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

 

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

 

Truly Supported.

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Michelangelo carved his ‘Piéta’ out of a solid block of Carrara marble in 1500 at the age of 23. The story goes that when he was asked how he’d done it, Michelangelo replied, “I just took away everything that wasn’t the Piéta.”

One wonders if this was his first try. Had he first started out with another piece of marble and made a mistake?  Sort of “Oh, bugger. Now he shall be handless.”

History doesn’t relate but, thankfully, the One who is carving me does not make mistakes.  Which is just as well, because the cutting is getting awfully deep. He is carving away some of the crucial support I always thought was there.  Was part of me.

It is not so much that He is removing sources of support, but allowing me to discover they were not sources at all. I have been looking for support, for affirmation, for comfort, for refuge, for encouragement, in all the wrong places.  Right assessment, just wrong approach.

It must have been almost as painful for Him to watch me discover this as it has been for me to experience it.

I have not enjoyed discovering where I’m mistaken.  The process has been by trial and error and is painful, frustrating, perplexing and repetitive.  I have gone to a presumed source of support over and over and over again expecting to meet supply, only to be disappointed.  I have been slow on the uptake in some instances. When it’s not there, instead of letting go I have thought: “No, no, Josie, try again! YOU are the problem! Support should come from here!  Change your attitude and you will find it.”

Buuuuut no! CRASH. BANG. CRACK. DROP. Face down.

When my expectation of support has crashed down in flames like the Hindenburg, I have looked to comfort myself like a starving baby in other ways. I try to make myself as “comfortable” as I am able. But this doesn’t bring me comfort, I can’t comfort myself. Not with real comfort.  My appetites only serve to reveal my hungers not assuage them.   

The discovery of false sources of support has been like the dismantling of scaffolding that I thought held me in place in the world. Scaffolding which turns out not to be able to hold my weight.

All man-made or man-centric scaffolding buckles under a task it’s not built for.

When false support buckles, you either slump into a pool of cellular jelly OR you discover the interior scaffolding that does actually hold you up.

The interior scaffolding that is affected by nothing externally. Real scaffolding which tells me who I am and how I’m loved.  Scaffolding that tells me I’m not a mistake and I’m hugely valuable.  Scaffolding that reminds me I’m not without hope.   Scaffolding that enables me to stand and look out to see who I’m meant to be in the world. Because I can now hold my head up to see.  Without any false scaffolding obscuring my view.

Interior scaffolding, custom-designed, gives me a robustness and a strength and support nothing and no one in this world can provide nor take from me. Things that the people I ran to could not have given me anyway.  Even if they’d been perfect.  It’s not their fault.

Interior scaffolding is not something I can make for myself or anyone else can give me.  It is scaffolding I can only receive from the Builder Himself.

So OK, Lord.  Painful as it is – sometimes shocking – please continue to take away all the false scaffolding in my life.  Take it all away to leave only what is truly me. And only truly You.

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You are my true support.

 

jsg/oct 17

 

 

Holding.

LIFE-GENDER

You never think about a baby being “trapped” in a mother’s womb.

Because from Kindergarten and even earlier, we understand that babies need to stay in the womb exactly until that moment when they are sufficiently grown to be born.  When they can thrive on the outside.

In my experience, growing in Christ is like a series of new births.  And before each new birth comes a period of gestation and growth.

There is of course the initial death and rebirth at the moment of accepting Christ and dying to the old self. However thereafter, there is a continuing cycle of progressive death to the old and birth into the new as we grow into the likeness of Christ.

It might be agonisingly painful to move from ‘glory into glory’ but it is, nonetheless, what is happening. (Even if it is not until later with the benefit of hindsight that we can see what within us was changed. Or set free. Or healed.)

Between the death of the old and rebirth into the new, there is often what seems like a period of pregnancy in the Christian walk.  Seasons, if you like, where we seem held in a womb of God’s creating.  Where it seems that little is happening, and the experience may be stifling and ghastly and endless.

But what is one to do?

To fight the constraints of space and air is a futile exercise.  I can testify, looking back, that during these times I have been in fact receiving everything necessary to sustain my life.  It just wasn’t necessarily the stuff that I would have preferred.

It would be wide open spaces for me all the way to new birth, if I had the choice.

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Julie-Andrews-on-a-hilltop already exulting in where I would end up (if I could know).

However, wide open spaces are actually massively vulnerable places to be, aren’t they?  You are at the mercy of every weather, undefended, with nowhere to hide.  You could be attacked from any direction at any time.  Since the purpose of pregnancy is growth, the safest environment possible does actually make the most sense.

God is holding me right now in that amniotic sac. It feels tight, and tighter as I grow.  There’s increasingly less space, and everyone – me and those immediately around me – is growing more restless and uncomfortable with the size I am becoming.  I’m taking up so much more room, and it’s not a welcome change.  I myself long for it to be over, even as I recognise that God is not speeding me along to any quick circumstantial, emotional or spiritual change.

He knows how long this birth into the next stage of my transformation will take. So, in His wisdom in the meantime, He is holding me somewhere safe.  It feels like constraint because I can’t yet see beyond it, but the purpose of this time is to grow me more fully into His design and to mature me into whomever I need to be — for whatever He is calling me to next.

This understanding helps me accept where I am, and transforms my response to it. I’ve stopped fighting. I can praise God for placing me in an environment where, like me, those around me may feel uncomfortable, perplexed and exasperated… yet they don’t seek to puncture my sac and lift me out or expel me. And it’s not all about me — they’re on their own journey too.

What horrible half-formed things we would be if misguided kindness or impatience cut us “free” in the process, only to condemn us to a life of dis-ability and in-competence.  

Growing in Christ/being set free in Christ/maturing in Christ is an ungainly process. It is safe, but in my experience it doesn’t happen easily and I don’t find it cosy.  Growing pains are real and challenging.  How big, exactly, am I going to grow??  I writhe and squirm and complain and rage.  But I am not in despair.  I know that God is wise, and so much wiser than me.  He has a bigger play on hand.

If in turn I am to be wise, I will submit to this process.  And wait.  And hope.  And pray.

And, actually, give thanks for those around me who – while they may not understand what God is doing in me and may feel oppressed by my cumbersome size – still let the Lord finish His work, and let me be.

 

jsg/sept 17