Thanksgiving in the Midst of Pain

I missed Holy Week.  I missed the whole darn thing.  Except the part where my feet are washed clean.  I missed clinging to the cross and the Resurrection glory.

Pink dogwood dancing in the breeze against a deep blue sky:  my view for four days now.  A virus has swept through our family, taking me down last and shrinking my world into this:  pink dogwood against vibrant blue.

I’ve never had a Holy Week like this.  I had my feet washed Maunday Thursday by Andrew and have had to allow my exhausted husband serve me ever since…me and the children.  He even packed the Easter baskets, padded them with that annoying green plastic stick-to-everything grass and hid them so the children could enjoy the seeking.

I am a priest and could not do Holy Week.  I am a mother and could not guide the journey.

I get up gingerly and try to pick up (just try to do 10 things, Summer), to make dinner, to throw loads of laundry into the washer until the pain of an inflamed neck, upper back and shoulder begins shooting down into my right arm and I can’t move any longer.

By Sunday morning, my discouragement was high, (traditions had to be pared down, kids disappointed, and by the time church came around I was in pain again).

After the kids walked out the door in Easter finery, tears flowed and the preacher I heard on the tv made me miss, “Up from the grave He arose” and “He is Risen” so much I pulled a dress over my jammies and sat in the back for a half hour.  Then, weakness hit again and I slunk lower into my chair until I knew I ached (literally) to be horizontal on the red couch looking at this dogwood again and easing into a heating pad.  Relief.

What have I learn from this?

I’m not very grace-filled toward the chronically ill in my life.

Pain effects much more than ability, it effects mood, effects the ability to capture thoughts and make them subservient to truth, and drowns out the ability to make others-centered decisions.  Pain large enough, becomes god.  Lord, have Mercy.

What other truth came with this pain?

I tend to shut God out when I get sick.  I drown in favorite movies and ride the waves of pain by reading Pride and Prejudice again.  Do you have a sick book, always watch a certain Meg Ryan?

Finally, this morning, I began Practicing God’s Presence, giving Him the pain…being with Him with the pain.  Pain stayed but joy also came, spreading out underneath.

In Your Presence, there is fullness of joy…and it is true, even in a world where pain is still allowed, where the Kingdom has not entirely come.

I’m Ann Voskamp, I’m counting my thanks, eucharisteo:

Dad, a doctor, able to perscribe even on Easter Sunday

Children curling up next to me enjoying my stillness

Friends who surround, loving children, filling blanks

Husband, grace-filled

Fast, confetti eggs covered with melted crayon shavings

Accepting grace, for us, for my house, for my lack

You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth on my ipad

Last Monday creating a freezer full of home-cooked food, I had no idea how needed

pink dogwood against a blue sky

perfumed breeze blowing through the windows

Summer Gross

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Good, Good Friday

Today, God hung slack on a tree,

Bleeding red love





Today, Compassion cried bloody tears

On the mob that killed it

And asked forgiveness

For the hand and the hammer

And cried, “Father!” to stopped-up ears.


Today, a king died high

Between earth and cloud

The target of spit

And sword

And crown of thorn.


Today, a Lamb followed destiny

and desire

Chained by love

To shame, hurt

And sin

And hell.


Today, Earth’s bosom shook.

The silent scream of sin

Shrouded light

And Life died in a casket of pain.


Today, Heaven roared and seethed,

And in it’s dark fury

Cast swords to earth.

The planet shook.

Gutteral shudders swelled earth’s belly

And belched black clouds.

God had passed that way

And signed His name

In the blood of His Son.


Today, garbage plugged up the universe

With decay

And death swallowed victory

With gnashing teeth.

A lion roared from Hell

And a cross stood

A bleak apostrophe in time and space.


Today, it was Friday.  But Sunday was coming………..

Linda Andersen

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4 Minute Art Video: Passion of Mark


It is Holy Week and Christ holds out His hand drawing us close to walk with Him.

Debby Topliff, an artist along the Western Michigan coast, delves into Scripture holding a paintbrush and invites us to see this Story fresh.

This is a 4 minute Vimeo video with Jars of Clay providing the music. (song used with permission.)

Artist’s Notes

These images are part of a large painting (diptych) of the whole Gospel of Mark. I call my method of studying the Bible visual lectio divina. In this process I first read a portion of Scripture, then use paper and pencil to capture all the details of the passage in a simple form—both to visualize the story and find ways to help myself remember.

When I’ve completed an entire section—or in my case a whole book—I use my sketches to create a painting. This next step of adding color, constructing the setting, seeing connections between stories and scenes, draws me deeper into the reality of what I’m depicting, and into the lives of actual people who lived thousands of years ago. Because the subject is not only history of people, but God making himself known within history, this experience of “seeing” the Word in symbols and colors has a profound effect on me as a participant in it.

The people—Peter, Paul, John the Baptist, and most precious of all, Jesus—become as real to me as my own family and friends. Their suffering, their joy, their relationships, their wisdom teach me and become part of me. I move into their lives by painting them and they move into mine.

As with any art form, elements emerge that are beyond the intentions or skills of the artist. For example, as I watch this Holy Week video, I’m struck that Peter’s clothing is the same color as the rooster. Not only does that pairing reinforce Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial, but also prompts me to contemplate times Peter was one who “crowed.”

When I have a painting of an entire book before me, the colors, shapes (a friend pointed out how the houses look like tombs), body language, and relationship of images continue to draw me deeper into the story and closer to the Author who wants to reveal his treasures to me.

Debby holds this gift with open hands and would like it to be spread wide to friends and used within churches. Visit Debby’s site and check out her resources for the full Book of Mark, Acts and opening wide the mystery of the book of Revelation as well.

linking to Jennifer and Ann @:


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The Practical Art of Being Renewed

Every Weekend at a Thirst for God we will be encouraging you, our fellow pilgrims,  to develop a practice of intentional Sabbath.  Both of us have learned rest and renewal doesn’t just happen, it is prayed for, invited, and planned for. 

Nothing, in my life,  really seems to completely die, but only to change or go dormant for a time.  Spring.  Summer.  Fall.  Winter. Me. Each has its’ time of full bloom and dormancy. No “thing” among us is active continually without Sabbath…without a soft landing before takeoff.

Take writing.  I stopped once.  For good. Quit.  Writing had lost its’ luster and changed. Technology roared, and ate me up a bite at a time. So I stopped.  I didn’t know “Sabbath” was what I needed….what writing needed.

Renewal happened as I let go of the demand that writing be perpetual.  I did let it go, and relaxed happily into creating notecards with fresh flowers from the field.  I stood back and loved them with my eyes. God saw that it was good, and blew fresh wind into my sails.

Writing waited.  Took root.  Sent out new shoots.  Finally, it re-emerged, flowered, and rose again from its’ early grave.  It shook off the dirt, removed the graveclothes, and came alive. What had lain quietly in a necessary sabbath had gathered strength and become new in the stillness. It now responded to the call to “Come forth!”

Just see….God does lean down and call “a thing” into service for a time. And then…………..not.  Now, the Spirit moves, and calls forth something else from us and for the Kingdom.  Spirit life is fluid and alive…a teeming river of God moving through us at the command of the King.

I dare not demand that a thing–anything– remain forever. Not classes, not service opportunities, not church programs, not youth.   Life itself is a river, and keeps moving always and swiftly.  Rather, I can press my ear to the heartbeat of God and hear where He chooses to work “now”. And I can join Him in His work.

My writing had lain as under a pile of autumn leaves.  Quietly and without movement. Sabbath did a good work.  Then, God bent down, struck a match, and life leapt–stretched high and wild.  In the silence, some things had “married”.  The new flavor surprised  and energized me.  It had become new: a flame lit by God.

Good Shepherd had entered my garden by the gate.  He held the key and knew when to come and when to leave.  He knew when the flavors would “marry” and how long it would take, and when to light the fire.

Sabbath had done its’ work even as I rested.  So it is.  So it will ever be.

“Friend, as you enter this weekend, may you allow it to marinate peace and joy into your imperfect world as you lay aside the unnecessary, and receive small draughts of sabbath renewal.”

Small Sabbath Sip
10 Min
Step onto your porch, lift your head to the heavens.  Allow them to speak of the presence of God and His everlasting faithfulness.  Breathe deeply.
Close your eyes.  Rest.

There is, after all, such a thing….as God….in me….hope of glory.

Linda Andersen

Check out Linda’s books on Sabbath:

The Too-Busy Book: Slowing Down to Catch Up with Life

and Interludes: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Personal and Spiritual Rest

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Fierce for our Freedom

An Eastern Starling flew down our chimney sometime in the night and started fluttering around our firebox, enclosed by the brick in the back and a glass front .  She kept fluttering around, getting herself stuck around bricks and trying to fly back up the black Alice in Wonderland hole where she came from. 

I couldn’t take it any longer.  I was having a birthday brunch for a friend in about an hour and couldn’t imagine cake and candles and joy with a bird in captivity clanging around in the room adjacent.  Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

I could tell Andrew didn’t care.  “Let the bird die and then we’ll carry him out to the ravine,” he said calmly without looking up from his book.  There is a big difference between Andrew and I.  Andrew came from a hunting family. My first morning sleeping over at my in-laws, I got up bleary-eyed for breakfast and while pouring breakfast cereal, saw three freshly skinned rabbits in the sink.   Pink, shiny, fleshy things destined for that night’s casserole.  The beagles were snoring exhausted on the front porch, big smiles on their face.

I couldn’t do it.  The thought of this vulnerable bird beating around against the glass dying in my house. I dared beg my pastor husband who was Monday-morning-tired to help.

He rolled his eyes and then came to my (I mean the bird’s) rescue.

After banging around in the garage, Andrew trudged into the fireplace room with his largest steelhead catching net, opened the glass front and positioned the net across the front.  The bird walked in and then, unconvinced her freedom came in the form of black plastic netting, promptly walked back into the firebox. 

Hmmmm. New plan of attack.

A few minutes later, the bird herself flew out from around the net and into the office/playroom, furiously beating her wings on the windows.  Over and over, Andrew kept flushing her out of corners where she would get herself stuck.  Next, she flew behind the huge computer cabinet and into the corner behind the fish tank.  Stuck again.  I ran to get the broom and tried the help flush.   More flying furiously from corner to corner.  I was adamant she had to go before the brunch…even more adamant that she had to go before kids came home from preschool.  I couldn’t bear to see the horror in their eyes.  I was completely determined.  This bird was coming out alive! 

Friends, here’s the undercurrent: the entire time, I’m getting seriously emotional…(and I am not even pregnant, a clear indication something else was going on here.)

I remember saving a songbird from the mouth of the neighbor’s cat when I was eight and making her comfortable in a shoebox until our friends’ vetrinarian dad could come home from work and diagnose the problem.  More weapiness.  (I swear I’m not usually such a drama queen!)

The bird then flew across the small room into a bookcase and got stuck there.  What now?  Do we reach in?  “I’ll get some gloves for you,” I said.  Plastic? Too thin.  “My canvas ones are out in the garage,” Andrew said. 

I’m nearly crying by now.  Protected by yellow suede gloves, Andrew reaches into the bookcase, brought out the starling and carefully carried him out the backdoor, proclaiming to the bird as he released him, “Be free!”  I dissolve into weeping.

Oh.  So that’s what this was about.  Freedom has been the theme of my Lent.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” Galatians 5:1  This is a sign that God has a word for me.  It’s been happening over and over for six weeks. 

This is just a tiny picture of the kindness and fierceness that Christ has for our freedom.  He wants us to be healed of the gangrene in our spirits and be resurrected new creations.  He wants to fiercely show our other lovers (as the Old Testament prophet Hosea teaches) the door, kick them out for good, afraid to slink back into our lives when we’re vulnerable.

My sister wrote about her healing in a memoir in which she talked about a word that I’ve always had trouble with: “wrath.”  She wrote that she once gave God permission to send his wrath against everything that was standing in the way between herself and God.  Wow, now that’s gutsy.  I looked inside myself, do I have that kind of guts?  Am I fierce like the Living God for my own freedom

…or do I just kinda wanna be free?

If Andrew and I had kinda wanted the bird free, she would still have been fluttering around in the flu. 

We had to be fiercely focused on the end goal. 

Sometimes it just takes fierce courage and a little healthy wrath. 


photos from ellemoss: check out her beautiful etsy shop

Summer Gross

joining with Jennifer Lee Dukes @

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Morning Prayer


You’ve decided to greet the dawn.  It’s very early, and no one is around.
Just you and God.  And He is such very good company…

You rose early on purpose, knowing that by starting slowly and quietly you could move with golden grace into this day, leaving trails of peace in your wake.  You also sensed that to greet the day was to meet the One who created time itself.

There!  His masterful brushstroke draws liquid layers of gold and red across the hushed horizon in sweeping, broad bands.  They are brash, giddy–color upon color emblazoned wide across the dimpling sky.

There, in the pale dusting of clouds, you see the breath of God, the Life-Giver–the One who gave you life and who sustains it.  It is an enchanting moment to catch with your eyes and store away in your heart.

Looking around, you see more and more of him–there in the black-tree spectres laid dark against the crimson-sky canvas.  They are his plantings, these trees: Gargantuan and gawky, they reach skinny arms toward his nourishing light and his quenching rains–as do you.

Only moments have passed, and yet the canvas continues to be splashed with color after exuberant color: divine preparation for the coming day.


In these timeless moments, you are enveloped in a watchful, peaceful
expectancy.  You don’t pray, because you don’t need to.  Words would get in the way of this silent communion with the creator of all.  Side by side and heart to heart with the God of the universe you sense that to speak would profane the holy hush attending these moments.  To move would be a desecration.


And now!  The faithful emblem rises, moving with slow and graceful resolve over purplish hills.  As a babe to its mother, the yearning earth seems to turn gratefully toward the warmth and light of this new dawning.


Even the horizon stands at respectful attentioin as the great, blazing medallion rises from its sleep. A changing of the guard: from moon to sun.

And your heart cries, “My God, my God, you have not forsaken me!”


Because some days are merely neutral and easy to forget, you receive today as a gift of light.  And such a light!!  Bright, hot fire of a new day opens wide.  Today has arrived.

There is a comforting goodness in rising early.  The sun is a “billboard moment”, a letter in the sky,  announcing God will never hang a “closed” sign on His door.

You came.  And God saw that it was good.

Eucharisteo counting:

new deck, built by husband

fresh cool air after blistering Florida

gigantic tree in pink!

lush bushes of yellow — aching with life

circle of delicious friendships

note of love from daughter

camera to capture spring

God speaking–from open Bible

sun skipping through house

music trailing joy through soul

flip flops on wintered feet

Linda Andersen

pictures found at Thank you for the beauty you have cultivated!

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Learning to Abide

John 1:29-42

Confession time: I have built a habit over many years of learning about God so as to have tastes and appetizers instead of going straight to God and waiting with Him for His Presence, gathering a whole meal of manna.

Instead of coming home with Him to sit at His feet, I circumnavigate the outskirts.  Perhaps I’m like the disciples of John listening to prophetic words about the Lamb of God but not stepping out of the comfortable discipleship of the prophet to search for He who is unknown, He who is greater.

Sometimes I read books about God, listen to sermons, thinking they are an end in themselves, loving the “aha” moment, the road to God getting cleared of debris.

But am I seeing the Word from afar and only listening to mumblings about him?  This is the question.

Wow, and the truth is hitting home now.  It is as if I am a homeless one satisfied with this huddled warming of my hands over a candle when I am free to open the door, draw close to the fire and sit with the Lamb of God Himself.

Abide with me and I will abide with you. (Jn 15:4)

I have always convinced myself that I want pure God of pure God when perhaps some days what I really want is the hunted thrift store find to stuff my already full closet with more knowledge, more self-revelation, more… pride.

And here the question goes deeper? Do I really want to go home with God to sit at His feet still, emptying of agenda, pouring out my hands, and offering myself, poor of spirit?

Andrew and the other disciple of John’s follow the One, but some did not and would I make the trek across town and have the courage to ask, where are you staying?  Would I have the courage to wait and hear Him say, “Come and See?” and then follow Him into riches where there are treasures of heaven, but not of earth.

The two are received into companionship, communion with God Himself, offered a simple but exceedingly vulnerable “Come and See” where the door to the simple dwelling place of God, the sleeping mat, the table, the chair is opened wide in an intimate gesture of friendship.

They are not meeting at a neutral Starbucks where each keep their lives defined, feeling out whether there is a future for this new acquaintance.  They are ushered right into the room where Jesus is staying.

He has opened the door when they “knocked” showing us how to do the same…to risk intimacy.

My dear friend, Linda, comes each morning to her time with God armed only a cup of hot coffee and whispers “Abba” and sits still in His Presence.  She comes without journal and without agenda but always with expectation that He will meet her there.

She tells of the day when He told her just to come with that simple mug of coffee and how awkward and fumbling she felt not to be weighted with books and worship music and journal which had been the habit for finding daily bread.  The awkwardness lifted slowly and she became hungry not for IT but for Him.  She says it felt like walking through a torn veil.

Do I often come to a “quiet time” as I might to a morning conversation with my husband about schedules and overlapping to do lists? I come with the attitude of,”Let’s get this done so I can pack the lunch box full, get dressed, guide the kids through the maze of morning tasks.”

We hit all the necessary bullet points but entirely miss the relationship.  In my quiet time, I often hit all the truths I need to be full, nourished, stomach packed, but miss the Bread of Life Himself.

In the afternoon, when my toddler goes down for a nap, I rest too using contemplative centering prayer but so often even there I come with a to do list, an agenda, multi-tasking always.  I sit taking deep breaths, drinking refreshment, but honestly, what I want is to hear from God about a question that’s been festering or I want direction, to hear the Voice leading ten more steps down the road.

Finally, about ten minutes in, my shoulders drop and so do my walls and I remember the invitation to “Be Still and Know that I am God.”  I open my fingers and my agenda slips through and I am empty, poor in spirit.

My purpose is to love God and enjoy Him forever.  Period.  Everything else can wait.  I abide.  Fruit will come.  Because here is my peace and He is my peace and the search is over and I am home.

Summer Gross

a whooping big celebration of Grandpa’s 98 1/2 years of life,
grieving Grandpa’s death
hearing of salvation, my Grandfather, a channel for God’s grace
the gift of remembering His support, his hand on my back at ordination, his prayer
family packed with joy and stories
children able to attach roots, getting rich nourishment

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Stephanie and Matt’s Engagement Story

Squeals burst in the front door: my sister, golden hair bouncing, her left hand held out for all to admire the sparkle.


She was wearing love.

Matt, her new fiancé, tumbled in just behind, radiant.

The family had gathered to feast, tipped to the secret and awaiting the couple, ready to toast, ready to bless.

They told their story in the dining room sitting side by side, my children draped across their laps, drinking joy.

“Honey, tell them the story of the ring first,” Stephanie gushed.

Matt told of the desire to buy a ring that was more than he could afford, yearning for her to fully comprehend her worth to him.

Family, friends had all been praying, pounding heaven for a man who would fight for the one we knew was luminous.

Four years before, Stephanie had been abandoned by a husband who refused to set down his pornography addiction in order to love a real person.  The cocaine-like high drove him over and over to the computer screen until he became consumed, stopped fighting for his marriage.  Etched on her heart was the statement that she wasn’t worth enough (to keep His love, to keep His desire, to be fought for) and the lie burrowed deep.

She fled to the cross.  Exhausted from chasing, searching, bleeding, she laid down in the cross’ shadow, for deep draughts of unconditional love, for healing, for covering, and for slate-sweeping forgiveness.

The Santa Ana warm wind of the Holy Spirit blew and rewarded her leaning into Him hard.  Full-power Resurrection slowly rebuilt, sculpted, and uprooted crippling lies.

For four years I’ve had a front seat, watched the cocoon waiting, the painful chrysalis disintegration, the strain of the emerging new life, then the fierce beating of delicate wings.  Four years of hard work with counselors and inner healing prayer, and now, she stands kaleidoscopic art.  (Stephanie, sister, I am so proud of your hard work!  You are regal, compassionate, your wounds given for the healing of others.)

But, yes, now back to the ring.  For months she had been walking into Matt’s house and seeing kenosis at work: God-fueled love self-emptying.  Literally.

Month by month she watched his house get more and more bare.  A movie night with friends moved to her apartment because, as she found out, he no longer had a couch.  Then during a dinner at his place for a small group, Stephanie walks past Matt’s room and is shocked by the starkness, his dresser gone, his bed missing, her eyes resting on a pile of blankets crumpled on the floor for him to sleep on.

All this in order to clearly translate to Stephanie: “I will fight for you.”

Looking into each other’s eyes deep, they gushed with stories, and we wept, for joy and for the truth… for the small light-bursting reflection of Him who fights…for me, for you.

Jesus, God-full power Himself, left the perfect of heaven, submitted himself to total vulnerability, was born a newborn in poverty, and then driven by a mission to rescue us from our sinful chaos.

Finally, he lay down on the cross, rejected his supernatural powers and authority over the universe in order to have nails hammered into hands and feet, oxygen slowly stolen from collapsing lungs.

He refused to let death/hell/shame/fear steal anything more from our lives.

The cross became the most profound love letter ever written.  He was willing to sell everything, to be covered with our sin and shame, to lay down heaven, comfort, even his very life to clearly mouth: “I choose you.”

The truth is, resurrection and ascension and 2000 years have passed and He hasn’t stopped.

He still fights to clearly enunciate love and the possibility of a an eternal future full of life – – in a language you will best understand

…to redeem your story too.

Summer Gross

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Taking time to Savor Sabbaths

Sabbath implies ceasing, putting an end to activity.

In simple terms, it means to turn the clock to the wall, shut off the computer, unplug, disconnect, and slip on our red dancing shoes –or soft, fluffy slippers!


It means to walk away from work and allow God to use this weekly pause to reshape our souls.

And if a sabbath is to do its work, only those things that refresh and refurbish should be allowed: sleeping, eating, loving, lounging, reading, strolling, listening to music, visiting, worshiping.

Sabbath rests are sumptuous and savory — deliriously splendid!

They are Mondays in dancing shoes, Tuesdays with a cherry on top, Wednesdays with a back rub, Thursdays with a son, Fridays with a feast, and Saturdays with fireworks!  They are three-layered marmalade cakes instead of yesterday’s bagel.

Why, then, do so few of us choose to weave succulent sabbaths into our life?  I suppose that, like other directives in Scripture, we can either obey God’s merciful mandate and open the gift– or hand it back and make our own ragged way through life.

How do you accept the gift of the Sabbath?

Linda Andersen from her book: the too-busy book which you can buy here

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