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

 

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

Allowing for suffering.

Who first said “Time heals all wounds”? Was it Shakespeare?

Whoever it was, they lied. Wounds don’t simply go away, they need dealing with.

It’s one of those revolting bromides that serve only the speaker in the face of another’s pain.  A platitude surely sibling to other such unhelpful phrases as:

“It could be worse! Lucky you.”

Or, “It’s not as bad as you think.”

Or, “Calm down, getting upset isn’t going to help.”

Or, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.”

Or, “Brave girl, no more tears!”

Or finally, “Don’t cry, dear heart. The milk is spilt.”

What is it about another’s suffering that plants in the human heart such a profound desire to minimise?  Isn’t it just about the discomfort of the observer?

Ironically, Christians can be among the worst offenders.

“Well, praise the Lord! They beam as you weep your guts out. “God is in control and He will bring all things together for good!”

I could slap them.

Don’t you remember that there were three days between the Cross and the Resurrection?  Three days of utter darkness and total despair?  Disbelief, doubt, desolation, abandonment, disillusion?  There was no whisper from Heaven, “Hold on, y’all! Sunday’s coming!

When Jesus went to raise Lazarus, he didn’t arrive with a brass band to shout: “Dry your tears! Weep no more! I’m here to save the day!” Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Jesus wept, loud noisy agonised snorting tears at the plight of his deceased friend and the beloved bereaved.  

So what is to be my healthy response to my own suffering?

What happens now, when I’m brought back “to the scene of the crime” as an adult? I’m a grown up now, surely I can handle it?

And I have, for a time.

But then I feel boxed in and desperate, choking. And the wounded child within me seeing no escape, finds their only release is to scream.

SCREAM blue, bloody murder.  It’s ugly, and wild, and hurtful.

“Don’t scream like that!” A trusted friend says.  “You’ve got to stop. It won’t produce the result you want.”

How sound and how rational that is from their position on the sidelines.  But the child within me is in battle.  Hurled back into the lifelong nightmares of my childhood and no amount of maturity is going to wipe that slate clean.  Because it’s not about me.  It’s about the others.

Sometimes suffering produces a train wreck.  And you must not be scared by that.  Suffering is hugely messy.

Faced with no way out and no discernible options, the child within you can scream and scream and s-c-r-e-a-m, no matter the age they are now.  I’m sure that screaming is not productive in moving toward resolution. I’m sure it’s not mature.  I’m sure it’s not shrewd.

But it is raw.

And real.

And undeniable.

And so so so necessary.  There might be a lifetime of screaming down there which needs to be released.

Being told to change course, or to alter your reaction to produce a better result, is meaningless in the face of soul-destroying, screaming, stifling anguish.  You are who you are. I know I am. Still. And the suffering is what it is.

I need the grace of Christ to allow me to scream.  Not the well-meaning advice of friends who tell me to stop or who have a better strategy. Who think it can do me no good to scream.

Because I can tell you this.  Suffering suffers no stratagem. It grabs you by the guts and screams at you, “LISTEN TO MEEEEE! I AM DYING!”

And, in suffering, part of you is.  You are dying to what you thought your life would be.  You are dying to how you wanted to be loved and known.  You are dying to hopes, expectations, dreams. You are dying to the person you have lost and perhaps never had. You are dying to what was not, in order to come into an acceptance of what is.

There are no shortcuts.

And unless in suffering you do die to all these things, nothing can grow from it.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Suffering refuses to rush toward resolution.  It doesn’t care about your comfort, it’s trying to heal you. So we must be willing to sit in the agony of it – our own and others’ – to wait for redemption. No matter how the rest of the world views it. Suffering can be a lonely place.

And redemption won’t come quickly, because it follows due process. In fact it may not come at all.

But to deny the suffering itself? How can that help anyone?

What I long for is freedom. Freedom beyond the pain.

And, as John Wimber used to say, ‘The way in is the way on.’

 

jsg/sept 17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Slide, Please.

I am possibly the only person I know who has no saturation point for looking at other people’s photos.  I am endlessly fascinated by who’s in them, where they are, what they’re doing, what time of day and year they were taken, where in the world. Most importantly though, I’m interested to see what they chose to shoot and why.

Because photos reveal not just their subject matter, but the photographer’s point of view.  What do they draw my attention to? Is it all in focus or only partial? What connected with them about that particular view, those colours, that angle, that light?  What stories are represented in those shots?  What are the relationships captured in the frame? What’s their relationship with the photographer?  What has the picture exposed?

If you’re looking at slides instead of photos (a family archive, say) sometimes the slides melt in the projector (check), or it’s not possible to bring the image into sharp focus because the slide itself wasn’t sharp focus in the first place (check check).

Sometimes a slide will come up and be met with silence.  You just sit in the dark thinking, “What in the world was that?” You can’t make it out, or you’re not sure why the person took it, or it looks like a dud. Maybe the photographer is no longer around to ask.  Maybe you’re just left looking at it for a while, trying to work it out.

My life feels like that at the moment.  The Lord has brought me full circle and I’m facing all sorts of slides/memories in my family archive.  Most of them have me in them, some of them do not.

Many memories are lovely.  Others are ones I half-remember but don’t want to look at closely. Or I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to dig.

I’ll look at a memory I don’t want, a slice of life where we’re all caught in suspended animation and the remembrance is painful, half-buried and unresolved.  The temptation is to  say loudly to the Lord, “Yep, remember that!  Don’t want it!  NEXT SLIDE, PLEASE!

But it’s as if He’s not listening. He keeps the memory before me to gently say, “No, daughter, look again.  I want you to really look this time.  What do you actually see?  Can you find Me in it?”

No memory is unimportant and there are so many.  Yet, since God Himself is the photographer, He is there for me to ask what they represent. To discover His point of view. He is inviting me to view them no longer through my lens, but His own.

I have to breathe deeply and trust this is not futile.  This is me stepping into freedom and forgiveness, so I have to squint my eyes and choose to concentrate. To focus on the memory He’s brought close and personal right up to my face. Difficult memories that I think I know so intimately – those relationships, those events, those experiences, those words – in order to find what I haven’t yet seen in them. Himself. Within me, beside me, around me, beneath me, above me. There all along, just unseen:

My forgiving Saviour

My faithful Advocate

My Redeemer God

My omniscient Friend.

Slowly, slowly, the lights are coming up for me.

And I am beginning to see the whole frame.

 

jsg/aug 17