Category Archives: packing up

an opportune time . . .

A couple of nights ago, I called my older boys and offered them this caution:

“Be on guard, sons. Apparently our family is now Satan’s new, favorite chew-toy.”

The next morning, my mother called with a similar warning:

“Elaine, I’ve been standing here in front of the mirror, curling my hair and thinking about all that’s been going on in our family over the past couple of weeks. We’re fighting something we cannot see, a battle of spiritual proportion.”

It seems as if my family is standing up against a formidable foe in this season, feeling the constraints of our faith in overload. Accordingly, I go to God’s Word this morning and allow it to speak truth to my soul. In thinking about Christ’s struggle against the enemy, I am strengthened in my own efforts at resistance.

“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” –Luke 4:15

Two things strike me about this verse:

  • An opportune time known as desert testing.
  • An opportune time yet to come.

There’s a plurality to the devil’s scheming. Funny how often we’re surprised by this reality. It’s not as if one opportune time is more difficult than the other. Opportune times are straining times, all of them stretching the comfortable boundaries of faith and requiring a step beyond what feels reasonable. I don’t imagine many of us go looking for opportune times (especially ones involving a forty day fast in the desert or a gut-wrenching surrender to nails and a hammer); instead, they seem to find us, pulling us in without notice. Almost accidentally.

Almost.

Opportune times. The Greek word kairos, meaning “season, opportune time. It is not merely as a succession of moments, which is “chronos,” but a period of opportunity (though not necessity). It is a critical or decisive point in time; a moment of great importance and significance; a point when something is ready or favorable, a propitious moment.” (NIV Key Word Study Bible, 1635-1636).

Read that again slowly and consider Christ’s conflict; consider your own. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Opportune times are not accidental occasions. Instead, they are orchestrated, carefully selected, and purposely planned. Whether schemed by the devil for our destruction or willingly allowed by God for our perfection, opportune times are those hinge moments in our life’s history that swing faith in one of two directions: a right one or a wrong one. Really, there’s no middle ground in opportune seasons. Either we live them right—live them forward and in faith—or we live the lesser road. A road of regression, wrongful conclusions, and regrettable distrust.

I don’t want to live on the side of distrust. I want to live rightly on the side of faith, fully believing that no weapon forged against me will prevail. That, in fact, victory is my heritage as a servant of the Lord (see Isaiah 45:17). Accordingly, I must pick up the sword of the Spirit and strap on my spiritual armor, because the opportunistic arrows of the enemy will not be quenched by feeble, weak-minded, and weak-willed faith. No, to stop his forward progression, I must stand in the strength of who I am in Jesus Christ.

I am God’s child. I am his chosen bride. I am the apple of his eye.

So are you.

Be on guard, friends. If you’re not in the middle of an opportune season right now, I imagine one is waiting for you down the road. Don’t fear its advent; rather, recognize it as it arrives and for what it has the potential to be—a hinge moment in your faith’s history that will strengthen your understanding of God and will catapult your witness forward for the exponential increase of the kingdom.

Satan may have come to me and my family in what he thought to be his opportune time. However, he seems to have momentarily ignored that my times (opportune and otherwise) are in God’s hands. They all belong to him, and his purposes for my life override any schemes to the contrary. God holds the chain to the short leash attached around Satan’s roaming, and today my Father has willingly and forcefully yanked it a few times so that the devil remembers who’s in charge.

I am grateful for God’s strength in this season and for your prayers that have, undoubtedly, tightened the noose around the devil’s neck. What privilege there is in standing alongside you, my mighty warrior friends! As always . . .Peace for the journey,

hearts on pilgrimage . . .

 

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” –Psalm 84:5

 

Her heart spilled over into mine as I read the struggle in her words. Another pastor’s wife, just like me, living the itinerant lifestyle—a nomadic calling of sorts, requiring that the tent pegs remain pliable and the baggage minimal. She asked me if I ever felt “stretched and thinned” by it all, ever really felt settled in my spirit about the ministry road and my calling to stand jointly alongside my husband as a harbinger of the kingdom of God.

Stretched and thinned. An apt description for those (not just pastors and their families) who pick up the Gospel torch and who covenant with the Creator to carry it forward. Stretching and thinning is part of our trajectory of faith. From “strength to strength” with the line in between tethered to tomorrow’s promise while being restrained by yesterday’s productivity. A sacred tension between our future and our history and, if not carefully protected by perspective, a rip or two in the fabric of our souls.

Yes . . . stretched and thinned, even unsettled at times. This is where I’ve been in recent days, standing next to the man I love with one hand clasped around his and the other hand loosening the tent pegs at my feet. The last time I felt this kind of pull was three years ago when we moved to our present location. The road to arrive here was a bumpy one, and my heart was torn in two at the thought of having to start all over again.

Today, my heart feels the same, a difficult tug between all that’s been and all that will be. Stretching and thinning, desperately trying to keep in step with the Spirit and with the preacher-man whom the Father has so generously given to me for this life. Together, we’ve set our hearts on pilgrimage, knowing that the time has come for us to move forward in faith. In June, we’ll make our trek southward to a small community just north of the South Carolina state line.

I don’t imagine it will come as easily as I would like for it to, and I’ve long since given up trying to forecast the future. I can only live the stretching and thinning of this day and commit my forward movement to God’s forwarding grace. He will see to my next steps, and he’s too thorough with my sanctification to leave one stone unturned or untouched by his refining love.

Oh friends, would you pray for us, all six of us? We’re all being stretched and thinned by God’s good pleasure and because of his strong desire to move us further along in our perfection. But along the way and as we go, it’s good to know that we have friends who partner with us in the advancing of God’s kingdom through prayer. If you’re so inclined, we covet your prayers for:

  • a collective faith unafraid to move forward;
  • a resolute-passionate spirit to get the job done;
  • an unbridled, heavenly joy to keep us company as we walk it out.

If I’m going to be stretched and thinned let it be so for the glory and renown of my faithful God who has yet to waste a single, surrendered moment of my life. He’ll work with what he gets, and today I’m putting my all back into his hands.

Peace for the journey, ye pilgrims of grace. I’m so blessed to have you partner alongside my heart as we all move onward and upward to take hold of all of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us. I love you dearly.

PS: Photo credit – KCC Photography, Fayetteville’s finest photographer!

I love you this big…

I love you this big…

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 137:3-5)

I jokingly commented to my neighbor last evening…

“Of all the women least likely cut out for motherhood and children, somehow I wound up with a quiver full of them.”

I’ve been a mom for at least half of my life—twenty-two years of rearing and raising a brood under my roof. Sometimes getting it right. A lot of time failing miserably at the task of loving, but at all times with the understanding that mothering is a privilege … a sacred trust not to be taken lightly.

With parenting comes pain. Unavoidable pain—good and bad. Good pain issuing forth because of the natural flow of give-and-take while growing a child into an adult. Bad pain because sometimes that growth is accompanied by the willful, stubborn choices of both the parent and the child.

Today there’s some good pain in my heart. An ache not unfamiliar to me as a mother of four beautiful children. Today, my eldest son moves to Charlotte where he will be attending graduate school in the fall. A van load and car load just pulled out a few minutes ago, and my obligatory wave at the end of the drive-way was met with a few tears and the all-too-familiar, wrenching kick to the mothering gut.

I first felt it four years ago when we left the parking lot of Nick’s college campus. Sobbed most of the way home and then sobbed some more when I opened the back door and found a bouquet of flowers waiting for me on the counter. I still have the card on my nightstand.

“I love you so much! Thanks for an incredible 18 years. I am so grateful to have you as a mother and you have my love and respect. Reliant K writes: ‘If home is where the heart is, then my home is where you are.’ Your Son, Nick XOXO” (August 18, 2007)

Today there are no flowers to greet my pain. Instead, I take one from my quiver and give it back to the world. Today I release my “twenty-two-year-old, so-much-like-his-mother” son to his life as an adult. Today I trust and believe in those two plus decades’ worth of heart investments that we’ve made together knowing that they have been enough to grow a boy into a man. A man of honor, respect, depth, and godly intention.

I will “not be put to shame when my enemies come and contend with me at the gate.” My son’s got my back. Nicholas, he whose name means “victory of the people” is strong and courageous and will be a leader in this world. A name well-suited for this man who has overcome many obstacles in his short tenure upon this earth and who has always done so in the light and shadow of the cross.

It’s time for you to run,my boy. Time for you to live your life as a man. This mother will miss you; but even more so, this mother is ready to release you to the world.

Live it like you mean it, Nicholas, and always, always, always, take good care of your heart. I love you this big.

Mom

sacred remembrance…

“Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles and the judgments he pronounced.” (Psalm 105:1-5)

I haven’t told you this story before.

Tonight seems a good fit for the telling. Why? Because tonight I need to remember. Remembering is one of the major mandates that God laid at the feet of his people throughout Scripture, thus becoming a lasting mandate for us as well.

To remember. To recall where we’ve been… where we’ve come from and the faithfulness of God therein. Remembrance is particularly helpful in a season where chaos abounds and our faith proffers more like a molecule rather than a mustard seed. As we become intentional with our remembrance—especially as it pertains to God’s everlasting faithfulness in seasons past when troubles assailed us and we couldn’t determine the workings of his hand only to be surprised in the end by a miraculous return to peace—when we recall those moments of grace and deliverance, then we’re better able to take hold of the doubts that overwhelm us in our current seasons of travail.

God knew back then, even as he knows now, the power that comes with our sacred remembering. Thus, tonight I remember… a day in recent history. A day dated April 14, 2010. But before we get there, let me set the stage.

In early February of this year, my husband received a call from our District Superintendent informing us that we were on the “move list.” No other details were offered, only that we were to begin making preparations for a move, both emotionally and physically. Over the next couple of months we did just that… not only preparing our hearts for a move, but also preparing the hearts of the congregation we’d served for six years. It was a difficult preparation from many different angles. That being said, we’re accustomed to moving. We’re a Methodist clergy family, wholly… holy committed to the itinerant lifestyle.

Fast forward to April 12, 2010. We received a call from our DS informing us of where our next pastorate would be. On paper, all made good sense. Great location; big enough parsonage; thriving congregation; a salary in keeping with expectation. We spent the day contemplating our “next,” but as the day wore on, so did our concerns. Before nightfall, we were a complete mess. We couldn’t put our finger on the pulse behind our concerns, but we knew something was amiss. The next morning, we received an answer.

A phone call arrived informing my husband of a situation surrounding our new appointment. In good conscience and after heavy deliberation with me and with God in prayer, my husband respectfully requested he be re-assigned to a new church. There’s always a risk that comes with making such a request of the Bishop, especially at the eleventh hour when appointments were being set in stone. To say that we were crushed in spirit with the recent revelation is to say too little. We had long felt this would be our moving year. Even prior to us knowing about our moving status, God had prompted our hearts along those lines. We were, however, content to let the process run its course, believing that God would move the hearts of the Bishop and his cabinet if he so desired to move us to a new place of ministry.

The day was fraught with anxiety. Hours went by before hearing anything. And then he called. Not God… the Bishop. He was sympathetic to our concerns and assured us that we could return to our previous appointment without any problem. And then, he offered a postscript.

“By the way, I have another appointment you might be interested in…”—something about a dying congregation, about our coming in as a first, test-case for a revitalization effort going on within the UM church and how our support would be generated in partnership between this new church and the conference. I wasn’t thrilled; I was confused.

Thus began an all night deliberation regarding a “move” not in keeping with our personal expectations. However, by morning, we’d decided to “go” with a few conditions attached to our “going.” Apparently, conditions don’t always mesh well with a Bishop’s offer, thereby creating another five tenuous hours of back and forth between my husband and the Bishop’s cabinet. Not handling the pressure very well, I did what all smart women do when confused.

I went shopping.

I told my husband that my phone would be on and that he should call me should something change. He did… a couple of times. His voice was tearful, his pain palpable. It didn’t look like a move was going to “press through” for us this year. During his final call to me, he said, “Elaine, the DS just called again and wanted to know if he should remove us from the ‘move’ list.” I hesitantly replied with my “yes.” We closed our conversation, and I headed to the dressing room.

And then it happened… a moment I couldn’t have planned… a moment I didn’t anticipate. As I live and breathe, I was standing before the mirror in the Belk’s dressing room, arms extended into the air in preparation for trying on a blouse. As the blouse enveloped my frame, so did a warmth I’ve never experienced before (even typing this now, I feel the witness of the Holy Spirit running throughout my body). From head to toe, I was wrapped and energized in the marvelous light and life of God’s Spirit within. I immediately retrieved my cell phone from my pant’s pocket and speed-dialed my husband.

“Honey, text message the cabinet and tell them we’ll come… no strings attached.”

He thanked me and immediately sent this message to the cabinet:

“We’ll go and we’ll go with God. No strings attached.”

We were later told that with the receiving of that text, the climate in the conference room immediately shifted and every one of our “attachments” were not only met, they were exceeded. Now here we are, almost eight weeks down the road, and I’m telling the story again. Not only for your sake, but mostly for mine. Why? Because I need to remember tonight; need to be reminded that for all the unknowns that currently torment me, there was a day in recent history when God firmly and beautifully gave me his “go” to be in this place.

I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t wondered a least a thousand times “why?” over the past eight weeks. It’s been a difficult “fit” with my heart. That being said, I’d also be lying if I tried to deny that dressing room moment. I can ask “why” all I want, but the truth is, I cannot deny the Spirit’s presence on April 14, 2010, in Belk’s. It’s almost as real to me this day as it was then, and friends…

Who of us doesn’t want some of that?

Remembrance is a good thing. It keeps us moving in a right and holy direction, even when we cannot see our next step. Remembering the presence and faithfulness of God in our past better enables us to move forward with our future. It’s one of the strongest tools we have in our spiritual arsenal to fight the enemy’s schemes for personal disaster. Tonight, I’m wielding that sword. Tonight, I’m writing my faith, out loud and on display for all the world to read. I don’t know if you needed it, but I certainly did, and I happen to believe that there might be a few of you who need to remember as well.

Remember God. Remember him well. Remember where you’ve come from, where you’ve been, and where you’re headed. Remember how he’s been there each and every time. He’s in it all—past, present, and future, and his faithfulness never ends.

Remember God and find your thanks, sing your praise, and tell of all his wonderful acts of kindness toward you. Your deliberate remembrance this day will be the spontaneous hallelujah of your tomorrow! As always…

Peace for the journey,

~elaine

PS: Thanks to Sandi Patty’s wonderful marketing crew, I have three copies of her newest book to give-away. The winners are… Cheryl B., Teresa, and Joan. Send me your snail-mail girls, and I’ll get your book to you this week! Enjoy.

Copyright © August 2010 – Elaine Olsen

the broken road of faith…

Photo courtesy of Susan Hood

“Faith moves forward… faith anchors itself in the unseen. Faith doesn’t base its hope in emotion but in the truth.”

That was my answer this morning to the question that was raised in Sunday school regarding the definition of faith. I spoke it rather mechanically, almost as if rehearsed over and over again prior to its departure from my lips. I suppose I’ve been practicing it for a while now, not just with words, but in my spirit as well.

It’s a good thing… this rehearsing of faith in an earlier, seemingly unchallenged season. Why? Because when uncertainties arise to challenge that faith, we need the advantage of a previously rehearsed faith. We need the anchor of truthful words when feelings pull us in the opposite direction.

I’ve been challenged lately… been hoping for some tangible validation to my deeply-held spiritual convictions. It’s not that God’s been unwilling to validate my inward pulse; no, instead, it’s been a great deal about my unwillingness to take the time to listen to his. Life and busyness and stress have shouted their insistence, almost to the point of sweeping me under the rug of doubt. I’ve caved many times, succumbed to my tears and frustration and feelings of numbness.

It’s hard to continue an old life in a new place. On the front side of my ellipsis nearly three weeks ago, I imagined this transition would be easier. I naively placed the enemy at bay, believing that my faith was unshakeable, unbendable, unwavering and steadfast. But naivety has little, if any, place in the life of a believer… especially one who is intent on the ongoing pilgrimage of faith’s perfection. Troubling times are sure to come, and while my “troubling” might categorize as insignificant to those who are troubled with a seemingly far worse scenario, it ranks pretty noteworthy for me.

“Whatever trips you up.”

This is what I’ve always told my Bible study gals (if you’re one of them, I miss you tremendously and am sending a heart full of love to you this night). We all have our triggers, and we can be sure that the enemy knows them full well and is ready to exploit them every chance he’s given. I suppose I’ve been more prone to opening up the door to his advances in recent days. Exhaustion has set in, and whenever we’re physically and emotionally tired—when the pavement beneath our feet feels more like rubble rather than smoothness—we’re prone for a misstep along these lines.

That being said, a “trip up” isn’t the end of a heart’s faith. A good faith acknowledges the imbalance early on. A good faith pauses to recognize the incongruencies between what is true and what is purported as truth. A good faith doesn’t linger too long in the rubble; instead a good faith picks itself up and moves forward, doing what it has always done.

Believing further. Looking higher. Walking onward.

Faith keeps going, and faith keeps speaking the truth, even when feelings lag behind.

That is what I did this morning. I spoke my faith despite my feelings, and as I did… something broke in me. Tears began to water my cheeks, and for the first time in a long while, God’s Spirit resonated tenderly with mine. I felt him nearby, and my heart was renewed for the journey ahead.

Sometimes, friends, we need to live our faith out loud and in living color, even when unfamiliar faces serve as our audience. I cannot pretend to be otherwise. Sometimes, my faith isn’t pretty or commendable. Sometimes it lags behind the expectations of others. But always, it lives out loud, and I just have to believe that somewhere in the living and telling of my story, someone else will benefit from the honesty.

There is no set of blueprints that perfectly defines how your faith and mine faith will cadence through until the end. We cannot predict on the front end (nor would we want to) of our ellipses all the “rough and tumble” of our tomorrows. But of this one thing we can be certain…

No matter the stones that present themselves on the path of faith, no matter the potholes and the gravel that serve as precursors to a personal fall, the One who stands at the end of the road is worth it. God is what keeps me going. I may be bloodied from the fall and the wounds may run deep, but you can be sure that I will rise again to a new day’s journey until my feet and my faith have landed me safely home. That is what I told my new friends this morning when the teacher (perhaps stunned and uncomfortable with my tears) thanked me for staying the course of faith.

“He is so worth it. God is the real deal; the only thing I’ve got going on.”

Perhaps this day some of you, like me, boast the bloody knees of a recent fall. Let not your hearts be completely troubled by the stumble; instead, believe further, look higher, walk onward. Remember the truth of your yesterday’s faith, and allow it to be the underpinning that moves you forward this week. Don’t linger too long in your guilt; let God’s forgiveness and love for you be the foundational truth from which you monitor your progress this week. You can never stumble so far as to miss the reach of God. You can never fall too far from his heart so as not to be pulled back into his loving embrace. The enemy would have you think otherwise, but the enemy is a liar. Tell him so, and then keep going. Keep speaking the truth out loud and on purpose, even when your feelings lag behind.

Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Be careful to listen to his voice this week; be willing to speak it all the more. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: I heard God’s voice this past week through the 32 Killian family members that gathered on the shores of SC for a family reunion, but no time more profoundly then the final night when we gathered for a family sing. I pray it blesses your heart as it did mine. Be sure and hang on for the final song by our beloved, Joni… our own Sandi Patty! Shalom.

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