Category Archives: pilgrimage

The Road Home ~ a Christmas Miracle


the road home

We have an annual tradition of opening up our Christmas gifts to one another at the same time … over the phone. She lives in northern Ohio. I live in eastern NC. We’ve been friends for over twenty years, and every time we talk or get together, it’s as if we’ve never been apart. Yesterday was no different.

Her package arrived at my doorstep with the afternoon post. My gift to her arrived in Ohio earlier in the week. I called her after supper, and the unwrapping began. I went first and was immediately struck by the sentimentality of her gift to me.

(How did she get the artist to paint that picture … the one I took three years ago when I was up for a visit and we went out for a ride through Amish country? Amazing work. She must have paid someone to paint this.)

I voiced my joy and my obvious gratitude for such a sentimental treasure. My friend was perplexed.

“Elaine, I know you like Amish things, and I remember us taking that drive out in Amish country, but there are hundreds of paths and roads with that exact scene. I don’t even remember the picture you took; I just happened upon this man’s shop in Navarre, liked his work, and selected a print I thought you would like. There were dozens and dozens of scenes to choose from, but I kept coming back to this one. It just spoke to me, and I knew it was the one to get for you.”

Coincidence? Never. To prove my point, I scoured through the pictures on my computer and found the one that closely resembled the scene in the painting. I sent it to my friend. She began coming around to my point of view. We discussed the similarities, but it wasn’t until I pointed out the curve of the tree in the front left corner of the picture that I knew we had a match.

the road home my copy

What are the odds? Of all the gifts she could have given me this Christmas, she gave me this one. She never made the connection between her gift and the picture I’d taken three years ago. She didn’t need to. God did it for her. God did it for me. Maybe … even God did it for the artist.

After we finished our conversation, I did some research on the painter, Billy Jacobs. He’s a local resident in Navarre, OH, and lives within a couple miles of my friend’s home. His work is stunning. I’m not much into paintings, but his work could easily become my new favorite addiction. While visiting his website, I connected with his facebook page and left him a message about my God-incident. I even posted the original picture I had taken three years ago to his wall. Within an hour, he had responded to my post, confirming what I already suspected and asking me if I remembered the location where that photo was taken. The scene was the inspiration for his artwork, but he’s never been able to find that exact location again in all of his travels throughout Amish country. My friend and I racked our brains, trying to retrace the steps we took back in 2011, and I was able to give Billy a general vicinity of where I think he’ll be able to rediscover … wait for it …

The Road Home.

Yep. That’s the title of his painting. Coincidence? Never.

And so to this Advent season and to my thoughts and my heart that are full tonight of memory, of yearning, of hope, and of expectation for …

the road home.

Isn’t that the Christmas road? Isn’t that the sum-total of the Bethlehem search … the pilgrimage to the manger? A step or two back in time in order to take a step or two forward in faith. To find that which is longed for and that, with the finding, comes fresh inspiration, fresh resolve to keep moving forward in expectation of home.

It’s but a few steps from here. Not as far off as we think. For Billy, his search might lead him down the Jericho Road toward Kidron, OH (the latest, best pinpoint for the location – I’m not kidding …). For me, well, my search will take me a bit further. To the Kidron Valley (the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem and that separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives) and beyond. This is where Jesus finished his earthly life; this is the place where he exited earthen sod to be at home with his Father forever.

Jesus Christ. The Road Home. My beginning. My now. My next. He is where I’m headed this Christmas. How grateful I am for the Christmas miracle that found its way to my front porch to lead me to the manger so that I might, once again, behold the Savior in all his glory.

Blessings, friends, as you travel the road to Bethlehem this year. May the miracle of Christmas renew your faith, strengthen your resolve, and quicken your search for the road home. And as always, may God grant you his abiding peace for the journey.

Merry Christmas,

PS: If you have some time, visit Billy’s website and tell me your favorite. As for me, I have my eyes set on A Light in the Stable! (Hint, hint – my Billy Olsen – wouldn’t it look great over our mantle next Christmas?) Also, another interesting detail – my friend’s name is Juanita. Billy Jacob’s mother’s name? Yep. Juanita. Isn’t God cool?

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scattered pilgrims

nick and colton basketball hoop

They went back home this weekend, or so they say. Really, they went back to the place of my rooting—those first twenty-one years’ worth of soul-shaping that had me running up and down the roads of that little Bluegrass town. The three of us lived there again for a season following the divorce, right across the street from the place I’d called home for over two decades. The old basketball hoop down the road still hangs as a memorial to a season once lived; it shows signs of aging. I suppose we do as well. After twenty years of being away, age is bound to show up, revealing the weathering of these many years.

I, too, made my way home this weekend. Not to the Bluegrass, although a large part of me was there with my sons as they reminisced about their yesterdays. Instead, I made my way to parents’ home. They’re within a hundred mile reach, so home was doable. Mom and Dad left the front porch light on for me; that’s what makes it home. Not the address. I’ve never lived beneath this roof for more than a night or two. It’s the light and the warmth and the glow of the two lives who, more than a place, have shaped my soul for the grace-journey. Wherever they land, that will always be home to me.

front porch lightMany say that I’m blessed to be able to make the journey. They remind me to take advantage of this time. I know. No one has to prompt me to go home. The desire burns within me … every single day of my life.

My other three – Billy, Jadon, and Amelia? Well, they went to a conference, youth rally this weekend. They call the event Pilgrimage.

Fitting. It all fits, don’t you see? This is the journey before us.

A pilgrimage of faith. A search and discovery mission. A deep, eternal yearning for home. For our roots. For the streets that look familiar and for the front porch light and a front porch Dad that greets us as family and who says, “Welcome home!”

It won’t be long, friends. Just a moment or two from now. A season just beyond this one when our searching will gave way to welcome. A time when we’ll no longer have to gas up our tanks, clock the miles, and go in search of memories.

Until then, I imagine we’ll keep up the exploration. I don’t think we can help ourselves. The yearning is bred deeply within us. Ours is an inheritance of eternal significance that fuels our hearts forward for the warmth and welcome of a Father’s love.

This is the journey before us. This is the pathway home. Walk on, pilgrims of faith, even when your steps are scattered and seemingly out of balance. The search is the thread that keeps us tethered to forever.

A weathered basketball hoop. A front porch light. A crowd of thousands crying out to their Maker.

This is home within reach. This is heaven on earth.

Peace for the Journey,

 Books for Christmas and beyond – includes an autographed copy of Peace for the Journey and Beyond the Scars ($20 – includes shipping / USA orders only).

book combo




 

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stretched, wrecked, and waiting …

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It’s the heart stuff that concerns me most … both theirs and mine.

Growing pains.

A soul stretch.

A sacred wrecking … reckoning.

We’re in this together, and (at this point in the journey) we’re standing at a crossroads. Either we’re going deeper into this holy cleansing or we’re going to settle for a duct tape finish—a patching and pasting to hold us together for a good enough ending that will send us on our separate ways at the end of May … unaffected and unchanged … hearts hardened by the process instead of hearts beautifully shaped because of it.

I know what I want, but I cannot make that choice for them. They will have to decide if our temporary union is worth it … worth the pain, the stretching, the wrecking, and the reckoning.

And there’s the rub.

Nine weeks in, and we’re standing at a crossroads. I can feel it in my spirit, and I suppose that’s why I’ve spent the last hour gathering my tears into my lap. I think a couple of my students have already made up their minds about “us” – choosing less instead of best.

So I beat my heart up a little tonight, wondering how I can change their minds … how I can persuade them to stay with me on the path a while longer until the stretching and the wrecking reckons into beauty—a touchable, tangible splendor that affirms and validates the hard work of relationship.

Isn’t that what we all need? Want? Affirmation that our hearts are growing rather than shrinking? Don’t we want to get past duct tape and good enough so that we might take hold of healing and holiness?

To be fair, when I was their age, I didn’t know I wanted to be holy. I suppose I spent the first three decades of my life settling for duct tape finishes. But then God offered me something better, something lasting—a relationship that went beyond holding me together to a relationship that grew me up on the inside … that made me a better me … that changed my way of thinking and my way of doing. And this was and is the beautiful splendor that speaks strength to my soul each day. It keeps me coming to the table of grace and offering my fifteen students a choice for a similar portion.

If only they could understand what’s at stake—what’s to be loss and all that’s to be gained from their being genuinely loved by this grace-veteran who boasts enough battle scars to give me some street-cred. If only they would take my word on it … that we’re worth it and that, by the end of May, we’re going to be better versions of ourselves because of the time we’ve given to one another.

But they might not see things my way. They may choose a lesser path.

And so, on this night when I have more questions than answers, less control rather than more, I will allow my tears to soften the hardness that’s creeping in to my heart, and I will pray for my fifteen and their deliberations as they stand with me at this crossroads. Come tomorrow morning, I’ll lean in a little closer to the wrecking that’s taking place near our hearts, and I’ll offer them the choice to join me on the holiness road.

God will be with us, and he will be faithful to complete in us that which we cannot yet see in us.

A glorious reckoning. A splendor of his making.

This I believe in.

This I will fight for.

All the way through ‘til May.

PS: Sarah is the winner of Laura’s book, Playdates with God. Congrats! It will be coming to you via Amazon.

Photo credit: petarpaunchev / 123RF Stock Photo

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Peace continued . . .

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Sometimes we cannot see the way that God is taking us. Really, most days it’s that way, is it not? Just steppin’ on in faith because it’s the best we can do. As a people deeply connected to the heart of God, we try to honor that connection through our obedience and our allegiance to those not-yet-taken steps by actually taking them . . . one at a time.

We scratch our heads, as well as our hearts, and wonder what God is up to – believing that he is, in fact, up to something. Isn’t that most of the battle—settling our confidence regarding the God who can be known and trusted? That he thinks holy thoughts about us and offers holy ground for the clay feet that carry our frames forward?

This is faith on the edge. Alive, active, keeping pace with the day and keeping prayerful during the night.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so settled in my life of faith. Even four years ago when those death words were spoken over me and my faith sprouted all kinds of fresh wings, even then my faith was less. God grew me in that season, shaped my heart in a way that might not have been shaped otherwise. I accept this shaping. Most days, I glory in this shaping because I can measure the progression of my heart. Without those suffering days, I’m certain that my God-confidence would be lesser in this place where I am standing today.

I would still be waiting for faith to take hold at a deeper level. I’d still be wading in the shallows instead of splashing around in the deep. Life is better here in the deep. To be certain, it’s more mysterious, perhaps even a little more dangerous. But it’s a better pool of trust when the only shoreline within reach is the hemline of a water-walking Jesus.

I’m not saying that my faith is as strong as Peter’s was on that night when he took those sweet steps of trust across the sea. I am, however, simply willing to position my heart in a similar place of possibility. I’ve been keeping my eyes and my mind fixed on Jesus, and the communion has been sweet and certain.

kept bracelet

Kept in peace. This has been a year for such a sacred keeping. I couldn’t have imagined on the front side of 2014 all of the many challenges that would confront my peace-keeping mission. With three months remaining, I imagine that a few more disruptions will work their way onto my calendar.

But I will cling to Peace.
And I will dip my hand over the side of the boat and wait for the waters to stir.
And when I feel the holy vibrations from the approach of the water-Walker, I will be brave.
And I will step out.
And I will step forward.
And just maybe (if only for a moment) I will walk on the waters with the King and know what it is to be fully alive and fully at peace.

The waters are stirring, friends. The Master approaches. Keep watch and keep ready. These next steps just might be your best ones. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

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Faith-stepping

carriage wheel

My heart’s been moved again by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian as found in Acts 8:26-40. This encounter unfolds like a series of rapid succession snapshots, sort of like living a narrative through the lens of a view-finder. Remember those? Philip’s story is a faith-stepping one; it has a lot to teach us about the seasonal work of faith in our lives. Imagine with me for a few moments. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the script.

Philip steps forward. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he started out, …”. (vs. 26-27)

A life of faith is initiated and directed by the hand of God. A saint steps forward (even to a desert road) when God shouts “Go!”.

Philip steps near. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.” (vs. 29-30)

A life of faith is often lived out alongside the questioning soul. A saint steps near the questions and isn’t intimidated by the pace of the chariot.

Philip steps up. “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (vs. 31)

A life of faith rises to the occasion. A saint steps up into the chariot to tell the truth . . . to give a reason for the hope residing within.

Philip steps down. “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” (vs. 26-38)

A life of faith understands that life truly begins in the baptismal waters of grace. A saint steps down into the river to pour life into others, even it means getting wet in the process. With God, a little wetness is all the more and then some. How long has it been since you’ve stepped down into those waters of grace?

Philip steps out. “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on rejoicing.” (vs. 39)

A life of faith is characterized by seasons. A saint steps out of the scene when God shouts, “Go!”. Some faith-assignments are lengthier than others, but most always they are limited to a time-period. Wise are those who know when to linger and when to step out of the scene.

Philip steps on. “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” (vs. 40)

A life of faith keeps moving forward beyond the “stretches and strengthenings” of the soul. A saint steps on to walk the path and do the work of kingdom building. Faith doesn’t end where the last baptism took place. Faith journeys forward to new waters and new chariots in order to dispense the familiar grace from an old, rugged cross.

Thus, faith . . .

  • Steps forward.
  • Steps near.
  • Steps up.
  • Steps down.
  • Steps out.
  • Steps on.

Where are you stepping today, friends?

Step always in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. This road is coming to an end and one day soon, our faith will be our eyes. Until then, keep stepping. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

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