Tuesday, December 29, 2015

If you're in distress

Christmas night, a bug hit my husband. We’d had a gazillion people in our house that day. We prayed no one else would get it, but a couple of days later my son, who had left our house to travel to a remote area, became ill. Much sicker than my husband had been. He was three hours away from us and miles from medical help. What if he became dehydrated? I could feel myself starting to hit the mom panic button, but then God brought a story from my own life to mind.

For many years, I participated in Lay Witness Missions. A coordinator would select a team from a group of volunteers across the southeast and we’d gather at a church for a weekend to share our faith through testimony. I participated in dozens of these across the years and saw God do amazing things. We’d stay in the homes of church folks, people we’d never met until that weekend.

My daughter was just a baby, but I’d agreed to participate in a large mission about two hours from home. I was still nursing, but I thought it was doable.

I provided music and sang on that Friday night as usual, but after I reached the home of my hostess Betty, I started feeling a little strange. In fact, really strange.

After we went to bed, a virus descended on me like a mortar shell. Over the next few hours, I lost so much fluid between nursing and the virus, by the wee hours of the morning, I only had strength to crawl to the bathroom. A short time after that, I didn’t have strength to even crawl. I knew I was dehydrated, but I was staying on the opposite end of a very large house from my hostess. No way to summon help before widespread cell phone use. I knew my baby could become dehydrated, too. I prayed she wouldn’t get it. And I prayed for help.

“Lord, please wake up Betty. Please let her know I’m sick.”

In a few moments, I heard a cat’s loud meowing and Betty asking of the cat, “What’s wrong with you?”

I had a glimpse of her as she let the feline out the back door. I whispered, “Betty, I’m so sick.”

She came in my room, and I told her what had happened. She said, “That cat has never gotten me up at night before. I guess God had her wake me up.”

Ice chips helped rehydrate me, and this woman I’d never met before became one of the best nurses I’d ever had. Team members came over to pray. By that evening at 7, I was back on the piano bench singing.

My team coordinator came to me and said, “As sick as you were this morning, you know it's a miracle you’re here tonight.”

I knew that, for sure.

So as I remembered this story and thought about my son’s situation, I knew whether we’re across the house or across the world, God knows and sees any distress we’re in. And as we face a new year, it’s good to know God is able to send help, even if sometimes, he has to use a cat as a messenger.

“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from One Ringing Bell

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Chorus of Memories

I’ve mentioned before that I sing with a symphony chorus.

Oh. How. I. Love. It.

As we navigated the program this weekend in two Christmas performances, I became aware of the memories the songs evoke.

When the symphony warms up, I’m back sitting in a Broadway theatre in New York City, and  the orchestra warming up means something wonderful is about to happen. Maybe I’m there during one of those November trips as a department store buyer. It’s just before Thanksgiving and the city is already decorated for Christmas. Perhaps, when I leave that evening, there’ll be wet sloppy snowflakes the size of small cookies that splatter on my face.  I won’t mind a bit.

“Silver Bells” puts me with my little sister in the backseat of a blue Ford Falcon and my daddy is at the wheel. We’re sailing down Peachtree Street after our family’s recent move to Atlanta. We’re agog to see the city lights like the small town hicks that we are. Daddy makes a turn, and we move down Ponce De Leon past the behemoth Sears store where I’ll make some Christmas memories in the years ahead.  Then a little further, he shows us his office on Ponce. Christmas in the city, for sure.

During “Sleigh Ride,” I’m not on a sleigh but a piano bench as a high school chorus accompanist. I have performance anxiety before the big Christmas concert, and I think I might die and roll right off the bench into the first row of the audience, but somehow, by the grace of God, I make it through without causing a train wreck. Maybe loving playing “Sleigh Ride” so much is one of the reasons I do.

Our “Christmas on Broadway” piece includes a Sound of Music snippet, the one about favorite things. I’m eleven years old and I’ve just gotten my mitts on a copy of the score of a wonderful musical I’d just seen. I play it from front to back so many times the pages have to be taped back together and the edges become tattered, cause when life hands you things much, much worse than dogs biting or bees stinging, music helps you survive and remember there’s still wonder in the world.

“O Holy Night” places me at the piano in the little church I grew up in. “O Holy Night” is a favorite, but I’ve become the church pianist at twelve years old, and I struggle to play it.  All those triplets, you know. And why, oh why is my only copy in the key of D flat?  Where is the internet when you need it, so I could please find it in another key, maybe C? When we leave after the Christmas service, someone will hand me a brown paper bag. Inside will be an orange, nuts, and a large candy cane. Somehow, all those triplets won’t matter anymore.

During “Silent Night,” I’m leading worship in a women’s maximum-security prison. I tell them that in our church Christmas Eve service, we always light candles during this song, and I know we don’t have candles here, but we can imagine, so let’s hold up our imaginary flames high to the Lord. So we sing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright . . . “ and I look up to see hundreds of tear streaked faces lifting imaginary flickering candles high in worship. These women are shut off from family and friends, but they know God is with them. I can almost see the light reflected in their faces.

The concert always end with a sing-along piece, which includes classic hymns. And honestly, they are every Christmas of my life. I have a million memories to accompany them. But this time, I am at home after the Christmas Eve lessons and carol service with those I love so much. We have lit the candles of hope, love, joy, and peace on the Advent wreath and it’s just family celebrating this Holy time.  I want  to press pause on the moment.

This year, I made a new memory.  In a side exit aisle, obscured from all but a few of us in the chorus, a mother held her toddler. During Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, they began to twirl and dance, on and on in their own little private ballet until the final beat of music. And oh, the joy of seeing them.

In case you missed it, I do love singing with the chorus. Friends, may you sing this Christmas, too, despite loss, pain, grief (I am grieving the loss of my dad so hard), sickness, financial woes, or whatever else. May you sing from the joy of His great love. And may that joy sustain you in the days ahead.

And in the words we chorused from Dickens’ character, Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one.”
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

Related: Raw Edges and Emmanuel , If You're Playing to an Empty Balcony, Every Shining Christmas,  and if you need a laugh right now, A Ringing Bell Night Before Christmas ( I have no idea who wrote this).

For your Christmas list, please consider fine art prints or notecards from my Etsy Shop, Beverly Varnado Art or my books Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Richt, Rings, and Riches

I help my husband write and edit his football memory blog, One Old Dawg, and try to keep my voice as simply background over there. But something football related has been stirring in my heart and I felt compelled to speak it, so if not over there, then here.

In our community we’ve been dealing with the loss of a man who has literally changed the culture of football here at the University of Georgia, our beloved head coach Mark Richt. A strong Christian, Richt is known nationally for his integrity both on and off the field. When we first found out about his dismissal, we were stunned. This is not just about football, but about his influence for good in so many arenas. Seems like he’s now taking that influence to southern shores, his alma mater at the University of Miami. The “U” is going to be blessed beyond their imagination.

In the days after Richt’s firing, we received a report written by Scout National Recruiting Analyst, Chad Simmons about Richt’s meeting with the team when he informed them he wouldn’t be coaching the bowl game. Richt told them he would always be there for them, and concluded by saying, “Life is about people, not rings . . . Rings collect dust.”

Mark Richt has been criticized for not winning an SEC championship in the last few years and therefore not gaining that coveted championship ring. But his investment in his players, this community, and this state is one that far outweighs any piece of jewelry.

Ever since I read this report, I can’t stop thinking about what I’ve seen play out at our house.

My husband, Jerry, used to have a ring. And watches, too.

He had a Sportsmanship Award watch given to him in high school when he played football for the legendary coach and three-time national high school football championship winner, Wright Bazemore.

 The watch was stolen.

Jerry also had a solid gold Rolex watch embellished with a cotton boll from his Cotton Bowl championship when he played football for the University of Georgia.

Just after he became a pastor, someone broke into the parsonage and robbed him of it.

He was given a Southeastern Conference Championship ring when the 1966 team for which he played defensive end won the SEC championship. Beautiful. Gold with a ruby.

It was stolen, too. Twice. Recovered once, but the second time, it was probably melted down, or fell into the collection of some unscrupulous collector never to be seen again.

But my husband has things that cannot be stolen, stored in a place where thieves cannot break in and steal.

In the years since my husband left his law practice for the ministry, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives surrendered to Jesus during years of prison ministry. Hundreds more in church services and special events through the years. 

There are thirty years of sermons preached to uplift and encourage the church, Bible studies taught, hospital chaplaincy calls made, nursing homes visited, weddings and funerals conducted, international mission trips traveled . . . I could go on. Really, God only knows the scope of all of this.

I’m not saying these things just to brag on my husband. But folks, he had a ring. But before his ring even had a chance to collect much dust, it was stolen.

It would be a mistake to say we wouldn’t like to have those things back. We would, to show children and grandchildren.  But again, life is not about rings.

When we’re tempted to put trophies ahead of the lives we touch, let’s remember that in this life it can all go away. And so very quickly. But if we store up our riches in eternity, we’ll have them forever.

Mark Richt is a man who understands that.

So does my husband, Jerry.

We’re going to miss Coach Mark Richt. He has left an indelible mark on this University community, but we take comfort in the knowledge that he will be wielding his Godly influence in a new arena and changing lives there.

Because you know, “Life is about people, not rings . . .”

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. “(Matthew 6:19-21 The Message).

For your Christmas list, please consider fine art prints or notecards from my Etsy Shop, Beverly Varnado Art or my books Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Beverly Varnado Art, my new Etsy shop

After writing over 600 posts here in the last five years (603 to be exact), I have resisted the urge to monetize my site. I didn’t want my readers to wade through pop-ups and screaming advertising to get to my content, however, I do need to find another stream of income. 

I may have mentioned here that I was actually an art major in college  and have painted my whole life mostly in watercolor. However, this year I returned to oil painting moving from small watercolors (which I still love to do, by the way) to giant canvases. It’s been quite an adventure.

I’ve sold limited edition prints and note cards of my original oils and watercolors during book signings and based on that success, I’ve decided to open my own Etsy shop, Beverly Varnado Art.

I have prints of Currahee from my book Home to Currahee, as well as prints from my Lanier series of paintings which were inspired by Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.

In addition to my note cards and fine art prints, I also have available a small devotional book, Gifts of Hope, which is taken from extraordinary acts of kindness to me when I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress. Someone delivered a little gift and note to me everyday during the entire season of Lent one year. I hope it brings hope to anyone struggling with discouragement.

So in addition to my books which are available on Amazon HERE and many other places on line, I now have my own little Etsy shop. Please consider stopping by and having a look.

A verse that has been so close to my heart through the years is, “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psalm 90:17). 

As the beauty of God rests upon me, I want to share it through the work of my hands as faithfully as I can whether through writing, painting, or music.

As you ponder your Christmas list this year, consider giving the gift of art, whether mine or someone else’s and let God’s beauty unfurl.
Visit my shop, Beverly Varnado Art,  HERE. Also my books are available HERE.  
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