Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Weight of 5%

I held him close—his little tank body pressed close into mine, drowsy and warm and fighting the advance of sleep like a seasoned soldier. There’s a solidness to him, the weight of him is substantial. Oh, there’s such abundant energy and compressed power in this little boy of ours, the littlest one, the youngest one.

In my book Growing Room, I tell the story of Atlas, this grandson of mine. He’s fought hard since the beginning to take hold of life.  Doctors informed his parents that this smattering of hCG would not be a viable pregnancy and there was only a 5 % chance of carrying it through the weekend, let alone to carry the fetus (if there was one) to full term. Calls commenced and prayers ascended for this unnamed, unseen, undetected life. At this point, this baby’s existence was like an imaginary number in math. We prayed through the weekend, through a long Saturday and an even longer Sunday.

Monday morning came, and my daughter entered the doctor’s office with reluctance and hesitation and most likely a tinge of fear. 5% is a daunting number because on the other side is the weight of 95% stacked against a hopeful outcome. We waited, our breaths caught at the entrance of our lungs, holding in a stillness of both anxiousness and eagerness.

As I held my youngest grandson a few weeks ago and last night all these memories pushed right up to the top of me, and they gently exploded, burst right open. I was overwhelmed and overcome. I gazed down at his sweet face so slack and round in his sleep.

I held the weight of 5% in my arms. I could feel the substance of Atlas, not only did I feel the impressive pounds of him but in his drowsy state he turned his head over on my chest and mumbled “Noni”—my name garbled from his sweet cheek pressed against my breast and the push of sleep.

The weight of 5% slept on me.

This powerful little personality, a barrel of a boy, whirlwind of never-walk-only-run, mischievous and stubborn and charming son of my daughter broke my heart cleanly into—opened it right up, so all the softness inside was exposed. There I sat, my arms wrapped around the weight of 5%.

Many would say that the pregnancy just hadn’t taken hold or it was too early to detect. No, the pregnancy was tested and confirmed. But numbers began to drop, to not multiply.

But God (one of my favorite phrases in Scripture).

He takes the human (educated, trained, experienced) projections and statistics of a less than slim percentage (the imaginary numbers) and creates certainties. Our God works with the less-than-good odds, the probably-not-going-to-happens, the slim-chance-in-hells and in his hands they become realities.

We often ask why God is not doing or does not act as he did in the Bible. Why don't we see such miracles? In that moment of holding Atlas, my arms wrapped around him, I knew I held a work, an against-the-odds act of God. An act akin to the reduction of Gideon’s army, David with Goliath, and an unlikely group of apostle men. Our God is not daunted by the 95%. No, he takes the 5% and multiplies it, increases it and grows it exponentially.
He always does more with less.

I held the exponential in my arms. I pressed my lips against the roundness of Atlas’ head; my body curved around him, my middle bowed to accept and contain his weight. I could feel the pattern of his breathing, slowed and even—inhale and exhale. I paced my breathing to his.

I was holding the 5% of God.

The answered prayers of so many. Encompassed in my arms was not only an answer but a compressed body of life, an abundant life. As I held him, my eyes closed. In the silence and screen of my mind, I could see his full-face grin, broad gap-tooth smile. I could hear his voice, words spoken unexpectedly in one so young. I curved my hand around his sweet head. I pulled him even closer. In his sleep he did not resist;  I rejoiced. I lifted my other hand upward, lifted my arm toward Him. A silent praise. A wordless thanksgiving.

5% in the hands of God.

Give him your odds, give him your less-than-hopefuls. Give God that in which your faith falters. Give God the smallest of offerings. Give him the inviabilities, the unseens, and the unheards. Give him the impossibilities.

There’s a part of me that hesitates to write or suggest such—that God takes care of all the impossibilities and long-shots. Sometimes he doesn’t. For whatever reason, we do not see or experience the outcome we desire or expect. But those times do not negate the situations in which he does move and act. We cannot stop declaring HE DOES just because sometimes he doesn’t--or just because we are not aware of his movement or interventions.

In holding my Atlas-grandson, all the 5% chances become viable. And I understood through my grandson that God has the power to multiply by exponentials. And that power, according to his word through Paul to theEphesians, is at work in me.

Rarely do I embrace this power like Atlas. Atlas knows nothing yet of his questioned life. He knows nothing yet of the fight waged against and for him, and he knows nothing yet of the obstacles (a malformed kidney too) stacked against his little life. No, he just lives. This little boy grabs life with both hands—extracting from every link of DNA hope, laughter, and strong-will.

Atlas Jensen can mean either “strength of the grace of God” or “he carries the grace of God.” Either way, my Atlas-grandson is a testimony—a witness to the grace, the unfaltering and unfailing grace of God.

I held him in my arms, pulled him closer right into the depths of me. In my arms, I held a package of God’s grace. I breathed deeply.  And my breaths, the vapors of them, were wordless paragraphs of thanksgiving and praise.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Monster at the End of This Blog Post


Several weeks before we were to leave for Ireland, Steve’s updated passport had not yet arrived. We sent it to the passport office with ample time to spare, but for whatever reason, there seemed to be a delay. Anxiety rose in me; for a few days I pushed it down. But one day I panicked. I just lost all control over my anxiety and worry and then produced the worst-case scenario in my head. Well, I guess we just aren’t going to Ireland. Steve’s passport isn’t going to get here in time. At the beginning of June, this litany of thought raced rampant through my head. 

I went to the mailbox every day. Just white envelopes or flyers advertising stuff I didn’t care about or need. Each day the barrage of anxiety heightened. Now, Readers, I did the things I was supposed to do. I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more, but none of these disciplines seemed to shut down the worry. I knew it was absurd. I told myself in no uncertain terms that I was downright silly. But Tamera didn’t seem to have her listening ears turned on, and so this went on for a week.

A few people knew about this struggle. All of them had sound advice. Advice I couldn’t seem to assimilate or employ.

Now, what I could tell you, and this would make a great story—a desirable testimony—was that I finally let it all go, gave it over to God’s hands, and the moment I did that the passport arrived. That seems to be the weightier of testimonies, right? The ones where we flail and struggle and fight, and then we give it over to the Father, and it all works out just fine? And we applaud the giving over.

But I never actually gave this anxiety over to Him—whatever that phrase means. Simply put? I was just an everlovin’ mess. Saying those words, I’m giving this problem and worry to you, remained just words. Those phrases carried no transformational ability in my spirit. They offered no respite from my turmoil. Those words were rote phrases reiterated to me by well-intentioned people for most of my life, but they had no power to save me in the crisis, at the moment.

Perhaps, you are thinking this woman was blowing the situation completely out of proportion. Yes, yes I was. That is the point.

Then one day, in plenty of time before the start date of our trip, I went to the mailbox. And I reached my hand into the vaulted recess of that black box and pulled out a large cardboard mailer. I recognized it (because mine came in the same type of mailer a month before), and I knew what we would find inside.

I walked into the house and texted Steve. He asked me if I had opened it.

“No!” I replied.

“OPEN IT!” he typed back.

I did. And there was Steve’s little blue book—his face and information on the glossy pages for all of Ireland to see.

I stood in the kitchen (many epiphanies happen for me in the kitchen), and this strange, odd thought popped into my head. There is a book I read to my children and now to my grandchildren. A Little Golden Book®. And our family has more than one copy. The title?

Grover, a Sesame Street favorite, reads the title of the book and then is the narrator through the whole story. He tries to no avail or success to get the reader NOT to turn the pages because there is a MONSTER at the end of the book.
My grandsons laugh uproariously and watch my face intently when I read this book to them. I employ every type of voice and level of volume I possibly can—every animation regardless of how over the top. The book just seems to call for types of dramatics. The boys can finish my sentences as I read. They play along as if Grover’s attempts to keep them from turning pages is real.

Grover is beside himself. He does NOT want to encounter the monster at the end of the book. But after the cutting of rope, breaking of wood, knocking down of bricks we finally arrive at the last page. The twist?

Grover realizes that HE is the monster at the end of the book. No other. Just Grover. Grover tries to save face. He tells the reader that they shouldn’t have been scared. But then on the very last page, Grover is covering his face and in the dialogue bubble he mutters, “I am so embarrassed.”

The day I held Steve’s passport in my hand, I was so embarrassed. I was the monster at the end of the book. I was Grover. AKA Tamera.

For weeks I had dreaded opening the mailbox. I worried and fretted because there was no US Government official envelope in the assortment of daily mail. While I stood in the kitchen with the passport in my hand, I realized I never did come to trust God for this issue. Instead, I just kept worrying it, had it been a stone the edges would have been smoothed, perhaps even a hollowed spot rubbed on the surface. Somewhere in this head of mine, the wiring shorted—and I thought my worried frets would make a difference. I knew better. I. Knew. Better. But I couldn’t let it go.

I stood for a long time and looked at that passport. Once again the Lord had been faithful. Maybe someone will read this and conclude that the due process happened. We sent the passport application in, and it followed its normal trail. Perhaps. But our deadline was real, and the time frame was being pushed to the very outer limits.

But the issue wasn’t about a passport. The problem wasn’t that I was worried. The concern wasn’t that I kept looking in the mailbox (that’s where the passport was going to show up, right?).


Here’s the issue.

I allowed my anxiety to outweigh and overshadow what I know to be true. The more I fretted and worried the greater the problem became.  My daughters know my adage: all problems start small, and if left unchecked and unresolved they roll down the hill, gaining speed and amass more girth as they roll.

I rolled my little bitty monster down the hill.

The monster I faced at the end of this situation was not the lack of a passport or the change of plans, but the monster was me—that’s it. Just me. Not the devil. Not demons. Not even circumstances. Just me.
Me and all my need for control. Yes, there it was. Self-deception led me to believe I had the adventure under control. Almost obsessively, I planned this bucket list trip. I wanted everything (and I do mean everything) to be perfect and to transpire without a glitch or hitch. Details were important because I knew we had a one-time shot at this adventure. And the passport’s tardiness messed with my plans. (Sometimes pilgrimages have detours).

I confessed all of this to a good friend; she is indulgently kind to me. Later, she gave me a gift, just a small one. A 4 inch tall Super Grover--superhero cape and all. The cape could not nullify all my end-of-the-book behavior. (He'll stand on my school desk this year).

The passport incident reminded me that for all my plans, I am not the one in control. I can’t keep people from turning pages. I can’t stop the progression to the end of the book. I’m not in control, and much of what I fear is a tiny monster that has been rolled down a hill.

But God is not afraid of or hindered by my Grover-like tendencies.

So, go ahead turn the page.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Unknown Nun

On the plane from Charlotte to Dublin.
Two of our younger daughters drove us to the airport to catch our flight to Dublin, Ireland—I think they were as elated and as giddy as I was for us to be on this adventure. Our baggage (after hard work of planning and packing) cleared without a glitch.
We flew to Charlotte and then across the vast expanse of water—across the Atlantic Ocean. I watched our progression on a screen on the seat in front of me; the tiny plane moved by millimeters over five thousand miles. We landed in Dublin at 6:38 am. After seven hours of sleeping fitfully and sporadically, we came fully awake. We stood up in the cabin of that plane realizing we were in a different country, on a different continent.

The stuff of dreams (at least mine).

I can recount in detail the next couple hours of our trip—details that honestly would mean little to you, so I will skip them, leave them in the suitcase bundled tightly. One thing we did know? We would battle jet lag, and so we made a decision to attempt to stay awake the entire day.
We hit the ground running.

We had only one window of opportunity to see St. Michan’s (short i) Church. A brief backstory would be interesting and helpful here, but for lack of time and space just click on the link and you can read about this church for yourself.
Tucked between modern buildings this 1,100-year-old church seems lost in the myriad of city planning that grows around it. St. Michan’s is across the River Liffey, deep in the inner city of Dublin. We went because this church is famous for its crypt. Well, it’s known not so much for its crypt as for who resides in the tombs beneath the church.

Steve and I descended far too narrow and steep stone stairs to the cool underbelly of St. Michan’s—into the tunnels where people laid at rest with the church’s structure as their tombstone. 
Our tour guide opening the Crypt door.

The Crypt stairs.
We met four of the residents. Saw them face to face.  Yes, we saw them stretched out in their wooden coffins. All the environmental conditions of St. Michan’s lends to the perfect atmosphere for a type of mummification. And through accident and the passage of time four end-of-the-life resting places broke open to reveal four people—whose stories we can only surmise from the inferences in the clues left behind with them in the crypt. Four people who talked and walked and interacted with others. Two men and two women who ate, slept, loved, and perhaps prayed. 

Yes, Steve and I met four people—mummified over the centuries of time, asleep in the hard confines of their wooden coffins. I stood at the door of their crypt and looked in at them—I wondered how they would have reacted to having all of us stare at them unabashedly in their state? But stare I did.
Photography is no longer allowed in the crypt; this photo is from an internet source.
They were so close to me had I leaned a fraction forward I could have touched them, touched men and women who lived at the very least four hundred years ago. I stood in the cool, dry air of the crypt, in the faint light and stared at the St. Michan mummies.

People talked and joked. Our tour guide’s sense of humor played riot around us, but I heard all of this in a muffled way, lost in my thoughts and imaginations.
Four people whose once robust and strong bodies were reduced to the stretch of skin over the stakes of bones—the remains of the tents that they were, that we are. If ever I understood the brevity and temporary state of our lives, I realized this truth here. In the crypt of an old church—gazing at flesh tents preserved by time and limestone and temperature.

Their names are lost to us—unknowns missing hands and with broken legs. We know one was a knight and one a nun.  Their stories? Buried with them, or at least with the few who knew them.
But God knows their stories; their life is not lost to him. He knows them by name. He knows who they were and who they were not. He knows why one lost his hand, and why the other fought in the Crusades. God knows. Death does not hinder the Father; it does not wipe his people from his Presence.

I left St. Michan’s Church with questions swirling in my head. And the crypt remained with me throughout the trip, even after we came home—not in a haunting, specter-type of way, but in fragmented images and unfinished thoughts.
One morning after being home from Ireland for over a week, I was in the middle of getting ready for work. In the midst of the mundane routine of things St. Michan’s and its inhabitants returned to me, full and in color. Not Newgrange. Not Trim Castle. Not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the out-of-the-way, mostly unknown, invisible St. Michan’s and his residents.

In Ireland, God had to start me where I was. God (as I say in Growing Room) always starts at the beginning. At the first of things. For months I had fought the waning of life in my spirit, battled until spiritually I wasted to the stretch of skin on bones. The dusk of darkness and the weight of sorrow leaked joy and robbed the moisture and vibrancy right out of me. I felt like a shrunken version of myself.
In my routine of preparing to face my world, the images of the residents of St. Michan’s Crypt came to me.

God took me to a place of death in order to bring me to a place of life.

I recalled the urge of (as morbid as it sounds) wanting to touch the nun’s hand—to just reach out my fingers and brush hers, to create a connection. To tell her I saw her and desired to know her story. I knew she was much more than the shrunken tent before me. At one time she lived animated and full of quickening verve. At one time she knelt and prayed, her voice lifting beyond the vaulted ceilings of her church.
This bride, a virgin consecrated to the Groom, spoke to me across the centuries. From her stone vault, from her wooden bed, she reminded me to live. To live in Him. To die is gain (which gain she had), but in the midst of life, we must learn to live.

To live in the wonder and the mundane, in the beauty and the ugliness, in the darkness and the light, in the sorrow and the joy, in the grief and the bliss, and in conflict and peace.
Through this ancient nun, through her silent and muted lips, and through her unknown story God reminded me to LIVE!

And I rose from my bed, pushed out of my wooden confines and stood.