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.