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I’m reading about cedar trees this morning. This isn’t one but it’s a picture gift snapped quick unexpected through the car windshield in front of me when I took notice and gasped delighted. I love trees. They stand guard quiet and silent. They “personify” His presence to me, if a tree can be a person, which to me they rather are. And the sun shining through just at the right moment like that? “Peace. Be Still. I am.”
Yesterday at church I struggled to hear. Scrambled to feel “belonged to.” I have been sorting through my life scrap box and taking note how distraction can take my fixed eyes off the Rail Himself. And when the distraction gets bored with you and gets distracted itself, it’s work in your head sufficiently accomplished, it’s difficult to quell the echo. So I sat in that hard pew, hard because my place felt hard, and listened…..distracted. Did I hear the word “pray”? It grabbed me and I looked down at my bracelet given to me by an anchor friend.
Had I talked to God about this? Like …on purpose? I’d been batting thoughts like pesky flies but…….this God, this God I’m reading about this morning…..Whose very voice breaks the cedars, thunders His glory, is upon the waters, splits and flashes lightning, makes the wilderness tremble……had He been talking to me? Could I have actually missed this Voice?? The speaker’s words continued on in the background as I wandered around in my head. I recall seeing this verse…..I was so distracted I don’t actually remember what I saw it on but the reference was as familiar as my name. And yet, I found myself feeling like my name had been called out in class. “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” It sounded very “admonitiony” and I sat up straighter. OH. I had forgotten to stand. I had submitted. Again. I’d found myself on all too terra familiar. And somehow, I seemed to hear my Father say…..”and now that you hear My voice, let’s make this particular yoke be the last time. Yes?”
So right there, in the middle of a sermon that I admit I was paying little attention to, save the “pray” word, I started….praying. I mean, I had precious little time to waste. Renew my mind, God. Let me hear You. Let me recognize it.
I made my way to a dinner being held after the sermon and mingled on purpose; desperate to see Him in the eyes of His people. “God. I will not let go, until I start to hear Your voice above the swell in my ears. I’m just flat out sick of not.” I turned to see a woman I’d long wanted to get to know better but….well, the distraction had made me distant….. and spun her around to hug her and look her in the face. She had a story. “Sit down,” she said to me and so I sat, ready to hear. At that moment, right at the moment He’d planned all along, someone “interrupted” our conversation to say hello to my friend. “Oh! I know your wife! I haven’t seen her in s o l o n g. Please tell her Tamara said hello!” And just like that, the recognition set in on his face. He remembered me. He’d heard parts of my story. How was I, he wanted to know. Good. I’m good. Not an easy good? But a knowing good. Knowing Whose I am good, knowing the end of the story no matter what good. “I can tell,” he said. “You wouldn’t have had to say a thing. I can see it on your face.” He sat down and we caught up on all things life. And then this. He looked me straight in the eye. “How can I bless you?”
My eyes filled with tears. I was caught off guard. Not that I was guarded? But I couldn’t ever remember being asked that so directly by someone, and I swayed a little at it, like a wind blown through quick. And then I “heard” the whisper in my spirit. “This is Me. That is My question. I stand ready to bless you. I have all along.”
I woke up this morning. My hair was a m e s s. I ate the same green smoothie I always do. I packed up what to take with me same as any other day. But something was different. I had heard His voice. And I would step over, step on if I had to, the distractions to get to terra firma. I was ready to break this yoke for good. I’d seen it slap itself around my heart for the last time. He had heard my voice and responded with His own.
The voice of the Lord, the voice of the Lord, the voice of the Lord………Hear, oh hear…..the voice of the Lord.
I love that the old leaves, the dead ones that are gone now in this picture, are imprinted onto where they used to be. Their essence is still there. The new leaves? Look just like the outline of the old ones, except they’re bright life giving green. A memory and a promise on the canvas of an old barn side. I took the photo and then stood for a moment looking and considering. Because I don’t much like rushing beauty or memory.
Recently, I stood in line at the grocery, in a hurry. Paper or plastic, mam? Do you have our shopper’s card? Is that credit or debit? Paper. Yes. Credit. And then…..would you like to donate to the American Heart Association? I don’t know anyone who has had heart trouble. Not up close, anyway. But I know a boy who hurts some days because his mama’s heart stopped. I can’t ever remember actually donating anything at a grocery store cash register. But this day I stopped my hurry and surprised myself. “Yes. I would.”
So tonight, on a paper heart bought with a little extra money, the imprint of “Jan” is written out careful and hung up in the store with a wall of others. I told her boy what I’d done. Because the imprint of her is on him. And I wanted him to know I stood quiet and thought of her, of him. I wanted him to know it was okay to miss her, to take his time doing it, to not rush to replace or forget or escape. That imprints mixed with new life can be Love showing Himself. ….the white, lacey reminder of life lived and how it decorates our lives even after it’s gone.
That kept rolling round my head this morning, those title words, like an echoey thundery sound……I know what weary means……I went to sleep last night feeling camped out on the edge of it, afraid my tent would fall off in the night. I woke up this morning and made my way to my coffee. I was more than glad to be in an upright position, but still carrying that bricks on the chest feeling. “Let us not grow weary….” whispered itself into my skull, outta “nowhere”, except that I know where it came from. How do I do that, God? Why are you saying that to me? I sat down heavy in front of my computer and typed in “what does weary mean in Hebrew?” Why do I keep finding myself here? I wanted a prescription, something to cure me, immediately. “Having one’s patience, relish or contentment exhausted; having the strength exhausted by toil or exertion; to weary oneself with traveling; wearing of marching, confinement or study.”
This is hard to write about, hard to think about, hard to speak “out loud”. I risk being misunderstood. But the raw of it is, what if everything I do is about me? Yesterday was a “hollow” day for me. This is about to get real pathetic, completely shallow and neurotic so hang with me till the end. I posted on Facebook; little to no response, same with instagram. I hate Facebook; No, I don’t; Yes, I do. See what I mean? I hardly saw any of my friends that day; precious few of them stopped to talk. Even the kids rushing in to see me at school seemed in a hurry . Were they really? Or was it the glasses I was looking through?
I walked in my house at the end of the day, ready to eat lasagna until I forgot about it all when my message light flashed a promising green; my friend checking in. I grabbed onto it like a rope in the water. We chatted from our screens for a minute before I ventured that I was feeling “someway”, an indian term someone taught me once that means…..a vague feeling that you can’t find the words for. Then I typed this. “It’s back again. That feeling that I’m an intruder on the face of the earth.” And just like that, I remembered. It played itself back in my head, the movie from early that morning. I’d had to walk by a car with someone in it that I’d felt rejected by and suddenly I felt like a naked nine year old girl running for emotional cover and nowhere to go but right by the car. It’s possible I heard my bones turn brittle as I walked by and clinked together all nutty fruitcake. That caused me to stick a “needle” in everyone’s arm the rest of the day to siphon off the life juice I needed to push it all back away from me. Except it wasn’t enough. No amount of social reciprocation; no amount of solitude could bury that nagging yuck. I give up, I decided. I’m too tired to write in my blog and who wants to read it anyway? I give up taking pictures with a stupid cell phone. Why am I wasting my time? I’m too tired to love these kids at school the right way and what if I’m just a fake who passes out love to get love? Why am I doing any of this? The questions scared me. So I went to sleep.
This morning He was waiting for me, the Lover of my soul? With those words that made me chafe irritable at Him. “Let us not grow weary in doing good.” I’m too weary not to be weary, God. Just fix me. But it urged me on. I needed to know what He had for me in it. How, God? How?
“When we are in vibrant relationship with God and receiving our fill from Him, we are less likely to push the boundaries God has set for us or to work ourselves beyond what He would ask. We are more apt to recognize what God is calling us to do and what He is not calling us to do. God equips us for what He calls us to (Hebrews 13:20-21; Ephesians 2:10). When God continually fills our spirit, it is impossible to dry up and burn out.”–gotquestions.org
I sat back from my computer screen. There. There it was. Three days. Three days had gone by since I’d talked to God, except in the way you do when you have a rock in your shoe and it hurts but you don’t stop long enough to get it out? That nagging, frenetic talking to God. And I was empty. So I turned to blog counters, Facebook likes and Instagram hearts, nods and smiles from friends for my atta girl cookies. And when I was full out panic mode thirsty, I walked myself in front of a car that carried a particular brand of rejection that I was way too friendly with and it took me down the rest of the way. I had forgotten from whence comes my Help. I had forgotten my Reason.
The thing about God is, when you’ve looked down at the dust around you, He means to pick you up clean out of it. I got to school this morning, with doughnuts for my school kids. Not because I needed them to love me, but because God reminded me I was a container of Him. He wanted to love them. I sat at my store table and saw my friend, Amy, coming towards me, just to sit and talk. Laurie walked by. “I’m not getting your blog. Did you take me off your list? I don’t want to miss it.” No. No I didn’t. I just haven’t written and I smile in my heart as she walks away. He wanted me to know He wants me to write and He used Laurie to tell me. One by one the kids came in to give me a hug and I sit and talk to Shane over a cup of coffee about the paper he wrote for Bible class. such rich conversation for such a young man, I think. He is one after God’s own heart. The bell rings and they all scurry off for the morning. At lunch time I was needed for second grade recess and I found myself in a swarm of bright faces and conversations about pet chinchillas and watch me I can do cart wheels and “TAG!, you’re it!”
At the end of the day Erick and Conner flew in for their special candy in their special drawer and I gave them both hugs and reminded them that they were loved. Penny sat down at the table in the store waiting on her kids to get out of class, my day now full circle, as she and I pondered together this weary thing, this staying in the race. I could almost see the glint of iron as we sharpened one another. As the last kid left and I locked up the store for the day, I heard in my heart…”My burden, the one I give you, is light. But you must come to Me first…..and I will give your heart it’s rest…..so that you do not grow weary.”
I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
I took a wrong turn is all. I’m known for that. How many times, I wonder, have I heard my kids from the back seat. “Mama? Are we lost again?” We laugh about it still. Because it happens still. And always, I say…..”God? You know where I am. Point the way back?” I know. Maps and GPS’s and such. The thing is, for years I’ve been this way and never used any of it to get back. He would seem to drive my car back in spite of me and I would marvel at the intersection that I found myself in, the one I should have been in in the first place. Ah life. The spiritual parallels always make me smile. I look for those.
Yesterday, all foggy and misty out, my girl and I took ourselves to the shooting range to practice our newfound “skill”. She seems to have been born with it. I can spell “g-u-n”……at this point. But I press on as I press the trigger. We headed home after, ready for jammies and movies. It had been a good day off. And that’s where we drove into new territory. I realized, as the road started looking nothing like what I anticipated, that I had not been here before.
I used to panic at these unplanned detours. And sweat. And breathe funny. And grip the steering wheel crazy eyed. Because somehow I believed that I would never find my way back. That I might end up living off the land somewhere in a remote part of Iowa. Now? I laugh at myself. I still point my heart upwards. “God?” But now I settle into my seat and start looking around. I had a friend once who taught me to pay attention through a camera lens. I don’t have a real camera. But my friend put his camera in my hand and taught me to “see”. So now I look with different eyes, the ones in my heart and on my face. I wish I could show him what he’s taught me but he’s gone now. And so, I turn to my girl beside me; to teach her in turn. “Do you see ?” I pull off the road and tramp muddy to get closer to the picture my heart sees. I click three times. I learned that from my friend. You never know what the third click might capture that the first two missed. I look at my screen and can still hear the dripping sound of melting snow, the faint trace of the smell of tobacco laying forgotten on the barn floor, the cawing of crows circling in the sky above me. Taking pictures does that; they imprint sounds and smells and feelings in your spirit. When I go back later, I am startled at the details I missed when it was right in front of me. They are wordless journals to the journey.
They are compasses in reverse, after the fact, reminders steady of where I was and where I was going that I couldn’t see or know at the time. This trip home yesterday, off the beaten path away from what I knew? Reminds me of the proverb I’ve heard many times. All who wander are not lost. Sometimes? The Father of all that passes before, beside and behind me is gifting me with a different perspective. And teaching me how to set sail with a steady heart.
I’m up early on this Valentine’s Day, been up for quite awhile, thoughts swirling around my head like little helicopters. Not the traditional Valentine thoughts. I don’t have one. Not a man one, at least. I’m not good at man valentines. I know this because they tell me so. By leaving; by choosing others. I don’t blame them. I’m whimsy and fun. But then I want to crawl in and make myself a home. And that seems to cost too much for a man, at least the ones I pick. Clearly, I am not good at it. I don’t like this holiday because it feels manufactured to make you feel on the outside when you don’t have a valentine. It’s bittersweet and makes me hunker down like when I’m in a bitter wind and waiting for it to blow past. So, on this Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking of things that matter to me and trying to shape my smoothie into a heart design. It feels a little like when you win the consolation prize and you give yourself that “it’s really okay” speech, when deep down inside it makes you wince and isn’t really totally okay at all. The boat ride on days like this can get choppy in the heart. But I white knuckle it and find I can live through it after all. Because after all, Valentine’s Day isn’t a sacrament in the Bible except that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” and that, it turns out, is the only valentine that will ever really last and not get mad at you or get distracted or worse, die.
She matters to me. Yesterday, my girl and I spent a day being spontaneous, which is the heartbeat of my little free spirited self. I thrive on the happy in the u turns in life that cause you to end up at a movie that you didn’t plan on because it just occurs to you to go. We shot guns for the first time and hung our targets up on the wall at home to remember this day. She outdid me with her aim. I don’t mind at all. We ate fried chicken fingers dipped in sauce in our car because we like how it feels; warm and cozy and quiet and not all frenetic fast food restauranty and we get to pick our own background music on the radio. We talk about the heavy in the movie that made us both cry; the sadness at seeing a father have to lay his head down on his dead son’s chest and say goodbye. I think in my head how it scares me a little to look to the day when this girl is off busy somewhere and not beside me sharing everyday adventures like this. I don’t have the money to buy myself distraction or friends when fear or pain sets in like that. I think how maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’d do it if I could. I know that about myself. As it is, it makes me live in the here and now. And deal with real.
I talked to my boy at 5 a.m. my time. He’s in South Africa and he and I both know in our hearts, this will probably be a lifetime thing. He belongs there. God put the fire in his belly for that place and he can’t shake it. We exchange words black and white in the chat window on Facebook and tears run unchecked down my face. Pride and and joy for him and the irony of missing him but not wanting him back because I know it’d break his heart to leave there. Sort of like heaven on earth. You can’t anticipate this feeling when you’re raising them little. You try but you can’t. And it’s hard to explain to someone how you can’t talk about it without crying. Until they feel it too.
This place, where I call home for now, matters to me. Not because I love the structure so much as the story it tells. My daddy’s heart put me here. He befriended a lonely, elderly man one day because he was always paying attention like that, and one day, months after the man died? My father discovered he’d left his house to him. My daddy lives in heaven now and wanted me to live here in this house. In my bones? I don’t think I’ll die here. But every day that goes by I look back over my shoulder to this view in my car mirror as I drive off to make my way in the world and marvel at how things go. This is a picture of grace to me; wild and unexpected.
Beatrice matters. She’s my new granddaughter. I’ve only just met her the one time so far. She lives far from me and God paid for a ticket for me to fly to see her. She was two weeks in this world. I did most of the talking. I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I told her that I loved her and that maybe we could make things with scissors and construction paper one day when her hands were bigger. And that I could tell her stories about her mama when she was little. And make her laugh. And sing to her. And pray her wings so her heart will fly in this big world.
I work at a school. I don’t hold an “important” position there. But each face that walks through the door and comes in to get a piece of candy or a hug or I look in the eye and we sit and talk? Matters. No matter how quick or how deep the conversation is, I always whisper a thank you for the encounter. This matters more deeply to me than I can sew the words together. These young faces that look up to me with more admiration than I deserve. They are salve on my heart. I remember these tender days in my own life and watch careful on their faces for signs that they need a word fitly spoken, a quiet encouragement that I’ll be thinking of them that day.
Sunrises…and sunsets….I love them like friends. They put parenthesis around my days. They hug me with hope at the beginning and comfort at the end. That He is and was and always will be. That when I don’t understand, it’s okay in a way that I don’t understand. And speaking of friends…..the ones that get me? That let me be all needy and weepy and silly and wispy and serious? The ones that seek me out and won’t let me cut bait. Those.
I love the person this shadow represents. He’s taught me, this past year, how to love in spite of, because of, instead of, through it, after it, in the middle of. He’s taught me how to give unhinged, unconditional love, with no hope of reciprocation. He’s caused me to look hard at why I give what I give. He’s given me insight into living with the hard. He’s shown me how to pray for things I may never know the outcome of. He’s made me understand the cost of loving who He brings to my hearts’ door. He’s made me cry. He’s made me hurt. He’s made me laugh in spite of myself. He’s taught me how to love anyway.
This living life each day? Can be long. This life in pictures? Can seem short. Carpe diem. No matter what.
I sit here in the semi warmth of my kitchen; because it is 150 years old with seepy cold windows that make me open my oven door and turn it to 400, just to create that semi warmth. I found this picture, posted a year ago today when things looked promising for a new relationship, when roads I was traveling on were beginning to take turns I had not expected that would set the sun on fire in my heart. And I stood perched and paying attention, just like these deer. What is THIS, God? I tried to peer off into the distance to see if I could see the end of the movie. I thought that way, I could “protect” my heart from change, could resist what I might learn, could orchestrate the soundtrack myself.
I ended up traveling that road anyway, sight unseen; still am. I am so deeply grateful for having done it not knowing. I’d have skipped most of it, to tell you the truth. And there would have been my absolute loss. I look around at the memories tucked in the tree branches and the patterns on the snow in this picture, things only my heart can see and I find myself smiling. I am a new person; newer than before. Turns out, His word is true. He does make all things new and sometimes He does it with me unaware. I’ve grown up into my childlikeness, I’m skipping around in the palm of His hand where His boundaries are safe. I rest from my need to know. I listen to the music He’s playing in my world and dance. I think of what scares me now, the vestiges of deer fear, and I wrap it around the notes I hear in my symphony from Him and watch it float up in the air.
Sometimes the notes are dark and the tones take on sounds that make me look around. But now? Instead of running to the woods? I still my heart and listen hard. His voice is singing over me.
A deer ago, things were different. I am grateful.
I’m typing this all by myself from my brand new platform that, save for my girl, would not be happening because all things techno make me get all sweaty. In fact, after I get done typing this she will then show me how to add to it because I have this irrational fear that if I hit the wrong button a war will break out somewhere in the world and it will be my fault.
So here I am, my picture and a whimsical song that makes my heart want to dance. To be free enough to share me with you and invite you to do back…..to feel safe and welcome here. That is my hearts’ desire. To remind you Who loves you, to “illiminate the darkest hours.” If you’ve joined me on this adventure, thank you. I’m so pleased to have you here.
Up in the early hours. Thinking about Easter. It’s soon for that kind of thing, I know, but the warmth the past two days, the searching my heart, the pain and the purpose of it, points me to that hope and I love it so much. Was a time when pain caused me to question God, shook my faith, made my knees shake in despair. How could You? How could You? Something quiet has happened in my life the past three years. Now when the tears fall, when people do hurtful things, when the unexpected happens, when the inevitable comes, I turn to Him safe. I still cry. I still get lost sometimes. But He knows my name and He calls it. And I always find my way back. It’s okay now that I don’t understand. I don’t strive to anymore. I don’t need to. I wouldn’t anyway, even if He told me. Because I’d always do it differently.
I curl up on this Sunday morning and reach for the Jesus Storybook Bible. I love how the author uses childlike terms to explain big thoughts; “Jesus went up into the bright air”, “He came to make sad come untrue.” I turn out my light and smile into the dark.
“I don’t know where Jesus is,” Mary said urgently. “I can’t find Him.”
But it was alright. Jesus knew where she was. And He had found her.
Only one person said her name like that.”
He has said my name like that these days. He has taught me to see the pain as level ground in this world that hurts us sometimes. Even people that hurt us? Don’t really mean to, if they could see past this murky veil we live behind. He’s teaching me what grace looks like. Days sometimes make me long to leave this place. But then He shows me a glimpse of it’s beauty and I gasp sorry that I almost missed it.
He gives me reasons to keep going. Kaitlyn, Connor, Jamie, Amy, Naomi, Solomon, Caleb, Hannah, Noah, Rachael, Jeremy, Beatrice, Benjamin, E.T., Hannah and Madison, Julia, Erick, Melody, Rachel, Julie, Judy, Jonah, Shane, Emma, Jenna, Laurie, Tonya, Bill, Carley, Graham, Penelope, Katie, Tricia, Phoebe, Alan, Michael, Michele, Carrie, Bob, Neva, Terri, Heather, Shirley. Loretta, Dorothy, Tina……the faces go past my eyes endless as I close them and I picture the people. We are here for each other, while we are here. It’s all transitory, so fragile, so temporary, save the final goal. The forever goal.
Carry things loosely, reach out quickly, use the currency of your life wisely. Fix your eyes on the prize, whether through your tears or through the “bright air”. It’s going to be alright, in the end. He has told us so.
Only with a better ending for the song…..”Yesterday, all my troubles seemed they’re here to stay, now it looks as if they’re far away.”
I walked into school yesterday morning quiet and still so as not to wiggle the jello in my stomach. My emotions were tender and precarious, after the day before, like the first day after the flu when you don’t dare eat more than dry toast. After baring my soul, and after feeling “called” to do just that, I just wanted to sit just quietly like Ferdinand the Bull, a children’s book I used to read to my kids.
As I made my way through the day, first one, then another, of the kids and teachers and parents found their way to me. “I’m praying for you.” Some hadn’t even read my words from the day before and had no idea of my hearts’ wound. It’s just because the Creator of my wounded heart wanted it held extra close and so He whispered to people around me who He knew would love me into His shadow.
The morning turned into afternoon and, it being Friday, and the weekend approaching; that time when everyone but you seems to have plans to put on Facebook; I started to feel myself sink a little with the late day sun. I went into the bathroom to be alone a minute. “God. I want to panic again. I don’t know what to do with myself. Tell me what to do. Ugh. I miss my boys far away.” It’s funny how sad can wrap itself around lonely to compound the fracture. I sat a minute and let myself cry in a gaspy sort of way, just for a minute and then I knew. I was going to go get my girl and I something to eat and come back and watch the basketball game at school. I don’t even like sports. But my “family” was there.
We walked into the gymnasium, full of hamburgers and garlic parmesean fries and found ourselves surrounded by friends; the kind that make you laugh too loud. As I threw back my head I looked up at the rafters of the ceiling. “Thank you, Father. Good, good Father, for giving me what I didn’t know I’d find.” We left with plans to meet for breakfast and talk life the next day.
The girl and I came home and piled up 3 blankets deep on the couch to watch a movie until we fell asleep. It was our plan to stay right where we fell. Sometime during the night, I woke up from a snapshot dream. My Hannah and Rachael, my older girls, were in it. “You guys! Come look! It snowed!” Hannah’s voice was excited but quiet and sparkly enchanted. When we looked out the window there was a glittery light surface white shining in the moonlight. And then I woke up sleepy and groggy. I felt a lifting, a peace, from the day before. “Father,” I heard myself whisper, “hear the prayers of your children, my friends, on my behalf. Renew my strength, my thoughts, my emotions, my heart, my vision. I am Your container.”
I still feel tender. But I’m not sure I need to lose that feeling. It makes me aware of how fragile, how precarious, how rough the way here can be. And points me in His direction. Because, the truth is, this world is not my home. I’m just a passin through. How deeply grateful I am, though, that He’s put pilgrims beside me to help me carry the load.