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…”

The faithful God of all our days

I get things right occasionally. Sometimes I make a mess of things. And then there have been those times when I’ve made awful choices and created complete devastation.

King David got a lot of things right. He also had many messes in his personal, family, and royal life. He made several terrible, awful mistakes that led to disaster.

But David had a covenant with God. Or, rather, God had made a pact with David. And through everything, David experienced God’s faithfulness. When you search the Scriptures for promises about God’s faithfulness, the book of Psalms contains line after line affirming this hope.

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

David was the one who also wrote, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life …”

God has made a covenant with me, too. The covenant was sealed with my Shepherd’s blood. It’s a covenant of grace, paying the penalty for my wrongs, adopting me, and giving me all the privileges and powers of God’s own child.

It’s an eternal covenant! (See Hebrews 13:20-21.) It will not be revoked; there is no expiration date; He will not change His mind or alter His terms.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me every day of my life …

Every day.

God will keep every one of the promises He’s made for our past and our present. He will keep His word about the future—the hope we’ll be looking at during the last part of this year.

We find the promise woven through all of the early Christian letters—God will do what He says because He is faithful. And so—

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

We don’t always get things right. We waver. We sometimes wander off the path. But our Shepherd gave His blood to seal this covenant we have with God. And even though we can’t always hold up our end of the covenant, God does. He will do what He says He will do.

So let’s hold tightly to our hope and keep encouraging each other.

Because His goodness and mercy will be in all our days … until we are at home in our Father’s house.



Psalm Prayer:

Your faithfulness extends to every generation,
as enduring as the earth you created.
(from Psalm 119:90)


MORE: Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 18:30; Psalm 33:4; Psalm 33:18-22; Psalm 40:11; Psalm 48:14; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 89:28; Psalm 100; Psalm 105:7-8; Psalm 107; Psalm 111:9; Psalm 117:1-2; Psalm 119:89-91; Psalm 119:151-152; Psalm 138:2; Isaiah 26:4;Isaiah 30; Isaiah 54:10; Lamentations 3:19-26; Romans 3:3-4; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:8-9; Ephesians 1:11; Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23-25; Hebrews 13:5-6; Hebrews 13:8; Hebrews 13:20-21; James 1:17; 1 Peter 4:19


© 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.)

The faithful God of our faith

So many of the Scriptures that speak of God’s faithfulness use phrases like forever and ever, to all generations, enduring, eternal, to the end. Are you like me? I seem to have no trouble believing God’s promise of a forever life, His forgiveness of my sins, His creation, His conquering death—all those vague, other-realm promises. But what about today? Can I depend on His promises for my tough day today?

Will He get me through this stressful day? Give me wisdom in my decision? Help me with this relationship? Help me know how to love this person? Show more power than my addiction? Work for my good in everything?

Another word from Deuteronomy—

“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid and do not panic. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. Go in, take the land!” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8, my paraphrase)

Faith is moving forward and taking action based on our confidence in God’s promises. There are so many instances in Scripture where God says, Go ahead, do it! Go in and take the land. Come out of the boat and walk on the water with me. Calm down and watch what I do for you. Die, and you’ll find life. Love, and you’ll grow toward completeness.

Psalm 18:30 assures us that “All the Lord’s promises prove true.”

Think about that word prove.

To prove His promises are true, won’t we have to act on them?

Won’t we have to get out of the boat? Go ahead and take the land? Die? Love? Act on our hope?

I think so.

Today, His promises will only be proven true if I act on them.

Yet He knows how timid I am, how weak my faith. So He reassures me with strong language in His Word. “I will do this,” He says. We can trust Him. He is faithful. He wants us to have no doubt.

But without faith—acting on our confidence in Him—we will never take the land or walk on water.

So let’s do it — let’s prove His promises today!



Psalm Prayer:

Your faithfulness extends to every generation,
as enduring as the earth you created.
(from Psalm 119:90)


© 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.)

The faithful God of our journey

Deuteronomy is one of my favorite books. Yes, really. It is not ancient, boring history. It holds the story of every one of us—our wanderings, our waywardness, God’s steady and sure love and care, His correction of our path, and the promise of our final home. Deuteronomy holds great hope. Reading it helps us to understand—

…that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands (Deuteronomy 7:9).

He is indeed God… The only God. The Creator. The Almighty. The one who rescues us. Our times rest in His hands. This is the Rock we can trust.

He is the faithful God who keeps His covenant… For all of our journey home. We have been and will be unfaithful. But He has given us a Great Shepherd to lead the way, to guide us back to the path, and to carry us.

“He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17). Shadows are difficult to catch and impossible to pin down. A shadow is also a distortion of something. God tells us, straight out, who He is. He does not shift and dance to elude us. If we seek to come close to Him, He will come close to us. If we seek Him, we’ll find Him. He wants us to know Him!

My hope depends on this one and only God, the faithful God whose Word does not change and who keeps His covenant with me.



Psalm Prayer:

Your faithfulness extends to every generation,
as enduring as the earth you created.
(from Psalm 119:90)


© 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.)

Hope for foggy mornings

Islands lie scattered across this bay on the coast of downeast Maine. Some are covered in jagged pine; others are no more than bare rocks reaching upward from the sea. On clear days, the view goes to the shining horizon, where sparkling water meets the sky. The air is clear, every detail is crisp, every color is shining.

But at times a huge bank of fog rolls across the bay, swallowing up the islands as it invades this harbor and village. The islands disappear. Even the edge of the tide, pushing toward land, is invisible. Dull sky and sea are the same color and meld into one curtain that drops over the view and seems to erase the horizon.

In minutes or in days, the fog will tire of its visit and the grayness rolls out to sea again, leaving the harbor clear, the moored lobster boats shining in sunlight, and the islands brilliantly green against a blue sky.

The fog is part of the rhythm of life here at the edge of the sea.

That is something like the rhythm of life in our pilgrimage.

Sometimes, we see clearly, we are certain, we have no doubts. Our belief is firm and our view of the eternal horizon takes our breath away.

At other times, that view fades and vanishes into grayness. Our spiritual eyes peer into the mist, but views of the eternal seem shrouded and even tomorrow is unclear. All we know for a certainty is the Rock under our feet.

The psalmist had those days, too. The songs and poetry of Psalms are full of cries to God. “God, I cannot see you! My enemies are going to defeat me! Where are you? Why do you wait so long to help me? Have you forgotten about me?”

When the fog rolls over the harbor, when islands and horizon disappear from sight, and when there seems to be nothing but impenetrable grayness, we can still depend on what the Father says to His children. Even when we can see nothing, the Lord’s love rests always upon us, and He hears those who cry out to Him.

But the LORD watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.

We put our hope in the LORD.
He is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, L
for our hope is in you alone.

No matter how heavy the fog in the harbor, the islands are still there and will appear again! Green, solid, beautiful, they come back into view, and the waters of the bay shimmer toward the horizon.

The bay shrouded in fog may be a troubled relationship, the heart of someone you pray for, your own heart, a health issues, or a necessary decision. God, in all His faithfulness and love, still holds us, and He continues to work even though our sight may not be clear. He will accomplish His purposes. We can stand on that rock.

The LORD will work out his plans for my life –
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

… the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

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.

Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.  (emphasis added)

You have been chosen as a child of God. He holds your life in His hands and He will never abandon you. He has a purpose for your life and He is at work, even though you cannot see further than the Rock on which you stand.

We put our hope in you, O LORD. Help our unbelief in gray hours.


(This was a shortened version of a post that first appeared in January of 2012. God’s truth has not changed!)

Scripture:  Psalm 33:18-22; Psalm 138:8; Philippians 1:6; Proverbs 19:21; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11 (all NLT)


Psalm Prayer:

Your faithfulness extends to every generation,
as enduring as the earth you created.
(from Psalm 119:90)


© 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.)