Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Twisting Agony and The Relentless Hope

Some days, all we have is hope. 
Two teenagers are dead.  Two are seriously injured.  Round and round we go again.  A drunk driver chooses darkness, and the worlds of 4 families double over.  Calamity.  Catastrophe.   His own life, too, is permanently devastated.  The grip of the fall squeezes hard again, reminding us, oh, reminding us in our half asleep state, how dangerous it is to make this fragile present our all in all .  And today, all I can do is what David did in the Psalms…lament, get angry, weep and, God help me, continue to hope.
The vaporous delights of this earth must eventually bump up against its miseries.  Perhaps I sound like a pessimist.  I am striving not to be.  Straining against pain and anguish at the fallout for my own child of someone else’s sin, I have grappled with this first hand.  It is a relentless choice to remember the foamy waves of Coast Guard Beach, the flavor of Stewart’s raspberry chocolate swirl frozen yogurt, the big, silly yawn of my tortoise shell cat…and the thousands of other blessings that make this darkness tolerable.  When all is, as Herman Melville so aptly put it, “…a damp, drizzly November in my soul…” I lean hard on ancient truths.  I remember this was never the plan…dead children, cancer wards, open sewers through Port au Prince, heroin addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction, alcohol addiction, prayerlessness, joylessness, hopelessness.  These were all foreign to the One who made wind, green grass, open seas, life in the womb, light bursting forth, relationship, friendship, love!
“God is light.  In Him there is NO DARKNESS AT ALL.”
1 John 1:5
I understand the question.  The big WHY.  I have spoken it loud myself, banging hard on the floor, kicking against the very walls of the only boat keeping me from drowning.  There are many why’s tonite, as  parents order coffins for lifeless ones who brimmed life 48 hours before.  They will groan, and writhe and stand stupefied…and I stand with them, and pray they will one day renew their hope
God is light.  But He entered into our darkness.  The most pure and righteous, the very bone and sinew of life and beauty, subjected the most beloved of His heart to a cruel death at the hands of human beings on a devastated planet.  He refused to stand by and watch our pain, brought forth by the wretchedness of our collective turning from light to darkness.  He spoke once and finally in a great, broken-hearted voice of a father grieving over the pain of the great cost of free will.  He crashed through eternity into time, to a dusty, backwoods Israeli town, knee deep in animal waste and stink.  From here, without ever taking away our right to choose, He called us back to His heart with mind bending mercy.  Not from the throne of heaven did He weep, but from the torture of a cross, fully acquainted with our grief.  

So many prayers for the family and friends of all those involved in the terrible DWI crash on Saturday night.  It makes no sense.  There are no convenient answers to the big WHY.  But hope remains.  Tenacious, scrappy, unrelenting hope.  He sees.  He knows.  He is Emmanuel...God with us.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving: When Styrofoam Beats China

It was a beautiful Thanksgiving this past Thursday.  Twenty six sterling souls found spots, with six more filing in for Hannah’s cheesecake, Kate’s inimitable pies, Susan’s pumpkin made from, well, actual pumpkin, and other desserts brought by other beloveds.  This however, was not a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving.  And though it was far more comfortable and bountiful than that first Pilgrim feast, it resembled the bedraggled wonder of that celebration in spirit more than the polish of a Hallmark card by a turkey trot mile.
Each person, this hostess first and foremost, came to dinner with their own brand of brokenness.  Most of us, blessed beyond any of our mortal powers to get a grip on, gave thanks either quietly or out loud for this: the unreserved, undeserved mercy we have consumed from the table of a generous God.  And those that didn’t, or couldn’t, were loved just the same while we wait for the great revelation.
Our WW2 pilot with his oxygen mask, now on hospice, smiled a toothless grace.  Our dear friend, finding her way after a difficult move and relational upheaval, shines nonetheless.  A Vietnam double purple -heart war hero still weeps over the death of his dog, 10 years his only companion.  Children of divorce, children fighting depression, children climbing a mountain of unjust suffering…all these belie the famous Norman Rockwell painting, but not the reality of those sturdy Mayflower pilgrims.
This year I relaxed and enjoyed the rugged beauty of our ragtag band of grateful hearts.  I worked hard, but never felt stressed.  I burned my fingers, didn’t mash the carrots enough, and had lumps in my gravy, but I delighted in the bent moments.   Author of “The Message” paraphrase of the Bible, the brilliant Eugene Peterson, wrote a book called “Christ Plays in a Thousand Places”.  I found Jesus there in the midst of a noisy, messy, heartbreaking, hilarious, troubled, perfectly imperfect gathering of ones He so loves.  I left behind Martha’s china and opted for Styrofoam plates and plastic cups.  There was no gourmet, but there was a horn of plenty of real love and a full portion of wild laughter.  Like those aliens of 1620, we patched together a banquet of thanks on the rocky shores of trials and yet unanswered prayers.  My sore feet were no match for my heart, wrapped in the luxurious comfort of joy.  Surely the Lord is Good.  As Ann Voskamp so aptly put it:    
 “God is good” is not a stale one-liner when all’s happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard.”
So   three years after a horrific car accident nearly killing husband and daughter, and almost a year since I thought I might never smile again, I find the potent medicine of thanks, and I stand on the shoulders of sea-crossers from ages past.  None of the pilgrims from my table have smooth travels, behind or before them.  But they have this; an unyielding Grace from a Sovereign God.  The finest food, the most costly silverware, the loveliest centerpiece, all the treasures of this passing present are rubbish in comparison. 
You, my friends, walking this unpredictable pilgrim road with me, take the tonic of thanks in the midst of your war against cynicism, despair and unbelief.  Be strong, and of good cheer!  This world is not our home, we’re only passing through.  Surely we are strangers here.  With tenacious kindness and unshakable faith…and not an ounce of judgment, let’s take as many people home with us as will come. 
Your grateful friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Gift of Passion

I wake up with it every morning.  It dogs me in the middle of my honey wheat bagel breakfast.  Turn around, and there it is again while I flip stupidly through droning radio talk show hosts in the car. Checking my emails, vacuuming the living room, worrying about my children, chiding myself for being not being a good enough wife.  Always the passion is there.  Always it haunts me.  The passion to know God. 

Me, a fallen woman living in a fallen world, can’t escape the Glory.  In Walmart of all places there is glory. Walking among the power bars I hear the words spoken by God to Moses:

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  Exodus 34:6-7

Moses asked God to let him see His face.  And God said no, because he didn't want a dead deliverer on His hands.  Trembling, in the presence of the Ultimate Fact, Moses’ passion to know God trumped his fear of God.  And God, wanting Moses to experience Him, made a way by showing the prophet his back.

It hits me like a meteor hurtling from space.  This truth that has defined me for my whole adult life, that I have often taken so very lightly as if God were some good fairy looking for good little children to bless, this truth that  is terrifying and compelling at the same time and I can’t escape the passion.  Some days I want to.  I want an easy, dignified life.  I have had neither.  Nor did Moses.  Or any other person with a passion.

Passion in any context is messy.  It stumbles over itself in the learning.  It impacts everything around it.

I met a man when I was working in public television who was a model train expert.  This man wore the railroad hat and everything.   I mean, this was before the Thomas the Tank Engine craze, and this guy was completely off his rocker for trains.  His wife was “on board”, or else he would have been divorced.  His entire basement and many of the other rooms in his house were completely taken over by tracks, trains, little plastic people and animals, fences, and all manner of miniature railroad paraphernalia.  When he talked about trains he was transformed from a guy living in a little house in New Jersey to a railroad king.  He would converse about something else for a little while, but under every other word his passion for model trains leaked out.  It was part of him, and he couldn't have escaped it if he wanted to.

In all the sorting out of my relationship with God I have done over the past three years, in the midst of excruciating pain and deep humiliation, He has left me with the gift of passion. I couldn't escape it if I wanted to.  In fact, when my desires have been for the lesser joys of this material world, and the great passion has waned, He has been to me as he was to Moses and shown me a glimpse of Himself.  I’m ruined for anything less.  CS Lewis, as always, says it best:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I’m no special case.  We were all made for passion.  Those longings you have for something greater than yourself, for something more than your own small desires, those are the whispers of a passionate God, who takes it slow so as not to kill you with the glory.  But make no mistake, we aren't dealing with a fairy.  This is the Ultimate Reality, who wants us to have ultimate joy.  He won’t settle for anything less.  Hence the passion of His very own Son.
I’m off to seek ultimate joy, in the midst of buying jeans for my son, making meatloaf and sweeping my dining room floor.  Because God does not dwell on a mountain, but in the hearts of men.  And passion can abide in the most unlikely places.  You seek it too, friend.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Gospel Up in My Grill

Dear Friends,

My youngest child sometimes uses the expression: "You're getting up in my grill".

I think I know what he means.

Brother Tom spoke it from the pulpit yesterday and Sister Cindy sang it.  The book, The Discipline of Grace by Jeffrey Bridges sorts it out this morning and the Book of Romans, chapter 8 to be specific, takes the cake.  (Enoch read it in church from The Message version and it was like I was hearing it all over again for the first time...) I am undone and bewildered once more by the truth of the gospel.  The plain truth is this: Jesus Christ died to save sinners…not just sinners, but this sinner, with a reckless compassion and an audacious grace.  And what’s more, what’s rash and northeast-blizzard wild is that my performance has nothing to do with the matter.  On my most wretched, worldly, ugly days that grace abounds as much as on the days I think myself spiritual.  

Oh, how we world weary, self weary folks need the infusion of this bedrock foundation while we walk, climb or crawl the pilgrim road!  It is only trust in this unmoving love that can change us.  Only here, in the place of the finished work, where we are not judged, but loved…only here can we change.  Not by striving.  Not by being especially good today.  But by believing.  And by receiving, every day, the gift of grace. 

So I’m posting this today because The Great One brought His gospel around to me from so many directions it got funny.  I am the proverbial barn door that simply can’t be missed.  I, a Christian for almost 27 years, am again rebooted to the truth that set me free…and I require this ridiculous repetition to recall (how’s that for alliteration) that it’s the only truth that will keep me free. And I thought maybe there was someone out there who needed to be reminded too.  Simply.  Without fanfare.  (Except the reality of this should bring in the marching bands from the billions of galaxies in the known universe.)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

Breathe some of that fresh air…let that get up in your grill...and keep climbing.

Thank you Tom, Cindy, Enoch, Mr. Bridges, dear Apostle Paul….

Thank you Jesus.  I can never pay the debt.  And you would never ask me to. That’s the mind blowing gospel.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Done Clean

It’s the catch phrase at my house lately.  “I’ve been done dirty.”  These colloquialisms cycle through the vocabulary of my teenage boys in a fairly predictable rotation.  I’m plagiarizing their kitsch slogan to communicate the current turnings of my heart. 

With a twist:

“I’ve done dirty”. 

Perhaps it takes seeing the still down-dirty in ourselves to truly glory in the gospel of done clean. 

In that mess between my ears (and yours?) is the primordial soup of lust, envy, discontent and a whole lot of other uglies that can’t be thunk away.  They must be washed away. 

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

That’s the low down on the down dirty. 

Instead of animal skins to cover that shame, the reckless, bloodletting Son washes it away in scouring mercies that stab from too dear a love for such a wretch as I.

He was done dirty so we would be done clean.

Blessed be His name.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Wonder of Grace: A Snapshot of the Living Gospel

Dear Friends,
When one sees the beautiful, simple gospel in action, it feels like stepping out into the clear clean air and breathing deep the freshness and wonder.  This blog entry is a tribute to my friend, Lisa Kent, who has demonstrated the loveliness of the redemption of Christ Jesus.  She doesn’t just live it…she embodies it.   She has received great grace and she distributes great grace.  Her climb is steep.  She clings to the Rock.  She shows the world the power of the cross.
I may have some of the timing wrong, but with her permission I would like to give you a snapshot of this vista of grace, this redemption of a soul who now carries the mandate to spread the good news.  How I have learned from Lisa!  How I have been privileged to share some of the pilgrim road with this disciple of our Lord.  In heaven, when the crooked is made straight and the rough places plain, it will be sheer joy to see Jesus smile on her with His promised reward for “those who persevere”. (James 1:12)
About 16 or 17 years ago (all the math might not be correct, but it’s not the point), Lisa moved to our area from the western part of the state.  She was just about penniless, homeless, and at the beginning of a recovery from a deeply entrenched, ugly addiction to drugs and alcohol.  Jesus in his non cookie-cutter style had pulled her out of an abandoned apartment, after a nightmarish crack binge, and began the long process of sorting out her broken life.  She was no stranger to pain long before the chemical slave drivers tied her up.  She spent years in foster homes, the victim of unmentionable abuses and neglect.  Her own family members were in such pieces themselves, that Lisa could find no refuge.  And as so many do, she found something to numb the pain.  Except nothing ever does.  When true, cosmic love is the cure for the grand canyon wound in our hearts, no other remedy besides that love will do.  
But in the mystery of grace, Lisa had been predestined to be a display of the kind of splendor God almighty alone wields.  He rescued her, because He delighted in her.  (Psalm 18:19)  Hallelujah and blessed be His name! 
Living in a halfway house, dealing with all manner of obstacles from slum landlords to an apartment fire to a child allergic to everything under the sun, Lisa kept clinging heartily to her Jesus, and struggling and crying out and changing.  She was soon leading AA meetings and helping others to freedom, and lo these 16 years later she continues to do so.  She toppled the nicotine stronghold.  She persevered through minimum wage and food stamps to supervising and being a cornerstone in her manufacturing job.  She visits the jail to tell the ladies there about the delivering power of Christ.  And who can argue with living proof? She has raised her girls alone and suffered with them through the heartaches of adolescence in this fallen, cold world, and has taken in her mom as she ages.  She has forgiven and loved, because she knows up close and personal what it means to be forgiven and loved beyond measure.  She understands what it is to be a shipwreck, and to have Someone come and rebuild your old rickety mess and make it sturdy enough to sail the open seas of grace.  She has been in many a hurricane, and has lived to tell.  Lived abundantly to tell.
My friend would be quick to tell you that she longs to know the Father in a deeper way, and feels the weight of those things we all carry which are yet to be broken off.  But her authenticity and all out reduction to grace alone bring the fragrance of joy everywhere she goes.  One cannot help but breath the gospel, whisper thanks, and glorify her Father in heaven.  She is not perfect.  But she is truly stunning.  When you see the true gospel, when you see what it is that Jesus allowed His big heart to stop beating for, His perfection to be put underground, dead and lifeless for…you inhale deep and all the bells and whistles of pop culture Christianity just whither in the wind.  This is the bottom line truth of life.  The gospel, the good news, made manifest. 
There is so much more to say…but this is a snapshot.  The whole blazing and glorious mural is still being painted.
He did it for you too. Grasp the wonder.  Or remember it.  I hope you have a friend like Lisa Kent.  If you do, you’ll encounter the gospel.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stop Banging the Head Against the Wall and PRAY or "Yes, You ARE Your Brother's Keeper"

Dear friends,

There simply is no changing the heart of another person.  Though we are in some sense always “our brother’s keeper”, we are most assuredly not “our brother’s controller”.  Even with our children.  Perhaps especially with our children.  We long for those we love to walk uprightly, to live joyfully, to experience the death defying grace of God.  But there is no manipulating it.  We might for a time be able to force right behavior on another person, but fullness of life is strictly an inside job.  Still, there is great hope.  There is yet one productive avenue one man can have in another man’s soul.

I don’t understand how it works, but I know it does.  Jesus continually urged and commanded that we ask, seek and knock, in particular for what really matters to Him: people.  Not people en masse; but the electrician next door, the bossy boss, the cousin who is fabulous in every way, the stingy guy at the Chinese restaurant: in other word, individuals.  Prayer is the way to every man’s heart, unreachable from the outside, but unguarded and vulnerable from within.  Only One can get up under the self and penetrate that untamed, independent, addled, riddled, glorious ruin of the inner man.  Only the One who has walked in flesh and bone and Spirit can pierce the self willed drama of a human being.

I’m embarrassed to say I have flailed about in many an effort to change people in my life.  I want to make them see, to make them happy, to make them behave.  Thankfully, repeated failure has the impressive power of getting through to a first class knucklehead like me.  There’s nothing like wearing oneself out in the fruitless and futile to make one engage in looking for a better way. 

I have cried many a tear over these past weeks and months, but I have learned.  I am still frustrated when I see those near and dear goofing around with folly and that which will never satisfy.  But since I still take part in my own nonsense, I haven’t a leg to stand on from the outside. 

About 27 years ago, a young man named Ed Wiseman (an apt name as well) met a short, folly pocked, heart hungry young woman at NYU. (That was me).  Knowing from the outset there was no changing me from the outside, he began to intercede for my heart.  He followed in a long line of folks who cared enough to pray for me, including my now 87 year old aunt and a host of strategically placed people from all walks of life along my broken way.  One day, (and here’s where the semi Calvinist in me enters), in a feat of incomprehensible election, God chose to open my soul’s eyes so I could grasp His love and mercy.  It is impossible to know why He gave me that unmatched gift.  There was never a soul less deserving (and I’m not trying to be humble, believe me…)  But there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that God’s call to other people to pray for my salvation was a crowbar to my locked up, mixed up heart.  What no one could do from the outside, the Spirit did from the inside.  And these marvelous saints played some unseen, mystifying role in the whole matter.  I have not been, and never ever will be the same again.  Blessed be His name, who will reward every push heavenward for my sake in the mystery of it all that took down the scales from my eyes.

That’s what brings me back to the prayer chair and the scriptures over and over again:  I know life will come.  I wish I didn’t have to wait.  I wish I could make all those precious gems I love avoid wasted time and heartache.  But I don’t know the Master’s time for them.  All I know is I can’t yell away, lecture away or fret away the blinders.  I do know the promises of God are sure.  I do know He instructs His disciples in the hard work of intercession.  I do know I’m not my brother’s controller, or my children’s or my coworker’s or my friend’s or my relative’s.  But I also know I am most certainly my brother’s keeper.  I am honored to do what those who loved me did for me, lo those many years ago.  I will cooperate with the Great One to crack the case from the inside out. 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…”

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” 


Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gotta Love Spurgeon!

"God will answer His pleading people in their anguish. He has wonders in store for them. What they have never seen, heard of, or dreamed of, He will do for them. He will invent new blessings if needful. He will ransack sea and land to feed them: He will send every angel out of heaven to succor them, if their distress requires it. He will astound us with His grace and make us feel that it was never before done in this fashion. All He asks of us is that we will call upon Him. He cannot ask less of us. Let us cheerfully render Him our prayers at once."  

Charles Spurgeon, 
Faith's Checkbook

Dear friends,

Thinking a lot today about the accident of November 8, 2009... The above quote by Sturgeon is so true.  He has ransacked sea and land to feed us with hope when we have despaired.  He has seen us through fire and flood and the unthinkable peril of a missing child.  Indeed, let us cheerfully render Him our prayers at once.  No, we do not pretend there is no pain, no sorrow.  But we believe we are small.  That so much joy and glory are now hidden, veiled by this present darkness. This present darkness, which because of the blood of Christ, will be terrorized and utterly destroyed by light and life.  These light, momentary trials are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Because of these profound truths, joy abounds.  Because of Jesus, we live, we pilgrims.  He will - he does - astound us with his grace, here and in the life to come.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Listening, Hearing...Doing

Unexpected things happen in the most ordinary places.  There on I-90, just before exit 2 (Fuller Rd. – the never ending construction mess, but that’s another story), a prayer was answered.  Many prayers, actually.  The earth didn’t shake.  But I heard the voice of God, down in my soul, and I knew it was Him.  (I double checked with scripture later, since we fickle characters can get some wild ideas leaping about in this masterpiece of gray matter.  Everything must line up with the written word.)  There it was in the book of Jude, just about word for word, from the hearing of my heart:
“Keep yourself in the Love of God.” Jude 1:21
Day after day I have been asking to listen and hear.  On auto pilot at 65mph, my mind was wandering, probably thinking about vanilla cream filled donuts or the uncomfortable hole in my sock.  Then, when I wasn’t expecting it, the words billowed up from the depths, answering prayers cried, shouted, whispered and argued from January to April.  I needed to hear my Jesus speak, and He chose the time.  I held on like a dog with a bone.
Many of my recent blog posts have recounted my struggle with loss and suffering. Writing it down helps me sort it out, and hopefully helps some of you reading here make some sense of your own trouble. In particular, I have discovered a new term: “ambiguous loss”, the kind experienced by those who have a “missing” person in their life, without the closure normally afforded to those who grieve.  In the midst of finding my way through this uncharted territory, I have acted a lot like Job, albeit without as much cause for my wailing.  I have complained, railed and accused.  But I have also found, like Job, that what I really want, what I really need, is to hear God’s voice in the storm.  I can’t demand it.  But I can ask…He wants me to ask.  And at just the right time, when I’m ready to hear, He pulls the cork out of my ears and I know that I know it’s Him. Sadly, I am no Christian  mystic, but there are those moments when  “deep calls to deep” and for all my foolish ways He meets me.  That’s wild grace.  
So now it's onward to the business of being a doer of that word.  Believe me friends, this is tricky stuff for someone like me who forgets to take the chicken out to thaw.  Keeping yourself in the love of God requires intentionality.  On the one hand, only God can keep us in the love of God, by His own mercy and grace.  On the other hand, (there’s always another hand, isn’t there?), we’ve got something to do here.  When I asked God “HOW?” I looked back at another scripture to help me with the first steps:

 “This is the work of God; to believe in the One He has sent.”  John 6:29 

So I’ll let you know as I go along how I fare with walking this particular word out.  Believing is without a doubt the starting line.  My friend Job, in between rants, said: “I know my redeemer lives…” Job 19:25.  He exercised faith, even while he didn’t get it. And when he finally heard God he shut his mouth.  All the suffering in the world can’t muffle the sound of the voice of love.  It’s water for the soul in the desert. Now, to KEEP myself in it...
On a lighter note, (it’s not hard to get lighter than Job) here are a few news items for my friends on the pilgrim road:
1-      Smitty got a new job!  We are all cake here, frosted in gratitude.  Just in time, too…titanium man can’t be without insurance.
2-      Hannah turned 17.  She’s liking her job as a kitchen worker at the nursing home, except when she’s burning herself on hamburger grease.  We took her to the Olive Garden for her birthday and she did not finish her pasta.  That, my friends, is a first.
3-      David’s got trouble, he’s got terrible, terrible trouble, with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool… (Only 3 weeks until my baby boy plays Harold Hill in the Our Savior’s Lutheran School production of “The Music Man”).
4-      Joseph is contemplating a haircut.  The Mayans must be right; this has to be the end of the world…
5-      Eureka!  It’s clean under my kitchen sinkJ  Gotta love Clorox Clean Up!
6-  Here's my Hercules by the ocean.  A cause for praise and gratitude...a few years ago this man was a dead man.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wisdom in the Mines

Dear friends,
There, smack dab in the middle of the book of Job, is a lesson on mining.  When I think of mines, my imagination wanders to dirty men with flashlights on their helmets, and gut wrenching stories of tunnel collapses, and long, dark mazes deep underground where human beings really don’t belong.  I wonder what mining was like in Job’s day, before Herculean power earth movers and OSHA regulations.  Job scrapes his boils, sick and tired of his friends’ lectures, probably sick and tired of his own complaining, and takes a side trip to the deep dark places, a metaphor for his life.
The book of Job has become strangely comforting to me.  It was not long ago at all that I got an acidy feeling in my stomach when I saw it coming on my Navigator’s bible reading plan.  Each day I would open to the chapter and verse, and brace myself to enter into another man’s profound suffering.  But somehow over these weeks I have come to love this book.  I think it’s because I see so much of myself in Job…not in any way to compare my suffering to his, but finding kinship in my response to suffering.
One moment, Job is railing, complaining, accusing.  The next he says “I know that my redeemer lives.”  One moment he decries his whole life, the next he says “though He slay me, yet I will trust him.”  But of all the chapters that have moved me in this book so far, Job 28 tops them all.
The sorry soul takes a break to ponder the depths of a mine, and the unique place of the miner cutting through earth, trolling through darkness, and finding treasures impossible to unearth in the light.  He makes a hard turn in verse 20, when he asks: “Where then, does wisdom come from?  Where does understanding dwell.”  Sorely tested, Job desperately wants understanding.  He sees, even through unimaginable pain, that:
“It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
   concealed even from the birds in the sky.
22 Destruction[b] and Death say,
   “Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
23 God understands the way to it
   and he alone knows where it dwells,
24 for he views the ends of the earth
   and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he established the force of the wind
   and measured out the waters,
26 when he made a decree for the rain
   and a path for the thunderstorm,
27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
   he confirmed it and tested it.
28 And he said to the human race,
   “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
   and to shun evil is understanding.”
God alone owns the mines of wisdom and understanding.  There are things in this mortal veil we’ll never, ever figure out.  But the book of James holds out this promise:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
I need wisdom for my every day.  And I am filled with gratitude that He gives it generously, and especially without finding fault.  I continue to try to find my way through a dark mine, with countless dead ends and wrong turns.  By His grace, I can cry out for understanding and direction in a world gone mad, and in an astonishing act of mercy, He takes me around the next bend.  I am still alive.  I still love God.  I am His and He is mine.
And I believe, with tears, that there’s gold in them there hills.  Down deep, there are treasures in the darkness. Faith.  Hope.  Dare I say, JOY.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beach Plum Jelly and Spiced Apple Lipstick

Dear friends,
The jam jar’s nearly empty and the lipstick’s almost gone…
Sounds like a line you’d hear blasted on the radio in a pickup truck down Tennessee way.  But it’s the narrative of my life right now.  I thought maybe it might help someone gracious enough to read here to listen in on the struggle, the wheezing, the desperate mantra of this woman who loves Jesus but often acts like she doesn’t; who has had trust issues since she was an embryo; and who knows the truth sets free but hasn’t quite moved it from head to heart. 
We love testimonies of people who have “gone through” something.  It regularly comes out so neat and clean in the end (though in real life it often doesn’t).  I thought perhaps it would be good with my Jesus if I tried, as honestly as possible, to testify in the middle of the storm.  To come out on the deck while the rain/tears wash my face and the wind is still blowing my L’Oreal light golden brown hair, and tell the story half way through, without knowing the outcome, without a tidy bow on the package. 
I want to acknowledge my tendency to drama.  I also want to acknowledge that what my weak frame and immature heart sees as a deep trial pales in comparison to so many millions of those of my brothers and sisters.  Some have no idea where the next bowl of rice will come from, or how they will hide from civil war factions indiscriminately roaring through town with AK47’s a blazing.  Some are suffering in their bodies and some have afflictions of mind beyond my ken.   I say up front that these precious souls need our love and passionate prayers and we need their courage and endurance.  Still, pain means something to Jesus in all its colors.  James addresses this universal slab from the Christian life so perfectly:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
This applies to all God’s children, short and tall, and all their trials, big and small.  Persevere.  Endure.
This morning I got down close to the end of my last precious jar of beach plum jelly from Cape Cod.  And its figurative meaning wafted down inside of me.  The story of Elijah and the widow played deep on the stage of my mind.  Not because I’m in any danger of going hungry.  But because I am in danger of starving my days, the very gift of my life, with anxiety and unbelief.  Nothing in this wide world can steal the salvation purchased for me by the crucified Savior.  But the promised peace and contentment for my daily living, that gift Jesus bled so hard to prosper to me, that can be ripped off. Stolen, if I don’t see this thing with eyes that have been mud cleansed by God.  Too often I have looked upon the lack, and not what remains.  I have missed the grace of what is still in the jar from the fruit of the beach.  I have needlessly suffered with past regrets and future fears, instead of rejoicing in the taste of today’s gift.  This must change.
It has been a thorny and grace laced two and a half years.  A drunk driver plows into sweet daughter and dear husband and changes all my world. Near death and brain injury and broken bodies and souls  drop a hydrogen bomb on all that was ever "normal".   I feel the alien I have always been.  Never again will I be even mildly comfortable with the confines of earth.  On January 1 this year, same beloved girl leaves us, running to we know- not- where, broken with we know- not -who…Anguish.  Heartbreak.  A kind of death.  She returns safe, (the mercy), but all are scarred, all scrape under the boils of circumstance.  I read the beautiful stories of families and children and I weep for all that was lost.  But even there, the spill of hope remains.  He remains.
Then, the loss of my dear man’s job…And the security wound is reopened and the fear infection rears up again.  The storm rocks so hard and I am easily seasick.  “No more”, I plead in my ignorance. I cast around in the book of Job, and a little piece of the sickness finds medicine.  I hit the knees hard to the floor, railing, reaching, complaining, whining, struggling, loving, losing, dying… and I sound like Job.  And God sounds like God, reminding me:
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
And oh, I am so weak, so fallen, but I am of those who love Him.  And I ask for courage while the storm rages.  I remember my calling and the brevity of my life and I repent again for bowing down to unbelief.
And I remember the lipstick.

This lipstick I have been using forever, and it looks like it is finally running out.  But it seems to keep covering my quivering lips yet another time.  Instead of fearing, I try thanking.  It is smooth and soothing. Clinque spiced apple…perfect.  Here, in the middle of a story still being written.  The Author is the Hero.  He decides the outcome.  He loves the characters with an everlasting love.  Otherwise, would there even be beach plum jelly, or spiced apple lipstick? 
Your friend on the pilgrim road,
No tidy endings, only endless merciesJ

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring's a Comin'

It got warm for a while.  And we got used to the warm.  We pulled out our short sleeved shirts, admired the daffodils popping out from formerly hard ground and forgot it was still March in the Northeast.  We got that certain kind of amnesia that humans like to get...the kind that forgets that there are sometimes snowstorms in March, and bitter winds and cold rains.
We want Spring so desperately. 

Isn't it the same in the soul's winter?  During times of testing and trial, I long for ease.  For warm, caressing breezes far from the biting air that makes me haul out my linty black winter coat again.  But who can choose the weather?  And who can choose the test? 

Job could not have known the cosmic reality going on behind his severe suffering.  The bitter winds of trouble blistered his hope, but did not kill it.  In his winter of discontent he would not curse God.  Question, yes.  Rail even.  But there was something within him, like with Jacob and the angel, that held on yet to a hope of Spring.  Not just the relief of suffering.  But the prospect of something beautiful coming out of that hard ground of perseverance.  Something like knowing, like seeing God.

God's goodness did not change because Job didn't see the big picture.  But Job changed when he saw God.  The broken, humbled man forgot the long winter when He who transcends all our spiritual weather blew the warm wind of sovereign grace on his smallness.  Still, we're reading the story after the fact.  Job lived it in real time, not knowing the background or outcome.  And now, he likely sits among that great cloud of witnesses on the edge of their seats to see how Jesus is going to get us through...and no doubt he's smiling, because he sees our stories from the outside... and he knows what's waiting for those who persevere. 

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."  James 1:12 

Springs a comin'.  The mercy's a fallin'.  The dead will be arisin'.

Persevere.  And cling hard to Jesus even when you don't understand.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


I cut the daffodils so tonite's frost wouldn't kill them.  Save beauty when you can.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pray, Trust, Believe

Dear friends,

What to do on a rugged stretch of land?  How easy, to lie down...to close the eyes to sleep too long and turn on the radio to distract.  To try to pretend there is no knot in the core, or troubling unbelief.  These trying times, these testing times, they make us, but it feels like breaking.

Pray, trust, believe.  This is the real work of the pilgrim.  In the making of the chicken stir fry, in the shooting hoops with youngest son, in the buying uniform pants at Target for precious, hurting daughter...in all the everyday, necessary operations of living, the real work in them is knowing God in them.

So much to do in the coming 7 days, pondering them here on the first day of the week.  But the Master says "Only one thing is needful..."  Lord, that I might have GRACE to choose the only needful thing.  Three in one, really.  Pray, trust, believe.

Some thoughts for these coming 7:  We cannot control another person.  The world sets its' pace, but we set ours.  Jesus is a whisper away.  I can default to fear, or purpose to believe and hope.  Worship comes easier when the mind is off self (like when cleaning a cabinet or hanging sheets on the line).   Rugged stretches make for strong legs.  There is more, so much more to these days than meets the eye.

Have a beautiful 7 days, no matter the terrain.  I tell you, but mostly I tell myself:  practice the trinity...pray, trust, believe.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reading on the Road

What do I read:

When I need perspective : Francis Chan

When I must regroup and pull the scattered pieces together:  Richard Foster

When I need a reminder of all that's good:  Ann Voskamp

To be once again aware of God's trans-time, trans-culture greatness:  Brother Lawrence

When I need to dig into the bible:  Beth Moore

To laugh...oh, to laugh:  P.G. Wodehouse

When I want to imagine:  J.R.R. Tolkien

When my mother's heart is broken:  Hannah Whitall Smith

When all of the above apply: C.S. Lewis

God's word alone can do the surgery...but He surely uses the words of others to help along the pilgrim highway...

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, March 19, 2012

Changing...in the Car

Dear friends,

Here’s a quote from an article I read today in Prodigal Magazine.  To read the whole story, click on the link: http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/living-is-the-hard-part/

“Living isn’t all suffering by any means, but a life lived fully unto Christ ultimately leads to the kind of suffering that Christ experienced. It only makes sense. We follow a man who was beaten and disowned.”

I cried in the car today.  In fact, my beautiful van, a 2010 Grand Caravan – the newest, most splendid car I have ever owned- has housed a great many tears since it arrived on our driveway last fall.  I am grateful for car crying.  I find it private, purging and sweet with the presence of Jesus.  Unfortunately, I never remember to keep tissues in the car.  So my upholstered seats get kind of wet from wiping my tear dripped hands on the only source of dry. 

I cried for sadness and grief and heartache, but I also cried for joy of the unexpected.  How it is that I never knew before this testing how near the Savior sits right there in the passenger seat, He himself “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Trouble has become my teacher…of those things I could not, or would not know otherwise.  To see all my life in its true light…a life meant to be lived with the Gethsemane Man who showed the way through His great sufferings, through my “light and momentary trials….

I don’t want to have to have my hands pried open.  Driving past the refracted light dancing on the Hudson, I want to take my hands off the steering wheel and open them to say “This is your world; I am yours, save me from my fearful, tottering, wavering, ignorant self!”  Somewhere along this pilgrim road I have begun to see.  Just begun, and I think I will still be saying that on the day I die.  I hear the persistent pound of anxiety, and my long time companion discontent, and a world of other unfocussed defaults, banging for entry in my moving tabernacle, and I choose to turn my back.  For today.  Today is all I can do, I make no promises for tomorrow, I only believe on the One who owns tomorrow and owns me.  I acknowledge the pain and my ferocious self will which dies so hard. O, but the blessedness of that death.  Who surrendered more than He who said “Not my will, but thine be done”.  He opened his hands and side and all His God/Man to my grief and sin and all yours and the world’s a billion, billion times over.  For the joy set before Him!  Joy!

The beaten and disowned one is beside us in the car, at the sink, with keys under our fingers and grease under our nails and trays in our hands, from the stars in the sky, to the depths of the ocean floor. 

To suffer our tiny drops of sorrow here, to gain from them, to find with Him the joy set before us…the very longing is more precious than all the world’s mere dollar store trinkets.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pogo Ball!

Dear friends,

This was my pure, unadulterated joy today!  David plays basketball on pogo stick.  

I'm telling you, my cup runneth over!

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Extraordinarily Ordinary

Dear friends,

What I really want to do is something ordinary. 

When I was in film school at NYU, just about everyone, when asked “what is your career goal?” answered “I want to direct.”  No one would ever say “I want to bring the props back to the studio at 2am” or “I want to help the sound man by carrying his equipment” or “I want to fetch coffee for the producer.”  Those were “ordinary” jobs. Aspiring to direct was a much loftier, much more satisfying goal.  How vastly different is the upside down Kingdom of God.

We live in an age of celebrity and pleasure seeking.  Even for we followers of the All Time Hero, there is a temptation to elevate the things that scripture would refer to as a hill of beans (well, maybe in The Message translation anyway), and to overlook the really astonishing, regular (yes those 2 words can go together) stuff that is at the heart of true discipleship.  You already know the story:

Luke 17:7-10
 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get your self ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

When we have done everything we were told to do….

Here are just a few of the things ALL followers of Jesus are told to do:

Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love neighbor as self.
Pick up our cross and follow.
Forgive, and then bless our enemies.
Give extravagantly.
Be willing to leave all, forsake all, suffer all for His sake.
Do without earthly security.
Trust the One we cannot see.
Know, without a doubt, that we are totally, relentlessly, zealously loved by our Father.
Pray like there’s no tomorrow (because there might not be).
Find joy in God in every little minute of every little day.

And so on, and so on.  The ordinary Christian life is supposed to look like this.  The Holy Spirit enables even the weakest among us to live this way.  But our limited, worldly perspective makes us recoil from these other-oriented goals.  We want to hold fast to comfort, security and acclaim. We strive for what so temporarily satisfies.  Living a dull, sub-ordinary life, God’s very own miss out on the vast eternal pleasures of His presence in exchange for what amounts to 10 minutes of cheap, passing gratification.    We laud those who make a big noise and live in big houses and are all pomp and glitter.  We act like this is our party, and not God’s, to which we have graciously been invited.  

Lest you think I’m saying don’t be all you can be, I’m not.  Our earth bound vocation is a part of God’s workings in our brief sojourn here.  What I’m saying, mostly to myself, is that our eternal calling is really far richer, and much greater than striving for some worldly attainment.  By simply doing our duty, humbly accepting whatever the hand of a Loving God brings, with thanksgiving and without complaint, by looking outside ourselves we find the lives we’ve lost. Turns out the ordinary isn’t the norm for the church at all.  Nobody puts it like Brother CS Lewis:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  

The ordinary Christian, if we could but find one, would only be doing his duty.  Only serving the Awesome God, only receiving grace upon grace, only overflowing with love and mercy, only suffering all manner of trouble with endurance and hope, only showing the face of Jesus to a lost, corrupted, needy, dying world, only caring for the least of these, only doing what the Great One told him to do.

The stunning thing is this: Jesus took the servant role to show us the way.   He is God, and He prepared our supper and looked after our fields and washed our filthy feet.  The furthest Person from ordinary proved that ordinary isn’t ordinary at all.  Makes me want to bend these knees and repent.  It would be the ordinary thing to do.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


PS:  I am broken, and so are you.  We can only live this way in the midst of our brokenness so long as we stay close to Jesus and let Him heal and help and forgive us every hour, every day.  Don’t think I don’t get it that living the true life of a disciple is messy business.  Really messy.  I write this with longing in my heart to fulfill it.  Not because I’ve figured it out. With a limp, pressing against the sub-ordinary, I continue up the pilgrim road, by His grace.