Day 21: Self-Acceptance and the Mysteries of Grief

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Things I have learned through this season:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Day 4: Feast

Fellow 31 day journeyers, as we take the huge risk to loving our zip code with integrity, we first are invited to come feast on Love ourselves.  In fact, it’s absolutely vital.

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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

 

Never walk out into the world hungry.

 

Ever walk the aisles of the grocery store around 5:30pm? You grab at the pretty packages, create half menus in your head, fill the cart with food memories and comfort, gasp at the price, and then wheel up to the trunk of your car with twice as much as you came looking for.

 

Never leave home hungry.

 

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The night before my wedding, my mama told me never to force my husband to walk the streets hungry for love. Fill that man before you send him out in the morning, she said.

 

And I would never dream of opening the door and pushing my nestlings out into the world empty of nourishment and love.

 

It’s just that I don’t often heed that same advice. I walk out the door without lifting my hands up, without the Scriptures open, without the listening and the dwelling. I haven’t spent time soaking in His Presence. I leave hungry. Empty. Searching. I find myself scooting up to another table and the price…goes…up.

 

I pay for it every time.

 

I walk out into the world glancing at every sign as if its fluorescent bulbs flashed with my answer. I walk up to neighbors hands open, demanding to be fed out of their emptiness.

 

When we give out of lack, we pump the empty soul and our giving does not spill out of love but need. We are a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal every time.

 

Because we can’t bless, break and multiply a lunch we haven’t gathered from His table.

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 Bible-2

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger; whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

 

He ALWAYS invites us home to a full spread. Always. We scoot up to the table still carrying in our earth-smeared hands our pain, our lack, our disappointment, our questions and our cracked mess of a life and we are always welcomed home. Like the prodigal son, we sit at the feast and with wild eyes we grasp that this is where we belonged all along. We tear the crusty bread, fill our mouths with the warm, soft center and piece by piece we eat the truth: I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.

 

We draw close, maybe even lay our head on His chest like the beloved disciple, resting, hearing His heartbeat pound for the rescue of the world. We memorize its cadence.

 

We taste and see that He is good.  Then filled, we turn toward the world, bless, break and multiply Him “for the life of the world.”

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Daily Action: Don’t just sample the love of God in small appetizers once a week, come to a daily full-table feast.

But let’s get practical. What does true feasting on the love of God look like for you? Here’s some of my suggestions and Facebook friend’s ideas as well.

(BTW, I’m Summer Gross from Loganville, GA on Facebook. @athirstforGod on Twitter. Lets connect there!)

Feast here, meditating on the Father Heart of God. So rich a meal.

Or perhaps you could feast here, like Adrienne. Classic:

Or here: The Life of the Beloved.

Or watch this. This father’s love is a beautiful picture of His love for us:

 

Or read here? How to be Still and Know that He is God

 

I’m often nourished feasting on the names and attributes of God. Get an immensely helpful PDF with this link here: Thank you Woodmen Valley Chapel.

 

Or just look for a hardy meal of bread through the Scriptures searching out a trail of manna. Start here in Zephaniah 3:17.

 

And you, friend, how do you dwell in His presence, sip long on His love? Do share and “join the conversation.”

 

We’re just 4 days into a 31 day writing journey through October, wanting God to make us lovers of our zip code. Want to come along? Slip your email in the CONNECT box on the front page. 

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Day 1: How to Fall in Love with a Zipcode

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Just this last month, the Gross’ family adopted a new zipcode, driving through the mountains of five states and landing in northern GA. You too friend? Have you moved and are still reeling a bit? Or do you live with a chronic case of discontent and wanderlust? 

We’re taking 31 days to learn to love this place we call home.

Journey with me? 

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From the reading Sunday:

Proverbs 8:30-31 “Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

You, dear one…you have been called to love a zipcode.

 

Jesus cried over one, begged Jerusalem to find life under the generous width of His wings.

 

He loved a rambling, hillside town.

 

You will too.

 

Dear one, even though you feel uprooted, your heart raw from grieving, begin to ask God for His love of your new town.

 

And these strangers who look so unfamiliar, they too are made in God’s image –great walking beings weary from the fight, who wear a mask just like you are sometimes tempted to do lately.  Don’t. Engage real.

 

Your new librarian fidgeting behind the great oak desk, she is His image bearer and He adores each hidden facet of her heart.  He delights in her as she sits by the window, hot coffee in hand drinking in the chirps the birds sing back and forth in the early morning.

 

Your kids new teachers are exhausted with overwork, underpay and under-encouragement.

 

And your neighbors’ doors are shut now but behind them is a tangle of heart-breaking and glorious stories waiting to be known and honored and loved.

 

And He…He is waiting to walk through those doors holding your hand.  Through You the King comes. You push open the door and the Light of the world glides in, bringing waves of Resurrection with Him.

 

Cause dear one, this move is about you, but mostly it’s not.  He moves love-bearers around the world to bring Kingdom life, His pounding, loving, grieving heart for the world zipped into their suitcases.

 

“Go ye therefore”always requires us to pack, exchange zipcodes and suddenly friend, whether you meant it or not, you are smack dab living in the center of the Great Commission and there are hearts here just waiting for the seed God wants to plant…seeds you carry in your pocket.

by Summer Gross

And you, friend, how do you choose to love your town?

Do you have a friend who has recently moved or who struggles with where they’re planted? Consider sending this series to their inbox or facebook it to encourage all your newly transplanted friends.

Want more? Remember him?  How easy it can sometimes be to fling seeds?

Join the journey? Submit your email in the CONNECT box on the right hand side of the front page. Don’t worry…it’s safe with me.

 

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Encouragement 101: Don’t Give Up

I see it in their eyes, the fast deflate.

 

They had just pried opened their ribs and shown their blood-pulsing hearts to a primetime audience of millions…and they were not picked.

 

And it is here that a decision will be made. They will keep perfecting their craft, keep singing for their life, or let discouragement drown their dream.

 

And I think, don’t give up…for the love…don’t give up.

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Maddie and I, we curl up on the futon and watch the Voice with its hints of greatness, contestants struggling to emerge and fly.  And I wonder how many who weren’t quite ripe, who weren’t quite ready, will crumble and say that they tried but weren’t quite good enough for the stage. They give up and decide the fight isn’t worth it anymore.

 

But the truth is that they were So. Very. Close.  A year or two more of perfecting their craft, a pushing through and a little more experience and they could have brought a shining gift of beauty to the world.  It’s not that they didn’t have the talent, it’s just that they needed a bit more time gestating.

 

And I want to whisper into their hearts, “Don’t give up…for the love…don’t give up.”

What about you, dear one? Do you hear that same hiss, the one that whispers, “You are not enough, give up before you waste an afternoon, a year, a life?”

 

It’s a lie, that one, a lie that causes talents to be buried six feet under when they could at least be earning interest out in the open air.

 

It’s a lie that causes hearts to be buried under layers of fear. But do you know a secret? They don’t lie quiet down there. They whisper and sing and beg for the open air, and for the love, please dig them up and let them rise.

 

Keep pushing that candle into the darkness, whatever your love-fueled art might be.

Keep working on your craft.

Keep praying and listening and kneading and bringing goodness to the table.

Keep serving the world with your heart open wide.

Keep whispering truth into tiny ears.

Keep sitting down on the bench in front of those black and white keys.

Keep clicking the shutter, pushing “publish,” swirling colors.

Keep writing and listening to the music of the words marching down the page.

And keep flinging seeds…because when the time is ripe, a harvest will emerge.

For the love,

don’t give up.

(photo found here.)

Come along for the journey? Subscribe in the CONNECT box on the front page. Lets pilgrimage together.

Need more encouragement? Find it here.

here with Jennifer Dukes Lee

and here with Holley Gerth

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Bellows for a Struggling Marriage

This week I’m on an organizing kick, and it’s my husband’s love language…so I’m pulling this one out of the archives from last year.  It is no less true.  He’s still worth the fight.

 

Fires don’t just keep burning.  They must be tended, stoked, blown on, fought for.  And yes, we have fought through each one of these sixteen years.  We nearly gave up once but we came back strong with boxing gloves on.  We have chosen love over and over and now?  The drama has toned down, peace has settled and we have learned how to tend this fire.

 

1. When love dams up, small acts of kindness help the love to trickle again. 

Choose to make his favorite dinner, kiss him goodbye, look into his eyes with kindness, make love, tell him how much his work is appreciated.  Do the hard work until it’s not work anymore.

 

2. Do first things again.

Wear that perfume you wore when dating, listen to “your” music, go for that hike around the lake and be quiet in wonder…together.

 

3. Encourage his dreams.

Mom taught me this.  Early in Medical school in Genoa, Italy when Dad was still trying to learn Italian so he could read his text books, she put a sign on his door: Dr. Stephan Myers.  Always be on his team.

4. Become fluent in his love language.

Make sure your “I love you” speaks with clarity.  Take the test?

 

5. Write an honor list.

I learned this from the DNA of Relationships and a big thank you to Gary Smalley for the gift of that book.  If you find yourself struggling now, do read it.

How to write an honor list? Practice thanksgiving one line at a time.  Write a list of every little thing you appreciate about him.  Include all the ways he is made in the image of God. Meditate on the list until those truths come to mind before resentments have time to flood in.

 

6. Enjoy shoulder to shoulder time.

What does he enjoy doing?  Pick up the fly fishing rod, put on the waders and head to the stream. Remember: 10 to 2, 10 to 2, 10 to 2 and then lay the line out smooth.

7. Remember your story.

In our bedroom there is a scrapbook just for our marriage, a gift for our anniversary during an especially hard year.  Think two children under the age of two.  I made it for our story, full of our vows, our favorite camping trips, quotes and poetry. With the making of every page, it drew my heart back to his.  This book is my Ebenezer, my stone of remembrance, the way I’ve remembered how faithful God is through the hard times.

 

8. Pray. Pray. Pray.

Pray for his work.  Pray for your bond to grow, for it to be protected. Pray for his parenting.  Let the Holy Spirit transform him while you sit back and fight your frustrations out with the Lord, not him.  My friend Lynn Johnson says to go over his head…go to his “Boss.”

 

9. Set aside intentional time.

A daily check-in chat. A weekly mini-date.   A monthly outing with kids cozy at home with babysitters.  Our marriage is the greenhouse for these precious wee ones.  They need us to lay aside time…away from them.

 

10. Always be available.

Yup, you read that right.  I know sometimes we get sick, sometimes we are completely exhausted, and sometimes we stop for that monthly annoyance, but otherwise…fall easily into his arms.  It’s your glue.

 

11. Welcome him home with music.

Every night can be a celebration.  Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.  The pasta is swirling in the boiling water, the kids run and hide waiting to be found by daddy and the music is ready for dancing.  I want his heart to always surge toward home.

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Summer Gross

 

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Advent: Days 7-8, Love-Fueled Courage

We need you fully present, fully awake.

 

We need light-bearers, God-bearers, Kingdom-bringers, hope-servers.

 

We are hungry for your glad tidings shouted from mountaintops, whispered into smartphones, wrapped around the shoulders of the widow sitting hands-folded in the pew. We need the Kingdom come and it is you, my friend, who will help bring it in.

 

Back in ancient days, the glad tidings proclaimer was a job, the one responsible for climbing mountains to bring the news.  Think ancient news anchor. Job description: trek up the switchbacks, catch your breath and loudly bellow the message.  The words, “The King is coming!” would project from up in the hills so sound waves could reverberate to women with baskets hustling around the market.

Isaiah 40:9 “0 thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain;O Jerusalem, that tellest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, “behold your God.”

Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee”

 

It is fear, (oh ya, and narcissism, but sometimes aren’t they one in the same?) that keeps us planted down in our own square footage.

 

So here’s the secret to fearless proclaiming:

 

The greater the love, the less stage fright we have.  Fall in love with the Image-bearing, beautifully broken and we can’t help but weep over Jerusalem, walk straight into our callings.

 

Because we don’t want your love-less art (a quote from Emily Freeman’s inspiring book here), your narcissistic preaching, your light-less spouting, your love-less mothering, (friending, teaching, doctoring, self-promotion, etc.)

 

We need you fully engaged. We want your story metamorphosed by His story and projected by love.

 

But that kind of love…it can’t be bought, faked, counterfeit.

 

It has to be given and grown.

 

In seminary I found the longer I steeped in a story, the more it would come out as tight little bits of poetry.  Spend an internship researching the world of the Celts along with Hilda of Whitby from the 600’s? For a month I would dream and create and scratch down Hilda poems before sleep.

 

What we marinate in eventually comes out.  For better, for worse, it becomes the story we write, the art we make, the tidings, glad and otherwise, we project.

 

We have a dear friend who used to be an editor at Zondervan who would regale us with stories of the authors he supported. His unabashed favorite? Richard Foster. Why? Richard’s integrity.

 

Richard Foster, our friend told us, would spend seven years writing a book. He refused to put words on paper that didn’t come out of his soul, that were not written by his life.  Richard refused to get caught up in the publishing world’s demand for more titles. He would pray through his subject, live that subject and then, love the reader of that subject.

 

How do we project God’s coming into the world without fear?

 

Eugene Peterson transcribes Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine for your light has come” in this way, “Get out of bed Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, but God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you.”

 

We, my friends, are solar powered.  Our light gets brighter when we dwell in strong light.

 

One Sabbath I was searching for direction and sat down for an hour in front of the altar. It’s a thin place, a kairos place, a place where God’s voice feels louder. This was one of those rare moments where His love broke over me and I sat for a long time just enjoying Him. But I’m no saint and soon hunger chased me out and I slid into a booth at Red Lobster. I know, a little extravagant and entirely institutional but I’m addicted to their coconut shrimp with pina colada sauce.  I found myself getting effusive all over the unsuspecting waitress.  “Do you know you have a beautiful smile?” I asked her. The mechanical eyes now turned soft and the smile brighter. I wrote “thank you” on my receipt and “I just want you to know God takes great delight in you” in the margin. And yes, I know, maybe we should have established more of a depth in our friendship before I went all glad tidings over her, but honestly, love was just seeping out.

 

This was me holding back.

 

When we soak in love, lap it up, we project love fearlessly.

 

We need you, dear one, to fearlessly Go Tell it on the Mountains.

 

We want your unique God-soaked story projected and inviting us to strain our eyes for the Coming One, to“Behold our God.”

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An Advent Get-Practical Spiritual Exercise:

Soaking in God’s Love–

1. The 3 R’s: Rest (take deep breaths), Receive (Receive His love), Respond (Love Him back, worship)

2. God on a hunt for Scripture about God’s love for you. Meditate, chew on them and then take them to bed.

3. Turn up the worship music, close your eyes and enjoy Him.

4. Use one phrase from Scripture and take deep breaths with it: “I am loved with an everlasting love.” Set a timer for ten or twenty minutes. Neuroscientists tell us that what we repeat, transforms and heals our brain.

 

We are on a journey to the manger, one Scripture, one stepping stone from Handel’s Messiah at a time. Join us?  Don’t miss a day.  Slip your email in the Connect box on the front page of this website. Let’s be pilgrims together.

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Linking with Laura Boggess who today shares about the unexpected wonder of winter-time worship,

Michelle DeRusha who talks about obedience and having a Joseph-sized faith

and Jen who is teaching us to pray for our sisters through the holiday push.

 

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Encouragement, Love 101

We stood on the sidewalk, the runners turning at the 25.4 mile mark, and we grew hoarse handing out courage. “You can do this!” “You’re on the homestretch!” My children, myself and my parents, we all waved neon signs, scanning the runners for Matt, Stephanie, Andy, Felicia, Rachel. While we waited for our dear ones, we encouraged fellow runners, exhausted strangers, orange balloon archway finish line still out of sight. And yes, we all encourage in our own unique way:

They barely looked up, determination stretched their eyes forward unseeing, exhaustion weighing heavy. It was then that we learned to read names above numbers pinned to their shirts,

“Michelle, you are doing this.”

“John, you are finishing strong.”

We were strangers, dots in the cloud of witnesses, risking care. Hearing their name, they glanced up, breathing deep of hope.

It’s an upside down Kingdom. We think it’s the big things that matter, the filled amphitheaters, the google analytics numbers, but it’s the looking into the eyes…it’s the speaking of a name…it’s the sowing love one seed at a time down the same row of someone’s life.

Because life is a slow marathon, the miles pursuing the weary and we all need en-couragement, water in small cups refreshing us for the next mile.

Because when we put our head down checking off our never-ending to do lists, we think we are never enough and it is the small seed of authentic care that lifts our face.

 

Because sometimes like this daughter, we need someone to run with us. And like my precious friend, Teresa, you just can’t help yourself, breaking out of the crowd in your Toms, springing toward your girl. When you live encouragement, feed encouragement from plates at your kitchen island, whisper encouragement over the phone, the risk becomes easy.  Then when you see her tired slagging steps you can’t help but step off the sidewalk and take her hand pink placard and all.

When we practice encouragement, the leap to run beside no longer feels foreign.

 

Because maybe encouragement is just Love 101 when learning to give. And when we encourage, forgetting ourselves, running beside is just the next logical step. We are just following the Paraclete’s example, the Come-along-side-One.

 

And this is why I write, because I can see your faces headed toward the finish line, tired and not seeing victory yet. I wish I could hand you a small cup of gatorade, watch you drink the courage straight down.

 

Because I wish I knew your name, the story you’ve been growing in your heart. I wish I could whisper, “You might be exhausted by the end of the night, spent clean empty, but you are loved and I know you gave armfuls today. You bathed little ones, cupped water in your hands to pour over their heads and looked into their big eyes, whispering love. You nourished hearts, filled bellies and Mama, you did Jesus work today. Thank you.”

 

And to my sister friend who pushes paper and stares at felted cubicle walls and wonders if what she does matters: you rub shoulders with an office full of broken beautiful stories and God image bearers and my dear, the light shines bright from inside your makeshift walls. You are doing Jesus work today. Thank you.

 

And to you, the minister, who wonders if he/she is giving enough, living hard enough, reaching out enough, praying enough. You, my friend, are a Sower, throwing seed liberally. Keep giving out Jesus, throwing truth out to root. Elizabeth, you’re doing this. Chris, you are running with endurance. You are doing Jesus work today. Thank you.

 

And you too who work in a turnstile for the sick, check charts, feel pulses. When you enter a room, you hold the hand of Jesus and the Healer walks straight into the realms of the sick with you. That’s Jesus work. Thank you, dear one.

I wish I knew your name and could tell you, “Friend, you’ve got eyes just like your Father’s and that face, it is radiant, reflecting His light. And dear one, you are beautiful. Keep running. Together, you and He, you’ve got this.”

Summer Gross

And you friend, where do you need encouragement today?

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Linking with the talented storyteller, Laura Boggess here:

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A Soft Landing (Doesn’t that sound like a great novel?)

Hi friends!  Summer writing with three kids is hard.  Summer writing living at someone else’s house is hard.  Summer writing without knowing where you are landing is hard.  And apparently, I need roots, a sense of place, and oh ya,a wifi.

 

But….We’ve finally landed…and after the bumpy ride, graciously, the landing has been soft.  And yup, we’ve learned once again, lived once again that “His steadfast love endures forever.”

 

Can you hear it whispered over each one of these answers to a year of prayer? His steadfast love endures forever.

 

Andrew is now installed at the Anglican Church of North America’s provincial center in Ambridge, PA. And yes, after years of yearning to witness the larger Anglican communion in action, He’s going to Nairobi, to GAFCON NEXT MONTH!  And of course Andrew says: His steadfast love endures forever.

 

God has mixed up in Andrew a healthy dose of 10 years of priesthood, an amazing skill with words kneaded into him through Calvin College’s philosophy program and stirred in years of running a communications/marketing/web development firm and voila: Director of Communications for ACNA.  All the ingredients have now come together in service to our beloved church.  (Can you hear it again? I’m moment by moment wading through the thickness of answers to prayer. His steadfast love endures forever.)

 

Andrew got word from the province Wednesday August 14th and on August 16th we drove the four hours from Reading, PA to Pittsburgh, PA and zigzagged over town to six landlord appointments from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm.  Our first appointment? An apartment in quaint Sewickley, PA had just come down in rent $200 and put us 10 minutes from the office and smack dab in the middle of a lovely walkable community with an excellent elementary school with a full beautiful soccer field.

 

We moved in Saturday, the kids started school on Tuesday and we have an ice cream shop two blocks from our house: Sewickley Confectionary.  Can you hear it? I know my kids are thinking it: His steadfast love endures forever. And after I took one look at the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen two blocks away, each time I walk through the doors I say, His steadfast love endures forever.

 

The journey? A long 10 weeks of summer full of the joy of living with my mom and dad, occasional nights of the pressing doubts and eye-stinging fear and always trying to stay clutching onto the faithfulness of God.  And now on the other side? I have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

And yes, His steadfast love endures forever.

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

He’s sprawled out beside my sleeping husband right now, the little love.  They are both passed out on our bed, lights still on.  Superman pajama top, Christmas jammy bottom.  I found him at the top of the stairs before my shower, eyes wide with the sound of a summer-storm thunder, clutching “Ur” his stuffed elephant (because that’s the sound elephants make, of course!)

 

“Honey, can Xavi cuddle with you on the couch while you read?” I yell downstairs. Apparently, they took that suggestion a step further.

He’s still now but earlier this evening he was radiating energy. Too long an afternoon nap.  At the playground he pin-balled from slide to see saw to rock wall.  Eventually the spinning slowed and he found his way to one side of a “talking tube.” He motioned and I placed my ear at the other opening.

 

“I love you my lady!” he yelled. (Yup, he’s been calling me “my lady” lately accompanied by a silly grin. This afternoon I got a “your highness” so I’m not complaining.)

“Xavier Stephan Gross, I love you more,” I whispered into the tube.

“No, mama, I love YOU more! I love you more than THAT!” He yelled, throwing his arms up.

“Well, buddy I love you to the moon and back.” (I know, not that original.)

“Mama, I love you to the moon and then to the ocean and back.”

“Buddy, I love you to Africa and back.”

“Mama,” he got super loud, “I LOVE YOU EVERYWHERE!”

(Ahhhh, and there it was…the trump card.)

I grabbed him for a tickle, giggle fest.

 

But, really Friend, I didn’t use to believe that God loved me everywhere.  I believed that I could walk into the profane and get entangled where God’s Presence couldn’t penetrate. Then, I was sure my sins created a barrier, a locked door.  I forgot He’s good at walking through those…even running.  The prodigal’s Father ran toward his Son way before he had a chance to utter anything remotely resembling repentance.

 

But I don’t just fear my sin’s imaginary barrier, I fear somehow stepping out of a gigantic masterplan of God’s where I and redemption couldn’t weasel our way back in.  I fear stepping off the Kingdom grid. Yes, bad theology, but nonetheless what gets preached to you in high school usually gets shoved down hard until fear dredges it back up.

 

Moving feels a bit like that.  I’m off the grid.  Nothing feels rock stable and it’s easy to imagine that God was left back on the table with that last set of keys.

 

But, then this:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

(Psalm 139: 7-12)

 

Your right hand will hold me fast.  Your right hand will hold me fast.

 

When I fear I haven’t been hearing correctly, haven’t placed my feet on the right stepping stone, He holds me fast.

 

When I feel uprooted, unearthed, He still holds me fast.

 

When loneliness undoes me in the quiet of a new town, my phone stopped ringing days ago, He holds me fast.

 

When I hide from Him and the quiet, folding myself into the familiar of Facebook, He still holds me fast.

 

I’ve been closing my eyes lately and remembering that HE IS HERE…

 

just like He was there…

 

and practicing this, the 3 R’s:

 

Resting (closing my eyes, breathing deep, connecting to God’s Presence, here.)

Receiving His love (His Word of truth, gift of Presence, love outpouring…yup, it’s always that close)

Responding (I love you too.)

 

And then in the stress-free quiet I always seem to hear, “I love you more.”

 

And as I practice this simple prayer, I’m beginning to believe, He truly does loves me everywhere even hidden here in the folds of these Pennsylvania hills.

Summer Gross

I learned the 3R’s from my dear mother and she learned it from a spiritual director/counselor in Lancaster, PA, Robert Woodcock. Thank you Robert!

And you, friend, if you have just 3 minutes, might I recommend the 3 R’s? Rest. Receive his love. Respond.  Then tell me how it goes in the comment section?  I’m one of those nosy ones and love to hear tales of the gifts He’s handing out.

I’ve linked up with the always insightful and tremendously talented Jennifer Dukes Lee here:

 

 

and emily wierenga who knows all about holding the hand of the miracle giver:

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Where to Go with Our Grief

Nana squirted the colors out on white paper plates, four small mounds. Fingers dip in, tentative at first. “This is your sad page. Madeline,” mom explains, “draw your feeling.  It doesn’t have to be a picture, just paint how you feel onto the paper.”

“I left my friends,” she whispers low blue mixing with yellow then mixing again with red swirling brown, black, red in round motions.  “I miss Shawn…and my church…and my friends.” Her hands slide round and round and round covering up the interior white.

Yesterday she scrawled the names of each of her classmates on small slips of paper, zipped them in a small pouch as if she was afraid she would lose them. She kept taking them out one at a time to look at them, whisper their names to us, tell us their stories.

Then Madeline explained to little brother in her teacher voice, “You don’t have to make a picture, Xavi, just a feeling. How do you feel?”

 

On the top we labeled the obvious: SAD. Then we closed our eyes, used the imagination to hand our pictures to Jesus waiting for us, open hands.  Madeline shared that Jesus was holding her close, his arms across her chest while she talked with Him about what her picture meant. We watched her motion with her hands, gave Him her blended lament.

He alone knows what to do when our hearts bleed raw. He holds our tears close to His heart…longs to someday wipe them away for good.

My heart weeps as I watch and tears stream and I turn towards window looking over the backyard to wipe.  And if I feel their pain raw, oh how He must feel as He watches, as He carries our grief, eats the bread of our sorrow, always present, the empathetic witness. Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.(Isaiah 53:4)

And He still wants to carry our pain, but do we remember to hand the heavy over?

I carried Xavier, full body like superman to the sink, arms out, fingers shot straight. I pushed up the faucet and he watched the colors run together and swirl in the bottom of the sink.

“Look, clean mama!” We clapped at the empty, clean, pure, then his eyes turn away and with mischievous grin he flicked his fingers into my face, giggled.

Mom deals out a new empty sheet: “Here is your happy paper. What are you thankful for today, Xavier?”

“Nana, nana, nana!” he yells, bouncing up and down on the wooden barstool.

And you friend, are you carrying grief that needs to be lamented and handed over to your Abba?

And these are thanksgivings lifted up because He is so good and always giving:

1. Barnes and Noble Sunday afternoon and inspiration that keeps me from sleep

2. Cupping children’s faces in my hands in the early morning, morning breath stale

3. My parents huge house where we all spread out on three floors,

4. Ikea wanderings with my mom, changing shoes halfway through, sharing the same size,

5. Not being jealous of the mother/daughter shoppers giggling in back of us because we had been having our own giggle feast for hours,

6. Children bursting into the house, throwing off bathing suits and running through the house naked,

7. Good Samaritan, Paoli. Raising our hands to praise after Elijah from Mendelsohn had been sung artfully,

8. The hills, singing green, trees full, pregnant

9. Stone farmhouses, red barns, meandering lanes

10. New friends with depth and eyes that light up when I mention “Alexander Schmemann.”

And I love sharing these with the insightful Ann Voskamp at her site: www.aholyexperience.com and the lovely Laura Boggess at www.lauraboggess.com and of course Jen, always full of humor and raw vulnerability at www.findingheaventoday.com .

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