How do you view your life?

Yesterday, I drove past a crash on a twisty country road.  Twenty minutes later, I arrived at my destination and discovered I had a completely flat rear tire.

I had to call breakdown recovery, and my membership had run out.  They discovered I had driven over a screw (pic).  They plugged the tire, I paid for my membership and the one off call out fee which it didn’t cover: £139.00. I was not expecting that.

Today, I had to buy two new rear tires (so they had equal treads).  £320 unexpected quid out of my budget. I was not expecting that.

This evening, my daughter got a last minute invitation. I dashed out of the house thinking I could drop her on my way to the grocery store to buy food for dinner and pick up my son.

After I dropped her, I couldn’t find my wallet. I looked under the seats, I checked the sidewalk. No shopping for me – had I lost it somewhere?? I was not expecting that.

I was so distracted worrying about the wallet, I rolled into the car in front of me at the traffic lights. In the rain, in the dark.  NO.  I jumped out.  No major damage but he had a little girl in the car and it had given them a hard bump. I had no wallet – so I had no details. I was not expecting that.

I got to my son – late.  I had kept the other mother waiting on her way to work, while I’d pranged someone else’s car.

How should I respond to all this?

Oh woe is me! I’m a single mother, all the pressure is on me, all the responsibility and all the provision!

Who leaves a bloody nail on the road?

Who loses their purse?

Why can’t I get it together?

OR

It “occurred” to me last week (Holy Spirit?) that I needed to renew my breakdown recovery membership. I forgot to do it.

I drove over a nail, and only discovered it when I had arrived in the driveway of a friend.

The breakdown recovery showed up quickly and found a nail in my tire, which he could plug.  I had money in my account to pay for the repair, and I got to renew my membership at the same time.

Today, I replaced my two rear tires.  It was expensive, but they should last for 30,000 miles and both tires were evidently wearing thin. And today (though the expense was unexpected) I have the money.

My daughter was unexpectedly invited by a friend.  A new friendship.  I was able to get her there.

I mislaid my purse and rolled into another car.  Mercifully no one was injured, and it woke me up to how distracted I was. Not only that but the driver – an Australian dad – was so incredibly kind to me. “It happens, don’t worry. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He believed me, he took my phone number.

When I picked up my son, the mother who was waiting was gracious.  “Here’s the £5 I owe you!” she said. I had forgotten.

I had needed my wallet to buy chicken for dinner and a lightbulb for my desk.  The chicken was on sale for £3.00 and when I got to the store for the lightbulb?  They were reduced by 2/3 to £1.00 a box and I could get two.

£5.00 to the penny.

Here’s what I think: I’m trying, but I fail.  On days like today, I feel like a hot mess. I am a hot mess. But you know what? I have a saviour who loves me JUST BECAUSE.

Nails happen.

I forget my purse.

I’m working with a budget.

I’m making mistakes.

I’m trying to be a good role model.

But what I’m really modelling is this.  I’m reliant on a Saviour who knows how many holes I have in my net, and that’s why He came.  I’m trying hard but I’ve only got me to work with.  And sometimes that is not too much. Without Him?  I’m actually doing nothing.

God got me to the driveway.

I had the money NOW to pay for membership.

I had the money NOW to pay for tires.

I make mistakes, I rolled into the car in front of me. I was distracted.  The man was gracious.

I lost my wallet. My mum friend gave me (unknowingly) the exact money I needed to feed my family and light my desk even so.

I’m home. We’re safe. We’re still moving forward.

God is good.

He‘s in the details.

He weaves the patterns of my days.

And my days are – so clearly in spite of myself – infused by grace.

When I got home, I found my wallet on the kitchen table.  Where I’d left it as we ran out the door.

How do you view your life?

I view my life as the very imperfect existence of a human being in the hands of a gracious, forgiving, redemptive God.

How about you?

 

jsg/jan 18

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Slide, Please.

I am possibly the only person I know who has no saturation point for looking at other people’s photos.  I am endlessly fascinated by who’s in them, where they are, what they’re doing, what time of day and year they were taken, where in the world. Most importantly though, I’m interested to see what they chose to shoot and why.

Because photos reveal not just their subject matter, but the photographer’s point of view.  What do they draw my attention to? Is it all in focus or only partial? What connected with them about that particular view, those colours, that angle, that light?  What stories are represented in those shots?  What are the relationships captured in the frame? What’s their relationship with the photographer?  What has the picture exposed?

If you’re looking at slides instead of photos (a family archive, say) sometimes the slides melt in the projector (check), or it’s not possible to bring the image into sharp focus because the slide itself wasn’t sharp focus in the first place (check check).

Sometimes a slide will come up and be met with silence.  You just sit in the dark thinking, “What in the world was that?” You can’t make it out, or you’re not sure why the person took it, or it looks like a dud. Maybe the photographer is no longer around to ask.  Maybe you’re just left looking at it for a while, trying to work it out.

My life feels like that at the moment.  The Lord has brought me full circle and I’m facing all sorts of slides/memories in my family archive.  Most of them have me in them, some of them do not.

Many memories are lovely.  Others are ones I half-remember but don’t want to look at closely. Or I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to dig.

I’ll look at a memory I don’t want, a slice of life where we’re all caught in suspended animation and the remembrance is painful, half-buried and unresolved.  The temptation is to  say loudly to the Lord, “Yep, remember that!  Don’t want it!  NEXT SLIDE, PLEASE!

But it’s as if He’s not listening. He keeps the memory before me to gently say, “No, daughter, look again.  I want you to really look this time.  What do you actually see?  Can you find Me in it?”

No memory is unimportant and there are so many.  Yet, since God Himself is the photographer, He is there for me to ask what they represent. To discover His point of view. He is inviting me to view them no longer through my lens, but His own.

I have to breathe deeply and trust this is not futile.  This is me stepping into freedom and forgiveness, so I have to squint my eyes and choose to concentrate. To focus on the memory He’s brought close and personal right up to my face. Difficult memories that I think I know so intimately – those relationships, those events, those experiences, those words – in order to find what I haven’t yet seen in them. Himself. Within me, beside me, around me, beneath me, above me. There all along, just unseen:

My forgiving Saviour

My faithful Advocate

My Redeemer God

My omniscient Friend.

Slowly, slowly, the lights are coming up for me.

And I am beginning to see the whole frame.

 

jsg/aug 17