Monthly Archives: November 2011

when a friend crosses to Canaan ahead of you…

Judith made it home to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve been living with her absence since then. Four days is hardly enough time to displace my grief. I don’t have a place to put my grief, not really. I can’t send a casserole to the West Coast… can’t stop by the family living room to offer my condolences. I wouldn’t even recognize her family members if I saw one of them on the street. I’ve never met any of them face-to-face. Not even her—my Judith friend. Our lives didn’t connect the regular way. Our lives connected here … in this place, this space that I have reserved for the public sharing of thoughts. A domain named “Peace for the Journey.” A home for my words and the birthplace of some rich, kindred friendships.

Judith was one of the first of you, extending our relationship beyond customary comments to include nearly four years’ worth of phone conversations, e-mails, snail mails, all kinds of communication that move a friendship past common courtesy. In doing so, I’ve experienced one of the truest, most honest and encouraging relationships of my lifetime. Judith has been my mentor, my cancer sister, my sounding board, my “middle-of-the-night” friend who listened to me and understood me when others couldn’t. She was the second person I called after receiving my diagnosis and almost always the first person I called when I was hunkered down in the middle of my pain. These last years with Judith have strengthened my heart and my faith in a way that furthers the cause of Jesus Christ.

Judith sometimes worried about her doing enough for the kingdom. She wanted to be used by God but often didn’t recognize the weightiness of her witness to others. Who I am today, in part, is a direct reflection of the time that Judith Guerino invested in me. She was never too busy, too sick, too tired, or too perfect to take me on. She was just willing, and that willingness, friends, is an extraordinary gift to receive. I recognized its worthiness early on in our friendship, and I cherished each moment that I was able to share with my beloved friend. One of those moments came six weeks prior to Thanksgiving.

While out for an afternoon walk, I felt strongly that I should try and call Judith. She’d been in and out of the hospital, not able to take calls most days, so I was uncertain about her availability to speak with me. One of our great concerns for each other (especially during our sick days) was not to wear one another out with conversation. We made a deal. If we couldn’t talk (for whatever reason), we wouldn’t answer the phone, and we wouldn’t be mad about it … we’d just understand.

Six weeks ago was not one of those moments. Instead, six weeks ago hosted a God-ordained moment for both of us.

“Judith, if this needs to be our good-bye, then let’s do it right. Let’s say everything we need to say, and let’s do so with great clarity. This could be our hand-holding, bedside release.”

And so it was. Our final conversation. We talked for over an hour … laughed, cried, prayed, and tenderly released one another to the roads in front of us. We knew where hers was heading, and while it seemed that my road was taking a detour or two that would eventually catch up with hers, I couldn’t escape the fact that no matter the path in front of both of us, we would stay connected because of our kinship in Jesus Christ.

“Wherever I go, Judith, from this point forward, you’ll be with me. I’ll keep your story as a part of my own. I’ll wear this mantle you have given me and place it on the shoulders of other cancer patients who need the love and encouragement of a friend like you. I will do so in honor of you. I’ll carry it for both of us.”

It’s not easy to speak words like these … not easy to articulate the inevitabilities of our up-and-coming departures, but when it happens, it’s a sacred gift to those who are standing at the portal of heaven and to those who are left behind to wonder, to imagine, to believe and to grieve. Judith may have crossed the Jordan River into Canaan ahead of me, but she didn’t do so without me. She carried my story with her and, in return, she left her story with me. This is the unity we share as believers in Jesus Christ—the eternal thread that links us together and that pulls our heartstrings forward in faith.

We don’t enter into the presence of Jesus Christ without the present witness of others. Those we love and those who have loved us, well, I believe they’re part of the cargo that we’ll carry with us into our forevers. When our crossing-over day comes and we arrive on the shores of Canaan, not only will we step forward into the arms of our Father, but also the testimony of a great many heart-investors will step with us. It’s just how it works, friends, this investing of love. Eternal love rooted in Christ’s love plants seeds, and all eternal seeds harvest hugely for the kingdom.

It matters what we do here, how we love here. How we give and share God here. And while we aren’t privy to the arrival of others when they finally meet our Father face-to-face, wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that a part of us arrives there with them as a lasting witness to our willingness to love on the front side of heaven?

Yes, Judith went home to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day. Part of me did as well, friends, and I cannot tell you the joy this brings to my sadness—knowing that as she steps in glory, so do I. A little bit of my faith, a little bit of my heart is already dancing in heaven, alongside my kindred friend. Oh that I… that we would take each step, live each day, love this way with eternity in mind!

Our stories belong to one another, and I can’t think of a finer group of people I’d rather carry with me into Canaan when my crossing-over day arrives. Until then, let’s keep planting God’s eternal seed into the hearts of those we love, and let us celebrate the thread that binds us all together as one–Jesus Christ.

Let’s do it right … say everything we need to say and do so with God’s great clarity while today is still today. It’s the best we can do. I love you each one.

Peace for the journey,

PS: To read the guest post that Judith wrote for me last summer, click on this link.

being near to God…

“But as for me, it is good to be near God.” (Psalm 73:28)

It is good for me to be near God.

When I am not—when I move away from his presence—my eyes, like the Psalmist, are easily fixed on lesser pursuits. Lesser things. Littered and lower things. Things of the world. Things that will never lead me into the folds of heaven, but rather things that will keep me temporarily tethered to earth. When I go there … look there … live there, my heart and my mouth are prone to fruitless wanderings that often lead me to believe,

“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure; … ” (Psalm 73:13).

Very loosely translated (and I would encourage you to read Psalm 73 for yourself):

There are those who are seemingly more fruitful than me, richer than me, happier and healthier than me and who, by all outward appearances, don’t seem to possess any tangible relationship with Jesus Christ. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, yet I have little to show for it. How can this be? When does my commitment to my faith start being fair? When will the scales tip in favor of faith? Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure.

Indeed, when I go there, my heart is prone to fruitless wanderings. But, when I go to God, when I enter into holy truth, I gain a higher perspective.

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” (Psalm 73:16-17)

Final destinies. This is when the scales begin to tip in favor of faith. When I begin to measure my earthly commitment to God in terms of the eternal gains that will come to me because of that commitment, then I, like the Psalmist, re-establish my faith’s foothold. The backdrop of an eternity spent in God’s presence is the best benchmark for measuring daily gains, because at the end of the day … at the end of my life … what I have with Jesus will always be more than what they have without him. No amount of health, wealth, pleasure, and prosperity will be enough to surpass the inescapable, certain reality of God in my forever.


I cannot fully hold onto or grasp that kind of wealth in my “here and now.” But what I can hold onto and grasp is the hand of Jesus that will lead me to my “there and then.”

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24).

I have the steady hand of God in mine. He holds me; guides me; strengthens me; hides me. To have the hand of God—to hold the Holy and to be held as holy—is to live a kingdom inheritance on this side of eternity. The treasure stored beneath the visible is the treasure that will lead me into the folds of heaven. What glory! What gain!

Surely, in faith and with hope, I have kept myself pure. Surely, it is good for me to be near God this day. Surely, it is good for you to reside there as well.

Hold onto the Holy, ye pilgrims of faith, and give thanks for the hands that hold you in return. As always…

Peace for the journey,

And the winners are…

Thanks to all of you for the support you offered “peace for the journey” over the past week. I greatly appreciate your kindness and generosity. Amelia just drew the names of two winners, and they are…

Nancy @ “The Olive Leaf Ministries”
Linda @ “My Hands His Glory”

Congratulations, ladies. I’ll have these in the mail this week. Please let me know if you’d like them autographed in a particular way. For the rest of you that might like a copy, don’t forget the Christmas special I’m running through December 10th.

I hope to be back here tomorrow or Tuesday for a regular post. Shalom!

a trunk full of love…

Love blooms… September 10, 1996

I love my husband. He speaks life into my weariness and watches over my heart as if it were his own. When the crumbling begins, he comes alongside me to tenderly cradle my pain and to keep it safe from further intrusion. I cannot measure the worthiness of such a gift. Over the course of our marriage, even well before we said our “I do’s,” my Billy was loving me the Jesus way—the Ephesians 5:25 way. Without his protection and his careful attention to the details of the “all” that makes up me, I’d be off-balance and more confused. I’d be lesser of a woman, lesser of God’s woman, and I would be lonely. Thank God for the good sense that fostered my saying, “I do” nearly fifteen years ago. Thank God for the current emotions that have finally caught up to my reasoned decision back then.

Billy and I are in love. It’s an easy love these days, but this hasn’t always been the case. We’ve grown into our love, and today I thought it would be a worthy use of time (and ink) to reflect back on that day when I knew that I knew that I knew that I loved Billy Olsen. I thought maybe you’d like to come along for the ride.

The year was 1996. The autumn colors had just begun their descent onto the rolling hills of the Kentucky bluegrass. Soccer season was in full swing for my two young sons, adding to my burgeoning load as a single mother. My days were spent working at Asbury Theological Seminary; my nights spent managing the lives of my children. It was a good season of living for us, added to by the fact that a certain preacher-in-training had taken an interest in the three of us—a strong interest. At this point, Billy and I had been dating for several months. Early on, he professed his love for me; I, however, was a bit more cautious about declaring the intentions of my heart.

Until that day.

A call came into my office in the morning. Billy was checking on me and interested in seeing what our evening plans might include. Soccer and grocery shopping ranked high on the agenda. This wouldn’t be a good date night. Too much to do; too many responsibilities pressing their urgency into an already full schedule. There would be no wining and dining for us that evening. Just more of Billy living with the realities of dating a single mom. Romance would have to wait, or so it seemed. Prior to finishing the work day, I received a second call from Billy.

“Elaine, I know tonight isn’t a good night for us to get together. I know how busy and how tired you are. I’m fine with that, but do me a favor before heading out to soccer practice. When you get home from work, be sure to look in the trunk of your car. I’ve put a little surprise in there for you.”

I thanked him for his kindness and assured him of my cooperation. Billy was brilliant when it came to surprises. I, however, fell short of remembering to look for his that particular day. The afternoon routine quickly moved in and any prior anticipation about the contents of my trunk was buried beneath homework, soccer cleats, and the gathering of grocery coupons. It was only after my sons and I were buckled into the car and had begun our descent down the driveway that I remembered my surprise. I thought about delaying its unveiling until we reached our destination, but fearing that the surprise might wilt or melt, I put the car in park.

“Boys, we’ve got to check something before we leave. Billy left me a surprise in the trunk, and I need to get it out before we leave for practice.”

The three of us unbuckled our seatbelts and made our way around to the trunk. What could it be? What had his love for me done for me this time around? What measure of romance could he cram into the back of my ’94 Nissan Sentra? Would it really be enough to move me past my hesitation of love’s declaration and closer to saying “yes” to a forever with this preacher-in-training?

It was enough to move me, friends.

When I opened up the trunk, there wasn’t a bouquet of flowers awaiting my collection. No chocolate in sight. Nothing I could wear; no perfume to sweeten me. In fact, most would say there was nothing romantic about the gift inside, but I would say differently. That particular day, Billy Olsen surprised me with a token of love that emphasized his willingness to take care of my boys and me.

He’d done my grocery shopping… packed my trunk with many of the non-perishables that he knew we used on a regular basis. From cereal to soap to laundry detergent and beyond. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and in that single moment, my heart swelled with love for a preacher-in-training named Billy Olsen. On that day, I thought to myself…

Billy Olsen may not have a job yet; his hair is long, he hates wearing shoes, and his clothes are always wrinkled. Granted, without knowing his heart, I probably wouldn’t pick him out of a line-up as future-husband material. But I’m pretty sure that his love for me will keep him doing these kinds of things for me for a long time. When I’m eighty, he’ll still be going to the grocery for me; he’s still going to watch over me, maybe even change my diapers if need be. Billy Olsen is the keeping kind. The real deal. He won’t let me down. He’s always going to love me and my boys, no matter the cost. Billy Olsen is here to stay.

Billy’s generosity that day had been the best kind of loving, sweetest kind of romance moment that I had ever been given. And here he is, some fifteen years later, loving and serving our marriage with the same level of genuine romance that was displayed on that autumn night during our courtin’ days. Billy still calls to check on me, goes to the grocery for me, and has (on occasion) had to lend a hand at cleaning me. I don’t mind telling you this, because I happen to think that I’ve snatched one of the last good, godly men left on this earth. If every man would love his wife this way—the way that Christ loves the church—then there would be far more women willing to love the same.

Billy and I share a good love. I probably could have survived with less, but God saw to it that I would flourish with more. Our love feels like life and grace and hope to my heart, and I’m so grateful that I get to wrap my arms around its tender comfort today.

And Billy… if you’re reading this… would you mind picking up some milk, eggs, butter, and a full box of encouragement on your way home? No one can stock a pantry… no man can strengthen a heart quite like you! I love you, my preacher-for-real.

When has someone filled your “trunk” with love? How might you do the same for someone else this week?

when the words don’t come…

You know the feature at the bottom of blogging posts… the one that suggests other posts “You might also like”? Well, every now and again I go there—click on previous posts I’ve written, some dating back to my beginning days as a blogger in 2008. There are a lot of posts to choose from, nearly 500 of them. Hard to believe. Where did all those words come from?

Sometimes it’s fun to look back and reflect upon a certain situation that fostered my creative juices; sometimes, incredibly painful. Regardless of the emotions that surface with the remembering, one certainty emerges for me each time I read one of my older posts.

Words came more easily for me back then, sometimes effortlessly. Today I have to fight for them—so much so that I sometimes question whether my writing days are coming to an end. It’s hard for me to type that. I suppose I don’t really believe it, but this I do believe. What was once the absolute passion of my heart has now been stymied by a season of pain and physical struggle. Prior to my cancer diagnosis and even in the midst of my cancer journey, writing was surprisingly easy for me. But now, as I’m cycling back toward health again, there is an ever-present struggle in me to be creative. To write what I feel, what I learn, what I truly want to say. Words get lost somewhere between my thinking of them and my putting them down on paper.

I grapple for the “want to.” Sometimes it all feels very hard, and I cannot express to you how incredibly painful this new reality is for me. So here I am tonight, caught in the darkness, praying for the light to dawn and to lead me back to what once was—a writing life that I enjoyed. A writing life stoked by the fires of creativity that once burned as strong passion in my bones.

For all the time I’ve spent writing and talking to you about the ways that cancer has given back to me, I’m wondering if just maybe this is one area of great depreciation… great reduction. It hardly seems fair. I’ve given so much to this cause… to this healing. Why must my words now also pay the price of my cancer?

God and me? Well, we’ve talked this one over. A thousand times over. Perhaps this is one of my “Why’s?”. Not, “Why did I get cancer?” I’ve never asked that question. Never. But just maybe I’ll ask it as it pertains to my words. “Why this, Lord? With every other surrender I’ve made, why now must I suffer with this deficit? Where have the words gone? Why have they abandoned me? Why does it have to be so hard?”

I wish I had the answer, friends. I also wish that I was more adequately able to express my heart to you with creative and powerful prose. I want the words of my heart to move you closer to the heart of the Father. My heart certainly resides there… in close proximity to God’s, but as I’m wondering and thinking and turning things over a thousand different ways in my head, for whatever reason, I seem to struggle with leading you there. And I am not at peace about it, not yet.

Yes, this is my why for this season. Maybe you harbor one as well. Maybe what you thought would be your case has, instead, become your question, your struggle, your wrestling with God. You want nothing more than to step back a few paces and recapture the magic of yesterday’s passion, yesterday’s dream, yesterday’s up-and-coming “sure to be.” Instead you hold your confusion out to Jesus and whisper the frustration of your heart—your “Why?”

I don’t know the “Why?” behind your “Why?”, but I believe the asking of it is relevant, is worthy, and is needful for each one of us to get back on track and to stay on track with Jesus. At least with the asking, we’ve opened up the dialogue. A good “Why?” is never wasted with Jesus. God always enters into our questions, and I believe that, in time, our hearts will resonate with an answer that allows us some measure of peace. Maybe not perfect understanding but at least enough peace to push us past frustration toward contentment. Until I arrive there, I whisper this prayer of strong hope…

Bring my words back to me, Lord. Cycle them back around to warm me. To comfort me. To write my life into remembrance. To write your truth into remembrance. Loosen their silence and fuel my pen with their refrain so that the meditations of my heart might be found acceptable, profitable, and beneficial for the kingdom. Let my laboring feel less like obligation and more like privilege. And when I am tempted to stay stuck in my “Why?” answer me with the truth of your promises for me. Let your words flow through me, not be hindered because of me… because of my cancer. I want to survive beyond this surrender. Walk me past this moment, past this famine, and let me thrive in the land of the living. You have saved me for a purpose. Please use me accordingly. Amen.


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