Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Weight of 5%

I held him close—his little tank body pressed close into mine, drowsy and warm and fighting the advance of sleep like a seasoned soldier. There’s a solidness to him, the weight of him is substantial. Oh, there’s such abundant energy and compressed power in this little boy of ours, the littlest one, the youngest one.

In my book Growing Room, I tell the story of Atlas, this grandson of mine. He’s fought hard since the beginning to take hold of life.  Doctors informed his parents that this smattering of hCG would not be a viable pregnancy and there was only a 5 % chance of carrying it through the weekend, let alone to carry the fetus (if there was one) to full term. Calls commenced and prayers ascended for this unnamed, unseen, undetected life. At this point, this baby’s existence was like an imaginary number in math. We prayed through the weekend, through a long Saturday and an even longer Sunday.

Monday morning came, and my daughter entered the doctor’s office with reluctance and hesitation and most likely a tinge of fear. 5% is a daunting number because on the other side is the weight of 95% stacked against a hopeful outcome. We waited, our breaths caught at the entrance of our lungs, holding in a stillness of both anxiousness and eagerness.

As I held my youngest grandson a few weeks ago and last night all these memories pushed right up to the top of me, and they gently exploded, burst right open. I was overwhelmed and overcome. I gazed down at his sweet face so slack and round in his sleep.

I held the weight of 5% in my arms. I could feel the substance of Atlas, not only did I feel the impressive pounds of him but in his drowsy state he turned his head over on my chest and mumbled “Noni”—my name garbled from his sweet cheek pressed against my breast and the push of sleep.

The weight of 5% slept on me.

This powerful little personality, a barrel of a boy, whirlwind of never-walk-only-run, mischievous and stubborn and charming son of my daughter broke my heart cleanly into—opened it right up, so all the softness inside was exposed. There I sat, my arms wrapped around the weight of 5%.

Many would say that the pregnancy just hadn’t taken hold or it was too early to detect. No, the pregnancy was tested and confirmed. But numbers began to drop, to not multiply.

But God (one of my favorite phrases in Scripture).

He takes the human (educated, trained, experienced) projections and statistics of a less than slim percentage (the imaginary numbers) and creates certainties. Our God works with the less-than-good odds, the probably-not-going-to-happens, the slim-chance-in-hells and in his hands they become realities.

We often ask why God is not doing or does not act as he did in the Bible. Why don't we see such miracles? In that moment of holding Atlas, my arms wrapped around him, I knew I held a work, an against-the-odds act of God. An act akin to the reduction of Gideon’s army, David with Goliath, and an unlikely group of apostle men. Our God is not daunted by the 95%. No, he takes the 5% and multiplies it, increases it and grows it exponentially.
He always does more with less.

I held the exponential in my arms. I pressed my lips against the roundness of Atlas’ head; my body curved around him, my middle bowed to accept and contain his weight. I could feel the pattern of his breathing, slowed and even—inhale and exhale. I paced my breathing to his.

I was holding the 5% of God.

The answered prayers of so many. Encompassed in my arms was not only an answer but a compressed body of life, an abundant life. As I held him, my eyes closed. In the silence and screen of my mind, I could see his full-face grin, broad gap-tooth smile. I could hear his voice, words spoken unexpectedly in one so young. I curved my hand around his sweet head. I pulled him even closer. In his sleep he did not resist;  I rejoiced. I lifted my other hand upward, lifted my arm toward Him. A silent praise. A wordless thanksgiving.

5% in the hands of God.

Give him your odds, give him your less-than-hopefuls. Give God that in which your faith falters. Give God the smallest of offerings. Give him the inviabilities, the unseens, and the unheards. Give him the impossibilities.

There’s a part of me that hesitates to write or suggest such—that God takes care of all the impossibilities and long-shots. Sometimes he doesn’t. For whatever reason, we do not see or experience the outcome we desire or expect. But those times do not negate the situations in which he does move and act. We cannot stop declaring HE DOES just because sometimes he doesn’t--or just because we are not aware of his movement or interventions.

In holding my Atlas-grandson, all the 5% chances become viable. And I understood through my grandson that God has the power to multiply by exponentials. And that power, according to his word through Paul to theEphesians, is at work in me.

Rarely do I embrace this power like Atlas. Atlas knows nothing yet of his questioned life. He knows nothing yet of the fight waged against and for him, and he knows nothing yet of the obstacles (a malformed kidney too) stacked against his little life. No, he just lives. This little boy grabs life with both hands—extracting from every link of DNA hope, laughter, and strong-will.

Atlas Jensen can mean either “strength of the grace of God” or “he carries the grace of God.” Either way, my Atlas-grandson is a testimony—a witness to the grace, the unfaltering and unfailing grace of God.

I held him in my arms, pulled him closer right into the depths of me. In my arms, I held a package of God’s grace. I breathed deeply.  And my breaths, the vapors of them, were wordless paragraphs of thanksgiving and praise.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Monster at the End of This Blog Post


Several weeks before we were to leave for Ireland, Steve’s updated passport had not yet arrived. We sent it to the passport office with ample time to spare, but for whatever reason, there seemed to be a delay. Anxiety rose in me; for a few days I pushed it down. But one day I panicked. I just lost all control over my anxiety and worry and then produced the worst-case scenario in my head. Well, I guess we just aren’t going to Ireland. Steve’s passport isn’t going to get here in time. At the beginning of June, this litany of thought raced rampant through my head. 

I went to the mailbox every day. Just white envelopes or flyers advertising stuff I didn’t care about or need. Each day the barrage of anxiety heightened. Now, Readers, I did the things I was supposed to do. I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more, but none of these disciplines seemed to shut down the worry. I knew it was absurd. I told myself in no uncertain terms that I was downright silly. But Tamera didn’t seem to have her listening ears turned on, and so this went on for a week.

A few people knew about this struggle. All of them had sound advice. Advice I couldn’t seem to assimilate or employ.

Now, what I could tell you, and this would make a great story—a desirable testimony—was that I finally let it all go, gave it over to God’s hands, and the moment I did that the passport arrived. That seems to be the weightier of testimonies, right? The ones where we flail and struggle and fight, and then we give it over to the Father, and it all works out just fine? And we applaud the giving over.

But I never actually gave this anxiety over to Him—whatever that phrase means. Simply put? I was just an everlovin’ mess. Saying those words, I’m giving this problem and worry to you, remained just words. Those phrases carried no transformational ability in my spirit. They offered no respite from my turmoil. Those words were rote phrases reiterated to me by well-intentioned people for most of my life, but they had no power to save me in the crisis, at the moment.

Perhaps, you are thinking this woman was blowing the situation completely out of proportion. Yes, yes I was. That is the point.

Then one day, in plenty of time before the start date of our trip, I went to the mailbox. And I reached my hand into the vaulted recess of that black box and pulled out a large cardboard mailer. I recognized it (because mine came in the same type of mailer a month before), and I knew what we would find inside.

I walked into the house and texted Steve. He asked me if I had opened it.

“No!” I replied.

“OPEN IT!” he typed back.

I did. And there was Steve’s little blue book—his face and information on the glossy pages for all of Ireland to see.

I stood in the kitchen (many epiphanies happen for me in the kitchen), and this strange, odd thought popped into my head. There is a book I read to my children and now to my grandchildren. A Little Golden Book®. And our family has more than one copy. The title?

Grover, a Sesame Street favorite, reads the title of the book and then is the narrator through the whole story. He tries to no avail or success to get the reader NOT to turn the pages because there is a MONSTER at the end of the book.
My grandsons laugh uproariously and watch my face intently when I read this book to them. I employ every type of voice and level of volume I possibly can—every animation regardless of how over the top. The book just seems to call for types of dramatics. The boys can finish my sentences as I read. They play along as if Grover’s attempts to keep them from turning pages is real.

Grover is beside himself. He does NOT want to encounter the monster at the end of the book. But after the cutting of rope, breaking of wood, knocking down of bricks we finally arrive at the last page. The twist?

Grover realizes that HE is the monster at the end of the book. No other. Just Grover. Grover tries to save face. He tells the reader that they shouldn’t have been scared. But then on the very last page, Grover is covering his face and in the dialogue bubble he mutters, “I am so embarrassed.”

The day I held Steve’s passport in my hand, I was so embarrassed. I was the monster at the end of the book. I was Grover. AKA Tamera.

For weeks I had dreaded opening the mailbox. I worried and fretted because there was no US Government official envelope in the assortment of daily mail. While I stood in the kitchen with the passport in my hand, I realized I never did come to trust God for this issue. Instead, I just kept worrying it, had it been a stone the edges would have been smoothed, perhaps even a hollowed spot rubbed on the surface. Somewhere in this head of mine, the wiring shorted—and I thought my worried frets would make a difference. I knew better. I. Knew. Better. But I couldn’t let it go.

I stood for a long time and looked at that passport. Once again the Lord had been faithful. Maybe someone will read this and conclude that the due process happened. We sent the passport application in, and it followed its normal trail. Perhaps. But our deadline was real, and the time frame was being pushed to the very outer limits.

But the issue wasn’t about a passport. The problem wasn’t that I was worried. The concern wasn’t that I kept looking in the mailbox (that’s where the passport was going to show up, right?).


Here’s the issue.

I allowed my anxiety to outweigh and overshadow what I know to be true. The more I fretted and worried the greater the problem became.  My daughters know my adage: all problems start small, and if left unchecked and unresolved they roll down the hill, gaining speed and amass more girth as they roll.

I rolled my little bitty monster down the hill.

The monster I faced at the end of this situation was not the lack of a passport or the change of plans, but the monster was me—that’s it. Just me. Not the devil. Not demons. Not even circumstances. Just me.
Me and all my need for control. Yes, there it was. Self-deception led me to believe I had the adventure under control. Almost obsessively, I planned this bucket list trip. I wanted everything (and I do mean everything) to be perfect and to transpire without a glitch or hitch. Details were important because I knew we had a one-time shot at this adventure. And the passport’s tardiness messed with my plans. (Sometimes pilgrimages have detours).

I confessed all of this to a good friend; she is indulgently kind to me. Later, she gave me a gift, just a small one. A 4 inch tall Super Grover--superhero cape and all. The cape could not nullify all my end-of-the-book behavior. (He'll stand on my school desk this year).

The passport incident reminded me that for all my plans, I am not the one in control. I can’t keep people from turning pages. I can’t stop the progression to the end of the book. I’m not in control, and much of what I fear is a tiny monster that has been rolled down a hill.

But God is not afraid of or hindered by my Grover-like tendencies.

So, go ahead turn the page.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Unknown Nun

On the plane from Charlotte to Dublin.
Two of our younger daughters drove us to the airport to catch our flight to Dublin, Ireland—I think they were as elated and as giddy as I was for us to be on this adventure. Our baggage (after hard work of planning and packing) cleared without a glitch.
We flew to Charlotte and then across the vast expanse of water—across the Atlantic Ocean. I watched our progression on a screen on the seat in front of me; the tiny plane moved by millimeters over five thousand miles. We landed in Dublin at 6:38 am. After seven hours of sleeping fitfully and sporadically, we came fully awake. We stood up in the cabin of that plane realizing we were in a different country, on a different continent.

The stuff of dreams (at least mine).

I can recount in detail the next couple hours of our trip—details that honestly would mean little to you, so I will skip them, leave them in the suitcase bundled tightly. One thing we did know? We would battle jet lag, and so we made a decision to attempt to stay awake the entire day.
We hit the ground running.

We had only one window of opportunity to see St. Michan’s (short i) Church. A brief backstory would be interesting and helpful here, but for lack of time and space just click on the link and you can read about this church for yourself.
Tucked between modern buildings this 1,100-year-old church seems lost in the myriad of city planning that grows around it. St. Michan’s is across the River Liffey, deep in the inner city of Dublin. We went because this church is famous for its crypt. Well, it’s known not so much for its crypt as for who resides in the tombs beneath the church.

Steve and I descended far too narrow and steep stone stairs to the cool underbelly of St. Michan’s—into the tunnels where people laid at rest with the church’s structure as their tombstone. 
Our tour guide opening the Crypt door.

The Crypt stairs.
We met four of the residents. Saw them face to face.  Yes, we saw them stretched out in their wooden coffins. All the environmental conditions of St. Michan’s lends to the perfect atmosphere for a type of mummification. And through accident and the passage of time four end-of-the-life resting places broke open to reveal four people—whose stories we can only surmise from the inferences in the clues left behind with them in the crypt. Four people who talked and walked and interacted with others. Two men and two women who ate, slept, loved, and perhaps prayed. 

Yes, Steve and I met four people—mummified over the centuries of time, asleep in the hard confines of their wooden coffins. I stood at the door of their crypt and looked in at them—I wondered how they would have reacted to having all of us stare at them unabashedly in their state? But stare I did.
Photography is no longer allowed in the crypt; this photo is from an internet source.
They were so close to me had I leaned a fraction forward I could have touched them, touched men and women who lived at the very least four hundred years ago. I stood in the cool, dry air of the crypt, in the faint light and stared at the St. Michan mummies.

People talked and joked. Our tour guide’s sense of humor played riot around us, but I heard all of this in a muffled way, lost in my thoughts and imaginations.
Four people whose once robust and strong bodies were reduced to the stretch of skin over the stakes of bones—the remains of the tents that they were, that we are. If ever I understood the brevity and temporary state of our lives, I realized this truth here. In the crypt of an old church—gazing at flesh tents preserved by time and limestone and temperature.

Their names are lost to us—unknowns missing hands and with broken legs. We know one was a knight and one a nun.  Their stories? Buried with them, or at least with the few who knew them.
But God knows their stories; their life is not lost to him. He knows them by name. He knows who they were and who they were not. He knows why one lost his hand, and why the other fought in the Crusades. God knows. Death does not hinder the Father; it does not wipe his people from his Presence.

I left St. Michan’s Church with questions swirling in my head. And the crypt remained with me throughout the trip, even after we came home—not in a haunting, specter-type of way, but in fragmented images and unfinished thoughts.
One morning after being home from Ireland for over a week, I was in the middle of getting ready for work. In the midst of the mundane routine of things St. Michan’s and its inhabitants returned to me, full and in color. Not Newgrange. Not Trim Castle. Not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the out-of-the-way, mostly unknown, invisible St. Michan’s and his residents.

In Ireland, God had to start me where I was. God (as I say in Growing Room) always starts at the beginning. At the first of things. For months I had fought the waning of life in my spirit, battled until spiritually I wasted to the stretch of skin on bones. The dusk of darkness and the weight of sorrow leaked joy and robbed the moisture and vibrancy right out of me. I felt like a shrunken version of myself.
In my routine of preparing to face my world, the images of the residents of St. Michan’s Crypt came to me.

God took me to a place of death in order to bring me to a place of life.

I recalled the urge of (as morbid as it sounds) wanting to touch the nun’s hand—to just reach out my fingers and brush hers, to create a connection. To tell her I saw her and desired to know her story. I knew she was much more than the shrunken tent before me. At one time she lived animated and full of quickening verve. At one time she knelt and prayed, her voice lifting beyond the vaulted ceilings of her church.
This bride, a virgin consecrated to the Groom, spoke to me across the centuries. From her stone vault, from her wooden bed, she reminded me to live. To live in Him. To die is gain (which gain she had), but in the midst of life, we must learn to live.

To live in the wonder and the mundane, in the beauty and the ugliness, in the darkness and the light, in the sorrow and the joy, in the grief and the bliss, and in conflict and peace.
Through this ancient nun, through her silent and muted lips, and through her unknown story God reminded me to LIVE!

And I rose from my bed, pushed out of my wooden confines and stood.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Lovely Adventure--Ireland


This Ireland Adventure began as just dream—far off, hazed by the mists of all that seemed unattainable. I’m not sure where or when this dream began—the origin of its intensity eludes me. I don’t even see it on the far off peripheries of my mind. It just seems that one day the longing birthed in me, expanding and contracting the small places of me.
Periodically, following some internal compass or map, I searched for photographs of the places I longed to be, spaces in which I yearned to stand. I memorized details and the isolated pieces of the history of the country—of an island flung farther west that any other on the European continent. I read books, devoured and savored novels written by Windsor, Roberts, and Llewelyn. I read through Cahill and Miller and O'Donohue. Perhaps, hoping by osmosis, the ancient atmosphere would be absorbed into the pores of me. For years I tucked this desire away, not hidden, but only wishful.

I remember being on a house date with my husband, my then neighbor friend. We sat in my living room at my massive desk and surfed the waves of the internet on a barge of a computer. I pulled up images that represented my wishes and gushed exuberantly and too enthusiastically to Steve. I remember he listened and looked—acted interested whether he was or not (I found out his thoughts later. He was thinking, “Let’s get married; let’s go!). I made a No Particular Order list (aka Bucket List), and Ireland always made the list, but the reality of going there and experiencing all I had researched and studied just seemed beyond the navigable reality to me.

In 2015 my top Bucket List desire manifested. My first book Growing Room, For Life in Tight Places was published. The vulnerable word-soaked, tear-baptized parts of me printed for the world to read if they had the mind to do so. And some did. I revisited my bucket list. Humbled and elated, I realized I could cross off several things. Unexpected items—ones I hadn't expected to become real or attained.  But Ireland remained.  And behind this one proper noun, a whole myriad of hopeful wishes skipped and leaped.

In April of this year, I turned fifty. Fifty years old. In the beginning, back in the cold and snow and darkness of January and February, Steve asked me what I wanted for this Jubilee celebration. We discussed cruises and Ireland—and the flutter of the wishes in my heart beat its wings, and the butterfly effect rippled the breezes and the band of the atmosphere around me. The wistful dreams began to solidify—the edges becoming sharp and keen, outlined in a thick black line. We waffled, joggled, juggled, switched, and shifted finances, budgets, and schedules. I reneged once (twice) and suggested the idea that we just go on a cruise. A seven-day cruise seemed much easier, planned for us and contained. Safe. He looked at me—searched my face, moved with agility through this labyrinth mind of mine and understood. He understood my fears and the concerns. He called me out, interrogated with a frustrating accuracy my hesitations and reluctance. And he made a decision.

“No, this trip is for your 50th birthday. You’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. We're going to Ireland.”

Plans commenced. Travel agents engaged. Plane tickets purchased.  My research took on a whole new dimension—no longer did I look at The Cliffs of Moher or Newgrange or Clonmacnoise because they were beautiful or represented something greater to me, but because my feet, our feet, might trod across the soil and stone of the place.
I speak of this trip as if it were the greatest longing of my life, but it wasn’t and isn’t. The deepest longing of my life is to be in the Presence of God. To love him with utter abandon, and that the fruit and abundance of abiding in his Presence would spill over into others. But there is something about Ireland—the longevity of its existence, the length of seasons of prayer lifted from its tumultuous terrain that drew me. I wanted to stand, sit, kneel or whatever else in the thin places and silences of its spiritual history.

Little did I know. How little did I know? About Ireland. Or about myself.

God’s timing is flawless—without seam or catch of a thread.

This trip came to fruition during a season of drought. This sojourn came during a time of sparsity and sorrow. I’m processing the journey now—in the moment there didn’t seem to be enough space, but now in the sweetness of my little patch of earth, I have been pondering, mulling, and considering.

As always this Chambered Nautilus place throws open its doors to you. If you are inclined, grab a cup of coffee or tea and join me in the next few posts. 

As the Irish say, “Cead Mila Failte.”
One Hundred Thousand Welcomes.

Welcome to our adventure!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Tribute

In May we celebrate having a mother and being a mother. I could fill post after post about the wonders, pains, celebrations of being a mother, of having a mother. But I don't have time. Today, I want to just celebrate some amazing women in my life.

Considering I have just a little time before I need to get ready for church, I will make this as simple as possible. Today, I want to praise and thank God for the following women:

1. My mom. We call her Mamaw Judy and JuJu. She's witty and funny. She loves hard. She taught me to read. She taught me to love beauty.
2. My stepmom. I call her Brenda. But mostly I call her friend. She's fiercely loyal. Has deep common sense. She's adventurous. She's strong and brave--and fights a daily battle against a disease that would take most to the ground. And she's the other half of my dad.
3. My mother-in-law. She's anything BUT plain Jane. She is an inspiration--to live life to the fullest. To not allow fear to rob you of what and who you love most. She is an amazingly strong, courageous woman. She's an incredible mother and the perfect kind of grandmother.
4. My first spiritual mother. Peggy Mastin. She taught me about faith and the power of it. She taught me to pray and the depth of it. She is with Jesus now, and I know she is in the great cloud of witnesses cheering us to the finish.
5. My second mother. Dianna Jean. How this woman has mothered me. When I have felt lost and frightened, like a child, she has been a rock. She calls me "Tamera Ruth" and I call her Mama.
6. My other mother. Betty Vaughan. Betty mothered me through my early mothering years. Loved me like her own. Still does. And I am grateful.
7. Anna Vaughan. My first daughter. To watch her mother this giraffe and a lion of a boy of hers--I love their conversations and their sweet bond. Her understanding of her son is something to behold.
8. Katherine Rector. My second daughter. She often juggles a circus, a three ring one at that. But to listen to her reason with such patience with her 3 1/2 year old son is simply astounding.
9. Hannah Harris. My third stepdaughter. Hannah is mothering a child who is 5 going on 18. And on the outside it seems she does it effortlessly.
10. I am thankful for all eight of our daughters. Eight of them. All different. All unique. Elizabeth, Stephanie, Anna, Katherine, Hannah, Olivia, Gabrielle, and Abby.
11. My four daughters. Need I say more? Well, yes. I am a mother because of these four women. Each one contributed to my growth not only as a mother, but as a woman, as a Believer. These women have helped me become more than I ever thought I would or could be. They will NEVER know the depth of respect, admiration, and love I have for each of them. I have been blessed in abundance.

My mother. Juju.

My incredible Stepmother--Brenda

Strong, tenacious, and wonderful mother-in-law--Jane Rehnborg

One of my spiritual mothers--Peggy Mastin (on left)

My Second Mother: Dianna Jean

The mother when I needed her: Betty Vaughan

Kat, Elijah, Anna, Judah

My third stepdaughter--Hannah and her son Tatem

All eight. Our daughters.
Why mothering is a privilege.

Friday, April 1, 2016

50 Years, 5 Decades, and a Half a Century

Today is April Fool’s Day. A day of pranks, jokes, and tricks. And I’ve always taken them all in stride, grinning big when someone said, “Today is your birthday? April Fool’s is your birthday? Well, what does that make you?” 

It didn’t take this day to make me a fool. I came by that moniker honest and true. Early on I lived up to the tag of my birthdate—I was a fool. Sure enough. I made sloppy mistakes, nearsighted choices, and sinful plans. A fool, I wouldn’t listen to anyone; I closed my ears and sidestepped a teachable spirit. I thought I knew all about life, everything there was to know, and I was oh, so much smarter than my mama.

But fifty years has run out beneath me, seeped out in an increasing crescent. Fifty birthdays rolled right under the proverbial bridge. Five decades are behind me now, mile markers in the past—lined up like fence posts. This half century of mine barely makes a mark, a dot, on the eternal stretch of time.

I’m glad that some of the typical 50th birthday gifts aren’t what greeted me today. I’m thankful I didn’t wake up to black balloons, over-the-hill-gift packages, and trifocal glasses—given as commentary on the number of years I have lived. Someone did say to me yesterday that I wasn’t allowed to cheat and put the number candles on my cake. I had to use fifty candles. All fifty. This “friend” suggested that the cake might catch fire. What an illuminating fiasco that would be!
So here I sit on my porch. The wind is rustling and sweeping and pulling all the loose ends of everything.  The neighbor’s wind chimes sound like a well-practiced bell choir. The bees are buzzing, but they are not content enough to light and allow me to pet their fuzzy backs (maybe in June when the weather is warmer). Henry is scuffling on the porch watching everything with a cautious eye. And Judah is napping, curled up right on the couch.

And I am crying.

Streams of hot, unsummoned tears running down my face. I’ll have to redo my makeup before tonight (and hope that everyone is tactful enough not to mention the swollen and puffy eyes).

Fifty years.

I don’t feel a day older than twenty-five. Inside my head, I’m still this young woman trying to embrace every moment of life. But what I didn’t understand at twenty-five was that I need to savor the ordinary, everyday moments--tucked away to be pondered later. Brought out like treasures from antique cedar chests.

But then I look down at my hands typing on these keys. And my hands are getting older, once smooth and slender they are now road-veined. I look in the mirror, and my face isn’t exactly the right image looking back at me. Sometimes, I look at my daughters’ faces and see some of the young Tamera there. These are not sad thoughts, just observations. Matter of fact things that you just notice and move along.

What have I learned in fifty years? What truths do I know that I know that I know?  Not many. Certainly not as many as I did when I was twenty-five. But for whatever it’s worth I think I’ll share that which I know.

10 Things I Know.

1.    I’m still a fool. Yes, I am. I’m a ridiculous fool for the love of Christ. I understand my faith seems foolish to many in our culture today. But I’m not enough of a fool to believe that I could make it one day or one hour in this world without the love and grace of God.

2.    The older I get, the less I know, and the more I want to know. The Spirit has tendered my spirit teachable. And I want it to remain this way until I take my last breath.

3.    Prayer is the anchor. In many ways, we have returned to the world of Genesis 1:2—formless, empty, and dark. In prayer, I am made aware that the Spirit of God is still hovering over the face of these turbulent waters.  Light will come; it is on its way.

4.    The deal-breakers are far and few between. Ideologies and philosophies and man-made doctrines are moot points. When the leper needed healing, Jesus didn’t cry unclean.

5.    God’s Word is utterly relevant even when we don’t want it to be. If prayer is the anchor, then God’s word is the boat. (All analogies fall at some point, just note my point.)

6.    Love is the warp and grace is the weft of these tapestry-stories we are weaving. God’s love and grace assuredly, but ours extended to others. Over and over. Seventy times seven. (Mind you this isn’t Hollywood love. Nor the romantic love of the formula-driven books we read. And this grace? Not weak tolerance or leniency or indulgence. But instead, the wild and fierce and untamable love and grace of God. )

7.    Kindness is more than a nice virtue; it must be rooted and established in us knowing the value of someone—of considering others better than ourselves. And that knowledge must have extension.  The Proverbs 31 Woman extended her hands…

8.    Community is necessary. Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we need an extended family to lift us, encourage us, bolster us, prod us, challenge us, and care for us. It’s not optional.

9.    Invest in the character and eternalness of people. Especially those closest to you, those nearest you: your children and grandchildren. Don’t invest in material stacks and piles. Don’t spend your energy on the inanimate objects that often clutter our lives. Invest and pour blessing into people—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. And remember what you sow, you will reap.

10.    God is good. He is a good good Father. We may not see it. We may not understand it, but anything we have given, surrendered, offered, extended, spent, and wasted for Him will be swallowed up in his glorious redemption—to be poured back into his kingdom, to bring him glory and us purpose.

That’s it. That’s all I know that I know that I know. Fifty years of learning, trial and error, to get me to this point. But I know these things.

And one more thing…I don’t want to squander anything I have left. I want the last part of my life to produce more fruit than even the first two-thirds.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

White Noise

Recently, my high school writing class and I met at a local coffee shop. I gave them a writing prompt. I mean it is almost cliché to sit and write in a local coffee shop, right? And you are in some famous company if you do: Rowling, Rankin, Fitzgerald, McCall Smith, and many others have strung words together while sipping coffee or some other form of liquid fortifier.

What was the prompt? The jump start words to prime the proverbial well?

Two words.

White noise.

In the dim light of the coffee house conference room, light streamed in through the seven-foot windows, and the muffled noises from the street and downstairs wafted up to us, I asked my students to identify the white noise of their lives. A few of them looked at me puzzled. Some looked past me with a blank stare as if I had just spoken Russian on a Japanese subway. Some met my gaze, and the light bulb glimmered like a compact fluorescent—slow and low, and then bright. A couple lit immediately. 

I watched as they scratched their words on the paper, hesitating, erasing, and pausing. Some of their answers surprised me. As I quietly meandered around their chairs, I considered the white noise in my life. And I asked myself the question I asked my students.

What is the white noise in my life right now?

What is the static that crackles just under the surface? What is the hum of the underlying current? What is the consistent tone or pattern I hear layered just under everything else?

A friend of mine asked me to consider 2015: the highs and the lows and the shallows and the depths.

The summit places have been broad and open and full of light, places of indescribable joy.  In March, my grandson arrived. I held Atlas in my arms, the five percent miracle of him, and joy swelled in me in proportions uncontainable. 

August marked the release of my first book, Growing Room. The publisher sent the first copy off the press to me. My husband and I stood in the break room at work and opened the box. The joyful rush and exhilaration of holding my book in my hand were surreal. I pressed my head into his chest and wept.   In September, I experienced my first book signing, and another type of joy pushed into me, pressed in leaving embossed indentations on my spirit.

These wonderful events produced definitive heights—experiences much like the ridges on the roads in the hills when I visit my dad. And for much of 2015 I rode on these high places. Drove them. Maneuvered them. Navigated them. I’m grateful I didn’t see the ninety-degree bend in the road that was coming. I’m thankful I didn’t see the drop-off and the crumble of the pavement. I’m blessed that God does not reveal the future to us; he did not show me the wreckage in the distance.

In October, Steve and I took a sabbatical weekend and drove to Gatlinburg, TN. In the early hours of the third day of our trip, my phone rang waking me from a deep sleep. I know the phone rang two different times because later I would check my records, but it was the second call that broke through my sleep.

The story of that few minutes of eternity is for another time, but my brother was dead, killed in an accident on an interstate.

The descent from the heights of the joy ridge began, and the white noise commenced.

As I viewed the residual fall out of my brother’s death, white noise infiltrated my thought processes, inserted itself into the routine of my life, and became the underlying discordant hum I couldn’t quite decipher.

Last week I stayed home from church. The inner chaos and white noise were taking their toll on me. I keyed up a worship playlist on my computer and cleaned house with a focused vengeance. At last worn out, I sat down on the couch and the white noise increased to deafening levels.
Anyone who knows me or has read my blog or book understands I am a crier. I cry, and I cry some more. But since my brother’s death, I have lived the last three and half months dry-eyed. The white noise clogged my tear ducts, dam tight. 

I sat in my living room curled up on the couch, and the white noise pushed against my ears and eyelids. Strangled cries and choking sobs broke through my throat. I tried to stop them, futile efforts. Finally, I wept for my brother and for the wreckage his death left behind—for the situations and people I can’t fix or help. 

I finally wept for me. And I called things what they are.

Grief and depression.

I heard the static of each of them humming under the surface; I identified my white noise.

And now begins the work of turning down the volume of this white noise named Grief.

Friends, I know many of you are struggling with white noise in your life. Some of you (of us) are living with a deafening roar in your ear, a ringing that just won’t stop. The hum is so familiar that you selectively don’t acknowledge it anymore, but it is taking its toll. Perhaps your white noise is grief, fear, anxiety, infertility, loneliness, anger, isolation, cancer, brokenness, resentment, addiction, depression, abuse, busyness, rejection, lethargy, or emptiness. Maybe, you can’t seem to identify it at all; you just know that you are going to go deaf.
Friends, don’t go deaf. Ask the Spirit to identify your white noise, to name it, and to show you how to decrease its volume. Identification and recognition are the first steps.  

Take the first steps.

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