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Give Mom What She Wants for Christmas

photoWell, tonight’s the night. Tonight’s the night that we dust off our Messiah handbooks and haul ourselves off to Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, where a quartet of talented soloists will join forces with Symphonicity to present Handel’s Messiah. And, in what might be the most charitable gesture of the season, they will let people like us sing along.

This will be Symponicity’s 32nd Messiah performance. I figure we’ve been to at least half of ’em; it’s what my mother wants for Christmas every year. She doesn’t seem to care that the lowest grade I got in college was in a course called Music Appreciation. I’d tell you how my kids really feel about the annual event, except that my mom is probably my most faithful blog reader. Suffice it to say, we will don our gay apparel (and yes, there was a year when I wore “the sweater”), clear our throats, and let ’er rip.

And it won’t be pretty. I made my kids take piano lessons (as did my mother before me, and her Juilliard-trained mother before her), but almost none of it stuck. And it’s not just words like allegro (which is not, as it turns out, a pasta dish) that mess us up. We don’t always get even the English words right. For years, Hillary lifted her sweet little soprano voice and warbled, Come for tea! Co-o-ome…for…tea! Little did she know that Handel wasn’t into Earl Grey; he was drawing from Isaiah 40, proclaiming the tender and redemptive “Comfort Ye” power of God.

So why, if we can’t read music and we don’t even sing the right words, do we go to this thing every year?  Maybe it’s because of verses like Ephesians 6:2-3, which remind us that “Honor Your Father and Mother” is a commandment that comes with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

I will admit that I started going to The Messiah with my mom because I knew this verse and I didn’t want to get hit by a bus. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to actually like the music. (Appreciate it, even.) And, although I could be imagining things, I think the complain-o-meter on my kids is starting to drop, too.

Because here’s the thing about a Messiah sing-along. It doesn’t matter whether or not you can recognize a treble clef or even sing on key (although it helps if you don’t park small children in the bass section, which we have been known to do). You can go and pretend to sing—and when you do, you’ll get a short course in biblical prophecy, the events surrounding the birth of Christ, and a rafters-raising “Hallelujah” about God’s eternal reign that is worth the price of admission right there. (And Mom, don’t be emailing to tell me that the event is free; I am just trying to make a point.)

Speaking of…I guess the point of this blog (and I really hope my kids are still reading) is that you should give your mom what she wants for Christmas. You might not appreciate her taste. You might not even think it’s a good present. But she will like it. And, chances are (and with a nod to Ephesians 6), it will wind up being good for you, too.

 

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Friday Prayer for Help and Protection

Psalm 121Psalm 121 is the passage my mom asked us to learn this year (a Scripture verse, and going to the Messiah sing-along, is what she wants for Christmas every year).  With less than a week to go, I think my family might have a better shot at memorizing the Hallelujah Chorus than nailing the whole psalm, but we are trying.  And I gotta hand it to her; Mom picked a good one.  In addition to being just plain majestic, Psalm 121 is chock full of powerful prayer promises.

If you (or someone you love) could use an extra measure of help, strength, or protection, Psalm 121 has you covered.  Try praying the whole thing, or just use the last two verses:

Heavenly Father, keep _____ from all harm.  Watch over his/her life.  Watch over his/her coming and going, both now and forevermore.  (Psalm 121:7-8)

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One Word for the New Year

photo 1 “What if one thing could improve your life in incredible ways?  What if One Word could mean the difference between repeated failure and newfound success?”

That’s the offer made inside the book jacket on this little book written by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon, three guys who’ve experienced more than a little bit of success in business, athletics, and family life.  I got a copy of One Word after meeting Jimmy at a lacrosse tournament (he was coaching a Fellowship of Christian Athletes team), and I think it’s terrific.

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which, studies show, are abandoned by half of the people who make them by the end of January),  Jimmy and his family pick one word–things like serving, purpose, surrender, grace, determination, connect, and shine–each year.  Then they “live it”–with some pretty remarkable (and sometimes challenging) results.

If you’re tired of making commitments that revolve around things like exercising more, drinking less, or managing your money (yawn), or if you just want a fresh take on the New Year to share with your family (or with a circle of friends; a few girls and I have been “picking words” for years, and praying each other through the transformations they effect), why not give One Word a try?  You’ll find tips on quieting your heart, discovering “your” word, and then learning to live it, powerfully, no matter what 2015 brings your way.

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You are Loved

Like many of you, I have been following the University of Virginia rape story, a sensational, horrific, and (as it turns out) inaccurate account published last month by Rolling Stone magazine.  As a U.Va. alum with three Wahoo daughters (two have graduated; Virginia is in her third year there now), the school is dear to my heart, and the students dearer still.

Even with the magazine’s reporting now discredited, almost everyone agrees that there are problems that still need fixing:  Students drink too much, the “hookup culture” contributes to confusing relationships, and sexual misconduct – while arguably not the norm at U.Va. – certainly takes place, and no matter how you parse the statistics (and there have been dozens of studies trotted out), one rape is one rape too many.

If you’ve read even a handful of my blogs, you know that I don’t use this space for social or political commentary and – despite having a host of strong and not necessarily well-informed opinions – I don’t plan to start spouting off now.  I wouldn’t even mention the story except for this photo, which Virginia texted to me early yesterday morning:

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YOU ARE LOVED.

That’s the message on Beta Bridge, the oft-painted University landmark that doubles as a billboard for parties, charity events and – too often, at least this year – a community’s grief.

How fitting that these words – YOU ARE LOVED – would show up during Advent, a season when the space between heaven and earth seems to shrink, a time when we mortals may stop, even just for a moment, to consider how God sees the world.  How he sees us.  And how he longs to breathe new life into our lives, to fill our hearts with hope, and to show us how incredibly much we are loved.

You are loved.  Amid a cacophony of finger pointing – It’s the fraternites’ fault!  It’s the administration’s fault!  It’s the parents!  The government!  The police! – this is a message that cuts through the noise.  It’s a message that offers hope.  It’s a message U.Va. needs to hear.

It’s a message we all – with our anger, our pride, our confusion, and our pain – need to hear.

Hear it now:  You are loved.

 

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Peace On

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I suppose every community in America has its own version of a Grand Illumination, but I must admit to being partial to 43rd Street in Virginia Beach, which gets “lit again” every year on the first Sunday in December.  It’s a tradition that reportedly began when a few well-intentioned residents put up colored lights for their kids and drew the ire of the more socially respectable “white lights” crowd–whose complaints sparked a rebellion of Christmas cheer.  Take a stroll down the pedestrian-friendly block today and you’ll find everything from dancing Santas and falling snowflakes to a giant replica of the “fragile” Leg Lamp made famous in A Christmas Story.

It’s a remarkable, joyful display.  That being said, the residents are not professional decorators or master electricians, and things don’t always go as planned.  One year, one of the homes featured a real live corps of marching tin soldiers.  It was a brilliant concept tempered only, it would appear, by an overabundance of eggnog.  Another time, one holly jolly husband decided to board up all the windows on his house so as to be able to “wrap and bow” the whole thing–an ambitious move that probably triggered some sort of post-traumatic holiday disorder in his wife, who was condemned to spend the entire season in darkness.

Perhaps my favorite whoopsie, though, happened last year.  Robbie and I were bundled up against the cold, along with several hundred happy revelers, and as we made our way down the street, we came upon a beautiful old beach cottage.  The crowd prepared to take in this new display, the homeowner flipped the switch, and…Peace On.

That was it.  Maybe it was the fact that it had rained earlier in the day, maybe it was a faulty extension cord, maybe it was some “Made in China” conspiracy to derail the American Christmas spirit, but for whatever reason, that’s all we got.  Not Peace On Earth or Peace be with You or even Peace Out.  Just Peace On.

And it was perfect.

It reminded me of John 14:27, where Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”  Paraphrased (and perhaps with a nod to the ’70s), I think the Lord might well have been saying, “Peace on.”

We live in a world that is anything but peaceful.  But let’s not grow anxious or upset, and let’s not give into fear.  Instead, let’s keep God’s promise in mind.  He has given us peace–he IS our peace–and even if we can’t memorize the whole of John 14:27, we can still take hold of the unshakable security that comes when we put our trust in Christ and proclaim, along with the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Peace on.

 

 

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