Like Snow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

You’ve gotta love the Lord.  This is one of my favourite verses in the whole bible. It is God letting me know that it’s OK for me to speak up.  To say, on occasion, a respectful but deeply heartfelt WTF.  To make my case, to disagree, to shout and stamp and scream and rage.  To give my opinion (He can take it).

It’s been snowing here again.  Unusual for us in the UK. We’ve had a spectacular 2 inches where we are and, even with that and as snow does, it transforms everything.

The quality of light is different through the curtains when you wake up to it.  It is brighter, whiter, clearer, stronger.

Where the day before was bare branches and mud and stones and life writ drear, SNOW has transformed it all into something extraordinary.  Something beautiful. It has covered everything completely.  Changed the shape of things, softened sound.

Views we know like the back of our hand are suddenly new.  Newly known, newly seen adorned in white. Different. Our daily walk doesn’t feel like an everyday activity.  It’s new, and you gasp at the loveliness of it.  The way the light glances off the snow creating new patterns, new vistas, new angles, new shapes. Everything is the same yet snow has completely transformed it.  I cannot see, feel or hear things in the same way.

And this is what God says He does with my sin.  He takes all that is bloody and bleak and self-serving and wounded and wilful and – when I ask Him – He blankets it with white. He forgives me.

His covering has transformed me and continues to transform me into someone new. Truly me, and newly me.

Unlike natural snow, this supernatural blanketing of purity and newness does not melt away either.  It’s eternal.

Walking through the woods this morning, I was breath taken. Awe-struck at what snow can do.  How it changes everything so utterly.  So masterfully.  So purely.  How it catches us off guard with its power to create beauty out of absolutely everything.

Now if I can just remember that about myself, and about others too. God can do it.

We can all be changed.

And in the twinkling of an eye.

jsg/march 18

Starman: Working with Stephen Hawking.


We’re shooting a film in Cambridge, they said.

We’ll fly you over, they said.

You’ll be perfect for the part, they said.

And you’ll be working with Stephen Hawking, they said.

It was October 2003.  What the whaaaaat?  It was one of those (for me) rare halcyon moments in the career of a working actor where, honestly, you would have done the work for free.

I had just given birth to my first child and the thought of being flown over to the UK from Los Angeles so the first grandchild could spend a week with her British grandparents was heaven.  Oh wait, and I get to work?  And I get to work with Stephen Hawking?

I was cast to play his assistant for an IMAX film about Stephen’s theory of space.  We would be working together for a week on one of the most iconic, breathtaking campuses in the world.

On my first day, I caught sight of Stephen in the distance.  What would he be like?  Here was the real man!  Well I can tell you. He was an absolute and utter charmer with a twinkle in his eye and a rakish lopsided sly grin.  A ladies’ man.  A shameless rogue in an ironclad suit.  I warmed to him on sight even as I stood in awe of him.

Everything was slow around Stephen.  He commanded enormous respect.  No one rushed him, and no one preempted what he was going to say.  This was an almost overwhelming temptation at times as you watched him slowly choose screen by screen, then line by line, then word by word on his electronic board to tap out a single sentence.   What was completely delicious was that – for such time-consumingly hard work – you might expect that the only phrases he ever spoke were of deep brilliance or far reaching import.  Not a bit of it.  He was extremely funny, with a quick and dry wit and an appreciative sense of humour.

Which he needed to have.  Working alongside him over several days, I got to observe at close quarters just a glimpse of what it required of him every day just to stay alive.  The preparation by others and consumption by him of a snack as simple as minutely cut up kiwi fruit took half an hour.  And then there were tubes and tissues and who knows what behind closed doors.  No one would have blamed him if he’d been foul or grumpy.  I’m sure he had moments like anyone, but I never saw it.  He never got impatient.  He seemed present to the present.

Anyone who has worked in film knows that it is a painstakingly slow process anyway.  All “Hurry up and wait.” During one set up, Stephen and I were waiting on our own together for about an hour.  I remember a quiet passing of the time and much laughter at my ability – or feared non-ability – to smash a Galileo thermometer off his desk without hitting him in the eye.  I was terrified I’d hurt him, while he was hugely amused.  Thankfully it went off – several times – without a hitch. Only then did he admit that I’d done better than he’d expected.

Filmmaking is tiring so heaven knows what it was like for him.  I talked at length with his second wife, Elaine, who was always present on set with us.  How did he do all those lectures? I asked.  How did he manage the volume of daily mail (there were sacks of it)?  However long did it possibly take for him to compose an article, let alone write a book?

I got to see his office where, among other photos of him with famous people he’d met, he had a photoshopped picture of himself hanging out by a sports car with Marilyn Monroe.  I told you.

What I learned most from being around Stephen was the power of patience, passion and sheer bloody minded determination.  It seemed to me that the only reason Stephen survived so many decades beyond his original diagnosis was single-minded perseverance. His life hung so precariously in the balance every single day given how much care, attention and time it took just to keep him functioning, it would have been more than easy simply to give up.

The brilliance of his mind was clearly matched by the passion of his heart.  For life, for love, for science, for human endeavour and discovery.  And over all of this, he still had the capacity for loving life and fun.

My last memory of the shoot was of Stephen at the cast dinner.  It was a small cast and crew, and we had become close.  We were in a tiny restaurant, just us, and it was softly snowing outside.  Everyone was having a great time and everyone, myself included, was feeling quite emotional about what we’d wrapped.  I looked down the table and saw Stephen sitting with Elaine.  He was wolfing down a dozen oysters and knocking back some fabulous claret with a huge smile on his face.

A man of our times.  A man beyond our times.  A man we got to keep way beyond his allotted time because of his determination to do so.

God bless you, Stephen, and thank you.  You were a delight to be around,  and a gift to the world.

We will miss you.

jsg/march 14, 2018

Spiritual Golf.

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I don’t play golf, but I can totally see why people love it.

All it would take for me would be one true stroke. The perfect connection of body, mind and spirit to club, with the ball flying high, far, and true. Oh the high!  How I would forever after be chasing that congruence again.

Looking over a golf course yesterday, I thought how much the walk of faith is like a game of golf.

You have an end goal.  A finishing point. A certain destination.  And many along the way.

And ohhh, what it takes you to get there.  Determination. Focus. Joy in the victories, perseverance in the defeats.

The club has a purposed use, but oh it can be used for so many other things.  Hacking up the course, hitting people, thwacking the ground in frustration.

And then there’s that ball.  So small, so exact.  You know what you’re meant to do with it so you try, and try, and try again. Practice helps.

Every stroke is another shot at playing the course.  And there are so many outcomes.

You miss the ball.

You connect to it and it flies in entirely the wrong direction.

You hit it and, although only off by just a fraction at the tee, over distance you’re way off the mark.

Then those bunkers. Man-made.  Not like the course, God-given.

And the wide, wide, margins.  Woods, undergrowth, valleys, and who knows what lies beyond that? It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s simply off the course.  Hit your ball over there and you might never find it again.  Unless you ask.  And then a kind spectator, who’s watching you and walking with you for the whole round, will lop it back to right where you stand.

And what about the lake? That huge distance that at times you have to get your ball over?  What if you fall short?

And, of course, you’re not the first one to play the course.  So many have gone before you that you’re navigating areas that have been completely messed up. You can easily twist your ankle or break your leg if you don’t look where you’re going.  If you don’t notice where other players have been before you.

And the other players. You have to leave everyone else’s ball alone! Their game is theirs, yours is yours.

And… here the analogy ends.

Because, unlike golf, no  matter how many times you mess up – even in a day! – if you ask for your ball back you won’t be disqualified.  That kind spectator who’s been there all along will lob it back to you and say,

“Just keep going! You’re doing great! I know how hard the game is, I made it! But without the bunkers!  By the way, it doesn’t matter how many strokes you need.  Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, I redesigned the course that way. Don’t give up. I’m right here beside you, cheering you on, pointing out your next shot if you need me.”

So you tamp down the divots you wilfully made with your club in your fury and frustration, and accept the grace (for grace is what it is) of another chance.

You could get down on yourself, and beat yourself up for being so crap at the game.  Or you could face forward and course correct.  You may be in the thicket, but you can still redirect your focus to the end point.

And try again.

If you keep going? Every so often you will hit the ball true.  And as you watch it soar through the air in the right direction, your breath catches in your chest as you notice the glory of the sky, the green of the grass, the majesty of the trees, and the gift of the air.  All around you.

And you’ll be grateful again.

For the gift of the game.

jsg/march 18

Hot Loneliness.


It was just like this.

Last year, I discovered an old lap writing desk that had belonged to my great grandmother.  Made out of beautiful polished wood, it was edged with brass and had an inbuilt, well-used leather blotting pad embossed into the lid.  And it was heavy, which meant that something was still definitely being kept inside.

I found the writing desk in an outside shed in the bottom of a box of mildewed linens which had not been opened since my parents’ move into their current house 11 years ago.  The problem was, there was no key.

Until one day, exploring treasures, I found it.  One of those old fashioned hollow keys with a curlicue handle that fitted the lock exactly. The desk sprang open and inside were carefully tied bundles of letters and cards and photographs and hair ribbons and memorabilia that had been painstakingly stored by my mother’s mother’s mother.  Irreplaceable family memories locked away for posterity.

And just to think, I had so nearly taken that box of smelly linen to the tip without even checking.

Like Gan’s writing desk, I found a key to myself  this week. I read a book that referred to the “hot loneliness” of the human condition.  I gasped and lay still for a long time.

I’d always assumed loneliness was cold and isolated and lifeless. Hadn’t it felt like that? Recognising that loneliness is hot, pierced the centre of my being and connected me to myself.

My loneliness had only felt cold because I tried so hard to suppress it or obscure it.  To cover it with story, or smother it with food, or wrap it in my duvet, or – later – to extinguish it with alcohol, or vaporise it with anger, or deny it with distraction.

But I see now that my loneliness will have none of that.  My loneliness is searingly hot,  and this week since I’ve stopped all my semiconscious attempts to starve it of oxygen, it has burst through in all its fiery majesty enabling me to see it for what it is.


Suddenly, I can’t wait to take off all the layers upon layers upon layers I have been using to try and cover it up.  This hot loneliness.  The layers have only made me hotter!   I am suffocating in here! I can’t breathe!

I need to take it all off.  Off, off, off.  No more concealing, no more quenching, no more diverting, no more reaching for a sonic boom of anger which will somehow blast it into space.  Away from me.

No, I think I am finally ready to face it for what it is.  Loneliness.  Searing, scary, intimidating, enraging, flaming, crushing, unbearably heavy. And hot.

And by loneliness, I don’t mean being alone.  I am content with my own company much of the time. Loneliness is simply the shield covering the painful, incendiary core of why we feel lonely.

Because I have God, I think I’m at last ready to acknowledge this newly understood hot loneliness for all its worth.  I’m at last in a place safe enough to say, “OK, Loneliness. You wanna show me what’s underneath? However painful it may be, I want to see it.”

The surprising thing is, now I’m ready to face reality and lifelong memory, I can’t wait to get rid of all the layers I’ve been using to hide myself from it.

I’m willing to feel loneliness melt all my carefully applied bandages and break off the hard caked substitutes I’ve plastered over myself to protect me from reality.  To keep me hidden.

Because unwrapped, nakedly me, I will be in the light. And God will be able to show me/I will be able to see who I truly am, what I truly want, where I have truly been and how God can truly use it all now for my good.

Loneliness had always been working for my good, calling me to look so that I could own my own life. Face the real pain.

I need to let loneliness do its work, reveal its core, so I no longer need its heat to remind me of what I have to face.

Because I’ll be facing it.

And it will be really me.

jsg/feb 18

Even So.

What is the likelihood of your life turning out as you expect?  Statistically, it’s got to be incredibly low, hasn’t it?

Even when you make sensible decisions, put the right safeguards in place, take into consideration the wise counsel of others, plot your course taking into account every variable you can see.  What are the odds that it will actually turn out as you expect?

There must be a gazillion other factors over which we have no control that can change the course of our life.  From the global, to the local, to the human, to the frailty of the temporal world. All interconnected.

A driver misses a left hand turn and slams on their brakes.  Several cars further back, a texting truck driver crashes into the vehicle in front of him. The driver he hits is injured. The injury precipitates a breakdown, that ends a marriage, that sends three people to the other side of the world.

All begun by one person missing their left hand turn who knows nothing about any of it.

Interconnection.  What’s an example from your life?  Or in the world right now?

Think of the billions of examples of interconnection happening right this second changing the course of people’s lives forever.  Then go back and back and back.  What if?  What if?  What if?

Does “What if?”-ing change anything in the now? Nope, it if-ing doesn’t.

Is life a pinball machine?  People’s lives just crashing into each other and crashing into the planet?  A world going mad?  A self-oriented society devolving into chaos? And the ramifications going on and on from generation to generation?

When I think about the world like this, I find human behaviours in reaction to a life of random chance and self-determination completely understandable.

How can you possibly stay calm?  Stay sane?  Not take things into your own hands? Isn’t it all just so horrendously unpredictable? Random? Terrifying? Unfair?

You send your child to school in the morning and a lonely, enraged, disenfranchised, possibly mentally ill teen shoots them. Where do you go with that?

Where’s the hope?

Where’s the meaning?

Where’s the power?

Because, sure, I could have driven home a different route that day but something else could have happened to me somewhere else couldn’t it?  I might have hurt someone else! Would I be where I am right now?  Might I be somewhere even harder?

The point is, I don’t know. And the searching could make you crazy.  In the final analysis, we can only deal with what is.  What did happen.  Where we are.  What faces us now.

And where can we find help for that?

In the bottom of a bottle?




For a while.  But none can transmogrify the molecular make-up of what our lives have become because of what has already happened to us.

So what hope is there for the future?

What hope??

I recognise that, for me, the hope is in a through line.

That there is Someone other than myself who was there with me at the beginning, who is with me in the middle, and who will stay with me beyond the end. Who knows me, who gets me, who does actually understand it all. And who can use it all to transmogrify and redeem my life.

Even so. Even so.

Now, if you can meet that Person.

There is hope.

jsg/feb 18

The gift of being in need.


I love to give. It’s easy for me.

I’m not a saint, it’s just that there’s instant gratification to giving.  Not because of the response but because it feels so great to take from what is mine and contribute it somewhere else. To do something that’s not about me. That is worth doing simply because it’s worth doing and I am able to do it.  Freely!

Not just material things.  It could be time and talent, patience and compassion, grace and mercy, prayer.

I don’t think I give because it makes me feel good. I think I give because there is a transactional gratitude in doing so.  I’m here, I’m alive, and I’m grateful to the One who made it so. So if I become aware of a need, I can choose to (I don’t always) do something about it. The act feels good in itself, so feeling good about doing it is an added bonus.

I also love the fact that giving is exclusively relational. There is no giving without relationship (even if it’s just a bubble bath and the relationship is with myself.)

Giving is something that can only be chosen.  It’s like love. You can only give if you want to.  Giving when you’ve been asked is quite safe, there’s a structure in place.  Giving of your own volition is more risky but your heart may desire to give it anyway. And there is still blessing in the giving no matter how it’s received.

What is far trickier is receiving. UGH! Much much harder.  How much I would rather give. So much more under my control, so much less vulnerable.  But, through my marriage, the Lord showed me something crucial about receiving.

When I was married, we were often desperately in need of money.  This was a new experience for me.  I had been materially comfortable all my life, I had never had to wonder where I would live or what I would eat.  Then all of that changed, and it was made even more intense by the fact I’d become a mother.

Formerly, I had loved being on the prayer chain at our church to provide meals for new moms or a family in need.  I loved being able to help.  But suddenly here I was, in desperate need myself, over a lo-o-ong period of time.

Friends and family were amazing.  Costco boxes of diapers and bags of food appeared on our doorstep.  Envelopes of cash addressed to me were pushed through our door or placed under my plate at lunch.  One Christmas a friend gave us a tree, another friend sent their kids through the doggy door to put presents underneath it and another drove across town on Christmas Eve to hide a toy train table under a tarpaulin on the back porch from Santa.

I taught a bible study to a group of amazing older women and regularly, for several of those years, I would arrive home after class to find grocery gift cards and cash had been secretly slipped into every pocket imaginable in my purse.

I would weep and weep and weep with gratitude. What could I possibly offer in return?
And what would we have done without all that practical love and support?

Even so, the need to receive and not be able to give back all the time was painful. It was not what I would have chosen.

Needing to receive, stripped away my pride, my sense of entitlement, and my self-sufficiency.  It was agony.  All my defences were gone, I was exposed and it was like having my skin stripped off leaving me naked. Really naked.

However, God revealed something truly invaluable to me through that season. That by receiving help, I was not doing nothing. My (enforced!) humility and gratitude were in fact giving to our givers in return, by allowing them to give.  And the relationships that were forged through that vulnerability are extraordinary.

“It’s all about grace in receiving,” the Lord said to me one day.

Grace in receiving requires humility, and so the gratitude is all the sweeter for it.

There is a gift to being in need.  You’re not just a big fat loser.  It may be you who’s in need today – but it might be me tomorrow! The gift of being in need is that you can give someone else the gift of being able to help you. It’s a gift to be needed, to be known.

So let people love you. Your time will come to be on the less vulnerable side of giving.  But in the meantime? Give by how you receive.

jsg/feb 18

The Two Sides of Freedom.

Sky blog pic

‘Freedom’ presupposes that it follows on from something which has gone before it, which was not that.

And the nature of Freedom is two fold.

Initially, there is “Freedom From”:

Freedom from bondage.

Freedom from oppression.

Freedom from addiction.

Freedom from control.

Freedom from darkness in all its forms, if you like.

While these “Freedom From”s are fantastic, they’re not easy.

“Freedom From” entails a stripping away.  There may be relief; but there is also trauma, grief, shock, fear, destabilisation, disintegration, and then – slowly – sobering recognition of what one has really been freed from.

Being freed from, is exhausting.  You feel like you could sleep for a decade – or at least a few months – if only you could rest. But there is so much to do!  So much change.  So much admin.  So much recalibrating of your every breath.  So much reorganising of your daily existence.  (And you can multiply all of it by however many people are dependent upon you in this new-found Freedom From.)

“Freedom From” is knackering and, it seems, never ending.


Just as you’re wailingly considering if all the grief, trauma and challenge to being set free is worth it (it is), you crest the hill.

And here, looking out, you discover the second side of freedom: the Freedom To.

For, all that climbing/all that struggling/all that offloading/all that renegotiating/all that clearing/all that healing/all that hoping has brought you here.  And I can tell you this, suddenly you will gasp.

Ahead of you is a new landscape.  Not like the old one (even if it looks the same) because you are different.  And this is your landscape now.  You can be whoever you want to be.  You can go wherever you want to go.  You can make it work however you want to make it work, because it’s up to you.

After so much work to be freed from, now at last the second side of freedom can begin – and it gives you so much energy!

Freedom to be who you suspected you might be all along but didn’t feel free enough to show it.

Freedom to try new things without judgment, scale new heights, astonish yourself with your own – freed – God-given capabilities.

Freedom to push yourself because you want to (and not because you have to).

Freedom to walk in the light of truth.  Which is surely the greatest freedom of all.

If – like me – you’ve finally reached this place,  what are you waiting for?                                                                                                         Stop looking at your future and ride on into it!

Sure there will be other valleys, other hills.  But right now? Get out there, look up at the sky, and give yourself a forest-booming blast of Nina.

For today is a new dawn.

It is a new day.

It is a new life.

And I am, aren’t you?  I’m feeling good.




jsg/jan 18