Sometimes it’s in the dead ends that we learn the most.
This week has not been the easiest of weeks. About six months ago Mr GLW and I felt God had called him to apply to become a police officer. He had been a Special Constable (volunteer police officer) with the Met Police for a number of years and for the last two or three he had occasionally suggested that becoming a fulltime officer would solve various problems we kept happening upon, mostly related to our main income being my freelance work and the lack of security that gave us.
I’d always been very against this idea as I wondered how I would do all the stuff I’m Meant To Do, if I had to be a full time parent AND police spouse. However, within the last year as I prayed and journeyed with God I became convinced that Mr GLW should apply, that God was in it and I felt a lot peace about it all. I didn’t really want to be going down that road, but obedience to God takes priority, always.
So I began the rather painful process of accepting that my role was changing. I’d become so used to being a freelance specialist, with the freedom to work whenever, while Mr GLW stayed at home and looked after the children. Even when he began part-time work with a local charity a couple of years ago, I could basically work whenever and left many of the caring and household responsibilities to Mr GLW (and he was a lot better at it all and like it a lot more!).
I spent a lot of time praying and grappling with my changing role. Why was I so resistant to becoming “just a mum” when my feminism insists that tasks culturally coded as women’s work are very important? If everything I did was in obedience to God, why was it so much easier to be obedient to God when I got to do all the stuff I loved? Even though I spend my life massively critiquing platform, why did it feel so hard giving up a career which presented opportunities to speak and write and have my voice heard?
The first day of the summer holidays was also Mr GLW’s first day training as a police officer. I had spent the weeks previously frantically trying to get all my projects finished up, working long hours and being super busy. Suddenly I became a fulltime parent in the summer holidays, with three children aged 4, 10 and 13.
(I should mention that just over a year ago, God called us to move my niece and her 3-year-old son halfway down the country to live with us, resulting in large upheaval in our life, which you can read about HERE. Earlier this year it became apparent she couldn’t cope with being a parent and so we supported her to firstly get a job and then, when she couldn’t cope, we miraculously found an amazing Christian safe house for women where she could stay. All this means that we inherited a four-year-old earlier this year, with all the challenges that brings, alongside having a marvellous ten-year-old with additional behavioural needs and an adorable thirteen-year-old with teenage rantiness.)
The summer holidays involved almost constant argument. “He hit me.” “He’s lying, I never hit him.” “YES YOU DID.” “Shut up arguing you two! Mum can I go out with my friends…” On and on and on. There were also wonderful times. Friends blessed us with a week’s holiday in their holiday home free of charge. The kids enjoyed my more spontaneous parenting and things being different every day (except for Smaller GLW who likes everything to be the same every day and has a meltdown when it’s not). Early on I found Smaller GLW wailing in his bedroom. “Why has daddy left us all ALOOOOOOONE?” he moaned with tears rolling down his cheeks. “He hasn’t left you alone, I’m here” I said while patting him. He howls and informs me, “Well that’s basically the same thing.”
Weeks three and six were the worst. By week six I was ready to give up. The exhaustion. Never having a minute to myself. The lack of capacity to think about anything but when to load the dishwasher and put the washing out. I’d had a weekend away with God in June and “courage” was one of the words God gave me for the year ahead. At the time I had been mildly concerned about that. Courage? I’m usually quite courageous. Challenging injustice. Saying the things no-one else wants to (vagina, vagina, clitoris, vulva). The idea that courage was going to be needed for the year ahead had concerned me slightly. Week 6 of the summer holidays, enduring bickering, arguing and Never Any Silence had not been what I envisaged as The Courageous Act. Yet it took all of my energy to keep going. Courage is the still small voice that says “I will not lock my children in a room and run away, I will cook their dinner and tell them I love them instead.”
Last week was back to school and things began to improve. I began thinking about the MA I’m starting later this month with London School of Theology (I am getting it free and don’t have a first degree so I am calling it the Miracle Masters). Everything was becoming calmer and I had begun to really embrace my role as primary carer. I had a system for cleaning, we’ve been doing after school beach trips because of the Global Warming induced hot weather and we’d all basically adapted to this new life.
Alas, this was short lived! Mr GLW had been struggling with the training. He’s 45 and the training is full of twenty somethings who live at home and can revise and have the headspace for remembering ALL THE LAWS. Having lived with me for nine years, Mr GLW’s unhealthy power dynamics radar goes off rather quickly and the system and structures were hard to deal with. He was struggling with the hours, with the lack of time to spend with the children and me. Everything felt unmanageable. So he began suggesting that we had a made a mistake. Clearly God had not called us down this road. We had got it wrong.
I married Mr GLW because God told me to. I moved house twice to locations God told me to. I have taken jobs because God told me to. I have left jobs, because God told me to. My life belongs to God. Everything I do is in obedience to God. And usually Mr GLW is on-board with that. Not last week though.
He wanted to believe that if things were going wrong, it must be that we somehow misheard God, on numerous occasions, in numerous ways and through numerous circumstances. I have dealt with many painful and horrendous things, and I am able to do that in the full assurance that God loves me, and that through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit I can follow the path He guides me to.
If we are fully submitted to God and we live in full obedience to Him, when things go wrong, that doesn’t mean we heard Him wrong. It means that things are not going how we envisaged they would.
Often when things go wrong, “why” is the biggest question. If we could understand why then we could move on. Yet why is about gaining control. If I understand why, I can fix it, change it, move on from it. But the book of Job suggests “why” doesn’t get us very far with God. For Mr GLW and I, this journey has yet again taught us that it is not “why” but rather “how” that is the most important thing to ask. “How do we get through this?”
Mr GLW continued to try and make the job work, but on Tuesday morning at 3.30am I found him awake, anxious and having had various nightmares. Clearly it wasn’t working and he couldn’t cope. So yesterday he resigned from the training.
I currently have hardly any freelance work. Having not been doing much freelance stuff over the summer (because it’s hard to work when children are arguing about who did what and why and that they are the one who is definitely right) we have very little in the way of next steps for having enough money to live on.
I have spent six months adapting to a new life. Psychologically and emotionally it has been painful and sacrificial. Practically it has been exhausting and meant me fitting myself into a role I was never made for. And now it’s all going to change again. I’m going to go back to being a freelance Gender Justice Specialist and Mr GLW will become the stay at home parent.
Sometimes it’s in the dead ends we learn the most.
Mr GLW has tried things the way he thought they would work. And they didn’t. I have learned a whole lot about myself. We have discovered that living unconventionally is our call and that is something to embrace.
In the last week God has spoken to me in various ways. Listening to Biffy Clyro on Radio One the other day and one of the band said that his favourite lyric was,
“Take the pieces and build them skyward.”
In the midst of feeling broken by this whole situation, it was a glimmer of hope.
I’d randomly bought Stuart Townend’s album “The Journey” after hearing a song from it at a friend’s commissioning service. While going for runs in the morning, I’ve been listening to it. From one song came the lines,
“Not what you give, but what you keep, is what the King is counting. O teach me Lord to walk this road, the road of simple living; To be content with what I own and generous in giving. And when I cling to what I have please wrest if quickly from my grasp; I’d rather lose all the things of earth to the gain the things of heaven.”
As I ran and listened, was the truth my heart held to.
From another song,
“It is well with my soul when the storms of winter blow, and the cares of this world take their toll. In the heat of the day there is grace enough to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
I preached a sermon on Sunday that I wrote late last year for the Sermon of the Year competition. You can listen to it HERE. With hindsight I see that it is a sermon I have spent my year living out (the old adage goes “be careful what you wish for” but for preachers perhaps it should be “be careful what you preach on”). In it I said,
“Sisters and brothers, we have access to a hope that can set the world alight. Yet because of God’s grace, He allows us to contain it. He allows us to hold just enough hope to know we are saved, without forcing it to change us, to make us people of the deficit.
We have a hope that could set our lives and our communities ablaze, yet we are sitting too comfortably.
Until we are willing for God to disturb us, to take us outside of comfortable, then He won’t. And though we have a reason to hope, we have no need of it. No need of it at all.”
God has called us into a dead end and it’s painful and difficult. But there is no place we’d rather be.