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!”
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.
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.
Women are quick to lift up the mask, paint on the mask…but the truth?
The mask can plaster on hard. It becomes a wall between sisters and only the brave take it off. But when the walls do come down and the stories come out and we are dazzled.
Maya Angelou tells this story in one of her memoirs, I forget which one. Women and men had traveled from tribes all over Africa for a PanAfrican conference in Egypt and it was culminating in a feast that led to a dance. Men and women were separated after dinner and though Maya was about to quietly slip up to bed, that was when the joy let loose. Across the hotel ballroom were all shapes and sizes and colors worn on the milky coffee to the ebony. There were tall Ethiopian princesses with high foreheads and rounded Gabonese with the wide hips that swung in circles as she walked. The music thumped and the voices soared and the colors swirled, each bringing the gift of their own tribal rhythm.
One gorgeous mass of a woman slid into the circle and brought out a white scarf, pulling it back and forth on the slight breeze of a body swaying. Maya watched as the others danced around her. When the tall Ethiopian jumped up straight in rhythm to the music, the others raised hands over her, celebrating the unique beauty.
This story appeared simultaneously in the minds of both my mother and I as we sat around a circle of women, sharing stories. It was a night of listening, of quiet, of the privilege of hearing the real. And after one gorgeous story after another, of redemption and rescue, our first inclination? We wanted to raise our hands over them, glory in the mystery of brokenness made beautiful.
Because our lives are full of broken shards but God makes art with the pieces.
No one escapes the hammer of a world turned against itself and we live shattered in a million jagged pieces. We walk around cut and try to put together the pieces with a good night cream and a pep talk.
The Open Circle was the innovative response of Annette, a spiritual director in training in Sinking Spring, PA, to her church’s desire for a new kind of women’s ministry. Sunday night she invited us to witness. We braved the piles of snow, the steep icy driveway and drove to Koinos Community Church, a Brethren in Christ church plant with a coffee house vibe. Chairs were pulled up in a circle around the front corner. A simple white candle was lit to remind us that Christ was present. We warmed hands around paper cups with hot tea and entered into the quiet.
Annette drew a circle of safety around the women: confidentiality, respect and the goal of listening, never fixing. Then she invited a single story, a young woman brave enough to pull off the mask, to show the years of scars, to lay out the broken pieces.
When the young woman told her story, she let the tears flow. But sitting in the chairs around the circle, all we could see was her story through the lens of His Light. We saw the colors swirl in a kaleidoscope. She laid out the jumbled pieces and we saw the veins of the work of God, the patterns in rays of glory.
The vulnerable call out the brave in us and around the circle the stories began to slide out one at a time. As she pulled out the broken shards, we all felt brave enough, safe enough to pull out our stories with the pieces that still puzzle. Real stories…not polished and published, not perfect and performed but raw. They had a jagged beauty like the rocks along the coast of Maine.
Mama and I, we sat back in wonder. We could hear the whispers of resurrection and it made us feel giddy. From experience, we know that the circle of stories is the setting where healing begins, where prejudice falls off like a shroud, where the Body of Christ can rise again.
We could feel resurrection power surging
and it made us want to dance.
We wanted to grab the tall girl with the textured scarf, the beautiful blond with the black knee-high boots, the Girl scout mom with the bright smile and all the others into a circle. We wanted to celebrate the hard fought stories of surrender. We wanted to raise our hands over the slight one barely raising her eyes, let our celebration rub into her soul. We wanted to delight in the broken made beautiful.
We wanted to dance in the lit up patterns of redemption and lift our hands up, worship the Kalaidescope maker.
Photos 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
In October in Harrisburg, PA Felicia had walked the runway interceding…in their shoes.
She told the horrors of the stories of the more than 20 million trafficked simply by wearing a dress. It’s a runway show called Unchained (click the link here to find out more) and Felicia is a co-founder (along with my beautiful sister, Stephanie!). 24 dresses designed by the acclaimed Project Runway designer Korto Momulo tells the story of the broken daughters: innocence stolen, the abuse and addictions of the trafficked, then hope, rescue, and redemption.
Compassion had been building for those just steps away from the trafficked as the stories of women who struggled to live free were shared.
And something had been born in Felicia as she walked that runway in the shoes of their story.
Her own step-mom had squeezed her feet into stilettos every night, danced on a platform, wore the makeup so heavy no one could see the scars.
And she was also the one who pushed through the turnstile at a Billy Graham Crusade, who brought Felicia to hear about Jesus.
And if compassion is just love stored up,
then compassionate action is love spilled out.
Because we get them. Don’t we? We all crave love.
And desire substituted and crammed down tight keeps the hunger pains down.
Most had their “no” robbed early, their glory carted away by the power gorging. And powerless, they grasped for power wherever they could find it, landing them here in the dark smoky interior of a strip club.
And every captive daughter needs a Rescuer.
And all the image-bearers need to feel the weight of their value, taste hope in order to walk out of the dark of hell.
It was through Harmony Dust’s work at iamatreasure.com that love started surging into action for Felicia. Harmony, who was trafficked herself, has outreaches for those in the industry and trains women to do the same. On her site, rescued girls tell their stories of sinking into hell and the Rescuer who walked right in and found them there.
A few weeks ago Felicia’s love broke wide open with urgency. She shared with her Ohio State campus church that she planned to gather Christmas gifts for the girls at a nearby club to begin an outreach. Hearts and wallets opened and gift cards for Bath and Body Works were brought to Felicia. Another member of the church, Shaytell Furman linked arms with her to share her mission. With the gift cards for Bath and Body Works, she and Shaytell went shopping choosing the language of lotions to tell the girls that they have value and worth.
They prayed the girls would rub in truth every time they rubbed the lotion in deep. They hoped the salve of the gospel of peace would begin healing the wide open wounds.
Thursday night they wrapped the gifts up pretty in gift bags and she and Shaytell prayed for just the right girls, just the right club to walk into. They had their sites on a big commercial establishment but as they pulled into the driveway, Felicia glanced off to the left at a small shady club. Felicia found herself driving up deeper into the unknown. They parked out front, prayed for courage and then pulled open the heavy metal door.
Once inside their eyes needed to adjust to the darkness, the covered windows, the few bright spotlights. Music pounded out a techno beat and men sat at a bar laughing with a few mingling girls. The air was stale with smoke and alcohol.
As they walked up to the bar to ask for the manager, a few women sitting at the bar smiled brightly. Felicia was startled. Their demeanor was entirely incongruous. They were bright August sunshine in the midst of the hard looks, hands wrapped around glasses tight.
When they announced to the manager their desire to bring Christmas gifts to the girls, the angry manager softened. She pointed to the women at the bar with the wide smiles. It was then that Felicia noticed the Bath and Body Works bags sitting on top of the bar.
For God’s system to work, you have to have all three. Grace and time together, without truth, will make you comfortable in your stuckness. Truth and time together, without grace, will discourage and break you. Grace and truth together without time will give you a vision and then not have you reach the completion of that vision. They must go together.
2. Ask God to build in you a love for the broken beautiful.
3. Do something tangible to show them you care…to share with them their true value.
6. Introduce them to the Rescuer slowly, how He runs to those who come home, forgives their sins, carts away their shame. Then He wraps His robe around them tight, introduces them to His neighbors as His beloved child.
The two women greeted Felicia and Shaytell. “We’ve been praying for you,” one of them whispered as she leaned over.
Felicia and Shaytell learned that the smiling women at the bar had been coming to the club for years every Thursday night, praying, and slowly getting to know the girls. Now the leader was moving out of state and was afraid the ministry would be dropped. “And here you are,” she said, hope spreading across her face.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.
I came barreling out of seminary, fresh out of Victoria Heard’s church planting course with various evangelism methods ready to be fired on the unsuspecting. I was ready to build a church. I believed if I had enough enthusiasm, the people would come flitting, moths to the flame. (And yes, friend, I know you are cringing with me.)
Love, true self-giving, cross-shaped love, was completely out of my league.
I was approaching evangelism through the lens of business model success. Church growth, it’s sometimes called. Ten years later and I have been weakened, wizened, humbled. The cross is no business model. The cross is the giving up (dying) to our own imaginary ideas of success and how they might build our kingdom and slowly prying open one finger at a time, letting outcomes slide away. Only then can we open our hearts, love our neighbor and let the Holy Spirit guide the process of precious ones to Jesus.
The first step to cross-shaped love? We must be made whole before we can learn to love with God’s persevering love. If we haven’t dealt with our own stuff… If we don’t know how we might attack or abandon during the knock-down drag out crucibles in a relationship, we cannot be trusted with the heart of another (though thank You Jesus, He can always redeem our very human messes!) Through the healing power of the love of God, we slowly become a safe person.
Only people who have sat in front of the cross, drank huge drafts of grace, can themselves become pointers to Jesus.
The second step to cross-shaped love is to become an image of the Father’s love. Our world is weighed down with a screwed-up idea of God, and really, why would they want to come within His reach? We have a whole lot of unhealthy Christian stereo-types to overcome. To do that, we have to build time-tested trust and love them in their language, just as our Father wooed us.
Third, if they are beginning to show curiosity, we park ourselves in front of them, asking questions about their journey. We listen and we listen and we listen and then we slowly share. We open our hands with little pieces of our story, little pieces of Jesus’ story…just as much bread as they are hungry for that day. And then, when they are ready to change, truly change their lives, we walk with them to the foot of the cross to meet the One who gave His all for them.
And you, friend, I see you smiling because you know that this transformation usually takes years and a team of loving people. I might have the privilege of walking with them through the first stage and they will need you to listen and stoke the fire of their curiosity.
Cross-shaped evangelism means years of prayer, years of self-giving friendship, years of listening and availability. Why? Because we are not just pray- the- prayer type people. Jesus’ asks us to make disciples, not pick projects and leave them outside their door with a flimsy invitation to church. He shows us the way.
He built relationships of mutual care. Jesus feasted at their dinner parties or invited them over to his place with a wave and a “Come and See!” He walked beside them on miles of dusty roads and then knelt down to wash their dirty feet. He taught and loved and challenged and stayed present. And in the midst of all that messy life, Jesus offered good news to the poor, bound up broken hearts, released prisoners from darkness, and brought new life to one bowed- down life after another. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
That is the type of love I need to be transformed by, the type of love I want to hand out one cup of living water after another. That is good news.
Together let’s sit in front of the cross and learn.
Over the next 39 days, we will be following a journey together deeper into these concepts. Wanna come along? Ash Wednesday to Easter, we will be taking a macro-lens look at cross-shaped evangelism. If you desire to receive the reflection in your inbox, find the box at to your right under the word “Connect,” add your email address and push the subscribe button. Easy. And maybe you have a cross-shaped evangelism story to share? Please use the box under “Submit Your Work” and I would love to share your offering.
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All around the Galilee region the wind was kicking up dirt and throwing it around, exposing hopes that came to the surface and false dreams of manmade kingdoms. The eye of the hurricane was right over Jesus head and in his wake he left a flurry of redemption. Word was spreading fast, maybe too fast causing joyful mobs unable to contain centuries of disappointment.
Messengers spread out from villages running across hills to family in another town with news that a new kingdom was brewing, and a new prophet healing. Family members hurried out to the countryside where lepers were huddled, a colony of the living dead.
Ancient Jewish society believed these lepers carried pollutants from the inside which boiled to the surface and contaminated all it touched, human or inanimate. Dignity disintegrated. Fear sliced through bonds of love and lepers were discarded to the land beyond the village never to return to healthy society unless a priest pronounced them “clean”.
The flood of good news spread across the region even penetrating these hovels of poverty and disease and in this one man from today’s scripture, igniting hope. I wonder: Had a family member waved him down from the food drop off point thirty feet away?
Hope climbed into courage and despite opposition (isn’t there always opposition?), he wraps up his open wounds and starts walking…toward the village…toward people…toward this Jesus.
This man, this leper holding only naked courage, strode directly into the fire of rejection. He was not only not welcome, he was not allowed to come near. There were laws on the books, in the Torah against this, and yet, his desperation created a courage, and the stories he heard, ignited a faith that drew Him closer, positioning Himself in front of the Healer. I imagine folks gathered, listening to Jesus, watching Eden life spread into one pain-racked person at a time. Into this joy-drunk gathering, marched this leper sending villagers spreading like shotgun pellets in all directions. Society’s contamination was walking in their midst, personified death. Horrified with the sight and stench of moving pollution, they fanned out. Only Jesus would stand still. Only Jesus had eternity’s eyes and a compassion which pierced through the jumble of rags and wraps, the white skin flaking, the maimed extremities and recognized a man He had created, a person carefully made in His image. He recognized a man as vulnerable as a baby bird, mouth wide open to Him, the Giver, Nourisher, Healer. A man holding his skin, his heart out for healing.
Standing alone before this Jesus, desire for life completely exposed, he begs: “If you so choose, You can heal me.” Faith rising bursts out of him. Jesus had been seen healing, was filled with power and that is all this man knew. He had heard stories. He had left his life and could not go back. Jesus to him embodied Life.
Jesus had just proclaimed to the synagogue his mission statement:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”(Lk 4:16-21)
This same Jesus was moved to compassion for this walking forsaken and a slow anger built against the maker of disease, this evil captor. Compassion rises and Jesus does not just speak healing as Elijah had to the gentile Namaan hundreds of years before, not coming out of his house, Jesus places Himself in the very center of this man’s cavernous abyss. He sees beyond the spoken need to the hidden wound. He reaches out his hand, and risking contamination and society’s rejection himself, He places his hand on that white flaking skin, touching him. And this leper, he who has lived without human touch, he who had been discarded by family and society, is healed, body, mind and spirit. The touch that once created the Universe, now remakes a man.
I have been living in this scripture for a week and am struck by this man who wore his pain, his disease on the outside of his skin. His bold audacity is disquieting as it works into our plastic surgery world. This leper unabashedly runs toward Jesus, exposing his true need and we remember, God can only answer questions we ask, He can only heal when we position ourselves before Him… He heals wounds we vulnerably lift up to the light of His Presence.
This leper teaches us and exposes vulnerable while we try so hard to smooth wrinkles, to erase pain with medication. We live maimed, wounded, but covered in a world which worships the pristine, the sunny. We try to conjure faith, devoid of desperation, do not weep repentance on Christ’s feet. We pray, whisper for abundant life but do such a make-up job covering our sin, our scars, that we often cheat ourselves into believing we are fine Jesus, thank you. We have no need of your touch, your free resurrection. We have found and drunk from the waters of sanctification or honestly, at least we are better off than Betsy two rows down. Instead of laying a hold of healing ourselves, we settle for enough and then run to isolate when the pain geysers.
The leper teaches us to leave the fine, walk away from the tortured comfortable, all that is known and pursue God Himself. It is here that I listen for the voice of God calling me. This is what He seems to be saying: Summer, do not fear the vulnerable. It is in your vulnerability that I will build a cathedral of grace, a place of healing for others. Only under the shelter of your vulnerability will they be able to risk taking off their bandages, risk exposing their wounds in front of Me. Build an authentic community bold with vulnerable grace.
People cannot heal, cannot uncover their sores where it is not safe, where there is a veneer of perfect. Our Jesus’ grace developed an atmosphere where sinners were rooted, convinced they were loved and so could confess freely, where grace could do its good work of revelation. My friend, unsure of how to heal, opens her wounds every once in a while in front of various friends at church. Her daughter was brutally raped five years ago. Exposed, she is told in placating tones uncomfortable in the presence of suffering that “she should be over it already.”
Last year at this time, I stopped writing. I put myself in my Surgeon’s hands and both learned and with lovely women in my church simultaneously taught Terry Wardle’s 16 week inner healing small group. Through the fall and winter I was landscaped, dug up, sin excavated, wounds exhumed and I was left in February raw. Emotions that usually surfaced only a few times a year, now screamed for attention. Fear of rejection spread across my body as if I was diseased with it, making me hungry to uproot, move, isolate. Others around me in the small groups were singing victory but I was left sitting in an empty garden, upturned earth, completely back hoed. I was the one teaching this stuff, yet it was I who was discouraged, short-breath fearful that the emotional pain would never go away! In desperation, I began to spend hours in scripture accompanied with the materials, fiercely walking right into the pain positioning myself in the healing Presence of God.
I couldn’t go back, didn’t know how to go forward and so like the leper I took to begging. I encountered a phrase in Isaiah 51:14 which spoke truth loudly to my pain and I claimed it as a lifeboat, “The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.” What started whispered sometimes in the privacy of the minivan would be yelled, stomach doubled over, anxiety sharp. I demanded healing because I could do nothing else. The possibility of living in so much emotional pain was sparking anger with my children, sandpaper over the kindness of my marriage. “Abba,” I cried, “don’t leave me this way! Jesus, I know who You are, You are the healer and ‘The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.’ If you so choose, You can make me well.” Like the leper, I had watched others get healed, heard stories.
Francis MacNutt in one of his early tapes on healing gave an illustration of being with God, our Abba at a dinner table. He asked us to imagine a scenario around the dinner table where we are asking our father for food. “If you ask your Abba, ‘Abba, will you please pass the chicken?’ He is not going to deny one of His children: He promises He is going to pass the chicken!” We can be certain, Francis was reminding us, it is in His mission statement: He will always choose to release the captive, to heal brokenhearts, create beauty from ashes when the captive positions him or herself before Him.
And through the next few months, the healing spread creating healthy scars with little emotional power left. He touched and He healed and He proved time and time again that He is more than able and that it is His absolute joy to make all things new.
I told my friend still aching with her daughter’s pain about Journey and the hard work of healing and God’s intervention in my life. She could lean on me and we would go together to Christ. She could be fierce for her own freedom. He, the Healer, the One who knows the landscape of her wounds, will always choose to meet her when she decides to take off her bandages.
for these women who with courage Journey with me
for a powerful God who does not leave us without HELP
for a Prayer Clinic where I get to stand on the edge of heaven and hell and healing with dear ones
for a church who is spreading healing from the inside out
for a senior pastor/rector, my husband, who allowed me to share this story, to preach redemption yesterday morning
for God who speaks truth at the point of my great need
The Holy Spirit who anoints, refreshes, builds
A husband who takes our beautiful children out on the ice to explore and fish in an icy world