Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Hurricane, The Wind, and the Anchor that holds...

My friend and fellow word lover, Bob LaCosta asked for a blog post as an update to the powerful storm that hit us as a family 4 years ago.  You can catch it and more of his authentic, insightful writing at http://belovedblogger.com/  I’m sharing it here too, at Christmastime… when we wait in great hope for the only answer to the disasters and heartaches of a fallen world.  Jesus Christ…who makes the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

Often I've wished I could write the “perfect” testimony for the ongoing trial, all wrapped up with a bow, neat and clean, hallmark beautiful.  Something to say I understand all that God was and is doing in the mess…

 It ain't that way.

On November 8, 2009 a hurricane hit our family in the form of a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road.  It took 3 days to charge the offender, as police waited to see if my husband would die from the catastrophic injuries he sustained.  My then 14 year old daughter was forever changed by the bleeding on her brain, referred to in the vernacular as a traumatic brain injury.  In a single moment the words of the Holy One took on flesh and bone:   “They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.”  Psalm 18:18

It would be impossible to adequately describe the road we have taken lo these past 4 years.   Loving God certainly does not exempt any of us from the pain and trouble of “this present darkness”.   The word of God promises trials, separations and sufferings.  But as the great hymn says, “He giveth more grace…”
Folks have wondered if I’ve asked the cosmic question…WHY?  Why did God allow a drunk man to senselessly careen into my beautiful daughter’s head, making her life harder than we ever could have imagined? Why must Stephen continue to suffer the ripple effect of the world gone mad, with continued pain and surgeries?  Why would a God who loves us so, with the power to stop it all, take off the brakes of His permissive will and allow such a violent event in the lives of His own?

I don’t know.

But Joni Earikson Tada, rendered a quadriplegic in a diving accident at the age of 16, has helped me tremendously with her attitude, and I paraphrase:

“ I long ago stopped asking why.  The question now is always HOW?  How do I continue to love God in the midst of my own brokenness, and the mess of a fallen world?  How do I cheerfully and robustly love my fellow man on days I can’t go on.  How do I keep from becoming bitter, selfish and sorry for myself?” 
And always the answer to these questions is found in the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, who cheers the troubled heart and gives power in great weakness.  I can’t explain the mystery of grace.  I can only attest to the truth that He holds on relentlessly in the worst of circumstances.  And remarkably, there can even be joy…

The magnificent grace of Jesus Christ proves itself in the storms.  God did not spare His own Son from the impact of the fall.  In fact, He laid the whole shooting match squarely on shoulders of the Perfect One, born in obscurity, killed in violence, raised in glory.  He stepped into the mystery with us.  And He stays there, all the days of our lives.

My daughter is still struggling, but attends the University of Buffalo, studying her beloved English, Shakespeare, Latin and Poetry.  There is multiplied grace.  One day she will be restored to the One who has never left her.

Stephen returned to work from his wheelchair a few months after the accident, and never went on disability.  He goes to the gym for an hour every morning, and works hard these 4 years later to care for his family.  There is gracious provision.

My boys have been forever shaped by both the sorrow of the fallout and the powerful example of the love and beauty of the church, they who displayed relentless love…and were the hands and feet of Christ.

Whatever wind blows, friends, fear not.  The anchor holds.  You cannot plan for the day of trouble.  But you can trust in the Great One, who will take you through the messy business of life.

There will one day be a testimony all wrapped up in a bow.  Likely not til heaven. Then the winds will calm forever. 

Merry Christmas, no matter what!

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the floor with Kermit the Frog

I had the privilege in my early career days to meet the inimitable Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets and a wildly successful businessman.  Jim Henson made his puppets, breathed life into them and cared deeply about his work.  I was in my 20’s when I met Jim, but had a long standing love affair with Kermit the Frog from my childhood.  When we found out Kermit would indeed be making a guest appearance on our show, Reading Rainbow, my heart went pitter pat and I hoped to hear that little green frog say those iconic words “Heigh Ho, Kermit the Frog here…”
The set was busy that day.  Sets are usually busy, dynamic places….They aren’t noted for the quality of thoughtfulness or the exercise of slowing.   Jim Henson arrived quietly into the hubbub with his box of puppets and the wheelie thing he used when he got down on the floor to roll around while manipulating Kermit.  One of my coworkers let the grand puppeteer know I was a Kermit groupie.
Then, a gentle green tap on my shoulder and and that voice that can’t be duplicated…”Heigh Ho, Kermit the Frog here…”  The great Kermit addressed me like an old friend.  What’s more, the great Jim Henson took a moment to make an ordinary girl’s day.
Here’s the deeper meaning for me.  Jim Henson never got uppity or high falootin’ or above himself like so many folks who taste success.  And my theory about the why is that Jim was always connected to his roots because he remained on the floor with Kermit.  He was a prosperous, celebrated man who was ever reminded of where he came from. 
Of course Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of “getting on the floor.” “Potentate of time, Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime” as the great old hymn says, He yet lowered Himself to the rough and tumble of a sinful, corrupt planet.
He bowed down low, though He reigns on high.  The beauty of His character will be the praise of Heaven forevermore.
I cried when Jim Henson died.  But I was grateful to have met him.  He was an example of humility, a virtue so beautiful that every other virtue flows from it.  I want to grow in that virtue every day…always knowing there’s so much I don’t know. And willing to serve in any way I can.  I know I fall short of the mark.  But Jim Henson proves it’s possible.  May he rest in peace.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, September 9, 2013

Not Why, But How

Joni Eareckson’s recent book, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and God’s Sovereignty, makes this simple, elegant point: (My paraphrasing)

Perhaps why is a question best left alone, with its abundant hair pin turns to nowhere.  The better question is how.

Not “Why did God’s cosmic plan include Joni Eareckson breaking her neck and landing in a wheelchair for the past 40 years?”  But how does she live a life of spiritual power, strength and hope in the everyday of helplessness? 

Not “Why was your first child born with Autism, unable to communicate or care for himself for a lifetime?”  But how do you live in a place of continued hope for healing alongside acceptance of what is for now without becoming bitter?

Not “Why doesn't my husband love me?”, but how do I keep loving him, keep getting up in the morning, keep doing the next right thing and in so doing bring glory to God and help to your fellow man?

Not “Why am I afflicted with a stubborn, impenetrable depression?”, but how do I give and receive the love and grace of Christ when I am bone weary and can’t lift my head off the pillow?

These are practical questions.  Why leaves us solving one of those Rubik’s cubes that hurt your head and neck after a while.  How is like getting the flour out of the cupboard to make the cupcakes.  Then getting the sugar.  Then the butter.  How is following the instructions of the original baker to produce something good in the day.  How is the living of life in the unanswerable, mysterious Valley of Why.

Fill in your own why.  It’s OK to ask.  We all ask.  Some folks even get an answer, or part of one.  But not most people.  Most why’s are buried in the hidden sands of God’s sovereign understanding.  These are the hard things to be thankful for.  These are the serious places of testing and trial that require faith.  To quote an old adage, these are what separate the men from the boys.

The Joni Eareckson's of the world give me courage in the why’s of my own life.

Today, I’m asking the Holy Spirit HOW?  That's a question He'll always answer.  Show me how to love my neighbor who’s so terribly depressed after losing her husband, when what I really want to do is put on the TV.  Show me how to be kind to the people I work with, when the pain from a compressed disk makes me feel mean.  Lay out my day and make clear how I should prioritize the thousand tasks that call my name.  Most of all, strengthen me in the how of being grateful, even for the sufferings, the pain, and the ongoing uphill climb of the deepest heartache of my life.

This verse made me happy like sunflowers this morning:

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”  Isaiah 40:4 (KJV)

These mysteries of why will be sorted out for sure. 

We’re pilgrims and strangers here for 5 minutes. 

 Pretty soon, there will be no more whys.

The crooked back of my friend’s daughter with CP will be made straight.  The rough, unjust places of a drunk driver run amok and creating a lifetime of trouble will be made plain.  Every mountain and hill of sorrow and relational pain and broken bodies will be made low.

For now, I’m not asking why. 

I’m asking for insight and grace for you and me to do the how.

Go make some cupcakes.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, July 29, 2013

When You Can't Tell If A Storm's Coming Or Going

The lightening flashes far in the distance.  A low roll of thunder grumbles in mid air.  I hear the characters in my latest TV drama obsession, in the scene on the porch, saying  it over and over again in my head:

 "The storm...is it coming or going?"

 This question from a work of fiction perfectly describes my fragile reality right now.  And I'm certain it is echoed in the the souls of millions across this wide world.  "The storm, is it coming or going?"

Sometimes you can't tell.

For three and a half years I have felt the hard rain, the hurricane force winds, the terrifying specter of rubble that looked for a while like it might never be rebuilt.  I'm still not altogether sure.  The storms, they can be devastating.  They wax and wane in their power and effect, and they blow us to higher ground or we die. 

In three short weeks, that beloved one, so battered by the storm, so changed and injured, will move 300 miles away .  She will start a new life, where she is no longer the girl in the accident or the girl impacted by 2 crimes.  I will buy her leather boots and spray them with waterproof for the Western New York weather.  I want her precious feet protected and warm and pretty too against the storms across the Great Lakes.  I'm getting her a warm winter fleece, and sending laundry detergent pods and soft sheets, and an extra blanket.  What I can't pack for her are the thousands of hopes I have, the love that is stronger than the grave, the stubborn, though battered faith I have been equipped with by grace alone.  I cannot pack for her what she can only unpack for herself:

To choose a life of beauty despite the ashes of loss.

The All Compelling One, for Him - when I start crying for no known reason - the reason is known.  It's not just about a child moving away, about the memories of soapy tubs and long braids and too many stuffed animals in the bed.  It's not the standard mom-will-miss-you-I'll-get-over-it heartache.  He knows the route the storms take through all of our particular weaknesses and personal achilles' heels.  He well knows the heavy weather of relational pain and the exposed wound.  Over and over again these twisters are addressed.

"When you pass through the rivers I will be with you.  And when you pass through the waters they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze."  Isaiah 43:2

This scripture I've been living with since last August, lives in me for real.  Because the grace of God is so true, so unfatigable, it makes it so it doesn't matter whether the storm is coming or going.  We must learn to live with the lightening in the distance, or in the yard, because this is not heaven.  It will always be thus, like the law of gravity on this fallen planet.  But there is the law of aerodynamics, the law of rising above, the law of love, the law of Immanuel, "GOD WITH US", whether the storm approaches or departs.  There is higher ground but no one would willingly go there if they were comfortable on the plain.

I say it through tears:  Thank you Father, for the storms.  The Anchor, He holds.

For all of you hearing the thunder, seeing the lightening, I stand with you.  No, I climb with you...to the place where "no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand..." 

Or pluck her from His hand. 

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Thirsty of June

I've been rather earthly minded of late.  Distracted by all the to-do's of June, focused on very temporal cares, going about my business as if my business were about me.  I know, because I'm thirsty.  Not for a little sip of water, but for a good long drink, followed by a steady and lasting re-hydration.  Living water that is.

It's revealing, reading the Old Testament account of Solomon.  He started so strong, so determined to follow hard after God like his father David did before him...But the distractions of life (in his case, way too many beautiful pagan women), gradually degraded his passion for God's glory.  And I notice another thing about Solomon.  He didn't really have any hardships.  Of course there was some major drama in his family, particularly with his siblings, but most likely Bathsheba protected him from much of that.  And he never, ever knew want.  Contrast his life with his father's:  first, a shepherd in the hills, often alone, overlooked by his dad.  Later, he was perpetually on the run from enemies, hungry, thirsty, exhausted.  He lived in caves.  When he finally became king he had his own bout with Goliath-sized foolishness, evil even,  and distanced himself from God.  But you gotta love David.  He never did anything in halves, and he returned to God with all his heart. That era was followed by more pain and suffering via his screwed up children.  He died at age 70, full, so very full of years.

Seems trouble is a key ingredient in making a decent and passionate human being.

The only One who ever got it all right, of course, was Jesus.  Never did he separate himself from His father.  There was no secular vs. sacred with Him. Life was all about relationship: first with God, then with people.  He never lost touch with the why of life. He always made sure the main thing was to keep the main thing the main thing. He was, and is, the perfect man.  He was never distracted by what didn't matter.

Somewhere in the middle of making 25 pounds of potato salad for a graduation party, going on a job interview, spending too much time on facebook and figuring out our summer schedule I lost track of my real life.  This hollow feeling inside is a gift from God.  Time to dig deep into the truly beautiful, the truly worthy of life.  Time to sit quiet and hear the birdies and express my thanks for their song.  Time to laugh long and hard with my hysterical third child.  Time to look back on all the blessings of these growing up years with three beloved children.  Time to drink tea on the front porch. Time to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Lest I miss the lovely in the mundane.  Lest I chase after what will mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Don't get the idea that I'm promoting living in a cave as a mystic...(though that sounds surprisingly appealing right now, actually).  Seriously, I get it that there are cars to wash, children to buy bathing suits for, sauces to cook and freeze, litter boxes to clean out.  But there's an attitude of heart that can do those things with God given the right foot to start on.  First things first.  The ancient disciplines that bring freedom:  Prayer, the Word of God, worship, fellowship with the saints, repentence, solitude, quiet.  This is not a whack on the hand, it's a trail to the well.  As Billy Joel said : "I know what I'm needin',  and I don't wanna waste more time..."

Don't ignore that desert feeling.  Typically, it's a warning signal.  One Solomon ignored.  One David embraced.

Off the computer, into the Book.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spiderman Tattoos and the Deeper Meaning


I bet you thought this was going to be another one of those blogs where I find the metaphor in some life experience and sift through to the deeper meaning.


This morning I woke up cracking up.  I mean this was loud and silly laughter, startling my husband (up hours before) who is usually the one chuckling around these parts.

I was dreaming.  I dreamed we were having a big back yard picnic, Smitty and I, except the back yard was not our real back yard.  But we did indeed live there.  You know how it goes in dreams.  There were tons of familiar faces in this dream.  Tons.  That's a bit more unusual for a dream of mine, which usually leaves me more often alone or with one other person.

So I go into my house (which isn't my real house) and I said to Smitty, "Oh no, when did they do this to me! Where did I get this tattoo on my leg?"  And lo and behold, my entire right leg looks like Spider-man's leg, blue and red and webby, an extraordinarily well done tattoo.  I was beside myself.  The tattoo was signed by 4 ladies in my church, one of whom I remember was the dear Pat Ellis, who is one heck of a woman but definitely not the sort to tattoo you in your sleep.

As I'm fretting over this inked leg, and trying like crazy to sort out how it all happened, our friends from Brooklyn come in the kitchen.  Hugh and Joelle take one look at the leg and the gales of laughter begin all over again.  My daughter's old boyfriend Joe howled in hysterics at my limb.  Soon a crowd has gathered to laugh.  And no sooner has my bewilderment reached critical mass when I realize  it's not a tattoo at all, but a pair of leggy pajamas with Spidey legs on them.

At this I roared with laughter, and woke up with my cat staring at me like I'm some kind of mad woman.  (Cats tend to do that anyway).  Stephen comes in, the man who loves to laugh, and I tell him the story.  I started parsing the dream, looking for some meaning in it, and finally concluded it was solely for my amusement, an extra, a respite in a tough world, simply a laugh.

I was reminded of last week, when my friend Susan, in her inimitable way, quoted the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes as he expounded on the superfluity of a rose:

"'There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,'" said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. "'It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. 

"But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.'"

~Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It is only goodness that gives extras.

P.G. Wodehouse novels, red paint, chocolate chips, a good laugh...extras.  Scottish tea, poetry, Christmas carols, soft towels...extras.  Baseball, glass windows, Claude Monet's water lilies, the smell of rain...extras.

Life is full of trouble in a post-fall Universe.  It is also rife with beauty.

Perhaps there was a deeper meaning after all.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Changed in the Unchanging

"For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."  Malachi 3:6

Despite the sort of dry, dusty internal landscape of my soul right about now, there's a great spiritual truth that keeps appearing and reappearing to my mind, fading in and out of my consciousness like a mirage in  the desert.  My spiritual temperature may be cold, but this truth remains:  He is the Lord God, who changes not.

Women especially are vexed (and blessed) by a broad range of emotional ground, some of which is covered from west to east in an hour. (Ask my husband for references on that one).  For years in my travels with God, I believed if I felt good, if I was being "good", that the Father was good with me.  Conversely, when my darker, more arid times rolled in, my fouled up understanding of the nature of God lead me to think He was mad at me, or frustrated at least.  As if somehow this puny but beloved child of the Great One could upset the inner workings of the Absolute Supreme Master of the Universe. 

It's a great relief to stop taking oneself so seriously.

A whole lot of life is lived on the plain, and frankly the folks I respect and admire the most are first the ones who accept adversity and keep climbing, and second those who know how to live well in the mundane.  My friend Kate is that person.  For 20 years she has been patiently, kindly, cheerfully taking care of her dearly beloved, severely autistic son Timmy.  Twenty years of cooking him the same foods, (the few he'll eat), bathing him, diapering him, putting on the same Barney video for him, bringing him to Walmart for a change of pace, and ditto the next day.

The undulations of the pilgrim road are many.  Vexations without and within, comforts and pleasures, dealing with people, dealing with money, dealing with time...all things are constantly in flux.  It would be a fool only who would expect to feel the profound reality of God all the while.  He, of course, is never an inch away.  But our perception of Him is often impacted by the changing nature of our natures. Our perceptions can be trifled with by a sinus infection, or a low pressure system that won't budge.  To quote Ebeneezer Scrooge trying to make sense of why he was seeing his dead partner Marley:

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Our senses are great servants but lousy governors.  If we acted on every whim of our emotions, or didn't act because of their lack, would those firefighters have climbed the stairs at the World Trade Center while everyone else was coming out?  Would any marriage make it past the first temptation?  Would Columbus have sailed the ocean blue?  Would Jesus Christ have gone beyond Gethsemane to Golgotha?  Would our faith grow in the plain, where there are no great revelations or experiences of the presence of God?

God too has emotions, powerful ones, but because He isn't subject to sin He can have feelings (in some cosmic way I can't begin to understand), but He can remain ever steady, reliable and trustworthy in them.  He has set His love upon His own, and that's that.  He loves us when we're good and He loves us when we're not.  And He is still loving us when the sail of our heart is sitting on a windless sea.  All is dull, but all is still well.  The grand emotions of a speck of God's presence are withdrawn, and in that void humility and true faith are forged.

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see."  ~ Hebrews 11:1

The winds always change. Just keep doing the next right thing, whether you feel like it or not. We'll be moving again, sometimes under blue skies with the wind in our face, sometimes in the middle of a great storm.  No matter.  We change like shifting shadows.

"For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion."
~ Benedick to Claudio in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

 He is God.  He changes not.

Your friend on the currently windless pilgrim road,


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Hannah Mary Rejoice

Today she turned 18.

My baby girl, who entered the world like a freight train on the downhill, so quick from the dark to the wide world that her collar bone fractured on my pelvis.

We held our breath, as we waited for hers...

Finally, she inhaled, and we exhaled.

At 3 weeks old I wondered when they would begin...the colicky screams her older brother wailed for months on end.

They never came.

She cooed, she rested, she was content.  Even a little melancholy, like her Momma.

A girl.  All I had ever known was boys.  Brothers.  Husband. Son.  Here was someone like me, but not like me.  I was transformed by this child.  This double X chromosome with wavy hair and a poets soul.  I continue to be changed by her.  And I live in the fierce love for her that bears every pain, grasps every victory, and will never relent in hope for her future.

She talked early, and loved words from the beginning.  She wrote poetry even in first grade, delighting in the  cadence of the sounds.

She excelled in school, and though usually on the quieter side, could be goofy and loud with the best of them.

The ocean's rhythms delighted, and still delight this girl who ponders much.  The ice cold waters of Coast Guard Beach could not keep her out.  For hours, blue and salty, she dunked and splashed. She endured for the sake of joy.  Her father stayed with her in the waves, diving straight in to the mighty, frightening waters.  He stays with her still.

She spent the whole day, non stop, reading the last Harry Potter book.  She grew, and waxed beautiful.

At 13 she fell in love with Jesus, and found grace to be great.

And then, the sin of another bore down, and suffered her to suffer, and turned the tender days into difficult times.  When the man, intoxicated, plowed 2 tons of metal into her and her father, the world gave way and my heart sank, nearly drowned.  I held my breath, waiting for hers.  When they pulled the breathing tube from her young lungs, I stood outside, gasping for my own air.

All parents hope and pray for the safety of their children.  That they will live long, and prosperous, happy, fulfilling lives.  That every birthday will be all joy.  But into every life, sorrow and disappointment come.  And this one, who roared into life, was suddenly so still and wounded.

But there is mercy.

The years that followed, they were hard.  So very hard, and Momma spent and spends each day with knees bent for this beloved of my heart.  And she continues.  She perseveres.  She presses on.

She cannot see Him now, this God who adores her.  But He, oh He...sees her. Pain can bring a veil.  But veils are made to be lifted.

Jesus, who raised Jairus' daughter, raised her.  Continues to raise her.

And now, she drives a car.  She works a job.  She returns to the high honor roll.  She will go away to college in August, to study English.

She climbs a mountain only she can climb.  Except that I climb with her, silently beside her, though she doesn't know it. And her father, bearing his own load from a body broken by the day of disaster, he climbs too, and stays close like he did in the cold, crashing waves.

She doesn't know the little girl in french braids holding 15 stuffed animals in her bed is still her.  That when I wrap my arms around her, my daughter, taller than me, a million memories of joy and sorrow rise up like the waves of the sea. That the mountain she must climb is always in the sight of the one I too climb, and I am filled with a powerful love I cannot adequately express.

As her beloved William Shakespeare has said:

"The course of true love never did run smooth."

Hannah Mary Rejoice...Each part of that lovely name tells a piece of the story of her life.  Hannah:grace.  Mary, from the Hebrew for "Mara": bitter.  Rejoice...rejoice.

I wanted peace and light alone for this child.  She has seen days I could not protect her from.  I don't know why.  But He giveth more grace.

Happy Birthday to my darling daughter.  May the next 18 years give her back all, and more.

She will rejoice.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Double Indemnity

Being a big fan of movies of the 40’s (Smitty and I consider that time the golden era of film making , there is a genre of motion picture in particular that stands alone during those years of war and recovery: Film Noir.

The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo…if you haven’t seen them all, you must.  But there is one that I watch more than any other, one that always sets my heart a beatin’, and one that has a title that today sent an earthquake of revelation through my bones. 

Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and the inimitable Edward G. Robinson, Double Indemnity is my most beloved of the film noir.

For a trip through the corruption of a soul, down the alleyways of temptation and guilt, this dark masterpiece is the train you want to ride. 

A brief, non-spoiler synopsis: Walter Neff (MacMurray) is an up and coming insurance salesman.  In an effort to sell an accident insurance policy to a client, he instead is smitten by the man’s calculating wife (Stanwyck),  who wears tight sweaters and doesn't like her husband much.  As often happens with bad decisions, one leads to another, and Neff finds himself in a plot to deceive the husband into signing on for an accident insurance policy with a clause for “double indemnity”.  What that means is the beneficiary on the policy would receive double the payout on the death benefit under certain conditions.  For example, if the policy holder were to die by falling off a train, well, what are the odds of that?  So the insurance company sweetens the pot by offering a benefit that they will rarely, if ever, have to pay out.  From here on out you’re on your own.  Rent the movie, directed by the great Billy Wilder.  Nuf said.

This blog really isn't about the movie.  (I know, you’re shocked!)  But the title of the movie made its way into my consciousness this morning and nearly blew my head off.  I was thanking God, and out of my mouth came the words “thank you that I stand indemnified before you…”

I talk to God a lot, and when I do, I talk like I would to a friend, but with a whole lot more reverence.   Still, I don’t typically use big words with Him.  Especially ones I don’t fully understand.  But this word kept pressing on me, kept seeming so blasted right, and finally I got practical and pulled out the dictionary.

Indemnify: To protect against damage, loss or injury.  To be legally exempted from liability for damages.  To make compensation for damage, loss or injury.

This was exactly the word The Great One wanted me to see.  Wanted me to understand. 

The Fall brought with it every conceivable evil and heartache, and down the ages the damage, loss and injury has been devastating.  But for Grace, we humans would have been long gone, long ago.  Hatred, envy, strife, lust, avarice, gluttony, apathy, greed, sloth…and the mother of all, pride, have hurt every one of us, both as perpetrators and victims.  We've done them, and been done by them.  Here’s what the ancient word says of all this:

“The wages of sin is death…”  Romans 6:23

Kaput.  Done.  God would owe none of us an explanation.  He’s Holy.  He’s just.  Evil wasn’t in His plan, and since we insist on carrying on He could simply call it a day.  But the rest of the verse is as follows:
“…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus Christ, lover of our souls, provided indemnity for us.  God the Father wanted all of us to know Him, to see His love for us, to find Him.  We are His glorious ruin, the heart of His heart.  He would satisfy perfect justice with perfect love through the perfect Son.  The death of Christ legally exempted us from liability for damages.  He not only provided justification from sin, but glorification too. An increasingly transformed life, destined for the joys of heaven.  Double indemnity.

This may seem like heavy theology, but it’s really not.  Still, don’t let this bollix you up.  If it doesn't help you love Jesus more, and love people more, send it straight to the recycle bin.  I just thought it was too marvelous to keep quiet about.

Christ plays in a thousand places.  Including movie titles.  Blessed be His name.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


PS:  Grace has left us with so much beautiful, yes?  In the darkness, so many shafts of light.  Thinking of the wonders of kindness in the midst of so much ugliness in Massachusetts, where I was born.  Boston’s pain makes the loveliness of charity so shine.  Love: a compensation for loss, damage and injury.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Weasel Thingy

When I lived in the city, my vegetable gardens were productive.  Despite a teeny plot of ground with lousy, clay soil, I enjoyed tomatoes, cukes and even those rascally zuchinni that spread under the fence to my neighbor's yard.  When we pulled up our stakes and moved to the suburbs (though in my heart I will always be a city girl), I contemplated the magical veggie garden I would sport: lush, overflowing, Jack-n'-the-beanstalk even.  Ignorance, my friends, is decidedly not bliss.

The town we live in used to be farmland.  I rejoiced at the loamy dirty in my yard!  The folks who lived here before even grew grapes in the back.  I was already fixin' salad and zuchinni bread in my wild imagination.

Gardening is delightful and relaxing, said no one ever who has worked one... OK, maybe someone has said that, but no one as lazy as me.  My dear adopted dad came over with the tiller.  Weeds were pulled.  Planks were laid down in the geometry suggested by The Square Foot Garden.  Fertilizer was raked in, seeds planted, water sprinkled.  Sun shone.  Plastic fence was laced about the perimeter.

Plants grew.  Veggies formed.

And then HE came.

Because I really don't know what particular animal this was, I have opted to call him "The Weasel Thingy".  One afternoon, as I sat in my breezeway surveying all I had planted, he stood up.  In-the-middle-of-my-garden.  He was gnawing heartily on a young, beautiful zuchinni plant.  He looked right at me, bold and, I think laughing, there in broad daylight.  If I owned a gun I would have shot him on the spot.  (Apologies to my mother and sister in laws).

I ran shrieking into the yard (apologies to my very normal neighbors).  That varmint stared me down, vegetable in paws, till the last second.  Then, under the fence he scurried with my food.  I was madder than a wet hen.

The next day I went out to smile over my labors, forgetting the pain of the day before, only to find my entire garden plot completely decimated.  Not a blossom, not a baby cuke, not a tomato plant, not a pepper unscathed.  Weasel Thingy had been back overnight, along with Bambi and maybe Thumper too.  The whole garden was demolished. Ruined.  By critters both stealth and crafty, travelling in broad daylight and under the cover of darkness.

I tried to plant another garden the following year, but the Weasel Thingy remembered...  And that was that.  Too much work, no reward.  Done.

I was defeated by the Weasel Thingy.

So, as I over-spiritualise everything, I pondered this today...

I wonder what the Weasel Thingy is in your life.  What is it that steals your good fruit, that robs your joy, that takes the things you've labored to produce?

For me, it's always been fear.  But unlike my veggie garden, I can't simply be stripped over and over and expect to live the life I'm called to live.  I'm learning to fight back, to protect what matters, and to grow.

If I wanted it badly enough, I could grow stuff.  I could plant the fence much deeper to keep the diggers out, and I could make it much higher to keep the deer out.  I could tend the weeds better and use the chemicals that kill bugs and worms.  But I'm not willing to work that hard.  I'll get tomatoes from the farmer's market.

Life, however, doesn't work that way.  We can't get internal peace, freedom and victory from somebody else.  We've got to cultivate it ourselves.  There's no getting around the work.  The work of FAITH.  Of believing what God says in His word, and DOING it.  The good news of the gospel is this: God is on our side and wants us to bear much fruit.  He's got the good soil.  He's all about our killing the Weasel Thingy's of doubt and fear, and keeping out the pests of idolatry and pride.

Mt. 13:3-9
“A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Remember this:  The work of God is to believe.  Not to prove our goodness by our own effort.  Your life grows because it's protected from evil, and sits on good soil in a sunny, and sometimes rainy place.  Your job is to listen to God and cooperate with what He says.  He's the farmer, and he'll keep the Weasel Thingy out.  But not if you invite it in to dine.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Old Dogs, New Tricks, and the Futility of Regret

This I regret:  that I didn't memorize scripture more diligently as a young woman.  Here in the middle age of life, where I crave quick access to the life giving elixir of God's word to my soul,  I find the brick hard neurons of a non-compliant brain. An old dog not wanting to learn new tricks.  Desire for truth and light I have like a young man for a nubile young woman.  But the receptors are hard, friends, hard.  Like concrete.

I've been working my way through Isaiah 43 since last August.  I can replay verses 1-18 now.  Eighteen verses in 7 months.  At age 25 it would have taken me 7 weeks.  At age 12, 7 days.

Granted, this is not a full time occupation.  Obviously more time would generate more results.

And I didn't even have a relationship with God til I was 25 years old.  Looking back I wonder at that.  How could I have missed the Great and Mighty One for all those years?  Sleepwalking.  Thinking life was about one thing, when it was about something else entirely.  Lost years.

Isaiah 43:18-19
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

I'd bet the house that everyone reading this has regrets about wasted time. About ill used time.  About the actual abuse of time devoted to sin. Get in line behind me.

This is one of the things I love so much about God: He has a full grip on that stuff.  He speaks directly to it: FORGET the former things, DO NOT dwell on the past.  He's giving us permission to leave it behind.

The burden of regret is one of the heavy weights Jesus took to Golgotha.  There it died with Him.

Let it die.

I didn't put as much of the word of God in this 3 pounds of gray matter as I wish.  In myself or my kids.  But concrete can be broken up. Trees have grown from cracks in the sidewalk.  Forget the former things.

I'll keep forging my way forward through Isaiah 43.  The wealth there makes the bank accounts of middle eastern sultans look like chump change.  Well worth forcing those neurons to fire, whether they like it or not. Cause I'm fixin' to be a rich woman.  Striking gold here in the middle years.

Philippians 3:13-14
"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gethsemane: The Linchpin

In Gethsemane
You wept for sin's sure toll on all things good.
Struggled, in clean white beauty 
the filthy horrors of perdition...
striving to destroy you, striving to destroy yours.
Your Father, firm to keep light for darkness.
Relentless with His "no" to your plea:
"Let this cup pass."

You bled through pores your own hand formed for cooling
While white hot fire from ugly death pressed, burned
shaking all your primal, human flesh.
All God, all man in the valley of decision...
The fate of every man
on One man.
Who can bear such loneliness?
"Let this cup pass."

The acid of distress, scalding, ablaze in your chest, your heart.
Fear, rage, murder, envy...all OUR vice laid hard on you.
Gethsemane, the linchpin of the ages...
where God meets God and all hope rests on this:
"Let this cup pass...
yet not my will, but Thine be done."

Onward to Calvary.

My gratitude for His reckless love and mercy is unbounded.  The God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, made His body the bridge to God.  Blessed be His name.

Perfect justice cannot tolerate sin.  Perfect love cannot tolerate separation. Jesus became sin, sacrificed Himself and endured the unmitigated monstrosity of separation from the Father, which no living soul has ever experienced.  In this, He satisfied the justice of God, so all men who rely on His righteousness can be ever satisfied in His GRACE.  That's what Good Friday is all about, Charlie Brown.

Thinking of you here on Holy Thursday.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Little Did They Know

Life unfolds in a "little do we know" way.  It can all feel so mundane sometimes, like we're treading water and going nowhere.  It can seem, despite our most fervent hopes and small, but strenuous acts of courage, that it all won't ever really mean much in the big picture.  The Book of Ruth, toward the beginning of that best selling compendium of all time, is a window into the "little do we know" drama of simply putting one foot in front of the other.

From the get go, there is a famine in the land.  Little did anyone know THAT was coming, or how it would alter the worlds of a pleasant Jewish lady, her husband and sons, and the foreign daughters in law who would be swept along by forces they did not control.  To cut to the chase, Elimelech and Naomi must face the reality of a lousy economy in Bethlehem, Judah.  They take their beloved sons and relocate to Moab, where, little did they know, Elimelech would die, followed by his two sons.  Naomi is left with Ruth and Orpah, the daughters in law who are both the kind I hope to get.  Ruth is the real gem, though, and one of the stars of this wild love story.

Naomi is returning to Bethlehem.  And without spelling out the whole, beautiful 1st chapter, here's the crux:  Ruth refuses to leave her mother in law, despite Naomi's urging that she stay and find a husband among her people.  This is where we get that famous biblical quote heralded at many a wedding:

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.  Your people will be my people, and your God my God..."  Ruth 1:16

Little did Ruth know that her devoted words to her grieving relation would be the truth spoken for thousands of years between men and women locked together in a no-matter what kind of love.

Naomi and Ruth are in pretty desperate straights there in the town that would one day birth the answer for every desperate heart to come.  Naomi's loss leads to bitterness, to the point where she tells her friends not even to call her Naomi ("pleasant") anymore, but to call her Mara ("bitter").  This can and does happen when sorrows so deep suddenly change the landscape of our days.  But little did Naomi know, that all of this trouble would be part of a master plan for God's glory and her good.

An empty stomach is a huge motivator.  Ruth takes advantage of one of the customs to care for the poor of her day and gleans grain behind the threshers in the field of a wealthy landowner. But little did she know this one act of desperate survival would lead to the salvation of the world...sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It turns out the owner of said field is Boaz, just about the nicest, most appealing man along the entire highway of scripture.  He's a middle aged guy, good to his workers, fair and decent, and a distant relative of Elimelech, Naomi's dead husband.  Boaz sees this poor, lovely young woman scraping up a living and instructs his men to leave her alone and his girl servants to keep her close.  He finds ways to provide her with extra grain without shaming her, and shows her the tenderness and affection every red blooded woman wants.  

Fast forward, and a grateful and loving Ruth offers herself as a servant to Boaz, in a custom involving sleeping at the man's feet and being covered by a corner of his blanket.  Today it sounds odd, but it was how it worked back then.  Boaz was a kinsman redeemer, and had the right (after the first guy in line let it go) to buy Elimelech's land and marry Ruth.

Little did Ruth know she would become a Jewess, and go from poverty to riches,  materially, spiritually and emotionally after a period of great loss, pain and separation from all she had known.  Little did she know she would be the great grandmother of the greatest earthly king ever (David), and the great, great, great.....and so on grandmother of the King of All Kings.

Little did Naomi know her bitterness would turn to joy as she held her grandson in her lap, restored to her homeland and in the company of a loving family.

Little did Boaz know that his acts of kindness would give him the woman of his dreams when he was getting gray in the temples, and land him smack in middle of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Little did any of the people in this story know that their lives would impact mine, 3,000 years later in an American suburb, where the hearts of all remain desperate for courage and hope and meaning and faith.

Keep doing the next right thing.  Practice loyalty like Ruth, perseverance like Naomi, and love like Boaz.  And know this:  God is always at work, in the unseen, in the unraveling, in the undoing.

The cross looked like the end.  Little did they know, that it was really just the beginning.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


This one is for my dear Pastor.  Little do you know, brother...

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Ship "Even God Couldn't Sink"

A Titanic replica cruise sheep.  Really?  Billionaire Clive Palmer must have lots of time on his hands, and an alleged 40,000 people have expressed interest in advanced tickets.  This whole thing seems so bizarre to me, but has served to get me thinking ("a dangerous pastime, I know" to quote Gaston from Beauty and the Beast), and examining myself and our culture once again.

I swore I'd never go on a cruise.  I get horribly seasick, and thought being on a ship in the middle of the ocean would make me feel like a caged rat.  I was picturing enclosed cells and ropes hanging everywhere, and miserable looking starved dogs...too much Disney "Pirates of the Caribbean" for sure.  Of course I knew that cruise ships were extravagant and luxurious, but the imagination can be more powerful than fact to the mind, hence my considerable hesitation.

After the devastating, exhausting experience of the car accident in 2009, and the subsequent fallout, we told our kids we were going to take a special celebration trip of their choice.  Our vacations have always been to our rented 2 bedroom Cape Cod cottage for a week every summer, so this was extravagance in the extreme for our family.  I wanted to drive the coast of California.  They wanted to cruise the Caribbean.  Guess who won.

We spent a week on the Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. No one was as surprised as I at how much I loved the experience.  My favorite part: the warm wind blowing through our balcony cabin every day in the middle of February.  This was a once in a lifetime trip.  Wildly expensive (we went during school break!) we felt like Solomon when we set foot on the sparkling Allure.  The whole thing was exceedingly restorative, with the sun shining down on the upper deck, a book in hand and rest for a little while from the world of hospitals, orthopedic surgery, brain injury and lifelong challenges and heartaches that must still be reckoned with.  I was grateful, grateful, grateful.  And a little uneasy.

There will always be, and I think always should be, a tension that comes with extravagance.  The truth is, there are people in this world who barely have enough to eat.  A cruise ship is an orgy of food.  There are folks in this world wearing rags.  The Allure hosted parties where people were wearing outfits worth more than my car.  There are men and women laboring without vacation time and for subsistence wages, while on a cruise ship money is gambled away, drunk away and thrown away.

I feel the tension as a Christian every day with all I have compared to what others lack.  Smitty and I evaluate and re-evaluate what God is calling us to give.  We must continue to do this, to find our way, to grapple with it, and to keep on giving.  C.S. Lewis, when asked about the subject of giving, challenges me again:  ”I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us,… they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.”

Clearly, wealth is not an evil, but a blessing.  The bible is replete with grave warnings about the LOVE of money, but some of God's most heralded children were the billionaires of their time.  Job.  David.  And of course, Solomon, whose discourse on the disappointment of riches is documented famously in the book of Ecclesiastes.

I will be turning this one over for the rest of my life, but it's a subject worthy of continual re-evaluation.  More important than what one gives, though, is Who one gives one's heart to.  This is the ultimate question for every life ever lived on planet earth. 

There is a scene in the movie Titanic which grafted itself into my consciousness-I hope forever.  (No offense to the hoards of people who loved the movie, but I found the narrative, well, dumb.  The stuff with the ship, however, was unforgettable).  Anyway, while Jack and Rose are off in some freezing cold hold of the sinking behemoth, there is a shot in the dining room that is a metaphor for the celebrity and glamour of this temporary world.  There in the 1st class banquet hall, where earlier the rich and richer nearly flamed with pride and arrogance, float the vestiges of vanity.  Gorgeous china dishes bob along littered waves of seawater, furniture crashes down in smashed, soaking heaps, elegant chandeliers flicker until they die out completely.  And God, who speaks in a thousand places, reminds me "Don't call the worthless precious or the precious worthless." 

I'd be a real pharisee, not to mention the world's biggest hypocrite, to imply that no one should ever enjoy a marvelous vacation.  But in America we've got this thing backwards.  We're living for vacations, living for comfort and ease, looking forward to the day we can finally put our feet up and relax for good.  While people are out there, neighbors, friends, strangers, or maybe it's you...without hope and without purpose and without God on this sinking ship.  Vacation is a week or two, not a life. 

Fame, fortune,pride,...they're all going down folks.  But what a real adventure to live the life Jesus said was the abundant life.  To find the ones who need your help, your money, your love...and give it to them in the everyday, right where you are!  Your coworker who's gasping for kindness.  Your next door neighbor who can't keep afloat and doesn't even have the strength to mow his lawn.  The kid  in Haiti who won't drown in ignorance or wear rags if you take the $40 a month you spend on coffee and send it to him.  (Samaritan's Purse or Compassion International can help you with this).  Oh, I love preaching to myself!

As for me, I'll skip the new Titanic. I'd have to ride in fourth class anyway, and I know I'd need to mainline Dramamine if I was stuck down there.   But mostly, this mind has to dwell on the lovely, or I'm sunk.  Thank God for His Son, my lifeboat, and the anchor in every one of my storms.  I'd rather ride a raft with Him through a hurricane than be king of the world.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tangled Up and Walked Straight

The streets and sidewalks in my town are in that after –the-snow ugly phase.  Yards are mud, driveways are potholed, and some folks still have their deflated Christmas blow-ups shriveled up on the lawn.  Everything has a feeling of decay about it.  It’s as if the surrounds of my neighborhood are crying out, “Renew me!”  I can relate.

I was all tangled up this morning in internal knots, the old enemies of discouragement, disappointment and worry each winding around the other until I was nearly suffocated.  The grungy streets of my thinking, over thinking, had me bollixed.  But for grace, I would be there this moment.  Like David, that sturdy, wild, drama queen (or should I say king) of the Old Testament, I cried out to God in the cave of my discontent. 
And took a long walk across the Hudson River.
It’s remarkable how putting one foot in front of the other can disengage a soul and sort it out at the same time.  I’ve been reading a book by Gary Thomas called Every Body Matters, in which the author makes a case for the benefits of caring for the body in order to grow the soul strong. It’s been sheer obedience to God’s call for me to get this winter lazy body up and running again.  Today’s long walk in the cold was a simple “yes” when I would have rather, believe it or not, ruminated over my problems in a sorry effort to fix the humanly unfixable.  Instead, I grabbed the gray headband, the mismatched gloves and my ornery heart and walked out the front door.
What a difference an hour makes.
I walked fast, even ran once in a while, pounding out my lament not with words but with this temple.  I listened.  And the One who makes all things new reminded me again how my life belongs to Him, and all that I see around me is slated for renewal, and not just the transforming power of the coming spring but the ultimate reclamation of a new heaven and a new earth.  Even more startling, the crummy within is headed for perfection!  While I breathed hard in and out all that cold air, I saw the man walking into the deli and the trucks heading up the ramp to cross the bridge, and the town hall and the people filling their tanks with gas, and the couple getting off the bus with the baby.  All of this, all with its dirty coating of sin and loss from the fall, He sees it all with an eye for the original beauty He created.  I feel so small.  I ask in the poverty of my own weakness, “How can I be part of your great big heart to show people your great big love so they don’t miss the beautiful in the ugly?”  And He simply says without words: “Keep putting one foot in front of the other and I will show you.”
The Hudson River is magic to me.  I live a fantasy as I cross back over, heading home.  I think of Henry Hudson and the men on the Half Moon, eating wormy hard tack and stopping right about here in Albany because the river gets too shallow to go further on.  The cars and trucks disappear, indeed the bridge itself ceases to be under my feet, and I am soaring over the banks of this mighty river of commerce, before the weight of hundreds of years of sin have cast their pall.  I can see the downright gorgeous, past the factories and the steel bridge beams.  Somewhere in my heart hope is renewed.  My lungs fill with air mixed with exhaust from the traffic, but I don’t mind.  Up the hill back to home, my legs burn from the exercise and I realize somewhere on that ramble my knots have come untangled.  I don’t have answers but I have HIM.  He who “calls those things that be not as though they were…” Romans 4:17. 
I understand a little, walking briskly past the dirty snow banks and the mailbox broken by the weight of ice, that all around can be a mess, indeed even the inside of us can be in a shambles, but God’s grace is always lovely, always faithful, and blessedly always at the ready.  Life springs up within as I climb 3rd Avenue.  I have no idea how I’ve been sorted out.  And no doubt, like that fiery king who once put his enemies to shame with a slingshot and a single stone, I will have other sticky wickets to unsnarl.  Most likely by tonite!  But like that same king I can depend on this:
“When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who know my way.”  Psalm 142:3
He knows your way.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Keep it simple.  Love God, love others. 
Take a walk.
Your friend on the pilgrim road,

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Man Not In The History Books

There are books filled with the exploits of great men, warriors, statesmen, poets, inventors…men who capture our imaginations and solicit our praise.

Abraham Lincoln saved the nation.  Albert Einstein made sense of the laws of the Universe.  William Shakespeare expressed human nature’s frailty and fickleness with passion and beauty.  Great men, lauded men.

This man, he’ll never be in a book.  He never saved a nation, but he saved me from many days of despair.  He didn't come up with a law like relativity, but he made his mother smile with his insight on the Archie comics.  And he may not be Shakespeare, but he has written words of love to his wife and children for years, sometimes on paper and sometimes straight on their hearts.

This man, his career didn't go the way he planned.  But he has worked hard and with integrity every day of his life.  He would have loved to buy me a house at the beach, but he takes me to a cottage there every summer.  Only a few wise people have noticed how smart and insightful he is, because he never, ever brags.  Wherever he works people love and trust him, because he has a bad report about no man.

Here’s a fact many don’t know about this man:  He has a twin brother who is the funniest person he knows.  They shared their own language as little kids, and you can still barely understand them when they are together. 

This man loves chocolate ice cream, and alternate history books by Harry Turtledove and the sculptor Bernini.  He wouldn't know the name of any clothing designer, nor care.  His favorite movie is “Much Ado About Nothing”, directed by Kenneth Branagh, and watching it with his daughter gives him joy.

This man is not perfect. He has a temper. But he never holds a grudge.

This man has quietly helped his sons find their way in the mundane of math and the dead serious of life. He has played faithfully and long in the cold water of Coast Guard Beach with his daughter. (I have stood on that beach turned blue with just the watching!) He has stayed in the ice cold water of his daughter's broken world after tragedy struck, and has always been waiting there to grab her in every wave that comes.

 He played more games of Dumbo with his young children than any person could, and remain sane.  He has poured out his life to his children day after day, and would consider being a father his dearest and sweetest calling.

Three years ago, this man’s body was smashed and broken by someone else’s sin.  His blood ran in streams over pavement, in a helicopter, all over the floor of the emergency room until it nearly ran cold.  He climbed hard to life, and counted blessings instead of cursing.  He believed God and loved Him even with a body broken and heart shattered for the daughter also wounded near unto death.

He worked when he could have taken a route of dependency.  He may not be Winston Churchill, but I wonder how Churchill would have done with titanium joints?  With everyday pain?  With suffering that is left always unspoken?

This man has laid down his life a thousand times in a thousand small ways.  He has been the most tangible earthly expression of my Savior’s love for me on this vaporous plain.  How many thousands of cups of coffee he has made me, how many unseen acts of service he has provided to me, how many nights he has made sure the electric blanket was on so I’d be comfortable…  How many jokes have I listened to, hilarious and not...

This man, he has had to endure much.  Not only the big things, but the everyday of living with a woman prone to melancholy.  No, he won’t make the history books.  And he won’t be great in the world’s sorely bent perspective. 

But he is indeed a great man.  And I look to the day when the One he loves says to him “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” 

That man is my husband and very best friend, Stephen Joseph Smith.  Tomorrow, January 31, God willing he will have the gift of another anniversary of life.  We take none of these for granted.

Happy Birthday Smitty.  Only heaven will reveal how great you truly are.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, January 25, 2013

The Mediocre Samaritan

11:15 pm. 

I pull out of the parking garage at Albany Medical Center, brain fried from hours of instruction for something new on my job.  It feels like 30 below nothing outside, and it’s times like these when I wonder why I adore upstate New York so much.  (I guess even the best of our earthly loves have flaws). 

I turn the corner in front of that big complex where my beloveds were saved and I make a little living.  Alas, the heat in the car will most likely kick all the way in when I arrive in my driveway.  The pillow, the electric blanket, no doubt the cat, are waiting for my tired bones.

I nearly hit her.  

Walking down the double yellow, in this frozen tundra, is a woman with her hand up to stop my car.
Thankfully the engine of my brain was still functional.  I stopped, and she swept frantically to my window, motioning for me to open it to all that cold.  She looked frozen.

“Please, please I need help.  I’m freezing, and I just left the hospital…I was discharged after chemo and I need a ride to Central Ave. “ She said a few other things that made almost no sense, but she was a wreck because of the cold.

One split second to decide.  “Sweet Jesus”, I prayed, “If she’s got a gun I’m done for.”

 “Get in the car” I said. 

She was groaning in pain.  She couldn't even put her seat belt on because her hands hurt so much.
“Where can I take you?”  I asked, a bit nervous, and kind of stunned after practically killing this lady with my van and not having any idea where this was going.

“Why is it so cold in here?”  She groaned.  “Takes a while to heat up…”  I tried to speak calmly.

“All I need is $17.50 for a bus ticket to Lake George” she said.  I only had $6 in my wallet.  “Sorry, I don’t have that cash on me”…and I wasn't sure I’d give it to her if I did.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“There’s these church people off of Central Avenue who have my bag and my prescriptions.  I need to go there.  And I’m hungry and I need a cup of coffee.” She said.  Maria was her name.  Maria, from the Hebrew word mara, which means “bitter”  Bitter cold, bitter life.  I was getting the picture.

“I have a three year old in Lake George with a babysitter” Maria said.  I wasn't sure I believed her. 

“Listen Maria, I will take you to the bus station and buy you that ticket to Lake George”.

The tune changed.  “Oh no, I can’t go.  I've got to get to these people and get my stuff.  I thought you said you didn't have any money”.

“Only a credit card”, I said.  And now I’m getting a revelation. 

“I’ll get you a coffee, and something to eat.  I can drop you at the City Mission.  That’s a safe place.” 

“The food would be good” she said.  “But I need to get my stuff”.

I offered to wait while she got it, and drive her to the mission, but that wasn't her plan.  I bought her a large coffee with 10 sugars and cream and a fish sandwich and fries, and felt sad as the key finally turned in the lock and I realized that she was probably a heroin addict. She most likely was lying, as addicts do, about everything.  I told her the meal was from Jesus, in His name, and I apologized for seeming less than comforting.  I was feeling conflicted.

She thanked me for the food, asked if she could have my 4 quarters I keep in the front of my car for my Aldi’s shopping carts, and directed me to where she wished to be dropped off.  At the corner near the “church people’s house”.  I dropped her off, and followed her to make sure she made it to the dark doorway she entered.   

 I wanted so much to fix her broken life.  But all God gave me to do was drive her to McDonald’s and most likely the warm house of a fellow junkie and give her four quarters and a person to listen to her. 

I felt like the mediocre Samaritan.  Reluctant, tired, unspiritual, half annoyed, and of little lasting help. 
Except that I called on God to care for her.  He has power when all we have is a lukewarm car and some chump change.

When I arrived home, I cried and laid down my head with gratitude bursting from every fiber of my being.  Thanks for a home, with a warm bed waiting and a dear man who loves me there too.  For three children, safe upstairs under blankets with warm showers to anticipate in the morning.  Thanks that I could have been that woman, easily, but I am not.  Thankful that I have been spared the catastrophe of an addiction that destroys everything it touches.  Thankful that goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, despite a crippling car accident and the heartache that followed.   Despite my own sin and folly.

Blessed be His Name.

 I’ll never get over the grace of God. Tortured, broken and alone He bought it for us. It’s there for me.  It’s there for you.

 It’s there for Maria. 

Please pray for her.     
Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Great Sorting

My daughter is cleaning out her dresser.

A daunting undertaking.

So goes the sorting:  out with the unnecessary, impractical, too small, too big.  What will be discarded in this season, having served a purpose?  What should have been chucked long ago?  What was always uncomfortable but kept because...who the heck knows why?

Decisions, decisions.

And here I am, past the middle of my life, standing before a pile of choices, a pile of non-choices, and a ticking clock.  I sort, because I desperately want to live for the glory of God in the midst of this messy world.
I can’t look back lest I become like Lot’s wife and turn into a pillar of salt.  Frozen hard like stone with the regrets of a past I cannot change.  I won’t look back because the lover of my soul says this:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” 
  Isaiah 43:18-19

So I lay the past aside, only keeping from it that which teaches and builds and strengthens.  And the wrenching will cause me to have to lay some things aside again that I have pulled back from the wretched pile of wasted time.  But grace gently repeats the sounding joy:

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”     ~Philippians 3:13-14

I sort through the present.  What can go, what must go?  What must be wrenched from my hands with reason and sanity, like one opening the fingers of a child holding too tightly to a small animal until the breath is wrung from the thing?

For three years I have sorted and let go of far more than I ever wished.  I wanted to control the content of my life.  I wanted to be the maestro.  I wanted to conduct rather than play the instrument I was born to play.  (OK, I’m mixing metaphors here…) I’m still working this out day by day, sorting, sorting.  Write that letter or watch my British detective show?  Make that easy phone call for my child, or do the harder thing and make them do it themselves?  Make time for my husband when I’m tired, or turn of f the light?  Here’s one far more tender:  worry for my injured, suffering child, or entrust her to God’s care?

Sorting, sorting. 

Between what’s good and what’s better.

Between what looks good to the outside world, and what’s really good to the All Seeing.

Between myself and the other one.

Between empty, guilt driven good works, and living, faith filled good attitudes.

The floor of my life is messy.  But the grace of my Jesus is clean, beautiful, perfect.  All I need to do to sort my present right is to seek my God who knows what really matters.  To bend, to yield, to listen.  To trust Him who does all things well.  Who hears the roar of Wall Street and the wee voice of a child with cerebral palsy in a group home in Toledo.  Who knows the heart of Barack Obama and the kid pitching his first little league game.  Who understands all about the lady in some dusty town in Afghanistan who has been battered by the law, when what she needs is the mercy of a Savior.  Who told the Pharisee he was a fool and the criminal he would be in paradise.

He doesn't sort the way we do.  Blessed be His Name.

As for the future, I can’t sort that at all.  I’m sick to death of trying.  I watch a Western world, gathering more for retirement, planning their later years in ease, trying to find a wall tall enough to keep them safe from the sorrow and darkness of a world turning colder.

I sorrow.  Partly because of the part of me that even wishes I could chase after those things. If I could, would I build bigger barns, and store up treasures for MYSELF?  Probably.  But He giveth more grace.*

 And partly because I see my people deceived and hoodwinked and sorting in all the wrong ways.  Keeping the worthless, discarding the precious. 

And here is where I long to sort rightly.  To make the time to tell the truth about Jesus, friend of sinners like me.  To be like the free folks in the movie “The Matrix”, and leave all the junk behind in one great effort to wake up a plugged in world to the reality of the cosmic deception:  This is all there is.

A million times I fall short.  But He giveth more grace.*
I’m still sorting it out day by day.  It’s messy.  And I write here friends, because I bet your drawers are stuffed with junk just like mine.  I’m quite sure your piles have a different assortment of stuff that’s got to go.  Let’s keep sorting…so we can get one hand free to help somebody else who doesn't even know they’re in a heap of hell.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


He Gives More Grace

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. 
Lyrics by Annie J. Flint