We Can’t Force Things to Happen

I know we want “normal” back. I know we just want to go back to work, we want to get our haircut and nails painted, we want to spend time with friends and family, we want to go out for dinner and drinks; I know we really want to reschedule the concerts, the vacations, the graduations, and the weddings. I want to move forward. We all do.

But the truth is, this virus is going to keep acting like a virus regardless of how much we try to force life to be normal again. And unfortunately, we may be paying with the lives of our loved ones by opening too soon. Only time will tell, but there are always consequences for our actions.

Personally, in times past, I have tried to latch onto half-baked ideas and clung to dreams that had the life sucked out of them. I really had to have some goals ripped away from me and then spend some time without any long-term dreams and goals for a while. I tried to force my life to align with a vision that no longer fit me. It just held me back.

Then slowly, organically, new hopes for the future began to form on their own. It took a long time of having nothing to finally have something.

Yes, I am intentionally being vague. I am just going to keep my head down, do the work, and hopefully, the fruits of my labor will come to light. I don’t want to spoil the magic. But some of my new dreams are already coming true. When the time is right, I will share what I have been working on. But I am letting things naturally fall into place while working hard instead of forcing goals, dreams, and plans to happen before they are ready.

While we wait out this virus, it is okay to grieve and to long for better days. But, if we have the capacity to try, let us cultivate patience. If we make peace with the fact that our normality has been taken away, then we can sit with the “nothingness” we’re left with. This leaves space for new hopes to form organically, without us trying to force them into existence.

Christmas Songs Part Two

As the Christmas season continues and the year draws to a close, here are my other three favorite Christmas songs. My very favorite is the last piece.

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

My favorite verse:

Flocks are sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil till the morning new;
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow;
Praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the babe was born for you.
Christ the babe was born for you.

This song gives me the same warm fuzzies as “Away in a Manger” but isn’t as over-played/sung. There’s nothing terribly profound, just a simple nativity song. It’s sweet and familiar, but that’s often what we want on Christmas. Preachers are reminded not to get too theological or too cerebral for the Christmas sermon. Just tell the story, preach the Gospel. That’s why the church is packed out; people just want to hear the story of Jesus. This song is an excellent example of sticking to the story and preaching the Gospel.

macro shot photography of star with lights
Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

Still, Still, Still

My favorite verse:

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

It’s a lullaby for baby Jesus and a lullaby for us. Sometimes as an adult, we long to be comforted like when we were children. The world hurts, we hurt. We have to be strong and face it. We can’t hide. We are no longer kids. But this song gives us permission to rest in the peace of Christ. It soothes and comforts, making us feel safe and warm, even if just for a moment.

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Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

Before the final song, here are the honorable mentions. Give them a listen, and maybe you’ll fall in love too:

Coventry Carol

Once in Royal David’s City

The Dream Isaiah Saw

 

Finally, we have to round out my favorites:

Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth

My favorite verse:

Child of the stable’s secret birth,
The Father’s gift to a wayward earth,
To drain the cup in a few short years
Of all our sorrows, our sins and tears –
Ours the prize for the road he trod:
Risen with Christ; at peace with God.

Every word of the song is gorgeous. The poetry brings me to tears. This is my absolute very favorite Christmas song. I was introduced to it in my junior year of college while singing in choir, and it has remained with me since. It is a very humanizing song to characterize Jesus, reminding us that Jesus decided not to be in a far off place to observe our suffering, but came down and became one of us. Also, the song’s implication of the “second Advent” that we are in now are profound. We are in the second Advent, awaiting the second coming. This song reminds us that one day all will be reconciled in God, and this first coming of Christ has set in motion the realization of God’s kingdom on earth. Christmas is all about God’s promise fulfilled, and the promise of yet to come. This song is a declaration of faith in what has happened, and what will happen; it is a poetic narrative and creedal statement enrobed in a gorgeous musical arrangement.

A blessed Christmas season to you. I wish you light and love as we approach Epiphany.

Christmas Songs Part One

I have too many favorite Christmas songs, so I am blogging a two-part reflection on my favorite songs. As tough as the year has been, I have felt some hope and peace as the year has wrapped up and Christmas has drawn close. I hope there is a touch of warmth in your heart this season, even if it’s been hard. And if not, if it all hurts, please know that your feelings are valid. Please know that you do not hurt alone.

Here are the Christmas songs that spark joy for me:

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

The Holly and the Ivy

My favorite verse:

The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
For to redeem us all:

There is something so compelling about the earthy feel of this song. I love how the coming of Christ is compared to all the different parts of the holly: the flower, the berry, the prickle, and the bark. The wintry images are not just for the sake of beauty, but a visual reminder of Christ’s love for us and all that has been created. Christ is God with us, the Creator who has come down to be part of the creation.

In the Bleak Midwinter

My favorite verse:

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

This song doesn’t exactly tell one cohesive story, but I love each verse individually. The first verse talks about how the earth and water turn hard as stone and iron in the bleak midwinter, which makes me think about how a cold, hard earth greeted Jesus. The second verse, printed above, speaks of how mighty Jesus is, but how humble he chose to be. The third verse speaks of the majesty of the heavens, and the simplicity of earth. The fourth verse talks about giving Jesus the gift of our hearts. I love how honest this song is, about how cruel the world can be, and how simplicity and humility foster great love. Christ considered us worthy of his love, even if we created a world of coldness and have very little to offer. Just as the baby Jesus was loved in a hard world, Jesus loves us when we have hardness inside of us. This song reminds us that warmth and kindness, goodness and peace are possible.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

My favorite verse:

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

This song is in contrast to many of the harsher images of divine judgment. This is a healing song for me, replacing bloodthirsty images of God with something gentle and inviting. Jesus comes as a rose beautiful and fragrant. This is what dispels the evil, not rage, but beauty. Honestly, it speaks for itself. Christ’s love is not condemnation, but a beautiful rose.

Part two coming next week!

Advent Reflections

As I previously stated, I had planned an Advent series, but I couldn’t quite get the words or the heart to really commit to it. But I decided to create a single post with my Advent theme. I want to share with you two of my favorite Advent hymns and my reflections on them.

The Canticle of Turning

My favorite verse:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a
stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your
justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne. The
hungry poor shall weep no more, for the
food they can never earn; There are tables spread, ev’ry
mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the
fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the
dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

This hymn is based on Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 both of which are defiant, subversive songs that uplift the lowly and bring down the powerful. This song is one that dares to speak hope into a bleak world. When we think of Advent, we remember the waiting for the birth of Christ while acknowledging that we are living in the Advent Christ’s return. This song is relevant to our situation in the here and now, while echoing the truth of the past. Sometimes singing a song captures the hope we have can have trouble believing in. This hymn enlivens the spark of hope that I need for the Advent season.

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Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

Now The Heavens Start to Whisper (the tune is very pretty, however, my favorite tune for this song is “Jefferson” which can be heard here.)

My favorite verse:

Heavy clouds that block the moonlight
Now begin to drift away.
Diamond brilliance through the darkness
Shines the hope of coming day.
Christ, the morning star of splendor,
Gleams within a world grown dim.
Heaven’s ember fans to fullness;
Hearts grow warm to welcome him.

I have always loved night time imagery of stars and the moon, and I am all about beautiful poetry. This Advent hymn is about how all of creation is anticipating Christ’s birth, which builds wonder and excitement. Like the previous hymn, there is also a message of social justice. It feels magical. I was always taught that “magic” was “bad” because it was associated with the “evil of witchcraft”. But I believe in the magical feeling that comes with hope in the holy and sacred. The ideals of goodness, kindness, and justice feel otherworldly, and what makes them so magical is that it is promised to come true when Christ comes again. A real wish upon a star that will happen one day. This hymn captures that holy magic that gets us excited for the coming Christmas season.

I have several Christmas songs to reflect on! There will be two parts. Until then, wait and anticipate in Advent.

Disappointment, Better Headspace

I was going to post an Advent blog series, but my heart is not in it this year. Instead, I am working hard to prepare my heart and mind for healing and a new year. I will have some “New Year” insights on a later date, but for now, I feel myself moving into a better place so I think it’s better to reflect on that.

I have been shocked by how quickly my support from those who checked in on me at the beginning of the year has dried up. When I needed tangible help in spreading the word about Tales of Glory, few people even responded to my cry for help. I also have been getting lots of rejection letters from publishers. I’ve wondered if my ambition has been a dead end. I’ve thought my talents have fizzled out. I’ve contemplated giving up on the dreams that I have worked years and years for. I’ve watched others succeed and cheered them on but wondered if I will ever see the success that they have.

My hope had evaporated.

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I posted in an earlier blog about how I have been singing with One Voice Choir. We worked so hard to memorize our music. I had 2 colds, a sinus infection, and laryngitis, but I worked through them all for the concert. I focused on the music. In the meantime, I kept my head down and did very little socializing. My heart has just been closed for business. I just wanted to sing and survive the day.

I went on autopilot to get through the day. I felt like my dreams were dying, so life stopped flowing in me the way it was supposed to.

This weekend our concert finally arrived. I was terrified that I wouldn’t have a voice, but my vocal cords healed in time. Throughout the week I was with the choir several times and I finally began conversing with other people. I didn’t hide in my phone. I was feeling open. I realized how kind the people around me were, and how others had also been hesitant to socialize until now as well. And then we performed our concert three times to audiences who loved our music. Getting to perform again was magical. I had truly missed choir in my life.

Getting to be a part of the Charlotte arts community has done some healing work. I have hope again. I feel like life has started flowing again.

I am disappointed in the way things have been going for me. I have no idea if my hard work will help me truly fulfill my ambitions. But after this weekend I feel like some healing has finally happened and that I am moving into a better headspace. I can get off of autopilot and realign my vision for the future.

Redeeming All Saints’ Day

From my bad experiences last year I have some negative memories on church holidays. One of those was World Communion (the first Sunday in October), which was a pretty ugly day last year. This year I had a fever and had to stay home on that day, so I couldn’t replace the bad memory with a good one. But All Saints’ is one of my absolute favorite church holidays, and I wanted this year to redeem last year’s experience. I was able to really live into that today.

tealight candle on human palms
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On All Saints’ in the protestant church, we celebrate all who died in Christ the past year. We light candles for them, sometimes reading names or ringing a bell as well. It’s a beautiful reminder that death is not truly the end, and Christ has the last word on all things eternal. It’s a day of sweet memories of departed loved ones and hope in the resurrection.

I began the day at my husband’s church where he got to perform the requiem that he composed. The choir worked so hard, and the music was beautiful. It was a gift to hear my husband’s music be sung aloud. It was reverent, worshipful, and hopeful.

Then I attended my regular church where we could all come forward and light candles in memory of loved ones. Typically we only light candles for those who have died within the last year, but since my previous church didn’t practice this I was robbed of the opportunity to light candles for a couple friends last year. So I lit candles for them this year. I think God was fine with me “breaking the rules” (especially since they’re our rules, not God’s.) I lit a candle for Cindy, a friend from seminary who had to pause her studies because of health issues and ended up passing away last year. I lit a candle for Dinah, another seminary friend who died just weeks after we had graduated and just a few weeks before she was to be ordained. I also lit a third candle for author Rachel Held Evans. Although she wasn’t my friend, she was important to me and her death impacted me. All three of these women ministered until they literally, physically could not anymore.  What a witness to leave behind: ministering until your last breath. All three died very suddenly and untimely as well. None of them from old age.

When All Saints’ was taken from me by bad experiences last year, it stole the necessary grieving and worship process I had needed and had longed for. Redeeming the holiday this year has helped heal my heart in many ways. I am strong and getting stronger every day. I am stronger than those who tried so hard to break me, and I am rising above them.  Today I worshipped as an act of defiance and resistance. I truly felt the communion of the saints and the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me and giving me the strength to heal and be better.

Singing

A few weeks ago I joined a local choir. I started singing in choir in third grade and sang all the way through college. The challenge of learning new music, the excitement of making new friends, and the thrill of performing after working so hard to prepare the music were important aspects of my education and development as a person. There was joy in singing, frustration in learning and working on the music, and triumph in the concert. While music was never my path for professional purposes, it certainly was a huge part of my life that helped mold me.

 

My husband is a choir director, and singing in choir has been a special bond for both of us. He has helped keep music in my life.

I sang off and on in seminary, but it was difficult for me to stay involved. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I didn’t have the creative outlets I needed while in seminary.

But now I am singing with One Voice choir, and my heart is so glad to be making music again. I was handed my music on the first day, and I was excited to have new music to learn. I loved singing next to people again and laughing in between music changes. I enjoyed the challenge of reading the music. I left the first rehearsal a little emotional because I had missed music in my life. And after all the pain I had experienced in the last year, it was amazing to be surrounded by the warmth of a new, supportive, loving community and to have the familiarity of choir again.

When you have been a loner and a stranger, familiarity can be powerful and healing.

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Photo by saeed khosravi on Pexels.com

 

This choir is also for LGBTQ+ people and for affirming allies (I’m a straight, cisgender person striving to be an ally.) I chose this choir because I thought why not use the art of music, which has been so healing and formative for me, to take a stand for something I believe in? What could be more beautiful than activism in the arts? My singing doesn’t just mean something for me, my soul, and my well-being, but it means something to my community too.

With the coming recession and the zeitgeist of discrimination and rejection in our nation, we’re all struggling. But I believe the arts can be a uniting and healing force. I have worried about starting Tales of Glory (which of course is not bringing any income starting out) with our economy on the brink of falling apart. However, people often turn to the arts when society is suffering. I hope that my ministry as a storyteller brings hope and change to the world. Just as the choir is bringing healing to my soul, I hope it brings healing to the community too. When our pleas to care for LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, people of color, and the climate of our planet go unheard, maybe our art will move people to compassion once again.