March 13, 2014

On Toddler “Help” (and how I’m a toddler)

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , , at 2:05 pm by Tamara

Little Bear is in the phase where he loves to help me, and I’m doing whatever I can to encourage it. He especially loves baking with me, which I find absolutely ADORABLE. Of course the downside is that everything takes 3x as long with a toddler helping, but I try to let him anyway because I want to encourage that considerate and helpful spirit of his!

The other day I was having an “Ahk-I’m-not-accomplishing-anything-in-life” sort of day, and desperately wanted to get some stuff done to make myself feel better. Bear was trying to help me clean, but Baby Songbird was quite indignant that I thought a broom was more interesting than her. She is SO social; Bear has always been able to amuse himself for quite a while alone, but she wants interaction all-the-time. At one point I told Bear, “You know, the way you could help me the most would be to keep your sister happy for a bit.” He gave me a dubious look, but, sweet boy that he is, trotted off to entertain his fussing sister (who perked up the minute he was paying attention to her).

Bear really seemed skeptical that he could be more helpful playing with Songbird than hanging on to the bottom of the broom for me, but as I swept and mopped as quickly as I could, I thought how that REALLY WAS the absolute best thing he could do to help me and how much I appreciated it. And suddenly it occurred to me that God probably often tries to tell me the same thing, and I often give him the same ‘Not-sure-you-know-what-you’re-talking-about’ look Bear gave me.  Sometimes I’m so busy looking for “BIG THINGS TO DO FOR GOD,” and frustrated that he doesn’t seem to be letting me “help” him as much as I want to. But I wonder if he’s telling me, “Honestly, what would be the most wonderful is if you would just love and care for the people I’ve put around you.” He did say, after all, that the two things he wanted most from us are to love him and love our neighbors.

Shortly afterwards I got a chance to choose to practice this conviction, because Bear got tired of playing with Songbird and she decided she was going to cry until I rescued her. So, I abandoned my mop in the laundry room sink and scooped her up. I told her teasingly, “You know, how YOU could help me the most would be to fall asleep.” And right away there was God’s whisper to me: “You could ‘help’ me by being still too, you know. By choosing to rest in me, and to peacefully enjoy and love the little ones I’ve given you to love, even if you don’t feel like you’re ‘accomplishing’ much.”

Now, I’m not saying I plan to let our house fall to complete shambles, because I know I can honor God by doing those practical things, but I realized that I probably have no idea how thrilled God is with the moments when I’m just sitting on the floor, showing my precious kiddos that I love them and God loves them too. If it gives me warm fuzzies to see my little boy sweetly loving and caring for his baby sister, how much more delighted must God be when we love and take care of the family, friends, and even strangers he’s put in our lives?

“Little children…a new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

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June 25, 2012

Life Update

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , , , at 11:29 pm by Tamara

It may be hard to tell from the last few posts, but my life really isn’t a book (or a review of a book).  So I guess I should give a life update before I write the next two book reviews I have planned….

You’ve probably already guessed it, but we aren’t going to be going overseas this fall.  As I mentioned here, once we started the application process a bunch of reasons not to go suddenly popped up, and we were left trying to discern whether that was God speaking or just life being life or the enemy being the enemy.  We were concerned about the timing for several reasons, such as our desire to have more kids sometime in the next few years (and the possibility that I’d have to come back to the states if I needed another c-section), and the fact that we’d have to raise all our support in the summer, which is when I also needed to complete my internship for my degree.

Also, right when we were turning in our applications we found out that Adam’s mom’s cancer had started progressing faster than expected.  She was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia a while back, but told it would be ten years or so before she would feel any symptoms or need treatment.  Unfortunately, her check up showed it was progressing faster than they expected, and they said she would probably need to start chemo within the year.  I promised Mom I wouldn’t be dramatic when I wrote about this, but you can imagine how difficult it was for all of us to hear that!  She very much stressed to us that she wanted us to follow God wherever he was leading us, but it was definitely a new factor in our decision process.

So, we did a lot of praying and talking with people we trusted, and finally decided that we should wait at least a year before trying to go overseas.  Ironically, a few days after we decided that, the organization got back with us and told us that they didn’t think they had quite the right placement for us.  So that closed that door!

I had very mixed feelings about that.  My first reaction was to be very thankful that God had clearly closed the door and confirmed our decision to wait.  Unfortunately, other emotions followed quickly on my thankfulness’ heels!  Chief among them was a deep feeling of rejection.  “Why didn’t they want us?  What’s wrong with us?”  And that quickly transitioned into “Why doesn’t GOD want us?”  It’s baffling to me that God clearly calls us to “Go into all the world” and says “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” but then when we say “Here am I!  Send me!” he says…”No.”  What do you do with that?

So I had to take a few weeks to really wrestle with some things I believe in my head but had to come to grips with in my heart.  A big one was that God’s love for me has nothing to do with my usefulness to Him.  And that closing one door doesn’t mean He’s given up on me and doesn’t want me anymore.  That He loves me fiercely and unconditionally and considers me as valuable as His own Son, and that will never change.

Once I had some peace in my heart about that whole mess of emotions and lies and truth, it was pretty much back to my old reaction: “Alright, Lord, thank you for clearly closing that door.  But, now, where is your open door?  I’m very thankful for clear ‘No’s,’ but where is your ‘Yes?’”

And…you’ll have to wait for a future blog post about that, because we’re not exactly sure about the answer yet!  We are sure, though, that God doesn’t have us here for no reason.  We don’t want to just be here because we aren’t “there” (wherever there is); we believe God has a reason why we are HERE, NOW.  So we’re trying to be faithful with what’s on our plates right now and keep our eyes open for what God wants to do in and through us right now.  There are a couple things on our radar screens, but this is getting long, so I’ll save them for later.

Mom has had a couple of doctor’s appointments since then, and we’re very thankful that she’s found some fantastic doctors.  They are still thinking she’ll need to start chemo sometime before the end of the year, but say there are some positives about where her condition stands now, such as that she’s still considered stage one.  So we’re waiting, praying, and trusting God.  I’d really appreciate your prayers!!

Thanks for reading, caring, and praying for us!  I can tell you are.  : )

March 15, 2012

Vision and Questions for the Future

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , , , at 8:54 pm by Tamara

“Let me explain–  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.”  (Name that movie!)

It’s a long story that I’ve shared bits and pieces of, but the summary is that Adam and I have been seriously praying about the possibility of going overseas for two years to do ministry.  We’ve sent in our applications so that we can talk with the organization, find out more about the opportunity, and go from there.  (Incidentally, the application is part of the reason for the lack of block posts lately: too much other writing for the application and school!)

Ever since we started the application process we’ve been blindsided by a bunch of reasons NOT to go.  We’re still processing them, trying to discern if any of them are God saying “Wait” or if they’re just life being life, or the enemy being the enemy, or what.  It’s exhausting and discouraging, but also a good lesson in trust and learning to listen to the Father.  We’re really in limbo so I can’t say what’s going to happen, but if I don’t at least mention it now and we do decide to go, you’ll all think it came out of thin air, so I’m mentioning it!

At any rate, that’s not the real point of this post, just the background.  Here’s the point: I get prayer updates from someone doing ministry in a dangerous part of the world, and they recently had some people visit the region to see about maybe coming to minister there.  This was in a recent update from my friend, and it just about made me cry, because I can so relate!  I can’t share my friend’s name, but they gave me permission to post this.  If you’re in the same boat, I hope it’s encouraging to you, too!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Some call them vision trips. Others say they’re survey trips. Whatever the name, it’s all about breathing the air, walking the ground, and wondering if you could do it. Could you make this move? Could you live here, in this stranger than you’ve ever imagined place? It’s about putting your real self and your shimmering dreams before others you may have met only through email, if at all. It’s about listening to what’s said and what’s left unsaid. Its about pushing back the doubts and fears and straining to hear our Father’s voice.

“I am always awed at the courage of vision-trippers. It’s a journey of pure faith; flying face-forward into the abyss. It’s knowing that you’re called but wondering who, if anyone, will receive you. And if they do receive you, will they be glad for it? Will you find a home with the little band, the team you’ve agreed to join? Will you make good decisions? Do you really know who you are? Are you ready? And if you do come, will anyone back home support you? Will people really pray? Will they give? Will they remember you? Will it be enough? And who said you could do this, anyway? Who said you had anything to give? Why don’t you just stay home? Isn’t there enough work to be done there? And how could you take our grandchildren so far away? What about your career and your retirement – and a hundred other challenges?

“This is why I’m always awed at the faith of vision-trippers. These are folks who’ve started the journey. Who’ve stood up and bravely said; ‘I want to go.’  They have some partners who’ve said; ‘I believe in you.’ Who pray and give – who invest in the brave dream that’s not yet been fulfilled. They’ve completed applications and joined an organization. They’ve prayed their hearts out and started counting the cost. They’ve stepped headlong into a spiritual battle the likes of which they’ve never experienced before. The enemy rises up in rage. “Who do you think you are!?!” With weapons of doubt and fear, he would stop us in our tracks if God were not with us. This is why I love vision-trippers. I love their sheer courage and trembling faith. The next steps are clear; join a field-team, raise support and go. If you know any such people, cheer them on. Celebrate their journey. Enjoy the overflow of their faith.”

July 1, 2010

The Journey

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 11:55 pm by Tamara

I sat in a far corner of the bustling terminal, dressed in pants and a long cotton coat in spite of the stifling heat.  The most amazing thing, however, was the scarf covering my hair and wrapped around my shoulders.  I’d been waiting long months, months full of endless preparations, worry, details, communication, and tears.  Now, at long last, I had arrived in the airport in Dubai, pulled that scarf out of my suitcase and carefully placed it on my head.  It was like becoming someone else.

The exhausted knot of worry in my stomach was accompanied by a leaden feeling that seemed to slug through my veins.  I was terrified.  Through the entire lonely trip I’d felt distant and removed, like I was watching myself in a movie.  I found myself repeating an inner monologue as though I was commenting on my life from outside.

What am I doing?  I’m not brave!  Why am I here?  What was I thinking?  I can’t do this.  I’m not…brave.

It was like I’d had delusions of grandeur and suddenly realized they’d gotten me in way over my head.  Was I really here, and really about to go there?  It almost seemed hilarious to me, like a farce.  What EVER made me think I could do this?

But, like a robot, I had packed my suitcases, walked though airport security, boarded one plane, then another, then another, until suddenly I found myself on the other side of the world, with burqa-clad women bustling around me, listening numbly as the swirling tones of Arabic carried through the humid air, staring up at spiraling mosque turrets and quickly lowering my gaze from the prying eyes of dark-skinned, turbaned men.

One more plane, and the long, exhausting hours of sitting and rumbling would be over.  One more plane to board, and I’d be there.  The place I’d prayed over, agonized over, longed for.  Afghanistan.  I was going.

What was I thinking?

Before I knew it I was staring out the plane window as we took off.  It was final now—terrified or not, I was being hurtled towards Afghanistan.  Where was the excitement?  How many years had I ached to be right where I was now, about to step onto Muslim land?  But all I felt was numb inadequacy.

Hello, Lord, I said, reaching for that connection, desperate to know I wasn’t alone.  It was like grabbing for a rope and pulling, trying to get closer to my anchor, wanting to feel the tension on the line that meant God was on the other end of it.

After an hour that felt like minutes we started our decent, and I reached up to make sure my headcovering was in place.  It was going to take a while to get used to this.  I pulled my camera out and held it at arms-length, forcing a brave smile.  Click, and it was real.  Me, in a headcovering, flying into Afghanistan.  Exhausted, grimy, unsure, but going.

I looked out the window.  The clouds were beginning to wisp away, letting green smudges melt through.  The smudges became more clear, rising up to form gray-green mountain ranges, then sinking down into flat, bright green fields.  This was it: my first sight of a place I’d prayed for for so long.  Tiny, weather-beaten houses began to dot the landscape, and I felt a quiver go through me, like a spark of light in a dark room.  The land continued to take shape; I could see fields, houses, people, roads.  The flicker began to spread, sending warmth gently from my heart down to my fingertips.

Afghanistan.  It was here.  I was here.

Suddenly the fear seemed to be dripping and mingling with the slowly pulsing beat of excitement.  I grasped that excitement with amazement.  At last, there it was!  Suddenly I felt again what I’d felt for years—a longing, broken-hearted desire to touch this place, to step onto the ground with light and truth.  To see the darkness shattered.  In that moment my heart broke with the overwhelming feeling that I was loved and not alone.  I could feel his hands around my heart, infusing the broken pieces with love and strength and momentum.  Cradling my heart above this place I’d ached for so long, ready to let the pieces fall like seeds in the desert.

The plane landed, and I gathered my things, checked my head covering and walked to the door.  I stepped outside, walked down the steps, and put my foot on the ground.

I was here.  Afghanistan.

December 31, 2009

The Gauntlet

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 9:55 pm by Tamara

This move has felt a little like the gauntlet Lancelot runs in the movie First Knight. When I first stared into the details, it looked like an impossible mess of slashing blades, jabbing swords, and swinging hard objects. SLICE! Two blades went whizzing in front of my nose, taunting “You have nowhere to live!” STAB went a sword up from the floor, reminding me, “You have no way to pay for school!” THWACK, “You have no job” swooshed by. We were pretty sure of two things: we needed to get this training, and we had no way to make it happen.

In one of my (many) freak-out moments, I sensed very clearly that God was telling me that I needed to just take the first step–ONE STEP–in faith. There’s a dazzling shot in First Knight where the camera looks down the gauntlet and all you can see is a blur of blades. Then they pull back and show just Lancelot’s next step, and you see what you couldn’t see before: there’s just enough space for him to stand in between the swinging blades, IF he doesn’t go too far (or not far enough) with each step. That’s what I think God has been teaching us to do: wait for His provision and then step, then wait again until He opens the next door.

God has definitely not parted the entire gauntlet for us, but we’ve watched in wonderment as, each time we take a step of faith, He takes care of another problem. SWOOSH, He gave us a place to live. ZING, He gave us money for tuition. SLICE, He gave me a job. But, if I’d refused to follow Him because I couldn’t see all the answers at first, or if I’d decided He didn’t care about me or doubted that He’d see us through, I never would have seen the incredible ways He’s provided.

As I look forward, there are a LOT of details not taken care of yet. Adam doesn’t have a job, we need a car, my income won’t pay for all our expenses, seminary is just a LITTLE BIT expensive, etc, etc, etc. Every time I crunch the budget numbers I want to hyperventilate as all I can see is another blur of slashing blades. But God has clearly gotten us this far down the gauntlet, and I know that He’s asking me to keep walking. While we’re relying on Him, I believe that each step will keep us safe between the blades, and eventually we’ll reach the other side.

“You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ …For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:30-34

P.S. Okay, I have to add that I’m not a big fan of Lancelot in First Knight, but it’s the analogy that’s the point here!

July 14, 2009

The Breakdown–Part 2

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Tamara

I don’t know why I’ve had such a hard time writing this post.  Maybe (probably) because I don’t fully get it yet.  There’s no “Ba-da-bing!  God fixed it!” ending yet.  But since I don’t feel like I can blog about anything else until I finish this, and since I’m afraid I’ve made some of you wonder if I’m on the brink of losing it completely (ha), I’d better finish it!

So, that said, “Good morning, class; today I’m giving you a pop quiz!  <deep, evil laugh of evilness>”  Question One:  Find the common denominator:  “What if I’m doing something wrong?  What if I’m sinning?  What if I’m not listening to Him?  What if this is my fault?  What if I’m being lazy?  What if I can’t do it?”

I spend a LOT of time trying to dissect those questions, or similar ones.  It was my brilliantly astute husband who once pointed out (during my tirade of similar fears), “There are a lot of ‘I’s’ in those questions.”  That hit me like a ton of bricks—I’d never thought about that before.  His point was that I’d been worrying so much about myself and my actions that I’d lost my focus on Christ.

I tend to be terrified of my own weaknesses and sin nature.  That kind of sounds like a spiritual thing, but it isn’t; not when I get so fixated on my own weaknesses that I stop being fixated on the Lord.  If the definition of an idol is anything I put before God, then I’m actually idolizing my sin nature by acting as if it’s more powerful than God’s ability to convict me, guide me, even rescue me.  If He wants me to walk rightly even more than I do—and I know He does—why would I worry that He’d give me the cold shoulder when I ask Him if I’m doing anything wrong?

That also comes back to a misunderstanding of sin and fellowship.  I thought for a long time that my sin broke my fellowship with God—that He wouldn’t help or listen to me if I was in sin.  But that didn’t make sense to me, mainly because that would create an impossible cycle.  I can never get out of sin without His help, but if He won’t help me or fellowship with me until I’m not sinning, how can I stop?

Years ago one of my favorite teachers at the Bible school, Rick Barth, pointed out to me that what breaks our fellowship isn’t just sin, but our refusal to agree with God that we’re sinning (confess).  He convicts me and shines His light on my sin, and I either agree with Him and stay in the light, or I refuse to listen to Him and then, when the light becomes too uncomfortable, I, MYSELF step out of His light and fellowship.  It’s not that God will only tolerate me so far before He’ll shun me in order to punish me.  He’s always there to gently show me my sin and urge me to walk in the new life He’s given me—it’s ME who either listend or turns away.

This also touches on how deeply I feel like God’s acceptance of me and willingness to work with me is based on my performance.  I know in my head that it isn’t, that He views me in His son and has told me to boldly come to His throne of grace for help.  But I still want desperately to be “doing good,” and I’m afraid sometimes my view of Him is warped enough to think He’ll abandon me if I don’t keep doing well.  I forget He loved me while I was still an unsaved sinner, and worry that now that I’m a saved child who sins, He just might decide to stop loving me—at least until I get my act together.  Which also shows a warped view of myself.  As if Jesus’ death and life wasn’t QUITE enough, and I can somehow work hard enough to make Him love me more.

So what’s the bottom line on all this?  I need to stop pacing outside His throne room, examining every little thing I’ve done, terrified that I might have done something wrong and He’s behind those doors fuming, just waiting for me to come in so He can punish me.  Or ignore me.  Or any of the many things He could do, other what He’s promised TO do: give me grace, mercy, and help in my need.  I need to stop freaking out and get my eyes back on Him.  If I’m doing something wrong, He’ll show me, and He’ll help me.  And if I’m not, it’s okay to just wait and keep moving forward.  More scared analyzing of MYSELF and MY fears and MY failures isn’t going to get me nearly so far as just sitting at His feet and asking Him for HIS assessment and guidance.  And if He chooses not to say anything about me right now, then that’s fine—I can still look at HIM.  That’s plenty to fill my mind and heart.

July 12, 2009

The Breakdown, Part 1

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 8:56 am by Tamara

Well, I had a mini-breakdown the other day. I called my mom (everyone needs their mommy) and bawled my little eyes out. Then Adam came home and I bawled. Poor man—I shouldn’t cry to him, it makes him so sad! But he’s a great comforter. Anyway. I’ve been trying to write this ever since, and having no success. The words just won’t arrange themselves to explain what I think God is trying to teach me. Hence the long absence of a post last week. Here goes try number four…. Make that five.

Let’s see—how did I get here? The transition from being in full-time discipleship ministry to being laid off and becoming an unemployed, married deadbeat has been pretty rough. I called my mom and summed my life up: “My life consists of cleaning the apartment, trying to convince worldly, pointless businesses to hire me, feeling guilty about not working, and being afraid that we won’t have enough money next semester because of it.” She, like many, tried to reassure me that God has my job situation under control, and I just have to wait until He gives me the right one. Sounds reasonable, but I just can’t seem to accept that. Why? Because I’m afraid I’M doing something wrong. Maybe the reason I don’t have a job isn’t because God hasn’t given me one yet, but because I’m being lazy about the job hunt. Maybe I’m being too picky (I haven’t applied at McDonalds yet, after all.) Maybe I have a wrong attitude. Maybe, maybe, maybe. All these maybes are scaring me to death, and contributed to me bawling on the phone to my mom.

Mom asked me if I’ve asked God about all those “maybes.” Yes, of course, but what is He saying? Nothing. Or, even worse than Him saying nothing, maybe He’s speaking and I’m not hearing. Maybe I’m sinning, so I’m ignoring Him, but since I’m not hearing Him, I don’t know I’m sinning, and since I don’t know I’m sinning, I don’t know I can’t hear Him, so I won’t figure out that I’m sinning, so He’ll punish me….

Ah. Vicious circle, isn’t it? Enter the terrifying, paralyzing fear of being silently abandoned. I think part of the reason I haven’t been able to write this is because I know it touches on so many areas of misunderstanding truth. This may have to be a two-parter. Or a ten-parter. Dun dun dun.

Part two to come: The Breakdown—(Accidentally) Idolizing My Sin Nature.

June 17, 2009

Wilderness

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 3:40 pm by Tamara

I wonder how Moses felt coming down from the mountain.  Talk about a “mountain top experience,” and then God sends him away.  How must have that hurt to turn and walk away after such a breathtaking experience of closeness with God?  Did he feel like his heart was being strangled, like he wanted to beg God to just let him stay?  And then he spends the next forty years, not leading the people to victory in the promised land, but wandering around aimlessly in circles.

I don’t know why he didn’t get resentful.

The moments when he can’t handle it anymore almost bring me to tears.  The moments when he wants to give up, or gets mad at God, or fed-up with the people.  I’m glad such an incredible leader was human.  I’m sobered that God didn’t step in and neatly fix everything so he could accomplish the goal.

Oh, wilderness.  My problem with wilderness times is I feel like I’m slogging my way through emptiness.   It’s not a great, dark battle, it’s just long, and dry and feels pointless.  God’s so quiet in the wilderness.  It’s not like He stoops down and says, “I’ve got you out here so I can teach you great things, and let me give you a glimpse of how I’m going to use this in the future.”  No, it’s just…quiet.  And dry.  And a lot of hard work.  A lot of plodding and very little sense of direction.  And the dreams that I can see, I’m afraid might be mirages of my imagination.

And then I start to wonder how I got there.  My confidence that God is walking with me wanes and I start to get worried.  Did He lead me here for a reason, or am I here by my own mistake?  Did I disobey, turn away?  How do I trust Him and keep walking when I’m scared it’s my fault I’m there?

I have a lot of temper tantrums in the wilderness.  Sometimes I stop in fury to kick off my rock-filled shoes and want to grab the rocks and throw them madly at God, wherever He is.  Sometimes I get so discouraged that I sit down and just cry.  Are You mad at me?  Is this my fault?  Or am I where You want to be?  And He’s usually very quiet.

Sometimes the wilderness takes more faith than the valley.

It’s the quiet wilderness that tells me if what I believe is just emotion.  Whether I’ll keep believing Him when He’s just quiet; keep pressing to know Him when there’s no thrill.  Whether I’m willing to work out  my faith, or if I just want it handed to me in neat, one-hour, experiential packages.

I want to know Him.  I want to walk with Him.  I want to push forward, and not settle for camping in the desert.  I want the promised land at the end, I want the crown, I want the “well done.”  I don’t have an insightful, tidy conclusion for this.  Probably because I’m still out plodding in the dust.  But I still believe.  And I think, even though the horizon line doesn’t look any closer, that I’m still walking.