Category Archives: night visits

Living Faith-Attentive

 

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

God’s voice couldn’t have been clearer in my spirit yesterday afternoon while I was out for an afternoon stroll. His certainty forced my immediate, audible response.

“Yes, Lord, I’ll be watching for the snake.”

One lap around the block, then two, almost three before a thunderstorm blew in and interrupted my search. No snakes in sight, just a caution in my spirit that lingered inside of me throughout the nighttime hours.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

Morning came, this Sabbath morning. My body ached, and my heart was heavy. Not today, Lord. Can’t I just call in sick … sit this one out? I’m not feeling it. I want to live in, not out; stay close, not expand.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

There it was again. A reminder to stay vigilant. Watchful. Faith-attentive.

And so I did something I don’t normally do on Sunday mornings. I grabbed a pen and began counting the fish—the blessings in my life. I kept writing and writing until it was time for us to make our way to corporate worship. My body still groaned its resistance, but my heart was lighter. Faith had taken the lead, while my feelings took a break.

With the van loaded and spirits lifted, we backed out of our garage. It was then that I saw it out of my driver’s side mirror. A water moccasin slithering its way across my driveway and up the Crepe Myrtle planted next to the basketball goal. I watched it for a long time. Thought about it for a long time. I’m thinking about it still on this Sabbath afternoon – a time normally reserved for napping.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

And I’m thinking on it. Pondering snakes—the ones that slither through our front yards and the ones that slither through our hearts. How often they go unnoticed in our lives, camouflaged and quiet in their approach. Real and present danger close at hand and, most of the time, we’re caught off guard because we’ve missed the warning.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

Oh the vigilance of the faith-attentive heart! For eyes to see, ears to hear, and a willing heart ready to receive and believe the voice of God’s Spirit as he speaks.

I don’t want an overgrown heart full of weeds and worries and wickedness that block the ear-splitting whispers of the Holy Spirit. I want the thunderous clap of God’s clarity ringing in my soul as I walk this earthen sod. I’m weary of the world’s words—those clattering, clanging, and banging cymbals of nothingness. God save me from those hell shrieks—those sounds that will never speak me into the folds of heaven but, instead, hasten me into the bowels of permanent torment.

“Be on guard, Elaine. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.”

Be on guard, friends. You’re going to see a snake. Be looking for a snake.

It will come quietly in the night; boldly in the day.

It comes now.

May God grant you his voice, his protection, his direction, and his strength to stay faith-attentive as these days are growing shorter. The kingdom draweth nigh. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Peace for the journey,

 

let the evening come . . .

“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.” –Genesis 28:10-11

 

Certain places. We’ve reached a new one—a God-ordained assignment just an hour south of our last one. My number nineteen; pastorally speaking, our fifth appointment with the United Methodist Church.

Like Jacob on a night so long ago in Bethel, we’re stopping here for a season. The sun has set on our previous day’s traveling (our six months’ worth of running), and now we have the great privilege of rest, of living and breathing in this new place landscaped by open fields, few stoplights, fresh peaches, and neighbors who drop by with fresh vegetables . . . just because.

Certain places. We’re well-suited for this one. Sometimes a heart just knows when it’s home. And this morning as we worshiped alongside new friends in filled church pews, my soul was stirred at the deepest level. First Sundays rarely go as planned; there are always a few hiccups and a few whispers, but none of that mattered to me on this first Sunday of my number nineteen.

What mattered?

The peace of knowing that I am home. That I can rest my head upon this stone named Saint Luke and can find a stairway that stretches straight forward to the heart of God. Like Jacob, my soul proclaims, “Surely the Lord is in this place …” (Gen. 28:16).

It’s not that the Lord hasn’t been present in my preceding eighteen places; it’s simply a great soul-relief knowing that he resides here as well. That God has already graced this place with the present of his presence long before my arrival.

I’m grateful for the setting sun, for a tangible sign that a previous day’s laboring is finished. It’s a good thing to shut my eyes and pull down the shades on the struggles of recent days, knowing that even as I rest, God is at work . . . ascending and descending on his ladder of mercy, making certain that I don’t miss his whispers of grace. I imagine he will tell me great and unsearchable things in this night’s pause (Jer. 33:3). Divine disclosure is a guarantee for the children of God. As we are faithful to rest in God’s house, our Father is faithful to entertain our hearts with his.

I want nothing more.

I just want to know God and then, out of that knowing, lead others to know the same. This certain place is the right place to do both. With God’s help and because of the heavenly generosity afforded my soul, I pledge my affection to this new ministry soil. I’ll put my hand to the plow, alongside my husband’s; together we’ll sow kingdom seed, and we’ll trust God for the harvest.

And so I pray,

Let the evening come, Lord. Let the stars shine brightly in this night’s rest. Slow me down and show me your glory. May the labors of my yesterdays serve as a strong foundation for my today, as well as an anchoring remembrance for my tomorrows. I thank you for this stay in Bethel and for this stone upon which I lay my head, my heart, and my faith. Make this pause in my journey count for your kingdom. Keep me on my knees, and awaken my heart to yours. Thank you for the struggle that has brought me thus far, and thank you for the grace that has kept me moving forward. Home is within reach. I can see it from here. This certain place is the right place for my heart. Amen. So be it.

PS: There was a beautiful flower arrangement on the altar this morning, given in honor of our arrival. Thanks to Mr. Bill, I have fresh cut flowers all around my house. It’s good to be welcomed!

safely through till morning

“Because the LORD kept vigil that night… ” (Exodus 12:42)

 

A few weeks ago, our elderly neighbor, Mr. Jim, called us in the middle of the night. We’d instructed him to do so should a need arise. It did. His bride of sixty years plus had fallen in the bathroom, and he couldn’t get her back on her feet. Billy was able to help out and to save our neighbors another 911 call.

Since that time, I check on them every morning. Not with a phone call or a visit but, instead, with a single glance out my window. I look for the familiar lamplight in their den. If it’s glowing, I breathe a sigh of relief. The lustrous warmth from behind their window pane tells me one thing.

They made it safely through the night till morning.

In many ways their certainty serves as mine. I, too, made it safely through the night till morning. Seeing their light reflects back on that fact that my lamplight is also burning… lit and fueled by a night’s worth of resting. I cannot see it as it’s happening—this collection of rest that gathers in the folds of my flesh as I slumber in the dark. But each new morning, I’m reminded that what I cannot see happening in the dark—cannot manage nor manipulate while in an altered state of consciousness—is often the strength that carries me through the daylight hours.

God is the Keeper of that darkness. God superintends the gathering and collection of strength as I rest. I’m not always comfortable with the conditions of that rest. Many have been the nights when I’ve fought the constraints of my darkness, wrestled with the unknown realities of nighttime, only to arrive depleted by dawn’s arrival. Rather than giving in to a normal, nocturnal cycle, I rally against it. I burn a candle in defiance, refusing to let the night do its work in me. Those are times of lesser faith… lesser trust in the God who keeps vigil for me.

Oh to be a woman of faith who doesn’t run from the darkness but, instead, who believes God to see her safely through till morning. A “kept” woman—kept safe, kept warm, kept closely, kept wholly by the Father who draws his children closely to his heart and who uses their darkness as the growing field of a tremendous, unshakeable trust.

I’ve been through a dark night, friends. A long, drawn-out season of nocturnal growth. As the dawn approaches, I don’t feel as rested as I’d like. Some night seasons require more than others. But of one thing I am certain…

I am stronger for the night I have known, because God has kept vigil for me.

A dark night with a vigilant God grows a stronger spirit. God is the candle that stands in the shadows of our sleep and that keeps our hearts fueled for the arrival of dawn. A new day, a new season to live as a certain witness to the night’s growth that has preceded it.

Today, I’m a witness. You are as well. We’ve made it through another night, and our candles are still burning. You may not be aware of it, but you have a few neighbors—a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a stranger—who are looking through their windows into yours this morning to make sure that your lamplight is on. Your light is important to them. It shines as a testimony to a night’s rest, a night’s trust, a night’s growth, a night’s vigilance by a loving God. He kept you then; he keeps you still.

Thanks be to God for the keeping, reaching hold of grace! God is growing his kingdom in you and through you… even in the darkness. The light from your window strengthens me. Thank you for allowing me a look inward from time to time. As always…

Peace for the journey,
elaine

a greater thing…

 
I’ve been stuck recently. Hung up on and hunkered down in a thought or two regarding a particular spoken word from Jesus. A promise. One that doesn’t compute with my internal, spiritual compass. One that has always confused me, challenged me, asked me to consider just exactly what he meant by his saying it. Perhaps it’s brought you reason for pause in your personal, exploration with God.
 
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” 
{John 14:12-13}
 
Doing what Jesus did. Even greater things. Almost seems treacherous typing it, much less laying claim to it as part of my personal identity. Surely he didn’t mean it as it sounds. Surely he isn’t saying what it seems as if he is saying. That I, that you, sinners saved solely by the grace of the cross, could walk in his similar shoes, dispensing a similar grace on similar occasions with similar results.
 
Surely not. Such a gift feels too weighty. Too much sacred privilege given to human flesh. Too much trust. Too much kindness. Too much royalty. Too much inheritance.  Too much glory for any one person to handle with any measure of Godly humility. Too big of a theology for a pint-sized brain like mine and an even weaker flesh to absorb in this moment.
 
I am in a diminished state. My thoughts aren’t always what I want them to be. Medications and course of treatment force my limits. My thinking is sometimes scattered, and I labor to have it make sense. Accordingly, when it comes to the weightiness of the Word of God and all its intricacies—the mystery and marvel of words that breathe as fresh breath from his lips today even as they were spoken in yesterday—I don’t always get it right. I’m no scholar; no theologian deeply steeped in study and adorned with degrees from the most prestigious religious institutions.
 
 
  Yes, my daddy is a preacher and served as a professor of preaching at one of the finest seminaries in the country. I spent years running its hallways and sitting under some of the richest preaching and teaching offered to formative young minds. As a youth, I was mentored by one of the most deeply committed, well-known youth leaders in the country who made it his solid commitment to make sure that the pulse of my heart would eventually catch up with my over-grown head. Indeed, I was offered the best when it came to my spiritual shaping. But even with all of that tutelage back then and with all of what I’ve come to know since that season…
 
I still get stuck sometimes. And I wonder about God and his promises to me and what he means for me to do with such knowledge. How do I take what he says, apply it to my heart, and then live it out most courageously before his watchful gaze in hopes that I do him some justice… bring him some glory? What could I do in this season of my life that would even come close to matching the sentiment of his heart as spoken in John 14? How can I, sick as I am, stand where I am, as a representative of the I AM and do even greater things?
 
It doesn’t compute, but then again, neither does grace. And just the other morning while others (perhaps even you) were catching sleep granted humans via the natural cycle of life, I was clutching my cross, and I had a thought regarding my “greater thing.” It arrived in the form of few words from God’s Word. Silently, they crept in without notice, transferring me from the dark of my bedroom to the dark of a sea. A night some 2000 years ago, steeped in chaos, waves, and despair. A fourth watch where disciples, not unlike me, took to the waters in hopes of reaching the other side without incident. A night when fear roared its opposition in the face of truth and when faith was shaken to its core. A night when those who were closest to the Master needed the witness of his eternal hold.
 
A night scare that required a night God and the witness of a night Word that would carry them through to the morning’s light:
“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” {Matthew 14:27}    
 
And with those eight words, I become less stuck in my previous ruminations. For with Christ’s mandate in that moment—an event in history separated from his promise in John 14—I begin in my understanding of what Christ might mean by my “greater thing.” That I, feeble in flesh yet strong in Spirit, might be a someone who could make that night walk on behalf of the fearful. That God in his infinite mercy and willing cooperation might so endow me with the gift of his Spirit so that I could cross waves and cut through currents to become a hand’s extension. Heaven’s extension. A sacred bridge linking the dying, fear-filled soul to the living, faithful God.
 
That I, a single pilgrim on this journey of faith, might know the power of an interceding Jesus. And that because of his Holy Spirit, I might be filled to overflow with Him so that I would be able to withstand the fear of the night’s storm in order to walk in peaceful pause to extend the courage of Christ to others.  
 
That, my friends, is a greater thing… a greater work. To be one extension amidst millions of other faith-filled extensions who are well-supplied and well-equipped to dispense the King’s courage. Not because of anything we have done, but rather because of everything he chose to do. He chose to make me and you a part of his rich inheritance. We stand alongside him as co-heirs to an undeserved kingdom. On paper and in our minds, such grace will never compute. We’ll never be able to make sense of the “greater things” he has in mind for us to do. But every now and again, when we really take hold of all of what that might mean for us, we catch a glimpse of perfect understanding.
And we find our place… our sacred responsibility and our reason for moving forward with our faith in this world.
 
We are here for God’s greater thing. I don’t know what that will look like for you in the week ahead, but I do know where the fearful live in my little corner of the world. They cloister together less than a mile from my front door, in chairs hooked up to the deathblows and life-giving vein named chemotherapy. Many are stuck in the fourth watch. Many have yet to know that God is the Master of their fourth watch. That his courage and his hands are available to them, and that just maybe, those hands might come to them through a weakened vessel named Faith Elaine. Hands wrinkled by years. Hands drying by drugs. Hands weathered by understanding.
Hands extended in love. Hands speaking the truth in love…
“Take courage; It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Words rightly and humbly spoken by a daughter of the King. A greater thing, indeed. What a marvelous, treasured gift with which to be entrusted. Live your greater thing like you mean it, friends, and never underestimate your worthiness in the kingdom of God. He has called us, each one, to a greater understanding of the greater gift we’ve been allowed. Use it all, do it all, love them all with his greater end in mind. As always…
Peace for the journey,
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basement dreaming…

*Note: Just in case you’re the one reader of this blog who hasn’t heard, my book “peace for the journey: in the pleasure of his company” has released. Just in case you missed the book trailer, here it is again (truthfully, I need to keep this out in front for readers, but haven’t a clue as to how I might incorporate it into my header, etc. Help Tekeme friends!).

And just in case you’ve hopped over here to find out the first three winners of an autographed copy of my book… here they are, as drawn by my three kids that are currently home (please e-mail me your snail mail, and I’ll get these to you this week): Amelia drew Danielle @ Sojourner, Jadon drew Cindy @ Letters from Mid-life, and Nick drew Laura @ the Wellspring. Some of you have asked regarding getting an autographed copy from me. I’m willing to send you one, but I cannot offer you free shipping like some of these other venues. The cost of ordering from me is $15 per book and $5 shipping for up to 3 books. Please e-mail me your interest.

With my next post, I hope to address some of the questions/thoughts/kindnesses you’ve had for me over the past week. Truly, you are more than I deserve, and I am grateful for every grace you’ve extended in my direction. There will also be another occasion to win a copy of the book, but for now, I simply wanted to write my “heart” with this post and to “speak in the daylight” what God has “whispered to me in the dark.” Shalom.

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

“‘What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.'” {Matthew 10:27}

“Mommy, I don’t mind playing by myself in the basement anymore.”

“Why daughter, what led you to change your mind?”

“Because I’ve discovered that the basement is big enough to hold my dreams.”

***

This was the conversation I had with my daughter in the early morning hours, not on the stage of real life but on the stage of my subconscious—a place where dreams have a habit of displaying their truth in a way that sometimes seems so real, I have a hard time separating reality from fantasy. This time, however, there was no mistaking the dream for reality. Why?

For starters, when I awoke I noticed the above conversation scrawled out on the pad of paper that sits on the nightstand by my bed—a good indication that something took place in the night that I wanted to recall with clarity in the day. I’ve learned to keep the pen at the ready, even in sleep. Secondly, we don’t have a basement. Lastly, even if we did have a basement, I’m fairly certain that, at seven years old, my daughter wouldn’t be ready to make such a bold proclamation regarding her fear of the dark and of being alone. I certainly wasn’t ready at her age to tackle the haunt of the basement that accompanied most of my childhood dwellings. I’m not certain I’m ready to tackle it now, but at forty-four I’m walking ever closer to being able to say with all the confidence of a dream walker…

I don’t mind playing in the basement anymore, because I’ve discovered that the basement is big enough to hold my dreams.

The basement. When I was a child it represented a few different things for me:

  • Isolation.
  • Darkness.
  • Mystery.
  • Quietness.
  • Hiddenness.
  • Confinement.

While growing up, the basement really wasn’t the place where my family lived corporately. We did our living upstairs. We ate upstairs, slept upstairs, and talked upstairs, all the while relegating the basement as a place of individual exploration and retreat. As a child, descending the stairs into the basement seemed like more of a punishment to me rather than a place of escape. To their credit, my parents went to great lengths to make our “underneath” a pleasant getaway for my sister and me. We had a playroom filled with toys and an open invitation to come and to live out our imaginations within its borders. I was more inclined to RSVP my acceptance if my friends or sister would choose to join in the fun, but to go it alone? To freely choose my isolation over the corporate adventure that was taking place in the upper chambers of our home?

Not likely.

I was too scared. Too frightened of what I could not clearly see. Too unsure of what might happen while on individual safari in the basement. Too afraid that I might miss out on the excitement of upstairs living. Too uncertain of the silence that surrounded me. Too confident that the silence would soon be replaced with sounds I couldn’t handle… with suspicions I couldn’t manage.

No, back then basement living wasn’t for me. My fear kept me from it, and if I’m not careful in this season of living, my fear might keep me postured accordingly… confined within the safety of the upstairs without ever venturing downward to discover the foundational beauty that resides beneath a well-structured home. A well-fortified heart.

Basements aren’t all bad. As I think about them tonight, some forty years beyond my initial understanding regarding their worthiness, the basement represents a few old things for me with a new twist:

  • Isolation, moments away from the world in order to be alone with God.
  • Darkness, not to hide me but to grow me.
  • Mystery, the secrets of an unseen God that cultivate my trust and replace my fears with faith.
  • Quietness, permission enough to settle down and settle in on what God has to say.
  • Hiddenness, permission enough to move away from life’s stage in order to allow God a moment beneath the lights.
  • Confinement, closing off the world’s crowding so that my heart and thoughts and dreams have room enough to breathe… to formulate and to incubate in a safe place with a good God.

I’ve been to the basement in recent days, friends. Long before “peace for the journey” ever made its entrance onto the stage of Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Winepress, it made its entrance into my dreams. It was a seed that germinated in the “basement” with God—a season in my life when I faced my fears and risked the isolation, darkness, mystery, quietness, hiddenness, and confinement of the downstairs in order to hear the heart of God regarding my dreams… my pen.

What birthed there, births now in living color for you to witness. Nothing about the journey in between those two births has been routine or predictable. This has been the most unpredictable road of faith I’ve walked in forty-four years. I hope to flesh that out a bit more for you in days to come because I think, perhaps, we’re tempted to assume that basement dreaming and the faith building therein always have to work themselves out in predictable measure. That somehow, my journey with my dreams has to resemble yours and vice-versa.

Basement dreaming with God is never without individual color and imagination. In the midst of your isolation and quietness with God, a foundation of faith is built that will best be able to hold and to fortify the dreams of your heart. What is erected there between the two of you will serve as your solid footing for the season to come. Don’t let anyone tell you that your house has to be built according to a structured set of blueprints… that dreaming only comes in one shade of color. Dreams come in kingdom shades of color, and the last time I checked, our Father’s palette was limitless.

You will get there, friends. Perhaps a trip to the basement might be in accordance with your next step of faith. Don’t fear the descent; instead, embrace it knowing that with each step into the darkness, God’s light shines brighter. I don’t imagine it will be long before your time in the basement will take on new meaning for you even as it has for me. Life in the upper chambers will concede some of its worthiness to the lower level, understanding that without the basement’s underpinning, the floors up above could easily disassemble into piles of rubble.

The basement is big enough to hold all of our dreams… is safe enough to grow them… is isolated enough, dark enough, mysterious enough, quiet enough, hidden enough, and confined enough to allow us open access to our Father’s heart. His heart is where our dreaming meets with the reality of his goodness and where our fear is replaced by a simple faith—a settled confidence in the One who authors all faith journeys and who promises to perfect them along the way and as we go.

God is where I want to live. He is where I want to dream. Accordingly, I don’t much mind playing in the basement anymore. It’s a good place to breathe with God, to grow an imagination, and to exist within the sacred possibilities of what he’s imagined on my behalf long before I made my entrance into this world. This week, I invite you to join me in the downward descent to God’s playroom so that his up and coming plans for your life might have a moment or two beneath the spotlight. It’s going to be good, because HE IS GOOD. As always…

peace for the journey,

~elaine

Copyright © May 2010 – Elaine Olsen

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