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Words: Mildred Leightner Dillon (b. Jan. 29, 1912; d. Sept. 2, 2007)
Music: Mildred Leightner Dillon
Note: In 1937, Bill and Mildred Dillon had already been involved in fruitful service for the Lord. Both wrote choruses and gospel songs. Mildred was a gifted pianist, and Bill, specializing in band instruments, taught music at Wheaton College for a couple of years. Then something happened that almost ended Mildred’s life.
Terrorism is a term that has entered our common vocabulary, being in the news day after day. It’s not a new word,however, but comes from the French word terrorisme, used in the French Revolution (1789-1799).
That historical time provided the venue for Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, where he describes it as “the season of Light…the season of Darkness…the spring of hope…the winter of despair.” Especially during two years known as the Reign of Terror (1793-1794), 300,000 supposed enemies of the Revolution were arrested, and some 40,000 of those were beheaded. The guillotine became the horrific symbol of those days.
Terror is an intense fear or anxiety. But today’s terrorism is not so easy to fit into a brief definition, as there are a number of variables. Perhaps we could say it involves: Criminal acts intended to provoke terror in the public. Behind these is often an ideological aim, the promotion and advancement of an extreme religious or political agenda.
The acts aren’t always aimed at specific individuals or a specific group; they can be indiscriminate. Contrary to the bombing of the US navel base at Pearl Harbour sixty years before, the attacks by terrorists in 2001 happened on this continent. And though they were carried out by Islamic extremists, Moslems, as well as non-Moslems, were among the slain.
It was a watershed event, and has been followed by mass killings in restaurants, malls, schools, airports, theatres, and more. This has fostered the realization by many that no place is safe. While we may not live in constant terror, there is a prevailing sense of unease as a result. What’s next? Who will be targeted next?
The individuals whose lives are written about in the Bible were no strangers to terror. The word is used there over fifty times. So, did people of faith suffer similar anxieties? And is there no remedy to be found, no place of safety? Yes there is, in the hands of God. Many Scriptures speak of God’s unfailing protection and care. For example, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27). And we have this promise:
“I [Jesus] give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:28-29).
Many of our hymns express the same theme. But it is about a little chorus (of less than fifty words) that I write here. These articles focus particularly on the traditional hymns and gospel songs of the church, but I’ve dealt with shorter songs from time to time. This one has a remarkable history.
Mildred Dillon and her husband Bill were gospel musicians, serving the Lord with a church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. One night at choir practice, each person in attendance was asked to recite a recently memorized Scripture verse. Mildred, the group’s pianist, forgot hers, and quickly thumbed through her Bible to find another. Her eyes fell on Psalm 91:11, which she personalized in reading it:
“He shall give His angels charge over [me], to keep [me] in all [my] ways.”
That promise was soon put to the test. A powerful storm was picking up outside, rattling the windows of the church. Then, suddenly, a tornado struck the building, including its fifty-foot chimney, and eighteen tons of brick crashed through the roof and fell on Mildred at the piano. It took a dozen men half an hour to free her.
She was rushed to the hospital. Covered with cuts and bruises, her back broken, for a time doctors didn’t expect her to survive, but by God’s grace she did. And it was during her over two months in the hospital in 1937 that Mildred Dillon wrote the words for a chorus. In all, fewer than fifty words long, it begins:
Safe am I, safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand.
Sheltered o’er, sheltered o’er
With His love for evermore.
She had words, but no tune. Then, a year later, she and Bill embarked on the Ile de France for England, engaged to assist, with their music, pastor, evangelist and hymn writer Paul Rader, in a series of meetings. In mid-Atlantic the ship was struck by a violent storm. As the waves pitched the ship, Mildred was knocked down.
Though not injured, she was filled with fear, but the Lord brought peace to her soul as she thought of her experience the previous year, and the verse, Psalm 91:11, and the words she’d composed in the hospital. “I’m still safe in the hollow of Your hand,” she thought. Later she went to a piano on board, and composed the tune.
Over the years since 1938 the Dillons received around fifteen hundred letters, expressing appreciation for the little song, telling of ways it has blessed others. Now, both Bill and Mildred are safe at home with the Lord in heaven.
1) What experience have you had in which you sensed the special protection of the Lord?
2) Have you been able to turn that experience into a blessing for others in some way?