How to Withstand the Storms

We are all transplants in this Kingdom, all ball of roots, shook out and replanted insecure, longing for our heart’s true home.



We are adopted children of the most High who wander through the world with amnesia forgetting to come home, forgetting where our bread (acceptance, security, purpose, Life) comes from.  We turn towards whispers of “little l” life with hope-filled faces and turn away from the arms always offered.


We are basically earth scorched thirsty people searching for living water, quenching our thirst in the most unhealthy/unholy of ways.


Everywhere I go, when I’m turning toward another voice in hope of some piece of the puzzle coming together, I hear an echo of Him, “Daughter, Come back to Me. Don’t go too far. Attach. Dwell. Abide.”


It takes three years for plants to reach down in foreign soil and establish. Three springs that follow three cold winters before they begin to thrive.


The gardeners at the Center where I bought my white hydrangeas said to chop off the big snowball blooms for two full years. The roots’ establishing was more critical than beauty, she lectured, tenderly patting the black plastic base. Let them spread all their energy to the tightening, spreading roots and then, she promised, they’ll bloom strong into the years.


It’s the roots we can’t see, the roots spread firm in Him that create the lasting beauty.


Around that same time wandering through a Christian bookstore, I stared at a black and white Ansel-Adams-like photo. She was a queen of a tree, full of leaves, standing alone, a lace of intricate branches. Underneath the photo was Ephesians 3:17 “Rooted and established in love.”  Paul, midway through his letter was praying for the Ephesians. Now, Paul was hardcore. A missionary of missionaries. I imagine him a bit wild-eyed, like I’d have to look away if I tried to look straight at him. And yet much of his writings come straight back here, straight to the importance of being rooted in God’s love.


The full verses of 17 through 19 go like this, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” We need to be rooted in love in order to be filled with God.


Chapter 8 in Romans, the chapter I would gladly take to a deserted island (or maybe just a four star hotel) and feast on for weeks, climaxes in this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


The man was rooted and established in some serious hummus-filled love. You’d have to be in order to endure the whips, the chains, the prison isolation, the shipwrecks. He’d be dashed and wrecked about the rocks of life without that firm anchor of love. And maybe that’s all we’ve known.


We are so often like adopted children wondering where home really is, insecure, fearful when my dear friends, our Abba is firmly here with us. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Mt 28:20)

Every moment we:

stop and look into His eyes,

whisper “Jesus” in joy or wonder,

search the Word for his self-revelation,

fill up the lungs, drink deep breaths of His love,

bring our fears to his lap,

take our sins to the cross,

listen, getting used to the sound of His voice,

worship with arms outstretched,

or double back, saying thank you.

All this roots and establishes us a little deeper.

It is the constant abiding John talks about, the branch coming in close, attaching firm to the Vine.



Christianity is less a lifestyle of trying hard and more a constant doubling back, coming in close.  And the most beautiful service, the most powerful wave-walking trust and firm obedience? It comes naturally out of the coming in close.


The beauty will come. One day it fill unfold into bloom. And my friend, I can already see in you the tight nubs whispering of future glory.

Here’s one of my favorite ways to get rooted and established in God’s love, Lectio Divina.

Rest in His Presence. Receive his Word. Respond.  It’s a doorway to prayer.


I wonder what you will hear from today’s scripture? 


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Keys to Overcoming Fear of Rejection



Every Tuesday we have a lectio divina taken straight from next week Sunday’s lectionary. It’s a sort of appetizer. If there’s a second lectio in the week, I get to choose! It’s sometimes a scripture that I know will minister to struggle. Sometimes I pick it for me. Isaiah 51:12-16 was for me. It represents an area in my life that still needs more healing: fear of rejection. Yup, it’s like an onion, there are often more layers which are uncovered at different times. Verse 14 is my prayer when I’m crying out for transformation: The cowering prisoners will soon be set free. They will not die in their dungeon. Nor will they lack bread!


You can read more about my wrestle by clicking here.


Maybe you can relate. I wonder how the Lord will speak to you through these verses.


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On the Journey toward Self-Acceptance + *SLOW Word video*


My holidays were straight up gluttonous.  Baked brie oozing out of its pastry crust.  Chilled mimosas for breakfast with crepes carefully folded over nutella and strawberries. Then later, Balsamic Roasted Beef, smashed potatoes, and peas and pancetta for Christmas dinner. With wine. Always with wine.

And that was just the first 24 hours. My people take feasting seriously.

Then gluttony took on a deeper level. I. DID. NOT. WANT. TO. STOP. for sleep, for exercise, for bathing (it’s getting real people!), for breathing. I wanted to bathe in joy, to seize it and ride it home. I sat Indian style with little ones on the floor, eating imaginary eggs from tiny hands and rolled onto my back to surge a curly headed nephew up into an airplane ride with my feet. I went on every excursion. I watched movies on the couch late into the night my brother reciting the lines of Chariots of Fire before they occurred. Then I stayed up later to journal. Each morning there was more coffee and less of me. Repeat for three more days.



I tried to remember to stop and inhabit the present moment, to listen, to drink deep.




Two days in, I slid into cruise control and held my breath.

Here’s the problem. I’m an introvert and a four on the enneagram. I only have so much energy, lots to process, and then I crash and push through until I hit a wall. Every year it happens. Every year I forget. In the past, I’ve shamed myself. Why don’t I have more to give? Why can’t I just be like_______ and dance my way through? Shame and I are close acquaintances.

But, it’s time to grow up, to slide into the wider spaces of self-acceptance.



This quote by Parker Palmer curated by Leanna Tankersley on her Instagram whispered a kind of quiet truth that made me come back…and back to listen again:

“They decide to live “Divided No More.” They decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts some truth about themselves that they hold deeply on the inside.”

Palmer’s words echo this quote by Fr. Romano Guardini which I’ve come to circle so often these last few years.

“The act of self-acceptance is the root of all things. I must agree to be the person who I am. Agree to the qualifications which I have. Agree to live within my limits…The clarity and the courageousness of this acceptance is the foundation of all existence,” Fr. Romano Guardini.


If Guardini’s words feel like an invitation to self-acceptance, my one-word for 2014, Parker Palmer’s words feel like a line in the sand. It whispers with a deep magic to this recovering people-pleaser.

Self-acceptance is a choice to be whole, not frayed. And no one else can make that choice for me. I’ve decided it’s time for me to grow up. It’s time to be “divided no more.”



(Christmas morning selfie by my daughter. Love her.)

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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.


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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10 Things I Learned in August

I’m joining the fabulous Emily Freeman in sharing 10 things I learned this August weaving back and forth from silly to serious. This is the summer vacation edition.

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1. First, I need to just keep pushing the publish button. Keep putting words on paper. Keep making art.


This winter I stopped writing. I really had a hundred excuses including a new job and homeschooling, but there’s more of a messy reality behind the whiny list. As I began teaching new Journey groups, (Healing Care Group with Terry Wardle’s incredible curriculum,) the Lord uncovered how much of my sense of significance rested in approval through ministry.


My writing was completely tangled up in it like a nest of fishing line, a chaos of deep hunger for worth.


I needed to stop writing. I needed a pregnant silence in which to be transformed. Daily, even hourly at first, I held out empty hands and brought my nagging hungers to God. I stayed present with Him using Brennan Manning’s beautiful prayer, “Abba, Father, I belong to You.”


After the soul work, I’m writing out of a new wide-open sort of freedom. I’m not holding on with a tight fist. It is now my barefoot joy, my worship.

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But honestly, starting to write in the open again was hard. I’m a perfectionist, a poet who weighs the power of every word. This month I learned to just…push…publish. Over vacation I wrote for just twenty minutes a day with my thumbs on an iphone keyboard…on instagram…on Facebook here, here, and here…(wherever words are free) and then came home and opened my laptop and began writing in earnest.


2. In August I reconnected to the power of the podcast: short, concise teaching and entertaining. We logged a lot of hours on the road. 25 hours to Maine. 25 hours back.  This is where I discovered Michael Hyatt’s, This is Your Life. First, I listened to Escape Perfectionism Once and For All then I began streaming episode after episode. By now, I’m a groupie. Another favorite, this one with much wisdom? Why Learning to Lead Means Learning to Follow. I wish I had digested that one straight out of college.


3. This month I’ve embraced becoming a morning person…but I’ve learned that it truly IS an art.  This is Michael Hyatt on How to Become a Morning Person. I told you I’m a groupie. I also reached deep into the encouragement from Hello Mornings I did a few years ago. Check them out.  The key to becoming a morning person? Go to bed every night fifteen minutes earlier in order to wake up 15 minutes earlier.  Oh ya, and naps, glorious glorious naps.


4. This month I discovered a new standard for the perfect breakfast: Lobster Benedict. Amazing. That is all.



5. Lately I’ve been trying out Shauna Niequist’s dinner question from Bread and Wine: If you knew you were going to die tomorrow (sounds like the beginning of an Evangelism Explosion question, doesn’t it?) and you would choose any meal you wanted to have the day before, what would it be?  You learn so much about a person when you ask about their food loves. Their eyes light up and you hear stories about grandma and that time they travelled by boat to Greece and had their first espresso on the deck looking over the Adriatic.


6.  Vacation with older kids? So much easier.  We just spent two weeks on Mount Desert Island, Maine going in and out of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. I had my first actual vacation in ten years.


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7. This August I was shocked to find I feel rooted in Maine along the wild, rocky coastline, the stiff fir trees that stand up against the winter wind. Even after moving away thirty years ago, I put my feet on Crescent Beach, Cape Elizabeth and had that soul sense of home. I immediately wanted to start writing.  Do you have a place like that?

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8. I brought lots of books to Maine but read only one: Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines.  I was entranced. It was messy and beautiful and redemptive. Those are my favorite stories.


9. I’ve been waiting for Emily Freeman’s book, Simply Tuesday, and I couldn’t just sit in the bookstore to read, I had to buy it immediately. It is the type of book I can only read with a pencil in hand, underlining and amening all the way through. This lady has read my mail. She echoes LeAnne Payne’s writing: Celebrate your smallness.


10. Here is my biggest aha moment this month. I took a walk on Crescent Beach where we had spent whole summer days when I was a child and was surprised to discover my trust plant had grown deep roots.



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As I walked back toward the Inn after an early morning walk, I prayed a new surrender prayer and discovered there were no “buts,” no fears, no root of anger toward God. I prayed God would do all that it takes to transform me and make me holy. And here’s the shocker, folks; for the first time, I did not fear the outcome. Tears are rolling now. This has been a long time coming. I closed up to trust after sexual abuse the year I was fourteen, and then wrestled to exhaustion with the problem of evil. How can we trust that God is good if He allows evil into the lives of the small and innocent?


I wrestled with tutors at L’Abri, Switzerland when newly married, through the lines of poetry furiously scribbled through seminary, and then through the deep healing which has occurred through formational prayer. I’ve wrestled and God, He’s stayed, and I’m starting to recognize the blessing.


Then kindly, He gave me this peek. This trust-building has been the hard work He’s been accomplishing during these last excruciating moves. We move and He keeps stripping me, humbling me Hosea 2 style taking away all my “lovers,” and then beckoning me to come lay my head against His chest to hear His heartbeat: You are my beloved. You are my beloved. You are my beloved.


I finally trust the sound of that heartbeat.


You too, friend, lean in hard. Put your head on His chest like John at the table with the bread and the wine. Listen to His heart. Pull in tight. You are His beloved. You are His beloved. You are His beloved. 


Can you hear it? It’s as steady as the lapping of the water on the shore.



And you, dear friend, what have you learned this August?


Want to read more places where I am writing words?  Join with me on Instagram, mtrsummer, and Facebook: Summer Gross.

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Day 16: We Need You to be Fully You

Her heart squeezed tight as she stepped out of the silver Honda after the six hour drive. She stretched her legs and willed her heart to stretch too, but felt the familiar anxiety pinch it tight.  She was a newlywed arriving at the in-laws for the next family wedding, the next big event after hers.


She looked toward the family home and wondered what cloud of stress engulfed the family just through that front door. Without meaning to, she gulped the stress down tight.

Through the door and after the warm kisses she picked up an apron, tying the strings tight around her waist.  Then her blond eyebrows lifted and her lips forced the cheery, “So, what can I do to help?”


She directed her question at her father-in-law chopping peppers at the kitchen island.


The knife slowed its downward rock onto the wood cutting board until it stopped and he waved her over to his side, “Stephanie, honestly, what we need most is for you to be fully you. We need Stephanie. We need you.”  He went back to slicing the red pepper, slow and even and didn’t notice how her breath had begun to slow too.


She had been invited to come alive, invited to become Real and bring her gift for leaving beauty in her wake.


She had offered her hands empty and he had asked for her heart full.


And this, dear one, is what I hear too.


Our Father invites us to come fully alive, to bring our full heart to this new adventure.



We are invited to bring our gifts and words and love into a God-starved world  and open our hands to serve Jesus to the searching.


And yes, I know, if you are like me you are looking at your meager lunch, those slivers of fish, those seemingly insufficient barley loaves and wondering how it could possibly be enough.  Your time is scrunched, your words feel anemic, your life has been broken and rebroken and those talents you have? You sometimes desire to grasp the shovel and bury them deep. But remember, friend, He knows how to bless brokenness. He knows how to multiply what lies small in your hands.



And you, my friend, you are enough and your heart, fully alive, is needed right here, right now in this zipcode.


The God-hungry are waiting for you to come alive, to risk opening your heart and sharing the Bread in your hands.


God calls us to stop hiding, to stop dominating, to trust him, and to offer our true selves. He wants us to bring to bear the weight of our lives and all that He has given to us, worked into us, and offer it to our world.”

John and Staci Eldredge, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul.


And this is her poem, my sister, the one who swings her heart open wide.



heart shimmering on skin

bursting from uncontained laughter

head back


Announce your presence:

shutters blown open.

Santa Ana winds whip mystery


scent of freshly baked bread

still warm.

If you have a bit more time, check out my sister Stephanie’s story on re.write magazine this month found here: Issue #19. And don’t miss learning about her beautiful non-profit, Unchained, raising a new generation of abolitionists.


Thank you to Cate Catani Robertson and Katherine Birkbeck Photography.  Congratulations and thank you for sharing your gift: Gorgeous.


We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.


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Day 4: Feast

Fellow 31 day journeyers, as we take the huge risk to loving our zip code with integrity, we first are invited to come feast on Love ourselves.  In fact, it’s absolutely vital.


“You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5


Never walk out into the world hungry.


Ever walk the aisles of the grocery store around 5:30pm? You grab at the pretty packages, create half menus in your head, fill the cart with food memories and comfort, gasp at the price, and then wheel up to the trunk of your car with twice as much as you came looking for.


Never leave home hungry.




The night before my wedding, my mama told me never to force my husband to walk the streets hungry for love. Fill that man before you send him out in the morning, she said.


And I would never dream of opening the door and pushing my nestlings out into the world empty of nourishment and love.


It’s just that I don’t often heed that same advice. I walk out the door without lifting my hands up, without the Scriptures open, without the listening and the dwelling. I haven’t spent time soaking in His Presence. I leave hungry. Empty. Searching. I find myself scooting up to another table and the price…goes…up.


I pay for it every time.


I walk out into the world glancing at every sign as if its fluorescent bulbs flashed with my answer. I walk up to neighbors hands open, demanding to be fed out of their emptiness.


When we give out of lack, we pump the empty soul and our giving does not spill out of love but need. We are a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal every time.


Because we can’t bless, break and multiply a lunch we haven’t gathered from His table.



“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger; whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” John 6:35


He ALWAYS invites us home to a full spread. Always. We scoot up to the table still carrying in our earth-smeared hands our pain, our lack, our disappointment, our questions and our cracked mess of a life and we are always welcomed home. Like the prodigal son, we sit at the feast and with wild eyes we grasp that this is where we belonged all along. We tear the crusty bread, fill our mouths with the warm, soft center and piece by piece we eat the truth: I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.


We draw close, maybe even lay our head on His chest like the beloved disciple, resting, hearing His heartbeat pound for the rescue of the world. We memorize its cadence.


We taste and see that He is good.  Then filled, we turn toward the world, bless, break and multiply Him “for the life of the world.”


Daily Action: Don’t just sample the love of God in small appetizers once a week, come to a daily full-table feast.

But let’s get practical. What does true feasting on the love of God look like for you? Here’s some of my suggestions and Facebook friend’s ideas as well.

(BTW, I’m Summer Gross from Loganville, GA on Facebook. @athirstforGod on Twitter. Lets connect there!)

Feast here, meditating on the Father Heart of God. So rich a meal.

Or perhaps you could feast here, like Adrienne. Classic:

Or here: The Life of the Beloved.

Or watch this. This father’s love is a beautiful picture of His love for us:


Or read here? How to be Still and Know that He is God


I’m often nourished feasting on the names and attributes of God. Get an immensely helpful PDF with this link here: Thank you Woodmen Valley Chapel.


Or just look for a hardy meal of bread through the Scriptures searching out a trail of manna. Start here in Zephaniah 3:17.


And you, friend, how do you dwell in His presence, sip long on His love? Do share and “join the conversation.”


We’re just 4 days into a 31 day writing journey through October, wanting God to make us lovers of our zip code. Want to come along? Slip your email in the CONNECT box on the front page. 


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Searching for Resurrection

Crabapple trees in pink frills process down my new street. All winter I wondered what color they would wear. Their miniature crabapples  fell onto the sidewalks and gave the early robins something to eat in the cold. Still, they kept their secret. Now I’m showered with fragrance as I pass them on my morning walk.


I needed spring.


I didn’t just hope for spring, long for spring or crave spring. This year I. needed. it. We moved into a new town, a new empty life right before the dying seasons and by March, I was holding my breath. I hadn’t been writing much, here or in my journal, afraid to go digging in the mucky soil. I was afraid of what I would find. I couldn’t write, couldn’t tunnel down with a trowel into the loam without signs of resurrection.


I’ve been a coward.


I know the grip of depression, the root ball of the mind squeezing tight. I’ve lived in its tomb before. This year I’ve been waiting…like the earth.


Last week, I took a camera with me, the children kicked on scooters creating a rhythm as they slid over the cracks and I went searching…for resurrection.


Late the next day we drove up to McConnell’s Mill State Park. The children found a sandy spot on the trail by Slippery Rock River and started digging like they were at the beach. Caedmon rested under a tree deep in a book and Andrew took out his fly rod waving it back and forth with nymphs tied on tight for the ride. I went hiking, D60 camera around my neck, looking for light and resurrection.




Tillium. They push up hidden under a canopy of trees creating constellations of light for those who go into the deep forests to find them. I remember tramping back into our woods behind the North Fairfield house in the wet of early spring and discovering an island covered with trillium. I held my breath as I tiptoed between their stalks afraid they would die if my foot came down heavy.


In the days that followed I found other constellations of light and tried to drink deep.  But it wasn’t until I started naming the spaces in between, the dark places, that I began to hope. So much of what was making me hold my breath was a fear of rejection. Being new has its gifts but for a girl whose main wounding includes a fear of rejection, being new is like a drive over Gabon’s dirt roads from pothole to pothole, jolted and holding on, exhausting. I began to see patterns of tiny rejections I was holding onto. When was it that I quit writing? When was it that I began to veg out in front of the tv every night? When was it that new experiences made my heart pound hard?


We have to name the dark before we can renounce it.


I started to pray simply when I felt the shadow passing over, asking this question: what core longing is not being fulfilled? (This core longing list comes from here from Terry Wardle and maybe you remember my conversation about my moving fears and the core longing litany found here.)

Am I lacking:

A safe and secure environment,

constant reinforcement of my personal worth,

the need for repeated messages that I am valued, unique and special,

the need for unconditional love and acceptance,

basic care and nurture,

encouragement to grow and develop my personal gifts and talents,

a pathway to fellowship with you,

a sense of belonging, or

to feel useful and needed.


Acknowledging the empty places led me to light. He is always the Source of our core longings…no amount of turning toward the face of another will provide these essentials.


In lamenting my lack I was able to open my hands. I was able to stop the search, open my hands and ask the Provider.


Halfway through my hike, I had taken out my iphone and clicked. I breathed in the mist foaming up around the waterfall but I didn’t see THIS until my husband commented on it days later:


Light was streaming in.


In the midst of my maniacal search for resurrection, I had been bathed in unknown light. I breathed out slowly. He had always been present on the road. Resurrection had found me.

McConnell's mill


linking with the lovely Jen Ferguson and the Soli Deo Gloria sisters

and joining with Jennifer’s community of storytellers...and boy, she will lift you up and speak encouragement straight into your eyes today: Don’t Give up.

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Giving up Codependance for Lent

“All of these I will give you if you just fall down and worship me,” Matthew 4:9.


Teased and smeared, heart smacked down in the halls of a Jr. High, I began to overcompensate at church, at home….everywhere.  I lived bent, worshipping the other, hungry for approval, a careful student of a contorted life.

 church FIC


Please tell me the messages are not true, I begged.  Tell me the teasing does not mean something is inherently wrong me. Tell me I’m enough, that you are glad I was planted on this slow-turning world.


Can you see it? It is a type of rope between us, right around my heart. I’m bent right forward asking the impossible.  I want to serve you, to keep you happy so the messages of approval keep coming and ahhh, I’m seeing it clearly now:  I have lived with a thousand handmade gods, begging them for a fresh drink of Life.


I’ve given up co-dependence for Lent.  I’m cutting the ropes.

 floor church FIC


God has been exposing this people pleasing addiction for years. I’ve wrestled with it, nailed it to the cross, stared it down and exposed the lies but it was fuzzy like a channel that wouldn’t come in. I moved the rabbit ears, stepped back, but the monitor never cleared. (I write more about approval addiction here and here, and here.)


This weekend I and about 50 others wound up a mountain in fresh snow to The Castle in Franklin, PA to a Freedom in Christ retreat with The Lazarus Center. We learned and worshipped in the same place Woodrow Wilson had been entertained when he came to visit the DuPonts. Over breakfast we marveled at the mountains awaking in golden light. We sought quiet and took hikes out to a small Methodist church which had been relocated to the retreat center, hymn books still slid into the backs of pews. We slept on bunks and laughed hard into the evening at a talent show where shimmering personalities came out.


blowing kisses three kids


Leaders bushwhacked a path forward and led us to the foot of the cross with the lantern of their own stories. Courageous, they knew their own wounds exposed would lead us to the Healer and by the end, we were completely awed. Their vulnerability became the light by which we could see our own truths more clearly.


castle archway


The stories revealed one bent shape after another toward food, sex, religion, career, performance, etc. It is the promise that this shiny something would fill into the cracks of the empty places left by those who had made gashes in our lives.


Somewhere on day 2 of the retreat, the picture became less fuzzy for me.


It started with this image magnified up on a screen: Two stick figures bent toward each other, a rope attached to each, creating their mutual bentness.  The Freedom in Christ retreat uses simple but devastating visuals from The Lazarus Center of Ambridge who puts it on.


I saw truth unmasked:  This is worship. Fear. Enslaved devotion. This is co-dependence.


It’s the very unoriginal hiss from the serpent in the desert as he showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world and their glory, “All of this I will give you if you just fall down and worship me.”

 Pews church FIC


Jesus rejected what might have been the easy answer: He could be made king without going to the cross. He knew the liar and saw through his lies. With these words He banished the hissing one:  “Go Satan, for it is written, worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” He cut the rope, refused a life of bent worship.

 door open church FIC


With the rope cut, Jesus was free to move about in mission, to preach, to heal, to walk away and rest when he needed resting, to walk steadily toward the cross. Jesus was only tied to One and often walked away from the demands of the crowds, seeking quiet, drawing close to the Voice.  It’s why I believe the Father spoke out of the cloud at Jesus’ baptism, so that “This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased” would fill the chambers of Jesus’ heart, would echo through the desert where temptation lurked.


And that’s my invitation as well. Summer, cut the rope…and this one…and this one.  Like the game of telephone, only their voice gets heard through the rope held tight.  His voice “Worship Me and serve Me only” becomes clearer when it is not muffled by the fiber of a thousand ropes held taut each demanding obedience.


And only His Voice opens up paths to Freedom.

 the swing church FIC


It’s a journey, my friends.  Is it not? He promises we can have confidence that: “He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6) Faithful. Still working.


This Lent I’ve been more focused on listening and growing than on writing. Thank you so much for your patience.  Your reading and presence on this journey is pure gift.


Care to come along on the pilgrimage? Slip your email address (I promise not to allow anyone else access to that precious little bit of code) in the front page under the word: CONNECT.


Let’s journey together.


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How to live as the humble beautiful in a world of self-marketing

The scripture is where I am transformed and this one here is exposing me. A weekly submitting myself to the gospel in the lectionary is renewing my heart and mind. Come along for the pilgrimage? We call it Word Seeds.


1. First we prepare our minds. Heavenly Father, You said that Your Word never returns to You void. We pray for that now. We humble ourselves before Your word and ask for transformation, mind, soul and spirit.

2. Then we read the gospel: Matthew 5:1-12 This will be the gospel reading in most of your churches this Sunday. Year A, Epiphany 4


word seeds

Modern-day success is intricately tied to self-marketing whether it is explained away as putting on make-up for a new friend, branding for church planting or platform building for publishing. But self-marketing is tied to many of our loudest demons. Mine included. How many people approve of me? How many people enjoy my work enough to come back, to taste more? Will my performance be enough?  Am I loveable? Unfortunately, we’ve compounded the lies by taking the message of our capitalist world and spiritualizing it like this: More people (more money, more attention, etc.) equals the blessing of God.


It’s completely counter to the message of Jesus in the Beatitudes. Pretty soon we’re daily tearing petals off a daisy, “they like me, they like me not.” Often I’m consumed with outcomes and not hidden in His love.


Matthew 5:1 starts off with this: “Jesus saw the crowds and He took His disciples and went up onto a mountain to teach them.”  The commentaries agree that Jesus started teaching the Sermon on the Mount looking into just the eyes of his disciples. It seems to be that the crowds found them later.


Could it be that He saw the gleam in their eyes?  With the crowds milling about, the disciples were beginning to feel the electricity of coming power. Crowds mean success and success means a new King and if we’re close to the guy, we could be at the helm.  Jesus saw their desire to rally against the Roman oppressor but he knew the way crowds can turn into mobs and spin out of control.


You can imagine Peter had set up a soapbox in the market of Capernaum and some of the louder disciples were taking turns cheerleading for a coming revolution. The resident Roman centurions were being pushed around a little bit more by the growing mob bravado.


And I’ll bet the cunning were sitting around outdoor tables beginning to make plans.  You could hear their whispers if you leaned in, “If we keep these crowds happy and then begin raising up groups all along the route to Jerusalem, by the time we get there, we’ll be able to make an attack on the Romans.”


A little success has a way of uncovering our most embarrassing fantasies. Taste a little and we start dreaming of vacation houses and stadium seating. Only if we are willing to drag our fantasies into the light of God’s Presence, will we get untangled. If we don’t, the fantasies themselves will begin to drive us. In Matthew 5, Jesus saw the need for a complete identity check. They were about to build another kingdom, not His, try their hand at another Tower of Babel.

sand castle fotor

So He took them up the hill by themselves, away from the crowds.


And we understand the equation. We are crowd lovers, too.  The larger the stadium, the larger the church, the more twitter followers, the larger the platform, the more friends, the more successful we feel.  But here’s the deeper truth. The larger the crowd, the more unlikely the podium itself will be filled with the poor in spirit. And the people in those seats? Their own desire for success will keep them hanging onto the promises of MORE, more success, more money, more of God’s “blessing.”  If they touch the hem of his garment, read the book, listen to the TED talk, maybe some of the success will rub off on them too. I get it.


Am I addicted to numbers?

word seed scale


But the Beatitudes turn all of this upside down.  You can almost hear the plea in His voice. My friends, revolution will not create the disciple I and my Father are looking for.  We cannot change the world with success, only through dying. I am looking to make disciples who are humble, meek, broken hearted, merciful, quick to mourn, thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peacemakers.


I have no need for the self-reliant, self-confident and they have no need for me.


I want disciples who are able to withstand persecution, who are teachable.


But Jesus was not requiring something from them that wasn’t already in Him:


He was so poor in spirit He refused to do anything He didn’t hear the Father say to do.

He mourned over Jerusalem, wept over his friend Lazarus’ death.

Jesus’ meekness kept Him silent before his oppressors, silent in the face of bold lies.

His hunger for righteousness was so pure the false stuff irked Him and He picked up whips and words like weapons.

He was humble enough to know that His power came from His connection,

merciful to the most egregious sinners,

pure enough to be kept on his knees.

And Peacemaker? His death became our ultimate “peace be still.”


In ten lines the disciples’ hearts are exposed. In one line my own heart is laid bare. Holiness is impossible without humility and God can only piece together mosaics out of a person who is broken at His feet.


God is in the business of loving and transforming people, breathing the Spirit into dry bones one rickety stack after another. Only the humble broken can lean down and take the hand of another beautiful broken and bring them to their feet, point them to the cross.  It is the Samaritan woman who said, “come see the man who told me everything I ever did,” who drew a village straight to Jesus’ feet. When we pretend perfect, we let go of the power of our testimony.

 beach word seed



When we offer the world:

our bits of words scrawled on a paper or a screen,

our ideas to a boardroom,

our colors on canvas,

our roast chicken to the five plates around our table,

our encouragement to our neighbor,

a speech to a packed-out room,

the sermon etched on our heart,

a new way of being the church,

we don’t have to flinch, to fear success or failure.


We can consciously bring it all to His feet and ask the only one who matters, “Abba, I’m your child, here’s my offering to you today. What do You think of the work I’ve done?” And we can wait for our Father to love on his child, to receive our broken finger paintings of effort…and let Him who knows we are human and loves us anyway be our only judge.


Join me for the pilgrimage through the gospel? Weekly Bible studies based on the lectionary slipped into your email? Go to the front page and add your email to the CONNECT box.  Blessings, Friends!

I’ve spent the week rereading Brokenness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I highly recommend it. Her revival-spreading talk on the same subject to Campus Crusade’s staff in 1995 is on Youtube and will open up areas of your life where His light needs open doors. Put it on while you fold that pile of laundry?


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