Speak your Servant is Listening *SLOW Word video*

{Every Monday and Thursday find a SLOW Word Lectio Divina right here. Now they’re streamlined. Shorter. A little less talk and a fast track to the Word. That’s why we’re here, right? Forget the toast. We’re hungry for the feast. If you’d like to receive these SLOW Word Lectios by email, subscribe on the right. I’m so glad you’re here. It’s such a privilege to come into the Presence together.}

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I’m still sitting in my chair by the fire. The kids are in bed but bedtime snack dishes with the sleepytime tea, the honey bear, and the graham crackers are still strewn across the table.

 

Isaiah 43:1-2 is singing a tune I can’t identify. The phrase, “they will not sweep over you,” surprised me. Have you ever listened to a lectio divina and thought you knew where the Spirit was going to lead you and then you land in an unfamiliar section of your little town?

 

“And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”

 

Last summer we took a backpacking trip through a corner of the Cohutta mountains of Northern GA. This fall there were fires there. I wonder what it looks like now. Our 3 mile trek in was idyllic with white rhododendron’s spilling onto the trail. We staked our tents next to a river and slept deep until the thunder and cracks of lightning and the pouring rain. The boys found themselves sleeping or not sleeping in a puddle. We were up early, drying out, and huddling around our tiny backpacking stove as it boiled water for our hot chocolate and oatmeal. It was summer in GA and so the discomfort didn’t last more than an hour and the children were soon fishing on a large rock in the middle of the river. The river was swollen when we hiked that afternoon and we had to cross it four times. Our feet slipped on the stones as we dipped up to our waist and tried to help the children to land. Andrew’s a natural. He does this for fun. I was meant to be a land animal.

As I sat with these words from Isaiah 43, “they will not sweep over you,” and this was the story that came to mind. I was struggling to cross the river. Overwhelmed. A little frightened. I was wishing I had a cord, a rope, a hand, something to hold onto. “I will be with you.” I listen. That’s definitely a part of the answer.

 

I think about how overwhelmed I get by the chaos of a daily household. I think about being a single parent when Andrew’s travels oversees and how life falls heavily right here…in my lap.

 

Another story comes into memory, a labyrinth walk this last December. I walked the large canvas labyrinth with a sense of Presence, of holding onto Christ’s hands. He was leading though turned towards me. I sensed His graciousness with my tiredness. I stopped on most turns to rest, for a breath, to enjoy the quiet. I learned to stop in the present moment, not to race, not to demand, not to push through. So much of my learning to rest comes with this verse, “He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14). There’s so much grace in those words, so much understanding. He knows I’m human and He holds out His hands. I can trust those hands. I can trust the pace.

 

I still don’t know where this is headed. Not really. I’m sitting with the question, a puzzle that’s spread all over the card table with colors fanned across and no larger picture. But I sense something here. I sense the call to hold these words. I sense the call to carry the words into tomorrow, through the next turn.

 

I don’t know the answer, not yet, but now I’m listening to whispers which sound like hope.

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Advent, Day 12: When We Search for Peace

Can we talk about how effortlessly rich Kathleen Battle’s voice is? Hands down my favorite soprano of all time.

 

“The peace of the Lord be with you.” We greet, shake hands, smile into the eyes of strangers and mumble the words.

 

But peace, my friends, is something tangible. It is as real as a blanket of snow falling.

 

When Jesus sent out his disciples two by two he armed them with authority to bring His kingdom life to them. He instructed them with this: “whatever town you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave, As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you,” (Mt 10:11-13).

 

In our Messiah lectionary we discover the King riding in on a donkey, not a war horse. Handel is pointing to prophecy that was fulfilled with His triumphal entry. Palm Sunday. Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates Zechariah 9:9-12 in the Message:

 

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion!

Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming!

a good king who makes all things right,

a humble king riding a donkey,

a mere colt of a donkey. I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim,

no more war horses in Jerusalem,

no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. He will offer peace to the nations,

a peaceful rule worldwide,

from the four winds to the seven seas.”

 

Those leaning in close to Zechariah’s poetry have been pummeled by war. They have been tossed between Babylon, Persia and various little superpowers, bruised and abused.  Not only are they feeling powerless, they are despairing. They haven’t seen anything that resembles normal Jewish life in generations and the stories of God’s glory are starting to be snuffed by time. What do they need? A Conqueror. But, here comes the Promised One and He shocks them.

 

He comes riding on a donkey.

 

They may be begging for someone to shake down the stones of their enemies, but here the Messiah comes riding without a sword to draw.

 

Donkey riding is for peace-makers, not warriors.  There’s no white steed here. But here’s the real shocking difference, He comes not just for them. He comes spreading peace in His wake around the world.

 

This peace is not something the Israelites will bottle up, hold close, treasure in their Temple. This peace is a gift spread round the world, across Alps and penetrating the steep valleys of Papua. No corner of life will be untouched.

 

And this is our hope. “Peace be still,” He declared to the wind and the waves and this Advent I have waves that are white and cresting.

 

The wind and the waves obey and so will our chaotic hearts. And this, my friends, is worth great rejoicing.

 

But perhaps it is the rejoicing that will pave a way for the promised One to come. Perhaps the joy spoken out loud opens the door.

 

We rejoice and His Kingdom will spread like a snapped opened sheet to all corners of the earth. And peace will fall heavy on our laps, on our hearts, penetrate every corner of our streets, our homes.  Because it is a substance. It is not just the absence of something like war or anxiety, it is His Presence come in the front door and taking up residence.

 

When we search for peace, we find Him.

 

 

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” CS Lewis

 

We’re on our way to the manger, journeying together. Come on the pilgrimage with us? Slip your email into the CONNECT box on the front page and let’s rejoice in His coming together.

 

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Advent, Day 9: When You Need to Hold Onto Hope

Isaiah 9:2, 6 “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined!  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”

We passed him around from person to person, lifted up dimpled fingers, smiled into his always quizzical eyes. I did that bouncy swingy thing I always do with babies to help them settle down.

 

She was still there, her body now quiet. No more strain or the gasping of breath. She lay still on the sterile nursing home bed with its white waffle pattern blanket. No longer there.

 

My sister, dad, mom, brother, his wife Elodie and their infant son surrounded her bed. I came into the room after a short nap at a hotel close to the nursing home. Grieving makes you bone-tired. Mom met me at the door with a simple: “She’s gone.”

 

Our beautiful Nona had just died and many of them had just arrived from an 8 hour drive across Pennsylvania just in time to see her last labored breaths, her searching into their eyes, her mouthing the Lord’s Prayer with them.

 

When the weeping stilled we began looking around, intuitively searching for joy.

 

Sweet baby sounds turned our heads. We started passing him around, nuzzling his neck, looking into his eyes, smelling the warm baby smell on the top of his head. We spoke low, quieting him like she had us.

 

This precious baby, he was not just theirs, my brother’s, Elodie’s. He was ours.

 

We were taking deep breaths of our future, deep gulps of hope.

 

And this one? This Jesus?

 

He is Hope incarnate…

 

born for all of us, for you, for me. The hope of our future.

 

You dear friend, maybe you are grieving like us. A dream cut short, a love passed away, a waiting stretched out into the new year.

 

Come. Let’s crawl up to the holy together, kneel at the manger.

 

Grasp the rough wood sides.

 

Take a deep breath of the sweet scent of hay.

 

Watch the rise and fall of his chest,

 

his small nostrils flare gently with each breath.

 

Listen to his sucking sounds.

 

His eyes open slowly

 

and we ask permission to pick Him up.

 

He fits small in our crossed arms, our open hands.

 

We brush lips against the smooth of his cheek

 

smell the just cleaned off new life,

 

wonder into His ancient eyes.

 

This perfect little package is our future. We slide hands over smooth swaddling.

 

This is Love with skin on.

 

Here in this tiny wrapped up package is Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

Hope has come.

 

Hope will come again.

 

Don’t miss the gift of joy here:

 

The photo is from Deb Howard Photography. She has a lens through which she discovers little bits of Advent poetry.

 

Thank you for the gift of your reading, your listening, your journeying with us. You are a gift. Don’t miss a post as we pass the halfway mark of Advent. Slip your email quietly into the CONNECT box on the front page and we will make this pilgrimage together.

If you’ve missed a post, the box top left will help you catch up. Blessings, my friend. I’m praying for you.

 

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Advent Day 3: Hunger for Christ’s Return

On the day He returns, rocks will prostrate, valleys rise up to meet His feet, and Alpine peaks bow down. The landscape will heal and surge and a highway will roll out a red carpet. The Savior will set the pads of his feet on our thirsty land once again.

 

And it can’t come soon enough.

 

When Eve grasped her own mistaken “wisdom,” she took a great big bite of abused freedom.  With that one bite she chose a twisted existence for the slowly turning earth.

 

Free-will spilled out a cursed libation into the garden and the ground drank it up deep, choked and absorbed death.

 

The earth tells of the glory of God, yes, but it also speaks in the dark tones of death.  The recent Typhoon that smacked against the Philippines is just one such example.

 

When Christ pads his feet upon the earth again, the Kingdom of God will spread slowly over the earth. CS Lewis gives us an example of Christ’s second coming in Aslan returning to Narnia: “When Aslan Bears his teeth winter meets its death. When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

 

In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, winter melts and spring flowers bloom all in obedience to Love walking the earth.

 

And this is what I am watching the horizon for.

We’ve been in Winter so long we’ve started blaming the King for the curse.

 

Confusion rifles deep and the church has twisted theology for so long the thirsty can’t find water.

 

God doesn’t create earthquakes, will cancer or lay down and accept death as a part of life.  God has three enemies: sin, death and the devil.

 

It’s the classic problem of evil. How do we have a good God side by side with a sin-drenched, corroded world? The church is not doing anyone any favors (especially the confused peering in the door), pretending like the enemies of God are a gift.

 

After wrestling for years with anger from an innocence taken away too young I am quick to clarify this theology.  I do not believe this abuse came from God. He never wills or ordains or “allows” evil…oh no…but He can redeem it.

 

We are free to get angry at the effects of sin, weep over the chained people, the full casket. Reviled, we can stare the curse in the face and beg Him to… come…back.

 

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

Yet even now we are not left orphans, hopeless.

 

Redemption is coming and spring spreads backwards from the resurrection. We are living in the now and the not yet, the here and the soon coming. Victory has conquered Evil at the cross, and soon our God will assign it to its own annihilation.

 

Soon the Kingdom will spread, seep down deep into the ground and then in worship the very earth will rise up, the crooked will straighten and the crests bow down ready to receive its King’s victorious procession.

 

And now I lift up my heart, my crooked paths, the sin-drenched rocky ground deep within and beg Him to come this Christmas to redeem my ground.  Come Lord Jesus and start here.

 

I stand up, stretch out my hand, look firm into the darkness and proclaim:

 

Every Valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain.
(Isaiah 40:1-4)

 

This aria sung by Richard Croft from Handel’s Messiah is a fascinating dramatic illustration of this Scripture. Don’t turn away too soon or you’ll miss the gift.

Dear friend, journey with us? Together lets come to the well and drink of Scripture, Handel’s soaring melodies and Deb Howard’s photography. (Yes, that’s my beautiful sister- in- law on her front page!) We are on a pilgrimage to the manger. Don’t miss a turn on the road. Slip your email into the CONNECT box (btw, I would never allow anyone else to gain access to your personal email address) on the front page here at A Thirst for God and it will appear fresh each morning.

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How to Have Confidence in Times of Change

Hi friends, I’ve missed you …but have been desperate for hours of filling up…more of Jesus.  My blog is empty but my spirit is slowly filling up.  Now it’s 3:30am and Xavier just had a nightmare and I am up with the early warblers…up with you because I have a story to tell, a story I will need to remember.

 

The holy oil seeped into the sidewalk quickly, spreading out from the shards of glass, sending up a scent of lilies.

 

I had been juggling again.

 

In my arms I carried a stack: a purse, a gallon-sized bag of tiny legos, a small Book of Common Prayer with my name in bronze across the front, and this small brown vial with a green top.  I watched helplessly as the jar slipped off the lego bag and bounced, shattering on concrete.

 

I leaned over the shards. They don’t tell you what to do at moments like this in seminary.

 

I placed my hands down in the oil, rubbing my hands together, sliding it around my fingers and the backs of my hands as if it was lotion.  Oil slid over the leather of the steering wheel as I drove us to the nursing home.  After our visit, Xavier playing legos on the floor, I form a cross on Mary Reames forehead, my fingers still slick with oil.  She looks up after the prayer with a smile of childish acceptance as I say, “You are marked as Christ’s own forever.”

 

Later, I walked in and out all day from my white concrete steps across the stain, through the perfume, to the minivan to pick up kids from school, to go to Walgreens, to the trashcan and back, inhaling in and out the cloud of Presence.

 

The oil had seeped into our soil and God was at work HERE on our 1/4 acre.  And maybe, just maybe, the oil drunk deep would bring His blessing. Hope rose unexpected. I shook my head at the superstitiousness.

 

Because yes, I know.  God is faithful with or without holy oil, with or without physical signs.  But, sometimes, don’t we need the stain, the continual awareness of God’s Presence in the midst of the daily doubts?

 

Today, it is me who holds out my hands for the miracle, who rubs in the Presence.

 

He knows that we are human, that we sometimes we need to hold stuff, physical reminders of His Presence, His grace, His faithfulness.

 

My Grandfather Farrington gripped his Bible firm as he slipped into death.  My uncle watched his fingers curl over the black leather, took a picture.

 

Sometimes, like Thomas, I need to hold truth, not just in my mind, but in my hands. I need physical signs that He, Creator and Redeemer is at work on the scaffolding of our future.

 

I for a full day last week, I held grace in two hands, inhaled hope.  And I recognized that the fear, held onto so tightly last week, the fear I had begged for God to take, had finally broken open.

 

Sunday night we took a drive along the lakeshore in and out of neighborhoods, watching the sun set over the water, listening to this amazing worship music, the children lulled to sleep in the backseats by the chill celtic sound.

 

We parked the minivan in front of South Haven’s lighthouse to savor the last blush and this hymn washed over us with its pipes and fiddle and renewed clarity:

Be still, my soul,
The Lord is on your side.
Bear patiently, the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God, to order and provide.
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul,
Your best your heavenly friend,
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul,
Your God will undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul,
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he lived below.

 

And ahhh, this is what God was whispering with the lily scent: I will guide the future as I have the past. Have confidence, dear one.  I’ve got this.

Summer Gross

 

 

 

 

 

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When We Need Hope For the Hard Road

Promises are strewn throughout the Bible like buried jewels.

 

Built on the scaffolding of God’s character, these promises prove firm… sure… trustworthy.  Something you can build a life on.  I mine them in the early morning hours, searching for hope.

 

This gem sparkled this morning from our lectionary:

Philippians 1:6  [I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

Standing tall at the wooden lectern, Ian Attila slowed down his reading and looked over the congregation as he read that promise.  I raised my eyes from the metal side chairs.

 

Hope glimmered and I caught it.

 

Paul’s secretary scratched those words of hope into parchment thousands of years ago and it was copied from one text to another until it was proclaimed over us, the Body gathered, today. Promises lighting hope into our everyday lives like the Advent candles bouncing light over Baseline Middle school auditorium.

 

I needed that hope.  His work is not done and He will never give up on me.  Promises declare hope and hope gleams like the light at the top of our red lighthouse on a clear night, a light we followed this summer back into the harbor catching our breath after a good sail.

 

As a priest, I’ve learned to be a follower.

I follow Andrew, my husband, my 19 year love, my boss.

I follow behind the red gospel book lifted high.

And I follow behind the cross.

 

The brass celtic cross is grasped every sunday by Mark Lewis in his long white alb and is carried forward toward the altar, a military drum beat pounded by Andrew Sicard to O Come O Come Emmanuel and I follow, eyes locked on that cross.  I’m being trained every sunday so I can follow it anywhere.   One thing I’ve learned?  Following the cross is pure obedience.

 

Behind that cross, I am no longer in control.

 

Our three blond headed kids fill up the processional with us, carrying the gospel, the Advent torch. And one sunday when Mark was pursuing the finish line at the end of another 28.2 miles, I had the privilege of carrying the cross, inviting my large-eyed Madeline to grasp its long wooden handle.  Involuntarily, I flinched.  Two hands on that wooden cross and we have lost control, little one.  We are now followers and pursuing a zigzagging comfort-filled route is no longer an option. (Yes, I know, praise the Lord, right?) But, are you ready, little one?  Sometimes following is a joy, lately I’ve had little notes from everywhere to keep following my dreams, persevering into writing.  But, sometimes the course winds through the valley, chilly in that shadow.

 

Life, true life is on the other side of that cross, but following can never be called easy. (Christ, have mercy.)  It means learning the hard work of dumping our baggage, learning to chase after God weight-free. We follow, eyes wide open, locked hard.

 

The gift for every follower, everyone who grasps that cross?  Jesus walks beside us.

 

And He knows where the cross is headed.

 

This last week I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary’s “yes” to God and Elizabeth’s statement in Luke 1:45, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord had promised would be accomplished.”

And with that “yes” Mary became a follower, moving slowly toward the cross, a gem collector on the way.  She gathered and pondered and treasured the promises.  And I imagine she would take them out turning them over in her hand, watching them glimmer in the candle light when it started to grow dark.

Summer Gross

What promises have you collected on the way, that build hope in the darkness?  I invite you to please share and write them in the comment section.

I’m joining Ann Voskamp and so thankful to be counting, still counting the simple and profound gifts He is always sending:

1. A drum beat to follow this Advent.  Thank You for Andrew Sicard.

2. Clumps of snow drifing down.  “Is that snow, Mom? It must be Christmas.”

3. Beautiful friends who open wide their lives so we can mourn together…

4. In the catacombs of a prayer clinic, the nativity throwing light up onto the street.

5. Christmas gifts hidden well.

6. Caravan of Thieves on Friday night making us laugh and clap and wonder at the beautiful tone of the violinist and the energy of the guitarist.  Sharing it all with the children.

7. A clean living room and a friend who stayed with me to the end even rearranging furniture.

8. The coming joy of mom, dad, sister, brothers, my belle soeur, and a nephew/niece in utero.

9. A big box of Christmas books borrowed.

10. Sharing an apple with my three year old, giggling at who gets the last red slice.






Also linking with the lovely Laura Boggess here:

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