Tag Archives: mom

Redemption.

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I visited my brother’s grave last week. I took the dogs with me after a long walk, and there was something very comforting about bringing this current life of mine to where his memory has always been.

This cemetery has been a part of my life since I was small.   The stinging pungency  of dead flower water being rinsed out of moss-stained jam jars. The wind in the trees or the heat of the sun depending on the season. The names on the graves – young men lost at Jutland, “Little Chel” who will always be remembered. The yew trees and the beech hedge.  The stumbley path where you could crick your ankle if you weren’t careful. My mother’s seventies summer dresses. My father’s gloves and feet. The quiet.

David was buried in 1970 in a far corner reserved for children.  He was the only one there.

Over the decades it slowly filled, and I looked with eager interest to see who else had gone. Perhaps weirdly as a child I found it reassuring – that we were not the only family to have experienced devastation.  It was simply a part of life.  No one got away free.

As I stood there this time in the misty rain and autumn leaves, I thought again about God’s protection.  How my sister and I have discussed in later years that we just don’t know what God protected David from by taking him so young.  All we see from this side is the loss, but God is a God of mercy and wisdom.  Unfailingly.

I think about all the loss I feel in my life right now.  It’s extraordinarily hard to lose your home, your community, your adult independence, your life as you knew it. But standing there with David’s stone and the dogs, I wondered too what God might have saved me from.

It’s hard here, but might it have been even harder if I’d stayed where I was?

God took out of my hands the decision to move the children and me across the world.  He positioned me to move and in that too there was so much mercy.  So much parental protection.  I could not have made such a complete life change of my own volition, I’m not strong enough.  It’s just too massive, too radical to undertake.  How could I possibly know?  So to be manoeuvred into it was absolutely the kindness of God, no matter how hard I find it from what I can currently see.

One day leaving court in my divorce, I was weeping.  As I climbed into my car I said out loud, “Lord, I need a word. Please give me a word. I need your encouragement now.” Before this plea had fully formed on my lips, a word sprang up in my spirit: REDEMPTION.  I was so surprised by the immediacy of it that I gasped and stopped crying.  God did have a path forward for me! I put my key into the ignition and drove away.

But what does redemption mean in the face of so much loss?  It does not mean getting all those lost things back.  God restored to Job twice over what he lost, but he never got those children back did he.

I’m not sure it’s possible to know what God’s redemption in my life really looks like.  How can I grasp it?  I can see some of the things He brings into place as a result of where and who I now am, but I cannot quantify it by what I can see. Because what if much of God’s redeeming power comes into effect through things that now won’t happen, can’t harm us, won’t steal any more from our battered souls? Perhaps it is enough to know that redemption is present, redemption is happening simply because that is the unchanging nature of our redeeming God.

Because the one thing I DO know in all this is that God is a good God.  Wholly, utterly, unerringly, unimaginably good.  And the fact that I know this and have an almost thirty year track record of witnessing it, means that I know He MUST be redeeming all my loss as I submit my life, my broken heart, my soul to Him.  Because He’s promised to.

Whether or not I perceive redemption cannot be the stick by which I measure if it’s there.

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Faith has to cover that.

 

jsg/nov 16.

 

 

 

Hauling forward.

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The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is fully upon us.  The dogs and I walk most mornings on the local common where we are surrounded by every shade of green, red, gold, yellow and brown.  It’s breathtaking.

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On Saturday mornings I run with a pal or, when the weather doesn’t cooperate, we convene at her house to run the nearby steps.

There are 83 steps and we run it five times.

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Depending on the day, the first couple of times can be a bit of a shock to the system early morning.  However by the third time I get into my groove. My body’s awake, I lift my knees higher and I get my rhythm going.

The fourth time is a bit of a stretch… but I know I’m almost there.  And to be honest the fifth time is just a nightmare of pure determination. And the promise of hot coffee at the end. “Remember to use your arms!” shouts Jen, pumping hers hard ahead of me.

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First the physical then the spiritual.

On our fifth ascent yesterday morning, I had an epiphany. My life telescoped into the stairs and vice versa. I found a new way to run both.  A new way to haul myself forward.

Before, when I lifted my gaze to the top of the stairs from the bottom, I felt knackered before I started.  I knew the stairs were worth running, I knew the reason I was doing it, but the thought of doing it again appalled me.

However this last time, when I kept my gaze low and focused on both the step beneath me and lifting my foot to the next one in front of me, a physical weight seemed to lift off my shoulders.  It just lifted away.  As if the thought of the steps was heavier than even the physical effort required to run them.

I let everything else go. And I got to the top.

Don’t get me wrong, I was gasping for breath like a crazy person and my arms and legs were burning – but who cares?  I’d made it.

So I realised this.  In order to be able to haul myself forward from where I currently am in my life, I must keep my gaze low not high.  Not to as far as the eye can see or to left or right, but just to where my next foot falls. And concentrate on hitting each next step well.

Just focus on making the bed.  Focus on getting the kids out the door.  Focus on making the meal.  Focus on clearing the shelf.  Focus on speaking with this.one.person.now.  Focus on this particular dog walk.  Focus on this particular load of laundry.  Focus on this particular day.

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This particular day.  As I write I feel I can hear the Holy Spirit whispering to me, “That’s it, Josie! Don’t miss this particular day! You’re getting it!  There is just so much – so much – that I have for you in it.”

My friend, Jane, always says, “Keep looking down.”  It’s such a great counter-intuitive reminder.  What she means is “Keep recognising that everything is under your feet in Christ. You are over these circumstances. Over not under them.”

So this week, this is what I’m going to do to haul myself forward. I am going to keep my gaze only six inches beyond my own feet, where the light can lead me.  And I’m going to cut myself off from social media.  That, my friends, has simply got to go.

How can I focus on what’s in front of me if I spend my time looking for/finding out about what’s in front of everyone else?  Wishing I could be on anyone’s steps but mine. I can’t run my own steps if I don’t focus on my own feet.  My own legs.  My own arms.  My own breath.  My own determination.

Come on, Josephine! PUMP THOSE ARMS!

I shall let you know how I go.

 

jsg/oct 16

Feeling like an alien life form.

I think I’ve always felt a little alien.  I mean actually like a little alien.  I wonder if everyone feels like that or if it is just particularly me.

When I was a child, my family experienced a terrible tragedy.  From the age of 5, I knew that truly terrible things – irrevocable things – can happen.  So when people jollied me along about not taking everything so much to heart or about not worrying so much “because it’ll probably never happen!”, for me it already had.

So I grew up a rather sober little girl.  Which is ironic because grief made me ditch my shy self (she would have been totally lost) and pull out every bit of extroversion I could find.  I danced faster, laughed louder, tried harder to save everyone’s world.  But inside, I was sober.  Looking out and recognising what was what, and what was not.

Then when I was 21, I stared death straight in the face.  And I felt I knew that death had won.  Except he hadn’t and here I still am.  But that experience really changes you.  It takes you into a different room of existence.  You’ve been let in on a giant secret.  It can all change.  Super quick. Just like that. And there’s nothing you can do about any of it.

So while everyone else at University chatted in the coffee bar about which party they should start with at the weekend and who they fancied snogging, I laughed and danced and tried.  But inside I was thinking, “Any minute now.  Any minute now this could all completely change.” And it alienates you from the lightheartedness of those who don’t know that room of existence.  Who don’t know that truth.

Then when I was 26, I moved across the world.  Now I actually was alien.  I was British in America.  You would think these two countries are basically the same, but they are so totally totally not.

I liked the bigness of America.  I liked that no one could pigeonhole me any longer.  Which school I’d been to, who I knew.  America is just one great big smorgasbord of choice.  Every background, every race, every religion.  It was brilliant.   But being foreign – as in not being from there – is an alienating experience.

Over 24 years, I grew into tremendously close, rich community.  And yet I never lost that sense of foreignness.  I  never quite – in my own mind – “fit in.” Which had nothing to do with my friends, but everything to do with me.

In my marriage, I felt alien.  How bizarre is that??  That sense of not being on the same page.  Of not quite seeing things the same way, and rationalising that reality away.  Until finally it splits you apart like a peach stone, and you have to face what you had hoped against/denied all along.

And now I’m back where I’m from. Britain.  And wouldn’t you know, I feel alien here too.  I’m neither fish nor fowl any more.  I’m not British any longer, and I’m not American either.  I’m not married yet I’m not single, I’m a mother.  I’m independent, yet I’m living under my parents roof.

I’ve joined a new church which is thrumming with life.  And today someone I know from my old life in America visited the service and completely cut me dead.  Couldn’t wait to get away.  This hurt more than I expected.  “Bloody hell,” I thought, “I don’t even fit in here.” 

I’ve been trying too hard to connect here.  To fit in.  To make this  monumental move back across the world with two children make some kind of sense.  “Well, if I get involved with this then…” “Ohh, I get it, God wants me to…”

But the truth is, I really don’t have a bloody clue why I’m here or what I’m meant to do. I can see I had to move.  I can see provision and favour in us finding housing and schooling here.  I can see blessing in landing in such a vibrant and active church.

But what now?

I do recognise something really useful about feeling alien.  It means that I’m always ready to move.  I have never fully “settled” anywhere.  And in that, perhaps, is God’s redemptive purpose for my life.

Because of my experiences, I know I’m just passing through.  I know that those things most precious to you, you can’t hold onto.  You must just love them while you can.  I know that everything you have can be taken away from you, and you’ll still make it.  God will still be there.  I know that as sharp and twisted as the road may be, God’s the road and I can’t fall off.

So that old friend who ignored me today, really did me a huge favour.  He made me realise that perhaps it’s a gift to feel like an alien.  It’s a gift not to feel too cosy, or feel like you “completely belong.”  Because surely then I would resist all change.  I would think “Hallelujah, at last I’ve arrived!” And there would be nothing else I felt called to do.

Instead, throughout my life, God has kept me moving.  God has kept me looking.  God has kept me seeking.  And every every time, He has done it so that I find Him.  I run straight into Him.  Because I’m not sufficient, and He so totally totally is.

So – actually – hallelujah for feeling like an alien life form.  I am an alien and stranger on this earth.  And I do yearn for a better country.

A country I can call my own.

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

 

Decision.

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Change is exhausting, isn’t it?

Don’t you think there must have been a moment for Lazarus when Jesus came to raise him from the dead when he wanted to say, “Really, Lord? Do I have to? Can’t I stay here? Heaven’s brilliant!”

But Jesus called him forth nonetheless, in all those stinky grave clothes. And there was a community there who waited for him to emerge, longed for him to begin again and continue on with them.

One of the primary challenges of change – in my book anyway – is that it happens so slo-owly.  So incrementally. It just goes on and on and on adding one grain of sand at a time while you’re longing to see what the castle will look like.

Of course there is also sudden dramatic change, but these are more straightforward to handle because you can only respond, not initiate change step by step.

For example:

You win the Lotto. Well, what are you doing to do?

You lose a loved one. Now what must you do to endure it? To survive it?

Finding your soul mate and getting married is an incremental change. Divorce is an incremental change. Choosing a new job or career/Finding a new place to live/Moving forward after a massive life change – all of these are incremental changes made up of a million seemingly minor decisions. HOWEVER, each ‘minor’ decision or lack thereof (therefore becoming your decision by default) requires putting a grain of sand on one pile or another.

Shall I make that phone call or not?

Should I ask that person for help?

Should I look for somewhere to stay around here – or somewhere else?

Shall I reply to that Ad?

For me, as a Christian in the process of change, I am constantly casting around for signs of God’s favor and direction.  What new information is being “added”?

Is an “open door” de facto the one that I should walk through?  What if there are going to be several evidently “open doors”? How am I going to choose which one to go through? Should I move ahead with the one in front of me so far, or wait for more to appear? Is God saving me from indecision by only giving me one, or asking me to wait for more?

And what do I truly want to do? As one seeks God the heart starts lining up with His will, so what I want is not about a “should” but my real desire.  And God is absolutely interested in me finding that out and pursuing it.

And I have free will, so (unfortunately) God’s not going to light up the next best step for me with a neon sign.  I must search my heart and use my brain.  Amazingly, God actually cares about what I want to do, and He wants me to choose it.

There’s that fantastic bit in Screwtape isn’t there, where the Devil tells his nephew that their greatest opportunity to steal the Christian away from God comes in moments of decision.  Because it is then that God must completely pull away so people can make decisions of their own free will. If a person then chooses to follow God’s way they will have done so freely, birthing true relationship between themselves and their Heavenly Father.

Ugh. I do wish God would tip me the wink right now however.  I am not yet sure which path to take.

All I can do is take this change one decision at a time.  I can’t see seven decisions ahead, nor can I allow for what all the ramifications of my next decision might be.  I can only make it.  I can only feel around with my foot for firm ground in front of me from where I’m standing now, and then decide to step out when I find it.

And so my thoughts return to Lazarus.  Jesus called him out of death into new/re-newed life. And even though Lazarus would physically die again, Jesus had more for him in the here and now.  In this life.

Jesus cleared the way for Lazarus, but He didn’t enter the tomb and carry Lazarus out.  He called him out: “Lazarus! COME FORTH!”

Lazarus had to move.

Lazarus had to trust.

And Lazarus knew the Lord.

As do I.

I too need to “come forth”. I need to move, one step at a time with my hands in His, into the new life I’m being called to.

So, please,

Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer,                                                                                                           Pilgrim through this barren land;                                                                                                                 I am weak but Thou art mighty,                                                                                                           Guide me with Thy powerful hand.’

Amen.

 

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