Category Archives: courage

The Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, May 2017

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Those are the words chiseled into the marble sarcophagus that holds the body of an unidentified military veteran from WWI. In addition, two other unidentified soldiers from WWII and the Korean War are memorialized at the same site in separate crypts. A fourth, previously unknown soldier from the Vietnam War (later identified through DNA testing at Michael Blassie) rested there until 1998 when his remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Since 1937, the Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24/7-365 by a select group of soldiers known as Tomb Guard sentinels, an elite group of soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard.” The soldiers rotate throughout the day, ceremoniously and meticulously marking their steps, following a prescribed protocol of duty. It’s fascinating, sobering and sacred, to sit as a ringside witness to such tribute and honor. For these soldiers, their service isn’t played out on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq.  Instead they surrender their duty, give their time and their best, on the battlefield known as Arlington National Cemetery, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – an American soldier known but to God.

And tonight, in the quieting moments after a week that has forced my faith to new heights and my knees to deeper prayer, I am thinking about those unknown soldiers, their stories and the secrets they keep encased within those crypts. Most tenderly, I’m thinking about the soldiers who, for the past eighty years, have given up their days and their nights for the sole purpose of guarding and protecting this mystery.

Sometime in the distant past, on a landscape not my own, three soldiers died on different battlefields while defending the rights of liberty. And while their identities currently remain a mystery, their earthly remains are heavily defended by The Old Guard.

As it is with the Tomb of the Unknowns, so it is with my life. So it is with yours.

a sentinel from The Old Guard – Arlington National Cemetery, April 2017

There are many mysteries, countless unknowns attached to our stories. The previously written chapters of our lives are safely scripted and bound within the annals that bear our names. But there are other pages, other secrets, chapters to come, and chapters writing themselves in this very moment, that are unidentified to us. And this can be scary at times because we have very little control over the unknowns; instead, we can only bear witness to them as they arrive and pray for God’s grace to hold them as our own. And when we’re shaken by newly discovered realities – when the unknown is finally identified and brings us fear rather than peace – as Christians, we have a deeper reality that we can cling to, a known truth that will cover our hearts and our minds like a warm blanket on a bitter winter’s night…

The Old Guard is standing near.

Marking his paces. Guarding his own. Rain or shine. 24/7-365. Back and forth before the crypts that carry the fullness of our lives – the mysteries, things known to us, and things known but to him. For this Soldier, his service is no longer played out on the battlefield known as Calvary; instead, he surrenders his duty, his time and his best, on the battlefield known as our lives, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – a soldier’s story, our stories, known but to Him.

See him there, friends. Oh how carefully Jesus Christ is guarding your tomb. Your surrender is precious to him, and in his great love for you, he has promised you his protection. What you cannot see, what you cannot know, is already seen and known to him. Your unfolding mysteries are not a mystery to him. He knows your story. He knows what’s at stake. He’s laid down his life for yours, and you can be sure that he’s not going to let the enemy rob your surrender of one single glory.

The gates of hell may rattle and shake its cage against you today, threatening your capture. But take heart. The Old Guard is standing near, and the gates of hell are no match for the protective, loving reach of this Sentinel. He has given his life and his pledge to bring you safely home. He will keep his word. It is his highest honor to do so 

So rest in honored glory today, Christian soldier. You and your unknowns are known to God. He can be trusted with the rest of your story. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Psalm 91 has been a balm to my soul in this season. You may read it by clicking here.

Peace continued . . .

Sometimes we cannot see the way that God is taking us. Really, most days it’s that way, is it not? Just steppin’ on in faith because it’s the best we can do. As a people deeply connected to the heart of God, we try to honor that connection through our obedience and our allegiance to those not-yet-taken steps by actually taking them . . . one at a time.

We scratch our heads, as well as our hearts, and wonder what God is up to – believing that he is, in fact, up to something. Isn’t that most of the battle—settling our confidence regarding the God who can be known and trusted? That he thinks holy thoughts about us and offers holy ground for the clay feet that carry our frames forward?

This is faith on the edge. Alive, active, keeping pace with the day and keeping prayerful during the night.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so settled in my life of faith. Even four years ago when those death words were spoken over me and my faith sprouted all kinds of fresh wings, even then my faith was less. God grew me in th

 

at season, shaped my heart in a way that might not have been shaped otherwise. I accept this shaping. Most days, I glory in this shaping because I can measure the progression of my heart. Without those suffering days, I’m certain that my God-confidence would be lesser in this place where I am standing today.

I would still be waiting for faith to take hold at a deeper level. I’d still be wading in the shallows instead of splashing around in the deep. Life is better here in the deep. To be certain, it’s more mysterious, perhaps even a little more dangerous. But it’s a better pool of trust when the only shoreline within reach is the hemline of a water-walking Jesus.

I’m not saying that my faith is as strong as Peter’s was on that night when he took those sweet steps of trust across the sea. I am, however, simply willing to position my heart in a similar place of possibility. I’ve been keeping my eyes and my mind fixed on Jesus, and the communion has been sweet and certain.

 

Kept in peace. This has been a year for such a sacred keeping. I couldn’t have imagined on the front side of 2014 all of the many challenges that would confront my peace-keeping mission. With three months remaining, I imagine that a few more disruptions will work their way onto my calendar.

But I will cling to Peace.
And I will dip my hand over the side of the boat and wait for the waters to stir.
And when I feel the holy vibrations from the approach of the water-Walker, I will be brave.
And I will step out.
And I will step forward.
And just maybe (if only for a moment) I will walk on the waters with the King and know what it is to be fully alive and fully at peace.

The waters are stirring, friends. The Master approaches. Keep watch and keep ready. These next steps just might be your best ones. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

the reach and welcome of love …

 

My heart is tender toward her tonight – the new girl who showed up at our summer kick-off, Wednesday night fellowships at the pool. She was easy to spot, stuck there at a table of men who out-aged her by at least fifty years. Talk about awkward. When I asked her who she was and how it was that she came to be in our midst, she simply replied, “Mr. Bill invited me.”

I chuckled, while pointing out the retired, elderly minister who fellowships in our midst, and asked her, “That Mr. Bill?”

“No, the preacher man named Mr. Bill.”

“Oh that Bill! He’s my Bill. You can call him Billy.”

And so the conversation began between us. Curious to know how she and my Billy got connected, I learned that this rising, eighth grader was one of the participants in a mentoring encounter our congregation sponsors with local middle-schoolers. A banquet was held in their honor last week, and Preacher Billy invited all the kids to come and be part of our Wednesday night fellowships by the pool.

Bravely she came; bravely she remained despite her odd seating arrangement during the dinner hour. If I had been her, I would have bolted at the first opportunity, texting my mom to quickly come and rescue me from the awkwardness. Instead she waited it out, and my heart broke with the waiting.

Waiting for someone to notice her.
Waiting for someone her age to come around and invite her to join in the fun.
Waiting for the newness to not feel so new to her but, instead, to feel a little bit normal.

I’m not much of a waiter, so after a painful hour of watching this scene play out, I gathered a couple of other women, and together, we coaxed our visitor down to the pool area and implored a few kids to come and offer their greetings. Before long, my new friend was splashing in the pool and, hopefully, feeling better about having taken the preacher man up on his invitation.

Not long after that, her mother arrived to pick her up; I was able to sneak in a quick handshake before their departure, wishing for more time and for a better way of extending the reach and welcome of love to strangers. It’s a haunting ache that has stayed with me all evening. My heart has always been tender toward those who sit on the fringes, the ones overlooked and often ignored. I’m fighting another feeling tonight as well – annoyance.

Why are kids so slow to recognize strangers in their midst? Why not the reach and welcome of love? Why isolate them rather than include them? Are their senses so dulled not to notice the need or are they so self-absorbed that to notice would require too much of them? Where’s the kindness we so boldly proclaim and yet, sometimes, so pitifully live?

I know it sounds harsh; it is harsh. But it’s true . . . across the board, whether teenagers or adults. Why do we bunch up instead of branch out? We are the church – the body of Christ, a group of believers who boldly claim the name of our Lord as our identity . . . Christians. Little Christs. For heaven’s sake . . . really for the sake of heaven . . . when are we going to start acting like him? When are we going to start reaching out instead of always living in?

I’m tired of playing church. That’s not my game. Instead, I want to live Jesus and give Jesus so that no one ever sits on the fringes, feeling unloved, unwelcomed, unnoticed. Perhaps I am tender to this, because like my new friend, I have sat where she sat tonight . . . many times – just wanting to be noticed, to be “in” instead of feeling so very “out.”

Oh could we just live it better, friends? Just look away from the mirror long enough to notice the new faces around us? Just speak some Jesus words of grace and interest into the lives of those who sit within arm’s reach? It doesn’t take much to make a heart smile and to warm up to the idea of friendship. It just takes some willingness on our parts and some training of our hearts to fully understand the kingdom impact of the reach and welcome of love.

Two thousand years ago, my Jesus stood on a hillside, extending the reach and welcome of love through his blood-stained hands. He noticed me then; he notices me still; he notices us all. Why? Because it’s in his heart to make sure that we’re all “in” instead of living as outsiders.

Christ is the way in. A heart shaped by this truth will never forsake the outsider. Instead, a heart shaped by the reach and welcome of Calvary’s love will live accordingly.

Reaching. Welcoming. And loving a new friend all the way home to Jesus.

No longer a stranger on the fringes but, instead, one of the family.

This is my gospel. This is my Jesus. This is the servant I want to be.

So be it. Amen.

Saving Grace

This has been my saving grace in this season. Mind you, not the grace that saves me from my sin but, rather, the grace that keeps my sanity intact. Whenever the stressors in my life seem too big and my capacity for handling them feels too small, I strap on my tennis shoes and hit the streets for a long walk in God’s wild kingdom. I’m literally steps away from beholding a blue heron take flight, hearing a pileated woodpecker drilling for food, or chronicling the life cycle of a family of geese as they nest, grow, and explore their surroundings.

I explore alongside all of them – taking snapshots of their activity and taking note of the grace-work going on in my heart. In seeing them live out their days, I’m better able to live out mine. I don’t know when I started making it so hard, this living out my days, but hard it is. I see the changes in myself, and I struggle with this ache.

But God’s creatures help me in my deliberations. They break down the stress for me and allow me a moment’s peace – a break in the day to soak in simplicity and to find the smile that too often remains hidden behind my sadness.

I am grateful for herons and woodpeckers and geese. For life that returns to the neighborhood after a long winter’s nap. For the swift take-off of the blue one, the noisy rattle of the red one, and the feathering nesting of the grey ones.

Flying. Feeding. Feathering.

Perhaps this is why I’m enjoying my time with them this year. In them, I see something of the someone I want to be. A woman who . . .

Flies.
Feeds.
Feathers.

As God has so carefully crafted his creatures, so too he has crafted me. May God help me to live as my feathered friends so courageously live – free from the worries of the world and firm in their trust of their Father.

So make me like them if you will, Lord,
The blue, the red, the grey;
Grant me faith to trust you fully,
With the advent of each day.

Let me soar on heights of glory,
Let me feed from heaven’s hand;
Let me lace my nest with feathers,
From the grace that fills your land.

When the work feels far too tedious,
And the stress too much I’ll break,
Rest me there beside cool waters,
In the shade of mercy’s lake.

Strengthen feet for forward movement,
Strengthen wings for upward flight;
Strengthen beaks for inward searching,
Strengthen hearts for faith’s good fight.

Keep me tethered to this earthen sod,
While there’s work enough to do.
Keep me tethered to forever,
Take me there when I am through.

Yes, make me like them if you will, Lord,
The blue, the red, the grey;
They are yours from start to finish,
I am yours . . . this I pray.
(F. Elaine Olsen ©2014)

Kept in peace,

choosing where to stand …

“You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming themselves. –John 18:17-18

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Standing with them. Near the fire. Warming himself with the temporal.

Why? Because Peter was cold. The chill in his heart permeated through to his bones, necessitating this human longing for warmth. The fire was dimming in his soul, and his flesh began to shake in recognition.

Peter had moved away from Jesus. And whenever a soul begins to move away from Jesus, the flesh takes over. The flesh compromises. The flesh warms itself next to a fire that will never satiate the chill within, only temporarily abate the chill without.

We should not warm our souls next to others who are only interested in warming their flesh. There’s not enough fire in that kind of fire to comfort the coldness growing within us. We should, however, warm our souls next to Jesus whose primary interest is our “within”—those attitudes, cravings, and behaviors of the heart that fix us to our eternal.

Let us be careful when choosing our fires this week. Whatever warms us … fills us. Whatever fills us … shapes us. And whatever shapes us spills out and over into the lives of those who stand next to us.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going. So choose wisely, friends. If your soul’s grown cold and your heart is losing ground, don’t stand next to “them.” Stand next to Jesus. His warmth, his fire, and his flame will never grow dim and will keep your soul ablaze with the truth and witness of his presence.

Won’t you come and warm your heart next to mine?

Standing with Jesus. Near his fire. Warming ourselves with the Eternal.

I’d like nothing more than to link arms with you as we make our stand with our Savior.

Peace for the journey,

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