A Sinner Lies Beside Me

I have written about forgiveness before on this blog. It’s one of those things we always want for ourselves, but not something we find easy to extend to others. This is true in even the most superficial relationships, but perhaps particularly true in our most intimate ones. Around this time last year, my husband and I were working through a conflict. We knew that we had promised to love one another, and even in absence of such a promise, we had a Christian calling to forgive others, no matter how difficult it was to do. I wrote this as I was reflecting on that calling, and praying for the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and make me gracious beyond my own ability. I wanted to share it here in case one of you is struggling to extend grace to someone in your life.. Perhaps someone has wronged you, and perhaps very gravely. You do not have to pretend that the person’s actions were justified in order to release them of any debt to you. Instead, trust in Christ, who extended you forgiveness in dying for your sins, who can empower you to love when you have no love, and who has an answer for every injustice ever done, either through His saving work on the cross, or in the work of judgement at the end of the age.

A Sinner Lies Beside Me 

A sinner lies beside me. A sinner in my womb, 

A sinner at the grocery. A sinner in the waiting room.

A sinner on the TV talking, a sinner in the uniform,

A sinner with the law book, writing, a sinner dead, a sinner born.

A sinner in the jail cell, a sinner in the court,

A sinner who is laughing, and a sinner who mourns.

A sinner in the window, a sinner on the street,

A sinner every man, woman, child that I meet.

A sinner lies beside me, a sinner in my womb,

A sinner in the mirror, He bled for me and you.

While I was yet a sinner, 

He humbled himself to die,

To save the souls of rebels, 

And them to justify.

And will I now forget it,

The grace I have received?

Deny to give it freely to,

A sinner just like me?

I must extend as he did,

The crimson love he poured,

To rescue me from trouble,

That I might be restored.

A sinner is beside me,

And to him must be given,

The blessing of forgiveness,

For I have been forgiven.

Today, all well and good. Tomorrow? Next week? Five years? Ten? Sixty? Only by God’s grace, and oh Lord, that you would grip my soul so powerfully with your gracious hand, that I might never be released from its holy power. Forgiveness is in and through your spirit. Seventy times seven, you said. Oh let it be so in my life.

“It Is Well with my Soul” | My Instrumental Arrangement

When I heard this was my then fiancé’s favorite hymn, I had it in my head to arrange it for him, but every time I sat down to do it I felt I couldn’t quite capture the mood I wanted to. It is a hymn that has meant a great deal to many over the decades, and I wanted to do the words justice, even if the words wouldn’t actually be sung in my version. A few months ago, we had the occasion to record some hymns for a church event facilitated by one of our friends. Deadlines are always immensely helpful for me in the creative process, so at last, I managed to record an arrangement I was happy with.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say

it is well, it is well with my soul.”

In this hymn, we find someone reconciling the good and the hard, as I have written about before. Whether times are easy, or fraught with trial and difficulty, the speaker is able to say, “It is well with my soul.”

But why? You may ask. Indeed, the writer of this hymn had recently lost his children in a shipwreck. How can one possibly say, “It is well?” in such a situation?

“Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blessed assurance control:

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate

and has shed his own blood for my soul.”

Thus, it is the blood of Christ which gives the speaker the ability to rest. Even in the darkest shadow of grief, he has hope through Jesus, who secured eternal life for all who trust in him when he gave himself up on the cross.

“My sin–oh the bliss of this glorious thought–

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord oh my soul!”

The speaker recognizes that he, like every one of us, was born into bondage. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot free himself from his sin nature, that is, that part of him that compels him to think, say, and do wrong things. This is a problem, when you consider that a perfect and holy God must be perfectly just. There must be an answer for evil, including all the evil that you and I have done. God’s answer is found in Jesus. He took the punishment I deserved, and praise the Lord I can agree with the speaker in saying I bear my sin no more, and praise God, so do you if you trust in Jesus.

The hymn finishes with a triumphant vision of Christ’s glorious return at the end of the age. The speaker has such security in Christ that even as that dreadful time of judgement approaches, and those who have rejected Christ draw near to destruction, he can confidently say, “It is well”, because he knows his salvation is sure in Jesus.

“And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.”

It is Well, Instrumental

Note: Though I think the theology of this hymn is sound, the writer, Horatio Spafford, had some very erroneous theological beliefs, and should not be considered an example of a faithful believer. When I use the word “speaker”, I mean it in the sense of poetic analysis, rather than in reference to the author. As we have seen many times throughout history, God is a mighty redeemer and can use even the lost to produce great works to encourage and uplift his people. I think that is the case here.

Do you have a favorite hymn? Why is it your favorite? Let me know in the comments. Perhaps I’ll be inspired to arrange that one, too.

Christ Identifies with Us in Pregnancy

Not far into pregnancy, I quickly discovered, as I’m sure many women do, that morning sickness is one of the great misnomers of our time. Morning sickness? You mean all day sickness? And if you’re referring to the time of day that it’s the worst, rather than the time of day that it is there (AKA nearly all the time), I would have to call it afternoon or evening sickness. The first time I threw up during my pregnancy was around two Pm. My husband noticed I was losing color, and encouraged me to lie down. He had to run out for a few things, so left me with a pot, just in case. I wasn’t expecting to do anything with the pot; so far over the last 12 weeks I only felt like throwing up, but never actually did… but only a few minutes after my husband had departed, I reached for the pot and clutched it to my chest. 

Maybe it’s called morning sickness because you throw up everything you ate in the morning, I theorized vaguely as fragments of my first meal made their rather uncivil reappearance. Why IS bringing new life into the world such a painful process, I wondered then, returning shakily to my pillow. Sin, I think, is the answer to that question, but we needn’t stop there. After all, there is an answer to sin, that is, Jesus, and he endured discomfort, pain, and humiliation to bring new life to all of God’s children. 

I am struck by the way pregnancy and birth, with all the associated difficulty and sometimes embarrassing side-effects, can point us to the cross. In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to be saved, he must be “born again” (John 3:1-7). This is because Nicodemus, like you and I, was first born with a nature prone to hating and rebelling against God. That is, he was physically alive, but spiritually he was “dead in his transgressions” (Ephesians 2:1). 

But how, as Nicodemus quickly asks, can one be born again? How does this “second birth” take place? Jesus says that it is through Him. In order for us to be reborn, Jesus, the Son of God, became also the Son of Man. He was born into the humblest of human situations. He endured the difficulties of daily life, including being tempted in all ways as we are. Though he remained always without sin, he chose to take on the penalty of our wrongdoing and suffered death on a cross.

Christ knows, more than anyone, what it is to suffer on behalf of another. He knows what it is to endure discomfort and even agonizing, unimaginable pain in order to bring new life into the kingdom of GOd. When I remember what Christ did for me, that I might receive new life, the trials and tribulations of pregnancy not only become easier to bear, but become also an opportunity to share, if very shallowly, in the sufferings of my savior. Through my discomfort, I get the joy of bringing a new life into the world, just as through his suffering, Christ granted new birth to every believer.

It’s not the comparison itself that matters. Any potential pain in pregnancy and birth will be nothing compared to the infinite anguish born by our Lord, but only the fact that it points me to him, that in every step of this process, from headaches to nausea to labor, I can reflect on the things Christ endured to make me new. Not only that, but in the moments that I start to think “I can’t do this” (I’m sure that thought will come in labor if not before), I can throw myself upon the one who identifies in every way with my struggles, and in fact knows them far more profoundly than I. It is truly wonderful to have a God and savior who sympathizes in every way with our weaknesses.

On the Temptation to Be Idol

It’s a pale, grey light that filters weakly through my curtains. I feel drowsy, and no wonder, when the world seems to be saying, “Slumber.” 

But my thoughts cannot settle into sleep, punctuated as they are by the constant clang of that convicting proverb… 

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

And so I blink and type and try to stave off rest another while, and use this gifted time for noble things. Still, I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t rather be in my dreams.

But as the puritans knew very well, nice as momentary pleasures may be, it is a far greater joy to do my duty for Christ, than to live this life for me.

My best defense against that dreaded thief of time is to pray the Lord will keep that blessed proverb clanging, that I will hear and obey every given day, and serve even in my yawning.

“As the Lord Forgave You” | Reflections on God’s Justice and Our Call to forgive

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

I took a moment this morning to consider this verse. I thought about what it meant to forgive. I thought about the people I had had difficulty forgiving. Exhibit A. my speech teacher in college, whom we will refer to as Dr. X. I went out of my way that semester, a semester that I began with an emergency surgery and three day stay in the hospital, I went above and beyond in her class, and I received an “A/B” on all of my speeches. A/B? I had never received such a mark in my life. What did it even mean?

Person holding a red pen.
Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com

I requested clarification from her and she replied that she “hadn’t decided yet”. Keep in mind this was on assignments I had turned in over the course of weeks and weeks of classes. She hadn’t decided whether my assignments were worthy of an A or a B marking after that long? Why? And how could I improve without a clear understanding of where I stood grade wise?

In the end, she never gave me a proper answer, despite my repeated queries, and eventually gave me a B in the class.

The injustice of it all made me furious for years, and I had to take some time every time I thought about forgiveness to forgive her. She was just doing her best to grade her students fairly, I told myself… trying to quench my anger, Only to realize I didn’t believe that. I believed she was biased, I believe she graded me unfairly because she didn’t like the views I had expressed in speeches and didn’t like the fact that I missed three of her classes and still did well. I had plenty of evidence supporting those claims, and I stand by them. I don’t have to abandon them in order to forgive her. Our culture often seems to define forgiveness as finding a reason that someone’s behavior might be excusable, and then excusing it on that basis. But is that really forgiveness? Is that the pardon that Paul is referring to when he talks about forgiving others as Christ forgave us?

When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he didn’t die for a bunch of things we did without knowing any better. We have the law. We knew what was right and wrong and we did The wrong thing over and over again anyway, and he forgave that.

I must conclude, then, that merely excusing behavior as somehow acceptable when it was not is not what is meant when we are told to forgive others. God, even in his magnificent grace, does not abandon justice in his response to wrongdoing. He does not explain away our deceit or adultery or covetousness as “understandable in our situation”. No. He is the righteous judge, who demands a price to be payed for all evil.

Wooden cross.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For the believer, this price is paid in full by the blood of Christ. We are declared innocent not because we are, but because Christ took on the sentence we deserved. This means that any evil committed against me by a fellow Christian has not gone unanswered. Like my own sin, their’s has been paid for by Jesus. A sobering thought. Can I really remain unforgiving when I realize that the same blood shed for my own evil was shed also for their’s? Equally sobering is acknowledging God’s answer to the non-believer’s sin, that is, hell. 

God’s response to evil is wholly sufficient, whether through the cross or through his eternal judgement. Thus, I need not fear recognizing my neighbor’s offense as truly wrong. As angry as I may be, reflecting on God’s provisions for perfect justice must lead me to forgiveness and even tenderness, not because what they did was okay, but because what they did has been, or will be, rightly dealt with. I cannot, and need not, add anything to God’s justice through my own retribution. Furthermore, if the offender was a non-believer, I should, at least at some level, be moved to compassion knowing that this person is facing eternal damnation. This is someone who, like me, needs the Gospel and if I, a Gospel believer, respond to them with hate and vitriol, I venture to say that they will be no more likely to turn to the one I claim as savior. 

Forgiving a professor for an unjust grade may be a small thing, and indeed it is, but God’s answer is the same for little injustices as for immeasurably grievous ones. The Lord does not ask us to excuse evil. He commands us to forgive, knowing that he will handle every evil great and small with righteous judgement. I think that is a much more satisfying model of mercy than anything our culture could offer.

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 2

This is the continuation of Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1. For full context, I recommend giving that a read first.

My husband and I on our wedding day with black lab Prim. I am wearing a fifties style white, cap-sleeve dress with sweetheart neckline and puffy skirt. My husband is in his navy suit. Prim is wearing a burlap vest trimmed with blue ribbon, strings of pearls, and pink flowers.

I know we weren’t the only 2020 couple that got our wedding plans totally derailed by Covid restrictions. Fortunately, our August date fell at a time when we were allowed to have 20 some people in person at the ceremony. We had to let go of our hotel wedding with over a hundred guests, including all of my family and friends from America. I wouldn’t be able to wear my grandmother and mother’s wedding dress, as I had hoped. My mom wouldn’t be there to help me get ready. My brothers would not be groomsmen. My best friends from the States wouldn’t be standing with me. My Dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, and the toasts and dancing I had imagined for our reception wouldn’t happen either.

But praise God we could still get married! I ordered my 27 euro white dress on Amazon. I set to making wedding vests for our flower girl and ring bearer, that is, Prim and my nephew puppy. Several of my sweet friends from church helped me put together decorations and set up the church hall for ceremony and reception. My dear friend’s mother-in-law gathered beautiful arrangements of wild flowers and greenery for the tables and window sills. Our family gifted us the money for our reception meal, and friends offered us white table cloths and silverware to dress up the dinner. 

Here again was the good and the hard. I didn’t forget everyone and everything I was missing that day. My heart ached for the presence of my loved ones far away, and for the traditions we wouldn’t get to take part in because of the lockdowns. All of that is true, and yet also true was the anticipation I felt as I waited, dressed and ready in my friend’s car, with my flowers and Grandmother’s Bible clutched in my arms. Prim was excited too, sweet in her burlap vest covered in pink hyacinths and pearls. I was breathless as my maid of honor helped me into the church and hovered with me at the door of the sanctuary. My stomach lurched at hearing the harp begin to play. It was almost time!

“Are you nervous?” my friend asked in a whisper.

“I’m so excited!” I whispered back, feeling like I might actually choke with the thrill of it all.

It took seconds for my friend and I to walk down the aisle, and then I was beside him, and all there was was joy. His hand found mine, and I held on. We smiled and laughed and sang our way through the ceremony, and walked out into the August sunshine, officially husband and wife.

God seems to have made the human heart with the capacity to enjoy blessing and endure trial at the same time, to live through hard things, and know that they can still be good, or at least, that good still exists because the God of goodness remains. I don’t understand how our wedding day could be as blessed and sweet as it was with all the hard that was attached to it, but by God’s grace it was, and I smile every time I think of the day I became my husband’s bride. 

God makes the same commitment to his church as my love and I made to one another on that August afternoon. 

“I take thee”, Jesus says to his bride, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”, though our Lord, in his sovereign kindness need not finish, “until death do us part”. Instead, he can truly say, “And death shall never part us.” because of what Christ did at Calvary.

As my friend pointed out, the Gospel is our greatest example of the good and the simultaneous hard. Jesus, though blameless, lived a life of difficulty, “A man of sorrows acquainted with grief”. Though innocent, he died the death of the worst criminal, and suffered the wrath of his father. And yet, he rose again on the third day, and it is because of all of these things that the Christian can be declared righteous before God. The “Good News” of the Gospel is wrapped up in the most difficult experience a human has ever endured. While there may be times where blessing and trial come in tandem, as it did on our wedding day, it is ultimately this good news that gives us hope even when it seems blessing is altogether absent, so that even then we can say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Reconciling the Good and the Hard, Part 1

When a loved one of mine got married, they shared with me a lot about the struggles they were experiencing in the transition. Most of them were normal growing pains that I had either gone through myself in my own transition to marriage, or heard others mention concerning their own, but some struggles were challenges unique to them and their situation. Many of them were difficult, even exceptionally so, but a month after their wedding day my friend said something that has stuck with me ever since. 

“Our marriage is really hard,” she said, “but bad and hard are not the same thing. Our marriage is hard, but it is also good, and that’s okay.”

Her statement pretty much sums up how I feel about 2020. It was hard. Like many others, I experienced far greater loneliness and isolation than ever before in my life. During our first three months of pandemic lockdown, I finally understood what King David meant when he said, “darkness is my closest friend”. Weeping became a regular part of my daily ritual. All of the melodies I found singing or playing instruments seemed to be sad ones. It was all I could do to eat the same things, walk the same routes, and write, as I was finishing a master’s degree at the time. Anything else felt far too monumental even to attempt.

Even so, oh, the Lord was so kind to me all that time. He drew me to prayer, brought me to much-needed truth in his word, and after several weeks, even brought my heart to rejoicing in the very midst of the trial. It’s not that the sadness went away, but the Lord, ever so gently, opened my eyes to the fact that it was my own selfish anger and bitterness about my situation that had driven me to the greatest depths of my despair. That April evening, he called me to repentance during a phone conversation with my, at the time, fiancé. I nearly felt betrayed by the words coming out of my mouth when the Lord finally caused me to submit to the sovereign plan he had decreed for that period in my life. 

The relief that flooded me immediately after was utterly unexpected. All the weeks before I had been fighting for all I was worth, stubbornly insisting that life MUST be different than it was, believing that I could somehow change my circumstances by pure will power, but I couldn’t. As I failed day in and day out to alter the things that felt SO UNFAIR, I grew more and more despondent. It wasn’t until that moment of submission that anything changed. I felt like I was giving in. I felt like I was losing some battle I had been determined to win, but the peace that washed over me those seconds after I spoke was not the feeling of a defeated warrior. It was the feeling of a rebellious child who had finally come back to her loving father in obedience. Those weeks were hard, some of the hardest I have ever experienced, but in some ways, they were good, if for no other reason than the one who carried me through them was the good shepherd himself.

Those weeks were characterized by several other traumas that I will not detail here, but I am grateful to say they did not last much longer past spring. After a change in housing, I spent a truly blissful summer in the Irish countryside, graced daily by food, family, work, and constant music. There was not one, but two pianos in the house where I stayed those six wonderful weeks. It was there that I began to heal from the physical and mental traumas of the springtime, and, I’m happy to say, started prepping in earnest for my upcoming wedding. 

To be continued in part II.

Songs with Significance — Winter 2018/19

In the fall, I decided to start a 

seasonal series on the significant songs in my life. This is the list I have compiled for winter 2018/19.

Lost Sparks (Canyon City)

Firework (Canyon City)

I know all the words to this song.

Agape (Bear’s Den)

Above the Clouds of Pompeii (Bear’s Den)

Isaac (Bear’s Den)

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

My favorite Christmas song this last Christmas season and one I had the opportunity to sing at our candle-lit service.

Be Alright (Dean Lewis)

Because unrequited love is a bear.

Ocean Side (the Decemberists)

Because requited love means you need songs to listen to while you are separated over the holiday break.

The Upswing (Bel X1)

We got to see them in concert with the strings in February and it was a great show!

Some Surprise (Lisa Hannigan and Paul Noonan)

I’m still somewhat surprised.

When You Were Sweet Sixteen (The Fureys)

This song will forever remind me of my clients at my first music therapy placement.

Oh Love that Will Not Let Me Go

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

This has been a refrain for me in so many prayers over the last few months, and I think will continue to be.

As before, it is so profound to listen to all these songs in the same sitting, and relive some of the  experiences they are attached to. Some of it is painful to relive, some joyous, some simply peaceful. It’s amazing how music can evoke so much, even just in the listening. I look forward to doing it again in the Spring!

 

Thankful for a Compelling Savior

One thing our culture hates about God is that he is uncompromising.  He demands certain behaviors of us, and condemns others, and there are consequences if we do not respond.  We see that here.  The master of the house invites several people to come in and be a part of his banquet, but each refuses, citing some excuse.  Thus, the master says that none of those who were invited and denied his invitation will taste anything of the feast he has prepared.  So uncompromising? Yes.

But he is also a God who compels.

“16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.

17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.

24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24)

Though some refused him, he sends out someone to compel others to attend the feast.  Someone, like Jesus himself.  Yes, God has standards, the highest ones imaginable, but God knows that we are broken, and in his great love for us he does not abandon us to our brokenness.  We are poor.  We have nothing to offer the God of the universe, and yet he does not simply leave us to suffer in our poverty.  We are blind, but we are not condemned to darkness.  We are lame, but we are not resigned to a life of immobility.  Jesus moves us through his sacrifice, which demonstrated his love for us and atoned for our sin.  He compels us through the Holy Spirit, who moves in our hearts that we might be able to hear and respond to the master’s call.

“If today you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.”  If we feel convicted over our sin, we should not be angry that the righteous creator God has called us out.  Instead, we should recognize that such conviction is a mercy.  It’s a call to come in and enjoy the feast of grace that God has prepared for all who are willing to partake.