Category Archives: brokenness

Something

One glance in her direction, and I knew that she was carrying a terrible ache in her heart.

Maybe it was the way her head was lowered, covered up by the golden locks that frame her face.

Maybe it was the way she flicked her husband’s hand away from the back of her neck as he tenderly tried to comfort her.

Maybe it was because I knew some of her story.

Maybe it was because God needed me to notice.

Regardless of the reason for my knowing, it was clear to me what she was so desperately trying to hide . . .

Her grief. Her loss. Her something.

“Everybody has something. Your something might not be my something, but at some point in your life, you’ve had a something. Maybe not a big something, but something large enough to rock your inner equilibrium and force your outward response. It’s not particularly important what your something is. What is important is what you do with your something. Somethings come and go; what will endure, however, is the memory of how you handled yours.” (from Beyond the Scars, p. 13)

I think she is handling her something as best she knows how. Somethings don’t come with a survival manual, and the last thing she needed in those moments was another “how to” on how to handle her grief loaded on top of the already burgeoning responsibility of carrying it. Instead, what she needed was for God to notice her and to do his noticing through one of his children, through the unexpected hands of a servant who isn’t normally included in her inner circle but who was willing to momentarily charge in to deliver a message of hope.

And so I entered in and interrupted her grief to give to her what God had given me moments earlier. To wrap her up in my arms, cradle her pain, and strengthen her with heaven’s declaration.

“This is not the end of the story.”

In that sacred pause between us, I knew that she believed me . . . believed God, and I felt the burning of a great love inside of me for a woman I barely know. I am grateful for those flames because they remind me, even as they reminded her, that I am alive and that . . .

“This is not the end of the story.”

Not for her. Not for me. Not for you either.

I don’t where you are in this season of life. I don’t know the suffering somethings that have walked these many miles by your side. But I do know what it is to lower my head in sorrow, to wet my lap with bitter tears, and to flick tender caresses away from my neck. And I know what it feels like to feel alone, to feel so buried beneath my grief that I didn’t even know that I needed God to notice me. When all I could see, all I could hear, all I could absorb was the terribleness of my something.

Like a death march to a bottomless grave.

Maybe today you’re marching in similar stride. I don’t know how long it will last, friend. I wouldn’t dare try to talk you out of your grief. Grief walks its own timetable, and I’m not in charge of the clock. There’s a seasonal work taking place in your soul, and it can only be accomplished by your willingness to walk it through. Piece by piece, step by step, until one morning you wake up and you feel the warmth of something stronger, a peace that surprises you and that reminds you . . .

“This is not the end of the story.”

That day is coming, and it isn’t very far from now. Our God has taken notice of your pain; your something matters to him. It matters to me as well. Rest easy in the arms of Jesus, friend. There are more lines to your story, and our very good God is working on a way to make them all count for the kingdom . . . even when you can’t feel past the pain.

Especially then.

I love you dearly.

If you or someone you know is walking through a suffering something right now, I have a resource that will serve as a gentle companion to you and to them while moving through the pain. It was written with you in mind; it is released to you in love. Click here for more details.

Also, my friend, Laura Boggess, is hosting a give-away of the book at her website. Click here to learn more.

 

 

 

Search and Work

“But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; … There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.” –Deut. 12:5,7

~~~~~

To that place I must go, to that task I must apply my hand.

These words have been my portion this year, the great search of my heart and the great work of my hands. Great, because all search and duty rooted in God and in the advancement of his kingdom are great undertakings. Worthy pilgrimages. Excellent yearnings.

If I’m honest, the now, almost four months of search and work in 2014 have felt anything but great. The search seems to have yielded little; my work the same. This has been an odd year of spiritual shaping. The soil of my heart has been disrupted by distractions, a few of them welcomed as friends but most of them shunned as intruders.

Family commotion. Ministry complications. Writing dilemmas. Homeschooling stressors. Medical concerns. The list is full and, consequently, so is my heart . . . full of so very much. It’s tough to process some days, difficult to discern the next steps God would have me to take in each situation.

Where would I be without Jesus? Where would I turn if not to his Word? How would live if not for his sustaining grace that carries me from strength to strength?

Strength to strength. Yes, I see it in my mind’s eye and, by faith, I’m holding on to it in my heart. These have been valley days, times of grunting it out in between mountaintops. I know this; I’m not surprised by this, and, oddly enough, I’m learning to be OK with it – this seemingly endless wandering from peak to peak. This is how God is building my faith muscles, and while it’s not a new teaching strategy for him, it feels raw, new, and every now and again, great to me.

Why great? Because there is strength in movement and because there is great peace in relinquishing one’s heart and feet to the valley floor after years of trying to walk the tightrope suspended between two mountains. For so long, I’ve prayed about that place I must go, and that work I must do. It doesn’t seem as if I will ever reach that place of understanding and rest. What does seem to reach me, instead, is the ever-present search and work of the present.

This present. Commotion. Complications. Dilemmas. Stressors. Concerns. This is the valley floor, and this, too, is the place of God’s dwelling. To search for him here and to work for him here, well, this is something great, someone great to take hold of in the valley. Steady as we go, we walk these next steps together. I will not tumble to my death; instead, I’ll be held tightly through to the finish line.

To that place I must go. To that task I must apply my hand.

That that? Jesus Christ – the search and work of my present and my forever. By his grace and for his glory, I am sustained. I am blessed. And I am . . .  

Kept in peace.

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 road-walking Jesus

“So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” {Mark 5:24}
I think about both of them today—two needy souls approaching Jesus from different angles some 2000 years ago. I imagine that day was in keeping with most of the days of Christ’s earthly tenure. Days of…
crowds;
forward movement;
teaching;
healing;
praying;
touching;
loving.
Days of doing what Jesus did best—unearthing the treasures of heaven, revealing the heart and hands of the Divine. Those who knew him and loved him followed him closely, kept his words within earshot and his flesh within arm’s reach. Others—those who knew him less—followed closely as well… their motives in keeping with their needs. Some physical; some spiritual; some just trying to make sense of the rumors that preceded his arrival. Regardless of their reasons for following after Jesus, wherever he went he drew a crowd.
That day would be no different. Fresh off a detour to Gerasa and a showdown with demons, Christ stepped ashore to find a crowd awaiting his arrival. A synagogue ruler named Jarius approached Jesus with a frontal advance, fell at Christ’s feet and earnestly pleaded with him for the life of his young daughter. An unidentified woman approached Jesus from behind, earnestly hoping that a stretch of her arm through tangled robes might grant her a temporary grasping of his hem and, therefore, a permanent healing of her flesh.
Both of them candidates for healing. Both of them operating with a measure of faith. Both of them knowing that proximity to Christ’s presence was the optimum course of action to procure a sought after victory. There would be no sideline watching that day… no curiosity mingling on the outskirts of a moving grace. Instead, they would urgently press into that grace… into Jesus from different angles, believing that with him would come the answer to their need—their pain and their suffering.
I am moved by their simple, yet resolute understanding of who Jesus was; not an understanding birthed from years of scholarly tutorial or religious instruction or thousands of years of hindsight, but rather understanding birthed from personal experience. From hearing and seeing firsthand the generous dispensation of his miraculous grace and then, further, believing that such charity was intended for them at a personal level. They didn’t underestimate Christ’s sacred intentions; instead, they had enough faith to believe that they were, each one, his intention—the reason behind his walking along their road that day. And so, they approached his majesty and his mystery amidst the chaotic pageantry and secured the longed for victory that would forever change the trajectory of their lives.
Proximity to Christ’s presence is the precursor to change, friends. Whether it be a healing of the heart, the mind, or the flesh, taking hold of Jesus in your midst will secure for you his undivided attention and active willingness to undertake you cause. To place upon himself the burdens of your heart and then to mediate his grace and mercy into every angle, nook and cranny, twist and turn of your plight. When it comes to a personal need for healing, a sideline faith laced with tentative curiosity and rumored possibility holds no curative power; instead, it keeps hope and expectation lingering at the edge of what Christ came to do… comes to do…
to free us from that which entraps us—body, soul, and spirit.
We don’t get to choose the blueprint or course of action for how that freeing will occur, but we do get to choose our participation in the matter. When we approach Jesus Christ with our needs, whether it be from the front, back, or from a side-to-side angle, he never fails to get involved. God isn’t reluctant in offering his grace and tender mercy into our situations. He won’t ever force his grace upon us… make us choose him, prefer him, rely on him when our wills are tethered otherwise. But when we do ask Christ for a moment or two of his consideration—his divine intervention into our need—we can be certain of his willingness to act on our behalf.
We are what he came to do—the reason behind his walking his daily grace some 2000 years ago. The reason he left us his personal diary of sorts… a forever record of remembrance so that we might find ourselves somewhere within the story. So that we might live and record our own stories of faith, so that they might serve as a lasting memorial to the transformational power and generosity of our road-walking Jesus.
Today, if you have a need, then you have a Jesus who’s headed your way. Word is… he’s in town. Word is… the crowds are pressing in. Word is… he’s got room for one more. Won’t you join me on the road to behold the Lamb of God and then to take hold of all of that for which he has taken hold of each one of us? I’ve got just enough faith to take me there. Just enough faith to keep me there until I’ve seen his face, felt the transfer of his power, and heard his voice speaking over me…
Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering. {Mark 5:34}
Indeed, blessed peace for the moment. Blessed peace for my journey. Even so, dear Jesus, I come needy to your feet this day. May your peace be my portion and your healing my freedom song. Amen. So be it.
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on "burning words"…

on "burning words"…

I burned some words yesterday.


My words.

Three journals worth of words dating back sixteen years to a season in my life that walked wildly and in selfish pursuit of sin. I didn’t call sin, sin back then… didn’t name my thoughts and, consequently, my resulting actions as sin. Instead I named them as “reasonable reactions”—the natural, resulting overflow from a life that was seemingly void of the love that I longed to hold as my own. Rather than going to God with my sin in that season, I went to my “pen” and spent a great deal of my evening hours trying to justify the choices that I was making.

I don’t know who I was writing to back then… journals are kind of open ended in that respect. It’s probably a really good thing that I didn’t have a blog sixteen years ago. Some words… some thoughts of our hearts are better kept as private, between us and God. Not everyone needs to know the “everything” that’s wrestling itself out upon the stages of our hearts and minds, especially those who stand in the direct line of consequence—our families and our friends.

Writing words can be a healthy way of working out our thoughts, feelings, and questions. But when those words serve as our personal justification for sin, well, where’s the merit in that? What can be gained from going public with that kind of nonsense? I suppose we’ll always be able to find someone who is willing to stand in our corners and champion our “reasonable” choices for sin, therefore adding some credibility to our decisions to reveal the inner chambers of our thought life. But the pay off is temporary. Any pats on the back that we receive for our sins are a stumbling block—both for us and for the one who is doing the patting.

When we replace God’s truth with the enemy’s lies, we stunt our spiritual growth. In some cases, we altogether shut it down. That is exactly what I was doing sixteen years ago—making a deliberate choice to disengage from the pursuit of holiness. I didn’t clearly see the egregious nature of my decision back then, but I see it now, and I am sickened by it. I barely recognize the woman behind those words. I recognize the handwriting, but I do not champion the heart behind those words. Nothing written in that season deserves a pat on the back. Nothing. My heart was rotting from the inside out, filled with the sin-sick disease named “self.” But for the grace of God, self nearly killed me.

Nearly.

I don’t know why I’ve held onto these “words” for so long. To be honest with you, I haven’t seen or thought about them in the six years since moving here. I only found the journals yesterday while cleaning out a bottom drawer of my nightstand. I recognized them immediately and bravely allowed myself to go there… one more time. To open up the pages and to relive a bit of that season and the pitiful nonsense that infiltrated my thought processes which, eventually, sent me down a treacherous path of sin. The results were devastating. Sin should never be underestimated. The toll it takes on a soul and on the souls surrounding its witness is far worse than originally billed. I know. I’ve lived that payment; so has my family.

It would take a long season before I willingly looked back over my shoulder to see God’s grace chasing after me… an even longer season before I allowed it to catch up with me, but it did. He did, and my life no longer carries the sin of my words from sixteen years ago… maybe a memory or two along these lines, but I am no longer held in the grip of those memories. Thus, my willing walk with my husband yesterday afternoon to a make-shift fire pit in our backyard.


I’m not a fan of burning words, friends. Our personal words are a precious gift to us from God. They mirror the inward pulse of our hearts. But the words I burned yesterday no longer reflect the pulse of my heart; they only seek to diminish it. They aren’t in keeping with my current pursuit of holiness. The only worthiness that can be found in their existence now is in what remains after their holy burning upon the altar of God’s intention.


Ashes. This is what remains.

Which brings to my remembrance an important word I received from Dr. Steve Seamands regarding my ashes during an Ash Wednesday service that closely followed the penning of those journals some sixteen years ago. You can find the story in its fullness on pages 18-20 in “peace for the journey: in the pleasure of his company”:

“God loves ashes [elaine], because ashes can be blown anywhere by the wind of his Spirit.”

Yesterday, I burned some of my words; today, all that remains of those words is a soft pile of gray which is more than willing to be picked up by the wind of God’s Spirit and to be blown in accordance with his will. Burning our words is sometimes the right thing to do, friends, especially when those words are keeping us separated from God and from his perfect plan for our lives.

Perhaps today, you have some lingering “words” from your past—hidden away thoughts that are buried deeply within the corners of your heart. You’ve almost forgotten them, but every now and again a “move” requires your attention to their presence in your life. Perhaps today, you’re writing some of those words… maybe living them all the more. You’re making a willful choice for sin, justifying your cause and pleading your case before any available ears that are willing to listen. You’ve long since given up on reasonable understanding and have begun to accept the lies that the enemy is sugar coating in your defense. He seems to be on your side, and if you haven’t already taken a bite from the apple, your lips are close to breaking its skin.

I understand where you’re at, because I’ve been there. I made my home there for a long season. The ash heap in my backyard is living proof of that season. Thankfully, I no longer have to carry those “words” with me any more. Long ago I surrendered the sin behind those words to God; yesterday, I surrendered the temporary remnants. Tomorrow? Well, maybe God’s wind will come along, pick them up, and carry the witness of their final defeat into the lives of those who need a similar victory… who need to know that they were meant for more than apples. That they, in fact, we meant for the kingdom of God. That maybe it’s not someone else who needs to know, but that maybe it’s you who needs to know.

The day is fast approaching when our surrendering our sins to the flames of God’s purifying grace will be no more. Many people are counting on that more… believing that more days will follow this one and that tomorrow would be a good day to make good on today’s sin. Make no mistake, friends. We’re living on borrowed time—God’s time. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to clean out the drawers of our hearts and minds and to dump the baggage into God’s fire pit. There are no words you can offer to justify the sin of your heart. None. And while there is great grace to be found on the other side of willful sin, there is great grace to be found on the front side of sin’s full invasion upon the soil of your heart.

Take hold of that grace today. Surrender your thoughts, your words, and any precursors to eventual sin to God and allow him to replace the enemy’s apple with a rich portion of his divine, sustaining strength and power that is more than capable of moving you past the apple and onto the heavenly feast that’s been prepared in your honor… in my honor as well. I’ll meet you at the table, friends. And when you get there, don’t be surprised if you smell the lingering scent of smoke on my skin and see a few fragments of gray on my fingers. God loves ashes, and this day (well beyond the days of my sixteen years ago), I’m burning brightly for the King and his kingdom. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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Copyright © May 2010 – Elaine Olsen

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