Tag Archives: Single Motherhood

Finishing God’s Sentences.

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When I take my dogs for their daily walk, they can tell twenty minutes before we leave.  (Unfortunately any time I bend down to put on my shoes they can also tell and get wildly excited – even though, most times, they’re not actually going anywhere.) All the signs are pointing – potentially – in the direction of bliss but, alas, there is more to it than me just putting on the right footgear.

When we arrive at the gorgeous common where we walk – the dogs having howled deafeningly and in unison at the sheer joy of it all en route – the three of them spring from the car and dash off in all directions at once. I corral them back (often having to put them on leads) before we can set out on our intended route.

How very true it is to say that dogs resemble their owners.

When I was at seminary twenty five years ago, I had a brilliant counsellor who helped  me process my journey. Almost every session, she said the same thing to me, “Stay the course.” When she first said it, I asked her what she meant. She replied,

“When God gives you a whiff of something, Josie, you’re all in.  You put your pedal to the metal and suddenly you’re going a million miles an hour and becoming a missionary in Africa. Just stay the course! Stay. The. Course.”

Blimey, how I struggle with this.  Just like my own children, I constantly jump ahead. I say to them:  “After dinner, we’ll…” They say: “Watch a movie?!”/”Get an ice cream?!”/Buy a new video game???!!!!” Sometimes they’re right, but not yet. And sometimes they’re just completely wrong.

As I come to the end of this particular season of transition – married to divorced, America to England – I can see so clearly how constantly I try to finish God’s sentences. “Oh yeah, OK, right Lord.  I can see how this goes…”

I think it’s the product of three things:

  1. My desire to get out of a situation I’m currently in.
  2. My passion to be in His will.
  3. My sometimes desperate need to know what on earth is really going on.

On occasion with my littlest dog, when I can’t get her to stay close to me on our walk, I just lift her off the ground and carry her. She squirms and wriggles, but I hold her tight until we reach a place where she can safely run.

So too with Jesus and me.  Looking back, I can see where He lifted my feet off the ground to stop me running all over the place.  In frustration and fury, my legs kept pumping and my fists landed more than a few good punches on Jesus’ chest meantime. How I hate not “going” anywhere (and how much He must love me when I can be so unpleasant.)

Of course, it’s not that I haven’t been going anywhere. He’s got me and He’s simply been moving me forward at a pace and in a way that I could handle.

How much I wish I would have rested in that and not struggled so hard.  It was exhausting and changed nothing.  How much I wish I would have enjoyed the ride a bit more! Trusting that Someone knew what was really going on, Someone knew where I was going next, and Someone was going to get me and my kids there safely.

How much I wish I had spent more time doing less.  Not striving, not fretting, not peering into a future I could not as yet see.

For, as tortuously hard as the last three years have been, they have only been matched and overcome by God’s kindness and faithfulness to me in the midst.  I have not struck my foot against a stone.  I have not lost my mind.  I still have two provenly robust, loving and remarkable children. And I am closer to my saviour than I have ever been.

If you are walking a path of transition, my recommendation to you is this: relax and recognise Jesus surrounding you. The people in your life, a great cup of coffee, escapist shows (some shows), fellowship, friendship, the outdoors, rain, sun, seasons reminding you of the cycle of life.  Breathe and let the road take you – don’t strive to take the road.  He’s already got it all laid out, certain of your every step. Keep laying your heart before Him and wait for Him to speak.

Where you stop, He’ll continue you forward. Where you stumble, He’ll pick you up and set you straight. Where you totally give up, you’ll discover it was Him who was getting you there anyway.

And if you don’t know Jesus, He’s walking beside you anyway.  Closer to you than breathing.  Because that’s just how He rolls. That’s just how much He loves you as much as He loves me. No matter what. You can just ask Him.

So what can I do now that I’m trying not to pre-empt God’s every next move in my life? Well, all I can say is this.  Since Christmas I have had a big eraser sitting at eye level above my desk:

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Last week, as I lay face down in worship pondering where God might lead me next, I distinctly heard Him say this:  “THINK BIGGER!

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Thank you so much to the tens of thousands of you who have read my blog over the past three years.  Your companionship has been a jewel in my pocket.

Bash on!

Steps

Regardless.

jsg/May 17

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Never underestimate the blessing of an easy fix.

There are many things that are falling apart in my house. Thankfully not me and the kids, but many others.
This week my son pulled open the Tupperware cupboard and it swung drunkenly from its lower hinge. It was unhinged and so was I. Ach. What would I now have to do? Take the door off its hinges, take the door to Home Depot, ask what kind of hinges they have that I could replace mine with, get the right screws, come home and reattach the cupboard.

This doesn’t sound earth shattering I know, but as a single mum it’s just one more bloody thing.

Then a lovely thing happened. In going to take the door off the following day I suddenly thought, “What if it just needs a longer screw to hold it in place?” And – do you know – I was right! What I had envisaged as a couple of hours of laborious life in the material world of door fixings, I was – voila! – sorted.

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I felt as light as air, and I moved on with my now miraculously free day. Well, free in the sense of all the other things I had to get done without fixing the door. Which meant a lot.

It made me think about the ‘easy fix’ and how often I skip by it. Like when you’re delving into your handbag and you pull out the right lipstick first time. What are the odds of that happening?

Or when you ask your ex for something and – instead of argument – you hear, “Sure. I can give you the check this evening.”

Or when your child feels rejected and you come up with something simple that solves their world.

All these are what I call ‘easy fixes’. Freebies if you like.

Like when my son was three years old and decided to potty train himself. Start to finish in ten days. SAY WHAT?!@#$!! That was a divine freebie. No agro, no stress, just happened.

When I think about easy fixes they’re hard to remember. The cupboard only happened this week so it’s fresh in my mind.

Why don’t I remember them? And why don’t I remember the things that didn’t happen and focus only instead on those hard things that did? Why is my scale so balanced toward the hard stuff and so laid back about the every day graces like: My kid’s getting better at math! I got the job! The chicken was on sale! There was a Groupon for the party!

Why do I almost feel like I am “getting away with” anything good that happens? That the good I receive was somehow not intentioned, but (happily for me) slipped through unnoticed? “Oh well, that’s something I don’t need to worry about!” I say as I move on forgetting, to fix my eyes instead on the next problem/obstacle/deficiency.

My thanksgiving is always so pathetically generic: health, kids, home, beauty. I am very grateful but, the truth is, I rarely rest to consider the good.

Yesterday I was driving my kids to school, and the car two behind us collided with a metal trailer attached to a van that failed to make a late left turn. We were forty feet from disaster. I rushed to the desperately shaken 16 year old driver and was glad to help, but did I consider that could have been us? No. It didn’t occur to me, because nothing bad happened to us.

The other month at prayer group, we spent ten minutes silently reflecting on our day. I sat there thinking nothing happened, and then realized that actually I had been happy that day. This didn’t even register until I’d done a laundry list of everything else.

My question to myself had been, “OK, what did I have to overcome today?” Apparently nothing, given my criteria. If I hadn’t been forced to reflect, I wouldn’t have even noticed that actually that day had been one simply to cherish. Nothing bad happened – so what then, it didn’t rate for me? What is up with that?! I am so hardwired for disaster that blessing almost doesn’t seem to count.

We have been having incredible skies in LA this week. We’ve had glorious rain on and off, and the sky has been outdoing itself in majesty.

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It made me realize something: EVERY cloud has a silver lining. Of course it does! You know why? Because the sun was still always behind the clouds, no matter how thick. The sun doesn’t change, the clouds do.

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Why then do I live my life from the perspective of oppressive clouds only with the sun occasionally breaking through – against all odds?

Sometimes there are many clouds, sometimes there are none. But the sun? The sun never changes. What if I were to live in this reality? To know good is never absent, the sun will come out tomorrow if not perhaps later today. Why? Because it is always there.

Last week, a friend in church said to me, “There has never not been a dawn.” Never. Even if it is obscured by bad weather and clouds, it’s still there. It is simply beyond our sight.

I want to live in the awareness that the sun is always shining on me, even when it is obscured by clouds and I cannot see it. That these “easy fixes” come not as a rarity but as a certainty. And they more than tip the scale in the opposite direction.

All “weather” is temporary. God’s love, His truth, His blessings, His favor, His redemption, His grace? These. These are eternal.

What if I were to consider this day within the context of permanent, constant blessing and not difficulty? What if I changed my grading system?

What would my life look like then? What would yours?

jsg/nov 15

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

One if by sea – Experiencing Single Motherhood.

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I’m a single mother.  Never would I have chosen it.  But here we are.

Where is “here” exactly?

The runnels of my old life in some ways have not changed.  I am still the caregiver for my children, the cook, the housekeeper, the guardian, the hurry-upper and time keeper.  But where there used to be a boundary in my day created by the entrance of another, those boundaries no longer exist.

Now my days and nights flow into each other.  On the rare occasions I am without my kids I find myself not racing around to do all the things I never get to, but instead sitting down in an armchair with a cup of tea or glass of wine hearing the silence.  Staring at the yard.  Looking into space.

As a single parent I feel infinitely more finite than I once did, and the realization of being a single parent has filtered into my consciousness only slowly.  For much of the beginning I had no time to think at all (survival being its own kind of mercy).

My energy now does come to an end, abruptly.  I have yet to recognize exactly when that last detour is going to leave me stranded before bedtime.  Which last fork in the day’s road is going to prove a greater distance than there is gas in my tank.

And then there are the IEDs – your Intense Experiences of Divorce when your single parent-ness knocks you upside the head with a silent, deadly thwack.

“We’re out of milk, Mom!”  And you open your mouth to speak but instead just stare into the blackness of the kitchen window. Because you’ve realized that the only person who can buy more is you.

“Mom! … Mom!… Mom!… Mom!…”  And you open your mouth to call but realize as you pick up another sodden bath towel that of course they need you – who else is there?

“The dog’s vomiting, Mom!!”  And — you get the point.

“Here” for me at the moment is somewhere out on open sea.

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I am far from any shore I have inhabited, and still too far from any new one to be seen. I’m the only navigator, the only oarswoman, the only nurse, the only provisioner, the only lap, the only shoulder, the only arms, the only heart.  I have no direction to go except forward – and I pray in faith that I am in fact moving (not drifting).

“Me” is the only raw material I’ve got to work with to keep afloat, and I clearly fall woefully short of what is required.  In addition, “Me” is all my two small beloved passengers have to work with as well.

When I was married, I used to look at single-mom-friends with a mixture of awe and terror: “My GOD, how do they do it day in day out?” I now know that you do it simply because you can’t not.  There is no perfect formula of recovery, no smooth transition, no preordained map.  It’s just wide open sea.  Everywhere you look.

It is the season when I’m starting to realize that – no matter how hard I try – I am never going to add up to two imperfect people sailing the boat.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am now just one imperfect person trying to do what was designed to be done by two.  And the squalls are going to hit regardless, and the nights be just as long.

This week I felt I was going overboard until I slapped myself upright with a paradigm shift.  A shift from “What did I not manage to do/provide/finish/nurture this week?” to “Of what was possible to get done as one person this week, how well did I reasonably cope given the flaws in my character and the hours in a day?”

This allows me to lift my face to the sun and feel not shame and inadequacy, but grace.

Because if there’s no grace, the future for the one imperfect person left to steer the boat looks very bleak indeed.

If you know a single mom, she’s almost bound to be overstretched, overreaching, perhaps overcome.  Don’t judge her, the position’s taken.

My experience of single motherhood is that there is nothing to say. But a hug from someone else helps a lot to soothe the hurt of my own finitude.

How about you?

jsg/jan15