Category Archives: prayer

The Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, May 2017

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Those are the words chiseled into the marble sarcophagus that holds the body of an unidentified military veteran from WWI. In addition, two other unidentified soldiers from WWII and the Korean War are memorialized at the same site in separate crypts. A fourth, previously unknown soldier from the Vietnam War (later identified through DNA testing at Michael Blassie) rested there until 1998 when his remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Since 1937, the Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24/7-365 by a select group of soldiers known as Tomb Guard sentinels, an elite group of soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard.” The soldiers rotate throughout the day, ceremoniously and meticulously marking their steps, following a prescribed protocol of duty. It’s fascinating, sobering and sacred, to sit as a ringside witness to such tribute and honor. For these soldiers, their service isn’t played out on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq.  Instead they surrender their duty, give their time and their best, on the battlefield known as Arlington National Cemetery, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – an American soldier known but to God.

And tonight, in the quieting moments after a week that has forced my faith to new heights and my knees to deeper prayer, I am thinking about those unknown soldiers, their stories and the secrets they keep encased within those crypts. Most tenderly, I’m thinking about the soldiers who, for the past eighty years, have given up their days and their nights for the sole purpose of guarding and protecting this mystery.

Sometime in the distant past, on a landscape not my own, three soldiers died on different battlefields while defending the rights of liberty. And while their identities currently remain a mystery, their earthly remains are heavily defended by The Old Guard.

As it is with the Tomb of the Unknowns, so it is with my life. So it is with yours.

a sentinel from The Old Guard – Arlington National Cemetery, April 2017

There are many mysteries, countless unknowns attached to our stories. The previously written chapters of our lives are safely scripted and bound within the annals that bear our names. But there are other pages, other secrets, chapters to come, and chapters writing themselves in this very moment, that are unidentified to us. And this can be scary at times because we have very little control over the unknowns; instead, we can only bear witness to them as they arrive and pray for God’s grace to hold them as our own. And when we’re shaken by newly discovered realities – when the unknown is finally identified and brings us fear rather than peace – as Christians, we have a deeper reality that we can cling to, a known truth that will cover our hearts and our minds like a warm blanket on a bitter winter’s night…

The Old Guard is standing near.

Marking his paces. Guarding his own. Rain or shine. 24/7-365. Back and forth before the crypts that carry the fullness of our lives – the mysteries, things known to us, and things known but to him. For this Soldier, his service is no longer played out on the battlefield known as Calvary; instead, he surrenders his duty, his time and his best, on the battlefield known as our lives, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – a soldier’s story, our stories, known but to Him.

See him there, friends. Oh how carefully Jesus Christ is guarding your tomb. Your surrender is precious to him, and in his great love for you, he has promised you his protection. What you cannot see, what you cannot know, is already seen and known to him. Your unfolding mysteries are not a mystery to him. He knows your story. He knows what’s at stake. He’s laid down his life for yours, and you can be sure that he’s not going to let the enemy rob your surrender of one single glory.

The gates of hell may rattle and shake its cage against you today, threatening your capture. But take heart. The Old Guard is standing near, and the gates of hell are no match for the protective, loving reach of this Sentinel. He has given his life and his pledge to bring you safely home. He will keep his word. It is his highest honor to do so 

So rest in honored glory today, Christian soldier. You and your unknowns are known to God. He can be trusted with the rest of your story. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Psalm 91 has been a balm to my soul in this season. You may read it by clicking here.

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}

a prayer for Advent

My soul doth magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46).

I’ve been talking to my soul lately, asking it to keep pace with Mary’s magnificent declaration. Like her, I want my soul to amplify Jesus. I want my soul to make him bigger … more obvious to those around me.

But it’s hard. The trying times talk my soul into other amplifications—an alternate focus that sheds light on the struggles instead of light on the Savior. The everyday stressors are often given a place of prominence in my thought-life, thereby taking up habitation within my heart. And what grows there grows elsewhere.

Inward to outward.

Better be careful what gets in … right? If you and I want to sing alongside Mary this Advent season, then we’d better take note of our empty, inward spaces. They are fertile soil for wandering stressors.


Whatever is keeping you awake at night is what is growing in your soul. It can be an ugly and frightful declaration come morning’s light.

Look in the mirror. What does it say? My soul doth magnify _______________________.

In this season of life, I am ever mindful of the role that my soul plays in God’s kingdom development. Many days, I fall short of my calling. My soul doesn’t always magnify the King. On those days, I kick myself a thousand times over, beat up my soul until it’s bloodied by untruth. I bet I’m not alone. Why?

Because as Christians we understand (and are often enlivened by the fact) that our souls are designed to house the magnificent. That inside each one of us there is an extraordinary capacity to hold the burgeoning, holy-kingdom that cannot be fully explained in words, only magnified by expression. By attitudes. By generosities of the heart that exceed what’s customary … what’s expected.

When our souls do magnify the Lord, there isn’t room within for lesser soul-growth. The Lord’s great light fills a soul to overflow and burns a candle brightly where shadows once reigned. This is why I pray Mary’s prayer and sing her song and paste a sticky note to my desk to remind me of this deep desire. I want a soul filled with Jesus, and I want him to fall out of me and on to my students each day.

What a magnificent thought! What a magnificent agenda! What a magnificent trust!

This is who we are. Jesus magnifiers. May your soul and mine be so heartily inclined this Advent season. Thus, I prayerfully sing this thought tonight to the only One who can make it happen …

Soul … magnify Him! Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey,

PS: One of the brightest souls out there is my friend, Melanie Dorsey. Her light shines brightly for Jesus. I’m giving away a set of her watercolor, note cards. Have you checked out her designs?  Leave a comment with this post, and your name will be entered into the drawing. The deadline to enter is next Sunday, December 6th, 6:00 PM.

Sabbath Sunrise – a prayer for my son

Paint my boy a Sabbath sunrise, Father – one filled with the color of hope, not the cover of despair.

Take the pain that’s been smeared onto his canvas at night and replace it with splashes of your morning grace.

What she has taken from him, replace it with what you have given to him. A hope. A future. A plan that includes something best, not something less.

His are deep wounds, bleeding red, hot, and furious. Stop the hemorrhaging with your hands—the very ones that bled and shed red for our sin and our pain.

I can no longer cradle him in my arms. My lullabies sing harshly, and I have few words to fix the ache within. Only scattered thoughts to fill the awkward pause in between his despair and his healing.

So Father, would you paint him a Sabbath sunrise? Would you paint me one as well?

How we need the color. The warmth. The reminder that all has not been lost in the night.

Your sun still rises. This is gain. This is resurrection. This is Sabbath.

Give us eyes to see it, minds to conceive it, and hearts to believe that you painted it just for us—your perfect peace in the midst of a perfect storm.

For him, my boy with a broken heart. For me, his mom whose heart breaks alongside.


my Father’s world, not the government’s . . .

From where I’m sitting this morning, I see the witness of the changing season. The tree that hedges my bedroom window is beginning to sharpen in color, while surrendering a leaf to the wind every few minutes. I could stare at it for hours. What rich beauty there is in monitoring God’s creation! How foolish I’d be to try and override his seasonal preferences. How presumptuous I’d be to keep the beauty all to myself.

This is my Father’s world. One walks in dangerous territory when one tries to take the reins away from him.

When we try to manipulate God’s creation by cutting off access to an ocean or to the color of fall so brilliantly displayed in his mountains or even to the ground where men laid down their lives for freedom, we’re walking a dangerous line. When control becomes an issue, God takes issue.

Who are we to play games with his waters, his trees, his land? With his words he spoke them into existence. With his words he can easily remove them. What must he think of our posturing and our pride?

How foolish we are. How bold we’ve become. Little gods running around, idols fresh off the assembly line from the factory of Man Knows Best, all the while under the watchful eyes of the God who knows best and who must (if he is prone to laughter and tears) both chuckle and cry at the absurdity of it all.

He is not unfamiliar with this script. He’s read it before, seen it play itself out on the stage of history time and again. Man trying to control one another; man trying to control God. And while the former might actually come to fruition on occasion, the latter will fail every time. Man cannot take away from God what has always belonged to him.

This is my Father’s world. And while our view of it might currently be limited by barricades and police officers, God sees it all. No one, no law, no amount of power and pride can block his view. From his vantage point, it is clear what we’ve become.

We’re no longer one nation under One God but, instead, many nations serving many gods. Let’s be honest. Let’s call it for what it is. We’re a fractured people, broken down and woefully off track from our beginnings.

I cannot change the climate in our nation’s capital today, any more than I can amend the hearts of mankind. But I can pray for the climate and amendment of my own heart, and I can do so while surrounded by the seasonal witness of a fall tree that isn’t affected by the seasonal shifts of man’s need to control it.

Together, the tree and I and our Creator will work it through. It’s enough to carry me forward, maybe even enough to carry you as well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the foolishness of man today, might I encourage you to find a window view or find an undisturbed, unmonitored path in your community and take a walk with the Father in his world? What you will find there will make sense to your heart and bring peace to your spirit.

May the rich and certain witness of fall be the rich and certain witness of God’s enduring, unchanging, and formidable strength in your life. He sees from above what man is trying to prevent from below. Nothing can block us from his view.

Peace for the journey,

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