Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fairy Tales: Way More Truth Than The 6 O'Clock News

 “A myth is something that never happened but is always true.”  Joseph Campbell

Smitty and I starting watching a new show on Netflix on the recommendation of his twin brother.  At first, I was summarily unimpressed, but now the darn things has its tentacles in me and as my kids would say, "I'm done for."  I should have known.  I'm a sucker for a fantasy, a fairy tale...in fact, any great story with mythological undertones.  These type of stories always awaken in me, and I think in most people, the reality behind the myth.  That's why they continue to have power even here in the cynical, fact driven, materialistic 21st century.  Truth is wired into us, and fairy tales are like alarm clocks that startle us out of our drowsy day to day and poke at something deep within us...the sleeping giant of the Real Reality.

My husband would kill me if I gave away anything substantial about "Once Upon a Time", the Disney produced series set in the pretend town of Storybrook, Maine.  I've been trained lo these 26 years of marriage to respect the sacredness of the secret, and never to be the spoiler.  So I'll tread carefully and just say that the premise here is as follows:

All your favorite, classic fairy tale folks are living in their enchanted world, when through a variety of hurts, sufferings and downright meanness, a wicked queen gets really mad and conspires to ruin the lives and loves of every happy person in the kingdom.  So she sends them to a place where they won't remember their life (this is the curse), but all retain a feeling of loss and longing.  The brave and beautiful prince and princess have one chance to save their newborn daughter who is destined to rescue all of them from the curse.  But it means losing her, not knowing where she is, and remembering her no more.  Anyway, that's the gist.

Every fantasy I've ever read, watched or acted in has always impacted me in this same strange way: they have made me consider the bigger picture, to see people as more wonderful and complex, and to long for the day when the happy ending will come.  Of course, no fairy tale is true, but they open a window to the truth behind them all.  You can't get too linear here...the allegories break down, the metaphors aren't perfect - but there is no doubt that there in the evil queen's wholesale desire to destroy happiness, there in the sacrifice of the Prince for his bride, there in the turning of the wooden boy into a real boy - there are undeniable cosmic truths.

Somebody reading this right now is no doubt thinking I need a little rest in one of those houses with lots of rocking chairs on the front porch and people who talk softly while they hand you your medication.  

Still, the thing has haunted me since I was a little girl. When the elves came to help the poor shoemaker, I wanted to find a way to help someone who was sad.  Hansel and Gretel made a fierce protectiveness rise up in me for my younger brothers.  And that Little Mermaid, she made me dream of a world so different from my own, where I could breath underwater and explore the deep blue sea.  (There was no little mermaid movie then, and the real story actually has some dark corners...but that's all part of the truth too.) 

The Lord of the Rings speaks volumes to me from its fantasy world of Middle Earth, with the lofty themes of light, darkness, loyalty, friendship, failure, redemption and love.  It is here in these kinds of stories that we can find the truth.  Not fact, as Indiana Jones says in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but truth.

And the truth is this:  There is a real Kingdom.  And there is a real war going on right now for the souls of men.  And there are lots of people, beautiful, unique, precious people, sound asleep, ripe for the slaughter, unaware that there is more to this world than eyes can see and hands can touch.  There is an evil serpent, bent on destroying everything the King loves.  And he has duped and tempted and hurt every one of the King's people.  But the King is far more powerful than this wicked, diabolical destroyer, and has made the supreme sacrifice to buy us all back from the kingdom of darkness. He's actually sent His own dear Son into the very vault of the enemy, and allowed him to be killed, innocent though He is, for the sake of the world He loves.  In this true story, the power of evil is broken.  The only power that remains is that of guerrilla warfare, where enemy encampments still exist but are doomed to destruction.  And where those who haven't heard or believed in the victory are still acting as slaves. (Much like the southern slaves who hadn't heard the Civil War had emancipated them!)  

This is Reality.  It happens to take place in the mundane of everyday life.  But just like in the stories, Love is the great magic that breaks the curse.  The great love of Christ Jesus, the One and Only King of All, who sends his beloved into the darkness to pull out those trapped there.  He sends them with all the weaponry and power necessary, because He would never leave his children alone.  But He does demand we be brave.  And He does give us the honor of sharing in the deliverance. 

Once upon a time, a great King came to rescue you from a broken world, in order to create a new kingdom of righteousness and love.  He intends to take back the world lost by sin, and to give eternal joy to all in His kingdom.  But there are giants to take down first, and they come in the form of addictions, family problems, suicide, jealousy, unkindness, purposelessness, unbelief and a whole host of other enemies.  

Here's a spoiler. There's a happy ending. In the end, love wins.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tanzania, Foyle's War, and The Battle of Bedford Falls

Tomorrow our friends the Guilzon's board an airplane with 2 of their 4 children and fly to East Africa, where they pioneered and continue to operate a medical clinic for thousands of people in the remote Rukwa Valley of Tanzania.  (One child will join them at Christmas, travelling with his sister who is here in the states for college).

We had the privilege of spending a little time with these beautiful missionaries at the church's soup and salad send off. This family is as down to earth as you can imagine: regular folk with extraordinary courage (though they would never say so), laying down all the comforts of western culture to show the love of Christ in a very tangible way to some very needy people.

But they never act like their calling is a sacrifice.  They act like they love it.  Because they do love it. They say it's hard sometimes, but it's a joy.  They love the people of the Rukwa Valley.  So they keep going back, despite their oldest daughter nearly dying of malaria, despite 125 degrees in the shade, despite bugs the size of small rodents.

You could feel a little small beside these faith giants.

But as we were sharing the last few embraces, I said something to them that has stuck with me these last few days.

"You go do what you're supposed to do, and we'll stay here and do what we're supposed to do..."  I turned and said to my husband, "we'll stay here and fight the battle of Bedford Falls."

That last quote might take a bit of "splainin'" as Ricky Ricardo used to say.  (If you don't know who he is you better Google it...I can't spell out every pre 1960 reference!)

In the classic Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays the character of George Bailey, all around good egg who seems to wind up with the short end of the stick every time.  While his younger brother beats up on the Nazi's as a heroic fighter pilot, George is stuck in Bedford Falls due to a deaf ear (brought on when he saved this same brother from drowning in an icy pond as a boy).  He stays and fights the battle of Bedford Falls...

"Air raid warden, paper drives, scrap drives, rubber drives..."  This was the unglamorous, unheralded work George Bailey was called to do.

And it was critical.

Drawing on British TV, I thought of another example from fiction to illustrate what I'm trying to say here: If you haven't had a chance to watch Foyle's War, get thee to the Netflix!

Detective Chief Inspector Foyle would love to do something meaningful during England's difficult days of WWII.  But he's too old to fight, and his Superior lays out to him that he's needed as a policeman on the home front.  As it turns out, the civilian work he does often intersects with the lofty goals of the war.  But it's hard for him to see from his perspective.

I think that's what the crux is of what's been rolling around in my head since we said goodbye to Mark and Jodi.  This sturdy realization that we must seek the will of God for what our part is in this cosmic war for light and truth, for life and real, eternal liberty.  Then we need to do it.

Perhaps we have our marching orders to travel to a distant land, and show compassion to a world of impoverished people who depend on witch doctors for their infected fingers and have little hope of a life beyond the narrow confines of their village.

Maybe some, like C.S. Lewis, will use words to change lives for decades and perhaps century's to come, having a platform to reach millions.

But just as critical, and just as valued by God, are those who fight the Battle of Bedford Falls.  Those who go to work and show compassion to an office full of spiritually impoverished people, American "villagers" depending on alcohol, material gain,and all manner of empty addictions, with little hope of a life beyond the narrow confines of their harassed and rat raced lives.

Mom's who care for their kids, picking up a thousand Cheerios and stepping on a thousand Lego's.

Stock brokers, nurses, teachers, electricians, government executives, tennis pros...and so on and so forth.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, do it right there for the love of God and the benefit of people.

The Detective Foyle's of the world, the ordinary blokes who keep doing the next right thing for the sake of the kingdom of God, they too will have their reward.

If you're feeling like your life doesn't count, you're wrong.  We're all intertwined and we all have a job to do.  Nobody else can do yours.

Go out there and pray, love and live for the Glory of God.

Go out there and fight the Battle of Bedford Falls.

Here, in London or in Tanzania.  Everywhere on this earth, in this chapter of eternal history, that will soon be wrapping up.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pilgrimage, Gratitude And William Bradford's Thanksgiving Gift To You

To the surprise of no one, I am a big fan of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, something I anticipate and cherish and embrace every year for the powerful reminder it is and the beautiful virtue of gratitude around which the whole season revolves.

I spend far too much money on the 2 wick jars of Pumpkin Spice Yankee candles.  I stuff more people in my house on that special day than is reasonable.  I sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" to myself over and over.  (That hymn seems pilgrimish, but I'm not sure if they sang it or not...it's likely though, Protestants to the core that they were).

You might have figured out, given the title of this blog and many of the topics I've written on over the years, that the pilgrimage of Christ followers to our true homeland, one we've never been to before, is a central theme of my life.  It is hard for me to overstate how life with Jesus, in the here and now, but especially in the life to come, is my primary motivation.  I stumble, flail and foul up, but the thirst for the Kingdom remains...

And so it was for the pilgrims of Plymouth.  They recognized  that this world was not their home. Understood, they had some weird ideas and culturally foreign religious ways.  But I wish I had half the strength and sinew of that battered band.  I vacation on Cape Cod...many of them starved there.  I get seasick in the bathtub; they spent 66 days at sea sailing straight into a monstrous winter.  I say I trust God with a basement chock full of non perishables; they gave thanks after making it through a winter where 40 colonists dropped dead of disease and malnourishment.

I want so very much for my heart to be like the pilgrims'.  I want to shout out thanks for every blessing, and thanks for every difficulty.  I am not that woman, not yet.  That's what the pilgrim road is all about for all of us.  We are given a stretch of time to love God, love others, and be changed by His grace.  The act of giving thanks is a strong ally in the pursuit of becoming more gracious.

Below is my little gift to you all for Thanksgiving. It's a poem we read here in on that wonderful day, when my heart explodes with the joy of gratitude.  Really, shouldn't it be like that every day?

This poem was written by William Bradford, described as "a Mayflower Pilgrim, Governor and Historian of the Plymouth colony, and devout Christian."

From my years young in days of youth,

God did make known to me his truth,

And call'd me from my native place
For to enjoy the means of grace.
In wilderness he did me guide,
And in strange lands for me provide.
In fears and wants, though weal and woe,
A pilgrim, past I to and fro:
Oft left of them whom I did trust;
How vain it is to rest on dust!
A man of sorrows I have been,
And many changes I have seen.
Wars, wants, peace, plenty, have I known;
And some advanc'd, others thrown down.
The humble poor, cheeful and glad;
Rich, discontent, sower and sad:
When fears and sorrows have been mixt,
Consolations came betwixt.
Faint not, poor soul, in God still trust,
Fear not the things thou suffer must;
For, whom he loves he doth castise,
And then all tears wipes from their eyes.
Farewell, dear children, whom I love,
Your better Father is above:
When I am gone, he can supply;
To him I leave you when I die.
Fear him in truth, walk in his ways,
And he will bless you all your days.
My days are spent, old age is come,
My strength it fails, my glass near run:
Now I will wait, when work is done,
Until my happy change shall come,
When from my labours I shall rest,
With Christ above for to be blest.

Your grateful friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Diabolical Power of Resentment

It can arise in seconds and destroy for a life time.  It has the potential to ruin every good and beautiful relationship in the life of a man or woman.  I put it second on my list of the most damaging,
diminishing, paralyzing things against which I must fight for my life.


That coal black, creepy crawly thing from the pit of hell, ready to test, tempt and put us on trial at any moment.

This very week, I'm dealing with the monster.

I was given a few bits of information that I wish I never had.  Believe me when I say that I understand ignorance really isn't bliss, but sometimes being left out of the know is a powerful good thing.

I could feel the heat hit my skin and the blackness climb from my stomach to my brain.  "It's not fair, it's not right....It didn't really happen that way....After all I'VE tried to do..."

I took up an offense but quick, and no one could see it but me.

And God.

I wish I could say I killed that killer, and buried it.  Sometimes resentment must be dealt multiple blows before it dies.  I've hit the sucker a few times.  I hear the voice of Grace saying, "Now, leave it for dead."  It rises up from a beating...but weaker each time.  I'm determined to win this bloody battle, for the sake of my own soul and the souls of those who are sharing this road with me every day.

And especially for the sake of the Captain of my heart, who had every reason to be resentful, ungracious and self righteous.  But never was.  And never is.  He always says to all men at all times:

"See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."  Hebrews: 12:15

See to it.  See to it.  He will give us the grace, but it's up to us to see to it.  We decide, He reports.  

There are always going to be unfair things, things to offend, things to fertilize the root of bitterness. Our way out is to see to it that we don't get smothered and eventually killed by these dark infiltrators.

How does one do battle with an invisible enemy like resentment?

 I don't have this thing figured out, but I'll share with you what I'm practicing in my own war.

Get on it early.  As soon as you've got the offense, call it what it is, and let the Great One know that you know.  That you see. 

Ask right away for grace to be merciless with your own self pity and manipulation.  

Hit that hideous strength with something stronger still.  The powerful, beautiful, truth of the scriptures.

Determine to act in opposition.  In my case that means finding a way to bless the people involved in the offense.

Every time that half dead animal rises up again, hit it again.  Refuse to climb into bed and get cozy with it.  It might feel good for a minute, but take warning here, it will poison you in your sleep.

“We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence. ”

 ~C.S. Lewis

And here's the one so worthy of the season: employ gratitude.  Find something in that source of resentment to be thankful for.  In my case, I'm so grateful to be unblinded from the insecurity in myself, and the jealousy that has to go.  I'm grateful to have my eyes opened to what could keep me from my calling: to encourage and love people in a cold world, and to live out before them the life and light found in Christ.

Finally, remember your own ready ability to be the offender.  This is the tool I find most effective in giving the final death blow to resentment and her twin sister, bitterness.  Think strongly on your own trespasses that have been forgiven, and think little on those of the one you must forgive.  These "self mortifications" are the healthy kind.  Not laboring over them, but facing them.  And remembering the words of the Master of Forgiveness...If you do not forgive others their sins...your Heavenly Father will not forgive yours...

Strong words.  Sobering words. True words.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stress Piles and Leaf Piles:Autumn's Grand Recitation

The dry autumn leaves tell a story.

They fall, dancing for a moment in the air before landing all over my front lawn, the glory moment of their death.  They have their 6 seconds of fame.

Beautiful, fragrant, merry, they fall from the tree in what looks like joy itself, tumbling down to make for lots of raking.

My porch is ankle deep in maple leaves, and a few from the tulip tree, which hasn't yet pushed out as many of the doomed blades as the maples' have.  I pick up the broom, and I'm all grumbly and tired. It's after 7pm, and I have to run out to the grocery store.  I'm irritated by the mess on the porch, complaining to some double within my self that I have 2 strong boys (who would have willingly done the job if asked).  I haven't even taken my pocketbook off my shoulder as I sweep malignantly, with rottenness of heart and tension like a noose around my neck.

Around me, the leaves keep happily falling, dying gladly, as if they know that this letting go will bring new life come April.  They keep landing on my porch, calling me to join the party.

I remove my heavy purse and move the big pumpkins with leaves stuck underneath.  The sweetness of the smell in the air, the brisk breeze and the quiet of standard-time darkness begin to lure me from my tightness.  I can practically hear God in the crunch and brush of the broom..."Let it go...and live."

In just a few minutes I'm slowing down, listening to the sound of leaves being moved and those landing gently on my home.  And gradually, the sweeping becomes joy, and my exhaling releases the need to be in control...to get it all done.  I am in the moment, dying to myself, living to that greater reality.  There is so much to this world of grace that we miss in our pocketbook-laden, tight-fisted, want-it-my-way snits.  When we release ourselves to the beauty of the moment, there is a wonder that comes.  Like the leaves swaying their way to the ground, we can let that thing within us die so something alive can form there.  In this way, death to small things becomes the life of something new.

Every day, thousands of leaves in the boundaries of my yard filled with mature trees, fall to the ground and die.  Their death is so beautiful and bountiful.  The cats hide behind the leaves.  And when they're piled up, my grown children can still be found leaping about in the hills they form. Every day of fall in New York is a living epistle.  A reminder of the life that comes from surrender.

I'm so very grateful for this seasonal memorial and its' metaphor.  This very evening I am reminded of my need to be reminded.  Confronted by a truth from my husband, who has died to himself countless times for all of our sakes, I am again given the choice.  I can clench and defend myself or let go and dance to the ground, with every hope of new life to be coming around all in good time.

What do you need to release friend?  It's different for everyone.  Some things are large, some small, but they all have to go. If the old leaves hold tight, there will be no fall perfume, no dancing "fairies" on the wind, no piles for play.  And worst of all, there will be no green when the perfect time comes.

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is around the corner.  Without a doubt, gratitude for this truth of the elegance of dying to self will find it's way to our thank-you basket.  No doubt those bedraggled, brave pilgrims of the Mayflower let go of so much, and out if it came a whole new world.

We pilgrims, we need to have faith for the same.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Big Picture: Casablanca And What Really Matters In Every Age

We drank Mexican hot chocolate and watched the movie everyone should see before they die, Casablanca.  It was the first time our friends had seen that particular classic.  (It feels like a privilege when you share a great work of art with someone who's experiencing it for the first time).

If you've never seen Casablanca, in the words of Dr. Seuss, "The time has come, the time is now..." Besides being a true gem of American culture, Casablanca sits on your ribs with a message for our time. It stirs up the best in us, a best we've almost forgotten in our ridiculously fast paced and self absorbed world.

The picture takes place in Vichy controlled unoccupied France in the Moroccan city that titles the film.  The long and short of it is that the very destiny of the world is hanging in the balance as the Nazi's march all over Europe, and the personal lives of the 3 main characters are intertwined with the cosmic realities of their times.

Humphrey Bogart plays Rick Blaine, an ex patriot American with a mysterious past who has migrated to Casablanca for a variety of reasons.  Ingrid Bergman is the enchantingly beautiful Ilsa, married to the great leader of the French resistance, Victor Lazlo, who has escaped a concentration camp and now poses a huge psychological threat to the Third Reich.

There are too many wonderful scenes in this movie to recount here, and this isn't a review of the film anyway, but suffice it to say the conflict revolves around the lives and loves of these three characters, all of whom must choose between their own strong and dear desires and the unmistakable importance of the big picture.

So here I am, more than 70 years after the making of Casablanca, crying into my Ibarra chocolate while the French nationals overpower the national anthem of the German soldiers as that rag tag collection of refugees sing La Marseillaise in Rick's Cafe Americain.  And I feel that thing rise up in me again as it so often does:

There's more to your life than your little desires for comfort and quiet and everything just to go along easy.  There's a cosmic picture, and we're part of it whether we want to be or not.  There's a battle out there for the hearts and minds and souls of men and women, and our little part in the war matters. But we must be willing to lay down our own agendas and take up something bigger than ourselves.

Humphrey Bogart put it this way:

"Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

Jesus put it this way:

"Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."

Tomorrow you will most likely start your day like any other Monday.  You'll get up and take care of your children and clean up the same toy 24 times.  You'll go to your job and manage a thousand frustrations and get your coffee and put one foot in front of another.   Maybe you'll fight a debilitating disease, work through a relational problem, make dinner, wash the dishes, listen to the news.  But while you do all these things, the big and the small, what a difference it will make if your motive is always the other guy.  If you lay down your own life in some small way.  Like performing a thankless kindness, or refraining from a hurtful word, or tackling something difficult with humility and perseverance.

What if we worked and washed and struggled tomorrow with the mindset that our struggles can be redemptive.  That we can use our small lives as an offering in the great cosmic picture...the fight against evil in ourselves first, and then in our world.  And to take the greatest weapon the world has ever known...love...and use it sacrificially and generously.

Seems the Great One can use anything he pleases to remind us of what really matters.

That the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,