Don’t Leave Him There

I tried to read the Christmas story yesterday. Not the one about the BB gun. The one about Jesus being born in a manger. From Luke chapter two.  I say “tried” because it took three attempts for me to get through it.

It’s such a beautiful story to me, and I wanted to hear it old-school, King James, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” because that’s how I learned it so many years ago. And maybe it’s because I know the ending, but I just got overcome with emotion at the thought that God Himself would leave the safety and beauty of heaven to come in such a low and meager way. For me.

After several tissues and raised-eyebrow looks from my husband, I finished reading. Y’all, I felt like I’d been to church!! My heart was full, and I felt cleansed and new. And a little raw.

Still this morning, I am overcome with the joy of the Lord after a blessed Christmas Day with some of my family. I’ve read the story again this morning, sans tears and snot, and I am struck by the thought that the sweet baby in a manger is where a lot of people keep Jesus. They love the Virgin Mary kneeling over the manger of hay, full of Emmanuel, God With Us, Christmas-card perfect halo glowing around His head… But they never let the Prince of Peace grow up!

As I write, I’m hearing music in my head. New words. New music. I need to get this written down, but for now I hear a chorus that goes something like:

Don’t leave Him there, tender and small!

Don’t keep Him stuck in a manger, tiny and helpless and new.

Let Him grow up into your heart

and bring all the Love that His Father sent Him to bring for you.

Jesus did not die on a cross so that we could drink egg nog, watch movies, and spend ourselves into bankruptcy. True, our Lord loved a party and even turned water into wine at a wedding reception! But that tiny Baby in a manger came that we might have LIFE, and have it more abundantly.

The beautiful thing about our Savior is that, just like the wise men, we can bring him our gifts… The best that we have, whatever it may be… And it’s enough. And if all we have is water, He will turn it into the best wine imaginable.

He is born!!!

The Maker

It seems to me that God has become the proverbial “elephant in the room.” He is huge and wonderful and fills the room. Everyone sees Him and tiptoes around Him and accommodates the space He takes. Like the elephant, God is obviously here and cannot be ignored, but NOBODY TALKS ABOUT HIM!! Like if we pretend He isn’t there, then maybe He will go away.

I don’t want God to go away!! I cannot even fathom what this world would be like without God’s presence. I see Him in every sunrise and every sunset. I hear Him in the birdsong early in the morning and in the sound of the waves on the shore or the rain on the roof. God is reflected in the faces of my kids and grandkids, in my mother’s smile and my sister’s goofy laugh, in my husband’s hug and my father’s work-worn hands. When my dog curls up at my feet, it’s like God is saying “I’m right here with you.” Flowers! And music!!!! I don’t even want to think about what this world would be without God’s gift of music.

So why DON’T we talk about God? What are we afraid of? What keeps us from behaving as though God were standing right next to us all day long, part of our conversations, our best friend? Why do we often treat our Maker as though He was the black sheep of our family rather than the reason we exist?? Or perhaps it’s more like the elderly aunt whom we only visit on Sunday’s and then we shout at her because she’s hard of hearing but the rest of the week we never think about her at all!

Because whether we want to acknowledge Him or not, God is here. Right here. Right there where you are. Right now. I love the passage in Psalms 139:7-12…

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

No matter how dark my world gets, God is there and always has been whether I acknowledge Him or not. No matter how beautiful and wonderful my world gets, God… in all His majesty and glory and tenderness and mercy… is there smack in the middle of it. I love my Maker and my Maker loves me.

Your love is like a mighty fire deep inside my bones
I feel like I could climb a thousand mountains all at once
And I never have to wonder if somebody cares for me
I love the Maker
And the Maker loves me

The song in my head this morning is The Maker from Chris August. It woke me up before daylight, and the cool thing is that I haven’t heard this song in weeks!! Click here to listen.

Featured image taken in Ifrane, Morocco courtesy of Karen Thomas Smith.

Part The Waters

I think every mother gets those moments in life when she feels overwhelmed with love for her child, about to pop her buttons with pride. “How was I lucky enough to be this kid’s mom?” I’ve had those moments through the years with all my kids. Watching my oldest graduate from the United States Air Force Academy. Sending my daughter off to the mission field, knowing she was following God’s call on her life. Reading my youngest son’s poetry does it every time. Too many to count.

I had another “momma moment” yesterday morning at church… The great privilege of accompanying my third child, Daniel, as he sang in worship. Now, I know every mom is proud of their children, and we all think ours are the perfect kids. That said, I will tell you that all my kids can sing, and they’re all musical in one way or another. They all grew up singing in church, and I encouraged them all to share their gifts with others. And Daniel did just that yesterday.

So this morning, the song in my head is the one he sang. Part The Waters/I Need Thee Every Hour. Originally recorded by Selah, it’s a powerful arrangement. It opens with these lyrics…

When I think I’m going under, part the waters Lord
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea
When I cry for help, oh hear me Lord and hold out your hand
Touch my life… Still the raging storm in me

… And moves into the traditional hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour.

I need thee every hour most gracious Lord
No tender voice like thine can peace afford
I need thee, oh I need thee
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless me now, my savior
I come to thee

I need thee every hour in joy or pain
Come quickly and abide or life is vain
I need thee oh I need thee
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless me now, my savior
I come to thee

It is a very good thing that I was playing the piano and required to focus on the music. Otherwise, I’d have dissolved into a puddle of tears as I listen to my son’s powerful voice cry out these words to the God who loves him… who cared enough for him that He would send His only Son to die for him. Who among us does NOT need The Lord every hour of every day? Because the moment I think I don’t need God is the moment it all starts to fall apart.

When I climb out of the boat onto the waves to walk toward Jesus, my eyes are fixed on Him and I know I can do anything. But when I start to think how impossible my task is, or feel the waves of life rising up around me, I know that God can part the waters and give me a dry place to land. He hears me when I cry out to Him. Only He can calm my storm.

The quality is poor because it was recorded on an iPhone… But please…. Click here to listen to Daniel sing Part the Waters/I Need Thee Every Hour

Click here to listen to this arrangement from Selah.

Of Love and Angels

Here’s the thing. I am a church musician and it is Christmas time. Advent. The holiday season. I’ve been working on Christmas music for weeks, so my head and my hands are full of it. Honestly, it’s really easy for me to become jaded about Christmas music and Christmas in general. Musicians, especially church musicians, work so long and so hard on the music that we tire of it early on… just get it over with already and move on!

Not so for me. Christmas time is no different for me than any other time of the year. My music is my worship. My music is my offering to God. My music is my sacrifice of praise. At Christmas time, like every time I sit down to play, I sing the words in my head. I hear the lyrics of songs like Angels From The Realms of Glory (the song in my head this morning) and I am once again brought to my spiritual knees that God would love us, love ME, so much that He would be willing to send His one and only Son to this earth so that I could have life eternal. Forever. Never-ending.

Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth
Come and worship.
Come and worship.
Worship Christ, the newborn King!!!

The Angels who were there at the very beginning of creation are the same Angels who heralded the message that Jesus Christ was born, that God’s Son had come to earth in the form of a tiny baby. Humble, poor, human, divine.

These same Angels bid us to come close to Him and worship Him. One of the Christmas songs our choir is working on is my very favorite this season, and I am overcome with emotion every time I play it. Here are a few lyrics from this precious lullaby.

Love came gently, soft as a baby
Born to a lowly virgin girl
Wrapped in rags and laid in a manger
Love came gently to our world

No applause, no fanfare of trumpets
Heralding Hope had come to earth
For the Promise tenderly entered
Choosing, instead, a humble birth

My newborn grandson has been here with his mommy for a couple of weeks, which gives me a whole different perspective on Jesus’ choice to come to this world as a newborn infant. Completely dependent on his mother for every need. Soft and warm, snuggling up to his mother’s neck as she kisses his head. All of His divinity and Lordship packed into a tiny 8 pounds of vulnerability. “Love came gently, sweetly, to save us, knowing the price He’d have to pay. And to all who trust in the Savior, Love comes gently still… Today.”

Here’s the thing. I am a church musician and it is Christmas time. Advent. The holiday season. I’ve been working on Christmas music for weeks, and my heart is full of it!!!

Angels From the Realms of Glory Words by James Montgomery and music by Henry T. Smart.

Love Came Gently Words and music by Marty Funderburk.

Quiet Reflections

I’m out of my routine. And I love having a routine. I’m in this vastly beautiful and different environment, yet I’ve developed a routine of a sort. My body isn’t exactly on Denmark time, and it’s not exactly on Home time either, which may make it easier to transition when I return next week. I’m staying up too late (reading) and sleeping later than I normally would at home. I have coffee with my newborn grandson while his mom and dad try to catch another hour of sleep. I cook breakfast for us all while he eats again. Try to beat the time difference (6 hours) and catch my husband at his breakfast time before he heads off to work at home. Text a few minutes. Take a walk. Plan dinner. Nothing earth shattering. But quiet… Peaceful… Restful.

Despite a newborn in the house, this is one of the quietest and most peaceful weeks I’ve ever had. I’m a quiet-loving person, and everyday life just… Isn’t. Quiet, that is. I’ve actually been able to turn off my brain a little, turn down the noise in my head, and just listen. Yes, there are birds and the breeze in the trees, soft rain falling, quiet house noises, clocks ticking and quiet new baby sounds. Let me just state categorically that there is NOTHING more precious in this world than the soft sound of a newborn sleeping in your arms.

Even the music in my head has quieted some. It’s always there, but for over a week now I’ve had just a couple of different lyrics running on a loop in the background. Soft and sure, but always there.

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me

It’s very comforting and reassuring to think that God sings over me no matter where I am in this wide world. His grace and mercy find me. I can hear it in the music he gives me. Sometimes I feel him with me when I’m painting, just… present. Sometimes, like this morning, I see God’s grace and mercy, his lovingkindness, in my new grandsons sweet face and chubby cheeks, fresh with Grandmomma kisses on them. And I am overcome with emotion that this great God would love me so very much. That His son, Jesus, would die for me… For this precious baby right here with me. And I am grateful.

Featured image: again, the fjord in Kisserup where we are staying for a few days. I love the way the sky is reflected in the water. A wonderful place to be still and quiet and reflect on the goodness of God.

Music to my Ears

After months of waiting and talking about what’s to come, my newest grandchild is finally here. A precious baby boy, so soft and warm, who already has his Grandmomma wrapped around his finger.

We arrived yesterday after a series of uneventful flights. My daughter’s beautiful new family met us at the airport… Waving a Danish flag! It was so good so see her again after almost a year, and to give her a huge hug. And to finally hold my daughter and then my newest grandson, only five days old.

I crashed on the couch for a short nap after a busy day of catching up, long walks, doctor appointments and more. I was awakened from my travel-foggy sleep by Samuel’s crying. Hungry and ready to eat, he was letting his momma know it’s supper time. And it was music to my ears!! There’s just something so pure and holy about a newborn’s cry.

I still cannot look at a newborn baby without thinking how good and how awesome is our God. All the fine details… Long fingers and toes with all the joints. Tiny little ears, so delicate and small. Seeing features in this baby that I saw in my own children at birth, yet so similar to his daddy’s features at the same time.

How God must love us and trust us to make us co-creators with Him. I can’t help but think of these words from the 139th Psalm.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

And just like Samuel’s crying, God’s word is music to my ears.

Who Do You Think You Are??

Did anybody ever ask you that question? It’s so confrontational! “Who do you think you are??” Sometimes I know exactly who I am. Other times, I wonder about that myself. “Who are we that You would be mindful of us? What do You see that’s worth looking our way?” Sometimes I ask the exact same questions as this first line from a MercyMe song, God With Us. They’re the lyrics in my head this morning.

Lord You know
Our hearts don’t deserve Your glory
Still You show
A love we cannot afford

All that is within me cries
For You alone be glorified
Emmanuel
God with us

My heart sings a brand new song
The debt is paid these chains are gone
Emmanuel
God with us

The Psalmist asked the same questions, though much more eloquently.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? Psalms 8:3-4

Who am I? I’m a tiny insignificant nobody in the grand scheme of this world. I’m just a woman in love with The Lord. I’m the crazy lady who hears music in her head and feels called to share it with anybody willing to listen. My heart and my spirit sing songs to The Lord… Sleeping, awake, working, resting, painting, sewing, cooking… Doesn’t matter. All for the One who paid my debt, and broke the chains.

Click here to listen to God With Us by MercyMe.

The next big thing is here!

Back in late July, I wrote about the “next big thing” on my horizon post-retirement. You can read Cloud Nine here. At that time, it was just a possibility. But today it’s a reality!! The “next big thing” is here!! Tonight, I teach my first painting class at our local community arts center. I am over-the-moon excited! And much too nervous.

I’ve painted several renderings of the piece I’m instructing tonight, and I feel confident. But this is all new to me. Don’t get me wrong… I am comfortable in front of a group or a class. I’ve taught Sunday school, bible school, choirs, private piano and voice lessons, classrooms full of kids, lead trainings for hundreds of people. Standing and talking in front of people isn’t a problem if I’m discussing music, or the Family and Medical Leave Act. But Art? Painting? ALL NEW!!!!

I feel like a little kid at Christmas. Too excited for words, wondering what’s going to happen, how it will all turn out, but knowing it’s all good!!! And so very thankful and grateful for the opportunity! It’s gonna be a long day, but I’m going to use the time to get some paint on canvas. And think about how God shows his love and goodness to us in our everyday, walking-around lives.

The song in my head this morning is a children’s song, but I’m hearing the voice of my friend, Steve Griffin, singing it southern gospel style. This one is a FUN piece to play!!!

YES! Jesus loves me.
Yes! JESUS loves me
Yes! Jesus LOVES me.
The Bible tells me so!!

God shows us his love in little ways, every day. Jesus loves us. The bible tells us so. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Featured image: Poinsettia, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20. Teaching my own work in November!

Epic Fail

Sometimes? I wish the music would let me sleep! “Love like I’m not scared. Give when it’s not fair.” These words woke me this morning. And my brain being what it is, I went into analyzing mode. Is this a reminder? An admonition?

“Love like I’m not scared.” Am I scared? Who am I afraid to love? Am I not loving enough? Love even though I’m scared? Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If Jesus loved me this much, then why am I scared to love others?

“Give when it’s not fair.” What am I holding back, and from whom? Am I giving myself or just money and things? Jesus gave his everything so that I could have the privilege of giving what others need if I have it.

The lyrics are from Fix my Eyes by For KING & COUNTRY. If I’m going to fix my eyes on Jesus, then I have to look UP! I can’t look down, or behind me, or look to another, or look inside myself. Looking UP requires me to lift my eyes, to raise them higher. Isn’t higher where we all want to be? When we are little kids we want to be picked up, put on daddy’s shoulders so we can see better. We want to get a “raise” in salary at work. We want higher grades in school. When I bake, I want my cakes to rise higher. UP is better.

Loving like I’m not afraid to do so… Giving even when it’s not “fair”… These are things I can do through Christ who gives me strength. Honestly, if I try to do them under my own power, I end up hurting myself and others. Epic fail!!

Click here to listen to Fix My Eyes.

This song sticks in my brain. I hear different pieces of lyric at different times. Click here to read Fix My Eyes written earlier from a completely different perspective.

And another perspective… Memory full. Unable to complete backup.

Featured image: pencil on paper, 1999, Sharon at 14