Monday, May 11, 2015

Tying the Knot

In so many ways, it was a typical Sunday morning. Church and lunch, and a brief time of rest after both. But the day was anything but typical. We went home to change not into our Sunday afternoon napping, relaxing clothes, but into wedding clothes. On April 26th at 2 pm, I drove to our church to join the preparations for my daughter’s wedding.
There were no frenzied preparations. No last minute blunders. No jittery nerves. The atmosphere in the room was still and easy—like the slow rhythmic pace akin to the push and pull of a porch swing.  Nephews (my grandsons) were present eating lunches and snacks on folded-out chairs.
The bride-groom reveal was quiet and unassuming. I didn’t get to see it, but I heard the groom teared up when he saw his bride-to-be. When it was time the bride and the groom walked into the church and down the aisle together.


She held a smooth, silky white rope; he grasped a dark, rough hemp rope. They laughed as their hands turned and pulled—two knots forming to push against each other. Back to back. Shoulder to shoulder. When pulled, the knots would hold—fast. But a loop turned wrong, and her eyes flickered up to his in a trace of panic,
“That was wrong wasn’t it?” she asked.
He helped her redo, never commenting, never offering censure. They, my third daughter and her lumberjack man, tied the knot.
They tied a fisherman’s knot in the middle of their tying THE KNOT.  During their wedding, I watched them pull the ropes through the loops, and I envisioned God's grace moving through the ends and the outs. Over and across. God's mercy and grace and truth weaving the knots together--sturdy and strong against the silky smooth.
Olivia, Egyptian-like in her glimmering gold sheath, lifted her head to him. Eyes shimmering far more than her dress. Nolan, handsome and strong, gazed down drinking in the joy of her. They stood at the center of a full circle, every guest standing. We were close and near enough to hear the nuances and inflections of their voices. We leaned toward them to hear as they exchanged vows. We wanted to hear the traditional promise of fidelity of body and the commitment of exclusivity. We wanted to hear the I Do’s.
The decision and the resolve in their voices were sound, unshaken by nerves. And we, the guests,  leaned against each other—hands on backs and shoulders pressing. They exchanged their vows, words tailored and crafted for the other—intimate words, almost uncomfortably so. For a brief moment I felt I had barged in on a private conversation. But they wanted us privy. The two of these, our daughter and our son, wanted us to hear their quiet declarations.  This wedding unfolded with such ease, unrehearsed and effortless.
He attempted to speak first—the words stopped.  He began again, but the words lodged behind the trainwreck in his throat. And the lumps in our throats grew. He started three times, and then the words finally moved. He held my daughter’s gaze, and with such tenderness he promised to provide for her, to take care of her and never to make her drive a minivan. But then he said something we didn’t expect.
“We have learned that love is so much more than infatuation. It’s a choice, and I promise always to choose you.”
And we wept. Yes, we cry at weddings. Women leak, often and profuse. Those tears came from a different place than simply emotion.

We wept because we knew they understood the choosing of love. Love chooses—when life gets hard and the ropes pull, and the knots push against one another—it will be the choice made in and by love that will hold them. The knot of this choice will hold and steady Olivia and Nolan until the pressure of life’s circumstances releases.

Olivia reached for her words from me. I held out the narrow slips of paper marked and written in her round manuscript. She looked down at them and spoke. Choreographed words danced forward, soft and tranquil. Her words poured out like oil—anointing him. She too spoke of choosing, and she promised always to cook his eggs over easy.
The pastor, our friend, asked for the rings to seal what they exchanged—these covenants in the presence of witnesses, in the presence of God.

During the whole time, I watched them. Observed the glances and the looks passing through the space between them. I would notice it again later in the evening at the wedding supper. Across the space of a table, I sat diagonally from them in full view of their faces. This boy, this man I now call son, looked at my daughter like my husband looks at me. The other faces around me blurred; their voices muted as I unashamedly stared. Praise rose in my heart; prayer winged out over the heads of the others for her—for them. Lord, let her understand this “seeing”. Let her see the cherishing in this gaze, and may she feel the lavishness of its assurance always.

This gazing passed between them as they stood before us. We felt its gentle heat. The pastor looked at my new son-in-law and stated, “You may kiss your bride.”

Before their lips touched, Nolan’s hands cupped Olivia’s face, and our crying turned to laughter fueled by their radiant faces. We who stood around them knew we had witnessed something extraordinary. I glanced at the knotted ropes behind them. Laying tangled—a witness of the tying of two people, two families. Its knotted lengths now a testimony to the power of God’s enduring grace.

There will come days when the rope will put taut.

My prayer?

May they become one rope, one flesh. That with every pull and tightening of the ropes, Olivia and Nolan will be bound together more and more. Until one day their knots will mesh together—only the texture and color distinguishing the individual strands of which is which, who is who.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

January Confession

December began with the very best of intentions. The first day of the Christmas season rolled around and I was already in full swing—planning and listing and projecting and enjoying.
Advent approaching.
My nativities took center stage in the home decorating. My blog writing for the month began full of sentiment and thought and adoration. There were days of writing planned. Insights to be shared. New points of view to consider. The house livened up with plump snowmen and glittery red stars and shimmering lights.
Somewhere in one of the early days of the month I realized the dulling of my spirit ran parallel with the glitter and the flash. Numbed. Deadened. Like a pencil whose lead is far too close to the wood and the writing is nothing more than scratching on the paper.
 A week in and I began to feel it—like a tree whose sap stops running because of the frigid cold. But for some reason, whatever reason I could not get warm. I couldn’t pull my spirit up out of the lethargy.
I tried to read. I heard others talk about reading the Christmas story, read Facebook posts about extraordinary Christmas encounters and experiences, but I continued down this slow spiral into this blank place. A place of fog and mist. Spiritually I could not lift my head. Writing ceased completely. Scripture reading stopped. Prayer slowed to a trickle.  
I worked right through it all. Sent out Christmas packages. Ordered special gifts. Laughed at Santa’s antics. Got caught up in the shenanigans of my grandsons’ elves. Listened to our minister deliver really good messages about the ordinary characters in the birth of Jesus. I watched a children’s Christmas play that was wonderful—the gospel message strong and relevant. I spoke about hope to a group of broken and wounded women—looking into their faces almost broke me. But I just couldn’t find my way spiritually. I kept trying to hear the voice of God and I heard nothing. Absolutely nothing. The silence was far too thick. And there was this constant niggling that I was missing it all. All of it—everything. At one point I felt like I had been hit, a punch to the jaw and I tried to shake it off, but simply couldn’t.
The absence of prayer bothered me the most. Prayer for me is usually this wide and powerful river, banks overflowing, curving and meandering and crashing over in waterfalls and currents and white foam. During December it became this iced over creek—barely moving beneath the surface.  
At one point I remember being afraid. Fearful of what the silence meant. What it indicated.   
The perceived implications overwhelmed me. Paralyzed me.
Outwardly, externally so many things were good. Actually absolutely wonderful things and events and experiences happened for me during this month. Unbelievable, almost impossible things.  But inwardly and internally I was struggling. Struggling in a battle I had yet to perceive. And I was getting weary from the struggle.
No, I was exhausted.
Christmas came and I loved every minute.  

Two days after my husband and I stayed in all day. Curled up on the couch with movies and quiet and books. And I could feel a slight breaking in the ice of my spirit. The movement of water below the surface increased. Four days after Christmas I had coffee with a dear friend and in the course of our conversation the icebergs began to split. I felt them shift and float. And I began to ask God to wake me up. Five days after Christmas my husband and I declared a date day—we went off for a whole day. We had an agenda—not to do anything we really didn’t want to do. We stopped at a precious brother’s house so I could participate in his only daughter’s one year birthday video. We rummaged in antique stores, collected in craft stores and indulged in bookstores. Leisurely we ate at one of our favorite places and stopped and got coffee and hot apple cider to round out the day.
My waters ran swifter. And the rush of that water pushed back the ice, the fog began to dissipate.
And I woke up.
And my first instinct was to thrash the spiritual skin of myself to shreds.  
Tamera, you know better. How in the world did you get into this kind of predicament?  You know better than to allow yourself to get too busy during this holy and sacred season. You were too materialistic and out of focus. You were too…and my list went on and on. Far too long. Far too much. My back was black and blue from my own hand.
And the Spirit’s soft gentle whisper reprimanded me. Chastised me. Revealed the truth to me.
I didn’t forget Christmas; I forgot Sabbath. I dismissed the need for rest. For space. For quiet. For stillness. I failed to eat. To drink. Literally and spiritually. I ignored the signs and symptoms of my own body and spirit as exhaustion iced over me.
Friends, you can’t do battle when you are exhausted. Are you kidding? You don’t even have the strength to heave on your armor.
It was in the stillness of the holy season of the celebration of Jesus’ Incarnation that my own flesh began to fail. In the hush of the sacred days of Advent my spirit waned.
Frozen December.
But I know this: there were people praying for me. They were battling for me. Around me.
It is now approaching the middle of January. I have made not one single resolution. I have not chosen a word for 2015. The new year routine is still unsettled. There’s something more important happening.  
Right now, the Spirit is instructing me to be still. He is breaking up the ice. I have offered to use the pick ax, but the Spirit has stayed my hand.
I believe in grace, but because of my derailment in December I have experienced it once again. I forget. Sometimes we forget the utter profoundness of grace and that it can and does apply to us.
Friends, I know there are some of you out there who are simply and utterly and completely exhausted. You are in a battle—physically, emotionally or spiritually. Perhaps war is being waged on you in all three arenas. You are trying to salvage severed relationships. Attempting to fight disease, cancer and debilitating illnesses. Struggling to last until the next pay check. Worried about your children. Concerned about your parents. Warding off loneliness. Fighting fear. Your armor is scattered and you don’t have the wherewithal to retrace your steps to find it. Right now reading your Bible is nothing more than a rote exercise. Praying is laborious. Fellowship is tedious.
You have been cold a long, long time. The water of you frozen over in a thick layer of icy sludge. For some of you there’s very little water moving—a shallow and narrow trickle. And you are numb. You are exhausted.
I have been there and know this: I am praying for you. Be assured of this: help is on its way.  

Father, oh sweet Father.
Faithful. Good. Powerful. You know the weakness of us and how it leads to exhaustion—to the depletion of us. Father, I pray for anyone caught in the chill of this winter’s bones. I pray for those who have grown cold and numb—even the sensation of tingling limbs no longer occurring. Oh, sweet God! I am asking for you to wake them from their slumber. Chip the ice away and fill them with the warmth of your favor, with the truth of your word and the healing of your Spirit. Father, I ask that you would replenish these precious people in their exhaustion. I pray you would provide for them what they need—strength and perseverance. Lift their heads. They cannot lift their faces to you on their own. I know. They are too weary. Too tired and wounded from the battles. Father, be near them. Lend them your strength and energy in their exhaustion. Oh, Father. Wake them up. Shake them. Nudge their shoulders. Take fear away. Swallow it up for them. Give them reason to hang on through the silence. Remind them to hold tight through what seems to be an absence of your Presence. In their hurting, tired weariness come to them. Remind them that the extension of your grace is far beyond their imaginations. In the name of Jesus. Amen.










Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent: The IS of God

My third grandchild will arrive sometime in early April (perhaps on my birthday?). We know what this sweet baby is because of a high-tech ultrasound administered by a skillful professional. A boy. Another grandson. With this revelation this baby moved from the neutral, generic it to the personal pronoun he. Once my daughter and son-in-law were told this news they announced this beautiful boy’s name (Grandmothers don’t have to have ultrasounds to know their grandchildren are beautiful). This child will be called Atlas. Atlas Jensen. His father named him. A strong real name meaning to carry, great strength and God is gracious. This grandmother’s interpretation of his name? He will carry the great strength of God’s grace. Suddenly this new baby became far more real.
A name is indicative of what God is doing and being in our lives. And this baby’s name carries the weight of what God has already done in his life. Early in my daughter’s pregnancy she went to her doctor’s appointment. She had several blood tests and an ultrasound and then was told there were issues. 
Her hormone levels did not rise as expected. They could not find the baby’s heartbeat. The doctors explained to her and my son-in-law that this pregnancy had a five percent chance of being viable. For almost ten days we were held in a rising panic, a sobering reality—this baby might not be. She came to me on a Friday and asked for me to pray; she asked for me to call on the prayer warriors I know. And we prayed. The clinic staff would check her levels and do another ultrasound on Monday. All through the weekend we interceded for this child. We asked for his will to be done, but this grandmother prayed for a miracle.
Monday came.
And so did our miracle. All levels rose considerably over the weekend and suddenly this baby’s heartbeat was quite evident. The medical team attributed it to a faulty diagnosis or unmeasurable levels—regardless there was an attempt to explain away their assessment, but my children were assured that this was now a viable and healthy pregnancy. Collectively we all breathed deeply. Sighed with untranslatable utterances. Hope expanded the space inside us.
God can call what is not as if it is*. God is not limited. His knowledge is not impaired. God sees the IS rather than the NOT.
I think of this sweet baby now as our Little 5%.
This affirmation was more than enough. But God Most High always does more than enough.
A couple of weeks ago my daughter went for another appointment. I waited for the affirmation that she had heard his heartbeat and all was well. I didn’t know another ultra sound was scheduled.
When the image of my grandson’s hand came to me I grasped for words, for an explanation of the infinite enormity it created within me. I couldn’t get my mind to form words on my tongue. It was just too much. His hand, the palm, extended out in this affirmation of his existence, of his presence. His little hand testified he had defied the statistics and predictions of science. A witness to the fact that there are still things that must be experienced rather than predicted or studied or proven. Atlas’ tiny hand is most likely no bigger than the flattened pad of my thumb and yet so perfect. So intricately designed. Through the haloed space of that ultra sound image I studied his splayed fingers as they were pressed against the glass of his Mama’s womb. Somewhere behind that space was a little face. I swallowed down hard as I traced the lines of his palm. In that moment I knew Atlas—this little boy who will possess great strength and be the 5% proof of the grace of God.
Atlas Jensen Rector
This image became the affirmation of the IS of Atlas for me.

Mary understood this IS of God.
While her womb was untouched and cavernous—waiting to someday hold the son of Joseph—she was told she would conceive. And before the conception she was told her baby would be a boy. Before the XX chromosome and the XY chromosome were even considered she was informed she would deliver a son. Her ultrasound wasn’t through sound waves passing through amniotic fluid, but announced and assured by the messenger of God. Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream, another confirmation of the first ultrasound. Mary will have a son…
Through Mary God sent the proof of his IS into the world.
Father God looked down and saw that tiny little hand pressed up against Mary’s womb. He saw his Son turn and twist in the tight confines and narrow cells of human space. God the Father traced the lines in the palm of his Son’s hands and knew someday they would be marred by scars.
One day this Baby’s hands, calloused and broad, would extend out as the affirmation of his Father’s existence, of his presence and of his favor. This Baby would be the testimony and the witness to the invisible and the unknown. To the mystery. He would reveal to God’s people that there are still things that must be experienced rather than predicted or studied or proven.
In the spring I will hold Atlas in my arms, and I will rub and kiss the creases of his little hand. I will snuggle my cheek against the ISness of him—the very presence of him.  And I will thank God.
I am waiting. Anticipating. Trusting.
My waiting for the coming of Atlas is much akin to the real Advent. Hope is affirmed in the waiting. 
God is able to call what is NOT into what IS.   

During this season I pray for those who are facing what seems like a 5% situation. Oh, Father, remind them as my friend reminded me: You are the God of small percentages. Father, I pray for those who are in circumstances that seem to be NOTS. Father, you can call any circumstance from a not to an IS. Any. Father, I pray during this season you would help us to wait and in waiting to trust you to take every situation of ours and transform them into proofs of your incredible ISness. Father, may we see in the creases of a baby’s hand your sovereignty, your design and your grace. Enable us to see the scars in your Son’s hands and know they are there because this baby of Advent became the Lamb of God.  Amen and amen.
*This concept based on Romans 4:17