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

Something to behold.

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There was a holy rending of family ties tonight.

Like any tearing, it was painful and effective.  Now torn, the view through the veil is breathtaking. And the three of us are free.

Tonight, I witnessed my daughter publicly deliver her take on our situation.  Respectfully, calmly, maturely, she communicated her experience of living in a foreign country on her grandparents’ grace at her mother’s behest for the last sixteen months.  It has not been pretty and yet, in the telling, she maintained her composure and nailed the truth.

No fourteen year old should be underestimated.  They are no longer a child and not yet fully an adult, but perhaps more mature than most of us put together.

I was touched beyond words by how she stood up for me and, even more importantly, for herself.  Cogently describing our journey and her experience of it without venom — which of course made it all the more compelling.

The rest of us, listening, were stilled in the quiet authority of her.  No histrionics, no hyperbole. She stood her ground and, after everything, she stood. Not only stood but towered.

Can you ever truly take credit for your children?  I’m not sure.  My two really came out this way.  I have always been completely convinced that they have never belonged to me.  I just get to watch, and wonder, and (hopefully) safeguard and guide.  Without (I pray) totally ****ing them up.

Out of the mouths of those who are no longer babies, tonight, she spoke.

Lord, give me the grace to live up to the privilege of being her mother.

 

jsg/nov 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….

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Wait for it….

 

jsg/Nov 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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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I love her so.

 

 

 

jsg/aug 17