Monday, April 14, 2014

Immeasurably More: Basement Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To his people.

How is this immeasurably more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My immeasurably more?

I chose life. His life.

And my children live. They live.

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

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

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

Please choose life. Life in him.


My immeasurably more?

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

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

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

Immeasurably more than I ever thought to ask or imagine.

Judah, Anna and Tamera

Olivia and Nolan
Abby Taylor
Elijah, Katherine and Tamera

Elijah and my wonderful son-in-love: David

Nolan and my Olivia

My Anna

Elijah and my wonderful Katherine

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

Katherine and Elijah

My curious Elijah.

My Judah-boy.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Immeasurably More: Panera Bread

Sage advice often given to writers is write what you know. The older I get the less I know. But there are some things I KNOW. This week I am starting a new series: Immeasurably More. People need to hear (faith comes by hearing) that God really does do the immeasurably more. This I KNOW. )
Steve and Tamera (Couple's Retreat)
We sat at a small table, built only for two. I could see out into the parking lot and beyond. I caught the reflection of us in the walls of glass we leaned against. Our knees touched beneath, and our hands brushed atop the table. And the smile lines of our mature faces creased and he winked at me. He always winks at me.  
It was a lovely, incredible moment of déjà vu. A returning. A remembering. Not of nostalgia, but an utter and deep gratefulness. This grace of God. Oh, this grace.  
A chocolate cookie lay on the table between us—a gift. I spilled out our story to our cashier as she totaled our French Onion soup and side salads. She looked at me as I gushed and then said, “Oh, do you want a cookie or pastry? That’s a great story.” I laughed and said give us a cookie.  
We return to Panera Bread at least once a year. We sit at the same table, and the only theme in our conversations that is always the same is our grateful awe at what God has done in us.
This time we returned for our fifth wedding anniversary. Five years together. A milestone. A speed-of-light segment of time. We returned to Panera Bread (the very location) to celebrate these multiplied years. Each year we have been together is compressed—a whole lot of experiencing and living—zipped into a very small frame of time.
Our Panera Bread
We met each other six years ago. And God has a wonderful sense of humor. Many know our story. But the story is good; we really didn’t have a lot to do with writing it.
We are not the others’ first husband or wife. We both have failed marriages behind us. We both have hurt and been hurt. We both have cried and dismissed this thing called marriage declaring we would never do it again.  
Never. And we meant it.  
We had our first date at Panera Bread. My husband, just my neighbor then, and I decided to meet on a Friday night. We told no one; it was a secret rendezvous.  I picked the place. I pulled into the parking lot and spied his black Scion. My heart palpitated wildly. I turned the corner and saw him standing at the end of the sidewalk. Tall. Elegant. Strong. Arresting.
I should have known right then.
We ordered. He paid. I realized this really was a date, and my mind reeled. (What have I gotten myself into?) He wanted to thank me for the homemade bread, cookies and pie.  
We sat at the table I mentioned earlier. Food, an afterthought. Drinks, something to simply wet our dry mouths. We talked and talked and talked. Every subject you can imagine. Occasionally I could see the reflections of us in the glass windows and see us as others must have that night.  
One of the waiters ran the vacuum close to our section. We looked down at our plates; sandwiches lay half-eaten. Forgotten. It was dark outside. We had been there four hours. Four hours of talking and sharing. We walked to our cars. We leaned against his and talked for another half an hour.  
I remember it now like a movie segment—where the director indicates the passing of time by first letting you hear the conversation and then it moves into movie music and all you see is the interaction. The glances. The gestures.  
Then we both drove away. Headed back to the same town. The same street. The same block. To houses side by side. 
There’s more, far more, to this story. But this post is limited.  
Later, we would marry. We declared my youngest daughter as somewhat of a prophet; she told me I would marry this man. I vehemently denied it. My oldest daughter told me it was a good thing God moved Steve in next door because she knew I would never go out looking for someone, that I would not venture forth; she was right.
We would move into the same house. And share a life. Neither one of us had ever really done this before. We experienced parallel existences, but we did not know this place called we-ness.  
God, in his infinite mercy and grace, allowed us to have a new story. A plot twist neither of us expected. Thought we didn’t want. Believed it really didn’t exist.
But remember our God always, ALWAYS, does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. We quote this verse, write in on fridge doors, put it on wall hangings and mark it in our Bibles, but do we really, honestly believe this?
We hope he does. We wish he did. But there is something in us that believes this immeasurably more will just never happen to us—  
Since those days at Panera, in the 1,825 days since Steve and I said I do we have been watching and witnessing our God do immeasurably more.  
Over and Over.  
Recently Steve and I hosted and led a couple’s retreat called From Water to Wine*. Fifteen couples joined us to explore and examine this thing we call marriage and relationship.  
For five hours on a Saturday in a community room of a local coffee house sixteen couples interacted and examined this place we called marriage. We laughed. We joked. We bantered. And perhaps, some cried.  
As I stood with Steve in front of the couples attending talking about hard and difficult things the words He does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine moved through me. I looked over at my husband and my heart filled with something I can’t quite name.  
Long before I met Steve I told God (isn’t it amazing we think we can tell God anything?) I would never have a relationship or marry someone again unless I found someone who I could minister with side by side. Shoulder to shoulder. Little did I know I wouldn’t be the one doing the finding 
In front of all those beautiful people I realized God, even in that moment, was doing all I had asked. Far more than I had imagined.
Not what I had imagined. Not with whom I imagined. Not how I imagined. Not even why I imagined. But immeasurably more. More in ways I had not even thought to ask or imagine.  
God took our broken, discarded stories and picked up the narrative threads. And then He threaded them together. Twisting and turning and braiding them until now you can barely tell where one begins and the other one ends.  
And He knew way before Panera Bread.  
Steve and I at my 48th birthday bash this year!
Out there, even today, someone is reading this. And you have given up on your immeasurably more. 
You have decided there is not even a more for you, let alone an immeasurably more
You are in a broken relationship that seems to be beyond repair. You are longing for a relationship that seems to be nowhere in your future. You are in a marriage that is dying. You are in a place that covenant has been broken. You are longing for intimacy and it seems to elude you. And this immeasurably more of God feels like a sad joke or wishful thinking at best.  
Today, know this: God has an immeasurably more for you. Take the risk, ask him for something far greater than you ever have. Stretch your imagination. Pull it thin and ask Him to do immeasurably more in your life. And ask Him for the ability to recognize it when it shows up.  
When I sat across from Steve at that table in Panera Bread I didn’t know what was coming. I didn’t know then that God was working out my immeasurably more. I didn’t know.  
But God did.  
He does in your life too. He sees your Panera Bread moment whatever it might be. He sees your immeasurably more life and is waiting to give it to you. It may not look like you envisioned, but it will be immeasurably more.
Father, I pray for every person who reads these words. I pray for your Spirit to move in their hearts and stir hope. I ask for hope to be lifted to the top. Father, we need to know you hear us. We need to know you are moving on our behalf because half the time we just don’t see it. For whatever reason. Open our eyes that we might see. Open our ears that we might hear. Open them so we might experience this immeasurably more of yours. Father, the immeasurably more is rooted in you and your grace. It extends out of your holiness and mercy. It emanates from your character. Father, please help us to understand that your immeasurably mores may not resemble ours. And help us to trust your hand and your timing. Amen

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Don't Play Church

With fear and trepidation Steve and I joined another couple to lead a small group of young adults. I do not say that lightly. The four of us realized there was a deep need and gap for the 18-26 year olds at our church. We kept hoping someone would step into that spot and fill it.
There were conversations and meetings to determine if it could be something our church could do. A young woman started the fire burning in me, and we then met with our pastor. The idea was shelved for a little while because we were still unsure of who was going to lead this group.
Be careful. If God makes you aware of a need there’s a good chance you are going to be the one he asks to invest and/or fulfil that need.
Guess what?
The Young Adult group started. And who was leading it? You got it. The Mohrs and the Rehnborgs.
We advertised. We would meet on Sunday nights in the Mohrs home. We wondered if anyone would show. What in the world were we doing? We were flying blind and by the seat of our pants. I’m serious we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. And the four of us met weekly at our local Mexican restaurant and often would stay past closing because we were so engrossed in the planning and praying for this group. We talked about fairy tales and children’s stories. We talked about how to reach a generation that we didn’t understand and certainly didn’t understand us.
But we moved forward. God just kept waving us forward. Every excuse we conjured, every weakness we employed He kept saying there’s a need. This group is being lost between the cracks. Do this. I will supply everything you need.
The first night came. My hands were sweating. My mind was blank. We prayed. And prayed. And we prayed some more. We knew if God were not present; if he did not come and intervene this whole endeavor would be lost.
But they came. More than we ever dreamed. And we looked around the room and thought God, God what are you doing? Who are we to be in the middle of this?
Then we had another meeting. And another. More young adults came. I don’t think it was what any one of them were expecting. And this certainly wasn’t what we expected.
God was doing a new thing. In us. In them. How do I know this?
At one point someone in the group boldly talked about the church. About people our age. They talked about how unhappy we always are. About how we are all about rules and regulations. And that we are judgmental.
And that’s when it happened. God knows what he is doing. God does call us to minister to others, but in that ministering we, too, will be changed. Jeff, one of the leaders, looked at these young men and women. I watched him scan the room, look at the faces.
He took a deep breath and he apologized.
He apologized for our generation (40-50+). He apologized that we had let them down. That we had not offered them something better. That we had made church about doctrine, dogma and discipline. We had made the Good News of the Gospel into a heavy weight. One that is too heavy and a constricting.
I wish you could have seen their faces. I wish video had been running unseen and undetected. We were all stunned. Even the leader who spoke the words. The three other leaders were hit full force with the truth of his words. And as we watched the students’ faces we knew. We knew that this apology had struck a very deep nerve. I watched their faces. Breath held. Tears sliding. Prayers whispering.
The room was silent. Slack-jawed. Then one young woman spoke up and out. She looked at him and then at the four of us and said No one has ever said anything like that to us before. No one has ever apologized. Ever.
And my heart broke into little pieces.
No, we haven’t.
That apology and response started a dialogue that hasn’t stopped. Questions like what is church? What should it be? What shouldn’t it be? What does the Body of Christ really look like? What is essential? Not only were the students asking these questions but the four of us have been asking them ever since.
That night’s meeting set the pace and the path for this group. Attendance has grown and waned. There have been nights that have been phenomenal and nights that were off.
But many of them keep coming back.
This group amazes me. I love people, but I have a particular fondness for this age group. They are on the cusp of so many things. They are at the edge moving both out and in. They still have an intrepidness and a lack of inhibition that is beautiful to see. They are becoming men and women—the ones who will lead and shape the future.
I’ve watched this group. They are a church. They are the called-out ones of Jesus. Never have I seen such a diverse group of people in my life. And that’s the honest truth.
They are trying to find faith. They are looking for purpose. They are hungry for something, someone, who is real. They don’t like pretension. They don’t like fake. They don’t like self-righteousness. They can be a somewhat arrogant. They can be a little apathetic. They can be a slightly argumentative. But aren’t we all?
But generosity? Taking care of the least of these? More than once I have watched this group take care of someone. Three instances come to my mind.
A young couple who are part of the group had to deal with a catastrophic health issue. It was a horrible situation. We sent the group out one night. Told them to put together a care package for the couple. They split into two groups, assigned duties and left. They came back and poured their bounty on the floor. And we, the leaders, sat up. We paid attention because of their thoughtfulness and generosity.  They packed that gift package with gift cards for gas, for groceries and for local restaurants. They picked out movies and little things just to make the couple feel better. Then they delivered it, and the group sang This Little Light of Mine and prayed with them. And the couple cried.
The second time they blew us away we had another young couple who were in financial bind. This group pulled their resources together and handed the couple over $300 to offset the crisis.
The third time one of the guys of our group had to work. He tried and tried to get his shift changed so he could come to group. He didn’t want to miss, but no one wanted his shift. His day had been horrible—the nightmare day in the food-waiting tables industry: people—hateful and stingy and demanding. The group decided the best thing we could do was pack up and head out to Cracker Barrel. So we did. When we got there one of the girls in our group went to the hostess and explained we needed a table for twelve and we wanted Nathan’s section. We were standing where Nathan could not see us, but a few of us could see him. When the hostess told him (an hour before he was to get off) he had a twelve-topper table his face dropped. Then hostess explained he had been specifically requested.
Wait a minute. What was the name they gave?
The hostess told him and he realized it was us. And his face broke into a smile.
They led us to our table. Nathan followed beaming. And we were beaming. This is what the Body of Christ does! When someone is having a bad day, when things are just not going right we come and be like Jesus.
That night I watched this group of young adults lay out a tip that was outrageous. Extravagant.
And our precious waiter was stunned. He who had had a bad day, who hadn’t reacted as he thought he should have, felt the blessing and favor of God. And his coworkers got to watch him transform and asked who we were. He told them.
How thrilled we leaders were to be associated with this group—that we got to sit at the edge of them and watch God work. We were privileged to see what the Body does when it is following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Now, is doctrine important? Yes. But doctrine without love, without action is just a harness that attaches us to the yoke. We watched these kids put a cloak of flesh on doctrine’s shoulders.
Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. He said give and it will be given to you—pressed down, shaken together and running over. He said you will reap what you sow.
These young adults fleshed out the Gospel.
This is truly the good news of the Gospel:  Jesus loves us. He cares for us. And he calls us to live a life worthy of his calling.
And we do that not by playing church but by being the church.
Part of our Group at Cracker Barrel--Nathan is standing.