We Walk By Faith

Welcome Back!

Welcome back! Oh, wait a minute, ‘tis I who’s been out of touch since mid-July – yikes!

My schedule has undergone a pretty drastic change since business has picked up at my house.  Daughter Weslee and three boys now live with me. But my house is WAY too big for just me so that part is working out just fine. Wes and Chris are going through a divorce; they are both doing a hard thing well. In His perfect world, I doubt God intended for there to be divorce, nor in our imperfect world did Wes, Chris, his family, or ours intend it. But under the circumstances, it may well be the best thing for all long-term. It is not mine to approve, disapprove, or judge. It is what it is and we are looking forward not back while making the best of Plan B. (This is not our first experience with Plan B.)

Carolyn, clearly one of the best student ministers First Baptist Church downtown ever had, our forty-year friend, was also mother to Weslee’s best friend, and hubby to Wayne, who at that time traveled nearly every week in his also full-time employment. One day she blew in tardy -- and suffice it to say a bit disheveled -- to a meeting at work proclaiming “what our house needs is a WIFE!” Of course, the meeting went into immediate recess for a good laugh while Carolyn unloaded and regrouped. “Wife” is my new role at our house and three months into it, I’m getting the hang of only some of it. I have a greater appreciation for working mothers, single moms, anyone whose domestic responsibilities include keeping the home fires burning, especially when there are children.

The boys -- ages 12, 9, and 7 -- are great. They are doing admirably well adjusting to their new normal -- larger schools, a different church, learning new friends, split family relationships, Papa, greater cultural diversity, etc. Having several months of “warning” they were coming, I was able to re-purpose some of the house to accommodate them and it is working out fine.  The guys inhabit the Boys Basement Barracks with more living space than they’ve had before; Wes and I are on the main floor. My designated space is a small bedroom within view but with just enough distance from the ebb and flow of activity to provide occasionally required respite. I love my cozy quarters. Apparently so does everyone else because nearly every night some or all of us end up in there visiting or watching TV. It’s great!

Looking back trying to put things in perspective, it appears that all this seems to be yet more manifestations of God at work -- not causing stuff like Wes’ divorce or Honey’s death, but God knowing what was ahead and laying some groundwork even when we didn’t see it going on.  Things like this house -- as new empty-nesters in 1997, Honey and I didn’t need a house this size with a full basement configured as it is. Would Wes and boys have come to live in this house five years ago when Honey was alive? Doubtful. The timing and nature of my continuing employment with Celebrating Grace -- thanks yet again to my ten-year friend Tom -- allows me to be available to the boys before and after school while Wes works full-time at Tennessee Oncology, the major provider of Honey’s last year of cancer treatment. The vitality and convenience of Brentwood UMC less than two miles from our house enables the boys to participate in wonderful children, youth, and music programs and for us to get them there easily. It couldn’t be better. We’re not smart enough to orchestrate all of this -- we had help.

I can’t help but remember the refrain to one of my favorite “new” hymns in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, the first hymn Honey and I shared in our updates --

We walk by faith and not by sight,
     led by God’s pure and holy Light!
Prepare us for the journey, Lord,
     and may we know Your power and might,
     as we walk by faith and not by sight.

Words – Lloyd Larson © 1998 Beckenhorst Bress, Inc.

And these Elisha Hoffman lines penned 150 years earlier --

Oh, how sweet to walk in the pilgrim way…
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day…

- Mark






How We Made It Through by Mark Edwards: Part Four

The past three blog posts have been an attempt to articulate some of God’s special provisions for Honey and me as we navigated her hard journey with cancer and her death a little more than a year ago. This fourth and final installment in the series relates the role hymns played in that journey.

Both Honey and I grew up with hymns. There was always a stack of hymnals on the piano or in the piano bench in both of our growing-up homes. All the kids in the house took piano lessons, one goal of which was to be able to play hymns. Both families were among the “every-time-the-doors-are-open” attenders at their respective steeples and every gathering of those congregations began by singing at least a hymn or two.

Honey’s mother was a soloist in their church choir, and my father was the volunteer music director in ours. I come from a long line of arm-waving music directors in churches. I played hymns at home by ear before I learned to read. In large measure, hymnody has been my life so much so that one time my minister of music brother told me I was a walking hymnal. (I think it was a complement – not sure.) So Honey and I were steeped in a strong hymnic tradition; hymns were our native tongue and through the years, their timeless message had sunk deeply into our hearts.

Serving as a career minister of music some forty years in the local church, then “retiring” to help build the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, we handled hymns nearly every day. But we found first-hand that knowing hymns is good, but living into them is a different matter and the greater good. Amid the battle of her illness, that which we had “hidden in our hearts” all our lives sprang forth anew as wonderful words of life.

The compilers of the Bible as we know it realized the value and importance of hymnody to the extent that they placed the book of Psalms – the Hebrew hymnal – in the middle of the manuscript where it could be found quickly. The Psalms give voice to the many moods of Christian life – praise, confession, supplication, lament, deliverance, thanksgiving – and so does a good hymnal.

Just three years before Honey got sick, the Celebrating Grace Hymnal was released and it had been my joy, privilege, and delight to have played a major role in its development. (I will forever be grateful to Mr. Tom McAfee for giving me a front row seat at that table.) I am convinced that working on that hymnal was part of God’s plan for Honey and me. During that time we vetted more than 2,500 hymns, resulting in a book that is fresh, rich, and absolutely timeless. During Honey’s illness we lived in that hymnal; it was like discovering a new Book of Psalms - literally.

I’m convinced that God did not cease revealing Himself to humankind when the Bible came into being. Hymnody seems to be God’s more recent revelation. A good hymn, like a Biblical psalm, is sturdy enough to be studied and substantive enough to sustain. And like a psalm, the more a well-crafted hymn is examined, the more evident its riches become.

Here is the first hymn – an 1844 model – we used in the more than three hundred Facebook posts Honey and I wrote during our journey. It was a constant reminder how the Christian life is to be lived no matter the circumstances.

We walk by faith and not by sight.
No gracious words we hear
from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke;
but we believe Him near.

We may not touch His hands and side,
nor follow where He trod;
but in His promise we rejoice,
and cry “My Lord and God!”

And when our life of faith is done,
in realms of clearer light
may we behold You as You are,
with full and endless sight.


We walk by faith and not by sight,
led by God pure and holy Light!
Prepare us for the journey, Lord,
and may we know Your power and might,
as we walk by faith and not by sight.

We Walk by Faith – Henry Alford (stanzas); Lloyd Larson (refrain)

 - Mark

Not to Sing, but to Say and Live

The Alleluias were plenteous Sunday – Easter and the first anniversary of Honey’s memorial service.  It seemed as though every other phrase was punctuated with a joyous “Alleluia” and rightly so.  Congregations at both Easter services I attended began by singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  Toward the end of the third stanza of that hymn is the phrase “where’s thy victory, O grave?” It has appeared that way in every hymnal from which I have sung and led all my life.  But the Methodist Hymnal version is “where’s thy victory, boasting grave?”  I like that – an extra hint of resurrection trash talk!  And choirs in both churches ended the service singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  I could hardly contain myself when the Sanctuary Choir at First Baptist Church, Nashville sang it.  Wow – that majestic room, those wonderful singers, that magnificent organ!  Admittedly, the fact that I directed that choir thirty Easters in a row had something to do with how I heard it Sunday.

Christ is risen! 
He is risen, indeed! 

In the past couple months, I have received calls from two other ministers of music whose wives have also died of cancer – Greg’s wife Gail died January 6 and Larry’s Sandy only a month ago.  With both I have been able to say with surety that I do know what they are going through.  Both asked some form of the same question – “how did you do it?”  Still stumbling around for answers, neither conversation went far until I mentioned to each the sustaining power that hymns provided for our journey during Honey’s illness and for me since her death about this time last year.  I had to admit to learning that knowing a hymn or being able to sing or lead it was not the same thing as living it, or better said, living into it. For too many of us, hymns have become so familiar that we don’t “hear” them anymore. But through Honey’s illness/death, the experience helping build a hymnal, and the undeniable grace of God, hymns have ministered to me as never before and I am grateful.  I pointed Greg and Larry to some of my favorites:

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Sometimes a Light Surprises
All the Way My Savior Leads Me
Like a Mother with Her Children
O Worship the King
We Walk by Faith
Like a River Glorious
How Lovely, God, How Lovely
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
If You Will Only Let God Guide You
How Can I Keep from Singing
In Deepest Night

Spending time in a good hymnal is not unlike discovering a new Book of Psalms (the Hebrew hymnal). Hymns, like the psalms, have multi-stanzas, speak the many moods of Christian life, and are strong enough to be studied.  For almost a decade I have enjoyed memorizing hymns, not to sing, but to say and live.  I have discovered that in saying them, new riches reveal themselves in lines sung mostly mindlessly through the years.  They become good food for the soul and balm for the aching heart. 

If you have a hymnal I encourage you to spend some focused time in it.  If you don’t have hymnal or need a fresh version, I certainly recommend the Celebrating Grace Hymnal – www.celebrating-grace.com.   It has been interesting to see people order a Hymnal when they order a copy of the Notes From Susie book.  Most of the hymns quoted in the latter are included in the former.  Many of those hymns were in the “God, the Sustainer” section of the Hymnal, where Honey and I camped a good bit during our two-year journey.

Here is one of those stanzas I sang past countless times –

“Thy bountiful care what tongue can recite?

It breathes in the air, it shines in the light,

   it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,

 and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.” 

                        O Worship the King – Robert Grant, 1833

The mental image of God’s bountiful care washing over all His creation and individually over me calls forth yet another “Alleluia!”


P.S. You could never convince me that it was coincidental that Larry and I ran into one another at breakfast at a Collierville hotel the Sunday morning after Christmas 2015.  I hadn’t seen him in nearly ten years.