Monthly Archives: May 2010

on "burning words"…

on "burning words"…

I burned some words yesterday.

My words.

Three journals worth of words dating back sixteen years to a season in my life that walked wildly and in selfish pursuit of sin. I didn’t call sin, sin back then… didn’t name my thoughts and, consequently, my resulting actions as sin. Instead I named them as “reasonable reactions”—the natural, resulting overflow from a life that was seemingly void of the love that I longed to hold as my own. Rather than going to God with my sin in that season, I went to my “pen” and spent a great deal of my evening hours trying to justify the choices that I was making.

I don’t know who I was writing to back then… journals are kind of open ended in that respect. It’s probably a really good thing that I didn’t have a blog sixteen years ago. Some words… some thoughts of our hearts are better kept as private, between us and God. Not everyone needs to know the “everything” that’s wrestling itself out upon the stages of our hearts and minds, especially those who stand in the direct line of consequence—our families and our friends.

Writing words can be a healthy way of working out our thoughts, feelings, and questions. But when those words serve as our personal justification for sin, well, where’s the merit in that? What can be gained from going public with that kind of nonsense? I suppose we’ll always be able to find someone who is willing to stand in our corners and champion our “reasonable” choices for sin, therefore adding some credibility to our decisions to reveal the inner chambers of our thought life. But the pay off is temporary. Any pats on the back that we receive for our sins are a stumbling block—both for us and for the one who is doing the patting.

When we replace God’s truth with the enemy’s lies, we stunt our spiritual growth. In some cases, we altogether shut it down. That is exactly what I was doing sixteen years ago—making a deliberate choice to disengage from the pursuit of holiness. I didn’t clearly see the egregious nature of my decision back then, but I see it now, and I am sickened by it. I barely recognize the woman behind those words. I recognize the handwriting, but I do not champion the heart behind those words. Nothing written in that season deserves a pat on the back. Nothing. My heart was rotting from the inside out, filled with the sin-sick disease named “self.” But for the grace of God, self nearly killed me.


I don’t know why I’ve held onto these “words” for so long. To be honest with you, I haven’t seen or thought about them in the six years since moving here. I only found the journals yesterday while cleaning out a bottom drawer of my nightstand. I recognized them immediately and bravely allowed myself to go there… one more time. To open up the pages and to relive a bit of that season and the pitiful nonsense that infiltrated my thought processes which, eventually, sent me down a treacherous path of sin. The results were devastating. Sin should never be underestimated. The toll it takes on a soul and on the souls surrounding its witness is far worse than originally billed. I know. I’ve lived that payment; so has my family.

It would take a long season before I willingly looked back over my shoulder to see God’s grace chasing after me… an even longer season before I allowed it to catch up with me, but it did. He did, and my life no longer carries the sin of my words from sixteen years ago… maybe a memory or two along these lines, but I am no longer held in the grip of those memories. Thus, my willing walk with my husband yesterday afternoon to a make-shift fire pit in our backyard.

I’m not a fan of burning words, friends. Our personal words are a precious gift to us from God. They mirror the inward pulse of our hearts. But the words I burned yesterday no longer reflect the pulse of my heart; they only seek to diminish it. They aren’t in keeping with my current pursuit of holiness. The only worthiness that can be found in their existence now is in what remains after their holy burning upon the altar of God’s intention.

Ashes. This is what remains.

Which brings to my remembrance an important word I received from Dr. Steve Seamands regarding my ashes during an Ash Wednesday service that closely followed the penning of those journals some sixteen years ago. You can find the story in its fullness on pages 18-20 in “peace for the journey: in the pleasure of his company”:

“God loves ashes [elaine], because ashes can be blown anywhere by the wind of his Spirit.”

Yesterday, I burned some of my words; today, all that remains of those words is a soft pile of gray which is more than willing to be picked up by the wind of God’s Spirit and to be blown in accordance with his will. Burning our words is sometimes the right thing to do, friends, especially when those words are keeping us separated from God and from his perfect plan for our lives.

Perhaps today, you have some lingering “words” from your past—hidden away thoughts that are buried deeply within the corners of your heart. You’ve almost forgotten them, but every now and again a “move” requires your attention to their presence in your life. Perhaps today, you’re writing some of those words… maybe living them all the more. You’re making a willful choice for sin, justifying your cause and pleading your case before any available ears that are willing to listen. You’ve long since given up on reasonable understanding and have begun to accept the lies that the enemy is sugar coating in your defense. He seems to be on your side, and if you haven’t already taken a bite from the apple, your lips are close to breaking its skin.

I understand where you’re at, because I’ve been there. I made my home there for a long season. The ash heap in my backyard is living proof of that season. Thankfully, I no longer have to carry those “words” with me any more. Long ago I surrendered the sin behind those words to God; yesterday, I surrendered the temporary remnants. Tomorrow? Well, maybe God’s wind will come along, pick them up, and carry the witness of their final defeat into the lives of those who need a similar victory… who need to know that they were meant for more than apples. That they, in fact, we meant for the kingdom of God. That maybe it’s not someone else who needs to know, but that maybe it’s you who needs to know.

The day is fast approaching when our surrendering our sins to the flames of God’s purifying grace will be no more. Many people are counting on that more… believing that more days will follow this one and that tomorrow would be a good day to make good on today’s sin. Make no mistake, friends. We’re living on borrowed time—God’s time. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to clean out the drawers of our hearts and minds and to dump the baggage into God’s fire pit. There are no words you can offer to justify the sin of your heart. None. And while there is great grace to be found on the other side of willful sin, there is great grace to be found on the front side of sin’s full invasion upon the soil of your heart.

Take hold of that grace today. Surrender your thoughts, your words, and any precursors to eventual sin to God and allow him to replace the enemy’s apple with a rich portion of his divine, sustaining strength and power that is more than capable of moving you past the apple and onto the heavenly feast that’s been prepared in your honor… in my honor as well. I’ll meet you at the table, friends. And when you get there, don’t be surprised if you smell the lingering scent of smoke on my skin and see a few fragments of gray on my fingers. God loves ashes, and this day (well beyond the days of my sixteen years ago), I’m burning brightly for the King and his kingdom. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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Copyright © May 2010 – Elaine Olsen

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on holding the suitcase…

on holding the suitcase…

“You hold the flowers, Elaine, I’ll handle the suitcase.”

This is what God wants me to know this day, nearly a year after he impressed it into my soul. It was the statement that led to this…

Most everything about the front cover of my book was intentionally planned.

The ripe wheat.
The evening sky.
The path with a bend in the road.
Trees in the distance, framing the scene.
Enough blue heaven to hold the title.
The kids… my kids.
The similar nature of their clothing.
The shadows they cast.
The holding of hands.
The look between them.
The beat-up suitcase.
My son carrying that suitcase.
The Gerber daisies.
My daughter carrying those daisies.

What I didn’t plan on back then was the outcome… the completed look… the finished product… the culminating portrait that paints a message all its own. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this cover releases the witness of at least a million or so; not because I had anything to do with it, but rather because God did. Long before the fifty-two reflections made their way into the interior, God had been working on the exterior. Only God can paint the eternal witness of a single moment. From his vantage point, he sees the bigger picture—the end result—and without hesitation, he picks up the paintbrush and works his truth into the mix.

I have no idea what God intends to do with this cover or with the written contents that reside within. I only know that the impression he put into my soul a year ago, is one that remains this day. It will remain for my children and their children, on down the line for generations to come. A worthy word for them and for all of us who are treading this earthly sod with a healthy respect for the temporal nature of the soil beneath our feet and for the season that lies ahead… the one just beyond the bend in our “down the road.”

“You hold the flowers, child, I’ll handle the suitcase.”

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-20).

I’ll handle the suitcase; you take charge of the flowers.

It’s all that God has assigned to us this day… the picking and the holding of his generous grace.

He can handle the wholly… holy… rest of it.

You’ve got a bigger picture, friends, and our Father can be trusted with the paintbrush. Believe him for it today, and thanks, Sheri, for the prompt. I needed it. As always…

peace for the journey,

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settting the stage for the divine "yes"

“I appeal to you for my son, Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.” (Philemon 10-12).

I’m not going to lie to you… last week was a rough week. Some weeks are like that. I’ve come to expect them; certainly not enjoy them, ask for them, lay awake in hopeful anticipation of them, just expect them. It is the way of pilgrimage.

Some days walk with the rich reminder of everything that’s good and right and pure in this life. Some days walk with the reminder of the treacherous terrain that anchors beneath our feet, reminding us again of the chasm that exists between our flesh and our faith—our “now” and our “next.” My prayer is to never get stuck there, to stay mired in the frustration and emotion of it all, but instead, to believe beyond the earth’s current deceitfulness and to take hold of God’s promise of perspective—to see what he sees and to live the kingdom possibilities therein.

With God, there’s always a better day coming. Always. And today was that day for me.

This morning I did what I’ve been doing for the past several years. I walked into the Friendship Sunday School class and settled into my spot. It won’t be long before that spot belongs to someone else. These are precious days for my family and me. We’re down to the short rows of our time here, and while it might be easier to begin the slow fade from the presence of those I’ve come to dearly love (thus making the “cut” a bit easier when June 22nd arrives) it’s harder to stay away from them. They are my family, and these “ancients” who have so graciously invested their hearts and love into me over the past six years have left a kingdom imprint across my soul. Thus, I cling to them rather than retreat from their witness.

At the last moment, our regular teacher for the morning called in sick (is that allowed in church?), and as a “fill-in” for such occasions I made a quick review of the morning lesson via our quarterly. I grabbed my Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible before heading out the door, fully expecting the Lord to show up despite my lack of preparation. Today’s text?

Philemon. Twenty-five verses of holy writ nestled in between Paul’s letters to Timothy and the book of Hebrews. A letter in the New Testament that is easily missed if one isn’t intent on finding it. A single page of witness written by the gracious hand of Paul—a letter to one of Paul’s earlier converts named Philemon on behalf of Onesimus (Philemon’s runaway slave who had recently been converted via Paul’s ministry during his confinement in a Roman prison cell).

There are so many angles to this story, so many lessons to be learned about forgiveness and love and the treatment of fellow human beings, especially those who are brothers and sisters in the faith. We’re not given many of the details in these twenty-five verses. We can’t even be certain regarding how Paul’s appeal worked itself out in the end, both for Philemon and for Onesimus. We can be certain that, in fact, there was a grand conclusion to the story, but we’ll have to wait for heaven to live the details. It’s a story I want to see replayed in living color, but until then, I’m left to my imagining. What moves me the most about this story is the profound witness of one man who was, not only chained to his prison cell, but who was more fervently chained to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul didn’t let his prison status confine his witness. He didn’t let his captivity define him. Instead, he took hold of those prison walls and shook their foundations with the revelatory truth of a wooden cross and an empty tomb and the gracious God who loved his people enough to make it all happen. It is told that prison officials learned to change Paul’s guards regularly because if they were with Paul for any length of time, they became believers. We have no way of verifying the authenticity of that story, but we certainly can authenticate the only God who is able to interject his grace and witness into the most dire of occasions, even penetrating through steel bars and cement blocks to make sure his grace isn’t missed. It happened for Onesimus, and therefore, these twenty-five verses of grace-filled endorsement from the hand of Paul.

Paul’s kindness toward Onesimus—his very heart—is what means the most to me about this story tonight. I’ll chew on the other lessons in the upcoming week, but today, Paul’s “backing up” of a sinner is what leads my heart toward stronger devotion and my thoughts toward a deeper pondering. What am I willing to do for those brothers and sisters in Christ who sit within arm’s reach of my personal influence?

Paul wrote a letter on behalf of Onesimus to his former slave-master, Philemon. In doing so, Paul set the stage for a positive outcome—not just for Onesimus but for the greater good, God’s kingdom of good. Paul used persuasive language, his tenacious passion for all things Jesus, and the unwavering truth of the Gospel, to plead his case for kingdom favor to be granted toward Onesimus. Paul set Philemon up for a divine “yes.” Paul made is easier for Philemon to do the right thing—God’s right thing. And while we don’t know the outcome of that set up, history does record that “…about fifty years later, a church leader named Ignatius wrote a letter to the church leader at Ephesus—Bishop Onesimus. Onesimus the former slave? Possibly.” [Stephen Miller, Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible (Urichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2004), 293.]

I like to imagine it. I like to think that the church back then “got it” better than we “get it” now. That they were willing to love beyond borders and social class and poverty status and ethnicity to “be the church” and to grow the kingdom in accordance with the lavish grace of the cross. That there was no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal. 5:8), but that all were considered worthy of the blood that was shed by God’s Son. That, in fact, when Onesimus delivered Paul’s letter to Philemon, the servants were called and the fattened calf was slaughtered and a party, unlike any seen before in Ephesus, was given in honor of the saint named Onesimus—the one who was once lost as a slave but who now was found as a brother.

That’s the way I hoped it happened back then. Even more so, I hope it is the way it happens right now. That I, like Paul, would be willing to…

  • be chained to the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
  • be fervently deliberate in the opening up of my heart and mouth regarding that Gospel;
  • be an advocate for those who are coming into the kingdom and who need a “set up” for a divine “yes” from someone else.

I want to stand in the corner of my brothers and sisters in Christ, despite the earthly barriers that sometime separate us, and campaign for their kingdom favor. Not because it makes me look good or because I’m after a bigger crown or because I desire the praise of humanity, but rather because my championing on their behalf speaks of the goodness of my Jesus and of his royal crown and of his praise for his created. He has done no less for each one of us. He has written a letter on our behalf to his Father, championing our hearts before the throne and calling us worthy of kingdom favor. Accordingly, how can we do any less?

There will be a few people within your arm’s reach this week who need the benefit of your “come-alongside” kind of grace, friends. Those who are weak in the faith and who deserve the witness of your love. For Paul it was his pen. For us, it will be other things. Our time, our prayers, our money, our intervention, our courage, our voices, our willingness to bend and to bow and to get our hands dirty when we’d much prefer the cleanliness of an upright posture. We need to relinquish our pens to the heart of Father God and to allow him to write his letter of commendation through us on behalf of his people. We are the advocates of a great kingdom and a great grace. We need to set the stage for a divine “yes” from those who’ve yet to follow-through on the practice of their preaching.

With God there’s always a better day coming, and that day is today. Not just for us, but for those who need the truth of a Father’s love. It comes in the form of our obedience to stand alongside them and lobby for the kingdom favor that is rightfully theirs because of the collective grace of the cross.

This is the witness of my Sunday morning walk to Sunday school. This is what I learned, and with that, I’ve turned a corner. The week ahead doesn’t look nearly as bleak as the one previously lived. This is the way of pilgrimage. To believe beyond the earth’s current deceitfulness and to take hold of God’s promise of perspective—to see what he sees and to live the kingdom possibilities therein.

Indeed, a better day. I knew it was coming. I pray such a “coming” for you this week. As always…

peace for the journey,


Copyright © May 2010 – Elaine Olsen

PS: The winners of peace for the journey: in the pleasure of his company are Gladwell and Cindy @ Consider it All Joy. Please send me your snail mail, and I’ll get these to you ASAP. We’ll have another give-away in coming days, but for those of you who’ve yet to get a copy, ordering information is available by clicking here. Thank you for all of your support! Shalom.
one thing

one thing

{photo compliments of Shirley}

I asked God to reveal to me one thing about himself this morning during our quiet time. One thing that, perhaps, I’ve missed up to this point, or one thing that I needed brought to my remembrance… again.

Just one thing, for one thing was all that I needed to buoy me along through another day’s living and another day’s weariness. He gave me that one thing via a few verses I’ve read before. Perhaps they are familiar to you as well:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.” (John 14:1-3).

Prepare. The word “hetoimazo” in Greek meaning “to make the necessary preparations, get everything ready.” Further still… “drawn from the oriental custom of sending on before kings on their journeys persons to level the roads and make them passable.” (

Oriental custom or not, I think Jesus Christ set the standard in this matter. My God sent his Son ahead of me—heiress to a royal throne—to make level the road in front of me so that I might find my way home to him in order to receive the crown of righteousness that awaits my retrieval. I have royal blood running through my veins, and I have a King who has made the most extraordinary sacrifice on my behalf to insure that I be granted a room and a robe in his kingdom.

One thing.

And my heart is less troubled… my trust more secure.

How I love my Jesus more for giving me his “one thing” today.

It is enough.

He is enough.

Knowing God, and then out of that knowing, leading others to know the same. May you know him more today. As always…

peace for the journey,
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PS: Winners for my book will be drawn with the next post. See details with the previous post.

the riches of knowing God…

the riches of knowing God…

{I love my kids… front yard PR!}

“What are you going to do with all your riches, Elaine, now that you’re famous?”

This was the question that assaulted me this morning when I walked through the doors of the church. It was said in jest with good intention, still and yet, it stuck with me.

All my riches.

How do I begin to measure the bounty that I have known at the hand of God, not just over the past couple of weeks, but the entirety of the past forty-four years? It’s an impossible endeavor to be sure, but one I’m trying to work my way through in this season of my life. We should all take time to pause in order to consistently contemplate our riches. It is the “way” of a grateful heart. And so today I’ve taken that occasion… spent some time reflecting and remembering the riches of God.

How well I remember a December day four years ago when my writing dreams were shattered by a publishing company that had held onto my first manuscript for nearly eight months. It was my first attempt at writing a book, a Bible study on the book of Nehemiah. I was certain it would “hit the mark” with publishers and, for a season, all seemed to be clicking along.

Until that day.

I received a courteous but succinct “pass” on my work, and I was crushed. I still remember my young son standing on the other side of a closed bedroom door, listening to my guttural weeping. Before long, I saw his tiny fingers reaching through the crack at the bottom, clutching in his hand two quarters. After opening the door to his generosity, I asked him regarding those two quarters. His reply?

“I’ll buy your book, mommy. Even if no one else wants to read it, I’ll buy it, and when I’m old enough to read, I’ll read it.”

That day was a turning point for me. My son’s two quarters sealed something in my heart… something I’d known for a long season, yet something I hadn’t allowed myself to believe.

My giftedness with the pen is fueled and maintained by my Father’s heart and kindness toward me. His willingness to use my feeble flesh for his kingdom purposes is far beyond my understanding and doesn’t compute with human reasoning. Still and yet, he allows me a measure of influence along these lines and, therefore, I must write for him alone. His approval is the only one that matters to me. Man’s opinion will come and go, mostly based on the bottom dollar and with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, but God’s opinion isn’t fleeting. It doesn’t come with an expiration date. My words leave a lasting impression upon his heart and in his world, and when those words write otherwise—when I am tempted to offer up a “flavoring” in keeping with trends and statistics and with “what’s selling”—then I forfeit a piece of my soul. The world becomes too important to me, and I lose focus of the truly satisfying and singularly focused passion of my heart…

Knowing God.

As a people in search of a meaningful identity, we spend a great deal of time exploring our “passions,” do we not? We invest our energies into discovering God’s calling upon our lives, God’s will for lives, wearing ourselves out with comparing our lives to that of “so and so” and wondering why his or her fruit is harvesting at a seemingly more rapid rate than ours. Why that person seems to be getting all the breaks while we languish in our desire to do something, be something, live something more than what we’re currently living. We make God’s “calling” regarding our lives a difficult embrace (something our market has hit upon as evidenced by the number of books, seminars, Bible studies written on the topic) when all the while, he keeps it pretty simple.

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).

Knowing God. It’s what I’m about. He’s my passion. He’s my calling. He’s my meaningful identity, and for the time that remains for me on this earth, my pen will write accordingly… about my knowing God and then from that knowing, leading others to know the same. Therefore, I no longer feel the need to chase after the approval of man. It’s nice when it arrives to validate my heart-felt rendering, like when…

My mother takes my book to Curves (her workout establishment) and witnesses other patrons reading the desk copy she’s left there for promotional purposes. When one of those patrons voices her approval by saying, “This is really good; how can I get a copy?”

Or when…

A friend I’ve never met face-to-face from the opposite side of the country sends me an e-mail to let me know she’s spent some time in the “desert” section of the book and that the reflection entitled “a turn toward the better” was just what she needed to hear… “These are words of life, dear heart. They are something one can weep over because of shared pain: different in specific, similar in cost. But more importantly these are fighting words for me. The journey ahead is unclear, but walk it I will. Not at all in the spirit of my own might but in the spirit of the blood of the resurrection bloom. These are words, unusual words, that excite to love and good works.”

Or when…

Another e-mail arrives from a former college friend telling me that a copy of my book (one that her dad insisted on her purchasing last week) arrived on her doorstep just twenty-four hours before he passed from his earthly pain into final heavenly glory and that her heart’s been stuck on pages 84-86, from the “peace in the suffering” section.

Or when…

A church friend makes her way to my side this morning to tell me that, while she knows she’s supposed to be taking her time to absorb each reflection, she couldn’t help but “read on” because, for her, it was like I was talking to her… like we were having a conversation over coffee.

Moments like that; validation that doesn’t necessarily come with the ratings of a New York Times’ best-seller, but validations that matter for all eternity. It stuns me and buoys me along in the journey of grace and for the continuing cultivation of the driving desire and goal of my heart…

Knowing God.

And so, this night I answer the question that assaulted my sensibilities this morning. What am I going to do with all my riches now that I’m famous?

Make God famous and continue to invest his riches into my heart and life so that my pen might flow freely for his good purposes and for his kingdom gain. All other endeavors of my well-intentioned plans fall prey to this one. Therefore, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart leave a lasting impression upon his heart and within the hearts of his people. To this end, I pray. I pray the same for you. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Thank you, everyone, for your support over the last couple of weeks in regards to the promotion of my book. This week, I’ll be giving away another copy or two of my book to those of you who are willing to support me a bit further by contacting at least five people in your life who’ve yet to hear about “peace for the journey.” Perhaps someone in your e-mail address book, someone in your church, someone in your family, someone in your neighborhood. If you’d be willing to let at least five new people know about my book (and we’re operating on the honor system here), please let me know in the comment section. Please share the video link with your contacts, or a link to this post announcing the book, I’d be so very grateful for your kindness toward me and toward God’s kingdom agenda for my life. Shalom.

{to order, click Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Winepress}


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