It is Carols by Candlelight season again.  Countdown to dress rehearsal (December 5th) is 8 days. As always, there is much to be done – details done now so that worship can occur without disruption.

Perhaps, at times, we lose perspective when in the details.  True, we are dealing with some things this year that in 49 years have not been influencers or considerations. Yet, why we do Carols should not be impacted by that. The Story has not changed. The Message is constant. We must not allow WHY we do this to be buried in emotions and minutia. We must be prepared, thus focused – spiritually, prayerfully, physically, mentally.

While working with Annerin Long to prepare this year’s prayer emphasis for Carols Week, I looked back through the devotional book we published last year for Love Came for Me. It was good to revisit the scripture, to be reminded that our God is Sovereign, in control, not surprised by anything, wants the best for us as individuals and corporately, accessible.  Our problem, often, though, is that we look to Him last rather than first, put our desires ahead of His desires, turn away from Him rather than seek His face. Why? Because we are human and He allows us to make choices. He also reminds us, that there are consequences of those choices. I am charging myself to stay focused on Him. How can I share His Story with others who don’t know Him if I am not looking at Him?

The devotional thought I wrote last year was based on JOHN 1:16-17 – I thought I would share it here as a reminder to all of us (and especially me) that this is not at all about me. It is about Him!

For God loved the world in this way:He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Love Came for Me– how could that ever happen? Growing up in a small Mississippi town in the local First Baptist Church, we were taught early on that Jesus loved us and that we were to love Him. During Vacation Bible School in 1965, I gave my heart to Him. It hit me that day that His love was so strong that He chose to not only come to earth but to die for my sins as well. Love, Jesus, came for me.

Jesus is “That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5). Later John restates this when he says: “Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” (I John 1:5). Jesus did not just have love in His heart – He is love. Nothing Satan could throw at Him stopped His love for us, stopped His purpose in coming to earth as that tiny baby in that cold stable, stopped His facing harassment and condemnation we still cannot imagine, or stopped His facing the most horrible death imaginable.  Love Came for Me.  

Occasionally, I wonder what my condition would be had Jesus chosen not to come for me. Talk about lost and wandering! Really, it is beyond what I can now comprehend. Yet in my world today, and likely in the circle of influence of Carols by Candlelight, there are going to be those in the room or who happen to watch on television or other media that will wonder what in the world we are talking about? Surely, they are just putting on a show or retelling a fable. May that never be.

Following Carols one of the early years in the present Sanctuary, we determined that a young man who sat in the seats behind where the “boxes” are today, gave his life to Jesus. He tragically died in a car accident before Christmas that year and before anyone could follow-up with him. Since then, I keep that young man in my heart knowing that Love came for him, too. No matter what I am asked to do, no matter how tired I am, no matter even how many times things have to change for one reason or another, none of that is as important as that young man being with Jesus today or that there are others listening who need to know Him, too.

Jesus, thank you for coming for me. Thank you for a chance daily to tell others about You – all about You – Your coming, Your living here on earth, Your dying, and that You are coming again. Thank you for loving me enough to come for me. Amen

This year our theme is NOEL. Merriam-Webster defines noel from the French as a Christmas carol and from Latin natalis or birthday – in other words it is a carol about a birthday. What more important birthday will ever be celebrated than that of our Savior. I hope as we count down the days, deal with the tasks, learn the music, prepare ourselves in all the ways necessary, that we will indeed focus on this birthday of the only King that matters. Noel, noel, noel, noel; Born is the King of Israel!



One Body

Lately I have had the opportunity to talk to others about gifts. It seems to have followed me this summer along with what “investment” means these days.  I mentioned this in an earlier post about some things recently learned a week or so back. Sort of came up in some random conversations that evolved into discussions about gifts.  I have always been alarmed when I hear or see people try to bypass what is so apparently a God-given gift to try to do something else just because they believe it may take them further. I am even more alarmed (and sometimes frustrated) when I hear things like “I’m not smart enough to do that!” or “Why can’t I do what you do?”

The scripture that most often comes to mind is I Corinthians 12. This is another passage  (and probably the most familiar one) about spiritual gifts. And the entire passage is far too rich and long to even remotely explore in this post. There are several verses, though, that stand out. The ones included here are from the New International Version.

Verse 11:  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Verse 14: Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Verses 18: But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (Emphasis mine.)

Verse 27:  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Do you see a pattern here?  Trust me – there is one.

I was older before I accepted or really even acknowledged my gifts.  I knew I was a thinker, analytical (to a fault sometimes still – with apologies to my friends!) and could get things done.  I could take something chaotic and sort it into something that made sense BUT I never saw that as a gift.  I was responsible, a finisher, had little sense of humor and almost zero tolerance for those who did not step up and do what I honestly believed everyone should be able to do. I got there on time (early), listened to instructions (who does that?) and would sigh deeply (ask ANY choir member) and repeat information I had to others who never thought about listening or paying attention! Seriously – I mean, if I could do it, why couldn’t they?

Yes – I had other interests – still do – music was and is the thing that brings me the most joy and pleasure and peace. I enjoyed teaching kids to swim and how to survive in the woods (Girl Scouts) and to be leaders. I love to GO.  I was visionary enough to take a new idea and to successfully implement it but seldom lived over the edge, risk wise – just seemed to know where the edge was. I was was an excellent “firefighter” (crisis manager) but I honestly don’t know why anyone would choose to do that.  Yet, I wanted to be something other than what/who I was because I saw myself as boring! In all honesty, some days I still see myself that way.

I certainly was in my mid 30’s before I realized that God had not made a mistake – He had “gifted” me to be able to serve Him as HE needed!! My prayers asking Him to do something different with me were answered by “Grow where I planted you” and “You are where I want you to be and who I want you to be – trust Me.” It was difficult, but I finally, after struggling, understood. I was just one part of His Body – and my role was specific to the gifts He gave me. To ignore that and turn from Him would be nothing but misery.


As I got older, I saw more clearly how I could use my gifts to help others who are far different from me in their gifts find stability in areas where they are not comfortable because I AM comfortable there. I have also learned when I do this,  I am the one most blessed.

Looking at it from the other side – those gifts I wanted but didn’t get, I realize that those parts of the body that are otherwise gifted are the ones who minister to me – be it doctors, or musicians, or teachers or craftsmen or whatever.  And just like my gifts required me to invest time and energy in developing them for His glory, so do the gifts of others.   When skimming Facebook this week, I saw this post that really brought this home.   It compares med students (lifesavers) and musicians (another form of lifesaver, in this context) but it could be comparing any different gifts.  You see, we should all approach what we are charged to do this way.  See what you think.


The bottom line: Be thankful for what God GIVES. Commit yourself to excellence in what God CALLS you to do.  Do not abuse the GIFT or the CALL.  Do not ignore it. Do not downplay it. Someone out there needs what God has placed within you to offer.

Still Choosing Joy



Not really sure why but this summer I have spent a good bit to time thinking about what it means to invest. No, I am not talking about what I might need to do to open a new account at Merrill Lynch or Raymond James or the like.  This has been about spiritual investment, the kind that Jesus described so vividly in Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV):

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I realized that while I had gone through the motions of prayer, Bible study, and the engagement of others – that is really all that was going on – motions. I had heard about folks being in a spiritual desert but I always thought, “That will never happen to me!”…..  I am sure you know you can convince yourself of anything and I convinced myself I was doing all I could or even needed to do. Wrong. I was just wandering….

I did realize the very first thing I had to do was invest again in God’s Word.  I cannot tell you how hard that was to rebuild that habit of starting the day with Him and going to Him rather than wallowing in the crisis du jour. Little by little, I am finding my way back. And in this renewed journey, I found in old familiar and favorite scriptures new revelations, and with these, new encouragement, new opportunities, and renewed peace.

The greatest surprise was how He put unexpected people in my path, folks who needed things that are my gifts while I needed theirs – sort of a mutual investment strategy. Mostly I realized I WANTED to reach out to others where mostly for a long time I had been hiding from both God and His people and that I wanted to give back AND that I still could do that.

Am I where I need to be – no, not completely. Do I have hope – absolutely. Is God done with me yet. No, thankfully, He is not. While looking for something else, I ran across this quote last night from Toby Mac’s #speaklife series.  It sums this up better than I ever could!

Still Choosing Joy!




Things Recently Learned

GeWBHGWbTiOyvO8WAVjayANo, this blog is not turning into “Cille’s Cello Journey” but it could easily become that if I am not careful.  I can say, though, that since I started lessons in September 2017, I have learned a few things:

  1. You are never too old to learn something new.
  2. New things introduce you to new people thus open the door for new opportunities.
  3. It’s ok to realize you will never be Yo-Yo Ma but you might, with effort, turn out to be a decent ensemble member in time.
  4. Young adult musicians, while having extraordinary talent, are a lot of fun to be around. They are also polite, gracious, humble, giving, and many days, just plain funny. Laughter is a very good thing.
  5. Trying new things may be the ladder you need to climb out of your rut.
  6. Young adults need experienced adults at times to offer guidance. Young adults are pretty good at giving guidance, too.  It is all about listening. Praying together is not a bad thing either.
  7. Sometimes you are just going to squeak! I just try to tell myself when that happens that the mouse who lives inside my cello is having a rough day!
  8. Sometimes you work beyond your capabilities – seriously – what possessed me to order both the Bach Cello Suites AND the Popper Etudes this month? The real question, though, is whether or not doing this was a bad thing? I can pick out the notes in places!
  9. Sometimes when YOU try something new it encourages SOMEONE ELSE to try something new and helps them deal with stuff in their lives and encourages them, too.
  10. It’s a very good day when you realize for the first time in a while that you are passionate about something.

You do find out a lot about yourself.  You are reminded that your gifts are different from the gifts God gave to others and that is OK.  You are reminded it takes all of us regardless of our gifts working together to accomplish what God wants and expects from us. You are reminded that because you are not the best at doing one thing, chances are you are a superior talent in another.

I like Romans 12:3-5 for it reminds me that God always had a plan for my gifts which, frankly, will never be as a professional musician. But God can use this opportunity in my life and my gifts to open doors for others (all while I get to enjoy this season of learning and  being passionate about something new!)

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

My suggestion to you is to pursue your passion, whatever it is, and use the gifts God has given you to expand your horizons. Chances are you will open doors for others and doors will be opened for you.

Still Choosing Joy


Bowing Along

SHAR’s case of trial bows

So Thursday and Friday, I did this thing – tested cello bows. This is my second bow upgrade since I began lessons in September 2017 and I took a really big step!  Seriously, I gave myself a low-level carbon fiber bow for Christmas after playing with the lowest level student bow for several months (I still have it but it has been put away in a box!!) I really enjoyed the first upgrade and was pleasantly surprised that my playing sounded better and that the bow was easier to manage. I even had just enough confidence that I purchased the cello I had been renting. Scary.

Several months back I decided I loved playing cello. I am certainly not going to ever be the next Yo-Yo Ma (ha!) or Nancy Bateman or Rebekah Miller. No way!! They are my cello playing heroes! But like with some other things in my life, choir, for example, I can be a decent ensemble player if I just work at it.  I think that realization came when some of the basic mechanics (who knew that there were so many moving parts and things to think about?) of playing stopped being stressful and became, at times, music.  I was encouraged even more to stretch myself and to explore outside my comfort zone.  Heck. I realized I “liked” playing scales and thirds and trying weird technical exercises! I hated that when I was taking piano and tolerated it when playing the trombone. Maybe it is an “age thing!”

So, I started looking at a real bow upgrade (and, don’t tell Steve, but a cello upgrade, too – still looking at that; need to reach some of my next goals before going there.)  I actually only ordered two bows to try but the nice rep from SHAR called and let me know that for the same $25 trial fee I could try four of them.  I told him to send them on.

I have been serious about practice this summer – I play usually 40-50 minutes almost every day, seldom less and even occasionally more. Thursday, when the bows arrived,  I played everything I am working on plus some favorites using all four bows.  I was super surprised there was so much difference from one bow to the next. Rebekah had cautioned me that what matters is how the bow sounds on my cello and how it feels to me. I played them all multiple times and then lined them up in the box in the order I liked them.  The top two included one I selected for trial and one selected by SHAR.

Yesterday, I headed over to Belhaven to meet Rebekah Miller, my amazing teacher and friend. She patiently listened as I played the C major scale and parts of the Bach Minuet #1 with each of them. Honestly, sometimes I think I need to purchase noise cancellation earplugs for her when I play Bach!! I still liked best the one I liked on Thursday. I liked its sound and how it felt.  It is a little heavier than the Presto carbon fiber bow I have been using but I heard my cello sing in a different way from before.

The best part of the whole assessment was having Rebekah play my cello using all the trial bows. I could have listened all afternoon!  Scales and parts of an etude and parts of the Dvorak concerto she is working on.  Since I am a visual learner in large part, I loved watching how she embraces the instrument and attacks the notes making music. And I got to hear it more than 4 times because she repeated all of those with all the bows and then went back to the top two and then to the final one, a German Joseph Shuster bow, we agreed was best. Wow.

This was not really a “lesson” but, as always, I got one. And I got to play a new piece I am working on that is coming along nicely.

I am getting ready to drop the bows I am returning at FedEx.  The new bow has already been played this morning (early practice since we are headed out-of-town for a few days).  I already like it but did realize this morning that I was holding the thing with a death grip! Will work on that when I get back (that happened last switch, too).

I guess the moral of this tale is, don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to follow a path God puts before you.  Prior to starting lessons last fall, I had forgotten how much I loved learning and how much I really loved classical music. I had gotten away from music as pure enjoyment and had just not made time to experience something really new. Frankly I think I was afraid I of failure. I reminded myself and some other friends, though, even yesterday that those who have never failed have never attempted anything. That is important for all of us to remember.

In Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV, we are reminded:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

I am certain the writer of Hebrew was NOT talking about a 60 something year-old learning to play cello! I am equally certain, though, the writer is reminding us we must constantly and with confidence seek Him and follow where He leads, though we may not know where He is leading us.

Seek Him today. If it takes “bowing along” to get you back to Him and seeking His face, then do it.

Still Choosing Joy!