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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An Evening Prayer

through pinterest from simplyseleta.com

I AM is home.  And I am complete.  The day falls away like a paper lab suit I peel off.

This is my English cottage in the woods, our cottage, really…what I imagine my heaven will look like.  The sun is starting to go down, the golden hour and a round front door ushers Him in.  I run to the door to greet Him.

I’ve been waiting all day to look into your eyes.  I take His face in my hands.   Jesus, you look so good to me.  He twirls me around as if I was light as a little girl.

You know how much I love you, Summer Joy?

I eat supper with I AM in front of the fire on the round pedastal table between two wingback chairs and while cutting my chicken, I hit my glass, spilling my milk.  He laughs.  I love that nothing surprises Him, nothing torques Him.  I clean it up while we share jokes.  The crackling fire warms our hands, but His crinkled eyes do the same for my heart.  I AM is home.

He’s home and I take a deep breath.  No more seeking.  No more pretending there is living water anywhere else but in His Presence.

You are the I AM and you are my home.

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Freedom from Approval Addiction

Repent.

Yesterday’s small group we call “Journey” looked at the rocks we carry around with us, the rocks of sin, felt their weight between our hands, fingered their surface, and stopped imagining they did not keep us from breathing pure, every breath gravely.  The Kingdom of Heaven came near, a blanket of the holy, Kabod it was called in the Old Testament causing the priests and Levites to be knocked to the ground when God filled the temple.  We were knocked down aware of sin strong and then we placed the rocks before the cross on the glass coffee table, clink.  After repentance joy flooded making us want to have a dance party right in Marie Diebold’s living room.

“This is Where the Healing Begins,” sang Tenth Avenue North and we were washed clean. Gracious God!  Rocks no longer ours to carry.  We were cut free.

Repent.  Lay it down and come follow Me.

The Kabod glory covered me and sin was found and I gasped realizing that every time I search for approval, for value in someone else’s eyes, it is an unfaithfulness.  I, like Hosea’s wife, Gomer, go searching for life outside of God.  Habit was formed early and it was the apple that I bit and the core around which my fingers wrap tight.

I watch the eyes of others for hints of boredom or understanding, for bits of my soul to be shined in their care.  I forget God.  I forget God is the giver of all good things, of favor and approval.

Hunchback bent, I have lived deformed, malformed, leaning toward those as unhealed as me expecting them to turn, a lighthouse signaling glory.  False hope glimmers and is gone as each pass in front.

Bent, twisted, warped I hobble. For twenty five years, I have swallowed hard, gulped the weight of expectations.  I have twisted my body, trying to fit the shape another desired.  I forget to stand straight and receive living water from the One.  Forget to receive identity from the One.  I forget the challenge I was made to be. Forget to stand up, listening to One and One only, the Holy Voice always speaking, inviting, affirming, challenging.

Leaking life.  Leaking joy.  Separated.

God, I beg: Heal my waywardness.  Like Jeremiah says, I am unfaithful, a donkey sniffing the wind, looking for fallen earth, hand-shaped earth to show me my true mirror.

The One eternally holding Living water says to this thirsty one:“My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13) Cannot hold water…those I’m asking to stamp “Gift” on my forehead.

I beg, pray for the simple love of one to another, not using the other to meet my needs but loving, listening, open.  Loving simple with hospitality, allowing the Father, present in the Holy Spirit to meet all present needs, theirs and mine.

I took a Sabbath on Thursday to open this wound and ask the Holy Spirit to take His surgeon’s knife and cut out the unhealed from sin from muscle wound tight around it.

This weekend I regressed, began drinking from a well of approval as if I were dying of thirst, searching for evidence that it may run dry.  Four days of searching and I was tired and ready for the Spirit’s operating table.

After opening the wound under the bright light of the Holy Spirit, He spoke clear: Summer, you are not unmoored.

I remember God though I sometimes forget, that You know who whom I am.

Summer, you are not adrift on an inky Winslow Homer sea hoping for someone to guide your dinghy back to shore.  You are rooted and established in Me.  You are attached securely whether your feelings corroborate or not.  You are not unmoored.  You are anchored deep with a thousand roots into Me.

My thoughts jump to an Amazing Race episode where one spouse afraid of heights is walking a tightrope between skyscrapers in some unknown Asian city, the fear being more of a threat than the actual event where belts and carabineers held her tight.  The other spouse points to his eyes with two fingers then to his wife’s and then back again.

Lock on loved one.  Lock on to my eyes and do not let go.  Be anchored here.

I am done fishing for my own life, defining myself, being defined by others.

I hear that, “Follow Me” and think of the thousand times I follow the brass Celtic processional cross down the aisle back out into the world and how I lock my eyes hard onto it.

I do not know where You are leading but I know I have to stay close, to stay moored, to lock onto Your eyes as I balance one foot in front of the other.

thanksgiving:

for healing of entrenched sins,

for joy counting gifts,

for a God who does not get tired leading me to water,

for a group of women doing this Journey with me.

Summer Gross

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Bewitched

I am ambushed by You this gilded morning.  You flood me with you!  Your “you-ness” fills this quiet space.  And yes, I stand in complete awe, bewitched by who you really are in this life of mine.  Your very blood flows red in these veins. ..makes me you in blue jeans.  I touch satin sky with morning eyes and skim puckered-up clouds with fingertips of soul.

Heart breaks with joy as I step into the pool of this day.   Inside,  your very Holy Spirit sets blazing fire to  dwindling coals.  Manna!  Feed me full!  Water me deep!  Rock and swaddle me!  Sing me awake!

I turn and see your shadow.

Ears listen, and ring with heaven’s voice.  Hands reach, and are held close and firm in a never-let-you-go grip.  But why?  Really….why all of this if not for love?  Why, if the cross did not spill and bleed splintered love for all to see.  Why, if I have to hold my own self up and chase my own sin by the tail and worry my way to heaven?  Ah, but I don’t and won’t.  Not now.  Not ever.  Just not.  I can’t.   He did.  It worked.

Purest joy, I can’t take myself to heaven nor wipe  my sin.  Power-in-the-blood, Jesus, you can!  Did!  Do!  Will!  Want to!

Find me, Jesus!  Forgive me, Lord.  Enjoy me always.

All things is what you do so well.  All I never can, you do, with an eye blink.  Save.  Keep.  Satisfy.  All of these are all of you.

I scroll down and peep into today.  So ordinary.  So lackluster dull.  So  hum-drum beige.   Nothing here to inspire.  But…..wrapped in you and what you can do, errands and ho hum can “pop”.  And will.  And diapers will be mission fields.  And sinks will be butterflies.

Even so come!  Shine.  Buff. Transform.  Embed yourself into my ho hum and mundane.  Ambush my day!  Storm my ramparts!

Jesus!  Sweet geyser of God.

Linda Andersen

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Privilege of Being the Body of Christ

Today love grew roots

crocheted lives

A “tide you over” shower she called it

til the job firms.

Prayer saturated a feast and the Kingdom came

in salads and croissants

Hope whipped into mocha chocolate mouse

spread into creamy cheesecake

and poured out in gifts.

 

Healing is a catalyst for hospitality, Nouwen said.

Healing too carves space for grace to receive.

God spread a banquet and we ate

love  unguarded,

the privilege of being the Body of Christ.

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Fasting From Chaos

I live deep in chaos. I envy Brother Lawrence, the Carmelite monk from the 1600’s with his hundreds of monastery dishes stacked.  He slipped easily into practicing Your Presence, soaking in divine love.  He made cathedrals of the ordinary while wiping the Provencal stew off of brothers’ plates.

While I do dishes, I have the piercing cry of a child yearning to be held, the tiff in the other room that needs a referee, the turkey call practice, (Please!  Stop calling turkeys!  I’ll bet you’ve never yelled that!!!) the piano banging.  Life jumbles and the phone rings, Pandora randomly picks my music, and I have notebooks around the sink designed for all the things I know I will forget.

It is hard to shovel in a blizzard, my friend joked watching my life.

 

I envy the clink and the swish and the silence.  I want to soak my hands deep into God’s Presence.

Einstein said aha moments flowed unencumbered during his daily 3 B’s: riding on the Bus, soaking in the Bath or laying in Bed.

Imagination sparks just like prayer when brain waves settle.

Neuroscientist, Dr. Dan Siegel explains that the brain was not meant to multitask.  When we tangle wires, anxiety sparks.

This week is the beginning of Lent and when I enter, I always hear the words of Hosea 2:14, “I will now allure her into the desert (a place set apart, no distractions), I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”

Sunday night I forgot and indulged.

Sunday night I crawled onto the couch exhausted after a day of ministry and mothering and clicked on the Academy Awards to find out which movies to put onto this year’s Netflix queue.  Then, I opened my laptop and began designing a winter wedding inspiration board for a cousin on Pinterest (short white fur cape, feathers and birch bark candles: yum) while simultaneously instant messaging a (lovely ) long lost friend in Minnesota.  Looking up occasionally between pins and bleeps, I would register dresses and soundbites, then gape at people flying high above the stage.

Hours later and I found that all this time, surrounded by this mass of media, I had been holding my breath.  Indulging had not created rest at all, but stress.

How can I practice the Presence of Christ when I am consumed?

I recently shared these words of God-correction: that the reason I believe God desires we should keep our alcohol intake to a minimum was so that we could be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, so that we could be listening to the Word always speaking. Get tipsy and I can’t hear God.

It seems that this concept needed to flow across the different forums of my  life.

In answer to the chaos, a word keeps pinballing around my mind: Kenosis.

Kenosis is humble self-emptying in order to submit to God’s will for the purpose of union with Christ.  This is the journey.

Yes, I want union with Christ…and I’m positive this self-emptying is the only way.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and lose their life?” Mark 8:31-38

Do I want Christ enough to turn off my smart phone/laptop/radio and carve intentional cathedrals of quiet?  I hear You say, “Be still and know that I am God” and remember a quote from an Eastern Orthodox saint who said, “Find peace in your own soul and a thousand will find it.”  If others are grasping for peace, can I show them to the Way, Truth and Life when I myself am drowning in media, disconnected to the Source?

The fast of self-emptying, of humble stillness, is the God-alluring invitation to the desert … to put down roots, drink deeply of the present I AM.

This is what Brother Lawrence would say we all can practice in the midst of our ordinary.

Summer Gross

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I Almost Stayed At the Sink

My nest was empty…my life being resorted.  Old habits were no longer useful….a new parenthesis had begun.  The depiction of this evening in my life was symbolic of new things to come…new goodnesses to be explored and enjoyed.  God spoke loudly through the beauty of earth.  And I loved hearing His voice.” – Linda

It was getting late.  Evening pressed hard on the heels of day.  We had just finished a leisurely dinner, and I had begun to clear the table.  I had feasted on this day already: so sunny yet cool; crisp and bright.  My morning glories had outdone themselves, and spilled over my porch railing in heavenly blue abandon.  I watched from the kitchen window as our kitten chased his elusive golden tail in a frenzied series of circular leaps and turns.

Yes, all was very well with my changing world.

“Get the dishes done first, and then take a walk,” I told myself.  I had purposely said “no” to having a dishwasher installed in our new home, and enjoyed the dishwashing time as my personal ritual–a time to think and plan–a soft transition between daytime and night.  I began to wash the first dish, and was distracted by a low ribbon of sun lying across our row of sunflowers.  There wasn’t much time.  I sighed, slipped the dishes into the silken bubbles, and obeyed the swelling of my soul.

My husband came along, picking up the walking stick his mother had used, and donning his wide-brimmed hat.  Hand in hand, we strode across the hills surrounding us, keeping to the little trails made a generation earlier by some farmer needing access to his cropland. The ducks flew low–so very close to our heads: silent, moving black dots against a tangerine sky.

Two deer watched us, alert and graceful on their tiny spike heels. A farmer climbed brown wrinkles of plowed earth on his tractor, and fitted his land for planting.

Breathe deeply, man.  Breathe deeply, woman.  It is earth, and it is now.  It may never be again exactly as it is this moment.

On our right, God had hung the moon, a single pearl: gossamer against the dove-gray sheen of an evening sky.  On our left, a continual parade of color washed the horizon: now pink, now gold, now scarlet–a palette of luminous color moved about by a celestial hand.  We were transfixed between the two, incapable of speech.  “And evening and morning were the first day.”

The valley below unfurled into undulating fields of corn, and tiny yellow lights blinked comfortably from farmhouse windows.

It was time for all God’s creatures to settle in for the night.  The ducks nestled happily in the marsh.  The deer were secure in the maze of corn.  Farm families were gathering in their homes.  We walked in silence up the steep gravel drive toward our house, savoring the exquisite moonglow lighting our path.  Our spirits touched the hem of His garments in thanks for our home, our family, our internal peace, our future with Him.

The banquet of nature had been spread, like a feast, before us, and from it we drew sustenance for our souls.

Some gifts are given every day.

And to think: I almost stayed at the sink.

Linda Andersen

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The Fast which Exposes the Dragon

Lord, how do I fast from selfishness?  How do I take apart my DNA, unwind the axis and find where selfishness has hidden, beg a surgeon to take tweezers and pluck original sin?

And now here’s my honest question: Do I even want it out?  And another: What will it truly cost me?

A more telling question: what will it cost me, my Love, my little child-loves, to leave the self rule running rampant?  Tim Keller (in the Meaning of Marriage) says that selfishness is the main issue behind every pang in marriage.  He says trying to fit together two going their separate directions creates a dance discordant.  I’ve started watching, seeing the selfish act afterwards when it is too late to do anything but repent.

Before Ash Wednesday I ask You about the fast and You usually point to the rooted sin, that which will not exhume except from daily focus, constant practice, self-denial connected to accountability.  40 days in the wilderness.

This year I see the shortcuts, the ways I huddle around “me” time growling at anyone who snatches at it, the way I believe I am right, always right and see the sin cancer fog clear.  And greed is selfishness run amok when others are fighting just for daily bread. What kind of fast will grasp the hoe, root the self-god out?

Romans 8:13-14 says, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Tomorrow morning, my husband will sweep across my bangs with one hand, wipe a cross of ashes wide.  I will stand with the children trying to keep order and whisper in their ears, trying to make sense of mystery.  He will get down on his knees, press burnt palms across their unwrinkled foreheads from last years Palm Sunday where we all cried, “Hosanna” not realizing what it would cost.  And with his Adriatic sea blue eyes, the ones I’ve watched over nearly 20 years grow wise, he will look into mine, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I am dust, and to dust I shall return.  How easily I forget.

And I gradually understand, this dragon cannot be slain by any weapon I have in my hand, but only exposed and conquered by the Spirit’s work. My fast will be to lay down daily on the surgeon’s table, beg for Spirit’s intervention:  To journal, search scripture.  To listen.  To pray.  A fast of increased attention.

I pray the dangerous prayer, the one I know will be answered, the one that will send the Spirit riding to deliver, sword flashing:

 

Come Spirit

undragon me,

wipe scales with knife

separate Your daughter vulnerable

from selfgod

clinging in an unholy worship.

Undragon me.

I wait, listen, search the heavens for the Coming.  He always comes when I call.  He promises.  He promises you too, friend, dear one.  He promises you, too.

Summer Gross


What will your fast be this year?

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Spring Thanks

“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone”  Song of Solomon 2:11

Oh, Lord, what a wonder You are!  I stand back and exult in the coming  of yet another magical spring, so beautiful it takes my breath away.  I’m over-the-top pleased–surprised at its sudden arrival, and astonished at  gossamer puffs, high and lifted up,  cloud upon cloud, and  sparkling sun jewel hung high in  sky awning: necklace of light.

When did it begin, and why?  Was borning beauty tucked quiet under white, and protected under blue-gray ice? Was cold, good earth pregnant and white and mother in waiting? Were bulbs bursting and becoming even when all I saw was icicles on roof edge?  Was life begetting life in unseen womb and giving form and shape and color and essence even as crusted snow trudged under filtered light?

Was there a wooing and winning of one season over another even as  I waited and stirred vegetable soups and tapped feet, impatient for the wedding and done with the engagement?

Did Spring bedeck herself and don fragrance even as I searched the sky for evidence, and sighed large?

Where really “was” the season I craved?  Where had it gone and for how long should I wait?  Would it come and would it seal my longing with “yes!” and “here” and “now”?

Was there anything I could do to hurry the debut, the opening act?  Could longing be a key to open the lock?  Could prayer push or shove?  Could wishing devise a door?  I wondered and I tried.

But no, and no, and no!.   I could not make it come, but I could stay in the waiting room and “faith it“ out I could take hold of what was, and embroider it with a true presence.  I could enrich the wait with a song in my heart, and a lilt in my step, and  laughter out loud and big.  I could dance the dance of  the season at hand — not wish it away or erase the days so freely given.

So then, I can and I will.  Sit still in the season at hand , and watch the birthing of another. Abide.  Still my soul.  Order my feet.  Touch base with today.  Sing the songs of now, and this, and “is”.  Take hold of  gift and  giver.  Good God of the seasons, hold me!  Touch me with wonder, sweet and now, and fill me with “this” while spring erupts.

Spring will come, is coming, is present and very present under  the last of the sheeted snow and frosted ice and tommorrow.  Restore my wandering gaze and teach me thanks.  Help me love the season that is: in life, in weather.  Here then, are  questions,  longing, and premature desire.  Here, is me.  Here is now.  Here is this, and this, and this.

Seasoned bliss!

Thank you,

And thank you,

And thanks, God of winter, God of spring, God of all.

Linda Andersen

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