I Have More Power than I Ever Thought I Had…Some Thoughts on FAITH

I very nearly to forgot write this post.  I’ve done super well, faithfully following through on my New Year’s intention to post something every week…

…TWO WEEKS.  Not until Week 3 did I falter.  Technically, we’re right at the beginning of Week 4 and I really did miss Week 3, but I’ll treat myself with some grace and lump both weekend days into Week 3, ‘kay?

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Truth is, I didn’t even know what I wanted to write about.  This week has been so busy – conference last weekend, catapulted into a shortened school week due to a holiday and the end of semester, all in one week, started a new graduate program so all my spare time is spent on homework assignments (God, is three master’s degrees enough? Can this be the last? Why I’m working on #3 is, of course, fodder for yet another blog post…). And this afternoon, we welcomed into our home an exchange student from Thailand.  Busy, busy, busy!  Not enough room in my mid-life brain to percolate some fresh inspiration…

Even my Scripture study habit has suffered.  So today, after looking at my schedule of reading and determining just how much I needed to catch up on, I settled into my cushy chair by the fireplace and began reading…

…over and over again, I came across the connection between FAITH and MIRACLES.

faith 1

I know, I’m about to get a “You freakin’ Joel Osteen parrot!” from a lot of you, but regardless of some folks’ use of the word “faith” to turn God into a divine vending machine/ATM/barista, Scripture says it – quite clearly:

  • In Mark 6, Jesus couldn’t perform miracles because of the people’s lack of faith.

faith 2

  • In Numbers 21, those who had faith in God’s directive to look at the bronze serpent were healed; those who didn’t, died.

faith 3

  • In Acts 3, Peter and John clearly state that the crippled man’s faith is what healed him.

faith 4

Please understand – I am absolutely not a name-it-and-claim-it thinker.  I am a dyed-in-the-wool, choices-bring-consequences, you-made-your-bed-now-get-comfortable, and God-gave-you-brains-and-brawn-so-use-them sort of person.  Very independent, and very prone to kicking myself when I make a poor choice or exert less than perfect wisdom in any given situation.

It hasn’t been like me to ask for miracles. Historically, I’ve found that rather embarrassing…a miracle was evidence that I needed God to cover my backside (which, granted, He has done more than once).

There was a time when I no longer believed in miracles, or in God, for that matter. It wasn’t so long ago, and I found myself swimming in a sea of doubt, and despair, and darkness.  And I realized that although I didn’t know if God existed, and if He did, I didn’t know if He was listening to little-ol’-me…

…but I wanted to believe He was, and I wanted Him to hear me.

In my mind, I could see myself as that little lost lamb Jesus told us about, and I wanted a Good Shepherd to rescue me before I fell of the cliff (or, rather, catch me in mid-air because I was already falling).

good shepherd

I remember talking with a friend about this, a friend who was acquainted with my extensive background in a variety of religions, and he directed me to Scripture.  Mind you, this was at a time in my life when the Bible, the Baghavagita, the Book of Mormon, the daily newspaper horoscope, the Wiccan Rede, fortune cookies…they were all about the same to me.  I had great respect for all expressions of faith and religion, but believed none of it.  My life had led me to a place where I hoped everyone could find something that would help them become a better person and leave the world a better place, but I certainly could not speak to the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

I’d been reading Scripture about the Savior.  At every turn, my heart and my mind were being confronted by Jesus Christ – His words, His actions, His love.  And my friend asked me, “Do you believe this is true?”

I didn’t know.  Like Pilate, I asked myself, “What is truth?”

But maybe the darkness in my life made the light all that much brighter, because it was different than it was when I was growing up and first learning about Him.  There was a power in these Scripture encounters that I’d never experienced before, an urgency, a texture and resonance that was new to me.  What I was reading was no longer merely cerebral, but three-dimensional and REAL.  I could feel the person living inside the earthly tabernacle being sculpted, shaped, literally remodeled. It was almost – heck, maybe it was – physical.

My answer was paltry. “I-I-I [I’m not a stutterer; I was in that moment] think so.”

He said, “Good enough…good enough.”

And you know what?

It was good enough.

The tiny little mustard seed – the desire for the tiny little mustard seed – started a chain reaction of miracles in my life that steered me to a completely unexpected and only-dreamed-of-place.

Where I wanted to run away from my life, I settled in.

The marriage that was failing faster than I could keep it together was healed…because I was healed.

Out of the blue, the opportunity to leave a career that was leaving me withering and lifeless and start a career in music (those of you who know me know how significant that is) presented itself.

And religion (yes, I love that word now) became for me not a trite observance of Sunday ceremony and ritual, but a binding of myself to the God who loves me and makes me able to love, and that love continues to re-create me, every day.  My experience with Jesus Christ is as tangible to me as my experience with my husband or my friends or my colleagues.  He’s right there, just a prayer or thought or funny comment away (yes, we joke with each other now and again…).

But I had to ask myself today – was it really my faith that made those things happen? Because here’s another thought, no less powerful, but one that looks at this issue from a different perspective.

In C.S. Lewis’ book Prince Caspian, part of The Chronicles of Narnia, we run into a Dwarf named Nikabrik. He’s quite the surly fellow and absolutely does not believe in Aslan.  As they’re holed up in a bunker and feeling quite hungry, he quips that, if Aslan (who was standing right there) was real, he’d produce a feast for them.

Well, what do you know? Poof! A feast! And everyone digs in. Roast, apples, potatoes, pie, you name it…

…but all Nikabrik seems to experience is a few moldy turnips and rutabagas (both of which are fantastic – less the moldy bits, of course – in a nice beef stew).

Ultimately, Nikabrik didn’t want to believe, so Aslan was powerless to do anything for him.  He chose to remain in blindness, and so he couldn’t experience the miracle that was happening around him.  No faith, no miracle…or no experiencing of the miracle.  Where everyone around him was rejoicing and delighting in the hand of providence, not only did Nikabrik not experience it, but he couldn’t understand why everyone else was so thrilled with moldy turnips and rutabagas.

So does my faith – little and paltry and weak though it might be – actually produce miracles, or does it enable my ability to participate in and experience them?  Does my faith in God move God’s hand or place me in God’s hand?  Does prayer change things…or me?

C.S. Lewis had a very clear thought on this matter:

prayer-changes-me

Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shal find; knock, and it whall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, KJV).

All it takes is to ask.  But if one doesn’t believe, one won’t ask, and so the miracle remains elusive, out-of-reach, and, for all intents and purposes, non-existent.

After pondering all of this, I don’t think that our faith is like a supernatural power-up for God.  God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do…and fortunately, Scripture is pretty clear about His direction, so we don’t have to worry about God being flaky or unpredictable. My experience, however, does indicate that our faith is a supernatural power-up for us, because it gives us the power to move into a place where we can see and hear and experience and partner with everything God is doing.

And that, my friends, is the greatest miracle of all.

You should try it.

 

If We Could See Ahead…We’d Run the Other Way

Have you seen this meme? Every time it pops up on Facebook, I laugh and say, “That is SO my life!”

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I was chatting with a friend last night, and we were talking about goals and priorities and where I wanted to be in the next few years. I’d been thinking about that recently, and, in fact, I KNOW where I want to be and what I want to be doing…at least I think I do.

Because I think like that top picture. I’m all about goal-setting and proactivity and action steps. Here’s my goal, my desired destination, and here’s the straightest path there. BAM! Seems easy.

But that’s not really reality. As I sit here, typing away, I have to reflect and realize (not a new realization, trust me), that NOTHING in my life has turned out like I’d planned. Not family, not career, not even my spiritual life has been at all predictable. In fact, as my girlfriend and I were chatting, we both agreed that, if we knew what the future held, we’d probably pull a 180 and run pell-mell away from it.

But I don’t really like that. I’m such a Type A personality:

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For the more linear folks:

typeApersonality

Here’s how it flushes out in my everyday, well-planned, ordered, and theoretically executed life:

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Sometimes my prayers sound a lot like this.

Highly driven and focused. Proactive, self-motivated, and always thinking about what needs to happen to get closer to the goal. And sometimes I get a little worked-up (since I refuse to use vulgarity here!) with others about it…

And I get a bit worked-up with God when he changes my destination…or, when I get there, says, “This was just a rest stop…movin’ on!”

In my 48 years on this planet, I have had at least five career paths. Ministry (in a variety of churches), music performance, music education, social worker, and a short stint as a Mary Kay lady (never could achieve that cat-eye look with the shadow, though). And in the midst of each different life chapter, I threw everything I had into it, convinced that THIS was what my life was supposed to be about.

And then CHANGE. Divinely ordained change.

According to change experts (yes, they’re a thing), change should be prepared for and eased into and processed while it’s happening – ask any management guru about what happens when change is thrust upon an organization. Better yet, ask the employees. They’ll give you an earful.

I don’t think God has consulted with the experts or the gurus.

Each time change has come to my life, it has come with little warning and no time to prepare…probably because if I had warning and time to prepare, I would absolutely pack my bags, pull a Jonah, and catch the next train to Joppa.

In her devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, (and no, I don’t get a cut for advertising…I just really like this book!), Sarah Young writes:

You would like to see a map, showing all the twists and turns of your journey. You’d feel more prepared if you could somehow visualize what is on the road ahead…I will not show you what is on the road ahead, but I will thoroughly equip you for the journey. (Entry for January 12)

As I look back on the multiple times God has quite literally pulled the rug out from under my feet, I see one common thread. Each time, I have been forced to rely on God’s grace direction and have had to obey not out of pious desire, but out of sheer need to survive the rocking of the boat and the shaking of the foundation. And each time, I can identify the hand of my Heavenly Father orchestrating the whole darn thing.

And it’s not like I was ever being disobedient to be where I was. Oddly enough, as I reflect, each different chapter of my life was, in fact, exactly where I needed to be at that moment.

I learned skills and lessons and evolved as a person. I learned to recognize different facets of Heavenly Father’s character and personality and grew closer to Him. I became more attuned to His voice, more able to recognize Him in the midst of the chaos.

And I rather like me at this point in life.

Furthermore…

I wouldn’t trade any of it.

So here we are. 2018 is still in its infancy. I know where I’d like to be and where I’d like life to go in the next 11-1/2 months, but really, all I know is that God is taking me somewhere.

I can either go all Type A, demand to see the map (and since He won’t show me, it would be making up the map in my little brain) and wrest the steering wheel away from him, or I can learn to be more Type B and relax, enjoy the scenery, and trust that He knows where we’re going.

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It really is a tender mercy that He doesn’t give us the whole plan at once. He really does have our happiness in mind. I can trust that.

For All These Things, We Give Thee THANKS!

It is SUPER early on Thanksgiving morning.  I’ve actually been awake since 3:00 am (thank you, puppy), and have since scrolled through Facebook, sent some work emails and messages (I know, shame on me), and have read through a Litany of Thanksgiving.

In the Episcopal (or Anglican, depending on which continent you live) Church, worship services are dictated by rubrics and pre-written prayers and responses.  I grew up in what was considered a “progressive, spontaneous” denomination, and for the most part, prayers were personally developed and not prescribed.  As a middle-aged gal, although sometimes the structure of the liturgy can be boring, it also provides a centering point, being that the worship service is not about me.  Those pre-written prayers have often forced me to consider things and contemplate God in a way I wouldn’t on my own.

So here it is, the Litany of Thanksgiving…with my own little touches here and there (because progressive and spontaneous, right?):

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so
freely bestowed upon us.

Every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father of lights…have you ever considered just how gracious God has been with you, for all the amazing and sustaining gifts and blessings He’s bestowed?  I’ve been participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge on Facebook, which has so powerfully helped me to acknowledge just how good my Heavenly Father has been to me – from the simple things like a new puppy to a fantastic house in which to live to meaningful work…all comes from His hand.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and
sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

The last few days in Baker have been amazingly warm and temperate for this time of year…what we thought would be an early onset winter, complete with ice and snow and plows and chains, has turned out to be a lovely fall.  I have so enjoyed not totally bundling up every day, and not freezing all day long.  But even when the days turn frigid and I long for the warmth of spring, I have to remember that God set in motion the seasons, gave us day and night, seeded the earth with all forms of beautiful and often entertaining life (just watch my pets in action!), and called it all good.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women,
revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

“I see Jesus in you, I see Jesus in you; in your eyes, and all that you do, I see Jesus in you.”  I have so many dear ones in my life about whom I can sing that…too long to list…how about you?  When was the last time you looked at your spouse/sibling/parent/friend and recognized the light and image of Christ in them?

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and
our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

Today I’m not preparing a huge Thanksgiving meal, for which I am utterly grateful; we are blessed to be able to go out and pay someone else to feed us.  As I write this, I’m sitting in a gorgeous old home that I love, knowing that my husband is upstairs (wondering why on earth his wife is not in bed with him – he’s not much for insomnia). I have a list of friends and family to whom I will send a “Happy Thanksgiving” message to in just a few minutes, people that I know I can turn to in times of joy and sorrow, people that surround me with love and prayer and share my laughter and my tears.  But I have to think, too, of those who don’t share that experience – I should never, never, NEVER whine – about anything; I am far too blessed.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

Does it ever strike you funny that God entrusts His work to us?  That He has placed within our minds the capability to plan and create and implement; places us in networks of people who rely on us for not only physical, but emotional and spiritual support; and opens doors of opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World?  “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see, you’re the only words of life some will ever read” (The Imperials).  What an amazing amount of trust we have been given…

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

I get up every morning, before the the sun, on work days and days off, and start a long list of to-dos.  Some are enjoyable, some are tedious.  Regardless, I rarely have to take a sick day and I am still, even in middle-age, amazingly strong and capable.  It is a wonder, and I am so thankful.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering
and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

At the same time, so many go through their days with difficulty.  I used to work in Child Welfare – talk about patient in suffering.  First responders, social workers, medical personnel, our military…day in and day out of YUCK.  Yet we wouldn’t have a functional society without their dedication.  I think I’m going to go hug my veteran…

 
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

I hope we’re all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice.  Today, take a few moments to think about how you can promote these things in your own little corner of the world.  And thank your spiritual leader(s) the next time you see him/her/them.  It’s sometimes quite exhausting to search the Scriptures and exhort the flock of Christ to better things…
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

The communion of saints – living and dead.  I am surrounded by saints on earth and know that those who have gone before continue to surround me with prayer and encouragement, encircling me with a cloud of witness that strengthens me to run my earthly race.

 
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and
promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;

My husband – God bless him! – often gets on my for not giving him time to answer the question I just asked before asking another one, or completing the task I requested before hounding him about it (I really am quite the nag when left unchecked). Just the other day I was reading in Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet.”  In the middle of all that doom and gloom, I came across this:  “It is good that a man (or woman, or child, or anyone) should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).  That really convicted me – I am so unwilling to “hope and quietly wait” for Jesus to fulfill His promises – I want everything RIGHT. NOW.  So I made my own little covenant, in that moment:

Lamentations

(If you don’t keep a Scripture and devotional journal…try visiting The Holy Mess for some great ideas and even a free kit!  It’s not what I use, but Sara has some great tools for making your studies exciting and personally relevant!)

To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the
Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

AMEN!  Happy Thanksgiving!

#seethebigpicture

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, mostly because life has been so busy and, even though God is very much alive and active and always communicating with me, I haven’t been much about the journaling lately.  Thank the Lord for emails and Facebook messages…eventually I’ll print those out and paste them in my hard journal; my conversations with friends are as close to documenting what the Spirit has spoken to my soul over the last month or so.

But today the message was so strong and loud and persistent that 1) I snuck a Facebook post in the middle of the sermon (#seethebigpicture), and 2) I knew I had to blog it before the muse drifted away.  So here we are. Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent and we are traveling with the Savior ever closer to Jerusalem, where His destiny – our Atonement – waits.  In fact, where we find ourselves today is so close to Jerusalem that His closest pals, the 12 disciples, wonder what He’s thinking.  As we look at John 11, we find ourselves in Bethany, a little suburb outside of the metropolis that was Jerusalem, along with a trio whom some consider to be Christ’s closest friends outside of The Twelve.

But not at first. No, at the end of John 10, Jesus and The Twelve have gone beyond the Jordan, after the religious leaders thought they would kill him in the Temple for yet another mouthful of blasphemy (what was Jesus thinking? SMH…).  We’re not sure just how long He was “beyond the Jordan”, but after whatever length of time He was there, He received communication that may have, for all intents and purposes, changed everything:

“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (John 11:1-3).

I don’t know about any of you, but if I receive an intentional message about someone’s illness, it’s usually pretty serious.  I’ve only received a few phone calls about urgent health conditions, and those calls usually indicate imminent death and “let’s gather round” is either implied or stated directly.  As Facebook was not even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s ancestors’ eyes, we can be pretty sure that someone went out of their way to deliver this message to Jesus, with the understanding that He was being asked to come.

So the next little bit really disturbs me:

“When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again” (John 11:6-7).

Not one verse earlier, the text clearly, directly, no-questions-asked states that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They weren’t mere acquaintances; they were friends – and not the Facebook type.  These were people who opened their home to Him, had dinner ready when He came knocking, and, based on other passages, understood who He was and His mission, and fully supported Him.  But He didn’t go.  He waited two days and then, walking, as they did 2000 years ago, made His way to Bethany.  But it was okay, because as He Himself said in verse 4, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”

But it wasn’t okay.  Because when He got there, Lazarus was gone.  Dead.  Putrefying in the family tomb.  Just look at the sisters’ reactions when He does arrive:

“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

For some reason, even knowing how this ends, this is one of the most heartbreaking passages of Scripture I can ever read, because it echoes the cry of my own heart when I don’t understand why God doesn’t jump when I call. Why He doesn’t resolve situations when and how I think He should, why He lets me sit behind a piano at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church every Sunday, weeping the same prayer over and over and over again.  The tears of those two sisters are my tears: “Lord, if You had only…Lord, if You would only…”  And as He wept with those two women – not because He didn’t know the outcome, but because He fully felt and experienced their pain with them – I have to believe He weeps with me; not because He doesn’t know the outcome, but because He fully feels and experiences my pain with me.

But that’s not the point.  He gave us the point in verse 4 – this whole scenario was to what? To bring glory to God, and to glorify the Son of Man.  And so, without much further ado, He raises Lazarus to life.  4 days after the fact.  That’s pretty amazing.  The crowd goes wild, and gives praise to God.  But that’s not the glorification to which verse 4 alludes; it’s what we find just immediately after this:

Image source: https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/images/gospel-library/manual/10734/lazarus-leaving-tomb-swindle_1164995_inl.jpg

But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death” (John 11:46-53, emphasis added).

Jesus waited – not to test people’s faith, not to create a spectacle, not to prove anything at all – but to set in motion the events that would make the Atonement possible.  It was this event that unified the Pharisees in their plan to kill Him.  Verse 4 wasn’t talking about the glory that people gave God at Lazarus’ resurrection, it was talking about the glory the God receives as He, even to this day, gathers together His scattered children, which was only made possible through the tragic beauty of Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, death on Calvary, and triumph over the grave on Easter morning.  Yet in the middle of their pain, in the depths of their self-centered (and naturally so) tears, no one could see the bigger picture.

It’s the same in our lives.  God often waits so that His glory may be revealed and that many people may believe.  I have to remember that.  My struggles – those things for which I plea to be resolved – are not necessarily all about me.  If God is making me wait (and I don’t like to wait), it surely must be so that His glory may be revealed and so that many, many people may believe.  God can see the big picture; with faith, so can I.

UNANSWERED YET? – THE PRAYER  

Lyrics: Charles D. Tillman, 1894

Performed by Michael McLean

Unanswered yet?
The prayer your lips have pleaded
In agony of heart these many years?
Does faith begin to fail, is hope departing,
And think you all in vain those falling tears?
Say not the Father hath not heard your prayer:
You shall have your desire, sometime, somewhere,
You shall have your desire, sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet?
Though when you first presented
This one petition at the Father’s throne,
It seemed you could not wait the time of asking,
So urgent was your heart to make it known.
Though years have passed since then, do not despair;
The Lord will answer you, sometime, somewhere,
The Lord will answer you, sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet?
No, do not say ungranted;
Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done;
The work began when first your prayer was uttered,
And God will finish what He has begun.
If you will keep the Spirit burning there,
His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere,
His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet?
Faith cannot be unanswered;
Her feet were firmly planted on the Rock;
Amid the wildest storm prayer stands undaunted,
Nor quails before the loudest thunder shock.
She knows Omnipotence has heard her prayer,
And cries, “It shall be done,” sometime, somewhere,
And cries, “It shall be done,” sometime, somewhere.