Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

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