going and not going, staying and not staying: how does god guide us?

If you’d asked me three months ago what I would be doing this week, the answer would have been easy: moving house. We would be finishing up the last bit of packing before heading off to a different part of the country, where Desert Dad would be starting a new job come September.

And yet, we’re not doing any of that. According to my diary, this week looks pretty similar to any other: the usual round of play dates, swimming, friends coming for dinner. By the end of the week I’ll have been to two goodbye parties, not one of them for me. What happened?

I used to think that God guided in a very hands-off way. You apply for a job, you pray about it, you go for interview – if you get it, great, that’s God saying ‘yes’. If you don’t, no worries, that’s God saying ‘no’. This is a very optimistic approach, and it’s not that I think it’s bad theology, it’s just incomplete. The last few months have shown me that God can and does intervene in situations when it seems that everything’s done and dusted. I’ve learned that perhaps we need to approach decisions with less vacuous positivity, and more serious God-searching.

For a large part of last year, there was one particular option for Desert Dad’s job and our future which was looking incredibly likely. Then, suddenly, God intervened: it was not to be. The way in which this happened was so unexpected, so awkward and so baffling that we just felt it had to be God: it defied much of the human logic which, up to that point, had been suggesting a positive way forward.

Five months later, God intervened again: this time to tell us that we shouldn’t be going to the job that Desert Dad had secured at the start of the year. Through one week in May, God taught me more about guidance than I’ve learned in my entire life.

But both interventions were puzzling, confusing and painful. During the latter, I found myself yelling at God “Why? Why do it this way? Why confuse things? Why couldn’t you have guided us right in the first place?” It seemed like needless time and energy had been spent, not just by us but by the church we were letting down. And for what? I don’t often break down in tears before God, but on this day there was nothing else left.

I wish this were a post with some clever things to say about God’s guidance – I really do. But right now, despite the steep learning curve of the last few months, I have more questions than answers. I don’t know, for example, how much weight our emotions hold in decision-making. There have been times over the past year when I’ve had to pull myself back because God’s plan seemed to be so much in line with my own desires that I didn’t dare believe it was true. There have been other times when I’ve had to submit my desires to God, knowing that they weren’t of Him – there have been more of these moments, and they have been the hardest.

Honestly, this is where I am at the moment:

* Before this year, I believed that the decision about which job my husband should go for was purely down to him, and very little down to me. Now I realise that if it’s right for him, it’ll also be right for me and the kids;

* Our emotions are important, but changeable. We need to neither ignore nor be swayed by them;

* Big decisions require the kind of prayer and fasting that I don’t think I’ve even touched the surface of yet. How one gets away for retreat when tiny children are about is another question – possibly one for a future blog post. But the last few months have made me see how vital it is, when facing a big decision.

So, for the moment, we are not going. That is not to say that we are staying – for there is a sense of temporaryness to the life we’re currently living – but we are not going. We are neither going, nor staying. We are simply waiting for the next direction. It might sound like a place of insecurity; in actual fact, we have known it, so far at least, only to be a place of peace.

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

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holiday packing: my very favourite thing (not)

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If I didn’t need my holiday before, then I certainly need it once I’ve got half-way through the packing. It’s a flippin’ nightmare.

Packing is no hassle for Desert Dad. Wherever we’re going, and however long for, packing seems to take him just five minutes, and fit neatly into one rucksack. The possibility that he may have calculated how much underwear he’ll need by adding up the number of days we’re away and dividing it by two is neither here nor there. I don’t care anymore. Don’t care. There are enough cares in packing for me and the kids that I’m done worrying about what hubbie’s bringing (or not bringing).

I get a few minutes into the whole packing debacle before realising that we don’t have any stuff. I mean, of course, this is ridiculous – we have far too much stuff. We just don’t have the right stuff. At best, I am a cautious and frugal consumer – but this backfires on me when it’s time to go away. I’m staring at the disorganised mess of clothes, shouting at myself for the times I stood in Next contemplating whether or not Missy needed more than two pairs of pyjamas, or if Mister really should have sandals that fit him. WE HAVE NO STUFF! NO SANDALS! NO WET WEATHER GEAR! NO PICNIC APPARATUS!  This year, however, I managed to remember in time, and have spent the last week or two madly rushing into whichever shops are en route to toddler groups and preschool, cramming a basket full of whatever looks vaguely holiday-related. What is that? No idea. What does it do? Clueless. It has a picture of a sun on it. Do I need it? Don’t care…Missy is screaming…grab it, pay, out.

Then there is the issue of having to pack light. Sticking to the UK for our holidays seemed a good choice when the kids arrived: no long flights, no jet lag, no airport delays, no customs, no hassle. But, right now, I would gladly take on all of those disadvantages for a bit of predictable weather, where our packing would consist of clothes for one season only. Today, I’m cramming my already-full suitcase with big jumpers, sunhats, raincoats, sandals, wellies, swimwear. And take shoes: when we booked our holiday, I was all like Oh it’s great, such a lovely area for walking, and we’re not so far from the beach, and there are loads of lovely towns to potter round. Wrong move, Rycroft. At the very least, I’m going to need five pairs of shoes: walking shoes for country walks, flip-flops for the beach, smart shoes for going out, normal shoes for, er, normal things, and sandals for normal things in warm weather. And that’s the bare minimum. It’s pretty much a full bag already. You say, in your annoyingly calm way, “You can buy things when you get there, shops still exist on holiday”, to which I reply “Yes, where we’re going I will be able to buy organic veg and locally-made biscuits and, perhaps, a pair of Hunter’s wellies, and that is it.” Spending a holiday tracking down a Tesco when you’re in the middle of nowhere, just because I didn’t know whether or not we’d need suncream, is not my idea of fun.

I mentioned sunhats. Missy does not do hats. Still, I feel I must act the responsible parent and pack one anyway, in the vain hope that she and hat might click this holiday. But – because she doesn’t wear hats – I have no idea whether the hat she didn’t wear last summer still fits. So, I do this simple test:

Thank the Lord she's a deep sleeper.
Thank the Lord she’s a deep sleeper.

Packing is a drag, no two ways about it. But I do it for a) the holiday at the end of it all, and b) the calm I’ll experience tomorrow morning as hubby packs the car. This is a division of labour which works very nicely in our household: I pack the stuff, and Desert Dad packs it into the boot. When women have kids, hormones kick in. They produce milk, develop a protective instinct, start to nurture their newborns, get very good at laundry, that kind of thing. But when guys become dads, their hormones kick in too, with very different results. I’m pretty sure that as Desert Dad was handed his newborn son for the first time, several algorithms for packing the car boot were already taking shape. It’s all dimensions and shapes and nooks and crannies, and whether boxes or bags are preferable, and what can you squeeze between the kids’ seats, and what do we need access to, and all that shebang. It’s Man’s work, that’s for sure, and for the half hour it takes, I’m enormously relieved to leave it to him. From experience, it’s best to keep me and the kids well out of the way, for this is His Time: a few special moments, just him and our luggage.

This was our car at Christmas. We nearly had to leave the kids.
This was our car at Christmas. We nearly had to leave the kids.

And then – we’re off!

Except – no, wait – we’ve forgotten water (which we’ll never drink), keys (in the front door), and CDs. CDs!! Yes, we’re that old. It’s time to leave, but still we must deplete the bulging glove compartment of all its stock, and start again from scratch. We must! It’s time, apparently, to relive the glory days of Beth Orton, or to rediscover that nu-folk-acoustic-rock-metal album which was a birthday present from Groovy Rob. Whatever is chosen, you can reliably assume that, one hour into the journey, he’ll declare that it’s not suitable for driving, that you can’t hear it over the noise of the road, and he wishes he’d kept Dire Straits in after all.

Friends, I need a holiday. See you on the other side.