Day 21: Self-Acceptance and the Mysteries of Grief

The last few months I have been living the stages of grief, swerving from anger to depression and back again, barely catching my breath. I only momentarily live in the broad open spaces of acceptance before being pulled back into the vortex.  Grieving is exhausting and messy and triggers other places of deep brokenness yelling, “aha, and you thought you were more together, more healed!”

 

Yesterday I found THIS BOOK and through the lovely, authentic writing of Leanna Tankersley began to remember the deep, velvet gift of self-acceptance. Crazy that last January I would know that self-acceptance would be this year’s key…and crazy that by December and through one more move I would completely forget.

 

 

Self-Acceptance is nothing fancy, it’s just finding yourself on an emotional map and looking and saying, “Yup, that’s where I am…and Yup, I’m not sure where to go from here” and then just sitting down in grace.

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Sunday I cried through the entire church service like a crazy woman. Andrew had to go in search of tissues I was such a blubbering mess. He came back with 10. I used them all and then left during the exchange of peace to go out in search of more.  Later we escaped through a back door because once again, I couldn’t stop the tears.

 

Before the escape, I lay my head down in front of a small side altar and just looked at the crucifix there. I gazed at He who gave up and kept giving up until there was nothing left to give up. We stared at each other for a while…and then I kept on weeping.

 

Today? The opposite. No weeping. Stillness. Even a small lovely ounce of Anticipation. This is the serious crazy of grief, wide pendulum swings of emotion catching you by surprise.

 

Things I have learned through this season:

 

1. Grieving is circular. It doesn’t get wrapped up tight in 31 days…or 40 days.  Just the idea that I tried to will myself towards 31 days to rootedness makes me feel nauseated now.

 

2. Nourishment is essential. I need serious amounts of Jesus to make it through. My sweet priest friend, Carrie Klukas put me onto this one. Sometimes it takes 10 chapters of the Word to come right through the smothering tunnel to the light. Sometimes tapas meals of scripture just doesn’t cut it. There are seasons of malnourishment where we will need long slow feasts.

 

3. The senses are like a valve for deep emotion to pass through. Music, beauty, art, love-making. They are all triggers.

 

4. People who haven’t gone through this process of moving, loving and leaving, over and over just plain forget. It’s like the forgetfulness of a young mom who just through labor looks in her husband’s eyes and asks for another one.  My favorite question: “So, how are you getting settled?” I just don’t know what to say.

 

5. Grieving just means there was something lost which was of great worth. The truth is that I wouldn’t be grieving so deeply if I hadn’t been given the privilege of loving so deeply. When we do the work to move past the masks to the beautiful, soft underneath with people, we fall in love hard.  Hard.  The loss then becomes more of an excruciating tear. Jagged. Nothing clean about it.

 

But tonight I had to share because for the first time in this crazy ride, I’m realizing that this too is the gift. We give ourselves. We love hard. We choose a wide “yes” over the easy, tightfisted no.

 

We are ushered into the holy of holies with the image of God written all over the dna of a human being and we are hushed into silence. We take off our shoes and share bits of the real over cheddar biscuits at a table at Red Lobster, over a candle flaming in a small prayer room, over a conference table cluttered with thick binders where together we have been seeking wholeness.

 

So maybe this season of brokenness is inevitable after imbibing so much joy and knowing that the well…that particular well…can no longer be reached.

 

And this is perhaps our only taste of the cross following life…of stretching our arms to purposefully love in spite of knowing we are all walking slowly towards another loss.

 

So, here’s to being truthful with our stuff,

to the unexpected surge of anticipation which trusts that empty arms will someday be filled again,

to self-acceptance being the path to wide open spaces,

…and knowing that through Christ, resurrection always follows the cross.

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Prayers Watered, Answered, Savored

Dear friends we are in the process of scrubbing our house for renters and interviewing at a new parish but even in chaos I still need to take up this journal and write words, black on white to make sense of my life.  Thank you for being here, for being patient through this journey and for praying for us through this transition.

For Linda and Roy

 

We schlepped the card table and four chairs down the wooden stairs at Oval beach to the water’s edge, spread the Indian cloth, set out four goblets and the Italian picnic: a loaf of Como, Pesto to spread, cheeses, salami and cherry tomatoes.  Later I we glopped nutella  on paper plates and ran strawberries through the small mound.  The four of us indulged as if we were Dickens characters starved for the feast of life.

 

It was my birthday dinner and this year May 1st still came on the calendar, even when I’m wrung out.  I am full-on grieving the losses of a quaint town, an amazing church, (the beach where we camp out all summer) and a long string of friendships dug deep.

 

I was hungry for beauty because beauty heals.

 

And this year, this night, these two friends were my gift and our celebration of shared life these last four years.  My husband and I have glimpsed the faithful, intentional life lived long and the joy of simple, quality living.  Roy has been Andrew’s fishing buddy and together they memorized the last lines of TS Elliot’s Little Gidding.  Linda has been my writing/soul friend and she was quite simply the embodiment of hundreds of flung out prayers.

 

It was one of those prayers I started praying from desperation.  You know the kind.  A prayer that you can’t imagine could be answered but that your heart can’t stop whispering: “God please send me a writing friend.”

 

Sitting in creative writing classes at Asbury College, I thrived on the critique of Dr. Devon Brown and a class full of word smiths.  Together we unlocked the puzzles of interwoven words.  Seminary too I luxuriated in classes of students who pushed me and professors who opened their treasure chest of knowledge and I ran my fingers through down the luminous strings of tightly-bound wisdom.

 

After seminary, we moved to the shores of Lake Michigan, a sandy paradise, but an hour from any large town, had babies and was no longer portable.  I felt a bit, well, stuck.  I learned to sit still.  I learned to be needy and to pray.  I learned that God loves to answer be the Giver, the Source.

 

That’s when I learned to pray seed prayers, drop the need before God and water them liberally with prayers, patience, and time.  Nine months later I met Linda.

 

Linda, with starched white shirt and big, colorful earrings, walked  into my Tuesday night Bible study and began dropping those wise words strung together and I recognized her, a writer.  She slowly opened her heart and mentored me with enough vulnerability which became an invitation to friendship.  She was a writer who had been there and back, publishing books along the way and learning to fight for her daily art.  She was thirty years my senior but quickly became my best friend.

 

At first we would get together once a month just to talk about writing, and the creative life free of the guilt of production.  I was big and uncomfortably pregnant and she invited me to sink into a comfortable chair, luring me with cups of hot tea in a tea cup.  She pointed out the swans in the pond across the street as I sat on her screened-in porch and enjoyed the breeze coming straight through from the apple orchards across the yard.  We had an easy friendship, tossing around books and quotes and encouraging simple steps of creativity.

 

One of her great gifts to me?  This guilt-banishing wisdom: Summer, don’t worry.  When you are not writing, you are writing your life and it will seep out onto the page when you least expect it.

 

This was my luminous birthday gift, sitting toes in the sand for hours side by side with this God-given friend.  We gulped up warm sun and chatted easily, as we always do, of glimpses of God.

 

We celebrated His resurrection appearances in our ordinary lives and watched as answered prayer once again unfolded into joy, light shot through our grief-filled lives.

Picture found here.

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Getting our Grooves on Every Wednesday Morning

We swing our hips, the coins sewn to our hip scarves jingle and we are transported.  And how we crave our weekly passport stamped!  We are living in a Western Michigan Winter.  The frigid cold has taken over our sweet little lakeside town and we wrap ourselves tight against the fierce wind putting our heads down as we travel from warm house to cold car to WalMart and back again.  Our world has shrunk, the grey clouds hang low heavy with snow and our skin, every inch covered, hungers for sunshine.

 

We are the 9am Zumba class at the Shoreline wellness center.  Six generations of women smiling, shaking, shuffling, sweating, bopping and sometimes busting out laughing into a dance room mirror.  We play dress up putting on colorful scarves and sounding like a troupe of gypsies ready for a performance.  Our resident male, very cooly plays hollow sounding sticks, keeping us on rhythm.  And how we truly need the help!  The dark days of winter have slowed down our cycles, and all we want to do is crawl under electric blankets and hibernate.

 

We are short women, tall graceful women and everything in between packed with color and getting our grooves on to the sound of warmer climes.  Most of the time we glue our eyes on our fearless leader, edging us over country border lines but sometimes, just sometimes, a woman finds her eyes closed and lost in the steel drum beat gets carried off in her own imagination and we all nod having been to that same locale.

 

Bollywood and hip-hop and salsa compel us to move in ways my strict Christian School upbringing would not have approved.  Prom at my high school included a “Grand March,” no jazz or techno beats to get endorphins surging.

 

The Latin beats take me back to the park in Dominican Republic where I was taught to Meringa with a class of children in uniforms after a long day at a Medical clinic with my dad.  Or the time when I was 15,a nurse from our medical mission trip held my hand and two Ecuadorian guys led us deep into Rio Bamba to a pulsing bar to teach us salsa.  Every once in a while one of my middle eastern belly dance jiggles comes out on the kitchen floor before dinner and my husband, Andrew, raises his eyebrows and grins wryly.  Straight faced, I honestly say, “honey, I’m working on my abs.”

 

They remind me of that bachelorette party last summer here and Maya Angelou’s story of women overcoming female competition and learning to celebrate the womanhood of each in the driving drumbeat one hot evening in Egypt.

 

I love these women, courageous and unassuming, unique and beautiful… and never taking themselves too seriously. One wears crazy tights and another a sequin dress and we are allowed to bring our full person-hood out on this dance floor where we are never judged, black biking shorts and all.  I love their bold moves and the laughter between songs and imagine that Jesus adores watching their peppery personalities come out in a celebration of joy, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9am.

Summer Gross

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Where I Learned How to do Friendship

I haven’t always been good at friendships.  I decided early on books were easier to get along with.

And if you don’t live with grace for yourself, it is impossible to offer it to someone else.

And she is still the one who is teaching me how.

 

She was the friend my mom and I knelt down on the pink pile carpet for.  Fifteen years old and I believed I was some sort of reincarnation of Anne of Green Gables.  She had golden curls and lived in a storybook brick farmhouse with birds carved into the upper hall cupboards.  But her greatest gift to me?  Seering honesty.

 

And so began years full of picnics and high teas, daring each other to splash into fountains, dresses pulled high. We discovered secret streams, watching the crawdads scramble, meandered through antique shops in search of tea cups and scheduled sleepovers where we pulled back our bandaids to show our wounds.

 

Through college, our friendship provided the laboratory where we struggled both together and against each other to become persons.

 

When we were 16, we reverently folded open the 1992 Teen Missions poster, smoothed out the wrinkles and poured over exotic adventures: an orphanage in Nepal, a riverboat trip through the canals of England, building schools in the desert of Egypt.

 

We dared each other to run hard after God.

 

That summer, after raising our funds, she went to Romania to build churches and I went to Albania to mortar a brick wall around an orphanage.  The God-following adventure never ended and I became an Anglican pastor and she has for the last 15 years served youth on air-force bases in Italy, spreading picnics for hundreds and daring them to lift their faces up to the Holy.

 

But she has been the one to garden this friendship, tending it with postcards and crossing long distances to hear my ordinary stories, weeding through my years of neglect.

And this has been the quiet lesson: in a facebook world full of virtual friends, the bloom of real friendship requires intentional faithfulness.

 

Keep showing up to us, she has taught me, even when the connection wears thin.

 

Tonight I miss her.  She pulled up to the little yellow cottage last week Wednesday and I opened wide the door of my life to give her a taste of the glory that is a Michigan lake-town in early summer.

 

I slowly unwrapped my treasures:

 

A long walk beside the Lake, the sun reflecting in a long ribbon across the water,

 

sesame seed crusted French toast battered with rich custard,

 

Saugatuck’s charm-packed downtown and taste-testing a white peach balsamic vinegar that coats the mouth in sweetness,

 

Italian picnic of baguette and pesto and salami on the sailboat slow at 2 knots,

 

and a dance party with the children to “Save the Last Dance for Me” as we motored past the lighthouse, crowds waiting for the last glimpse of the melting sun.

 

Joy, honesty, and more joy spilled easily from a friendship where both are becoming Velveteen Rabbit real.

 

And the gift of showing up for the last twenty years surprised us with the depth of a complicated aged wine, a wine we never would have sipped without the slow work of  faithfulness.

 

by Summer Gross

Today I’m sharing with Laura and and L.L. Barkat and Ann:
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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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Welcome!

I’m pulling out a chair dear weary, thirsty friend.  Come sit down and enjoy the view over the hills.  Doesn’t it make you want to sit, put up your feet, pull out your glass for cold water, maybe a sip of warming wine?  God has put more than enough of what you need on His table and is always inviting, “Come, dear one, sit down, whatever you need, it’s on the table.”

My (Summer’s) mother-in-law graciously loves people through food, chocolate cake to be exact, piled with dark fudgy chocolate icing 1/2 inch thick.  Like an Italian mama, she invites her loved ones to another big rich square.

This, my friend, is our way of loving you, big piles of words, prayerfully crafted because we hope that just maybe you will want to sit down for a bit of refreshment…getting more than joy, way, way way more than religion, we hope we can point you directly to Jesus who spreads a table before you.  And we know that once a week on Sunday is just not enough.

We will pass around more Word, invite each other to the Source, the headwaters, Jesus Himself.  He never runs dry.  Never.

Are you Thirsty?

 

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