“No.”

My little bitty girl is 6 months old today! We celebrated by going to my old school, attending chapel, and seeing my old students. And then, to make her half birthday even more special, I made my mom’s chicken and dumplings.

chicken dumplingsNot that Julia would get to eat any of it.

But this is the ultimate in comfort food for me! There’s nothing like a soft biscuit to sop up all of the juicy wonderfulness from the chicken, celery, and carrots on your plate. Julia must have gotten the memo, because she was EXCEEDINGLY interested in the pot that I was stirring on the stove.

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I mean, come on, wouldn’t you want to touch that shiny pot? I’m sure the savory smell was driving her nuts, in addition to the fact that she was sitting on her mom’s hip SO close to the action! She kept reaching her hand out, and I kept saying, “No!” It’s hot!” She even got to the point where she was leeeeaaaning as far as I would let her, trying to get her hand on that saucepan.

This is the quintessential sermon illustration on God’s sovereignty and wisdom vs. man’s worldly desires. Just like a mother will not allow a child to touch a hot stove (even if they really want to!), in the same way, God will not allow us to have something that will hurt us.

Even if we really want it.

Even if we’re PRAYING for it.

He loves us enough that He’d rather see us struggle with frustration and disappointment than give us something that would not be for our ultimate good and His glory.

I used to ask my 7th graders, “Does God always answer prayer?” The goody-goodies would say, “Yes.” The ones who really thought about the question and the fact that they prayed in vain for a porsche would say, “No.” The truth is that God DOES always answer prayer…but “no” is a valid answer!

So is “wait.” So is, “Yes, and I’ll give you even more than you asked!”

Now, I just need to remember this when I’m dealing with the disappointments that come every day. I know that everything that happens is orchestrated for my good, even if it’s not what I want! When I’m frustrated because things don’t happen quickly enough, easily enough, or inexpensively enough, I must keep in mind that the character qualities that the Lord is using these situations to build far outweigh the inconveniences I’m experiencing. God is just protecting me from the hot stove.

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Caroling, caroling, through the…palm trees…

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Christmas caroling combines some of my very favorite things in the whole world: Christmas, singing, and making people happy.  There is a group of alumni from the school where I teach who go around every Christmas, caroling at the homes of their former teachers. I was actually a recipient of this tradition my first year as a teacher, but every year since then, I’ve  been a participant. The group has evolved as older students have graduated college and moved away, and this year, with one exception, all 14 of the singers had actually been enrolled in my high school choir class at one point or another.

We always gather in the afternoon for practice (because, of course, we sing in 4 part harmony!), have a quick potluck dinner, and head out as soon as the sun is down to complete a 45-mile loop that hits up about 8 different homes. Julia enjoyed all of the attention and festivities, and even made it to the first 4 houses or so, before her fatigue was evident and Mr. Poole took her home. I really have the best husband in the world – he doesn’t even like singing, but he tagged along in a separate car, just so that when Julia got fussy, I could feed her one more time and then send them home!

julia caroling

(That’s Julia in her caroling outfit with my dear friend and former choir mom, Mrs. K, who hosted our pre-caroling festivities.)

Anyway, things went along as planned, albeit with a fussy baby in the mix this year. We rehearsed a few additions to our repertoire, ate our lasagna, I fed Julia one last time, and we headed out. The fourth house on the list was that of our venerated Bible teacher and his four adorable kids. By this time, Julia was getting upset because she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t all cozy in her crib, and she wanted to go to bed. So, as the students sang a few extra songs at the Bible teacher’s house, I headed to my car to feed Julia again, hoping to settle her down and send her home with Mr. Poole.

Meanwhile, the kids were having fun talking with their old teacher in the front lawn, and they were racking their brains for some impressive selection they could throw together for him. “Let’s do the Hallelujah Chorus!” someone suggested.

The Hallelujah Chorus, or anything from Handel’s Messiah, is not easy. It was definitely not one of the songs in our carol books, and we had certainly not rehearsed it. There are parts that come in all over the place, it changes keys several times, and attempting it without a conductor or an orchestra is quite a feat for amateurs. However, it is the quintessential piece of standard choral literature, and so we had sung it almost every year that I taught high school choir. But there I was, stuck in my car with a nursing four-month-old, listening to this conversation unfold and unable to participate or help!

And then I realized, “Wow, right here is a test of everything I stood for as a choir director for six years. Will a rag-tag group of my former students, who were never all in the same group together, be able to recall and perform a difficult piece of literature that none of them had sung in years? Out of all of the music in the whole world, I would have hoped that the Hallelujah Chorus would be ingrained in their hearts the most, but I was about to experience a true-to-life test of the longevity of my musical instruction in these students’ lives.

caroling 2012a

Different people have different philosophies of music education. To some, the ultimate goal is to see your students major in music in college, and go on to become professional singers and instrumentalists. For others, they seek after perfection in their performances with their ensembles, pushing their groups year after year to higher and harder musical standards. As a Christian, the purpose of everything I did as a choir teacher was to glorify God, and to teach my students to glorify God with their voices. This was my number one priority. In one sense, I could already see fruit of this goal – for goodness’ sake, here were a bunch of graduates out late on a Thursday night, blessing people’s souls by singing to them!

But if I had a number two priority as a teacher, it would not be to have students who were professional musicians, or even students who participated in their college choirs. My desire is that every student who came through my choir would become a person who truly appreciated good music. After all, it’s the people buying music and paying for concert tickets who will fund the future of music in the world, right? Part of appreciating music meant exposure to the bread and butter of choral repertoire. I suppose if my students could perform the Hallelujah Chorus from memory, unrehearsed, several years after being in my class, that would reveal whether I had been a successful choir teacher or not!

Well, it was not the most perfect rendition of Handel’s classic, but they made it all the way through to the very end, and it might have been the most meaningful performance I’d ever heard. I was close to tears, sitting there in my car, listening to my kiddos, now big grown-up college students, belting out those Hallelujahs with all of their hearts.

caroling 2012bw

“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Halelujah!”

“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ! And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!”

It was as if the Lord answered a little doubt I had in the back of my mind that night – the little doubt that said, “Did I finish the work I needed to complete as a choir teacher?” I am so happy and fulfilled as a full-time mommy now, but every once in a while I wonder if I gave up too big of an opportunity to impact eternity during these stay-at-home years. But somehow, in those four minutes in somebody’s front lawn, I felt sure of two things: one, that I had had a significant musical impact in these students’ lives, and two, that my job was done.

I’d passed the test as a music teacher, so now I must face ahead to the newest chapter of my life, knowing that there are many tests to come!

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Gloria In Excelsis Deo

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.

I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!!!!! Our Church choir put on our first concert of the Christmas season on Sunday night. We based the program on the above Gloria text and performed settings by Mozart, Haydn, Randol Alan Bass, and (most famously) Vivaldi. (You can watch the first movement of our Vivaldi Gloria performance here.) It was SO MUCH FUN! Especially for me, now out of the daily choral-directing scene since becoming a full-time mom. If I can’t direct a choir, then singing in a choir is the next best thing!

Our choir consists of a dedicated group of amateurs. Dedicated, but amateur. Based on the repertoire chosen for concerts, however, one might be under the impression that our director thinks that we’re professionals. But time and again, no matter how difficult the music and how unprepared we may feel, when we put on our fancy black clothes, add real live professional soloists and instrumentalists, dim the lights, and pray super-hard right before going on stage, somehow it always comes together.

This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed countless times as a musician. God takes a meager musical offering and without fail turns it into something magnificently beyond ourselves. And it’s no wonder – He invented music in order that we might glorify him! So when we do muster up all our talent and attempt something beyond our natural capabilities, and then we do succeed in making beautiful music, it is obvious that it had nothing to do with the performers and everything to do with God blessing his servants. And that is how God is most glorified – in our greatest weaknesses. You gotta love 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

So… My responsibilities last night involved a) conducting a selection from the Bach Christmas Oratorio, and b) singing one of the solo movements in the Vivaldi Gloria.

First let me tell you about responsibility a). I love conducting way too much. So I was pretty psyched when our director, who is a trumpet player, asked me to conduct so that he could play. This piece was scored for strings, trumpet, and baritone soloist, and in typical J.S. Bach fashion, had so much syncopation that I had to restrain myself from dancing off the podium. I was completely unfamiliar with the piece, though, so it was a little challenging for me to follow the soloist’s tempo changes in the sections where the singer can be more free. Also, I’m not as adept at directing an orchestra, which requires a baton. (In choral conducting, you just use your hands.) But I was still excited about dusting off my trusty Mollard baton and waving it at some instrumentalists.

And then, as I was exiting my car right before the concert, this happened:

Oh, my dear, beloved, beautiful, faithful, Curly Maple Mollard baton.

You carried me through college and six years as a music teacher. I remember well the day I met you. For years, I had passed the Mollard booth every January at the National Association for Music Educator’s convention and had considered buying one. And then, as a college freshman music education major, the time had finally come. I had waited all year to return to the baton booth to hand-select one that would fit me perfectly. I tried out so many that day, but you, my dear Curly Maple Mollard, called my name. We were instant friends. I toted you to and from rehearsal for years. Could you ever forget the first time that you helped me conduct Handel’s Messiah? I was nervous and shaky all over, but you, dear Mollard, remained firm and straight. I am so sorry that you had to perish in such an ignoble act of clumsiness on my part…would that I had paid the extra $8 for a carbon fiber shaft! You shall remain close to my heart forever.

The passing of my dearly beloved Curly Maple Mollard signified the end of an era in my life. I immediately assumed I would replace it, until I contemplated how often I actually would require my own baton in the years to come. And in researching current prices, I realized that with the same amount of money, I could buy those two Bumgenius 4.0 cloth diapers that I really wanted. A new baton? Or more diapers?

It’s finally hitting me that my life is completely, completely different.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Okay, enough mourning over my deceased baton. (In case you’re wondering, I was able to borrow one from our choir director, and I conducted the Bach imperfectly, but with great enthusiasm.) On to a discussion of the second of my two responsibilities at Sunday’s concert. That is, singing one of the solo movements in the Vivaldi Gloria.

I am not an opera singer.

That look says, “Heh, heh, here I am pretending to sing an aria! But I’d really rather be hiding behind the piano, belting out some Hillsong!”

I have a bachelor’s of music degree, but it’s in music education, with piano as my principal instrument. I can sing well enough to teach choir and try my hand at pop and contemporary music, but I don’t have that full, resonant, LOUD quality that makes it obvious when a pro takes the stage. I was honored that our director asked me to sing one of the solos, since we were paying professional singers from Florida Grand Opera to come and do some of the other solos, but it’s kind of intimidating to be in a situation when I’m compared with people who are really trained in that genre. Like our amazing local soprano celebrity, CJ, who makes the floodgates of heaven pour out upon the audience each time she opens her mouth. She is brilliant and beautiful and we are so lucky to have her in our little choir when she’s not touring the world as a colouratura.

That look says, “Here I am singing an aria that I was BORN to sing!”

So I did a bit of praying on my own before the concert. (I had to sneak in a feeding just minutes before we had to be on stage, so I had the perfect quiet space and time to spend with God as Julia was guzzling down her dinner.) I prayed that God would help me sing my aria better than I had ever sung it before, and that He would turn my unworthy vessel into something beautiful that could glorify Him in a special way.

I remember the first time I prayed that prayer! I was a fifth grader, and I had a little role in the school Christmas play.

My part involved a bunch of lines, and a solo near the end of the show. We had rehearsed for months and months and when the night came, all of a sudden, my voice was gone. I must have been getting a cold or something, because within hours of the opening curtain, the only thing coming out of my vocal folds was a squeak! The butterflies in my stomach regressed into squirmy worms, and when I thought life couldn’t get any worse, my wireless lapel microphone stopped working halfway through scene three. I was putting everything I had within me to yell out my lines, unamplified, into the 1500-seat auditorium, but all that came out was raspy croaking. I was heartbroken – the fake tears I was supposed to shed in scene six were real tears that night. And all I could think about was my solo at the end of the show. During one of the last scene changes, I remember praying with all of my heart, “Lord, please, please let my voice come back for my solo.” The time came, somebody gave me a handheld mic that worked, the intro started, and as I started singing, I remember realizing in amazement that God had answered my prayer. My voice was working. His strength had been made perfect in my weakness.

And again last night, God’s strength was made perfect in my weakness when it came to singing. Because even though my post-pregnancy belly could have used some additional abdominal support, and even though the harpsichord was off by three beats at the beginning, and even though my heartbeat was probably triple the tempo of the song, I suddenly remembered what I was singing:

“Domine Deus, Rex Coelestis, Deus Pater Omnipotens. Lord God, King of Heaven, God the Father Almighty.”

God the Father Almighty.

Out of all of the musicians who came to perform that night, I’m the one who got to sing about God being a parent.

If that doesn’t bring a smile to this little mama’s heart, I don’t know what does! How amazing it is that God lets us mere mortals experience a taste of what He is like when we get to be mothers and fathers of these little children that He loans to us. And what a blessing it is to me that as I love, hold, care for, and comfort little Julia, I can remember that God is a parent, too.

Maybe I sang well, maybe I didn’t, but I sure was filled with inexplicable joy on Sunday night. Glory to God in the Highest!

A Baby Changes Everything

Meet Julia.

This is the bundle of joy responsible for making me a mommy! She came into the world three and a half months ago – on August 6, 2012 at 5:54pm.

Let me backtrack a little bit. Eight months before Julia was born, I didn’t even know she existed when the music director at church asked me to perform the song, “A Baby Changes Everything” for our Christmas concert and also for the Christmas Eve service. The song is written from Mary’s perspective, of course, about how the birth of Christ changed not only her life but the entire course of history. I prepared the song, orchestrated it, and memorized it, and the first performance went beautifully, if not meaningfully. (You can watch it here.) And then a few days later, I found out I was pregnant! Let me tell you – that second performance of “A Baby Changes Everything” was an unforgettable moment in my life. I remember that Christmas Eve, as I played and sang my heart out, I closed my eyes and was overcome with how true the words were. My world had already taken a complete spin when I found out that I was going to become a mother. I knew that everyone would soon be telling me, “A baby changes everything!” and I already knew it was true. But since it was Christmas Eve, I was also wrapping my mind around the fact that the God of the universe had chosen a young woman like me to bear the instrument of His eternal redemption. In a much deeper sense, that baby – Jesus – changed EVERYthing.

So, that is what this blog is about. It’s not only about how my baby has changed my life and the lives of the people around me, but it’s about how Jesus changes everything. Without faith in Christ Jesus, it is impossible to have forgiveness from sin. That is the reason that God the Father sent His Son into the world – to rescue fallen humanity and offer a restored relationship to those who would trust in Christ’s death and resurrection. Being a mother brings me great joy, but the greatest joy is knowing that I have an eternal hope waiting in heaven for me. Amen? Amen!

P.S. When the time came to announce my pregnancy to the high school choir, I wrote new words to “A Baby Changes Everything” and performed it for them. Here’s the video of what happened: