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

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





dawn edit

‘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

You can’t rush risotto.

‘The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.’



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.



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.


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.

IMG_1125 (1)


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


When lunch was finally ready, the kids loved it.


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



‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.’ Proverbs 16:9

When I left the house this morning, I caught sight of a small snail half way up the glass panel in the back door.


“Blimey,” I thought. “Look how far he’s got. Just by sheer determination.”


It was truly impressive. I left him where he was.  I couldn’t bear to put all that hard work to waste.

I went off to look at a possible house for me and my kids.  As I stood by my car trying to find the address on my phone, a small blue car came speeding down the street and smashed off my side mirror. They never stopped.

I was in shock. “Really?” I thought. “I mean, really?


I wanted to give up.  To burst into tears.  To get back in my car and drive home.

But there is no home, that’s why I’m out here trying to find one.

So I took a moment, then retrieved the cover of my mirror thrown across the bonnet. It blessedly snapped back on and the mirror snapped back into place.

I wiped my eyes, turned on my heel and walked toward the house I was going to see. Unharmed. Untouched. Still moving.

When I got back to the house where we are, someone had plucked the snail off the door.

Who knows where he is now.  All that hard work for nothing.

But then,

he didn’t have the kind of protection I’ve got.


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.


And I’m not on my own.  I’ve been given what it takes to climb up.


jsg/oct 17












Pinpoints of light.


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