NOEL – Fearless for Him

Carols Weekend 2018 is here.  I am looking forward to the weekend and sharing with the thousands who have tickets and who will watch via the web and television (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).

This year has had more than its share of challenges.  This is my 38th Carols (out of 49 total) and the challenges, at times, have been staggering. But, I was reminded last night in a conversation with a long time choir member, that this is not about us.  Not at all.  And if we lose our excitement in the pettiness of circumstances that surround us, then we have completely missed the point of why we lead worship (for we are all “worship leaders”) be it for Carols or on Sundays.

I do believe Carols is a time of worship – always have – and though there are performance elements to Carols (and for Sundays, for that matter), my personal conviction is that this is not a show or performance or maybe even a concert. It is a worship service and I try my best to treat it as such in how I spiritually and emotionally prepare. And no, I am not always successful because I am human and I allow myself to get distracted and derailed by circumstances that surround me.

nativity.jpgStill, I want to “be fearless in what sets my soul on fire” and that is to use the gifts I have been given to tell others about Jesus in the best way I know how (which frankly, my gifts may be interpreted by some as just being BOSSY!!).  This year I have had a chance to mentor some amazing young adults and often we have talked about this very thing, using the gifts God has given them fearlessly in pursuing their life goals – what truly has set their souls on fire.IMG_0325

I am praying for those participating, those coming, those leading, those supporting in countless roles, those extending the invitation to follow Jesus – that we will not be distracted by circumstances but will, instead, be fearless in sharing His Story from the fire that is within us.  Truthfully, we are going to be digging deep at times because Carols is physically draining but the JOY in sharing this gift with the community and the world WILL sustain us as we share what is on our hearts.  And because it is all for HIM then we should be without any kind of fear for He lives in us and sets our souls on fire if we allow Him to do so. I also pray that we will express this in how we approach each other and by what is seen on our faces and heard in our music.

Here we go. Lord, please show us the way and give us the courage to be fearless 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!


Treasure Island

Leave it to kids to teach you stuff.  Most who know me would say I am intense, that I know my strengths and weaknesses, and generally stay away from things and projects where my comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable.  Historically, set construction, for example, simply ain’t on my list (excuse my grammar.) I have little concept of design (lines and angles) or color and  In case you missed it, I.HATE.TO.PAINT.

Truthfully, there is some history there. Years ago, when taking ceramics in the old Family Life Center, my friends laughed at the “red blobs” on my Christmas ornaments (one friend’s Mom felt sorry for me and rescued me by repainting and re-firing those ornaments and they are annually found on my Christmas tree).  I draw lines and angles with rulers. I paint flat surfaces under duress or pay someone. I don’t buy furniture or rugs or most stuff for the wall without consulting one of my “expert” friends. To make matters worse, Steve knows this and he asks if I have discussed my decorating ideas with them.  So – there you go.

So I found myself in a difficult place when asked to help get a boat built as a set piece. This was no little boat. This sucker was about 40 feet from bow to stern, and had masts and sails, and had to bear the weight of about 80 kids. AND it had to be constructed and mostly painted in the garage at the Christian Life Center during the one week of winter that occurred in Central Mississippi. I said yes, begrudgingly, got irritated with the process (as long as I have done production stuff this happens until somehow miraculously the idea gels), and showed up to paint. And paint. And dry brush. And prime. And even repaint. Aaarrrgh!!!!

Well the ship came together. There was one battle casualty before she finally sailed (Barbara Hamilton broke her wrist in a classic “Cille type move” of walking backwards). And then we loaded it up with kids and wow – what a transformation.

Before KidsRock started reminding me about saving up “treasures in heaven”, I had a strong reminder about this scripture: II Corinthians 9:7 ASV – Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. Yes – this verse is LOADED. And it does not apply only to money. It applies to all your resources. Even the ability to paint in the bitter cold because this will help someone tell someone about Jesus.  Steve had the same lesson the same week only his was tied to driving the church van for something. Don’t do it grudgingly. Don’t do it just because it has to be done. Do it and do it cheerfully.

The kids sang about Matthew 6:19-21 HCB – Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The musical, Treasure Island – Searching for Riches in the Kingdom of God (by Celeste Clydesdale and David T. Clydesdale, BRENTWOOD-BENSON PUBLISHING, 2016), is a great (and true) story about what is important – that the only treasure that really matters is Jesus! It was a wonderful evening of worship and made every.single.cold.paint.stroke worth it.


Still Choosing Joy!


P.S. Hats off to a great group of kids, leaders and production team members. I do believe God was honored.

Photos below are mine during construction and are the work of Rushing Images (Lane and Judy Rushing) during dress rehearsal and the presentation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hot Hot Hot Then Cool

After our pleasant hike around Durnstein Thursday, the Scenic Jaspar continued through the Wachau Valley. It is stunning – I can only imagine how much more it would be if the river was at the full level. You pass little villages and towns, monasteries and castles, farms and terraced vineyards. Stunning.

Soon after lunch we pull up at Melk. This town is tied to the unbelievably large Melk Abby. I am not sure what rock I have hidden under but was clueless that this part of the world is so tied to the Roman Catholic Church. The Melk Abby at one time apparently had the influence (and affluence) we most often ascribe to the Vatican. The Abby is old. The current buildings cover more about the same square footage as Buckingham Palace and all the grounds. It is the home for the Benedictine order. Thirty two priests are member of this order. Half live in the Abby and are part of the school staff, work in the church there or involved in the monastery business (today with 500k visitors a year, that is primarily tourism.) The others are local parish priests around the world. The school is co-ed, open to girls and boys for what we would consider middle and high school.


Melk Abby
Melk Abby
There is a very good museum there that traces the history of the Abby from its humble beginnings through periods of growth, some periods where the world got way more important than the church, the period of the Reformation, and through today. The focal word of the Abby is “to listen”.  We also saw the Marble Room, the Imperial Wing (when Maria Therisia and her Hapsburg entourage came to celebrate mass and for other events at the Abby they stayed for a while). Other guests included Mozart and other celebrities of the day. We walked through several galleries of the library – beautiful old books that can be accessed under agreed conditions by most anyone. The final stop was the Abby church. I have been in many churches and cathedrals across the globe. This was probably the most ornate we have seen.

I am sure I missed something there I would like to have remembered but it was HOT. 102.2 F hot. The A/C was “on” in the Abby but with all those folks (and the add on of people due to the Assumption Day holiday weekend), it was like being in a dry sauna (humidity was 0).

From there we traveled up to the ruins of the castle overlooking the area – Castle Aggstein – 12th century – for end of day scenic views. This castle was seized by the Turks 15th century and ruined. The Castle was never rebuilt after that though a good part of it still remains intact today. 

On Saturday, we had a great adventure. First we had to disembark Scenic Jasper since the water levels around Passau were too low for the ship to traverse safely. We knew all week this might happen. These folks have plans for such as this and they put it into effect. Via the tours that day, we literally swapped to the sister ship Scenic Opal which is essentially a carbon copy of Jasper (and a few months older). We did have to pack up and unpack again but that was it. There are a few subtle differences (Steve called them “Twilight Zone” moments) but I love effectively carried out logistics and this was stellar. I know from talking to the Cruise Director (only staff member who swapped with us) that there were a few hiccups but not many (or any from our perspective).

We travelled to Salzburg for the day. Our guide Eva – an American born German who came to Germany to study the language and stayed. She was very good. She took us off the motorway on the final segment into the city so we could see up close the countryside. If you love The Sound of Music then you will know what it looked like. She showed us set locations from the movie as well as the real locations of the events (church from movie where married, actual church where married, actual convent, etc.) related the story to the true story of the Captain and Maria, showed us the homes of great conductors and inventors (including Doppler who studied the blood flows in the body and invented mammography). We saw the birthplace and adult home of Mozart and learned of the tragedies of that family – Mozart died in his 30s, had smallpox as a child, his sister was forced to marry for position and as retaliation she abandoned her music, and their father who apparently was a tyrant.

We heard a regular Saturday band concert in Mirabelle gardens and hundreds of people gathered round to hear. Under one of the arches that surround the Cathedral courtyard, we heard a trio – clarinet, bass, accordion – playing for pocket change and let me tell you, those young dudes (early 20s) could flat play. They did some jazz improvisations on classical pieces. Amazing. Music was everywhere.

We had lunch in a monastery restaurant that has been serving food in that location since 832 A.D. – St Peters – that was wonderful – Wiener schnitzel with potatoes, bread, and apple strudel. We shopped a little (as you know I don’t shop much and Steve even less). We saw from a distance the Salzburg Castle, many many churches – around the square at the Dom I counted four, the street fair and the shopping street that goes back 800+ years. From there we drove though the Austrian countryside and crossed the border into Germany close to Passau. Being in the EU makes that so easy these days. The buildings are still there, however, that remind you such was always not the case. We drove on to Regensburg, which is on the Rhine, and boarded the Scenic Opal. Needless to say, we were tired.

Interesting things learned today. 

  • Truckers cannot be on the highway in Germany on the weekend. They pull off into truck plazas late Friday and cannot return to the highways until Monday mornings. 
  • Busses can travel 100 kilometers per hour on the autobahn. There are not restrictions for cars still.
  • Bavarian ladies tie the ribbon on their apron based on whether single, married or widowed. And that lacy white blouse is actually only underwear, tied off just under the bust.
  • The leather pants of the Bavarian men are passed down from generation to generation. There are some related customs regarding ladies who marry these fellows😳.
  • Himmler occupied the Trapp lodge (think Sound of Music) during WWII. The home is today a hotel decorated reminiscent of that era.
  • The Cold War was a very difficult and scary period for those living outside but close to “The Iron Curtain.”

This morning we slept in and the chose to stay aboard for the ride down the river to Nuremberg rather than do a tour. The temps are in the low 70s and it actually has rained some. They certainly need it. I even had to dig out my jacket which I have certainly not needed until now.

Hebrews 4:13a Nothing is all creation is hidden from God’s sight. That verse came alive this morning while reading and I thought about the history of this area. These people fought all the time. And they took advantage of people. And they used and misused “the church” for their own benefit. And so have/are we. And God knows because He knows our hearts.

Still Choosing Joy


Comfort Zone

I made my second quick trip this week to South Mississippi. For a number of months, I have worked with various members of the Stone County Arts Council  and The Old Firehouse Museum as well as folks from The Friends of Stone County Library, the Mississippi Humanities Council, and the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at USM to help bring to life for this generation of Stone Countians as well as others the life and works of Emilie Blackmore Stapp. The story of the Finkbines and Stapps go back at least as far as that of the McHenrys, and I am amazed at how much I never really knew or understood about the contributions of the people of Stone County when I was living there.

ANYWAY – I am rambling.  I enjoyed both quick adventures. Steve even went with me on the earlier one this week. But what I loved most today was listening to (at the volume I chose) and singing along (probably at the top of my lungs) some of the music we are learning this spring for Easter and other times of worship.

The text of He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs is the definition of mercy. Never Once (Did We Ever Walk Alone) reminds us of His constant presence as we both climb the hills and sink into the valleys of life. Praise His Holy Name – the arrangement in MyChoir begins with the traditional hymn Holy Holy Holy – one of my favorites and pure worship and praise – and then moves into one Beethoven’s symphonies (I do not remember the name) and the text is what David sang over and over and over during his life’s victories and trials – Praise His Holy Name (Psalms 103 et al).

And then there is The End of the Beginning. It is a story song – one person witnessing to another on an airplane – and he so wonderfully wraps the Gospel from Jesus’ birth through His death and resurrection in a way that points so clearly that the end of Christ’s earthly ministry is the beginning of life for us.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I John 4:10 NIV

God gave the ultimate Sacrifice – uncomfortably – to change our ultimate destiny from hell to eternal life with Him.  And Christ, as fully man as He was (and is God), could have chosen the easy way and condemned us all. But.He.Did.Not.  He became uncomfortable to change our destiny if we only choose to believe in Him.

Am I willing to be uncomfortable (as in come out of my comfort zone) to help others know Jesus and change their lives? Do I want others to know as I know with assurance what the “end of the beginning” is? It is a matter of life and death.

Change Is Uncomfortable