Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Treasure Hunting: There Is Such a Thing as a Pen

The ocean is a place of sanctuary for me. The power and the consistency. The scent and the sound. The rolling and falling of the waves. The ever changing moods and yet a character so utterly the same.
It is an oasis in the horizon beckoning quietly. I can hear it just on the periphery of my auditory perception even when I am not there. Last year I chronicled our vacation days in a series called An Ocean of Stories. We returned to within a mile and a half of where we were last year. There was no question I would chronicle this journey too—not if but how.
So, Friends, slip your feet in your flip-flops. Pull out your sunglasses. Get comfortable in your skin. Come walk the shore with me. You’ll need sunscreen and a bottle of water. I’d love to have your company. Bring your friends. For as long as it lasts. 

This past winter was hard.
It was a difficult season for me. The length. The cold. The dark. The gloom. My sanctuary is the coldest room in the house, so I gravitated to another room. The new room seemed too tight, too small. I lost my sacred sense of place.
I stopped journaling. I wrote, but there wasn’t nearly as much private dialogue. My journal lay forgotten. My pen lay unused. The longer the winter tarried the harder it was for me to focus. The beginning of May rolled in before I really felt winter was finished. It was the middle of May before I was convinced that its gnarled fingers had finally released us.
There were days I dreamed about the ocean and the light. And the space.
It didn’t help that summer started late for us here in the little white house. My husband, because of the missed days of school due to snow and water main breaks, did not get finished with school until June 11th.
My tomatoes started very late. I planted my begonias in my front flower beds far later than usual, and I didn’t get to buy my hanging porch ferns because the area stores sold out. I waited too long. Summer seemed like a slow guest coming.
Needless to say, I anticipated our upcoming vacation. Our seven days at the beach.
In some ways I felt like I was holding my breath.
Then suddenly I was packing.
I bought a new carrying case for my computer. One of the new-fangled form fitting cases, and I began unplugging my computer and getting it ready, pleased as punch that I was so up to date.
Little did I know.
My daughter, the youngest, looked at me and asked an odd question.
“Why are you taking your computer to the beach, Mom?”  Incredulity laced her voice. I stopped. The comment took me off guard. I attempted to answer, but somehow the words jumbled in my head. I stumbled over them.  
“Well, I may want to write while I’m there.” I stuttered. Suddenly I was uncomfortable. The explanation seemed wrong, and felt far more like an excuse. Like a justification.
Abby looked at me with this odd expression. And she opened her mouth and the words she spoke were unexpected.
There is such a thing as a pen.”
In my already uncomfortable state those words rubbed me wrong.
I walked out of the room.  
But the words wouldn’t go away.
I slid the computer into its new protective finery.
But my daughter's words bobbled in my head.
With Abby’s remark came a faint epiphany. A whisper. She was simply a messenger.
I went in search for my journal.
And my pen.
They were exactly where I left them: in the back room which used to be my sanctuary. My closet. My out-of-the-hub room. My Jesus mountain prayer place.
I opened my black, narrow-lined journal. I turned the pages to the last filled one—about halfway through the journal and dated over a year ago. I’m not completely sure of what caused the cessation of my journaling. There wasn’t a dwindling down—no skipping days. No sporadic entries. The writing just stopped. Period.
I packed the journal in my front seat bag.
I drove the first four hours of our trip. Then I crawled into the back seat and pulled out the journal.
The pen began to move across the page. My handwriting was rusty, but muscle memory is an amazing thing.  The words were shaky and jerky from the tumult of the car rolling over the interstate.
My journal page.
I had forgotten the feel of the pen on the page. Forgotten the indentations caused by the black ink pressed into the paper by the pressure of my hand and the rolling ball of my pen. I had forgotten what the words looked like sitting on the straight gray lines. Misspelled words and typos remained; there was no auto correct. The letters were not homogenized or uniform.
I kept writing.
Through Abby’s words the Holy Spirit beckoned me to return.

To return to the sacred place. To the Jesus mountain. To the closet. To the out-of-the-hub space.

Back to my place of retreat.
For me typing words on a screen document does not feel the same as a pen scratching on the journal page. In some ways I am sure this is akin to my aversion of tablets and Nooks and Kindles.

But, for whatever reason, the Spirit had sent a message.
Pick up your pen. Open up your journal.
And write.
As I leafed through my journal I realized what a treasure I held in my hands. NOT because of my writing or thoughts or ideas.
No, my journals are treasures because they chronicle and record the Father’s direct involvement in my life. They are black ink accounts of answered prayer. The handwritten scrawl of worship. My journals are narratives of seeking and finding. Of being hungry and satisfied. Of confusion and clarity. Of ebb and flow. Of the rise and fall of seasons. Of epiphanies and revelations.
They are the rough draft of my story.
In the writing I began to recover from the fallout and debris of the winter. My interior space opened up a fraction.
The purpose of this sojourn to the sea?
A treasure hunt to recover and discover.
A journey of reclamation.







Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Swallowing God

A Hindu spoke this comment:  “I know Christians. They are the people who swallow God.”  **
I sat in the quiet of my front living room in the early morning hours. The clocks all ticking. The sunlight beginning to fall out on the worn hardwood floor. I am up this morning early even though I had the chance to sleep in beside my husband. But I woke with a restlessness, an anticipation for the day. I sat down to pray and read. And read the above sentence in a worn little book I found in the clearance section of a local used bookstore. (Occasionally I find treasures there.)
The people who swallow God.
This comment is an allusion to Communion. The bread and the wine. The broken bread and the poured wine. They are his body and his blood. Given to us as a gift to remember. To be reminded of what He did, of what he is doing. Of his purpose in coming. Of his calling. Of his mission.
And when we swallow down the broken and swallow down the poured we are swallowing to remember His sacrifice.
The sentence caught me off guard. I didn’t like it at first. It rubbed me wrong.
To swallow God?
What are the implications?
I sat here in this living room with all my doubts and cynicisms and chewed on this sentence for a while. Sat here with the pages of this little book and my green pen (closest one to me) and marked the pages so I wouldn’t forget. Marked that particular paragraph so I could reread the words. Marked them so they would not be like the fiction which I move over with rapidity to fill an overworked mind.  
Communion is so we don’t forget.
The breaking of bread and the pouring of wine is so we don’t forget.
So we might swallow God.
I sat here and imagined swallowing God.
And I envisioned my frail tent-body attempting to hold him—the walls of me extending and stretching.  
To swallow God and hold him in close is not the goal or purpose. To swallow him and absorb him so he might be broken and shared with others—this is the purpose.
When I swallow down God the swelling of his infinite Presence will fill and expand me. Then out of all the pores I have been trying so hard to diminish, trying so hard to make go away, pin lights of him will shoot.
Out of every pore a laser light shining. Beaming out in little narrow streams. Out of every pore of me.
I want to swallow God.
Meditate on Him. Stand in his Presence. Swallow Him down and allow him to fill me to such a capacity that I cannot hold him and my pores open.
Recently in a post on Ann Voskamp’s blog she shared a conversation with her sister. Her sister was in labor and she asked Ann to remind her of her visual for getting through the pain of labor. Of birthing. Ann tells her to imagine her body as being a sandbag with many holes and that the sand slowly seeps out…leaks out all the holes.
Ann’s visual stuck with me. For days I sat with this thought.
In order to swallow God we have to be emptied. There is not room for him if we are filled with many other things. I cannot swallow him down if I am full of other stuff.
I sat with Ann’s thought for days. I imagined myself as this leaking sandbag. The sand spilling out—the grains sliding toward the hole. And the flesh bag of me becoming flatter and flatter.
I was surprised at what leaked out—of what poured out of the holes. I realized that not only did the negative need to pour out, but even some of the positive. Things that were good that I held close—filling up my bag. All the good stuff I have collected over the years. It too needed to slide through the hole onto the ground.
At first I thought this would be a waste. Surely this sand was good for something?
Then Steve and I helped my daughter and son-in-law lay their patio.
I watched Steve and David cut holes in the sand bags and pour out the sand on the dirt. The sand piled high and the bags emptied. Then Katherine spread the sand on the dirt to create a foundation for the stone pavers. I watched her rake the sand. Pulling the straight metal edge of the rake across the sand’s surface. Then David came, sat down right on the edge of the patio and placed each paver on that very sand.
And I remembered.
God never wastes anything. Every grain of sand is accounted for.
But, I must be emptied in order to swallow God.
The holes and leaks and pores of me will provide the pathways for the sand stuff to pour from me.
When I am finally emptied, and I am not sure how long this will take, there seems to be a great deal of sand stuff in me, then I can swallow down God.
Like the broken bread and the poured wine.
And I will remember.
And there will be room for Him. But this frail tent-body won’t be able to hold him and he will pour out of the pores of me.
 Are we the people who swallow God?
Do we have room to swallow Him?
Is there space in these sand-bag bodies? To hold the very Presence of God?
When we chew the bread and drink the wine of Communion do we have room to swallow it down? To allow God to swell in us?
I am too full.
Over the next while I am asking God to leak the sand out of me. To break me open and let the sand slide right out. Poured out on the ground. Then he can take it and use it however he wants. For whatever purpose.
And when I am emptied, then He will have room to fill me with himself. I am praying for him to allow me to swallow him down.
I want to swallow God and then open my pores wide open—like windows to sunlight.


**(This comment was said to Ed Farrell, page 37 in Robert Benson’s book Living Prayer.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Square Pegs and Puzzle Pieces

At the end of May my graduating high school class had their 30th year reunion. I didn’t go; I was celebrating a wonderful young man’s college graduation.
I did, however, look at the photos for days. I looked to see if I could recognize the 1984 faces in the now forty-something faces. Most I could. Deep down you can’t change bone structure and eye squints and laugh lines. Or light behind the eyes.
It was very bittersweet for me.
Some of the people in the photos changed my life. They invested in me when I was still the wayward girl from the basement days. They prayed for me when I didn’t know Jesus and didn’t really give a flip. And their investment weighed in on the fact that I am here now writing.
Some of the people I didn’t know at all. Perhaps I knew their names when we were in school. Perhaps, we passed each other in the hall ways. Or perhaps we knew each other and avoided each other. We all know how high school is. And there were a couple of groups I longed to be a part of, but never managed it at all.
Until the last decade of my life I have always struggled with belonging. You know, the proverbial square peg to be fitted into a round hole—partly because of my own choices. Partly because of things I had no control or choice in at all.
I lacked an innate sense of belonging. I wanted so much to have the assurance that yes, this is where I fit. I am the puzzle piece  that belongs here.
As I looked through the 1984 Reunion photo albums I felt that odd sense of square-peggedness again. Sadness crept into my spirit; this deep longing.
We are wired for the eternal. We are mapped for community and belonging. It is an innate need.
Earlier this week I had breakfast on my porch with a new friend. During our two hour conversation there were many things said, prayed and hoped.
One thread of our conversation remained with me long after breakfast was over.
We discussed identity.
Who are we?
Who defines us?
What roots us?
Whose voice will rise above the din and chaos? Or the silence?
Because it matters. Who we believe we are determines everything about us.
And for a brief period this week I seemed to have amnesia.
I looked at the photographs and wondered had I attended the reunion would I have had a place? Would I have fit anywhere? I scolded myself at first because I felt that I was regressing in my growth and having a little woe-is-me party. Yet, this was not true at all.
God used it to remind me of who I am lest I forget.
On the porch sitting around a little round table with Frank’s donuts and the birds singing and the breeze blowing God reminded me who I am. As I was attempting to remind someone else the Spirit spoke the words right back to me. 

This is what the LORD says… "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Fear not.
I often fear I am going to forget who I am. In so many ways.
Fear not the LORD says. Tamera, don’t be afraid. I won’t let you forget who you are. I have redeemed you. I bought you back from that black place you used to abide. I ransomed you, paid a high price for you because I love you. Tamera, I have summoned you. I have called you. I have called you by name. What is that name? You Are Mine. That is your name.
Your name is You Are Mine.
I no longer have to be concerned with where I belong. Or where the edges and curves and corners of my puzzle piece fit.
My belonging is in Him.
No one can take that from me. Or modify it. Or reverse it. Or negate it.
That odd sense of square-peggedness dissipated.
The reality and truth of God’s word swallowed it right up.
Everything we do is determined by who we believe we are.

(Please take a little over three minutes to listen to this song by Jason Gray. This has been the sound track in my spirit this week.)