Thursday, December 19, 2013

Treading Water

This morning I woke to messages chiming on my phone. I scrolled through them; I stopped and read through one. Twice. A prayer for me. A woman stopping in the middle of her hectic morning schedule and taking the time to pray for me. What a gift—an utterly precious gift.
She often bathes me in prayer. She anointed me early in the morning so that I might begin my day not with her, but with Him. Isn’t that the way of it? Isn’t that the way the Body is meant to spur and encourage and exhort?
Her prayer prompted my spirit to rise in prayer. Her prayer nudged me to open up my heart this morning—this five days before Christmas. And I prayed with her, attaching my heart to the end of hers. May you attach your heart with us today. May you attach your prayers to ours. May they become a train of sweet incense rising to Him.
My friend’s prayer:

Father…help Tamera and I see You, hear You and feel You today. Envelope and cushion our minds and hearts as we tread these waters trying to be what would please you. Some days are hard, Father. Help us. Amen.

My prayer attached to hers:

Father, I hate treading water. I don’t like trying to just keep my mouth and nose above the water level. Yet, what are you wanting me to learn as my arms and legs spiral in these cold waters? What do You want my eyes to see? What do You want my spirit to recognize? Please help us to know that this treading does have purpose—contrary to our perception it’s not an idle place. No, the longer we tread our muscles will strengthen--surely this is a benefit. But it is when we grow tired and we have come to the end of our own resources that is the most important.
Oh! To come to the end of us so that we might find the beginning of Him. Please. Please, we ask. Our minds are fractured during this season. And then there are the added things, the extras that chase and hound us. They rob us of the sweet joy of your coming…of your staying—You With Us.
Help us to know your joy…your strength. Show us. Show us. Help us to trust you enough that we stop the spiral of legs and arms and we simply sink into You. Help us to trust you that much. Enable us to stop the striving, the flailing and the floundering so we might rest in You.
Help us, oh precious Savior! Oh, sweet Immanuel. Come beneath us and push our heads above the edge and surface of the waters. Lift us up. Lift us up on your capable and broad shoulders.
Come. Oh, come Immanuel!
Amen and amen.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rabbit Holes and Car Trunks

Oh, Bother!
One of the lessons I have learned, repeatedly it seems, over the last six or seven years is how to laugh at myself, how to try not to take myself so seriously.  I am glad the Spirit is not daunted by the task of instructing me over and over in this life lesson. I do take myself far too seriously. Every little thing weighs on my heart and my spirit. And I have to work hard to let it go—to audaciously cast it on his shoulders rather than lay it reluctantly in his lap.
This Christmas season has been different already. But isn’t that the paradox and conundrum of Christmas? It is the same, sometimes even mundanely so, yet it is never exactly as it was in years before. We long for normalcy and tradition to carry us through the stress and the chaos. We long for peace and the lack of strife. But everything changes so the story goes.
This year we are doing many things differently. We drew names this year. First time ever. We put the immediate family names in an envelope and drew out the person we would buy a present for. And so starts my lesson of learning to laugh at myself--again.
It’s a Pooh kind of story so my husband says. I’ve never equated myself with Winnie the Pooh by any stretch of the means, but I guess this Christmas season he and I share similar scenarios.
I knew exactly what I wanted to get my person I got in the drawing. I knew with the price range set I would never be able to find one except by a miracle, but I wanted it for them. So, I went to our local Peddler’s Mall (my favorite shopping place, I have to put a limit on my spending when I go there). I went with a plan. If I found this item, a large one, within my price range and criteria I was going to bring it home. The likelihood really was far-fetched.
I traipsed up and down the aisles—zigzagging. I saw two of these items, but they were far, far beyond price range. I kept looking. I got momentarily distracted by finding several other things and tossed them in my cart just in case (I never remember where I saw something in these places.). I rounded a corner and there was just what I was looking for sitting in the middle of one of the booths. Excitement mounted, but I held it at bay. Remember, Tamera, you are on a budget. I turned the price tag over and it was one penny less than our allotted measure! I didn’t miss a beat. It wouldn’t fit in my buggy so I pulled it along behind me. I purchased it and then got ready to put it in my car.
Then I remembered. My trunk latch was stuck. The key won’t work and the inside lever won’t release it. Now, what was I going to do? I remembered the back seats of my car fold down and allow access to the trunk.
Ahh, grand Idea. (Famous last words, right?)
I would go through the back seat, hit the manual release. I pulled the back seat down. It was dark in the trunk. I pulled out the assistant light on my phone and held it into the dark cavern. Through the light I saw the lever.
Now, here is where I stopped thinking and just started doing—bad plan. I crawled into the trunk through the hole in my backseat. My arm did not have enough reach so I slid further into the Camry cave. Finally, the tips of my fingers could touch the lever and I pulled down hard. The trunk popped and a sliver of light filtered down to me. Silently I cheered.
Silently because I realized that if anyone were to walk by all they would see was my legs and back side sticking stiffly out of the side door of my car.
I tried to scoot backwards. I wriggled and scooted trying desperately to go back the way I came.
Alarm came when I realized I wasn’t making much progress. Tilted slightly down into the trunk I began to understand that this tilt which had helped me get into the trunk was going to impede the process of me getting out of the trunk.
Now, you must understand that as I am telling this story to a few others I am cracking up. Almost snorting as this whole scene plays out again in my mind. They didn’t think it was nearly as funny as I did. Perhaps, you don’t either. But remember the lesson here. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
My arm was stuck. I couldn’t get the leverage I needed to propel my body backwards and out at the same time. By this time though I was laughing so hard that it is a wonder I could do anything at all. I just kept thinking that someone was going to walk by the car and see this body protruding at such an odd angle that they would call 911 or at least the police.
I shimmied. I wiggled. If ever I learn to do the worm then I got my practice here.
There was a moment of panic. My arm was stuck under me and I needed it, but I couldn’t get it into a position to help me because of my angle and my laughing.
Finally, something gave. Not sure exactly what, but it did. And I popped out onto the back car seat.
My hair was stuck to my face. My shirt was askew halfway up my body.
I scooted back out of the car and stood.
Oh, the air. Oh, the large space. Freedom.
And all the while I was laughing—loudly.
Now, again my husband wasn’t thinking this was nearly has humorous as I did. I want to hope that it was out of concern for his kinetically challenged wife, but I don’t think so. Being the logical, practical engineer that he is he looked at me and said, “If you got the truck open why didn’t you just crawl through the truck and out?”
I looked at him. Just looked at him. Then I said, “Because my backside wouldn’t fit through the opening. That’s why!”
At that moment my husband lost it. He laughed so hard he had to remove his glasses and wipe the tears away. He continued to laugh. And continued. He slowed somewhat, looked and me and then laughed even harder.
Then of all things he said to me, “You make me think of Pooh and the rabbit hole! He couldn’t go in and he couldn’t get out.”
Well, I started to be offended. I really did, but I couldn’t hold on to that offense for very long. I laughed as hard as my husband. 
(Here's a clip of the fiasco too!)
However, six years ago I was in a similar place (cannot tell that one here). I was in an embarrassing situation and I had to decide to withdraw or to laugh at myself. God taught me to laugh. During my latest fiasco God helped me remember that lesson: we need to laugh at ourselves. We are to examine ourselves soberly, but we are to take ourselves lightly.
We are just little people who get caught in rabbit holes and have a hard time going backward or forward.
And that is where I am right now.

I’m stuck.

I am not sure whether to go backward or forward. I’m in some very tight places.
Pooh had to wait. Remember? He had to stay in the hole until he lost some weight around his middle. And so I have to wait until I learn to hand over some weights to him and allow him to make room for me in tight places. Only He can do it.
Many people will be in tight places this Christmas season: relationally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. They won’t’ be able to move backward or forward. They will feel stuck.
In this Christmas season let’s see what we can do to help. Let’s remind people that God is incredibly good at extracting us from tight places.
He wants to bring us out into a spacious place.
God sent his Son at Christmas because all of mankind was in a tight place. Half in and half out. God sent his Son because we weren’t moving forward and there was no chance of going backward.
God sent his Son because we were stuck.
This season it is my prayer that everyone reading these words will be freed.
Freed from the tight places, from the constrictions of our self-imposed regulations and the man-imposed expectations of others. Freed from the narrow rabbit holes of thinking. Freed from the small apertures of tradition. Freed from taking ourselves far too seriously.
May He make room for you in tight places this season.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Rad Kind of Thing

Life is a strange and wondrous thing. It is full of laughter and tears and hurts and pains and joys—sometimes they are wrapped up in one day.  A vacillation of emotions.
This week we attended a memorial service.
Memorials services and funerals are hard. They are emotional. They are sad. They are stressful. They are depleting.
This one was more so. This remembrance celebrated the life of someone we love. Very much. Especially my husband. Steve’s father passed away earlier this week.
His name was Rad. And Rad he was.
His sons said so.
I considered using this space to talk about Rad. To tell about his successes. To tell about his achievements. To tell about investments. There were many. But I want to share something different.
Several scenes and quiet events roll in my head like a silent slideshow. Each picture causes a small jilt in my heart. The moment I witnessed them I knew I was seeing God’s kingdom fleshed out as he has asked us to do. Many believe to live out the kingdom we must do great things. Many believe monumental things seem to have the greatest affect. As I grow older I realize that what has the greatest affect is what is done by and through love. Simply because it is the very right thing to do. Simply because it is the good thing to do.
I witnessed several of these moments this week.
Two sons and a mother. Two giant sons flanked their statuesque mother. She leaned into each one, leaning first one way and then the other. They stood looking at their father, her husband. Fifty –five years represented. The room was quiet. Hushed. It was hard to watch because in some ways we felt like we were intruding on their grief. It was a quiet grief. Those great shoulders of those giant sons quaked and shook. This triad was achingly hard to watch because we hurt for them. Grieved for them in the midst of our own grief. But the gentleness and care and respect these sons showed their mother touched us. Deeply.
Two sons and a mother. A storm. Thunder and lightning. Rain and freezing cold. A father’s remains to be placed in the ground. The minister asked us to stand. The three stood to pray and the wind pulled and whipped the flaps of the tent and caused the rain to pour in on the grieving three. Both sons stepped in closer to their mother, arms around her to shelter her from the harsh, unrelenting elements. But the tallest son, the youngest, lifted his long arm and placed his hand on the tent flap. He kept the rain from his mother. In that moment I saw the hand of God. In this life we will often be in a tent of grief. The storm will swell and rise around us. The rain will pour, the tent flaps will shudder, but the hand of God will shelter us. Right in the midst he will put his great arm up and he will protect us from the onslaught.
Three sisters. Two grieved for the other. Arms wrapped around the other’s shoulders. Tears spilled in floods. Grieving is such hard work; and I watched these two sisters attempt to help their oldest sister carry a burden almost too hard to bear.
A brother-in-law and a sister-in-law. They huddled against the wintery blast of rain and wind. The cemetery tents shook and scattered the cold splashes on the people inside. The sister-in-law shook in the cold. Her brother-in-law pulled his scarf from his own neck and gave it to her. The exchange was unseen by most. Unheard. No fanfare. Just this brotherly concern that fleshed out in an offering.
Four nieces and nephew.  All four bent and turned to comfort and help their aunt. Normal things. Everyday things:  Washing dishes. Cleaning bathrooms. Hauling trash. Doing laundry. Decorating a Christmas tree. Servants simply doing little things that needed to be done.
Five grandchildren present. Four girls and a boy wrapped in the loss of a grandfather and loss of words. Silent tears. Glances at their fathers to gauge stability. Glimpses at each other to decide how to navigate awkward, hard and painful moments. In kitchen conversations these siblings shared sweet memories of their grandfather. Their gentle tenderness for their grandmother caused deep pride and appreciation in their dads.
Two sons. Both sharing memories about their father. One verbal. One written. Both sets of words caused us to cry and to laugh. Both sets of words commemorated their father’s investment in their lives. Both sets of words declared the same—this quiet man helped mold them.  And it is a molding they do not want undone.
I saw Jesus this week. In the midst of loss and grief I saw him. In the little things. In the unseen things. In people who loved this man.
I think Rad would be very pleased.
And I am quite sure that when Rad reads this he will smile and shrug his shoulders.

Radley Rehnborg
June 27, 1939-December 3, 2013


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