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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Eleven Things I Learned in May

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I’ve been silent a good while.

 

Listening.

 

Wrestling.

 

Homeschooling.  I’ve taken that leap again…she who said she would never…ever homeschool…again.  But after our move to GA Madeline was drowning with math that didn’t make sense and a month into our semester Caedmon whispered this: “Mom, I love learning in the quiet.”  And so we will continue to walk forward through homeschooling one step at a time.

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In January I began teaching Healing Care Groups at Holy Cross Cathedral…what we call “Journey.” Fourteen people signed up. I hyperventilated. (You can’t create vulnerable community with fourteen people!) Two weeks later I broke them into two groups and Monday and Thursdays we use a fantastic curriculum by Terry Wardle from Ashland Seminary that I’ve been using for six years.  This year I’m adding more Anglican theology, even a few icons! (Andrei Rublev’s Trinity gave us a theological framework for where self-giving love truly begins.) And once again God has done miracle after miracle.  No joy comes close.

 

And this is what I’ve learned this May, the humorous and the hard-won:

1. Forty surprised me with its weightiness. Madeline and I sat on a porch swing in the white garden at the Vines for a bit, white blooming dogwood trees all around. She wandered off to click pictures of white azalea bushes with my camera and I listened until it seems to me the Lord sat down on the swing and took my hand and said this, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Peace slowly settled onto my fortieth birthday.

One of Madeline’s shots:

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2. The strawberry crop ripens early here in Georgia. And they grow monsters down here.  We spent thirty minutes picking down one row and came home with four gallons.

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3. While we chopped buckets of strawberries, juice dripped across our cutting boards and we listened to this: Brennan Manning’s Parable of Willie Juan. The children surprised me afterward with their lovely insights. I can’t get enough Brennan Manning right now.

 

4. I’ve decided eggos with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream is the best brinner ever.

 

5. I’ve also decided Candy Crush is from the devil:)  I’m pretty sure I could hear Wormwood guffawing as I wasted time trying to get to one more level, my heart racing, involuntarily seeing switches in my sleep.

 

6. Clarity. This month a personal credo began to take shape: Position people to encounter Christ.  It drives away fog, keeps me grounded, removes my ego and helps me make decisions. What I’m learning? Set a feast and then get out of the way.

 

7. I will no longer yell/loudly encourage at soccer games. At the last game of the season I saw one man from Latin America turn to his wife exasperated at the American parents causing a ruccus. I no longer want to be one of them.  I will now carry lots and lots of Big League Chew gum and hide behind a camera.

 

8. I play with my children more at the beach. I dig in the sand, make dribble castles, jump waves, and giggle as we run along the surf trying not to get caught by a wave. My question is, why don’t I play more often? (This is me and my darling niece, Maggie.)

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9. I’m painfully aware I have not learned to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry,” the Dallas Willard quote that undid me over Lent.  I crave stillness and yet often go entire days without taking a breath.  #PocketsOfStillness will wind its way in and out of my writing here over the next few months…because I write to wrestle toward freedom. Follow me on the journey?  Share with me yours?  How do you carve out moments for stillness? If you carve out an intentional pocket of stillness, use the hashtag #pocketsofstillness and we’ll be able to watch the fruits of solitude on twitter and instagram.

 

10. Oh yeah, I’m done with perfectionism.  Done. With. It.  So this is what I’m hearing about the process of writing right now:

1. Pray.

2. Listen and receive word.

3. Craft and play, wrestle and bless.

4. Release fully and blow the seed on the Wind.

5. Come back to Rest in God. Hide in Him, worship, and practice my smallness.

6. Pray and get ready to hear again.

 {Pray. Receive. Craft. Release. Rest. Ready.}

No more perfectionism as if my ego is at stake…Receive and Release.

 

11. Staycations are divine, especially when your children are at someone else’s house. Thank you Miss Debby!  Friday night we stood three hours through a bizarre live show at the Buckhead Theatre seeing Postmodern Jukebox. (We can’t get this clown, which climbed up on stage out of the audience all cream ruffles and comic sincerity out of our head…all six foot eight of him…)

 

 

But the next morning we had mimosas, custard-like French toast and hours to chat and remembered with a sigh what a great decision we made nearly twenty years ago.

 

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I’m joining the always-inspiring Emily Freeman @Chatting at the Sky to share my May learnings.  And by the way, my Instagram is where I often post my learnings throughout the month. Click here to follow MTRSUMMER.

 

And you, Friend, what have you learned over May?

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Day 19: Lift up Empty hands

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

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

 

Sometimes our neediness is profound.

 

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

 

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

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We are the matchstick girl.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

“‘If you’re thirsty, you may drink.’

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

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

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

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

‘Do you eat girls?’ she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

If you are thirsty, come and drink.

 

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

 

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

 

Litany of Core Longings

Lord, I need a safe and secure environment

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need constant reinforcement of my personal worth

And I can only get it from You.

 

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

And I can only get them from You.

 

Lord, I need unconditional love and acceptance

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need basic care and nurture

And I can only get it from You.

 

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

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a pathway to fellowship with You

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a sense of belonging

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need to feel useful and needed

And I can only get it from You.

 

Lord, I need a hope and a future

And I can only get it from You.

 

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

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved five states south and are loving the warm October but riding the ups and downs of a major transition. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 13: Lamenting or How to Give our Negative Emotions to God

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Three weeks ago I looked across to Andrew reading in bed and wondered out loud when we would be allowed to go home.  I was done with this moving thing. Our neighborhood pool had just closed for the autumn, he was beginning to travel again, and I could no longer pretend we were on vacation to “The South.” He looked at me with that uneasy look husbands sometimes give their wives when they find themselves in the deep end and then he quietly whispered the truthful: “We ARE at home.” For a week, tears slid out unable to stop.  I lived a constant lament bouncing back and forth through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief from loss to anger to depression and back to anger again.

 

The uprooting and the tearing had left me breathless, fragile. We had just moved exactly one year before. It had taken 12 months to root in PA, to slowly push one lego block of life onto each other, to watch a life begin to build again. Then they were all torn apart again. I was grief-stricken, angry. Resentment had become my default and I couldn’t make it through to acceptance without moving through the lament.  Everything else was pretending.

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The Psalmist is our guide through praying with integrity and sending our emotions straight to the heart of God. His prayers are never carefully picked out and pasted over perfection. He wails. He whispers out of the pain of anxious depression. He accuses God, “How long O Lord? Will You forget me forever? (Psalm 13:1) He spews out, “shatter the teeth of the wicked,” (Ps 3:7).

 

There are more lament Psalms than thanksgiving Psalms. That’s not the type of information we are given in Sunday school. Most churches have decided to drop all the Psalms that don’t leave us clapping when set to a beat. Eugene Petersen says that we’ve given the Psalms a Psalmectomy, picking and choosing the ones that fit into our comfortable theology. He said that it is a reflection of a Christianity that thinks we should always have our Sunday best on before God: performance-driven Christianity. How we deal with our emotions is a large test of the truth of that statement.

 

Jesus never sinned but he also never wore a stoic mask. He wept at Lazarus’ grave. He fumed at the Pharisees. He whipped the temple back into shape. He spent hours mourning the coming cross in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from me.”

 

We are human. He knows we are but dust. If we try to hold onto toxic emotions, they get trapped, simmer and then so often get dredged back up as sin. We fear walking close to the pain and yet the pain escalates when we try to stay away.

 

We don’t need to fear our emotions. He promises to walk with us.

 

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

 

But we often refuse to get close to the blaze. (Amazing book about this? Terry Wardle’s Draw Close to the Fire.  It’s like finding a guide through the wilderness.)

 

We’ve lost the ancient gift of lament.

 

It seems counterintuitive. We want to slide directly from our negative emotions into a life of the pursuit of happiness and the quick fix but our souls were designed for integrity. Sometimes the way up is down. Living with integrity means opening up our truth before the Lord, acknowledging our struggle. He can handle it, you know. He can handle all our deep brokennesses as well as our petty disappointments. He can handle it, but He knows that we can’t. When we hold onto our brokenness, it begins to break us.

 

When the Redeemer is handed all the pieces of our brokenness, He is given the power to do what He does best, breathe into it and transform it into something new.

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Action: How do we lament in a healthy way? Pick up a pen and paper or spend time with a safe person (a spiritual director? a pastor? a spiritual mentor?) and share your lament with them:

Identify a feeling or a single issue you are struggling with

Address your cry to the Lord. The entire lament needs to be directed to His attention.

Write uncensored. Get honest, dredge up the darkness and bring it into the light. Only there can it be transformed.

Begin by telling the Lord what happened, what was said, how you were hurt, what it has cost you, what lies you have come to believe as a result of this wound. Get specific.

Focus on the emotions. Don’t hold back. Don’t censure yourself or be concerned with grammar, spelling, form, or punctuation. Just let it spill out.

Count the cost. What has this cost us emotionally, physically, personally, for you, for those around you?

In most lament Psalms, David or another of the Psalmists, after the complaint has been raised, they ask for God’s truth to shine into the pain.  How do we do that? After we have spilled out our honest, uncensored complaint, ask these questions: Where are You in this, Lord? What do You have to say? What hope do You have for me?  Listen. Be still. Wait.

 

We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Re-igniting when our Flame Flickers Low

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Welcome friends to Word-Seeds. Here we take a step into the Scripture, read the gospel for Sunday morning, prepare our hearts. This week, read here first: Matthew 5:13-20.  Stop at pictures ? They are wide open spaces for contemplation in the middle of the meditation.

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I sat on a bench at Wade’s Bayou watching the carps’ backs roll just under the surface. The Lake Michigan inlet looked more like a crowded koi pond. I had brought my Alpha book, Questions of Life and was reading the Chapter on the Holy Spirit again. The bench was cemented into the ground and so was I. I wasn’t going anywhere until God showed up.

 

I wasn’t filled with angst, I was just resolute.

 

About five weeks before, my Tuesday morning women’s group had begun joining Nicky Gumbel and his gargantuan Alpha class at Holy Trinity Brompton  by sliding a tape in the VCR. Alpha is a type of Christianity 101 and after years without much Christian Education, they needed the basics. We all did.

 

The Holy Spirit weekend was approaching and it had all just clicked. This is what I had been missing. I had been living thick with doubt for eight years. In college Christians had begun annoying me with their perfect formulas and black and white question and answer books. I had more questions than answers. For one? Why would God let a little girl be abused? Yes, that one. The questions held me.

 

Questions are important. They are guides to the struggle. They tell you where to start the journey. But, sometimes they reveal places of deep need, tender places where the wounds reside. They are often the places where our deepest laments should begin. When glossed over, they hold us hostage.

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 All through seminary and the early ministry years, I had searched for God, been lonely for God, fought for God, and wrestled Him hard.  I had prayed, but not trusted.  Then one day I slid over. That’s how it felt, like a slide of a lever on a soundboard…untrusting to trust, just like that. I gave over the tangle of questions and rested.

 

How? I finally came to the point where I believed that God is fully good, always loving. I may never be able to wrap my mind around all the issues that glared at me but I could rest in His goodness.

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Besides, He was infinite. I was not. I only have a brain about the size of a closed fist. I finally handed Him the frayed ends of my doubt.

 

A couple months later I found myself searching for more, as if I was searching under the couch cushions for that last puzzle piece.

 

When the tourists walked around the bench at Wade’s Bayou, I hardly saw them. I was waiting out God. Wood slats under me. Sunny day overhead. I sat. I waited. I had decided something was missing, like the Spirit and fire.

 

I was like a butane lighter that kept trying to fire but could never ignite.

 

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I had grown up witnessing miracles. Cancer healed, exes slipping the rings back on, alcoholics dumping whiskey down the sink.  I expected to preach Jesus and see the same things. My husband saw them. I didn’t. I was all words and no power.   All wick and no flame.

 

Nothing was catching fire.

 

I waited holding onto the Alpha book. I was expectant. Besides, He promised. It’s what Jesus told his disciples. Wait. Acts 1: 4-5,”Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I was thirsty for my own Pentecost.

 

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Was it an hour later? I don’t know. I remember being in an entirely emotionally neutral state and looking out onto the water rippled with light when a powerful sense of the love of God encompassed me. From zero to 100 in three seconds. I bathed in that love, was showered in that love, drank in that love, was utterly overwhelmed by that love. I sat still. I was inside the flame.

 

Was I devoid of the Holy Spirit before? I don’t think so. I believe every Christian has the Presence of the Holy Spirit on their lives.  But, this my friends was an extreme makeover. Afterwards, fruit flourished in ministry, my flailing marriage, my own interior life which had been stalled for years. What else? After Wade’s Bayou, I had the desire to read more Scripture, to be placed under His authority, its authority. I was like the thirsty who couldn’t get enough. I woke up early eager to drink more.

 

The gospels are filled with references to Jesus going off early in the morning to spend hours with the Father.  “But Jesus Himself would often slip away by Himself to pray.” This Luke 5:16 verse is echoed in Luke 6:12, Luke 9:28, Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35-36, Mark 6:46, and John 6:15. He picked out his twelve after one such morning.

 

If Jesus required this in His own perfect life, this sitting, soaking, listening, sharing, why do we have such a burgeoning sense of self-reliance?

 

Martin Luther shared with a colleague that he had so much to do that day he needed to take the first three hours in prayer. When I was at Asbury college, I remember hearing about an Indian seminarian across the street who would try to fit his homework around his prayer, complaining he never had enough time on his knees and when did these Americans wait on God?

 

Over the years, I’ve seen a direct correlation between the light of Christ in my life and prayer.  Sermons dusty? Sit. Wait. Pray. Marriage struggling? Sit. Wait. Pray. Maybe it’s just me who needs the waiting because I have so much to break through. I’m stubborn, prideful. It takes time to become pliable for Him.  It takes listening and waiting and journaling and conversation, but a lot of just sitting still, expectant.

 

While waiting all of this happens:

1. We fold ourselves deep into humility. We recognize that we can’t do it on our own, without God our work is utterly empty. We lean in dependent and He breaks through the thick ice of our pride. We become a creature before the Creator.

2. Repentance comes. We get out of God’s way.  What must I empty that is hindering God’s work? What needs to be confessed? What needs to be healed?

3. Wisdom comes. The Word is opened and we understand its correlation with the needs of the moment.

4. The Spirit comes. Our work is empowered.

 

Paul got it. He explains it to the Colossians: “Christ in me, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” Colossians 1:27b-29.

 

One of our Anglican bishops says that he believes we leak the Spirit in our daily lives. As we turn toward other sources to meet our needs, as we sin, as we depend upon ourselves, His power leaks out. He believes that the infilling is a constant need. I agree.  That is why we wait. We wait for God present to transform our small offerings to God-empowered ministries.

 

We lift up our loaves and fish and pray they will be enough to nourish. We lift up our water and pray He will transform it to wine. We lift up our ordinary and wait to be broken and blessed.

 

holy spirit flower

 

We lift up our minuscule candle flame and ask Him to be the bellows. That’s how fires get started.

 

I pray for wisdom for this house mess, for Him to brood over this chaos. I pray for the Spirit’s power before I do spiritual direction. I pray for calm before I make the bedtime rounds. I pray before I write.

 

We wait for Him to ignite our spiritual giftings. When the Holy Spirit empowers, His fruit filters down to all areas of our lives (Galatians 5:22-25). Hallelujah because I need some serious patience around the morning rush.

 

He lights us and people see and they can warm their hands in our flame, but they will only truly get warm if they turn toward the Son, toward Jesus.

 

We just hope to light their way.

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Thirsty for more?

Come pilgrimage with me. Slip your email into the connect box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

When you Need More of God 

My favorite book on the subject? Terry Wardle’s Untamed Christian, Unleashed Church, a somewhat humorous and highly masculine book (sports analogies, man humor) about our need for the Holy Spirit. A must read. Perfect for clergy or laity.

pics from our trip to Italy and Wikimedia.com

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When We are Confused by our Calling

word seeds

Welcome to Word-seeds dear friend.  This is where we pray the Scripture roots into every crevice and crack of our life, breaks up the hard ground.

Word seed is a Bible study that may take longer than a day. We wind around a thought, give questions for meditation and begin to open up the Scripture that you may be hearing this next Sunday. Feel free to stop at a picture question and come back later for a bit more time in the Scripture. This week we are on the rocky shores of the Lake of Galilee with the fishermen cleaning their nets for the day.  Read it in Matthew 4:12-22 before you read here?

(These word seeds will always correspond with the lectionary because I have a need to join others on our common pilgrimage.  Today’s post comes from the gospel, Year A, Epiphany 3)

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Pray that I don’t loose the hands of Jesus in my attempt to feed the poor.

Mother Teresa to Henri Nouwen

 

Kathy Sicard wrapped the scarf tight around my head and the world dimmed. With the second scarf I went blind.  I felt like I had walked into a movie theater late, groping for chairs, hoping I didn’t end up in someone’s lap.  Marie Diebold grasped my hands, facing me, walking backwards. Her voice was low and soft.

 

We were in her house for our Tuesday night inner healing study.  One Tuesday night we went through the lessons, the next Tuesday we gave it to others. It was our first year doing the 16 week Healing Care study by Terry Wardle.

 

Marie guided me slowly through her kitchen, around the butcher block island, the metal sink cupboard from the 60’s, the collection of hanging mugs by the window.  She talked me straight through the narrow kitchen doorway shuffling our feet from the wood floor of the kitchen to the oriental carpet in the living room.  “Walk straight. OK, a small step to the right, and there now, here’s the coffee table. Can you feel it against your legs. Ok stop. Turn left. Walk ahead two steps.” We wound through the downstairs of her farmhouse like this.

 

I do fine with trust exercises like this.  Not so much in real life.  I know God is guiding but  I find myself fumbling wildly for the wall, the doorways, begging to take off the scarf.

 

This scripture reveals my heart.  I’m the one walking in darkness.  I’ve seen the great light but much of the time the brightness doesn’t register.  Let’s just say I don’t spend enough time basking in the glow.

 

So much of my calling has seemed like a straight line. No, that’s not quite true.  There have been plenty of times of uncertainty, I have just repressed them.  I like straight lines. Receive calling. Go to seminary. Work in a church for ten years.

 

Every line looks straighter when looking back right?

 

The truth is that after ten years of parish ministry, I’m down to a congregation of three.  I’m a mom to three blondies with big blueberry eyes and small unwrinkled hands.  I fold them up onto my lap and smell their heads.  I’ve been smelling my children ever since they were born.  Primal, I guess.

 

They are beautiful and I struggle to be an intentional mother, wrapping them in truth and fuzzy blankets at night.  I spread pasta on our table like I’m asking them to take forkfuls of love.  I’m an Italian mama by osmosis after having been born there, I guess.  But my calling?  This is where I struggle.  I like adventure and large purposes.  I like to see where it is that I am headed.  I want to get my hands dirty in the fight. I want to climb in bed at night exhausted for more than just wrestling children into their jammies.

 

So I’m listening to His voice in the Gospel, looking for direction this week.  And it is His words that begin to open up a new way to see my calling inside our brick bungalow.

 fresh anointing

Until now, I always saw Christ’s calling of the fishermen as Jesus sending them out on a quest.  Set down your ordinary life and I’ve got a new purpose for you. Something big. Something dynamic.  We’re going to go fish for people! I imagined the disciples going straight from cleaning that fishy smell off their hands to a brainstorming session.  But Jesus’ words indicate something quite different, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Some of the translations leave out the “come” but it’s right there in the Greek. Deute. Come hither. Come follow. The next time we see the verb spoken straight from Jesus’ mouth it is in Matthew 11:29, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” The literal translation of the Greek here is: “Come follow after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

So much of my calling feels like a groping in the dark instead of a knightly quest.  No gallantry. No coming home with the holy grail.

 

But “Come” makes all the difference in the world.  Come means that He is walking in front of me. “Come” means that He is present as I walk forward into the darkness.

 

We are not alone in our callings, we are following.

 

Just the definition of following calls us to walk forward with Someone growing big in our field of vision.  When we follow, He fills our focus.

 

Christ grows bigger as we follow closer.

 

I think over my mental landscape this past week, my mind twisting with that fear that I wasn’t enough, the tantrum at dinner time, the day spent wrapped up tight in disappointment.  How much of my mental landscape is consumed with the One I am supposed to be following?   Perhaps that is the unfortunate answer.

 

Perhaps what or who I am following takes up most of my mental landscape.  

 real estate

Marie walked backwards and held my empty hands and I grasped tight.

 

They were the same hands where I had placed the Eucharist bread that tasted of honey and fed us of Jesus. They were the same hands that had massaged my tired pregnant muscles and the same hands I held between mine before she went into surgery to get the cancer cut out.  That Tuesday night in the dark I grasped tight the familiar hands of a friend.  I grasped trust.

 

When they heard the call of Jesus, Andrew and Peter put down nets, families, lives, expectations.  They opened their hands to grasp a hold of His. They opened the tight fists of their lives, and everything fell through.

 

When we open our hands to follow Jesus, we drop the what for the Who.

 

grasp Him tight

 

We drop the tight-fisted control, the shiny magazine lives, the surge for self-expression when we follow the Call.  Following requires the hard purging.  Following requires repentance. Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.  It requires setting down  everything heavy.  It requires the healing of the fears that have us tangled in their nets.

 

But perhaps following is freedom, the first steps onto heavenly ground, arms empty, lifted in worship.

 

searching for big

 

I want to go back to school to get a counseling degree.  I want to write. I want to be a midwife to God’s redemption, do spiritual direction and inner healing prayer.  I want to get back into the life of the church.  Right now I feel shut out of all the callings that make me feel most at home.  But perhaps that’s the point.  This move is stretching me and stretching sometimes happens so fast it leaves scars.

 

I think Jesus understands the strangeness of being sent away from the comfortable.  After his desert temptation, Jesus was not welcomed home. His hometown of Nazareth had not been able to transform their definitions from Jesus the carpenter son of Joseph to Jesus the Christ.

 

Just like old times, on the Sabbath He had sat with the others in the Synagogue, rolled out the scroll, found the job description of the Messiah in Isaiah 61. These were the verses I imagine kept him awake at night. His mission.

 

THE mission that all other callings reflect back.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 redeem renew.jpg

 

But people don’t want to “know” their Messiah, their neighbor. They want celebrity and a charismatic Samson who will fight their enemies with the jawbone of a lion.  They don’t want their Messiah to be the boy that grew up on their front lawns.

 

And so Jesus found himself homeless with a mission still burning deeply. He was kicked out of the synagogues and into the streets.  But, again, perhaps that was the gift.

 

I found this in Barclay’s Gospel of Luke: “Jesus would go anywhere men would listen to him.” Then Barclay links us to John Wesley’s journey,

“Our [Methodist] societies were formed from those who were wandering upon the dark mountains, that belonged to no Christian Church; but were awakened by the preaching of the Methodists, who had pursued them through the wilderness of this world to the higheays and the Hedges—to the Markets and the Fairs—who set up the standard of the Cross in the Streets and Lanes of the Cities, in the Villages, in the Barns, and Farmers’ Kitchens…”

Barclay says in closing, “When the Synagogue was shut, Jesus took to the open road.”

 

Same mission. Different location.  Same purpose. If the mission burns within us, we proclaim it wherever we can. The kitchen table or the internet. We implant it as hope into a friend’s heart, or whisper it into our daughter’s hair.

 

We join His mission and it becomes our heartbeat: Proclaim. Release. Restore. Redeem.

 

Wherever we are.

 

calling not about us

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Would you like weekly Word-Seeds to be slipped into your email?  Slip your email address into the Connect button on the front page of “a thirst for God.” Let’s pray that the Word plants in all the crevices of our lives.

word seeds

Writing in community with the lovely Jennifer Dukes Lee here:

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The Gift of Vulnerability – The leper and my story entertwine

 

“All of us are old. And all of us are frail. All of us, indeed, are handicapped. It’s just that some of us can pretend better than others.” John Kavanagh

Mark 1:40-45

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.

Thankful:

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

 

Summer Gross

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