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When I was a kid, I developed an obsession with the 1955 movie of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!. I don’t actually know why this movie was so interesting to me – I can’t even remember when I first became fascinated but I do know I drove my family crazy by playing that VHS almost daily. And I also remember that even then I had no interest in the character of ‘Laurie’, the female romantic lead. Besides one empowering moment of being a strong independent woman in “Many A New Day,” she generally is kind of a wimp. Given the expected roles of women and the gender norms of the days in which both the Broadway production and the movie were made, I shouldn’t be surprised that ‘Laurie’ was young and pretty and looking for a man to complete her, to dream only of making a marriage and of which handsome man will bid on her pretty picnic basket. In popular culture at those times, the characters that were instead allowed to be strong, independent females were usually older, widowed or spinstered women who could offer the sage wisdom of their years and experience.
Enter the character of ‘Aunt Eller’ in Oklahoma!. Even as a kid I recognized that she wasOklahoma_M (2) just plain amazing! She gets to be sassy and sarcastic, she gets to two-step with the cowboys and look at dirty pictures with them and wave a gun at the town leaders. She gets to be kind and loving to her niece and strong and supportive when things go bad. She gets the funny lines, the scene-saving moments, and the homespun charm of a lovable character.
When my high school put on the production of Oklahoma! in my senior year, I was devastated to learn that I had to choose between the honor of representing my region on a trip to the Model United Nations in The Hague, Netherlands OR to fulfill my dream of bringing ‘Aunt Eller’ to the stage. As my father loves to tell the story, I cried for weeks over this horrible event. In hindsight, I am eternally grateful that I took the chance to travel abroad and to have that incredible and unique lifetime experience in the Netherlands and Russia – BUT I can admit that I also regret missing the chance to be ‘Eller’ for even just those few months.
That regret stems mostly from the fact that now, as an adult, I can understand and honor the type of character and the type of woman that ‘Aunt Eller’s’ creators crafted. As a grown woman with more of that famous life experience and less of the high school naivete, I can more deeply appreciate the strength of this character.
Like her counterpart in Carousel, ‘Nettie Fowler’, ‘Eller’ is the foundation of the town and the support system to whom our lovelorn-clueless-tragic female lead turns to when life falls apart in the climactic moments of the show. Her advice when a character dies and threatens the beginning of ‘Laurie’ and ‘Curly’s’ marriage is:
“If you cain’t fergit, jist don’t try to, honey. Oh, lots of things happen to folks. Sickness, er bein’ pore and hungry even-bein’ old and afeared to die. That’s the way it is-cradle to grave. And you can stand it. They’s one way. You gotta be hearty, you got to be. You cain’t deserve the sweet and tender in life less’n you’re tough.”
As in Carousel, once more, a Rodgers and Hammerstein character reminds us to hold our heads high and to keep pushing forward when life gets difficult.
But to me, the quintessential Eller shines through in this one simple line: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.” It has taken me a lifetime to learn this lesson well, to realize that I don’t live my life for anyone else but me. I FINALLY have grasped the concept that no one, NO ONE, can sit in judgement of me or my life choices. I’m never going to be a millionaire or a Broadway star or a Rhodes scholar. I’m going to live a quiet life and hopefully make a small difference to someone. I don’t have anything that makes me special or noteworthy – I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else. But I am who I am and the older I get, the more comfortable I have become in my own skin. I have my scars and a chip on my shoulder and a list of mistakes that is 9 miles long. But I will no longer allow anyone to put me down or say that I’m not good enough – I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.
So thank you ‘Aunt Eller’ and thank you Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for creating happy moments from my childhood and learning moments in my adulthood.

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I was a teenager in the 1990s, an experience that I cannot describe to you – you have to have lived it to truly understand it – but that’s a subject for another day. Where I was going with this thought is that as a teenager, you’re looking for guidance, for a way to frame and structure your world that makes sense to you. Thank God that I was a country kid and that my generation had a poet, a sage, a wise soul named Garth Brooks to give us that much-needed guidance. As one of those terribly awkward, nerdy, bookish teenagers, Garth-Brooks1I needed to figure out how to keep an open heart and a strong soul in the face of shallow high school concerns. Enter Mr. Brooks and his three chords and the truth. Words of wisdom indeed….

♦ The Change – As long long as one heart still holds on / Then hope is never really gone” and “But it’s not the world that I am changing / I do this so, this world will know that it will not change me.”

♦ Unanswered Prayers – Just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care / Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

♦ We Shall Be Free – When the last thing we notice is the color of skin /And the first thing we look for is the beauty within” and “When we’re free to love anyone we choose / When this world’s big enough for all different views / When we all can worship from our own kind of pew / Then we shall be free.”

♦ If Tomorrow Never Comes –Tell that someone that you love / Just what you’re thinking of/ If tomorrow never comes.”

♦ Do What You Gotta Do – There ain’t nobody in this world / That’s gonna do it for you / Do what you gotta do.”

♦ To Make You Feel My Love – The storms are raging on the rollin’ sea / Down on the highway of regret / The winds of change are blowing wild and free / But you ain’t seen nothing like me yet.”

♦ The River – oh hell, just the entire song…listen here

 

And now that I am an adult and have actually lived and experienced some of the difficult situations that Mr. Brooks was crooning about, his words still guide me and reassure me that I’m not the only one who has suffered a heartbreak and a rebuilding….

♦ Every Now and Then – “I love my life and I’ve never trade / Between what you and me had and the life I’ve made” 

♦ I Don’t Have to Wonder Anymore – “And I still don’t know / Why things happened like they did / But I parked that old pickup / On that lonesome river bridge / I took your ring from my pocket / And I held it one last time / Watched that diamond sparkle /I drew back and I let her fly / And in less time than it takes to tear to fall / Oh that old ring went under / Lord, and now it’s gone for sure / And I don’t have to wonder anymore.”

♦ She’s Gonna Make It – “And you know it’s not like she’s forgot about him / She’s just dealing with the pain.”

♦ Beaches of Cheyenne – “He promised her he’d turn out / Well it turned out that he lied /And their dreams that they’d been livin’ / In the California sand / Died right there beside him in Cheyenne.”

♦ Cowboy Song – “He’s just chasin’ what he really loves / And what’s burnin’ in his soul / Wishin’ to God that he’d been born a hundred years ago.”

♦ In Another’s Eyes – “Oh in another’s eyes / Staring back at me / I see a sinking soul, trying desperately/ To turn the tide, before it dies.”

♦ Ask Me How I Know – You make all the rules, you’re set in your ways / You gotta have your freedom, you gotta have your space.”

♦ Learning to Live Again – I’m gonna smile my best smile and I’m gonna laugh like it’s going out of style.”

♦ How You Ever Gonna Know – “You know failure isn’t failure / If a lesson from it’s learned / I guess love would not be love / Without a risk of being burned.”

♦ The Dance – Our lives are better left to chance / I could have missed the pain / But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

 

So no matter your age or what stage of life you’re in, if you’re feeling lost or in need of some guidance, find the Garth Brooks station on Amazon or (for a truly 90s hair entertaining experience), search him on YouTube and watch the old videos. Let some good old country music wisdom guide you…

 

[on a random side note, the exception to his brilliant writing rule is “Cowboy Cadillac” – it’s a catchy tune but damn those lyrics are dumb, is he writing about his woman or his truck?]

[a second random side note, I admit that I have had to overcome some disillusion and disappointment about Mr. Brooks as a human being and a husband as his first marriage ended and his relationship with Trisha Yearwood has unfolded.  It’s always hard to watch your icons reveal their flawed humanity – and in light of my own personal feelings about infidelity – it was a difficult pill to swallow.]

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Christmas Eve is by far my favorite moment in the year, a time when my family has always gathered together to celebrate our faith and our traditions. Tonight is the blessed moment in my calendar year when I can reconnect to my beliefs, to celebrate that humble baby in the manger, to look forward to a wonderful New Year while looking back on the blessings of the past year.

It’s the moment when, at the end of our worship service, the candles are lit and the strains of “Silent Night” ring out through the church. Christian voices, young and old, candlelightaround the world are joining in song to invite the magic of Christmas into their lives. I sit in my pew in the silent night to quiet my mind, to allow God back in, to give myself peace, to allow His voice to be heard. That moment in time is so beautiful that I am usually brought to tears – sometimes in sadness for the things that have been lost, sometimes in hope that better things are coming, sometimes with a profound joy for the blessings in my life. I pray in that moment for quiet, for peace, for forgiveness, for happiness.

Merry Christmas to all of my Christian friends on this most sacred of nights. To all of my friends of other beliefs, I wish you a warm winter’s night with your families. And to ALL of my friends, near and far, may your night be filled with magic and peace and love.

“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.”

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I don’t think that anyone would argue with me that this has been a dark year in the world. 2017 has been defined by hurricanes and wild fires, political unrest and the depressing news of sexual harassment, corruption, extreme bad manners and general misbehavior on all levels of our society, threats of nuclear war and unchecked violence against humanity. This is not a shining time in our history and its so easy to point fingers and lay blame for why we seem to have gone to hell in a handbasket.

But this magical season, the time of Christmas and advent and new beginnings, is not the star-of-bethlehemtime to dwell in the darkness. This is the time to celebrate the new light and the new Light. There is a reason that we celebrate with candles in windows, twinkling lights on the trees (inside and out), sparkling garlands festooning our walls and mantels, and roaring fires in our hearths. This is a time of light and wonder — and HOPE. This is the season to make things better for ourselves, for our world, for humanity. Please, let your light shine forth in the darkness, let your hopes and dreams make for a better 2018.

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” 

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The most underrated and overlooked part of the Christmas season is the JOY, the pure enjoyment of the blessings around us. Friends, family, food on our tables, religious moments (regardless of what faith you practice), and glowing decorations are all aroundd105244 us – if we remember to look at them! We are so busy buying gifts, making cookies, decorating, rushing, hosting parties, wrapping, moving that silly elf, and meeting endless social requirements – we drown in stress and forget to enjoy the season. This is a magical time of year, whether its a white Christmas or a palm tree decorated with fairy lights, and we just have to make time to enjoy!

This is the time to rejoice in the arrival of the Christ Child and the blessings that He would bring to us. This is the time to make room in our busy schedules for special time with our family and friends, to make room for kindness and good will to all people of earth even if they don’t look or think like us, to make room in our homes for humans and animals in need, to make room in our hearts for forgiveness and to move forward into the New Year and new beginnings. It is a time for JOY, it truly is a Wonderful Life!

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing!”

 

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One of my favorite elements of the nativity story is the angels and the shepherds. The dictionary defines “angel” as a noun that is 1) a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe OR 2) a person of exemplary conduct or virtue. A shepherd is defined as noun that is a person whose job it is to tend sheep OR a verb that is to guide someone or something.

So, in other words, some of God’s highest beings (heavenly messengers) appeared to some of society’s lowest beings (livestock herders). Under modern thinking and language, we think now of angels as anyone in this world who does good things and we think of shepherds as the guides who direct someone to or from something. But in Biblical times, shepherds were low on the social pecking order and angels were direct messengers from the Lord bearing messages both good and bad – think of the Angel Gabriel, the angel who led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Archangel Michael, and the angels who are predicted to stand with us humans on Judgement Day. And while care for the goats and sheep of a nomadic society was a vital occupation (to protect the source of meat, milk, hides, and wool), they were usually young, unmarried men who would sit for days and weeks isolated from society.

So it fascinates me to think that God would send the first heavenly announcement of the birth of our Lord not to kings or rich men sitting in tents surrounded by gold but to theseAngel-visits-shepherds-on-first-Christmas lowly, lonely men. How amazing is the idea of these glowing heavenly beings appearing out of the night sky like shining stars to sing out the good news and to issue the invitation for visits to the newborn! And that invitation was issued to flocks of sheep and their working class tenders! I am inspired to think that the heavenly message is for all people, not just the rich and powerful, beautiful and important.

“Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”

 

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A staple of my personal holiday hit parade list at this time of year is the classic carol “O Come All Ye Faithful.” You don’t hear it on the radio much (I assume due to its sacred and not secular nature) but there are literally thousands of wonderful recorded versions of this, from Sarah Maclachlan to Andrea Bocelli. I’ve heard it performed in Latin and in English, by large choirs and soloists, by men and women. The one commonality that resounds: it is a call to the faithful to celebrate this time of year.

As it says in the title, this is a call for ALL the faithful. Christmas and the arrival of the baby Jesus are not just for the ‘good’ and the ‘holy’ and the fancy fussy Christians that e83a233d7ca6904fbe5bbbd2adf0e75adutifully attend some stuffy old church every Sunday in their finest clothes. This time of year is meant to remind all Christians of their faith and of the humble beginnings of the Christ Child. The hymn is a call to all of us to remember what our faith is based in and to renew the joy and peace found in believing.

I wouldn’t dare to presume but I personally don’t think God cares what a good, faithful Christian wears to church or how much money they put in the offering plate. I don’t think he cares what skin color or what gender or what political bend a worshipper has. I don’t think he judges based on what their job is or what kind of car they drive. He cares about how we treat the people around us, in how we give of ourselves to the world, and what we contribute to bettering our fellow human beings.

I am a sinner. As a good friend of mine, who is a pastor, reminds me all the time — we are all sinners! But this is my favorite time of year because we sinners can be renewed with the birth of that baby in the stable in Bethlehem. From the lowliest birth, the faithful are reenergized with the joy of our Savior. Every December, we are called to remember and reinvest in the basic tenets of what we believe: peace, goodwill to men, kindness to all creatures, love your neighbor, and forgive those who have wronged you, to name just a few.

So, “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, born the King of Angels. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” Blessings to ALL ye faithful!

 

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