A word for a pilgrim’s heart …

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Do I hear shouted amens around the world? That’s from Psalm 116:1,2, a psalm with some of my favorite passages because they describe my life. I’d love to quote them all here, but I won’t … I often am brought to tears by the chapter.

Death wrapped its ropes around me…I saw only trouble and sorrow…

Then I called to Him.

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful …

Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me…

And so I walk in the LORD’s presence as I live here on earth!


All of that to preface a story that fits well with our series on hope.

Five friends were vacationing in Maine back in October. One of the ladies gave each of us a gift before we ended the week. She had purchased small pewter scallop shells, each imprinted with a single inspirational word. The words were all different; we drew our shells at random.

Yes! A scallop shell. I’d just finished the edit of a book by a pilgrim who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Stuck in the Weeds, by Paul Stutzman), and from his experiences I’d learned that a scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrimage on the Camino. I liked the idea of a daily reminder of who I am in this world, and so I’d been looking for a scallop charm to wear on a chain. This little pewter shell cannot be put on a chain, but it does the job of reminding me, lying on my kitchen windowsill, looking up at me each day with its Word.

Well… well. That’s about all I want to say about the last two weeks since Thanksgiving. Holidays. (When I say “holidays,” does that conjure up stress and emotional turbulence for you?) Called for jury duty. A computer that one day decided to go on strike. Illness. Oh, my. As my mom used to quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often awry).”

That’s from a poem by Robert Burns, written way back in the 1700s. He was ploughing, and his plough destroyed a mouse’s nest.

Ah! doesn’t that happen to us? Just about the time we have things in life arranged comfortably … then something ploughs through. A plough breaks everything up. Turns everything upside down. The poet’s line concerns the mouse, but it could be describing us: “Oh what a panic is in your little breast!”

Yes, my plans for the whole month of December 2015 have been ploughed through…

So … as you have probably noticed … we are not yet done with our hope meditations!

But back to the scallop shell.

The word carved into it is RELAX.

Now, when I drew that shell, I was delighted it was a scallop shell since I’d been looking for one. And that word on it? Well, okay, the word was nice. But I was pretty relaxed at that time, and I didn’t think much of it. I was just happy to have a scallop shell to remind me I am a pilgrim.

Now, though, RELAX is going to be my Word of the Year.

At the end of two weeks of turmoil came a short little blurb a local businessman asked me to edit. The subject was on choosing a Word of the Year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. One word. A word that requires you to both change your thinking and your behaviors. A word to think about and put into practice every day of 2016. I’ve never been a resolution-maker or keeper…but a word of focus and action? That intrigued me.

And here’s my word on my kitchen windowsill! Looking at me every day. Carved into the symbol of who I am!

Yes, every day, this pilgrim is determined to relax. I think back over all of the hope we’ve discovered this year. All the promises given to us by our Creator, our Father, the one who saved us and saves us every day.

The one who the psalmist spoke of… This God, our God, who makes it possible for our souls to be at rest as we walk in the presence of the Lord every day.

Why would I not RELAX in the journey ahead, knowing who is walking with me and has made all these promises?

The scallop shell will stay on my windowsill for next year.

And the word is now carved on the heart of this pilgrim.

How kind the Lord is! How good He is to me!

And lest you think this is all coincidence…

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in another state. She knew nothing of the scallop shell or the suggestion of a Word of the Year. She knew only that the last two weeks a plough has gone through my life.

Her email included this line: “I will pray for both of us to relax in the Lord…”

Let’s help each other to be trees by the water

Let’s help each other.

It’s so easy these days to complain about the state of our world and fret about what is going on around us. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed about what has happened or what is happening to me personally. It’s so easy to slip into a hopeless and helpless mode of thinking.

But we are not hopeless or helpless. We might walk through fire or flood—and those things hurt, we all know they do—but we are not hopeless or helpless!

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. (Hebrews 10:23)

God can be trusted. He surrounds us with His love and mercies. He does not leave us to wander through this life alone. He has a plan for each of us, and He works that plan in everything that happens to us.

Let’s remind each other of all of this. Let’s share with sisters and brothers the stories of how God has kept His promises. No matter whether the incident is a huge, life-changing moment or a small, seemingly trivial thing—when we open our eyes to see our Father’s love and faithfulness at work in our lives and we open our mouths to tell each other about these gifts of mercy, then we are helping and encouraging each other to trust more and more in our God.

Let’s seek out and know His promises. Let’s go boldly to the Father and ask for them. Let’s remind each other of them. Let’s live with joy in the treasure we’ve been given.

The Creator has a plan for this world, and He will not be deterred. We no longer “live” in the short span of years we walk the earth. We now live an eternal life, planted in us by the eternal Creator. Our lives are so much more than the narrow and shallow views we have as long as our feet are planted on the ground. Though we only have glimpses now, our feet have been planted in another realm!

I love the verse in Hebrews 11 that observes that Moses, when faced with fierce opposition from Pharaoh, did not waver. He “kept right on going, because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).

Let’s help each other live, not in the “facts” and “realities” of earthly life, but in the facts and realities of this eternal realm.

Let’s remind each other that we can live with great expectation, for there is wonderful joy ahead—in both the long-range, eternal plans of God, and in our personal lives today.

“For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does” (Psalm 33:4).

Let’s help each other to be trees by the water, fully trusting in the One who gave us this life and these promises. Then we will not fear heat or drought, we’ll be always green and always producing fruit.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
Romans 12:12



Here’s one more post to read if you’re walking through a wilderness right now:  Barren Desert to Garden of Eden.

 And MORE on the gift of hope: Psalm 9:10; Psalm 31:15, 21-22; Psalm 33:4; Psalm 39:6-7; Psalm 42:5, 11; Psalm 43:5; Psalm 56:4; Psalm 62:5-6; Psalm 71:14; Psalm 78:7; Psalm 119:49-50, 76; Psalm 145:13; Psalm 146:5-6; Proverbs 10:24-25; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 17:5-8; Lamentations 3:24; Micah 7:7; Romans 4:16-21; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:26-27, 31-34; Romans 12:12; Romans 15:4, 13; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 2:12; Colossians 1:11-12; Hebrews 6:18-20; Hebrews 10:23-25; Hebrews 10:35; Hebrews 11:27; 1 Peter 1:3, 6; Revelation 1:17-18




Psalm Prayer:

Remember your promise to me;
It is my only hope.
(Psalm 119:49)


© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Why our hope is certain

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.
(Psalm 9:10)

We’ve spent the last 9 weeks meditating on the God on whom all our hope rests.

He can be trusted.

He will do what He says He will do.

We can go forward in faith, because we know Him who has given us these great promises, these bridges of hope. We know who He is.

Our hope is certain, because we do not hope for, but we hope in—in the living God.

And we know that He will not abandon us who search for Him and who put all our trust in Him.




Psalm Prayer:

Remember your promise to me;
It is my only hope.
(Psalm 119:49)


© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

When we don’t have the strength to hold onto hope

This is a slightly edited version of a post that I first published in March of 2011. (Hence the reference to ashes and winter.)  George MacDonald wrote Diary of an Old Soul, a book I keep going back to frequently because so much of it seems to be about me and my life. Here’s one line that many of us can understand:

When I can no more stir my soul to move, and life is but the ashes of a fire…

Does that sound familiar? This post was written about those times.



I cleaned out the ashes in my woodburning stove this weekend. It’s been a cold winter, and bright fires in that stove brought cheer, comfort, and warmth to my little nest.

These ashes, though, are lifeless and dirty and … depressing. No warmth. Not even a tiny little glow left in that gray heap.

What about the times that feel as though only ashes remain? When there is no fire, no energy, no inspiration in my soul?

What about those times when we are overwhelmed, when we are so weary we want to quit, when everything seems to be working against us, when even Scriptures that we have held tightly do not keep hope burning?

What then?

When things are looking grim and dark, there are only two places I know of to go for certain comfort and assurance: Scripture and prayer.

In some of those dark valleys, the only prayer we can utter might be “Help, Lord!”

The Scriptures give us an amazing picture of God’s care of His children, even when it seems that all that is left in our souls is a pile of ashes.

First, the Spirit of God is always working within you, and it is His strength that picks you up and carries you through these times.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will.

We are constantly under the care and power of the Spirit who knows exactly what we need–even better than we know ourselves. So even when we cannot articulate our needs, when there seems to be nothing we can say or pray, when we cannot even cry for help, the Spirit within picks us up and brings us to our Father.

And our Father is always working for the good of His children.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

The God who created the universe has chosen us as His children. He is working for our good in everything. In everything. He has declared that we are in good standing with Him. He has a plan for each of us. The Spirit within us steps in and connects us to God when we do not know which way is up. And Jesus himself stands beside God, pleading on our behalf.

Hmmm. Just thinking. Maybe the word “hopeless” should be struck from our vocabulary.

In the darkest times, when we are weakest and most helpless, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit hold us…That’s hope!

The Bible describes this security in many ways: we are sheltered under His wings; He holds our hand; He hides us in the shelter of a rock; He gathers us in His arms and carries us. One of my favorites is My times are in your hands. I am held in His hands, no matter how things look from my limited perspective.

OH! and here’s another reassuring image. Does this describe any time you have experienced?

Praise the LORD,
for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.
He kept me safe when my city was under attack.
In a panic I cried out,
“I am cut off from the LORD!”
But you heard my cry for mercy
and answered my call for help.

Love the imagery in that passage. The NIV version describes the city under attack as “a besieged city.”

Our Father who loves us, the Son who died so we could live, and the Spirit who transforms us keep us safe when we are besieged. 

Oh, Father, as the psalmist says, May your unfailing love be our comfort.


Scripture: Romans 8:26-27; 31-34 (NLT); Psalm 31:15 (NIV); Psalm 31:21-22 (NLT); Psalm 119:76 (NIV) 





Psalm Prayer:

Remember your promise to me;
It is my only hope.
(Psalm 119:49)


© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Why I want to know the promises of God

“No,” God told King David.

The king had a grand and admirable plan. Since the Lord had been traveling in a tent up to this point, David wanted to build a magnificent temple to honor and worship the Almighty.

But God said No.

Instead, God turned the tables and made a huge promise to David—that David’s dynasty would go on forever.

David’s response in prayer is one of humility and then praise and thankfulness to God for what He has done in the past and what He will do in the future. Verse 25 of 1 Chronicles 17 gives us a model for our own prayers.

He begins in humility.

Who am I and my family,” he asks God, “that you’ve been so good to me?”

Who are we, Almighty God, that you have been so good to us?

Pause here. Ponder God’s mercy and goodness in your life. From the time He rescued you until now…look at all He’s done! His mercies are too numerous to count. Maybe you’ll want to focus on one, and exult in that and give Him praise.

“O, my God,” David prays, “I come to your throne boldly …”

The Word assures us we can come boldly and confidently.

“…because you have revealed your promise to me.”

Ah, we have so many promises God has revealed to us!

We’ve spent months here at this site, discovering what God has promised about our past and all of the things He says He will provide for His children daily. And I am still discovering. I want to know them all! I want to know the vastness of this treasure of hope I’ve been given. I want to enjoy the riches.

But, I remind myself, how can I claim the hope if I do not know it? And so, I dig into the Scriptures. It’s the one and only place I can go for encouragement and hope where I am never disappointed.

Paul wrote that the Scriptures (he would have been referring to the Old Testament writings) were given to teach us and encourage us as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled (Romans 15:13). We have even more Scripture than he did. The New Testament adds layer after layer of this hope and encouragement.

“For you are God…” continues David.

He is God. The Almighty, the Father who surrounds His children with His love, who does not fail us and who keeps His promises. This is the God who holds our lives. This is the One our hope comes to…boldly.

“And you have promised these good things to your servant…”

My hope wants to know His promises for me, so that I can come to Him and say, Father, I’m coming boldly and asking because you have said you WILL do this for your children…

Some of those very important to me are the promises of new strength and refreshment. Ever need that?

And I often pray for wisdom.

I’m depending on the hope-certainty that He is making me into a new person. Hallelujah!

I rest in His word that no matter what is happening to me, He is the one holding me and always working for my good.

And—joy!—that I walk, enveloped by His mercy, goodness, and love, every step of my journey.

Oh, and another important one: His power can squash my human nature. I’m no longer a slave to the old me. That promise has freed me.

And I’m trusting His promise that my record has been cleared before Him. I no longer carry the guilt of my past. That’s also given me freedom and peace.

This post has stretched out today because my list goes on and on. I hope you’re still reading, because He has promised so many good things to His children.

And when we need all those things, when we’re desperate for hope and encouragement, we can pray boldly. He hears our prayers and has promised these things even before we’ve thought to ask.


(and hallelujah!)



Psalm Prayer:

Remember your promise to me;
It is my only hope.
(Psalm 119:49)


© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)