The Gentleman

I love this picture.

Christian took it with his drone when the two of us snuck away last fall to Rockland Lake State Park in Rockland County, NY.  He also made this movie:

When I caught sight of this amazing creature, it took my breath away.  Bursts of autumn rusts and golds amid the greens served as the perfect backdrop for the lone marvel of the sky, its stately reflection dancing up towards the sunlight.  The bird, majestic and graceful, its wings outstretched, its blue-gray feathers gently moving with deep, deliberate strokes above the water.

How effortlessly he seemed to fly, this great blue heron, his twiggy legs dangling, his long powerful wings carrying wherever he wished.  So handsome was he, this “Lord of Rockland Lake”, clothed in sunlight and splendor.

I named him The Gentleman.

In homeschool this week, we are studying gentleness, which our family counselor, Dr. Wayne Schantzenbach, describes as, “strength under control.”  The kids and I have enjoyed many conversations about this important character quality, one which Christian and I strive to not only instill in our children but also model for them.

We sometimes fail, sometimes miserably, but it remains a goal.  And we’ve found that the “I’m sorry”s that follow the failing often serve to teach and grow us up together.

I’m thankful to have Someone to Whom I can turn for help in the midst of my struggles, the One whose gentleness surpasses all.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV).

Thank You, Lord, for this majestic bird, a breathtaking reminder of Your unsurpassed strength that can carry and keep us through every storm – and beyond.

Never Stop Singing

Have you ever had a dream crushed in an instant?

The aftermath can last long.  Like 25 years.

As a child, I loved to play outside.  My favorite was the swing.  I could swing for hours and hours, cherishing the rocking motion that moved my wiggly body high into the sky.  But better still was what I did while I swung.

Sing.

Oh, how I loved to sing!  I dreamt constantly of being a worship leader at church someday, writing my own songs, and leading others in praise to God.  Most of the time, I sang just for Him.  Songs I knew from church and school.  Songs I’d heard on the record player.  Even songs I made up as I went along, belting them out at the top of my lungs, arms extended and free, smiling and twirling all around, shining before my Best Friend.

Until one chilly winter day.

Sixth grade came with many changes in my life.  My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, so my family moved closer to help during her illness.  I switched schools (as I had the previous year), and within the first week of attending, I encountered a difficult situation in, of all things, music class.

The teacher, whom I happened to like very much, asked the class of about 20 to go around the room and sing two lines of a common song so that she could hear the sound of each voice.  Everyone complied as did I when my turn arrived around child 16 or so, but as I finished, something horrible happened.

Everyone laughed.  Even the teacher smothered a grin.

At first, I thought something silly had happened, like a poster falling off the wall and sticking to the bushy, well-plastered hairdo seated behind me.  But as I glanced around, reality struck hard and fast as tears filled my eyes.  I sunk lower in my seat.  The teacher held up her hands and motioned for the kids to settle down.

“Now, now,” she said with too big of a smile, “we are all different and have different sounds.  That’s why I want to hear all of you.  Next, please.”  And just like that, she moved onto number 17 but not before the damage was done.

Two short lines had broken my heart.

Interestingly enough, I hadn’t really given much thought to how I sounded.  Ever.  I had always sung for an audience of One, enjoying the sheer joy of the experience simply for “the doing” of it.  Comparison and competition weren’t on my radar.

Not until the moment when I thought others labeled me “horrible”.

In retrospect, I think I totally misread the reason for their laughter that day.  My father had affectionately and appropriately nicknamed me Little Mouse during my toddler years because my voice was high and squeaky.  When I’d sung the two lines, I now believe neither my teacher nor the other students expected such a high pitch to come out of me, hence their surprised response.

But for years, I’d thought they laughed at me and my singing, so, unfortunately, I believed “them”.  I bore my wound in silence until many years later.  I could’ve ended the pain that day, that miserable moment in sixth grade, by quitting.  Tossed my records and tapes, lyrics and chords, background vocal tracks and piano music into the trash, determining once and for all to never succumb to such ridicule again.

However, there was one ginormous complication to this would-be arrangement.

I couldn’t stop singing.

Tunes kept popping out when I least expected.  I sang while playing in my room, riding my bike, taking a shower, unloading the dishwasher, walking the dog, riding in the car.  So I adjusted to my perceived reality, hiding behind powerful voices in choirs and groups but never attempting a solo.  Over time, I sang more and more, joining various worship teams, deciding the risk was worth it.  More and more contemporary Christian worship music kept coming out, and as it did, I couldn’t keep my song in.

I’m grateful I didn’t.

Today, I’m the Children’s Ministry Worship Leader at my church.  I’ve written and directed a children’s Christmas musical, and I recorded my first song with Nat Jenkins Music last week.  Not to mention all of the FUN my family has singing in our home!

No bragging here.  God gets all the glory for everything good in my life.  I’m well aware that apart from a lot of heart-healing and by His grace, all of these things (and countless others) would never have happened.

I simply share my story to encourage you to never stop using and developing the gifts God’s given you.  No matter the criticism, no matter the struggle.  Hide in the choir for awhile if need be, that’s okay, but don’t give up.  Never, never give in and allow your wounds to define who you are.  He can give you the courage to face your fears, His love to heal your hurting heart, and the strength to rise and try once again.

And sing.

Through It All

I had the privilege of spending last weekend on a Ladies’ church Retreat in Long Beach Island, NJ.  What a wonderful time!

We stayed in a large retreat center right on the water.  Our back door opened to a sandy beach and long dock over the water.  The view took my breath away and gave quiet respite to my soul.

Since breaking my foot in June, my leg and foot muscles have not yet returned to their pre-injured state, so I probably should not have eagerly participated in a pickup volleyball game wherein I wrenched my right knee.  It’s slowly healing, but I’ve learned my lesson.  Strength training and toning for me throughout the remainder of the year.

The best part was the testimonies.  Women of all ages and life stages came forward to share how God had worked in their lives over the years and how He still moves hearts and minds today.  Friend after friend got up and spoke about various trials and heartaches, joys and sorrows, pain and loss.  Some had lost parents or children, others homes and husbands.  One woman had been raped at knife point.

Courage and strength shone through their countenances as each described how the Lord had carried them in the midst of suffering.  Some stood in the midst of fire even as their shared, believing their Lord would continue holding them up by His mighty right hand, challenging me to trust Him whatever storms come my way.

I spoke about my family and some of the trials we’ve faced.  Then, my friend Ivette and I sang Through It All, an oldie but goodie by Andrae Crouch.  I’m pasting the link below – may God bless you through its message.