Dedicated singers ease the journey home

NOTE: This story ran in the Catholic Free Press on October 21, 2016 in their Bereavement supplement.

Each Wednesday afternoon, eighteen men and women gather at the Congregational Church in Westborough to rehearse songs for performance. They have come from various churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Westborough, Northborough and Marlborough. Some come from the Westborough Community Chorus and the Assabet Valley Master Singers. The performances for which they rehearse are however, not meant for entertainment.

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(L to R) Jim Nolan, Mary Beland and John McCann are members of the Journey Home Singers and all are members of the St. Luke the Evangelist choir in Westborough, MA. Beland invited both men to join the Journey Home Singers.

The Journey Home Singers sing in homes, hospitals and nursing homes to hospice patients. “Our intention is to bring comfort, beauty, caring and compassion with our singing to anyone who wants us to visit,” said Kathy Todd, director of the Journey Home Singers.

Todd started the group in June of 2009 after attending a singing workshop in the Berkshires. During that gathering, flyers were distributed for a workshop involving hospice singing. Todd was immediately intrigued, inspired by her own personal experience with caring for a dying sister.

“We started [the Journey Home Singers] in June of 2009, which was about six months after my oldest sister died,” recalls Todd. “My sister Martha had been ill with COPD for several years, and had just entered hospice care at her home in August 2008. On August 19 she fell and broke her hip and was taken to ICU at St. Vincent’s in Worcester. About a month later, doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for her, other than having her live attached to a ventilator. My youngest sister and I kept a vigil with her that night after she decided not to go with a ventilator. Time spent by her bedside was the first catalyst that led me to realize a vision that became the hospice choir.”

The workshop was run by Hallowell from Brattleboro, VT. Their mission is to offer support to the dying by bringing comfort, calm and beauty. After attending, Todd felt compelled to start a group. “I thought about it for a long time, I had no experience as a director,” she said. She decided to call her choir the Journey Home Singers, inspired by a song she heard at the workshop, “Angels Hovering Round”: “We’re on our journey home…”

Todd began her search for members, beginning with her choir at the Congregational Church in Westborough. She expanded that search to other church choirs and community choruses. Mary Beland, member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Choir in Westborough, was one of the first to join.

“I received notice from Betsy Sowers (a friend of Todd) that the Journey Home Singers was just being conceived and Kathy was searching around for singers to join,” said Beland who is also a member of the Assabet Valley Master Singers. Recently she invited fellow church choir members Jim Nolan and John McCann to join.

Once assembled, Todde sought to publicize the group. “I work for the Community Advocate (out of Northborough) and they were very supportive,” she said. The newspaper did a story on the Journey Home Singers in 2010 and granted Todd time off as needed to do the performances.

Because they seek to personalize their song selections for each patient, The Journey Home Singers offer a wide repertoire of songs taken from both Christian and Jewish traditions. Soon after the article ran, Todd connected with Mary Poole, once the hospice chaplain at Beaumont Nursing Home in Westborough who assisted Todd in in this effort by supplying the patient’s first name and last initial, faith tradition and condition (responsive/unresponsive).

Beland’s motivation for joining the group was similar to Todd’s. “I was already comfortable with the idea because I sat with my sister while she was dying. She and I shared the same love for music.” She knows that as a ministry, one may not always get feedback from a patient. “If you want applause, you might not get it,” she said.

Nolan feels it is a way to continue to have music in his life while helping others. He too understands that responses will vary although he has noted a “flutter of an eye, a tear, a raised hand” from those to whom he has sung.

McCann was motivated to join because of a rather involved experience he had years ago traveling to Guatemala with his then teenaged son only to return and discover that his brother had unexpectedly passed away. He recalled a moment when he was alone during the trip, surrounded by the wind, noting the quiet and sensing that something was happening.

“In Lo De Bran in the early afternoon, I was sitting alone by a well, on a wall. No one was near me. I was surrounded by a gentle soft warm wind which engulfed me. I felt a little different, but did not think much of it, other than it was very hot … I … felt a very quiet peace.”

When he learned when his brother had been stricken, he realized it had happened while he was sitting by that well. “The Good Lord kept Jim in our presence for three more days, allowing my son Aidan and me to return safely from Guatemala and to be with him. I could never explain how even in the horrors of Jim’s death that God can be so good so as to allow Aidan and me such special moments with Jim just before he died.” It was this experience that prompted McCann to minister to other such people through the Journey Home Singers.

Stories abound of experiences with patients. Todd recalls a man who kept a hymnal near his bedside but was unable to hold the book open due to his condition. “He was a singer – after one song, he joined in even though he really couldn’t hold the book. It made him so happy,” she said.

One experience involved a little girl. “We went into Boston Children’s Hospital to sing for a seven-year-old girl — one of our toughest. She was not conscious and had seizures three to four times a day. The whole family was there, so upbeat. They put their arms around her and sang to her – they would sing along with us,” recalls Beland.

The Journey Home Singers thus fulfills a much needed mission. “If can we talk about dying and be aware of our own death, we can become more comfortable with it and use the time have now in a much more effective, more beautiful way. We’ll live well,” says Todd.

If you are interested in joining The Journey Home Singers, you can contact Kathy Todd at lightsong60@gmail.com or call 508-335-1043.

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

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Groundhog Day – reliving the same challenge again and again

groundhog-day-chris-piascik-flickr-creative-commons
Groundhog Day Chris Piascik, Flickr Creative Commons

I never could sit through “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Relive the same day over and over? No thank you. And yet, I can’t get away from my own Groundhog Day – the weakness in my life that haunts me, again and again.

What’s yours?

How many of us have those physical “weak spots” in our bodies that constantly succumb? The sore throat that signals a cold. The leg once broken, now chronically stiff. The back that aches simply by standing in place too long.

Spiritual weak spots

st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons
st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons

There are spiritual “weak spots” too, brought back to life again and again by circumstance. Mine is managing money – we always seem to be short. The same financial problems repeat themselves endlessly. Right now we’re going through a season of endless hits – dental bills, medical bills, car repairs. I climb two steps up the slippery slope only to slide back down another ten. It is death by a thousand cuts, wearing me down, making me tired and discouraged. Frankly it’s boring, eating away at any desire to approach God and ask again for the grace to continue in the battle.

St. Nicholas, patron saint of finances, must be sick of hearing from me.

The scars of repetition

It’s not like I don’t know why these things happen. We are poor money managers because making lots of it has never been a priority. We accept that. Decisions were made to favor other aspects of our lives rather than money. But the security of having enough would be nice!

Once upon a time my husband and I were polar opposites – he, the spender; me, the penny-pincher. The last major financial challenge forced us to meet in the middle and come together as partners. Learning to work as a team surely helps and I am grateful for that lesson learned, but it didn’t come without scars. Scars of shame at my own stupidity. Scars of loss when we’ve fallen short of meeting our obligations. Scars from feeling the need to keep our money problems a secret. Those scars make it hard to trust; I am stuck.

Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons
Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons

These periodic problems with money only fuel the desire to penny pinch and that’s the deepest wound of them all. I am small-hearted when it comes to giving money because I just don’t trust that God will provide what we need. I can trust the Lord in so many areas of my life but when it comes to finances, the well runs dry.

I am guessing this is why the cycle repeats itself — God still has something to teach me. Along with the lesson of learning to work in tandem with my husband, I have also learned not to ask God for money to “fall from the sky.” Instead I ask for fortitude, wisdom and patience. I’m guessing I also need to ask just as diligently for healing. And I’m learning to ask others to pray for me.

paul writing--featuredAs St. Paul was not freed from his “thorn in the flesh” after petitioning the Lord, I doubt I will be freed from mine of the spirit. But I can take a lesson from this favored saint who accompanies me on my marathon journey to God each day: accept it and rejoice in it. To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 12:10, when I am weak, I am strong. Because I depend on God’s grace, not my own strength, to get through each challenge no matter how often it repeats. God’s strength never fails.

It could be Groundhog Day every day but God’s grace will prevail. He will test me, prune me, yank up the weeds, teach me. And I will grow stronger through him and closer to him.

Originally published in The Catholic Free Press, October 14. 2016
copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available! Purchase here.
Join her at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough, MA on Monday, October 17 from 8 to 9 for a Marian concert to benefit Haiti. Free admission, free will offering to be taken up. Songs from “Mater Dei” will be featured.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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A little grace from a BIG God

old poolRecently I lost something I truly loved.

It was a minuscule loss when compared with the suffering of so many around me and across the world. Embarrassed at how much it upset me, I turned to God in prayer and asked for detachment. The prayer was swiftly answered in a way only God could imagine.

So what did I lose? Continue reading “A little grace from a BIG God”

Talking with Allison Gingras on Breadbox Media radio about “River of Grace”

00 cover drop shadowI was privileged to have my River of Grace discussed on Allison Gingras’ radio program on Breadbox Media, “A Seeking Heart” for the last 3 episodes! She used the first two programs to talk about how River of Grace impacted her own life — it’s such a blessing to hear that my book has impacted someone in such practical and powerful ways. In the third episode she invited me on-air to talk about my experiences of grace that inspired River of Grace.

Sit back, relax and listen to how God surprises us with gifts of grace in even the smallest of ways!

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Be sure and check out Allison’s show notes with lots of interesting links to more information about the various things we talked about.

p.s. I am offering a free giveaway on the program — if you purchase River of Grace after listening, email me your receipt to susanwbailey@gmail.com and I’ll send you a PDF book of all the Flow Lessons included in the book – they include color pictures and links not included in the book. It’s an easy way to pick out the Flow Lessons you want to try.

Click to Tweet & Share: Talking with Allison Gingras on Breadbox Media radio about “River of Grace” http://tinyurl.com/glvqve8

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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Another great discovery right under my nose!

Remember when I posted about discovering a little piece of heaven across the street from my house? After living there for twelve years?

Looks like I’ve found another treasure in my town. Continue reading “Another great discovery right under my nose!”

Healing begins with knowledge: understanding the emotional impact of IC

JUNE 29, 2016 – Last week I wrote about dejection; today it’s anxiety. This current season of feelings, beginning with extreme aggravation, moving towards dejection and now morphing into anxiety has me quite puzzled. After this past weekend I needed to step back and try to understand just what was going on,

Last week I anticipated a wonderful weekend away with my husband at Hampton Beach, NH. I looked forward to the carnival atmosphere, the gorgeous pristine beaches along Route 1A, the shops and restaurants, and finally, the Happy Together Tour featuring singers and bands of the 1960s (The Turtles, The Cowsills, Mark Lindsay, Billy J. Kramer, Chuck Negron and Gary Puckett).

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Happy-Together-Cover

The weather was perfection – upper 70s with a refreshing onshore wind. My husband and I have needed this time together after the last hectic few months.

And yet during the trip I was overcome with anxiety. Why?

I have continued to ask God for healing as I pray for friends and family as I sensed I needed those prayers. Just as the book lifted me up and out of myself, prayers for healing uncovered information that related directly to my anxiety. It came from a most unexpected source.

I am researching a biography at the moment and have several years’ worth of notes. They need organizing so today I attended to that.  In the course of the task, I came across an article called “The Psychological Effects of IC.”

ICJust what is IC? Short for Interstital Cystitis, IC is a painful and chronic urinary condition. When paired with Overactive Bladder (which I also have) sufferers experience sudden urges to urinate. If you are not near a bathroom, it can be an excruciating experience both physically and emotionally. It can be quite embarrassing as well. Over time you are conditioned to place the needs of your bladder above all else. I go nowhere now without immediately scouting out bathrooms.

It took years to have this condition diagnosed. Heck, it took years to get a doctor to take my complaints seriously! I took meditation for the Overactive Bladder but it did nothing for the IC. Over time I learned what foods to avoid. The discovery of AZO products (especially Bladder Control Go Less) finally began to bring my IC under control, at least during the daytime. Nighttime is another story (and for another day).

What I have discovered about IC is that it is triggered by stress and anxiety. Going away from home is a sure-fire way to trigger it. If you are not sure where the next bathroom is, you are going to obsess over finding one. Such stress triggers flare ups and before you know it, you’re in a vicious cycle.

What I did not know, however, was that there are long term emotional consequences, something I had begun to suspect after coming home from our weekend. The article I stumbled upon today confirmed that suspicion:

“Although IC is a physiological disease, the effects are emotional. The pain of IC automatically induces an emotional response … The messages from the bladder pain can make a patient feel upset, emotional and depressed as a result.”

In my case, it’s panic. And that’s what I kept experiencing in the lovely yet unfamiliar setting of Hampton Beach, NH. That, and hyper-vigilance:

“IC patients may be seen as emotionally laden victims of a traumatic experience demonstrating hyper-vigilant behavior (the need to be on guard against harm), instead of a person in need of medication to calm the unsettling symptoms of interstitial cystitis.”

This may sound a bit dramatic but the fact it that it is true. This article described my experience to perfection. There was more:

“IC is a daily responsibility … it is not a situational stress that will resolve in time. And, even though most of us build a certain amount of tolerance to the everyday bladder sensitivity (not the painful flare-ups), we still have to place our bladder needs first.”

The world with IC can become very small. And, problems can seem too big to overcome. Sometimes the limitations can make us feel stuck, sometimes with no hope for the future.”

anxietyMy world has definitely shrunk as demonstrated by the tremendous anxiety I experience whenever I have to go away. I am a confirmed homebody—no trip to Europe for me. I chaperone confirmation retreats twice yearly and each weekend is a constant struggle with anxiety-induced obsessive and compulsive tendencies that interfere with my work on the retreat. Finally I have a better understanding of WHY.

I reflected a bit before sharing this blog post. IC and Overactive Bladder are hardly things spoken about freely in polite company. I don’t even know anyone who has it though I know it’s common. So why share this with you?

  • First of all, because someone out there might also be a sufferer and perhaps, this information can be helpful to them.
  • Secondly, to show that healing that comes through God’s grace is more often revealed in steps rather than granted miraculously. But just because a healing unfolds rather than effects an instant cure doesn’t make it any less miraculous in my mind.

I am convinced that because I approached God in prayer for healing (even though I didn’t specify what the healing ought to be) that he gave me the mindfulness to pay attention to this article when I found it.

We’re told that knowledge is half the battle. I believe that. This knowledge has given me great relief.

  • I’m not going crazy.
  • There is a reasonable explanation.
  • Now I know what to ask for in prayer for my healing.

This wave of anxiety will, in fact, pass. And when I feel it return, I know where to go and Who to ask when I need help.

p.s. Those of you suffering from Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – there is something for you in “The Psychological Effects of IC.” Something tells me we have walked down a similar path.

 

 

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

What makes you think of spiritual things? Here’s an exercise to help you identify them.

flow lesson logo-640
Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, and your memories

Pick a quiet place in your home to do this exercise and make sure you can sit still comfortably for several minutes.

Be still

Take a moment to be still with God, taking several long and deep breaths and listening as you breathe. In and out, in and out. Be conscious of the rhythm of the breathing. As you breathe in, whisper the name of Jesus; as you breathe out whisper, “Be with me.” Do this for several moments until you feel quiet and still. Continue reading “What makes you think of spiritual things? Here’s an exercise to help you identify them.”

Lifted up and out—breaking free from dejection

jenny on my lapJUNE 20, 2016 — We all go through spells where we feel blue, even downright dejected. I know lately I’ve been waking up in the morning and feeling a sense of dread about facing a new day. Those fears and anxieties that lie just below the surface tend to be magnified in the wee hours of the morning before the alarm goes off. A quick cup of coffee, some time in prayer with Jenny on my lap purring, and those feelings begin to dissipate. Lately however, I’ve had a harder time getting them to leave me.

One of the psalms that I pray each morning describes dejection to the point of despair:

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

Psalm 88, 6-9 NIV

Most days I think of those I have known who have experienced that kind of despair. I think too of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, overcome by the knowledge of the suffering he would experience. But some days, I think of me.

I pride myself with knowing why I feel the way I do—I am introspective by nature, and to a fault. But lately I am not clear as to why I feel the way I do. Perhaps it’s the cycle of days seeming to go by faster and faster. It could be those small aches and pains of age reminding me that youth is long over. Maybe I need to stop paying attention to the news because the world no longer makes sense. Maybe I need to stop being so introspective!

I prayed to God today during that psalm and I prayed again during the one o’clock hour when I lift up petitions of healing for family and friends. I rarely include myself but today I did. I asked for grace to come up out of myself, to be lifted up and out. And my prayer was answered.

pedlar's progressI am reading an antique book printed in 1937 about an historical figure, Amos Bronson Alcott. The book is large, its pages browning, the paper soft to the touch. The spine is such that that the book stays open by itself. The cover is exquisite, vintage 1930s art in earth tones. The biographer is totally immersed in his subject, revealing to me the mind and the heart of one of recent histories’ biggest conundrums. Alcott was a man of extremes—at once brilliant, original, insightful while at the same time blind to the physical needs of his family, unable, unwilling at times to work to support them. He drew amazing creativity out of his daughters but inflicted great scars through his demands for perfection and virtue, causing one to become a workaholic to support the family while constantly striving to prove her virtue (Louisa) while another found that virtue perfectly in death rather than life (Lizzie).

peddlar's progressWith all his fatal flaws, Amos Bronson Alcott is a fascinating figure and Odell Shepherd, the biographer, writes about the man with incredible beauty and insight. Some call it “old-fashioned” but I say that Shepherd, because he wrote the book only forty-nine years after Alcott’s death, was closer to him that current biographers could ever hope to be. Perhaps the writing style is “dated;” the fact that there are no footnotes proves to be frustrating for scholars. But there is general agreement that the work is authentic. And that’s why it speaks to me.

And today during my lunch break as I read, scribbling notes in the margins, I found myself being lifted out of my dejection by the sheer beauty of the words and the tactile experience of holding that magnificent old book.

God answered my prayer. Through the experience of reading, I could be lifted out of the prison of myself, my eyes no longer dimmed with grief, my spirit no longer overcome with waves. Because I could get lost in the life of another through the exquisite writing of his biographer, I could receive a gift of grace.

We all have tools we use to help ourselves feel better when we are blue. Some like to listen to music, go for a walk, take a swim or see friends. These are all gifts of grace from God who knows our every need. In my case, rather late in life, I was given the grace to lose myself in a book and in the lives of fascinating historical figures.

Thank you Lord.

 

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace

My latest Catholic Free Press column (June 17, 2016)

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Grace is invisible.

We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.

Or can we?

Continue reading “Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace”

My secret sin – My secret singing

This is my latest column in The Catholic Free Press.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have a lifelong habit of talking to myself. I don’t consider a thought to be valid unless it is spoken out loud.

I’m that crazy lady you see barreling down the highway with hands waving and a mouth that never stops moving. I do my best brainstorming in the car. I also vent. My face displays my mood for all to see: happy, sad, excited, angry. I am oblivious to anyone around me and so I let loose.

So what possible harm can there be in all that? This has been the lesson of my Lent this year.

thirty steps to heavenWhile reading a book by Father Vassilios Papavassiliou, a Greek Orthodox priest called Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, I came across a chapter titled “Talkativeness and Silence.” There was another chapter further in called “Stillness.” Stillness is something I have long desired but felt I could not achieve. I can’t sit still for one moment without fidgeting nor can I keep my mind from racing. Furthermore, I cannot seem to get out of the prison of myself. These chapters both outlined the problem and offered solutions. The tools are simple to use but the task is impossible without God’s grace.

The chapter on “Talkativeness and Silence” made it clear that talking to myself was often not a good thing. For one thing, it creates noise that blocks communion with God–how can I listen above the din of my own voice? Talking to myself leads me deep within but not to the place where God dwells.

I have a hot temper and am easily aggravated; frequent venting is the result. Such open expression of my anger in private stokes negative feelings that spill over to others. A perfect example is road rage—in my outburst of anger against the driver who supposedly wronged me I judge someone unjustly. The more I rage, the more aggressively I drive to the point where it could endanger others. Road rage sometimes interrupts prayer, severing communion with God. It takes a great deal of effort to restart that conversation.

Cursing to myself happens without a thought. The inability to control that urge in private makes it harder to control my tongue in public, going beyond simple cursing to gossip and hurtful words towards others. Cursing to myself reinforces those behaviors.

Father Papavassiliou is right: “As long as we consider the tongue to be autonomous—something that falls outside the scope of Christian ascesis, something independent of God—it will inevitably become a tool of sin.”

Talking-to-Self

The Scriptures tell us that there’s no such thing as a private sin: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open”–Luke 8:17 (NIV)

You may not talk to yourself but everyone harbors thoughts. Where do those thoughts lead you? How do you express them? There is no thought that will not be revealed in one form or another. Those of us who vocalize our thoughts, even if just to ourselves exacerbate the danger of those thoughts harming someone else.

Conquering a lifetime of venting, lamenting and cursing seems like an impossible task. By my own power–not doable. Through an all merciful and powerful God, it will be done, especially as I humble myself and ask others to pray for me. The grace that comes through those prayers will help to control my tongue. Replacing negative thoughts with remembrances of all the wonderful ways God has blessed me is a powerful way to dispel any negativity.

Toni Birrer Complaining
Toni Birrer Complaining, Flickr Creative Commons

In asking God for help with my tongue, he has given me a wonderful tool—singing. Father Papavassiliou recommends this too. Therefore, if you see me driving down the Mass Pike, mouth moving and face happy and determined, you may witness me using this tool. The scriptures recommend it: “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19, NIV). It does a world of good for my soul, driving out wrongful thoughts. I know it silences my tongue.

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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