Sunday, June 24, 2012

Letter to my Youngest Daughter

Every year of SITS I have sent a package of written notes with you—wondering if they will have relevance, if they will have any import, if they will have impact. Every year.

This year is not different. Often I try too hard—only to forget and then remember that it is God who takes his own word and does with it what he wants. Only he knows what you truly need, what you long and sigh for in the depths of all that is Abby. Only he knows.

And so I trust him—not to use my words, but to use his. And his word will appear in the most unlikely and obscure places. They will suddenly stand up from the page or out from the wall or appear as scribblings in the sand. But they will appear. The better thing for me to do is ask that your eyes be open to see and interpret, that your mind be plowed and receptive to the seed and that your heart would be open and perceptive to his methodology.

All of us long for that moment in our personal histories that we can look back and attest that this was the place that we met God. This is the place he spoke to us through his Spirit and changed our lives. We long for the Isaiah 6,  the Transfiguration and the Upper Room experiences. We want to be able to mark our history. But because we are finite and so very linear in our thinking we do not see the entirety of our history—we do not see the myriad of ways God changes our lives in the daily plodding of our living. This is a gradual shifting of our hills and valleys and we often fail to recognize what he is doing.

God, our God, has been shifting and moving great mountains of earth in you this past year, Abby. This has been painful; your whole inner tectonic plate has been shifted. Now you are living with the adjustments and acclimations it takes to readjust. And you are attempting to remap who you are.
This week he will want to show you how he wants you to live in this new terrain. You have had a year of ducking falling trees, dodging rolling boulders and running from avalanches. All of these have taken their toll from you in one way or another. But now, Abby, it is time for you to rest.

Remember, you are his delight. Your earthly father named you, but your heavenly Father chose your name. It is not some aesthetic accident because it flowed well with your last name. It is not just because your dad liked the way it looked on paper. God named you, and in naming you he called you.

And the calling he has on your life is a hard one. It is hard to be a prophet in a compassion-mercy and tolerance driven world. It is hard to stand alone and call black black and white white when so many people just want you to divert to gray. It is hard to stand for justice and right when the standards of these realities seem to be so arbitrary. It is hard to be seventeen and four hundred and sixty-three at the same time.

Rest this week. Rest.

Allow the God you so love to minister to you. To heal you. To restore you. To rejuvenate you. To under gird you. To encourage you.

He will rebuild what has been broken. He will restore what has been pilfered. He will replenish what has been siphoned.

Be his delight this week. You won’t have to try very hard.

Love, Mama.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Quarter of a Century

She’s prayed with and for me. She’s cried with and for me. She’s dreamed with and for me. She’s laughed with and at me. She’s openly shared with me and attentively listened to me. She’s stood by and behind me. She’s had my back and she’s helped guard my heart. She’s exhorted, encouraged, challenged and reprimanded me.

For twenty-five years Terri has been my kindred spirit, my best friend and my spiritual mentor. For a quarter of a century we have been woven into the tapestry of the other. Each of us a distinct weft of color that wends over and under the warp God strung for both of us.

She has spoken into my life more than anyone else in my history.

I met her fresh out of college and newly married. Our paths intersected at a Christian bookstore; I believe one of the sole reasons I worked there is because God ordained the crossing of our paths.

During our friendship we have never lived in the same city or town. There was a ten year stretch we didn’t see each other at all. We became adept in the art of letter writing. Our letters would arrive in our mail boxes—recognized immediately because of our distinct scripts. On our retreat she brought a box of my letters; she had saved them (just as I have) over the past twenty-five years. The stack was tall, yellowed and frayed. . Occasionally we talked on the phone, a rare event. Then the dawn of the internet and email began. I was slower than her, but finally I entered that world and we talked almost daily. Since we have started to text and that has opened a another realm of connection.

When I met her at the bookstore—I was a believer in Jesus. I had just graduated from a Christian college with a Bible degree and was married to a minister, but I was in an embryonic stage of my faith. I loved Jesus and wanted to serve him, but I was young and idealistic. My faith was heart only, passion and zeal, my mind hadn’t engaged yet. I didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he said love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.*  My faith, over the next few years, was to be tried, tested and proven. And Terri would be present and available through it all.

God used this friend to help my fetal faith to grow and mature.

She does not have a college degree, yet because of her vast depth and breadth of reading, her articulateness in argumentation, her reasoning skills, her intellectual insight and her sensitivity to the Spirit she is one of the most brilliant and most intelligent and most godly people I have ever known.

She introduced me to writers like C.S. Lewis, John Stott, John Piper and Eugene Peterson.

I was opposed to Paul and his writings for years, but she challenged me to study him, to look closely at his letters, to meet the man. She didn’t push; she didn’t attempt to sway me. She simply asked me to study Paul with her for one year. I did and my response and reactions to Paul were transformed.

She’s given me too many gifts over the years to count (one of her love languages). Her gifts are revelations of who she is and who you are. They reveal how much she loves you and they highlight how she listens and interprets what you have shared with her.

I am not sure I could pick my absolute favorite gifts, but four stand high above the rest.

Many years ago I took my daughters and we spent the weekend at her home. We actually went shopping together. I was fawning over a black leather backpack purse that was on sale. I couldn’t justify purchasing this for myself so I left it behind. Sometimes you just have to make hard decisions. When it was time for me to go home I gathered all our suitcases and bags and put them by the front door. Right before I left I discovered a gift bag had been placed there. I opened it; yes, my backpack purse was buried in the tissue paper. That purse is now worn out—the leather tinged green in the worn places—I carried it for years.

On my fortieth birthday she gave me a black leather-bound copy of the Valley of Vision. This compilation of prayers has become an integral part of my spiritual terrain. When I am in a dark, dry place I return to this book. When I feel like I am languishing in the cistern of my faith often this little volume will remind and return me to the truths of Scripture. She knew the beautiful depth of the thought and language would minister to me.

During our recent retreat we exchanged gifts, and I wondered if Terri was secretly Mary Poppins when I wasn’t around. The bag was packed with things she had accumulated for me over the last couple of years. Every gift had a story and a purpose, but my favorite was a prayer pendant—an intricately designed, black and silver Celtic piece. My breath caught. I have a deep fondness for prayer beads, for rosaries and their purpose. Several years ago I started making my own prayer chains, and she bought the pendant thinking I would find a special purpose for it. When I got home I attached her pendant to my own prayer chain. This pendant is now my amen piece.
We both love the ocean. Often Terri vacations at the ocean. One particular year she wanted to find something special for me. She rose very early one morning and prayed for me. She asked the Lord, in his generosity, to please send a treasure on the beach to give to her dear friend. Me. Partway through her walk she discovered one of my greatest treasures. In the sand, deposited by the evening tide, was a large, whole conch; its ivory surface only slightly marred from its journey from the sea to her hands. An answered prayer. The story and the shell are symbolic reminders of God’s faithfulness to her, to me—to us.

These are special and remarkable gifts, and James tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above. * *

But when I count my one thousand gifts***—this friend is one of my greatest treasures.

Thank you, Terri,
for a quarter of a century.
Is it selfish to ask for a half century?

 * Matthew 22:37a.

**  James 1:17a

*** One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Place of Fire

My precious friend on the steps of the Grotto
My friend and I did not pick or choose a theme for our weekend together. We simply longed to share time together—physically in each others’ presence. We wanted to see the animation of our faces, hear the inflection of our voices. We wanted to talk and laugh and cry together. Though over four hundred miles separate us geographically we still do life together, but we wanted space and time  with each other.

The retreat center was so quiet. All the hums of modern life were muted or completely absent. The house sat far enough off the secondary road that even the passing of cars was not heard. When I woke up in the mornings the only, only, thing I could hear was a bird that sat right outside my window. This silence had weight and volume.

As we moved across the grounds we fell into this silence. We did not talk in whispers, but the volume of our voices was subdued. Gentle and easy.

Near the Prayer Labyrinth there was a structure: a grotto. I was intrigued. It was a building created of craggy, rough stones that were dirt gray, irregular shaped and pumice-like. No two stones were alike.

We walked up the steps and opened the door. Inside was a sanctuary. The structure was hollow and rose perhaps twenty-five feet at its center. I thought of the beehive huts of the monks on Skellig Michael* in Ireland. The deepest roots of me must have recognized this because I could have spent a long stretch of time in this rocky hive.

In the center was a small niche with a door. A metal door with an embossed communion cup on its surface. I am such a curious soul. I have to touch and look and peer into and at everything (this amuses my husband tremendously). This was no exception. I opened the door. My friend was taking photos and absorbing the atmosphere of the grotto just as I was, but there were very few words. Only the weighty silence.

I was not sure what  I would find when I opened the door of the niche. My initial thought was that I would find communion: a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. Incongruent, but it was my thought. I think that is what I would have put there if this grotto had been in my backyard.

I opened the door and what I found was so unexpected. This was my first experience in a grotto. Perhaps this is what is always in a niche of a grotto, I don’t know. The niche was filled with paper. Prayers. Prayers written on ripped paper plates, crumpled napkins and torn sheets of notebook paper. Prayers written in Spanish and English. Paragraphs. Sentences. Words.

My heart squeezed too tightly in my chest. I reached out my hand to touch the papers, but couldn’t bear to disturb them. I couldn’t move these offerings, these pleadings that people before me had written and placed inside.

I turned away to study the rest of the interior of the grotto, but several times I returned to the prayer niche.

The foreshadowing of a revelation began to form while I stood in that hushed cool place. I could feel it on the edges of my spirit, on the perimeter of my spiritual awareness.

It wasn’t until later that I understood and the revelation became manifest to me. It wasn’t until we were in the local Wal-greens printing the photos that the foreshadowing began to have substance. And the image emerged.

When I previewed the photo of my friend standing on the steps of the grotto I understood.

Peter tells us in his first letter that as we come to him (Jesus), the Living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. *

The next day we walked the grounds one more time. I stopped in front of the grotto. In a far deeper and greater way I understood that we are stones, living stones, being placed into the Body of Christ—this spiritual house God is building. All through the ages from Adam and Eve onward, God has been building—laying foundations and then walls to build the Body of Christ. And at the center of this spiritual house, of this structure we call the Body, is prayer.

Prayer, this communion with the Father, is the secret, quiet and desperate place at the heart of this spiritual house. In houses of old the hearth was the center. The fire in the fireplace was essential for warmth, for light and for preparation of meals. And when the fire went out often people would go to the neighbors for live coals to restart their own fires.

This is prayer: lighting the fire for our neighbor.

The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Pentecost as tongues of fire. Through prayer we are united, through prayer we are connected both to each other and the Father. Through prayer we are made aware and brought awake, through prayer we are changed and through prayer we are transformed.

We are called to pray. As the Body of Christ, as living stones, we are called to be a royal priesthood. The priesthood stood before God on behalf of the people they represented. Collectively and individually we are called to prayer. We don’t understand what it means to be priests. We have often reduced this communion to duty, tradition and obligation. Our prayers become rote formulas instead of passionate intercession for others. We pray generically. We pray hesitantly. We pray passively. We pray awkwardly.


Because we are afraid we are going to get it wrong.

I looked at the prayers in the grotto niche. I saw them and I read the words. They did not get it wrong.

The prayers in the niche were sighings and longings cried in the dark. Cried in the prayer closet. The prayers were spiritual sacrifices. Our God said if we call on him and pray to him he will listen. We don’t have to get it right. The Spirit will do that for us. Peter said that these sacrifices will be acceptable through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus they will be acceptable. And Jesus is the living Stone, the Cornerstone, of this spiritual house.

We are the grotto. And at the center of us is the niche. And the niche should be a place of fire.

2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

Jeremiah 29:12

I Peter 2:4-5

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let Me Be

Almost five years ago I decided to create a modified version of a bucket list. This list wasn’t prompted by the antics of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, but by my oldest daughter who first engaged in this exercise on her blog. I followed. My original list, No Particular Order, was posted here in 2007. In the last few weeks since the retreat I have revisited that list.  God be forever praised!

My original list called for me to line dance in Texas. Funny how these little things can be modified and still fulfill the real wish. I haven’t lined danced, not country style, but I have done the Electric Slide and the Cha-cha slide at two high school proms and at my daughter’s wedding. And I have laughed at myself while missing steps and fumbling to find the rhythm (which I never do quite do). I have laughed at how alive it makes me feel. I have enjoyed purposely taking the risk of having fun and looking like a fool. I have accomplished both.

My original list called for me to sit with someone while they passed from this life to the next. Again in a modified way my daughter and I did this back in January. Our little dog, Molly, had been with us for fifteen years. She had grown senile, blind, deaf and feeble. For months I agonized about whether it was time to put her to sleep. All my daughters agonized, but urged me to go ahead. Finally, I made the appointment. That morning (almost six months ago) my youngest daughter and I got in the car. She held Molly on the trip there. Neither of us knew what to expect. Neither of us was prepared. We were not ready for the speed with which Molly passed or the emotion that backhanded us. I carried her to the car, wrapped and swaddled, and held her all the way home at my daughter’s request. She drove. And we buried our little dog in our backyard.

My original list called for me to hold and kiss my future grandchildren. Soon. Very soon. September. I’m waiting. Eagerly. Joyfully. Ecstatically. Prayerfully.

My original list called for me to walk a prayer labyrinth. On June 2, 2012 I did. Saint Joseph’s has a prayer labyrinth—an asphalt square painted dark blue and white on a light blue background. It is situated on the opposite side of the Center from the House of Prayer. On Saturday morning after breakfast and our first morning conversation we walked the grounds. I knew which direction we would go. We went to several other places first (will write about those later), but my heart was bent toward the labyrinth.

I stood on the perimeter and gazed across its breadth. I tried to trace the path with my eyes only to get lost and have to start over. Inwardly I wrestled about how to start. In a mental tug of war with myself I asked way too many questions.  How do you walk a prayer labyrinth? What do you do? How do you start? Here I was, literally standing, on the cusp of something I had desired to do for years and I was hesitating. My friend, the gracious one that she is, left me alone. She walked the area around the labyrinth taking photos of flowers and trees and the surroundings. Not once did she intrude, coax or speak. She just let me be.

I was praying and I felt the gentle urgings and proddings of the Spirit. Just take the first step. Tamera, just put one foot in front of the other and I will lead you all the way.

I did. I stepped forward and began to walk the labyrinth. And as I stepped into the labyrinth I asked a question.

Father, what do you want me to do? What is the next step?

I wasn’t just asking about here in the labyrinth, but in life. What do you want me to do?

I walked with my hands behind my back. Head down. When I looked up and tried to see where I was going the endless loops and turns caused confusion and disorientation. So, I just followed the dark blue path. One foot in front of the other.

As I walked that winding path, the Spirit talked to me. I am his sheep; I know his voice. Tamera, I want you to just be. You keep asking me what I want from you. What do I want you to do. What my will is. What I want you to do is just be.

A cry escaped my mouth as I turned another loop.

I want you just to love me. Love me. Love my people. However that looks and in whatever way I just want you to love me.

I was on the outside loop now. Tears were brimming in my eyes and my vision was blurred. Surely there is more that you want me to do, Lord? Surely.

You didn’t hear me. I want you to stop this fitful striving. I want you to rest in me. I want you to simply love me. Everything that you are I want bent toward loving me. It’s that simple. That’s what I want you to do next. You don’t think that it is enough, but it will be enough.

I stepped into the center of the labyrinth and stood. I waited in that painted floret, in a space wide-open and yet utterly closed. A spacious place, yet a prayer closet. A holding place, yet a launching pad. A center, yet a doorway.

I looked at my friend. She was smiling at me. Her head tilted. I wanted to stay right there. I wanted to stay in the center of the labyrinth. But I turned and began the walk back out of the winding path. My feet began to hurry, but I purposefully and willfully slowed the pace. On the way out I prayed for the people I love. I prayed for blessings and riches and comfort and challenge for my daughters and son-n-law, my husband, my grandsons, my family and my friends. One sentence prayers as long as the length of a loop, one word prayers as the loop turned.

When I stepped out of the labyrinth my friend was waiting. She hugged me and I cried. She asked me where those tears came from, but I had no answer. And she just let me be.

My Labyrinth Prayer—2007
—reposted and edited from the archives.

Lord God,
Walk with me around the spiraling corridor of my asphalt path.

Let the sound of my shoes become the cadence of my inner worship.

s I kick the rocks and pebbles in my path,
and when I lose my footing on the crumbling edge of the road—
remind me that you will catch me when I stumble.
You will steady me.
You will set me aright.

As the light calls to the morning,
Call to me, O God.
As the darkness gives way to light,
Help me to give way and be enlightened.
As the darkness recedes,
let me be filled with your light gradually—
slowly so that my fragile self will not be completely undone.
I cannot encompass you.

As I tread along my course inward,
help me shed and discard everything
that will not lead or aid me in my journey toward you.
As my awareness of your Presence increases,
take me to a place until it is just you and me.

Please tighten and narrow the spiraled cell
so that my awareness of self
dissipates in your Presence.

As I push aside all my preconceived notions,
manifest yourself to me and in me.
Be the reality of my longings.
Let me see only you.

As I dwell in this still, lucid moment with you—no matter how brief—may I know you.
Lord God, I ask that you increase the length
each time I join you there.

Then when I have seen you—
when my moment of awareness is done—
help me to walk outward again.
Retrace my steps with me and
help me to retrieve
only those things which will enable me
to bless and bring lucidity to others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

House of Prayer

(This year my friend and I celebrate 25 years of close and endearing friendship. This journey has been amazing and rich and wonderful. The next few posts will chronicle our retreat the first weekend of June 2012.  We came together to celebrate her birthday and to celebrate an extraordinary relationship. This is the first post of this series.)

It is early morning, and I am sitting in my den. I have not known what to call this room since it has played many different roles while I have lived here in this house. But this room is my special place now. When all the rest of the house slumbers, when the only noise is the ticking of the clock, I sit here on my corner of the couch with my morning paraphernalia around me.
I’ve left the back door open simply so I can hear the rain. The only light this morning is from the window. Just a simple rectangle of muted light. I can see the rain drip off the branches of the dogwood and hear it hit the deck. I sit and attempt to allow my restless soul be still.

This is not an easy task for a woman whose mind is at full throttle almost before her feet hits the floor. My husband often tells me I have to give him time to catch up, that I have already mapped out the day before he even completely opens his eyes. There’s some truth to this. Bless his heart.

But this morning I sit here in this beautiful, lovely place and think about my family, my friends and all of you who read these words.

This morning this place reminds me of the House of Prayer (pictured above at left). A couple of weekends ago my dearest friend and I went on a personal retreat together. We met at Saint Joseph’s Retreat Center in Tipton, Indiana. In 2005 we had a retreat together at The Cove with Beth Moore, but this time we went alone—just the two of us. No agenda. No plans. No itinerary.

I packed my bags and left everything behind. I especially wanted to discard expectations because often I expect what is not necessary. I expect the ordinary. I expect the commonplace. Or I expect The Transfiguration or Water to Wine and I miss the little miracles if there really are such things.

We stayed in a beautiful log cabin. This house was nestled off to the side of the retreat center property, hidden among trees. Careful thought had been given to the layout and furnishing of this retreat; it felt like someone’s home.

And for three days it became ours.

We picked up the recliners and moved them in front of the fireplace, and that is where they stayed until checkout time when we returned them to their original places. That fireplace became the gathering point of the weekend. During the day we would venture out on the grounds, we would stand and gaze out the wall-sized windows and at night we would retreat to our own rooms and remain until we were ready to emerge the next morning, but it would be to the fire we would return.

Like women of another century we sat in front of that fireplace and talked, discussed and reminisced. Our words and memories and hopes became our knitting and mending.
At night the fire was our only light. And I watched as the blue flames danced shadows and cast light on my friend’s face as she talked. In those moments I prayed for her. Prayed for there to be more light than shadow in her life. And I wondered if my face too was lined and shadowed.

When we got hungry we would fix a meal and sit at the bar—slide up a stool and share a meal and break bread together. Rarely have we gotten to share meals together, but we have broken bread too many times to attempt to count. And this breaking of bread with her has often been a great part my nutrition and sustenance.

We talked of everything: from The Hunger Games to grandchildren, of the complexity of Paul’s life and theology, of the wonder and diversity of beauty and the ugliness and disparity of evil, of our voracious reading appetites and our current indulgent television viewing. The gambit of our conversations would have given whiplash to others, but we reveled in it. There have been many mornings we have longed to have a cup of coffee with each other over a scarred kitchen table, but we have not been able to because of the miles that separate us—we were making up for those mornings.

One of the hardest questions we asked during this time was do we really know how to pray? At the end of the day when it is all finished do we honestly know how to pray? We talked about the fact that we don’t know how prayer works or why. We only know that it does. We asked if traditional forms of prayer were the only ways to pray. For over seventy years (when combined) we have been praying. And we are both still asking questions.

Is simply holding someone’s name before the Lord prayer? If we stood before the Lord and just held up each other by saying our names to the Him, wouldn’t that be prayer? The Holy Spirit interprets for us when we have no words. When we don’t know what to pray He intercedes for us. * So, if we stood before him holding a name in our hands and offering it—this name that encompasses who this person is—wouldn’t God understand? Does God need our words? Or does he want our offering? Our surrendering? Our yielding? Our giving over? Our giving up? These were the burning questions in our hearts.

On Sunday we were preparing to leave. There was reluctance because we were going back to the reality of the marriage of life. As we stood there together I told my friend that I had been concerned that we had not sat down and had a long prayer session together. Isn’t that what a retreat is supposed to be? Studying God’s word and praying?

We looked at each other. We know each other. No, listen. We really know each other. I know most of her darkest secrets and she knows most of mine.

We looked at each other and I spoke to her, “This whole weekend has been a prayer. This ongoing conversation we have engaged in has been prayer. And God has heard us. **”

We had been in the house of prayer. We had prayed. We had sighed for each other, for our children, our grandchildren and our spouses. We had sighed for each other. We had held each other before the Lord. And he knew our names.

Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. I used to wonder how that was possible. Over the years my understanding of prayer and Paul’s exhortation has been changed and deepened. Prayer is much like the fire that burned continually in that house all weekend. A continual blue flame. Consistent and steady. In the fireplace and in us. Most importantly and most significantly in us—individually and collectively.

We spent the weekend at the House of Prayer. The fire burned. And here, really is the most beautiful thing: the fire burns in my house and it burns in my friend’s and it can burn in yours. As I sit here in my sacred place, this place set apart, the fire of prayer flickers and leaps. A continual blue flame burns for those I love and hold so dear and for those who seemingly seem to be my enemies and for those I have yet to meet.

And for you who read these words—the fire burns in this house of prayer.

Psalm 38:9

* Romans 8:26-27

**Malachi 3:16

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another Tomato Lesson

In an earlier post titled An Endless Parade I talked about the miracle of the tomato plants here on our little plot. The Lord must have the tomato in my life to be visual lesson for me. I have to laugh. Of course he would use the one thing in my life that can rival chocolate! I often say that if you place a true garden-grown tomato and dark chocolate in front of me I would hesitate, but most likely choose the tomato. Our God always uses what will gain and garner our attention to teach us.

The tomatoes came up on their own again this spring. Several little plants shot up through the ground and they looked like nothing more than weeds (they are weeds). My husband and I waited. We wanted to let these plants get bigger before we started to weed the beds. We wanted to let them grow for a while so they would establish good roots and withstand the transplant.

Now, I talk like I know a lot about tomatoes. Let’s get this straight. I don’t. I know more now than I did two years ago, but I still know very little. But I have a couple of people in my life who do. There are two in particular.

One would be considered an Olympic tomato grower. Not a professional expert, but an incredibly well-trained and disciplined tomato grower. His beds and plants look like works of art. The other is a professional expert. I asked her a question the other day about a tomato problem and I was stunned at the wealth of usable information that she gave without hesitation. She’s an expert. But there are lots of people who are experts. What separates her from the others is that she truly loves the tomato. She loves the the tomato in a manner akin to my own passion. When you couple the expertise with the passion then you have someone to listen to and emulate.

But, here’s what I tend to do. Because I am not an Olympic amateur or a passionate expert I tend to dismiss my own experiences and knowledge of the tomato. That, however, is for another post.

At the beginning of seedling season this expert was discussing tomato plants with me. She was talking way over my head and far beyond my limited experience, but she said something that caught my attention. We were talking about growth and how we wanted our tomato seedlings to grow.

We want growing, not just stretching.

My mind was about to cloud over with all the information she was giving me, but this phrase shouted for my attention. God had found a teaching moment with me. He knows how to talk to me. He knows my language.

In a tomato plant’s cycle of growth there needs to be enough light and nutrients and water to promote new cell growth. If all of these elements are present in goodly and consistent amounts then your plant will be stocky, thick and full. If one or more of these elements are not consistent, especially sunlight, then the plant will be tall, thin and with a sparser set of leaves. This means that there has not been a great deal of new cell growth. What is happening, this expert explained, is that the present cells are stretching. They are pulling upward to try and gain the sunlight. But there is little new cell growth. If you were able to look at the plant on a cellular level you would see that the cells are pulled and misshapen in their attempts to reach upward. These plants are more frail and fragile in their structure.

They are tall because they have stretched not because they have grown.

How many times in my life have I asked God to stretch me? Now, I understand the context that I have most often made this request: I wanted to move outside of my comfort zone. But as I listened to this information about the tomato, because of Jesus’ constant use of agricultural visuals, I knew I needed to ponder this.

Do I want to be stretched? Do I want the spiritual cells present within me to just be stretched or do I want new cell production? I don’t want to be frail and fragile. I want to be strong and thick and stocky (when have you EVER heard a woman say this phrase?)

The Word never talks about being stretched (I only found one reference in the NIV. Psalm 104:2. God is stretching out the heavens there.). But through his Word our Father is constantly exhorting and encouraging us to grow.

New cell production.

This is what I will ask for now. I no longer want what is present in me to simply be stretched.

I want growth.

Come, Master Gardener. You are my expert. I ask for your gentle assessment concerning whether I am growing or just simply stretching. Don’t allow me to be fooled or deceived by the height of my stalk. I don’t want to stretch myself; I want you to grow me. Produce new cells in me. Healthy cells: ones that will lead to the bearing of fruit. And that is the point, isn’t it, God? To produce fruit in accordance with who we are. To produce fruit in abundance. I ask that you help me stop striving to stretch. Help me to settle into this spot you have planted me. Send water, nutrients and light. And help me recognize the methods and means by which you do this. Help me to simply just be and grow.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hebrews 12:1

Before this year of school came to a close I was sitting in my third period World History class. We were not studying World History that day. We were on chapel schedule which made us have a shorter class period. I didn’t want to introduce our new subject until the following week. So, I allowed my students to study for a final in their next class.

They wrote Hebrews 12:1 on the board and were trying to memorize the verse for the Bible 10 final. Over and over they repeated the verse. Out loud. One word at a time. Then they removed words and had to fill in the blanks. They almost had it memorized. I loved to hear them—in unison their voices repeated this incredible exhortation of the Hebrew writer. There were bursts of laughter and cajoling. Many stops and starts.

God shows up in the most unexpected places. Yes, they were studying His Word. For the test? Probably. But the Word of God was planted in their hearts and it will grow. It will produce fruit. But this study session wasn’t just for them.

Often times I think I learn far more from my students than they learn from me.

As I listened to the rhythmic litany of the words of Hebrews the last phrase exploded behind my head. The leader of the group’s voice was right behind my right ear, my back to him. But the words:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

I opened my Bible to read the words myself to make sure my ears were hearing correctly. How many times have I read this verse? Yet—the race is marked out for us.

This was an epiphany.

Others have probably simply understood it from the beginning, but Tamera can be quite dense at times.

I am not supposed to run someone else’s race.

No, I am to run with perseverance, not someone else’s race, but the one my Father marked out for me.

For me.

I don’t run. First of all, believe me you would not want to see me run. Even though the phrase offends me slightly, I do run like a girl. Second, my family cringes when I run and they beg me not to even speed or power walk. That’s how I broke my ankle. I was running.

Anyway, I don’t run. But if I did, I would want the race marked out for me. I would want mile markers and signs and directional arrows just for me. And God has done that for me.

He’s made my race personal.

He knows the bends and turns where I will falter and stumble. He knows the rocky places that will slow down my pace. He knows I will lose clarity when I get to the wooded places. He knows I will struggle with my breathing in the high places. And he knows at what points in the race I will grow weary. He also knows the places of beauty I will pass and the points of interest that will encourage me. He knows what will distract me. He knows me, so he tailor-made my running route.

He gave me instructions for the race. Often I don’t understand them. He gave me encouragers who stand along the roadside and cheer for me—slow as I am. But he decided to do more. He came and ran the race ahead of me. He ran my race.

But God didn’t stop there either. He runs the race with me now. I don’t run alone. Regardless of how I think or feel on this race I am running I am never alone.

I do not run alone. He promised me he would never leave nor forsake me.

This metaphor begins to lose its revelation for me because I do not run, but I understand. My race is not a revamped version of someone else’s route. My race is similar to all the races run in history, but not identical.

This relieves me.

I am not expected to run someone else’s race. I am expected to run mine. And I don’t have to run it alone.

And thanks to my third period World History class I almost have this verse memorized.

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