Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Thrill of Hope--Jeremiah, Part 1


One April evening in 2017 we reached for your Mama and Daddy’s hands and led them into the stillness of an empty sanctuary. At an altar we prayed for you; we prayed for you to come, prayed for God to create you.

The sanctuary walls bowed and bulged as we prayed, the longing filling up the hollowness—the hollowness of the yearning transformed into a hallowedness, a sacred place of waiting and preparation. Of learning to trust and believe and have faith even when every month indicators reminded your parents that you were not yet. The waiting continued. Longing and hope stretched to half a year, three quarters of a year. A year. We continued to pray. Continued to ask. Ever waiting.
But waiting, honest waiting is never passive. And the wait God instigates is never futile or fruitless. His wait is never a killing of time. No, with God it’s always a filling of time to bring about the fullness of time. At just the right time God sent your Mama and Daddy a son.

One night your mama and her sisters and their mama gathered to eat. We gathered because we needed each other—needed the familiarity and the deep-seeded love that is present in us, even when is obscured or invisible. The currents of that night we erratic—thrumming with something we could not name. We sat down with our tin trays of barbecue and fried pickles and the let’s-get-situated commenced. But I looked up at your Mama’s face and beheld something I had not seen in her before—not fully.

At the moment I could not discern it. I could not put a name on this countenance of her face. This night was a girl’s night, a partial surprise in the middle of a hard month of winter and events—when all is cold and barren and hibernating. I looked up and in walked your Daddy. He’s a big man, but you do not hear his footsteps; he walks easy.

My heart rate bumped up for his presence was an indication of something out of the ordinary. The men in our lives rarely interrupt the gathering of us. He sat down. The expectancy on our faces, palpable. Even now, I can remember time slowing; I did not count the seconds, but instead the moments as we stared at your Mama and Daddy.

Years ago we awaited the advent of Atlas, and I didn’t realize this glorious expansion would happen again and again—this advent of children into our lives. Awaited. Anticipated. Prayed-for-children.

So when the words, the announcement, danced out of your mama that you were coming—we sat and stared. And we started to cry, the cry of joy, of elation, of hope, of breath released.

The restaurant receded to a backdrop; we forgot those around us, unknown people privy to the event beginning in us. Later I wondered if they pondered the unfolding at our table.
Your father’s face—so full of pride and joy. He beamed his low steady light, arms already encompassing your mama already protecting.

I ugly-cried at that table, overwhelmed with this holy gratefulness. My arm lifted, lifted up into the air electric and permeated with something akin to fire. My hand splayed forth, a silent witness to the miracle of you, to the glory of God.

Jeremiah, your name means Jehovah is exalted. And that is exactly what we did when we learned of you.

Much later, one morning Gran and I joined your mama and daddy, and we gazed at a screen, and you appeared. Bigger than life. Your little face, pressed and hidden inside your mama’s frame, was achingly sweet and visibly distinct. We watched your heartbeat (and ours beat faster), all four chambers pumping. The whooshing of your waters grew loud in the room. Your fingers grasped and opened. And you swallowed and turned your head. The grayscale images on the screen held your grandmothers in awe. Her first, my fourth. And yet, we both fell in love, perhaps at the same moment. Suddenly Jeremiah was more than an idea or a stretch in your mama’s rounded belly. And we both wept (you’ll quickly learn we cry a lot).

And again my arm shot into the air—a witness to the reality of Psalm 139. God knit you together in your mama’s womb. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. At that moment I understood that you were called before you were born. Called as a witness that prayers and hopes are answered.
In some way. In some time. In some how.

Your very existence, the coming of you, Jeremiah, increased your Noni’s faith. In you there is this quiet testimony that the God of the Universe does bend down to hear us; he hears the desires of our hearts. And he remembers.

Your arrival in all senses for everyone was labor. Your mama and daddy labored the hardest together, one flesh breathing and working for your emergence into this world. The grandmothers and aunts and uncles labored in the waiting room. We (especially me) labored to be patient, to exercise some self-control of being over-anxious. Each time the door opened every head pivoted to see who emerged. (This seemed like Deja-vu for some of us did the same when your cousins arrived). In the first fifteen hours, we did not recognize the people who came through the door; they were not of our tribe, our village. And we had to sit back down in our minds, return to a place of waiting. I must confess I was impatient, concern for your mama weighed heavy in me. It’s an interesting address to live at as a mother and a grandmother.

But at last, your daddy came to us—his face a subdued version of Moses’.  He lit from within, and everyone crowded him and hammered him with questions and hugs and tears. I know we overwhelmed him, but he handled it as he does most things with grace and ease and an infinite amount of patience. He held the same look as he did in the restaurant when they announced your coming, but now this look was greater, deeper, and it held even more awe.

He led the grandparents back to you. Walked us into the quiet space where your mama held you. And our world expanded. The borders of our hearts pushed back to encompass the enormity of you. These two families bonded before by marriage and friendship were now connected by blood—you.

The convergence of all that we are merged in you, Jeremiah. And when your mama handed you to me, I felt it. I felt the connective threads pull tightly, drawing us into something far greater than ourselves. I looked down into your tiny face—this merging of the grace of God—and saw for a split second the man you would become and how proud I would be. 

For a stretched moment I saw the family tree put forth another shoot. Another witness. Another beautiful child to remind us that there is hope.


Gran and Jeremiah

Noni and Jeremiah











Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadows, Part 3


But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.


I was a year out from the epicenter of the origins of the depression. All this while, I moved through life. Teaching. Working. Churching. Life moved and unfolded continually around me.

Perhaps, you ask what the origins were.

In 2015, a perfect storm collided, intersected in my life.  Two events of extreme elation and devastating loss occurred within two months of the other.

In August, Westbow Press published my first book Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places.  I remember the day my author’s copy arrived in the mail. My husband and I stood in the break room of work, and I cried into his chest, the book clutched between us—my top bucket list wish held between two covers.  In September, my local library held a book signing event for me. I sat at the desk and signed the inside of book covers. A hundred people talked to me, spoke to me, bought my book, and shared with me. My local and hometown newspapers shared my story. Messages poured into my social feed. I was humbled. Undone by the response. Still am.

In October, Steve and I went to Gatlinburg to celebrate—a hand-holding, sharing ice cream, kissing on the streets kind of weekend. After a couple of days in the heart of the town, we went to bed exhausted. In the middle of the night, my phone rang. The perfect storm arrived unannounced and unpredicted. Two fronts collided. My only brother, eighteen years younger than me, had been killed in a car crash.

How do I write from here? I’ve led you into a series, and many will dismiss the subsequent posts because they are heavy and quite frankly, depressing. But this is the geography of depression. And for me, because it was mild to moderate I still functioned.

 I write because I know many struggle as I did. I share because others need to know they are not alone. They are not isolated in their darkness. They are not excommunicated from the community of faith because this entity has a daily appointment.

Many beautiful, faithful, committed Followers of Christ inwardly battle the creeping fog and the pressing dusk. I know; I’ve talked with you. In my living room, through text, through email, through Facebook messages, in cafes, and in the aisles of grocery stores. I’ve heard the laments, the cries, the anger, and the frustration. I’ve heard it vented and whispered.

I know where you are. Where you abide right now. I know.

Many, if not all, have experienced a perfect storm in your life of one kind or another—a collision, and the fallout, the debris, the consequences, and the chaos loom. A clear path or way through to the other side is not visible.   And everything inside you seems to be breaking into splinters and shards, and you’re being cut and wounded by your own brokenness. There’s a slow leak of life-blood, a hidden hemorrhaging. You are plugging the holes of the dam with your own fingers.

And you’re (I, we) are crying, “How long, Lord? How much more can I take? How many more bad things will happen. How many more hard situations will we face? How long will you wait, O God? Where are you?” We whisper these questions inside our souls where no one can hear them. Breathe them quietly so no one can point out that our faith is weak or that we doubt or offer us flat platitudes when we are bailing out the water in our boat in the middle of the whipping storm. 

But, my Friends, there is hope.

A precious friend told me to convey this truth to another friend recently. She said, “Tell her there is hope.”

There is hope. An anchor.

An anchor that will hold in the fiercest and wildest of storms, and we will get to the other side.



Out of the Land of Shadows, Part 4—The Other Side is coming.










Thursday, September 14, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow, Part 2


But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.

Something amiss, yes. But this alarm, this wake-up call, pierced through the dusk settled on me like dust on a long-forgotten corner table.

During the episode of my burnt fingers, awareness spread like light moving across the morning sky, but the light was faint. I recognized this geography, this terrain—I dwelt here once before, and I knew the action I needed to take to return to myself.

I knew my first task. I needed to identify the triggers, the origins. Could I trace them? Could I follow the thread through my labyrinth mind?

I tried.

My fingers healed long before my soul did, but my index and middle fingers remained tender, sensitive to heat and cold. And a numbness stayed in the center of my fingers’ first digits.  One numb circle persisted as the rest of the flesh quickened.

During the late winter and early spring of 2016, my husband and I planned a bucket list trip. For twenty years or more I planned this itinerary in my head. My husband tells a story of one afternoon when we gathered around my computer and scrolled through images of Ireland. I rattled on and on about the places I wanted to visit: to set my feet down on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, to enter into the long path way of Newgrange, and to climb the stairs of Skellig Michael. Later, after we married, my husband shared with me that as he watched me in this virtual tour, he kept saying in his head, “Then let’s go. Let’s just get married now and go.” Little did I know, right?

But as we prepared for Ireland, a battle waged in me; the depression, the dusk, created a reluctance in me to go on this once-in-a-lifetime sojourn. I waffled. But I knew I needed to push through the hesitancy. We planned and planned and planned some more. Sadly, I struggled with my lack of desire and enthusiasm. I found or created every excuse I possibly could to cancel and not go. But my husband, the steady anchor, would not allow me to cancel. He deflated every problem I presented.

We came home with memories, three thousand photographs, and treasures.

With our return, more of the darkness lifted and thinned, but I remained weak, fatigued, and weary. Jesus’ words, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” applied now directly to me. The toll I paid depression was in emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Some people might call it burn-out, but I am not sure this is an accurate description. The flame still burned though faint and low. I was tired.

My Father knew I was tired. The good good Father knew what I needed. He knows his children.

For thirty-plus years, the Father had been hiding his word in my heart. His Spirit planted holy words deep in the soil of me, and those seeds, long-dormant, sprang to life. Pieces of Scripture long forgotten returned to my memory and leafed out in me. I grasped his words, and the stalks of them became my lifeline. Please understand this: my Bible remained closed most of the time. The books that littered every available surface of my home went unread.

But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.


Please come back for Part 3.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow--Part 1


Twenty-three months ago I entered into a land of shadow—like the brilliant day when the sun disappears because a cloud moves in front of it. Suddenly the bright life is dimmed. Eyes must adjust to the now faded light; you attempt to open them wide, to expand your pinprick pupils, but they are slow to respond.

I kept waiting for the cloud to move along, shift to the right or the left. I woke each morning, slowly. Hoping the bright blue sky would reappear. Many days I didn’t think about it at all—at least consciously. I just went about my business; I lived the daily-ness of living:  the routine, the rote, and the rut. There were moments the sun filtered through broken patches in the clouds. Glimmers of light dappled through the cloud cover, and I followed them like a child chasing fireflies at night.  

You see I know the truth: I am a child of the light. I belong to the Father of lights, and there is no darkness in him. But I saw and felt the darkness in me, and it frightened me. I don’t like darkness. I don’t like the sun obscured by the clouds—at least not for undetermined periods of time.

I did all the things everyone tells you to do. Or I tried.


However…


Reading (the nourishment of my life) became a chore. I struggled through reading a paragraph.

Praying (the necessity of my life) became a battle. I fumbled through one sentence prayers.

Writing (the expression of my life) dwindled and dried like a well in the heat of the summer.

Teaching (the calling of my life) became a duty. I grappled through lesson plans and Bible studies.

Loving (the joy of my life) became a burden. I stumbled under the weight and responsibility of it.

And the cloud remained. Eventually, my eyes adjusted to the dimness. But there is a sharpness lost when the light is low. The keen edges are dulled, and the vivid colors are muted.

I wrote about this place, talked about it in a post. I thought to be vulnerable, transparent, and confessional (to speak the darkness out loud) might help, but I encountered responses and reactions I didn’t expect—others reading my confession didn’t seem to like my filleted-open emotions. And they spoke words and opinions that pierced (though unintentional I am sure). Their words tapped on my spirit, and like a turtle, I pulled back into my shell and just decided it was safer inside.

Sunlight did break through several times, and like a cold-blooded creature, I moved into that light as quickly as possible. I curled up in it—trying to give my body time to soak up the heat and the light. For a long while, that’s the only response I could muster.

Mustering a different response as a course of action did not last long. Mustering anything required feats of strength and stamina of which I had little. I conserved my energy, pulled in all my limbs and appendages tight.

I gathered books and notes and Bibles and journals, even coloring books, and hoarded them as if the very possession of them would aid me. Books littered the house, and with every one of them came the heaviness of obligation. These tools remained stacked on the ends of counters and tables and in towers on the floor beside my bed or chair—cairns of intention, silent stones of expectations. Perhaps, I thought, there will be something in the pages that will awaken my spirit. But the books remained closed, and more often than not my Bible remained on the table unopened.

The weight of depression pushed down on me. Heavy-handed oppression pressed in on my spirit.  The pressure weighted my grieving heart.  I held grief deep and tight, wrapped my arms around it as if it were a flailing, exhausted child. Instinctively I knew if I didn’t contain this sorrowful creature it would break loose and wail.

At first, my heart was just numb, sensory abilities depleted.

In January 2016 an accident occurred that broke through my numbness and revealed my mental and spiritual state. I reached into a very hot oven and pulled out a terra cotta Dutch oven. My potholder slipped, and so did the dome lid. Steam burned my right hand—all four fingers, but the first two were severely damaged. I went to the doctor (who had a great deal of experience treating burns), and he and his nurse explained the seriousness of these burns. A day later the blisters on those fingers covered the entirety of the first two digits, and they were over an inch high. I visited the doctor’s office every day for almost a week to change the dressings and for them to assess the damage. Eventually, both blisters burst and the raw skin of my fingers was exposed. They explained to me that each day my fingers would need to be debrided and this would be quite painful.

Day after day I went in and sat on the white papered examination table. Each day they unwrapped my fingers and winced when the last bandage unwound.  The first time they debrided my burn they watched me closely.  Apparently, I remained rather stoic, and this reaction (or lack of ) surprised them.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” they inquired.

I shook my head negatively.

One nurse (who knows me quite well) leaned down and looked into my face when she asked this question.  Her eyebrows drew together and her lips pressed into a thin line.  She proceeded to gently scrub all the white, dead tissue away, exposing new flesh, raw and red.

But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.
































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?).

NO.

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.

Ireland.
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.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Lovely Adventure--Ireland

 
 

This Ireland Adventure began as just dream—far off, hazed by the mists of all that seemed unattainable. I’m not sure where or when this dream began—the origin of its intensity eludes me. I don’t even see it on the far off peripheries of my mind. It just seems that one day the longing birthed in me, expanding and contracting the small places of me.
Periodically, following some internal compass or map, I searched for photographs of the places I longed to be, spaces in which I yearned to stand. I memorized details and the isolated pieces of the history of the country—of an island flung farther west that any other on the European continent. I read books, devoured and savored novels written by Windsor, Roberts, and Llewelyn. I read through Cahill and Miller and O'Donohue. Perhaps, hoping by osmosis, the ancient atmosphere would be absorbed into the pores of me. For years I tucked this desire away, not hidden, but only wishful.

I remember being on a house date with my husband, my then neighbor friend. We sat in my living room at my massive desk and surfed the waves of the internet on a barge of a computer. I pulled up images that represented my wishes and gushed exuberantly and too enthusiastically to Steve. I remember he listened and looked—acted interested whether he was or not (I found out his thoughts later. He was thinking, “Let’s get married; let’s go!). I made a No Particular Order list (aka Bucket List), and Ireland always made the list, but the reality of going there and experiencing all I had researched and studied just seemed beyond the navigable reality to me.

In 2015 my top Bucket List desire manifested. My first book Growing Room, For Life in Tight Places was published. The vulnerable word-soaked, tear-baptized parts of me printed for the world to read if they had the mind to do so. And some did. I revisited my bucket list. Humbled and elated, I realized I could cross off several things. Unexpected items—ones I hadn't expected to become real or attained.  But Ireland remained.  And behind this one proper noun, a whole myriad of hopeful wishes skipped and leaped.

In April of this year, I turned fifty. Fifty years old. In the beginning, back in the cold and snow and darkness of January and February, Steve asked me what I wanted for this Jubilee celebration. We discussed cruises and Ireland—and the flutter of the wishes in my heart beat its wings, and the butterfly effect rippled the breezes and the band of the atmosphere around me. The wistful dreams began to solidify—the edges becoming sharp and keen, outlined in a thick black line. We waffled, joggled, juggled, switched, and shifted finances, budgets, and schedules. I reneged once (twice) and suggested the idea that we just go on a cruise. A seven-day cruise seemed much easier, planned for us and contained. Safe. He looked at me—searched my face, moved with agility through this labyrinth mind of mine and understood. He understood my fears and the concerns. He called me out, interrogated with a frustrating accuracy my hesitations and reluctance. And he made a decision.

“No, this trip is for your 50th birthday. You’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. We're going to Ireland.”

Plans commenced. Travel agents engaged. Plane tickets purchased.  My research took on a whole new dimension—no longer did I look at The Cliffs of Moher or Newgrange or Clonmacnoise because they were beautiful or represented something greater to me, but because my feet, our feet, might trod across the soil and stone of the place.
I speak of this trip as if it were the greatest longing of my life, but it wasn’t and isn’t. The deepest longing of my life is to be in the Presence of God. To love him with utter abandon, and that the fruit and abundance of abiding in his Presence would spill over into others. But there is something about Ireland—the longevity of its existence, the length of seasons of prayer lifted from its tumultuous terrain that drew me. I wanted to stand, sit, kneel or whatever else in the thin places and silences of its spiritual history.

Little did I know. How little did I know? About Ireland. Or about myself.

God’s timing is flawless—without seam or catch of a thread.

This trip came to fruition during a season of drought. This sojourn came during a time of sparsity and sorrow. I’m processing the journey now—in the moment there didn’t seem to be enough space, but now in the sweetness of my little patch of earth, I have been pondering, mulling, and considering.

As always this Chambered Nautilus place throws open its doors to you. If you are inclined, grab a cup of coffee or tea and join me in the next few posts. 

As the Irish say, “Cead Mila Failte.”
One Hundred Thousand Welcomes.


Welcome to our adventure!
 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Tribute

In May we celebrate having a mother and being a mother. I could fill post after post about the wonders, pains, celebrations of being a mother, of having a mother. But I don't have time. Today, I want to just celebrate some amazing women in my life.

Considering I have just a little time before I need to get ready for church, I will make this as simple as possible. Today, I want to praise and thank God for the following women:

1. My mom. We call her Mamaw Judy and JuJu. She's witty and funny. She loves hard. She taught me to read. She taught me to love beauty.
2. My stepmom. I call her Brenda. But mostly I call her friend. She's fiercely loyal. Has deep common sense. She's adventurous. She's strong and brave--and fights a daily battle against a disease that would take most to the ground. And she's the other half of my dad.
3. My mother-in-law. She's anything BUT plain Jane. She is an inspiration--to live life to the fullest. To not allow fear to rob you of what and who you love most. She is an amazingly strong, courageous woman. She's an incredible mother and the perfect kind of grandmother.
4. My first spiritual mother. Peggy Mastin. She taught me about faith and the power of it. She taught me to pray and the depth of it. She is with Jesus now, and I know she is in the great cloud of witnesses cheering us to the finish.
5. My second mother. Dianna Jean. How this woman has mothered me. When I have felt lost and frightened, like a child, she has been a rock. She calls me "Tamera Ruth" and I call her Mama.
6. My other mother. Betty Vaughan. Betty mothered me through my early mothering years. Loved me like her own. Still does. And I am grateful.
7. Anna Vaughan. My first daughter. To watch her mother this giraffe and a lion of a boy of hers--I love their conversations and their sweet bond. Her understanding of her son is something to behold.
8. Katherine Rector. My second daughter. She often juggles a circus, a three ring one at that. But to listen to her reason with such patience with her 3 1/2 year old son is simply astounding.
9. Hannah Harris. My third stepdaughter. Hannah is mothering a child who is 5 going on 18. And on the outside it seems she does it effortlessly.
10. I am thankful for all eight of our daughters. Eight of them. All different. All unique. Elizabeth, Stephanie, Anna, Katherine, Hannah, Olivia, Gabrielle, and Abby.
11. My four daughters. Need I say more? Well, yes. I am a mother because of these four women. Each one contributed to my growth not only as a mother, but as a woman, as a Believer. These women have helped me become more than I ever thought I would or could be. They will NEVER know the depth of respect, admiration, and love I have for each of them. I have been blessed in abundance.


My mother. Juju.


My incredible Stepmother--Brenda

Strong, tenacious, and wonderful mother-in-law--Jane Rehnborg

One of my spiritual mothers--Peggy Mastin (on left)

My Second Mother: Dianna Jean


The mother when I needed her: Betty Vaughan



Kat, Elijah, Anna, Judah


 
My third stepdaughter--Hannah and her son Tatem

All eight. Our daughters.
Why mothering is a privilege.


Friday, April 1, 2016

50 Years, 5 Decades, and a Half a Century


Today is April Fool’s Day. A day of pranks, jokes, and tricks. And I’ve always taken them all in stride, grinning big when someone said, “Today is your birthday? April Fool’s is your birthday? Well, what does that make you?” 

It didn’t take this day to make me a fool. I came by that moniker honest and true. Early on I lived up to the tag of my birthdate—I was a fool. Sure enough. I made sloppy mistakes, nearsighted choices, and sinful plans. A fool, I wouldn’t listen to anyone; I closed my ears and sidestepped a teachable spirit. I thought I knew all about life, everything there was to know, and I was oh, so much smarter than my mama.

But fifty years has run out beneath me, seeped out in an increasing crescent. Fifty birthdays rolled right under the proverbial bridge. Five decades are behind me now, mile markers in the past—lined up like fence posts. This half century of mine barely makes a mark, a dot, on the eternal stretch of time.

I’m glad that some of the typical 50th birthday gifts aren’t what greeted me today. I’m thankful I didn’t wake up to black balloons, over-the-hill-gift packages, and trifocal glasses—given as commentary on the number of years I have lived. Someone did say to me yesterday that I wasn’t allowed to cheat and put the number candles on my cake. I had to use fifty candles. All fifty. This “friend” suggested that the cake might catch fire. What an illuminating fiasco that would be!
So here I sit on my porch. The wind is rustling and sweeping and pulling all the loose ends of everything.  The neighbor’s wind chimes sound like a well-practiced bell choir. The bees are buzzing, but they are not content enough to light and allow me to pet their fuzzy backs (maybe in June when the weather is warmer). Henry is scuffling on the porch watching everything with a cautious eye. And Judah is napping, curled up right on the couch.

And I am crying.

Streams of hot, unsummoned tears running down my face. I’ll have to redo my makeup before tonight (and hope that everyone is tactful enough not to mention the swollen and puffy eyes).

Fifty years.

I don’t feel a day older than twenty-five. Inside my head, I’m still this young woman trying to embrace every moment of life. But what I didn’t understand at twenty-five was that I need to savor the ordinary, everyday moments--tucked away to be pondered later. Brought out like treasures from antique cedar chests.

But then I look down at my hands typing on these keys. And my hands are getting older, once smooth and slender they are now road-veined. I look in the mirror, and my face isn’t exactly the right image looking back at me. Sometimes, I look at my daughters’ faces and see some of the young Tamera there. These are not sad thoughts, just observations. Matter of fact things that you just notice and move along.

What have I learned in fifty years? What truths do I know that I know that I know?  Not many. Certainly not as many as I did when I was twenty-five. But for whatever it’s worth I think I’ll share that which I know.

10 Things I Know.

1.    I’m still a fool. Yes, I am. I’m a ridiculous fool for the love of Christ. I understand my faith seems foolish to many in our culture today. But I’m not enough of a fool to believe that I could make it one day or one hour in this world without the love and grace of God.

2.    The older I get, the less I know, and the more I want to know. The Spirit has tendered my spirit teachable. And I want it to remain this way until I take my last breath.

3.    Prayer is the anchor. In many ways, we have returned to the world of Genesis 1:2—formless, empty, and dark. In prayer, I am made aware that the Spirit of God is still hovering over the face of these turbulent waters.  Light will come; it is on its way.

4.    The deal-breakers are far and few between. Ideologies and philosophies and man-made doctrines are moot points. When the leper needed healing, Jesus didn’t cry unclean.

5.    God’s Word is utterly relevant even when we don’t want it to be. If prayer is the anchor, then God’s word is the boat. (All analogies fall at some point, just note my point.)

6.    Love is the warp and grace is the weft of these tapestry-stories we are weaving. God’s love and grace assuredly, but ours extended to others. Over and over. Seventy times seven. (Mind you this isn’t Hollywood love. Nor the romantic love of the formula-driven books we read. And this grace? Not weak tolerance or leniency or indulgence. But instead, the wild and fierce and untamable love and grace of God. )

7.    Kindness is more than a nice virtue; it must be rooted and established in us knowing the value of someone—of considering others better than ourselves. And that knowledge must have extension.  The Proverbs 31 Woman extended her hands…

8.    Community is necessary. Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we need an extended family to lift us, encourage us, bolster us, prod us, challenge us, and care for us. It’s not optional.

9.    Invest in the character and eternalness of people. Especially those closest to you, those nearest you: your children and grandchildren. Don’t invest in material stacks and piles. Don’t spend your energy on the inanimate objects that often clutter our lives. Invest and pour blessing into people—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. And remember what you sow, you will reap.

10.    God is good. He is a good good Father. We may not see it. We may not understand it, but anything we have given, surrendered, offered, extended, spent, and wasted for Him will be swallowed up in his glorious redemption—to be poured back into his kingdom, to bring him glory and us purpose.

That’s it. That’s all I know that I know that I know. Fifty years of learning, trial and error, to get me to this point. But I know these things.

And one more thing…I don’t want to squander anything I have left. I want the last part of my life to produce more fruit than even the first two-thirds.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

White Noise


Recently, my high school writing class and I met at a local coffee shop. I gave them a writing prompt. I mean it is almost cliché to sit and write in a local coffee shop, right? And you are in some famous company if you do: Rowling, Rankin, Fitzgerald, McCall Smith, and many others have strung words together while sipping coffee or some other form of liquid fortifier.

What was the prompt? The jump start words to prime the proverbial well?

Two words.

White noise.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White.noise.png


In the dim light of the coffee house conference room, light streamed in through the seven-foot windows, and the muffled noises from the street and downstairs wafted up to us, I asked my students to identify the white noise of their lives. A few of them looked at me puzzled. Some looked past me with a blank stare as if I had just spoken Russian on a Japanese subway. Some met my gaze, and the light bulb glimmered like a compact fluorescent—slow and low, and then bright. A couple lit immediately. 

I watched as they scratched their words on the paper, hesitating, erasing, and pausing. Some of their answers surprised me. As I quietly meandered around their chairs, I considered the white noise in my life. And I asked myself the question I asked my students.

What is the white noise in my life right now?

What is the static that crackles just under the surface? What is the hum of the underlying current? What is the consistent tone or pattern I hear layered just under everything else?

A friend of mine asked me to consider 2015: the highs and the lows and the shallows and the depths.

The summit places have been broad and open and full of light, places of indescribable joy.  In March, my grandson arrived. I held Atlas in my arms, the five percent miracle of him, and joy swelled in me in proportions uncontainable. 

August marked the release of my first book, Growing Room. The publisher sent the first copy off the press to me. My husband and I stood in the break room at work and opened the box. The joyful rush and exhilaration of holding my book in my hand were surreal. I pressed my head into his chest and wept.   In September, I experienced my first book signing, and another type of joy pushed into me, pressed in leaving embossed indentations on my spirit.

These wonderful events produced definitive heights—experiences much like the ridges on the roads in the hills when I visit my dad. And for much of 2015 I rode on these high places. Drove them. Maneuvered them. Navigated them. I’m grateful I didn’t see the ninety-degree bend in the road that was coming. I’m thankful I didn’t see the drop-off and the crumble of the pavement. I’m blessed that God does not reveal the future to us; he did not show me the wreckage in the distance.

In October, Steve and I took a sabbatical weekend and drove to Gatlinburg, TN. In the early hours of the third day of our trip, my phone rang waking me from a deep sleep. I know the phone rang two different times because later I would check my records, but it was the second call that broke through my sleep.

The story of that few minutes of eternity is for another time, but my brother was dead, killed in an accident on an interstate.

The descent from the heights of the joy ridge began, and the white noise commenced.

As I viewed the residual fall out of my brother’s death, white noise infiltrated my thought processes, inserted itself into the routine of my life, and became the underlying discordant hum I couldn’t quite decipher.

Last week I stayed home from church. The inner chaos and white noise were taking their toll on me. I keyed up a worship playlist on my computer and cleaned house with a focused vengeance. At last worn out, I sat down on the couch and the white noise increased to deafening levels.
Anyone who knows me or has read my blog or book understands I am a crier. I cry, and I cry some more. But since my brother’s death, I have lived the last three and half months dry-eyed. The white noise clogged my tear ducts, dam tight. 

I sat in my living room curled up on the couch, and the white noise pushed against my ears and eyelids. Strangled cries and choking sobs broke through my throat. I tried to stop them, futile efforts. Finally, I wept for my brother and for the wreckage his death left behind—for the situations and people I can’t fix or help. 

I finally wept for me. And I called things what they are.
Grief.

Grief and depression.

I heard the static of each of them humming under the surface; I identified my white noise.

And now begins the work of turning down the volume of this white noise named Grief.

Friends, I know many of you are struggling with white noise in your life. Some of you (of us) are living with a deafening roar in your ear, a ringing that just won’t stop. The hum is so familiar that you selectively don’t acknowledge it anymore, but it is taking its toll. Perhaps your white noise is grief, fear, anxiety, infertility, loneliness, anger, isolation, cancer, brokenness, resentment, addiction, depression, abuse, busyness, rejection, lethargy, or emptiness. Maybe, you can’t seem to identify it at all; you just know that you are going to go deaf.
Friends, don’t go deaf. Ask the Spirit to identify your white noise, to name it, and to show you how to decrease its volume. Identification and recognition are the first steps.  

Take the first steps.

The Thrill of Hope--Jeremiah, Part 1

One April evening in 2017 we reached for your Mama and Daddy’s hands and led them into the stillness of an empty sanctuary. At an altar we...