Focused on You, may my thoughts ever be
Entangled with yours, clear my eyes, help me see …
Glimpses of grace, fragments of home
Reminders to me that I’m not alone,

In fighting this fight, in conquering sin
So present, so real, so embedded within …
This world where I live that turns a deaf ear
To what’s noble, what’s right, what’s true, and what’s clear,

In your Word, from your lips
On the cross, beyond the grave.
I am free from the curse
I’m no longer a slave,

To my past, to my fears
To mistakes in younger years.
You were there, you are here
You are present, you are near.

To lend your power
To perfect in me
All that’s not holy
All I’ve yet to fully be.

So fix my eyes, Lord, fix my heart,
Fix my thoughts, all on Thee
Walk me forward, walk me home
To the place I long to be.

Next to you
Hand in hand
Heart to heart
You’re where I will stand.

Even now
Even then
Even always,

(F. Elaine Olsen, 10-13-16, all rights reserved.)

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the song of the brook …

My students and I have just finished reading Song of the Brook by Matlida Nordtvedt. As literary prose goes, it doesn’t measure up to the classics, but it does serve a purpose in our classroom. It’s one book in a continuing series of books presented annually to students who use the Abeka curriculum; they seem to enjoy keeping up with the Johnson family from year to year.

The main character of the story is Hilda, a young girl from Bellingham, Washington, who is learning to live with change: a move to a new community, the disappointment with that community, discord amongst extended family members, bullying on the playground, overcoming insecurities, and the like. Despite the chaos in Hilda’s new life, she finds solace in an unexpected place – the babbling brook running beside her dilapidated house. At night, she sits next to the open, bedroom window and listens as the brook “sings” her a song. Repeatedly throughout the story, the brook impresses upon Hilda’s heart various phrases to soothe (and sometimes to meddle with) the aches within her heart. Her brookside meditations are Hilda’s way of spending time with God and hearing his voice therein.

Even though Hilda’s story is set in time nearly 100 years ago, the problems she faces back then are not unlike the problems we face today. Who of us haven’t known the ache of relocation, the tears of disappointment, the fracture of beloved relationships, the taunts of a bully, and the crippling of insecurity? Today’s troubles aren’t much different from yesterday’s harms; the scenery simply has changed.

Unlike Hilda, I don’t have the beauty of a singing brook running by and next to the parsonage in Laurinburg, NC. I don’t raise my windows in the evening for fear of unwanted critters (or humans) disrupting my night’s slumber. The sounds of my city at night are no match for the idyllic evening lullabies of the countryside, those wide-open spaces that seem to more easily host the voice of the Creator.

Still and yet, I hear the Father’s voice. His words speak to me as I take the time to listen in, to open up the window of my soul and to meditate upon the scriptures he has written to me in his holy Word. Sometimes God’s melody soothes the aches within; sometimes his refrain meddles with my will. At all times, his song is truthful. God cannot lie; neither will he sing a song over me that will lead me down a wayward path. Instead, his song … his words are for me, for my good and, most importantly, for his kingdom good.

Lately, his holy refrain has been crystal clear:

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

Over and over again, for the past several weeks, these words have cycled repeatedly throughout my mind, like the lyrics of a song you just can’t shake.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

In living out this obedience from John 13, there are always ample challenges. Stinky feet aren’t my preference. It’s easier to touch cleanliness than dirtiness. It’s less problematic to embrace the feet of a friend than it is to embrace the feet of a betrayer. Even so, the Father sings…

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

I don’t know what this will look like for me in the days to come, how this yielding will play itself out. But of this I am certain … it will play itself out. Whether at school, at church, at home, and maybe even at Wal-Mart, stinky feet are everywhere – walking in front of me, behind me, next to me, over me, and, yes, sometimes within me. We all get our feet dirty from time to time. The Father’s basin and towel are equal to the cleansing task, yet another undeserved grace from his heart to ours that allows us to get clean and then to offer that same cleansing to others.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

The window of my soul is open. The song of the brook is singing. Even so, Father, I am listening.

As you have done for me, Lord, help me to do so for others. Amen.

Image Credit: Copyright: ideastudios / 123RF Stock Photo

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an obedience to sow…

every choice plants a seed“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has designed to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. … For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”    

-1 Corinthians 3:5 – 7, 9.

She surprised me today during snack time. As I was leaving the cafeteria with my new crew of 4th graders, she was entering it as a two-week-in, sixth grader. She hurriedly made her way toward me, gave me a hug, and simply said, “Thank you, Mrs. Olsen … for planting a seed in my heart.” Her carefully chosen words paused my spirit and brought a silent tear to my eye as I patted her cheek and responded: “You’re one of the best of them, dear; one of the best.”

Seeds sown … this was her reason behind her gratitude; accordingly, it has become the reason behind my gratitude this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for her to “show up” for over a year now. When she walked out of my classroom in June 2015, I thought we’d pick up the relationship where we’d left it come fall. That was not to be, and it broke my heart. She, along with many of the other students in that class, distanced themselves from me. And while that is the natural way of letting go and moving on, it tore me up inside. I had loved them deeply, had given them the best of me for an entire year. To date, that season was one of the hardest walks of daily surrender I’ve ever had to make. So when it was over, and when an entire year passed amongst us with barely a nod from any of those students in my direction, well, I began to think that all of those seeds I had intentionally sown had fallen on fallow soil.

Apparently not.

Apparently some took root.

Apparently some are still growing, thanks be to God.

You see, it really is all God’s doing. Certainly, my obedience plays an important role in the growth process, but in the end, it’s God who superintends the heart’s development. I am nothing more than a fellow worker, a field laborer who releases the good seed of God’s love into the soil of human hearts. Every now and again, I get to hold the watering can. Occasionally, I have the privilege of seeing blooms come to harvest. But most days, I’m simply a sower, not a grower.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn.

In all of life, not just in the classroom, God intends for you and I to understand and to accept this sacred principle of kingdom sowing. We are the privileged farmers, and God alone is the King. We farm his land, and the work we do is for the betterment of his kingdom, not ours. It’s a weighty thing to try and take on God’s roll.

Who of us can grow a kingdom heart into God’s likeness? Who of us can shape a heart and make it holy? Who of us can raise a harvest that anchors deeply, grows uprightly, and points directly to the Son?

Oh, my friends, it is a dangerous thing to assume such noble responsibility. We are not fit for the task. Instead, we are fit for the plow, for some boots and for an apron full of seed. It is enough to stand there in that place of service. It is enough to walk the length and breadth of the land, broadcasting the good seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the soil of men’s hearts. It is enough to just get to the end of the long day and to clean our mud-caked boots … our weathered hands and hearts from another day’s hard laboring. It is enough to live there in the shadows of not knowing whether or not the seed grabbed the earth and burrowed deeply within.

It is simply enough for us to be faithful with the sowing.

We don’t have to see the end. We only need to believe that the kingdom work we’re doing today is a step forward toward that end. In the end, we will see the fullness of the Father’s harvest, and we will understand that seeds sown in faithfulness never fall onto fallow soil. Instead, they fall forward toward fruitfulness. It is our holy privilege to stand there … in that place of release.

To understand this principle of sowing on the front side (and backside) of the planting is a good gift. But to see it firsthand … to taste the fruit of the harvest? Well, that’s one of the best gifts a heart could receive on this side of the veil. I pray that you, like me, may occasionally see and taste some of the fruit of God’s harvest through you in coming days. But if the fields seem barren and no visible fruit is seen, don’t lose your focus. Sow onward and let God do what God does best.

He gardens; he makes things grow. Of this I am certain.

Keep sowing, keep trusting, and keep knowing that He who began a good work in you and through you, is faithful to see it through to completion. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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on being a “doorkeeper” …

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” –Psalm 84:10

There was a defining moment in my ministry life several years ago. It happened unexpectedly but not by accident. I often find this to be the case with the Father’s holy whispers regarding my life. They arrive when I don’t expect them but are so specific in their delivery that they are easily defined as authentic, as divine rather than random.

Our spring, ladies’ Bible study was coming to a close. During the final Tuesday night session we explored the concept of “calling”—the ministry that God has assigned to all believers to serve as his conduits of kingdom grace. We discussed the above scripture from Psalm 84 and what it meant to be a doorkeeper in the house of God. In the course of our conversation, a cell phone rang. The embarrassed participant fumbled around in her belongings in an effort to silence the distraction. The curious look she had on her face led my curious heart to make an inquiry: “Everything OK?”

“Elaine, you’re not going to believe the picture my sister-in-law just sent to me on my phone. Take a look.”

I did and went slack-jawed at the revelation. It was a picture of a beautiful wreath hanging . . . on a door. No sooner had the words passed from my lips about being a “doorkeeper” in the house of God than God sent his holy confirmation via a picture of a door on a cell phone. Unexpected? Yes. Accidental? I don’t think so. You might think so, but I’ve lived long enough with God to know when he’s trying to solidify a point. It doesn’t always happen this way; sometimes his directives are less obvious. But when his knock is blatant, I’ve learned to open up the door to entreat his instructions.

And so, that night I bowed my head and heart to this anointing, believing that God was calling me to the simple, yet profound task of being a doorkeeper to his extraordinary kingdom. To be a servant who stands at the threshold of God’s temple, guarding the sacred trust within and graciously opening up the door so that others might enter into their Father’s house, so that they might finally know what it is to come home and to be welcomed and warmed by the truth of his love. At that time, I didn’t fully understand what this sacred affirmation would look like for me in the coming months. Years later, I still don’t fully grasp the breadth and depth of what this means for me. But this I do know: the memory of that defining moment is still defining me. It stalks me, calls me, reminds me, and strengthens me. It minimizes my fear about my calling by keeping it fairly simple, despite my attempts at making it so very complex.

Calling. I think we’ve done a disservice within the Christian community in our conversations along these lines. We’ve made it too hard, wrapped too many formulas around the notion of “calling”, trying to fine-tune our areas of ministry to the exclusion of ministering in the moment-at-hand. Certainly, God has instilled in each one of his children different giftings that lend themselves to a particular area of ministry. We should walk in those giftings, develop them and offer them to others in service to our King. But our calling should not be limited by our giftings; instead, our calling should extend through them. Our calling stands before and behind, above and below any outpouring of excellence. Our calling is greater than our giftedness. Our calling is simple: to know God and then, out of that knowing, to lead others to know the same.

“‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’” –John 17:3

 “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” –Matthew 28:18-20

In establishing the vision for our ministries, these two criteria serve as the foundation for God’s vision therein. Know him and then, from that knowing, lead others to know him more fully. For me, that looks a whole lot like being a doorkeeper. Accordingly, I tend to the sacred trust I’ve been given, carefully guard the good deposit within me, and then, as the Lord prompts, I open up the doors to that kingdom storehouse and invite others in to feast on his treasures.

Every now and again, there comes a defining moment for all of us as it pertains to our ministries going forward. God’s word to you might be very specific. He may firmly grip your heart with an affirmation about what job you should take, where you should live, how you should serve. If that’s your case, then walk on in confidence. Do not hesitate to take hold of God’s holy confirmation.

But if that’s not you, if there is no grand moment of clarification, don’t get too hung up on the particulars. Instead, lend your heart to the moment-at-hand. Serve the kingdom right where you are. Stand at the gate of your temple; guard closely the doors of your heart, and tend fervently to the wealth within. Live there, in God’s house, and you’ll better understand this notion of calling. In tending to our temples, we tend to the Father’s business. Out of that overflow comes a life defined, a life on purpose, and a life on fire for the King and his renown.

Be a doorkeeper, friend. Be a protector of all things sacred. Be a greeter for the kingdom of God. I don’t imagine there’s a finer calling on this side of eternity. Thus, I pray . . .

Keep us to our calling, Lord, to stand watch over the temple and to open its door to others when they come knocking. We want to know you more and then, out of that knowing, help others to know you as well. You are the Way. You are the Truth. You are the Life. In knowing you, we hold all the knowledge we will ever need for this pilgrimage of faith. In knowing you, we know enough to get us safely home. Amen.

Photo Credit :Copyright: aaabbbccc / 123RF Stock Photo

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“Mother of the Bride” Review and Give-Away…


*This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Cindy G. who will receive a copy of the book via Amazon. 

I love a good book, especially during these summer months when I have both the time and the energy to absorb a new story. And while I always have a compelling, fiction story sitting bedside, my favorite books fall into the category of non-fiction – truth-tellers, stories of “Been there, done that, and have the battle-scars to prove it”, a come-alongside-you-for-the-journey kind of book that feels more like a companioning presence than an uninvited stranger.

Cheryl Barker’s book Mother of the Bride: Refreshment and Wisdom for the Mother of the Bride is one such book. To clarify (lest any of you think my thirteen-year-old daughter has recently become engaged), I am not currently an official MOB (mother of the bride). I hope to have that honor in a season to come. As the mother of three older sons, I’m mostly sitting on the sidelines in that department.

But it’s fun to dream, is it not? When I was in college, my girlfriends and I saved up our spare change in order to purchase the latest bride magazines at the grocery, check-out stands. We’d cut and paste our favorite images into a notebook of sorts, planning for a perfect wedding, all the while praying anxiously (and rather insistently) for the perfect groom to slide onto the scenes of our lives. For most of us, that moment came. When it did for me, the worn and torn bridal pages from those earlier years were nowhere to be found. Instead, my mother and I started the process from scratch. Bless her heart; she didn’t have a come-alongside-you-for-the-journey kind of book in her pocket. Instead, she had me. Again, bless her sweet, patient heart.

Had Cheryl’s book been around then, no doubt it would have been a huge blessing to my mom, a gentle hug to remind her of all that’s good and right and honorable about her role as the MOB. Mother of the Bride truly is a “gem” for the wedding journey. Included in this beautifully packaged book are twenty-three seasonal vignettes written to highlight the special moments of the bridal journey. Each entry concludes with practical planning tips, as well as personal pampering ideas. There’s even a space for journaling your thoughts as you reflect on Cheryl’s heart-felt renderings. Some of my favorite vignettes include:

To Have and to Hold … Until She Gets Married

This vignette is all about the “letting-go”; whether you’re a MOB or a MOGroom, this is a relatable tug of any mother’s heart. A favorite quote from this selection is: “Let go of your daughter with grace and you’ll find her calling on you with joy.” (pg. 43)

Bye-Bye, Comfort Zone: Diving into Unfamiliar Waters

No doubt, the MOB will wear many hats during the wedding-planning process, some more comfortable than others. Cheryl challenges MOBs (and women everywhere) that “… each time we square our shoulders and say good-bye to our comfort zones, it leads to growth and more self-confidence.” (pg. 74)

Be Very Careful: No Do-Overs for the MOB

This reflection is a gentle reminder for MOBs to consider how important her responses/reactions are during a season where first responses are measured (and well-remembered). Cheryl writes, “Some situations, like various tasks or games, lend themselves quite well to do-overs. However, when relationships and feelings are involved, that’s another matter. Even if we get a second chance, the memory of the original situation will never be entirely wiped out.” (pg. 97)

My MOB and me, 7-19-97
My MOB and me, 7-19-97

Also included with the twenty-three vignettes are wedding venue worksheets – a very practical, thought-out list of questions to keep in mind when planning for your daughter’s special day. Truly, Cheryl has given all MOBs an inspiring gift in writing Mother of the Bride: Refreshment and Wisdom for the Mother of the Bride. She’s thought of everything and has packaged it beautifully as her “gem” to you during your special season of love and grace.

As for me and my future as a MOB, well, I’ll tuck Cheryl’s treasure away for a season longer. But when that day arrives, when my little girl looks at me with dreams of satin and lace and budding bouquets, I’ll know where to start. I’ll start with a hug from a friend named Cheryl who “once upon a time” penned a few thoughts about the glorious steps that await me as a Mother of the Bride – a come-alongside-me-for-the-journey kind of book that feels more like a companioning presence than an uninvited stranger.

Thank you, Cheryl, for writing your story and for inviting me to the wedding. What a lovely celebration this has been!

PS: Hey readers – leave a comment today for a chance to win a copy of Cheryl’s Mother of the Bride. The deadline for entries is July 17th.

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