How to Withstand the Storms

We are all transplants in this Kingdom, all ball of roots, shook out and replanted insecure, longing for our heart’s true home.

 

 

We are adopted children of the most High who wander through the world with amnesia forgetting to come home, forgetting where our bread (acceptance, security, purpose, Life) comes from.  We turn towards whispers of “little l” life with hope-filled faces and turn away from the arms always offered.

 

We are basically earth scorched thirsty people searching for living water, quenching our thirst in the most unhealthy/unholy of ways.

 

Everywhere I go, when I’m turning toward another voice in hope of some piece of the puzzle coming together, I hear an echo of Him, “Daughter, Come back to Me. Don’t go too far. Attach. Dwell. Abide.”

 

It takes three years for plants to reach down in foreign soil and establish. Three springs that follow three cold winters before they begin to thrive.

 

The gardeners at the Center where I bought my white hydrangeas said to chop off the big snowball blooms for two full years. The roots’ establishing was more critical than beauty, she lectured, tenderly patting the black plastic base. Let them spread all their energy to the tightening, spreading roots and then, she promised, they’ll bloom strong into the years.

 

It’s the roots we can’t see, the roots spread firm in Him that create the lasting beauty.

 

Around that same time wandering through a Christian bookstore, I stared at a black and white Ansel-Adams-like photo. She was a queen of a tree, full of leaves, standing alone, a lace of intricate branches. Underneath the photo was Ephesians 3:17 “Rooted and established in love.”  Paul, midway through his letter was praying for the Ephesians. Now, Paul was hardcore. A missionary of missionaries. I imagine him a bit wild-eyed, like I’d have to look away if I tried to look straight at him. And yet much of his writings come straight back here, straight to the importance of being rooted in God’s love.

 

The full verses of 17 through 19 go like this, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” We need to be rooted in love in order to be filled with God.

 

Chapter 8 in Romans, the chapter I would gladly take to a deserted island (or maybe just a four star hotel) and feast on for weeks, climaxes in this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

The man was rooted and established in some serious hummus-filled love. You’d have to be in order to endure the whips, the chains, the prison isolation, the shipwrecks. He’d be dashed and wrecked about the rocks of life without that firm anchor of love. And maybe that’s all we’ve known.

 

We are so often like adopted children wondering where home really is, insecure, fearful when my dear friends, our Abba is firmly here with us. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Mt 28:20)

Every moment we:

stop and look into His eyes,

whisper “Jesus” in joy or wonder,

search the Word for his self-revelation,

fill up the lungs, drink deep breaths of His love,

bring our fears to his lap,

take our sins to the cross,

listen, getting used to the sound of His voice,

worship with arms outstretched,

or double back, saying thank you.

All this roots and establishes us a little deeper.

It is the constant abiding John talks about, the branch coming in close, attaching firm to the Vine.

 

 

Christianity is less a lifestyle of trying hard and more a constant doubling back, coming in close.  And the most beautiful service, the most powerful wave-walking trust and firm obedience? It comes naturally out of the coming in close.

 

The beauty will come. One day it fill unfold into bloom. And my friend, I can already see in you the tight nubs whispering of future glory.

Here’s one of my favorite ways to get rooted and established in God’s love, Lectio Divina.

Rest in His Presence. Receive his Word. Respond.  It’s a doorway to prayer.

 

I wonder what you will hear from today’s scripture? 

 

Continue Reading

Behold the Lamb of God

It’s when I show up at the Confession on Sunday morning empty handed that I know I’m in trouble. I’ve forgotten the quick cutting down, the self-pity binge, the explosions at bedtime.  I’ve forgotten the pride because pride makes the rest of it go away, a nice little deceptive veneer.  And I’ve skated through the week without any self-examination. And here I am come to Sunday…a little too pious.

 

 

That’s when I know I’m in trouble.

 

Sin sticks so tight to our personalities we can’t see the worry, the people pleasing, the performance, the binging, the unhinged anger for what it is.  We have clicked into reaction mode because really, it’s all about us again.  We’re no longer following Christ. We’ve made a detour and our self-righteousness is just a sign that it’s all just getting a bit rancid in here.

 

The story of Jesus’ coming turns all of this on its head. Christ is born to the poor, the broken open, to the weak and watching, the dying.  He comes to those who know they need a Savior. Christ is reborn in us when we escavate the dead stuff and lay it down at the cross.

 

It’s when I don’t see my need for the One laid in the manger that I know I’m in trouble. When the nostalgia takes over and the warm fuzzies take over, I know I’m not ready. I’m not ready Him. I’m not ready for the sacrificial lamb who volunteered birth on this dark planet in order to set me free.

……………………………………………………………..

Set aside time to listen to your life. Ask for a new revelation of what is keeping you captive, what is damming you up to love. After each question, set aside time to listen to your life:

 

What do you binge on to fill the emptiness…or do you just check out?

 

What happens when you are triggered by fear, loneliness, anger, pain, ungratefulness?

 

Think over a low point from this last week…what was your reactionary behavior? Is there a pattern?

 

Where do you run to when the pain gets strong? (Sleep, Shopping, Food, Tobacco, Computer, Facebook, Alcohol, Religion, Work, Drugs, Gambling, Sexual Addictions?)

What do you use to protect yourself? (Anger, Denial, Pretense, Hiding, Distraction, Isolation?)

 

How do you try to provide for yourself emotionally? (Success, Fame, unhealthy relationships, manipulation, control, money, people pleasing, sexual promiscuity?)

 

How do you punish yourself or others? (Blame, Unforgiveness, Self-contempt, rejections, abusive words, withholding, desire to harm, aggression, shame, criticism, self-abuse, bitterness?)

 

These are all behaviors/sins that keep us from crawling directly to Him when we are needy. We are invited to come empty, uncomfortably empty…but because of the pain we often want to fill, fill, fill.

 

Ask Him for help. Wash the mask off. Stop pretending and pry up the broken places.

 

Get comfortable being broken in His presence, naked even.  It’s the only way to a life of humility. But friend, you don’t have to fear the process. His kindness is gentle, beyond imagination.

 

This prayer could prove to be the key.

Jesus, I have sinned and no longer want ————–to hold me captive. I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve caused myself and others. Thank you for coming and being willing to die for my sins. I accept Your full forgiveness and thank You for it. I pray that You will transform me and clean this area up in my life. Do not let the evil one use this in my life any longer in Jesus Christ’s name. Show me how deep the roots go and redeem the consequences. I want to be transformed and healed. In Jesus name, Amen

 

The good news? Salvation is never His final work in our life. He knows we’re not “done.” Forgiveness keeps doing its good, hard work, ever-deepening, ever-cleansing, healing, transforming.

 

You, my friend, He died so that you might have Life with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:10) and this just might be the next step beautiful step toward the manger, toward the with-God life.

Continue Reading

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.

………………………………………………………………

“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.

 

 IMG_3223

 

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.

IMG_2699

 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.”

IMG_2339

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. 

31dayszipcodeimg

Continue Reading

What’s Nourishing Me this Month

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

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

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

 

Yup, I’ve got some of those too.

 

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

 light darkness tunnel well stairs

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

 

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

bird tattoo pinterest

 

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

 

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

 

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

 Unchained-25

Here is a short 2 minute video from her blog:

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Continue Reading

Advent, Day 14: When We Are Tired of Being the Walking Wounded

Isaiah 35:5&6 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. “Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing …“

This short recitative takes only 20 seconds, but to those who are being healed, these words mean everything.

 

It has been millennia since the pads of His feet walked our earth and we yearn to spin around in recognition of His voice, to memorize the many emotions that pass over His eyes.

 

This Advent I hear the constant refrain: He is coming, dear Friends.  He is coming.

 

And just like the first time, when He comes again, healing will be in His wake.

 

Isaiah 35:5&6 “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”. “Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing …“

 

And this is where I live. I spent so much of my 38 years hobbling, struggling with anxiety, bowing to fear that I cry out for Jesus’ healing. I crave resurrection.

 

I crave resurrection surging through you.

 

We have been born smack dab in the middle of the resurrection and the coming again, the now and not yet. His resurrection has swept the land with an earthquake of victory, but still we are limping under sin’s long-fraught consequences.  We live begging for Heaven to come down, embrace our children lying wounded.

 

We wish not just for us to go there, but for Him to transform the HERE.  We refuse to believe that God wanted us to live nested into this earth constantly pining for another esoteric place.

 

NT Wright preaches over and over until he is out of breath that we have gotten it all wrong.  We have misunderstood the future reality of Christ’s coming. Heaven will not be somewhere out there, he teaches. Heaven will be God come down, the earth redeemed, the very ground seeped and healed and transformed.  When His Kingdom comes, His will is done, the earth will once more echo with God’s: “It is good.”

 

So we pick up the four corners of the cot of our loved one laced through with cancer and beg for Christ’s healing resurrection presence now.  We unwrap bandages from our still open heart wounds and search for a Healer.

 

I walk the streets of the nearby town of Ambridge and the needs of the people are not secured under a mask as they are here in Sewickley. The prostitute leans into the doorway wearing anger like armor. Men stand in front of a boarded up doorway and yell, try to strike the flame of fear with words thrown.

 

But even with the pools of light spilling out of store windows, He can see clearly through our carefully crusted masks. His perfect eyes see the bleeding truth.

 

This is not what He had in mind when He created each multi-faceted jewel to shimmer upon the earth. The pain, emotional and physical, is like a shroud we wear and we are the walking dead.

 

The good news? Our pain makes Him want to fight. He witnessed the widow weeping, her son on the funeral bier and breathed life back in his lungs. The woman who already had been physically healed, her 12 year bleeding finally clotting after touching His robe? He knew the bleeding was continuing from somewhere else. He shocked the crowd, reached out His hand, tenderly touched the unclean, the untouchable.  When He proclaims her “daughter,” He watches her inner heart heal up strong.

 

My greatest joy is working with dear ones with inner healing prayer. I witness Him transform the traumatized with His Presence, His words, His touch.

 

He wants to see you leaping and laughing, friends, your unbound hands raised praising. He wants to lay hands on your eyes, open to you the full light. In the now. And when He returns, the water of healing will wash over us so that we shine and shimmer in His light once again.

 

Advent spiritual exercise:

Take deep breaths, get quiet. Take Him by the hand and lead Him on a tour of your body, of your heart. Perhaps you need a pen in hand?  Invite the Healer to come to each broken hurting place in this new year.  No more pretending perfect. Invite Him to bring His Kingdom come into the highways and byways of your life. Open the door wide for the Healer to come in.

 And just a note: dear one, please stop trying to go it alone.  Independence is one of the greatest spiritual blocks of our Christian existence.  Seek a safe person to come with you to the Healer.  You don’t have to go it alone.  Feeling isolated and fearful of opening your heart? Perhaps you would let me come with you?  Check out the spiritual direction invitation coming soon here to A THIRST FOR GOD.

We’re almost there, friends. We are traveling to the manger together. Don’t miss a day. Enter your email in the CONNECT button on the front page (I’m fiercely protective of them, don’t worry) and let’s pilgrim together toward Christmas.

Continue Reading

Advent, Day 12: When We Search for Peace

Can we talk about how effortlessly rich Kathleen Battle’s voice is? Hands down my favorite soprano of all time.

 

“The peace of the Lord be with you.” We greet, shake hands, smile into the eyes of strangers and mumble the words.

 

But peace, my friends, is something tangible. It is as real as a blanket of snow falling.

 

When Jesus sent out his disciples two by two he armed them with authority to bring His kingdom life to them. He instructed them with this: “whatever town you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave, As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you,” (Mt 10:11-13).

 

In our Messiah lectionary we discover the King riding in on a donkey, not a war horse. Handel is pointing to prophecy that was fulfilled with His triumphal entry. Palm Sunday. Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates Zechariah 9:9-12 in the Message:

 

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion!

Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming!

a good king who makes all things right,

a humble king riding a donkey,

a mere colt of a donkey. I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim,

no more war horses in Jerusalem,

no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. He will offer peace to the nations,

a peaceful rule worldwide,

from the four winds to the seven seas.”

 

Those leaning in close to Zechariah’s poetry have been pummeled by war. They have been tossed between Babylon, Persia and various little superpowers, bruised and abused.  Not only are they feeling powerless, they are despairing. They haven’t seen anything that resembles normal Jewish life in generations and the stories of God’s glory are starting to be snuffed by time. What do they need? A Conqueror. But, here comes the Promised One and He shocks them.

 

He comes riding on a donkey.

 

They may be begging for someone to shake down the stones of their enemies, but here the Messiah comes riding without a sword to draw.

 

Donkey riding is for peace-makers, not warriors.  There’s no white steed here. But here’s the real shocking difference, He comes not just for them. He comes spreading peace in His wake around the world.

 

This peace is not something the Israelites will bottle up, hold close, treasure in their Temple. This peace is a gift spread round the world, across Alps and penetrating the steep valleys of Papua. No corner of life will be untouched.

 

And this is our hope. “Peace be still,” He declared to the wind and the waves and this Advent I have waves that are white and cresting.

 

The wind and the waves obey and so will our chaotic hearts. And this, my friends, is worth great rejoicing.

 

But perhaps it is the rejoicing that will pave a way for the promised One to come. Perhaps the joy spoken out loud opens the door.

 

We rejoice and His Kingdom will spread like a snapped opened sheet to all corners of the earth. And peace will fall heavy on our laps, on our hearts, penetrate every corner of our streets, our homes.  Because it is a substance. It is not just the absence of something like war or anxiety, it is His Presence come in the front door and taking up residence.

 

When we search for peace, we find Him.

 

 

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” CS Lewis

 

We’re on our way to the manger, journeying together. Come on the pilgrimage with us? Slip your email into the CONNECT box on the front page and let’s rejoice in His coming together.

 

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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

It’s engraved in bronze, hanging on my wall, a quote by that famous theologian (and yes, friend, tongue in cheek here), Carl Jung: Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present.  The weekend I was ordained, ten years ago this All Saints, my mother rescued it from a small bookstore in Saugatuck, wrapped it in tissue paper and offered me more than a nice saying, it has become a treasure map.

 

Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present.

 

 

It’s the wisest and most world-changing statement Jung uttered.

Christ is present.

Christ, the Creator and ReCreator, Life Recycler and Story Redeemer is present, Friends, with us, here, now.

Christ the Wave Calmer, the Peace Provider, the Water Walker and the Wisdom- Gifter is here closer than our next breath… now.

Christ, the Truth Bearer, the Word incarnate, the Sin Healer and the Power-Wielder is present, with me, with you, in our very messy human lives.

 

Christ, the Savior of the world, yes that one…yup, He’s present, here in my red-couch living room, in your brown leather living room, now.

 

We don’t have to search for another hem to touch and no, we don’t ever have to beg Him to come. He has promised to be here, now.

 

I will never leave you or forsake you (Matthew 28:20b ). Those were the words He said last, the words He left echoing in the ears of every Christian down through the century.

 

The Alpha and the Omega, the Grave-Stomper, Dead raiser, Victory-Gatherer is here with you, now.

 

The Teacher and the World-Crafter, the Star-Slinger and the red eyed frog Inventer is here present.

The People-lover, the Prison Door Opener, the Sin-Sickness Redeemer, the third and fourth and fifth (and infinity) chance Giver.

The Wisdom of the Ages? Present.

The One who held a child’s limp hand and whispered, “Wake up” and the One whose voice reverberated into the tomb of his dead friend, “Lazarus, Come Out!”  Yes, that’s the same One.  He is there in your white-comforter covered bedroom, present in your ivy wallpaper kitchen as you stir the soup, sitting with you in Starbucks, walking with you down crooked sidewalks, pushing that double stroller.

 

The One who says, come as you are, who unfailingly loves, who always remembers that we are dust.

 

Yes, friend, you are never alone, the World-Maker, Story-reworker walks with you.

 

This changes everything.

It changes the way we make decisions, think about willpower, hold onto worry, grasp sumo-like egos.

It changes everything!

How we worship, hoping the praise penetrates the ceiling….

how we open our hearts to the unhealed other…the very Present One is our strong security and He’s not going anywhere…

how we pray for healing…not begging for His involvement but bringing our friend on a stretcher to the Present Teacher.

 

It changes the way we love people, walking into every relationship struggle with HIM. We no longer have to fix everything because the Mender of brokenness is HERE and does a much better job than we ever could!

And Christ present absolutely transforms the way we open that Bible, the way we listen, the way we meditate.  If the Author is present, we come to the text differently. If the Divine Author is sitting across the table, we listen attentively, we open our hearts more profoundly, we expect wisdom to drip from every word. We expect Word-crafted heart-changing transformation…every time.

We come to the text with the Author and remember that He is the main character of our lives and we, the supporting Jesus-followers. We lay aside our thought that the text is ancient comforting self-help, and instead, sidle straight up to the Helper.  We come to the text for Bread, for Communion, for relationship and come away changed, because we have seen the face of God and yes, we truly LIVE.

Most of all, we approach the Scriptures with a desire to be present to the One telling the great Story, the One whom the Story is about.  We begin to read less for information though entering the text with wisdom is of course essential, we read to be present to the Word made Flesh.  We were made for Communion and not just the kind with the shot glasses of grape juice and little crackers.  We were made for Union with Christ, the kind the apostle John understood with all that talk of abiding. I abide with you and you abide with me and apart from Him, we can do nothing.

You know that feeling when your friend or spouse is checking out their phone during a special dinner.  They are present but you, but no, not really.  That’s never how it is with our Jesus. Christ is always, fully present, fully honed in, fully HERE.  This is the key to our transformation, our security, our healing, our Becoming, our joy.

“For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.”

-Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner

 

And back to sleeping with bread?  When we tuck in with Bread, with Word, with Truth, we tuck in with God Present.  We can never again meditate on, roll around in our mouth a text without knowing that the Author is present, hand-feeding us Himself.

Listen to the text today with a new awareness of Christ present. Ask for open ears to hear, open mind to understand. Is it possible that we usually walk around with spiritual cotton balls in our ears?  Ask for a phrase or verse and then take it to bed with you before exhaustion takes over. Take deep breaths and mull it over and over in your mind. Tuck in with Bread, here, present.

And you friend, where has the Word present been transforming you?

Hungry for more?  Check out Part 1 (click here) and the time I took, “fearfully and wonderfully made” to bed with me (click here).

Would you like to get more thirsty?  Slip your email in the “Connect” box on the right and receive A Thirst for God 1-2 times a week.

………………………………………………

Linking with the amazing storyteller Jennifer Dukes Lee here today:

Continue Reading

Sleeping with Bread: Part 1, A Simple Bedtime Practice

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And you friend,

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

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

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

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

Summer Gross

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

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

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

 

Continue Reading

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:

Continue Reading