You can’t rush risotto.

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Brilliant.

When lunch was finally ready, the kids loved it.

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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

 

Locked.

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‘We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;                                         we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.’ C.S. Lewis.

We stood on the bank of the river watching the broad, steady barge move slowly toward us. Then, at the crucial moment, I grabbed the children’s hands and yelled, “JUMP!” And we made it.  We were no longer where we had been, exposed and alone. We were moving forward to somewhere new, dry and afloat.  All shall be well.

For a while, we traveled up the river recovering. Admiring the view, enjoying the new safety.  The children grieved all that had been left behind, but I knew this was our rescue barge, our onward movement, God’s provision.

Then the river started to narrow. (There was a weir off to the right which momentarily looked like an alternative only if you didn’t know what a weir does.)  The river narrowed and narrowed until we entered a lock.

 

Initially the lack of movement was unremarkable.  Only inches separated us from the sides. We were still on the barge, we were still out of danger. However, when it became clear there was a barrier obstructing further progress, our heads turned back to see whether we could reverse.

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Without our noticing, the barrier behind us had slowly closed too. There was no turning back.

“Don’t panic,” I thought.  “This was the right choice, the only choice.  God has a plan, just wait.” I comforted the children.

But it was difficult to wait with nowhere to go stuck on a barge in a lock. The children were restless, out of their element, distressed. They wanted to jump off, run away down the bank, make up another barge from their own imagination.  I felt helpless. Failing.

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And this was all before the water level began to drop.  I didn’t notice it at first, being almost imperceptible.  But slowly I could see less of the open fields and woods beyond the river. My view was increasingly locked into the reality of the barge, the nearness of the sides, the height of the walls.  How tiny our barge seemed now, yet how unwieldy and too large for this confined space.

The walls got higher.  No way forward, no way back.

“God, what are you doing?” I have cried. “This must be right but how can it be right? Look at us!  This is worse than before!  Isn’t it?  We are truly STUCK! Will we be stuck here forever? Unmoving? Trapped?  Have I, in fact, been wrong all along?  This was never, in fact, your barge?  Never your way?”

I had to find quiet in order to think.  And in quiet, my mind turned to the purpose of a lock.  Why do the barriers close? To allow the boat – slowly, slowly – to move from one level of the river to a deeper, lower one and so be able to move ahead.  You can’t tell what’s happening if you don’t know how a lock works.  It looks like the barge has got “locked”in and, worse, is now sinking.

BUT. There is a plan behind every lock.  A purpose.  A necessity to its existence.  If the boat is to go further on its journey, something has to happen to allow for the change in water level to make it possible to proceed. The barrier closes slowly behind the barge, and the one in front of it only opens very slowly once the back one is fully shut.

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Wait for it….

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Wait for it….

 

jsg/Nov 17

Determined.

‘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.

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

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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?

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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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing the bass note.

Bass notes blog

There are times in my life – many times over the past few years – where what has happened seems to be one damn thing after another.

Unfortunately, I do not find currency in this.  I have no interest in being “Oh poor Josie!” as if people are expecting one more dreadful thing to come flying at my head. It irritates me hugely.  I am not interested in drama (somewhat ironic for an actress), and I long for the moment when news might travel far and wide on the airwaves prefixed by this, “Oh my word, how BRILLIANT! You will NEVER GUESS what has happened for Josie – she’s had a WIN!”

In the meantime, I sit with what is.  I am not disconsolate nor in despair. I have retained my sense of humour, I can mostly see the funny side.  I have good perspective.

And here’s the interesting thing.  I realise that because my life has so often played the bass note, I find that I can be the “go to” person when friends are in difficulty.  I either reach out to them, or they will contact me.

For here is the treasure of darkness.  Once you have sat in the ashes (and been willing to stay there knowing that, ultimately, God will bring it to good no matter what) you are willing to do it for other people also.

Oswald Chambers (as so often) puts it well:

‘You always know the man who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, you are certain you can go to him in trouble and find that he has ample leisure for you.’

It’s not that you are no longer impacted by tragedy or heartbreak, you feel it wholly.  But you no longer feel excluded from involvement by its enormity.  Because you know that actually there is nothing you can say to mitigate the circumstances, the key is just to show up. Just be present.  Be with.  Sit it out.

I think of the bass notes in jazz and how they ground the tune.  Carve it out, deepen it, enrich it, bring out every shade of tone and temper. They give the higher notes room to dance, to soar, to play around.  They give the music its frame.

Without them the score would be lightweight. With them, it’s breathtaking.

And when those bass notes play in your own life, those who will walk beside you become doubly precious.  Not simply because they know a part of your journey, but because they stayed with you through it, no matter how unending it seemed to be.

I cannot flee the music of my life, it’s my only one. Tellingly, as much as I think I might prefer to be a soaring high note, when I’m rigorously honest with myself I recognise that perhaps really I wouldn’t.

For the greatest riches of my experience have all come when everything else has been stripped away. They are the ones I truly cherish, because they came at a cost.

And of course the greatest gift through all of it is this.  It is indeed because of the bass notes that I have come to know that I know that I know that I know 

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that God is real.

 

jsg/aug 17