Every Valley

"Every Valley" by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

It’s a strange thing to be making cookies and wrapping presents,
When wars are raging,
When families are crumbling,
When parents are burying their children.

The news is hard to watch this week.
Tears come easily, yet so does relief…
Which brings with it a twinge of guilt.

How do we reconcile the great cosmic chasm –
Our world has more than its share of darkness, pain, and evil,
Yet we move in and breathe the reality of Starbucks, Amazon, and Buddy the Elf.

Perhaps it’s more of a dual reality to be acknowledged than a chasm to be crossed.

This year during Advent, we’ve been working our way through listening to Handel’s Messiah (schedule found below). Each day, we’ve been listening to a few of the songs after reading the corresponding passages of scripture.

We’ve read, then listened, then listened again. I’ve heard the music of the Messiah throughout much of my life, yet this year, it’s as if I’ve really heard it for the first time. As we’ve listened intently to each song, a divine magic has transpired. Handel’s music, echoing its ancient truths and promises, has become our own. To enjoy, to discuss, to savor, to absorb.

The children composed poems in response to several of the songs.  I’ve woven a few of them together as a memorial stone for this Advent season. This is Handel’s Messiah, as seen through the eyes, heard through the ears, and experienced in the hearts of my young ones:

Heaven kissed earth
He came as a whisper, a snowfall, a spark

 He was born in a manger
Dingy
Dirty
Dusty

 Heaven crawled through the dust
He played in the garden
He healed the sick,
Yet his work was not done

 He was beaten and whipped
Crushing
Cruel
Cold

He wore a crown of thorns on his head
Stinging
Sharp
Steel

He let himself be hung on the cross
Piercing
Painful
Perfect sacrifice

He rose from the dead
Amazing
Awesome
Awestruck

He will come again victorious
Blinding darkness with light,
Death will gasp its final breath
Evil forever defeated,
Then all the wrongs through history
Will finally be made right

 Ribbon will wind through
The hot dry desert
Rainbow to straighten curves

 Every mountain will become low
Every valley high
Every mansion will become small
Every cottage will grow

 The hungry shall have banquets laid out before them,
The imprisoned shall have their chains dashed to the ground

The large rocks will shrink
Pebbles will grow to boulders
All will be even

The valley will rise
Mountains will disintegrate
All will be even

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

 

We spent days contemplating the implications of twelve words uttered by the prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low.”

Every valley.

Do we really believe it? Down deep where our core beliefs compose the background music that sets the tone for our everyday lives?  Even when wars rage and children are murdered? When evil rears its head and seems to be winning? When our lives, our plans, our dreams are crumbling?

Every valley.

That’s what He came to do, after all.

To heal the blind.

To bind up the brokenhearted.

To make all the wrongs right.

For in this, we can place our hope.

So bake your cookies,
and wrap your presents,
and sing the carols for the world to hear.

Through each small hopeful act,
You’re shining a light into darkness,
Taking part in raising valleys and lowering mountains,
Preparing a way in the desert
For the One who was,
And is,

And is to come.

 

 

Artwork by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

– – –

Day 1 (11 minutes):

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5

1. Symphony
2. Recitative (Tenor) “Comfort Ye…”
3. Air (Tenor) “Every Valley…”
4. Chorus “And the Glory …”

Day 2 (6 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2:6, 7, Malachi 3:1-3

1. Recitative (Bass) “Thus saith the Lord…”
2. Air (Bass) “But who may abide…”
3. Chorus “And he shall purify…”

Day 3 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:14, 40:9, 60:1

1. Recitative (Alto) “Behold, a Virgin…”
2. Air (Alto) “O, thou that tellest…”
3. Chorus “Arise, Shine…”

Day 4 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 60:2-3, 9:2, 9:6

1. Recitative (Bass) “For behold, darkness…”
2. Air (Bass) “The people who walked in darkness…”
3. Chorus: “For unto us…”

Day 5 (8 Minutes)
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-14

1. Pifa
2. Recitative (Soprano) “There were shepherds…”
3. Recitative (Soprano) “And, Lo, the angel…”
4. Recitative (Soprano)” Ad the angel said…”
5. Recitative (Soprano) “And suddenly…”
6. Chorus “Glory to God in the highest…”

Day 6 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10

1. Air (Soprano) “Rejoice greatly…”

Day 7 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:5-6; 40:11, Matthew 11:28-30

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall the eyes of the blind…”
2. Aria (Alto) “He shall feed…” and “Come unto me…”
3. Chorus “His yoke is easy…”

Day 8 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: John 1:29

1. Chorus “Behold the Lamb…”

Day 9 (11 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:3, 50:6

1. Air (Alto) “He was despised…”

Day 10 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6

1. Chorus “Surely he hath borne…”
2. Chorus “And with his stripes…”
3. Chorus “All we like sheep…”

Day 11 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:7-8

1. Recitative (Tenor) “All they that see him laugh…”
2. Chorus “He trusted in God…”

Day 12 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 69:20, Lamentations 1:12

1. Recitative (Soprano) “Thy rebuke has broken…”
2. Arioso (Soprano) “Behold and see if…”

Day 13 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:8, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 24:7-10

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He was cut off…”
2. Air (Tenor) “But thou didst not leave…”
3. Chorus “Lift up your heads…”

Day 14 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 1:5, 6

1. Recitative (Tenor) “Unto which of the …”
2. Chorus “Let all the angels…”

Day 15 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 68:11, 18

1. Air (Bass) “Thou art gone up…”
2. Chorus “The Lord gave the word…”

Day 16 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:15

1. Duet (Soprano, Alto, Chorus) “How beautiful…”

Day 17 (1 minute)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10: 18

1. Arioso (Tenor) “Their sound…”

Day 18 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:1-3

1. Air (Bass) “Why do the nations…”
2. Chorus “Let us break…”

Day 19 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:4, 9; Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He that dwelleth in heaven…”
2. Air (Tenor) “Thou shalt break….”
3. Chorus “Hallelujah!!”

Day 20 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Job 19:25-26, I Corinthians 15:20

1. Air (Soprano) “I know that my Redeemer…”

Day 21 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:21-22

1. Chorus “Since by man…’

Day 22 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:51-53

1. Recitative (Bass) “Behold, I tell you a mystery…”
2. Air (Bass) “The trumpet shall sound…”

Day 23 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15: 54-56

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall be brought…”
2. Duet (Alto, Tenor) “O Death, where…”
3. Chorus “But thanks be to God…”

Day 24 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-34

1. Air (Alto) “If God be for us…”

Day 25 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Revelation 5:12-13

1. Chorus “Worthy is the Lamb…”

(Reading schedule was discovered here: http://morningtimemoms.blogspot.com/2014/08/25-days-to-handels-messiah-advent.html)

 

 



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Time Flies

time flies

time flies

Let me tell you about my 2-year-old. He loves life. He wakes early in the morning, eager for the adventures of the day. He is inquisitive about the way things work. He transforms long-forgotten remnants of this and that into tools, and he builds wood-block cities where the good guys decimate the bad guys on an hourly basis. He has a kind, generous heart and notices everything extraordinary that adults religiously dismiss. He has a sense of wonder and whimsy for which I yearn. He exudes the very essence of life.

I love my 2-year-old. But the thing is, he just turned 13. It happened when I blinked. As my eyes refocus on this newer version of my boy, I’m acutely aware that so much has changed. He has almost matched me in height.  He is the one recommending books to me, and I learn as much from our conversations (or more) than does he.  He is closer to a man than a boy, and the rate of change is just getting kicked into high gear.

Yet when I consider the best part of that 2-year-old, the truest, most human, most alive part of his soul, it is still just as present eleven years later.  The best part of my son is that which is eternal.  It doesn’t slip away with years, although I’ve been granted the privilege to see it grow and develop.  His joy, his compassion, his curiosity for life, his kindness and his creativity.  Those things remain. They were formed from a substance more foundational than atoms.  They are not bound (or marred) by the passage of time. The best part of my vibrant son, of my elderly grandmother, of you, and of me, won’t vanish with the years. It can’t be ended by a milestone birthday. Or even by a funeral.

Most of us have felt the twinge (or gut-wrenching) sadness that accompanies the milestones commemorated in our photo albums. We sigh, and with a mix of melancholy, nostalgia, sadness and yearning, we chant the parental mantra, “Time flies.”  Yet take heart.

Yes, time flies.

But I don’t want to stop it.  I want to climb on its back and soak up every inch of the scenery. I want to drink in the laughter, the tears, the soccer games, the visits to the ER, the blues skies and the torrential rains that this world has to offer. For when the cosmic clock is finally grounded, I will climb off its back, grateful for the wild and wonderful (full-of-wonder) ride.

So enjoy your toddlers, your teenagers, your grandchildren. Don’t miss one bit of the ride due to fear or regret. For the day is coming when the tarnish of time will be removed  from us all.  And underneath will be revealed the beauty, the creativity, the wonder, the whimsy, and the perfected love that was imprinted on our souls from the very foundations of the universe.

 

 



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Bach, Legos and Andrew Peterson

This is the story…
behind the video…
behind the book review…
behind the coveted Wingfeather picture…

Our family spent the better part of last year studying the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  Together, we journeyed through his childhood, his family, his character, and his music.  We discovered that his family was so well-known that it was common to be said of excellent musicians, “He’s quite a Bach.”  Branding at it’s best in the 1800’s.

If my children remember one thing from our study, I hope that it is the signature with which Bach signed his music.  “Soli Deo Gloria” To the Glory of God Alone.”  My youngest used the phrase for copywork.  We all memorized it, and spent a fair amount of time discussing how those words translate into everyday life.  For each child, there was a thoughtful application.  I’d like to share with you what it meant for one child in particular.  And then I invite you to consider what it may mean in your life.

Will, my 12-year-old, has always been an old soul.  He read The Chronicles of Narnia at a young age, and was eager to explain that the books were “really about God and Jesus in a fun way.”  His interests are distinctive.  Will devours books, often spends his hard-earned money on beakers (and copper wire, pvc pipe, you get the picture) for science experiments, has the mind of an engineer and the heart of a musician.  It’s quite a combination.

Last spring, the majority of his energies were focused on learning, practicing, and perfecting 3 pieces of Bach to be played at his sister’s wedding.  Quite an undertaking and somewhat of a stretch.  In the early, somewhat painful, stages of learning the music, he was convinced that he couldn’t do it.  Too much, too hard, too little time.  We pressed on, cheering “Soli Deo Gloria.”  Real world translation:

Perfect performance isn’t the goal.

Pouring out our talents and gifting for God’s glory is.

We’re called to humility in giving rather than pride in accomplishment.

In addition to the world of Bach, Will spends a fair amount of time in the world of Legos.  Stop-motion videos, to be precise.  I wish that I had the attention to detail and patience that are required to produce a 2 minute stop-motion video.  I don’t.  But Will has spent numerous hours in perfecting his technique.  Scenes from Star Wars, the Wilderking Trilogy, and various robberies have been immortalized in the form of Lego videos.  Soli Deo Gloria… how in the world does this phrase apply here?  It feels like a stretch at best.  Not quite of the magnitude of a shepherd boy spending years perfecting his shot with a sling…  but a stretch.

Then came the Andrew Peterson’s unexpected announcement that there would be a contest for bloggers reviewing his latest book, The Monster in the Hollows.  Let me admit that we’re serious fans, and that the children have been indoctrinated accordingly.  So knowing that the contest would most likely be entered by adults who were “real writers”, we chose to believe that it was true, regardless of the outcome:

Soli Deo Gloria. 

God doesn’t call us to be like others. 

He calls us to use our individual gifting to His glory.

When the reviews came pouring in, I allowed Will to read through a few.  “I can’t do that” was his response.  No, he couldn’t.  But he could give out of what he had.  He mustered up the courage to hope, and days later, he had created a video for The Monster in the Hollows.  He then wrote a review that came straight from his heart.  To my knowledge, he was the only child who entered the contest among many adults.

Weeks later, the big day came.  The announcement was made.  The family celebrated.  Will’s younger brother literally jumped up and down while he cheered, and his little sister threw her arms around his neck and rewarded him with her infectious kiss.  The coveted award to the winner was an original Wingfeather Saga drawing.   Will was able to choose his favorite character or scene from the book, and Andrew would get to work drawing.

After months of anticipation, I’m grateful to report that Andrew delivered the drawing and it will soon take up permanent residency in our home.  The jury is still out regarding its chosen location – either in our family library or in the boys’ room.  Here’s a peek:

On the back of the picture is the following inscription:

 

As summer fades into fall, and months compound into years, the excitement of winning the contest may lose some of its luster.  My hope is that as we continue to enjoy the drawing so generously crafted for Will, it will be a tangible memorial stone for our family.  It will serve as a reminder that yes, it is true:

When we offer our gifting, passions and desires back to the Great Creator to use for His glory, He can and will use anything to accomplish that purpose. 

Even little boys who likes to read clever books and create with Legos.

The Great Library at Ban Rona in it’s most likely spot – over Will’s library.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For more on the Wingfeather Saga (including Andrew’s upcoming book, The Warden and the Wolf King) visit here.

You can read Will’s review and watch the video here.



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The Other Side of the Stone

Recently, my husband and I snuck away for a weekend in the mountains.  Given life with 5 children who happen to be at such different stages (ages 7-24), our times away are precious and rare.  Through the years, we’ve learned that it’s a good idea to talk about expectations for our time away prior to departure.  Often, we try to run together in the mornings (ahem… that is, he’s gracious enough to jog at a much slower pace than he normally would, and I try to “gut it out” in the spirit of recreating together).   This trip, following a particularly busy season for our family, I opted out.  I wanted time alone to decompress.  He would run alone, and I’d take peaceful morning walks through the tranquil little town of Blowing Rock.

On our second morning away, I felt particularly refreshed from a good night’s sleep. Before I knew it, my morning walk picked up pace, and I found myself enjoying a slow, steady jog. The roads were desolate, the storefronts dark, and I wound my way down the main street, through the park, and eventually back toward the inn where we were staying.

Having been recently thinking and writing about stones, I was acutely aware of their various uses in the architecture around me.  They piled together creating a picturesque church, lined the sidewalks directing shoppers to their destinations, and paved the way to historic inns.  Yes, the stones represented strength, consistency through years, support and directionThese were good things.

Until…  I tripped.  Yes, as I was swept up in the imagery of the stones, the context abruptly shifted.  I had come to a place on the path where the larger stones had remained intact, but the areas around the stone had been worn away through seasons of use and erosion.  The tip of my shoe caught the edge, and I stumbled to keep from falling.  Hmmm.  Perhaps there is another dimension to the metaphor.

As we pick up in the story of Joshua (you can catch up here), Joshua lists all that God has done to protect and bless the Israelites.  Joshua then charges them to put away false gods (ie idols) and serve God only (Joshua 24:14-15).  Ok – that’s difficult to translate into today’s terms.   Although the concept of idols may seem irrelevant in our modern society, unfortunately, they are all too present in each of our worlds.

“We think that idols (counterfeit gods) are bad things, but that is almost never the case.  The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that we can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes.  Anything can serve as a counterfeit god.  Especially the very best things in life.”  Tim Keller

The people respond to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.” (Joshua 24:24)  Of course.  After all that they’d been through, they would be foolish not to.

Joshua takes a large stone to set up under a tree by the sanctuary of the Lord.  We’d expect him to say, “Great!  You’ve made a wise choice that will please your God and serve you well.  Here’s another memorial stone to remind you.”  Instead, his response is ”Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us, thus it shall be a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.” (Joshua 24:25-28)

Yikes.  The stone was not a reminder of their wise choice, rather it foreshadowed their fickle nature and inevitable return to false gods.  They, like us, overestimated their loyalty to the only One who could ultimately provide for them.

Think of the times you’ve been provided for.   Chances are, if they’re biggies, the provision came from beyond you.  Only God can bring us through the hardest of situations.  It is when we reach the end of our proverbial ropes that He will step in to rescue.  Yet we spend much of our energies trying to avoid that very thing.  We’re competent.  We’re resilient.  We construct our lives in ways that take control. We work hard to avoid dependence on God in the everyday – I can manage my life, thank you very much.  God can stick to the miracles and healings when I get in a pinch. And that posture of the heart, at its very core, is the  essence of idolatry.

What are some of the counterfeit gods in my life?  Financial security, a unique community of rich friendships, health and well-being of my family, excellent education for my children, intellectual pursuit, and even a healthy lifestyle.  These are good things, but things in which I ultimately place too much hope and significance.

As the memorial stones in life remind us of God’s provision, they should simultaneously serve as a caution to us.  They warn us of our defiant nature, and remind us of the places we take control and manipulate life rather than resting in the Father.  We try to gain our footing on the gravelly self-made crevices that exist between the solid, sustainable, eternal stones.  And because He’s good and wants what is best for us, He allows us to stumble.  He’s constantly calling us back to Himself.

So after stumbling on the side street of Blowing Rock, I’m reminded that I’m limited.  And that a richer, more peaceful life can be found if I’ll acknowledge my innate tendency to reject God by relying on my own strategies for life.  And the very, very good news is that I’ll find not shame nor condemnation, but rather hope and ultimate rest, when I consider “the other side of the stone.”



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Lest We Forget

For years, we’ve created and methodically stored boxes of pictures, have taken great care in preserving papers and programs of our children’s accomplishments, and have accrued far too many trophies and ribbons representing participation in the activity of the season.  Why the hours and meticulous care in documenting our lives?  We don’t want to forget.
Last year was a year of transition for our family.  Within a year, we had experienced an almost move to Nashville followed by a real-life move within Charlotte, my husband’s transition into a new job after his year at home, and the upcoming marriage of our daughter (just to name a few).  We had spent the prior year assuring our children that God knew what was best for our family, and our job was to believe and follow.  The old hymn “Trust and Obey” became the mantra in the heart of our home.

I love it when whatever we’re learning through study collides with what whatever we’re experiencing in life.  I imagine that if we slowed down the pace of life, created margin in our days, filled our minds with truth, and waited expectantly, we would experience such a phenomenon with much more frequency.  We were studying the life of Joshua with a local Bible Study (this is the part where I put in a plug for Community Bible Study in Charlotte). The story had reached a pivotal point.  The children of Israel had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness due to their own disobedience.  Finally, the time came for them to cross the Jordan River.  The Lord caused the waters to separate in order for them to cross over and enter the land of their inheritance.  After all they had experienced – the hardship, the disappointment, the heartache, and the longing, the moment had come. It would be a day that they would never forget.  God’s forgiveness.  God’s provision.  God’s faithfulness.  God’s abundance.  Or would they…

The perfect Father knew the fickle nature of his children.  So He commanded them to gather stones from the center of the river to set up a memorial to remind them, and their children, of His faithfulness.  I love the picture of…

~God’s desire to give us good gifts
     ~Our foolish choices that get in the way
          ~His provision in spite of our unworthiness
               ~Our fickle appetites and short memories
~And ultimately, His wise, kind heart that wants us to remember – for our own good and for His glory.

We’ve talked a great deal about God’s provision for our family in the past few years.  We’ve gathered at meal and bedtimes to ask for guidance and peace. The loss of (and acquisition of) David’s job, the sale of our house, and our move to a new one have all prompted discussions with others about His faithfulness in the midst of an uncertain chapter in our family’s story.  For many months, it remained front and center in our thoughts and conversations.  But just like the Israelites, we have short memories.  What seems unthinkable to forget today can all too easily become a faint memory tomorrow.

So, just like the Israelites, we decided to memorialize this amazing season in our family’s history.  I don’t want to forget.  I don’t want my children to forget.  I want them to tell their children.  Of God’s faithfulness.  Of His provision.  Of His abundance.  Regardless of circumstance.

One of my favorite features of our new home is the peaceful koi pond tucked away in our backyard.  It seemed fitting that our stones, which will mark for generations God’s goodness, come from that pond.
My favorite nook in our new home.
 The children selected their stones, we discussed the purpose, and they commenced their artwork.
Sam’s stone – “Because I’m happy”
Will’s stone – Our new house.
 The back – “God helped my Dad get a job
and helped us find a good house
to live in.  We have been very blessed.”
Caroline’s stone – Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus.
At first, I thought that she didn’t understand what we were trying to do.
And then I realized that she may have understood better than any of us.
We never made it to math that day.  Or spelling.  Or handwriting. But the lessons that we learned have been deeply engraved  upon our hearts.
***************************


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