from doing to breathing and the grace in between

13338554_s

“When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’” –John 1:37-38

As of late, my pen has been silent. There hasn’t been room enough in my life for words.

Just doing. Mostly, just doing my job. It consumes my waking hours, which is most of them … all twenty-four of them. Whether I’m upright or horizontal, I’m thinking about my fourteen fourth-graders. I am exhausted. A life of perpetual doing doesn’t always leave room enough for breathing. Too much doing and the spirit goes dry. Life without breath feels like death to a soul, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly suffocating.

And crying. And praying. And asking God through choke-filled sobs for this doing to start making sense, even one little bit.

My family’s been praying too. On Thursday night, Billy and the kids huddled together upstairs on my behalf and sent God their requests in sacred whispers. They just wanted me to find the air that I so desperately needed … for a fresh wind of the Spirit to blow over me.

On Friday God answered their quiet whispers as loudly as he could.

Every school day begins with a Bible lesson (one of the great privileges of teaching at a Christian school). I consider this to be the best part of our day together. I’m in my element when I’m telling God’s story to others. In the first half of the year, we covered Genesis, the Christmas story, and have recently begun to talk about Jesus’ early, ministry years. This week’s focus has been on those first disciples who took those first steps toward following Jesus. In particular, we’ve zeroed in on the question that Jesus asked of Andrew and John at their initial meeting:

“What do you want?” or as the King James’ version states, “What seek ye?”.

I asked my students to consider that question, to have those ancient words jump off the pages of holy writ and to imagine God asking the same question of them.

“What do you want, fourth graders? What seek ye?”

In our moments of morning contemplation, I could see that my students were thinking – that just maybe this question was meant also for them and not simply for those disciples in those early days of kingdom expansion. This was a good way to start the day; regardless of any drama that might follow, a solid foundation had been laid.

Fast forward a few hours. The students were finishing up a reading quiz when one of them approached my desk and asked if she could speak to me in the hallway. Her distress was apparent, and I immediately took her aside to assess the situation. We’d barely made it to the hallway before the tears began to collect in her sweet brown eyes. Quietly, tenderly, and most assuredly, this precious young girl added words to the moment. In doing so, she’s added a thousand more words to my heart.

“Mrs. Olsen, I need God.”

Let that settle in on you, friends. Just be with us there in that moment. Don’t rush past it. Moments like these should be held up to the light and cradled … celebrated in the heart. Really, could there be a more worthy, purer confession than this?

In the minutes that followed her disclosure, we sat together in the hallway where we talked about her need and about our God. And then as smoothly and as naturally as breathing, we prayed together and the kingdom of God expanded … just one little bit. For everything that hasn’t made sense in these past five months of doing my job, Friday’s one thing made perfect sense, and I am stunned by such privilege.

Every tear I have cried; every prayer I have prayed. Every word I have spoken; every plan I have made. If this one little bit is the sum total reason for God calling me out of my comfort zone and pushing me into the middle of discomfort, then this is enough fresh air to keep me breathing in the season to come.

Tonight I hear the Father asking me a familiar question, the one he asked his first disciples 2000 years ago and the one I asked my students earlier in the week:

“What do you want, Elaine? What seek ye?”

My response?

“This, Father. Just this.”

How beautiful this grace that is sufficient and all-powerful. It reaches past and beyond my weakness and perfects the imperfect. One little bit … one little heart at a time.

On Friday, I had the joy of welcoming a new child into God’s family. I’m so glad that she has Him and that He has her. She doesn’t know it yet, but her best days are ahead of her. With Jesus, her best days are yet to be. The multiplication tables and helping-verb lists she’s mastered in the 4th grade may not be remembered in years to come. But this one little moment?

Well, it will never be forgotten. It’s etched into eternity. This is forever.

Peace for the journey, sweet girl. God is with you. God is for you. God loves you.

I am too – with you, for your, love you.
{aka – Mrs. Olsen}

The Road Home ~ a Christmas Miracle


the road home

We have an annual tradition of opening up our Christmas gifts to one another at the same time … over the phone. She lives in northern Ohio. I live in eastern NC. We’ve been friends for over twenty years, and every time we talk or get together, it’s as if we’ve never been apart. Yesterday was no different.

Her package arrived at my doorstep with the afternoon post. My gift to her arrived in Ohio earlier in the week. I called her after supper, and the unwrapping began. I went first and was immediately struck by the sentimentality of her gift to me.

(How did she get the artist to paint that picture … the one I took three years ago when I was up for a visit and we went out for a ride through Amish country? Amazing work. She must have paid someone to paint this.)

I voiced my joy and my obvious gratitude for such a sentimental treasure. My friend was perplexed.

“Elaine, I know you like Amish things, and I remember us taking that drive out in Amish country, but there are hundreds of paths and roads with that exact scene. I don’t even remember the picture you took; I just happened upon this man’s shop in Navarre, liked his work, and selected a print I thought you would like. There were dozens and dozens of scenes to choose from, but I kept coming back to this one. It just spoke to me, and I knew it was the one to get for you.”

Coincidence? Never. To prove my point, I scoured through the pictures on my computer and found the one that closely resembled the scene in the painting. I sent it to my friend. She began coming around to my point of view. We discussed the similarities, but it wasn’t until I pointed out the curve of the tree in the front left corner of the picture that I knew we had a match.

the road home my copy

What are the odds? Of all the gifts she could have given me this Christmas, she gave me this one. She never made the connection between her gift and the picture I’d taken three years ago. She didn’t need to. God did it for her. God did it for me. Maybe … even God did it for the artist.

After we finished our conversation, I did some research on the painter, Billy Jacobs. He’s a local resident in Navarre, OH, and lives within a couple miles of my friend’s home. His work is stunning. I’m not much into paintings, but his work could easily become my new favorite addiction. While visiting his website, I connected with his facebook page and left him a message about my God-incident. I even posted the original picture I had taken three years ago to his wall. Within an hour, he had responded to my post, confirming what I already suspected and asking me if I remembered the location where that photo was taken. The scene was the inspiration for his artwork, but he’s never been able to find that exact location again in all of his travels throughout Amish country. My friend and I racked our brains, trying to retrace the steps we took back in 2011, and I was able to give Billy a general vicinity of where I think he’ll be able to rediscover … wait for it …

The Road Home.

Yep. That’s the title of his painting. Coincidence? Never.

And so to this Advent season and to my thoughts and my heart that are full tonight of memory, of yearning, of hope, and of expectation for …

the road home.

Isn’t that the Christmas road? Isn’t that the sum-total of the Bethlehem search … the pilgrimage to the manger? A step or two back in time in order to take a step or two forward in faith. To find that which is longed for and that, with the finding, comes fresh inspiration, fresh resolve to keep moving forward in expectation of home.

It’s but a few steps from here. Not as far off as we think. For Billy, his search might lead him down the Jericho Road toward Kidron, OH (the latest, best pinpoint for the location – I’m not kidding …). For me, well, my search will take me a bit further. To the Kidron Valley (the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem and that separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives) and beyond. This is where Jesus finished his earthly life; this is the place where he exited earthen sod to be at home with his Father forever.

Jesus Christ. The Road Home. My beginning. My now. My next. He is where I’m headed this Christmas. How grateful I am for the Christmas miracle that found its way to my front porch to lead me to the manger so that I might, once again, behold the Savior in all his glory.

Blessings, friends, as you travel the road to Bethlehem this year. May the miracle of Christmas renew your faith, strengthen your resolve, and quicken your search for the road home. And as always, may God grant you his abiding peace for the journey.

Merry Christmas,

PS: If you have some time, visit Billy’s website and tell me your favorite. As for me, I have my eyes set on A Light in the Stable! (Hint, hint – my Billy Olsen – wouldn’t it look great over our mantle next Christmas?) Also, another interesting detail – my friend’s name is Juanita. Billy Jacob’s mother’s name? Yep. Juanita. Isn’t God cool?

Books for the Journey – Christmas Special

bookschristmasspecial

If you or someone you love could use a little “peace” for the Christmas journey, use the links below to take advantage of this special offer. I’m offering both of my books for $10 each (includes shipping for USA orders). Order one or two or ten – I’ll happily fulfill your order ASAP. Please note that all orders will ship at media mail rates. If you’d rather order with a check, please contact me here.

PS: The winner of a set of Melanie’s note cards is Leah! I’ll e-mail you for your choice, friend. Congrats!

Blessings and peace to you all this Advent season!

Peace for the Journey





 

Beyond the Scars





a prayer for Advent

soul magnify

My soul doth magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46).

I’ve been talking to my soul lately, asking it to keep pace with Mary’s magnificent declaration. Like her, I want my soul to amplify Jesus. I want my soul to make him bigger … more obvious to those around me.

But it’s hard. The trying times talk my soul into other amplifications—an alternate focus that sheds light on the struggles instead of light on the Savior. The everyday stressors are often given a place of prominence in my thought-life, thereby taking up habitation within my heart. And what grows there grows elsewhere.

Inward to outward.

Better be careful what gets in … right? If you and I want to sing alongside Mary this Advent season, then we’d better take note of our empty, inward spaces. They are fertile soil for wandering stressors.

Resentments.
Disappointments.
Discouragements.
Frustrations.
Expectations.

Whatever is keeping you awake at night is what is growing in your soul. It can be an ugly and frightful declaration come morning’s light.

Look in the mirror. What does it say? My soul doth magnify _______________________.

In this season of life, I am ever mindful of the role that my soul plays in God’s kingdom development. Many days, I fall short of my calling. My soul doesn’t always magnify the King. On those days, I kick myself a thousand times over, beat up my soul until it’s bloodied by untruth. I bet I’m not alone. Why?

Because as Christians we understand (and are often enlivened by the fact) that our souls are designed to house the magnificent. That inside each one of us there is an extraordinary capacity to hold the burgeoning, holy-kingdom that cannot be fully explained in words, only magnified by expression. By attitudes. By generosities of the heart that exceed what’s customary … what’s expected.

When our souls do magnify the Lord, there isn’t room within for lesser soul-growth. The Lord’s great light fills a soul to overflow and burns a candle brightly where shadows once reigned. This is why I pray Mary’s prayer and sing her song and paste a sticky note to my desk to remind me of this deep desire. I want a soul filled with Jesus, and I want him to fall out of me and on to my students each day.

What a magnificent thought! What a magnificent agenda! What a magnificent trust!

This is who we are. Jesus magnifiers. May your soul and mine be so heartily inclined this Advent season. Thus, I prayerfully sing this thought tonight to the only One who can make it happen …

Soul … magnify Him! Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey,

PS: One of the brightest souls out there is my friend, Melanie Dorsey. Her light shines brightly for Jesus. I’m giving away a set of her watercolor, note cards. Have you checked out her designs?  Leave a comment with this post, and your name will be entered into the drawing. The deadline to enter is next Sunday, December 6th, 6:00 PM.

before the color fades …

Oh the beauty of God’s creation. It cannot be replicated. Only received as grace. Shalom!

 

tree 6 2014 tree 8 2014tree 2 2014tree 9 2014tree 7 2014tree 4 2014tree 5 2014