Category Archives: living God’s truth

80% written in red …

Quietly, she approached my desk and inquired about her quiz grade. I perused the papers in front of me and found hers.

“You made a 76.”

Her distress was apparent, burying her head in the palms of her hands. Normally, a 76 wouldn’t warrant such a response from this student, but today was different. When I asked her as to the reason behind her tears, she quietly responded, “My momma told me she was going to give me a whippin’ if I got anything lower than an 80.”

A smile formed across my heart; not because I was happy about her grade or her distress but rather because I know her precious momma and just how liberally the word “whippin’” gets thrown around down here in the South. I don’t think her momma would have whipped her for 76, but the threat was enough to spark a reaction in my student’s heart. I leaned over my desk and whispered to her, “What grade would spare you a whippin’?”

“An 80.”

I reached for my red pen, marked out the 76 and replaced it with an 80. Our eyes locked, and we shared a tender moment as grace rained down to replace shame. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy – being able to erase what’s earned and, instead, to replace it with what’s free. I was reminded, once again, of the trust I’ve been given this year—to live my life wide-open before these young lives and to set the stage for, what I hope to be, futures lived with Jesus and with a rich understanding about his love, grace, and unmerited favor.

This moment arrives to my heart, too, as fresh grace—a red pen held in the hand of the Master Teacher who is willing to erase my whippin’ and, instead, grant me my reprieve. When my dignity (and my behind) is held in the hands of the Master, I can always count on grace. Not that I press the issue of my “76s”, serve up my “less” when I could do better; that would cheapen the gift. But on those days when a 76 is all I have to give, well, I can trust my Teacher to cover the rest of it, be it four points or more.

I don’t know if my student will remember this day in years to come, but I hope that she does … not for my sake but for hers. That somewhere down the road when she’s tempted to think that her good isn’t good enough (that a whippin’s coming because she’s failed to meet some standard) she’ll think upon today and remember that she’s worth more than what she deserves.

She’s worth God’s Son – a cross, some nails, a grave, and all hell – all because he loves her and has called her enough.

The red pen is in his hands, and he has changed her grade. He’s changed mine as well.

Grace. It looks good in red. It feels even better. As always …

Peace (and grace … and freely flowing red pens) for the journey,

stretched, wrecked, and waiting …

 

It’s the heart stuff that concerns me most … both theirs and mine.

Growing pains.

A soul stretch.

A sacred wrecking … reckoning.

We’re in this together, and (at this point in the journey) we’re standing at a crossroads. Either we’re going deeper into this holy cleansing or we’re going to settle for a duct tape finish—a patching and pasting to hold us together for a good enough ending that will send us on our separate ways at the end of May … unaffected and unchanged … hearts hardened by the process instead of hearts beautifully shaped because of it.

I know what I want, but I cannot make that choice for them. They will have to decide if our temporary union is worth it … worth the pain, the stretching, the wrecking, and the reckoning.

And there’s the rub.

Nine weeks in, and we’re standing at a crossroads. I can feel it in my spirit, and I suppose that’s why I’ve spent the last hour gathering my tears into my lap. I think a couple of my students have already made up their minds about “us” – choosing less instead of best.

So I beat my heart up a little tonight, wondering how I can change their minds … how I can persuade them to stay with me on the path a while longer until the stretching and the wrecking reckons into beauty—a touchable, tangible splendor that affirms and validates the hard work of relationship.

Isn’t that what we all need? Want? Affirmation that our hearts are growing rather than shrinking? Don’t we want to get past duct tape and good enough so that we might take hold of healing and holiness?

To be fair, when I was their age, I didn’t know I wanted to be holy. I suppose I spent the first three decades of my life settling for duct tape finishes. But then God offered me something better, something lasting—a relationship that went beyond holding me together to a relationship that grew me up on the inside … that made me a better me … that changed my way of thinking and my way of doing. And this was and is the beautiful splendor that speaks strength to my soul each day. It keeps me coming to the table of grace and offering my fifteen students a choice for a similar portion.

If only they could understand what’s at stake—what’s to be loss and all that’s to be gained from their being genuinely loved by this grace-veteran who boasts enough battle scars to give me some street-cred. If only they would take my word on it … that we’re worth it and that, by the end of May, we’re going to be better versions of ourselves because of the time we’ve given to one another.

But they might not see things my way. They may choose a lesser path.

And so, on this night when I have more questions than answers, less control rather than more, I will allow my tears to soften the hardness that’s creeping in to my heart, and I will pray for my fifteen and their deliberations as they stand with me at this crossroads. Come tomorrow morning, I’ll lean in a little closer to the wrecking that’s taking place near our hearts, and I’ll offer them the choice to join me on the holiness road.

God will be with us, and he will be faithful to complete in us that which we cannot yet see in us.

A glorious reckoning. A splendor of his making.

This I believe in.

This I will fight for.

All the way through ‘til May.

PS: Sarah is the winner of Laura’s book, Playdates with God. Congrats! It will be coming to you via Amazon.

Lasting Fruit

I told them to keep working . . . that I needed to take some pictures and not to pay any attention to me. After eight days of getting to know their new teacher, they are beginning to understand that I am a woman who lives for the moments.

Too many of these moments are slipping by without much fanfare – like the “on the fly” relay race I put together for our recess time yesterday. If only I’d had my camera then; if only I could have bottled the laughter readily present in that moment. I’m sure it would have been enough to at least (temporarily) put a smile on the ache of the world.

With each tick of the clock, I’m keenly aware that I will only have this baker’s dozen in my charge and keep for a short season. Eight days down; one hundred and seventy-two remaining. There is so much I want to tell them . . . give them. In most of our moments together, I feel wholly inadequate with the telling and the giving. In most of those moments, I want to sit down and cry because of the overwhelming responsibility that’s now filling up my thoughts day and night and every moment in between.

I am so very past tired. My body aches from head to toe. I crawl into bed each night with tears in my eyes because of the physical pain that is riddling my joints. But there is liquid joy in the pain, because I know that I have done something sacred with my day. I have planted good seed into God’s very good soil. Time will bear out the results. I may or may not be privy to them, but I can and am relinquishing the outcome to God.

The seeds are in my hands and issue forth from my heart. The fruit, however, belongs to God’s hands and his heart. His Spirit will break up the fallow ground beneath our feet and will superintend the harvest with holy watchfulness. God will grow what I cannot.

My job?

Releasing the seed . . . one lesson plan at a time. One conversation at a time. One correction at a time. One getting down on the floor to help a student find his/her homework at a time. One reminder to put a name on a paper at a time. One extra look up on the computer to find out more information about Leif Ericson at a time. One more phone call to a parent at a time. One more inch of me invested into this assignment from God until it is finished.

One more one more, because it’s been that clear to me from the beginning that this isn’t my doing but, rather, it is God’s:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” –John 15:16

Lasting fruit.

That has a holy ring to it, and one day I will know the fullness of what is being planted in these days. Until then, I’ll keep walking the fields with Jesus and watering his garden with these tears of obedience.

‘Tis a very sweet, sweet fellowship and privilege to journey alongside the King and to sow kingdom seed as we go and along the way. So . . .

Leave me, Lord Jesus, for as long as you will;
In this place of great trust – keep me quiet and still.
To wait for your timing, your words and your heart;
To give to your children the wealth that will start …

New beginnings in them that will push them along,
Forward in your kingdom – make them brave, make them strong.
Keep them safe, keep them tender, keep them willing to learn;
Keep me always at the ready, help my heart to discern.

What is best, what is right;
What is noble and true.
What is good, what is worthy;
What is holy from You.

Plant your rows, sow your seed;
Use my hands, take the lead.
One step at a time, one prayer from the heart;
This is grace, this is fruit,
This is faith, set apart.

Amen. (F. Elaine Olsen, 8-30-14. All rights reserved.)

Peace for the journey,

Faith-stepping

My heart’s been moved again by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian as found in Acts 8:26-40. This encounter unfolds like a series of rapid succession snapshots, sort of like living a narrative through the lens of a view-finder. Remember those? Philip’s story is a faith-stepping one; it has a lot to teach us about the seasonal work of faith in our lives. Imagine with me for a few moments. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the script.

Philip steps forward. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he started out, …”. (vs. 26-27)

A life of faith is initiated and directed by the hand of God. A saint steps forward (even to a desert road) when God shouts “Go!”.

Philip steps near. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.” (vs. 29-30)

A life of faith is often lived out alongside the questioning soul. A saint steps near the questions and isn’t intimidated by the pace of the chariot.

Philip steps up. “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (vs. 31)

A life of faith rises to the occasion. A saint steps up into the chariot to tell the truth . . . to give a reason for the hope residing within.

Philip steps down. “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” (vs. 26-38)

A life of faith understands that life truly begins in the baptismal waters of grace. A saint steps down into the river to pour life into others, even it means getting wet in the process. With God, a little wetness is all the more and then some. How long has it been since you’ve stepped down into those waters of grace?

Philip steps out. “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on rejoicing.” (vs. 39)

A life of faith is characterized by seasons. A saint steps out of the scene when God shouts, “Go!”. Some faith-assignments are lengthier than others, but most always they are limited to a time-period. Wise are those who know when to linger and when to step out of the scene.

Philip steps on. “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” (vs. 40)

A life of faith keeps moving forward beyond the “stretches and strengthenings” of the soul. A saint steps on to walk the path and do the work of kingdom building. Faith doesn’t end where the last baptism took place. Faith journeys forward to new waters and new chariots in order to dispense the familiar grace from an old, rugged cross.

Thus, faith . . .

  • Steps forward.
  • Steps near.
  • Steps up.
  • Steps down.
  • Steps out.
  • Steps on.

Where are you stepping today, friends?

Step always in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. This road is coming to an end and one day soon, our faith will be our eyes. Until then, keep stepping. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

Into the Cloud

I came across a verse this Sabbath afternoon while working my way through HeBrews: a Better Blend. I don’t think my author-friend, Leah, meant for me to park my thoughts at this particular verse for any length of time; nevertheless it parked alongside me, keeping company with my soul for the last several hours.

“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” –Exodus 20:21

Where God was.

Where was God? In the cloud – shrouded by thick darkness. Moses knew it; the Israelites knew it. Still and yet, they allowed their fear to overrule any measure of faith. Moses? Well, he’d been down that road with God before, back in those beginning days when his fear might have kept him from the greatest faith-adventure of his life. Instead of giving into the fear, Moses approached the darkness—the burning bush, the throne of Pharaoh, the Red Sea. Why?

Because God was in there, in those places of great testing. Moses, better than the Israelites, valued the presence of God and understood that, sometimes, it’s in the darkness where the Light is most radiantly revealed. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. But in the darkness, when we cannot see clearly for the thick fog surrounding us, God’s light is a holy, welcome resource.

We should not fear the unseen. Just because we cannot see the light doesn’t mean that the light isn’t waiting for us just beyond the veil. Sometimes the way through is clear and obvious. Sometimes, it’s only by taking those initial steps of faith into the cloud that the light will be revealed. Sometimes, it’s our steps forward that bring the sacred flame into focus.

Not long ago, I stepped into the cloud to meet with God. Was I afraid? A little. But like Moses, there was a greater fear that penetrated my heart – The fear of not taking those steps forward. I think that Moses, like me, clearly knew that God had something more for him (beginning at the ripe young age of 80) . . . something beyond the routine of sheep-tending on the plains of Midian. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with sheep-tending. Sheep-tending is a good living unless God wants to move our tending to the other side of the pasture, or in Moses’ case, the other side of the Red Sea.

Every now and again, we have to be willing to let go of good pastureland in order to take hold of God’s Promised Land.

And so, I said “yes” to God and stepped into the thick darkness surrounding my “yes.” Do you know what I found once I did?

His extraordinary “yes” on the other side, brilliant light radiating deeply into my heart and bathing my soul in peace. Why? Because God was there. God is there, and God wants me to be where he is.

Friends, I don’t want to live my life beneath a cloudless sky if it means missing the beauty of a trust-filled walk with the Lover of my soul. I don’t want sunny skies if it means I cannot have the thickness of God’s presence surrounding me. I don’t ask for the darkness; I much prefer sacred revelation without it. But I’ve walked with God long enough to know when he’s inviting me to a deeper level of trust. This is one of those seasons. Accordingly, I have stepped beyond the veil in recent days, and I have seen with my own eyes and felt deeply within my soul what it is to move beyond my fears and to walk with faith as my anchor.

Have I crossed the Red Sea? Not yet, but I’ve dipped my toes into the waters of anticipation, and I’m ready to make that journey through on dry ground.

This is faith from the inside-out, all the way through to Canaan. God is there. He is my next, and he is my peace . . . for the journey. I can’t wait to read the next chapter in this crazy book called “My Life.” Thank you for joining me on the road.

PS:The winner of a surprise gift from Lisa Dixon is Cindy from Letters From Midlife.

Leave a comment today for a chance to win a copy of Leah’s new study, HeBrews: a Better Blend. It is a fascinating, challenging dig into the life of faith. I hope you’ll take advantage of this soul-stretching resource!

Also, have you heard about my summer-combo book deal? You can secure copies of Peace for the Journey and Beyond the Scars for $20 (includes shipping – USA orders only). I’ll be happy to sign them for you and get them in the mail this week (sent media mail). You may order through paypal using the link below or by contacting me directly by clicking here.

 

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