Category Archives: pilgrimage

Nine Miles with My Grandpa…

Grandpa and I at Uncle George’s -1975?

We drove my Grandpa Al home yesterday.

Well… sort of.

He wasn’t really my grandpa. My Grandpa Al died in 1994 at the age of eighty-three. The man we drove home, Howard, is seventy-four but could have passed as Al’s brother. Short in stature, round in the belly, missing hair and missing teeth – all the makings of the grandpa I remember so fondly in my heart.

It had been a busy, exhausting day for us. Sunday services (and all the drama therein), followed by a mid-afternoon funeral, punctuated by picking up pizzas for the youth group with no Sunday afternoon nap squeezed in between, can quickly consume one’s energy. Accordingly, as the sun slowly began its descent, my husband and I decided that a quick trip to McDonald’s was in order, not necessarily to fill our empty stomachs but, instead, to fill our depleted, emotional tanks.

As we were exiting our cars, Howard was exiting his hard day’s labor as an employee of McDonalds. His gait indicated his tiredness, as well as his arthritis. We made small talk and blessed him to an evening of relaxation. After all, he’d earned it. Eight hours of cleaning bathrooms and refilling the condiment bar would leave even a robust youth longing for a pair of pjs and a night’s lounging on a comfy sofa.

Once inside the McDonalds, I realized that my patience wasn’t equal to the long line waiting to be served. Hence, we moved our patronage next door to the Bojangles. Same story. A longer-than-I-was-willing-to-wait-for-line greeted us, and we made our exit to the car. Suddenly, I was no longer feeling hungry; instead, I was feeling lost … unable to focus and ready to head back home, unfed and unfilled. We hadn’t traveled far before we noticed him – the tired McDonald’s employee walking under an overpass. He, too, was headed for home. Ten minutes earlier, we had talked to him in the crowded McDonald’s parking lot next to our car. It never occurred to us that he didn’t have one of his own.

Something broke inside of me. A sadness that lent itself toward compassion.

“We need to give him a ride home, Billy. There isn’t any housing close by, and it’s getting dark. If my grandpa had put in a hard day’s labor at McDonald’s and had to walk home, I hope someone would stop and give him a ride.”

Tears slipped quietly down my face as my husband made a u-turn. We slowed our vehicle as we reached the underpass, and I rolled down my window.

“Sir, we just met you at the McDonalds a few minutes ago. Can we give you a ride home? You look like you’ve had a long day, and we’d like to help you out.”

Without hesitation and with much effort, he made his way into the back seat of our van. He dropped his brown canvas bag onto the seat next to him and began to tell us his story. He told us he sure appreciated the kindness and that we didn’t need to take him all the way home, just up to the Nic’s Pic (a local gas station). From there, he’d thumb his way home.

“Where exactly do you live, Howard?”

“In McColl.”

McColl, South Carolina, that is. Nine miles away from where we picked him up in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

“That’s an awful long way to walk to work. Is your car broken down?”

“No ma’am. I’ve been hitching rides to work for (… wait for it) thirty plus years now. If you’ll just drop me off at the Nic’s Pic, I’ll get a ride home from there.

“Howard, we’re going to take you all the way home. Tonight, we’ll get you home a little earlier than usual so that you’ll have a little more time to relax.”

And so, for the next nine miles, we got to know our new friend. We told him a little of our story, but mostly, he told us nine miles’ worth of his. Three marriages, a daughter he hadn’t seen in decades and with no understanding of where she might be, crippled up with arthritis and punching the clock at McDonalds for at least thirty years, well, even though his biography read more like a tragedy, he didn’t seem overcome or undone by it. Instead, he seemed content, like he’d made some sort of peace with what I perceived to be his less-than life.

As we approached McColl, he gave us the short-cut instructions to get to his house. Driving the back streets of his neighborhood, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. The dilapidated homes, the junk piled up therein, and the occasional wandering inhabitants, quickly had me checking the door locks. My sobering assessment of Howard’s seemingly declining neighborhood didn’t match his own.

“There are some nice houses back in here … nice mill homes. My third wife left me one, even though it is falling down around me. Now she was a good one. I wish I’d had her longer.”

My precious grandparents, Al and MayBelle

And part of me wished the same. He shouldn’t be alone, not now. Not ever. And for nine miles last night, he wasn’t. I wasn’t. Instead, we were together, sharing a ride and sharing our lives – a tiny intersection on the long road toward home. Grandpa Al has been gone from my life for twenty-three years now, but last night, a part of him was with me, reminding me that this life is meant to be shared. That in some sense, we’re all really close to being family. All it takes to arrive at that realization is opening up our eyes to see those around us and opening up our hearts (and car doors) for conversations therein.

As Howard exited our car, he left me with a final word of benediction:

“There sure is a lot of evil in the world these days, but there’s still a lot of kindness. Thanks for the ride.”

And with that, our nine miles together came to a conclusion. What began as a quest to fill my hungering stomach was met, instead, with a meal to fill my hungering soul.

Grandpa Al, his son (Charles), and great-grandsons, Nick and Colton – 1993

 

There sure is a lot of evil in this world, but there still is a lot kindness. So, give kindness to others in this season, friends. Share nine miles or more with the person you meet at McDonalds, being willing to cross the state line should the occasion dictate. In doing so, you just might recognize a brother, a sister, maybe even a grandpa from your past.

In some greater sense than I fully understand, we’re all really close to being family. As always…

Peace for the journey,

on cleaning out your culvert…

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” –Proverbs 4:23

It’s been four months since Hurricane Matthew swept through our little neck of the woods. Beyond losing our power for a few days, there has been no lasting, negative impact to my family. There has been, however, a niggling reminder of its existence each time I take a walk around my neighborhood.

There are several man-made ponds in our community, connected by culverts that keep the water freely flowing amongst them. Since the hurricane, one of the culverts has been muddied up and blocked by debris. The city maintenance crew shows up now and again to poke a stick at it, but the flow of water has mostly stopped between the ponds. Accordingly, the water has grown stagnant and murky.

Something tells me it’s going to take more than a poke to get the water flowing again. It’s going to take some getting down and some getting dirty, some hands on, digging in the mud to clean out and clear up the mess that Hurricane Matthew left behind.

As it goes with the culvert in my neighborhood, so it goes with my heart.

Every now and again, a hurricane blows in and around my spirit, muddying it up with debris. The water flowing in and out of my heart gets plugged up by the ravages of the storm. An occasional poke and prod of faith does precious little to release the debris clogging up my veins. A poke and prod may temporarily bring some relief, but eventually, I have to be willing to do more in order to remove the obstruction. I have to dig a little deeper, get my hands a little muddier, so that I might, once again, feel and know the free flow of water in and around my spirit.

What does that look like practically speaking?

Well, for me it begins with the wisdom of King Solomon. I must take better care of my heart, both in feeding it and guarding it. I’ve not been very good at my feeding and guarding in recent days. Instead, I’ve been stoking the fires of my faith with an occasional poke and prod of Jesus. Accordingly, my heart feels stagnant … muddy … full of the world and its rubble rather than full of something better, something cleaner, something freer. Someone finer.

The good news? I know how to unclog the drain to my heart.

I must eliminate the debris, even if it means my getting deep into the water to do so.

With God’s help to guide me…

• I will guard my heart most fiercely in the days to come.
• I will diligently feed my soul with truth (God’s Word), not lies.
• I will live in a posture of quietness before the Lord so that I might most clearly hear from his heart.
• I will yield to sacred road blocks, and I will merge when the lane is offered.
• I will “circle the wagons” as it pertains to those who are allowed to speak into my life.
• I will reserve the greater portion of my emotional and physical energy for my family, my friends, and my students.
• I will keep my eyes fixed on the finish line instead of the cheering (and sometimes jeering) of the mob on the sidelines.
• I will start and end my day with Jesus and offer up ten thousand prayers in between.
• And I will remember that all of my “wills” are weakened if not tethered tightly to the pull and prod of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps today, like me, your heart’s been clogged up with the debris of a recent hurricane. I don’t know if anyone’s come around to take a look at your mess yet, but if you’re reading this, maybe you could consider this a prod toward cleaning up your culvert? You might get a little dirty in the process, but once you’re free from the junk, the flow of water between your heart and God’s will begin again.

Be well, friends. Live well. Guard your heart above all else. Truly, God means for it to be the wellspring of life eternal. As always…

Peace for the journey,

Take Good Care

What one good thing do you want to do with the rest of your life?

It’s a question I’ve been chewing on for the better part of this year. Knowing that my earthly existence is measured by human standards and knowing that at any moment that particular calendar might draw to a close, it’s a good question to ask. In not asking it, life can float aimlessly along, chipping away at time with precious little to hold in exchange. Not that I need a lot to hold, but I need something … at least one thing.

One good thing … to do, to give myself to.

And so this afternoon while out for a long walk in the feels-more-like-April-than-December temperatures, while watching the bluebird stepping his dance amongst barren branches, I had a thought … a rather simple one but one that just might help me walk out my remaining calendar days.

Take good care of the moment, Elaine.

What moment?

This one. Not the next one, not tomorrow’s, but this one … right in front of me.

Not randomly, but with goodness.

You see, I can handle my moments. We all can. Give us a moment, and we’ll fill it with something, take care of it somehow, someway, with some sort of somewhat. Whether well thought out or haphazardly, we take care of our moments. But in doing so, we must consider the quality therein.

Is our care of the moment any good? Does it serve any good purpose?

Jesus lived good moments. He should be our guide along these lines. While he always had the end game in mind – his calendared days – he is known for the moments lived in between the stable and the grave. Wherever he walked, as he grew and as he taught, he took good care of the earthly moments he’d been given. Whether in conversation with his people or in conversation with his Father, Christ’s moments were never accidentally lived nor haphazardly shared. They were simply and profoundly lived and fueled by the winds of goodness.

Like my friend the bluebird this afternoon, Jesus danced within and amongst the barren branches of humanity. His color was brilliant positioned against the backdrop of winter. He was set apart, not camouflaged by the clamor of his surroundings. Instead, Jesus lived branch to branch, moment to moment, watchful of his surroundings, and willing to share the road with others.

As I step into this next moment (and, yes, into a new year), I don’t want to simply take care of my moments anymore. Doing so relies too heavily on fleshly impulses. Instead I want to take good care of each one – being firmly rooted in God’s goodness, mindful of his momentum, and quick to follow his lead.

The rest of my earthly life is too much, too big for my hands (and heart) to hold these days. I pray I live it well. But this moment, this single slip of time that is right in front of me? Mine … yours? Well, certainly we can take good care of it. With God’s help, good moments are the rule rather than the exception.

Live your moments like you mean them, friends. Take good care of them, and take good care of your hearts. Dance amongst the barren branches of winter as often as you dare, allowing your Father to take the lead. Live and move and have your being in Christ.

This is the very best we can do. This is the good way to finish your life. 

Peace for the journey,

Devoted

 

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” –Luke 10:38

I listened to my daughter read this familiar story to me a few days ago. She was draped across my bed, dressed and ready for the day, hoping that I would soon follow suit. We had a full agenda set in place long before the August sun brilliantly heralded its morning chorus. But instead of diving head-long into our “to-do” list, I decided to drape myself alongside my daughter on the bed and, together, we had morning devotions. There’s a sweetness wrapped up in that – draping and devotions and a daughter – a tender, gentle, eternal reminder of home, of what awaits me just on the other side of this veil.

Her words caught me off-guard, as is so often the case when I hear God’s Word read aloud. She read five verses; my heart and my mind, however, remained solidly fixed on the first one – the one printed above.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way ….”.

It’s a familiar posture for our Lord, both in practice and in spirit. His feet and his heart were always moving forward. Places to go; people to see. A path to follow; a hill to climb. Never once did Jesus lose sight of his final destination. But along the way and as he went, there were some glorious pauses of holy revelation, occasions where he left his divine calling card in the soil of humans souls so that they (and we) might know how to live our lives forward with purpose and with his final destination in mind.

I like this. This particular weaving of my doing with my being makes sense to me. It anchors my heart in this season when I have a destination in mind but with a lot of open road in between my now and my then. That open road? Well, there are multiple routes that will lead me to where I’m going. That used to bother me; not so much anymore. Why? Because Jesus is my now. Jesus is my next. Jesus is my then. I don’t need to get all fussed up about the details. I simply need to lean into and alongside the One who’s walking the road with me. Jesus will not abandon me, and the weight of my details always lands easily on his broad shoulders. Along the way and as we go, he will direct the rest stops – those unforeseen pauses requiring our presence where we’ll have the rich privilege of leaving a divine calling card in the soil of human souls.

This has been a season of unforeseen pauses for me. I haven’t liked most of them, but I haven’t lost Jesus in any of them. And this is how I know that I am heading in the right direction. With Jesus, I don’t need a compass. Jesus gloriously and holy is the compass. Accordingly, I worry less these days about the road to the finish line – the miles in between where I am now and where I’m headed. Instead, I give more attention to the One who will carry me there.

I am a daughter deeply devoted to her Father, willing to drape my days with his presence and with the truth of his Word as my covering. There is, indeed, a sweetness wrapped up in that – an eternal anchor that (every now and again) pulls me beyond the veil to catch a glimpse of my forever. I pray it is the same for you, that the details of your current detour aren’t weighing you down too heavily but that, instead, you are sharing the road with Jesus. His yoke is easy; his burden is light, and he will not abandon you. Jesus will carry you.

This is enough grace for the road we’re traveling, friends. This is enough Peace for the journey to lead us safely home. Keep moving forward. The best is yet to be.

How might I pray for you today?

narrow steps in a broad world …

 

A few days ago, my eldest son called to talk. These are always rich occasions – conversing with my sons as adults. His heart was heavy (as was mine) regarding the chaos in our world. One doesn’t have to look too far to identify it; disorder and turmoil blanket the earth like a thick fog. Without a break in the clouds or a strong light to guide us through the dimness, navigating our way along the planet-path is mostly a clumsy attempt at survival.

I don’t want to walk through this life clumsily, putting too much trust in steps that are guided by fate and by man. Instead, I want to walk through this fog with steps fortified in faith—a sure and certain hope of what I cannot see, but what I know is there …

Truth.

And so I offered my son (as well as myself) a bit of advice to help us both step our way through this season of confusion:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

There is only one source of truth; truth isn’t relative, based on popular opinion. Truth authors from Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see John 14:6). Get to know him and the darkness surrounding us becomes as light to him (see Psalm 139:12). When we cannot see for the thick fog surrounding us, we can know that he sees for us. Accordingly, we must rest in Christ’s presence. We must walk with Christ’s guidance. And we must, must, must fan into flame Christ’s candle so that our families, our friends, the Body and Christ and beyond, may safely and securely find their way along the narrow path that leads to home.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:13-14

We know the way home, Christians. We know the way that leads to life eternal. We shouldn’t be surprised by the narrowing of our pathway in these days; instead, we should be enlivened by the witness of this tapering. This tightening of our steps is simply and profoundly the sharpening of our souls. Few will accept this divine, thinning process; many will, instead, accept the world’s version therein, herded along the wide-path, trampled beneath the weight of sin, and buried in darkness eternally.

Yes, this is the world we’re living in, but thanks be to God, this is not the world we’re ending in. In choosing the narrow path, we make a choice for the wide expanse of our Father’s forever. The road home may be dim, may even be cramping some of us out of our comfort zones, but make no mistake – the path we’re walking today is leading us home to our eternal resting grounds. All roads have an ending point. All earthly journeys will cease. Whether you’re stepping wide or stepping narrow in this season, your next steps matter. Accordingly, I offer you the same advice that I offered my son recently:

Surround yourself with Truth. Surround yourself with Truth-tellers. Shut out the noise—the voices of dissidence that are hacking away at Truth’s foundation. Stay in the Word; study the Word; search the Word for answers. Saturate your soul with Truth. Then, walk on with Truth as your compass and as your strength.

Truth will guide us home. Truth will welcome us as we arrive. Until then and as we go …

Peace for the journey, friends!

 

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