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

 

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

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