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?
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, 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.