Treasures of Darkness

It’s 3am and blinding pain from one of my killer headaches wakes me from sleep. I stagger to the kitchen as quietly as possible and pour water into the Keurig to make a quick 20 oz of coffee. The only thing that helps.

The house is silent. Tom and Emily are  deep in sleep. I sit with the coffee, trying not to burn myself on the hot liquid–medicine for me that I can’t get down fast enough. I rock back and forth, back and forth in my rocker,  waiting for the moment when my head will ease.

The worst of the pain lets up, and I can think again. My mind drifts to each of my children and where they are in their lives.  The relief from the pain is growing, and every time, it brings tears to my eyes that I am feeling better. It’s some kind of response to the dissipation of pain and it happens every time. I pray for answers and help in our lives for a few minutes. Then I feel the need for a human voice. I pick up my phone next to me on the lamp table and find Alexander Scourby’s reading of the Psalms. The beauty and authority of his reading of Scripture is always a great comfort. I put my head back on the chair and listen to him begin.

 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Somewhere in the Psalms that continue in Scourby’s lovely voice , I drift off to the familiar cadences of those beautiful, ancient words.  Relief, peace, the sense that God is near.

I recently saw a painting that depicted Jesus sitting on a bench with a young man. It was supposed to represent heaven, and the young man appeared to be asking questions. It made me wonder if we will be able to ask the Lord questions about this life and why things were the way they were. All the seemingly pointless suffering, meaningless pain and hurt.  Then it occurred to me that if we were going to remember the bad in this life, it wouldn’t be much of a heaven. Every tear, Scripture tells us, will be wiped away in that place where there is no need of the sun, because the light of the Lamb will be enough.  No more darkness. No more night.

I can’t pretend to understand what all our pain means in this life, only that in the darkness, in the night watches there are unexpected shafts of light, reminders of God, the God beloved of the Psalmist who played his harp beneath the starry skies on the hills, who wrote the words we still know today. Maybe in the bright light of day we are too quick to forget God, and it’s only when He allows us to awaken with pain that we are reminded of His presence. When we’re always strong, and able, and go from strength to strength in our own might, we tend to forget Him.  In our great need, we are driven to remember our frailty, that we are dust, and that all we have comes from our Creator’s kindly hand.

In the night watches of our lives, help us to find the treasures of darkness, Heavenly Father. Because they are there, waiting for us.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. ~ Isaiah 45:3

night

 

 

 

 

 

House with the Yellow Door

20161117_100215Tom has a tradition of planting trees at our homes (we have lived in six in 21 years.) He also has had a tradition of painting our doors a warm red color. The red was inviting, I think.  At our house in South Carolina, he also painted the shutters to match. The shutters had been a dull gray color, and it was a perfect color change for curb appeal.

At our snug ranch house where we moved last year, Tom is getting around to various projects, including putting up shutters a few weeks ago (a good improvement) and painting the bland, white front door. We were going to use red again, but Tom unexpectedly showed me a yellow color on a paint card. Against the white-ish brick on the front of the house, it looked cheerful and bright. So we now have a yellow door.

Every time I pull up to the house, it makes me smile. Along with the field stone borders he put around the little pines he planted and the same border under the Magnolia tree, it makes for a neat front yard.

We have such nice neighbors here. Emily is dear friends with our nearest neighbors whose little granddaughter comes over to play, in addition to the family on the other block who are friendly and helpful. Then there is the lady across the street who comes over with her little dachshund she adopted. Each day she comes by after school for Emily (as she did in the summer), and they take the little dog for a walk. I think Emily is good company for the lady and the dog, once very shy,  is warming up.

By contrast, the political scene has never been uglier in our country. Social media is filled with the carnage. I read the news and try to digest what is going on and end up depressed and discouraged. Whichever way the election would have gone, this was a guaranteed scenario with great anger on one side or the other. In spite of victory laps from political conservatives, I remain convinced this nation is in terrible peril. There are no political answers in this divided country, ultimately. I believe that more than ever. The answer is spiritual, but nobody is interested in that subject at present.  They await miracles from the new political messiah. We will see.

My news about our cheery yellow door isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I thought of it as a metaphor in these dark times. As I have said before, life is really lived in the micro sphere of every day things and people. If Hillary Clinton had won and not Donald Trump, we would still get up every morning and do the little things that make up our lives. The little dachshund would still live across the street with her humans, Emily would still be found talking to the neighbors and making new friends all the time, and I would still spend my days making a home for my family as best I can.

I have learned that to be happy, we have to make a choice to be that way. There is a great deal of evil in the world, more now than ever.  We have all had wounds and hurt from that evil in our lives, some more than others. The losses evil people can cause are undeniable. Among so-called Christians, I am sorry to say that indifference, coldness and brutality are no less prevalent. Those perpetrating it and those who watch silently as enablers seem to go from strength to strength while their victims long for things to be made right. But, having said that, happiness and cheerfulness is still a choice. This is the only life we have, the one God gave us. I believe God does see the injustice and the evil, and in His time, He will vindicate, He will deal with those who have so disregarded His commands to love. Meanwhile, we are called to live in the light.

So don’t hesitate to “paint your door yellow.” Or to put it another way, smile just because, be thankful for what you have, and do a little happy dance, if nothing else, in defiance of the joy killers who seem to so populate the earth these days. I do that. I am home alone a great deal. I put on music sometimes when I am down. My kitchen has a big slippery, laminate  floor, and Em and I do our own dances in our socks until we laugh ourselves silly. Last night, we listened to Sleigh Ride and several other Christmas songs (I know, I know, it isn’t Thanksgiving yet.)  Whatever you do, don’t give in to the darkness. God is the author of joy, not despair. God is in His heaven still. By looking up and not around us, we can remember that best.

Refuge in the God of Jacob

An Armenian- Russian painter captured waves on his canvases like none other.  These depictions of powerful, translucent waves are beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and the ships in distress add poignancy to the paintings of Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky .  See some of them here at MyModernMet.com

The ships caught in the terrible storms the artist depicted reminded me of the Navy hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save. What a metaphor these scenes are for our country right now, and how appropriate the hymn. We are in deep peril. America, a country that has been a  rich  recipient of grace and favor from Divine hands, has mocked God for too long. The results all around us, as we can see, are catastrophic.  Those who put their trust in God alone  will find refuge from the storm.  There is no other safe place.

Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;  Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge

God is Near in Song

sing2Music has always been a big part of my life. Thanks to inexpensive LP records at Treasure Island (a discount store in our area back in the 70’s), we had more than just gospel music at home. Mom bought everything from John Phillip Sousa, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (I wore that one out), Johnny Mann’s choral music, E. Power Biggs organ albums, and many others. I played these on the stereo at home a lot. We took piano lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory as children, and my sister and I sang with a Christian singing group that traveled around the country each Easter break for years.  In addition, our Lutheran day school taught music reading as part of our curriculum along with sacred music in choir.   We learned American folk songs and lots of wonderful hymns that we sang in chapel and in class devotions.

Also, I heard gospel music long before it was so commercialized with slick pop stars, back when it really was about the great old songs, not so much the performers. As kids, my siblings and I fell asleep late at night  many times on our coats at the Christian radio station where our parents worked in Milwaukee’s central city, the Haven of Rest radio program  on the speakers in the ceiling. This recording here of their theme song with the bells takes me straight back to those times years ago.

As a young adult, I became familiar with a broader range of hymnody on CD, Psalm singing of various kinds (metrical Psalms from Scotland, Anglican chant, etc.), and the grand festival hymns of the English choral tradition. I interviewed John Rutter once about his wonderful compositions and I have the CD’s of his hymns that are unequaled, as far as I am concerned, in excellence.  I also bought St. Olaf’s choir CD’s, the choir of Gustavas Adolphus (I love their Scandinavian hymn CD), and so forth.

For a time, I drifted away from the gospel songs I grew up with, but as I have grown older, I find myself coming back again to the songs I used to hear in congregational singing and from recording artists like George Beverly Shea. In the last few years, these sweet old songs have been a tremendous comfort to me.

Scripture talks about Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—three separate categories, That’s because each category serves a purpose of its own. It’s not that you can’t sing a hymn of worship on your bed on a sleepless or pain-filled night, but often that is when the gospel songs mean the most.  They speak of God’s immanence, his closeness to us through Christ–our Savior who knows what it is to suffer and to walk on this earth as a human.  Hymns of worship emphasize God’s transcendence, his sovereignty and greatness, his holiness, something we also acknowledge. But when hurting, the closeness of God is what we tend to need most.

I once stood next to my grandma, Mary, in a church service where they were singing the Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” I heard her sweet quavering voice next to me. Do you know, I never forgot it, and every time I hear that song, I remember her and her faith. The words of that song, penned by the blind Crosby,  reflect Luther’s deathbed words, “We are beggars all.”  No matter how strong we think we are, in the end, we are dependent completely on the Savior passing by our place of need. (See the story of Bartemaeus)

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Refrain:
Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.

~ Fanny J. Crosby

I recently discovered a YouTube channel of congregational singing including many of these old gospel songs. I am a big fan!  When I can’t get to church, I watch these videos and sing aloud. I know many of these hymns by heart and don’t have to reference the words. Here is one such song that I love, and another beneath it. The channel is called “Faith for the Family” from Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee. If you’re blessed by these dear old songs, check it out and sing along. One of the things I notice are the young faces in the congregation, and many of them are really singing these. How wonderful that another generation will know these treasures.

Here are the words of this song, “He Hideth my Soul.” Another of Fanny Crosby’s compositions, the text is based on Exodus 33:22

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

Refrain

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.

Refrain

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

Refrain

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that despite the world’s foundations being rocked by turmoil and fear these days, our souls, as Christians, are hid with God, in Christ. He hides our souls and covers them with his hand.

This one is the earliest song I remember singing in church, back at First Christian and Missionary Alliance on 60th street in Milwaukee. It’s hard not to join in joyfully with that refrain. “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things he has done!”

The Apostle Paul and Silas, imprisoned at Phillipi for sharing the Gospel, are recorded in Scripture as singing in their chains (just before the earthquake that set them free.  See Acts, Chapter 16) We cannot change circumstances in our lives so often, but we can sing anyway. Our song comes from the knowledge that our God “plants his footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.” He is with us, come what may in this life. And soon, we will see Him in a place where no tear will ever dim our eyesight. What a day that will be.

I hope these are as much of a blessing to you as they are to me!

 

 

I’d Rather Be Small…

I would rather be broken and tender than to hurt other people.

I would rather be a small nobody, in a small house, in a small town with a small voice, than to be big and leave people shattered behind me, and worse,  do it in Jesus’ name.

I would rather have a few small tasks and do them well, than be rated a “high capacity” person (that popular term cracks me up) in some gleaming church building and make the fatal error of building a ministry on the bones of others.

I’d rather be humbled by God than have tens of millions to build big stuff and be a complete creep and a spiritual fraud.

To be really useful to the Lord, the same one who was homeless and who didn’t even have a pillow for his head, you have  to accept “small” and embrace it fully. There is real peace there.

I was driving home from dropping my little girl at school this morning, and I was grateful once again for the  simplicity in my life, for a short list of tasks to do today, and a few modest writing goals to accomplish. I’m at a season where this increasing quietude is welcomed. If I can bring a smile or encourage someone here at the Hope Blog or on Facebook, I’ve had a good day. If my husband and child are cared for, I’ve done my job for Jesus.

There are moments when I forget and kick myself for not accomplishing this or that. Then I think, but that isn’t what God has for me. He had something so very much better, because my Creator understands me better than I do. What a wonderful thing.

All I can hear as I type is the click of my keys and when I stop, I can hear the tick of our cuckoo clock in the dining room. It’s peaceful here. I wish the same for all of you who are in pain or grief today. I wish the peace of God for you. The God who uses broken people just like me and like you. But you have to give the pieces to him.

“…And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” ~  Colossians 3:15

broken

I Bind Unto Myself Today…

 

CelticCrossMeanings

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Singing Nurse Brings Comfort

If you have ever been in the hospital and in pain, you know the difference having a great nurse can make. Sometimes an extra special nurse walks in and does something above and beyond to ease your suffering. One nurse I had when hospitalized in 2009 for three days was one such angel. I’ll never forget what she did for me.

The nurse in this video below has an especially compassionate touch in working with elders in a hospice setting. I can only imagine what it means to have a kind touch and to have someone sing to you, as this video shows. God bless this man and all nurses who bring help and comfort to hurting people of all ages, despite the workload many of them have.

P.S. 27 years ago, when one of my children was repeatedly in the hospital, sometimes for three days at a time, a woman named Carmen became our son’s regular nurse on second shift. I have no idea where she is now, but we were always delighted to have Carmen assigned to us. That’s why we still remember the angel on 7th floor south.

Keep on the Sunny Side!

After we have prayed and asked for Divine help, after we’ve asked whether there’s anything we can do in a bad situation, we have to walk towards the sun (Son!) and carry on.

I have always loved this little song. Keeping on the “sunny side” doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge and do what we can when evil is staring us in the face or someone else in the face, but ultimately, we can’t let evil overcome good. With social media putting every societal and personal evil on graphic and horrific display, it’s a choice to not be enthralled by the dark side of life, and to stay firmly on the sunny side instead.

Many of us with children to raise in our dark times are even more acutely aware of this need. Yes, there are many frightening and horrible things on the landscape, but where we can, we are called to create a safe place where our families can still see and feel warmth, love and beauty that God provides each day.

Our little girl, Emmy,  adores this song. I have to repeat it several times when I play it, because she dances around with her dolls when I do.

Call Back, if You Get Ahead

I read this post today from “Streams in the Desert.” Have you ever had someone “call back” and encourage you in your life?

Life is a steep climb, and it does the heart good to have somebody “call back” and cheerily beckon us on up the high hill. We are all climbers together, and we must help one another. This mountain climbing is serious business, but glorious. It takes strength and steady step to find the summits. The outlook widens with the altitude. If anyone among us has found anything worthwhile, we ought to “call back.”

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
’Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.

Oh, friend, call back, and tell me for I cannot see your your face,
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky
If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back—
’Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.
—Selected

From “Streams in the Desert”

This song says it all.