By Dennis Rainey
This is the post that refused to be written for 30 days … God knew I would encounter Him and experience Him in a way that I just had to share with you. So here goes …
Barbara and I missed FamilyLife's Love Like You Mean It Cruise this year… for 8 years straight we’ve helped host a Valentine’s “week” of non-stop ministry for FamilyLife and 3500 of our closest friends. But not this year…
Our assignment? Overseeing (baby-sitting doesn’t seem to capture the concept) 6 boys/young men, our grandsons … ages 4 to 18… FOR EIGHT DAYS! Selah. (You can look that word up later, but it means “pause and think on these things”.) All so that our daughter Ashley and husband Michael could go for their 9th LLYMI cruise in a row.
It was a memorable week, but those stories have to wait for another missive and getting legal permissions from the guilty.
So as we drove the 90 miles back home after a different kind of non-stop week with our grandsons, I began thinking about the two weeks that lay ahead … after 26+ years it was the last two weeks of hosting FamilyLife Today radio. As I reflected on a few of the mountains of memories I began to feel a bit melancholy and sad … radio was about to be in the rear-view mirror.
The rest of the ride was quiet. As we drove home I decided to stop at the FamilyLife offices to get our mail. I walked inside and down a hall that is lined with “Spiritual Milestones” that marked the 4+ decade history of God’s provisions and work through FamilyLife. I was not expecting God to provide “another spiritual milestone” in my path on my way to the mail room.
I can only explain what happened by giving the Holy Spirit the credit.
All of a sudden … I started singing the chorus of a song I had not sung in in nearly 60 years.
Count your blessings, name them one by one:
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
Bob Lepine, co-host of FamilyLife Today would tell you, “Dennis is NOT fluent in musical lyrics, past or present.”
Still … I gathered up our mail and walked back down the hall humming (I could only remember the chorus) and singing all the way back to the car where I told Barbara what had happened.
Not long after arriving home I went in search of a hymnal to see if I could find the hymn and read the words. There it was: In a Baptist Hymnal, copyright 1975, hymn number 231 … written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. 1897 and the tune BLESSINGS, by Edwin O. Excell, 1897.
I began to get choked up as I read the first stanza …
When up-on life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
As I read the words, remembering the tune from my childhood, it hit me … this is how I’m going to celebrate the last two weeks of hosting FLT.
So I did … I hummed, whistled and sang the chorus and the various stanzas at least a hundred times over the next 14 days … I love the second stanza, it’s loaded with great theology on how to live …
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the Cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. (emphasis mine)
Over those two weeks I was asked repeatedly by listeners … are you sad? … has it been hard? And I’d share the story of my encounter with God … and I’d sing a little of the hymn to them.
I’d share the hymn doesn’t charge us with “counting our losses” or with “naming those losses one by one,” it calls us upward, to remember to “count your blessings, name them one by one … and remember what God has done.”
6250 broadcasts, interviewing over 1,000 guests and 40 million words are a lot to count!
The third stanza reminded us of where our treasure should be …
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth un-told;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your rewards in heaven, nor your home on high.
So for 14 days I found myself singing. Whistling. Humming. Reading the words and pondering. And I kept on sharing the message of the hymn.
Then, at the end of the two weeks, a friend, Ken Tada, called to ask me to go fly fishing with him this summer. I told him I couldn’t make it this year and then asked if he’d pass along a message from Barbara to his wife, Joni Erickson Tada. (Most know Joni, a committed Christ follower and I’m told the longest surviving quadriplegic in the US. As a teenager she dove into water that was only 4’ deep and severed her spinal cord, leaving her to live the next 50+ years in a wheel chair. Joni and Ken were guests on FLT and are an incredible inspiration to millions.)
Back to the story … I asked Ken to pass on a message from Barbara. I had run into Joni at Billy Graham’s memorial service last spring when Joni said to me, “Please tell Barbara that I admire her so … she is the most persevering person I know!” Coming from anyone that would be an incredible compliment, but coming from Joni … well to say the least it encouraged Barbara in a profound way and was one of the top 5 things Barbara was thankful for in 2018. I told Ken so he could pass that message on to Joni.
Ken said, “Joni is right here … we are celebrating her 35th and final radiation treatment for her cancer. Barbara's words will be timely for Joni to hear.” So he put Joni on the speaker phone and Barbara shared how her words had been used in a particularly difficult time in our lives. Then we celebrated Joni’s final radiation treatment that day.
What happened next is so typical of Joni … she asked about me, saying, “What is it like to be ending as host of the radio show?” So I shared with her the story of how God had intercepted me and gave me a song to sing. You’d have to know Joni because she has an angelic voice and loves singing the great hymns … so I pulled out my hymnal and shared the first stanza of “Count Your Many Blessings.” Joni became very quiet, then said, “I must find that song and memorize it.” So I read - didn’t sing it as that would’ve been an insult to such a talented singer - the second and third stanzas of the song.
Then Ken said, “This is the reason I called you … not for the fishing trip, but for you to give Joni this song right NOW!” And with that I told Joni, “This last stanza of the song is going to be very powerful to you because of all that you’ve been through in your life … may I share it?” “Of course,” they both said.
As you our friends read this 120-year-old hymn, think how the words of this song sounded to this dear couple who have faced epic physical challenges, endured cancer twice, and so much more … read it carefully…
So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. (emphasis mine)
Joni repeated, “I’m going to find this hymn and memorize every stanza. This is exactly what I needed at this moment.”
How about you? Does the Cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Need to join me in singing the chorus? I have a sneaking suspicion that God may ask us all to sing this song in heaven … you'd better get ready and practice now!
Still counting, singing,
and surprised at what God has done,
Dennis and Barbara
P.S. More next month on what we are up to but pray for us as we have a number of speaking engagements now thru July. More on that and much more later.