How Laying Cruciform Can Break Open the Healing of our Land and SLOW Word Video

When the ground underneath us quakes, (from a death, a shock, a debilitating fear, a lament, even a hard fight with a loved one), we can lay ourselves right down.

Nine years into our marriage, Andrew and I were battling I don’t even remember what. We were exhausted and overwhelmed parents of two babies, carrying the responsibility of a parish under stress.

And let’s just say high stress brings out blame and it’s easier to point the finger away from us. We’d fight until I would lay down and remember God was the ground of my being and stable enough to carry us both. Gravity became a gift of prayer. We weren’t holding ourselves up on the earth. He was.  “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”Acts 17:28




Two years ago my sense of vocation was rocked. Once again, I often laid down cruciform in front of the altar. The lament was so darn heavy, laying it down in front of the altar was the only way I could hand it back to God. As I lay down on the red carpet, I would sense Him lay down next to me, look into my eyes and whisper, “I do this all the time.”


Cruciform, our bodies teach our minds and spirits to empty.

Cruciform, we lay down our own toxic self-righteousness.

Cruciform, we lay down knowing that even in the pit and pain of life, we are not ever alone.

Cruciform we join His suffering, and still choose to serve.

Cruciform we give up demanding our rights and choose to focus on our Redeemer.


There are many who found their prayers answered during Tuesday night’s election and they are rejoicing. I find myself sitting with this bizarre election cycle trying to remember how to breathe. Everything was downright messy and many got smeared. Some of us experienced the roller coaster of this last year more like an earthquake. But whether you are rejoicing or rocked from Tuesday night’s election outcome, it’s time to lay ourselves right down on the ground facedown, cruciform. It’s time to seek the healing of our land.


“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14


The healing always starts with the humbling.







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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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The Prayer that Saves Me

It’s the prayer that hits all the Goliaths of my sin square between the eyes. I read it and fall to my knees.


To tell you the truth, I don’t really pray this prayer at all. I hold it in awe and choke it down. I look at it askance, always out of the corner of my eye, never straight on. I might be burned. Yet the wholehearted surrender grips me tight and I can’t put it down.


I don’t have hands this open.


I need another Copernican Revolution.


Self, who do you revolve around? Who is your gravity, your breath, who built you from two cells to four?


If He is God, faithful and trustworthy, can’t I brave prying open the fingers of my life? If He loves, can’t I crawl into the deep caverns of His goodness?


This prayer sifts and quakes and sweeps and saves me from the prosperity gospel I could easily sign up for on some days. Pray this prayer and receive all your heart desires? Where’s the dotted line?


Do you have the courage to pray this prayer?


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“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt;

put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing;

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

From the Watch Night Service by John Wesley, possibly 1755

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Permission to Rest


You are allowed to rest. This is permission. Invitation.


It had been a busy day, full of teetering stacks of laundry and ministry and the kind of slow exhaustion that makes one desperate for another cup of coffee…at 8…just to make it through the bedtime routine.  I laid on the couch utterly finished, trying to talk myself into walking downstairs to wash my face. The kids were finally asleep and in their own beds. I clicked the tv off. My show was over but my mind still spun. Then, out of the quiet I finally heard the invitation, “You, my child, are allowed to rest.”


The verses I had done Lectio Divina with that morning in my group came back to me in pushed open space of silence:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13, 17a).


He never expected a cape wearing supermom. He never expected me to take a flying leap from motherhood to ministry and back again without getting out of breath. He never expected me to soar into this move with all its constant anxious newness without the whiplash of the triggers. He remembers that I am dust and instead of being repelled by that fact, He offers me rest.


And you too.


You, my friend, are given permission to rest, a commandment to rest. This weekend, lets peel off these velcroed  capes and lean into the truth of our own frailty.


Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) Yes, that sounds good about now.

Come pilgrimage with me into rest and into His heart. Place your email (always protected) in the Connect box on the front page and we’ll gently ramble there together.

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The Dance that Breaks Out When Women Get Real

Women are quick to lift up the mask, paint on the mask…but the truth?


The mask can plaster on hard. It becomes a wall between sisters and only the brave take it off. But when the walls do come down and the stories come out and we are dazzled.


Maya Angelou tells this story in one of her memoirs, I forget which one. Women and men had traveled from tribes all over Africa for a PanAfrican conference in Egypt and it was culminating in a feast that led to a dance. Men and women were separated after dinner and though Maya was about to quietly slip up to bed, that was when the joy let loose. Across the hotel ballroom were all shapes and sizes and colors worn on the milky coffee to the ebony. There were tall Ethiopian princesses with high foreheads and rounded Gabonese with the wide hips that swung in circles as she walked. The music thumped and the voices soared and the colors swirled, each bringing the gift of their own tribal rhythm.


One gorgeous mass of a woman slid into the circle and brought out a white scarf, pulling it back and forth on the slight breeze of a body swaying. Maya watched as the others danced around her. When the tall Ethiopian jumped up straight in rhythm to the music, the others raised hands over her, celebrating the unique beauty.


This story appeared simultaneously in the minds of both my mother and I as we sat around a circle of women, sharing stories. It was a night of listening, of quiet, of the privilege of hearing the real.  And after one gorgeous story after another, of redemption and rescue, our first inclination? We wanted to raise our hands over them, glory in the mystery of brokenness made beautiful.

Because our lives are full of broken shards but God makes art with the pieces.

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No one escapes the hammer of a world turned against itself and we live shattered in a million jagged pieces. We walk around cut and try to put together the pieces with a good night cream and a pep talk.


The Open Circle was the innovative response of Annette, a spiritual director in training in Sinking Spring, PA, to her church’s desire for a new kind of women’s ministry. Sunday night she invited us to witness. We braved the piles of snow, the steep icy driveway and drove to Koinos Community Church, a Brethren in Christ church plant with a coffee house vibe.  Chairs were pulled up in a circle around the front corner. A simple white candle was lit to remind us that Christ was present.  We warmed hands around paper cups with hot tea and entered into the quiet.


Annette drew a circle of safety around the women: confidentiality, respect and the goal of listening, never fixing. Then she invited a single story, a young woman brave enough to pull off the mask, to show the years of scars, to lay out the broken pieces.


When the young woman told her story, she let the tears flow. But sitting in the chairs around the circle, all we could see was her story through the lens of His Light. We saw the colors swirl in a kaleidoscope. She laid out the jumbled pieces and we saw the veins of the work of God, the patterns in rays of glory.


The vulnerable call out the brave in us and around the circle the stories began to slide out one at a time. As she pulled out the broken shards, we all felt brave enough, safe enough to pull out our stories with the pieces that still puzzle. Real stories…not polished and published, not perfect and performed but raw. They had a jagged beauty like the rocks along the coast of Maine.


Mama and I, we sat back in wonder. We could hear the whispers of resurrection and it made us feel giddy. From experience, we know that the circle of stories is the setting where healing begins, where prejudice falls off like a shroud, where the Body of Christ can rise again.


We could feel resurrection power surging


and it made us want to dance.


We wanted to grab the tall girl with the textured scarf, the beautiful blond with the black knee-high boots, the Girl scout mom with the bright smile and all the others into a circle. We wanted to celebrate the hard fought stories of surrender. We wanted to raise our hands over the slight one barely raising her eyes, let our celebration rub into her soul. We wanted to delight in the broken made beautiful.


We wanted to dance in the lit up patterns of redemption and lift our hands up, worship the Kalaidescope maker.

Unchained-25Photos not from my iphone taken Sunday night were from this post about the Unchained Runway show.

Join me on this thirsty pilgrimage toward God where the broken are being made beautiful?  Slide your email into the CONNECT rectangle on the front page.  Let’s travel these winding roads together.

linking with diana trautwein and together we are pondering the pieces

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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.




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?




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?



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.




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.



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.”



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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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.



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!


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

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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.

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“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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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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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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