Category Archives: strength

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.

Watering the Kingdom Garden

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” -1 Cor. 3:6-7

Today was watering day at Ebenezer UMC. I took my watering can and applied it heartily to the souls planted there in that green and growing garden. I am grateful for the privilege, for a walk in the lush abundance of God’s mercy. They are his blossoms—a heavenly-loved group of about a hundred, who cloister in that sacred space each Sunday morning. Today, God entrusted me with their care, a ministry normally reserved for my father. Graciously, daddy surrendered his pulpit to me and to my heart and granted me full rights to speak as the Spirit led.

It’s a sacred gift, especially considering that next Sunday will be my daddy’s last at Ebenezer. These are hallowed days for him, his “shaking hands with his tomorrow”, counting them slowly and lingering in their richness. A chapter in his story is ending so that another one might begin. I’m honored to have written a few closing lines in this one.

My prayer going into today was that the Holy Spirit would weed out the unessential words and empower those that were vital. By all accounts, it seems that my prayer was answered. Still and yet, upon reflection during my two-hour drive home, I recalled some words left unsaid – words I wanted to release and words that felt (to me) really weighty, really significant. Those words? Well, something along the lines of . . .

“Years of training build a soul, strengthen a stride, and foster endurance in the heart of a seasoned saint. Strength grows in the darkness.”

Words like that. But even though they were never spoken aloud (and after letting myself off the hook for not saying them), I came to the conclusion that the folks at Ebenezer UMC probably already know this about the darkness. Many of them have lived in and through the shadows of the night and have come forth as gold – strong people forged because of strong sorrow. I saw the strength in their eyes and felt it deep within – unspoken words spoken between us, spirit to spirit through the Spirit.

And therein, the soil of my soul was watered as well. Just knowing that we were doing this thing together (walking the kingdom road shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing kingdom truth at soul-level) moved me to a posture of worship on the ride home and to shouts of praise all along the I-95 corridor. I may not always perfectly deliver God’s Word to others, but I am perfectly willing to lend my heart, mind, and soul to the process when given the opportunity. There is always a great blessing that arrives on the backside of such godly obedience.

God is the grower of good things. The rest of us? Well, every now again, we get to hold the watering can that pours out his grace, truth, and love. This is holy privilege, friends. This is God’s kingdom in us and through us. Let’s not spend our days measuring the growth in the garden. Instead, let’s spend our days nourishing it with the holy waters of heaven.

This is the best we can do. We can count on God to do the rest. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

when God paints pink …

A Cherry Blossom in full bloom greeted me on my way into Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center this afternoon. Fitting that it should be there, waiting on me. I think God knew I needed its witness. Just two weeks ago, an ice storm wreaked havoc on our community. The only colors that afternoon were white and gray, still beautiful in their own right.

I am grateful for the limitless color palette of our Creator. He paints the witness of his presence into every scene of our lives. Whether we’re in the midst of the brittle bite of winter, the extravagant blossom of spring, the sun and shade of summer, or the earthy harvest of fall, no matter the season of our lives …

God is there. God is near. God is here. With me; with you.

Look around. Look up. Look beyond. Just start looking. You will see him, even as I have seen him. Today, God wrapped himself up in pink and reminded me that I am not forgotten, that I am his daughter, and that a tree from his garden would be his preference to remind me of his great love for me.

Considering the recent weather conditions in our area, some would say that spring has arrived a little early to eastern North Carolina. The Father would say that it has arrived right on time … in blossom and wearing pink.

‘Tis a grace unspeakable and filled with glory. My heart sings the refrain, and my knee bows humbly to drink it in.

There is still time to secure a copy of Beyond Cancer’s Scars or Peace for the Journey; click here to learn more. I greatly appreciate your support as I walk through this transition in my writing ministry.

faith meets life . . .


I listen to their voices as they herald their morning choruses. Songs of faith. Melodies written in antiquity, yet music still breathing the living witness of God.

I hear them recite their morning verses. Words of faith. Scripture written in antiquity, yet truth still breathing the living witness of God.

My children are working their faith through with the help of our homeschool curriculum. What joy to hear these sounds again! Something about the rocks crying out resonates in my spirit. What I have forgotten to do … what I have often chosen not to do resurfaces in my son and daughter. This is good habit. This is music to my soul.

And my mind wanders across the sea to others who are doing the same—heralding their morning choruses and reciting their morning verses, despite great persecution. My brothers and sisters in Christ living out their faith on the front-lines in Egypt. This is when it counts for them—when faith works itself out in their flesh … literally. The surrenders being made there cannot be measured by statistics. Not really. Instead, this kind of surrender can only be measured by the heart.

True worship. Authentic praise. Unparalleled obedience. Unwavering trust. Faith on the front-lines of the battlefield named Persecution.

This is the life of a Christian in Egypt today. Great strain coupled with great faith.

Is this the life of a Christian in rural North Carolina today? Is there anything great about the strain and faith in my life? Is there anything great about yours?

Each and every day we wake up to the battlefield named Life. Accordingly, we have some choices to make.

How will we worship?

How will we praise?

How will we obey?

How will we trust?

If our faith was placed on the front-lines of the battlefield named Persecution, how would we stand?

I’m thinking there’s a great deal more to this suffering than my mind can comprehend, a lot of refining attached to hard choices made on the front-lines and in the face of certain, painful consequences.

Perhaps, this is when faith shines brightest. My brothers and sisters in Egypt may not be able to see the light from where they’re standing today, but I see their flame from where I’m crouching in rural North Carolina. Their candles burn brightly; their faith shines surely. Certainly, it is enough to strengthen weak hands, fortify feeble knees, and straighten the paths that our faith is living upon this day (Heb. 12:10-13).

Songs of faith. Words of faith. Antiquity made new again in my heart this morning. Here on the battlefield named Life. There on the battlefield named Persecution. Faith lived in between and among us.

From rural North Carolina across the sea to Egypt and everywhere along the way, light the candle of faith, friends. Keep it burning. We need one another. As always …

Peace for the journey,

an opportune time . . .

A couple of nights ago, I called my older boys and offered them this caution:

“Be on guard, sons. Apparently our family is now Satan’s new, favorite chew-toy.”

The next morning, my mother called with a similar warning:

“Elaine, I’ve been standing here in front of the mirror, curling my hair and thinking about all that’s been going on in our family over the past couple of weeks. We’re fighting something we cannot see, a battle of spiritual proportion.”

It seems as if my family is standing up against a formidable foe in this season, feeling the constraints of our faith in overload. Accordingly, I go to God’s Word this morning and allow it to speak truth to my soul. In thinking about Christ’s struggle against the enemy, I am strengthened in my own efforts at resistance.

“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” –Luke 4:15

Two things strike me about this verse:

  • An opportune time known as desert testing.
  • An opportune time yet to come.

There’s a plurality to the devil’s scheming. Funny how often we’re surprised by this reality. It’s not as if one opportune time is more difficult than the other. Opportune times are straining times, all of them stretching the comfortable boundaries of faith and requiring a step beyond what feels reasonable. I don’t imagine many of us go looking for opportune times (especially ones involving a forty day fast in the desert or a gut-wrenching surrender to nails and a hammer); instead, they seem to find us, pulling us in without notice. Almost accidentally.


Opportune times. The Greek word kairos, meaning “season, opportune time. It is not merely as a succession of moments, which is “chronos,” but a period of opportunity (though not necessity). It is a critical or decisive point in time; a moment of great importance and significance; a point when something is ready or favorable, a propitious moment.” (NIV Key Word Study Bible, 1635-1636).

Read that again slowly and consider Christ’s conflict; consider your own. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Opportune times are not accidental occasions. Instead, they are orchestrated, carefully selected, and purposely planned. Whether schemed by the devil for our destruction or willingly allowed by God for our perfection, opportune times are those hinge moments in our life’s history that swing faith in one of two directions: a right one or a wrong one. Really, there’s no middle ground in opportune seasons. Either we live them right—live them forward and in faith—or we live the lesser road. A road of regression, wrongful conclusions, and regrettable distrust.

I don’t want to live on the side of distrust. I want to live rightly on the side of faith, fully believing that no weapon forged against me will prevail. That, in fact, victory is my heritage as a servant of the Lord (see Isaiah 45:17). Accordingly, I must pick up the sword of the Spirit and strap on my spiritual armor, because the opportunistic arrows of the enemy will not be quenched by feeble, weak-minded, and weak-willed faith. No, to stop his forward progression, I must stand in the strength of who I am in Jesus Christ.

I am God’s child. I am his chosen bride. I am the apple of his eye.

So are you.

Be on guard, friends. If you’re not in the middle of an opportune season right now, I imagine one is waiting for you down the road. Don’t fear its advent; rather, recognize it as it arrives and for what it has the potential to be—a hinge moment in your faith’s history that will strengthen your understanding of God and will catapult your witness forward for the exponential increase of the kingdom.

Satan may have come to me and my family in what he thought to be his opportune time. However, he seems to have momentarily ignored that my times (opportune and otherwise) are in God’s hands. They all belong to him, and his purposes for my life override any schemes to the contrary. God holds the chain to the short leash attached around Satan’s roaming, and today my Father has willingly and forcefully yanked it a few times so that the devil remembers who’s in charge.

I am grateful for God’s strength in this season and for your prayers that have, undoubtedly, tightened the noose around the devil’s neck. What privilege there is in standing alongside you, my mighty warrior friends! As always . . .Peace for the journey,

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