on cleaning out your culvert…

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” –Proverbs 4:23

It’s been four months since Hurricane Matthew swept through our little neck of the woods. Beyond losing our power for a few days, there has been no lasting, negative impact to my family. There has been, however, a niggling reminder of its existence each time I take a walk around my neighborhood.

There are several man-made ponds in our community, connected by culverts that keep the water freely flowing amongst them. Since the hurricane, one of the culverts has been muddied up and blocked by debris. The city maintenance crew shows up now and again to poke a stick at it, but the flow of water has mostly stopped between the ponds. Accordingly, the water has grown stagnant and murky.

Something tells me it’s going to take more than a poke to get the water flowing again. It’s going to take some getting down and some getting dirty, some hands on, digging in the mud to clean out and clear up the mess that Hurricane Matthew left behind.

As it goes with the culvert in my neighborhood, so it goes with my heart.

Every now and again, a hurricane blows in and around my spirit, muddying it up with debris. The water flowing in and out of my heart gets plugged up by the ravages of the storm. An occasional poke and prod of faith does precious little to release the debris clogging up my veins. A poke and prod may temporarily bring some relief, but eventually, I have to be willing to do more in order to remove the obstruction. I have to dig a little deeper, get my hands a little muddier, so that I might, once again, feel and know the free flow of water in and around my spirit.

What does that look like practically speaking?

Well, for me it begins with the wisdom of King Solomon. I must take better care of my heart, both in feeding it and guarding it. I’ve not been very good at my feeding and guarding in recent days. Instead, I’ve been stoking the fires of my faith with an occasional poke and prod of Jesus. Accordingly, my heart feels stagnant … muddy … full of the world and its rubble rather than full of something better, something cleaner, something freer. Someone finer.

The good news? I know how to unclog the drain to my heart.

I must eliminate the debris, even if it means my getting deep into the water to do so.

With God’s help to guide me…

• I will guard my heart most fiercely in the days to come.
• I will diligently feed my soul with truth (God’s Word), not lies.
• I will live in a posture of quietness before the Lord so that I might most clearly hear from his heart.
• I will yield to sacred road blocks, and I will merge when the lane is offered.
• I will “circle the wagons” as it pertains to those who are allowed to speak into my life.
• I will reserve the greater portion of my emotional and physical energy for my family, my friends, and my students.
• I will keep my eyes fixed on the finish line instead of the cheering (and sometimes jeering) of the mob on the sidelines.
• I will start and end my day with Jesus and offer up ten thousand prayers in between.
• And I will remember that all of my “wills” are weakened if not tethered tightly to the pull and prod of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps today, like me, your heart’s been clogged up with the debris of a recent hurricane. I don’t know if anyone’s come around to take a look at your mess yet, but if you’re reading this, maybe you could consider this a prod toward cleaning up your culvert? You might get a little dirty in the process, but once you’re free from the junk, the flow of water between your heart and God’s will begin again.

Be well, friends. Live well. Guard your heart above all else. Truly, God means for it to be the wellspring of life eternal. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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Take Good Care

What one good thing do you want to do with the rest of your life?

It’s a question I’ve been chewing on for the better part of this year. Knowing that my earthly existence is measured by human standards and knowing that at any moment that particular calendar might draw to a close, it’s a good question to ask. In not asking it, life can float aimlessly along, chipping away at time with precious little to hold in exchange. Not that I need a lot to hold, but I need something … at least one thing.

One good thing … to do, to give myself to.

And so this afternoon while out for a long walk in the feels-more-like-April-than-December temperatures, while watching the bluebird stepping his dance amongst barren branches, I had a thought … a rather simple one but one that just might help me walk out my remaining calendar days.

Take good care of the moment, Elaine.

What moment?

This one. Not the next one, not tomorrow’s, but this one … right in front of me.

Not randomly, but with goodness.

You see, I can handle my moments. We all can. Give us a moment, and we’ll fill it with something, take care of it somehow, someway, with some sort of somewhat. Whether well thought out or haphazardly, we take care of our moments. But in doing so, we must consider the quality therein.

Is our care of the moment any good? Does it serve any good purpose?

Jesus lived good moments. He should be our guide along these lines. While he always had the end game in mind – his calendared days – he is known for the moments lived in between the stable and the grave. Wherever he walked, as he grew and as he taught, he took good care of the earthly moments he’d been given. Whether in conversation with his people or in conversation with his Father, Christ’s moments were never accidentally lived nor haphazardly shared. They were simply and profoundly lived and fueled by the winds of goodness.

Like my friend the bluebird this afternoon, Jesus danced within and amongst the barren branches of humanity. His color was brilliant positioned against the backdrop of winter. He was set apart, not camouflaged by the clamor of his surroundings. Instead, Jesus lived branch to branch, moment to moment, watchful of his surroundings, and willing to share the road with others.

As I step into this next moment (and, yes, into a new year), I don’t want to simply take care of my moments anymore. Doing so relies too heavily on fleshly impulses. Instead I want to take good care of each one – being firmly rooted in God’s goodness, mindful of his momentum, and quick to follow his lead.

The rest of my earthly life is too much, too big for my hands (and heart) to hold these days. I pray I live it well. But this moment, this single slip of time that is right in front of me? Mine … yours? Well, certainly we can take good care of it. With God’s help, good moments are the rule rather than the exception.

Live your moments like you mean them, friends. Take good care of them, and take good care of your hearts. Dance amongst the barren branches of winter as often as you dare, allowing your Father to take the lead. Live and move and have your being in Christ.

This is the very best we can do. This is the good way to finish your life. 

Peace for the journey,

photo credit: Copyright: jilllang / 123RF Stock Photo

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Focused

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,
Amen.

(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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