The Struggle

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“…you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

~Flannery O’Connor

I know the Bible says in 1 John to “Love not the world, neither the things of the world.” I’m not talking about loving or cherishing the things of the world or the approval of others as idols or replacements for having our needs met by God. When I talk about cherishing here I mean extending oneself to care deeply for people who don’t, or can’t, care back. I mean seeing value and the image of God in every person with an opinion, regardless of how irritating they can be at the moment.

Miracles, signs and wonders pale in significance to the wonder of the supernatural ability to love the ones whose threats strike fear or those with followers who seem to oppose everything you think or say or do.

It’s easy to become defensive or to retaliate when you are misunderstood and misrepresented. I don’t want to be identified with “them” – or “them” either. Sometimes I want to hide from conflict and leave a note on the door of my bomb shelter: Call me when you’ve worked it out.

But we don’t have that option. Love compels us to walk into the middle of the struggle, armed only with the grace we ourselves have received and the humble authority it produces.

Thank God, his grace is more than enough. It’s abundant. It’s powerful.

No Regrets

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I can’t remember a trial or a pain
He did not recycle to bring me gain
I can’t remember one single regret
In serving God only, and trusting His hand
All I have need of, His hand will provide
He’s always been faithful to me.
(From He’s Always Been Faithful by Sara Groves)

Sometimes when I run out of words, someone else will sing them for me.
I’m grateful to my daughter-in-law for introducing me to the music of Sara Groves. In my time of wordless worship, in the dark of night, I heard a voice sing the words I was searching for.

Thank you to both Sara and Sarah.

 

There’s More

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When I was a young girl my parents gave me a white leather-bound Bible for my tenth birthday. On the dedication page they wrote: “Our prayer for you – Psalm 91″

Years later I decided to record a list of scripture verses that have stood out to me, that got me through tough times, or spoke to me about my relationship with God. The 91st Psalm was one. I realized this psalm was part of my inheritance and had been for a long time. I took time to study it and meditate on it daily, mining it for riches I had previously overlooked. It became precious to me. In time I moved on to other personally meaningful passages.

This morning I awoke with a line from a line from song recorded by Selah playing in my head. “When I feel like I can’t go on You deliver me. When the road is winding and way too long, You deliver me…”

What does “deliver” actually mean? Maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions. I learned the word “deliver” used in many translations of the Bible can come from more than one word in the Hebrew language. One means to transport like delivering a prisoner to a jail. One means to snatch away, rescue or provide a means of escape. (That’s the meaning I was assuming.) Another can mean to rescue but it can also mean to arm, equip, invigorate or make strong.

Psalm 91 uses two different words. The third verse talks about being delivered from a trap. This is the “plucked out/escape” word, natsal. The other word, chalats, shows up in verse 15. The Passion Translation recognizes the difference. Instead of saying you will be taken out of the situation it says, “You will find and feel my presence even in your time of pressure and trouble.”

Yesterday I was looking at photos I took on the drive home from a hospital a day’s drive away. I spent two days there undergoing specialized tests looking for more cancerous tumours. That’s a scary prospect.

Most of the time I am at peace, but sometimes I feel stressed. Driving up the steep Kootenay Pass on the side of the east side of the mountain with no guard rails between us and a sudden drop of hundreds of feet was one of those moments. I don’t have any photos. There is no place to stop.

I didn’t really want to stop. I just wanted to get out of there.

We parked in a wide lot when we reached the top and I walked around beside the little lake up there. Pacing helps me regain calm.

I took this photo from inside a cabin beside the road. When I looked at it this morning I felt I saw in the picture an open-door invitation to step out of the confines of my own thinking into a greater concept of what safe and secure deliverance means. It could mean being rescued from a situation or it could mean being armed and invigorated in preparation for a greater victory right in the circumstance.

God is creative and not reactive. The road up the mountain is the same road whether a guardrail is visible or not. I don’t know the results of the tests yet. From here the view is a bit scary, but he provides shelter and rest stops along the way. Whether he rescues me from this circumstance or equips me for battle and wider definition of what victory  and holding ground looks like, he has assured me of his presence. He’s got this and he’s not leaving.

After all these years there is even more to be learned from this precious psalm.

For here is what the Lord has spoken to me:
“Because you have delighted in me as my great lover,
I will greatly protect you.
I will set you in a high place,
Safe and secure before my face.
I will answer your cry for help every time you pray,
And you will find and feel my presence
Even in your time of pressure and trouble.
I will be your glorious Hero and give you a feast!
You will be satisfied with a full life
And with all that I do for you.
For you will enjoy
The fullness of my salvation!”

Psalm 91:14-16 The Passion Translation

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Praise Him Still

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When the morning falls on the farthest hill,
I will sing His name, I will praise Him still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him still.

For the Lord our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave.
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him still.

-Fernando Ortega

 

A Song in the Night: Hearing God’s Voice Through Music

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You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept. (Isaiah 30:29 Amp)

Years ago my Mom gave me a plaque with the meaning of my name and this verse printed underneath. I think names are important and I’m grateful that my parents chose “Song of Grace” as mine. I think the verse was also prophetic as I have learned to pay attention to songs in the night.

The first time I realized God could use this way of communicating was after I prayed asking for wisdom. Someone wanted me to support them by taking up their cause. To be honest, taking up a cause without knowing all sides of the story has landed me in more troublesome murky water than just about any other action. I cared about this person and her desperation, but something didn’t feel right. For two days I asked, “Lord, what should I do?” For two days I had no further information and nothing to indicate a direction. I just had an annoying song stuck in my head. Specifically one line of a song.

This song was from a list of approved selections for early grades Royal Conservatory voice exams. I’m pretty sure you would never hear it pumped through the speakers in the mall or playing on a top ten radio station anywhere. I taught it to young singers as an exercise in musical story-telling, but I hadn’t thought of it in ages. It told the sad tale of a boy named Gilbert who mistook a strange lump in the bog for a rock. The very strange green lump was actually an alligator. The story did not end well for Gilbert.

While my husband and I were driving in the country I starting singing the line out loud in the car. “If you should spot an alligator sleeping, let it be.”

“I don’t know why this silly song is stuck in my head. I keep hearing it,” I said to him. At that moment I heard, “So pay attention,” in my spirit.

Then it struck me. I had been repeatedly asking a question and repeatedly getting an answer, but I didn’t hear it because I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention because I wasn’t expecting to hear. I took the risk of saying no to involvement in the situation – which turned out to be dramatically more complicated than I had been led to believe. What I had received via that song was a word of wisdom.

music books ch IMG_8288I have music in my head all the time. My life has been about music and even after retirement, I can’t bear to part with music books that fill shelves and bins in my house. At this very moment, I can “hear” the background music of a humorous Youtube video I just watched. Obviously, this carries no profound meaning. Singers can tell you how music they are trying to memorize disrupts sleep when it plays over and over as they toss and turn. That’s not what I’m talking about, nor are the kids’ songs you play in the car so often you don’t have to hit any button to start them up.

The songs I’m talking about often come out of nowhere, songs I haven’t heard since the seventies, songs my mother used to sing, songs from hymnbooks now boxed and stored in the shed behind the church building. Sometimes I hear songs I swear I’ve never heard before and sometimes I know I have heard these insistent songs before, perhaps even recently, but they are in a language I am not familiar with and I have to do an internet search for a translation. Sometimes one line from a song I am familiar with will repeat in my dreams like the ground bass in Pachelbel’s Canon. It underscores an entire night’s sleep.

God speaks in many creative ways. Because he is the creator of creativity he awakens creativity he placed in us. When our eyes and ears are opened we perceive his communication via his people in art, music, poetry, calligraphy, photography, dance, gardening, decorating, clothing design, food preparation, architecture and many other ways. Not all people hear the same way. Concrete practical thinkers need direct black and white communication with pre-connected dots. Artsy types float in metaphor. God smiles at your unique make-up.

Sometimes artists don’t even realize they are conduits. They don’t know why they used that word, or painted that colour, or added that variation. It just felt right.

For some time now I’ve had a song playing in that insistent way that I can’t shut off. I don’t recall hearing it anywhere recently. Certain lines kept playing on repeat, especially at night.

Love. Love will keep us together.
When those guys start hanging around talking me down
Hear with your heart and you won’t hear a sound.

Just stop! Stop!
‘Cause I really love you. Better stop! Stop!
I’ll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together – whatever.

I wondered why this song. Then I found out. I thought I was finished with a year of treatments and surgery dealing with health issues, but I’ve just received more discouraging news. More to investigate. More treatment modalities to explore.

I began to let my imagination be distracted by the voices of dismal forebodings clamouring in the back of my brain, those carriers of worry, shame and despair that taunt with, “Did God really say…? Where is he now? Does he really love you or has he abandoned you in the dark with pain that will only get worse? Where are your ‘God is good’ stories now?”

I don’t think Neil Sedaka had this interpretation in mind when he wrote the song, nor did the Captain and Tenille (or the guy with five ukeleles) intend it to carry a message of hope, but God used it.

ive got thisHe says, “Stop! Stop letting your thoughts run away with you. Take those thoughts captive and counter them with who I really am. I want to show you an aspect of myself you can only see in the middle of these circumstances. Stop it, because I really do love you. Look in my heart and let my love for you keep us together, whatever happens, wherever this part of the journey leads. I’ve got this.”

The next day lines from another song started playing in my head. A Stevie Wonder song:

For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me
Somehow I know I’ll be strong.
For once I can say, ‘This is mine! You can’t take it!
As long as I know I have love I can make it!’”

He’s got this. Therefore, I’ve got this.

Sunday night I heard another song in an orchestral arrangement. I knew it was a Stuart Townend composition but I couldn’t recall a single word. It took me all morning to find it because all I had was the tune and how do you google a tune? But I did find it. It’s about hope. And for some reason one of the first photos in the Youtube version I clicked on was one of mine! I don’t mind my work being used this way (although it is polite to ask). When I saw it I exclaimed, “What? Are you kidding me? This is mine!”

 

 

And in my heart, where I was listening and paying attention, God said, “Yes. Hope. This is yours.”

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Just by Standing

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Some days you win by standing, not by advancing. Some days your endurance is your victory because to overcome through endurance means that you get to make the enemy weary. You get to give him a heavy heart. You get to make him tired. You get to make him depressed. You get to overcome him just by standing and just by looking into the face of Jesus. That’s a priceless victory right there!

-Graham Cooke(from The Way Of The Warrior [Studio Version])