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Decisions

This is the post excerpt.

And then she was free

Problogue (see what I did there?):

This is my new blog.  I finished my previous blog/incarnation in the early summer.  That character arc took me from married to divorced, Los Angeles to England with two youngish children in tow.  You can read all about it here: www.bashonregardless.wordpress.com.

This new blog is entitled: AND THEN SHE WAS FREE. Not because it’s unicorns and rainbows – the reality of freedom is far grittier than that.  I’ve burst forth from one cocoon to discover slowly slowly who I’ve now become (“I have legs?  Oh my word, I can see!”). But here’s the catch.  NOT into the old world I inhabited. No, no.  It’s a whole NEW one which clearly requires this new person I’ve become.  Old patterns fail fast, new capacities only begin to emerge and I want to cry, “Seriously? This is freedom?”

Yet I believe it is.

So, as I begin, I have come to some decisions.

I have spent a year feeling guilty for all that I have put my children through (divorce, transplant, multi-generational living). A year, I now realize, where I forfeited my right to be the parent because I simply felt so badly for the choices I was forced to make.  The right choices yes, but horrendously challenging ones.  Compromise, compensate, compromise.  Oh my word how the three of us have suffered on account of me.

It has been a year where, by force of necessity, the children and I moved back in with my elderly parents.  A sanctuary!  A safe place!  A kindness! But a time to recoup?  Well yes and no.  It turns out your childhood issues don’t go away when you return home as an adult. Either with your parents or your siblings.  And now there’s no escape.

It has been a year where I was determined to create new community fast, fearing isolation as death. I forged forward and was blessed to discover whom the Lord had placed in readiness in my path.  Sadly, not so for my children. Racism, alienation, and grief have consumed them much. And I have watched and grieved and felt co-dependently guilty as if, somehow, this were all my fault.

So now I emerge into Year Two.  How am I to make my way, like an elephant through the jungle, forging a path for my reluctant children to follow?  What must I decide?

  1. That I cannot live for anyone else. Elderly parents, unsupportive siblings, dysfunctional exes, friends with a different view, even my children.  I have to find a way to make this life work. I must focus and gain ground.
  2. Boundaries must be put in place. No more “anytime you need me, I’ll be there”.  It’s not possible.  I need to keep my eye on the finish line.
  3. That my schedule must be basic to succeed.
  4. That I need to close my door. To process what is truly needed and to reflect on what is left.
  5. To look neither to left or right, but to listen, watch and discern each step. There are wolves, alligators and swamps out there.

I have to say it’s not sexy, this life as a single parent replanted on the other side of the globe.  But is anyone’s?

I would love you to walk alongside me as I navigate this new way of being. Surely it cannot be as bad as where I’ve been. And if it is?  I’ve surely had the training to meet it before it meets me.

Forward.

Jsg/aug 17

Look.

For now we see through a glass, darkly;

but then

face to face:

now I know in part;

but then shall I know

even as – also –

I am known.

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Yesterday, my two children flew across the world to spend their first Christmas away from me/with their father.

We got through the airport.  Got through in both the physical and metaphorical sense.  My twelve year old with eyes brimming checking the angles to see if anyone was watching this poignant, heroic, moment of farewell. We giggled at ourselves, and through they went.

It is an oddly weightless feeling to be without your children at Christmas.  To be without anyone, in fact.  Not at all a tragic feeling, just a slightly bizarre one.

All my Christmas activities have been accomplished.  Father Christmas cannot land early (so I was off the hook in the stocking department) but we had our full-on Christmas meal (plus requisite soup the following night), opened presents (as is our wont) over several days, sang Christmas songs and watched favourite Christmas movies, wrote Christmas cards and even managed to send Christmas packages by filial courier to the other side of the globe.  I’m done! All finished!  And it’s not yet even the week before Christmas.

I find myself being still. There are loads of things I could be doing, but what might happen if I choose not to do them?  If I choose stillness. Quiet. Solitude.

Devotionals have been extraordinarily on point for me in recent weeks and this was today’s:

‘Muddy water becomes clear only if we let it be still for a while.’ Dallas Willard.

I feel very excited about being still.  Never usually alone in human terms, I could actually spend Christmas with Jesus this year.  Present, interactive, truly grateful, quiet.

As the water clears, whom might I discover myself to be?  Who might show up? The last time I had the leisure to ask this question was probably 20 years ago.  “Who am I?” I asked myself then. “And what do I want to do now?”

Over the next two weeks, the opportunity is there for me to ponder everything from the right side and not the back side. I often howl with friends about looking life’s backside square in the face on a daily basis, but it is also truly the back side isn’t it?  We can only see things from a temporal point of view.

And maybe it looks drab, or weird, or hopeless, or limited. But we are only seeing it now from our own vantage point.

If I spend time with Jesus – listening to Him, chatting with Him, chewing the fat with Him – I might get a clearer view of my life journey from His perspective instead of my own.  Look at it in His light, His warmth, His truth, regarding His eternal values. Not just these current, common circumstances.

So, as much as I’ll miss my children, I recognise the astonishing gift of time and space I’ve been given. In a season where usually these things come in minimal supply.

I want to see my life more clearly from Jesus’ point of view. To do that, and because my kids are away, I’ll get to take time with Him until ‘the things of this world grow strangely dim‘.  To ponder Advent itself, and this Advent in particular. Christmas too.

To see things about the daily rush that often, perhaps, I cannot spot for want of looking.

I’ll finish with this very favourite text for Christmas. A letter, written by Fra Giovanni Giocondo to his friend, Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, on Christmas Eve, 1513.

‘There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see – and to see we have only to look.

I beseech you to look!’

I beseech you too – along with myself! – to look.

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Happy Christmas one and all,

Josie

 

jsg/dec 17

 

Unpacking.

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‘Go, go, go,” said the bird: human kind                                                                                       Cannot bear very much reality.                                                                                                    What might have been and what has been                                                                                Point to one end, which is always present.’

 

The last eighteen months have been a process of grieving, discarding, packing, storing, discarding more, packing again, shipping, unpacking, packing again, grieving, and now, finally and fully (and I hope for a longer period of time), unpacking everything I’ve chosen to keep with us.
There’s nothing like moving to give you a snapshot of life. It’s very existential, very real. You get a blurry snapshot as you pack up, but mostly this is lost in the mayhem of getting out on time and trying to be ruthless while frequently failing (amidst disastrous thoughts of, “Just box it, you can sort it out at the other end”).
Unpacking, later, with the very essence of things left is where the truth comes out. What did I keep and why? What would someone make of me from my things?
I still kept too much, but I think I’m getting better at moving on from the past. These are only “things” after all, life is what I carry within me and my children within them.
Whole seasons of your life can be contained in an envelope, or box, or one lamp. It’s enough. However I have kept three ducks that have held my keys by my front door since I was a student, because it is useful to have some threads that stretch right the way through.
This most recent move was my twenty second, of which the last three have been the hardest. I have carried my children with me for these, and not been able to change it for them nor give them a choice.
Unpacking boxes provokes a bit of existential musing so here is mine.
No matter how long we stay in any place, we are – literally – just passing through.  Like Uta Hagen‘s counsel to have an ‘element of costume’ for your character on stage, perhaps all we really need with us is an ‘element of home’. Not endless amounts of it. A reminder of who we are, how far we’ve come, how much we’ve got through, and how we’ve survived. What we treasure – whom we treasure – cannot be captured in a thing, whatever it represents for us.
I can see clearly what I get rid of over and over again, and now remind myself not to buy it this time. Not to clog up the pipes with lots of new stuff which I know I’ll have to discard when life moves us on.
My heart has learned by force of circumstance to travel light. To know that I always carry my identity and my purpose within me, not around me.
To have my heart set on pilgrimage, and not on settling down and staying put. To be willing to use the things of this world, without being engrossed by them. (Don’t think I’m completely spartan! I’ve kept some of my Limoges, like Karen.)
However, T.S. Eliot’s bird is so right:
‘Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,                                                      Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.’
I am treading lightly, looking ahead.

 

I don’t want to miss the children.

 

 

Josie/Dec 17

Angels with dirty faces.

‘Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!

As I was packing today, I came across a favourite brooch of an angel that I’d left in a drawer. She was tarnished from having been abandoned for so long.

I saw an angel once. On a walk with an Australian friend in Connecticut.  I wonder how many other times I’ve seen their celestial faces and simply not known?

I’ve certainly met them in human form.  Flesh and blood people, all too human, who have come in at crucial moments (not even big moments) and shown me unequivocally the love of Christ.  Frequently.

I hope that can be said of me. Even as I excel on the ‘all too human’ front.

Angels with dirty faces. Like little kids making (/possibly destroying) things in the garden then coming in to show Dad – head to toe in filth. “Look what I’ve done!”

The amazing thing about God is that He takes in the ecstatic, hopeful, yearning look on my face, not the surrounding mess.  I glance down at my broken, muddy nails and smelly clothing. “Yeah, sorry about all the rest of it…”

But He is smiling at me when I look up into His face. “Good job, Josie!  I am so pleased with you,” He says.

And even though know how many things I’ve got wrong in the process, how many ways I’ve failed, how much better I wish I’d’ve been/could be, I hear His words and feel His smile. Sinking into my soul like hot, fragrant, bubbly, soothing, bath water.  Suffusing through me.

I submerge myself and close my eyes.  The water rises up all around me as I sit quietly and soak. No more “thinking” today.

“You know what matters to Me, Josie?” I hear Him say. “YOU.”

 Selah.

When I came across my brooch this morning, I was going to clean her. And then I realised.

It’s far more authentic just to leave her exactly the way she is.

 

jsg/nov 17

 

Something to behold.

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There was a holy rending of family ties tonight.

Like any tearing, it was painful and effective.  Now torn, the view through the veil is breathtaking. And the three of us are free.

Tonight, I witnessed my daughter publicly deliver her take on our situation.  Respectfully, calmly, maturely, she communicated her experience of living in a foreign country on her grandparents’ grace at her mother’s behest for the last sixteen months.  It has not been pretty and yet, in the telling, she maintained her composure and nailed the truth.

No fourteen year old should be underestimated.  They are no longer a child and not yet fully an adult, but perhaps more mature than most of us put together.

I was touched beyond words by how she stood up for me and, even more importantly, for herself.  Cogently describing our journey and her experience of it without venom — which of course made it all the more compelling.

The rest of us, listening, were stilled in the quiet authority of her.  No histrionics, no hyperbole. She stood her ground and, after everything, she stood. Not only stood but towered.

Can you ever truly take credit for your children?  I’m not sure.  My two really came out this way.  I have always been completely convinced that they have never belonged to me.  I just get to watch, and wonder, and (hopefully) safeguard and guide.  Without (I pray) totally ****ing them up.

Out of the mouths of those who are no longer babies, tonight, she spoke.

Lord, give me the grace to live up to the privilege of being her mother.

 

jsg/nov 17

You can’t rush risotto.

‘The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.’

 

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A rainy Sunday wondering what to make for lunch.  Looking for inspiration I ask my fourteen year old, “What do you fancy, darling?” She replies with the singularly unhelpful, “I don’t know, Mum – something really yummy!

Going down to the kitchen, I ponder my options.  I actually enjoy cooking which is fortunate (who hasn’t asked their kids the question “Do you really need to eat dinner every night?“). It’s a contemplative activity for me. When my hands are busy my heart wanders over a range of subjects, often in conversation with God.  Most often, cooking reminds me of process.

I decided on risotto.  Comfort food on a sombre day and all the ingredients to hand: onion, butter and oil, stock, arborio rice, bacon, a block of parmesan cheese.  Ingredients taken individually and raw that would be hard to stomach.  But it’s the melding isn’t it.  And the order.  And the time that needs to be taken.

There’s no rushing a risotto.  You have to wait for the onion to soften in the melted butter, and the bacon to crisp, before stirring in the rice.   Then the stock can only be added one ladle at a time once the previous liquid has been absorbed.  You have to stick with it and keep stirring.  Get distracted and you won’t get the result you want.

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You can’t trick risotto.  You can’t switch your pan over to a hotter plate and expect arborio rice to absorb the stock faster.  It won’t work.

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Making risotto is a process and requires patience. No amount of your children rushing in and saying, “When’s luuuunch?? Isn’t it ready yet??” will speed it up.  It will take the time that it takes.

I’ve cooked risotto countless times, so I have confidence in knowing that if I stick to the recipe the result will be fantastic.

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As I slowly stirred and ladled, the Lord and I considered parallels with the walk of faith:

  • A good recipe
  • The right combination of ingredients
  • The right order
  • Patience
  • Confidence in the result no matter how long you have to wait

Brilliant.

When lunch was finally ready, the kids loved it.

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And why wouldn’t they? In spite of the wait, it was delicious.

 

jsg/nov 17

 

 

 

 

 

Brother Lawrence wrote ‘Practicing the Presence of God’ relating his calling to

 

Locked.

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‘We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;                                         we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.’ C.S. Lewis.

We stood on the bank of the river watching the broad, steady barge move slowly toward us. Then, at the crucial moment, I grabbed the children’s hands and yelled, “JUMP!” And we made it.  We were no longer where we had been, exposed and alone. We were moving forward to somewhere new, dry and afloat.  All shall be well.

For a while, we traveled up the river recovering. Admiring the view, enjoying the new safety.  The children grieved all that had been left behind, but I knew this was our rescue barge, our onward movement, God’s provision.

Then the river started to narrow. (There was a weir off to the right which momentarily looked like an alternative only if you didn’t know what a weir does.)  The river narrowed and narrowed until we entered a lock.

 

Initially the lack of movement was unremarkable.  Only inches separated us from the sides. We were still on the barge, we were still out of danger. However, when it became clear there was a barrier obstructing further progress, our heads turned back to see whether we could reverse.

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Without our noticing, the barrier behind us had slowly closed too. There was no turning back.

“Don’t panic,” I thought.  “This was the right choice, the only choice.  God has a plan, just wait.” I comforted the children.

But it was difficult to wait with nowhere to go stuck on a barge in a lock. The children were restless, out of their element, distressed. They wanted to jump off, run away down the bank, make up another barge from their own imagination.  I felt helpless. Failing.

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And this was all before the water level began to drop.  I didn’t notice it at first, being almost imperceptible.  But slowly I could see less of the open fields and woods beyond the river. My view was increasingly locked into the reality of the barge, the nearness of the sides, the height of the walls.  How tiny our barge seemed now, yet how unwieldy and too large for this confined space.

The walls got higher.  No way forward, no way back.

“God, what are you doing?” I have cried. “This must be right but how can it be right? Look at us!  This is worse than before!  Isn’t it?  We are truly STUCK! Will we be stuck here forever? Unmoving? Trapped?  Have I, in fact, been wrong all along?  This was never, in fact, your barge?  Never your way?”

I had to find quiet in order to think.  And in quiet, my mind turned to the purpose of a lock.  Why do the barriers close? To allow the boat – slowly, slowly – to move from one level of the river to a deeper, lower one and so be able to move ahead.  You can’t tell what’s happening if you don’t know how a lock works.  It looks like the barge has got “locked”in and, worse, is now sinking.

BUT. There is a plan behind every lock.  A purpose.  A necessity to its existence.  If the boat is to go further on its journey, something has to happen to allow for the change in water level to make it possible to proceed. The barrier closes slowly behind the barge, and the one in front of it only opens very slowly once the back one is fully shut.

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Wait for it….

Water levels

Wait for it….

 

jsg/Nov 17

Determined.

‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.’ Proverbs 16:9

When I left the house this morning, I caught sight of a small snail half way up the glass panel in the back door.

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“Blimey,” I thought. “Look how far he’s got. Just by sheer determination.”

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It was truly impressive. I left him where he was.  I couldn’t bear to put all that hard work to waste.

I went off to look at a possible house for me and my kids.  As I stood by my car trying to find the address on my phone, a small blue car came speeding down the street and smashed off my side mirror. They never stopped.

I was in shock. “Really?” I thought. “I mean, really?

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I wanted to give up.  To burst into tears.  To get back in my car and drive home.

But there is no home, that’s why I’m out here trying to find one.

So I took a moment, then retrieved the cover of my mirror thrown across the bonnet. It blessedly snapped back on and the mirror snapped back into place.

I wiped my eyes, turned on my heel and walked toward the house I was going to see. Unharmed. Untouched. Still moving.

When I got back to the house where we are, someone had plucked the snail off the door.

Who knows where he is now.  All that hard work for nothing.

But then,

he didn’t have the kind of protection I’ve got.

 

jsg/oct 17