Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Courage: Tip Of The Iceberg Of A Beautiful Virtue

I started this 31 day challenge with the confession that I am indeed the world's biggest chicken.  I've actively worried about how I would hold up under extreme duress, and if my faith would survive some of the world's pummeling's and storms.

But I guess the best thing to do in the face of our own misgivings about our strength to endure is to throw ourselves into trusting the Bravest of All in each moment.  Most of us won't face being held in an Iranian prison or being burned at the stake like Joan of Arc or trapped in the Arctic like Ernest Shackleton.  The truth (and I hope this blog has been a bit of a window into this truth) is that courage for everyday folks is a matter of one step at a time in a long race.  One moment of holding on to light in the midst of darkness, followed by one instant of being glad despite the trouble spinning about you, stepping into one occasion of building a bridge, defying the villain of fear.

These 31 days have passed so quickly.  I am sad to see them go.  I have learned and grown, and been forced to be honest with myself as I've tried to put into practice what is so much easier to write about than to do. Like every one of you, I've confronted discouragement, laziness and pride from the first of this month to the last.  I've had to decide in life's small moments to let go of my reputation, to see the loveliness in each person with whom I share my days, and to press on when I'd rather sit tight.

There were days when I sat at this keyboard (well, not so much this one but the one that died at around day 24) and wondered what the next sub-topic would be in the vast universe of courage.  The One who instructed me to write always provided something to write about.  I never worried what anyone thought, because I knew from the start this was simply following God's prompting.  I noticed more than ever the courage of those I love during these weeks: 2 friends with terminal cancer living life well to the end; people I work with giving their all and going home to give a little more to their families; a husband who keeps joy alive with everyday pain...and so much and so many more.

I have only written what I have found from my own small perspective as a middle aged woman from a western culture living an often, but not always routine life in an age of cynicism and spiritual darkness.  My perspective on courage is limited and skewed, but it is none the less honest.  Still, the frustration is that I don't have the skill to truly express the exquisite allure of this excellent, beautiful virtue in all its glory.  It is all of us, together, stretching on beyond our dread and doing the next right thing that will display the radiance of courage to a cold, frightened world.  In all the small acts of bravery we employ every day, the world becomes warmer and lovelier.

Though I wrote these words for God, and God knows, for myself, I have been greatly encouraged by those of you who have spoken to me, written to me and encouraged me along this 31 day stretch along the pilgrim road.  Thank you so much for giving me courage.  I know heaven will reveal that these small, tender kindnesses were part of making me less chicken-hearted and hopefully a little more like Jesus.

So, onward and upward friends.  This little drop in the bucket of discovering courage is just a beginning.  This tip of the iceberg hopefully makes all of us want to keep running the race, everyday.
I'm thinking this might become an annual tradition with a different topic each year.  In the meantime, perhaps a little less writing than every day, but a little more than once a week.  I need a break, but vacations should never be permanent.

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  Joshua 1:9

Courage friends, in the big and the small.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage Of Those Who Went Before Us

I'm not at all sure why, but since I can remember I've had a deep appreciation for the people of earlier times on whose shoulders we stand.  My imagination has been captured by the brave folks in all walks of life who lived through some extraordinary times, sacrificially willing to suffer one kind of hardship or another for those who would follow them.

The common people of the middle ages experienced a world of great corruption and religious superstition.  With little hope of change in their own lifetimes, and almost always illiterate, great masses of human beings sang and memorized the hymns of the church, rife with scripture, keeping the truth and the true church alive with the power of a song.

Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician during the 19th century who noticed mortality rates going down on hospital wards when doctor's washed their hands.  Of course, there was no understanding of germ theory at that time.  The medical establishment was offended by Semmelweis' suggestion that they wash their hands, and the good doctor was ridiculed and ultimately rejected for his hygiene theories.  He was committed to an asylum and died, only later to be lauded for his progressive ideas when Louis Pasteur confirmed through microbiology what Semmelweis could only have imagined. He paid a price for the sake of others to come after him.

There are so many heroes in history, and we owe so much to all of them.  The soldiers who stormed the beaches at Normandy.  The runners on the underground railroad.  Lewis and Clark and the other explorers of history who knew not where they would land, and had no cell phones, satellites or GPS systems along the way.  Though some did seek their own glory, many more thought of the benefit to their descendants.  They gave their lives away for the lives of those to come.

As I write this, I think too of the people very close to home who built the step we now stand on.  Our parents, grandparents and great grandparents (and so on) gave us a shot at life.  None of them were perfect, but most of them thought ahead to us as they laid down their own wants and needs so we would have a decent life.

It's just too easy to forget that we aren't here on our own steam.  God set many a wheel in motion to bring us to this day, and He knew how each person's contribution would impact generations a thousand years later.  It's a heady thing to think about.

I wanted to use this 2nd to the last blog in the 31 Day challenge to encourage all of us to remember where we came from, and to remember with gratitude the courage of our ancestors.

There's a mountain of courage that lies behind us, billions of footsteps to follow, faith of ages and ages to which we owe a great debt.

Our duty now is to be the brave ones for those coming behind us.  This is an enormous challenge. Especially for a chicken like me.

These are selfish times, but also times of great courage.  In fact, the darker the world, the brighter the light of those determined to bravely consider NOT THEMSELVES, but the generations to come. This was always a given in the history of the world.  Now, in our generation, we must be consciously determined to swim against the current.

Jesus is of course the ultimate example of a courageous life lived and sacrificed for the sake of those to come.  And in his case, for the sake of those who walked by faith before that first Christmas.  His shoulders are stood upon by the whole world, past...present...and future.

Only He can handle that.

But He gives us this one life to give away.

As He did for those who came before us.

May we bless their courage as long as we have breath. And pay the debt forward with all our strength.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Confront

I had to confront someone this week who I love and respect.  Someone with a big heart, a generous spirit, and a close relationship with God.

How I didn't want to do it.

When I heard the voice on the phone I knew there might be a bit of messiness.

I instantly asked the All Wise One for wisdom.  For courage.  And to know exactly what to say and when to be silent.

For once in my life, I found the balance between cowardice and being a blowhard.  I think this 31 day challenge has really helped me in a practical way.  All I've been pondering I've tried hard to put into practice.  Lest I be the mother of all hypocrites.  (That's not to say I've done it all right...but moving in the forward direction is always good).

I was surprised at the peace I had even when this dear friend cut me off.  When uncomfortable topics brought a bit of heat, I didn't find it necessary to defend myself or go on the attack.  I tried very hard to speak the truth, understanding and communicating that my perspective is limited, and that I could be wrong.

Sharing this story is not intended to toot my horn.  I've failed in healthy confrontation far more than I've succeeded.  I've either avoided necessary conflict or bit someone's head off, or complained, or fussed or overeaten.  I've handled confrontation so poorly so many times that I'd be the proverbial "plank in my own eye" to even hint otherwise.  No, I share the story because I'm virtually certain that someone reading this feels the sweat forming on their neck just thinking about having to be honest with someone you so don't want to offend.  I want to help that person find their courage.  And to pray for the grace to do the thing right.

To be wise in dealing with difficult matters requires insight and wisdom we mere mortals lack. Thankfully, supernatural help is just a breath away.  Often the bigger problem comes in laying down our need to be right.  I found myself listening more than speaking in the conversation I had with my friend.  That's a really good sign.

"An element of conflict in any discussion is a very good thing.  It shows everyone is taking part and nobody's left out."  ~ Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey

Jimmy Stewart's quote as the inimitable Elwood Dowd in the 1940's cinema classic Harvey may be a bit simplistic.  After all, there are times people, including ourselves, can be unreasonable.  There are times confrontation is impossible because there is a resolute determination on someone's part not to hear or be heard.  This is when silence is truly golden. Beating one's head against a wall is useless.

The New Testament admonishes this: "Tell the truth in love."  I'm no expert, but I'm getting the revelation that motive is key in confrontation.  If we truly want the best for the person we are addressing, it's likely they'll sense that.  And if they don't end up understanding us in the end, it is 100% critical that forgiveness and grace be extended.

I don't know where this quote originated, but it says perfectly what I am trying to say haltingly:

"In the essentials; unity.  In the non-essentials; liberty.  In all things; charity."

May you have the courage to confront with great charity.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days Of Courage: John Wayne, Dean Martin And The Fabulous Rio Bravo

I thought I’d have a little fun with today’s post and do a quasi-movie review of a family favorite: Rio Bravo.  I picked this movie because of its big hero, John Wayne, and the other smaller heroes in the film: Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson (gorgeous!) and the inimitable Walter Brennan.
Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and John Wayne in Director Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo

Movies, especially westerns, have a way of lifting us out of the everyday with their bigger than life characters.  Courage is almost always at the heart of every wonderful western, and the demarcation between hero and coward is often drawn in dark black lines. 

In this particular story Dean Martin plays Dude, a once proud lawman turned alcoholic. The picture opens with one of the requisite western bullies, Nathan Burdette, throwing a coin into a saloon spittoon, where the inebriated Dude is just about ready to stick his hand in to retrieve the money for his next drink. 

Enter John Wayne.  Enough said.

Well, OK, I guess I should explain a bit.

Playing the character of John T. Chance, sheriff of this two bit outpost, The Duke kicks the spittoon away from Dude in disgust.  A scuffle ensues, and the nasty Burdette ends up killing an unarmed man.  (Note the cowardice).  Sheriff Chance takes Dude back to the local jail guarded by Stumpy, an old, crusty, crippled deputy with a hysterical voice and a penchant for saying exactly what’s on his mind…with no tact.  But he’s a brave little whippersnapper, as are all the folks in this unlikely band of good guys, willing to stand up against the corrupt and rotten Burdette gang to bring justice to the town of Rio Bravo. 

In the middle of this mess, John T. Chance deputizes Dude, giving his ruined soul a chance at redemption.  It’s a shaky withdrawal process and a rocky road. 

In the meantime, Ricky Nelson, very young but handy with gun and guitar, finds himself in the thick of something he didn't sign up for. He is added to the ranks of John Wayne's mismatched band of brothers. And of course you have to have the pretty lady, “Feathers”, who loves John T. Chance but has a bit of a sordid past in the gambling department.  She too sticks her neck out, and both she and Colorado Ryan (the Ricky Nelson cowboy) put the others before themselves deploying various acts of courage.

At one point one of the less important characters in the movie asks John Wayne about his motley crew, all messed up in one way or another:  a recovering drunk, a man too young, a man too old and crippled, a woman with a strange past.  The question is: “Is that all you got?”  And the bravest man in movies replies in his completely unsentimental way: “That’s what I got.”

I wonder if that’s what our Great Hero says about us…proud of us, even in all our weakness.  When that dastardly enemy of the souls of men who has no joy and no humor says to God “That’s all you got?” perhaps our Fearless Leader says in reply, (as if He owes anyone an explanation) “That’s what I got”. 

I don’t know, but I love to imagine.

In Rio Bravo’s final showdown, the once self- doubting Dude risks all for his friends.  Stumpy and Chance bring the enemy to their knees with a barrel full of firepower.  Colorado proves for certain that youth is no detraction to valor.  And of course, the girl doesn't leave on the stage coach and there’s the proverbial happy ending.  So I've kind of given a lot of the movie away, but it’s so great, watch it anyway.

Movies inspire courage.  This is fiction for sure, but it’s marvelous to have heroes of stage and screen and literature to give us a shot in the arm for the little bit of everyday courage we need.  Or maybe for a lot of it.  One thing’s for sure.  Like the characters in Rio Bravo, the whole of us is most assuredly greater than the sum of our parts.

We are a motley crew for sure.

But we’re “what He’s got.”

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage to Think About A Very Important Funeral...Your Own

If you want to clear out a room quicker that yelling "fire", just start talking about death.  Oh, that's a really popular topic.  The most common, inevitable eventuality of the human condition is likely the least considered.  Folks become Scarlet O'Hara when it comes to a careful reflection on the end of their lives: "I won't think about that today, I'll think about that tomorrow..."

Except no one really knows if tomorrow will come.

"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while, and then vanishes."  James 4:14

We skirted that one right here in my own family.  Some of you have been smacked head on with that reality with someone you love.  But the ultimate truth is, we're all going that when.  Every one of us is terminal, we simply don't know the date.

So how then shall we live, knowing that the guillotene is hanging over our heads?  Is this a call to morose self examination and morbid introspection.

Heck no.

(And by the way, this is a prime example of why I write these blogs.  Because no one needs to hear this more than me).

If you got the note from the doctor saying you had 6 months to live, how would things change in your life?  I'll bet relationships with God and man would be uppermost in your mind.  I'll bet you would pray a lot more and waste a lot less time on stupid things.  And I bet your complaining would go down and your gratitude would spike.

Listen, it's scary to think about crossing that mysterious bridge from this life to a land we've never been to before.  I don't relish the crossing, but I do long for what's on the other side.  I'm glad it will be a beautiful place, a peaceful, wonderful, exciting place.  But all those things are secondary.  I want to see my Jesus.  In that sense, heaven could be a barn and I'd be happy forever.  Heaven is about being with God forever, finally, with no veil between us.

For some people, that thought fills them with dread.  But that's because they don't know yet how the Savior loves them so, and invites them to have their sins washed away at the place where death lost the war: the Cross.  For every man, to the worst and the most wicked, the Cross of Christ is the relief from the fear of death.  Without it, you are right to be afraid.  No one stands before God without holiness.  And I haven't found one of us yet, least of all me, who is good enough or just enough to face that perfection without the Perfector.  There is none righteous, no not one.  Only the God-Man can bring us safely home to our Father.

That is exceptionally good news!  The word of God states that the Father "desires that NONE should perish."

So be brave today and don't be afraid to think about your own funeral.  It's coming, and you don't know when.

Decision are for the living.  How we live. What we live for.  Who we live for.

"Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Love someone well today.  Go the extra mile.  Give God praise and gratitude.  Eat something delicious.  Smell the fall leaves.  Slow down.

Think about your funeral today, not tomorrow.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days of Courage: Courage In A Time Of Ebola And Beheadings

These times we're living in, they could get a girl down in the dumps.

But really, it's been ever thus.  Every age has its nightmares.

Finding the good in this jumbled up world - finding beauty, that's an inside job.  There will always be pressures, obstacles and darkness to oppose the human race.  It started at the Fall.  It will end at the Return.

It will take a tough mental and spiritual courage to experience a world of school shootings, Ebola and televised beheadings, and still stand and find joy in the marred, but unmistakeable beauty of the original.  It will take determination to accept the reality of the shipwreck, but still give thanks for the island, with it's provisions of blue sky, coconuts and most of all, the other folks who are the greatest gifts of all.

There's a scripture that is so simple, and so profound, that says succinctly what I can't express in a thousand words:

"Where sin did abound, grace did more abound."  Romans 5:20

Yesterday at my nephew's 3rd birthday party, several grown ups (including my husband of course), spent an hour with a 5 year old goofing around with a huge balloon in the shape of the number 3.  Every body got yoked into that balloon, cracking up, turned every which way, pictures taken, nuttiness in all its glory.

Where sin did abound, grace did more abound.

On the way home through the Berkshires, the 6 o'clock sky was streaked with a blending of colors no painter could produce with the most state-of-the-art palette ever manufactured.  A tiny sliver of moon looked like what Smitty describe as a little "crack in the sky".  I couldn't even absorb the whole beauty of it as we crossed those gentle mountains.

Where sin did abound, grace did more abound.

When we stepped out of the car (which took us 90 miles in an hour and a half), the smell of fall in upstate New York wafted subtle into our noses, leaves that blessed us with shade all summer now blessing again with the fragrance of autumn.

Where sin did abound, grace did more abound.

Grace, grace, grace everywhere.  But I miss it every day.  It takes a little pulling up of the suspenders of courage to stand up against cynicism and to hunt for and embrace good.  And it takes that same courage to slow down enough from the ridiculous pace of this rat race to witness the wonders that are his merciful gifts to us in a world of Ebola, beheadings and every other ill the shipwreck brought with it.

Take a rest on this Sabbath. Bravely lay down the complaints and the cynicism, and be counter cultural.  Abound in all the grace.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Be Brief Or Even Shut Up Altogether

No one knows better than I do the tendency toward being a blowhard.

Lots of times people who don't know when to shut up are simply insecure, and desperately want to be understood.  They often feel so sure they will be misunderstood that they say the same thing a few different ways, until those listening are looking around furtively for the nearest exit.

My poor husband, I think I've seen that look in his eyes a thousand times...

It's entirely possible I was born talking.  I can't remember a time when I didn't feel a drive to communicate. All human beings have this to some degree.  We are relational at our core, made in the image of a relational God.  But some of us definitely get the expression thing twisted up a bit, and like the drinker with his drink and the foodie with her food, we become the wordy with our words.

I've been on both ends of this thing, so you'd think I'd have learned by now.

The times I've bitten my tongue have been far too few.  But when I have, when I let go of having to make sure everyone knows I'm not dumb, or realized if my opinion wasn't considered it would be ok: those moments have taken a bit of moxie.  It is far easier to open one's mouth than to keep it closed.

Of course there is an opposing problem to talking too much and listening too little: not speaking up when we ought.  I've addressed that problem in another blog, and the courage needed to speak up is easier to define than what I'm spelling out here.  Being brave enough to be quiet is far more subtle.  No one will know when you've measured your response and swallowed your pride.  That courage becomes an unseen virtue.  Those are the ones that really construct the metal of a man.  Those opportunities for holding back and listening up happen just about every day.  Those small victories of putting the other guy first make for a more civilized world.

I took on this 31 day writing challenge because I really do believe God was directing me to write for the sake of it, to practice this beloved craft, and to tell the truth.  The danger is always that I will say more than is necessary to communicate whatever I'm writing about.  I try hard not to do that.  I hear the voice of my NYU writing professor in my ears lo these 32 years later:

"Just tell the truth in the clearest way you can."

God bless Mark Dickerman.  When all us college students were trying to have a "style", he spoke those few words that changed the way I write forever.  He said by being honest and clear, we wouldn't be able to help but have our own style.  Because each person is designed differently, and when they strive for clarity, who they are comes out as a natural byproduct.

Maybe that will help somebody today.  Have the courage to tell the truth, or to keep your two cents out this time.  Oh, how I preach to myself in these posts!

One of America's greatest communicators, indeed one of the bravest leaders in American history said this:

"I am the master of my unspoken thoughts, and the slave to those things which should have remained unsaid."  ~ Abraham Lincoln

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Love On In A World Gone Cold

It’s the 24th day of this 31 day challenge, and today’s post is heavy on me.

I took the day off from work today with the sole purpose of withdrawing from the madness for a little while, to seek God for some perplexing questions I have; to slow down and breathe deep and remember why the heck I’m here anyway.

To begin with gratitude is always the way to start.  I am a blessed woman.  I am more grateful than I can say for the love I have in my life from a thousand corners.  My eternal destiny is secure.  I have way more than my daily bread.  Every hard place and every difficult trial is only sandpaper in the hands of the Master Carpenter, who will show the good work in His good time.  So I have no complaints.

But there is a weight.  And you and I need courage and strength for this burden, because it continues to grow with no end in sight.  

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 24:12-13

There’s a fire in the fireplace, pumpkin candles burning and a space to pray and read the sacred word.  I’m warm and thankful.  But the truth is I’m not so strong when I walk outside to the Arctic chill Jesus saw coming from eternity past.  I shiver out there.  The world is moving at breakneck speed on the road to nowhere, and people are often downright mean.  Uncaring.  Cold as ice.  When you live in an icy world, it’s oh so easy to protect yourself in layers of fur, and to hunker down and determine not to send an ounce of warmth out to that world to be rejected and snuffed out.

But that is not the way.

Oh courage, be my companion in this internal war to choose to love regardless of the outcome!  To feel the cold wind is painful, but to be the cold wind is far worse.

You are sharing this planet today with folks who are so lonely, broken, distressed and angry that they have no capacity to give love.  The only hope is that they might receive some, and that the light and warmth of that most beautiful power will begin to thaw the frozen heart.  There is no other cure.  Love is the remedy for a thoughtless, ungrateful, ugly world.  

These words are not flowing from the mind of a woman who has found her way with unconditional love, but from one who longs with every fiber of her being to be willing to humble herself to give it.

When I said good night to a coworker, and they gave the cold shoulder, I determined that was the last time I would feel that little rejection.  When I left a small gift on someone’s desk and it was returned without a word, I shut down a little more.  When I listened for the hundredth time to a demanding, graceless person wanting someone to blame, and apparently thinking I’d be just as good as anyone else, I hardened myself yet again.  When liberal grace was extended to a family member, only to be returned with ingratitude, I was done.

Those things and many more, all of which I’ll bet you have experienced in some way, shape or form brought me home today.  I could feel the cold getting into my bones, and I needed some perspective right quick before I hurt myself or someone else badly.  And worse still, before I hardened my heart toward my dear heavenly Father, who commands us to be bold and strong, and to fight the ice age with a fire against which no winter can contend.

These extended hours in the Bible, these hours quiet with God have renewed my strength.  They have given me the courage to forgive the wrongs done me, to be forgiven for the wrongs done, and to step out again into the tundra, with my little torch.  

This problem is not solved.  It must be visited over and over again, and there need to be many more times of sitting still with the One who faced the absolute zero of the cold of hell, and remains the Great Lover of all time.  He alone can give us the courage to stay warm.

That we might be brave enough to love without reciprocity.  That we might stand firm to the end.  

And be warm in our hearts for the sake of many.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Courage: Endurance, The Heart Of Courage

“Men Wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.  Honour and recognition in case of success.”
― Ernest Shackleton
Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew of The Endurance
Of all the sub headings under the virtue of courage, none captivates me more than endurance.

 Courage encompasses so many beautiful and awe inspiring deeds, but for some reason the courage to persevere is to me the loveliest of all.

 In 1914, Irish born Ernest Shackleton started out on an expedition doomed to fail.  Of course he didn’t know that going in.  He had a state of the art ship, and crackerjack crew, and the experience necessary to reach his lofty goal: a continental crossing of Antarctica.

 Sailing on the aptly named sea- vessel  Endurance, Shackleton and his men set off for the deepest regions of the south of this planet as the rest of the world embarked on a great and terrible war.  Shackleton and his men would soon be fighting a war of their own: to survive.

 Through  1000 miles of ice pack in the unpredictable Weddell Sea, the Endurance sailed on.

 And then, one day from its destination, the ship simply got stuck in the ice.  Temperatures began to drop dramatically.  The ship’s storekeeper wrote: “She was like an almond in a piece of toffee.”

 That was January, 1915.  Summer in Antarctica.

 From February to October 1915, the men of the Endurance waited through the 24 hour darkness of Antarctic winter to see if their ship would become free or crushed as the ice flow broke up in the spring.  After months of anxiety and strain, Endurance began to crack and implode from the indomitable weight of nature’s frozen ocean.  Abandoning ship with as many supplies as they could drag across the unstable ice flows in their little life boats, Shackleton and his crew were only just beginning their real test of endurance.

 Navigating on drifting ice, with a limited food suppy (they eventually had to eat their sled dogs), suffering from cold and exhaustion, Shackleton’s men persevered.   497 days since they had set foot on real land, they rowed their beleaguered crew, all still alive, in lifeboats onto Elephant Island, a rock in the Weddell Sea.  Conditions became more and more appalling,  and the unbelievably brave Shackleton made a bold decision.  The only hope of rescue lie in an 800 mile open boat crossing to the nearest whaling center on South Georgia Island. 

 Leaving most of the men behind, he took 2 crew members with the most rudimentary navigational tools through a storm to finally arrive on the wrong side of the island.  Then a climb in threadbare clothes and shoes over the  mountains.  Then finding a ship to help them go back to pick up the men.  And I’m leaving out a thousand painful details because this would be a 15 page post otherwise.

 On August 30, 1917, every man on Elephant Island was brought to safety by the unrelenting courage of their captain, Ernest Shackleton.  It is a story you must see. (There’s a marvelous NOVA version available, which beats out the fictional adaptation by a mile).

 It had been nearly 3 years since anyone anywhere had heard from the crew of the Endurance.  The encouragement of that great leader, Ernest Shackleton, was the key to their profound success.  Perhaps their original mission failed, but there was no failure for the brave captain and crew of the Endurance.

 Endurance is the heart of courage. 

 To carry on for extended time, holding on to a shred of hope, carrying your cross and putting one foot in front of the other, this is where the rubber meets the pilgrim road.

 “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for when he has stood the test he will achieve the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”  James 1:12

 That we would all persevere, come what may, like our great, encouraging Captain of All before us…

 Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Climb The Right Ladder

“She’s the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.”  ~ Mae West

(That quote cracked me up...from Mae West no less!)

I want to say at the outset that I’m pro-success.  I love to see people find something they’re good at, that is satisfying to them, and God bless them too if they can make loads of money doing it.  (More on that in a minute)*.

It seems though, that in Western culture most of us have our ladders leaning on the wrong walls, and we climb them in the wrong direction.  It has taken me my entire adult life and some seriously difficult seasons to figure out that many of our aspirations are completely wrongheaded.  Making it to some well-planned goal, achieving a long held dream, experiencing what the world we inhabit calls success is taking a secondary thing and putting it in first place.  These blessings ought to be the good fallout of living with right priorities. (And there are no guarantees there either).  But it takes a great deal of courage to step out of our sin stained, self-loving shoes and choose the ladder less travelled. 

You’ve got to be brave to climb the right ladder.   Because you’ll be going against a hurricane force wind from the opposite direction.

I bet there’s someone out there thinking: “Who the heck is she to say what the right ladder is?”  And they’d be right.  But I’m just here to report what the Director of the Universe says:

“Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you.”  Matthew 6:33

I’m not even talking to non-believers here.  I’m talking to people like me, who love God, and have a relationship with Him, and who've messed this thing up countless times.  I’m appalled at the way I’m swept up in the culture, how I fear man , and spend so much of my conscious life seeking after comfort, security and acceptability until I’m sick to death of myself.  To rise in the opinion of others for the sake of being admired is pride. Wanting to be the top, not to serve but to be served, is pride.  Wanting a home others envy or children you can boast in to your peers or letters following your name so you can feel a wee bit superior is pride. No sense dressing it up in some euphemistic blarney.  Facts are stubborn things.

Climbing the ladder Jesus describes means climbing DOWN:

“He who is greatest among you should be the servant of all.”  Matthew 23:11

When God in the flesh stoops down to wash and dry the filthy feet of his friends, that ends all discussion of what greatness really is.  We’ve got the whole fandango royally backwards.

If you have a place of authority, climbing higher means going lower.  If you’ve been blessed with wealth, climbing higher means digging deeper into those pockets for the sake of the poor.*  If you are gifted in any way, climbing higher means freely distributing that gift for the sake of others.  And if you don’t think this way of life requires a large dose of courage, I’d like to check your pulse. 

I think I shocked someone I’m acquainted with when last week I mentioned to him that his gifts and position were a marvelous opportunity to serve others.  This is a man the culture would say is wildly successful.  I’m not sure he ever even thought of it that way before…that it really isn’t about him at all.  God knows I’ve got to remember that truth every day. But he’s been so indoctrinated into our wrong direction ladder theology that he’ll have to be awfully gallant and resolute to move his ladder to another wall.

It’s just this friends:  It takes courage to go against the tide of power, materialism, intellectual superiority, artistic snobbery, worldly beauty and a whole host of other twisted priorities to get the dang thing right.  There is only one right ladder of success, and that ladder leans on a wall called The Kingdom of God.  Each person will have something different to do on those rungs, but they all move in the same direction: down. 

That’s not down in some joyless, woe is me, martyr kind of way either.  It’s the greatest ladder of success the world has ever known.

Remember that the most successful man of all time said:

 "He who loses his life for my sake will gain it...and what profit is it if a man gains the whole world but loses his soul?"  Matthew 16:25-26

 Lots of times, because we were greatly blessed to be born in America, we get all sorts of other icing on the cake of true success.  But the minute we start looking for those things as the primary goal, we’ve leaned our ladder on the wrong wall again.

 This is a daily effort, and not for the faint of heart.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage Not To Get It All Right

It’s the plague of the first born.

OK, not just the first born, lots of other people too.

I was reading some of the comments of other folks involved in this 31 day challenge, and it struck me how we all have a bit of a different take on this crash writing bonanza.

Some people just decided to skip the weekends and are perfectly ok with that.  Those bloggers are really relaxed and secure and are having a ball.

Some are finding it difficult to write on one topic and keep the quality of the content.  They reach out to others for ideas and encouragement.  They stumble about a little with complete authenticity regarding their struggles and successes.

And some, well probably mostly the first born crowd, sweat, take notes, determine to write a certain number of words every day, and never miss a day, no matter what.

Art (or in my case and my opinion, it’s more craft) imitates life.  Every person has to find their groove and do what they are put together to do.  But it’s not at all linear and clean.  There are days when the whole thing flows like the Hudson down Mount Marcy, and those other days when it’s more like pick axing up the side of Mount Crumpit (who gets that reference?).  Most of us will look back and say of the story of our lives “I wish I had written that bit a little differently” (or a lot differently), or “That paragraph was a complete mess…” or maybe “I’m done with with this story…I can’t get it right.”

And here’s where courage comes in to play.  Because in this little microcosm of the 31 day challenge I have experienced all of these emotions through the tip of my “must get it all right” pen.  It’s completely ridiculous to expect every day to be your buttoned up best.  Maybe we’re tired, or the check engine light is back on in the car, or we've got the Coxsacki virus coming on…any of a myriad of the foibles of life that make our days less than ideal.  Not to mention the downright earth shattering "work stoppages".

There is courage in saying with peace in our hearts:

I did my best today. Even if my best wasn't all that great.

You have nothing to prove, because you are loved by the One who approves of you exactly as you are.

With that comes freedom to find our way through failure and fallout, because we’re not working to be loved, but because we’re loved we’re working. 

I promised myself when I joined these 31 days, that I would write for the One who has given me the love of communication and words.  I really do love to write.  Or should I say as Dorothy Parker said, “I love HAVING written”.  But I admit I've got the first born tendancies.  I always wish I'd done better.  

There’s a freedom in not having to be great.  To simply be and do for the sake of being and doing.  

Whatever your life looks like, whatever strange turns, however many mundane stretches or confusing patches, press on.  Do your best, even if today’s best isn’t as lovely as yesterday’s or tomorrow’s.

It’s a big story, and you aren’t the Author anyway.  You’ll be amazed when you see how His grace and mercy edit the thing to make it a splendid chronicle in the end.

That was the point of the Jesus' best day...which was the same day as His worst day.  He got it all right for our sakes.

Be brave enough to lay down your pride and know it’s ok not to get it all right.

Your first- born friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Lighten Up

I get mixed up by those different personality types.  Especially choleric.  What the heck is choleric?  I could probably Google it but it’s Sunday afternoon and I want to keep the electronic buzz to a minimum.

There is one personality type I’m extremely familiar with, though, because it lives in my skin.


That crying prophet Jeremiah, he was a melancholic too.  Apt to see the darker side.  Apt to think things through until they’re like a chicken boiled in a pot for 3 days straight.  Worst of all, apt to take ourselves way too seriously.

It’s so hard to lighten up when you’re all wired to sort out.  You’ve got to dig around, search your soul, ponder and contemplate until you’re “dead in the water”.  (Quote belongs to my son David).

For people like me, lightening up, reading the funny papers, playing a game, actually require an effort I would say is akin to courage, if not courage itself.  I can’t explain it except to say that if you are a person like me, you know what I mean.  It’s like being a catcher, and being asked to pitch a few innings.  It requires stepping out of that heavy gear and getting out of that crouchy position and letting a few things simply fly.  For you Tigger’s out there it seems like a no brainer.  But for us Eeyore's, it really is a step of faith.

The Word of God of course is replete with the principles of perfect balance in life.  It’s right there in the Proverbs, plain as day:

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”  ~Proverbs 17:22

My husband, who has every good reason to sing the Blues as he works through daily pain from his run in with an intoxicated man in a 3 ton pick-up truck, has been God’s instrument of grace for my overly sober leanings.  Smitty was born with a laugh in his heart.  Heaven knows I would have worn nothing but black lo these grown up years if I had married a man like me.  Just this morning he showed me a funny comic, and got me to play a card game before my melancholic daughter shuffled back to Buffalo.  That man makes me happy every day.

Don’t get me wrong: I truly believe we are all put together in whatever way pleases God.  There is great beauty that has come from the melancholics of this world.  I simply think there is an ebb and flow to our natures, and a need for a hearty laugh, a good party, a goofy dance. 

Just sayin’, it doesn’t come natural to some of us.  We desperately need you wonderful, mirthful folks who can pull us off our tour bus of the tragic and take us to the fun house.  Give us a little courage to try on a different outfit.  Even if it’s only for a little while.

I bless all the wonderful people in my life who don’t let me take myself so seriously.

And I especially bless my God, who is chomping at the bit for all of us to come, dance, be merry, have a banquet, and rejoice and laugh for eternity. 

In just a little while.

Still, He wants us to have a measure of fun here too!  It just might take a bit of brave to do some bouncing.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Wake Up

That old prophet Isaiah, he’s blowing reveille this morning.

Indeed, the alarm to wake up keeps coming.  It passes through all the books of the Great Book, right to the end.  Especially at the end.

Here I am, tapping words down in a language unknown to Isaiah, in a time when drowsiness and sleep have a firm hold on this suffering world.  And I of all people, one who needs to rub the sleep out of my own eyes, here I stretch from sleep for a few paragraphs on a topic that would fill the volumes of every book in every library.  Perhaps this particular post is really just for me.

How often have I lived through a day, asleep to the truth of my purpose there?  That the glory of God, the souls of men, and indeed the growing and gracing of my own soul are at stake while I remain asleep. 

Asleep, making breakfast, without gratitude and awareness of the gracious hand that prospered the wheat of the earth so I could have my bagel.

Turning the ignition in my car, heedless to the One who made the mind of man so great that he could design such a useful machine.

Living and working with other mortals, forgetting they are eternal beings, to be treated with honor.  To be cared for and understood.  To be forgiven.  And to seek forgiveness from. 

Indeed, to be awake to the brevity of life, to its meaning down to the peeling of the apple at lunch.  To be alive and aware that this world and everything in it is a gift of God.   That even my worst pain drives me to Him, and will not allow me to go down to a deathly slumber.

To vomit up the sleeping pills of materialism, human accolades and silly dreams of comfort so I can spend this aging body in the pursuit of lasting reality.

To open my eyes, pull off the covers, and be willing to get out of the hazy warmth of just following the rules and stepping into the brisk awakening air of bold living.  I hear you Isaiah, I hear the bugle call.

And I hear my ancient brother the Apostle Paul, through these sleepy ears:

“Be very careful then, how you live- not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5: 16

And just one verse before this he says:

“Wake up O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (vs. 15)

Very convicted I am this morning, as I push aside the dullness in me.  I will sing loud today at church, and be glad even in my sorrows.  And with thanksgiving for my coffee, and my struggles and the leaves all over my front lawn, waiting to be raked.

When the test comes as it surely will, I pray I will hear the bugle boy of God in my ears for the sake of those who are dead asleep.  That come what may, I will have courage to live the Gospel, even if thought a fool.  That one day many will stand with me, by grace alone, by the blood of Christ alone, before the Almighty One.

Awake and alive for all eternity.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage To Leave It All Behind

I woke up this morning with lots of baggage in my head.  I know you know what I mean. 

Like everyone else, I have 24 hours in a day.  Like most people, I feel squeezed and pressed for time. This morning the rush of thoughts slammed into me like a 747.  The stuff at work not done (it will never be done).  The people I want to have for dinner (that list will go on until they’re having dinner after my funeral).  The closet uncleaned, the bushes unclipped, the groceries unbought. 

And then there are the worries.  About my kids.  About money.  About the future.  BAM.  I mean my eyes have been opened for 10 seconds and I’m already slammed.  The enemy of our souls wastes no time in accusing us.  He starts first thing, hoping (if that foul thing can hope) that we will stay there, twisted up and torn up, without peace and forgetting Whose children he’s messing with.

C.S. Lewis said this, and bless him, he didn’t know back before I was born how these words would sustain me:

“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”
This is going to sound weird, but there’s something about fretting that can be comfortable.  There’s a familiarity to it, and a twisted sense of control it carries.  All a complete lie, of course, but a powerful one.  The only way to battle that sucker is with the truth.
And the truth is this:  We don’t even control the next breath we take.  Every morsel of food we eat comes from the hand of God.  Every job we have he provided.  (No man has a right to arrogance, for every man lives by grace alone.  Even if he doesn’t recognize it).
To let go of fretting and that sense of control takes real courage.  A relative of mine once said something that stuck all these years later from a time when she was going through a really difficult patch in her life. She said letting go “felt like I was falling off a cliff…but it turned out to be like I was tied to a bungee cord and I never did slam into the rocks below.”  Her faith sustained her.
This morning I have 2 choices.
Hold on to my false sense of control, fret on, and be perfectly miserable.
Or, leave it all behind, be grateful, find the good, and trust my Jesus, come what may.
Believe me when I tell you I’ve taken option 1 far too many days on this brief sojourn.
Today, my baby girl is home for the weekend.  Since the terrible accident of 2009, there is still plenty to fret about.  There is plenty of brokenness, trouble and heartache.
But for today, we will be going apple picking in the rain, sharing apple cider donuts and reminiscing with the wooden Indian at the farm we’ve gone to every autumn since our babies were babies.
Today, I’m praying for the courage to leave it all behind.
Standing back from all my natural fussings and frettings…and coming in out of the wind.  Praise be to God, who always leads us in triumphant procession in Christ!
Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, October 17, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage to Swim Upstream

Here’s a quote by a wonderful author and blogger whose words have many a day given me courage:

"Any dead fish can go with the flow — you have to be intentionally alive to swim against the current." 
~ Ann Voskamp

This post is going to offend some people.  And believe me when I say I have no intention and no motivation whatsoever to be offensive.  I try very hard to stick to universal truths in my blog posts, and to stay away from politics and touchy subjects.  Not because I don’t have strong beliefs, but because I believe my little calling in these daily scribbles has always been to bring encouragement for everyday people in their everyday world.  Other  folks, much smarter and far better educated than I have the grand calling of the big picture. 

But Ann Voskamp’s quote, not to mention her fearless and grace filled writing, have given me some courage to tackle a topic highly controversial but deadly important.  And I’m scared because I might be misunderstood, accused of being judgmental, and instantly dismissed.  These are all things that push the chicken buttons of my heart.

So with fear and trembling  I want to spend just a few paragraphs today in defense of the defenseless.  And in the age we are living in even mentioning this horrendously painful topic is most definitely swimming upstream.  But I don’t want to be a dead fish.

Since 1973, approximately 57 million unborn children in the United States of America have been denied an opportunity to take their first breath.  There probably isn’t much sense in going over the arguments surrounding this silent holocaust, euphemistically referred to as “women’s reproductive rights”.  Those who defend the practice of abortion and those who oppose it often cannot be moved.  And I’m sure I will change no one’s mind today.  My point here is that there is a cultural tide moving in the opposite direction to those who stand firmly in the defense of life.  We must be willing to be thought of as intolerant, judgmental and pharisaical.  We must swim against the stream and accept the consequences.  And above all, we must not become ungracious and mean spirited in our unshakable grip on the truth.  One can run into the wind without spitting into it.

Yesterday I wrote about encouragement.  The giving of courage to another.  And who needs it more than a woman who finds herself with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.  It takes a tremendously brave person to risk her reputation (although that’s not as big a factor here in the 21st century), her career, or a relationship to give the gift of life to another small, helpless human being.   It takes even more courage to then place that child in the loving arms of an adoptive mother.  That kind of courage, self- sacrificing and profound, is what elevates our humanity.  It is like the fire fighters who went up the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue the helpless ones inside.  They were willing to risk everything to save those souls.  Beautiful in the extreme.

There is no easy when it comes to courage.  It is not neat and clean like it looks in the movies.  Courage costs big time, and not just in ways that can be seen, but in emotional losses that can last a lifetime.  The strength to carry a baby to term, and then give that child away requires great endurance and willingness to accept loss.    It demands being intentionally alive, feeling a million feelings, and swimming against the current.  

Smitty and I regularly support a ministry called Alpha Center, which devotes itself to meeting the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of women who make the brave choice to keep their babies, and also to bring comfort and hope to those who have already experienced the devastation of having had an abortion.  This is where the pedal meets the medal.  How are we going to be there for the mother who makes the hard choice, and the one whose courage was battered? 

I know it’s a complicated issue.  So were the international  politics of 9-11.  But that didn’t matter to the people in the towers.  They just wanted to live.  They just needed someone to be brave enough to pull them from the flames.

Perhaps we ought to swim upstream with all our might, whatever is thought of us, to stand and deliver.  Not with violence or harsh tongue or clenched fist.  But with tenderhearted compassion and open hands and brave hearts.  In whatever small way the Spirit of the Living God shows us.

That way, we won’t be dead fish.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days of Courage: When Courage Fails- The Sequel

Yesterday’s post highlighted what I consider the great antidote for the ailment of failed courage: 

God’s Grace. 

I pointed out what I believe with all my chicken heart: that grace trumps all.  The vaulted courage of the fully human Christ to endure the emotional, physical and spiritual agony of the rejection of the Cross is his banner across the ages.  Read it every day…it says “I have enough grace for your worst failures.”

There is something else, though, perhaps less regal but beautiful all the same that travels the pilgrim road as a companion of grace.

My children, born between 1993 and 1997 are the generation of the Toy Story movies.  The first film my firstborn ever saw was Toy Story 1.  After his introduction to that marvelous screen gem, he spent many a waking hour jumping off chairs with the expensive Buzz Lightyear laser gun his Grandma Smith bought him.  And as he “flew” through the air he would shout:

“To infinity, and beyond!”

If you’ve never seen the Toy Story movies, OMG for heaven’s sake get thee to the DVD store!

In Toy Story 1, Buzz Lightyear comes on the scene as a new toy for the boy Andy, who has spent much of his short life with Woody, a cowboy toy with a friendly face who sounds suspiciously like Tom Hanks.  Buzz believes he’s a true space superhero, and Woody feels like second fiddle when the souped up space ranger commands a generous portion of Andy’s attention. 

Conflicts arise, and without giving all the details, Buzz winds up learning he’s not a real space hero at all, but just a toy. Worst of all, Buzz finds out he can’t really fly.

 And here’s the point: Buzz loses heart, in a big way.  His sense of purpose, his joy, and his identity are devastated.  Until.

Until Woody, who has his own character growth spurt, becomes Buzz’s ENCOURAGER.  See that word!  That’s my take on the 2nd antidote to the failure of courage.  Encouragement. 

I want more than anything to be an encourager.  This broken down world needs a whole lot more Woody’s to get the Buzz’s flying high again.  Even if their flying is only just “falling, with style.”
What a privilege to help someone find their courage.  How I repent of the times I’ve sapped people of theirs’ with words unwise. 

And how little it takes to encourage someone!  A joke for the bus driver, a verbal pat on the back for a child while they battle through long division, a coffee delivered to a desk for a tired co-worker.  Try looking for something small today you can do to give somebody else on this runaway merry go round a lick of courage.  There is no dearth of folks who need some strength.

Sometimes there is no human encourager.  There is only God.  And it is then we must dig deep and believe that powerful word of truth from the real Star Command:

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17


It will take us and our struggling fellow pilgrims…

To infinity…and beyond!

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 Days of Courage: When Courage Fails

In May of 1431, a young woman of great courage and faith experienced what we all will: a failure of courage.

Joan of Arc is famous for her outstanding feats as a French soldier, in an age when women were considered on a level with dogs and dust.  She had an intimate and powerful relationship with God, and ultimately it was this great strength that was used to kill her.

For reasons mostly political, the Anglo-Burgundian military of England captured the “Maid of Orleans” to make an example of her.  She had encouraged and fearlessly led the French army to victory after victory against their forces as they quarreled over the rightful holder of the throne, and they had had enough. (I don 't pretend to understand the complicted politics of that time...what was English and what was French was a mixed up mess). Using trumped up charges to get her off the grid, Joan was imprisoned, badgered, tormented and broken down by her captors.  As is unfortunately often the case, religious leaders became the bad guys in this story.  Those medieval Pharisees took wickedness to new heights as they brutally stripped a teenage girl of any human comfort.

During one of the many sessions Joan of Arc was forced to endure, she was asked this question:

“Do you know whether or not you are in God’s grace?”

And this uneducated peasant girl, beaten down, persecuted and exhausted, gave a stunning answer that would boggle even the most learned theologian:

“If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace."

As religious men had  tried to trap her Savior, so they did to her.

Finally, after multiple trials, with the chief charge being “cross dressing” (Joan clung to her soldier clothing to protect herself from her guards’ constant threats of rape) she was presented with a document to sign, recanting her call from God and the accompanying visions. 

She signed the paper.  Her courage failed her.

And it has failed us, under a lot less pressure and with a lot less to lose.

What are we to do then?  When courage fails, as it has for people like Moses, King David, and Peter the Apostle, is there still hope?  What is the remedy for courage lost?

There are 2 things that come to mind.  One I will address in today’s post, and one in tomorrows’.  

Today, the very words of Joan of Arc give a clue to the antidote for a heart lost to fear and failure:

“I would be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.”

Greater than any failure of courage, or any act of courage, is the power and might of the Grace of God.  His grace to poor, weak mortals like us only makes more brilliant the wonder of his condescension to the likes of mankind.  Motivated purely by love.  Expressed and demonstrated by the unfailing courage of the Son of God.  Fully man, carrying the weight of all the world, he went to the stake without hesitation. 

Eventually Joan of Arc, in misery and sorrow, but clearly with supernatural assistance, recanted her recanting.  She received the grace in which she trusted, and with her hope firmly placed in the atoning death of Christ Jesus was burned at the stake as a heretic.  She was the same age as my daughter.

In one moment, courage failed for Joan of Arc, but it was grace that prevailed.  Grace trumps failure.  

Grace trumps all.

Remember that when your courage fails.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

31 Days of Courage: What I Learned From My Mother

One thing I really love about Jesus, among many, is his uncanny knack for making friends with the unlikeliest folks. 

A short guy who nobody likes…that swindler hanging in a tree, yep, Jesus went to his house for supper.  A woman at a well who was married umpteen times, was considered a nobody, especially to the Jews…Samaritan, she might as well have been a leper.  Oh yeah, lepers too.  And wealthy religious guys, soldiers and fishermen.  The humility of Christ is mind blowing.  He befriended those who thought they weren’t worthy to grovel at his feet and likewise those who thought He wasn’t worthy to grovel at theirs. 

As always, He stands as the high, exalted example.

Isn’t it strange how we folks today isolate ourselves from people not like us?  And quite frankly, it takes effort…courage really, to approach someone in a wheelchair who drools a little and makes funny noises.  On the other side of the fence, we fear starting a conversation with a corporate president in a Brooks Brother’s suit.  Why are we afraid of what is not like us?

My mother, Cynthia Marie Connor Champagne, was the bravest person I’ve ever known.  She battled the brutality of schizophrenia from her mid-twenties until she died at age 60.  One thing my mother was great at was relating to people of all stripes.  She treated doctors, lawyers, plumbers and janitors with the same respect.  Her wit was sharp and her humor steadfast despite the menacing burden of a horrific affliction.  She was isolated by her disease, but always stood at the ready to accept every person who could get past the oddities of her broken psyche.  Though many were uncomfortable with her, she stretched hard to reach some kind of relationship with people, even with the handicap of a broken mind.

Me, Mom and my brother Donnie - Danny's not born yet

Even though she was unable to raise me past my 10th birthday, she showed me the way of courage.

Today a family got on the elevator with me.  A young woman in her electric wheelchair, probably around 16, non-verbal with uncontrolled muscle movements,  playfully backed in to her mother.  I looked at this young woman, and thought of my mom, and of my Jesus, and how they might respond in this cramped space, with a profoundly disabled teenager who was goofing off with her mom even while trapped within the bounds of her great limitations.  But I was uncomfortable.

So I pulled up my big girl boots and spoke to the young woman.  I heard the whole family call her Micaela, so I had an in.
“Micaela, are you trying to squish your mom?”
Micaela lifted her head and smiled, and backed in to her again.  Her mom laughed, her sisters and her dad laughed, and I laughed!  Micaela’s mom looked at me with gratitude as if I had just handed her the ticket to Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium. Why?  Because I had taken 10 seconds to acknowledge this precious human being who likely has been ignored and passed over by many.  I’ve done the passing over many times myself with people “not like me”. 

 In that little interaction of fun with Micaela, I felt the discomfort draining from my body.  As the doors opened, I put my hand on Micaela’s arm and felt her soft, warm sweater and smiled at her.  I was grateful to her for being there to bring me a bit of laughter in a cold world.  For a moment, we related.  I overcame my discomfort and found a little joy.

There’s nothing heroic in sharing a laugh with a disabled girl and her family.  But for me, there was a little bit of brave required to let go of what the outcome might be there.  These are the tiny attitudes and actions that might just bring us up out of the mundane and make an often icy world a little warmer.

Thanks Mom.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, October 13, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage Not To Worry

 “Do not fret, it only leads to evil”.  Psalm 37:8

Them’s fightin’ words.

And here is the greatest enemy to courage in my everyday life.  Worry.

I’ve often said if I didn’t have something to worry about I’d make something up.  Anxiety is such a dominant gene in my family history it’s a wonder more of my ancestors didn’t land in mental institutions (and some did, no joke). 

Worry has robbed me of countless days, months…God help me, years of joy, peace and service to others. 

I am growing and changing by the grace of God, yes I am.  But what is it about that particular stronghold that, when it gets it’s talons in hard, ruins people’s lives?

This is a hard sub-subject to write about in this 31 day challenge because this is the area where I fail with greatest  dispatch.

And where I need to seek courage with ongoing endurance.  Worry is to courage what water is to fire.  But courage is to worry what the law of aerodynamics is to the law of gravity.  Courage can always rise above.  Courage has won the day in many an anxious heart.

Almost 5 years ago, my husband and daughter were nearly killed by a drunk driver.  For our girl, the road since then has been bumpy, steep and scary beyond what I can express here.  When I say I have cried out for courage it is an understatement in the extreme.  Every day I place that beloved child into the hands of her relentlessly loving Heavenly Father and exhale with surrender.  I don’t do it perfectly.  But this difficult trip has been the birthplace of courage for me…this soaring over the fields of worry to the high places of trust.  No matter what happens.

What is it for you?  What worry is strangling you?  The Great One is always telling us to cheer up, look up and buck up! He promises to be with us, to give us strength in our weakness and to love us through every failure.  Courage today might look as relatively small as facing your closet disaster, or as big as putting your disabled child square in the hands of God.  It might be having a conversation that’s long overdue, or trying again to find a job after significant unemployment. 

In the end, worry leads to nothing good and courage leads to everything worth anything.

There’s not been a single blog post in these 31 days so far that applies more to the writer.

And believe me when I tell you, it’s fight of my life.

How I need your prayers.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,