Truly Supported.

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Michelangelo carved his ‘Piéta’ out of a solid block of Carrara marble in 1500 at the age of 23. The story goes that when he was asked how he’d done it, Michelangelo replied, “I just took away everything that wasn’t the Piéta.”

One wonders if this was his first try. Had he first started out with another piece of marble and made a mistake?  Sort of “Oh, bugger. Now he shall be handless.”

History doesn’t relate but, thankfully, the One who is carving me does not make mistakes.  Which is just as well, because the cutting is getting awfully deep. He is carving away some of the crucial support I always thought was there.  Was part of me.

It is not so much that He is removing sources of support, but allowing me to discover they were not sources at all. I have been looking for support, for affirmation, for comfort, for refuge, for encouragement, in all the wrong places.  Right assessment, just wrong approach.

It must have been almost as painful for Him to watch me discover this as it has been for me to experience it.

I have not enjoyed discovering where I’m mistaken.  The process has been by trial and error and is painful, frustrating, perplexing and repetitive.  I have gone to a presumed source of support over and over and over again expecting to meet supply, only to be disappointed.  I have been slow on the uptake in some instances. When it’s not there, instead of letting go I have thought: “No, no, Josie, try again! YOU are the problem! Support should come from here!  Change your attitude and you will find it.”

Buuuuut no! CRASH. BANG. CRACK. DROP. Face down.

When my expectation of support has crashed down in flames like the Hindenburg, I have looked to comfort myself like a starving baby in other ways. I try to make myself as “comfortable” as I am able. But this doesn’t bring me comfort, I can’t comfort myself. Not with real comfort.  My appetites only serve to reveal my hungers not assuage them.   

The discovery of false sources of support has been like the dismantling of scaffolding that I thought held me in place in the world. Scaffolding which turns out not to be able to hold my weight.

All man-made or man-centric scaffolding buckles under a task it’s not built for.

When false support buckles, you either slump into a pool of cellular jelly OR you discover the interior scaffolding that does actually hold you up.

The interior scaffolding that is affected by nothing externally. Real scaffolding which tells me who I am and how I’m loved.  Scaffolding that tells me I’m not a mistake and I’m hugely valuable.  Scaffolding that reminds me I’m not without hope.   Scaffolding that enables me to stand and look out to see who I’m meant to be in the world. Because I can now hold my head up to see.  Without any false scaffolding obscuring my view.

Interior scaffolding, custom-designed, gives me a robustness and a strength and support nothing and no one in this world can provide nor take from me. Things that the people I ran to could not have given me anyway.  Even if they’d been perfect.  It’s not their fault.

Interior scaffolding is not something I can make for myself or anyone else can give me.  It is scaffolding I can only receive from the Builder Himself.

So OK, Lord.  Painful as it is – sometimes shocking – please continue to take away all the false scaffolding in my life.  Take it all away to leave only what is truly me. And only truly You.

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You are my true support.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Allowing for suffering.

Who first said “Time heals all wounds”? Was it Shakespeare?

Whoever it was, they lied. Wounds don’t simply go away, they need dealing with.

It’s one of those revolting bromides that serve only the speaker in the face of another’s pain.  A platitude surely sibling to other such unhelpful phrases as:

“It could be worse! Lucky you.”

Or, “It’s not as bad as you think.”

Or, “Calm down, getting upset isn’t going to help.”

Or, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.”

Or, “Brave girl, no more tears!”

Or finally, “Don’t cry, dear heart. The milk is spilt.”

What is it about another’s suffering that plants in the human heart such a profound desire to minimise?  Isn’t it just about the discomfort of the observer?

Ironically, Christians can be among the worst offenders.

“Well, praise the Lord! They beam as you weep your guts out. “God is in control and He will bring all things together for good!”

I could slap them.

Don’t you remember that there were three days between the Cross and the Resurrection?  Three days of utter darkness and total despair?  Disbelief, doubt, desolation, abandonment, disillusion?  There was no whisper from Heaven, “Hold on, y’all! Sunday’s coming!

When Jesus went to raise Lazarus, he didn’t arrive with a brass band to shout: “Dry your tears! Weep no more! I’m here to save the day!” Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Jesus wept, loud noisy agonised snorting tears at the plight of his deceased friend and the beloved bereaved.  

So what is to be my healthy response to my own suffering?

What happens now, when I’m brought back “to the scene of the crime” as an adult? I’m a grown up now, surely I can handle it?

And I have, for a time.

But then I feel boxed in and desperate, choking. And the wounded child within me seeing no escape, finds their only release is to scream.

SCREAM blue, bloody murder.  It’s ugly, and wild, and hurtful.

“Don’t scream like that!” A trusted friend says.  “You’ve got to stop. It won’t produce the result you want.”

How sound and how rational that is from their position on the sidelines.  But the child within me is in battle.  Hurled back into the lifelong nightmares of my childhood and no amount of maturity is going to wipe that slate clean.  Because it’s not about me.  It’s about the others.

Sometimes suffering produces a train wreck.  And you must not be scared by that.  Suffering is hugely messy.

Faced with no way out and no discernible options, the child within you can scream and scream and s-c-r-e-a-m, no matter the age they are now.  I’m sure that screaming is not productive in moving toward resolution. I’m sure it’s not mature.  I’m sure it’s not shrewd.

But it is raw.

And real.

And undeniable.

And so so so necessary.  There might be a lifetime of screaming down there which needs to be released.

Being told to change course, or to alter your reaction to produce a better result, is meaningless in the face of soul-destroying, screaming, stifling anguish.  You are who you are. I know I am. Still. And the suffering is what it is.

I need the grace of Christ to allow me to scream.  Not the well-meaning advice of friends who tell me to stop or who have a better strategy. Who think it can do me no good to scream.

Because I can tell you this.  Suffering suffers no stratagem. It grabs you by the guts and screams at you, “LISTEN TO MEEEEE! I AM DYING!”

And, in suffering, part of you is.  You are dying to what you thought your life would be.  You are dying to how you wanted to be loved and known.  You are dying to hopes, expectations, dreams. You are dying to the person you have lost and perhaps never had. You are dying to what was not, in order to come into an acceptance of what is.

There are no shortcuts.

And unless in suffering you do die to all these things, nothing can grow from it.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Suffering refuses to rush toward resolution.  It doesn’t care about your comfort, it’s trying to heal you. So we must be willing to sit in the agony of it – our own and others’ – to wait for redemption. No matter how the rest of the world views it. Suffering can be a lonely place.

And redemption won’t come quickly, because it follows due process. In fact it may not come at all.

But to deny the suffering itself? How can that help anyone?

What I long for is freedom. Freedom beyond the pain.

And, as John Wimber used to say, ‘The way in is the way on.’

 

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