Weighted.

“Don’t be daunted.” I hear the whisper in my head. “Focus on This.  This day.  This moment.  This task. This intention.”

I glance at the New Year and look down again quickly.  It’s too much.  Not humanly possible. Not for me.

I stare at the ceiling and consider the weight of my own responsibilities. I feel their heft.  All on me.

Nothing to do but lie down and close my eyes to sleep.

Suddenly my eyes shoot open. I feel the substance of the load, but it is balanced. How come I feel it sit squarely and steadily upon my shoulders? My body bracing it? How come I am not crushed or flailing?

I lie and wait to understand before I get it. The load is balanced because it does not fall solely on me. I am yoked. There is another side.

My side, my weight, keeps me in place.  Close.

“Ohhh,” I sigh. “OK.”

I wait for Your lead.  I cannot fling myself forward or flail around blindly or throw everything at the wall or look back and agitate. My load will chafe.

However, if I move when You move?  Do as You do? See what You see? Think as You think?

Oh OK. That — I can see — is doable.

I am reminded now.  We can do this.

Together.

 

josie/dec 17

 

 

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

Holding.

LIFE-GENDER

You never think about a baby being “trapped” in a mother’s womb.

Because from Kindergarten and even earlier, we understand that babies need to stay in the womb exactly until that moment when they are sufficiently grown to be born.  When they can thrive on the outside.

In my experience, growing in Christ is like a series of new births.  And before each new birth comes a period of gestation and growth.

There is of course the initial death and rebirth at the moment of accepting Christ and dying to the old self. However thereafter, there is a continuing cycle of progressive death to the old and birth into the new as we grow into the likeness of Christ.

It might be agonisingly painful to move from ‘glory into glory’ but it is, nonetheless, what is happening. (Even if it is not until later with the benefit of hindsight that we can see what within us was changed. Or set free. Or healed.)

Between the death of the old and rebirth into the new, there is often what seems like a period of pregnancy in the Christian walk.  Seasons, if you like, where we seem held in a womb of God’s creating.  Where it seems that little is happening, and the experience may be stifling and ghastly and endless.

But what is one to do?

To fight the constraints of space and air is a futile exercise.  I can testify, looking back, that during these times I have been in fact receiving everything necessary to sustain my life.  It just wasn’t necessarily the stuff that I would have preferred.

It would be wide open spaces for me all the way to new birth, if I had the choice.

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Julie-Andrews-on-a-hilltop already exulting in where I would end up (if I could know).

However, wide open spaces are actually massively vulnerable places to be, aren’t they?  You are at the mercy of every weather, undefended, with nowhere to hide.  You could be attacked from any direction at any time.  Since the purpose of pregnancy is growth, the safest environment possible does actually make the most sense.

God is holding me right now in that amniotic sac. It feels tight, and tighter as I grow.  There’s increasingly less space, and everyone – me and those immediately around me – is growing more restless and uncomfortable with the size I am becoming.  I’m taking up so much more room, and it’s not a welcome change.  I myself long for it to be over, even as I recognise that God is not speeding me along to any quick circumstantial, emotional or spiritual change.

He knows how long this birth into the next stage of my transformation will take. So, in His wisdom in the meantime, He is holding me somewhere safe.  It feels like constraint because I can’t yet see beyond it, but the purpose of this time is to grow me more fully into His design and to mature me into whomever I need to be — for whatever He is calling me to next.

This understanding helps me accept where I am, and transforms my response to it. I’ve stopped fighting. I can praise God for placing me in an environment where, like me, those around me may feel uncomfortable, perplexed and exasperated… yet they don’t seek to puncture my sac and lift me out or expel me. And it’s not all about me — they’re on their own journey too.

What horrible half-formed things we would be if misguided kindness or impatience cut us “free” in the process, only to condemn us to a life of dis-ability and in-competence.  

Growing in Christ/being set free in Christ/maturing in Christ is an ungainly process. It is safe, but in my experience it doesn’t happen easily and I don’t find it cosy.  Growing pains are real and challenging.  How big, exactly, am I going to grow??  I writhe and squirm and complain and rage.  But I am not in despair.  I know that God is wise, and so much wiser than me.  He has a bigger play on hand.

If in turn I am to be wise, I will submit to this process.  And wait.  And hope.  And pray.

And, actually, give thanks for those around me who – while they may not understand what God is doing in me and may feel oppressed by my cumbersome size – still let the Lord finish His work, and let me be.

 

jsg/sept 17