Category Archives: family fun

the sermon that was never heard…

I had a dream last night. So strong in its witness, I needed to “get it down” on paper this morning. Perhaps in doing so, it will get down to a deeper place inside of me so that I might more fully live it outside of me.

The sermon that was never heard.

Allow me to explain. In May of 2016 my father was scheduled to preach at the Garner UMC. There was nothing particularly unusual about this event. Dad was often called upon to “fill the pulpit” on occasions when the pastor wasn’t available. As a professor of preaching at Asbury Seminary for over thirty years, and as a pastor of several congregations in the last fifty years, my dad has always been a natural choice for such occasions. His spiritual journey, as well as his giftedness in and eloquence for telling a story, have allowed him notable stages from which to deliver God’s message. But no stage was more glorious and important to my father than one holding a wooden pulpit overlooking an audience of Sunday morning seekers. Accordingly, dad rarely refused an opportunity to fill a pulpit.

I had planned to make the two hour trip to Garner to hear my father speak that Sunday. My mother texted me early in the morning to tell me not to come, that dad wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to preach. Later that day, when pressed for more details, dad revealed that he was having trouble reading his sermon notes, that his thoughts were jumbled up inside of him. And while he didn’t have any manifestations of a physical illness, he knew something was wrong. So did we. Thus began the unraveling of the diagnosable mystery known as a stroke.

For the last nineteen months, we’ve walked with dad through this period of redirection. The adjustments have been numerous. And while dad’s aphasia has altered his daily routine, it hasn’t changed his heart or his passion for telling the story. Certainly, the “stage” has changed; they’re smaller now, more intimate. His words are fewer and, sometimes, aren’t delivered as eloquently as he would like. But the warmth is there, the smile, the laughter, the love … always the love from dad. And through it all, we’re all learning to make peace with…

The sermon that was never heard.

The words that were never spoken that Sunday morning. The “text” that (some would say) would be my father’s final declaration from the pulpit. And this morning, after tossing and tumbling all night long, after mulling over what my father’s final benediction might have been from the pulpit that morning in Garner, I have decided that God is still writing that sermon. That after nineteen months of altered steps and interrupted dialogue, the sermon that was never heard is still preaching its witness.

And therein, folks, lives and breathes the greatest story ever told. When the curtains are drawn, the script is lost, when the words won’t come, and the audience has departed, what remains is the sacred echo – the deafening whispers of the sermon that was never heard.  

Like my father, perhaps even like you, I have a few more stories I’d like to share, a few more moments of dialogue I’d like to give to the world. But I am no longer convinced that these are the “sermons” that God will most thoroughly use to live and give his witness. What I am growing convinced of, however, is that…

Not every sermon needs a stage.

Not every manuscript needs eloquence.

Not every word needs to be spoken.

Instead, our “sermons” just need to be lived in the shadow of Almighty God. With warmth. With smiles. With laughter. With love … always the love.

If we can get to that place of settled peace, friends, then the sermon that was never heard surely will be boldly proclaimed with a depth and with a clarity that may not come otherwise. So…

Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me how to live with an unwritten, unspoken, and unfinished script.

And thank you, God, for making it count eternally. As always, 

Peace for the journey,

Nine Miles with My Grandpa…

Grandpa and I at Uncle George’s -1975?

We drove my Grandpa Al home yesterday.

Well… sort of.

He wasn’t really my grandpa. My Grandpa Al died in 1994 at the age of eighty-three. The man we drove home, Howard, is seventy-four but could have passed as Al’s brother. Short in stature, round in the belly, missing hair and missing teeth – all the makings of the grandpa I remember so fondly in my heart.

It had been a busy, exhausting day for us. Sunday services (and all the drama therein), followed by a mid-afternoon funeral, punctuated by picking up pizzas for the youth group with no Sunday afternoon nap squeezed in between, can quickly consume one’s energy. Accordingly, as the sun slowly began its descent, my husband and I decided that a quick trip to McDonald’s was in order, not necessarily to fill our empty stomachs but, instead, to fill our depleted, emotional tanks.

As we were exiting our cars, Howard was exiting his hard day’s labor as an employee of McDonalds. His gait indicated his tiredness, as well as his arthritis. We made small talk and blessed him to an evening of relaxation. After all, he’d earned it. Eight hours of cleaning bathrooms and refilling the condiment bar would leave even a robust youth longing for a pair of pjs and a night’s lounging on a comfy sofa.

Once inside the McDonalds, I realized that my patience wasn’t equal to the long line waiting to be served. Hence, we moved our patronage next door to the Bojangles. Same story. A longer-than-I-was-willing-to-wait-for-line greeted us, and we made our exit to the car. Suddenly, I was no longer feeling hungry; instead, I was feeling lost … unable to focus and ready to head back home, unfed and unfilled. We hadn’t traveled far before we noticed him – the tired McDonald’s employee walking under an overpass. He, too, was headed for home. Ten minutes earlier, we had talked to him in the crowded McDonald’s parking lot next to our car. It never occurred to us that he didn’t have one of his own.

Something broke inside of me. A sadness that lent itself toward compassion.

“We need to give him a ride home, Billy. There isn’t any housing close by, and it’s getting dark. If my grandpa had put in a hard day’s labor at McDonald’s and had to walk home, I hope someone would stop and give him a ride.”

Tears slipped quietly down my face as my husband made a u-turn. We slowed our vehicle as we reached the underpass, and I rolled down my window.

“Sir, we just met you at the McDonalds a few minutes ago. Can we give you a ride home? You look like you’ve had a long day, and we’d like to help you out.”

Without hesitation and with much effort, he made his way into the back seat of our van. He dropped his brown canvas bag onto the seat next to him and began to tell us his story. He told us he sure appreciated the kindness and that we didn’t need to take him all the way home, just up to the Nic’s Pic (a local gas station). From there, he’d thumb his way home.

“Where exactly do you live, Howard?”

“In McColl.”

McColl, South Carolina, that is. Nine miles away from where we picked him up in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

“That’s an awful long way to walk to work. Is your car broken down?”

“No ma’am. I’ve been hitching rides to work for (… wait for it) thirty plus years now. If you’ll just drop me off at the Nic’s Pic, I’ll get a ride home from there.

“Howard, we’re going to take you all the way home. Tonight, we’ll get you home a little earlier than usual so that you’ll have a little more time to relax.”

And so, for the next nine miles, we got to know our new friend. We told him a little of our story, but mostly, he told us nine miles’ worth of his. Three marriages, a daughter he hadn’t seen in decades and with no understanding of where she might be, crippled up with arthritis and punching the clock at McDonalds for at least thirty years, well, even though his biography read more like a tragedy, he didn’t seem overcome or undone by it. Instead, he seemed content, like he’d made some sort of peace with what I perceived to be his less-than life.

As we approached McColl, he gave us the short-cut instructions to get to his house. Driving the back streets of his neighborhood, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. The dilapidated homes, the junk piled up therein, and the occasional wandering inhabitants, quickly had me checking the door locks. My sobering assessment of Howard’s seemingly declining neighborhood didn’t match his own.

“There are some nice houses back in here … nice mill homes. My third wife left me one, even though it is falling down around me. Now she was a good one. I wish I’d had her longer.”

My precious grandparents, Al and MayBelle

And part of me wished the same. He shouldn’t be alone, not now. Not ever. And for nine miles last night, he wasn’t. I wasn’t. Instead, we were together, sharing a ride and sharing our lives – a tiny intersection on the long road toward home. Grandpa Al has been gone from my life for twenty-three years now, but last night, a part of him was with me, reminding me that this life is meant to be shared. That in some sense, we’re all really close to being family. All it takes to arrive at that realization is opening up our eyes to see those around us and opening up our hearts (and car doors) for conversations therein.

As Howard exited our car, he left me with a final word of benediction:

“There sure is a lot of evil in the world these days, but there’s still a lot of kindness. Thanks for the ride.”

And with that, our nine miles together came to a conclusion. What began as a quest to fill my hungering stomach was met, instead, with a meal to fill my hungering soul.

Grandpa Al, his son (Charles), and great-grandsons, Nick and Colton – 1993


There sure is a lot of evil in this world, but there still is a lot kindness. So, give kindness to others in this season, friends. Share nine miles or more with the person you meet at McDonalds, being willing to cross the state line should the occasion dictate. In doing so, you just might recognize a brother, a sister, maybe even a grandpa from your past.

In some greater sense than I fully understand, we’re all really close to being family. As always…

Peace for the journey,

“Mother of the Bride” Review and Give-Away…

*This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Cindy G. who will receive a copy of the book via Amazon. 

I love a good book, especially during these summer months when I have both the time and the energy to absorb a new story. And while I always have a compelling, fiction story sitting bedside, my favorite books fall into the category of non-fiction – truth-tellers, stories of “Been there, done that, and have the battle-scars to prove it”, a come-alongside-you-for-the-journey kind of book that feels more like a companioning presence than an uninvited stranger.

Cheryl Barker’s book Mother of the Bride: Refreshment and Wisdom for the Mother of the Bride is one such book. To clarify (lest any of you think my thirteen-year-old daughter has recently become engaged), I am not currently an official MOB (mother of the bride). I hope to have that honor in a season to come. As the mother of three older sons, I’m mostly sitting on the sidelines in that department.

But it’s fun to dream, is it not? When I was in college, my girlfriends and I saved up our spare change in order to purchase the latest bride magazines at the grocery, check-out stands. We’d cut and paste our favorite images into a notebook of sorts, planning for a perfect wedding, all the while praying anxiously (and rather insistently) for the perfect groom to slide onto the scenes of our lives. For most of us, that moment came. When it did for me, the worn and torn bridal pages from those earlier years were nowhere to be found. Instead, my mother and I started the process from scratch. Bless her heart; she didn’t have a come-alongside-you-for-the-journey kind of book in her pocket. Instead, she had me. Again, bless her sweet, patient heart.

Had Cheryl’s book been around then, no doubt it would have been a huge blessing to my mom, a gentle hug to remind her of all that’s good and right and honorable about her role as the MOB. Mother of the Bride truly is a “gem” for the wedding journey. Included in this beautifully packaged book are twenty-three seasonal vignettes written to highlight the special moments of the bridal journey. Each entry concludes with practical planning tips, as well as personal pampering ideas. There’s even a space for journaling your thoughts as you reflect on Cheryl’s heart-felt renderings. Some of my favorite vignettes include:

To Have and to Hold … Until She Gets Married

This vignette is all about the “letting-go”; whether you’re a MOB or a MOGroom, this is a relatable tug of any mother’s heart. A favorite quote from this selection is: “Let go of your daughter with grace and you’ll find her calling on you with joy.” (pg. 43)

Bye-Bye, Comfort Zone: Diving into Unfamiliar Waters

No doubt, the MOB will wear many hats during the wedding-planning process, some more comfortable than others. Cheryl challenges MOBs (and women everywhere) that “… each time we square our shoulders and say good-bye to our comfort zones, it leads to growth and more self-confidence.” (pg. 74)

Be Very Careful: No Do-Overs for the MOB

This reflection is a gentle reminder for MOBs to consider how important her responses/reactions are during a season where first responses are measured (and well-remembered). Cheryl writes, “Some situations, like various tasks or games, lend themselves quite well to do-overs. However, when relationships and feelings are involved, that’s another matter. Even if we get a second chance, the memory of the original situation will never be entirely wiped out.” (pg. 97)

My MOB and me, 7-19-97

Also included with the twenty-three vignettes are wedding venue worksheets – a very practical, thought-out list of questions to keep in mind when planning for your daughter’s special day. Truly, Cheryl has given all MOBs an inspiring gift in writing Mother of the Bride: Refreshment and Wisdom for the Mother of the Bride. She’s thought of everything and has packaged it beautifully as her “gem” to you during your special season of love and grace.

As for me and my future as a MOB, well, I’ll tuck Cheryl’s treasure away for a season longer. But when that day arrives, when my little girl looks at me with dreams of satin and lace and budding bouquets, I’ll know where to start. I’ll start with a hug from a friend named Cheryl who “once upon a time” penned a few thoughts about the glorious steps that await me as a Mother of the Bride – a come-alongside-me-for-the-journey kind of book that feels more like a companioning presence than an uninvited stranger.

Thank you, Cheryl, for writing your story and for inviting me to the wedding. What a lovely celebration this has been!

PS: Hey readers – leave a comment today for a chance to win a copy of Cheryl’s Mother of the Bride. The deadline for entries is July 17th.

Everything Moments

These are days of plenty. This is a season of more-than-enough. This is holy generosity dispensed to me by the King.

This isn’t a season of less-than, although as of late I have been tempted to argue otherwise:

• Aging parents and accumulating needs making their withdrawals from the ledger.
• Financial interruptions that dip into the “summer fun” account.
• A lingering infection that coughs abruptly, heats up sporadically, and labors diligently to take hold of instead of break free from the flesh.
• Fractured conversations with the children I bore … the children I adore.
• Marital miscommunications that unearth seemingly forgotten pain and an oft-spoken question … (Again, Lord?)
• A sadness that sometimes sneaks quietly into my spirit, taking a long summer nap in the shade of my heart.
• High cholesterol, creaking knees, hot flashes, and a body that has failed me.

Cumulatively collected, it seems as if a detour around the poke-and-prod of summer is in order. Cumulatively and currently lived, however, I think I’ll stay right where I am. Why?

Because today, knee-deep in the might-be misery of my summer, I shared a bag of McDonald’s fries with my daughter, and I thought to myself …

This is good. This is grace. This is generosity. This is pure, untainted joy – an everything moment often uncalculated during a tabulated struggle. My life is filled to over-flow with everything moments. God has not short-changed me on anything. Instead, he’s lavished me with his holy everythings:

• Conversations and time spent with parents that cannot be replicated.
• Financial blessings that leave some wiggle room for summer fun.
• Prayers and medication that release me from my flesh, not keep me bonded to it.
• Enough love to mend fractures.
• Enough love to salve old aches and old conversations with a fresh helping of God’s mercy.
• Enough peace to awaken sadness.
• Enough laughter and humility to forgive the aging process.

God’s holy everythings are everywhere. It takes a holy heart to seek them out and then to hold them up to the light despite the shadows of a dimly-lit life. In doing so, in giving these everything moments a place of illumination while suffering through the pokes-and-prods of summer, we keep the life-ledger balanced.

Does a new pair of eyeglasses cost more than a bag of McDonald’s fries? No doubt, and it is one of the reasons behind my nagging worries this afternoon.

But to hold the attention (and the heart) of the one whose eyes rest behind those eyeglasses for a few moments? Well, folks, the ledger is more than balanced. The ledger is dripping with eternal abundance.

The Father who made us, knows us. He understands our summers … all of our seasons. He knows what will bring us peace, even as he knows about the turmoil that leads us toward unrest. Accordingly, along the way and as we go, he’s planted everything we need in order for our minds and hearts to push beyond the mayhem in our lives. He’s sown a garden of everything moments, so that we might be able to step outside of the temporal and to see his eternal. When life is measured through that set of lenses, life is duly celebrated.

So today, I raise a toast to my everything moments. To yours as well. Further still, I pray for eyes wide-enough to see them as they arrive, for wisdom enough to lift them up as illumination, and for a thankful heart to God for being so very generous with me. Would you join me in celebrating our everything moments today? I’d love to hear about some of yours in the comments below. Shalom. Be well.

Everything Moments (© F. Elaine Olsen, 6-28-2016, allrightsreserved.)

A spontaneous hug, a lingering kiss,
A ride through the park, a sunset unmissed.
A morning unhurried,wrapped safely in sheets;
An afternoon rain, an evening walk through the streets.
A tub full of bubbles, a gerbera in bloom,
A bird sweetly singing, a new bride and her groom.
A dip in the pool or a dip of ice-cream,
A nap in the shade, colored by the wildest of dream.
A smile round the table, for there’s corn to be shared;
Warm bread and soft butter, enough room to be spared…

For more love, more grace, more moments face-to-face.
More comfort, more strength, more confessions at-length.
Less guilt, less blame, more skin in the game.
Less hiding, less fear, more room for a tear…

Gently released, gently received,
Gently embraced, gently grieved.
Gentle hands, gentle souls,
Gently walking, fewer holes…
Left wide-open, left unguarded,
Consequently, less bombarded…

By nothing-moments that shouldn’t count,
By worldly standards that rate discount.
By devil’s schemes that work their ill,
By temporal needs that rarely fill.

Instead, by everything-moments that fruitfully amount,
By godly standards that take into account…
A Father’s love that heals all ill,
Eternal grace that lavishly overfills…

with his moments.

Growing Up as a “Mean Mom” … {and give-away}

I had the privilege this evening of praying with a friend. The focus of our prayer? Our children – hers grown, mine half-grown. Or so it seems. Does the growth factor really ever come to an end? Does our growing up have an expiration date? I don’t think so. In that sense, we’re not so unlike our children. We, ourselves, are just big kids, a few steps ahead of the pack coming up behind us.

I’ve been a parent for the past twenty-six years – over half my life. I’m still at it with two children under my roof. In these almost three decades of doing mothering, I’m not sure anything about parenting has gotten easier. I’m certainly a calmer person today than I was twenty-six years ago. Years of living and growing beneath the shadowing wings of grace have afforded me this gift. Even so, I suppose there are times now when my parenting (as a job) has grown stale; day-old parenting as well as day-old bread isn’t as tasty as a loaf fresh from the oven.

This is why I’m thankful for my friend, Joanne Kraft’s, recently released book The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids. I didn’t secure my copy thinking I had a whole lot of new mothering tips to learn; instead, I knew I would learn something further. I would have the opportunity to lean in and to listen to my friend’s heart. I trust her heart, and anytime you and I pull up a chair alongside a heart we can trust, we learn. We expand. We grow … up and beyond and further into the person God has ordained us to be.

Joanne’s book reignited something inside of me – a push of sorts to be more engaged in these final years of parenting the two children beneath my roof. The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids is not about getting your “mean” on. Instead, it is a grace-filled invitation to invest in the everyday worlds of our children and to say, “I’m here. I care. We’re in this together, and by God’s grace, I’m going to help you walk these next steps successfully.” Mean moms don’t leave the parenting to others. Mean moms fight hard for the hearts and futures of their children. I, for one, needed a reminder along these lines.

Did you know that Mean Moms …

• Walk by faith
• Put Marriage First
• Pray
• Model Honor
• Don’t Take Sides
• Make’em Work
• Use Their Words
• Say No to TV
• Slay Goliath
• Don’t Speak the Language of Busy
• Mean Business
• Embrace Failure
• Rule Technology
• Talk Purity
• Drag Kids to Church
• Eradicate Entitlement
• Friend Their Teens
• Focus on the Future

I didn’t either. Oh sure, I’ve been modeling most of these behaviors for years. I just didn’t know what to call myself. Thanks to Joanne, I now know. I am unequivocally a member of the Mean Mom Team. Why? Because as Joanne says in her book (pg. 18),

“I’m not raising a kid. I’m raising an adult.”

And I, for one, want to give my kids the necessary tools to become necessary adults in a society crying out for sound minds, good hearts, and godly souls. My children are my gift to the world. The grown-ups they become are a direct reflection of the intentional, mothering investments I’m willing to make now … today. Their growing up doesn’t wait until I have it together. Neither does mine. Growing up, instead, happens along the way and as we go. Accordingly, I pull up a chair alongside my friend, and I pull up my heart alongside my kids. Together, we say grace around the table to our Father who gives grace and who lends his strength to our growing-up days.

I don’t know if, years from now, my kids will remember me as a “mean mom.” That label is irrelevant to me. What does matter to me is that I am remembered as a mother who walked their journeys with them and who, in the end, led them straight to the front porch of heaven.

Thank you, Joanne, for the permission and for the invitation to revisit my mothering heart. This is rich privilege. They (Nick, Colton, Jadon, and Amelia) are my legacy. As always …

Peace for the journey,

This contest is now over – selected the winner. Congrats to Natasha Grimes!

PS: Leave a comment for an opportunity to win an official “Mean Moms” travel mug AND an autographed copy of Joanne’s book. (USA addresses only.) Even if you think your parenting years are behind you or you simply need a shot of parenting adrenaline, I promise that there’s something in this book for you! It’s a strong encouragement for all of us.

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