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

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

 

How to survive your calling.

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I am always very wary of ‘worthy’ Christians.  Where does all the mess go?

I appreciate that this may well be my own insecurity.  Maybe there are people who are simply that sorted in life and faith that there’s never a hair out of place.  But not me.

Oh no, not me.

I’m the hot mess in the back pew crying, “Lord! WT* is going on?? I know you’re here, I know you’re good but SERIOUSLY??

I’m the one who looks at the American President and thinks we may well have got the President we deserve, but NOT the ideal candidate from God’s point of view.  I can’t go there, not even for Bill Johnson or my old buddy Eric Metaxas.

I’m the person who looks at the shooting in Las Vegas and weeps ugly tears at the stupidity of gun laws.  I don’t blame God or think God is exacting judgment.  I think the Lord, like me, is weeping. I’m not surprised by the brokenness of the shooter. we’re all broken.  But, thank God, I haven’t reached for an AK47.

I’m not the best person to have in a small group from church.  Because I immediately want to go really deep and really real.  I immediately want to swear just to shake things up a bit. It’s not coffee chat.  And it won’t wash with the “Praise the Lord, everything’s going to work out” crowd.  I’m the one sitting there thinking, “HOW? How can this be the fruit of righteousness? Of faithfulness? HOW could I/you have ended up here? HOW could this be the way the road went?”

I’m the one who knows I may well have got it wrong.  From my own inevitably limited point of view.

I’m the one who contributed to the whole mess in the first place.  I’m the one who agrees with G.K. Chesterton when he responded to the question posed by the London Times  “What is wrong with the world?” with this postcard:

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I’m with John the Baptist in the prison cell.  I’m with Elijah curled up in a foetal position.  I’m with Joseph in the pit. I’m with Elisabeth Elliott when Jim was murdered.

I’m not sorted, but I’m clinging on.  Because the Person I’ve met is real and proves Himself to be real every day in my life.  Through my kids, my friends, the beauty of creation, LOVE. And I owe Him, big time. I love Him.

I’m not where I want to be, I’m not doing what I want to be doing, I’m not living how I want to live.  But when I ask God, He says to me (as He did to John the Baptist), “Look at the fruit.”

I’m clinging on.

I’m surviving.

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

Changeless.

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So Job lost everything.  And it was within God’s sovereign will.  Satan could do anything except kill Job to prove that – without God’s blessing in Job’s life – Job would abandon God.

Job‘s wife was having none of it. She cried:

‘“Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”  

But Job said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”’

Job held on to God’s unchanging nature.

My daughter and I experienced a Day of Testing this week.  For her educationally, for us both metaphorically.

It seemed like an unnecessary test.  A test where I closed the bathroom door, laid my head on the bathroom sink and cried out, “Really, Lord? REALLY?

It was one of those moments where, if you don’t hold onto the nature of God, you lose it all.  Job understood this.  I understand it.  Friends who don’t know Christ in personal relationship easily think I’m loony tunes.  So be it, I can understand why.

I think of all those people suffering horribly through the hurricanes of Harvey and Irma.  Are they holding onto the nature of God?  Even while everything they hold dear gets ripped away by the nature of the earth? What we have done to the nature of the earth?

Because there is always a choice.  Do we give it all up in the face of our circumstances and curse God, screaming out “It’s all A LIE!” Or do we hold onto the Person we have met and known and walk with day by day?

Do we cry out like Peter, in extremis, “I’m SCREWED, LORD!  DO YOU SEE?  I KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND YOU’VE SHOWN YOURSELF TO ME. IN SPITE OF WHAT’S HAPPENING, TO WHOM ELSE COULD I GO?”

After 28 years as a born-again Christian  I don’t walk by faith. I walk by track history. And when that becomes too tough, I walk by faith.

God does not change.  He DOES NOT CHANGE.

So no matter the shit that flies through the air – whether because of me, in spite of me, little to do with me. No matter that all be ripped away.  No matter that the tests just keep on coming – that it seems to be one test after another after another after another. HE IS THE SAME. And there is a freedom and an abiding peace which comes from knowing that He is Good.

That is my fulcrum.  That is my true North.  That is my anchor – and not my own understanding.

‘Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

 

jsg/sept 17

Mothering As Falconry.

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I have a fourteen year old daughter.  She is loving, beautiful, witty, creative and brave.  And, boy, does she hate me.

She doesn’t hate me. But, boy, it feels real.

Many changes have happened in her life over the past few years.  Changes over which she had no control and little to go on except the sometimes tenuous belief that her mother has her best interests at heart.  On numerous occasions, however, the stress of our circumstances have stretched her ability to believe this beyond reasonable limit.

At me, she snaps; she flails; she lashes out; she tears; she attacks; she wounds; she hates.

But I know she also weeps, and feels, and hurts, and questions, and fears.

She is like an elegant young falcon the Lord has put on my wrist.  He has entrusted her – specifically – to my care until she is strong enough, old enough and wise enough, to fly away and thrive on her own.

She is attached to my wrist by a thin strip of leather around her leg. So she can fly a little — but must return.  Sometimes I let the leather out further and glory to see her spread those growing wings.  But then it limits the freedom she begins to discover, and she’s furious.   I draw her back to me and she stabs with her beak at the soft tissue of my forearm or lunges at my face.

OW.

However, the leather strip is attached at the other end to a glove given to me by the Head Falconer.  I wear the glove on my left hand for protection – both for her and for me.  The glove is Faith and it shields us both.  It shows me that it’s not just me and her in this to and fro of maturing.  She can flail and nip, but I’m equipped to protect us both from real injury.

And every time she wants to fly away but can’t, or wants to stay on my wrist but I make  her airborne, she battles me.  Yet with every battle, the muscles employed to flail and rail and flap are the same ones she will need even more so later on, when I’m not there. And these crucial muscles grow stronger and more developed each time (as do mine to steady her.)

Sometimes I put blinders on her eyes to protect her from things that would frighten her or are beyond her need to know.  She doesn’t know I’ve put the blinders on because I’ve protected her. She rests quietly on my wrist and I stroke her feathers and reassure her. Such gentle moments are sweet relief.

In her and my struggle, I should remember this: That I only get to keep her attached to me — firmly, wisely, kindly — until such time that the Head Falconer reveals she has grown ready to soar beyond my restraints.

In the meantime, I must see this back and forth for what it is:  a majestic and terrible privilege to nurture and train and comfort this exquisite creature to fly higher and farther than I could even imagine.

FALCO PUNCTATUS

I love her so.

 

 

 

jsg/aug 17