Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Persevering God

Dear friends,

God is zealous.  He perseveres.  (Is that why He puts such a high premium on endurance, to make us more like Him?)  He presses.  He nudges.  He makes plain.  If you wish, He will allow you to go around a stubborn heart problem again and again, but that is not His want.  His stated goal: Freedom.  No chains on His kids.  Total, reckless, glorious trust that brings bold liberty.  He provides the fertile soil of circumstances to test the reality of our faith in Him.  All the lip service, bible quoting, and church attendance in this wide world don’t mean a thing if the heart is still pulled up short by unbelief.  It’s a mercy, really, the pain of trouble.  It’s like the rubbing wound on an animal chained up too long in the same spot.  It starts to really hurt, and finally gets the poor creature the attention it needs. 

It was in my youngest days as a little tomboy from Indian Orchard, Massachusetts that the infection of fear began dividing cells that have festered over many years.  Perhaps it started when my mother was taken away in a straight jacket and began what would become the remainder of her life as a captive to full blown schizophrenia, lost to her home, her family and even herself.  I was in grammar school when the terror began: the acid drip into my stomach, the tightening of my jaw, the potent, ferocious self reliance and determination to protect my 2 younger brothers.   No one can be trusted.  Nothing is reliable.  Mother is gone.  Father works 3-11.  It’s my job to take care of these boys.  Alone.  Afraid. At 10 years old.  So began The Great Insecurity.  Survive or die.  So was forged the first link in a very long chain of anxiety and mistrust. 

A few weeks ago, dear husband Smitty lost his job and became one more among the millions of casualties of a rugged economy.  But there is nothing random about this trial:  We believe in the 100% sovereignty of God.  There are issues in both of our fallen natures that are being wrested out by this particular suffering.  Going through dear daughter being missing in January (that’s another story), and going through the continued fallout of the car accident 2 years ago (that’s another story too…see
http://www.steveandhannahsmith.blogspot.com/), we are familiar with pain. But here’s the thing…the twisting, the churning, the dread, all these are the incarnation of the captivity within, the imprisonment God has zealously worked to free me from lo these many years. I’ve been around this mountain way too many times, and I’m tired of it.  I know my Jesus is God of all…Lord Eternal, Omniscient, Omnipresent, All Powerful.  So what the heck am I doing living in anxiety?  It’s no coincidence that I’m studying the book of James right now.  Listen to this profound truth:

“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

And I think… I think I may be getting it.  What the enemy of my soul is working hard to thwart, God is doing by His gracious hand.  Today I was able to look up at the sky, and feel the warm day on my skin, and be grateful.  I am not saying I never roil, but there is something releasing in me.  Ironically, I’m almost afraid to make it public lest I fall on my face again.  But I must declare the goodness of God in this hard place.  Because if He is not God here, He is not God at all.  James also says:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  DO what it says.” (capitals mine).  James 1:22 

The word says not to be anxious about anything.  The word says to trust in my Faithful Creator.  The word says my God shall supply all my needs.  The word says fear NOT.  If I want the freedom my Sweet Jesus died for me to have, I must do the word, not talk about it.  This is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  His will for me and you is total and complete liberty.  He is zealous.  He perseveres.  And so must we.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Default to Babylon

Dear friends,
Computers are strange birds.  Ours suddenly began defaulting to some obscure search engine called “Babylon.com”.  Probably one of my boys downloaded something of a gaming nature and Babylon snuck in to take over as the first port of call.  Default.  Having no idea what to do with these inventions of microchip and mind, I’m no match for the thing.  I’m stuck with Babylon when what I want is AOL.
Today I was lamenting to my husband about my own “soul default”.  My tendencies to fear and negativity were hardwired both by DNA, and the "software" of the events and relationships that have formatted my life, in particular those tender years of childhood.  It occurred to me, most likely because God put the “aha” connection in my head, that my default could also be called Babylon because of all that word means to a child of the living God.
Babylon became a powerful ancient empire, and in the year 587 BC the Jews of the Kingdom of Judah were forced into exile, far from their beloved promised land and under the thumb of a first rate tyrant, King Nebuchadnezzar.  It would be many years before Judah would return to Israel, and in the meantime the holy city of Jerusalem would be seized and utterly destroyed by pagans.  For the Jews: Captivity.  Bondage.  Again.  The children of Israel must have harkened back to a theme they knew well from their grandmas and grandpas, from their Passover remembrances and their Torah.  Perhaps they suffered more this time, recalling the 400 years they bent their backs for the pagan worshipping Egyptians. 
Babylon was no place for the chosen people.  God never intended for His own to live in captivity to liars, abusers, and tyrannical despots.  And He doesn’t mean for us to live that way now.  Of course in a free nation our captivity is spiritual.  Still, is prison any less miserable when it’s inside of a heart instead of a city?  But how does one live otherwise, when the default position is so diabolical and deep.  How to change?  How to truly change…
I’m wrestling this one out day by day, friends.  I open my eyes in the morning, and each day I know I have a choice.  I am a free woman because of the nail scarred man of Nazareth.  I have a choice to boot up my mind and leave it on the default setting of anxiety and pessimism, or I can go to manual and set my own disposition for the day…the hour…the minute.  I have to be extraordinarily intentional or it’s Babylon for me.  I have to have the word of God planted in my mind and the Spirit of God coursing through my veins or I will be a slave to the horrors of self.  If I look down the barrel of my problems, (and believe me the past 2 plus years have been replete with them, but that’s another story), I am sorely tempted to go to default. If I take seriously the words of Jesus: “Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you…” I find I can choose a different setting.  I will have to fight for it, but it’s SO worth the battle.  By the power of that Divine Spirit within us, we can ship out of Babylon every morning, and go rebuild our cities.  Go home to the place we were born for.  Go home to “the life that is truly life”.  Not pain free.  But meaningful.  Peaceful.  Dare I say…beautiful.
We cannot do it without Jesus, and we cannot do it without one another.  Praise God for His mercy, we don’t have to.  We may be “strange birds” too, but we are not computers.  We have the power to choose.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,