Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fire, Earthquakes and Other Not-So-Natural Disasters

Dear friends,

Forgive my fairly lengthy absence.

There are sorrows and troubles that can paralyze the pen, and the soul, but His mercies are always new…and there is a time to simply do, even when the doing comes hard.

To tell the truth (and really, what’s the point if I don’t), my faith is being cooked in a fiery furnace at the moment.  It’s interesting, how life continues to shuttle you forward, making its demands as usual while you seek and cry and burn.  There is no getting off the train.  One must trust the Great One through the smoke and heat while bills are paid, groceries bought, children educated and jobs attended. 

The terrible car accident that visited our family in November, 2009 carries with it fallout, like an earthquake does (of course on a much smaller scale.)  How grateful I remain for the full-team rescue that came our way during that acute phase of disaster!  Eventually the aftershocks calm down and the tsunami waters recede, but the rubble remains and the restoration process has no schedule.  There are too many variables.  So one must cope with a completely different landscape.  Things will never be the same as they were.  The Lord gives, the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Often times, disasters make way for newness of life and a new kind of beauty.  Great forest fires devour great swaths of nature.  Certain kinds of seeds only react to the heat of a major fire, getting a cue from nature that it’s time to rise from the dead.  Faith is the time between the inferno and the shoots of new growth. How I long to have my faith proved genuine!  How I wish there was an easier way to get there.  But if there is anything this puny mind has figured out along the way, it is that I am sorely lacking in perspective.  God is big, magnificent, wise.  I am dust.  If He didn’t keep me along my way, I would surely have slid into a completely wasted life long ago.  I would have ended up at the bottom of some bottle, or in some vat of pride and arrogance, or hopeless, heartless and afraid, wondering why in the world I exist.  That is not my life.  With all its bumbles and offshoots, I know what really matters.  Relationship.  First with God.  Then with people.  In the long run all that remains are faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

 Jesus warned us this pilgrim road was not for the faint of heart.  He also promised never, ever to leave us alone.  I’m writing this tonite in my pain because I know you have your own.  We must carry on friends, and allow the work of the Holy Spirit to do what it must, despite our inability to grasp all the whys.  God did not take on frail humanity, humble Himself, die a miserable death, and rise gloriously for nothing.  He is completely invested in us for now and for eternity.  His love really is unfailing.  Nothing can separate us…

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
~Romans 8:38-39

Enough said.  The fire doesn’t last forever.  Only long enough to wake up those seeds.  Things will be different, true.  But there will always be mercy.  And grace.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Tsunami of a Temporal Only Life

Dear friends,

Several hundred years ago, a man of uncommon common sense spoke these words:
“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  That man was the inimitable Thomas Paine, pot stirrer of the American Revolution, brave patriot and visionary.  He spoke of his time, but all times can borrow his famous moniker.  Every age has its burdens, its trials and its agonies.  As does every life.  History is often a macrocosm of the individuals who occupy its artificial barriers of time.  Artificial in the sense that there are really only two realities: the temporal and the eternal.  While we spin around on this green and blue top through the linear experience we are having, it would do us well to remember we are actually spiritual beings.  I’ve been reminded of those two worlds so many times in these past days that I felt a burning urgency to share my sentiments with my fellow pilgrims.  And those not on the pilgrim road.  And anyone who is engaged in this present darkness, feeling the prick of life’s brevity and the merciful demands of the Great One to “Look up, for your redemption draweth nigh…” 

The earthquake in Japan does not mean the world is ending tomorrow.  But it sure as heck could!  I mean, end tomorrow.  The message of that Pacific island is crystal clear to me:  Your comfortable world, the one you see and touch and interact with every day, can come crashing down in 10 seconds.  If you find your meaning and purpose in this momentary life alone, you are bound for a gigantic fall. 

I feel absolutely frustrated that I can do very little in the physical realm for the people of Japan.  I mean, these folks had our way of life one day, and BOOM, they are rocked back to the 18th century in a split second.  Crisis is afoot everywhere.  It disturbs.  It horrifies.  It breaks the heart.  But is serves, man, does it serve. “WAKE UP PEOPLE!”, the quaking earth and the roaring seas proclaim.  “This fallen world is not your home, you’re only passing through!”  How dreadful, how much more terrible than even the disaster of Japan, is to  occupy material space for 70 or 80 years, thinking life is about one thing, and finding out in the end it was about something else entirely.  That would be a cosmic meltdown for the human soul more grievous than any nuclear nightmare.

The good news, the great news is of course that God has not left us to wander these shipwrecked shores.  We have (I, the greatest offender!), done every manner of wrong against His eternal kindness, have cared first for ourselves, have placed our maker in a small corner to pull out when convenient, or ignored Him altogether.  He has been the object of intellectual scorn.  He who provides the very air we breathe is railed against as an unfair and uncaring power, despite the fact that common sense scrutiny of the scriptures would disprove this.  God is routinely blamed and questioned for all the world’s evils and dismissed as a joke in regard to its blessings.  Despite all of this, He continues to call men to Himself in multiplied ways, not wanting any to perish in their small, selfish little world, but passionately calling all to come to the open spaces of knowing the One who loves them forever.  He will not force.  But He will press.  And He will use the worst things a devastated world demonstrates to bring all the chicks into the nest.

How I long to live grounded in that eternal world every day!  That real world, which lasts not 70 years, but long after all the suns have become black holes and this little revolving blue beauty has long since been made new.     As much as the terrors and sorrows of the Japanese drama impact us to do earthly good (and may they do that!), let them also remind us of the vapor we are.  All of us.  So that everything we do on this earth has a piece of eternity wrapped within, that can never perish, spoil or fade.

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite little books, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by a lame little lay monk by the name of Brother Lawrence.  Whether he peeled potatoes in the kitchen, or took on errands for the brotherhood, every humble act he did for “the love of God”.  I put this up over my sink and my desk at work:

“O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy presence; and to this end, do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.”    ~Brother Lawrence

I hope you know I’m always talkin’ to myself first of all.  Let’s let all the terrible things turn us to the true, beautiful, eternal things that can NEVER be shaken.

I love you folks.  I really do.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


P.S.  Hurray for Peter the Great! You can now have this blog sent to your email if you like.  Thanks for tuning in!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Resting and the Suffering

Dear friends,

Here are some random thoughts since our return from the “Smith Family Celebrates Life” vacation.

-         How I wish I could travel on the deep blue sea in February every winter.
-         Best thing about the “Allure of the Seas”: You feel like you’re outside everywhere you go!
-         Net weight gain Loriann: censored.  Net weight gain Stephen: zero!  Despite eating 3 times his normal amount. But he exercises like a mad man!
-         Second best thing about the “Allure of the Seas”:  you never have to drive a car anywhere!
-         I’ll never forget this beautifully relaxing trip, but more than that, I’ll never forget the 14 months leading up to it.  (For more on that, see www.steveandhannahsmith.blogspot.com).

Now we step in to the 40 days leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of the One and Only Son of the Living God.  I’m striving to seek Him with all my heart during this meaningful season, and to receive all kinds of grace from Him when I fall short.  Like all of you, we are experiencing problems and sufferings.  But let’s look at our troubles the way scripture does: as opportunities to go through the purging fires to greater faith.  Trials are not our enemies.  The Book of James says:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Jesus endured the cross for “the joy set before Him”.  Friends, it seems there will always be obstacles on the pilgrim road.  I get weary, and I know you do to. We can cling tight to the Great One through it all, and find in the end, sometimes the very end, that everything will work out alright.  None of us has had to face martyrdom.  None of us has gone hungry.  We’ve got it so much easier than many of the great saints, living and dead.  (Just watched Carl Dreyer’s Joan of Arc last night…WOW!)  That doesn’t mean our trials don’t hurt, or don’t count.  But it helps me anyway to remember how “light and momentary” they really are in the whole cosmic scheme of things.  I’m like everyone else: I wish my life were easy, with no heartaches.  That’s simply an unrealistic fantasy.  So best we get on with the business of making our trials work for the Glory of God.  And for joy set before us here, and if not here, in the ages to come…

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


PS: A shout out to Danny B., our guest blogger.  That guy always makes me think…and smile!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smith Family Celebrates Life vacation shots!

Dear Friends, 
A few shots from a special time!  I'll sign in soon with a message, but for now, here are some pix from the Caribbean.  If you want to know why we went, see that other blog: http://www.steveandhannahsmith.blogspot.com/.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,