Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Immeasurably More: Grace

(This is a long post. Of course, what other kind does Tamera write? There's also a video at the end. Please, please take time to listen.)

I’ve shared before about grace, but today let’s pull all the stops.
I have a friend who reads my blog; I am honored by his reading. He is not my typical reader. He does not blog-hop or surf. He came across my blog in a roundabout manner through a third party I have yet to meet. Mike reads my words, and for this I am astounded. Seriously. Mike gently fusses at me. He says I bare my soul too much. Playfully he questioned my husband about the laundry, underwear and all, I hang out on my line here at The Chambered Nautilus. This morning I want to warn Mike that there’s going to be a lot of laundry on this line.
In Romans (I am far more in love with Romans now than years ago) Paul laments the fact that he does what he DOES NOT WANT TO DO, but doesn’t DO WHAT HE WANTS TO DO.
Angst saturates Paul’s words. There’s a spilling transparency that floors me. This man is the Apostle to the Gentiles (in reality: us) because Jesus called him, he visited the third heaven, he stood before governors and kings and emperors, he preached the gospel in places I can only dream of, he started the early churches and he wrote the bulk of the New Testament.
Yet, here he is in a moment so transparent, so achingly poignant, and so deeply raw that suddenly I am his sister. I, a woman living two millennia after him understand his struggle. Why?
Because I struggle the same.
I do what I don’t want to do.
I don’t do what I do want to do.
And I weep because of both.
This past weekend I fought a battle I didn’t think I was going to win. The whole battle was in my head—the closed space of my spirit. A horribly fierce tug of war: Tamera was on one end of the rope, and Tamera was on the other end.  And just like Paul we pulled back and forth. Straining and heaving.
The struggle? Far too personal to truly write here, blazoned for all the world to see. But…
In this tug of war struggle I thought about Michal. Perhaps you know her. Maybe you have met her. She was Saul’s daughter. She was King David’s first wife, long before he was ever king. She was the daughter of royalty. The beautiful daughter of the first king of Israel. And she loved David.
Until.
Until events happened. Until circumstances unfolded. Until life played out, and it played out in a way she didn’t expect, didn’t anticipate and most certainly didn’t want. In the midst of this life her love for David grew cold. It waxed hard. Her love brittled. Bitterness grew. An ugly, ugly root.
In this tug of war struggle I thought about the parable of The Prodigal Son. These thoughts were different. Usually I play the role of the prodigal boy—gone hay seed wild and away. But this week I looked into the eyes of the elder brother—this first born son. The one who stayed. The one who continued to work for the Father. The one who obeyed. The one who didn’t bring ridicule to the father’s name. Life played out for this Elder Brother. Perhaps it played out as he thought it would…
Until.
Until the younger brother returned. Until his younger brother—the wayward, squandering rebel—returned. With this return the older brother’s life changed. He didn’t change with it. And a bitter root grew.
Two scenes play out before me.
Ecstatically David danced before the Ark of the Presence. Disrobed. Abandoned. Given over. Caught up in worship. Dancing before the Lord.
From the slit of a window in a tower Michal watched. A headdress covered part of her face. She did not lean against the sill of the window to peer out. She stood, ramrod stiff, at the aperture. Contempt etched in her countenance. Her stature declared judgment. Bitterness and anger brewed. Self-righteousness rose in her.
Why?
She wanted to be where David was. Or she believed she should have at least been with him.
Once the Ark arrived David moved to the palace to bless his family. After being before the Lord—can we do anything but bless? Michal met him, but the greeting was not cordial. Instead, sarcasm and judgment and bitterness spewed in David’s face. Michal spat venom.
Michal was a recipient of grace, but she did not give it. Michal did not understand grace: the unmerited favor of God. Too long she felt entitled. Too long she depended on her status as the king’s daughter and David’s wife. She didn’t understand she needed grace. Therefore, neither did she extend it. Because deep down she was jealous. She was envious of what David had. Of what David had become. And resentment filled her.
Resentment and grace cannot maintain the same space.
Another scene.
The younger brother, the prodigal, returns home. Humbled. Disrobed. Ruined.
We know the story. His father watched for him. The father ran to meet him while the boy was still far away. The father brought him home. Restored him. Lifted him. Reinstated him. Robed him. Sandaled him. Ringed him.
The servants slaughtered the fattened calf, and the frenzied preparations keyed the Elder Brother into awareness of his younger brother’s return. He stood afar off. Elder Brother watched the scene of welcome before him. His back held ramrod stiff. His prayer shawl’s tassels draped over his shoulders. And bile, green and bitter, rose up in his throat as he watched his father slide the family signet ring on his brother’s grimy finger. His father stooped and brushed the road filth from his brother’s feet and then slid on a sandal. The older brother grimaced and turned away. Contempt carved in his face. His retreating figure declared judgment. Bitterness and anger brewed. Self-righteousness rose in him.
The father gathered his family to celebrate, and he found his beloved Eldest Son far from the festivities. But the meeting was not cordial. The Eldest Brother spat accusations in his father’s face. He pointed out all the failings and sins of his brother and he reminded his father of his successes and faithfulness. To his duty and obedience. He was envious of the Younger Brother. He turned and walked away. He did not join the celebration because he felt slighted. He believed he had been robbed. He wallowed in his entitlement. And resentment filled him.
Resentment and grace cannot maintain the same space.
Michal and Elder Brother believed David and Prodigal Brother were going to rob or take from them what in reality could not be taken.
Many times I have been David and the Prodigal Brother.  
Sadly, I have been and sometimes continue to be Michal and the Elder Brother.
Resentment and grace cannot maintain or abide in the same space.
Resentment cancels out gratitude.
Resentment chokes the passageway of grace. Narrows it down so the flow of grace is but a trickle. Not because God’s grace has been altered, but because we pinch off the flow.
Michal and the Elder Brother narrowed the flow of grace. They did not understand that when they narrowed the portal of grace to others it became narrowed to them (for the measure you use will be used with you). All the grace given to David and the Prodigal Brother would have overflowed to them. And they missed it. Were blind to it because of their resentment.
Michal and Elder Brother believed they were entitled. Because of who they were and the positions they held they thought they deserved more.  I am sure there were moments when they knew the good to do, but didn’t do it. They knew what they shouldn’t do and did it anyway. Deep down they felt wretched.
Just like Paul. Just like me. Just like you.
What is so painfully sad to me is that Elder Brother’s narrative ends here. We tell the story of the Prodigal Son, but the Elder Brother is mentioned only in passing. Only with negativity.
Michal’s epitaph?
She was barren. No children. None.
These thoughts sobered me. Do I want to be remembered for negativity and resentment? Do I want to be barren, fruitless, the rest of my days? All because I do not understand or extend grace?
Oh, what wretched people we are. Who will rescue us from these bodies of death?
Thanks be to God! We will be saved through Jesus Christ.
Through grace 
God’s beautiful, salvaging grace.
In spite of the times I have been wretched like Michal and Elder Brother God’s grace continues to be funneled to me as an open geyser—a fountain shooting upward and falling down in broad and wide arcs.  Spraying my face wet. Showering the length of me soaked.
What Michal and Elder Brother didn’t know or recognize is that grace finds us. His grace finds us.
David came looking for Michal and the father came looking for Elder Son.
Has grace come looking for you?
Have you welcomed grace or scorned grace?
Are you David or Michal? Are you Prodigal Brother or Elder Brother?
Doesn’t matter. Read that again. Doesn't matter.
Regardless of whether you are Michal, David, Elder Brother or Prodigal Brother God’s grace will find you.

Bank on it. Depend on it. Bet your life on it.

He will extend immeasurably more grace, more unmerited favor, than we could possibly ask or imagine.
Grace. God’s grace. Such grace.

 

 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Immeasurably More: Basement Choices


When I was seventeen God called me out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Literally and figuratively.
17 year old Tamera


17 year old Tamera
 
During my first semester as a freshman in college I was accepted on the university’s speech team. I love to communicate and it seemed like a perfect fit. The speech team was the epitome of academic coolness and arrogant know-it-allness. We thought we were tigers with the world by the tail. At the time I thought it grand that I, as a freshman, was among them. Often I wrote and presented speeches about subjects I knew little to nothing about or I had to memorize a dramatic monologue and be believable. More often than not I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I pretended.

Some events of your life roll away—forgotten and dismissed only to be remembered if there is a serious jogging of the memory. But one event connected with this season and group became the crossroad of my life. One night in the middle of a typical party night (college age drama, attempting to look cool and discussing the philosophical facets of life) in one of the speech team member’s basements I heard the voice of God.  

At fourteen I made a commitment to be a Christian, but sometime afterward I took several wrong turns and just kept walking. And walking. Destruction was the road name. The wrong turns took me to some precarious places. Light faded behind me. Darkness descended. I groped my way along the road fumbling and faltering. But I was far too full of myself and far too arrogant to acknowledge the dark. Dark? Are you kidding me? I was living the dream: attending college early, a member of a nationally recognized and regarded speech team and dating a young man who just happened to be the son of the dean of my college major (who would later dump me for a beautiful blonde female member of the team named Charlie*). But at the time I really believed the odds were in my favor.

Little did I know many people were praying for me. Praying for light to penetrate the darkness in and around me. Little did I know God’s favor and light would prove to be far more potent than the darkness in which I abided.

In that basement that night I became acutely aware of the darkness. We participated in activities often equated with freedom—freedom from authority and rules. We thrived on doing our own thing regardless of what anyone else thought (really?) People sprawled everywhere. Legs hanging and dangling over the arms of easy chairs and broken couches. Slit-eyed nineteen and twenty-something year olds nursed long warm beers. Eighties hard rock music filtered in from someplace. I remember running wild and loud out in a field beyond the house. In the mayhem I hurt my ankle in a rabbit hole and someone piggy-backed me back to the house. And there we all sat.

For the first time in my life I felt the press of darkness. I felt suffocated. Hemmed in. Closed off. Suddenly clarity birthed in me. I remember actually feeling it and looking around to see if anyone else reacted. I knew this clarity certainly didn’t originate in my head. (Now, let me make something abundantly clear—I wasn’t drunk or high. Those activities I avoided vehemently for reasons that belong in another post. So, I wasn’t hearing voices that could be attributed to substances we will not name.)

I heard the voice of God. He must not have spoken audibly—no one else responded.

Tamera, come out of the darkness. I want you to walk out of this darkness.

The word of God says that sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd.

That night I not only heard, but I recognized the voice of God.

He walked me out of that basement. I don’t remember even leaving. I don’t even remember the time span of the events which would follow. I don’t remember quitting the speech team, but I did.

I do remember my life changing. I remember my life being altered. Very little was the same after that night—even today thirty-one years later

God called me out of the darkness into his marvelous light.

Calling me out of darkness would have been enough. But God never stops with just enough. It is his nature to be generous. To be lavish. To be extravagant.

I Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the goodness of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”

That night not only did God call me OUT of something, but INTO something. That night he called me into the light. That night God forged my identity. In the darkness I learned who I was. In the light I learned who God was and who he called me to be. He called me out and set me apart for his purposes.

He called me so I might proclaim his goodness. He called me so I might testify to his faithfulness. He called me so I might speak of his holiness. And he called me that I might declare the healing of his grace.

To his people.

How is this immeasurably more?

I was a lost child. Lost. Lost. Lost. A child with no identity is prey for the enemy. A woman without a healthy sense of self often becomes road kill. The road I traversed proved horribly dangerous, and I lost pieces of myself all along the way. Sometimes I gave valuable pieces away hoping I would get something, anything, in return. I rarely did. Just more emptiness. Just more black holes. Every decision I made led to death certainly not life. This is not an exaggeration. There are many forms of death before the final one.

That night in Dewayne’s* basement God set before me the choice of life or death. Darkness or Light.

Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life…”

That night I chose life. I chose blessings. I chose light.

Since that basement choice I have made mistakes. I have repeatedly sinned. I have chosen poorly. I have made faulty decisions. But God has held me through them all. Carried me through them. Sheltered me through them. Guarded me through them. Protected me through them. Redeemed me through them.

Because that night I chose Him (He actually chose me first.)

My immeasurably more?

I chose life. His life.

And my children live. They live.

This year on my 48th birthday my children gathered to celebrate me—I was humbled. I looked around the table at each face, each precious face, and I was utterly undone.  
 
My incredible family!
 
And all I could whisper under my breath was thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thirty-one years ago God called me. He spoke my name. My real name. And he called me out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Please read that again. Because he will call you out of your darkness. He will call you to choose life or death.

Please choose life. Life in him.

Choose.

My immeasurably more?

That night God knew. He knew who would live if I surrendered to him. He knew Anna, Katherine, Olivia, Abby, David, Elijah and Judah would live (and there will be more).

My children live because my God called me out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I will proclaim his goodness. I see it in the faces of my children. I see in the faces of my grandchildren.

Immeasurably more than I ever thought to ask or imagine.

Ever.
 
Judah, Anna and Tamera
Judah

Olivia and Nolan
Abby Taylor
Elijah, Katherine and Tamera


Elijah and my wonderful son-in-love: David

Nolan and my Olivia

My Anna

Elijah and my wonderful Katherine

Oh, these three!
Abby and Nathan
My beautiful boys!

Katherine and Elijah

My curious Elijah.


My Judah-boy.

                           

 

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Immeasurably More: Panera Bread

 
Sage advice often given to writers is write what you know. The older I get the less I know. But there are some things I KNOW. This week I am starting a new series: Immeasurably More. People need to hear (faith comes by hearing) that God really does do the immeasurably more. This I KNOW. )
                                                                
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