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Archive for the ‘Walking with God’ Category

The day before his death …

and he goes to the garden …

where all things, good and evil, originated.

Today, as we prepare to remember the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus and subsequent resurrection of our Savior, it is good to spend some time in the garden with him.

When Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, he said to his disciples,

“Sit here while I go over there and pray”
(Matthew 26:36)

We are still called to sit … to contemplate … to pray.

Somehow, it is easier to do those things out in nature … and in the beauty of a spring garden, it is as though our souls are drawn not only to the creation, but also the Creator.

Today is the time for reflection, for prayer.

Spend some time today in the garden.

I stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me is falling.
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
And He walk with me and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

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We can be haunted by things that go bump in the night … not just the noises, but the dreams that awaken us with tears, shivers, cold sweats.

It had been a long time since I was awakened by such things that go bump in the night but it’s impact is still felt days later, as a shiver goes up my spine, and my mood is still there … in a funk.

When I am in such a funk I feel more. I feel the hurts and sorrows of others … I understand what it really feels like to carry the burden of others.

As I was trying to shake this funk, the memories of the dream, the bad news of this week (globally, locally, within the lives of people I love) … I remembered that there must be something in my memory of scriptures that had been buried in my heart (from the post, Whatever). But nothing came to mind.

Then the lyrics of a song I had heard earlier in the day began to sing in my head.

“This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
That when everything fell, we’d be held”

A rather melancholy song, but not one without hope. I had forgotten about a particular line in the song :

“Why should we be saved from nightmares?”

Nightmares, whether in the form of disastrous life experiences, or things that go bump in the night, happen to us all. They are common human experiences … ones that allow us to share in and understand the sorrow of God. They lead us to him and divine human transaction that is his son … who provides the hope of being held.

You have to begin to trust that your experience of emptiness is not the final experience, that beyond it is a place where you are being held in love.”
– Henri J.M. Nouwen (The Inner Voice of Love)

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I have been looking for love …

Ever since self isolation and Toilet Paper Gate, I have been looking for a way to love others through this time of Coronavirus. I thought it might be doing errands for seniors but … it just didn’t read into my heart the way I wanted it to.

Life is so different, for so many right now!

No sports to watch at the arena or bar, no concerts, no movies at the theatres and cinemas, no romantic dinners at restaurants, no vacations, no church services, no coffee dates and, for so, so many, no jobs to go to.

Living in this time of Coronavirus means we have what many of us have wished and dreamed of for so long … free time. What we didn’t hope for was that we would have free time, largely, self isolated in our homes.

If you are like me (an introvert who can fake it if I have to), it was, initially, delightful. I have painted rooms, done a bit of writing, tried new recipes, did a jigsaw puzzle, watched a bit of TV, gone for walks in the sun with the Wonderdog and enjoyed the sound of … silence.

The thing is that even for we who are introverts need to feel we are contributing to someone, something bigger than ourselves and our own desires to feel … healthy, purposeful, alive.

Yesterday, that something (someone) arrived at my heart-level, as I scrolled through social media, in the form of this:

A friend, with whom I attended church a number of years ago had posted the above. Her adult daughter lives with special needs and she (no doubt the whole family) are finding these days long … really long. In this time of Coronavirus, programs are largely cancelled. The events, and day trips, and jobs, socializing and learning (and respite) that help those with special needs to feel that they are healthy, purposeful, alive have been eliminated from their days … which can leave a big hole.

This mom’s plea touched my heart.

Having spent almost seventeen years as an Educational Assistant and two working in group homes for those with special needs, there is a very special place in my heart for those who live with struggles that go well beyond my own … that includes those with special needs and their families who parent on a level beyond the typical.

So, I have now accumulated three young women’s addresses. All three are ladies who live with unique special needs. All three have purpose, gifts and a need to be part of community. These (and, I hope more) will be my new pen pals, and I have no doubt that I will be at least as encouraged and ‘fed’ by these new or renewed relationships, as they will be.

And DO NOT praise me for this … we are all called to love one another … it just happened that God pointed out to me who, and how to love them.

Now, who is he pointing out to you to love during this season of Coronavirus?

“Each of you should look
not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:4

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At every Remembrance Day service in Canada is sung a most hauntingly sad and hopeful song.

 J.R. Watson, who compiled hymns in a number of anthologies, said of the hymn, O God our Help, “this is one of Watts’s greatest hymns on the human condition, setting the shortness of life and the littleness of human beings against the timeless greatness of God…. who has been our help [in the past] and hope [in the future].”

It is a good hymn to sing now … in this time of Coronavirus.

It was written by Isaac Watts, over three hundred years ago! Not only did it have staying power, but it’s message is one of staying power as well.

O God, our help in ages past,
  Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
  And our eternal home.

Home may be beginning to feel a rather eternal location for many these days, but it is our shelter as well, both for us and for those who need us to stay home … for their good.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
  Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
  And our defence is sure.

The shadow present today is not different than in Watt’s lifetime, nor in Moses’, the one who wrote Psalm 90 … the Psalm that this hymn was written after. Psalm 90 was written as a prayer to be prayed daily.

Before the hills in order stood,
  Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
  To endless years the same.

That verse, above, to me is the heart of this song. Near the middle, bringing our attention to the heart of the matter … that, though things can change, ever so much, in our lives, there is a constant, who never changes … the everlasting God.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
  Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
  Before the rising sun.

How fragile and short is life. Our mortality ever whispering to us. Yet, there is One who has always been, who knows eternity.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
  Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
  Dies at the opening day.

More mortality. This verse almost reckons our memories to the meaninglessness of Ecclesiastes’ numerous a time to statements. Really it is just the reminder of the fragility of time, of our time. Our days are not to be wasted.

O God, our help in ages past,
  Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
  And our eternal home.

We come to the end, which is a prompt for us as we look at the remainder of our days. The past, how God has been faithful to us, is our hope for the days to come, be it here on Earth, or in eternity.

“The timeless greatness of God…. who has been our help [in the past] and hope [in the future].” (Watson)

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from the book,
“the boy the mole the fox and the horse
by Charlie Mackesy

Breaking announcements have become common as the red flashes across our screens, as the attention-seeking noise blares from the radio. Closures, limitations, warnings and preparations are rocking our entire world.

“His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed”
– Daniel 7:14

And I sit here, in the early morning hours, when silence is the only volume, and I turn to the window and watch the horizon lighten, ever so slowly. The sun is indifferent to viruses, to pandemics, to troubles … it just does what it was created to do … it rises, every day.

“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.”
– Psalm 113:3

And what were we created to do?

praise the name of the Lord …

  • in our prayers
  • in our care for our neighbors
  • in our willingness to self isolate
  • in our reading his word
  • in our flexibility and understanding
  • in our support of the helpers
  • in supporting organizations and businesses that will be impacted
  • in our lifting up of praises in song
  • in our prayers

Lord,
May we be found doing what we were created for … praising you, from the rising to the setting of the sun. May you do what you promised, for us, granting us your peace, no matter the situation we are walking through.
Amen

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
– Hebrews 13:8

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People hoarding toilet paper and sanitizer, limits on travel, cancelling of sporting and entertainment events, stock markets plunging and social media informing the populace on COVID-19 …

” … be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic … for the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
– Deuteronomy 31:6

We have observed students, parents and travellers roll their eyes, ignore professional advice or grow in fear each day.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” -John 14:27

I, myself, have the Wolrd Health Organization and the John Hopkins COVID-19 Global Map (in real time) in open tabs on my laptop, so that I can keep up to date on the facts of this global pandemic.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Yet, with all of the cancellations and changes, with all of the craziness, with all of this doom and gloom … there is a realization that we are not in control. With that realization comes the acceptance that our hope, humanly speaking, is not within our own humanity.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
– Psalm 46:1

In 1948, after the horrors of the end of WW2, people realized that, though the war was over, a new age had dawned … the Atomic Age … and people were perhaps even more fearful than during the war years.

It was then that C.S. Lewis wrote an essay titled, On Living in an Atomic Age (which was published with other essays in a book called Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays.

It would seem than many have been dusting this essay off lately … still wise words for tough times. I have gone ahead and replaced “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus” (noted by italics).

In one way, we think a great deal too much of the coronavirus. “How are we to live in an coronavirus age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the coronavirus was spreading: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by coronavirus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about the coronavirus. It may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but it need not dominate our minds.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 4:6-7

May we not allow fear to guide us.

May we be found spending this time doing sensible things … things like making good meals, washing our hands, offering others assistance, taking walks to breath in the fresh air, reading good books, cleaning out our closets, making long distance calls, stretching our bodies, praying, loving others in practical and spiritual ways … posting encouragement on social media.

Let us love.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”
– Proverbs 12:25 

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Who do you love?
a spouse? children? friend? parent?

Why do you love them?
how they make you feel?
what they have done for you?
they are yours?

To what extent would your love go for their benefit?
do things they like to do?
move to another city?
sacrifice time? money?

There is a story that always reminds me about the greatest gift of love:

There was a little girl who was suffering from a rare life threatening disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother, who had somehow survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.”

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”.

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

That story always reminds me of the love of God, for us, his children. It is the love spoken of in John 15:13, which tells us, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In Ellicott’s Commentary, on this verse, we read that, ” … the highest reach of love is the self-sacrifice which spares not life itself.”

If I think about it, I can imagine being willing to sacrifice my life for a handful of individuals … maybe a few more. I care for those people, have a relationship with them, seek the best for them and desire that they have future, a hope.

The thing is the love of Christ for us goes the next step further. God made this sacrifice because he cares for us, seeks the best for us, desires a future and hope for us. But, he made this sacrifice for those who have relationship with him, as well as those who have not chosen relationship with him … and his sacrifice was his own son.

It is the greatest love … there is no greater.

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As I read the words they stuck, momentarily, in my throat …

for I knew that I was not leading devotions, but being led into devotion.

I had chosen to share this story just the day before, no real conviction in my choosing … more like desperation for something that I thought would just do … without seeming like it would just do.

The day I read this hastily chosen story, I was in a funk.

I had no ‘treats’ (ok, sugary motivation) for the students to ‘sweeten’ my sharing of devotions with them. My tummy was terribly upset and I longed for a steeped tea. Then my drive to work took too long for me to stop for the tea I so desperately wanted. I reached work, only to find that conversations were already in process, so I couldn’t even have a moment to air my frustrations with the day.

Death by a thousand cuts.

So I began to read, feeling confident that the story would at least keep their attention … hoping that they would hear the hope that was written between the lines.

“Sometimes the best training for the really big things is just the everyday things.”

gulp.

Those words for me.

I knew it and I knew who placed them on the paper, who led me to them the day before, who led the classroom teacher to ask me to cover devos. this week. It was the same one who I have been groaning to for months … the same one who I had recently started to moan, “I give up.”

Don’t go sighing … don’t mentally, condescendingly pat me on the back … you’ve done it too … we have all done it.

We get frustrated waiting for the answer and we throw our hands (and our hopes) up in the air and declare it (whatever it might be) to be too hard, too frustrating, too much.

Then we have a choice …

walk away from the hard things, the unanswered things …

or …

do we dare listen, for that still small voice?

Here is what that still, small voice said to me, just the other day …

maybe, when you read it, there will be something that you read that gets stuck in your throat … and you will know, that this was here for you to read.

The story of Cliff Young,
as told by Ann Voskamp

The old cahoot ran in his boots.

Weren’t too many of anybody who believed he could.

How the old guy ran for 544 miles. His name was Cliff Young and he wasn’t
so much. He was 61 years old. He was a farmer.

Mr. Young showed up for the race in his Osh Kosh overalls and with his
workboots on, with galoshes over top. In case it rained.

He had no Nike sponsorship.

He had no wife – hadn’t had one ever. Lived with his mother.

Never ran in any kind of race before. Never ran a 5 mile race, or a half-marathon, not even a marathon.But here he was standing in his workboots at the starting line of an ultramarathon, the most gruelling marathon in the world, a 544 mile marathon.

Try wrapping your head around pounding the concrete with one foot after
another for 544 endless, stretching miles. They don’t measure races like
that in yards – -but in zip codes.

First thing Cliff did was take out his teeth. Said his false teeth rattled when he ran.

Said he grew up on a farm with sheep and no four wheelers, no horses, so
the only way to round up sheep was on the run. Sometimes the best
training for the really big things is just the everyday things.


That’s what Cliff said: “Whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go run and round up the sheep.” 2,000 head of sheep. 2,000 acres of land.
“Sometimes I’d have to run those sheep for two or three days. I can run this
race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run sheep for three.”

“Got any backers?” Reporters shoved their microphones around old Cliff
like a spike belt.

“No….” Cliff slipped his hands into his overall pockets.

“Then you can’t run.

Cliff looked down at his boots. Does man need backers or does a man
need to believe? What you believe is the biggest backer you’ll ever have.


The other runners, all under a buffed 30 years of age, they take off like
pumped shots from that starting line. And scruffy old Cliff staggers forward.
He doesn’t run. Shuffles, more like it. Straight back. Arms dangling. Feet
awkwardly shuffling along.

Cliff eats dust.

For 18 hours, the racers blow down the road, far down the road, and old
Cliff shuffles on behind.

Come the pitch black of night, the runners in their $400 ergonomic Nikes
and Adidas, lay down by the roadside, because that’s the plan to win an
ultra-marathon, to run 544 straight miles: 18 hours of running, 6 hours of
sleeping, rinse and repeat for 5 days, 6 days, 7 days.

The dark falls in. Runners sleep. Cameras get turned off. Reporters go to
bed.

And through the black night, one 61-year-old man far behind keeps
shuffling on.

Cliff Young runs on through the dark — because he didn’t know you were
supposed to stop.

The accepted way professional runners approached the race was to run 18
hours, sleep 6, for 7 days straight.

But Cliff Young didn’t know that. He didn’t know the accepted way. He only knew what he did regularly back home, the way he had always done it:

You run through the dark.

Turns out when Cliff Young said he gathered sheep around his farm for
three days, he meant he’d run across 2,000 acres of farmland for three
days straight without stopping or sleeping, without the dark ever stopping
him.

You gathered sheep by running through the dark.

So along the endless stretches of highway, a tiny shadow of an old man
shuffled along, one foot after another, right through the heat, right through
the night.

Cliff gained ground.

Cliff gained ground because he didn’t lose ground to the dark. Cliff gained
ground because he ran through the dark.

And somewhere at the outset of the night, Cliff Young in his overalls, he
shuffled passed the toned runners half his age. And by the morning light,
teethless Cliff Young who wasn’t young at all, he was a tiny shadow — far,
far ahead of the professional athletes.

For five days, fifteen hours, and four minutes straight, Cliff Young ran, never once stopping for the dark –

never stopping until the old sheep farmer crossed the finish line – First.

He crossed the finish line first. Beating aworld record. By two. whole. days.

The second place runner crossed the finish line 9 hours after old Cliff.

And when they handed old Cliff Young his $10,000 prize, he said he hadn’t
known there was a prize. Said he’d run for the wonder of it. Said that all the
other runners had worked hard too. So Cliff Young waited at the finish line
and handed each of the runners an equal share of the 10K.

While others run fast, you can just shuffle with perseverance. While others impress, you can simply press on. While others stop for the dark, you can run through the dark.

The race is won by those who keep running through the dark.

(I could not find the link, but you won’t regret checking out Ann Voskamp)

” … we know that … perseverance (produces) character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

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Lent, from a Latin word, meaning forty, can imitate Jesus forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert, as some celebrate lenten practise six days a week (not on Sundays) up to Thursday night celebration of the last supper (Maundy Thursday) and others do so every day straight through to Easter Sunday.

There is nothing magical or mandatory about the practise of Lent. It is, quite simply, an opportunity to prepare, focus and share in sacrifice as we await the season of Easter.

I practised lent a number of years ago, giving up cream in my coffee. It was such a little thing, but I missed it so much. Because morning coffee is how my day begins, I missed it … and, in missing something so regular, I was reminded daily of the (so much greater) sacrifice of Christ, for me.

This year I felt a tug to celebrate the lenten season again. This time, though, I did not feel compelled to give up, but take in.

A wise man, James R Dennis recently wrote, of lent,

“If all we do during Lent is give up chocolate, that’s not a Lenten discipline, that’s a diet. And that’s fine, but that’s not the life we’re called into. We are called during that Holy Season to abandon anything that gets between us and God, to lay down our burdens and begin again.” James R Dennis

ahhh … to begin again!

If giving up chocolate (or any other thing) is done so as a sacrifice that will bring us closer to God, that will remind us of his sacrifice, then do it. Let me tell you, I had no idea how important cream in my coffee was to me, until I gave it up for Lent. But I wanted something out of the lenten season that would not just remind me of his sacrifice, but also fill me with his life.

So, my lenten practise will be reading from the book of John, from the death of Lazarus, in chapter 11, to the prayers of Jesus (before his arrest), in chapter 17. I will read this passage every day, from my Bible, not a screen version. During the week preceding Easter weekend, I will then read John 18-20, from his arrest to the empty tomb. In addition to this, I have committed to speak what is called the Jesus Prayer or The Prayer (in the image) daily, to remind me that the mercy I have received has come, at great cost, from Christ.

How about you? I’d love to know if and how you include lenten practise in this season.

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IMG_2186

Ever cried in your pillow? How about punched something (a wall, a tree)? Ever stood in a forest and screamed at the top of your lungs? Or stared out the window, but your thoughts were so far away, you didn’t see anything? Ever sighed from a place so deep inside that you wondered if there was any air left in your body? Have you ever waved fists up in the air, while stating your sorrowful case before God?

Ever lamented?

lament … it is the feeling and/or expressing of regret or disappointment (Oxford dictionary). We all lament at some point.

I wrote this post eight years ago, though it originated from my experience, closer to fifteen years ago.

I was struggling to see, to dream even, how God might ever be able to penetrate into the heart of another. There was nothing within me, my vivid imagination, my belief in God’s redemption, that could give me hope for this person.

And so my soul began to groan in lament ...

I remember, ugly tears falling from my face, head shaking in disappointment and hopelessness when a song started reverberating through my memory.

How long O Lord ?

Though the Bible has ample examples of lamenting (the Psalms, Job, and, of course, Lamentations), it is not something that we often see, or do, in our churches. I am not sure that church is the place where lamenting should occur, but the absence of this practice (at church) could make people think that it is something that we should not do.

Often our Christian circles can be so … clean, happy, perfect …

UNREAL!

We are not living on the side of eternity, we are living lives in this temporal, sin-filled worlds, with sin-filled bodies and minds. We live lives of sorrow, disappointment, worry, sickness, heartbreak and agony. To live authentically does not mean we paste a smile on our faces and sing Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).

To lament is to pound our chests, and, with fountains falling from our faces, cry out,

“God, I hurt!”

“God, I don’t know where you are in this!”

“God, did you leave me? Because I feel so alone.”

“God, why did you allow my enemies to do this to me?”

“God, I am so lonely.”

“God, why did you …

forsake (abandon) me?”

David lamented.

Job lamented.

Jeremiah lamented.

Rachel lamented.

Jesus lamented.

To lament is to powerfully, passionately voice our sorrow, our agony. To lament is to pour out your heart. To lament is to be the most real we can be. To lament to to come to the end of our rope … resulting in the abdicating of power and ability to do it alone, anymore.

When we lament, we speak, we cry, we moan in the most pure and beautiful language to God’s ears. To lament is to be on our way to acknowledging that we cannot do it (life) without Him.

God can handle our laments … our God has broad shoulders, and he wants us to lay the weight of our world on them.

And so, this song, this Psalm (for the words of the song come from Psalm 13) has been playing in my mind again … not so much out of current lament, so much as a reminder of fifteen years ago, how I lamented from the deepest depths of my being …

and how I am now seeing God’s hand on what I had lamented as hopeless. He is giving “light to my eyes” as “I trust in his unfailing love.”

Lament will come again, perhaps just around the corner … but the one to whom I lament … his shoulders can carry the weight of our lament … he desires it from us.

Until then, even when the lament comes, I will remember that, “he has been good to me.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

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