Strength for Today; Bright Hope for Tomorrow
"All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me."
Summer will soon be upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere. I think I can speak for most of us when I say that this has, without a doubt, been one of the more interesting springs of our lives. For myself, it began in the country of South Korea but will now be coming to a close in the United States. As I am writing this post, I am watching a beautiful sunset over a cornfield in Indiana and I cannot help but feel an exhale in my soul. With all of the uncertainty that this season of life has held, it is nice to think about the ending of one season and the beginning of another; a reminder that a new day is coming.
"Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above; join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love."
It has now been just a little over a month since I returned to the US from South Korea, and, let me tell ya, this month has felt quite surreal to say the least. I can't decide if it has been one of the longest months of my life or one of the shortest, but, nonetheless, the short days and long nights have allowed for quite some time alone with my thoughts and the company of God. I have been able to catch up with old friends, experience some special moments with my parents, and work on numerous projects during this time too—in addition to sitting on my couch and watching Netflix. Throughout all of this, strangely enough, one song has also been playing on repeat in the back of my mind: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."
"Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see..."
I've gotta be honest with you—when "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" first popped into my head as I was disembarking my final flight after wearing a face mask for 17 hours straight, new mercies weren't exactly on the top of my mind. The lyrics almost seemed to taunt me. I wanted to be back in South Korea, teaching my students for a second semester, but, instead, I was once again in Indiana and about to sit on a couch for fourteen days, waiting for my self-quarantine to end. People kept asking what I would be doing next as if anyone actually knew what "next" was going to look like... "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" seemed like an odd song choice for my subconscious playlist to cue with all of the uncertainty.
"All I have needed Thy hand hath provided" was the specific lyric that kept playing over and over in my head throughout my self-quarantine. As my body slowly adjusted to what was day and what was night again—not something easy to do when stuck inside—it was the lyric that found me whenever I ran out of things to take my mind off of everything else. Once my self-quarantine ended, it took on new meaning as well when I decided to volunteer at a local food pantry; a decision that had been prompted by a fortune cookie I had opened that read "YOU THRIVE BY SERVING OTHERS" and the realization that I was not thriving.
Most of the other volunteers at the food pantry were elderly so I was assigned a role directing traffic out in the parking lot. My first week was fairly easy because we didn't have too many cars to direct. Due to the great need for food all over the state, numerous additional food pantries had been opened, which have now allowed more people easier access to food much closer to their homes. It was during my second week, however, that I was really put to work. With a mask over my face, gloves on my hands, and a bright neon safety vest on that you could see from a mile away, I waved at each family that arrived and ushered them towards a place to park so that they could receive their food for the month.
"All I have needed Thy hand hath provided." I couldn't get it out of my head as I talked to each person who arrived at the food pantry, many of whom told similar stories:
"This is my first time."
"I got laid off at the beginning of the pandemic."
"I'm still waiting for my unemployment check."
"Both my husband and I lost our jobs and this is the only way we can eat this month."
"Times are hard."
My job was to direct traffic, but I also found myself consoling many of the families who arrived as well. It broke my heart to see the looks of shame on so many of their faces when making the above statements, something that had been instilled in them by society. We have come to believe that it is shameful to not be able to provide for ourselves, to have to ask for help when we cannot do it on our own—but that is exactly what we are supposed to do in times of difficulty. We have to ask for help in order to receive help. Times are hard.
I found myself wondering about who might have first written "Great Is Thy Faithfulness;" who had come up with those lyrics and what had brought them to those specific words. The writer must have experienced some profound moment to come up with them—perhaps a moment similar to Horatio Spafford's when first writing "It Is Well With My Soul" after losing his family to a terrible shipwreck. A quick Google search, however, provided me with my answer, and it wasn't what I expected. The person who first wrote "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was an ordinary man named Thomas Chisholm. He did not write the words after experiencing a powerful moment; he just wrote them in the midst of his everyday life.
Thomas was born in Kentucky in 1866. He never finished high school or college, but he still chose to become a teacher when he was 16. Life took Thomas through many twists and turns—he worked in the newspaper industry for a while, became an ordained pastor until his poor health forced him to stop, and he eventually became an insurance agent in New Jersey in his later years. It was during this time in 1923 that he sent many of the poems he wrote in his free time to William Runyan, a friend in Kansas who worked for Hope Publishing Company. "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was one of those poems.
We all face uncertainty in this life, whether it is the uncertainty of moving from one job to the next, the uncertainty of our health, or the uncertainty of where in the world we are going to be living in a year. Thomas Chisholm knew this uncertainty well, and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was the anthem that flowed from his life and out onto paper in order to convey that. None of us know where this life is going to take us, but we can find consolation in knowing that God cares, that "Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV). As we continue courageously facing uncertainty in this life, it is of utmost importance that we continue to have compassion for one another as well.
As I stated earlier, none of us know exactly what "next" is going to look like at the moment. For myself, it currently means heading back down to Florida, where I hope to set up a home base until eventually returning to South Korea so that I can continue teaching and working with North Korean refugees. Wherever I end up, though, I know I will be taking notice of each blessing and mercy I encounter along the way, singing as I go, "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!"
If you would like to learn more about or support your local food pantry, you can look up the closest one to you at https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.