Category Archives: Beyond Cancer’s Scars (the story behind the story)

God Rules

“When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

Genesis 32:25

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Recently, we celebrated Pink-Out Day at our school – an October day dedicated for wearing pink to honor and to support the fight against breast cancer. In addition to wearing pink, the kids contributed their spare change as a donation to our local cancer center. It was a blessing to walk amongst a sea of pink that day and to soberly reflect on its significance in my own journey of survivorship.

My classroom started our Pink-Out Day as we begin all of our days – in the Word of God. I’ve been telling them their story of faith – the history of their people, the Patriarchs. Rich have been our morning discussions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My students are learning a lot, perhaps retaining more biblical knowledge at the tender age of ten than most of the world’s population. It’s a good thing to glean head knowledge. It’s an even better thing when that knowledge works its way down into the heart where it can lodge for a season, perhaps eternally. So when one of my students showed evidence of that movement on that particular morning, I was delighted and humbled to lead her to that place of greater understanding. The backdrop for our discussion was Jacob’s great wrestling match with God at Peniel which, ultimately, led to God changing his name from Jacob to Israel (meaning “God rules”).

“Mrs. Olsen, do you think if God would have healed Jacob’s hip that night, instead of letting him walk with a limp the rest of his life, that Jacob would have forgotten that he wrestled with God and that ‘God rules’?”

Her question interrupted my train of thought and led me down an unplanned path. Tenderly, I knelt at her desk and allowed myself to be vulnerable, transparent at a level usually reserved for adults.

“Class, I want to tell you something about me that, in some ways, mirrors Jacob’s story from so long ago. I have a scar running across the width of my chest, from armpit to armpit. I have scars on my stomach as well – all scars the results of my needing to deal with my cancer. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I am reminded about that difficult journey, and while I’m not limping around the room like Jacob must have, a part of my heart limps along each day remembering the night when I wrestled with God and had to learn that ‘God rules.’”

My words resonated with some … mostly with her. My hope is that, years from now, when those night wrestlings arrive for each of my students, they will remember Jacob’s night, maybe even some of my story so that they might emerge in the morning with a new name, a fresh hope, and a holy reminder that “God rules.” God is not disengaged from our lives, friends; God is engaged with us, willing to split the night sky (if need be) to walk upon this earthen sod, take us to the mat, and wrench our hips with an everlasting reminder that he is God. His thoughts are not always our own, and his ways aren’t always the ones we’d prefer. But his presence in the midst of getting us to where we need to go … who we need to be?

Well, Jacob-Israel would probably tell you a limp is a small price to pay to learn this one lesson of eternal significance. I would voice the same.

God rules. Yesterday. Today. Forever. God rules. We cannot always see his hand in the story. On those days, perhaps, all we really need to see is our personal scars, to lift up our shirts and boldly behold the truth of just how far we’ve come. In our scars, we can trace God’s hand, we can glimpse his grace, and we can know that we’ve been held through the night in his merciful and loving grip.

Your body is not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body, scars and all. Limp on, sweet ones. Limp forward. Limp knowing that God rules and that God loves. I’ll meet you on the road. As always,

Peace for the journey,

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, my publisher is hosting a give-away of four copies of my book, Beyond the ScarsFor an opportunity to win a copy, head over to NyreePress and register your thoughts in comment section of the blog entry. As always, if you or a loved one is journeying through the difficult season named Cancer, I pray that my words will serve as a strong encouragement to you. 

Peace for the journey,

5

Forever grateful to Shirley Jones for this likeness.

 

It’s been a sobering day for me. A day for remembering. A day for grieving. A day for gratefulness. A day for tears. 

Five years ago. I remember it well. Most days I don’t … remember it. Most days I live beyond it. But today I take time to remember the impact and the forecast of those words spoken over my life on that day:

Mrs. Olsen, you have breast cancer.

One doesn’t forget a day like that. This is my “I remember where I was” moment that folks often speak about when recalling a turning point in their history.

A two-hour trip home from Dr. Habal’s office in Greenville. A phone call to family. A phone call to Judith. A detour to Campbell University to find my first born and a detour to Methodist University to find my second. And then home to loving arms – to a mom and dad and children not quite ready to absorb the news. And then, that trip to Arby’s with the living tree growing next to our table. If you’ve read my story, then you know about that tree and those surreal moments surrounding that hallowed meal.

And here I am, five years out—a benchmark for cancer patients I’m told. Survival rates for us are measured in five year increments. By the grace of God I’ve made it to this milestone. Soberly, I await the next one, whatever that might be.

This is my one life, from start to finish, this is it. And while I’d like to say that I’ve masterfully handled the five-year journey toward this milestone, I won’t because I haven’t. Truthfully, I haven’t understood most of it. It’s been mostly a limp toward the finish line.

But there is something – a pretty important one thing that has emerged in these past five years:

My obedience to the day in front of me.

Not tomorrow’s obedience. Not next week’s. Not next year’s. Simply (and I think rather profoundly) an obedience to the unfolding of life in a single day and my participation therein. It’s an obedience that offers more personal yeses and fewer nos; more open hands than clinched fists. Just an obedience to the day – to live it, come what may, knowing that I am deeply loved and sincerely safe.

If we know this, friends, truly understand in the marrow of our bones that we are loved and that we are safe, then we can remain obedient to the day we’ve been given. Five years ago, I didn’t know this kind of security. I didn’t recognize the depth of God’s love for me, and I didn’t always feel safe in his arms. And so he gave me the love and the arms of others, and through their touch, God got bigger for me. In his bigness, I understood (maybe for the first time) that I was covered, completely and certainly safe in the shadow of the Almighty Father who calls me his child.      

And that’s something – a pretty important one thing that has trumped the scars required to get here.

Today is the day that the Lord has made. He has given it to me. In return, I yield my obedience therein. Come what may – a tomorrow, a next week, a next year, or maybe even five.

Today I raise my glass and offer a toast to August 23, 2015. I am loved, and I am safe. It is good to be here and to be sharing this day with you. 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.

when obedience comes back around …

I remember the night I first penned those beginning words to Beyond Cancer’s Scars with the nudge of the Holy Spirit alongside:

“Out of your poverty, Elaine, surrender your pen.”

It was a hard obedience. At that point in my journey, I was exhausted, worn out and hammered down by the emotional and physical requirements of my cancer season. Questions multiplied in my mind that night, doubts as well. What would become of this obedience?

In the end, words came from that obedience, nearly 60,000 of them. One thought after another, day after day of concentrated writing until forty days culminated into one binding—an inside look at one survivor’s very personal surrender. My surrender.

And so it was. So it is. Beyond Cancer’s Scars.

Tonight I look again at that old obedience. I hold the sum total of those thoughts tenderly in my hands, lift them up to the Father, and ask him a few questions not unlike the ones I asked him on that June night back in 2011. In swift measure, I sense his response. Oddly enough, it mirrors an old refrain.

“Out of your poverty, Elaine, surrender your pen.”

This is the work of our hands, the Father’s and mine. Collectively, we labored alongside one another in this hard obedience, and the end result—these words of 60,000—mean more to me than most any of the other ones I’ve said and written these past forty-seven years. These words were a gift to me; in turn, they became a gift for others, at least that’s been my hope.

But these words aren’t mine to keep; they are meant for release. To, once again, be surrendered as an offering to the Father who first enabled them … who lives in each one of them. Only he knows where to take them and how he wants to use them.

What will become of this obedience?

I haven’t a clue. But I will walk it through, just like I did back in 2011. I surrender these words all over again, believing in their eternal value. This is the best I can do … the most I can give. And therein is a moment of perfect peace for this journey I am traveling.

I pray the same for you, friends. Rest tenderly in the peace of Jesus Christ tonight, and may Sabbath arrive to your soul as a gentle grace from heaven.

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