So she sings to us as we snake our way down I-40, making the trek back home. I hold his hand as we mark those miles through Appalachia, knowing that he is my home—the place where I feel safe and where the embers still burn with hope. When nothing else makes sense, when the world goes crazy and loses its grip on reality, my husband’s still doing the dance. Still taking the lead. Still holding me close and releasing me just enough to allow me my twirl, only to pull me back in so that I wind up back in the place where I began. Where I belong. Safely in his arms.
Oh that all of life would feel as safe as this—a long, winding road filled with love and hope and twirls that land us safely and certainly back to the place of our belonging. All of life can feel like this . . . can be this—a love dance through the mountains. But every now and again, the dance is interrupted, drowned out by the cacophony of noises that slow the pace and cripple the stride.
Those are the times when we must pull away, friends, and gather love closely to us so that we might remember and know for certain that all has not been lost in the night.
Love remains. Dances are still possible, and all of life is a journey.
Through a mountain.
Marking the miles, one after the other, on the road toward home.
The embers still burn with hope. How I pray you feel their warmth this day. As always . . .
“. . . the word of the LORD tested him.” –Psalm 105:19
Sometimes he tells me. Sometimes keeping it inside pins him down . . . pushes him down where the pain hurts deeply and the tears flow easily. Sometimes the world slams cruelly and unfairly into him, moving him to the outer edges of what’s reasonable. Sometimes it’s just too much. Last night was one of those times.
And so he told me . . . laid down beside me, took my hand and shared with me the deepest ache of his heart.
“Elaine, I can’t give in to this despair. Even when I want to, I can’t, because I believe that at any moment, on any given day, God might show me that something I’ve been waiting to see. And if I give in to despair, I’ll miss it–God’s something. And baby, I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want you to miss it either, so I’ll keep holding on for both of us.”
And then I broke, lying there beside my man. Hand in hand. Hearts aching together. Hearts longing for, looking for, and believing in that something . . . God’s something. A something spoken over our lives a season ago that brought us to this place, this space, this dot on the map named ministry.
A long time ago, there was a boy on the verge of manhood, a seventeen-year-old dreamer named Joseph (see Genesis 37-40). God, too, spoke a something into his heart. A dream or two about taking the lead, about rising to the occasion, about being the man in a season yet to come. What incredible privilege to hold such holy affirmation, confirmation in one’s heart—to be told in advance that you’ll be needed, you’ll be trusted, you’ll be used by God in a mighty way! Joseph’s dreams were far grander than his reality, and to pack all that truth inside his heart only to be cruelly taunted by that truth . . . for years? Well, lesser men would have given in to their despair, would have wilted under confinement, and would have stopped anticipating God’s greater move . . . God’s grander something.
But Joseph wasn’t a lesser man. Neither is my man. Both of them, God’s men—God’s appointed leadership despite a long season of taunts to the contrary. Like Joseph, my husband is a man willing to believe in a dream and to keep his feet and faith planted on the path that will move him closer to seeing that dream become a reality, even when that path feels like a dead-end.
There are no dead-ends with God. Only living ones. Living-ends with the Lover and Creator of our souls. The dreams that God breathes into our hearts, the plans that he has for us, the thoughts that he thinks toward us, well, they are holy. Consecrated. Truthful. Enduring. God’s dreams for our lives arrive with a pulse and with a promise—that he who began a very good and gracious work inside of us will be faithful to see it through to completion (Phil. 1:6). Dreams that begin and end there—with God—are dreams that cannot be thwarted, only anticipated.
And so, today, my man anticipates. With one hand, he grips the dream—God’s something—and with the other hand, he grips me. He pulls me toward anticipation . . . toward the dream, and I am swallowed up by the quicksand of his faith. I’m drawn into it, immersed in the raw and gritty determination of the dream, and that which began as a great pain in my husband’s heart last night has transformed into a great strength for both of us this day. Once again, we give our hearts and our hands to this place, this space, this dot on the map named ministry.
Today just might be the day when the dream awakens to reality. I don’t want to miss it should it arrive. As always…
Peace for the journey,
PS: Many thanks to all of you for entering the give-away. Unfortunately, only two winners this go around, and they are… Jane Babich and Kathie! Ladies, please contact me with via e-mail with your mailing information. Jane, I don’t have any contact info for you. Thanks.
The ocean is still free. So I said to myself this past weekend while spending a few days on the shores of the Atlantic.
The ocean is still free. Free to roam. Free to breathe. Free to birth. Free to be.
Mankind has tried to control it, has sloppily put its fingerprints into it, but mankind has been unable to stop it. Freely the tide rolls in; freely it retracts. The ocean keeps a pace all its own, unwilling to cede ownership to anyone but its Creator. The ocean knows to Whom it belongs. The ocean remembers its beginning.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” –Genesis 1:1-2
Beginning days. God, darkness, and deep waters. Indeed, the ocean remembers its beginning. Do you remember yours?
” —the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. … But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” –Genesis 2:7, 20-25
Beginning days. God, dust, breath, man.
Beginning days. God, man, rib, woman.
Beginning days. God, man, woman, one flesh.
Life was simpler back then, in those beginning days. Life was perfect. Life was, as God meant for it to be.
But then, life changed. Less perfect. Less edenic. Confused and greatly burdened by sin’s curse. Somewhere between those beginning days and these days… our days, life got very messy and our remembrances of Eden mostly forgotten. And when Eden is forgotten—when beginning understanding and truth are traded in for modern day theory—then our nakedness no longer matters. We no longer notice it; instead, we’re hell-bent on exposing it… all in the name of personal freedom.
But this isn’t freedom, friends. This is bondage. This is being chained to our flesh, and this is when we find ourselves in grave danger of missing the great point of our lives—to surrender our flesh over to faith and back into the hands of the One who created it… in the beginning. To not allow our flesh to master us but, instead, to master our flesh through the blood-stained covering of Christ’s cross and through the transformational work of the Holy Spirit’s willing presence and power in our lives. This is freedom… God’s way. This is why the ocean is still free. The ocean is still willing to let God be in control.
The ocean is still free because the ocean has not forgotten its beginning. We would do well not to forget ours.
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 5:25way. 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.
~elaine When has someone filled your “trunk” with love? How might you do the same for someone else this week?
I just wanted him to notice me. It had been an hour since he returned home from his meeting at the church. I spent most of that hour in bed, nursing a pulled muscle in my back. Nursing a heart-hurt as well. Seems as if there have been a few of these kinds of aches lately. Internal, soul-pains with no immediate cure but for the passage of time and the tenderness of God. And so I waited for him to make that trek down the hall to our back bedroom … to notice me. To ask a few questions. To join me in my misery.
Ever tried that one before? Using your pitiful estate to procure collective pity? I can’t be the only one out there wielding this emotional manipulation. We all (especially us women) have an arsenal full of management techniques we’re willing to implement in order to secure the attention of others. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t working. My husband is an “S” on the Myer-Briggs Personality Test, meaning that he gains information through his senses. If he can’t taste it, touch it, feel it, hear it, or see it, it doesn’t exist in his cognitive awareness. So, while I’m back in the bedroom nursing my wounds, he’s not thinking about checking up on me; he’s simply noticing the partially shut door, indicating to him that I’m resting and wanting to be left alone.
What I’m wanting is for him to intuitively know my need without me having to tell him—that’s part of my being an “N” on the Myer’s Brigg, an opposite of being an “S.” But really, this isn’t a post about personality types. Mostly, it’s just about my needing to be noticed, and when he didn’t acquiesce to my silently kept expectations, I added a few frustrations to the wounds I was already self-medicating with self-pity.
Why isn’t he coming back here? What’s more important than my pain? He’s usually so attentive to my needs? Why isn’t he taking the time to notice me?
An hour into my self-soothing, I received my answer. Not through him, but rather through the faint sound of silverware clinking together in the kitchen sink.
He can’t notice you, Elaine. He’s too busy noticing the messy kitchen—those after-dinner dishes that never got washed. He is taking care of you, just through different means. By the way, who’s noticing him? When was the last time someone paused long enough to stop his/her personal self-centeredness to ask Billy, “How are you? How are you handling your pain … your wife’s pain?”
Noticing him. The guilt from not having made many meals in that kitchen for nearly a year is bad enough, but to intuitively feel the pain regarding his pain on this one (again the “N” at work in me) added to my heart ache.
I can’t tell you the last time that someone ministered to my husband along these lines. I don’t know if it’s a guy thing or a preacher thing (maybe even a human nature thing), but it’s not right. As the primary bread-winner and care-giver to a sick wife, my husband carries a heavy load. I couldn’t ask for a better help-mate as we have navigated and continue to navigate these uncertain times. But few have been those who have noticed him … have taken the time to ask the hard questions, wait for the answers, and then act upon the pain that is obviously masked by his need to be strong for all of us. Who’s noticing him?
Why is it that few people take the time to notice the care-givers of sick patients? The friends, spouses, children, extended family members who are caring for the infirmed? Is there a threshold for concern … as if there’s only enough room in our hearts to offer compassion, send comfort to the sick? Is taking on the care-giver simply too much burden added to an already heavy-laden list of those needing care? When did we stop noticing the corporate nature of care-giving? If it “takes a village” to raise a child, then why would it be any different with those who are suffering? Suffering need, needs a village of concerned inhabitants to tend to the sick, care-givers included. They should not be overlooked. Instead, they should be noticed. Be consulted. Be loved, even as the patient is loved.
As the wife of a husband who has valiantly endeavored to “love me as Christ loves the church,” I am sometimes saddened by the response of the “church at large” to love on my man. He needs to be noticed. And I can honestly tell you that he isn’t wielding any weapons in his emotional arsenal to procure attention. He’s just not the type. He’s a humble man with a beautiful heart willing to bend low to wash the feet of a stranger, despite his own feet being sorely in need of a thorough cleansing of communal love.
I don’t tell you this to elicit a response in our direction. I tell you this in hopes that you might consider a care-giver who is within arm’s reach of your ministry today. Someone who needs noticing, who needs a few minutes of your time and your tending. Someone who would benefit from a phone call, a note, a lunch date all offered in the name of God’s love because you understand that loving “the most excellent way” (see 1 Corinthians 13) means putting others’ needs above your own. It’s such a simple thing … noticing the pain of others. It doesn’t take much to abate the human need to be noticed. It simply requires your willingness to re-direct your attention away from self and to channeling that attention in the direction of others.
Perhaps, today, you could give your attention to the care-giver of someone who is sick; in doing so, you give to the patient as well. Don’t wait to be asked. Just do. Do it today; do it because our God has done the same for us.
He noticed us. He notices us still. We must give our hearts–our energies and our efforts–to the same. As always…
Peace for the journey,
PS: The winner of Michael O’Brien’s CD is #13, Stephanie! I’ll have this in the mail to you be week’s end.