Category Archives: knowing God

narrow steps in a broad world …

 

A few days ago, my eldest son called to talk. These are always rich occasions – conversing with my sons as adults. His heart was heavy (as was mine) regarding the chaos in our world. One doesn’t have to look too far to identify it; disorder and turmoil blanket the earth like a thick fog. Without a break in the clouds or a strong light to guide us through the dimness, navigating our way along the planet-path is mostly a clumsy attempt at survival.

I don’t want to walk through this life clumsily, putting too much trust in steps that are guided by fate and by man. Instead, I want to walk through this fog with steps fortified in faith—a sure and certain hope of what I cannot see, but what I know is there …

Truth.

And so I offered my son (as well as myself) a bit of advice to help us both step our way through this season of confusion:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

There is only one source of truth; truth isn’t relative, based on popular opinion. Truth authors from Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). Get to know him and the darkness surrounding us becomes as light to him (see Psalm 139:12). When we cannot see for the thick fog surrounding us, we can know that he sees for us. Accordingly, we must rest in Christ’s presence. We must walk with Christ’s guidance. And we must, must, must fan into flame Christ’s candle so that our families, our friends, the Body and Christ and beyond, may safely and securely find their way along the narrow path that leads to home.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:13-14

We know the way home, Christians. We know the way that leads to life eternal. We shouldn’t be surprised by the narrowing of our pathway in these days; instead, we should be enlivened by the witness of this tapering. This tightening of our steps is simply and profoundly the sharpening of our souls. Few will accept this divine, thinning process; many will, instead, accept the world’s version therein, herded along the wide-path, trampled beneath the weight of sin, and buried in darkness eternally.

Yes, this is the world we’re living in, but thanks be to God, this is not the world we’re ending in. In choosing the narrow path, we make a choice for the wide expanse of our Father’s forever. The road home may be dim, may even be cramping some of us out of our comfort zones, but make no mistake – the path we’re walking today is leading us home to our eternal resting grounds. All roads have an ending point. All earthly journeys will cease. Whether you’re stepping wide or stepping narrow in this season, your next steps matter. Accordingly, I offer you the same advice that I offered my son recently:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

Truth will guide us home. Truth will welcome us as we arrive. Until then and as we go …

Peace for the journey, friends!

 

from doing to breathing and the grace in between

“When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’” –John 1:37-38

As of late, my pen has been silent. There hasn’t been room enough in my life for words.

Just doing. Mostly, just doing my job. It consumes my waking hours, which is most of them … all twenty-four of them. Whether I’m upright or horizontal, I’m thinking about my fourteen fourth-graders. I am exhausted. A life of perpetual doing doesn’t always leave room enough for breathing. Too much doing and the spirit goes dry. Life without breath feels like death to a soul, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly suffocating.

And crying. And praying. And asking God through choke-filled sobs for this doing to start making sense, even one little bit.

My family’s been praying too. On Thursday night, Billy and the kids huddled together upstairs on my behalf and sent God their requests in sacred whispers. They just wanted me to find the air that I so desperately needed … for a fresh wind of the Spirit to blow over me.

On Friday God answered their quiet whispers as loudly as he could.

Every school day begins with a Bible lesson (one of the great privileges of teaching at a Christian school). I consider this to be the best part of our day together. I’m in my element when I’m telling God’s story to others. In the first half of the year, we covered Genesis, the Christmas story, and have recently begun to talk about Jesus’ early, ministry years. This week’s focus has been on those first disciples who took those first steps toward following Jesus. In particular, we’ve zeroed in on the question that Jesus asked of Andrew and John at their initial meeting:

“What do you want?” or as the King James’ version states, “What seek ye?”.

I asked my students to consider that question, to have those ancient words jump off the pages of holy writ and to imagine God asking the same question of them.

“What do you want, fourth graders? What seek ye?”

In our moments of morning contemplation, I could see that my students were thinking – that just maybe this question was meant also for them and not simply for those disciples in those early days of kingdom expansion. This was a good way to start the day; regardless of any drama that might follow, a solid foundation had been laid.

Fast forward a few hours. The students were finishing up a reading quiz when one of them approached my desk and asked if she could speak to me in the hallway. Her distress was apparent, and I immediately took her aside to assess the situation. We’d barely made it to the hallway before the tears began to collect in her sweet brown eyes. Quietly, tenderly, and most assuredly, this precious young girl added words to the moment. In doing so, she’s added a thousand more words to my heart.

“Mrs. Olsen, I need God.”

Let that settle in on you, friends. Just be with us there in that moment. Don’t rush past it. Moments like these should be held up to the light and cradled … celebrated in the heart. Really, could there be a more worthy, purer confession than this?

In the minutes that followed her disclosure, we sat together in the hallway where we talked about her need and about our God. And then as smoothly and as naturally as breathing, we prayed together and the kingdom of God expanded … just one little bit. For everything that hasn’t made sense in these past five months of doing my job, Friday’s one thing made perfect sense, and I am stunned by such privilege.

Every tear I have cried; every prayer I have prayed. Every word I have spoken; every plan I have made. If this one little bit is the sum total reason for God calling me out of my comfort zone and pushing me into the middle of discomfort, then this is enough fresh air to keep me breathing in the season to come.

Tonight I hear the Father asking me a familiar question, the one he asked his first disciples 2000 years ago and the one I asked my students earlier in the week:

“What do you want, Elaine? What seek ye?”

My response?

“This, Father. Just this.”

How beautiful this grace that is sufficient and all-powerful. It reaches past and beyond my weakness and perfects the imperfect. One little bit … one little heart at a time.

On Friday, I had the joy of welcoming a new child into God’s family. I’m so glad that she has Him and that He has her. She doesn’t know it yet, but her best days are ahead of her. With Jesus, her best days are yet to be. The multiplication tables and helping-verb lists she’s mastered in the 4th grade may not be remembered in years to come. But this one little moment?

Well, it will never be forgotten. It’s etched into eternity. This is forever.

Peace for the journey, sweet girl. God is with you. God is for you. God loves you.

I am too – with you, for your, love you.
{aka – Mrs. Olsen}

life beyond the 51/49 principle

The 51/49 principle. That’s what my daddy calls it – the not so scientific (much less highly spiritual) approach to making decisions.

Your gut leanings . . . 51% in one direction; 49% in the other. When in doubt, go with the 51%.

When making smaller decisions, the 51/49 principle seems to carry less weight. When making larger decisions (those choices involving critical, life paths)? Well, the 51/49 principle is a bit harder to digest. Personally, I prefer the 99/1 principle when choosing a critical, life path—a two-by-four to the head that clearly says, “This is the way; walk in it … ” (see Isaiah 30:21). Unfortunately, that kind of clarification has rarely been my privilege over the years. Instead, I’ve learned to trust my gut, even when it teeters within a few percentage points of taking the alternate (often times, less desirable) path.

Sometimes, 51% is all I get. But every now and again, a 99% shows up . . . maybe even 100%, and there is no need for agonizing deliberation. I am grateful for those occasions; I’ve learned to be obedient to them as well.

Like three weeks ago, when I walked through an open door that (trust me when I tell you) wasn’t even on my radar – not one little bit. Three weeks ago, I was heart-deep in wedding preparations—a season filled with enough emotional trauma to clutter and confuse reasonable thought processes. Choosing the color of my toe-nail polish was a struggle, much less choosing a life-path. Still and yet, a choice presented itself, one that would not only alter my life, but also the lives of my family. That decision?

After fifteen years of being a stay-at-home mom, I’ve decided to take a job outside the walls of my home. Instead of homeschooling my children, I’ll be teaching someone else’s children – fourth graders at a small Christian school just down the road. If this opportunity hadn’t come about in the way that it did, I wouldn’t have had the courage to walk through this door. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have had the strength. A year ago I was busy giving away all of the contents of my teacher boxes in an effort to lighten our load prior to our move to this community. After hauling that mess around for years, I had no intentions of ever, practically using any of it again. I kept one banker’s box, the contents of which are less practical and mostly sentimental.

And so, I’m starting from scratch, walking down a road I never imagined I’d be walking down again, and I’m doing so with a 99/1%, two-by-four affirmation in my pocket that will, undoubtedly, buoy my “want to” as this season unfolds. It may not make a lick of sense to others, but it makes perfect sense to me. Accordingly, I offer no apologies or explanations to the naysayers; I simply walk through this open door in obedience, knowing that the favor of God and the shine of heaven rest upon me.

This is my next, and I’m ready to turn the page, ready to let go of any previous notions of what I thought I should be doing (those 51/49 wranglings of the heart) and ready to step into the 99% I know that I should be doing. It’s just that clear and, relatively, simple. How grateful I am for a reprieve from the constant, internal debate regarding my next!

I don’t know where you are today as it pertains to choosing a life-path. Maybe you are contentedly walking with a 99% affirmation in your heart; maybe less contentedly, hovering between your 51 and your 49. I understand them both. This is the life of the faith . . . walking forward with God and trusting that, even when it’s with a 51/49 affirmation, he will establish your steps as you go and strengthen your witness for his glory and his renown.

Step on, friends. Step forward. Step always with God. These next steps matter. You can make them confidently, knowing that, wherever the path leads, you’ll never walk alone. Not ever.

Rest in the company of our King today. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

PS – The winner of Leah’s study, HeBrews: a Better Blend, is Rebecca! Please be in touch with your mailing address, friend.

Into the Cloud

I came across a verse this Sabbath afternoon while working my way through HeBrews: a Better Blend. I don’t think my author-friend, Leah, meant for me to park my thoughts at this particular verse for any length of time; nevertheless it parked alongside me, keeping company with my soul for the last several hours.

“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.” –Exodus 20:21

Where God was.

Where was God? In the cloud – shrouded by thick darkness. Moses knew it; the Israelites knew it. Still and yet, they allowed their fear to overrule any measure of faith. Moses? Well, he’d been down that road with God before, back in those beginning days when his fear might have kept him from the greatest faith-adventure of his life. Instead of giving into the fear, Moses approached the darkness—the burning bush, the throne of Pharaoh, the Red Sea. Why?

Because God was in there, in those places of great testing. Moses, better than the Israelites, valued the presence of God and understood that, sometimes, it’s in the darkness where the Light is most radiantly revealed. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. But in the darkness, when we cannot see clearly for the thick fog surrounding us, God’s light is a holy, welcome resource.

We should not fear the unseen. Just because we cannot see the light doesn’t mean that the light isn’t waiting for us just beyond the veil. Sometimes the way through is clear and obvious. Sometimes, it’s only by taking those initial steps of faith into the cloud that the light will be revealed. Sometimes, it’s our steps forward that bring the sacred flame into focus.

Not long ago, I stepped into the cloud to meet with God. Was I afraid? A little. But like Moses, there was a greater fear that penetrated my heart – The fear of not taking those steps forward. I think that Moses, like me, clearly knew that God had something more for him (beginning at the ripe young age of 80) . . . something beyond the routine of sheep-tending on the plains of Midian. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with sheep-tending. Sheep-tending is a good living unless God wants to move our tending to the other side of the pasture, or in Moses’ case, the other side of the Red Sea.

Every now and again, we have to be willing to let go of good pastureland in order to take hold of God’s Promised Land.

And so, I said “yes” to God and stepped into the thick darkness surrounding my “yes.” Do you know what I found once I did?

His extraordinary “yes” on the other side, brilliant light radiating deeply into my heart and bathing my soul in peace. Why? Because God was there. God is there, and God wants me to be where he is.

Friends, I don’t want to live my life beneath a cloudless sky if it means missing the beauty of a trust-filled walk with the Lover of my soul. I don’t want sunny skies if it means I cannot have the thickness of God’s presence surrounding me. I don’t ask for the darkness; I much prefer sacred revelation without it. But I’ve walked with God long enough to know when he’s inviting me to a deeper level of trust. This is one of those seasons. Accordingly, I have stepped beyond the veil in recent days, and I have seen with my own eyes and felt deeply within my soul what it is to move beyond my fears and to walk with faith as my anchor.

Have I crossed the Red Sea? Not yet, but I’ve dipped my toes into the waters of anticipation, and I’m ready to make that journey through on dry ground.

This is faith from the inside-out, all the way through to Canaan. God is there. He is my next, and he is my peace . . . for the journey. I can’t wait to read the next chapter in this crazy book called “My Life.” Thank you for joining me on the road.

PS:The winner of a surprise gift from Lisa Dixon is Cindy from Letters From Midlife.

Leave a comment today for a chance to win a copy of Leah’s new study, HeBrews: a Better Blend. It is a fascinating, challenging dig into the life of faith. I hope you’ll take advantage of this soul-stretching resource!

Also, have you heard about my summer-combo book deal? You can secure copies of Peace for the Journey and Beyond the Scars for $20 (includes shipping – USA orders only). I’ll be happy to sign them for you and get them in the mail this week (sent media mail). You may order through paypal using the link below or by contacting me directly by clicking here.

 

the unspoken blessing

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today …” –Hebrews 3:13

I saw it in their eyes last evening … a familiar pain. It’s one I’ve felt before. It always touches a nerve whenever I speak on it, especially those nerves deeply embedded in the heart and firmly rooted in remembrance. In sharing a bit of my own story, I quickly discerned that my strong emotion stirred up emotion in the ladies who’d gathered for our weekly Bible study. And instead of studying the Bible, we studied the God of Bible who comes alongside us in our woundedness, who dries our tears, and who speaks words of healing into those places where words have often gone undeclared.

Oh the ache of the unspoken blessing! Who of us hasn’t longed for a few words of eternal encouragement from an uncooperative candidate? It seems it would be easy to impart words of strength to those we love. Why then, do we so often keep them to ourselves? I think this is one of the resulting side-effects of never having received the blessings due us. The words we long to receive can often be the very words we refuse to give.

What tragedy … to forsake the blessing of others because we feel under-blessed. We are not under-blessed. We are the children of God, the over-blessed, the lavishly loved, and the richly endowed kids of the kingdom. When we live there, in God’s house of affirmation, the overflow of his love to us more easily overflows through us. Blessing others becomes our default rather than our reluctance.

Not so long ago, I wrote a few words about our words of blessing. Maybe you’ve read them; maybe you’re reading them for the first time. They seem an apt fit with today’s rumination, and so I release them to you again for your consideration:

“Our words mean a great deal to others and to us as well. Words released as flowers are words that carry us through our seasons of deepest darkness. They brighten our spirits. They lighten our loads. They keep us from lesser feelings—lesser attitudes—that, if not guarded, could quickly morph into lesser behaviors. Anger, bitterness, selfishness, waywardness, faithlessness, fear, pity, envy, and blame, are all possible, lesser products of the heart when words of kindness and encouragement aren’t extended as healing replacements.

Rarely is our neglect intentional; mostly we don’t think about our words as being an investment into the heart of another. But sometimes we forsake the “giving of flowers,” keeping our words to ourselves because it’s hard to speak them. The emotional toll that honest words require can be exhausting, raw, and exposing, thus the reason so many important conversations never take place between two hearts. Instead, we sometimes choose our silence because the contrast is too much of an honest look into our flawed and fragile hearts. Self-preservation over personal revelation becomes the order of the day. When that happens, hearts remain as they were—unchanged, unmoved, and uncolored by the witness of a flower or two given in the name of love.

Whatever our reasons for keeping our silence, we must understand that some lives will come to an earthly close without the blessed benedictions due them. Words of blessing are reserved for a funeral, when in reality, so many of them should have been spoken in advance. Words spoken at a funeral, flowers given then? Well, they’re likely to be forgotten, to decay over time, buried alongside the casket. But words of encouragement spoken into a heart before a heart moves home to heaven? Those are eternal words that never die. They blossom as a witness to generous grace and serve as a lasting memorial to the human spirit and to the God who puts eternity into the hearts of all humankind.”    (F. Elaine Olsen, on “Sending Flowers to the Living” from Beyond Cancer’s Scars , p. 124-125).

Maybe today you feel the ache of an unspoken blessing in your heart. Maybe today, you’re refusing someone else the privilege of hearing the words due them. Wherever you are in this story, my prayer is that you will allow the Father to move in to that place of woundedness and to restore to you what is rightfully yours. You are the apple of your Father’s eyes, and his love for you is without reserve or condition.

Live in his encouragement today and then, out of that overflow, live to encourage someone else. As always …

Peace for the journey,

If you’d like to secure a copy of Beyond The Scars or Peace for the Journey, click here to learn more. I greatly appreciate your support as I walk through this transition in my writing ministry.

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