Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cut Those Hedges Down

Cut Those Hedges Down!
I had hedges outside of my house that were probably planted 50 years ago. When you see them in front of another home, they are deep green, look something like pine, have a smattering of red berries in the winter and are about 2 feet tall. . Unattended, mine had grown to a height of about 7 ½ feet.  Our front bay window was almost entirely covered by these hedges turned into dense trees. Every year I would say to myself, “I have got to get those out of there.” They grew more ugly and wild every year but instead of cutting them down; I would try to make them look better. I would actually put a ladder inside the hedges at different points, climb up through the branches with my electric clippers and try to trim these things. My arms would be scratched and inevitably, there were spots I could not reach so these once decorative hedges were now a thicket of small trees that started to look like part of a skyline. Everyone who would walk by or drive by or enter the house would see these ugly things.  Of course everyone was polite and never said anything; but I know what they were thinking, “Why don’t they cut those ugly hedges down!”
So you may ask: “Why didn’t you cut them down?”  I just pretended they weren’t that bad. I had no clue how to get rid of them. Do I cut? I don’t own a saw. Do I have them pulled out? I don’t have a truck and like many men and perhaps many pilgrims, I would be embarrassed to admit my ignorance and ask for help. I actually convinced myself that the trimming was less work. Ha!
Well after living here ten years I did finally get up the courage to ask for help this past fall. A good brother, who I think secretly sleeps with his chain saw, was ecstatic to wield his electric sword against my demon trees. Within 40 minutes they were gone and all the branches were lined up nicely on the street for pickup. What a relief!
Well before you yawn or click this off, or say “and the point is?” I will tell you why I share this little story and what this pilgrim learned by it. Those wild hedges had covered up the point where a gutter drain had allowed water to flow into the foundation of the house. Now I saw the gaping hole and probable damage to the foundation. Ugh! I had ignored and then finally paid attention to the surface stuff, the cosmetic stuff. I added 10 years to the life of the ugly bushes and took 10 years off of the far more important foundation of my house.
“As in the natural, so in the spiritual.”   I am at a time in life when I have been pressured by God and other true friends on the pilgrim road to stop the denial about the ugly things in my life. Look at them for what they are; stop trying to make them pretty, and, CUT THEM DOWN!  As I have responded to this charge, I have discovered that letting apparently surface bad habits, sins go wild does affect the very foundation from which we share life with our spouse, family, friends, co workers and fellow pilgrims.
So I find myself in the painful yet beautiful process of allowing God to repair my personal foundation. Sins are confessed. Wounds are being healed. Wrong mindsets are being broken. Lies are being rendered powerless by truth. Freedom and joy increase daily. Just as I did to get rid of the hedges, I have had to ask for help, insight and tools from others.  My wonderful mate and precious fellow travelers have all provided help and prayer without judgment, but only love.
If this little allegory strikes a chord in you, in all humility, this pilgrim would encourage you to cut down your hedges. Stop denying that there are things that need to change. Stop trying to make the ugly look pretty (it never does!). Know you can’t do it on your own. The Only Wise One designed it that way. We should deal with life in His loving arms and with those He gives us for the journey. For the one who knows you better than anyone else says “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” He sent His Son who says “I have come that they may have life, life more abundantly”
By the way, I am a guest blogger this week. My name is Dan. I am honored to walk with Lori Ann and Steve on the pilgrim road and humbled that Lori Ann would allow me to share a small piece of my journey. Thanks guys.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ear Wax - A Tween Boy's Delight

Dear friends,

This subject is ripe for 12 year old boys.  Earwax.  Today I took David to the ENT doctor to get a big ole' chunk of nasty stuff out of his ears.  If you've never experienced ear wax removal, GOOD.  It's gross in the extreme.  For some reason, my youngest son is genetically prone to this yucky, annoying build up, and every so often we have to put drops in his ears to soften the clumps up.  Step 2 is the mini "vacuum cleaner" in the doctor's office, and that awful set of miniature forceps that would make even Chuck Norris tense up.  OK, maybe not Chuck Norris.  But definitely any other tough guy.

So I hold David's hand and he squeezes like a boa constrictor, and out come these colossal pieces of orangey-brown ear wax.  (I can't understand how these can be so big and still fit through his ear canal)!  Of course, David insisted on seeing the mess. Then the big revelation: "Mom, I can hear!"  Now the odd thing about that is HE DIDN'T REALIZE HE COULDN'T HEAR BEFORE!  The additional relief of not having stuff knocking around in his ear canal seemed secondary to the woofs and tweets his brain was now able to interpret.  As my friend (and next week's guest blogger) Dan B., the hearing expert would say: "He wasn't employing selective hearing."  Well, perhaps when I told him to clean his room...

Of course, as the person who must spiritualize just about everything, (to the annoyance of my kids) I found a metaphor in this experience.  It made me wonder how much of my spiritual hearing, my ability to listen to God, is impacted as I go not-so-merrily along, unaware of some chunk in the "ears of my heart" that might be limiting my perception of the Great One's communication with me.  What sin, what hindrance, what wrong idea or faulty doctrine keeps me from the rich blessing of truth going deep into the corners of my soul?  I come to this conclusion: a main blockage for me is the tendency to forget the bigness of God.  Mounting troubles, difficult circumstances, stubborn problems that I can't fix- these in themselves have no impact on my or anyone else's power to hear the One and Only.  The deafness comes when we don't believe in the greatness and stunning compassion of a Good Father who wants to speak to us in our pain.  Unbelief is a big ole' chunk that must be removed. Then we can hear and experience in a far greater way the words of encouragement and peace the Lord wants to impart to His own. 

I got into such a grumble this week.  My pain over persistent sorrows became acute.  And instead of running to Great Physician for an "ear vacuum", I forgot His bigness and crawled into a hole of trying to figure my way out of this mess.  This mess cannot be figured out of.  As usual, though, His kindness poked through my deafness.   His word, read aloud by Peter J. at church on Sunday came through in all its glory:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." ~2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The word of God took the wax out of my heart's ears, and renewed my hope.   

One thing: David has to have this procedure done on a fairly regular basis.  In the realm of the Spirit, I think daily is the ticket.  Because as Scarlett O'Hara would say, "Tomorrow is another day..."  There are words from our Father of grace, peace and love to be heard.  Whatever it is that's blocking your ears today, go to the Only Doctor who can clean it out. 

On another note, Smitty got me a box of assorted Lindt truffles for Valentine's Day.  Double Yum.  The little princess got some truffles from Daddy too, and a beautiful card.  He's alright, that guy.  I gave him exactly what he wanted to celebrate the occasion...

Keep climbing, friends.  And thank you, Dr. Silver, for being a gentle, kind guy while digging around in my baby's ears!

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Glorious Ruin

Dear friends,

Francis Schaeffer has an apt description for the human species.  He refers to us as a "glorious ruin".  I've never been to Europe, or the Middle East, but I understand there are some pretty remarkable ruins in those places.  Apparently Greece tops em' all.  Somehow in the broken pillars and cracked marble of the Temple of Poseidon or the Acropolis of ancient Athens, the former glory can be tasted and almost seen.  All the cracks and crumbles of the lofty designs of men can't completely conceal the original maker's ideal.  So it is with buildings.  So it is with us.

This weekend I went on a short trip with DFG in conjunction with the New York School of Urban Ministry. 
Part of our time was spent in outreach to homeless  folks in Manhattan, and part was spent in Sunset Park, Brooklyn canvassing the neighborhood with resource information for kids in the Children of the City program.  In both these places I saw evidence of the glorious ruin.  It may sound cliche, but there really was a charm and beauty behind the eyes of the men and women we encountered on the street.  Even Willie, the mentally ill fellow whose sentences were a maze of non sequiturs and wild imaginings, sported the spark of the Divine in his tender kindness and undaunted hope.  In Sunset Park, one little boy, crammed into an immigrant apartment with lots of other people, beamed with joy in his impoverished conditions.  I wept when I hit the stoop.  Perhaps that's how people feel when they walk away from the Mayan Pyramid ruins.  The glory still shines in the decay.  The Architect's intent pricks our desire for the original greatness.

This is why I love Jesus Christ so much:  His full intention, from Genesis to Revelation, is to restore His people to their first glory.  To resurrect them with the love and beauty and grace they were always meant to have- but that cannot be had separate from the Source of Life.  He is determined to rip us from the clutches of an oppressive enemy, to save us from the slavish horror of self, and to be our Father in the true and right sense of what that relationship means.  I don't have to look very far at all to find the glorious ruin.  No need to travel to a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn or a paper box house on 51st street.  I only need look in my own soul to find that longing that remains for truth and purity and real love.  Amid my sinful, foolish ways that dog me every day, I see something else - something more.  I see the hope of redemption.  I know the ongoing struggle of sanctification and I believe in the blessed hope of the Great Day to come.  On that day, all my darkness will finally be swallowed up in light.  The broken down cottage will indeed be a palace.  The scripture says it this way:

" Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” ~1Corinthians 15:51-57

Remember, when you see the ruin, the Great One sees the glory... These old Acropolises will stun us beyond all our imaginings...Hallelujah, my Redeemer lives!

Your fired up friend on the pilgrim road,


A shout out to the truly excellent and honorable people I spent the weekend with.  What a privilege to hang with the likes of you. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Woodpeckers and Winter Wallowing

Dear friends,

The woodpeckers were mad for the suet today.  David and I broke out the binoculars and spied on a male and female downy, and another species we couldn’t quite figure out from the bird book.  Preparing for the storm tomorrow, these avian wonders were determined to fill up on fat hardened from the grease of a long ago pan of hamburger. There was some chicken grease in there too, most likely, but we won’t tell them about that…cannibalism, you know…

I had to start practicing some ancient disciplines to keep from becoming depressed and joyless during the external and internal winter I am experiencing.  How easily I get stuck under circumstances.  I think it’s pretty common, (or maybe I’m the only Christian hacking my way through that dense forest), but there is a different way to live.  It’s going to take effort, though, because our natural man tends to live by what we perceive.  The Book points to another way to operate: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”  There are some practical things that help me to get out from under the cold, wet blanket of introspection.  When I actually do them.  They really are as old as the hills:

Read God’s word actively (my literary daughter taught me this “active reading” thing).  Pick a passage and go through it, underlining anything that even remotely has meaning to you.  Or, read it out loud, and then say what you read in your own words.  Is there a theme? A motif? (Reading through the Psalms since December, I have been underlining every time I see the word refuge.  It’s a lot). 

Make the thing bothering you the subject of your prayer.  Get it off your chest.  Then leave it alone, and move on to someone else’s trouble. 

Sing part of an old hymn all day long.  Today I had “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on the brain.

Eat soup.  (Well, that’s just me – it always makes me feel comforted).  Try the Progresso Vegetable Italiano.  Only 200 calories in the whole can.  I add half a can of water and a couple shots of Tabasco.  Of course, if you have homemade, all the better.

On that same note, some of my most miserable times in the winter have been a result of poor eating.  If you’re cold, the cure isn’t food. (Food, I must remind myself, is the remedy for hunger). To beat being chilly, get under a warm blanket or into a hot bath.  If you have time to eat, you have 15 minutes to snuggle in the covers with a good book till you warm up. 

Rejoice in something, for crying out loud!  There’s got to be one thing to be happy about.  I’m sure there are many more than one, but when you’re blue it’s hard to find them.  So just dig up one blessing and rejoice in the goodness of God.  For me today it was looking at woodpeckers with my baby boy.  Outstanding!  Praise God for those awe inspiring birdies. 

Move your body.  We are triune beings.  Our spirits are impacted by what we think about AND how we treat the temporary tent we’re occupying.  This machine was made to move!  If Smitty can get up at 5:30am and go to the gym, I can dance in front of the weather channel (a favorite TV choice for me and my sweet niece Nicole Belle).  Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, the huffing and puffing will do you’re a world of good.  Better yet, go outside and shovel a little.  Just a little.  If you look at the big snow picture, you’re libel to get all discouraged.  Take your life in small chunks.  A little shoveling.  A little reading.  A little snuggling under covers.  A little singing.  Go in the right direction on your pilgrim road, even if you can only go a little at a time.  And remember, the Great One is full of joy to share all day long.  How I love preaching to myself!!

This is not to say there isn’t a time to feel sad.  Sadness is part of the full range of human emotion.  But when we’re under a constant shadow, we lose our way.  The pilgrim road becomes gloom and doom.  And it wasn’t ever meant to be that.  Challenging, yes.  Difficult, yes.  But peppered with plenty of delight.  Some folks may even need medicine to help them over the top.  No matter.  God promises that “goodness and mercy” will follow His own “all the days of their life.”  Let’s see beyond our present pain to the glory of life with God.  Help me Jesus, to pursue this as vigorously as the dear downeys go after the suet.

I love you folks. 

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


PS  A special thanks to Mel and Phyllis for their “good things about winter” messages.  Both of you reflect light and hope like nobody’s business.  I’m not surprised you find the jewel buried in the snow!