God Rules

DSCN2431“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

Genesis 32:25


Recently, we celebrated Pink-Out Day at our school – an October day dedicated for wearing pink to honor and to support the fight against breast cancer. In addition to wearing pink, the kids contributed their spare change as a donation to our local cancer center. It was a blessing to walk amongst a sea of pink that day and to soberly reflect on its significance in my own journey of survivorship.

My classroom started our Pink-Out Day as we begin all of our days – in the Word of God. I’ve been telling them their story of faith – the history of their people, the Patriarchs. Rich have been our morning discussions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My students are learning a lot, perhaps retaining more biblical knowledge at the tender age of ten than most of the world’s population. It’s a good thing to glean head knowledge. It’s an even better thing when that knowledge works its way down into the heart where it can lodge for a season, perhaps eternally. So when one of my students showed evidence of that movement on that particular morning, I was delighted and humbled to lead her to that place of greater understanding. The backdrop for our discussion was Jacob’s great wrestling match with God at Peniel which, ultimately, led to God changing his name from Jacob to Israel (meaning “God rules”).

“Mrs. Olsen, do you think if God would have healed Jacob’s hip that night, instead of letting him walk with a limp the rest of his life, that Jacob would have forgotten that he wrestled with God and that ‘God rules’?”

Her question interrupted my train of thought and led me down an unplanned path. Tenderly, I knelt at her desk and allowed myself to be vulnerable, transparent at a level usually reserved for adults.

“Class, I want to tell you something about me that, in some ways, mirrors Jacob’s story from so long ago. I have a scar running across the width of my chest, from armpit to armpit. I have scars on my stomach as well – all scars the results of my needing to deal with my cancer. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I am reminded about that difficult journey, and while I’m not limping around the room like Jacob must have, a part of my heart limps along each day remembering the night when I wrestled with God and had to learn that ‘God rules.’”

My words resonated with some … mostly with her. My hope is that, years from now, when those night wrestlings arrive for each of my students, they will remember Jacob’s night, maybe even some of my story so that they might emerge in the morning with a new name, a fresh hope, and a holy reminder that “God rules.” God is not disengaged from our lives, friends; God is engaged with us, willing to split the night sky (if need be) to walk upon this earthen sod, take us to the mat, and wrench our hips with an everlasting reminder that he is God. His thoughts are not always our own, and his ways aren’t always the ones we’d prefer. But his presence in the midst of getting us to where we need to go … who we need to be?

Well, Jacob-Israel would probably tell you a limp is a small price to pay to learn this one lesson of eternal significance. I would voice the same.

God rules. Yesterday. Today. Forever. God rules. We cannot always see his hand in the story. On those days, perhaps, all we really need to see is our personal scars, to lift up our shirts and boldly behold the truth of just how far we’ve come. In our scars, we can trace God’s hand, we can glimpse his grace, and we can know that we’ve been held through the night in his merciful and loving grip.

Your body is not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body, scars and all. Limp on, sweet ones. Limp forward. Limp knowing that God rules and that God loves. I’ll meet you on the road. As always,

Peace for the journey,

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

BeyondtheScars Promo

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, my publisher is hosting a give-away of four copies of my book, Beyond the ScarsFor an opportunity to win a copy, head over to NyreePress and register your thoughts in comment section of the blog entry. As always, if you or a loved one is journeying through the difficult season named Cancer, I pray that my words will serve as a strong encouragement to you. 

Peace for the journey,

kingdom momentum

waves breakingFor forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.” –Genesis 7:17

It happened yesterday … the earth’s baptism became ours. Let me explain.

We’re twenty-three days into the academic year. Each morning, we begin our day with pledges, prayers, and a time of meditation in God’s Word. Thus far, while our sessions have been lively and often full of questions, I haven’t felt a building momentum within my students’ hearts for the masterpiece that is God’s Word. Certainly, they’ve been willing to receive it, but absorbing it at a deeper level—the level where the Holy Spirit turns the key in the lock to open up the secrets of the kingdom of God? Well, I’ve been waiting. Yesterday, I saw it … felt it for the first time … in their eyes and in the temperature of the classroom.

We’ve been building up to the story of Noah – a story so familiar to most that the wonder and mystery often gets buried in translation. In the past four weeks, I’ve talked often about the issue of “movement” away from Eden – God’s original home for his original people. In that discussion, we’ve drawn a conclusion together: the further the people moved away from Eden (both in time and distance), the more wickedness there was in the world. By the time Noah arrives on the scene, sin abounds. Gone are the days of perfection; come are the days of deep iniquity.

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

And so God’s flood—rains falling from the sky and waters rising up from the earth to fully engulf all that had “the breath of life in its nostrils” (Gen. 7:22-23). Indeed, how it must have grieved the Father to bring this judgment so early in those beginning days, to wipe out his image-bearers and to (in a sense) begin again with fresh brushstrokes on a re-created canvas.

At this point in the telling of the story, I asked my students a question. In doing so, I felt the shift in my spirit and in theirs. I hadn’t planned on the shift – it simply and profoundly arrived, begging my participation.

“Kids, can any of you identify one of this week’s spelling words that might best describe what God was doing to the earth at this point in history?”  

A few of them grabbed their spelling books to peruse the list. One of them, however, caught it immediately. With eyes as big as saucers and a light exploding therein, she dispensed with the hand-raising formality and blurted out …

“Baptize. Mrs. Olsen, he was baptizing the earth!”

And they got it – all of them. It was probably only a moment of stunned silence, counted in seconds rather than minutes, but it felt like more than that, like time stood still as this eternal truth took hold and embedded itself deeply within the soil of their souls. The earth’s baptism became ours, and I’m thrilled to report that spiritual momentum has arrived for the fourth grade!

That may not mean much to you, but it means everything to them … to me. Folks, there needs to be some depth to what we’re doing, how we’re spending our lives. Regardless of where God has you in this season of your life, every now again, you need to feel that momentum—that shift in your spirit that validates your station in life, your purpose for being here. Too often we lose that sense of purpose; we muddle through our existence because we have to without realizing that, along the way and as we go, we can build momentum for the kingdom of God. With our attitudes, our obedience, our words, and our willingness to authentically live therein, we can move the kingdom forward.

I’ve waited four weeks for momentum to take hold in young hearts; some of us might have to wait a bit longer. But in the obedience to dig for it and to prayerfully expect it, when it arrives we understand that it wasn’t an accident. Rather, we know it was and is an intentional work of grace by and from the Holy Spirit. God, the Creator of everything that has life and breath in its nostrils is faithful to baptize our hearts and the work of our hands with the fresh wind of his Spirit as we are faithful to bathe our lives (and to live our lives) in the truth of his Word.

So in gratefulness, and with expectation, I pray …

Let it rain, Lord. Not just in me, and not just in the fourth grade, but let your rain pour down into us and within us, baptizing us with newness of life and with a fresh revelation of your presence and your purpose for our tomorrows. Cleanse us from the wickedness that seeks to strangle us and that keeps kingdom momentum from accelerating in us and through us. Lord, we long to be part of your plan, to surrender our lives for your many good purposes and to know that our obedience is yielding a fruitful harvest. We applaud your faithfulness. We honor your Lordship. We delight in your companionship. We welcome your baptism. So rain on us, Lord. Humbly we wait for your waters today. Amen.  

a teacher’s apology and thanks …



I’ve been thinking about them some … my last-yearers. It’s been odd seeing them so close-by yet realizing that they’re “hands off” – not mine, not this year. I’ve kept my professional distance, and they’ve kept theirs. A few of them have made their way to my door, even stepping into the classroom a time or two, surveying the surroundings to see what’s familiar and what’s different. They’ve been quick to notice the changes:

“We didn’t have that last year, Mrs. Olsen. That’s not fair.”

And my laughter regarding their assessment is quietly accompanied by the truth of their judgment. In the secret recesses of my heart and soul, I know that they are right. What my students had last year isn’t and won’t be what my students have this year, at least to a certain degree. The curriculum remains the same, but the teacher? Well, she’s changed a bit. I still answer to Mrs. Olsen, but I am a wiser version therein, seasoned and shaped by my previous year’s, hard obedience.

When asked six months ago about my returning to the classroom this year, I didn’t have a solid answer. The stress attached to returning to teaching (after a long hiatus) had taken its toll on me. I was overwhelmed by the many responsibilities, and I was unconvinced that another year of more-of-the-same would be good for my health and for my family. Still and yet, I had a feeling (really more of a willing response) that I owed it to myself and to the countless hours already invested into the teaching process to see if a second year might be kinder to me … an easier fit.

Eight days in, and I have my answer. This will be a better year for me and for my students, not because the crop of children is any “better” this year than it was last year, but rather because I am better. The difficult “yeses” of my last year – all those times when I yielded my hands, my heart, and my flesh to the sharp edge of the Farmer’s spade despite my gut reaction to flee – have cultivated for me and in me a seasoned understanding of what it means to be a teacher and what it is to be God’s servant therein. That’s a win for everyone concerned, and that’s the reason I can heartily agree with my former students’ assessment of the classroom.

“We didn’t have that last year, Mrs. Olsen. That’s not fair.”

And for that, I offer them an apology. I also offer them a word of thanks. Shaping seasons – those that change us for God’s better – require fallow soil and a willingness to receive the blade of the farmer’s plow. What grows there, in that difficult soil of obedience, is often the sweet harvest of holiness. It may not seem fair at the time, but in the end, it’s always better.

I’m better, and I have a sneaking suspicion that most of my last-yearers are better too. To God be all the glory, great things he has done. Great things he will continue to do. As always …

Peace for the journey,


It’s been a sobering day for me. A day for remembering. A day for grieving. A day for gratefulness. A day for tears. 

Five years ago. I remember it well. Most days I don’t … remember it. Most days I live beyond it. But today I take time to remember the impact and the forecast of those words spoken over my life on that day:

Mrs. Olsen, you have breast cancer.

One doesn’t forget a day like that. This is my “I remember where I was” moment that folks often speak about when recalling a turning point in their history.

A two-hour trip home from Dr. Habal’s office in Greenville. A phone call to family. A phone call to Judith. A detour to Campbell University to find my first born and a detour to Methodist University to find my second. And then home to loving arms – to a mom and dad and children not quite ready to absorb the news. And then, that trip to Arby’s with the living tree growing next to our table. If you’ve read my story, then you know about that tree and those surreal moments surrounding that hallowed meal.

And here I am, five years out—a benchmark for cancer patients I’m told. Survival rates for us are measured in five year increments. By the grace of God I’ve made it to this milestone. Soberly, I await the next one, whatever that might be.

This is my one life, from start to finish, this is it. And while I’d like to say that I’ve masterfully handled the five-year journey toward this milestone, I won’t because I haven’t. Truthfully, I haven’t understood most of it. It’s been mostly a limp toward the finish line.

But there is something – a pretty important one thing that has emerged in these past five years:

My obedience to the day in front of me.

Not tomorrow’s obedience. Not next week’s. Not next year’s. Simply (and I think rather profoundly) an obedience to the unfolding of life in a single day and my participation therein. It’s an obedience that offers more personal yeses and fewer nos; more open hands than clinched fists. Just an obedience to the day – to live it, come what may, knowing that I am deeply loved and sincerely safe.

If we know this, friends, truly understand in the marrow of our bones that we are loved and that we are safe, then we can remain obedient to the day we’ve been given. Five years ago, I didn’t know this kind of security. I didn’t recognize the depth of God’s love for me, and I didn’t always feel safe in his arms. And so he gave me the love and the arms of others, and through their touch, God got bigger for me. In his bigness, I understood (maybe for the first time) that I was covered, completely and certainly safe in the shadow of the Almighty Father who calls me his child.      

And that’s something – a pretty important one thing that has trumped the scars required to get here.

kids at chemo labme and jadon out for a walk

Today is the day that the Lord has made. He has given it to me. In return, I yield my obedience therein. Come what may – a tomorrow, a next week, a next year, or maybe even five.

Today I raise my glass and offer a toast to August 23, 2015. I am loved, and I am safe. It is good to be here and to be sharing this day with you. As always …

Peace for the journey,

PS: If someone you love is battling cancer in this season, I’d be honored to share my journey of hope with him/her. Beyond the Scars is available at a special rate today ($10.99 – which includes shipping to anywhere in the United States). Please use the link below to secure your order at this special price or message me your interest by clicking HERE. 

beyond the scars book cover

$10.99 (includes shipping)