Category Archives: the least of these


I asked him to repeat his name to me, not because I didn’t hear him but, rather, because I didn’t think I heard him correctly.

Doris. Or Dorrace.

That’s what he said. I “googled” it upon returning home; apparently Doris was a popular name for boys in the 1930’s. Seems in keeping with the age I determined him to be in our moments of exchange. He was hunkered down over his cart while pushing it through the paint aisle at Lowes when he stopped just short of me.

“Ma’am, can I ask you a question?… What color would you paint a bathroom?”

I knew there was more to his question than just paint, but it served as our starting point. Every good conversation starts somewhere (usually with a question), and ours started with paint. He showed me his card of samples; I showed him mine. His included shades of brown. Mine included shades of green. We covered the generic questions in keeping with paint conversation, and then the dialogue moved to a deeper level.

“Haven’t painted the house in years, but I’ve been taking on more projects these days. It’s just me now, so it doesn’t much matter the color I choose. But she’s still with me, you know. I don’t think she’d mind all the changes. I talk to her about it every day.”

“Your wife?”

“Yep. Almost sixty years of living together. She died a year ago, but she’s still with me. She’s on the mantle in the den.”

Another starting point for a more pointed conversation… one that lasted a good thirty minutes. We covered a lot of ground in that time. Mostly I just listened to his lonely heart. Words about extended family members who’d been here for a recent visit. A collection of Hummels his wife had collected over the years. Life in Fayetteville, the traffic, and then a final probing question from my heart to his.

“What about friends, Doris? You’ve lived here so long; you must have some good friends to spend your days with.”

“Oh, I don’t have many friends. I live a pretty lonely life, but I’ve got her with me everyday. Whenever I feel alone, I just talk to her.”

And my heart broke into a thousand pieces as I listened. I reached into my purse, grabbed a piece of paper and wrote my name, along with my husband’s name and phone number, onto it and handed it to Doris.

“You’ve got two friends now, Doris, and when you get that bathroom painted, we’d really love to stop by for a visit and take a look. Everyone needs a few good friends, and I’d like to be yours.”

He said that he’d call; I hope that he does, but I don’t imagine he will. Something tells me he’s not quite ready to let a stranger through the front door. That’s OK with me; I much prefer the access of a back door friend. Back door friends talk about everything… soul things, whether over a cup of coffee at Starbucks or in the paint aisle at Lowes. Perhaps thirty minutes was all that was meant for our paths… his crossing mine and mine crossing his.

Sacred intersections… that’s what I call them. Two roads that collide to further God’s kingdom work. A moment that stands at a crossroads where two hearts connect intentionally, purposefully, non-coincidentally, perfectly timed and orchestrated by God and feeling as natural as the air we breathe. I’ve had a few of them in recent days. Not as many as I would like, but just enough to remind me of what I’m supposed to be doing with my days…


In others.

Not just in things, or endeavors, or plans, or goals, but more importantly, investing my time and energies into people. I cannot always pick when that happens, don’t always have the luxury of planning my sacred intersections. I much prefer it that way. Plans can sometimes be full of pretense and projected outcomes. I’d rather let the intersections arrive as they will and along the way. God knows when they’re coming; he sees them from afar and is more than capable of making sure that my heart is prepared for their arrival.

So tonight I think about Doris. I think about the joy I would have missed if his cart had not connected with mine. I think about my big God who sat back and watched the exchange… entered into the exchange, even though his voice deferred to mine in that moment. And I am thankful for the privilege of being his conduit of kingdom dispensation.

He’s trusted me with so much… the mystery and the secrets of the kingdom. He has committed to me the ministry of reconciliation… of being his mouthpiece as though he were making his appeal through me (2 Cor. 5:18-20). I cannot conceive of his choice, his trust and his willingness to allow me any measure of influence upon this earth. Instead, I can only receive it as yet another grace from his heart.

I don’t always get it right, friends, don’t always speak God’s witness as I should. Sometimes I keep my silence; sometimes I say too much, but every now again, a Doris-moment comes along, and I know that it was pretty close to perfect.

His path crossing mine; mine crossing his.

An investment of the richest kind.

I may never stand before a crowd of thousands or see my name in lights on this side of eternity, but you can be certain I’ll wake up every day to have that kind of sacred intersection. Some days it’s all I can do, all that I have to give, all that keeps me going when little else in my life is making sense, and trust me when I tell you that life doesn’t “feel” sensible right now. Even so, I pray the Lord to keep me to all that I can do and all that I have to give and to let my tomorrow be filled with more intersections and investments of the kingdom kind.

The Doris kind.

I pray the same for all of you this week. As always…

Peace for the journey,


PS: Thank you for all of the kind comments on “the Goody Bag” and for visiting Judith’s new blog. I made sure to include your name in the drawing, whether you posted a comment here and/or there. Miss Amelia just drew the winner prior to going to bed. Jennifer @ The Spirit of Truth is the winner. Send me your address, Jennifer, via e-mail, and I’ll have your book to you this week. Shalom.

importunate persuasion

importunate persuasion

Jesus replied, “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.… Then the master told the servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-18, 23-24).

On the heels of my previous post, many caring friends have asked me regarding “how things went” this past Wednesday evening. For the record, “things” went fine … better than I had anticipated. The new clergy family will be a lovely addition to this church. Long before my family ever set foot in this community, God considered the length of our tenure here and planned accordingly. He’s got it covered and will continue in his faithfulness to minister to the needs, dreams, and desires of this congregation… of this, I am certain. But this post really isn’t about “how things went” Wednesday evening. Rather, it is about “how things went” in the moments prior to Wednesday evening.

Before we get there, let me set the stage by relaying to you a conversation I had with my daughter a few weeks ago. It went something like this…

“Mommy, when you last saw Gayle, did you tell her about Jesus?”

“Yes, honey, I told her.”

“Did she understand? Does she know Jesus?”

“To the best of her ability, I think that she does, Amelia.”

“Then, mommy, you have a crown in heaven.”

“Oh precious one, there’s nothing I’d like more than to cast that crown at the feet of Jesus one day.”

“Mommy, promise me that the next time you see Gayle, if I’m with you, promise me you’ll stop so that I can meet her.”

“I promise. I think she’d like to meet you.”


I had the opportunity to make good on that promise this past Wednesday evening. We were traveling home from a quick dinner out when, from the corner of my eye, I spied her familiar “gait.” She was headed into the tobacco store; we were headed in the opposite direction. I whispered to my husband regarding her presence and then asked him to turn the van around. Truth be known, we didn’t have much time. Perhaps I would see Gayle on another day when the schedule wasn’t so pressing and when I wouldn’t be so stressed regarding the “big event” of my evening. Truth be known, God didn’t much care for my excuses. A parsonage “showing” isn’t necessarily in keeping with kingdom living. Thus, we stopped in front of the store and waited for Gayle to emerge.

When she did, she immediately recognized me. We hugged, and I introduced her to my family. She was quick to show us the contents of her plastic bag—her blue, Gideon bible. She’s been carrying that one around since the first time I met her on a bench last summer. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Gayle asked us for a ride. My husband nodded his approval, and together, the five of us made our way to a “questionable” section of town. Wary of our surroundings, I prayed a silent prayer for the security of my family. Gayle directed us to a low-income duplex. My impulse was to get her out of the car as quickly as possible and to move on. Instead, I pulled the van over and asked Gayle if we could pray for her. She willingly surrendered the moment to my request, and the four of us laid our hands on Gayle, thanked the Lord for her presence in this world, and petitioned him for his watchful care over her in the days to come.

Gayle told us good-bye and made mention of the next time we would meet… that perhaps we might consider coming to be the new pastors at her church.

The car was silent for much of the drive home. There was something prophetic about the words she spoke—words so closely tied to the truth of what we’re currently living that I was rendered nearly breathless, certainly speechless. And then, as if on cue, God broke through that silence with a gentle rain that began to fall upon our windows. It was the kind of rain that is sometimes accompanied by sunshine—the kind of coupling that normally produces a rainbow. I asked the kids to be looking for it… that this was just the kind of moment when we could expect its reminder. Almost immediately, Jadon cried out, “There is it, mom. In the rear window. God’s rainbow.” Again, we pulled the van over so I could get a better look. Rainbows are fleeting. Better to take them in as they take the stage.

Tears pooled in my eyes, and my husband took my hand. No words were spoken between us, only knowing glances of the truth that was being revealed in our spirits—

We were not forgotten. Gayle was not forgotten. The “big event” of my day—the parsonage “showing”? Well, temporarily forgotten—less important as it pertained to the living out of the kingdom on the pavement of everyday, real life. The kingdom never lives more effectively and profoundly than when it walks the streets with the King in mind, with his invitation to the banquet in hand, and with our “making them come in so that his house will be full.”

Making. A word in the Greek language that means “importunate persuasion”—a troublesomely urgent persuasion that is persistent in its request (Zodhiates, “The Complete Word Study Dictionary NT,” AMG Pub., 1992, 145). Why persistent? Why urgent? Why the need to compel the invited to RSVP? Because the kingdom of God is near, closer now than it has ever been, and the Master isn’t selective regarding his guest list. The way that we flesh out our kingdom callings sometimes indicates that we think that God is selective and conditional regarding his eternal invitation. But God doesn’t put conditions on who does or doesn’t receive an invitation. He’s interested in a full table, a full house, a full forever. What he’s not interested in is our excuses regarding our refusal.

Excuses serve as the foundation for our being excused by the Master from the heavenly banqueting table. Excuses wear thin when eternity hangs in the balance. And in case you’ve grown complacent regarding eternity, both as it pertains to where you’ll be spending it and where your neighbors will be spending it, it’s time to wake up. Time to take a look inward and to realize that Jesus Christ paid a high price for your chair at the table. We don’t get to choose who sits beside us, friends. We do, however, get to choose what we will do with the invitation that God has placed into our hearts and hands and has asked us, through importunate persuasion, to deliver to others. Thus, I ask you today, even as I asked Gayle this past week, even as I have asked you countless times before in this place that you’ve come to know as my cyber address,

Do you know that you know that you know my God and his truth? Have you surrendered your heart to his, and have you accepted his calling upon your life to go and to make disciples of all his people? Is grace your portion? If so, is grace your offering to others? When did you last hand out an invitation to the banqueting table? When did you last use sacred, importunate persuasion on behalf of the kingdom?

There are some occasions that will come to us this week that will matter for all of eternity—moments that teeter on the edge between heaven and hell where you and I will be given the opportunity to push “things” forward in favor of God’s forever. Some of us will make excuses; a rare few of us will live it out as God intends for us to live it out. When those moments come, I pray for the eyes to see, the mind to conceive, and the heart to be amongst the latter group.

No excuses. Just more of Jesus for me and for the Gayles of the world who’ve yet to realize that a chair has been set in their honor at the King’s banqueting table. It’s a good day to live with the King. It’s a good life to be trusted with such a gracious grace. May you know the richness of God’s bounty this week, and may you have courage and faith enough to dispense it liberally to every single soul who crosses your path therein. As always…

peace for the journey,

PS: To read more about my journey with Gayle click on the links within the post or here:
Post One: A Worthy Pause… God’s Worthy Cause

Post Two: A Tender Ache

Copyright © April 2010 – Elaine Olsen
a tender ache

a tender ache

My heart is completely sad—full of a tender ache that exceeds understanding.

But let me rewind to a week ago, where it all began, even though I wasn’t privy to the beginning; only to the heart-stirrings of a young daughter who didn’t forget to remember her.


The woman from my “by the grace of God next time” post. Perhaps you remember her as well. I first encountered her five months ago—the memory of that day as fresh now as it was then. Her brokenness intersected with my compassion, and we shared a sandwich and some fellowship outside a Bed, Bath, and Beyond store on a hot July afternoon.

I’ve not forgotten her; just buried her a bit beneath the urgency of the moments that bombard my daily existence. Daughter hasn’t forgotten her either; from time to time she asks about her. Last week she asked about her again.

“Mommy, I wonder if your friend Gayle will get any presents this Christmas? I wonder if she has a place to sleep tonight? Do you think she’s hungry? Could she come live with us?”

“I don’t have the answers, baby, but we could pray for her… pray that God takes good care of her this Christmas and that maybe he would allow us to run into her again.”

We did pray and then said our good-nights. I thought a lot about Gayle over the next twenty-four hours, and then buried her again beneath my busyness. That was until yesterday morning when I nearly ran her over with my van.

I never take my children to school; Billy assumes that role, but the kitchen counter guys were coming, and I don’t do “guys” in my house all by myself. Thus, I offered him a trade–my taxi services for his overseeing of home improvement. After dropping my kids off, I decided to make a quick run to the McDonald’s drive-thru for a biscuit. The four-lane road was packed with the usual morning traffic, moving slow enough to force my irritation. It was then that I saw her sauntering between those four lanes, making her way, it seemed, to McDonald’s as well.

After making a hasty swing into a parking space and dashing indoors, I found Gayle sitting alone at a corner booth. I re-introduced myself and asked her if I could buy her breakfast. She heartily agreed, and then she amply consumed. Knowing that God was calling me to further interaction, I offered Gayle a ride to the place where she was staying; she said she was living at a local motel not far from our location.

We made a quick detour to a local store for some clothing and toiletries before heading “home” to Gayle’s temporary shelter. Upon arrival, I quickly surmised that Gayle had nothing to call her own at this motel—only a recent stay that left the owner questioning whether or not she should be allowed to stay there again. He finally agreed and gave me a reduced rate for two nights with the understanding that Gayle was not to smoke in the room.

I signed my name to the receipt and then drove her to the designated location at the back of the motel—an isolated locale away from the other “guests.” We unpacked her purchases, had a prayer together, and then hugged our good-byes. As I drove away, Gayle was heading back through an alley way to the front of the motel to secure some ice for the Pepsi liter I had purchased.

My heart was fragile in those moments; so much so, that I didn’t notice the commotion going on around me at the motel. I only noticed the empty rooms on the backside of the motel, an open door to one of those rooms, and the gaunt figure of my new friend in search of some ice. I spent the rest of my Monday in contemplative hurt for the entire situation. I couldn’t quite put parameters around my feelings, wasn’t quite sure as to the “underpinning” of my strong emotions, but I felt them… all day.

And then this morning, after dropping our kids off at school, my husband called to tell me about a report he’d just heard on the radio. A double homicide at the very same motel my friend called “home.”

Yesterday, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10:00 AM (the exact time I was unpacking Gayle and leaving the premises), a couple was found shot in their room—employees of the motel, family to the manager that I had spoken with earlier. A couple in their 60’s; apparently, they lived there, worked there, died there—most likely a robbery to blame for their deaths.

I’ve spoken with the police twice today about the details of my excursion to the motel. Thankfully, Gayle is safe. The police told me that she was still carrying her ice bucket around when they spoke with her last evening. Thankfully, I am safe as well. Funny thing, in all my interactions yesterday morning, never once was I scared, felt threatened by my environment, or worried at all about the details of my interactions with Gayle. It wasn’t until I left her that my heart began to experience an extreme heaviness—the weight of our encounter.

Today I better understand the reason for that weightiness.


Pure and prevalent and within reach of where my feet walked yesterday morning. Two dead, less than ten doors down from me… close to me, yet kept from me.

And my heart is completely sad because of it all.

For Gayle. For the couple who were needlessly slain. For the manager, who moments just beyond our encounter, would learn of his relatives untimely demise. For everyone tonight who sleeps without a roof; for those who sleep with one knowing that come check-out time tomorrow, they’ll be back at it again—panhandling for another night’s rest, another day’s food.

Tonight as I sat around my dinner table with my family, the tears poured down my cheeks. The food wasn’t the richest of fare; we live on a budget, and with Christmas just around the corner, there isn’t always the extra we’d like. But we’re satisfied, and we’re safe, and Lord willing, we won’t have to worry about where we’re going to lay our heads for the next season. According to the world’s standards, we are richer than most, and yet my heart is completely saddened by it all. There is a gnawing discontentment that roots deeply within, and I’m wondering what to do with it.

I am exceedingly grateful for all that I’ve been given, but I’m a bit sickened by the disparity that exists between my good and Gayle’s. It doesn’t sit well with me, and while I’d never in a million years want to be her, I imagine she’s thought at least a million times that she’d like to me be… be you.

Be someone who matters to someone else; be loved and cherished by a good man, adored and dutifully honored by her four children. She’s not there yet; I don’t envision that she ever will be. But I am, and my heart is completely saddened because of it.

For her. For my world. For those who’ve never known the truth of the kingdom that is intended for their gain, their ownership, their joyous impartation.

I don’t know if justice will ever roll down for Gayle on this side of eternity. I wish that it would… that in some large way she’d find deliverance at the hands of her Father. But my feeling tonight is that she will have to wait. And that wait is the saddest lingering I can imagine. To not know freedom here but to have to wait for it until her arrival “there,” is a long, arduous, and depleting journey to get home. I hope she makes it.

I am haunted by my experience, friends; this one this time around will not bury soon. I suppose God intends for it to simmer until next time, and I can honestly say this evening, I’m not sure my heart can handle a next time. Not sure I want a next time.

I prayed for a next time back in July. God gave it to me yesterday. And now, I don’t have clue what to do with it—with Gayle and the holy rest of them who walk a similar path.

An odd Christmas ache, friends, that has found its way to my heart this year. It’s found its way to our Savior’s as well; and somewhere between the two—the ache and the heart—Christmas tells its story all over again. It shouts its everlasting witness.

Its glory; its gain; its good; its grace.

And therein, my tender ache finds the smallest inkling of some peace…

for the journey.

Thanks for listening; thanks for praying as you will. May God show himself faithful to the cries of the saints this night. I love you each one.

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Copyright © December 2009 – Elaine Olsen

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a worthy pause … God’s worthy cause

“Pray that God restores a place in me…”

That was her request. It haunts me now, some seven hours down the road. She spoke it from a place of absolute brokenness and ample isolation. She also asked me to pray that the devil would stop doing bad things to her … that God would be stronger than the devil and make him sorry for all the evil things he’s been doing in the world.We didn’t talk theology and where she had it “wrong” as it pertained to the devil’s power in relation to God’s power. We simply held hands and ate some lunch and prayed for a better day, all the while sitting on the curb in front of the local Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

I found her there, slumped on a park bench, completely unaware of her surroundings. I’d just finished up my Tuesday lunch with the “ancients”. While making my way to the van, I spied her out of the corner of my eye. People were pointing, commenting, and stepping quickly past her obvious brokenness.

It’s not a sight we see very often in these parts. Our lives are fairly sanitized and void of the “in your face” kind of moments that call for involvement. Yes, we take our mission trips overseas, and we stock the local food pantry, but when it comes to “hands on” and “in the moment”, well, rarely are we presented with the occasion. Thus, when such profound “need” comes knocking, it always warrants my notice; not always my intervention, but certainly my notice.

I’ve been noticing “need” all of my life. I suppose it began as a young child while watching my father’s intervention on behalf of the needy within our community. He has a special place in his heart for them, an even more special knack for intervention. If hugeness of heart is learned, then any measure I possess began at home. I learned from the best. My daddy is a foot-washer, both with the tangibles and the intangibles.

Today, my heart was called upon to remember. And so, rather than leaving the parking lot with regret, I circled back around, rolled down my window and simply shouted,

“Ma’am, are you hungry?”

By this point, she was stumbling down the sidewalk, after having been rudely interrupted from her slumber by a honking horn (apparently someone less comfortable with her “park bench” status). Her bleary eyes and mumbling response assured me of her appetite. I told her I would be back and that she should wait for me.

After what seemed to be an extensive wait at the local Chick-Fil-A, I returned to find my new friend sitting on the curb where I’d left her, barefoot and with the few items she carried strewn around her. She quickly offered me her thanks for the food, confident of my needing to make a quick escape. But I didn’t need to … escape. She was where I needed to be.

I sat down on the curb beside her and shared a half-hour of my day with a woman whose fifty-seven years on this earth have left her with some scars and certain hopelessness. She talked about her three children, especially about the one she aborted long ago and how he/she would have been 38 years old this year. When she discovered that my husband was a pastor, she asked if we could come and be the pastors at a church unfamiliar to me. She assured me they needed a good pastor. I assured her I was married to one and that I would like her to meet him someday.

We talked about other things; some strange “others” and some that made more sense. And then, my new friend, Gail, was ready to leave. I asked her if I could pray for her, and without hesitation, she grabbed for my hands and uttered a small request for some restoration within her own heart. Her words; not mine.

For all of the things she could have asked for, for all of the ways her conversation seemed to wander and weave in confusion, when it came to prayer, she asked from a place of understanding. She knew she was in need of God’s restorative power in her life. And so for a few moments, I prayed. Others milled past our make-shift altar with quiet conversation and knowing glances.

And then, as quickly as our sacred intersection had arrived, it passed. I hugged Gail, returned to my van, and she returned to her wandering. Even now, I can’t type these words without some painful tears of remembrance and a few questions alongside.

Does compassion have a limit? If so, what’s mine? Where does it end? Is thirty minutes enough? Should I have done more, been more, given more, loved more? Where do my needs end so that hers can have ample time and room enough to know a deeper sustenance beyond a chicken sandwich and a few moments of conversation? Should I have said more about Jesus, been more declarative about the truth I hold in my heart?

I couldn’t look at her feet, Heidi, and not think about washing them … literally. Not just her feet, but her entire body that signaled it had been a long time since her last shower. But I didn’t offer her a basin. Instead, I came home and immediately washed my own hands and thought about taking a shower to further separate me from the unpleasant smell.

I’m conflicted about it all, and quite honestly, I don’t know what to do with these feelings that wrap themselves around such “open-ended” moments of ministry. Chicken sandwiches aren’t cutting it for me; most assuredly, they’re not cutting it for her. Not really. Seems a pitiful offering when the need is so great.

Still and yet, I suppose it’s something. A beginning, perhaps. The seeding of a further wrestling that seems to be growing in me now more than ever before.

There’s got to be more to my mission on this planet than my words and my feeble attempts at pacifying a temporary ache. I know I can’t be all things to all people; who needs that kind of guilt? But, maybe, I can offer a good thing to the few people who God so graciously scripts into my every day and my along the way. Wasn’t that the lifeblood of his ministry here on earth?

The everyday and along the way? The one over the many? Jesus never rushed his earthly encounters with his created. Instead, he offered people his time and his undivided attention. He even offered a basin and a towel and the humbled posture to cleanse the needs of a very dirty people in order to make them ready for very difficult walk to the cross.

He’s still doing it, and he’s using the likes of you and me as his conduits of reconciliation. He’s entrusted us with a great deal; seems a bit risky to me, for I am well-aware of all the times I could’ve, should’ve offered grace at a deeper level. I’m not there yet, but I’m growing closer in my need to do so. Christ’s love compels me along these lines.

I want to walk like Jesus and touch like Jesus and give the “Gail’s” of this world the peace and restoration that their hearts are hungering for so that, indeed, the devil will get his due and my God will get his glory. I don’t always believe God for the restoration of lives that seem so lost … so far gone and so deeply broken. Tonight I confess my unbelief and ask God for Gail’s complete restoration, for the tiny spark that was lit this afternoon to flame into a full-blown fire of holy cleansing within her heart.

I don’t know what that might look like for her in days to come, but I believe God knows the best way to get there. I only wish I might have done more.

Next time.

By the grace of God, next time, thus I pray…

Grow my heart to a Jesus-sized heart, Father. One that doesn’t put boundaries on love; one that is willing to bend and to wash and to pray until restoration finds its home within the brokenhearted. Forgive me for my complacency and move my will to action on behalf of the kingdom. Guard my friend, Gail, this night with your careful watch and tender care. For all of the demons that assail her flesh and invade her mind, speak your peace and freedom over them all. Let this be the day of her new birth and understanding in you, Lord, and remind her of your love and mine with every step she takes. Thank you for intersecting my life with hers, and should our paths never cross again on this side of eternity, I pray for her salvation that will land her in my path when I get home to you. Break my heart for your people, again and again and again until I no longer have an agenda of my own but only one that lives and breathes for you. Amen.

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