Day 19: Lift up Empty hands

We often live anxiously searching for our needs to be filled. Moving intensifies that. I wrote this post last year. It still applies. Today’s action? Lift up your needs to the Father using the prayer printed at the end. Don’t be afraid to cry out. Last night we were crying out for Caedmon’s need for a friend…a sense of belonging. We’ll keep lifting up empty hands until they are filled…and then we will dance our thanks.

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

 

Sometimes our neediness is profound.

 

Sometimes it’s just a reaction, a familiar one, like reaching for the telephone when we are lonely, a package of oreos for comfort. One of our core longings…a need for safety, worth, messages of our having value, unconditional love, care, encouragement, a pathway to God, belonging, and feeling useful and needed…are crying out to be filled. (These are from Dr. Terry Wardle’s work from Ashland Seminary.)

 

Like a cut that keeps bleeding when scraped. Like a hunger that keeps turning over demanding to be satiated. And He is the only one who has set the feast.

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We are the matchstick girl.

 

Since our move, my needs for belonging and a sense of purpose are loudest. I click on Facebook, but leave feeling emptier hearing about others’ full lives. I zone out and watch others be creative in reality shows instead of embarking on my own adventures.

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I have a feast spread out waiting but I live frantic. I forget the truth: “whatever we need, it’s on the table.” I nose around looking for a mirage and settle for sand when I could have an ample feast.

 

Caedmon, my nine year old boy, has stopped wanting to go to children’s church with the other lines of children. He wants to squeeze in between his dad and I and catch phrases of the sermon, lean his head against our arms, close his eyes and gaze at the painting of Christ ascending.

 

We’ve been attending Ascension Anglican in Oakland with its cavernous nave and sitting on a dark blue padded pew at the 9am. We cozy up to the pulpit so we can hear every word.

 

This sunday in his sermon, Father Jonathan Millard asked everyone whether they had read C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. Caedmon’s head jerked up. His eyes flickered recognition and he raised his hand. We were on a Narnia kick all winter and who could forget Jill and Eustace and Puddleglum being sent into the underworld to rescue Prince Rilian from his enchantment?

 

Father Millard read this excerpt like it was story time, clearing his voice from the high pulpit and speaking in his English accent.

 

As an aside, I just want to say that C.S. Lewis should always be read by an Englishman. I do my best BBC accent as we sit around the fire in the evenings but friends, I acknowledge that this is dangerous territory for a girl from Ohio. One day a few weeks ago the accent came out randomly and I had to explain to new friends why I was pretending to be from across the Atlantic. Dangerous, I tell you.

McConnell's mill

Here’s the excerpt from early in The Silver Chair. Jill is hoping to drink from a stream but there is a full, male lion guarding the water:

 

“‘If you’re thirsty, you may drink.’

…for a second she stared here and there wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, ‘If you are thirsty, come and drink,‘ and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen his lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
‘Are you not thirsty?’ said the lion.
‘I’m dying of thirst,’ said Jill.
‘Then drink,’ said the lion.
‘May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?’ said Jill.

The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
‘Will you promise not to–do anything to me, if I do come?’ said Jill.
‘I make no promise,’ said the lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

‘Do you eat girls?’ she said.

‘I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,’ said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

‘I daren’t come and drink,’ said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

‘Oh dear!’ said Jill, coming another step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’

‘There is no other stream,’ said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion–no one who had seen his stern face could do that–and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted.”

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There is no other stream. There is no other table.

 

If you are thirsty, come and drink.

 

I’m learning to identify my core longing need, to sit quietly before the Lord and wait…but more on that in Part 2. Want more, the feast, the fullness? Check out my sermon here.

 

I’m learning to keep praying this on repeat, to lift up my hands empty:  

 

Litany of Core Longings

Lord, I need a safe and secure environment

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need constant reinforcement of my personal worth

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need repeated messages that I am valued, unique and special

And I can only get them from You.

 

Lord, I need unconditional love and acceptance

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need basic care and nurture

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need encouragement to grow and develop my personal gifts and talents

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a pathway to fellowship with You

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a sense of belonging

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need to feel useful and needed

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a hope and a future

And I can only get it from You.

 

God loves me unconditionally and wants to give me all this.

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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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Naming the restlessness: Audrey Assad

You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.    St. Augustine

I’ve been listening to a lot of Audrey Assad lately. I’m captivated by her articulation of our hunger for God and how it comes out simply in worship. Here is a short of a conversation about the desire for a life of communion with God.

No time to watch Audrey share about her hunger for an underlying life of prayer? Here is her song Restless. For me it’s a search to live in His Presence.

Name your restlessness?  Is it a core longing?

  • A safe and secure environment
  • Constant reinforcement of personal worth
  • Repeated messages that you are valued, unique and special
  • Unconditional love and acceptance
  • Basic care and nurture
  • Encouragement to grow and develop personal gifts and talents
  • A pathway to fellowship with God
  • A sense of belonging
  • Feeling useful and needed

When we experience anxiety, fear or anger, could it be a lack in what Terry Wardle calls a core longing?

When does it arise? Time of day? After a “trigger” event? During a season like Christmas?

 

Can you give a feeling to your restlessness? Try this chart here. Journal that.

 

Look for the patterns, and come into the Presence of God without a mask, ready to receive.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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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What’s Nourishing Me this Month

1. Ever have a recipe that is so decadent you hoard it just for the oooohs and ahhhs? This is mine. The kids adore it at home but I call it Adult Mac and Cheese when I bring it to parties. It’s always licked clean when I bring it home. Gloriously creamy. Sinfully buttery. Add crumbled bacon and peas and suddenly it’s a one-dish gift brought steaming from the oven.

This is Giada de Laurentiis’ Baked rigatoni with Béchamel Sauce.  I’m guessing from her figure that she doesn’t serve this too often but I’m sure glad she was inspired to grate all that fontina. The recipe can be found on the food channel here.

baked rigatoni2. You know those toxic thoughts that are like a ditch you keep falling into? A trigger pounces and all of a sudden, you’re a ditch dweller for a few days. Sometimes they are lies that were proclaimed over you as a child…sometimes they are steams of thought you barely recognized were holding you captive.  You just like you were living in a cloud of negativity, serving up side-helpings of anxiety.

 

Yup, I’ve got some of those too.

 

A month ago, I was sitting at Panera when the spiritual director I had gone to see looked at me asked me what dreams I had in a particular area of my life. He smiled when he said it, “What could you imagine God’s dream for this could be?…like in five years.” It was in an area where I felt I was over my head. I hyperventilated. I fidgeted in my wooden seat. I couldn’t dream. I couldn’t ask God what His dream was.  The anxiety felt thick and I know I looked back at him with wild eyes.

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I was being held captive by the toxic thought that I couldn’t accomplish hard things (hard as in stretching or connected to being in the spotlight). That weekend I joined my mom who has had huge transformations this last couple months overcoming toxic thoughts and signed up for this: Dr. Caroline Leaf’s 21 Day Brain Detox. I spent 21…though with sick days and busy days it was more like 30…days with Dr. Leaf’s easy to follow process and began isolating this one particular thought pattern.

 

Do I sound like an infomercial? Do forgive me. I’m just so dang thankful to be getting free.

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Dr. Leaf is a neuroscientist and I’m absolutely fascinated with the way the brain works. She has had articles published in scientific journals but now brings her studies to a Christian audience where she couples it with working with the Holy Spirit and with Scripture. It frankly works much better than my usual process of journaling obsessively for a week and then burning out.  This is the process I always wished I had while working with my beautiful friends in inner healing prayer.  It will not replace the hard work of inner healing but I believe it works hand in hand to extend and bring full healing to the mind.

 

Her work completely jives with the brain science I’ve been learning with Dr. Terry Wardle at Ashland Seminary and Dr. Daniel Siegel, a psych professor and writer from UCLA. And with Scripture.  You know those verses about taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5b) and about continually renewing your mind (Romans 12:2)? Who really knows how to do that? Sometimes a thought will get out of control and completely run me over. This has taught me a slow process for interrupting the power of a toxic thought.  No more thinking that the ditch you find yourself in will be your home forever.  With Scripture, with the Holy Spirit’s leading and with Dr. Leaf’s program, you can live ditch-free.

 

I know…infomercial again. Enter swelling movie music and pictures of little girls dancing.

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Here is a short 2 minute video from her blog:

http://drleaf.com/media/you-can-renew-your-mind/

 

This is a much longer (but fascinating) video you can watch while doing dishes or folding clothes (and yes, I know the outfit of the fifty year old woman introducing her came off the rack from an insane rocker chic store…but this is Texas and she completely forgot to contextualize for us.)

 

 

As for my story? God used this process to walk me through a lie I’d held onto for twenty-five years, the “I can’t” lie.

 

I’m learning to live in the wide open land of: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Sleeping with Bread: Part 3, Healing through Repetition

A newly made, golden baguette lay between the storm and wooden doors generously wrapped with saran wrap and a blue satin bow. My new friend, Lindsay Harrison had sent this text message earlier that day: “I left a gift at your door.”  She didn’t know how much her and her young husband’s hand-shaped loaf would nourish.

“I am the Bread of Life.” This has become the answer to all my post-move neediness.  Groping to find value in another’s eyes? Summer, come eat Bread.   Treading water through hours of loneliness?  Come, daughter, I’ve laid a feast.  Grieving at the empty hours, the silent phone, the loss of a ministry? Be still and come to the table. Over and over I sense, “Summer, pull your chair up to the table, open the Word, sit still in My Presence and eat Life.”  (Maybe you remember this pre-move prayer for bread, this life-changing litany.)

 

The day before I had gone on a hunt for answers. Opened the Word, a concordance, a journal. I was weary of the strained search for nourishment in another’s eyes.

 

Moving can be such a trigger. Our identity is stripped, roots pulled up exposing the unhealed, insecure parts of us.  Fear of rejection, an inflamed nerve, grips at the most inopportune times and all of a sudden I am standing in the halls of my junior high again, frizzy permed hair, wearing high tops and worried about whether I remembered to put on deodorant.

 

Summer, stop. Come.

 

“I am the Bread of Life.”

 

You will have no ability to love, to get out the towel and basin until you have had a feast of Me.

 

But what happens when the words are just not getting through?  I knew “I am the Bread of Life, but they stood alone, separate. They were entirely theoretical. I couldn’t touch them, smell them, taste them and they slipping through my mind every time I tried to hold on. I needed “I am the Bread of Life” to be signaling strong in my frontal cortex, the answer to every question, present with every lull.  I needed Jesus Himself incarnated.

 

I tucked “I am the Bread of Life” golden and wrapped up warm beside me that night in bed.  Slow deep breath out, “I am the Bread of Life.” Slow deep breath in, “I am the Bread of Life.” I am the Bread of Life.  I AM the Bread of Life. I am THE Bread of Life.  I am the BREAD of Life. I am the bread of LIFE.

 

A nineteenth century uprooted wayfarer had experienced the constant prayer, the need for our minds to be renewed by repetition as he walked down roads in Russia. He wandered with this as his only companion: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is the same cry of the blind reaching out to a passing Jesus for healing.  (Luke 18:38) Like the blind man, in this ancient anonymous memoir, The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim had traveled with those words pounding in every step, breathing it deep with every slow breath until it had transformed his identity.  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Who are you? A sinner, full of the mercy of God. Who are you seeking? Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It was in the constant repetition that his eyes and his soul were healed.

 

I curled up with truth and woke up with Life. Repetition through the night hours shook out subconscious demons, healed my hunger and I woke wanting Jesus. Only Jesus. I desired to eat Jesus, feast on Jesus, touch Jesus, feed others Jesus. And there it was, the next morning. On my doorstep was the kindness of the yeasty risen goodness the Harrison’s had made. I slipped the ribbon off the goodness of God and held Him in my hands.

Summer Gross

You’ve got to try this sleeping with bread, friends.  Just take a short scripture to bed with you at night, tuck in with the Word. Neuroscientists agree that it helps to reshape the brain. (They are just catching up with Scripture ) His mercies are new every morning.

Maybe this all seems murky, friend, this “sleeping with bread.”  These may help. Click on the titles to these other posts:

Sleeping with Bread: Part 1, A Simple Bedtime Practice

Sleeping with Bread: Part 2, How His Presence Changes Everything 

and another time when Scripture penetrated the unhealed spaces:

Where my Story is Challenged by Truth

 

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Sleeping with Bread: Part 1, A Simple Bedtime Practice

Sleeping with bread was the Archbishop of the Southern Cone’s idea, back in the days when we were on the Anglican frontier (2006) and our Episcopal bishop had told us there were many “Ways, Truths, and Lives” and that Jesus just happened to be his. It was after that visit by our Bishop that we had to find a new authority. We slid under the tent of Bishop John Guernsey, refugees in the Anglican Church of Uganda, thankful for generations of faithful Africans rooted by revival, hoping to grasp onto the Spirit as they. During that time, the only pastoring we found was an occasional trip to Calvin College’s chapel or on Anglican TV. We were hungry to be fed by the faithful and Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone spoke truth with the hammered-out conviction of years on the mission field. We watched his devotional given to bishops and priests from the Anglican Network over and over.

I’m sure he was talking about something else and like all of us preachers, we have a tendency to take rabbit trails and expect others to follow us, but there was this beautiful gem that shined out in the middle. I grasped at it.

 

He shared in his British accent that a priest had confessed to having nightmares and how he had asked the priest to recount his normal nightly schedule. “What do you do before you go to sleep?” he inquired.   “Just a little time in front of the tv,” the priest admitted. The Archbishop decided to pry further,  “And what is it that you watch?”  “Oh, Murder mysteries, detective shows and the like.”  And I know, friends, normal American nightly bedtime fare, right? “Ahhhh, son,” the Archbishop had said, “then that’s just where we need to focus. Swap out the violence with a scripture, a short one. Bring to bed with you just a phrase or two. Run it through the mind, inside and out and you’ll find your nights are much more peaceful.”

 

I like simple answers.  The hard spiritual exercises, no matter how beautiful make this simple mama overwhelmed. And although I love the long stillness of time with the Father at a retreat center, I don’t normally have hours to spend in a prayer closet. My kids require a very present referee or seriously…they would hurt each other.  A simple scripture meditation as I fall asleep? Done.

 

That first night as I brought the scripture to bed, my heart was not only refocused on truth, His Presence warmed me as a shawl.  The Word literally wound its way in and out of my dreams.

 

Then miraculously, this same verse? It was my first waking thought. Not anxiety. Not a to do list. Word, warm and fresh.

 

Then because the Word had parked itself in the forefront of my mind, the Spirit was able to serve it up to me again several times that next day. The Word was present like a snack to feed on all day long. Nourishing. Transforming.

 

I don’t know about you, but if spiritual transformation can sometimes feel like walking through thick muck, the tug and the pull of our human nature whining, this simple exercise felt more like sailing with all the sails unfurled. I woke up every morning a little bit more unstuck, a little more eager to obey, a little more healed.

 

Viktor Frankl tells the story of the restless children of the Holocaust unable to sleep peacefully and the wise, old people who would tuck the children into bed with a hearty crust.  With bread in their arms they were free to sleep. With bread in their arms they grasped firm what they needed for tomorrow.

 

In this simple practice I was tucked in with bread, waking up with bread, nourished with Word throughout the day.

 

And you friend,

if anxiety slams you hard as darkness falls, I encourage you, try this simple practice.

If you finger through Scripture memory cards and then give up in frustration, try holding bread.

If your mornings are clouded with despair, tuck in with bread.

If you crave for your broken pieces to be a healed and mortared mosaic, go to sleep with bread.

Summer Gross

Dear friend, this is part 1 in a series. If you want to come along to learn more of the practical side to healing, the practical side to knowing His Presence, put your email address in the Connect box on the right hand side. 

Want to read about another time when tucking in with bread dislodged my lies? Click here. 

Try this simple wisdom of the Archbishop’s with me?  Tonight, tuck in with bread then come back. Share the gift with all your sisters here.

 

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Where My Story is Challenged by Truth

It all started when I brought Psalm 139 to bed with a hot steaming mug of chamomile tea, mulling it over in my mouth, breathing in its earthy fragrance and then licking the honey resting at the bottom.  I stopped abruptly on verse 14, and at first the words seem embarrassingly forthright, prideful even: “fearfull-y and wonderful-ly made.”  It felt hard to say, a passage that I would pass over quickly, like I was reading about breasts in the Song of Solomon. Inappropriate.  Overly intimate.  But I kept chewing over these words, knowing there was a truth I was dodging.  Finally, I fell asleep.

All through the night “fearfully and wonderfully made” wound its way through my dreams, and then appeared with the first light of morning.  Repetition had stripped the verse of the false veneer of pride.  The first jumps of delight appeared and I turned this key over and over in my hand, as if it was a foreign object I’d searched for as Mary for the secret garden key.

I was around her age, ten, when I lost it.

That first school day in Ohio’s rich farm country, twenty hours from my grammar school in Maine, I wore a white shirt with suspendered blue plaid pants, was called a clown and teased every time I opened my Eastern mouth.  I stuffed any hope of an easy move into the bottom of the toy chest along with the suspendered outfit.  I never wore it again.  Jr. high girls can be cruel and those four years my brain ate a new channel of self-despising all other thoughts filtered into.  At home I was loved, but at school I was pursued as a scapegoat of pre-teen inferiority.  I proved an easy target.

Hunchback bent, I lived deformed, leaning toward those as unhealed as me expecting them to turn, a lighthouse signaling glory.  False hope glimmered and was gone as each passed in front.  I forgot to stand straight to receive  truth from the One.  I forgot to listen to that Voice always speaking, inviting, affirming, challenging.

I walked leaking life.

The One eternally holding Living water says:“My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13 )

Cannot hold water, those I was asking to stamp “Gift” on my forehead.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.  You have swallowed death, even this death of unholy judgment.  You know who I am: Your child, Your daughter, Your beloved, Your friend, Your sister.

I sit with that.  The God of the Universe calls me His child, accepted just as I am, loved here and now, before I get cleaned off.  A sponge, I swell, soaking up life-giving words:

If He gives me grace, perhaps I can too.

Later I go to the fitness center and after working out, find a quiet room while my children play with others.  I open the scripture back up.  The key is already in the verse! ”I praise You that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  It is another thanksgiving! And thanksgiving has recently opened up the core of my being.

Lately I’ve started accepting the imperfect gifts of each day, thanking God, lifting each “failed” interaction up, asking Him to bless and fill them with Himself…to redeem.  So why can’t I do that with myself?

Yes, I am imperfect.  I will always be imperfect but my continued anger at myself and the story that has created me is not making matters easier.  Can I accept God’s gift of me?  Can I lift myself back up (my tiny loaves) and pray that He will bless and multiply?

Sunday evening, heavy summer sun invites us west to the Lake Michigan shore.  As soon as we hit the sand, my kids dressed all in red swimsuits scatter and I tip my face to the sun, turning my ear to listen.

Summer, “thank me,”  I hear.

Instead of sitting on our blanket with a book, my normal modus operandi, I begin to play too.  I push rocks stuck deep at the water’s edge that look like they might have been a wicca circle and occasionally I glance up, hear my husband deep laugh helping five-year old Madeline balance on the boogy board in the waves.

God, help me too to learn balance…freedom… and to love me, because not loving me is creating a dam of my life, truncating my ability to open my arms wide, fearless.

As I push the large rocks around the wet sand, forming a cross, the voice of God comes clear.  I listen: whose authority will you accept as true?  The junior high girls from your past or the God of the Universe?

The question seems a bit ludicrous.  “I thank You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” comes straight from scripture and who am I to question the God of the Universe’s authority?

He is the Light of the World, so why would I study someone else’s carnival mirror?

I stand on the flat rock at the center of the cross beam and lift my arms up to the sky.  Who am I NOT to thank You for the gift that You have given…to refuse any gift from You?  Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me and so I lift up my fullness and my emptiness, my imperfections and my gifts.

The Roman Catholic priest, Romano Guardini, writes in his essay, “The Acceptance of Oneself,” words that invite me to open the gift:

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

The beach has emptied for dinner time and I stand, balancing on this rock cross, arms up.  You loved me even while I was a sinner.  And if You open-heart-pierced-hands could accept me, than who am I not to accept the gift?

And if I am a gift, so is the precious little one that just toddled up in her bathing suit covered with red cherries, splashing through the puddle beside the cross.  I look into her brown face with the four new serrated white teeth and tell her that she too is a gift of God.  She keeps coming back for more through the rest of the evening, eyes wide drinking love.

And this is why this self-acceptance, this thanksgiving is the opposite of pride.  Being a gift does not mean the least of these is not.  Being filled with this thanksgiving makes me want to go out into the highways and byways and put faces in my hands and speak truth into dry hearts.  “You” teenager with the hungry, aching eyes, “are fearfully and wonderfully made.” “You” gangly man-child whose mind never grew into his body and whose arms twist in constant motion, “are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I want to whisper it into the heart of everyone I see and on the way home I tell the cashier at the grocery store with the lovely lips and the dreary store coat, “I hope you know that you are lovely.”  She smiles and light goes on in those almond-shaped eyes just for a moment.

Summer Gross

And you, my friend, you too are a gift, and I am utterly thankful for you.  You are made in the image of God and crafted with purpose. You are crazy beautiful, imprinted on every cell with His stamp.  Sure we are shot through with imperfection, scarred with the pain of a violent earth, but His redemption can make new even those stories.

This piece is reposted here but I find I need to drink slowly of its truth once again as I transition in this move to PA. Perhaps it will be a gift for you, too? Consider subscribing to this site through the Connect box on the right. Together we will wrestle with truth right here at “a thirst for God”, witness redemption through simple stories.

 

I would love to hear in the comments: What are you thankful for streaming out of your imperfect story, your God-given personality? Perhaps writing it down will strengthen the truth in your heart.


Summer Gross

linking with the always authentic and wisdom filled, Emily Wierenga here:

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When Fear Squeezes

Tonight it was the chocolate sheet cake, the one with the thick fudgy frosting Andrew’s mom taught me step by step. It’s THE “birthday cake” around here because no one can imagine desiring anything but a large rectangle of this warm, chocolaty goodness.

So tonight as I mixed up the frosting for Andrew’s birthday cake, ran my finger around the icing in the bowl and brought it up to my lips (because really, none of it should ever be wasted), again I thought, at least we will have this when we move to our house/apartment/townhouse next month. Because although the forms get more clear, we still don’t know exactly where we will be landing. After hyperventilating a bit, I do know this: I know what recipes I’ll be pulling out onto those stainless steel/laminate/granite countertops. I’ll get out the control journal I made a few Christmases back filled with recipes covered in plastic sheets and smeared with a hundred memories here in South Haven.

 

There’s comfort in that.

 

I don’t know where we will sleep, but I know what we will have for dinner.

 

I know I’ll still dump Hunts tomato sauce cans in a crockpot along with ground beef, garlic, onions, a bay leaf, and a light blanket of Italian Seasonings and it will smell like home for hours. Then, on warm nights when we grill, I will still slice the Vidalia onions thin, mound them up in a frying pan and caramelize them for an hour. Andrew will then fork them up on his burger and moan with the joy of all that golden buttery love.

 

I know that on Saturday nights I will still add a large spoonful of ricotta cheese and zest an orange into pancake batter and plop frozen blueberries into their centers hearing them sizzle on the griddle. We will then stop with that first forkful, and chew slow, blueberries warm and bursting in the mouth. Then we will all pile on the couch to watch some Mary Poppins-like film and sing along on movie night. No, that’s not quite right. I will sing along and they will beg me to stop but I can’t because I have a dead on perfect Julie Andrews impression.

 

 

I know we will still buy Brownberry whole wheat bread for our sandwiches and make hot buttery cinnamon toast before bed.

 

And there is comfort in this.

 

What’s harder for me to remember is where my living Bread will come from. I wake up anxious, fearing a Bread shortage on the other side of following the Uhaul truck through Michigan and across 80 in Ohio and into Pennsylvania. I fear moving will clamp shut all the channels through which God has come to feed me Life.

 

 

And then I remember whose responsibility Bread-giving is and take a deep breath and pray this litany I learned from my 16 week healing care curriculum written by Terry Wardle. This prayer is how I slowly turn my face toward the One, towards the Bread-giver. These words are me holding out my hands empty. They are the way hope creeps up slow because as I pray these words, His Presence comes and slowly untangles the choking fear.

Yes, there is bread here, but Summer, manna will still fall there. Remember, Summer: Bread here, Bread there.

Litany of Core Longings

Lord, I need a safe and secure environment

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need constant reinforcement of my personal worth

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need repeated messages that I am valued, unique and special

And I can only get them from You.

 

Lord, I need unconditional love and acceptance

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need basic care and nurture

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need encouragement to grow and develop my personal gifts and talents

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a pathway to fellowship with You

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a sense of belonging

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need to feel useful and needed

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a hope and a future

And I can only get it from You.

 

God loves me unconditionally and wants to give me all this.

 

And you friend, which of the phrases of the core longings litany connects with you?

(oh and by the way, I found the bread image from wikipedia and the pancake photo here.)

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