Monday, November 16, 2015

One Month


It’s been a month since I got the 3:38 am the phone call. A phone call that shifted the terrain of our family. In the first seven days I functioned automatically, shifted into a place of doing what needed to be done, the shepherding mode. Take care of the sheep. Take care of the sheep. My goal was to take care of everyone—my mother, my step-father, my daughters, my niece and nephew, step-sisters and step-brother, and my brother’s two best friends.

My grief was and is real, but I relegated it to a compartment I wasn’t ready to open. I folded my grief and laid it in a box, thinking I would take it out and examine it later. I grieved during those first seven days, but through a fog, a numb stupor. Other people’s pain registered more strongly than my own.

But grief is a strong entity. Physical and tangible. Persistent and invasive. And it ambushes you. This thought did not originate with me, but someone said this during my brother’s funeral week. What a keen insight, what verb-age to apply to grief.

Ambushed.

I would think after being ambushed several times one would begin to get a sense of the patterns and triggers. But no, I was caught off guard more than once.

A video (posted at the end)  was playing during visitation and right before the funeral. In the footage Courtney encouraged his baby son to walk.

“Come on. Come on.” 

I stood with my back to my brother’s casket, placing an armload of stuffed animals on the floor to get them out of the way. I knew where I was. I knew what was going on. In less than ten minutes, my brother’s funeral would begin. I was straightening. Preparing. Cleaning. I was trying to keep busy. Trying to focus on activity, remaining in motion. Somehow I knew that if the motion ceased, I would collapse inwardly.

And then I heard my brother’s voice.

“Come on. Come on.”

And I turned to find him, whipped around to look behind me to see where he was. My mind understood where I was and what was about to happen, what had happened, but Courtney’s voice pierced through the numbness, and I looked to find him. The hearing and looking were the triggers. Before I knew it, a sob pushed up and through and out of my throat. I remember putting my hand over my mouth to catch the sound, but it escaped through the spaces between my fingers. My face was already wet with tears. I turned and stumbled away, not even knowing what direction I headed.

I watched grief ambush the people Courtney loved. Over and over. And I was helpless and powerless to warn them. To stop it.

A month has passed. Everyone is still hurting and grieving in such different ways. Each of us broken or cracked at a different angle and severity, our own unique fractured webs.

Slowly, I am reentering the mainstream of living. There is still a numbness that I don't quite comprehend—just this small vacuum of space that I don't know how to navigate. This past week I realized with this foggy vagueness that something in me was anticipating my weekly text and pictures from Courtney. And I am still in the midst of trying to know and discern how to help my family navigate this nightmare.

My daily life has not been avalanched or earthquaked like my brother’s two best friends (Christian and Steven) or my mom and stepfather. I experience the aftershocks, the wakes of their grief combine with my own. I am trying to reenter the mainstream, but it is like merging back into high-speed interstate traffic. I keep feeling the whoosh of air fly by me as the cars just speed along in life.
All my dear friends encourage me to take the time to grieve, to allow myself space, and to give myself permission to grieve.

One of my brother’s best friends said something this week that I have been holding.

“He’s [Courtney] in the back of my mind constant. But that’s not new for me, what’s new for me is I’m not in the back of his mind. We’ve always thought of each other in a lot of things, things only we shared. But most people are already tired of hearing about him.”

Most people are already tired of hearing about him. Perhaps this is true. I catch myself holding thoughts in, holding emotions close, belting reactions, and closing my mouth before words escape. Only late at night when the house is dark or in the early light of the morning do the tears come, running hot and quick down my face. They waylay me and take me unaware. The tears and sorrow are held in a deep reservoir waiting for a crack to open. 

And I am thankful for the cracks, for the fissures. For the seepage of the weeping. The tears coat the jagged edges of pain. The release of them keeps me from cracking internally.

I think of Jesus.

He is the exact representation of the Father. He is the image of the invisible God.

Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus, his friend, and his heart brother. And he wept. He didn’t just cry ceremonial, obligatory tears. No, he cried. Jesus wept because death wasn’t a part of the original plan. It wasn’t an element in the original storyline. It wasn’t’ the Father’s intention. And Jesus stood at the brink and edge of sorrow and loss and pain. He didn’t shirk. He didn’t stoically hold it all in because God would make all things work together for the good. No, he wept for Lazarus, for Martha and Mary, and he wept for us. He stood at the cavern of death and wept for all of us.

And then he said to Lazarus, “Come out.” 

Come on, Lazarus.

I believe he said this to Courtney.

Come on. Come on.

Someday Jesus will say it to me.

And someday he will say it to you.

And when he does death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.






video

Courtney and Aiden

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mr. Mohr, Chocolate, Sarge, and Ms. Inga


Ingeborg Hoffmann (Her mama made sure Inga always put the second “n” on her last name; she assured her that it made a difference) was born in Faurndau (Swabia) in 1938. Ingeborg, red-headed and strong-tempered, persistently and constantly asked a litany of questions much to her mother’s annoyance. The 1940’s version of time-out was to be sent to your room; Ms. Inga spent a lot of time in her room.

Even now when Ms. Inga talks to me, I hear her voice, riveted in places with remnants of her native German. I see this sepia photograph in my mind of this auburn-haired little girl stamping her feet before her brothers (she followed them everywhere), her hands on her hips, brown eyes flashing. Ms. Inga assures me that this redheaded trait got her into trouble more often than not. But this precocious child surely made an impression on an American soldier.

Thirteen year old Ms. Inga on left with her younger sister on right.
The little girl in the middle was an American child the sisters babysat.


Sarge

By Ingeborg LaBella


Early one morning my brother Hans woke me up. He wanted me to listen to the noise outside our house. What is it? I asked him.

He said, “Come and look out my window, and you will see.” As I looked out the window, on the street were the biggest trucks we had ever seen. The fumes they expelled were awful. Once they shut their motors off, the noise and fumes subsided.

Many of the soldiers sat on the sidewalk, but some of them laid on the sidewalk. My brother explained to me that they drove all night long to reach their destination.

“What is the destination?” I asked him.

“A town or city, just a place,” He answered.

I didn’t know why the soldiers were in our little town. I hurried back upstairs and got dressed. I tried to comb my curly hair the best way I could.

Some of my friends were there, and made fun of the black soldiers, but the men just ignored them. Out of the first truck came the biggest black man I had ever seen. Most of the children ran away to hide; we had never seen a black man before. All I could do was stare at him. He spoke, and I was very surprised. He spoke almost perfect German.

I had a picture book that I got from my Aunt Martha (my mother’s younger sister). I couldn’t read yet, but I looked at the pages of pictures of Africa. The title of the book was Der Schowarze Mohr (The Black Mohr). I thought Sarge looked like the men in the pictures.

Habekeine angst,” He told us don’t be afraid. He assured us that he and the soldiers would not harm us.

My brother Hans stepped forward and asked, “Are you the Americans? How come you speak German?”

Of course, I was in the front, and the Sarge asked me in German what my name was. I told him my name was Ingeborg. He picked me up and smiled at me. I noticed his big white teeth and his big lips.

“That is a beautiful name, but much too long for a such a little girl like you. I will call you Inga, that’s the right name for you. Do you like it? ”

I told him, “I don’t know, I will have to ask my mother.”

My mother came out of the house with a basket of clothes she just washed. She saw us, and, of course, she was curious about what was going on. He told her my new name was Inga. She wasn’t mad or anything, and she even shook Sarge’s hand.

My mother told us to go and play in the yard, and she and the soldier talked for a very long time. Later I learned she asked Sarge where he learned to speak German. He told my mother he had to learn German because he was a scout. He and the rest of his platoon were always the first soldiers to occupy the towns or cities. The soldiers were given instructions to talk to the children in the villages first. They considered this the best way to find out the local news. Children don’t lie; they are brutally honest. My mother was not sure if she could believe him or not. But she told us that we didn’t have to be afraid him. 

Later on the street Sarge pulled something out of his jacket pocket, and he explained that it was schokolade (chocolate).  He offered it to us. None of us had ever tasted it before, and we were hesitant and wary.

He looked at me and said, “You look like a brave girl, here put this little piece in your mouth and let it melt slowly.” Several of the kids shouted that it was poison, and they didn’t want anyone to die. But Sarge laughed and assured me that we would not die. He broke a piece off and let it melt in his mouth and told us how good it tasted. I stepped toward him and took the piece he offered me. It was just the best thing I ever ate. I whispered to him that this schokolade was good. He told us that he would still be here tomorrow. 

I said, “Gute Nacht, Herr Mohr.”

“The same to you, Redhead,” He replied.

I was awake most of the night. When I got up the next day, I had to eat oatmeal and half of an apple before I could go downstairs. Outside at last Sarge offered us another surprise: a few pieces of chewing gum. The others were still a little afraid to take it, but I went first. He told me I could chew on it as long as I wanted, then spit it out.

He said, “Don’t swallow it, Inga, it will get stuck in your throat.”

Sarge asked me if he could swing on my swing. I told him he was much too big for my swing.

“I will be careful, and if I break your swing, you will get a new one, but I will keep all the apples that fall from the tree.”

Well, the apples fell from the tree, and Sarge was lying on the ground holding a part of my swing in his big hand. I cried, and he laughed. I told him that he couldn’t call me Inga anymore. He teased me, “Can I call you Redhead?”

“Nein. What about my swing?” I asked.

“It will be there, don’t you worry. Just wait and see.”

He explained that he and the other soldiers had to move along and that he would see me tomorrow and say goodbye.

I cried myself to sleep that night. In the early morning hours, I heard the motors of the big trucks start. I hurried downstairs and outside; I wanted to say aufwiedersehn (goodbye).

I sat on the sidewalk for a long time until someone woke up in the truck. Several soldiers slept in the back. Sarge came out and told me they were getting ready to leave soon. I told him about my book and that I had decided his name was Mr. Mohr. He laughed and told me to call him Sarge. I asked Sarge if I would ever see him again.

“Maybe,” He said.

He pulled his wallet out and showed me a picture of his wife and two little girls. He told me that they lived far away in America, not in Africa. I was confused. He asked me if I would like to blow the horn on the truck, but he had to help me because my hands were too small and not strong enough.

Then he asked me if I wanted to take a look at the apple tree. I was so surprised! There on my apple tree was a new swing. The other soldiers helped Sarge make it.

Sarge told me it was now time for him to leave, and asked if he could give me a hug. I told him it was ok, but that I hoped I wouldn’t get black like him. He laughed. “I will miss you, Inga.” He hugged me and then got into his truck.

Aufwiedersehn,” he yelled and waved at me from the window. I shouted for him to come back again.

I don’t know if he could hear me anymore because of the noise of the trucks.  I waved goodbye.

Ms. Inga never saw Sarge again. But I have a few questions to ponder. When Sarge returned to America and to his family, I wonder if he sat his two little girls on his knee and told them about the brave little German girl. Was there a time he considered returning to the village to see the bold red-headed girl? Did he talk to his wife about the little girl’s innocence and forthrightness? About her candor and honesty? When Sarge unwrapped a chocolate bar or bit into an apple did he think about the little girl he nicknamed Inga?

One thing we know for sure, his nickname for her remains; we still call her Inga.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Helga, Sarge, and Ms. Inga (Guest Blogger)


 
In July, WestBow Press published my first book. Many people, including the publisher, likened this event to a birth. At first, I thought this comparison far too epic, but as each step in the process came to fruition, I embraced this metaphor. I fretted over every sentence, worried about mistakes and typos (and there are still many of them in the book). Growing Room survived the first publisher’s edit mostly intact. Honestly, I couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t quite focus. My disconnected thoughts bordered on elation and panic. This book I wrote might well be a failure—but WestBow published Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places.
Since Growing Room went live in July 2015, there’s been a video release, Facebook contests, text messages, and newspaper articles. I’ve heard from readers through Facebook messages, phone calls, and face to face conversations. My Church Body prayed over the book and me, and in September I experienced my first book signing. My own.

But God’s orchestration and plans are far above and beyond ours. In Growing Room, in the opening chapter I declare that God is ahead of us always. He. Is. Always. Ahead. Even now this unfolding causes me to catch my breath. 
In early August The Winchester Sun, our newspaper, ran a local interest article about Growing Room and me. The story made the front page and had the hometown-girl-makes-big feeling. I read it and tucked it away, not because it wasn’t important, but because I didn’t want it to be. Growing Room is not a best seller or great American classic writing, but all the words and the lessons recorded in it have shaped me. Through the experiences written in it God revealed to me his sweet, beautiful, and powerful grace. Quite often I stand in the throne room, with a little moxie and chutzpah, praying for this book to bear fruit that will last for his glory.

And when you ask the Father for bread on your plate he doesn’t give you stones.

One day after the newspaper article printed I was at work. It was a Thursday night, rainy and storming. I heard a patron ask my daughter an odd question: Did we have any resources available to help her convert her manuscript to a typed document? My daughter referred her to our reference department. A few minutes later one of our reference librarians came and asked me if I could come and talk to the patron at her desk. Jennifer explained that this patron would like to meet me because she read the newspaper article. Jennifer introduced me to Ms. Inga LaBella. And my life hasn’t been the same since.

Ms. Inga started at the beginning. A friend of Inga’s called and asked her if she had seen the newspaper from a few days ago.
“No, Will, I haven’t,” said Ms. Inga.

“Well, Inga, you need to find you one right now. Monday’s paper,” he encouraged.

Ms. Inga went to a neighbor’s house and found the Monday edition of the paper. Three days later she and I sat at the reference desk sharing stories. Mostly I listened to her, enthralled. She has a story to tell, many stories. When she read of my journey to share mine, she embraced the courage to find a means to tell hers.
Ms. Inga needs to write a book, and we are working to make that happen, but in the meantime I invited her to share some of her story here on The Chambered Nautilus as a guest blogger.

Ms. Inga’s stories are memories from Germany during WWII. In the early 1940’s Inga was a little girl with red curls and dark brown eyes and a strong will.
Ms. Inga today.
Ms. Inga in 1941-42


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
She lived in a small German village and remembers events and people that most of us only read about in books. Inga watched American soldiers drive tanks down streets far too small—the sidewalks widening the road. Inga watched her father nail a picture of Hitler on the wall of their small home. She witnessed the SS (Schutzstaffel) when they pushed through front doors and into their home, waiting for the Hoffmann family to salute the Fuhrer’s image. Inga heard the staccato barks of the soldiers commanding her mother to salute. The stern soldiers shouted, and their dogs intimidated Inga too, but her little four-year-old-self refused. The SS left her home, the German shepherd trailing slightly behind, licking Ms. Inga’s hand as it passed through the front door. 
These stories drew me. Ms. Inga, her accent, and her still red hair delighted me. I thanked God for her and this incredible opportunity. I meet with Ms. Inga almost every week now. On Thursdays, I drive to her house and sit at her kitchen table or on her deck and listen as she recounts experiences and people and events. Sometimes I take notes, abbreviated words and scrawled writing, so I don’t miss or leave out a detail. I laugh because Ms. Inga has a snap-sharp wit, impeccable timing, and the punch and point of her story come naturally.  I look forward to Thursdays. I think you would too.  

Ms. Inga has written her stories down in a cloth bound journal, printed in clear, distinct, and purposed handwriting. She gave me permission to post them here. This connection with Ms. Inga is fruit, the very fruit of my prayers. I praise and thank the Good Father; there are no stones on my plate.
 
Ms. Inga's handwritten journal.
 
This is Ms. Inga's story of Helga. 
 

Helga
My Best and First Friend
By Ingeborg LaBella

We both were the same age, born in the same month (July). We always pretended we were sisters. She had blonde hair and the bluest eyes—the color of the flower (forget-me-not). They grew wild in the fields, and as we got older, we picked them for our mothers.
We would sit on my swing for hours, made up stories and even a few songs, and then we would dance like butterflies. On rainy days we played—one day in my house, one day in her house—usually we played school. We took turns on who was the Teacher. We knew the alphabet real well, and we could count to one hundred. Our ragdolls and one Teddy Bear were our students, bur after a while we got tired. We looked outside my window and tried to count the raindrops, after a while we laid on my bed and took a long-long nap. For Sundays, we picked daisies and made a wreath to put on our heads.

We were not allowed to talk in church. I was fascinated by the Virgin Mary, and so was Helga. At the end of church when the minister and all the people left the church we hurried to the Virgin Mary and laid our wreaths at her feet. One Sunday the minister said, “Mary said, ‘thank you’ to the two little girls who put the wreaths by her feet.
Helga whispered maybe we can’t ever go to Church again, but he smiled at us and said, “The angels are smiling at the two of you.” We both hugged, and I told Helga that we will be sisters forever.

The cherries were almost ready to be picked off the trees. Helga and I thought that maybe we can reach one or two if we can pull on the branch. We finally got one. I told Helga this one was hers. Suddenly I heard her scream. I saw some blood run down her chin, and she spit her bottom tooth out. Suddenly she stopped crying and reminded me that I did not eat my cherry yet. I ate it very careful and did not lose a tooth.
“That’s not fair,” she said and went home. Every evening I laid on my bed twisting on one of my bottom teeth. It took almost two weeks before the tooth finally fell out.

My mother said, “How come you are so happy because you lost your tooth.” I told her that Helga lost hers, and I felt bad for her, and now she will be happy again.
My mother asked, “If she breaks her arm or leg, will you break yours too?”

I said, “Of course not, but I will take care of her until she is better again.” My mother gave me a big hug and said, “You would be a good nurse just like your Aunt Martha.”

I never knew Helga’s last name, and I wonder if she she knew mine. We didn’t care, and we didn’t know our last names meant life or death for all of us. One day a young boy carried a black bucket and broom between two German soldiers, and he had to paint a cross on some doors. They painted one on Helga’s door, and we didn’t know why. We thought maybe we could wash it off when they left our street. We tried, but it didn’t work. Helga wondered why they didn’t paint a cross on our door. I decided to ask my mother what the black marks meant, but she didn’t know either. She told us not to worry, but I could tell she was upset. She told me it wasn’t the time to ask her questions (I asked lots of questions). My mother told me I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play for a while, and that I must listen. My feelings were hurt, and I sat on my bed and cried and cried. Finally, my brother Hans came home, and I told him the whole story.
He said something bad was going to happen; he didn’t know when, but it would be soon. I wasn’t for sure, but I think he mentioned the Jews. I wished I knew about the Jews; I didn’t know who they were. Were they dangerous?

During our Thursday mornings together Ms. Inga and I talked about Helga. These two girls were inseparable. One morning after the event mentioned above Helga came to Inga’s house early, and they snuck outside to play. Inga and Helga heard that the SS had gathered people in the town square. Sometimes little girls do not do what their mothers tell them, and Helga and Inga slipped away from the yard. Their curiosity drew them to the town square where they saw many of their neighbors and friends lined against the wall of the building, and the SS shouting. The little girls hid lifting their eyes enough to see what was happening. Shots were fired, and the little girls ran back to Inga’s house.
The next day Helga did not come to play, and Inga’s mother did not allow her to go outside. Helga did not come the next day. Or the next. Or the next. Heartbroken, Inga kept asking why. She never saw her friend again. Later Inga learned Helga’s family was Jewish. Inga could only assume that Helga and her family did not escape the war.

Next post tells the story of Ms. Inga's friend Sarge, a black American soldier who visited her village.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dancing Lessons


Our Wedding Day Dance
Years ago for Christmas my daughters gave my husband and me dancing lessons. Four lessons at a professional dance studio. Four appointments with a private dance instructor to learn to the rumba, the waltz, and the cha-cha. We were a little stunned, but we decided to give it a whirl. What could we lose? Maybe it would be fun; certainly, the participation in the classes held a romantic aura. 
Each week we donned fancy clothes and went on our dancing date. Newly engaged we were in the midst of the I’m-learning-even-more-about-you-stage. Steve walked over to my house and out to his car, opened the car door for me (he still does, always). I scooted into the car with weak knees and butterflies. What was the root of these flutterings? Nervousness about dancing? Or because of the striking handsomeness of the man of mine? These dance dates proved to be awkward and challenging. Our self-consciousness raised to new levels. Certainly there was something incredibly romantic about those nights in that studio. Being held in his arms and looking up into his face seemed to be movie material—but we discovered (or admitted) that we both had two left feet.

When envisioning the lessons, I saw us gliding gracefully across the floor. Every movement choreographed together, synched. As close as we were and are I thought we would anticipate each other’s movements. I thought I would be able to follow his lead. What a picture we would make, I dreamed. 

This dream was far from the reality of the situation. We were awkward and disconnected. Stiff and tight. The rhythm of the dances didn’t come naturally to us. We were too busy counting and trying to remember the next set of steps. I’m not sure who was more uncomfortable? Steve or me? Our instructors were patient, tolerant. But their eyes spoke volumes: This couple is hopeless.  We knew it too, but at the end of our gift package, we decided to sign up for four more lessons, not because we thought we could dance. Not because we were determined to be great dancers. No. We signed up because we were learning something hard together—a built-in weekly date that forced us beyond our comfort zones and into trusting each other.
The waltz came the easiest, though far from elegant. We didn’t know how to guide our feet on the floor or how to keep our eyes pivoted away from our feet. We had no innate rhythm. The instructors kept encouraging us to raise our chins and look at each other. And for a few moments when we followed these instructions we danced. Briefly.

I’m sure the instructors felt a bit awkward themselves. Steve and I couldn’t dance, but we were in love. Written all over us was this “I’m crazy about him stare, and this I can’t look at her enough gleam.” And we did not bother to hide it.  If anything we reveled in it, and the instructors had front row seats. Thankfully, they often turned their heads and allowed us our private moments.
At the end of the second set of sessions, we discussed the option of investing in more lessons. We laughed and decided to invest our money elsewhere. We opted out of the sales pitch, and the somewhat insincere “but you are doing so well”. We knew better.

This week I thought about the value of those lessons. Those eight lessons solidified something in us that had nothing to do with dancing.
These lessons taught us to ask questions and evaluate. How would we interact and respond and react to the difficult and uncomfortable places in life?  What choices would we make when we just couldn’t get it right? How would we handle the reality that there would be situations when we both would have two left feet? What would we do when we couldn’t find the why or the how? What would we do when we stepped on each other’s toes or missed steps or moved in the wrong direction? These lessons helped set a precedent for what would we do, as a couple, with the challenges in life.

We still dance. At the weddings and chaperoning school dances and in our kitchen. We still have two left feet. We don’t remember any of the steps of choreography. But what we learned and still know is how to keep looking at each other. To lift our eyes away from our feet and look at each other, through love rather than perfection and expectation. In those dance classes, we learned that even with two left feet we danced well with each other. We met and meet challenges together. My hand in his, his hand on the small of my back, leading me even when I am moving backward. 
After we had married, long after the lessons were over, we were in Wal-mart. In the middle of the household department, Steve caught me up in his arms and pulled me close. We danced—swaying and laughing and gazing at each other. We didn’t care about steps or choreography or who was watching. We danced in and because of joy. Silly wonderful delight.

More often than not we dance through life with two left feet—a weakness and limitation that makes the tricky combinations quite difficult. But our Father knows our frames. He knows about our two left feet, our lack of rhythm, and our awkward lilt. But when we dance in spite of being uncomfortable and self-conscious, he is delighted. Laughs right with us.
Friends, dance. Lay down the self-conscious censoring. Put aside the unreasonable expectations. Give over the hobbling limitations. Seriously. Just put your hand in the Father’s, look into his face and dance. 

 


Monday, September 21, 2015

Ripples


Mark 1:9

In the streets or the synagogue of Nazareth, the news of John’s message of repentance reached the ears of Jesus. The emergence of this voice in the wilderness was Jesus’ trumpet call—the shofar of the Lord—to enter the last season of his ministry and time among us. Yes, the last of his ministry.

Surely the gospel years were not Jesus’ only ministry. He ministered before. The three years recorded in the gospels were the fruition of the previous thirty years. Scripture tells us Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. In those years all the wonderful things we see in Jesus developed. The patience. The wisdom. The understanding. The discernment. The compassion. The insight. When he stepped into public ministry, by the avenue of association and baptism, then came the power and authority. Jesus allowed his Father to do his work in him.

But when Jesus got wind of John's voice he packed up his belongings (what little he had) and kissed his mama goodbye. We don’t know if Jesus traveled alone, or how far he traveled, or if he sent a message to his cousin that he was on his way. Regardless he left Nazareth. He left Galilee. Jesus leaves home, the place he grew into a man.

He left his places of routine, comfort, and familiarity.

Jesus came to John. He walked into the river water. John looked up and recognized Mary’s son. John knew the stories: this cousin caused him to leap in his mama’s womb. Once again John's spirit leaped. He knew this man, and he argued with him.

“Baptized me, John,” Jesus spoke with John’s gaze riveted to his.

“No, Jesus. It is you who should baptize me.” John confessed and dropped his head.

“John.” John looks up into the face of Jesus.

“Baptize me so that all righteousness is fulfilled,” Jesus explained.

John laid his cousin back, buried him in the dark waters of the river. Eddies swirled around and over them both. Jesus came up from that watery grave, his hair streaming, his beard pouring, his tunic plastered to his chest, and his eyes on fire.

John staggered backward in the wake, and just as he regained his balance he saw the anointing rest on Jesus, remaining. He felt Jesus’ squeeze on his shoulder and watched him as he walked back up the bank of the river. And the wind blew, whipped Jesus’ hair and billowed the sleeves of his tunic. John saw the water trail behind Jesus, dripping ripples in the water and John watched until the widening circles touched him. 

And these ripples, of Jesus fulfilling righteousness, have touched us.

If you are reading this post the ripple has reached you, the very ripple caused by Jesus.

Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15 declares to us that Jesus is the exact representation of God. He came to show us who God is. Jesus came that we would have a better understanding, a clearer vision of the Father.

God called us to the same ministry as his Son—a ministry of representation and reconciliation. We are called to help fulfill all righteousness. In Mark 1:8 John tells us John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Spirit.

The Spirit descends on us, lights on us, and indwells us just as He did Jesus. We can argue like John, protest and hesitate, or we can be baptized (immersed in the Spirit) and enter the rippling ministry of the Good News.

But.

We must be ready to leave home; we must be willing to leave our places of routine, comfort, and familiarity. We must decide to go down into the river. It is there we will be immersed and anointed by the Spirit. Only then we will be prepared and equipped to carry the good news up the bank, into the wilderness, and beyond.


Monday, September 14, 2015

We All Need I.P.A.


Mark 1: 9-11

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus came to be baptized by John. In approximately sixty words (NIV) something utterly new unfolds. As Jesus lifted up out of the water, Heaven tore open (Jesus' presence tears many things) and fresh revelation descended.

What did the voice of the Father say to his Son at that moment? 

1.    You are my Son. Identity. God the Father declared Jesus as the Son. His Son. Here’s who you are, Jesus.

2.    Whom I love. Position. God the Father proclaimed his love for his Son. This love gave Jesus a position that no one could take from him. It marked him with favor, with the relationship, and with a place. 

3.    With you I am well pleased. Affirmation. God the Father affirmed his satisfaction with Jesus. With pleasure, he affirmed Jesus.

Why are these three points important to us?

How are they relevant to us? We are not Jesus. No, we are not, but the same things offered to Jesus are available to us. If we accept these points, if we receive them, and if we embrace them, our lives will be radically different.

In the past two weeks, our grandsons have all had birthdays. We bought presents, had parties, and celebrated them. This third birthday is the first time Elijah and Judah were quite aware that it was their birthday.



Elijah sporting the blue icing on his fish birthday cake!
Tatem's 5th birthday. His geode cake!


Judah and his Aunt Wivvy monkey cake. Photo credit to Ashley Wellman.


When I pray for these little boys, I pray several Scriptures over them. This passage of Mark is one I added recently. I want these little boys to know three things as they grow and develop and become. And for them, or any of us, to know we must have the same three things God the Father gave to Jesus.

Identity.

The boys are learning the connections of family relationships: who is aunt, cousin, uncle, grandfather, and grandmother. Quite often I tell these little boys they are my grandsons. To know this connection helps them to understand their identity. I am their grandmother (I am not the only one who tells them; their grandfathers and parents tell them too). As they learn their familial connections they develop their identity.

We are God’s children. Scripture tells us this repeatedly. We are the adopted children of God. Grafted into his family. We assumed his name. He is our Father. These truths should afford us our identity, not success, wealth, abilities, skills, appearances, or connections.

Position.

I tell the boys ALL the time I love them. I whisper in their ears I love you. I love you. I love you. All  of them. (Atlas just grins.) Right in their ears, as close as I can get. I do this every time we are together. I do this at random times. Their behavior, their performance, or their abilities do not determine the frequency or the intensity of this practice of mine. I declare my love for them because they are mine. My prayer is that my love coupled with their parents, other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins will give them a sure position. When people know they are truly loved, not tolerated or indulged, but unconditionally loved their position in this life seems to be more stable and solid. The foundation is laid deep.

We are loved by God. Before the foundations of the world were in place, and even while we were far from him, he loved us. Because of this love he sent his Son to whisper this news in our ears over and over and over.  Scripture assures us that this is our position and  NOTHING can separate us from this love.

Affirmation.

The other phrase my grandsons (and my daughters) often hear from me is that I am proud of them. Incredibly proud. In their accomplishments, developments, successes, and endeavors. But even more I am proud of who they are. I am well pleased with the growth of their character, with the sweetness of their spirits.

During this birthday time, all attention centered on these three little boys. That much attention is hard for even a grown-up to handle. But these boys swelled my Noni-heart. At Elijah’s birthday, he did not pass his birthday cards by uninterested. At three years old he opened them and looked at them and listened to his mama or daddy read them. He expressed the same gratitude for the cards as for the gifts. A close friend of the family commented on Elijah’s thoughtfulness. I beamed. His mama cried.

At Judah’s party, Elijah wanted to blow out the candle too (what child doesn’t want to blow out the candle?). Judah shared his candle and his seat with Elijah, and they took turns blowing out the candle. Judah had several helpers when he opened his gifts; there were no declarations of this is mine, nothing of the these are mine attitude.

I am well pleased with my grandsons, but what if they looked at me each time I said this, and they gave me excuses for why I shouldn’t be proud? What if each time I expressed my pleasure in them they attempted to negate this truth with negative things about themselves? I know the negative, I am not a blind grandmother. I have seen my grandsons not share. I have seen them angry because they did not get their way. I have seen them fight over a toy. But these times do not negate my pleasure in them.

God is pleased with us. And this point is the hardest to accept. This truth is hard to swallow down past the buts and exceptions. We do not believe God can be pleased with us. We know our secret sins, the condition of our hearts, and the state of our spirits. How can God be pleased with us? We don’t pray enough. Study enough. Read the Word enough. We are angry and resentful. We are jealous and envious. We are lustful and vengeful. We are ______________________. How can God be pleased with us?  THIS IS HOW:  God is pleased with us because of his Son. Grace affords us this place. Grace. When we shun God's affirmation of us, we deny grace.

Father, I thank you for your word—the relevancy of it for us today. It is not a worn-out, archaic book that no longer applies to the modern age. No, Father, your truth is timeless. You know people. You know us. You know what we need. And Father, we need to know who we are. We need to know we are loved. And we need to know that someone is proud of us, that someone is pleased with us. Father, these are essential needs. Your word tells us that you know what we need before we even ask. Father, I pray you would pour out these gifts, supply these needs for these sweet people today. Father, tell them who they are. Remind them they are loved. Assure them you are proud of them. And wherever there is a lack or unbelief, I pray for you to help. In the name of Jesus. Amen


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Growing Room Book Signing Event!

 
In July WestBow Press released my first book Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places. There have been several milestones since that day. This is one I am looking forward to with great eagerness. Why? Because I get to meet you!
 
Would love to have you join me! Food, fellowship, and fun! There will be giveaways, books for sale, and other surprises.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Just Like John


Mark 1:1-8

So this John came, this unexpected, radical, and fiery man appeared in the wild—burst into the middle of the scene. His voice boomed before the stage lights even flickered. A raw and forthright man who didn’t curry favor or kowtow to anyone. John declared the kingdom of God was on its way. Make preparations. Be ready.
Long ago when a royal entourage approached a city or village, a group traveled ahead to remove the obstacles and barriers. Their job? To open and smooth the road for the king’s arrival. 
Remember our central theme as we move through Mark? Watch Jesus?

Through the walls of their mothers' wombs, John watched Jesus. John was the messenger even in utero; he leaped in excitement and announced the coming arrival of God’s final revelation. God sent John as a forerunner, a harbinger, and a new voice in a culture and to a people who hadn’t heard a “word from the Lord” in over four hundred years. God sent John to prepare the way, to make straight the paths for the Word (Logos) to come. John did the good work God prepared in advance for him to do.
Friends, John understood who he was and who he was not.

He elevated Jesus and proclaimed him above all. John states that he wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' sandals—a slave’s job. John didn’t employ a self-demeaning or self-deprecating or falsely humble attitude. He stated the truth. John told them and us: What I do is temporary and partial, but this One who comes after me will do something eternal and complete in you. I will start something, this preparatory repentance, but he will finish it; the Holy Spirit does the lasting work.
John understood his role, his purpose in the strategy of the kingdom, and he proclaimed the message given to him and it wasn't a pleading or begging message. Repent. Turn. Forgiveness is on its way.

Like John, we need to understand our role, our purpose in the kingdom.
What is our message today? 
Ask the hard questions. Have we made this message about us or him? Are we preparing the way for him or ourselves? Are we removing obstacles so people can find him or are we rolling hurdles onto the highway? Are we telling people with certainty who we are not and who he most certainly is? Are we proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor? Are we telling people about the deep rest of God? About the sweet grace that covers shame? About the blood of Christ that absorbs sin?
If we have been called by God, then each of us should proclaim the imminence of the kingdom and the eminence of Jesus. 

Just like John.



Friday, September 4, 2015

The Good News of Rest


Welcome!
I’m so glad you are here. I wish we were all together in one place so that I could see your faces. Maybe, someday.
(If you are here to engage in scholarly, academic Bible study this is not the right place. I am not a Bible scholar. I love the Word of God, but my perusal and interpretation of it is far from academic. These thoughts are not meant to be not a systematic theological treatise on the Gospel of Mark. But let’s see what the Holy Spirit unfolds for us over the next few weeks.)  

The Good News begins here—not because Mark says so, but because God announced that the good news would come long before He arrived. God proclaimed the reality through Isaiah and Malachi (and too many other places to account for here). Our God is always ahead, always far out in front. He announces the arrival of his plan, foretells and foreshadows. He speaks it long before the bud of fruition even appears. God counts the tomatoes on the vine before the blooms even open. He orchestrates everything so that the circumstances ripen into the fullness of time. He lines up the courses of human history so that ALL things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
What then is this good news? Oh, surely Friends, we need some. With unceasing and increasing graphicness the news and social media networks display frightening images and report horrific stories. 

On a daily, perhaps hourly, basis we struggle to make sense of it all. And if that wasn’t enough, personally we battle simply to survive, to stay afloat, to stay one paycheck ahead, to … you fill in the blank.

All the while we are dying. Our spirits are devoured and emaciated—rail thin. There’s no meat on our spiritual bones.
Mark knew. And from the beginning he proclaims that the good news of Jesus Christ is coming. Salvation and redemption are on the way.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus issues an open, inclusive, and RSVP invitation: Come to me all you who are weary and burdened.

We are all wearied, worn-out from the monotonous work, from the cultural demands, from dysfunctional family relationships, and undoable religious expectations. We all carry some burden—a weight pushing hard between our shoulder blades or sitting on our chests like the proverbial elephant.

Jesus declares the good news. Speaks it plainly and offers it to everyone.

I will give you rest.

Oh, to rest! Don’t we all want rest? Not just sleep, though to sleep in or longer would be bliss. Not just a vacation as lovely as that sounds. And not just a change in the intensity of our schedules even though that's worth a shout of amen. No, the good news is this: Jesus came to offer an invitation into rest. He came to give, not sell, trade, barter, or borrow. He came to give rest, and his rest leads to a decrease and cessation of religious striving, turmoil, pain, isolation, and conflict. 

What is this good news of Jesus that Mark proclaims in the very first sentence? Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to be the Savior for a world gone awry. He came to unshackle the chains and fetters of sin and to turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. He came to make us holy and to make us in the image of his Father.

In the course of Mark, we are going to watch Jesus offer rest in diverse situations. To madmen and lepers and fevered women. To tax collectors and paraplegics.  In every case Jesus knew the kind of rest each person needed. In the people he touched, we see us. In them, we see our own issues, fears, and circumstances.

He is offering the same rest to us.
 
And this is good news!

Father God, we thank you for being far ahead of us. Thank you for plans made not on the spur of the moment, but back at the foundations of the world. We praise you. We need the rest your Son offers. We need our conflicts resolved. We need our turmoil settled. Oh, Father, we so want for the I-do-what-I-don’t-want-to-do pattern to cease. And we long for this religious striving to dissipate. Only in you can we find this rest. Only in you do we enter into this Good News. Father, we accept your invitation. Show us how to come to you. Enable us to come to you in our weariness and lay our burdens into your care so we will find rest for our souls. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Write What You Know ( A New Series)


This past week I started teaching again. Sixteen students enrolled in Genesis Academy’s Oral and Written Expressions course, a class designed to improve writing and speaking skills. Next week, my lesson plans inform me that the topic of the day is What Do I Write About? (Of course, I might begin by telling them that traditionally we don’t end a sentence with a preposition, but that might be a bit much for the first full-blown writing class).
This question seems to be the age-old (insert whiney here, and pretend I didn’t say it) excuse for not writing. Even those of us who blog, journal, write on napkins in restaurants, and have words pressed between two covers of a book whine and complain sometimes. Since the internet launch of my book my writing and word well went dry. The bucket descended, but it came up empty. Only a dark ring moistened the bottom rim where it plunked down in the well.  I realized it was time to remind myself of something I always tell my students: write what you know. I am not sure where I first heard this adage, but this sage advice is often attributed to the salty Mr. Mark Twain.
For weeks this question (I thought I was so far beyond it, not) poked at me. What do I write about now? After exhausting all I have written in the last seven years, how in the world do I begin again? Where, oh where do I start? For weeks, my blog hung in the blogging world—empty and void of anything new.
Sick with aches and pains and fever, I stayed home on the couch today listening to podcasts and reading. I gravitated to Mark—the immediate Gospel. This time I read the account in The Message, which lends a different feel and tone to a familiar text. This familiarity reminded me of what I try to encourage my students to embrace.

Write what you know.

In August of2007 I wrote the following:

All my Christian life I have been taught to read the Scriptures and watch what the other person is doing in an encounter with Jesus. I was encouraged to watch the person and either behave like them or don't behave like them. I should observe and note what they did in a situation with Jesus and either emulate them or dismiss them. Seems simple, right?  If I am supposed to look like Jesus...act like Jesus...be like Jesus why in the world am I watching everyone else? Why am I going to Scripture and noticing and studying others before I look at Jesus? When I started reading the gospels repeatedly, I discovered something. Watching Jesus changes your perspective. Watching others causes you to attempt to change your behavior and your actions. When you watch Jesus, your attitude and the condition of your heart is revealed. Jesus calls you to change inwardly first, and the outward behavior will be the fruit of that change. You cannot truly watch him and remain unmoved.

I am returning to what I know, returning to the familiarity and immediacy of Mark’s account of the good news of Jesus. I am returning to watch him, and I would love for you to join me.  I invite you just to sit down with me (I’ll try to keep the posts short) and with the first installment of the series posting this Friday, September 4. We will watch Jesus together. Invite others to join us. Jesus enjoys the supper table full—the more the merrier. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Growing Room Grace







I have had so many posts half written in my head. Snatches and pieces of stories and happenings in the last month. But my mind will not completely wrap around all that is coming to fruition. And in the midst of such abundant joy, my heart still aches and breaks for the pain and hurt and brokenness manifesting among God's people. The joy of the release of my first book Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places is skimming across the surface of everything right now. Many events are planned and being prepared, but underneath, below the surface prayer is humming for the Body of Christ, for the bruised Bride.

Last night Steve, Abby, and I opened the boxes of books together.  Steve laid them all out on the table--the partial, visible fruit of seven years. It was surreal. 70,000 plus words times over an hundred books. We celebrated. We took pictures. We laughed. Then we decided to put the books all back in the boxes for safe keeping. And my husband said, "Let's pray over these before we send them out..."

During that prayer time I breathed in his grace. He filled the lungs of me all the way down. His grace. His sweet grace is given in every and all circumstances. His grace sustained me in the tight places, and now it is here in the spacious places. But for me, any place without him present is a tight place.

We prayed. Gratitude and faith and awe laced and wove our prayers. Gratitude for the provision of God, for the protection of God, for the Presence of God was uttered. And we prayed for you. For all of you who have read The Chambered Nautilus, my Facebook, and my Twitter over the years. We asked for God's blessing and favor to go forward with each of these books, those on the coffee table and those unseen and bought from other places, to each reader. We prayed for fruit that would glorify him, lift HIM to the place he belongs and deserves. Over and over we prayed for you. You. And I cried for you. All of you. I want so much for you to know the grace of God. To experience his sweet provision of growing room and the expansion of tight places.

And then all I could breathe out was praise. Worship. This bowing of the little that I am before the greatness that He is. Not because of the books on my coffee table. Not because of a dream come true. Not because of words. Not because of favorable circumstances. No, I breathed out praise because of the faithfulness of my God. He is faithful in all circumstances. Sometimes it is obscured, hidden by the pain and torment of the season. Often times it is veiled by preconceived ideas and theology. And more often than not God's faithfulness seems to be hidden in the tangled messes of our lives. But he will make growing room for you so that you might see. So that you will know.

He will reveal his faithfulness. I have prayed for you to see it.



Watch the book trailer, created by Nolan McCarty, my son-in-law, as a beautiful gift to me.



Thursday, August 6, 2015

Obey and Release


In January 2014, I didn’t choose a word. (My word to stay with, abide by, listen to, and experience during the year). By March, I was still wordless. But then, God chose a word for me. And I wasn’t excited about this word at all. The adage, be sure you don’t pray for patience? Well, I know not to pray for this word either. To be patient, we must be in situations and with people who require this of us. My word for 2014-15?

Obey.

I knew what was coming. I could see it all turning around the bend—these places and spaces that would require obedience, perhaps even blind obedience. I cringed. I tried to choose my own word then. Something light and doable. Something encouraging. But no. Obedience was the word. All through the spring and the summer the Spirit led me into and through deserts and wildernesses and rivers, but they seemed fairly mild. Doable.

In October, I was asked to lead a weekend women’s retreat. The door opened. Obedience required me to walk through it despite my misgivings and feelings of inadequacy. These women are Hebrews 11 kind of women. Despite these feelings, I knew I needed and wanted to obey.

My friend and I drove out winding roads on a day when the October air was crisp, and the trees were bright with their autumn foliage. The cabin, tucked away in the hills, was roomy and quaint, the fireplace large and the dining room table even larger.

Everyone brought food to share. Oh, the food. Homemade caramel corn that melted on your tongue and left you forever reaching for more. Homemade bread, thick and crusty. Baked cheese dips and homemade mushroom soup (that made the canned ones seem like paste). I tried them all. Savoring. Enjoying.

God always invites us to a feast. My friend, Vivien, talks and teaches about the tables of God, and the feast offered at each. That weekend I sat down at the table and ate to my soul’s delight, but the Father never feeds just our souls—he feeds our spirits. Nourishes the kernel of us. The center core of us. God feeds the marrow of our bones.

We saw him that weekend, heard him in the conversations and the words shared. He touched us through others, opened us to receive the warmth and strength of his hand. And as the women encouraged and prayed and interceded for each other, we caught the scent of the fragrance of him, his Spirit moving among us. During the weekend I know I tasted of him. I chewed his Word up and swallowed down. And my throat was dry, and the Word built up in it. At times, I had to swallow hard, had to reach for a drink of water. But I chewed, and the sweetness of his Word broke open in me, and in the breaking he nourished all the thin and malnourished places in me.  Often we go too long without sitting down at his table.

Rarely, does God feed on the go. He doesn't hand out bags of fast food, pressed patties of processed meat product,  through a window as we drive by in a hurry. No, God sets the table. Prepares it. He sets down his richest of food for us. Then he issues an invitation. It’s a standing invitation. Offered and sent to us every day.

Recently my friend, Denise, and I prayed together about this invitation one morning. In August, her Community Bible Study will study the gospel of Matthew. Again and again in Matthew, Jesus offers invitations because his Father is the epitome of hospitality. God sets the table for us. Prepares the food for us, and never tells us that it is potluck or to bring your chair or your own drink.

We sat at the table of that retreat, and I broke the bread of his word to them, but only because he had broken it in me first. That group of women blessed me. They poured out words of affirmation and encouragement. Their iron words, words pressed against the blade of me, sharpened my dull places. I witnessed a woman prostrate before the Lord interceding—unashamed and poured out like a drink offering on the floor. I longed to stretch out beside her. Before him.

I left that retreat emptied, but blessed. Fed, but hungrier. Nourished, but craving more. I left with a restlessness I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Not discontent. Not dissatisfaction, but a sense that I needed to move forward. Take a step out into the unknown, down a path never traversed or navigated by me. The women blessed me with a generous monetary gift. And I sat at the table and prayed about the use of the gift and my restlessness.

“Lord, this is from your hand. Given by your daughters. I don’t want to squander or waste it. I don’t want to penny it away, with nothing to show for the spending. And what is this restlessness? What is this stirring inside of me?"

Days later, on a Friday, I sat at my computer desk writing and browsing the internet. An ad for a publisher popped up—a gorgeous ad with a stone castle and an archer poised and ready. Do you want to publish your book the tagline asked? Inwardly I’m nodded. Contact us. Instinctively I clicked on the contact tab. I filled out the application. My heart beat wildly, and my palms sweated. Here was my risk. This question this publisher posed eased the itching restlessness of my soul. I sent the information, and it disappeared, gone somewhere. I didn’t think it would ever return to me. That day I cast my bread on the waters, but I didn’t understand how quickly it would return to me.

Monday afternoon found me at my desk again. My phone rang. An unknown number. An area code I did not recognize. I answered.

Hello?

Hello, Tamera, this is Christine from WestBow Press.

I almost laughed out loud, but I thought that might be rude. I looked around to see if there were any hidden cameras, anything recording my gullibility. I felt my hope rise, swallowing up all the restlessness. All the itching faded, replaced by this tingling anticipation.

Forty minutes later I hit end call. I sat in my chair. Still. Unmoving. But the inward parts of me were alive and wild and eager. The thirty-four-year-old dream surfaced, and this time I didn’t swallow or punch it down.

After that, it was series of phone calls and contracts and instructions. Twice in the process I started to lay the project down. The enormity of the task and details overwhelmed me. Like my sweet brother, Peter, I risked and stepped out of the waves, but the tumultuous water was getting the best of me. All my old fears were clawing and climbing in the belly of me. God knew it. He was not surprised, but he had issued me an invitation to the table he had prepared for me.

In November, my first hesitation surfaced. I contemplated putting this project aside (to wait for a better day); I went to hear my friend Denise teach at CBS; it was also her birthday, and I wanted to surprise her. I sat at the table as she broke God’s word open for us. I soaked in the words of Zechariah. I chewed on them, and they broke open in me. And I prayed about the manuscript, my dream, and the fruition of it.

And then I heard my friend say, “God wants obedience, not sacrifice.”

I sat there at the table with the Lord. He had my attention.

Tamera, I am asking you to obey. There is no real option other than to follow and do what I have asked you to do. You are not to be concerned about the outcome. The outcome is not up to you. The outcome is up to me.

The waves ceased. The winds died down. And there I sat in at the table in the wilderness, God’s invitation offered to me, to join him at his table. All I had to do was obey. The provision would come from his hand. Obey. Just simply obey. Put one syllable, one word, in front of the other and release them all to him. Every single one of them. Even the typos and missed commas.

Obey and release.

God set me up. Set the table for me, even in the presence of my enemies: self-doubt and fear. And he sent me an invitation.

Take a risk.

Come join me at the table—out in the midst of the places and spaces you don’t know. Give me all your words. Release them into my hands. Let me turn them into food for others.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Like Little Children


The house was full, all our daughters (all eight, Steve’s four and my four) and most of their husbands and boyfriends arrived. Our home is too small to accommodate everyone in one room comfortably, so they spilled outside to the yard and the front porch.

Steve filled our fire pit with dry grayed wood and started the fire for s’mores; we waited for the fire to burn down to slow embers—marshmallow roasting coals. The fireflies blinked yellow blurs of light all over the yard. The vocal cicadas filled the evening with their loud voices. And my grandsons wanted me to play.

“Run, Noni, Run!” Elijah and Judah cried. Their grins wide, eyes alight, and expectancy beamed in their faces. And of course, I ran. Barefoot I circled and zig-zagged, and these little boys chased me. Their bursts of laughter only fed my energy, nourished the grandmother soul of me. Even while running I felt the joy bubble up in me.

Elijah plopped down in the grass. I asked him if he was tired, and he explained that he just needed to rest a minute. Just for a minute he clarified. I joined him, and Judah joined us. The rest didn’t last long. Little boy batteries recharge must faster than older women batteries! We were up again running through the rain grown grass. Certainly running is not an everyday event for me, but it is a freeing thing to run uninhibited and unfiltered by pretension and protocol. Finally, this almost fifty-year-old Noni had to stop. Pulling air deep into my lungs, I forced it to go all the way down.

But little boy voices shouted, “Run, Noni. Do it again.” I told the boys Noni was out of breath.

And then…

Usually and thens come to us unplanned, unpracticed, and unexpected.

Elijah came to me, tapped me on the leg, looked up at me, and said, “Noni, are you out of breath?”

“I am Elijah. Wait just a second and let me get my breath, and then I’ll run with you again.”

I wish I had the ability to stop time, to hit rewind and reverse and replay. If I did, I would watch this moment over and over again.

Elijah pressed his little hand against his mouth and then lifted that hand to me.

“Here, Noni. You can have my breath.”

He peered up at me in such serious earnestness, so generous.

Elijah offered me his breath. This little almost-three-year-old boy saw my need and put his breath in his hand and offered it up to me. I took it, took this sweet offering from his little, upturned hand. This gesture prompted Judah to offer the same.

I stood in my backyard on a warm July night, fireflies glowing, fire beginning, frogs croaking, voices blurring, and I truly lost my breath—lost it right out of my lungs. No one prompted these words or this gesture from Elijah. No one told him to do this. I watched his mother's eyes puddle, stunned and proud. His aunt's heart swelled.

Elijah wanted to help Noni, so he offered what he had. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus tells us to be like little children. Friends, if we are going to inherit the kingdom of God, we must change and become like little children.

Elijah offered his breath to me out of love and concern and the eagerness to continue to play. The sweet concern on his face caused me to be undone, to melt. Elijah’s offer prompted Judah’s offer and isn’t that the way of the kingdom of God works? Or should? Didn’t Jesus call us to offer each other our breaths when we run short? Aren’t we to share from the reserve he has provided us and offer it to others?

I stood looking into my grandson’s eyes, and his offering filled me. The pureness of it inflated my lungs and renewed my energy. I inhaled, and the new breath filled my lungs to capacity. At that moment I honestly believe I could have run a marathon. I sprinted forward and looked over my shoulder. The boys followed. I ran just ahead of them; my vision blurred by tears and my ears filled with their exploding laughter.

Two thousand years ago God knew we were running too hard, too fast, and too long. He knew we were going to be out of breath. Through Jesus he came and gave us his breath—took it right from his mouth and gave it to us, that we might inhale and live.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Thirty-four Year Old Dream


Stories. I love narrative stories, and I have told them since I was a little girl. I never could just tell a simple story. Many of you are thinking, “She still can’t.”

When I was fifteen, I started writing freelance for our once-a-week county newspaper. My mother saved all of those articles. Each one clipped from the newspaper and folded to fit a scrapbook she kept for me (I didn’t know she did this until a few years ago). The spiral bound book is worn—tattered on the edges and pages askew. Full of memorabilia the book bulges in the middle. The faded newspapers are brown and brittle now, the creases white and fragile. I read the titles and memories flare and briefly rise. I recall the first time I saw my name printed in the by-line, surreal. I was elated.

Two of my last newspaper articles. "Run, Kate, Run" was my favorite.

When I look through this book, I am transported. I don’t’ remember much about the girl in the pages, some details are fuzzy, some evaporated in the heat of four decades of living. This scrapbook chronicles the outward girl—the measurable things, the counted and visible events: pageants, contests, and demonstrations. It houses the awards and accolades. My mother adhered these articles and certificates to the pages with scotch tape, gone brittle and yellow with the years.

With clarity and wonder, I recognize that even thirty-four years ago the words were there. Writing for the newspaper satisfied two needs in me: one for people and one for words. I loved them both. These two things mattered to me more than anything else. I didn’t know Jesus; I knew about religion, the rights and the wrongs and the rules. I hadn’t yet made a decision to become his follower. I was just a lost little girl trying to follow the passionate beat of my heart. 

Two of my Press badges from state 4-H events.
 
I didn't even remember this editor's note until writing this post. Fannin is my maiden name.

I went to college, and the writing changed. I poured all of my words into the channels of finals and research papers, always striving for the A or better. My college tests are in my mother’s scrapbook. Thin, blue, stapled, and lined booklets filled with my familiar cursive handwriting. By this time I was a believer, and my faith began to appear in my writing. This faith was yet to be refined, and I smile at my idealistic words and theology. I recognize the young girl, me, but I’m profoundly grateful she didn’t know what was coming.

Two of my blue book exams from a ministry class at Asbury University.

The summer between my junior and senior year of college I was an intern in a church outside of Boston. I arrived full of ideas to change the ministry, the world. The minister knew about my love for words, knew I loved to write. He explained that I only had two assignments to fulfil the requirements for the internship:  to get to know people in that small church, to see how God was visible in them, and write about it. I couldn’t believe it. What an assignment—everything I loved braided into one rope. People. Writing. Ministry. Recently, a precious friend emailed me the piece I wrote about her family. As I reread the story, I saw the young me sitting in a poorly lit basement hunched over a typewriter, typing and laboring to get the words and phrases right.  My friend kept this piece of my writing for thirty years.


The thirty year old writing piece.

There was a period after college when my writing fleshed out only in journaling. Page after page, journal after journal chronicling the inward shifts, upheavals, joys, births, avalanches, and valleys of my life. In them, I see the evolution of my writing. I detect the threads and patterns that would eventually lead to my style and voice.

In 2007, my life shifted. An inevitable earthquake trembled and tremored, and the landscape of my life cracked open—the geography of me and those around me forever changed. I knew I had to make sense of this time; there had to be a methodical venting of the gasses and steam released in my breaking. Once again words came to my aid. I decided to take a risk. The new forum for writers was the blog, and I opened up our antiquated desktop and navigated the setting up of a Blogspot all by myself. For seven years, this was my address, this is where I lived. Through The Chambered Nautilus Blogspot, God began to heal me, to fill in the caverns, ravines, and fissures left by the earthquakes in my life.

God is faithful. Utterly faithful. Ribboned and threaded through all those years of writing was a dream, a silent hope. I wanted to be a published author. I longed to have a publisher agree to press my words and the message of them between the front and back covers of a book. Psalm 38:9 says, "All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you." All through my life, God heard my sighing. He saw my longings, bare and naked. He saw, and he heard.

Soon this dream will come true. At the end of the summer, my first book will be published. God does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. This fruition of a dream does not look like my young na├»ve self envisioned. I didn’t know earthquakes and aftershocks would birth my first book. I didn't know the depth of healing that would come in the joy, the light, and the life of the writing of it. I just wrote. I did what I am called to do: love God, love people, and love words

I realize now that when I was fifteen, God was already moving and leading me in my giftedness. He was teaching me to embrace what he called me to do, even when I didn't know him. God always starts before we begin. Always. He's ahead of us stretching out the path, healing and teaching us through the very gifts he gives us. 

Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places will be published by WestBow Press in late August or September. This book is a revised compilation of my blog and new material. It is seven years worth of writing. It is the story of how God healed me, pressed down all the upheavals and filled in the faults. He used my family, my friends, and the words to create growing room for me. He used his Word and my words to form in me a narrative, a testimony to his presence. And He was present. He is ever present. Always. Never forsaking.  Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places is my evidence of his grace, of how his sweet grace permeated everything.