5

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)




Devoted

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“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” –Luke 10:38

 

I listened to my daughter read this familiar story to me a few days ago. She was draped across my bed, dressed and ready for the day, hoping that I would soon follow suit. We had a full agenda set in place long before the August sun brilliantly heralded its morning chorus. But instead of diving head-long into our “to-do” list, I decided to drape myself alongside my daughter on the bed and, together, we had morning devotions. There’s a sweetness wrapped up in that – draping and devotions and a daughter – a tender, gentle, eternal reminder of home, of what awaits me just on the other side of this veil.

Her words caught me off-guard, as is so often the case when I hear God’s Word read aloud. She read five verses; my heart and my mind, however, remained solidly fixed on the first one – the one printed above.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way ….”.

It’s a familiar posture for our Lord, both in practice and in spirit. His feet and his heart were always moving forward. Places to go; people to see. A path to follow; a hill to climb. Never once did Jesus lose sight of his final destination. But along the way and as he went, there were some glorious pauses of holy revelation, occasions where he left his divine calling card in the soil of humans souls so that they (and we) might know how to live our lives forward with purpose and with his final destination in mind.

I like this. This particular weaving of my doing with my being makes sense to me. It anchors my heart in this season when I have a destination in mind but with a lot of open road in between my now and my then. That open road? Well, there are multiple routes that will lead me to where I’m going. That used to bother me; not so much anymore. Why? Because Jesus is my now. Jesus is my next. Jesus is my then. I don’t need to get all fussed up about the details. I simply need to lean into and alongside the One who’s walking the road with me. Jesus will not abandon me, and the weight of my details always lands easily on his broad shoulders. Along the way and as we go, he will direct the rest stops – those unforeseen pauses requiring our presence where we’ll have the rich privilege of leaving a divine calling card in the soil of human souls.

This has been a season of unforeseen pauses for me. I haven’t liked most of them, but I haven’t lost Jesus in any of them. And this is how I know that I am heading in the right direction. With Jesus, I don’t need a compass. Jesus gloriously and holy is the compass. Accordingly, I worry less these days about the road to the finish line – the miles in between where I am now and where I’m headed. Instead, I give more attention to the One who will carry me there.

I am a daughter deeply devoted to her Father, willing to drape my days with his presence and with the truth of his Word as my covering. There is, indeed, a sweetness wrapped up in that – an eternal anchor that (every now and again) pulls me beyond the veil to catch a glimpse of my forever. I pray it is the same for you, that the details of your current detour aren’t weighing you down too heavily but that, instead, you are sharing the road with Jesus. His yoke is easy; his burden is light, and he will not abandon you. Jesus will carry you.

This is enough grace for the road we’re traveling, friends. This is enough Peace for the journey to lead us safely home. Keep moving forward. The best is yet to be.

How might I pray for you today?

Photo credit: mariakraynova / 123RF Stock Photo

narrow steps in a broad world …

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A few days ago, my eldest son called to talk. These are always rich occasions – conversing with my sons as adults. His heart was heavy (as was mine) regarding the chaos in our world. One doesn’t have to look too far to identify it; disorder and turmoil blanket the earth like a thick fog. Without a break in the clouds or a strong light to guide us through the dimness, navigating our way along the planet-path is mostly a clumsy attempt at survival.

I don’t want to walk through this life clumsily, putting too much trust in steps that are guided by fate and by man. Instead, I want to walk through this fog with steps fortified in faith—a sure and certain hope of what I cannot see, but what I know is there …

Truth.

And so I offered my son (as well as myself) a bit of advice to help us both step our way through this season of confusion:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

There is only one source of truth; truth isn’t relative, based on popular opinion. Truth authors from Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). Get to know him and the darkness surrounding us becomes as light to him (see Psalm 139:12). When we cannot see for the thick fog surrounding us, we can know that he sees for us. Accordingly, we must rest in Christ’s presence. We must walk with Christ’s guidance. And we must, must, must fan into flame Christ’s candle so that our families, our friends, the Body and Christ and beyond, may safely and securely find their way along the narrow path that leads to home.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:13-14

We know the way home, Christians. We know the way that leads to life eternal. We shouldn’t be surprised by the narrowing of our pathway in these days; instead, we should be enlivened by the witness of this tapering. This tightening of our steps is simply and profoundly the sharpening of our souls. Few will accept this divine, thinning process; many will, instead, accept the world’s version therein, herded along the wide-path, trampled beneath the weight of sin, and buried in darkness eternally.

Yes, this is the world we’re living in, but thanks be to God, this is not the world we’re ending in. In choosing the narrow path, we make a choice for the wide expanse of our Father’s forever. The road home may be dim, may even be cramping some of us out of our comfort zones, but make no mistake – the path we’re walking today is leading us home to our eternal resting grounds. All roads have an ending point. All earthly journeys will cease. Whether you’re stepping wide or stepping narrow in this season, your next steps matter. Accordingly, I offer you the same advice that I offered my son recently:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

Truth will guide us home. Truth will welcome us as we arrive. Until then and as we go …

Peace for the journey, friends!

Photo credit: pchela80 / 123RF Stock Photo


Living Proof Live – Salt Lake City from Rich Kalonick on Vimeo.

when harvest comes …

27569576_sRough edges. I have some. They were readily exposed for me to clearly see this past year. The catalyst for that exposure?

Fifteen students hand-picked by God to move me on toward my perfection!

For the past several years, I’ve been incubated from such exposure; life and its many detours have allowed me some shade and protection along these lines. Certainly, there have been occasions when I’ve felt the soul-shaped sanding from others but not as intensely as I have experienced it in these past ten months.

Most days, I wanted to run away and hide, crawl back into the shell I had so carefully crafted for myself during my earlier season of isolation. Exposure was painful and bloody, with precious few moments of joy to temper the ache. But I hung in with Jesus … every single day. I called upon the name of the Lord more times than can be counted. Together, he and I walked the school year through, and as we rounded the corner toward the finish line, I was finally able to see the amazing work of grace.

Growth.

I grew. They grew. And as we spoke our final good-byes, I held a little fruit in my hands – the same hands that (to date) had only held seeds, only sown seeds in hopes of one day having them grow into something more substantial.

This has been a fruit-bearing year for me. I couldn’t see the fruit in the beginning, and I certainly couldn’t feel it along the way and as we went. But I always believed in it, always trusted God for the greater work of grace that surfaces as a direct result of willing obedience to the call of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we choose the mission field, friends; sometimes it chooses us. Either way, the responsibility is the same – to sow extravagantly the seeds of our faith. To break up the unplowed ground beneath our feet with the spade of God’s Word. To water it with the sweat of our brow and the tears of our surrender. To nurture the seed and soil with fervent prayers and gentle hands. To trust in the unseen work of the soil and to believe that every hour of intentional investment will yield a harvest of eternal proportion.

Sometimes we have the privilege of holding that resulting fruit; sometimes we can only believe in it. Either way, our responsibility remains.

sow extra one

Keep sowing God’s seed in this season of your life. Whether uncomfortably exposed or intentionally hidden, you have a choice to make regarding the faith seeds that are stored in your heart. In releasing them for the greater work of the kingdom, you are making a choice for growth – for yourself and for others. Don’t be surprised when the spade digs deeply and (sometimes) harshly. Expect it, believing all the while in the unseen work of the soil and in the eventual harvest to come.

What cannot be seen or held is seen and held by God. He is superintending the process, and the outcome is not in question. But don’t take my word on it, take his …

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” –John 15:8,16

In season and out, sow generously and sow believing that He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it through to completion. As always …

Peace for the journey,

Photo Credit – Copyright: nikkiphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

an unexpected walk to Emmaus

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She asked if we could take an extra lap around the ball field at recess. I didn’t mind. Some conversations require an extra lap … or two.

Her heart is so tender, so easily touched by these morning, God-conversations we’ve been having for the past 148 school days. Today was no different. During our Bible story time, I’d planned on covering the Walk to Emmaus, but we never made it there. Instead, we got stuck right in the middle of Mary Magdalene’s arrival at the empty tomb (John 20), the two angels book-ending the place where Jesus’ body used to be, and (at the urging of my students) a detour to the book of Exodus 25 to look at a possible connection between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and the seated angels in Christ’s tomb. I watched their eyes engage with the correlation. My baker’s dozen pondered the possibilities and accepted the mystery and beauty of God’s Word. They (perhaps better than most adults) are still warm to the things of God and more easily moved into a posture of acceptance.

“It’s flawless, boys and girls. From beginning to end, Old Testament to New, God’s Word is flawless. This is your history – your past, your present, your future. This is your story, and these are your people. Learn it well. Live it forward. This has become your trust to keep and to tell. Who will tell the next generation coming up behind you if not you?”

I’m not certain they all received my admonishment in its fullness, but I do know that a few of them did. Only God can take these planted seeds and grow them for his kingdom. I may not be around to watch them blossom, but I am at peace with and fully trust in the planting that’s being done.

And so, she and I took an extra lap together at recess to discuss the things of God – our own Emmaus walk of sorts. Two hearts burning as we talked about Jesus and her desire to know him more. Further still, her deep, soul-aching desire for her family to know him more. She carries a burden for them, for kindness and love and reconciliation to rule the day.

“If they could just love Him like I love Him, Mrs. Olsen, things would be different. I pray and nothing changes. I thought God would answer, but it doesn’t seem like he’s listening. Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?”

And therein began my reassurances to her of God’s listening ear and man’s wandering heart – the free will built into all of us – the gift of individual choice and God’s great hope to be chosen. That she cannot choose for her family but that she can choose for herself …

To love God. Know God. And then out of that knowing, lead others to know the same.

My calling. Her calling. The singular calling for all of us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

She can be a light, pointing in the right and very good direction. I tell her it will make a difference in the end, and she’s willing to believe me because I am her teacher and I have earned her trust over these past 148 school days.

These aren’t merely words to calm an anxious spirit. These are words to live by. Why? Because God has proved them over and over again to me. I’ve seen them at work in the lives of countless others, and I’ve watched them come to fruition in my own journey of grace.

A single flame can spark a fire. A lighted candle can lead a heart safely home. And an extra lap around a ball field can ignite a soul with enough hope to fuel godly desire for a season longer.

This was our Emmaus Road – hers and mine.

This is forever kingdom privilege.

And this, dear friends, is one of the more sacred punctuation marks added to 148 days of hard labor and obedience.

This is my story; these are my people. By God’s grace, I’m learning it well. I’m living it forward. This is my trust to keep and to tell. I will tell the next generation coming up behind me. I pray you’ll do the same. As always …

Peace for the journey,

To learn more about Elaine’s books, Peace for the Journey and Beyond the Scars, click here.