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

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

 

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

 

What if I’m wrong.

It’s often there, lurking in the back of my mind.  Stalking me at 3.00 am. Catching me out of the corner of my eye.

The insidious whisper of Doubt.

“What if you’re wrong?” “What if you’ve made the most awful mistake?” “What if you read all the signs wrong and ended up here?” “What if this isn’t God’s best for you but in fact – because of you – so very much less than His best?” “What if this place where you are is self-imposed exile?”

Doubt is the cold whisper at the back of my neck on the sometimes tortuous climb of faith.  “Look at the drop, Josie!  My God! You’re going to die!! You’re crazy, there is no purpose to this! STOPP!!”

Stopping won’t help, I’ll just be stuck where I am.

Closing my eyes won’t help. It makes it worse when I’m left to my worst imaginings.

I have to look at what’s in front of me, what’s around me. It doesn’t help to look behind me. And if I refuse to look now – really look – at where I am, how can I possibly glimpse the divine help I’m being given in the moment?

Doubt is wrongly described as the opposite of faith.  I disagree. I think Doubt is Faith’s springboard.  Doubt says, “Look where you are! Look where you are! How can this possibly be right?” Doubt forces me to look, to assess. Doubt is what gives my faith dimension and reminds me that it is faith.

Doubt strikes me into the crystal clear awareness of my situation with a freezing bucket of water.  Shows me how “bad” and how “awful” things actually are (or at least seem to be). Doubt clings onto me on the minute glacial step I’ve rested on for a minute and screams, “This is an impenetrable wall of ice! You’ll die if you fall! And you’ve still got a million miles to go up! You’re all alone! You shouldn’t be here! GIVE UP!!

I have two choices. I can quail, or I can look again at the only equipment I have: the ice pick of faith in my hands, the rope of hope harnessed to truth around my waist, and the boots on my feet.

Without turning to address Doubt lest I lose my balance, I say out loud, “OK! Let’s see how far these babies can take me! Just for today.”

I swing my ice pick with any strength available at that moment, and it digs into ice and finds purchase. Now I’ve got somewhere to go. Next, I look around for the next foothold of faith my boots can sink into.  Their crampons are God’s character, His faithfulness, His purposes, His forgiveness, and His unconditional love.

My other piece of equipment, the rope, was securely attached to the top of this mountain before I began my climb.  I know this.  So I hold it to steady me and pull me up. Sometimes it’s what I use to rest. And at others, when I flail or lose my grip or my footing and swing out over the abyss, Hope brings me crashing back to where I was already.  Bruised but safe.

This kind of progress can be painstakingly slow.  But I’m still moving.

Because here’s the thing, Doubt, as you throw your daggers at me.  What would it even mean to be “wrong”?  How could I know?  Would that make God “untrue”? I can’t evaluate based on whether things are difficult or not. Sometimes the hardest path in life is exactly where God means us to be. Look at the Bible, for Heaven’s sake! He’s on it, He knows what He’s doing, He’s not cruel. This climb is just HARD.

However I got to where I am, the point is I’m here now.

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And I’m not on my own.  I’ve been given what it takes to climb up.

 

jsg/oct 17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinpoints of light.

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When my kids were little, their father and I seemed to spend hours with them under a sheet in our own homemade tent on the bed.  Usually Saturday mornings, usually far too hot and usually hilarious. Everything seemed secret under there, and precious. The world couldn’t reach us.  Whispered secrets, feet in your face, the occasional dog landing on top and smothering us.  Brilliant.

But there have also often been times in my life when I would want just to hide under a sheet anyway.  Possibly even a shroud. I don’t want the world to reach me, I don’t want to get up, I don’t want to face anything.  It’s cosy, it’s womblike. However it is also, fortunately, difficult to breathe so eventually I am forced to get out and get on with it.

What I notice when I’m lying under there is that God always – and I mean always – brings me pinpoints of light. Something radically other to what’s going on around me, that catches my attention. A glint piercing the shroud and my head darts to catch it.

I was walking my dogs earlier this week and came round the corner to see this young doe. Miraculously the dogs didn’t notice, and she and I stood and stared at each other for a good couple of minutes. It was spectacular.  Absolute quiet and this beautiful creature, completely unfazed, watching me watching her watching me.

Suddenly I was taken out of my school day morning, out of the problems at home, out of my life situation, out of my problems and plans, and my breath caught in my throat.  I couldn’t believe how blessed I was to happen upon her. To witness her morning, witness her life. She chose to show me.

She gave me the opportunity to Google Earth my existence.  To “zoom out” of the immediate and into the extraordinary reality that we’re here in the first place.  That I’ve already won the lottery just by being alive.

A pinpoint of light.

Then, last night, I went out to belatedly celebrate my birthday with a group of three friends. I am not finding my life easy on many levels at the moment and I was in a foul mood when I arrived. I had just lost my temper with my teenager and then – repeatedly! – fallen asleep at a parents’ evening I’d nobly attended even though it had made me miss the first thirty minutes of longed-for festivity.

I love the women I was meeting.  They are funny and profound and Godly and off-colour and noble and true.  Treasured members of my tribe, I adore them. We began to share our news (I got my boiling pot of YUK off my chest immediately ) and then we began to laugh.  And laugh. And then really really really laugh.

Pinpoints of light started shooting through my shroud, and the more we laughed the more we found things funny. And the more we found things funny, the more hilarious it all seemed. How ridiculous. And hilarious. And infuriating. And fragile. And ineffable life in all its gory glory became.

As the pinpoints of light grew, it was as if we began to catch on to what God was giving us.  With every gale of laughter it was as if, by being willing to surrender to the laughter, I reached up to each pinpoint of light and ripped great tears open in my shroud. Huge splits started to appear from one side of my universe to the other as light flooded in.

And it felt so good to LAUGH.  Laugh til our sides ached and tears were wiped away with messy napkins and glasses of wine.

It’s what we get so wrong sometimes, I think, with grief.  We think that those grieving won’t want to laugh, when really that may be the best thing at some point that they want to do. To rip open the shroud.  There are no rules, only the willingness to receive and embrace and step into and maximise whatever light is available.

And light is always available.  Because Light Himself has promised never to leave us and never to forsake us. The Light shines even in the darkest darkness, pierces even under the densest of shrouds. Because even the tiniest point of light has more power than the greatest abyss of black.  That’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t miraculously solve everything. But that isn’t its purpose.

So I must remind myself of this.  When I see a point of light, I must GRAB IT. Spot it and reach for it and rip it open and step out through it into the warmth and glory of the noonday sun. Lift my face, ZOOM OUT.

Because we are just so blessed to be ALIVE. Aren’t we? We mustn’t miss that!

It is such a blessing.

It just is.

It really is.

I’m still laughing.

 

jsg/sept 17