The Story of the Song, Psalm 139
After a month on a singing tour in Poland and Ukraine, my traveling companion, Heather and I landed in England. She had asked me if there was anyway we could stay for just two days and see Q Gardens. It wasn’t until I woke up that first morning in London that I realized just how stressed and even scared I had been while traveling. We were chaperoned by a Pastor in Poland and his wife, Arik and Marjana Boiko (friends who lived in the U.S. for a length of time and had returned to Poland.) There were parts of our journey that we were instructed to not speak a word as the taxi cab driver (driving us from the train) was speaking of ‘ The Americans’ to other drivers at one point. The journeying was exhausting and there was a low-lying stress that surrounded us most of the time. So when I opened my bible, on that sunny morning in London while still in bed and read the words of this Psalm, I was inspired to put it to music.
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Loss is a tiny word for a very large emotion.
It’s described by Webster’s dictionary as: the act of losing a possession, a person or thing. Here’s an interesting use of the word: “The team suffered a loss.” Many things come under the heading of a ‘loss’ and in fact it describes a crisis of perspective or a significant change; the loss of a job, a friend, a home one has lived in for many years, loss because of a theft or the death of a marriage which leads to the death of a family. Some times, when I’m out, taking a walk, and I see a young family: a husband and wife, and their little children in and out of strollers, I wonder if they realize how precious their little family is? And I stop whatever I am doing and pray for them.
Father God is a song written months after I learned that my mother was dying of cancer. Needless to say, I was still very upset. The song is my version of the five stages of death and dying found in the book, On death and dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. These stages have been used for all kinds of loss. I was in a crises, desperate to find peace in the storm of my anxiety ridden mind. Some one had told me to read this book. And I would have done anything to shake off the fear and anxiety imbedded in my thoughts as I woke each morning, rousing from sleep with what felt like a giant wave of a startling memory, ‘my mother is dying’. That same whispering thought swirled, like autumn leaves in my mind all throughout the day and then prevented me from falling asleep as each day drew me closer to the day I would lose my mother.
It was the end of yet another day when each day was precious. As I sat quietly playing my guitar, I heard my mother, across the room, praying on the phone with her friend. Carefully, I listened to her words. As she prayed, she said, “Father God…”. So that’s how my mother prays? I had never noticed that before. My mom loved the Lord and she was so confident about his care. She would often say to me, “We don’t have to worry about anything. God tells us ‘casting all our cares upon Him for He careth for you!” (1 Peter 5:7) Clearly, she had learned the art of surrendering all to her God. She was totally at peace because she was asking, believing and trusting God.
I’m a type ‘A’ personality; apparently we run around all day, determined to get as much ‘packed into the stream of life’ as possible (AA Big book, Pg. 86). When it’s time for bed, it’s hard to turn off my brain and fall asleep. I wonder if other type ‘A’ personalities are like this? It’s been a long time since I have struggled to fall asleep and instead lay awake, exhausted, anxious and afraid I would not sleep at all. But I have had many nights like that, so I remember well what it feels like.
As a child, at bedtime, my younger sisters and I would camp out on the hard wood floor outside our parents locked, bedroom door. With a pillow and blanket, we were afraid to sleep in our own rooms, largely because of ‘the fire’. We would pick a spot and make ourselves as comfortable as possible. I laugh at the memory of my older sister, Danielle, trapped and struggling to open her bedroom door; she would mumble her complaints as she struggled to push the door open and past all the bodies on the floor in the hallway. She just wanted to use the bathroom. I slept like that until I was twelve-years-old. Suddenly, I had overcome the fear and started sleeping in my own bed. I was such a mercenary, I invited my two younger sisters to sleep next to me; the deal was, I ‘got to’ sleep in the middle! (I remember that the middle was the coveted spot as apparently that gave you more time to think if the ‘bogy man’ showed up!)
I was thirty something when I wrote Anchor to Anchor, which is found on the album Where Morning Dawns. Lying awake in the dark, the first verse of the song describes one such night.
Martha Leone, my mother, inspired ‘Mom’s Song‘. My mom was born to a New York, Italian family. Her father was a demolition expert with his own company during the depression years. At the age of 55, he retired and picked up his first guitar. By the time he was 65, he was playing, both the guitar and mandolin in an orchestra. My Mother had two brothers and one sister. She would tell stories of climbing out of the second story and, hanging by a wire outside her window, escaping into the night with her brother and best friend, Michael. My mother was an artist, an impressionist. She studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Hot summers were spent in Madison, Connecticut where she studied with Robert Brackman. You can find many of his paintings hanging in a large room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. She was his student and the monitor for his classes.
My mother was a very troubled soul for most of her life. Her first-born, my brother John, was a hemophiliac and very sickly. She grew up watching her own brother with the same disease. She also lost a five-year-old child in a house fire. She would talk to me about living in the 60’s and 70’s and the feminist movement and how that shaped many of her decisions and affected her marriage of 25 years. After her divorce, she was involved in ‘Parents without Partners’ (PWP) which my brother John would call, ‘Parents without principles’. My mother was very lost. In 1978, I was ‘born again’. It was not long after my conversion that my mother gave her heart to the Lord. She was a very different person after that.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.” (AA Big book, pg. 417) While this is comforting and what is implied and encouraged is: ‘Believe God is in control and don’t worry!’ At the same time, this sentence gives great pause and leads to a lot of pondering. It leads to questions such as, ‘How could you let that happen to me?’ or when something very uncomfortable does happen, the question, ‘Really?’