Slow Word Movement and Video

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Welcome to the Slow Word Movement.

I love to set the table for people to spend time with Jesus.

As a spiritual director who spends much of my ministry creating space for people to be in the Presence of God, I know the value of setting the table for just one. And when one of my people needs a nourishing meal? I’m there. My beautiful sister Stephanie is a busy mama who runs a non-profit bringing awareness to human trafficking. When we celebrated her birthday last month over brioche at a small cafe, she leaned over and said she was feeling hungry for more of the Word. I watched her try to enjoy breakfast with a toddler whose curiosity meant she could barely carry on a conversation. She asked me for these small videos setting the table for her to be with Jesus.  A few simple unpolished videos and a few days later she asked if she could start sending them to friends.

 

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Why a Slow Word Movement?

 

Because it takes time:

to reawaken our first love and then root right there.

for the Word to slip from the head to the heart.

for deep seated lies to be uprooted by the truth.

to recognize a rich feast is already spread before us so we don’t run to fast food.

to hear God’s heartbeat and receive God’s dream.

to chisel through the hard rock of our hearts.

to learn to run to God to be refreshed.

to hear God whisper our true identity.

for hope to conquer incessant despair.

for any relationship of substance to thrive.

And because we have to receive a feast before we can give a feast.

 

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As an inner healing minister, I know the truth of the WORD heals and transforms us. When His Presence walks into our dark places, everything changes.

I also know that distraction is a disease, a disease I’m combatting along with every one of you.  All those beeps and dings and I find it much harder to be still with the Word.  Am I really getting more done or am I fracturing my attention from the ONE THING that’s needed? (Luke 10: 38-42). Distraction leads to emptiness. Listening in the Presence leads to fullness.  “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Colossians 3:16)

There’s nothing new about this. Other nerdy church history types like me will recognize this Slow Word Movement as something that’s been going on for centuries: Lectio Divina. These Latin words just mean “divine reading” and was always served with stillness, with repetition, and with a slow reading carving out space for the Holy Spirit to speak.

Baron von Hügel described spending time with the Word in Lectio Divina like this: “letting a very slowly dissolving lozenge melt imperceptibly in your mouth.”

Savoring.

Join me in savoring the Word.

 

Let’s share! What word or phrase did the Lord speak? What invitation are you hearing? Join me in the comment section. Share on facebook. Encourage others right here.

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Finding Your Brave and My First Video

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(So…this is where I write a normal post and then at the end decide to take a plunge. My first Slow Word Video is embedded in the bottom. This is where brave gets real. )

We stood in line for the ferry in Vernazza, Cinque Terre and watched them jump. I held my breath and looked away. Andrew took pictures.

It was 90 degrees and perfect. No wind. No waves. Lagoon-like green water. I watched them walk to the edge and either jump or turn back. Sometimes they squealed as they dropped. Their brave came out of joy.

Heights are not my friend.  Or airplanes. Or really anything up high. The last two summers I’ve had panic attacks hanging onto a wall while rock climbing outdoors with my family. Truth be told we only climb about 30 feet at one stretch. I was completely secure in a harness from a rope which could hold 200 more pounds. I had done this fifty times before. But these two times I wasn’t in a climbing gym. This time I could see 200 feet down into the valley and into the lake below. My brain knew I was secure but my heart was positive I would feel the plunge of 230 gravity laden feet. I begged very quietly and tearfully to come down and then whispered in my husband’s ear: “No more climbing. Again. Ever.” I’ve decided I’m a land animal.

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This last January I prayed for a word for 2016 and BRAVE was placed in my hand.  It felt like a big stretch, possibly even a message from the Lord. BRAVE surprised me. I wasn’t searching for it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it. But every time I  listened to the word, my breath caught with adrenaline. So I named a Pinterest board BRAVE and began gathering images and quotes. (Do you do this too? Am I the only one?) It was on the stage of Pinterest I explored BRAVE and began to listen to the Lord’s invitation to inch my toes forward on the rock.

I stayed in the shallows at first: a bright coral striped rug in a white living room, a National Geographic black and white of a woman in a birthing tub, the confidence of wearing a great ethnic necklace. Later it got real and I dove deeper. I admitted to my need for great swaths of silence and spent much of the year sitting and listening and doing centering prayer.

Then came the internal surgery. I confronted my people pleasing and the way I was shrinking before the noisy opinions of my inner critic. I stared at my perfectionism and witnessed its stranglehold. Finally, I sat down into the basis for my true identity: “Define yourself as one radically loved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion” (Brendan Manning.) It was also on that Pinterest board where I documented the healing of God in quiet ways, ways only He and I would know. By July I was ready for BRAVE. I was listening to where I come alive, to my love of writing and the nuclear magic that occurs when words are spliced up against each other. I began writing poetry again.

 

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About three weeks ago I witnessed a friend’s first live facebook and her beautiful brave. Apparently Ashley didn’t know live meant LIVE and there was a moment of shock as she discovered an audience on the other side of her iphone screen. She was precious and articulate and passionate and imperfect. Unknowingly, she became my courage guru. I jumped off that high rock right after her first vulnerable, beautiful LIVE.  My sister had been begging me to do some videos of lectio divina for her. She’s an auditory learner. She wanted them unpolished and imperfect and raw. I could do imperfect, I thought. She’s a busy mom with a nonprofit and craved stillness and time in the word which fit into her busy life. I’d never done video and secretly cringe whenever I hear my own voice. But my life’s focus is to position people in the presence of God for transformation. This fit but was over my growing edge. Ashley’s BRAVE gave me permission for my BRAVE. After I watched her first LIVE, I promptly made a video and sent it to my people. My three closest people. The next night I made another and sent it to a few more. Fast forward three weeks later and we’re in completely new territory. I’m saying yes both to imperfect and to God’s invitation in what feels like a crazy back flip.

 

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Anne Halle, one of the professors from my spiritual direction certificate program, taught us on how to push out our growing edges. “You have an anxiety boundary,” she explained to us drawing a circle. “Push outside of your comfort zone in an extreme way and your anxiety will scream. Very likely you’ll never try again. But,” she said, “if you go to the edge of your comfort zone and dab your toe in the water WITH the Presence of God, you’ll continue to grow within the safety of God’s love.”  Small steps will eventually mean big growth she assured us. But here’s the kicker and here’s what haunted me afterwards: if we don’t continue to push out of our comfort zone in small ways, we’ll eventually have more anxiety making smaller moves. Our circle of comfort will collapse inwards. It will take less to give us more anxiety.

I love what our professor said, we were not created to push out our growing edges alone. We do it in community with the Presence of God.  And this is the necessary partnership where my BRAVE can edge up to the rock and jump. Get ready. Get set. Here we go. Use my small imperfect brave and say yes to yours!

 

I’m calling it the Slow Word Movement. Stay tuned in the next few weeks, this movement of stillness in the Word will have a landing page and a way to receive these weekly videos by email. Come join me on the porch for a bit of time in God’s Presence and then share what you hear in the comments:

Linking with my other brave guru, Jennifer Dukes Lee

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Deep Breath: A Sabbath Practice

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full

to receive them.    St. Augustine

 

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Our work this week has piled up heavy and we’re sure we won’t be able to climb out from under it all. I still have two loads of laundry glaring at me to be put away and a writing deadline looming. Sabbath rest feels awkward after a week like this. What if we were to sit still with all that’s weighing heavy, look at each piece clearly, and one by one place each concern in Jesus’ capable hands? He’s got big hands. He’s got this.

Sometimes we need Sabbath rituals to mark a new type of time: a fragrant cup of tea on the porch in the early morning, an afternoon nap on the couch, a slow walk by the creek hearing the trickle of water rush by. Maybe this simple prayer would open up a little breathing space until you can “Come to Him and rest.” Matthew 11:28a

 

May you find not just places of worship this Sabbath and and moments to realign your heart to His True North, but time to be refreshed in His Presence.

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When You’re Running on Empty

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The life you save may be your own. Flannery O’Connor

 

I was wedged into a Bed, Bath, and Beyond aisle late at night standing on a scale. I gasped. Audibly. Still in my pregnancy pants, I was every bit of 44 lbs over my normal weight two months after my second was born. I did the math. She had been eight lbs and the placenta probably weighed around four. And what about all that water? I stepped on a few more scales to make sure the first hadn’t been tampered with. Darn arrogant technology. That was a whole lot of truth staring back at me in big digital numbers. Ping and I was double espresso awake.

 

This little bit of loveliness propelled me into a season of 6 am trips to a small gym at a strip mall across the interstate. I got serious. 6 am serious. The endorphins helped heal the post-partum depression which always followed my births. But the biggest gift of all was discovering that morning exercise created a foundation for the day: more energy, less emotional roller coasters. All of us in the little yellow cottage could agree that was a good thing. 

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But here’s the thing. This felt bigger than just a New Year’s resolution. It felt like I was laying a foundation for a life. In the following weeks when I prayed about how I should be using my time and energy, I kept sensing the same thing. Hold steady. Keep laying this one foundation. The message didn’t move on until habits had been formed. In fact, the message didn’t change for six. whole. months. Six months later a foundation had been laid, something firm, something substantial, something that could be built on.

Apparently I wasn’t done. Not close. There were other layers added later, many layers like rest and sabbath, self-acceptance, and getting rooted and established in God’s love.

During most transitions we have to go back with our hard hats on and bang around a little, make sure each layer is solid, checking to see if there are any worrying cracks.

 

Early in my motherhood, my mom shared the oxygen mask metaphor with me and it fits right here smack dab in the middle of all this. It mixes metaphors but you get the point. Summer, she said, you can’t put anyone else’s mask on until you have slipped on yours. Check and check. If I forget to take care of my basics, my foundation, there are always consequences.

 

Last week was a week of crazy and I heard it again. Time to go back and shore up the foundation. I was throwing myself into a new schedule with homeschooling and ministry and by the end of the week the corners of my life were showing deep fissures. My patience was frayed. I was yelling faster, overworking. I was saying “yes” too often. Thursday night my husband called it out. I was cleaning after bedtime with a tape of resentfulness on replay before crawling into bed bone tired. Andrew hugged me, saw the tears, and then begged me to take the next day off. The next day during a personal sabbath I went back to the basics. Am I getting enough rest, enough exercise, enough healthy food, enough prayer, enough silence, enough time soaking in the love of God?

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This Pinterest meme brought big tears to the surface last Thursday night:  “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” I pinned it to my BRAVE board. It felt brave to say yes to essential things when it would be easier to keep running full speed ahead. But I knew what empty felt like and it was time to go back to the basics and shore up the foundation.

 

What foundations do you shore up when you’re on empty?

If you’re reading Shauna Niequist’s beautiful brave book, Present Over Perfect, you’ll hear little bits of echoes here. Perhaps you want to read too? What’s been connecting with your heart?

 

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Perfect is no longer my friend

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I’m done with perfect. She’s been my friend for decades but lately the cost has been way too high.  When she’s around I forget to breathe deeply, joy is assigned a backseat and forgotten, and I drive around paralyzed by anxiety. I’ve even unfriended her on Facebook. I don’t want to see those sparkly images she’s always posting. I want to celebrate with the real, cheer on the unmasked beautiful, and have coffee with she who knows her stuff and is willing to be fully present to others who are just as messy and real.

 

The high cost of keeping Perfect my friend? Here’s the untidy mess:

Perfect’s exacted a complete loss of playfulness with my children.  I become a drill sergeant in our homeschool room when I’m trying to meet the expectations of Perfect. That first homeschool week? Heinous. I want a do-over. And note the word “expectations.” I’m realizing that Perfect’s expectations are always impossible. They are always out of reach.

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A loss of presence. I forget to connect to the immediate moment, to taste and see the present good gifts of God. I’ll forget to light the candle. I’ll forget to take off my shoes and feel the grass beneath my feet. I live with my head down, barreling through. As Shauna Niequist said in her new entirely fabulous book, Present Over Perfect: “I worship at the altar of my to do list.” Yup, I’ve set the table for that altar.

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Another cost? I stop offering hospitality. I become afraid of my messy house being judged when deep inside I know all people really want are a space to have a glass of iced tea and cozy up with an authentic conversation.

 

Writing has been the one who’s paid the highest cost. When I hear Perfect’s expectations, I become afraid of offering. I look down at my loaves and fish, that meager little lunch and hold back thinking: “This can’t be enough.” I’ve stopped writing here because I’d like a new snazzier look to my website and because I don’t have time to take as many photos, and I don’t have time to polish content etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. Yup, I’m done with perfect. I’m going to choose to be real here…to have shorter posts…to use instagram photos when I need to and to say goodbye to perfect.

 

I am choosing to love with a messy kind of love because that’s all I’ve got anyway. And somehow, when we offer freely, God takes our small lunches and makes them enough. And yes, Enough is my new friend, and she fits my life perfectly.

 

What does perfect feel like in your life? What has been the cost of keeping her as a friend? How are you friending the messy real and unfriending Perfect? 

 

Friends, I adore Shauna’s new book Present Over Perfect so much I’d love to do a book club night at my house in the Atlanta area and/or a virtual book club week by week here. Yup, it’s that good, Sisters. Anybody in?

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How to Reclaim your Evening and Plan for True Rest (And a Giveaway!)

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It’s the kids’ bedtime and I can feel my intention for meaningful rest slipping away. I’m too weary to choose well. By the time the kids are kissed and prayed over, the dishes are done, and the dishwasher’s humming starts, I’m done too. Done. I reach for the cheap entertainment of Netflix as easily as I reach for the dark chocolate I hide in the refrigerator door.  I press power and feel a deep sigh. I lose myself in someone else’s story, someone else’s creativity.

 

I’m an introvert and rejuvenate with quiet. Quiet fuels my ministry, my creativity, my relationships. Every evening I need a reboot button for tomorrow’s ministry so I have enough energy to fight well, to love well. I need today to be untangled so I can start fresh tomorrow. But as I sink into the couch after a day of homeschooling and ministry, I reach for the easy button, the remote.

 

During commercials I feel the ragged edges of my own story needing to be attended to. The worry I’m avoiding. The conversation that’s nagging. The task I pretend I can keep pushing off indefinitely.  I can feel them tugging at the edges of my thoughts but push them back under the water of my conscious. They keep bobbing back up through the evening. Soon my free hours are gone. I’ve watched more than intended, always more. It’s a mild drug, but a drug all the same.

 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and this is the perfect time to say “yes” to more of God and take a clear look at our present addictions. Where am I choosing death instead of life? What other lovers am I expecting to give me peace, joy, and provision? I come to repentance with Hosea 2, especially verse 14, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”

 

I come to this Lent hungry for less hustle, more wide open spaces…for the wilderness with one Voice. I am a child of God with spiritual amnesia. I forget the bread back at my Abba’s table. This Lent I want to keep turning, keep re-turning to the table throughout the day, especially in the evening. This year I sense it is the easy decision toward the black box that is robbing me of the bread of Presence.

 

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Now don’t get me wrong. Andrew and I bond over cheering for our favorites as they their saute their way to Top Chef. I fold laundry to Madam Secretary on Monday afternoons. But that black box can become a black hole. When I take a walk at twilight I see blue flashing lights from every front window. I know I’m not alone. So often I find that I’ve sacrificed my evenings to escapism…instead of true refreshment. Even worse: some nights I fall asleep exhausted from running after bad guys on Blue Bloods. Ever wake up exhausted and realize your subconscious has been working overtime through your dreams? It’s time for us to reclaim rest.

 

This week, as I’ve wrestled with a desire to reclaim my evenings, I’ve heard this simple phrase: “Set a tray again.”

 

Set a tray. Years ago, I learned this practical trick for preparing for rest. It’s time to pick it up again.

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Why a tray?

 

First, I’m a simple person, a visual person. A bulleted list is not a strong enough magnet: take a bath, read a book, make a cup of tea. Lists can get lost. I need something concrete, something alluring, something to build a sense of expectation.

 

Second, setting a tray is just plain pragmatism. I know myself well. I need something that doesn’t require any work once I push past tired into exhaustion. By bedtime, entering into rest has to be just as simple as picking up a remote.

 

This is how it works. After I make my bed in the morning, I set out an empty tray. Right now it’s a simple rattan tray, a souvenir from a trip to Myanmar in seminary. Throughout the day, as I glance toward the bed, I fill it with small invitations.

 

Two types of things land on my tray: things that promise healthy self-care and others that draw me toward His Presence. Epsom salts with lavender to remind me to take a bath. A new candle. A painted mug from Romania WITH a Kava Kava tea bag tucked inside. A quiet book (check out the giveaway at the bottom for my absolute favorite quiet book of the moment!) Another day it might be a cooking magazine, favorite music, the butane lighter for the gas fireplace, a mug ready for hot milk with a dash of vanilla.

 

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The first category are reminders to be present. When I connect deeply to the senses, I shut down the day’s busyness, the whir of anxious thoughts, and choose to be HERE NOW. Then, once I’ve chosen concrete presence, I can begin to look around for His Presence. As Denise Levertov penned in her poem, Flickering Mind, “Lord, not You, it is I who am absent.” I can’t skip out on my humanity, the truth of a life rooted in the senses, in order to connect with God, I must say Yes to being a creature.

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I’ve also placed on the tray a journal, a Bible, a pen. It’s easy to forget, Rest is not something we do separate from God. Rest is a gift. 

  • “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:2

 

Rest at its truest is a gift meant to reclaim us. In rest, we collect pieces of ourselves we’ve scattered and bring them all into the Presence of God. In our quiet evening hours we can practice a light version of the Ignatian Examen, a type of reclaiming. We listen to our day, to the shadows and the light.

 

  1. Can you put a finger on that anxiety, when it showed up during the day? Can you remember when you started striving? What was going on around you when you felt that anger, that fear, that grief? That surge of energy? That desire? That hunger for heaven?
  2. OR When did you forget that you were not in control? When did you agree with the darkness, the lie you keep swallowing? When did you run over the people around you, treat them cheaply? When did you fall into your pet sin patterns?
  3. OR When did you look around and remember that God was present? Where did you sense His invitation? When did you sense the edges of joy?  Were there any words He spoke to your heart that you don’t want to forget? 

 

In a reclaimed evening we allow God’s Presence to untangle the knotted nest of the day. We list the day’s gratitudes. We grapple with the day’s chaos. Then, we open up our hands to receive His invitation to true rest.

 

#ReclaimRest Want to share your tray? I’ll post my tray variations on Instagram/Facebook throughout Lent as a type of accountability. Want to share your tray? Use the same hashtag, #ReclaimRest or link to me on Facebook.  No tray? Just share your practice of how you are reclaiming your rest.

 

 

The Giveaway!  

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Christie Purifoy has written the type of quiet book that is perfect for your evening hours. In her book she shares the first year of becoming the owner of a beautiful farmhouse and how the pursuit of “home” has wound its way through her pursuit of a rooted life.

Enter the giveaway! For each of these 4 actions you get another entry into the giveaway! Comment under this blogpost to tell me you’ve done one or all of the following:

  1. Subscribe to A Thirst for God on the homepage under the CONNECT box. Once a week, receive a practical way to become more present and more authentically pursue the with-God life.
  2. Visit Christie’s blog christiepurifoy.com and read her latest offering. She is a wonderful friend for the Journey and her beautiful writing is a gift.
  3. Follow me on Instagram: @mtrsummer and see the antics of an Anglican family of five struggling to find beauty among the chaos.
  4. Friend me on Facebook: Summer Gross

 

Linking with the always thoughtful Jennifer Dukes Lee at

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Six Things I learned this January 2016

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These pics above are from both December and January. You’ll forgive me. I loved the snow theme. We spent much of our January on the road. College of Bishops meeting in Florida. Reading, PA with family while Andrew was in Canterbury with the Archbishop of the ACNA. Washington DC with family connecting to the March for Life happenings. Then, we made a surprise re-visit back to Reading just in time to get snowed in for four happy days. Kids were ecstatic. Snowball fights. A massive snow cave, and yes, a snow bunny.

 

I’m joining Emily Freeman and loving this little ritual of looking back. I find that it’s a little bit like an Ignatian examen. It’s an exercise in gratitude and perhaps one day all of these “learnings” will make an awkward but charming diary of sorts.

 

So, here it is, what I learned in January:

 

1. I could be a truck driver. Give me audio books a smattering of podcasts and a wide open road. In my real life I have to fight to find time for reading. When I’m on the road, all I have to do is push play. Happiness.

 

This is what I’m currently “reading” on the road:

The Whole Brain Child. I love Daniel Siegel, a neuroscientist who gives us tips on how to build healthy brains. This is making me a better parent.

Chronicles of Narnia from Focus on the Family Radio Theatre. We listened to six of the seven books thanks to Andrew’s Aunt Nancy’s Christmas gift of the entire set. Every family should have their own copy. Period.

All the Light We do not See. A lovely book I’m savoring full of growing up during WWII. I haven’t finished it but love the splashes of reoccurring metaphors and finding seasons of joy in the midst of such intense suffering.

Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I’m happily jumping on the bandwagon. Too many people have said that this book is changing the way they order their life. And yes, I agree. There are nuggets here I’ll keep coming back to.

 

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These are the podcasts I’m listening to:

The Allender Center from Dan Allender. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough. The ending the year well/beginning the year well podcasts are still echoing around in my heart. I now have an expanded ritual for this time period and this month it enabled me to net truths from last year instead of allowing them to slip through my fingers.

I’m inspired to build a stronger family culture around books here: The Read-Aloud Revival by Sarah MacKenzie.

This has become my cotton candy:  Happier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin. Hilarious. Two high powered sisters from the Bronx doing exactly what my sister and I do: tweak small habits that make big differences in our quality of life.

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2. I have a new writing ritual lifted straight from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. She is prolific and in one of her podcasts, she divulges to an interviewee that she writes in coffee shops in London to the sound of rain on her phone.  For two hours she writes to gentle rain and then packs up and takes a walk across a lovely London square to a new coffee shop and writes to the sound of thunderstorms. Hmmmm. As someone fascinated with neurology, I was intrigued. What fires together wires together, right? If you often snack on pringles while you drive on long trips, you are probably going to get a pringles craving during your next big trip. This works extremely well when we are developing habits. So, I’m writing again and now I experience an exceedingly strong creative urge every time I hear rain tap against window panes. Hmmm…I love rain.

 

3. Candlelight changes the atmosphere of a family meal. I found a few simple candlesticks under the credenza in the dining room and they are now permanent fixtures on our table. I light them to signal presence. This is when we put down phones and look into each others’ eyes. I think I’ll move to votives soon so I no longer have to scrape wax spots off the table.

 

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4. Candles are a big part of Hygge and Hygge is my new favorite winter word. Hygge is a Danish word which means more than just coziness, it means making beauty out of winter and creating a sense of belonging in the home, often with candles, a roaring fire, a warm drink, and a friend. Here was one of my favorite articles on creating Hygge at home.

 

5. My mother is a master at Hygge. Mom has big cable knit throws in every room, gas fireplace and candles always lit, and extra hot chocolate ready on the stove.  But, she wins on the Hygge rating scale with her breakfasts. She always makes the most delicious warm breakfasts with hot oatbran cereal. Stir nuts and then frozen blueberries, watching them plump up and become shiny and then when the steaming bowls come to the table, drizzle on a bit of honey. Healthy. Comforting. Hygge.

 

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6. This brings me to the January learning which is throwing open the sash on an extremely dusty room:

With gratitude there’s no room

for fear.

for perfectionism.

for pride.

for self-doubt.

for self-focus.

 

I’m pretty sure I knew this once but never understood that the same truth applied to writing. I’ve been mired in. Snowed in. Entirely stuck this past year. And the pit? I couldn’t get over the language of self-promotion tied to blog writing, book writing, social media writing. Build an audience? Those words make me feel slightly ill. Build a platform? Deeply ill. I remember sitting in on a talk at the Faith and Writing Conference at Calvin College on building an audience without losing your soul. They came up empty on the second part of the title. Don’t worry, you won’t, the publishing editors said after explaining what kind of self-marketing was needed to break into today’s market.

 

The truth is that my most rooted sins are related to approval addiction and get twanged whenever I do anything that smacks of self-promotion. I never want sharing content or searching for the perfect words to be about proving my self-worth.  You can see the conundrum. I’ve been frantically searching for divine answers for exactly one year.

 

The answer came oddly in the shape of a word from Drew Barrymore from the Happier Podcast I eluded to earlier. (I know. Cotton candy. But, stay with me here.) She was sharing about a new groundedness she had achieved with gratitude. This was the gist of what she said, or maybe of what I heard: Her creativity comes in response to deep gratitude of what she’s been given.   She knows that she’s just a normal person who’s been given extraordinary gifts. Talent honed by many? Gratitude. Years of fame which have given her the ability to direct her own film? Gratitude. Fans waiting to watch? Gratitude. Great staff to work with? Gratitude.

 

Gratitude connects us to the truth of grace:

I am but dust and yet I am allowed to be a kingdom bearer.

Thus, I’m building a new narrative around writing:

I get to play with words. I get to wrestle with meaning. I get to plunge deep into Word, allow it to transform me, then craft something new, and give it away.

Receive. Craft. Release. Worship.

 

How does gratitude change the light in your stuck rooms?

 

And you, Friend, what did you learn in January?

 

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Photo taken outside the most charming chapel of St. Brendan’s Anglican, Mount Desert Island Maine where I baptized my nephew and niece this August. Photo of open sketchbook taken from Death to Stock photos, all others, mine.

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Behold the Lamb of God

It’s when I show up at the Confession on Sunday morning empty handed that I know I’m in trouble. I’ve forgotten the quick cutting down, the self-pity binge, the explosions at bedtime.  I’ve forgotten the pride because pride makes the rest of it go away, a nice little deceptive veneer.  And I’ve skated through the week without any self-examination. And here I am come to Sunday…a little too pious.

 

 

That’s when I know I’m in trouble.

 

Sin sticks so tight to our personalities we can’t see the worry, the people pleasing, the performance, the binging, the unhinged anger for what it is.  We have clicked into reaction mode because really, it’s all about us again.  We’re no longer following Christ. We’ve made a detour and our self-righteousness is just a sign that it’s all just getting a bit rancid in here.

 

The story of Jesus’ coming turns all of this on its head. Christ is born to the poor, the broken open, to the weak and watching, the dying.  He comes to those who know they need a Savior. Christ is reborn in us when we escavate the dead stuff and lay it down at the cross.

 

It’s when I don’t see my need for the One laid in the manger that I know I’m in trouble. When the nostalgia takes over and the warm fuzzies take over, I know I’m not ready. I’m not ready Him. I’m not ready for the sacrificial lamb who volunteered birth on this dark planet in order to set me free.

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Set aside time to listen to your life. Ask for a new revelation of what is keeping you captive, what is damming you up to love. After each question, set aside time to listen to your life:

 

What do you binge on to fill the emptiness…or do you just check out?

 

What happens when you are triggered by fear, loneliness, anger, pain, ungratefulness?

 

Think over a low point from this last week…what was your reactionary behavior? Is there a pattern?

 

Where do you run to when the pain gets strong? (Sleep, Shopping, Food, Tobacco, Computer, Facebook, Alcohol, Religion, Work, Drugs, Gambling, Sexual Addictions?)

What do you use to protect yourself? (Anger, Denial, Pretense, Hiding, Distraction, Isolation?)

 

How do you try to provide for yourself emotionally? (Success, Fame, unhealthy relationships, manipulation, control, money, people pleasing, sexual promiscuity?)

 

How do you punish yourself or others? (Blame, Unforgiveness, Self-contempt, rejections, abusive words, withholding, desire to harm, aggression, shame, criticism, self-abuse, bitterness?)

 

These are all behaviors/sins that keep us from crawling directly to Him when we are needy. We are invited to come empty, uncomfortably empty…but because of the pain we often want to fill, fill, fill.

 

Ask Him for help. Wash the mask off. Stop pretending and pry up the broken places.

 

Get comfortable being broken in His presence, naked even.  It’s the only way to a life of humility. But friend, you don’t have to fear the process. His kindness is gentle, beyond imagination.

 

This prayer could prove to be the key.

Jesus, I have sinned and no longer want ————–to hold me captive. I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve caused myself and others. Thank you for coming and being willing to die for my sins. I accept Your full forgiveness and thank You for it. I pray that You will transform me and clean this area up in my life. Do not let the evil one use this in my life any longer in Jesus Christ’s name. Show me how deep the roots go and redeem the consequences. I want to be transformed and healed. In Jesus name, Amen

 

The good news? Salvation is never His final work in our life. He knows we’re not “done.” Forgiveness keeps doing its good, hard work, ever-deepening, ever-cleansing, healing, transforming.

 

You, my friend, He died so that you might have Life with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:10) and this just might be the next step beautiful step toward the manger, toward the with-God life.

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Three Kernels of Corn, a Simple Thanksgiving Tradition

It’s been two years…and yet this story feels fresh and once again, in just a few days, we will pass the corn kernels around the table and say thanks. Perhaps this tradition could find itself a new home around your table?

I found them in her dining room tucked into a lowboy drawer: a sandwich sized Ziploc bag of corn kernels.  I looked around at the china hutch full, the table shrunk small.  She passed away a week ago and yesterday we packed in tight, arms around each other, celebrating her life.  She was redhead spunky and arms always wide to receive us. I choked out the eulogy and together Andrew and I handed out the bread and the wine.

 

Now neither she nor grandpa lived there.  The ranch house felt hollow. Full of stuff, but empty of…her. We wandered around smelling her perfume, running our hands over last winter’s wool coats. I took in my breath sharply as I found the peach blouse hung up in the basement like it had just been pressed for her to run down and button up. There was a black and white picture tucked into her top drawer, all my family standing on Crescent Beach smiling at her, Xavier a tiny bundle folded in my arms just five weeks old. Slippers were parked beside the bed where she had slid them off before being driven to the nursing home. She kept falling. Alzheimer’s stealing her life one week at a time.

 

I wandered back into the dining room. Grandpa didn’t want all this cherry furniture or the red and gold china he carried home from Malaysia to go to strangers. The furniture was packed into a Uhaul for my house, the china wrapped for future Thanksgivings at Aaron’s. The mourning was fresh but we were all together and needed to work through grief. We gathered in the dining room looking through drawers and found the bag of kernels with the brass snuffer. I squeezed the bag in my hands, hundreds of kernels gathered and handed out and then gathered again Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving.

 

This is where we would pull the dining room table out large, slide in the leaves, float out an ironed white table cloth, lap-sized white napkins. The turkey was cut with the electric knife, covered with foil and slid back into the oven, side dishes covered and fighting for space on the racks. And then we would gather around the set table, three tiny corn kernels alone on the center of each large plate.  Just seeing them would make Uncle Chris groan, “Can’t we just do two kernels this year? The mashed potatoes are gonna get cold!” But, we all knew that when the stories came out, the thanksgivings of the year, his eyes would get as misty as anybody’s.

And this is how the tradition works: each kernel represents a thanks.  As a small bowl is passed around the table, thanksgivings gathered one at a time. The bowl makes its way around the table a full three times, corn kernels dropped in and clinking. The kids inevitably give thanks for their family, but they too are being warmed by the gifts held out. “I’m thankful for my wife who encouraged me through the job loss.”  “God has been so good to us, carrying us through this move.” We lift up the stories in one massive eucharisteo.

 

And this is when the stories of faith journeys usually came out. This is where we heard “the old old stories.” Grandpa’s thanks rose loud as he sobbed, told the story of when his parents became Jesus-followers and Scripture lovers, how God had transformed the ugly twisted in his family.  Our stones of remembrances were shrunk into kernels, but they still held weight. We would turn them around in our hands, feel the white tips, the dimpled sides. Our Ebenezers.

 

And this is when I would hold my Nona’s hand as she silently watched the answers to her prayers. This year we will share stories, give thanks for her life.

(Many have asked for a copy of the eulogy gathered from many family members, a conglomeration of memories, and so I include a link here: Mary Myers Eulogy.)

 

And you friends, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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What I Learned this September

1 We swung into September littered with full suitcases to unpack from vacation and a house that hadn’t seen love for a month.  The next day we started homeschooling amidst the chaos.  I’m taking notes for next year. Start school AFTER preparing the home.  Check.

2 Stephanie White is my local homeschooling guru.  “Just think,” she said, “you have three little apprentices to prepare for the world.  And besides, you get to learn alongside them.” That was key. I love to learn. I could nightly put up a cot in a library.  Alongside my kids I get to learn French and memorize the 7 wonders of the world. I couldn’t be happier with my 9-5 world. Who knew?

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3 Homeschooling science is more fun when you can poke and dissect and feel grainy pollen between your fingers. My mother bought us orange lilies when she was in town ten days ago and last week Friday they started dropping their petals. We took that opportunity to do science. We memorized and watched videos about pollination and flower anatomy but until we started picking apart the stamen, and holding up the delicate filament to the light, we didn’t learn wonder.  What I’ve learned about homeschooling this month is that I love the days we focus on just a few subjects and dive in deep.

4 In September I decided that packed lunches don’t need to be boring. I’m packing a meal three nights a week right now while Andrew takes all three to Soccer and climbing.  Enter the Monet sandwich straight from the Paisley Park Cafe in Mansfield. Does it still exist? I don’t know. These sandwiches were memorable. Large croissants, ham sliced so thin it’s falling apart, a few toasted walnuts, and a smear of basil pesto on the top and bottom. Three minutes at 425 until it’s a bit crispy. Savory ham and pesto? What could be better?

5 While we’re talking food, let’s talk about the Tres Leches Cake. This was my September culinary aha moment. I made one for Jack Lumanog’s birthday, our friend and the COO of the Anglican Church of North America. Andrew said it was Jack’s favorite. Only problem? I had never tasted one myself.  So, when I’m concerned about a first outcome, I always turn to Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I have a 90% success rate with Ina.  We moaned through the desert course and decided this was worth making from scratch. We also giggled at how many leches there were in the recipe. One leche baked in and four soaking into the vanilla sponge cake. Whipping cream for on top of the strawberries? One more. Seis Leches! Here’s a link to the recipe for this insanely creamy cake.  Your next birthday cake recipient will thank you.

 

6  Priscilla Shirer has this beautiful sermon that has been playing in my mind on repeat all month. “When you experience the presence of God fall, you are ruined for church as usual.”

 

7  I’m watching Madam Secretary on Netflix. It’s reminiscent of West Wing though not as fast or witty or…lovable 🙂 . OK, so it’s not like West Wing, but I still love Tea Leoni as the Secretary of State, her husband as a professor of religion at Georgetown and both of them trying to figure out how to engage with many of the foreign issues we face.

8  Carly Fiorina. I was enthusiastically climbing onto the bandwagon after some insightful comments Ms. Fiorina made at Republican debate until I read this on Red State.  Now I’m concerned with her integrity. Anybody else have better information?

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9 These are the books by my nightstand right now. I’ll share the others slowly. Big Magic is the type of book on writing I would read furtively under a blanket with a flashlight. It may be a bit hoaky, (magic?) but it’s an entertaining, well-written, and generous piece of creative midwifery. There should be a picture of Big Magic in the thesaurus under writer encouragement: heartening, cheering up, inspiration, motivation, stimulation, fortification. If you are a creative or an entrepreneur and your War of Art by Steven Pressfield is dog-eared, Big Magic is your next download.

8 My daughter has always wanted to SAVE THE BABIES. When she could barely talk, she arranged her dozen babies on the stairs, one per step, and informed me that when she grew up she wanted to have real babies stacked up to the ceiling. She used hand motions to get the point across. A few days ago she ran around the house searching for change to fill an empty bottle for the pregnancy clinic in our area in order to SAVE THE BABIES. This got Andrew thinking. What if she would take that passion as well as her love for cupcakes and marry them using the Cupcake Kids.  Madeline is busy making plans. Have you seen this simple idea to raise money for imprisoned children with AIDS in Uganda? Do you have young girls? You’re going to want to check this out: https://vimeo.com/85654021

9. So…I was planning on doing a 31 day writing extravaganza on REST and spiritual exhaustion starting today. In fact, I planned and wrote three-fourths of the posts for it. I wrote drafts and perused old blog posts and designed a title page and had a lovely title: Selah: 31 Days of rest for the war-weary. And then Tuesday it seemed to me the Lord said, no, that He wanted the 31 days of rest to be a book on His time. He wanted me fully present this October to be able to move with His agenda.  I’m learning to listen. I’m also learning that I can’t add items to my agenda without taking something away.  Even more important? I can’t add items to my agenda without being willing to provide the intercession support to support the work.  I’m learning. Slowly.

 

What did you learn through September?

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