God's Plan: Optimal or Optional?





     What do you do when good just doesn't feel good enough, when the smile feels forced and hypocritical?

      What do you do when remembering all your blessings doesn't make you feel any more grateful?

     What do you do when the wait stretches out farther than you'd expected it; when the time you thought you'd be spending doing something new is spent doing the same things you've been doing for the past two and a half years?

       What do you do when you realize that where you are now is not at all what you'd expected, when you'd wished for it years ago, and where you'd hoped you'd be turns out to not really be where you wanted to be?

       In short, what do you do when you realize that God is taking your life in a whole different direction than you'd expected and you really don't like it?

        I distinctly remember having my whole life planned out by the time I was twelve. I was going to get a degree in music, teach violin, write a lot of music, and make a lot of money. When I was nineteen or twenty I would get married and have a dozen children. I would be the model mother and the most helpful and loving wife. We would live in a big house and host lots of parties, be the shining light in our neighborhood, and I would the most popular woman in my community because of my giving spirit and compassionate nature. Our children would grow up surrounded by the their many cousins for of course part of my life plan included my siblings all getting married, living close by and having a lot of children too(though of course not as many as I would). Maybe in my forties when my children were all grown or nearly so, I would write a book which would become a bestseller, maybe my husband would write one too... ;) And he and I would live out our days in blissful harmony surrounded by our loving children and grandchildren.



        You laugh, I know; I am too, while I'm typing this, with the poignant realization that though a few things such as the degree and violin teaching have come to pass, my life and who I am are not at all what I had imagined them to be. Of course it only took my teen years to help me come to the eyeopening realization that I am neither giving nor compassionate by nature. I'm a tight-fisted, cold, calculating person by nature who plots out every kind act as a means to my own advancement, and compassion is only a tool in my belt to make people like me better, I don't genuinely care about people....at least....that's where I would be without God. As it is, I endeavor to do things for the right reason, I endeavor to spread God's glory where ever I go. However, as a twelve-year old with an inordinately high opinion of myself, I could not possibly comprehend how difficult it would be to be "good" as I put it at the time.

        I also realize poignantly how much our family is not what I pictured it to be. Sure, my sister got married to a great guy last year, and yes, nobody's run off to Timbuktu with no plans of ever returning, but past and more recent events in our family's history, events that have surprised my hair on end and caused me to cry for hours, have made me realize that I'm not calling the shots in this family, nor is anyone else. It's God, only God who is directing our paths, certainly, sometimes He channels them in the directions we want, but, most of the time, at least in my case, He doesn't and recently I've had to come to grips with that.

     What if I never get married?

     Or if I do, what if I can't have many children? After all, it's God who gives the babies.

    What if I never publish a book?

     What if my music never becomes popular?

     So, what do you do when you find out that you're not in control of your life? When you discover that it's been God who's been calling the shots all along and you have no idea where He's going to take you?

     I'm not going to tell you not to plan; people are natural planners, we do it all the time and there's nothing wrong with making good plans for the future. The question is simply, what do we do when life doesn't follow those plans?

        1. View your life as an adventure not an obstacle course.

When you read an adventure novel, the very pith of the writing is the suspense; the understanding that you have no idea where the story is going. And you like that about the book; it's part of what keeps you reading. If you could know exactly what was going to happen beforehand, suddenly the book would lose most of its flavor. Why do you think people get so upset over "story spoilers?" So then, why is it that when it comes to real life, we want it to turn out exactly how we'd planned and every twist is an annoying obstacle over which we must jump to achieve our pre-planned life? I think God has been challenging me to live my life more as adventure. Sure there are challenges to overcome, but in the end, we have no idea where the journey will take us, and we should find excitement in that.

       2. Understand the God is the absolute best person to have control over your life.

Have you ever had those moments where you tried really hard to make things better but only made them worse? I think God gives us those moments to remind us that we are not the best people to be in control of ourselves. Think about it for a moment. An all knowing, all powerful God who is the very embodiment of what we call good, not only has complete control over our lives, but will also channel them in the very best direction possible. That's not something to get upset about. Also, remember if God made us, isn't He going to be the one who best knows how our lives should be lived? After all, if there's one person I'd trust more completely to mess around with my violin, it would be a Luthier. If there was one person I'd trust completely to fiddle about with a piece I was going to perform before hundreds of people, it would be the composer. And usually the movie adaption of a book is best when the author is the one writing the screenplay. I've been trying to keep that in mind whenever I start to complain about the way my life is going.

        3. Talk to God.


If you were working in woodcarver's shop as an apprentice and the woodcarver one day picked up a piece of wood which you thought he had began carving into a horse and turned it into a rabbit, would you start muttering under your breath, quietly of course so he didn't hear, "why is he doing that? What a stupid thing to do, the woodcarver is so unkind to that poor horse, look what he's doing, he's turning it into a rabbit, do you really think that horse wants to be a rabbit?" I don't think you would do that at all. You might watch the woodcarver in awe for a few minutes, amazed at how he could take something that seemed like a horse and have it become a rabbit, you might respectfully ask him why he had decided to make it a rabbit, or what was his reasoning behind it looking like a horse at the beginning. You might express your excitement over his creation and ask him to show you how he did it. If perhaps you had a problem with him making it into a rabbit, perhaps you really wanted it to be a horse, it would be quite absurd of you to give him the silent treatment over it. You would instead talk to him, perhaps express your disappointment, and he would explain. I wonder why we can't do that with God? Why can't we talk to him face to face instead of grumbling around corners and complaining behind closed doors? Why don't we just out with it and tell Him directly that we have a problem with what He's doing in our lives and I guarantee He will answer. I know every time I talked to God about a problem He helped me understand that He had it all under control and I could stop worrying. I think we could all stand to talk to God about our problems a little more often!

       Alright, and that's the end of my lecture today. I want to close with a selection from Handel's great oratorio Messiah. You know, this is one of the greatest works in all of music history and people over play it at Christmas time and never perform it on any other occasion...rather sad, really, when this is a work for all seasons. Anyhow, I've been thoroughly enjoying it recently. I think this is the only complete work of music which I can completely mouth the words and get the timing right to...it's kind of funny actually! Most people are bouncing along in their cars mouthing the words to Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran's songs, while I'm mouthing the words to Handel's Messiah. It's way more fun since it's far more complicated, it keeps me working...I never get bored with Messiah. ;)
     Okay, all that aside, the Messiah selection I want to share with you is the very first aria in the oratorio, Comfort Ye and Every Valley. The words come directly from Scripture and are God's own assurance to us that no matter how unusual and turbulent our lives seem, He is working it out for great good.


      This aria just makes my heart melt...I love this part and what a great opening. Because I have this memorized word for word and note for note, and everyone performs it a little differently it took me a while to find a version I liked, even this one isn't perfect, too much deviation from the actual notes in my opinion, too many soloists endeavor to show off at every opportunity, however, I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

      Comfort Ye, My people. Saith your God. Speak Ye Comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God... Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

       Let us all take comfort in this promise, when life isn't the way we want it to be and, as always, let us give thanks!

      ~ Christianna 

A Way to Worship

        When Isaac Watts, the father of Christian hymn tradition, found a problem with the music sung in his church, his father challenged him with the suggestion "Why don't you give us something better to sing?" Young Watts took his father's advice and the very next day wrote a hymn to be sung in church that very next Sunday.

Today, I think we are yet stuck with a church music problem....that problem I see as increasing introspection in worship.
      Is there a way to properly worship God with introspective songs? At one point I thought not, but now, after thinking about it, it's quite possible. and quite biblical. How many times do Psalmists praise God by relating what He has done for oneself?
        However, there's definitely a right and wrong way to go about this. One has to be careful with introspective worship, because it can so easily become all about me, or, in a musical aspect the music can be too introspective, when it doesn't fit the words distracting from the message, making us think about people instead of God. This can either be exaggerated by the tune used, or the choice of words  allow me to give examples of either case.

   First, musically:
         A few weeks ago I walked into Seminary chapel and the young band, bless their hearts, were trying quite hard to be smashing. (Have you ever noticed how similar bands these days are, people? Something needs to change in the popular musical instrument selection for bands!) Anyhow, they played this rendition of "And Can it Be" You all know this hymn, right? If you don't I'm going to share an excellent rendition of it at the end of this post.....learn it, before someone tries to teach it to you the wrong way. The fact was, this band messed with the rhythms entirely and turned a song that was supposed to be rousing, triumphant and the kind that you just can't help singing along to, into almost a dirge. Seriously, I wasn't the only one yawning through that song....NOBODY should be yawning while singing "And Can it Be!"

    I walked out of the chapel service seething with anger, because of the way they messed with a hymn I loved so much.

     I don't know whether my anger was directed at the band in particular, the whole contemporary Christian music movement, or modern pop music in general. Whatever the case, my friends, an introspective song that is normally an excellent worship song was detracted from in a way that brought the focus much more about feelings and 'me' than simply God.

Allow me to sidetrack for a second:
    
        I'm seeing a trend in congregational singing in churches and Christian meetings. Christian bands are turning these meetings into performances rather than worship conducive to congregational singing. In Chapel meetings at the Seminary which I attend for the exceptionally good teachers and lecturers they bring in, people are clapping after the singing, the music is so loud that you can't even hear the person next to you singing, never mind yourself. The notes are so complex that during singing you're just trying to play catch up and anticipate the three bridges and "pre-bridges" they throw in between the verses and refrains. Modern songs have used repetition to compensate for the fact that a song has very little to say, and now, people are taking the old hymns and reworking them to try to fit them into this mold they think worship music ought to fit into. The simplicity of music is being detracted from to suite current trends. I'm sure the motive is good, but is sincerity all that matters here? Is the complexity of modern worship music leading to a more man-centered worship?

        "People like it," you may protest, "that's why they do it." I'm beginning to wonder if that's actually the case as I'm meeting more and more young people who, though they stand in there and mouth the words, have really come to see the emptiness and "unfollowability" of modern worship music. I'm beginning to feel this is a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes,"

how many Christian young people are afraid to come out and say that a worship song was terrible out of either the fear or honest misconception that it might be taken as, or actually is, legalistic nitpicking with honest worship? 

    The numbers might surprise all of us! And from what I've seen, certainly more than a negligent minority of young people are unhappy with modern trends in Christian music.

      Then there's another aspect to consider. How many people settle for the music played today because they've never heard anything different, particularly what Christian worship could be. One girl told me last semester how she hadn't had a problem with CCM until she went to a Christian summer music camp a year ago where not only did she get introduced to a lot of singing in a simple context where the congregational singing was the main focus of worship, but they were introduced to a lot of the older hymns sung with all there verses in the style they were written to be sung. When my friend returned home and stood in church under CCM once more, she said she realized just how insipid it was.

       I wonder, how many young people are there out there who fit this statistic; content with CCM only because they haven't been introduced to Christian Music's potential? Adding this number to the group that hates it but holds its peace, I wonder how many young people there are left who are really and truly die-hard CCM lovers....it would certainly be an interesting study to take on. 

       Anyhow, what's my point in all this? Firstly,  CCM isn't all it's hyped up to be. Secondly, it seems to be going downhill more and more in spite of recent good trends such as the Getty's hymns and several other independent musicians who understand what Christian worship is really about. Which leads me to the crux of this post, through the twisting of hymns and turning worship bands into performers, I've come to wonder how many people really understand what worship is supposed to be about!

What is Christian Worship About?

Is it Really All about the Experience? 

Is it Really about making it Relevant?

Is it Really all about drawing people into a particular Spirit?

Don't all these things make worship far more introspective than it should be?
 

     More and more I'm starting to realize the Church Father's concern regarding exalting the music above the words in a song. 

  Returning back to the beginning of this post allow me to share what happens in the case of what I believe was carelessly written introspective worship song:

      One Sunday recently, during service, we were singing a song and I was halfheartedly trying to follow along with an improvised harmony until suddenly I stopped dead in the middle of a word, realizing what I was actually singing, this song had a chorus that goes like this: For You are good, for You are good, for You are good to me. For You are good, for you are good, for You are good to me.

     That wasn't a typo, the single chorus repeated the same phrase once, and they sang the chorus itself about three times over, that's six times in a row singing about how God is good to me! True, perhaps, but needlessly simplistic and self focused, I think, as well.

       I ask you friends, is worship really about what God has done for us? It's a part of it, yes, but as that Sunday worship session progressed, I noticed that every single song's focus was in someway about what God had done for "me!" How did worship get so self-focused? Most hymns, though they are introspective, tend to take that as a means to focus on God and His attributes rather than taking it as an end in itself. What God has done for us is only a cog to fulfill a greater purpose. Take some time to read through all the verses of some of the best, most  enduring hymns, I submit to you that you won't find theology that deep in most CCM. For example: Amazing Grace, O Worship the King, Holy Holy Holy, Be Thou My Vision, And Can it Be, Love Divine All Love's Excelling, O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, When I Survey The Wond'rous Cross, I could go on for hours, all these hymns exalt God, are relatively simple in construct, but beautiful and in no way monotonous. 

   I'll submit to you, my friends that these songs demonstrate the proper way to worship with introspection while also pointing to the heart of worship! 

   The hymns put God first, their arrangement does not call for any pretensions of thrusting man forward into center stage, they allow for any congregation member, no matter how tone deaf, to comfortably belt out the song. Most modern worship songs, because of their complex bridges, refrains, and and one liners sung in several different ways, just don't make it easy for the non-musical person to follow along, it's hard enough for those more musically inclined, I often find myself, during modern worship songs finding it easier to just stand there and listen to the band because it is just too difficult to try and keep up with the constantly modulating and wandering melody. I find that to be a rather bad situation. congregational singing should encourage people to sing not make it easier to just listen. And most modern songs seem to struggle with this principle.

     Granted, there are several modern songs which fit this description of worship, a few I can think of off the top of my head, are In Christ Alone, Come Behold the Wond'rous Mystery, O Church Arise, Bless the Lord O My Soul, and I Cast My Mind to Calvary. We need more, my friends, we need more doctrinally rich songs written with the average Christian in mind. We need songs that can be sung just as well without instrumentation as with. We need songs that give God the glory above all else. 

      How are we going to get them? Only if we make it happen! Only if all of us timid ones rise up out our spheres of comfort and write, sing and promote this music. We need another Isaac Watts who not only sees a problem with what is sung but takes his father's advice and gives us something better to sing. 

 Alright, the sermon is over, you all are dismissed....allow me to very quickly share with you this very lovely rendition of  "And Can It Be" 


    Enjoy, be encouraged and then go out and write some hymns!

       ~ Christianna
 

     

       

        
        

        

College in Retrospect

           I'm done! Well, provided my final courses pass, I am.....but why ruminate on the distressing possibility that they won't when I have every reason to believe that they will...I think....



           Anyhow, now that I'm done, I thought I'd share with you.....wait....you know already don't you?

       Of course you knew this was coming. I've done it enough now that you were probably just wondering when this post was going to pop up on your radar.


        Yes, you're right, I want to share with you five lessons I learned from College.

    Before I do that, however, I'm going to share some music with you all. It's a wonderful Classical Piece I just discovered, and listening to it might also encourage you to read to the end of my lengthy post....so turn it on, kick-back,or dance as the music moves you, and let me know what you thought of it. So here is Ralph Vaughan William's English Folk Song Suite....the first and third movements are my favorites...let me know if they're yours! ;)


   Alright, five lessons coming right up!

    1. I rarely push myself to work as hard as I should.
         In high school I never had to study all that hard to get a good grade. I was a straight A student in everything except chemistry, a wickedly contrary subject anyway, in which I had to content myself with a B. In college, especially with Verity at the wheel, I found I was barely catching Cs, never mind Bs. Yes, finally, for the first time in my life, my friends I came face to face with the fact that I had grown really lazy. Somehow along the way, I had fallen into the trap of believing that I wasn't lazy, everything was simply easy. I was partially right, in that grade school was certainly significantly easier than college work, but not right in allowing myself to just sit back and enjoy the ride. I met people who had taken advantage of the fact that high school was easy for them by skipping grades and starting college early. I met people who studied twelve hours straight sometimes in order to succeed well. I'm not advocating that kind of regime for everyone, it certainly doesn't work for me, but the point was I came face to face with a lot of hard-workers and found myself particularly flabby in comparison. 

           My first year of college I just scraped through and had to literally pay for some lazy habits I had.  The final year, I realized I needed to shape up and started praying hard. God granted me grace, though it was an uphill battle the whole way as coursework only got harder. Several times I felt incapable, was exhausted to tears, or binge-watched a tv show after finishing a difficult assignment just to escape for a while from the knowledge that I had an equally difficult assignment due in two days. However, I emerged from college a battered but better person. God taught me in the end that hard work has its own rewards. I actually began to enjoy it sometimes. Extra confirmation of this was at Verity graduation last June, when, of all the character awards I could have received (I'm still marveling over this by the way) I received Diligence, the polar opposite of laziness. Isn't God so good? That was a lesson I so grateful to my college education for teaching me. 



     Alright, that was long, the next four won't be such a drag, I promise!

2. I Can Be Friends With Boys Too.
       Before college I merely put up with members of the opposite sex around my own age, I never would have even considered becoming friends with one of them. It was far too dangerous in my opinion. Things happened, boys and girls were like dynamite and matches in my opinion, not a good combination, at least, as long as they  weren't my brothers. Throughout the course of college both in and out of academics I held countless conversations with mature men around my age and discovered that it was not only possible but advantageous to have healthy friendships with young men. I made a couple friendships which I still treasure to this day. What a valuable lesson to be learned in college. After all, if I'm going to marry, I'm going to have to be very good friends with a young man first!

3. Holding Oneself Aloof from Others Is Both Unattractive and Debilitating.
           Being around Verity people and keeping in touch with them through Skype helped me really realize this fact. I knew it before, but for some reason didn't really believe it. For some reason, there was a large part of me that thought that keeping myself up and apart from the melee of people my own age would not only attract positive attention from the people I admired but also somehow keep me free from bad influences. Verity forced me to come face to face with the pride of this view and gave me a desire to overcome this. In retrospect this is one of the best lessons I could have learned through College.

4. I Need The Help of Others.
          I really thought I could get through college with just me, myself, and I for company. God is enough, right? I told myself. I didn't realize that God uses people to carry His blessings. I've been spending the last through days writing droves of letters to all the people who helped me through the past two years and realizing in the process just how much I need people. Thank God for that lesson!

5. God Always Provides.
        When I started College, I had no idea where the money was going to come from. Yet here I am on the other side with very little debt to pay off. God always came through. I never had to put off a class or postpone studies in any way because of a lack of funds. Learning this lesson through college I know was the most valuable lesson I could learn, and I know it will continue to influence the rest of my life. Isn't it wonderfully reassuring to know that we have a Father with inexhaustible resources at His disposal? We can do anything He asks, go anywhere He leads, climb the highest mountains of life with Him by our side, because there's nothing our God cannot do.

       What do you think? Are those lessons relatable? What did God teach you during any recent experiences?

        Until Next Time, Dear Friends, May God Continue To Hold You in His Hands.

                   ~ Christianna  

While The Sands of Life Shall Run





        I know I was going wax eloquent on the 'sins' of modern Christian bands this time around, but a recent turn of events led to my decision to leave that one in my arsenal for the present and look at something different.

          Those of you who know me well enough have heard me complain about the fact that I rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to make music with others. This fact really started getting to me over the course of the past year, and it became an obsession of mine. In March I started going up to Louisburg to participate in an informal bluegrass jamming session. It was really fun, there were a lot of talented musicians present and I've learned so much from them, but this was fiddle and I wanted to use my talents as a classical violinist somehow, someway in consort with others. Singing bugged me too. I was in a home school choir for a small amount of time but I was the best  singer in the group and none of the songs challenged me. Though not the best singer in the seminary choir I joined a year ago, it was the same, a small group singing simple songs which were a piece of cake for me. After my senior recital, I experienced a new thing, a lack of desire to sing.

     This summer, I would start to sing and then drop it because it had lost its flavor for me somehow....I blamed it on the fact that I didn't have anyone to sing with. Singing was no fun for me this summer, and I think I hit an all time record low in time spent singing this past season.

      Without realizing it, I began to blame God for it. Why do I always have to walk the same old boring park trails everyday, singing the same songs with the same lonely company? I asked bitterly. It all seemed to go hand in hand. I was spending all my spare time working on school. While everyone else was having fun with his friends over the weekend, I was sitting in the seminary library writing seven page papers, or organizing and scanning in theory homework pages for my portfolio. All in all I was upset with God because I felt he'd left me hanging all by myself.

I studied alone, played alone, sang alone, walked alone. Why would God do that to me?

Well, over the past month, God answered my my questions in a couple of ways. Besides helping me realize that more social engagements would only have distracted me from the school work I so desperately desired to finish up, God  showed me just how wrong I was about being alone.

    I took a walk one day, an hour or so before sunset, down main street and across an empty field to an old, falling down gazebo just behind the eye-clinic and the animal daycare places in town and, after a brief moment of prayer I was inspired to forget about the fancy Italian, French, German, Latin and English art songs I'd learned over the past two years. I left behind the bouncy folk tunes, rip-roaring Scottish ballads and romantic airs I'd been so fond of singing since I started taking voice lessons. I forgot about who might be listening or what anyone might think of me, and sang the hymns I'd learned since before I could talk. I sang at the top of my lungs for over two hours....hymn after hymn, every single verse, the hundreds of hymns I'd learned by heart during the years when hymns made up one-hundred percent of my vocal repertoire. It was an experience I'll never forget. It wasn't one of those breath-taking mountain top moments, just quiet, and restful, and for the first time, really, since I'd started taking voice lessons, I remembered, truly remembered why I loved to sing.


         I realized I'd gotten so caught up in the technical, social aspect of it all that I'd lost the music of it all. What a gift music is to us.

 It doesn't matter so much whether I sing with others or by myself, if I'm singing for the right reason.

       Don't mistake my meaning, voice training is good, singing with others is still something I love doing, but these things can't be the reason I sing. Singing hymns out there in the ramshackle gazebo that late summer evening taught me that I don't need musical instruments or other people to experience absolute pleasure when singing, if I'm truly singing for God and just God, then no matter what's going on around me, whether it's musical instruments, voices in harmony or just cars whizzing past on the the busy main street of my little town, singing can be just as wonderful and just as fulfilling.

          Now, not long before, this, I got into both an orchestra, and a relatively prestigious choir. However, God used these door openings to show me not just a truth, but His absolutely sufficient mercy and abounding love for each of us, no matter how faltering and ungrateful. My Saturdays may not be free yet. I may not have made a circle of local friends I can do things with, but I have God, and He's worth the whole package and more beside.....what a friend we have in Jesus!






          The song I'm going to share with you to close this post is one of those hymns I found so meaningful that insightful evening. In a world with so much noisy music and catchy rhythms meant to pull you in immediately the song can seem a little plodding and dull, but hang in there and maybe listen to it twice...not only does its message capture the heart of what I've been trying to say in this post, but the simple beauty of this Medieval hymn grants the rest and peace our noisy world is hard pressed to come by.


       
      What do you think?

      Is there something in your life that you've lost the beauty of?
      How has God shown you recently that He loves you?




Take a moment.    Sit back in your chair.    Forget about the two-hundred tasks on your to-do list. Turn on this song and think about God's blessings.   While the sands of life shall run and beyond, His love will go on.



    ~ Christianna

That Question; Desired or Dreaded?

          A few weeks ago, I received a marriage proposal.

          From the first time I began to consider the prospect of marriage as a seven year old, I decided I didn't want a crowd of admirers, I just wanted one man to like me in that way, followed by one proposal, from that one Mr. Right. However, there was always another side of me, some little impish part of me, that was just simmering  for the opportunity to turn down an offer of marriage. Call me callous if you will but I can remember several occasions on which, with much glee, I rehearsed all the crushing words I would say to a suitor whom I found in no way suitable.

        Well, my good readers, a few weeks ago I got the chance, and though I feel slightly guilty for it, I will tell you I thoroughly enjoyed spilling out all those crushing sentences I had saved for that moment. After stomping on every ray of hope in the area that the poor man possessed, I left him with a hypothetically sympathetic smile telling him I hoped he had a good life and that he would forget about me. I say hypothetically because it all happened online. When I say 'it all' I mean just that.

        It started when I got a request from a mysterious fellow to chat on google hangouts. Being extremely curious, and suspecting an advertising stunt, I started talking with him wanting to find out what this person wanted. Well, I was in for a rather humorous surprise. It turned out he had seen my profile picture on google somehow and literally, he had gotten infatuated with me. He said he'd fallen in love with me, that he fantasized over that picture. That his heart was telling him I was the one for him and that he would follow it because it had never misguided him before, according to him.

    At first, as you may expect I was suspicious that he was pulling a gigantic hoax on me. I imagined he'd drunk one too many beers with his friends the night before and made a bet that he could lasso any random girl online. However, as the conversation progressed, I became more and more convinced that the poor fellow was serious, which made the situation humorous on a whole other level. Finally, without even having seen me, he tells me he loves me and wants to marry me. You can only imagine what happened next, my friends. All I can say is, his hopes, if indeed he had any, were sufficiently dashed and I was rolling on the floor with laughter and complete satisfaction.

        This comical event is something I'll retain as funny story for future laughs, perhaps I'll title it:
"The man who fell in love with my picture."

        However, afterwards, the whole affair got me thinking. Coupled with attending a friend's wedding down in Texas, I began wondering what would make me certain when the right man popped the question. How would I know for certain to say yes.

     You see, from an early age I had also made the decision that I would rather not marry at all than marry someone who was not right for me. I've made multiple lists over the course of my teenage years detailing the qualifications for a future husband. This is all good. However, my friends, I realized recently that at the core of all these decisions, lists and commitments is a deep rooted fear of marriage. A huge fear of marrying the wrong man. It started when I was about nine and one of my Aunts broke the knot between herself and her husband. Over the years since then, my other Aunt and one of my Uncles also rescinded their vows of marriage made to their spouses years ago. I have only two Aunts and two Uncles. This meant that the divorce percentage among my immediate family is 75%. These events shook me to the core of my being with regards to my dreams of getting married.

       However, a month ago, this incident returned to haunt me in an even more frightening form when I learned that a Christian couple whom I had known for many years, after ten years of marriage had gotten divorced because it turned out that the husband had been committing adultery the whole time, even, get this, even before their marriage. The incident frightened me even further away from marriage.

There are a lot of things about marriage that scare me, but first and foremost is the fear that:

I would give my whole heart to someone who would give me only a part of his back. 

    "What if that happens to me?"

 I asked God, the night I learned about this. 

     "What if a man completely deceives me and my family? I believe marriage is for a lifetime but what if I commit to someone who doesn't commit back? What if I saved myself completely for one man who didn't save himself completely for me?"

      I don't mean in the case of someone sinning and repenting in his past and being fully committed in the present, I mean someone who wasn't ever fully committed. 

      It frightens me, friends, it truly does.  

      However, this fear could lead to another problem. 

          What if the right man asks and I turn him down because of my fear? 

       Because I realize this has made me want to be absolutely convinced before I tell a man I'll marry him. In the case of my suitor of a few weeks ago. There was no doubt about it, as with anyone else who has been interested in the past. However, I realize that my fear has grown to such a proportion that I might turn a really great man away because of my fearful doubts. 

        But God is good. He has a way of putting our fears to rest when we ask Him. When I related these fears to one friend she pointed out that every relationship is a risk, that yes, we can't know for certain, but, more importantly, the key is that we find our satisfaction in God not in our husbands.

      Because if God is really my hope, then if a man, even my own husband, betrays me, then I can still know that God is there for me. And that, somehow, that horrid husband was for the best. 

   To know that God always does what is best for us even when we don't see it that way, is a comforting thought indeed. 

    It was then that I realized my fear was rooted in the idea that my husband would somehow become my rock of refuge. The idea that I couldn't bear it if he turned out to be a nasty turncoat, meant that my satisfaction in life wasn't coming from God, and that misplaced love had caused me to dread a beautiful thing. It had caused me to look with trepidation on the day when "he" would ask the question. 

          I guess it comes down to where our priorities are, doesn't it? I read one quote recently from a woman who had gotten her priorities straight regarding marriage. When talking about singleness, she said,

                 "I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date.....because God is so good to me." 
                                                                          ~ Paige Brown

          What Miss Brown is saying is that no matter what, she knows that God is good so that whether or not she gets married, she knows everything is going to turn out all right. Her trust is in the right place.

         Knowing this hasn't completely curbed my qualms. I can't say that all my fear has fled and I still dream of that day with a good mixture of both desire and dread, just knowing something doesn't make all the feelings go away. However, I do know, that if God is in control of my life and because of that, it will all work out for the best. When the time comes, if it comes, I'll say yes to the right man, not because I trust him completely, but because I trust God completely.
           
      Alright, that's all I have to say, my friends. I thought for this one it would be appropriate to share with you a song reminding us that God gives us peace in every situation. Like He did for me on this issue. He assured me that everything would work out okay in the end. Let me know what you think of my friend's rendition of this particular song, no credit goes to myself who just sang the melody. These friends of mine improvised their own harmonies for the song and, one of them played the piano while she sang. They're simply amazing! 
    
     
    So, do you ever struggle with fear regarding this issue? 
    What do you think about marriage?
    Do you agree that my friends are brilliant?


     Alright, coming soon, I intend to blast some modern systems regarding some things near and dear to my heart which I feel they have abominably twisted.


          Trust God, my friends, Always.

             ~ Christianna   

Labor OR Love?

          Recently I picked up a magazine and, scanning through the news section, one quote really got my attention.


           "If you love it, it's not work."

The quote read. 

I've heard this before. Confucius (a man who I think should have been named 'Confusing'), an Eastern thinker to have one of the greatest impacts on Western culture is oft quoted to have said, "choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life." 

       It seems that in today's culture, most people have accepted the idea that work and pleasure are two opposing forces in life; that if something is work, one will by default not enjoy it. 

       Therefore, it seems to follow that if you love something, it's not work. Though I know what many of these people are intending to say with statements such as these, I don't like the trajectory that such a definition of work can cause. It's important, I think, to be careful how we use the word. Somehow, work is seen as a bad thing, a thing to be gotten over with each day so that one can "enjoy life." Work is a burden to be cast off if possible, a humble circumstance to rise above at all costs. 

        Thousands of pounds of ink have been expended on reams beyond number of paper, filled with strategies, some blatantly wacky, some naively honest, some ominously clever, and some foolishly stupid regarding how to make a living with very little to no work.

        Thousands of complaints are made by hard working capitalists regarding the welfare system. I've even grumbled several of them myself. "It's not fair that we should slave so hard every day over our work to pay for people who get to just sit back and do nothing." We grumble.

       A few months however, a question was posed to me which I would in turn like to ask all of you.

      If you were offered the chance to not have to work, would you take it? 

       Would we choose not to work if we didn't have to? Many people would jump at the chance, but after considering the question for some time, I decided I probably would keep working. More than that, I realized I didn't want to ever be in the position where I didn't have to work. Otherwise, the temptation not to work might be too strong. 

      Why do I want to keep working?

       The answer has been pounded into me all my life but I never really understood it until about a year ago. I heard a lecture by a man whose name I can't even remember. He stated the answer I had heard all my life again, but made it abundantly clear to me  in a way I hadn't considered. 

      The answer I've been told all my life is: "We were created to work." 

It made sense, Adam and Eve were put in the garden as caretakers of it, not to be cared for in it.  

However, last year's lecture really hit it home. 

     You see, if we don't work, not only have we lost our sense of purpose since, we were indeed created to work, but we have become useless rather like an egg-beater which is no longer required to beat eggs and so sits idle in the cabinet gathering inches of dust, it's parts rusting from the inside out.

     But think about all the things I could do if I didn't have to work....if I had no responsibilities, one might respond. I've thought about this too.

    The unnamed lecturer told us a story of an older woman whom he had befriended who told him of the hard life she had growing up. Everybody working to support the family, everybody contributing, somehow to make ends meet. They got up early, went to bed late, worked hard jobs, one member of the family was an invalid. 
      The speaker asked this friend of his once if she ever missed those days.

      Her answer was not as surprising to me as the reason she gave for it. "Yes," she said, "sometimes I miss those days. In the end, we were all happy, because...." this was what really got me, "because," she said, "we all knew that we were needed."

     They were needed....that was what made them happy. It all made sense now, why tragedy and loss brings people together. Why people who are hard workers generally have better lives. Why children who have chores growing up usually have happier lives than those who are raised with no responsibilities, and weekly allowances. 

     I'll tell you honestly, friends, I realized at this moment that this was one of my biggest struggles with just keeping on with life. So many times I didn't feel needed. So many times, in this pampered life we live, I felt completely useless, that I could die tomorrow and after the hubbub and tears died down life would go on with no one being the worse for my not being there. 

Do you ever feel that way?  

Well, allow me to say the statement that everybody responds with when someone admits feeling such a thing, "Don't say that honey, everybody has a purpose, and everybody is needed no matter how small the things he does." Right? 

We would all say that, wouldn't we?

But do we really believe it?

This very gifted speaker confirmed this premise in my mind with a story about a bagging man at a grocery store.

 Seriously? A bagging man? How much more ignominious can you get than that in terms of really being needed.

 Well, to the speaker this man was by no means expendable. 

  This particular bagger, consciously or not, was out to prove to the world that no person no matter how small his task was dispensable. He knew how to bag. He would put like items together, set everything in like a well ordered puzzle, he filled the bags so that each one weighed about the same.

"When you're doing grocery shopping for your wife and you have a couple of young children at your heels," the speaker said, "you realize how much of a blessing a good bagger can be. I knew," he said, "That none of the bag handles were going to break on me because the items were improperly balanced. I knew that none of my groceries were going to get damaged." 

We all know what it's like to get home and find that your chips have become crumbs and your spaghetti is half the length it's supposed to be because the bagger just tossed everything in as fast as he could. 

"I even knew," the speaker went on, "how many bags I could carry at a time because of how well weighted they were." He went on to say, "this man, by doing his small job well, was not only a blessing to me but by saving me time and effort was adding value to my life."

      Wow, this was revolutionary to me. To think that the things we do can add value to another person's life. I decided to take that statement as my "mantra" if you will. To say you want to be a blessing to people is not only overused, but cliche. I decided that I wanted to state my life purpose here on earth as being here to add value to people's lives. Think about it, no matter what you do, whether it's babysitting, changing a diaper, washing dishes, waiting on a table, cleaning a bathroom, working at a checkout counter, teaching an instrument, illustrating a novel, whatever it is, you're not just making money so that you can go and have fun. You, in the very act of your work, are helping another person in some way and by doing so you are adding value to that person's life.

     This is why work and pleasure shouldn't be opposing opposites, they should be complimentary words. The fact that you have joy in it should affirm the work and the fact that you're doing good work should lead to great pleasure.

    Alright, I'll stop with the lecture.....this is a blog post not a sermon. Anyhow, I'd like to encourage all of you not to pity the welfare people rather than envy them or get angry at them....they don't have the tremendous privilege of adding value to other people's lives, and in the end adding purpose and value to their own. And not just that, but do your work well, friends, because you have no idea the impact you're making on someone just by cleaning those dishes properly.

   Think about that bagger who I never met. The speaker didn't even mention his name, and yet he was used as an inspiration for a room of one-hundred plus seminary students who are probably going to go out and impact the world with their work ethics. 

     The verse in proverbs speaks truth when it says, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings." ~ Proverbs 22:29

   Okay, really, no more preaching...I thought in this particular case I'd share with you a classical work...yes it's long....but if you're having trouble studying this might actually help besides being absolutely magnificent....Let me know what you think of this tone poem by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana called the Moldau.



  Doesn't that piece just inspire you to go out and do great things?
  
  ~ Let's not be content with just surviving. Let's not separate pleasure from work. Let's take delight in every stroke of the pen in every wail of the spoiled brat we have to babysit. Let's enjoy hearing the same song played with the same wrong note for the one-hundredth time. Let's thank God that we have the ability to work and add value to people's lives. And when we do get a vacation let's find something else to work on. Something different and fun of course, but that doesn't mean it's not work...embrace the word and make it your motto and resist the reflex of disgust and repugnance which switches on when you hear the word. Let it thrill you to your core! 

       Alright, I consider you my lifelong friends if you actually read through this entire post, but I still hold you in high esteem if you at least listened to the entire song and enjoyed it! Extra points in my favor are earned if you did both. ;)

       Keep up the good work!

   ~ Christianna 

Beloved of The Lord

          What makes a person lovable?

          Most people will tell you it's based on some qualities that person possesses, such as selflessness, kindness, compassion, the ability to listen, a good sense of humor....the list goes on. Psychologists will tell you a person has to be real and genuine to be any of the above, and that thus, confidence in oneself is the true key to becoming a lovable person.

          How many of you have heard something along the lines of "you need to embrace yourself" cited as the straight and narrow way to lovableness?

          How many movies, articles and stories in modern society have you watched or read in which the main premise is that to be loved by others one must first love oneself? I know I get pelted with it everyday.

         Many of you probably saw the 2017 Disney live-action movie "Beauty and The Beast." If not, I think most of you know the story. We all know how Belle comes to love the beast by seeing what a kind, thoughtful individual he was in spite of his sinister appearance and surly manners.

       I always wondered, though, what would have happened to him if the beast was as nasty on the inside as he was on the outside. If he had been so, even sweet, kind Belle would have been all for killing him, I believe. Because when it comes down to it, nobody cares for a truly unlovable person....right?

        Pop culture today says that for a person to become lovable he must first love himself. All I can say is, everybody's tried it and it doesn't work.

        When a baby is born into the world, it has nothing to recommend itself. It brings nothing but the most narcissistic attitude on the planet. It cries whenever it's uncomfortable, never says thank you for anything, but takes everything given as though it is owed it because of who it is.

       Babies are, in every sense of the word, the epitome of unloveliness.

           Yet....

       We all know there is nothing stronger than a mother's love for her child. When a young mother holds her newborn child in her arms for the very first time, I'm told, she experiences a bond, a love for that baby like nothing she has or will ever experience. She will give up her life for that tiny, self-centered brat. For years, a mother, labors over, and loves that child. For years, there's nothing about the child that really makes her want to spend time with that child for any other reason than the fact that he's her child. Until one day, the mother wakes up and realizes that her child has become a really nice person. Someone whom people like, respect, and whose company other individuals enjoy to be around.

        What made that child lovable?

       The mother's love.

        To become lovable, that child had to be loved first. It happens for every individual. Science has already confirmed that you can't raise a baby without love. It will die if you try it. The fundamental reason for suicide is that the perpetrator believes somewhere deep down inside that he is unloved.

        My friends, I'd like to submit to you that this all points to a fundamental truth that to become lovable, a person must first be loved. The more deeply and certainly an individual knows he is loved, the more that individual will love, and thus become lovable in himself.

        Don't just believe this because I'm saying it. What does the Scripture say in that passage in Romans that all of us memorized as children.

       "For One Will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man one would dare even to die. But God demonstrated his own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." 
            ~ Romans 5:7-8

     Last season when I was part of the seminary choir we sang a song in which the original words began, "You didn't want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought heaven down." Well, all the seminarians were up in arms at that statement. With absolutely no opposition from the rest of us, a couple of the men speedily changed the words to "you could have had heaven without us, but Jesus you brought heaven down." This made me incredibly happy not just because that's what I believe as well, but because I was singing with a whole bunch of people who understood that Jesus didn't save us because we were in any way deserving of it. No, we were wretched, worms. Miserable, members in no way meritorious of the meanest ministration. Yet, God loved us, and that, good readers, made all the difference.

      What difference does this make? Well, for starters...

      When I know that God's love for me isn't dependent on what I do. I am free to do good because I want to, not to save myself somehow, or appease God. Because He loves me unconditionally, I have hope that He can redeem my life in spite of all my miserable failings. Because His love for me transcends my actions, I can give that same love to others, because I know that whatever the result, there will always be someone who loves me. 

        Thinking about this sends goosebumps up my spine. To think He loves us that much. I'm never happier then when I really believe that. And I think that when one knows surely and fully that God loves him beyond his ugliness of body and soul; no one is more lovable.


        And now as I close, as you all know, it's song time.... ;)

  I thought for this post it would be fitting to share with you an adaption of Titanic's theme song "My Heart Will Go On," by a couple of my dear college friends.

   If there are any of you hard-core menfolk reading this post, please don't close the page in absolute disgust just yet. When I say adaption, I really mean adaption. My talented colleagues turned this from an "ooey-gooey" love song into a sweet reassurance of God's love and the love we can share with each other.
 
   Trust me and watch it(all the way through) before you make any sweeping assertions....you might even like it!


      Wasn't it beautiful? Isn't it wonderful to know you are loved no matter what?

             I'll say one last thing before I close.

                     When mommy used to tuck us each into bed, she would say every night:


  "Mommy loves you, and Daddy loves you, and all your brothers and sisters love you, but Jesus loves you most of all, and he is your good Shepherd and you are his little lamb."

  Even today, I strive to carry those words in my heart and I'd encourage you to do the same. Nothing in this world can really bother you when you know that Jesus loves you most of all.


       ~ Christianna
 



God is My Judge

         I can still remember that moment. The memory is indelibly  stamped in my head. A girl of about thirteen walks into church, her head bowed, her eyes filled with tears. She takes her seat and stays there, not daring to get up and walk around. She keeps her faced cradled in her hands. After church, she hides, slinks around corners, never being so polite as to make eye-contact with those who speak to her, she mumbles a reply, head bent, shoulders hunched as though willing herself, with all the energy she usually possesses, to make herself invisible or at least unnoticed. She can't bear the contraption she is forced to wear. Her parents just don't understand her. The think it will be for her good, but she wishes they could only feel the way she could feel now, then they'd understand. They'd know how utterly humiliating it felt, how crushingly ugly it made her look. However, her father wouldn't let her take them off. He made a rule, she had to wear it. The injustice of it all. How could he? He didn't have to wear it, otherwise he'd surely understand the disgrace she was in.

........Glasses, how she loathed them!

  Yes, my friends, that was me on my first day having to wear corrective lenses to church. When I was around ten, my eyes started getting near-sighted. By the time I was thirteen, they had gotten to the point where I could hold a book no further than three inches from my nose if I was to be able to read it. So, when I was thirteen my parents decided I needed glasses. I dragged my feet the entire way, crying and protesting. I was terrified as being thought of as "bookwormish" and nerdy, terrified of being called four-eyes by my father and siblings who honestly thought that would 'desensitize' me to the whole thing....I wasn't that kind of person; the name stung worse than a rod. What would people think of me? Especially, in my mind, glasses were a sign of weakness. I hated the thought of there being a part of me that was obviously vulnerable to other people. I was of  the opinion that it was better to be alone, than to be hurt. It's a feeling I still struggle with, I'd like to bury all my insecurities, failings, fears and limitations down out of sight of others, and present this invincible person whom everyone understands he'd better not mess with.
   
      To make a long story short, I hated wearing glasses because I feared people more than anything. I feared their judgements, their assumptions, their thoughts about me. I feared them because they had become my judges. Though I wouldn't have admitted it, nor even believed such a travesty of myself--I made myself believe at the time that I didn't care a fig about other people's opinions--I allowed others to dictate my life. I allowed them to be my judges.

       In time I got over the glasses. In time, as most of you know, I got contact lenses. The issue became obsolete at that point, but there were other "corrective-lenses" in my life. These things were a part of me, things I learned, things I needed, but things I was afraid of showing to the world because of how they would judge me.

       One of the biggest aspects of these was actually in the realm of music. Between the ages of ten and eighteen, I was known to my family and friends as the biggest hymn and Classical enthusiast the world had ever known; metaphorically speaking, of course. This was true, and still is true. There's nothing that inspires or fires me like Classical music can. Nothing that can get me as excited about life or really get me dancing around the house like Bach and Mozart can, however, things were pretty black and white to me when I was twelve and I was also known as a rock, pop, and country hater.




         Well, I was, until I actually listened to some of it. I hated to admit it, but though most of the rock and pop genre was not to my liking there were a few songs in the mix which I actually enjoyed. I also discovered that there was a whole sub-category in country music which I really liked. For years I refused to admit it. I was this strong uncompromising individual who made a decision and stuck to it. I still remember a long letter I wrote to a friend on the evils of rock and pop music when I was fourteen (My friend and I still laugh and shake our heads over that one). What disgrace would be mine if I deigned to admit that I might have been wrong with regards to the sweeping assertions I had hitherto made regarding these genres.

     Once again, 'Pilate-like' I feared the people. They were my judges.

    My friends, if only we could all begin to grasp how cripplingly short-sighted it is to set the wrong person up as judge over our lives. Throughout the course of these two stories being played out in my life. God came to show me how much freer I could have been, how much happier I would have been had I worn those glasses cheerfully. How less absurd I would have looked as well! I also came to be shown how much good music I missed out on through my teen years because it was in the "wrong" genre. I had elected the wrong judge to to rule over me, that judge had shackled me under a load of chains so heavy that I couldn't help but go nowhere.

     I'm still not free from those judges, sometimes, I catch myself still making decisions based on the laws those judges dictated, whether it's dressing up in a silly costume just because, eating something I've made a rule about not eating normally, but I should because in a certain context it would be impolite not to. Each time I have to fly back to the word, to prayer, to remind myself that God is my judge. Only God's rules can dictate my life now, because I belong to Him. And how freeing it is. I'm  still faced with the vastness of God's world when I make decisions, his lines  aren't in the same places that my judges liked to put them. God's lines are far more subtle and winding, still there, mind you, I don't believe in "gray areas" but God's lines are often in a far different place than we would have put them.

     Isn't it a good thing, though? God is so much greater than we are, and following Him is so liberating because it's only when He is our judge that we reach the full potential of what He created us to be.

Alright, time to cut the talk. I'm sure you're all on the edges of your seats to hear some of those songs I discovered I liked much to my chagrin. Well, Here is one of them. I think my sister Arianne actually introduced this one to me....it's a little mushy, but I think it's very sweet and quite beautiful.  Someday, I hope my husband will sing it to me....here's the kicker though, you'll never guess who is known for singing this song and who made it popular.

    You'll not guess in a million years so I'd better just tell you. The song was first performed and  popularized by Elvis Presley, king of rock 'n roll. Can you believe it readers? I'm admitting to liking a song by Elvis Presley? I just looked out the window to make sure there weren't any pigs winging their way through the clouds....you'd better check, just to make sure, as well. And if you live near a dairy farm, take a stroll out and make sure the bovines haven't taken to wearing suspenders.

      In all seriousness though, what do you all think? Who or what is your judge? Can you relate with what I just spilled out in this post?
  While you're thinking about it. Enjoy the song "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" sung by Elvis Presley.

What do you think, too mushy for your taste, or is it just your cup of tea?

  Oh, and I have to know....comment if you were genuinely surprised to discover I liked that song, or, if you weren't, I'd love to hear that too! ... Please....I really want to know! ;) 

     Until next time, my forbearing readers, fare thee well. And may God alone be your judge from now on and forever.
   
    ~ Christianna