Monthly Archives: February 2014

when God paints pink …

A Cherry Blossom in full bloom greeted me on my way into Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center this afternoon. Fitting that it should be there, waiting on me. I think God knew I needed its witness. Just two weeks ago, an ice storm wreaked havoc on our community. The only colors that afternoon were white and gray, still beautiful in their own right.

I am grateful for the limitless color palette of our Creator. He paints the witness of his presence into every scene of our lives. Whether we’re in the midst of the brittle bite of winter, the extravagant blossom of spring, the sun and shade of summer, or the earthy harvest of fall, no matter the season of our lives …

God is there. God is near. God is here. With me; with you.

Look around. Look up. Look beyond. Just start looking. You will see him, even as I have seen him. Today, God wrapped himself up in pink and reminded me that I am not forgotten, that I am his daughter, and that a tree from his garden would be his preference to remind me of his great love for me.

Considering the recent weather conditions in our area, some would say that spring has arrived a little early to eastern North Carolina. The Father would say that it has arrived right on time … in blossom and wearing pink.

‘Tis a grace unspeakable and filled with glory. My heart sings the refrain, and my knee bows humbly to drink it in.

There is still time to secure a copy of Beyond Cancer’s Scars or Peace for the Journey; click here to learn more. I greatly appreciate your support as I walk through this transition in my writing ministry.

it might be hope

I made a telling discovery this morning during my morning devotional time – a few thoughts I’m lingering on and in as I begin this grace-day with Jesus. It’s about my standing “near the cross” and the posture of my heart therein. Let me explain.

Three years ago, I led a group of women through Alicia Chole’s study, Choices: to be or not to be … a woman of God. In this current season, I have the privilege of doing the same with another group of women at our new church. One of the questions that Alicia repeatedly asks of us in our times together is, “How is your garden growing?” (alicia chole, choices: to be or not to be a woman of God, 2003, p.4)

What I like most about this question is that it roots in intentionality—something along the lines of: This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there? And therein, I cannot sit back and simply lead. Instead, I must sit alongside my sisters as a participant. Just because I’ve done the study before, doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some fresh digging, fresh seed planted in the soil of my own heart. If I can’t give God access to the spade and shovel to work within the confines of my soul, I certainly shouldn’t waste the time of the members of my group in shepherding them toward the same.

And so, I give the trowel over to Jesus and ask him to break up the soil of my unplowed ground, to see, once again, what is growing within me nearly three years after this familiar blade first broke the soil regarding the choices I make … to be or not to be a woman of God.

Week Three, Day One (ibid, p. 29). Alicia guides me to consider that familiar scene at the cross, where Jesus’ mother, close friends, and followers were “standing by” as eyewitnesses to his suffering (see John 19:25). I journal my thoughts regarding the many, strong emotions that must have been present that day. I do so without looking back at the responses I wrote to this same question three years earlier. In keeping my responses fresh, I’m able to (at the conclusion of the activity) look back to those earlier responses and compare them with my current ones. It’s a rich exercise in evaluation.

Easily, I find the similarities. Feelings that include: confusion, emptiness, sorrow, loneliness, fear, gut-wrenching pain. I imagine many of you might reach these same conclusions regarding the emotions surrounding that day at Calvary. What surprised me the most in the comparing of my two lists was the inclusion of a couple of emotions this time around that were glaringly absent from my list three years ago. Those emotions? Relief and hope. Relief that Christ’s anguish had come to an end—a finishing point to an event that had, undoubtedly, been building up in their minds for a long season. And feelings of hope based on the reality of the finishing work of the cross—something along the lines of: Now that we’ve come to this moment in his story, I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.

And therein is my discovery, my lingering. Why the emotions of relief and hope this time around and not three years ago? Well, that’s another story for another day. But when I look back to where I was three years ago (a season of deep suffering and wounding) and to where I am today, the discrepancy is more clearly understood. Suffering sometimes clouds the truth, and the truth is … suffering does a finishing work in all of us. When we arrive at suffering’s end, hope often turns up in our hearts to surprise us and to invite us forward into holy expectation for the words yet to be written onto the pages of our lives.

This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there?

Well, it feels like relief; it feels like it might be hope. What about you, friends? What is growing in the soil of your heart? Won’t you take some time today to consider the question with Jesus? It’s a fine deliberation and one that has the potential to yield abundant fruit for your soul. As always …

Peace for the journey,
 

the unspoken blessing

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today …” –Hebrews 3:13

I saw it in their eyes last evening … a familiar pain. It’s one I’ve felt before. It always touches a nerve whenever I speak on it, especially those nerves deeply embedded in the heart and firmly rooted in remembrance. In sharing a bit of my own story, I quickly discerned that my strong emotion stirred up emotion in the ladies who’d gathered for our weekly Bible study. And instead of studying the Bible, we studied the God of Bible who comes alongside us in our woundedness, who dries our tears, and who speaks words of healing into those places where words have often gone undeclared.

Oh the ache of the unspoken blessing! Who of us hasn’t longed for a few words of eternal encouragement from an uncooperative candidate? It seems it would be easy to impart words of strength to those we love. Why then, do we so often keep them to ourselves? I think this is one of the resulting side-effects of never having received the blessings due us. The words we long to receive can often be the very words we refuse to give.

What tragedy … to forsake the blessing of others because we feel under-blessed. We are not under-blessed. We are the children of God, the over-blessed, the lavishly loved, and the richly endowed kids of the kingdom. When we live there, in God’s house of affirmation, the overflow of his love to us more easily overflows through us. Blessing others becomes our default rather than our reluctance.

Not so long ago, I wrote a few words about our words of blessing. Maybe you’ve read them; maybe you’re reading them for the first time. They seem an apt fit with today’s rumination, and so I release them to you again for your consideration:

“Our words mean a great deal to others and to us as well. Words released as flowers are words that carry us through our seasons of deepest darkness. They brighten our spirits. They lighten our loads. They keep us from lesser feelings—lesser attitudes—that, if not guarded, could quickly morph into lesser behaviors. Anger, bitterness, selfishness, waywardness, faithlessness, fear, pity, envy, and blame, are all possible, lesser products of the heart when words of kindness and encouragement aren’t extended as healing replacements.

Rarely is our neglect intentional; mostly we don’t think about our words as being an investment into the heart of another. But sometimes we forsake the “giving of flowers,” keeping our words to ourselves because it’s hard to speak them. The emotional toll that honest words require can be exhausting, raw, and exposing, thus the reason so many important conversations never take place between two hearts. Instead, we sometimes choose our silence because the contrast is too much of an honest look into our flawed and fragile hearts. Self-preservation over personal revelation becomes the order of the day. When that happens, hearts remain as they were—unchanged, unmoved, and uncolored by the witness of a flower or two given in the name of love.

Whatever our reasons for keeping our silence, we must understand that some lives will come to an earthly close without the blessed benedictions due them. Words of blessing are reserved for a funeral, when in reality, so many of them should have been spoken in advance. Words spoken at a funeral, flowers given then? Well, they’re likely to be forgotten, to decay over time, buried alongside the casket. But words of encouragement spoken into a heart before a heart moves home to heaven? Those are eternal words that never die. They blossom as a witness to generous grace and serve as a lasting memorial to the human spirit and to the God who puts eternity into the hearts of all humankind.”    (F. Elaine Olsen, on “Sending Flowers to the Living” from Beyond Cancer’s Scars , p. 124-125).

Maybe today you feel the ache of an unspoken blessing in your heart. Maybe today, you’re refusing someone else the privilege of hearing the words due them. Wherever you are in this story, my prayer is that you will allow the Father to move in to that place of woundedness and to restore to you what is rightfully yours. You are the apple of your Father’s eyes, and his love for you is without reserve or condition.

Live in his encouragement today and then, out of that overflow, live to encourage someone else. As always …

Peace for the journey,

If you’d like to secure a copy of Beyond The Scars or Peace for the Journey, click here to learn more. I greatly appreciate your support as I walk through this transition in my writing ministry.

on living the right question …

When I get to the end of all of this, when I reach the other side of the struggle that’s been weighing so heavily upon me, what do I want to see happen?

This is the question I keep asking myself. It’s the question that keeps me awake at night and barely functioning during the daytime. I scramble for answers, trying to manipulate the outcome, trying to fix a problem that is bigger than me. And I realize something in these early morning hours, really have some clarity about one important thing:

I’m not asking the right question.

“What do I want to see happen?” doesn’t get the job done. Instead, “What does God want to see happen?” seems the right fit for such a time as this.

I’ve been reading Dr. Tangumonkem’s words—a journey of simple yet profound faith. He’s my new friend, a beautiful grace from God in the midst of this ever changing saga known as my publishing debacle. We’ve done a book exchange of sorts as a way of encouraging each other in this time. From his pen he writes these words:

“The next time an opportunity presents itself before you and is more than your wildest imagination, do not get frozen in your tracks. Your boat is being rocked to loosen if from the shore so that you can move into deeper waters. Fear, worry, and anxiety are expected reactions, but do not allow them to prevent you from launching into the deep.” (from Coming to America, 2013, pg. 35)

He can write these words, because he knows them to be true. He has lived these words, one faithful step at a time. This is a man with a God-given dream, a God-given life. A man from Cameroon who never allows himself to live in the impossibilities of what God has called him to do but, instead, relies on the promises of God to make it happen. I marvel at his determined faith, and I am stretched to live accordingly.

I smile at his fortitude. Consider this man who, after being led by the Spirit of God about coming to America to further his education, saved his spare coins for an entire year so that he could pay the fee to take the GRE, thereby meeting one of the many requirements of God’s forward moving plan for his life. A year, people! Are you hearing me? A year’s worth of intentional saving so that he could take … wait for it … a test.

How different would our blessed United States of America be if we all had a similar passion and respect for furthering our education? We’ll drop a few hundred dollars on a new gadget without a second thought. Dr. Tangumonkem didn’t have that luxury and, instead, made this collection of coins his first thought, his second thought, his third, fourth, and fifth thought, one thought at a time until enough money had been saved so he could take a test. So that he could check that one requisite off of a very long list of requirements before seeing God’s dream come to pass. Again from his pen:

“Many dreams have died at inception because we focus on the lack of resources and the obstacles that oppose our onward match [sic] to fulfilling our dreams. This should not be the case, for if God is the initiator of the dream He will also make the dreams come true. … All you are required to do is believe and trust Him to lead you one step at a time. This is the one tried and true antidote that will put fear and unbelief out of business.” (from Coming to America, 2013, pg. 46).

Yes, friends, I’m asking the wrong question. Not “What do I want to see happen?” but rather “What does God want to see happen?”. This is yet to be determined. It is a matter far too big for me to get my mind around these days, my pocketbook as well. Re-publishing my manuscripts will be an expensive endeavor and one that I had not planned on. I think that God intends for me to take a page out of my new friend’s history.

I’ll trust God with the dream, and then I’ll save my spare change – even if it takes a year or two or whatever amount of time God determines to bring his conclusion to fruition. In the end, I just want to pass the test—this test of faith so that I might shine forth as gold, even as Dr. Tangumonkem shines forth as a beacon of hope for all of us in this time of sifting.

“But he knows the way that I take;

when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

My feet have closely followed his steps;

I have kept to his way without turning aside.

I have not departed from the commands of his lips;

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”

–Job 23:10-12

 

Kept in peace,

PS: If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Tangumonkem’s Coming to America and how you might secure a copy, please click on the link above or contact him through his email – tangumonkem@yahoo.com. I’m not sure how many copies he has left; there are nearly 2000 authors in a state of flux right now regarding our published work, but I’ll be happy to put you in touch with him.

The winner of Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God is Sharon. Please be in touch with a mailing address, friend.

the rest of God …

“Cease from what is necessary. Embrace that which gives life.”

This is the golden rule of Sabbath according to Mark Buchanan, author of The Rest of God: Restoring your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. Have you read these words, this extraordinary book that feels less like obligation and more like privilege, like a daily walk in the garden with Jesus?

It arrived on my doorstep as required reading because of my participation in Alicia Chole’s 7th Year, mentoring encounter in 2013. I see the wisdom in Alicia’s choice to include it on our selected reading list. It should be required reading. It is pure, liquid grace—life-giving and life-extending with every chapter absorbed. I run the risk of feeling somewhat covetous of Mark’s pen if it weren’t for the absolute gratitude I feel in my heart for the gift of his words. There are very few books that I’ll read a second, even third time, very few books that I keep on the bookshelf long-term. This will be one of them. Why?

Because The Rest of God grants me understanding and permission to rest with God so that I might more fully understand the rest of God—that which remains hidden to me. His vastness. His closeness. His willingness to be known. His willingness to fill me with eternity to the uttermost. Rest to restore the body and rest to restore the soul. This is sacred treasure.

And so as it pertains to Mark’s golden rule for Sabbath rest (ceasing from what is necessary and embracing that which gives life) this is what gives life to me today:

  •  The Sunday school hour with James 1:19-27 on the table, saints gathered around for discussion.
  •  The Communion hour with bread and wine on the table, saints kneeling down for prayer.
  •  The lunch hour with fish and chicken, saints sitting down for sustenance.
  •  The afternoon hours with bed and blankets, saints lying down for sleep.
  •  The evening hours, two saints holding hands for love.

This is Sabbath rest for me. Nothing necessary. No “have tos” in the mix. Only “get tos”. I get to keep Sabbath with the saints on Sundays. Some folks may tag it as obligation; I name it as privilege – the life-giving, life-extending rest of God.

I pray you’ve known a similar portion. If not, then these next moments can belong to just you and Jesus. As long as today is still called today, there is time to take a walk with God in his garden, to know him more fully, and to rest most assuredly in his love.

Keep Sabbath, friends. It is God’s gift to you. As always …

Peace for the journey,

PS: If you think The Rest of God might be a good fit with your heart, please leave a comment below, and I will select one winner to receive a copy of Mark’s book. 

Also, I’m having a final sale on my books, Peace for the Journey and Beyond Cancer’s Scars. Click here to learn more. I greatly appreciate your support as I walk through this transition in my writing ministry.

error: Content is protected !!