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




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?


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





Say not the struggle nought availeth,
     The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

     And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

     And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,

     Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,

     But westward, look, the land is bright.

Happy New Year – BASH ON!


jsg/dec 17


“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.



josie/dec 17




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.


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.


Happy Christmas one and all,



jsg/dec 17



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