Key to Conquering Anxiety *SLOW Word video* Lectio Divina

 

We live our lives as orphans. We live impoverished and alone.  We walk out our front door, down the sidewalk and completely forget who our Daddy is.

 

At least that’s my story.  

 

When I was ten years old we moved across the country from Maine to Ohio. New neighborhood. New church. New Christian school.

 

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I pushed through the giant metal doors of that jr. high completely intimidated by the painted concrete walls, the dozens of blue eyes staring back. I breathed shallow. I learned to live as camouflage, an iguana that changed colors according to the background. I held my arms tight to my body and wished I could blend in.

 

It was an impossible task.

 

80% of the other children were family, first and second and third and fourth cousins of Dutch farm families who had ingeniously settled that land, drained the swamp and farmed the black topsoil that remained. Their trucks crisscross the country to WalMarts and Meijer stores filling our vegetable bins. The kids in my class picked the lettuce and carrots in the summer alongside their fathers’ migrant workers. They were on their home turf and were made of sturdier stuff.

 

I was a singer, a reader who ate, drank, and breathed Lucy Mond Montgomery, and had an anxiety disorder I would only come to understand after I birthed my first baby. That was decades away.

 

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As the kids teased, I took every arrow straight to the heart. I didn’t know how to deflect the pain, the fear that they might be right. I let them write my new name, carve it across my chest. The lies wormed their way into my blood system and it took years to erase the ink scrawled out: Rejected.

 

I walked through those metal doors into my jr. high stripped of truth. I walked in as an orphan. Abandoned. Devastatingly alone.

 

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This is my story, my fight for healing, and the long hard road of transformation. This was one of the essential keys on the journey right here in Psalm 139: 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

   Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

   If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

   and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

   and your right hand shall hold me tight.

 

This is not just theory, all these lovely words. It’s David’s story, a shepherd boy, struggling with fear on the side of the mountain listening to a lion’s hunting growls. He must have wondered if he had wandered outside of the circle of His Presence. And it’s my story.

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Years later this matchstick girl has learned to cling tight. His Presence is no longer ethereal ideology, or some mystic’s fanaticism. Practicing the Presence of God is my life-line, especially during times of transition when my world has been emptied, tipped upside down like a bucket, my comfortable life tumbling out. I’ve learned to open up my awareness to His constant Presence and the Light of the World chases away anxiety’s clinging fog. I no longer walk into rooms alone, sit at tables alone, walk the edge of the water’s surf alone. The perfect love of God is always near, a banner over me. His love, no wait…His present love defines me. I AM adopted. The papers have been signed in blood. I walk with Jesus. It’s the with-God life, and my dears, it’s good.

 

After years of pressing close, years of this renewing of the mind, (Oh the tales of redemption that I could tell!) I no longer function as a practical orphan. I know who I am.

 

I’m His.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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When your Soul Craves a Home, a vlog

Do you crave more? Do you crave home and knowing you have a place card at God’s table with your name embroidered on it? Me too.

 

 

summer preaching the tableYesterday I had the privilege of preaching in the strip district at Church of the Incarnation Anglican church. I adore this group of artists, musicians, poets, students, children, and professors. Gorgeous and meaningful classical music, reams of paper and colored pencils for creative meditation, ample silence, and a liturgy that’s ripe and full, never stuffy. Incarnation is planted in the middle of Pittsburgh’s foodie heaven above Bar Marco, a hipster restaurant on Bon Appetit’s top 50 list. It’s church with the muted sounds of diners just underneath. This is the perfect setting for a full theology of the table to be born.

 

The lectionary handed me Psalm 23 and I zoned in on verse 5: “You have spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

 

Early on I share Rublev’s Trinity and its invitation to join in the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit:

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You friend, whatever you need, it’s on the table.

 

This is your invitation. Scoot up your chair and taste and see that He is good.

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Sharing this post with Ann Voskamp and counting thanks:

1. 21 years with my love, chocolate cake and the numbers 37 on his cake

2. After dinner walk with the sweet assertive smell of lily of the valley

3.Walking downtown with my boys coaxing their soccer balls

4. Discovering Lucy Mond Montgomery again with Madeline.

5. Marilynne Robinson’s gorgeous life-steeped prose.

6. The cards and smiles and the homemade presents of mother’s day

7. Xavier jumping flat footed in the puddles

8. Daddy’s help at bathtime

9. the privilege of good news…oh the privilege

10. coming home more and more often to my place at the table

also linking with Jen who encourages so many.

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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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Sleeping with Bread, Part 4; Wrestling with God

This was a wrestle this summer…one that I can’t mold into a tidy little shape of words, the sweat and tears of it are just too fresh.  Have mercy with the lack of polish…I considered not publishing it, but, honestly, it feels like a cop out to not give it to you as a part of this series, Sleeping with Bread. And honestly, if you and I were sitting over coffee at Starbucks, (which I would love to do sometime!) I would share this story with every one of you dear friends.

 

Sometimes we smack into life hard, don’t we? A job loss, depression, a car accident, a death that took love too soon. They are all Pandora’s boxes letting out core longing fears that scream to be heard and the promises we sang in Sunday school just don’t feel honest anymore.  That’s when we go to bed with bread and a good, night-long wrestle with the Word.

 

If I have time (and sense!) in the light, that’s when I pull my journal off the shelf and lament uncensored, (you know there are more lament Psalms than praise psalms?) and weep into the empty page like David in Psalm 22:

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night and am not silent.”

 

Strength drained, I can’t pray in the light, so I wrestle with the Word like the Psalmist in Psalm 77 here:

 

“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”

 

Sometimes sleeping with bread is more of a wrestle, but a wrestle that always ends with a blessing.

I was shaken.  Core rocked.  The job fell through in June as the last boxes were being taped up and we had rented out our home to beach-seekers for the summer. Stunned, we drove east, homeless. My parents took us in ecstatic to squeeze the grandkids daily. Twelve weeks of what felt like family vacation rose and fell on waves of insecurity.

 

But the Gift-Giver keeps bestowing even when we are an uprooted mess of roots hungry for a future.

 

Mom and Dad bought a black and white striped umbrella for the teak table on the back porch and I cooked one feast after another: white wine poached salmon, garlic studded roast chicken and filets smothered with blue cheese sauce.  When they traveled to Belgium to see the newest member of our family born, their presence, a cover of joy was removed and naked fear was all that was left. We went back to boxes of Macaroni and Cheese.

 

I spent the first part of that week in a fog, unable to plan, to pray. Television was my drug of choice and every evening when the kids went down, I did too.  One episode of West Wing after another to numb the fear.  Triumphal music+ great screen write= Perfect Escape. A day with a new friend finally shook me out.  (Thank you Christie Purifoy!) She was gentle with my fragility and we exchanged stories of moves that land us in the desert and a faithful God who with pillars of fire, guide us through.  Later, I sat with my heart finally quieted enough to listen.

 

I was empty and shaken, but our God knows what to do with empty.  Empty may feel like a pit but when we hold it out to the Giver, empty is that much closer to being full.

 

He sent me on a treasure hunt, all that day. Listen, He reminded me, for a short phrase of scripture to take to bed with me, to hold onto tight.

 

The living Word winding through the subconscious dislodges demons and exposes others powerless.

 

He reminded me to go to sleep with bread.

 

When anxiety left the children of the Holocaust without the soft sleep of peace, Viktor Frankl says that they were tucked in bed with bread, curling their bodies around that which would give them life the next day.  They needed to grasp certainty.

 

We too can be woven into such a tight knot of fear that sleep evades and when night comes, we are left with a mind teetering on the edge of a very real hell.

 

And that which is clearly untrue by the light of day can still mock in darkness.

 

These verses had slid in and out of my mouth during my daily reading lectionary as I read daily but had honestly never stuck firmly in my mind.  “I set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken, Psalm 16:8”  They felt foreign and at this point, clearly untrue.  Not shaken? Ha!  I had been absolutely rocked!  Tremors had produced deep fissures in my trust. Ah, but I still clung.  Clung hard. He is the only solid Pillar to cling to in the middle of an earthquake.  That night as I tucked in with bread, I gripped the crust tight, holding strong onto God.

 

Jacob had wrestled, holding onto the Life Giver, refusing to give up the grasp, the sweaty slide throughout the night.  He believed the next day he, the blessing stealer, would meet with his brother Esau and possibly die at his hands along with all he loved. This night traveling back toward his boyhood home was his only hope and he would wrestle until he knew blessing.

 

I too held on tight, longing for release from fear, longing for blessing. I repeated the words as I breathed in, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

 

The promise of not being shaken clearly went along with practicing His Presence. Because I know that He is here, I have set the Lord always before me, even on my right, I will not be shaken.

 

What came to mind was the hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate and that first Sunday as Holy Trinity Anglican when we walked out of the Episcopal church and onto the water and everything felt all wobbly beneath our feet. We began worship and here was that snare drum and the firm beat as we followed the Celtic cross down the makeshift middle school cafeteria aisle.

 

These were the words St. Patrick wrapped around himself daily against the fear and struggle of a missionary life. He lived choosing to feed his pagan captors Jesus, they who had enslaved him as a child. St. Patrick had overcome the trauma of separation from family as a child, the trauma of six years of slavery and after escaping back to his family,  had done the excruciatingly hard work of forgiveness. He had wrestled bitterness and anger and God had sent him back into their hands, to love and bring His Kingdom to his Captors. These were the words that became his protection, the bread he grasped daily.

 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

I held onto the bread tighter, the Bread-giver: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  You are here. Before me. Beside me. Like Patrick, I choose to hide myself in You.

 

I fell mercifully asleep and dreamed deep. We were on a plane, the whole church we had just left in South Haven, everyone strapped to the metal top, our hair waving wildly in the wind.  Lynne Maxwell led the praise team and tried to buoy our fear, play louder, more upbeat. We all tried clapping in time from our sliding aluminum chairs and then the plane began to tip and the whole church, Sonya Silvester, Kathy Sicard, Mark Lewis… all of us began free-falling into miles of empty air. I caught my breath, a mouthful of fear, and then it happened, the Word transforming, the blessing. I began yelling over and over, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

 

The words proclaimed were like pulling the rip cord on a parachute and I began floating, buoyed, slowly capturing the magnificent view in mental pictures.  Flying.

 

The wrestling came to an end and the little “t” truth became a transforming big “T” Truth and I was truly blessed.

 

The next morning the blessing continued. The words now had more power than the tangle of my own thoughts and the earthquake stilled.

 

The bread lodged firmly in my mind and I feasted.

 

Summer Gross

Paintings by Rembrandt, Delacroix found here

Looking for more of the Sleeping with Bread series? Click on the title here:

A Simple Bedtime Practice

How His Presence Changes Everything

Healing through Repetition

My Story: Where my Story is Challenged by Truth

 

You friend? Have you found any hope, any gift from sleeping with bread? We would love to share the feast.

Linking with the always insightful Laura Boggess , the completely authentic Jen and Ann who  challenges and draws and makes me more thirsty.

My gifts this week? 1. A fireplace roaring and the family coming to be warmed, 2.My sister, listening, in-Couraging, 3. Seeing old high school friends, cheering on the flames, 4. rides on a vespa with Uncle Matt, 5. A husband’s grace with my grief, 6. Incarnation Anglican’s hospitality to my children. 7. Time ‘home’ to take deep breaths and remember how to be real, 8. Lindsay and Ethan, joining friends on the journey, 9. Thai peanut chicken, a revelation! 10. the truth from others and the sinking down small and letting Him grow large.

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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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Day 24: The Key to my Conversion and Possibly Theirs?

There were a few years around college I couldn’t stomach Paul.  He had been thrown into my face too many times.  And I couldn’t hear the Old Testament without questions about God’s goodness staring at me.  But, Jesus?  I was entranced.  Not the saccharine sweet  two-dimensional Jesus of the flannel graph, I was captivated by counter-cultural Jesus, pausing for long conversations over an ancient well with an unfaithful woman.  I was drawn by the Jesus tearing down the religious structure with a whip focused on freeing people.

 

Jesus ran his fingers over the soft wisps reaching for the sun, eating kernels of grain on the Sabbath…because he was hungry, imagine that. He gave order to the chaos of rules and extra laws about rules like He did at Creation so long ago, not with violence, but piercing truth.  I was struck by the clarity with which He spoke into the tangled web of lies produced by human nature 30AD.  Where does that come from?  I needed that kind of clarity. This was wisdom that shakes the foundations of the world over and over so that even Ghandi developed his India-liberating philosophy based on His person.

Those days, I was easily distracted by the hypocritical nature of His children and confused by the towers of impossible theology, but if I kept my eyes locked into His, the miraculous found a home inside me.  I wanted to gaze, to read, to gaze again, curl up and live there.

 

Eventually I made peace with Paul.  He’s quite stunning, actually.  I finally made friends with this shockingly humble Christ-pointer who pieced together a brilliant quilt of mystery with his inspired words. And the Old Testament? I read for God glimpses, trying to discern hints of Jesus threaded through.

 

I’ve learn to read kneeling before the One who proves Himself faithful over and over story to shining story.

 

And when I preach?  Each time, I hear God whisper, whatever you do, point to Jesus.

 

When the curious begin to unfurl, hunger for Light, this is what we can water them with, pure unadulterated Jesus straight from the gospel.  Encourage them to discover Jesus for themselves, push past the stereotypes.  There they may be shocked to find not the saccharine Jesus of tired Sunday school songs, but their Guide to a new adventure: the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Summer Gross

Hi friend.  Welcome.  We’re in the middle of a series for Lent called Cross-shaped Evangelism.  If you want more, do click here.  We are in the middle of a conversation about the five thresholds from this book and now, are chatting through this threshold.  I know it will all make sense in just a few clicks! Tomorrow, deep breaths and Sabbath.

 

Journey with me the rest of the way? Type your email in the Connect box to the right and hit “subscribe.”  Daily Inspiration (through Lent, otherwise just three days a week) pointing to Jesus.
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I found the Wise Men Still Seek Him button from this site via Pinterest.

 

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My Redemption Story

Meet Lynn Johnson.  I’m guest posting over at her site today with this, my messy and unglamorous (though no less victorious) redemption story.  And you, friend, you’ve just got to get to know Lynn.  She and her husband and seven kids lived in a red brick house a block over and our families grew and intertwined and did life together for three years. She sings with a rich, powerful gospel voice and has a testimony to match.  Lynn, Mama Lynn as my family calls her, came in the middle of a blizzard a few years ago from the Detroit area to give a talk at a town-wide women’s Christmas gathering.  She had us weeping into kleenexes as she shared about her years of struggle and then she led us out into praise, giving us glimpses of Jesus.

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And here, dear friend, is my story:

I lived a double life:  One with a morning prayer closet and a love tank full and a pink and white striped bedroom, and the other in the sterile halls of junior high where daily I worked to be accepted and daily I was taught the lie, you are not enough.  My Jesus, held tight each morning as I stepped out of the minivan vanished slowly as I walked down the wide grey hall floor.  Daily I lost trust, daily lost faith.  Daily I stood, feeling abandoned by secure Love.

 

Jr. highers throw judgments around until they hit people and little people who feel small try to stand on other people’s toes, crush what is vulnerable.  I feared new until I trembled at judgment in every unknown room.  Four years of lies.  Four years of walking into the carnival hall of mirrors and untruth built a ditch in my mind every other thought would slingshot towards.  Every day I tried to run at peer relationships new: laughter at myself and at the jokes one day, silence the next.  Some days I tried to force bonds with compassion.  I lived anxious, pretending happy.   Each day I contorted myself so as to avoid the teasing.

 

Four years and I unlearned every authentic voice God had poured in.

 

At the same time, I was another Summer at church apart from peers.  Real Summer singing from deep passion for God, courageously unguarded.  Love-tank-full Summer exploring cultures and peoples and teaching about missions at youth gatherings.

 

I began walking beside myself.

 

Please click here and read the rest over at Lynn’s.  It gets better, I promise!

Summer Gross

 

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