Tag Archives: church

Broken Ground

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The 15th anniversary of 9/11…

I remember the events of 9/11 as vividly as if they occurred yesterday.  We all do.  My closest connection with the tragedy was the fact that my brother, Reed, was caught up in it.  He worked for American Express in the World Financial Tower, which was very close to the WTC towers that were destroyed that morning.  Like many other families, we watched the footage unfold on TV, horrified by the images bombarding us.  And like many other families, I and my loved ones anxiously waited to hear from Reed, praying that he was safe, at least physically.  We were among the more fortunate families, hearing from him hours, rather than days, after the towers fell.  I was working for the local Fox TV affiliate at the time, and I reported to work that afternoon, thankful that Reed was out of harm’s way, and surrounded by my work family as we all watched the horror replayed for hours on end while news people and experts tried to make sense of it all.  Our boss, Tom, my friends Larry and Dan, and I, kept master control running that day and into the night.  One of my clearest memories of the day was when Dan’s sister came by that evening with her baby boy, and she let me hold him.  Cuddling that sweet child comforted me, reminding me that God is still at work in our world, and that life indeed goes on.  Dan told me on Facebook that his nephew has his learner’s permit to drive now, and that he has been told the story of how he blessed me on 9/11.

The world seemed to break that day.  Buildings, peace, faith, even the very earth underneath the city.  Broken ground.

Flash forward 15 years, and I am sitting in a church service at Ebenezer United Methodist Church where I have just recently accepted a call to sing and serve, leaving behind a church I have served since 2013.  The decision was not made lightly or without deep soul-searching, consideration and prayer.  On the 15th anniversary of the broken ground of 9/11, my new church family celebrated the groundbreaking of a new sanctuary, welcoming me into their heritage.  The significance and timing were poignant and emotional for me.

At the end of the service, we each received a river stone symbolic of “raising our Ebenezer”, then went out onto the lawn to stand where the new sanctuary will be built in the days and months to come, to pray for God’s continued blessing on the church family, and to break ground.  As I took my place on the lawn with the rest of the choir, I noticed something at my feet that has become a meaningful symbol of God speaking to me…

 

I hollered at my friend Marc to show him the feather, and he said, “That’s just like something that would happen to you!”  I replied, “It’s more like something God would do,”.  Then he and I dug into the dirt and celebrated the same blessed peace that holding that sweet baby 15 years ago had given me…that God is still at work in the world, and life indeed goes on.

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Taste And See

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Singing, serving, and sharing

Mama always used to tell people that when I was born I came out singing.  More likely, I came out squawling, but I think I probably started to sing not too long after that.  It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and often, it has been the biggest and best part, facilitating other blessings.  Yesterday was a day like that.

It was a Communion Sunday at church, and my longtime friend Marc and I sang a duet called “Taste And See” right before the sermon.  The song is a paraphrase of Psalm 34, and among Marc, me and our friend/accompanist/collaborator John, we put together what turned out to be a heartfelt and lovely arrangement that seemed fitting for a Communion service.  Singing with Marc is often a bit of a mystical experience; the blend of our voices is special, and added to the decades of friendship we share, the music always seems to become more than just the sum of its parts.  Added to that dynamic was the brilliance of our new friend John pulling an accompaniment out of his gifted head (and in a different key than the score he was playing from!). So our musical offering felt special indeed.

But it was only a foreshadowing of the moments yet to come in the service.  For, after the sermon was preached, the familiar and poignant story of the Last Supper was re-told to us, and Pastors Ann and Jason modeled a new way of offering communion for us to follow.  We were to accept the elements from the person in line ahead of us, and in turn, we were to pass to the other side of the table and serve them to the next person in the line behind us.  In all my decades of church services and taking of Communion, this was a first for me, a chance to serve the Body and Blood to a member of the church family.

The person I had the privilege of serving was my longtime friend Marc.  John’s beautiful piano music as we communed added such a warm and lovely atmosphere to the service, and as Marc and I approached the altar, John revisited “Taste and See” that we had sung earlier.  As I touched Marc’s hands and looked into his face, offering him this Heavenly feast, with the words, “Marc, this is the body of Christ, given for you…this is the Blood of Christ, poured out for you…” I had to fight back tears.

After Marc and I had communed, we took the elements up to the piano and served John last of all.  Marc gave him the Body and I served the Blood.  The power of this whole experience humbled me in a way I could not have anticipated, and cannot explain.  I suppose it is just the chance to share music and God in a new way and deeper level with friends both longtime and recent, musical partners and brothers in Christ.  Yesterday was a little glimpse of Heaven for me and I am so grateful for the chance to have experienced it, to Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.

Best Friends

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Too many kinds to count…

This week many people observed National Best Friends Day.  I think it’s a nice idea to recognize the value of friendship and to appreciate the people who add such richness to our lives.  It got me thinking about the many “best friends” I have enjoyed over the years…and why I can’t really say that I have ONE best friend.

There were the earliest friendships I enjoyed with my brother and cousins, before school started and we met all those other kids in our age group.  Even though I am not as closely in touch with my cousins as I’d like to be, they are in my heart always, and I would give any of them anything I could offer if they were in need and I could help.  We share memories, blood and decades of love.

Then came the school friends, those people outside my family circle, the ones I met and learned how much we had in common.  Those moments of discovering that we liked or disliked the same foods, or shared a favorite song or hobby, were the youthful foundations upon which some of my longest-time friendships were built.  I am still in touch with some of my grade-and-high-school friends on social media, and seeing how their lives have progressed to this point is both fun and rewarding.

The church and college friends began my deepest connections, ties that bind us across years and miles to this day.  My college graduating class has a milestone reunion coming up this fall at homecoming, and I look forward to seeing many of my classmates there to reminisce about our times in the dorm and the music building.  My roommates especially helped me bridge the transition between living at home with my parents and making a new home with my husband.  I crave in my heart to see Janet and Dana, and soon.  It has been WAY too long since the three of us have been together.

These days I am still making college friends through my connections as the Chapter Mother for Alpha Gamma Chapter of Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity at Carson-Newman University.  Getting to know these young student musicians and to encourage them has been my joy for almost 10 years now, and I hope to continue in this capacity for many years to come.  My musician friends come in all ages, shapes and sizes, with specialties ranging from voice and instruments to conducting and composing.  These friendships help me to continue growing as a musician and as a human.

I’m grateful that almost every job I’ve held has yielded one or two lasting friendships as well, and since I’ve worked in predominantly male environments, I refer to some of these fellows as my “work husbands”.  At my first TV job, there was only one other woman in my department, a top-notch board operator named Linda.  We referred to ourselves as The Gyno Mafia!  I have a dream team of current and former coworkers I would surround myself with if I ever had the chance to build my own company.  The combination of professional excellence and wacky humor makes work a lot more fun, and shared goals (and grievances!)  give us much to share.

So many other “best friends” come to mind.  Mama and The Aunts who wait for me in Heaven.  My precious husband, who, after nearly 30 years of marriage, is still my favorite person to spend time with.  And our beloved, goofy dogs, Ernie The Wonder Beagle (in Heaven) and Our Boy Roy, who has been part of our family for almost 9 years now.

So, who is my “best friend”, really?  They all are!  And if I spent the rest of my life counting the reasons I love them, I would never finish.

 

The Mouths Of Babes

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A heart-melting moment…

I serve as a cantor for a Lutheran congregation filled with some of the sweetest people I have ever met.    Church was where I first learned that I loved to sing, and where my musical abilities were first discovered and nurtured.  In every church I’ve ever attended, no matter what the differences in theology or worship have been, there have been two common elements among them all: the inclusion of music and the children’s sermon.

Kids are so unpredictable!  Some days they gather around the pastor quietly and attentively.  Some days they are rambunctious little urchins!  Our pastors always handle the children’s behavior with good humor and a smile.

One thing you can count on with little children is that they are honest (sometimes to their parents’ chagrin!).  They will say exactly what they’re thinking, simply and without guile.  It might not always be what we want to hear, like when a little child asks why that lady has a mustache, or how come some people have stinky feet or loudly points out, “That man just pooted!”.

Sometimes, though, a kid will warm your heart with a sincere, sweet compilment.  I experienced such a moment this past Sunday.  I was getting into my car to leave church after the second service when a very cute little girl and her very cute grandmother waved and called out to get my attention.  I stopped and opened my car door to talk to them, and Grandma said, “We tried to find you in the choir room but you’d already come out to the parking lot, and my granddaughter wanted to tell you something.”

This sweet little girl could not have been more than 6 years old.  With her dark hair, she reminded me a lot of myself at that age, smiling up at me with her little baby-teeth smile.  I said hello and how glad I was to meet her, and she said, “I just want to say I think you’re a beautiful sing-ger!”

Singing last summer at Carnegie Hall was cool…but not as special as this moment with this little girl.  I thanked her, reached out to take her hand and asked her name, and she told me her name is Bella.  “Your parents gave you a wonderful name, because Bella means beautiful, and you sure are!”  I also noticed her pink cowboy boots and told her how much I liked them.  Grandma went on to say that Bella sometimes gets to visit at our church but lives in another area of town.  I thanked them both and we chatted a little more before parting ways.

In my rush to get home, it would have been easy to miss Bella and Grandma trying to flag me down in the parking lot.  What a blessing I would have missed!  Jesus took time to touch and bless little children.  He takes the time to listen when I need to talk to Him.  In His eyes, maybe we are all children.

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Snow Day

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There are many kinds of warmth…

Knoxville is not known as a mecca for snow lovers.  We have just received the first significant snow of 2014 and, along with it, record cold temperatures are coming.  I just went outside to get some bottles of water out of my car for fear they’d freeze and I had to go back into the house to get a bottle of warm water to pour down the door seal in order to unfreeze my door to get it open so I could GET the water bottles out.  While I did this, Our Boy Roy went outside for a brief tinkle and was pretty eager to get his business done and get back in the house!

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I scratched on my windshields and the snow looks fluffy, but it’s camouflaging ice underneath, so scraping/hacking/chiseling when I need to drive eventually will be necessary…and not fun.   For today, though, I am burrowed in, snuggled up with Our Boy Roy and grateful to be home.

I’ve called and texted Dad and Reed to make sure they are warm and dry.  Sweet Pea is at work and I am praying he can make it home safely tonight.  Right now the sunshine has broken through the cloud cover, which could actually make weather issues worse if melting occurs where the sun hits and then it refreezes, making ice where the snow used to be.

Days like this make me grateful…and a little sad.  I know that, while my house is not ideal, I have a roof over my head, I am safe and warm and dry.  I think of our homeless population on days like this and pray that they can find shelter and a meal.  I am grateful that I sing and serve at a church that helps neighbors in need and I know that my church and many others are providing warmth and food.  I am reminded of the fact that I and mine, we who are so few, have been blessed with so much, while there are so many among us with so little.  The paradox is not lost on me.

I think of the bereaved and the lonely on days like this and pray that they can find warmth of spirit.  I give thanks for the abundance of love in my life, for the provision of material needs and the gift of health.  I wrap myself in an old quilt, a flannel nightgown and fluffy socks, and settle into the simple comfort of just being warm enough.

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Treasures In Heaven

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Visiting the place where I began to store them up

Yesterday I visited my childhood church home for services.  I have wanted to go back and visit for a long time, but Aunt Ruby’s recent death spurred me to get there, finally.  It was with her, Uncle John and our cousins that Reed and I first started going to church in this beautiful old building.  My memories of the times spent there, the visual beauty of the place and the familiarity of the order of service came flooding back, washing over me like a warm wave of comfort.  The Gloria Patri, Apostles’ Creed and Doxology with which I was raised issued forth just as they have for generations.Image

I parked my car in a visitor space and made my way to the nearest entrance, and when I stepped inside I was overcome with the fragrance of the building, warmth and home.  Immediately I was transported back to my childhood and youth group days by the mix of scents: antique wood and tile, varnish and candle smoke, old lady perfume and the “golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints…”Image

Some of the physical aspects of the place have been updated and changed over the years.  Padding on the pews and carpeting on the stairs make it a little safer and more comfortable.  But many more things remain unaltered since my days there.  The colorful windows are still intact, thank God!  Images of faith in glowing stained glass shaped my earliest memories of church and worship, and helped me to learn what being a Christian was all about.Image

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We spent a great deal of time there as children, and many times we went exploring the less public parts of the building, places we were convinced no one else knew about.  There are many back stairways and narrow passages in that place.  Once I remember making our way up into the pipes of the majestic organ, (NOT during services, we would have gone deaf!) an instrument that was funded, installed and dedicated during my childhood there.  Image

The organ and choir sounded just as wonderful yesterday as I remembered them.  A few members from my childhood days are still there, and still singing in that choir.  Some things never change.  I find that very comforting.

There has always been an intricate wood carving of the Da Vinci painting of The Last Supper in front of the choir loft, and it too is still there.  Yesterday was actually a communion Sunday, and I was privileged to partake once more in the elements of body and blood, in the place where I first learned what communion was and what it meant.  This service of communion was both solemn and joyful for me, and very poignant as I remembered all the times I have prayed, communed, cried and laughed in that place, with that branch of God’s family tree.Image

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My cousin Alan’s favorite window was the anchor in what used to be called the Little Sanctuary.  That space has since been closed off and renamed the Flossie Cox Prayer Chapel.  Mrs. Cox was Mama and Aunt Ruby’s Sunday school teacher for years, a wise and gentle lady who loved the Lord and loved His people.  I always loved the window that shows an offering being placed in a treasure chest, reminding me both of the story of the widow who gave more than all the others because she, in her poverty, offered her last mite, and of Jesus’s admonition to store up treasures in Heaven.Image

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I saw many childhood friends yesterday, hugged and smiled and got a little teary-eyed a couple of times.  This church, this place, was where I was confirmed and baptized, where I learned how much I loved to sing, songs like “This Is My Father’s World” and “For The Beauty Of The Earth”.  Image

It is where my faith journey began.  That journey has taken me into many other churches, a few different denominations and allowed me to meet and love many of my brethren along the way.  But there is something special about the places where one grew up.  And even though I no longer attend church there, I will no doubt find my way back from time to time, because it was…Is…Home.