The blessing of music…

The chords are so grand they send shivers down the spine.  The sound of familiar melodies fill the air with emotion so sweet the heart and soul feel warmly wrapped in the glorious blessing of music…

We’ve all known this feeling when the JOY of a Christmas carol or holiday song swells deep within our souls and rises through our senses.  It brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eyes.  Each year we bring out these musical favorites to dust off and tune up, and like a fine antique, they become more priceless with the passing of time.

Many of my most powerful Christmas memories and blessings are firmly stored within the refrains of beloved carols.  Such was the conversation with Pop recently as we listened to various Christmas carol renditions while decorating and packing up holiday treats for him to share at his art class party.  While not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on momma and her solo work in our church for over 50 years.  He reminded me how she sang the inaugural service dedicating the beautiful Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ on Christmas Eve 1966.  I remember sitting between both grandmothers sucking on Lifesavers with my eyes closed while listening to momma sing a beautiful story about the birth of a King.  The organ in all its new majesty and her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…whew!  What I wouldn’t give for a recording of this event to savor once more.

As the mystery of the season rings and sings all around:  What does the blessing of MUSIC mean to you?

“I think music in itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by and no matter what culture, everyone loves music.”  ~ Billy Joel ~

May the blessing of music bring hope, peace, comfort, healing, and JOY to your world, my friends.  🙂


Week Three of the Advent Season:  JOY

In the depths of my hurting and troubled heart, I cling to the message of the angel’s rejoicing:  “I bring you tidings of great JOY that will be for all people…”  Yet, what if JOY, in all its revelry, is in short supply?  How do we find the JOY?

Keeping JOY is good, but sharing it with others is even better.  It may be as simple as greeting someone, sharing a smile across the crowded room, handing your drink coupon to a fellow plane passenger, or creating a full-blown “pay it forward” opportunity.  Make no mistake; the message of Christmas is never-ending, yet it does not deny sorrow, hurt, and sadness its place in this world.  Instead, Christmas powerfully illustrates how JOY is greater than despair or sadness, PEACE outlasts the turmoil and trauma, HOPE prevails in the darkest places, and LOVE will ultimately crush hate and evil.

Norman Vincent Peale issued the challenge:  “I truly believe if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can and will bring JOY and happiness and peace to this world…”  So, your Christmas Question for today:

How DO we keep telling the story, singing the songs, and living the spirit of Christmas JOY every day of our lives?

There’s truly a tumult of JOY and an overflowing of blessings as we light the third candle in Advent anticipation today.  A JOY shared is a JOY doubled, so let us accept the JOY with thanks and giving in our hearts.  May we always remain grateful for the JOY we spread and the JOY coming our way.  JOY, in all its glory, is really the simplest form of gratitude in daily living. #SpreadJOY


Week Two of the Advent Season:  PEACE

“When peace shall over all the Earth, its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.”  ~Edward H. Sears, 1849

In the profound stillness of an early snowy morn, the words to the familiar carol, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” vividly flow through my thoughts.  Coffee in hand and seated on the back screened porch wrapped in a blanket, the mesmerizing flakes softly fall in mass abundance as dawn begins to break.  Trees, heavy-laden with piles of white fluff, gently sway as birds scamper to the four feeders filled to capacity.  Addie (grandma cat) lumbers to my side mewing her thoughts while keenly watching her morning “Bird TV.”  This is a blessed quiet time to meditate, ponder, pray, and prepare…a peaceful, peace-filled gift of grateful abundance in the midst of a blustery winter blast on this second Sunday in Advent.

More often than not, our lives and actions are anything but peaceful or PEACE-filled.  It becomes a solitary mission on some days to capture a precious snippet of the PEACE we crave as humans and spiritual beings.  Finding some small way to slow down, to quieten the mind, the mouth, and the body, to just be still and invite peace inside, is an act of personal grace.  Whether celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace or simply hoping for the promise of Peace on Earth, we continue to wait and prepare as we light the second candle of Advent.  Please give yourself a moment to ponder this Christmas Question today:

In what ways do you seek PEACE in your daily life and how will you nurture this need in the coming year? 

May our continued search and fervent wish for PEACE bring extraordinary blessings of promise, grace, and forgiveness into our lives, dear friends and PEACEmakers…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”  John 14:27

A date that continues to live in infamy…

At 6:00 am on December 7, 1941, the cook aboard the USS West Virginia, Third Class Messman Doris (Dorie) Miller, was making his rounds collecting laundry. When the general alarm sounded, he ran to his station only to find it decimated by a torpedo, so he ran up on deck. It was there his physical strength and character served him well as he hustled and carried other sailors to safety. Seeing the continuing attack, he stepped into the harness of a 50-caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun and fired rounds for 15 minutes until the weapon ran out of ammunition. He was subsequently awarded The Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the honor in our nation’s history.

His story is still famous in the small Texas town where his sister-in-law, LaRue Miller, a well loved retired educator still lives. Many currently in the community had Mrs. Miller as their 4th grade teacher; they know this story by heart. My mom taught with her for many years, and I had the distinct honor of opening and serving as the first principal of the building and learning community bearing her name, LaRue Miller Elementary School. Mrs. Miller, and her famous brother-in-law, both remain “rock stars” on her campus even today.

After a week filled in loving tribute to a heroic American President, let us also be mindful, grateful, and thankful on this day of remembrance for the men and women like Dorie Miller, who selflessly served our beloved country in extreme measures.  Like President Bush, Mr. Miller was a critical part of the Greatest Generation.  Mr. Miller exemplified the true measure of character during the attack on Pearl Harbor; he faithfully reacted in earnest and resiliency when uncertainty and definite destruction rained chaos that Sunday morning.  Sadly, almost two years later, he was killed in action, making the ultimate sacrifice while defending the country he loved and served.

So this begs a different kind of question during this advent of hope, peace, JOY, and love:

How will you choose to keep strong in your own faith as we work to create better tomorrows for all humankind,  both here and everywhere? 

Thank you, Dorie Miller, for doing your part on a day that lives in infamy; thank you, Mrs. LaRue Miller, for continuing to share this important story throughout your life’s work.  Let us all keep the message of the season in the forefront of our daily work and lives as we move into the new year.  And as always, be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!

Presidential pondering…

A pastor friend of mine once remarked:  “There are really only two marks of a Christian in this world: giving and forgiving.”  These words were stuck in my head today during the live TV coverage of President George Herbert Walker Bush’s funeral in Washington, D.C.  Politics aside (please); as an American, the pomp and circumstance of honoring those who humbly choose to serve our Nation’s highest elected office is something to behold.  Furthermore, it is not lost on this a native Texan, who, surrounded by the Bush dynasty throughout my lifetime, has observed their powerfully consistent message through the generations: serve and help others; give and forgive.  It is especially telling how President Bush never hesitated to cross party lines to find common ground with ALL Americans, regardless of differences; he walked his talk. He was a leader who made it easier for other people to believe in hope through the way he lived out his life, cultivating an attitude of gratitude while giving and forgiving with grace, mercy, and integrity as powerful tools of his deep, abiding faith and love for his family and his country.

Now, I know you’re wondering what this has to do with a Christmas Question today, huh?!  Giving and forgiving are quite literally wrapped into the message of Christmas. Giving your time, talents, and service to others, being kind and compassionate of others and yourself, and forgiving one another are ways to live the message of Christmas every day of the year.  So, take time to ponder this one:

How will you choose to give and forgive yourself and others during this season of hope, peace, joy, and love now, and well into the new year?

St. Augustine declared:  “Two works of mercy set a person free:  Forgive and you will be forgiven; Give and you will receive.”

May we all take time to reflect on these challenges in our own hearts as we wait, anticipate, and hope in the coming days, my friends.

PS:  I gratefully give thanks for the life, leadership lessons, and legacy of President George H. W. Bush; well done, faithful servant…


Week One of the Advent Season:  HOPE

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here; until the Son of God appear.  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel…

These words are softly sung as the lighting of the first candle is completed; Advent has begun.

The Advent wreath or “crown” is the traditional centerpiece of the liturgical Christian calendar in the Western Church.  The circular nature, representing infinite love and the promise of eternal life, visually symbolizes the powerful reminders of the Advent season.  Advent, from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” and “arrival,” is a four-week period prior to Christmas.  It is a time to ponder, reflect, and prepare.  As the days shorten and darkness prevails during the winter months, this first Advent candle symbolizes HOPE.  Typically called the “Prophecy Candle” (in remembrance of the prophets who foretold the birth of Christ), this light represents the expectation of HOPE in the coming Messiah… Emmanuel…God with us…

But how can we HOPE as we begin to celebrate and prepare if we are truly paying attention to the world around us these days?  How do we share HOPEfilled seasonal greetings when our hearts are breaking, our relationships are splintering, our words are carelessly flung like stones, and so much more?

I humbly argue:  We must celebrate and prepare in HOPE because we ARE paying attention. Life isn’t fair.  Fair is not equal.  We don’t get to have the good without the grief.  Not everything is as it should be. My list goes on and on, but there is reason to HOPE and believe, my friends!  Advent matters.  HOPE and Advent are critically needed; they keep our eyes, ears, arms, minds, hearts, and souls wide open to everything and everyone around us.  HOPE and Advent hold the truth of what is up against the truth of what was and what will be in profound ways within all our lives.

So here’s your Christmas Question to ponder:  How will you challenge yourself to share the light of HOPE with others in the coming week? 

For my friends celebrating the first night in the Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah, “Chag Sameach!”  Regardless of your faith (or none at all), may we all find ways to share HOPE in the coming days.  As Desmond Tutu noted,  “HOPE is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness…”

Greetings of the season…

We’re traveling this weekend for another beautiful family wedding.  Everywhere we go, carols are playing and we’re noticing how folks are smiling a bit more, wishing us a “happy holiday,” and finding ways to spread a little cheer in the midst of the hustle/bustle all around us.  In spite of the outrageous Dallas traffic, I notice folks allowing others to merge and change lanes without adding offensive hand gestures or slurs.  I even found a little greeting card of thanks stuffed into a package I purchased at a local boutique.  The hotel where we’re staying is baking holiday cookies and serving cocoa or cider at the snack bar each afternoon while the cleaning staff is leaving cute notes of cheer on our towels.  Is it me or are others intentionally finding ways to greet and capture all the sights, sounds, scents, and sentiments of the Christmas season?  Expressing and actively living the reason for the season is a powerful tool; the challenging part for most of us is finding ways to continue sharing the story in our daily lives.

One of the ways I’ve found to live and share the story is the annual preparation and sending of Christmas cards with family and friends.  Call me old-school (and I’ve blogged on this topic before), but even in the age of social media, nothing compares to sending (and receiving) cards, notes, and informative letters each year.   In my classroom years, we handmade cards from mounds of scrap art materials, filling them with heartfelt, handwritten notes and sentiments of the season.  One of my more creative learners (who successfully endured three years with me in three different grade levels) LOVED this tradition.  His choice of colors and textures along with his written words were personally filled with love for the recipient of each card.  During our third year together, he sadly made a comment I’ll never forget, “You know, I hope someday someone sends me a personal card; I’ll keep it forever.”  It stunned me to realize he was always the giver and never the receiver… I’m pleased to share we continue to exchange personal cards each Christmas (over 30 years now) and I fondly ponder our conversations about why Christmas cards mean so much to us both.

So here’s a sentimental Christmas Question to ponder today:

“What was the greatest Christmas Card you remember receiving from a friend or family member and what made it so special?” 

Here’s hoping you send someone special in your life a unique greeting card this holiday…the sentimental impact may be more than the simple greetings of the season!  Be a blessing and be blessed, my friends!

Yes; there IS a Santa Claus!

The pictures come out each December…the beloved Christmas cards and clever Santa snapshots with the real Santa we share with family and friends.  Yes, I said the real Santa Claus because, and you must trust me on this, he truly is.

img_3307Roll back 29 years ago (oh my stars!); our oldest daughter was only five months old the day Santa first came to NorthPark Center in Dallas.  My sister-in-law, Lynn, was the lady responsible for hiring him that first year and she insisted we make the trek north on his first day for a first picture with him:  “All those others are just guys in suits; he IS the real Santa.”  I must agree; he has the most extraordinary way of being completely in each child’s moment, giving each child a laser-focused, powerful interaction, and more, if needed.  He listens, questions, reassures; he gives respect to all.  Everyone around him feels it and marvels in it.

You may remember hearing the famed New York Sun newspaper column, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The writer, Francis P. Church, warns an 8-year-old who is doubting her belief in Santa against the skepticism of an unsure time in our country’s history.  Sound familiar?  ~“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” ~

The year our oldest was doubting Santa’s existence, I mentioned her concern to him during our visit by saying, “Merry Christmas, Santa.  This is Rachel, she’s 6 and she’s having a ‘Virginia’ moment.”  Not only did Santa remember our girl from the previous five years, he knew exactly what to do.  After the photo with both girls, our youngest joined me (still a little shy around Santa), while Santa spoke privately with Rachel.  Watching her facial expressions and her obvious rapid-fire questions, they had several moments of conversation.  In the following days, it was obvious she had made her peace; her soul calmed.  She never shared her personal conversation with Santa, but snuggling one night with me she shared, “You know, Santa told me I can choose to believe or not. Mom, I choose to believe in the truth of his work, his generous spirit, and the things I know in my heart.”  Yes, she was six…

img_3310-1Fast forward 29 years now as I pull out the pictures and reflect on these precious memories of making the trek each December to speak with the real Santa.  Our last family visit was in 2000 when Santa took extra time to read with our youngest who brought a book to give to him; notice our oldest (in middle school at the time) stayed for the story too…

So here’s your Christmas Question today:

How has the spirit of Santa affected you or someone you love in your experiences? 

Thank you, Santa, for sharing your time with our family and so many others blessed to personally cross your path through the years; thank you for the lessons in life you generously continue to give.  Especially in these uncertain times, may we all remember to gratefully find ways to express the love, generosity, hope, peace, and joy you remind us of during this season and each day of our lives…

Gathering together…

Who likes a fun holiday gathering?  St. M and I thoroughly enJOYed the first of the seasonal gatherings last evening with dear friends at a local institution known for their award-winning cuisine AND seasonal decorations.  It was everything and so much more!  From the food and festive atmosphere to the wonderful fellowship with friends, we savored the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes during this extraordinary gathering…what a great Christmas experience and new tradition in our adopted home state!

Holiday gatherings in general provide memories (good and not-so-good) forever…which leads to today’s Christmas Question:

What is one of your more memorable or favorite Christmas gathering stories?

Just like Charlie Brown who attempts to discover the true meaning of the season by gathering with his friends, he is not always excited about holiday gatherings.  He does his personal best to “make it work.”  Call it twisted humor, but I identify with him at times.  Most of us relive certain stories of family holiday gatherings–the good, the bad, and the ugly–with less than festive memories.  If we’re completely honest about it, perhaps we’ve secretly laughed our way through a holiday movie like Christmas Vacation and thought, “Oh mercy, that’s us!”  While some of these events provide positive, funny stories and personal memories, we can also recall those embarrassing or uncomfortable events as well.  As a wise writer once noted:  “The way you spend Christmas is far more important than how much.”  So as you gather together during the holidays with those you hold dear, herre’s hoping you take a deep breath and a moment to reflect, revisit, and share holiday gathering memories; it’s a great conversation starter too!  And if you don’t have any, here’s hoping you make some new ones this year!

Do you hear what I hear?

Ahhh…’tis the season for marvelous music my friends!  This time of year is filled with the beloved sounds, notes, carols, voices, instruments, and glorious music ushering in the message and arrival of Christmas.

While talking and laughing early this morning with my sis during her morning commute, she was sharing her intense prep work for singing a special performance next week in Boston. I reminded her of her very first singing experience (see the picture) at age 3 as a member in The Cherub Choir at Kessler Park United Methodist Church.  Momma literally coaxed her (tears and all) to “boldly and courageously march in the line, stand still, open your mouth, and proudly sing for all to hear!”  Gratefully, she accepted mom’s challenge and has successfully continued to do so beautifully for many decades now!

We both share a deep and abiding love for all types of music, including Christmas music, and especially carols.  When pressed for specifics, two personal favorites come to mind…

The first choice is one our grandmother sang often, a French carol called The Holly and the Ivy (you can see her handiwork here):

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown;
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
The rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing of the choir…

The second carol is one we sing frequently in church.  Gustav Holst composed the music in 1906, set to Christina Rossetti’s beautiful 1872 poem, In The Bleak Midwinter:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty winds made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow;
In the bleak midwinter, long ago… (there are two more verses and this final one)

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him; give Him my heart.

Both of these pieces hold deep and personal meaning, but are only two of a long list of favorites.  So, here’s your Christmas Question to ponder today:

What are your personal favorite Christmas carols/songs to hear, play, and sing during the season? 

Here’s hoping you experience many extraordinarily beautiful seasonal sounds, my friends!

PS:  Beck…sing on!  And Rachel…play on my favorite oboist!