Thursday, December 30, 2010

What do YOU see?

During a recent walk, my friend and I were admiring the evening sky. The chaos of the city left behind, all we could see before us was the great expanse of the night. Traffic was absent, the air stood still, the stars were set in their places above. Now, I literally have no depth perception - monocular vision allows you a learned sense of perceiving the world around you. So, gazing up at the beautiful night sky, my friend inquired (in truly the most innocent of ways) "What do YOU see when you look at the sky?" Little did my dear friend know how this seemingly simple question would tumble around in my head and heart over the next few days...

What do you see when you notice the night?
I see the chance to restart and make right.

I know myself well enough by now to know that even I need a little time to sit back and reflect once in a while. The weeks leading up to and the actual arrival of Christmas was a most amazing time. Thankfully, Advent is a season of light as well as waiting! I'm blessed to be a part of so many wonderful activities and events that bring light to my life, that sometimes I need a bit of quiet time to process it all. Not for the sake of getting it OUT, but more for the sake of letting it IN. Letting it really soak in. Remembering why it was I connected to something on such deep, visceral levels.

As a performer, I learned long ago of the great sadness that can accompany the conclusion of an event. You work diligently for weeks - months - to prepare, to memorize, to have every detail in place, only for it all to happen in a whirlwind....and then it's done. Poof. You're left looking around wondering, is it really over? Can I recall the faces of the people in the third row? Do I even know what words I sang? Did they mean anything to me? Did they mean anything to others? !

The sadness was too great; I had to make a mental shift. I had to start making an ever-conscious choice that reminded me to constantly BE. BE in the room. BE with the people. BE a part of the message you're trying to convey. It's not easy to stay focused - there are so many distractions that can take you away from what you're trying to absorb: people talking, your mind drifts, you realize you're hungry, etc. It's a challenge, but it's beyond rewarding. I think that's one of the main reasons I can be a congregant now INSTEAD of a performer when I enter the Sanctuary. Gone are the days of auto-pilot or mental task-completion. I can gather with people to worship. I can gather and serve. I can gather and BE.

What do you see when the stars shine so bright?
I see a twinkle of hope in the night.

What does one learn from an Outdoor Nativity service? Well, in a pinch, a short-legged horse will be a lovely substitute for a donkey. Children will play with any doll they can find, even if that means accidentally walking off with the Baby Jesus. Three-year olds will not sit for very long on metal risers, but they sure will sing their hearts out on "Go, Tell it on the Mountain". Only in Colorado can you simultaneously get a sunburn while wearing gloves. And, you never know the reach of personally inviting someone to worship, even if their favorite part was the baa-ing sheep.

What do you see when the ev'ning stars shine?
I see a tangible love that's divine.

The pews on Christmas were filled with faithful souls: those in their last season here with us on earth, those who married and started a family just this past year, those who had said goodbye to a spouse, those joining together once again. I found myself singing harmony with a row of visiting ladies at one service, and sitting criss-cross on a countertop during another. I sang all eleven hymns and carols with great gusto throughout the entire night, and snuck in a hum or two during Communion. I dined with the police officer on duty once again, hoping someone at sometime had done the same for my own dad.

I helped read the story of night and day, of sun and moon from Genesis on the evening we celebrated the true beginning. I received the light of a candle from both members I knew well and complete strangers who were visiting for the first time. I listened as my pastors inspired and comforted as they shared the hope and love of the baby in the manger.

As I looked out on the candle-lit columbarium, my thoughts drifted to a dark morning, many months before, when we began our Easter in the shadows. I remembered carrying in the Christ candle for the baby we now welcomed. And, even though this season had officially ushered in the light of the world, I spent the earliest moments of Christmas Day with a small child of God, blowing out the candles of the Sanctuary with the joy that only this two-year old could convey.

What do you see when you look up above?
I see my God who is shining His love.

And, Communion. Holy Communion. Probably the one thing on earth that brings me the most joy. Yes, even more than small children. Even more than music. I am the most open, most comfortable, the most real when partaking and sharing in Communion.

I served Holy Communion at each service on Christmas Eve, Day, and the first Sunday of Christmas. Someone asked me if I've 'had my fill now' for a while, to which I shared this story:

We were about to sing a song in my classroom, and a child complained that we had just sung that song earlier in the week. I asked them what was sung to them on their last birthday, and they said "Happy Birthday".

Me: Didn't they sing that to you when you were born?
Kiddo: Of course they did, Ms. G.
Me: And then they sang it again to you when you were 1 and 2 and all the way until now, when you turned 6? Why would they sing the same song again and again?
Kiddo: Because it means something special to me each and every time, Ms. G!

And therein lies my point: Holy Communion means something special to me each and every time.

From gathering underneath the suspended metal cross, to hearing those words of institution, I cannot be more connected to Jesus and my faith in God than in those moments leading up to hearing the words "The body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you." If you could only see what I see in the reflection of the cup: the words are shared, the elements are blessed, the wafer is cracked, and the people are welcomed. It is incredible each . and . every . time.

And then to go out into the congregation...oh, the emotion of that part often stops me in my tracks. I have to tell my feet to walk to where I am to stand. GO! Share the meal! One by one, the people come forward. You cannot find a moment that is filled with more humility and grace. I will never get my fill of being a part of that!

What do you see when you look to the sky?
I see a God that will help me know why.

People ask if I had a good Christmas, and I find myself caught between the straightforward answer of YES! and the more complicated response of STILL ENJOYING! Having my family gathered together would have made things even more meaningful. But the joy of Christmas is far from over.

What do I see when I look at the sky?
I see an event that propels us through the year, fuels our faith each day, and lives with us in each treasured moment. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Nativity and Nature

Merry Christmas! I'm working on a post about the special happenings on Christmas - until then, a few fun pics of my holiday adventures.

The weather in Colorado was awesome this year, and made it possible to actually hold the LIVE Outdoor Nativity! I've never actually been to one, so seeing the real animals on the courtyard at church was a hoot!

Can you guess what this is? The sun may have been shining, but it was still cold enough to wear gloves. I played the piano for the Nativity service, and cut-off the finger tips to an old pair of gloves. These are the tips!

One of the many live animals at BLC.
This was the best shot I could get...
(Perhaps not the best photo to pair with the last one...)

RTG and Mary and Joseph.
Yes, that's a small pony.
The donkey called in sick. Really!

It was great to see so many people at the outdoor service!
Not baaaaa-d for 1:30 pm on Christmas Eve!

The little ones.

Check out our Camel, Camilla, and her sisters. Okay, so we had one non-authentic animal. But seriously, have you seen real camels!? They are scary! And they spit! This one was much more docile.

Too sweet!

My Christmas Eve once again concluded with little Miss Charlotte, who is now 2! This little one, seen here with her own Nativity set at home, helped me blow out all the Sanctuary candles at the conclusion of our 11pm service.

She was also old enough to sit with me at the manger - on her own, she wished Jesus a Happy Birthday.

JOY. Six back-to-back church services. JOY.
More about this in tomorrow's post...

Ah, my mother knows me well.
Rest assured, they came in handy.

Christmas Day found me traveling to Estes Park for a visit to the new Trunnell home! The mountains were simply majestic!

Do you see what I see?

Some quiet time around Lake Estes.

Merry Christmas!

Season of Light

Some sweet moments from the season of light:

You know I can't resist singing small people: here are the children of BECC (Bethany Early Childhood Center) during their Christmas program.

Goodness, they are sweet and so genuine in letting their light shine!

Grace. Peaceful Grace. This darling is the daughter of a high school friend. She shared this photo on her blog, and it has made me stop and pause throughout the season.

Four, flaming candles on the Advent Wreath!
The Christ candle lighting is near!

A time for reflection.

Incredible moon over Castle Rock.

"...and the lesser light to rule the night..."

Happened to be awake during the Lunar Eclipse. Halfway there!

Yet another sweetheart: here's Wes, the son of one of my college roommates during an "Ask the Weatherman" segment on their local news.

Grace joined her brothers around
their family Christmas tree. AMEN!

Peter Mayer: Stars and Promises

Sunday, December 19, 2010: Peter Mayer was in town again! A longtime friend of Pr. Ron, Peter is the lead guitar player for Jimmy Buffett. Yes, that Jimmy Buffett. Tours with the Coral Reefers. Has his own group. Plays one mean guitar. Incredible vocals. Pretty. Darn. Cool!

PM fans packed in the pews at Bethany. Check out the angels by BLC member Delia Stewart. She makes the most amazing angels out of junk metal! They encircled the sanctuary during the concert, and went home with loving families by the end of the evening.

Andrea and I were able to sing backup on two of PM's song - what a generous spirit to fly into a new town and let the locals sing along!

We sang backup on a new song, "Without Love" - Peter is working with RTG on a new project entitled "Passages for Passages" - intentionally tying Scripture to song. If any of the others songs are like this first one, it's going to be a real treasure. It was an honor to bring 1 Corinthians to life.

The Irish dancers were back!

The trio of talent: Peter, Maggie Estes, and R. Scott Bryan. Maggie was here last year and (if this is even possible) was even more talented and gracious this year. (Here's her website.) Scott was new to us this year, and made an immediate impression with his wicked percussion skills. Amazing. He's toured with Sheryl Crow, among others. (Here's his website.)

Back to back shows, and they still sat down
for a meet and greet. Super stars...with heart.

Drove Maggie, her mom, and Scott back to their hotel in downtown Denver at o'dark thirty, and was treated to lots of colorful lights on buildings. Tis the season!

PM went back to his 'day job' with Jimmy Buffett, and had a quick gig on the Today Show. Bethany Lutheran Church on Sunday, New York City on Wednesday - what a life! Here's the video clip.



There's our pal, Peter!
Already looking forward to next year!

Lots of Cheese and A One-Eyed Deer

Finally! The post that includes all the laughs
and smiles from the last week of school!

God bless my Morale Pal. What did they leave for me?
Why, yes. That's a hunk of cheese. BOOYA!

Received this photo and a sweet e-mail from a Flagstone family:

"My father, the kids’ “Papa”, lives in Franktown on 10.5 forested acres full of wildlife. He feeds the birds, puts scraps out for the fox, amuses at the flock of wild turkeys, and has several “pet” deer that he feeds regularly. They are so tame that they come up to the sliding glass window to alert him they are ready for breakfast, sometimes the bucks will tap their antlers on the house – it’s very bizarre.

He has a special soft spot for one he named Scar for her battle torn leg. She also suffered a blow to her left eye that has since clouded, and she’s completely blind on that side. She is the sweetest thing, had a calf last year, and is a very good mother. He talks to her like a dog owner would a little puppy.

The kids have fed her by hand (standing inside the porch holding a bucket on the outside of the mostly closed glass door), and her new nickname is Ms. G. She’s a favorite, just like you."

Christmas Break could not come fast enough!

What looks like an edible football was the chocolate
CHEESEcake my Moral Pal left me. Bless them.

My kids rock: check out the Army men on their project!

Hand-made charms! They look
awesome on my flower bud vases!

Sense a theme!? I mean, this IS the CHEESE stands alone blog...

Some kids brought me a plate'o'goodies (from a trusted teacher) during the LAST hour of the LAST day of school. They know how to make Ms. G. happy. :)

We can't sing without my cat!"

Not sure if I love the T-shirt manufacturer or the
parents that purchase these awesome pieces of clothing more!

Check out this fabric! Three kiddos came to school in absolutely BEAUTIFUL hand-made skirts. Their mothers had used this fabric and the finished products were stunning.

Just trying to be formal.

Personalized HAND soap!
Grateful. Friendly. Clean. Cheerful. Strong.
Helping. Kind. Willing. Caring.
Joyful. Prayerful.

A happy time!

Just a little appreciation.

Yup. We did it again.
More glitter-covered Jingle Bell Pine Cones.
(The kid brought more for the other classes.
What was I going to say? No!?)

A colleague made these awesome soap reindeer.

Paper. Rock. Scissors....and so much more!
Second graders learned a Japanese song to go along with this game, and were singing it on the playground before school. Happy music teacher. And these were all BOYS! BOOYA!

Chocolate treats from the kids - such detail!

Sing it with me now:
"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

I will see you in the new year, my little friends!