The day before yesterday time teetered on the brink of the present and suddenly plummeted backwards into the abyss of my past.
My Christmas past to be exact. A Dickens’ kind of moment.
Madeline L’Engle calls these moments the layers of our lives.
My dear friend Patsy Clairmont calls it shaking our tree.
So let me tell a story and maybe, just maybe, it will help you discover hidden treasure this Christmas season as well.
At the last minute, and after a nine year hiatus, I reluctantly mustered the courage to attend a Christmas musicale at a local evangelical church. It was a moment of providence.
As we left the house, early morning snow flurries danced with the promise of a white Christmas afternoon. My wife Chris and I were bundled up in layers of clothing against the frigid cold accompanied by Gina, a long-time family friend, and the aforementioned dear new friend, Patsy.
The lights dimmed and at the sound of the first note, the vertigo began. It was a song I had meticulously rehearsed and performed with my choir and orchestra twelve years ago. I knew every vocal part, every instrumental riff, and every rhythmic cadence.
But somehow, I was able to forget the mechanics and settle deep into the treasure of the song, its meaning, and of Christmas’ past.
Myriad layers began to rapidly materialize.
The tall beautiful young lady enthusiastically and capably coordinating the service as Pastor of Arts in Franklin, TN suddenly became a little twelve-year-old tow-headed adolescent auditioning for me in the choir room of a South Florida mega-church. A little girl who was always prepared and willing to sing. Anywhere. Anytime. With excellence.
As I plummeted backwards, I saw Melissa as a wife and mom, a solo recording artist, a member of the CCM group Avalon, a member of the musical group Truth, as the featured soloist for a choir recording project we did with Brentwood-Benson music, as a member of an auditioned high school musical group Spirit Song that I directed, and as a confident twelve-year-old, her first solo at our church leaving thousands of people spellbound.
And now a Pastor of Arts (a female pastor—no less—may her tribe increase) passionately directing a team of artists to accomplish extraordinary things.
Bebe Winans walked to the stage and sang A Christmas Prayer and I felt the warmth of tears as his voice brought back a flood of memories of hope and promise I possessed as a young and naive musician at a South Florida church start-up and college student in the late eighties. His rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Waters on the album Heaven comforted me through many difficult times.
A wonderful soloist began to sing Strange Way To Save The World and my mind tumbled even further backwards to college days and wild hair at Lee University in the late 70’s and fellow alum Mark Harris. I’m sure at that time writing a song with the words strange and save in the title and a group called 4Him had yet be dreamed. And how our paths (and fashion) would continue to cross sporadically throughout our lives.
Children began to gather as a young man and woman performed a masterful rendition of Andrew Peterson’s Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come. As I spied children of friends that I first knew as children themselves, I recalled meeting Andrew and his bandmate Gabe for the first time as novice recording artists at the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando eleven years ago.
A few months later inviting them to perform and at dinner afterwards talking about life and love. Little did I know ten years would pass and Gabe would be inspired to a lifetime of running by my marathon stories, would later marry Keely and both of them would become dear friends. I could never have dreamed that Andrew and I would spend hours at McCreary’s Pub in downtown Franklin kicking back a pint while sharing our love for all things C.S. Lewis, poetry, story, and life.
The meek, hopeful voices of the children singing the “vintage” song When They Saw The Star They Rejoiced With Great Joy with the same gusto my first children’s choir sang that very same brand new song over thirty years ago in 1980. Same song, same star, same scripture, same joy—but iPhones capturing memories instead of Kodaks, hair cut in a Bieber instead of a Bee Gee. Children facing the hope and challenges at the cusp of the second decade of the 2000’s instead of children facing the hope and challenges that are now memories of the last decades of the 1900’s.
My children’s choir lived in a world where personal computers, the Internet, AIDS, videogames, and Al-Queda did not exist. A world where the children of Columbine were about to be born, and the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Berlin Wall and the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood tall.
What will be the Christmas memories of the children I heard sing today in thirty years? I wondered as I continued my plunge through the past. A plunge that inevitably leads back to the future.
But Sunday, as I watched the children of our children sing, I realized anew why we need the treasures of childhood and why children singing about joy will never grow old.
As the last song, a jubilant and modern gospel rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, thrilled my soul, it seemed hopelessly ironic that this very same musical arrangement sang in 1999 by the choir I directed, caused my mega-church pastor to rebuke me and say “that’s enough of this contemporary music!” A rebuke that led to my decision to leave a church that seemed like home. A rebuke that helped me understand why deep-seated convictions are worth never giving up. A rebuke that continues to sting, but one that led to dreams realized different than any local church (by its very nature and limitations) can accomplish.
Four ladies around me that day who are a vital part of my past, present and future. A Pastor of Arts that unknowingly, perhaps, led me to hidden treasure; a beautiful blonde childhood sweetheart with whom I have celebrated 35 magical Christmas seasons; a treasured and long-time family friend who is discovering hidden treasure deep within herself these days; and a new and dear friend that it seems I have known my entire life, who shakes not only my tree—but tens of thousands.
What treasures lie hidden in your Christmas past?
Even as I have taken the liberty to peel back several layers,
I ask you to take a moment and please tell us at least one story that comes to mind.