My Constant Friend

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Transplant Day Nineteen
November 30, 2019

Sleep would not come easily last night. It occurred to me that I would probably struggle all night to get to sleep, and I began to hope for the coming of daybreak. As I drifted slowly into sleep, I did what I often do on sleepless nights. I began to sing a hymn, under my breath of course, careful not to disturb Fred’s sleep. I began to sing a Gospel hymn Fred and I used to sing many years ago. In our church, or in concert at other churches, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was one of the favorites every time we sang it. It was certainly one of my favorites and last night while experiencing a little pain, it came to mind that God was indeed watching over me and, as the hymn says, “Jesus is my portion, my constant friend . . .”

Of course, I also began whispering the Scripture text that inspired this hymn.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

— Matthew 10:29-31 New International Version (NIV)

And then the hymn:

Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart feel lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw still closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I love learning the stories behind the hymns we sing. This is the writer’s story behind “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

Civilla Martin was born in Nova Scotia in 1866. Her husband was an evangelist who traveled all over the United States. She accompanied him and they worked together on most of the musical arrangements.

In 1904 Civilla was visiting a very ill friend. Although discouraged and sick, her friend remembered that God was watching over each sparrow and would certainly watch over  her. She shared with Civilla the words in Matthew 10: ” . . . don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Civilla was a poet and thought this would be a perfect idea for a poem. She jotted down the idea and by the end of the day, had completed “His Eye is On The Sparrow.” The entire poem was sent to a well-known composer of that day, Charles Gabriel. His lovely music has carried it all around the world in small churches and great crusades.

And then there is my story behind this hymn: that I learned it decades ago and sang it often; that it spoke comfort to me back then, just as it did last night when sleep would not come; that God has given me the gift I call hymn memory so that every time I need encouragement, the text of a hymn — usually every word of the hymn — comes to mind to comfort me.

For this gift, I give thanks to God. Daybreak did come this morning, but before that I was led by the message of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” into a restorative night of sleep. And I know this truth in all my deep places: “Jesus is my portion, my constant friend.”

I hope you will take a moment to enjoy this video of the hymn.

Resting in God’s Love

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Where do I find God? There are times when, for whatever the reason, I feel estranged from God. There are times when, though my faith tells me that God is near, I simply do not feel God’s presence. During those times, my prayer seems empty. I cannot connect to God. I cannot sense God’s love. I feel lost and confused. I cannot make myself believe that God loves me.

Sometimes God speaks to me through the words of others. Bishop Steven Charleston writes these comforting words:

You are not lost. Not to me.
And never will be.
No matter where you may be,
no matter how far or deep or dark
or empty or alone or confusing or new
or complex or tangled
or bad or difficult,
I will find you.
I will find you and I will be with you.
I will come to you and hold you and care for you
and uplift you and protect you
and heal you and save you
and bring you home.
So you never need be afraid.
Never. For you will not be lost, not to me.
I have you. Now and forever.
Be at peace and rest in that peace.
You will never be in a place my love cannot find.
So says our God.

Without fail, I eventually return to peace. I find my way back, every time, and I find myself again resting in God’s love.

Stumbling Upon Grace

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Life can sometimes find us in a stumbling mess of confusion. But God’s blessing is that we are stumbling upon varying degrees of grace in every moment. It is grace that empowers us. It is grace that gives us strength to move forward. It is grace that saves us from ourselves. It is grace that helps us deal with discouragement. John R. W. Scott wrote that “grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”

I have lived a great many years, struggling through parts of life, racing like the wind through others. Something made the difference in my ability to run with the wind during times when I was weary and weak. I believe that the difference was grace, grace that always has the final word, grace that calls out to us and nudges us onward when we’re afraid to move, grace that is an overwhelming and undeserved gift from God that enables us to live, change and grow.

Living on daily dialysis, waiting for a possible kidney transplant, living a long way from my child and my grandchildren, struggling with medical expenses, dealing with failing health, becoming aware of my mortality . . . The list could go on and on. Yet, I am okay. I enjoy my life. As the beloved hymn says, “it is well with my soul.” That’s because grace lights my darkened world and fills my soul with eternal hope.

I rest on this timeless quote by Thomas Adams (1612-1653):

“Grace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a light; and at last the sun in its full and excellent brightness.”

So I am continuing to stumble through life, but I am stumbling upon grace.