Category Archives: blessing

Watering the Kingdom Garden

“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.” -1 Cor. 3:6-7

Today was watering day at Ebenezer UMC. I took my watering can and applied it heartily to the souls planted there in that green and growing garden. I am grateful for the privilege, for a walk in the lush abundance of God’s mercy. They are his blossoms—a heavenly-loved group of about a hundred, who cloister in that sacred space each Sunday morning. Today, God entrusted me with their care, a ministry normally reserved for my father. Graciously, daddy surrendered his pulpit to me and to my heart and granted me full rights to speak as the Spirit led.

It’s a sacred gift, especially considering that next Sunday will be my daddy’s last at Ebenezer. These are hallowed days for him, his “shaking hands with his tomorrow”, counting them slowly and lingering in their richness. A chapter in his story is ending so that another one might begin. I’m honored to have written a few closing lines in this one.

My prayer going into today was that the Holy Spirit would weed out the unessential words and empower those that were vital. By all accounts, it seems that my prayer was answered. Still and yet, upon reflection during my two-hour drive home, I recalled some words left unsaid – words I wanted to release and words that felt (to me) really weighty, really significant. Those words? Well, something along the lines of . . .

“Years of training build a soul, strengthen a stride, and foster endurance in the heart of a seasoned saint. Strength grows in the darkness.”

Words like that. But even though they were never spoken aloud (and after letting myself off the hook for not saying them), I came to the conclusion that the folks at Ebenezer UMC probably already know this about the darkness. Many of them have lived in and through the shadows of the night and have come forth as gold – strong people forged because of strong sorrow. I saw the strength in their eyes and felt it deep within – unspoken words spoken between us, spirit to spirit through the Spirit.

And therein, the soil of my soul was watered as well. Just knowing that we were doing this thing together (walking the kingdom road shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing kingdom truth at soul-level) moved me to a posture of worship on the ride home and to shouts of praise all along the I-95 corridor. I may not always perfectly deliver God’s Word to others, but I am perfectly willing to lend my heart, mind, and soul to the process when given the opportunity. There is always a great blessing that arrives on the backside of such godly obedience.

God is the grower of good things. The rest of us? Well, every now again, we get to hold the watering can that pours out his grace, truth, and love. This is holy privilege, friends. This is God’s kingdom in us and through us. Let’s not spend our days measuring the growth in the garden. Instead, let’s spend our days nourishing it with the holy waters of heaven.

This is the best we can do. We can count on God to do the rest. 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.

the riches of knowing God…

the riches of knowing God…

{I love my kids… front yard PR!}

“What are you going to do with all your riches, Elaine, now that you’re famous?”

This was the question that assaulted me this morning when I walked through the doors of the church. It was said in jest with good intention, still and yet, it stuck with me.

All my riches.

How do I begin to measure the bounty that I have known at the hand of God, not just over the past couple of weeks, but the entirety of the past forty-four years? It’s an impossible endeavor to be sure, but one I’m trying to work my way through in this season of my life. We should all take time to pause in order to consistently contemplate our riches. It is the “way” of a grateful heart. And so today I’ve taken that occasion… spent some time reflecting and remembering the riches of God.

How well I remember a December day four years ago when my writing dreams were shattered by a publishing company that had held onto my first manuscript for nearly eight months. It was my first attempt at writing a book, a Bible study on the book of Nehemiah. I was certain it would “hit the mark” with publishers and, for a season, all seemed to be clicking along.

Until that day.

I received a courteous but succinct “pass” on my work, and I was crushed. I still remember my young son standing on the other side of a closed bedroom door, listening to my guttural weeping. Before long, I saw his tiny fingers reaching through the crack at the bottom, clutching in his hand two quarters. After opening the door to his generosity, I asked him regarding those two quarters. His reply?

“I’ll buy your book, mommy. Even if no one else wants to read it, I’ll buy it, and when I’m old enough to read, I’ll read it.”

That day was a turning point for me. My son’s two quarters sealed something in my heart… something I’d known for a long season, yet something I hadn’t allowed myself to believe.

My giftedness with the pen is fueled and maintained by my Father’s heart and kindness toward me. His willingness to use my feeble flesh for his kingdom purposes is far beyond my understanding and doesn’t compute with human reasoning. Still and yet, he allows me a measure of influence along these lines and, therefore, I must write for him alone. His approval is the only one that matters to me. Man’s opinion will come and go, mostly based on the bottom dollar and with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, but God’s opinion isn’t fleeting. It doesn’t come with an expiration date. My words leave a lasting impression upon his heart and in his world, and when those words write otherwise—when I am tempted to offer up a “flavoring” in keeping with trends and statistics and with “what’s selling”—then I forfeit a piece of my soul. The world becomes too important to me, and I lose focus of the truly satisfying and singularly focused passion of my heart…

Knowing God.

As a people in search of a meaningful identity, we spend a great deal of time exploring our “passions,” do we not? We invest our energies into discovering God’s calling upon our lives, God’s will for lives, wearing ourselves out with comparing our lives to that of “so and so” and wondering why his or her fruit is harvesting at a seemingly more rapid rate than ours. Why that person seems to be getting all the breaks while we languish in our desire to do something, be something, live something more than what we’re currently living. We make God’s “calling” regarding our lives a difficult embrace (something our market has hit upon as evidenced by the number of books, seminars, Bible studies written on the topic) when all the while, he keeps it pretty simple.

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).

Knowing God. It’s what I’m about. He’s my passion. He’s my calling. He’s my meaningful identity, and for the time that remains for me on this earth, my pen will write accordingly… about my knowing God and then from that knowing, leading others to know the same. Therefore, I no longer feel the need to chase after the approval of man. It’s nice when it arrives to validate my heart-felt rendering, like when…

My mother takes my book to Curves (her workout establishment) and witnesses other patrons reading the desk copy she’s left there for promotional purposes. When one of those patrons voices her approval by saying, “This is really good; how can I get a copy?”

Or when…

A friend I’ve never met face-to-face from the opposite side of the country sends me an e-mail to let me know she’s spent some time in the “desert” section of the book and that the reflection entitled “a turn toward the better” was just what she needed to hear… “These are words of life, dear heart. They are something one can weep over because of shared pain: different in specific, similar in cost. But more importantly these are fighting words for me. The journey ahead is unclear, but walk it I will. Not at all in the spirit of my own might but in the spirit of the blood of the resurrection bloom. These are words, unusual words, that excite to love and good works.”

Or when…

Another e-mail arrives from a former college friend telling me that a copy of my book (one that her dad insisted on her purchasing last week) arrived on her doorstep just twenty-four hours before he passed from his earthly pain into final heavenly glory and that her heart’s been stuck on pages 84-86, from the “peace in the suffering” section.

Or when…

A church friend makes her way to my side this morning to tell me that, while she knows she’s supposed to be taking her time to absorb each reflection, she couldn’t help but “read on” because, for her, it was like I was talking to her… like we were having a conversation over coffee.

Moments like that; validation that doesn’t necessarily come with the ratings of a New York Times’ best-seller, but validations that matter for all eternity. It stuns me and buoys me along in the journey of grace and for the continuing cultivation of the driving desire and goal of my heart…

Knowing God.

And so, this night I answer the question that assaulted my sensibilities this morning. What am I going to do with all my riches now that I’m famous?

Make God famous and continue to invest his riches into my heart and life so that my pen might flow freely for his good purposes and for his kingdom gain. All other endeavors of my well-intentioned plans fall prey to this one. Therefore, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart leave a lasting impression upon his heart and within the hearts of his people. To this end, I pray. I pray the same for you. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Thank you, everyone, for your support over the last couple of weeks in regards to the promotion of my book. This week, I’ll be giving away another copy or two of my book to those of you who are willing to support me a bit further by contacting at least five people in your life who’ve yet to hear about “peace for the journey.” Perhaps someone in your e-mail address book, someone in your church, someone in your family, someone in your neighborhood. If you’d be willing to let at least five new people know about my book (and we’re operating on the honor system here), please let me know in the comment section. Please share the video link with your contacts, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdJDjiHzCQI or a link to this post announcing the book, http://www.peaceforthejourney.com/2010/05/peace-for-journey-in-pleasure-of-his.html. I’d be so very grateful for your kindness toward me and toward God’s kingdom agenda for my life. Shalom.

{to order, click Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Winepress}

 

an invitation to more…

“‘See the former things have taken place and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.’” (Isaiah 42:9).

I want to be here today.

A blank computer screen and “yet to be realized” words cannot keep me from this discipline … this penciling of ideas until they fill and gather to become a completed work. It would be easy to skip the moment; to walk away from the “emptiness” and fill my time with another activity. But even then, I’m not sure what that “filler” would be; how it would go; if it would matter. There’s nothing pressing on my agenda this evening.

Just moments—time given to me from God as an investment toward something.

How and where I choose to invest them is a decision worth contemplating, but even then, too much contemplation results in very little being accomplished. I’ve logged a lot of hours into my contemplations only to arrive at the end of some of them with little to show for my measured moments of deliberation. I don’t want this to be one of those times. Instead, I want to ponder alongside of you; think and consider some of God’s words with some of God’s people who best understand this God who measures all of our moments and considers each one of them as worthy and precious in his sight.

And in this current moment that belongs to me (and to you if you’re reading this), my thoughts are drawn back to an important biblical truth spoken through the prophet Isaiah to an obstinate people. A chosen people who had yet to realize the depth and meaning behind his words as they were spoken in real time. Approximately one hundred and twenty years would pass before this obstinate people would recall the divine wisdom and strength behind Isaiah’s prophetic voice.

At that time, they would need his words as they languished in exile in a foreign land. Words that reminded them about the “new things” God had promised back then in a season when their sin wasn’t looking for anything “new” but only for more room to grow and flourish.

When life walks without the immediate and visible consequences of sin, sin can sometimes seem reasonable. It did for God’s children, and after ample warning regarding their blatant disregard for God and his ways, their sin landed them in an unknown country with some unfamiliar gods and an understanding that forced them to grapple with their “what’s next?” and “how did we get ourselves into this mess?”.

God graciously unwrapped their confusion with the truth of his Word … his many words as spoken over a century earlier through his prophet Isaiah; the Israelites didn’t pay much attention to his words then, but I imagine that they clung to them in their current state of desperation:

“‘See the former things have taken place and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.’”

Who couldn’t use a little bit of God’s “new” in the midst of a formidable exile? A promise laced with a divine truth that declares a future before the future arrives? That there is coming a return from exile and a replanting in the land of Promise that has been designed and orchestrated by God and spoken by him in the annals of time long before their appearance on the road ahead?

What encouragement could we glean from knowing that no matter how our lives breathe in this current moment, there is a good word from a good God spoken on behalf of a good future we’ve yet to realize? That for all of the former things that have taken place in our history, God has written his “new” into our tomorrows—into the “next” moments that happen beyond this one. That there is something he has declared beyond the visioning of our eyes and the hearing of his voice that, once unfolded, will speak the witness of his majesty and his incomparable love for a people who deserve far less.

God’s Word is full of such announcements to his people:

Blessings;
Promises;
Gifts;
Joys;
Rescues;
Beholdings;
Comforts;
Companionships;
Understandings;
Everlastings;
Incomprehensibilities;
Graces;
Restorations;
Returns;
_______________________.

Beautiful proclamations contained and spilled forth within the pages of holy writ. Declarations made public by the heart of God via the pen of a few obedient saints who believed beyond the “reasonable and the seen” in order to scribe the voice of the unseen One whose reason extends beyond the logical to include the likes of you and me.

God prescribes his “new” for us—the usual suspects who’ve grown quite accustomed to the cloaking of an “old” way of doing life with him. Could it be that we’ve become a bit “crusty” in our approach to living out this “thing” we call our lives? Are you already imagining that tomorrow will unfold in similar stride to your today … your yesterday? Is there any measure of faith within your heart to believe God for more? To take him at his Word and to trust him regarding the declarations he has already made on your behalf and for his glory?

Is your belief in God couched in the reasonable, or is there a flicker of something more … a stronger inclination in your heart that leads you to believe in the unreasonable, unexplainable yet fully attainable mandates laid out for you in Scripture?

Our God can be trusted with our contemplations along these lines. For everything we believe to be true about our lives and their unfolding, there is more to the story. With God, there is always more to the story. There are things and moments he has imagined on our behalf that exceed understanding. To live with less, to settle for a life that simply “walks it out” in isolation rather than walking it out with God, is to forsake the inheritance that comes to us as children of the King.

I want to live better this week; to give God my moments and to allow him to write them with the truth of my sacred birthright. I don’t want to live as a pauper begging for scraps. I want to dine at the table of rich meats and finest linen and look into my Father’s eyes knowing that this banquet was prepared as a declaration from his heart, long before it ever came into being.

Two thousand years ago on an Easter morning in Jerusalem, Christ’s invitation for “more” sprang into being. It began with a cross; it ended with a resurrection. And it continues this day as a living witness to God’s very good and glorious declaration that we were meant for more than our current understanding of less. God’s story was written with us in mind.

Even now it springs into being. Perceive it; believe it, and then receive it as you sit with your Father this week in holy contemplation. There are some “blank screens” and some moments waiting to be written by his hand and with his truth. As always…

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PS: I’d like to hear from you … what “new” and “more” do you need to believe God for this week? God has already “announced” some good things in advance on your behalf. Spend time in his Word researching those things, writing them down, and carrying them close to your heart as you walk your inheritance in faith. We journey together, friends, and these few moments before the screen tonight are my way of investing in your lives for God’s kingdom good. I love you each one. Shalom.

Joy Comes…

Joy comes.


It came for me tonight as I chased the sunset to its rest. This evening, my feet carried me far and fast with the gentle breeze of a better wind. Tonight I ran with the Spirit, and we were moving in praise to the God who authors each day and scripts it with his living witness at every turn (you wouldn’t have believed my pace, Runner Mom).

It came for me this morning in a Sunday’s worship service. Today, I chased the ice-cream truck (thanks, Laura, for your post); my son led me there. He gave us all a glimpse into his heart as he chronicled a few memories from the pulpit about his recent trip to Bolivia.

It came for me in the hugs from my church family, all of whom genuinely enjoy being together in worship on Sunday mornings. How many churches can say that? Today we needed to be there for so many reasons, not the least of which was to gather our hearts in tender pause as we try to gather our bearings after experiencing such a tremendous grief.

It came for me in you, dear friends. The collective mass of you who took the time to pray for us all and leave your comforting thoughts in the comment section. Your time before the throne has been profoundly felt by me and by Beth’s family. You didn’t have to, but you did; I’m continually amazed by the way God is using our cyber connections to bring praise to his Name. He, alone, is worthy of our pens.

We could write about many things, and, indeed, we should. Our lives are not immune from the “everydayness” that creeps in and takes over. But God is there in every one of our days. The key for us is to be more intentional about looking for him.

As my son put it so well this morning…

“We may not always see God coming, … but boy, once he crosses your path, he sure is a sight to behold.”

Joy comes.

On Sundays. On Mondays. In Bolivia. In church. In hugs. In a graveyard. In a run. In a sunset. In sleep. In the rising of the sun. In the resurrection of the Son!

Joy comes.

Look and see; behold and believe. There’s more to this moment than meets the eye.

As always,

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PS: I’m adding a video clip from this morning’s service. Unlike his mother, my son has a softer tone to his speech, so turn up the volume if you want a listen. I realize that most of you won’t have the time; that’s fine. I’ve put this here, as I put many things here on my blog, as a “touchstone” of remembrance. My “thus far, the Lord has helped us.” So I do this for our family (paps, are you watching?) and for you if you would like to listen to the witness of an amazing God who is ever in the process of shaping his children and bringing his joy. Shalom.

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