Thank God it’s Good Friday.

He was not good looking.

He was not successful.

He was not envied.

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He was a man of sorrows.

Acquainted with grief.  

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He knew what He was doing for me, and I did not.

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I betrayed Him.

I rejected Him.

I misunderstood Him.

I misrepresented Him.

I gossiped about Him.

I deserted Him.

I beat Him.

I pierced Him.

I wounded Him.

I killed Him.

That is what makes Good Friday meaningful. Purposeful. Personal.

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And yet He has come for me.

He always-and-forever-will-be for me.

And you too.

It is unfathomable.

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He went to the depths, and rose back up.

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Because of Him, I will too.

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Thank you, God, for Good Friday.

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Thank you, God.

The sky is black.

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Sunday is coming.

 

jsg/march 18

 

The hardy daffodil.

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Daffodil bulbs look like nothing.

And when they start to sprout through the soil, they could be mistaken for any other flower. Indistinctive green shoots.

But they’re faithful to their growth and – in spite of rain and snow and windy weather – they burst forth in March exactly when we need them.

Fierce little flowers, they never give less than their best.  Have you ever seen a half-hearted daffodil?

Brilliant in colour, relentlessly outstretched, reaching for the sun. Especially piercing in beauty against a cornflower blue sky yet still able to brighten up the dreariest of days.

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Undaunted by inhospitable environments, they bloom where they’ve been planted.

Daffodils teach me a lot about patience.  And trust.  And doing what you know to do.  And being who you are.  Just because it looks like nothing is happening doesn’t mean nothing is.  Daffodils grow for a long time beyond the scope of human sight.

Then just when you think Winter will never end, suddenly Spring. It’s not “all over” at all! New life has, actually, only just begun.

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No wonder daffodils are associated with Easter.

Rebirth.

New beginnings.

Resurrection.

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I turn my face to the Son and reach up to stretch out and bloom.

Just like them.

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jsg/march 18

Like Snow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

You’ve gotta love the Lord.  This is one of my favourite verses in the whole bible. It is God letting me know that it’s OK for me to speak up.  To say, on occasion, a respectful but deeply heartfelt WTF.  To make my case, to disagree, to shout and stamp and scream and rage.  To give my opinion (He can take it).

It’s been snowing here again.  Unusual for us in the UK. We’ve had a spectacular 2 inches where we are and, even with that and as snow does, it transforms everything.

The quality of light is different through the curtains when you wake up to it.  It is brighter, whiter, clearer, stronger.

Where the day before was bare branches and mud and stones and life writ drear, SNOW has transformed it all into something extraordinary.  Something beautiful. It has covered everything completely.  Changed the shape of things, softened sound.

Views we know like the back of our hand are suddenly new.  Newly known, newly seen adorned in white. Different. Our daily walk doesn’t feel like an everyday activity.  It’s new, and you gasp at the loveliness of it.  The way the light glances off the snow creating new patterns, new vistas, new angles, new shapes. Everything is the same yet snow has completely transformed it.  I cannot see, feel or hear things in the same way.

And this is what God says He does with my sin.  He takes all that is bloody and bleak and self-serving and wounded and wilful and – when I ask Him – He blankets it with white. He forgives me.

His covering has transformed me and continues to transform me into someone new. Truly me, and newly me.

Unlike natural snow, this supernatural blanketing of purity and newness does not melt away either.  It’s eternal.

Walking through the woods this morning, I was breath taken. Awe-struck at what snow can do.  How it changes everything so utterly.  So masterfully.  So purely.  How it catches us off guard with its power to create beauty out of absolutely everything.

Now if I can just remember that about myself, and about others too. God can do it.

We can all be changed.

And in the twinkling of an eye.

jsg/march 18

Hot Loneliness.

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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.

And I am BOILING.

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 gift of being in need.

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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

Unpacking.

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‘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

Holding.

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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