Category Archives: hunger

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,

an unexpected walk to Emmaus

She asked if we could take an extra lap around the ball field at recess. I didn’t mind. Some conversations require an extra lap … or two.

Her heart is so tender, so easily touched by these morning, God-conversations we’ve been having for the past 148 school days. Today was no different. During our Bible story time, I’d planned on covering the Walk to Emmaus, but we never made it there. Instead, we got stuck right in the middle of Mary Magdalene’s arrival at the empty tomb (John 20), the two angels book-ending the place where Jesus’ body used to be, and (at the urging of my students) a detour to the book of Exodus 25 to look at a possible connection between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and the seated angels in Christ’s tomb. I watched their eyes engage with the correlation. My baker’s dozen pondered the possibilities and accepted the mystery and beauty of God’s Word. They (perhaps better than most adults) are still warm to the things of God and more easily moved into a posture of acceptance.

“It’s flawless, boys and girls. From beginning to end, Old Testament to New, God’s Word is flawless. This is your history – your past, your present, your future. This is your story, and these are your people. Learn it well. Live it forward. This has become your trust to keep and to tell. Who will tell the next generation coming up behind you if not you?”

I’m not certain they all received my admonishment in its fullness, but I do know that a few of them did. Only God can take these planted seeds and grow them for his kingdom. I may not be around to watch them blossom, but I am at peace with and fully trust in the planting that’s being done.

And so, she and I took an extra lap together at recess to discuss the things of God – our own Emmaus walk of sorts. Two hearts burning as we talked about Jesus and her desire to know him more. Further still, her deep, soul-aching desire for her family to know him more. She carries a burden for them, for kindness and love and reconciliation to rule the day.

“If they could just love Him like I love Him, Mrs. Olsen, things would be different. I pray and nothing changes. I thought God would answer, but it doesn’t seem like he’s listening. Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?”

And therein began my reassurances to her of God’s listening ear and man’s wandering heart – the free will built into all of us – the gift of individual choice and God’s great hope to be chosen. That she cannot choose for her family but that she can choose for herself …

To love God. Know God. And then out of that knowing, lead others to know the same.

My calling. Her calling. The singular calling for all of us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

She can be a light, pointing in the right and very good direction. I tell her it will make a difference in the end, and she’s willing to believe me because I am her teacher and I have earned her trust over these past 148 school days.

These aren’t merely words to calm an anxious spirit. These are words to live by. Why? Because God has proved them over and over again to me. I’ve seen them at work in the lives of countless others, and I’ve watched them come to fruition in my own journey of grace.

A single flame can spark a fire. A lighted candle can lead a heart safely home. And an extra lap around a ball field can ignite a soul with enough hope to fuel godly desire for a season longer.

This was our Emmaus Road – hers and mine.

This is forever kingdom privilege.

And this, dear friends, is one of the more sacred punctuation marks added to 148 days of hard labor and obedience.

This is my story; these are my people. By God’s grace, I’m learning it well. I’m living it forward. This is my trust to keep and to tell. I will tell the next generation coming up behind me. I pray you’ll do the same. As always …

Peace for the journey,

Feeding Time

“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.” –John 6:10

Plenty of grass.

Of all the many facets that make up the miracle known as the “Feeding of the 5000” – this mention of grass is the one upon which my heart lingers. In days past, I’ve spent most of my time focusing on the other (some would say more important) components of the story—the boy and his surrender of loaves and fishes, the size of the crowd, the multiplication of sustenance, the distribution therein, and the collection of leftovers. Each one of them is a miracle framed within the bigger picture. I suppose there were other miracles that day … 5000+ homes represented, lives changed, stories rewritten … how could there not be?

Wherever Jesus walks, whomever Jesus touches, this is the stuff of miracles.

But for me, today, it’s the green grass and the abundance therein that captures my attention (I’m thankful for Mark’s Gospel which includes the detail of greenness.). Like the 5000 of so long ago, I, too, follow Jesus to the hillside—a remote region outside the buzz of the city—in hopes of a miracle for myself. Not a big one as miracles go. Nothing front page worthy. Just a little green grass that belongs to me and a little time with Jesus. To hear his voice and to be fed by his hand, well, this is the miracle that I’m interested in.

In a life that is often too busy, too distracted, too worn out from worry, and too willing to sit down in pastures less green and more polluted, it is difficult to follow the Shepherd’s lead to the other side of the lake, much less make the climb to greener pastures. Following after Jesus requires deep devotion—a strong resolve to be where he is and an even stronger follow-through to get there … to stay there until the soul’s hunger is satisfied in his meadows of lush abundance.

Oh the meadow, rich and green,
It waits for me beyond this scene,
That blocks my view and crowds my heart,
That stifles me from taking part …

In grace abundant from Your hand,
Loaves and fishes at Your command;
Given freely in this place,
This patch of green, this gift of space.

To call my own, my time with Thee,
A sacred spot reserved for me;
To stretch my limbs, to rest my soul,
To find the peace that makes me whole.

I see it there, just up the hill,
A tiny dot of verdant thrill;
Some holy ground within heart’s reach,
It won’t be long now, I’m at the beach.

I’ll make the climb, I’ll do my part;
You’ll do the rest, it’s in your heart.
To give me best, to fill my ache,
My longed-for miracle beside the lake.

From long ago to moments now,
Your grass still sways in humble bow;
To receive those pilgrims weary-worn,
To nurture aches, to bind what’s torn.

Indeed the meadow, rich and green!
It waits for all beyond this scene.
So make the choice, do the climb;
Lift up your eyes, it’s feeding time.  {f. elaine olsen, 2-21-15, all rights reserved.}

It’s feeding time, friends. I’ll meet you on the hillside and, together, we’ll rest and we’ll dine in holy measure from the Father’s hand. As always …

Peace for the journey,

from doing to breathing and the grace in between

“When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’” –John 1:37-38

As of late, my pen has been silent. There hasn’t been room enough in my life for words.

Just doing. Mostly, just doing my job. It consumes my waking hours, which is most of them … all twenty-four of them. Whether I’m upright or horizontal, I’m thinking about my fourteen fourth-graders. I am exhausted. A life of perpetual doing doesn’t always leave room enough for breathing. Too much doing and the spirit goes dry. Life without breath feels like death to a soul, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly suffocating.

And crying. And praying. And asking God through choke-filled sobs for this doing to start making sense, even one little bit.

My family’s been praying too. On Thursday night, Billy and the kids huddled together upstairs on my behalf and sent God their requests in sacred whispers. They just wanted me to find the air that I so desperately needed … for a fresh wind of the Spirit to blow over me.

On Friday God answered their quiet whispers as loudly as he could.

Every school day begins with a Bible lesson (one of the great privileges of teaching at a Christian school). I consider this to be the best part of our day together. I’m in my element when I’m telling God’s story to others. In the first half of the year, we covered Genesis, the Christmas story, and have recently begun to talk about Jesus’ early, ministry years. This week’s focus has been on those first disciples who took those first steps toward following Jesus. In particular, we’ve zeroed in on the question that Jesus asked of Andrew and John at their initial meeting:

“What do you want?” or as the King James’ version states, “What seek ye?”.

I asked my students to consider that question, to have those ancient words jump off the pages of holy writ and to imagine God asking the same question of them.

“What do you want, fourth graders? What seek ye?”

In our moments of morning contemplation, I could see that my students were thinking – that just maybe this question was meant also for them and not simply for those disciples in those early days of kingdom expansion. This was a good way to start the day; regardless of any drama that might follow, a solid foundation had been laid.

Fast forward a few hours. The students were finishing up a reading quiz when one of them approached my desk and asked if she could speak to me in the hallway. Her distress was apparent, and I immediately took her aside to assess the situation. We’d barely made it to the hallway before the tears began to collect in her sweet brown eyes. Quietly, tenderly, and most assuredly, this precious young girl added words to the moment. In doing so, she’s added a thousand more words to my heart.

“Mrs. Olsen, I need God.”

Let that settle in on you, friends. Just be with us there in that moment. Don’t rush past it. Moments like these should be held up to the light and cradled … celebrated in the heart. Really, could there be a more worthy, purer confession than this?

In the minutes that followed her disclosure, we sat together in the hallway where we talked about her need and about our God. And then as smoothly and as naturally as breathing, we prayed together and the kingdom of God expanded … just one little bit. For everything that hasn’t made sense in these past five months of doing my job, Friday’s one thing made perfect sense, and I am stunned by such privilege.

Every tear I have cried; every prayer I have prayed. Every word I have spoken; every plan I have made. If this one little bit is the sum total reason for God calling me out of my comfort zone and pushing me into the middle of discomfort, then this is enough fresh air to keep me breathing in the season to come.

Tonight I hear the Father asking me a familiar question, the one he asked his first disciples 2000 years ago and the one I asked my students earlier in the week:

“What do you want, Elaine? What seek ye?”

My response?

“This, Father. Just this.”

How beautiful this grace that is sufficient and all-powerful. It reaches past and beyond my weakness and perfects the imperfect. One little bit … one little heart at a time.

On Friday, I had the joy of welcoming a new child into God’s family. I’m so glad that she has Him and that He has her. She doesn’t know it yet, but her best days are ahead of her. With Jesus, her best days are yet to be. The multiplication tables and helping-verb lists she’s mastered in the 4th grade may not be remembered in years to come. But this one little moment?

Well, it will never be forgotten. It’s etched into eternity. This is forever.

Peace for the journey, sweet girl. God is with you. God is for you. God loves you.

I am too – with you, for your, love you.
{aka – Mrs. Olsen}

scattered pilgrims

 

They went back home this weekend, or so they say. Really, they went back to the place of my rooting—those first twenty-one years’ worth of soul-shaping that had me running up and down the roads of that little Bluegrass town. The three of us lived there again for a season following the divorce, right across the street from the place I’d called home for over two decades. The old basketball hoop down the road still hangs as a memorial to a season once lived; it shows signs of aging. I suppose we do as well. After twenty years of being away, age is bound to show up, revealing the weathering of these many years.

I, too, made my way home this weekend. Not to the Bluegrass, although a large part of me was there with my sons as they reminisced about their yesterdays. Instead, I made my way to parents’ home. They’re within a hundred mile reach, so home was doable. Mom and Dad left the front porch light on for me; that’s what makes it home. Not the address. I’ve never lived beneath this roof for more than a night or two. It’s the light and the warmth and the glow of the two lives who, more than a place, have shaped my soul for the grace-journey. Wherever they land, that will always be home to me.

Many say that I’m blessed to be able to make the journey. They remind me to take advantage of this time. I know. No one has to prompt me to go home. The desire burns within me … every single day of my life.

My other three – Billy, Jadon, and Amelia? Well, they went to a conference, youth rally this weekend. They call the event Pilgrimage.

Fitting. It all fits, don’t you see? This is the journey before us.

A pilgrimage of faith. A search and discovery mission. A deep, eternal yearning for home. For our roots. For the streets that look familiar and for the front porch light and a front porch Dad that greets us as family and who says, “Welcome home!”

It won’t be long, friends. Just a moment or two from now. A season just beyond this one when our searching will gave way to welcome. A time when we’ll no longer have to gas up our tanks, clock the miles, and go in search of memories.

Until then, I imagine we’ll keep up the exploration. I don’t think we can help ourselves. The yearning is bred deeply within us. Ours is an inheritance of eternal significance that fuels our hearts forward for the warmth and welcome of a Father’s love.

This is the journey before us. This is the pathway home. Walk on, pilgrims of faith, even when your steps are scattered and seemingly out of balance. The search is the thread that keeps us tethered to forever.

A weathered basketball hoop. A front porch light. A crowd of thousands crying out to their Maker.

This is home within reach. This is heaven on earth.

Peace for the Journey,

 

error: Content is protected !!