Monthly Archives: February 2009

A Quick Word from the Bench…

A Quick Word from the Bench…

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard al night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’” (Luke 5:4-5).

I just returned from our church’s Ash Wednesday service. My husband used this passage from the Gospel of Luke as the scripture focus for his brief, albeit powerful meditation. And while I didn’t intend to come “off the bench” this week with my words and my sweat accordingly, I must at least come into the midst of our huddle and offer you a thought—a word that struck me profoundly and pointedly at the moment of its hearing.

Could it be enough to simply obey the voice of the Master because he “says so?” Could his “say so” be as much as we’ll ever need to warrant our “because you said so” in all our many matters? Whether it be…

To cast our nets into deep waters because he says so.
To anchor our boats in the harbor and to follow because he says so.
To walk a top the raging seas because he says so.
To be prepared in season and out with an answer because he says so.
To feed the 5000 because he says so.
To embrace the least of these because he says so.
To carry our cross because he says so.
To feed his sheep because he says so.
To wash feet because he says so.
To love because he says so.
To pray about everything because he says so.
To go into all the world because he says so.
To _______________________ simply and profoundly because he says so.

Isn’t his “saying so” a worthy enough word to necessitate our awe and our immediate obedience?

It should be.

God’s words via his Word are life and breath and the stuff of eternal and lasting significance. And if for some reason in this season of beginning pilgrimage to the cross where God made good on his word once and for all, if you’re choosing the words of man over the words of God, then you have chosen less. You’ve obeyed the cravings of your sinful flesh, and your life and heart will be found wanting at the end of the day.

At the end of this life.

You will walk to the grave missing out on the deepest catch of your sacred and intended purpose, and you will forsake the overflowing grace of God’s intended sacrifice that was always meant for your keeping. And to miss that, friends, all because his “saying so” isn’t good enough to yield our “doing so,” is to miss everything.

Let it not be so my fellow pilgrims. Instead, let us willingly concede our wills, our wants and our words, to the One whose word never fails, is always true, and is guaranteed to lead us home into safe harbor where the unseen faith and trust of our “now” gives way to the sights and the splendor of our “next.”

It’s enough for me; I pray it enough for you.

Thanks for the huddle time, my good and kind readers. May God be with each one of you as you take up your cross this Lenten season and carry it all the way to Calvary. He is so worthy of the climb. As always,

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Bench Time

Bench Time

We’re not going to win a single game this season. I don’t have to imagine otherwise. It’s just one of those years. The forecast came about mid-way through our first game. After fifteen years of doing this “thing” called rec sports, youth sports, middle school and high school sports, I can tell early on how things are going to pan out. I’ve logged enough time on the bleachers and driven enough miles to warrant my badge of expertise.

Thus, very little enthusiasm accompanied me yesterday morning as I traveled to my youngest son’s basketball game. Per usual, I had very low expectations going in, but by the time the game was finished, I exited with something quite different. Something more than my usual thankfulness for the final buzzer.

I left with some perspective.

Watching my older two sons play basketball over the years has been a delight for me. Partly because my younger years provided me with more energy for the “doing,” but mostly because of their strong determination and agility for playing the game. I never had to wonder if I was going to get a “show” from my boys. They’ve excelled at life, both on and off the court. They understand the game and have the tenacious drive to ramp up the scoreboard. Whenever they lace up their shoes, you can be sure that they are playing to win.

I don’t see that drive in my younger son. And while he loves playing the game, he’s less concerned about his stats and more interested in simply playing his position on the court … in cheering for his teammates and in his “thumbs up” accordingly. Jadon’s instincts for the game are different than his bigger brothers, and just yesterday, while watching my son as he stood fastened to his spot, I had a thought.

A question or two for myself, especially as it pertains to my personality and my instincts for playing this game called life.

Am I more interested in my stats—in my taking the charge toward raising the score? Or, am I content in my role as a team player … a thumb’s upper … an attaboy and attagirl cheerer? Do I see myself as a lone ranger in the game or as an integral part of a process that calls for my participation rather than my sole determination? Where is my comfortable fit?

For those of you who know me, you don’t have to linger very long with that question. My instincts for the game fall in line with those of my older sons. I have a tenacious and persistent resolve for driving up the scoreboard. I feel the tremendous need to walk a victory at every turn, and quite honestly, am often disappointed if I’m not part of the reason behind the win. If it’s going to be, I’ve got this idea that it’s always going to be up to me.

And while I am confident that God appreciates my willingness to dig in and drive hard to the basket for a score, yesterday He gave me the gift of a contrasting option. An option that allows for “passing the ball” on occasion rather than feeling the need to carry the load of the victory in selfish isolation.

Some days are meant for my full throttle run up and down the length of the court. Some days are meant for my obligatory thumbs up to my teammates as I park it on the bench and watch them raise the score. All days lend themselves to my participation, but not all of them need my frontline stats to bring a victory home for the team.

True in theory; more difficult to live in the everyday. But I need to … live it, even as I preach it.

Not all occasions call for my leadership and my perfection therein. I’ve spent a lifetime pursuing that option, and quite frankly, it’s exhausting some days. And while I always want to put my best foot forward, both in life and in spirit, I think, perhaps, that God is deepening my outlook in the matter.

Today, He’s asking of me a hard question, the answer of which speaks the truth about how I am choosing to “play” this life that I’ve been given. Simply put…

Do you trust me with your bench time, elaine?

Deeper still…

Are you willing to go there, elaine, … to step aside and offer up your support while your teammates have their go at running up the scoreboard?

Further still…

Is it enough, elaine, to simply be on the team or do you prefer to single handedly be the team?

Good questions; a painful wrestling and just exactly the pondering that I was left with as I watched my son leave the court at the conclusion of his game, no worse for the wear and completely at peace about his level of participation in the matter.

Could it be that after 42 years of doing life, the time has finally come for a shift in my thinking about my participation in the matter? Could it be that after over fifteen years of watching my children play sports, I’ve finally come across a child who more fully understands the art of team play and who is willing to log bench time as well as court time because he knows that all of his time belongs to a plan intended to bring about a good and final conclusion?

Yesterday’s conclusion may not have been the conclusion that I wanted. After all, I’m after a win. But as I enveloped my son in my arms after the buzzer blew, and as I listened to him describe the game in as much vivid detail as his eight-year-old mind could articulate, I’m not so sure that we didn’t get a win.

For Jadon, all of life is pretty much a win, whether on the bench or whether staying glued to his position on the court. Either way, he enjoys the gift of participation. And that, my friends, is a contrasting option that I need to receive as my own.

Thus, I am going to spend a few days on the bench this week watching you run up the scoreboard, all the while offering up my thumbs and my hearty cheers on your behalf.

I am not running this race alone; if “it’s” going to be, then “it’s” going to be up to all of us to see it through to conclusion. Sometimes from the bench. Sometimes sweating it out on the court, but all of the time, loving the game because I’ve been allowed to play it with you by my side.

I can’t think of a finer group of teammates with whom to pass the ball. Consider it passed, sweet friends. Play well. Play hard, and do it all for the love and glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ll see you on the other side of my bench time. As always,

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Running Above Our Average

Running Above Our Average

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24).

I didn’t mean to find them.

They were hidden there amidst the accolades of my former season: diplomas, caps and gowns, tassels and cords, a Master’s Thesis, my first diary, my first attempts at creative writing neatly organized in a bright yellow folder. A banker’s box worth of yesterdays was crammed at the back of my attic and the purposeful intention behind my husband’s search a few nights ago.

I was looking for a high school photograph of myself. What I found, instead, was a treasure trove of memories. All of them precious. All except one.

I don’t know why I saved it. Of all the many gracious and tender mementos that I had packed away for future viewing, I’m at a loss as to why I kept this one.

A battered blue pocket folder filled with eleven papers that I had written for my Advanced Composition Class during my freshman year at college. All typed on onion skin paper. All amply marked with “red,” and all of them, every last one of them, crowned with the academic genius of a “C.”

Average papers, friends. The problem? I wasn’t an average student. “C’s” were not my portion. At least not in the academic realm. Life, perhaps a different matter, but when it came to grades, I made the grade. Needless to say, when I pulled out that memory, my heart skipped a beat as I recalled the disappointment that I had felt when receiving those grades over twenty years ago. And while my husband and senior son provided their good humored ribbing alongside their accompanying shock, I quietly nursed some old wounds that reared their ugly in vivid detail.

It’s been happening to me a lot lately … this retrieval of old and sometimes painful memories. I’m not sure as to the exact reason why, but I think that it has something to do with an upcoming talk that I will be presenting about becoming “a living stone from brokenness”—my life of almost forty-three years presented in a forty-five minute nutshell. And friends, that’s a whole lot of broken crammed into a very small window of opportunity.

I have my outline and pages of corresponding back-up material ready to go. There is even a scripturally based “formula” prepared for taking my listeners, even as I have taken myself, from a state of brokenness toward a state of repair. But for all of the words that I have planned in advance, for all of the preparations that I have put into this one event, none have touched me so deeply as the ones that have presented themselves to me in vivid and living color over the past few weeks.

Real people. Real situations. Real memories. Real brokenness.

And here’s what I think, especially as it pertains to those of us who are endeavoring to humbly walk our accompanying talk.

Whatever God is “working on” in us, whatever he is refining and tweaking in us toward his good purposes and our perfected end, this is the very thing that he allows to confront us in raw and unedited ways. At unsuspecting times and, yet, in perfectly determined measure.

I’ve come to expect God’s unexpected; thus, when it arrives, I have a choice to make. I can bury it, or I can run with it to see where Father God will lead. And since burying usually leaves me as I am, I am prone to choosing the latter because I’ve finally come to the conclusion that running with God is his intended adventure for this heart of mine.

Accordingly, I ran with my battered blue folder all the way to my computer on a prompt from my son.

“Let’s Google this guy and see if we can find him, mom.”

Within seconds, I had access to this professor who was responsible for the blight on my academic record and for my former status as “average.” On a whim, I emailed him, reminding him of my presence in his classroom and about the amount of red ink that he so willingly expended on my behalf. Our families were acquainted with one another. Growing up in a small town and attending the corresponding college dictates a familiarity between the “locals” that is rarely gleaned in a larger arena.

Consequently, I was fairly confident that he would make the connection. He did, and the next morning a beautiful and humble response was waiting for me in my “inbox.” He acknowledged his “fussiness” over his grading in the past and went on to thank me for introducing him to the second half of my life. He’s added “peace for the journey” to his favorites list and also shared with me about some of the personal pain that he is currently experiencing in his own life.

In return, I thanked him for his gracious reply and for the privilege of praying on behalf of his family. I did pray, and I will continue to do so. Why?

Because God intends for me to run with him wherever the wind blows. And just this week, it blew me backward and then forward again to land me in a better place of understanding—a holier place of perception that breathes with the living pulse of an eternal Father who promises to work all of my “things” … all of your things … toward his good and perfect end.

And that end, dear ones, is anything but average. It rates much higher than a “C”, and for the record, it carries the red marks of a Savior’s love who isn’t content to leave us as we are, but who bled all over the pages of our manuscripts so that we could carry him as the most treasured memory of our always.

Unexpected moments—the real and raw and perfectly timed occasions of doing life with Jesus. I’m ready to run. I hope that your heart cries out for the same. Thus I pray…

Keep us to our run, Father, and to our willingness to embrace your wind beneath our feet as it blows. Let not the brokenness from our yesterdays prevent us from our healing in our today. Instead, use them as your building blocks for our tomorrows—for the seasons that are waiting to breathe in fullness because we’ve entrusted our past into your faithful and tender care. Take it all, Lord, and use it for your glory—my history and my now. Humbly I offer them both for your gracious and completed end. Amen.

Copyright © February 2009 – Elaine Olsen


PS: Just in case you’re wondering, Mr. Professor’s red ink was warranted. After reading some of those papers…

Have mercy! Shalom.

Sought After

“You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. (Isaiah 62:3-4).

High school and I were an awkward fit. In fact, I hated most every minute of the three years that I spent walking its hallways and trying my best to make sense of the nonsense. I wasn’t popular. I wasn’t stunning. I wasn’t a cheerleader. I wasn’t asked out on dates. In fact, to me it seemed as if I wasn’t much of anything, except…

forgotten … deserted.

The friends of my younger days had long since traded me in for a newer model, and my teachers? Well, there were a few who noticed my worth, but a majority of them never even knew my name. Thus, it was no surprise to me that when I graduated a year early, it came and went with little fanfare.

For me, my high school years were a detrimental season of living—shaping years that, unfortunately, left my already fragile self-esteem in further ruin. Accordingly, I couldn’t wait to break free.

Starting college at seventeen was a good decision. I chose to attend a school in my hometown, and from the moment that my feet hit the campus of Asbury College, I knew that my heart had finally found its home.

College was the fertile soil of my becoming—of my beginning to break free from the chains that had followed me down those painful hallways of high school. I fit, and for the first time in my life, I began to see myself as someone more than the scared little girl who had always felt deserted.

I had friends and dates and professors who, not only called me by name, but who also came to expect my leadership in the classroom. After a first semester of academic adjustment, my grades soared toward excellence and landed me with honors by the time graduation rolled around. In addition to my cherished diploma, I had an engagement ring on my finger.

I was on my way to becoming a preacher’s wife and an elementary school teacher in short order. No more painful high school hallways for me. Being deserted was no longer my issue … at least not for a season. But as all issues go, unless dealt with by the illuminating and healing presence of God’s love, they tend to resurface at unsuspecting times.

Mine would reappear on occasion and became more frequent as my marriage began to unravel. After seven years of being a wife and a mother to two young sons, my feelings of worthlessness barked their insistence over my soul, and I found myself, once again, returning to the familiar hallways of my adolescence.

It would take a long season of painful recollection and deliberate intention to free me from my feelings of being forgotten. Thankfully at age forty-two, I’m finally getting close.

(ages 17, 21, 42)
God in his mercy and through his far-reaching love has kept me on the path of recovery and rediscovery. My identity is no longer shaped by the hallways of my youth or by the divorce that forced me to grapple with my worthiness as it pertains to God and his kingdom agenda. Today I walk in the grace that was mandated for me long before my sin required its covering.

Accordingly, I know longer feel deserted; my Father and the cross of his Son made sure of that.

“The LORD has made a proclamation to the ends of the earth; ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”’ They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.” (Isaiah 62:11-12).

Today, I walk in the freedom of a new name. Many still know me as elaine. But my Father? Well, he knows me by a few others.

*Sought After.
*City No Longer Deserted.
meaning “my delight.”
*Beulah meaning “married.”

Not a bad trade for the deserted and desolate of my youth?

I don’t know how this strikes you today. I’m not even quite sure as to the reason for the penning of my words. But I have a thought that, perhaps, there is someone out there who needs the truth of a new name this night. Maybe the hallways of your adolescence … maybe even those of your most recent … are plaguing your thoughts with feelings of being forgotten, unloved and unnecessary. I understand.

I’m not so far along in my faith journey that I don’t occasionally revisit those names. The enemy would like nothing more than to keep us trapped in the lie of such an identification. But the truth is…

Our Jesus didn’t go all the way to hell and back to leave us as we are. Instead, He made the journey in order to bring us home as his bride. We are the sought after delight of our God. Never forgotten. Never deserted. Never unloved and never unnecessary. And that, sweet friends, has always been and will continue to be the most sacred and deliberate intention of our Father’s heart—

to be the Lover of ours.

Won’t you allow him his turn to bathe you in the truth of what you’ve always meant to him? He is so worthy of your pause. Mine, too. Thus I pray…

Show me, Father, your love. Teach me what it means to be your bride … your delight … your sought after and prized possession. My youthful shapings and my adult rebellions have kept me from knowing the full depth of my identity in You. Replace the sting of feeling deserted with the truth of your deliberate pursuit of my heart. Thank you for holding onto my fragile estate all of these years and for continuing to remind me of my sacred worth in You. And when I am tempted to revisit those hallways of my long ago and faraway, turn my thoughts toward my “soon to be” and my “ever so close.” I love you, Father. Thank you for taking me as your bride. Amen.

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The Illusion of a Night’s Slumber … The Truth of a Day’s Awakening

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose…. The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (Acts 16:25-26, 29-30).

I was trapped in the dark of a school hallway. Lights were flickering, people were scurrying, and the trees were bending their surrender to the ferocious mandate of the wind. I could hear the rain pounding its cadence upon the metal roof above me. I could hear the cries of children as they tried to make sense of the surrounding chaos.

Imprisoned by the bedlam and instructed that my remaining as such would be the best option for my personal safety, I decided to wait it out even though a huge part of me cried out for my release to the wild and treacherous of the outdoors.

I didn’t wait long.

Instead, I walked the darkened hallway toward the entrance of the school and turned the final corner on my fear. When I did, my eyes opened, and I was greeted by the brilliant sun beaming its illumination through my bedroom mini-blinds and welcoming me to a new day of living.

Ah … the illusion of a night’s slumber.

What I thought to be real only moments earlier was but a dream working its way out of me in order to teach me a lesson about darkness and light. About perceived captivity and about the choice I have to walk free from its chains into the marvelous light and life that is mine as a child belonging to the Light.

Sometimes my freedom is as simple as a rolling over from my right side to my left. Sometimes, a bit more involved. But all the time, freedom is available. Never am I stuck in my chains. Even when I’m shackled by situations that require my surrender to an iron’s holding, walking in the freedom of God’s light is always my option.

Paul and Silas understood that option. They chose it, and in doing so, a great and mighty midnight happened upon a Roman prison cell. Doors were opened, and chains were loosened. And while some would have justified this mighty act of God as their permission to escape, Paul and Silas chose to remain.

Not because they didn’t long to be free, but rather because they knew that they already were.

Long before an earthquake released them in the physical, Jesus Christ had released them in the spiritual. No amount of dark and dank and torture of a prison cell could keep them from knowing what they already knew to be true in their own hearts—that the cross of Jesus Christ brings freedom to all who choose to shackle their hearts to its pulse.

And while the enemy is ever content and vigilant about stoking the fires of our perceived captivity, God is holy and perfectly content to stir us in another direction.

Not with the illusion of a night’s slumber, but rather with the truth of a day’s awakening.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1).

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Where the Spirit of the Lord was then … where he continues to be now … is with those who have chosen his Light over darkness. His truth over the illusion of a night’s dreaming.

God is not a figment of our wild imaginings. We don’t wake up in the morning and discover that he’s not real; rather, we wake up to the contrary—to the exponential manifestations of his presence in our day to day. Some have unsuccessfully tried to confine the person of Jesus Christ to the contextual isolation of a historical manuscript. But God’s Word cannot be chained (2 Timothy 2:9). He cannot be managed and manipulated so as to fit into man’s need to have everything make sense.

Rarely does the grace of Jesus Christ ever make sense. Instead, Christ came to shatter our “1+1=2’s” with his “One + our 1 = infinitely more than we can possibly ask for or imagine.” Indeed, this truth runs contrary to common sense, yet it is exactly the one truth that kept Paul and Silas remaining in their prison cell, even though an earthquake had released them from their chains.

They were waiting for the outcome of God’s equation, not theirs, and in the end, his answer came in manifold measure—

The salvation and corresponding freedom of a jailer and his entire household.

That, my friends, is the truth of a day’s awakening—the real and realized embrace of a Son’s illumination in our hearts and through our lives. We hold the freedom to carry that light into the illusion of this world’s nightly slumber. It is our high and holy privilege to do so. Thus, I echo the plea of the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the believers at Ephesus,

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light … for it is the light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:8, 14).

Wake up you weary and well-worn pilgrims. Arise and shine, for your Light is come. Today is the day of salvation. Turn and receive the truth of your glorious awakening!

As always,

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Copyright © February 2009 – Elaine Olsen


PS: I’ve posted this song before and am doing so again because it so aptly fits the truth of what I’m trying to say. Have a blessed rest this weekend. Be safe. Be God’s. And if you are confused about what that means … to be God’s … please e-mail me, and I will happy to pray things through with you. I love you all! I mean it.

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