The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, “All My Springs of Joy Are in You”

Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will say,
“All my springs of joy are in you.”

(Psalm 87:7)

There is something special about the city that King David loved. I didn’t expect my emotional reaction as we travelled up the hills to Jerusalem from Emmaus, but I found myself crying tears of joy that at last I would see this wonderful city for myself. I didn’t get to see the magnificent temple made of polished gold-toned stone that David planned and Solomon built and where the Sons of Korah sang and played instruments. I didn’t get to see Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city many years later. I do hope to see him return through those gates though.

The story of the Sons of Korah’s journey from the pit of shame to the heights of worship in the temple takes place over generations. It is a story of restoration and of grace. I hope to join them in singing my own song of restoration and grace one day too.

In the meantime, I include a link to a song of praise from my culture that I’ve often sung this time of year.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Behold Thy King cometh unto Thee!

Every Movement of My Heart

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.

You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,

and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.

You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.

You read my heart like an open book

and you know all the words I’m about to speak

before I even start a sentence!

You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.

Psalm 139:1-4 TPT

I took one of those personal trivia quizzes that pop up every once in a while on social media. Yes, I know they are designed to search for data that sells us (the product) to potential advertisers. They might think they know me, but they don’t. Not really.

The test asked about hidden talents. I wrote “invisibility.”

Not long before, I ran into some people I had grown up with. We were either in the same class at school or in the same Sunday School class or youth group for years. One person I had known well and spent time with a couple of times a week for sixteen or seventeen years, couldn’t remember me, although she remembered my cousin with the same surname who had only lived in the same town for two years. Another guy vaguely remembered me as the really quiet girl who was the friend of the really brainy girl. That was at the same school where a teacher insisted to my parents that I wasn’t in his class. When they pointed out my name on the register he said, “Well then, she ought to learn to speak up.”

I have learned to speak up, much to the chagrin of those who complain that now I talk too much. They are right, but my response to that criticism tends to be to want to put on the invisibility cloak of my childhood again and try to content myself with watching life from the shadows like I did before I let God heal the shame that held me there so long. Sitting in the dark singing another chorus of “Nobody Likes Me” is not nearly as uplifting as singing a chorus of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” It’s not a healthy response.

The truth is nobody but God really knows us; we don’t even know ourselves. The search for connection comes from the search for our Creator who knows everything about us and still loves us. He is not disappointed in us because he had no illusions about our state in the first place. It has always been his intention to save us from the messes we have made and the resulting consequences of guilt and shame.

To be known and understood and loved is joy. Without God we are in a constant state of looking to other imperfect people or inanimate things to fill our built-in need for love from someone all-knowing and totally trustworthy, someone who truly knows us, someone who sees the ugliness but moves to bring out the beauty he placed there.

Steffany Gretzinger sings about the joy and hope in being known and loved by Love Himself.

Here

Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing! 

(Song of Solomon 2:11,12 MSG)

Sometimes, when shrill voices tell us to look at what’s happening there, and there, or over there, we overlook the still, quiet voice of the Lover of our souls inviting us to look here. I was looking for photo-worthy balsam root blossoms that thrive in the Okanagan. I wanted to photograph a patch, but they all seemed to grow in places where I couldn’t stop the car, or places too hard for me to walk to.

When I told my daughter my frustration she said, “Oh, we have some here in the forest beside our house where the children play.”

I found them! What a wonderful place to be a child! I’m so happy for them!

When I was a young child, our little house was in a eastside neighbourhood squeezed between a meat packing plant, an oil refinery, and a railway yard. No matter which way the wind blew it never smelled like a forest of flowers and evergreen trees.

When I was a child, I carried worries that were too heavy for a little kid. I thought God was mad at me all the time like everyone else seemed to be. I didn’t know that he actually liked me and wanted to be with me. It was many years before I could hear him calling me to come away with him, not to do a job for him, but because he loved me and wanted to be with me.

It’s so easy to say, “I’ll be happy when this is over, or when this is done.” We can have joy now, in this moment. I hear the loving invitation of my Lord inviting me to leave stress and worry behind, to come away with him, and appreciate the song that beauty sings here in the secret place he created for the two of us, here where he made it accessible. Here –in my heart.

Sorrow and Joy

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. (Matthew 16:21 NLT)

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for people coming to Canada from tropical countries. If you have never seen it, would you believe it if someone told you, “There is a season coming when all the trees and plants and grasses will die? The world will be too cold for them to live and if you are not careful to find shelter and a source of heat you could die too. But don’t worry. After a few months of cold and long nights, they will come back to life again.”

I wonder if someone who has never heard of this or experienced it before would respond, “How exciting!’ or would they say, “No way! We will protect our gardens nd fields!” Many immigrants have told me their first winter was a shock and felt like it was never going to end.

Jesus told his disciples clearly, and more than once, precisely what was going to happen. When it did, they were shocked and dismayed. For all his declarations that Jesus would not be mistreated and killed under his watch, Peter had to face the fact that he was dead wrong. Jesus was arrested, humiliated, abused, and killed. The shock was so traumatizing it took a time before they remembered that he told them he would be raised after three days.  But how? They still had no grid for that.

Yesterday, I passed by a vine-covered wall. There has been no sign of life on those bare branches for months. Now there is. What appeared to be dead is awakening to new life.

Today’s prompt word for Creative Meditations for Lent is Sorrow/Joy. Sometimes terrible things happen. We reel with the shock of photos of bodies in the streets in the Ukraine. We wail at the news of friends dying of Covid and other afflictions after we prayed with fervour and declared they would not die. We make plans for next week, next year, and the next decades and deny as much as possible that we live in mortal bodies that 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us are perishable, even though as believers in Christ we are promised eternal life.

Perhaps the lesson we can learn from new green leaves on a bare vine is this: Even though we have no grid for resurrection from the dead in new bodies, it will happen. There is more to the passage on running the race than I quoted earlier this week.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12: 1-3)

Oh, how I love the spring! What a harbinger of much greater joy!

And Then…

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Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out where my emotions are coming from. I agree with people who say we ought not to be led by emotions, but I don’t discount them. God created us with emotion for a reason. Jesus demonstrated a full range of emotional experience, and demonstrated their rightful place. Like the Psalmist I have been asking my soul, “Why are you downcast? Why are you disquieted?”

Grief has roots that tangle under the surface. You can’t tug on one without unsettling memories of other losses and separations. This time of pandemic-led physical separation, although not permanent (we hope), is also stirring up feelings of old losses. I miss my loved ones. I miss my friends. I miss my freedom. I know we shall soon meet again, but these nebulous emotions all end up in the same pot like some strange concoction of lament that ignores reason. It feels like grief.

I’ve been feeling a bit down and unusually nostalgic the last few days. Old movies, old songs, old photos, old recipes, and even old cars make me laugh, but also shed tears. This morning, it being Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother, who passed away eleven years ago. I wish I could sit in her kitchen and tell her about my day. I read many posts from motherless children and childless mothers on Facebook, so I know I am not the only one who is aware of the ambivalent feelings this day evokes.

Then I remembered this week also marks the anniversary of separation from my Dad as well.

Time shrinks and stretches with age, moreso without the usual daily landmarks that keep us oriented. What day is it? Has it been three or four years since I received the call that Dad died in his sleep? The fence needs painting again. Didn’t I just do that? Was it really almost sixty years since Daddy took the photo of Mom serving Kool-aid to the pretty little girls in their birthday party dresses? The house I grew up in shows up on Google maps. It is dwarfed by the trees my brother and I planted as seedlings we received at school. When did that happen?

Part of prayer is paying attention to the stirrings in our hearts as we lean in to hear our heavenly Father. God often speaks to me through music. As I asked him to bring clarity to this messy emotion a song started to play in my mind. It is Brahms’ setting of John 16:22. In English it reads:

“So will you also pass through a time of intense sorrow when I am taken from you, but you will see me again! And then your hearts will burst with joy, with no one being able to take it from you!” (from The Passion Translation that seeks to include emotional content)

These were Jesus’ words to his friends before he was taken from them. We know the next part of the story – that he conquered death and appeared to them again before ascending to his place with the Father. He told them, on that same evening he gave the warning, that something better was coming. He was sending the Holy Spirit to advocate, teach, comfort, and empower in his place.

We have the advantage of living on the other side of the cross. We know loss here and now, but we also know that Holy Spirit will never leave. He reminds us of the promise that is for both here and now and even more in the future: “Then your hearts will burst with joy with no one being able to take it from you!”

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

(Psalm 42:11 NIV)

Laughter in the Rain

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The Lord alone is our radiant hope
and we trust in him with all our hearts.
His wrap-around presence will strengthen us.
 
As we trust, we rejoice with an uncontained joy
flowing from Yahweh!
 
Let your love and steadfast kindness overshadow us
continually, for we trust and we wait upon you!

Psalm 33:20-22 TPT

I’ve woken to the same song playing in my head for about three weeks. The Lord speaks to me through songs and I’ve learned to pay attention. (I wrote about hearing God’s voice through music here.) This phrase in particular, from a song from the seventies by Neil Sedaka, keeps repeating:  I hear laughter in the rain.

This morning I read my Facebook and Twitter feed and felt the despair of so many people in my home province of Alberta as well as across the nation. The questions arise. Who can you trust? Who is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What is the motive behind actions that seem to intentionally divide and disempower? For that matter, what is the motive behind the motive behind that motive?

Ideas have consequences and what is in a person’s heart will eventually play out in actions. In the meantime we pray for the truth to be exposed and guard our hearts against loss of hope.

I do believe we are headed into a storm. It seems strange to be singing about joy in perilous times, yet the One who sees from a higher perspective is not in despair. In Him there is joy. Can I admit my own first reaction to that statement was, “Are you kidding me?”

Upon reflection, I realized that He is not kidding me. God is not in despair. He is full of joy.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi demonstrates what it means to respond to God’s heart instead of reacting to frustration. This is coming in the opposite spirit of whatever the enemy of our souls is trying to convince us to absorb.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I hear the Voice of the Source of love and kindness invite me to enjoy the rainy day and walk hand in hand with the One I love.

He’s got this.

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Peace in Believing

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The situations you are in are not more powerful than God.

They are not stronger than Him.

There is light.

There is truth.

There is wisdom.

There is revelation.

There is hope.

There is joy.

There is peace in believing.

-Graham Cooke, The Process Series

There is something particularly sweet about connecting with brothers and sisters in the Lord who understand pain and yet, even in dark times, walk in the light. It’s like a knowing wink across the room because they share a secret. They know what it is to be loved by the One more powerful than any situation.

When they leave, the scent of peace lingers.

Why Have Children?

newborn

I have been reading articles and listening to young friends talk about reasons they choose not to have children. They have given thought to this and their lists of reasons are logical. Children do make demands on time, finances, and emotional and physical resources. Some people would rather spend their efforts on pursuits they consider to be potentially more rewarding. Some don’t think they would be good parents. Frankly, I would rather people recognized that factor before neglecting or abusing a child. Sadly, some don’t want to risk a repetition of the home they grew up in. Intentionally childless people’s decisions are not illogical; the choice is evidence-based and values-based, but it is a unique choice historically.

In times past, when food was plentiful, and wars weren’t tearing couples apart, the population grew. Today, in many of the wealthiest countries of the world, the birthrate is shrinking below replacement levels.

All of this has made me wonder why people do choose to have children. Why, in the decades after WWII, when shortages were still a reality, and even in the years when birth control became less complicated, did people have children? I don’t think couples intentionally filled the station wagon with kids as some sort of patriotic duty to re-populate, at least not consciously. I asked some friends from my parents’ generation. One person’s response surprised me.

“It was a celebration of life, in defiance of death,” she said. “After so much loss in our homeland, we longed to share what we still had: life. We survived. We had little to give materially, but we could give the most precious thing that was given to us – the beauty and joy of being alive.”

As I thought about this, I realized that each of us owe our existence to at least two other interdependent human beings living in interdependent relationship with others. None of us got here by our own efforts. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all needed mothers who shared their bodies, and fathers who, at the very minimum, contributed part of the life force given to them. Most of us also had communities that helped raise us.

boy playing monkey bars bwI thought about beauty and joy. I remembered the beauty of a field of beaming sunflowers and the first warmth of an April sun on my face. I remembered seeing the Ice Capades with stunning athletes in sparkling costumes glide through colourful spotlights chasing them around the rink. I was five years old and wondered if my eyes could take in anything more beautiful. I remember the joy of playing with my funny kitten, Mittsy, and of discovering the delicious cold thrill of strawberry ice cream on my tongue. I remembered how I gloried in the confidant vigour of my young body as I swung on the monkey bars. These were not only gifts from my parents, but gifts passed on from a good God.

I thought about joy and my search for it through difficult times in the valley of depression when I nearly lost hope of finding it again. Last night, as I entered rest, I had a simple, but profound revelation. I have learned, through experiences that have not always been easy, that joy is discovering that God is who he says he is. He is the one Jesus came to show us.

We often think a successful life is one in which a person has an admirable career,  money to spend on pleasure, and many decades without suffering. What if there is more? Today I felt overwhelmed with shared joy as I listened to my giggling, happy grandchildren making new discoveries. At this stage of my life, when I live with the reality of a life-threatening disease, and the greater reality of death-defying hope of  life both here and in eternity, I can say this is my distilled list of reasons to have children:

  • Beauty.
  • Joy.
  • Love.
  • Hope.
  • Life. Life here and now and life forever in Christ.

I love life!

There is more provision set aside for us than we could ever possibly imagine. I thank my parents for giving of themselves. I bless them.

I thank God for creating beauty, for loving us, and sharing his joy.

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For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

(From For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliet S. Pierpont, whose parents gave their baby a distinctive, original name)

 

Resting in Greatness

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Ever lift Thy face upon me

As I work and wait for Thee;

Resting ‘neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,

Earth’s dark shadows flee.

Brightness of my Father’s glory,

Sunshine of my Father’s face,

Keep me ever trusting, resting,

Fill me with Thy grace.

 

Jesus, I am resting, resting

In the joy of what Thou art;

I am finding out the greatness 

Of Thy loving heart.

 

(From Jesus, I am Resting by Jean Sophia Pigott. 1845 -1882)