The Beauty of the Sound

My son loves to play the piano. He practices for a couple of hours a day, without ever being told. All of our children are required to take piano lessons beginning at age nine. They must play until we feel that have reached a basic level of understanding, then, they can choose another instrument to learn, or quit. Mitch loves classical music, but we also rely on him to be our standby pianist when our regular virtuoso is out of town.

He has been working hard on learning to play hymns, and yesterday morning, he played one which immediately captured my imagination. It’s amazing how a song can do that! In just a few measures of melody, I was taken back in time to when I was about nine years old. I was in the old church building of Victory Baptist Church in Benton, Arkansas, standing next to my dad. I could smell his cologne and the scent of leather. I could hear voices of my past, joining together in praise to God. The song we often sang was “I Am Resolved”. That’s what Mitch played.

“I am resolved, no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delight.
Things that higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight.
I will hasten to Him, hasten so glad and free,
Jesus, greatest, highest, I will come to thee.”

Of course, I had to come back to reality. (Sometimes I worry that one day I’ll take a “trip back” and never return. At least I’ll be in a good place, if that does happen.) I smiled as my son played, my husband sang on the platform, my girls were next to me – just like I was to my dad – and the voices of the present filled the air as we joined together in praise to God. It’s a beautiful sound, hearing the saints of God sing praise to their Savior. I think it’s a little taste of Heaven on Earth.

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Little By Little

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My daughter, Leslie, is committing this poem to memory in her fourth grade school work. I just love it, and I wanted to pass it along. Whether you’re familiar with it or not, I hope you enjoy it.

 

Little By Little
Anonymous

“Little by little,” an acorn said,
As it slowly sank in its mossy bed,
“I am improving every day,
Hidden deep in the earth away.”

Little by little, each day it grew;
Little by little, it sipped the dew;
Downward it sent out a thread-like root;
Up in the air sprung a tiny shoot.

Day after day, and year after year,
Little by little the leaves appear;
And the slender branches spread far and wide,
Till the mighty oak is the forest pride.

Far down in the depths of the dark blue sea,
An insect train works ceaselessly.
Grain by grain, they are building well,
Each one alone in its little cell.

Moment by moment, and day by day,
Never stopping to rest or play,
Rocks upon rocks, they are reaching high,
Till the top looks out on the sunny sky.

The gentle wind and the balmy air,
Little by little, bring verdure there;
Till the summer sunbeams gaily smile
On the buds and the flowers of the coral isle.

“Little by little,” said a thoughtful boy,
“Moment by moment, I’ll well employ,
Learning a little every day,
And not spending all my time in play.
And still this rule in my mind shall dwell,
Whatever I do, I will do it well.

“Little by little, I’ll learn to know
The treasured wisdom of long ago;
And one of these days, perhaps, we’ll see
That the world will be the better for me”;
And do you not think that this simple plan
Made him a wise and useful man?

It’s been a long week for me, and I admit I’ve had some discouraging moments. I pray that God will help me to learn to trust Him even when His face seems hidden. This poem reminds me that the moments add up, and I can use each one – even the difficult ones – for Him. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Thank you for visiting my online home. See you soon, Lord willing!

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Vintage Valerie: A Texas “Snow” Day

I haven’t lived anywhere that was as warm all year long as central Texas.  It was a real bummer to cook Thanksgiving dinner in 90 degree heat. The winters were mild, and, for someone who enjoys all four seasons, this was a disappointment. We didn’t really get snow, but occasionally we got sleet and ice. We’ve had a mild winter here this year, too. In fact, it’s reminding me of Texas! But today, the temperatures are low enough to give us some sleet outside – nothing like the pictures I’m sharing, but it reminded me of this exciting day, back in early 2007.

We had a large area to mow when we pastored in Burnet, Texas. When we got an unexpected ice storm, Terry rigged up the church’s riding lawn mower to a homemade sled and took the kids for a ride. I managed to grab my camera and dash outside to take a few snapshots. As I recall, I didn’t even put a coat on, so the pictures were quick. I was caring for four young children, two of whom were in diapers. Snapping photos was low on my list of priorities back then. At least I have a few memories from those busy days which are now mostly a blur.

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Mitchell enjoying his turn.

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Riding together is so much better.

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I love Lauren’s face in this one!

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Hang on!

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Leslie was only 18 months old, so she just went out to pose for photos.

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Daddy, AKA, the “chauffeur”, with two of his passengers.

Thank you for joining me for a trip back in time!

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Sunrise in the City

I have seen some gorgeous photos of sunrises and sunsets. The most beautiful ones seem to come from the desert or the mountains. But right here in town, I have seen some lovely sunrises and sunsets. They have been scarce this winter, though. We’ve had weeks of cloudy skies. Those are days when daylight comes, but it seems that dawn skips us. I made it home from my walk this past Monday, January 19, 2015, just in time to see a lovely sunrise. I grabbed my Nikon and tried to snap some photos, but sunrises don’t dawdle, so I didn’t have much time to perfect the shots by changing the settings. I did as many as I could, and tweaked them a bit using Photoshop Elements. Here are my results:

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This view is from my backyard. I love the way the sun is beaming brightly at the base of this sycamore tree.

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This is from my front yard.

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My settings weren’t quite right on this one, so I darkened it a bit to make a silhouette shot. I like the way it turned out. I love the fiery glow of the sun in the distance.

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A few pastels as the sun rose higher and higher.

Sunrises represent the beginning of a new day, new potential and new hope. They shout to us that we have awoken to another day, a witness to God’s handiwork all around us through His glorious creation. We see the sun in its place, doing its job, and we know that God is in control. It is an awesome and exciting thing to be a part of this life!

We will probably have more cloudy days before winter is over – in fact, we have one today! On those days, I can take a look at my photos and be reminded all over again of God’s faithfulness, His promises and His love.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. ~ Genesis 8:22

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A Description of Good Preaching

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In my Bible reading this week, I came across a verse that jumped out at me. It’s funny how you can read the Bible often and only be looking at the words, not thinking about them. Well, that happens to me anyway. Before I know it, I’ve gotten halfway or three-fourths through a chapter and I can’t recall what I just read! I had been thinking about the day’s activities, or  someone I needed to email, or about a person who is an irritation  – everything except God’s words! I have to go back and start over again.

As I was reading Nehemiah 8 on Sunday, I saw a verse that reminded me of my husband:

So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. ~ Nehemiah 8:8

  • The law of God was read distinctly.
  • The sense was given.
  • Understanding was received.

There are two main types of preaching (or, two most popular styles): Expositional and Topical.

Expostional preaching is when a passage is read, and then it is explained word-by-word, or phrase-by-phrase, in light of the whole Bible.

Topical preaching is when a topic is chosen and many verses from the Bible are used to teach on that idea. For example, a study on “words” would use passages from Proverbs, Matthew, Ephesians, James and perhaps more.

Both types of preaching are needed. The only danger in any style of preaching (from my layperson’s perspective) is that the scripture might be taken out of context.

I have a pastor who reads God’s Word every time he preaches. It may be hard to believe, but I have been in services where the Bible was not read, it was just quoted from memory by the preacher. I’ve also been in services where the pastor just reads a scripture and then goes on and on for an hour, never leading the listener back to the Bible at all. In preaching, the Bible should be front and center.

I have a pastor who gives the true sense of the Scripture. He resists “spiritualizing” texts, or using a text to represent something else. For example, the story of David and Goliath. Goliath represents the world, David represents Christians, the brook is the Holy Spirit. David got five stones from the brook. He got the stone of standards,  the stone Scripture, the stone of supplication, the stone sacrificial giving, and the stone steadfastness. Of course, this is not true to the passage at all. I know that there are ways to apply texts to real life situations, but the hearer must be careful not to take spiritulizations as literal Bible teaching. They are pictures that can help us, but they are not the actual “sense” of the Scripture.

I have a pastor who helps us receive understanding. It is easy for me to read a verse and think that I understand it. I have pre-suppositions from a lifetime of church attendance and book-reading. And, sometimes, I’m wrong. (I know that’s a shock.) I am thankful that when I open my Bible each Sunday and Wednesday at church, I am fed and taught what God wants me to learn.

Lastly (and this isn’t from the verse), I have a pastor who is humble. He doesn’t stand behind that sacred desk and believe that he has all the answers. He does his best and asks God to bless it; to do a work in the hearts of people that no man can do. He often tells me on the way home from church, “Well, that was terrible.” But God can take what we call “terrible” and make it “useful” or even “wonderful”.

No, my pastor isn’t perfect. I happen to be married to him, so I know that better than anyone. (And he knows that about me more than any other church member!) But I see him fight for holiness in his private life. I see him struggle to understand God’s Word both through research and prayer. I see that he is doing his best to preach just as Nehemiah 8:8 describes. My prayer is that he will always be as he is now.

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A Rotten, Very Bad, Horribly Terrific Day

Monday: The most-hated day of the week. Most Mondays go okay for me. Of all the days of the week, I prepare the most meticulously for Monday. I suppose I do it because it seems to set the tone for the rest of the work-week. I lay out clothes, set my alarm thirty minutes earlier, have all of our lessons prepared and (usually) have the grocery list is made. I tackle my devotions, then get ready for the day, then we begin school. That lasts 4-5 hours. Then I go grocery shopping with whichever child has a turn that week.

My first mistake on this Monday, was not making my menu and grocery list on Sunday like I usually do. I have no excuse other than the one my kids always use: I didn’t feel like it. Shame on me. That was all it took to derail a perfectly good day. Well, that and the fact I was feeling a bit out of sorts for some reason. I blame womanhood.

I had started out okay. I’d had my devotional time. I’d gone on a two mile walk/run. I got dressed for the day. Ate breakfast, started school and then it all fell apart. Math was harder than usual. The doorbell rang. The kids asked me if we should hide. No, weren’t hiding, but I wasn’t answering., I told them. I got some emails with bad news. Did I mention that whole math thing? Yeah. That was pretty much the final straw right there at the beginning.

I frowned a lot today. I was snippy with the kids. I gave a lecture to one of the kids that (shudder) was probably an over reaction. Then, it was time to tackle that stupid menu and list! (If only food weren’t so important to life.) I made the list, clipped and gathered my coupons, checked my funds. got my oldest boy and left for the store.

And that’s when this rotten, very bad, horrible day got better.

Mitchell dropped forty Gospel tracts as we were leaving. Forty. He had counted them.

“What are you doing with those?” I asked.

“I’m giving them out at the store.” He said. “I want us to get over 100.” He said. (Our church keeps count of how many tracts we distribute each year. Last year, it was over 7,000, This year, so far, it’s about 70.)

I was thinking, “But I’m upset. I can’t go hand out tracts about the Lord. Nor can I be seen with someone doing that.” But I didn’t say anything, I just smiled. The feeling of humiliation was beginning at my feet and slowly creeping upward.

I know what you think about me. I was thinking it, too. “Why do I feel that way? Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Am I afraid?” I’m pretty sure my face turned red, but I didn’t have a mirror to see for sure.

Mitch hopped out at Walmart and promptly started placing tracts on the cars surrounding ours. I looked straight ahead, embarrassed. Then I was ashamed for being embarrassed. It was a tug-of-war in my heart! Where’s an altar when you need one? And “Just as I Am” being played on a piano? And a bunch of other Christians who love you and understand that you’re not exactly nuts, you’re just a sinner? I had no place to pray or anything. I tried to smile. But it was fake. I was all eaten up inside with my own problems. I just wanted to buy the food and get home and hide under the bed. Or something like that. But now I needed to go forward and repent.

I tried to ignore Mitchell as he handed them to everyone we passed and as he placed them on displays. I’m sure people wondered how in the world such a sweet, smiling boy could be with such a frowny-faced woman. I wondered that, too.

Well, without an altar or piano music, I repented. Right there in the aisles of Walmart, I asked the Lord to forgive me and help me. I changed my attitude. I started smiling. I stopped being embarrassed. I helped Mitch think of places to leave the tracts. I have to be real – I still felt somewhat downhearted, but the day was taking a much needed upswing!

As we left Walmart, I saw an elderly lady sitting on a bench outside of McDonald’s. She looked at Mitch with a smile of recognition and a wave. Mitch waved back, grinning ear-to-ear. He told me that he had started speaking with her at the self-checkout when he paid for something he had wanted. He smiles and talks to everyone, and they usually smile back.

I got home and put everything away, all the while wishing that the Earth would open up and swallow me. I don’t deserve this life. I had nothing about which to be discouraged. And from where, exactly, did these sweet children come? I know they didn’t get this sweetness from me. Maybe their dad? Nah. (Just kidding)

I often feel that as a parent, I’m supposed to have all the answers. But today, it was my son who taught the lesson. He taught me by his life. In fact, I’ve learned a lot from these five kiddos who call me “Mom”. Today, I was reminded not to let my emotions rule me and to be excited about the Savior.

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Me and Mitch. He made my bad day a wonderful one.

Telling others about Christ is a wonderful way to turn a horrible day, into a horribly terrific one.

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Startling Grief

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My fabulous mom and dad.

My dad died over ten years ago. It was very sudden; there was no time for a goodbye. The heartache of that loss is with me, in some measure, every day. It sweeps over me when I hear a song he used to like, or see a book he read to me as a child, things like that. It happens all the time. I usually don’t burst out in tears or have difficulty controlling myself. I embrace those memories and thank God for the wonderful Dad that loved me and raised me.

But today, it was different. My mother sent us a CD that she had bought when she visited us in Topeka, Kansas, in May of 2004. She was recently cleaning out drawers and came across it. She mailed to us to see if we wanted it, and so that Mitchell could listen to a particular song, which was a piano solo. As the music began, the tears began, too. I remembered that visit, the last time I ever saw my dad, the last time I felt his embrace, his kiss on my cheek; the last time I saw the glistening of tears in the laugh lines beside his eyes and smelled his cologne. It all came back like an ocean wave, knocking me down. I cried. My kids were all standing there, staring at me with worried expressions. I continued to sob, scrunching up my face in an ugly way. I decided not to try to stop my tears but let them pour. A while later I had a headache and my face was splotchy. I looked like I did ten years ago, right after he died! I was a mess.

But that describes grief. It’s messy, it’s unpredictable, and it’s part of being human. My mother is more private than I am. I worry that I tax her inside because I share too much of what I’m feeling about everything under the sun. She never scolds me or corrects me. She just stands a little taller and gives me a look that says, “I understand you, even though you’re not like me. And I love you just the way you are.”

And with that thought, I have to go shed some more tears. Tears of gratitude to God for giving me the two most wonderful parents that ever walked on the planet.

With love,

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