Monday, January 4, 2016

Song in the Night

“Yet the Lord will command His loving kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.” Psalms 42:8       

……….


 “In one week, your life will be no more.”

My mind reeled from the impact of the sheer force of the words. The thought accosted me, shifting my mood, kicking me off balance that blistery winter morning on my 45-minute drive to work.

At first I chose the dismissive route. Just the random, strange thought processes of the mind, I reasoned.

But no, the words had come to me in a moment when any thoughts of danger were farthest from my mind. No matter how determined I remained to shake them off, they clung to me like a damp cloak for days.

I prayed until I could only heave a sigh and clear a catch in my throat with the words, “Lord, if this is You, I’m not sure why You are telling me except that I should be more grateful for each day that You have given. Thank You for the gift of life. I am willing to take it up for You; now let me be willing to lay it down for the same reason. But if this thought is a threat from the devil, please send this conviction to my heart. For I would yet live, and testify to Your amazing grace.”

I failed to tell my young husband of this inward struggle for many a day. Seated at church that weekend with his arm tucked protectively around my shoulder, I wondered if this would be the last Sabbath I would enjoy on this earth.

As I continued to pray and seek the Lord, I felt at peace that my soul rested in His hands, and became additionally certain that it was the evil one seeking my life and heart that threatened.

Close to a week later, I was pulling through the very same intersection of the week before when an eighteen-wheeler truck pulled out of a gas station just ahead of me. A moment behind it, an identical looming truck rolled up to the busy road and began to merge. To my hurried gaze I saw that there were cars behind, in front, and in the left lane beside me – leaving no space to escape the vehicle’s towering frame over my little Honda Civic.

I do not know how I missed that eighteen-wheeler that day – or how it missed me - but I thanked the Lord for sparing my life again. I thanked Him for ruling over the events of my life with His strong hand. I thanked Him for teaching me lessons of trust enough to stand upon the promises.

And little did I realize that the battle for my soul in earnest had just begun.

………..


This is the story of deliverance by the hand of God. Of a time in my life that changed who I am forever. And although some of its days have blurred in the swiftly flowing, shadowy river of time, I know that some things should never be forgotten.

I write because I cannot, must not, allow myself to forget. And also, because there is a hope in my heart that the reader will become acquainted with the character of a deep, wonderful, passionate God for His little children. His greatness extends far beyond than that which finite minds can comprehend, yet His arms of strength wrap around my small frame with faithfulness so strong and a love so deep, that my heart melts with thanksgiving and my soul boils over with enmity against the evil one and every one of his ugly deeds.

It has often been my desire to share these experiences with you, my friends. To share how He has saved my soul from death, and held my little life in the palm of His Almighty hand. For indeed, I have been sheltered there. I have hidden under “the shadow of His wings,” and found that His promise always stands true.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.” Psalms 40:1, 3

I have learned that this new song – one of hope, faith, and peace – is promised to be with me even in the night, when my young heart fears and He is all that I may cling to. My prayers belong at the throne of the Lord of my heart and hope. For I know of a certainty that He has saved my life, and the testimony below is one of the many my heart yearns to share in coming days….

……………..


Shortly after our marriage, Christopher and I settled into a small rental house in Ballplay, Alabama.
It was a tan structure with stucco-siding and chipped cement front steps overlooking a yard with several magnolias and a bushy fig tree. Beyond stood a wooden fence and a paved road where vehicles sped by on their way to the city of Gadsden. It was not uncommon for chickens and goats to strut across our yard, claiming their extensive territory all owned by the landlord, a friend of our church.

Upon our return from the honeymoon in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I quickly began to unpack belongings. It was a wonderful first home from my perspective, conveniently located and kindly offered to us for a good price and no contract. Although on cold winter nights I could feel chills sift up from cracks in the floors and hear scratching and noises in the attic (one that none could find an opening to), it was a blessed home for us.

Arriving from work each week day, I would temporarily park my car at the end of the driveway by the road, duck out of my red Honda Civic, and then drag and heave our rusting red metal gate open. Parking by the house, I fumbled for the right key to unlock the front door and enter into the darkness inside.

As I quickly turned the gas heater up a notch, my shoulders made the small trace of a quiver. When lovely hardwood leaves were just about to turn into variances of color and autumn sunlight began to pour over the quaint valleys of my native New England, I said good-bye to a life that had been. I braced myself for the independence life would demand, cried my tears of sorrow for the loving family I would no longer see often, and embraced a love for my husband-to-be that only grew with each day.

Walking into an empty, foreign house was unnerving for a girl of barely 20 that particular winter day after our marriage.

It even feels damp, I thought to myself with a second shiver. Pushing this thought far to the back of my mind, I busily began to pace the kitchen in preparation for supper that night.

Breathing a determined, almost exasperated sigh as I struggled to shake off the unsettledness I felt, I marched back into the living room and pushed the play button to our CD player. The calming, God-honoring music brought peace and reassurance to my soul.

The Lord holds us in His hands, I reassured myself. He is watching over me.

The house felt warmer as the music played and I chided myself for unsettled nerves.

The occupant before us left many of his household items behind when he moved several blocks down the road. I could quickly recall hours spent with Jamie, the landlord’s wife, sorting through insurmountable piles of clothes, pictures of strangers, work tools, and other articles strewn about the floors and stuffed in closets. I wondered why this man would leave so much behind, especially when he lived so conveniently close by.

As Jamie continued her rampage over the house one day, she began placing glassware in a large box. 

“I’m setting aside items I think he would want to keep, and the rest is going to the dump,” she remarked.

A clay container with dark stripes was lifted from the top of the refrigerator. “Why, this looks like an urn,” the woman scanned the inscription burned into its side with a name akin to “Harold.” Reading the entire inscription, we realized that it was the man’s father.

Jamie placed a strong, steady hand over the top knob and endeavored to twist. The lid was sealed.

“Oh well. I’ll just place it in the box too.”

The object was strangely enough still present months later when we first moved into the house. All except for a few boxes were still present, and Chris lifted it high above the refrigerator to be out of the way as we worked.

“I wish we could just take that box outside,” I remarked as my husband began to tackle a sink full of dishes. “I don’t like having another person’s stuff in here.”

“We’ll get it out soon enough,” he was reassuring.

The Wednesday night after we returned from the honeymoon found us arriving home from prayer meeting in the dark again, as usual. Christopher turned up the gas wall-heater a notch to keep out the cold, and shortly we were in bed about to fall asleep.

As would become our habit, I crept my way close to his side and wrapped my hand around his arm.

“Want to pray?”

“Yes.” I could feel him nodding in the dark. “Dear Father, thank You for another day of life…”

Hours later, I drifted somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, when something suddenly drew me closer to the latter. The house was silent and warm by now. Christopher’s quiet breath sounds and still form told me that he slept.

Why had I awakened?

Then I heard a noise as if something slid from a portion of the roof downwards, gliding over the bathroom portion of the house connected to our bedroom, and falling in a heap to the ground.

This isn’t New England…my brain slurred. There is no snow here to fall from the rooftop. No snow…

A second sound hit my ear. Maybe it was the back door suddenly slamming, or the sound of someone stomping on the porch.

For a few seconds, all was silent.

And then the frozen chills of terror began to tingle down my spine. I heard footsteps – the sound of heavy work boots making calculated, well-timed strides across the house.

As they traveled across the kitchen and a small portion of the living room, at first I questioned the possibility that Christopher had gotten up, but when my hand felt his side in an instant, I froze, hardly daring to breath.

Maybe it was on the whisper of spoken prayer hours earlier, but somehow I sensed that this was not the physical presence of a human intruder. Feeling that this was a threat by forces dark and foreboding, I knew that it would make no difference to shake my husband awake.

Lying small and still in the queen bed, listening as the footsteps neared our open bedroom door, fleeting promises memorized from years before formed a prayer to heaven for protection.

Right on the threshold of our bedroom door, the footsteps abruptly stopped. For a few moments, I felt as if something was looking in on us as I lay rigid, clinging to the promises. And then in the continued silence, the quietness felt normal again. The fact that I never heard another footstep or even a floor board creak for the rest of the time I lay awake served as confirmation to me that this was no human foe.

For the time being, life seemed to return to normal. Christopher removed the urn of ashes from the kitchen and gave it to the Mexican Catholic next door who worked for the landlord. Being alone did not feel quite so scary to me, although I never enjoyed the feeling. The quietness seemed fairly peaceful. Unable to determine whether the ashes and the earlier renter had anything to do with the footsteps in the house, I remained thankful that the terror by night was held back by the power of God.

…………

“I hope my truck will start this morning,” Christopher pondered at the breakfast table, setting his keys down on the table and reaching for a jacket.

“I hope so too,” I shared a knowing glance with him across the room.

After several tries and a prayer, I heard the familiar hum of the little blue truck’s engine chug to life.
I rushed that morning to the car after kissing Chris goodbye and cleaning off the breakfast table. My windshield was coated with a firm layer of ice crystals that refused to be shaken off by the wipers. I waited for a minute with the air blowing, hoping that my view would clear lest I be late for work.

“Aha,” I breathed gratefully as the ice cleared with the addition of a spray of window washing fluid.

Cheerfully I turned the car around and drove down to our gate by the busy highway road. The window was still clear.

Then, just as I turned onto the main road, the sun in all of her glory gleamed down upon my little car – and the window glazed over almost instantly with ice.

Calm yet frantic, I tried out the wipers and sprayed them with more fluid, but the ice seemed to thicken and only glisten with the light of the sun.

Never had I felt so helpless. I could not see the road in front of me.

To the right I knew there was a ditch. To the left was of course, the other lane, and highway 9 was a well-traveled road with many tractor trailer trucks hauling supplies to the city. Infrequently a driveway allowed for a pull-off, but I could not in any way see where such a place was, and I dared not make a guess.

 “Oh Jesus, help me!” my voice continually petitioned. “Please, please help me.” If He would only clear my vision or take the wheel!

I continued to drive straight ahead and although braced for a heavy jolt by collision with another vehicle or fall into a ditch, the car drove smoothly ahead. Not a single car seemed to pass by, miraculously it seemed.

Roll down your window.

Right. Leaning out of my window and letting the chill wind bite my warm cheeks, I suddenly realized that I was driving in the left lane. I brought my vehicle to the right side, just as a truck whizzed past.

Thank you Lord.

My windshield almost suddenly cleared, windshield wipers still on at full-blast. I could see – what relief! How beautiful the sun’s rays were as they lighted up the road before me. I realized in that moment that my life had been spared once again. What had I done to deserve such grace? Why had God set out to save little me? What sort of plan did He have for my life that He would spare it over and over again?

Several days later as I drove home from work, the sun still planted in the blue sky and shimmering on the crisp fields nearby, something solid white caught the corner of my eye. It did not seem to be the silvery reflection of glinting roof tiles or machinery. I guessed that a car was nearly side by side with mine, about to pass, but when I looked again there was not a vehicle in view for all of the long stretches of dull-brown road and land behind and ahead. A smile rested on my lips for the rest of the way. The unexplained second of whiteness parallel to my car reminded me that angels still attended my journeys. 

I felt incredibly undeserving. In the transition of my move from New England to the south, I had not been constant in prayer or consistently faithful in the devotional time I knew that the Lord deserved. As I adjusted to the new culture of the south, jointly my gaze began to rest upon the southern belles and their outward adornment. I never realized how deeply I coveted the friendship and approval of my family camp friends until a situation several years before when I chose a damaged name by preserving another’s reputation. In tiny steps, I began to make little changes in my dress and appearance without thinking. There were those in the north who could not understand my decision to move and marry, so in turn I doubly accepted and embraced my welcoming new friends in the south – only sometimes their convictions on appropriate media differed from mine, often leaving me torn, often resulting in me standing out with a supportive and willing husband, but a troubled heart. I felt attacked by compromise as every victory that I made to maintain my uniqueness as a Christian was counteracted by a situation testing my will power over the desire to please, or simply the guilt Satan impressed me with from my past failures. Active in church and always present for prayer meeting twice a week, I experienced the true desire to be nearer to God and sometimes felt His closeness, but was sore pressed by the trials allowed to me.

One evening as my fingers paused over the keys before prayer meeting, I was suddenly impressed with the impression, God loves you. My mind wrestled with the comprehension of this life-changing understanding. Little me – loved by the Almighty. In that moment I began to grasp at the mercy of God Who loves us in spite of our failings. I realized that the power of the Father’s love could lift me high above the cares and pressures of life. Somehow I realized that if I focused my gaze upon His cross, eventually nothing else would matter. I could win every battle and not be held back by the past. My heart felt light with the acknowledgement that His powerful love trumped all the lies and trickery of the defeated foe that battled for my life.

Thine is the glory oh Lord, I prayed, feeling peace. Thine is the victory.

It was not long after when Christopher and I gave our first sermon together. It would be the first of many more to come.

I would have done well to expect a counter-attack targeting the peace I felt in my heart that week. Before prayer meeting that next Wednesday, we stopped at a Christian friend’s house to visit. After a few minutes of conversation, a movie was slipped into the DVD player. I had no time to scan the title or check the rating, but our friend assured me that it was a classic film that I would surely not have a problem with.

The language I heard in the first few minutes of the movie shocked me. Drawn aback by phrases that I had been so carefully sheltered in my childhood from ever hearing, and rarely encountered in the workplace of a doctor’s office, there kindled a righteous indignation within me.

The movie was cut off due to departure for prayer meeting, but I left angry. Upset that I had even listened to it for as long as I did in hopes that the language would dissipate, upset that I had not spoken up against it, and upset that the devil had used a well-meaning individual to place me in the situation to begin with.

Allowing the breeze to cool my face and hoping that it would have the same effect on my heart, I stood on the side steps as prayer meeting began, having my own prayer session all the while. I petitioned heaven for mercy, for greater strength, and asked to be washed in the blood of Jesus’ Christ’s sacrifice for me on Calvary.

Christopher found me not long after, embracing me in his strong arms and offering words of comfort and understanding. Thankful that he shared my same distaste, we walked back into the sanctuary together. From that point onward, I resolved that not an ounce of compromise would knowingly allowed back into my life, and prayed that the Lord would keep my eyes focused on Him. Let the world grow strangely dim, for all that I want to see is Jesus.


………………..


Morning dawned over the small surrounding hills one fresh day in late January. As light seeped in through our windows I awoke, filled with a sweet warmness inside. I have such a happy, dear life, I thought.

I watched Christopher walk swiftly down the sidewalk to his car after we embrace and kiss good-bye. I will miss him every hour until we see each other again tonight, I thought longingly.

It didn’t hit me in a wave or a rush. The sensation only grew. Difficult to describe, except as a growing uneasiness about something that I could not see and to most analytical minds, did not exist. Something strangely familiar with the feeling reminded me of my feelings of uneasiness alone in the house several months earlier.

When Christopher removed the urn of ashes from our kitchen after the footsteps in the night, the atmosphere felt warmer and safe. I spent many late evenings alone in the building with the lights off and felt no cause for worry.

But this. Again. I shook off feelings of raw fear. Why?

Quickly I turned to the CD player and soon orchestrated hymns were sounding through the house. I went to my room and knelt facing the bedroom door by the side of my bed and begged for strength and courage. “Show me how to trust in your promises no matter what the circumstance. Send your mighty angels to walk beside me.” I petitioned that the presence of God would come and protect His child. “Satan is a defeated foe,” I spoke aloud, “and You have promised me the victory.”

Rising, I felt assured. Strangely enough, I repeatedly felt that a dark presence was looking in on me from outside of the room, threatening just as it did that first night in November.

I could not ignore the chilling presence I felt that sent prickles down my spine. Walking out into the living room, it felt as if something evil, dirty, and cold stalked from behind. 

Even though it was early for work, I could hardly stand the presence I felt in the house. Forcing myself to walk steadily across the house and gather up my things, I could only wonder what these eyes would see if they were opened to behold the realms of light and darkness. In a fleeting moment I questioned what had happened in this house previously to give the devil such a foothold to be present.

I shut the front door firmly behind me and immediately felt relief although the outside air was cold in temperature. My mind filled with questions as I slid into my car and paused a moment to consider what had happened in the house.
Then I looked up. Our spare bedroom was largely filled with storage and rarely used. The shades on the windows were old and dusty – remaining from renters before us. But a new chill hit my heart when I suddenly saw the shade on one of the windows rock back and forth.

I left for work early and the day passed in good time, likely due to my hesitation returning home. I knew that Chris would be working late again, and staying at the house alone at night with the chilling sensation had zero appeal.

When work had been finished for the day, I had no choice but to leave. I received encouragement from my mother and prayed until I felt built-up with courage again. Pulling into the driveway, the shades on the spare room windows were perfectly straight and the air seemed silent. For an hour I rested in my little car, bundled up in coats, and then entered the house. Maybe this time it will feel normal again, just as it has so many times before.

As soon as I stepped over the threshold, my heart sank. The eerie sensation of coldness was still present. I turned every light on in our living area but continued to feel uncomfortable until I found myself returning to my car again after flicking back off the lights.

I will stay in the car until Chris comes home, I resolved. I would rather sleep in the car tonight in the cold than go back into that house.

My mother-in-law Tracy heard of my resolve and quickly invited me to her home on Red Road twenty minutes away. Pulling out of the driveway, I looked up in surprise to see that light was gleaming through the windows of our house.

Strange that such things are so real in a place called America, I mused. Still fresh in my mind were the desires to serve God in a foreign country, adjust to a new culture, and wrestle against darkness through carrying the light of life with me. Now after making a journey to a new land and adjusting to a new culture in my own country, forces of darkness were seeking to claim my life, and heaven’s glorious army fought back to claim me.

Abigail, you have no control over your life. When you realize your helplessness, realize your utter dependency on Me.

These words sealed themselves in my mind, silencing my many questions and teaching my heart a lesson in strength through weakness. Yes, maybe I could not understand the events of day. But for one reason or another, my Father had given me a glimpse into the war over my soul and allowed me to feel the threat of unseen foes that I might….learn to sing His song in the night?

After Christopher arrived to join me at the warm, welcoming atmosphere of his parent’s home, the whisper seemed to be borne amidst the clamoring of my heart.

I will teach you to sing My song in the night.

……………

I met Christopher at the house the following day. After a thorough search through the building, he had found nothing amiss or out of place from the usual. Joining him on the couch in the living room, I continued to feel a sense of that threatening presence, although lessened in strength than the day before.
Our bedroom continued to feel like a safe haven. I naturally shrank from walking through any other area of the house without Christopher at my side. He sensed my uneasiness and never hesitated to pray for and with me that evening. I poured over the Bible promises. Little did I realize that a thousand miles away my family prayed for me, and through the night my aunt would be awakened multiple times by a bad dream concerning our safety, only to pray.
A sense of warmness seemed to envelope the room, bringing such rest to my heart that my sleep was sweet and peaceful. Without a doubt, angels surrounded me that night.


……………..



Events were so orchestrated by the Lord that shortly after, Christopher and I moved to the house on Red Road. His parents closed on a property closer to their work, and soon the late home of Desmond became ours. When our landlord learned of my experiences, his wife Jamie knocked at the door of the past renter’s house with the urn in her hand. Twice the man refused to take them, then inquired about his dead father’s activities (not understanding that death is a sleep) with a laugh. Not much later, Jamie herself heard the sound of heavy boot footsteps across her threshold when no one else was in the house. But these and other facts become a blur in the face of what I feel was a victory the angels delighted to write down in my life’s record.

The night before we were to move, I turned off the kitchen lights and scampered to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Standing before the mirror, I chatted with my husband from the next room, and then fell silent.

I felt the dark presence approach me from behind, prickling the back of my neck with its cold chill. By now I realized that this was a fear tactic. Pausing a moment, I fought back the natural inclination to run away. And into the darkness of the night around me, a song rose from my chest and poured forth from lips that no longer trembled in fear.

Jesus.
You’re the sweetest name of all.
Jesus.
You always hear me when I call.
Oh Jesus, You pick me up each time I fall –
You’re the sweetest, the sweetest name of all.

With joy I lay my head to rest that night, amazed at the fulfillment of His promise to give me a song in the thick cloud of darkness. And by so doing, I felt that my life was sealed for the purpose to carry this song into the night, cherishing this light.

I am a firm believer in the God of my forefathers. Moving to Alabama, I had not expected to be caught up in a battle between good and evil, light and darkness. Much less, realizing that it was for my own soul. 

I can honestly say that the Lord has saved me from death and from the clutches of the evil one. Although more than once I felt the presence of evil, it could not so much as a lay a finger on this child of God. (“While we should be keenly alive to our exposure to the assaults of unseen and invisible foes, we are to be sure that they cannot harm us without gaining our consent.” AH 405)

The grace of the Almighty makes my heart soft. It deepens my desire to focus entirely on the cross, and stirs up within my heart a yearning to pull others from the chains of him who only harms. I thank my God for the privilege of being a witness to His mercy. Oh let me embrace the pain and questions I will face here on this earth – for my Father has all of the healing and the answers. Though all of the powers of death and destruction combine to crush out the light, His truth shall prevail – for His name speaks of sweetness and power, His heart hears every cry, and His arm is not shortened that it cannot save. 

The promise stands true to all who believe - "in the night His song shall be with me."