The Astonishing Juxtapositions of Easter.

Total darkness and absolute light.

Evil and purity.

Doubt and faith.

Despair and expectation.

Disappointment and hope.

Destruction and establishment.

Separation and union.

Death and life.

Grief and joy.

And before the latter, there must be endured (not escaped) the waiting after the former.

The tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. Both true.

The cross and the empty tomb.

“Easter Saturday” is the waiting on the knife edge between the two.

The waiting. Not the end.

HOLD ON.

 

 

 

jsg/march 18

Thank God it’s Good Friday.

He was not good looking.

He was not successful.

He was not envied.

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He was a man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.  

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He knew what He was doing for me, and I did not.

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I betrayed Him.

I rejected Him.

I misunderstood Him.

I misrepresented Him.

I gossiped about Him.

I deserted Him.

I beat Him.

I pierced Him.

I wounded Him.

I killed Him.

That is what makes Good Friday meaningful. Purposeful. Personal.

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And yet He has come for me.

He always-and-forever-will-be for me.

And you too.

It is unfathomable.

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He went to the depths, and rose back up.

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Because of Him, I will too.

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Thank you, God, for Good Friday.

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Thank you, God.

The sky is black.

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Sunday is coming.

 

jsg/march 18

 

Like Snow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

You’ve gotta love the Lord.  This is one of my favourite verses in the whole bible. It is God letting me know that it’s OK for me to speak up.  To say, on occasion, a respectful but deeply heartfelt WTF.  To make my case, to disagree, to shout and stamp and scream and rage.  To give my opinion (He can take it).

It’s been snowing here again.  Unusual for us in the UK. We’ve had a spectacular 2 inches where we are and, even with that and as snow does, it transforms everything.

The quality of light is different through the curtains when you wake up to it.  It is brighter, whiter, clearer, stronger.

Where the day before was bare branches and mud and stones and life writ drear, SNOW has transformed it all into something extraordinary.  Something beautiful. It has covered everything completely.  Changed the shape of things, softened sound.

Views we know like the back of our hand are suddenly new.  Newly known, newly seen adorned in white. Different. Our daily walk doesn’t feel like an everyday activity.  It’s new, and you gasp at the loveliness of it.  The way the light glances off the snow creating new patterns, new vistas, new angles, new shapes. Everything is the same yet snow has completely transformed it.  I cannot see, feel or hear things in the same way.

And this is what God says He does with my sin.  He takes all that is bloody and bleak and self-serving and wounded and wilful and – when I ask Him – He blankets it with white. He forgives me.

His covering has transformed me and continues to transform me into someone new. Truly me, and newly me.

Unlike natural snow, this supernatural blanketing of purity and newness does not melt away either.  It’s eternal.

Walking through the woods this morning, I was breath taken. Awe-struck at what snow can do.  How it changes everything so utterly.  So masterfully.  So purely.  How it catches us off guard with its power to create beauty out of absolutely everything.

Now if I can just remember that about myself, and about others too. God can do it.

We can all be changed.

And in the twinkling of an eye.

jsg/march 18

Spiritual Golf.

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I don’t play golf, but I can totally see why people love it.

All it would take for me would be one true stroke. The perfect connection of body, mind and spirit to club, with the ball flying high, far, and true. Oh the high!  How I would forever after be chasing that congruence again.

Looking over a golf course yesterday, I thought how much the walk of faith is like a game of golf.

You have an end goal.  A finishing point. A certain destination.  And many along the way.

And ohhh, what it takes you to get there.  Determination. Focus. Joy in the victories, perseverance in the defeats.

The club has a purposed use, but oh it can be used for so many other things.  Hacking up the course, hitting people, thwacking the ground in frustration.

And then there’s that ball.  So small, so exact.  You know what you’re meant to do with it so you try, and try, and try again. Practice helps.

Every stroke is another shot at playing the course.  And there are so many outcomes.

You miss the ball.

You connect to it and it flies in entirely the wrong direction.

You hit it and, although only off by just a fraction at the tee, over distance you’re way off the mark.

Then those bunkers. Man-made.  Not like the course, God-given.

And the wide, wide, margins.  Woods, undergrowth, valleys, and who knows what lies beyond that? It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s simply off the course.  Hit your ball over there and you might never find it again.  Unless you ask.  And then a kind spectator, who’s watching you and walking with you for the whole round, will lop it back to right where you stand.

And what about the lake? That huge distance that at times you have to get your ball over?  What if you fall short?

And, of course, you’re not the first one to play the course.  So many have gone before you that you’re navigating areas that have been completely messed up. You can easily twist your ankle or break your leg if you don’t look where you’re going.  If you don’t notice where other players have been before you.

And the other players. You have to leave everyone else’s ball alone! Their game is theirs, yours is yours.

And… here the analogy ends.

Because, unlike golf, no  matter how many times you mess up – even in a day! – if you ask for your ball back you won’t be disqualified.  That kind spectator who’s been there all along will lob it back to you and say,

“Just keep going! You’re doing great! I know how hard the game is, I made it! But without the bunkers!  By the way, it doesn’t matter how many strokes you need.  Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, I redesigned the course that way. Don’t give up. I’m right here beside you, cheering you on, pointing out your next shot if you need me.”

So you tamp down the divots you wilfully made with your club in your fury and frustration, and accept the grace (for grace is what it is) of another chance.

You could get down on yourself, and beat yourself up for being so crap at the game.  Or you could face forward and course correct.  You may be in the thicket, but you can still redirect your focus to the end point.

And try again.

If you keep going? Every so often you will hit the ball true.  And as you watch it soar through the air in the right direction, your breath catches in your chest as you notice the glory of the sky, the green of the grass, the majesty of the trees, and the gift of the air.  All around you.

And you’ll be grateful again.

For the gift of the game.

jsg/march 18

The gift of being in need.

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I love to give. It’s easy for me.

I’m not a saint, it’s just that there’s instant gratification to giving.  Not because of the response but because it feels so great to take from what is mine and contribute it somewhere else. To do something that’s not about me. That is worth doing simply because it’s worth doing and I am able to do it.  Freely!

Not just material things.  It could be time and talent, patience and compassion, grace and mercy, prayer.

I don’t think I give because it makes me feel good. I think I give because there is a transactional gratitude in doing so.  I’m here, I’m alive, and I’m grateful to the One who made it so. So if I become aware of a need, I can choose to (I don’t always) do something about it. The act feels good in itself, so feeling good about doing it is an added bonus.

I also love the fact that giving is exclusively relational. There is no giving without relationship (even if it’s just a bubble bath and the relationship is with myself.)

Giving is something that can only be chosen.  It’s like love. You can only give if you want to.  Giving when you’ve been asked is quite safe, there’s a structure in place.  Giving of your own volition is more risky but your heart may desire to give it anyway. And there is still blessing in the giving no matter how it’s received.

What is far trickier is receiving. UGH! Much much harder.  How much I would rather give. So much more under my control, so much less vulnerable.  But, through my marriage, the Lord showed me something crucial about receiving.

When I was married, we were often desperately in need of money.  This was a new experience for me.  I had been materially comfortable all my life, I had never had to wonder where I would live or what I would eat.  Then all of that changed, and it was made even more intense by the fact I’d become a mother.

Formerly, I had loved being on the prayer chain at our church to provide meals for new moms or a family in need.  I loved being able to help.  But suddenly here I was, in desperate need myself, over a lo-o-ong period of time.

Friends and family were amazing.  Costco boxes of diapers and bags of food appeared on our doorstep.  Envelopes of cash addressed to me were pushed through our door or placed under my plate at lunch.  One Christmas a friend gave us a tree, another friend sent their kids through the doggy door to put presents underneath it and another drove across town on Christmas Eve to hide a toy train table under a tarpaulin on the back porch from Santa.

I taught a bible study to a group of amazing older women and regularly, for several of those years, I would arrive home after class to find grocery gift cards and cash had been secretly slipped into every pocket imaginable in my purse.

I would weep and weep and weep with gratitude. What could I possibly offer in return?
And what would we have done without all that practical love and support?

Even so, the need to receive and not be able to give back all the time was painful. It was not what I would have chosen.

Needing to receive, stripped away my pride, my sense of entitlement, and my self-sufficiency.  It was agony.  All my defences were gone, I was exposed and it was like having my skin stripped off leaving me naked. Really naked.

However, God revealed something truly invaluable to me through that season. That by receiving help, I was not doing nothing. My (enforced!) humility and gratitude were in fact giving to our givers in return, by allowing them to give.  And the relationships that were forged through that vulnerability are extraordinary.

“It’s all about grace in receiving,” the Lord said to me one day.

Grace in receiving requires humility, and so the gratitude is all the sweeter for it.

There is a gift to being in need.  You’re not just a big fat loser.  It may be you who’s in need today – but it might be me tomorrow! The gift of being in need is that you can give someone else the gift of being able to help you. It’s a gift to be needed, to be known.

So let people love you. Your time will come to be on the less vulnerable side of giving.  But in the meantime? Give by how you receive.

jsg/feb 18

The Two Sides of Freedom.

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‘Freedom’ presupposes that it follows on from something which has gone before it, which was not that.

And the nature of Freedom is two fold.

Initially, there is “Freedom From”:

Freedom from bondage.

Freedom from oppression.

Freedom from addiction.

Freedom from control.

Freedom from darkness in all its forms, if you like.

While these “Freedom From”s are fantastic, they’re not easy.

“Freedom From” entails a stripping away.  There may be relief; but there is also trauma, grief, shock, fear, destabilisation, disintegration, and then – slowly – sobering recognition of what one has really been freed from.

Being freed from, is exhausting.  You feel like you could sleep for a decade – or at least a few months – if only you could rest. But there is so much to do!  So much change.  So much admin.  So much recalibrating of your every breath.  So much reorganising of your daily existence.  (And you can multiply all of it by however many people are dependent upon you in this new-found Freedom From.)

“Freedom From” is knackering and, it seems, never ending.

BUT.

Just as you’re wailingly considering if all the grief, trauma and challenge to being set free is worth it (it is), you crest the hill.

And here, looking out, you discover the second side of freedom: the Freedom To.

For, all that climbing/all that struggling/all that offloading/all that renegotiating/all that clearing/all that healing/all that hoping has brought you here.  And I can tell you this, suddenly you will gasp.

Ahead of you is a new landscape.  Not like the old one (even if it looks the same) because you are different.  And this is your landscape now.  You can be whoever you want to be.  You can go wherever you want to go.  You can make it work however you want to make it work, because it’s up to you.

After so much work to be freed from, now at last the second side of freedom can begin – and it gives you so much energy!

Freedom to be who you suspected you might be all along but didn’t feel free enough to show it.

Freedom to try new things without judgment, scale new heights, astonish yourself with your own – freed – God-given capabilities.

Freedom to push yourself because you want to (and not because you have to).

Freedom to walk in the light of truth.  Which is surely the greatest freedom of all.

If – like me – you’ve finally reached this place,  what are you waiting for?                                                                                                         Stop looking at your future and ride on into it!

Sure there will be other valleys, other hills.  But right now? Get out there, look up at the sky, and give yourself a forest-booming blast of Nina.

For today is a new dawn.

It is a new day.

It is a new life.

And I am, aren’t you?  I’m feeling good.

 

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jsg/jan 18

 

 

 

How do you view your life?

Yesterday, I drove past a crash on a twisty country road.  Twenty minutes later, I arrived at my destination and discovered I had a completely flat rear tire.

I had to call breakdown recovery, and my membership had run out.  They discovered I had driven over a screw (pic).  They plugged the tire, I paid for my membership and the one off call out fee which it didn’t cover: £139.00. I was not expecting that.

Today, I had to buy two new rear tires (so they had equal treads).  £320 unexpected quid out of my budget. I was not expecting that.

This evening, my daughter got a last minute invitation. I dashed out of the house thinking I could drop her on my way to the grocery store to buy food for dinner and pick up my son.

After I dropped her, I couldn’t find my wallet. I looked under the seats, I checked the sidewalk. No shopping for me – had I lost it somewhere?? I was not expecting that.

I was so distracted worrying about the wallet, I rolled into the car in front of me at the traffic lights. In the rain, in the dark.  NO.  I jumped out.  No major damage but he had a little girl in the car and it had given them a hard bump. I had no wallet – so I had no details. I was not expecting that.

I got to my son – late.  I had kept the other mother waiting on her way to work, while I’d pranged someone else’s car.

How should I respond to all this?

Oh woe is me! I’m a single mother, all the pressure is on me, all the responsibility and all the provision!

Who leaves a bloody nail on the road?

Who loses their purse?

Why can’t I get it together?

OR

It “occurred” to me last week (Holy Spirit?) that I needed to renew my breakdown recovery membership. I forgot to do it.

I drove over a nail, and only discovered it when I had arrived in the driveway of a friend.

The breakdown recovery showed up quickly and found a nail in my tire, which he could plug.  I had money in my account to pay for the repair, and I got to renew my membership at the same time.

Today, I replaced my two rear tires.  It was expensive, but they should last for 30,000 miles and both tires were evidently wearing thin. And today (though the expense was unexpected) I have the money.

My daughter was unexpectedly invited by a friend.  A new friendship.  I was able to get her there.

I mislaid my purse and rolled into another car.  Mercifully no one was injured, and it woke me up to how distracted I was. Not only that but the driver – an Australian dad – was so incredibly kind to me. “It happens, don’t worry. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He believed me, he took my phone number.

When I picked up my son, the mother who was waiting was gracious.  “Here’s the £5 I owe you!” she said. I had forgotten.

I had needed my wallet to buy chicken for dinner and a lightbulb for my desk.  The chicken was on sale for £3.00 and when I got to the store for the lightbulb?  They were reduced by 2/3 to £1.00 a box and I could get two.

£5.00 to the penny.

Here’s what I think: I’m trying, but I fail.  On days like today, I feel like a hot mess. I am a hot mess. But you know what? I have a saviour who loves me JUST BECAUSE.

Nails happen.

I forget my purse.

I’m working with a budget.

I’m making mistakes.

I’m trying to be a good role model.

But what I’m really modelling is this.  I’m reliant on a Saviour who knows how many holes I have in my net, and that’s why He came.  I’m trying hard but I’ve only got me to work with.  And sometimes that is not too much. Without Him?  I’m actually doing nothing.

God got me to the driveway.

I had the money NOW to pay for membership.

I had the money NOW to pay for tires.

I make mistakes, I rolled into the car in front of me. I was distracted.  The man was gracious.

I lost my wallet. My mum friend gave me (unknowingly) the exact money I needed to feed my family and light my desk even so.

I’m home. We’re safe. We’re still moving forward.

God is good.

He‘s in the details.

He weaves the patterns of my days.

And my days are – so clearly in spite of myself – infused by grace.

When I got home, I found my wallet on the kitchen table.  Where I’d left it as we ran out the door.

How do you view your life?

I view my life as the very imperfect existence of a human being in the hands of a gracious, forgiving, redemptive God.

How about you?

 

jsg/jan 18