Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

Thanksgiving Dissonance: Going Deeper

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4 KJV)

I keep hearing this plaintive cry of the Israelites from the pain-laced Psalm 137. Though I’m not living in exiIe as they were, I am living in a strange land of my own. It is strange for many reasons, some sharable and some not. As I near completion of radiation for breast cancer, I am also struggling with glaucoma issues that cause me to live my life between the radiation clinic and the ophthalmology office—and the couch. And November is always my month of special thanks-giving.

Though my “strange land” often feels quite lonely, I know very well that I am not alone. Many of you reading this are dealing with your own strange lands. I know. I know because I know some of you personally. But I also know because we all live in a fallen world, the backdrop against which we sing our redemption songs.  Strange lands are sometimes visible to others who live alongside us. But sometimes the strangeness lies deep within, where no one else knows. I think often of author Skye Jethani’s observation: “There is a sorrow words cannot express and no embrace can remove. It abides deep within, and is accessible only to the one who carries it.”

And there is this backdrop of the news. Every single day seems to bring more tragedy, hurt, and heartbreak. It comes in many forms—from earthquakes and floods and mass shootings to sexual abuse and domestic terror and all kinds of silent screams and secret suffering.

How shall we sing a song of thanksgiving amidst all this? Slowly, painfully, I’m finding out the answer. It is totally counter-intuitive. But it is true. We can sing a truer, deeper song of thanks when we walk along paths that push us to go deeper. This is not a new truth, and certainly not my personal discovery. Saints and sages have expressed it in many ways for centuries. When much is stripped away, what really matters most becomes clearer. A few verses (out of many) illustrate this great Biblical truth:

“. . . when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me.” (Micah 7:8b KJV)

“. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10b ESV)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NIV)

This is only the tiniest sampling of a Very Big Truth. Here’s what it has looked like in my life lately. When I am at my weakest, I feel His strength all the more powerfully. When He is all I have in the loneliest places, I want to know Him more and more. It turns out the view from the couch—or the radiation or ophthalmology waiting room—is clarifying. 

It’s a deeper Thanksgiving this year. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. The tangible blessings I have to count are endless. With six great kids and eleven precious grandchildren (just for starters!) I have more than enough to focus on in the “seeing the glass half full” department. All of us who live with full bellies and warm homes and accessible medical care have myriad blessings to count.

But here’s what I really want to say: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land is not always easy. It actually takes quite a bit of practice. But the song is all the more meaningful. And necessary. Beautiful, even. Because, as my grandson Bengt observed many years ago as a 4- or 5-year-old, out of the blue from his car seat in the back of the van: “Dad, I don’t know if you know this. But God is all the light we ever really need.”

Indeed. The Lord gives songs in the night. Day or night in your “land,” sing with me this Thanksgiving.

  

  

  

March Madness and Music Therapy

MarchMadness

March Madness is alive and well at our house. You could take this in a number of ways. For us right now, it’s all about basketball. Woody loves the suspense and drama of the NCAA tournament with all its twists and turns. And often, I do, too.

But there are many kinds of madness. And I suspect that one or two of you reading this may be experiencing a different kind of March madness. Maybe crazy schedules. You find yourselves caught between winter and spring sports, and the carpool schedule has become a tangled, impossible mess. Or never-ending winter. Will this cold and snow never go away? (If you live in Massachusetts, who knows?) Snow days, sick kids, and being housebound are making you crazy—a different kind of madness. Or the biggie: sleep deprivation. Someone is always up during the night. If you’re lucky enough to get the baby sleeping through the night, your 5-year-old is having bad dreams, your 7-year-old is throwing up, or your 3-year-old has a monster under her bed. Maybe all three . . . in the same night. It’s enough to make you crazy. Really truly crazy. The real March madness.

In the middle of all this, I have one small suggestion. Music therapy. I remember times in my mom-life when 15 rare and precious minutes of Mozart (Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who likes almost all kinds of music—even classical—sometimes especially classical) through my headphones got me through those “piranha hours.” (Remember what Max Lucado called those times when “everyone wants a piece of Mom”?) I also remember marching up and down our upstairs hallway singing “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases . . .” at the top of my lungs. Until I believed it. Some days it was a lot of singing.

I know many of you already live on your music—at least, whenever you can get it. Even though you can access your favorites in many ways these days, sleeping babies, nap times, and kid music choices for carpools do take their toll, no matter how good your headphones are. But still, you know what a mood-changer music can be.

Yes, you already know that music is life-giving. But I want to remind you of two gifts of music that you may not always remember.

First, God uses music to remind us of deep truths about Him that are easy to forget in the midst of March madness. Any kind of madness. In every season of life. In recent months I have been waking up with the words of old hymns floating through my mind. I also have found myself adding music to my quiet times with God. Whether it is old favorites on the piano or Fernando Ortega filling the living room or prayer time with Sandra McCracken’s Psalms. As I pray for the many I know with “troubled bones” (Psalm 6:2-4) or hurting hearts, I begin my prayers with Sandra McCracken’s “Dear Refuge for My Weary Soul” or MercyMe’s “Even If.” Or Shane and Shane’s “Though He Slay Me.” Or “Eye of the Storm”(Ryan Stevenson). Balm for the soul. Not only for others for whom I pray. For me. For you.

Music also is a powerful voice in your children’s ears. Some children receive and remember truths about God far better through music than in any other way. But I believe all children benefit from music. I remember great kid conversations about the fruit of the Spirit because of an album we frequently played called The Music Machine. And I’m sure nearly every one of you can add lots of current examples.

Singing!

But here’s the other thing: The songs you sing to and with your children will remain with them the rest of their lives. And yours. I know this because I hear our children singing to their children some of the very songs I sung with them. Our grandkids ask for those songs when we put them to bed. Even, in one case, in Swedish! And guess what? Some of these same songs now sing in my heart when I most need to hear them: all the verses of the old Swedish hymn “Children of the Heavenly Father” have new meaning for me in this chapter of life. And words to a song called “Peace” (also from The Music Machine): “Knowing that my Daddy’s home [my caps], God gives me peace.” And “Peace, Peace I think I understand. Peace, Peace is holding Jesus’s hand.” Yes. For me. For my children. For my grandchildren.

So keep singing your way through March—and beyond. A letter one of our kids wrote to me recently included an old Victorian quote that says it best: “. . . the songs sung over the cradle hide themselves away in the nooks and crannies of the tender life, to sing themselves out again in the long years to come.” (J.R Miller, 1880)

Keep singing! 

Gutsy Gratitude

“I feel as if I can never cease praising God. Come and rejoice with me over His goodness.” The words keep echoing in my mind. Really, in my heart. They’re the introduction to a paraphrase of Psalm 34 that is, in a sense, our family Psalm. More on that to come.

“Really? Praising God? Now? In the midst of this mess? As I sit by this hospital bed? After I’ve just buried my husband? When I am so desperately concerned about my child’s special needs? While it seems I’m always waiting for a doctor to call back about the next diagnosis/surgery/meds? When my marriage is struggling so? Rejoice? Really?” These are the other words that echo in my head—and heart. They’re not necessarily spoken words. But I see them on strained faces and hear them in worried voices and watch them in weary walks. When I am at Mom to Mom. When I visit with my neighbors. When I answer the phone. I hear them.

It’s these voices, actually, that make me love Psalm 34. I originally loved it as my Nana’s favorite Psalm. It is inscribed on her tombstone. Then I came to love it at deeper levels at the time when my father-in-law was dying by inches over a nine-week period at the age of 52. During those long weeks, my mother-in-law drove into that Chicago hospital every day and sat by his bed. They read this paraphrase of Psalm 34 together nearly every day. I often mention Psalm 34 in my teaching and writing. I often pray this Psalm in dark hours of the night. But in this chapter of my life—and in this month of giving thanks—it means more than ever. For me, it defines gutsy gratitude:

Paraphrase of Psalm 34 (from Psalms Now—Leslie F. Brandt)

I feel at times as if I could never cease praising God.

Come and rejoice with me over His goodness!

I reached for Him out of my inner conflicts, and He was there to give me strength and courage.

I wept in utter frustration over my troubles, and He was near to help and support me.

What He has done for me he can do for you.

Turn to Him; He will not turn away from you.

His loving presence encompasses those who yield to Him.

He is with them even in the midst of their troubles and conflicts.

He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.

Listen to me; I know whereof I speak.

I have learned through experience that this is the way to happiness.

God is ever alert to the cries of His children; He feels and bears with them their pains and problems.

He is very near to those who suffer

And reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair.

Even the children of God must experience affliction,

But they have a loving God who will keep them and watch over them.

The godless suffer in loneliness and without hope;

The servant of God finds meaning and purpose even in the midst of his suffering and conflict.

I reached . . . He gave. I wept . . . He was near to help and support. His loving presence wraps around us. He meets [my] emptiness with His abundance and shores up [my] weakness with His divine power. He is ever alert . . . He is very near . . . He reaches out to help.” These are the reasons—at least a few of them—that we can say the opening lines with integrity. These are the foundation of gutsy gratitude. These are the reasons we can say thank you even when it takes extraordinary courage to hang on to His truth amidst our current realities. Even in the midst of . . .  Even “if He does not . . .” (see Daniel 3:18) Even after . . .

These were the words of the ancient Psalmist (probably David, in a time of great trouble). This was the testimony of my grandmother. These were the words that sustained my husband Woody’s parents through a long dark passage. These are the words I live by. This is the truth about our great God. These truths are the reason the Apostle Paul could command us to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Wherever you are in your life, whatever your journey in this November 2016, whatever courage it may take to praise God, even though _______, I do hope these good words from our God will invade your soul and ignite within you a gutsy gratitude. A joyful outpouring of thanks that only He can give. For this I pray—for you, for me, for all of us. Because, as Ann Voskamp says “Our worlds reel unless we rejoice. A song of thanks steadies everything.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 190)

  

God’s Waiting Room: My New Home?


Is there anyone else out there who feels as if you’ve been sitting in God’s waiting room for so long that it’s beginning to feel like home?  For months you’ve been camping out there, thinking “surely this is only temporary!”  OK, so you’ve brought in the coffee pot and a few beloved books.   But now, let’s face it:  You may as well move in all the furniture.  Looks like you’ll be here a while.

That’s how I feel on this February day.  2013 has gotten off to a rough start in a lot of ways.  But the house . . . It’s been on the market over ten months now.  Approximately 75 showings.  It sold.  And then it unsold (due to buyers’ personal circumstances).  And now the clock is ticking toward the closing on our next home.  And we are still waiting.  And praying.  And praying.  And praying.  And praying.

I think a lot about God’s sovereignty in the waiting room.  I feel like those three young men faced with the fiery furnace in Daniel. They knew what God could do. But they didn’t know what God would do. Either way, He was still God. Either way, they would still worship Him.  And only Him.

As I sit here on my bench in the waiting room, God keeps reminding me of words from Andrew Murray which seem to have been written directly to me:

“In time of trouble, say, “First, He brought me here.  It is by His will that I am in this place; in that I will rest.”  Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.”  Then say, “He will make this trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He intends to bestow. “  And last, say, “In His good time, He can bring me out again.  How and when, He knows.”  Therefore, say: “I am here  1) by God’s appointment,  2) in His keeping,  3) under His training,  4) for His time.”

—Andrew Murray, quoted in Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow, p. 171

Hmm.  God’s appointment.  His training.  His timing.  And words about grace: He will “give me grace in this trial to behave as His child . . . working in me the grace He intends to bestow.”  How should His child act in this trial?  What does “grace bestowed” look like?  Well for starters, not the way I often act: anxious, fearful, pacing, worrying myself and everyone around me to distraction.

So here I am, still in the Waiting Room. Under His training. I have a lot left to learn. But I want to share with you just a few tips I’m learning in my prolonged sit-in. Call it “Things To Do While Waiting”:

  1. Cry when you need to.  God hears our cries.
  2. Vent when you need to.  That’s what friends (and husbands) are for.
  3. Read the Psalms.  A lot.  Almost any will do, but good starters are Psalms 42-43, 46, 37, and 34.
  4. Whine as little as possible.  I should say, “Don’t whine.”  But I’m just being realistic.
  5. Follow Oswald Chambers’ advice and “Do the next thing”—whatever that may be.
  6. Try living Philippians 4:6-7, turning your worries into prayers.
  7. Remember that you are not alone.  God sits with you in the Waiting Room.
  8. Remember that, despite what may seem evidence to the contrary, God is good—all the time.  And loving—all the time.  And sovereign—all the time.
  9. Keep praying.  Keep talking to God, even if your voice is barely a whisper.
  10. Ask Him to help you with trust, which is the bottom line.  “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”  Help me, Lord, to learn to trust you more.

This is definitely not a finished list, but just some thoughts from my bench in the Waiting Room.  I pray that one or two might help someone else out there in another Waiting Room.

Learning from the Little Ones

I used to say that everything I know I learned from my kids.  Now my grandkids are taking over—and teaching Nana a lot!

Consider my latest life lesson, from our granddaughter Hannah.

Hannah and her family go to a church where they sing a number of hymns based on Psalms.  Recently they have been learning a song based on Psalm 22.   She knows a lot of the words.  But she knows more: how these words of God can comfort and sustain us.

Recently there was a particularly violent thunderstorm during the night in Pensacola, where she lives.  Her parents, our son Lars and his wife Kelly, awoke to great flashes of lightening and loud cracks of thunder.  They immediately listened for the kids, but hearing nothing from the children’s rooms, went back to sleep.

In the morning, Hannah, who will soon be three, told them, “I cried in my crib last night.”  Surprised, they asked, “What did you cry about?”  “The thunder was so loud outside my window.”  Lars went on to ask, “What did you do when you cried?”

Hannah’s answer: “I sang ‘Be not far off…’”  Words from the Psalm song they have been learning at church.

Wow!  I was immediately reminded how powerful it is to help our very young children “hide God’s word in their hearts” in their earliest years.  They learn so much more than we ever imagine.

But it was also a great lesson for me.  It’s exactly what I need to do when I feel afraid.  It may not be fear of thunderstorms.  It may be concerns about a medical report or procedure, an unknown or uncertain future, or a family member or friend who seems to be running in the wrong direction.

Singing the Psalms.  I remember reading somewhere a very long time ago about a conversation between Martin Luther and his friend Philipp Melanchthon at a time when Luther was undergoing deep depression.  “Come, let’s sing the Psalms.  Let’s sing the Psalms.”

Thank you, Hannah, for reminding us.  Let’s sing the Psalms!

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