Sound-Proofing the Soul

Masada

“Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”              I Thessalonians 4:9-12

“Jesus, living a quiet life sounds so inviting, but I know it won’t come easily. I ask for the grace to mind my own business, not so I can close myself off from the world, but that I won’t add to the noise.”                       John Blase, Our Daily Bread, October 16, 2019

We live in a very noisy world! My current situation has seemed to amplify this truth. As I prayerfully seek to keep my thoughts focused on all the Good, the True, and the Beautiful found in my Savior and Best Friend, I have been aware of the frequent assaults that can distract my attention. The devotional that accompanied the thoughts with which I opened this post was providentially provided when I needed it the most. The quiet life is to be treasured! Loving others and using the gifts He has given me in service to others is my passion, but I am feeling little in the way of opportunity. Changing my expectations concerning other people has become very necessary. I do not want to participate in the noise-making nor is it conducive to good health. I desire the quiet life lived in His presence, but greatly miss the fellowship so precious in the past. Three assaults on the quiet have become apparent during the last year.

The first is angry people on the attack. I am learning that some people do not seek resolution. I recall one situation in which I suggested that we pray together. Although this was first met with agreement my reaching to support an aching back was met with an accusation of negative body language. My suggestion that we sit while praying again received an angry response. When I suggested that I would stay and pray alone I was told to “knock myself out!” The following verses have brought comfort and perspective.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165 (Note: I particularly love this verse in the King James where it reads “nothing shall offend them.” This has always meant a great deal to me since it was first shared during a prayer meeting devotional lead by Pastor Thomas King at Cornwall Baptist Church in the 1980’s. Do pastors ever really know the way in which they are used?)

“Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful (Again I love the King James version of this which says that love “thinketh no evil.”); it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I Corinthians 13:4-7

Rather than being blind-sided by these unanticipated, no-win encounters I must change my expectations and withdraw when appropriate. Such action helps preserve the quiet life to which I am called. Another very timely provision, for which I am greatly appreciative, is a book recommendation from my sister, Joan. Wounded by God’s People by Anne Graham Lotz. Timely indeed! Knowing He sees, understands, and loves me just as I am, encourages me to listen to the voice of my Faithful Friend, Who, though perfect, knew more rejection, malice, and both verbal and physical assaults than I will ever know. But He never reciprocated the anger and hatred aimed toward Him nor defended Himself. He only did so in defense of His Father. May the power of His presence help me to continue to love without defense.

The second is the assault through unproductive comments concerning my condition. Comments like “You seem a little off today” pronounced as judgement rather than concern for or inquiry as to your condition can make a cancer patient self-conscious. People who share their research concerning the side-effects of your oral chemotherapy with laughter about how bad it can get and how awful it can be are disconcerting and baffling. My prayer is that I will never do the same to anyone else. The Lord has enabled me to not take offense and to continue to love them, believing they are well-intentioned. This is His gift.  Remember? “Nothing shall offend them.” Loving His law and trusting His goodness deafens me to discouragement and fears.

The third assault comes from a sense of being side-lined, hearing an unprofitable song called Rejected, Unnecessary, and Alone. As I have shared before, I have such a strong desire to be engaged in “furthering His Kingdom before I have one foot in it!” When emails to five different people receive no response and someone’s Facebook post concerning a hydrangea bush receives more response than a post concerning answered prayer it is extremely sobering.

Although it would be great to have others accept the invitation to my celebration, I am realizing that He is the greatest party-planner of them all! The music He brings to my soul, the nourishment He provides through His Word, and His presence guarantee a great time. I am learning that He will take care of the guest list. For example, the other day I received an email from someone from my past who was writing just to express joy in what God has been doing in my life. This shows me that I do not even schedule the parties!

I must honestly confess that it is extremely difficult for me to await His timing regarding service, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to continue to teach. I have an incredible joy in sharing the truth of mathematics and in seeking to support the success of my students. Joan has repeatedly reminded me that service is not always in the big events and responsibilities, but in the living of every day. I have often joked with her about my shopping ministry. It is amazing the opportunities that arise when you are aware of those around you, from fellow customers to cashiers! I have also joked about going on deputation seeking support funds for my ministry!

A very timely release, James K. A. Smith’s On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, has helped bring clarity. I am reminded that I am a spiritual refugee in the present world and must hold everything lightly. I find myself seeking others who realize that we are living in a very temporary tent city on our way to our true home in Heaven. No music of this world compares with the songs of celebration we will share in the world to come! The present noise distracts and gives me pause on the path on which He has placed me. When this happens, I am learning to sing songs of worship and Truth.

I am reminded of my visit to Masada in Israel so many years ago. Instead of hiking to the top, I boarded a cable car believing that it would take me to the summit only to discover that I still needed to climb stone steps carved into the cliff. Being extremely afraid of heights I began to panic, but I found that if I let my mind sing the song, “Marching to Zion” my fear subsided. “Come, we who love the Lord, and let our joys be known …. We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”  I rhythmically marched upward and reached the top. It would serve me well to remember that I am still marching and still climbing, following the One Who is leading me Home. That realization will surely help eliminate any unwelcome noise! Singing helps sound-proof my path!

My article, In with the Lions, Out with the Lamb, posted on this site, was written after my first cancer experience. How enriching the last two experiences have been! I have so much more to learn in this Classroom Called Cancer. I am just so thankful that the truly victorious Lion of Judah loves me enough to teach me how to live this quiet life free of the noise of the world and its pursuits. The Lamb of God still brings “me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (I Samuel 22:20) And He sound-proofs my soul for His purposes!

“Then let our songs abound, 
And every tear be dry:
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.”   Robert Lowry

A Writer’s Waterloo

castle.pptx (1)

                                                     To write, or not to write, that is the question:
                                                     Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
                                                     The slings and arrows of outrageous critique,
                                                     Or to take arms against a flood of insecurity
                                                     And by opposing end it.
                                                     To write – to proclaim Who He is!
                                                     Cancer Diagnosis 3 Blog Post 1
                                                     (Based on Hamlet Act 3 Scene 1)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9

Starting a blog site seemed like such a wonderful idea. People had been praying for me and God had been teaching me so much and taking such good care of me that I really wanted a means to share His Truth and encourage others. Such pure motivation should have resulted in action, but it has been over four years since I completed my one and only post.

That one post was written in the middle of the night before I was to attend a writers group meeting. Although I love to write I always feel emotionally naked with the level of transparency required. I left for New Jersey that morning not knowing whether I would attend the meeting or not. There was a funeral I could attend instead, and it was to be held in the same vicinity. Facing what I considered a sort of Waterloo, another kind of funeral, I decided to attend the meeting. I decided to fight despite the possibility that my dream might lie dead on the field, or maybe at least exiled to some distant part of my heart, like a kind of Never-write-again Bonaparte.

Awaiting my turn on the front line, I listened as the work of far more gifted writers suffered the volley of criticism. When it was my turn, the wounds were minor, I was still standing, and my tears were in response to the shock of sincere and genuine encouragement. So why have I not written? Perhaps I suffer from CWLTAD, Cannot Write Like That Again Disorder! Maybe that one post is the best I will ever write.

On March 25, 2019 I learned that my breast cancer is now in my liver. It is terminal, but treatable. My condition has allowed me to further consider my original writing goals in order to use my remaining time wisely. Three main reasons have gained clarity resulting in amplified motivation.

The first reason is perhaps the most prominent.  I am compelled to share the joy the Lord has given me and the great things He has done for me. I am reminded of the shepherds who, after seeing the new-born Jesus and being told His true identity, shared the good news with others and “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:18 & 20) God is a wonderful Father and I have experienced His care and provision. He continues to demonstrate His character and love. It is my prayer that others will be encouraged and join me in celebrating Who He is.

Secondly, I am aware that each of us will leave a legacy to those who follow. When I lived in Down East Maine I would often stop at the Evergreen Cemetery in Cooper, Maine, a very small rural resting place for many generations of my mother’s family. As I walked among the stones identifying many I will first meet in the next life, I felt a connection with a legacy of faith and fidelity. I would wonder how many of those ancestors had prayed for my mother, or even for me. Admittedly this is a melancholic endeavor, but one from which I drew encouragement. My grandfather, Lindsay Clarke, for example, is one whose life continues to inspire me with its goodness, gentleness, integrity, and intellect, although I lost him when I was a very young teen. Often, I am reminded of a line from Mark Antony’s funeral speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Although this is often true, this is not true of my dear “Grampie” Clarke and I pray that this would not be true of me. When I am with the Lord, I hope that any memory of me will provoke a recounting of His strength being made perfect in my weakness. Perhaps posting to a blog will bring this wish to fruition.

The third of my reasons is the maintenance of a positive mindset in order to promote inner emotional health. Having recently embraced classical education I have developed a passion for seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful. All of these are sourced in my great God Whose Word includes instructions for doing so. Although it is completely contrary to the temperament with which I was born I do find myself “addressing [myself] in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [my] heart.” (Ephesians 5:19) In the privacy of my own home my dancing heart is sometimes accompanied by dancing feet. Such joy is not inherent; it is a gift. He has also told me that I am to think about things that are “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) As His Spirit diverts destructive self-talk and silences unproductive “ear worms”, my heart is stronger, and I can concentrate on His goodness, truth, and beauty. I have a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11) and they are both found in, through, and with Him. (Acts 17:28) His song is eternal! “Let me be singing when the evening comes!” (from 10,000 Reasons, by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman)

To blog, or not to blog? I unsheathe my favorite writing instrument, prayerfully mount my trusty steed of inspiration, and ride into the battle against insecurity. Faith is my shield! His presence brings strength. May His goodness, truth, and beauty bring victory, and may His banner be lifted high! (Psalm 20:5 & 7)

 

 

 

When the Music Stops

iceskater

The viewers watched in amazement at the 1973 World Figure Skating Championships as the Russian pair, Aleksandr Zaitsev and Irina Rodnina, continued to skate without hesitation although their music had stopped in the middle of their program. As they completed their routine the crowd rose to their feet in admiration. Through their endurance the pair pleased the judges and won the competition.

Music is so much a part of my life that it sometimes seems there is a soundtrack accompaniment to my daily life.  During especially difficult times the Spirit appears to bring just the song that is needed to provide encouragement, hope, or perspective. This has been demonstrated repeatedly during my recent cancer experience when I find myself expressing worship, praise, and surrender by songs that flow through me. Then early one morning the music stopped!

At 4:00 AM on Sunday morning after my first round of chemotherapy I awoke with extremely intense bone pain in my feet, legs, and hands. Next came acute intestinal distress. In the midst of my agony I became very aware that the music had stopped. The songs which had brought such peace were replaced by one word – “endure.” Next came the assurance that God would enable me to do so. The discomfort prevented sleep and brought a lack of focus on anything I tried to read. Endure! That was all. Relief finally came on Monday evening at about 6:00 PM when I was able to sleep in two-hour intervals. Through God’s enablement I was back at work on Tuesday, in spite of lingering pain.

Throughout the entire experience I never thought that God would in any way find pleasure in my endurance. In fact I have come to realize that my desire to please Him often puts more emphasis on avoiding displeasing Him. Could it be that in continuing with a routine of trust and faith in spite of the interruption in the music, I had actually brought pleasure to the One Who loves me best?

God seemed to communicate that through my pastor, John Torres, who shared his thoughts on Psalm 147:11, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” He quoted the Olympic runner, Eric Liddell, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  Could it be that my endurance actually brought pleasure to God as I continued in the lane to which He assigned me, even though I know He was the one who empowered and propelled me forward to complete the program without the music?  Prayerfully trusting Him, may I “run with endurance the race that is set before [me]” – even when the music stops.