Category Archives: letting go

A Mapmaker and a Grace Giver (a tribute to Bill Olsen)

Grace’s words surprised me that night. I wasn’t expecting them. What I was expecting … well, I’m not quite sure. I’d never been down this road before. Just an hour earlier, I was eating orange sherbet while sitting on a couch next to my mother-in-law, Rosalie, when the call came telling us what I was expecting to hear—that my father-in-law, Bill, had stepped peacefully from this side of the eternal veil to the other.

As quickly as we could find our shoes (as well as our pulse), we made the five-minute walk from Rosalie’s new apartment to the nursing facility where Bill had been residing. This living arrangement had been a dream of theirs, selling their home on Tinkerbell Rd. and moving to Carolina Meadows—a retirement community that would afford them a peaceful and pleasant pasture to write their final chapter together.

The dream had a few revisions along the way. Two years earlier, Bill’s cancer (as well as a fractured hip, diminished mobility, and several late-night trips to the emergency room) interrupted their plans. Despite the multiple roadblocks along the way, both Bill and Rosalie eventually arrived at their new address. And while they would no longer share a bathroom or eat sherbet beside one another on those light-green, chenille couches that had cradled their marriage of nearly fifty-three years, they could at least spy each other’s bedroom windows across the verdant lawn that now separated them—a chasm that could not be crossed quickly enough in those late hours on Wednesday, June 14th.

Soberly and tenderly, Rosalie and I entered Bill’s room as well as the sacred moment. I have often said that the ground we stand upon is never more hallowed than in those moments that exist between the now and the next. Just two hours earlier, we’d been sitting in this same room with Bill, singing hymns, praying prayers, and speaking words of release to him while he peacefully slept. That was the now. This moment, well this was the next, and the difference between the two was stunningly apparent to us both.

“He is not here, Rosalie. He’s gone home.”

While Rosalie cradled her grief as well as Bill’s fragile frame, I quietly removed the wedding band from his ring finger and slipped it onto the chain around Rosalie’s neck. I stood in the shadows, watching a bride say good-bye to her husband. I was profoundly moved to a place of deeper understanding, a deeper connection to all things eternal. Indeed, what God hath wrought together, no man had been able to put asunder (Mark 10:9).

And that gift … being witness to such love … would have been enough to salve the grief that began to fill our hearts. But God gave us another gift that night, the gift of Grace—the nurse’s aide assigned to Bill in his final hours and in the many weeks preceding his departure. We met her in the hallway while making our way back to Rosalie’s apartment. She told us a story about a recent encounter she’d had with Bill:

“Mr. Bill was trying to help me find a shortcut through Chapel Hill. He drew me a map.

[*For those of you who knew Bill, this doesn’t come as a surprise as Bill was always drawing maps and knew the Chapel Hill area better than most, as he’d been selling real estate in the surrounding community for more than fifty years.]

He told me that should I ever travel down that particular route and found myself thirsty, that I should stop by Tinkerbell Road … that a glass of water would be waiting for me.”

And these, friends, were the words that surprised me that night, shook me and sweetly startled me at my core. I’m not quite sure the reason behind Grace relaying this particular story about Bill, but as soon as she released it to us for safe-keeping, I knew that no finer epitaph could ever be carved in stone to best memorialize the life and witness of Bill Olsen, Jr.—a man who lived on Tinkerbell Road, always ready with a cup of water for anyone whose thirst led them to his door.

Bill was always looking for the best route in and around his town … in and around this life … while watering his town and this life with a generous cup of goodness. He was a mapmaker and a grace giver.

A mapmaker and a grace giver. God has replayed this message over and over again in my mind these past six days since Bill’s departure. More significantly, God has etched these words onto my heart eternally.

Indeed, Bill is not here with us in body any longer. He has gone home. But God, because of his great mercy and love for all humanity, granted Bill the holy privilege of drawing us a map so that we, too, may find our way home. Additionally, whenever a thirsty soul came knocking, Bill was faithful to fill our cups with a ladle of water from the well of God’s amazing grace, more than enough to fuel us for the journey that lies ahead.

A mapmaker and a grace giver. Bill’s life was a life well-lived. He lived simply and quietly. He loved purely and certainly.

He left a map and he left a ladle.

A mapmaker and a grace giver. The trail has clearly been blazed. The mission has clearly been defined. May we endeavor (with God’s help) to follow the map, to fill the cups of the thirsty, and to live ever so rightly, vigilantly and attentively, all of our remaining days on this earth. Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey, friends.

74…

There are seventy-four left.

Classroom hours that is.

In just a couple of weeks I’ll be saying good-bye to another group of fourth graders. Yes, I’ve been counting down the days … since the third week of school. Somehow calculating the hours way back in August seemed too formidable. But now? Well, an hourly count feels doable … like, I’m going to make it.

And tonight while sitting around the dinner table with my family, the weightiness of that number struck me deeply in my core. Seventy-four more hours …

To love.
To invest.
To give them my best.
To say my good-bye and to make sure that I say it well.

And here’s the rub in all of that loving, investing, giving, and saying:

I’m not sure I remember much about my 4th grade year. I don’t recall it being particularly impactful for me. Or so it seems. And I wonder to myself what they, my now fourteen students, will one day recall about their fourth grade year.

Gosh, I hope they’ll say it was fun. We sure have packed a lot of laughter into the year. I hope they’ll retain some practical knowledge as it pertains to their book learning. Maybe they’ll read with their children about Old Dan and Little Ann from Where the Red Fern Grows, laugh about Melba Jane’s hair turning blue in Love, Ruby Lavender, or eat some Turkish Delight like Edmund did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe . Perhaps they’ll pull out a charm-filled, tarnished-with-years necklace from a keepsake box and remember the laps they had to walk to get those charms.

But even if they don’t remember the laughter, the stories, fractions and nouns, or even if the necklaces never make it through this summer, there is one thing I pray they’ll never forget…

The truth – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Truly, that alone is what pulls at my heart in these final hours of this fourth grade year.

And this is where I must have faith in both the seed that’s been planted and in the Sower who authored it. God’s Word is stronger, more enduring than my efforts at the loving, the investing, the giving, and the saying. Long before I planted any heaven-sent seeds within my students’ hearts, God tended to the soil therein. He plowed up their fields, readying it to receive his eternal impartations. He will continue to tend the garden going forward. Like the Apostle Paul, I can (with all certainty) say,

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. -1 Cor. 3:6-7

I am nothing but a conduit of the Father’s amazing grace. And truly, friends, in that state of nothingness, I hold everything.

This is how I will spend the final seventy-four hours with my students. This is how I will love, invest, and give my best. This is how I will say my good-bye. Not only am I going to make it, friends, but I am going to make sure it counts for all eternity. As always…

Peace for the journey,

Spring Fever

 

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” -John 12:6

Spring fever has hit these parts. I don’t know about where you live, but for those of us living in eastern NC, spring arrived early, somewhere along January. Warm weather has been our companion throughout the winter, and it’s been a seasonal nightmare for the wildlife as well as the flora. The Canada geese arrived early (although I’m not sure they ever really left) and the finches, bluebirds, cardinals, and robins have been dining dutifully and daily at my bird-feeder. The poor azalea bushes bloomed a few weeks ago, only to be prematurely side-swiped by a drop in temperature, leaving them limp and colorless (as if they needed any less time to be lovely). The dogwoods are blooming, the pollen is thick, and the playgrounds are filled with students who’ve been celebrating the arrival of spring … well, since January.

It’s been a long, not-so-much winter around here. Which brings me (albeit slowly) to a spring scene, a spring thought I’d like to share with you. It’s been gnawing on my brain and in my heart since I witnessed it a few days ago while out on my afternoon walk. As afternoon walks go, mine are fairly routine. The 1.5 mile loop around my neighborhood is filled with established yards, driveways and basketball hoops, mailboxes, pine trees, and a few ponds tucked in and around for aesthetic purposes. And where there are ponds, folks, there are fishermen, all of them currently eager to see the catch that has emerged after our long, not-so-much winter.

One of them parked his car precariously close to the water this past week. I didn’t recognize it, nor did I recognize him. He was in his early twenties, and his uniform indicated his vocation as a Pepsi employee. Instead of holding a fishing pole in his hand and patiently waiting for a bite, he was scanning the pond, running back and forth along the water’s edge in sporadic, frantic fashion. Realizing that spring fever can do strange things to a person (remember, I am a fourth grade teacher), I gave him a wide berth before initiating a conversation.

“Did you lose something, Sir? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no Ma’am. I just like to come out here after work and watch the fish swimming. There sure are some big ones in here this spring … bass. Have you seen ‘em? Seeing ‘em just makes me so happy.”

“Well, I sure hope you catch some today. Enjoy.”

“Oh, I’m not catching today. I’m just taking a look.”

True to his word, within moments he got in his car and left … a happy man. It didn’t seem to matter to him that his catch would be delayed. Instead, just seeing the fish, just knowing the fish were there, was enough to fuel his passion for a catch yet-to-be.

Spring fever indeed, and I am both thunderstruck and elated by his pure and unadulterated joy.

When was the last time you saw a fisherman running up and down the riverbank getting excited about the potential catch of fish rather than the actual catching therein, about sensing the possibility before it actually happens? It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy about a catch yet-to-be. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve scanned the riverbank for any signs of fish.

Spring may have come early to eastern NC, but spring has yet to arrive in my heart. Instead, I’ve been stuck in my long, not-so-much winter. Rather than looking for fish … anticipating fish … I’ve been content to look elsewhere, to keep a downward gaze instead of casting my eyes forward to the horizon of possibility. In doing so, I’ve missed out on something significant. I’ve missed the joy that comes from running alongside the Fisherman and seeing what he sees—a school of prospects swimming close to the riverbank and hovering even closer to the surface.

I’ve missed the opportunity to do a little early, spring fishing with the Master Fisherman.

And that, friends, has been gnawing terribly on my heart and in my spirit. It’s left a hole of sorts, a spring-shaped one that can only be filled with the letting go of winter. So, instead of lingering in what might have been, I’m going to do a little scouting with Jesus this week, take some time to walk the riverbank with him and to see, instead, what’s yet-to-be. Unlike the Pepsi man, I’ll bring my reel and rod. If the fish are biting, I don’t want to wait another moment to snatch them up and bring them home.

There’s a holy catch readying itself to be caught, maybe even a big bass. Keep your nets in hand, friends. Keep fishing next to Jesus. I’ll meet you at the pond. As always…

Peace for the journey,

life beyond the 51/49 principle

The 51/49 principle. That’s what my daddy calls it – the not so scientific (much less highly spiritual) approach to making decisions.

Your gut leanings . . . 51% in one direction; 49% in the other. When in doubt, go with the 51%.

When making smaller decisions, the 51/49 principle seems to carry less weight. When making larger decisions (those choices involving critical, life paths)? Well, the 51/49 principle is a bit harder to digest. Personally, I prefer the 99/1 principle when choosing a critical, life path—a two-by-four to the head that clearly says, “This is the way; walk in it … ” (see Isaiah 30:21). Unfortunately, that kind of clarification has rarely been my privilege over the years. Instead, I’ve learned to trust my gut, even when it teeters within a few percentage points of taking the alternate (often times, less desirable) path.

Sometimes, 51% is all I get. But every now and again, a 99% shows up . . . maybe even 100%, and there is no need for agonizing deliberation. I am grateful for those occasions; I’ve learned to be obedient to them as well.

Like three weeks ago, when I walked through an open door that (trust me when I tell you) wasn’t even on my radar – not one little bit. Three weeks ago, I was heart-deep in wedding preparations—a season filled with enough emotional trauma to clutter and confuse reasonable thought processes. Choosing the color of my toe-nail polish was a struggle, much less choosing a life-path. Still and yet, a choice presented itself, one that would not only alter my life, but also the lives of my family. That decision?

After fifteen years of being a stay-at-home mom, I’ve decided to take a job outside the walls of my home. Instead of homeschooling my children, I’ll be teaching someone else’s children – fourth graders at a small Christian school just down the road. If this opportunity hadn’t come about in the way that it did, I wouldn’t have had the courage to walk through this door. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have had the strength. A year ago I was busy giving away all of the contents of my teacher boxes in an effort to lighten our load prior to our move to this community. After hauling that mess around for years, I had no intentions of ever, practically using any of it again. I kept one banker’s box, the contents of which are less practical and mostly sentimental.

And so, I’m starting from scratch, walking down a road I never imagined I’d be walking down again, and I’m doing so with a 99/1%, two-by-four affirmation in my pocket that will, undoubtedly, buoy my “want to” as this season unfolds. It may not make a lick of sense to others, but it makes perfect sense to me. Accordingly, I offer no apologies or explanations to the naysayers; I simply walk through this open door in obedience, knowing that the favor of God and the shine of heaven rest upon me.

This is my next, and I’m ready to turn the page, ready to let go of any previous notions of what I thought I should be doing (those 51/49 wranglings of the heart) and ready to step into the 99% I know that I should be doing. It’s just that clear and, relatively, simple. How grateful I am for a reprieve from the constant, internal debate regarding my next!

I don’t know where you are today as it pertains to choosing a life-path. Maybe you are contentedly walking with a 99% affirmation in your heart; maybe less contentedly, hovering between your 51 and your 49. I understand them both. This is the life of the faith . . . walking forward with God and trusting that, even when it’s with a 51/49 affirmation, he will establish your steps as you go and strengthen your witness for his glory and his renown.

Step on, friends. Step forward. Step always with God. These next steps matter. You can make them confidently, knowing that, wherever the path leads, you’ll never walk alone. Not ever.

Rest in the company of our King today. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

PS – The winner of Leah’s study, HeBrews: a Better Blend, is Rebecca! Please be in touch with your mailing address, friend.

on following dad . . .

Through the front windshield, I could see that they were talking – daddy telling a story to my thirteen-year-old son, sharing a ride together in that ’93 Chevy truck that’s been in the family for over two decades. I followed closely behind, staying in the lanes where he stayed and making the turns when he turned. He was leading me down an unfamiliar path, but I didn’t mind. I trust my daddy, and I knew that at the end of our ten-mile trek, we would arrive at our intended destination—my son’s apartment.

On our agenda? Moving my eldest child out of his current apartment into my parents’ home, where he will temporarily reside until he takes the hand of his bride in July. My husband did his due diligence last weekend in moving our second-born son out of the same apartment into his new living quarters. Needless to say, it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks for both of us.

Moves do that. They deplete us of our reserves. There are multiple, moving parts to every relocation. Whenever we rearrange our living situation, we can expect some rearrangement in a few other areas of our lives.

The heart.

The mind.

The soul.

A physical move is so much more than a change of address. A physical move shapes our interiors as well. Maybe not so much in a way that others notice but certainly at a level where we feel the shift within.

I’ve moved a lot over the years, lived in five states and changed my address at least twenty times. Moving is a tenet, perhaps, of the journey I’ve chosen, albeit not always an easy acceptance within. I’ve wrestled with a few changes of address and heartily welcomed some others. All twenty of them have shaped me, left their mark on me, and added their witness to my story.

By faith, I’m still standing. By faith, I’m still willing … to move as God directs, whether a move involving myself or in helping my children with their own moves. Why? Because there is something built in that place of relocation, a brick-upon-brick, cementing together of my interior because of my unyielding belief that God is up to something. That faith is stretched and strengthened with each move. That with every box packed in an old place and unpacked in a new location, a soul is asked to go deeper with God.

And really, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of soul-matters, shouldn’t we all want to go deeper with God?

I want to go deeper with God, even when it’s hard. And so, I followed my daddy’s pick-up truck this weekend and helped my son with his relocation. In doing so, I allowed my soul to move to that place of surrender … again. To saying “yes” to the change that is coming. I cannot stop the packing on this one. I can only unpack my heart before the Father and allow him to keep building up these surrenders into a strong tower of personal faith.

How grateful I am for a windshield that allows me to look through and beyond my front bumper and to see my daddy in front of me, leading the way to our intended destination. He has taught me so very much about embracing new chapters in the journey and about putting a foot to the pedal of faith, even when it’s hard. No doubt, his ability to press forward has better enabled me to do the same.

For as long as time allows (and as long as the engine holds out), I’ll keep following closely behind my daddy, with or without his Chevy tail-lights to guide me. I trust him, and the guiding Light that has guided him for seventy-six years will lead us both safely to our final destination where we will unpack our belongings for the last time and where we will share the same address for all of eternity.

Lead on, daddy. I’m right behind you.

Happy Father’s Day.

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