Category Archives: packing up

finishing

“When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” –John 21:9

 

Finish strong.

I used those words repeatedly in the classroom as the fourth nine weeks of the academic school year arrived. Students have a tendency to slack off as they see the finish line approaching. Accordingly, I offered them a push to not give up … to not allow the strong effort of the three, previous nine weeks to be dimmed by a lack luster, weak conclusion. For the most part, as long as my “push” was present, so was theirs.

A strong finish is often accompanied by a strong cheerleader.

But every now and again, despite the encouraging voices along the way, there comes a season when we don’t finish strong. Sometimes, we just finish. Not strong. Not pretty. Nothing to brag about and not a single cheerleader in sight. Instead, we wearily drag our lives, our work and our witness, sloppily to the finish line, hoping for an acceptable conclusion but realizing deep within that it could have been so much more–a better, stronger finish.

It’s not a comfortable fit for me. Still and yet, it’s one I’m wrestling with today as I prepare for the closing of one chapter so that another one may begin. There are some loose ends dangling around the edges of my heart, some regret about the messy steps I’ve taken toward this particular finish line.

How about you? Do you have regrets–things you wish you had said, done … not said, not done?

Regret is a heavy burden to bear, and if I’m not careful, it can quickly overshadow the many positive, strong steps I’ve made along the way. Perhaps you understand. Maybe you, too, are crossing a finish line with no personal fanfare, no pats on the back, and no gold medal in sight. This hasn’t been your strongest finish because you haven’t given your personal best. The outcome is less because the output has been less. Your hands are empty, but (in contrast) your heart is filled with the pangs of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.

Thankfully, there is a workaround for regret, a way to move past regret and to move forward in hope for the next lines in your story. That workaround?

It’s found in Scripture. It’s found with the Scripture-Writer, the Truth-Teller, the Grace-Giver … Jesus.

On this particular occasion as recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus was also known as the fire-Starter, the fish-Catcher, the fish-Cooker, the fish-Feeder and the bread-Bringer. After a season of sloppy, woeful finishes by his disciples at the Crucifixion, Jesus stands on the other side of that line to offer them a breakfast full of hope. Instead of casting further shame into their hearts, Jesus lays before them a bounty of fresh fish and bread. In doing so, he offers them a fresh start. He didn’t remove their regrets from their minds; instead, he holy and profoundly reframed them against the backdrop of his grace.

Their Cheerleader wasn’t MIA after all. He was waiting for them on the shoreline, calling them in for breakfast, and feeding their hearts with the gift of his presence, his love, and his willingness to entrust his kingdom to their fledgling faith. Shame and regret didn’t get the final word in the disciples’ lives. Jesus did.

He speaks the same over you and me. His is a message of undeserved grace, love, and trust. Jesus Christ stands at all the finish lines we’ll cross on this side of eternity. At times, we’ll finish strong. At other times, we’ll just finish. But in all times, in all finishes, God offers the gift of his grace, the gift of a second race … a third, fourth, tenth, hundredth race. Another opportunity to finish strong … to finish with Him.

Jesus Christ is our workaround, friends. Always. When we fail to finish as beautifully as we would have liked, he never fails to meet us at that point of frustration and to remind us that all has not been lost in the night.

The dawn is approaching. The embers are burning. The fish are frying, and the Master is calling.

Breakfast is served. Won’t you come and taste grace today? I’ll meet you at the table. As always …

Peace for the journey,

a time to keep

Packing while unpacking.

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s really just a delicate consideration about things kept, things discarded, things remembered, and decisions therein. One doesn’t pack up a house … a history … without a little unpacking of the soul alongside.

A time to keep and a time to throw away, as Solomon would say.

Such has been my portion since April 10th, the day I first learned of our impending move to Benson, NC. It almost seems like yesterday when our moving van pulled up to the parsonage in Laurinburg and we began to unpack our lives here.

Six years of living history in this space. Six years of being loved, being sheltered, being known, and being well-cared for. Saint Luke UMC has been a good place to grow and to rest our hearts. Some would call us crazy for leaving this place, this congregation and this community. In fact, on paper, it doesn’t make much sense as far as pastoral moves go.

But every now and again, “what makes sense” gets trumped by something greater, something higher, something more akin to choosing “what’s best for now” over “what’s been best for the past six years.” And that best for us?

Moving closer to home.

“Home?” you might ask.

Yes, home. You see, for me, home is portable.

It’s not a place. It’s a people. It’s not a house. It’s a family.

And my membership in a family began a long time before I married Preacher Billy. Before I was part of the Olsen family, I was part of the Killian family. Before I was a pastor’s wife or Nick, Colton, Jadon, and Amelia’s mom, I was a daughter. I still am. I belong to Chuck and Jane, and they belong to me. We’ve been a family for fifty-three years.

I spent the first twenty-one years of my life living under their roof in Wilmore, KY. Eight years later, I returned home for an additional three years where they continued to parent me as well as their two young grandsons. I moved away from Kentucky a final time in 1998, and four years later in 2002, my folks followed suit, relocating to North Carolina to be closer to their family. Dad left his fruitful career as a professor at Asbury Seminary to pastor two small churches in Mayodan, NC, while mom came along for the ride as his help-mate.

Apparently, “home” was portable for them as well.

Not a place, but a people. Not a house, but a family.

Us. We are that family. We were the reason they uprooted their existence of thirty plus years and said good-bye to their community, their countless friends, and their comfort. If you asked them today, I don’t imagine they’d voice any regrets. Their great sacrifice has been our great gain. The life we’ve shared together because of their being closer to us cannot be calculated in dollars and cents. It can only be measured in the heart, in those deep kinds of ways that shore up a foundation, solidify a history, and fortify a future. My parents brought “home” to us seventeen years ago.

Two months from now, we will have the rich privilege of returning the favor … of bringing “home” to them. For how long, only God knows. But for however long he ordains, we will be able to “do life” more practically with our parents. More time together. More face to face. More memories made because of more access. And that, friends, is what is best for now.

A home delivery to the Killian family from the Olsen family.

Indeed …

A time to keep.

Even so, Lord Jesus, grant us your peace for the journey as we walk these next steps in absolute faith and expectation. Amen.

on following dad . . .

Through the front windshield, I could see that they were talking – daddy telling a story to my thirteen-year-old son, sharing a ride together in that ’93 Chevy truck that’s been in the family for over two decades. I followed closely behind, staying in the lanes where he stayed and making the turns when he turned. He was leading me down an unfamiliar path, but I didn’t mind. I trust my daddy, and I knew that at the end of our ten-mile trek, we would arrive at our intended destination—my son’s apartment.

On our agenda? Moving my eldest child out of his current apartment into my parents’ home, where he will temporarily reside until he takes the hand of his bride in July. My husband did his due diligence last weekend in moving our second-born son out of the same apartment into his new living quarters. Needless to say, it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks for both of us.

Moves do that. They deplete us of our reserves. There are multiple, moving parts to every relocation. Whenever we rearrange our living situation, we can expect some rearrangement in a few other areas of our lives.

The heart.

The mind.

The soul.

A physical move is so much more than a change of address. A physical move shapes our interiors as well. Maybe not so much in a way that others notice but certainly at a level where we feel the shift within.

I’ve moved a lot over the years, lived in five states and changed my address at least twenty times. Moving is a tenet, perhaps, of the journey I’ve chosen, albeit not always an easy acceptance within. I’ve wrestled with a few changes of address and heartily welcomed some others. All twenty of them have shaped me, left their mark on me, and added their witness to my story.

By faith, I’m still standing. By faith, I’m still willing … to move as God directs, whether a move involving myself or in helping my children with their own moves. Why? Because there is something built in that place of relocation, a brick-upon-brick, cementing together of my interior because of my unyielding belief that God is up to something. That faith is stretched and strengthened with each move. That with every box packed in an old place and unpacked in a new location, a soul is asked to go deeper with God.

And really, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of soul-matters, shouldn’t we all want to go deeper with God?

I want to go deeper with God, even when it’s hard. And so, I followed my daddy’s pick-up truck this weekend and helped my son with his relocation. In doing so, I allowed my soul to move to that place of surrender … again. To saying “yes” to the change that is coming. I cannot stop the packing on this one. I can only unpack my heart before the Father and allow him to keep building up these surrenders into a strong tower of personal faith.

How grateful I am for a windshield that allows me to look through and beyond my front bumper and to see my daddy in front of me, leading the way to our intended destination. He has taught me so very much about embracing new chapters in the journey and about putting a foot to the pedal of faith, even when it’s hard. No doubt, his ability to press forward has better enabled me to do the same.

For as long as time allows (and as long as the engine holds out), I’ll keep following closely behind my daddy, with or without his Chevy tail-lights to guide me. I trust him, and the guiding Light that has guided him for seventy-six years will lead us both safely to our final destination where we will unpack our belongings for the last time and where we will share the same address for all of eternity.

Lead on, daddy. I’m right behind you.

Happy Father’s Day.

let the evening come . . .

“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.” –Genesis 28:10-11

 

Certain places. We’ve reached a new one—a God-ordained assignment just an hour south of our last one. My number nineteen; pastorally speaking, our fifth appointment with the United Methodist Church.

Like Jacob on a night so long ago in Bethel, we’re stopping here for a season. The sun has set on our previous day’s traveling (our six months’ worth of running), and now we have the great privilege of rest, of living and breathing in this new place landscaped by open fields, few stoplights, fresh peaches, and neighbors who drop by with fresh vegetables . . . just because.

Certain places. We’re well-suited for this one. Sometimes a heart just knows when it’s home. And this morning as we worshiped alongside new friends in filled church pews, my soul was stirred at the deepest level. First Sundays rarely go as planned; there are always a few hiccups and a few whispers, but none of that mattered to me on this first Sunday of my number nineteen.

What mattered?

The peace of knowing that I am home. That I can rest my head upon this stone named Saint Luke and can find a stairway that stretches straight forward to the heart of God. Like Jacob, my soul proclaims, “Surely the Lord is in this place …” (Gen. 28:16).

It’s not that the Lord hasn’t been present in my preceding eighteen places; it’s simply a great soul-relief knowing that he resides here as well. That God has already graced this place with the present of his presence long before my arrival.

I’m grateful for the setting sun, for a tangible sign that a previous day’s laboring is finished. It’s a good thing to shut my eyes and pull down the shades on the struggles of recent days, knowing that even as I rest, God is at work . . . ascending and descending on his ladder of mercy, making certain that I don’t miss his whispers of grace. I imagine he will tell me great and unsearchable things in this night’s pause (Jer. 33:3). Divine disclosure is a guarantee for the children of God. As we are faithful to rest in God’s house, our Father is faithful to entertain our hearts with his.

I want nothing more.

I just want to know God and then, out of that knowing, lead others to know the same. This certain place is the right place to do both. With God’s help and because of the heavenly generosity afforded my soul, I pledge my affection to this new ministry soil. I’ll put my hand to the plow, alongside my husband’s; together we’ll sow kingdom seed, and we’ll trust God for the harvest.

And so I pray,

Let the evening come, Lord. Let the stars shine brightly in this night’s rest. Slow me down and show me your glory. May the labors of my yesterdays serve as a strong foundation for my today, as well as an anchoring remembrance for my tomorrows. I thank you for this stay in Bethel and for this stone upon which I lay my head, my heart, and my faith. Make this pause in my journey count for your kingdom. Keep me on my knees, and awaken my heart to yours. Thank you for the struggle that has brought me thus far, and thank you for the grace that has kept me moving forward. Home is within reach. I can see it from here. This certain place is the right place for my heart. Amen. So be it.

PS: There was a beautiful flower arrangement on the altar this morning, given in honor of our arrival. Thanks to Mr. Bill, I have fresh cut flowers all around my house. It’s good to be welcomed!

Rodeo . . .

 

This isn’t my first rodeo.

In the course of my lifetime, I’ve lived in five different states, ten cities, and changed physical addresses at least eighteen times. My family and I are less than a week away from making it number nineteen.

A new home. New community. New ministry. New everything. Alongside the new, will arrive some old. It’s the old that sustains me. Strengthens me. Maintains me. That old?

God is near. (Ps. 145:18; James 4:8)

God.

Is.

Near.

When breathed in isolation, those three words hold enough theology, imagery, breadth, and depth to transition a heart from the old into the new. God and his nearness are old. God and his nearness are new. Never changing; ever the same. Ever present, active, and accurate. God simply and profoundly IS wherever I am. I cannot outrun his presence or hide from his heavenly GPS. He knows where I am and is willing to keep pace with my progression. Movement wins when God is with me.

This is how I can do this thing—keep making these moves and living the itinerant life. Knowing that God is near me keeps me upright in the saddle and focused on the finish line. Certainly, I’ve kicked up a little dust along the way, taken a tumble every now and again, and even knocked over a barrel on occasion. Each rodeo comes with its unique obstacles. But even then—even there in those moments of holding on for dear life—joy can be found. There’s something about the ride that trumps the risk.

To ride and rope and gallop alongside Jesus is to live life on the solid edge. This is how faith feels to me right now—dusty, wild, fast, and furious. I am hanging on for dear, sweet life. I’m resolved regarding the finish line, tenaciously gripping the reins in one hand while waving to the crowd with the other . . .

Just so you’ll know I’m still here. Just so you’ll know I haven’t given up. Just so you’ll know that I’m still committed to the ride, regardless of how bumpy it gets some days.

How grateful I am for the nearness of God and for this ride that draws me ever closer to his heart!

*Fair Warning: Number nineteen, here I come! Saddle up, and get ready to rodeo, friends. We’re in for the ride of our lives. May God grant us his favor, his strength, his discernment, his joy, and his peace for the journey that lies ahead. I thank you for the privilege of riding my horse next to yours.

 

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