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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45 Responses to a tender ache

  1. Elaine… sharing your pain… wondering myself… what would be the next step? The next encounter? Can I help the one? Is one enough? Is prayer enough or do I need to act?

    I'd sure look forward to working through these questions with you. Praying for God to give us great creativity and imaginations… that we might help those in need… and those who wonder how to help those in need.

    Definitely stirs thoughts of the true meaning of Christmas.

  2. Oh Elaine…
    I have just taken in both your post from July for the first part of this journey and then your post from today….

    My heart aches as well. Aches tremendously.
    I am in awe of how the Lord intersected your life and Gayle's not once, but twice. I am thankful that you are safe and mourning the loss of a couple slain.

    I am thinking of your prayer back in July for a "next time." God knew back then that there would be a next time… (I love that He was already planning the answer to your prayer before you even prayed it)and you not knowing what to do with it now… perhaps you are to just let it be… let it be and let God Be! You touched Gayle… God touched Gayle. Your paths may never cross again on this earthly soil… but your servant's heart brings much rejoicing in heaven! I have faith in that! You have witnessed Christ to a broken woman. You just might be the only "bible" she will ever read and my sister you emulated our Christ! Whatever His plan is for this story… it will be to His glory! And I know He orchestrated these events so beautifully not just for Gayle, but for you as well.

    God will direct your path… He will guide your "next" in this story He is authoring!

    As I think of Gayle… and others who are in her same situation and my heart aches for those who call the streets their home. I know the Lord loves them. I think of two weary travelers so very long ago who made their bed in a stable. I think of a baby… a Savior! I pray the family of those taken by evil are comforted by our Lord. Such a difficult time of year to mourn such a tragedy. I keep thinking of John 16:33 and Romans 8:28… I will be praying those verses tonight.

    I love you friend… I love your heart!

  3. Oh Elaine, I feel this so intensely. I don't know the next step, nor the next time. I do know that you walked, following His footsteps today…and I know when He moves next, you will follow.

    He will send "kitchen counter guys" or whoever He needs to, to place you where He wants you. I'm assured of this.

    I can only imagine your feelings this night…but I imagine them well and share your tender ache.

    Love, prayers and hugs,

  4. And I think that a profound thought, Kristen, about the weary travelers of long ago who had no place to call their own.

    Indeed, indicative of a Savior's walk as well.

    Moving on through to our home with you all, my friends. I can't even type without tears… you are more than I deserve.


  5. I was very moved as I read and sensed your brokenness. God surely ordered your steps and brought you and Gayle face to face.

    Her life is sorrowful, and I am grieved for her and those like her who need warmth and security and Jesus. And to be very honest, I feel guilty, for though I don't have so much and live wtih many financial limitations, I have more than Gayle and many, many others.

    I will pray for you, Elaine. Your burden is so real, and we know nothing in our lives happens without purpose.

    I suspect the Holy Spirit is in process of moving in your life and hers, and you never know what seeds you have sown in Gayle's life and what seeds God has sown in your life through this experience.

    Her life may yet become a fragrant garden, and one day, your obedience and love can be part of her testimony.

    Thank you for sharing. Not just words, but heart.

    Love you. Blessings.


  6. Hi Elaine. What an incredible encounter…one which I believe God has brought your way to enlarge you for something that is waiting for you just ahead. Believe me…GOD WILL DO MUCH WITH THAT ACHE IN YOUR HEART. Will remember you and Gayle in my prayers. God bless and Merry Christmas.

  7. Elaine,

    I am left speechless. Please know that I am praying for your questions to be answered and for your saddness to go away. I pray the best for Gayle.

  8. Elaine,
    What an encounter, my friend…unquestionably orchestrated by our God. He no doubt chose you because He knew you would be His faithful hands to care for her again. I understand your questions and no doubt would ask them too. Thank you for sharing your heart so openly. You've challenged me and no doubt others to keep our wide eyes open for encounters like this…they are not to be missed. Praying God answers these questions in your heart.

    Love to you,

  9. Oh Elaine, you did a wonderful thing. Sometimes God calls us to things, to people, to circumstances, that we don't understand or are totally uncomfortable with. You weren't afraid because you were focused on ministering for God – you had a God-mission to accomplish. The difference you made in her life is huge. It may not seem like it, but it is.

    I have also been struggling recently with the "Why me?" questions. Why do I have a bed to sleep in? Why do my kids NOT go to bed hungry? Why do we have "enough"? I have questioned God on how that is decided. Who rolls the dice on that one. I don't know. But I have been feeling your same frustrations this Christmas season. I feel so blessed, but don't understand why I am so blessed and others aren't????

    Keep doing what you are doing sister. Ministering to people in tangible ways. Ways that they can see, feel, hear, touch, and in ways that they may never even know about. Continue to use your voice. It is stirring in the souls of many!

    God is good, all the time! I love you sister!!


  10. my husband and I have a phrase that we try to live by in our daily lives; it is that we are "Walking in the Spirit". Your encounter with Gayle was certainly God-ordained, a 'walking in the Spirit' experience.

    My heart grieves for those who are homeless, for whatever reason. Even though it has been a sad experience, you had the opportunity to make a difference for one person in those circumstances. Blessings to you. Donna

  11. My heart swells with you and so I wrap my cyber arms around you for a very long hug. We walked in from our youth midweek session last night and it was so bitter cold and I commented to my husband that I hoped the homeless had all made it into the shelters. People are hurriedly buying Christmas gifts…fussing over family gatherings…focused on all the wrong reasons for this season. It's about this gift of God's love, as demonstrated in your actions yesterday. I am exploring the concept of giving Jesus "365" next year. There is so much need out there and if I was purposeful in this, each day, would it not change me, maybe even change others? To show Jesus like you do…that is beautiful.
    Love you girl.
    In His Graces~Pamela

  12. There's just too much to this one to even begin to get a handle. Where would I begin? With God's lavish love as demonstrated to a child, or a woman of little means, or a mother, or ????

    Would I continue on to praise Him for such amazing grace, powerful protection, or poignant reminders?

    Words fail me, Elaine. You've said it well … for all of us. And may it be with us as with you: "… this one this time around will not bury soon."

    Hugs & much love,

  13. Elaine–this is sort of a p.s. to my earlier comment. It seems the Lord has brought the homeless to my attention lately; I watched a movie called "Christmas Choir", about a man who started a choir with a group of homeless men. I just finished reading a novel, "Where do I go?" by Neta Jackson which is about a homeless shelter for women. And now your post. Not sure what all that means, but definitely food for thought. (I've had my own bittersweet experience this week, visiting a woman in prison) Iknow this experience with Gayle will have an impact on you for a long time to come. So touched that your daughter was also concerned for her. You are in my prayers. Donna

  14. It seems my heart has seized and my speech has ceased…other than to say that I hope the tender ache is something we're never completely without.

    I love you Elaine,

  15. Elaine, I saw your comment at Nichole's (On Purpose) and came over to see how you're doing.
    And now I understand your aching heart. And mine aches, too.
    My son and I met a woman like Gayle once, on the river trail. I've only seen her that one time, but I think of her often. And on this very cold, cold day, I'm wondering if Melanie has a place to stay.
    Yes. My husband is struggling to see his business succeed. Money is very tight for us. Even so, when I am hungry I can go grab a snack. When I am cold, my warm blanket is close by and I can sit by the heater. Not so for many others.
    And you're right. It make my heart ache.
    Lord, we do not understand. But You are just. And You are holy. And You are good. So we trust You. We trust You for the things we need and we trust that You will care for all of Your creation.
    Please, Lord, show us Your power and mercy today.

  16. Elaine, what a poignant and beautiful expression of … well, something I can't articulate. I have a difficult time reconciling these things myself. All I know is that God is sovereign; God is good; God is Holy; God is just; God is righteous.

    I know that "Those who know [His] name will trust in [Him], for [He] … has never forsaken those who seek [Him]." (Psalm 9:10

    I believe that "The wicked return to the grave … but the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish." (v. 17-18)

    And, I trust in this: "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)

    May the Lord richly bless your obedience, your faithfulness, your kindness, your compassion, and, most of all, your love of Him.

    PS-I've missed you! 🙂

  17. Reading this took my breath away. I have a daughter who has such a heart for the homeless that she cries and asks why they can't come and stay with us. "But they don't have anyone to tell them good morning or anyone to hug them, Mama!" she cries.

    It breaks my heart – and I strive to find God's way to reach out and show God's very real and tangible love to them.

    Your story deserves to be told.
    I pray your friend will find peace. Perhaps God will use you as His vessel to pour His peace and joy into her.

    Be blessed and comforted, Elaine. His grace is sufficent.


  18. What an amazing testimony of God's grace and mercy.

    I pray for you Elaine. I know God is in control. Praise HIM!

  19. You are such a precious woman of God. My heart aches with yours and you so inspire me to do more for others.

    Blessings to you my friend!

  20. Elaine,
    You are living the gospel, my friend. As Paul said our sufferings are a blessing. I have always found those thoughts confusing to exist side by side, but after reading your story I understand them a little more.

    God has given you a heart that loves and hands that care. And He's using you to touch people like Gayle and so many others (me included).

    Christmas blessings,

  21. Elaine,
    I find it quite thought provoking as I read this story that you would come in contact with Gayle again on the very day that as you opened your arms to help her with her life's journey you discovered that you were only feet away from a danger that lurks vastly in the lives of many people that we do not have everyday association with. And, yet you sensed no danger of your own! It makes me to know that as we step out into the world to be the Jesus that others see, the protection of the Lord is stronger than I could have ever imagined. And, the tender ache we feel when we know that their are others like Gayle who live in the midst of that kind of danger regularly. I believe it is only our prayers that protect them. God has sent her to you and to us to protect her through the compassion of the Lord moving in us to lift her up in prayer at this time in her life.
    I am praying with you,

  22. I came by earlier today and read this but needed time to take it all in. I can't honestly say that there will ever be enough time to plumb the depths in this one.

    You were given a gift in meeting Gayle once more – to be hands of Christ to a sister who needs to feel His touch.

    You were given a gift of insight and protection. For in that brief encounter you saw life from a different angle, one that you may have never peered into without this chance. It was real – sadly all too real.

    Now, my friend, I pray for you. As you unwrap this layered gift may you find within a glimpse of what more you are to give. I don't think it ends here. Maybe your time with Gayle is complete – maybe not. No matter. Whatever lies ahead – whoever is in your future may you continue to reach out your hand – His hands – to those who need.

    Peace to you, my friend.

  23. I have a similar person in my life. And these two people, yours and mine, are only the tip of the iceburg of the hurt and poverty and want that exists in this sinful world…just beyond our affluent front doors.

  24. You touched my heart with your big heart. Thank you for keeping it real, during a season of Santas and rednosed reindeer.

  25. Elaine:

    I am sooo encouraged by this post. I followed your friend from your other post months ago.

    God will show you the next step as He has been leading you all along the way – just as He put Gayle in your path again!

    Perhaps the next step might be Christmas dinner at your home – perhaps?

    I say that becasue my Bible study group just did this last weekend [you can read about it on the Shepherd's Walk blog post].
    We invited perfect strangers to a dinner. We didn't push the gospel down their throats – we just loved them and served them a banquet meal to make them feel special. We sent many of them home with trays of food as several of them are living barely from paycheck to paycheck – and some with no job and large families to support. It was amazing who God brought together.

    I was asked by several people [and disappointed in this question they asked], "Aren't you afraid to have strangers in your home? … What if they rob you? What if they hurt you?"

    I don't live with the "what if's" – I just desire to follow through with what God is leading me to do!

    I am so proud of you that you were not afraid – and that even if you were – you still cared for Gayle the way Jesus told us to care for others.

    One of the reasons I say Christmas dinner for your next step is that Jesus was always going into people's homes and eating with them – the ones that no one else cared to assosiate with. It was always around a meal. A meal seals a covenant when it is made [OT history tells].

    You shared a meal with her yesterday – and you will share another one again – and ultimately God's goal is that both of you will share a meal at the marriage supper of the Lamb [and I'll be there with you.]

    "Cultivating relationships" with those who are less desirable [according to the world's standards] is what JESUS came for!
    Thank heavens we don't live by the world's standards – but by God's!

    Don't be afraid Elaine – don't stop now – God is using you in a special and marvelous way – it's a treasure for sure! Dig for it! Until it's found!

    Choosing JOY, Stephanie

    PS: You should know that your caring for Gayle back in the summer had a great impact on me then——that's why I was not afraid to have this dinner for strangers now. You made an impact!

  26. What an awesome testimony of God's guiding hand in your life…this really touched me…and I too have felt the "gnawing discontentment" that you wrote about…I believe answers will come in God's time….

  27. I'm so sorry, Elaine, to hear of this painful experience you've been going through. I'm sure your meeting with Gayle was not an accident, though. God's hand was in it all — we may just not understand it all right now. So thankful He kept you and Gayle safe…

  28. Elaine, this was amazing, but I'm quite sure you already know this. I was just pondering that it is the same God who holds you and me that is holding Gayle. He clearly has something for her -and for you in the process. Thank you for sharing Gayle's story and I am so glad you and she are safe.

  29. Elaine, I was crying so hard as I read your heart that I had to pause and pray for you, for Gayle, for the manager and his family and for…

    all who are in need…

    before I could even write these few words. I embrace your words and your heart.

    You said so much that penetrated me to the absolute core of my soul and within some of what you shared I could hear some of my own heart.

    I think these words said it all for 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."

    I won't be on blogs after this weekend until after year end and so I'm visiting everyone over the next few days to say Merry CHRISTmas BUT I asked the LORD to allow me to read a message that would stick to my soul, penetrate my core and walk with me into the New Year. "A tender ache" is it.

    May we continue to be mindful LORD to pray for all of the precious Gayle's of this world and continue to give out of the portions the LORD provides to us and give with the cheerful and grateful heart He has given to us. It's a blessing to give and to walk where only the LORD could take us Elaine as He alone keeps us safe and even unaware of all the danger (EVIL) lurking until our assignment is done in HIM.

    I love you Elaine and thank you for a rich, full year together sister-friend. I look forward to what the LORD will speak in and through you for 2010.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  30. Sweet Elaine, Tears are streaming down my face. I finally have the time to read a few blogs, and they're all yanking my heart right on out of my chest. Especially this one. Because I feel like I know you so well, and I know you are heavy in prayer and meditation over how the Holy Spirit will act in and through you according to God's grand purpose.

    I will pray. I love you, my sister.


  31. Wow. I just found your blog today. What an amazing experience and example of the grace of God as we follow His leading to reach the hurting and the lost for Him. I'm so thankful for His protection over you. My heart is heavy as I think about all of those families out there in the same place as your friend. thanks for the wonderful reminder this Christmas season.

  32. I hear your pain Elaine! God bless you for reaching out to this lady! I think much like you in that I want to help those who hurt and hunger.
    What is our role? I cannot look away…it's just impossible.
    I remember growing up….my parents brought so many people through our home to stay and feed and get a fresh start.
    I remember many meals with strangers. I loved knowing that we were able to bless and help them.

  33. Elaine,

    My word. If I may be so bold to say it–God has you in a unique place right now. A growing place. A good place. I know it hurts and it's uncomfortable to some extent, but it's the place where most growth will occur.

    My pastor sent out an email the other day challenging us to "get uncomfortable." Do those things that others won't or don't do. Be Jesus to those around us. You, my friend, are in the uncomfortable. You have been Jesus to Gayle, and may even get the opportunity to be Jesus some more. What an awesome privilege!

    Prayers and blessings as you live out the plan God has for you and Gayle,

  34. Mercy! Oh, Elaine…mercy! I sit here amazed at all of this. So thankful that you and Gayle are ok, and sick to my stomach for what happened just down the way.

    Elaine, only God could have orchestrated this meeting with Galye again. He is truly using you to be His hands and feet.

    Call me next week and we'll "visit" on the phone.
    Love you!

  35. Wow girl…I do so hope that God never allows this to be buried again.
    I never thought we would be where we are now. I so remember the first year we lived here and I remember thinking that I was so glad that I was not one of the people who had to live here. Such pride.
    And then God began to change my heart. He began to allow me to hear little bits and pieces of their stories. Do you know that there are some highly educated people living here? People who came here…and got stuck because of life situations.
    And then there are others here that are here because life got rough and they gave up….lost hope and settled in.
    They are people who have been hurt and they are angry….I hear their fights sometimes. The thing I find most endearing…they are a community and they are who they are….they are real to who they are.
    Recently I had a friend tell me that they were here because they don't know God. I had to laugh…I am here and I know God. Guess she didn't consider that. 🙂 She is a good friend and I love her dearly…..but it shows the way we sometimes think as Christians…pretty sad.
    I don't know if the people here consider us one of them….but if God brought us here and kept us here so that we could become "one of them"…we are blessed.
    Should I never live again in a home…so that they can have a heavenly home….so be it.
    There is a world out here that needs to be touched with His love…you did that. Bless you.
    But there is also a world out here that needs us to leave our churches and our safety to walk with them along the way. He did.
    I'll stop now…thank you for posting this. May all who read it understand that this world does not want to be pitied…they want to be loved…and they need to be loved with His heart.
    Love you girl….thank you.

  36. Elaine, God is up to something in your life, for sure. This is indeed haunting. He is shaping you through these experiences and how humbling a thought. Seeing through the glass darkly at what He is weaving in our lives, our communities, our world, is so difficult at times. I pray for your faith and for you to remain faithful.

  37. Hi Elaine,
    I feel for you and that lady. She is blessed to have your prayers, even if you end up not seeing her again. I like what Joyful said about God providing for another encounter if He desires it. Just buying her a meal off and on, and visiting with her is showing God's love to her. I'm not sure if this is going to come out right, but her life is her life. It's what she knows, and if God has you pop in and visit with her from time to time, that may be something that gives her joy.

    I am with you on feeling down about evil in the world from time to time. I work at a high school in a low income area, and there are lots of fights and other inappropriate behaviors.

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