Friday, December 16, 2022

Christmas, A Time for Sharing

Christmas decorating is done inside and out, and the shopping and baking are currently under control. Finally I have time to post on my long-neglected blog. 

For this post, I decided to do something I've never done in my blog--share a scene from one of my books. The idea came to me when I saw a Facebook post of people telling their favorite scenes from Christmas movies. In Christmases past, I've revealed my favorite Christmas story to be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. The scene of little Imogene Herdman crying over the manger scene moves me to tears every time I read it. But while this remains my very favorite Christmas scene from a book, I still think mine from Some Form of Grace is pretty good. So, I thought, why not share it?

To "set up the scene," here is a brief explanation. Recently released from prison, Gracene, a resident at Transformation Place,  is transitioning back into society. But she has a secret. Transformation Place is supposed to be for Christians, a concept Gracene is not too sold on. But she loves the people at Transformation Place, and they have provided her employment with a landscaper which she enjoys, and so she remains there. In late November, she and her foreman Tony are working on an off-season job putting up Christmas decorations.


“So how was your Thanksgiving?” Tony asked. 

“Good,” I said and meant it.

On the mild Monday following Thanksgiving, me and Tony were putting up Christmas decorations in someone’s—a rich someone’s—yard. For the past two weeks we’d wrapped about a million lights around every twig of the bare trees. Now we were assembling a nativity scene. 

“How about yours?” I asked. 

“Good . . . good.” He patted his belly. “Ate too much.” 

“I hear ya’.” 

We worked for a while on an angel choir. I held stakes while Tony pounded them into the ground, and then we attached ten-foot angels to them. 

“I understand that they’ll have music playing as people drive by,” Tony said. 

I stretched and massaged my aching back. “Seems to me if people wanted to spread the Christmas message they’d spend their money on food for the homeless or toys for kids rather than waste it on fancy decorations.”

“Who knows? Maybe they do that, too.” Tony knelt and began assembling a manger. “As far as spreading the Christmas message, these folks have put up this nativity scene for the last five years. By Christmas Day, hundreds of people will have driven by it. Most of them will know the Christmas story, but not all. Maybe this display will start some conversations. Besides that—” he looked at me and winked—“if they didn’t pay to have these ‘fancy decorations’ put up, you and me might not be making extra cash.”

I didn’t want to admit he had a point. “Is it time for lunch?”

A breeze was picking up, so we sat in the cab of Tony’s truck and ate our sandwiches.  We never talked much when we ate, but as I looked out the windshield at that half-finished nativity scene, I couldn’t keep quiet. 

“You go to church, Tony?”  

If he thought this question was strange, he didn’t show it. “Almost every Sunday.”

“Which one?”

“I’m Hispanic and have six kids. Which one do you think?”

I laughed. “Your kids excited about the holidays?”

“Oh, yeah.” He sipped from his thermos. “I try to keep the focus on the true meaning of Christmas, but, you know . . . they’re kids.”

The only sounds in the cab were me and Tony chomping our food.

“So you buy all that?” I said. The question sorta popped out before I knew it was coming.

“All what?”

“All those stories about Christmas?”

“You mean Santa and the elves and the North Pole?”

“No, I mean a baby and the wise men and the stable.”

He took another swig of coffee and screwed the lid on his thermos. “Yeah . . . yeah, I buy it. I mean, I don’t think it happened like the scenes on Christmas cards. But I believe there was a baby. And I believe there were signs and clues that showed it was a special baby—God’s Son.”

I let out a sigh. “It’s a lot to get your head around, isn’t it? A virgin birth. Angels singing.”

Tony stared out the windshield and rubbed his chin. “I guess it is. If you’re looking for scientific proof, Gracene, I can’t help you. But for me, there’s more reason to believe that God exists than that He doesn’t. And if I believe in a God powerful enough to create the universe and smart enough to design the human body, then it’s no problem to believe he could manage a virgin birth.” He nodded at the decorations. “Or an angel choir.” He packed up his leftovers and his thermos in his careful, organized way and opened his door. “Ultimately, it’s a matter of faith. And that’s a decision we all have to make for ourselves.”

For the rest of the afternoon, our conversation stuck in my mind. Tony hadn’t given a lot of facts to back up his explanation. But it made more sense than any I’d ever heard.

This past year I posted about my favorite songs and hymns, so I guess this would also be a good time to share my favorite Christmas song, "Mary Did You Know?" While I've heard some people respond to this title with "Of course, she knew," I still love its message of hope and its beautiful melody. And this performance by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd remains my favorite rendition of it.

Have a favorite Christmas scene from a book or movie? A favorite Christmas song? Please share in the Facebook comments!


Unto You a Child is Born!"

                                -Gladys Herdman in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Sunday, May 29, 2022

 On January 16, I announced my intention not to choose a word to focus on throughout the year, as was my habit. Instead, inspired by a hymn our choir sang that Sunday morning, I decided to spend 2022 listening for either familiar or newly discovered songs/hymns that--in my mind--give me a "fleeting glimpse" of the divine. 

Since that morning, I've been consistent--consistent for me, that is--in posting about such songs, but I've yet to blog about the hymn that instigated this series of posts. Incidents kept occurring which made the messages of other songs seem more urgent. But two recent happenings make it abundantly clear that the time to blog about "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" has come.  

Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse co-wrote this song in 1989, and hundreds of recordings exist. Because of the beautiful  melody which lends itself so perfectly to harmony, I've loved every rendition I've heard. But as I said in my initial post, to allow me a peek into heaven, a song must be the perfect union between music and words. 

This past week, yet another school shooting occurred in the US. I cannot fathom a horror that guts us so completely as does the senseless slaying of innocents. As I reflected on this evil act, words from this hymn played over and over in my mind: "You offer hope when our hearts have hopelessly lost our way." 

In the raging battle over gun control, many social media posts have declared prayers are not enough; actions are required. I'm not weighing in on either side of the gun control argument, but I know this: Whatever action we do take will be totally ineffective if unaccompanied by prayer. It is only through prayer that we can cling to the hope of healing when it seems that as a country we have "hopelessly lost our way."

The second event that makes posting about this song timely is the temporary loss of Lucas Fabio as choir director at our church. The very person who awakened in me the beauty of this hymn and others, Lucas came from Brazil as a doctoral music student. In the time he has been with us, he has faithfully and lovingly worked with the choir to add inspiration and meaning to the traditional worship service. I have heard nothing but admiration for Lucas and his family in the years they have served our church. 

Sadly, the visas for the Fabio family are about to expire. Efforts are being made to secure permanent living for them in the US, but those efforts won't get through bureaucratic red tape before the visas run out. Later this week, the Fabios will return to Brazil.

I'm calling this loss "temporary," however, because I'm resting in the assurance that prayers will bring the Fabio family back to us soon. This isn't "Good-bye." It's "Farewell until you return."

This version of "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" is my favorite because I like the saxophone solo in the middle of it. This one is my daughter's favorite. There are many to choose from. Choose the one that "speaks" to you.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

My mother, Gladys Jo Robertson Fink, passed away on January 20, 2022. With family scattered far and wide, it took a while for relatives and friends to assemble in Yachats, Oregon, for a memorial service, but the day came at last. 

In 2013, my father Joseph Fink preceded Mama in death. We held a memorial service for him at the time but waited until Mama's passing to follow their wishes of having their ashes released into the ocean. On April 3, family and friends gathered on a temperate spring day at the banks of the Yachats River and let its gently flowing current carry Mama's and Daddy's earthly remains to the Pacific Ocean. Then we made our way to my sister’s house to remember the happy, sad, poignant, funny times that we had experienced with our mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, friend. 

Two circumstances alleviated the sadness of this occasion. The first was the long and productive life Mama had been granted. She was ninety-six at the time of her death, and most of her years had been healthy and active. Those who knew her often spoke of her humor, wit, love for family and friends, and—a word that came up often—“spunk.” 

Even in her later years, Mama's "spunk"
came through!

Mama had served as the inspiration behind many of my prize-winning contest essays and stories, all of which contained an element of her humor. In her last three years, however, failing health and progressing dementia deprived her of her enjoyment of life. She often mentioned to me she had “lived too long.” She was ready to depart this world for a better one.

The second circumstance to lessen the pain of Mama’s death was knowing of her steadfast faith. As a longtime Christian, she believed in life after earthly death—a life in which she would be reunited with loved ones; a life in which she would be released from the shackles of pain and fear brought on by age; a life in which she could spend eternity in the presence of her Savior. One Sunday when she was in her early nineties, she and my sister were leaving church where “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" had been sung. Hobbling along with the use of her walking stick—for her, a form of “chains”—Mama remarked, “I want that song sung at my funeral.” I know she was thinking of the day she could throw away that stick. 

Mama also loved the old gospel song “I’ll Fly Away,” finding great joy in the lively tune and comfort in the words of assurance of the better life awaiting her. The first comment I read on this rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” was “If this song isn’t sung at my funeral, I’m not going.” It sounded exactly like something Mama would say. 

As friends and relatives said our earthly farewells to Mama, the melodies and lyrics of these songs rang in our ears, reminding us of the hope and assurance Mama had. My prayer is that as you listen to them, you are reminded of the same.

Gladys Robertson Fink 1942; 2021

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Weeks ago, I thought I had the perfect hymn picked out for Easter—“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” I love this song’s moving melody and easy harmony. A recent reading of Mark 14-15 tells me the lyrics give an accurate account of the Crucifixion: the physical pain—“wounds which mar the Chosen One”; the humiliation—“I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers”; and, perhaps most devastating, the sense of desertion—“The Father turns His face away.”

But Chapter 16 of Mark, tells of the Resurrection. And this past week I’ve seen the stirring words of S. M. Lockridge shared several times on Facebook posts: “It’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming.” I am reminded that Easter is a two-part story. 

In Chapter 16, Mark describes the women who come to the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’s body with spices. They discover the stone covering the tomb entrance has been rolled away. Inside, a young man dressed in a white robe delivers astounding news: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead!” 

In Mark’s Gospel, he reports only that the women ran away, confused and frightened. But Matthew informs us the women were “very frightened but filled with great joy.” (Matthew 28:8) I like Matthew's version better. I don’t think I can come close to imagining what these women felt. Along with Jesus's other followers, they had just experienced two horrendous days. On the first day, they had watched as their beloved teacher and leader had been brutally tortured and crucified. In the silence of the second day, they had endured paralyzing doubt and fear, wondering if Jesus's claims would prove true or if they'd bought into the scam of the centuries.

Then on the third day, they learned he had risen just as he said he would. What relief…what renewed hope…what indescribable joy! 

And that’s why the Easter story needs two songs--a haunting one to tell of a horrible, hopeless Friday and a jubilant one to remind us Sunday came.

Wishing you a blessed Easter!

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

I’d been considering a series of posts on “This Is My Father’s World” for over a year because I love its inspiring imagery and comforting message. Then I heard another hymn that sent my song blogs in a  different direction. Recently, however, two events occurred that convinced me the time had come to give attention to this hymn, for it is as relevant today—if not more so—than when the poet penned the words in the 1890s.

The first event was subtle. Sunday before last, our choir sang “This Is My Father’s World” as the offertory hymn. Although the words were familiar to me, the melody was not. I have to admit that as taken as I am with the song’s words, I’ve never been a fan of the original tune. Its simplicity seems underserving of the lyrics’ grandeur. This disconnect made more sense to me when I learned the melody was that of an English folk song and not composed specifically for this hymn. 

When our choir sang the new version of the hymn, I listened with pleasant surprise and reverent awe. Composer Lee Dengler paired Babcock’s exquisite words with a melody worthy of their message. The union of the two allowed me to catch a gleam from what Richard Rohr calls, “A liminal space. A holy place.”

Inspired by our choir’s performance, I researched the song’s history and learned it was originally a poem, written by Maltbie D. Babcock and published posthumously in 1901. Babcock, a Presbyterian minister in upstate New York, had a habit of taking morning walks to the top of a hill that overlooked Lake Ontario. Before these excursions, he would often say, “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.”

There is so much emotion and wisdom packed in that single phrase. The imagery and adoration infused within the lines that resulted from those walks give testament to both Babcock’s poetic skill and his Godly devotion. 

Far from being subtle, the second event that prompted this post was an Earth-shaking one—Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. Along with the rest of the world, I wait with anxiety to see the consequences this atrocity. As I do so, lines from this song play over and over in my unsettled mind: “That though the wrong seems oft so strong/God is the Ruler yet.”

This isn’t a frivolous dismissal of a serious problem. A discussion with my husband brought me to the conclusion there are no easy solutions to this frightening, tangled web of politics and power. Indeed, the wisest and perhaps the only course of action is for the world to pray for guidance that can lead to peace, all the while remembering that, despite the actions of a despotic dictator, “God reigns...”!

With this in mind, I have an assignment for you. So many of Babcock’s phrases resonate with me as I take in the wonder and beauty of nature. Over the years, I’ve collected evidence of God’s masterful hand at work in his world through photographs. I often scroll through them on my phone to lift my spirits and remind me God is in control. I’m going to share a few of my photos and one borrowed one at the end of this post. I ask you to please comment on Facebook by sharing one (or more) pictures that you think perfectly reflects words or phrases from this song. To help you in this task, here are the stanzas:

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—

His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world:

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world:

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the Ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let earth be glad!

To further inspire you, I’ve linked to a performance of the song. The video quality isn’t the best, but it is one of only two I could find of Dengler’s version. If you prefer the traditional melody, there are many choices. Whichever you prefer, may you find peaceful assurance in the words.

 Of rocks 

 and trees

of skies and seas-- 


    The morning light,




    the lily white,

    He shines in all that's fair            

In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,



Sunday, February 13, 2022

As promised last month, many of my posts this year will be concerned with hymns/songs that stir my soul. Songs that so perfectly combine words and melody as to allow a peek through the thin veil which separates the earthly kingdom from the spiritual one. 

I had a specific song in mind when I conceived of these posts and intended to lead with it. But last Sunday, pastor Jay alluded to the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision in his sermon, and that prompted me to think about our church’s collective read through the Old Testament last year. It seems members who participated in that activity were of two factions: those who enjoyed reading the Old Testament and those who couldn't get out of it fast enough. Unlike most opposing factions today, we didn’t threaten to sue each other or unfriend each other on Facebook. We just had a fun and civil discussion. 

I happened to be with those who found reading the Old Testament—for the most part—fascinating and uplifting. I add “for the most part” because only the most hardcore of Bible scholars—which I’m certainly not—could find the entire Old Testament fascinating. Genesis and Exodus provide an interesting start, but slogging through the 613 laws of Moses worked better for me than melatonin. And there was way more information than I wanted on how to build a tabernacle or sacrifice a bull. 

Around about Judges, the action picks up again—and gets a little weird. Okay, a lot weird. I guarantee some of those stories of biblical heroes never made it into my childhood Sunday school curriculum. Same goes for the stories about Israel’s kings. But the Wisdom Literature gave me much to ponder with its unanswerable questions and much to enjoy with the beautiful poetic language. 

Then came the prophets. I loved them. Many people consider the prophets messengers of doom and gloom and punishment (albeit well-deserved). Friend Sara, who isn’t an OT fan, contends there is way too much “smoting” taking place. She has a point, but there are also messages of hope and renewal and restoration. Messages that assure God’s people he has not abandoned them. Messages that point to God’s offer of hope through Jesus. As pastor Jay put it so beautifully, “The Old Testament is God’s continuous rescue plan.”

And that brings me back to Ezekiel. Later that Sunday afternoon, I reflected on the meaning behind Ezekiel’s vision. Lines from “Days of Elijah”—a song I hadn’t heard in a long time—came to me: “And these are the days of Ezekiel/The dry bones becoming as flesh.” Unlike most of the other songs I was considering for this series of blogs, this one is fast-paced with a pounding beat. And then there are the words. “And though these are days of great trial…out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes.” Seems to be written exactly for current times. 

I’m not now nor have I ever been a very demonstrative person. Standing up in church and/or lifting my arms is not my modus operandi. Occasionally, if the music is particularly rousing, I’ll manage a discreet toe-tap. But I challenge anyone to listen to “Days of Elijah” and remain completely still. If this song doesn’t make your heart beat faster and send a slight chill down your spine, you might want to check if you’re alive. Turn up the volume, clap your hands, wave your arms, sway your body to the beat. If you do, you might get a tiny glimpse into one of heaven’s rowdier moments.

I chose this YouTube version because it provides stunning visuals along with the lyrics. But there are lots of renditions and artists to choose from. Choose the one that most inspires you!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Over the past few years, my appreciation for and fascination with the written word have grown exponentially. These days, among my greatest delights is discovering beautifully and meticulously written passages—words that artfully express the writer’s thoughts and deeply touch the reader’s sensibilities. Such passages inspire me and challenge me to rise to equal heights. 

But last week as I sat in our church sanctuary and listened to the choir sing a beautiful hymn, I realized that for me, song—the union of words and music—holds the greatest potential for giving me, a mere mortal, a peek into heaven. The combining of uplifting words with haunting melodies allows me a glimpse of the sublime, however fleeting that glimpse might be. 

That discovery prompted me to veer from my tradition (if four years of doing something can constitute a tradition) of choosing a word to focus on throughout the year. While that practice served me well, this year I’m returning to making a resolution. Just one. And it won’t be broken before the ink with which it was written dries on the page. Rather than dreading this resolution, I’m looking forward to it.

I resolve in 2022 to listen thoughtfully and prayerfully for songs that speak to me in a meaningful way. I’m going to delight in their melodies and ponder their messages. From time to time, I’ll share those songs—mostly hymns, but not always—and my thoughts on them.  

I already have a few songs in mind and am anxious to discover new ones. I hope you’ll tune in to my posts. (Cheesy pun intended.) Maybe some of my favorites will be your favorites, too. Or hopefully you’ll share your favorites with me.