Thursday, April 28, 2011

Seventy-seven Times Seven--Day 14

Peter.

What did he do in those days right after the Resurrection? What coursed through his thoughts?

How many times did he beat himself up for the denials? How often did he play that fiery courtyard scene over and over in his head trying to find some way to understand what he did and did not do? In those immediate days after the Resurrection did he see the face of Jesus on the inside of his eyelids? Did he replay Jesus’ voice? How close did despair come in overtaking Peter? To drowning him? Weighing him down? Smothering him?

I can hear the dialogue in Peter’s mind. Can you?

Those days after the crucifixion and even after the resurrection must have been dark days for Peter. He pulled his nets out of storage and worked the tangles out of them until his fingers were raw and the cuts stung from the residual salt. His thought patterns must have resembled the knots. Tangled with remorse, disgust, fear and anxiety. Humiliation and paranoia choked him, and he just couldn’t swallow it down. Disgust mounted and overflowed.

Pressure had squeezed him. Excuses and justifications rose in his mind, but he punched them down. Deflated them. There were no excuses. For three years Peter had been with Jesus. Had he learned nothing? As he untangled the knots he remembered walking on water—and sinking. He remembered the Transfiguration—and making a fool of himself. He remembered pulling Jesus aside—and chastising him. He remembered pulling his feet from Jesus’ hands—and protesting. He remembered the heft and weight of the sword—and cutting through Malchus’ ear in the garden. He remembered the vehement denials—and the rooster crowing and crowing and crowing.

Peter’s situation seemed as hopeless as the net in his hands. He could not find the beginning or the end of this mess.

One blunder—doubling. One mistake—multiplying. One sin—avalanching.

Tortured, Peter dropped head into his hands. His great, bulky body curled inward. He longed to disappear. To be invisible. To be swallowed whole.

Jesus had called him a rock. Seems like this was the only time the Lord had been wrong. Peter had not held up under the pressure. This rock had cracked. This rock split wide open when the weight fell.

And Peter could not bridge the enormous fissure inside his soul.

I have been with Peter. I have shared that ugly space with him. Inside my mind I have curled up in a fetal position and wondered if my mistakes could ever be fixed. Often I have worried that I would not survive the consequences or more importantly that others would not survive them.

There have been times and seasons when I have believed my mistakes and sins created fissures too wide to ever bridge and too deep to ever fill. Some of these happened before I became a Christ-follower, but many happened after. Many have happened in the past few years. Too many have happened in the past week.

Have you been there?
I wonder though…

I wonder if the Spirit interrupted the patterns in Peter’s thinking. Did the Spirit remind Peter of another conversation with Jesus?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times seven…”*

Jesus knew Peter. He knew his tendencies. His inclinations. His weaknesses.

Jesus knew the anguish writhing in Peter’s soul.

After the Resurrection Mary, Johanna and Susannah received specific directions from Jesus: go tell the others and Peter.**

And Peter.

How those words must have filtered into Peter and infused him with hope.

Peter didn’t expect the answer of seventy-seven times seven to his question of Jesus. And he didn’t realize they would be offered to him. Jesus did not ask of Peter or us something he would not be willing and ready to do himself.

Friends, Jesus knows us. He knows our tendencies. Our inclinations. Our weaknesses.

And it is time to uncurl. Time to stop beating ourselves to death. Time to stop despairing that our sins cannot be covered or erased. Time to stop living in fear that we (or others) will not survive the consequences. Time to stop acting as if there is something God can’t do.
It is time to hear Jesus say,

And Tamera.

And Terri.

And Christy.

And Steve.

And Angela.

And Dave.

And Amy.

And…

Do it.

Fill in your name.

And say it seventy-seven times seven.













*Matthew 18: 21-22

**Mark 16:7

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Others--Day 13

In beginning this fourteen day adventure I embraced a challenge. A challenge to my creative abilities and my spiritual discernment and obedience. But as always, God had something greater in mind. He had my transformation in mind. Not just mine, but possibly others, but mine nonetheless. And I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready.

Are we ever? Are we prepared for what God has planned?

Were the disciples ready for the events of the third day?   Were the twelve men and all the company ready for Sunday?

Sunday, the day of Resurrection was surreal. Peter, Mary and John fell onto their bed pallets that night and pinched themselves in the dark to assure themselves they were still among the living.

Sunday was the day of the impossible becoming the possible.

Did they ask, “Is this real? Is this a beautiful idea? Is this just the manifestation of our hopes? Of our wishful thinking? How do we know? ”

Each time Jesus came to them was a confirmation of the reality they were beginning to understand.

I had a conversation with a friend this week. A hard conversation. My friend asked hard questions. And made some tough statements. On Easter weekend—the weekend of the impossible becoming possible—my friend challenged my faith.

We were discussing the reality of the faith. Is God just a good idea? Is he just an extension of our hopes?

My friend said, “I compare it [belief and faith] to "hearing stories of George Washington"...and seeing pictures of him in his black and white portraits and in the painting of him in his gallant pose crossing the Delaware. I hear the stories...I see the pictures...I tell the stories...I show the pictures......but that is all it remains....stories and pictures.....even though I've been told George Washington is real....etc etc.....he remains a story.

Soldiers followed Washington into battle even though they couldn’t see him. Some of the soldier’s never laid eyes on Washington. They followed because they saw the affects of Washington’s strategic leadership and benefited from the fruit of his character. Soldiers whose feet blistered and bled, whose stomachs caved and then bloated from hunger,  weren’t just following an idea. They were following a man. A real one.

Twelve men walked away from the Resurrection reality and based their entire lives on the fact that Jesus was alive. They based their life not on a story. Not on pictures.

And they told others. Then others told others. Others told others. And others told others…and others told us.

The Resurrection was and is not just a story. I am writing not because of an idea, but because a man invested his life in others. So much that they lived and died incredible and horrible lives and deaths to declare the good news.

In the midst of the Washington conversation, I got another email. A friend from high school. I read and reread the email and sat in shock. Tears ran down my face. He delivered some hard news.

A precious friend had passed away. 45 year old Tim was gone.  

Tim was one of the others in my life.  

Tim was a part of a group who introduced me to Jesus—not just an idea. He didn’t just tell me the stories of Jesus or show me the pictures. He allowed me to be privy to what God had done and openly shared the changes God wrought in him.  At school and in other places I witnessed the affects of these changes in Tim. He wanted my life to be changed and transformed. Tim helped pray me into the kingdom. He invested in me because Jesus and others had invested in him.

As a result, you are reading this blog.

I have never laid eyes on Jesus.

But I have seen the affects of his incredible leadership. I have benefited from the fruit of his ministry. I am a recipient of his transforming power. I do not even remotely resemble the person I was becoming 28 years ago.

I have experienced his salvation.

A story is a powerful thing, but I am not willing to give my life to just a story.

My Washington friend wants the reality. I want the reality. We want to live our lives in the power of the Resurrection. We don’t just want to tell stories. We don’t just want to show pictures.

To live like this we will have to have faith—because faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.* Every time that hope fades or the certainty dwindles I remind myself of what I have seen and experienced. I go back and recount and remember.

On Sunday Tim experienced The Resurrection. His faith became sight. He entered the Reality.

When all of heaven was watching us here, when the witnesses of heaven were leaning over and looking in as we cried and proclaimed, “He’s alive!”—

Tim stood and gazed into the face of Jesus and nodded, “Yes! Yes, he is. He’s alive!”

Someday my friend and I will do the same.

Please join us.


*Hebrews 11:1







Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Linens and the Shroud--Day 12

These had held him.

Precious strips placed on his body by hands that loved. The head cloth sealed by tears dropping from faces so close to his.

These last earthly bindings—
Wrapped his bloodied, broken body. Encased his emptied frame.

Embraced him in their soft folds. Swaddled him in their lengths.

He pulled them to his face and breathed deeply—still scented with the myrrh and aloes.

In the unwinding, instead of decay and stench, it was a sweet aroma unwound.

The linens and shroud had fulfilled their purpose.

Gone was the mortal flesh that had been his tent. It had not been the spices that had preserved him. The linens and the shroud could not contain him. Power pulled him forth—resurrected him up and through the woven threads. Left them behind as if they were simply air. His Father had called his name, just as he, Jesus, had spoken to Jarius’ daughter. Just as he had called her back from the darkness, so had I AM called him back.

Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?*

 
Now, scared hands are folding.

No hurry. No rush.

He folded the lengths of linen. Smoothed them down. Laid them one on top of the other. Not quickly discarded. Not absently thrown. Not hastily cast aside. The head cloth last—placed separate from the rest.

He knew they would find them, and contemplate their meaning.

And soon they would understand that the linens and the shroud had encased a broken, condemned man.

But a Power greater than death had released the triumphant Savior.



*I Corinthians 15:55

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Holy Day--Day 11

I went to a local super-center today. We needed several things. I had part of the list and my husband had the other part and we went in opposite directions in order to shorten the time of the dreaded task. To see and navigate the crowd one would have thought it was a holiday. Carts were overflowing. Arms were full. The lines were long. The cashiers were flustered.

My husband found me in the Easter candy aisle. I was looking for something special. We walked from one end of the long aisle to the other, but I just shook my head. What I was looking for (chocolate truffle eggs) wasn’t to be found.

I stood in the aisle and stared.

The aisle was filled with color: petal pink, new green, robin egg blue and lemon yellow. There were ready-to-be-filled camouflage eggs and peanut butter eggs. There were bobble-headed bunnies and M&M’s© dressed as bunnies. There were foil covered ducks and chickens. Tie-dye egg dyeing kits (and eggs were a tad bit cheaper than normal). There were speckled malted milk eggs and jelly beans in every color and flavor (even buttered popcorn). There were displays in the middle of the floor with dozens and dozens of pre-made Easter baskets. If you were willing to pick out all your goodies a tired employee would fill the huge, transparent and hollow egg baskets for you. And the clothing finery was something to behold: tiny dresses with matching bows and little suits with clip-on ties.

Near the end of the aisle on the middle shelf something caught my eye. Two small boxes filled with sixteen to twenty smaller boxes of cheap chocolate crosses. The boxes were plain, generic and almost colorless. The crosses had been shuffled from their plastic indentations. And not one box was gone from its allotted slot.

I don’t have a bit of problem with hiding Easter eggs (actually I wish we could do it for the adults too). I enjoy the vast variety of chocolates. I adore all the wonderful colors and sweet whimsy. I will be delighted when I see our friends’ little ones in all their finery. And I, too, will don a new spring sweater in the morning.

But, this is not a holiday.

This is a celebration of a holy day.

A Holy Day.

Holy carries and envelopes a sense of being set-apart.

Sacred.

This is a shouting day for me.

This is a celebration because we don’t have to live in the agonized suffering and fearful despair of Friday.

This is a celebration because we don’t have to abide in the closed, rock-sealed guarded tomb of Saturday.

This is a celebration because we can enter the empty tomb and embrace the resurrection hope of Sunday.

Not just Jesus’ resurrection, but ours.

And this Holy Day will not be relegated and emaciated to cheap chocolate crosses and egg-laying bunnies.

Both offend me.

If these are my only options then I will choose neither.

Glory be to my God and Savior they are not!

Weighted Dice--Day 10

Two small cubes carved from bone. Worn smooth from repeated use and valuable to break a watch’s boredom. The roll of the dice had gained many a coveted possession for Quentus. Sturdy sandals. Thick cloaks. Sharp daggers.

His job was to strip the criminals of their possessions. And strip them he did—piling the loot at the edge of the crucifixion mound. The soldiers would mentally tag what they wanted and then wait for a break so they might roll their dice and enjoy their luck. This was one of the few perks of this nasty job—a minimal bonus for the extra hours and effort waiting for these condemned people to die.

Today the plundering had resulted in a paltry offering of less than desirable pieces. The men on duty gave the pile a cursory glance. Out of spiteful boredom they jabbed and smacked the impaled feet of the crucified for their meager contributions to the gamblers’ pot.

Quentus stared at the pile. One piece caught his eye. Most likely only he recognized its value because he had held and examined it. A plain undergarment. Nondescript at first glance, but it was seamless—woven as one piece from top to bottom. Why would a man condemned to death by crucifixion have this kind of garment? Had he stolen it? Or had someone given it to him? Someone who loved him—Quentus felt the twinge of jealousy and pushed it down.

Who was this man?

Quentus shook the dice in his hand. The other guards were nervous—the sky was eerily dark at a time when the sun should have been at its zenith. Muttering and cursing they made gestures and signs to ward off bad omens. He found their wary superstitions humorous and contradictory to their usual bold and crass ways. The dice were warm in Quentus’ hand. He squatted in the rocky soil and brushed a circle clear of debris. The others joined him.

One at a time they cast their lots. * The highest roll would take the seamless garment, and for some odd reason Quentus realized he wanted it. He peered up and the garment’s owner looked directly at him. Quentus felt pierced, and he didn’t like the feeling. He could not look away from this man. This was a convicted man who the Jewish leaders wanted dead before their religious Sabbath began. But he and his guard had discussed this man. In all their years of carrying out these grisly executions never had they encountered one like this man. He had been different from the very beginning.

At this man’s expense his men had enjoyed an entertaining diversion. They had heard rumored mumblings that the man was a prophet and a healer. Quickly they had devised a plan—blindfolding him and taunting him to prophesy and tell them which one hit him. Quentus, himself, had cuffed the man in the ear and sneered. “Who am I? Who’s hitting you? Tell me.” Fear skirted around Quentus as he wondered if the man recognized any of their voices.

What fate had put that man on this cross on this particular day? What choices had he made to have him nailed to its crossbeam? Quentus was a Roman citizen. He would never have to endure this type of execution, but what roll of dice caused him to be born to his Roman parents instead of here in this far country to Jews? What stars had aligned to bring this man before him to this destiny?

At last Quentus looked away. He could not hold the man’s gaze. The dice lay scattered on the ground before him. Fate, however, was against him today. He had rolled the lowest; he must forfeit the seamless garment. Quentus felt a stab of foreign regret. He scooped up his knuckle-bone dice and turned and walked away. Fate was a fickle thing he had heard someone say.

Fate didn’t lead Jesus to the cross.

Destiny, as an entity, did not nail him there.

The stars’ alignment did not destine Jesus’ execution.

A roll of the dice did not determine his end.

Randomness was not involved in this course of events.

No!

A weighed and measured choice was made.

This course of events was planned, choreographed and orchestrated.

God’s redemption for his people, for us, was not left to chance.

Our redemption was not a random afterthought, quickly thrown together to try and fix the problem. Our redemption was a ransom paid by a man who knew what he was doing before he ever came to live among us. No trick of fate or chance unfolded that forced Jesus’ hand. He didn’t make a last minute decision.

Understand, my friends, the dice were weighted.

They were weighted in our favor.

God weighted the dice in our favor at Jesus’ expense.


Proverbs 16:33

Friday, April 22, 2011

Perform, Jesus--Day 9

Thursday night of Passion Week.

More happened to and with Jesus in a twelve hour span than happens to most of us in a decade. As I read and studied the vacillating events I was astounded by the escalation and intensity. I shouldn’t have been. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Jesus took his stand against the devil’s schemes.

Long before Paul would tell us that the struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms—Jesus stood. Paul told us to put on the full armor of God. Why? So we would be able to stand our ground. And when everything else was/is said and done we would be able to stand. Just to remain standing in battle. *

And Jesus remained standing. Read that again.

We need to understand this. Because there will come a time of great darkness in our lives. For whatever reason, under whatever circumstance, by whatever means darkness will come. Not if, but when. If anyone has told you differently they have lied to you

And the darkness is suffocating. It is debilitating. It is paralyzing. It is frightening.

And who will enable you to stand?

Jesus’ night of darkness came. He ate his last meal with his disciples. He prayed in a dark garden until blood seeped from his pores. He was betrayed by a friend. He was pursued as if he were a common criminal and arrested. He had to break up a fight and heal in the midst of the chaos. And everyone who had just shared the meat and drink with him ran.

And then he was brought before the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world.

Caiaphas. Pilate. Herod.

The powers that be. Or so they thought. Believing they wielded the power these three men batted Jesus from one court to another all night long.

Jesus’ trial resembled a circus. A three ring fiasco.

And Herod acted like the circus master. He had acted like one once before, and had John the Baptist beheaded. He had heard about Jesus. Herod’s spies and court soldiers had brought him news and accounts of the activities of this Jesus. He had heard about Lazarus. He had been told about lepers arriving at the temple, clean—skin glistening and healthy. There was a report about a wedding in Cana and water turning to wine. Bread and fish for five thousand. And he had heard that this Jesus, this prophet from Galilee, had called Herod a fox. Yes, he wanted to see this man face to face.

Herod treated Jesus like a performing monkey.

Herod wanted to see Jesus perform. Herod wanted to see the miraculous happen as if it were a show for entertainment and pleasure.

Herod hounded Jesus. Interrogating. Needling. Poking. Plying.

Herod stepped off his dais. Approached Jesus.

“Perform, Jesus. Show me what you can do. They have told me about all your miraculous feats. Demonstrate for me. Prove the reports to me.”

Jesus remained utterly silent. The darkness grew thicker. Heavier.

Herod could hear the black crows of the Sanhedrin pacing and shouting.

As Herod moved close to Jesus’ face the metallic scent of blood caused his nostrils to flair and burn. There was a weakness in Jesus’ body, but there was no sign of weakness in his eyes. Herod saw red. This man had called him a fox, and Herod both liked and hated the implications.

Herod changed his tactics.

Herod turned back to his throne and grabbed his robe. He flitted and danced around Jesus, dressing him in the elaborate garment. Herod’s needling questions became sneers and mockery. He ridiculed and taunted Jesus. Poked and prodded him in an attempt to dredge up a reaction. His soldiers joined him. Laughing at Herod’s buffoonery, they added their own.

“Perform, prophet. I have a cut on my arm, heal it. Make the skin close back and the wound disappear. Turn this pot into gold. It’s dark outside, make it day.”

And Jesus remained silent. But Herod couldn’t handle Jesus. Couldn’t handle the silence or the lack of reaction. Most cowered in front of Herod. Begged for their lives. Pleaded for mercy. But this silence was deafening. Louder than the crows’ vehement accusations. Shriller than his soldier’s mean and drunken teasings.

Suddenly the room seemed dark and the walls closed in on Herod. His breath was shallow and fast. He recognized the feeling. Fear. And Herod hated fear.

“Take him back to Pilate. Take him back.”

And the three-ring circus spotlight moves in reverse.

Herod appalled me. His behavior sickened me. To ask Jesus to perform a miracle solely for Herod’s pleasure and entertainment—

Who did Herod think he was?

Who do I think I am?

How often have I asked Jesus to perform for me? How many times have I said, “Jesus, here’s my problem—fix it. The bank account is almost empty—fill it. I am hungry—feed me. I am lonely—help me. I screwed up—make it go away. I am unhappy—change it.”

How often do I expect Jesus to perform? How often do I act like he is the star attraction at a three-ring circus?

Why should I be surprised if he is silent?



*Ephesians 6:10-14

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

He Remembered--Day 8

He couldn’t get warm. He was chilled even though the fire before him blazed. He stared into the flames—watched them dance, leap and pulse. He wondered for just a brief moment if the flames were alive. Hunching his shoulders he strained to hear conversations across the courtyard. He could see the shadows on the stones of the palace courtyard. Elongated and surreal. He shuddered.

He closed his eyes, and he remembered. The Lord was on his knee, bent and stooped, wringing the soft, worn linen almost dry. Jesus had wiped the dust and grime of the day from Peter’s calloused, fisherman’s feet. Even now the protests rose and choked in his throat.*

Her voice startled him. “You were with him. You were with that man from Nazareth.”

The denial fell out of Peter’s mouth before he realized what he was saying. “I don’t know or understand what you are talking about.” He turned away from the woman and watched the flames. The tendrils seemed to reach toward him. Pulling and tempting. He just could not get warm. How had the Lord gotten to this place? Arrested and in trial across the courtyard even now. Why?

In the light of the fire Peter remembered. The Lord had explained. And Peter had been appalled. He had told the Lord he would not suffer. He would not be held by these people, would not be killed. Never. And the fire in Jesus’ eyes had scorched him. Singed him. *

The woman’s shrill voice broke into his fragmented thoughts. He could hear the accusation. He could feel all the eyes on him.

“He was one of them.”

Quickly his mind registered the contempt as she spoke the word them. He realized he was one of them. One of the disciples she had seen with the Rabbi from Galilee. What if they made him leave the courtyard? What if they opened the gate and escorted him out? Best to deny a connection right now. He wanted to remain as close as possible to Jesus.

Raising his voice he looked at the servant woman and snarled, “I’m not one of them.” The woman raised her eyebrow and did not drop her gaze. Peter turned back to the flames. Absently he muttered and talked to those standing with him.

Someone threw fuel into the fire and the flames danced closer. Sparks popped and crackled at his feet. An ember fell on his sleeve leaving gray ash. He brushed it away.

And Peter remembered. The garden had been dark. The olive trees planted close and tight. It was a familiar place. And the Lord had asked him to pray. Peter could still hear the sound in his voice.
Somewhere in the middle of the pleas he had nodded off. The third time the Lord had wakened him, Peter had been embarrassed. And when he got embarrassed he always made a fool of himself.*

The man next to him leaned toward his ear. “Surely you are one of them. You talk just like them. You speak like the group of Galileans. Didn’t I see you in the olive grove with him?” The man’s words targeted Peter. Eyes narrowed. Slitted. Riveted.

Curses spewed out of Peter’s mouth. Cursing the tell-tale cadence of his speech. He turned and swore even as he felt the hair on his neck rise. “I don’t know this man. I don’t know this man you’re talking about. He ran his hands through his hair and across his beard. And those standing close moved back—moved away from the reach of his wild gesturing. The courtyard went still. Voices fell away.

Somewhere in the distance a rooster crowed.

Peter shivered. As the crowing faded the spit in Peter’s throat began to choke him. Frantically he clawed at his neck. He turned.

There Jesus stood. Looking at Peter. His eyes bore. He didn’t look away. But Peter did.

And Peter remembered. The look in the Lord’s eyes had been soft and full of compassion and a gentleness Peter could hardly bear. He had called him by his old name, “Simon, Simon.” And Jesus had warned him, “Simon, you are going to be sifted like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail.” Peter had turned with vehement words, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”*

Strong, bold words for such a weak man.

In bitterness Peter laughed. An ugly sound from somewhere in his throat.

The rooster had crowed.

Peter tallied his denials.

Three.

He ran out of the courtyard into the dark night.

And he began to weep. And he could taste the bile in his throat.




*John 13; Luke 22:31-34; Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 16:23.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Judas Ways--Day 7

Did you know, Jesus?

You prayed all night long about the choosing of your twelve. Did you know even then? When you looked him in the eye did he look back? Did you peer into the eons of his soul? Did you see what he would do?

Judas.

A smart man. A hard man. A troubled man. A scheming man. A passionate man. A misguided man. An opportunistic man.

Did you watch him pocket the money? When you looked into his heart did you see the corrupted ambition? Did you hear the hushed conversations? Did it break your heart when he contrived the plan against you? Did it hurt when he seemed to want to spend time with you, but was actually taking note of your schedule in order to find an opportunity to turn you over to the authorities?

Did you see the flick of his heel and the twist of his heart as he turned away from you? Could you see his back as he walked away into the darkness?

This Judas, the fiery visionary from Iscariot, was a part of your inner twelve. You traveled with him. Rubbed shoulders with him. Taught him. Touched him. Included him. Ate with him. Broke bread with him. Washed his feet.

And he agreed to betray you.

Thirty pieces of silver jangled in his belt and the pharisaical stamp of approval was on his actions.

His zealousness, misplaced and misguided, pushed him to do the unthinkable and the inevitable.

And it devoured him. Whole.

You loved him.

You loved Judas anyway.

Reveal to me my Judas-ways, Oh God.

Uncover them and show them to me before I am devoured whole. Awaken me before I am consumed by my own motivations and agendas. Don’t allow my own vision to overshadow yours. Show me my own corrupted ambitions—ambitions I feed and justify. Justify because they seem to accomplish the end that I desire. But with you, Father, the end does not justify the means. Make visible to me the places in me that are bent against the philosophy and reality of your kingdom. Don’t allow me to be deceived by darkness. Please don’t allow me to trade my eternal position with you for a temporary place in a momentary spotlight here. Don’t allow me to taint precious opportunities. Don’t allow me to hold out my hand for a few pieces of silver. Silver spends too quickly.

We are not far from Judas. We want to think we are. The denial rises in our throat. We want to say we would never do such a horrendous deed. But be forewarned, our hearts are not far from corrupted ambitions and warped vision.

Reveal to us, our Judas ways.

And, please. Please love love us anyway.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Carpenter Bee--Day 6

Why.

A three letter word fathoms deep—

Echoing endlessly back and perpetually forward.

Every age, every era, every millennium asks.

Young and old. Male and female.

Why?

This word can be the hardest, deepest and saddest of all questions.

Why is often connected to cause and effect circumstances we can’t trace.

Why often remains answerless.

Why is a tangential question—a great tree that continues to branch and fork and grow in ringed girth.

Why is a child’s question—steeped in curiosity. Asked in the earliest stages of a child’s wing development. Asked when a teenager begins to stretch and discover flight.

Asked when a spouse leaves. Asked when the tests are clouded. Asked when the bank statement is close to negative. Asked when a child is abused. Asked when the cell divides. Asked when a dream dies. Asked when the answer is no. Asked when an earthquake destroys. Asked when a leader falls. Asked when suffering seems inevitable.

Why probes.

Why drills.

Why intrudes.

Why is like the fat carpenter bee that bore two holes in the sill of my backdoor. It hummed and buzzed furiously as it ate away at the hardwood. I watched as his round body disappeared into his spherical door and the sawdust kicked out behind him and drifted down to the deck. He continued to make the hole deeper and deeper—penetrating into the core and heartwood. Until I stopped him.

I thought about when Jesus would have asked why.

From Sunday to Thursday of this eventful week Jesus walked the steep and winding two-mile trek to Bethany. He traversed down and up the Mount of Olives. Each day before he entered and exited Jerusalem he would pass by the Garden of Gethsemane.

Every day Jesus had a foreshadowing of what awaited him. Jesus’ greatest struggle was coming. His greatest battle was being orchestrated. The enemy was strategizing.

Gethsemane waited. But, he had set his face.

Watch Jesus. Watch him.

He did not ask why. He knew and understood the why of Gethsemane.

The why was and is us.

You. Me.

As he passed by that grove of olive trees each morning, before he entered into the mayhem and chaos of Jerusalem’s demands, instead of asking why I believe he prayed.

“Father, give me strength for the day that is coming. I know your plan and purpose for me. Show me Tamera’s (put your name in place of mine) face this morning.”

And as he passed back by his would be place of suffering each evening, after all the accolades and interrogations, instead of asking why I believe he prayed.

“Father, thank you for today; you are faithful. I know you will provide strength for tomorrow. Thank you for my rest tonight.”

We are finite beings. We cannot see far enough into eternity to not have to ask why. Our perceptions, minds and realities are too narrow and too shallow to dismiss this word from our daily vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place and a time for the why. Why indicates struggle and growth.

But there are places and times we must learn to swat and smack the carpenter bee and have faith.

We must trust the Father’s plan.

We must.

We may be walking past our Gethsemane every day. We may be making a hard trek morning and night just to get through and we want to know why.

Why, Lord? Why?

Our greatest struggle may be on its way or have already arrived. Our greatest battle may just be around the next bend in the road or we may be right in the thick of it. The enemy may be laying out his battle plan or it may be in motion.

And we can ask why. Our Father is great enough to handle our whys. But as we walk by our Gethsemane let’s put the why aside.

In the morning when we pass by let’s pray, “Father, give me strength for the day that is coming. Remind me continually today of the plan and purpose you have before me.”

And in the evening pray, “Father, thank you for today; you are faithful. Remind me that you will provide strength for tomorrow. Please give me rest tonight.”

Yes, Gethsemane waits.

But we can ask the Father to prepare us.

There’s another carpenter bee hovering at my back door. I need to go and find my flyswatter.



.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Temple Whip--Day 5

Jesus went back to the temple.

He had unfinished business.

Let’s call this situation at the temple exactly what it was. It was contempt. The money-changers and the dove sellers profaned the temple. They had forgotten where they were.

They had grown so familiar with the temple it had become a common place. Just an ordinary place to do business. In the midst of clinking coins and bird feathers they had forgotten to be in awe, forgotten healthy fear and forgotten reverence.

The temple wasn’t a business to Jesus. It was his Father’s house. And he was returning to remind them.

But first—

But first watch what Jesus did.

He stops and makes a whip. He stands at the gate and slowly and methodically begins to braid cords together. He takes his time. There’s no hurry. There’s no exasperation.

Judas is staring. Peter is pacing impatiently. James and John are wondering what the whip is for (Perhaps they even wondered if they were going to get to use it. Remember earlier they had asked if fire could be called down on people. They don’t have the nicknames Sons of Thunder for nothing.)

And Jesus keeps braiding. Right over middle. Left over middle. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.* Love. Justice. Grace.

When he finishes he stands. And he entered the gates with Thanksgiving.

Thank you, Father, that this is your house.

And he entered the courts with praise.

Praise you, Father, for you are holy and good.

And then the whip cracked.

Smack.

Even the disciples jumped. Startled not just by the sound, but by the transformation in Jesus. There’s a light in his face and a shofar sound in his voice.

Tables turn. Cages open. Birds fly. Money rolls. Jaws drop.

And Jesus stood sentinel refusing to allow anyone carrying merchandise to walk through the courts.

And then…

Oh, I almost missed it. I almost missed the next detail.

And as he taught them…

As he taught them.

Jesus cleared the temple with a whip. Turned everything upside down and right side out.

Then he went back to the real purpose of the temple. He spent the rest of the day teaching and healing. Glory returned.And the house of God was once again a house of prayer.

We are the temple now. Yes, you read that correctly.

And we need to make a walk-through. We need to ask if familiarity is breeding contempt here in us? We may need to get angry with what we see.

We need to stop and make a whip of cords. Justice over love. Love over grace. Grace over Justice. All woven together to form one whip. And we need to be praying while we braid. Asking for discernment, for wisdom and for clarity.

When the whip is finished we need to go through and drive out all that is distracting and hindering us from the purpose of the temple—to be a house of prayer and to glorify God.

I need to go and make a whip.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Family and Friends

Where do you go when you are sad or hurting? Where do you go to be safe? The better question is to whom do you go? Who do you want to be with when life is about to hand you a hard thing that has no give? Who do you want to sit with you in silence? Or make you belly laugh regardless of the circumstances?

Do you have them in mind?

Jesus did. Actually he had two places and a group of people in mind.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Slow, steady and smelly. The palm branches fanned the air around him and the cloaks rippled like waves as they touched the ground before him. Shouts filled the air and a children’s choir delighted his heart. Innocence singing.

Zechariah’s word manifested.

And the spiritual leaders of Israel missed it. Before the palm branches stilled the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were rebuking and berating Jesus for the content of the children’s song.

But, watch Jesus.

Jesus moved past them. He was neither flattered by laud nor discouraged by criticism. He had set his face; he went to the temple.

Home away from home.

But what did he think when he entered the gates and courts? What did he mull in his mind as he studied this shadow of the reality? What was his assessment of this meager copy? What he found was a poor copy. A mimicry.

Sadly, this was not the house of prayer he longed for and needed. He had walked through the gates and entered the courts with a set face. He had come to pray. He had come to worship. He had come to talk to his Father.

What he encountered angered him.

Would it have angered us? Would we have been offended? Or would we have not seen anything out of the ordinary?

Jesus turned and walked away. He left his temple. He would talk to his Father somewhere else. He reset his face. His destination was Jerusalem, but that wasn’t where he was going to lay his head. He was going to another home away from home.

With his twelve men Jesus set out for Bethany.

He was going to Martha, Lazarus and Mary’s house to be among friends who had become family. He was going where he knew he was loved.

He could let his guard down in Bethany. No one would attempt to trap him in trick questions. No one would demand from him there. They would just let him be. (And if they didn’t, Martha would make sure they did. Don’t mess with Martha.)

At the most critical point in Jesus’ earthy life he needed to be with his Father and he wanted to be with his dearest friends.

He knows at the end of the week he is going to be left standing alone to face his accusers. He was going to meet death—face to face.

And where does he choose to go?

The hardest part of this earth-journey for Jesus was about to come. Pain, suffering, isolation and rejection. And he shows us what we should do. He always does.

Where do you go when life starts bending you backwards, when people start giving you grief, when your accuser points the finger at you, when your life becomes a hard thing?

Where do you go?

I hope you don’t have to think about it too long

Shouting and Wanting--Day 3

Last night I struggled with this post and this endeavor.

I was fighting myself wondering if I was attempting this through vain conceit. When I got home from work something happened concerning one of these posts that embarrassed me. Frantically I tried to correct my mistake. And the beautiful Holy Spirit began to talk to me. My mind is often overwhelmed in his gentleness that is extended to me. You see the error that produced the embarrassment was a trivial thing. Easily fixed. Easily remedied. The change took only two or three minutes.

But my God knows me. He knew that the true root of the problem was not embarrassment, but pride. I said yesterday, let’s call these things what they are. And so there is my ugliness. Pride. And it cost me. My pride caused me to lose my focus last night. I have a very, very narrow window of writing time these days. And I squandered the time wallowing in what I delicately tried to call embarrassment. I was in a funk and on a mission. Not a good combination. So, I set my writing aside last night and went to bed. And this morning, the Spirit was beside me before I even came fully awake. He was already speaking to me.

So, if you are reading my blog today, first of all, I am honored. Second of all, if you are reading this blog today it is because of the grace of God. And because love covers over a multitude of wrongs.



He had a routine spot on the Jericho road. Old Timaeus’ blind son had nothing more than an indentation in the rocks to lay down his cloak. No more than a wide spot in the road.

He shouted and banged his clay pot on the rocks scattered at his feet. Bartimaeus called out names and listened for particular voices. His hearing was sharp. His interpretations were astute. The residents of Jericho recognized him, but rarely did they acknowledge him.

He was unkempt, tattered and dirty. His nails were grimy. Bartimaeus’ eyes were cloudy—milked over and empty, but his blindness had made him bold. And he was either brave or a little crazy because he was begging on a dangerous and treacherous road.

You see, Bartimaeus was blind, but he wasn’t deaf. And he was certainly not dumb. He heard the talk on the street. He was privy to many private conversations. People tend to ignore beggars and treat blind men like they are invisible.

And he heard that Jesus was coming. Every snippet of conversation and information about this Rabbi was tucked away for future reference. He asked questions of anyone who got close enough. Jesus was on his way. Leaving Jericho.

Bartimaeus heard them coming long before anyone else did. He measured the step counts—in his head he knew how many steps it took from the bend in the road to his begging station.

And when he reached his count he started to shout. He shouted loud. He was determined to be heard. He was going to make sure of it.

“Son of David, have mercy on me.” Oh, so much said in this short sentence.

“Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And then they began to shush him. They rebuked him—people who normally swatted at him as if he were an annoying fly, people who almost always ignored his pleas for help—they told him to be quiet.

But Bartimaeus just shouted louder. The more they rebuked the more he shouted. The louder they got, the louder he got. Oh, how I love the audacity of this man! He didn’t care what anyone thought. He knew what he wanted.

He kept shouting, and Jesus heard.

Jesus looked around at the gathering. He told the people to call the man. Tell him to come to me.

And so they went and told this blind man to get up and go to Jesus. Now, don’t you wonder who held Bartimaeus’ hand? Who led him to Jesus? Honestly, it doesn’t seem like anyone does. No, he’s too eager. He’s ready.

Remember, he’s been waiting for this moment. This is his one chance. He’s heard the whispers about what this man can do. He has heard the conversations about the healings in other places. And he is not going to miss his chance. He’s so eager and ready that he jumps up and throws his cloak behind. Mind you, he actually throws it aside, getting it out of the way so it won’t hinder him. His cloak and his begging pot are his only valued possessions. But he doesn’t care; he’s not thinking about that cloak right then. And he becomes the begging pot. He doesn’t just want Jesus to put something into the pot. No, he wants this Jesus to put something in him. And Bartimaeus doesn’t just hope, he expects.

He would bet every coin in his pot on this.

Someone does guide him directly to Jesus.

And Jesus looks him in the eye.

How do I know this?

Because this is the kind of man Jesus is. Jesus understood that you needed to look a blind man in the eye.

Remember Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem. And here he is not but a few minutes out of Jericho and someone has already stopped him. But, watch him now. Watch Jesus. He stops in the middle of the road. Adds a delay to his purpose-driven itinerary and calls for a blind beggar to be brought to him.

A worthless blind, beggar.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

Do you realize what type of language this is? Right before Jesus set out to leave Jericho there was a hard-nosed, pride-filled discussion among his closest followers. And Jesus said to them that he had come to serve, not to be served.

Jesus’ question to the blind beggar was spoken in common servant language. What can I do for you? Jesus will always embody and employ what he wants us to be. If he asks us to be servants he is going to show us how to be servants.

“What do you want me to do for you?” He asks.

Did you catch that?

Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants. Not what he needs. No, what he wants.

And Bartimaeus told him exactly what he wanted. He didn’t stand there and hem-haw. He didn’t make excuses and try to justify his answer. He just blurted out exactly what he wanted.

And I just want to weep with Bartimaeus’ answer.

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

Oh, Bartimaeus, how he speaks my heart.

Oh, my Jesus, I want to see.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He will not pass this way another time. He will not see Bartimaeus again.

Watch him now. Watch Jesus.

In compassion he reached out and touched the blind man’s eyes.

“Receive your sight.”

Listen carefully. There WILL come a time (more than once) when Jesus will be passing by us. And we best be shouting his name. And when others try to censor us, when they try to get us to not be so bold, so forthright, so vocal we should short louder. (Did you notice it was the religious and the disciples who rebuked Bartimaeus?)

And what will we do when we cry out his name and he turns to us, calls us to him and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Will we stutter and stammer. Will we step back and try to think of the correct thing to ask Jesus to do for us? Will we allow pride to get in the way? False humility? The voices and expectations of others?

He’s asking right now. What do you want me to do for you?

Will I follow Bartimaeus and answer honestly?

Will you?




Mark 10:46-52; Matthew 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43 and Mark 10:35-45

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Set Face--Day 2

For twenty-eight years I have been a Christ-follower. That’s longer than I have done or been anything other than being alive. I have not always been diligent. I have not always been full of fervor. I have not always been a Christ-follower to emulate. But I could never turn away. I loved the faith. I loved Christ.

Somewhere along the next twenty-two years ago he became very familiar. And I took liberties and made assumptions. One of the ways this attitude manifested was I wouldn't read certain passages in Scripture because I already knew them. I knew the words written there. Again, familiarity bred contempt. I didn’t want to call it that. I didn’t want to put such an ugly name on it.

But we must call ugliness what it is.

Our Resurrection God recognizes this in his followers. He sees the sneers and smirks of contempt long before we do. He sees them as they begin inside. For me not to read a passage (especially the narratives of Jesus’ last week here) because I already knew them is a sin. And that sin is pride. Let me call it what it is.

But He didn’t deal with me harshly. Never does.

He asked me to go to the place of the greatest familiarity. Go back to the Gospels.

That was six years ago.

Six years ago I fell in love with Jesus. This is familiar phraseology—the best I can do to explain my relationship with Jesus. And it is a far-cry from the reality, but it’s close.

Six years ago I began to re-read the Gospels from a different perspective. I read and studied those four books simply to watch Jesus.

I watched him. I followed him through the crowds like an orphaned waif. I shadowed him through villages and followed behind him on the dusty roads. I saw him reach his hand out to a leper. I witnessed him raising a little girl from the dead. I listened as he gently chastised Martha. And I shrunk behind walls when he faced the Pharisees, the religious leaders, and called them white-washed tombs. I cried when he comforted the Widow of Nain. I hurt for him when his friend, Lazarus, died. I saw him show mercy so many times. He withheld condemnation when everyone else held rocks in their hands. He ate with people who were despised.

I saw him laugh and joke. I marveled at his teaching ability. I heard his encouragement to his disciples. I listened when he explained something to them for the fourth time and they still didn’t get what he was saying or doing. I witnessed him doing things that were beyond my comprehension—events I still do not fully understand. Apparently Peter, James and John didn’t either. I was nearby when he took the bread and fish and looked up and spoke with his father. I was in the crowd when the woman scooted under my feet and touched the dusty hem of his garment. I watched him make mud-pies and write in the dirt. I took a step back when he rebuked Peter. I saw him pick up a child and put her on his shoulders.

I fell in love with this man, Jesus. How could I not? How could I watch him and not love him?

But you see, he loved me first.

And I saw it on his face.

He was on his way to Jerusalem. He was navigating the treacherous Jericho road. So many told him not to go. He was warned. There was a bounty on his head. Cunningly the traps were being set and strategically the snares were being placed to entangle and indict him. They were waiting for him. And the ones around and with him were discouraging him—advising him to lay low, fly under the radar until the heat cooled.

But Jesus’ face was set. Like flint. He would not be deterred in this final journey. This was what he was sent here to do. To go to Jerusalem and die. He knew the details. Every single one. He knew the itinerary of this trip. He knew how it would end, and he went anyway. Love compelled him. He went because somewhere on that Jericho road he saw the shadow of me.

And the shadow of you.

And he set his face towards Jerusalem.

Don’t miss this.

He saw us.

Don’t dismiss this reality because of familiarity.

Jesus set his face because of me.

Because of you.




Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fourteen Days--1

This has been a long winter. A season of stretched-out grayness and cold barrenness.

I know. I know. We need the winter. We need the rest and the dormancy. Our world needs to lay fallow for a season. Winter is a time of latent life that is invisible to the casual observer. Or the light-deprived—like me.

I am not sure how many times I have whispered to myself, “This too shall pass. Yes, Tamera, it will. This too shall pass.”

I was beginning to wonder.

But one morning I woke up and looked out my kitchen window and the grass in the yard was green. There were buds on the trees. The tulips and daffodils were pushing up through the dead grass.

The sun started to shine.

And I could feel my sap running. I came awake.

I have been resurrected from my winter slumber.

Two weeks from today Christ-followers will celebrate the most essential tenet of our faith. Without the fact of the Resurrection our faith would be null and void. Without this event—this coming to life, rising up from the grave and casting off the shackles of death event— we would lose the very life blood of who we are.

I have no interest in remaining in the darkness of burial. I have no desire to be left in a perpetual Friday or Saturday of that weekend event. I am a Sunday kind of girl. I want to live like it is Sunday!

For the next fourteen days I am going to share some thoughts with you about what we call Easter.

These thoughts will be nothing new and most likely written about and discussed a hundred times before. Most likely someone has or will communicate them far better that I. Solomon, in all his wisdom, says there is nothing new under the sun. I am not striving or looking for originality. I am looking for the Spirit to take something that has become far too familiar and make it fresh.

We tend to overlook, ignore or scorn the familiar. We grow weary of it. We say we have been there, done that. Heard that, seen that. Oh, but that is why God’s Word is living and active. It is not simply words on a page—no, we interact with the Word of God, because every time we approach it we are coming from a slightly different slope or angle. Every time we encounter the Word there is an opportunity for the Spirit to teach us.

I am not sure how many times I have read the last chapters of the gospels. I could not count how many messages I have heard about the last week of Jesus’ life. I do know this: I have become far too familiar. And the truth is: sometimes familiarity breeds contempt.

I am asking the God of the Resurrection to enable me to see the last chapters of the gospels in a new light. I am asking that in the next fourteen days to be changed.

Transformed.

Recently a dear friend of mine told me she preferred the butterfly as a symbol of her faith. I had to think about that for a while. At first it seemed far too clichéd to me. Ahhhh, too familiar. And because of its familiarity I almost dismissed it.

Today I was walking on our walking trail with my husband. The wind was blowing, the grasses were moving, my hair was whipping and the sun was shining. No clouds in the sky. No scent of rain in the air. Just heat and light. How could it get any better?

I was talking—thirty words to every two steps it seemed.

And the day got better.

Swooping, gliding, floating and fluttering across the grass, clover and dandelions was a butterfly. It flew ahead of me on the trail—hovering and dancing. A yellow butterfly.

A yellow butterfly.

Months ago an ugly caterpillar had fed its greediness full—and cocooned itself in a tight ball and went dormant. Waiting. Suspended all through the long, dark winter. One day it woke up and the cocoon was too tight. The creature began to push through the membrane that had been its protection. And it emerged.

Transformed.

And the symbol I had considered a bit cliché and far too familiar was new. In that moment on the walking trail God took something old, over-used and worn and made it new.

I came fully awake.

Would you join me in this fourteen day journey? Fourteen days of looking at the familiar and asking our Resurrection God to please show us something new.

Something fresh.

Are you awake yet?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

15 Year Old Teachers

I have been revisiting my blog. I have been rethinking this chambered nautilus space. I have grown too comfortable here.

In 2007 when I started The Chambered Nautilus: Deep calls to Deep this was a giant leap for me into the unknown and the uncomfortable. I created the blog because I was teaching a creative writing class and I challenged the students to get out of their comfort zone—start a blog, submit something for publication. My philosophy in teaching is that I do not give assignments or challenges I will not engage or do. I took my own challenge and this blog was birthed. It has been a place of solace for me.

I was mesmerized by this chambered mystery, but I hadn’t thought a great deal about my blog or its map legend too much since its inception. Recently I started to feel cramped again. I hadn’t stretched to full length in a long while. I realized I was staying in a close, tight space—a little afraid, reluctant to push outward.

Fearful of taking another risk

Suddenly, once again this symbol began to appear—vying for my attention. Reminding me of what God has done and is doing in me. A good friend, an incredibly thoughtful friend, gave me a birthday bag the week before my birthday. It was filled with special things, most of them centered on the chambered nautilus. And this wasn’t the first time she had showered me with gifts emblazoned with my symbol.

Finally it dawned on me. Was I missing something? Was the sweet Spirit of God whispering to me and I was not hearing because it was all too familiar?

A couple of weeks ago I assigned my public speaking class a high school version of show and tell. It was an improv of sorts with minimal preparation. As I stated my philosophy in teaching is that I don’t and won’t give the students an assignment that I am unwilling to do myself. In keeping with this philosophy I brought in my beautiful chambered nautilus to share. Most of the group had never seen or heard of this ancient creature or their incrementally beautiful shell.

I hadn’t shared about my map legend in a long time and it felt good to tell the story again. I did wonder, however, how many of the students had really even listened, let alone were interested.

My birthday was April 1st. I had an incredible day. Family, friends, students, teachers and coworkers were so wonderful and filled my day with so many incredible wishes and thoughts and sentiments. One gift, however, surprised and stunned me. I didn’t expect a gift from this person, and I certainly didn’t expect what he gave. One of my freshmen public speaking students came to me during my planning period and handed me a folded piece of paper. In his quiet, unassuming way he said, “This is for you.”

I opened the paper. At the top he had drawn three stars and Happy Birthday!!! His scratchy handwriting filled the space from top to bottom. I started to read. I finished and read again. And again.

God speaks. God speaks regardless.

And he teaches 45 year old teachers through 15 year old students.

Here is what he wrote. I asked for his permission to print and share this with you—my chambered nautilus readers.


I am a nautilus shell
Tiny, vulnerable and wiry

I am stuck between the light and the dark of the ocean.
I long for the light, but the dark is always pulling.

I am unwilling to grow
I am afraid of my vulnerability
I am trapped in my own shell.

I need room to grow, to expand my chambers,
To grow though means to become vulnerable
To become vulnerable means I could be hurt.

I am looking for a sign, signal—something saying it’s
Time for me to grow.

I am a fully grown nautilus shell.

I am no longer afraid of my vulnerability.
I am no longer trapped in my shell.
I am no longer unwilling to grow.

I’ve heard the signal.
It came like a whisper in the wind—
Calm, shy, fleeting.

My shell is grown.
My sign found.
I am in the light of God.

Ben Schanding

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bolivian Beads

They were lovely beads—a double strand of dark red, off white and matte black irregular- shaped beads. My daughter brought them back from Bolivia to her younger sister as a gift and memento of her time there.

They matched my sweater, and I was wearing them. I regret doing so. I wish I had decided on something else, picked another necklace or scarf from my own collection, but I didn’t. Sometime in the course of the day the clasp had turned to the front. I stood in the kitchen and was turning the necklace back around my neck.

The shorter strand snapped between my fingers. The breaking happened before I even realized—so fast, so unexpected. The beads dropped to the floor so quickly I didn’t even catch one. I managed to grasp the strand and stop the unstringing midway, but I looked down and all around my feet the beads rolled. I gasped.

I had broken the Bolivian beads. They had traveled thousands of miles intact. They had been worn many times before, but I was the one who broke them.

I grabbed a measuring cup and started to kneel to retrieve them, but my husband was already bent picking up tiny black beads with his enormous fingers and placing them in the cup of his hand.

I stood, unmoving, still astonished that this had happened so quickly. In the middle of all this I still held the broken strand of beads. Finally, I handed him the cup and he began to fill it. We moved a cabinet in order to locate the stray beads. When we managed to find them all, I laid the broken strand in a shallow pottery dish on the counter and sighed.

A week later I was on the walking track at school. For thirty minutes every day I walk around in circles. I would much rather walk outside, but the long winter has prohibited that option. I do enjoy hearing snippets and snatches of instructions and lessons as I go by the open classrooms. Usually I walk with a book—reading as I go. The reading makes the time move faster and allows me to do something I love while doing something I don’t necessarily enjoy. The students think I’m funny. Several of them will wave at me. Some have even put things in my path to see if I notice. A trash can. A desk. I just move them and continue on my way.

Some of my deepest thinking happens in this cyclical routine. As my heart rate moves up, so does the awareness of my spirit.

And the Spirit spoke. Clear, pristine directions. This is what I want you to do, Tamera. But I had no pen, no paper, no means of recording what He was speaking into me. This fact didn’t matter. When he wants you to remember, you will. And when he wants you to make connections he will help you connect the dots. That day I was walking and I remembered the beads on the counter. The broken strand. The loose beads. As I turned the rounded corners I replayed the scenario in my head—a short clip I could fast forward and rewind and pause.

Something hard and sad occurred in my life a few weeks before the time of the beads. I regret that eventful night. I wish I had made other choices. I wish different choices were made. It was a night of unexpected and quick brokenness. The whole situation was like a fragile string that couldn’t handle the pulling and tension, and it snapped. Actually my strand snapped that night. I had felt my own fragility and watched as the beads dropped to the floor out of my reach and beyond my control. I wasn’t even able to hold to the strand to keep it from totally unstringing.

I stood gasping.

And I am still collecting scattered beads. I can’t seem to locate all of them.

But (God’s beautiful divine conjunction. Praise him!) as I walked that circle, one foot in front of the other, he spoke his peace to me. His solid peace moved to the most remote and broken parts of me.

Deep parts, deep places.

He whispered to me that he knew where all the beads were and he was quite good at restringing broken strands. Even if the beads remained missing he could and would create a new pattern if I put the string and the beads in his hands. If I trusted him with the process and the pattern.

At first, I looked for the right words, the right posture, the right attitude to fix and repair the situation myself, but I simply don’t have that capability. I can’t repair what is broken—especially not what is broken in me.

Several years ago the brokenness would have driven me to despair and depression. A few years ago I would have pummeled myself until I was spiritually and emotionally bloody. What good is that? What benefit does that have in my life and in the kingdom?

As I walked around that elliptical track, one foot in front of the other, I raised my head and closed my book. And I made a hard choice. I chose to hand over the beads and the broken string. I chose to follow his instructions.

Those beautiful, lovely beads and the fragile, broken string are in his hands now.

His hands are capable; they are skilled.

I trust him to the restringing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Storm Breathing

Spring Break.

I long and yearn to be at the edge of the ocean smelling the brine in the air and hearing the waves break on the shore. Watching the seagulls swoop and glide. I want to feel the grit of sand in my toes and relish the sun on my face. I want to breathe deep. Deep breathing that allows the breath to go all the way to bottom of my lungs.

I have to ask: can I only breathe deep at the ocean? Is it the salt on the air and the sound and noise and the sheen of the sun that produces this euphoria? Is it the burn on my skin and the slap of the ocean waves on my calves? Or is it the endless and soothing roll of the water wetting the sand and darkening it on the edges? What is it about the ocean? Can I only breathe deeply there?

At the ocean my restlessness gets absorbed. Schedules are relaxed. The question is what do we want to do rather than what do we have to do. Inwardly our bodies become tuned to the rhythm of the vast sea.

But I can’t go there now. Circumstances just aren’t in order. I am, however, realizing God is asking me to breathe deeply anyway.

I have been breathing these shallow breaths for too long. Functional and adequate breaths, but not the ones which move all the way down until my lungs are expanded and inflated. Shallow breathing does not get held, but expelled quickly in order to take the next one. God wants me to stop and hold my breath. Hold my breath until—I can release it slowly.

A measured exhale.

I have been concerned about Spring Break. The Theory of Relativity strikes true in this short week. I have been concerned my shallow breathing will jeopardize the next seven days.

Slowing down your breathing is not an easy task. Our lives demand us to do otherwise. Our heart rates stay high, and we seem to remain in a constant state of motion.

Newton stated an object will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force.

The Spirit has been wooing me all day long. He is the outside force acting on my frenzied motion. Certainly I had enough plans to fill my whole day. My husband sensed I had too much on my mind—I started to make my lists—he could feel my restlessness.

I wanted sunshine today. Wanted the sun to come out full force—loud and brilliant. Instead I was given rain and a thunderstorm.

I was put in the middle of a thunderstorm.

A storm brings a stillness of its own. I went out on the porch and watched the rain come down in slate gray sheets—pushed sideways by the ferocity of the wind.

Even now thunder rumbles and vibrates across the sky. A sky, ten shades of gray, is hanging low and heavy. The house is quiet and subdued in shadows. The lights seem far too artificial and glaring. Intently I listen. The rain rolls off the porch roof and pours from the gutter spouts. Thunder comes again mumbling and grumbling.

Earlier I stood at the back door and then stepped out onto the deck. I crossed my arms and pulled them tight against my chest and closed my eyes. And I opened them slowly and watched the ominous clouds hover and then roll across the sky. I turned and saw the leaves flip and flutter and the tops of the trees sway. Lightning was somewhere I just couldn’t see it.

I can’t go to the ocean this week. God knew this. And I asked for sunshine.

Instead he provided a storm, and allowed me to be right in the middle. He knew which one I needed first.

Our front door stands open. As I inhale I can smell the rain. I can feel the coolness of the air floating through the house. And there is no brine, but there is something.

A calm. A stillness. A rhythm.

Restlessness absorbed.

I breathe deep. And I hold it.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Everything that has breath, praise the Lord!