Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Love Note to My Natural Sisters

A couple of weeks ago, I was mesmerized by Aretha Franklin's performance on the Kennedy Center Honors as she paid tribute to Carole King with her drop-dead rendition of "Natural Woman." I wasn't the only one to shed a tear and hold my breath for almost four solid minutes as the Queen of Soul raised the roof with what must be the greatest salute to love and womanhood ever written. By the next day, her performance was all over the Internet with phrases like "Aretha Rocks the Center!" and "The Queen Lays Them Out!" (If you haven't seen the performance yet, go directly to you finish reading this, of course.)

If you ask me, the Diva has never been more beautiful than the moment she dropped her full-length fur coat to the ground to free herself up to belt out the last bit of the classic. It didn't matter in the least if she didn't have the arms of a young woman; they were her arms and they were going to help her carry home one of the great performances of all time.

As a side note, I also loved that she entered the stage carrying her purse and laying it on top of the piano, as if she had just shown up to church to perform a gospel number for the offertory. This was her stage and she was right at home. No pretense...just taking care of business.

So now I'm going to get down to my business. Here's my point.

I'm talking now to all of my sisters, whether you're eight or eighty. It doesn't matter what color your skin is or what size you are or whether you marry or not or whom you choose to marry or date.

Whoever you are...whoever you are special. You are important. You are you.

I just finished watching Aretha's performance again and I suddenly heard the words differently, as if I hadn't listened to them most of my life. There was a point when she sang, “He makes me feel like a natural woman.” I suddenly heard the lyrics talking about a different relationship...a relationship with our Creator. Read these words and imagine them as a conversation with God:

Lookin' out on the morning rain
I used to feel uninspired.
And when I knew I had to face another day,
Lord, it made me feel so tired.
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
But your love was the key to my peace of mind.

'Cause you make me feel, you make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman.

When my soul was in the lost and found
You came along to claim it.
I didn't know just what was wrong with me
Till your kiss helped me name it.
Now I'm no longer doubtful of what I'm living for
'Cause if I make you happy I don't need to do more

You make me feel, you make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman.

“If I make you happy…” Think about that. You do make God happy. He loves you. Not because of what you do but because you are His daughter.

As we begin this new year, my challenge to you is that you do everything with that thought in the front of your mind: you are the daughter of God. You make Him happy. His love is the key to your peace of mind. Live there. Feel like the natural woman God intended you to be in Him.

Shed that coat, raise your arms, and be the beautiful, soulful woman who will inspire others with your song.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Different Christmas Concert

Tonight and tomorrow night the TCC Choir will be presenting "He's Here," our 2015 Christmas program, and I could NOT be more excited! I am so proud of our singers and instrumentalists and, especially, director Marvin Jones for the work we have put in on this beautiful Christmas program. I encourage everyone who can to come hear us tonight or tomorrow evening at 6:00.

Every year at this time, my mind goes back to the first Christmas program I ever sang in. It was very different from any that I would ever sing or play in again.

Years ago, when I was about ten or eleven years old, our church choir performed a Christmas program that had not been published. We worked from the charts handwritten by the composer, Louise Sellers. I’ve Googled Ms. Sellers, and to my knowledge she has never been published musically or otherwise.

But this Christmas musical had a profound influence on me and my perception of the Christmas story. I still remember the songs and I haven’t heard them for more than 40 years. They painted a very different picture of the first Christmas than the peaceful, pretty picture we usually imagine. And that works for me.

Oh, we had beautiful songs. I remember the lovely duet between the angel Gabriel and Mary, weaving together the annunciation and the Magnificat of Luke 1into a thing of beauty and celebration. And we would go on later in the performance to sing of the visitation of the shepherds and the wise men in grand style.

But baby Jesus was born into a dark time. Caesar Augustus could order a census that uprooted everyone from their peaceful existence and send them to their hometown, convenient or not, pregnant or not. They could arrive in crowded towns with no inn reservations, no place to land, and wind up giving birth to babies in a stable with no doctor, no midwife, no doula…just mother and father and cows and whatever else spent the night in a barn and ate out of a manger, the baby’s first crib.

It was a world in which a nervous Herod could send out a decree to slaughter all the male children who had been born in Bethlehem the past two years just because the wise men had thrown him off the track of the “infant king of the Jews” and he was afraid of one of the babies growing up and usurping his power. A mass infanticide declared by one nervous ruler.

We sang in our concert about this awful time, using the words of Jude 1:12-13:
            Clouds, they are without water, carried about by the wind.
            Trees whose fruit hath withered, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.
            Raging waves of the ocean, pouring out their own shame.
            Wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
Not your typical Christmastime fare.

And in response to this part of the story, our choir sang the mournful verse of Matthew 2:18:
            In Ramah, there was a voice heard;
            Rachel weeping for her children…
            And would not be comforted.
You don’t often hear that deep sadness in a Christmas concert.

I remember the power of this concert. Emotionally. Musically. Spiritually. It rocked my young perceptions and thoughts.

But nothing moved my heart more than the last song, the ending. Because it was so incredibly peaceful.

With nothing beneath the choir but sustained chords on the organ, we sang the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, whose prophecy is recorded in Luke 1:
            God hath given us salvation that we might serve Him without fear,
            In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our lives;
            To be a light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death;
            To guide our feet into the way of peace
            To guide our feet into the way of peace
            To guide our feet into the way
            Into the way of peace
            To guide our feet
            To guide our feet…
            God hath given us salvation
            That we may walk
With Him
            In peace.

Yes, this works for me. I wish I could take the music that I still hear in my head and simply deliver it into yours. It doesn’t exist on recording or I would post it. Actually we have a terrible cassette tape somewhere, but it is barely audible now.

Perhaps you get my point without hearing the songs. Jesus came into a dark world to bring peace. We live in a dark world. It’s getting darker by the minute. Waterless clouds. Raging oceans. Withered trees where there should be fruit…just look around.

You know it’s true that you can see your Christmas tree lights best when it becomes nighttime? You’ve seen how a candle is clearest when all the other lights go out? Jesus’ light shines brightest in the darkness. And his peace is the most healing and hopeful when the world is most chaotic and hopeless around us. He doesn’t change, but we see his truth more clearly.

This Christmas, may we allow the Spirit of the Living God to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Stop the Pain!

ATTENTION MIGRAINE SUFFERERS: Sorry for sounding like a stupid ad for another ridiculous pain med on TV, but I wanted to get your attention if your life is regularly invaded with migraine pain.
If you regularly have these splitting headaches or other chronic pain from some sort of inflammation, PLEASE consider altering your daily food intake. I hesitate to use the word "diet" because that sounds like you're denying yourself something good. This is not the case. It's simply removing the bad things and substituting that with good things.
Specifically, the things you need to remove: sugar, dairy, and gluten.
Don't freak. This doesn't mean you never eat anything that tastes good again. But you begin to become aware of quantity and replace things that can cause pain with other things.
So what DO you eat? PLENTY!! Like fresh fruit, vegetables, gluten-free bread and cereal, nuts (especially almonds and cashews), poultry and fish, and if you need to sweeten something you can use Stevia, a plant extract that tastes wonderful but won't cause inflammation. And you drink lots and lots of water to keep your system thoroughly flushed of toxins.
I had gotten off of S/D/G and was beginning to get used to not having fibromyalgia pain and headaches...almost taking it for granted. Then three nights ago I had a pasta dish with cheese sauce. The next morning I woke up with a headache. That was Thanksgiving morning so I attributed it to stress. A couple of Tylenol helped back the pain down.
Our Thanksgiving meal was INCREDIBLE (of course!!) but within an hour my head was hurting so bad I couldn't stand it. By that evening, Tylenol wouldn't touch it. And I spent all day yesterday in bed with a migraine. But I ate a very "clean" diet all day...gluten-free cereal, an apple, a healthy salad with chicken, and lots of water. And today, thank goodness, I am headache-free!
After a few more weeks, I will start reintroducing a little bit of sugar, dairy, and gluten one at a time to see if I am having a strong reaction to any one of these. But I will always keep them at a minimum.
To read more about this, I highly recommend a book that I had the privilege of editing:

Make the changes you need to make to reduce the meds that you depend on for your health. It's about extending your life for you, your family, and for the Lord we serve with the lives He has given us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Grateful Thanksgiving

Charles E. Jefferson said, “Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.”

Mercy: “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary).

We talk a lot about grace, defined as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” We sing a lot about grace. In fact, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking parts of the world today. But we don’t often talk about mercy. I believe that’s because grace is all about God; mercy is also about us. And not in a good way.

Grace is about the generous nature of God, His bountiful goodness and love toward us regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. But mercy is about His specific compassion and forgiveness toward us in the very face of exactly those things we have done that should warrant His condemnation.

We used to sing an old hymn in church. I loved the words but hated the melody because it skipped along the top of an incredible message of mercy and redemption. If you recognize the lyrics, try to read them as a poem instead of the familiar song:

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified;
Knowing not it was for me he died
At Calvary.
Mercy there was great and grace was free.
Pardon there was multiplied to me.
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

The ultimate act of mercy was shown at Calvary where Jesus hung on a cross, taking on all of our sins and defeating their power in our lives. Instead of condemning humanity for everything we have done to desecrate God’s plan for our world and each other, God reached down into our story with the earthly life and death of His only Son, Jesus Christ, who conquered death and delivered mercy for all who would receive it from God’s open arms.

I have not gotten my dates mixed up. I know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving and not Easter. And I know that Thanksgiving is a patriotic holiday and not a Christian celebration.

But I also know that this is a broken world. We live in a broken country, surrounded by people living broken lives. If we are to have any hope of healing any of it, we need to always…at every opportunity…be reminded of the tender mercies of our Lord and Savior.

“I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1 NJB, emphasis added).

I wish you and your loved ones a Thanksgiving filled with grace and peace.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

To Tell the Truth

If you’re old like me you remember an ancient TV game show called To Tell the Truth. (Back in the old days before reality TV we had game shows. Those were really real and people won money. Or dishwashers. Or pool tables . . . lots and lots of pool tables.)
Anyway, on TTTT, three people would line up before a panel of four people (who were supposedly famous but we weren’t sure why) and those three people would all say they were someone who had done something interesting . . . and they would all give the same name. Then the panel of sort-of-famous people would take turns questioning the contestants about who they supposedly were until they had to vote on who they thought was really the person they said they were. Then the contestants won money if they convinced the panel they were the person they really weren’t. I think the show should have been called To Tell a Lie.
I love my DVR. It works as a net to stand guard over the TV line-up and snag shows as they air through the week so that I can view them according to my own schedule. When people ask me when or on what channel a certain show airs, I’m totally blank. I just know that at some point it’ll turn up on my DVR. And I’ll sit down and catch up.
A couple of days ago I was catching up on my shows. I watched CBS’s Sunday Morning (the best show on TV these days) and saw the story of the woman who was the girl in the picture taken during the Vietnam War. She was about nine years old and photographed nude, running from a napalm explosion with burns all down her body, the clothes having been burned off her back. The photographer had taken the picture with her running toward him and then thrown down his camera to rescue her.
Jane Pauley interviewed Kim for the show, a woman now fifty-two years old. As she told her story, Kim gave her testimony to the amazing transformative power of Jesus Christ. In the depths of her pain and bitterness as a young woman, she had come across a New Testament Bible and became a Christian. It changed her heart.
I was struck at the openness with which she confessed the name of Jesus. No generalizations. No political correctness. Simply speaking the truth.
A little later I watched one of my favorite sitcoms, Black-ish. I love this show because it breaks down barriers. I know it’s not everyone’s fave, but I love it.
This week’s episode surprised me. Some white friends of the Johnsons (the African American family) invited them to their church. So the Johnson family went. They were surprised the first Sunday at how comfortable they felt; the music was fun and the sermon was lite. When their friends invited them back, they accepted. They did not find it as . . . inspiring? . . . the next week. The music was exactly the same and they wondered if the pastor was stuck on the same analogies.
So they played the “culture card.” That’s right. They told their friends that it was a culture thing . . . that they needed to be in their own culturally specific church. So their friends asked if they could come along to their church the following Sunday.
And they did. They all went to the African American church that the Johnsons usually went to only on Easter and Christmas. For the first time, they experienced “their own” church and it went on and on and on . . . over four hours!
But in wrapping up the show, the Johnsons had a discussion about the overall church experience. They compared it to buying the mattress they were lying on. They hadn’t settled on the first or second mattress they tested; they kept hunting until they found the one that worked for them. Why not do the same thing with church?
Not a spiritual breakthrough. But this? An honest and funny view of Christian church (including a satirical but honest commentary on Jewish identity in the workplace) . . . on network television?
Then I watched an episode of Ellen recorded a few weeks ago when she interviewed Trai Byers of Empire, another show that I enjoy. There in his interview, he boldly gave his Christian testimony. No mincing of words. No downplaying the truth. Honestly glorifying God in heaven for His divine work and thanking Jesus Christ for his grace.
I began to see a pattern.
Our country has a ton of problems. Practically everywhere you look, you can find something wrong that needs fixing. I won’t even start a list here because it would just be the tip of an enormous problem iceberg.
But many people are beginning to recognize the Truth and speak it out: Jesus Christ changes life. When we come to Jesus . . . when we bring him our broken selves . . . we become something—someone—different and we are never more the same.
And it is not because we just decide to be better or try harder. It is because of Jesus.
Makes me think of the Kurt Carr song . . .

Demons have to flee when I say Jesus.
Sickness has to heal when I say Jesus.
Every knee shall bow before
And every tongue proclaim
With worthy praise,
The matchless name of
Something happens when we call Your name . . .
Oh the power in Your name!
When I call upon Your name,
The very atmosphere will have to change.

We’ll be transformed,
We’ll never be the same
By the power of Your holy name . . .

That’s a truth worth telling.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Who Knew Finding the Library Was So Important?

“Où c'est trouve la bibliothèque?”
With apologies to French-speaking peoples everywhere if this isn’t correct, this is one of the first sentences I remember learning in French 101 in eleventh grade. Literally translated into English, it would be “Where it is found the library?” This is why we don’t waste time doing literal translations from one language into another but just try to capture the general idea . . . in this case, “Where’s the library located?”
I wondered later, why in the world was this one of the first sentences or questions we were taught to ask were we to ever find ourselves in France or French-speaking Quebec? Was the library so very important to French culture that this was somehow the hub to which we would all be gathering for activity and/or security in the event of an emergency?
And yet, forty years later, in the recesses of my mind, I still know how to ask for directions to the library in Paris. I might not understand the response, but I can ask.
And I can ask where other things are . . . “Où c'est trouve un restaurant?” (Restaurant is the same in English and French.) “Où c'est trouve un hôtel?” “Où c'est trouve la salle de bain?” (Perhaps the most important question that we should have been learning before the library directions . . .)
The one thing I will never have to ask anyone: “Où c'est trouve ma vie?” Translation: “Where is my life?”

You don't have to worry
And don't you be afraid;
Joy comes in the morning,
Troubles they don't last always.
For there's a friend named Jesus
Who will wipe your tears away,
And if your heart is broken
Just lift your hands and say,
Oh, I know that I can make it.
I know that I can stand.
No matter what may come my way,
My life is in your hands.

Sunday morning our choir sang this song by Kirk Franklin. It’s one of my very favorites. Filled with one truth after another: No worry. No fear. Joy will come. Troubles are not here to stay. Our friend is named Jesus and he will wipe our tears away and heal broken hearts. In him, we can stand and we will make it.
Monday morning, my mother called and asked me to come take her and my dad to the ER. My dad was having room spins and nausea. The doctor’s office had said to take him straight on to the hospital ER, and that’s what we did. Following an EKG, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Many of you are probably already familiar with this heart condition that basically happens when there is a lack of communication between the upper chambers and lower chambers of the heart. The biggest danger is blood clots, which can lead to strokes.
I thank God for my parents. If you know my parents, you thank God for them too. They are amazing people and they have continued doing awesome work for the Lord the past few years despite their advanced ages of 80 and almost-84.
Driving them to the emergency room, sitting in room number 10 with Dad, gathering there with my mother and my sister and her husband and one of my brothers and his wife, and awaiting the diagnosis and prognosis . . . all of that could have been a time filled with worry and fear and trepidation.
But it wasn’t. I sit here today thinking back over the past 30+ hours, and I don’t remember there being any fear. I remember adrenaline. I remember looking after my dear father and his needs . . . asking the nurse for a glass of water and some lunch for my dad . . . getting him something to prop up his tube-filled arm . . . asking him if he needed a blanket. But no fear.
We have a friend named Jesus. We weren’t ignorant of risks or realities or possibilities. But we were not afraid. And we still aren’t. We know where we stand and we will make it.
All the way home.

And we won’t have to ask where that is located . . . in this language or any other. We’ll just know.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Huh Moment

Gilda Radner was the funniest woman ever on Saturday Night Live. She was in the original cast and I believe she set the standard for every woman—and every man—who has ever been on the show since.
One of her funniest characters was Judy Miller, a live-wired little Brownie who would turn her bedroom into a studio in which to host her own variety show. The frenetic pace of the show would build and build until Judy (Gilda) would eventually be slamming herself into the door of her bedroom, at which point her offstage mother would be yelling, “Judy! What’s going on in there?”
Judy would freeze in place, look around bewildered as if she had no idea what had just happened, and reply, “Nothing.”
Yesterday I had an epiphany. We often call those “aha moments,” but we don’t actually say, “Aha!” At least I don’t. What I usually say is, “Huh.” And then, “How ‘bout that.” And that’s what I did yesterday. I was driving in my car and suddenly said, “Huh.”
I’ve been carrying around a very deep pain for several weeks. It’s a problem that has hurt and troubled me for a while and the longer I’ve carried it the deeper it has drilled down into my heart. I won’t go into the details here, mostly because I don’t want you to isolate the specifics. I want you to get the point that I was carrying it around . . . and there was absolutely nothing I could do to fix it.
My “Huh” moment yesterday came when I realized that I was being Judy Miller. I was slamming myself up against a door for absolutely no reason. It was doing me no good to worry about the problem and it was doing the other person involved no good either. It wasn’t fixing the problem and, worst of all, it was robbing me of my joy.
So I thought, Huh, I can let this go. How ‘bout that. I don’t have to keep throwing myself up against a problem that I can’t fix just to keep frustrating myself and feeling swallowed up in pain. And the minute I realized that, I felt the chains around my heart break. I could practically hear them snap! And the grace of God flowed in and filled my heart with peace . . . the shalom kind of wholeness that I had been missing for weeks. And I looked around and thought, Oh my goodness, what a beautiful day! (I know that sounds corny, but I just report the truth; I don’t invent it.)
God will give us the grace and the strength to handle anything in our lives to which he has called us. But there is no grace for those things that are not ours to carry.
If you are carrying a load that is not yours . . . if you are feeling guilty for something that is not your responsibility or worrying about something for which someone else is accountable . . . turn it loose. Lay it down. It is not your burden. You can still pray about the situation and love the people unconditionally. But you are not responsible for their actions or choices.
Allow the love and the joy of the Lord to fill your heart with peace as you become the person you are called to be and live the life you were created to live. Jesus Christ has set you free and you are free indeed.

Huh. How ‘bout that.