Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Cosmic Tragedy of Social Distancing

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til’ it’s gone..” ~ Joni Mitchell

Its only been a few weeks for most of us.  Weeks without a chat over coffee with a friend, participation in a Sunday worship service with voices both angelic and creaky, Friday night tacos with our besties.  Being the resourceful creatures human beings are, we’ve come up with work-arounds for our isolation.  Face Time, Zoom, Webex - these have all helped, and I’m grateful for them.  I’ve spent the last 4 days using Bomgar to train hospital employees remotely, and I thank God for that.

But there is no substitute for presence.

Nothing takes the place of looking into the eyes of another soul and seeing the one-of-a-kind strokes of the Artist who made them.  There is no substitute for the live and in person voice of the quirky guy at the gym or the warm embrace of the folks at a support group, or the thousands of other simple daily vignettes of social intercourse.

I’ve learned very quickly how much I’ve taken presence for granted.  I myself am quarantined because of contact with a person testing positive for Covid19.  I’m no hard luck case for sure.  I live with family members, I can work from home.  I’m blessed.  But I miss the physical presence of others.  And it hasn’t even been a couple of weeks.

This strange time we’re living in has me thinking and praying in ways I haven’t before.  I look at Abraham in the bible, whittling away at God in a conversation about his nephew Lot, as he presses to see just how deep the mercy of God will actually go. Abraham is right in God’s face, boldly stepping closer with each question:  “Will you spare the city for the sake of 40 righteous people…30…20…10”.   Abraham didn’t stand stoically before a cold, distant deity, observing all the proprieties of servant and king.  Abraham boldly pleaded for his kinsmen, and the scriptures actually call him “a friend of God”.  The wicked city fell, but not before Lot and his family were ushered out of there in the most hurried move in history.  

Abraham did not practice social distancing with his God.  Neither did David, Isaiah, Daniel, and a whole host of lesser known saints sited in the pages of the wild and powerful word of life.  

The greatest tragedy of all, far more deadly than any foul microbe, is a life lived in isolation from the One who created us for Himself.  Here is God’s great sorrow.  He has made us for true presence with Him, and we have run from Him.  Or ignored Him. Or hated Him.  

In a herculean move of self abasement, this High King of all so desired our presence that He actually shed His kingly garments in exchange for the soiled robes of men. He himself took on our weakness.  And He did what only He could do: He destroyed the pestilence that keeps us apart.  He himself became the remedy and antidote for the killer with a 100% death rate.  Sin.  

The Gospel is the beautiful breakthrough that saves the world from the disease which none of us can escape.  The heart of God is broken.  He seeks for people who will talk to him, listen to Him, come to Him for life and deliverance.  There is no substitute for life with our Father.  

The Covid19 pandemic has become for me a metaphor and a grace.  It has forced me to look at my own spiritual complacency, made me far more grateful, and caused me to become a little bit more like Abraham.  Every day I desperately need the intimacy with my Father that I was born for.  And what’s more, I can approach Him without shame despite my sin and weakness.  Because I’ve taken the cure - faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, who “loved us, and gave Himself for us.”

I am praying that brilliant and resourceful people will find a way through this twilight zone we are living in.  I look forward to baseball, dinner in a restaurant and getting my hair cut again.  But my greatest prayer is that this social distancing will cause the world to seek the One whose heart longs for fellowship with us - and not from a distance.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Painful Awakening...

The recently passed abortion expansion law in the great state of New York has become a resounding wake up call to the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In our drowsy fog of living just like the rest of the world, we have missed a gigantic swarm of locusts that came through and looted our homeland.  The lives of the children of our legacy, and the hearts and souls of their mothers have been summarily stripped of worth, breath and dignity.  And we were caught with our pants down.

So now, what do we do?  Shall we keep quiet and hunker down fearfully as the majority did in 20th century Germany while 6 million people cried out  for their neighbors to come and rescue them?  Shall we be complicit by thinking it’s enough that we are not directly involved in the sin, like free northerners in pre civil war America, who ignored the curse of slavery that existed south of their back yard? Shall we say as Cain did to the Almighty, “Am I my brothers keeper?”

The Reproductive Health Act, despite it’s euphemistic name, allows for a human fetus to be destroyed at the will of their mother and at the hands of those sworn only to heal, up to the very day they could be born.  The law allows for the termination of a pregnancy up to the ninth month of gestation if the health of the mother is at risk - including her mental health.  The law is written so broadly, that in the recent case of a pregnant woman murdered by her boyfriend in New York City, the attorney could not find any legal statute to allow for a second count of murder for the life of the unborn child.

I have searched my own heart, and stand convicted of cowardice.  I have feared the opinion of man.  Many intelligent, educated and sophisticated people look on pro-life folks as ignorant, back-woods meddlers who need to mind their own business and keep their hands off the rights of women.  I don’t want to be thought of as a stupid.  I don’t want to be viewed as opposing freedom.  So I shuffle around on the sides of the issue, and sit on the sidelines, to my shame and regret.

Now too, I have met and talked with several women who have had abortions.  The exceedingly painful wounds they bear are held in the shadows of their hearts.  The deception of the promise that abortion would be a clean, easy way to solve a big problem has left them decimated and traumatized.  There is no reversal option, no going back to make the decision differently.  Having had the right to terminate their pregnancy does not solve the problem of a lifetime of emotional pain.

Though few people will read these words, they are written for my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are the ones who must act, in whatever way the Spirit of the Living God calls us.  For some, it will mean prayer walks at abortion clinics.  For some, adoption or foster care.  For others, meeting the tangible needs of a single mother. Some will weep with and bring the good news of the beautiful gospel of forgiveness to women who have had abortions. Those with great wealth or influence can levy those gifts to open the eyes of a nation.  Whatever we are called to do, it must be done in faith, and with relentless prayer and the right heart.  

I wavered over publishing this blog, because in general I don’t believe social media is the place to change hearts and minds.  In this case, it’s more about me coming out of the shadows of my own pride, and asking the church to do the same.  Those who disagree with us are also made in the image of God, and should be treated with dignity and kindness.  But stand we must, and be willing to be thought of as fools.  

Your friend on the pilgrim road, 

Loriann Smith

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Why Social Media is the Drive-By Killer of Reasoned Discourse

True: Social Media is an excellent forum for expressing your opinion in 30 second sound bites.

False: Social media provides a sound platform for intelligent, thoughtful discourse to impact the hearts and minds of those who engage there.

I wasted a significant amount of time during my brief sojourn here on planet earth last night.  Unfocused and tired, I made the mistake of scrolling through my Facebook account.  The onslaught of what I saw later disturbed my already rocky middle aged sleep.  

Most people would consider me a social media amateur.  (I’m still trying to figure out my iPhone for crying out loud).  It is rare that I post anything at all on Facebook, and even more rare that I would post my opinion on politics.  So my insights here, for what they are worth, are coming from a place of observation of a world to which I confess l have limited understanding.

Last week, another terrible, heart shattering tragedy pummeled the American soul.  The darkness of a fragile, fallen world once again came out from under the thin veneer of civilization and tore and brutalized the flesh and bone of our corporate body as people sharing a nation.

Instead of inspiring words of comfort and shared sorrow and even thoughtful disagreement on causes and cures, this reckless evil has spread its tentacles to foster some really hateful and barbaric speech by way of social media.  My poor choice to scroll through the projection of our cultural climate left me drained and discouraged.  And not one bit more enlightened in one way or another on gun control, mental illness or political solutions.  

I am blessed to have friends of many political persuasions, people I know, like and even hold dear.  Reading the vitriolic language of some of their Facebook posts (from both conservative and liberal bents) got me to consider.  I know these folks.  It would be impossible to paint them with a single brush.  While perhaps disagreeing with them on some important issues, these are people who would buy me a sandwich, or who I would share a laugh with about some stupid thing my cat did, or whose loved one’s funeral I would attend.  These are real, multifaceted, made-in-the-image-God folks…My life is better for knowing them.

But here, in the techno created bubble of social media, if these folks didn’t know me personally, they would be expressing words of hatred toward me.  I would be lumped into a category (into which I don’t fit for either side).  

I am unashamedly Pro Life.  But does anyone who knows me really think that I “care more about children in the womb than those already born?”  

I am also Pro Gun-Control.  But does anyone who knows me think I want to take away all of their constitutional rights?  

At the same time when I read the vitriolic words from some, I find myself saying, “They can’t possibly mean to say it like that…I know these people.”

God Lord, it’s a mess out there.  The single brush stroke is wrecking civility, kindness, and any hope of understanding one another and actually listening to what other people have to say.  Martin Luther King Jr. put it well:

“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” 

The last thing I’m trying to say here is that people should not have and communicate the force of their convictions.  I’d go to the mat for the things I think really matter.  But my point breaks out into two parts:

  • Social media is hardly ever the appropriate place, at least not as it is today, for thoughtful dialogue on important matters where a change of heart is sought.  (There are rare exceptions, like the case of Megan Phelps-Roper.  Her engagement with caring, thoughtful people through Twitter eventually resulted in her brave departure from the Westboro Baptist Church.)
  • No one will ever change their mind about anything unless they feel heard and respected by those with whom they debate.  Assuming a person is your enemy, and that they are a bad person because they don’t share your opinion will not bring about what we are all hoping for: A culture of civility and tolerance, understanding and reasoned disagreement.

What I learned last night was to quit phone scrolling on Facebook for 2 reasons: It’s a waste of time, and I’m not up to the assault.

Social media is the drive-by killer of reasoned social discourse.

I do, however, love the posts with kittens, puppies and babies.

Your friend on the pilgrim road.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Power of the One

An overarching theme revealed itself on the last night of a week of prayer at my beloved little church in the suburbs.  Emerging there, in the pile of our own repentance, in the  intercession for sick people, sad people, lost people, nations at war, and restoration from the vast wreckage of the fallout of sin came the simple truth of the power of the One.

I’m betting that most folks are like me in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of need in our own cities and towns, let alone the wide world.  Between the distraction of never ending “noise” from the technology that is drowning us, and the pressure on our time to simply do the everyday things that sustain us, we’re about at max capacity.  Looking at the needs “out there” can lead to practical paralysis.  

But with the truth of the power of the One engaged, things can be different. They are different.  Here are 2 components of this truth that build on one another:

  1. The One begins with Jesus Christ.  He is the example of this power at work, and the source of the power itself.  The Gospel (Good news, best news EVER) was and is preached to the many, but is given for the one.  Jesus is not like a pagan God, looking for the masses to hop-to and behave.  He is a Savior of each soul, a comforter to the one man, hearing the voice of a little girl in an impoverished home in India, and also the cry of the middle aged millionaire dogged and empty from an impoverished soul. Jesus looked into the eyes of the short man in the tree and said “Zacchaeus, I’m coming to your house today.”  Jesus sees us not as a mass of humanity, but each person as a unique, valued, priceless creation.  
        2.  Our callings are ultimately to the one.  Mother Theresa said this:
            “ Never worry about numbers.  Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Mother Theresa ended up impacting millions, from the beggars on the streets of Bangladesh to leaders in the loftiest positions       in the world.  But her focus was never on the many, but the one.  Maybe you can’t provide for the refugee you see on TV behind a Turkish fence.  But maybe you can pay for the groceries in the cart of someone at Walmart who you know is struggling.  Maybe it’s in your wheelhouse to buy a homeless man a cup of coffee, and share a little conversation with him.  Perhaps you can’t stop the riots in Baltimore, but can you write a note of encouragement to a coworker who is struggling with her kids?   As Mother Theresa also said, “Do small things with great love.”

I cannot solve the problem of the age old racial divides conceived in the womb of America by the disgraceful sin of slavery.  But I can listen and try to understand a black person’s view of the world, as I did recently over snacks after a meeting I attended.  I can hear the one, even if the crushing sound of the many is too much for my limited soul.

I cannot cure the heartbreak of homelessness, nor the plagues of mental illness and addiction that often go with it.  But I can work the overnight at the code blue shelter, and sit on the cot while Erica tells me about her 2 beloved children, and my fellow volunteer bakes a warm banana bread in the oven for the ladies on a cold night.

There are thousands of things we cannot do: Cure government corruption, save every orphan, stop the railroading of distraction that is stealing the best of our young people.  

We are not God.  

He will one day wrap this thing up, fixing the ills that the mixed blessing of free will has made possible, turning every wrong right in one explosive healing that will rock all of heaven and earth.  He will do this, in the perfection of time.  

But for now, he calls us to Himself first, as the One.  Then, He calls us to show His mercy and grace to the one.

He has uniquely designed each person for this ministry to the one.  Frederick Buechner says it so much better than I ever could:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

It may take you out of your comfort zone, but you may be shocked at the deep gladness you will find when you reach out to the one out of a heart of love.

My friend Katrina found this deep gladness, and she impacted the one…and beyond.

Her neighbor was severely injured in a rugby game, and became paralyzed  from the neck down.  His wife and then baby daughter were destined to visiting him for the rest of his life in a nursing home, since their small home was ill equipped for the great needs of a quadriplegic.  But Katrina wasn’t having it.  She approached a contractor to see if he might donate time and materials to build on a room in her neighbor’s home to accommodate his handicap.  He agreed, provided she would act as “boss”, getting other donations for electrical, plumbing, siding, materials etc…, and that she would run the job from start to finish.

Thus began the odyssey of a middle aged housewife and the power of the one.  With the grace of God as her fuel, this rather shy, unassuming woman lit the engine of the power of lots of ones to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth. Today, her neighbor has a special ceiling lift to move him around the brand new fully accommodating addition on his home.  He lives with his wife and daughter.  And though Katrina could not solve all the problems in this world, or even all the problems of her neighbor, she grabbed hold of the joy and work and victory that comes when the power of the one is harnessed.  

One word of warning:  Guilt is the wrong motivation for reaching out to the one.  Only love will do.  The apostle Paul said it - “If I give all I possess to the poor, and offer my body to be burned in the flames, but have not love, it profits me nothing…”  

Keep it simple and do it in love, or you risk becoming a self righteous, self oriented prig.  

But acts performed in simple love do stretch far beyond our limitations and really do change the world.

I recently attended a wedding where the bride waxed poetically about the many ones who had a part in making her who she is.  I close with a quote from her simple but profound speech…

“I grew up in a church that talked a lot about changing the world, being a “world changer”. At some point I started resenting that kind of pressure.  The truth is that most of us scraggly humans on the face of this planet are not Martin Luther’s or Mother Theresa’s.  We have a limited circle of influence constructed by propinquity and scattershot occurrences, so our world-changing, at the end of the day, consists of how well and how hard we loved those people standing with us or crossing our paths for these minute slices of time.  It’s like that story about the little boy picking up and throwing starfish stranded on the sand back into the ocean as the tide goes in.  A man says to him, “You’re not making a difference” and the boy replies, “I’m making a difference to this one”.
~ Micaela Martinez 

Be the one, to the one, for the glory of The One.

Your friend on the pilgrim road.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Another Year of Meaningful Mist in the Books

January of 2016 rolled out of its fresh hay much differently than December of that same year tucked itself away forever to sleep, the stuff of memories alone.  Just goes to highlight the ancient truth: 

James 4:14  “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

In the life of this middle aged woman, the wind blew warm from the south as the year 2016 began, never letting on that there would be a hurricane lasting from spring to fall, followed by the uncertainty of an unforcastable winter.  Surely, living is fraught with unforeseeable outcomes.  And the very fact that I used the word “fraught” uncovers the pessimist in me, that girl with the half empty glass.  One man’s “unforseeable outcome” is another man’s wild adventure.  As much as I would love to be the metaphorical  Magellan of the baby boom generation, alas I admit to being more the “bundled up in a blanket with a good book” sort, a reluctant pilgrim with the love of Christ pressing me onward through the fray.

If the wind hadn’t blow hard, I fear I would have become a spiritual couch potato, too easily satisfied, puffy with superficial religion.  I don’t like storms, but they batter the rocky coasts of our lazy, half conscious souls.  They wake us up (harshly, but with the kindness of a shot of narcan to a heroin addict).  Each year has a story to tell.  We wish for easy ones, God crafts good ones.  Good, as He defines good.  Lasting good.  Good that takes patience.

Adventure (if you want to call it that), challenge, an unpredictable road - these I have known well across the waters of 2016.  If I’ve learned anything from this 365 days “at sea”, it’s simply been more of what has been abundantly clear for a long time now - I’m not in control, God is, and best policy is to sidle close to Him as we roll over the waves of our days.  

I don’t think New Year’s resolutions are a bad idea, it’s just that they’ve never worked for me.  I gave up resolving  years ago.  Precisely because if I’ve gleaned anything from the fickle nature of our pass across the human landscape it is this: flexibility has to be maintained so the boat doesn’t break apart in the storm.  The only rule that applies (admittedly a 2 part rule) is to hear the voice of God and do it.  Some days He says “Be still and know that I am God.”  Other days he says “Run with endurance the race marked out for you”.  Both are true, all the time…but in the practical day to day of a year's orbit around the sun, it takes listening and doing to find our way.

So if I had “resolutions” for the new year, I guess they would be listen and live it.  Listening comes first, and should be emphasized more.  Most of us followers of The Way get ourselves bolloxed up with doing this and that “for God” without really knowing Him for himself, and what the heck He wants us to do after all.  And really, what He most wants are not our works, but our selves.  That’s the whole point of the years and days and seasons we’re living anyway.  This cosmic relationship thing is the point of it all.  Every calm, every storm, every providential happening in the life of one of His own is a funnel to The Great Heart of Love.  All the unpredictability is completely predictable to Him, who “works all things together for the good of those who love Him…”

So if 2016 was a whirlwind, look at it in the light of eternity and give thanks.  Not for the pain, but for the process.  Perhaps 2017 will be a mild year.  Then again, maybe not.  Regardless, before you know it it will be one for the books.  Listen and live it.  Most of all, love like there’s no tomorrow. Because you “are a mist that appears for a little while…”  

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Happy, Broken Heart: The Balanced Life

"Rejoice with those who rejoice…sorrow with those who sorrow." Romans12:15

He told the story of his alcoholic son, clean and sober in this present, this gift of now, playing with his beloved granddaughter.  The pleasure of watching his child and his child’s child share a bowl of cereal filled W.’s eyes with tears of joy.  He had lived years of hell while alcoholism chipped away at his son’s life, but not today.  Today his recovering son was in relationship, and not with a bottle.  I could barely contain the lump in my throat, so great was the joy in my heart as I listened to this man in his 70’s spill his happy words.  I rejoiced with one who rejoiced.  This was a gift.  A gladness not linked to my own current circumstantial pain, but a true, deep down joy.  I was experiencing something outside myself, a pure emotion of happiness that surprised me, delighted me, made me want more…

Social media is bubbling over right now with bittersweet photos of fresh, young college students packing bags, hugging parents, and setting out for school and dreams and a future.  Mom’s post their happy/sad pictures of kids waving goodbye, playing one last game of cards, packing their cars.  I crack a little, counting losses that I have experienced, missing the rejoicing that can be mine.  Self pity begs entry, looking for a way to keep me from the balanced life of Romans 12:15.  Today, I refuse to let the monster in.

I think of my dear friend who lost her first-born son at the tender age of 13.  Another with a disabled child who will never wave goodbye for a dorm, but to whom she must wave goodbye for a special supervised group home for the severely disabled.  My own daughter bends under the affliction of a traumatic brain injury, and the ripple effect of battling her own demons.  Making it through another day is newsworthy. But we don’t post these things on Facebook.  Some are not buying books, but buying time, sick with cancer, sick with addiction, sick of mind, sick in body, sick and tired.  The tentacles of grief threaten.  I pray for strength  to comfort, to console, to lament in a healthy way.  To hurt but also to heal.  

It seems strange, these bedfellows of rejoicing and sorrowing, both alive in my happy, broken heart.  

The beautiful, the hard, the ugly and the sweet, all these are part of the landscape of a whole life.  Jesus loved a good meal with His friends, and agonized under the burden of the rejection of all His friends.  He rejoiced at a wedding and wept at a grave.  He experienced the full range of human emotion, unfiltered and full on.  He did not turn to chemicals, people, food, sex, tv, video games, gambling, or the ten thousand other distractions, numbing agents or addictions to dull the pain or artificially increase the pleasures of life.  He lived in perfect balance, rejoicing with those who rejoiced, sorrowing with those who sorrow.

He still does so today.  How glad must His heart be to watch as a proud Father when a young man or woman strides into their future, full of hope and promise?  How glad I can find myself, rejoicing for my friends whose children are blessed with such possibilities!  What a terrible loss, if hell can hold heaven hostage because we cannot sing in the choir of another’s happy day.

And how too must we remember in our rejoicing the sad ones among us.  To send flowers,remembering one lost…to call with a memory…to bring a joke with a pie: to be like St. Francis who prayed: “grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console”. 

The balanced life of Christ is the example.  As usual, His great word lays out the simple but difficult path for a life of love.  A trail marked with both light and shadow.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Right Orbit

What is the center of your life...the gravitational pull, the object of your affections, the Sun of your orbit?

It's a tooth and nail fight not to close ranks and duck and cover in an often cold and unmanageable world.  Billy Joel once lyricized: "I've found that just surviving is a noble fight."  Most of us spend a great deal of our time trying to stay zipped up, put together and armored to go through our days in one psychological piece.  The self-centeredness of the human condition in general has collided with an age of unprecedented self orientation. A phenomenal host of technologies assist mankind in the quest to keep itself isolated from pain.  (I am, of course, exhibit A...binge watching Netflix in utter avoidance of actually facing down the  Spector of my own fears.)

Self must be protected at all costs.  Hence the palpable misery of a human race in orbit around itself.

Jesus, in His typical, humble way, demonstrates the way to joy, a way radically at odds with a cultural  constellation of self.

At the aptly named Last Supper, the last one He would ever celebrate on the Earth He formed, the One and Only does the unthinkable.  Knowing he'll soon be dead, (and getting to death in the worst possible way), Jesus is looking down the barrel at being separated from everyone and everything dear to Him.  It is then He blows our minds with this counter cultural attitude and action:  He turns His gaze outward.

He holds the flat bread in his hands, food born of the wheat and water He created with a word, and breaks it apart to share.  In a stroke of profound and baffling symbolism, Jesus breaks the bread and says "This is my body...".

Nobody got it.  Lots of us still don't really get it in a "sophisticated" modern world.

Nobody understood as He served them the broken pieces of the staff of life that this symbol in this moment was about the ultimate breaking; the cosmic opposite of self centeredness - a most beautiful example of humility and grace.

This man was about to give it all, not only to the motley crew at his first century table, but to every lost an broken soul the world had ever known or would ever know. Everyone, everywhere, in every time.

This example of selflessness is the GPS coordinate for the change that brings fulfillment and life.  It is not without pain, an it doesn't enhance profit.  It's costly.  But it does deliver on its promise to satisfy our surly, self orbiting souls. To live is to follow the simple commandment, the 2 for the price of 1 that brings balance and right orientation: Love the Lord our God (the center) with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  And to love our neighbor as ourself.

I'm praying to find my way, one day at a time, to the kind of outward orientation that produces true gain.  There's only One Savior, and only His great breaking brings salvation.  But we as His current "motley crew" of followers are indeed called to lives of outward orientation and joy.  Just surviving may indeed be a noble fight, but it's not enough for the People of The Way.  If we're healthy, we long for an abundant life, marked by small, consistent, purposeful, daily acts and attitudes of sacrificial love.

Planets orbit around the Sun: large, powerful, greatly beyond themselves.  They circle a star that provides life, light, warmth and the perfect gravitational orientation.  They don't take their orbit around each other, or a satellite, or a meteor.

Neither ought we.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Job: When You're Feeling "Done Wrong"

Dinner table talk somehow rounded the corner to the biblical story of Job.  My much beloved first born summed the story up to his girlfriend this way:  "Job was this guy in the bible who basically got done wrong on every level." A fairly accurate appraisal, painted with the bold strokes of "black and white" first born's are known for, and without the nuances that come with being older than 22.  Still, in the grand scheme, nail on head. 

Since the darling girl wasn't familiar with the drama of Job, I tried to sum up the saga from beginning to end.  Even as I outlined the story of Job's life, I felt inadequate to express the pathos, tragedy and hope in this complex story of a man done so wrong...and so right.

Job was a righteous man.  God points out to Satan in a rare, inside look at a cosmic face off, just how proud he is of this particular mortal: "Have you observed my servant Job.  There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright; a man who fears God and shuns evil." ~Job 1:8

That foul enemy, however, is summarily unimpressed.  To paraphrase his response : "Job loves you because you give him life's candy.  Take away the goods, and he'll curse you for sure.'"

And as most of you know, God does that very thing.  Job loses his wealth, his children, and eventually his health.  His wife turns on him and his "friends" twist themselves into pretzels trying to find some way to sort this disaster (including accusing Job of some hidden sin) so it makes sense and somehow protects them from a similar fate.  Job shows enviable patience with his lot for awhile.  But as with any of us, his suffering leads to understandable complaining, and eventually to accusations that God is unfair.

The persistence of the trial wears Job to a thread.  He, like the fictional Frodo in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is "... naked in the dark, with nothing, no veil... between me... and the wheel of fire!" 

Then the unthinkable happens.  In response to Job's demands for an audience with God, the Almighty descends to speak to his prized son.  What comes out of God's mouth is completely unexpected to the first time reader.  

God does not chide Job for his complaining.  He does not hammer him with laws or commandments.  And most notably, He does not explain to Job the number he's doing on the prince of darkness through this dreadful trial.  Instead, God simply shows Job Himself.  In a whirlwind of poetic language, The Holy One describes His supremacy over nature, His unfathomable creativity and His vast reach.  Regaled with the greatness of God, Job is overwhelmed.  "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.  Therefore I retract, and repent in dust and ashes."~ Job 42:5-6

It's unlikely that any of us have experienced a Job kind of grief.  But in a fallen world, and as fallen folks ourselves, we have all suffered and known sorrow... even agony of body, mind and soul.  The remedy for our confusion and bitterness is found via the same portal Job went through...passing from hearing to seeing and knowing.  

In these latter times, God has graciously given his dearest and best, Jesus, to experience in His own suffering every possible "done wrong" that ever has been or ever will be.  He became one of us so we would be able to see Him and know Him, and to persevere as He did, with the hope of eternal life where "every tear will be wiped away."  

It wasn't enough for God that Job be righteous and honorable.  God wanted far more glory for his beloved than that.  God wanted to give Job Himself.  

And it's not enough for God that we spin our wheels, in a back breaking effort to be moral and upright.  First of all, how's that working for you? No, the letter of the law brings shame and accusation.  True righteousness is forged in the furnace of grace. The cosmic plan is to make Love the be all and end all.  To put an ultimate end to all the "done wrong" of this weary planet.

In the end, Job had his fortunes restored (multiplied), had more children (although the wounds of those he lost surely remained...) and every earthly gift was again his to experience.  Still, it's my bet that in the great eternal future, Job will not give two whits about the sufferings he endured or the blessings he enjoyed.  To see God, to know that burning love beyond all our greatest imaginings, that will be Job's treasure.  He will not see himself as a man "done wrong."

Persevere friends.  Look for Him in every shaft of light, in every warm embrace, in every beautiful thing that proves there is Amazing Grace.  There are no formulas, no quid pro quo's, no trite and easy answers to the sufferings of this world.  It can't be neatly sorted and categorized into  some heady theological equation. 

But there is God.  Himself. Love incarnate, full of grace.

He was done wrong, so in the end, we can all be done incredibly right.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mick Jagger, Jonathan Edwards, and The Great Longing

It sounds cliche in a way, but it's true: I can't get no satisfaction.  Thank you, Mick Jagger.

I read a friend's comment..."I have everything I want".  And I wonder at that life.  Because that has never been me, and I don't think it will ever be me.  It's lovely, but it leaves me scratching my increasingly threadbare head.  I most assuredly don't have everything I want.

I have stepped into the river of God, and the deeps keep calling.  Despite the hindrances of my own addiction to safety and pleasure, it cannot be shaken.  The holy discontent remains, and I think it will till I die.

The mystics reach far for the presence of the Holy in the land of the living, but even they in their enviable nearness to the One, admit they have barely scratched the surface of the eternal. Even they, the world's great seekers, admit to The Great Longing.

Satisfied?  No.  Content? Sometimes, but always with the longing for more beauty, more purity, more saturation of grace.

This is not the dissatisfaction of not having, but of not being.  Not being what we're made for...perfect union, perfect love, perfect freedom. To be poured out and poured in freely to the unique mold for which I was born, to truly know Jesus Christ - this is the yearning and passion that will not be quieted by all the delights earth can offer.  I would no more trade even the longing for God Himself, as weak and broken as it is by my own sin and folly, than I would sell my first born for all the gold in the world.

If the longing is that magnificent, how earth-shatteringly joyful will the fulfillment of that longing be?

Listen to Jonathan Edwards:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.” 

I love so much on this earth - my children laughing, the glorious changes of my crab apple tree, the overwhelming fresh vastness of the great Atlantic, and so, so much more.

But they are "but scattered beams".  God is the sun.  

Some of you reading this are dissatisfied.  There's a good kind and a bad kind of dissatisfaction.  The good kind is a thirst, but a grateful thirst. It drives you to the River of Life.  The bad kind often comes when you have plenty of the world's blessings, and you're satisfied with a spiritual cup that's dry. As my kids would say "that's the worst...".

As always, I write from a place of far too much understanding of getting it wrong.  Still, it's the grace of Christ that won't let His beloveds get true joy from any other source but Himself.  And it's that very grace that keeps me asking for more, and keeps me in that good kind of dissatisfaction that won't settle for the best of earth without the best of heaven.

We'll get our total satisfaction come one of these days... I'll be able to say with my dear friend, "I have everything I want".  I'll do all I can to bring the kingdom of God to this planet, to bring "up there down here" as John Ortberg says as an ongoing life theme. But this life is a vapor, and I'm not ashamed to say that I'm going for something a lot more solid and lasting.  Then we will step out of the shadows, into the substance.  In the meantime, I'm content to be discontented.  I'm grateful for grace that makes me see "these are but drops, but God is the ocean."

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tangos, Waltzes, and the PICU/SICU Shuffle

YouTube features a video of a ballet dancer swaying sadly to melancholy music.

Some cultures do dances of mourning when somebody dies.

Sure, dancing happy is a common thing.  But dancing, like living, finds truth of expression in a variety of forms.

This quote landed headlong into my soul:

"Maya Angelou languaged and danced her way through suffering into a more equitable future."

Dancing as a metaphor for living is ripe fruit for the picking.

 (OK, that was a mixed metaphor!)

Shakespeare saw the world as a stage.  Life has been described as being like a river.

An onion even.

I'm really liking the dance metaphor these days.

So many folks are in a difficult way this very moment.  Some are at war with a disease that threatens them day and night with scary premonitions and everyday pain.

Some are drowning in debt, wondering how this thing is going to play out when there is no more way out.

Some are in relational hell, with a spouse, a child, or some other beloved, carrying the weighty agony of loss on their weary shoulders.

There are a thousand scenarios that can wring the life out of people.

But what if we could look at the sorrows and dark stretches of our lives, and decide to dance to them?What if, with courage and a bit of counter-cultural determination, and faith in a good and sovereign God, we could "accept the things we cannot change"? Not only accept them, but see them as part of the drama of our lives. Beautiful in context, part of the whole.

Instead of resisting and railing, we trust and hope and keep moving.

This is not the way of our cynical world.  On our fallen planet we run and hide and put up walls.  We get bitter, and sit the dance out, angry that it's a tango when we wanted a waltz.

But how much has the way of the wallflower worked?  Drown it in alcohol, drown it in overwork, drown it in TV, drown it in food, drown it in sex, wear a mask, be wildly angry, be a religious legalist, avoid people, avoid God...

How's that all been workin' for ya?

As always, first and foremost I look in the mirror.

Of late, I have had to let go of something very dear and important.   There have been excruciating losses.  I have had to say the words of life, knowing that they are true regardless of how things appear.

Sometimes, I've gone to cookies instead of friends, TV instead of the Psalms, and to other substitutes for life I won't even share here.  But I'm learning, and growing.

And I write this because I know, I KNOW, there are so many souls perched on the ends of their own seats deciding whether to go bitter or dance.

By grace, we can dance.

Five years ago, when Smitty and the darling daughter were hit head on by a drunk driver, (who himself must now choose to dance or die) I coined a little phrase that has meaning to me and nobody else.

I refer to those early days of the accident as my PICU/SICU shuffle days.

The PICU/SICU shuffle is the dance nobody wants to do.

I would spend most of my time by my daughter's bed in the Pediatric ICU, watching for signs of recovery from a subdural hemorrhage of the brain.  The people who danced with me would sit with the child while I descended the stairs to the Surgical ICU, where my husband struggled to survive the mangling effects of several tons of metal running into his flesh and bones.

Those were days of a dramatic dance, ones that forever changed me and caused my relationship with God to enter deep places of both assurance and perplexity.

But this I will say for sure: I look back on that time, and know for certain it will one day make the whole dance stick together.  When my dancin' days are done on this earth, those dancin' days will have been significant for the big picture.  As will all of them. And all of yours.

I gave my firstborn a little motherly advise the other day.  (At 21, he's just getting in to the thick of the dance).  I let him know he has 2 choices when things go south in life: bitter or better.

Dance or die.

Whatever it is friend, turn it into a dance.  Though you weep through it, keep dancing.

One day, all the dances will be tearless.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,