Your Brilliant Simple Plan to Create Calm in Chaos and SLOW Word

It’s no secret. I need quiet like I need water.  Perhaps we all do. Have you read this article yet? Our brains require ample amounts of silence in order to rebuild the brain cells stolen by noise and stress.

Because who can truly hear in the middle of all this crushing noise?

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). (By the way, this is the first verse of the SLOW Word lectio divina included below.)

 

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This afternoon I chatted with another homeschool mama in the corner of a kitchen as kids in costumes ran from one room to another playing hide and seek. We whispered about the need for quiet as if we were divulging a secret then we giggled at the extremes we go to guard our hours alone. But if this article or my (everyday!) experience are any indication, needing silence is just as essential to our mental and emotional health as our computer’s reboot button is to its continued functioning. And really, should we be surprised? My husband asks me the same question every time my computer seizes up: “When was the last time you rebooted?”

So, friends, it’s time to make a plan for rebooting our internal computer. It’s been necessary for women (and men!) throughout time. John Wesley’s mother, Susanna (1669-1742), used to take her long apron and place it over her head to signal the need for calm. Madeleine L’Engle’s children would recognize her irritability as a need for silence long before she ever did and beg her to take off to her writing tower at Crosswicks. Other women have written about their struggle to create spaces of silence. The introvert in me always smiles when I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem The Art of Disappearing.

In the early 1950’s Anne Morrow Lindbergh penned A Gift from the Sea about the wrestle between motherhood and the need for quiet: “I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote these words before the hundreds of channels on the tv, the portable XBox, or the black hole of the interwebs.

 

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Into the age-old conversation I’m offering this simple little gem: #10MinutesofStillness. Sometimes simple can be embarrassing, but sometimes it can be brilliant. After years of practicing, this one, my friends, is brilliant simple. Of course, it’s not my brilliance. I’m just the beneficiary. I picked it up from my sister, who picked it up from a friend. You get the idea. Now here’s the prescription: Choose a quiet space, put the phone upside down and turn off any beeps and buzzes, and set an alarm for ten minutes. Full stop. It’s the mini-Sabbath in the middle of your busy Thursday.

(Secret: I’ve found #10MinutesofStillness are just as luxurious on family holidays as they are on a busy weekday. Here’s one of mine from family vacation last year.)

For just ten minutes you push away the incessant to-do list, and just settle into the gorgeous richness of the present moment. Listen for the birds. Scan your space for beauty. Be attentive to your breath. (Maybe you’re a shallow breather like I am?) Perhaps you can take a short phrase of scripture and do centering prayer. Most days I keep it simple. I make a cup of cinnamon tea, head out to the porch, shut the front door with all its crazy on the other side and sit in the swing. Ten minutes to hit the refresh button.

 

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Why #10MinutesofStillness? Here’s what I’ve found after a few years of the practice:

 

1. #10MinutesofStillness is the perfect transition.  Do you reach for a cereal bowl and a remote when the kids are finally in bed? Yup, some nights I do too.  Other nights I want to lean into something more creative. Scheduling a #10MinutesofStillness at the moment of transition helps me to be more mindful of my true desires and not just fall into an immediate Netflix hole. I did the same thing when the kids were young enough to nap.

 

2. #10MinutesofStillness gives us a moment of time to be attentive to emotions crowding under the surface. You know how it is. Your irritability is coming from somewhere. Nonjudgemental listening is the first step to untangling. Bring the emotion up into the air, look at it with compassionate curiosity and without trying to be a Fixer. Bring it up and out into the Presence of Christ.

 

3. #10MinutesofStillness is the creative’s best friend. When we’re mired in the tough of the making and the words refuse to flow, just ten minutes of no agenda silence will often unleash the dam and we’re on our way again.

 

4. #10MinutesofStillness is a gateway back to gratitude.  Practice opening up one sense at a time for sixty seconds each, without judging what you receive and without trying to create meaning. And then start thanking God for the simple gifts you are experiencing. Pretty soon the chaos is tinged with joy and you’re ready to love your people again.

 

5. #10MinutesofStillness can push the door open to God’s Presence. When our head is down and we’re leaning hard into hustle, we can forget to be aware of God-with-us.  Light a candle in your quiet space and sit without an agenda but with expectation, contemplatively present to He who is always present.

 

So, friend, I’m daring you: schedule a mini-Sabbath into your day. Cultivate a small corner of stillness then enter the conversation. What was it like for you? Was it a struggle? Was it a gift? We want to hear. And if you use the hashtag #10MinutesofStillness, let us know! I’d love to see the chorus of contemplatives rise!

 

Do you have another brilliant simple idea for creating calm in the chaos? Do share!

 

Today’s SLOW Word. (The scripture starts at 2:20):

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Day 20: Kingdom Spreading in Concentric Circles

I’m starting a new job today, Director of Soul Care at Holy Cross Anglican Cathedral here in Loganville, GA. It’s just 10 hours a week but I’m fantastically excited. I get to do exactly what I love to do best: lead people into the presence of Jesus.  I’ll be encouraging the good work already going on, building up the lay who are doing visitations, doing some pastoral care myself and starting healing care groups here in Loganville over the next few months. Here’s the family picture we took just this last week on our porch swing for Holy Cross’ website:

Gross Family-low res

 

I’ll keep writing this series, 31 days to Fall in Love with Your Zip Code, but perhaps a bit more slowly. I’m a slow writer anyways. I need to marinade, listen, and wrestle before anything of value finds its way to the page.

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This is a post from two February’s ago…but one which is so central to my theology of the home, that it keeps coming up in every series I write. It is the basis of the next 10 days of our series:

 

Our Christmas tree is still up.  Scratch that.  There is an evergreen tree with dry green needles propped up in the corner of our living room.  Our tree is still dressed with white sparkly lights casting a golden glow up the ceiling, but now there’s a difference.  It’s had a makeover.  Now the tree wears heart-shaped paper doilies, red ribbon garland and valentine hearts.  We’ll keep it up for Valentine’s this week, then I promise I’ll throw the dry thing out on the curb next Sunday night.  Promise.

This was six year old Madeline and my doing.  Saturday afternoon Xavier napped for a solid two hours and Madeline and I gathered red and white construction paper (she’s off pink), scissors and twine onto the coffee table.  We slid our fingers down the paper to crease it, cut out red hearts, punched out small white ones for a garland and all of this while recounting the story of Jesus’ love.  We fingered a long first-century looking nail hidden in the center of the tree and talked aloud about why it still fit on our love tree.  We chatted nonchalantly about how she could feel strong knowing she was loved by Jesus, that she is a daughter of the Most High God, his special girl.  Seeds were planted, little kingdom seeds.

I’ve got a small window and I know it.

 

I have a small window where this precious girl is good soil for the seed of the Word.

 

I have a small window and any ministry I do MUST start here.

 

KINGDOM spreading starts at home.

 

Paul gives hints to Timothy on how to locate an overseer and instructs: watch him with his family.  Has he been faithful managing those closest to him? If he has been wise with those close, he may be able to handle a wider concentric circle. (1 Timothy 3:1-5)  No more neglected marriages and families “sacrificed” for the Kingdom.  It’s just not Biblical. No more believing that God will take care of our families if we take care of His work. We are invited to plant the kingdom deep into the ground right at home.

 

Let’s start right here.

 

If the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, spreading branches into our world, the Reign of God will saturate our marriages, lift up our children, heal our extended families, provide shade for the neighborhood.

 

If the Kingdom of God is like yeast, it will expand across the city block through the streets of our town, broadcast into and out of houses and workplaces.  Jesus is always with us and when the Kingdom of heaven has been welcomed and come near, we can’t hold Him back, He WILL spread. Good news is like that.

 

When salvation comes to us, an earthquake of resurrection life rocks us fierce, tremors extending for a lifetime. The plates of our life shift and we push up and out.  The Holy Spirit begins to spread Isaiah 61 healing, cuts out cancerous lies, reorients our eyes, opens doors where we have been held captive.

 

I close my eyes and see the brass processional cross come down firm on the ground of our life here at the yellow cottage and pray the power of God spreads out from that epicenter…in concentric circles

 

As we are transformed, we begin to be an epicenter of the Kingdom…rooted right where we are.

 

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved five states south and are loving the warm October but riding the ups and downs of a major transition. 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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How to Be Still and Know that He is God

The three R’s, it’s quickly becoming Maddie and my “thing” every morning…perhaps it’s because of her giggles…perhaps it’s because I know how much I need it too.

 mom and maddy at church black and white

Rest, Receive, Respond: these are the 3 R’s taught by Terry Wardle, a professor at Ashland Seminary who teaches formational prayer.

 

They are a practical way to line up for a blessing from Jesus.

 

Rest: I pull her down on my lap in the warm kitchen, whisper to her to close her eyes and take a few deep breaths. Just relax. That’s when I see the smile start playing.

 

Receive: “Maddie, receive Jesus’ love for a few moments. You are His girl and He delights in you.”  I start seeing a giggle coming up to the surface, the same giggles she gets during a movie when the Prince kisses his true love.

 

Respond: Tell Him you love Him back or thank Him.  Now she’s throwing her head back as if the joy can’t be held in. I can’t help but believe that she’s been in line and felt His hand on her head, his words spoken over her, seen His loving eyes look directly at her.

 

She’s been blessed, she knows that she’s His Beloved, and she’s beginning to learn that seeking the blessing can really be that simple.

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How often I have forgotten.

 

I’m the mom with the scripture memory cards in the middle of the breakfast table and all the Bible storybooks strewn around the house. I get out the big royal blue one with gold edging with the graham crackers and milk at bedtime. The other morning I reached for the devotional with breakfast and got “the look” from Caedmon.  Enough, it said. I’m stuffed.  It’s not the first time I’ve seen that look lately.

 

Too much stuffing knowledge and not enough blessing.

 

The look registered and I pulled out my iphone still loaded with a worship video based on Zephaniah 3:17:

Worship Opener/Zephaniah 3:17 from designerMD on Vimeo.

 

As he read the words on the small screen out loud, Caedmon’s eyes began to shine. “How does that make you feel, buddy?”  “I don’t know, Mom. I just like it,” he said.

 

We all hunger for blessing. 

 

Zephaniah 3:17 is a blessing in black on white:

The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

 

I had been spending my quiet time with this verse feeling my own chaotic heart slowly grow still with: “The Lord your God is with you…He will quiet you with His love.”

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But here are the questions: How often do I cram down the words, gather the bullet points, but don’t spend heart to heart time with the Word Himself?

 

Or, how often do I talk about the well but don’t lead them to take a drink? I give them maps, paint the pictures, tell stories about water, but still leave them thirsty?

 

“They” told me to find my purpose, my strength, my need for love, my identity all in Christ but never showed me how.  I struggled toward Him but was held back by the long rubber band always retracting towards my own neediness.  I never knew how to be “filled.” Finally, shame crept in and covered my relationship with God like that thin burnt oily covering on the hood of my kitchen stove.  20 years later and I have finally learned to live full of Love. And when I’m triggered, living out of that crazy, primal place, I’ve learned how to crawl back in to His heart.

 

How? Rest, Receive, Respond.

 

Be still and know that He is God.

 

baby Xavier sleeping

 

It’s dwelling with The Way, the Truth and the Life, not just learning about Him.

It’s blessing: the inner core of a life wrapped in unconditional love built on a framework of Scriptural knowledge.

It’s the 3 R’s: Rest, Receive, Respond.

It’s the practice of worship and soaking in His love.

It’s allowing yourself to stop seeking, and instead, just be found.

It’s Scripture meditation beyond memorization to conversation.

It’s the constant communication, “pray continually:” our lifting up our ordinary struggle to an always Present, loving Abba.

It’s learning to line up for a blessing.

 Summer Gross

Come journey with me.  Slip your email into the “Connect” square on the front page of A Thirst for God. 

Other times I’ve written about the 3 R’s:

When You Don’t Feel Worthy of God’s Love

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Finding Time for Prayer – The Busy Mama’s Remix

It seems impossible doesn’t it?  My beautiful college friend asked THE question: How do we find time to pray and wait on God as busy moms?

 

How do we sit at His feet when they are climbing all over our lap?

 

We wake up to the cry down the hall and we are at work as soon as our feet hit the floor.  And we are so bone tired. All. The. Time.  We want to pray but every time we get silent enough, we feel a nap coming on, and oh, here it comes, the accompanying wave of guilt.

 

No guilt served up here.

 

This is finding time for prayer, the re-mix, the busy mom version.  Here’s the original.

 

The exhausted mom version?  I’ve been there. I’m still there many days. I went to sleep at 8:20 last night. No writing, no reading, no Downton Abbey. My kids are 9,7, and 4 and my 4 year old has nightmares, poor guy.  He cries out from the upstairs hallway and then I’m awake. Yup, that’s when I pray.  Whatever time Xavier has his nightmare is my wakeup call.  Yesterday morning? 2:00 a.m. This morning? 5:20 a.m., much more civilized.

 

OK, I’m up and it’s time for the honest re-mix, the busy mom version.

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We want to steal bits of time, to stay focused among the one hundred emergencies a day.  If anyone asks me what is hardest about being a mom with young ones it’s the emotional swings.  They are skipping with me into a store, each hop going higher and higher throwing their head back with laughter one minute, and utterly dissolved into a puddle of tears, skinned knee the next.  In just one day?  This times fifty = constantly worn out mom.

 

This Christmas was THE FIRST batch of un-burnt cookies. First in nine years. I was so proud. Before there was always an emergency in that crucial 10 minutes, (a fall, a fight over a toy, a “mom! I need toilet paper!”), and I burnt 100’s of cookies before completely giving up the fight. Success 9 years later. Huge unwarranted kudos coming from the family. I’ll take it.

 

We want to hear from God, to have Him empower our work, our motherhood, our marriage, our ministry. Perhaps we want to hear God’s direction for our lives. All of this takes time waiting, which we haven’t got.  Now what?

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Sabbath:

Honestly? Most of my time alone with God for the last 9 years was made possible with a babysitter once a week for six hours.  My sanity depended on it. Any ministry I did depended on it. Often I would go sit at a coffee shop with a book and a far-away look unwinding from the stress of mothering wee ones. I would always start by staring at the wall.  Yup, just staring. I was allowed to stare, no one was pulling at my jeans. Any books I read, journaling I did, praying I enjoyed, happened during that six hour time period.

 

Where did we get the idea that the fourth commandment to take a Sabbath does not apply to moms? The truth is that we are on the job if we are at home. On. The. Job.

 

The story you read this weekend about being refilled by God? It happened on one of these Sabbaths.  I had an amazing babysitter during that time. A few.  They didn’t charge a lot but they loved my kids and they made this weekly Sabbath possible. Thank you Jennifer, Julia and Kim.

 

It seems impossible.  There’s a money hurdle and you don’t know a reasonable babysitter in your area.  Yup, I’m in that position right now. Perhaps you and another mom could switch babysitting for a few hours?  Do you have an aunt or a mom close by? Perhaps your man could give you an evening, or take the kids to Playland on Saturday mornings, leave you home in the delicious quiet?

 

Fast:

Thirsty? Need more time with God? This is where fasting comes in. Fast a favorite evening television show. Fast a girlfriend visit. Exhausted and having a hard time focusing? He understands. Just offer your imperfect time to God.

 

How?

 

Deep breaths. Quiet your heart. Be present with the Lord with a short scripture.  Breathe in: “Be Still and Know that I am God.” Breathe out: Be still and know that I am God.” Use the Jesus Prayer:  “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or for the sake of this particular issue of empowering, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses,” (Acts 1:8). That means you too, sister.

 

Focus:

I couldn’t get away but my inner healing care group was meeting the next day and I needed God’s Presence to show up strong.  I needed more than a good curriculum because He is the only One who truly has the power to heal. Without the Spirit’s power, without Jesus’ authority, without my heart being right before Him, it could be an exercise in frustration instead of another step toward healing.

 

That’s when I lit a candle and had it burning all day right on top of the kitchen table. Every time I saw it, there was a small invitation to pray. It’s just a simple candle in a glass jar but it reminds me that He is present. It reminds me that prayer is like incense rising before His throne.  Sometimes it was a seriously short prayer, imagining Him, the Light of the World, present in the room with us the next day.  Sometimes it was a sentence, “Lord, I need You to burn anything away that might hinder You from working tomorrow.”

 

Worship:

It’s just a song on repeat and I join the worship while I go about my daily chores.  Your Great Name by Natalie Grant. Laura Story’s Mighty to Save. Matt Maher’s Christ is Risen. I might even invite the kids to dance in the kitchen while we pray God’s Kingdom come.

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Fall:

Sometimes when I’m exhausted, I lose all ability to form words. At those moments I can only pray really… simple… prayers. I can only fall on His mercy. This “breath prayer” is from Ron DelBene in a book called, The Breath of Life. It’s perfect for us busy moms.  Simple. Profound. Here it is:

 

We find a moment of quiet before the Lord (nap time? before bed?) and imagine the Lord standing before us, arms outstretched, inviting. He speaks: “What do you most want from me?” Listen for the deep heart’s cry that bubbles to the surface. This, my friend, becomes the simple prayer that you offer.  But, don’t let go of the prayer, allow it to become part of the ongoing conversation between you. Breathe with it. Cry out. Keep it simple: “I am lonely.” “I need true rest.” “I need to know that I am loved unconditionally.” Or like Moses: “God, don’t send me out unless you are going!”  (Exodus 33:15 Summer’s version).

 

Finally, there is grace:

Finally, friends, remember that there is outpourings of grace for us. When I first had Xavier and was overwhelmed with all three, 4 1/2, 2 and 0, I would pick up the phone whenever the stress reached over my eyes.  My mama in her quiet voice would quote Isaiah 40:11, “He gently leads those who are with young.” Gently. He encourages us to be gentle with ourselves as well.  We can live life grace-fueled. No more huge helpings of guilt, only acceptance.

 

Remember that word?  When grace and acceptance and humility intertwines, it’s the quickest way to fall back into His power alone and be filled right back up.

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Thirsty for more?  Let’s go to the well together. Come along for the journey. Put your email in the “Connect” box on the front page and lets pilgrimage together.

Thirsty for more encouragement? Encouragement 101 for you.  Blessings, friend!

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Counting thanks with Ann Voskamp and writing in community with the insightful Laura Boggess:

1. Thank you Jesus for Ann, for her courage, for her obedience in writing…I’m sending her book into dark places and watching them light up bright!

2. Mom and Dad Gross’ encouragement. I was cornered to keep writing, to find more avenues for these words to find a home! Cornered in a good way, of course!

3. Xavier’s love of legos. He builds and I clean and I’m crazy thankful for multi-colored plastic pieces everywhere.

4. After School Kids: Beautiful women giving their time to teach, beautiful friendships started. So thankful.

5. Drinking in beauty at the National Aviary. Drinking in oxygen. Watching my boy’s eyes light up.

6. My brother’s wedding at a chateau in France this August? I’m crazy excited.

7. Aaron and Elodie setting up home this side of the Atlantic. Kissing baby’s cheeks more often.

8. Feeling stilled, thankful, purpose-filled.

9. Salt-tasting at Church of the Incarnation, Strip District. Thank you Dr. Leslie and Fr. Paul for the imagery that will stay with our children forever. My favorite? The Himalayan pink

10. Roast with red wine filling my house with that gorgeous earthy smell all day.

 

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Parenting on Holy Ground

March 1 2012 007

Each one felt like a warm bloody mass of miracle when first placed on my chest all arms and legs and eyes unblinking. Every time.

 

“I have my own baby!” Madeline jumped up and down beside the hospital bed when she first glimpsed Xavier’s swaddled body. She was sure I had birthed him just for her to take home and play baby. I felt the same. I have my own baby. With each one we drove them home just a half mile from the hospital and I walked them room by room introducing them to the yellow cottage, “Here is our living room. We will cuddle on that red couch and we will read books.” “Here is our kitchen where I will cook your meals and we will eat together at this maple table just as my family did.” I would travel around from room to room feeling insanely silly and insanely happy.

Xavier looking

“He settles the barren woman in her home, a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.”  Those words are folded inside Psalm 113:9 and every time I come across them, I recognize my own story.

 

It was going on two years and every month, there it was, the bleeding that signaled we were still very much alone. Doctor after doctor couldn’t tell me why I wasn’t conceiving. Finally they came up with a name: PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. I was only ovulating once every three months, if that. I started making the rounds from doctors to endocrinologists trying on gowns with the open backs in light blues and greys. I remember when she sat down in front of me, the first doctor who looked at me with hope in her eyes. “You are a very lucky woman,” she explained, my chart in her hands. “Now, this was only discovered about five years ago and I just learned about it recently. We found out that a simple diabetes medication will increase how often a woman with PCOS ovulates. Women like you are getting pregnant on this medication all the time.” Eleven months later, I was holding Caedmon, my fragile miracle.

 

muddyHow often do I take them for granted, these vulnerable humans, now stretched longer? Madeline sits on my lap on the couch to watch tv before bed and her legs stretch almost all the way down my legs. We giggle at her feet wiggling, her toes painted sparkly pink, small replicas of mine. I try to remember to daily look into her eyes, put her face in my hands and speak truth, “You, my beloved, are a daughter of the King. You are a princess of the Most High God, fearfully and wonderfully made.” She giggles and looks away. I won’t stop until she believes it, until her identity is etched deeper than the names they will try to throw at her.

 

20120423-210338.jpgMotherhood has not come easily to me. I struggle hard against the domestic life. Keeping a house clean feels like Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill for all eternity, everyday the same impossible task. I don’t even see the mess until the mail is piled high on the sideboard, the grime thick around the stainless steel sink.  Even bonding with my children took conscious, focused work. I had to choose to be a mother.

 

Maddie beachI sometimes joke that motherhood is my school of sanctification. I struggle with tight-fisted selfishness and lose patience during nearly every bedtime routine. But, every once in a while I wake up with clarity, knowing that this is my most important ministry. I love teaching and spiritual direction and writing and hospital visits, but I have a sense that if I am not faithful to these three, just like in 1 Corinthians 13, it will all be for nothing. And so I pray for a big love for three blond kids who are no longer babies, but who still live vulnerable. I pray for a super-human mothering love.

 

What I’ve learned about parenting through this 9 years:

Parent S.L.O.W.

S Speak their identity in Christ, give them the ability to choose the truth.

L Lists are always lower than persons. Hold to-do lists loosely. Fix your priorities.

O Organize ahead of time to avoid living anxious

W Wade into the world of their experience. Choose to be fully Present, walk tenderly. Get down at their level, look into their eyes as they speak.

 

Parent with shoes off. These small ones are the hand-picked creations of God, made in His image for this time and this place. They are princes and princesses of the Kingdom. Shoes off. This is holy ground.

 

Parent knees down, prayerful, humble. Teach repentance by modeling. Our sorry is absolutely essential to their staying healthy.  And how will they learn godly sorrow over their sin if we never show them ours?

 

Parent with the end game in mind. We want to build character. They will learn about their Good Shepherd chiefly from how we treat them now.

April 1 and Holy Week 013

Counting gifts with Ann, sharing with Laura and Jen:

A roaring fire, a cheese plate and a date with my Love

New friends, a board game and seven children draped across couches hugging popcorn bowls

The gift of easy friendship

ASK, Mamas who love their children and give their time once a week to teach them Jesus

Teaching Xavier his letters, his hand over my mouth, feeling the words

Caedmon’s birdfeeder and the running life list

My dad, chief encourager and that lovely call

Receiving bread and wine from their hands

Caedmon’s first reading, Malachi 3 spoken in from the pulpit in a child’s voice

Snow days and sick days that ironed the week out quiet

 

 

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What Nourished (And Wrecked Me) this Week

What nourished and wrecked me this week:

1. Caedmon wanted to eat pizza Sunday night and Madeline wanted to knead it and watch it rise. So this is the pizza we chose and while the recipe encourages the use of a refridgerator pizza dough, in the past we’ve made it both ways.  I’m always looking for flavorful and frugal recipes and this one is Andrew and my favorite: Spinach, bacon and ricotta white pizza. Yum. If you like roasted garlic and bacon, you’ll love this.

2. This week I read this book:

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Ancient Christianity.

 

I honestly couldn’t stop.  I read it in between every crack and crevice I could find.

 

It made me hungry for new stamps in my passport, for chapels full of icons and incense, for silence and humble holy people.  This book reminded me that the church of the West is often adopting capitalism as a virtue and that I am a product of that church.  Which leads me to this next gift:

 

2. Last night I had the gift of an evening of Sabbath. My thoughts were tangled, my patience was short and it had been weeks since I had seen the inside of my own soul…alone. It was time for a Sabbath. Andrew kept the kids and I went out.

 

My Sabbaths usually start with journaling and lots of confession. Last night that took a while. I felt like I had been living through the wilderness temptation…with a toddler running around my legs. Hungry for bread over Bread. Striving to build and rule my own kingdom. Yeah, that.

 

I needed to turn down the volume on the world so I could hear the Voice of God again. In the old days, (and I mean the really old days) that meant leaving the world of rich fat Christendom and holing up in a cave in the desert. While that’s not really an option for a mom, that doesn’t mean I don’t crave a bit of desert. I started hearing one of my favorite texts early in the week, “Therefore I will now allure her into the desert and speak tenderly to her,” (Hosea 2:) This is exactly what my heart craves. No blips or beeps or rings. No full laundry baskets or over-taxed agendas. I need silence to remember what His Voice sounds like again.

 

3. After listening to my sin, this quote from Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul about surrender wrecked me: “We relinquish into God’s hands our imperialist ambitions to be greater and more admired, to be richer and more powerful, to be saintlier and more influential.

Ahhh, imperialist ambitions. So that’s where I’ve been heading…Tower of Babel building.

4. So if my Sabbaths usually begin with confession, they need to end with inspiration.

 

I have to go back into the chaos of motherhood armed with a new perspective.

Last night it was this: 

 

If you’ve never read Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog, read here first:

 

The Day I Stopped Saying “Hurry up.”

 

When Barnes and Noble announced their closing over the loudspeaker, I turned toward home.  After entering a dark house I tiptoed upstairs to the kids’ rooms.  I kissed cheeks, pulled blankets up and whispering to each that they were my treasure.

 

Today Hands Free Mama’s inspiration continued and instead of a painful two hours waiting for Midas to change my flat, the kids and I giggled over madlibs (remember those?) and arrived home full from all the laughter. Instead of spending time, we inched closer to each other. Thanks Rachel and of course, thank you to the God of Sabbath.

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Advent, Day 16: When We Do Too Much

The Advent lectionary and my little Advent series here collided randomly this Sunday in the most satisfying way. Yesterday’s scriptures, “He shall feed his flock” was featured for the Old Testament and then were repeated by Christ to John the Baptist in the gospel and as soon as I sat down in church, a lovely Mezzo-soprano and soprano sang the Messiah scriptures. I sat and bathed.

 

Later the children and I chatted about what we needed to be fed by our Shepherd. We pulled off tags  with words scrawled vertically on a paper in a prayer station, much like you would find at a Laundromat for a dog-sitting service. Simple and uncomplicated. We fingered them in our pockets for the rest of the evening, small kinesthetic prayers.  Xavier picked, “love.” Caedmon picked, “joy.” I chose peace. I desperately need peace from loud and crowding Christmas expectations.

 

I had already held the round see-through wafer in my hand, prayed for more “Jesus,” put the wafer on my tongue to dissolve. I’m always desperately in need of more Jesus.

 

The rest of the aria from the Soprano is what echoed in my mind later, “Come unto me all ye that labour.” It was one of the first arias I was handed in college. I listened but struggled not to breathe with her, mouth every word. Once you’ve sung anything for an audience your muscle memory takes over and the words are not just words, they are words connected to the diaphragm strength it takes to sing those words.

 

This was the phrase that stood out: “Take My yoke upon you and learn of me.”  As I heard the phrase repeated I wondered how many yokes I had taken on this Advent. And whose they were, because they were not His and they should not have been mine.

 

The image being used by Christ here is of an oxen and a double yoke, and the promise that yoked up with the Almighty God in the other half, our assigned work will not strain us out of God-rest.

 

When we do too much, we are slipping out of the yoke, trying to pull in our own strength. We strain hard and soon drop exhausted.

 

I wondered how many other yokes I have picked up, determined that I need to look over each one, ask them whose they are and if it’s time to lay them down. Holley Gerth in this girlfriend-chat of a book, You’re Already Amazing,  (which I love) says there are both talents that we are given and some we are not endowed. On Purpose. God doesn’t want us to try to take over everyone else’s gift. He just wants us to walk forward in ours, with His Almighty empowering fastened securely.

 

This Christmas season I’m giving up perfect.  I’m giving up the fear that my kids won’t have a magical Christmas. I’m giving up the fear that my dear sister-in-law won’t like her gift.

 

I’m giving up the hype. I’m so done with the hype. I just want more Jesus…for all of us.

 

…………………………………………………………………

Perhaps an Advent journal entry or just a simple list in your prayer time:

What yokes have you taken on that may not be yours? Where is the most strain, the least God awareness in your life?

What expectations of the holidays are building up your anxiety?

Perhaps these jobs or expectations need to be reattached to the strength of God,  (I can’t do this in my strength any longer) perhaps they need to be slipped off your neck, given to the antique shop to hang on their crowded wall…

 

We’re on our way, dear friends, there are just a few more turns in the path to the manger.  Come with? Put your email in the CONNECT box and pilgrimage with us. We’re also partnering and working up some lovely treasures for you in the New Year. You don’t want to miss a thing.

linking today with Jen Ferguson with the Soli Deo Gloria sisterhood where she is sharing about a free 30 day book encouraging us to stand with slaves around the world: January is Human Trafficking Awareness month.  Yes. Let’s do this.

 

 

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Advent, Day 14: When We Are Tired of Being the Walking Wounded

Isaiah 35:5&6 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. “Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing …“

This short recitative takes only 20 seconds, but to those who are being healed, these words mean everything.

 

It has been millennia since the pads of His feet walked our earth and we yearn to spin around in recognition of His voice, to memorize the many emotions that pass over His eyes.

 

This Advent I hear the constant refrain: He is coming, dear Friends.  He is coming.

 

And just like the first time, when He comes again, healing will be in His wake.

 

Isaiah 35:5&6 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. “Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing …“

 

And this is where I live. I spent so much of my 38 years hobbling, struggling with anxiety, bowing to fear that I cry out for Jesus’ healing. I crave resurrection.

 

I crave resurrection surging through you.

 

We have been born smack dab in the middle of the resurrection and the coming again, the now and not yet. His resurrection has swept the land with an earthquake of victory, but still we are limping under sin’s long-fraught consequences.  We live begging for Heaven to come down, embrace our children lying wounded.

 

We wish not just for us to go there, but for Him to transform the HERE.  We refuse to believe that God wanted us to live nested into this earth constantly pining for another esoteric place.

 

NT Wright preaches over and over until he is out of breath that we have gotten it all wrong.  We have misunderstood the future reality of Christ’s coming. Heaven will not be somewhere out there, he teaches. Heaven will be God come down, the earth redeemed, the very ground seeped and healed and transformed.  When His Kingdom comes, His will is done, the earth will once more echo with God’s: “It is good.”

 

So we pick up the four corners of the cot of our loved one laced through with cancer and beg for Christ’s healing resurrection presence now.  We unwrap bandages from our still open heart wounds and search for a Healer.

 

I walk the streets of the nearby town of Ambridge and the needs of the people are not secured under a mask as they are here in Sewickley. The prostitute leans into the doorway wearing anger like armor. Men stand in front of a boarded up doorway and yell, try to strike the flame of fear with words thrown.

 

But even with the pools of light spilling out of store windows, He can see clearly through our carefully crusted masks. His perfect eyes see the bleeding truth.

 

This is not what He had in mind when He created each multi-faceted jewel to shimmer upon the earth. The pain, emotional and physical, is like a shroud we wear and we are the walking dead.

 

The good news? Our pain makes Him want to fight. He witnessed the widow weeping, her son on the funeral bier and breathed life back in his lungs. The woman who already had been physically healed, her 12 year bleeding finally clotting after touching His robe? He knew the bleeding was continuing from somewhere else. He shocked the crowd, reached out His hand, tenderly touched the unclean, the untouchable.  When He proclaims her “daughter,” He watches her inner heart heal up strong.

 

My greatest joy is working with dear ones with inner healing prayer. I witness Him transform the traumatized with His Presence, His words, His touch.

 

He wants to see you leaping and laughing, friends, your unbound hands raised praising. He wants to lay hands on your eyes, open to you the full light. In the now. And when He returns, the water of healing will wash over us so that we shine and shimmer in His light once again.

 

Advent spiritual exercise:

Take deep breaths, get quiet. Take Him by the hand and lead Him on a tour of your body, of your heart. Perhaps you need a pen in hand?  Invite the Healer to come to each broken hurting place in this new year.  No more pretending perfect. Invite Him to bring His Kingdom come into the highways and byways of your life. Open the door wide for the Healer to come in.

 And just a note: dear one, please stop trying to go it alone.  Independence is one of the greatest spiritual blocks of our Christian existence.  Seek a safe person to come with you to the Healer.  You don’t have to go it alone.  Feeling isolated and fearful of opening your heart? Perhaps you would let me come with you?  Check out the spiritual direction invitation coming soon here to A THIRST FOR GOD.

We’re almost there, friends. We are traveling to the manger together. Don’t miss a day. Enter your email in the CONNECT button on the front page (I’m fiercely protective of them, don’t worry) and let’s pilgrim together toward Christmas.

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Simple Motherhood: Essential Delight

A Monday morning of unpacking boxes and I was ready for a bowl of miniwheats and The Good Wife.  Rain pattered heavy on the windows and I needed to catch my breath.  Alicia, played by Juliana Marguiles and her mother played by actress Stockard Channing, met over nachos and cocktails and I guess the alcohol started flowing heavy because so did their conversation.  “Mom, I don’t think you ever liked me when I was little,” Alicia says staring candidly at her mother. “You never did anything with me that you didn’t HAVE to do.”

It was just two sentences and honestly I don’t remember the mom’s answer but only how devastating it would be to believe your mom puts up with you, provides for you, perhaps even loves you, but doesn’t truly LIKE you.

 

Cereal bowl empty, I turned off the tv but the words kept echoing.

 

Here’s the truth of it. I have a pretty amazing drill sergeant act.  It’s how I keep little people in line, but in the midst of my carting them from place to place, do they know that I enjoy them? I fear my easy temper and impatience provides them with their answer.

Xavier takes the brunt of it. He gets aggressive and I get more stern and we have a way of baiting each other that leads to tantrums…for both of us.

 

I picked Xavier up from preschool with a new intention to “like” my son…to make sure he knew I “like” him. I got down on my knees, looking into his eyes as I helped him with his backpack. My hands slowed down in respect, my voice softened. I want you to know I like you little man, I was thinking as I held his hand and slowed my steps.  I want to know I like you, I repeated internally as I stopped my forever list of chores and played Trouble with him on the kitchen floor.  Xavier did a victory lap around the kitchen table and I stood back and clapped.

Summer Gross

How do you show that you take delight in your family members?

 

 

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For When I’m Struggling with Selfishness: Honoring Mothers

At the same time that I am emptying boxes here in Sewickley, PA, attempting to build a home, on Saturday I helped to tear one down: Andrew’s Grandmother’s. I emptied drawers of tatting threads, carried shelves out to waiting vans and wandered around the garage filled with the overflow of a life.

 

 

She had moved into the ranch house with the gold couch, and the blue and yellow patterned carpet on the kitchen floor the year I was born, 1975.  This was the house where she threw flour on the counter and rolled out countless pie shells.  It was here that she wrapped Christmas presents late for four children who posed for pictures on the stairwell, the oldest holding a candle.  And here she yearly cooked turkeys for children and then grandchildren and then greats and sprinkled cinnamon on her famous orange crescent rolls that never made it to the leftover table.  Here she leaned over missionary cards at the wooden kitchen table and prayed for people she would never meet.

 

It is the daily commitment of one woman to build a home and be priest for a small congregation.

 

So Saturday, Grandma Shellhaas, now without dear Grandpa, moved into assisted living and watched her children carry in old furniture and try to fit it into her new life.  I watched her walk around the fresh clean rooms mumbling,“It all looks so strange.”

 

It’s stuff, but it’s not stuff when you have welcomed 100 people to sit on that chair and chat with a glass of lemonade.

 

It’s stuff but it’s not stuff when you have served 100 Sunday roasts on that table and heard right there with a cry of joy and arms spread out that you are going to be a grandmother again.

 

A home after 38 years (yup, that’s how old I am folks,) is full of years and love and decoupaged stories one on top of the other.

 

She built that home and courageously did the hard work of one faithful day upon another and tonight I honor her and the others who build walls around a family.

 

It wasn’t always so, and I’m embarrassed to admit that.  I drank the kool-aid of generations of feminists and spent a decade recovering from the food poisoning. Through my eyes mountains of laundry and grocery lists were interpreted as a missed life.

 

My greatest sadness? I clearly remember one morning mom had come to visit me in seminary and instead of honoring the courage and commitment to build strong children, I spewed my own fear, that my life wouldn’t have purpose, asked her why she had spent all her days building our lives and not her own.  I mistook faithfulness for hiding. And now, with the banging of three pairs of feet chasing through my own house, I’m sick at how I could exchange such grace with my own anger.

 

And what was is it that I feared?  I feared diminishment.  I feared the death of a self-important future.

 

When I brought home my first swaddled little creature, I needed the power of God to turn my narcissistic eyes away from my own self-ambition.

 

That first mother-child bond…I had to pray for it…get on my knees for the desire to mother.  And our faithful God?

 

He forgave, healed, transfigured, resurrected.

 

A bond was forged as I massaged his skinny little arms with apricot oil.  I learned to love with both of us cuddled close with his father, Caedmon on the left side of Andrew’s great chest, myself on the right.

 

But selfishness is shot through my blood stream and there are days I struggle to not turn inward, to pay attention to the needs of four other lives.

 

So tonight I honor the simple hard work of each woman around the world who attempts to build a life within four walls…

 

I honor each woman who invites Love to walk her halls,

 

each woman who faithfully sweeps her home with prayers,

each who creates beauty on the mantle and another nourishing meal

who struggles through the years to make a soft bed for her marriage, pulling clean sheets over their years.

I honor our grandmas and our mothers who showed up each morning to do the hard work and tucked us in every night.

Mother Teresa, when asked what we could do to encourage world peace merely replied, “Go home and love your family.”

And this is what Grandma did so simply, so profoundly and as I clean out the drawers of her craft dresser, this is what I am thinking about…

and Grandma, I pray that when the stories are retold someday this will have been my greatest achievement as well.

Summer Gross

And you, friend, what nuggets have you learned from your Grandma?

linking with the lovely and always honest Emily Wierenga here:

and with Jennifer Dukes Lee, wordsmith and patron saint to writers everywhere:

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