Tag Archives: Perseverance

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

 

Blind Strangling Panic.

Baby birds

There are moments, are there not.

You can be going about your day seemingly managing to cope with the washing up, laundry, bills, dogs, phone calls, work commitments, school commitments, relationships and kids when suddenly.

**** (insert imprecation of choice).

In these moments, I tend to reach for chocolate or Netflix. It used to be wine but in the past two years wine became all too attached to my rear so we’ve had to break up for a while.

I am a Christian so I expect some people will think, “PANICKING? HA! YOU SEE! FAITH MAKES NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL!” And, in some ways, they’d be right. In moments of extreme stress if you were to take my blood pressure alongside that of an atheist, I bet you I could give them a run for their money.

So, what to do in these moments?

First of all, I find it best to stop thinking. My mind cannot be trusted to say anything sensible in moments like these. I suddenly become the Sadness character in Inside Out and cover every atom of my existence with DOOM. Hopelessness. Pointlessness. An existential cry of “WHAT’S THE GOOD?” and beat my head upon the kitchen table.

So, best to leave my brain to its own devices and try to ignore it completely.

Next, I stop doing whatever I’m doing. In this instance, hanging out the washing – an activity I generally enjoy but today it felt like mediating a trade agreement between Russia and the Republic of China.

Then, I practice the breathing my children have been taught to do when suffering from stress over their parents’ divorce: “In for 4… Hold for 4… Out for 4. Aaaaand again…”

Fourthly, I reach for sustenance to prevent low-blood-sugar-induced injury. My sister was here recently so I’ve been able to grab really good BRITISH chocolate (which is obviously the equivalent – I presume – of scoring really high grade Crack).

It has helped, I won’t lie.

And now, finally, I’ve sat down to write a blog.  Because a) it feels like I’m doing something constructive and not just wasting the all-too-important-hours-sans-kids-in-which-to-get-everything-done. And b) in writing things down I find my heart is able to overrule my brain and reveal to me what is actually going on.

And I realize this. My panic today is that I won’t manage. It’s all too much. Too much responsibility, too much pressure, too little work, too many plates to spin, too many meals to cook, too many things to respond to (and well).  

And this panic has happened because instead of calmly breathing and methodically moving down my list, in a fit of petulant frustration and rage I have thrown myself punitively at the mountain of need.

And guess what? The mountain (a totally living being, natch) just laughs at me as I skid and scrape my way down the painful scree back to the bottom of my valley.

Bleeding, pain-full and sorry for myself, I recognize that chocolate won’t change this. Even wine won’t change this. I can’t just wish the mountain away and, even if I could, there would be another one hove-ing into view shortly. Because such is the stuff of life.

And AH! HERE IT IS! Here now is how I am helped by writing it down.

For I now remember that I sat with a friend who was dying a couple of weeks ago. I sat with her and prayed with her and loved her. And yesterday as I was driving down to my boot camp class I thought what a beautiful day it was then immediately thought how she will never experience a day like that again.

And I will. I am. I am breathing. The baby birds in the honeysuckled nest outside my bedroom are chirping. My three dogs are basking in the afternoon sun. I will go and pick up my healthy kids (incredible human beings) from school in an hour, and then I will bring them home. HOME. And we will finish our day together.

To start it all over again tomorrow. Because, God willing, I will be able to.  And I am grateful for that.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s method of overcoming panic. But, for me, it clearly turns out to be an issue (post-tantrum) of perspective and – again – taking the hand of the One who has laid my path over the mountains and behind whom I am to follow with measured gait.

In addition, let’s be honest. There is no question in my mind that coming to this epiphany was helped enormously by – you guessed it – chocolate.

Everything in moderation.

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Jsg/april 16

 

 

NOT your misery memoir.

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When I first met Katherine and Jay Wolf, they were impossibly hard not to like. Which was infuriating, because they seemed to have it all.

Young, stop-in-the-street beautiful, warm and funny, they sprung from solid Southern Christian families with a strong, foundational faith themselves. They married their college sweetheart, moved to LA to pursue law (him) and modeling/acting (her). And then on top of all that the Lord gave them the surprise cherry on the cake in the sweet form of baby James.

I can remember the day I first spotted them.   Hugely pregnant with my second, I was sweatily teaching the Young Marrieds class at our church on an appallingly hot August Sunday morning when they walked in. Even among the beautiful young coupledom of LA, Jay and Katherine stood out like a cool, uncomplicated breeze of joy.

Dealing with whatever was on one’s own plate, it was easy to look at these carefree two and think, “Well how easy is it for them to be happy?? They have everything! What have they ever really suffered?

And then, almost two years later in April 2008, I got an email prayer request saying that Katherine, at age 26, had suffered a massive brain stem stroke and was not expected to live.   Jay was only days away from sitting the California bar exam and their baby James was just six months old.

“WHAT?” It was like getting a hard, head-numbing slap.  I can still see where I was sitting at my father’s desk in England with a cold Spring light coming through the window. “What??” I repeated to myself. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to someone like Katherine! She’s the fairytale, this isn’t right! This is not the way their story should go.” And I prayed.

Miraculous is a term that (ironically) can be overused. However Katherine’s survival has been nothing short of a divine miracle.   And her ongoing survival has come at immense cost, not only to her but also to Jay and little James.  It has at times been almost too hard to believe.

If crucifixion is the ultimate test of character, then over the past eight years Katherine and Jay have proved over and over again that they are both, indeed, the real deal. What has come out of their crushing has not been bitterness, but the aroma of Christ.  When you spend time with them they are full of humor, and honesty, and their love of life.

The many vertiginous twists and turns, ups and downs of their journey thus far they have now written down in a book entitled, HOPE HEALS.

Even though Jay and Katherine have material in spades about suffering, their story is the polar opposite of a ‘Misery Memoir’. And what makes their book so uplifting is their candor. Their generosity in sharing with the world what their journey has truly looked like from the inside: good, bad, ugly and astonishing.

HOWEVER, let me be clear. This is not a book of victory-flag-waving-at-the-summit-of-life-now-it’s-all-over.

HOPE HEALS is a book about what it means to believe in a loving God who has allowed you to fall into the very deepest trenches of life and expects you to keep going.

HOPE HEALS is about what it means to hope when hope may only now be found in the Giver of Hope Himself.

HOPE HEALS is about what it means to hold onto your marriage when it no longer looks anything like what you signed up for.

HOPE HEALS is about what it means to determinedly play out the hand you’ve been dealt and continue to lift it all up for God’s glory. When you haven’t the strength even to lift your own head.

HOPE HEALS is about… just that.

Katherine’s journey continues. The Wolfs’ lives were forever changed by the stroke. And while one can never be thankful for such horrendous suffering, I am immensely grateful that they have chosen to share all that they have learned/are learning in the midst of it with the rest of us.

If you’re looking for a book to encourage, a story to uplift, a teaching to strengthen feeble knees (in every sense, in any circumstance) to keep going, you can buy their book here.

www.hopehealsbook.com  (Also available in the UK here)

Buy it. And, as Katherine and Jay would say, HOPE IT FORWARD.

 

Jsg/April 16

The Hate Monster and the Bitterness Pill.

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Here is how the Hate Monster comes into your life.

You are in terrible pain and you hear a knock on your front door.

“What?” you growl, swinging it violently open.

“Hi there!” the beguiling hulk says cheerfully. “I understand you have some pain you’d like removed? I’m just the guy for the job. You give me the pain and I… take it away!”

“What’s the catch?” you ask, irritated that he’s even caught your attention.

“No catch! Give me your pain and I take it away and recycle it. Only one stipulation – I can only take away particular kinds of pain. I don’t do knees, gastrointestinal tract, cancer, that sort of thing.”

“Well, what do you take then?”

“I take any pain that is taking up space in your heart? That’s my specialty.”

As it turns out you have quite a lot of that, or at least some.

“How much do you take?” you ask in a suspicious tone.

“Only the bit that hurts! Everything else, I promise, will be left untouched.”

“OK,” you say. And the deal is done.

Only after he’s taken that part of your heart and recycled it into hate, do you recognize the catch. You’ve got less heart to use.

You’ve got less capacity.

For compassion.

For empathy.

For patience.

For trust.

For generosity.

For forgiveness.

For Love.

For Hope.

Every time the Hate Monster has persuaded you (often with little persuasion) to part with those pieces which hurt so badly, he leaves you with less and less storage for the qualities only your heart can produce which bring you life.

It is so tempting to answer his knock. “Anything but this pain,” you groan. “Hate will lighten my load, it will incinerate my roadblocks, it will give me energy and invigorate me out of this torpor.”

And it will. It will do all these things. Except what you will be left with is not life, but nothing. And nowhere to go. There aren’t any roadblocks because there’s so much less available road.

You got rid of the pain, but it was not redeemed. Instead, you let the pain take you, overcome you, destroy you.

Leaving you with less heart to move forward. To move beyond. To try again. To stay open to life in all its unimaginable possibilities.

Your lesser heart wants to make you stay indoors. Not try. Not help. Not hope. It’s too exhausting to hope when you have so little heart left to do all the jobs intended to be done by a whole one.

So if not to the Hate Monster, where will you go with your hurt?

And then there’s the Bitterness Pill. Most often provided by the Hate Monster to deaden the pain of getting parts of your heart removed. “This will help,” he assures you. “Nearly all my clients take this as a 2 for 1 deal. It makes a lot of sense really.”

So you’re persuaded to take the Bitterness Pill. But it doesn’t deaden the pain. It turns whatever is left of your heart sour. A sourness that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth that no amount of water, wine or wisdom can wash away.  It’s corrosive.

The sourness is so distracting that when people ask you a question, you can’t even hear them properly. “What are you asking of me now? Can’t you see I have this horrible taste in my mouth? It takes all my energy to just get through my day! Shut up and go away. Find someone who cares, because it won’t be me.

And they do. The people go away. And so the Hate Monster comes again and finds even more treasure waiting for him to consume. To “take away”. And you wash another Bitterness Pill down with the contaminated water he just happens to carry with him.

He says it’s water. It has the quality of water. It’s a liquid. But that’s where all similarity ends. Because it’s a toxic formula intended to slowly poison whatever pockets of your heart still hold life. To poison you slowly so you won’t even notice and stop it in time.

And so the cycle continues. Until you have no one who is willing to stay around you. No one who is willing to keep calling out the living heart that still beats within you, because you are actually still alive…

The Hate Monster and the Bitterness Pill are not our friends. Tempting as they both appear to be in the short-term/quick fix category.

They are merely deceivers. Out to kill, steal and destroy. Have nothing to do with them. And alert your neighbors to what they look like, how they appear.

If you do refuse to do business with either of them, what can you do with your pain? Where can you go?

I know of only One who has the mojo to heal and redeem what hurts so badly in the human heart.

And He’s already in the house.

 

 

Jsg/March 16

Fired.

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I got fired today.

I’m half pissed off and half devastated.

I made a minor mistake. One, in 49 projects completed.

The truth is the fault was mine. I missed something that I am supposed to catch.

Mortified when I heard, I apologized profusely. I owned it. I groveled. And then when I didn’t hear back, I was angry with myself for the groveling because it was, after all, just a genuine mistake. I hadn’t started World War Three.

They left me hanging for a week. Colleagues assured me everyone makes mistakes now and then and they weren’t fired for it. It’s just human error. Inevitable eventually.

But then today, I got the email.

I’m a big fan of Brené Brown’s work, and when I was first told of my mistake last week, SHAME in big fat red buckets of blood poured down on my head.

I was suddenly eight again and Miss Barrett was asking who had stolen someone’s eraser in English class and I blushed puce. I hadn’t taken it but I was sure in some way I must have been guilty and would soon be found out. Especially since I was blushing.

Now at fifty years old, the same voices in my head are instant:

“How could I have done that?? You IDIOT! They’ll think you’re not serious about your job! They’ll think you weren’t paying attention! They’ll think you’re a complete flake. (And let’s be honest you are, aren’t you.)”

Shame. It works with David Bowie’s song if you change that single word:

Shame, makes a man take things over

Shame, lets him loose, hard to swallow

Shame, puts you there where things are hollow

Shame

Shame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame

That burns your change to keep you insane

Sha-ame.

I was engulfed. So I groveled to overcompensate then resented myself for it.

These moments are not fun in my head. Come on in.

What is interesting about an instance such as this is what it reveals about yourself.

I hadn’t thought of myself as a perfectionist. For an artist I suppose it’s quite unusual. I strive for excellence, however I can also live with “good enough.”

But being fired shows me that, actually, I am a perfectionist after all. About my conduct.

You see, it was my fault. I could have worked harder and then I wouldn’t have missed what I was supposed to catch. The fact that I was working hard and really don’t know why I didn’t catch the mistake doesn’t help. I should have caught it. I’m really, really good.

That voice of pride and self-confidence and strong work ethic is immediately in battle with the voice that says, “You’re full of crap. You’re not good!! Of course you were going to make that mistake and of course you deserve to get fired. Why should they just give you a warning? Why would they want you to stay?”

And that second voice really gets me. Why?

I think the truth is that deep, deepest down, I still believe that God blesses me when I get things right. That God loves me when I get things right.

And so when I don’t, I’m on my own. I’m jailed from all things good because the big iron door of blessing and grace has now – rightly – been slammed shut with a death-ening clang.

I can tell other people about grace. I can teach about it. I can quote all the verses in scripture describing it. I can verbally ask the Lord to cover me in it (as I did this afternoon). But apparently I have no grace for myself.

And that, my friends, is pride. Based in fear. I realize that deep down my fear is that it is indeed works which justify me, and not love.

Whoa. That epiphany is almost worth getting fired for.

Because God loves me not for getting things right. He simply does. He’s Love. Not to love me would be for Him to not be who He is.

How can I accept that? How can I resist it?

After I heard, I was upset and my kids were upset. So I asked if we could pray together. I was so sorry for making the mistake, and I was so sorry for letting everyone down. And I did ask for the Lord’s grace to cover me.

I do trust that it does.

In spite of myself.

 

give way

 

 

Jsg/Feb 16

 

 

The Long Middle.

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In the ’80s when my sister worked in Kathmandhu for a couple of years, I went out to do some trekking with her in the Himalayas. I went in monsoon season. Every morning we would head out at sunrise and walk until nightfall at 6 pm.

Here we were in the glorious Himalayas, beautiful vistas stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction… and we couldn’t see a thing.  Because, it was monsoon season. We were mostly enveloped in grey clouds of thick wetness.

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But we’re British! So we persevered. We made up games (“At the end of this trek, what I would like to find in my fridge…”) we recited entire movie screenplays (Day of the Jackal) and we just.kept.walking.

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We were fully aware that the views surrounding us were absolutely breathtaking and, occasionally, the cloud would dissipate and we glimpsed what had been there all along but hidden from our eyes.

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We were beset by driving rain, leeches, blisters and muscle fatigue like you wouldn’t believe. One day after stopping at a teashop for dahlbat and sitting cross legged on a tiny log for an hour, I was unable to stand. This to the enormous amusement of the children and teashop owners who kindly levered me to my feet. Crazy foreigners, I’m sure they were thinking.

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We knew the trek was worth it for several reasons. We were in Nepal! It was the Himalayas! And we wanted to achieve it, to say yes, we did it! 13 hour days of walking with and without any view in one of the most amazing mountain ranges in the world.

Remembering those treks has been a very helpful metaphor for me over the years. So much of life is represented in them:

Climbing 13 hours all the way up to a peak only to look across the valley to an equal height and be told that that is where we have to get to by noon tomorrow.   (I asked my sister, “Where’s the bridge?” She replied, “No bridge. It’s just all the way down, and then all the way back up the other side.” I wanted to cry.)

Sometimes there were bridges –

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And sometimes there were not.

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Then there were the leeches.

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We were killing ourselves to go on this trek and now these nasty vermin were attacking our ankles? COME. ON.!!

And the rain and the wind. Sometimes we could laugh about it,

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And sometimes we couldn’t.

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Then the fog and those clouds. We knew that these incredible views were almost in touching distance. They were there right then along with us, but we couldn’t see them because of the circumstances.

Until, every so often, the clouds would lift and we could see the view and we remembered what this was all for.

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And what views they were. Enough to make you want to shout and dance and scream loudly in sheer awe of what lay all around you. THE HIMALAYAS!!

On the days when the weather didn’t lift, there was just a lot of plodding forward. Keeping your eyes on the next step in front of you so you didn’t trip on a rock or slide on a humungous slug.  Having a great companion made a huge difference.

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For some extraordinary reason I’d brought a cardigan with me. Trust me when I say a cardigan in monsoon weather is one of the most unpleasant garments to wear ever.

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The fog and rain could get pretty depressing. But there was no point stopping where we were. We had a destination to get to, the weather wasn’t going to change any time soon and the only option was to just.keep.walking.

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This type of walking is what I refer to as The Long Middle: you weren’t where you started; you haven’t arrived where you’re going; and what you’re walking through doesn’t really seem to provide any view whatsoever. You just have to keep walking.

I’m in the Long Middle right now in this season of my life. And aren’t there many different Long Middles we have to walk through in a lifetime?

There’s a Long Middle –

To grief

To long term medical treatment

To unemployment

To a big project

To moving

In fact, to any major change in your life.

And you know there’s a view out there, but you just can’t see it now. Or you can’t see it yet. You’ve just got to crest the next hill, or traverse the next valley, or wait for the weather to change, or (my least favorite) just.keep.walking.

It’s not sexy. It’s not sensational. Sometimes it’s not even interesting at all. You just have to keep going.

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Sometimes you feel like chatting to companions on the trek, sometimes you just want to walk and think, or walk and not think. It really doesn’t matter so long as you keep walking.

And you can meet some pretty extraordinary people you wouldn’t have met if you hadn’t been walking on that particular trek, on that particular day, in that particular weather.

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One night mid-trek, we had to stop before reaching the village we had been heading for. Our guide or Dai (means “older brother”, loved this) asked a Tibetan family whose house we were passing if we could stay with them. They invited us in, fed us, laughed warmly at our aches and pains, and then my sister who spoke Nepali gamely married me off to their son who was working in India.

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They had nothing in Western terms, and they gave us everything. I’ll never forget it.

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The thing about the Long Middle is that it does eventually end. We haven’t got to our age without having been through other Long Middles before.

It’s called the Middle for a reason. It’s not the start, and it’s not the destination. It’s the bit of the process you’ve just got to get through in the meantime. And some days you just want to hide or scream or complain or snap. It really doesn’t matter how you deal with it, as long as you keep moving in the right direction.  Attitude helps, but movement matters.  There’s no medal for how you get through it, there’s only achievement when you do.

So if you’re in a Long Middle in this season of your life, Just.Keep.Walking. The views are there and they’re awesome, you just can’t see them. Yet. Don’t stop.

And the sense of achievement for surviving will be enormous when you arrive at the next place — you made it! So DON’T, for God’s sake, stop among the leeches.  This season will change, and there’s no way to get to your next destination from where you are today unless you keep moving.

You know my proudest moment on that Himalayan trek? It was when, sitting by the fire, the father of the Tibetan family asked our guide, Dai, if my sister and I could ‘walk’. Dai thought for a moment, then replied quietly:

“Yes,” he smiled. “They can ‘walk’.”

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Jsg/oct 15

God’s Field.

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I used to think of marriage as a field.  When you first get married, you come to this new field of earth together for the first time.  As Christians, you submit this field to God and He begins to work the land.

Initially, as with any field, all the work involves moving stones and clearing away weeds.  Making the field ready.

That’s the first few years, and they can be difficult. Leaving you with a nakedness and vulnerability which is chilly if you’re trusting enough and committed enough to accept it.

After that – just when you begin to think the clearing and moving have stopped – God begins to plough.  Seriously now?  PLOUGHING?  The field now cleared of stones and weeds is cut into, completely uprooted and overturned.  Everything turned upside down.  But with a purpose.  Sound familiar?

The purpose is to sow.

It seems like destruction.  It looks like destruction.  But in fact you discover (if you can hold on) that He is making the newly cleared ground fertile and open to air, water and light.

So for the next however-many years, God sows.  And He waters.  And He waits.

If you’ve signed up for this ride, this season can really feel like nothing much is happening at all – except a lot of prayer and perhaps recovery from the moving and the weeding, and relief for some respite from the ploughing.

In reality, however, it is a fallow season preceding massive growth and change.  You have to remember that it’s coming – and that it’s good.

If you’re aware of this whole process, you begin to wait with anticipation for a harvest.  For the seeds to grow and produce it.

For many, many, many the harvest comes as a matter of course.  But what happens when it doesn’t?

I used to tell friends that if you walked away from the “field” of marriage, all the work God had been doing in you both and for you both (when submitted to Him) would be for nought.  So you must hang on no matter how it looks through all the pain, all the upheaval, all the change and the sacrifice.

But I have been prompted to realize that this is not necessarily so.  The “for nought” part, anyway.

Because if, after years and years of waiting, there is the realization that God’s seed has been sown not on soil but on stone, it is not for nought.  Not by any means.

Because, even if your marriage may not have been changed/may not have grown/may not have flourished… YOU HAVE.

It is not the harvest you had hoped for.  But it is a harvest nonetheless.

Refining, endurance, faith, perseverance, willingness, enduring love, determination.  These strengths are all yours to keep.  These are your wealth.  Your fruit of obedience.

And – if you do have to travel on alone – you can be assured (as I am) that you are still God’s field.  Because you always were.  His precious creation.

And all He has been doing in you through your marriage will be preparing you for what He is calling you to now.  And you will need every bit of your past fruitfulness to be equipped for that.

Because that’s just how God rolls.

He is, after all, the Great Redeemer.

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jsg/feb15

Pulling together.

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I have always thought of marriage as a boat.  You leave the individual boats that were your single lives to join together in a new boat of your mutual making.  You decide which of the things in the individual boats should be brought to the new boat, and which things no longer apply and can/should be jettisoned.

You then each grab an oar and, settling down, pull together in the same direction.  Perhaps you take turns at the tiller but – in order to move forward – you always need to be in agreement as to the direction you are headed.

If the tide turns you address it together.  If a storm hits, it hits you both.  If the boat is becalmed, you’re both stuck.  If there is a fair wind, you both delight in it. And so on.  The crucial thing is that you’re in it together, and you’re committed to pulling in the same direction together.  If you speak against each other, no matter that it’s under your seat that you’re drilling a hole — you’re both going to sink.  And if you turn on the only other person in the boat and attack them, or make a course correction without referring to them, your boat together is going to go nowhere whatsoever.

The problems with choosing not to see the boat as mutual are so obvious as to be not worth mentioning.

When I think of marriage I think of my parents, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.  After an engagement of high drama and intrigue, they made it to the altar and on October 1, 1954 embarked on their voyage.

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I think my parents have a good marriage.  By which I do not mean an easy marriage, or a marriage that has not had (perhaps more than) their fair share of hardship and tragedy.  I mean a marriage where – no matter what – they have journeyed side by side and pulled in the same direction.  Shoulder to shoulder.

Attacks from without?  They have met them head on sitting back to back, and discussed what they thought of each other later.  Strife within?  They have kept it within the boat and, although not necessarily “sorted”, it has been negotiated and made to work.  In rough seas, they have kept a sense of perspective and (as far as possible) retained a lifesaving sense of humor.

The children and I wanted to make them a special present to celebrate their diamond anniversary, so we built a banner to celebrate their 60 years.

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As we worked, I thought of each canvas as another season of their journey.  Things that are common knowledge or that I remember, and things only the two of them know about themselves and each other.

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I attached three ribbons to the back for hanging and now, as I write, even that seems representative of the three cords running through all the years of their married life: faith, hope, love.

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They have modeled for me what the union of marriage means.  They committed to pull forward together, and they are still pulling.

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May my children be so blessed as to find a partnership similar to the one reflected in the love of their grandparents.

A voyage together in all weather, with only one map and one North Star.

jsg/nov 14

The heart has its reasons/motherhood is madness.

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Motherhood is love gone mad.  You know I’m right.

Who else would stay up at all hours of the night for years to cajole a tiny person to feed or sleep?

Who else would still drink the coffee with butter added by their toddler because it was the last milk they had?

Who else would scream unreasoning at a surgeon in the ICU that they had practiced on her child when she couldn’t see any change?

Who else?  Who else?  Who else?

Salinger had it right.  You actually have to be a little crazy to be a mother.  To survive motherhood.  Because the demands placed on you are, honestly, CRAZY.

I thought about this today.  I have had a stomach bug for three days and I feel ghastly.  But I promised my son that we would at last re-paint his room now it is his alone — and I cannot stand for another minute the suspended animation the rest of the house is in until I get it finished.

I am sweating profusely and feeling a little punchy.  I even quoted Shakespeare to a friend this afternoon who texted me that I was cray cray: But,” I cried,  “I am in [paint] stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er!” Need I say more?

I want to go to sleep, but I’m up on that chair precariously taping the ceiling, pouring that paint, rolling it on.  Minecraft green.

Because my son is 9.  But he could be 8, or 7, or 3, or 17 and I would want to do this for him.  Simply because I CAN.  I’m his mother.

When they were little, I used to say to their father that – for this short window of time – what a miracle it was that he and I really could be the answer to their world.  Just with a cuddle.  Or a cup of milk.  Or a bedtime story.  Even just with a mommy smile or a wink.

There will be so many times in their grown up life, I’d tell him, when I will be able to do nothing to change their pain.  When I would do anything to mend their broken heart, or make them feel included, or boost their confidence so crushed.  But there will be nothing I can do then.

Today, however, I can paint his room.  Who cares if I’m tired or sick?  I don’t.  I fear for my sanity slightly (I’d be crazy not to), but I don’t begrudge him.  Not one bit.

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You see, his father and I are in the process of divorce and I really would do anything to make it all right for my kids. But I can’t.

So I fall back on what I can do.  I can’t solve his world.  I can’t mend his parents’ marriage.  I can’t download long division or science or a love of language into his brain.  But I can paint his room, in a lurid color of his choosing.  And the look on his face when first seeing it does make up for something.

And here’s the truth: no matter how careful I am, I always always always leave splotches on the floor.

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I can’t seem to help it.  I lay a plastic sheet down, but you can guarantee some rebellious drip of paint will inevitably make its bid for freedom.

Fortunately, most of our floors are now hardwood.  I try harder on the carpets.  But I quite like the splotches on the hardwood, I mostly leave them.  They’re not everywhere, but to be frank there are more than a few.

I suppose I hope that when my kids see them in their rooms, they will think of me.  I hope they’ll think, “Oh, Mom! Look at that. She’s not perfect, but you know what?  She shows up and she has a go.  And I know that in all her messiness and imperfection, she loves me. Yeah, she just does.  She really loves me.”

I wash the paint from my hands and I drop into bed.  And I do so pray that they will think that.

jsg/Oct 14