feel I was being very brave about my present situation, until yesterday. Yesterday I realized that my “action” in the face of current circumstances is to behave as if I can continue to handle everything else as well.  But I can’t.

Perhaps it’s the British in me. The Stiff-Upper-Lippedness of my upbringing. The guts and tenacity that won us the war, illegitimi non carborundum and all that. Certainly there is much to be gained by this attitude.

But in harder seasons of one’s life, does one really have to be big enough to say “I can handle this and all the rest of it”? Do we fear being accused of self-pity if we allow the circumstances to consume us for a while?

Why not say:

“No, I’m sorry, my heart is haemorrhaging on the table right now so I don’t think it would be a good idea to drop your child off with me.”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t sew that for you even though I could do it for free. Every ounce of energy I have is going into my kids and keeping the show on the road.”

“I really am pleased for your happiness/joy/celebration but I’m not going to be able to go much further than that only because I haven’t got any margin.”

Yesterday I realized how much more I take on in addition to what I’m having to deal with already. Why have I said yes to it all?  Am I actually defying my reality or just denying it?

I do “cover” a lot: “No, no, I’m still laughing haha, yes I’d love to come!”

I pretend I can manage more than I can: “No, no, not at all, don’t worry, I can totally do that for you.”

Is it pride? “This isn’t going to get me.

Is it fear? By not waving brave, do I fear I will sink not survive?

Why do I think I must be brave?  It’s exhausting “being brave” all the time! I’m not going to do it any longer.

I’m not going to pretend that Mothers Day isn’t going to kill me. That I’ll be fine hearing encomium to marriage and motherhood from the pulpit. Because I won’t, so I’m not going to go.

I’m not going to tell friends I can help them right now, because I can’t.

I don’t need to expect myself to climb out and be bigger than the hole I’m in, because God’s arms are beneath me and He’ll lift me out in due time.

I don’t need to be called marvellous, or gutsy, or brilliant, or brave. I don’t feel any of those things, but I am quite proud to be still on my feet.

When people ask me how I’m doing, I’m going to say, “It just continues” and then let the silence sit.

From here on until the landscape of my life changes, I’m just going to live it. Not ungrateful, not bouncy.

I’m going to sit with this season for as long as I have to be in its company, but I’m not going to be jumping up any time soon to pass around nibbles and drinks in the meantime.

I’m just going to stay silent. Screaming wouldn’t help.




G - rain

We have had rain in Los Angeles this past week, and it has been glorious.

So needed, you could almost hear the ground sucking up water like a five year old armed with a chocolate milkshake and a straw.
You could feel it stretching out and arching up to the downpour to let soak in as much water as possible.

Trees creaked with the joy of it, leaves stuck together on paths glossed with the celebration of it, drooping pot plants looked up in the hope of it, and the rather desperate-looking dried out grass of our front lawn (long left un-watered by sprinklers) sighed with the possibility of its new life.

photo 4 photo 3

photo 2

It was good.

Of course my car chose the rainiest day of all to need repair.  The garage owner kindly offered us a lift home (only 10 blocks away) but my nine year old urgently whispered tugging on my arm, “No, Mom!  We want to walk!”  And so walk we did, arm in arm and umbrellas crossing, talking about how fantastic the world looks when it’s raining.

photo 2

Being Californian born and raised, my children have raincoats but own no wellington boots – why would they?  They are the only children I know who get on the plane for England and pray pray pray for raaaaiiinnn. (In that moment I can only note with amusement that there’s not an English bone in them – what British child would pray for a rainy day?)

photo 3

On our walk home, my son was wearing the one pair of shoes he owns.  Initially I squeaked at him to keep them dry but, when we encountered a torrent too wide to jump, he turned his big blue eyes beseechingly toward me and waited.  What could we do but go forward?

Pure joy lit his face as he splashed straight in ankle deep and stood there for several moments just thrilling to the cold wet feel of it all.

photo 1

The rain has soaked into us this week like a balm of blessing.  So good, that it just kept on coming, and coming, and coming.

Right at the beginning of Advent.  Where all the weeks leading up to Christmas seem so full of hurry and noise.  There seems only rare time to stretch one’s back into the hot water of the shower let alone lift our face to the cold refreshment of rain.

But we need real water so badly.  It soaks deep into our pores to get to our heart. It enlivens us, refreshes us, nourishes us, quenches our raging fires, and revives our joy in the infinite gifts set before us every day.

Living water indeed.

So, after this week, my recommendation to myself – and to you – whatever you’re doing each day as we progress through the rest of Advent  is this:

Let it rain.

G path rain


Clinging to Yes.


When my son, Guy, was small I used to call him “Baby Tree Frog”.  Every opportunity he got he would wrap his arms and legs around my leg and get me to walk him around the house/to preschool/through the store while he clung on.  It was hilarious.

We were designed for clinging.  I think of how a baby instinctively curves into the shape of its mother, or a toddler immediately wraps their legs around your waist and arms around your neck.

I think of how we hug – arms wrapped around another person.  And the longer the (appropriate) hug, the more and more comforting it becomes.  Our heart sings.

We were born to embrace.  When life is full of hugs, it’s easy to forget how amazing they are.

At a Thanksgiving giveaway last weekend while I was praying for a beautiful woman with a haunted expression in her eyes, I “saw” the Lord hugging her.  So when we finished I said, “Might I give you a hug?” Her face broke into a surprised grin and she nodded.  When we let go, both of us were a little teary.  We had both been touched. Our hearts sang.

Tomorrow, it is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States.  So we are all caused to think about what we are grateful for – why?

Because in giving thanks – either in remembrance or for today – we cling to the YES of life.  It’s an almighty shout-out to all things created and the Creator.


YES to the beauty of the world!

YES to the gift of another day!

YES to this breath, this heartbeat, this person right in front of me!

YES to what I do have, the love that does surround me!

YES to the things that are happening!

YES to hope, love, truth, purity, faithfulness and redemption!

YES to the infinite possibilities of the human heart!

YES to the miracle of life itself!

There are times when this is easy, and times when it seems impossible.

Frog On Wire

The celebration of any holiday is a time of blessing and mourning, how could it be any other way?  But clinging to YES is a defiant shout of victory against all those things we cannot change. Because we’re still here.

When we cling to YES, we cling on to Life itself.  We come into connection with Life Himself, and we come into the place where we have always been meant to be.  Our heart sings.

And here’s the mystery.  That when we cling to YES – when we seek it and find it and wrap our arms and legs and heart and head around it – we discover that it is in fact the YES, that Almighty Shout-out of Glory, which has been holding us to life all along.  Catching us and keeping us.

So today may we let go of NO, DON’T, CAN’T, HAVE NOT and cling to YES.  May we cling to the known, the already here and the never changing.  The heartbeat of all that is given NOW.  We are – literally – clinging on for dear life.

Clinging to YES also gives us something to do and life rushes in.  To do otherwise changes nothing and leaves our arms and our hearts achingly empty and our heads bowed.

So I choose today a defiant YES!  YES!  YES!

And I wish you a blessed, connected and YES-filled Thanksgiving.  God is still on the throne, may our hearts sing.


jsg/nov 14

Balancing the Choices.


I went to the ER with chest pain this morning.  It had been bugging me on and off for a couple of months and, finally at the urging of my own mother, I went to get it checked.

After a comprehensive series of tests, I am grateful to report the pain is just stress.  No surprise.  And I am grateful to now be able to put all the evil whispers in my head to rout.  (I also had to laugh fyi.  You know you’re a mom when you go to the ER with chest pain — and you’re just grateful they let you lie down somewhere for five hours.)

I learned a couple of things while there: daytime TV is an adjacent universe; and waiting on a gurney gives you a lot of time to think.

Reflecting on my life, I was thinking about choices.  Particularly how every choice comes with stakes, and how our decision to pick one way or the other depends on what we understand to be weighing in the balance.

This year, I have (reluctantly but resolutely) chosen divorce.  The hard thing about divorce is that looking back on our history, of course it is not all bad.  I wasn’t out of my mind when I married him.  We loved each other, and there were a lot of happy times.  A lot of laughter, a lot of fun.  But what were the stakes for me if I stayed?

Could I stay in the marriage to “keep” my Christian vows, when the covenant had been broken on the other side?  What model would I then be giving my children?  “Well, Mum’s great and she never had a problem with it”? I couldn’t do that.

On the other hand, there’s the very sober reality of what choosing divorce will entail.  Only I could decide if being a single mom raising two children alone would be a better option than the married life I had.  Truly only I could make that call, and I did because I have never doubted I could make it on my own. But that’s me.

I have a friend who is hoping her marriage will heal after repeated adultery.  If this were me, I would ask myself, “This covenant is way broken!  Why would I want him back?” But, for her, the stakes are different.

It all depends on what is in your scales, which all depends on your perspective in life.

For me, since becoming a Christian in my twenties, I have experienced God’s Word to be true.  I know that He knows the plans He has for each one of us, plans to give us hope and a future.  And those plans for us in human relationship are intended to reflect the human/divine bond.  Respect, sacrificial love, willing the best for the other (even at the expense of oneself, because God has that in hand already).

I chose divorce when I finally knew the choice had been made for me. I couldn’t sustain the marriage alone. I don’t mean mansions and money and comfort.  I mean respect, honor, honesty, co-partnering and submission to God.  After years of trying, I realized our tide was in fact going the other way. I was – in effect – already on my own.

Choices depend on three things: what options are available, what lies in the scales (i.e. the stakes), and your given perspective of expectation.  Don’t you think?

Lying in the ER today, I caught some program called “Is it your baby?”  Wow.  That’s some intense stuff.  But, if I thought that it was really just me against “him”, and this was my one shot in a universe at random and only I alone could define my own worth… Fair enough. I think I’d possibly be doing that too (only perhaps not on television).

Balancing your choices comes down to your frame of reference.  For me, God’s love provides a template to lay over my life to see where the line of blessing lies, and where I’m outside of it.  Without that template, I could only be guessing with the frame of reference I had been given by my parents/community/life experience.

Now in my case, that was a church community and believing parents.  But what if I came from a different background?  What if my mom was in prison for killing my dad?  My scales would be strikingly different.  Not a “turn the other cheek” world, but a “dog eat dog” world.  And who could blame me?

I was faced with working out what choice really means last week when good friends asked me to write letters of encouragement to their teenage twin sons setting out in life.  I have great affection and respect for the parents, but I don’t know the kids.  What was I going to write?

As we know, the bullshit-ometer is never stronger than in the teenage years.  So I wasn’t going to pretend I could speak to them particularly, I could only share what my understanding of life had evolved into being over my 49 years thus far.

Once I’d ruled out everything I couldn’t say, I realized all I could say was this:  Seek truth, and don’t stop seeking until you find it.  Not truth that changes with fashion and the seasons, but a universal truth that does not change.  Truth in front of us every moment, that we can actually live by.  A plumb-line, an absolute truth which can be found, does not change, and makes sense of your own experience in the world.

If there is such a thing as absolute truth – and I have discovered there is – it is something you can found your life upon.  Truth is the only scale which can tell me where balance really lies.  By the One who made the scales in the first place.

The key for each human life must be to hear that absolute truth really exists, and so is definitely worth finding.  That we are not in some existential fog – whatever you find first is good enough – but that there is a genuine frame to our existence.

So I thought, as I lay on my gurney solving the problems of the world, the ultimate challenge for each human life must be to not rest until one discovers what that real frame of existence is.  And thereby to discover what gets the balance right.


jsg/nov 14

Respect is the core of love.

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A friend dropped by to pick up something bought from our yard sale, so I asked how a difficult situation in their life was panning out.  Tears were close, their struggle undeniable and the betrayal real.  “I don’t want to lose the relationship though,” they whispered. “I know they love me.”

“But respect is the core of love!” I replied.

The truth stopped us both and our eyes widened.  It was one of those utterly brilliant comments you make that clearly didn’t come from you because you’d never thought of it before.  A gift from God for us both.

Respect.  A consideration of the other for their own sake, and not in relation to who they are for us.

God gave us free will because He loves us.  That is the ultimate sign of respect, isn’t it?  The truest love relationship of them all, and He gives us free will.  He does not dictate our choices nor prevent us from making mistakes.  He provides us with guidance when sought, sure.  But He respects our person by letting us make those choices ourselves.  No matter the depth of grief it may incur for Him.

He respects His creation.  That is where all the joy is for Him.  He created us in love so as to be able to lavish love upon us. And to surround us with His love through Creation and one another.

All loving relationship is rooted in respect.  Otherwise it is not love, it is simply self-interest.  Dallas Willard used to say, “True love is to will the good of another.”

I think about respect with regard to marriage.  You are made one in the covenant, but you remain two persons also.  In Godly order, the husband (understood to be seeking the Lord himself) is the head, the wife (equal but second in line) is a co-partner in everything.  An equal voice. And there to be listened to, to be respected for her own needs and opinions and desires.  Just for herself.  As she too respects the needs, opinions and desires of her spouse.

The Covenant of marriage works as God intends when it is rooted in a mutual respect.  Man needs a helpmate (God love him) and Woman needs a companion to cover her while she covers the kids (God love her).

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I think about respect with regard to my children.  I am in awe of God’s creation in my kids.  From the moment they were born, I have recognized that – while “mine” – they do not belong to me.  God made them, He created their inmost being and He has purposed them and gifted them for their own blessing and their own intended contribution to the world.

My sister and brother-in-law gave me a beautiful framed copy of this quote by Kahlil Gibran.  It hangs beside my bed:

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters
of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you
Yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love, but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you cannot visit even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward
nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children – as living arrows –
are sent forth.’

Parenting is all about respect.  Not just them respecting you, but you respecting them as the people they were created to be.  Quite apart from you.  Different.  Their own creation.  Their own purposes.  Their own path.  Their own discovery.  My role is to guide them in a Godly way of living, but not to direct them in my perception of their Godly path in life.  That is theirs to discover, mine to support.

So all one’s true love for one’s children must be rooted in respect.

And I think about respect with regard to family and friendship.  If I say I love someone, am I willing their best for their own sake? Am I willing to offer advice only when asked? Do I continue to love them through terrible mistakes without judgment and “told you so”?
Do I respect them as another person in their own right (not as they relate to me), with all the same choices, realities and frailties I myself have?

My parents have modeled true love to me through my whole life.  They have supported and encouraged me in my choices.  As a child they guided me, and as an adult they have given sage advice when asked. They have comforted me through “mistakes”, and have stuck by me in commitments I have made that have proved difficult.

Perhaps the greatest sacrifice my parents have made with regard to my life, is to bless – entirely without self-reference – my understanding of God’s calling to me to live in America.  Thousands and thousands of miles from “home.”  I came to graduate school in ’92 and I never left.

I know they grieve this distance intensely, as do I and their grandchildren.  But they have continued to bless me and support me and cheer me on for my own sake.  To their own cost.  No matter what. True love.

So I catch myself now in relationship.  If I love someone, then the proof of my respect must shine out of my every interaction with them.  And I can jolly well deal with my own stuff later.

photo 1

And so these three remain:
Faith in the other’s freedom to choose their own path,
Hope for the other’s best for their own sake,
and Love whose core is found in my respect for their person-hood.

But the greatest of these is love.

Kids on skateboards

jsg/nov 14

What is it to remember? (Remembrance Day November 9, 2014)


‘If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.’         From ‘The Soldier’, Rupert Brooke 1914

It was Remembrance Day in Britain today and, this year, it is also the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

I watched the Queen, other members of the Royal Family and Members of Parliament lay wreaths at the Cenotaph in London.  Thousands watched and, for two minutes as the bell tolled, there was unbroken silence.

How can one not be overwhelmed by the reality of this War that changed everything?  The number of casualties is unfathomable: an estimated 47,466,904 in total.  A war that took from us a generation  – those who died, and those who returned as the walking dead – who had seen too much, done too much, suffered too much.  And then no one wanted to know.*  No wonder the men longed to return to the hell of the trenches with their brothers-in-arms until a bullet took them.

My paternal grandfather fought at the Battle of the Somme, where it looked like “half of England” rose from the trenches only to be mown down by German guns.  Of the 110,000 Tommies who attacked enemy lines, 60,000 were killed in a day.  They fell in rows and the next line climbed over them to be killed in turn.

Injured by mustard gas, my grandfather never regained his sense of smell or taste before his death in his nineties.  His brother had died in the mud of Passchendaele.


I always found my grandfather a particularly difficult man.  He had no sense of humor.  I once asked my father if he thought his father had had a sense of humor before the war.  He replied, “It’s impossible to tell.”

My grandfather never spoke of the War.  The only thing he ever said in reference to it was – just once – to my father: “The thing was, you see, we were all so young.”  How many 18 year olds do you know?  That was them.

I read ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks when I was pregnant with my own son.  I finished it and immediately started reading it again.  I kept thinking of my grandfather, seeing him in a new light, and I dreaded giving birth to a son myself.   In my hormonal state, I sobbed to my husband, “I don’t think I can be the mother of a son!  Girls are so much tougher!  So much more prepared.  I don’t think I can bear the absolute vulnerability of a boy.  Do you know the last word spoken by many of the young soldiers who died at the front? “Mother.”’  (My children’s father wisely chose to say nothing and hugged me.)

I read Vera Britten’s memoir, ‘Testament of Youth’ about the impact of the war on her generation – both men and women.  And then last year I read, ‘Into the Silence’ about George Mallory and the first expeditions to conquer Everest.  It is written in the context of the aftermath of World War One.  Young men who had lost everything yet were still alive. Who longed with a passion to conquer something, to make sense of something.

Why do I think about World War One so much?   The reality of what it turned out to be sobered the nation and the world. ( in ‘Downton Abbey’ last week, Maggie Smith’s Lady Grantham intoned, “Before the war, nobody thought about anything.”)

The sacrifice rings loudly in Britain still.  You can rarely visit a village without a memorial to those who gave their lives in the Great War.  When I mention it here in America, most kindly stare at me a little blankly as if to say, “Now why on earth would you be talking about that?”

I talk about it, think about it, read about it because I have become (largely through the education of my father) keenly aware of how the sacrifice of those who fought and the war’s aftermath changed everything for all of us who arrived later on.  Sociologically, psychologically, culturally.  I want to remember the unimaginable bravery and suffering they endured for a cause they all – so young and from so many different countries – wanted to believe in.  A cause that was (with the hindsight of history) so tragically mismanaged, and the end of which provided fertile ground for the rise of Hitler.

For the centenary, Britain has come up with a breathtakingly beautiful memorial to the 888, 246 fallen from Britain and the Commonwealth.  Entitled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, 888,246 ceramic poppies have been handmade and individually planted in the moat of the Tower of London since July 17.


[Chelsea Pensioner, Yeoman Warder and Grenadier Guard: three generations of military service, honoring their predecessors.]

On Armistice Day itself (Nov 11)  there will have been one poppy planted for each British/Commonwealth fatality in the First World War.  16,000 volunteers  have come to plant them from all over the world – from as far away as Singapore and New Zealand – to honor those who fell.


The installation at the Tower of London has drawn approximately 4 million people to see it.  So many in fact, my sister tells me that over the intercom on the London Tube last week they warned passengers not to get out at Tower Hill because there were simply too many people to accommodate any more.**

The poppy installation is the vision of an artist named Richard Cummins and one pottery in Derby has produced them all.  I watched the video of how they make them and saw how moved the artists were at making each one a unique creation to represent each individual human life lost.

Seeing it for the first time, what immediately brought tears to my throat were the poppies “still” cascading out of the ‘Weeping Window’ in the Tower.


weeping window

How does art do that?  I look at it and am reminded of the willingness of all those young men to go to war for King and Country.  They poured across the channel believing it would be “jolly good fun” and would “all be over by Christmas”.  That they would “beat the Hun” and tell the Kaiser where to go.  No one envisioned the war of attrition that was to come.

Earlier this year, the BBC aired a drama called ’37 days’ about the thirty-seven days leading up to the outbreak of the First World War.  Watching it was almost unbearable.  The inexorable bearing down of a war between prideful nations.  The horrendously conflicted position of Sir Edward Grey, the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who, after the die was cast, uttered the famous words, “The lights are going out all over Europe.  They shall not be lit again in our lifetime.”

This year, Britain honored the centenary by turning all the lights out in Britain 100 years to the hour when Britain declared war on Germany.

Wifred Owen asked the question in his ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’: ‘What passing bells for those who die as cattle?’

Today again, watching the Queen lay a wreath for the 61st time at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, I challenge myself to answer that question by the way I live my own life and teach my children – the great grandchildren of those who volunteered and died/survived and endured.  That I would live in such a way as to honor the sacrifice of so many.

Poppies at night

‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.’

jsg/nov 14

**Two videos of the installation here.  

* for an outstanding depiction of the effects of World War One, read Pat Barker’s trilogy ‘Regeneration’.