At our church last Sunday, an intern pastor preached a message that was just for me. Have you ever had that experience? It’s humbling. Early on in this post-stroke journey, I was introduced to this song, How Can I Keep From Singing? While I loved the music, the soloist (Audrey Assad), and especially the words, I could not honestly make them my own. My version went more like How can I keep on singing? Truth be told, while I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from uplifting worship music during these two years of recovery, I have not once felt like bursting into song. In fact, even when I was encouraged to sing as part of therapy to strengthen my throat muscles, I just couldn’t sing, and had no desire to. In my defense, my voice changed post-stroke and is now an octave lower than it used to be, so it sounds off key when I do sing. That has been one of the losses for me in this experience; I don’t really sing anymore. I don’t really want to. When joy is thought of as an emotion it is hard to hold on to in the storms of life. However, when joy is thought of as a state of being, it’s a refuge for the bruised and battered soul. This song speaks to that reality.
My husband tells a story from Max Lucado about Chippie, the parakeet, who one day was sucked up in the vacuum when his owner decided to clean the cage with one. If that wasn’t bad enough, Chippie’s owner then proceeded to rinse him off under the faucet and then blow him dry with the hair dryer. Though Chippie did survive the ordeal, it is said that Chippie didn’t sing anymore. I have thought of this image many times in my own recovery.
However, on Sunday the pastor reminded us that it is not about singing in hard circumstances so much as it is about testifying that His Word, promises and His character remain true, even if I don’t feel it sometimes. Some days, all I’ve been able to testify to is “His Word is Truth and therefore I can rest in the fact that His love and compassion’ never fails, His promises are always true, His mercies never end.” When I don’t feel His presence or see His healing hand at work or His power displayed in answered prayer, I can still testify to the faithfulness of The One who never changes. He is still my Rock and Refuge in the storms of life.
There is a quote from the Holy Week devotional “Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy” that has been meaningful to us this Easter. It has reminded us that joy and pain are not mutually exclusive but can exist together in the human heart, as they do in the heart of God. Joy is not the exclusion of pain but seeing pain as redemptive because of the Cross.
“Indeed, even agony will turn to glory, but Easter doesn’t suppress our pain. It doesn’t minimize our loss. It bids our burdens stand as they are, in all their weight, with all their threats. And this risen Christ, with the brilliance of indestructible life in his eyes, says, “These too I will claim in the victory. These too will serve your joy. These too, even these, I can make an occasion for rejoicing. I have overcome, and you will more than conquer. Easter is not an occasion to repress whatever ails you and put on a happy face. Rather, the joy of Easter speaks tenderly to the pains that plague you. Whatever loss you lament, whatever burden weighs you down, Easter says, “It will not always be this way for you. The new age has begun. Jesus has risen, and the kingdom of the Messiah is here. He has conquered death and sin and hell. He is alive and on his throne. And he is putting your enemies, all your enemies, under his feet.” Not only will he remedy what’s wrong in your life and bring glorious order to the mess and vanquish your foe, but he will make your pain, your grief, your loss, your burden, through the deep magic of resurrection, to be a real ingredient in your everlasting joy. You will not only conquer this one day soon, but you will be more than a conqueror (Rom. 8:37). When he wipes away every tear, our faces glisten more brilliantly than if we never would have cried. Such power is too great to simply return us to the Garden. He ushers us into a garden-city, the New Jerusalem. Easter announces, in the voice of the risen Christ, “Your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20), and “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).”
Even though my circumstances have changed minimally since my stroke over two years ago, I can honestly say the words to this song are my true testimony now. So I share them with you as my witness today of His enduring and faithful love.