Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Early Goodbye From The Pilgrim Road

Dear friends,

I need your understanding more than at any time since November 8, 2009. This will be my last public entry on this blog. I made a commitment to write every day until November 8, 2010, and I will keep that commitment, but privately. It is with a profound sadness but a deep resolve that I conclude this communication, which has been a joy, a lifeline, and one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. But there is something far more important to me than even my own life. That is the feelings and needs of Hannah Mary Rejoice Smith, and it is for her that I leave this cherished endeavor behind, without regret, and not as a martyr, but as a mother.

Please don't ask her why. Please leave her to her own walk through a very difficult and steep path on the pilgrim road. More difficult and steep than I even knew. She is an extremely private person, unlike her momma, who deals with suffering in a far different way than her precious daughter. There are aspects to all of this I don't even understand. But I know you will treat her with kindness and understanding, as you have right along. Perhaps there will come a day when the last month of this blog will be published. If the Great One wants it that way, it will happen. He has a way of resurrecting things that have been put to death. I don't know how it will play out, I only know what I must do right now.

Eleven months ago, our lives were hit by a tornado no one saw coming. It changed everything, for ill and, ultimately, for good. To the first responders who came to the rescue, I say thank you once again. It is not adequate. But I have no other words to use to express the depth of gratitude that only the Lord really understands. In particular, I want to share my deep affection for Officer Ernie, who has been my friend through it all, from the moment he walked in the door of Albany Medical Center, to his presence at the sentencing of Oscar Lewis, to this very day. I will always hold you dear, Ernie, and pray the Great One will fill your heart with a knowledge of His love for you every day.

To the doctors, nurses and therapists and staff people who took care of Stephen and Hannah when their bodies were broken and bleeding, there are no words. Only gratitude equal to the stars in the sky for saving their lives and helping them recover. In particular, Dr. Bagchi, who put the pieces back together of a man who now can go to work and raise his children, deserves high honor. But so does Miss Rosie, the precious lady who sat with Hannah for countless hours, praying for her as she emerged from her injuries. And so do all of the amazing human beings at Albany Med and Sunnyview Hospital. Trish Regan, you stand alone. You are, and ever will be, my favorite nurse on earth. In all your troubles remember Jesus will never, ever leave you. When He created you for Himself, He broke the mold. And His heart will always look for yours.

To our families, I say I love you in a deeper and wider way than I ever knew possible. All our differences don't amount to a hill of beans after the year we've shared together. To my brother Donnie, you know well that I would step in front of a truck for you. As you would for me. And you've proven it in countless ways this year. To Richard, I will never forget you peeling me off the floor of the SICU at one of my worst moments. You are a man of action, dear brother in law, and God sees your great big heart of love. Remember He loves you even when you are sitting still. Tom, well, as a loyal bloggie you have made my heart so glad. Thank you for your kindness and love to us through this mess. I am so glad for the relationship we have recovered. To John, I can only imagine the heartache of a twin brother on the edge of death. How blessed he is to go on in this life with you! And to the rest of the family, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles: your love and prayers were rich and sweet. May every blessing you have given us be returned back to you a thousand times over.

To the many friends and strangers from far and wide who have loved us in a myriad of ways, I love you back with all my heart and soul. When I write the book of this saga, you will be firmly implanted in my memory. Indeed, far beyond when those words hit the paper.

And to my brothers and sisters in Christ from Delmar Full Gospel Church, well, all I can do is weep now, weep with joy and gratitude for all you have meant to our family. You have shown me up close and personal what it really means to be the body of Christ. You have been the very hands and feet of God in the thick of the worst muck that I've ever known. I'm glad we share the pilgrim road. To Pastor Dave the humble and Sweet Laurie - I love you greatly. I honor your lives of service and your true hearts of tenderness to the people in your care. May He who lives forever give you every great blessing this life has to offer. I already know He has life eternal and full of joy for you at the end of this winding, unpredictable highway.

If I did not mention your name here, it's only because this would be an endless ending post. You already know I go on and on, word upon word, probably way beyond what I ought. But I have loved writing these words. They have been the Great One's daily medicine for me. Still, if I need to let them go for now, I know that who I am is not defined by what I do, but by The One who created me for His own purposes. I am studying humility, and as often happens, we are put to the very thing we say we believe. I have tried my hardest to tell you the truth here, every day. I am certain at times my motives have been mixed. This is part of the human condition. But always, it has been my great aim to honor my Savior, and to show Him to you for the Great and Awesome God He is. Forgive me if I have missed the mark in some ways. But know this: my life is His. And I want yours to be to. Because He truly is the way, the truth and the life.

I so hope to see all of you, each one, at our Dessert Nite on October 23. Please come, to hear one more time how dear you are to me. I am humbled and beyond blessed to have shared my life with you lo these past 11 plus months. You are proof that there is no mountain too high, nor any valley too deep to keep friends apart. If God is for us, dear ones, who indeed can stand against us.

Forever and ever, your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, October 8, 2010

11 months since crash - 1 month to go

Dear friends,

Crazy, how life can change in a year. Last October at this time, I had no clue whatsoever how different my world would be in one short month. I was going about my business, struggling with my problems, enjoying the sweet things on the pilgrim road, and unaware that life and near death, love and sorrow, injury and recovery were around the bend on Rte. 151. So here we are, only one lunar rotation from the anniversary of the day that will forever live within us, but will never overcome us. God did not "do this to us". But He most certainly did let it happen. I'm quite sure He suffered when the world He created for beauty, truth and relationship once again let out an ancient groan as a result of sin and brokenness. When Oscar Lewis careened into our Cutlass Ciera, the Great One wasn't wringing His hands, wondering how this could happen, anxious about the outcome. Like any wise Father, he determined to ease the pain, bring His resources to relieve the suffering, and to provide comfort for the sorrow. He saw a way to turn darkness to light, not only for us, but for Oscar Lewis as well. For him, there is a chance, through the disaster of a prison term, to come to grips with himself and his Creator. More than his Creator - the One who has loved him from his mother's womb.

Here I am, 11 months out, and I still can't tell you why this happened. I doubt I ever will on this side of heaven. This accident, and the millions upon millions of nightmares that plague this fallen world are a mystery to me. I'm not tormented trying to sort it out, because in a way, it doesn't matter. I'm not trying to be flippant. It does matter when people are hurt, or killed, or suffering. What I'm saying is, the why's don't help. What helps is seeing the relentless, faithful hand of a God who will not give up on a planet that has practically given up on Him. What helps is the Spirit of Mercy, alive and well on this crazy, upside down ball in the Universe. What helps is being forgiven when we sin, being loved when we don't deserve it, and being held together by a kind, unseen but very real hand. Sometimes the best why question is this: Why in the world does the Great One stick like glue to this messy place? I can't answer that one either.

When I post my final blog entry here on November 8, 2010 it will be like closing a chapter of my life. Not that November 8, 2009 will ever leave the fibers of my being, but because there will be a sense of closure. We have travelled a section of a highway marked "big, nasty car accident", and that section of the road is far enough in the rear view mirror to feel more like a memory. I bless you all for helping me process the myriad of stuff in my heart lo these past 11 months. I'll never forget Dr. Rosati's words to me early on: "You'll probably start to feel normal in about a year". How right he was. The sustained troubles will still have to be dealt with. But my faith has grown a little bit more, where I believe we can contend with these things without drowning. In the end, our Savior alone is the only way home. He's there by the fire, ready to warm us up and cheer our souls.

Another fire fighter has signed up to come to our Dessert Nite on October 23. We owe the world to these folks. And to all of you too. I've heard a few of you say "well, we really didn't do much besides pray". I want you to know, prayer is where the action is. And it's not an easy labor. I don't care if you pulled one weed in my garden or said one prayer for my family, I want you there. Besides, there's a song I've written and I'm restless for you to hear it. I need people there who love me so they can overlook my inadequate singing voice. (Don't worry, it won't sound as bad as Bob Dylan).

One month to go. Thanks for hanging with me. At this point, you might as well stick around til the end.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 332 Hard Pressed But Not Crushed

Dear friends,

It was one of those days when you are blindsided by a problem, walloped and caught unawares, like being hit head on by a truck when you weren't expecting it. At least I responded instead of reacting. I went to my Adirondack room, cried out to the Great One for grace to find my way with this thing, and to have the wisdom to make the next right choice. Some troubles are so complex, and impact us in such a visceral way, that it's easy to react with panic or anger or withdrawal. And often times I have done that. But not today. Today I say "I am not ignorant of the enemy's devices", and I will not be controlled by something external, but by the Spirit of the Living God, who always promises to be enough for us in every need. I'm not saying I won't mess up the handling of this issue somewhere along the way, but I can only do one day at a time. And for today, I choose to trust and not fear.

Don't get the idea that I'm some spiritual giant here either. Just this morning I was flummoxed by how to dig my way through the scriptures, where to begin with the word of God. I got sidetracked, lost my focus, and never really got off the ground. But I refuse to make things worse with self condemnation and self loathing. Everywhere I turn - in the sermons of both pastors, in the books I'm reading, in things people are sharing with me, indeed in the very leaves on the trees - everything is about change. And the only way to truly change is to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds", and that is a process requiring great perseverance and grace. We've got to kick off the ankle weights (and at times the anvils) that we carry around. They're different for each one of us. Whatever they are, if they keep us weighed down on the pilgrim road, they've got to go. No one is saying it will be easy. Some things we've carried for so long, we hardly know what we look like without them. But the Great One is able to give us the power to put the blasted thing away for good.

I would really, really appreciate your prayers as I begin the uphill again on this matter before me. Smitty too. We have seen the great power of the combined requests of God's people when the road gets dark and steep. I can assure you I'm praying for you on your highway, even if I don't know all the details.

Don't forget to sign up for the Dessert Nite by October 14. I'm looking forward to seeing you all there! (See the sidebar for details).

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 331 A Flesh and Blood Treasure

Dear friends,

I have a friend on the pilgrim road who deserves a tribute this night. I don't know why it's today, because this fellow traveller has meant the world to Stephen and I lo these last 20 years or so. But, as I follow my heart and try to hear what God is saying to me each time I write here, it seems this is the time to tell you about a man who is really like Jesus, with skin on.

The man is in his sixties now, and he struggles with the normal aches and pains of aging, along with a disability he's had since birth. He walks a little funny, and lacks physical strength, but he is always about town, somewhere or other, doing someone some good. I am forever amazed by his tenacious endurance in the face of some daunting physical challenges. His love for others commandeers him onward and upward.

Is someone in trouble? He's the first one on the phone, seeing how he can help. He's got a pizza in hand or a prayer on his lips or just a kind, caring word. Is someone celebrating? He's there too, sharing the joy, cracking a really corny joke, or bringing an extra sleeve of paper cups. He and his dear wife have shared many a Thanksgiving with us, many a picnic, and many a difficult trial.

Often when our kids were small, he would put $20 in my hand and send me and my husband to Friendly's for something to eat. He even watched our children so we could get out for a bit. At every turn in the road, on many occasions, with a humility and sincerity of heart rarely seen in the 21st century, this faithful, kind and gentle man has been there for our family.

On November 8, 2009, he was devastated by the disastrous accident that nearly killed my loved ones. As expected, he was Johnny on the spot, ready to roll, ready to help, ready to pray, ready to jump in with both feet. I still remember looking straight down the hall coming into the SICU when my husband's life hung in the balance, and seeing him standing there weeping over Stephen's bed. He was present over and over again throughout that ordeal, as he had been in our ordinary life.

I think my favorite picture of the man I am lauding is on Christmas day quite a few years ago. There was a big snowstorm, and we were having a house full of friends for Christmas dinner. In walked this sweet soul, with snow all over his white beard and a grin from ear to ear. The snapshot of him there in my mind will stay with me forever as a picture of a man of grace and cheer, a man who has made my life, and the lives of countless others richer for knowing him.

So, to my adopted dad, my dear friend, and one whose tender heart and humble good nature is a picture of the Great One among us, I honor you. I bless you. I thank you.

The sojourner's highway wouldn't be the same without you, Barrie Baum. I am, and ever shall be,

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 330 The Power of Noblesse Oblige

Dear friends,

If you've never seen the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour TV movie version of "The Scarlet Pimpernel", you're missing a big treat. I highly recommend it for one of these upcoming late fall or winter evenings, particularly on a Friday when you're plumb tuckered out and want the feet up and the cup of hot chocolate.

If you don't know the basic premise of this legend, here goes: It's the time of the French Revolution (the first one), and the sentiment among the poor and middle class folks, (the bourgeois) is, well, it's "off with their heads" in regards the nobility, the rich, and in particular, the monarchy. A hero rises up from the ranks of the English elite who disguises himself in countless ways and with wit and cunning rescues some of the innocent French nobles from madame guillotine. In the meantime, he makes enemies with the evil Chauvlin, the cold, calculating up and comer in the new Republic. And of course, he falls in love with the beautiful Marguerite, but must keep from her his true identity. He plays the part of a fool, a fop, a nitwit, (hysterical!), and saves the day over and over again. I don't want to give the whole movie away, but suffice it to say you'll be satisfied with the swashbuckling, tongue-in-cheek, good natured adventure of it all.

One of the themes struck repeatedly in The Scarlet Pimpernel is that of noblesse oblige, or noble obligation to one's fellow man that is the duty of one who has been given much. I can't help but get happy when Sir Percy (Scarlet Pimpernel in street clothes), risks his own neck to get his men out of one scrape or another, and does it with cheerfulness and style. Not only that, he risks his own safety and comfort for the sake of people he doesn't even know. What a guy! I am such a sucker for an old fashioned, character driven story with a great setting, sticky conflict and an ample resolution.

You already know where I'm going with this. Isn't this fiction the way it ought to be in real life? In particular, shouldn't the children of God watch each other's backs instead of stepping on each other's toes...or worse? As for my family, well, we've seen the transforming power of noblesse oblige in action. And the mystifying thing is, we've even seen strangers stick their necks out on our behalf. This is the kind of stuff that turns darkness into light. Being a natural born chicken, I ask the Great One to give me the courage to do the hard little things that come my way in the day to day, hoping I won't face the big ones, but if I do that I'll act like He would. I can fantasize about sword fighting with the devil, but the real deal is can I say no to that chilling temptation that makes my blood run cold when I'm not standing in my shadow. Most of all, can I love my fellow pilgrims without judgement, accepting them where they are, forgiving them when they're miserable, and not being envious of them when they surpass me in talent, treasure or personality. And can I risk my comfort, my reputation, my sense of being "right" in order to get them out of some bog of trouble. I'm not at all there yet, but by God's grace it's where I want to be. And I've had some pretty fine examples in the shape of friends like you.

Love that noblesse oblige on the highway to the sky. Sink me, if it doesn't make the trip that much sweeter...

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 329 Ten Now and Then

Dear friends,

Top ten reasons I'll miss doing this blog:

10. The great opportunity it affords to squirrel away into my Adirondack bedroom after dinner with a cup of tea.

9. The personal growth I've experienced in the areas of grammar and spelling via automatic spell check and that affectionate anonymous wordsmith commenter who taught me things like "derring do" instead of my feeble "daring do".

8. Where else can you vent about Walmart?

7. Running into people I don't know who know way more about me than I remember telling.

6. My checking account isn't getting killed by visits to a shrink

5. The mysterious technical glitches that come with cyber communication, like typing an entire paragraph, only to have it disappear into the virtual universe. (OK, this is sarcasm. I won't miss that part at all)

4. The connection I feel with all of you who read here. You are my homies forever. I owe you, big time.

3. Opportunity after opportunity to keep myself from becoming arrogant by sharing the really stupid things I've said and done.

2. The discipline of forcing the truth out of my brain onto (virtual) paper. Writers should write. Often. Even on the uninspiring days.

1. Telling you three hundred and something times that I am your friend on the pilgrim road. I am, and I always will be. You'll live in my heart forever.

I read in The Book today where the Great One reminds his people that if they will walk wholeheartedly with Him, He will bless them when they "go out and when they come in". I pray that for all of you this day. In everything you do, may you walk the highway with Him, and find the blessing that is the byproduct of living life with God. No matter what storms come your way.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 328 Make Like Leaves and Change

Dear friends

I am exceedingly grateful for the many people in my life who challenge me to live with more passion for God and a more zeal to live beyond the mundane. My natural, hobbit-like tendencies to “sit by the fire and read a book”, need to be shaken up so I can actually do a little good in my tiny sphere of influence. Catastrophic car crashes are fabulously helpful toward this end. But I still need encouragement and the occasional kick-in-the-pants to awaken me to the continued threat of inertia. Pastor Dave the Humble gets the gold star today for doing that for me.

If I were you, I would just go ahead and listen to today’s sermon for yourself on the DFG link on the sidebar. But to sum it up, PD reminded us that it’s the Great One’s job to cleanse and empower us and give grace for each day. But it’s our job to avail ourselves of the limitless advantages of the “life that is truly life”. At some point, friends, to paraphrase the inimitable C.S. Lewis: “We’ve got to tell our emotions where to get off”. If your feet feel like they’re in spiritual concrete, don’t despair. Ask for the strength to move an inch, then another. The tiniest effort by the frailest man leads to the Herculean strength of a willing God to help us.

My sweet husband and I prayed together today for the courage to make some changes that won’t be easy. Habits and attitudes get ingrained and need a good bit of forward momentum to roll away the stone. In particular, we need to tackle a few obstacles on the pilgrim road in the way we respond to our children. Our kids are the delight of our hearts, truly our earthly treasures. It’s worth learning to do things differently for their sakes, and the sake of our decedents. Good lord, can you imagine the DNA for drama given a few more generations! But that’s another story…

It’s October, and millions of maple leaves are hovering over my lawn planning their attack. All of a sudden one day they will come loose with some help from the wind. They’ll look lovely floating down onto my lawn. The smell of dry leaves will remind me of the days I walked home from school in my plaid skirt and knee socks. And the wind will remind me of the power of the invisible to crack the power of inertia.

Enjoy this brief season of the absolute splendor of color and light. Fall leaves me positively slack jawed with amazement. The Author of Life does His annual parade of color, and all I can do is drink in the wonder. And shout out the praise. For life. For love. For the power to change.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 327 The Steepest Climb

Dear friends,

We spent the morning as we have for the past 3 years on the first Saturday of October. We hoofed it in the Jonathan Carey Foundation third annual walk for vulnerable children. The photos are Smitty with Mike and Lisa Carey, and Hannah (right) handing out shirts with her friend Jessica.

For all we've experienced with the "wreck of the Ciera", nothing compares to the Carey's heartache: the loss of a child at the hands of folks who should have been protecting him. Jonathan is in heaven, and for him it's all good. But Mike and Lisa must continue on every day without their precious son, and that is perhaps the steepest climb any human being can make.

These two dear friends have shown the power of the Great One in their attitudes and actions. Their loss didn't make them bitter, but by God's grace it's made them champions for justice for those the world would dismiss. I think of these children often, and I am haunted by the words of Jesus: "Many who are last shall be first..." We had best treat these dear ones among us like gold. The One who made them has already marked them for a special place in His gigantic heart.

I felt as fresh as the October air today seeing my Hercules do the entire walk, just as he did last year, if perhaps a bit more tired at the end. And there was Miss Rejoice, handing out tee shirts just as she has done in the past. How great is the grace of God! The funny thing is, Mike and Lisa Carey would say the same thing. When your hope is beyond what meets the eye you can experience excruciating pain and loss, and still carry that essential ingredient for survival - Hope! Because we know this life is a vapor, we can adjust to it as such, not expecting a trouble free existence, but we are thinking of the country we will be entering, that many of our loved ones have reached before us. This world is not our home...we're only passing through.

Dearest Jonathan, I can't wait to see you in heaven, there with the "least of these", elevated to the glorious pinnacles of the Great One's kingdom. Every wrong is made right, every crooked place straight, every tear wiped away. Until then, we walk the pilgrim road, inspired by the courage and tenacity of people like Mike and Lisa Carey.

Please pray for Smitty. He's having a problem with his right hand. Just hopeful it's not some hardware thing pinching a nerve or something.

Love you friends. Don't forget to go to and sign up for the Dessert Nite. We've got til the 14th now. Over 100 signed up so far. We want you all there.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 326 A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

Dear friends,

Day 326. How many words have I pecked out here since "day the sky fell down" to paraphrase chicken little? I haven't the slightest idea. More puzzling is the delightful fact that you are still reading, still praying for our motley crew, and still saving me mountains of cash on therapy. Words have been healing. Words have been comforting. Words have been a gift from the Great, Eternal Word Himself. Communication is the original grace. That God would speak the universe into being is mind bending. That He would bend down and speak to us is beyond reason. But it's true.

I had the kind of day that Mark the Lion Hearted would have hated like poison, and that for me was water to the mind and soul. I use a writing curriculum from a company called The Institute for Excellence in Writing. The proprietor, teacher and all around interesting and intelligent mastermind of the organization is Andrew Pudewa, whose writing models and systems have-helped me greatly in teaching my reluctant-with-the-pen 12 year old. But way beyond the fun of listening to him explain essays and key word outlines, was the rich content I gained in particular in his lecture on Fairy Tales and the Moral Imagination. You guys know this is right up my alley, being a C.S. Lewis groupie and a Tolkien fan. Of course I can't tell all here (as Andrew would say, I must pick topics and leave the rest out), but I do want to share with you one insight I grasped.

Fairy Tales express ancient truths that resonate within our souls. To pick the most obvious, there is the concept of good triumphing over evil. (He put lots more detail in this which won't fit here, and might send you to the kitchen for a snack, so I summarize). The second is more complex, but equally satisfying: good may not win, but there is redemption. Read The Little Match Girl for an example. I pondered these things on the drive home, and considered the terrible truth of a husband with shattered bones across the length an breadth of his body, and a daughter with terrible injuries and wondered which fairy tale expresses best my current viewpoint on the matter. I concluded that perhaps it's more the second. Because a terrible, senseless, crushing blow was delivered to my dear ones (evil, part of living in a fallen world, due to someone's sin); and some of the fallout is permanent; but there has been a stunning visitation of hope and healing (redemption). I asked the Great One in the car half way up the Taconic Parkway "why?" I think it's only the first or second time I've asked. I got the sense from that still small voice of His that it's beyond my pay grade to understand, and to continue to trust Him for the final chapter. That may be a long way yet down the pilgrim road. Maybe not. No doubt you have stories with truths in them you can't see yet. Even in fairy tales what is to be is often veiled until the perfect moment. The frog does become a prince. Aslan saves Narnia from eternal winter. True love really does come to the rescue. Now we see through a glass, darkly...

Big fat change of direction here, with no transition.

Thank you to Smitty for pinch hitting for me (see photo). Also for pinch running (is that right?) last nite on the blog. That may be his last entry here. What would I do without the man? To keep with the fairy tale theme, he is indeed my Brave Prince Charming.

And a bit of truly terrific news, our dear Bob the Builder, Dr. Kaushik Bagchi, will be in attendance at the Dessert Nite. We are honored that he will be attending, what with his busy schedule of saving lives and putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. Don't forget to call or email me by October 14th if you're coming!

Of all the words we come in contact with every day, there are some that will live forever. Here are some on my mind this day, by the One and Only Himself, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me."

The author of your personal story is also your Knight in Shining Armor. He's got you covered for the whole trek, no matter how steep and winding the highway gets.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,