Advent, Day 20: How to Have Beautiful Feet this Christmas

In October in Harrisburg, PA Felicia had walked the runway interceding…in their shoes.

 

She told the horrors of the stories of the more than 20 million trafficked simply by wearing a dress.  It’s a runway show called Unchained (click the link here to find out more) and Felicia is a co-founder (along with my beautiful sister, Stephanie!). 24 dresses designed by the acclaimed Project Runway designer Korto Momulo tells the story of the broken daughters: innocence stolen, the abuse and addictions of the trafficked, then hope, rescue, and redemption.

 

Compassion had been building for those just steps away from the trafficked as the stories of women who struggled to live free were shared.

 

And something had been born in Felicia as she walked that runway in the shoes of their story.

 

Or reborn.

 

 

Her own step-mom had squeezed her feet into stilettos every night, danced on a platform, wore the makeup so heavy no one could see the scars.

 

And she was also the one who pushed through the turnstile at a Billy Graham Crusade, who brought Felicia to hear about Jesus.

 

And if compassion is just love stored up,

 

then compassionate action is love spilled out.

 

Because we get them.  Don’t we? We all crave love.

 

And desire substituted and crammed down tight keeps the hunger pains down.

 

Most had their “no” robbed early, their glory carted away by the power gorging. And powerless, they grasped for power wherever they could find it, landing them here in the dark smoky interior of a strip club.

 

And every captive daughter needs a Rescuer.

 

And all the image-bearers need to feel the weight of their value, taste hope in order to walk out of the dark of hell.

 

It was through Harmony Dust’s work at iamatreasure.com that love started surging into action for Felicia.   Harmony, who was trafficked herself, has outreaches for those in the industry and trains women to do the same. On her site, rescued girls tell their stories of sinking into hell and the Rescuer who walked right in and found them there.

 

A few weeks ago Felicia’s love broke wide open with urgency.  She shared with her Ohio State campus church that she planned to gather Christmas gifts for the girls at a nearby club to begin an outreach. Hearts and wallets opened and gift cards for Bath and Body Works were brought to Felicia. Another member of the church, Shaytell Furman linked arms with her to share her mission.  With the gift cards for Bath and Body Works, she and Shaytell went shopping choosing the language of lotions to tell the girls that they have value and worth.

 

They prayed the girls would rub in truth every time they rubbed the lotion in deep. They hoped the salve of the gospel of peace would begin healing the wide open wounds.

 

 

Thursday night they wrapped the gifts up pretty in gift bags and she and Shaytell prayed for just the right girls, just the right club to walk into.  They had their sites on a big commercial establishment but as they pulled into the driveway, Felicia glanced off to the left at a small shady club. Felicia found herself driving up deeper into the unknown. They parked out front, prayed for courage and then pulled open the heavy metal door.

 

Once inside their eyes needed to adjust to the darkness, the covered windows, the few bright spotlights.  Music pounded out a techno beat and men sat at a bar laughing with a few mingling girls. The air was stale with smoke and alcohol.

 

As they walked up to the bar to ask for the manager, a few women sitting at the bar smiled brightly. Felicia was startled. Their demeanor was entirely incongruous.  They were bright August sunshine in the midst of the hard looks, hands wrapped around glasses tight.

 

When they announced to the manager their desire to bring Christmas gifts to the girls, the angry manager softened.  She pointed to the women at the bar with the wide smiles. It was then that Felicia noticed the Bath and Body Works bags sitting on top of the bar.

 

They were Christians on a love mission as well.

…………………………………………………………………..

How to have beautiful feet this Christmas?

 

1. Like Felicia, ask God for where your story and the need of the world meet.  Our testimony brings empathy which in turn will keep us focused when the journey seems long.  Understand that the relationship building that opens doors for the Gospel takes time, grace, and truth.  See this quote picked out by Harmony  from iamatreasure.com by Cloud and Townsend:

 

For God’s system to work, you have to have all three. Grace and time together, without truth, will make you comfortable in your stuckness. Truth and time together, without grace, will discourage and break you. Grace and truth together without time will give you a vision and then not have you reach the completion of that vision. They must go together.               

 

2. Ask God to build in you a love for the broken beautiful.

 

 

3. Do something tangible to show them you care…to share with them their true value.

 

4. Listen well.

 

5. Bring them into safe community.

 

6. Introduce them to the Rescuer slowly, how He runs to those who come home, forgives their sins, carts away their shame.  Then He wraps His robe around them tight, introduces them to His neighbors as His beloved child.

 

Check out this book…no good news giver sharing Christ should be without this short, insightful book.

…………………………………………………………………..

The two women greeted Felicia and Shaytell.  “We’ve been praying for you,” one of them whispered as she leaned over.

 

Felicia and Shaytell learned that the smiling women at the bar had been coming to the club for years every Thursday night, praying, and slowly getting to know the girls.  Now the leader was moving out of state and was afraid the ministry would be dropped.  “And here you are,” she said, hope spreading across her face.

 

 

Summer Gross

“How beautiful are the feet of them that bring the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15b)

And now for a much more “soulful” version of Handel’s “How Beautiful are the Feet.”

photos from the Unchained Fashion Show. Hear more about my response to the show here.

photos by Andrea Hoppel

Make-up provided by Maria Teresa Hair and Make-up Artist

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Sleeping with Bread, Part 4; Wrestling with God

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

He reminded me to go to sleep with bread.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The bread lodged firmly in my mind and I feasted.

 

Summer Gross

Paintings by Rembrandt, Delacroix found here

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

A Simple Bedtime Practice

How His Presence Changes Everything

Healing through Repetition

My Story: Where my Story is Challenged by Truth

 

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

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

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

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Sleeping with Bread: Part 3, Healing through Repetition

A newly made, golden baguette lay between the storm and wooden doors generously wrapped with saran wrap and a blue satin bow. My new friend, Lindsay Harrison had sent this text message earlier that day: “I left a gift at your door.”  She didn’t know how much her and her young husband’s hand-shaped loaf would nourish.

“I am the Bread of Life.” This has become the answer to all my post-move neediness.  Groping to find value in another’s eyes? Summer, come eat Bread.   Treading water through hours of loneliness?  Come, daughter, I’ve laid a feast.  Grieving at the empty hours, the silent phone, the loss of a ministry? Be still and come to the table. Over and over I sense, “Summer, pull your chair up to the table, open the Word, sit still in My Presence and eat Life.”  (Maybe you remember this pre-move prayer for bread, this life-changing litany.)

 

The day before I had gone on a hunt for answers. Opened the Word, a concordance, a journal. I was weary of the strained search for nourishment in another’s eyes.

 

Moving can be such a trigger. Our identity is stripped, roots pulled up exposing the unhealed, insecure parts of us.  Fear of rejection, an inflamed nerve, grips at the most inopportune times and all of a sudden I am standing in the halls of my junior high again, frizzy permed hair, wearing high tops and worried about whether I remembered to put on deodorant.

 

Summer, stop. Come.

 

“I am the Bread of Life.”

 

You will have no ability to love, to get out the towel and basin until you have had a feast of Me.

 

But what happens when the words are just not getting through?  I knew “I am the Bread of Life, but they stood alone, separate. They were entirely theoretical. I couldn’t touch them, smell them, taste them and they slipping through my mind every time I tried to hold on. I needed “I am the Bread of Life” to be signaling strong in my frontal cortex, the answer to every question, present with every lull.  I needed Jesus Himself incarnated.

 

I tucked “I am the Bread of Life” golden and wrapped up warm beside me that night in bed.  Slow deep breath out, “I am the Bread of Life.” Slow deep breath in, “I am the Bread of Life.” I am the Bread of Life.  I AM the Bread of Life. I am THE Bread of Life.  I am the BREAD of Life. I am the bread of LIFE.

 

A nineteenth century uprooted wayfarer had experienced the constant prayer, the need for our minds to be renewed by repetition as he walked down roads in Russia. He wandered with this as his only companion: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is the same cry of the blind reaching out to a passing Jesus for healing.  (Luke 18:38) Like the blind man, in this ancient anonymous memoir, The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim had traveled with those words pounding in every step, breathing it deep with every slow breath until it had transformed his identity.  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Who are you? A sinner, full of the mercy of God. Who are you seeking? Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It was in the constant repetition that his eyes and his soul were healed.

 

I curled up with truth and woke up with Life. Repetition through the night hours shook out subconscious demons, healed my hunger and I woke wanting Jesus. Only Jesus. I desired to eat Jesus, feast on Jesus, touch Jesus, feed others Jesus. And there it was, the next morning. On my doorstep was the kindness of the yeasty risen goodness the Harrison’s had made. I slipped the ribbon off the goodness of God and held Him in my hands.

Summer Gross

You’ve got to try this sleeping with bread, friends.  Just take a short scripture to bed with you at night, tuck in with the Word. Neuroscientists agree that it helps to reshape the brain. (They are just catching up with Scripture ) His mercies are new every morning.

Maybe this all seems murky, friend, this “sleeping with bread.”  These may help. Click on the titles to these other posts:

Sleeping with Bread: Part 1, A Simple Bedtime Practice

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

and another time when Scripture penetrated the unhealed spaces:

Where my Story is Challenged by Truth

 

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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.

 

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Where My Story is Challenged by Truth

It all started when I brought Psalm 139 to bed with a hot steaming mug of chamomile tea, mulling it over in my mouth, breathing in its earthy fragrance and then licking the honey resting at the bottom.  I stopped abruptly on verse 14, and at first the words seem embarrassingly forthright, prideful even: “fearfull-y and wonderful-ly made.”  It felt hard to say, a passage that I would pass over quickly, like I was reading about breasts in the Song of Solomon. Inappropriate.  Overly intimate.  But I kept chewing over these words, knowing there was a truth I was dodging.  Finally, I fell asleep.

All through the night “fearfully and wonderfully made” wound its way through my dreams, and then appeared with the first light of morning.  Repetition had stripped the verse of the false veneer of pride.  The first jumps of delight appeared and I turned this key over and over in my hand, as if it was a foreign object I’d searched for as Mary for the secret garden key.

I was around her age, ten, when I lost it.

That first school day in Ohio’s rich farm country, twenty hours from my grammar school in Maine, I wore a white shirt with suspendered blue plaid pants, was called a clown and teased every time I opened my Eastern mouth.  I stuffed any hope of an easy move into the bottom of the toy chest along with the suspendered outfit.  I never wore it again.  Jr. high girls can be cruel and those four years my brain ate a new channel of self-despising all other thoughts filtered into.  At home I was loved, but at school I was pursued as a scapegoat of pre-teen inferiority.  I proved an easy target.

Hunchback bent, I lived deformed, leaning toward those as unhealed as me expecting them to turn, a lighthouse signaling glory.  False hope glimmered and was gone as each passed in front.  I forgot to stand straight to receive  truth from the One.  I forgot to listen to that Voice always speaking, inviting, affirming, challenging.

I walked leaking life.

The One eternally holding Living water says:“My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13 )

Cannot hold water, those I was asking to stamp “Gift” on my forehead.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.  You have swallowed death, even this death of unholy judgment.  You know who I am: Your child, Your daughter, Your beloved, Your friend, Your sister.

I sit with that.  The God of the Universe calls me His child, accepted just as I am, loved here and now, before I get cleaned off.  A sponge, I swell, soaking up life-giving words:

If He gives me grace, perhaps I can too.

Later I go to the fitness center and after working out, find a quiet room while my children play with others.  I open the scripture back up.  The key is already in the verse! ”I praise You that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  It is another thanksgiving! And thanksgiving has recently opened up the core of my being.

Lately I’ve started accepting the imperfect gifts of each day, thanking God, lifting each “failed” interaction up, asking Him to bless and fill them with Himself…to redeem.  So why can’t I do that with myself?

Yes, I am imperfect.  I will always be imperfect but my continued anger at myself and the story that has created me is not making matters easier.  Can I accept God’s gift of me?  Can I lift myself back up (my tiny loaves) and pray that He will bless and multiply?

Sunday evening, heavy summer sun invites us west to the Lake Michigan shore.  As soon as we hit the sand, my kids dressed all in red swimsuits scatter and I tip my face to the sun, turning my ear to listen.

Summer, “thank me,”  I hear.

Instead of sitting on our blanket with a book, my normal modus operandi, I begin to play too.  I push rocks stuck deep at the water’s edge that look like they might have been a wicca circle and occasionally I glance up, hear my husband deep laugh helping five-year old Madeline balance on the boogy board in the waves.

God, help me too to learn balance…freedom… and to love me, because not loving me is creating a dam of my life, truncating my ability to open my arms wide, fearless.

As I push the large rocks around the wet sand, forming a cross, the voice of God comes clear.  I listen: whose authority will you accept as true?  The junior high girls from your past or the God of the Universe?

The question seems a bit ludicrous.  “I thank You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” comes straight from scripture and who am I to question the God of the Universe’s authority?

He is the Light of the World, so why would I study someone else’s carnival mirror?

I stand on the flat rock at the center of the cross beam and lift my arms up to the sky.  Who am I NOT to thank You for the gift that You have given…to refuse any gift from You?  Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me and so I lift up my fullness and my emptiness, my imperfections and my gifts.

The Roman Catholic priest, Romano Guardini, writes in his essay, “The Acceptance of Oneself,” words that invite me to open the gift:

The act of self-acceptance is the root of all things. I must agree to be the person who I am. Agree to the qualifications which I have. Agree to live within my limits. … The clarity and the courageousness of this acceptance is the foundation of all existence.

The beach has emptied for dinner time and I stand, balancing on this rock cross, arms up.  You loved me even while I was a sinner.  And if You open-heart-pierced-hands could accept me, than who am I not to accept the gift?

And if I am a gift, so is the precious little one that just toddled up in her bathing suit covered with red cherries, splashing through the puddle beside the cross.  I look into her brown face with the four new serrated white teeth and tell her that she too is a gift of God.  She keeps coming back for more through the rest of the evening, eyes wide drinking love.

And this is why this self-acceptance, this thanksgiving is the opposite of pride.  Being a gift does not mean the least of these is not.  Being filled with this thanksgiving makes me want to go out into the highways and byways and put faces in my hands and speak truth into dry hearts.  “You” teenager with the hungry, aching eyes, “are fearfully and wonderfully made.” “You” gangly man-child whose mind never grew into his body and whose arms twist in constant motion, “are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

I want to whisper it into the heart of everyone I see and on the way home I tell the cashier at the grocery store with the lovely lips and the dreary store coat, “I hope you know that you are lovely.”  She smiles and light goes on in those almond-shaped eyes just for a moment.

Summer Gross

And you, my friend, you too are a gift, and I am utterly thankful for you.  You are made in the image of God and crafted with purpose. You are crazy beautiful, imprinted on every cell with His stamp.  Sure we are shot through with imperfection, scarred with the pain of a violent earth, but His redemption can make new even those stories.

This piece is reposted here but I find I need to drink slowly of its truth once again as I transition in this move to PA. Perhaps it will be a gift for you, too? Consider subscribing to this site through the Connect box on the right. Together we will wrestle with truth right here at “a thirst for God”, witness redemption through simple stories.

 

I would love to hear in the comments: What are you thankful for streaming out of your imperfect story, your God-given personality? Perhaps writing it down will strengthen the truth in your heart.


Summer Gross

linking with the always authentic and wisdom filled, Emily Wierenga here:

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Day 10: When your Work Feels Insignificant

by Summer Gross

I took up residence all week on a beach towel, glancing up at the kids digging holes in the wet sand and soaking in the warmth of Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey.  In it, he prepares a banquet of mentors our culture (and myself) is in desperate need of.

On page 61, I was introduced to the Surgeon, Dr. Paul Brand, and his humility mixed with compassion mixed with intellectual excellence.

 

Ahhhh, breathe it in…how fresh and rare!

 

So far, of all the rich stories stirred throughout the book, my favorite is of Dr. Brand spending hours preparing and then preaching a Canterbury-worthy sermon to 6 half-deaf lepers at his hospital chapel on Sunday mornings.

 

All through his life, whether replacing tendons in hands or writing papers that never seemed to go anywhere, he was holding up a mirror, through integrity and excellence and love, reflecting a bright light back to God in the midst of almost total unanimity.

 

One of my greatest lies (you can read more about it HERE) was that I needed to prove my worth by doing something great for God [read: important, visible, measurable, ie write a book, build a church, go on tour, etc( LOL, I know, when I write it out in black on white, the crazy begins to leak out)].

 

The lie was spoken by those who thought this would be great inspiration: “Summer, you are going to do great things for God!”  They could not have known the steep road toward perfectionism and pride that trail ironically pointed to.

Back in April at Calvin College at the Festival of Faith and Writing I saw Ann Voskamp and she didn’t just speak, she prophesied over us chicken scratching word crafters.  While she read her talk from her iphone with her characteristic intensity, I wept unselfconsciously, silently hungry for God’s Word that she mixed liberally with encouragement.

 

One of her beautiful photographs was blown up on a two story screen in back of her, a child’s hand, with a seed in the middle.  She told us to plant seeds deep into the soil, into the darkness, assigning them back over to God to grow or die.

 

Much of living, loving, ministering and even writing often feels like planting seeds into the darkness.

And so this is what I am being healed into: the simplicity of pure, unadulturated love…the difficult 1 Corinthian 13 kind, children and husband and neighbors and strangers whether or not that love boomerangs back.  A seed here.  A seed there.  A seed pressed in deep into cold, dark places there.

 

But it is THIS next quote that keeps me loving lavishly without concern for numbers.  From Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds Feed on High Places, pg 56-57:

“Sometimes the Shepherd and Much-Afraid walked over patches of thousands of tiny little pink or mauve blossoms, each minutely small and yet all together forming a brilliant carpet, far richer than any seen in a king’s palace.

Much-Afraid looked at him earnestly.  “I have often wondered about the wild flowers,” she said.  “It does seem strange that such unnumbered multitudes should bloom in the wild places of the earth where perhaps nobody ever sees them and the goats and the cattle can walk over them and crush them to death.  They have so much beauty and sweetness to give and no one on whom to lavish it, nor who will even appreciate it.”

The look the Shepherd turned on her was very beautiful. “Nothing my Father and I have made is ever wasted,” he said quietly, “and the little wild flowers have a wonderful lesson to teach.  They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them…

Many a quiet, ordinary, and hidden life, unknown to the world, is a veritable garden in which Love’s flowers and fruits have come to such perfection that it is a place of delight where the King of Love himself walks and rejoices with his friends.”

Our seeds can redeem and renew the earth…become God-delight, and then, create great fragrant carpets of the Kingdom of God.

Have you been despondent lately with your seed sowing?…or is your striving starting to exhaust you?  What type of seed packet does your seeds come from and where are they finding soil?  Join the Conversation and Comment below.

And you, are you following along with the Cross-shaped Evangelism series?  Find the posts you missed here.

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When our Love Gets Suffocated

I hear a call in the quiet of the early morning:  “Deepen,” He whispers. God is using the specific vocabulary of a Madeleine L’Engle lover.

 

I was shaken Saturday.  Triggered, that is.  They were dressed straight off the cover of a JCrew catalog and I shrunk back, sure they could see straight into my uncool.  The message of the arrows came back loud. (Have you read Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge?  Classic and beautiful.  So worth your time.)

 

“Here comes rejection,” swirled unbidden from somewhere deep.

 

Lies that are sewn deep, demand excavation.

 

I felt uprooted, pulled up and honestly?  I felt separated from God.  The anxiety earthquake was so strong that I couldn’t scurry for cover, couldn’t hide under the banner of love (Song of Songs 2:4).  I was 12 and had braces and permed frizzy hair. I might even have forgotten to put on deoderant (every junior higher’s worse nightmare…or maybe just mine.)

 

I was sick, but didn’t really know it at the time.  A chest cold.  Asthma.  The voices come back loudest when I’m sick.

 

But, honestly, there’s been a lot of hard work done already.  I found myself going faster to Jesus, bypassing the intense shame that used to descend like a thick cloud.  But, bummer, (yes, I say words like “bummer” and “shoot”) I thought I had healed from that and wow, will this anxiety surge every time I walk up to these fashion goddesses?

 

 

“Deepen” I hear again.

 

Have you read A Wrinkle in Time?  I love it.  I read it again this last summer with my kids on a rainy day.  It’s still good as an adult.  Now, have you read A Wind in the Door?  It’s seriously one of my  I- need- this-with-me- on- a-deserted- island  books.  Brilliant theology.  It makes me want to worship.

 

The youngest sibling, Charles Wallace, is sick and getting sicker fast and the doctors can’t tell them why.  Death feels immanent.  Obviously a plot straight out of a fantasy novel, a few characters are shrunk inside his body to survey the damage, to see if they can discover a path toward healing.  While inside they meet the culprits: farandolae, a microscopic species inside his cells, who don’t want to deepen, don’t want to grow roots, and so are spinning out of control, dying, slowly killing their host.  I know, a little dramatic (though possibly a great social commentary on our culture.)  But, it’s fiction, there needs to be drama.

 

“Deepen,” I hear.

 

God, I cry out, it’s not that I don’t want to grow roots, don’t want to deepen, it’s just that there is so much darn stuff to do!  My life is stuffed with people and children and ministry.  There are dust bunnies under the futon and my sink is clogged with dirty dishes.  Most of the activity and of course the people…I love dearly.

 

The truth comes down firm. Pay attention to first things.

 

I’m not paying attention to the One Thing that Jesus chided Martha about.  Her sister was resting at Jesus’ feet, in listening mode.  Martha was spinning around so fast she wasn’t even aware of the magnetic force of God breaking open true Life in just the other room.  One thing is needed, Martha.  Just one. (Luke 10 38-42).

 

I hear it too.  Stop spinning, Summer.  “Deepen.”  Sit here at my feet.  Listen.  Abide.  Be fully present.  Pull some of that stuff out hogging God’s oxygen and get rooted in love.

 

Practice my Presence.

 

I have clarity in this early morning calm.  Healing will come out of this will-work, this conscious knowing of God’s presence here in this moment.  I feel Brother Lawrence daring me to practice God’s presence from his post doing dishes there in that medieval monastery in France.

From his second conversation:

“That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we

do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we

should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”

 

Here is the “aha moment”: if I am deepened in His Presence, truly dwelling there, resting from that center, I can invite others smack dab into the center of our ongoing communion.  When I am safe, deepened, roots down, stable spread into unconditional love then I can humbly, gently open my arms to another…

 

without disturbing the root system.

 

 

 

I turn to Bible Gateway and find this gem, this billboard, as my kids’ babysitter Kim would say:

Jeremiah 17:8 ESV

(S)He is like a tree planted by water,  that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

God, plant me, deepen me, spread my roots so firmly into You that I am free to love all of your precious ones, even fashion goddesses.

 

Summer Gross

All tree photography found at this beautiful etsy shop: Amy Tyler Photography

 

 

Friend, what work is the Lord doing in your life?  Do tell.  Please share in the comment section and then, if you have a blog, add a link to your site so we can say thanks to God too. 

 

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What to Hold onto in the Midst of the Holiday Swirl

The Feast Day 12: Can I please jump back into this 31 day exploration of learning to stay present? (a feast of the present moment) Thank you, thank you for your grace!

As I write this, I’m about to be sucked into the great Thanksgiving week vortex.

We will be swirled into the arms of packs of cousins and uncles and aunts and then gratefully drop heavy bags and sink down onto the floor to look eye to eye with those precious little ones.

Oh, and three turkeys and mashed potatoes (yum!),

one early Christmas celebration,

one freshly pulled, healthy baby niece (Welcome baby Maggie!  You made your appearance early enough for us to meet you!)

and what my husband calls yuppy Christmas tree hunting here.

All throughout, we will be pingponged back and forth to four houses, rolling five small hard suitcases up four sets of front steps.

Are you exhausted yet? (I’m holding onto a brown paper bag trying not to hyperventilate!)

Thanksgiving week is a joyful spinning top that will leave me gasping on Monday morning,

hopefully gasping for joy.

The fear is that the swirl will include levels of overstimulation too high for this introvert. Think six children under 8 for three and a half days.

I close my eyes and sense the dizzy motion, and then wait, stop and listen to Truth always Present.

And here is the whisper from the Eternal Word: Ballet dancers pirouette, spinning their bodies, but spot, fixing their eyes on just one point.

Psalm 16:8 “I keep my eyes always on the Lord.    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

The swirl slows and then comes to a stop.

And this is the message: Summer, when the dizziness begins, remember, I’m always fixed, motionless, changeless.

I AM GOD. Fix your eyes.  Be still and know.

My friend, a counselor, once told me that when the mix gets too overstimulating, to excuse myself, close the door of the bathroom, turn the lock and give myself permission to get recentered.  In those moments, I can Feast on the Present and go through one sense at a time, taking deep breaths.  If I can feel the ground solid beneath me again, I can get fixed and slowly open my heart to love.

I will begin to remember who and Whose I am.

Two years ago, as I was praying through a trip to someone’s house where a heavy bowling ball of intimidation would normally flatten me, I was given this image: Jesus, sitting on the right side of the oversized couch at their house.  Waiting.

Ahhhh, peace spread over me like an warm blanket.  Here was the amazing truth: He was already there, already present.

Could this be the antidote to that vague, off in the darkness black cloud of fear?

Christ present always.

Would we have enough for retirement?  He is already there.  How would tomorrow’s busy small group curriculum be crowded in?  He is already there.  Would our tan minivan make it through the winter?  Again, He is already there.

And this week? I can sense Him patting the couch next to Him

…because once I have my spot, I can love…I can twirl unhindered.

Psalm 16:11 “You make known to me the path of life,

in Your Presence there is fullness of joy

in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Summer Gross

Precious Maggie, because I know you all just wanted a peek:

 

Today I’m joining Ann and giving thanks, because through her I have learned, Thanksgiving is not a day, it is a lifestyle:

1. Xavier singing behind me on his booster seat: Alleluia  a- ll- e- lu- i- a.

2. Eight hours of a car trip proves what a joy my children really have become,

3. A friend speaking forgiveness and the holy cleansing afterwards,

4. Hot Cinnamon tea, a cream puff and a rest stop among the books at Barnes and Noble,

5. Listening to jigs and reels and lullabyes by the Crossings, children falling asleep to drums and bagpipes

6. A patience infiltrating my home…oh may it be,

7. Cousins, wrestling in a pile on the floor at the joy of seeing each other,

8. Mobile phone pictures of a healthy new Maggie, one month early,

9. Children reading scripture, sounding out those beautiful words,

10. Thanksgiving tree right next to the altar.  Eucharist and Eucharisteo.

also joining Shanda here:

 

and my virtual friend, Jen at:


 

 

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