Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Truth About Fiction

Fiction is bursting with truth.  Not fact, but truth.  Sometimes a fairy tale expresses verity far more wisely and beautifully than a news account ever could.  My heart has been changed by great fiction in its various forms. 

I'm no Roger Ebert, in fact, I rarely go to the movies these days.  I think each person has to figure out for themselves how much, and of what, they give access to this stunning organ between our ears.  I'm very careful here of the two extremes of legalism and license.  To quote the Apostle Paul:

"All things are lawful to me, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful to me, but not all things edify".  ~1 Corinthians 10:23

(I digress a little from my main point, but it's worth saying:  Each one must decide what type and degree of media they allow through the synapses.  Some folks are extremely sensitive, and negatively affected by certain images and types of stories.  Others are less so.  And I'm not even talking about material that is clearly garbage or clearly wicked.  I'm talking about the amount, nature and character of the reasonable communication we import into our souls.  I struggle with that tension daily.  Make no mistake, though, what you watch and listen to will impact your mind and heart.  Nuf said.)

What prompted this blog is actually the wonderful fiction I have been viewing/reading of late, and how much I have gained from it in my walk with God on this deception-ridden pilgrim road.  In particular, I have been drowning in J.R.R. Tolkien, having seen Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit", rereading the same, and re watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (not all at once!). The themes of perseverance, the noble struggle to overcome evil, the joy and blessing of true friendship...all of these and many more have charmed me through these fairy tales packed with life and truth.  When Bilbo Baggins has mercy on the nasty and pathetic Gollum, I find conviction rising up within...and the reminder of the Savior's call to mercy on the last and least.  When Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf fight side by side as friends despite a gazillion years of entrenched "racism", I can pray hopefully for a world gone mad with misunderstanding.  And in my favorite scene of all in any Jackson film, I am encouraged by Samwise Gamgee.  What a beautiful metaphor for the brotherhood of the church when Frodo can't carry his burden one step further.  Sam knows he can't take on the ring...but he can carry Frodo!  That moment reminded  me to go and sit with a dear friend whose problem I cannot fix, but with whom I can share soup and bread and the comfort of mere presence.

I must admit, many of the tales I love belie the cynicism of the post modern era.  I'm pretty sure some of my fellow students from NYU film school would find me unsophisticated.  (Not all of them...I had some pretty wonderful and open minded friends at that bastion of "individuality" who really were tolerant and kind!  My own film crew, very different from me politically and ideologically, loved me just the way I am!)  I still like a story where the bad guy gets busted, and where complicated characters make me root for them to do the right thing.  I'm not ashamed to say I love a good old fashioned tale of good vs. evil.  It's the cosmic metaphor, and I think it resonates with the very nature of our being.  Enough to alter our way of thinking...and doing.

A quote by my favorite fiction (and non-fiction) author of all time:

“Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines.”
~ C.S. Lewis

There is great truth in fiction.  And much of what passes for "fact" is rubbish in the extreme.  Give me "The Light Princess" by George MacDonald over the "fact based" TV show "The View" any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  No offense to fans of The View, but I'm pretty sure I'll profit more from Aesop's Fables.  And that's not sarcasm.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, January 4, 2013

One Word For A New Year

I sought for it.

I learned of an idea for the new year that made me glad...a new way that is better than resolutions and broken promises that are forged from frail human metal.  The idea of living with one word was so much more  doable for an easily distracted, too easily discouraged girl like me.

So I sought for it.  I looked at websites.  I listened to sermons.  I listened to my friends words, my family's words, the words mundane and the words profound.  I listened and sought and looked to God.

No great flash of light.  I had to choose.

"Change is possible, but focus is required.",  I read.  I must change.  But effort born of a self betterment mentality can turn quickly into pride, introspection, and one can wind up a pharisee and be worse off than before.

I had been compiling a list.  Asking myself questions.

What does God want for my life?  What do I most need to be more like the lovely Jesus?  Is it possible to change the broken mindsets of a woman who has lived 52 years struggling to believe she is loved, not just tolerated?

How I wanted the word to be so rich.  So unique.

But as often happens, one puts one foot in front of the other, and life happens while we're making other plans.  And I listened and I listened to hear His word, and in the seeking it settled in slowly, but not profoundly.

It was there in my list, but not particularly special.  So in rolled the new year, and I had to pick.

I listened.

Listen. Listen, Listen.

I, who spend too much time talking.  Broken by all the times I've missed hearing the hearts of others because I'm too busy trying to fix everything. Busted by the times I've interrupted my husband to get my point across.  Desperate to be gracious.  Longing to hear God, others and my own heart.  Could I do this, in the noise of this present darkness and the folly of my own babble?

Yes.  By the grace of God (there is no other way),  listening would be my appointed governor for the next 364, a simple word without complicated rules. I would certainly fall down, but I would get up with this one word.   Already, I see its power.

Tired, hungry I speak ill of another.  Out of envy, ugly words rise up from a redeemed heart that has forgotten its redemption.  I listen to myself.  And quickly, blessedly I run to repent.  I listen to the Great One, ancient words spoken to how many millions?... "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.."  "Now go, and sin no more."  And I listen a little more.  "Who are you to judge another man's servant?  To His own master he stands or falls.  And he will stand, for God is able to make him stand."

Sweet relief comes with the listening, and action:  my prayers lifted for the one I cut down, my heart turning, changing.  A determination comes to close my mouth, that member St. James calls "a restless evil".  And not only that.  Listening means acting on what one hears.  Apologies in order. Listening becomes hearing becomes doing.

No, it's not a sexy word.  It was sought for, but I think it might have found me, perhaps in the place of my greatest need.

All those broken down promises, like grist in a mill for millions every year:

Lose weight
Get your finances in order
Find dream job

Nothing wrong with any of those resolutions folks make every new year.  But I'm wagering those of you reading here have already found the discouragement of that route.  Ultimately too, on that list of good things, aren't the truly important missing?

Love God
Love others

Jesus perfected the art of keeping it simple.  How we need that in a world of fiscal cliffs, babies shot down, a gazillion tweets and the din of a technological world spinning out of control.

Maybe one word can help.  Just one.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Here's a link to the One Word book.  I haven't read it, but I've heard good things.   www.myoneword.org

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Resolve To Be A Took...A Thought For The New Year

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

I am so much more a Baggins' than a Took.  And if you don't know what I'm talking about, well, all I can say is sit yourself down with the Hobbit (first the book, then the movie), because J.R.R. Tolkien's imagination will take your breath away.  But for the un-Tolkiened among us, a bit of an explanation:  Bilbo Baggins, a fine and sensible Hobbit, comes from a fine and sensible line of Baggins'.  Safe folk, who smoke pipes by the fire and enjoy their books and their gardens and their quiet, predictable lives.  But Bilbo has the blood of the Took's running through his veins as well.  Took's... who love adventure, risk and all that requires a noble courage.

Oh, how I wish I were a Took by nature!  It all calls to me...the wonder, the unknown, the life given away for something greater.  Alas, I am no Took.  Left to my own devises I would revel in a comfortable, untroubled life, without trials, without temptations to evil, without the blunt trauma of life on planet earth.  Thank God, He has not left me to my own devises.

Three years ago my husband and daughter barely survived the hellish nightmare of being slammed into head-on by a drunk driver.  My Hercules was only allowed to come home after 6 weeks under the condition that there would be someone there who could clean wounds, give injections and move a non ambulatory patient.  That someone would be ME.   At that time I borrowed a slogan and mixed it up a bit: "Some people are born nurses, some achieve nursing, and some have nursing thrust upon them."  You know where this is going.  I was not among the heroic first two.

It's the same with being "Tookish".  Some are born that way, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them.  I am ever grateful that I've been forced out of my Baggins ways.  But I have every propensity to shrink back.  Thank God His grace is so big, and that He doesn't answer all our prayers for comfort and ease.  Otherwise we would never scale a mountain of fear, never overcome a bitter heart, never find that we are more than flesh and blood. We'd fall in love with the worthless and never find the precious. I'm guessing the few who might read this have experienced their share of heartache and loss and disaster and pain.  Oh, Courage! Carry on, my friends, and give thanks that your life has not followed your plan.  Broken marriages, cancer, children dying, bankruptcy, car accidents, wrecked relationships, loneliness, addiction, disappointment, aging, unanswered prayers, and the whole, sweeping mess of sorrows and sicknesses were never God's plan.  The cost of free will is so very high...but the Great One takes all these broken consequences of The Fall to make stout-hearted Tooks out of us.  People who would stand by His side and fight for light in the darkness.  He Himself did not shirk the dark, but took on human flesh and became the ultimate Took.  He exchanged the earthly walking stick, that beautiful God/Man of peace, and took up the sword when He demolished death and sent hell scrambling forever by His own bloody sacrificial death.  Now, it's just a guerrilla war.  God has won.  But it will require a noble courage to beat off the darkness of a defeated foe whose days are most certainly numbered.

Lest all this sound dreary and dispiriting, keep in mind the cheer and contentment of ascending to the heights after a daunting climb! Not to mention that the fire and the book are part of life too!  Oh friends, as we tumble into a new year, let's forget what is behind and lay hold of what's ahead.  In the small, in the everyday, in our ordinary lives, in our trouble.. we can fight for light.  The real battle happens one day at a time; real courage shows itself strong in the endurance of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other.  Once again Tolkien says it so well:

“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Gandalf”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

This new year, this gift, will most certainly challenge us with trials and testings.  After all, Jesus said it Himself:

"In this world you will have trouble.  But take courage, I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

Take courage friends.  Do the next small, right thing.  Be a Took.  Even if it's thrust upon you.  And have a Happy New Year!

Your friend on the pilgrim road,