|Steve and Tamera (Couple's Retreat)|
We sat at a small table, built only for two. I could see out into the parking lot and beyond. I caught the reflection of us in the walls of glass we leaned against. Our knees touched beneath, and our hands brushed atop the table. And the smile lines of our mature faces creased and he winked at me. He always winks at me.
It was a lovely, incredible moment of déjà vu. A returning. A remembering. Not of nostalgia, but an utter and deep gratefulness. This grace of God. Oh, this grace.
A chocolate cookie lay on the table between us—a gift. I spilled out our story to our cashier as she totaled our French Onion soup and side salads. She looked at me as I gushed and then said, “Oh, do you want a cookie or pastry? That’s a great story.” I laughed and said give us a cookie.
We return to Panera Bread at least once a year. We sit at the same table, and the only theme in our conversations that is always the same is our grateful awe at what God has done in us.
This time we returned for our fifth wedding anniversary. Five years together. A milestone. A speed-of-light segment of time. We returned to Panera Bread (the very location) to celebrate these multiplied years. Each year we have been together is compressed—a whole lot of experiencing and living—zipped into a very small frame of time.
|Our Panera Bread|
We met each other six years ago. And God has a wonderful sense of humor. Many know our story. But the story is good; we really didn’t have a lot to do with writing it.
We are not the others’ first husband or wife. We both have failed marriages behind us. We both have hurt and been hurt. We both have cried and dismissed this thing called marriage declaring we would never do it again.
Never. And we meant it.
We had our first date at Panera Bread. My husband, just my neighbor then, and I decided to meet on a Friday night. We told no one; it was a secret rendezvous. I picked the place. I pulled into the parking lot and spied his black Scion. My heart palpitated wildly. I turned the corner and saw him standing at the end of the sidewalk. Tall. Elegant. Strong. Arresting.
I should have known right then.
We ordered. He paid. I realized this really was a date, and my mind reeled. (What have I gotten myself into?) He wanted to thank me for the homemade bread, cookies and pie.
We sat at the table I mentioned earlier. Food, an afterthought. Drinks, something to simply wet our dry mouths. We talked and talked and talked. Every subject you can imagine. Occasionally I could see the reflections of us in the glass windows and see us as others must have that night.
One of the waiters ran the vacuum close to our section. We looked down at our plates; sandwiches lay half-eaten. Forgotten. It was dark outside. We had been there four hours. Four hours of talking and sharing. We walked to our cars. We leaned against his and talked for another half an hour.
I remember it now like a movie segment—where the director indicates the passing of time by first letting you hear the conversation and then it moves into movie music and all you see is the interaction. The glances. The gestures.
Then we both drove away. Headed back to the same town. The same street. The same block. To houses side by side.
There’s more, far more, to this story. But this post is limited.
Later, we would marry. We declared my youngest daughter as somewhat of a prophet; she told me I would marry this man. I vehemently denied it. My oldest daughter told me it was a good thing God moved Steve in next door because she knew I would never go out looking for someone, that I would not venture forth; she was right.
We would move into the same house. And share a life. Neither one of us had ever really done this before. We experienced parallel existences, but we did not know this place called we-ness.
God, in his infinite mercy and grace, allowed us to have a new story. A plot twist neither of us expected. Thought we didn’t want. Believed it really didn’t exist.
But remember our God always, ALWAYS, does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. We quote this verse, write in on fridge doors, put it on wall hangings and mark it in our Bibles, but do we really, honestly believe this?
We hope he does. We wish he did. But there is something in us that believes this immeasurably more will just never happen to us—
Since those days at Panera, in the 1,825 days since Steve and I said I do we have been watching and witnessing our God do immeasurably more.
Over and Over.
Recently Steve and I hosted and led a couple’s retreat called From Water to Wine*. Fifteen couples joined us to explore and examine this thing we call marriage and relationship.
For five hours on a Saturday in a community room of a local coffee house sixteen couples interacted and examined this place we called marriage. We laughed. We joked. We bantered. And perhaps, some cried.
As I stood with Steve in front of the couples attending talking about hard and difficult things the words He does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine moved through me. I looked over at my husband and my heart filled with something I can’t quite name.
Long before I met Steve I told God (isn’t it amazing we think we can tell God anything?) I would never have a relationship or marry someone again unless I found someone who I could minister with side by side. Shoulder to shoulder. Little did I know I wouldn’t be the one doing the finding.
In front of all those beautiful people I realized God, even in that moment, was doing all I had asked. Far more than I had imagined.
Not what I had imagined. Not with whom I imagined. Not how I imagined. Not even why I imagined. But immeasurably more. More in ways I had not even thought to ask or imagine.
God took our broken, discarded stories and picked up the narrative threads. And then He threaded them together. Twisting and turning and braiding them until now you can barely tell where one begins and the other one ends.
And He knew way before Panera Bread.
|Steve and I at my 48th birthday bash this year!|
Out there, even today, someone is reading this. And you have given up on your immeasurably more.
You have decided there is not even a more for you, let alone an immeasurably more.
You are in a broken relationship that seems to be beyond repair. You are longing for a relationship that seems to be nowhere in your future. You are in a marriage that is dying. You are in a place that covenant has been broken. You are longing for intimacy and it seems to elude you. And this immeasurably more of God feels like a sad joke or wishful thinking at best.
Today, know this: God has an immeasurably more for you. Take the risk, ask him for something far greater than you ever have. Stretch your imagination. Pull it thin and ask Him to do immeasurably more in your life. And ask Him for the ability to recognize it when it shows up.
When I sat across from Steve at that table in Panera Bread I didn’t know what was coming. I didn’t know then that God was working out my immeasurably more. I didn’t know.
But God did.
He does in your life too. He sees your Panera Bread moment whatever it might be. He sees your immeasurably more life and is waiting to give it to you. It may not look like you envisioned, but it will be immeasurably more.
Father, I pray for every person who reads these words. I pray for your Spirit to move in their hearts and stir hope. I ask for hope to be lifted to the top. Father, we need to know you hear us. We need to know you are moving on our behalf because half the time we just don’t see it. For whatever reason. Open our eyes that we might see. Open our ears that we might hear. Open them so we might experience this immeasurably more of yours. Father, the immeasurably more is rooted in you and your grace. It extends out of your holiness and mercy. It emanates from your character. Father, please help us to understand that your immeasurably mores may not resemble ours. And help us to trust your hand and your timing. Amen