Thursday, August 21, 2014

Treasure Hunting: Pelicans

Have you ever seen one up close?
At the beach I was drawn to them. My attention darted to them and my gaze fixed on them.

Rarely do they walk around on the shore. Their feathers are the color of driftwood. Their long necks and heads seem out of proportion and lack grace in the curvature. These birds sit on the surface of the water bobbing, heads bent over and chin tucked tightly to their chests.
When walking around in the sand they are not in their element.
I followed them everywhere.
One morning Steve and I were out walking. A pelican walked on the shore too, snapping at the water and scooping something into its great cavernous bill. Then it would lift its gangly neck straight up and swallow. More gulping than swallowing. That’s when I really realized how gawky, awkward and ugly they are. Up close and personal they are a very strange looking bird.
That morning I followed this bird down the beach. I kept getting closer and closer. I almost got close enough to touch it. And then it flew away.

In the air this ugly, ungainly bird transformed.

Its neck and head shifted into a straight line, only the smooth rise of its head set above its wingspan—which was enormous. It wings spread and pulled at the air lifting it higher and higher with speed. But also with an agility and grace that was absent when on the shore.
In flight this bird did what it was designed to do.
And dive.
To watch a pelican dive is astonishing. If you don’t train your eye to stay with them you will miss the landing, miss the scoop. That great awkward bill, which on shore was cumbersome, now is efficient and elegant. Gone was the strange, ugly bird on the shore.
We are like the pelicans.
Sometimes on shore, in places we have not been gifted, we feel and seem awkward and gawky and ugly. We are out of our element. We are walking outside our realm of giftedness. Our gait on shore is ungainly and choppy. Grace seems to be absent. Elegance seems faded.
But in the air.
In the air we are doing what we were meant to do. When we are walking in the gifts God has given us then we fly. Wings outstretched. Neck elongated. Bill lifted and extended. And suddenly we are flying. The awkwardness falls away. Our unsightly gait becomes soaring.
There may only be short seasons of this flight. Only brief moments of lucidity. Of clarity.
Often times I try to move outside of my giftedness. I attempt to be or do something the Spirit did not give. Did not bestow. During these times out-of-my-element I expend more energy, acquire more stress, become more discouraged and develop more insecurity.
I rarely spotted a pelican on the shore. Only twice.  They tended not to hang out there. Instead they spread their wings and did what they were made to do. Fly.
You and I were created to fly. In whatever matter and manner that translates. Paul explains this to us in Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

We are given gifts by and through the Holy Spirit for the equipping  and building up of the Body of Christ. When we operate in these gifts we benefit, but even more God’s Body benefits.  
The Body of Christ in all its various and sundry places needs its people operating in their gifts. This Body needs its teachers to teach and its preachers to preach and its prophets to exhort and its pastors to shepherd and its administrators to administer.
The pelican taught me a great lesson.
Now, when I struggle with that awkward and gawky gait I ask myself a question. Am I moving in the giftings God has given me? Am I attempting to do something the Holy Spirit didn’t intend for me to do?  Usually I have to answer the first question no and the second yes.  (There are a few exceptions: when the Lord calls me out of my comfort zone. Out of the familiar. Out of the known. In order to expand my faith and trust in Him.)
Fly, friends.
Don't spend your time and energy waddling around on the shore. Just fly. Even if it is for a brief moment.
We will be blessed when you do. We will know more of him because you do.


We were looking at each other.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Treasure Hunting: Not If, but When

Melissa Darsey, lovely and profound spirit that she is, shared her recollections about this particular evening. You can visit her at Tethered: His Night Song.

Profound occurrences are often profound only to the person experiencing them. The serendipity of events does not quite impact others as it does we who are in the middle.
But I want you to see God. Watch him show up.
This story must be unfolded. Fold by fold. It is a long story. Read it in parts. Take a break or get a cup of coffee and join me for a little while.
I just want you to know my sweet God must have been chuckling as he orchestrated this one. 

On Melissa’s last night of vacation we discovered that one of her dreams was to walk the beach at night.
Abby and I declared we would go that night. It would be Melissa’s last adventure before going home. I was so excited for her. Years ago I walked the beach on Cape Cod at night, and it profoundly affected me. Vivid details still remain. I wanted Melissa to experience something very similar.
Little did I know.
Do we ever?
In our finite grasp of reality and space and time do we understand that the God of this universe really does hear us? He catches the sighings. He perceives the longings. He listens to the unvoiced desires—the ones we tuck away, tight back in ourselves. These are not secret to him. They are not veiled from his vision.
For years I have been tending a low burning fire for a sojourn to Ireland. There were times when the fire leaped and danced with flames high. Hot and compelling. Other times, a simple quiet fire, banked. Recently the embers burned down, ashen and powdery. The task seemed overwhelming. The finances. The time. The schedules. Slowly the fire became just a warm place in my heart. I attempted to substitute more practical things for it. Ones that would benefit far more people than just me.
Little did I know God heard, and his breath was about to blow over my dream embers.
The whole day began with a trip to the marina. We wanted to see dolphins and so we booked an afternoon outing—the marina’s advertisement gave full assurance that dolphins would be spotted.
While we waited for our departure time we visited several of the little shops along the marina’s boardwalk. We indulged in ice cream and truffles and dark chocolate covered stick pretzels (I ate the latter, not all three).

While Steve stood and watched the fishermen fillet their catch I meandered into a jewelry shop.
The small shop was filled with shelves of nautical jewelry and cases of charms and necklaces and earrings shaped like shells, fish, palm trees and ocean waves. Weaving in and out of the labyrinth I stopped at a few of the cases. Some unique piece would catch my eye.
Then I turned.
Behind me almost in the middle of the store was a rotating kiosk of Irish jewelry. Four leaf clovers, Celtic crosses, Celtic knots and pots of gold. It seemed so out of place. So random.  I spun the stand slowly. Looking and all the while pondering the question, “Why in the world was this in the middle of this store?”  
We went to wait in line to get on the boat for our date with the dolphins (another story for another post).
I forgot about the Irish jewelry.
After we docked we were all quite hungry. We were looking for something local—something with the reputation of serving really good food. We heard The Friendly Fisherman was the place to go. All twelve of us traipsed into the restaurant. If our numbers worried anyone we couldn’t tell.
Our waitress’ name was Dawn. She was from Pennsylvania: a transplant enjoying the ease of ocean front life. We could almost see her apartment complex from our table. We knew we had been given the seasoned waitress; she knew what she was doing. Feed the kids first. The food was fabulous. Other than Amy’s shrimp tacos it was the best meal I ate during the entire vacation.
Remember the random Irish jewelry back at the marina boardwalk? Here we go again.
Dawn wore a necklace. Not just any necklace. It was a large silver Irish claddagh. I know she saw me staring, so I just asked. Where did she find such a wonderful piece? She touched it, rubbing the embossed hands and crown and heart and explained that she commissioned it to be made. An original piece.
For an instant my head reeled. This absurd thought crossed my mind:  I am in The Friendly Fisherman eating clam stuffed tilapia being served by Dawn from Pennsylvania with a claddagh necklace.
The old fire stirred. The wind was blowing.
We left.
We spent the rest of the day playing and resting.
I forgot Dawn and the claddagh necklace.
Evening came. Everyone trekked back to the condo. Bedtime routines commenced.
I kissed Steve, then Melissa, Abby and I walked back down the beach.
We took pictures under the dock—leaned on the weathered wood. And the light began to fade.

We discussed which way to walk and Melissa explained she wanted to walk toward the light—in the direction of the setting sun.
Away we went. Jaunty. Happy. Carefree. Fulfilling a dream.
I kept watching Melissa’s face and praying for her. Praying God would meet her. Praying she would experience His presence in this trek in the dark with the water lapping around our feet and the sand grown cold. At first she and Abby held up their dresses, but then they let them down. Unfettered, the hems grew wet and heavy. They drug in the sand, combing it smooth as they walked.
When I walk the beach I am forever keen-eyed for shells. That night was no exception.
I saw one. Or what I thought was one. A black shadow in the sand. A large one.
Cautiously I reached down and tapped it quickly with just the tip end of my pointer finger. Just in case. Earlier in the weekend something had caught my eye in the sand and I failed to use caution. A crab bit my finger. A snap, a sting, and a narrow trickle of blood encouraged and wizened me to be careful of shadows in the sand.
This one didn’t bite or move, so I picked it up.
Oh, what a treasure. It appeared to be a black oyster shell (still not entirely sure). It was the most unique piece I found during the entire trip. I was thrilled.

We began again. Walking.

A woman passed us. Nothing odd. Except she was holding a shell almost exactly like my own. She noticed mine. There we stood, as if we were holding two pieces of the same puzzle wondering where our pieces fit.

The early part of the conversation is hazy in my mind. I think it was just courteous beach dialogue. But several sentences into the conversation my hearing heightened and honed.

Flames flickered.

I cocked my head and looked at her, and the words were out of my mouth before I realized I was thinking them.
“Would you mind if I asked where you are from? Originally?”
I wonder now what was going through Abby and Melissa’s heads, but then I was oblivious.
I took a deep breath as I saw her mouth open to answer.
“Ireland.” She answered.
I gasped. Whether out loud or not I don’t know. It was very loud in the cavernous places in my own head. And puzzle pieces began to click into place: the Irish jewelry at the marina, Dawn and her one-of-a-kind claddagh necklace.
I peered at this woman. Holding my breath. I wonder now if she thought I was crazy.
We began to talk. The lyrical cadence of her voice was soft. Her “r’s” trilled slightly.  In my peripheral vision I saw Abby looking at me.
We continued to talk. I asked questions somewhat just to hear her speak.
I told her I had dreamed for years of going to Ireland.
She gazed at me. Eye to eye.
“Then you will, Lady, you will.”
Tears, as usual, threatened to pour down my face. But I held them. There was something in her tone. Something in her gaze.
We kept talking. I asked her where she would want me to visit if I ever went. What out of the way place would she like for me to see? Again that eye to eye gaze. She held it longer this time.
“It is not if you go, but when. I want you to set a date.”
I blinked. Finally.
I explained I also loved the Vikings and wanted to visit Dublin because of their influence there. She chuckled and said she was from the area the Vikings first settled in Ireland.
She went on to tell me that tickets were not as expensive as one might imagine.
I watched her face. Tried to drink it in while standing in the fading light.
The real time lasted a few minutes. But in my head it was slow motion. Almost stop frame.
I stood in a dream. And in that dream I saw myself on the shore of the Gulf at night having a conversation with an Irish woman.
It welled up in me. The question. Bubbled in my mouth.
“If you don’t mind I would love to know your name.” I waited.
God must have leaned forward for this one. Leaned right forward and looked over the rim of heaven. He must have been laughing his great belly laugh of delight. Absolute delight. His divine appointments always change someone’s life.  
One of my favorite authors is Linda Windsor. She is the author of a beautiful series of books set in fifth century Ireland: The Fires of Glennmara. The female protagonist of the first book in the trilogy is one of my absolute favorites. This is quite important. Unlike me at the time, my dear Reader, you know what is coming.
The Irish woman looked at me and said, “My name is Maire.”
The character in Linda Windsor’s book is named Maire. (Pronounced: Moi-rah).
I spelled the name back to her to make sure I heard correctly.
I did, although this sweet Maire on the beach had to spell her name differently here in the States because no one could pronounce it. Often she was mistakenly called Maria or Mary.
Maire is a soft and musical name when spoken by an Irish tongue. I can still hear her voice pronouncing it for me.
Our encounter ended after that. We hugged. Clasped hands.
She turned to leave, but before she did she looked at me with that eye to eye gaze again.  
“You will go to Ireland. It is not if, but when. I want you to set a date. An actual date on the calendar.”
Maire turned and walked down the beach disappearing into the evening. I watched her walk away until the dusk became dark and she disappeared.
God set me up.
I can hear Him laughing still.
Little did I know.
My God. My God.

He knows and pays attention to every detail of our lives. He knows the longings of our heart.
The embers are hot now.
Red. Alive. Glowing.
It is not if I go to Ireland, now it is just a matter of when.
We’re working on a date.
BTW. A couple weeks after we returned from vacation all these events were but memories beginning to fade. One day I pulled into a parking spot at a local department store. I got out of my car and looked at the van parked in front of me. I noticed the license plate. I took a picture.
Are you kidding me?






Friday, August 15, 2014

Treasure Hunting: Conversations and Sand Dollars

During this treasure hunting vacation I did a great deal of watching and observing.  I saw God move and be present in the littlest and slightest situations and places. This seeing had so very little to do with me. I am significantly blind at times, failing to see what God is doing and orchestrating.
My blindness has little to do with the ability to see or perceive. My blindness is that my vision is so limited. So narrow. So restricted. So partial. So myopic (Thanks, Madeleine L’Engle. The abstract definition of Myopia is the lack of discernment or long-range perspective in thinking or planning).
Now, I want to get something very straight here before we go on. This is important to me. There are times I fear writing about something because it will seem I am implying perfection. Fear that I am presenting only the good—quite often I have been told I see only the good, and rarely the flaws. That I see only the pretty, and never the ugly. This is untrue. I see the flaws. I see the ugly. I just pray hard to see past them. To see beyond them.
I did NOTHING to deserve the beauty, whatever form it might take, in my life.
Anything that is of value is from his hand. Period.
One of the most beautiful parts of my life is my husband.
Often the greatest and most valuable treasures are closest to us and we fail to see. We overlook. We assume. We take for granted. We suffer from myopia.
But I can’t take these treasures for granted. They are too precious. They are gifts.
Steve is the quiet, tender, unassuming, gentle and steady giant in my life.
There were days on the beach when I did nothing but simply watch him.
And I fell deeply in love with him all over again.  
I observed this great big man sitting cross-legged on the sand with two little children building a sandcastle. Steve would design an elaborate castle and then laugh when the children would dump sand or pour water in the middle and erase all efforts.
I watched as he bent down to teach a little boy how to find and ride a wave in all the way to the beach.

During a fierce squall on the beach we all ran to shelter to avoid being pelted by the wind and the rain, but Steve went back to find Dave—to make sure he was ok.
There were other things:
His laugh.  
His hand on my back walking through a restaurant.
The brushing of our arms as we walked down the beach.

But there are two special moments I want to share with you.   

My love for the ocean and all things thereof is a little hard to miss.

In the evenings Steve and I strolled on the beach. During one of our jaunts at dusk the last of the sun’s rays beamed down on us and the water wrapped around our feet. I breathed in and my lungs stretched and my heart expanded.
Photo of Steve and Tamera courtesy of Melissa Darsey.

I looked up at him and asked, “What makes you happy like the ocean does me?”

I expected him to say the mountains. Or the castles of Germany (where he has visited). Or the bicycle paths on the beach of Santa Monica. Or building robots. But he didn’t say those things.

Without a moment’s hesitation he answered.

Being with you. Being where you are.”


I am quite aware that many who just read that response either awwwhhhed or rolled their eyes because they thought a whole lot of cheese just got put on the plate.


Either response is acceptable. Because the responses do not negate the sincerity.

It was the sincerity that caused my heart to constrict tight. Caused my nose to burn as I pulled in the tears that instantly pooled in my eyes. This is one of the many ways God uses Steve in my life: to render me speechless.
Speechless. I was speechless. I opened my mouth, but the words lodged in my throat somewhere down close to my heart. I couldn’t get them to exit. At first I thought this was a movie moment. Cue the music. The wind blowing. The long tender look. But we kept walking. One foot in front of the other. He squeezed my hand and I squeezed his.
The second thing I wanted to share?
When we arrived on the beach that first day we discovered that a great many people were pulling sand dollars from the silt of sand beneath the shallow waters in front of our condo.
On our way down to Florida I told Steve that some of the few things I wanted to find or buy during the trip were some very specific shells for our new bathroom and our front room.
White starfish. White clam shells. And white sand dollars.
That first day in the ocean, during the time I was struggling with my bathing suit, Steve seemed to be stationed in a small stretch. He didn’t gravitate toward me as usual. Didn’t play much, but was quite intent on a task. I got out of the water and went to the beach to sit for a while.
As I watched from the shade of my hand I realized what Steve was doing. He was searching for a sand dollar. Digging with his toes through the sand to find round disks buried deep, then diving. Head down—feet up.

He found one. A sand dollar.

And he brought it to me.
All that time he spent searching for a sand dollar for me (and perhaps, the challenge in finding one).
All that time spent to find something for me that was nothing more than a whim and an indulgence.
But that’s the way it is when someone loves you deeply.
They remember your little wish lists. They understand the gestures that help you feel secure. They are attune to your moods and your longings. There is an ever present intent to make you smile.
I studied that sand dollar. I looked at it. I looked at Steve.
Suddenly my vision broadened. No longer as narrow or partial.
I understood just a little more.
Father God, what makes you happy like the ocean makes me happy?
Being with you. You coming to me. This pleases me.
Here’s the sand dollar you have been looking for, Tamera. I found it for you. Brought it to you. Gave it to you. Why? Because I love you deeply. And I want you to know it. And I want you to proclaim it.
God will use whatever visual and picture he can to get our attention. To draw our eyes to him. To direct our attention to who he is.
To remind us of his promises.
To help us experience the lavishness of his grace. Of his gifts. Of his provision.
To help us understand how generous he is with it ALL.
Oh, that we would not remain myopically blind.











Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Treasure Hunting: When You Can't Touch Bottom

During the first precious days of vacation I could stand on the beach and the waves would roll in gentle and easy. After the storm the surf was choppy and a little rough. Most likely it was tame to experienced swimmers, surfers and ocean dwellers, but I was more than a little daunted.
The ocean’s power was evident—pulling and pushing. Sucking under. Caution raised his hand. And I paid attention.


Steve and Dave stood out on the second sand bar playing in the waves. From the distance you could see their shoulders lift in hard laughter. They laughed as the high waves would crest and then smack against the walls of their backs.
Abby wanted to join them, so I took off with her. Little did I know.
Now, first we must establish that my 6’3” husband stood on the second sandbar and was still only a little over waist high. I’m 5’5”. He tops me by ten inches. This will come into play later.

I took this photo with a zoom from my place on the shore.
The day before, when the water was calm, I joined him. I didn’t have to work very hard to get there. He and I played and floated and jumped and laughed. There I stood on the sandbar and I marveled at how brave I was.  
But that bravery shouldn’t have morphed into over-confident bravado.
I began to swim toward the sandbar. I struck out thinking I would make it just fine. Hadn’t I done so yesterday?
After several minutes I realized my progression was slow. I stopped and treaded water and really took bearing of where I was relative to Steve and where our belongings were on the beach. I was way off target. Completely. And I was fighting against the current. A niggle of fear started to tickle in my throat. Just a niggle. I could still swallow past it. Heck, I was laughing.

Then I realized my feet did not touch the bottom at all. When my toes finally made contact with the ocean floor then no one could see my head above water any more—not even the wisps of my hair floating. Six inches over my head might as well have been a foot.
Obviously doggy paddling and lazy backstroking were not working.
Frolicking play ceased. The rhythm of the waves that usually soothed now pounded. The endless persistence of the rising and the rolling of water no longer calmed me.
With each wave I frantically stretched out my toes trying to push off and get my head above the swell. It didn’t work. It pounded me and my head went halfway under every single time.
Of course I was laughing and inhaled two quarts of sea water. It seems sometimes there are only two things I do: laugh or cry. You take your pick. And often, for whatever reason, I choose to do the wrong one at the wrong time.
There you have it. This wasn’t a time to laugh. I kept fighting. Just as I would come up from being hit by one wave another one would roll over and push me back under. The force of that water was sobering to say the least.
Finally, I got Steve’s attention and waved at him. He waved back.
He waved back.
Are you kidding me?
He didn’t understand and wasn’t yet aware I was struggling and needed help.
I kept going under and surfacing.
Panic rose in my throat. And niggling fear swelled into a huge lump of scared.
Steve did not have his glasses on and because I was so far away he did not see my predicament. Somehow Dave realized I wasn’t just waving. He asked Steve if he thought I needed some help.
Dave’s observation caused Steve’s focus to change. He watched me and realized my struggle was a little much.
You think?
He turned and moved toward me. When I realized he was coming I stopped struggling and just treaded water. I quit trying to work against the current. And I waited in this holding pattern in the water.
With his long strides he crossed the space between us quickly. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do the same. Then I remembered I couldn’t touch the bottom. (Ten inches can make a huge difference.)
He reached me and stretched out his hand. I stretched out mine, the distance was still too great. He kept coming forward until my hand was in his. Then he pulled me toward him, slicing through the water. He picked me up in his arms, and I wrapped myself around him.   He carried me easily to the second sand bar.
And I let him carry me. I was too tired to do otherwise. My attempts to get rid of the salt water from my eyes and nose and ears came in spurts and coughs. And I was laughing because I was no longer afraid.
But I was whipped.
There are times when we simply are not going to be able to touch bottom. Six inches will seem like two feet. The sandbar will seem a mile away. The current will be relentlessly strong. The roll of the waves will pound you. Push you under. You will swallow a gallon of salt water.  Fear will niggle. And you will panic.
I know people right now who can’t touch the bottom.
So do you.
Maybe you’re one of them.
There are swimmers in this vast ocean who are fighting the current, trying to rise up and over the crest of the endless waves. They are failing. When they inhale they can’t get enough air. They are clawing with their feet trying to find a foothold and there is not one to be found.

They are waving at us. Arms flailing to get our attention and we think they are just greeting us. And we wave back. Smiling our, the sun’s-in-our-eyes, automatic smiles.
They are growing weary from treading water. Cramps are knotting the muscles in their calves. And their arms are growing week. And they really can’t shout because every time they open their mouth wide enough it gets filled with salt water. The fear in their throat is beginning to suffocate them. And the panic swells.
Perhaps I am describing the state of your life right now. Maybe you have been treading water for a long, long time. You have shouted, but no one seems to hear you. And maybe they heard you and just simply waved back.
Whatever, you just can’t touch the bottom.
Shout one more time, I’m telling you.
Shout and ask God to send someone. Ask him to send someone to carry you to the sandbar.
Don’t fight them when they come. Don’t try to be strong and brave and say, no, surely I can do this.
No, there are times your feet are just not going to touch bottom. And you are going to need help.

Father, thank you for seeing our predicament and coming for us. You saw our struggle to touch bottom and our futile attempts to keep our heads above water. You saw us drowning. And you came for us. Please help us to do the same for your people. When we are on the sandbar please help us to look around and watch. Help us to notice people who are waving. Give us wisdom and insight to assess whether it is a greeting or a cry for help. Help us to pay attention. Give us the strength and power to go to them. Hold their hands. Pull them forward and swim with them or carry them to the sandbar. Amen and amen.
(Right now if you feel like you can't touch bottom, and you need prayer, please send me a note. Send me a private message. I will pray for you. Perhaps, I can't get to you where you are, but I can pray for God to send you someone who can.









The Thrill of Hope--Jeremiah, Part 1

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